Just Add Hot Water
Destiny is a curious thing, but then, so are noodles.
Part 2 - Noodles
Section 2: "Just Add Hot Water"
Korra couldn't sleep.
Asami, however, was very much asleep, if the soft, slow breathing at the nape her neck was any indication. Her arms were wrapped around Korra's waist, and she was pretty sure they couldn't be physically closer to each other if they'd tried. They had packed two bedrolls, but for the past week they'd only ever used the one. And it felt right.
At first, she compared the warmth she felt in Asami's arms with the feeling she got when cuddling with Naga. She very quickly realized just how wrong of a thought that was. It was nothing like that. Sure, both were 'warm', but Naga wasn't...it just wasn't the same. It wasn't the same, and Korra cherished that. It was better. Not quite safety, not quite comfort, and not quite affection either.
Asami made her feel vulnerable, but somehow it didn't terrify her. It made her feel stronger and more confident. Korra was baffled by that, but if something worked, sometimes it just wasn't worth questioning. What mattered was that it worked.
Korra tried focusing on Asami's heartbeat to clear her head. That had worked with Naga. She scowled at herself. She really needed to stop making that comparison.
While the Tree of Time may not have been the most comfortable place to camp for the night, she could only blame herself for her predicament. Watching, or rather reliving, some of the happiest moments of Asami's life with her, had emotionally drained her more than she'd thought possible. Through the eternal memory of the tree, Korra had been able to give Asami part of her life back, and she even got to share the experience with her.
Needless to say, the visceral revelation that Hiroshi Sato was so unlike the man she'd met all those years ago hit her hard. Korra had thought that seeing Asami's mother would be bittersweet, and it was, but it was nothing compared to the monstrous change in her father.
Thus, Korra couldn't sleep.
Korra had actually managed to grow fond of the man. He was a kind, compassionate, brilliant, supportive, and genuinely warm person. Above all, though, he had truly loved his daughter more than anything. Korra watched the key moments, all the while knowing in the back of her head that his pain would become hatred and that he would try to murder his own daughter. Korra hadn't been there to see it the first time, but she'd stuck it out to make sure she was for the second viewing. She needed to understand. She wanted to sympathize with Asami, desperately. She just...she just needed to. The 'why' didn't matter at the moment.
"Asami," she whispered.
Korra knew she wouldn't be able to sleep until she'd aired out her feelings. She'd learned that much. Normally, she'd have a one-way conversation with Naga- Korra huffed and tensed everywhere. If she kept making that comparison she'd just have to beat it out of...herself? That didn't make any sense.
Sense. Logic. Tenzin.
Meditation! Yes! That could work. Maybe. Korra slowly slinked out from Asami's arms, being extremely careful not to wake her. Of course, that was impossible because Asami was being very resistant about letting her go.
"Mmm." Asami grumbled. "Have to pee?" she mumbled, still clearly half asleep.
Korra frowned and silently nodded her head. She hated lying, and she was really bad at it. Even half asleep she knew Asami would recognize her insincerity if she actually said yes. But, since they were so close-she couldn't do it. Not to Asami. "No. I just can't sleep. I've got way too much on my mind. Will you be okay if I step outside for a few minutes? I want to try meditating."
She felt Asami's heart rate spike for a brief moment before calming down. "Why can't you talk to me about what's going through your head?"
"...because it's your life that I can't stop thinking about."
Asami sighed and her arms went slack. "Okay. Just don't go too far. I don't want any dark spirits to eat me," she chuckled darkly. Korra could tell she wasn't really kidding. Very few things scared Asami, and Korra had witnessed firsthand exactly how terrified she could get when faced with dark spirits.
Korra pulled herself out of the bedroll and got to her feet. "It's rare for spirits to eat people, but I'll make sure they stay away." She slipped on her boots and fastened them. She looked back over her shoulder and saw that Asami had already fallen back to sleep. Where Korra had come out of Asami's life distraught, she'd emerged...calmer. Asami feeling better was part of the plan. Torturing herself was not.
Korra silently walked to the large hole in the tree trunk. She squinted, trying to find an even patch of ground she could use to calm her mind on. Of course, she could just earthbend some of it smooth, but changing things like that in the Spirit World felt wrong. It'd be like disturbing the peaceful pond of the moon and ocean spirits.
