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In the World

Chapter Text

"Are you sure you don't mind?" asked Korra before they stepped through the portal. "We could just keep walking. I mean, there's so much I haven't shown you yet and we were going to go for another week and..." She trailed off, unsure of how to continue, as Asami smiled at her.

"It's fine Korra. I know Jinora said it wasn't urgent, but she wouldn't have contacted you in the first place if it wasn't more important than she tried to let on. Neither of us will be able to relax until you speak to Tenzin and get the details on what's happening. Besides, this way we can check in with everybody else and catch up on the news. I'm just surprised you don't want to go to the South Pole instead." Asami nodded across the valley to the other Spirit Portal, which would have lead back to Korra's home in the south instead of to the Northern Water Tribe.

"I thought about it, but it's only been a week and my mom and dad probably aren't back yet. They were going to stay in Republic City for a few days, and it almost wouldn't be like home without them there. Just an empty house and...oh, I'm so sorry." Korra broke off suddenly when she realized that she would be reminding Asami again of the loss of her own family, but to her surprise Asami smiled and waved it off.

"You never need to apologize, Korra, not for your family. I love your parents, and I understand completely. Now let's go, the sooner we reach a radio station and find out what has Tenzin so worried in the Fire Nation, the sooner we can come back."

At that, Asami grabbed Korra's hand and walked her into the Spirit Portal. Korra, for her part, had nothing else to say once Asami took hold of her hand. It had been only a week since the two of them stepped into the Republic City portal for their vacation in the Spirit World, and the very tentative first steps into their own relationship, and the magic that came from simply holding Asami's hand had not left Korra's heart yet. Smiling, she stepped up behind Asami as the light of the Spirit Portal overwhelmed them both.

Unfortunately, the smile was knocked off her face as she was hit by wall of arctic air colder than anything she had experienced.

"What's going on?" Asami asked, looking around and already shivering under the blistering temperature. "I though the spiritual energy kept the area around the portal warm."

"It does," said Korra, "and it shouldn't be this cold, anyway." She was starting to shiver herself, even though she had begun firebending almost as soon as the cold hit her. "It never gets this cold at the South Pole except the middle of winter." When another gust of air hit them, she added "If it even gets this cold at all."

Korra and Asami quickly took off their packs and began to pull out the additional warm clothing they had packed, but there was not much of it. They had started their vacation from the much warmer climate of Republic City and had not planned to come to the North Pole at all, packing what minimal warm clothing they had as a token gesture and from Water Tribe tradition. They were already wearing much of it in the expectation of the cool air of the area around the portal, and had planned on getting proper gear from the Northern Water Tribe soldiers that would have been nearby before they ventured out into the cold wastes. Now they rushed to add what additional layers they could as Korra used her firebending and waterbending to stave off the worst.

"Where are the soldiers?" Korra asked as she looked around. "They should be here to watch over the portal."

"I have a better question. Where's the portal?" Asami's voice was flat, like she was trying to keep any emotion at all from coming through, but her surprise leaked out regardless. With a gasp Korra turned around and noticed that Asami was correct: The Spirit Portal was gone. There also was no sign of the thawed forest which should have surrounded the portal, nor any evidence that it had ever been there at all. The two of them were alone on a waste of ice and snow that stretched uninterrupted to all horizons.

----

"First problem on the ice is cold, everything else comes after. You can go without food or water for days, and the odds of an animal attack are tiny, but the cold can get you in hours or even minutes. So, you deal with the cold first."

Asami could tell that Korra was not talking to her exactly, but was running through the survival training she had gone through in her youth. She was speaking almost in a monotone, reciting the lessons that had been drilled into her by her parents first and then the Order of the White Lotus as they trained her to survive the vast tundra that covered the South Pole. Half was for her own benefit, and half was to keep Asami focused.

"Firebending works in the short term, but you can't keep it up while you sleep or when you're doing other work. So, to beat the cold you need shelter. For shelter, snow insulates, and you'll probably have a lot of it to work with."

Her voice had a brief touch of warmth on the patently obvious end of the last sentence, then resumed its calm recitation.

"If you have time, build up. If you don't have that luxury, dig down. Learn from the animals that are born to the snow, they know how to use it to survive. Polar bear-dogs dig down to hibernate in the snow, take lessons from them."

As she spoke, Korra was walking in a wide circle, pacing out the area she would enclose in the shelter she was going to construct. She had never raised a structure in its entirety all at once before, and she needed it to be flawless. For her own sake, and for Asami's.

"Make sure your walls are strong enough to withstand the wind and the roof is sturdy enough to support any new snowfall. The environment is your enemy here. The cold will kill you if you give it a chance. Do not give it that chance."

Korra stopped and stared at the area she had marked off with her long strides, then burst into a flurry of motion. Long, wide arm movements drew up snow in wide sheets, then coalesced into solidity as she resumed her pacing and began to circle with her arms. The walls thickened at the base and leaned inward, meeting at the center in a dome as perfectly spherical as the human eye could detect. There would normally be a chimney left open at the top, but Korra and Asami had seen no wood with which to make a fire and so Korra had formed a solid surface. A single opening was left on one side for them to enter, after they waited a few moments to make sure it would not collapse under its own weight.

Asami gasped as she saw the shelter rise whole from the ground. She had seen Korra perform much grander and more powerful bending feats before, but nothing as precise. This was not an issure of power, which the Avatar had and to spare, but was an example of her focus and clarity.

"Wow, Korra, it's fantastic."

Korra smiled, although even that was shaky from the cold and her lips had long since turned blue. "Thanks, but we should get inside and warm up as quickly as we can. Then we can try to figure out what's going on."

Moments later they and their packs were inside, huddled together as they dug through their supplies for whatever they had available. Their small cooking stove was set up for its meager heat and they huddled under blankets as Korra kept a small flame going for as long as she could.

After the heat began to sink back into their bones, Asami asked the question that had been on both of their minds. "Do you have any idea what happened?"

"No, and I was hoping you did. I didn't recognize any of the area where we arrived, I don't think we're at the Northern Spirit Portal."

"But if we're not at the Northern Spirit Portal, where are we? The Southern Spirit Portal?"

"No, the portals don't connect like that, you can't go through one and come out the other. Plus, this definitely isn't the South Pole. We should be at the North Pole exactly like we planned. Did you notice anything?"

Asami reflected that a few years ago Korra would have been fuming at the situation, practically enraged at the universe for not working like it was supposed to. That, or she would have been enraged at herself, self-critical over her inability to solve the problem instantly. Now, even though she was clearly confused and worried, she was calm enough to consider and discuss. It made Asami smile at how much she had grown. How much they had both grown.

"I didn't notice anything, but traveling to the Spirit World isn't my area of expertise. You've done it a lot more than I have and have the history with Raava to guide you."

"I know, and I probably should know what's going on, but..." now the frustration did begin to creep into Korra's voice, but even now it was subdued and controlled.

"Don't worry," Asami soothed, "we'll figure it out, no matter what this is. We've got food for days, which should give us time to find somebody, and....and we've got each other." She blushed at that, or would have if she had been warm enough to blush, but she meant it. She reached out and took Korra's hand that wasn't maintaining a ball of flame, holding it tight. "We'll be okay."

Korra looked down at their intertwined fingers and smiled, already reassured. Even though she was the one who actually had the experience dealing with surviving in the cold, and traveling to and from the spirit world, Asami's calmness was helpful nonetheless. She squeezed her hand and the two of them were silent for a while, just thinking and taking in each other's warmth. Despite the sensationalist lessons of the adventure romance novels the White Lotus did not know she had read as a teenager, Korra knew to keep her and Asami's clothes on as another layer of insulation, but she was still warmed by the simple fact of lying together with the woman she....loved? Maybe. Probably. Almost certainly. They were still trying to learn what it all meant, to each other and themselves, but whatever it was, Korra was glad that it was Asami that was with her.

Slowly, the two drifted off to sleep.

 

Chapter Text

The first thing Korra noticed as she was waking up was not the cold surrounding her, but instead the solitary point of warmth in her left hand. Slowly opening her eyes, she saw that she and Asami still had their fingers intertwined, holding one another from the night before. She smiled, a warm contented smile that had become a regular feature over the past week, as she stayed prostrate and just watched Asami sleep.

Even asleep in a strange place she was beautiful. Despite their rushed activities the night before she looked as if she had spent an hour before bed primping herself to present the proper image to anybody who might stumble across her in her sleep. Her hair was artfully pillowed beneath her head, the makeup she had applied yesterday morning was unsmudged (How was that even possible?), and even lying motionless she gave off an air of poise and grace. Not for the first time Korra reflected that she would be happy just watching Asami sleep as an example of refined beauty.

Then Asami snored. A loud, powerful snore that Korra could feel vibrate the air around them, and she could not help but laugh. Asami never wanted to stay in whatever box people tried to force her into, even while sleeping. When they had first met Korra had tried to dismiss her as nothing but a pretty face, and almost every moment since then had been spent disabusing her of that notion. She certainly did have that pretty face, but she was so much more than just a pretty face. Not just beautiful, but smart. Not just smart, but caring as well. She had no fear of personal danger, never shied away from a challenge, never rested on her professional or personal laurels. And on top of all that, sometimes she snored in just the right way to not match her perfect image, but to still be perfect anyway.

Closing her eyes again, Korra resolved to not wake up Asami just yet and to enjoy the next few moments.

Asami’s waking was an almost exact mirror of Korra’s, cognizant only of their hands still together. She could tell from her breathing that Korra was not still asleep, but her eyes were closed and she had not started moving yet. Asami was about to ask when Korra’s eyes opened and they looked at one another, neither needing to speak. Asami was lost in Korra’s warm blue, and she could tell that Korra was lost in her own green. Their hands were clasped together and, for at least a few moments longer, there was nothing to do to break the magic between them.

----

“So, where are we?”

Asami’s voice did not have any of the strong concern that the both of them had tried so hard to suppress the night before, but was now naturally calm and honestly curious. After having warmed up the night before and dressed themselves in layers of almost every article of clothing they had, she and Korra could both stand outside and look around without being terrified of succumbing to hypothermia in moments. It was still cold, but they were used to cold. Unfortunately, that was all that they were used to in the current situation, since nothing in the vast landscape was even remotely familiar.

“I don’t know, this isn’t any part of the North Pole I’ve seen before. None of this looks familiar at all, and….something else is different.”

When she did not elaborate Asami turned to Korra, who seemed unusually unsteady on her feet, as if she was not sure where she could stand to keep from falling over.

“What is it?”

“I’m not sure, but this ice feels like ice.” Off of Asami’s look she quickly elaborated, “I mean it feels like only ice. Like there’s no earth at all here, or anywhere around us. As if this snow, all this ice, is just floating on the ocean.”

It sounded ridiculous, but ‘ridiculous’ was a word Asami had stopped trying to use to dismiss things after her first few months of knowing the Avatar. So, if Korra said it felt like ice floating on water, they had to consider that.

“How are you feeling that? It seems perfectly steady to me.”

“I think it’s through my waterbending, and maybe earthbending as well. The movement of water is something I grew up with, even the way it moves against itself, and I spent a lot of time with ice-flows and shelfs. I can just…feel it, and I can also not feel it, and right now I’m only feeling water. No earth at all, no matter how deep I go. I’ve only ever felt like this when on a ship. There’s no earth beneath this ice.”

Asami made sure not to let the news change her expression, but that was almost more troubling than the disappearance of the Spirit Portal the night before. Earth was everywhere across the Earth (Obviously), even at the poles. The ice might have looked endless, but it rested on ground as solid as the Earth Kingdom itself; if you dug down deep enough you would find rock. She could not imagine where in the world they were.

“It’s the same way with the sun,” Korra continued, “it’s not moving the way it should. Did you notice that it never went down last night? Just lowered and lowered before it started coming back up."

“Is it possible we’re still in the Spirit World? I know it doesn’t look like anything you showed me, but you told me that it can change itself based on the people in and around it, and especially when the Avatar is nearby. Did we somehow never leave?”

Korra paused for a moment before she shook her head. “No, I would be able to feel the spiritual energy. We’re definitely in the physical world….just not any part of the world I know about or have even heard of.”

With another quick look around, perhaps hoping to spot some obvious clue that had escaped their notice, Asami turned back towards the shelter Korra had erected the day before. “Let’s go back inside then and see what we can figure out. No need for us to freeze our hair off just staring at snow.”

With her own look around, Korra turned to follow.

----

“What do we know?”

Korra asked the question openly, as if she expected Asami to have already figured everything out. Or no, not like she expected Asami to have already solved their problems, but rather that she had complete faith that Asami would solve the problem. With everything else that she had seen the business and engineering master accomplish, Korra could not imagine any problem which Asami could not figure out.

“Well, if you’re sure about the feel of the ice…” She paused until Korra nodded definitively, “then we’re nowhere I’ve ever heard of either. Especially not with the sun added onto that, not to mention the missing forest you told me about. I don’t think we’re anywhere near the North Pole at all, so I don’t think we can count on their soldiers finding us.”

She paused in case Korra had anything to add, but she just nodded in agreement with everything that had been said.

“Have you tried meditating into the Spirit World?”

“I tried, but it was….weird. It’s not that I couldn’t get in, but it felt like there wasn’t a Spirit World at all. Or, no, not like that, but…I don’t know how to explain it. There’s spiritual energy out there, but I can’t seem to reach it, it’s sand slipping through my fingers…which, considering I’m an earthbender, normally isn’t a problem for me.” Asami smiled slightly at Korra’s small joke before she continued, “I don’t think it’s something to do with me, I think it’s this place. It doesn’t have the same connection to the spirits.”

“Maybe that means something, we’ll think on that. Right now….now I think we’re going to need to save ourselves, because I don’t think we can count on anybody finding us.” Asami again paused to see if Korra had anything to add to that, and again Korra just nodded. “When it gets dark tonight, or at least as dark as it gets here, we can take our bearings from the stars and start heading south. Once we run into people we can figure out where we are, and at least it’ll start getting warm. When we find somebody with a radio we can call Tenzin and have him send an airship to us, and we’ll be home free. How much food do we have?”

“That’s the bright side at least” Korra said as she rumaged through their packs. “We should have enough to last us another week. It’s not exactly fine dining…” (“Hey, Future Industries ration bars are perfectly nutrituous!”) “…but it will keep us going. I’m glad we were able to scrounge up so much in the Spirit World and didn’t have to dig heavily into what we packed for the trip. Hopefully we can hunt or forage to spread that out even more if we have to. Hey, I can finally show you the merits of arctic hen. One bite and you’ll swear off catgator forever.”

Asami grinned at the thought of Korra cooking for her (She grinned at the thought of Korra doing anything for her), but she also knew that Korra was deliberately trying to be light, just as she was. They both knew that there was something very strange going on.

"Sounds delicious."

Chapter Text

They spent the rest of the day preparing for the trek they would begin the next morning. Even though they had so few supplies there was still a lot of work to make sure they used it as best they could. What clothing they had was all laid out and they began to strip and wrap it; wearing five shirts one over the other might keep your chest warm, but that would not do you much good if your arms were left with only a single sleeve. They had to tear and weave what cloth they had together to gain as much total covering as possible to both retain their body heat and keep out the wind and swept-snow. Their food was sorted as well; most was in the form of the low-weight, survival rations that Future Industries had been testing recently (Korra had predicted they would be able to survive on the wilds of the Spirit World and so they had packed a supply only for emergencies), but there were some treats and delicacies that both weighed more and would spoil sooner, so they were marked for soonest consumption (Not that either of them feared food spoiling in the current cold conditions).

As they worked through their tasks, though, they both stopped when they got to the formal outfits they had worn to Varrick and Zhu Li's wedding before they went to the Spirit World. They were both too sheer and cut to be of any practical use in this harsh weather as they were, and they had never even worn them once in the Spirit World, but now both the dresses were neatly folded and put aside instead of being rendered into pieces like the rest of their garments. Neither of them said a word about it, but their thoughts were clear regardless, and they moved on to mashing the rest of their clothing into functional, practical protection.

As the time passed they worked in companionable silence, focused on the tasks at hand, and comfortable enough to not need to chatter to fill the emptiness. They had already spent a week together in the Spirit World, by now they were both able to accept when nothing needed to be said.

Towards evening (Or what would have been evening in a world where the sun set) they donned their new patchwork clothing and ventured outside to watch the stars.

----

"Okay, this might be a problem." Korra's voice was dry as she and Asami both stared up at a sky that, sadly, was still bright enough to blot out the stars. "I think I understand now what my dad meant when he talked about the Midnight Sun. I always thought he was just making up an old legend."

"I think the sun's going to block the stars out even if we wait past midnight," Asami said, "And we can't use the sun itself either; if it just keeps circling forever then there's no rise or set. I don't think we'll have any luck identifying where we are."

"What, then? Just pick a random direction and start walking?"

"Actually, I think so." Korra gave her a look at that, but Asami just shrugged her shoulders. "We both said that we don't know where we are, and we've got nothing to use to figure it out. With nobody near by and no way to contact anybody, our only chance is to make it out of here. For that...we need to start moving, and any direction is as likely to help as any other. Besides, it can't be worse than getting out of the Si Wong desert. There isn't even a land shark after us this time."

Korra could not help but smile at the memory, edging towards four years ago now. It had been one of the first times the two of them had been alone together, without Tenzin and the Airbender kids or Mako and Bolin. Just them (And the Earth crew of the downed airship) relying on their wits and skills to survive. Even now, Korra felt pride for how Asami had managed to think their way out of every problem that came at them then.

"You're probably right. Although if memory serves me right we did have a sand sailor at the time."

"Hey, I...well, we.... built that sand sailor. And if we have to we can do it again. But for now, we walk."

Korra paused for a moment, but there was no argument to make against anything Asami had said. Unless they wanted to just wait until they froze to death, walking in a random direction was the only option open to them.

"Okay....heh...remember when I was the one who couldn't sit still? Always saying we should do anything, just to do something?"

"Yeah, I do. I suppose you're rubbing off on me."

Smiling, they went back into the shelter to wait out the night and prepare for the next day's hike.

----

The next morning they woke up, broke camp, and started their hike. Their packs were light, as they were wearing most of their clothes in the form of their new hand-made snowsuits, and their steps were easy. Based on a feeling that might have been instinct, but also might have just been blind stumbling, they picked their course and began trudging. Korra did not try any firebending, as anything large enough to warm them both would have been too strenuous to hold for longer than a few minutes at a time, and anything small enough to be held indefinitely would not have served much purpose out in the open air. She might have been able to warm just herself for an extended period, but the thought of abandoning Asami like that never even crossed her mind.

"Should we have tried making snow shoes? I saw some of the ones your Tribe used a few years ago, they worked really well, and we could probably have formed two pairs from our packs."

"I thought about it, but they're much more helpful on fresh powder and snow buildup. This tundra looks to be mainly ice, I'm guessing this snow fell years ago and has never melted. On ice snowshoes aren't much help, and can be a big problem if you hit any rough terrain. Better to keep our packs intact and deal with any powder as we encounter it."

As she had for the past two days, Asami deferred to Korra's lead. Korra had grown up at the South Pole, surrounded by ice and snow from the day she was born, where Asami had only briefly touched at the Poles for what amounted to brief vacations. When it came to their equipment and survival, there was no question that Korra was the expert.

As they walked, Korra would occasionally waterbend a smooth path across a broken section of ice, or steady a patch that seemed shaken. Asami was constantly checking their surroundings, hoping for some kind of familiar landmark or indication of what had happened to them, but nothing was clear. All they saw as they walked was the same endless miles of empty, white plane. Every few hours they stopped to rest and warm themselves; Korra would bring up a small snow shelter (Much easier and quicker than the larger one they had left that morning, since they would only stay within for an hour or so before moving on), they would set up their small camp stove, and they would huddle together for stolen warmth. They made good time, all things considered, and covered distance at a brisk walking pace despite the conditions. Still, when they ultimately decided to stop for the night there was a definite slump to their shoulders that had not been there in the morning: Even if they were going well, they were not going to anywhere.

The next day progressed the same way; they collected their packs in the morning, left the larger shelter Korra had erected the night before, and kept walking in the same direction they had gone the day before (With Korra's eye for the ice and Asami's head for directions, keeping the same target was easy). When they halted for the evening that night they set up camp as they had twice already (Korra had already reduced the time it took her to erect a solid, sturdy shelter to almost nothing. "Hey, I'm the Avatar, bending was always the easy part" she said when Asami pointed out how much quicker it was going), only when they brought out the camp stove Asami realized they were almost out of fuel. Enough to last for less than hour, barely enough time to warm the air in the shelter up to comfortable levels. Rather than run out completely and risk a later disaster, Korra heated the air herself. The two slept together that night, under the same coverings to preserve their warmth, and hoped for better developments the next day.

 

Chapter Text

The shelter was certainly survivably warm in the morning (Snow really does make a good insulator), but not anywhere near being actively comfortable. After they awoke Korra again raised the temperature to warm them up with a brief firebending, but they nonetheless ached from the cold sleep they had gone through. They ate, collected their belongings, and were off.

Korra noticed the first warnings of trouble after they had been walking for only an hour.

"There's a storm coming."

"Is there?" Asami looked to the sky, but there were no harbingers that she could see.

"Trust me, I can feel it in the air, and it'll be a bad wind. We've got a few hours, maybe a little bit less. We should probably make camp now so that we've got time to get a shelter set up and warmed by the time it hits us."

"If you think so."

As they now had done three times already, Korra erected a shelter and they crawled in to wait out the storm. As Korra had predicted it came in an hour, howling wind whipping up the snow and shards of ice and throwing it through the air faster than an airship. They could hear solid thumps all around them as their shelter absorbed the impacts, and the sound of the wind made them shiver even though none of it penetrated. Unlike when they had camped for the night on the previous days, neither of them was exhausted since they had been interrupted so early into their walk. Because of this, they had time to just sit there as they waited for the storm to pass.

The hours passed amiably enough, but this was different than their trip to the Spirit World. There they had been traveling from location to location, Korra marvelling Asami with the wonders to be found there. There was always a new fantasy, a new adventure. When they camped down for the night they had talked of the day's experiences. Their trip had been half a distraction from their lives of the past few months, and they had taken every advantage of it to be distracted. Even their stranding of the past few days had either kept them in motion, or kept them exhausted afterwards. Now, however, was silent isolation, and the other half of why they had gone to the Spirit World together.

Almost awkwardly, Korra sidled over next to where Asami was sitting against the wall of the dome. She knew that she felt for Asami, and she knew that Asami felt for her (Had known since they had first held hands before entering the Spirit Portal), but despite spending a solid week together they had not discussed it. Not directly. Now, though, with them trapped together without even the distraction of walking....how could they not? Slowly, she reached out to take hold of Asami's hand, as had happened so often frequently, and held it tightly.

"Asami..." her voice was quiet, not the confident, assertive tone she normally fielded. It was a quiet that came from hoping for something, even believing in something, but still doubting just enough to dread getting the answer. "...this past week....the time before that....our time apart...." She could not seem to get out a complete sentence. "...I've wanted..."

Asami did not respond with words. Instead, she squeezed Korra's hand and leaned down to place her head against Korra's shoulder, settling against her side. It might have been akwawrd as the taller woman squeezed down to fit, but it felt right. That implicit acceptance seemed to open the floodgates and suddenly Korra could not stop her stream of consciousness.

"Do you remember back when the new airbenders first started popping up after Harmonic Convergence? You were trying to teach me how to drive and I couldn't get the hang of it, not even at all, but you stayed in the car even after our fifth almost-crash and kept saying that I could get it. And then you showed up with a brand new airship when I was going to go with Tenzin to search the Earth Kingdom for the airbenders and this wasn't some huge disaster or catastrophe, where if you didn't help the world would end, it was just you making my life a little bit easier and more comfortable because that was the kind of person you are. And you came with us to Ba Sing Se and you were by my side through everything with the Red Lotus, which okay that was a big catastrophe where the world would end if we didn't do something, but then you stayed after it was over, when all I did was push everybody away and you were still there with me and you helped me even though...even though I thought that nobody would care about an Avatar that couldn't even take care of herself and....and..."

Korra felt like she should have been near tears, but in truth this was not a sad confession or depression. She was leading up to something good, and even in her almost-indecipherable ramble she felt that warmth growing.

"...that's when I began to realize just how special you were. Not just a friend, not even a best friend, but as somebody more. Somebody so special as to brighten my world just by being in it. Somebody who I could....could spend more time with.... And I went away, and I stayed away for so long and I'm so sorry for that, but even when I was away I never stopped thinking about how much better everything was just when you were around. Not when you were doing something for me, but just when you were with me, and I never thought that you'd still be there when I got back. You were always so together, and always moving your company higher, that I thought you'd have left me behind when I got back. But after everything, when you came up to me after the wedding, I couldn't just not say something, and when you said you wanted to go to the Spirit World it was the best moment of my life and now...now I just want to say you mean the world to me, and right now, even though we're trapped wherever we are and are buried under frozen snow, just feeling you next to me makes it a bright day. We're outside, under the warm sun and about to have a picnic, because you make it warm and I....and I...."

She finally wound down when there were no more words inside of her and she could barely remember what it was she had just said, and she was starting to worry that her outpouring had been too much even for Asami. Some of this they had already talked about, even just at the wedding before deciding to go to the Spirit World together, but she had never layed it all together, even if it had been so jumbled just now. As the seconds passed, which seemed to stretch to truly inconceivable lengths, she began to worry if maybe she had misjudged everything about Asami after all.

"Korra....I wanted to tell you for so long. Since even before we went to Ba Sing Se. I'd been confused with everything that happened, not just our ridiculous issues with Mako but Varrick and the entire situation, and it felt like you were the one person in the world that made sense. The one person that I didn't need to put on a show for, and that I didn't need to fight to be with, that I could just be with. I didn't know how you saw me, or if you even could see me, but that was when I knew. Since then....since then I've just been waiting for right now, for this very moment."

After that they were silent, Asami with her head leaning against Korra's shoulder, their hands clasped between them. Korra wanted to say something else, but there was nothing to say, and she felt like she had enough light inside her to burn away all the snow and ice around them. So, instead of saying anything, she reached over and tilted up Asami's chin until they were looking into each other's eyes. She felt lost in the pull of Asami's eyes, as if the warmth in them was where the light inside of her came from, and then she leaned in. Asami did the same, tilting her head to the side, and their lips met in the briefest, lightest touch that set the whole world aflame.

 

Chapter Text

Neither of them was exactly sure how long the storm had lasted; certainly hours, possibly days. Sealed away in their snow shelter they saw nothing of the passage of time, and they had spent so much time just holding one another that even if they could see the sky they might have missed a sunset or two (If the sun did set around here, that is). Now, however, the howling wind had finally died and the steady thump of impact against the outside of the shelter had not been heard for a while.

Korra place her hand against the side of the shelter and felt for a moment before turning to Asami.

"I think we've been completely buried, I'll need to waterbend us out. Do we have everything collected?"

"I think so, give me a light to make sure."

Korra lit up a small ball of flame in her hand, just enough to see by in the buried shelter, as Asami made sure everything was tightly packed.

"This is everything, I think we're ready."

"Okay, give me your hand." Korra extended her non-flaming hand as she spoke and drew Asami to her. "Hold on."

Then, as soon as Korra dropped the fire, the snow dome above them exploded outward and the snow beneath them elevated as a pillar to deposit them right at the new level of the snow. All around them the landscape had been re-shaped by the storm; scoured flat by the wind-thrown shards of ice in some places and piled high with new-fallen and shifted snow in others.

For a moment they just stood and stared around them, at the evidence of how dangerous the world around them could be, and how out control the elements were, even though Korra could bend them to her will. The Avatar had tremendous power, and probably could have done something dramatic like fight the storm if it had been necessary, but against the sheer scale of weather and the world as a whole she was as small as anybody else.

"And to think, all I needed was a giant icestorm to get you all to myself. If I'd known I might have whipped one up even sooner."

The joke was horribly delivered, and not very funny in the first place, but Asami could not help but laugh regardless. Korra was blatantly attempting to make light of the situation, and that made it all the better. Turning to Korra she grabbed her around the arms and pulled her close, laughing into her shoulder and holding tight. After a moment, Korra began laughing as well.

"Okay, do we have any idea which direction we were going in before the storm hit? So much of the land has changed."

"I think....no, I'm almost positive we were heading in this direction." Asami pointed dramatically towards a section of ice that looked no different to Korra than any other section of ice, but it would take something a lot more important than that to get her to disagree with Asami now.

"Well then, that way we go!"

And she began marching directly ahead, taking such large steps that she was almost daring Asami to challenge her faith in Asami's navigation, pulling Asami along with her. Laughing, Asami allowed herself to be pulled. Right now, she would have gone anywhere Korra pulled her at all.

----

"Korra, hold on for a moment. I need to....I need to rest." Asami's breathing was coming in shallow breaths, shallower all the time. They had been on the ice for days now, and it was beginning to wear her down. To wear both of them down, even with Korra's bending to help stave off the worst. Every morning they woke up to a shelter that was a little colder, and Korra had to work a little harder to heat it up. Their clothing was frosted through every day, and even heating it overnight gave them only a small respite in the morning.

"Just a little further Asami, to the top of this hill. We'll have a view of the entire area and we'll be able to see whatever's around here." Korra did not honestly believe that there would be anything worth seeing, their entire trip had exposed them to nothing but endless tundra beyond more endless tundra, but she needed to give Asami some reason to keep moving. Harking back to the lessons of your youth: If you stop on the ice, you die on the ice. "Just a little bit further, then we'll make camp."

Asami could only grunt in acknowledgement, but she kept walking. The hill was not very large, really just a dune of snow slightly larger than every other dune surrounding them, but even that exertion was almost too much in her state. Still, she did not give up and followed Korra up to the top of the rise before collapsing to her knees.

"We need to camp here, Korra. I can't...I can't keep going today. We need to rest, keep going tomorrow."

Korra was about to protest, but the sound of Asami's voice stopped her. This was not emotional refusal, this was a physical collapse, right now Asami could not keep going.

"It's okay, we made it to the top, we can camp here. Give me a minute and I'll bring up a shelter."

But before she bended their normal shelter out of the snow, she drew up a pool of water and began to run it over Asami's body. So far they had been physically unscathed and had not needed any healing, but clearly that had changed. Frowning, Korra, quickly realized the problem, and it was not something she could heal with waterbending: There was only so much exertion and exposure to the cold the human body could take. They had done amazingly well so far, but they had reached a limit.

"Hold on Asami, I'm going to warm you up right now."

Erecting their shelter and heating the air would have taken too long, so Korra went the direct route. Pulling Asami into a tight embrace, she began to firebend a warm cocoon around the two of them; warm enough to stave off the cold air on the outside and heat them up on the inside. To hold this continuously would come close to wiping out Korra for the rest of the day and she would need her own rest, but hopefully it would revive Asami enough to make it through the night.

"Just hold on Asami, just hold on. We've come so far, we're about to get out of here, you can't stop now. Stay with me....please."

They stayed like that for minutes, then close to half an hour, then an hour. Korra had never held a firebending like this for so long, but she could feel it working as Asami warmed up within her arms. She held it for another minute, and another after that, and then Korra began to fade herself as she spent all her fire.

"Please."

Whether it had just been enough time for Asami to warm up, or whether there was its own kind of power in that single word, Asami's eyes opened and she looked up at Korra. Then she smiled and asked a question which was so innocuous, but which meant so much at that moment; "Korra, do you hear that?"

And then the two of them were on their feet, regardless of how tired they were or how cold they were to their bones, as they noticed for the first time a sign of life. A single, solitary flying machine (And it was clearly a machine) far above them. And then they were shouting and waving and doing everything they could to be noticed in the hopes that they might finally be escaping the frozen desert.

"Hey! Over Here! Helloooooo!"

Both Korra and Asami were shouting as loud as they could and waving their arms. They were cold and exhausted, but you would never know it to look at just how enthused they were, jumping around and attracting attention as if their lives depended on it. Which, sad to say, they did. The two of them had seen no sign of life for days until they caught sight of the unusual flying machine and had no idea if they would see any again if it got out of sight. So, they were doing all they could to get noticed.

Unfortunately, it did not look to be enough, as the strange machine kept going in a straight line. Ironically, it even seemed to be heading towards where they had started their hike so many days ago. Slowly their arms dropped to their sides as they realized their one hope was about to keep flying by without even realizing that they were there. It was already almost out of sight, just a speck in the sky. Desperate, and on the verge of exhaustive collapse, Korra took what little heat she had left and coalesced it into into a single ball of flame. Just before the speck disappeared completely she flung her arms upwards, creating the largest, brightest, flashiest cone of firebending she could before collapsing to her knees besides Asami.

It worked.

Instead of shrinking, the speck was growing, turning from a tiny blot in the vast blue expanse back into the strange flying machine they had first noticed. As it grew they began to pick out details that made it all the stranger; it did not have the large body of an airship, nor the wings of one of the new airplanes that Future Industries had been producing for the past few years. It did seem vaguely similar to the hummingbird mecha suit Asami had designed with Varrick's help, but only in the most general of ways. It looked like there was a single large propellar above to keep it in the air, with what might have been another one connected to the main body by a tail. But right now, with it apparently coming to save their lives, Korra and Asami would not have cared if it stayed in the air with two giant arms that flapped very hard.

As it grew closer they reached towards one another and grapsed hands, fingers intertwined. They were too tired to say anything, they just leaned into each other and smiled. The noise of the machine, a loud whump-whump-whump, began to cut the air, and Asami's eyes picked out more details. Chief amongst them was a large symbol blazoned on its side, which she had never seen before. It was not the flag of any of the five nations, nor one the bending elements, or any other organization or group she had ever heard of. It was, instead, a bright red-and-white rectangle, with a stylized leaf predominant in the center white stripe.

 

Chapter Text

As the strange vehicle landed on the ground (Even near complete exhaustion Asami kept analysing the machine. It was clearly a heavier-than-air craft with the way it settled on the ice, and her mind itched to get a look at the specifications of how it worked) the door on its side opened and a group of men piled out. They were swathed from head to toe in what looked like proper cold-weather gear, and Korra and Asami were both instantly jealous. However, like the machine itself their clothing was like nothing either of them had seen before; it didn’t look like furs or pelts, and their equipment was oddly designed. Still, they had warm clothing and a machine to bring them to safety, so Korra and Asami would have accepted creatures with two heads at the moment.

As the strangers approached, Korra called out to them over the rushing wind. “Thank you so much for stopping, we’ve been stranded out here for days with almost no supplies. You’ve saved our lives.”

The men stopped for a brief moment and spoke among themselves, then kept walking without responding to Korra.

“We’re not even sure where we are exactly, we were heading to the Northern Water Tribe and somehow ended up here. What is this place?”

The men were now close enough for her to speak without shouting, and they responded to Korra for the first time. Unfortunately, the words made no sense, the meaning lost in gibberish. Even the sounds seemed wrong, not even the incomprehensible noises of children too young to speak. Korra frowned, unsure.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t understand you. Please, can we speak inside your aircraft? My friend and I are very weak.”

Again the strangers spoke. It sounded different this time, but no less strange, and Korra began to grow angry at the apparent games.

“Look, we don’t have time to play around, Asami needs help right now. Now either you help me, or you get out of my way.” As she spoke she stepped forward and raised her arms to begin some demonstrative bending…or at least she meant to step forward dramatically, instead her legs could no longer support her in her exhaustion and she stumbled to her knees, gasping for air.

That, at least, got through whatever was causing the strangers not to understand her, and they rushed forward to pick up her and Asami and carry them back to the flying vehicle. They were gingerly placed inside on padded seats and the men clambered in afterwards, and soon the strange creation was airborne again. Its motion was odd, unlike any flight Korra or Asami had ever experienced before, and everything inside looked just as unusual as the strange equipment, but for the first time in a week Asami and Korra were warm without the need of firebending to exhaustion or submerging in a dome of snow. Just being outside of blistering wind was enough to restore some measure of strength to them, and they smiled at each other as they reached over and clasped hands once again

Soon, even with the jumping motion of their flight and the unfamiliar noises surrounding them, the two drifted to sleep still holding hands.

----

When Korra awoke it was into warmth, real warmth, but for some reason she felt oddly cold regardless. After a moment she realized: This was the first morning in a week that she had not woken with the feel of Asami against her. She sat bolt upright, filled with half-formed thoughts of horror over what might have befallen her, and subsided at once when she saw her sitting awake in the bed next to Korra’s.

That was when Korra realized she was in a bed, and further that the bed was inside a building, and they really were not stuck on the ice any more. With a small whoop of joy she jumped across the gap between them and pulled Asami into a tight embrace, savoring the feeling of holding her tight without five layers of clothing between them.

“Whoa, easy there Korra. I’m glad you’re okay, too.”

“I was so worried, Asami. I could feel you slipping away out there, if these people hadn’t found us…” Korra’s voice was tight, filled with all the emotions she could not quite say.

“Don’t worry, I’m already feeling better, and I’d say your strength is coming back, too. How about a litle breathing room?” Korra laughed at Asami’s breathless voice and loosened her hold---but only a little. “Do you know where we are?” She asked.

“Not yet. I only woke up a few minutes ago and I didn’t want to try forcing my way around until you were with me. But, now that you’re up, what say we take a look around?”

The room that they were in was both familiar and as bizarrely strange as the people they had encountered on the ice. It was clearly a dormitory or barracks of some kind, meant for a dozen people to sleep in without much focus on comfort or privacy, but it was different from any room they had been in before in a thousand subtle ways. There was so much metal around them; metal bed frames, metal shelves and cabinets, and metal fixtures, more metal than they had seen anywhere outside of Zaofu. However, in Zaofu every scrap of metal, down to the screws and bolts that held the buildings together, was its own work of art, bent into its functional form while retaining its beauty by metalbenders that were not construction workers so much as artisans. Here the metal almost looked cheap, the barest minimum necessary to fulfill its function. The fixtures were also different; the lightbulbs were brighter and steadier, the cabinets were jointed differently, and there was no heritage of any of the four nations visible in the architecture. It was still fundamentally a room, but just as much as the sun which never set it was a striking deviation from the world they knew.

Quietly, Asami said “Why don’t we ask her?”

The “her” was a soldier who stood just inside the door and had been calmly observing them the entire time. That she was a soldier was unmistakable; her uniform might have been different than any with which they were familiar, but a uniform it clearly was, and she held herself as rigidly as any member of the United Forces. She stood perfectly still, arms at rest behind her, and had not said anything as Asami and Kora explored their surroundings.

“Hi, my name’s Asami, and we both wanted to say how grateful we are that you rescued us from out there. We’re not exactly sure what happened, can you tell us where we are?”

The woman gave no indication that she had understood a thing Asami had said, staring at her with blank incomprehension. Slowly, she spoke herself, and her words just as meaningless as what the strange men had said out on the ice. After a moment, she turned aside and pulled what was clearly a telephone of some kind off the wall and spoke rapidly into it, just as indecipherable as before.

“Korra, I don’t..I don’t think they speak our language.”

“At all? That’s not possible. We’ve been all over the world and never had any problem understanding people before.”

“We’ve also never been to a land where the sun never sets, I think we need to be open to stranger things.”

Korra opened her mouth to argue the point, but there was not really any argument to make given everything that surrounded them. Wherever they were, it was not like any other city or nation they had ever been to. Now that she was thinking about it, even the unnamed woman looked different. Her skin was as light as Asami’s, a characteristic of the Fire Nation and its people, but her face and eyes were rounded like depictions of the Air Nomads. Her uniform had as many strange devices as they had seen in the flying machine, and on her shoulder was the same red-and-white symbol with the leaf that had blazoned its side. Whoever she was, like the mysterious environment and strange building she was another reminder that they were outside the familiar.

By now the woman had finished her phone conversation and resumed her stance next to the door, again watching them without comment. Slowly, Korra raised her hand and pointed at her own chest. “Korra.” She said it loudly and clearly, then waited a moment and said it again. After the third repition she pointed to Asami and said her name just the same. She went back and forth, slowly and with emphasis, to try and make it clear that she was giving their names. Finally, when she could not imagine that the woman was so clueless as to miss the point, she pointed towards her chest and waited. Korra did not try to ask her name, since that might have just confused her, but just left her hand extended and kept what she hoped was a friendly, questioning smile on her face.

Slowly, the woman nodded and pointed towards her own chest, then said a string of syllables that made no sense to Korra. When she saw that Korra had not grasped it, she said it again, slower and enunciating each syllable. To Korra it sounded like a mishmash of Fire and Earth names, but she finally parsed it out to Lu-Ten Joo Dee Moon and nearly yelled for joy that they were making some progress.

Before they could go any further there was a click-clack of a lock being turned and the door behind them swung open. Lu-Ten Joo Dee Moon (Could that possibly be her actual name?) quickly snapped to what could only be attention as a three others in uniforms similar to hers walked through the door and appraised Korra and Asami. Their gazes were not hostile, not quite, but they were far more calculating than either of them liked. Then, as if they though in tandem, the three stepped aside to clear the doorway and gestured through it. Clearly, they were being lead somewhere, and after a brief glance between them they walked out the door.

Chapter Text

As they followed the three soldiers down the hallway, Asami continued to pick out all the tiny things that were just subtly different enough to be wrong.  There was a constant, high-pitched hum that she assumed had to be connected to the electricity in use in the structure, but it sounded different than what she was used to.  Closer to the noise of the Spirit Vine technology Kuvira had used, but thankfully not identical or roaring loud enough to make her think that they were actually the same.  The structure itself seemed to almost be in disrepair; everything functioned, but there was a lot of wear and tear around them, and more dirt and smudges than she would expect from soldiers as firm as these appeared to be.  She had a hard time imagining General Iroh of the United Forces letting things get so slovenly, and even though they had not yet learned to communicate with each other these people gave off the same air of professionalism.  When they reached their apparent destination, an office down the hallway from where she and Korra had awoken, Asami was certain that the environment did not fit.  The office was...not "sloppy", not exactly, but it had a disorganized and cluttered feel that she could not imagine the man behind the desk could possibly condone.  He looked uncomfortable just sitting in it, as if he wanted to sweep everything out the door and begin having it all filed and ordered.  Like he and the other people they had seen were only visitors here, not the regular inhabitants.

 

At that thought she almost stopped short. What if they were visitors, just like her and Korra?  Transported without their knowing how or why?  What if they were stuck here as well?  Did that mean that she and Korra were not really "saved", but just had a reprieve from immediate death?  Asami knew they had to learn how to speak to these people as soon as possible.

 

At a gesture from the sitting officer, who apparently held command here, Korra and Asami sat before his desk while the three men who collected them took their own seats and Lu-Ten Joo Dee Moon stood beside the door, just as she had in the dormitory where Korra and Asami had woken.  Asami looked to Korra, who gave her the barest of nods, and she leaned forward with her best and most disarming smile.  She had never played the fool, not even when it would have served her advantage to be mistaken as an empty-headed girl, but she had long since learned how to play on the expectations of others who had already mentally dismissed her or categorized her as just the pretty figurehead of Future Industries, especially when they wanted something as these did.  Of that she was certain, the people around her did not look hostile, but they had the same look about them that she got from President Raiko almost every time they met.  A calculating look that said its bearer was thinking of how best to use you to achieve their own ends; even if those ends were relatively benign (And Raiko, for all his faults, had never planned any kind of martial expansion or oppression in the United Republic) they were still their ends.

 

"Sir, thank you so much for saving the two of us, I don't know what we would have done without you.  As we've been trying to say, we don't know where we are or how we got here, and were wandering out there for days.  What is this place?  Can you help us communicate with Republic City?  Can you....can you understand me?"

 

She was hopeful for a moment that maybe this man would be able to speak their language, but it lasted only seconds before he responded in the same meaningless sounds that they had already run up against.  He spoke at length, but his words became no clearer with time.  When he finished, and when he realized that they had understood him no more than he had understood them, he looked over their shoulders and spoke to Lu-Ten Joo Dee Moon.  She responded, and Asami picked out her own and Korra's name in the general haze, before the man turned back. After a moment, he said something to one of the other men in the room who up until now had been silent, and then the new man began speaking.  His words sounded different from the rest, but no less strange; like the difference between the roars of a platypus-bear and a polar bear-dog, just being able to say "They're different" did not impart any greater meaning.  After a moment, when Asami and Korra had both shaken their heads to say they still did not understand, a third man present began to speak.  He spoke much more slowly that other two, haltingly, as if even he was not completely familiar with the language, and this language...this language was different from the other two that had been tried.  Korra and Asami still could not understand the meaning, but at least it sounded liked words instead of the noise from the other speakers.  They were excited now, wondering if they were getting closer, and gestured for him to keep talking.  He spoke again, still unsure himself, but unfortunately his words became no clearer.  After he went on for a few minutes Korra and Asami leaned back in disappointment.

 

Everybody in the room was silent for moments as if considering how to proceed, until the man behind the desk stood up, gesturing for everybody else to remain seated.  He walked over to what Asami had taken to be an empty picture frame when they first walked in, since it looked like just black framed glass, and pressed a button on its side.  After a moment the glass began glowing with light and Asami was fascinated as a picture appeared within, apparently a picture of several other soldiers like the group they were with.  She had never seen such a bright and vibrant photograph, even Future Industries' new color film did not come close, and she was about to walk over to examine it when she saw the photograph move.  The soldiers in the picture shifted and breathed like real people, and then one of them began speaking and Asami nearly jumped out of her chair. It was like a mover screen, but there was no projector or equipment, and mover images were even more indistinct than photographs, so how could it be so clear?  Then, to her even greater shock, the man with them spoke to the screen....and the screen spoke back.

 

At that both Asami and Korra did jump out of their chairs, staring at the little picture in complete amazement as the people in the picture spoke back and forth with the people in their room with them.  She briefly had a flash of memory, years old, of hearing about a Spirit who thought that radios worked with little men inside them that spoke.  At the time she had wondered how even a Spirit could believe something so ridiculous, but now she wondered if maybe he had been onto something after all.  She looked to Korra, who seemed just as surprised as she was, and Korra gave the smallest shake of her head.  No?  No what? Before she could ask, she realized that everybody in the room (And even the people in the picture) were staring at her and Korra.  They looked surprised, but not at the talking picture; they looked surprised that Korra and Asami were surprised.  As if they expected them to already understand what it was.

 

Just what land did these people come from that had these strange devices?

 

Slowly, Asami and Korra re-seated themselves as the conversation with the picture resumed and went on for a few minutes.  Eventually, the man waved their attention back to the picture as one of the people in it began to talk.  This was another new sound (The fourth one they had heard by now?  Asami was not exactly sure) and like the one before it seemed like it was almost understandable.  When that did not work, the same person tried another new language, and then another one after that.  Each one was just as incomprehensible as the last.  Eventually that person seemed to run out of languages (Just how many ways did these people speak to each other?) and another one took over.  This time the words were back to being completely unknowable, like they were not even using the right sounds.  They went through another dozen languages, switching off to different speakers each time one seemed to run out of words, and none of them made any sense to Korra or Asami.  Eventually, the people in the picture looked frustrated and a little insulted, as if Korra and Asami were doing this on purpose, but also defeated that they had accomplished nothing besides making noises at one another for an hour.  The one who sat in front, and had been the first person to try speaking, now gestured at them, indicating that they should begin talking.

 

This time Korra leaned forward, almost aggressively so, and Asami could tell that she was holding on to her calm with both hands.

 

"Hello, my name is Korra and this is Asami.  We don't know where we are or who you are or what you're trying to say, and you throwing noises at us for an hour isn't helping anything!" The people in the picture looked as confused and non-comprehending as they had before, but Korra was in no mood to calmly continue with this nonsense.  "We're very grateful that you rescued us, but if you keep this up much longer we're going to march right out of here and take our chances back out on the ice!  Now, do you have ANY idea what I'm saying?"

 

She paused, hoping that maybe one of them would raise a hand or stand up to announce that miraculously it all made sense, but the people in the picture (And the soldiers with them) were just as confused as before.  One of them gestured with his hands that he wanted her to keep talking, but Korra clenched her hands into fists and barely restrained herself from firebending the picture into ashes.  "Aaargh!  This is pointless!"  And she sat back down in her chair with the impression of somebody slamming a door.

 

After a few moments of awkward silence, all the people in the room and the picture began speaking to one another rapidly.  Some were excited, some were agitated, and none of it made any sense to Korra and Asami.  Korra was about to jump up again, possibly to do something more dramatic than before, when the man behind the desk who had been in charge seemed to remember that she and Asami were still there.  With a few quick words to Lu-Ten Joo Dee Moon, they were ushered out of the office and found themselves being shepherded down another hallway.  They turned to one another, but before they could speak they both noticed the most wonderful, soul-lifting smell they had smelled in what felt like forever, and began practically running down the hallway towards where they could tell food was being prepared.

Chapter Text

Even the food tasted different, but with how hungry she was Korra did not stop to analyze or pick apart the details.  She and Asami had only eaten in the morning yesterday before being found by these strange people, and that had only been the same now-frozen ration bars they had been living on for a week, so the temptation of a fresh, cooked meal was almost enough to drive her to passion.  Lu-Ten Joo Dee Moon (Korra again wondered just how somebody could wind up with a name like that, and resolved to just call her Lu-Ten for simplicity) had guided them towards this cafeteria after their meeting with the others, and now she and Asami were thoroughly engrossed in the plates before them.  There had been trays of unfamiliar food laid out along one side of the area, and they had piled whatever they could into the trays they were given, and now they did not even pause to talk as they ate like two people that had been near starvation.  Which, come to think of it, they had been.

 

After a few minutes, when they had managed to sate the growling beasts that seemed to have grown in their stomachs, they began to again take in their surroundings.  The cafeteria itself was like all the other rooms they had been in so far, worn metal and wood everywhere, but for the first time they saw other people besides the soldiers they had been in conference with.  A dozen people were scattered around the room in small groups, all talking in that same language which seemed dominant, and they were all the same sort of unusual as the soldiers they already met.  Their clothing was varied and had the appearance of casual dress, and Korra made the leap that they were the primary people of this....whatever this place was.  The soldiers must be new.  For a moment she thought that they might have stumbled into a military occupation, but none of the body language was fearful like a conquered people; the soldiers might not be the normal inhabitants of this place, but they were not a dominating enemy.  The food also was not the kind of gruel served to prisoners; it certainly would not be what Korra would have chosen to serve on a feast day, but it was warm and fresh and provided in quantity.  So, wherever they were and whatever was going on, they had not fallen into the hands of barbarians at least.  However, Lu-Ten still stood behind them observing, and she was clearly there as a guard in addition to guide, so they were not completely at liberty, either.

 

Turning back to Asami, Korra could not help but notice that even as she had attacked her meal with as much gusto as Korra had, Asami still held her utensil (An odd, metal strip with pointed tines at the end) as if she were dining at an exclusive restaurant.  Even now, she retained that air refinement which never seemed to abandon her.

 

"What?" she asked, "Do I have something on my face?"

 

"No," Korra laughed and tried to imagine any meal where Asami could be so sloppy as to get something on her face, "I was just thinking about us and this entire ridiculous situation.  We leave the Spirit World, get stuck wherever we are, nearly die out in that wasteland and now that we've been saved we still don't know what's going on.  Yet if I didn't know better I'd say you were ready to go out and spend the evening in Republic City 'living it up'."

 

Asami smiled at the compliment, and at how Korra never seemed to see any of the flaws that she saw herself.  After a week without washing or bathing, and with them both now dressed in the strange clothing that they had woken in (She assumed that their property had been taken by whoever these people were), she figured that she looked ready to rejoin Gommu in this commune beneath the streets.  But to hear Korra, you would think she had just woken up in her mansion and spent the day at the spa.  "I'll only 'live it up' if you come with me, I couldn't stand going to those clubs".

 

Korra laughed and reached across the table to take Asami's hand, "Deal."

 

They stayed that way for a moment, almost more refreshed by this limited contact than the meal they were eating, when they both remembered that Lu-Ten was still staring at them.  She had not said anything, but the realization that they were being watched made them both withdraw their arms and turn back to their food.

 

"So, have we solved the mystery yet?  Do we know how to get home?"  Korra's voice was light again, not the near-anger she had had towards the end of their meeting, where the frustrations of the day had begun to grind.

 

"I'm...I don't think so.  I don't know if we can.  Everything about this place is so strange and I've never heard of any of it. If that talking picture had been built anywhere in the world we would have heard of it, and I get the feeling that we seem just as strange to these people as they look to us.  Did you notice how surprised they were that we hadn't seen that picture before?  I don't think they've ever had any contact with the world we know.  Unless we can find out what sent us here in the first place, I don't see how we can get back."

 

"Oh." With that one word Korra said so much, and she spent a moment just absorbing, before she smiled again  "Well then, we better get to understanding how this world works.  I finally started figuring out the old one in about twenty years, I'm sure we could shave a few months off it this time."

 

Now Asami laughed, half at the joke itself, and half in relief that Korra took it so well.  She was right, it had taken her a long time to learn how to handle the world, and she had suffered some hardships doing so that their scars could still be seen, and Asami had feared that she might have taken it even harder to be cast away from what she knew.  Thankfully, that did not seem to come to pass.

 

"You're right, we can probably knock a whole lot of time off of it.  Maybe even get the language down in only ten years  Of course, since they have so many we might need to stretch that out a bit."

 

Now they laughed together, letting a lot of their tension flow out as they accepted the situation they seemed to find themselves in, and the rest of the meal was spent in simple, idle chat as they talked about how everything looked in this new world they found themselves in.

Chapter Text

Lieutenant Judith Moon, RCAF, knocked on the frosted glass door to what had once been the office for the administrator of the Weather Station at the Canadian Forces Station Alert.  The administrator, unfortunately, had been displaced, as had most of his staff, by the arrival of Lieutenant-Colonel George Monke, the expanded RCAF deployment (With support), and Lieutenant Moon herself.  She knew many officers that would have taken the office purely as a petty exercise of power, emphasizing that they were in charge by literally displacing the former head, but she also knew that Monke would have legitimately preferred there to be another choice.  Like much of the Weather Station, which had been running in civilian hands for decades despite the RCAF presence in Station Alert, it had the disorganized, chaotic clutter that came from eccentric civilians trapped indoors for too much time, and every time she was in the office Moon could tell that Monke only kept himself from tearing down the walls by the skin of his teeth.  Still, it had the best information connections and location than any other office in the base, so he had no choice but to operate out of it.

 

From within the room came the muffled instruction to enter and Moon walked in, shutting the door quietly behind her.

 

"Please, have a seat, Lieutenant."  Lieutenant-Colonel Monke was putting away a folder as he spoke, and she noticed a pile of others at his left hand that he would likely return to once she had left.  Even at the very ends of the Earth, paperwork could never be defeated.  "I wanted to get your impressions on the two women we've picked up."

 

"Yes, sir.  What would you like to know?"

 

"I'm not looking for anything specific just yet, just give me your feel.  We haven't been able to decipher anything they've been saying and you've had the longest contact, so I'd like to get your perspective."

 

"Yes, sir."  She paused for a moment to martial her thoughts, then continued. "Sir, they are two of the queerest women I've ever seen.  Remember how they panicked at the video hookup this afternoon?  They've been doing that all day.  When they woke up they spent ten minutes staring at the beds, as if they'd never seen the like. They walked around the dorm opening and closing the closet doors and knocking on the shelves.  They stare at everything we pass, even people; when they first started speaking to me it looked like they expected me to grow another head. I've seen that before, from refugees out of Africa and the Mideast, but these two don't look or act like refugees, even if we hadn't found them up here.  The tall one looks like she works as a model, and I'd take the other one for an MMA fighter."  She paused again, as if considering whether or not to mention something, then continued.  "They also seem to think my name is 'lieutenant', or rather 'looten'.  I'd guess they don't have much experience with ranks."

 

Monke paused a moment to think over what she had said.  "And their language?  Do you think that's deliberate?"

 

"No, sir, that's something I'm almost sure of, they've never heard English before in their lives, or anything else we've tried.  They and I have gone in circles all day and they've never kicked to anything.  They can't read it, either; they would have burned themselves a dozen times on hotplates in the cafeteria when they ignored the warning signs if I hadn't stopped them.  There was no hesitation that I could see.  I....uh...I knew a kid about ten years ago with Aphasia after an accident.  It was a lot like this, no connection at all."

 

"Any clue what it is they are speaking, or where they're from?  Any hint at all?"

 

"No, sir.  The shorter one, Korra....." The pause was definitely longer here, as if she was worried not just over whether she should mention something, but how.  "...I grew up with an Inuk friend who had a white grandmother, they look almost identical.  But these two aren't speaking Inuktitut.  I could never speak it myself, but I was around them enough to be able to recognize it.  If I'd had to guess I would have said they were speaking something from somewhere in East Asia, but the video conference with the CFLS ran through that and more."

 

The silence stretched out longer this time, and now it was clear that it was Colonel Monke that was the one unsure if he should say something or not.  "Lieutenant, off the record and completely without review, do you think they had anything to do with the pulse?  Don't snap-answer, I want you to think on this."

 

"Sir, I don't see how they could be.  They're kids, they can't be older than twenty, and they nearly had a fit when they saw a video chat.  My niece uses one of those in her cell-phone to talk to her boyfriend when my brother won't let them meet, and she's fifteen.  They also obviously have no idea at all what's going on.  They're so far out of their element that I feel sorry for them.  On the other hand....on the other hand, I honestly don't see how they can be out here and not be connected.  We're literally at the end of the Earth, the odds of a coincidental encounter have to be astronomical.  How did they even get here if they're not connected?  I haven't been privy to the specific details, but I know that when they were found they had no cold weather gear at all.  Unless they literally dropped out of the sky, there has to be something else to them."

 

"Hmmmm...." Monke limited himself to that one noncommittal sound.  "Where are the two of them now?"

 

"When Lieutenant Rawlins relieved me we had just returned to the dormitory for the evening.  Captain Sawyer told me he didn't want them wandering the station today, so I ushered them back after they cleaned up." Now she gave a small smile, "I don't think I've seen two people so happy to be offered a shower since my deployment, they must have been out there for days."

 

"Hmmmmm......thank you Lieutenant.  When are you scheduled to relieve Rawlins?"

 

"I'm scheduled to return at 0800 tomorrow morning.  Captain Sawyer said he would have a full schedule worked out tomorrow for until the situation changes."

 

"Thank you.  Dismissed."

 

As Lieutenant Moon left the office (She could already see Monke reaching for another file before the door had closed) and headed towards her own dormitory (Her own very crowded dormitory since an entire section had been cleared to make room for the two mystery women), she found herself running through many of the same questions all over again.  Just who were these two, where had they come from, and what were they doing at the North Pole?

Chapter Text

When Lieutenant Moon arrived to relieve the guard the next morning, Korra and Asami were already awake.  That was not much of a surprise, as neither of them gave the impression of being the sort to waste a day in in fruitless sleep (At least, not when they were not recovering from exposure and exhaustion).  What was surprising was that Korra sat cross-legged on her bed, apparently performing some sort of meditation, and given the frustrations she had shown yesterday Moon had not pegged her for meditative type.  Asami sat on the bed next to her, quietly observing, and Moon noted that it was not the bed which she had slept in; she had moved to the cot on the other side of Korra, where she could see both her and also watch the door (And guards).  She leaned forward just a little bit, enough for Moon to recognize that her posture was protective and almost possessive.

 

Interesting.

 

After she had gotten the quiet update on what had happened during the night (Primarily nothing; indecipherable conversation between the two women, sleep, and then meditation starting about half an hour ago) she quietly assumed her standard position beside the door.  There was no need to disturb Korra's meditation since they still could not communicate, and as of yet she had received no instructions to bring the pair anywhere.  As she waited, she observed her two charges and added to her thoughts from the day before.

 

As she had told Colonel Monke, the two certainly did not have the look of refugees, no matter where they started their journey.  It was not just that they were so clearly well-nourished and provided for (Not counting the obvious degradation of their time on the ice), but it was their mannerisms as well.  They might have been confused by everything around them, but they were not fearful.  Their eyes did not have the jittery, rapid movement that came from trying to look everywhere at once.  They stood straight and addressed directly, not trying to be unseen or to hold in the corner of the eye.  They were confident as well, with no nervousness born from being surrounded by soldiers....no nervousness.....something clicked in Moon's mind.

 

When civilians are surrounded by soldiers, people trained and experienced in combat, they get jumpy.  Even when they have nothing to fear, even when they are their own troops, being outnumbered by guns is disconcerting for almost everybody.  It happens so often as to be expected; tourists being shown around a base, politicians being escorted, maintenance crews, they all need quite a bit of time to acclimatize to the military before they can easily accept the situation.  For some it's that the soldiers remind them that danger exists, for others it is that they fear the soldiers will become dangerous, but whatever the reason it is almost ubiquitous.  But not these two.  They had had no problem at all.

 

It might have been that they had simply spent a lot of time around soldiers, maybe they were both military brats that grew up on a base somewhere, but Moon dismissed that almost instantly.  The way they carried themselves, they way they appraised everything around them, especially Moon herself and the other guards, said that these two had had combat training and plenty of it.  Possibly even live-fire experience.  They might be young (And Moon stuck with the 'around twenty' estimate she had arrived at the day before), but Moon was now convinced that their presence here could not be a coincidence.  Two civilians randomly found wandering near the North Pole was preposterous enough, but if she put effort into it she could some up with some theoretically-plausible explanations; maybe they had been on one of those "Adventure Tours" that take the rich and powerful to exotic locales and they had somehow become separated from the tour or their plane had crashed (Asami could certainly pass for an heiress).  However, two soldiers found wandering near the North Pole, barely one hundred miles from the bizarre electro-magnetic pulse that had drawn scientists and support to Station Alert like a lodestone, was so far beyond the pale as to make the other explanations seem reasonable.  Whatever had happened, these two were connected somehow.

 

She was about to reach for the phone to request an immediate relief so she could inform Colonel Monke, when she noticed Korra stir and rise from her position.  Asami spoke to her, her tone clearly hopeful, but Korra shook her head and responded in a tone that contained no enthusiasm.  Apparently whatever she had hoped to accomplish with her meditation had not come to pass.  Shaking out her limbs she rose from the bed and stretched, then seemed to notice Moon.  Smiling, she spoke in what was clearly a greeting (Still saying 'looten') and turned back to Asami as they continued to speak.  As she observed, Moon's reach for the phone was arrested before it began, since she realized that she did not actually have any new information, just a vague impression.  Before any actions were taken they had to begin to understand what was actually going on.  Since she assumed that somebody was working on finding a way to communicate, hopefully with a language teacher already being stuffed in a plane to be sent up here, on-hand observation was the best way to accomplish that.

 

A moment later she realized that they would not have eaten since the night before, so began to escort them towards the cafeteria.  Before they left the dormitory she said the word "food", clearly and by itself.  If they did not understand that 'lieutenant' was a rank and not her name, she did not want to convince them that "I am taking you to get something to eat" was the way you named a meal.  Short, simple phrases were probably the best way to get across a meaning.  The trip to the cafeteria was a lot less cumbersome than the day before, Korra and Asami were no longer gaping at every door or lamp they passed, and that indicated to Moon that she had pegged them correctly as not being from some sort of dirt village. Indoor lighting and heating were not accepted that rapidly if you had never seen them before, in retrospect their reactions now looked more like they had just been unfamiliar with the style of everything they had seen, not the concepts.  The meal itself passed without note, Moon again repeating the word "food" to drive home the connection, but then she realized that she did not know what to do with them for the rest of the day.

 

They were not prisoners, not exactly, so they did not need to be confined to the dormitory, but it had been made clear that they were not to be allowed into any of the sensitive areas of the station or to walk around unescorted.  Station Alert did not have a lot of recreational activities available, either, especially not for people who could not speak or read any language they were familiar with.  She was about to usher them back to the dormitory when no other idea presented itself (They would have to survive being bored), when she noticed the way Korra was not-quite-fidgeting in her seat.  It was nothing dramatic or exaggerated, like a child about to have a tantrum after being in school too long, but the kind of forcibly-contained motion she had seen often on people who were used to being in motion but had been stuck still for too long.  She knew she had the same look about herself she she could not go running for a few days.  Smiling internally, she guided Korra and Asami down another hallway towards the gymnasium.

Chapter Text

One look at their expressions told Lieutenant Moon that she had judged correctly as soon as they entered the gymnasium.  As they turned around to take it in, observing the dozen people already exercising and working with the various machines, it was clear that they had felt exactly as restive as she had thought.  It was no surprise, really; after a week hiking on frozen tundra and then being stuck in a dorm for a day, she would have been climbing the walls to be allowed somewhere to really run.  Off their questioning look (They were growing quite adept at communicating just through facial expressions and gestures) she indicated that they were free, standing off to the side where she could continue to observe while staying out of the way.  However, instead of instantly dashing into motion, they stood for a few moments and just watched everybody else in the room, as they had done the day before.  This time, however, they seemed to get more and more confused as they watched.

 

Quickly they fell to talking, almost quarreling, with each other.  Whatever was happening had them worked up to agitation, and they might have been having some sort of argument.  But arguing over what?  Over people working out?  Was it a religious taboo over men and women working out together?  Were they arguing over what skills they should keep hidden?  Without comprehension the argument itself made no more sense than any other conversation they had ever had, but it was clearly important; they had not been this worked up the day before even after the entire pointless debacle in Colonel Monke's office.

 

Eventually it wound down, with (It seemed) Asami persuading Korra to agree with whatever point she had raised, but its subject remained a mystery.  After a moment they began to shrug out of the over clothing they had been provided with and began to explore the gym.  They avoided the equipment, likely it was different from anything they had seen before given how amazed they were by the bed frames yesterday, and gravitated towards the heavy bags lined up against the far wall of the room. After they limbered up, Asami braced the bag as Korra began to work and....wow, suddenly Lieutenant Moon was convinced that she had been right that they had combat training.  She had half-joked the day before that Korra looked like an MMA fighter, but now Korra moved like a fighter.  Working against a punching bag was not a perfect display of fighting acumen, but you can tell a lot about somebody from a few basic movements; she balanced herself perfectly, never overextending, and she hit with such power than the impact could be heard across the floor.  Asami, for her part, held the bag perfectly steady, and that told just as much (If not more) than Korra's performance did; holding a bag was extraordinarily simple (All it is is holding the bag) but 'simple' is not the same thing as 'easy'.  You need to be braced for the impact, you need to be able to anticipate when it comes, and you need your own balance.  With the way Asami was rock steady under Korra's assault it was clear that these two had spent many long hours working together; they knew each other's rhythms down pat.  Korra, for her part, was not just a brute-force puncher, instead working the bag with fist and foot and knee and elbow and everything else she had.  Whether this was how she normally practiced, or if she was just giving vent to everything that had been pent up over what had happened recently, Moon was very happy that she was not the one feeling those blows.

 

After Korra wound down, giving Asami a shaky, exhausted smile, they both moved over to the speed bags and it was Asami's turn to let loose.  She was different than Korra, but no less impressive.  She did not have the bulk or solid muscle mass, but she was apparently tightly corded steel beneath the look that got her called a fashion model.  As she began to work up a rhythm on the bag, catching it rapidly, she sped up further and had it swinging almost too fast to see.  She never missed a rep, knocking it back each time, focused and precise enough to track the bag through each swing.  As with Korra, Moon did not know if this was her normal routine or just a way to let out the frustration she had to be feeling, but either way after a few minutes she felt tired just watching her.

 

They went through half a dozen rotations like that, switching off between the heavy bag and there speed bag, then moved on to padded blocking.  Eventually, they moved away from the equipment and over to the roped off area where some others had been sparring before.  Now it was empty, and the two of them faced each other, apparently ready to spar and...Moon had thought she was impressed before, but their bluntly hitting plastic bags had apparently told her nothing about their actual abilities.  They moved together like water, a cliche which had been repeated many times before but which she had never thought to apply herself, as they advanced and withdrew together.  Korra was constantly changing tactics, as if she was switching through different fighting styles every second; one strike was a rooted, firm blow directly towards Asami midsection, then when Asami parried that she switched to a rolling grapple that seemed intended to flip Asami over, and then was circling away herself after Asami reversed the grapple.  Asami for her part was steady but constantly nimble, dodging and weaving to gain advantage, moving in not so much to strike Kora, but as if she was going for a simple contact touch.  They went back and forth and they moved in ernest, no blows were pulled, but it was clearly movements with which they were both very familiar.  Almost unbidden, Moon imagined that they were dancing, working through choreography that they  knew to heart.

 

Around her she noticed that most of the other people working out in the gym were also watching, some with jaws agape at the display.  Poetry was not forefront in a lot of their minds, but she could read similar thoughts running through the minds of the soldiers and scientists that had been milling about, that there was something both strong and beautiful about their contest.  Lord knew that Korra and Asami themselves each embodied different aspects of both beauty and strength, but to see it actively on display working together was something else entirely.  Before her mind could wander any further, though, Asami seemed to claim victory in whatever challenge they had going, managing to firmly grasp Korra's shoulder.  Laughing, the two face each other again and bowed deeply to one another before leaving the sparring mat and returning back over to Lieutenant Moon.  With a start, she realized that they had been at the gym for almost three hours, having lost track of time.  She guided them towards the showers to refresh and redress for the rest of the day.

 

As they were cleaning up, though, her mind kept wandering back to the performance that had just completed. Part of it was in appreciation of its beauty, but another part of it was the critical, analytical section of her mind that had not been keeping up during the show. She had up until now regarded herself more as a guide than active guard, since she did not take two isolated and unarmed teenagers as a serious threat to the station and had not received any information to view them as dangerous or restricted, but that display had radically altered her perspective.  Even moreso than her realization earlier in the day that they had some kind of martial history.  Now, she was suddenly unsure if she would have actually been physically able to stop these two if, at any point, they had decided to defy any of her careful guidance.  She had already decided that they were not as harmless as they looked, now she wondered if perhaps they were even more dangerous than that.

 

She resolved to speak with Colonel Monke as soon as possible.

Chapter Text

Abruptly, just before she took another bite of her food, Asami looked up and asked, "Hey, did you notice where Lu-Ten went?"

 

"Hmmmm?" Korra could only make a vague sound as she tried to swallow the noodles she had just picked off her plate (Nothing at all like a proper Water Tribe dish, but tasty nonetheless), and she looked around after Asami's question.  "She isn't here?"  Standing against the wall where Korra had last seen Lu-Ten was another guard, this one a person that she had not seen before.

 

"No, I just noticed, and she didn't say anything before she left.  They've all been saying good-bye--At least I assume they're saying good-bye--when they switch off."

 

"Maybe she had somewhere to be?  I figure she has to do something when she's not watching us, maybe she just didn't want to be late."

 

"That could be it," Asami paused for another mouthful (No reason to let hot food get cold, especially now that they had hot food again), "Maybe they discovered something about what's going on, she looked a little agitated as we left the gym."

 

"Now that would be wonderful, especially if they learn why we can't understand each other.  I'd love to finally be able to speak to somebody...uh...not that I'm getting tired of talking to you, but I just mean we could use some more information about this place, and start to learn about who they are and...." Korra wound down in a small pile of nervousness.

 

Thankfully, Asami's laugh helped draw her out again, "I know, I'd love to be able to talk to them as well, I've never been very good at playing pantomime.  I'm just glad we haven't had to act out going to the bathroom yet, that could get awkward."

 

They both laughed together, and Korra was glad at how easily there had not even been a problem.  When she had been with Mako a line like that would have gotten both of them screaming at each other; even worse was that ten minutes later they would not have been able to give any good explanation as to why, but they would still have the ugly memory of the argument.  That things were so much smoother with Asami just made everything all the sweeter.

 

"Have you been able to understand any of their language yet?  I know Lu-Ten tried to help us out this morning, but if we wait for her to spoon-feed us one word at a time it really will take ten years."

 

"I think I understand what she tried to teach us this morning, or at least close enough.  It sounded like 食品 means 'meal'...unless it just means 'food', 健身房 means 'gym' or 'exercise' and 淋浴 means 'shower'....or maybe 'bathroom'.  I just wish we had somebody who could help narrow this down, I have no idea if I'm even right or not and if we spend a week learning the wrong things it could be worse than if we didn't know anything at all."

 

"Wow, I can't believe you even remembered that much, those words just sound like noise to me."

 

"It's just like taking something apart and putting it back together again.  You don't necessarily need to know what it all does or why, as long as you remember how it all fit together.  Once you see where all the pieces go you can begin to learn what it all means..."  Asami paused for a moment before continuing in a quieter voice, "...that's how my dad first showed me how to work on the engine to a satomobile."

 

Korra wanted to say something to help, but unfortunately there was really nothing to say at a moment like that.  Regardless of what had happened between them over the past four years, Hiroshi Sato's death would never stop having an impact on Asami.  Still, at least Korra could help keep her mind occupied and away from dwelling on the memories, and picking out the small details was always something Asami was good at.  "What else have you noticed?"

 

"Well, I'm not sure, but it sounds like they're using two different languages here.  I mean, they went through a whole lot more than that yesterday, but I think then they were just trying anything they could think of.  These people here are almost all speaking just the one language, and I think a few are speaking something else."

 

"Yesterday, when they were trying all the different ones, some almost made sense.  Like if we'd listened really hard we could understand them.  These other languages don't even sound like words, it's like they're not even using the right sounds."

 

"I know, I thought that, too, but none of them came together.  I don't know what it is, maybe it's the same thing keeping you from reaching the Spirit World that's keeping us from being able to understand each other.  Have you figured it out yet?"

 

"No, I haven't," now there was a frustrated tinge coloring Korra's voice.  "It doesn't make any sense.  I can meditate just fine, I'm not running into the problems like I had after Zaheer, but I'm just not getting through.  I can sense spiritual energy, but it's as if it's all here, not coming from the Spirit World.  If I didn't know better, I'd say there was no Spirit World, but that doesn't make any sense, either."  Now the frustration was stronger; Korra might have come a long way in dealing with her impatience and self-criticism, and it no longer crippled her as it once had, but she still hated not being able to help those around her.  "All I know is that I'm pushing against a pillow; it gives and gives and gives, but I just sink in instead of coming out the other side, and all this time we're stuck here because I can't get it."

 

Now it was Asami's turn to reassure, as she reached across the table to take Korra's hand.  "Hey, it's okay.  Whatever this is we'll figure it out together, just like we've been doing.  You don't need to save me alone, we'll save each other together."

 

Feeling the warmth in her hand, Korra smiled.  "The sounds like a good deal to me....oh, here comes Lu-Ten."

 

Over Asami's shoulder, Korra saw her coming through the doors of the cafeteria, but then she frowned when saw the additional people following her.  The four men were attired the same as all the other soldiers they had seen so far, except these four carried what looked like metal devices slung along their back on a strap and Korra's instincts were instantly screaming a warning at her.  Whether it was something she sensed through her metalbending, or just from the way they were being held, she knew they were weapons.  She did not know what they did or how, but somehow the threat they posed was clear, and even the other people in the cafeteria were staring in something like shock.  Suddenly she was very glad that Asami had convinced her to not perform any bending when they were working out earlier; she was not sure if she agreed that nobody here had any bending of their own, but if that was true then the surprise would be a big help.  If they did have bending...well, she was the Avatar and had Asami Sato at her side, and together they had faced down armies of Equalists, MechaTanks and Spirit Vine Weapons, she was willing to take that side against whatever it was these metal pieces did.  She braced herself, ready to launch herself at the armed men while she trusted Asami to handle Lu-Ten...when they all marched off to the side and assumed the same guard positions that had been taken since the previous day.

 

So, this was not an attack, at least not yet, but it was not the same escort they had had so far.  Though both Korra and Asami knew that their guards likely would have tried to stop them if they did something these people did not want done, they had tried to acknowledge them more as guides than captors.  After all, they had nowhere they wanted to go now and no hostile intentions, so there was no harm in being a polite guest while they tried to figure out the situation, and they both admitted that they likely would have done the same if the situation had been reversed.  Now, though....now there was no attempt to disguise the fact that these guards were here to make sure they behaved properly, or that they were ready to enforce their desires at the point of a sword.  What had changed?

 

Not taking her eyes off of where the new soldiers stood, Korra slowly relaxed from the tense position she had assumed, and from the corner of her eye saw Asami doing the same.  Without a word they both turned back to what remained of their lunch and resumed eating.

 

No reason to let a hot meal go to waste.

Chapter Text

As they watched the new guards which had arrived during lunch, both Korra and Asami noticed the attitude with which they approached their duty: They were bored. Oh, there was nothing as blatant as yawning, they all maintained the professional blank expressions that was the mandate of soldiers everywhere, but Korra had grown up with the dedicated guards of the Order of the White Lotus and Asami had grown up surrounded by professional sycophants. They both knew how to read the emotions hidden behind a detached mask, and the newcomers all had the air of people going through a mundane, likely pointless task. Their individual guards from before had had the same look about them, standing guard because their superiors had told them to do so and waiting for when they would be relieved so somebody else could stand there pointlessly. Despite the weapons, they did not have the bearing of people expecting danger or planning to create it. Lu-Ten, on the other hand, seemed to be coiling tighter by the minute, and she was observing the two with a lot more focus than she had displayed the day before.  Whatever had happened to cause this change in their treatment she knew what it was, and maybe she had caused it.  So, if problems were to arise, she was the obvious threat.

 

Korra and Asami had not been actively planning to cause any such problems before, but it was one thing to wait patiently when you were being treated with polite and courteous suspicion, and another thing entirely to wait as a cage was potentially being erected around you.  Before they had completely finished eating, they both knew the time had come for them to break their confinement.  Unfortunately, they both also knew that if they just knocked down a wall to escape they would wind up freezing to death all over again, so a little prudent planning was in order.  They also still had no idea where they even were or what they would find once they reached other civilization; despite all that had happened, they had only been with these strange people for a single day. So, until an opportunity presented itself, they resolved to remain as they were.

 

After lunch they were guided back to the room where they had slept the night before, and they settled down to wait.  To forestall boredom as best they could, and to hopefully learn more about these people, they began to examine in minute detail all the strange forms of objects that filled the room.  As they had noticed yesterday almost everything was made of metal, but cheaply, and now Korra began to agree with Asami that there was no bending at all in this place; everything was bolted or screwed together, or obviously welded, instead of being smoothed into a single piece along the angle.  That might have just meant there was no metalbending, but why would they work so predominantly in metal if it was the one form they could not control?  If there truly was no bending then Korra saw no serious opposition to them leaving whenever they chose, she could not imagine that the small devices they carried could possibly--

 

Asami's gasp brought her up quickly from examining the bed frame and she hurried over to where Asami had been turning a small lamp over in her hands.  "What is it?  What's wrong?"

 

"Korra...look" and Asami presented the base to her.  Printed on a white label, next to a dozen marks that she assumed was in whatever language they spoke here, was writing she could understand.  It was not particularly clear (It looked like somebody had attacked the characters with a sword), but with an effort it Korra could read it just as well as Asami had.  With delight that she never would have expected to feel at just reading what was apparently a manufacturer's stamp, Korra gleefully shouted "Made in China!"  The she paused and turned back to Asami "...uh, where's China?"

 

"I have no idea, I've never heard of it, and this lamp is as strange as everything else we've seen so it's probably not what they call home for us.  But if we can show them that we speak this language maybe they'll finally get somebody we can understand!"  Thoughts of escape immediately forgotten (Or at least put on hold), they both rushed over to Lu-Ten to show her the writing that they could understand....and immediately stopped when they saw that Lu-Ten was pointing what was clearly another weapon at them, although smaller than the longer one's the other soldiers carried.  She had placed herself before the door and her body language radiated stress and determination, and more than a little fear as well, and it was obvious that she had misunderstood their elation in what might just become a fatal collision.  Whatever had happened during the day to suddenly make her so paranoid had probably set her up to view their shouting and rushing as an attack, or escape, or something, and now she had set herself up as a roadblock against the door, and Korra and Asami still could not explain what was going on.  Slowly, oh so slowly, Korra sidled to the side to place herself between Asami and the weapon; whatever it was that the strange device did she expected it to involve metal, and she wanted to put herself in the position to bend or block it.  Then, still moving as slowly as she could so it would not be mistaken for an attack, she raised the lamp and angled the base towards Lu-Ten, pointing towards the label and making a few sounds, trying to convey that they wanted to try speaking again.  After a moment, Lu-Ten spoke to the other guards with her and they raised their own weapons, but before Korra could react to the threat she lowered her own, returning it to a holster attached to her waist.  Approaching Korra she took the lamp from her and pointed to the same writing, then pointed to Korra and Asami again, who nodded vigorously.  Then she returned to the wall and picked up the phone she had used the day before, quickly speaking to whoever was on the other end.

 

"Okay, what has gotten into her?  For the past few hours she's been looking at us like a bomb waiting to go off."

 

"I don't know, she seemed fine this morning and when she showed us to the gym, but ever since then it's been like....that.  Korra, if you hadn't gotten her to realize we were talking about the writing I think she would have attacked us.  Whatever it is, she's right on the edge."

 

"I know, and if she did....I don't want to have to hurt anybody here, I think they're just as confused as we are, but I'm not going to let any of them hurt you."  From anybody else Asami would have found that kind of protectiveness to be patronizing, but they had fought side-by-side long enough for her to understand exactly how Korra felt.  She remembered back to when Kuvira's supporters had attacked them as they were rescuing Prince Wu from an abduction; when they had been lined up in a train car Korra had placed herself directly in front of Asami to bend away all of the metalbending attacks....just as she had done now.  Smiling, Korra added, "Or me, for that matter."

 

They were interrupted by the sound of Lu-Ten's voice addressing them after hanging up the phone, and gesturing she lead them out of their room and back down the hallway towards the office where they had sifted through different languages the day before.  This time there was just the one man there, with the strange talking picture showing only three people instead of the group from before, and they looked disheveled, as if they had been abruptly pulled together.  Quickly, Lu-Ten gave him the lamp and pointed to the writing Korra and Asami had read, and he then showed it to the picture (Just how did people see and talk through a picture like that?).  They spoke amongst themselves for a moment, then turned back to Korra and Asami and...began speaking the same meaningless patter they had tried the day before.  The words they spoke were at least the almost-words they had recognized the day before, the sounds that seemed closest to a language, but they held no more meaning than anything else.  With a groan of frustration, Korra turned and began to burst out of the room, guards or no guards, when Asami grabbed her arm.  Turning back to the man who still seemed to be in charge, she pantomimed writing on a piece of paper and did her best to show that she wanted something to write with.  He paused for a moment and exchanged a quick look with Lu-Ten over Asami's shoulder, and then handed her a blank sheet of paper and a pen, although needless to say the pen was like none Asami had ever seen before.  Taking both, Asami did not even have to think before she wrote out the same greeting she and Korra had been repeating since they first saw these people out on the ice.

 

"Hello, my name is Asami and this is Korra.  We do not know where we are or who you are.  What is this place?  Can you understand our words?"

 

The man stared at what she had written for a moment, pressed it against the picture...no, now Asami noticed that he actually seemed to be showing it to a glass orb on the top of the screen.  Was that a camera?  Whatever it was, the men in the picture were suddenly very excited, talking to each other before one of them took out a piece of paper and wrote a message of their own.  Holding it up, Korra and Asami could read a response to something they had said for the first time: "Yes, we can read these words."

 

Laughing, they leapt up and clasped each other, relieved that they could finally communicate with these people, could finally get some answers.  The writing was the same style as on the label, different from what they were used to, but they could make it out.  Quickly, Asami wrote another note, re-asking the question they seemed to have overlooked, "What is this place?  Who are you?"

