Korra's days on Air Temple Island are quiet and calm. Asami doesn't spend all of her time with Korra (she's still running a busy and successful company), but she spends enough to know that.
Korra will only let Jinora or Asami help her with anything, and Jinora has other duties. Not that Asami doesn't have her own duties, but Korra is more important, and Asami has staff she trusts now with much of the day-to-day running of Future Industries.
"You've been invited to a gala at the President's private residence," Asami says one morning. Going through Korra's mail pile these days is a time-consuming task, and Asami has taken it on to give Pema a break. "Next Friday, to raise money for people displaced from their homes by spirits."
Korra winces, almost imperceptibly, and Asami wishes she didn't have to tell Korra about her mail, about the state of the world outside of the bubble Korra's created for herself. But keeping things from Korra is not something Asami will ever willingly do again, no matter the cost to either of them. She's learned that silence and lies always cost more than the truth.
"I think we can probably head that off with a generous donation from Future Industries," Asami adds.
"I can't let you do that," Korra protests.
Asami is glad to hear her voice. Korra doesn't speak as easily or as often anymore.
"You're not letting me," Asami says lightly. "I'm choosing to, and I would even if you were attending as well."
Korra turns away, her entire body telegraphing frustration, but not in a way Asami would have understood last year, or even six months ago. She's not sure if anyone else understands it now. It's entirely unlike the Korra from before the poison.
Asami turns back to the pile of mail sitting on the table next to her. Korra is sitting in her chair on the other side of the table, and she's only looked directly at Asami twice since she arrived.
"Three requests from Cabbage Co. to be their new spokesperson, numerous coupons for a free cup of tea, an official pardon from the Earth Kingdom - how very kind of them - and - " Asami pauses, but Korra doesn't look up or seem to notice the heavy letter now in Asami's hand. "It's from the southern Water Tribe," Asami continues. "Do you want me to open it, or should I go and let you read it alone?"
Korra reaches out her hand, palm up and open above the table. Asami sets the envelope gently down in it, and stands, preparing to leave. She's stopped by Korra's other hand lightly pressing against her hip.
"Stay," Korra says, still not making eye contact. She stuffs the letter under the pillow on her bed.
Asami sits back down.
"Aren't you getting bored?" Meelo asks her. He and Ikki are convinced Asami needs an official Air Nomad welcome whenever she visits, and always greet her at the ferry. "You're just sitting here every day not doing anything!"
Asami knows Korra can't hear them - they're on the other side of the island, taking the long way to the temple buildings - but she still reacts more harshly than she'd like. "Of course not, Korra is my friend."
Ikki frowns, but doesn't argue. Meelo doesn't know when to pull his punches yet. "But Korra can't bend! Is she the Avatar if she can't bend?"
Asami stops sharply, kneeling down to look directly at Meelo. "Korra is always the Avatar," she says. "Bringing balance to the world doesn't depend on bending."
Meelo makes a disbelieving face, but Ikki has decided that this conversation isn't fun anymore. "Come on," she says, tugging on Meelo's sleeve. "Let's go see the bison!"
Asami watches them run down the beach and takes deep breaths. Korra will most likely heal, but even if she couldn't bend, even if she couldn't walk, she would still be the Avatar and she could still wield power.
Benders never believe that life without bending is possible. Asami knows better.
"Aren't you curious?" Korra asks, noticing Asami's gaze directed at the envelope half under the food tray on the table.
"Yes," Asami says, and gives her full concentration to pouring them each a cup of tea.
Korra huffs, a frustrated laugh that sounds strange after her weeks of near-silence. "But you haven't asked me what it says."
Asami lets her mouth twist into a grin. "I don't know if you've noticed, but many people ask you lots of questions these days, and you mostly answer them by grunting."
"People, sure," Korra says. "But you're not people, you're Asami."
"I'm not a person?"
Korra sighs, not responding to the joking tone in Asami's words. Asami lets the conversation die and sips her tea carefully.
Asami is halfway through the magazine she brought with her when she hears Korra sniffing, and looks up to see tears in Korra's eyes as Korra reads the letter. Asami drops the magazine, but doesn't ask if Korra is okay. The answer to that question is both easy to predict and much too complicated to get into. Korra wouldn't welcome it, in any case. Asami does move closer to Korra, scooting her chair next to Korra's and trying to be comforting without touch.