Some things just weren't meant to be done.
"I thought I sensed you around here somewhere."
Korra looked down at the base of the tree, following the voice, and just for a moment she stood there, mouth slightly agape. There was Iroh, lantern in one hand, teapot in the other. The single most friendly and welcoming smile she'd ever laid eyes on. She put a finger to her lips and shook her head. He nodded, clearly understanding that he needed to be quiet. Korra slid down the tree with a grin and wrapped him in a big hug.
"It is good to see you again, Korra."
Korra took a step back to examine him. He seemed shorter, but of course that was because she'd gotten taller. "It's good to see you, too," she whispered. "How have you been?"
Iroh shrugged. "Oh, I've been about the same for the last sixty years. Happy and healthy. What about you?" He frowned and looked very concerned. "You were gone for a very long time. I was worried that the worst had come to pass for you."
Korra gave him a small smile. "It almost did. But...then it didn't."
"Such is life, I suppose. You know, you are not a very good story teller. You think I wouldn't notice a third spirit portal? Everyone noticed. In fact, Wan Shi Tong would like to ask you a few questions about that, because he is baffled as to how you were able create a new portal. I have never seen that old bird so flustered." He grins.
"It's a long story, and I couldn't explain that if I tried."
"I figured as much. I tried telling him that it was because you were the Avatar, but he was not satisfied with that answer. Still, you look troubled." He set down his lantern rested a hand on her shoulder. "Though it does not seem too terrible. One of these days, it would be nice to see you when you're not in need. Just to mix things up a little."
Korra gave him a tiny, appreciative smile. "I want that, too."
Iroh lifted his teapot, and Korra realized it was that teapot. The one Wan had carried Raava in more then ten thousand years ago. "Would you like some tea?"
"I'd love some." Korra smiled. "We have to be quiet, though." She carefully helped Iroh up into the heart of the tree. "Asami's sleeping. Today took a lot out of her," she whispered.
Iroh looked over at Asami and raised a brow. "Did it now..."
"Not like that." Korra's blushed and she pouted.
"Oh, good. You're really not supposed to do that kind of thing in places like this."
Korra sat down and motioned for Iroh to join her. "I know, believe me. I was actually just thinking about that before you got here." He set down his lantern between them and fished two cups out of his pockets. Korra took the one he offered her. "She lost her father a week ago today. For the second time, actually. She doesn't have any family left. I took her here because I thought it would make her feel better if she was able to...sort of relive all the good times she had with her mom and dad."
Iroh smiled and poured them both a cup of tea. Steam rose as he did, and the lantern made their shadows dance across the walls of the tree. "It sounds like she's important to you."
"Yes. She is." She took a sip of her tea and couldn't help but smile. Jasmine. "She seemed more at ease when she went to bed, so I think it might have helped. As for me..." She sighed. "I didn't realize how painful it would be to more or less relive her childhood all the while knowing what would happen next. We talked it out afterward, but...I guess I thought I got everything out of my system, when I really didn't."
Iroh drank some of his tea and scratched his beard. "I am not familiar with this story. Perhaps, if you told me, I could be of better help."
Korra nodded. "Asami's mom was from the Earth Kingdom, and her dad was from Fire Nation. She lost her mother when she was six. A firebender broke into their home, probably trying to rob them, and her mom got in the way. None of them are benders, so they couldn't defend themselves. I watched that happen today." She held in a sob and covered her eyes with her hand. "For the next thirteen years, Asami's dad, Hiroshi, raised her all on his own. And she idolized him. But, the whole time, he was harboring resentment toward all benders because one murdered his wife..."
Iroh raised his brows. "You wouldn't happen to be talking about Hiroshi Sato, would you?"
"Yes. You've heard of him?"
"I have, and in more ways than one. Everyone heard about what Amon did. How he claimed to be chosen by the spirits. We don't like that kind of thing. It is very rude to lie about that," he said playfully. "Anyway, I did hear that Hiroshi Sato was a big part of the revolution. I was sad to hear that a man that I had once thought to be very charitable and whole had fallen so far. I suppose his humble beginnings did nothing to stem his anger."
"Wait, how do you know about that?"
