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A Mistake Worth Knowing

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Lately she’s been terrified of sleeping alone. 

Her body is heavy with exhaustion, not from any real exertion but just the dull throbbing ache of fatigue, but sleep won’t come. Her brain cycles through memories, sharply reliving the pain of the fight, endlessly analysing her mistakes. That sick helplessness as she hung from the ceiling, splayed open and unable to resist the metal sinking in through her pores.

Reading is too tiring, she’s too weak to take a walk. The radio helps; she listens to jazz, to plays, to documentaries. Everything except the news. The information doesn’t stick: she couldn’t tell you the plot of The Cut Sleeve or anything about the reintroduction of dragons into the wild but it passes the time and distracts her mind and sometimes - sometimes - she can fall asleep.

The knock on the door is soft but unnecessary, she’s already awake. She must have slept at some point, whole chunks of shows went missing, blending into each other seamlessly, but since the sun peeked through her window she’s been stubbornly awake.

“Come in,” she croaks. Should have a drink of water, she’s thirsty. The glass is beside her bed but it hardly seems worth reaching for.

“I came to see if you wanted help getting ready,” Asami says, opening the door.

She says it like it’s a question, like Korra could do it without her help. She appreciates the charade.

Asami turns off the radio and opens the blinds before pulling out the wheelchair from the foot of the bed. 

The chair was a gift, Asami walked it into her bedroom a few days after they returned to Republic City. Air Temple Island is seemingly infested with steps and stairs and inexplicable bumps, but at least now she can get out of her room without becoming completely exhausted, and owning the world's first Satochair is almost cool.

She braces one of her arms behind Korra’s back and takes her weight as she stands up. Her legs wobble underneath her and she leans into the other girl as she takes the step necessary to reach the chair. She collapses gratefully into it.

It’s maybe a bit lazy to be wheeled the paltry distance to the bathroom, but she has a long day to look forward to and every scrap of energy has to be accounted for. Those skipped steps might mean she makes it through Jinora’s ceremony.

Baths are easier to take than showers - more sitting down - but harder to get into. Asami has to grip her tight around the waist and hold a hand out like a pillar for her to cling onto.

She’s embarrassed by her body in a detached kind of way; she observes the fact that she would rather not have people see her but she can’t let herself be emotional about it. She only lets herself feel it when she’s alone in the dark and she splays her hand over her ribcage and counts the bones, feels how fragile they are. She didn't know it was possible to lose so much weight in so short a time, it's like it's melting off her.

Asami doesn’t make her feel it, though. She doesn’t frown at her skinny shoulders or comment that she needs to eat more. She knows Korra tries, has held back her hair for her as she throws up the attempts. She’s become terribly acquainted with Korra’s body but it doesn’t seem to have put her off yet.

The water is warm and fragrant and Korra can lean her head against the tub’s edge and let her body relax. Asami rolls up her sleeves and prepares a stack of bottles at the bath’s edge, a magicians box of tricks to transform her into a public-ready avatar.

Asami washes her hair, massaging the shampoo into her scalp like this is a fancy spa, but leaves her to handle the soap herself. She’s already so powerless she doesn’t want to feel like a baby being washed in a sink.

Asami doesn’t say anything about how loose Korra’s formal clothes hang on her but she pulls the drawstring tight round her waist so her pants won’t slip.

Looking into the hand mirror, it’s like looking at a stranger, or a dodgy portrait done by a less talented fan. Something about the expression seems wrong, out of balance. The features don't hang together. It doesn’t feel like her. She dimly notes the bags under her eyes but tries to appreciate her shiny hair and the way Asami got everything in just the right place.

Asami’s hand is warm in hers, glowing with vigour and kindness. She wishes she had anything to give back. 

::

She whispers into Asami’s ear that she needs to be somewhere quiet. The smell of the incense and the noise of the happy crowd has given her a headache and she wants to be somewhere her problems won’t make everyone else miserable.

“Sure thing,” Asami says, leaving the party behind them and wheeling her deeper into the temple. Thankfully, the cool marble building is full of quiet spaces, rooms to meditate in and contemplate life. The party is audible but far off, a world she isn’t a part of.

“Do you want me to stay? Or do you want to be alone?” Asami asks.

“You should enjoy the party,” Korra says.

“I don’t know,” Asami says, perching in the stone window seat. “I quite like it back here.”

So they sit together, Korra trying to stop the tears from rolling down her cheeks, Asami pretending not to notice. She tells Korra about how the sale of the mansion is nearly complete, her plans for how to decorate her apartment. She’ll miss the pool in summer, she says, but she can always come here and swim in the sea.