 

"You are at a 加拿大 military base"  They did not understand the word "加拿大", but both assumed it was the name for whoever these people were.  What else could it have meant?  The note continued, "How did you get here?"

 

Now they took their time to explain what had happened.  "We do not know.  We were in the Spirit World for a vacation and were trying to go to the North Pole, but when we walked through the Spirit Portal we wound up on this endless ice.  We were out there for days, we do not know exactly how long, at least a week.  We were almost dead when you found us.  Thank you."

 

That note got a very mixed reaction; half of the men looked confused, and half looked angry, as if they were not sure if they were being made fun of.  "Where are you from?"

 

Asami paused before writing, unsure how to answer.  Korra had been raised in the Southern Water Tribe, and Asami's parents had heritage in both the Fire Nation and Earth Kingdom, but..."We are from Republic City in the United Republic of Nations."

 

This reaction was more extreme than the previous note had gotten.  For a few minutes it was as if everybody had forgotten that Asami and Korra were there, talking back and forth with increasing intensity.  Eventually, one of the people in the picture walked off the side and the others began writing again.  "Do you represent the United Nations?"

 

What did that mean?  Did these people know of the United Republic?  What did they mean by 'represent'?  "We are both friends (Korra made an indignant noise at that, but Asami shushed her and kept writing) of President Raiko and are eager to return home.  I represent the Future Industries corporation and Korra (She paused for a moment, unsure exactly what to say) is close to many of the world leaders."

 

The impact of this note made the previous noises seem tame, as they were again confused and angry.  As they were talking amongst themselves the man who had walked off the side of the picture returned with another, this one older and dressed in a uniform that was similar to the others, but which had lot more colors and markers.  As soon as he appeared the others got very quiet, as if waiting for him to speak.  He looked over the notes that had been exchanged already, then spent a minute just looking over Asami and Korra directly.  Eventually, he said something to the men that had been translating, which seemed to make everybody more tense, but which they dutifully wrote out.

 

"What do you have to do with the 辐射和电磁脉冲?"

 

Korra and Asami stared at the note for a while, trying to decipher the unknown words.  Was this what had everybody so excited?  The individual characters made sense, but as a whole it was gibberish, something about magnets radiating electricity.  They might have been referring to the way Varrick had disarmed some of Kuvira's mecha suits during the final battle for Republic City, but that could only be a part of it.  Ultimately, they could only shrug their shoulders and write what they knew.

 

"I'm sorry, but we did not bring any magnets with us from the Spirit World."

Chapter Text

As he watched the two increasingly-incongruous women be lead from his office, Lieutenant-colonel George Monke considered just what to make of everything they had said.  Either they were deliberately obscuring their origin, for whatever reason, or.....he could not quite imagine the 'or'.  Almost nothing they had said made sense; they spoke as if from a completely different world, and likely he would have regarded them as developmentally disabled children (Traveling to the 'Spirit World' and being teleported to the North Pole?) if they had not been so otherwise functional.  After they and their guards had left he marshaled his thoughts and turned to the video conference still running.  "What do you think, sir?"

 

Major-general Antoine Saint-Amand paused for a moment before he dryly remarked "Well, I for one do not believe that they are part of a UN investigative team."

 

Monke had to fight down a snort of laughter before responding. "Yes, sir.  Were any of those names familiar to you?  I don't know of any 'President Raiko' or anything else they mentioned, either in the UN or elsewhere."

 

"No, and I had people digging into that as they were writing.  Nothing they said lined up with anything unless our translations are working at cross-purposes.  Have they spoken anything else since they arrived, where we can have a better conversation?"

 

"Unfortunately not, and right now we've still got no idea what their language actually is.  I don't know how many different languages we ran through yesterday, but nothing was comprehensible and I drove the CFLS team as hard as I could.  I was hoping they could figure it out now that Lieutenant Moon discovered they could read Chinese, but they tried a half-dozen dialects with no results.  The translators said they were writing using Traditional Chinese, not Simplified, which the PRC has been has been implementing for sixty years now.  It could be they've been out of contact with mainland China since before the middle of the twentieth century."

 

"Or they could just be running us all around in circles."  General Saint-Amand was suddenly morose, the thought of dealing with China in all this was clearly not something he was looking forward to.  "This Lieutenant Moon you just mentioned, she's the one who told you she thinks these two are combat ready of some sort?"

 

"Yes, sir.  She was one of the escorts chaperoning them and took them to the gym this morning, she says she hasn't seen hand-to-hand displays like that outside of an SF demonstration.  I checked with a few of the other off-duty personnel that were there on their own time; one of them, a Sergeant Bilson, spent some time on assignment working with the Special Air Service a few years ago and he supports her."  His mouth crooked in what was almost a smile, "In fact, he said that from what he saw these two could probably have taken him and anybody else from The Regiment.  Not something I ever expected a man like him to admit about a pair of teenage girls, even if they had already done so."

 

"That must have been a hell of a demonstration then, and it also means that they're definitely not just out here by random chance.  How old were they again?"

 

"Holy on a second, sir, let me find that scrap...ah, here it is.  According to them, Korra, she's the darker one, sir, is twenty-one, and Asami is twenty-two....just where do two women get the training and experience to put a scare into Bilson before they can even rent a car?"

 

"....has there been any progress on other areas of the investigation?"

 

"No, sir, no changes since yesterday's update.  I believe we've located the exact source of the pulse, but we're still not finding anything....of anything.  No radiation, no debris, no shockwave or blast markers, just ice and snow.  We've had long-distance contact with Russian teams and they look just as clueless as us.  I'm just about ready to mark the whole thing down as 'unexplainable natural causes' except...."

 

"Except?"

 

"...except, as everybody's been saying, I can't accept that we find two foreign nationals, who apparently have combat experience and no known affiliation, a hundred miles from the most intense radiation burst and electro-magnetic pulse in history as some sort of coincidence.  Even if I believed in coincidences that would be too much all by itself, let alone when combined with everything else that doesn't make sense about them.  For example, something that was only brought to my attention a little while ago after Lieutenant Moon voiced her concerns to me and we began going through their supplies again.  The search teams only spotted them because of a signal flare that they sent up, but they don't have a flare gun.  Nothing explosive, either, just a small cooking stove.  It's possible it was just left behind on the tundra, but the search team is confident they gathered up everything at the scene.  Nobody noticed at the time, since who notices when something isn't there, but that's another oddity, and it might mean that there was somebody else with them who signaled the helicopter.  Add to that the fact that they have to be deliberately lying to us and they've got something to do with this, even if they're just the mistresses of whoever's actually behind the pulse."

 

General Saint-Amand considered that for a moment and could not find any critical flaw in Monke's reasoning, and for that matter had already agreed with him that their presence was too strange to dismiss.  But why such ridiculous lies, to name countries and politicians that did not even exist?  Why not something at least plausible instead of directly false, or continued silence if they could not come up with a convincing falsehood?  As others had already said over and over again, it just did not make sense.

 

"Okay, George, I think this is as much as you'll be able to get out of them up there, we can't conduct an interrogation by Taylor Swifting through a computer monitor."  Colonel Monke wisely said not one single damn thing about the reference.  Being a General allowed one to get away with something like that.  "When's your next supply run?"

 

"Tomorrow, actually.  I'll need to confirm the details but I believe we're expecting additional equipment along with some personnel replacements, we had to scramble faster than I wanted to get up here as quickly as we did."

 

"I'll send along the formal notification once I've spoken to the CFLS for the best arrangement, but I'd like you to prepare to have these two transported out on the return flight.  Maybe we'll have better luck with the translators face-to-face."

 

"I hope so, sir.  I'll have everything arranged for tomorrow."

 

"Excellent, thank you, Colonel.  Now, I've got to go see what else has popped up."  With a brusque nod, the video connection cut out.

 

Colonel Monke was reaching for his order pad almost before the General had disconnected, prepping the transfer instructions for the next day.  Hopefully they would have better luck further south, and if not....well, if not it was out of his hands.  Soon all he would need to fight against would be the cold, wind and snow of the North Pole, and that was more than simple enough for his satisfaction.

Chapter Text

The next day, a C-130J Super Hercules taxied down the runway at the Alert Airport with renewed supplies and personnel who had been left behind in the mad rush to staff Station Alert after their instruments had gone off the scale a week ago.  In turn, it was loaded down with all of the returning and disposable material and personnel that would be returning to Canadian Forces Base Trenton 4,000 kilometers to the south.   Taken along were Korra, Asami, Lieutenant Moon, and the accompanying guards that she had managed to convince Colonel Monke to place the day before.  Most still had the look of not taking their duties seriously (Honestly, they were supposed to view these two kids as a threat?), but they were conscientious regardless, and she thought that she had managed to impress on them that, even if they did not believe it themselves, she saw a threat.  Also aboard were copies of all the documentation they had from the past two days; recordings of their interviews with Colonel Monke, the notes they had written, and every other scrap of information they could collect.  Hopefully, when they were face-to-face with a trained linguist or interrogator they would start to make sense.

 

Getting Korra and Asami to cooperate had not been difficult; Colonel Monke had had the linguists write out for them a few basic instruction cards they could display at need, and it turned out that one of the weather technicians who normally staffed Station Alert had a son studying Mandarin back home.  He did not know any of it himself, but he had somehow brought along an English/Chinese dictionary when he rotated up to the station a few weeks ago before everything had started.  With their cue cards, wide hand gestures, and some painstaking back-and-forth with the dictionary, things had gone smoothly enough, and now the two were boarding the plane without complaint.  If anything, they seemed relieved; though swathed in cold-weather gear (Even a short walk from the compound to the airfield could lead to frostbite in weather like this) Moon could tell that they were excited at the prospect of going somewhere, anywhere, else.  Considering the state they had been found in, she had no problem believeing that, and truth be told she would not mind a break from the Arctic, either.  As always for the past two days they stopped to gape at the plane itself, but before they could take too long or try to walk up to the wheels or whatever they were fascinated by (What was their obsession with everything?), Moon ushered them inside, had them strapped in, and took her own seat for the long flight south.

 

She kept her eye on them as the plane readied for takeoff and noted with some surprise that they seemed completely unprepared for the roar of the engines.  As the sound grew to a crescendo they began to look scared, almost panicked, in a way that had never been seen despite all their previous confusion.  Even during their standoff the day before they had not looked scared, just aware and appreciative of the threat Moon had presented.  Now, though, they both sat bolt upright at the noise, as if it was something they had never encountered.  Had they never flown before?  Could that be it?  They had not seemed apprehensive before at the thought of flight, and that again raised the question of just how they had physically gotten to the area, but now they were looking around in something close to terror.  However, at the apparent calm of everybody else in the cabin (Some were even napping already) they relaxed almost instantly and the motion of takeoff had no appreciable effect upon them.  What the hell?  Was it really just the noise that bothered them, not flying?  How did they normally get around, by blimp?  That was another tally placed in the long list of things which did not seem to make sense.

 

The flight itself would cover a huge swathe of territory, including parts of Greenland, Baffin Bay, and several of the north-east territories before it arrived in Ontario, and Lieutenant Moon settled in for what she hoped would be a boring, monotonous trip.  She almost got her wish.

 

As the hours passed the two women had been talking quietly for much of trip, partaking of the in-flight meal without complaint (Perhaps there were benefits to a language barrier after all), until the plane finally began to emerge from the frozen wasteland the capped the world.  As greenery began to appear in sight of the windows (Moon figured they had to be somewhere over Quebec by now, but had not been given an exact positioning) they grew excited, pointing and talking with a laughing tone which had been absent for a while.  How long had it been since they had seen greenery?  They had said they were on the ice for a week, which would certainly be long enough for anybody to miss the feel of grass, but with the way everything else they said did not make sense, they might have been out there for far longer for all Moon knew.  If she had been stuck in snow for that long she would have been itching to go anywhere that had a positive temperature.

 

That was when they made their escape.

 

In the closed off, analytical portion of her mind, Lieutenant Moon noted that as the final piece she needed to definitively say that these women had seen combat before; they had no apprehension, no jitters, and had not given anything away, they were as calm as they had been for the entire flight.  For them, the change from sitting peacefully to escaping a military aircraft was as easy as deciding to change seats on a couch.  Either they were a pair of sociopaths who did not feel the same way other people did, or they were so supremely confident in their abilities and had so much history of danger that it had become blasé to them.  In the rest of her mind, which was not as isolated and needed to react to the situation, she was caught completely off guard as Asami leapt out of her seat, jumped over the seats between them, and pulled Moon out of hers, twisting her arm behind her in a move which immobilized her quite completely given that any pressure sent pain shooting down the side of her body.   Asami just held her, speaking quietly in a voice which Moon assumed was meant to be soothing, as Korra in her turn stepped over to the wall of the cabin and placed her hands flat against it, feeling the metal.  Around her Moon could hear the surprised shouts and cursing from the other passengers, and then the distinctive sounds of rounds being chambered into several a C7 rifles--her men had not been taken out after all.  In that same closed off portion of her mind she felt a moment of detached pride in the guards, they had reacted quite promptly, but then she was confused as the guards began to gasp or curse themselves and she heard strange sounds that she could not quite identify; it sounded like metal bending and popping, but from her twisted position she could not see what was happening.  Now all she heard were shouts of surprise and confusion coming from all around her --and then a loud, shrieking, tearing noise as a section of the cabin's hull just tore its way open.

 

The cutting, cold wind roared through the cabin and the plane lunged to the side, and suddenly she was free.  Asami had released her, with an expression that was almost apologetic, and then she turned and began to run towards the new egress in the cabin's side, which Moon belatedly realized Korra had already leapt from.  She did not know what was going on, did not know how they had managed to disable the guards or what had ripped open the side of the plane, but when she saw Asami about to make her escape ('Escape to where?' the closed off portion of her mind asked.  They were nearly 30,000 feet in the air) she lurched to her feet and took a few unsteady steps after her, then reached out and grabbed Asami's arm just before she leapt from the plane....and was dragged out of the hole right after her.

 

The entire affair had taken maybe twenty seconds from when Asami had first left her seat.

 

As she spun as she fell she caught a quick glimpse of Korra, who had apparently not fallen.  She was instead standing (Standing?  In mid-air?) right next to the hole she had somehow torn in the side of the plane, with her hands again placed flat against the metal hull.  After a moment which seemed to last for hours, but which Moon knew could only have been fractions of a second, Korra began waving her arms and the hole sealed itself.  She did not know what Korra had done, nor what damage had been caused when the hole was torn in the first place, but there was no longer a gaping wound in the side of the Super Hercules as it limped away....and then the closed off portion of her mind had its barriers broken by the panic of the rest of her mind and she found herself screaming her throat raw as she plummeted the five miles to the hard ground which was rapidly coming up to meet her.

 

Out of the corner of her eye she saw Korra streamline over to Asami, where they clasped hands and...were they laughing?  Laughing now?  They leaned in to each other and kissed, slowly and with relish, and Moon wondered if this was some sort of lovers suicide pact.  Was that how they could be so calm?  As tears flowed down her face she tried to catch sight of the plane, but she had already lost sight of it in the vast blue sky, and then she gave another scream as she felt something grab her hand.  Korra and Asami had both dived over to where she was, and now Korra was pulling her into an embrace; without the strength to fight her, Moon allowed herself to be pulled.  Staring down at the ground, she began to pray.  She had not prayed in years, not since before she left home, but as the land swelled in her view she found the words that had been drilled into her as a child come unbidden to her mind and her voice.

 

"שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יהוה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יהוה אֶחָד".  With her body literally rushing to its doom she could not keep it within.  She closed her eyes, let Korra hold her tight, and waited.....and waited....and waited a little longer as well.  Now she opened her eyes in confusion; the analytical section that might have timed the length of her fall had not managed to start up again, but even in her panic she thought that the process was taking a lot longer than it should have.  Looking down, it almost seemed as if their descent was slowing and...was that wind coming up from beneath them?  It felt like a breeze blowing upwards to break their fall.  Confusion warring with her fear she looked across at Asami to see her perfectly calm, as if she jumped from airplanes every day, and then she looked at Korra and....Korra was straining.  Her eyes were closed and her muscles were tight as if she was struggling against a heavy weight, and as the breeze beneath them strengthened so did her exertions.  Was she....how could she....now the panic rose again and Moon began to thrash as the ground continued to steadily rise to meet them. Even with their slowed descent it was not enough, they were still going to impact.  It was only seconds away, and she wondered if she would feel it or if everything would just stop, when everything changed in an instant.  Korra....Korra glowed.  For a brief moment her eyes shone like the stars, like a full moon high in the sky, and the breeze beneath them become a hurricane gale that almost flung them all upwards.  Not only that, but jets of flame shot from Korra's feet, bright enough to sear Moon's eyes as they pushed against the ground that was barely a few dozen feet beneath them now.  Slowly now, slower than a smooth elevator ride, Korra lowered them all to the ground and they settled as quietly and easily as hopping down from a small step.

 

Korra and Asami both stood there as if nothing at all out of the ordinary had happened, slowly stretching as if they had just woken out of bed.  Moon, on the other hand, fell to her knees, staring at them with an expression that could not seem to decide if it wanted to be filled with horror or reverence.  With trembling hands she reached towards her belt; her pistol had been lost (Whether aboard the plane or during the fall she did not know), but her knife was still there and she slowly drew it, brandishing it towards Korra in fear.  She did not have the strength to stand, or do much of anything, but she was determined not to cower before these...whatever they were.  Korra, however, with a look that was partly pity, extended her arm and made a grabbing motion in the air, and the knife flew from Moon's hand and stuck in the ground a few feet away.

 

At that she lost control completely and curled in on herself, weeping quietly.

Chapter Text

"How is she?" Asami's voice was concerned as she helped Korra sit down next to the fire they had built up. As Korra eased to the ground she let out a sigh that was almost a moan and practically collapsed over onto her side from the exhaustion. Waterbending healing was not particularly intense, but it required constant energy and unless the healing was something quick and simple like a broken bone it wore her down more than almost any other bending she knew.  She leaned over to rest against Asami's side, laying her head atop Asami's shoulder

 

"She's doing okay for now, but she's still not in good shape." On the other side of the fire, she and Asami had made a small bed out of the overcoats they had worn to the plane and Lu-Ten was stretched out, sleeping but still shaking occasionally. "I've never worked on somebody who was that...broken....without any physical injury, so I'm not sure how much I could help. I did my best to smooth out the chi blockages I could, but...." She trailed off and Asami nodded. "You must be right about them not having any bending at all here, the way she looked before she passed out was like her whole world had been flipped."

 

"I can't believe she followed us out of the plane. I knew you would be there to catch me, but she must have thought she was leaping to her death and she did it anyway.  She didn't even have a parachute.  I don't know if that's brave or scary, what kind of world do these people have that they'll throw their own lives away like that?"

 

"I don't know...maybe it's time we found out."

 

For a few moments they stayed like that, just lying against each other and taking in the heat of the fire as they sat beneath the trees.  It was mercifully warm here, warm enough that they did not really need a fire, and the feel of grass beneath them and a woodland breeze against their faces was as refreshing as their Spirit World holiday had been, especially after the combined time of being stranded and then being stuck in that cold base.  Even this forest was not exactly the same as the forests they knew, the sounds of the animals were different, but that was small, and if they closed their eyes they could imagine they were back home, sitting in Avatar Korra Park or the Spirit Wilds and just taking it easy.  Unfortunately, such a respite could not last.  With a groan, Korra and Asami both rose to their feet and began to sort out what supplies they had.

 

It was less than they had had when they first found themselves stranded in this world, limited to just what they had been wearing and what Lu-Ten had carried in her pockets, but thankfully the environment was much less harsh this time.  The weather was mild, and Korra's earthbending could take care of whatever shelter they would need now that they had Earth beneath them again.  The had not spotted any game yet, but they could hear the rustle of animals all around them, so hunting for food should not prove too difficult.  When it came to simple survival, then, neither foresaw any kind of problems.  Anything more than simple survival, on the other hand...in one of Lu-Ten's pockets they had found a map, hopefully of the land that they were in, and it was vast.  Neither of them could read the writing or scale, but it looked to be almost as large as the Earth Kingdom itself and showed nothing they could recognize; what's worse, the lands that extended off the bottom indicated this was not even the whole world.  They had not expected to find a familiar image, by now they both accepted that they were somewhere far away from anything they knew, but to see such an expanse was disappointing on its own, since they were not even entirely sure where they were.  They had passed over an ocean and travelled slightly inland during their flight that they could track from the windows, so the eastern coast was likely, but that was as specific as they could get.  The rest of the supplies were no more immediately useful; a few notepads, what looked to be a translation of some sort since it was filled half with writing they could read and half of the strange language, and the miscellaneous bits of this-and-that Lu-Ten had had about her person.  Once she awoke they would probably be useful, but for now they contented themselves with bending an earthen box to protect them from any rain and then they both laid themselves down beside the fire.  They could not stay here forever, it was likely that the people they had escaped from would be searching for them, but hopefully they would be slowed down by the expansive territory itself, and maybe they would think that Korra and Asami had perished in the fall.  If they did not know about bending then they had to assume that they had fallen straight to their deaths, and hopefully that would give them enough time to see what they were going to do next.

 

Suddenly, Asami laughed to herself, a small giggle that she tried (and failed) to keep from Korra.  "What's so funny?" she asked.

 

"I was just thinking back to the last time we broke out of an airship together, we always seem to wind up getting stuck wherever we end up and needing to escape all over again."

 

After a moment Korra began laughing, too.  "At least this time we didn't crash the plane." 

 

"Yeah," Asami agreed, "it would be hard to make something as cheap as Cabbage Corp does," and they both laughed again.

 

 It was too early to sleep, but they held hands and watched the sky and listened to the sounds of the forest around them.  For now, they were free and together, and that was all they needed.

 

----

 

It was a sharp cry that stirred Korra and Asami from the light doze they had fallen into, and they both looked over to see Lu-Ten sitting up from her makeshift bed, her frantic gaze darting around her.  When they got up to walk over to her she visibly flinched and began to crawl away from them---no, she tried to crawl away from Korra, clawing at the jacket which entangled her legs as if it were a net.  When she saw that, Korra paused, then waved Asami forward alone.  She approached with her arms held open and away from her body, as non-threatening as possible, and spoke in as soothing a tone as she could.  They both knew Lu-Ten would not understand her, but it was important to keep contact as best they could.

 

"Hey, it's okay.  You're safe, we're not going to hurt you.  I know you're scared right now, but you can trust us.  Would you like something to drink?"  Earlier Korra had bent them a few cups and drawn up some water, now Asami held out one of them.  At Lu-Ten's hesitation she sipped from her own, trying to convey that it was safe.  After that Lu-Ten began to guzzle the water, emptying the cup in seconds.  When it was all gone she returned her gaze to Asami, and there was still a wild, frantic look to them, barely one step removed from animalistic terror.  It pained Asami to see such an expression; it was not as if they had been friends, having only known each other for three days and never being able to communicate, but Lu-Ten had been courteous enough for the first day and had shown them around the mysterious facility, guided them to lunch and also the gym.  Even with the tension that had arisen she had never been actively mean, and even if she had...Asami could not bear to see even an enemy reduced to such a debased state.  She picked up the book that they figured had to be a translation guide and opened to the word 'Friend', hoping it was a direct reference like they thought.

 

"Friend.  We are friends."  She placed the book in Lu-Ten's lap and pointed directly to the entry for 'Friend'.  "Friend" she said again, then waved Korra to come over to her.  Lu-Ten's eyes widened again as Korra approached, but she was at least able to remain calm enough to stay still.

 

Korra sat down in front of her and took Asami's hand, then pointed to the translation as Asami had done, saying "Friend" herself.  She felt a little foolish, repeating the same word over and over again like a broken phonograph record when they both knew that Lu-Ten could not understand them, but it was important that they get this meaning across.  When Lu-Ten nodded (Agreeing to be friends?  Only acknowledging that she had understood?) Korra stepped back a pace and held out her arm.  "Friend" she said again...then firebended a small flame into the palm of her hand.  Lu-Ten almost jumped, very impressive considering she sitting down at the moment, but Korra said "Friend" again, directly and with enough emphasis to break through her instant shock.   She stood there, holding the firebending, letting Lu-Ten get used to the sight of her controlling the flame.  She and Asami still did not know what they were going to be doing, but they could not abandon Lu-Ten in the wilderness, so they would need to bring her along and she would need to be used to bending.  When Lu-Ten seemed to relax she dropped the fire and stepped back over to her, again pointing to the page of the book where "friend" was written.

 

"I know you can't understand either of us, but we're really not your enemy, and we have no desire to hurt you.  We're going to do our best to help you, you should be better tomorrow or the next day, and then we're going to try and get out of this forest together.  We still don't know where we are, but we're hoping you can help with that, and then we can go our separate ways.  This world is still strange to us, but for now, just think of us as friends."

 

Lu-Ten looked at both Korra and Asami, then at the small camp they had set up, then back down at the book in her lap.  Slowly, she looked at the both of them and, with a look of concentration that was almost comical on her usually stern face, she said "Friend."  Her pronunciation was atrocious, barely comprehensible, but it was enough.  Smiling, Korra and Asami both nodded and said it again.

 

"Friend".

Chapter Text

When Judith Moon awoke the next morning she felt better.  Much better.  As she swam her way up from her deep sleep she felt calmer and more at peace than she had for days, with none of the internal twisting after the shocks of the previous day....then she opened her eyes and began screaming again.  Korra stood over her, hands glowing, reaching down to do who-knew-what, and she once again started thrashing out from beneath the jacket that been laid down as a blanket for her.  In an instant Asami was kneeling next to her, shouting "Looten" at the top of her lungs until she stilled and was able to think for a moment.  They had apparently expected this, as they already had the dictionary open again and Asami pointed to 复原, which according to the translation meant "Recovery".  Was this medicine?  When they saw that she had read the dictionary entry Korra again ran the glowing hands along her body, and as she did Moon felt her tension and anxiety slowly fade away, as if her internal dams had been opened and they had just drained away.  After a few minutes Korra stood up and the glow disappeared, leaving her hands dripping with...was that water?  Regular water?  What were these abilities, and just how many powers did these two have?

 

When they saw that she had calmed down, Asami offered her a hand up and gestured towards the fire they had going.  For a brief second she wondered how they had started a fire given they had no camping supplies, but the vivid memory of Korra literally conjuring up fire in her palm almost made her slap her forehead.  Surprisingly, there was no attached shock with the memory, as if the fear and anger she had been feeling had drained out with her general anxiety moments ago.  Was that related?  Wait, had they brainwashed her?  She was about to get angry all over again when she forced herself to stop and take a calming breath; right now all they were doing was offering a seat next to a warm fire, there would be plenty of time during the day for pointless accusations.

 

"Thank you" she said, even though she knew they would not understand her.  "Do we have anything to eat?"

 

She meant it to be rhetorical, partly because she knew they could not respond and partly because she knew they most certainly did not have any food, but she was surprised when Asami seemed to nod in confirmation and say something to Korra.  Had she actually understood her?  Or was she just making an educated guess?  Whatever the cause, Korra turned and walked into the trees, returning in a moment dragging an animal carcass behind her.  A very large animal carcass, with very distinct antlers and....

 

"Holy Crap, did you kill a moose?"  Neither answered her, of course, but in seconds Korra had dragged it close enough to definitively establish that yes, she had in fact hunted a moose.  Which was ridiculous, for several reasons, but then she realized that they might not be so ridiculous for these two...people?  She did not know what to call them, at this point she was not even entirely sure that they were human.  With their magic (It seemed difficult to call it anything except magic) their lack of weapons obviously had not been a hindrance in hunting, and Korra was pulling what looked like an 800-pound bull as if it was no heavier than a weighted backpack.  It seemed extraordinarily wasteful, since they would be forced to leave much of its carcass behind when they left camp, but maybe that had been all she could catch.  It was just....for some reason, Moon felt almost insulted: the spend a day in the Canadian wilderness and already they were hunting moose.  She had read adventure tales from the United States that started the same way and they struck her as being ridiculously stereotyped, but now it was actually happening.  That meant...she had no idea what that meant, but it meant something.  Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your point of view, without having eaten for almost a solid day now and with nothing else available, she was not going to quibble over national depictions.  "At this rate we'll be rescued by the Mounties in short order."

 

Korra dropped the animal just outside the rough area that had been described in their camp and bowed to Asami with a flourish, as if presenting her with a great gift.  Asami, for her part, accepted it with all the grace merited by such an illustrious presentation and leaned in to give Korra a kiss on the cheek.  However, then she stood there a bit unsure and spoke to Korra while gesturing at the animal, and Moon got the distinct impression that she had absolutely no idea what to do with it.  Come to think of it, neither did she, she had never been game hunting in her life and had no idea how to properly do...well, anything with regards to cooking an animal like this.  In a pinch she could have hacked it to pieces and put it over a fire, but that was about it.  Thankfully, Korra seemed well versed in the hunter's lifestyle, and in moments she had begun to cut, clean and order the moose with practiced motions that showed she was an old hand at surviving off the land.  With a start Moon noticed that the knife Korra was using was her own, that Korra had pulled from her hand the day before.  What did that say about her powers?  Did it say anything?  She resolved to look into that....once she had eaten breakfast and could thinking more clearly.  A few minutes later there were several skewers of meat toasting in the fire, several more strips hanging above the fire, and even the hide had been removed and was hanging from a tree.  Whatever these people were, they at least were no stranger to working with animals.

 

As Korra worked, Asami brought Moon over to a small stone chest (They made a chestHow?) and they began going through what had survived the unexpected trip down from the C130.  Unfortunately, it was not much, and not immediately helpful.  Her radio must have fallen off during the fall, if it had made it out of the plane at all, so she had no means of contacting the RCAF.  There was her spare clip of 9mm rounds, but she already knew her pistol was missing.  Some blank pads of paper would be helpful, since she had carried them to communicate with these two, so that was something.  She also saw that they had recovered her personal pocket knife; a Victorinox Swiss-army knife that she had carried since before she enlisted.  She smiled as she picked it up, it had been a gift from Tapeesa...many years ago now.  She might actually get some use out of it.  Then Asami handed her a folded map and they got down to work.

 

Leaving the meat to cook by itself, they opened the map and Korra and Asami watched her as she tried to pick out where they might be and where they might go.  As near as she figured they were somewhere in north-eastern Quebec, but she could not narrow it down any further than that, and it was national overview map in any case, not detailed down to a level that would guide them out of these woods if they knew which ones they were.  As she looked it over Korra and Asami spoke rapidly back and forth, then Asami grabbed the dictionary they had been using and flipped through it before presenting an open page to her, pointing to "哪里".

 

"'Where'?  Where are we?  Well, I believe we're..." as she moved to point Asami shook her head, then waved over the whole map.  "The whole place?  The country?  You don't even....I'm honestly not sure what to make of this anymore.  We're in Canada.  Canada."  She paused for a moment to let the space fill up, making sure they did not think the whole sentence was part of the answer (They were still calling her 'looten' after all) then said it again, the name alone, "Canada".

 

Both Korra and Asami tried to say it back.  They said it as poorly as she herself had likely said 'friend' the day before, but Moon could understand it, and she nodded, which got both of them to grin.

 

"Yes, we're in Canada.  The problem is that I've never walked out of the north-eastern provinces on foot, so we need to figure this out.  And while we're working on names, let me have that."  She grabbed the dictionary and flipped through it herself, stopping on 别, which supposedly meant 'no'.  Looking at both of them she said "Looten" and pointed to the symbol, trying to get across that it was not her name.  They both nodded and she flipped through it again, trying to find the translation for 'lieutenant', 陆军中尉.  She said it again and pointed to the symbol, trying to get across that it was her rank.  When they nodded again she pointed to herself and said, leaving off the rank completely so as to not confuse the matter, "Judith Moon.  Judith Moon."  She pointed to each of them in turn and said "Korra, Asami, Judith Moon."  Again they both nodded and said, with pronunciation nearly identical to when they had said 'Canada', "Judith Moon."  Smiling, she nodded and returned the dictionary to them, then went back to looking at the map.  Maybe they could get out of this without killing each other after all.

 

Then Korra indicated that the first skewers were done and she stopped looking over the map to have her first taste of roasted moose (It still sounded like a badly written story to her).

Chapter Text

With a full stomach and a beautiful day about them, Judith Moon almost felt back to normal, as if she had not dropped from an airplane the day before in pursuit of two strange women with magical powers.  Like she knew they were feeling, she was tempted to just lie on the grass and let the day pass on by.  Sadly, she also knew that that was not an option.  She needed to find a way to make contact with somebody in her chain of command and return to an RCAF installation, and she also knew that she had no way of compelling the other two to go along with her.  Even if she had been fully armed and equipped she did not think she stood any kind of chance in a physical confrontation; she had already suspected she was outmatched just watching them spar with each other, with the addition of....everything else....it would have been like a monkey trying to bully a tank.  They had escaped in seconds before on what seemed like a whim, and she was under no illusions that they could do the same again.  The thought of how to proceed as a group weighed heavily on her mind.

 

Thankfully for the issue of clarity, at least, Korra and Asami settled that rather quickly and definitively.  They had apparently already been considering that situation, and they approached her with a written note longer and more complicated than they had used so far.  The meaning was complicated, and certainly lost something of its nuance as she translated character by character, but it was clear enough at the end: Korra and Asami would help her survive the wilderness and return to the RCAF, but they would not allow themselves to be taken into captivity, and they warned her against trying to force them against their will.  They made no threat, but the memory of Korra shining like the stars and flying on a pillar of fire came to her mind regardless and she gave a choppy nod; she had no wish to antagonize them in the least.  Satisfied, the three of them settled into amiable silence as she continued to review the map and they chewed the last of their cooked venison.  Korra got up and continued to work with the rest of the uncooked carcass, and also with the skinned hide she had hung from a tree.  Asami for her part seemed to be doing absolutely nothing at all, just staring up at the sky, but Judith had stopped viewing anything these two did as possibly being pointless.

 

Towards midday, she rose to her feet and called over both Asami and Korra to look over the map.

 

"As best as I can figure, we're somewhere in this area."  She gestured towards the north-east section of Quebec, west of the border with Newfoundland and Labrador.  "This area is not very densely populated, we will need to travel south before we are likely to run into any large population centers."  She had to pause for a moment as she looked up 'No people' and 'walk south', but Korra and Asami seemed to be following along fine.  "I have had survival training and exposure to these environments, but I am not an expert, this is outside my purview."  There was another break here; she did not bother trying to translate her entire sentences, just the key words to help them follow along.  Now she had very tricky question, which she almost would rather not ask at all, but it would be better to get it all out in the open.  "What exactly are you two planning?"

 

This time Korra and Asami had to pause as they spoke amongst themselves before they wrote out their own note.  It was as long as the last one, but it boiled down to "No plan.  See the world.  Find a way home".  Judith paused for a moment, then nodded her head.  Surely her superiors would have different ideas when she reported back, going back to the still-unsolved mystery of the investigation at the North Pole, but that would be for then.  Now, she helped break camp and they prepared to begin marching.

 

There was not a lot involved in 'breaking camp' at the moment, at least not much for her to do.  They had no equipment and no packs, so she made sure the fire was doused and they had collected everything they had (Primarily just their parkas, notepads, map and dictionary) in the carrying chest, then turned to watch Korra and Asami.  As she had expected there was still hundreds of pounds of meat left over that would have to be left behind, as they had no means of transporting or preserving it; Korra being strong enough to drag the bull as a whole was a far cry from transporting loose meat, especially meat that would drip, attract predators and spoil along the way.  It seemed like such a waste.  Korra, however, apparently had different ideas.  She had properly cut and cleaned the entire carcass, laying out the various cuts of meat, and then....the best way Judith could describe it was that she began to dance, with slow, circular motions.  As she danced, water began to draw up from the ground around her until it circled her in flowing ribbons; then, with rapid arm movements, the water ribbons engulfed the cuts of meat and instantly solidified into blocks of ice.  Once completed Korra and Asami began stacking the ice blocks, while Judith could only stare in gap-jawed amazement at another impossible feat, and quietly reaffirmed to herself that she was not going to antagonize them in any way.  After they had stacked the blocks on a small stone cart, they---wait, where had that cart come from?  It had not been there a few minutes ago, she was sure of it, but that meant...at that point Judith stopped her mind by sheer force of will.  She had seen so much that, at this point, the best method of her mental survival was to accept all, question nothing, and not to dwell.  They had a cart, so they would use the cart, and that was that.

 

With Korra pulling the cart (And how was that possible?  With the mass of the meat, ice and the stone itself it had to weigh over a thousand pounds; Korra certainly looked strong, but nowhere near that strong), Judith carried the small chest they had and Asami dragged the moose's skin, which Korra had stripped and stretched out on a branch latticework.  They got their bearings from the sun, turned south, and began marching.

Chapter Text

After they had been walking for only an hour Korra began to feel....free.  The tightness that had been in her shoulders for so long that she had not even realized it was there began to slowly drain away and it felt like every breath came a little bit easier, and she realized that the past eleven days had worn on her harder than she had thought.  Had it only been eleven days?  With the endless daylight of the tundra it had felt like an eternity, and even the three days in that strange 加拿大 place----no, she focused and clarified--in that strange Canadian place had seemed longer.  Being a prisoner, even if they had been well-treated, was different than her forced isolation in the South Pole White Lotus compound growing up and she had been stifled under that treatment regardless.  After being so used to freedom over the past four years she had felt squeezed into a small box, with Asami as her only air hole.  She had already begun to feel better yesterday after escaping from the airplane; now, though, with the forest lying open around them and no path before them, she began to feel like herself again.  Even the simple return of an actual night was refreshing, and she and Asami had both slept beautifully beneath the stars the night before.

 

"What are you smiling about?" Asami asked, but her voice was lighter as well.

 

"Just loving this feeling of being out here, of just walking.  We don't know where we're going or even where we are, and we don't know what we're going to do once we get there, but we're moving and we're seeing this brand new land.  It's like....back during the Hundred Year's War, before Aang defeated the Fire Lord.  He and all his friends spent a year just flying around the world; they weren't going anywhere, they were just going, seeing what there was to see, helping people they came across.  It's so liberating."

 

Asami reflected that, a few years ago, Korra would have been tearing her hair out at such an aimless wandering, angrily wanting to get wherever they were going even faster so that she could begin 'doing something'.  "I'm just glad to be back where it makes even a little bit of sense, the way the sun never set was beginning to get to me."

 

"Me, too, and I was getting sick of the cold, too, which...y'know, isn't something I ever expected to be saying."

 

Asami laughed at that and nodded In agreement.  The South Pole they knew was certainly cold, but the land where they had arrived was cold in a way they had never experienced, and after their time walking outside and then being shut inside a bunker after their rescue they would both be happy to go a long time without seeing snow again.

 

"I wonder...Korra, you told me that at the Northern Spirit Portal there's a permanently thawed forest kept warm by the energy of the portal, right?  And that at other very spiritual places, even at the poles, it stays warm as well?"

 

"Yeah, at some of them you don't even need to wear furs to keep warm."

 

"I think by now we can say pretty definitely that there was no portal anywhere out there, and you're still not able to get into the Spirit World.  What if that's why it was so cold out there?  With no Spirit Portal at all, and no other connections to the Spirit World, there was nothing to keep the air warm."

 

"That...that might actually be it.  The two worlds have always been connected, even after Avatar Wan closed the portals, and if there's no connection here....but Asami, that would mean we're not just at some place we've never been to before, we've left the world entirely.  This would have to be some kind of third world."

 

"I think it is, things are too different for any other explanation.  The people are strange, even the animals are different, and the sky....I looked at some of the stars last night and they were different, too.  Maybe the reason you can't get into the Spirit World is that there really isn't a Spirit World here, you said that that was what it felt like to you.  Does anything else make sense?"

 

"No, nothing else does, but if this is true then I don't know how we'll ever get home.  We could be stuck here forever and...."  Korra did not know what to say after the 'and'.

 

"I know, but we haven't even really been looking for a way back, either.  Not like this.  You saw how big this land is, there's got to be somebody in Canada who knows about traveling between the worlds that we can go to for help.  And until then...until then we'll be just like Avatar Aang and we'll travel and have adventures and it will be just like the vacation we were planning to have anyway."

 

Korra laughed at Asami's rather blatant attempt to cheer her up, but knowing what she was doing did not mean it did not work.  "Sounds like a plan to me.  We'll see everything there is in Canada, and then we'll go down to that land on the bottom of the map and see everything there, too."  Both smiling now, they turned their attention back to the forest around as they kept walking.

 


 

 

An hour later, as Korra was about to signal for a stop for lunch, off to their side Joo Dee said something which neither of them understood.  They turned to see her gesturing up to the sky, but neither could see anything that would have drawn her attention.  She did not seem angry or afraid, but she made the same motion again, and a moment later they noticed what had caught her attention: A distant sound that was almost certainly mechanical and seemed vaguely familiar....with a start, Korra and Asami recognized it as the same noise made by the flying machine that had rescued them from the tundra.

 

The search they had expected had found them.

 

Truthfully they had faintly hoped that it would not really be a problem, since without a plane crash there was no debris or damage to help guide the searchers to where they had landed, but apparently these people had better means of finding a location.  They might not know exactly where they were at the moment, but they clearly had an idea of the region to begin looking, and that raised a different, more immediate problem: What to do with Joo Dee.

 

She would tell her superiors everything she knew as soon as she returned, of that they had no doubt.  They did not hold that thought against her, she was a soldier and they would likely do the same in her position, especially with how important everybody seemed to think what had happened at the North Pole was.  The plan had been to leave her at the first village they came to after they had gotten out of the wilderness.  She could contact her people, and Korra and Asami would be far away by the time her reinforcements arrived to begin searching for them.  Now, though....if she made contact with a search team they would have dozens (Hundreds?  Thousands?) of soldiers combing the woods for them, using who-knew-what technology, and Asami and Korra might be found.  They still could not communicate well enough to calm the situation, if the situation could be calmed, and they would have to fight their way out.  People would get hurt, maybe even themselves, and the search would be lengthened....a never-ending game of pygmy puma-and-elephant rat was not part of the plan.

 

"We can't let her communicate with them, not yet."  Asami's voice was flat, as if she hated saying the words, but there was also no doubt.

 

"No, not until we have a chance to get away before they could begin looking for us,"  Korra agreed.  They had clearly both gone through the same chains of logic and come to the same conclusion.  So too, it seemed, had Joo Dee, as while they were speaking she had begun to slowly back away into the surrounding forest, eyeing them warily.

 

"Stop."  Asami said it as gently as she could without making it a request, hoping to get across the meaning.  "We're not going to hurt you, but we can't let them know where we are.  We meant what we said, we are going to help you get out of here, just give us time.  Okay?"  She was walking a very fine line; she did not want to terrify Joo Dee (Joo Dee had only barely recovered from the emotional trauma the day before), but she also wanted it clear that they would stop her if they had to.  It was a razor's edge, especially since they were still going off of tone and gestures.  At that moment, Asami resolved to begin actively learning the language right away.

 

Thankfully, the message seemed to get across and Joo Dee stopped her retreat.  They stood in tableau for a moment, not speaking or moving as the noise of the machine grew louder, and then Asami turned to Korra.  "We need a place to hide."

 

Nodding, Korra put down the cart and cleared away a small area of brush and leaves, then assumed an earthbending stance, deeply rooted and feeling into the earth.  She had never mastered the ability to see seismically, which the Beifong's seemed to perform effortlessly, but she could still tell that they stood atop packed rock and dirt, with no water below them for more space than she would need.  Nodding, she breathed in deeply and formed an image in her mind of the structure she would need to build--underground this time, but no less difficult than the ice domes she had erected before.  She again did not have time to erect it piecemeal or to make it sloppy, when she was done it had to look like there was nothing there at all.  Then, she stomped, twisted, and pulled, and a square of dirt the size of a large room folded in on itself, leaving a depression in the ground large enough for even Joo Dee to stand upright and with a staircase leading down from the surface.  Quickly she and Asami began to lower their supplies into it, then turned to call Joo Dee forward.

 

Joo Dee came, but she again wore that expression of mingled terror and awe that she had sported the day before after the drop from the plane, and when she stepped down into the pit she stayed as far away from Korra as she could, pressing herself against the dirt side.  Korra noticed, but did not have time to regret that at the moment as she pulled in a cover over them, sealing off the sky and leaving them in darkness as black as pitch.  If she had done it properly it was the exact same dirt that had been level with the ground before, and should not have been distinguishable from the the area all around them.

 

She held up a small flame to make sure that Joo Dee did not panic and said "Don't worry, I'll get us some light in a moment".

 

Now that she had time to work she was able to focus and be a bit more precise.  She decided to tunnel several holes to let light in, but going straight up would have defeated the purpose, so she dug a small shaft, no larger than her fist, at an angle leading off one of the walls.  She kept the angle shallow, and had to stretch her earthbending to be able to reach the surface, but when she was done there was a tube connecting them to the surface almost fifty feet away, letting down fresh air and a dot of light.  She repeated her efforts on the other sides of their room, making sure that each tunnel was a different length and different angle so that, if their pursuers somehow noticed the tiny holes, none would line up exactly.

 

Then, they settled down to wait, and Asami turned to Joo Dee.

 

"I'd like to learn your language", she said.

Chapter Text

As Asami and Joo Dee discussed language, crowded beneath one of the air tunnels to make use of its light to read hand-written notes and the dictionary, Korra turned to the pelt she had collected from the....she believed Joo Dee called it a 'moose'.  She had stretched it out to dry as they walked, planning to start to treat and work its skin when they stopped to make camp, but with them buried in darkness that plan would no longer work.  Truth be told, tanning and stripping was not something she had a lot of experience with.  Her mother had instructed her in the basics when she was a child, but growing up as the Avatar meant that she had never actually been forced to make her own clothing in the White Lotus compound, and since she had come to Republic City...she blushed as she remembered Asami taking her out clothes shopping for the first time.  Now, however, it meant that she could barely remember the instructions on how to brain the skin.  After a moment, she decided to do what she always did when she had a problem like this: She was the Avatar, she would cheat.

 

Scooping up a handful of loose dirt from the floor, she began to bend it to collect and clean off the underside of the skin; she moved it in a loose and flowing ribbon, almost waterbending.  As she ground the underside she worked up a small firebending to warm the skin, drying it as if it had been lying in the sun for days.  She worked steadily, letting her fingers feel the fur beneath her hands, and she smiled as she did.  Several of her teachers had said that there was joy to be found in the simpler efforts, and they had not been mistaken.  In the near-darkness of their hiding place she could not be sure of the exact passage of time, but hours must have passed, and Asami and Joo Dee's quiet murmuring was a constant backdrop that stopped only briefly when Korra melted one of their blocks and cooked them dinner.  Eventually, when her fingers grew too sore to move and it had to have been the depths of night, she stood up and touched the wall, closing her eyes (More symbolic than anything else, since there was no light at all coming into the cramped room now) and feeling.

 

"I don't think anybody's close by, but I have no idea if they've got any airships nearby.  I'm going to go for a quick look, I'll be back in a few minutes."

 

Before she left she took one of the branches she had strung together to make the lattice for the moose skin and lit one end, lowering the flame to a low smolder.  In the darkness it gave enough light to see each other by, and it should last for long enough for her to get back.  Their fingers brushed as she handed it to Asami, then she began tunneling sideways through one of the walls.  Going straight up would have revealed their location to anybody watching, hopefully if she put enough distance between her exit point and the room itself no connection would be made.  She slid through a gap barely wider than her shoulders, trying to displace as little dirt as possible and make no noise that could be recognized, and when she had gone far enough away she slowly began to step up.  The hole she opened was barely wide enough for her to climb out of, but she squeezed and pushed, and suddenly she was lying on the ground beneath the stars and she was completely alone.

 

Alone.  Now that she thought about it, she had not been alone for weeks.  She and Asami had been together for almost every single moment since they wound up on the ice; eating and sleeping and walking and talking together.  Their times in the bathroom were the only moments they were out of each other's eyesight and now.....now it was just her and the sky.  For a minute she just closed her eyes and laid on the grass, absorbing the isolation and letting her mind clear.  Then she stood up, dusted herself of, and looked around.

 

There was no sign of anybody else, for all Korra could tell she was the only person in the world.  No soldiers with strange weapons stalking through the undergrowth, no airships passing overhead, no lights shining in the distance, no sounds of machinery, just all of the ambiance of nature.  She closed her eyes again, relishing the peace and quiet, then clambered back down into the hole, sealing it behind her and crawling back towards where Asami and Joo Dee were waiting.  Back in the cavern she took burning branch back and extinguished it, holding up her own fire so that everybody could see one another.

 

"I don't think anybody was out there, I couldn't see or hear any people are machines.  Hopefully they've moved on.  We should be clear to continue walking tomorrow, and we should probably get to sleep now."

 

Asami nodded, and even Joo Dee nodded, although Korra guessed that was more just a general acknowledgement than a sign that she had learned to understand them after studying with Asami for a half a day.  As they had the day before they spread out their parkas for makeshift sleeping areas and laid themselves down, all hoping that the next day they would be able to make some significant progress.

 

Asami chose a spot opposite where Joo Dee was sleeping, wanting to give her as much space as she could, and waited for Korra.  They had slept beside each other, waking up with fingers intertwined more often than not, since their now seemingly-distant vacation in the Spirit World, but this time Korra did not simply lie beside her.  Instead, with the barest hesitation, Korra slowly pulled herself up against Asami, wrapping her in her arms and pulling her tight against her front.  Asami's eyed widened, and she opened her mouth to say something, but whatever it was died in her throat.  Slowly she turned onto her side as well, now face-to-face with Korra, and leaned forward until their foreheads were touching.  They stayed like for an eternity until Korra tilted to the side and rested her head against Asami's shoulder, breathing deeply, and they fell asleep in each other's arms.

 


 

 

Judith Moon found herself waking up slowly, groggily, which was not how she usually came out of sleep, and when she opened her eyes she was confused at the darkness when her internal clock said it was the morning already.  Then she remembered where she was and she jerked to her feet, feeling around until she managed to trace the walls.

 

"Asami?  Korra?  Are you there?"

 

For a moment the panic began to well up within her as she thought that she had been left behind, buried alive in a dirt coffin, and she was about to start clawing at the walls when she heard a muffled noise from the other side of their bunker.  It was indistinct, the kind of noise that you made when you were half-asleep, and she realized that Korra and Asami simply had not awoken yet.  She was used to them already being awake when she rose, and relaxed when she realized that she had not been disposed of and left to rot in a cage where she would never be  found.  As she stood there she realized that light was streaming in through the holes in the wall again, and as she focused on where the mumbles were coming from she began to make out two forms sleeping....sleeping together, actually, and suddenly overwhelmed with embarrassment (Which had not been a problem emotion so far, what the terror and shock and fear), she spun and faced the wall behind her.

 

"Hey!" She shouted, "Wake up.  It's time to get moving."

 

Behind her came all the normal sounds of two people clumsily getting up, and when she turned around again they were both on their feet and rubbing the sleep out of their eyes.  Looking around they spoke briefly, as if reacquainting themselves with the situation, and then Korra turned to the wall and....and she stepped into the wall.  Judith knew that she had done something similar the night before, but the light from the smoldering branch had been too faint to make out any details, now she could see how Korra just seemed to move through the rock and dirt as if it were water.  In seconds she was gone, with just a small crack in the wall to mark her passage, and Judith was left alone with Asami.

 

She found herself relaxing almost at once, as she had yesterday in Asami's presence.  She had realized then that, to her knowledge, Asami had done none of the magical feats Korra had; no flying or conjuring fire or moving rocks with her mind.  She seemed to be completely normal.  That was not proven beyond any doubt (Judith remembered back to the sparring match she had watched between them three days ago, where Asami's aim seemed to have only been to touch Korra instead of punching or kicking her; what if she had some sort of instant-death-touch ability?), but for the moment her presence was much less disconcerting than the creature Korra had become in her mind.  Perhaps sensing that she was at ease Asami turned to her and smiled (She was starting to notice that Asami had a very nice smile), and then said "Speak now, yes?"

 

Her accent was still almost comical, and it was nowhere near a completely sentence, but Judith had understood her, which was better than anybody had managed to accomplish in days.  Smiling in turn, she nodded and they sat beneath the light of one of the air holes again to continue rudimentary translations.  Judith was no language teacher, and she was under no illusions that she could convey any sort of fluency, but if they went back-and-forth enough over the most common words they might just be able to smash together enough jargon to hold a conversation.  They worked steadily, until the sound of shifting earth a half-hour later heralded Korra's return.  She stepped out of the wall coated in dirt and Judith had to fight the urge to shout and jump away at the otherworldly image, which looked like nothing so much as a golem come to life.

 

After a pause to orient herself, Korra simply clapped her hands together and the dirt leaped off her skin, as if obeying an order.  She turned to Asami and the two spoke quickly, too quickly for Judith to even attempt to follow, then Asami turned to her and tried to explain.  "No people.  Safe.  Now go".  Still far from perfect, but already it was better than spending half an hour flipping through the dictionary for individual words.  Nodding, she and Asami began to pack up what they had while Korra looked at the roof, stomped her feet, moved her arms, and the stone above them just slid to the side like the lip of a box.  Almost used to such displays by now, Judith was more stunned by the sudden brilliance that shone down from the sun which blinded her painfully for moments.  As her eyes struggled to adjust she clambered up the staircase Korra had created yesterday and savored the feel of the wind and sun against her skin.  She expected to Korra and Asami to come up right behind her, neither of them had enjoyed being buried any more than she had, but to her surprise they stayed down below for a few minutes and she faintly caught the sounds of cutting and tearing cloth (She also realized that Korra still had her combat knife.  She resolved to ask for that back at the soonest opportunity).  Just as she was about lean over the edge to see what was going on, and when her eyes had cleared enough for her to be able to see, Asami came up the staircase carrying the small chest which they used to carry their odds-and-ends, and Judith noticed that sticking out was an overshirt like the ones Korra and Asami had been given to wear back at Station Alert what almost seemed like a lifetime ago.  Since Asami was obviously still wearing hers that logically meant it must be Korra's, but why was Korra just wearing an undershirt?  She got her answer moments later when Korra walked up out of the pit, with the now cleaned and prepared moose pelt draped over her shoulders.  Since they did not have any sewing material the hide had not been turned into any kind of tailored shirt or tunic, instead a rude circle had been hacked out of the middle and it was worn over her head like a poncho.  But no matter how rude its preparation, at the sight of it Judith began to have an existential crisis.

 

She had wondered before if these two were even human given all that they could do, and now, with Korra standing before her draped in the skin of an animal she had killed either with her bare hands or with magic, after seeing her literally swim through solid earth and control the elements.....was she human?  She seemed more like a creature of folklore, a spirit of the forest.  When they were younger, Tapeesa's grandmother would tell them both the myths and legends that she herself had heard as child, and many of them had included beings like this, with power and wisdom beyond humanity's own.  Judith had not paid particularly close attention, and neither had Tapeesa for that matter, but they had sat there politely and listened until they were allowed to go off on their own, and some information had sunk in.  Legends of Nujalik and Pinga, goddesses of hunting (Among other things), and other beings whose names she had forgotten.  Looking at Korra, standing there like the embodiment of those stories, like an avatar of the woods, was too much for her.  After everything over the past few days, all the insanity that started the second Korra had ripped open the side of an airplane with her bare hands, it was too much.  Before she knew it, she was on her knees, babbling almost incoherently, mixed prayers and curses and half-remembered Inuktitut words from her youth (Though those were mainly curses as well), and then she thankfully fell into unconsciousness.

Chapter Text

"You know, if we keep needing to stop like this we're never going to get anywhere."  Asami's voice was artificially light, but the concern was evident regardless and even her attempt at humor belied her fear.  They had stretched Joo Dee out flat and now Korra kneeled in front of her, again running her hands over her as she worked with the chi energy that had gotten so twisted and blocked within her body, while Joo Dee continued to shiver and moan beneath Korra's ministrations.  Korra did not respond, so focused on the work, and Asami twisted her hands together.  They had tried this immediately after escaping the plane, and again yesterday before they began their trek, but Korra could only do so much; she could move around the body's energy and massage its chakras, but this was not a physical wound to be patched up or forced back into place.  After another half-hour Korra gasped and fell back onto her haunches, and the water she had collected dropped back down to the ground.  Before her, Joo Dee's cries had faded to silence, and now she seemed to have fallen into a deep sleep.

 

"That's it, that's the best I can do."  Her voice was exhausted, almost more tired than any time Asami could recall hearing it, and she looked as tired as she had when Asami saw her walk out of the new Republic City Spirit Portal with Kuvira.  "This is bad, Asami, very bad.  I've never tried to heal anything like this before, her chi is roaring, but it's so blocked that it can't go anywhere.  It's almost like..." her voice caught, the barest hitch "...it's like how I felt when I was recovering at the South Pole after Zaheer.  So much pain, but it's not from the body.  Even Katara couldn't heal me by herself, and she's a better healer than I'll ever be.  I don't think I can fix this."  She moved to stand up, but her trembling limbs could barely lift her and she found herself sitting all over again.  "Whoa...when we get back remind me to ask Katara how she managed to stay standing during those sessions, I feel like I could sleep for days."

 

"Here, let me help you," and Asami helped Korra stand and shuffle over to the fire they had built before she began to try the healing.  It was a good thing they had started the fire first, because right now Korra did not feel like she could have lit a blade of straw on fire.    As she settled to the ground before the fire Asami pressed a cup of steaming water and cooked venison into her hands; it could not properly be called 'stew', but Korra inhaled it like it was the finest dish she had ever eaten.  "Is she in danger?"

 

"No...actually, yes, she is.  Her body isn't going to quit this very second, but this isn't going to go away.  I'm not sure if she's going to wake up on her own, and if she does and this isn't dealt with....I almost didn't come back, Asami.  I had my parents and Katara with me at the South Pole, and Mako and Bolin, and I had....I had you waiting for me, and with all that I still almost didn't come back.  If she wakes up and it's just us, and we're causing this....we need to get her out of here, soon, or she won't ever get out of this forest even if her body does."  She laughed, a quiet, rueful laugh that might have held a glimmer of true humor, but only if you really dug down into it.  "We should have let them find her last night, we could have....oh, spirits, it's so obvious....why didn't we just wait until she was sleeping then leave her where they would have found her?  Or just tied her up right in their path?   We could have been miles away by the time they got any information from her, and she wouldn't be like this and...."  Now her laugh was half a sob.

 

Asami did not say anything, but just knelt down next to Korra and held her tight, resting Korra's head on her chest and stroking her hair as they watched the fire flicker.  That Korra cared so much about a woman that was almost an enemy was part of why Asami loved her, part of the strength and beauty that made Korra who she was.  It was what had allowed Korra to ultimately triumph over Kuvira, not just defeat her, and it was exactly what was needed in an Avatar.  But at times like this, where all they could do was watch, Asami knew that it ate at her more than anything else.

 

"What do you want to do?"

 

"Want to do?  What I want to do right now is go home and leave this entire strange world behind, but what we're going to do....I've got an idea."  When Korra did not continue, Asami gently shook her to get her mind unstuck.  "We need to get her to a healer, maybe this place has ways of helping that we know nothing about, and we need get her out of this entire situation.  So, we've got to signal the military.  They were searching here yesterday, they must still be close by and I should be able to find them if we whip together a glider.  I'll bring Joo Dee over to them and hopefully they can help her.  Then I'll....I'll deal with whatever happens next."

 

Asami took note of the pronouns Korra had chosen; 'I', not 'we'.  It could have been a simple slip of the tongue, but she knew it was deliberate.  "We'll deal with whatever happens next."  She stressed perhaps a bit more than she had to to get the point across, but she wanted it clear exactly where she stood.

 

Korra was silent for a minute, then she reached up to grab Asami's hand that had been stroking her hair.  Softly, she said "I love you, Asami" and she kissed the back of her palm and let herself sink into the embrace.

 

Asami's breath caught in her throat.  The past few weeks with Korra had seemed like the culmination of all of her hopes and desires, ever since they had spoken at Varrick's wedding, and she knew how much Korra meant to her, but to hear the words said out loud, with all that they implied and represented and meant and signified...everything....she tilted her head down and lightly pressed her lips to the top of Korra's head, just barely enough to be called a kiss.  "I love you, too."

 


 

 

Making a functioning glider, ironically, turned out to be the hardest task they had faced so far in the forest.  None of their clothing was suited to serve as gliding material, most of the trees around them produced wood too heavy for a staff, and they had no tools or sealants to work with.  With enough time they likely could have made do (Korra maintained that if they had a week Asami would have them traveling in a new satomobile), but time was the very problem, so they eventually relied on a brute force approach which would have had Tenzin turning red.  Instead of a standard glider they stretched the moose pelt over a rectangular frame they had notched together with a strap dangling down made of one of their parkas.  It could not glide by any definition of the term, but it could catch the air, and if Korra airbent correctly it could float straight up and come back down gently enough for her to not kill herself.  It would be continuous work going up and down, it was not a parachute, and it would not provide much speed or lateral movement, but it would allow her to get a great view of the area and possibly assist in being spotted.

 

By the time they finished it was the early afternoon, their third day in the forest after the crash and the previous day spent mainly hiding in the bunker.  Joo Dee continued to sleep fitfully, but Korra and Asami had eaten their fill and done their best to feed her the broth they had.  Before it got dark, and before the searchers got any further away, Korra quickly kissed Asami good bye, held up her reverse-parachute, and bounded into the air.

 

At first she was ecstatic at being airborne again at all, flying had never lost its primal thrill, but the cumbersome contraption she was holding on to made it more of an ordeal than a pleasure.  She slowly floated up, bobbing in the wind, and looked around frantically for any sign of the searchers they had heard the night before.  As far as she could see there was nothing, just more forest and small hills, no sign of habitation at all.  She listened for the noise of those strange flying machines, but there was nothing but the odd bird call and noise from below.  Inevitably, she began to descend and wound up only a short walk from where she had left Asami and Joo Dee.  She went up again, this time with a stringer gust to keep her up longer, but still saw nothing.  After her third trip she began to grow tired; this was brute force airbending, lifting herself up by sheer strength, and airbending was not about strength.  After the fourth trip she had to rest; just like healing earlier in the day it was a constant strain, and she did not have a bottomless well of energy to maintain it forever.  She sat down in their camp, cooked another section of venison (She was very glad they had a sufficient supply of food, but she was starting to wish they had a little more variety), and allowed herself to be lost in the warmth of Asami's body against hers.

 

After her strength restored she began bounding again, but she noticed that the sun was already lowering, and would likely begin to set within the hour.  The odds of spotting anybody at night were even remoter than they already were, and the odds of her breaking her own neck on landing in the dark were much larger, so she began to put more and more into her airbending, hoping to stay up just a little bit longer.

 

"The light's almost gone, if you don't spot somebody this next jump I want you to stop for the night.  You won't do Joo Dee any favors by hurting yourself."

 

Korra just grunted in acknowledgement, tired and frustrated over the wasted day.  She had already decided that, if she did not attract help today, she would begin moving tomorrow.  There would be extremely limited control over their shoddy contraption, and she would be at the whims of any particularly strong gust of wind, and she would likely not be able to guide it precisely enough to get back, but if she just kept wasting time she feared that Joo Dee would not survive, so she was willing to do anything.

 

Inevitably, of course, on her next and last bound of the day, she caught the distant sounds of the same flying machine that they had heard before.

Chapter Text

 The flying machine looked different from the one that had rescued them, although Asami figured part of that was because this one did not need to be prepared to fly in the frozen conditions the other one had (She still remembered the frustrations of modifying the standard bi-plane design so it could work reliably at the North and South Poles).  It was smaller and looked lighter in general, with a lot more glass  and openings, and she could feel her fingers almost itching to open the engines and see how it worked.  She had been near unconsciousness when she saw the other one, and now she could look it over and pick out all the details she could observe.  She assumed that the smaller propeller on the back tail was intended to compensate for the rotation of the main one above, but how were they controlled?  What kind of speed did it have, or range?  What fuel did it use?  Was there a reason it was almost completely yellow?  Almost more than anything else at the moment, she wished for her workshop and an hour of uninterrupted time to play around with it.  Almost more than anything else, as a whimper from Joo Dee drew her attention back to the present.

 

She took a rag made from the remnants of the parka that had provided Korra with her hanging strap and dipped it in one of the buckets of water Korra had prepared (Until now Asami had never thought about just how useful having the Avatar along could be).  Gently, she ran it over Joo Dee's forehead; she was not sure, but it felt like a fever was beginning.  Korra was right, she needed to get to a healer, and soon, and hopefully they could make that happen now.

 

In a clearing a few hundred feet away, the closest open space large enough for the machine to land, she heard it touch down, then the shuffle and crash of Korra leading its pilot over to where they were.  Asami looked up and took him in at a glance, a little surprised at his appearance.  He was not in the uniform that Joo Dee and all the other soldiers had worn, nor would she have classified his clothing as a uniform at all, its style looked more like what everybody else had worn at the base.  He was also old, older than she would have expected a rescue flier to be; she guessed above sixty.  Also...now Asami realized that his machine was the only flying machine they had heard, and there was apparently no ground searchers in the area, either.  Where was everybody else?  They could not have abandoned the search already, could they?  Regardless, he was here now, and Asami was grateful.  Waving excitedly, she drew him over to where she was caring for Joo Dee.

 

She saw his eyes widen as he took in the situation, and she also saw his confusion as he looked around at the bizarre makeup of their camp.  He tried to say something, but Asami's shoulders fell as she realized that he was not speaking the language she had been learning from Joo Dee - 'English' she had called it.  Instead, he was speaking the other language she had heard at the base, which did not seem to be as prevalent as English, and which was still completely unknown to her.  When he saw her expression he paused for a moment, as if thinking something over, then started speaking again.  He spoke too rapidly for her to understand, and used words that she did not know, but this time it was English.  Quickly, she recited the one complete sentence she had made sure to memorize by rote the previous night.

 

"I'm sorry, my friend and I do not speak English, but I am trying to learn.  Please speak slowly and clearly."

 

He gave her another confused look, but then Joo Doo moaned again and he dashed to her side.  Asami had spent the day thinking up what they would say when they were found, and now let out what she had worked up, broken and isolated words that she hoped would get their meaning across.  "Hurt.  Help.  Please."  The man looked even more confused than before, then leaned down to pull something out from under Joo Dee's shirt, a metal chain wrapped around her neck with some sort of pendant on it.  He read the writing on it, then looked back to Asami.  "Please" she said again.  After a moment's hesitation the man held up his hands - clearly a 'wait here' gesture - and ran back to his flying machine.  Or rather, he walked quickly, since running through the woods as night fell was a good way to give yourself a broken ankle.  Korra went with him, and Asami was left alone with Joo Dee again, doing what she could to ease her suffering.

 

A few minutes later Korra walked back over and sat down next to Asami, and Asami could see that the tenseness she had displayed all day was already somewhat abated.  Not completely, not yet, but a little.

 

"He has a radio, and I think he's calling for help; there's no space to lie her down in his airship and I don't want to squeeze her into the storage compartment."

 

"Probably a good idea, the other searchers must be nearby, they should be here soon.  What....what do you want to do after they get here?"

 

Korra was quiet for a moment, then spoke almost hopefully, "I don't think he's part of the search, he was completely surprised to find us here.  His flying machine doesn't look at all like the other one, or any of the equipment they had at the base.  He's probably somebody who was just out enjoying flying.  I don't think there is a search, for whatever reason.  At least, not here."

 

"No search?  Then..."  Asami did not need to spell it out, but if there were no soldiers coming then they could fade right back into the forest after the help got here.  No need to either let themselves be taken prisoner or fight their way out.  Or maybe they could go with the rescuers, fly with them back to the city they came from.  Asami was not at home out in the wilds, and even though it was far from being actively unpleasant, she ached to return to the life of a city.  Or, wait...did this world even have cities?  Once again she realized just how little she and Korra actually knew about this place.

 

"I know.  Just think, in a few minutes we'll be alone again, and..."  Korra trailed off, and Asami found herself blushing at the way she had said 'alone'.  They had been alone together countless times before, but with the memory of the night before, when Korra had curled up against her and held her so tightly....suddenly, Asami was not sure whether she wanted the rescue to take them out of the forest along with Joo Dee or leave them here.

 

The crushing noises of the man returning broke them out of their reverie, and he reappeared from the forest around them, sinking to the ground with a heavy sigh, but he smiled to signify good news.  He spoke rapidly, but when he realized that they had not understood him he stopped and spoke again.  "Help.  Soon."  They were two simple words, but a smile blossomed on Asami's face, and Korra's as well once she translated.  She dashed over to hug him, and then he had a very different kind of smile on his face, but Asami just laughed and kissed him on the cheek.

 

Now, all they had to do was wait, and as she settled down Asami realized that it had been hours since she and Korra eaten.  They had left one of their ice blocks next to the fire and it had nearly melted, so they skewered the meat and let it roast, offering their new friend his own share.  Then, realizing that they could not keep calling him 'man', Asami said "Name?", hoping she had gotten that one correctly.  He nodded and pointed to his own chest, saying something which sounded like 'Huan'.  Pointing to them he repeated the term, and Asami gave her own and Korra's name.  Smiling, he accepted the slice of venison, and the three of them ate amiably side by side.

 


 

 

Clearly this new world had a very different concept of the meaning of 'soon', and Korra growled under her breath as their wait for rescue stretched out to more than an hour.  Huan did not seem anxious or worried, so he probably expected such a delay, and he also seemed genuinely friendly, so Korra did not worry that he was trying to delay them while a trap was sprung, but....Joo Dee still had not awoken, and despite their best efforts to keep her drinking water and some broth neither she nor Asami were trained in caring for somebody unconscious like this.  Now that night had fallen in earnest they moved her closer to the fire for warmth and kept her bundled in the parkas they had left, and all they could do after that was wait.  The tension which had begun to leave her after she had attracted the flying machine was slowly creeping back.

 

Asami and Huan, however, seemed perfectly content just to wait for the rescue Huan said was coming, and she forced herself not to fidget.  It would get here when it got here, her carrying on would help at all.  Determined to relax she crossed her legs and closed her eyes to begin meditating, and of course they all heard the sound of another flying machine right then.  Jumping up, Huan began ambling towards his own machine and Korra went with him, partly out of concern; he was moving noticeably slower than he had just an hour ago, and she again wondered what he was doing out here.  Still, while he might have been old he was not decrepit, and he got back to his machine without trouble, picking up the radio and speaking to whoever it was that was coming.  They had returned to that other language by now, so not even the extreme generalities of English that she had picked up could help Korra, but their conversation was professional and friendly, so she relaxed as they spoke.  Soon, the noise of this machine was almost directly overhead, and Korra rushed back to the campsite to help.

 

One look at the flying craft told Korra that she and Asami could not go with Joo Dee back to wherever it came from.  They still could not read any of the markings along its side, but this was clearly a military craft of some kind.  Huan's machine looked personal, like the satomobiles Asami maintained with her own hands, but this was a much larger, heavier craft, and looking up she could see that the crew within it wore uniforms.  None of them seemed armed or threatening, but that they were part of the same organization which Joo Dee worked for could not be doubted, and surely once they learned who they were helping the entire situation would change.  So, once they had helped Joo Dee, she and Asami would need to disappear as quickly as they could.  But first, they would help Joo Dee.

 

Several ropes fell down from the machine, and suddenly the people inside were rapidly descending to the ground, carrying enough equipment that Korra hoped they could help.  Asami waved them over to where Joo Dee was and, after they realized that neither she nor Korra could explain what had happened, they began to examine her themselves.  Their ministrations looked rough to Korra, who wanted to shove them aside and show them how to properly minster to a patient, but she realized that without waterbending they could not just work with the internal energy of the body and she took hold of herself.  They felt and measured and touched her with who-knew-what, then began speaking back and forth, and presumably up to the people still overhead.  Huan had returned by then and he spoke to them, likely explaining what little he knew, and they turned back to Joo Dee.  After a few minutes, which felt like hours, they assembled what looked like a solid bed and lifted Joo Dee onto it, then connected it to the cables to be drawn up to the machine and....and she was inside the machine, and Korra took what felt like her first breath in days.  Whatever happened now she would be out of the forest, back among her own people, and hopefully getting help.

 

Turning to Asami, Korra quietly said "It's time."  They walked over to Huan and both hugged him tightly, which got him to grin even wider than he had when Asami had kissed him earlier in the day, then passed him two notes that they had written while waiting for the rescue.  They said his name as they handed him the first, to indicate that it was for him, then said "Joo Dee" as they passed him the second.  They said it again, pointing at the flying machine, and he nodded.  Then, when he turned back to watch some of the crew come back down on the still-hanging cables, they grabbed the supplies they could get hold of unobtrusively and stepped out of the firelight.

Chapter Text

Traveling through an unfamiliar woods at night is much more difficult than it might at first appear, even with Korra holding aloft a small flame to light the way.  The shifting shadows cast by the fire almost made it harder to see where they were going, and they were constantly stumbling over overgrown roots and tripping in small depressions.  However, they kept pushing forward, looking to put as much distance between themselves and their previous campsite as they could.  They did not understand why there had not already been a thorough search combing the forest for them, but neither doubted that with the return of Joo Dee they would be followed now.  So, they marched deep into the night, not speaking except for minor words of encouragement and grunts of exertion, until the sky began to brighten in the east.  Optimally they would have kept going even longer, but at that point they needed to rest; not just from the hike itself, but all the exertions of the day before that they had not recovered from.  With mingled sighs and groans they shuffled to a halt and sank to the ground, wrapping themselves up together in the pelt, which was one of the few things they had managed to grab before leaving their camp.  Korra was about to make a joke about how useful this one item was turning out to be, but between opening her mouth and starting to speak her head fell to the side and she and Asami slept the deep, undisturbed sleep of the truly exhausted.

 

When she awoke later, Korra smacked her head on what felt like a solid slab of rock as she sat up.  When she opened her eyes a moment later, the pounding ache in her head making her wish she had done that first, she saw what looked like a sheet of earth above her and Asami's sleeping forms.  She had absolutely no memory of erecting an earth tent like this before falling asleep, but as tired as she had been she did not find her lack of recollection very surprising, and now that she thought about it it made sense.  From above it probably looked like any other bit of earth around them, and the flying machines might go right by without noticing anything.  It might not do much to confuse somebody on the ground, but so far they had not seen anybody walking around this forest, and it looked a lot easier and less claustrophobic than the buried bunker she had made before.  Grinning, she turned her head to say something to Asami, and felt her breath catch in her throat.

 

Asami was there, right there, so close that she could have kissed her without even moving her head.  They were intertwined, sleeping in the same fur, and Korra found herself lost just staring her.  They had not showered for days, they were covered in the grime and pulp of trees, and their clothes were in tatters, but Asami looked beautiful, and for the first time Korra felt a desire beginning to build within her from the proximity.  When they had been trapped on the ice, every moment had them only inches away from death; after they had been rescued they had been watched constantly; after they had escaped, Joo Dee had been with them.  Now....Korra was suddenly painfully aware that they were completely alone, nobody for miles, and Asami's body pressed against hers, their legs caught up together.  She felt her blood begin to rush and her breath come heavy as she took in she sheer physical presence beside her.  They had spoken, and they had kissed, and slept beside each other, but now Korra felt a passionate yearning and....she slowly disentangled herself from Asami's form, doing her best not to wake her, and slid out from beneath the earth tent over to what meagre supplies they retained.  They were still lost in the woods in a world they did not understand, there would be time for that later.

 

What they had left was not much, but then they had not had much to start with.  Laying it out side-by-side, there was Joo Dee's knife, the map, the dictionary, the note pads, the pelt she had so painstakingly treated yesterday, a few pieces of cooked venison,  and finally the very clothes they were wearing.  Not much, but maybe enough.  Especially, she thought with a touch of smugness, with the Avatar there to take care of the elements.  Speaking of....

 

Bending as quietly as she could so as not to disturb Asami, Korra began to form another small collection of stone cups and bowls for them to use, then filled them with water.  She drew the water up from the ground as Katara had shown her to do so many years ago; water was everywhere, in the ground and plants and very air itself, and with enough patience it could be collected and used, drawn together from all its disparate sources.  When she had filled the cups, then drunk one herself and re-filled it, she became aware of the feeling of eyes upon her and turned to see Asami watching, smiling.

 

"I didn't want to interrupt, I just like watching you work.  The way you move when you're waterbending is so smooth, so clear...let me have a sip of that."  And Asami grabbed one of the cups herself, closing her eyes and relishing the clean, cool taste.  "You make the best water."

 

Korra could not help but laugh and took another drink herself.  "Why thank you, I do aim to please.  When we have time I'll show my hot water specialty, it will knock your socks off" and they both laughed together.  As they laughed it was like the tension of the past few days oozed out of them along with their breath, and they sat down for breakfast (Although it was likely well into the afternoon already judging by the sun).  They chewed the last of venison they had, drank the clear water, and considered what to do next.

 

"I think we should keep heading south," Asami said, "Joo Dee said there are very few people this far north, and if we turn around we're just going to begin freezing again."

 

"Makes sense to me, it would be nice to get out of this forest for a change and we could see what this new world is actually like.  We've been here for two weeks now and all we've seen is ice, a military base, and these trees, I wonder what their cities are like?"  Korra's voice was almost longing, and Asami figured she must have sounded something like that before she first came to Republic City.

 

"Huan had his own private aircraft, do you think everybody flies here?"  There was no 'almost' to Asami's longing, the thought of everybody having their own aircraft had her eyes almost sparkling.

 

Korra was not immune to the wonder, either, after what they had already seen.  "They might, and they had that talking picture telephone back at the base, I wonder if those are everywhere?  Imagine that, everybody flying around, talking to somebody else miles away as if they were right in front of you...although, if we had that back home Ryu would probably fly right into a building," and they both laughed again.

 

When they had finished eating Asami began to gather wood for a fire and Korra walked off to collect their food; fruit if she could find it, hunting if she came across any game.  They would stock up today and likely sleep here again tonight, then begin marching tomorrow.  Hopefully, in a few days they would find some other people, or maybe a road or waterway, and reach civilization to begin seeing what was out there.  Then...then they would see the world.

Chapter Text

For the first time weeks, Korra and Asami awoke to absolutely nothing strange, unusual, dangerous or daunting before them.  As they slid out from the earth tent, they reflected that there was nothing pressing (At least, not beyond their basic survival in this strange world).  Joo Dee had been returned to her people, they had detected no sign that the searching Canadians were closing in on their location, and even their food stores had been bolstered the day before by Korra felling a pair of four-legged animals, smaller than the moose but likewise antlered, and with white tails.  Not since they left their vacation in the Spirit World had a day started quite so mundanely, or with so few surprises.  They cooked their breakfast, preserved the remainder of their food for their trip, and began the long, arduous journey south.  Korra had again constructed a small stone cart on which they loaded their food and the supplies they had, including a small bundle of firewood and the two new skins, and with her earthbending to move it smoothly through the forest their progress was almost as rapid as if they had been unburdened.  Without the fear of pursuit, or imminent danger from the environment, or hostile companions, it felt like they might have been back in the Spirit World after all.

 

"Korra?"  Asami's voice was as light as their moods.

 

"Hmmm?"

 

"Why have you been skinning all of the animals you've hunted?  The moose pelt has certainly proven useful," she nodded to where it lay rolled up in the cart, now serving as their blanket after having spent barely an hour as Korra's garment before becoming a ballooning asset, "but do you really think we'll need these new pelts as well?"

 

"One of the basic rules of survival in the wild is to not waste anything if you can avoid it.  We don't need them now, but what if we need bags to carry something?  Or if the weather turns cold again, who knows how the seasons work here?  You never know what might come up tomorrow, or the day after, so you hold on to everything you can.  Plus..." and she averted her eyes slightly, as if nervous about admitting the next part, "...I don't like the feel of these clothes."

 

"What's wrong with them, they're sturdy enough....although I certainly wouldn't complain about a new set or getting to properly wash these."  She made an exaggerated show of smelling her shirt and recoiling, which got a laugh out of Korra.  How many people would Asami have done that in front of?

 

"There's nothing wrong with them, but I'm used to the feel of fur against my skin.  Back home if you didn't have a thick coat on it meant you were either inside by a fire, or in very big trouble.  Even after I left the South Pole it felt right to keep wearing my furs."  Now she smiled.  "Remember when you took me shopping for the first time?  I kept sending everything away until you found that tailor who had grown up in the Northern Water Tribe?  It wasn't just fashion tradition, I didn't feel right wearing only silk.  To be out here, walking in the open, in just these flimsy shreds I feel almost naked."

 

"There's more, isn't there?  I know you've always preferred to keep with the Water Tribe style, but you never looked really uncomfortable in something else."

 

"Well.....it's also that now it is a matter of tradition.  My parents and the White Lotus taught me everything I needed to know about surviving when I was a kid, but I never had to use most of it at the compound.  Now that I'm finally using it, the hunting skills that my father learned from his father and the survival training from my mother, I feel like it's important that I...that I honor them.  They wear their furs to survive, and so should I."

 

Korra was hesitant to say this, unsure of how Asami might react.  She had never looked down on Korra before, never condescended to Korra's tribal origin even when exposing her to the modern world, but something like this seemed so...petty.  Pure sentimentality, justified only by 'tradition', and Asami had never been one to be concerned overmuch with tradition.  What if she thought that it was pointless, especially now when they had more pressing matters?  Korra was not so panicked as to think that Asami would suddenly reject her over something so minor,  Asami was too sweet to do something that obtuse even over something more serious, but what if she just rolled her eyes?  What if this was the first of many small things that showed they were from worlds which were too different, despite everything else that drew them together?

 

"Well then, we have a problem."

 

Korra's stomach tried to drop right to the ground, but she grabbed it before it reached her feet and held onto it.  "Oh?"

 

"Yeah, we don't have any sewing materials, and we'll need to tailor them together since these pelts are way too small for you to just throw over your shoulders like the other one.  We're going to have to work on that, especially when I get mine."

 

Now Korra's stomach seemed to be trying to rush up in the opposite direction and she wondered why it could not just decide to stay where it was supposed to be.  "Yours?"

 

"Of course.  Tonraq and Senna's lessons have saved my life right along with you, I can't very well ignore them, can I?  Besides, we'll need replacement clothing eventually no matter what, and I for one have no intention of walking around half-naked with a pelt dragging the ground behind me.  You're going to be the best dressed woman in this wilderness, and what kind of girlfriend would I be if I didn't try to keep up?"

 

Korra was silent for a moment, unaware even that she had stopped walking and was staring at Asami, then dashed over to her and pulled her into a kiss.  This was not one of the warm, tender kisses with which they greeted the day, nor was it one of the slow, quiet kisses that they said farewell to the evening with.  This was so passionate, so intense, that it rivalled the one they had shared as they plummeted to the ground after escaping from the airplane days ago.  For minutes they were locked together, wrapped within each other's arms, and when they finally broke apart they were both panting heavily, taking in deep gulps of breath to keep themselves steady.

 

"You, Asami Sato, are a singular woman in all the world....in all the worlds, and I would not be complete without you by my side."

 

Asami did not respond, but simply pulled Korra close again.  Korra understood her anyway.

Chapter Text

As Asami woke up the next morning, drowsily stirring at the first bird song, she paused just to appreciate the feel of Korra's skin against hers.  She wondered how she had ever survived waking up without her warmth, the days of when they had simply unrolled their sleeping mats side-by-side already seemed like a distant past.  Grinning, she reached up to run her hand through Korra's hair, enjoying the feel of it as it ran through her fingers--and then her fingers got caught in a tangled knot that jerked Korra awake when she tried to pull herself free.