"Toph was good friends with Hiroshi's father, but that was a long time ago. Back then, there were no Satos. Only a young man named Satoru who had a dream and a brilliant mind. But, because of the era in which he was born, no one would take him seriously. So he passed that dream on to his son. Hiroshi."
Korra locked her eyes on Iroh as she drank her tea, not wanting to miss a moment. "What was the dream?"
"A better world," he lamented. "Where benders and non-benders were not thought of as separate peoples. Where it didn't matter where you were from. As long as you had a good heart, you would be welcomed with open arms."
Korra raised her brows. "That was...Aang and Zuko's dream. That's the United Republic."
"A lot of people had that dream, Korra. I guess just as many have forgotten that."
Korra was silent for a few moments. "So I guess you know the story, then. Asami...chose what was right over her only family. She had so many chances to just go back to her father, but she never did." Korra bowed her head. "She was more willing to lose everything but the clothes on her back if it meant doing the right thing. She lost her family, her name, her home, her legacy. And then I stole her boyfriend. That didn't last, though."
Iroh huffed and poured himself another cup. "I think I'm going to need more of this. And so do you..." he said, filling her own. "What did she do, after she had lost everything?"
Korra gratefully took another sip. "She...took it all back, and more. Even the guy, for a little while. That didn't last either. She rebuilt her company. She took back her home. She restored her good name. She stopped developing weapons and made her company something that people could trust. Airships, airplanes, trains, roads, construction work, water...anything and everything to help people."
"It sounds like you look up to her."
Korra hesitated, but then nodded. "I do. I don't understand how she was able to just keep going after life kept taking things from her. She lost everything. Twice. And just kept going."
Iroh smiled and looked over at Asami's sleeping form for a moment. "Did you ever consider that maybe, just maybe, she never quite lost everything? That perhaps there was something that defined her so strongly, that she could never lose it?"
"No, but I feel like I should have."
"If what you're telling is true about Asami, then the reason she was able to keep going could not be more simple," he said, his smile slowly growing. "At some point in her life, she decided that no matter how much pain and suffering she has to endure, no matter how many people she loses, and no matter how much is taken from her, her life is worth living. Because, in the end, she truly believes that everything will work out for the best. That if she waits, and listens for the right moment, she will find true happiness."
Korra stared at Iroh. He was right. He was completely right. Korra had, in the back of her head, always known those things about Asami, but she'd never had the right words, or really the right train of thought to...fully crystallize the idea. ""I...think, deep down, I already knew that. I just couldn't put it into words."
She herself had persevered through her pain and triumphed in a similar way. They had both been made to suffer. Targeted with malice. Where Asami lost her father, she had, at one point, lost her own. She was so sure her father had organized a kidnapping of his own brother during the Water Tribe civil war that it nearly shattered her confidence in him. They had both felt betrayed by their fathers, and it was a pain they both shared. It was only then that Korra finally realized it. The tragic difference was...Korra had been wrong. Her father had nothing to do with the act in question, but Hiroshi had everything to do with his own crimes. Tears started flowing down her cheeks with no warning at all. She closed her eyes, sobbed quietly a few times, and drank her tea.
"Korra, never underestimate the power of hope and optimism. There is nothing in this world or the material world that can take them away from you. You have to choose to give them up, because they are something you give yourself. That is what makes them so powerful."
"Do you just go around memorizing these beautiful things to say to people, or are you making it up as you go along?" said Korra, wiping her tears away. She felt her mind clear of the grief she had filled it with, the one that wasn't hers to begin with.
Iroh chuckled quietly with a big smile. "Well, in this case, the one about hope, I've told people that one more times than I can remember. But as for the rest..." He made a 'so-so' gesture with his hand. "It's little bit of both. Giving people guidance when they need it most is just like any other skill. You only need to practice, and eventually you'll become very good at it. Not as good as me, since I've been doing this for a very long time, but good enough."
Korra smiled kindly and tilted her head. "Thank you. I feel a lot better."
Iroh shook his head. "Oh, we're not done yet. Asami, you can come join us now."
Korra froze in place as Asami sat down next to her. Of course that would happen to her. Of course Asami would wake up and hear everything. Asami took her hand and intertwined their fingers. "...how long were you awake?"
