The healing session was about as bad as she had originally expected, but Korra did her best to brave it without complaint and did everything she could do to help. The cool water traveling across her skin hadn’t been too bad, but it was when the healers placed their palms around Korra’s temples that the real struggle began. The ghostly memories of the pain and fear she had felt while battling the Avatar state when fighting Zaheer rose to the surface with a vengeance, and for those short moments, it was as though she was going through the whole ordeal all over again.
She had asked once why the healing always had that effect, but no one really had an answer that was truly satisfactory. Katara said at one point that she suspected Korra was holding onto something, and her mind and body were having difficulty healing because whatever it was, was acting as some kind of blockade. Just let go, the grandmotherly water bender had gently suggested.
As if it were so easy.
Korra couldn’t begin to guess what it was they expected her to let go of. Her fight with Zaheer had been the most terrifying experience of her life, and that was saying something. All of the struggles and foes she had overcome since she came to Republic City, while harrowing, paled in comparison. Amon wanted her bending, but Korra was able to fight through it and actually was able to unite with her Avatar spirit in a stronger way than she was before. Unalaq wanted Korra’s spirit, but through the journey she was able to find herself and actually experienced more peace and serenity as a result than she had ever experienced before.
But Zaheer? Zaheer wanted to destroy her. Not just her body. Not just her mind and spirit. But everything both she as an individual, and as the Avatar stood for. And he had almost done it. In her previous fights, she had succeeded based on her ability to come to peace with who and what she was. With Zaheer, her survival had depended solely on her ability to fight who and what she was. How do you come back from suffering that kind of schism? How do you let go of that?
The healers finished their work and left the room, giving Korra a moment to collect herself, and dry her tears. Her stomach spasmed painfully, and Korra chided herself for not listening to Asami when being urged to eat something. For a moment she feared she may throw up, and dry heaving through an empty stomach was always worse than actually having something to bring up. Thankfully the moment passed and shortly after, Tenzin walked in to help gather the Avatar and return her to her room.
The shock and disappointment that it wasn’t Asami gliding in to aid her was momentarily crushing. Though she doubted the other girl knew, Asami was the only person capable of helping her feel human again after these sessions, and Korra had come to rely on her deeply. Korra fought tears as Tenzin scooped up the prone Avatar and gently set her in her wheelchair.
“Su arrived today,” Tenzin said, the smile on his face and cheerfulness in his voice obviously forced.
“Oh. That’s nice,” Korra rasped out.
Tenzin looked down at Korra with a start, obviously having expected his remark to go characteristically ignored. Korra attempted to smile up at the fatherly airbender, but suspected it probably looked more like a grimace. However, he seemed to guess her intent and gently patted her shoulder before wheeling her out of the room.
He pushed her through the hallways in silence, and Korra was grateful for the quiet. While she was still resolute in biting her tongue when it came to being mean and sullen, it was difficult for her to speak or concentrate when recovering from her healing.
Korra heard the soft tinkling of a familiar laugh and looked up. Asami was walking through one of the meditation gardens, trailed closely by a woman clad in metal clan armor. A really tall woman clad in metal clan armor. Korra frowned and reached up to place a hand on Tenzin’s where it rested on the handles behind her.
“Can I just stay here for a while?” Korra asked in a hoarse voice.
“Are you sure you don’t want to just go back to your room to rest?” Tenzin asked, concern heavily etched in the lines of his face.
Korra shook her head. “That healing session actually made me feel a lot better, and I kind of just want to be outside for a little,” Korra lied. Korra felt slightly bad about lying to her old master, but the remorse immediately dissipated at the big smile Tenzin gave in response to her words.
“Of course, Korra. Whatever you need. I’ll come back soon to check on you.”
Before leaving, Tenzin rolled her over to the edge of the walkway, turning her so she had a clear and unobstructed view of the gardens in front of her.