“Oh Bolin,” a breathy voice says nearby and Korra twists around sharply to face the door.

Bolin and Opal are leaning against the doorway, wrapped tightly around each other, evidently too caught up in their embrace to notice the world around them.

Korra stares awkwardly but Asami coughs pointedly.

“Oh hey!” Bolin says, springing away from Opal red faced. “Didn’t see you guys there!” 

Opal giggles, and Korra notices the way she keeps her hands on Bolin, stroking his chest idly and leaning into his space. Even as he blushes, Bolin leans back, his body instinctively seeking the touch.

“Maybe find a different room?” Asami suggests, smiling.

Opal laughs again. “Let’s try down here,” she says, pulling Bolin back into the corridor, heading deeper into the building. Her giggles echo in the walls, punctuated by their eager footsteps.

"We'd better make sure Lin knows where we are if you want to get down those steps," Asami points out.

"You're right," Korra agrees, and they head back in, away from Bolin and Opal.

::

She sleeps through the afternoon, the morning's exertions having tired her out. Asami potters around the room, tidying and organising, so when Korra blinks her eyes open, half asleep still, she can feel her presence and go back to sleep. She almost feels refreshed when she wakes up for dinner.

She barely has an appetite but all the healers tell her she needs to eat, so she dutifully downs a bowl of the plainest rice available, only a sprinkling of salt to season it.

Asami has a portfolio of documents she's going through, signing some and circling parts she finds wanting. Korra eats slowly because she knows what comes next.

Finally, she has to put down the bowl, and she can feel the exhaustion pulling her down again. Asami notices too and packs up her things. She removes the cushions propping Korra up to eat and helps her to lie down, pouring her a glass of water for the night and taking away the rice bowl.

"I'll see you in a couple days, we'll have a big day out in the city. Sleep well," she says, and squeezes her hand.

Korra doesn't want to let go, wants to pull her into the bed, but she lets go and doesn't say anything. Asami closes the door and Korra is left alone for another night.

 


 

Korra waves Jinora off and thinks how she looks like a leader, a teenage girl with flapping golden robes and a blue arrow on her head. She hopes she’ll be strong enough for whatever the world throws at her. The airship vanishes across the horizon, and she and Tenzin and Pema are all still watching.

 


 

 She's prepared herself for a big day out in the city, all arranged and co-ordinated by Asami. She's rested as much as she can, and she waits nervously on the dock, watching as the distant white shape of her boat comes closer.

Asami’s boat comes to a stop at the jetty with a guttural roar of its engine and she leaps out, tying it down efficient and pocketing the keys. Watching Asami behind the controls of anything mechanical is like watching a master bender at full concentration.

Korra’s been noticing more recently; the confident way she walks like she owns the ground, but also the defensive way she stands beside Mako, the wistful look she gets when Korra’s father fusses over her.

“I’m here to spirit you away,” she tells Korra.

"Sounds amazing," she says, and leaves Air Temple Island in her wake with relief.

 ::

Driving through the city, the vines seem like a part of the infrastructure now. Washing hangs from the more slender tendrils, children play hide and seek around their roots, and the buildings have sagged into their embrace. 

“It’s almost like it was meant to be,” Asami says, glancing out of the window at a stop light. Spirits and humans are enjoying the last of the evening sunshine in a park, sitting on the vines like benches. Some enterprising soul has hung a swing from a particularly sturdy vine and children are elbowing each other out of the way for turns.

“Maybe, or maybe people can just get used to anything,” Korra says as they pull away.

::

Evidently Asami has been making plans, because when they pull up to the steps of the pro-bending arena, there are two muscle-bound security guards ready to carry her wheelchair up. Together they carry her all the way to Future Industry’s box up innumerable flights of stairs. It’s uncomfortable, and jiggly, but it would be impossible for her to walk them.

Korra wheels herself forward to the edge of the box where a chair has been removed and takes in the arena. The smell of dust and sweat, the players doing their warm up stretches.

“How did you get us in here for the practices? They never let spectators come.”

Asami smiles. “When a big sponsor asks a favour for the Avatar, exceptions can be made.”

It's strange being here, like looking back through a time machine. Like a piece of before still exists, preserved in amber, and she can observe it, even if she can't touch it.

Asami sits down next to her and takes her hand in hers, her strong warm fingers wrapped around Korra's tremoring ones, holding her grounded, holding her steady.