"I never managed to fall asleep again," she said quietly. Her eyes were red and puffy. They'd talk later. "You must be Iroh. It's an honor to finally meet you. I've read so much about you from your nephew's books." She gave him a small bow. "I'd heard that you became a spirit, but I didn't...know what that meant exactly."
Iroh smiled and bowed back to her. "Trust me, the honor is mine. Or, at least I hope it is. That all depends on the kind of person you are, Asami."
Asami shrugged. "You figured me out like I was an open book. What more is there to know?" She sighed. "I'd ask if you really knew Grandpa Satoru, but there are only maybe a dozen people left alive who actually know that's where my name comes from. And...if you're anything like the Iroh I've read about, you wouldn't lie to me."
Iroh nodded. "Very perceptive. Your eyes, are they your mother's?"
"Yes, they are."
"Is this the case for the rest of you, as well?"
"No, I'm not only my mother. I'm not sure anyone is. My looks, with the exception of my skin, I got from my mom. I have my dad's mind and his skin tone. "
"That is good to hear. Is everything that Korra said about you true? Do you focus not on personal gain, but of how you can make the world a better place to live?"
Asami nodded. "My shareholders aren't too fond that I don't mind operating at a loss, for that reason, but I do make the effort, yes."
"Because I have to. Someone has to, and I have the resources, and the means."
Korra shrugged. "I don't understand why this is...Asami wants to help people. It's not that big a deal. Well, it is, but it's not...you get what I mean."
"It means more than you know, Korra. It means that her grandfather's dream, my nephew's dream, and Aang's dream of a better world is finally possible. Not to mention the thousands and thousands of others who have struggled and waited for that day to come."
"I'm flattered that you think I can change the world like that, but the reality is that I can't. There's only so much I can do. I'm just one woman," Asami said.
Iroh smirked. "And yet, so is Korra."
"That's different. She's the Avatar."
"The beauty in that statement is that, for ten thousand years, it was true. Now, and only now, is it finally wrong." He put his hands in his lap. "You see, this time, destiny did not only choose Korra. It also chose you."
"What?" Korra and Asami asked, in unison.
"Asami is as important in the material world as the Avatar is in the spirit world. She is the kind of person that Aang and Zuko hoped would one day exist. The United Republic brings people together from all nations and cultures, and Asami is the culmination of that hope." He chuckled with hint of disbelief. "You are equal parts Earth and Fire, and yet you are neither of those things. You are immovable. You are selfless simply because it is the right thing to do. You are not a bender. You can endure any pain, and you possess the drive and passion to accomplish anything you set your mind to, no matter how difficult the path may be."
Asami opened her mouth, but almost instantly closes it. She averted her gaze from Iroh. "I don't know how to respond to that other than 'thank you', but somehow I feel like that doesn't give your words justice."
Korra grabbed Asami's forearm. "All of that was true, you know. I don't...fully understand what he means by you being as important back home as I am here, but, yeah, you're..." She chuckled. "Definitely something special."
"...thanks. With all due respect, Iroh, and as much as I appreciate the compliments, I think you may be overstating my importance. Again, I have influence, but I really don't think I'm worthy of all the faith you've put in me."
Iroh shook his head. "That is where you are wrong." He scratched his beard. "Perhaps there is a better way to show you that..." He smiled. "You wouldn't happen to have a cup of instant noodles, would you?"
Asami wrinkled her nose and nodded. "Yeah. We have tons of them." She quickly retrieved one from their bags and handed it to Iroh.
"Thank you." He laughed. "Zuko came up with this after he tried to explain it to Aang for...I want to say it was several days. I may need a few moments to remember it accurately, as it was a very long time ago." He opened the cup and looked inside. "You know, it is truly amazing how, in the right perspective, something as small as a cup of noodles can mean everything."
Asami turned to Korra with mischievous grin. "So, you're saying that noodles aren't just noodles?"
"What? No, they're just noodles."
"For now, at least." Iroh looked at Asami. "Okay, you are the noodles."
"...I'm the noodles?" she asks, pointing to her chest.
"Yes, and Korra you are the hot water."
Korra laughed. "Yes. Yes I am."
Iroh gave her a blank stare. "Katara made that same joke over seventy years ago. No one laughed."
"Fine. Whatever." Korra pouted. "I have no idea what's going on anymore..."