 

"Oww!  What the----Asami, what are you doing!?!"

 

"I'm sorry, I was just...." Asami started to laugh, "...I was just brushing your hair and I got stuck."

 

"You got..you got stuck?"  The shock of being so rudely awakened was fading, and  Korra began to laugh as well.  "You got stuck..in my hair.  You've broken out of military captivity, and you were stuck in my hair?  The Earth Queen's guards couldn't stop you, but my hair trapped you?"  Now she could barely speak, and for five minutes they both just lay there, gasping for air, set off to new fits of laughter each time they looked at each other.  "We know what to do if we're ever captured again, trick the guards into my hair and we're free!"

 

"Stop, stop, I need to breathe!"  Tears were streaming down Asami's face and she was doubled over on her side, taking big gulping breaths between giggles.  As they wound down, Asami reached out and again began to run her fingers through Korra's hair--albeit a little bit more cautiously this time.  "I just wanted to feel a little bit more of you before we got up for the day."

 

Kora felt her face warming, "Thanks, but I think it's time we both actually took a bath, unless we want to spend the day with you attached to my head."

 

"I wouldn't mind" Asami began to say, but then her fingers got caught again and she nearly descended back into fits, "Okay, maybe we do need to clean up a bit."

 

Disentangling themselves, they prepared for the day and began their march, with Korra leading them towards where her senses said there was flowing water.  After barely an hour, they came to a small stream and sat down to take care of all the personal care and maintenance that had been sadly neglected during their trek through the woods.  The pelts Korra had collected were rinsed and laid out to dry, and their clothing, which was grimy and marked from the world around them, was washed as best they could.  Then Asami stepped into the stream herself to bathe and---when Korra looked up from the new pelts that she was working with she felt her breath leave her in a rush and refuse to return.  With a choked sound that was almost a cry she turned aside, and determinedly looked down at the pelt in her hand, focusing on the work as she felt her blood begin to rise. Asami had been....well, she was.  Shining in the sun, standing in the sparkling water, it was like...it was like when Korra had first seen the Republic City skyline lit up at night, standing out bright against the sky.  The magic she had felt then was the same she felt now, and even with her head buried she could not keep herself from angling a little bit to catch a glimpse from the corner of her eye and....Asami stood tall, her body taught and free in the air, and with what was almost a shriek Korra turned completely around and focused on breathing.

 

"Korra?  Are you okay?"

 

"I'm fine!  I'm fine!  I just didn't expect to see...uh....it's all fine!  I'm just working on this new pelt!  It should be ready in a few hours!"  Her voice was breathless, almost frantic, and Asami was about to walk over to her to see what was wrong when she realized that she was naked and...now it was Asami's turn to blush, and she turned to the side even though Korra already had her back to her.

 

"Okay, just...just let me know when you're done with the pelt."  And she returned to her bath with flushed cheeks, eyes constantly darting to where Korra sat with her back to her.

 

An hour later they were both cleaned, dressed and refreshed, and it was amazing how much better you could feel after all the sweat and dirt and detritus was swept away.  They might have just been out for an afternoon trip into the spirit wilds, instead of being stranded, and they resumed their southern progress with lighthearted steps.

 


 

That night, after they had settled down to camp after sunset, Korra and Asami lay side-by-side in the light of the fire and looked upwards.  Korra had not erected their tent, and likely would not until they were ready to actually go to sleep, so they were able to bask in the starlight and listen to the world around them.

 

Quietly, Asami began, "Korra, about what happened earlier today..."

 

"What happened earlier today?"  Korra's response was almost nonchalant enough, but the very blasé attitude she tried to affect told that she was trying very hard to hold her thoughts in.

 

"When we were bathing at the river and..."

 

"What, that?  That was nothing, we've changed together a hundred times and...uh...I was just surprised is all."  Now Asami could hear the emotion underneath the words, and she knew that if they had enough light to see by that Korra would have flushed darkly.

 

"I know we've changed together before, but things are different now and...and we're not rushing right now or in danger right now and...." Asami did not know what to say, did not know if she should say anything, and she did not even know why she was so nervous when they had already shared so much together, but she had to barrel ahead "...and I want you to know that I want us to be everything together.  This is new for me, too, I've never felt like this with anybody, never been like this with anybody, but I'm with you, just like you are with me, and you never need to turn away from me.  Whatever happens, you never need to turn away from me."

 

Korra did not respond right away, just stared up at the stars above, before she turned her head to look at Asami.  Her words were almost too quiet to hear, but Asami did not imagine that she could have possibly missed them, they brimmed with so much emotion. "I never want to turn away from you."  And even though this must have been the tenth time they had spoken about what they meant to each other, and even though it seemed like there could not possibly have been anything else between them to separate them, there was again that bright light, that light which seemed to fill the universe, as another wall tumbled down.

 

They did not throw themselves at each other in passion--even with the refreshing sensation of cleanliness they were still exhausted from the difficult hike of the day--but they drew themselves to one another and just took solace in each other's arms, and when Korra finally did erect the stone tent above their heads Asami did not care at all, because they had all the light they needed.

Chapter Text

It had been nearly a week since they had sent Joo Dee away, almost a month in total since they left the Spirit World and arrived in this strange place, and Korra was putting the finishing touches on what she hoped would finally replace the outfit given to her at the frozen military base.  The process had involved much trial-and-error, especially since, like their attempts at assembling a glider, the mechanics involved were harder than they had any right to be when you considered just how easily they had managed to survive everything else out in the wild.  They had none of the necessary supplies for cloth-working; no needles, no stitching thread or fabrics, not even a pair of scissors (The closest thing they had was Joo Dee's combat knife), and it was all complicated by the fact that Korra could barely remember what she had been taught as a child. Still, with what she could recall, and with Asami's ability to deconstruct a problem, she had muddled through.

 

The sewing needles had been the easiest.  After she had given up on the idea of drawing metal directly out of the ground (It was theoretically possible; like water, metal was everywhere in tiny concentrations, and if you had the precision and the focus you could collect it out of the air itself.  However, after an hour of fruitless effort she resolved to leave it to the Beifongs to figure out how to actually make it work) she had accepted stone tools, which she could easily bend out of the rock all around them.  Their thick bluntness would not have served for the precision of fashion, but were more than adequate for function.  Thread was the next challenge, and more difficult.  She remembered, very vaguely, the process to string out catgut, but here her own squeamishness was a problem; hunting an animal for food was one thing, an issue of kill-or-die, and even skinning and cleaning it was relatively easy, but to then spend hours handling its intestines....ugh.  She nearly gagged at the thought.  Surprisingly, it was Asami who took over that role, absorbing Korra's almost-incomplete instructions ("Hey," she had said defensively, "nobody's gone over this stuff with me for ten years, we didn't spend a whole lot of time playing with animal guts") and smoothly refining it into a straightforward process.  When it was all over, they had needles, thread, and with some judicious metalbending a pair of scissors as well (But Asami made Korra promise to bend the knife back to normal when they were done; it was not theirs, they were just borrowing it).  Then Korra had settled down to work, stitching and folding and realigning whenever they stopped for a break or to make camp for the night.  Now it was almost done, and none too soon, either; the need for clothing had gone from personal choice to practical necessity, since two weeks spent in the wilderness in the same shirt and pants had reduced them to tatters, especially now that they were traveling further every day.  Much longer and they would start getting embarrassed...or rather, they would if they ran into anybody else.  Among themselves....well, regardless, they still needed clothing for pragmatic purposes.

 

"Well, don't leave me in suspense, let me see!"   Asami's voice was eager, but Korra just grinned and instead erected a giant earthen wall between them.  "What are you doing?"

 

"I want it to be a surprise, just give me a moment" Korra said, and Asami could hear the shuffling sounds of changing.  A minute later she shouted "Ready?", and at Asami's affirmative the wall dropped away, revealing Korra.  She stood proudly, almost posing dramatically, but her voice had the tiniest catch when she asked "How do I look?"

 

"You look.....perfect", and to Asami that could not have been more true.  Standing there, clothed in an outfit that they had both made with their bare hands, posed against the backdrop of the forest that she had managed to tame single-handedly, Asami could not have imagined anything more appropriate.  Strength and beauty rolled together, embodying the grandeur of the whole wilderness.  The outfit was not the right color for proper Water Tribe gear, red and brown instead of the deep blue they favored, but the style was unmistakable, a tight tunic with a lower wrap that flared out to hang over a pair of pants.  Asami could see the echoes of the clothing that Korra had worn when she first came to Republic City four years ago, mixed with everything that had come afterwards.  "It's amazing...you're amazing."

 

Korra blushed and shifted her feet, then reached up to tug on a lock of hair, "Thanks".  Asami recognized the gesture, she had first seen it what seemed like forever ago, when they had reunited after Korra returned to Republic City and she had seen Korra's new hairstyle.  Korra had looked beautiful even then, maybe the most beautiful person Asami had ever seen, but Asami had not had the courage to say so.  She had barely managed to say how great her new hair looked, and Korra had tugged a forelock in just the same way.  After so long apart, Asami had been ready to melt into her arms right then.

 

Korra looked up and walked over the remaining fur they had left, picking it up and weighing it out.  "I think I can do better the next time, now that I know what I'm doing, but I don't think we have enough for another complete outfit for you.  I made too many mistakes, had to trim away too much.  Sorry."  She looked so crestfallen that Asami had to laugh, reminded of a child apologizing that her drawing was not good enough.  "Don't worry, by the looks of things we still have a ways to go in this forest before we get to anywhere, we have plenty of time if we need to resupply.  Besides, I don't need a complete wardrobe.  Just give me enough to accessorize."  And Asami flipped her hair in just that way, with just that expression, that Korra could not keep her own chortle from escaping as she imagined any other member of the United Republic's social elite talking about forest accessories.

 

"Deal.  I've already got a few ideas."

 

And so the next night, after staying up late and working behind an earthblind to keep it a secret, Korra presented Asami with an over-the-shouler wrap that was long enough to drape down her back.  When Asami had put it on it almost hung long enough for a cape, and as she posed Korra was again struck at just how beautiful she was.  It was not just her physical appearance, but the way she carried herself, the aura she projected.  She was wearing an animal skin that had been clumsily stitched together in the woods, draped over an outfit that was pitted and marked and dirty, and yet Korra's mind could place her in any of the most exclusive restaurants in the world and could not imagine anybody protesting.  She had the air of beauty that was the envy of everybody else, and the internal fire to harness it.  Not for the first time, she reflected that she would go to the ends of the world with Asami...and, come to think of it, she had.

 

That night, as they lay down to sleep (With their new outfits carefully folded and put aside), they reflected that the had almost everything they could possibly need.  They had had food from the beginning, and they had learned what was good to hunt and forage for in these woods, and now they had clothing.  When it came to surviving in relative comfort, it looked like there were no challenges remaining.  All that was missing was...people.  Friends.  Stories to hear, jokes to tell, strangers to bump into on the street.  With no more needs that they needed to fill out here in the woods, their thoughts turned to the future and the hope that, maybe soon, they would escape these woods and finally see people again.  Their desire was so great that, as they drifted off to sleep, they each thought that they heard the very distant sound of a satomobile driving down an open road.

Chapter Text

It was shortly after midday when they stumbled upon the road running through the forest. Its surface was strange, a dark stone unlike the pavement used in Republic City, but a road it unmistakably was, and Korra and Asami cautiously approached its edge. By the sun it ran from the north-west to the south-east and was marked with painted lines, but as far as they could see in either direction it was empty, with not a satomobile to be seen. Where did it go? Who used it? Was it abandoned, or was it just not heavily trafficked because of how remote they were? None of the answers were forthcoming from the emptiness, however, and by silent accord they both stepped onto the road and began to follow its route. Logically it would lead somewhere; either to a city or a harbor or even just another road, and unless they wanted to spend the rest of their lives living in the wilderness (Which, admittedly, did have a certain appeal after all they had been through) this was likely their best chance of making contact with anybody.

 

After an hour they still had not encountered anybody, but now there was a distant buzzing in the air, a noise half-familiar. It sounded like a satomobile, but subtly different, as if....Asami had to fight the urge the literally smack herself in the forehead; of course it sounded different from a regular satomobile, everything in this place was different.  "Korra, do you hear that?  I think it's a satomoble coming this way."

 

"Hmmm?"  Korra had registered the distant noise, but did not have Asami's precision ability to identify it when it was still so faint.  Now, a few seconds later, it was louder and clear.  "I think you're right.  Quick, get everything ready."  They began to rapidly dig through their supplies for the preparations they had made.

 

Without having a guide, it was fundamentally impossible for Korra or Asami to have made any progress in learning to speak English since Joo Dee had left, even with the assistance of the dictionary that they had, since they did not know how the language worked.  It seemed like they had only an extremely limited number of characters, that were arranged together to form different words, but even the limited number of words that they had learned showed that they made different sounds in different situations.  Without being able to actually speak to somebody, or at least receive an introductory explanation, they would never be able to learn to speak the language on their own.  However, what they could do was learn to read (and write) the language, or at least read it well enough to make themselves understood.  In the time since they had been separated from Joo Dee they had spent many hours reading the dictionary, pairing off the words they knew with their English translations and struggling to gain a vocabulary by rote memorization.  They expected whatever they wrote to be a mishmash of horrible grammar and poor sentence structure, but hopefully it would be enough, and they had spent hours writing out notes for when they finally made contact with somebody.  So, when the strange satomobile slowed to a stop as it saw them waving their arms at the side of the road, Asami already had their greeting ready to hand to whomever was inside.

 

The satomobile itself was unlike any they had seen before, which by now was not so strange given everything else they had already encountered.  The first thing Asami noted was how small it was; it seemed to almost hug the ground, and she could not imagine how they fit an engine into its chassis.  They next thing she realized was how plain it was, but also how stylized; there was almost no artistry or emblemation, but it also seemed to be composed of nothing but curves.  Already she wanted to dig into its engine and look at its performance; the angles probably helped with air resistance, but how did it handle?  Then she noticed that the window was sliding down, but sliding down smoothly, clearly not being cranked by its occupant.  Motorized windows?  MechaTanks and other big devices had motorized hatches, but how could they be made small enough to fit into a door to control a window?  Or rather, who would spend the money for such specialized equipment?  Had they happened to stumble upon some wealthy or powerful individual?  Then the window was completely down, and Asami forced away her questions until they had already escaped their isolation.

 

The driver of the vehicle, and its sole occupant, was an older woman that was looking over Asami and Korra with what appeared to be a mixture of horror and hilarity, and Asami belatedly realized that they had to look absolutely ridiculous.  Dressed in a patchwork of hide clothing and scraps, pulling a stone cart, it was a wonder that she had stopped at all and not just kept driving.  What kind of people was this woman used to dealing with, did people walk out of these woods often?  Giving her best smile, Asami extended the note they had written and said the one complete sentence she had memorized with Joo Dee.

 

"I'm sorry, my friend and I do not speak English, but I am trying to learn.  Please speak slowly and clearly."  The note they had written went into a little more detail; "Hello, me and my friend do not speak English and are lost in these woods.  We would be very grateful if you could give us a ride to the nearest town.  Please help us."  At least, that was what they had tried to write; apparently their wording was even worse than they had thought, because the driver stared at the note with blank incomprehension before tossing it back.  Except maybe it was not the note at all, because then the woman began speaking and it was in that same other-language that Huan had spoken, as had a few people at the military base.  "Je suis désolé, je ne parle pas l'anglais mon cher. Savez-vous Québécois?"

 

Was that the main language of the land after all, not English?  Had they come to a different nation in their walking?  The people who had previously spoken this other-language had also spoken English, but this woman seemed to have no comprehension at all, and she and Asami stared at each other for a minute in mutual ignorance.  Well, back to pantomime then.

 

With great exaggeration, Asami pointed to herself and Korra, then deep into the woods.  She mimed walking with her fingers, then pointed to the 'mobile and waved down the road in the direction it had been traveling.  She finished by smiling her widest smile and held her hands clasped beneath her chin, giving what she hoped was the best impression of pleading she had.  Halfway through the display Korra had begun laughing, and by the end even the woman has chuckling.  Apparently the message got across, as she began nodding and smiling, then waved them forward.  They had no expectation of bringing their entire cart with them, and instead just grabbed the chest which they had used all along to store the items they could not easily reproduce; the dictionary and papers, their pelts and spare clothing, and sewing implements.  The cart itself, and its pile of firewood and frozen meat, they left by the side of the road.  As they approached the 'mobile they wondered where they were to put the chest, and if they would have to leave that behind as well, when suddenly the rear of the vehicle began to rise by itself away from the body.  Another motorized seal?  It opened to reveal an empty space, presumably for storage, and with relish they dropped the chest into it and stepped back, wondering if it would close by itself.  When it remained open, Korra reached up and pulled it down, and then they walked back towards the front.  Now they wondered how they were supposed to get in; there looked to be handles on the side of what were likely doors, but were these automatic as well?  Off of the look the old lady was giving them, which reminded Asami very much of a look Tenzin bore quite often, she was waiting for them to do something, so Asami tentatively reached out to grasp the handle and pulled.  There was an extremely unusual resistance to her pull, not quite like any lever she had worked before, but the door opened, and Asami and Korra climbed inside.  They could hear the woman up front muttering under her breath, such imprecations as they could not imagine, but in moments the 'mobile was in motion and....

 

They were moving.

Chapter Text

"I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting, but after everything we've seen so far I did think it would be a little bit...more.  Do you know what I mean?"  Korra and Asami stood outside of what they had deduced was a filling station for the 'mobile combined with a small store, and Korra could not quite contain her disappointment at the apparent lack of personal flying machines or other amazing technology.  Instead it was a small building, old and dilapidated, and except for the different building styles it could have been any isolated trading post or waypoint in the Earth Kingdom.  There were a few flashing lights in the windows, brightly colored and in strange shapes, but that was not what she had expected.

 

"Well, don't worry, I think we're still out in the middle of nowhere.  I'm sure when we reach a city we'll have all the 'more' we can handle.  Come on, let's see what it's like," and Asami grabbed Korra's hand and pulled her towards the door.

 

The drive after the woman had picked them up had been somewhat un-dramatic for a roadside rescue.  Despite the unfamiliarity of the vehicle itself (And Korra could practically feel Asami's urge to inspect it in detail), once it began moving it was just another satomobile in motion; it did not fly in the air or tunnel underground, it drove on four wheels like any other vehicle they had ever ridden in, so its wonder soon wore off.  Initially they had tried to speak with the woman driving, searching for some commonality, but after a half hour of fruitless, one-sided conversation they gave up and just sat back to relish their first luxury in days. Soon they were looking out the windows to try and catch a glimpse of the world beyond the forest, and as they drove they began to notice more and more signs of habitation.

 

First they saw the poles and wires which ran alongside the road; they were similar to the power lines in Republic City, but they looked unmistakably weaker, and after a while Korra realized that without bending they had not needed to be strengthened to support the transport of metalbending police (She still remembered they way they had pursued her atop the power lines when she first arrived in the city).  After a while they noticed what looked like isolated houses; as with the buildings at the North Pole the designs were so alien and unlike they were used to, but their basic structure seemed sound back in the forest.  As the hours passed, however, they began to wonder at just how vast this land was, and whether there even was any end to this forest, and it was longer still before they had arrived at this lone stopping point.  Their driver was fussing over the 'mobile at one of the metal stands, presumably obtaining more fuel, and she had shooed them towards the building with a friendly air.  They did not have any money (Did these people even use money?), but at least they could look.

 

Leaning against the wall next to the door was a man who smiled and nodded his head as they approached, but there was something in his eyes....Korra and Asami both smiled back, but neither felt any urge to see if they could communicate with him, quickly opening the door and stepping inside.  Inside...here was the 'more' that Korra had been expecting.  So much glass, almost as much as there had been metal at the North Pole.  What looked like an entire wall of glass towards the back of the store, behind which were bottles and cartons which they could not identify, and more glass cases scattered around.  There were shelves stocked with packages, some with pictures of food on them, others with pictures of strange tools that they could not begin to guess at, and even the packages themselves were strange.  Some were flexible, some were firm, but only a very few seemed to be metal or wood; what material were the others?  And next to the one person in the store, a young man who looked even younger than them standing behind a counter, was one of those talking pictures.  The last people they had seen speak from one of those had been able to communicate with them, albeit slowly and through many translations, so once they noticed it they rushed over at once and began to pull out pieces of paper to begin writing.

 

"Bonjour, puis-je vous aider?...Y at-il quelque chose que vous avez besoin?"  The store worker, as they presumed him to be, had a vacant look that reminded them of nothing so much as the airbender Ryu.

 

Pointing to the picture, hoping to get across that they were going to speak to the woman on the screen who seemed to be reading from some notes, they began to wave their letters in front of the picture.  The woman in the picture, however, seemed to take no notice of them, and continued reading as if she had not seen them.

 

"Um .... êtes-vous bien? Dois-je .... dois-je appeler un médecin?"  The boy behind the counter seemed to have noticed their appearance for the first time, or maybe he had just detected the smell (Washing in a stream suffices for what it is, but weeks of stranded exertion are definitely noticeable), and his voice had a quiver to it as he looked confusedly between them.

 

"Tout va bien ici Billy?"  That came from behind them, accompanied by the *ding* of a bell that was hung above the door, and Korra turned to see that man they had noticed as they walked in.  He was still smiling, but there was still something about him....

 

"Tout est très bien Steve."  Now the kid looked nervous, and his eyes were darting back and forth just a little bit more rapidly.  "Je pense qu'ils sont juste confus, rien à craindre."

 

"Eh bien, se ils sont perdus , il serait bon voisinage pour les aider . D'où êtes-vous?"  His words were still meaningless, but that was when Korra noticed that he had never stopped approaching them as he spoke, and her alarms began jingling.  That was a very basic, but also effective, grapplers trick; by disguising your approach by speaking and making it look casual, you could get within reaching distance before they even realized you were too close for comfort.  He was still smiling, but his eyes were locked on them and...no, not 'them', he was looking at Korra, and he took another casual step towards her.  Looking him over Korra was not unduly impressed, certainly not a figure that she would ever call imposing (His clothing looked dirty and he needed a shave, and she expected that he had not had a close encounter with 'exercise' for many years), but the entire situation was odd.  He did not have the appearance of somebody here to commit a crime against the store (The clerk even seemed to know him), so why were his actions (Potentially) threatening?  What was going on? 

 

From Asami's posture she had also realized that there was something off, and at almost the same time they casually stepped back, putting themselves comfortably outside of the man's reach without a lunge that he could not help but broadcast.  He had opened his mouth to speak again, and likely to cover another step of his own, when there was the *ding* behind him and they all turned to see the woman who had driven them here standing in the doorway.  She had her hands placed firmly on her hips and was glaring in a way that made Korra think of the look Lin Beifong had so often given her.  This woman was not nearly as threatening, but the attitude seemed to be identical.  The man opened his mouth to speak, but the woman cut him off, speaking too rapidly for Korra to even parse out her words and seemingly battering him down every time he tried to get something in edgewise.  However, now he was advancing towards her during her tirade, and during one step Korra noticed what looked like the sheathe of a knife sticking out from beneath the back of his coat.  That settled this, whatever it was, for her, and during his next step Korra lifted her leg and...gently nudged the back of the knee of his leg that was still on the ground.

 

As his balance collapsed and he crumpled to the ground, making a comical series of noises that they could only guess were curses, Asami quickly stepped forward, grabbed his right arm, and used it to lever him onto his stomach, then twisted it behind him to keep him immobilized.  She reached down to pull up his jacket, and Korra could see that he actually had had a knife hidden back there.  Calmly, she removed the knife from the sheathe and handed it Korra, who looked it over.  It certainly was not a hunting knife, or even a combat knife, it looked more like...Korra could even begin to fathom what it was intended for; it was so oversized and misshapen (With extraneous pointy bits) that she could not imagine it having any meaningful function.  Then she looked up and realized that the woman who had been driving them and the boy behind the counter were both staring at them with utter amazement.

 

"Sorry," Kora said, and she felt a little sheepish, but what else could they have done?  The guy had been giving off subtle threatening cues as soon as he entered the store, neither she nor Asami were about to let him attack the very kind woman that had rescued them from more walking through the woods, let alone themselves.  If they were wrong about him, well...there was no serious harm done, and it could all be straightened out.  From Asami's reddening cheeks she felt as embarrassed as Korra, but given her swift action she clearly agreed.

 

"What do we do now?" Asami asked after several seconds passed with nobody moving or saying anything, except for the man beneath her who was mumbling under his breath.

 

"I think it's time we left."  Calmly, Korra held the knife (Could it even be called a knife?  It was ridiculous) in both hands and bent it nearly in two, then dropped it in an open bin which she saw next to the counter.  She stepped around the man's legs, towards the door, and as she neared it Asami released her grip and sprung away quickly, in case he tried to retaliate.  He did not make any hostile movies, though, just sat up and rubbed his shoulder, glaring at them--No, still glaring at Korra--and continuing to mumble to himself.  As they were about to leave he raised his voice, shouting after them; short, harsh words that could not possibly have been complete sentences, but which he imbued with a lot of vitriol that crossed all language barriers.  Their driver, who had been pretty solidly focused on them ever since the takedown, turned back to face him as he began shouting, and Korra had not thought she could have looked any angrier than she had before.  Just before she walked through the door herself she shouted something back, then stormed through and back towards her 'mobile.

 

"Hey, I just realized something...that woman in the picture never reacted to anything at all."  Korra almost laughed at the way Asami could suddenly pluck that bit of information out of what had just happened, but after a moment of thought she had to nod in agreement.  They had not been focused on the picture after the man started speaking to them, but her voice had kept the same tone without interruption.

 

"Maybe she couldn't see us?  Do only some pictures go both ways?"

 

"That could be it, maybe some are like mover recordings."

 

"I would love to see a mover like that, it was almost like she was right in front us.  The Next Nuktuk!"  They both laughed at that, and while they were talking they had been walking towards the street to begin walking again down the road.  However, before they could reach it they heard a shout and turned around to see the woman waving at them, beckoning them back towards the satomobile.  Surprised, the returned back the way they had come, figuring that she would not want to continue escorting them.  Instead she seemed ecstatic, smiling widely and ushering them back into the 'mobile.

 

Once inside she turned to them and said something, again speaking too fast for them to even parse the words, and then she stopped and pointed to herself.  "Kunik," she said, then pointed towards each of them, waiting.  Smiling, Korra and Asami introduced themselves, and then she began driving again down the road.

 

'Kunik'.  It was a nice name, Korra thought.  Almost like it was from the Water Tribe.

Chapter Text

It was an hour later into their drive when Korra and Asami were startled by a sudden, loud beeping noise which seemed to be coming from the car itself.  Looking around in confusion (Certainly not panic, just...heightened curiosity), they were about to begin tearing at the paneling when Kunik pressed a button on the steering wheel and seemingly began talking to the car.....and the car talked back!  It sounded like the voice of a young man, speaking in the same language Kunik was speaking, but it seemed to emanate from thin air.  They twisted in their seats, looking for where a radio or phonograph could have been concealed, while Kunik and the disembodied voice carried on what sounded like a very plain, normal conversation.  At least, until they caught their own names being mentioned, and then the mysterious voice got a lot more agitated, apparently shocked by whatever Kunik was saying.

 

"I'm guessing she just got to the part about what happened at that store,"  Asami whispered to Korra, and Korra did her best to smother a giggle so as to not interrupt, but she had to agree.  It sounded like Kunik was explaining the events of the day, and whoever she was talking to (Friend?  Husband?  Brother?  Son?) was not taking the revelations very well.  He sounded nearly frantic.  Then, surprisingly, he started addressing Korra and Asami in English.  Startled, they looked to Kunik, who waved as if to say they should say something, but how?  Where?  There was no microphone that they could see, nor a sound horn.  Taking a cue from her, Asami spoke as if to the car itself and brought out (Again) the one complete sentence she had memorized; "I'm sorry, my friend and I do not speak English, but I am trying to learn.  Please speak slowly and clearly".

 

The voice paused, then spoke again, slower this time, and in a much shorter sentence.  Asami could not understand every word, but she managed to decipher the gist: What had happened?  Marshalling what command of the language she had, she tried to lay it out, "Strange man.  Danger maybe?  Protect.  None hurt.  Leave."  Surely Kunik had given a more detailed explanation, but maybe he had simply wanted confirmation.  After Asami finished he returned to that other language, and he and Kunik went at each other once again.

 

"From the way he sounds, do you think he'd have been happier if we'd let that man do something?" Korra asked as they shouted over one another.

 

"I'm sure he's just worried that she put herself in that situation.  Could you imagine how....uh...how would you feel if...." Asami tried to think of somebody they knew who would be aghast at them walking into danger, or who they would not want to get involved in a situation like that, but was having trouble actually coming up with any names.  "Now that I think about, pretty much all of our friends would have been right at home in that situation.  There wasn't even a MechaTank involved."

 

"Well, Prince Wu probably wouldn't have pulled it off too well," Korra said, then added in a much more subdued voice, "I wonder how everybody's doing back home?"

 

"I'm sure everybody's fine.  We would have only been home for a week now from our vacation, and I doubt everything's fallen apart in that short of time."  Asami reached out to take Korra's hand, holding it tight, "Don't worry."

 

"I'm not worried, I'm just...worried.  The Earth Kingdom's going to be holding its first elections and the rebuilding of Republic City should be starting soon, and there were those problems in the Fire Nation that Tenzin didn't want to bother us with, and what if..."

 

"Korra, don't worry."  And Asami's firmness caused Korra's head to rise up.  "Wu might not have been able to knock that guy to the floor, but he's committed to getting the Earth Kingdom into the hands of the people and he has Mako to help guide him.  Republic City has already rebuilt from the growth of the Spirit Wilds, they'll recover from this, too.  And Tenzin was already dealing with the Fire Nation.  I'm sure they would have all been very grateful for our help, but we have a very competent, very well supported family back home.  So, while we're here just think of us as having extended our vacation and again, don't worry."

 

Grinning, Korra leaned in to rest her forehead against Asami's, letting the other's certainty wash away her doubts.  "You know, you're pretty smart.  Maybe it wasn't just your looks that kept you on top of Future Industries."

 

Asami gasped in mock-outrage and was about to retort when they heard the mysterious voice calling their names, and they looked up to notice that he and Kunik had stopped speaking to each other.  Again he asked them a question in English, which they boiled down to: Where are you going?

 

"No go here.  No friends.  No family.  Explore.  Learn."

 

Kunik and the voice spoke again, and with manifest reluctance he addressed them one last time:  Kunik would be home within the hour, and they were welcome to stay for a while.  Then there was an audible *click*  and the voice was gone.  Looking to Kunik, they saw that she was grinning widely, and looking at each they shrugged and smiled in turn.  Now they had a place where they could recuperate from their time in the woods, potentially learn more about the world, and maybe even finally learn how to speak to these people.  All in all, this had not been a bad day.

 

Outside the car, the heavy forest was being interrupted more and more frequently by other fuel stops, houses, shopping centers, and all the signs of human life.  More cars were on the road, people were in evidence, and they passed by small towns and villages of various different makeups.  Soon, as the disembodied voice had said, Kunik turned off the road that they had been traveling down since she had picked them up and began to wind their way through much more intimate passages, twisting in and out of local throughways until arriving at what they presumed was her house.  Parking in the driveway, Kunik gestured expansively as she got out (Korra and Asami needed no translation for that: Welcome to my home!) and beckoned them to join her.  As they were all disentangling themselves from the vehicle, stretching from the long trip and Korra took their chest out of the rear storage compartment, the front door of house opened and a young man walked out.  He looked to be about Korra and Asami's own age, and as he caught sight of them for the first time he stopped short, jaw dropping open in comical fashion as the artfully surly expression that he had prepared on his face disappeared.  Seeing his reaction, Korra figured that she and Asami must have looked as absolutely ridiculous as they has thought, and she laughed as he approached.  Well, that was to be expected after weeks in the woods, and at the moment she would not have traded the rough clothing that she and Asami had made together for the finest silks in Republic City.

 

When he finally reached them, Kunik spoke first, pulling him into a motherly hug that needed no more translation than her previous welcome had (Some things transcended all language), then turned to introduce the three of them.  At least, that was what Korra and Asami assumed, as she continued to speak this other-language which they still did not understand.  But eventually she wound down and he stepped forward, and she introduced him as 'Petuwaq'.  Korra grinned, another almost-Water Tribe name, and she grinned even wider as Petuwaq frowned and corrected her, saying something which sounded like a shortening; 'Peet' or somesuch.  Whatever his name was, she shook his proffered hand, as did Asami, and then they followed Kunik up to the house.  Behind them, Petuwaq followed, still with the same stunned look.

Chapter Text

Until you have spent two weeks living in the woods, with only piled dirt and leaves for a bed and a moose pelt for a blanket, bathing in a forest stream that you had to heat yourself, the simple luxury of a warm shower and a padded seat never seems quite as sublime.  For the second time in a month (The first time being after they had been rescued from the frozen tundra), Korra and Asami relished the simple pleasure of being able to luxuriate without simultaneously needing to watch for dangerous animals, shield themselves from the elements, and strenuously work at the same time.  Kunik had practically thrown them into the showers, and afterwards had presented them each with clothing to don instead of what they had already been wearing.  It was different than what they were used to (At this point, what was not?), but it was clean and soft and they accepted them with gratitude.  Then, she and Petuwaq busied themselves in the small kitchen, and soon Korra and Asami had a veritable feast before them, compared to their meagre diet of the past days that had been composed of nothing but the spoils of their hunting and foraged fruits.  Throughout it all, barely ten words had been exchanged between them, with Petuwaq (Speaking for Kunik) merely repeating English variations of "Wait" and "Relax" each time one of them tried to step foreword or assist.

 

"Thank you very much," Asami said as they were seated around the table, "You didn't need to do all of this."  They did not understand her, of course, but they waved it away regardless.  Kunik and Petuwaq spoke briefly, and then Petuwaq tried to convey the translation in the broken words they could understand.

 

"Mom deal with bad men before.  Mean words.  Mean thoughts because of blood (Asami wondered if she had understood that correctly).  She understands."

 

They could recognize his voice as the one from the car earlier, but there was none of the hostility or shortness.  Instead, he seemed almost warm, although they both noticed that he seemed hesitant to look them in the eye for too long.  But what was he referring to?  The man they had disarmed before?  Kunik had seemed particularly incensed by what he had shouted as they left, were those the 'mean words' she was talking about?  Likely they would not be able to clarify until they had grown more familiar with the language, so they just smiled and nodded and turned to the meal, enjoying the variety and the additional spice lent by its strangeness.  Afterwards, as it had already advanced well into the evening by this point, Kunik showed them to a small room that they presumed to be for guests, as it had two small prepared beds side-by-side, and left them for the evening.  As they settled into one of the beds, again taking solace in the simple softness and warmth, they smiled that things finally seemed to be looking up.  They were out of the woods, had caught glimpses of life among these people, and tomorrow planned to finally go out and see what it was all like.

 


 

"Oh, what is that wonderful smell?"

 

"Hmmmm?"  Asami was barely conscious, and she struggled vainly to sink even further into the warmth of the pillows, but the raw lust in Korra's voice dragged her upwards.  "What smell?"

 

"It's coming from the kitchen, and it might just tempt me away from you if you stay here.  Wake up!"  Korra's playful tone nudged Asami even further awake, and she slowly sat up and sniffed the air.

 

"What is it?" Asami echoed.

 

"If you weren't so slow we could have already investigated, so get a move on."  Korra was already out of their bed, clearly eager to chase down the source of the mystery aroma.  Laughing, Asami joined her, and together they ventured forth to explore.

 

The house itself was...it was a house.  Everything was strangely designed, but Asami and Korra were grateful to see that even in this strange world, people lived like people.  There were portraits hung on the walls, and they stopped to admire them as they walked; these seemed to be regular pictures, no movement, but they were still more vibrantly colored and detailed than any photographs from back home.  Kunik and Petuwaq were in them, as was an older man (Kunik's husband?) and a young woman that looked to be about Petuwaq's age, but the two new people were nowhere to be seen around the house.  In one room they saw one of the moving pictures, the largest they had ever seen, put atop a stand and showing what appeared to be some kind of sporting event (Lots of running and kicking with a ball), but there was no sound coming from it and nobody in the room to interact with it.

 

"Mover picture."  Asami said with certainty, and Korra nodded.  "I wonder how you can tell which ones are two-way, and which ones are just recordings?"

 

Before they reached the kitchen they passed another open room, probably Petuwaq's bedroom they guessed from the slept-in bed, and they stared briefly at the paintings hung on the wall.  One showed what seemed to be a man battling an armored figure while they wielded swords made of light, and another showed what could have only been a spirit of some kind, giant and breathing fire at a city.  The painting of the spirit had writing on it that almost made sense, but none of the characters were quite right.

 

"I wonder what the legends are for these?" Korra asked, "I've never heard of a spirit like that."  It looked larger than even when Unalaq had merged with Vaatu during Harmonic Convergence.

 

Before they could explore further, their own growling stomachs turned them away and they kept following the smell and now also the sound of something sizzling as it cooked. In the kitchen, looking for all the world like any parent and child they had ever seen, Kunik stood over a stove with a pan filled with the source of the aroma, and Petuwaq sat the table, with his head nodding as if he was still half asleep.  Grinning at the familiarity, they took the seats that Kunik indicated for them and greedily gobbled down the portions already prepared.  The meat was unusual, something like moo-sow bacon, and delicious.  The juice that went with it....actually, that was just orange juice, exactly the same as the juice back home.  They were almost disappointed that there was not some other unique flavor.

 

After the breakfast, as they sat around the table and contentedly digested, Asami decided that it was time to begin communicating in earnest.  Petuwaq clearly knew something of English, even if he spoke mostly in this other-language, and hopefully together they could manage to have a meaningful dialogue.  Picking up one of the notepads that she and Korra had carried through the forest, she began to write.

 

"Hello.  Thank you both very much for rescuing us from the forest and this wonderful meal, we are very grateful for your help.  We are strangers to your land, but we are learning to read English and can speak very few words.  What is this other language you are speaking?"

 

Petuwaq took the note and studied it for a few minutes, then spoke to Kunik and wrote a response.

 

"We are speaking Quebecois French, you are in Quebec.  I am studying English, but am still learning.  Where are you from?  What language do you speak?"

 

Quebec?  They were sure that the soldiers had said "Canada", had they crossed somehow nations?  It did not seem possible, given how large the land had seemed, but much was still unknown about this place.  Or was it much simpler than that; was Quebec a city or state within Canada?  That would have to wait, how should they respond to his questions?  The truth would be meaningless, but they did not know enough about this world to give a convincing lie about their origins.  Shrugging, they went with the truth.

 

"We are from Republic City in the United Republic of Nations.  We do not know how to write our language in English, we write it 語言."

 

"Why are you here?"

 

Now they hesitated again, unsure of exactly what to say.  They did not want to lie, but the truth again likely would have meant nothing to them.

 

"We do not know how to get home, and do not have any friends or family in Quebec.  We hope to learn about your ways and understand your people, there is much that we do not know."

 

That note seemed to have a much larger impact than the previous ones, and Kunik and Petuwaq began having a very determined discussion.  Some words sounded familiar in the strange language, similar to something they had heard the soldiers say, and it sounded like "réfugié".  Petuwaq seemed to be trying to convince Kunik of something, and she was putting up a desultory resistance, and in seconds she was nodding her approval.  Smiling, he quickly scribbled out another note.

 

"You can stay here as you learn our ways, we will be happy to show you.  I can teach you French, English is spoken elsewhere but not very much here."

 

Stay here?  Asami and Korra looked at each other in something like shock, they had not expected such an offer.  A pleasant night's sleep was all they had thought to gain, and were already planning to begin traveling again later in the day.  But..why not?  They did not have anywhere to actually go, and the prospect of a warm bed every night was much more preferable than whatever they could scrounge up daily, especially with people that were already already friendly.

 

"Thank you very much," they wrote.

 

Petuwaq grinned widely.

Chapter Text

There was a quiet murmur of distant voices, faint and obscure as if coming from down a long hallway, and all around there was the steady beeping and whirring of various devices. Then there was a large object looming and a deep, booming voice from above shouted out.

 

"Lieutenant Moon, can you hear me?"  After a moment, while the echoes of its thunderous roar faded, it asked again, "Lieutenant Moon?  Can you open your eyes please?"  And Lieutenant Judith Moon widened her eyes from the slitted cracks they had been and looked up at the smiling visage of a doctor leaning over her.  "Much better.  How are you feeling?"

 

"I...but...what happened?"  She felt weak, but she struggled to sit up.

 

"Easy there, Lieutenant, stay still" and the doctor placed a hand on her shoulder.  He by no means pushed hard, but even that soft pressure was enough to keep her flat.  "We were hoping you could tell us.  What do you remember?"

 

"I was..(A pause here, half to take a breath and half to remember)...I was escorting Korra and Asami....the two unknowns....to Trenton, uh, CFB Trenton and we....the plane...where am I?"  She struggled again, looking about hurriedly.

 

"You're in CFB Bagotville, you were brought in here two days ago.  Please, try to focus, what happened during transport?"

 

"I don't...I'm not sure....Asami jumped me and Korra, she..." and suddenly she was thrashing in her bed as the doctor did his best to restrain her, calling for an assistant with a sedative, and then she slowly calmed until she was still.  The last image her mind conjured before she lost consciousness completely was of a strong, dark-skinned woman, dressed in a woodland suit, marching towards her with glowing eyes and fists wreathed in fire.

 


 

 

"Are you feeling better today, Lieutenant?"

 

"Yes, sir, thank you."  She was sitting up now with eyes that focused properly, but her glance was still actively darting around her hospital room.  Accompanying her doctor, Captain Michaels, were the three officers that had been with him the day before, when she had first been coherent enough to speak for an extended period.  She had been told their names, but they had already faded from her mind.

 

"Major Simmons would like to go over some of the details of your report from yesterday to clear up some details."

 

"Of course, sir.  What did you want clarified?"

 

The three settled into their chairs and brought out their various notes and recorders, flipping through and conferring amongst themselves before turning to her.

 

"We appreciate how hard this is for you, Lieutenant, so we'll try to be brief.  We were wondering if you could recall what kind of device Korra used to breach the transport during their escape?"

 

"I'm sorry, Major, but I wasn't in a position to see."  Her mind's eye brought up the crystal-clear image of Korra laying her hands flat against the hull of the plane.  "Asami, the other woman, had me restrained and I couldn't get around her."  She saw the way the hull of the plane just opened, suddenly exposing the cabin to the outside air.  "By the time she released me the cabin was already breached."

 

"And did you notice where they had hidden their parachutes, or who they obtained them from?"

 

"No, sir.  It happened extremely quickly, they were out of the plane before I knew what was happening."  She smiled in a way that she hoped was self-deprecating, as if trying to downplay an act of bravery.  "I grabbed Asami before I realized that she was actually planning to jump, I didn't notice them don parachutes and I wasn't planning to follow them out."

 

"Have you managed to remember anything about your landing, or what happened next?"

 

The image of Korra wreathed in flame and starlight, flying as if not bound by gravity, burst to the forefront of her mind and tried to get her to begin sobbing again.  "No, sir, it's all still a blur, I think I was in very poor shape after we touched down.  Just flashes; we made camp and marched south towards recovery, but the days aren't clear."

 

"Did the two of them give you any indication as to where they were planning on going next, or what their ultimate goals were?"

 

"We had never managed any effective communication, we got by on hand signals and a dictionary since we didn't have the video link to the CFLS."  She remembered the note they had written the day after they landed in the woods: 'No plan.  See the world.  Find a way home'.  "I never got a hostile intent from either of them, though."

 

The three officers looked at one another at that, and she could almost hear their non-verbal conversation between themselves.  Almost as one they turned back to her.  "Are you sure there's nothing else you can recall?  Did they meet or communicate with anybody?  Access any stored supplies?  Demonstrate anything to indicate their background or where they were from?"

 

She saw Korra's hands shrouded in water that glowed with an internal light, and dragging an 800-pound moose like it was nothing, and burying the three of them alive and then bringing them forth the next day.  "Nothing at all, sir, I've given you everything I can."

 

Captain Michaels had been standing to the side throughout, carefully monitoring her status, and he stepped forward to interject.  "Sir, I think this will have to be enough for now, she's still not in very good shape.  She's recovering well and should be up for another session tomorrow, but I must ask you to leave now and allow her rest."

 

From every other debriefing (Or interrogation) she had been involved in she expected Major Simmons to object, perhaps forcefully and perhaps subtly, but to her surprise he nodded in simple acquiescence and rose.  The other two rose with him (She had not remembered their names from the day before) and they all left with proper, polite farewells.

 


 

 

"How are things coming along, Lieutenant?" Lieutenant-colonel Monke asked as he walked through the door to her room.  "No, don't get up.  As you were."

 

She had tried to surge to her feet as he walked through the door, but gratefully sank back down to her chair at his command.  "I'm doing very well, sir, thank you."  With one look at her sunken pallor and shaking legs he knew that was a bald-faced lie, and she knew that he knew, but they both knew the rules of the game.  That, at least had not changed.  "I wasn't aware you were on-base, sir."

 

"I just arrived today, helping to straighten some things out.  You among them."  He eyed her, his face a professional mask, but she had served in the RCAF long enough to be able to read the thoughts behind a mask like that.  Colonel Monke had always been able to see his subordinates as people, and she could tell he was thinking right now.

 

"Sir?  I had my final debrief yesterday, I'm just waiting on orders to my next station."  That was part of the game as well; she knew that it would be a long time before her next station when it took the help of a nurse to get from her bed to the chair next to it.

 

"Your debrief is part of what needs untangling.  There are some....additional questions....that have been raised."

 

She honestly could not be surprised at that given how many holes were in her report.  "I've given my full report and been reviewed, sir."  That was as much of a challenge as she could offer, and Monke knew it.  He stared at her for a moment, waiting, and apparently weighing the risks internally.

 

"Lieutenant, do you know how you were retrieved?"

 

"Yes, sir, Captain Michaels filled me in on the medevac and transfer.  The two women flagged down a civilian flier and he radioed for a rescue chopper.  I'm lucky they didn't just leave me in the woods, I guess they didn't have cold-blooded murder in them."  She remembered Asami's soft, smooth finger pointing defiantly to the word 'friend' in the dictionary they had used.

 

"Anything else?"

 

"Sir?"

 

"Do you know anything else about the circumstances of your retrieval?"

 

"No, sir, I was...I was in pretty bad shape."  Even now there was a quaver in her voice, and her rescue really was just a haze of sound and motion.

 

"Lieutenant, your evac site was nearly five hundred miles from the point of departure with your transport."  That got her attention, and she racked her mind for anything she might have forgotten, but...no, they had marched for only a few hours total, not even a full day.   They could not have covered that much distance.  "You were completely outside of our search area, beyond every perimeter we had set up."

 

"Sir, I...I don't..."

 

"Lieutenant, you need to appreciate how this looks.  Whoever these women are, they are apparently in contact with people on our own territory and had transportation waiting to meet them when they jumped to take them out of the area.  That indicates that everything that happened has been planned, deliberately, going back to who-knows-when.  It might also indicate that they had cooperation from some of our people at Station Alert to smuggle their equipment onto the herc.   From what I've heard from the other people on the flight they are every bit as dangerous as you thought they were, and they have shown skills that I found farfetched when I saw James Bond pull them off.  So, I'm going to ask again, Lieutenant, and I need you to think really hard before you answer.  You've been recovering from your ordeal, groggy from the drugs, and things can get fuzzy.  Everybody knows that, and everybody understands what that can mean for an incomplete initial debrief.  Now, after having had time to recover and come to terms with what happened, and with your system good and cleaned out, is there anything else you can remember that you wish to have added to your report?"

 

The silence stretched out, and she honestly could not have said if it really was ten minutes or if the tension just made it feel like it was.

 

"I've given my full report and been reviewed, sir."

 

He was silent for a full minute before he nodded.  Slowly.  Just once.  "Very good Lieutenant," he said, and he politely shut the door softly as he left.

 

Leaning her head back in her chair, Lieutenant Judith Moon closed her eyes and again saw the vision of a forest spirit, fierce and bright-eyed and beautiful and terrifying and strong.  Beside the forest spirit seemed an angel, golden light bordered by raven black and no less reverent or awful.  Together they stared at her, and her body shook as tears streamed down her face.

Chapter Text

When they had digested enough to consider moving, Petuwaq gave them both a new set of clothing, saying "Sister" when they looked at him in confusion.  The girl from the pictures, perhaps?  They did not fit perfectly (Slightly too short on Asami, slightly to tight on Korra), but they had both had to deal with far worse in their time, donning them without complaint.  They stood in the room they had inhabited the night before and looked at themselves in the long mirror it had, taking in their new style; the pants were dark blue and made of some kind of firm fabric, with a blue blouse for Korra and a red one for Asami (They had both struggled not to laugh as Petuwaq handed them the colors, as if they were the most obvious choices in the world).  Then...Korra hesitated, then turned to the chest and took out one of the hide tops she had still been working on when they had stumbled onto the road.  It was unfinished, missing its sleeves and not stitched together down the front to seal it closed, but she pulled it on over the new shirt.  She looked at herself again in the mirror.  Vest?  She nodded.  Vest.  At the same time, Asami had pulled out the long wrap, sliding it over her shoulders and letting it hang down her back.  They looked at each other and saw the same idea in each other's eyes; they would learn and live in this new world, but they would not forget where they had come from.

 

Kunik burst through the door suddenly, talking rapidly and as energetically as if she expected Korra and Asami to respond.  With hardly a pause for breath she took in the sight of them, dressed in their new clothing, and she smiled and clapped her hands and pulled them both into a quick hug (Had they really just met her a day before?).  Then she caught sight of the fact that only the one bed had been slept in, with the other unruffled and clearly unused, and her smile slipped.  Just for one second.  Then it was back and she was shooing them out of the room again, towards where Petuwaq was waiting.  He had a prepared note written out for them, and he handed it to Asami.

 

"Would you like to go into town, to see what our land is like?"

 

Korra and Asami practically pushed him out of the house.

 

He guided them not towards the car that Kunik had driven them in yesterday, but towards a different one that was parked on the side of the road in front of the house.  Two satomobiles?  They had not gotten an impression of extreme wealth from the kind people, their home had had little ostentation (Nothing at all like was on display at the Sate Estate), but to be able to afford two cars....that was when Korra looked around and noticed that almost every house on the street had a car parked beside it, some with two or even three.  Where they that common in this world?  Apparently so.  This one that Petuwaq apparently drove was a close sibling to Kunik's; the same sleek design and aesthetic simplicity, although its interior was noticeably more...lived in was the polite term that came to Asami's mind.  Grinning, Petuwaq beckoned them in (Apparently briefly disappointed that they both chose to sit in the back seat instead of one up front with him), then started and drove.  Almost instantly, however...

 

"Do you hear that?"  Asami asked.

 

"Hear what?" Korra replied.

 

"That whining noise coming from the engine every time it changes gears.....right there!  Did you hear it?"

 

"Uh...I think so?  Why?"

 

"It's not supposed to make that noise."

 

"These cars have all sounded different from the way they sound back home, maybe it's supposed to do that?"

 

"No, if that's not metal under stress then I've never heard it before."

 

"Petuwaq doesn't seem to mind"  Korra was right about that, Petuwaq had that same grin that he had sported since getting into the car.  For a moment, Korra recognize the exact same smug grin that she herself sported at every new accomplishment, and he briefly accelerated just a little bit harder.  "See, it's doing just fine."

 

"Maybe...(Another gear-change, another whine)...no, that's not right."

 

"Lighten up Asami, it's not like it's going to explode or....wait, it's not going to explode, is it?"  After all that they had been through, Korra's sudden concern should not have been that surprising.  When Asami she hook her, she smiled again "So, it's not going to explode, and he's not bothered by it, so just relax.    You're missing the trip!  When we get to the town you can open up the engine and tinker to your hearts content, for now enjoy the view."  Korra reached up, grabbed Asami's chin, and turned her head to look out the window at everything they were passing.  After a moment of token resistance Asami allowed herself to be turned, smiling at the feel of Korra's hand on her face and taking in their first real look the lives of these people.  It was amazing how normal it all looked after only a little bit-by-bit acclimatization.  There was so much metal and glass everywhere, but they had already seen that those two materials were used much more heavily here than in their own world, and without that distraction they were able to pick out stores and restaurants and living spaces and all the indications of people being people....except...

 

"What are those little boxes everybody is carrying?" Asami noticed, only to get a shrug from Korra.  That was something she needed to ask about as soon as they stopped.

 

It took then only a few minutes to get to "town", and Petuwaq parked next to what was apparently a small park.  Getting out he posed next to the car, still with that same grin, and it was clear that he was boasting about the vehicle.  Korra was actually reminded of when she had first met Bolin and the way he had strutted in the Pro-Bending Arena after the Fire Ferrets won their match against the Tigerdillos, hoping to impress her.  Korra was willing to let him have the moment, but Asami grabbed their notepad and quickly wrote out "See the engine?"  He was more than willing to comply, and in no time had the hood of the car propped open for inspection.

 

After she gave the engine time to cool down, eyeing the unfamiliar design, Asami dug in and....it had been too long since she had been able to handle an engine, it felt like forever, and the feel of metal against her hands like this was almost as refreshing as their hot shower and soft bed had been.

 

"I'm not sure, but I think....what is that.....okay, so this connects with...."  Half of the parts were completely unknown to her, and she made sure not to move or manipulate anything that she could not identify (Especially not the pieces which looked electrical.  Why would a car possibly need so many electrical parts?  What purpose could they serve?), but what she could identify was in such sorry condition she did not know whether to shake Petuwaq or thank him for giving her so much to work with.  Despite his pride in the car he clearly had no knowledge of engineering or maintenance, and she was reminded of the time one of the sons of one of her father's engineers had tried to show off and wound up getting stuck in the Future Industries assembly line.  Grinning, she settled in, and could not see the way Petuwaq's own grin slipped and he turned to Korra in confusion.

 

"Don't worry," she said, "your baby is in good hands...uh...I mean..." she struggled to remember the words, but Asami had been the one to practice (However briefly) with Joo Dee and Korra could barely remember how to say any of the English they had learned.  Opening the note pad she scribbled out the message that way.  Then she took Petuwaq's hand and pulled him away.  "She'll be hours just poking around.  Show me everything!"  He might not have understood the words, but the meaning was unmistakable, and his smile came back as he escorted her away, leaving Asami to fiddle to her heart's content.

Chapter Text

As Petuwaq let himself be dragged away by Korra, he glanced over his shoulder and lingered at the sight of Asami digging into the engine.  She seemed confident enough, but that car was his baby. He had paid for it himself (Well, okay, his parents were helping with the monthly payments, but he had covered the entire deposit) and the thought of letting somebody pull it apart when he was not even there to watch over her tore at him.  Plus, how competent could she be if these two had been living in the woods after they snuck into the country?  He doubted that they had any kind of metalshop class back wherever they were from.

 

Still, Korra’s fingers were warm against his own (Very warm) and she was sporting a very excited grin beneath her wide, blue eyes, and the fears for his engine quickly faded away…well, almost.  There was no reason he could not show her around the park, first, and keep an eye on Asami at the same time before they walked off further into the town.

 

“So, here we’ve got the big city, Ville de Moores”, and he gestured expansively, as if the entire town was his that he was presenting.  "Uh...this park is pretty much at the center of town, we can start here and work our way out.  There isn't a whole lot to see, but I can show you around."  As he was talking Korra was nodding, clearly not understanding a word he was saying, and he knew they could not keep speaking pidgin English back and forth.    "Remind me to stop by the book shop before we leave, I'll see if I can find a language book for...whatever you speak."  He repeated himself from before, gesturing again around them to get the point across "Ville de Moores".  She nodded again, hopefully in understanding this time, and he began walking again.

 

"Most of what there is to do around here is close by.  The movie theatre is down the block -- do you like movies? -- and they've usually got something new every week or two.    Uh...Reggie's Cafe is over there, they've got the best cake you've ever had, and...I kinda wish you could understand me now...."  His grin was a bit sheepish now, but Korra kept looking encouraging.  Then he glanced over his shoulder at the car (Just making sure it was not on fire or anything) and he had to struggle to keep from frowning.  Was that...oh, hell, was that John and Claire talking to Asami?  What did they want?  Turning, he shuffled back over (Not running of course, that would be ridiculous) to see what was going on.

 

"Hey John, hi Claire, what's up?"

 

"Oh, hey Pete.  How's it going?  We were just heading over to Reggie's and it looked like this woman was having some car trouble, but I don't think she speaks French."

 

"No, no trouble, this is my car.  I just gave them a ride to town and Asami wanted to take a look at the engine."  Realizing he had to make introductions now, he waved between the two pairs.  "Uh...this is Asami and Korra, they're...friends from out of town.  These are John and Claire, we went to high school together."  Asami and Korra dutifully shook hands, but they had clearly not understood the conversation.

 

"Out of town, huh?  Where from?"  Claire eyed the rough garments they wore over their clothing with what Petuwaq was sure was disdain.

 

"From...uh...China."  It was a reasonable guess, he was pretty sure they wrote in Chinese.  "They don't speak any French at all, just a little English."

 

"What brings them over?"  John was looking them over and Petuwaq guessed at his mental assessment; 'Two hot chicks who don't know anything'.

 

"Just visiting."  He wracked his brain for some kind of story, especially one which would not raise too many red flags since he was pretty sure they were here illegally.  "My mom actually knows their families, they worked together a while back, so they're staying with us for a while."

 

"Cool," John stepped up next to where Asami still stood before the exposed engine, "You're into cars?"  Asami did not answer, of course, but when he pointed to the engine she nodded and he leaned in next to her, sticking his head under the hood.  "Jeez Pete, no wonder she wanted to take a look at this thing, when's the last time you had this serviced?"  Petuwaq felt his face flush and was about to answer hotly, but John was already pointing at this-and-that and mumbling to Asami, who was nodding and mumbling back.  Apparently, the language of engines transcended any other knowledge barriers.

 

"So, Korra right?  Welcome to Ville de Moores...uh...Bienvenue à la Ville de Moores," off Korra's blank look, Claire turned to Petuwaq again, "How do you guys talk?"

 

"Well, we're mainly on notes now, they know pretty good written English and so we've been going back and forth with that."  He pulled out one of the note pads they had been working with and handed it to Claire, who thought for a moment (It had been years since she took Conversational English) before scribbling out a message and passing it to Korra.  Korra read it and grinned, then took off the vest she was wearing and handed it to Claire, who felt it appreciatively.  Korra wrote out her own note and passed it back, and Claire gasped after reading it.

 

"Did you know she made this?  And Asami's coat?  I would kill to be able to do that!  What are they, fashion students?"

 

"Uh...." Now Petawuq had absolutely no clue what to say and just shrugged his shoulders. He opened his mouth to say something (What it was he had no idea), when he was interrupted by a loud crash from behind him.

 

Spinning around, he saw that a car had hopped the curb down the block and knocked over a trash can, and was still going right into the middle of the park.  It looked to be out of control.  Before he could even say anything, he felt wind buffet him and Korra dashed past, racing forward. She leapt and...his eyes had to be playing tricks on him, because it looked like she leapt across a hundred feet to reach the car, and that could not be right.  Maybe she had just caught up to it and jumped the last few feet? Yeah, that made more sense.  Well, however far she leapt, she reached the driver side door and seemed to pull it off the car and...no, that could not be right, either.  It must have been knocked loose when it plowed into the garbage can.  Reaching in she grabbed the driver, who must have been unconscious from the way Korra was shifting around, and then she leapt away again before the car came to a crunching halt.  Korra must have turned the wheel to force the car to come up against a small boulder jutting out of the ground, but Petawuq could not quite seem to remember there ever being a boulder there before.  Then he noticed everybody around them shouting and yelling, and he was running over to where Korra had the driver stretched out on the ground.

 

"What the hell was that?"  He could hear John shouting, "Is anybody calling 9-1-1?"

 

"I am, " Claire already had her phone up against her ear anxiously as she was swept up in the crowd rushing to the scene.  As they got closer, Petawuq recognized the old woman stretched on the ground.

 

"Oh my...it's Mrs. Roberts..." When Claire and John looked at him he explained, "She lives just a few houses down from me.  I...I think she's been sick recently," and she certainly looked it, pale and breathing in fast, shallow gasps.  Asami had made it there before him, and she already crouched next to Korra, who was....was she washing Mrs. Roberts?  That made even less sense than the giant leap he had most certainly not seen a few moments ago, and he shook his head to clear his vision, but this sight stayed and it still looked like Korra was rubbing water over her throat.  Unless...was it some kind of first-aid?  Mrs. Robert's breathing was steadier and her color looked better, but how...?  Then there was the distant sounds of an ambulance siren and he relaxed, glad that help was arriving.

 

As the ambulance pulled up the crowd parted so that they could get through, and the paramedics kneeled down besides Mrs. Roberts, asking questions of Korra and Asami at her side.  When they could only respond incomprehensibly, the paramedics looked around and Petawuq stepped forward, "Sorry, they don't speak French, they're only visiting."

 

"What happened?" One of the paramedics asked.

 

"I'm not sure, I only saw the very end.  It sounded like Mrs. Roberts car hopped the curb, and Korra managed to pull her out before she smashed into that boulder." He nodded to where the car was still run up against the rock.  Now that he looked at it, the ground around the rock was buckled as if the rock had just burst forth...no, it was probably just shaken from the impact.  The paramedics turned back to Mrs. Roberts and resumed their ministrations, and now there were more sirens approaching.  Police, he guessed.

 

As the crowed milled about, watching in horrified fascination, he noticed that Korra and Asami had been slowly edging away from the scene, doing their best to fade into the crowd as the sirens approached.  Suddenly he realized that they likely did not want to be around when the police arrived because of...whatever, and considering they were staying at his house he did not want to be around, either, but...what do they do?  He began to edge towards panic, until they reached him and Asami took his hand and continued to slowly and calmly walk backwards.  Clearly they knew how to act under pressure, as Asami's hand was cool and relaxed, and they guided him back until they reached where he had parked his car.  Still moving calmly, they all got in (He remembered to lower the hood) and they drove off as the police car arrived, to all appearances just another random car on the motorway.

Chapter Text

"Mom?" Petuwaq called out as they walked in the door, "We're home!"

 

"Back already?" Kunik replied. "It's only been an hour, with the way they dragged you of here I thought you'd be out all day."

 

"Yeah, well, things didn't quite go to plan."

 

"Oh?" She looked them over; Korra and Asami were chatting nonchalantly (What could they talk about so constantly with each other? Did they not eventually grow tired of having only one other person to speak with?), but Petuwaq looked like he was in shock. When she remembered what had happened at the gas station within hours of her picking the two of them up (And which suddenly seemed a lot less wonderful now that they were actually staying in her house with her son), her tension rose. "What happened?"

 

"Nothing, or...I'm not sure. You know Mrs. Roberts from down the block?"

 

"Of course. She's not doing so well now, Janine told me they're planning to start chemotherapy soon and the poor woman's not handling it smoothly. Why? What happened?" She asked again.

 

"I took them over to the Green, give them a chance to look at the town, and Mrs. Roberts had an accident. Maybe she passed out behind the wheel? I don't know, whatever it was she lost control and her car shot straight into the center of the Green."

 

"Oh my god, was anybody hurt?"

 

"No, that's the thing. Korra actually climbed onto the car and pulled her out before they crashed and I guess she knows first aide? But...after the ambulance got there they both backed away once the cops started to arrive, they really didn't want to get picked up, so I drove them back here." He was twitching now, nervous. "I think they...uh...I think they might be in hiding."

 

Kunik sighed and leaned back in her seat to stare at the ceiling. What had she been thinking? Inviting two complete strangers to spend the night after meeting them that very same day? After she had already seen them beat up some guy they had never even met before? Never mind that he was a racist creep and she would have liked to smack him herself, what had spurred her to expose her home to people like that?  What was she going to tell Henri when he called later that evening?  Now learning that they are actually on the run, not just lost in the woods, added to her realization from this morning.....

 

"Petuwaq, honey...maybe we should help them get back on the road. If they're on the run then they probably don't want to be in one place too long, and now that they've attracted attention..." She trailed off and from his expression it was clear that her subterfuge was painfully transparent.

 

"Mom, we can't kick them out because they helped somebody. We left before any of the cops showed up and...and...and like we said this morning, they probably don't have anything to go back to. They were living in the woods when you found them! It's not a big deal, nobody knows who they are, it'll just be a Good Samaritan mystery for people to talk about for a few days." He was earnest, especially compared to the surly resistance he had put up when she had first mentioned letting them stay the night when they had spoken during her drive home yesterday (Before he had lain eyes on them), and it was painfully obvious that he was smitten and thinking with all of the Wisdom of his nineteen years. She wanted to argue more, particularly to dissuade him from his fruitless romantic ideals, but she also still felt that little thrill from seeing that creep topple to the ground, a tiny salve on a lot of old wounds from her childhood. They did seem like very nice young women in general, and....

 

Her thoughts were interrupted by the doorbell, and Petuwaq jumped up to answer it (And presumably win the argument by dint of having the literal last word), "Trust me, no problems at all, nobody knows they're here." When he opened the door to see John and Claire standing there he would have sworn that he actually heard a cartoon voice saying 'You just haaaaad to say it'.

 


 

 

"Uh...hey guys, what brings you by?"  He had hoped that after they had all graduated the year before he would not have had to deal with these two outside of running into them in town, what were they doing at his house?  Especially now?

 

"You tore out of the Green so fast we didn't get a chance to say good-bye, or to talk to Korra.  That was insane what she did, I didn't know anybody could move like that."  Claire's voice was flush and her eyes were practically glowing.

 

"Yeah, we wanted to make sure she was okay and see what was going on.  Why'd you take off like that?"  John was clearly a little calmer, and if he was not actively suspicious he had definitely noticed the way they had vanished as the sirens drew closer.

 

"They're both still new in town and didn't want to deal with the police, I don't think those things go very well back home."  Petuwaq carefully restrained himself from cheering after he finally had an easy answer to a question about his mysterious houseguests.  "So, I brought them home so we could get lunch and tune down a bit."

 

"Ah, that's cool." John was smiling now,  "Glad everything's okay."

 

"Listen, we get it if they still need to decompress, but we were planning to head over to the garage after we had gone to Reggie's, and Asami seemed like that was really her thing.  Did you guys want to come?  It'll give her a chance to really get her hands dirty instead of poking at an engine with a stick, and they can meet some of the other guys." Claire's glow had dimmed, and now she seemed almost nervous.  "Is...is Korra a gearhead, too?"

 

Petuwaq opened his mouth to respond and realized the he actually had no idea if Korra was into cars as well.  He had not known Asami was until just ten minutes before these two had learned it.  Should he lie to keep up the impression that they were friends?  Which answer was a lie?  He had expected things to go a whole lot smoother when he was convincing his mother that it would be easy to cover for them.

 

"I'm actually not sure, they only got here yesterday and we're still butting heads over languages."  He resolved that, when you did not even know what would be a lie if you had decided to lie, it was probably a better decision to go with the truth.  "I'll check with them but I'm sure they'd love to go, they were really eager to go out this morning.  Come on in."  He stepped aside and waved them in, then left them to chat with his mom as he walked back towards the guest room.  As he approached he heard them talking in their strange language (It did not sound like any dialect of Chinese he had ever heard, but he was only going off of Hong Kong action movies for reference) and they seemed unusually subdued.  Maybe regretting attracting so much attention?  Shrugging, he knocked on the door and walked in after a pause, turning to face them sitting together on one of the beds.  Taking out the notepad (He belatedly remembered that he had forgotten to stop by the book shop for a language book before leaving the Green.  Maybe he could Google something later?) he wrote out Claire's invite to visit her family's garage.

 

This note apparently proved a lot harder to translate than he had expected (Where had they learned to read and write English if they had not come across such a relatively common word as 'garage'?), but after they had brought out what seemed to be an English/Chinese dictionary Asami practically launched herself to her feet, babbling in her own tongue before remembering to write out the response ('Yes', of course).  Quickly, she and Korra raced out of their room and Petuwaq followed behind, confident that he learned one thing definitively: Asami really was a gearhead.

Chapter Text

As Petuwaq drove Korra and Asami to John and Claire's family garage -- And maybe John had been onto something when he said the engine should have been looked at sooner, since the car really was riding more smoothly even though that did not make any sense since Asami had just been poking at it for ten minutes and she did not even have any tools -- he reflected that he had never actually been there before himself.  Driven past it a thousand times, yes (In Ville de Moores it was next to impossible not to pass by everything else when going somewhere), and he was pretty sure this was where his dad took his car for service, but he had never even been inside the office, let alone hung out in the body shop itself.  Why were they inviting them over?  What was going on?  As they pulled into the small parking lot beside the entrance, which already had several cars parked there, he looked in through the open service bay door and recognized a lot of the other people he had hoped that he would not have had to deal with after high school.  Some had their heads buried in the bodies of cars they were working on, others seemed to just be lounging around and chatting.

 

As they were all climbing out, Korra looking about in frank curiosity and Asami with a look of glee on her face, Jeanson ran out of the garage and practically leapt into John's arms, with the two of them making a inordinate amount of warm, cooing sounds.  "Hey babe, what took you so long?  I thought you two were just going to grab something to eat before you came by?"  Petuwaq relaxed a little at seeing her there; Jeanson had always been a lot easier to get along with than most of this crowd.

 

"We got a little...sidetracked.  Ran into Pete on the Green and some new friends."  John waved the three of them over.  "This is Korra and Asami...I've got that right, right?  Yeah, Korra and Asami, they're staying with Pete, and Asami's a kindred spirit, so we invited them along.  Plus, Pete's Honda could really use some work and I thought we could pitch in."

 

Korra and Asami were looking at the embrace between John and Jeanson, then between John and Claire, with a look of minor confusion, then they shrugged as Jeanson turned to them.

 

"Very nice to meet you, I'm Jeanson...uh...do you speak French? ("No, they don't, they're from China") Oh.....Jeanson."  She pointed to herself and Petuwaq winced as she began to almost shout the name, "I'm JEANSON"  But thankfully Korra and Asami were not shocked by the shouting and they smiled as they shook her hand.  "How do you guys speak to each other?"

 

"Believe it or not, we pass notes." Claire said, "It's like we're back in school again, we write out everything, but it's gotta be in English."

 

"Cool, low-tech texting.  I can work with that.  Hey Pete, good to see you.   What's the story?  How've you been?"  And she pulled him into a hug, although much less intense than with John.

 

"I've been good.  I was just showing them around town when we ran into John and Claire, they only got here yesterday so I was giving them the grand tour."

 

"That must have taken ten whole minutes, yeah?  Come on, let's introduce them around."  And Jeanson lead them all back inside.

 

Introductions were made all around, with people pulling themselves out from underneath the cars or off the walls (When had this become a social club?), and then John and Jeanson pulled Asami towards one of the cars down towards the end of the shop that looked like it had been completely cleaned out.  Petuwaq thought he recognized it, maybe that had been what John used to drive, but now it was in so many pieces that it was just a random jigsaw puzzle, and they practically shoved Asami face-first into all the parts as they began to clean and shift and assemble and do....whatever it was that people did with car parts.  After pumping gas and checking the oil level, Petuwaq had to fall back on the old standbys of just smiling and nodding.  Finding his own spot on the wall to lean against casually, he did his best to keep a wide eye on what was going on and zone out.  Next to him Korra seemed to be doing the same thing, although she was a lot more focused, and he was glad at the non-mechanic company.

 


 

 

"So, Korra, what brings you two to Ville de Moores?  Oh, crap, right, let me have that notepad Pete?"  Claire had sidled up next to where they were leaning casually, and re-wrote the question.  At Korra's scribbled response she smiled.  "Seeing the world, huh?  I can't tell you how often I've wished to see just about anyplace but here....but to you, I suppose this probably is 'anyplace but here', isn't it? ....ugh, I've got to remember...." and she hastily re-wrote what she had said.  Aside to Pete she said, "I don't know if you've already got plans for it, but it'd probably be a lot easier if we could actually talk."  Turning back to Korra, she wrote out another note.  "Do you like engines as well?" and waved at the shop around them.

 

Smiling, Korra shook her head and pointed over to where Asami seemed to be having the time of her life.  Like back at the Green with John, apparently the language of metal needed no translators and there was a small passel of people looking over her shoulder as she did....something....to....something.

 

"That's cool.  I grew up here so oil's in my blood, but John was the one who really dug in, I just help out on the weekends and when my mom's out of town.  What...uh...what is your thing, then?"  Korra hesitated before writing, as if unsure what to say, but Claire figured it must have just been a translation issue since she opened what looked like a dictionary and began flipping through.  Eventually, she wrote out a single word and handed the note back.

 

"Wushu?"  She turned to Petuwaq in confusion.  "What's 'wushu'?"

 

"Uh....kung fu, I think.  Or...maybe that's what they call it when they fight with kung fu?  I'm not exactly sure."  He had definitely heard the term before, but badly-dubbed martial arts films were not exactly good reference materials.

 

Claire's mind flashed back to the sight of Korra boarding a runaway car and saving its driver like in an action movie, "Oh my god, that's awesome.  No wonder she could move like that, she was practically flying.  Can she....can you show me something?"  At the request Korra's face lit up, but then she frowned and waved at all of the equipment clustered around them, and even without a translation it was clear that it would have meant breaking something (Either metal or bone) if they tried anything in the garage itself.  "It's okay, we've got a lot of space out back", and grabbing Korra's hand, Claire lead her out the back exit.  Petuwaq was not sure if he should follow or not, but then John walked back over talking about taking a look at his car, and as he pulled out the keys Korra and Claire were already gone.

 

Outside, in a wide empty lot behind the garage that had a few old, rusting cars on one side, there was plenty of wide open space and soft grass.  "Come on, show me what you've got," and Claire stepped back to give Korra room to demonstrate.

 

Korra paused to take a look around, then bent over to take off her shoes.  "Uh...that might not be a good idea.  We don't do any work out here, but there's probably still some broken glass and screws scattered around."  Even after the note had been passed, though, Korra just smiled and kept going, and soon she was standing barefoot in the middle of lot.  She stretched briefly, limbering up, then tossed Claire her vest to free up her movement and did not notice the way Claire's eyes seemed drawn to the way her clothing was stretched tightly.  Closing her eyes for a moment, she began to move and....wow.

 

At the Green Korra had been fast, it had been like watching a dynamo in motion the way she had instantly dashed off after the car in Hero Mode, but now she was smooth.  Her arms came up and arced together, tracing circles in the air as she took wide steps, sliding across the ground.  She spun around and her stance shifted, and she changed from one instant to the next like water.  That was the only way Claire could think of to describe it, that she was flowing like water, and she could half-imagine that there were ribbons of water streaming around in response to her movements.  She was not sure how long the dance went on for (It could not have been more than a few minutes, although it felt like hours), but when Korra slowed to stillness Claire's eyes were glowing like they had earlier after seeing the rescue, and her voice was heated as she said "....wow".  That was all she could have said.  Korra turned to her with a quirked eyebrow, clearly asking for a comment, and after a stunned silence she asked "Could you show me another?"

 

Happy to oblige, Korra re-centered herself and began moving again.

Chapter Text

As he drove home later that day, Petuwaq reflected that the entire affair had gone a lot better than he expected.  John had put his car up on the lift and done something underneath it (Saying words like "axle" and "steering rack" and other gibberish) and now it was moving as smoothly as his mother's, and all along he had just accepted the rough ride as an unavoidable consequence of a used car.  Asami had been right beside him (Along with Bill Smither, who Petuwaq actually did not know very well) tinkering, and did everybody know how to do these things besides himself?  Korra had spent most of the afternoon with Claire, he assumed showing off her kung fu, and she and Asami had even started picking up a few words of French (Although that morning Petuwaq never would have guessed that the first words he understood Asami say would be 'power steering').  They had all received an invitation to return the next morning, and he was actually looking forward to it.  In the back seat, Korra and Asami were talking cheerfully and excitedly, clearly they had enjoyed the day completely.

 

As he pulled up in front of his house, looking forward to lying down and relaxing no matter how non-unpleasant the day had been, he could see his mom pacing through the front window, agitatedly talking to somebody on the phone, and what was...it had completely slipped his mind that his father always called home on Sunday night, and he was probably freaking out over the news that they had two strange women living with them.  Petuwaq sighed internally; he had actually expected that and pointed it out to his mom when they were talking on the phone yesterday, but he had lost focus after they had arrived and he saw what his mother meant by 'two very nice young women'.  Things were tight enough as they were, especially with the cost of outfitting his sister last month when she started her research project, and his dad was likely pointing out even just the cost of more food.  Well, it was not like they would be staying there forever or anything, and he was already planning on getting a summer job the next week, so things would be okay.  His mom would probably have everything all calmed down and settled in a few minutes.

 

Leading Korra and Asami inside, he made a "shush!" motion and crept past his mother, reaching for the notepad and....no, this was getting ridiculous, he had not done this much handwriting since primary school and his fingers were beginning to cramp.  Plus, he was starting to get a headache from struggling to carry on a full conversation in English (At least he was getting plenty of practice).  Instead, he went over to the computer they had set up in the living room, planning to use the time-honored and reverent tool gifted to the current generation: Google (With handy translation software).  He sat down and--he was nearly bowled over when Korra and Asami both jerked in their own seats as he began to use the computer, staring at the screen in shock as if they had never seen anything like it before.  They knew how to build a car engine but had never seen a computer monitor?  No, that could not be it, he had seen them not react at TVs during the day and...were they reacting at the control he had over the screen?  They had sat down calmly enough, it was only when he had opened a new browser window that they reacted.  Slowly, he reached out and touched the mouse, and when the cursor moved on the screen they both jerked again.  Suddenly they were both crowding close, nearly climbing on top of him, inspecting the computer.

 

"Jesus, what is the story with you two?"

 

They seemed completely mystified, touching the screen as if expecting to be able to actually pick up the cursor and surprised to find it glass, then turning to him for an explanation.  "It's a computer.  A com--okay, this won't get us anywhere, hold on."  He opened the Google Translate page and dutifully typed out "It's a computer.  Have you never seen a computer before?" which quickly became "Il se agit d' un ordinateur. Avez-vous jamais vu un ordinateur avant?"  They both shook their heads, and at his indication Asami reached for the keyboard, slowly typing out "We have seen your moving pictures, but not one you can control like this."  When the words appeared on-screen as she typed they both seemed even more shocked than they had before.  "How is this done?"

 

Petuwaq's detailed computer knowledge was only slightly more advanced than his car knowledge, but he figured he could at least give the basics.  "It's a machine, like a car, but it can think in some ways.  You tell it what to do and it follows your commands, and connects to other machines around the word."  Truth be told, he mainly used it for watching funny videos on YouTube, but they did not need to know that...actually, why not?  "Here, let me show you." but before he could show them the wonders of the latest meme, his mom knocked on the door and stuck her head in.

 

"Petuwaq, can I see you for a second?"

 

"Uh, sure, mom," and he left them to fiddle with the computer.  As he walked into the next room he saw them filling up the translation text-box to overflowing, watching the translation come out as it went.

 

"Was that dad?" he asked, already knowing the answer.  "How bad was it?"

 

"Not too bad, all things considered.  He should be home on Tuesday and we can go over it then, once I explained that they had nowhere to go he calmed down a bit.  Just...don't mention to him that they might be fugitives or anything, let's let him ease into that."

 

"No problem, and I don't actually know that they're on the lam, maybe they just didn't want to deal with the fame of being heroes...."  His mom's look made it clear that she did not buy that idea any more than he did.  "Okay, keeping quiet on the 'running from the law' bit.  How about everything else?"

 

"I told him what we know, and hopefully by the time he gets home we can get with a translator or something to clear everything up."

 

"I actually just started on that, I don't know why I didn't think of it sooner.  Google, you know?"

 

"Excellent, that should help.  How were they today?"  And she nodded towards the other room, where they could still hear the clicking of the keyboard.

 

"Great, actually.  They really hit it off with the whole gang over at the garage, we're probably going to head back tomorrow."

 

"Good, I've always liked the Soucys, I've never understood why you always had friction with their kids, they were so sweet.  But won't the shop actually be open tomorrow?  Is Mr. Soucy okay with you going over during business hours?"

 

"I...uh...didn't talk to Mr. Soucy, I didn't see him.  But John said it was fine, and if it's a problem...well, we can just come home."

 

"Okay.  Anyway, it's getting late, wash up for dinner and bring them to the kitchen in a few minutes."

 

When Petuwaq walked back into the room he saw that they had switched the translation from French/English to English/Chinese (How had they figured that out so quickly?) and Asami seemed to running through a test of the system.  She had the dictionary they were using held open and was typing out individual English words, then comparing the computer results with the dictionary, and then repeating with different words.  Making sure it was accurate?  Trying to catch it in a mistake?  Trying to stump it?  She had already lost her expression of surprise at the computer and was instead extremely focused, as if she was used to stuff like this her whole life and was just running it through its paces.  Just what was her background?  Korra sat close beside her, and Petuwaq noticed that she had her arm wrapped around Asami's waist, resting her head on Asami's shoulder and----HOLY CRAP----only the fact that he was inhaling so dramatically kept him from saying some word of shock as he realized what he was seeing.  He stared at them for a minute as Asami opened a new window (She had already learned how to work the program?  Seriously, who were these people?) before he found his voice again.

 

"Uh...we're...we're going to have dinner in a few minutes.  We should get ready."

 

And he stepped aside as they walked past, fingers intertwined.

Chapter Text

It was only their second day waking up in this house, but Korra and Asami already felt familiar as the smell of cooking drew them out of bed, the same cooking from the day before.  Once again Kunik was scraping off strips of 'bacon' onto plates along with eggs and juice, and even just having had it once the day before made it seem like everything was not so strange.  However, this time Kunik was already dressed in what they could recognize was more formal clothing than she had been wearing the previous days, and seemed to be working a little bit faster.  After the by-now-normal exchange of notes, Petuwaq said "Mom has to go back to work today, she had time off to go visit my sister."

 

The mention of going to work, with all of the implications for money of economy, suddenly made them both realize that they had been taking from these nice people for two days already, and if they stayed it would likely be for much longer.  Should they get jobs to repay them?  What kind of jobs?  Neither of them had ever held normal jobs before (Being the Avatar did not exactly come with a salary, and CEO of a major company was quite different from working for somebody else), and in this strange world what could they do?  Did any of their skills apply?  How did somebody get a job here?  That was something they would have to deal with, and fast; their impression from the day before that they were not a wealthy family had been borne out throughout the day, and they did not want to place an unreasonable burden.  Still, 'fast' did not necessarily mean 'immediately', and after breakfast Petuwaq again drove them over towards John and Claire's garage.  Both Korra and Asami had loved the previous day; being with a group of people again, able to work and talk (Albeit still with difficulty and delay) and have fun for the day, was an indication of how things could be normal, that this world was not just divided into hostile environments or inhibiting military bases.  There were people here who lived their own lives.

