Asami can feel that it's not the end. But, that doesn't mean that she can't see it from there.
Part 4 - Faith and Pragmatism
Section 5: "The Edge"
Asami leaned out over the palace balcony in the freezing cold; unmoved by the strong cross winds that blew through her hair every so often. The night sky was clear and the spirits somberly danced through the southern lights. She wiped her puffy red eyes with her gloves and stared off into flickering lights of the city.
She heard Korra approach, the sound of her boots walking across the smooth floor unmistakeable. She stole a glance at her and immediately regretted it. There she was, concerned, hurt and determined to do...something with that new waterskin of hers, which was odd for a number of reasons.
"Hey," whispered Asami, looking back over the tribe.
Korra leaned on the railing beside her. "Hey."
Asami bit her lip, stopping herself from launching in too soon. Maybe it was a bad idea. Maybe they could just wait until she truly was ready, instead of being forced into...that. But, one more look at Korra told her that if they didn't work through it, and work through it now, it would only hurt them more.
"I forgot how beautiful the Southern Lights were," said Asami. She rubbed her hands together. "Its calming. I don't know if its the colors, or another kind of...sympathetic spiritual energy, but its peaceful. Almost like I was drawn to it.
Korra stole a glance at Asami. "I used to do the same thing when I couldn't sleep." She looked up at the lights. "Sit here and try to figure everything out; because I got it in my head that the spirits would know what to do."
"But they didn't. Wasted effort."
"I wouldn't call it wasted effort. I still tried. I never gave up. Sometimes, that's all we can do. Just keep moving forward."
Asami huffed. "And sometimes we can't even do that. We just keep moving further and further away from where we should be until we're so lost that there's no way back."
"There's always a way back," she said without hesitation.
"There is always a way back. Might take a while, but there's always a way."
Asami slouched further over the balcony with a sigh. "Yeah. Maybe."
Korra extended her hand. "Come on. Let's go for a walk."
Asami glanced down at her hand sidelong, frowning. "I'm not running away from this, Korra. Not again."
"We're not running, I promise. I want to show you something."
Asami didn't understand. It was just a cliff side overlooking a barren expanse of snow that seemed to go on forever. There was nothing special, noteworthy or significant about it. It was just a cliff and a clearing. And lots of snow.
It was a relatively short walk from the palace, and it struck Asami as odd that they didn't just take Naga. But then, perhaps that was for the best. Naga would be...distracting. Too therapeutic and calming for what...might come to pass.
Korra loosened the strap on her waterskin and slipped out of it. "Took me a year and a half to run again, you know." She wrapped the belt around furred bladder very meticulously with an intense look in her eyes, until it was 'just so'.
Asami nodded solemnly and stared out over the cliff.
"Problem was, if I left the palace, people would just stare. And I hated that. Hated a lot of things while I was trapped here, but for that year and a half it was just...festering. I didn't have a way to let it out." She handed the waterskin to Asami. "Can you hold this for me?"
"Sure." Asami perked up and took the skin, inspecting it a little more closely. Nope. Nothing special about it. Just a hollow striped fur with a strap.
"Thanks." Korra closed her eyes and her...breathing changed. It was more cyclical. More controlled. Hotter. "So, first day I can run, I sprint. I run as far as I can before my legs start to hurt, and I end up right here." She pointed to the ground. "I'm exhausted, physically, but I can still feel all of this rage, hatred and pain swirling around in my stomach. What do you think I did, then?" she asked, turning toward her.
Asami blinked, remembering. "...you firebent," she said softly.
"Yeah. " Korra waved her arms close to her, rotating her forearms in a small circle near her chest. She pushed forward and fire flowed out of her hands in perfect time with her breath, the calm red flames reaching out over the cliff. "Not like that, though. Sloppier. Angrier. Painful."
Korra's eyes grew dark and her breathing changed again. It was forceful, then. Almost erratic. She threw her entire body into a series of punches and enormous plumes of fire out of her fists, illuminating the cliffside.
Asami's eyes widened a little. The disparity between the two instances was...disconcerting. One was almost beautiful, while the other was more like a house fire. Which she was, unfortunately, a bit of an expert on. "Where are you going with this? I thought we were going to talk."
Korra frowned and her shoulders tightened. "We are, and we will. I'm trying to make a point. Show you how I'm feeling, because words are really escaping me right now, okay?" she said, with more than a twinge of hostility. She raised her palm. "Now, stand back a little.".