Korra eventually sets the letter down. She looks determinedly at the wall, and not at Asami, and says, "It's from Katara. She wants to come and see if she can heal the damage caused by the poison."
Asami's unmediated reply would have been exactly the one she knows Korra fears getting, from her or anyone else. The fact that Korra told her anyway, risking it, keeps her from saying why didn't you tell me sooner? and when can she get here?
Instead, she says, "Thank you for telling me."
Korra sags in her chair, the relief obvious in her body, even as she frowns. "I don't - I can't hope. It's too hard. I'm no good to anyone like this."
"Do you think I'm helpless?" Asami asks.
Korra groans. "I know, I know, okay? You're not helpless at all, but I'm supposed to be the Avatar, I – "
"You are the Avatar," Asami interrupts. "And even if you never bend again, we want you – someone else could never be who you are, and if you think anyone on this island would rather have a bender than you - well, you're wrong."
Korra turns to Asami, her face only showing a shadow of the expressiveness Asami is used to seeing there. "I know that. But I don't know if I want – if I can live with that and still be what the world needs. And I don't want to believe it will always be this way, but hoping it won't be isn't – it's too hard," she repeats.
"I'll hope for you," Asami says. "Until you're ready."
Korra doesn't respond, and Asami doesn't push.
Bolin comes to visit with her one day, and Korra laughs at one of his jokes. Asami is thrilled, but has to push down the tendril of jealousy that threatens to overcome her joy. It doesn't matter if Korra didn't laugh for her - it only matters that she laughed.
Asami has been planning for this event, in one form or another, for months. Her hair is perfect and she spent a not-inconsiderable portion of her discretionary funds for the whole year on her dress. The President claimed her for the first dance, and she's not lacked for partners since then.
She's never been more bored in her life.
"It must be very difficult, running a large company by yourself," says the middle-aged man who is currently her dance partner.
Asami moves her left foot just in time to avoid being stepped on. "I've found it very rewarding," she says, looking past the man's shoulder at the large clock on the wall. Two more hours. She can leave in two more hours.
Asami goes right to Korra's room, and knocks on the door, accompanying her knock with, "It's me, can I come in?"
"Asami? Yeah, come in."
Korra's voice sounds hoarse, as if she hasn't spoken yet today. Asami shakes away her worry and enters the room.
"I thought you had a - a thing, tonight," Korra says. She's laying in her bed, a magazine crumpled next to her pillow and the Water Tribe letter inconspicuously arranged beneath it. Asami can only see one corner, but she recognizes the envelope.
Asami peels off her wrap and sits down on a chair, moving it beside Korra's bed. She reaches down to take off her shoes - her feet have been aching for hours - and smiles. "It was so boring," she tells Korra. "Not to mention insulting. I made excuses and left after my ability to run Future Industries had been questioned by three different men in a row."
"They're idiots," Korra says. Her hair is loose, and her eyes are shaded in fatigue, but she seems happier than Asami's seen in her in a while. "They wouldn't say that if they really knew you."
Asami wonders if Korra is always more talkative at night, now.
"To be honest, I don't want them to know me," Asami says, smiling again reflexively. She wants to reach out and take Korra's hand, but she's not sure if Korra would mind. "I'd much rather be here."
Instead of her intended effect, Asami's compliment drains Korra's face of expression. She turns to the wall for a moment, then sighs and looks back at Asami.
"You've done so much for me," Korra says, a bitter twist to her lips. "And now you're still giving me everything you can, everything I'll take, and I can't repay you - I can't do - I'm not - "
"Do you think that matters to me?" Asami asks. She knows how important self-sufficiency is to Korra, knows how hard it's been for her to accept help, but she thought - she thought Korra understood that Asami doesn't want or need anything in return. Helping Korra is enough.
"It should," Korra says, "but you're perfect, so you don't seem to realize that."
"I wouldn't be here if I didn't want to be," Asami says, her face flushing slightly. "And you know better than anyone that I'm not perfect."
Korra doesn't respond, just shakes her head and closes her eyes.
