“Was that a spirit?” Asami said, turning back to Korra. Her friend seemed almost as bewildered by this experience as Asami was. Although Asami had seen plenty of spirits before, she’d never been able to pick up on any rhyme or reason to their appearances. This certainly made it hard to say that something couldn’t be a spirit. Something had felt lacking in this creature though.
“Umm… I think. Kind of,” Korra said. Her eyes were still focused on where the creature had been, and it took her a minute before she looked over at Asami. “It was caused by a spirit, at least. This ‘Sheng’. Master Sheng.” Korra’s eyes darted to each side. Asami followed her gaze, but she didn’t spot anything unusual. Or at least, more unusual than was usual here. “We should be polite. Just in case.”
Asami had gotten the full briefing on dangerous spirits from Korra before they’d entered the spirit world, which had basically boiled down to: If it looked dangerous, it was probably dangerous. If it had a unique name, there were probably unique rules. Since Raava had won in the last Harmonic Convergence, things were mostly peaceful in the spirit world and most spirits were showing their good sides. Only some ancient spirits, as powerful as Raava or more so, were immune to this effect.
“Is Master Sheng one of these ancient spirits you mentioned to me?” Asami asked.
“That’s my guess,” Korra said, nodding at Asami. After a moment, she let out a breath and seemed to relax a bit. “I still don’t feel any spirits around us, and I didn’t while that… thing was here. So I’m guessing he’s something old with a long reach. Probably not one of the more dangerous ones, or I’m sure I’d have heard of him by now. It wouldn’t be a good idea to ignore his invitation though.”
Asami gave a slight shrug. “It should be interesting. I wanted to experience the spirit world, after all. Maybe I should consider myself lucky to get to meet a spirit like him. Maybe I can even get him to think of me as something other than the ‘companion to the Avatar,’ or whatever his exact words were.”
Korra let out a laugh at this. “Yeah. I really don’t think that title will catch on for you. We’ll need something better.” Korra’s eyes narrowed, and Asami caught a slight spark within them. “The Avatar’s Right Hand, perhaps?” she said, her eyebrow rising as she spoke.
Asami’s eyes narrowed. Korra couldn’t possibly think that would do. “Perhaps not,” she said. As she tried to find the right words to say next, the moment passed her by, and Korra let out a scoff.
“Fine, you win,” Korra said. “I can be your right hand if you want.”
This got Asami to grin. “Thank you, but I have a much more interesting role in mind for you,” she said, giving Korra a quick wink. “How about…” The words were coming so easily to Asami right now that she wasn’t even thinking as they came out, until she got to this particular part. But then her heart seemed to leap up into her throat, preventing any further words from coming out.
After a few moments, Asami felt Korra’s hand on her own. She looked up and met her friend’s gaze, and the soft affection she sensed there seemed to cause her heart to melt into her chest. “How about we figure that out one moment at a time?” Korra said, giving Asami’s hand a soft squeeze.
Asami’s sudden silence had caught Korra off-guard, but she wasn’t going to let it show. She couldn’t remember the last time Asami had been at a loss for words. It was actually flattering, in a way. At least, that was the way Korra had decided to interpret it. Besides, the expression on Asami’s face just now was beautiful beyond words. Korra would have easily felt the same way if she’d been asked to explain her own feelings for Asami at the moment.
After a minute, Korra held Asami’s hand in hers and stood up. “Come,” she said. “I saw one of your memories. It’s only fair that you see one of mine.”
Asami’s eyes widened, almost imperceptibly, but she did stand up. “That’s alright, Korra, you don’t have to show me anything,” she said. Korra began walking back toward the tree as Asami spoke, and despite her words, her friend didn’t actually put up any resistance to following her. “Do you even know if it will work again?”
“Nope,” Korra said. Without a further thought, she stopped at the base of the tree and held their hands up toward the trunk. She paused before touching the tree, looking over at Asami. After a moment, Asami let out a sigh and moved to wrap her hand around Korra’s wrist, just as Korra had held hers previously. With a smile, Korra touched her hand to the tree.