 

As their car was parked (And even Korra could tell how much better it drove now, and she could feel Asami's satisfaction with her work from the day before) they noticed that the garage was different today.  The parking lot was almost empty, but there were more cars in the service bay itself, and the crowd of people milling about was absent.  Instead, there were only a few people working on cars, almost all older, and they all wore the same style clothing, like a uniform.  One of them waved, and as they got closer they could recognize Huan from the day before--no, not 'Huan', John.  They each made an effort to focus on the exact pronunciation, if they were going to live in this world they could not continue to just parallel the names with similar sounds that they were used to.  He spoke to Petuwaq, calling him 'Peet' instead like they had noticed a lot of people do the day before, then waved them all forward into what looked like an office on the side of the work area.  Within was an older man that they immediately pegged as John's father, the resemblance was unmistakable, who sat behind a desk and wore the same uniform as the people out in the loading bay.  Smiling, introductions were made around (he was apparently 'Mister Soucy') and they were all seated as he spoke to Petuwaq--also calling him 'Peet'.  Korra and Asami could not follow the conversation (The few words Asami had picked up were mainly satomobile terminology), but it seemed genial enough, even complimentary with the way John was smiling as he nodded towards Asami.  Eventually, with smiles all around, Korra, Asami and Petuwaq all left, with the three off them following John out the other side of the office to another room; if they had to guess a waiting room given all of the chairs and what seemed to be magazines scattered around, and one of the moving pictures (Kunik had called it a 'TV') against one wall.  Claire was waiting there, and when she saw them walk in she stood up with a hopeful expression, and at John's nod she walked over and gave each of them each a welcoming hug.  And if she maybe lingered just a little bit longer on Korra's hug than anybody else, nobody noticed.  They spoke briefly, then a note was written out and passed.

 

"The garage is open for business now, we need to stay out of the way of the working mechanics, but we are welcome to spend the day."

 

Korra and Asami both nodded in agreement, but then hesitated when John seemed about to go back to the garage while Claire stayed in the waiting room.  They had split apart the last time they were here, as Asami worked with the cars and Korra demonstrated outside, but to separate again?  After everything that had happened.....Asami laughed and nudged Korra softly.  "Go ahead, you're going to be bored if you just stand behind me and watch me watch John work all day.  Have fun!"  And Asami followed John back inside to where he had been working on a car when they had arrived, with Petuwaq trailing behind.  Turning back to Claire, who seemed to be waiting for Korra to say something, Korra just grinned and pointed towards the rear of the building.  With the way Claire had been so fascinated by the bending forms yesterday Korra expected her to want to see more, and was surprised that she had apparently had no training at all.  With the way Claire had fixated on the forms Korra would have expected her to have studied something, and she had seen in the gym at the military base that they did have some kind of training in this world.  Still, there were few things Korra found as fulfilling as her bending, even if she was not actually bending anything, and she relished the opportunity to practice and demonstrate.

 

"Shall we?"

 

Claire nodded enthusiastically and guided her out to the same area they had practiced yesterday.  She had also set up a pair of small folding chairs, apparently expecting them to wind up here again, but Korra stopped her when she went to sit down to observe.  Instead, Korra pulled her out into the space with her, placing her right in the center.  "Here, do it with me this time," she said and gave what she hoped was a reassuring look at Claire's sudden nervousness.  "It's okay, we'll go slow."  Korra knew that Claire could not actually understand her, but as they had discovered so often over the past month, tone conveyed a lot, and Claire visibly relaxed as she spoke.  The day before Korra had worked through all four of the primary bending styles when Claire had asked for a demonstration, but she wanted to work with waterbending when introducing Claire to the forms.  The smooth, even, calming progression would help with her nervousness.  Standing next to her, Korra assumed a waterbending form stance, and waited for Claire to mimic her.

 

"Not so rigid, water is the element of change, you need to be ready to adapt to many things." She reached over and took hold of Claire's hands, spreading them out a bit, and repositioned her feet for a wider stance, then she placed her palm against the flat of Claire's back to shift her posture.  "Don't worry, we're just getting started," Korra tried to reassure her as her breathing sped up a little bit.  Nodding in approval at Claire's new stance, Korra resumed her own next to her.  "Now, watch me."  Slowly, even more slowly than usual so as not to lose her, Korra shifted through the form progression; her right leg came in and slid out again, reorienting her in another direction, as her arms lowered from their guard and reversed position.  It was a very simple maneuver, essentially just changing which direction you faced in your stance, but the progressive shift was one of the essential parts of the flowing nature of waterbending.  Turning, she nodded for Claire to try it and....she was bad.  Very, very bad.  Every single movement was jerky and twitchy and Claire's face was so flushed Korra wondered if she might actually start firebending to get the heat out.  She made sure to smother a laugh before it even reached the back of her throat.  "Look, try to relax, you don't need to get it right away, it's okay.  Here, let me help," and Korra stepped up behind Claire and reached her arms around to take hold of her hands.  "Like this" and Korra applied a little pressure to move her arms into the proper position.  Claire's breathing somehow grew even more rapid, but she allowed herself to be guided as if willing to let Korra have complete control.  "Excellent, just like that, now do it again."  Korra stepped back to get a view and watched Claire try it again and...it was really bad again, maybe even worse, as if Claire was having trouble even remembering how to properly move her arms.  This time Korra could not quite keep the laughter down completely, but she did her best to disguise it with a cough.  Apparently it was not good enough, as Claire's gaze dropped and she somehow turned even redder.

 

"Are you okay?  Why don't we...uh...take a break?"  Korra pointed over to the chairs that Claire had set up, and Claire nodded gratefully, sinking down into one with a gasp that sounded like she had been doing heavy labor for hours, and not just a few minutes of a single form.  Seeing a notepad on the table, Korra grabbed one and wrote out, "Are you okay?"  At this point it did not seem physically possible for Claire to have gotten any redder, and she did not (quite), but Korra could tell she was trying.  She did not respond right away, but then grabbed a notepad and hastily scrawled "I'm fine" before turning to the side and looking away.

 

Now Korra was actually concerned (Was she ill?), and with her right hand held down the side of her chair, hopefully blocked from all view, she began to draw a small stream of water into the palm of her hand.  Not a lot, barely more than a few drops.  Reaching out with her left hand she took hold of Claire's shoulder and turned her around, then brought up her right hand and to lay it flat against her forehead.  Claire reacted as if she had been struck when Korra touched her, but she did not draw away from the feel of Korra's skin on hers as Korra tried to ease the heat running through her.  A minute later Korra lowered her hand, "Feeling better?"

 

Claire's eyes were wide and moist, as if brimming with tears, and she managed a jerky nod before lurching to her feet and running back inside.

 

Korra was about to follow her, but...but.  That was all that came to her mind and so she stayed where she was, and five minutes later Claire came out with two glasses and a pitcher of water.  Pouring a glass for each of them, Claire drank hers down rapidly and filled her glass again, sipping more slowly this time, as Korra sat next to her and waited for her to say something.  After a few more minutes of silence, Claire stood back up and walked out to the open area and resumed the form stance.  She held it for a moment, took a deep breath to steady herself, and then quickly went through the progression.  It was far from perfect (Too rushed, too stiff), but infinitely better than it had been before, and Korra nodded in approval.  "Excellent.  Now, do it again to show me that it wasn't a fluke", and Claire's expression lit up the yard as she worked through the shift again.

Chapter Text

Within the garage, John had lead Asami and Petuwaq back over to the car that he had been working on when they arrived, handing out introductions to the other workers as they passed.  When he leaned back in, apparently connecting some sort of unfamiliar device to the engine, Asami had a minor epiphany: That was why there were so many electronic parts in these cars.  It had made no sense yesterday when she saw so many cables and strange devices, but if they were thinking machines like the computer...for a brief instant her eyes lost focus as her mind ran down the limitless pathways of what you could do with something like that.  A transmission that could judge how or when to shift gears, or how to apply pressure for deceleration, or...were there cars here that could give directions?  Report on their own problems and maintenance?  Drive themselves?  Yesterday she had loved just the feel of metal in her hands, the sensation of doing something.  No less than Korra she relished being active, being able to change the world around her, and being out in the woods for so long with none of the tools or equipment she was familiar with had been as much of a disconnect as their separation from their home.  To come here and have a chance to be busy with her hands, even on cars as strange as these, was almost like being home.  Now, though, when she realized all the possibilities, she wanted to learn everything, not just work for the sake of working, and she crowded next to John to watch what he was doing.  Petuwaq hung back a bit, eyes already getting the faraway look of somebody resigning himself to waiting out a topic he had no knowledge of, but Asami grabbed his hand and pulled him over as well (Albeit making sure not to pull in too closely to John; she realized that this was a professional job he was doing now, not the fun of the day before, and she did not want to jostle him).  There was no reason he could not learn how his own vehicles worked.  When he saw them both attending, John began pointing to the different pieces of equipment he was working with, naming them and miming what they were good for.

 

A lot of it was lost on Asami because of the language barrier and her unfamiliarity with the base technology, and a lot of it was lost on Petuwaq because of his general mechanical ignorance, but they made do as best they could.  As near as she could figure, the device John was using was actually performing a diagnostic itself; by attaching it to the engine it could say what parts were not working or needed to be replaced.  That device alone nearly made Asami's head spin, imagining just how much more smoothly repairs could go if you did not need to spend half an hour taking the car apart to find the problem.  Behind her she could hear what sounded like Claire briefly coming inside from the back area before heading out again, but she was too focused to really notice as she tried to follow everything being done.

 

The hours passed quickly, and before she knew it they were stopping for lunch, eaten in another small room off to the side (She had not realized just how big this building was) and joined by Korra and Claire.

 

"How'd she do?" Asami asked, inclining her head slightly towards Claire.

 

"Not too bad, once she eased into it.  I think she's been wanting to do something like this for a long time, when we started she was so nervous, but she's calmed down and is moving a lot more smoothly.  If I can just keep her relaxed I don't think she'll have any problems.  And if I can't...well, we can just switch to firebending and put that energy to good use.  How about you?"

 

"There's so much I never thought of in these cars, it's amazing the possibilities that they have with these computers.  I've already got so many new ideas.  If I can figure out how they work I can completely revolutionize Future Industries when we get home, this will be even bigger than the airplane."  There was no hesitation at all when she said 'when we get home', to Asami it was clearly a question if 'when', not 'if', and she wanted to be ready for it.  "There are computers in everything here and--What's that?"

 

On the other side of the table, Claire was staring down at the small rectangle everybody seemed to carry -- They had realized the day before that these were somehow portable phones -- and seemed to be trying to restrain herself from cheering.  Quickly, she passed it over to John and Petuwaq and they both reacted similarly, then they passed it over to Asami.  She stared it briefly in confusion, then turned it over and--it had a picture on the other side, what looked like a very blurry shot of the park where Petuwaq had taken them yesterday morning.  What was so amazing about a blurry picture?  In fact, why was it so blurry, all the other pictures they had seen here were so clear.  Then John reached over and touched the picture (Not a button Asami realized, but the picture itself) and it began to move.  She started and nearly flung the phone against a wall before she realized that this must be a portable TV (But how?) and she found herself looking at a moving picture like they had seen several times before.  There was a young boy in the screen, apparently trying very hard to take a few steps, and Asami did not quite understand what was so amazing about this (Rather, she wondered what was so amazing about the content, since the technology was staggering) when suddenly there was a loud noise and the picture became very jerky as the camera was swung around and...Asami realized they were actually seeing the car crash from the day before as she caught sight of the car heading almost straight towards the camera, and then there was an indistinct blur of motion and Korra could be seen climbing onto the side, pulling out the driver, and the car came to its sudden stop.  Turning the picture towards Korra, Asami touched the screen as she had seen John do and the recording started over again, and Korra saw herself perform the rescue again.  Grinning sheepishly, Korra shrugged as if to say "No big deal" and passed the phone back over to Claire, who was staring at her with an expression that seemed akin to worship.

 

"I didn't see any kind of recording equipment or cameras in the park yesterday, did you?" Korra asked Asami.

 

"No, I didn't either.  Maybe...it must be like everything else they have, their mover cameras are so small that we can't even see them, like we can't even see the projectors in the TVs.  I wonder what they even look like?"  Asami suddenly frowned as a new thought struck her.  "Korra, that means we might be being watched at any time, and who knows who is seeing this recording?  The military is probably still looking for us, and who knows who else might come after us if they see you bending?    I think we need to really start keeping a low profile."

 

Korra looked shocked, like she could not quite believe what she had just heard.  "Are you saying I should have not helped yesterday?"

 

"What?  No!  Absolutely not, I would never say that.  We can never stand by and let something bad happen, we just need to be careful.  I'll see if I can figure out how their cameras work so we can avoid them, and you need to keep from bending if possible.  Just until we know what the whole world is like."

 

"And if I can't keep from bending?"  Korra's question might have come out as a challenge if she had not heard the concern in Asami's own voice.

 

"Then you can't.  If we can help somebody here then we should, as soon as we start putting our secrets above somebody else's lives....that's when I become my father.  And I could never do that."  Asami was quiet now, almost whispering, and Korra reached out to take her hand, squeezing tightly in reassurance.  On the other side of the table John, Claire and Petuwaq were engrossed in re-watching the video, apparently oblivious to their conversation, and in a few minutes they were all back to eating.

 

When they had finished lunch, Asami took out her notepad and wrote out a message, "How was that recording made?"

 

Claire and John seemed very confused by the question, but Petuwaq explained something to them and, after they briefly stared at Korra and Asami and looked even more confused, Claire took out her phone again.  She touched the screen several times, then turned it around to point it at Asami and--Asami could see Claire on the screen, with her arm extended holding up the phone, as if the phone was the camera and also the display....and Asami realized that that was exactly what was happening.  She snatched the phone out of Claire's hands and turned it over, noticing the small glass lens on the back of the phone, and she realized that that must be the camera, and that meant...

 

"I think we can forget what I just said about avoiding the cameras, almost everybody had one of these."  She passed it back to Claire, who was about to put it away, but then hesitated and pointed it at Korra and Asami.  She motioned with her arms, and Korra realized that she was planning to take their picture, and so she leaned in right next to Asami, grinning widely, as the phone made a *click* sound.  Claire looked at the screen for a second and then turned it around again, and they both looked at the picture of the themselves.

 

"Wow," Asami said, a camera that small, that could work that fast, and could apparently also play movers and make phone calls....that was amazing.  How was it done?  What else could it do?  Then...Asami then realized that this was the first picture she had ever seen of her and Korra together, at least since they had gotten together, and she did not care that they both still looked a little rough from so long in the woods (Their hair was untrimmed, they had numerous small scrapes that had not yet faded completely, and they wore strange clothing that belonged to Petuwaq's sister), it was absolutely beautiful.  "Wow," she said again, and even if it was the same word it had all the difference in the world.

Chapter Text

John waved goodbye as Pete drove off--feeling a slight twinge in his back that said he might have pulled something earlier in the day--and turned around to walk back into the garage.  They had actually closed about half an hour ago and most of the staff had gone home, only Steve was left in back working on his personal passion project (He had been really cagey about where he had gotten it, especially all the way out here, but it looked like it was going to be a beauty of a Shelby once he finished the restoration).  Walking through, he knocked on the door to his dad's office and stuck his head in.

 

"Hey dad, I'm probably going to head out in a few minutes, you need anything before I go?"

 

Barry Soucy looked up from the papers he was reviewing and set them aside.  "Come in John, how'd everything go today?"

 

"Pretty good.  With the parts that came in this afternoon I'll probably have the work done on Mr. Davis's truck tomorrow morning, if it all checks out I can let him have it back first thing in the afternoon."

 

"Your friends didn't slow you down any, did they?"  That could have been a criticism, and it definitely was a serious question, but it was also honestly wondering.

 

"No, nothing like that, just a late delivery.  Everybody stayed out of the way."

 

"Good, good.  I'm glad to see Pete stopping by, I always thought it was weird that he never came over like your other friends."  John shuffled his feet, not quite sure how to say that he had never really invited Pete over before now.  His dad also squirmed a bit in his chair, and uncomfortably asked the next question; "You don't usually bring your friends around during work time, and that Asami--it is Asami, right?--is a very good looking woman.  Is...uh...is everything okay between you and Jeanson?"

 

"What?  No, dad, me and Jeannie are just fine."  He could see his dad relax at that, he had always liked Jeanson.  "Besides, I'm pretty sure she's Pete's girl.  Or, rather he's hers with the way he follows her around.  I just wanted to give her a chance to get more familiar with what we have and...dad, you should see her work, it's incredible.  We were working on Pete's car yesterday and I'll lay out $20 that she never saw a Honda engine in her life before that morning, but she had it stripped in no time flat.  Billy--you remember Billy, right?--was with us, and those little Japanese cars have always been a passion of his--I've never understood it, he's been weird since we were kids--and he said she had it apart faster than he could have done it."  Now John had a sly grin on his face.  "It might have been even faster than you."

 

"Oh, challenging your old man, eh?  I'm not off the heap yet, you know." And he flexed to show that he was still in his prime, although the impression might have been dampened by the wheeze he could not keep from escaping.  "What about the other one?  Cora...Korra?  I didn't see her on the floor at all."

 

"Nah, she's not a greasemonkey," John shook his head.  "Claire says she's a fashion or design student or something."

 

"Really?"  His dad paused in consideration.  "Huh...to tell you the truth, if you'd asked me this morning I would have flipped that around, she looks like she could bench-press an engine block."

 

"No argument from me, but that's probably from the kung fu that she does." Yesterday's park adventure was still fresh in his mind.  "Claire said she's actually going to try and teach her something."

 

"Kung fu?  Seriously?  I didn't think they actually did that in China anymore.  Is she any good?"

 

"Any goo--wait, did you hear about what happened at the Green yesterday?"

 

"Yesterday?  No...wait, do you mean that car crash?  Yeah, I heard about that.  Why?"

 

"Here, let me show you."  And John walked around the desk to the laptop his father had set up off to the side, brining up the YouTube video that Claire had passed onto him earlier in the day.  "Just watch," he said, and ran through the dramatic rescue.

 

"Holy crap," his dad said once it finished, "Is she Jackie Chan's cousin or something?  That was yesterday?"

 

"Yeah, just after we first ran into them, actually.  Hell of a first impression."

 

"I should say so.  And Claire wants to learn that?  Wow, she can probably use it to beat off the guys coming after her."  And he laughed.

 

"Uh...yeah, it should help with that," but now John's smile was noticeably forced and his mind's eye was quickly looking over everything that had happened over the past two days.... "If that's everything I'm going to get going, we were thinking about meeting up later to catch a movie and I need to get cleaned up."  He gestured down at his sweaty, stained uniform.

 

"Oh, sure, sure, get going.  Have a great night."

 

John left the office, but instead of heading to shower and get changed he walked over to the waiting room where he knew Claire would be reading one of their old magazines and fretting about the time.

 

"Hey Clue, how's it going?"  He never used that old nickname from when they were kids except when he had something on his mind, and Claire was instantly suspicious.

 

"Uh....everything's good, I'm just waiting for you to finish up.  You better hurry up if we're going to catch the film."  And she looked at the clock with such pointedness that he had to laugh.

 

"I will, I was just...uh...that Korra really is something, right?  Is she starting to show you that kung fu?"  His eyes widened slightly at the way her cheeks reddened just a tiny bit at the mention of Korra's name.  "How's that going?"

 

"Well, I'd say pretty good since it's my first day.  Just, y'know, how to stand and stuff.  I've always thought that was all really interesting."  John had never heard her ever before say she was interested in martial arts (Apart from liking action movies) and he felt a tingling begin to work its way up his spine.

 

"Cool, cool.  It's just...uh...I mean...that's it, right?  Just learning kung fu?  Nothing...else?"

 

"What do you--oh, nonononono, it's not....look, John that thing last year was...it's not....look, we saw her jump on a car yesterday, that was really amazing and all, it's not...not..."  Now Claire's face was solidly flushed, but her expression was edging more towards horror instead of embarrassment.  Sighing, John sat down next to her and draped his arm over her shoulder, drawing her against him and resting his cheek on the top of her head, like any comforting big brother ever (Even though she was actually forty-seven minutes older).

 

"Clue, we talked about this last year.  Mom and dad will freak, and what will everybody else say?  You can't...it's not right and I thought we'd handled that."

 

"We did, we totally did, this isn't....come on, you can't say you weren't impressed yesterday."  She sounded desperate, like she wanted him to give her an easy excuse to justify her feelings.

 

"I was absolutely impressed yesterday, that was amazing, and she seems really cool (Even if she's not a greasemonkey), but that doesn't change anything.  Hell, she's probably not even...."  He trailed off, unwilling to even say it.

 

"I, uh, I think she is.  I mean, I think she and Asami are..., but that's good, because then it doesn't even matter if I...." she trailed off, unwilling herself to say more.

 

John could not help but wonder why everybody seemed to think anybody except Pete and Asami were a couple, when they had literally not left one another's side today or yesterday.  Aloud, he said "I don't think so, I think Asami's with Pete, and that's not the point.  The point is..."  This time he trailed off because he did not know what to say 'the point' was, and the two just sat there in silence.  Eventually, he realized that she was crying; quiet, tiny sobs that he could feel reverberating through her body.

 

They sat that way for a long time.

 

"John?  I'm not like that.  Really, I'm not, and you're right that she's probably not...uh, and since I'm not and she's not, there's nothing to worry about.  It's just that with everything, what happened at the Green yesterday and her showing me stuff today, it's a lot to handle and....but I swear, that's it.  Please."  She was almost asking, not telling, asking him to accept what she was saying and have that somehow make it true, and John....John wanted it to be true almost as much as she did.

 

"Okay, Clue.  Okay.  Come on, let's get cleaned up and head out."

Chapter Text

It turned out that they were late after all, and by the time John and Claire had picked up Jeanson and made it to the theatre Pete, Korra and Asami had already gotten their seats and the previews were rolling, and they caught just the last few seconds of what looked liked like a trailer for a computer-generated film about a boy and a balloon robot.  As they squeezed into the seats that had been held for them (With John being just a little too quick to interpose himself between Claire and Korra at one end) the feature presentation itself began (After numerous warnings to turn off cell phones, avoid talking, and so on).  Next to him, he could hear Korra and Asami talking excitedly, and he belatedly realized that if they had never seen a camera phone before, what would they make of a big-screen movie?  He was about to say something, maybe try to prepare them for the moving images, but they actually seemed perfectly calm as it began, although he thought that he might have heard Asami sob as the mother died.  Still, there was nothing odd about somebody crying at a sad scene in a movie, so he figured that maybe they were used to this after all (Although that raised another point for him to think about: What kind of background did these two have that they knew fashion design, kung fu and mechanics, but not cell phones?  John realized that he actually knew extremely little about them at all, even less than just two days of familiarity would imply).  Then they began to nearly scream at each other when the spaceship showed up and abducted the kid five minutes in.

 

No, not 'scream' exactly, but they were talking to each other very excitedly, and already there were shouts coming from around them to be quiet.  They seemed to understand the "shush"es, apparently that sound did not need a written translation, and they lowered their voices, but they continued to speak back and forth as the title credits rolled and the dancing on an alien planet began.  John felt his own blush rise as he felt the eyes of the rest of the theatre on them, but eventually the eyes turned back to the screen and he was able to sink back into the movie.  Then the eyes were back after the two women started talking again when the shooting and flying began.  He was about to say something (new friends or not, there are ways you are supposed to act in public) but then Pete leaned over from Asami's other side and said something in English, and they quieted down again.  This time they stayed soft for the rest of the movie, even though he could still here them whispering back and forth.

 

It was still a very good movie and John enjoyed it quite thoroughly.

 

Afterwards, as they were all leaving, he saw Korra and Asami write out a note for Pete, who looked confused after reading it, but he wrote a response and passed it over as they milled about in the theatres lobby, deciding what to do next.  It was getting late, but when you are young "getting late" is a far cry from heading home and they talked about what to do next, eventually deciding on a late dinner.  There were not a lot of options late on a Monday night, but they knew of an all-night diner not too far away.  As they were leaving, John picked up the crumpled bits of paper that had contained the passed notes from just after the movie had ended, curious as to what they had said.

 

"What was real?"

 

John looked over at Korra and Asami walking off with the rest of group and scratched his head.  What?

 


 

 

 Joe's Diner was one of the few places in Ville de Moores that was open all night, and they were seated in a booth towards the back as they talked about the movie and spoke of other fun, meaningless things.

 

"I, for one, simply have to say that any movie which includes a dance-off in the climax must be regarded as an instant classic.  Everything else is irrelevant."  Jeanson could barely contain her laughter.

 

"A valid point, but it sadly must come in as a close second to 'pelvic sorcery', which you must all recognize as the high-point of witty repartee."  Claire always got eloquent after a movie, and John was happy to see that she was feeling better to be able to laugh.  When they had spoken earlier....he did not like having to go through that with her.

 

"Yeah, but was anybody else a little disappointed at the way Gamorra was written?  Why turn against Ronan now?  What was her thinking?  That could have been fleshed out a little bit more."  Pete was one to good-naturedly point out the flaws in a film he enjoyed.

 

"I think you are all overlooking the true standout character of the feature.  After all, we are all Groot, are we not?" And John did a very appreciable imitation of the voice, which got a laugh from everybody at the table, even Korra and Asami.  Quickly, they pulled out their notepad and wrote a comment of their own, passing it over to Pete.

 

"What do they say?" Jeanson asked.

 

Pete looked at the note for a second, then read off "Where in your world are there spirits like that?"

 

That got a puzzled silence from the rest of the table as they tried to understand just what it was that they were asking.  Clearly there was some kind of translation issue at the moment.  Jeanson grabbed the pen and wrote out a response, "These were all fake images."

 

"We know of false images in movers," they responded, "is there no source?"

 

For the first time, John wondered if maybe these women were not just having translation issues, but might actually have some kind of mental disability.  They seemed normal, but could they not tell the difference between real life and a science fiction movie?  "Uh...Pete?  What is the story here?  'Cause right now it looks like they think we just saw a documentary or something."

 

"To be honest, I'm not really sure, it's been like this all day and I'm not sure if we're just working off a very bad dictionary or they've grown up behind a wall somewhere."

 

"Didn't you say your mom knew their parents?" Claire asked.

 

"Uh...yeah, she does, but they haven't kept in very close contact over the years so I don't have all the details.  Let me try something."  And he wrote out "This was based on a story, there is no source."  Korra and Asami nodded and that and continued to smile, so...they recognized that it was not a real movie?

 

At that point, John just nodded his head and smiled and tried to stop thinking about it.  They could fix an engine and rescue old ladies having a heart attack behind the wheel of a moving car, he could let it sit there.

 

At the end of dinner, as they began to divvy up the check, Pete began to pay for Korra and Asami and they wrote out another note for him, looking almost ashamed.  "What's up?" asked Claire.

 

"They..heh...they don't like me paying for them....uh, it's a bad custom I think....we were actually going to start job-hunting this week."

 

"Job hunting?" Jeanson seemed surprised.  "How long are they staying?"

 

"Probably for the summer, and they didn't come over with much cash, so they wanted some spending money.  Just to cover the extras."  The more Pete explained about their background the more it did not make sense, but...

 

"Hey, I might have an idea.  Why don't you guys stop by the garage tomorrow around twelve?"

 

After another of the note exchanges, Pete nodded.  "Sure, we'll see you then."

Chapter Text

The next day, as Petuwaq drove her and Korra over to the garage again, Asami wondered just what it was that John had in mind.  Presumably a job at that garage, it was the obvious idea considering that it was the only thing they had done together.  However, despite the fact that she knew she could handle the mechanical aspects with ease (Though humble, Asami held no self-delusions and she accepted that she was one of the finest mechanical engineers in the entire United Republic), the simple fact that she could not communicate well with either John himself or any potential customers posed a pretty simple obstacle.  Apparently only a few of the people in this area could read and write in English, and so far she had picked up only a very few words of French, so unless John was going to spend his entire day serving as translator she did not expect being able to function very well.  Still, perhaps he had an idea.

 

When they arrived the garage itself was much like it had been the day before, the same small number of mechanics working in the garage, although she noticed that there was somebody talking to John and Mister Soucy out front next to a truck that she had seen John working on the day before.  They chatted for a few minutes, shook hands all around, then he drove off and Mister Soucy waved them out of the car.  As she approached, Asami noticed that he looked....perturbed, perhaps.  Not angry or upset, but not the casuality of the day before.  They all greeted one another, and then went into the office as they had yesterday.  Petuwaq, John and Mister Soucy spoke briefly (Petuwaq had explained to them the ruse he had presented to John and Claire, and she expected that he was likely again saying that they were family friends staying for the summer and looking for work), and then John and Mister Soucy got up and walked into the garage, beckoning Asami to follow.  Korra, however, was waved back when she rose to join her, and with a puzzled expression she waited with Petuwaq.

 

Out in the garage she walked past the working mechanics, greeting those by name whom John had introduced her to the day before, until the three of them reached a car in the back out of the way, with its hood lifted and the engine partially disassembled and laid out before them, with a selection of parts and tools laid out next to it.  Then, John and Mister Soucy stood there and said nothing.  When she wrote a question to them on a notepad, they read it and gave no reply.  So.....a test?  Was that how things were done in this world generally?  Or was this something special to see if she could work without any instructions?  It seemed ridiculous, but....she leaned into the car and began to examine the engine.

 

It was a different model from engines she had examined over the past two days, larger and with more cylinders, but still operating on the same fundamental principles, and she had no doubt at all that she could put it back together again.  It might take her a while, since she had no idea what the end product was supposed to look like, but assembly and construction was a language she spoke perfectly well.  Gripping the tools available, she began to slowly bring the car back to life.  After ten minutes John left and resumed working on another of the cars in the service bay, leaving only Mister Soucy to watch over her, but she could feel him watching.  She gathered from his attitude that this was not something he was particularly on board with, and had likely only acquiesced at John's urging.  She almost smiled, remembering back to when her own father would hem and haw as she brought some new concept to him, and how he would look much the same after she wore him down to give her what she asked for (With perhaps a little more pouting than she was proud to admit).  She had always made whatever pie-in-the-sky concept she had thought up work, both by itself and as a new product for Future Industries, and she saw no reason to fail now.  In an hour, she tightened the final fastening and turned to Mister Soucy, bringing out her notepad again and writing a short question.

 

"May I have the keys?"

 

His stunned expression seemed exaggerated beyond the impressiveness of the situation, but he handed her the set of keys and the car started on the first ignition.  Still stunned, he guided her back to the office, where Petuwaq and Korra were waiting.  As they entered Asami noticed that the two were playing a game that looked similar to Water/Earth/Fire/Air, but they halted and looked up right away.  Mister Soucy and Petuwaq spoke, then Mister Soucy turned to Asami and he began to write his own note to her.

 

"Very impressive.  Worked with Ford EcoBoost engine before?"

 

Presumably that was what she had just reassembled, and she shook her head.  He gaped at that, apparently expecting her to say that she had training on that model.  "Any Ford models?"  She shook her head again and he gaped more, quite out of all proportion in her opinion, all she had done was reassemble it, it was not like she had designed the thing.  After a minute, he wrote another note.  "Want a job?"

 


 

 

The rest of the day was spent familiarizing Asami with the precise layout of the garage, which unfortunately left Petuwaq and Korra with nothing much to do, as this had now progressed to work and not the fun companionship they had enjoyed the day before of following John around or working with Claire (Who, Korra learned when she asked, had declined to be at the garage today).  Soon they found themselves outside where Korra had been working with Claire, sitting in the same chairs she had set up the day before and without anything to do.  In the future Petuwaq would likely just drop Asami off in the morning and return to pick her up in the afternoon, no need to wait around all day, but since it was already after 1:00 and they would likely be leaving before close of business it did not seem worth it to leave and just come back.  That left them likely three hours to kill and...what would they do?  Despite having lived together for three days now this was actually the first time Korra and Petuwaq had just sat side-by-side with nobody else present and nothing to do, and without some startling new bit of technology to fascinate over.  They briefly played the game he had shown her while they were waiting in the office (He had called it Rock/Paper/Scissor and it was easy enough to learn, although she kept trying to throw 'Fire' by instinct), but that could only go on for so long.  Eventually they settled into awkward silence and....Petuwaq brought out the notepad.

 

"Are you and Asami together?"

 

The bald question caught Korra off-guard, and not just for one reason.  So far Petuwaq had actually not tried to pry too much into their history; part of it was their difficulty in communicating (Note writing was hardly conducive to lively conversation) but part of it was also that he seemed hesitant to dig up what they did not want to volunteer, and that he would ask so directly startled Korra.  But Korra was also off-guard because he was the very first person to have asked about her and Asami.  It seemed so much longer with all that had happened, but barely a month had passed since they embarked on their vacation to the Spirit World.  One month and a journey to a different world, having survived both on a desolate icy tundra and a wild forest, staying with captors in a military base and also friends in a welcoming home, and.....through all of it, Asami had been beside her.  But what did he mean by 'together'?  There were so many possible ways of classifying a relationship, so many ways to define and label and categorize, so many ways of saying the exact same thing with ten thousand different meanings, and......

 

"Yes, we are together."

 

 Whether in this strange, new world, which was rapidly becoming no longer strange or new, or back in the world they hadcome from, her simple presence made it 'home'.  Petuwaq did not say anything further, not even via note, but he nodded his head.  The he raised his hand again, made a fist, and they resumed the Rock/Paper/Scissor game.

 


 

 

It was hours later, after John had shown Asami around to the business aspects of the garage and marked off what she would need to work, that she walked outside to find Korra and Petuwaq dozing in their chairs.  Laughing, she nudged them both awake and gestured to leave.  They all bid farewell to John and Mister Soucy, who still seemed sandbagged from Asami's demonstration before, and were about to leave, when a sound caught Asami's attention.  It was an engine, but this did not sound like any of the cars that they had heard before.  Instead it sounded similar to the motorcycles that the Equalists and Republic City Police had used, and indeed it was one, which they could see cruise down the street.  However, this was to the old Equalist bikes what a modern airship was to the old Fire Nation war balloons.  The Equalist bikes had been light and fast, but half the reason they were fast was because they were so light; small engines working with a light frame and limited capacity.  They were maneuverable and quick, perfect for city operations, but they had no durability for rough handling, no compensation for additional weight; if you tried to ride one from Republic City to Yu Dao you would break down halfway there, and if you had somebody else riding with you (In her mind she could feel Korra sitting behind her, feel her arms wrapped around her for balance, feel...) the bike transformed from a fast, nimble machine to a plodding behemoth.  This motorcycle, however...Asami was already itching to have her fingers buried in its engine, she could feel its power.  Part of that was deliberate, she knew (From sound alone it was clear that there was an artificial enhancement, likely to make it sound even more powerful than it was), but even discounting that the air was humming with its energy, she could feel it calling out to be released.  She suddenly realized that it had been nearly a month since she had been behind the wheel of a car, any car, nothing to move fast and smoothly under her complete control, and now with that beautiful machine in front of her...

 

"Asami, if you don't stop staring at her soon I'm going to become jealous."

 

Asami jerked and realized that she had been staring for almost a full minute.  Not only that, but the rider had gotten off and Asami felt herself blush at the realization that it was an attractive woman, and she had essentially been staring at her as well.  The woman was walking over, and as she removed her helmet....this had to be John and Claire's mother.  The resemblance was not as definite as between John and his father, who might have just been older and younger versions of the same man, but it was still clear.

 

"Sorry," she murmured to Korra, but even then her eyes were dragged back to the motorcycle.

 

"You know, if you go over to say 'hi' she might let you take a look at it.  Or you could stand here with your tongue hanging out," and Korra actually shoved Asami forward.

 

Laughing now, Asami walked over to the woman with Petuwaq to make the introductions.  "Bonjour," she said (They had learned that much), and then Petuwaq took over and they spoke back and forth.  Smiling, she expansively indicated the motorcycle and Asami knelt down beside it, running her fingers over the shining metal and smooth leather.  It had a V-engine and a chromed flare swinging off either side, and Asami felt that she had fallen in love all over again.  She stood back regretfully, wanting nothing more than to hop on it right then and there, and followed Korra and Petuwaq back to his car for the ride back his house.

 

"Korra, I would give up 10% of my company to have a bike like that," and she said it with such earnestness that for half a second Korra actually believed her.

 

"Well then, we'll need to get you one," and off Asami's laugh she insisted, "You have a paying job now, and I'll find one soon, and then we can get you that machine and ride off to wherever the road takes us.  Just imagine; you, me, and the open road before us...uh, just remember that you better drive.  Besides, that way I get to hold on tight." At that, Korra gently turned Asami around (Awkward in the cramped back seat when they were both bound by the safety belts) and reached around her front, clasping her hands across Asami's stomach.  "And then....the whole world...."

 

Asami's eyes closed of their own accord and her mind drifted, and she could see them on a long, straight stretch of highway, with Korra's arms wrapped around her just like right now, and she opened the throttle wide....

Chapter Text

When they arrived back at the house, Korra and Asami noticed that there was a new car parked alongside, not familiar from the past few days, and they remembered that Petuwaq had mentioned his father would be arriving home.  They also remembered that Kunik had apparently been arguing with him on the phone two days before, how would he react to them living in his home?  The extreme awkwardness the situation loomed large as they considered that they had essentially moved into his house when he had never even met them before. How would Asami have reacted if she came home from a business trip and she had found Mako's family living in her estate without even being consulted?  With trepidation that dwarfed what they had felt preparing to escape from captivity aboard the airplane, they followed Petuwaq inside.

 

His father (They presumed) met them at the door, and if he did not look absolutely ecstatic to meet them, at least he bore a polite smile.  Kunik was with him, fielding almost the exact same expression, and it was not hard to guess that they had been....discussing....the situation already.  Still, he introduced himself genially enough ("Henri", apparently) and they were all welcomed in.  As they sat down to dinner later, Korra could not help but reflect on the bizarre nature of their tableau.  By all appearances this was a normal family dinner, but they had only even met Kunik three days ago, still could not understand one another, and there was still so much about this world that she and Asami did not understand.  What were the customs in these situations?  How did people react?  The meal was eaten in semi-uncomfortable silence, and what little dialogue there was had the sound of meaningless pleasantries and formalities.  Towards the end, Henri began to speak with a very slight harshness to his voice, but then Petuwaq said something himself which got a very startled reaction from both Kunik and Henri, who turned to Asami with expressions of....not quite 'shock', but clearly surprise.  Whatever information had just been exchanged had shifted the mood almost completely, and by the time the table had been cleared (Korra and Asami graciously volunteered to perform the cleanup, especially since they had been cooked for and served) the atmosphere was noticeably brighter.  By the time they retired to their room for the evening, Henri almost looked happy.

 

"So, tomorrow you actually start working?" Korra asked as they readied for bed.

 

"Yeah, Petuwaq's going to drive me over in the morning.  Although..should I maybe walk over?  It's not that far, and I can't ask him to drive me every day, he's already been our chauffeur for too long and he said he needs to get a job as well."

 

"Hey, as long as he's available, why turn it down?"  Korra hesitated for a moment, "He's really a nice guy.  I'm sure he doesn't mind, and soon we'll know the ins-and-outs around here and can give him a break.  The one thing I'm worried about is what am I going to do now?"  She pouted with such exaggerated despair that Asami had to fight the urge to hug her for comfort, laughing instead.  "I can't exactly follow you to work every day."

 

"Maybe they could find something for you to do at the garage?"  Asami suggested hopefully, but Korra shook her head ruefully.

 

"I don't have your magic fingers, if we studied for a year I might be able to touch one of those engines without breaking it in half, and I don't think they've got anything else for me.  Besides, we can't just take charity from everybody we meet here.  I'll think of something to keep me busy, and maybe I'll get an epiphany.  There's got to be something I can do around here to help earn my keep."

 

"Of course there is.  In a week you're going to be mayor."  Asami grinned as she lay down, and Korra leaned in to kiss her forehead before getting into bed beside her.

 

"Let's hope not, I think I'd go insane trying to deal with politics even more than I already do. Then again, if I was actually in charge like that I wouldn't need to deal with Raiko or anybody else looming overhead.....there's potential there."

 

"But you'd probably need to give plenty of speeches, don't forget," and Asami had to laugh at Korra's sudden revulsion.  "Okay, let's just forget the whole thing in that case."

 

"Deal.  Go to sleep, you've got a big day tomorrow."

 

"Goodnight Korra."

 

"Goodnight Asami."  Korra leaned in again and rested her head in the crook of Asami's neck and lightly touched her lips to skin there, just holding the pose and absorbing the warmth of her skin, then she closed her eyes and let herself drift off to sleep.

 


 

 

The next morning started almost as part of a routine, like they had not just stumbled into this land a bare few days ago.  Korra and Asami ate with the family at the communal breakfast, they dressed in a new set of Petuwaq's sisters clothes (That had to change soon, they realized), and then Petuwaq drove Asami to her new job, from which he planned to then start his own search.  Kunik and Henri themselves left a few minutes later, and suddenly Korra found herself alone in the house and oddly unsure of what to do with herself.  Kunik had shown her where to find pre-prepared food to eat during the day when she got hungry, and Petuwaq had shown her how to work the TV, but she did not expect to have lunch for hours and she did not feel comfortable with the strange device just yet.  To go to a mover with friends, even one as fantastical as they had seen two nights before, was familiar enough, but she was unsure if she wanted to watch a mover alone when she was still a little unsure if she could be seen through it as well.  Although, who knew what kind of amazing the TV that might have?  She had never imagined visuals like she had seen at the mover could exist outside of the Spirit World, and in the Spirit World she would have had to be dealing with them in person.  To be able to detach and enjoy something so amazing while not also fearing that it might decide to step on you.....Korra could feel her resistance to the TV crumbling.

 

Fortunately (Or unfortunately), she heard the ringing of the doorbell just as she was about to succumb and pick up the control.  Wondering who might be at the door (And picking up the collection of notes that Petuwaq had pre-written in French that morning before he left to cover some general issues that might arise with nobody around to translate), Korra was very surprised to find Claire and three other young women outside.  She hesitated before inviting them in (This was not her house), but from conversation Kunik had seemed to know Claire and John's family, so she would likely not disapprove, and Korra beckoned them inside.

 

"I know that Asami is starting to work at the garage today, and I though you might be lonely, so me and my friends wanted to stop by."  Claire made the round of introductions (Joanne, Renee and Allie), and the other women seemed friendly enough, so Korra was ecstatic at the company.  There were few things as empty as an empty house.

 

They talked amongst themselves for a bit, and then one of them (Renee, if Korra had gotten the names correct) asked a question through Claire (Who seemed to be the only one who could write in English).  "Claire says you were the one in the park on Sunday?"  Korra smiled and nodded and they all 'oohed' and 'ahhed', and one of them brought out one of those tiny phone/TV devices and played the recording again, and they were all excitingly discussing what it showed.  Korra could not contribute much to the conversation itself, but she could appreciate the accolades, and she enjoyed the approval.  With all the struggles over the years, and the way new problems always seemed to grow right out of the old ones, sometimes it seemed like all she got was criticism and contempt.  This innocent admiration, from something as small as saving a single person, could mean a whole lot.

 

"You're teaching Claire fighting?"  Allie asked, and Korra nodded again (Although she would have disagreed with 'fighting' if she had had the language skills.  Bending was not just about fighting), although...she noticed that Claire seemed a little hesitant today, with a very different withdrawn energy than she had had two days before.

 

"Demonstrate?"  Korra asked, and was surprised at just how enthusiastic the response was from everybody.  Did nobody in this town practice any form of movement?  Was it that alien to them?  Quickly, she lead them outside to the front of the house (There was a small yard in back, but the ground was very uneven and ill-suited to a demonstration) and considered how to perform.  She had started Claire on basic waterbending forms, but that lacked the energy that a crowd of observers merited, and she decided on a different approach.  Waterbending and airbending both operated on curves, instead of the straight lines of earthbending and firebending, but where waterbending had circles, airbending had spirals, and where waterbending was slow, airbending required speed.  After making sure that she had the proper space, and picking out a 'center' point, she began.

 

Her spiral was small at first, not even as large as her own pace, but in five steps it had expanded, and in five more steps she was now spinning across the yard with her back straight and her arms up in a soft guard, then...when she began to shift into an active stance that crossed through her spiral she could actually hear a few gasps from the observers.  As she twisted through the center she added another spiral, beginning to pivot on her feet even as she continued to move within the larger spiral, and she began to carve out a third with her upper body.  She spun in her three spirals and considered adding a fourth, Tenzin had long since shown her how to spiral up as well, but that would have necessitated her airbending and...actually, why not add a fourth spiral?  Just as bending was not only about fighting, it was also not just about manipulating the elements, and any forms that could be executed by bending the elements should be able to be effected as well using just your body and mind.  She paused for just a moment, timing it to coincide with the end of one spiral so as to make it a part of the form itself, and then decided to try it.  If she was going to try and get along without her bending as much as she could in this world she would need to figure this out eventually, and now was as good a time as any.  If she did not get it...well, then she did not get it, and that was not such a big problem at all.  The time when a single failure dominated her thoughts was long behind her.

 

She leapt.

 

To Korra it was almost like a tiny hop, compared to the heights that she could reach with her airbending (Or even by manipulating the other elements to assist her) it was no higher than climbing onto a step, but it was high enough.  As her body worked through her primary spiral, and her legs and arms each worked through their own spirals, she twisted in the air, twisting at the waist and spinning around her own center, and for just one second she had all four spirals working together, each one complementing the other three and lending them their own motion.  Then she came back down to the ground, landing easily right in the exact center point she had picked out when she began.

 

Total silence greeted her and she was momentarily disappointed (She was hoping for some kind of reaction), but when she rose and looked at her four observers she was met by four expressions of complete incredulity, even more than when she had stopped the car in the park.  They seemed incapable of speech and Korra felt the blood start to rush to her cheeks (She had not expected that kind of stunned reaction) when they suddenly exploded into loud and raucous cheers and applause, cheering as hard as any of the masses she had ever stood before.  Now Korra did blush and tried to wave it away, but they rushed over and began to babble at her.  She still could not understand them, but it was obvious regardless:  Would she teach them?

 

Of course she would, she nodded, and she would be happy to work with them right alongside Claire, who now looked just as excited as she had the last time Korra had worked with her.

 

But Korra also had another thought, which snuck into her thoughts very quietly and refused to leave.  Instructing her new friends would be a pleasure all by itself, and she needed no urging for that, but if they were this excited, who else in Ville de Moores might want to learn?  How many might there be?  And if there were enough, and she could figure out how to do it, perhaps she could help contribute to her own care after all.

Chapter Text

"Bonjour, madame. Se il vous plaît donner au propriétaire un moment et il se fera un plaisir de vous aider."  Asami smiled welcomingly at the woman who was shepherding what could only be described as a passel of kids, and gestured to the waiting room off the side of the workshop.  In her week at the garage she had picked up a few words of the language (Mainly mechanical terminology), and made sure to memorize a few key phrases for use in certain instances (Such as now), but she was far from conversant and left all customer interactions to Mr. Soucy (Who she now knew was not actually named 'Mister' Soucy).  Once the customer had made her way off the floor (And Asami was sure that none of the kids were going to escape and run right into a lift), Asami turned back to the repair she was working on, sliding beneath the truck frame to try and find why the supposedly four-wheel-drive vehicle was only giving two.  Paul had looked it over earlier and declared that the electronic diagnostics checked out (Asami still preferred to leave that to more experienced hands, she had not quite perfected her mastery over computers) so it was almost certainly a mechanical fault somewhere, and she had spent a good twenty minutes lying on the sled on her back trying to find the hink.  However, she had just resumed her inspection when she heard somebody else walk in and she slid out again to direct the newcomer to the waiting room as well.  He was probably the husband to the woman who had just entered a moment ago, still putting away his keys from parking their car.  "Bonjour, monsieur. Se il vous plaît donner au propriétaire un moment et il sera heureux de vous aider."  Asami had made sure to learn the proper gendered terms the first time she called a grouchy old man 'madame', and she effortlessly switched for this customer.  However, instead of turning aside as his wife had done he froze in place, not-quite-staring at Asami with not-quite-condescension, before he seemed to catch himself and he nodded and walked off.  Rolling her eyes ever-so-slightly, Asami again slid back under the truck.

 

She had been getting reactions like that since she started, and had not known what to make of it at first.  In Republic City she had always been dismissed because of her name and appearance, written off as the spoiled daughter of an industrialist whose pretty face covered an empty head, but nobody here knew of her history, and she certainly did not look like Heiress Asami Sato in the stained uniform she wore every day (Although she knew that Korra would say that she made even that look beautiful.  In fact, Korra had said that).  It was only on her third day, when one woman had actually tried to insist that one of the other mechanics deal with her car, that Mr. Soucy had explained that people did not expect a female mechanic to be competent, let alone one so young.  That had surprised Asami from almost every perspective.  She knew the Northern Water Tribe was still struggling with such concepts, let alone some parts of the Earth Kingdom, but the industrialized portions of the United Republic and Fire Nation had long since dealt with that.  In a mechanized society it was the mind, not the body, which mattered, and in her and Korra's exposure Canada looked as industrialized as any of their cities.  Plus, she had been accepted so swiftly by the people at the garage itself, why would people who were less trained feel they were better qualified to judge?  Mr. Soucy had actually laughed at that, deep chuckles that were just a little bit sad, and explained that his wife (That same woman on the motorcycle from the week before) had already beaten everybody into submission years ago when they questioned her skills, so the people who actually knew how to handle a wrench had been well prepared for her (And Claire, Jeanson, and their friends for that matter).  Everybody else, on the other hand.....

 

So, Asami ignored it as best she could (At least the language barriers prevented her from needing to actually speak to the people who gave her such looks) and went back to her work.  She finally tracked down the problem with this truck a half hour later (A cracked wheelhouse.  Not even completely broken, just cracked enough to prevent enough transfer to the rear axle), and when she could not find a replacement in storage she wrote up an order request that she passed along to John.  Without that part there was nothing much to do unless she completely rebuilt the distribution system (And Mr. Soucy had gotten pretty angry with her when she did that the first time they did not have a part, although Asami knew that he was impressed as well), and she signaled Paul to have the truck moved off to the side until they could get a parts delivery.  Then, realizing it was past midday, she decided it was time for lunch.  Instead of going to the break room, though, she walked out the back to the open grassed area.

 

Korra was there, working with Claire and Allie and Billy, guiding them through a waterbending form.  Normally they did not practice here (Mr. Soucy was as accommodating as he could be, but this was a place of business and the source of his livelihood, not even for his kids would he turn it into some sort of playground), but Claire was actually going to be working in the shop this afternoon when Steve left early (The rumor was that he was picking up something special for his Shelby) and Mr. Soucy had said okay since it was just the three of them and they were part of the crew which hung out at the garage in the off-hours anyway.  Thusly, for the first time since they had been here as just visitors, bending was being practiced out back.

 

The form they were working on was one of the most simple and basic progressions, not even the famed bending masters of legend could master their elements in a week, but even still Asami could appreciate the evenly shifting stances and poised balance.  She had always thought that water was the element which leant itself best towards calmness and inner stability, maybe even more than airbending despite the common perception, and as the four of them moved in near silence it was easy to get caught up in the moving-stillness.  Of course, it could be that she was predisposed towards water, and she smirked as she eyed Korra in particular.  As if she could feel the eyes upon her, Korra turned her face to Asami and gave her a small wave, just the barest wiggle of two fingers, but she did not say anything and she did not break the form, focused on completing the shift.  Moments later, when all four were in the same spot they had started but had reversed to face the opposite direction, they relaxed and broke apart.  Korra spoke a few brief words of encouragement and approval, then walked over to Asami.

 

"They seem to be doing very well," Asami said.

 

"They are," Korra could not keep the pride out of her voice, mixed with a little relief--in this past week was the first time she had ever actually tried to train a group, and she had half-feared what could result, "I don't know if we just happened to bump into the very best, or if everybody here works so well, but they're picking it up very easily, even if we're still bumping over the lessons I can't just act out.  Especially Claire, I think this is something she's wanted to do for a long time.  She hangs on every word...even the ones she can't understand."  Korra turned to where Claire was going through the form again by herself when the other two were sitting and drinking glasses of water.  "She's got something really driving her."

 

"I think she does," Asami said, but she did not elaborate and Korra did not see the way Asami slyly looked at her out of the corner of her eye.  Asami had recognized Claire's fascination with Korra the first time she had watched them train, and it was so easy to recognize because Asami knew that she had borne the exact same expression herself when she watched Korra perform years ago.  The athleticism and grace, the way Korra's body would stretch taut like a bow string as she extended and relax like silk as she retracted....Asami well understood how anybody could fall under that spell.  Korra herself, however, seemed to have no idea that Claire wanted anything besides bending instruction, and Asami felt no need to clarify the situation.  Claire was young, in all the ways that counted more than just age, and Asami trusted Korra implicitly.  Years ago she had looked with suspicion at the way Mako had fawned over Korra (Accurate suspicions, as it turned out), but none of them were the same people they were then, not even Mako, wherever he was.  Now, Asami just wished for Claire to have an easy passing to her infatuation, without heartache.

 

"I just wish it turned out there was a market to training like I thought there was."  Korra, completely oblivious to Asami's thoughts, had continued speaking.  "With the way everybody was freaking out I expected to just say 'Hey, I'm starting to teach' and money would fall at our feet."

 

"I'm sure if we give it time it will happen, but can you really blame people for not throwing money at you?  Would you pay somebody to teach you if it was some stranger who tried to hold a class in some other stranger's back yard?"

 

"Well....no, I guess not, but....it's different!"  Korra's tone was trying to be indignant, but she could not quite pull it off.

 

"Come on, admit it, you thought that since it was the Avatar teaching nobody would care about the rest, right?  Admit it!" There might have been a poke to the ribs involved here.

 

"Okay, fine, I admit it!  But I really can't change that, either, we don't have a gym or training area, so we've got to work with what we've got and...for me, this is all I've got, bending is all I'm good at---and I mean when it comes to doing something to make money with, not in a self-criticizing 'I don't have a place in the world' way, so you don't need to say it!" And Asami's mouth clicked shut as Korra pre-empted her with a glare.

 

"No...I was going to say you need to....not worry about...the future...." And Korra's continued glare cut off Asami's ramble and dragged a laugh out at how exactly Korra had pegged what she would have said.  "Seriously, it was a good idea, and it still is, we just need to refine it a bit.  Maybe find some place to actually use as a training ground and set up a real training regimen. Until then, we don't really need more money."

 

"Yeah, we don't need it, but I still feel bad at the way we're living off the Firmin's.  They've been so great about letting us stay with them, and I just wish I could help out a bit to pay them back."

 

"And you will, just not right away.  Okay?"

 

"Okay," and Korra smiled at how easily Asami could cheer her up (Admittedly not a very hard task considering how well things were going in general), then walked her over to the small table set up near them where the three burgeoning bending masters were eating lunch.  "Join us?"

 

"It's a date," Asami said, and even she did not notice the way Claire's eyes widened when she caught sight of Asami and Korra walking over hand-in-hand.

 

Afterwards, when Asami had eaten her fill and spoken with the others outside (She was growing used to the taste of these foods very quickly now, her sandwich meat had reminded her of turkey-duck), she walked back into the garage to finish out her shift, accompanied by Claire for her shift.  As she did, she caught sight of Mr. Soucy up front apparently arguing with a customer who had brought in a motorcycle.  They did not deal very often with motorcycle repairs, too many different requirements, and from a distance it looked to be in very bad shape, and she wondered just what this man wanted done.  Then she understood when she saw the man wheel it off to the side and Mr. Soucy pull out what she had learned was a checkbook, writing him out a payment.  This was not a maintenance request, but a sale, probably for parts or personal tinkering; Asami had not seen Mrs. Soucy since that one day a week ago, but from all she had heard she probably enjoyed fixing up and tinkering with a motorcycle just for the pleasure of it.

 

Now, however, Asami had work to do, and John waved her over to a small sedan that had been brought in earlier in the day.

Chapter Text

"Explain something to me," Korra said.

 

"Hmmmm?"  Asami was, at that moment, trying to reconnect the transmission on the motorcycle that she had been tinkering with for a few days now, and all she could do was grunt at Korra behind her.

 

"You've just spent all week here working on cars, and now that the shop is closed today you come back and keep working.  Why?"

 

Asami strained briefly, tightening the connection, and then relaxed and fell back on her haunches, reaching up to wipe off her brow.  The motorcycle had been in as bad a shape as it looked when it had been pushed in, which was surprising considering that it was not that old. It was also absolutely filthy, and it had taken her two days just to clean it out enough to begin proper repairs.  Now, after days of steady work, she was beginning to approach the idea that it might one day be functional again.  "It's not work, this is for me," she said to Korra.

 

"I get that, I mean why are you doing this for you?"  Korra's voice was open, like she wanted a peek inside Asami's mind.

 

"I've always loved the simplicity of working with my hands.  A joint seals together with another joint and they're a single whole.  All the parts combine together to make an engine.  The engine fits into the car.  Every piece has its place, and they all work together, and the rules don't change.  Even back home, just knowing that I could take something apart and put it back together again, that I had control, was refreshing.  That's part of it...."

 

"And the other part?"

 

Asami paused for a moment before she answered.  "This motorcycle here right now is almost falling apart," and she ran her fingers along its side, "and I don't even want to know what they were doing to get so much gunk in the intake valves, but when I'm through with it it's going to shine like the sun.  Whoever Mr. Soucy sells it to is going to be able to ride her to the ends of the earth if she wants, and I'll be the one to make that possible.  To see something this badly mistreated come back to life in my hands....that's one of the things I always loved about engineering.  Creating and building, just for the sake of making something new, it feels like giving something wonderful to the world."

 

She had closed her eyes during her speech, lost in the future roar of the engine, and then she felt Korra's hands on the side of her face, tilting her head backwards.  Korra leaned in above her and their lips touched briefly, before Korra whispered, "You are something wonderful in the world," and she leaned in again.

 

Before they could get lost in each other, though, they were jogged out of their reverie by hooting and cheering from all around them.  The jumped in their seats and pulled apart, looking around bashfully at the normal crowd of friends and car enthusiasts that gathered on Sundays when the garage was closed, and who all seemed to be enthusiastically looking at the two of them.  They grinned to cover up their reddening faces and turned back to the motorcycle as the observers continued to give good-natured shouts. In a few minutes they had calmed down themselves and turned back to their own work.  Except for John, who had been showing Pete how to change an oil filter (Pete would never become an expert mechanic, he did not have the training or the innate talent, but with how much time he had spent at the garage over the past few weeks he was starting to learn the essentials, and they were showing him how to handle the basics).  John was staring at the two of them with mouth agape, and Pete had to actually nudge him to bring his attention back to the present.  He turned to Pete and asked him something in a harsh whisper, and seemed completely flummoxed at Pete's nonchalant nod and shoulder shrug.  Korra and Asami, however, did not notice their exchange at all, and were very intently focused on not looking up or around them at all.

 

From the other side of the garage came a small shout of surprise, and everybody looked over to see one of the hangers-on dash out of the break room holding his phone in his hands and talking excitedly.  Whatever he was saying had him speaking too rapidly for Korra and Asami to understand (Even when somebody was speaking slowly and calmly the best they could manage was the vague gist meaning), but it got a lot of attention from everybody else and several started pulling out their own phones, some of them turning to stare at Korra and Asami as well.  Curious, they both walked over to Jeanson, who had her phone out as well, and watched as she used its ability communicate (Their ability to send data wirelessly was something they both still had trouble appreciating, it was so far beyond anything they had seen back home) to bring up what they had called a 'web page', this one for CTV Montreal News and...they both started as they realized that on the web page was that video of Korra stopping the car in the park on their second day in Ville de Moores.  The writing beneath it seemed to be a news article about the event, and it talked of how nearly three weeks before an ill woman had suffered a seizure while driving and an unidentified person had boarded the car, saved her life and stopped the vehicle.

 

Most of the people present had already heard the story, but they began applauding again anyway.  Jeanson suggested that they contact the news station and identify Korra (She could be famous!), but they waved off the idea and did their best to disentangle themselves from the mass and retreat to where they could speak in private.

 

This could be bad.

 

Korra and Asami had assumed that only people nearby had seen the recording, friends and relatives that had been told how to locate it, but they knew that 'Montreal' was a city quite distant to the south, and if the video had spread to there it might have gone even farther.  It had been so easy to forget in the past month, but they were not completely welcome in this land, and they expected that they were still being sought by the military.  They could not imagine why they had not seen evidence of a search already, with their pictures splashed across all TV screens of the area.  The most they had ever noticed was a brief news article which mentioned their transportation flight from the North Pole, and it just said that the flight had suffered mechanical difficulties that almost resulted in a crash during a "standard supply run to Station Alert".  Nothing else.  But now....the recording had been jerky and blurry, and Asami doubted that even she would have been able to identify Korra if she had not already known it was her in the image, but if the military was searching the area for unusual occurances.....yes, this was bad.

 

That night they began to make preparations to leave.

 


 

 

It was at dinner that they broached the subject to the Firmin's that they were planning to leave.  Henri had left for another business trip (Apparently these were quite frequent; the details had not translated very well, but he was some sort of travelling salesman) so it was just Kunik and Pete again (It was in the last week that they had learned her preferred 'Pete' to 'Petuwaq').  They tried to bring it up casually, but apparently the two had learned Korra and Asami too well in the time they had spent together, and saw right through it.

 

"What's wrong?" Kunik asked.  "Are you in trouble?  We've never tried to pry, but are you running from somebody?"

 

"No, no trouble," Korra said, doing her best to lie convincingly (Which was not very convincing), "but we have imposed on you for too long and it's time."

 

"We've wanted to explore your land," Asami chimed in, "and thanks to you we can understand enough to get by.  We are also ready to begin looking for a way home."

 

"Look, whatever your problems are you can tell us.  We'll help you,"  Considering what he had seen the two of them do, Pete was not sure exactly what he could do to help, but he was willing to try.  "We don't care if you're in trouble with the law."

 

It actually took a while for them to understand what 'in trouble with the law' meant (Idioms often do not translate very well), but they both shook their heads.  "It's nothing like that, but it is time for us to go.  For our own sakes and....and for yours."  That got a reaction, and for a while Kunik and Pete spoke together too quickly and intensely for Korra and Asami to follow, apparently arguing over....something.

 

Finally, Kunik turned back to them with a resigned expression, "Our concern is not an issue, you do not need to go."

 

Korra felt tears begin to well up behind her eyes, touched that this woman who was still a relatively new acquaintance could be so welcoming, and at that moment even the thought of going home did not seem as appealing as just staying with these wonderful people forever, but.... "It is time for us to go."

 

They went back and forth for another ten minutes, with Kunik and Pete doing everything they could think of to persuade them to stay, or at least give more details, but ultimately they accepted that Korra and Asami could not be dissuaded.  "When will you leave?"

 

"Not for a few days," Asami said, as they had no plans to go back to foraging in the forest.  "We will gather supplies and procure transportation.  Do not worry, we are not going to disappear into the night and...and we will keep in contact after we have left.  We have your telephone number and we will also write often."  Like Korra, she struggled to hold back her tears.

 

"Okay," Kunik finally said, "okay.  Just remember that you can always return to us if you have any problems.  Our house is open."

Chapter Text

After deciding that they had to leave, things moved startlingly fast.  The next morning Asami told Mr. Soucy that she could only work for the rest of the week, as her and Korra's time in Ville de Moores was coming to a close and their families were sending them to a different part of the country.  It was obvious that he knew that their story about visiting for the summer was at least partially false, but he did not try to dig the truth out of her.  He was not even particularly upset that she was leaving after working only for a month.  Instead, he smiled graciously and wished her luck, and joked that his repair efficiency was about to drop in half after she left.

 

Korra in turn told everybody that she had been instructing in the bending forms that they would likewise have to halt in the coming days, although she might not have been quite as sanguine about it as Asami was.  Claire's friend Renee had actually learned about a small dance studio in the next town that was used only sporadically and could have been a perfect site for an actual class, and Korra had planned to visit it this week to see if she could use it.  To have the idea of a bending school be so close to realization and then fall apart grated on her, even though they would be leaving the town anyway even if it had already begun.

 

Then, Korra and Asami started collecting what they would need once they left.  They had managed to survive in the wilds easily enough, and could have done so again if need be, but they had no desire to forsake the inhabited world or spend the rest of their lives hiding in the forest.  Plus, though they had been willing to not rush headlong when they had still been trying to understand the people around them, if they were ever going to discover a way home they would need to explore this society, and that could not be done living in the woods.  So, whatever happened, they would be remaining amongst the people of this world ('Canadians' they had learned was the term) and needed to prepare for it.

 

After they had forced what they could into Kunik's unwilling hands for the food and clothing she had given them, Asami had a few hundred 'dollars' collected from working at the garage.  She was not sure of their exact value, but Pete had seemed impressed, especially after he said that it was 'under the table' (What that meant exactly Asami was unsure of, but it seemed to refer to how she was paid).  With that money they gathered what supplies they could purchase; light and flexible backpacks, their own clothing, and assorted bits of equipment and technology they might need (Including English/French and Chinese/French translation guidebooks.  Discovering those had made their conversations so much easier).  Kunik had even gotten them one of the tiny, portable phones everybody else had, explaining that it came with service already pre-paid and they could use it to call back or for emergencies.  All that they brought of their own, which when it came down to it was all that they owned in the entire world, was the hide clothing they had kept, the English/Chinese dictionary and map they had brought from the woods....and Joo Dee's knife, which they still carried.  Even their stone chest they were going to leave behind, as they had learned that people did not pull carts down the street here.

 

Leaving was hardest on Asami, and Korra could tell how badly she wanted to stay.  Korra had never lacked for family.  Her own parents had loved her when she was a child, and after being taken away by the Order of the White Lotus she had grown close to many of their members, even if she had bristled under their restrictions and loneliness; Katara was almost like a second mother.  Then she had come to Republic City and been with Tenzin's family, who had been so open and welcoming, and she had met Mako and Bolin and Asami.  Always somebody there to support her, somebody to be by her side.  For all her difficulties in life, knowing that she was loved had never been one of them.  Asami, however...first she had lost her mother, then her own father had turned against her.  This time with Kunik and Pete and even Henri, filled with just such simple domesticity as eating meals together, learning about the world and laughing, had been a connection to a life that she had been so desperately wanting for so long.  To walk away from that.....but she had Korra with her, so she would not really be leaving her family at all.

 


 

 

"Korra?"  Claire's voice was tentative, soft, with none of the energy that she seemed to be bursting with every time Korra saw her.

 

"Oh, hey, Claire.  Have a seat, I'm just waiting for Asami to finish up inside."  Korra was sitting out behind the garage, where she suddenly realized she had spent a surprising amount of her time given she neither worked there nor took part in recreational tinkering.  This was to be Asami's final day of work, and they were planning to leave the following morning, so Korra had come by to say her own goodbyes to the crew here, even if she had never quite broken into their clique the same way Asami had.

 

"Yeah, I just saw her.  She said you're...you're really leaving tomorrow?"  There was a catch to her voice, but it was so soft that Korra did not even notice.

 

"We're leaving in the morning.  Our...uh...parents are waiting for us in Montreal."  Even now they tried to keep up the pretense that this was all a planned vacation, although Korra knew that almost everybody (Including Claire) had to have figured out that there was more going on.

 

"That's nice, tell them 'hi' from me.  And...are you going to be visiting again any time soon?"  Now the catch was deeper, more noticeable, and Korra realized that she was fighting back tears.

 

"I'm not sure, our plans aren't very set right now.  We'll probably be traveling around Canada for a bit, seeing the sights, being tourists." Korra tried to put a little bit of cheer into her voice.  "I'll send you a postcard, and we've got one of those cellies now so we can call, too."

 

Claire could not keep down a snort of laughter at the term 'cellie'.  "Thanks, I'd like that, but...I'm gonna miss you."  Now the tears started to fall, tiny pinpoints of water.

 

"Hey, don't worry.  I'm sure we'll stop back sooner or later and...why don't you call that dance place Renee was talking about?   I'm sure they can tell you how to find some kind of school near here to keep up your training, I know how much it meant to you and..."  Korra trailed off as Claire's tears started flowing a little bit faster, and she got up to pull her into a tight hug.  "Don't worry," she said again, "it will be okay.  Whatever it is, it will be okay, we'll---" and she was suddenly caught off guard as Claire leaned in to kiss her.

 

It was tentative and soft, like she was afraid that she would scare Korra off, and she held it for only a fraction of a second before she pulled back, tears still welling in her eyes.  She opened her mouth to say--

 

"Claire, what the hell?  We talked and you said....what the hell?"  John had walked out of the garage just then and stared at the two of them in shock.  When she saw him Claire stepped back from Korra and seemed to lose control, sobs shaking her body and her eyes began to stream freely.  Korra did not know what was going on, but she stepped between them and turned to face John, with her arms held out.

 

"Okay, hold on, let's all just--" but John stomped forward, face twisted in what might have been disgust and might have been anger.  "John, I don't think Claire--"

 

"Shut up you pédé," that was not a term Korra had heard before, but it clearly was not complimentary, "you did this and...and..." now he was definitely angry and he raised his arms.

 

Korra was absolutely confused and shocked at this bizarre transformation.  John had been one of the very first people they had met in this town and he had been nothing but helpful.  He and Claire had invited them to join their circle of friends mere hours after their first meeting, he had inveigled his father to give Asami a job, and Asami had said that he had been amazingly friendly and helpful while she was working.  Where was this sudden hostility coming from?  This anger?  Was he actually going to attack Claire, his own sister?  Was he going to attack Korra?  Over a stolen kiss?  Was that it?  Could that possibly be it?

 

Apparently so, as when he reached Korra his arms came up and...friend or no, Korra was not going to let him put hands on either herself or Claire.  Grasping his wrist, she leaned and twisted and he crashed to his knees with a gasp as she forced control from him.  Bending his arm around behind his back she held him for a second, then turned to look at Claire.  "What's going on?"  But Claire could not respond, standing there as she was wracked by silent sobs.  "Claire?  Claire!"  The shout seemed to finally break through, "What is going on?"

 

"I'm sorry, it's my fault, I'm sorry, it's just...I couldn't let you leave without...I know it's wrong, but Korra you're so amazing.  You're so amazing, and I know it's wrong, but...I'm sorry..."

 

Realization slowly dawned on Korra, and even if she did not understand everything (The customs of this place were still a vast mystery) she understood enough.

 

Ever since they had realized that cameras could be almost anywhere in this world Korra had done her best to restrain herself from bending at all, even when they were alone, and even over something minor.  Now, however, without letting go of John she raised her right hand and began to draw together the tears that were running down Claire's face, streaming them over to herself as Claire and John gaped at her.  When Claire was dry Korra ribboned the tears together into a flowing circle, then released John and stepped in front of him, holding the water in front of his face.  "These are your sister's tears, John.  The water of her body.  A body with the same blood as yours, from the same flesh as yours.  Your ways are still strange to me, and there is much I do not understand, but this I do understand: The tears of your family should be soothed, never started.  Never caused by your own word or deed.  The bonds you are born with are carried with you for all of your days unless you sunder them."  Korra did not know where these words came from, her mastery over the language was no mastery at all and they did not sound liker her regardless, but they were right and true.  As she spoke she let the circle of tears expand, and expand, until now it was flowing around John's head instead of in front of his eyes.  Then she let the waterbending collapse and the tears dripped down onto him.  He jerked backwards, falling over onto his back, and Korra leaned over him.  "Family, John.  Always, family."  And for one instant, one flickering instant that was contained just between two moments of time, her eyes glowed and she shone down atop him.  He jerked again, and would have fallen again if he was not already on his back, and closed his eyes.

 

Korra turned behind her to Claire, who was now staring at her with an open-jawed expression that could not seem to decide if it wanted to be fearful or reverent, and Korra felt a cold shiver down her spine as she remembered Joo Dee with that same expression before her collapse.  Korra also remembered all the times that Claire had stared at her and now recognized what had been going on behind her thoughts.  Slowly, she stepped over and pulled her close into a tight embrace, resting Claire's head against her shoulder.  "It's okay. It's okay,"  Then, moving as carefully as she would to avoid frightening a baby bird, Korra leaned over and kissed Claire on her cheek, just as lightly as Claire had kissed her before.  She heard Claire gasp at that, and in a brief moment of levity Korra thought that she might float away with how much she inhaled.  As she stepped away Korra smiled, and was relieved to see her crack the tiniest smile in return.  "You're a wonderful, beautiful woman Claire, and there is nothing to fear from the draw between two people.  You have nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to regret," and she was rewarded with the tiny crack of smile coming close to being an actual grin.

 

"Good.  When John wakes up....I hope he'll be better, but no matter what he says, remember who you are.  Okay?"  And when Claire nodded, Korra took her arm-in-arm and walked her back into the garage.

 


 

 

With a satisfied sigh, that had also a touch of regret, Asami reached up and slammed closed the hood on the last car she was likely going to be working on for a while.  Fittingly, it was another one of those cars they called a 'Honda', just as Pete's car had been when she first started poking around, and it seemed proper that it be her final bit of repair work (Just a minor adjustment this time, barely enough to sate her mechanical urges).  Now that it was done, however, it was time for her to be leaving.  Carefully replacing all of the tools and parts she had used and collected during the day she cleaned her station, gave everything one last check over, and walked over to the office for her final goodbye with Mr. Soucy.  She had said goodbye to John a few minutes ago (Although she noticed that he had been extremely withdrawn and taciturn the past week, as if souring on their friendship) and he had walked out the back of the garage to say goodbye to Korra, so Mr. Soucy was all that remained.  Knocking on the door, she stuck her head in.

 

"Mr. Soucy?  I finished with the final tune-up and I think that's everything.  Before I left I wanted to thank you for all you've done for me over the past month, I appreciate you giving me a chance here."

 

"Come in Asami, come in.  You don't need to thank me, believe me.  I wouldn't have given you the time of day if you didn't deserve it, this shop keeps a roof over my head and I wouldn't just give somebody a job because my son asked even if he was some other son I just discovered I had.  You've got a natural gift for mechanics, if you spent another six months here I could retire and leave the whole place in your hands."

 

She laughed at the compliment (he was always very effusive) and leaned against the door frame.  "Well, even so, thank you anyway, it's been very nice having a place to go every day.  I said goodbye to John and Claire and everybody else already, so I think it'd time I head out."

 

"Before you go, there's the matter of your final pay."

 

"You don't have to, you've already--"

 

"Tut-tut, you did the work, you get reimbursed."  However, instead of reaching into the drawer where he kept the small strongbox that he paid her from each week he stood up and walked outside, beckoning her to follow him.  There, in front of the garage, with Steve actually finishing up a polish, was the motorcycle she had been restoring for the past two weeks.  "She's not exactly what I'd call tip-top yet (I really do not want to know what they were doing with this baby before they brought her to me), but she rides smoother than she has any business riding given how far she had to come, and I figure it's only fair since you put in almost all the work."

 

Asami was staring at the bike in something very nearly approaching shock.  She had never imagined, never even considered, that she would get something like this.  She had not even worked here for a full month, nowhere close to the value of a motorcycle like this, and she did not even have a valid license for this territory, and...Mr. Soucy reached out and quite literally placed the keys in her hand.

 

"To help you reach your parents just a little bit more easily than riding a bus," and he winked, and Asami wondered why they had ever bothered with such a ridiculous story.  Laughing wildly she pulled him into a hug, squeezing tightly, and then Korra and Claire walked out of the garage in time to see her gingerly reach out touch the bike...her bike.

 

"What's this?"  Asked Korra.

 

"It's ours, " replied Asami, and she grinned as widely as she had laughed loudly a second ago and pulled Korra into a bright, fierce kiss.  She could hear Mr. Soucy and Claire and Steve cough and mumble and shift their feet, but she did not care, and when they broke apart she turned back to Mr. Soucy again.  "Thank you so much."

 

"Just remember, whenever you're back in town I expect you here to help carry the slack," and he was smiling, and to Asami it looked like Claire was actually smiling even wider than anybody as she looked at her father's grin.  Then Asami mounted the bike, which started on the first kick, and she paused to just savor the thrum of the engine and power running through her.

 

The feel of Korra's arms around her as they rode back to the Firmin's house was everything she had imagined.

Chapter Text

The heavy oak door opened quietly and a uniformed NCO stepped out.  "They're ready for you, ma'am."

 

"Thank you, Corporal."  Lieutenant Judith Moon straightened up from her chair, checked to make sure her dress uniform was in its proper place, and preceded the NCO into what was essentially a courtroom.  It had none of the trappings of a trial of course, just a standard review office, but the three officers behind the desk had all the bearing of a military tribunal, and nobody was trying very hard to conceal that fact.  That came as no surprise, the lead-up had been quite clear, although what was surprising was that Lieutenant-Colonel Monke sat off to the side with....was that Major-general Antoine Saint-Amand?  She had never met him in person, but she recognized him nonetheless, and his presence was not something she had counted on.  Still, the sight of them did not change anything, and she halted before the tribunal, saluting crisply.  "Sirs, Lieutenant Judith Moon reports."

 

"At ease, Lieutenant."  Major Simmons sat in the center, which indicated he would probably be functioning as spokesman for the tribunal, although whether that meant he was actually in charge of the situation was another question entirely.  "Please, have a seat."

 

"Thank you, sir."  Moon sat slowly, first to make sure that she did not convey any nervousness, but also because she was still slightly uncertain on her feet.  Her rehabilitation over the past month had made great strides, but she was nowhere near her physical peak.

 

"Lieutenant, we have asked you here for a final review of your testimony regarding the circumstances surrounding the detection, capture, holding and subsequent escape of the unidentified foreign nationals referred to as 'Korra' and 'Asami Sato'.  Before we begin, do you have a statement you wish to make?"  Simmons' tone was guarded, and she was not sure if he was offering her an opportunity to pre-emtpviely defend herself, or if he was trying to get her to expose herself.  Either way, she shook her head and said, "No, sir, I have no statement to make".  Had she heard Colonel Monke and General Saint-Amand mutter something to each other at that?  She could not be sure, and dared not turn her head to check.

 

"Very well.  Lieutenant, you have stated definitively and for the record that you had no prior contact with these women before their arrival at Station Alert, where you were assigned as a guard and chaperone by your direct superior, Captain Margaret Sawyer.  To your knowledge these women had no functional understanding of either spoken English or French, nor any other language we are familiar with, and you are completely ignorant of how they communicated with each other."

 

"That is correct, sir.  I would like to point out that much of that is based on the statements of the Canadian Forces Language School, which had many conference sessions attempting to decipher their language, since I have not been trained in translation or foreign interactions.  It is true that I never noticed any recognition from them in response to any verbal communication, and for my part their words were completely incomprehensible."

 

"How did you learn to speak with them?"

 

"I never did, sir.  They recognized writing in Chinese on a lamp in their quarters and brought it to my attention, and from there to the CFLS, but I am not fluent in either reading or writing Chinese.  One of the technicians, his name was...Michel Rastrand?  I am not sure about that, please check...had a translation dictionary which I used to write out some very elementary instructions, but that was the extent of my conversation with them beyond hand signals."

 

"Were you, at any time, privy to information about their history, country of origin, or intentions?"

 

"I was present during their interviews with Colonel Monke and the CFLS and overheard several of their statements, but I did not receive any information beyond that.  What they said during those interviews, sir...I do not feel qualified to judge.  They referred to several people and organizations with which I am not familiar, and I do not know if they were perhaps speaking in a code system or there were translation confusions between them and us.  As it is, I do not have any knowledge of where they came from, how they got to the Arctic Sea, nor what their intentions were."

 

"Lieutenant, you have answered this next question several times already in our prior interviews, but I am going to ask it again to make sure that there is no confusion on either your part or any later analysis of this review.  Do you have any knowledge of the device Korra used to breach the transport during their escape, or any information regarding persons they may have contacted before or after their escape to arrange for their collection and transportation and seclusion after landing?"  The question was asked flatly, with no inflection, and she would have had a better chance identifying intention from a mechanical speaker than she did the officer in front of her.

 

"No, sir.  I state unequivocally that I have absolutely no information on how they managed to breach the hull of the airplane, what preparations they had taken prior to their actions, or how they managed to evade pursuit afterwards.  I still do not recall our transportation after landing, and I cannot say if it was in a ground or air vehicle, and I was not even aware that we had travelled any significant distance until I was informed of such after my rescue."

 

Now there was definitely muttering between Monke and Saint-Amand, and she could feel her stomach tightening as the Captain to Major Simmons' right pulled what looked like a plastic bag containing several pieces of paper out of a folder and passed it over.

 

"Lieutenant, these are two letters that were passed along at the time of your rescue.  They were both given to the civilian flier who radioed for the medevac, a Johann Sensonite, one with the instruction that it be passed on to you."  She had heard nothing about a letter or note, and made sure to keep her expression impassive despite her growing apprehension.  "They are both written in Chinese, and have both been translated.  The letter for Mr. Schmidt was brief and simply an expression of gratitude for his contacting the rescue services.  The letter directed to you was much more exhaustive, and thanked you for all of your assistance since their arrival at Station Alert.  Included in there was specific mention of your help in learning about our country, and your friendship."

 

She wanted to close her eyes, to take her time and reflect on just how much Korra and Asami had not appreciated how their simple word 'friend' would appear.  Instead she kept her gaze level, steady just above the heads of her tribunal.

 

"Sir, I have not previously been made aware of these letters, and so I cannot respond to them in an informed manner.  I will be happy to review them both and offer my interpretation, but at this moment all I can do is reiterate what I have already stated: I had no contact or knowledge of these persons prior to their arrival at Station Alert, I cannot identify what language they spoke, and I have no explanation for their motives or methods in escaping Air Force custody.  Furthermore, as you have already noted, I was assigned as their chaperone by Captain Swayer, along with several other airmen, and made no contact with them beyond my required duties.  I also made several reports to my superiors that I appreciated a potential threat based on their behavior which I took to indicate previous combat training.  Though you have not asked directly I will again make an unequivocal statement for what is I am sure a considered thought: I did not assist in their escape and made every effort to prevent it, and was in fact pulled out of an airplane without prep or parachute in the performance of those duties."  Her voice was still as even as it had been all along, bound by discipline and decorum, but there would have been no way to disguise the heat she was feeling.  Whether that heat was directed at the questioning officers or somewhere else, however, was a different question.

 

The three officers of the tribunal looked back and forth between each other, and they might have been communicating telepathically given how they spoke not a word, but they had apparently reached some sort of decision.  Major Simmons turned back to her and said, "Lieutenant, your actions and devotion to your duty beyond expected measures has been noted and is appreciated.  At this time we are not making any accusations, nor have any charges been filed alluding to collusion between you and these persons.  However, there remain several points of confusion in these matters that must be clarified."

 

"Yes, sir, I understand.  What was the next point of clarification?"

 


 

 

In her quarters later that night, a private room that should have seemed a luxury after the cramped barracks at Station Alert and then the wilderness and hospital, Judith Moon sat cross-legged on her bed, with her hands resting on her knees and her eyes closed in quiet contemplation.  It was not meditation, or at least not the structured and metaphysical meditation she had learned of, but instead just an attempt to order her thoughts and make sense of all that she had seen and experienced.

 

She could not tell her superiors what she had seen after leaving the plane.  That was not an option.  It was not even that she would not be believed or be mistaken for delusional, although that would certainly be the case, it was that....what had she seen?  It had been almost a month since she left the recovery ward, almost a month as she tried to accept the fantastic events, and even now....that same fiery, twisted, awful and glorious image came to her.  Those two majestic women (And how beautiful they looked in her memory, like a pair of goddesses) not bathed in light, but emitting it.  Shining like the sun and the moon, like every fantasy she had ever had as a child and every desire she had ever felt as an adult.  Her breathing was coming rushed now, sweat starting to seep from her pores, and with a smothered gasp she twisted from her position, breaking her concentration and panting as she held her head in her hands.  It was all she could do maintain control, to hold the sights at bay when she needed to function, and when she was alone....sometimes she wondered if she had indeed gone mad, and sometimes she wondered if it was madness to try and step away from their light.

