Riches to Rags

Chapter 13 (Asami)

It’s warm. That’s odd. I shouldn’t be feeling anything… the last thing I remember, I was…

“Ugh…” The voice is mine… my throat is dry. I feel pain, all over. But I’m also hot. Too hot. I crack open my eyes, and everything’s a blur. I blink a few times, trying to regain focus, and I look down across my body. I’m lying in an unfamiliar bed, in an alien room. There’s a thin, rubber tube coming out of my arm, and a nest of brown hair, laid out hair near my hand.

So… I’m in hospital. Doesn’t take a genius to work that out. The smell of disinfectant would give it away, even if the white walls and silver machinery didn’t. I’m a little dizzy and disorientated, but I’d recognise the hair splayed out on my bed, and that bronze skin, anywhere. It’s Korra, the woman who’s tried to save me more times than I can remember. And since the last thing I remember is passing out face-first in the snow this morning, I’m guessing this time she really did… save me, that is.

I sit up and rest against the pillows, grimacing as pain shoots up my back. The movement disturbs Korra, and she lifts her head, looks straight at me. She has such beautiful, sincere eyes… weird that it’s the first time I’ve noticed.

“Hey,” Korra says.

“Hey,” I croak, and I’m not sure what else to say.

Korra hands me a glass of water from the bedside table, which I gulp at, hungrily emptying it in seconds. I watch as she stretches out, leans back into the chair that’s pulled up beside my bed, and tucks her blanket around herself, holding her knees against her chest. She yawns, and I’m sure it must be exaggerated because it goes on for at least fifteen seconds. She looks at me again, her expression almost unreadable.

“So... lousy weather today.”

I blink. And then smile. And then laugh, even though it burns my sore throat. Korra’s laughing too, it’s infectious, and I laugh until my eyes are wet, until my jaw aches. And when I finally settle down, I realise it’s the first time I’ve done that in a long time.

“You have a nice laugh,” Korra says.

“Uh… thanks,” I say. She’s staring right at me, and I’m embarrassed. Why am I embarrassed? I fiddle my fingers against each other. There’s an awkward silence, thankfully interrupted as a hospital nurse comes into the room.

“Miss! You’re awake! How are you feeling?” she asks, taking the empty beaker from me.

“Like I almost died in a blizzard,” I grumble. I’m aching all over, and sweating. I push the blanket down, only then realising I’m completely naked beneath the quilt. I quickly pull the cover back up, hoping that Korra didn’t see anything. Thankfully, she’s looking away.

“We had to strip you, since your clothes were soaked. I’ll get them for you, and I’ll bring a thinner blanket,” the nurse says.

“Thanks…” I mumble, as she leaves the room. There’s another awkward silence. I don’t know why it feels so awkward… but I chew on my lip, unsure what to say, or what to do.

“That was a close call,” Korra says, looking suddenly very serious. I sigh. She’s not wrong… I felt sure I’d die out there.

“How did I get here?” I ask, sure that the weather was too rough for an ambulance.

Korra shrugs, clumsily runs fingers through her hair, “I… kind of carried you.”

Carried? Just how strong is this woman? “Sorry…” I’m lost for words, so it’s the only one that springs to mind.

“Don’t be… just… try look after yourself a bit more.”

“I tried. I was going to… well…”

“Call me? Yeah, I figured as much. The shelter’s a bit too touchy-feely when it’s that busy.”

I gasp, “How did you…?”

“Been there, remember?” Korra says, and there’s a darkness to her eyes that makes me think I shouldn’t press further on this, for now.

“Damned city should have more phones,” I pout.

Korra chuckles, “Yeah, blame the Satophone revolution for that. Everyone’s on mobile now.” I feel myself pale at the words, a sharp tendril of panic searing up my spine. Does Korra really not know who I am? Is that why she’s still talking to me? I bite my lip, and try to push aside my fears. “Anyway, you’re alive. And uh, I have a spare room, or a sofa…” Korra says, whilst pushing a stray strand of hair from her face.

“Yes,” I say, without a second thought. I can’t go through that again… I don’t want to die…

Korra’s face brightens at the words, “Really?”

I nod, “But only if you tell me how you got off the street.”

“I’ll tell you all about it if we blow this joint. You can have a nice hot shower, grab some clean clothes…” Korra pauses, “although they might be a little small for you…”

“It’s been a long time since anyone invited me to their place,” I say with a soft chuckle. The thought of a hot shower makes me feel giddy, way more excited than it should, and I can’t believe I used to take such things for granted. Korra’s looking at me with her mouth slightly agape, and only then do I realise what I just said, “Shit! Sorry, I didn’t mean like that…” damn, I don’t usually get this flustered. What the hell?

“Hah! You should be so lucky,” Korra says with a smirk, and I feel a strange glow throb through me. Is she… flirting with me? No, can’t be. She’s just being friendly. Korra is always friendly… I bet she’s like this with everyone. Keep it together, Sato. I close my eyes for a moment, and try to ignore the deep-blue gazing back at me when I re-open them. It’s like she’s looking into my soul… it’s so disconcerting.

“Here you go, miss,” the nurse says, though I didn’t notice her enter the room. She’s carrying a new blanket, and my neatly folded clothes which she deposits on the stand next to my bed. She also hands a smaller pile to Korra, which the other woman starts to put on, right in front of me. I try not to stare, but I catch a glimpse of her torso. Wow

“Actually, I was hoping we could both check out,” Korra says, pulling a jumper over her head.

“Really? Well, let me just check a few things first, please,” the nurse says, then proceeds to check my temperature, and closely examines my toes and fingers, asking me if I can feel each pinch, “Okay. She’ll be fine. Just keep her warm. I presume you’re her next of kin?” The nurse asks, facing Korra.

“Something like that,” Korra chuckles, stealing a glance in my direction. The nurse eventually leaves us alone again, and I can’t help my curiosity…

“Korra, why did you need to get dressed?”

“Oh, I… I figured warm clothes might help you, you know, not die out there.” I feel my chest constrict at the words. Just how far will Korra go to help someone? This is insane… I want to thank her. I owe her so much. “Anyway, I’ll wait outside,” she says, leaving the room.

I sit over the side of the bed and start to change into my clothes. They’ve been washed and dried, and feel really nice, soft compared to usual. I shove my boots on, wiggling the big toe that pushes out through the by-now-familiar hole, and then walk out of the room. Korra’s leant back against the wall out there, waiting patiently, and I gulp, wondering if I’ve made the right choice. Wondering if I should let someone who’s by all means still a stranger do all of this for me. But, I nearly died... I owe this woman my life. If I can't trust her by now, then I never can.

I follow her down the corridor, and start to panic as I see her filling out forms, handing over plastic. She seems to sense my concern, “You can pay me back later,” she says, winking.

The words fill be with hope, and I nod. I’ll pay her back… with interest. I’ll get out of this hole. I’ll find my way.

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