Asami isn't done. "You're the best part of my day," she blurts, without any of her usual poise. It's not her style; this kind of open and unpracticed emotional honesty, given without a thought for how it might be received, is something Korra would have done before the poison. Asami can't bring herself to regret it.
"I have to play a role at Future Industries. I can't ever just say what I think or feel. I can't ever just be who I am, the way I can with you. Whether you can bend or not, walk or not, you're just as amazing right now as you've always been, Korra. I'm here because you're my friend, one of my only friends, and talking to you is its own reward."
Korra opens her eyes, and they're wet with tears. Asami reaches out to wipe them away, and Korra doesn't flinch. She lets Asami touch her face gently for a moment longer than necessary and then takes her hand, setting it down on the bed between them without letting go.
"You look really pretty," Korra says. "Don't let your dress get messed up."
Asami smiles. Korra hasn't ever been able to take praise graciously - that's one thing that hasn't changed.
"I have other dresses," she says.
"Not like this one," Korra says, and the look in her eyes hits Asami like a volt of electricity from her Equalist glove, right against her solar plexus.
Oh, she thinks, wildly aware of their hands, still tangled together on Korra's bed. She can't look away from Korra. Oh.
Korra doesn't seem to notice the revelation Asami is having, and might not even know how she herself is looking at Asami. The stare and the silence extends long past the moment when one of them should have broken it, until Korra blinks slowly, letting go of Asami's hand and pressing her own against her forehead.
Asami snaps back to reality. "Are you okay?"
"Yes, just - dizzy," Korra says. "I'd better go to sleep."
"Right," Asami says, standing and moving to the doorway, her shoes in one hand and her wrap in the other. "Goodnight."
She's halfway out the door when she hears Korra call her name. Asami turns, watching Korra struggle to find what she wants to say, her face half hidden in the shadow of the chair next to her bed.
"Asami," Korra repeats. "I'll see you tomorrow?"
Asami nods. "Tomorrow, I promise."
"Then goodnight," Korra replies, and turns off the lamp beside her bed.
Asami lingers in the hallway outside Korra's room for a long moment after she shuts the door. This is new. This is not a good idea, not even remotely a good idea - but Asami can't help it and she can't simply unknow her own feelings.
She wants Korra. She wonders how long she's felt this way, when the seeds were planted.
Sleep is hard to come by that night.
Asami doesn't think Korra has noticed, but she still feels guilty. If this were anyone else, any other situation, Asami would simply tell her how she felt and take the acceptance or rejection she received in turn.
Korra is not like anyone else, and Asami cannot bear to damage the friendship they've built from lies and jealousy into something strong and precious.
Asami is thinking of risking it anyway when she sits out on the edge of the training ground with Korra one evening. They're pressed together, legs dangling from the railing of the raised deck they're sitting on, and Korra laughs as Naga and one of the younger air bison play on the ground below them. Asami's fingers itch to touch Korra's face, trace the lines of her mouth where it's relaxed in happiness.
"I keep waiting for something to happen," Korra says, interrupting Asami's increasingly difficult to control thoughts.
"Something bad?" Asami asks. She tucks her hair behind her ear and turns to give Korra's words her full attention.
"Something I have to fix," Korra says. "We've been lucky that it's so calm right now. I can't relax, though, because it's not going to stay this easy."
"If something happens, you won't be alone," Asami says. Korra already knows this, but it bears repeating anyway.
Korra sighs. "No, I won't be, but - "
Asami lets the quiet settle around them. She's fairly sure she knows how Korra would finish that sentence. It's several long minutes before Korra breaks the silence.
"The other night," Korra says, and Asami's heart jumps wildly in her chest. "You looked so different, and it reminded me that you have this whole other world you could be living in, instead of risking your life for m - for us."
"That world isn't as real as this one," Asami says. She's acutely aware of the way Korra's bare arm is brushing against her own, even through the fabric of her sleeve.
"Why do you come here?" Korra asks, meeting Asami's gaze, something she rarely does now, and not looking away. "Please - please tell me?"
Asami can't break their eye contact, as much as she tries. Korra looks - she looks like she knows, or at least hopes, and wants Asami to make it true.