 


 

Meelo lets her play with Pokey, showing her how to throw berries and lychee nuts for him to pluck out of the air, and where behind his ears to scratch. The lemur curls up in her lap and vibrates with deep, rumbling purrs.

“That means he loves you,” Meelo whispers gravely, stroking its back.

 


 

“I feel like every time I come and see you, I end up making things worse!” Mako shouts, pulling his hand through his hair.

Korra has a rotten headache brewing and her hands have started to shake. She sighs and presses her palms against her thighs, willing them to be still.

“You don’t, I just wish you would stop asking me if I’m ok every two seconds,” she says.

He slumps against a tree beside her, kicking at the cup she’d thrown on the ground in frustration, making it roll between his feet. “I’m just so worried about you, Korra, and I want to help but I don’t know what I can do. I feel so helpless,” he says quietly.

“Me too,” she admits. “Sometimes there’s just nothing you can do.” The words taste bitter, and she wants to cry and she wants very much for Mako not to see. “Can you take me back to my room?”

 ::

 As he’s leaving she says, “I’m sorry I was so grouchy.”

He smiles sadly. “It’s ok, I’m sorry I couldn’t make you feel better.”

 


 

 Asami shows her how to paint her nails - it’s a lot more involved than it looks.

She rubs oil into the cuticles and pushes them back with a pokey pointy metal thing. Files them into smooth ovals and applies painstakingly thin layers of paint, letting them dry completely before doing another.

She enjoys the moments in between when Asami forgets she’s still holding Korra’s hand, letting her fingertips rest in her palm. They chat or they listen to the radio - Korra’s actually getting quite invested in one of the soaps. It’s quiet and peaceful and doesn’t involve much moving around but it feels like she’s taking care of herself.

When she lies in bed at night and runs her fingertips over her unnaturally smooth nails she thinks of how warm Asami’s hands always feel, how controlled she is with a brush, or a weapon, or a smile.

 


 

There’s a secluded spot out of the main compound’s sightline which Korra uses to practice bending. Apparently it’s bad for her chi to be expending so much of it, but not bending feels like not seeing, feels too much like when she couldn’t. 

She juggles a cup of water between her hands, pushing and pulling it. Sweating and dizzy, she pours it back into her jug and slumps in her chair. It’s an improvement from last week.

She’s just leaving when Ikki, her hands over her face, runs straight into her. Her eyes are red and her cheeks tear-tracked. 

“Hey, what’s wrong?” she says, as softly as she can. It’s awkward, she can’t stoop down and give her a hug.

Ikki solves the problem by launching herself upwards and latching onto Korra’s middle.

She strokes the little girl’s hair and listens as she sobs out how she misses Jinora, how she wishes she could have gone too. 

They end up braiding flowers into circlets and they wear them as Ikki wheels her back to the compound, her little arms stretching up as far as they can to reach the handles.

“If it’s ok with you, I could be like your sister, too. Not a replacement, but as well as,” Korra says.

Ikki’s eyes brim with tears again, and she hugs Korra tight, like she won’t let go.

 


 

 

Korra has learned not to play Pai Sho against Asami. Either she thrashes her completely within a few moves or she lets Korra win and is way too obvious about it.

“I’m sorry, I can’t help that I’m good!” she protests when Korra complains.

Instead, she plays with Bolin. She can only manage one game a day, focussing is incredibly tiring, but it’s fun, and she thinks she’s getting better.

Asami whispers strategy into her ear despite Bolin’s protests. He shouldn’t worry too much because half the time Korra is too thrilled by the closeness, the intimacy of Asami’s nose brushing her ear, to pay attention.

She does manage to win a few games though. Maybe eventually she’ll win against Asami.

 


 

When she lies in bed at night and sleep won’t come, she counts off the names of her friends and family like spells against the emptiness. Bolin’s sense of humour, Mako’s seriousness. Her mother and father, strong even when they don’t understand her, willing to protect her from anything. Jinora, Ikki and Meelo, so young and happy even with everything they’ve been asked to do, everything they’ve been through. Asami, always there, always with a kind word for anyone. Always anticipating what Korra will need, her eyes tracking her movements for signs of tiring. A strong hand always ready for support.

She builds a wall with their love, hoping to convince herself that it’s real, that it won’t be taken away.

 


 

Bolin organises mover night on the island, bringing in a hulking great projector and a shimmering screen with weights to brace it flat. The film reels are in fascinating, heavy canisters meticulously labelled in order. It’s going to be every Nuktuk film plus snacks and sweets and shaved ice.

