When Korra woke, she was groggier than she had been in a long time. Glancing out the window, Korra saw that it was much earlier than she usually got up, so there was a good chance it would be a while before anyone came it to check on her and help her get up and about. She briefly considered just trying to go back to sleep, but now that she was awake, she felt strangely anxious and alert and didn’t think it would be possible for her to close her eyes if she tried. Getting to her chair was going to be difficult, but Korra decided she was going to give it a try. She was tired of feeling so helpless and useless, and the least she could do is learn to get herself around without as much help. In addition to giving a break to everyone who had made themselves so readily available to help Korra in every way she needed, Korra decided she was very tired of being so dependent.
Taking a deep and resolute breath, Korra slowly and painfully pushed herself up and swung her legs over the edge of the bed resting her feet lightly on the floor. Gritting her teeth, Korra grabbed onto the bedpost by her shoulder, and slowly pulled herself up. Her core and back muscles spasmed in protest, and her arms and legs shook and threatened to give out, but she didn’t fall. The chair was just out of reach while holding onto the post, so she was going to have to try and walk. In the back of her mind, Korra knew she was being foolish. She hadn’t walked in weeks, and this was probably the most work her atrophied muscles had gotten since her fight with Zaheer. But Korra was determined. She didn’t know why it was suddenly so important for her to establish this little form of independence, but in that moment, being able to wake up and get to her chair felt like the most important task she had ever attempted.
Korra experimentally lifted one of her legs, but couldn’t quite bend the knee correctly, and all that she was really able to accomplish was slowly sliding her bare foot across the floor in front of her. Her knees were shaking uncontrollably, but miraculously held. Now the hard part. Taking a deep breath and preparing herself for the worst, Korra loosened her death grip on the bedpost and gently pushed herself forward, attempting to find her balance on her weak and unused limbs. For the briefest of moments, she thought she was going to be able to make it. Her legs held and she was standing, but before she could gain any satisfaction from the accomplishment, it all came crashing down. Her knees gave, and she began to fall. Even in her weak and useless state, Korra’s reflexes kicked in and she tried to launch herself forward with all her might. If she was going to go down, at least she could go down closer to her chair than when she started.
She crashed painfully against the metal frame of her chair and bit back a cry of pain as her arm collided with steel. She was draped half in and half out of the chair, her legs fanned out uselessly behind her in painful spasms. She experimentally tried to bend her knee to see if she could use it to push herself further up, but the pain that screamed its way up her calf to her hamstrings was momentarily blinding. Frustration and anger welled up in Korra’s chest, so sudden and strong that she felt her eyes tear up. It didn’t make any sense. It only seemed logical that after weeks of rest and healing, she should at least have experienced slight improvement, but the pain and weakness in her limbs didn’t seem to have eased in the slightest. She was so wrapped up in misery and anger that she didn’t hear the footsteps enter the room.
Korra looked up. Su was standing in the doorway, a shocked and concerned expression etched in the lines of her face. She rushed over, and gently helped to untangle Korra from the cold metal arms of her chair. Korra bit back a yelp of pain as she was picked up when her legs were wrenched out of their cramped position, and relief was slow to come after Su helped set her into the familiar confines of her wheelchair.
Instead of immediately wheeling her out of the room, Su grabbed a chair and sat opposite Korra, looking at the younger woman in worry and concern. Korra expected Su to do or say something to fill the silence but she didn’t, and instead let Korra relax and slow her breathing. Once the pain in her legs and back had dimmed to a steady but manageable ache, Korra sighed in defeat, gripping the arms of her chair until her knuckles had turned white.
“I don’t understand” Korra said, her voice cracking in defeat.
“Understand what?” Su asked gently.
“Why is this happening to me? Why aren’t I getting better? I’ve gone to every healing session, and it feels like everyone has tried everything. Why isn’t it working? Why do I still feel so terrible?”
Su looked at Korra with a sad frown of understanding. It was a while before she replied.
“I know your body still feels broken, but how are you doing?”
Korra looked at Su in confusion.
“I just told you. I…”
“You just told me about how the healing doesn’t seem to be working, but I’m not talking about your body. How are you coping with all of this mentally?”
Korra huffed out a breath through her nose, and squinted at the woman across from her. She didn’t know why, but the question made her a little angry.