Asami did so without question, holding the waterskin a little tighter. There was...what was the point? Passion, rage and---oh. It took quite a bit of willpower not to just look away.
Korra knelt, brought her fists together on an angle, and violently thrusted them forward. Massive stream after stream of screeching flames erupted out of her fists, lighting up the night sky as bright as day. She roared and stained the clouds red as fire spewed out of her mouth. "That is how you made me feel," she seethed, glaring out over the cliff. In a few moments, her breathing returned to normal and her eyes did as well. No hatred; no darkness. "It's hard to put into words, and I'm not always the best at that. Pain's a source, too, so I thought, maybe..."
Asami swallowed and took a few steps closer. "I didn't..." Her eyes wavered. Pain as fuel? Hurting her far more than being crippled did---why was she even there? Still? After all of that, it was complete insanity. "I knew I hurt you, but this---" She scowled dug her boots into the snow. "I don't get it! I don't understand, okay?! I don't understand you!"
Asami bristled largely and puffed air out of her nose. "I threaten to poison you, because I was a stubborn idiot who couldn't understand that my own father was truly gone, and you just stand there, cry for a few seconds, and then start spewing terrifyingly accurate words of compassion like all I did was..." She violently whipped the waterskin back at her. "Throw a telephone at you!"
Korra looked at her incredulously, flipping between Asami and the waterskin multiple times. "How else was I supposed to react? And why are you angry?"
"Angry? I'm livid! I'm livid because I was too much of an idiot to keep my damn mouth shut!" She raked her hands through her hair. "I'm livid because I hate myself!"
"What? Why do---"
"Because I ruined us!" she yelled, the words hurting her all the more as soon as they left her mouth and froze in the frigid air. Never voiced it. Never internalized it. It was just something she knew. "I ruined what we had, or could have had---I don't know. I soiled it and I don't think I can forgive myself---"
Korra pulled her into a desperately tight hug. Asami hugged her back, but couldn't find any peace in it. None of the warmth and serenity she normally experienced. Just...it was an empty hug, and the hollowness of it made her wince internally.
"You didn't ruin us," Korra said with complete confidence, as if it were an unchanging fact of life. "Please get that thought out of your head, okay? That's not what I wanted when we came down here. I know we're in a weird place right now..." She stroked her hair with one hand and rubbed her back with the other. "...but we're going to get through it."
"You can't know that," she said tentatively.
"I don't care. We will because we want to."
"It's not even a weird place. I hurt you once like this, which means I'm capable of doing it happen again. I just..." She choked back a sob. "Why didn't you leave. Why didn't you leave me?" she blurted, her puffy eyes brewing with tears. "Why didn't you turn around and walk out the door?"
Korra shook her head and held her tighter. "I could never do that."
"But you should have. Any sensible person would have."
"Then I guess I'm not very sensible. Asami, I don't leave people like that. I don't walk away. That's..." She grunted. "It's not---that was never an option. I've never considered it. Never even toyed with the idea. It's just not me. I don't do that. Never have, never will."
Asami scrunched her eyes shut and lost what little of her self restraint she had left, finally allowing herself to cry. She sobbed softly and bit her lip, forcing her mind as clear of clutter as she could. "What if I hurt you like that again? What then?"
"You won't," she said firmly, with no room for debate. "And I can prove it. It's why we're out here in the first place."
Asami wiped her eyes dry and pulled back. "Okay. How?" she asked, her voice soft and a little drained.
"We have to put out the fire." Korra gently handed her the waterskin. "Heal the wound. Wash the pain away."
Asami stared down at it. "I'm not a healer, Korra."
"You don't need to be." She took Asami's hand and pressed it against her own breast, right above her heart. "It just has to be you to fix this."
Asami focused on the calm rhythm of Korra's heartbeat and became very much aware of the gears spinning faster and faster in the back of her head. She could fix anything. This was a problem, thus she had to fix it. Retrofit it into something new. Something stronger and better than it was before. But without changing too much. A complete upgrade would defeat the point entirely, and on the opposite side of the spectrum, repairing it would be a temporary fix at best.
"All right," said Asami. Her breath evened out back to normal levels and she reclaimed her hand. "Where do I get started?"
Korra smiled, but only a little. "Right here," she said, pointing to the snow on the ground.