 

What could she possibly say to anyone to convey just what she had lived with, the beings that she had touched with her own hands?  If she tried, she was half afraid she would just babble incoherently, and half afraid that she would wind up quoting scripture and shouting from a pulpit.  The more time passed, the more she felt her control slipping away, the more she felt subsumed in the drowning mire of this....whatever this was.  In no time at all, she was sure, she would not even be able to hold onto her control for the brief moments when she was still expected to act like a soldier.  It was almost a relief when she had realized that soon, those moments would no longer come at all.

 

She looked culpable, complicit and a conspirator.  She had spent the most time with them at Station Alert, been saved from falling to her death and delivered to rescue during their escape, and her story of the forest had so many holes in it that she was half-surprised she had not already been formally charged.  Her career was over, even if the court-martial had not taken place yet, and even if they never did make out a case for treason.  If she somehow avoided a dishonorable discharge she would still be on the beach, and then what?  The RCAF had been her life for more than fifteen years, her family more than her own family after she had left home at seventeen, and after she had mustanged up two years ago she had thought that it would be her path for decades to come.  What else did she have in the world?  What other place could there be for her?  What else was there?

 

That same image tried to resurface and she beat it down, refusing to let it in.

 

At least once it was all over, she could stop fighting this.  Let it just take over completely.  No need to hold on to whatever she could for when she was let out of her box to report and discuss and 'clarify'.  Then she could just surrender and.....when the image came up again she let it, and her eyes closed as her mind blazed with the starshine and the unearthly horror and beauty of gods.

Chapter Text

"Are you sure you know how this works?" Korra was eying the motorcycle with something almost like distrust.

 

"What?  Of course I...Korra, we rode it yesterday.  It's how we got back here." Asami was crouched next to it, sealing one of the saddlebags with the last of what they were bringing with them.

 

"I know, but now there's so much more stuff on it, so it's going to be heavier, and....and we're going to be riding for a lot longer, do you know all the rules of the road here?" Korra was no longer eying the bike itself, but her voice had the same warble, and Asami realized that it was not the motorcycle itself that was bothering Korra.  She just did not want to leave any more than Asami did.

 

"I know all the rules of the road, and how to control the motorcycle, and I have an atlas, and Pete showed me how to use the phone Kunik got us to get directions.  We're going to be fine...and so are they."  As she stood up, Asami turned around and pulled Korra in close; not strong or hard, but just to hold her tenderly.  "We're going to call them to check in, and they're going to tell us how their lives are going, and we're going to see the whole entire world.  So don't worry and let's get goi--oh, I almost forgot!"  And Asami dashed back into the house, leaving Korra standing a little confused and with her arms still comically wrapped around the space where Asami had been.  Less than a minute later Asami came out carrying what looked like a long, wrapped package, six feet long and very slender.  When Korra eyed it Asami just said "It's a surprise" and slid it into a holster along the bike's side, with it sticking up almost like a pennant.  "Now we're ready," she said, and she and Korra turned to Kunik and Pete, who had been watching them get ready for the past few minutes.  Or rather, Kunik had been watching them, while Pete seemed to be fighting a valiant but ultimately futile struggle against sleep, as he seemed on the verge of nodding off even while standing up.  It was still early, barely after dawn, and only Korra and Asami's imminent departure had managed to rouse him at all.

 

"Goodbye, thank you so much for everything you've done," Korra said as she hugged them both.

 

"We'll keep in contact and let you know where we are, so no need to worry," Asami, repeating what she had just said to Korra, as she hugged them as well.

 

"Make sure you do," Kunik said, "and remember to stop by when you're in the area again."  She held them just a little bit longer each, almost not wanting to let them go, as if they had been another pair of daughters instead of just houseguests for a month.

 

"Hmmghm," Pete said, and when Korra poked him in the stomach he seemed to jerk awake and become a little bit more coherent, "I mean, have fun out there, and I hope you find what you're looking for, I really do.  And if you do find a way home, don't forget about us."

 

"Never", Korra and Asami both said together, and then they turned back to the motorcycle, loaded down with the few supplies they had, and distinctively marked with that long package Asami had just brought out.  Together, they climbed on, Asami started it again on the first kick (No matter the world, not matter the equipment, no matter the tools, Asami Sato knows her engines)....and they were off.  In seconds Kunik and Pete were out of sight, and moments later the house itself had been obstructed, and they both turned forward to what lay ahead.

 

The ride back from the garage the night before had been relatively short (Ville de Moores really was a small town, barely more than a village), but now they headed out of town, towards the closest highway and they just drove.  The engine thrummed beneath them, broadcasting its power, and as the roads lengthened Asami opened the throttle wider and....she had not realized how much she had missed this until right now.  She had helped move cars around the garage, and started and stopped more engines in the past month than she had ever thought she would, but she had not felt this kind of power and control since before they even went to the Spirit World. The sensation as she leaned into her turns, the pull as she accelerated, the smoothness as she coasted on a downgrade, all combined into a sense of euphoria as she reveled in the movement.  Across her stomach, just like the night before, she could feel Korra's arms gripping tightly.  Not too tightly, not enough to hurt, but just enough for her to know that Korra was there, enough for her to feel that they were connected now, together in more ways than just the physical.  She felt her lips split apart and her mouth opening wide into a grin that nearly split her face in two.

 

Behind her, Korra was thinking not about this ride, but rather about the first time she had sat behind Asami as they drove.  It had been almost the first thing they had ever done together, only shortly after they had first met, back when Asami had been dating Mako and Korra (To be perfectly honest) had not thought too highly of her, dismissing her as just a pretty face with a wealthy father.  But when Asami had suggested they go to the Future Industries test track, and then she had convinced Korra to ride backseat with her in one of the new racers they had been testing....that had been when things changed.  It was four years ago now, and they would not even begin to realize what they meant to each other for almost a year afterwards, but as she had sat in the rear of that racer, feeling the engine thrum, she had begun to realize the power that Asami could control, and the skill with which she could wield it.  They had faced off against one of Future Industries' professional drivers, who did this all day every day, but Asami's victory in the race had never been in doubt, the thought that she might lose simply did not make sense.  Korra had only been a passenger, unable to effect the outcome in the slightest, but she had trusted herself into Asami's hands, letting the beautiful, passionate, adventurous woman carry them both to safety and victory.

 

Now, Korra leaned in just a little bit closer, and held on a little bit tighter, and her own grin spread ever wider as she felt the same power and control and boundless spirit break free and they soared down the road like they were flying.

 


 

 

They stopped for lunch (Or maybe late breakfast) a few hours later.  Asami wanted to look over the mechanics now that they had ridden the bike for more than just a mile, and after so long out from behind the control of a motor vehicle she wanted to make sure they did not overdo it on their first leg.  In the future they would probably find themselves eating at restaurants along the way (Although that raised the question of what they would do for a continuous source of funds after they had eaten through the money they had), but for their first rest break they pulled off to the side of the road and made a picnic out of the food that Kunik had prepared for them.  They unrolled the moose pelt which they had held onto (Properly washed after they had gotten out of the woods, of course), and they sat side-by-side, just watching the sky and other cars drive by, fingers intertwined and enjoying each other's silent presence.

 

"So, what do you have all wrapped up?" Korra asked.

 

"I told you before, it's a surprise."  Asami's voice was teasing, almost smug.

 

"We've been stuck together for two months now, and we're right now setting out to explore an entire world, and you're keeping secrets?"  Now Korra had affected a tone that was almost scandalized as she needled Asami.

 

"Not 'secrets', a surprise.  I've been working on it for a bit, but it's...it's not ready yet."

 

"Well, now I have to know what it is," and Korra got up to reach for the object of their discussion.

 

"Korra, no," and Asami quickly scampered over and grabbed it before Korra could take hold of, cradling it against her body.  "It's not ready and...and I want it to be ready."

 

"Okay, whenever you think it's ready," and Korra raised her hands to acquiesce....and at that exact moment there was a sudden gust of wind and part of the wrapping (That had been held in place against the motorcycle during the much-windier ride) blew off.  Asami glared at her, but Korra's expression was so innocent that she could not help but laugh, and she then reached up and finished unwrapping it.

 

"Like I said, it's not ready, but..." and she held out to Korra a glider staff.  "I know I said you shouldn't bend if you can avoid it until we're sure that we're okay, but there's always emergencies that come up, and even if there aren't I would never ask you to never bend again and...I wanted you to have this ready, just in case.  I know how much you miss flying, and I miss watching you fly and this was something I could do for you, so...."  She wound down and hesitated, as Korra had not said anything and was just staring at the staff.  "I'm still working on it, so if there are any changes you want..." and then she noticed the tears welling in Korra's eyes.  Before she could say anything else, Korra had dashed forward and pulled Asami close again, so tightly that Asami briefly wondered how she could breathe in the grip, but she would have never dreamed of breaking free.

 

"It's perfect," Korra said, and Asami could hear the honesty in her voice.

 

When they had disentangled Korra inspected it closely, and saw that Asami was telling the truth when she said it was not completed yet.  Only one of the wing mechanisms had been completed, the other still needed to be connected to extend and retract and support the weight of a rider.  How had Asami made this?  How could she have done it without Korra noticing?

 

"I mainly worked on it at the garage.  Their equipment wasn't perfect, metalworking and woodworking are two very different arts, but they were good enough for something like this.  I've been fashioning the parts for a few weeks now, and there was a store that had all the fabrics I could ever need.  I should actually be able to finish it in just another day or two, I made sure to finish all the shaving before we left, it's just the connections and stitching that needs to be done."

 

Korra picked up the fabric that would be stretched taught when the wings were at full extension; it was a dark blue, even darker than the wings of her old glider, and on one side of each wing she noticed that Asami had stitched in the wave-and-moon emblem of the Water Tribe.  On the obverse, however, was the gear logo of Future Industries, and when she saw it Korra crooked an eyebrow at Asami, who blushed.  "I just wanted to be with you when you used it, even if you were flying far away, and this way you could bring a little bit of me with you.  But don't worry, once I'm done it's yours."

 

And Korra grabbed Asami again, this time softly, "No, it's ours."

Chapter Text

They decided not to push too far on their first day, as Asami was still getting a feel for the bike and Korra was just getting used to riding on a motorcycle at all, so they broke for camp as the sun was still slowly setting.    As they had driven south the towns had been slowly increasing in both size and frequency, they had been told that the population increased much more in that direction, but there were still vast stretches of woodlands and untouched fields along the side of the road.  When they decided to halt for the night they simple pulled off to the side of the road and stepped into the soft grass.  It was still warm out, if the seasons in this world followed the seasons back home they would have said it was summer edging into fall, and they no longer feared being discovered as they slept, so they did not bother with Korra erecting an earth tent.  Instead, they unrolled their sleeping mats directly under the stars.

 

As Korra readied their dinner (Kunik had packed them meals for two days, mainly sandwiches and a few water-then-heat stews, and now Korra was boiling water), Asami had drawn out the glider and continued its assembly.  A small tool kit had been one of their most expensive purchases over the past week, but they had both recognized that they would need it sooner or later, and it was perfect for the precision attachments of the wing-folding mechanisms.

 

"So, Asami, just how were you planning on working on that in secret now that we're moving again?"  A direct heating with firebending could not be seen, and Korra had their small pot boiling in her hands without fear of them being recorded (How widespread were cameras in this world?  Did the people live with being recorded all the time?).

 

"I'd actually hoped to have it finished before we started, but it took me longer than I wanted to shape everything, and I could only work on it during my free time at the garage since I wanted it to be a surprise."  Asami was leaned in close, meticulously connecting the springs that would expand the wings.  "Maybe I would have worked on it at night while you were sleeping?  Ah-Got it!" and with a twist of her wrist both wings extended fully and locked into place.  "There, that's that done.  Give me an hour to finish up and you'll have your very own, brand new, handmade airbending glider."

 

"Make that two hours, because first you're going to eat this dinner that I have been boiling," and Korra passed over a bowl of the stew, punctuated by an audible stomach rumble.

 

"Two hours it is," Asami said, and they dug in with gusto.

 

After they had nearly finished, Korra finally broached the subject that they had been studiously ignoring for a while now.  "How do we get home?"

 

When they had first arrived on the frozen tundra their thoughts had been dominated by the immediate pressing needs of survival, and once they had been rescued they had been preoccupied with understanding and living in this strange world.  Weeks had passed since then, but even with the low-stress, non-dangerous lives they had been living recently, they had not devoted their efforts to discovering what had happened to them or gotten them here.  While they had been in the woods with Joo Dee they had realized that they must have found some new, third world, different from the mortal world they knew and unconnected to the Spirit World, but they knew very little beyond that, and it was time to change that.

 

They had both learned over the years not to dwell on things out of their control, and to not let their inability to fix a problem dominate their thoughts, so as long as they were stranded on the ice, or isolated in the woods, or living quietly in Ville de Moores, they had been able to settle in the present.  Now that they were on the move again, and heading into the heart of the land, they had to start working on the problem.

 

"I don't know," Asami said, "I'm still not even completely sure how we got here.  I did some research on the internet," she still remembered how she had felt when she had realized how much information they had access to.  The entire world within reach of their fingertips.  She could not imagine the famed Library of Wan Shi Tong holding more knowledge, "and I couldn't find anything at all like this.  At least, not anything that Pete didn't say was made up by crazy people."  She also remembered how she had felt after Pete explained to her not to trust the web-site she had found which said it could transport you to an alternate dimension.  "The only clue I found at all was on some weather and science articles, about a massive burst of electro-magnetic radiation that was detected at the North Pole with no identifiable source.  Some people were saying it was some new weapon from an enemy nation, and others that it heralds some sort of upcoming cataclysm.  I worked the timing from their calendar and it would have been exactly when we stepped through the Spirit Portal.  I think...I think that's what everybody at the military base was talking about when they were asking what we knew about radiation, they were up there investigating that and found us."

 

"Electro-magnetic radiation?  Between the two of us you're the technical expert...."

 

"I don't know, Korra, we've only just begun to understand electromagnetism, and a lot of that was Varrick and his spirit-vine research.  I don't know what could have caused what everybody here detected, and I don't know how it pulled us here instead of to the Northern Spirit Portal."

 

"Still, it's a lead, and that's more than we had before."  Asami was about to dismiss Korra's forced optimism, when she realized that Korra was not forcing anything at all.  "Either that electromagnetism caused us to come here, or it was caused by whatever brought us here, and either way it's somehow connected.  So, if we tracked down that, we'll be one step closer to the answer."  She said it with such simple confidence that Asami could not help but nod in agreement.

 

"Absolutely, it's a start.  Once we get to the cities we can find a scientist who's studying this, and follow the news, and solve the whole thing."

 

"Besides, I'm the Avatar, the bridge between worlds.  Who better than me to help us get home?"  And she again said it as such a statement of fact that Asami saw no way to disagree.

 

"And until then we have this wonderful motorcycle, an entire world to explore and....and we've got each other."  They had finished eating by now, so Asami put down her bowl and leaned over to rest her head against Korra's shoulder.  "What else could we need?"

 

"I can't think of anything at all," and Korra let her own head rest on the top of Asami's, feeling her soft hair against her skin.

Chapter Text

With a last thrum of energy, the motorcycle coasted to a halt in the gas station service area and the engine cut out as Asami walked it next to the pump.  The station might have been a twin to the one they had stopped at when they first emerged from the woods and Kunik had picked them up, the same dilapidated look, but then Korra and Asami had been guessing at its purpose and fascinated by the products and wares on display inside.  Now, after much familiarization, Asami calmly began to refill the tank (With her eye on the meter as it dinged up the total, remorsefully watching their limited funds drain away) as Korra wandered inside to see if there was anything they might need (Probably not since they had just started yesterday, and they probably would not have been able to afford it anyway, but you never knew).  In a further parallel to their first contact with the people of the area, there was another man leaning against the wall next to the door, smiling to Korra as she entered, holding what looked like a stack of papers under his arm.  Inside, Korra gazed at what she now knew were variously sweet and salty, but almost uniformly unhealthy, snacks and drinks and assorted roadside essentials.  She considered buying one of the packages of what was known as 'beef jerky', as even though nobody had been able to explain to her what exactly 'jerky' meant she knew that it was dried and could be carried for lengthy periods, but before she had made up her mind she heard the ding of somebody entering the store.  Turning, she saw the man who had been standing outside approaching her with a welcoming smile, but she also noticed that he was subtly extending his arm, reaching out to....hand her one of the pieces of paper he was carrying.

 

"Hey there, are you passing through town?"  Korra and Asami were still by no mean completely functional in French (They had communicated with their friends in Ville de Moores in a mixture of French, English, and a lot of pointing), but they had made great strides in the past month, enough to at least get by.  After they had learned how their written words worked, and what sounds the letters were supposed to make, they had been able to give voice to a lot of the words they had memorized from their dictionaries.  Despite the need to piece it together in her mind, Korra had been able to understand him.

 

"Yes, we're going to Montreal," she replied, wary of this stranger, but she took the piece of paper he was offering.  On it, in very large letters, was written "SUMMER CELEBRATION", with the writing beneath in much smaller letters listing names, locations and times which meant nothing to her.

 

"Oooh, not local, eh?"  Even when they could make themselves understood, Korra and Asami both realized that their accents were completely impossible to conceal, "Well, if you've got a few hours to spare, over at the town square we're having a festival this afternoon.  Music, food, games, all sorts of fun.  Come by with a flier and it's good for a free hot dog at the concession stand."  Behind him the door dinged again and Asami rushed in, face determined as she walked over, but he just smiled again and handed her a flier as well.  "Hey there, I was just inviting your friend here to the Summer Festival this afternoon.  A lot of the bands of the local kids are going to be performing, and there's no charge to listen."  He kept smiling as Asaimi hesitantly took the offered paper, then nodded to them both and walked out of the shop, standing next to the door again.

 

Asami looked at the paper confusedly, the turned to Korra.  "After that first time, I thought he was going to...."

 

Korra looked between Asami and the door, then down at the paper.  "I know, me too....uh.....want to go?"

 

Asami looked back at the paper, seeming to read it for the first time, then shrugged.  "Well, I'll need to check my social calendar, but if I have the time," and she laughed as Korra shoved her shoulder.

 


 

 

The flier had included directions on where to go, and they easily found their way to the town square and the promised festival, which was already underway.  Many heads turned as they rode up, with some looking at the motorcycle and others at the riders, but like the man who had given them the flier their expressions were all friendly and welcoming, and a few even waved.  As they looked over the festival, they saw...a festival.  It was definitely of this world and not their own, but if the trappings had been switched this could have been the Glacier Spirits Festival or Avatar Day; booths of games were set up, fried foods were being served from carts, children were running around screaming and shoving one another in irreverent glee, and it all looked innocent and fun.  Along one end of the square a stage had been set up, with what were clearly instruments, and that presumably was where the music would be coming from.  Korra reached out to grab her staff from the holster on the bike's side--now that Asami had officially bequeathed it to her, she planned to take it everywhere she possibly could--and together they walked over to join the festivities.

 

"First order of the day is that you win me a stuffed animal," Korra said, guiding Asami towards one of the game booths.

 

"I need to win you an animal?  I just gave you a glider!  Why can't you win me an animal?" but Asami let herself be guided without resistance.

 

"Because I need to see how big the toy you win for me is so I know how much bigger I need to go for you, of course," and Korra's logic was unassailable.  They spent a few minutes confusingly trying to understand how to turn their money into game tickets, but once that was done Asami found herself holding several small balls and staring at what looked like a precarious pyramid of stacked cans.  Presumably this was meant to be a difficult challenge of precision accuracy, but for somebody who had her focus and control....the pile collapsed on her first throw, and she presented with a flourish a small creature (The proprietor had called it a 'beaver') to Korra.  Korra accepted it with the gravitas of a gift of state, then dashed over to another booth, which had prizes at least twice as big since she now knew what to aim for.

 

"I don't know if I should be flattered that you want to make sure you get me something big, or if I should be insulted that you just want to top mine."

 

"Well, if you're giving me a choice, I say go with flattered, that way it makes me look much more suave."  Korra had stopped in front of this game, and now held several small rings as she looked over a field of bottlenecks.  Like the pile of cans it was probably supposed to present a challenge, but she had long since mastered the smooth toss required and....her first ring skipped right off the bottlenecks and clattered to the floor, as did her second and third.  The fourth, which she had really focused on, skipped off the first bottle, hopped to a second one, and then fell to the floor, and Korra found herself out of rings and with no plush toy.  After she grumbled, and slammed down another pair of tickets, she found herself with four more rings.  A minute later she was again ring-less and still toy-less.  "What the...?  This game's rigged!  It has to be!  Give me one of those, I deserve it!" and she was halfway over the counter, grabbing for one of the hanging toys as Asami struggled to hold in her laughter and the proprietor tugged back on the back-half of the animal that Korra had snagged.  They went back-and-forth almost good naturedly (This must have happened to the proprietor a lot, and if Korra had really wanted to steal the toy she would have had the toy), before Asami stepped forward and put down another two tickets.

 

"Don't worry Korra, I'll avenge you."  Asami took her rings, made sure to center herself and gauge the proper angles and...all four rings were on the floor again.  "Hey, this is rigged!"  She made as if she was going to climb over the counter herself, but the proprietor was ready this time and he had himself square in the way, legs planted wide and looking like he was relishing the thought of her trying.  Asami and Korra could not contain their laughter any more at that, and they walked off leaning against each to stay upright.  Just before they turned a corner out of sight at the next booth, however, Korra turned around and made a quick pulling motion with her right arm, and the proprietor was surprised by a tinkling sound behind him, and he spun around to see one of the rings perfectly settled atop one of the bottles.

 

They made their way over to the concession both for their lunch and the free hot dogs (They had had them before and knew they were good, but had been quite concerned the first time until Claire had explained that they were not made from actual dogs), then walked around and enjoyed the sights of the festival, of everybody having fun on what was a beautiful summer day.  There were people up on the stage now, likely preparing for the music soon, but for now there were just the sounds of laughter and conversation and the shouts of victory and sighs of defeat from the game booths.

 

"I wonder what they're doing?"  Korra wondered when she caught sight of what looked like a group of kids throwing paper in the air in the open area just past the last of the game booths.  As they wandered over, they saw that the papers had been folded into various shapes and designs, likely intended to glide on the wind, but mainly just serving to cause them to spin to the ground after they were tossed.  To one side there was one young boy, he could not have been more than ten, who was studiously turning out folded shape after folded shape and passing them over to the kids who were doing the throwing.  None were doing very well, but you would never have been able to tell from the way they were all clapping and shouting, picking up the pieces and throwing them over and over again.  At the sight of their energy and joy and determination, Korra could not help but be reminded of the airbender kids, and she stepped over to the group.  "Hey everybody, watch this!" she said in French, and when she had their attention she twisted her wrist and the staff expanded into the full glider.  They all "oohed!" at that and began to crowd around, but she held up her hand and took a few steps back.

 

The thought of her taking off in the glider was out of the question, there were certainly hundreds of those little cameras all around and who knew what the crowd might do, but that did not mean there was nothing she could do to show off.  With a little two-step run she swung her arm and hurled the glider into the air, catching it on a gust of wind and it shot off into the sky in a large curving loop.  The kids exploded at the sight of the glider soaring up, and as it completed its loop it came back right to Korra, who caught it easily and spun it around back into its staff form.  Immediately afterwards she was inundated by a tide of children, all clamoring to touch the staff and clapping and cheering and slobbering all over her.  With a laugh she let the staff be passed around between them, and when it got back to her she expanded it and set it soaring again, this time in a double-loop.  By now the kids looked to have shouted themselves into exhaustion, and as they collapsed to the ground with wide grins plastered on their faces Korra and Asami drifted away, back towards the stage where it looked like they were about to begin.

 

The performers looked young, even younger than Korra and Asami themselves, and they were visibly nervous as they walked up to their instruments.  They spoke briefly to the audience and received polite applause, and then brought up their instruments and...the heavy, pounding noise they released was like no music Korra and Asami had ever heard, filled with such a raw energy that for a second they felt the urge to cover their ears.  The vocals were screamed, almost shrieking, but there was no anger to them, just passion.  The instruments were strange, sounding almost electrical in some instants and shrieking out their own cacophony, but it all blended together.  The kids were clearly not expert musicians, even not knowing how the song was supposed to sound there were noticeable points of hesitation and key mistakes, but they performed with the vitality that came from loving what they were doing.  Within a minute Korra and Asami had worked their way up to the very front of the crowd, standing right in front of the stage and letting the rushing music just wash over them and through them.  A minute after that they were dancing, throwing themselves about in abandon after they had seen several other young members of the audience congregate up front and begin to move as well.

 

It was formless dancing, fast and reckless and exhausting, but it was also liberating.  They were twisting and spinning about, immersed in the crowd that was just as caught up as they were, and the kids playing the music redoubled their efforts when they saw them.  When the song wound down a few minutes later Korra and Asami were panting and dripping with sweat, but neither would have moved from that spot, and in moments they had launched into another energetic, freeform explosion of motion as a new song had begun, just as bristling with passion as the last.

 


 

 

By the time the festival wound to close in the early evening, after a dozen different groups of kids had taken the stage with a dozen different styles of music, Korra and Asami were as exhausted as they ever had been during their trek through the woods, but they were also laughing and smiling and clapping along with the entire rest of the crowd.  Now the booths were being closed up, and the instruments were being put away, and people were slowly drifting away from the town square and back to their own homes.  As they walked back to the motorcycle, planning to at least ride to the outskirts of town before bunking down for the night, Korra and Asami leaned into each other, partly to support one another in their exhaustion, and partly just to feel themselves together.

 

"Not bad for a first date," Korra said, and she felt Asami stiffen beside her.

 

"I hadn't thought of it like that," she said, "after spending so much time together I just....you're right, we never really did have a normal date, did we?"

 

"We've never really had the opportunity, everything kept happening, but now....." Korra trailed off to silence, and squeezed Asami just a little bit tighter against her.

 

Asami leaned into the squeeze, and as it began to slack she pulled herself, holding Korra against her.  "Well, Avatar Korra, this was by far the best first date I have ever had.  It's almost like we've been together for months already," and she warmed at Korra's small chuckle.  "Will you do me the honor of a second date?"

 

"Miss Sato, it would be my pleasure."

Chapter Text

"Right now we're here," Asami placed her finger on the map, slightly north of the label marked 'Montreal', "and we should reach the city in about two hours.  Gas shouldn't be a problem getting there or for a few more days, but if we're going to try and reach another city we're probably going to need more money to fill up, particularly if we plan on eating beyond tomorrow."

 

Korra leaned in close to look at the map and frowned slightly.  "I don't think we're going to be able to do any hunting while we're there, and they probably wouldn't like it if we did.  Did I ever tell you about that time I went fishing in the park in Republic City?"

 

"And that's when you first ran into Gommu, yes, you told me."  Asami's voice was just a tiny bit tired at the story, but the small upturn at the edge of her mouth belied any real frustration.  "Hopefully we won't need to run from the police during our meals here, I'm sure we'll be able to make some money somehow."

 

They were sitting at a worn wooden table on the side of the road, next to what looked like an old restaurant that had closed down years before.  The doors were locked and the grass overgrown, but the seats were sturdy and it served very well as a place to catch their breath and rest along the road.  They had the remains of a modest meal spread before them, and despite their almost exhausted monetary situation the day was bright, the sun was warm, and they looked forward to what they would be discovering in a few hours.

 

"Hey, do you hear that?"  The air had a very distant hum, and Asami perked up as she thought she picked out the sound of another motorcycle heading their way.  They had passed several on the road during their journey so far, but it was clear that four-wheeled vehicles were the dominant modes of transportation.  Now, it sounded like there were several different bikes traveling in concert, and sure enough a formation of more than a half-dozen appeared up the road, riding on the center line and filling up both lanes.  As they approached Asami's smile turned down slightly as she looked them over, and she took in their bedraggled appearance at a glance.  Their engines all roared loudly, but she could easily pick out artificial enhancements and and modified mufflers on almost all of them; these were not high-performance engines, these were shoddy devices that had been made to look (Or rather, sound) impressive.  As they rolled past one of them seemed to catch sight of Korra and Asami, and with a wave the entire group slowed and came to a stop.

 

"Good afternoon, ladies.  That's a nice bike resting over there.  Where's its rider?"  The speaker was big in almost every sense of the word; tall, wide and round; and his voice was a rough growl.

 

"That is our motorcycle, we are driving to Montreal."  Asami's tone was cautious as she watched them approach, taking in their movements.  They looked slovenly, but they had the air of a gang of thugs and criminals.  Triads, maybe, but with none of the false sophistication she was used to.

 

"Yours?  Can't be.  What are two beautiful ladies such as yourselves doing riding a thing like that by your lonesomes?  Ain't your man nearby?"  They had heard similar remarks several times over the past few days, usually followed up by a stammered apology when whoever was asking realized that Asami really was capable of riding the bike all by herself, but it was obvious that there would be no stammering here.  The other six riders had lined up behind the speaker as they walked over, and it was obvious that they were doing everything in their power to look big and intimidating.  That might have worked, too, if Korra and Asami had not faced down much larger and more dangerous foes over the years.

 

"We do not have a man," Asami said as she stood up, with Korra rising at the same time.  "That is our motorcycle alone."

 

"No man, huh?  Well, maybe we'll have to do something about that.  It wouldn't be right, leaving you two all alone out here.  Why don't you come along with us?  I'm sure my fellas would be more than happy to share their seats with you," and he laughed, an ugly, low sound.  There was no warmth in his laugh, nothing of friendliness at all.  It was not even like the insincere smile of the man they had encountered at that first gas station coming out of the woods, trying to cover up whatever his true intentions were, this was meant to be a threat all its own.

 

"We are capable of taking care of ourselves and we have no need of any assistance.  Thank you for your concern."  They had each stepped slightly away from the table now, giving themselves room to move, and readied for an attack.  These men, whoever they were, had stopped with the explicit intent to do violence, whether they had found a man with them or not.  They had all the signs of petty, brutish bullies, who enjoyed hurting others just to make themselves feel superior, and if there had actually been 'their man' present all that would have changed was the type of violence involved.  "Please get back on your motorcycles and go, we wish to be alone."

 

"You hear that, fellas?" and he gave that same ugly laugh, which was now echoed by the others around him, "They want us t--oofh!" and his sentence cut-off midway through as he apparently tripped over his own two feet and fell flat on his face.  Asami, however, noticed that a small outcropping of rock seemed to have sprouted out of the ground to trap one of his feet right in mid-step, and she grinned out of the side of her mouth at Korra.  They had spoken about this before (Well, not this situation exactly, but about how they should act in the event that they were in danger) and they decided to continue to hide her bending as much as possible, but there was no reason not to use it where applicable. The other six men stared at his downed form in confusion for a moment, then lumbered forward.

 

For the first time, Asami found herself really missing her electrified glove and feeling the effects of its absence as three of them bore down on her.  The men rolling towards her were big and mean and slow, and all three factors posed a pretty serious obstacle to a quick and easy disabling.  Most people did not appreciate how simultaneously resilient and fragile the human body is; despite what the movers would show, a single blow to the head might disorient somebody and cause them to lose focus, but not knock them into unconsciousness.  Any kind of blow to the head strong enough to leave them immobile for an extended period would likely cause brain damage, or even immediate death.  So, that meant that they could keep taking whatever damage you were giving them without stopping, up until you crossed a line and went too far.  Disabling a limb was generally safer, the odds of accidentally killing somebody with a broken arm were much less than a brain hemorrhage, but that required time for a grapple or precision for a blow.  The end result was that, unless you had an overwhelming physical advantage, disabling somebody in a fight took time, either to set up a single crippling blow or to wear them down with general injury.  One-on-one, Asami had no doubt that she could have immobilized any of these men without difficulty, but the problem facing her now was that while she was busy breaking one of them, the other two would be piling on her from behind.  With her electrified glove there would have been no problem, but without it.....silently, she made a note for later to see if she could figure out how the chi-blockers worked.

 

Instead of waiting for them to close in, Asmia lunged forward, leaning low and transferring to a slide aimed right at the legs of the center thug.  As he leaned forward, reaching out to grab her, she slid one leg between his feet, grabbed his shirt front with one hand, his pant leg with the other, and simultaneously pulled and heaved.  Already overbalanced and moving forward, his inertia kept carrying him and he tumbled end-over-end, rolling forward and landing on his back.  Hard.  He clearly had no idea how to fall properly as he made no effort to roll with the motion or disperse the weight, and he made a wheezing sound at the impact and began groaning.  The two men on the side turned slowly, and Asami quickly downgraded the threat they posed as she saw how long it took them to react.  By their scars and bearing they were no strangers to violence, but they clearly only had experience with two kinds of fights: Where they beat on somebody small and helpless, or where somebody much bigger than them beat on them.  They were as unequipped for an actual fight as if you had asked them to fly without airbending.  She waited for them to close in, deciding to use their own size to her advantage instead of letting them overbear her.  As the first one reached her he swung a clenched fist in an obviously-telepgrapged assault (She almost felt sorry for them now) and as he swung he kept running forward, clearly intending to overwhelm her if she dodged the blow. The other had closed in directly, reaching for a grapple.  To their credit they were actually pressing their attack together, not waiting for one to fail before trying something else, and if they had better training they might have been able to capitalize on their advantages, but as it was they only got in each other's way.  Asami parried the obvious blow and dodged to the side to avoid the charge, which simultaneously kept her out of reach of the grapple, and then stepped in.  As she had reflected before, actually ending a fight required either continuous damage, or a well-place crippling blow, and with their sheer mass she did not want to risk injuring her hand with a half-hour of punches.  So, as the charging assailant shuffled past her she pivoted, planted herself firmly, then raised and brought her foot down right against the side of his knee.  The joint popped with a grotesque noise and he collapsed instantly, as if he was a puppet with his strings cut, and began thrashing on the ground while high-pitched whines rushed from him.

 

She turned to face her last assailant, who at his partner's screams finally seemed to realize that he was not the dominant combatant here, but he clearly saw no other options but 'keep attacking'.  With a noise that was probably meant to be a battle cry, but came out more like a groan of exertion, he shuffled in again--only to wheeze and drop to the ground when Korra stepped in from the side and planted a clenched fist firmly in his solar plexus.

 

She had faced her own opponents much more directly than Asami had, and seemed to have taken the earthbender mentality to heart this time.  Instead of dodging or maneuvering, Korra had quickly and efficiently taken them all out by the application of direct force, letting each one close in and then deflecting their strikes and retaliating with a strong, focused attack.  They were all three on their knees, gasping for air and struggling to breathe, and if they would recover sooner than Asami's foe with the broken knee, it had been taken her less time and allowed her to disable Asami's final attacker as well.

 

"You....you goddamn chiennes!"  They were not familiar with that exact term, but it was clearly unflattering, and it came from the very first assailant, the one who had been doing the talking.  He had climbed back to his feet (There was that resilience, falling flat on his face had only held him back for a few seconds) and was now brandishing a metal device at them.  From the TV and movers they had seen in Ville de Moores they knew it was some kind of weapon, but it was slightly different from the type borne by Joo Dee and the other soldiers, with a circular center that rotated as they saw him squeeze.  "Vas te faire encule!"

 

The device roared with an explosion.

Chapter Text

"It's okay, it just...it's okay...don't worry...it's going to be all right...please, Korra, just breathe for a second..." the burn was slowly spreading, radiating out from her shoulder and spreading across her torso, and at its source it was intensifying to a blinding thunder, but Asami tried to keep her voice as calm as she could.  Despite the warm dampness she could feel beginning to soak her clothing she kept her soothing tone, as if it was Korra lying on the ground and not herself, as she took in a horrifying tableau.

 

Korra stood beside her, with the metal weapon in her hand (Had Pete said it was called a 'gun' when they had seen it on TV?), and suspended in the air before her was the man who had shot Asami, panic and terror distorting his features as he clawed at a metal coil that was wrapped around his throat.  They had been like that for a few seconds now, long enough for Asami to recognize the torturous war raging within Korra, and she began to fear that Korra might not listen, might decide to just react, and might just.... ....the dangling man lowered to the ground, his feet sinking into the dirt like it was water until he was submerged to his shoulders, whereupon the coil around his throat grew slack and fell away.  As he gasped and struggled, immobilized in earth now as solid as rock, Korra turned back to Asami.  "Don't worry, I wouldn't.....not like that...oh, Asami..." and she dropped to her knees beside the prostrate body and began calling water to her hands.  She was rushing, moving in jerky motions that hampered more than helped, and she forced herself to slow down and began drawing again, properly, with the long, wide motions of waterbending.  She collected moisture from the air, and drew it from the grass around them, and as soon as she had enough she began to work a healing and--no, not healing yet, the metal was still inside Asami.  It was small, so small that it seemed like it could not possibly be a danger, but Asami lay bleeding before her and she could feel the metal still lodged within her body.  Before she began the healing process, Korra had to remove it, and do it without causing even more damage.

 

This was not an injury she was used to dealing with, a bending wound normally did not leave debris behind that had to be removed like this, not even earthbending, but she had done something similar before, had she not?  She had taken the metal poison out of her own body in the swamp and she could draw on that experience and...no, that had been a liquid metal, and she had been able to feel it within her own flesh, this was a solid lump, and Korra's mind briefly flashed to the horror of her ripping a new hole in Asami's body.  She shook the thought away, refused to let it paralyze her--Nothing would be gained by hesitation, and doing nothing would be just as bad as getting it wrong.  She focused, holding her hand over the wound and just feeling, determining where the metal was and how best to get it out, and she began to draw it out.  She moved it in tiny increments, bit by bit, too softly to tear anything, but always back towards the surface and--now Korra held it in her hand, a misshapen lump of metal that looked too insignificant to have caused this much grief, and she tossed it aside.  Turning back to Asami, she layed her hands over the gaping wound and began to mend it closed.  So much blood had been lost, and there had been so much tearing as the metal burst its way inside, but it was not too much.  She drew more water to her, coating Asami's torso, and she had it seep inwards, beginning the internal patching as the surface sealed shut.  She held the healing for as long as she could, until the worst of the damage was patched, then let it slide away and fell back on her haunches with a sigh.

 

Groaning, Asami sat up, reaching over with her other arm to cradle the shoulder and gingerly feel the skin, as if testing to see if it was really whole again.  It was still rough, almost like clay that was still being molded into shape, but whole it undoubtedly was.  She groaned and rotated her shoulder, then turned to Korra, "I feel---" and she got no further before Korra had bowled her over.  They said nothing as they held one another, and Asami could feel Korra's body wracked by tiny movements that might have been sobs or laughter.

 

"I'm sorry, I tried to catch it, but it was so fast and....I'm sorry..." Korra was winding down, and Asami was muttering soothing nothings into her ears.

 

"It's okay, Korra, I'm fine now, you saved me anyway.  I'm just glad you didn't...that you didn't...." she could not even bring herself to finish the though, and she held on a little tighter.

 

"I wanted to, oh by all the Spirits how I wanted to, but that's not something I'll give up.  Not for somebody like him," and Korra finally pulled away from Asami to look over at the buried assailant, who looked to have passed out given his lolling head.  Past him, the other six men were also trussed up, their arms and legs submerged into the earth for restraints.  Rising, Korra walked over to them and splayed her fingers, and the ground around them shifted and pulled them all side-by-side, next to the apparent leader, who was still covered up to his neck.  "You," Korra singled out one of them, "Why?  We had done nothing to you, you do not know us.  Why?"

 

"You...you can't....let me go!"  He thrashed, or made a reasonable facsimile thereof when he could not move his arms or legs, "Let me go!"  At a gesture from Korra he slid backwards along the ground, screaming as it happened, and she turned to the next one.  Before she could ask a question he was shouting, obscenities and threats and lewdness, and she slid him back along the ground as well.  The next one was already making noises, but these ones were mewlings of pain, and Korra realized that he was the one whose leg Asami had broken.  She hesitated, then withdrew his injured leg from the ground, relieving its pressure, and stood over him until his eyes focused on her.  "Why?" she asked again.

 

"Look, you crazy little chienne, Yves waved us over, that's it.  What do you expect?  You're out here juste putain attente for somebody to come by, if you don't want it then what are you even doing?  Now, you better let me up or--" he screamed as the others had when he was shoved back, and Korra turned her back on the rest without even asking them any questions.  These were not enemies targeting them or following their trail, they were just lowlife scum, trash from any of a thousand gutters that might have....might have....she bent down and picked up the weapon, then looked over to where Asami was still sitting.  Asami probably wanted to study it, and even Korra would have liked to understand how it worked, but...she clenched her fist and crumpled the weapon into a ball and let it fall at her feet.  Not this one.  Not now.

 

Korra walked over to their motorcycle and picked up one of the energy bars they had purchased the day before (They tasted slightly better than the Future Industries ration bars they had lived on on the ice, and they were similarly light and easy to carry), bringing it and a cup of water over to Asami.  "Here, you need to eat, recover your strength, you've...you lost a lot of blood".  As Asami gratefully devoured the bar and water as if they were a gourmet meal, Korra began to draw together more water and settled in over her shoulder.  The bleeding had been halted and the holes had been patched, but there was a lot of fine work still to be done, and she settled in to the slow, grueling work of shaping Asami's shoulder back into its proper form.

 


 

 

Hours later, Asami was back on her feet and was tenderly working through her full range of motion, as Korra now gorged herself to regain her own strength.  Her shoulder was still sore, but she could move, and all that remained of the previously gaping wound was a vicious scar.  Even after all these years, and all the grand displays of power, sometimes it still amazed her at just what applied bending could accomplish, especially at Korra's own hands.

 

"What do you want to do with them?"  Asami nodded her head towards the assailants, who were still bound as they had been all day.

 

"What can we do?  If we contact the local police we will need to explain who we are, and we can't do...anything else."  Korra still looked like she wanted to do 'anything else'.  "I think we have to just leave them here."

 

"Leave them?  Let them free to wander around and attack somebody else?"  Asami's voice was not accusing, but questioning.

 

"Well...maybe not completely free..." and Korra walked over to their parked motorcycles and methodically metalbent each one into obtuse, twisted shapes, then turned back to their prisoners who were staring at her with wide eyes.  Even their leader, Yves, who was now awake and doing his best efforts to be threatening and intimidating, which were failing quite miserably as he was only a head sticking up from the ground.  "Listen to me, you cowards.  Never again.  Next time I will not be so forgiving, and I will be there next time."  When she saw them all nodding, she smiled...and then she began to go through their pockets.

 

"Korra?" Asami almost shouted, "What are you doing?"

 

"Hey, you said we're almost out of money, and it's the least they can do for us.  A...contribution...to our personal expense accounts."  She pulled out everything she could get her hands on, piling the money and various gadgets, devices, and geegaws together for sorting later.  "This way we can at least survive in Montreal," and she smiled.  It was a small smile, but infinitely better than she had looked hours before.  Asami opened her mouth to protest, but she found herself with no real objection to make.  These people had shot her, after all, was taking money for gas too much to ask for recompense?

 

Still moving her arm gingerly, Asami joined Korra and began to sort through the piles that she had already pulled out.

Chapter Text

As Asami slept, Korra sat next to the fire and watched the light of the flames play across her face.

 

They had ridden only another hour after they left their impromptu battlefield, just enough to put a comfortable distance between them, instead of pushing on to the city like they had intended.  The time delay meant they would not have reached the city long before sundown, leaving them to stumble around the unfamiliar locale in the dark, and after what had happened they both decided it would be better to rest well and start the day fresh.  Especially with the lingering soreness in Asami's shoulder that would take more healing sessions to clear up; once the bullet had been removed the healing was just grunt work, the kind of brute force that Korra excelled at, but not even waterbending was magic.  So, they had pulled off the road (Further off than usual, to make sure they were not spotted by any passersby) and settled in for the evening.

 

Now it was long past midnight, and Asami had been sleeping the deep, motionless sleep of recovery for hours, and Korra could not stop staring at her.  After she had lay awake far into the night Korra had moved out from their sleeping mat so as to not disturb her, and in the flickering firelight her mind replayed what had happened.  The explosion of the weapon, the almost-soft buzz as the bullet had flown through the air....Korra had never imagined that anything could move so fast, faster than the Future Industries airplanes and faster than the sharpened metal strips that Kuvira's army had specialized in throwing with cutting force.  She had tried to catch it, and she thought that she might have succeeded in shifting its trajectory away from Asami's heart, but it seemed to have flown in the emptiness between heartbeats.  Even if she had been prepared, knowing what was to come, she might not have been fast enough to stop it.  For all the power of the Avatar, she still had to see and think and react, and with the way these weapons acted....whatever cameras they came across in the future could record what they liked, she was not going to wait and let Asami be hurt again.  Not like that.  When Asami had been lying there, splashed with red like a painting as her attacker had screamed at them, Korra had felt like the world had stopped, like time itself had stilled, and for a brief instant of horror she had feared that this was it.  After only two months together, after the previous years of neither of them saying or doing what they had both desired, so much lost time and fear and doubt and misery, when they had finally come together, for it to end now....

 

Korra walked over to the motorcycle and reached into the saddlebag where they collected all the metal they had taken from their assailants; hand-held chains that were clearly intended as weapons, knives, and another one of those gun weapons.  Much of it was crude and ill-worn (Why did this world seem so ill-caring towards metal?  So much rust and dirt and wear.  Even without bending, she could not imagine Zaofu ever falling into such disrepair), but they had thought it best not to leave these items behind.  Leaving the gun, Korra cradled the pile in her arms and walked back over to the fire, laying it all out on the ground.  Then, one by one, she picked them up and began to mold them.  She had never had an artistic talent, never understood Suyin's ability to blend her bending with design and grace, but she knew that something had to be done with these.  They could not just remain the dirty lumps of harm that they were.  So, Korra washed them, running them under the water that she called up out of the air.  She submerged them in the ground and had the earth rub them clean, scraping off every mark and remnant of what they had once been.  She bent them in her hands and stretched them into strips and wove them into circles, and in an hour they were all fresh and raw as they had been when their ore had been dug out of whatever mines they had come from, with no legacy of what they been since then.  Then she began to weave them together, working steadily and quietly by the firelight, until there was nothing at all left.

 

It was almost dawn now, and she could feel that she would be exhausted come the following day, but she finally lay herself down beside Asami and was able to lie still.  In moments she was asleep, deep and calm, curled up against her back and resting together.

 


 

 

Asami woke slowly, groggily, and even though it was already light out (And probably had been for a while) she felt as if she had only fallen asleep a few moments ago.  She pulled herself off the sleeping mat and blearily looked around, catching sigh of Korra kneeling before a large, steaming bowl.

 

"Good morning, how are you feeling?"  As she spoke, Korra was slowly stirring the pot, circling her arms above it.

 

"Like I only had a fifteen-minute nap after running around Ba Sing Se," and Asami shambled over towards the cooking breakfast (Or maybe lunch, now).

 

"That's the healing sickness, something as big as what happened yesterday drained a lot of your chi during the mending.  Come on, get some food into you, build up your strength, and you'll be back in top form before you know it."  Splaying out her fingers, stew rose up from the pot and neatly dropped into the small bowls set out.  As Asami drew closer the tantalizing smell wafted over and her mouth began to water as she reached her own bowl.

 

"That smells amazing, what is it?"  All they had had were some of the energy bars and other pre-packaged food that were good for travel, but not necessarily intended for pleasure.

 

Korra smiled, but also shook her head.  "It's probably not as good as you think, right now you'd enjoy Gommu's street gruel as long as it was warm."  She grabbed her own bowl as well, "I thought we both deserved something special this morning, so I've been experimenting with some of the dried meats they have.  Re-soaking jerky isn't what I'd call the proper way to start a meal, but a warm stew is miles different from chewing on a chunk of meat."  Tentatively Korra raised a spoon to her mouth and tasted some of her own creation, and her eyebrows shot up in surprise.  "Wow, that's actually better than I had hoped."  Asami, for her part, had not even bothered to disagree, and was simply shoveling spoonfulls into her mouth at breakneck speed.  In moments, they had both emptied their bowls and re-filled them.

 

Afterwards, Asami leaned back and let herself settle, already feeling worlds better than she had when she had woken up.  "I don't care if it is the healing sickness speaking, that was wonderful, Korra.  Thank you."

 

Korra waved it off, coloring slightly, as she finished her own bowl.  "It's nothing.  Besides, this might be our last time to do some real cooking for a while, we're probably going to be eating at fancy restaurants once we get to the city," and they both chuckled.  The money they had reclaimed the day before (And they both tried very hard not to think of it as stealing) would go a long way towards keeping their motorcycle fueled and themselves eating, but that group had not been composed of wealthy industrialists.  The money in their pockets only amounted to a few hundred dollars, and Korra and Asami had begun to realize how little that could be if they splurged on expensive luxuries,

 

Rising to her feet, Asami was about to walk back over to the sleeping mats (They had to be rolled and stored before the day's journey began) when a glint of sunlight on metal caught her eye, and she turned back to Korra.  "What's that?"

 

As Korra followed Asami's glance she colored again, before shuffling her feet and walking over.  "Last night I couldn't sleep, I thought about what had happened and what might have happened and I....we took a lot of metal from those guys and I couldn't stand having it with us, dirtying everything we did, so I....what I mean is...." Korra stooped down, picking up one of the metalworks she had crafted the night before.  "I made this for you.  For us.  For....everything" and she held it out.

 

Asami took it gingerly, as if afraid she might break it if she held it too tightly, and marveled at what she was holding.  It was intricately woven, a necklace of intertwined metal strips and tiny loops; the patterns were simple, but they flowed together and around, widening on one side and dangling down.  It looked vaguely similar to what the Beifongs had worn in Zaofu, but instead of wide planes there were braids and circlets strung together, and it felt almost as light as air.  "Oh.....Korra...." The name came out in a whisper, but with such vitality that Korra felt her heart thrill at the way it was said.

 

"I made one for myself as well," and she held up the twin to the one she had just given Asami, "but it's like you said with the glider, I want something of mine to be with you.  Wherever you and I go, whatever else we find out in this world, we'll always be together.  And I wanted those...those animals from yesterday, to not have anything left with us.  They've been wiped clean, ground out, and now it's just us."  Korra reached up and draped her necklace over her own head, letting it rest against her chest, and watched Asami slowly do the same.  Then, with nothing else to say, they closed in together.

 


 

 

Later, as they were cleaning up their camp, Korra paused and called over to Asami.  "Not to backtrack on what I said earlier, but there is one remnant from yesterday.  This was something I didn't want to carry around with us, no matter how much I'd cleaned it," and she held up the gun they had taken.  She made sure to hold it softly (She had noticed that it seemed to be activated by squeezing part of the handle) and keep it pointed towards the ground, and she passed it over to Asami.  "I thought you'd want to study it before I flattened it under a rock."  Korra clearly wanted nothing more than to crush it right there, but she also knew that if they understood these devices they would be much better equipped to handle them in the future.  Asami took it as gingerly as she had taken the necklace earlier, and with only the tiniest hesitation to indicate that she still felt from yesterday, before she put it on the ground and began to pour over it.

 

This weapon, and many like it, had been featured heavily in the TV and mover shows they had seen over the past month, but their depiction had been so wildly different from one to the next it was almost worse than if they had been coming in completely cold, since they did not know what was correct and what was fiction.  Determined to start from the basics, Asami began to disassemble the weapon and inspect it piece-by-piece.  Soon, she had its constituent parts laid out before her.

 

As she examined the bullets, shoulder twinging at each movement, she called out, "I think...Korra, I think this is a chemical weapon.  I've read about these, the Fire Nation built them towards the end of the Hundred Year War to use as cannons, but they only used them to launch bombs, never to throw solid metal like this, and they were never this small.  See the back of these bullets, here?  There's an explosive stored in there, and when this trigger is pulled it ignites and the expanding gas pushes the bullet out of the barrel.  It's like....it's like when you throw something with airbending."  She could not keep a little horrified respect from creeping into her voice.  "Without bending these people have had to invent completely new ways of making weapons, nobody back home has ever tried anything like this at all.  Not even the Equalists.  I can't even imagine how much they've had to refine their chemistry to be able to get something this precise."

 

"Is there any way to stop them?"  Korra did not let herself feel impressed, she just wanted to know what they could do about it.

 

"Oh...I think any kind of metalbending should work just fine, just like you've been doing, I can't imagine they can build these things without some metal in them.  Even just breaking the trigger or this catching-lock" she fingered the connection that would bring down the metal point and ignite the explosive charge "would make it just a useless lump of metal.  It's still just a piece of technology, like anything else.  If you hit it hard enough, it will break," and she let the pieces she was holding fall to the ground.  She looked to Korra, who nodded, and the pieces of the gun and its bullets sank into the dirt, vanishing from sight.  Then it was gone, and they both stood a little bit straighter as they turned back to their camp.

 

When they got on their motorcycle later, they set off down the road without a backwards look.

Chapter Text

During their time in this world, much of what had originally been strange had become familiar, and Korra and Asami could even see how it connected to much of what they knew back home.  Despite how clear and vibrant the images were, they knew that the movers they had seen did not show spirits and creatures that lived in this world.  They no longer wondered if people were watching them through a TV (Although they had gotten confusing stories from Mr. Soucy that said that might have been happening after all).  They had learned about the technologies that explained how there was so many electronic devices everywhere.  They knew the names of several nations of the world and how they each spoke a different language.  They were no longer stunned at each and every new encounter throughout the day.  As they approached the city of Montreal, however, they began to feel that same feeling of awe and wonder rising up again.

 

It was not the size of the city, Republic City was similar in scope and Ba Sing Se had covered much more territory, but it was everything else about it.  In one location seemed to be everything that set this world apart from their own, every strange and fantastic and terrifying and impressive development coalescing into a single whole.  The first thing they noticed was the skyline, shining in the distance.  Republic City glowed at night as one of the most brilliant wonders of the world (And Asami still felt herself warm with reflected glory as she listened to Korra explain how the city had looked when she first saw it lit up), but Montreal glowed during the day.  Its skyscrapers seemed to be composed of nothing but metal and glass, reflecting the sunlight and looking for all the world like beacons beckoning you onward.  There were satomobiles on the road streaming into and out of the city of so many different designs and styles that it boggled the mind, and Asami reflected that she had just spent a month working at a satomobile repair garage.  As they closed in they also began to hear more languages; French was still dominant, but they could also hear English and several of the unknown languages that they had heard people trying to communicate with them with at the North Pole.  Signs and advertisements were plastered on every surface, announcing wares for sales and services available. There were people everywhere, and it was a city, with a hustle and energy unlike anything to be found in Ville de Moores or on the road.

Asami had grown up in Republic City, and Korra had done more living there over the past four years than anywhere else; surrounded by the sounds of a city, even if they were the sounds of this world, it was almost like they had found their way home.

 


Around a mouthful of food (The cart proprietor had called it a 'gyro'), Asami asked "Does this place look familiar to you?"

"Nhhrog...." Korra stopped to swallow and tried again. "Not really, no."

"Something about it, it's like...ah! It looks like Avatar Korra park!"

Korra spluttered and looked around; they sat near a gazebo in the middle of the park which they had stumbled upon after an hour of aimless wandering, and where they had decided to take their rest. It was similar to the park in Republic City in the sense that it had grass and trees, but to her that was the only similarity.

"Are you crazy? They look nothing alike!"

"What are you talking about, they're almost identical! Look over there towards the water, it's just like that little bridge over the river," and Asami gestured to the area behind them.

Korra looked, but she still shook her head. "You're seeing things, it's just another park," and she took another bite.

Asami considered, then asked "You never liked that they renamed the park, did you?"

The pause was noticable, saying something by its very silence, before Korra responded. "No, I didn't. Not like that. Raiko kept trying to thank me for taking down the Red Lotus, and I just didn't want any kind of reminder of what had happened. Even once I got better I didn't think I deserved it, you all helped me so much. If anybody deserves a statue for defeating Zaheer it's Jinora and the airbenders, not me, they're the ones who stopped him."

"I don't think I ever told you, but...uh....I'm the one who renamed the park."

"What?!?"

"It was while you were gone, and I didn't want anybody to forget about you. Even if you're right about Jinora deserving her own statue, you've done so much for Republic City with the Equlists and Unalaq and all any of them ever did was criticize you. Always complaining. So, I wanted a great big reminder right in the middle of the city, where nobody could ignore it, to show how much you meant to everybody. That way, when you came back you'd see that we appreciated everything you had done."

"But how? Last time I checked you weren't on the Council."

"Sometimes money is enough. Future Industries was doing almost all of the repair work and expansion to the city, and whether you think you deserve the credit or not Raiko was very relieved by the end of the Red Lotus. With my contacts and support it was easy to get it approved. I just....I wanted you to know that we hadn't abandoned you, that I was still waiting for you to come back. And...when I missed you I could go to the park and feel a little bit closer to you."

Asami looked down, almost embarrassed at the confession, and she felt Korra's gentle touch on her chin tilting her head back up.

"Staying away for so long was the stupidest decision of my life, and I'm still sorry it took me so long to come back," Asami tried to wave it off, they had already had this conversation, but Korra kept talking, "but I'm never going to go away again. Not like that. And I don't care how everybody else feels, as long as....as long as you love me, that's all the appreciation I need". Her voice had lowered as she spoke, almost a whisper at the end, and Asami had leaned in closer to be able to hear her. With their faces inches apart they began to lean in just a little bit further--a bouncing ball came crashing into them accompanied by a shout of "Look out!" and before they knew it there were three kids running around them kicking and grabbing at that same ball while an older man (Their father?) came puffing up behind them.

"I'm so sorry, they're out of control sometimes. Hey! Leave the nice women alone! Get back here!" and with a scream of giggles the kids were gone again, chasing the ball down the footpath.

Laughing, Korra and Asami watched them run off, then turned back to finish their lunch.

Once they were done, they had a city to explore!

Chapter Text

As they walked through the park, Asami reflected that if going to the festival a few days ago had been their first date, this would probably qualify as their second. They were arm-in-arm, following one of the stone paths that wound around the lake, and it was nice to be able to enjoy a moment that was so completely at peace together. Her shoulder still ached, probably would continue to ache for many days more, but when she thought how it might have turned out....she dragged her mind away from that thought, away from the roaring pain that had threatened to overwhelm her completely, and focused just on the warm body pressing against her side, letting it anchor her to the moment.

"Before we forget, we should call Kunik and let her and Pete know we got here safely, so they can stop worrying," Korra's voice was soft and drowzy, like she was ready to fall asleep as they walked, and Asami knew that she was under the spell of this place as well.

"That's a good idea, they've probably been scared, we expected to be here tomorrow," regretfully pulling away from Korra, Asami fished out the small phone they had been given and turned it on. After a minute of flashing lights and sounds, and flashing note that said 'Three missed calls', Asami dialed in the nuber they had memorized and waited for Kunik to answer.

"Hello?" The voiced sounded in Asami's ear as clear as if she had been standing nearby, and she again marvelled at the technology. A phone call without connecting wires, or the distortion of long-distance radio transmissions, was as amazing as everything else they had seen. Pete had explained that there were relay towers scattered all across the land, that this one phone was not transmittting all the way by itself, but that infrastructure was impressive all on its own. Back home telephones were still a new technology, still being developed; to learn that they had been in use here for long enough for all of these towers and connections to be built was as amazing as the technology itself.

"Hello, Kunik? It's Asami and Korra, we wanted to call and let you know that we made it to Montreal safely," her shoulder twinged again as she said that.

"Asami? Oh, dear, I've been so worried. Did you get my messages?"

"Messages? No I didn't....wait, when I turned the phone on it said we had missed calls, was that you calling?"

"Yes, that was me. There was a mention on the news this morning that a group of bikers had been attacked on the way to Montreal, with their motorcycles all wrecked and them beaten very badly. The report said they were all men, but I was scared that you'd been hurt somehow since I knew you were going to be passing through that road, and if somebody is harassing bikers they might have come after you, too."

Asami generally regarded herself as an intelligent person, and everybody who knew her would have wholeheartedly agreed, but never in ten thousand years would she have predicted this was how her call to Kunik would start. She did not know whether to laugh or to cry, and her voice came out slightly strangled as she said, "No, we're fine, we must have missed that."

"I'm happy to hear that. I know you two can take care of yourselves--you gave that racist prick what-for the first day I met you--but there's a lot of dangerous people out there. You need to be careful."

"I know, and we are." Korra seemed to have sensed that the conversation was not going as Asami had expected, and was eyeing her askance, but Asami just waved her off and continued speaking. "We're in the city now and are walking in this beautiful park we found, afterwards we're going to see what they have to offer". Now Korra was looking out over the park, taking in all the people relaxing and playing, when Asami noticed her stiffen and peer off into the distance.

"Oh, good, I'm glad your trip is going well then. Listen, I have to go, Henri is getting home in a few minutes and I'm working on a surprise for him, but thank you for calling me and laying my fears to rest". Asami now realized that she could here noises in the background, probably the 'surprise', and Kunik sounded a little bit rushed.

"It's okay, go work on your surprise. Goodbye," after she hung up the phone, Asami turned to Korra, who was still looking at something across the park. "What is it?"

"Those people over there, on the other side of the lake....are they waterbending?"

 


They did not run around the lake, not quite, but at Korra's realization they both rushed over to get a closer look at the small group that they could hazily make out. If these were waterbenders, how had they gotten here? Were there others? Did they know a way back? Their presence indicated so much. As they approached the group and began to make out more details, Korra's expression began to glow--they were performing waterbending forms, moving in harmony like masters. Except....her glow dimmed a little; where was the water?

Their form was unmistakable, but it was only the physical motions, with no bending at all, much like the friends Korra had taught up until a few days ago. But none of those students had progressed to this level of skill, certainly not far enough to teach somebody else, and the people here were all strangers. When Korra and Asam finally reached them they slowed to a halt and observed, taking in the sight of the practiced forms and looking for any sign of bending. They were not the only observers, a few of the other park attendees had stopped as well, but the group took no notice of them and just continued their measured, even practices.

After what must have been half an hour and a dozen different forms the group broke apart, with scattered applause from the handful of passersby that had stopped to watch, and separated into a half a dozen smallers groups that spoke amongst themselves. They considered how to approach them (Was this a performance? Training? Was one of these people a master and the others students?) when they saw one woman who did not seem to be taking part in any of the resulting conversations, walking by herself over to a pack that had been layed aside. Seeing her unoccupied, they tentatively approached.

"Excuse me?" Korra called out as they walked over.

The woman spun around and she looked...not angry, but like she expected to be angry from whatever was about to happen. She looked them over and seemed to relax a little bit, "Yes?"

"What are you doing?" Korra asked.

The woman's expression clouded over again, as if the question itself was offensive, before she seemed to realize that Korra was referring to the forms and not whatever she seemed to think it was. "Oh, the practice? Our school is closed for the month, so a bunch of us have been meeting up out here to keep in form. I love it, gets us outside, and there's always somebody in the park who enjoys the show."

"No," Korra said, "what are you doing? Where are thse forms from?"

"Hmmm? Oh, it's called tai ci. Taijiquan, if you want to be accurate. Uh....do you study?". Now her expression was perfectly friendly and open, even energetic, at the prospect of discovering a new practitioner.

"I know these forms, but not the name. What is its history?" Korra was practically bursting with excitement; even if these people were not waterbenders, maybe they had learned from somebody who was.

"There's a wuguan that I go to and...wait, do you mean the whole history? That's not a five minute lesson, y'know." Now she was eyeing them with frank curiosity. "I'll be happy to give you an overview, but let's not just stand around in the park, okay? I know a really nice little coffe shop not far away....I mean, don't worry if you can't aff--... it would be my treat."

Korra and Asami's expressions had both blanched at the mention of coffee (They had been introduced to it one morning at the garage, and they still wondered how such a vile concoction could be so widely loved), but apparently this woman had mistaken it for concern about going to a restaurant and...now that they thought about it, they were both showing the effects of their travels on the road. They were dirty and worn, and Asami's wrap had a large hole and stain on one shoulder. They were certainly in better shape than they had been coming out of the woods a month ago, but they did not give a very refined impression.

"That is not necessary, but thank you. We would be very happy to go with you and hear the history of 'tai chi'". If she had asked, right now Korra would have followed her all the way back to the North Pole

"Okay, it's just a few blocks away. My name's Jac---I'm Janice."

 


 

 

The 'coffee shop' turned out to be a small restaurant not too far away, and thankfully they saw that it offered tea as well. The man behind the counter greeted Janice as they entered, apparently she was a regular, and they sat at a small table off to one side.

"So, where are you two from, anyway? I've got to admit I can't quite place your accent."

"We are from China," Asami replied, sticking with the story that had worked so far, "we are visiting for the summer and traveling across Canada."

"You're from China, and you've never heard of tai chi?" Suddenly the suspicion from before was back as Janice glared at them, and Korra and Asami looked at each other in confusion. Why was she so on edge?

"I know the forms, but not the name," Korra repeated from earlier. "I want to learn what history I do not know."

"Well, for one, tai chi is a Chinese martial art (They both had to fight a wince at that. No wonder she was suspicious if they did not even know something that came from their 'home'), I've been trained in the chen-style and--"

"Hey! Ce que le baiser que tu fais ici? I thought we told you to stay out of here!" The interruption came from the entrance behind them, and they turned to see five teenagers crowding through the door giving Janice disgusted looks. She darted a quick glance towards the counter, but when she saw it empty her expression fell and she turned back to the newcomers after looking at Korra and Asami accusingly.

"Back off Lisa, I'm not in the mood. What, did you and your thugs get bored just waiting, you had to lure me in with these two?"

"Bored? Best week of our lives not needing to deal with you, freak. These two part of your crowd?" Lisa (presumably) turned to look at Korra and Asami with contempt. "Not even bothering to put much effort in, are they?"

"I dunno," one of the boys with Lisa chimed in, "that ones looks halfway passable. I might be willing to give him a try just to check him out, let him see what he's in for. Can't say much for the other one, though, pretty sure I can still see the stubble.". The group laughed together, a surprisingly light sound given the obvious hostility. Janice looked at Korra and Asami with yet another different expression before retorting.

Korra and Asami, for their part, were heartily confused. A lot of the words made sense as individual words, but as to what was being said it was almost gibberish, none of it connected or even obeyed the rules of the language they thought they understood. Clearly Janice and Lisa were enemies of some sort, and Janice had thought that they were friends of Lisa trying to trick her into doing something, and Lisa likewise thought they were friends of Janice, but...now the two were screaming at each other in heat almost too fast to understand, and it was even more nonsensical. Something about a transmission? Was this about car repair? That could not be it.....could it?

"HEY!" The interruption came from behind them again, and they turned around to see the owner in front of the counter, holding a package (Which likely explained where he had gone) and glaring at Lisa and her friends as hard as they had glared before. "I've warned you about coming in here and hasseling customers! No more! Get out!"

"What? You're letting these things stay?"

"They mind their own business and don't bother anybody, but this is the last time I deal with you punks. Now, get out, or I'm calling the cops!" He was not a very imposing man, but he stepped forward as he spoke and simultaneously reached for the phone to emphasize his threat. "Out."

With continued muttered imprecations Lisa and her followers left, and the man turned to Janice. "I'm sorry about them, they're just....another cup?" He walked off to get Janice another coffee, leaving her with Korra and Asami, who continued to have absolutely no idea what had just happened. Now that the confrontation was over Janice's shoulders had slumped and her head lowered a bit, and her breathing began to come raggedly. Asami reached out take hold of her hand, but Janice snatched her own hand away before they could touch. The new coffee arrived, and they sat there in silence for a long while.

"I'm sorry," Janice eventually said, "but I'm going to go home, maybe we could....maybe we could do this another time?"

Korra and Asami nodded silently, it was easy to see that this had affected her greatly even if they did not understand what or why, and rose with her as she left. Outside they turned to separate, when there was the sudden scraping noise of running feet and Korra sensed metal coming directly at them.

Chapter Text

Not again, Korra thought. It would not happen again, cameras and suspicion be damned. As soon as she sensed the metal coming towards Asami she was pivoting, bringing up her arm to---it was not a gun. It looked like a club of some sort, thinner towards the bottom and widening to a rounded head, and it was being swung at Janice, not Asami. Korra had only a split second to react, the club was already in motion, and she decided that she did not care if this was less dangerous than a gun or that it was not being directed at Asami, she was not going to let somebody else be hurt. She twisted her wrist in a pulling motion and the club spun out of its wielders' hands. She heard the man shout in surprise, a very young shout, and Korra realized that he was barely more than a child....these were the teenagers that had come into the coffee shop with Lisa. Had they decided to escalate from shouts to violence in the half-hour since they had been thrown out? What had Korra and Asami stumbled into here?

With a single swept leg he was on the ground, and she could hear Asami disabling the others as well, and in seconds the entire ordeal was over. These clearly were not experienced combatants, unused to pain, and they huddled on the ground clutching their legs and wrists, two even crying. Janice was straddling Lisa, with her arm twisted behind her back (Korra briefly noted that it was almost identical to the hold that Asami loved to use to), and despite the fact that she looked unharmed there were tears streaming down her face.

"Why? For god's sake, why? All I've ever asked was for you to leave me alone, I never wanted anything to do with you, and you just....you just....WHY?" She was almost screaming now, sobbing as she she held the prostrate attacker, and Korra stepped over slowly. She moved with caution, trying to exude calmness, because Janice looked on the verge of collapse. She still had no idea what was going on, no idea why these people had attacked them nor why it seemed to effect Janice so much since she clearly had training, but it was obvious that there was more happening than appeared. She reached out to lay a hand on Janice's shoulder, just to offer the tactile comfort, and Janice jerked away, as she had when Asami had tried to hold her hand before.

"No, no don't, I can't....." Janice's sobs were quieting, but she still looked tormented, and drew off of Lisa's back, taking a few steps away.

Once the pressure was gone Lisa turned over and sat up, craddling her arm, and her gaze darted between her friends on the ground and the people still standing. She opened her mouth to say something, likely something horrible, but Asami stepped forward and leaned in close, and her words died in her throat.

"I do not know who you are or what Janice did to your car (Janice laughed when she heard that, a short, sharp bark filled with a lot of anger), but be still and stay quiet. Do we call the police?"

Korra and Asami still had no wish to become embroiled with the police and the complications that would bring, but this situation was no longer just about them. Would these people come after Janice again? What other connections did they have in this city?

"No, no police," Janice said, seeming to come back under control, "I can't.....not now. I...I'll speak to their parents and Jeff...her brother....when they see what's happened they'll do something". She sounded like she was trying to convince herself more than Korra and Asami, but they nodded and stepped away from the group of teens, who shuffled to their feet and quickly fled into the city. "I...I could use another cup of coffee," and Janice rushed back around the corner from the alley they were in, and Korra noticed her pulling out one of the tiny phones from her pocket as she did.

Exchanging a look, Korra and Asami followed her.

 


 

 

It was on Janice's second cup, which had come only very slowly after she nursed her first for nearly half an hour, that the door to the coffe shop opened and a woman ran in, looking around and dashing over once she saw where the were sitting. Janice practically fell into her arms, holding back the sobs that she had let out before.

"Oh, Janice, I'm so sorry. Are you okay? I just got your message, what happened?"

Korra and Asami eyed this new women with frank curiosity, was she her mother? No, too young to be her mother. Sister?

"I'm okay, really, I'm..." she let out a harsh laugh, "We actually gave them the beating they tried to give us. Korra, Asami, this is Cat, she...she's been mentoring me through my changes."

Cat looked them over, much like they had done to her, before she held out her hand in greeting. "Very nice to meet you, thank you so much for helping out. Are you friends or...?"

"I just ran into them in the park like two hours ago, me and the gang were practicing --Remember we try and meet in the park every week to keep in practice?-- and they wanted to learn about tai chi. I just brought 'em back here for a sitdown and..." Janice let it hang there and Cat nodded her head, understanding what she had left unsaid.

"We are passing through the area, we arrived in Montreal earlier today. I have not seen 'tai chi' performed in this land before, but I know these forms and wanted to learn the history. Do you know tai chi?" Korra had almost forgotten why they had first approached Janice with the absurdity that had happened, but now that she remembered she was again eager to learn if there were other waterbenders somewhere.

"Tai chi? No, I studied a different kung fu, and that was years ago. I've had other things on my plate recently," and she had a slightly sad smile on her face, but a smile it nonetheless was. "So, Janice, what had you all talked about before you were interrupted?" She was transparently trying to get Janice's mind off of what had happened.

"Nothing at all really, we'd just sat down. Uh, if you still want to know (Korra and Asami both nodded vigorously), well, like I said, I study chen-style, that's what you saw in the park earlier, there's a school only a few blocks from here, but it's closed now for remodeling so that's why we're working in the park." She was growing excited again, just like they had noticed when she had begun talking about the style before, clearly this was a passion and it began to draw her out of her sadness. "I can't rattle off the entire history from memory, but I can give you the highlights. It goes back about five hundred years, although back then the truth starts to blur pretty heavily with legend." She was animated now and leanining forward, eagre to expound upon the style, and Cat leaned back with a satisfied air to let her ramble.

 


 

 

By the time Janice wound down most of two hours had passed, and it was edging towards evening as the sun lowered. She had made no mention of waterbending, nothing to connect back to their own world, and their hopes had dipped a little at the lack of contact. However, even without that bonus, they had both still been interested in the art itself. The philosophies were very similar to waterbending, almost identical in some cases, but very different in others.

"So, are you doing okay?"

"Yeah...yeah, I'll be fine. Thank you so much for coming out, it means so much to have you here, but the shock's worn off. Go home, see Michel." Janice was well collected now, and she had stopped looking at Korra and Asami every three seconds like she feared they might turn on her, so with a final quick hug Cat exited the shop. Afterwards, Janice turned back to the table.

"I think I should be heading home as well, it's getting late and I need to decompress after....after everything. It was very nice to meet you both, and thank you so much for what you did today."

As they left the coffee shop, Korra and Asami turned to walk back to the park, which was near where they had left the motorcycle and their supplies. Before they had walked far, though, they heard a call from behind them and turned to see Janice awkwardly walking over, again looking over their disshevelled appearance.

"Hey, you guys said you only got into town this morning. Do you....do you have a place to stay?"

Chapter Text

"So.....you're biker chicks, huh?  Whoa."

 

Janice had given them directions on how to find her apartment building, and after Korra and Asami had retrieved their motorcycle (Eying the piece of paper stuck to the handlebar with distaste.  Apparently parking tickets were universal) they rode over and found her watching the street from the doorway.  Her eyes had widened as they rode up and she looked at the bike with a sense almost like wonder.

 

"When I was a kid I used to watch a lot of biker movies; getting out on the open road, leaving behind your troubles....never got into the real things, though.  My parents always said I'd crack my head open, wouldn't even let me sign up for the classes."  Her smile was not sad, but bittersweet, and she waved them to the parking area beside the building.  "Just take one of the visitor spaces in the lot.  You're only supposed to stay there for an hour, but nobody ever comes by to check."  Setting down the kickstand in the indicated section, they grabbed what they could and followed Janice to an elevator.  Janice eyed Korra's glider staff askance, but she said nothing, and they rode up in silence.  The elevator itself was actually not very impressive to Korra and Asami, stained and marked and creaking, but that fact was impressive; that elevators could have been around long enough to fall into disrepair said a lot about the history of technology.  Much like the communications infrastructure, it all indicated that this world had had industry and electricity for much longer than their own world, although they had also seen no indication of advanced mechanics like MechaTanks.  Why the strange dichotomy, ahead in some areas, behind in others?

 

Janice's apartment was small and cramped, only two rooms and a small kitchen, but compared to the prospect of sleeping on the streets it seemed palatial. To camp out in the wilds was one thing, sleeping in the grass beneath the stars, but to sleep beneath the towering skyscrapers and the endless lights of a city seemed a different proposition altogether, even if they had unrolled their sleeping mats on the grass in the park.  The ability to shower and clean had its own tantalizing draw as well, and they looked at the bathroom with something approaching desire, especially once Asami noticed the rather well stocked makeup and grooming supplies.  When she saw that, Korra grinned and remembered back to when she had finally asked Asami about her always impeccable appearance.  It had been back when they were stuck on the ice, buried beneath the storm, and even now Korra could still feel the bright light of that very first kiss, when their lips had touched together so softly.

 

They had lain side by side in the snow cavern, invisible to one another in the darkness, but she could feel Asami's hand slowly tracing over the back of her own hand, while she ran the fingers of her other hand through Asami's hair and marveled at its softness.  Even then, when they had already been on the ice for days, after a week in the Spirit World, it felt as if it had been freshened just a little bit earlier.  Asami always looked poised, always in control of her appearance.  When they had been living in the sewers of Republic City with Gommu during the Equalist uprising she had maintained her style, and she had even taken the time to apply her eye liner before they went into battle.  Never a hair out of place.  Not out of vanity, Korra was sure, but out of...what?

 

"Asami?"

 

"Hmmm?"  The voice was heavy and deep, not sleepy, but...content.  Content in a way that made no sense considering they were buried alive in a snowstorm, but which Korra understood perfectly.

 

"You always....you always look so perfect.  So....snazzy.  Even when you don't need to.  Even when I know a lot of people try and use it to knock you down, like those articles about how you were just the pretty face the staff kept on and weren't involved in running the company.  Why do you make that kind of effort?"  She hoped that her question did not sound judgmental, or like she for some reason wanted Asami to stop, but she had never really understood fashion or the thinking behind it, and Asami....she wanted to understand Asami.

 

"I know there are people who think that I can't handle my company, but they don't matter; if I changed how I looked to please them they'd just find something else to complain about.  I don't take care of myself for anybody but myself.  A lot of people think it's because I'm in love with the way I look, or because that's all I have to offer, but that's not it.  I just....my body is something that I have control over.  When I was a kid, after my mom died....there was so much happening that I couldn't do anything about.  Not even just losing her, but everything.  My father changed, even if I had no idea then how much.  My friends all started treating me different, and so did people my father knew and people at the company.  I couldn't control how they acted around me, or how they felt, but I could control me, and I wanted to be in control what I showed to the world.  So, I made sure the world always saw exactly what I wanted it to see, so that I could get a handle on everything that was out of my control.  Then...I grew to love the image I presented, the way it made me feel to put myself together, even just the sensation and ritual of taking care of myself.  It's relaxing and it's fun.  I don't care if they think I'm 'just a pretty face', it's who I am, and no matter what happens I won't let anybody take away a part of me."

 

Korra had never stopped gently brushing Asami's hair as she spoke, feeling the softness flow through her fingers like it was water she was bending, and the sensation of Asami's tracing the back of her other hand continued steadily.  Almost regretfully, Korra stopped stroking, then leaned over to rest her cheek on the top of Asami's head, feeling the softness directly and inhaling just the smell of Asami.  "I wouldn't worry about anybody taking anything away from you, you'd have them wrapped up in a bun before the could even touch your lipstick."

 

Asami let out a surprised guffaw at that, then smothered her laughter as best she could.  "True," she said, and let herself sink a little deeper into Korra's embrace.

 

Now, Asami eyed the cosmetics in Janice's apartment with undisguised envy.  She had agreed that luxuries like makeup were not strictly necessary considering they had such limited funds when they were buying their equipment while preparing to leave Ville de Moores, and anyway Korra always looked at her as if she were impeccably groomed regardless of how unkempt she had grown, but she still itched to be able to set herself to straights.

 

"Oh, most of that's Cat's, she's a cosmetician and she...uh...she's been giving me pointers.  I'm still getting the hang of using it all."  Janice darkened and looked away, then gestured to the couch set against one wall.  "This is all I have, really, but we can move the table and make some more room if you need to spread out, or...do you have sleeping bags or what?"

 

"We have sleeping mats, but the couch will be fine, we do not need more room."  Neither Korra nor Asami noticed the way Janice's eye seemed to twitch at that, but then she nodded and silently mouthed 'Oooooohhhhh'.

 

"Okay, cool.  I don't have much in the fridge, but you can grab something if you're hungry and...I think I'm going to turn in.  I have to get up early for work tomorrow and today...it was amazing what you two did, but I'd like very much to just nod off and let today fade away." And with a wave she disappeared into the bedroom, leaving Korra and Asami to get ready for bed themselves.

Chapter Text

As morning came Korra and Asami were woken by the sounds of hurried motion and the smell of...ugh, coffee.  As their eyes opened they saw Janice busying herself in the small kitchen and pouring out a pot of the black sludge they had come to loathe.  What was this world's obsession when they already had tea?  Grumbling the sort of early-morning nonsense that was the prerogative of everybody awoken earlier than they would like, they both climbed off of the couch and noticed with surprise that the sun had barely risen.

 

"Sorry to knock you up so early, but my shift starts at 8:00 and I need to get going.  You two want some coffee?"  Janice was wearing what they had come to recognize was a serving uniform, and she waved her hand at the still-filled pot.

 

"No, thank you," Asami said, "thank you for letting us stay the night."

 

"Of course, of course.  After yesterday...." Her face darkened again and she looked down; Asami and Korra both recognized the look, she would be carrying the attack from yesterday with her for a very long time.  "...it's not many people who would help out a stranger like that, especially not....just thank you."  Janice finished off the cup in her hand and tossed it into the sink, then turned towards her bedroom, and Asami noticed that there was nothing else in evidence for her breakfast.  Halfway to the door, though, she hesitated and half-turned towards Korra and Asami, coloring a bit, but not saying anything.

 

After a moment, Asami realized and said "Me and Korra actually didn't get a chance to see much of the city yesterday, once we freshen up we will head out for the day," and she knew she had guessed correctly when Janice relaxed almost instantly and cleared the way to the bathroom.  Soon, when they had both availed themselves of the facilities and with Janice's permission Asami had explored the available cosmetics (It was amazing how much the application of a foundation and accentuation could change how you felt), and then they followed her out of the apartment and down to the entrance....where there was a man leaning against the door waiting for them.

 

He smiled, or rather tried to smile and gave a twisted grimace, and said "Hey Jack.  Got a minute?"

 

Janice froze in the entryway and stared at him for a minute before she responded, "There's no Jack here, Jeff" and she moved to walk past him.

 

He sidestepped and held up his hands.  "Just five minutes, please...uh...alone? For old times' sake?" and he looked at Korra and Asami.

 

Now she eyeballed him directly; "These are the people who kept Billy Jean from clocking me with a baseball bat and the rest of their little gang from sending me to the hospital.  Right now I'd say their 'sake' counts for a lot more than our old times."

 

Jeff's grimace twisted even further and he stepped back out of the way, but he again said "Please?", and Janice stopped mid-step and turned to face him

 

"What?"  There was a a lot of emotion in that single syllable; anger and hurt and resentment and sadness and maybe a little bit of hope as well.

 

"About yesterday....they didn't mean to...Lisa and her friends were just...."

 

"Just what, Jeff?  Just fooling around?  Just joking?  Just having fun?  They might have.....they weren't carrying a water balloon, this isn't a goddamn joke, they jumped me in an alley to...to...they might have killed me.  Do you know how many women have been murdered like that?  I do.  I think about that every goddamn day and yesterday...I helped you babysit her and every other one of those little....and they still..."  She was crying now, and Jeff stepped forward.

 

"Jack, I just--"

 

"No.  I told you before, there's no Jack here.  I didn't call the cops yesterday, but if they...if Lisa sets foot near me again I'll...." She shook her head and walked past him, not stopping this time when he called out again.  Korra and Asami looked back and forth between them, again wondering just what the story was, and then ran forward to catch up to her.