"I think you know more than you realize. Korra, the role of the Avatar is to be a bridge between the spirit world and the material world, as well as bringing balance to the world. Somewhere in history, people got a little confused, and started to believe that the Avatar was supposed to bring balance to the material world. It is an interesting interpretation, but not entirely accurate. Bringing balance to the world means that you must bring balance to both worlds."
"I already knew that. Everyone does."
"Did you, though?"
Korra thought back for a moment. Amon. The Equalists. Harmonic Convergence. That...thing with Hundun. The Red Lotus. The Earth Empire. Each and every time, she was fighting to restore peace and balance to the material world first and foremost, even if the end result inadvertently helped the spirit world. She had become much more spiritual over the years, but to have simply missed this about her method of approach made her stomach turn. "...no. No, I didn't. Everything I did was to protect the material world. I care about the Spirit World too, of course, but I guess it's just...I value the lives of humans more than those of spirits. And I don't feel bad about that, but I'm pretty sure I should."
Asami shook her head. "No, you shouldn't. If there's one thing I know about spirits, it's that they can't die. They're just reincarnated into something new, right?"
"More or less. The point I'm trying to make, at least for the moment, is that there has always been a missing piece in the world that everyone has tried to fill with the Avatar. It has never worked." He smiled. "The Avatar travels to each nation and learns their cultures and element. That is the cycle. Now, it is only natural to assume that the Avatar would be the most suited to bring balance and harmony to the material world. To bring people together to form a greater sense of community and trust."
Asami raised a brow. "That sounds awfully familiar."
"It should. You said it yourself not too long ago."
Korra blinked. Something had just clicked inside of her head, and she wasn't quite sure what it was. All she knew was that it was important. "...but they're wrong. Just because the Avatar possesses the knowledge of the four nations and cultures, that doesn't mean they embody them. The Avatar is, and always has been, a guest in the nation that is not their own. I'm southern water tribe, and that's all I'll ever be. That's all I ever want to be."
Asami rubs her chin. "But if it's not the Avatar, then who is supposed to fill that void? No one else is qualified to be a bridge between peoples." She blinked. "Wait, you said destiny chose me? You can't possibly be implying that I'm supposed to be the bridge between peoples because of my heritage."
"It is not only because of your heritage. It is also, and far more importantly, about who you are as person."
"Once again, I'm flattered but..." Asami frowns. "I...I'm afraid I still don't quite understand how that makes me a...bridge. I'm only human."
"So was Korra when she beat Vaatu. I'm pretty sure she could only bend water."
Korra chuckled awkwardly. "Yup. I really lucked out on the spiritbending being a discipline of waterbending."
"I'm also not a bender, though."
"When has that ever stopped you from achieving great things? Ah, I think I remember how Zuko explained this." Iroh put the cup of noodles on the floor of the tree. "The noodles, without the water, are dry and separate. They break easily, just like the bonds between many different kinds of people. They are brittle and stubborn. They do not have the desire to change. But, once you add the water..." He poured hot water into the cup from his teapot. Asami looked into it through the rising steam. "You have to let it settle, because even though change can happen much faster these days, that does not mean it is truly instant. Just like the noodles. Then, you watch, you listen, you prepare." He grabbed a pair of chopsticks and started stirring the noodles.
Korra furrowed her brow and felt something start to piece together in her head. "...and, once the noodles are ready, they want to stick together. Stirring them around makes big clumps of them so you can eat more at once!"
Asami looked to Korra. "Which means that more and more people will find trust in one another." She turned to Iroh, mesmerized. "A greater understanding. A stronger sense of community."
Iroh held up his chopsticks, displaying a large tangle of noodles. "Exactly. The water gives the world life and meaning. It can guide us all toward peace and understanding, but that can only happen if the noodles, and the people, are willing to listen. It has to be fresh, or you will lose your only chance at the making the world whole."
Asami looked at Korra and then back at Iroh. "I...but if I am this...bridge between peoples...why would people listen to me? I haven't been in politics for very long, and it's not like I've done anything more than fostering better relations between the Earth Kingdom and the United Republic." She furrowed her brow and her eyes flicked toward the lantern. "...and rebuilt Republic City, body and spirit wilds intact. I strengthened the Air Nation. I standardized international airship routes. I've traveled the world and experienced first hand every culture imaginable. I was not treated as a guest, but as...a citizen..."
