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The Stream

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Their son had eyes Korra would say were Asami's, but Asami would say were her mother’s. It felt a blessing the too-similar verdancy lay hidden behind closed lids. Maybe there was a chance he’d miss this illusion of a place.

An uncomfortable tightening in her chest floated a fruitless hope as they strolled the extensive grounds. It was an unrealistic dream that the stream at the western edge of the property would no longer exist, had been swallowed by the earth or dried to dust. When they reached it, the outward appearance was mercilessly same. The unchanged, it tattered and muddled thoughts, made her mind skip. The only remaining focus within her was due to the infant strapped across her front. He was blissfully asleep, his tiny body and hers reflecting warmth back and forth. The combining rhythm of their breaths, was comfort banking rising panic.

They’d purposefully taken to arranging the twins this way, their son with her and their daughter with Korra. Their baby boy, very much Asami’s miniature, was positively obsessed with her wife. Without nourishment to appease him, he'd wail inconsolably at any who dared to stand in Korra’s stead. An impressively stubborn infant, he was resistant to any suggestion that life did not begin and end with Korra’s face. Thankfully they'd made some headway in his begrudging acceptance of Asami.

The child Korra carried, their baby girl, was without a doubt the more easygoing of the two. The infant was endearingly and reliably excited by either of them. Whereas her brother was dead asleep, the girl was oppositely awake and wide-eyed, gazing up toward the dappled light creeping through canopy breaks. Though the baby was too young to see the world with the sharpness they could, it did not seem to dim her delight. Korra and their daughter watching the running water and sunbeams with wonderment, it reminded her of her first outings here.

The memories still hurt as they rushed in. To combat the onslaught of recollection, she kept her eyes where the sweetness in her life lived. She watched as Korra’s stare roamed over the moss-covered trees, the slick rocks, and the flowing stream. Her wife turned to give her a small, but joyous smile before her head tilted skyward. Those similarly colored irises reflected the cloudless blue, golden flecks of broken sunray scattered throughout the black of her pupils.

Korra’s happiness was unreachable to her though; its unattainability felt a failure. The calmness she'd caught dissipated, was no match for everything welling up inside her. Asami was suddenly hot and scratched with emotion, embarrassed by the strength it. Irrational anger for the brook, the trees, the moss, the sky, the sun…how they callously remained just as beautiful as she remembered, it seeped in. The loveliness was somehow barren when the most important pieces of her remembrances were now absent from the world. It bothered her that any appreciation for nature’s gifts collapsed into the shadows of her grief.

Even after so much time, she was not strong enough to see the landscape with child’s eyes any longer.

Coming here was a terrible idea.

Her mother’s voice tumbled unwelcome through her mind as Korra knelt to touch the running water, liquid racing around fingers, other hand holding onto their daughter. The grasp was protective despite the baby being perfectly secure in her sling wrap already. Such a lovely scene became abruptly wrong and monstrous.

Asami had brought them to a memory that no longer existed, a lonely simulacrum. Her regret was aggressive. None of them should see it this way, so devoid of heart. Gone was the laughter and her father pressing a kiss to her mother’s temple and summertime meals by the water’s edge and splashing in the stream. The reminiscences swamped her, bringing sweeping waves of heartache.

She felt ill and ridiculous.  

When their gazes met, she knew her love had seen more on her face than she would’ve liked. Her lover’s lips pressed together, as Korra studied her with worried, unknowing eyes. They snapped with focused scrutiny. Those booted feet made no sound as they hopped quickly over the maze of protruding stones, still with a cautious grip on the bundle. Asami could not begin to explain what was wrong and the anxiety of having to speak or hide took hold. She managed a smile, but Korra did not return it. 

“This is where you had those picnics with your mom and dad, isn’t it?” Korra said quietly, looking resolutely ahead and sitting gingerly on a large rock bent from the earth. Asami nodded shakily as her mind disobediently wandered away. There were few things she’d divulged about her early childhood, but those picnics came up when she and Korra partook in one themselves. 

In this stunning backdrop from her childhood full of invisible distortions, she reflected involuntarily. So many pivotal points, her falling in love, their engagement, their wedding, the twins… things fell into step just after her father’s death and nearly twenty years after her mother's. They were not a part of those fulfilling events, would never be any part of the family she’d built for herself. The burn of it was fresh fire and not one she knew how to douse.

“Why’d you take us here?” Korra asked, without any of the pugnacity such a matter-of-fact question could carry. It was a skill that came along with maturity; something tricky for most, to be direct without forcing it.

“I...don’t know.” She faltered, ashamed for it. The look Korra gave her was one of a weary acceptance. That caution existed where deeper veins of emotion were concerned, it was true for both of them.

Asami, for her part, had trouble allowing herself to be taken care of by anyone not paid to do it. Those gestures when non-transactional, when given freely…she disliked the exposure and potential for burden. Her life has been one in which emotional self-sufficiency was a necessity. Materially, she may have had everything she needed and more, but when her father dealt with the loss of her mom the only way he knew how, by throwing himself into working, self-soothing was imperative.  