 

"I'm sorry about that.  Jeff and I...oh, god, when we were kids I thought....he probably just came by to make sure I wasn't pressing charges, wanted to protect his little sister..."  She was wiping away her tears and straightening her uniform, almost running down the sidewalk (Presumably to work), and Korra reached out to grab her shoulder.

 

"Hold on, just....slow down.  What is this all about?  What did you do to Lisa's car to cause this?"

 

"Do to...do to her car?"

 

"Yesterday we heard you two arguing about a transmission..."

 

"About a...a transmission?"  For a moment Janice stared at them in shock, then she began to laugh.  It was a sad, pained laugh, but it was also deep, and she gasped for breath in between the wracking spasms.  "Oh, oh my sweet lord, did you two think...no, it's got nothing to do with a transmission.  I'm transgender."  They stared at her in incomprehension and her laugh started to come back up.  "It means I...I was born with the body of a boy, but that was never right, so I'm changing, and there's a lot of medicine and surgery, but I'm becoming who I always was."  The laughter had died down, and now the wariness from the day before was actually creeping back to her face.  If Korra and Asami had not realized when they came to her aide yesterday, if they had thought she was 'normal' when they helped fight off her attackers...how might they react now?

 

Korra and Asami looked at each other in confusion, as they had done quite often recently, and then Korra turned back to Janice.  "You are a woman."

 

"Yes."  That was as clear a statement as could be made.

 

"Okay," and Korra shrugged her shoulders, as did Asami.

 


 

 

After Janice had finally made it to work (Late, but not too late), Korra and Asami were left to explore the city, and this time they were determined to actually see the city.  Korra still carried her glider staff in hand, but with her other arm she clasped Asami and they decided to spend the day playing tourist.  Much of what they saw was still alien to them, but a lot of it was familiar, and just like they had the day before they reflected that the energy of the city was almost like they had made it home, so similar to the feel of Republic City.  As they walked aimlessly down the streets, they began to notice that things began to seem a little bit more familiar, and they both stopped and stared as they suddenly found themselves surrounded by what looked like people and architecture pulled right out of the Earth Kingdom and blended with this world.

 

"Is this...what is this place?"  Korra stared around in wonder, since for the first time they could trace what looked like normal buildings, and writing they could understand.  It still spoke of this world, but they could read it.

 

"I don't know, but smell that.  It's like roast duck from Kwong's, I almost thought I'd never get that smell again."  Asami was almost leaning forward towards the restaurant as if drawn by the aroma.

 

"Is this the China everybody spoke about?  The same writing?"

 

"It can't be, that's on the other side of the world, not in Canada and...whatever this place is, it can wait until after lunch.  Come on, I'm buying," and Asami practically dragged Korra towards the restaurant that they had passed, which served not just roast duck, but also noodles and spices and dishes that were oh so similar to what they had known back home.  So far they had avoided any serious spending on their part given their lack of any regular income, but for their first familiar meal in months they reveled unapologetically.  Ordering was initially difficult, despite the writing it was true that these people did not speak the language Korra and Asami were familiar with, but with pointing and gesturing they made their wishes known, and soon they were nearly buried beneath a mountain of dumplings and noodles and rice.

 

"Oh, I didn't realize how badly I missed this," Korra moaned as she practically shoveled a bowl into her mouth, "I feel like I'm back at Narook's."

 

"Try this beef, I'd swear it was moo-sow tenderloin," and Asami shoved over a bowl that was still steaming.  Korra did not even respond, just simply scooped out a serving and added it to her plate, and Asami grinned as she dug in.  They were not actually home, and there were still differences, but like the energy of the city itself, the familiarity was enough for now.

 


 

 

"Oooh, I think maybe I shouldn't have gone for that last dumpling," and for a brief instant Asami widened her gait and clutched her stomach, as if filled to bursting, before resuming her normal casual stroll.  Beside her, Korra followed suit as they walked down the road of this little enclave of their home, taking in all the sights that were almost normal.  For a few minutes they were not trapped in a strange land, not cut off away from everybody they knew, they were just walking down a city street, maybe planning to do a little shopping later or going to meet some friends or any other mundane activity, and for now just taking in the sights and enjoying each other's company.

 

"Do you think we'd be doing this if we were back home?" Korra asked.

 

"Hmmm?"

 

"If we had never been brought here, if we'd gotten to the North Pole like we were trying to do.  Do you think we'd just be living in Republic City right now, walking down the street?"

 

"Probably not," Asami said, "Right in the middle of the day I'd be refining some new design that the company was going to produce, or coordinating the rebuilding of the city, and you'd be pulled in a dozen different directions to do something Officially Avatar."

 

She felt Korra slump down the tiniest bit against her side as she said "You're supposed to say 'Of course, Korra, no matter what'."

 

"Oh, so you wanted the Ikki version of the story then?  Well, in that case, of course Korra, no matter what, we'd spend every day walking over the city going shopping, and at night we'd go to every show the city has and then we'd drink a love potion made of rainbows and sunsets that makes us sprout wings and fly to a magical castle in the sky."  When Korra stopped shaking from the laughter Asami continued, "We both know there would be too much going on back home for us to be able to spend so much time away like this, there'd always be another fire to put out, another distraction."  She felt Korra begin to slump again and grabbed her shoulders, "But what I also know is that we would have made it work. No matter what, Korra.  We'd have stolen five minutes together at lunch, and we'd meet up at night when everybody else is asleep, and you'd fly over to my office when I was stuck working late, and I'd reschedule my meetings to work around when you had finished dealing with the next Spirit Monster to decide it was time to eat all of the noodles on Air Temple Island or whatever insanity came next.  Always.  No mater what."

 

Korra's eyes were shining now, filled as if with tears that refused to be shed, and stepped up to place a tender kiss on Asami's cheek.  "....you know, I think I might like your version better than Ikki's.  But don't tell her I said that."

 

Asami's smile widened even a little bit further, "I wouldn't dream of it."

 


 

 

"I've got an idea!"  Korra practically shouted it, but even then Asami could barely hear her over the sounds of people clapping and cheering.

 

"What?  Korra!"  Asami reached and to grab her, but Korra had already darted away and leapt up on the small stone ledge that surrounded a fountain.

 

"Attention!  Attention!  Everybody, you will not want to miss this!" and Asami knew she had to have used a little trick of airbending to be heard like she was.

 

There were several dozen people clustered around, and the crowd had only just begun to dissipate.  On one edge two of the musicians that had just finished performing were holding out baskets for money, which was falling in from the crowd at an impressive rate, while the third was packing up their equipment.  At Korra's shout they all turned around to see her waving from atop the fountain, and a few began to shift over to see what this newest street performer had to offer.

 

"Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome!  I am a stranger to your land and cannot speak French very well, so there is no speech to give.  What I do have is the finest display you will ever see!"

 

The mutterings from the crowd were more disinterested than enraptured, and many had already begun to drift away, so clearly they were used to such boasts and not unduly impressed.  Korra, however, saw that as a challenge.

 

She turned and began to run along the fountain's ledge, circling around the center.  After he first revolution she took a double-step and switched to a flip, rolling through a tumble that continued to carry her around the ledge.  The ledge was not thin enough for simple running to be impressive, but the roll got a smattering of applause.  After her rolls had brought her completely around the rim again she stood up and, without breaking stride, rotated in place and began rolling over backwards, carrying herself along the fountain's edge again.  That got another, louder round of applause, but still not anything significant.  When Korra came back around to the front after her third revolution, knowing that she had their attention now, she came to a complete standstill, faced the crowd, and shouted "Watch this!"  Then she began running again, as she had during the first revolution, and there were confused wonderings from the crowd, until they realized that she was running on the fountain.  She had stepped in from the ledge and was running along the surface of the water.  After her first revolution she began to roll forward again, then flip backwards, just as she had along the stone ledge, but this time performing on the inner liquid.  Now the crowd was ecstatic, shouting and clapping and crowding close.

 

Asami, however, was mortified.  There were cameras everywhere here; they had noticed many of them on buildings and lights to watch traffic and pedestrians, and dozens of people were holding them right now and pointing them at Korra.  There was no way this would not be recorded and put on the internet for everybody to see.  What was Korra thinking?  Was she thinking?  She had to know the risk she was putting them in, so why?  Actually....yes, Korra did have to realize the dangers, so why was she acting like this?  She might have been brash and reckless, but she was not foolish, especially not in such a calm environment without danger to press her without thinking.  Asami looked up and down the road they were on, which was crowded with street performers and...crowded with street performers.  Many of them performing tricks that looked like magic, deceiving the eye, and one bare-chested man working with fire so deftly that for a second Asami had believed him to be a firebender.  All of them being observed and recorded, but without any suspicion or undue hostility.  Just like Korra was being observed now, with people looking for the trick, not believing her to be bending.

 

Now Korra was standing motionless in the middle of the fountain, with the water falling down around her, and she began to spin in place.  The water streams falling around her began to twist, then curve a little bit, then they braided themselves as they fell and swirled around her torso in a shimmering curtain.  Throwing her hands up a stream of water shot into the air and fell across the spectators, sprinkling them with drops, and they called louder and more enthusiastically than ever.  Her arms began to move in a blur, water gushing upward almost as thick as a waterfall, but instead of shooting out over the audience it went straight up and fell back down, splashing around Korra like a perfect shroud.  When the water stilled again there was just the motion of the fountain itself and Korra standing there, arms held open, smiling at the crowd.

 

The resulting applause was louder than almost any she had received for saving the world.

 

"Thank you!  Thank you!"  Korra climbed out of the fountain (And the applause redoubled when the front spectators noticed she was not even wet) and walked over to Asami, where she held out her hands.  "Thank you all!"

 

As coins and bills filled up their hands (They would need to bring a basket in the future) Asami said out of the corner of her mouth "That was brilliant, but next time warn me first!  I had no idea what you were thinking!"

 

"That was the idea!  What kind of surprise would it be if I warned you?"  And Asami could not help but laugh.

Chapter Text

Twilight was beginning to descend, and as their footfalls carried them ever further into the city Asami began to turn her eyes to the time. Like they had thought two days ago, it is quite a different thing to aimlessly wander around a city at night than it is to wander during the day, and without some specific destination in mind it might have been better to bunker down for the evening. They had found themselves down near the waterfront, and Asami slowly began to circle as she looked for a landmark that she could orient on to find her way around. Korra observed with her, but she clearly had a different objective in mind, as she stiffened and began pulling Asami forward while the later was still picking out a marker.

 

"Korra, what is it?"

 

"Come on!" Korra's voice was excited, but not tense, and she was almost dashing along the waterfront, with Asami trailing behind.

 

"I don't...where are we going?"

 

"It's a surprise!"

 

"Wha...we're both new here, you don't know any more than I do! How can it be a surprise?"

 

"Apparently I know something you don't!"  There was a teasing edge to Korra's voice now, and she pulled Asami right up to a small dock that extended out into the water with several boats tied up alongside in the shape of large birds.  Out on the water, Asami could see a few of them slowly floating by, each with a pair of people within.

 

"Korra, what is this?"

 

"This is our official second date," and Korra flourished her arms as if presenting the entire waterfront to Asami, who could not quite stifle the laugh that tried to come out.  She had seen Korra make the same motion a dozen times now, going all the way back to when they had started hunting in the wilderness, and it always looked like Korra was trying to make a present of the entire world.

 

"We've spent the whole day together (We've spent almost every day together), we don't need to make something an 'official' date."

 

"I know we don't have to, but I want to.  Like you said before, if we'd never been stuck here we wouldn't have had all this time together, just stolen moments around both of our schedules, and so since we do have all this time together...I want to make it special.  And since we eat every day, and we bend every day (Or at least I'd like to bend every day), for our second date we need to do something different.  And I don't know about you, but I haven't ridden in a bird-boat for quite a while."  On the dock, Korra pointed to where there was a manned booth where an old man was standing and guiding another couple into one of the giant birds.  "Besides, now that I'm making money I get to treat you for a change, and we need to follow up from our first date at that festival," and Korra pulled her over to the operator.

 

The boat itself was an extremely simple affair, just a pair of paddles connected to pedals, and Korra almost turned up her nose at it from Water Tribe pride, but as soon as Asami acquiesced they were out on the water and she was paddling with all she had.  Twilight had turned to dusk, and on the water the Montreal skyline began to glow in the evening from its own light.

 

"Oh my...Korra, it's beautiful."  There might have been a half-dozen other boats surrounding them, but they were still alone, and they watched the lights bloom overhead.

 

Looking at the glow of Asami's face, Korra said "It's how I feel every time I look at you."  She could see the color start to rise in Asami's flush, and she pushed ahead. "No, really, it is.  That feeling you get when you see the whole city light up, reflecting the sun and the stars and with its own sights and sounds, open for all the world to see...that's the way I feel looking at you.  Everything I see in your eyes, the limitless possibilities...I'm looking at a new city, the world of tomorrow, laying open before me, and all I want to do is get lost in it.  And when you look back at me, and I get the the feeling that you see something in me....that's grander than every city in the world."

 

The night had started to grow cold, and there was a chilly breeze as well, but that was not the reason that Asami leaned in and nestled against Korra.  She lowered her head, resting against Korra's chest, and listened to just the breathing and heartbeat.  Korra encircled her, cradling Asami in close, and took in just the feel and warmth and smell.  Slowly, Korra's feet stilled on the peddles and they drifted in almost complete silence, now oblivious to the lights of the city, as they lay in each other's arms and just were.

 

"I love you, Korra."  It was a whisper, almost subvocal, but to Korra it felt as powerful as a shout from the rooftops.

 

"I love you, too."  Korra could not have been any louder than Asami had been, but with the way her body thrilled it was clear that Asami had heard her as well.

 

True night fell, and all the other boats returned to the dock, but it was a long time before either of them thought about moving.

Chapter Text

By the time they returned to Janice's apartment it had been dark for a while, but they made the journey without incident.  As they approached her door, however, Korra suddenly drew back.

 

"What's wrong?" Asami glanced between her and the door.

 

"I just realized we never actually asked her if we could stay the night again, what if she only meant to offer for last night while we were new in the city?  I'm sure she'd say 'yes' if we asked, but what if she has company over?"

 

Asami marveled how Korra, who could be so brash and headstrong in some instances, could still draw back at the thought of inconveniencing somebody.  "If she has company over we can just say we stopped by to say good-bye before moving on.  And that would be the truth, too, since even if we're not going to be living with her I wouldn't want to leave without a farewell.  So, don't worry," and Asami walked up to the door.  However, before knocking, she paused herself.  "Do you hear that?"

 

They both crowded close to the door, laying their ears against it in comical fashion, and heard music coming from within the apartment.  It did not sound like a radio or phonograph (Or a "CD player" or "MP3", which they had learned were essentially just electronic phonographs), but rather like a live performance.  It was soft and soothing, quiet, without any of the passion or screaming energy they had heard at the festival a few days ago.  Once it had gone through what sounded like a complete song, Asami reached up again and knocked, and Janice opened the door.

 

"Oh, am I relieved to see you two, I was starting to get worried that something had happened.  The city can be dangerous at night, and I know you're not a pair of pushovers but it's easy to get turned around and wind up in the wrong part of town."  Her welcoming tone put away Korra's fears quickly, and they both squeezed their way into the small apartment.

 

"Was that you making the music?" Asami asked, eying an instrument set down on the couch.  It was the same style as they had seen used by the bands at the festival, similar to several different types of stringed instruments back home, bot not quite identical to any of them.

 

"What?  Oh, yeah, that was me.  The walls here are too thin for me to really cut loose, so we need to practice over at Rebecca's place when we're rehearsing, but when I need to unwind or take my mind off things I can usually get by with something nice and slow and not get any complaints."

 

"Rehearse?  Are you in a band?"  Asami had picked up the instrument and was turning it over in her hands as she examined it; a wide base with a long neck, and several metallic strands stretched along its length.

 

"Yeah, of course, I...you know, I had honestly forgotten I only ran into you yesterday and literally the only thing we've talked about has been tai chi.  Me and some friends play together, we have for a few years now.'

 

"We heard you through the door, it was...very soothing."

 

"Yeah, that one helps me work things out; after yesterday and then Jeff this morning I just needed to go somewhere else for a bit.  Do you...do you want me to play something?"  She seemed hesitant, but Korra and Asami's fascination with her guitar and open expressions drew her out.  "Like I said the walls are thin and we mainly go with a hard rock sound, so I can't really give you a taste of the Runaway Hearts, but I know some others and...have a seat."

 

She took a few moments to center herself, working out her fingers and picking a tuneless tune, before she slowly began strumming.

 

"When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be

And in my hour of darkness
She is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be

Let it be, let it be
Let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom
Let it be

When all the brokenhearted people
Living in the world agree
There will be an answer, let it be

For though they may be parted
There is still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer, let it be

Let it be, let it be
Let it be, let it be
here will be an answer, let it be

Let it be, let it be
Let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom
Let it be

Let it be, let it be
Let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom
Let it be

And when the night is cloudy
There is still a light that shines on me
Shine on 'til tomorrow, let it be

I wake up to the sound of music
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be

Let it be, let it be
Let it be, let it be
There will be an answer, let it be

Let it be, let it be
Let it be, yeah, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom
Let it be"

 

Her eyes had closed halfway through and she was singing to somebody far away, and after she finished she remained far away for a while before opening her eyes and smiling a small smile.  Korra and Asami were speechless, caught away just as she had been, and after a brief hesitation began applauding wildly (At least until they heard a banging on one of the walls).

 

"That was so beautiful.  Did you write it?"

 

"No, I...you don't know the Beatles?"  When they both shook their heads Janice was almost comically shocked.  "Whoever's been showing you around since you got here hasn't been doing their job properly, then" and she grabbed her phone and began quickly scrolling through its screen.  Before she could begin playing anything, though, she looked back up hesitantly.  "Uh...me and the girls are actually playing tomorrow night at a club, Stephanie knows the owner and...do you want to come?"

 


 

 

For the first time since they had gotten a good look at Joo Dee back at the military base at the North Pole and gotten used to her appearance, Korra and Asami stared at the people around them in confusion and more than a little bit of fear.  They had seen many different styles of clothing and many different skin and body types in this land, especially since they had arrived in this city, but the people swarming around the club where Janice was going to be playing were almost aggressively strange.  Their clothing alone was different; so much of it was darkly black, and it looked ripped and torn and stained, but deliberately so.  Makeup was dominated by dark colors and vicious smears.  Hair was not just shaved or styled, but cut into bizarre designs, in a multitude of colors, none of which looked natural. Even the skin was marked; designs and words and symbols were tattooed on arms and necks and faces, and there were metal piercings festooned in so many places on so many faces to make even Aiwei flinch.  The crowd looked actively hostile, threatening even, and as they were submerged in it Korra and Asami found themselves standing back-to-back in preparation for some sort of confrontation.

 

"Asami!  Korra!  Over here!"  Janice was waving to them over the crowd and they cautiously edged their way over to her, prepared to dive and knock her to the ground if the violence erupted before they got to her and...she was one of them, attired in the same garish, inhospitable looking style as everybody else there.  "I'm so glad you found the place, I wish I could have met you before but I had to come straight from work.  Come inside, I'll introduce you around before we get started."  She turned and plunged into the throng, and they parted easily before her, moving aside with the casual courtesy (Or not moving with casual obtrusiveness) of any other crowd of people.  Staring after her in confusion, Korra and Asami rushed to catch up and follow her inside.

 

The club itself looked just as inhospitable, but the staff were smiling and laughing as they worked to set up, and on one end was a stage where several people were assembling equipment.

 

"Korra, Asami, this is Stephanie, Bettany, and Rebecca, together we are the Runaway Hearts!" And all four of them simultaneously raised their right arms, with their index and pinky fingers extended above their heads.

 

"Nice to meet you, Jan was filling us in on what happened, what you two did was amazing."  Bettany was adjusting a set of drums as she spoke, but despite her appearance (And all the rest of them) her voice was friendly.

 

"Yeah, we might have needed to scrape up a replacement guitarist, and the only one I know we could have gotten on such short notice is Suzie Perkins and...ugh" Stephanie gave an exaggerated shiver at that, while Rebecca playfully shoved her shoulder.

 

"We still need to finish setting up, but the doors should be opening in about half an hour, so get a drink and...and enjoy the show!"  They all made the same hand gesture again, then turned back to their instruments as Korra and Asami wandered off.

 

A half-hour later, as Janice had said, the crowd began streaming into the club, shouting and cheering and talking and behaving like any other crowd, even though they were still an assault on Korra and Asami's eyes.  Then the lights lowered, the band stepped up to their instruments and....wow.

 

They were miles ahead technically of the kids that had performed at the festival, and they performed with the same gusto, so the final product was almost revolutionary.  It was as different as could be from the peaceful relaxation Janice had played them in her apartment the day before, filled with energy and screamed lyrics, but its passion carried them away just as far as the soothing melody had.  The audience was energized, singing along and shouting and clapping and dancing and....before the first song had even finished Korra and Asami had dived into the midst of them.  Their looks were no longer shocking, they were exciting, bold and expressive and a visual accompaniment to the song and so eminently right against the music.  There was no form to the dancing, no structure, and that made it all the better as the pounding beat swept over them.  Around them and between them were the other members of the audience, each swinging their arms and moving in their own style, in a giant mess of energy and pure, visceral reaction.

 

The band segued into their second song and Korra suddenly felt a new presence close to her, close enough to be noticeable, and she realized a man she did not know was dancing beside her...no, was dancing with her, close and matching her movements.  Over his shoulder she could see that a woman she did not know had also moved over to Asami.  Korra looked between them and...continued dancing.  Their eyes were bright, smiles wide, and they were feeling the music and energy like everybody else, and Korra let herself be swept along.  As the second song wound down the man drifted away, and she saw Asami herself move away from the other woman.  The third song started and...it was the same song that the festival had started with, the song which had first opened up these floodgates of music, and when they heard it performed with this technical skill Korra and Asami abandoned themselves completely to its power.

 

They drifted closer to each other, and if the song had been a bit less energetic they might have closed their eyes, but as it was they stared into each other's gaze as they closed.  They could feel their emotions roaring, surging along with the vicious guitar strumming and powerful drum beats and screamed lyrics, and heat was roaring within them just as the crowd roared around them.  Before they could think, or say anything, or work their way out of the crowded mess, they pulled themselves into each other and collided with fire and strength and glory unlike anything they had experienced before, as strong and deep as a mountain and rumbling like an earthquake.

 

By the time the fourth song started they were already oblivious to the world around them, numb to everything except the feel of each other and the roaring fire between them.

Chapter Text

When Korra and Asami dragged themselves awake the next morning, long after the sun was up, they were still exhausted, but also infinitely refreshed.  They had stumbled back to Janice's apartment hours after midnight, with their bodies drained of all energy after hours of frenetic movement, but still riding high on the excitement and passion and outpouring that they had experienced.  If they were going to bring one thing back to their world it would be this music, which was still so new and fresh and unlike anything they would ever have imagined back home.  Now they were barely recovered from the exertion, groaning and creaking, but still filled with all of the fiery rush of the excitement.

 

"Janice?"  Asami called out.  On the previous two days they had been woken just past dawn as Janice left for work, but she was nowhere to be seen and they realized belatedly that it was edging already towards noon.  Had they missed her?  The apartment was small and easily searched, and in minutes they found a note taped to the inside of the door.

 

"Had to leave for work, but I didn't want to wake you.  There's some coffee left over if you want it, lock up when you leave.  See you tonight!"

 

Korra stared numbly at the note, "How could she possibly have had the energy to get up so early after last night?"

 

"Maybe that coffee works even better than we thought."  Asami leaned over the pot and sniffed experimentally, but still had to draw back instead of testing out its regenerative abilities.  "I'll...I think I'll just stick with being tired."  Korra could not help but chuckle, and then they both began to run through the usual morning preparations of any normal day.

 

As she left the shower, Korra was idly singing to herself one of the songs they had heard last night.  It was in unfamiliar English, and the cadence was unnatural to her compared to their own language, but it had made an impression regardless.  "...now you dont need money when you look like that, do ya honey? / Big black boots, long brown hair, she's so sweet with her get back stare..." *  Winding down, she noticed that Asami was staring at Janice's cosmetic supplies very intently.  "I know that look.  Are you just thinking about today's style, or are you designing some new makeup based airship?"

 

"Hmm?  Oh, I was just thinking about everybody last night at that club and how they looked so...intense .  Like everything they did was centered on that one show."

 

"I doubt the whole crowd went out and got tattoos just for this one performance."

 

"I know, but it was still for this show, even if it wasn't only for it.  The way they dressed and their makeup and their hair, it was almost like devotion."

 

"I could understand that," Korra mused, "the way that music made me feel, it was like refreshment for the spirit.  If you'd grown up with it for your whole life, who knows how it would make you feel?"  She thought back to the extravagant piercings, the vibrant hair colors, and the overwhelming dark makeup that almost seemed to smother the eyes.  "Did you want to become one of them?"

 

"No, not like that," and Asami was leaning back from the cosmetics after applying just her usual artful display, "But...maybe?  Once I learn what it all means and understand what they're trying to say.  Right now, though, I'm not planning to just bathe myself in mascara."

 

"Good, I'd need some time to adjust, I'm not prepared to deal with all of the smudging" and Korra leaned forward to lightly kiss Asami's cheek, avoiding her freshly-applied lipstick.

 


 

 

The day before, Janice had told Korra and Asami how to find a library, and they had spent several hours there attempting to locate whatever information they could on the phenomenon that had brought them to this world.  Unfortunately there had been no new information since they had last seen scientific articles on the subject, and it seemed to be as much of a mystery to the people of this world as it was to them.  Many comments on what they could find found this lack of information to be suspicious, and made reference to everything from government oppression to aliens (Pete had explained "Aliens" to them a few weeks ago; as near as they could figure it referred to spirit creatures that most people did not believed existed, but were used heavily in fiction and as the center of paranoid conspiracies).  They were still unfamiliar enough with the world to be unsure which of the comments to take seriously and which to dismiss, so they found themselves without any appreciable new data.

 

They went back to the library again today and performed a desultory search for form's sake, but soon found themselves engrossed instead in researching the musical styles they had found themselves exposed to.  "Rock and Roll" seemed to be the most encompassing label, but within in that they found "hard rock", "punk rock", "heavy metal", "classic rock", "alternative rock" (Alternative to what?), and then they discovered connections to other forms of music called "jazz" and "pop" and "funk" and "disco" and....the lists seemed endless, each new genre bringing with it a dozen new connections and inspirations and bands.  Hours passed with them just hearing snippets of sound and brief summaries

 

"Maybe Janice could show me how to use her guitar later tonight?" Asami mused as they were leaving, her hands idly making the vague motions she could easily duplicate, "to learn how that all works..."

 

"We could join her band!" Korra laughed, "Together we've already mastered pro-Bending and mechanical engineering, music is the next inevitable step!"  Asami giggled into her hand, but she could not deny that there was definitely a tug.  Probably not to the extent of actually joining Janice's friends, but to be able to evoke even a tenth of the emotion that had come out of her....

 

They were nearing the blocked-off road section for pedestrian traffic where they had put on a street performance on the past two days, they could already hear the various musicians plying their instruments and the other performer's bellowing out their speeches, when Korra's instincts twigged to....something.  Casually, she looked around, but she noticed nothing out of the ordinary, the same milling crowds, throngs of tourists and pedestrians, people holding up cameras to rec---the cameras.  On the previous days they were the kind of cameras built into the phones that they had come to grow familiar with, with a few larger models that they had learned were dedicated photographic devices scattered in the crowds, but now many of the audience had the larger, more powerful devices.  Many of the pedestrians also seemed to be lingering purposefully, as if waiting; they were drifting from performer to performer, talking and laughing like anybody else, but they were making very wide circles around the area, always returning back again.  If she did not know better, she could have said that these were people deliberately observing the performers here, analyzing each one for something specific, and....with a very slight pressure on Asami's arm, Korra kept walking past the fountain where she had first put on her water bending display two days ago.

 

"What is it?" Asami asked, recognizing the change almost instantly.

 

"I'm not sure, but there's....I think there are people here observing the performers.  I don't think we want to be here today."  They kept walking, slowly and calmly, and stopped themselves to watch the fire-worker who Asami had noticed when they first arrived here.  They applauded at his performance, gave him a tip, and kept walking, for all the world like just one of the other tourists.

 

They reached the end of the street and were about to turn off onto one of the side-streets when they heard a voice call behind them "Excuse me, ladies?  Do you have a moment?"  It was one of the possibly-suspicious tourists with a large camera, and he was waving to them like one audience member to another, but...was that a small device in his ear?  It looked like a headphone, which were so commonly worn as to almost be an article of regular clothing, and maybe he just wanted them to take his picture (Which they had done several times the day before), but Korra and Asami kept walking forward.  "Hold on a second."  They kept their pace casual, just two tourists who weren't paying attention or did not understand French, but then they heard heavier footfalls as he began to rush over.  As soon as they heard his approach they both lunged into a sprint; whatever he wanted, they did not want to be around to experience it.

 

"Freeze!  SPVM!  Police!  Remain where you are!"

 

Well, that settled that; ducking down the next alleyway they began dashing to escape.

Chapter Text

They could hear their pursuer pounding behind them, and as they ran down the alleyway Korra and Asami considered their options.  Escaping this one solitary person would not have been too difficult, even without bending; the city was so large and with so many people that evasion was potentially quite easy.  However, Korra thought back to the many suspicious-looking people populating the crowds, and escaping a large, organized pursuit was another matter entirely.  Who knew how many people were in front of them?  What equipment and technology they had?  What training or intent?  They had almost reached the end of the alley, ready to dash off at another angle, when the man who said he was a member of the police rounded the corner behind them.  They could hear him talking to somebody (Radio, Asami thought) and when he saw them about to leave his sight again he reached inside his jacket, again calling out to them to halt.

 

When she saw him reaching inside his jacket, which TV and movers had taught her was where people hid their guns, Korra spun around quickly and tossed her glider staff to Asami.  Facing the police officer side-on, she raised her leg and brought it down decisively, rolling the concrete on which they stood and sending it surging down the alleyway.  The man squawked in surprise as the ground heaved beneath him and tossed him off his feet, and something flew from his fingers as he crumpled to the ground.  Bringing her arms across her body, Korra curled up a slab of the ground and rolled it over his body, sealing him in place.  Seeing that he was contained, she turned again to Asami and they ran off down the street that crossed the end of the alley they were in.

 

"Listen, can you hear that?"  Sirens were a familiar sound no matter the source, and what sounded like a dozen of them had started up. Asami looked around and could not see them just yet, but they were definitely getting closer.  "There's more coming".

 

As if on cue, a large vehicle burst onto the street at one of the blocks further up and sped towards them.  It had no identifying marks or siren, but further away down the road (As if they had had more distance to travel) were the smaller cars with marks and lights that they had come to recognize as police vehicles.  From behind them, back down the alley that they had just travelled, they could hear the muffled noises of shouts and running.  Asami turned to run down the still-open road to one side, only to pull up after a bare few steps when men and women in uniforms began to spill onto the street and move purposefully towards them.  Seeing them, Korra stopped beside her and mumbled "I...uh...I think we're surrounded".

 

After a quick look at the people moving in from all directions, Korra turned to the buildings lining the street, looking for the tallest structure they could reach, which looked to be an apartment complex.  Dashing over, she and Asami burst inside (Korra had to metalbend the lock that held the door shut) and began climbing up the stairs, bypassing the elevator.

 

"Any idea what they want?" Asami asked as they climbed.

 

"I'm guessing they're working with the military, but how did they find us?"  Korra was thinking over anything that might have given them away, and could not picture it.  "There must have been hundreds of people making recordings here yesterday and the day before, with so many different performers, what made us stand out?  How would they have even been looking at this city?  They couldn't have looked through every video in the world!"

 

"Maybe they have a machine that can watch recordings for them?"  Now that she thought it, it seemed really obvious to Asami given all of the other electronic devices they had seen.  "A computer than can look for people?"

 

"If that's the case, wherever we go they'll be able to find us."  Korra's voice was not depressed, not quite, but the thought of being constantly hounded was not something which appealed to her.

 

"Let's focus on just getting out of here, and we can worry about that later.  What's your plan?"  Asami had followed Korra into this building without questioning, but did not know why she had picked this one in particular.

 

"It's simple: We get up to the roof and I fly us right over their heads  They don't have any bending to follow us, and once we're out of their sight we just blend right into the crowds."

 

"You know that the glider is not really designed for two people."  Asami was still carrying the staff so that Korra's hands would be free for any necessary bending and as they passed though a stair landing she hefted it in her hands. 

 

"I know, that's why we're getting up high.  I've done plenty of carrying people over small distances, and the building will give us a nice launching pad.  No problem."  Below them, they could hear the door to the stairway bang open and there came the noises of many heavy footsteps.  "I think it's just one more story".

 

Almost before Korra had finished talking they came upon the exit and burst onto the roof, with Korra sealing the doorway behind them.  The rooftop they were on was far from the tallest in the city, but it still loomed high.  Rushing to the edge, they looked down at the people swarming below.  Already there were a half-dozen vehicles with flashing lights halted in front of the building and what seemed like a swarm of uniformed officers.  Scattered amongst them were people dressed in what they could identify were plainclothes, as well as some dressed in what looked like full combat uniforms and outfitting.  Barricades were being erected, and crowds of civilians had already begun congregating and peering.

 

"Okay, let's go."  Korra took back the glider staff and sprung it open.  "It's about time I got a chance to try this out, anyway. Hold on!"  Grabbing Asami around the waist, Korra stepped up onto the ledge the leap off and heard many shouts coming up from below.  She was about jump, and was already readying for the airbending that would keep them aloft and hopefully get them beyond the surrounding police, when Asami grabbed her shoulders to hold her.

 

"Wait, do you hear that?"  It was a deep thumping sound, almost like....suddenly overhead was one of the flying machines they were being sporadically exposed to, marked as being part of the pursuing police, and holding its position above them to observe them wherever they went.  "I don't think we're going to be able to outfly that."

 

"Maybe not, but it's still something," and Korra leapt off the roof into the swirling airbending that she had readied.  From the crowd beneath them came a collective gasp, audible even far above, and then....Korra had almost forgotten how good it felt to fly.  It had been months since she had actually been able to soar, to feel the freedom of riding on the wind, and even with Asami dragging her down it was refreshing. No, especially with Asami with her; the added weight and off-blanace drag was nothing compared to the feeling of having Asami join her in the air.  Asami half-shrieked in her arms, composed of equal parts terror and exhilaration.  She was used to flying certainly, whether in airship or airplane or aboard a flying bison, but always with something solid beneath her feet, strapped in securely.  To feel herself dangling above the ground, completely reliant on Korra to support her, was discomfiting to say the least, but...she could feel Korra's strength as she clung close, and she also had no doubt that she was as safe as if she had been piloting her own vehicle.

 

Korra grunted in exertion, flying with a passenger on the glider was much more than just twice as hard, and she was already struggling to keep them aloft.  The crowds beneath them were still shouting and screaming, even louder than they had been when they first jumped, and there looked to be even more frenetic movement.  After the first block Korra looked down and saw that there were the flashing lights of another police car there; they had apparently spared no effort when setting up this attempted apprehension and they had set up several perimeter stations in the event that they had escaped their original location.  Korra re-doubled her airbending efforts to keep them aloft further, but was troubled by the steady whump-whump-whump of the pursuing aircraft; even if they managed to get beyond the people on the ground, the ones in the air could direct the chase.

 

"You were right, we can't outfly that machine.  Any ideas?"  They were steadily, if slowly, descending to the ground, and in another block or two at most Korra would need to touch down.

 

"Actually, I think I do.  Try and set us down in that alley over there, it should block us from their view for a few seconds while they get overhead."  In moments they were on the ground, and except for an extremely startled-looking man who had been digging in one of the dumpsters they were completely alone at least for the next few seconds.  "Okay, if we can't escape them in the air, why don't we go down?  There are tunnels crossing all under the city, we've both heard the underground trains, if we go down there that flying machine can't follow us."

 

"What if they've got police down there, as well?"  But Korra's question was mainly pro forma, and she was already feeling the ground.

 

"If they do we'll deal with it then, but I can't imagine that they'll have spread them out this far underground as well.  There has to be a limit to their resources."

 

"I hope so.  This might take me a few seconds, there's a lot of pipes running through the ground here, but I can feel the tunnel beneath them all.  Let me just..."  Korra's stomp was not the heavy thud usually used in earthbending, but a much lighter touch as she tried to slide the ground aside without ripping apart the devices that did who-knew-what that were buried beneath it.  The last thing she wanted was to open up the sewage systems, or something filled with explosive gas, or whatever else might have been pumped through the ground beneath them.  The ground groaned, a much higher pitch than usual, and then there was a gaping whole leading down to a tunnel, but obstructed with numerous bits of metal.  By now the flying machine was overhead again, and they could hear sirens approaching, but the way was (reasonably) clear.  "Let's go."

 

It took some squeezing and sliding to get around all of the pipes and equipment, but then they were in the tunnel and Korra had re-sealed the opening behind them.  They could hear the distant (And not-so-distant) rumblings of trains and engines and who-knew-what, but there were no police waiting there to grab them and no flashing lights rounding the corner.  It looked like Asami had been correct, and they had not strung the police throughout these tunnels, and now they had an opportunity to move themselves and escape this entrapped area.  Together, they began running down one of the tunnels, with Korra holding up a small firebending to light their way.

Chapter Text

"We have to be outside their search area by now," Asami said, after they had been walking through the tunnels for what seemed like hours.

 

Korra still held up the small flame to light their way, but all it showed was the same dark, dank tunnels they had been looking at all along.  Neither of them knew the layout of this subterranean section of the city, so actually navigating was a foregone thought.  "Any idea where we are?"  There was a distant rumbling of train passing in one of the other tunnels, but thankfully it did not sound like it was coming towards them. They had scrambled out of the way of oncoming trains twice already, and it was not an experience Korra was looking forward to repeating.

 

"No.  I think we've been heading north, but I'm not even sure about that.  Once we get outside we can find where we are and move from there.  The next time we pass one of those stations, we should go up to the street."  Asami walked close beside Korra, and together they were picking their way across the uneven ground, riddled with tracks, equipment, debris and devices they could not begin to guess at.  There were danger and warnings signs scattered everywhere, and electricity was running through several of the connections, so their progress was impeded by slow caution and very careful steps.

 

"Okay, the---" The sight of four uniformed police officers coming out of a side tunnel not ten feet in front of them brought Korra to a sudden halt.  With the rumblings of trains their footsteps and voices had been muffled and undetectable, and even the lights they were carrying had not been visible in the shifting, flickering light of her firebending.  By their almost comical stares at her and Asami they were probably just as surprised, and they stopped for precious instants before they began to react, which was all the time that Korra and Asami needed.

 

Asami darted forward first, towards the one who seemed to be reaching for what she had tentatively identified as the microphone for a radio.  Reaching up, she grabbed both the radio and the hand that was in motion, pulling the radio off his uniform and then dropping to the ground to pull the officer into a tumble to bring him off his feat.  His shout was more surprise than pain, but he was not positioned to resist and fell to his back with a thud, momentarily stunned.  Asami turned to the other three, who had already shown they were far better trained than their fight with the bikers outside of the city, each taking several steps back to leave her effective range and reaching for the weapons they all had holstered.  Then Korra entered the fray.

 

A sudden gale of wind caught all three from the side and staggered them backwards, but Asami noted that it seemed like a weaker gust than she had seen Korra make many times before, so why....Asami noticed that one of the "Danger" signs was directly behind where the police were standing, did Korra not want to knock them into harm?  That must have been it, as Korra did not knock them back again, but instead whipped at them with a stream of water.  The tunnels down here were very damp, with puddles that had been stagnant for who-knows-how-long scattered around the ground, and Korra had quickly drawn it all to her and formed it into a long, crystal-clear waterbending stream.  She spun in place, raising her right arm above her head and gesturing with her left, and it surged out in a wide curve that encircled the three police, and when she brought her arms together again it tightened and pulled them off their feet, solidifying into ice to keep them bound.  With another gesture a separate stream ran around the man Asami had already knocked to the ground.

 

The entire confrontation had taken less than ten seconds, and now Korra and Asami stood over four bound police officers who were all shouting and speaking very rapidly to one another and them.

 

Korra and Asami's plan after first entering the tunnels had been to hide to avoid detection in the event that they stumbled across anybody, not to fight, since even if they were able to defeat who actually found them it would just start the entire ordeal all over again with the larger pursuit.  Finding themselves face-to-face like that had made hiding an impossible option, so they had had to silence the police before they could report to their superiors or the other searchers.  Now they had to escape before these four's absence was noted, and hope that there was not some sort of automatic transmission that was already summoning reinforcements.  However, since they had this opportunity...  Korra and Asami walked over to the one who had reacted the most quickly, reaching for his radio, and whom Asami had disabled first.

 

"Why are you trying to capture us?" Korra asked.

 

"Just go ahead and get it over with," he said.  He looked older than his companions, maybe the leader, and was glaring at them with tired resignation.

 

Korra and Asami looked at each other in confusion, wondering what 'it' was.  "We have broken none of your laws in this land, we only wished to not be held in captivity.  Why are the police trying to capture us?"  He only stared at them in his own confusion, while behind them the other three officers were speaking themselves, and in the echoing tunnels it was a meaningless cacophony of noise.  Seeing that there was not going to be any meangingful communication, at least not in bare moments, Korra and Asami prepared to leave.  The four police were dragged over to the side of the tunnel and raised onto one of the lips there, to keep them out of the path of any trains travelling through. Their equipment was all removed and destroyed to prevent them from calling anybody until Korra and Asami were far away (Asami briefly considered keeping one of their radios, to listen in on their pursuers, but the thought that it might somehow be tracked or signal its compatriots quickly got her to put it down) and then they were off.

 

They moved more quickly now that they knew the tunnels were being searched, but the solitary nature of these searchers and their surprise indicated that Asami had been correct; they were not pre-positioned down here, but had only begun filtering down after their escape from the original trap.  There would not be the endless backups and choke points, and if they could get out of here before anybody was sent specifically to look for the four they had disabled they stood a good chance of slipping away.  A few minutes later they noticed a change to the light quality, and they came across one of the underground stations they had already passed and where they hoped to be able to blend in with the crowd and merge with the pedestrians up above.  Unfortunately, it looked completely empty of passengers, instead populated solely by a scattering of police that were clearly part of this search.

 

They had taken too long, their pursuers had managed to get themselves established.

 

Except....Korra noticed that there were only (She counted quickly) five of them here, with none of the equipment or support they had seen outside of the building when they took their flight.  That meant....  Asami leaned over and whispered in her ear "They have to have people at every station they can, they must be stretched very wide and can't have backup right here.  If we're quick, we can get past them and out before anybody else gets here."  Korra nodded and readied herself, and Asami stepped back away from her.  Speed was critical here, just as critical as back in the tunnel; these officers had to be disabled so quickly as to not be able to contact anybody else, and quickly enough for Korra and Asami to be able to rush past them, up to the street, and hopefully into anonymity on the road.  Quietly, so as not to be seen or heard, Korra began to draw water up from the tunnel behind them, more than she had gathered before.  More than she usually gathered.  She pulled from as far away as she could reach until it floated behind her like a floating pool and she had enough to work with, and she drew it forward over her arms until it was like an extension of her own body.  When she was ready, she nodded to Asami and dashed forward, flinging her arms ahead of her.

 

The water rushed forward in a torrent, but not as a single harsh blast.  It split into five separate arcs that caught each police officer individually, then condensed almost instantly, and in less than time than it had taken Asami to knock down that one officer down in the tunnel Korra had all five of the ones here imprisoned in blocks of ice.  None had had time to even reach for their radio, let alone contact anybody.  After quickly checking to make sure that none of them would have any trouble breathing until the ice metled or they were found by somebody else, Korra and Asami dashed up to the street and were ecstatic to see that it held the usual crush of countless, milling people engaged in every activity humans could do.

 

They had made it.

Chapter Text

They did their best not to hurry, look about frantically, or do anything to call attention to themselves as they walked.  They could still hear sirens roaring back and forth in the distance, and once a police car rocked down the street next to them, but none seemed to be centered on them.  There were no furtive glances sent their way and no shouts, and it looked like they truly had emerged outside the active search area.  Around them the people went about what seemed to be a completely average day, almost oblivious to the distant activity except for what seemed to be a higher-than-average focus on their phones, which Korra and Asami knew would probably be showing news information.  For now, they were just another two women lost in the crowds.

 

"Where to now?" Korra asked.

 

"However they found us they know we're here in Montreal, so we need to leave the city as soon as we can before they find us again.  We should go get our motorcycle and leave right away."  Asami spoke evenly and determinedly, but Korra could tell she did not want to leave after they had only just arrived a few days ago and seen so little of he city.  Unfortunately, she did not see any alternative, either, unless they wanted to constantly be on the run from the police.  They had to go somewhere where they were not being actively searched for.

 

"Janice won't be back for several hours yet, we won't be able to say goodbye."

 

"Good.  That will...that'll make it easier, we won't need to explain anything.  We can leave her a note, or--no, we'll call her once we're out of the area, she gave me her phone number yesterday.  If we're just gone when she gets back hopefully she won't get in any trouble if the police track us back to her apartment."  The thought that they might have gotten Janice in trouble after she had been kind enough to let them stay at her apartment weighed heavily, but they had very few options. At least they had not gotten the impression that the people of Canada actively feared their government, and had not seen a presence like the Dai Li, so hopefully they would treat one of their own better than they had Korra and Asami.  They could hope, at least.

 

They had considered just getting their motorcycle out of the garage directly, but they had left a bag of their daily clothing and money in Janice's apartment itself, and they did not have enough to be sanguine about leaving it behind, so they went into the apartment building itself.  They did not have a key to let themselves into Janice's apartment, and Korra was planning on having to metalbend the lock open, but to their surprise the door was unlocked when they arrived and they cautiously pushed it open.

 

"Hello?"  Korra called out.

 

"Hey guys, come on in."  Janice was inside, apparently boiling something in the tiny kitchen.  "What brings you back so soon?  You usually stay out all day."

 

"We...uh...were still felling tired from your show last night.  Why are you here?  I thought you worked until the early evening?"  Asami was looking around closely, as if checking for a hidden ambush.

 

"The shop closed early today, have you heard the news?   There was some sort of huge police operation downtown, shutting down roads and the Metro, and my boss was scared there was a terrorist attack coming or something so he sent everybody home.  With pay, too!  Can you believe it?  Are you hungry?  I've got more noodles," She had not stopped moving as she spoke, and pulled two small white packages out of a cupboard.

 

"No, we're fine, we, uh, actually just ate.  What happened downtown?"  Korra had been surreptitiously collecting the few belongings they had scattered around the apartment and packing them away.

 

"I don't know, I only caught part of the report on the way home, something big, whatever it was.  Here, let me get the news for you," and before either of them could stop her she had turned on the TV lining one wall of the room, then she turned back to her noodles.

 

As much as they would have liked to stay and watch, and learn as much as they could, both Korra and Asami felt it was more important to move as quickly as possible before things grew even more complicated, and Asami turned back to their host.  "Janice, thank you so much for letting us stay here these past few days, but we actually need to head out of the city now."

 

"What?"  The question was sharp, almost shouted, and the stirring spoon she was using almost dropped to the floor before she caught it.  "You've only been in town for like three days, what's going on?"

 

"I got a call from...my mother....she wants us to meet some friends that are also visiting Canada and show them around since we have already been here for a while.  They will be arriving in Ottowa," Asami could practically see Korra deflate in relief that she had remembered the name of the other city they had heard about, "so we need to head out right away."

 

"That's a little short notice, isn't it?  They couldn't give you a little warning?  What if...what if...."  Janice's voice trailed off, and her expression had grown a little slack as she looked past them, and Korra and Asami turned around to see what she was staring at.  She was, it turned out, staring at them: On the TV news were photographs of each of them displayed on the screen.  They recognized themselves, how they had looked when they had been at the military base up near the North Pole, and in very large letters beneath their images was written 'POLICE STILL SEEKING UNIDENTIFIED SUSPECTS' as the reporter continued to drone about the operation downtown and fears of a terrorist threat.  Now the spoon did drop to the floor and Janice made a little strangled sound.

 

"Hold on Jan, it's not what you think," Asami said, and had to fight a wince at the line.  When had that ever worked?

 

"What did you do?  Ohmigod..."

 

"No, Jan, listen to me, it's not what you think.  We haven't attacked anybody and we are not terrorists."  Korra stepped forward, maybe to embrace Janice, but she jerked back instinctively.  "We're not going to hurt you or anybody else, right now we're just trying to leave Montreal before anything else happens."

 

"Look, we've already gotten our things," Asami held up the bag that Korra had passed to her a second ago with all of their belongings, "and we're on our way out."  Janice was still staring at them in shock as they edged towards the door.  "Thank you very much for letting us stay here, we won't bother you anymore."  Just before they exited, Asami paused and turned back.  "You made very beautiful music Janice."

 

Then she and Korra were running as fast as they could down the hallway.

 


 

 Their motorcycle roared out of the garage and dashed down the street, but Asami quickly closed down the throttle to a more reasonable city pace; attracting attention was something that they wanted to avoid.  She meandered down the roadways, edging westwards, but she did not head directly towards any of the bridges that would heave lead off the island.  "I don't think we can try the roads, there's bound to be checkpoints on all the bridges.  Any ideas?"

 

"I've got one.  Head towards the west waterfront and let me think."  Korra eased up her grip across Asami's stomach just a little bit, as close to leaning back as she could come while riding a motorcycle, and considered.  The roads were relatively clear, as if people were staying inside, but there was enough traffic that they were not particularly conspicuous.  They would have a few minutes before they got to the water, and she considered what she was planning to do.  No sirens sprouted around them as they had feared, and they rode in relative peace.

 

As they approached the waterfront they began to hear the characteristic whump-whump-whump of the flying machine approaching.  Was it actively seeking them out specifically, or just searching randomly?  Should they hide or try to break out now?    As if answering Korra's unspoken thoughts, Asami opened the throttle a little bit wider: They were escaping now.

 

"We're only a few blocks from the water, what's your plan?"

 

"Do you trust me?"  Korra asked.

 

Trust her?  That was a very big, complicated question.  Trust her judgment?  Trust her intentions?  Trust her abilities?  All of them?  Without even knowing what Korra had planned, how could Asami form a rational conclusion?  What should she be basing her decision on?  There was so much to consider, so many factors, so many...

 

"Yes, I trust you."  The words had to be shouted to be heard over the noise of the engine and the wind, but they were as calm and certain as if they had been spoke in normal conversation.

 

"Go right over the edge, I'll carry us across," and Korra was rewarded by an even heavier thrum from the engines as Asami opened the throttle as wide as it could go and drove directly towards the edge the island.  With an earthen shudder a ramp sprouted out of the ground beneath them, carrying them over the barriers and walls and debris that had been built up in front of the waterfront, and they were arcing out over the water.  It was a dirty, muddy water, filled with all of the refuse and chemicals and detritus of shipping and waterfront buildings, but it was still waiting to swallow them up and suck them down.  Then, from behind Asami, came a sudden bright glow, shining whitely, and a ramp angling down lunged up out of the water to catch them, and the ramp levelled out to a road stretching out across the water, with stone heaving up out of the murky blackness to meet them and forming together into a highway as wide and long as they could need.

 

With the whump-whump-whump fading behind them, they rode down the road Korra had summoned up from the bedrock of the lake and sped towards the distant shore.

Chapter Text

They rode for as long as they could after they emerged from the Lake of Two Mountains, clambering back onto the roadway and continuing to head west.  Korra had submerged their crossing behind them to obscure exactly where and when they had come out, but it had been so large and crossed so much water that it was impossible for it not to have been noticed while they crossed.  Added to everything that had happened in the midst of the city earlier in the day, there had to be recordings and eye-witnesses of bending galore, and they did not expect that its existence could remain a surprise for their next confrontation, whenever it was.  As day darkened into night they continued riding, and only stopped well after midnight when their exhaustion combined with the darkness to make it a truly dangerous circumstance.  They pulled their bike well off from the road, stopped in the empty spaces between towns, and Korra pulled an earth tent over them and the motorcycle to hide them from prying eyes.  Then they both lay down to wait for sleep.

 

It did not come so easily.

 

"Asami, I don't..."  Her voice wound down and was silent for several moments before she continued.  "I don't want to spend the rest of our lives running.  Not here.  Not living in the woods, never seeing anybody and cut off from everything we've learned.  But I don't see what we can do, not if they can track us down no matter where we go.  Unless I destroy every machine they send after us and every soldier that chases us....we're hundreds of miles from Ville de Moores, it must be thousands from that base where they first held us, and they still had our pictures and were looking for us.  They just knew where we were and were waiting for us.  How can we outrun that?  Do I use my power to take over and force them to stop hounding us?  What do I become then?"

 

Asami was silent herself before she replied, and half of her response was nonverbal as she turned onto her side and wrapped Korra in a tight embrace, pulling Korra's head into the crook of her neck.  "You don't need to become anything except what you already are, the strong, amazing woman that has already done so much.  And you don't need to take over, or even think about that.  We're going to figure this out, just like we have every time before; we'll understand this technology better than we already do, learn how they can possibly find out where we are, and we'll work around it.  Behind their electronics they're just people, they're not even all bad people, and if....if...." She was struggling to continue, but forced it out, "if you were able to reach Kuvira, able to get her to understand what she was doing and come back from that abyss, we can sort out this situation as well."

 

Korra was ready to disagree pessimistically, to point out that Kuvira was only one person and she had not needed to reach an entire army, but she discovered that she did not want to disagree.  With Asami wrapping her up tightly, and speaking such words of encouragement, she just wanted to accept them and see that the future was still as open as it had been that morning, when everything had seemed so problem-free.  Smiling, she did not say anything and just let Asami hold her until they both fell asleep.

 


 

 

"We should call Janice."  They had just finished packing up their camp in the morning after having eaten a meagre breakfast of food bars (Already they were missing the restaurants of the city, particularly the ones which were so close to the food they had known back home) when Korra turned to Asami.  "Try to explain, just so that she understands that we're not...whatever they've been calling us on TV."

 

"They were calling us terrorists," Asami said, and her voice was cold.  "After the Equalists and my father, everything that happened four years ago, to still be called a terrorist now....yes, let's call her.  But not with our phone," and she pulled it out of Korra's hands before it could be opened.  "Until we have figured out how their technology works, how they can track us, we shouldn't use this.  Maybe they can follow it, or see who else we've called."

 

"Then how?"

 

"There are public phones, sometimes, when we reach the next town or gas station we'll call from there.  If they can locate the source of the call then we'll be far away by the time they get there."

 

"Maybe...maybe it's a bad idea, if they can trace it after all, maybe we shouldn't call at all."

 

"No, we can't let fear like that dominate us.  It took them two months to find us after we escaped from the plane, we've made plenty of phone calls and travelled far across the nation, their technology doesn't make them all-knowing or impossible.  We just...we just need to be smart about it."

 

"Smart.  Got it.  So, I'll just follow your lead, then?" And Korra laughed as Asami swatted at her shoulder.

 

They rode for several hours before they decided to stop and make the call, passing several towns over when they decided to put just a little more distance between them and the city, but they did find one of the public phones placed out in front of a gas station which seemed even more run down than the others that they had seen.  There was little else around, no local police forces that they were aware of or somebody to observe them, and it seemed as isolated as they could get without marching back into the woods.  It took them only an instant to learn how the phone worked, and they called the number Janice had given them, both crowding around the hand unit as it rang.

 

"Hello?"  It was surprising how energetic it felt to hear her voice after just a day, especially considering they had only known her for three.  Maybe it was just that she was from a brief period of familiarity.

 

"Janice?  It's Korra and Asami."

 

"Oh my god, I'm so happy you called, I was getting so worried with the way you just left without saying anything yesterday."  Left without saying anything?  But they had....Asami's eyes widened at the same instant that Korra's focused together.  "Where are you two?"

 

"We're...traveling.  Like we talked about, just seeing the land.  Sorry we didn't get a chance to say goodbye yesterday, but it came up pretty suddenly."

 

"Well, everybody here was so surprised to hear you had disappeared like that.  My friend Jack--you remember, you met him a few days ago in the morning--was hoping to see you again."  Her voice sounded so calm and normal, like she was talking to two friends that had casually left town and not to people she thought might have terrorists.  And Jack...Jack had been the man she had argued with outside of her building the day after they first met, and he had never spoken to Korra and Asami at all.

 

"I'm sorry, please tell Jack that we hope we can make it up to him some time, but we can't really make it back right now."

 

"I'll tell him you called, but he's gonna be sorry. Where did you two say you were again?"

 

"I'm not really sure of the exact location, we're just a little bit outside of Montreal.  We stopped early last night and slept in this morning, so we haven't gotten very far.   We're heading east, just to see what it's like."  Was there somebody with Janice?  Listening to the call?  Trying to get information?  Was she trying to tell them something with clues, or was she hoping that they would give something away in confusion?

 

"I've actually got family out east, let me know where you're heading and I can probably have somebody meet you and show you around."

 

"Thanks, but that's not necessary, we're trying for the real first-hand experience, getting our hands into the dirt."

 

"Are you sure?  They know where all the good stuff is.  Where are you going?"  Somebody was prompting her for her to be this insistent.

 

"Nowhere in particular, just cruising.  Listen, we actually have to go, long day on the road, we just wanted to check in and let you know we were okay."

 

"Wait, don't go, let's catch up!"

 

"Sorry, goodbye Janice," and they quickly placed the handset back in its cradle and then stared at the phone for moments.

 

"Somebody was with her," Asami said, and Korra nodded in agreement.  "They were trying to find out where we are."

 

"She was saying things which didn't make sense, maybe trying to warn us?"

 

"Maybe, but..."  Asami exhaled heavily "Quick, we need to get out of here before they follow the line."

 

Korra nodded and they remounted their motorcycle and sped off down the road as rapidly as they could, taking every cross-street they came to to put as much distance and cross-spaces between them and the phone as they could.  They traveled in silence, without speaking, and they felt just a little bit more lonely than they had before they called.

Chapter Text

"We need to stop hiding."  The statement came out apropos of nothing, as Korra and Asami were stopped for a brief, unfilling lunch beside the road. They had ridden long the day before after calling Janice, putting as much distance behind them as they could, and had left early this morning as well to continue the journey.  By now they were hundreds of miles away from Montreal, with only the vaguest of ideas of where they actually were, and they planned to continue well into the evening tonight as well.  Their rest breaks were brief and distantly scattered, and they were already planning to scramble back onto the motorcycle in a few minutes.

 

"What do you mean?" Korra asked.

 

"All we've done is try and hide and not be noticed, and that hasn't worked out for us.  Unless we just stop doing everything, never help anybody we come across and you never bend again, we're going to keep being spotted.  Keep being recorded with the cameras that are everywhere.  And we'll keep being chased by the police and the military."

 

"They're not going to stop, anyway, they think we're...I don't know, they think we're spies or something.  They're even saying terrorists now."  Korra had put down what was left of her food bar and slid over to sit next to Asami.  "If we just walk into a police station to announce who we are they're going to attack us."

 

"I don't mean we should tell everybody where we are or anything, but....I'm not even sure what I do mean, just that we shouldn't need to hide who we are.  Who you are.  We shouldn't have to be afraid like this."

 

"We just spoke about this yesterday, what's changed?"

 

"Nothing has changed, I just...I don't like being helpless or cowering."  And to Korra's surprise there were tears on Asami's cheeks, very light drops that she had almost managed to hold back.  "I know I was the one saying we should keep a low profile, but I thought we'd have discovered a way home by now, or be on the trail.  Or that we'd have managed to elude the search completely, or convinced them that we're not dangerous.  But unless we discover something radically new about what brought us here, and now that I see how serious they are about finding us I think a lot of the people on the internet are correct about information being suppressed, we're going to be stuck in this world for a long time.  Longer than I'd originally thought, and I don't want to spend all that time burying who we are.  A month, or two months, or even longer is one thing if there's an end date, but to just hide forever..."  Asami did not finish the sentence, but she did not have to.  The thought of running and hiding forever was like a lump settling into the stomach, infinitely worse than any specific length of unpleasantness.

 

"So...what, then?"

 

"For the big picture, I'm not sure.  Like I said, I barely know what I'm even trying to say.  For the small picture, however....let's go shopping."

 


 

 

The hardware store which they had found was small and poorly stocked by the standards of what they had come to know in this land, especially compared to the vastness of Montreal, but it still seemed like a smorgasbord compared to the small, specialized shops in Republic City.  Aisles and aisles of tools and equipment, metal and wood and earth supplies, stretched out before them like a playpen set aside for their own personal enjoyment.  Or, in better terms, like an arsenal ready for their armament.

 

Pulling a cart behind them, Korra and Asami walked down the aisles, pulling off the shelves lengths of metal cables and wiring, small sections of sheeting, battery packs (Single-use and rechargeable--the idea of portable, easily rechargeable batteries had astounded Asami even more than the computers of this world.  The thoughts of what she could accomplish with that technology made her mind expand), and miscellaneous supplies like fabrics, nails, screws, tape and other odds-and-ends.  They briefly paused at the thought of what it all might cost, since only two days of street performances had not given them an overflowing wallet, but they pushed on regardless.  It was important.

 

The attendant who helped them with their purchases raised an eyebrow when he saw all that they had, but it was a look of surprise, not suspicion, and he apparently made no connection between them and the pictures of them in the news stories.  Thinking about it, Korra and Asami were unsurprised; they had been on the ice for a week and just been rescued when their pictures were taken at the military base, worn down with hunger and fatigue and dressed in the clothing of the facility.  Now dressed in local clothing, hundreds of miles away from where they were last known to be, it would have been a truly suspicious shopkeeper indeed to have regarded them with mistrust.  He tallied up their order, made a minor remark about "ladies such as yourselves needing all this", and then they were out the door and back on the bike.  Their supplies were slung alongside in two new saddlebags (They were starting to get overloaded now, if they got anything else they would need to either buy a trailer or switch to a car) and then they sped out of town, once again stopping only when they were far into the woods and away from any prying eyes.  Then, they got to work.

 

Just working raised their spirits.  For Asami it was like being back at the garage, or even being back at her Future Industries workshop, as she shaped with precision whatever her mind could envision.  For Korra, the sensation of feeling the metal bend in her hands, using her abilities without fear of being observed or wondering what might happen, was a release almost as great as when she had briefly been flying again.  They worked almost in silence, speaking just to give directions or requests, but it was an easy, companionable silence like they had had together before they went to Montreal.  Like back when they had been surviving in the woods.  Working together, at ease with one another, and focused on the situation directly in front of them.

 

They had not finished by the time it was time to make camp for the evening, they were taking things very slowly and carefully, but they had made a lot of progress.  The cables had been smoothed and stretched into a long, flexible cord that bent and rolled easily, and Asami had begun connecting the battery packs to a discharge station.  Perhaps even more importantly than the actual mechanical works was the sensation of doing something, preparing to face whatever might come at them.

 

They slept much more easily that night.

Chapter Text

A uniformed NCO stepped through the door and braced to attention, "The General will see you now, sir."

 

Lieutenant-colonel Monke rose to his feet and nodded, "Thank you, Corporal.  Lead the way," and he followed him back into the private office of Major-general Saint-Amand.  He paused when he heard what sounded like a phone conversation being held beyond the door, but the Corporal waved him forward and he entered.

 

"Yes, sir, I understand.  Of course."  Saint-Amand sat behind his desk with a phone held to his ear and he waved Monke into the open seat, then dismissed the escort with another wave.  He was turned slightly to the side as he spoke and Monke wondered why he had not waited until the call was over.  "I've actually got him in my office right now, we're going to review everything.  I'll give you a full update once I've learned where we stand.  Thank you.  Goodbye Mr. Nicholson"

 

Monke resisted a deep breath as Saint-Amand hung up and it made sense; he had wanted to let him know that he was speaking to the Minister of National Defense, without being so crass as to mention it directly during their following conversation like a threat to tattle to a parent.

 

"Thank you for coming in, George."

 

"My pleasure, sir.  I take it the Minster isn't happy?"

 

"Not at the moment, no, and I can't really say I blame him.  Just what exactly happened out there?"  Saint-Amand had been a starred officer for years, he knew exactly how to tone himself, and right now Colonel Monke knew that he wanted the truth very succinctly.

 

"Details are still being collated, sir, and I'd be happy to expand on anything you want clarified, but right now it looks like they escaped the Montreal net completely, and in only a matter of hours.  They...disabled...a number of police officers during the immediate pursuit and then vanished."

 

"And this, Colonel?"  Saint-Amand pressed a key on his keyboard and then swiveled the monitor around to face across the desk, which was showing one of the news broadcasts recapping the event and had a very large 'SUSPECTED TERRORISTS STILL AT LARGE' title scrolling across the screen.  "Where the hell did this come from?"

 

"Still unknown at the time, sir, but I think this might be my fault."  He hurried forward at Saint-Amand's sudden glare, "I don't mean I leaked this, sir, but I gave Major Harrison--our liaison on-point--instructions to divulge as little as possible regarding what we knew about their history and goals during his briefings with the SPVM.  Not that we knew that much to begin with.  I wanted to keep as tight a control as we could.  With us giving them next to nothing on background, the police had to be trying to theorize themselves and...people jump to 'terrorists' when a car backfires, somebody probably leaked it to the press thinking he had cracked the secret."

 

"This was already a mess without throwing this kind of panic into the mess, the CSIS, city government and I have been trying to shovel responsibility around for two days now.  Let me have the full story, the pieces that came in as-is have me scratching my head."

 

"Yes, sir."  He paused the marshal his thoughts, the continued, "I'd very much like to lay the blame for the escape on the Montreal police, and it probably was somebody on their staff who leaked the terrorism angle, but I saw their preparations and they set up what should have been a very effective cordon.  Unless I'm getting a heavily fudged after-action report from them that covers up a massive bungle somewhere they covered every angle they could.  Especially on such short notice.  Major Harrison was on-site coordinating directly with the Director and he reported no jurisdictional pushback, which to be honest surprised me, but I guess somebody got in touch over his head and applied some pressure."  He paused in case Saint-Amand wanted to comment on that, but he got a stony silence in reply.  "I wasn't part of the immediate planning, but the videos we were originally directed to on YouTube of them...well, I guess they were putting on a show to beg for money, were not clear enough for a definite ID, so they had several plainclothes detectives placed in the area to observe and hopefully give a direct confirmation.  They had uniforms and Tactical Response Officers stationed to support once they were ready to apprehend."

 

"I wish we could have handled direct intervention, not had to bring in the locals, but the Minister couldn't swing more than an on-site presence.  An RCAF operation in downtown Montreal?  There would have been a riot, lead by the Mayor and Premier."

 

"I'd have liked to be more involved, too, sir, but I don't see what kind of difference it would have made unless we wanted to start shooting off the bat."

 

"What, exactly, do you mean by that Colonel?"  His voice was quiet now, not judgmental, not Monke knew he had to be very careful how he answered the question.

 

"Like I said, sir, this was a very well-handled operation.  They had people on-site, backup on standby, and they had pre-arranged responses for initial escapes in several different directions.  Major Harrison reports that they had teams responding less than a minute after one of their detective made an initial identification and that they had managed to block off roadways and walkways.  It should have been an easy matter to sweep in and apprehend, but...this was like when they jumped from the SuperHerc; if I didn't know it was real I'd think it was some sort of stunt."

 

"I take it you're referring to their leap from the top of the building?  They've been replaying that clip every ten minutes, there must have been a thousand different videos put on the internet from the watching crowd."

 

"Yes, sir, but not only that.  We have better visuals from the tech personnel on site that we're analyzing, it doesn't look possible that that kite they were holding could have carried them so far or allowed them to maneuver like they did.  Once they set down...we have visual from the 'copter the police had observing that shows them climbing into the Metro through a hole in the pavement, but when the responders got to that alley there was no hole."

 

"Just what are you saying?"

 

"Sir, I honestly do not know what it all means.  I haven't been on-site, but Harrison has and he personally inspected every point that he could reach; there is no break in the concrete in that alley where they went down into the Metro, this must have been a pre-planned escape route that was sealed after they went down.  How, though, escapes us.  Down in the tunnels themselves they disabled nearly ten officers in two different encounters, both times too quickly for them to get a shot off or even radio for help.  Whoever these two women are, they are good, maybe even better than we've thought.  By all accounts the cops they ran into in the tunnels were hallucinating during their encounters, so maybe they've got access to hallucinogenics or something, but whatever the explanation, there's something big behind it.  Plus, I think they might even be toying with us."

 

"What? They've been silent for a month, begging for money on the street.  No contact or messages at all."

 

"Yes, sir, but yesterday they placed a call to the person they'd been staying with in Montreal.  A...hold on, let me remember---right, a Jonathan Nought.  He called the cops two days ago once he saw their pictures on the news, said he had no idea what was going on and had just been letting them stay at his place for a few days after bumping into them on the street, and that he hadn't seen them since the night before.  From what I can tell he's been cooperating.  Anyway, they called him yesterday, claimed that they had left the city just to go sightseeing, and that was it.  That was our first idea that they'd left the city at all, there was no hint that they'd made it off the island and the cops were still scouring the Metro tunnels and usual rat holes.  The cops traced the call to a payphone over the border into Ontario; if they hadn't called in we'd still be dredging the city.  With the way they were suppressing communications during their escape--they made sure to disable every radio they had time to get to, by the way--they had to know that would be a flag for us.  They were sending a message that they'd gotten away completely."

 

"Christ, who are these people?"

 

"Still unknown, and we have no idea how they evaded the checkpoints that had been set up by the SPVM and the SQ, but I think---" Monke was cut off when the phone on the General's desk began to ring, and Saint-Amand picked it up instantly.

 

"Yes? .....thank you, I'll check on that right now."  He hung up and turned back to Monke, "There's apparently a new video of the escape taken by a civilian that's been posted on-line and is circling--I cannot believe we're getting intelligence from YouTube.  Hold on, I'll bring it up, I want to see this as soon as I can."  A few seconds later, the computer monitor that had previously been showing a news report was now displaying a standard YouTube upload.  This one was jerky and shaking, barely twenty seconds long and badly focused, but it showed what seemed to be a motorcycle bearing two women going hell-for-leather riding on what seemed to be the unsupported water of Lake of Two Mountains.  Monke had been in uniform for too long to lose control, but when he saw that video he wanted nothing so much as to lay his head in his hands and say 'Fuuuuuuuuuuu...'

 

"Well, Colonel, I think we can now say we know how they managed to escape off the island."

 

"Yes, sir."

Chapter Text

"Hurry up!  Hurry up!  Hurry the fuck up!"  Franco's voice was nearly a shriek, and Al was shaking as he looked over his shoulder to see what was going on over at the register.  The cashier was frozen in place, not moving despite the gun that Franco was practically forcing into his mouth, and Franco was getting more and more agitated.  "Open the goddamn register or I swear I will shoot you now.  Now!"  The couple huddled in the corner under Al's gaze were shivering at every shouted word, and the constantly droning news from the TV hung on the wall was not helping to calm the frayed nerves.

 

"Frankie, what are we doing here?  We gotta go man, we gotta go now."

 

"Shut up, Al!  We're not going anywhere until this son of a bitch opens the register, and I will...I will kill you and open it myself if you don't do it!"  This was not how this was supposed to have happened.  Bobby was supposed to be working tonight and he always stepped out back for a weed break and never bothered to lock up, everybody knew that, they had worked this out.  Walk in with nobody in the store, grab the money and leave.  If Bobby came back early he would know not to say anything, just stay out of the way and call the cops once they were gone.  Not....not this.

 

"...still no leads on the unidentified suspects that escaped from a Montreal Police Service operation downtown almost a week ago.  Official communiques have refuted early claims of terrorist activity, but unnamed sources within the service have continued to stand by original statements.  This symbol, which was painted on the kite parachute which they used in their daring escape, has been linked to several different organizations both foreign and domestic, none of which have stepped forward to proclaim a connection.  Government agencies have refused to comment on the current search parameters, but sources within the Quebec Provincial Police have stated that the investigation is ongoing and has moved beyond the Montreal city boundaries..."

 

Al wanted to put his foot into the TV to get it to shut up, or maybe shoot it, but he had never actually pulled the trigger before on his gun and....behind him, Franco had clubbed the cashier with his own pistol and was climbing over the counter to get to the register, still screaming threats as he fought with the cash drawer.  The coupled shrieked when they saw the cashier drop, and Al swung his pistol back over to them.  "Quiet!  Just...just be quiet!"

 

"Se il vous plaît calmer, personne ici ne doit être blessé. Laisser l'arme et nous pouvons tous aller heureux."  Al nearly screamed when the voice came from behind him, and he spun around to see a young woman before him.  Where the hell had she come from?  The bell over the door had not rung, and there had been nobody else in the store before, and--no, it did not matter where she came from.  "Get down!" he shouted at her, waving his gun, "Don't make me do anything, just get down!"  She stared at him calmly, her eyes tracking the motion of the gun and shifting ever-so-slightly each time it actually pointed at her to stay out of the direct line, and Al found himself perversely noting just how green her eyes were.  Now?  At a time like this he was noticing her eyes?  "Se il vous plaît baisser son arme."

 

"Wha...?  We're not in goddamn Quebec, speak English!  No, no don't speak English, just sit down and shut up!"  His voice was becoming as frantic as Franco's had been, who was practically ranting now as he hammered at the cash register to get it open.  They knew how to open it already, that was the whole point of why they had come here, why was he having so much trouble?

 

The green-eyed woman was still staring at him calmly and said, slowly as if she was not expertly familiar with English, "Put the gun down.  Please.  No one gets hurt."

 

"Look, just sit down, right now, or," Al never got to finish the 'or', as something flew past his head, buzzing the air with its speed and accompanied by a high-pitched mechanical whine. It wrapped around Franco's arm and pulled him forward, flipping right over the counter and screaming as the gun tumbled from his hand.  "What th--" He never got to finish the question, either, as the green-eyed woman in front of him darted forward, knocked his gun hand aside, grabbed the front of his shirt with her gloved hand and---the arcing electricity sent every muscle he had spasming at once and he opened his mouth to scream, but all that came out was a rushed exhale as he crumpled to the floor and gasped.  His eyes had trouble focusing, and he could barely make sense of what he was seeing, but the green-eyed woman was leaning over him as if inspecting him.

 

She stood up and called over her shoulder, "一切都還好嗎?" and from the other side of the store came the response of "沒問題。".  Then another woman stepped into his eye line from where he lay on the floor, and he again wondered at how at a time like this his mind could focus on her startlingly blue eyes.  Blue and green.  It was like being knocked down by the ocean.

 

"Are you okay?"  The green-eyed woman had knelt down beside the couple Al had been standing over and was reaching out gently to offer comfort, while the blue-eyed woman had walked over to the counter and was now out his view as she knelt next to the cashier that Franco had hit.  Had her hands been glowing before she walked out of his sight?  No, that was probably just a trick of his mind before he lost consciousness, and speaking of which that sounded like a very good idea, so he closed his eyes as the TV news continued uninterrupted.

 

"...we have here a video of their rooftop jump from a new angle, which was just turned over to the studio this morning.  Elizabeth Vasquez, who had been in Montreal for vacation, captured this recording on her cell phone from further up the street than the crowds immediately beneath the building.  As you can see, from this angle we have a much better view of the fall itself and how they travel down the road..."

 


 

 

"Are you okay?" The voice was calm and quiet, soothing, so Samuel and Christine slowly opened their eyes.  A young women crouched in front of them, extending her hand, and behind her one of the gunmen lay unconscious.

 

"Wh....what happened?"  She had to try twice before her voice would work, but Christine managed to force the question out.

 

"No worry, danger over."  She spoke with a stilted accent, but her words were clear enough.  "Any hurt?"

 

"No, I think...I'm okay.  Sam?"  He had to fight to get his own words out, but he managed to croak "I'm fine."

 

"他被打很辛苦,但他應該沒問題," they both twitched at the unfamiliar language, but it come from another woman who was kneeling behind the counter, apparently tending to the cashier.  "我把小骨折護理,醫生可以處理其餘部分."

 

The woman in front of them nodded, then said "He be okay.  You call police?"

 

"Why can't you...yes, I'll call the cops," Sam slowly pulled his cell-phone out and, with shaking fingers, dialed 9-1-1.

 

"When police arrive, tell them--"

 

"Frankie, what's taking so long?  We need to go, I can't sit out front all night."  Another man had walked through the entrance (Christine's mind idly noticed that there had been no accompanying ding when he opened the door) and stared at them with an expression that might have been funny if he had not also been carrying a gun.  He began to raise it, but what looked like a metal wire shot across the room and wrapped itself around his ankle, then it stretched taught and lifted him into the air and slammed him down against the floor.  However, whether through determination or because he had simply clenched all his muscled tightly as he was flipped, he held his grip on his gun.  He began to raise it again, and the woman in front of them seemed ready to dash forward, but before she could move there was an almost-inaudible hum and the man began to twitch and grunt, thrashing briefly before falling still and letting his fingers grow slack.

 

"好吧,我想我們可以稱之為一個成功的測試," said the woman who stepped forward, and the metal cable that been wrapped around the man's leg retracted into a...holster?...on her hip.  The woman immediately in front of them gave her a sidelong look, trying to suppress a grin, then turned back to them, who were now staring slack-jawed.  "When police arrive, tell them Korra and Asami do this.  We help.  Not enemy."  They nodded, not quite able to speak, until the shouting from the cell phone that Sam was still holding up to his ear grabbed their attention.  Suddenly remembering that they had called 9-1-1, Samuel returned to the phone and began giving the details on what had happened as the two women very quickly pulled the three men together, tied them together with a rope (A very shiny, very firm-seeming rope Christine thought) and began to walk out of the store.  Before they did, however, the shorter one rushed over to a shelf and grabbed what looked like a package of beef jerky, holding it up to the other.  There was a grudging nod, and then the taller one pulled a few bills out of her pocket and left them on the shelf next to where they had taken the package from.

 

"Goodbye" one of them said, and then they were gone after having both looked and waved at the security camera stuck in one corner.

 

A minute later there were the flashing lights and sirens as a police cruiser pulled up.

Chapter Text

"Herman, will you look at this?  Two weeks already and they're still writing about that meshuggeh mess in Montreal.  Every article saying the same thing in a different way 'We don't know anything, but ask again tomorrow'.  You'd think there'd be some new news already."  Gladys was waving the paper, as if she could somehow shake the words off the page.

 

"Oy, Gladys, just put the paper down, eh?  You've been reading that verkakte news ever since it happened, if you just stop paying your mind they'd stop writing about it."  Herman spoke in a long-suffering tone, having had the same argument every day for the past week, and did not even look up from the iPad he held in his lap.  Benjamin had gotten it for him a month ago and he was finally starting to get the hang of it.

 

"Just you wait, when you stop watching, that's when something happens!  Oh, but whaddayou care, you've got your head buried in those Fighting Turkeys, I could vanish tomorrow and you wouldn't even notice!"  She was gesticulating even more wildly now, almost toppling over her own chair.  "It's this 'no news at all' bit that's the problem.  They've got to find an answer, and if they don't find and answer, well...that's when they start making answers!  And who do you think they're going to point to?"

 

Herman finally put down the iPad and sighed; when it got to this point she was usually really starting up.  "Gladys, mayn alte, who'd ever want to point at you?  Two girls being chased around Montreal is not going to lead to anything.  What did those videos on the news show, eh?  Barely more than children!  Did they look like troublemakers?  They probably just got mixed up with some hoodlum boys, it'll all be straightened out sooner or later."  He sighed again and looked out across the street; sitting on their porch they could always watch the foot traffic going either way, and at his age he enjoyed the people-watching, even (Maybe especially) the female people-watching.  Right now there were two women walking down the opposite side of the street window shopping, peering into the occasional store as he looked them over.  It was their necklaces which caught his eye; he might have been getting old, but his eyes were still sharp,  and after so long in the metalworks in his youth he could appreciate fine craftsmanship; they had a matching set, what looked like finely-worked silver or steel looped and whirled together.  No machine-press on them, he'd have staked his life that they were hand-molded.  Where would you get work like that done now-a-days?  The rest of their getup, on the other hand, was shabby.  The taller one was impeccably made up (Probably planning for a date tonight, she must have gone to the salon earlier in the day for that kind of hair), but she was wearing what looked like an old fur that had seen better days, torn and stained, probably all that she had gotten passed down from her grandmother.  Her friend, the shorter one...she looked mixed.  Herman was not one to judge, of course, he had friends of all sorts, but it was obvious just by looking at her.

 

"That's what they always say!  'Don't worry', 'It doesn't mean anything', just you wait, you'll see, in a month it'll be--"  Gladys was still going and Herman did his best just to tune her out; she would wind down in an hour or two, and by dinner tonight she would move on to something else.  Tomorrow they would get to do it all over again.

 

There was an interruption this time, however, as Gladys was halted by a sudden, loud boom from down the block.  Twisting in their chairs, they both leaned forward to see one of those giant cars --not a full truck, but somewhere in between-- rock to a halt on its back after it had been speared right in its side by a smaller one that must have being flying through the intersection.  Tsk, this kind of thing happened way too often, that intersection had an accident almost every month it seemed like, why did the government not do something about that?  Slowly tottering to his feet, Herman began to take unsteady steps down to the road.

 

"Quick, Gladys, go inside and call the police.  I'm going to go see if I can help."

 

"What?  No!  You'll get yourself killed getting mixed up in that, stay inside!"

 

"I'm just going to go see, make sure everybody's okay!"  He finally reached the bottom step and started shuffling down the sidewalk.  "Call the police!"  The women he had seen across the street clearly did not feel any hesitation, they were dashing towards the collision, which was already surrounded by a small crowd lookers. They did not seem content to stand on the edge, either, and were quickly elbowing their way towards the center.  What happened next he could not see, blocked by the press of people, but there was the distinct sound of tearing metal and a collective gasp from the onlookers, who seemed to be stepping away from the scene and jabbering to each other excitedly.  By the time he reached the crash itself the crowd had spread out far enough that he could see what was happening, and observed that it looked like the passenger door of the large not-a-truck had been knocked completely off by the collision and....no, it was the driver's door that had been knocked off, even though it had been hit on the passenger's side.  The door lay on the ground a few feet away from the body of the vehicle, and who Herman presumed to be the driver was stretched out on the ground next to the two kneeling women.  His head was resting on a pillow of some sort--Herman noted that the taller woman was not wearing the old fur coat that he had seen before--and the mixed girl seemed to be rubbing his neck.

 

"Hey, stop that!" He shouted as he limped forward, "Don't...don't play with his head, wait for the ambulance!"  They both looked up at him when he spoke, but she did not stop whatever she was doing.  "Look, you're going to hurt him, just let him alone!" The taller one stood up and stepped towards him, raising her hands in a placating gesture, and spoke in accented English.  She clearly was not fluent, but she knew enough.

 

"Don't worry, we know healing.  We won't hurt the neck."  She said it calmly, and as she spoke it looked like the man on the ground was taking deeper, steadier breaths.  "Come, help me with the other," and she walked over to the car that had run the red light and slammed into the not-a-truck.  Its driver was moving feebly in the seat, but had not gotten out of the car yet.  Distantly, they could hear the sound of an ambulance approaching.