Iroh grinned. "You see? You are the noodles. You are the people. They look to you for guidance, just as much as they do to Korra, even if you do not realize it. The Spirit Wilds would have been been destroyed long ago if not for your respect for them. When you speak, they listen because they know what you have to say is meaningful, and from your heart."
"Are you trying to tell me that..." Asami narrowed her eyes. "...I'm the Avatar of the people?"
"No, no, of course not." Iroh laughed and waved her off. "That's ridiculous. There can't be two Avatars, because we all know how well that worked out. However, you are not entirely wrong in that assumption. Your roles are not so different." He took a thoughtful sip of his tea. "The both of you strive to solve problems, but in very different ways. If a tunnel needed to be carved through a mountain so a village would not starve, what would you do?"
Korra shrugged. "Earthbend the tunnel and ask the Air Nation to fly in some food so the villagers can get back on their feet."
Asami paused a moment before answering. "I would probably build a manually operated drill that would require minimal maintenance and donate it to the village. That way, they could create their own tunnel, and any others they may need in the future." She hummed. "I'd also help make a well from the ground water. Their crops are probably dying out due to a drought, and they can't get help because they're isolated. If that's not the case, then I'd find out the real reason they were starving to begin with, and help them solve that problem."
"I like your idea better."
Iroh chuckled. "Despite what you may think, neither answer is better than the other. They are both excellent ways to solve the same problem, but the difference is that Asami chose to give them the tools to solve their own problems in the future."
Asami smiled. "I...did the same thing with the poorer districts of Republic City. I built low-income housing. I kept struggling schools open with donations, and everyone called me crazy for 'throwing my money away' because I didn't ask for anything in return." She closed her eyes and her smile grew. "I started dozens of community outreach programs for the unemployed and homeless to learn a trade, or skill, and helped thousands find jobs and even homes." She sighed with content. "So many families were able to crawl out of the gutter because of that. And you know what, unemployment has never been lower! And organized crime dropped off a cliff!" she laughed. "Lin actually complained that she couldn't complain about that, because the police just don't see as much action as they used to."
Korra shifted. "...how is that not the better option? What she did was beyond amazing. I couldn't have accomplished any of that."
Iroh nodded. "You're right. You would have failed. But, can you honestly say that Asami would have succeeded if she were put into your position?"
Korra reluctantly shook her head. "No. There are some things you just can't think your way out of, and sometimes there isn't anything to build that could help."
Asami chuckled. "I am completely confident in saying that I would have died well over a thousand times if I had to do Korra's job. It really doesn't bother me."
"There will always be many solutions to a problem. And there is no way to know for sure what the best option is." Iroh leaned forward and placed his hands on both of their shoulders. "Alone, you and Asami can do great things. The world has seen that already. But together, there is no limit to what you can accomplish."
"As the noodles..."
"And the hot water," finished Korra.
Iroh grinned and patted them both on the shoulders. "Yes! Exactly! Korra, you could be the first Avatar to bring true balance to both worlds. A third portal is only your first step in doing that, for humans no longer have to travel through blizzards to see the spirit world. And you would be succeeding where my nephew and Aang did not," he said, a little downtrodden. He sat back down and drank some of his tea. "Zuko was the noodles once, and Aang was the water. However, the world was simply not ready. It is now, I know it, and I am thankful that there is a chance that my nephew will live to see it happen."
Korra and Asami exchanged a very long look. Korra smiled. "Well, what do you say, Asami? Up for being the noodles?"
Asami chuckled. "Only if you're okay with being the water." Asami held up her palm before Korra could 'correct' her mistake about her title. She was the hot water! Well, it did sound a little silly, when she thought about it.
"I think I can handle that."
Iroh clapped his hands together. "Wonderful. Well, I really should be going." He gathered his things. Torch in one hand, teapot in the other. "I had a lovely time. I would be honored if you came to visit me, but perhaps under better circumstances."
Asami gave him a little bow. "We would love to. Thank you for the invitation."
"Such good manners! So rare these days," he laughed, bowing in return to Asami.
Korra frowned. "What? You're leaving? Just like that...?"