Asami raised a brow. "...you want me to build a snow house? Because I don't know how to do that."
"Uh, no. We're going to fill that waterskin, and we're going to do it right." She knelt down on one knee and brushed her hand through the snow. "Add some of the snow around us to it."
Asami nodded and quickly started scooping up snow with the open neck of the skin. Korra grabbed her hand once it was about a fourth of the way full.
"Don't fill it. We have to balance it with positive and negative snow."
Asami couldn't help but snicker.
"Oh, okay that does sort of sound silly out loud, but trust me, this is how it's done! Sort of." She rubbed the back of her neck. "It's how it used to be done, but not by everybody. It's this really old tradition Katara taught me when I was a kid. And she heard about it from her grandmother."
Asami corked the waterskin and rose back to her feet. "Is this why you always cut the conversation short when I try to bring up waterskins?"
"Yeah. I just...I don't know, it's not really a thing people do anymore, but I always loved the idea of it. It's really romantic and intimate, and I didn't want to bring it up until I was sure that...well, that you'd want to do it with me."
Asami pulled Korra up to her feet. "Do what? I'd appreciate a little clarity on this."
Korra chuckled awkwardly. "Ah! Right, yeah, that would help." She cleared her throat. "Well, as I understand it, the idea is to keep a little piece of home with you, wherever you go. Centuries ago, when the Water Tribes were first starting to really have more consistent contact with the other nations, a lot of us traveled from town to town along the north and south coastlines of the mainlands. Most of them were waterbenders, so naturally they carried waterskins."
Korra smoothly bent a ring of water into the air, melted from the snow, and kept it spinning. "Problem was, they'd be gone for months, and oftentimes years at a time. Away from their tribesmen and family. So, somebody got it in their head to...make water more important." She waterbent another ring around the same point, at an angle so that they never touched.
"You attach memories to it. Scents, sounds, people, emotions. Everything. You go from place to place until it's full of positive and negative. Positive for the good times. Laughter, triumph, family, love..." Korra bent a third and fourth water ring in the same manner as before. "Negative for the bad times. Pain of loss, betrayal, darkness, anger, to name a few. You have to balance them, because otherwise you're not truly waterbending. At least, not traditionally."
Asami raised her brows. Click. And then, everything made sense. "Positive and negative jing. Attacking and retreating. Redirection; the most basic principles in waterbending. And, in this case, the push and pull of the tides and moon, are symbolic of your own drive to succeed, and your desire to return home. Keeping them balanced keeps you safe."
Korra gaped and the water she was bending splattered onto the ground. "Yeah! Yes, that's exactly it! And, y'know, during the Hundred Year War, people did the same thing, because most of them would never make it back home, so in a way, by taking the water with them..." She blushed and rubbed her neck. "They never left at all."
"Korra. That's beautiful."
"You really think so?"
Asami smiled sadly and slung the waterskin over her shoulder. "I do. I'd love to do this with you."
"Well, actually, you're the one doing it. I'm just directing you toward the right patches of snow."
Asami sighed. "And this will...how did you put it? Wash the pain away?"
"It will." Korra squeezed her shoulder. "For the both of us."
Asami shivered. She remembered this cliff. The other cliff. It was the first time she'd physically been there, but she'd seen the entire ordeal in the Tree of Time, all those...months ago? Nearly a year, actually. Huh.
Korra peered out over the edge, staring off into nothing. "I don't regret considering it, you know. Used to wonder if things might've been better if I'd done it. If I hadn't backed away and just jumped." She shook her head. "Bringing the Air Nation back made everything worth it, though. I wouldn't trade that for anything."
"Yeah..." Asami frowned and scooped up some of the snow. "It's really messed up that I actually find you ending your own life, in that context, as a noble and selfless act."
Korra shrugged. "I wouldn't have been the first Avatar to do it. There was one a few thousand years ago who was permanently paralyzed after a really nasty fight, if Raava's memory serves."
"She remembers them?"
"Bits and pieces here and there. It's not a connection. Just her own memories." She sighed, putting her hands in her pockets. "She lost a lot of friends. We both did."
Asami corked the waterskin and walked up beside Korra, looking her over with concern. "You never talk about this."
"It's always gonna be hard to talk about. But it's easier here, I think. That, and I'm talking to you, which is always more manageable than, say Tenzin. 'Cause, y'know, my uncle destroyed his dad's spirit."