 

"Hey, can you hear me?"  Herman rapped his knuckles on the window, "Are you okay?"  The head inside slowly nodded, and after a few moments the window slowly rolled down.  "Are you okay?"

 

"I, I think....what?"

 

"An ambulance is on the way, just stay still.  Don't try to move."  There was only a vague nod in response and Herman backed away.  Probably a concussion, best to wait for a doctor.  The woman next to him, however, had other ideas, and stepped forward to open the door.  "Are you a doctor?  Is that it?"

 

"No, not a doctor, but we know healing."  The mixed woman that had stayed on the ground and kept working with the other driver's neck had stepped up as well, and now she reached into the car to begin feeling this driver's head.  Herman was about to interrupt--'healing' or no he knew you do not mess around with somebody's skull who might have a concussion--but the driver' expression slowly shifted from confusion to calmness, and then dropped into what looked like a light, peaceful sleep.  "Don't worry, I won't hurt his head.  I'm helping to heal."

 

Just then the ambulance pulled to a halt at the ring of onlookers, and they scattered to let the medical staff through.  Herman stepped away to let them work, glad to see the two women step back as well, and stayed nearby in case there was anything he could do to help.

 

"Has somebody been assisting these people?" One of the technicians asked, and the two women stepped forward again.

 

"We helped with injuries, their neck and head hurt."  The mixed one was doing the talking now, gesturing vaguely.  "Small hurting...uh...minor wounds."  She was clearly struggling to convey exactly what she meant, but she did not have the precise vocabulary.

 

"Bad English, is it?  Well, we can get a translator for you later, I'm going to have to ask you to come with us so we can verify what you've been doing with them."  As the technician spoke the others from the ambulance had been steadily working to get both driver's braced and ready for transportation to the hospital."

 

"Sorry, we not go with you."

 

"Don't worry, you're not in trouble, the doctors will just want to know your first impressions treatment so they know where to take off."  Distantly, other sirens (Police, Herman thought) were approaching, and the two women were silently edging away from the scene, trying to blend into the crowd.  The crowd, however, did not seem to want to cooperate, as they were still jabbering at one another and pointing between the door that had been removed from the not-a-truck and the two women.  "Hey, just wait here, we'll get it all straightened out," and the technician turned away from them to oversea the other personnel from the ambulance.

 

"Ladies, wait already, why go rushing off?"  Herman truddled over to them.  "Five minutes it'll take and then we'll be all set.  Whoof, what a day, nu?  This is happening all the time at this intersection, I've been saying for years they need to put a bump in the road or something to slow down the drivers, so many just miss the light and drive right through.  Almost makes me glad I never got my license, so much craziness.  Say, what's with everybody?  You'd think they never saw a crash before, what's with all the pointing?"  Many members of the crowd had taken out their cell-phones and were taking pictures of the not-a-truck and the door and the women as if it was the first wreck they had ever seen.  "Anyway, forget them, I don't think I've ever had the pleasure.  Herman, Herman Oaker, you're not from town, are you?  I think I'd recognize such beautiful young women, you're visiting, eh?  Wherefrom?  Forget wherefrom, that's the past.  Are you seeing anybody?  My grandson, Benjamin, a great kid, he's available and I'd be happy to introduce you.  He got me one of these iPads a few weeks ago, taught me how to play Angry Birds, he's a whiz.  You ever play Angry Birds?  I remember when they were first bringing in home video and now we've got these games I can carry around.  What a time, eh?  Forget Angry Birds, I was saying about Benjamin, bright boy, he lives just a mile from here and I could give you his number, or even call him over now.  You'd love him.  Eh, still with the pointing?  It's a broken door, that happens in a crash like this, you'd think they saw a celebrity or something.  Mind your own business, why don't you!  Can't you see we're having a conversation?  Bunch a yutzes, the lot of 'em.  Forget the yutzes, where was I?  Right, my grandson...eh, where'd you go?"

 

When Herman turned back from the crowd, which still seemed unnaturally fixated, the two women were not where they had been.  Just as the police were pulling up on the other side of the collision he kept turning until he caught sight of them running towards Johnson's Drugs on the edge of the corner, where the taller one seemed to lean down to grab hold of the mixed girl and....Herman wondered if maybe his sight was going after all, as they seemed to leap straight to the top of Johnsons Drugs.  Before they turned and ran towards the back they seemed to notice him watching them and waved cheerily, shouting "Goodbye Herman!" before vanishing.

Chapter Text

"I'm telling you, Krysta, it's like a movie.  He's been tracking them ever since they escaped Montreal and they've been roaming the countryside, fighting crime and rescuing people from danger!" As the line slowly inched towards the club entrance, Cheryl was expounding energetically.

 

"'Tracking them'?  The guy runs a blog, all he does is copy posts from other blogs and make up connections.  Didn't he have you believing they had located Bigfoot last month?"

 

"What?  No, of course not.....his brother runs the page on cryptids.  But this isn't just internet rumor-mongering, there's videos and photo evidence and witness testimonies!"

 

"Photo evi---Cheryl, it was a picture of a car door lying on the ground with the caption 'THE TRUTH!'  It was a car crash, there's nothing that shocking about it, nobody's got telekinesis." Krysta had a professionally bored expression, but she had to struggle to maintain it; even as she disagreed, Cheryl's energy was infectious.

 

"And what about that robbery, huh?  Can you argue with the security camera?  The government probably thinks they're...I dunno, spies or something, but they're just out doing good!  Like Spiderman!"

 

"Spiderman?  Seriously?"

 

"Yeah, he's always being mistrusted, always getting blamed for everything, always got the cops or J. Jonah Jameson running after him, but he doesn't let that stop him from helping where he's needed."  At that, Cheryl paused and posed, arms flung out in web-slinging positions.  "Not only that, but...oh, hey Zeke."

 

"Hey Cheryl.  Krysta.  Weren't you two just here last night?"  Zeke the bouncer did not even bother checking their identification, they had been here so often he could practically rattle off their vital statistics from memory (And he almost never carded the good-looking women, anyway).  Holding out his stamp, he marked both of their wrists.

 

"Yeah, but band playing tonight has been getting great buzz, they say they're the next big thing."

 

"If you say so, it all sounds like screaming to me."

 

"Zeke, you work at a rock club, how do you hate this stuff?"

 

"I gotta pay the bills somehow.  Let me play you some Tatum sometime, once you get his jazz in your ears you'll understand."

 

"Next week, Zeke.  Next week."  Giggling, Krysta and Cheryl walked down the dank steps (As much as they loved this place, did the entrance need to be so funky?) and slid through the door, merging into the crowd milling about inside.  Canned music was rolling over the loudspeakers ("Wolfmother," Krysta said, and Cheryl nodded in agreement) and hands were onstage getting all of the equipment set up.

 

"Anyway, like I was saying, it all holds together.  The cops were after them in the city, they busted out, and now they're wild and case-by-case do-gooders.  The big news stations aren't picking it up because the government's suppressing it all, but the guys on the web have their eyes open, so they can piece together all these separate little bits for the full picture."

 

"Oh My God Cheryl, let it go," Krysta was laughing now, unable to maintain her stern disapproval, "I give.  I yield.  There is totally a pair of kickass lady superheroes driving across Canada rescuing people from car crashes and tazing thugs."

 

"There, was that so hard?"

 

"Yes, yes it absolutely was.  Here, hold my bag, I'm going to pop off for a second," and still laughing, Krysta began to meander towards the bathroom.  Cheryl looked around at the crowd, then made her way towards the semi-secluded back section.  It was not exactly a 'secret' section of the club, but behind a line of structural pillars there was a wall couch and table.  It was out of view of the entrance and main dance area, so most people had to have been to the club before to realize it was there, and it was a way to have a semblance of privacy while still getting the energy of being there that was half the reason you came to a live show.  As she walked in she saw that there were already some people back there, not regulars, but she had bumped into them the night before, exchanging brief pleasantries as the crowd queued up to leave at the end of the show.  Corry, she thought for the shorter one, and drew a complete blank on the other's name.  Something foreign.  They were curled up together on the couch and Cheryl paused awkwardly; this was a public area of the club and they were not even regulars to take up the entire section, but she also did not want to burst in on their intimacy.  She was about to back away when Corry noticed her and waved invitingly.

 

"Please, come in, we are not using the entire couch."  She had an accent that Cheryl could not place, but she spoke with ease.

 

"Thanks.  I, uh, haven't seen you two here a lot before, you new in town?"

 

"Yes, just passing through.  We heard the music last night, very good."

 

"Yeah, they've got the best upcomers here, me and Krysta--she's in the bathroom by the way--come by usually once a week to check out who's performing, see if there's anybody who's really gonna make it.  You two in the scene?"

 

"In the....scene?"  The other one, whose name Cheryl could not recall, leaned forward.

 

"Yeah, you know, listening to the bands, maybe playing a little, tracking down what's-what.  Most people don't feel comfortable cuddling up in the back of the club if they're just poking their noses in."

 

"No, not...'in the scene'.  We first heard this music a month ago, but it is very good, a friend played it in a band.  We can feel the energy, very different from what we used to know."

 

"Ah, newbies, is it?  Well, let it never be said we're an unwelcoming lot."  The two looked...'good' was the first word that came to mind, almost painfully fashionable, like they had stepped together out of a  magazine.  Matching jewelry, an eye-catching necklace set, and Corry wore some kind of fur vest that probably cost a small fortune, the epitome of natural beauty that only came from an hour in front of the mirror. The other one was wearing a leather racing coat, one of those short affairs racers seemed to love and, and was so impeccably coiffed as to look like she expected to be photographed at any second.  Still, they were sitting here, in the same darkened club as she was, waiting for the next underground band to come on stage.  "It's the Clash at Demonhead tonight, and they've got a sound like...hey, do you smell that?"  There had been a faint acrid odor in the air for a while, but Cheryl had been ignoring it since it would have been odd for something not to have been burning at a show like this.  Now, however, there was shouting coming from the front of the club and the smell was growing stronger and...."holy crap, is that a fire?"

 

She lurched to her feet and looked at the stage, but they were still setting up and there were no pyrotechnics set up, so what was...the smoke was leaking in from the front entrance and Cheryl's blood cooled to ice almost instantly.  She had heard about nightclub fires, there had been that massive one in Brazil just last year, and if the fire was actually set at the exit itself.... "Oh, god, how do we get out?"  Already people were screaming and running about in a craze, and she thought she saw Krysta actually get knocked to the ground coming out of the bathroom entrance.

 

"Stay calm," Corry said, and stepped up beside her, "We will be okay.  Asami!  哪裡是結構牢固?"

 

"就在這裡,因為這些支柱."  The other woman said, and pointed above them.  "Cheryl, you come here a lot, correct?  Are there any people above where we are standing?"

 

"Wha....no, no, I don't think so, there's nothing above the club."

 

"Okay, that is good.  Please stand back," and Asami gently grabbed Cheryl's elbow and guided her a few steps backwards past the pillars.  Where they had been standing Corry looked around, then she seemed to wave her arms and...Cheryl shrieked as the floor in front of her was torn up and what looked like a pillar of stone shot up from the ground.  It rammed into the roof and tore its way through, then retracted, and there were stars visible in the night sky.  A cool breeze came down--it was starting to grow cold now as fall edged towards winter--and then another pillar of stone erupted from the same hole, shaping itself into what looked like a staircase leading up to the roof.  Corry dashed up this new staircase onto the roof, and muffled by the walls Cheryl could hear more stone grinding and slamming together outside.  The Corry was back inside, waving her arms again, and the breeze coming in strengthened and steadied, until it was blowing strongly from the hole towards the front of the club--pushing back the smoke she realized.

 

"EVERYBODY!  EVERYBODY COME BACK HERE!   THERE IS AN EXIT BACK HERE!  NO SMOKE BACK HERE!"  The taller woman (Had Corry called her 'Asami'?) was shouting into the club and waving her arms, and with a jolt Cheryl realized that if the front entrance was blocked by the smoke and fire, this was the only way out for everybody in the club.  She tried to call out herself, but she could not make her voice work after the shock of what she had seen.

 

"There is a way out in the back!  It is safe in back!  Come back!"  Now Corry was shouting as well, and her voice was louder than anything Cheryl had heard that was not coming out of a microphone, but she barely seemed to be straining herself.

 

Some of the nearby people stumbled over and hesitantly crawled up the steps, but most of the club was still crushing forwards to the smoky front entrance, too panicked to come back to safety.  Seeing that, Corry sighed, and seemed to growl in frustration.  Then, to Cheryl's surprise, she actually started to laugh to herself and said something to Asami, who started to laugh in turn, and then Corry dashed forward into the crowd itself--No, she did not dash into the crowd, she dashed over the crowd, leaping above their heads as if she was...no, she was flying, or close to it.  As she leapt, the wind seemed to follow her, clearing out the smoke so that the people could breathe and see where they were.  "Go to the back!" she kept shouting, and slowly the crowd started to shuffle to the new staircase, where Asami was waiting to guide them up and out.

 

Cheryl finally managed to spur herself to motion, and she dashed not up the staircase, but into the crowds towards the bathroom, where she thought she had seen Krysta get knocked down.  She found her huddled on the ground, almost fetal, shaking her head to clear it, and she grabbed her under the arm to pull her to her feet.  "Krysta, we have to go, come on" she urged, and together they hobbled towards the escape, clambering up the mysterious new stone walkway.  Outside, in the clear night air, the crowd was flowing towards the edge of the building where there was another stairway, wide and sloping, leading down to the street.

 

"Wha....how?"  Krysta was staring about in shock, but Cheryl did not have any explanation she could offer.

 

"Just keep walking, we'll be down in a second," and shortly afterwards they were down on the street.  People were still trickling off the roof, and smoke was billowing out of the entrance, as fire trucks were just now beginning to trumpet their arrival.   Cheryl could now see the flames themselves, yellow tongues licking their way up the stairway in front of the entrance, and she drew back in horror.  There must have still been dozens of people inside, already disoriented before the smoke started to clear or trampled on the ground, and she shivered at what must be happening.  Then she shivered different as the flames, instead of continuing to spread, suddenly flared brighter and then vanished.  Completely.  As if they had simply been turned off they disappeared, and then the door opened and a mad crush of people surged out, joining the ones who had already escaped from the unexplained back exit.

 

As she stared in shock, still wondering what had happened, Cheryl noticed two figures atop the building, calmly observing the growing crowd instead of rushing to the stone stairway.  They waited up there, observing and helping down those who seemed to be having trouble, until the fire trucks began to arrive in front.  Once they saw the bright flashing lights pull up they stood together, seemingly embracing, and then they leapt directly off the roof to the building next door, and from there down to the street into an alley hidden from view.  A few minutes later, out of the alley roared a motorcycle which turned onto the street and sped into the night.

 

Cheryl could only stare after it.

Chapter Text

"Are you sure you don't want any help?" Korra asked as they sat on the side of the road, Asami seemingly caressing their motorcycle's front tire.

 

"No, I got it, it's just....Ah!"  With a yank, Asami pulled out of the rubber a tiny metal...thing...that looked like some sort of weapon, spiky and pointed and leaving behind many leaking holes in the tire's surface.  "Here's the problem, we probably picked this up a few miles back."  She turned it over in her hands, marveling at what its intended use could possibly be.  Lightly, she tossed it to Korra, who looked it over as well.

 

"What is it?"  There were six points sticking out and it looked absolutely vicious.  She could imagine what it might do if it had been shot out of a gun.

 

"I don't know, but it gave us a pretty bad puncture.  I can patch it, but I don't want to spend too much riding time on this tire after that, I think we'll need a replacement."  Asami was already pulling out the small repair kit they had for such emergencies, readying the patch application.

 

"Okay, we'll ride this into the next town and then get a new tire.....uh, do we have the cash for that?"  They had managed to stretch their money remarkably far considering the circumstances, but after a month on the road with no steady income and a few unexpected expenses (Not that Korra had dreamed of protesting Asami's new jacket, she had absolutely sparkled when she first saw it) their funds were growing wearingly thin.

 

"For the tire itself, probably.  For buying more gas afterwards....probably not."  She was focused as she spoke, tarring and laying the patch over the tire, but she could keep track of the figures at the same time easily.  "Feel like putting on another show?"

 

"I don't know, we're only a day out from our last stop, if they've been tracking us like we know they can they're going to be close enough to catch up."  Asami had been right a month ago, hiding themselves had not been the way to go, and it had felt so refreshing over the past few weeks to not try and keep themselves buried away, but they still did not want to actively draw attention to themselves when their pursuers might already be very close.

 

"Hmmm...good point.  Well, we can deal with that once we've found a tire shop or garage to get this fixed, I'm sure there's something we can do for money.  We're getting close to ...what was the name again?...right, Vancouver, and I'm sure we'll be able to find an opportunity."  She was just finishing the patch as she spoke, and stepped away to let it settle.    As they waited, she slid over to where Korra was sitting and the two of them turned to look out at the snow peaked mountains that rose up around them.  She wrapped her arm over Korra's shoulder and pulled her in close, sharing their warmth against the chilly air, and they let their minds wander.  At times like this, when it was just the two of them on a lonely road, it was easy to imagine that there was nothing strange or unknown in the world, that the two of them were just staring at the mountains of the Earth Kingdom somewhere.  The rocks were still the same, as was the sky behind them, it was just the people that lived there that were different. And...were they so different?  It was just their customs that set them apart from the people Korra and Asami had known, and even those were becoming familiar over time.  If they never found their way home, if they were stuck here forever, would there come a time when these people would be 'normal'?  And if there was, would that be a bad thing?

 

Now, just gazing at the open land in front of them and the clear air, this world did not seem that unusual at all.

 

"That should do it, let me get a quick check and we can ride into town."  The break had only lasted a few minutes before Asami returned to the tire, but as was always the case, that brief pause had helped center everything.  Korra re-inflated the tire to replace the already-escaped air and Asami checked the patch to make sure the leak had stopped, and then they began to collect their tools and re-pack to resume their journey.  As they worked, however, they both raised their heads at the distant sound of another engine approaching. As it got closer they picked out the distinct sound of two engines, then three, then four, and then it was all lost in an indistinct roar as nearly a dozen motorcycles roared down the road.  One of them seemed to catch sight of them on the roadside, and with a wave the whole group slowed to a stop.  At that sight, Korra and Asami both stood and stepped away from their bike, Korra picking up her glider staff and Asami pulling on her glove and sliding in one of the battery packs.  They had encountered many motorcycle enthusiasts over the past month, most of whom had been perfectly friendly and personable, and their shared interest had given them a great point of conversation, but the last time an entire swarm had abruptly stopped along the side of the road was when they were first approaching Montreal, and with what had happened then....  Korra checked to make sure that her cables were properly charged and cleared on her waist, and Asami dangled one of her new bolas from her off-hand.

 

As their leader approached, he pulled off his helmet and smiled broadly.  "Good afternoon ladies, having some trouble?"

 

"No," Asami said, "No trouble."

 

"Uh...you've got a repair kit open on the side of the road, are you sure everything's okay?"

 

Asai's gaze flicked to the still-scattered patch supplies and back to the speaker, who had been joined by several of the other riders now, chatting amongst themselves.  "Yes, we are fine, I have patched the leak and we are going to ride into town for a replacement."

 

"Are you heading to Squamish?  Closest place around here with a tire shop, it's just a few miles down the mountain.  We'd be happy to ride with you to make sure you get there, it's on our way."  His tone was guarded now, he must have sensed Asami's wariness, but his voice held none of the malevolence that had been present in the other group of bikers they had encountered.  The others who had stopped were also stretching and talking at ease, like people who just been interrupted during a relaxing weekend ride.  "Or....If you two would rather be alone we can just keep on going."

 

Korra and Asami glanced at one another and relaxed, but only slightly.  These people did not have the air of thugs about them, and probably were just courteous passersby offering a helping hand.  Still, Korra did not turn her back to them as Asami pulled off her glove and resumed collecting their supplies.  "Thank you, that is very kind.  Let us have a moment to collect our things and we will ride with you two Squamish."  The man who had been speaking gave them a confused nod, then turned back to his fellows and they talked amongst themselves as Asami finished packing up.  A few minutes later, the entire crowd was again roaring down the roadway towards the base of the mountain, with Korra and Asami cautiously riding in tow.

 

The bike itself ran perfectly fine, and likely could have carried them a lot farther if they had wanted to push it, but Asami thought it best not to chance it.  At a sign advertising the "Ok Tire Store" she pulled off the road, and the rest of the motorcycles that had been with them continued through town, several of them waving jauntily before vanishing from sight.  Together, Korra and Asami had their bike set off to the side and were about to go inside and hope that they could find a proper replacement.

 

"Korra?  Asami?  Is that you?"

 

The question was hesitant, tentative, like the asker was not only unsure of the answer, but unsure if it should even have been asked in the first place.  They both turned to find two women facing them on the nearby sidewalk, one of them staring at them with an expression that mixed incredulity with fear and hope.  The other woman was completely unknown, but the one whose face showed such surprise seemed vaguely familiar, as if they might have met her once long ago.  Somebody from home?  No, she had spoken to them in English, and it was not that kind of familiarity.  Her hair was long and arranged in a style similar to that which Korra herself used to bear, gathered into two wolftails on the side, and she wore what they had come to recognize was casual civilian garb in this place, the pants that were called "jeans" and a loose blouse.  Her bearing, however, was ramrod straight and she held herself almost painfully erect, like a soldier standing at attention, and.....

 

That thought was what made Korra recognize her despite the different hair and clothing, and her own voice was shocked as well as she asked "Joo Dee?"

Chapter Text

At Korra's question, Asami's first thought was to glance around for the pursuers. If Joo Dee had identified them and was lying in wait, where were the soldiers to take them into custody? The police cordon to prevent their escape? The cameras to track their movements? Surrounding them on all sides was...nothing. Some light foot traffic, cars slowly passing back and forth on the road, and just now fading from hearing was the last deep rumble of the motorcycles that had just left them. Nobody was paying too close attention, nobody was brandishing any strange weapon, there seemed to be no attempted apprehension at all. Even as she brought her eyes back to Joo Dee, Asami noticed that she still bore the same mixed expression of hope and fear and seemed to lean back on her heels, as if preparing for flight. It was not the look of a soldier readying an ambush.

 

"Are you all right?" Korra asked, and Asami noted that she had never taken her eyes off of Joo Dee for an instant, not even to look around for danger. Her first instinct was to make sure that Joo Dee had recovered from the state that they had last seen her in, without even a thought for what her presence might mean. Asami could not stop a small smile from forming; Korra's thoughts were always for somebody other than herself. Korra took a brief step forward and extended an arm, but lowered it when Joo Dee stepped back at the same time and recoiled. "What are you doing here?"

 

"What am...what am I doing here? Here? What are...what are you doing here, and...and..." Her words ran down and she started to breathe heavily, almost panting, and the woman that stood beside her stepped over, wrapping her in a hug. She whispered something into Joo Dee's ear, too soft for either Korra or Asami to hear, and then looked over at the two of them. "Are these them?" Her words were soft, but neither Korra or Asami could have given explanation to everything they seemed to contain, and her eyes were shining. Joo Dee tried to speak, but nothing came out, and she just gave a jerky nod. The woman held her for a minute, as Korra and Asami stood there in confusion unsure of what to say, until Joo Dee's breathing steadied into even calmness.  The woman then turned to Asami and Korra, and her knees seemed to buckle briefly, as if she was about to drop to the ground, but she seemed to hesitate and then catch herself, and she instead bowed at the waist with her arms spread open.  She said something, but it was not either English or French and they could not understand; whatever language it was, however, was familiar, like a song whose lyrics you can almost sing along with.  Her words were not the only things about her that were familiar; she had warm, dark skin and deep blue eyes, and Asami's nearly gasped at the recognition.  She and Korra could have been sisters.  Was this another person that had been sent to this world?  Another member of the Water Tribe?

 

"I'm sorry," Korra said, "We don't understand you.  Do you speak English?  Parlez-vous français?"  She paused for a moment, then said hopefully in her and Asami's own language, "Can you understand these words?"

 

The woman kept her head bowed, and then spoke in English.  "I...yes, I speak English.  I am honored to be in your presence.  Judy has told me much of what happened, of what you showed her, and...oh, crap, I can't hold this pose, can I stand--oh crap, I'm sorry I said 'crap' and...I said it again, didn't I?  Shit.....can I stand up?"

 

Korra and Asami could only look at each other in confusion before Korra said "Yes, please stand up."  She slowly straightened and relaxed her arms, but her eyes were still shining.  It was like Joo Dee's own look, but without the horror or the questions, just the adoration, but tempered....like it was at a remove.  "Who are you?" Korra asked.

 

Joo Dee stepped forward, and her voice was far from calm, but at least it was under control.  "Korra, Asami, this is Tapeesa, she's a....friend.  Tapeesa, these are..." Her breathing sped up again and she began to shiver, but she closed her eyes and after a moment her calmness returned, "...this is Korra and Asami, they're.....what are you doing here?"

 

"We have a flat tire that we patched up on the mountain, we came here to buy a replacement," Asami pointed to the patched tire on the motorcycle and then waved at the tire shop they were standing in front of.  Whatever they had thought or expected, a flat tire was certainly not part of it, as the two of them stared at Asami and the motorcycle as if she was speaking her own incomprehensible language.  "We are just passing through town on the way to Vancouver, some motorcyclists we met on the road guided us here."  They seemed even more confused now, and Joo Dee closed her eyes and began to shake her head, as if fighting an internal argument.  "But that doesn't matter now.  We are very happy to see you again and would like to know that you are better.  Shall we...shall we get something to eat?  There is a diner across the street and we have not had anything since breakfast."  Joo Dee did not say anything, but her friend (Tapeesa.  Almost a Water Tribe name, Asami reflected) nodded and took her elbow to guide her across the street to the restaurant.  Soon they were seated across from each other in a padded booth, and the cool glass of water in her hands seemed to bring Joo Dee back to herself.

 

"What has happened to you?" Korra asked as they waited for their food, "What did you endure after Huan called for the rescue?"

 

Joo Dee initially seemed confused at the question, but then she nodded and began.  "I was brought to CFB Bagotville, it's....it doesn't matter where it is, I was delusional for days, they said.  Trauma and emotional shock from everything that had happened.  From my...abuse...at your hands, they said.  They did their best in my rehab, physical and mental.  Got me moving again, got me thinking again.  They spent a month trying to pin down what had happened, track back everything, but nothing made sense, none of what'd you done made any....it looked like I was involved.  You realize that, right?  You escape from a plane flying miles high in the air, you must have had inside help, been smuggled a bomb to blow open the hull and a parachute to survive the fall.  And with me going out of the plane with you and surviving, with you actually signaling for help when I was...like that...I was the obvious suspect.  I didn't.....I don't....I'm being nominated for the Medal of Bravery, did you know?  I'll be 'Judith Moon, MB'.  The paperwork's being run through now and I'm guaranteed the medal they say, but I'm on the beach.  Inactive duty.  'Recovery' they say, but...they think I'm involved, but they can't prove it, so they shunt me aside and hope to forget about me, and they can't ignore that I fell out of an airplane, so they throw the medal at me and hope....and hope..." Her voice was rising now, coming fast and pitched, and some of the other diner patrons were turning around to see what was going on.  "Please, you have to tell me, what was it?  Everything that happened, what you showed me....what was it?  Please...oh god, I need to know.  For me, for my own sanity, I need to know.  What are you?"  She had reached a shouted crescendo and fallen back, and the last question came out as barely more than a whisper.  Tapeesa leaned over and rested her head against her shoulder, trying to steady her, and closed her eyes as tears silently streamed down Joo Dee's face.

 

Korra and Asami stared at each silently in regret and horror.  This was what they had feared, what they had hoped to avoid by getting her out of the forest, but they realized that they had failed, because she was still in the forest.  She was going to be there for the rest of her life, unless.....

 

Korra reached over and touched Joo Dee's hand which still clutched the glass of water.  Joo Dee recoiled from the contact and water splashed out of the glass, but did not slosh onto the table.  Instead it hovered above Korra's outstretched hand, and the rest of the glass was soon empty as the water formed a spinning disc over her open palm.  It spun faster and faster, until it was just a glowing blur, and Korra slowly leaned over the table.  Joo Dee and Tapeesa were both transfixed at the sight, frozen except for their ragged breaths, as Korra brought up her healing waterbending and laid her hand flat against Joo Dee's forehead.  They both gasped at the contact, Joo Dee from the cool sensation which rushed into her, and Korra from the burning fire which roared up her arm.  She held herself against Joo Dee, letting the water smother the flames, until finally she lowered her arm and Joo Dee collapsed against Tapeesa beside her.  Tears still streamed down her face, but lightly now, in relief instead of torment, and she again asked the question "What are you?"

 

When they had first arrived in this world and been taken to the military base at the North Pole they had tried to explain who they were and where they had come from, but they could not make themselves understood.  Even after they had been able to communicate with writing the meanings had been lost.  Once they had escaped and learned how to speak with the people of this world they had not tried to explain what had befallen them, they had tried to pass unobtrusively in this world under lies of omission and minor obfuscation.  But now, when they could finally communicate meaningfully and there was somebody who wanted, needed, to know the truth....

 

Korra picked up her own glass of water and took a drink, then looked to Asami, who nodded.  "We have never lied to you.  My name is Korra, and this is Asami.  We come from a world that is very different from yours, and we do not know completely how we got here, but what we do know....  Let me start at the beginning, and where I believe you would wish me to start."  She put down her glass and again extended her hand, until she held it over the center of the table.  She looked around to make sure that they were not being directly observed (The other patrons had all turned back to their meals after Joo Dee had quieted down, and their waiter was nowhere to be seen), and then she turned her clenched fist over, opening her fingers and letting a spark of fire burst into being.

 

"I am the Avatar."

Chapter Text

Joo Dee flinched back from the flame like she expected it to expand and swallow her up, while Tapeesa actually leaned in, with her eyes growing even wider.  Neither could tear their gaze away.

 

"This is 制火術...the technique of creating fire."  Korra cupped the small flame in her palm, letting it feed off of the warmth of her own body.

 

"How....how...."  Joo Dee could not finish the question, but it was obvious regardless.

 

"In the world we come from, the people have learned bending of the elements.  Water, earth, fire and air.  Bending is not magic, it is an ancient art unique to each culture, learned from the animals and world which surrounds us all.  The push and pull of the moon and ocean, the fire of the dragon and warmth of the sun, the burrowing badgermoles and flying bison.  The Lion Turtles, which could touch even the energy within ourselves."  Joo Dee was reaching out to the flame, and Korra let it vanish into nothingness the instant before her fingers would would have been burned.  "Ten thousand years ago, the Avatar cycle began, serving as the bridge between the Mortal World and the Spirit World, mastering all four elements and bringing balance to the world.  The cycle has continued, born into each nation in turn, trying to help the people live in harmony with each other and the spirits."

 

"Angakkuq," Tapeesa whispered in a hollow voice.

 

"Months ago, there was a...struggle...on our world.  Much fighting, much hardship and....and much loss."  Korra reached beside her and took Asami's hand, squeezing tightly and the resurgent memory of her father.  "Afterwards, we went on a vacation, just the two of us, because we needed peace and ease and....for other reasons together.  We went to the Spirit World, which is....you do not have a Spirit World here, not like we do.  It is not a place of certainty, it is of the mind and spirit, and beauty, and change, and....a friend of ours contacted us to pass along a message of what was happening in the Mortal World, and we decided to journey back to learn what was happening.  It was only going to be for a short while, just time enough to radio Tenzin and put my own mind at ease, but we wound up here.  There are connections between the two worlds, points of travel, and we had gone to the Northern Spirit Portal to make contact with the Northern Water Tribe, but instead we somehow ended up in your world.  We have heard of nothing like this before, there was no portal behind us afterwards, and we were stranded on your North Pole.  If your people had not found us, we would have frozen to death.  Thank you for that, again."

 

Asami leaned forward now, to pick up the tale.  "We do not know how or why it happened, but we have used your internet for research and your scientists detected many strange phenomena at the same time we were transported here.  We believe your government knows more than we do that they are keeping secret.  We are hoping to---"

 

"Excuse me, who had the chicken?"  All four of them jerked at the intrusion, and realized that their waiter was standing beside them, holding steaming plates of food to place down.  With the spell of the story broken they all leaned back in their seats to allow their dishes to be served, except for Joo Dee, who clawed her way out of the booth and dashed towards the restroom.  Tapeesa made as if to follow her, but paused while halfway standing and instead settled back down.  She followed Joo Dee with her eyes, a sad look having replaced the wonder she had born during Korra's recitation.

 

"You and Joo Dee are friends?" Asami asked, trying to draw out a little information of their own.

 

"Hmmmm?  Oh, yes and...yes, except....it's been a long time.  We grew up together, but I think the last time we actually spoke was when she called me on my birthday five or six years ago from somewhere she was stationed overseas.  Things were rough after she left home, rough between her parents and most of our friends, and once she enlisted I think she wanted to make it a complete separation.  I hung on longer than most of us, but even that....after enough time things just fall apart.  When she showed up at my door last month...."  Now she turned her sad eyes back to Korra and Asami, "What she's saying, what you're saying....is it true?  All of it?"

 

They did not know exactly what Joo Dee had been saying, but they understood what she asking.  "Yes," Korra said, "it's true."

 

"Oh....oh, god.  I thought...I don't know, Post-traumatic Stress or something, delusions from being lost in the woods.  She was almost raving when she first showed up, talking about these legends my grandma used to tell us when we were kids, but then she started showing me these things on-line, videos and pictures of you two and...I started to believe her, or believe something, and when we ran into you outside....are you tuurngait?"

 

"I'm sorry," Asami said, "we do not know this English word 'tuurngait'."

 

"No, it's not....they are the spirits of the world, and they can bring good or ill fortune, and manipulate the elements, or bond with humans."

 

"Bond with..." Korra and Asami looked at each other, and now it was Korra's turn to lean forward eagerly, "What do you know of this?"

 

"Just what my grandma and my parents taught me, but I never paid very close attention when I was a kid.  Why?"

 

"In our world...Raava, the spirit of Light and Peace, is what started the Avatar cycle.  I carry her within me, bound to my life and the lives of all Avatars before me and those who will come after.  I....I am tuurngait."

 

The sound Tapeesa made might have been a laugh, or it might have been a cry, but then Joo Dee arrived back at the table on unsteady legs and fell into her seat.  Her face was damp, but her expression was steadier than it had been, and when she spoke her voice had almost the professional tone it had had before her collapse in the forest.  "You were saying?" she said to Asami.

 

"I was...yes, we still wish to return to our own world," Asami picked up right where she had left off when the waiter came with their food.  "Your land is fascinating, and there is much beauty here, but it is not our own, and our friends and families are back there.  We believe that your government knows what brought us here, or at least more than we do, and we have been hoping to discover what this knowledge is so that we can travel home, but we have also not known where to begin.  We have no wish to declare war on your people, to overturn your way of life, so we have not tried to challenge them directly, merely go our own way until a opportunity presents itself.  We are not your enemies, and never have been."

 

They were all silent after that, and turned to their meals (As much as they missed the familiar foods of home, Korra and Asami devoured their poutine with gusto, having fallen in love when they had been introduced to the delicious, heavy dish).  When they had finished eating, they all remained sitting, awkwardly unsure of what to say next.

 

"Come," Korra eventually said, "we have something for you."  Together, they all walked back over to the motorcycle they had left outside and Korra began to dig into one of the saddlebags.  "We have gotten much use out of this, in many situations, but we always planned to return it.  It was not ours to keep."  Finding what she was looking for, Korra pulled out the combat knife she had taken from Joo Dee soon after they had escaped from the airplane, and which she had bent and used all throughout their journeys in Canada.  Holding it out to Joo Dee, she repeated what Asami had said earlier.  "We are not your enemies, and never have been."

 

Joo Dee's stance had weakened again at the sight of the knife, and her arm was trembling as she reached out, but she closed her fingers around its hilt and held it when Korra released her grip.  She slowly drew it out of its sheath, eying the blade itself, and then turned her gaze back to Korra and Asami.  Stepping forward, Asami spoke that single word they had tried to use to open a dialogue so long ago in the woods.

 

"Friend".

Chapter Text

As Asami and Korra were in the tire store negotiating a replacement, and apparently not having an easy time of it given the view through the window, Judith and Tapeesa stood outside by their motorcycle, each holding a metal object.  Judith still stared at the combat knife that had been returned to her, turning it over in her hands.  The sheath and handle were hers, no doubt, and they fit into the palm of her hand like an old friend, comfortable and familiar.  The blade, however, shone almost like new, as if it had only been first held a few weeks ago.  It had none of the wear and tear or minor nicks and smudges from use.  According to what they had said, Korra and Asami had used their magic (Why was it called 'bending'?) to reshape the blade many times, always returning it to its original form afterwards.  Their efforts left it as fresh as when it had first been forged....and scrubbed of any residue of Judith herself.    Holding it in her hands now, despite the familiarity of its cover, it was as if she had never set it to work against wood or stone, it had none of the connection to all the hardships she had endured, the struggles she had overcome before she had ever been sent to Station Alert and first laid eyes on these two strange creatures.  It was the same knife, but she had been stripped away from it completely.

 

She slid the sheath into her pocket so that she could grip the knife in both hands, then settled its blade against the flat of her palm and felt the cold of the steel against her skin.  It was still steel, it still felt like any cold metal ever held against her skin, but she knew that it had been changed; torn apart and reshaped and reformed and transformed then put back together again by means she could not understand.  Still a knife, yes, but not what it once was.  Never able to again become what it had been before Korra and Asami had gotten it into their hands.  No longer her knife.  She was gone from its history, its existence, just like that.

 

She knew that by simply moving the blade three inches up from the where it rested against her palm she could remove herself as well.  Just like that.  Erased as surely as if she had been bent (Was that the term?) into a different body and then bent back.  If her touch on the world could be erased so quickly and easily, reset to zero by these women as simply as flipping a switch, then why not herself?  Just three inches along her arm, then a single lateral motion, and....

 

She had not even realized she had moved the knife until she felt the coolness pressing in on her wrist.  Until she felt the beginning of its bite, the first growl warning of the coming roar.  Until....

 

"Judy, I honestly can't tell you what I expected from the stories you told me, but I can tell you this: I never imagined a tuurngait would need to replace a flat tire after running over a jack."  Tapeesa held the small game piece in her hand, after Korra had handed it to her before they went to buy the tire.  It had been twisted and bent (Normally bent) as it was run over by the motorcycle, now a misshapen lump of pointy metal, but its original shape was unmistakable.  "Is...is that reassuring?  That they have normal problems?  Or....."  She trailed off, and Judith recognized the growing mania that she had faced in the mirror over the past several months, but Tapeesa's was softer, tempered.    Prefaced with stories and warnings and soothing introductions, it emerged slowly and controllable, not born full and vicious during a whistling rush through the air to the Earth's surface.  Not thrust upon her as fire and wind roared about her as her life was held in the hand of some being that shone and floated and had such power and....Judith forced down the image, forced down the rising tide that threatened to overwhelm her again.  Forced down the horror and fear and worship and awe and everything else that came with the memory of two gods standing before her in the forest.  She slid the knife back into its sheath and then attached the sheath to her belt, resting it in its familiar position, then reached over and plucked the jack out of Tapeesa's hands.

 

"When they come out, we'll ask them."

Chapter Text

As they left the tire shop, Asami was shaking her head in obvious disappointment and Korra was looking at her almost in awe.  What had happened inside?  What could have possibly occurred inside a tire shop to get Korra, with all of her powers, to bear that look of shock?  They were speaking to each other quietly in their own language, but switched to English when they got back over to their motorcycle to explain to Judith and Tapeesa.

 

"He wanted $300.00 for the replacement, plus cost of service.  Ridiculous.  Even if he has to order the tire it would not be more than $200, and likely not even that much, and why would I need their service?  I can replace the tire myself."  Asami seemed almost insulted at what she was relaying.

 

"Do you want to go to another shop?" Tapeesa asked, "there's a mechanics garage not too far away...."

 

"That will not be necessary, but thank you.  We agreed on a much more reasonable price."

 

"$179!" Korra shouted, practically bursting.

 

Both Tapeesa and Judith stared at Asami in surprise.  Did she have mind control powers as well?  But she just shrugged her shoulders and shook her head, and in doing so her hair flipped over her shoulders and they both had to fight a sudden internal flutter at the sight.  "It was not difficult, once you show that you are not willing to be cheated out of more money than you need to spend and that you know how much that actually is.  Unless you are dealing with somebody really low, you can reach a fair arrangement."  Then she smiled a little, "But I must admit that showing that man that I knew even more than he did about the uses of run-flat tires did feel satisfying."

 

Korra and Asami walked back over to the motorcycle and began to re-pack the equipment that had been left out as they went in to negotiate for the replacement.

 

"He does need to order the tire, it is not in stock, but it should arrive in two days he said.  We will return then."

 

"Wait!" The shout was sudden and all three turned to Judith, who was frantically looking back and forth between them.  "You can't....you can't just go.  There's so much I need to....we have to.....you can't just go...."

 

"No, we will not just go."  Korra stepped forward and raised her arm, placing it on Judith's shoulder when she showed no sign of recoiling in horror as she had from most other physical contact.  "We will stay to help, and to explain.  But we cannot stay here, we will not be allowed to camp in the parking lot."  And Judith looked around and realized that they indeed were still standing outside of the tire shop, and they really could not have just stayed right where they were.   After a moment she began to laugh, and despite its shakiness it at least contained actual humor.

 

 "Right...wait, did you say 'camp'?"

 


 

 

Tapeesa's house was of moderate size, one of the nice single-family homes that were everywhere in the suburbs, and with only her living there she had more than enough room for two houseguests for a few days.  Especially for these two, whom she still did not understand if they actually were two of the spirits of the world, or something else, but whom she wanted to learn all that she could of.  Especially if...she looked to her side, where Judith was still standing awkwardly and tensely, still not freely relaxed, still watching Korra and Asami as if she was unsure if she should draw the knife at her hip and start hacking away at them, or if she should draw the knife on herself and offer up her blood as a sacrifice.  Exactly what had happened to Judith in the forest was still unclear, even though she had told the story many times, and if these two could help.....  She had an attached garage where Korra and Asami could place their motorcycle and supplies, then lead them all into the house.

 

"Do you have a bath?" Korra asked.

 

"The bathroom is just down that hallway, first door on the left."  Tapeesa pointed, but Korra emerged after just sticking her head in.

 

"No, not a bathroom, a bath alone."  She thought for a moment before she elaborated.  "A tub for bathing, not a shower."

 

"Oh, uh...yeah, upstairs.  There's just one off of my bedroom."

 

"Can you show me, please, and Joo Dee come with?"  They looked at each other in confusion, but Tapeesa lead the way upstairs, with Judith following behind.  In the "master bathroom" (Which was quite cramped with all of them standing in there together), Tapeesa showed Korra how the combined bath/shower worked to fill with water.  "Thank you.  May we....may we have privacy, please?  Me and Joo Dee?"  Tapeesa's eyebrows rose at that request, but Judith just nodded without speaking, so Tapeesa backed out of the bathroom and shut the door behind her.  Standing outside the door for a pause she just heard the sound of the running water, then she tore herself away and walked downstairs to where Asami was waiting.

 

"What is....what do you want?"  Judith asked, her voice hoarse and barely more than a whisper, as Korra kneeled down next to the tub and stuck her hand into the water.

 

"I want to help.  There is so much twisted inside of you, so much blocked that...I do not know the words, but you are in pain, still trapped with us in the forest.  Trapped there forever.  We will explain, help you to understand, but also...I can help free the energy."  She had begun to rotate her wrist and the water had started to swirl in the tub, and also....was it starting to glow?  "Please, get into the bath.....no, not clothed."

 

Judith stared at the swirling water and at Korra and felt....what, shame?  Embarrassment?  She had changed and gotten dressed in front of uncaring strangers so often before, been forced without complaint into close quarters with other members of the RCAF that would have been considered personal in the civilian world, but now she hesitated.  Korra turned to look at her, and her blue eyes....months ago she had told Lieutenant-colonel Monke that Korra had looked so similar to Tapeesa, and now she could almost imagine that it was she kneeling next to the tub instead of Korra, but there was so much more in those eyes.  There was something else contained in them, and the thought of disrobing before those eyes, before eyes that had seen she-knew-not-what, which could see her as a speck of dust, could look her over and disregard her as she might have disregarded an ant, was almost too much.  She began to shake again, felt the images rising again, and took a step backwards, bumping against the closed door and pressing herself flat against it.  "I.....I can't...."

 

"Please, Joo Dee.  Let me help," and Korra's voice was not the voice of power and grandness that she had come to fear and love, but that of a woman, even younger than Judith, who was hurting at seeing somebody else in pain.  Her body calmed, and she closed her eyes and stripped out of her clothing, dropping it to the floor.  She stood there in only her undergarments, wondering if Korra was looking at her with contempt or approval or human desire or divine dismissal, and also if she could stop there or if Korra needed her to be completely naked.  "Thank you, please get into the bath."

 

She expected it to be ice cold (Korra had not added any hot water), but instead the water was steaming as she slid into the bath.  Just shy of being painful, Judith could not help but let out a softening, relaxed moan as the warmth washed over her, burning like a warm fire on a cold night.  Almost against her will she felt her body relax, her tension flow out of her, and she managed to lean her head back to rest on the bathtub's edge.

 

"Just relax," Korra said, and then Judith began to feel the water flow around her.  It was almost like the bathtub had become a Jacuzzi, with jets under the surface shooting the water this way and that, and it felt like the entire mass of water had split into distinct, independently moving streams.  They swarmed around her, flowing across her skin, but she felt no urge to recoil and fight them off.  Suddenly, they coalesced over her stomach and seemed to condense into a ball, then they split apart again and reformed over the pit of her throat.  The process repeated almost a dozen times, with the water rivers joining together over different parts of her body, and as they moved she felt all of the conflict drain out of her.  All she felt was peace, a quiet stability for the first time in months.  It did not matter if Korra was some sort of god or devil, or if she was from some alien world, or why she was here, or what it meant for her own existence.  All that mattered was that, for the first time she could remember, she was able to let go and not be buried under all that had happened.

 

As the water flowed around, Judith Moon drifted off to a restful, dreamless sleep free from the outside world.

Chapter Text

As Tapeesa walked down the staircase, the sound of the faucet fading as walls interposed themselves, she saw that Asami was standing in her living room, turning in place as she looked around. She was not touching anything, but just taking in the makeup of the room, letting her gaze fall on all of the knickknacks scattered around. Pictures of her parents, her brother and sister-in-law on their wedding day, her graduation photos, and in one corner a picture of her and Judith from back when they were kids. A caribou carving made from soapstone, legs bent in full gallop, rested on one of the side tables.

 

"You have a very nice house," she said.

 

"Thank you, I moved here about three years ago. I do most of my work from home, but I needed to be close enough to Vancouver for when I had to go into the city." Tapeesa found herself surprised at the banality of these remarks, as if she was not talking with a...spirit?...which had taken the form of a young woman. But Asami had seemed to mean the compliment genuinely. "What...uh...what are they doing up there?" and she waved back towards the staircase.

 

"Joo Dee is hurt inside. In her mind. Much of what happened was shocking, and dangerous, and also different from all that she had known before. Korra will try to...open....her mind, to help her find her own peace." Asami had sat down by now, resting her elbows on her knees and propping up her head.

 

"Will it....will it fix her?" Tapeesa's voice caught now, hesitant from the hope. They had not spoken for years, and had been distant even before they lost touch completely, but to see the confident, self-assured woman she had known be so broken now, so torn apart by the shadows of her own mind, tore her apart as well.

 

"Korra can help guide the healing process, but whether Joo Dee gets better or not is up to her. We will try to explain, to help her understand, as best we can." Tapeesa's head drooped a little, disappointed that they apparently could not do more. "I am sorry, but we cannot do that which we cannot do." Asami's brow furrowed after that, as if she had not meant to say something quite that redundant in English, but she apparently did not know any better way to phrase it.

 

"I....thank you, for doing what you can. Is there anything I can do to help?"

 

"Yes. Do you have any paper and writing tools?"

 

"I think so. Do you just want notepaper, or something bigger?"

 

"Bigger, please, as big as you have."

 

It took Tapeesa a few minutes, but she eventually dug up some of the construction paper her nephew had left behind when he visited a few months back, along with several pens and markers. Thanking her, Asami spread out the paper and began to trace out several pictures.

 

"What are you drawing?" Tapeesa asked as she looked over Asami's shoulder.

 

"To help Joo Dee--and you--understand us and our world. There are many things to explain, and this will help." A map was beginning to emerge as she spoke, with geography and borders unlike any land Tapeese could recognize in the world. She worked steadily and precisely, marking out individual notations with minute, careful movements of her pen.

 

"Are you an artist?" The drawings seemed almost like calligraphy, coming into existence with a flourish of Asami's wrist and in such vibrancy that it seemed more like a classical painting than a hand drawing. She remembered school reproductions of ancient maps, emblazoned with depictions of mythical beasts and religious warnings, and even though this creation seemed clinically accurate, with no fantastic embellishments, it was more like those pictures than a modern atlas.

 

"No, but I have done much design work. It is easy to parse out parts and mark off borders, just as if I was working with metal joints and accounting for force." She leaned in as she spoke, making a few last notations, before she leaned back and turned the paper around to face Tapeesa. "This is where we are from."

 

Tapeesa practically snatched at the paper, but her eager glance turned to a frown as she looked it over. Despite the artistry of the map itself, the land it portrayed seemed to be...land. A continent, several islands, and surrounding oceans. "Is this your spirit home?"

 

"No, this is the mortal world. We are not from the Spirit World." Asami leaned forward and touched the large continent. :"This is the Earth Kingdom, the largest of the five nations. Although....maybe its name has changed by now, there were plans for Wu to abdicate and elections to be held in all of the states." She then reached to touch both the top and bottom of the map at the same time. "The Water Tribes live at the north and south poles. Korra was born here, in the Southern Water Tribe. This is the Fire Nation. The Air Nomads do not really have any single home, but their temples are across the world. This," she wound her hand down a strip of land in the north-west of the 'Earth Kingdom', "is the United Republic of Nations. I was born there, and this is now home to both myself and Korra."

 

"Why these names? 'Earth Kingdom', 'Fire Nation'. Are there different spirits in each?"

 

"Yes, but I do not believe like you are thinking. There are spirits everywhere in the world, crossing over from the Spirit World, but these names come from the people who live there, and the elements they are born to. 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. Earth is the element of substance, the people of the Earth Kingdom are diverse and strong, they are persistent and enduring. Air is the element of freedom, the old Air Nomads detached themselves from worldly concerns, and found peace and freedom; the new Air Nomads now serve all nations, not bound by any borders or restrictions. Water is the element of change, the people of the Water Tribe are capable of adapting to many things, they have a deep sense of community and love that holds them together through anything." Asami's eyes shone when she finished, letting her hand rest on the Southern Water Tribe again.

 

"And this fifth one? The...United Republic?" It did not fit the naming scheme, sounding so....artificial. Not elemental or spiritual. How could it fit in with everything else?

 

"The United Republic is the youngest of the nations, but it is also the one with the brightest future."  Her eyes shone differently than they had when she described the Water Tribe, but Asami still touched that section of the map with fondness.  "Seventy years ago the 100 Years War came to en end.  It was the worst struggle in our history, with so much death and destruction that we are still feeling the consequences, and like all wars it had also lain the seeds for its own following.  The Fire Nation had conquered large swathes of the Earth Kingdom and colonized the sections it had held for the longest, with Fire Nation citizens that had lived there for years.  They did not want to leave their homes, but the Fire Nation could not be allowed to keep the land, spoils of a hundred years of bloodshed and genocide.  To prevent another war, Avatar Aang, Fire Lord Zuko, and the Earth King created this new nation, independent from the others.  It would be open to the people of all the world, no matter their nations, so they could live together in peace and harmony.  Since then we've built a new nation, together; I myself have both Fire and Earth heritage."

 

"'Avatar'....you have said that word before, Korra called herself the Avatar.  That she was a....a spirit bonded with a human.  What does that mean?"

 

"I'm not sure I can explain it, the nature of the Avatar stretches back to the start of our history, but it is the duty of the Avatar to bring balance to the world and serve as the bridge between the Mortal World and the Spirit World."

 

"So, she is an angakkuq?  Uh...an angakkuq is...I mean....for the Inuit, an angakkuq used to be a shaman, they helped keep balance.  Between people and tribes, and between people and the spirits of the world."

 

"That is the duty of the Avatar, but it is not something can be learned or chosen.  The Avatar is born into purpose again and again, it is a cycle of reincarnation started by Raava, the Spirit of Light and Peace.  The Avatar has lived a thousand lifetimes, and Korra....Korra is what it has all lead to.  Everything that came before was all so that we could have her, now."

 

Tapeesa was silent now, staring at the map that lay before her and reviewing what Asami had told her.  The world they came from....Asami had spoken of a war and political boundaries, like any conflict of the normal world, but also of the spirits and elements of each nation.  So similar, but also so different, and the Avatar....if she was understanding correctly, Korra was not a tuurngait, a spirit of the world without a body, but this Raava was, that had merged with her, and....

 

"Why are you here?"

 

"We told you before, and we did not lie.  We came here by accident, an accident we do not understand, and we wish to return home.  We both have friends back there, responsibilities, and it is the world that we know.  The world needs Korra, needs the Avatar, and I...I need to be with her."

 

Tapeesa continued to stare at the map, and without taking her eyes away from it said, "Please, tell me more."

Chapter Text

When Judith slowly began to rise back to consciousness, it was like climbing out of a soft, warm world of foam. As she stretched there was no resistance, no tension, and she could breathe like--she could breathe. She opened her eyes and looked around, and did not recognize where she was; she was not in her own apartment, nor was she lying in the motel she had been staying at in Squamish. There was no panic at not knowing her surroundings, however, just a lazy realization as she continued to meander her way towards full waking. Groaning, she leveraged herself out of the bed and sat on its side, shaking her head to clear her thoughts and recall what had happened. She had been in Tapeesa's bathroom, lying in the tub, with Korra doing something to the water and...it all faded out in a warm haze. She did not remember how she had gotten from the tub into Tapeesa's bed or---she was in Tapeesa's bed. Looking around again, she recognized Tapeesa's bedroom and found that she was loosely wrapped in one of her robes as well. Who had moved her? Korra? Korra and Asami? Had they carried her with their magic, floating her through the air and....she braced herself for the surge of memory, for the cascade of thought and feeling that would overwhelm her and smash her defenses, but it did not come. All she felt was curiosity, wondering at the specifics, not the crush of emotion that had always been waiting to slam her to the ground.

 

Her inhalations came easy, her exhales were relaxed, and her limbs were steady. How long she sat there she could not have said, but she closed her eyes and lay her head in her hands, and relished the unparalleled, unrivaled beauty of peace and silence. The freedom of her own mind, denied for so long, was a bliss unlike anything she had ever felt before.

 

It was only when she noticed the emptiness of her stomach that she was spurred to movement. It had darkened to twilight now, but not yet night, so she could not have been asleep for too long, unless she had slept through to the next night. With the energy she felt from her sleep, and the hunger gnawing at her pit, that was entirely possible, so she decided it was time to see what had transpired. Walking softly, she left the bedroom and made her way down the hallway towards the stairs, where she could hear the traces of faint voices. Down the stairs, Tapeesa, Korra and Asami were sitting together in the living room, looking over what seemed to be hand-drawn maps and apparently giving some kind of history lesson. The story of the world they had come from? The explanation for their abilities? She cleared her throat to gain their attention, and when they turned to her she saw...three people. Not Tapeesa standing beside two forest gods, not beings to be hated or worshipped or feared or loved, but three people reading a map.

 

It was as if somebody had driven through her mind and cleared out everything that was clogging her thoughts, unblocking all of the streams and energy within her. She remembered the power they had displayed, she still feared what they could do and wondered what they were, but she could accept them. She could deal with them. She could move forward.

 

"Do we...uh...is there any dinner?"

 


 

 

"That's most of what they told me," Tapeesa said as Judith worked through a bowl of warm, thick broth, "The background big picture. They've been going over more details, too, but...we can go over that later. I'm still trying to deal with this whole world they were explaining."

 

They were looking at one of the maps Asami had drawn--Magical powers, bonding with spirits, fighters, and also artists? Was there anything these two could not do?--and Judith tried to fit what she had learned into her worldview. It explained much of what she had heard them say when they were being interviewed by Colonel Monke (Or rather, seen them write and translate back and forth), some names that seemed almost normal and some that seemed like something out of a fantasy book. Some of the rest of it....even with all that she had seen them do, their talk of the Spirit World, the abilities they had discussed, still seemed unreal.

 

"How are you going to get home?" She finally asked.

 

"We do not know. As we have said several times, we still do not understand how it was that we got here. None of what we have learned on your internet has explained what happened." Asami paused for a moment, then repeated what she had said earlier that day when they were all eating at the diner. "We believe that your government knows what brought us here, or at least more than we do, and we have been hoping to discover what this knowledge is so that we can travel home, but we have also not known where to begin. We have no wish to declare war on your people, to overturn your way of life, so we have not tried to challenge them directly, merely go our own way until a opportunity presents itself. We are not your enemies, and never have been."

 

They had been saying that from the beginning, ever since they had first started to communicate through scribbled notes, and Judith had no doubt that they were telling the truth. She might have even believed it long ago. Unfortunately, it did not really matter that she believed it. It did not matter that it was true. They were still wanted by her superiors for questioning and explanations, and still connected to abilities that could pose a direct threat to life and property. It was not her place to absolve them of their history, not her place to deem them free to travel and live in Canada. Despite being on the beach, despite the transparent intent of the RCAF to sweep her under the carpet, despite everything, it was still her duty to deny them any aide and comfort, and to report what she had learned to her superiors.

 

"On June 21, at 10:51 UT, there was a radiation burst detected above the Arctic sea ice. It was centered almost exactly over the geographic center of the North Pole and set off particle detectors across the hemisphere, and it was more intense than anything we've ever seen on Earth before. Bigger than the Tsar Bomba. I and the rest of the RCAF detachment you saw at Station Alert were dispatched to study the phenomenon and determine what had caused it, and whether it was a natural occurrence or if it might be some sort of new weapon or technology. When we were out there investigating, we found you." It came out fast, with no preface, but Judith spoke calmly and directly. "Whatever brought you here, it either caused that electro-magnetic bloom, or it was caused by the bloom."

 

Korra and Asami stared at her silently for a moment, and she knew that they knew exactly what she had been thinking. Everything that her speaking had implied. Instead of commenting on that, however, Asami simple asked "Do you know what it was?"

 

"No, I don't, I wasn't....I'm not a scientist, I was deployed for support and tactical resources during the investigation. I don't think any of the boffins knew, either, when I last got any new intel. Colonel Monke was going to stamp the entire affair 'Unknown natural event', the twenty-first century Tunguska event, until.....until you, actually. You weren't just unknown, you were actively suspicious; finding you out there in our search area with no explanation sent up red flags all over the place. Add in your escape from our...holding...and it looks like the deliberate and planned insertion of foreign nationals into our territory after some sort of massive new technology development."

 

"Do you know where we could learn more?"  Korra was leaning in now, eager.

 

"No, I don't.  You were correct that we were trying to contain any results we achieved in research into the event, and I expect that the other investigators are too.  Hell, Russia's probably sitting on their intel until they can spin it into some sort of new superweapon."

 

"But your government...."

 

"Research could be happening at any of two dozen different CFB bases, if it's left Station Alert at all, and that's not taking into considering if the Americans have gotten involved."

 

"Americans?  The nation to the south?"  Asami did not look 'confused' so much, but clearly did not understand how they could come to be involved.  "We have studied your maps and nations of the world, they are even further away on the other side of your country."

 

"Yes, but..." How could you possibly condense the entire Canadian-US relationship into something simple enough to understand for somebody who was so new to everything?  The Permanent Joint Board on Defence?  NORAD?  The cooperation required by having the longest contiguous border between two nations on the planet?  "There is a very close relationship between our governments, including our militaries, and the Americans have a lot of influence.  They might have been included in the research into the event, especially after your escape and my superiors became convinced that this was some sort of human technology."

 

Korra and Asami both leaned back, visibly disappointed that her willingness to give them information had not magically solved their problems, but they did not slump in defeat.  If anything, they still looked happier than they had before, even though she had not given them any information truly unique from what they either already knew or had suspected.

 

"Thank you for what you can tell us," Asami said, "and for your presence here now.  We will continue to search and discover our own way home.  Until then, as we have done so far, there is still much of your world left to see."

 

There was a silence around the table, until Judith finally said "Tomorrow, would you....can we talk more tomorrow?"

Chapter Text

After Korra and Asami readied for bed in the guest room Tapeesa offered them, they lay side by side and stared up together. There were glowing shapes stuck to the ceiling above them, stylized as stars and grouped in fanciful designs, like a child's picture of the constellations. It might have been distracting, but instead they amused themselves forming patterns and trying to divine what they were meant to represent.

 

"Well, that one's clearly a person," Asami pointed at a string of stars that had a bulbous moon at one end and four lines sticking off its middle, "head, arms, legs, it's all there."

 

"Obviously," Korra agreed, "but I can't help but notice that you missed the platybus-bear he is walking." Next to the stick-figure was a mass of stars clustered together that might, if you squinted your eyes and turned your head, have looked like there were legs and a wide, broad tail.

 

"I didn't miss it, I was just waiting for you to pick it up." Asami's voice held a giggle in it. "What about that one?" and she waved to a jumbled mess at one end of the starfield.

 

"It's one of those helicopters, of course." Korra said it with such confidence that she might as well have been pointing to a blueprint of the device. "See, there's the spinning parts up on top..."

 

"Of course, how did I miss it? And that one?" There was a curving arc that looked like a helix wrapping around a straight line.

 

"That one....that's the two lovers dancing together." Korra's voice was suddenly soft, suddenly deep and heavy with emotion.

 

"Oh?"

 

"That line in the center, she's strong and direct, but alone. See, she's pointing away from the rest of the stars? There's nothing over there for her to go to. The one wrapping around her, though, is what's keeping her here. She's holding her together, keeping her with the rest of the stars. But she's not just giving everything away, because she's also being held up by the one inside. So, they're dancing together, the outer one is moving around, and the inner one is holding up, and they make a single movement."

 

Asami did not say anything in response, but she leaned over and lightly touched her lips to Korra's cheek, which was the tiniest bit wet from a tear almost too small to have even existed at all. Asami held the contact for a breathless instance, just feeling the warmth of Korra's cheek and letting Korra feel her, before she leaned over a little bit further and touched Korra's lips just as lightly. "They're so beautiful together, aren't they?" She asked eventually.

 

"Yes, they are." Korra said, and then she reached up and pulled Asami down against her, not with strength, but gently. They were again motionless together, lost in the tenderness and the feel of one another.

 

They did not pursue their physical connection, letting themselves drift off to sleep beside one another, but that was okay for both of them. Right now, at this second, they did not need passion or urgency, but just the knowledge that they would continue to dance together.

Chapter Text

"This is called 'streaming the water'," Korra said, "and it was one of the very first forms I ever learned."  As she spoke, she shifted her balance to the side and leaned forward, pulling a ribbon of water up from a puddle on the ground and circling it around herself between her outstretched arms.  "The key to waterbending is to be like water itself. Soft, able to flow with the environment around you, feeling the push and pull of the moon and ocean."  Her wrists spun and the ribbon of water streamed around her.  "It is easy to see it as being weak, but that is not the case; you need to be ready to adapt to many things, and by staying soft you are ready for anything.  Water cannot be broken, cannot be smashed or cut, and it cannot be stopped."  The ribbon spun over her head and angled back towards the puddle it had come from, disappearing into its surface without even a ripple.

 

Joo Dee and Tapeesa were sitting on the small deck behind Tapeesa's house, watching with eyes wide at Korra's demonstration.  Joo Dee was calmer than she had seemed ever since they had wound up in the forest together, more at peace since the previous night's healing at Tapeesa's home, but there was still a catch in her voice.  She still did not have the steady, even professional tone she had borne when they could not understand her at the military base at the north pole, and her glance was still darting towards Korra and Asami every few moments as if to make sure they were in the same place.  Despite all that waterbending could do, especially when working with the energy within her body and the blockages at each of her chakras, she would still need to recover on her own.  Still, she could recover, and she had seemed eager to learn all she could about bending.

 

"The key to earthbending is your stance.  You need to be steady and strong. Rock is a stubborn element. If you are going to move it, you must be like a rock yourself."  Her legs were spaced widely and she took a deep breath, and on her exhale her arms swept upward and a chunk of earth lurched up from the ground in an irregular lump.  She settled herself deeper and the earth floated in the air, held steady as if it was still rooted in the ground.  "Rock endures, like the earth itself, and faces all obstacles head on."  She was tempted to replicate the 'head on' demonstration one of her earthbending teachers had shown her when she was younger, but held back; Tapeesa had said they would not be overheard or observed in her back yard, but the sound of an exploding boulder likely would have drawn some notice.  Rotating around her center, she circled the earth around the yard and then returned it to its original hole.  As it settled, she smoothed it out so that there was not even a line in the grass.

 

"Firebending power comes from the breath, not the muscle.  The breath becomes energy within the body, which is released in the form of fire," and Korra lunged forward, a burst of flame emerging from her fists.  "Fire is alive, it breathes and grows out of its own hunger.  Without a bender a rock will not throw itself, but fire will spread if you do not have the will to control it.  To the foolish it is a tool of destruction, seeing only the destructive power it holds, but fire also brings life.  The heat and warmth of the sun which grants us light and feeds the plants is the greatest source of firebending in the world."

 

"Airbending is all about spiral movements. When you meet resistance, you must be able to switch direction at a moment's notice."  As Korra began to spin across the lawn, she remembered when she had given a similar demonstration to Claire and her friends in front of Kunik's house, already several months in the past.  "Air you cannot control, you do not hold it prisoner in your hands, you can only guide it in the direction you need it to go."  She wanted, almost more than anything, to unveil her glider and fly above the house to demonstrate, but that would have drawn attention to this house instantly.  Instead, she began to run and spun a ball of moving air out in front of her, leaping atop the air scooter.  As she sped across the ground, she could see Joo Dee's eyes widen even further at the sight, a look almost of longing passing across her expression.  However, when Korra actually passed by her and Tapeesa, with the wind of her passing blowing across their faces, Joo Dee suddenly twisted aside and gasped almost as if in pain, shuddering and squeezing her eyes shut.  Korra released the scooter as soon as she noticed and began to walk over, but Joo Dee sat forward and waved her aside.

 

"Don't worry, it's just....it's nothing.  Just memories.  Please, continue."

 

"Those are all four of the elements," Korra said, raising a stool out of the earth in front of them and sitting down.  "Each has its own styles, its own strengths and weaknesses, and in the past they were divided amongst the nations.  But It is important to draw wisdom from many different places; if you take it from only one place, it becomes rigid and stale. Understanding others, the other elements, and the other nations will help people become whole.  Now, with the formation of the United Republic, there are places where benders from different nations and different styles can work together and share their knowledge.  My friend Bolin..."  Korra paused for a moment, and a small smile spread on her face.  It was not sad, not quite, but it held sadness within it.  "...Bolin was a Pro-Bender.  He was...oh, Pro-Bending is a sport, a competition between teams of benders using different elements.  Bolin was one of the first people I met when I came to Republic City, and he was the first person to show me the new styles that had arisen there.  How to stay loose as an earthbender, while keeping its strength, blending the styles into a new whole.  It was something I needed to help myself learn airbending."  Her smile was larger now, as she could imagine Bolin's reaction to this very conversation.  His pride at having taught the Avatar, and his confusion at how what he had done had actually helped.

 

"What can you bend?" Joo Dee had turned to Asami, who stood behind them and was likewise observing Korra's demonstration.

 

"Me?  I am not a bender, I cannot bend anything."

 

"Not a...yesterday, you said you had Fire and Earth ancestry."  Tapeesa was not accusing, but she was quite obviously confused.  "You aren't an earth- and firebender?"

 

"I do have that heritage, but I am not a bender.  It is not something that comes only from your blood, but there are spiritual and personal matters that influence who is born as a bender.  Many people in all of the nations are born without any bending, and none can bend two of the elements."

 

"None?"  Joo Dee was looking back and forth between Korra and Asami now, and her expression had cleared when Asami said that she did not have any bending.

 

"None," Asami said.  "If I was to have been a bender it would have been either fire or earth, but not both.  Our friend Bolin has a brother, Mako, and their parents were also from the Earth and Fire Nations.  Bolin is an earthbender, and Mako is a firebender.  Only the Avatar can bend more than one element, and she masters all four to maintain balance in the world."  Tapeesa turned back to Korra with another new expression at the revelation that she was special even in her own world, while Korra met her gaze calmly.

 

"If you cannot bend...what do you do?"  Phrased that way, the question could have been very insulting, especially with the way tensions between benders and non-benders were still raw in Republic City.  The Equalists as an organization had not posed a problem for years, and they were pariahs amongst almost the entire populace, but that did not erase the the economic and class struggles that had existed between benders and non-benders, even if things were better now than they had been before.  Joo Dee's question, however, had been asked openly, and she had no knowledge of the strife that had arisen in years past.

 

"I do not need bending to live my life, I have my mind and my body regardless.  Running Future Industries does not need bending prowess, only intelligence and determination."

 

"Running the future?"  Joo Dee looked confused now, and Asami wondered if maybe she had gotten the translation wrong.

 

"My company is named Future Industries."

 

"You....your company?"  Joo Dee looked confused in a different manner now.

 

"Yes, the largest manufacturing and technological development industry in the United Republic."  She spoke with no small measure of pride.  "The ability to bend would not help in a business negotiation, or when designing a new engine.  It does have many advantages and gives much to the world, but bending is not the only solution to problems, and oftentimes people who have it think that it can apply to every situation, and are helpless when it will not help them.  To think my way out of a problem is better than any application of the elements."  Instead of looking angry or insulted, Korra was nodding in agreement as Asami spoke.  Joo Dee, however, had yet another new look of surprise on her face as she looked at Asami.

 

Slowly, as if to make sure she understood clearly, Joo Dee asked, "You own a company," Asami nodded at the question, "and you are the only one who can bend all four elements." Korra nodded as well.  "Are all people from your world so uniquely special?"

 

Korra and Asami looked each other briefly, then Korra nodded again and said "Yes.  Yes they are."

Chapter Text

"Where will you go?" Joo Dee asked, as Korra was about to carry her dish and utensils into the kitchen where Asami and Tapeesa were cleaning up from dinner.

 

She paused, and then asked in turn, "Do you mean tomorrow, when our motorcycle is repaired, or forever?"

 

"Both," said Joo Dee.

 

"Tomorrow we will go to Vancouver, we have seen so many of your towns and they are identical in many ways, but also so different from each other in other ways. In our world there is only one language, but you have two languages that we have learned even in this one nation, and more that we do not yet know. How will this city be different from Montreal? How will it be different from the places we have passed on our journey here? Just being able to see what it holds is a wonder for me and Asami. After that....we will head south. The weather has begun to turn cold, and I do not want to be forced to survive the winter of your land without steady shelter. We will pass through the ice and snow there."

 

"South, that's...you mean you'll go into the United States, the...uh...the nation south of Canada."

 

"Yes, the United States of America, we've learned something of it through TV and the internet, but to be honest I do not trust much of what I have heard. If all of what was said on TV and the internet were true, this nation of Canada would be nothing but a sheet of ice and snow like we saw at the North Pole, and the only people living here would be citizens of the United States that have fled to here to escape their government."

 

Joo Dee could not contain a snort of laughter at Korra's comment, and she muttered something beneath her breath. Louder she said, "Yeah, you can't trust everything you see on TV, some of their movies are pretty much....but the States are different from here in some ways. Different customs, different history. Even the English they speak is different in some ways."

 

"That is part of why we are going, not just because of the coming snow. Your world is so vast, and we have seen only this one nation so far. Until we have found our way home, we need to see as much as we can."

 

"You could....you could stay here, you know. In Squamish. Ride out the winter indoors." Joo Dee's voice was tender, and the offer was vulnerable in a way that had nothing to do with the trauma of their escape from the plane or their encounters in the forest.

 

"No, we could not." Korra's voice held no rebuke, but it was firm. "Your military found us in Montreal after we had been there only for days, and we believe that was only from videos that had been put on your internet by random people, not even spies or agents of government. We have been safer since then, we leave an area as soon as either of us has done anything to demonstrate our presence and we take reasonable precautions, but we have also decided that we will not cower and hide ourselves. I will not conceal my bending, Asami will not smother her mind, and if we were to stay here then your military would be upon us very soon. We have to keep moving."

 

"Then I could come with you. I could be your guide, help you understand our world, explain strange situations and...and...."

 

"You are not ready for that. You need time to recover, to be with Tapeesa, to--"

 

"No!" It was almost, but not quite, a shout. "What you did last night, I'm so much....I can take it."

 

Korra looked at her, and her firmness cracked a little bit, to show a sadness underneath. Instead of speaking, she raised her right hand and extended it towards Joo Dee, flicking her wrist and generating a small whirlwind that sprung from her palm towards Joo Dee's face. It was a very minor effort of airbending, suitable only for something as small as cooling off a hot drink, but when it came into contact with Joo Dee and blew her hair back, she reacted as though it was a stronger gust of hurricane winds. Her head twisted as thought at a slap and she broke out in a cold sweat almost instantly as her eyes squeezed shut. She stayed that way for a few baited breathes before she relaxed. When her eyes opened again, Korra was in front of her and gingerly reached out to cup her chin, her own eyes filled with understanding.

 

"I know what it is like to go through a traumatic experience. Three years ago I was...a man named Zaheer hurt many of my friends, and he hurt me, and...he hurt me very badly, and I was angry, and I was scared, and I was hurt in ways that cannot be healed by waterbending.  I felt the way I was then in you in the forest before we sent you away, and I felt it again last night.  I have helped you, I have opened up your energy and done what I can, but this is in your mind and spirit, not your body.  I promise you, if you dedicate yourself to getting better, you will recover, stronger than ever, but this is not something you can ignore or charge through.  You need time, and to be patient, to come to terms with everything that has happened."

 

Joo Dee shut her eyes of her own accord this time, and as she did her breathing calmed to a steady rhythm.  "I will...okay.....once we're completely done with dinner, I'll tell you what I know of the United States."

 


 

"Let us come with you," Tapeesa said, almost jocularly, as Asami was emptying the remains of their dinner into the trash. "I still want to learn about your world."

 

"I do not think that would be a good idea," Asami said, struggling to scrape off the potatoes that seemed determined to stick to her plate, "we will give you as much information as we can before we go."

 

"It'd be a great idea.  More than just the facts and names, there's the spirits you have, the...the...the everything.  I dismissed these stories when I was a kid, I can barely remember half of them, but to know they're really out there is....."

 

"Tapeesa, the spirits of our world are not yours."

 

"But I think they are.  Or, I don't know, maybe they're cousins?  No, that's ridiculous, what I mean is...you've said yourself that some parts of our world are so similar to your own.  Not just the writing in Chinese, but different types of food, too, and even some martial arts.  The stories Korra has shared of Water Tribe spirits, and other parts of their culture, are so similar to what I grew up with as well.  What if our worlds have crossed over before?  Maybe thousands of years ago?  Or if there is a spiritual connection, enough for some aspects to bleed through?  Maybe the spirits traveled from our world to yours, or vice-versa?  What if Igaluk is the same spirit as ...uh...Tui, you said, the moon?  I can't just....I can't just walk away from this now."

 

"You do not need to walk away from anything," Asami was still scraping the same pile of potatoes, but she put down the plate to turn around.  "I will not refuse you the right to accompany us, but this is not only a vacation...although I will admit to enjoying our travels.  You will become associated with us by your government, who believes us to be criminals or enemies of some sort.  We do not always have easy access to shelter (She forebear mentioning that Korra could always erect an earthen shelter for them) and have encountered many dangerous situations, some which we could only resolve through violence.  Eventually, we will find our way back to our world and leave these problems behind, but you would deal with them for the rest of your life; could you be a fugitive in your own land until the end of your days?  Will you be ready to face the enemies that you will make in our presence?"

 

"Well...uh...."

 

"You have treated us kindly, welcomed us into your home, and we will not bar you from joining us if that is your final wish, but I do not think it will be the enlightenment you hope it to be.  Speak to Joo Dee later tonight, learn her opinion as a longer friend of yours who has already been affected by our presence, and blamed for our actions.  Be aware of all that you ask."

 

Tapeesa nodded without saying anything, and turned back to her dishes.  Asami, for her part, resumed fighting that one potato remnant on her plate which refused to cooperate.  Here, at least, was a simple, direct challenge she could solve.

 

Chapter Text

As they watched Korra and Asami ride out of Squamish on their motorcycle, both Judith and Tapeesa briefly struggled to remember that they were living in real life and not a movie. The picturesque image of two beautiful women roaring on a motorcycle, heading off into unknown (For them) territory as they escaped government pursuit and performed random acts of heroism, seemed like it should have been on a movie poster or something. Instead of the scene fading to black, however, once they were out of sight Judith and Tapeesa turned back to each other on Tapeesa's front porch and found themselves suddenly unsure of what to say to each other. While Korra and Asami had been there everything had carried their larger-than-life flavor, but now...

 

"'Saw, thank you so much for these past few days, you didn't need to let them stay here, or help me with everything and....thank you."

 

"You don't need to thank me for that, not after everything you'd told me. With what you'd been through, I couldn't just..." Unsure of how to finish, Tapeesa instead assumed a much more lighthearted tone. "Besides, two sexy ladies ride out of the wilderness wanting to stay with me? You'd have needed to knock me out to keep them away."

 

Judith could not restrain her own burst of laughter at the remark, and could only nod her head. "Still, thanks. What Korra did that first night....her waterbending, and their explaining what it all meant, it's helped me. It's not all better, it's not gone, but...I don't know how to explain it, but I can think now."

 

"If all it took was time together in the bath you should have told me that weeks ago and I could have helped out."

 

Judith laughed even harder than she had a moment ago and then....she realized that her cheeks were beginning to redden, and she was unsure of exactly how to respond. She had originally come here weeks ago out of desperation, seeking some tiny point of commonality with a person who had shared the stories and legends that were rattling around her mind, somebody who would listen to her and not instantly dismiss her as crazy or suffering from delusions caused by Post-Traumatic Stress. She had not had a plan of what would happen afterwards, nor had she ever imagined that they would have possibly run into Korra and Asami randomly on the road. Now, with her mind clear and Korra and Asami on their way.....

 

"I should probably get going back to my motel, let you begin putting your house back together. Or...do you want help cleaning up? I can lend a hand before I leave."

 

"Don't worry about clean-up, they actually took pretty much everything with them. But....you don't...I mean....you can still stay around anyway. Just to talk or...talk"

 

"I don't....I'm not sure, 'Saw. I don't want to drag you any further into anything, and...." Judith remembered their slow drift apart after she had enlisted over fifteen years ago. What seemed like daily phone calls which had turned into weekly, then e-mails once a month, until eventually...they had not spoken for years before now. She had not even known for sure where Tapeesa was living, and had needed to do some digging on-line to find her address. She would never be able to articulate exactly what she was thinking when she had caught a flight to Vancouver or how she expected to be received when she showed up at her door unannounced, but now that her mind was clear and there was not this surge of fire and light that was driving her.....all the time between them seemed to come back. "I think I should get back to my motel."

 

She turned back to the door to grab her things from inside, when she felt a hand grab hers. It was not a firm grab, not an act of physical restraint, but it stopped her nonetheless. As Tapeesa held her hand, Judith froze in place at the contact and waited. Still facing the door, she heard from behind her, "Please, Judy. Stay. Just until...please, stay."

 

"Okay."

 


 

 

"I know things were rough between you and your parents when you left, but why'd you freeze out everybody else?" They were having a modest lunch (Turkey sandwich for Judith, leftover butter tart for Tapeesa) in Tapeesa's kitchen, staring at one another across the table.

 

"I didn't 'freeze out' anybody, it was just....time. I was deployed and everybody was getting on with their lives, and we couldn't hold on to childhood friendships. It's not exactly a unique story." As she picked at her sandwich, Judith noticed what sounded like a large truck driving past outside and she lazily turned in her seat to track it as it passed.

 

"No, it's different than that. Arnold Spacey joined the navy and he kept in touch, and he made it home on leave every once in a while. Frances and Victor told me they tried to reach out to you, and Willy--you remember Willy?--sometimes he still mentions you when I fly home for the holidays. We all wanted to stay in touch."

 

"It's been fiften years, 'Saw, I don't...." Judith wound down and noticed another loud engine passing by the house.

 

Tapeesa, however, did not let herself be distracted by the noises of traffic. "Me and you kept talking, yeah, but even then you never came home to visit, never invited me out to wherever you were....I didn't expect you to be flying home every weekend or anything, but you were staying away on purpose."

 

"It was...there was a lot going on. You know that."

 

"Yeah, but...what? Your parents I get, but everything else?"

 

"'Saw, it was...what do you want me to say?"

 

"I just want to understand. What you were thinking, what you wanted....I know we weren't together anymore, but why'd you work so hard to cut off everything from your life?"

 

"It wasn't that simple, it was...do you remember how great my parents were when I came out? After everything I'd heard I expected shouting and fighting and smashed plates and they were just perfect about everything. They helped me tell other people, they got me into support, they were textbook...until I got around to telling them about you. Everything else they could accept with open arms, but dating an Inuk? That was the problem."

 

Tapeesa was silent, just waiting for her to continue.

 

"Did I ever tell you that? They wanted me to dump you, or force you to dump me, and the things they...I'm pretty sure my mother is the one who got your father fired, and I have no idea what else they would have tried. I just needed out. I couldn't deal with that, not then, and everybody else back home...do you remeber--oh, god, what was his name?--Herbie something? You played football with him, and you thought he had a crush on me? He called us being together a shonda. Of all the ridiculous....my brother helped me get out--I think he knew before I said anything, but he still denies it--and then I needed to stay out. Everything, even our friends, were all stuck down in that mire and I couldn't sink back into it. Even you. I just....I needed to stay out." Her voice was growing strident, filled with the old ache from nearly two decades past. "The complete break I had once I enlisted....everything was new. New people, new life, I started over."

 

Judith's breathing was heavy now, but it was not the weight that had been on her shoulders from her time in the forest. This was an old, familiar weight that she had carried for a lot longer. Tapeesa remained silent, but she reached across the table and grabbed Judith's hand, holding it tightly. She ran her thumb over the back of Judith's hand, just letting her grow comfortable with the sensation, and then pulled Judith's hand back across the table, resting it against her cheek. She still did not say anything, but eventually Judith cracked a small smile. It was tiny, but it was there as she looked across the table. Another truck drove past outside as she began to reply and--wait, why were so many trucks driving past on a suburban street?

 

Just as the thought ran through Judith's mind there was the sound of a loud impact from the front door.

Chapter Text

Their first glimpse of the city of Vancouver seemed smaller than their first sight of Montreal a month ago, but it still shone just as brightly as Asami drove them down from Squamish. It stood stark against the sea, and Korra was struck at how many of the cities of this place lived next to the water like this. Republic City was the largest metropolis built in a bay back home, in the Earth Kingdom most of their cities were deep inland and all that she had heard of the Fire Nation said it was similar. The shores were home to towns and villages, and moderate industry for shipping and fishing, but it did not seem to draw the massive conglomerations that joined together to form CITIES. Only the Water Tribe, which lived on the ice and the sea, seemed comfortable to build up so heavily, and their very nature meant that they were not as dense or as large as the vast, sprawling territories of the Earth Kingdom. Here, though, it seemed like every city they had come to was built halfway into the water. In addition to the strangely familiar sections they found within them (They had learned that these places were called "Chinatown", although how they were all named the same still required some explanation), it was a nice commonality with Korra's southern home.