A nurturing person, slipping into the feelings of others and providing for them fulfilled her. Conversely, she did not often speak with any depth on what plagued her. A basic explanation or defense would be advanced, but when bitterness and upset changed the color of her feelings, the ability to express herself was elusive and fragile. She kept those things her own as often as possible. The rawness and sensitivity there was too much. As much as she loved Mako as a friend, as much as they’d both grown, her experiences with him and her father and various manipulative business associates…none of it had done anything positive for her tendency to bury.

She did want to allow Korra in but wanting something did not guarantee results. It was unsurprisingly a bit of a struggle. 

“I made a mistake,” Asami admitted aloud and her lover eyed her without comprehension, needed more.  

“What do you mean?” Korra asked tone low and secretive. An undue flare of anger arose at being questioned and she fought it back. "Talk to me."

“I need a minute.” It surprised Asami, her own tone and the harshness there. The rebuff had visible impact, but Korra said nothing, just wrenched another stone from the ground beside her.   

Body as heavy as the sigh she released, Asami took a seat there while Korra gave their squirming daughter her finger to play with. Hesitantly, her lover rested a hand on Asami’s leg. It was typically warm, and she slid hers over Korra’s, then kissed a shoulder.

Her voice was coaxed when adorably tiny fingers closed around Korra’s thumb. “I’m sorry.” She murmured. 

It was obvious from Korra’s concerned expression that the apology was not needed. “Are you okay?"

Inhaling to ground herself, she stared at the scenery. “I wanted to bring them here because I used to love it, but it doesn’t feel like the same place to me.” She confessed, displeased by how much effort it took.

Returning to this former Fire Nation colony where her family had a summer home, it was mostly to explore some business propositions. But a decision she’d been avoiding needed to be made about keeping the property or selling it. Korra, in a rare stretch of free time, had come to support her and they’d brought their children because it seemed a good idea when they spoke of it…the whole family together. She knew part of the reason was also that Korra sensed for whatever reason, Asami was not entirely happy with needing to travel here.

“I think I get that.” Was the carefully offered reply.  

“Do you?” Asami was curious and hoped there’d be more, anything which could distract from the riot inside her chest.   

Korra nodded to herself before their daughter's grip drew a tender expression. They were truly too sweet together. Asami had always thought so, and she felt guilty for not being able to fully enjoy her family in this moment. She saw Korra’s neck bob around a thick swallow, tongue darting across lips briefly. Nervous gestures, she recognized.

“It’s not exactly the same thing, but when I went to the South Pole after I was hurt, nothing felt good. I always liked going home to my parents, but their house, the palace, the town…it was just different somehow. Kinda like living in a bad dream where everything felt slightly off.”

Maybe it was inconsiderate to speak with Korra on this. She felt like she was never mindful enough of the other woman’s tragedies, felt they were so much harsher than her own. Korra wouldn’t agree with that sentiment, she knew that much, which kept her silent. And maybe she was just talking herself out of saying anymore because it was uncomfortable...because her insecurities whispered that these things were hers alone to bear. 

The soft grip flexed on her thigh and her eyes lifted, meeting Korra’s which were serious again. “Don’t do whatever you’re doing right now. If you’re comparing us, stop. If you feel like it’s too much for me, it’s not. I know I'm not good at guessing what's wrong, but I'm here.”

Asami closed her eyes, her own transparency hurtful somehow…like weakness. And why did she think that? Whose voice was she hearing? She couldn’t find the origin, so instead she focused on the feel of the little human breathing steadily against her chest again. Finding a sliver of peace in him and in Korra’s hand on hers took some effort.    

“I’m not sure what I feel.” It was honest but added nothing.

“You’ve never been here without them, right?” Korra inferred, ‘them’ being her parents.

“No, I haven’t. My dad and I never really came here, not after my mother passed. I didn’t think it would affect me this much.” She thought she might feel down, sentimental perhaps, but not this…not the echoing hollowness. “I don’t understand.”

Watching her for a few quiet minutes, her wife stared at the ground in front of them. “Something you’ve always loved suddenly becoming the emptiest place you’ve ever been. Why wouldn’t that mess you up a little?”

A thousand responses popped through her mind, each crumbling to pieces before she could voice them. Korra miraculously did not press her, did nothing but run a thumb over the top of her hand and then make a gentle offer. “We can leave if you want.”

“Do you want to?” She asked, with the vision of Korra’s smile by the stream returning and she’d probably ruined their day. Asami was not a person who handled reminders well, preferred to avoid them. She should have known better than to come here her mind argued. She should have sold the place and never returned. 

Korra glanced at her. “Up to you. I’m not the one going through anything.”

And as they sat beside one another, their daughter’s eyes locked on hers. Interest sparked there and Asami felt the pounding in her chest begin to subside. “What did you think of it? My mom loved it here too."