Asami folded her hands in front of her. "Did you ever talk to him about that?"
"No. There's no point. His father was dead long before all of this."
Korra crooked her lips to the side. "I don't mean to sound like I don't care, but we both know how that conversation would go. I'd apologize, he'd tell me it's not my fault, and it's sort of...not, so it's just not worth getting into, you know?"
Asami slowly nodded. She took Korra's hand and pulled her away from the edge of the cliff. Not that she thought she'd jump, but...why risk anything? "So. Is this a good patch of snow, or a bad one?"
"Overall?" Korra smiled nostalgically. "Good."
"Are you sure it's okay to just dunk it in?" asked Asami, looking down over Katara's glowing healing pool with quite a bit of hesitation. Surely the world's greatest healer used specifically treated water at a perfect temperature. Or something.
Korra sat down beside her. "Yeah, it's fine. Just don't fill it up."
Asami dunked the waterskin into the pool for a few seconds, allowing the air to bubble out of the pouch and replace itself with water. She pulled it out, corked it, and slung it over her shoulder. "I wonder how many people she's helped using this water..."
"Well, she recycles it several times a day, because that's a health hazard, so maybe...five, six people on a typical day? She gets more hands on for the small stuff, though."
Asami rolled her eyes. "I meant the pool in general."
"Oh! At this point, around a hundred thousand."
"Yeah. Used to sit in there for...I don't even know how long. Half a day, at least. I looked like a sea prune by the time I was able to pull myself out after a session." Korra rested her chin on her hands. "Katara always wanted me to rest while she worked. Just rest my eyes. But I couldn't do that. Legs still weren't working, so...I couldn't get the thought out of my head that I could actually drown. If I dozed off or lost focus for even a moment..." She shivered. "Have you ever heard of waterbender drowning? It's crazy."
"That's how she died. She was a waterbender, and she drowned." Asami rubbed her eyes. "We...actually have a lot more in common than I'm comfortable with. Or, well, used to be comfortable with. He's okay. He is now, at least."
"I guess you sorta do, huh." Korra hugged herself and her eyes sunk into her head. "That is absolutely terrifying. So, yeah, I developed a pretty intense fear of drowning. Now you know."
Asami rubbed Korra's back. "But you're still okay with swimming."
"Not if I'm not bending. I can't...just swim anymore. Gives me a panic attack, most of the time."
Asami shook her head, confused. "We take baths together."
Korra gave her a sad smile. "We do. And I'm always bending."
The door to the healing pool slid open, revealing a very amused looking Katara in what Asami assumed were dark blue pajamas of some sort. It was hard to tell with Water Tribe clothing. Everything just looked so similar.
"Oh! Hey, Master Katara!" fumbled Korra. "Sorry, didn't mean to wake you, but, uh, we're sort of doing the important water skin thing and needed to use the water here. Sorry."
Katara looked between the two of them, her blue eyes still full of humor, and laughed. "You two are the last people I expected to come across sneaking into this room in the middle of the night." She looked up at the open window, which they'd used as a 'door'. "But I'm glad I did," she said, smiling. "It's good to see you're doing well, Korra. You too, Asami."
Korra smiled and ran up to hug her, resting her head over her mentor's shoulder. Asami watched for a few moments, noting the change in Korra's posture and the fluidity of her physicality. She'd been stiffened by been blocks of ice frozen around her, and they'd just melted in a manner of seconds. All of that weight and relative cold detachment had vanished.
But, she'd read about that, hadn't she? Probably something about chakras. Still, it hurt quite a bit to see Korra so much more relaxed in Katara's presence than in her own. Which made sense, she supposed. She'd told her that Asami, or rather a moment they shared, had become a source of pain for her.
All the more reason to fix that.
Asami snapped back into focus and looked up at Korra. Apparently she'd zoned out and missed an entire conversation between those two. Well, she was sure to hear about it later. "Hm?"
"You ready to head out?"
Asami furrowed her brow as she spotted her own bootprints in the snow heading in both directions. "First cliff?" she asked, as it came into view. It was darker, then. The full moon was obscured by clouds, and the division between inky blackness of the cliff side and the valley below was difficult to discern. They just sort of bled into one another.
Korra nodded as her boots crunched through her old footprints, a few paces in front of her. "Yeah. We've got two negative, and one positive. Just need one more good patch of snow."