 

As they rode into the city, Korra's arms wrapped tightly around Asami and leaning into her back, they both again felt the enveloping warmth that came from the bustle and energy of so many people living together. Slowly coasting to a stop, Asami looked around at the city and leaned back into Korra to ask, "What do you want to see first?"

 

Korra, however, was one to focus on the immediate priorities instead of the grand exploration. "Food first, then exploration" and she pointed to what looked like a small restaurant off to the side of where they were idling.

 

Asami might have protested (They had only left Squamish two hours ago, surely they had more time before they stopped for lunch), but Korra's comedically-timed stomach growl, which was echoed by her own, preempted any argument she might have made. "Food first it is."

 


 

 

Asami made sure to keep her voice steady and quiet so as to not draw any attention, but as they ate she nodded towards the TV set up off to the side of the small sandwich shop. "Korra, it's us again."

 

Displayed were the same original pictures that all of the news programs had displayed of them, taken up at the military base at the North Pole after they had first been rescued, as the newspeople continued to talk about them. They had both expected the story to disappear weeks ago after they had escaped Montreal and evaded all pursuit, but the sightings and reports from people they encountered along the road had seemed to keep the fascination alive. Now, beneath the two profile images, was a video that they had come to recognize as a cell-phone recording. It was indistinct and very jerky, as all such recordings seemed to be, but they identified the club that had caught on fire when they were there days ago. The view was from the street in front of the club, and smoke was still swirling around, but the camera was aimed towards the roof and two distant figures could be made out atop the building, moving in blurs before vanishing. As the recording finished, it disappeared from the screen and commentary began.

 

"...we have still not received any official comment on this recording, nor the other reported instances that have come in steadily over the past month, but witnesses and our analysts have identified these two persons as the same women which were the subject of an intense manhunt by the Montreal Police Service and the Quebec Provincial Police this past September. Despite early reports that they were wanted for terrorist activities or associations, there has been no confirmation of these accusations, with Assistant Director Verignon of the Montreal Service merely saying that they were 'wanted for questioning in relation to confidential matters'. Sources within both services, along with the Security Intelligence Servce, have stated that the search is ongoing without further explanation. Initial fears that these two were the cause of this fire have been refuted by the Prince George Fire Department, which has stated that the fire was caused by the improper extinguishing of a kerosene lantern by a club patron. According to witnesses on the scene, the women, whom authorities have identified only as 'Korra' and 'Asami Sato', were instrumental in helping trapped club-goers escape from the fire, and might have also extinguished the flames themselves. Exactly how they accomplished this, or how this relates to extensive structural damage to the building that does not seem to have been caused by the fire itself, has not been revealed..."

 

"At least they're not calling us 'terrorists' anymore," Korra said, as she watched the screen from the corner of her eye. Both she and Asami made sure not to turn around and watch directly, or do anything else to indicate they were unduly focused on the news, but they were watching intently nonetheless.

 

"Maybe they're finally going to realize we've been helping people." Asami's tone was almost hopeful.

 

"I don't think it matters at this point; even if they believe that we're not here to hurt anybody they're still not going to just let us go." Korra's tone, surprisingly, held almost no vitriol as she spoke; it was a simple statement of fact.

 

"I know," Asami said, "but I wasn't thinking about their government. I remember how Janice looked when she saw our pictures on the TV, she was scared of us. I'm sure everybody in Ville de Moores felt the same way once they saw the news. I don't want everybody we've met to think we were villains just using them."

 

"I'm sure they don't, they probably think....okay, I don't know what they're actually thinking, but I'm sure it's not that." Asami cracked a small smile at Korra's reassurance, and she did not disagree.

 

"I hope so, and these stories should help. If only--oh, what's this?" The news program had since switched over to a commercial, but the advertisement (For coffee again. Honestly, why was this world so obssessed with that beverage?) had come to an abrupt end as the words 'Special Report' flashed upon the screen. An instant later the two news presenters were back.

 

"...to follow up from the last story before we cut to commercial, there has been a new development. We go now...." The scene soon shifted, and instead of the newsroom it showed a woman standing on a street, down the block from what looked like...

 

"Korra, is that Tapeesa's house?" Asami was staring directly at the screen now, but several other of the patrons had glanced up at the 'Special Report' as well and took no notice of her.

 

"....I'm standing now on location in Squamish, where less than an hour ago police services took into custody two women suspected of aiding the two fugitives, Korra and Aami Sato, who have evaded pursuit efforts for over a month now. Judith Moon, a Lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Air Force, and Tapeesa Aippaq were apprehended at a house just down the street by members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who were operating on intelligence that the two had been in recent contact with the wanted suspects. Though the fugitives were not found on the premises, the RCMP apparently does believe them to be close by, and they have begun a search of the surrounding area. We have not yet been granted access to the property, as the entire area has been cordoned off during the operation, however we have obtained exclusive access to home-made footage taken of the operation..."

 

The view changed to another one of those ubiqutious cell-phone videos, which seemed to be placed in a house down the block and aimed out of a window. As it started there were already several large vehicles positioned on the street, and armed men could be seen moving around the ground. A voice, presumably the camera's owner, could be heard excitedly commenting on the view, and then screeching when there was a very loud noise and the visible men could be seen scurrying about. The entire recording was shoddy and had no real concrete information, but it conveyed enough.

 

"...thank you Diane..." the view had changed back to the newsroom now, "...we go now to an RCMP press conference, where we have been told that they will be commenting on this operation..."

 

The setting changed again, and Korra and Asami would have had trouble keeping up if they had not been so focused on the report. Now the image was of several people in uniforms standing atop a stage in front of several microphones. Many of them were in the uniforms they had learned belonged to police forces in Canada, but one of them instead wore a uniform of the style that the soldiers had worn in the base at the North Pole. The man in front spoke at length about the logistics of what had had happened, then gestured to the man who wore the uniform of the Air Force.

 

"...the two women are currently in custody and are being transported to CFB Comox on Vancouver Island, where they will be remanded to the custody of the Royal Canadian Air Force. I now turn over the podium to Major Gregory Harrison of the RCAF, who will make additional comments..."

 

"...Thank you, Chief Superintendant..."

 

Korra and Asami continued to watch the rest of the news broadcast with rapt attention, not speaking. Asami had pulled out a small notepad and begun writing during the presentation, making note of all the information she could. Once the 'Special Report' concluded, after several more switches back to the newsroom and the reporter down the street from Tapeesa's house, they very quietly and calmly paid their fare for the lunch and returned to their motorcycle. They walked at an easy pace, again making sure not to attract any untoward attention or stand out in any way, but they walked directly and determinedly, and they both had the same set look on their faces.

 

When they reached their motorcycle, Asami absentmindedly stroking the glove tucked through her belt and Korra running her fingers over the metal cases set on each hip, they quickly mounted the bike and set off down the city streets.

Chapter Text

Sitting close beside the fire, which they had lit for the light and to combat the cooling fall air, Korra looked over to where Asami was hunched over one of the new bolos she had been working on. "How's it coming?" she asked.

 

"Going well," was the focused reply, Aami's head not rising from the device in her lap, "I should have this one ready within the hour, and we've got plenty of power for all of them."

 

"How many is that now?"

 

"Six total, including the four I made last week. Even without a live test of the concept they're all working, they should be fine." Instead of taking her hands off the equipment to gesture, she nodded her head towards where five other bolos were stretched out on the ground next to the fire, all connected by power cables to a larger device which was hooked up to the motorcycle itself.

 

"Six? Six is good. Anything else new you've whipped up today?" Ever since they had left the Vancouver city limits Asami had been busy creating whatever arsenal she could out of the equipment they had on hand. Next to the bolos lay the various other equipment they had already completed.

 

"I've got some ideas based on some of what I've seen the police use here, but I'm not sure if we have the supplies. I'm going to finish up what I can actually get working, then start experimenting."

 

"Okay, let me know if you need anything." Korra turned back to her own supplies, unspooling out her metalbending cables to check for flaws or corrosion, and making sure that the casing and coils were oiled and polished. She was still ginger with them, hesitant with the electricity sources that Asami had installed several weeks ago, but so far they had worked absolutely perfectly. She had gotten the idea from the way that Amon's Lieutenant had used Lin's own cables against her to electrocute her from a distance so many years ago, and Asami had been more than eager to give her the ability. She had so far only used it on one actual person, the third gunman who had walked into the store several weeks ago when they had stopped the robbery, but it had proved effective at immobilizing him quickly after a shaking had not had the desired effect. Hopefully it would allow them to disable people too quickly for them to alert anybody else, and also without needing to fling them around with bone-crushing force and making impossible-to-miss noises.

 

She was still re-spooling her right holster when she felt something brush against her back, and she had already begun to swing the cable around when she realized that it was Asami.

 

"Whoa, I didn't mean to startle you." Asami held up her hands in mock surrender, then finished sitting down next to her in front of the fire. "A little on edge?"

 

"Sorry, I was just...very focused and I didn't realize you were done already. I thought you said it would take you an hour?"

 

"It's been an hour, you've been sitting here cleaning your cables the entire time."

 

"Have I?" Korra looked around and realized that the sun had indeed fully sunk past the horizon, going from dusky twilight to full night without her even noticing. "Uh....I was really very focused?"

 

Asami laughed and reached over, taking the cables out of Korra's hand and beginning to re-spool them herself. "I'm sure you were, but I haven't seen you that 'really very focused' in quite a while. What's on your mind?"

 

Korra watched Asami work with the cables, her delicate fingers manipulating with smooth, confidant assurance, before she said "I was thinking about tomorrow night, and everything that will follow."

 

"Are you scared?" From most people Korra would have grown defensive at such a question, at the perceived insult, but she knew that Asami was legitimately asking. She had also been through enough that she did not feel the need to justify herself or her courage; they both knew that danger had to be approached with open eyes.

 

"No, I'm not scared. Not of the physical danger, at least. But things will change for us here." She hesitated, and she almost decided not to continue, but Asami just kept steadily working on the coils and let her come to her own resolution. "So far we've always been trying to get away from the military here, escaping and evading, always on the move, and by helping people along the way we've not looked like a threat except to the people in the military. To actually attack them, and on their own territory....we're going to turn from 'unknown' to 'enemy' in anybody's mind that was still undecided. Their hunting is going to get even heavier, and they're going to be in a position to get to us, not following our trail days later from a blurry video posted on the internet that they're not even really sure is us. I know we were planning to go south soon anyway, but this will be different. They're going to be right at our heels."

 

Asami finally finished re-spooling the cable and set aside the holster after she checked its battery and electrical connections. "Do you think we should just leave now?"

 

"No." Despite Korra's worries, the denial was firm. "Joo Dee and Tapeesa.....they're in this position because of us, and we can't help just by leaving them. They already thought Joo Dee was helping us, after we actually spent several days living with Tapeesa they're never going to believe that they're not our partners in whatever they suspect us of doing. I just hope that this isn't even worse for them than doing nothing at all."

 

Asami let herself get lost in the flickering fire as Korra finished. "Tapeesa asked to come with us. Last night, as we were cleaning up from dinner, when I'm pretty sure Joo Dee was asking you the same thing. She hadn't thought it through at all, she was just imagining the fun and none of the hardship and...I talked her out of it, and most of what I said to convince her not to come with us is exactly what will happen after tomorrow. She will become a fugitive in her own land, hunted by her own government, and will need to survive with us on the road and in the wilderness. She doesn't even have the training that Joo Dee has had, and it's going to be extremely hard on her. But, unfortunately, this is the best path for them; with us they will have their freedom, opportunity for new lives. If we were to abandon them they wouldn't even have that; they can't even curry favor or leniency by giving the military information on us, since they don't know anything that will be believed. So yes, we will be chased out of this nation, hounded like we haven't been hounded before, and it will be harder on them than it will ever be on us....but it's still the best way we can help them."

 

As the fire crackled and popped before them and the night insects began to sound their music, Korra reached over and wrapped her arm around Asami, drawing her against her side. They sat together under the stars, letting the firelight play across their faces, as they both considered the events that would dot the upcoming days.

 

"We'll reach Texada tomorrow afternoon, right? Then we can make our move tomorrow night."

 

"Tomorrow night." Asami echoed, and her voice was just as solid as Korra's had been as they continued to stare into the depths of the fire.

Chapter Text

Korra and Asami stood on the western shore of Texada Island, silently waiting for the ferry from Powell River to round the northern tip of the island and head west to Comox. The sun had set more than an hour ago, and swathed in dark blue and black they crouched and did their best to be invisible against the Salish Sea. Nearly fifteen miles to the west lay the military base where Joo Dee and Tapeesa were being held, on Vancouver Island.

 

Getting to this location had proved surprisingly difficult, compounded by the initial confusion that came when they had realized that the city of Vancouver they had been in was not actually on Vancouver Island (What Spirit-addled mind had named these locations? Was this another legacy of the different languages of the world?). It had taken them almost a day to reach this island from when they had set out after seeing the news broadcast, not including their stop at a library to gather what information they could on their destination. Compounding the difficulty were all of the waterways which stood in their way; many were traversed by ferries and other forms of transport, but they could not afford to take them, in all the many meanings of 'afford'. Not only were their funds nearing exhaustion (They had been forced to resort to out-and-out begging to fill their final tank of gas, receiving a very generous $10 from a kind family at a gas station earlier), but they had seen several indications of the widespread manhunt that the news program had mentioned. Roadblocks and inspections were set up throughout the region, and attempting to take any of the waterway crossings would have lead to detection. So, they had been forced to resort to lengthy detours in some instances, and Korra had used her bending to cross the others. They had reached the island a short while ago, arriving from Nelson Island to the east, and taken up their positions to wait for the concealment of darkness and the cover of the regular ferry crossing. The ferry traveling east from Comox had passed by more than half an hour ago, and according to the schedule the return from Powell River should be coming right....about....now...

 

There. In the water to the north came the sounds and lights of the ferry, and Korra and Asami both prepared to unobtrusively join it. They made a final check of all their equipment that they carried, nodded to one another, then dashed forward and leapt into the water. They carried only what they would be using during the immediate rescue and its aftermath, leaving behind all their extraneous clothing, camping supplies, miscellaneous objects they had picked up on their travels....and their motorcycle. It had all been submerged in a cavern of rock in the event that they would be able to someday freely return to reclaim it, but for now they had to leave it all behind; they could not carry it with them and they did not wish to leave it to be picked apart by scavengers or the military. Of their personal and luxury items, only their necklaces, which had been removed and wrapped in soft cloth and stored, did they take with them.

 

As they leapt from the shore into the sea, Korra began to bend the water, catching them in an arced bowl that soon submerged them in a bubble of air. Holding beneath the surface, they began to move north at a pace faster than any swimmer until their coursed merged with ferry, sitting heavy in the water. As they approached, Asami grabbed Korra tightly and held on as she flicked her arm forward and her metalbending cables shot out, connecting with the hull of the ferry with a soft thump and sealing tight as Korra pulled them in close. The waterbending around them condensed until it was just a a tiny layer of air, and then they were being pulled through the water by the ferry. If Korra could hold them close enough they should not be visible from any point on the surface and should not even create their own wake, being completely obscured by the ships large bulk. Hopefully the base did not have some other means of detection which could detect them nonetheless.

 

That was the critical problem they faced; of all the technology they had come to know in this world there was much they still did not understand, and they could not confidently prepare for that which they did not understand. TV had shown that the military had many amazing technologies which seemed nearly insurmountable, but it was hard to separate fact from fiction there. All they could do was be as careful as they could, countering everything they knew of, and hope that there was not some unpleasant surprise waiting from them just on the other side of the next turn. Now, as they clung to the ferry, they settled in to wait, as the rest of the crossing would take more than an hour.

 

They could not speak as they were, with their faces covered and each one sealed in small bubbles of air, but as the ferry pulled them along Asami leaned forward and pressed her forehead against Korra's, closing her eyes and resting together. Even through the cloth, the sensation of her warm skin helped settle Korra's focus, and she did her best to smile back with her eyes after they separated. As Korra had told Asami the night before, she was not scared of the physical danger that they were going to face; even with their technology she could not imagine the forces they were to face could possibly overawe Kuvira's colossal mechasuit which had stormed through Republic City. However, even though she was not scared she held an appreciation for the risks they were facing. Without bending of their own, and with so much of their technology based on metal which she could easily manipulate to her own ends, Korra could not imagine any of the soldiers standing against her or Asami's abilities. However, she also remembered just how fast that bullet had moved, and they had learned that there were guns which could fire hundreds of them in a matter of seconds, along with bombs that could be detonated by nearby movement and missiles that could guide themselves to targets far away. It would only take a single instant of inattention or surprise for one of those weapons, or some other weapon that they had never heard of, to strike her or Asami down. So no, she was not scared, but just because she was not frightened did not mean she was blind to their dangers, and the simple contact offered by Asami was a welcome reassurance.

 

After what seemed like only minutes, Asami signaled that they would be approaching the shore of Vancouver Island (Korra had no idea how she managed to keep track of time accurately underwater, but trusted her when she said she could) and Korra detached the cable from the hull of the ferry. While it continued on its way to its dock, Korra and Asami began to sink further down in the water, dragged down by their weight of their metal and pushed down by Korra's waterbending. As they sank further and further away from the surface, Korra began to pull them south towards where the military base bordered the water, until they floated (She believed) just to the east of the base itself. She and Asami finally sank to the bottom, resting on the submerged earth far from the air above, and after they settled Korra took a step away from Asami (Difficult on the slippery, jumbled, cluttered surface). She took a moment to settle herself, getting used to the fundamentally strange feeling of standing on earth so far under water, then spread her legs wide and swept her arms up over her head. Beneath her, sand and dirt shifted until a circle rose up around the both of them, meeting over their heads in an earthen dome that quickly drained of water, leaving them standing in small cave on the bottom of the sea.

 

Korra lit a small flame so that they could see each other, and then they quickly reinspected all of their equipment to make sure that her waterbending had not leaked anywhere during their underwater voyage. While bad on general principles, it could have been critically damaging if any of their sensitive electronics had been damaged during their passage. After they had both determined that they remained clean and dry, they grinned and turned in the direction that, if they had kept their bearings and calculated correctly, would lead them towards the base where Joo Dee and Tapeesa were being held.

 

"Okay," Korra said, "Let's go."

 

Doing her best to displace as little earth as possible, to avoid creating any detectable tremors, shifts or noises, Korra began to tunnel down and to the west.

Chapter Text

"Stop here," Asami whispered. Logically speaking she had no need to whisper, being hundreds of feet below the surface surrounded by tons of solid rock, but it felt appropriate. In the light of Korra's cupped fire she looked down at the printout they had taken from the library, an aerial view of the military base they had obtained from Google Maps (The ability to have an instantaneous look at any point of the Earth's surface was yet another facet of technology that had nearly flattened Asami when they discovered it, and proved immensely useful to them. She did, however, have to wonder at what malevolence could be enacted given the ease with which somebody could get detailed images of government and military installations). "If we've stayed on course, we should be somewhere in this area," and she gestured to the cluster of buildings just beside the airplane runways. It was a relatively large area she indicated, including almost a dozen structures and unoccupied grass as well, but navigating underground without even a precise starting point required them to work with such generalities.

 

Asami put away the paper and they both began a final check of all of their equipment, readying for their emergence from the ground. Asami pulled on her glove and made sure all of her new bolas were hanging freely from her belt, their quick-release clips firmly settled and charges all still marked as full. The pack on her back carried the additional equipment and weapons she had scrounged up. Her combat suit was not the full leather armor she had worn back home in their own world, but she had made due with the riding leathers they had obtained for the motorcycle, supplemented by additional padding. Her estimation of the efficacy of guns said that any amount of metal she could carry and still be able move would not be effective at stopping or deflecting a bullet, so she had decided to retain her full agility rather than weigh herself down with armor that would not have proved an asset in the first place. Korra, on the other hand, had completed a full combat suit, or close enough to it. She was still not naturally versed enough in metalbending to be comfortable in a full-body outfit like those worn by Lin Beifong and the metalbending officers of the Republic City Police, but she had compromised and together they had turned out armor based on that worn by the non-metalbending members of the police, much like the one she herself had worn years ago when she had been coerced into joining Tarlokk's anti-Equalist task force. Armored over her joints and vital areas, connected by firm leathers, it provided her with additional protection and also gave her many more defensive and bending options. Everything had been painted a matte blue or black, with no metal left to shine in reflected light, and they should disappear against the night sky.

 

"Are you ready?" Korra asked, and she grinned at the determined nod Asami gave her in return. Moving together, they stood as close together as possible while Korra began to move them upward. However, instead of the normal firm earthbending motion to raise them up on a pillar of stone to the surface, Korra took what was much closer to a waterbending stance and began to move her arms upwards in wide, circular motions. Instead of a solid pillar, which would have set the ground shaking all around them and made the air echo with the rumble of granite, the earth about them seemed to flow like water. Drifting around and beneath them from above their heads, the rock shifted like sand and raised them in a bubble that caused no more noise than timid steps on soft dirt. As they got closer to the surface Korra's motions widened, and their progress slowed as the motion diffused even further, until even they could not hear the sounds of their own earthbending passage. Just before they broke the surface they crouched together, and then Korra opened the tiniest of gaps and stuck her head through, checking for an immediate threat.

 

They seemed clear; it looked like they had emerged between two buildings and next to a tennis court, and Korra widened the hole to clamber up through, pulling Asami after her. Once out, Korra re-sealed the gap, leaving nothing behind to indicate that the dirt had ever been disturbed, and they both dashed over to the side of the nearest building, crouched low. As they ran, Asami passed to Korra her glider staff, which she had carried since they leapt into the water since Korra would be performing constant, delicate bending. Crouched against the side of the building, they looked around to determine their next move.

 

This, unfortunately, was where their planning had been forced to become extremely vague. Despite the physical layout of the base which they had obtained from Google, they did not know which buildings performed which functions. Joo Dee and Tapeesa might have been on the other side of the very wall they lay against, or it might have been a shed storing old socks. Without an idea of where they would be held (Or, for that matter, which buildings held command officers, or served as barracks, or stored weapons, or coordinated base security), from here on out they would need to plan as they went. Korra did not possess the ability of the Beifongs to identify or locate people through earthbending, so they would need to search building by building until they stumbled across some kind of clue.

 

Looking towards the edge of the base, Asami saw the fenced perimeter and sentries presumably on guard, but not as many as would be found on a base back home. Likely they had electronic detection devices which had replaced the sheer number of people required to adequately guard the facility, which was both a benefit and a hindrance to them. The odds of them stumbling across a mass of soldiers at once was reduced significantly by a smaller physical presence, but they also would likely find themselves unable to reach or disable whoever was monitoring the devices. Pointing out what she had noticed to Korra, who nodded, Asami began to move along the side of the building they were crouched against, staying low. Rounding the corner of the building, they could see people moving in the distance, but so far did not seem to have been noticed themselves and quickly moved to the doorway. Half expecting a complicated electronic locking device, they were both relieved to find it had a simple handle and mechanical lock. Quickly, Korra opened the door and they dashed inside...to discover that the building actually did hold old socks.

 

They were in the laundromat.

 

"Who the hell are you?"

 

A laundromat which was currently staffed and had several men and women in uniform staring at them in confusion.

 


 

They might have been confused, but they reacted quickly regardless. The two soldiers in front of them approached, while the one standing behind the counter was reaching across his desk for...something. Whether it was a weapon or phone or alarm key they could not afford to find out, and Korra extended her arm to grasp his arm with her cables, pulling him off his feet and over the counter. As he yelped in surprise, Asami darted forward and grabbed the nearer soldier, spinning around to flip him over her shoulder to crash into the woman next to him. They collapsed in a tangle of limbs, and before they could begin to extricate themselves Korra had tied all three of them together in the center of the floor. Glancing around, Asami noticed a security camera up in a corner of the room covering their area, and at a gesture Korra sent a metal cap to seal itself over the lens (They had decided beforehand not to destroy the cameras where possible; a signal loss would likely be noticed immediately, whereas a darkened screen might go unrecognized for a long time).

 

"Where are you holding Joo Dee Moon and Tapeesa Aippaq?" Korra loomed over the three soldiers they had tied up, and in her darkened metal armor she cast an imposing presence, even for those who did not know she was the avatar.

 

"I don't...what?" Confusion seemed to still reign on their faces, not fear or anger. "Who are you? Why are you here?"

 

"Answer me, where are you holding Joo Dee Moon and Tapeesa Aippaq?" As she spoke, Korra gripped one of the metal sections of her armor and peeled it off, sharpening it as she spoke until it glinted in her hand, razor sharp in front of their eyes.

 

"Hold on now, what the hell do you think you're doing? You can't...you can't come in here like this!" They were beginning to struggle now, but the metal cables held them tightly.

 

"Last time I will ask: Where are you holding Joo Dee Moon and Tapeesa Aippaq?" Korra leaned in closer, and beside her Asami held up her glove, letting the discharge points spark with electricity. They three bound prisoners flinched away when they saw that, but unfortunately did not offer any useful intelligence.

 

"I don't know what you're talking about," one of them shouted, while the other two sat in silence. Korra and Asami looked at each other, but they did not have time for a lengthy interrogation, every moment they remained in one place increased the chances of them being found. It was even possible that these three really had no idea, there were likely hundreds of people stationed here. Decisively, Asami wrenched open the door to what looked like a closet and Korra dragged them into it, binding them securely and covering their mouths as well to prevent them attracting attention. When the door was shut Korra bent the doorknob, locking them in, and then they turned and began exploring the building as rapidly as possible. It was small, and they completed their inspections quickly; nobody else present, and no indication of where Joo Dee and Tapeesa might be. Returning to where they had come in, they hesitated at the door to make sure nobody would see them leave and dashed outside. As they left, Korra removed the cap from the camera lens, leaving it with a view of an empty and undisturbed laundromat anteroom; if nobody had noticed the minutes when it was blacked out, who knew how long it might be before anybody would notice something amiss there?

 

Outside, they crouched low again and dashed off towards the next building.

 


 

This one proved to be some sort of recreation facility (Likely they had found themselves emerging on the section of the base dedicated to housing and non-operational facilities), and in one room they surprised close to a dozen soldiers in the midst of eating, watching TV, and engaging in numerous other such personal activities. Immediately in front of the door was a pool table, and almost before they could react Asami found a pool cue being swung at her head. Whether he had somehow known they were coming, or simply had reflexes that fast, one of the players had launched himself at them, wielding his cue as a thin club. Fortunately, even surprised like that Asami was faster, and as she dipped beneath the swing she leaned in, pressing her glove against his chest. As the electricity arced through his body his muscles clenched, causing his back to flex and almost bow over backwards, and he sank to the floor.

 

As if that was a signal, the other soldiers present snapped into motion. None of them seemed to be armed, thankfully, but they all had makeshift weapons easily in hand, and came at Korra and Asami wielding whatever they could grab.

 

The first two, who had apparently been playing pool as well, were likewise carrying cues and swung them at Korra. Instead of dodging them as Asami had, Korra shifted her stance to take both blows on her armored pauldron, which left her positioned to raise both assailants off the ground with a burst of airbending and toss them against the near wall. Next to her, Asami had dodged a lunge wielding what looked like an eating knife, and had used the overextension to pull the wielder off-blanace, forcing him to the ground and dropping on top of him, placing her glove against his back to insure that he did not get up again. While she rose, she rolled to the side to avoid an attempted tackle as Korra took an airbending-assisted leap over the heads of the next onrushing group. Their determined pace seemed to stumble at the sight of her leaping over their heads, and they were unprepared for the large gust of wind that caught them from behind, propelling them forward and causing them to stumble and collide into an ungaingly pile. Over their shuffling forms, Korra's metalbending cables launched out to grab the two men moving in on Asami, pulling them both back and dumping them onto the pile she had just knocked down.

 

However, behind Korra, the one person present who had not joined in the attack had nearly reached a door at the other end of the room. Beyond that exit would doubtless be soldiers he could summon for help, perhaps a weapon to arm himself with, or some way of warning the rest of the base. Seeing his flight, Asami reached down and grabbed one of the bolas swinging from her belt, gauging the distance and letting fly at his back.

 

She had gotten the idea from the larger, MechaTank-launched weapons the Equalists had used during their uprising to capture several of the more powerful benders of Republic City. Composed of three weighted chords around a central discharge point, they could immobilize the arms or legs of their target while simulatneously delivering a disabling electric charge like the electric glove. If she had gotten the design correct, it would allow her to disable someone at throwing distance as effectively as if she had been able to reach them personally.

 

Now, it wrapped around the final soldier mere steps away from the exit, and he fell to the ground almost instantly under the arcing electricity.

 

"Well, I guess we can call that a successful test," she said, echoing Korra's words when she had first used the electricity function of her cables during that robbery several weeks ago.

 

Looking around at the piles of disabled soldiers, the still-conscious of whom Korra was at that moment binding together, Asami let out what might almost have been a theatrical sigh. "You know, it's not going to be as easy to fit all of them into a closet."

 

"In that case, we'll need to shove a little harder," and Asami could almost hear Korra's smile behind the words.

 


 

None of this group had had any concrete information, either, although one had seemed to imply that they were correct in their assumption that this was the non-operational section of the base. So, instead of continuing to root around the barracks and maintenance areas, Korra and Asami worked their way north towards where they hoped to find the detention areas, or somebody who could point them towards it. They had wound up leaving the group of soldiers trussed up in the same recreation room they had occupied, with all doors metalbent closed and the cameras covered. This added a new time pressure to their actions, as the odds of somebody trying to gain access to the rec room in the near future was much higher than somebody trying to force their way into that one closet in the laundromat, but they did not have the time to transport them somewhere more unobtrusive, not without using bending that would give them away in other fashions.

 

As they moved, creeping low and staying to the shadows to not be noticed by the personnel walking around the base, the increased foot traffic and other activity indicated that they were indeed making their way deeper into the critical areas of the installation. Reaching one building, which seemed to hold offices of some kind, they saw several small groups purposefully entering and leaving.

 

This looked promising.

 

Instead of entering through the front entrance, or the likely-suspect rear entrance, they worked their way around to the side, which had what seemed to be a disused doorway and hopefully led to an unotrusive corner where they could slip in unnoticed. Unfortunately, it had no windows or way to confirm where it lead, and as they had so far they had to simply trust to luck.

 

Pausing outside, Korra reached up and felt the knob, confirming that the door itself was locked. Concentrating, she moved the tumblers to allow the knob to rotate, and then cautiously pulled the door open.

 

Beyond, standing at the end of a hallway and staring directly at the doorway, were two clearly on-duty and attentive guards. On the positive hand, that supported the theory that they had reached a building of some importance. On the negative, these two were armed and prepared, and as Korra watched one was already reaching for his sidearm, while the other was beginning to press a large button that she was sure would inevitably sound an alarm throughout the facility.

 

And things had actually been going so well up until now.

Chapter Text

In the back of her mind, Korra could not help but think 'Tenzin would be proud of me.'

 

There were a dozen different bending opportunities to directly disable the two soldiers down the hallway; a burst of airbending to knock them into the wall, or raising the ground beneath them with earthbending, or engulfing them in a cone of firebending. The problem was that they would each lead to detection in their own way; in the time it would take an attack of air or fire coming from Korra to travel down the hallway the alarm button would have been pushed, and earth would need to tear its way up through who-knew-how-much of the structure beneath them. So, instead of charging at them directly, Korra came at the issue from a different angle.

 

She reached forward to grasp at the air, drawing her arms back towards herself and pulling. Instead of sending wind out from her body, she called it from down the hallway, behind the guards' backs. The guards themselves were standing less than a foot away from the far wall, there was not enough air behind them for the buffeting winds to do more than stagger them a step or two...but it was enough. As they re-settled themselves, the guard to the left was out of reach of the alarm button and the one to the right needed to re-position himself into a shooting stance. All told they would only be delayed by a few seconds, but like the force of the wind, that was enough.

 

With that extra few seconds of availability, Korra had time to reach out for her metalbending cables, sending both down the hallway and ensnaring the two guards. They were lifted off their feet, and then they both began to twitch in the air as Korra activated the electrical current. In seconds they had gone limp, breathing heavily in the grip of the metal cables, and Korra gently lowered them to the ground on the side of the hallway.

 

While Korra had been dealing with the soldiers, Asami was running forward, and as Korra was releasing them she took up a position immediately to the side of the door, her glove held up and ready at chest height. Neither of the soldiers had managed make any noises beyond some startled grunts and gasps, but if this was a heavily populated building somebody might have heard them regardless. She held her position, waiting, in case anybody came to investigate. Five seconds passed. Then ten. There were no shouts from beyond the door, no thuds from running feet or the sound of machinery, just the normal hum of foot traffic found in any occupied building. By all indications, they had gone unnoticed.

 

Slowly, Asami lowered her arm and turned back to Korra, who had likewise been facing the door in a ready stance. Nodding her head, Korra turned back to the two unconscious soldiers and began to tie them u---a harsh, ear-splitting alarm began ringing throughout the building. It seemed to come from all around them, filling their minds, and their heads instinctively jerked around, looking for the new threat.

 

Had somebody stumbled upon one of the soldiers they had already disabled? Had they been heard here after all? Were the covered cameras noticed? What had they missed?

 

"What did we miss?" Korra needed to shout to be heard over the sound of the alarm, and she frantically worked to get these two tied up out of the way before they had to move.

 

"I don't know, it might have been anything. Let's go, before they come rushing through here." Asami had turned back to the door, ready in case anybody burst through, spurred by the alarm.

 

"Ready," Korra announced, and ran up next to her at the end of the hallway

 

"I think we're in the middle of a hallway here, I've heard a lot of walking back and forth past this door. If we go through here we're going to be spotted by somebody, so we'll need to be fast."

 

"Left or right?" Korra reached behind her to one of the water skins hanging down from the back of her armor, drawing out a length and letting it settle over her right hand, holding her staff in her left.

 

"...right. If there are holding cells here they won't be near the front entrance, and neither will any important offices. We should head deeper in to find something."

 

"Okay. Get ready....now." As soon as Korra spoke, Asami had opened the door and dashed out, turning right and leaning low and fast down the hallway. Korra followed her out barely a fraction of a second after her, turning left and facing down the other direction of the hallway. There were more than a dozen people scattered down its length, all walking with determined purpose at the sound of the alarm, and a few had already seen Asami and were calling out or raising their arms to point. Korra breathed deeply, then raised her staff over her head and swung it down across her body, arcing a gust of wind down the hallway. It caught loose paper, debris and people in its wake, knocking them over and dragging them further across the floor, clearing way down to its end. As soon as the wind dissipated, Korra stepped forward and raised her other hand, palm up and darting towards the far wall. The water she had pooled seemed to expand almost into gas, and then it settled down to the floor into a thin, perfectly even sheet of ice covering a huge swathe of the walkway. Almost before the ice had settled, Korra turned around and raced off after Asami, who was already far beyond the door they had exited from. Behind her, she could hear the mumbled curses, groans and confusion as people struggled to clamber back to their feet and keep their footing. Ahead of her, she saw several crumpled bodies lying motionless in Asami's wake, and she rushed to catch up and help clear their path to their next searching area.

 


 

"Lieutenant, give me something. Something I can take to Monke and General Saint-Amand on your behalf. Anything."

 

"I've given you everything you need, sir."

 

"This? I've read the entire report, and you know as well as I do what's going to happen if I pass it further up the chain. This isn't a civil arrest, you can't go for an insanity defense."

 

"Insanity de--do you really think that's what going on?"

 

Major Gregory Harrison sat across the table from Lieutenant Judith Moon, and if one ignored the shackles on her hands and feet, the scene could almost have been mistaken for something other than an interrogation.

 

"What I think is going on is that this," and he held up the thick folder that contained Moon's full report that she had given, "reads like a script to a TV show. Everything you've said in your report tells me that you're delusional from what happened up at Station Alert, but you're sitting here, clear and lucid, so that tells me you're being deliberately obtuse, and that tells me that you're in deep in whatever's going on. So please, Judy, for old times' sake, give me something."

 

Judith closed her eyes and was tempted to lower her head and rest it on the table. It must have been nearing midnight, if it was not past it already, and her exhaustion (Physical and mental) was just about ready to bring on a headache. Major Harrison, on the other hand, still looked crisp and fresh across the table, as if he was ready to keep going for hours yet. She understood that well; the image to be presented when in uniform, holding yourself upright by solid determination and a direct objective, and the effect it had on your target to give off the impression of superhuman stamina and mental energy. She did not have that anymore, though; she had not yet been formally stripped of her rank or honors (That would wait until after the court-martial) but she was already out of her uniform, clad in unadorned dark pants and shirt. Much like what Korra and Asami had been given when they were first recovered.

 

"Sir, I have given you everything. My report is the direct and literal truth, I am not using metaphor or hyperbole to alter what actually happened or what they told me. I do not expect you to believe it, and in your position I know I wouldn't, but I'm not covering up anything. Korra and Asami are not agents of a foreign government or proscribed organization, they are not here to partake in subversive or terrorist acts, and I am not a part of any conspiracy coordinating with them."

 

Harrison eyed her, and leaned back slightly in his chair. Not much, not even enough to really call it 'relaxing' into the chair, but enough for her to notice. She had seen him make the same not-quite-relaxing motions when he had been a newly-minted Lieutenant himself so long ago, fresh out of BMOQ and feeling out his relationship with the senior sergeant under his command. It used to mean that he was seriously considering something, running through all the options from the beginning. He had always been fast, always re-analyzed things as they came in to make sure new data fit the current theories, and she hoped that maybe he would be open to the truth. She did not have much hope in that area (As she had said, even she would not have believed her story if she had not experienced it first hand. It sounded like transparent fantasy), but maybe...

 

"Lieutenant Moon," her hopes plummeted at the formal address, "I will submit your report, along with my recommendation that you undergo a full psychological evaluation. I wall also---what the hell?"

 

The sound of the base's intruder alarm suddenly burst into the room, and they both jerked in their seats at the abrupt interruption.

 

"Stay seated!" Harrison shouted, and then he was up and knocking on the door to the interrogation room, calling in one of the guards stationed outside. "Watch her!" he instructed, and then walked over to the phone linking the interrogation room to the commanding offices of the base. He did not, however, instantly call in, as undoubtedly there were dozens of other calls being placed at the same second all clamoring for information. Instead, he waited in almost-calm patience for the first minute to pass, then raised the handset and checked in.

 

From her seat, under the watchful eye of her guard, she had a view only of the back of Harrison's head, but she could still see his shoulders clench in what must have been frustration (Fear?), then force them to relax into a posture closer to normal. She could not make out the conversation itself, but his tone matched his posture; confusion and tension, mixed with some disbelief. After terse words back and forth, he hung up and turned back her and her guard, whom he spoke to quietly side-by-side, before sending him through the door to speak with the other guards. Outside their room, she could hear the sounds of running feet and shouted orders as hundreds of people were spurred into sudden activity. Distantly, she could intermittently hear other sounds that she could not quite place, soft noises that felt more like they were sensed through vibrations in the floor rather than the ear.

 

The guard came back, accompanied by another, and the took up position behind her, facing the doorway and....she realized that they were not just tense, they were combat tense. She had felt the same way herself more than once and had learned to recognize it in others (She recalled, almost like it was from another life, that it was the way Korra and Asami had acted which had first activated her instincts that they were not simply two helpless girls); these men actually expected to find themselves in active combat in the immediate future.

 

"Sir, what--"

 

"Quiet," was the snapped reply from Major Harrison, who she saw had drawn his sidearm and was checking it over. "Who's attacking the base?"

 

"What?" She had half-risen out of her chair before she caught herself and lowered back down under his watchful stare. "I don't---" She was interrupted by a noise from elsewhere in the building, a loud whump that sounded like nothing so much as a massive impact, as if a vehicle had driven into a wall. But it had come the interior of the building, not the exterior....

 

At the noise the three men with her tensed and turned back towards the doorway, crouching into prepared shooting stances. One of her guards was speaking into his radio, apparently receiving a running update, and a few seconds later he leaned over to whisper something to Harrison. He probably meant for it to be too quiet for her to hear, but she could make it out anyway: "They're in the next hallway."

 

As soon as he was finished speaking, almost like they were waiting for the moment, the sound of gunfire erupted immediately outside the door. The guards that had been left outside, certainly, firing on what sounded like full-automatic. Why were they on full auto? That was horrible fire discipline, it wasted ammunition, drastically reduced accuracy, and increased the odds of collateral damage, especially in a heavily occupied building like this one. They should not have panicked like that, unless....what if it was not panic? Whatever was out there had apparently already fought its way to the interior of the base, what if it merited such a mammoth fusillade?

 

She was about to turn to Harrison and ask him another question, try and decipher just what was going on, when the guards outside the door began to shout and curse and scream (Were those the sounds of injuries, or of surprise and fear?). At the same time there came more strange noises, sounds that put Judith in mind of a hurricane or flood instead of weapons fire, and then the floor beneath them shook viciously and it was silent outside the door.

 

The guards with her blanched and settled themselves (She saw the corporal to her right switch over to full-auto himself at a nod from the sergeant on her left, who kept his own rifle on semi-auto), and they and Harrison trained their weapons on the doorway and waited. There were very faint, muffled noises from outside that might have been anything from a soft voice to a footstep, and then...with a shriek of tearing metal, the door was torn out of its frame completely and disappeared into the hallway.

Chapter Text

She had realized that, logically, the base intruders had to be Korra and Asami, but Judith could not restrain a jump in her chair as the door was ripped away, recoiling back from the harsh sight and noise. Impressively, neither the guards nor Major Harrison panicked when the door disappeared; she could see the corporal's finger twitch, but they all held their fire. She would not have been too surprised if they had started shooting (It certainly was not one of their own people tearing off doors), but the analytical portion of her mind which seemed to be cataloguing and collating all the data noted that they did not just start firing randomly at somebody they could not see, risking hitting one of their own compatriots in the hallway. Harrison began to make some kind of hand gesture, probably about to order one of the guards to a different firing position or to advance, but before he could make any concrete signals a figure burst through the doorway.

 

Again, Judith realized that it had to be either Korra or Asami (Probably Korra, the figure did not look tall enough to be Asami), but she would not have been able to make anything like a visual identification without that deduction. It looked like some kind of ninja, swathed from head to toe in dark cloth and wearing what looked like matte-painted armor, carrying several devices tied to its back, waist and legs. Even before the reveal of their bending on the plane Judith had recognized Korra and Asami as combat soldiers from the way they moved and carried themselves, but now this figure looked the part, like some kind of fantasy SpecOps soldier. It came through the doorway high, apparently in the middle of a rolling leap, and well above an expected entry height. The guards had to adjust their aim higher, and though it was only a fraction of a second it was long enough for the figure to make some kind of grasping gesture, and the weapons flew out of her guards' hands like they were tied to a string. She could hear Harrison saying something in surprise (Probably a curse of some sort, but it was unclear), and then the figure landed on the floor in front of the table she was sitting at. An instant later the sergeant bowled into it.

 

Judith had never served with him and actually had not even caught his name, but she took note of his quick reaction. No sooner had his rifle been jerked from his grasp than he had launched himself forward, leaning in to catch the figure in the chest with his shoulder and attempting to drive it down to the ground. The figure rode with the impact, turning its fall into a rolling grapple and pulling the sergeant down with it. As it hit the ground, it curled its legs up beneath it and leveraged the sergeant's body up. Instead of being thrown over the figure, however, the sergeant accepted the pressure and used it to repositon himself kneeling perpendicular to its torso, retaining his dominant position above the figure and reaching down for another grasp. The figure thrashed to the side and slid slightly out from beneath his body, then spun on the ground to take hold of the grasping hands and pulling, overbalancing him and dragging him forward. He needed a brief moment to regain his balance and keep from falling flat onto his face, and in that moment the figure gestured and a gust of wind seemed to well up beneath the sergeant and carry him upward, forcing him up to the ceiling of the room. He did not impact very hard, but he squaked in surprise (Judith could not help but notice that it sounded surprisingly high-pitched, much different than what she would have expected from his performance) at the motion and then plummeted down towards the floor again. Another gust of wind seemed to catch him, so he did not hit the floor with bone-crushing force, and then a metal coil wrapped around his body and he spasmed before falling still.

 

Beside the clash between the sergeant and the intruder, a second shrouded figure had dashed into the room and leapt at the corporal. His reflexes were not as fast as the sergeant's had been, he was still looking after his stolen rifle, but were appropriate enough as he saw this other person coming towards him. He reached down and drew the knife set at his waist, and Judith recognized the Fairbairn-Sykes combat knife. He brought it up fast, striking at the hand that was reaching out seemingly to grab him, then moved in to press the attack after the hand was withdrawn. Unfortunately for him, after the figure withdrew its arm it ducked down and swept up its leg, knocking aside the hand holding the knife and darting forward to strike against his chest with an open palm. There was a electrical noise, and the corporal fell backwards to the ground. As he fell, Major Harrison swept in from the side, attempting to replicate the sergeant's take-down of the other figure, but this one saw him coming and rotated out of his path, laying its palm against his shoulder as he passed and dropping him to the floor.

 

Then the room was still.

 

For a frozen instant that stretched for hours Judith stared at these two anonymous figures. Despite knowing that they had to be Korra and Asami (Unless there were other people out there who could perform these miraculous feats) covered as they were all she could see were faceless, dangerous beings that had just invaded a base of her own service. What might they have planned next? What were they thinking? Then the one wearing armor, whom Judith had deduced was Korra earlier, stepped forward and asked "Are you all right?"

 

At the familiar voice the intellectual knowledge became recognition, and she nodded.

 

"Let's get you out of here," Korra said, and she reached out to grasp the shackles around her wrists and legs. They came apart as if they were made of paper, and then she was free to stand up.

 

"What's going on? Why are you here?" She stretched as she spoke, working out the tension that had built up over the hours. Her exhaustion was a distant thing of the past now, replaced by surging adrenaline.

 

"To help you," Asami said, "we heard of your arrest from helping us. We could not abandon you after your kindness of the past days, especially since we are the cause of your troubles. We are here to rescue you and Tapeesa."

 

Judith had considered that Korra and Asami might have tried something like this after she had been arrested the day before, but she had not truly expected it, and especially not so soon. How had they found her? How had they gotten here? What were their--no, there was no time for these thoughts now. They had been detected and located here, there would be reinforcing soldiers here in moments, if they were not in the hallway already. Every moment of delay allowed for a larger mobilization, more preparation. She knew from her own experience that the base personnel could not let something like this just slide away. They needed to move fast.

 

But, if she did 'move fast', there would be no coming back from that. Only two days ago she had asked to go with them, but that was when she had just been under suspicion and had been swept aside by the higher brass. It would have been weeks before somebody tried to contact her and realized she was not at home, and they might never have gotten confirmation that she was even with Korra and Asami at all depending on what happened. Now, however, to actually be broken out of custody and flee with them...she would be branded a traitor (Literally), unable to ever return to any sort of life she had known, whether military or civilian. Staying here probably would not help matters, but it was possible that she would be cleared; leaving would seal her own fate.

 

"Let's go," she said, and was the one to lead the way out of the interrogation room.

 


 

 

"Do you know where they're holding Tapeesa?" Korra asked as they ran out of Judith's interrogation room.

 

"Not specifically, no, but I can get us to the holding area." She frowned as Korra deliberately lengthened her stride to overtake the lead position, leaving her sandwiched between Korra and Asami as they ran. However, she did not say anything about it, instead saying "Down this hallway" and looking over the destruction immediately outside. Her eyes widened at the soldiers lying unconscious and restrained throughout the hallway, some bound by strips of metal, others sealed against the wall or ceiling by thick patches of ice. Pistols, rifles, knives and other combat equipment were scattered everywhere, broken into pieces in most cases and even bent to serve as the restraints around some soldiers. The walls were pitted and scored, marked with bullet holes in some places, punched with giant holes and long slices in others, with scorch marks and burns as well. The thought of what could have caused that kind of damage....Korra still ran in front of her, and she had no doubt at all as to what had caused this destruction.

 

She was about to shout a direction, pointing Korra down the intersection that would lead to the holding section, when two men rounded the intersection ahead of them. They were fully equipped and prepped, walking in one-two side-by-side step; they must have been part of the on-site security force who had been dispatched to either secure an area or scout for something. They were already readying to engage, she could recognize the posture and motions, and she was about to dive to the side out of their line of fire when Korra made that same grasping motion she had done after entering the holding cell. Their rifles were yanked out of their hands, the one on the right stumbling slightly as he was pulled along after it, and before they had a chance to make any further reaction Korra made a small hop forward and swept her arms up, catching them in a gust of air which knocked the two soldiers forward towards them, close enough for Asami to dive forward and render them both unconscious. The entire affair had taken only seconds, and Judith found herself staring in something approaching awe. Again.

 

She remembered how easily she had been taken out in the transport plane, and she had heard the news reports of evading the police cordon in Montreal, but it was still something else to see two armed and ready soldiers disabled so quickly and (Apparently) effortlessly. If these two had been hostile, had wanted to hurt people, what could be done to stop them?

 

"This hallway leads directly to the base's holding facilities, where they're probably holding Tapeesa. It's going to be heavily guarded and sealed....uh, not that I expect that to be much of a problem for you."

 

Had Korra smiled? It was impossible to tell under her mask, but her eyes might have said so. She turned down the hallway, again leading the way while Asami carried up behind, with Judith in between. Every few moments Korra made a flicking motion with her hand, and Judith was about to ask why when she noticed a small bit of metal fly up and seal itself over the security camera they were passing. They were blidning the observation capabilities of the base, which was a logical move, and it showed just how much these two had learned about technology and its uses over the past months.

 

They stumbled into several other people along the way, some non-combat personnel on their way to an alert duty station or following some obscure protocol, and three more pairs of security officers, none of which offered any more difficulty than the first pair. After five minutes, Judith signalled them all to slow down.

 

"Around this corner is the entrance to the holding area. There will be a prepared guard here, and the doors will likely be sealed shut and under video monitoring. They'll be expecting you, they might be able to get a shot off before you can use your bending."

 

"Will there be anything flammable in this hallway before the sealed door?" Asami asked.

 

"Uh...flammable? No, there shouldn't be, but...why?" Judith looked in confusion as Asami reached into her pack and brought out what looked like a soda can that had been re-worked into....something. "What is that?"

 

"A metal-oxidant mix with an oxidizer. I believe you call it a 'flashbang'." Calmly, Asami manipulated the lid and then tossed it around the corner, then pulled Judith away from the edge after she had rocked back at her words. She was unprepared for the presence of a flashbang grenade, had not expected these two to have anything like it, and did not have time to prepare for its detonation before it went off. However, though she heard the bang and saw the flash, they were both muted, subdued well below the threshold for disorientation. She was about to comment on the effectiveness of the device when she noticed that everything seemed muted, and then she saw that Kora had her hand pointed towards her head and was waggling her fingers and...when Korra dropped her hand and leapt around the corner Judith's senses all returned to normal, and she realized that Korra had shielded her from the effects.

 

Around the corner she heard what sounded like falling water, roaring like a strongly rushing river, and then Korra called her forward. She was not used to following at the rear like this, but when she rounded the corner she saw five different soldiers all bound in ice against the wall, with Korra now facing the sealed barrier in front of them.

 

"Do you know what is beyond this door?"

 

"Not precisely, no, I was never stationed at the detention center here, I don't know their internal protocols."

 

"Okay." Korra turned back to the door and lay her hands flat against it, apparently feeling it with whatever senses she used for her bending. Beside her, Asami was looking over a piece of equipment that one of the guards had dropped and---there was a noise behind them.

 

Whirling around, Judith saw a full section round the corner behind them, and they had apparently expected to find them here as they were already dropping into firing positions. She shouted, a wild warning to Korra and Asami, and then dove to the side in the hopes of clearing the line of fire.

 

She was not fast enough.

Chapter Text

Korra had already begun to turn around when she heard Joo Dee's warning shout, and she completed the spin just in time to see her wild leap towards the cover of a small wall alcove. Down the hallway, more than half a dozen soldiers were preparing to fire, and it was apparent that Joo Dee would not reach shelter before the deadly shards of metal began flying down the hallway. Even as she reached out to grab their weapons with metalbending, Korra realized that it was already a fraction of a second too late; gunpowder ignited at the end of the hallway and bullets began to to roar at deadly velocity.

 

Korra and Asami had spent a lot of time discussing the mechanics of these weapons after Asami's initial inspection of the small revolver on the roadway to Montreal, and whatever possible defenses they could work up. Even now, despite knowing how they worked and understanding what was about to happen, Korra did not believe she would ever be able to react fast enough or precisely enough to work against an individual bullet in flight; they seemed to move almost instantaneously, faster than human thought or reflex. So, they had decided on a completely different approach.

 

Ever since Bolin had first showed her how to work in his modern style of earthbending, keeping light and loose almost like air- or waterbending despite its traditional solidity, she had experimented on combining other aspects of the bending arts. More than just their philosophies, but their physical movements as well, applying techniques and concepts from one style to a different elements. Now, instead of reaching ahead to bring each bullet to a stop, which would require her to be able to focus on objecs that seemed to move faster than thought itself, she drew up from beneath her, angling backwards over head and creating a metalbending wave which arced up towards the ceiling. Instead of directly challenging the momentum of the bullets, which was enormous despite their small size (Asami had gone into the technical details, explaining it as equal to their mass multiplied by their velocity), she just adjusted their trajectory. Instead of needing to be used at exactly the instant of firing, it could be run continuously to catch a bullet that was infinitesimally faster or slower. It was a waterbending defense based on a technique Master Katara had shown her, if she timed it right she could get the shots to fly harmlesly overhead of all three of them, and she almost managed it.

 

Almost.

 

Joo Dee had been just barely too close to the shooters, and the bullets were too fast, and Korra felt herself jolt as she heard Joo Dee scream and fall to the ground amidst a spray of bright red. As the rest of the shots smashed into the ceiling and bypassed herself and Asami, Korra's vision flared and she looked up the hallway at the soldiers still firing down the long line. They had turned their full focus to Korra and Asami, advancing down the hallway under the cover of their own fire, and if they got much closer it might have been enough for them to defeat her bending defenses. When Korra heard Joo Dee's breathless, high-pitch whimper, however, she stepped towards them, bringing her foot down in a heavy stomp as she did so and crossing her arms in front of her.

 

With a heavy rumble from far below, accompanied by a shaking of the walls and floor of the entire structure, eight pillars of rack erupted from the floor, ripping their way up through the many basement levels of the building. Emerging beneath the feet of the oncoming soldiers, they were hurled from the ground and smashed up against the ceiling, held in place by the crushing force. With only a little more pressure Korra could have squashed them flat as easily as if they were eight bugs, and she let the pressing force build and build until she could feel their muscles and bones straining back against the inexoreable pressure of rock. Just a little bit more, just a little bit more, and....

 

Her straining muscles relaxed and the pressure eased, but only slightly, and she sturned to do what she could for Joo Dee.

 

Asami was already kneeling by her side, stemming the flow of blood and gingerly inspecting her wounds. "How is she?" Korra asked, voice filled with emotion.

 

"I've found two wounds so far, on her stomach and her right shoulder. There's a lot of bleeding, it looks like some of it's coming from her back so there might be other wounds there, and..." Asami wound down, and Korra quickly knelt down, drawing out one of her water skins as quickly as she could (This was the fourth skin she had emptied, she would only have one left after this). Calling up a healing waterbending, she leaned in as Asami backed away to give her room.

 

Looking down, Asami was struck by just how much blood there was. No matter how much combat she saw, no matter how much injury or pain she experienced or witnessed, she had never grown used to the sight of life dripping out of another person. It spread and pooled on the ground until there was so much that you had to wonder how it had ever all fit inside a body in the first place, and she had to fight to keep from turning away and shutting her eyes. Korra's hands, enveloped in the glowing energy of healing waterbending, were resting over Joo Dee's stomach. When her hands moved minutely, Joo Dee emitted a tiny, breathles cry, as if trying to scream without any air left in her lungs, and Asami saw Korra twitch and have to fight against a recoil. She kept her healing in place, and Joo Dee's whimpers faded to silence.

 

"There....there's a lot of damage, more than I can fix in a short while. I can do some quick patching, but this needs time. And lots of water." Korra had moved her hands up to the wound on Joo Dee's shoulder and begun to let the water seep in there. "I don't....I don't think I feel any metal in her, and these wounds....I think they go straight through. I'll need a healing tub to be able to do much and I do---"

 

In the middle of her sentence another pair of soldiers came around the corner from down the hallway, but these had apparently not expected to find them right here, as they hesitated for the briefest of moments. When they did, Asami darted forward; she had readied one of her bolas as soon as Korra began to work on the healing, and tossed it off-hand at one of the soldiers. He recoiled back and managed to avoid the knot, but the distraction allowed Asami to close in and grasp him with her gloved hand, rendering him unconscious. She spun to the next soldier, who had already stepped back and readied his weapon, and she leapt above his firing line and moved into a rolling sweep, taking his legs out from beneath him. He crashed to the floor with a loup whoof of exhaled air, and she kicked his gun away before he could recover, then leaning in to shock him with the glove as well.

 

"Korra, more soldiers have to be on the way, we can't just stay here in the hallway. If we're going to go, we have to go, and if not...we have to get Joo Dee help. They have doctors here, they can do much even without waterbending."

 

Korra was silent, head bowed as she leaned over Joo Dee's body and kept shifting her water around, and Asami thought that she might have been crying. "We came here to help her, and if the doctors here can help her more than we can..." However, as she stepped over, raising her hand to rest it on Korra's shoulder, Korra's head came up and the hallway was bathed in a sudden pearly white light.

 

"No," Korra said, and there was a depth and weight to her voice that Asami had heard only so very rarely in all the years that she had known the Avatar. Korra stood up and gestured minutely, barely enough to cause a water ripple in most circumstances, and Joo Dee's body rose into the air. To Asami's eyes it seemed like she was being lifted by a plane of water beneath her that looked as solid as metal, but which had not frozen into ice. Turning to the door which lead to the prison area of this base, and which she had been inspecting when the soldiers that shot Joo Dee had arrived, she raised her arm and pointed at it. It did not fly off the frame or slam to the ground, instead if crumpled, compressing into a ball the size of a melon and then rocketing down the hallway beyond at a speed that must have rivalled the bullets of this world. There was a distant boom, a sound that struck Asami's ears like the crash of a satomobile, and then Korra began to walk down the hallway after it, still emitting that shining light and with Joo Dee's body trailing behind.

 

"We are here to save Joo Dee and Tapeesa," she said, and Asami nodded her head and followed.

Chapter Text

From the moment that alarms had begun blaring, Tapeesa was curled up on her bed, staring at the locked door in front of her in a state approaching panic.  There had been noises and vibrations echoing down from elsewhere in the building that she could not identify, and then there were huge sounds of impact  that sounded like the building itself collapsing, punctuated by what even she could recognize as gunfire.  Just a few minutes ago there had been what sounded like an explosion nearby, and then more gunfire that felt disturbingly close.  Whatever was going on, it was coming towards her.

 

Was it a foreign attack?  Terrorists?  Was it (She hoped desperately, but she knew futilely) some sort of drill or exercise?

 

There were noises immediately outside her door now, more sounds that she could not identify; it sounded like roaring winds and flooding water, but that did not make any sense inside a building.  She crawled back until her back pressed up against the far wall, trying to put as much distance between herself and the door as possible, but she did not turn her head away.  Her eyes were locked on the door, wide with anxiety and fear and consternation.  The mysterious noises had stopped, the hallway outside was quiet, and then she let out a yelp of startlement when her door just seemed to fold in on itself and vanish.  Standing in the door way was....for the first time, Tapeesa understood everything Judith had tried to explain to her about what she had seen in the wilds of Quebec.

 

Korra stood before her, suspended off the ground by what looked like a swirling column of air that encompassed her legs.  Fire flickered in and out of existence in a globe around her, too fast to track, and her eyes were shining bright white light.  The light looked like the cold grandeur of stars and the moon, and she had a presence which was unlike anything Tapeesa had ever felt before.  She had been awed before by Korra's previous displays of bending and the thought that she had bonded with a tuurngait, but now....she averted her gaze, turning her face towards the wall and squeezing her eyes shut to hold back the tears.  The roar of the elements was nearly overpowering as Korra glided into her room, and it was all she could do to keep from throwing herself prostrate on the floor before the sight of what might very well have been Qailertetang, who controlled the weather, or Silap Inua, the air itself.

 

"Are you okay?"  The voice was....normal.  It did not reverberate with power or energy, but just had the normal strength and will of Asami, and Tapeesa turned her head to look up into warm, caring eyes.  They were small pools of green surrounded by an obscuring mask, but at that moment they were as identifiable and reassuring as if she had been holding a flashing sign above her head, and Tapeesa practically leapt forward to wrap her arms tightly around her body.  Behind Asami, Korra still hovered like a deity descended to earth, wreathed in fire and air and looking as untouchable as the sun itself, and Tapeesa clung to the soft, physical body in front of her as if to hold on to her very existence.  She forced back a sob, keeping as tight a reign on her emotions as she could, and she gasped out "Yes, I'm fine."

 

"Come, we must hurry," and Asami was already pulling her to her feet and heading towards the door, preceded by the imposing presence of the Avatar (Tapeesa finally realized what that title might imply).  Outside, the hallway was scarred and pitted and marked all along its length, and she saw several soldiers tied up and frozen within giant blocks of ice, and---

 

"Judy!" The name was almost unrecognizable, swallowed as it was by the sound of fear and shock and heartache, and Tapeesa fell to her knees beside Judith's still, bloody form lying on its bed of water.  She reached out to touch her, but drew back, unsure of what she could do.  "What happened?"  She could not have said if she was asking the human or the god which stood beside her, but she was asking somebody.  Instead of answering, Asami stepped over and lay her hands on Tapeesa's shoulders, briefly squeezing before drawing her to her feet again.

 

"Be ready, there will be a lot happening soon."

 

"What are you going to do?"

 

Before Asami could answer, Korra moved forward until she was in the middle of the hallway, and she slowly rotated in place.  Her shining eyes moved up and down, and Tapeesa could tell that she was seeing more than just the walls around them, she was seeing everything else in the building, and the ground around it, and far off into the air.  She stopped, looking straight up into the ceiling above her, then raised her arms above her, and with a roar that seemed to smother all other sounds and drown out the air itself the building above them seemed to be blasted upwards on a column of wind so thick and strong as to be solid.  Seconds later there was a starlight shining down on where they stood, visible through the new lack of a roof, and then the wind rose again and Tapeesa felt another scream rise in her throat as all four of them were lifted up on beds of air, carried up and out of the building.  As they emerged into the night air, Tapeesa became conscious of all the myriad noises surrounding them that seemed to fill up the entire base; shouted orders and running boots and clanking machinery, and then the heavy, deep thump helicopters.  Spinning as she was, she saw two helicopters hovering over the base and she knew that they could not help but see them, and with them floating in the air like this like a glowing target....were the helicopters armed?  Could missiles target Korra?  Was somebody on the ground below already aiming a canon at them?

 

As the two helicopters began to angle towards them, looming large in Tapeesa's vision, she realized that she began to hear what sounded like rushing water and she jumped (Or at least made such a motion) as what looked like a tidal wave seemed to fly through the air.  It came from the east, from the shore that she could see more than a mile distant, and it looked like nothing so much as a small sea that had decided to spend its evening in the sky.  Two streams shot out from the large mass and condensed around the rotors of the helicopters, solidifying to ice instantly, and they began to plummet towards the ground.  Giant pillars of rock shot up from the ground to catch them before they impacted, slowly lowering down, and then Korra's still-glowing visage turned to face her flying lake directly.  She raised her arm, and the entire mass of water expanded into a gaseous vapor that drifted down and covered the entire base, and much of the surrounding area, obscuring sight and sound and sealing off the four of them from the rest of the world.  Korra rotated in the air again, facing what Tapeesa thought might have been east again, and from below them she could hear what sounded like shifting rock racing forward, heading towards the shore.  As that sound was swallowed by the vapor, Korra rotated again, this time facing what Tapeesa thought was west, and all four of them began to be carried forward through the air.  In the all-obscuring fog she could not have said how far they moved, but the muffled sounds of the base began to grow fainter and fainter, and after a few minutes she felt solid ground beneath her again.  Before her, Korra's glow began to fade, and then she closed her eyes and she was human again.

 

Tapeesa wanted to fall to her knees, to kiss the ground beneath her feet and turn to Korra and Asami with questions, but instead she started walking, following the two strange women as they started to walk, with Judith still carried beside them on her bed of water.

Chapter Text

"Wh....what are we going to do now?" Tapeesa's voice was thready, weak with exhaustion and tension and fear, but Korra could not spare the attention to respond to her. She knelt beside Joo Dee, who had been lain in a shallow depression in the ground to serve as a rude bath, and was holding a waterbending healing over her entire body. Joo Dee was still alive, and the quick patches Korra had worked into place during the escape itself had helped, but there was still so much damage ripped completely through her body, and Korra needed to work hard and fast. Not just to save her life, but also to save her body; already she was unsure if Joo Dee would retain full control of her arms and legs. She remembered her own time in her wheelchair and struggling with rehabilitation at the South Pole, how there had been times that she had wished that she had died facing Zaheer instead of having to suffer being trapped like that, and she focused even harder on the damage that spread out from Joo Dee's wounds.

 

Behind Korra, Asami watched over the healing and stepped over to Tapeesa. "Korra's going to do all she can to help Joo Dee, if we let her concentrate." She took Tapeesa's hand and pulled her away, over to a small hump in the ground to sit upon. "Come sit with me."

 

Tapeesa followed the pull without objection, but also without energy, letting herself be guided by Asami. She was silent for another minute, staring at Korra's hunched form next to the glowing water, before she asked again "What are we going to do now?"

 

"After Korra has healed Joo Dee," Asami said that part with firm confidence, as if the thought that Korra might fail had not even been considered, and she noticed Tapeesa sit up just a little bit straighter, "we can all talk about our specific plans, but we need to head south, to the United States of America. That had already been our eventual plan because of the coming winter, but now it needs to be immediate. From all we have learned, your government does not have the authority to pursue us in the United States, and if we travel properly they will not even know that we are there for a long time. After we have escaped the immediate pursuit we can all develop a more permanent plan, but Korra and I will probably travel across that country as we have travelled across Canada, and you and Joo Dee are welcome to join us."

 

Tapeesa was silent again, still staring at the healing glow (The water was swirling now, drawn by Korra's circular movements around Joo Dee's still body), and Asami wondered how she was handling this news. She had asked to join them before, true, but it had been all too easy to talk her out of the idea once she had been made to realize the consequences of her request. Now those consequences had been forced upon her regardless, along with the violence of their escape and horror of Joo Dee's bloody body. Many people would not be able to handle being fugitives in a foreign land after everything that had already happened.

 

"How will you get to the States?" Her voice was still thready, but Tapeesa forced the question out.

 

"We looked at maps yesterday before we came here, this is the westernmost coast of your land." Asami gestured to the ocean expanse in front of them, vast and oppressive even in the gloom of the pre-dawn hours as it was glimpsed past the edge of the forest they were sheltered in. "Even with how large Canada is, here the border with the United States is very close to us to the south. We will build a boat for the ocean and travel down the coast until we reach the United States territory of Washington."

 

"Build a....Asami the army is going to find us here in hours most likely, we don't have time to build a boat."

 

Internally, Asami smiled at Tapeesa's objection: It showed that she was thinking and considering, not just sitting numbly. "It will be longer than you think for them to find us, but it will not take us long to build a boat anyway. Korra is from the Water Tribe, and that is more than just myths and legends, we will build a...what is your word? A dugout canoe." Asami reached to the side and ran her hand along the bark of one of the trees of the forest that swelled up around them. "These trees here are proper wood, and with her bending Korra can have one finished in hours. They are simple, but are sturdy and can travel far; back home, there are stories of the Water Tribe crossing the world in dugouts. Hopefully it will also be small enough not to be detected by your military once we are out to sea and away from their bases, and we should be able to make landfall on an open, unoccupied area of Washington territory. Out of reach of your government, and unknown by the government of that land, we should have the freedom we need."

 

In front of them, the glow coming from the healing waters seemed to increase, and Korra's arms began to move faster and faster, until they were almost a blur. The rapidity was like the movements Korra used during combat, and Asami felt herself grow concerned. She had never seen Korra need to work that urgently before; it looked like she was almost literally in a fight against the enemy of injury. Tapeesa, however, seemed to have a different reaction to the image.

 

"And Korra?" She asked, and her voice was now quiet, almost a whisper. "Will she....does she......again?"

 

Even without a fully-formed question, Asami knew what she was asking. "Tapeesa, Korra is the Avatar. She is the bridge between the Physical World and the Spirit World, and she has the responsibility of keeping balance in the world. That comes with power and responsibility greater than anything else in the world, but she is still Korra. She had that power when you first saw her last week, and when you let her stay in your house in a very kind gesture to two strangers. Who and what she is has not changed. I know how it feels to see it all for the first time, and I could not image what it would have been like for me to see it in a situation like you did, but she is still who she was. We are both still just looking for a way home to our own world, and now we are hoping to help you as much as we can, because you helped us."

 

Tapeesa was silent again, not saying anything, but Asami thought she saw her give a slight, small nod. Then, as if on cue, Korra let out a sudden, loud sigh and almost collapsed backwards. She fell onto her haunches, the healing glow disappearing at the same time, leaving them all sitting in the soft light of the stars. As Asami and Tapeesa both rose from their seats, Korra's tired voice called out "It's okay, come on over," and she held up a small flame to guide their way.

 

As they stood over Joo Dee, taking note of her solid skin again, unmarred by gaping wounds but still rough and discolored, Korra continued to speak. "She is...I think she is okay for now, she is not in danger from the injuries, but I am not sure how much damage has already been done that I was unable to get to in time. Until she wakes up I won't know for sure what lasting effects there will be, and there will be more work to do regardless."

 

"How long before she wakes up?" Tapeesa's voice was still thready, still exhausted and angry and scared from all that had happened during the night, but she managed to address Korra directly. Asami was happy even for that.

 

"I am not sure. Several hours at least, but it might be much longer." She looked at Asami for a moment, then turned back to Tapeesa. "You should stay by her side until she does while me and Asami work on what is next." She lightly stomped her foot, and a section of earth raised out of the ground as a stool. Tapeesa did not even blink at the motion. "Let me know if she wakes up." Tapeesa nodded slightly and lowered herself onto the stool, then reached over and took Joo Dee's left hand in her own, cradling it.

 

Eying her for a moment, Korra and Asami both stepped away and backed several steps deeper into the forest, enough for the trees to give the illusion of privacy even though they were still within speaking distance. Once there, Korra almost fell into Asami, who caught her easily and held her tightly as she breathed in deep, heavy gasps that were almost sobs. It all combined into a clamorous whole; the physical and emotional exhaustion, the exertion of the rescue itself multiplied with the tiring healing efforts, even the simple lack of sleep (It was now only bare hours from dawn). With so much draining her she had worn herself almost to collapse and now....Asami was the only thing holding her up, and she was content just to let Asami hold her. The feel of Asami's arms wrapped around her, even through the layers of fabric and armor they both still wore, was like a rejuvenation, and after an infinite stillness her breathing slowly quieted. Still, they both remained motionless, bodies entwined, until Korra struggled to raise her head and leaned forward, brushing her lips against Asami.

 

It was not a strong or passionate kiss, Korra did not have the energy left for strength or passion, but it held all of the emotion that had been built up over the past day. They held each other and let all of the hope and fear and anger and excitement and horror rush out of them, until at the end it was just them. Asami tightened her embrace, pulling Korra closer, and the heat in the kiss began to rise. Soon, Korra's legs weakned even further, until they were almost completely limp and she was literally being supported by Asami's strength, and still she leaned into the kiss further and further. When they finally broke apart it was for them to each take a few short, deep, gasping breaths, and then they both collapsed together, falling to the ground side by side. Korra was nearly insensate, almost dead to the world except for the feel of Asami's lips against hers, and as her eyes closed and she finally felt consciousness slip away, she was aware only of the touch of Asami's skin against hers.

Chapter Text

When she woke up, Korra noticed that the sun had already risen and she leapt to her feet in a surge of semi-panic. At least, she would have if she had not still been groggy and exhausted, instead slowly shambling upright as she tried to regain her bearings. Looking around she saw that Tapeesa was still sitting beside Joo Dee, cradling her hand, although her head had nodded to her chest and she might have fallen asleep sitting up. Korra was about to call out to her, to see how long she had been asleep, when she felt Asami's soft presence behind her.

 

"Don't worry, you only slept for a few hours, and there's been no sign that the military is getting close to searching this section of the coast yet." Asami's arms snaked around Korra's front, her head resting on Korra's shoulder. Korra closed her eyes, and for an instant she was able to shut out the world around her, and all that existed was the feel of Asami's soft cheek laying against her own. The exhaustion from the night before faded away, along with the apprehension of being located by the military, and she was able to lose herself in the silk of Asami's skin.

 

"You shouldn't have let me sleep, we can't afford the time."

 

"We can afford you dropping unconscious from exhaustion even less. You needed to sleep, and since right now all four of us are relying on you to get us out of here a delay of a few hours is preferable to everything falling apart at a critical moment because you've been up for so long without even a break. Besides, if we're lucky they shouldn't be looking over here for hours yet anyway." Asami pulled away from Korra's back, lingering for a moment for a breath more contact, before she stood and extended her arm to pull Korra up as well.

 

"How long was it?" As she stood Korra glanced up at the sun, which looked to have risen above the horizon only recently.

 

"Five or six hours, sunrise was less than an hour ago. I did some check-work while you were out, so after you eat we can get to work right away."

 

"Show me, I can--"

 

"I said, we can get to work right away after you eat," and Asami had such a sternness to her words that Korra was unsure if she should laugh, or maybe salute. Unable to decide, she instead meekly followed Asami over to where they had piled what meagre supplies they had, drawing out a small packet of beef jerky and beginning to chew. It was far from what Korra would have preferred to eat, but at the moment it, along with a few energy bars and other dried foodstuffs, were all the food that they had on-hand. As a matter of fact, it was almost everything that they had on-hand; they had the weapons and equipment they had used the night before, and a few odds and ends that they had managed to fit in their pockets and backpacks, and that was it. Everything else had had to be left behind, and once they arrived in the United States they would need to start over again, from food to equipment to even their transportation.

 

Well, they had forged a life here once, they could do it again.

 

After her meagre breakfast, which she managed to force down with enough water, Korra rose again and checked on Tapeesa and Joo Dee. As she had guessed, Tapeesa had in fact fallen asleep beside Joo Dee, and the two of them breathed almost in synchronization, hands clasped together. Rather than disturb her, Korra let Tapeesa alone and turned back to Asami.

 

"What do we have?"

 

"I marked off a suitable tree," Asami pointed back into the forest. "It should be large enough for all of us even if we need to lay out Joo Dee, and I've got what equipment we have to use ready."

 

"Show me the way," and Korra walked off after Asami into the forest. The tree she lead her to was not very far away, and Korra appreciated her selection. It was not the single tallest tree of the forest, which would have been a tempting choice for an inexperienced first-time selector, but instead looked to be slightly below average for its type, just above one-hundred and fifty feet in height and nearly five feet in diameter. Korra's metlabending cables and sections of the armor she had worn the night before, which she did not realize she was no longer wearing until she saw them (Asami must have taken them off her as she slept), were layed out next to the tree. Walking around it, Korra glanced over the tree, taking in its thick and corky bark and its brown, smooth shoots, then nodded. "You made a good choice, this should be perfect."

 

Asami grinned, then stepped back as Korra began to inspect the ground around its trunk in preparation for taking it down. Looking around to make sure that nobody had bizarrely snuck up in the past few minutes to be crushed by the tumbling tree, Korra braced herself low and took a traditional, steady earthbending stance. Holding herself firmly in place, her stance deepened and she reached low, pulling up and shifting the earth beneath the tree. The ground rumbled, and then the tree began to tilt as she uprooted it. More easily than she had expected the tree dropped to one side, and Korra raised up several pillars of earth to catch the tree and lower it towards the ground more slowly; she did not want to risk either being noticed by the sound of impact, or risk damaging the trunk they needed to use. As it settled to the ground, she noticed that it had a shallower root structure than she would have suspected from its size, but she quickly cast aside such trivialities as she and and Asami both moved forward to inspect the tree now that it was horizontal.

 

Korra picked up two of her former armor sections and molded them in her hands, combining them together and working them into a circular, bladed saw. Holding it out from between her hands, and waving Asami far away from the tree itself, she began to spin the blade until its toothed edges were only a blur, then began to methodically and one-by-one trim off the branches. While she worked, Asami eyed the tree itself, parsing out its size and shape in her mind, noting where they could carve up the trunk and angle it into a proper dugout. It should be thick enough for them to be able to flatten it for stability, and more than long enough to contain all of their equipment, with enough wood left over to shape needed accessories. They did not have anywhere near enough fabric to fashion any sort of sail, but Asami had several ideas that she wanted to try to 'catch' Korra's airbending for propulsion, and if none of those worked they could fall back on simple waterbending. It would be tiring moving the boat by brute force in such a way, even back home the Water Tribes only propelled crafts with waterbending for short durations or slow travel, but Korra could do it.

 

Together, they both began to shape the raw wood into the means of their escape.

Chapter Text

"Are you ready?" Korra called, and Asami looked down at the ocean before them. It was rocky and treacherous, not suitable at all for a boat launch and concealing sharp promontories just beneath the surface ready to shatter their carved vessel with contemptuous ease, but she remembered Korra's grin when she had first pointed out the dangers. It had held her old confidence, bordering on cockiness, as she had smirked and said "This? This is nothing. Once we're out to sea I'll tell you about when I went ice dodging, now that was risky navigating." Now, with Tapeesa sitting before her and Joo Dee laid down before her, with her head resting in Tapeesa's lap, Asami nodded and called back "Yes, we're ready." With a sudden jerk, an acceleration as strong as if they had been hurled by a giant fist, the boat flew forward and dropped down into the sea, Korra crouched in the rear with her arms splayed wide.

 

They hit the surface with a splash and shock of impact, and then they were slaloming through the jutting rocks. Sea water was spraying up around them, flung off of the surrounding rocks by waves and hurled into the air by the boat's passage, and the wind began to roar through their hair and past their ears. It felt like they were moving at breakneck speed, even though intellectually Asami knew they could not have been moving anywhere close to the speeds of a racing satomobile, let alone one of the biplanes Future Industries produced. There was a visceral thrill to their motions, an excitement and electricity that reminded Asami of the thrum of a motorcycle's engine, and then behind her Korra began to sing.

 

Ever since they had first heard the music of this world at that festival so many weeks ago, they had been captivated by its energy. By its passion and speed and the way it could draw out the excitement of the audience. Janice had introduced them to some in the brief time they had had together, and they had continued to listen and explore as they had travelled across Canada after leaving Montreal. This song they had first heard a little more than a week after they left Montreal, just after they broken up that robbery at the store, and it had been different from what Janice's band had played, but also very much the same. It was apparently something called 'classic rock' ('Rock' apparently described so much of the music of this world, and how that one term could apply to such different styles of music was something that they still did not understand), and right now Korra singing was incongruous, and it came out of nowhere, but it was also so eminently right given the situation.

 

"We come from the land of the ice and snow,

From the midnight sun, where the hot springs flow;

The hammer of the gods,

will drive our ships to new lands;

To fight the horde,

And sing and cry,

Valhalla, I am coming."

 

When they had first heard these lyrics, Korra and Asami had thought that the song was about them. Somehow, it had seemed to speak to them and their journey to this world. They had gone to a library and researched its origins, and they learned that it was decades old and had its own connections to this world, but that did not remove the resonance the song had.

 

"On we sweep, with threshing oar, our only goal will be the western shore."

 

Korra's singing was powerful, especially now, and Asami began to join in.

 

"We come from the land of the ice and snow,

From the midnight sun, where the hot springs flow;

How soft your fields, so green,

can whisper tales of gore,

of how we calmed the tides of war,

We are your overlords."

 

Even more than the journey from the land of ice and snow, the talk of calming the tides of war had spoken to them both. They were now nearing the edge of the rock field along the shoreline, about to pass the last outcropping and reach the open ocean, and Korra began bend the water with more and more alacrity. Their speed increased, the spray kicking higher, and even though they were both still exhausted (Korra operating on less than six hours of sleep, Asami with none at all, and all after the physically and emotionally taxing rescue and escape), their voices reached a crescendo as they shouted out to the sky.

 

"On we sweep, with threshing oar, our only goal will be the western shore;

So now you better stop, and rebuild all your ruins,

For peace and trust can win the day,

Despite of all your losing."

 

Their research had said that apparently there had been a moralistic backlash to this song and others by the band, accusations of corruption of youth and malevolent hidden meanings, but the meaning they found was one they both connected to after the struggles of the past few years: After all the loss of war, all the ruins of life and society, peace and trust can win the day.

 

Tapeesa had turned around in her seat and was staring at them with mouth agape, looking as shocked as she had when she had seen Korra in the Avatar state, but they only laughed and shouted out to the sky again.

 

"On we sweep, with threshing oar, our only goal will be the western shore."

 


 

Hours later they did sweep forward with threshing oars, carved from the same source as their boat itself and swept by Korra and Asami's strong arms, but they both grumbled that after tiring hours of steady progress they had lost a little bit of the magic that came from dodging rocks as you escaped into the sea.

 

Their dugout was nearly forty feet long, and Korra said that it could have taken them around the world if they needed it to, let alone the few hundred miles down the coastline they needed to go. Asami was not quite as enthusiastic about its globetrotting prospects, especially without even something as rudimentary as a sail, but she was more than satisfied that it would suffice for their needs. They had loaded it with all of their equipment (What there was of it), and that still left them with ample room to lay out Joo Dee, and for their own sleeping when the time came. The rocking left much to be desired (They had not had time to equip it with outriggers or other equalizers), but they had managed to flatten the bottom for stability. Now they were paddling south-west, angling away from Canada's territory and the likely search area, and eventually they would angle south-east, towards the coastline of the United States of America. Their research, though much barer than they would have preferred (Until the had learned of Joo Dee and Tapeesa's imprisonment they had not planned for such a water-landing), indicated that this region of the nation was relatively sparsely populated, and they hoped to land unnoticed.

 

Now, though, exhaustion began to catch up to them, and Korra and Asami's strokes both began to grow shallower and shallower. Towards the bow, Tapeesa seemed to have fallen asleep, curled forward around Joo Dee's still-unconscious form despite the fact that the sun was high in the sky and that she had managed to gain even more sleep than Korra earlier in the day. Eying them, Korra and Asami stopped rowing by mutual silent accord, and Korra slid forward until she was pressed close against Asami.

 

"How do you think she'll handle it?" Asami asked, and if she was vague as to who she referred to by 'she', and even by 'it', Korra did not seem to be confused.

 

"It depends on how they handle each other. If they lend each other strength, help each other through what lies ahead, then hopefully that will be enough. If they don't...." Korra wound down, and even Asami was not sure if she did not know the answer, or simply