“How do you think I’m doing? Look at me!”
Instead of immediately answering, Su leaned back slightly in her chair and studied Korra with a piercing gaze. Korra resisted the urge to squirm in her seat, defiantly matching the woman’s stare. Finally Su sighed, and released Korra from the intense study.
“I think-” Su began, her words gentle and steady.
“ -you feel hurt and broken and lost. I think the effect all of this had on your mind far outweighs that which happened to your body, and I think you haven’t really addressed the effect all this had on you in any meaningful way.”
Korra shut her mouth with a snap, and looked sharply away, folding her arms tightly against her chest. Though she knew Su didn’t mean to be mean or hurtful, Korra was having a hard time not getting offended. She made it sound so easy. Like all she had to do was meditate a little and ‘POOF, all better’.
“Korra. What is it that you want?”
Korra huffed with indignation.
“That’s a stupid question. I want to heal. Get better.”
Korra looked at Su with a quick snap of her head. What was that supposed to mean? Her anger immediately turned to unease.
“Where are you going with this Su?”
“Lets say you could snap your fingers right now, and you were suddenly all better. No pain. No weakness. What then? What would you want to do?”
Korra opened her mouth to speak, then paused. She had no idea how to respond. Her immediate answer was that she would help restore order in the earth kingdom, but what could she possibly do that the airbenders and police couldn’t? Any time she had meddled in the world’s political affairs, all she had done is create enemies, and the idea of launching into this particular issue made Korra tired even thinking about it. Maybe she would resume her search and focus on finding more airbenders to help restore the air nation. But again, there were many others that were actively already doing whatever they could to accomplish this goal. It was her job as the avatar to help maintain balance in the world, but in that moment, Korra had no idea how to even start. No matter what she did, it only seemed to cause more problems. It felt like things were more out of balance now than they had ever been, and were mostly a direct result of decisions she had made and the consequences of her actions.
Korra felt as though the wind had been suddenly and completely let out of her sails. She slumped in her chair, all the fight leaving her in a rush.
“I…I don’t know.” Korra said, her voice cracking in defeat.
“Everything is so messed up. And it’s all my fault.”
Su nodded in understanding and leaned forward, her elbows resting on her knees.
“Yes. Things are definitely a little shaky right now. But why do you think it’s your fault?”
Korra shrugged, letting out a dejected sigh.
“Its my job as the Avatar to maintain balance in the world. But right now, things are worse than they’ve been since before the end of the war.”
Korra briefly recalled a conversation she had had with Tenzin in which she had said something very similar. She recalled feeling much better with the reminder of all the good that had come of the mess, including the revival of the airbenders, but that was before the earth queen had died and the earth kingdom had been thrown into chaos. It was before she had learned of the red lotus and the extent of their influence, and before her fight with the anarchists had left her a broken shell of the strong woman she had once been.
She looked at Su, fully expecting her to disagree and start siting all of the good things that had come from Korra’s actions. Instead, Su gently leaned forward and grasped one of Korra’s hands between hers.
“I’m not going to lie to you Korra. Things are pretty bad. And while its not necessarily your fault, you were definitely directly involved in most of it.”
Korra frowned angrily, and tried to pull her hand from the other woman’s grasp. However, Su tightened her grip and didn’t let go.
“But, things have been out of balance for a very long time. Aang and his friends did an amazing job putting the world back on course, but true balance and peace was still far from achieved.”
Korra stared with sightless eyes at the ground, feeling too upset to meet Su’s gaze.
“Change is never easy. It’s hard and uncomfortable, and easily indistinguishable from complete and utter chaos. That’s what’s going on right now. Both in the world, and for you. I know everything feels hopeless and bleak, but that’s just because right now, we’re in the absolute thick of it. Change itself is never a bad thing. Without change, there can’t be growth. Without growth, there can’t be improvement. Without change, balance can not be found or maintained.”
Su paused, and dipped her head, trying to meet Korra’s eyes with her own. She waited patiently until Korra cautiously looked up.