"I - I come for you," Asami says, and leans in helplessly to brush her lips softly against Korra's. "I didn't realize what it meant, at first, but - "
Korra's eyes are huge, her face flushing slightly in the dim light of the setting sun. She reaches out and runs her hand down Asami's cheek, turning her face up for another kiss. It turns deeper this time, and Asami lets herself sink into the soft, slick movements of their mouths together.
When they part, Korra is smiling, a little half-grin that Asami's never seen before.
"I'm glad that's why," Korra says, and takes Asami's hand, interlacing their fingers together. She turns to face the water again and leans her head on Asami's shoulder.
Asami breathes deeply, all the noise of her earlier thoughts drowned out by the peace settling in her heart. They stay on the deck long past sunset.
"Is something wrong?" Asami asks.
Pema smiles, a little twist of her lips hinting at wryness. "You'd know sooner than I would about that," she says. "No, I just wanted to say thank you."
"For what?" Asami says.
"For being Korra's friend first, and the Avatar's friend second." Pema shakes her head and gestures out to the airbenders practicing forms in one of the bending arenas across the bridge they're standing on. "I've seen how much easier she feels after your visits. Tenzin didn't give her enough freedom at first, and that was a mistake, but so is the way we've all begun to depend on her to be stronger than the rest of us. Avatar first, person second."
Asami tries to hide her frown. "I don't ever forget that she's the Avatar," she says.
Pema nods. "I know. But you never forget that she's also a seventeen-year-old girl. So, thank you."
It feels odd to be thanked for something as simple as friendship, and Asami wonders what Pema would say if she knew just how deep her friendship with Korra runs now. But Pema has always been someone Asami admires. She nods, and says, "You're welcome."
"Besides," Pema says, walking toward the ferry and gesturing to Asami to go in front of her. "We can't let the benders forget that power isn't only found in the elements."
Asami grins. That she can agree with, without question. "No, we can't."
"Korra, why didn't you tell me that my mother had offered to come and see if she could help you?" Tenzin says, his voice rising in pitch and becoming loud enough that all other conversations in the room pause. He's holding a piece of paper in his hand, presumably from the Water Tribe.
Asami discretely makes her way over to Korra. She's surprised Korra's managed to keep it from everyone else for this long.
Korra says nothing, her mouth set in a grim line. Tenzin takes a deep breath, then catches himself and seems to realize how large of an audience they've gathered. Pema takes one look at them and begins to clear a path to a door to the long porch outside the building, quietly beginning new conversations in every group she passes. Asami fleetingly admires Pema's ability to change entire atmospheres without anyone noticing what she's done.
"Why don't we take a walk?" Asami says, since Tenzin and Korra haven't noticed Pema's work. "Korra could use some fresh air."
Korra nods, some of the tension leaving her neck and face as Asami stands behind her, ready to push her chair outside. Tenzin nods as well, making his way to the open doorway as Asami follows with Korra.
"I - " Tenzin starts, but Korra interrupts him.
"I'm sorry I didn't tell you," she says. "But I'm not more important than all the other people who depend on Katara for health and healing. I'll write back to her tomorrow, and tell her that she can come visit if she'd like, but I don't want to talk about it."
Tenzin frowns more deeply. Asami puts a comforting hand on Korra's shoulder.
"I won't push you," Tenzin says finally, and Asami sighs with relief inwardly. "She's already on her way, though – she said she wanted to see her grandchildren. She'll be here tomorrow."
"What if – " Korra says, biting her lip. "What if she can't help? Tenzin, maybe I'm just not meant to be the Avatar. Everything I do just leads to more problems. I just – I feel like you would all be better off with someone else."
Asami breathes a sigh of relief. She's willing and able to carry any of Korra's secrets that Korra will give to her, but it's a good sign for Korra to be telling this to Tenzin.
"Korra," Tenzin says, sounding horrified and guilty. He kneels down in front of Korra's chair, and Asami takes that opportunity to walk a short distance away.
Korra and Tenzin need time to talk alone, and Asami doesn't begrudge them it.
Asami sits beside her, and puts her arm around Korra's shoulders. She feels unable to speak, as if she’ll break the magic of the moment if she tries to put it into words, but Korra doesn't feel the same compunction.
"I did it," Korra whispers. "I walked."