Iroh smiled. "You are not the only one who needs guidance now and then, you know."
She bobbed her head a few times. "That's true, I guess. Well, it was great seeing you again. Thanks for the talk. It was certainly...eye opening."
"You are welcome. Now, come help an old man down from this tree. It's steeper than I remember."
Korra chuckled and rose to her feet. "Sure. I'll be right back." She helped him through the threshold and down the smooth bark of the tree. "I didn't realize that spirits had difficulties like this."
"Oh, we don't. I just needed to talk to you alone for a few minutes."
"In a manner of speaking." He gave her that friendly smile of his and looked deep into her eyes. She felt somehow safer and comforted. "Two questions that you do not have to answer."
Korra raised her brows in surprise. "What are they?"
"Do you love her?"
Korra paled and felt like she'd just gotten hit in the stomach by runaway badgermole. She jerked her head down, avoiding his eyes and staring straight at her feet. Her heart raced forward as quickly as her mind, desperately trying to figure out an answer. There was something there, she could feel it. She knew Asami knew it too. It just seemed so fragile and precious that deciding what it was, so soon after the suffering they'd just endured, would shatter it. She wasn't ready. She had no answer.
"I...don't know," she whispered with a hint of shame.
"It may sound strange, but it is good that you do not know."
Korra didn't look up, but color returned to her face. "Why?" she mumbled.
"Well, young love is a powerful force, but it also very clumsy. It can consume your entire being, until the only thing that defines you is your love. I get the feeling you have experienced that yourself." He sighed. "When you get older, you realize that there are many kinds of love. The love your parents have for you, the love you have for your friends, and even the love you have for Tenzin are all very different."
Korra looked back up at him with a neutral expression. She wasn't sure how to feel. Or react. She was just scared. She nodded for him to continue.
"Those kinds of love are not so hard to find, if you know where to look. But, the love you may feel for Asami is more rare than you could ever imagine. If you feel there is a chance, no matter how small, that you can find happiness in each other, then you owe it yourself to try and make it a reality."
Korra calmed her breath and crossed her arms. Her mind was frozen in fear and uncertainty. She couldn't think, and could barely process what Iroh was telling her. She needed to be careful. She needed to try, and see where it took her. "Okay." Korra nodded. "Second question?" she asked, drained of all emotion.
Iroh frowned and looked at her with concern. "Are you sure? I can always ask another time, Korra. I don't want to cause you anymore discomfort, even if it is, at times, necessary."
Korra narrowed her eyes. "I can take it." And she knew she could.
"Always so stubborn," he said, sighing. "Very well."
"Get on with it. Asami's going to get worried."
"Hm. True. If you had to, would you give up being the Avatar if it meant you could be with the one you love?"
Korra's mind went blank. She'd never considered abandoning her duty, her birthright, as an actual option. As a thing that was possible. Who would do that? Who would even think of doing that? Being the Avatar was a part of her, and while it was no longer the only part of her, it was still a strong portion of her identity. To give it up would mean she'd lose a part of herself, just like when she'd lost her bending. Yet, if she loved someone, truly loved them with everything she was, and could only be with her if it meant sacrificing one the single most important things in the world, Korra would...
...have no idea what to do.
Korra stared off into the distance. "I'm not answering that question."
"And I hope you never do," he said, grinning.
Korra wrinkled her nose and looked back at Iroh with confusion. "What? I don't understand."
"It is a question that every Avatar must consider, but some questions are best left unanswered. Out of the past six Avatars, only one of them was able to find an answer," he said, his voice filling with grief. "And he suffered greatly because of it."
Korra furrowed her brow. Which one? To her knowledge, it wasn't Aang, nor Roku, Kyoshi, or even Yangchen. Which meant that it was Kuruk. She knew the story. The woman he loved had lost her face to Koh the Face Stealer, and he made it his life's goal to take revenge on the malicious spirit. And he failed. "Kuruk."
"Yes. He abandoned his duties for personal revenge, and never looked back. At that point, he stopped being a true Avatar. He was simply a lonely, angry man who just so happened to be able to bend all of the elements."
Korra nodded. "I promise you, no matter what, I won't make that mistake."