They wait for darkness to fall and lay out cushions and rugs in the main courtyard, the projector squatting in the bushes behind the screen. By sunset, the whole island seems to have congregated, with plenty of the air benders gathered from rural areas never having seen a mover before.

Korra sits at the back - she doesn’t want anyone’s view to be blocked - with Asami beside her on a wooden chair pulled outside for the occasion. Ikki and Meelo lean against her legs, squirming and bickering between themselves, learning how to live together without Jinora. Mako sits stiffly upright by himself, glancing over every few seconds to where Bolin and Opal are snuggling beside him.

Korra likes the way she can sit back and take in the story. It doesn’t tire her out like reading does, and the pictures stick in her brain better than a radio play. She can let the story flow over her and it’s simple and ends happily and she can giggle with Asami about the special effects. She’s not sure why they didn’t just hire a water bender to play Nuktuk, but she can admit Bolin looks pretty hunky in his fur underpants.

As the titles roll, everyone applauds and Bolin can’t resist getting up and giving a bow to the audience. Mako throws popcorn at him but he’s undeterred, maybe because of the kisses Opal is blowing at him.

Asami smiles and glances over to her, cocking her head in a question. Are you tired?

Korra nods, realising all of a sudden how tired she is. Asami waits for her to say goodnight to everyone before pushing her back into the building.

It’s dark and quiet inside with everyone outside, unnaturally deserted. It feels like she and Asami are the only ones there.

“Wait,” she says when Asami goes to switch on the light. She likes the darkness right now, the way it feels private, like a moment outside of reality. The open window lets in the moonlight, casting Asami in a pale glow, her hand hovering by the light switch, arrested. “I wanted to say thank you, for everything. You’ve been here, all this time, and I know I’m no fun to be around - “

“No!” Asami interrupts her, pained.

“No, it’s fine, I’ve not been, I know,” she carries on. She feels like she has something momentous to say, something bubbling up she needs to express. “But you’re still here, and you’re still doing nice things for me and you made this chair,” she gestures below her, to the thing which means she can leave her room, which Asami knew she needed without even asking, which she made with as much precision as her airships and her race cars.

“Korra,” Asami says softly, reaching out into the darkness between them.

Korra takes a hold of her hand, grips it as firmly as she can.

“I just want to say thank you, you know, for all of that,” she trails off.

“Korra,” Asami repeats, whispering it, before she leans forward and kisses her on the mouth.

The angle is a little awkward, Asami is already taller than her, and Korra is sitting down, but Asami’s mouth is soft on hers, and her lipgloss tastes like figs in honey, and their noses brush against each other.

She can smell the other girl’s perfume, jasmine and roses and a hint of the toffee popcorn she’d been eating earlier. 

Asami pulls back urgently, looking shocked, as if she wasn’t the one who kissed her.

“I’m sorry!” she blurts out, pulling her hand from Korra’s grip, touching her mouth like it betrayed her. “I didn’t mean to - “

Korra reaches out, coaxes Asami to come back into her space until she’s kneeling in from of her chair. Korra touches her face tentatively, and leans forward until she can kiss her again. 

It’s still not perfect, this time Korra is taller, but she learns that with her mouth open over Asami’s, their lips dragging together and their hands clinging desperately to each other, she can say the things words wouldn’t do for. She’s hungry and demanding, and Asami gives under her touch.

They break apart, mouths still only inches apart, close enough to feel each other’s breath.

“Don’t be sorry,” Korra says, stroking the hair away from Asami’s face. 

They lean in together and kiss again, slowly this time, their mouths lingering over each other.

“Will you - “ Korra says, afraid to ask. But Asami looks at her so openly, so willing and present. “Would you stay the night?”

She blushes as she realises what that sounds like, and while absolutely yes please, eventually, she’d rather work up to that.

“I mean, just sleep next to me?”

“Of course,” Asami says, pressing a chaste kiss to the corner of her mouth.

It’s not particularly sexy, being helped to undress when her hands shake too much to do her laces and she can’t stand for more than a few seconds. And being levered into bed by strong competent hands is a lot more functional than it is enticing, but then she watches as Asami shucks off her layers silhouetted against the window, thoughtlessly and casually, and she hopes that maybe eventually will be sooner rather than later.

The bed is narrow and there’s barely room for both of them. Asami’s toes are cold against her own, but when she wraps an arm around her middle, her breath tickling the back of her neck, she feels warm and safe and sound. She falls asleep listening to Asami breathing, their hands locked together tight.