Asami tightens her hold on Korra's shoulders, squeezing her arm gently in reply. Korra turns her head, lips brushing Asami's cheek on their way to her mouth. The kiss is soft, more tentative than their first. Asami deepens it, parting her lips and coaxing Korra in.
Korra breaks away after a long while. "Is this – this is still okay?"
Asami looks at Korra, at her flushed cheeks and the hint of tears glistening in her eyes, feeling overwhelmed by all that Korra means to her now. She wants Korra to be just as sure of her as she is of Korra.
"Yes," Asami says, pushing an escaped piece of Korra's hair back behind her ear. "It will always be okay."
Korra laughs, relaxing against Asami's side. "Just okay? I think we can do better than okay," she says.
"We can," Asami says, running her hand lightly down Korra's side. "Let me show you?"
Korra's eyes widen, her face flushing a deep red. "Yeah – yes, show me," she says, and doesn't wait for Asami to reply before kissing her again. They let their bodies speak for them after that.
"We're even," Asami says. "We don't have to keep track anymore, do we?"
"No," Korra says. "I guess not."
Asami turns in Korra's arms and kisses the side of her throat, just under her jaw. "I don't want us to be in debt to each other," she says. "I just want to – to love you, and help you because of that, and for you to help me when I need it."
Korra stills, her hand on Asami's back a warm pressure. Asami wants to keep this feeling forever.
"Okay," Korra says. "I want that, too – I do love you, and I'll always help you if I can."
"Good," Asami says. "Now go to sleep, Avatar Korra. You have a big day tomorrow."
"We have a big day, you mean."
Asami nods. "We," she says.
"Remember, we're in this together," Asami says. Korra squeezes her hand again and the stiffness of her shoulders relaxes minutely. They watch through the window as Katara walks up the path from the docks.
The door opens, and Asami holds her breath.
When Katara and Tenzin enter the room, Tenzin closes the door firmly behind them, keeping the curious kids out, and then the four of them stand frozen in a strange tableau of nervousness.
"Er, I'll just - wait outside," Tenzin says, after Katara stares at him for a few seconds, a meaningful tilt to her eyebrows. Katara nods in satisfaction and turns toward Asami and Korra.
"Korra, I'm so glad to see you," says Katara, bending down to hug Korra gently. She's barely taller than Korra in her wheelchair, but exudes enough power that Asami wishes she could bow without Katara telling her to stop. Katara always has that effect on her, and the one time she tried it when they'd just met, Katara had just laughed.
Korra manages a smile, and Asami doesn't let go of her hand.
"Well," Katara says, looking at their linked hands. "I assume you'll want Asami to stay?"
Korra nods, and Katara bends a swirl of water over Korra's arm, slowly moving it along her skin to her neck and shoulder. Asami watches in fascination as the water pulses and glows. It takes a long time for Katara to finish her examination, and Asami watches Korra move from fear to hope and back to fear several times before Katara pulls the water back.
"Is it - is it fixable?" Korra asks in a hoarse voice.
Katara stays silent, but she smiles and pats Korra's cheek fondly.
Korra's intense look of confusion makes Asami giggle, and then Korra glares, but she forgets to be annoyed when Katara finally speaks again.
"It will take work, hard work. You're sad and heavy-hearted, and it’s not just because your body no longer obeys you perfectly." Katara looks at each of them in turn, and then focuses again on Korra. "Your spirit is one thing I cannot heal - even if your body can be healed completely, your spirit will affect your health."
"But, if I try hard enough, it can be fixed?" Korra asks. Her hands are tightly wrapped around the arms of her chair, pressure turning her skin whiter around the knuckles. Asami feels like an intruder again, and starts to back away, but Korra snatches her hand before she can move far.
"Stay, please," Korra says, her voice catching, and Asami returns to her side as Korra's hand goes back to clutching her chair.
"Katara," Korra repeats, pleading. "I can fix it, can't I?"
Katara sighs heavily. "When terrible things happen to us, our spirit is often wounded. It cannot be fixed like a physical injury - it heals with time, and sometimes it cannot heal at all until you acknowledge its presence and release the guilt you feel."
"I'm - I'm still really bad at the spirit stuff," Korra says.