“Right now, you are broken. You can look at your situation and be mad and resentful and bitter with the cards you have been dealt. Or, you can take this amazing opportunity to rebuild yourself into something stronger than what you were before. Now I cant tell you how to do this. No one can. But I do know from personal experience that it starts with letting go of what you think everyone else expects of you, and decide on goals for yourself. As the Avatar, it’s your duty to help maintain balance in the world. To do that, you need to learn how to maintain balance within yourself. Make peace with yourself and who you are in this moment right now.”
Korra sat in silence, letting Su’s words wash over her in a gentle wave. She had never considered looking at her situation in this light. She had been so wrapped up all the negative things going on both within her body and the world around her that it seemed impossible to consider anything positive may be occurring.
Rebuild herself. What would that even look like?
Korra felt as her fingers where gently squeezed and looked up as Su stood.
“Focus on what you want and need; what makes you feel happy and whole. Just think about it. Right now, you have a healing session you need to get to.”
* * *
Su had taken her to an acupuncturist she had brought with her from Zaofu and though she didn’t physically feel much different, her mind felt clearer than it had in a long time. Afterwards, Su and the gentle therapist had conversed in hushed tones, though Korra was too wrapped up in her own thoughts to care too much about what they were saying.
The sound of footsteps echoing hollowly on the stone floor broke Korra out of her silent reverie. Looking up, she saw Su walking towards her, a guarded yet hopeful expression on her face. Once she reached where Korra was perched, she bent the stone up into a bench beneath her with a casual flick of her wrist, and sat down.
“Korra. I want to ask you a few questions.”
Korra immediately tensed up, expecting another emotional onslaught like the one Su had subjected her to earlier. While Korra was grateful for the insight, she didn’t think she was emotionally able to handle any more life lessons to ‘think about’ right then.
Su smiled and raised both her hands shaking her head, obviously guessing at what Korra was thinking.
“No. No. Nothing like that. I won’t dump anymore like that on you. I want to ask you about how you’ve physically been doing.”
“Oh” Korra said, relaxing back into her chair.
“Ok. What do you want to know?”
“I know you said earlier that you didn’t feel as though you were getting any better. Can you tell me why? Have you truly had no progress?”
Korra shook her head, recalling with vivid clarity how just that morning her legs had seized up with incredible pain upon bearing her weight for only a few seconds.
“No. None. Sometimes my arms don’t feel as bad, but my legs and back hurt as badly as they did when the poison was still in me. Its like my muscles are so thin and weak that they tear whenever I even think about using them.”
Su pinched her brows in thought and rested her chin in her hand, absent-mindedly tapping her cheek with her finger.
“And it hasn’t gotten any better?”
“No” Korra responded without hesitation.
“I want to try something.” Su said, pushing herself off her makeshift bench. She walked over so she was standing directly in front of Korra and crouched down, gently placing both her hands around one of Korra’s calves.
Korra watched with rapt attention as Su slowly moved her hands up and down, her face scrunched in concentration. After a moment, she grunted, lowering her hands to the ground to push herself back up. Korra tried to be patient, but when Su didn’t immediately say anything, she couldn’t help herself.
“What? What did you feel?”
Su sat back down on the bench and took a deep breath.
“I think there’s a good chance there’s still some of the poison in your system.”
Korra jumped in surprise. Su saw Korra’s panicked expression, and raised her arms in a calming gesture.
“Not enough to kill you. But I think some has settled deep into the larger muscles in your legs and back. I can’t tell for sure, but I’m pretty sure I felt…something”.
When Su didn’t continue, Korra leaned forward, eager and more hopeful than she had felt in weeks.
“Do you think you can do something about it?”
Korra could hear the desperation in her voice, but didn’t care. Su had just offered her the first real glimpse of a light at the end of the tunnel. She had the ghostly thought that it would be unwise to let her get her hopes up too much, but was unable to heed the advice. Su’s hypothesis just made too much sense. The best healers in the world had treated her regularly, and nothing had worked. She had felt the poison rip its way through her muscles into her blood stream when Zaheer had his fellow red lotus member bend it into her skin. It made sense that maybe Su hadn’t been able to get it all out that first time.
“I think so, but I’m going to need some help. To be able to manipulate metal in the minute quantities we’re dealing with here, we’re going to need a true master of the element.”
“Do you think Lin could help?”
Su shook her head.
“I think it’s time my mother called an end to her travels and came home.”
Korra blinked in surprise.
“Toph? You think Toph can help?”