"But this is where we started. Won't it just be bad?"
Korra looked over her shoulder with a tiny smirk. "That's the beauty of water, Asami. Flow's always changing."
Asami looked down at the waterskin and felt her heart beat a little faster. She flexed her fingers and chewed on her lip. How was she going to make it good? It wasn't a simple, easy fix. She didn't have...well, not a bad feeling about it, but she was worried. Anxious. Scared, for some reason. But, she had to press on. Fix the problem. Right what she made wrong.
"Here, let me see the waterskin," said Korra, reaching out with her hand as they arrived once more at the cliffside. Asami gave it to her, and Korra very carefully waterbent the snow around her into water, filling what was left of the skin.
Korra considered it curiously and then, out of nowhere, shook it wildly. "Gotta mix it." She flipped it over on its side and locked eyes with her for a long moment. Korra tenderly handed her the water skin, placing Asami's hand over the top with her own.
Asami wrinkled her nose and inspected it closely. There was nothing new or different about it. It was just full. "I don't understand. I thought we were doing this for you. How am I supposed to fix this if it was for me?"
"It was for me, but I'm giving it to you."
"But I can't use it---"
"You don't have to. It's not about practicality. That's me, Asami." She rested her hands on her shoulders, meeting her gaze. "That's all of me. That's all of my pain, suffering, loss, happiness, joy, compassion, and strength. It's my home. My heritage. My history. Water is life just as much as fire is. But it's easier to direct a river than it is to control an inferno." She carefully adjusted the waterskin's strap over Asami's shoulder. "So, you've got me, on every level now. Emotionally, physically and spiritually. You know who I am. You know where I've been, and you've got a pretty good idea on where I want to go."
Asami nodded slowly, her mind racing into thousands upon thousands of scenarios and explanations. Where was all of it coming from? It didn't sound esoteric, not with how confident and soothing she was speaking, but then...why... "I don't think I know you spiritually."
"See, that's what I thought, but as it turns out it's not really as spirity as other spirit stuff. More like..." She tapped her chin. "...what's me. What can't be changed. What will always be a part of me, no matter what happens."
Asami was a little surprised that she did actually know all of that. And then she kicked herself internally for the fact that she was surprised that she knew Korra on that deep of a level. Of course she did! How could she not? "I'm sorry, but this...how is this helping us move forward? We've been walking around for hours, collecting snow to fulfill some old romantic tradition and, now we're back where we started. The only thing that's changed is..."
Korra gave her a crooked grin. "...go on."
Asami blinked and her lips stayed parted. The entire evening. The tradition, the water, the deep vulnerability that just sort of kept happening...all pieces of one big, beautiful puzzle. "You showed me. You showed me all of you, and I'm still here, holding another part of you..." She was crying again, but not out of sorrow. Relief. "And I haven't hurt you. I could have dropped this. I could have dismissed it entirely. I could have messed up the whole thing. But I---I didn't. I couldn't." She sobbed and held the waterskin close to her chest. "I could never hurt you."
Korra smiled and embraced her tightly, her own tears streaming down her cheeks and staining Asami's coat. "Same way I could never leave you. That day in your office, I wasn't sure why that was. Took me a while to sort it out, but I know why I didn't leave then, and why I can't leave at all." Korra pulled back and wiped her eyes, still smiling. "It's because I know who you are. Right down to your inner spirit." She poked Asami's heart. "And her, the essence of who you are, I trust her more than anyone. Somehow, I care about her, about you, more than the spirit who lives inside of me and I didn't even think that was possible but here we are," she said, her voice shaking. "You know that old saying? How you'd move mountains for someone? I can actually do that, and I would if you needed me to."
"I'd fight a hurricane and win. I'd be the hurricane and beat something else up, I don't know! Everything is crazy right now! The Red Lotus is back, you're making weapons, the whole world knows we're together, we got stuck in the swamp, Raiko's being a bigger jerk than usual..."
"Bolin and Opal are gonna get engaged any day now, we've got a crazy wannabe-Avatar sandbender on the loose, Varrick's doing things, Jingdao just keeps getting bigger..."
"...and the only constant in my life is---"
Asami cupped her cheek and wiped her eyes. "I love you."
Korra grinned, wide as can be, and brought their lips together passionately. She pulled back and bopped their foreheads together. "I love you, too," she whispered. "...and I was building to that."
Asami laughed so hard she cried.