Korra was visibly surprised by the question. “It’s beautiful. It almost looks like the spirit world. I like the moss hanging everywhere and I've never seen trees like these."

Circling around, her eyes took in the scene. “I remember them being much bigger.”

Korra grinned at her carefully. “The snow drifts back home are the same. They used to look like mountains to me. Is this where you looked for those rocks you collected?”

Nodding, her eyes wandering over to the water, while her mind recalled the conversation in question. Korra had asked about the mineral and gem collection in her family estate and she'd told Korra about her childhood fascination with river rocks. “Yes, from the stream."

“I would’ve liked them too. They glitter.”

“Flecks of mica.” Asami volunteered mindlessly. “It makes them sparkle in the sunlight. I used to think there were tiny diamonds buried inside.” Her cheeks took on the slightest pink over the juvenile belief she’d long since debunked.  

“That’s cute.”

Asami ran her fingers lightly over their son’s forehead as he roused, touching the fuzzy and fine hair atop his head. His eyes darted about sleepy and unfocused before his tiny tongue poked out and he burbled. “Someone’s awake. He’ll be hungry soon.”

Korra glanced at them and there was contentment there as eyes traced over their wiggling son. “I know you don’t like to talk about it, but if you ever felt like telling us something about your mom, it'd be good for them, I think.” The request was atypically tentative. “Only if you want to, but...they should hear about her.”

Details of her mother’s life had been sparing, not much revealed beyond the loss. It took some consideration for her to find something she wished to relay, wondering if saying it now, here might help fill the void. 

“One of the things I remember most is she used to make a silly little fox spirit puppet with her hand,” Her middle and ring finger pressed to her thumb, as her pinky and index extended in the air. "Like this."

Korra mimicked the hand position, hovering it over their baby girl. The infant immediately reached out to grab hold, chattering sunnily. “I think she likes it.”

Asami gave a small smile as Korra made the hand puppet’s mouth open and close rapidly. The baby’s stare blew wide and brimmed with curiosity at the movement, treetops dancing in irises as she squealed and excitedly seized Korra’s fingers. Their daughter’s eyes were a clear radiant blue, rounder and bigger than her brother's. 

“Was it just a shadow puppet?” Korra inquired, interested but unintrusive. "My dad made the same one when he told stories, but said it was a wolf."

“No. It did all kinds of things. She would have it turn the page when we read stories or have it nip at me and splash me in the bath,” Asami paused, staring down at the leaf litter that carpeted the ground beneath them. A small and melancholy turn of her lips mirroring the cast of her memories. “Sometimes she’d make it eat my snacks. It would crush them to crumbs. I thought that was so funny. And I’d make it kiss the stuffed catowl I took everywhere with me goodnight.”

“I bet you still have that stuffed catowl, huh?” Korra posited with a knowing grin.

Lifting an eyebrow, Asami adjusted the slump in her posture. “It might be in my closet at home, but I admit nothing.”

With a pronounced frown, Korra pushed at her leg while wiggling her fingers for their daughter. “Does this catowl have a name?”

Growing quiet, she took her time in answering, the same sort of creeping embarrassment sinking in as it had when she spoke of imaginary diamonds trapped in rocks. “Widget.”

Her lover released a throaty laugh and eyed her affectionately. “Did the fox spirit talk?”

“It didn’t talk. It chirped like a bird. But it also made these happy little noises when it pretended to eat my food. I don’t think either of us knew what a fox sounded like.”

“Yeah, I don’t either.” That grin widened and then Korra watched their daughter tug a finger to her mouth, positively soaking it with drool to the point it dripped in spools. Asami waited for the good-natured eye roll she knew would come.

“Thanks for that,” Korra muttered adoringly at the baby, flicking a pouty lip before bending away the spittle trail. She felt her heart warm. It was such an odd thing to find sweet. “I’m sorry your parents never got to meet them.”

Her heart twisted in her chest, hitched the first word she released. “I think they would’ve spoiled them.”

Chuckling softly, Korra smiled at her. “They’d be shooting around in little replica Satomobiles.”

And suddenly she was smiling fully too, the plans already sketching themselves in her mind's eye. “What makes you think I wouldn’t build them something like that?”

Her lover scoffed. “Then they better take after you with the driving.”

“For their own safety if nothing else.” The tease was of the light-hearted sort they tended to engage in. “Thank you.” She said after some time. 

“For what?”

“For coming with me. For everything and nothing.” The seeking gaze and furrowed brow belied Korra's confusion. Rightfully so. She wasn’t even sure what it meant, only that she felt its truth. 

Rather than ask for elaboration, Korra anchored her with touch, hands joined. Their son stirred against her but blessedly settled even after realizing she was not her wife. He took in his surroundings for the first time with a wide unblinking stare. Appreciation snuck through sadness while she and her son watched the stream's familiar sparkle with eyes her mother gave them.