It had felt like a lifetime since she’d last seen Mako, which was probably quite an apt way to put it. After being attacked by a dark spirit, being brought back from the brink of death without any memories, and then slowly regaining them as she learned the history of Avatar Wan, Korra truly did feel like she’d been through a lifetime. But now at least, she once more knew who she was, and it was all she could do to hold herself back as Mako accepted Lin Beifong’s implicit apology.
And then, for just a moment, his gaze crossed hers, and she couldn’t wait any longer. Korra dashed ahead, wrapping her arms around Mako. She spent a precious moment feeling his presence before she pulled back, adjusting her head so she could steal a brief kiss from his lips. In the moment, she wasn’t particularly in tune with Mako’s state of mind, and so she’d completely missed how tense he was during the kiss.
Korra pulled back, and she looked into Mako’s eyes as she said, “Mako, I missed you so much.” The room was silent for a minute. Korra only had eyes for Mako though, and he simply seemed confused right now.
“Oh, did I forget to tell you?” Bolin said from beside Mako, finally breaking the silence. He held out an arm toward Korra. “Korra’s back!” Well, that certainly explained Mako’s confusion then. He was still catching up with things after getting out of his cell.
Mako seemed to relax, just a little. “Korra... hey, I missed you, too. So, you're not still mad at me?”
“Why would I be mad?” Korra replied.
“We had that fight before you left… remember?” Mako said.
“No, not really,” Korra said. Searching her memory, she could remember leaving, but not any of the specifics surrounding it. “I got attacked by a dark spirit and I lost my memory for a little while. Maybe it hasn't all come back yet. Was it a bad fight?”
Mako seemed to tense up as he considered this. “Umm… uh… no, no. It wasn’t that bad,” he said. His eyes weren’t meeting Korra’s as he said this, switching between looking up, looking just below her eyes, and looking off to Korra’s right. Even then, Korra wasn’t entirely buying it.
Korra’s eyes widened as the memory faded. There was a particular reason Mako had kept glancing to the right as he lied about his and Korra’s fight: That was where Asami was standing. She’d been watching and listening the whole time, as Korra unknowingly stole Mako away from her, and Mako lied his way back into a relationship with Korra. And right now, Asami had just been forced to go through it all again.
Korra quickly looked over at Asami. “Asami, I’m sorry. I figured it would be with my parents or something, not like…”
Asami quickly shook her head. “No, it’s fine,” she said. “That’s not your fault. You did nothing wrong, now or then.” Asami gave Korra a smile, but it was quite obviously forced.
As Korra saw it, there were plenty of reasons for Asami to be unsettled right now, but certainly no reasons she should be smiling. Korra adjusted her hand so she could take Asami’s hand in hers once more, and she gave it a squeeze. Now, she just had to figure out which part of this was bothering Asami more - was it experiencing that kiss with Mako through Korra’s perspective, or was it the fact that she had to re-experience Mako’s betrayal of her?
Her instincts told her it was the latter. That would certainly have hit Korra harder. Korra pulled her arm back from the tree, and she moved her other hand in so that she could hold Asami’s hand in both of hers. “I blame Mako, personally,” she said, smiling a bit as she tried to lighten the mood. “You with me on that?”
Asami let out a light chuckle, and her smile seemed to get just a bit more genuine. “Thanks, Korra,” she said. She slowly shook her head, and her gaze fell downward. “But I really should have known better than to get involved with Mako at that time. It was my own fault I ended up getting hurt then.”
“What? No,” Korra said. “Even if you forget about his relationship with you right then, Mako screwed up. He should have told me about our break-up. Not that I’m still mad at him about it, but there’s no way you were the one most at fault there.”
Asami was silent for a long minute, but she did seem to be relaxing. Her eyes finally rose up to meet Korra’s, and she said, “You’re right.”