Korra was unaware of when Tenzin left, as she had already resumed tracking Asami and this mystery woman as they made their way to the edge of the garden and sat on the banks of a small pond. She wasn’t close enough to hear what they were saying, but could tell by her posture that Asami was more relaxed than she had seen in a long time. The sunlight glinted off of Asami’s raven hair, and even in her dark clothing seemed to emanate light and beauty.
Korra recalled with chagrin how jealous she had once been of the enigmatic heiress. Asami had always made Korra feel so small and ungainly when compared to the graceful and stunningly beautiful older woman. Asami had seemed so… perfect. And she still did if Korra was being honest with herself. It wasn’t a bad thing anymore. That whole Mako ordeal was firmly a thing of the past, and her friendship with Asami had come to be the most meaningful one in her life. Instead of being intimidated and angry by Asami’s wonderful and generous personality, Korra felt genuinely inspired by it. While she felt largely undeserving of having someone so amazing as such a devoted friend, it also made her constantly want to better herself. Asami made her want to be a better person, and Korra had never felt that way about anyone.
Korra’s attention snapped back to the scene in front of her with a jarring crash as the metal bender reached out and laid a gentle hand on Asami’s arm. When Asami didn’t shrug off the hand, Korra felt a swell of emotion in her chest that nearly knocked her out of her chair. Who did this woman think she was to so casually touch Asami like that? She was a stranger. A nobody. And why was Asami letting her? Was this why Asami hadn’t been there when Korra got out of her healing? Because she was talking to some giant metal bending meathead? Korra was so shocked and angry she would have summoned a gale storm if she were able, if only to knock this woman away from her friend.
She watched with rapt attention as both women stood and faced each other. Then it happened again. Korra felt as though she were punched in the gut as she watch the tall women gently and reverently take one of Asami’s hands into hers. Asami looked up into the giant’s face, and though she was too far away to really be able to tell, Korra instinctively knew her friend was smiling. Unable to watch anymore, Korra reached down and grabbed the wheels of her chair. She couldn’t wait for Tenzin to return, and right then, all she wanted was to return to her room. Her muscles burned with a familiar pain, but Korra grit her teeth and propelled herself down the hallway, away from the scene behind her.
She was breathless and shaking by the time she reached the door to her room. Korra looked up and groaned in dismay. How was she going to be able to both open and hold a door open, and roll herself through? She was just considering trying to airbend the door off its hinges when she heard a familiar voice call out in surprise.
Korra winced and groaned inwardly before turning her chair to face the newcomer.
“Oh. Hey, Asami”
“What are you doing?” Asami asked in disbelief, looking up and down the hallway, obviously searching for whoever had been stupid enough to roll Korra to her room without bothering to help her inside.
“Oh, you know. Just taking a stroll,” Korra said.
Asami just blinked, seemingly speechless with the implications of what Korra had said.
“You… You got here by yourself?” Asami asked, her words slow and deliberate. Korra opened her mouth to retort with a sarcastic and mean response, but stopped herself at the last second.
Now that enough time had gone by, the angry outburst she had upon seeing Asami receiving comfort from another woman seemed kind of ridiculous. The memory still made her uncomfortable, and she definitely disliked this mystery metal bender (not knowing who this person was absolutely didn’t matter what-so-ever), but Korra hadn’t forgotten Asami’s words earlier, and being mean to her friend wasn’t going accomplish anything.
“Uh… Yeah. Guess the healing is working after all.”
Asami’s face lit up with a radiant smile as she rushed forward and enclosed Korra in a warm embrace. Asami’s hair tickled Korra’s nose, and the feeling of the other girl’s cheek pressed against her own caused Korra’s stomach to jump unexpectedly. The smell of Asami’s hair and perfume seemed to seep into Korra’s pores, and she couldn’t suppress the sudden need to breathe as deeply as she could.
Though the hug only lasted a moment, Korra felt every touch with startling clarity; Asami’s hand on her leg to steady herself as she bent down; Her other hand’s fingers pressed lightly into the sensitive spot along the ridge of her spine; A soft breath as it caressed its way past Korra’s ear and down the column of her throat. Korra’s whole body stiffened, but thankfully, Asami didn’t seem to notice and pulled away, reaching up to cup Korra’s cheek in her palm.