Iroh smiled. "I know. I never doubted you, but it is still important to be aware of these things. Just in case." He cleared his throat. "Okay, now it is time for me to leave. I don't want to miss my weekly Pai Sho tournament!"
Korra gave him a big hug. "I...we'll come back to visit soon. I promise."
"I am already looking forward to it." With that, he walked off into the distance, disappearing back into the unknowable folds of the spirit world.
Korra silently climbed back up into the tree and found that Asami was still awake. Her eyes were red and puffy again. Korra sat down next to her and rubbed her back. Asami rested her head on her shoulder.
"Private words for the Avatar?"
Korra nodded slowly. "Yeah. A few things that every Avatar needs to know, and some advice that might come in handy later."
They were silent for a few minutes, and it was comfortable. Peaceful. Korra stroked her hair and went through everything she could remember about the night's rather...stunning conversation. She thought she'd been emotionally drained after watching Asami's life, but after her talk with Iroh she was pretty sure her bones were hollow.
"I know we...sort of made a joke about the whole thing, but..." Asami rubbed Korra's arm. "Am I crazy if I believe him? That I think he's right about me, to a certain extent? Excluding the part about destiny choosing me, I...it makes sense to me. It makes a lot of sense, actually. It sounds silly, me being the noodles, but if we worked together like Iroh suggested..." She turned to her, green eyes full of conviction. "I really think we can change things for the better."
Korra smiled kindly. Iroh definitely made some good points, and the deeper meaning behind it all hit her close to home, even if the way he explained it was ridiculous. Much like everything else when it came to Asami, it was worth a try. "I think it's worth a shot. It's not so different then what we're already doing. The only real change is that we...just gained some new awareness, I guess." She screwed up her face and rolled her eyes. "Raava says that 'destiny choosing you', while a nice sentiment, is utterly ridiculous. Her words, not mine."
Asami gave her a wide smile. "I love it when Raava agrees with me. Being in the spirit of order's good graces is definitely something I'd put on a resume. It's a shame I can't prove it, though."
Korra chuckled dryly. She chewed the inside of her lip and decided that she may as well get the conversation over with then and there. Hopefully it wouldn't be too awkward. "Do you want to talk about what...I said to Iroh? About you?"
Asami shook her head. "There's nothing to talk about. In a good way. You understand. That's what matters." She covered Korra's free hand with her own. "...actually, there is something that you said that I want to talk about. Kind of."
"What is it?"
"You...you said I took everything back, and more. For me, when I pick myself up out of the mud, it's the confidence that I will take it all back that keeps me going, but that..." Asami hesitated and bit her lip. "...'something more' is by far the most important part of that process." She took a deep breath. "I guess what I'm trying to say is, after this week, and the both of us just...dancing around it, because it's something but we don't quite know what..." Her hands squeezed Korra's own. "I know what this is to me. Us. This time, I want you to be that 'something more'."
If you feel there is a chance, no matter how small, that you can find happiness in each other, then you owe it yourself to try and make it a reality.
It surprised Korra just how quickly she came to a decision once the question had actually been asked. The vacation was...was it a test? To make sure they could really make it work? Korra didn't know, and she honestly didn't care. She knew what she wanted, and for once, it was really that simple."I want that, too."
And...that was that. Korra felt an enormous weight of tension and anxiety leave the heart of the tree like a blast of wind.
Asami turned to her and smiled. "So...do you want to go to Narook's when we get back?"
Korra gave her a crooked grin. "I'd love to, noodles."
Asami's entire face twitched. "...that is not going to be a nickname, do you understand?"
"Okay, okay! I was just kidding." She laughed. "Come on, let's try this whole sleeping thing again."
They practically collapsed on top of one another on the bedroll, with Korra's head fitting snugly in the crook of Asami's neck. Korra pulled the blanket over them both.
Asami stroked her hair. "Are we still going to go through your memories tomorrow? We don't have to, if you'd rather not."
Korra shook her head. "No, we do have to. You deserve the whole story, not just snippets of what I can remember."
"Okay, but after that no more of this heavy stuff." Asami yawned."I don't think I can handle any more emotional revelations like these."
"...me either. Night, Asami." Korra closed her eyes and felt sleep slowly overtake her.
Just before she drifted off, Asami kissed her on the forehead.
And just like that, everything felt right again.