There still seemed to be some reservation in Asami’s voice, but it was probably about as much good as Korra was going to be able to do for now. Korra smiled at her friend, hoping her smile could be a bit infectious and help a little more. “Alright, let’s get away from this tree,” she said. “I think we’ve had enough of old memories for one day.”
There were many things that impressed Asami about Korra, but right now her ability to ease Asami’s mind in a matter of minutes was chief among them. It started with just a few reassuring words, but then Korra quite literally pulled Asami away from the source of her present worries. “Um, Korra?” Asami said as her friend led her by the hand away from the tree and toward the nearby range of blue-white mountains. “Where are we going?”
“Exploring,” Korra said simply. She glanced back at Asami, an excited grin having spread across her face. “I want to see what’s on the other side of these mountains. And perhaps we can find a good place to set up camp for the night.”
Asami couldn’t help but smile back at Korra, though she did find herself struggling a bit to keep up with her friend’s pace. “Sounds good to me. You can let go of my hand now, you know.”
“I know,” Korra said, though her hand remained firmly latched onto Asami’s. She did thankfully slow down just a bit so that she wasn’t so much dragging Asami toward the mountains as leading her there.
Asami nearly rolled her eyes at this. Then she nearly sighed. In the end, she smiled. If Korra was that attached to her hand, she wasn’t going to complain. She might look for a way to take advantage of it, though.
The question was, just what to do to take such advantage? Well, it helped keep Korra close to her. That was a given. It also gave Asami a perfect excuse to steal glances at Korra’s hand and arm. As she found herself doing this, Asami made a mental note to see about giving Korra’s hand some closer attention once they’d set up camp for the night. Something told her that Korra’s bending practice would have made her quite in tune with her hands, and so there might be a certain interesting sensitivity there to the right sort of touch.
As it turned out, Asami couldn’t quite wait until they’d found a campsite, or even until they’d reached the mountains. Once she was able to get her grip just right, she found her thumb idly circling around the back of Korra’s hand. Asami did spot one curious glance from Korra, though as it was paired with a slight smile, it certainly did nothing to get her to stop.
What did get her to stop was when her boot came into sudden contact with a rock sticking out of the ground, which she’d managed to completely miss while she was focusing on Korra’s hand. In a moment, her mind shifted into combat mode, ready to save herself from an embarrassing fall. She took in her current position, Korra’s position, and what she could tell of the terrain beneath her feet, and determined exactly what she needed to do to keep from falling.
Then she ignored that plan and let herself fall anyway. Her plan would have involved an uncomfortable and possibly overbalancing tug on Korra’s arm, and so she’d discarded it almost as soon as she’d come up with it. Korra could probably have handled it, but it was too late for that now. Asami’s shin came down on the rock she’d tripped on, the edge of it cutting into her flesh and sending a flash of pain through Asami’s leg.
“Asami?” Korra said. In the edge of her vision, Asami caught sight of Korra spinning in place. Before Asami was even able to bring her hand to the ground to catch herself, Korra had managed to airbend a gust of wind to cushion Asami’s fall.
Mentally cursing herself for her earlier idiocy - of course Korra would have been able to handle a simple tug on her arm - Asami placed her hand against the ground so she could support herself. “I’m… alright,” she said. She began pushing herself back to her feet as she said, “Thank you, Kor-” Asami winced slightly as she put weight on her injured leg. It wasn’t too bad right now, but it certainly was painful. “-ra,” she finished.
“Sit down,” Korra said. “Let me handle this.”
Letting out a soft sigh and smiling softly, Asami acquiesced and sat down, making sure she found a safer spot than where she’d just stumbled. There was no point trying to act strong right now, particularly around Korra. Asami was about to pull up her pant leg herself to inspect the injury, but Korra ended up taking over.
Korra sat down cross-legged in front of Asami, and she brought Asami’s foot up onto her lap. Korra unbuckled Asami’s boot and pulled it off. Asami almost began to speak, to let Korra know the injury was closer to her knee and that was unnecessary, but she found herself biting her tongue when she felt Korra’s fingers trailing along her ankle as her boot came off. It would make it a little bit easier to pull up her pant leg, after all.