“This is wonderful. I’m very proud of you.”
The intensity of the moment abruptly became too much as Asami starred with warmth and love in her eyes. Korra smiled tightly, and turned her chair back towards the door, forcing Asami to break the contact. Korra’s heart was pounding painfully in her chest, and her breathlessness no longer had anything to do with the exertion of the journey to her door. What the hell was wrong with her?
“Um… Do you think you can… I mean, I can’t quite figure out how I’m going to…”
“Oh!” Asami said, shaking her head in what was obviously a silent admonition for not noticing sooner what it was Korra was trying to do.
“Of course… Here.” Asami reached past Korra and swung open the door. Korra felt slightly dizzy as the sweet scent of Asami’s hair and perfume brushed past her nose as her space was once again invaded.
Asami grabbed the handles of Korra’s chair, but even this proximity was a little too much for the Avatar’s frayed nerves, so she dismissively waved her hand.
“It’s okay. I think I can manage just a little further”.
Though Korra didn’t look up, she could practically feel Asami’s glowing smile at her back. Grasping the chairs wheels firmly in both hands, Korra pushed herself forward, making a mental note of how her arms didn’t seem to burn quite as badly as they had at first. She heard the soft click of Asami’s boots as she followed her into the room. Korra wheeled herself over to the edge of her bed, and slumped back in her chair. Asami grabbed a chair and sat down facing Korra, her smile still lighting up her face. Korra felt more uncomfortable than she ever had before while with her friend, and she had no idea why. Asami seemed to suddenly notice the Avatar’s discomfort, and her smile slowly shifted into a frown.
“Um… Korra. I want to… I want to apologize.”
For a moment, Korra thought she was referring to her encounter with the metal bender lady.
“I shouldn’t have yelled at you earlier today. I care about you so much, and all I want is for you to be happy again. I hope you know that.”
In light of all the weird things that had occurred over the past several minutes, Korra had completely forgotten about their fight earlier that day, and the event suddenly seemed so trivial and meaningless she had to suppress the urge to laugh. She realized she wasn’t mad or upset with Asami over what had been said in any way. In truth, she’d probably really needed to hear it. No. She was more upset about how Asami had chosen to walk around with some giant instead of checking on her after healing. But even that wasn’t really fair. Asami was a grown up. She could do whatever, and talk to whomever, she liked. Korra had no claim to her.
So why was she still so upset?
Asami watched with obvious concern at the multitudes of emotions that must have passed across the Avatar’s face. When Korra wasn’t able to weed through her thoughts enough to clearly articulate what it was she was feeling, she just sighed and did her best to plaster the most convincing smile she could on her face.
“I know that. And you weren’t wrong. I needed to hear someone say it to me, so thank you. I’m not mad at you for what you said, so please don’t worry about it.”
Asami slumped in her chair with obvious relief. She drew her feet up so they were perched on the chair in front of her, and hugged her knees to her chest, resting her chin on her folded limbs.
“Thank you. I felt very bad.”
“You’re fine. Really.” Korra put as much sincerity into her words as she could muster. She really didn’t like seeing Asami so upset, and was thoroughly done being the cause.
“So how was your day off?” Korra asked. She meant it as a joke, but at Asami’s suddenly stricken face immediately regretted her words.
“Oh, Korra. I really am sorry. I should have been there. I -”
“Asami. Stop.” Korra cut her off with a gentle laugh. “You’re not my slave. You’re my friend. If you want to go out and do other things, I hope you know you absolutely can.”
Asami looked back with a pinched brow, and softly bit her lower lip before looking away.
“I know that. I just don’t want you to think that I….”
Korra couldn’t help herself. Against her better judgment, she rolled herself forward and gently clasped Asami’s hands between her own. Asami jumped slightly at the contact, but didn’t pull away, lightly curling her fingers around Korra’s broader knuckles.