Of course the idea made perfect sense. Who could do better at manipulating the tiny amount of metal in her system than the woman who had discovered the ability to do so in the first place?
“If anyone can, it will be my mother. I’ll do my best to reach her. In the mean time, I want you to think about what we talked about earlier. Just because we may have a handle on how to fix your body doesn’t mean you still don’t need to work on everything else.”
Before Korra could answer, Su stood and waved over an air acolyte whom had just been passing in front of them.
“Can you please escort the Avatar wherever she would like?”
The acolyte bowed and walked over, grasping Korra’s handles. Su placed a comforting hand on Korra’s shoulder.
“We’ll do our part Korra. You focus on yours.”
Korra nodded, and watched the metal bender walk away.
“Where would you like to go Avatar Korra?” the acolyte gently asked from behind her.
All Korra wanted was a quiet and peaceful place to think, and knew of one place that would help.
“Can you take me to the docks please? I’d like to be near the ocean right now if that’s alright.”
The acolyte nodded, and turned her around.
* * *
When Korra was close enough to smell the fresh bite of the ocean air and feel the cool mist on her face, she felt immensely better. Being next to water always had that effect on her. Korra replayed Su’s words over and over in her head. The idea that she would actually be pain free was incredible. Her body had become a useless shell, and the idea of being free from her current limitations made Korra light headed. Her mind immediately raced with what she would do once she could move about freely, but along with the ponderings, Su’s message from the morning drifted to the surface. The metal bender had been right. Korra’s broken body was only half of the problem. She still had no idea what she was going to do once she was better.
She thought about the questions Su had asked her earlier.
What did she need? What made her happy?
Ever since she had arrived in Republic city, her wants and needs had taken a back seat to whatever crisis was occurring. Her life had become one giant reaction to whatever it was that was going on. Moments in which she had felt truly happy and at ease were far and few between.
Her first thoughts were of when she had met Mako and Bolin and was competing with them in pro-bending. When she was competing with the brothers, she didn’t feel like the Avatar with the weight of the world resting on her shoulders. She felt like a regular teenager having a good time with friends. After the equalist movement had called a sudden halt to her pro-bending career, that feeling had become less and less frequent. Her defeat of Amon had altered how everyone treated her. Everyone respected her as a fully realized Avatar, which was great, but they also seemed to forget that she was also just a teenaged girl. Everyone always seemed to want and need something from her.
Well…almost everyone. The only person that hadn’t really treated her any differently was Asami. When she was with Asami, she didn’t feel like the Avatar. Asami didn’t look at Korra with the expectation that she would have all the answers, or solve all her problems. If Korra didn’t know what to do, Asami was the only one who consistently made her feel like everything was ok and would work out in the end. The more Korra thought about it, she realized she couldn’t recall one time in which Asami had complained or asked Korra for anything. The revelation made Korra frown.
Asami had nearly lost everything. Her mother was dead, her father had tried to kill her, and at one point even the legacy of her company looked like it was going to be taken away. But not once had Asami ever turned to Korra to solve her problems for her. She realized other things as well. Whenever Korra was stressed out, or having a particularly difficult time with something, Asami had readily made herself available and offered her help in whatever way she could. Whenever Korra needed to talk or wanted support, she knew she could turn to Asami. When Korra felt like the weight of her responsibilities was becoming too much and she wasn’t able to handle it anymore, Asami had been there; her own personal pillar of strength and fortitude to draw upon when she didn’t have enough on her own. When Korra’s life had completely fallen apart, Asami had stood by her side, patiently picking up and holding onto the pieces until Korra was ready and able to mend the cracks and rebuild herself.
Asami makes me happy, Korra thought with a start.
Suddenly Korra wanted more than anything to see her friend. She wanted to share her hopes at Su’s idea of how to fully heal the damage done by the poison. She wanted to confide in Asami the doubts and fears she had upon entering back into the world once she was healed and whole. She wanted to see Asami’s hopeful and warm smile, and feel her encouraging hands hold her own.
The sound of a foghorn caused Korra to look up. The ferry lazily floated its way towards the island, and she was just able to make out the distant shape of Asami’s Sato mobile parked on the deck. Korra smiled, and waited patiently for the ferry to complete its journey, rolling herself slowly over to where the carrier would eventually dock.