A moment later, Korra pushed up Asami’s pant leg, and there was a brief flash of concern on her face. It quickly faded though. “Ah, this isn’t bad,” she said. “A bit of a cut and bruise, but I don’t think the bone’s damaged.” Holding the pant leg up with one hand, Korra pulled out her canteen and bent some water onto the wound. Asami soon felt a soothing warmth where she’d been injured, and she let out a soft hum.
“Mm, thank you, Korra,” Asami said, smiling at her friend. As Korra put her canteen away, Asami pulled her pant leg back down and replaced her boot. As she looked back up, she found her gaze suddenly meeting Korra’s. Her friend’s soft gaze caused Asami’s heartbeat to pick up. The moment seemed to linger, and Asami felt herself being pulled toward Korra’s face. This was a perfect opportunity.
Asami began to lean forward, her eyes focused on Korra’s lips. She watched for any sign of hesitance or nervousness, but she saw none. She even saw Korra tilt her head just slightly so their noses wouldn’t bump together. It should have been easy. It should have been perfect. She’d made moves in the past with far less of an invitation.
Just as Asami felt like she’d gotten up the courage to make a move, her mind flashed back to the first time she’d kissed Mako, and then how she’d gotten her heart broken. And then it flashed to the second time she’d made a move on Mako, and how she’d once more gotten her heart broken, this time with the image fresh in mind from seeing Korra’s memory earlier.
“...Asami?” she heard Korra say.
Asami blinked, refocusing on her friend. “Ah, um… I’m sorry,” she met Korra’s gaze. Her mind went into a brief panic, worried about ruining this in some way. She couldn’t let Korra think she wasn’t interested. She had to… Well, she had to tell the truth. With a resigned expression, Asami said, “I just flashed to that memory from earlier. I suppose it threw me off.”
Korra’s eyes widened just a bit. She gave a sympathetic - and perhaps slightly disappointed - smile as she leaned back. “Right. That. Yeah. Not a good reminder right now. Alright,” she said. She pushed herself back up to her feet, then reached a hand down toward Asami. “Let’s see what we can do to put some better thoughts in your mind. I definitely don’t want you thinking of Mako the whole time we’re here.”
“Good idea,” Asami said as she took Korra’s hand. “The sooner the better.” After missing that opportunity, she wasn’t planning to let another pass her by. She just had to make sure she was thinking only of Korra during their first kiss.
As they resumed their hike into the mountains, Korra began talking with Asami of her previous trips to the spirit world. Asami listened intently, trying to picture some of the spirits Korra was describing. Chances were though, she was completely off in her mental images of them. She’d really have to see them herself while she was here.
“Huh…” Korra said as they turned down a path into the mountains. There were plenty more up ahead, with no end in sight. “It looks like we might have a bit of a walk in front of us if we want to get anywhere new.”
Asami nodded. “It’s getting darker, as well. Perhaps it’s time to set up camp for the night.”
“I think it’s just because we’re in the mountain’s shadow here,” Korra said. “The spirit world doesn’t seem to have a normal day and night cycle.” Korra continued walking down the path, and a yawn soon overtook her. “Er… I guess it is pretty late for us, though.”
Asami chuckled at this display from Korra. That was true. They’d left in the middle of the night, so they were already pushing into the early hours of the morning by now. “I think I see a good spot up ahead for camp,” she said, pointing to a relatively flat patch of ground a ways up the trail. “How about we settle in there?”
“Yeah… I guess,” Korra said, glancing quickly at Asami. “Actually…” Korra paused in her step, looking over at the mountain to their side.
“Unless you plan to bring in some of the soil,” Asami said, catching on to what Korra was planning, “I don’t think an earthbent cave will be quite as comfortable as that clearing. And I think that clearing’s the nearest place to get any soil in any case.”
“Oh. Right,” Korra said, her shoulders dropping an inch. She stared at the mountain a moment longer, then let out a grunt. “Tch, how is it even the Avatar can’t bend a decent bed?”