Katara turns and sits down in a chair, pulling it closer to Korra, and gesturing to Asami to take a seat as well. When they're arranged to her satisfaction, Katara nods and begins speaking once again.
"This isn't the kind of spirit stuff that only the Avatar knows. This is simply what it means to be human.
“There is no quick fix or easy cure when our hearts are hurt. There is only time and forgiveness."
Korra shakes her head. "I'm kind of bad at the human stuff, too, then."
"Not any worse than the rest of us," Asami says. "You can't be perfect at everything, and even if the world expects it of you, I don't - your family doesn't."
"There will always be tension in your life," Katara says, her eyes filling with the shadow of memory. "You will always be yourself, just Korra, and you will always be the Avatar. Not all Avatars make the same choices when it comes to their own internal balance, and you can find what will work for you. But," she adds, a smile on her face again, "If I may make a suggestion from experience, I think that you are surrounded by people who love you, the you that is just Korra, and only a fool turns their back on that kind of love."
Korra sits quietly, and Asami takes her hand.
"I'm going to have to talk about my feelings more often, aren't I?" Korra says eventually, a resigned tone to her voice.
Asami feels herself relaxing, the last band of tension around her heart releasing in a flood of hope. If Korra chooses to, there's nothing Asami thinks she can't do.
"I'm afraid so," Katara replies solemnly, but with a laugh behind the words. "Now, why don't we ask your young lady here to go find us some tea while we begin some healing work?" Katara nods at Asami, and Korra and Asami both blush.
It's not a secret, exactly. They haven't told anyone, but they haven't been hiding it, either. It's still a thrill to have someone else know.
Asami stands and goes to make or find tea, and smiles to herself as she hears Korra sputtering a reply to Katara behind her.
Asami spends fewer actual days on the island now, but she returns there almost every night. There are still bad times, of course, especially for Korra, but things are changing for all of them.
Katara invites Asami to tea one afternoon, just the two of them. They sip their tea quietly, and Asami feels as if she's taking a test. After finishing her tea, Katara must find whatever she is looking for in Asami, because she nods once, decisively, and speaks.
"Loving the Avatar isn't easy," she says. "You must be prepared for fights, for feeling neglected, for world crises invading all your private moments, and above all, you must never forget who it is that you love, or let Korra forget that you love her, as well as the Avatar."
Asami nods politely, but she's not sure she really understands the deeper meaning in Katara's words.
Katara continues, her eyes focused on Asami with a piercing gaze. "Korra only knows how to be the Avatar. She is learning how to be just Korra as well, and you are an important part of that."
"I do love her and I help where I can, but she's doing all the hard work. I'm just - here," Asami says. "Aside from your hard work," she adds quickly, not wanting to cause offense.
Katara laughs. "You are already wiser than I was," she says, shaking her head. "Keep loving her, and not just the parts of her that you see and understand, and you will do fine."
Asami finds the idea of being wiser than Katara to be so unbelievable that she is hard-pressed not to argue. It would be unforgivably rude, and so she holds her protest back. She isn't able to fool Katara, who just laughs some more, taking Asami's hand and patting it fondly.
"None of us start out wise, and only a few grow that way," Katara says. "I had more than my fair share of fights with my husband, over many stupid things and many important things. You won't be able to avoid that."
"We didn't start out very well," Asami says. "Did Korra tell you that we liked the same boy for a while? It was very awkward."
Shaking her head, Katara lets Asami's hand go and refills their cups. "No, I didn't know that."
"We got through it," Asami says. "I hope we always will."
Katara laughs again, seemingly to herself. "Hope," she says, looking up at Asami, eyes twinkling with a private joke. "That is a fine start. Let me tell you a story about that."
Asami listens, and tucks the lessons she learns safely away in her mind.
"Asami!" Korra says, catching sight of Asami's reflection in the mirror beside hers and pauses. "It's not what it looks like?"
"It looks like you're happy," Asami says, pressing a kiss to Korra's cheek and making her own face in the mirror. "Is that what it is?"
"I am," Korra says, surprise in her voice. "I didn't recognize it… but I am."
"Good," Asami says, and pulls Korra close for another kiss.
Their reflections in the mirror blend together in the corner of her vision. Asami can't think of anything more perfect.