“You are the most amazing, most loyal friend I could ever have hoped for, and I’m lucky to have you in my life. But I don’t want you to ignore your own just because you think I need help. I think I’m through the worst of it. I honestly do. And I’m… I’m ready to get better now.”
The entire time Korra was speaking, she absent-mindedly rubbed her thumbs across Asami’s knuckles, and noted with surprise the various textures of the other girls’ hands. She had fully expected Asami’s hands to be soft and silky, and while parts of them were, there were also tough calluses along the ridge of her knuckles, and the pads of her palms were tougher than she would have guessed. It was easy to forget that the stunning beauty in front of her was also a formidable fighter, and genius mechanic. Feeling all the different aspects of Asami’s life and strengths and personality in the various ridges and valleys of her hands was one of the more fascinating things Korra had ever experienced. This was hardly the first time she had touched the other girl’s hands, but it was definitely the first time she had really taken note of them.
Asami was staring down at their joined hands, an indescribable expression on her face. She allowed the contact for a moment longer, before gently pulling her hands away, tucking a stray strand of hair behind her ear. Korra felt inexplicably cold at the absence of the contact.
“I don’t really know what to say,” Asami said, folding her hands back into her lap.
Korra shrugged. She honestly didn’t know what else to say either.
“Um… I actually wanted to tell you something. Su and some metal benders showed up today, and I offered to show them around the city tomorrow. If you really need me here I can say, but it’s been a while since I’ve been off the island, and I’d really like to walk around for a bit, so I hope you don’t mind, but I can not go if you don’t want me to.”
Her last sentence came out hurried and rushed, and Korra couldn’t help but frown. It was a testament to how warped their friendship had become that Asami felt such obvious guilt at wanting to get out and spend a day away from the island. Korra felt a sudden rush of shame and self-loathing at how co-dependent she had become. Asami had been there for Korra since day one without so much as a single complaint or protest, and Korra had been so wrapped up in how terrible she was feeling that she never once considered how hard it must have been for her friend. Asami saw Korra’s frown and obviously misinterpreted it, for she sighed in resignation and stood.
“It’s okay. I understand. I can sta -”
“NO!” Korra yelled out, making Asami jump.
“No. Please. Go. I wasn’t thinking about how I need you to stay. I was upset with myself for not considering how you have been feeling through all of this sooner. I’ve been a terrible friend. No. Go. Have fun.”
Asami looked down at Korra, her face an unreadable mask.
“You’re not a terrible friend,”
“I really have been. But I’m not going to do that anymore.”
When Asami didn’t move or say anything, Korra laughed and spread her arms wide.
“Asami Sato. I release you from your duties. And I’m the Avatar, so you better listen. You don’t want to piss me off. I’ll roll over your toes so hard.” Korra said, putting on her most menacing and threatening face she could muster. There was laughter in her eyes, and Asami immediately softened.
Finally Korra got the reaction she was hoping for, and the heiress laughed. Korra laughed with her, and Asami looked up in wonder.
“You really are getting better.”
Korra shrugged. “One day at a time.”
“Well, I’ll leave you be. I know you must be exhausted.” Asami turned to walk out the door.
“Um… okay. Before you’re completely released from your duties, do you think you can…”
When Asami turned around, Korra gestured feebly to her chair and had to choke back a laugh at Asami’s stricken expression.
“Oh. Wow. I’m so sorry. Of course.”
Asami crossed the room, and gently helped Korra ease out of the chair and into the bed. Korra braced herself as her pulse jumped again at the contact and proximity, but it wasn’t quite as jarring as it had been before. When Asami had finished helping Korra settle into a comfortable position, she gently squeezed her hand once more with a smile before walking out the room.
Once her raven-haired friend was out of sight, Korra slumped and allowed the exhaustion from the day to sweep over her. The day had taken a multitude of weird turns, and Korra had no idea what to make of it. Especially her weird reaction to seeing Asami with that other woman, and her even weirder reaction to when Asami had touched her. Korra pushed the thoughts from her mind and closed her eyes.
Tomorrow. She’d think about it all tomorrow.