“Yes. Bedbending is certainly the Avatar’s biggest weakness,” Asami said with a smirk. “We just have to hope you never have to face off against a gang of criminals who only need a good night’s sleep. Who knows what you’d do then.”
Korra rolled her eyes and let out a brief chuckle. She followed Asami toward the clearing, where Asami took off her pack and began to set things up for them. She didn’t bother with a tent tonight, instead simply unrolling the sleeping bags they’d brought along while Korra inflated their pillows with her airbending. In a matter of minutes, they were set up.
As soon as her sleeping bag was ready, Korra practically collapsed into it, not even bothering to change into some more comfortable clothes first. She rolled over onto her back and said, “What are you waiting for?” as she patted the bag beside her. With a chuckle, Asami knelt down and joined her friend. She didn’t quite make it into her sleeping bag, though. Instead, she simply entwined her hand with Korra’s and lay next to her friend. Gazing at Korra’s face, Asami smiled as she let herself drift off into sleep.
The flurry of words finally seemed to abate, at last allowing Sheng a chance to relax and focus on his preparations for the Avatar’s visit. At the rate the Avatar and her companion were making progress, it would still be quite some time before they arrived. Perhaps he could find a way to help make their passage easier. They did seem to be taking the long way around. Perhaps there was something about the soil near them that they didn’t like traveling through? Well, that was easy enough to solve. If they preferred air, Sheng knew some spirits who could help.
Some time later, the words resumed, but with a much more pleasant aura to them this time. What was the word humans used for this…? Ah yes, “dreams.” This was a much more pleasant background sound. It had been quite some time since he’d last heard dreamed words like this. Sheng found himself tempted to listen in to the actual content of the words. Perhaps now that he could stand to do so, he could gain insight into what was causing such strife while the humans were awake.
But he couldn’t. It wasn’t proper to listen in on one’s neighbors, no matter how noisy they were being, or how much that noise was interrupting Sheng’s routine. There were other options, though.
Korra awoke to a pleasant warmth enveloping her. At some point during the night, it seemed that Asami had wrapped her arms around her. Well, this was certainly a nice way to wake up. Humming, Korra let a small grin cross her face. Judging by her breathing, Asami was already awake, but she hadn’t moved away yet. Perhaps it was time to have some fun.
“Mm… that’s nice…” Korra muttered softly, as if she were speaking in her sleep. She felt Asami move slightly, but she heard nothing from her friend just yet. After a moment, she continued, “I know… c’mon, Naga…” Korra counted out the seconds in her head. Five seconds, just long enough that Asami wouldn’t cut in, but long enough for her to process it, and then Korra finished, “Later, Naga… with Asami now. Asami first, then you…”
Korra felt a brief motion from Asami’s chest as her friend let out a light chuckle, and then she felt her shoulder being slapped playfully. Okay, the jig was up.
Chuckling a bit, Korra pulled back and turned her head upward. She blinked her eyes open sleepily, focusing on Asami’s face. “Oh, morning Asami,” Korra said, as if she were just waking up right now. “Sleep well?”
Asami gave Korra a look that made it clear she wasn’t buying it. “------------,” Asami said. Korra blinked, adjusting her head. She must have missed that. “--------------…” Asami’s eyes widened. “-----!” she tried to say. Her lips were mouthing words, but Korra couldn’t hear anything, and apparently she wasn’t the only one.
“...Asami?” Korra said, her eyes widening. Her heart rate picked up as her mind ran through every spirit she knew of, trying to think of one who could have done this. She couldn’t think of any, but maybe there was one she didn’t know enough about. There had to be a way out of this. There was no way this could be happening, or at least no way it could be permanent. “Okay okay, I’m sorry about my joke,” Korra said, hoping against hope it was just a trick. “You fooled me, okay? You can start talking again…. please?”
Asami’s eyes gave the truth away. She slowly shook her head. This was real. But Korra wasn’t going to let it be permanent, whatever it took.