The boat gently bumped against the dock and the gates opened, releasing a steady stream of people from the deck. Korra smiled softly in anticipation while she waited for a glimpse of her friend. However, once she spotted her, Korra’s smile immediately turned into a frown. All of her confused feelings from the day before came crashing down as Korra watched Asami step off the boat, laughing as she steadied herself with a hand on the shoulder of a familiar tall metal bender. Asami slipped on the slick surface of the dock, and the other woman reached out and grabbed her hips, keeping Asami from falling into the water. Both burst into laughter before resuming their walk towards the shore, leaning intimately into each other’s space as they talked. Korra’s chest tightened with an unidentifiable emotion at seeing Asami laughing and smiling so freely with this other woman. Every smile…every touch…felt like a punch to her stomach.
Korra saw Asami’s eyes widen in surprise when she finally saw the Avatar. Asami glanced at the metal bender beside her for the briefest of moments, and it was only due to how well Korra knew her friend that she recognized the flash of guilt that crossed her features before the heiress was able to settle her face into a composed and friendly mask. Asami elbowed the tall woman next to her and pointed in Korra’s direction before walking with a more purposeful stride towards the wheelchair bound woman.
While the pair drew closer, Korra struggled to manage her emotions. Her heart was pounding painfully in her chest, and her thoughts flipped back and forth from happy to angry with a speed and frequency that was starting to give her a headache.
Why was this happening? What was wrong with her? So Asami was hanging out with a friend in the city all day. So what if it was a friend Korra had never heard of or seen besides yesterday. Why did that matter? By the time Asami and the metal bender had reached the end of the dock where the Avatar was seated, Korra’s temples were throbbing painfully, and her mood had settled into a deep and dark place usually reserved for mortal enemies and Tenzin enforced early morning meditations. Asami’s smile faltered when she picked up on the Avatar’s stormy countenance. She glanced from Korra to the woman next to her, and resumed her smile, but Korra could tell it was forced.
“Korra. How are you doing?”
All thoughts of the wonderful things she wanted to share with Asami were gone as Korra struggled to compose herself against the onslaught of feelings she had upon seeing her friend. She wanted more than anything for things to be as they usually were, but for some reason the tall metal bender standing to Asami’s right made that impossible.
“I’m fine”, Korra said tightly. The words were brisk and cold and once they were out, Korra resisted the urge to wince. She absolutely didn’t sound like herself. Asami looked at Korra with uncertainty. It was clear that she knew that something wasn’t quite right with her friend. Korra spared a quick glance at Asami’s tall companion. Asami followed the look, and Korra was just able to make out the slight blush that spread across her raven-haired friend’s cheeks.
“Oh. Uh…This is Kuvira. Kuvira, this is Korra. Kuvira is the commander of Su’s metal benders”. Asami feebly gestured from one woman to the other as she made the introductions. Korra gave Kuvira a curt nod, and was going to leave it at that, but the tall metal bender closed the distance between them with one large stride and held her hand out expectantly.
“Avatar Korra. It’s an honor to officially meet you. Asami has told me nothing but great things about you.”
While it was probably meant as a courteous and polite gesture, the thought of Asami talking about her with this stranger made Korra immediately bristle. She briefly considered ignoring the hand that was held out in front of her expectantly, but when she glanced up and saw Asami’s concerned and disapproving frown, changed her mind.
Fine. She would shake the damn hand. Didn’t mean she had to like it though.
She reached out, and firmly grasped the hand held in front of her, and was barely able to hold back a wince. Either Kuvira didn’t quite know the strength of her own hand, or she was trying to break Korras. Korra’s frown deepened, and she put a little more pressure into her grip. There was no way she would be able to match the strength of the metal bender in her current state, but she would do her best. Korra looked up into Kuvira’s face, fully expecting the other woman to be sneering condescendingly down at her, but the metal bender’s face was serene and peaceful. She gave one final little squeeze that Korra could was sure caused at least a fracture before letting go and resisted the urge to shake her hand out so that her fingers would retain their normal shape.
An uneasy silence settled over the trio, but Korra couldn’t find it within herself to care. Kuvira had moved back into Asami’s space and looked calm and confident, and Korra had never wanted to punch someone as badly as she did then.