After she’d faced Zaheer again, Korra had stopped seeing the haunting version of her poisoned self. But that didn’t mean the trauma was gone entirely. There were the nightmares, that would leave her trembling and crying until Asami held her and helped her come back to herself. There were the sudden memories that would make her clench her hands into fists, until the pain of her nails digging into her palms brought her back to the present. And there were the scars.
Waterbending could heal well, but not without leaving some trace behind. Korra’s scars were mostly small, and could be hidden. She had none like Lin’s, none which made you notice them immediately and wonder where they’d come from. But they were there all the same, the scars of years of training and wars. Her emotional scar tissue, Korra reflected, was a lot thicker and harder to handle.
But the two had become inextricably linked. Sometimes she would notice some small scar, some mark on her skin, and be dragged back to when it had happened, or to some other dark memory.
Right now was one of those times. She couldn’t sleep, even though Asami’s breathing was even next to her, her green eyes closed. The moonlight shone too brightly through the window, and it highlighted the line of the scars on Korra’s right arm. Small marks you would hardly notice. But Korra knew them. They marked where Zaheer’s poison had been forced into her body. They spoke of the worst she had ever felt, the lowest she had ever been. Some were smaller, and they spoke of her forcing the last of the poison from her. Either way, the memories were dark.
Korra extricated herself from Asami’s arm, which was flung across her, and sat up, tracing the scars with one finger. She drew in a sobbing breath as memories overtook her.
Tied up in a cave, unable to escape, the poison being forced into her body, struggling to twist away, the world blurring, pain and fear overtaking her, the faces of the Red Lotus warping and twisting into the forms of her past enemies.
Korra whimpered softly, trying to stay present, to stay anchored, not to let the memories drag her under, but she could feel her heart pounding against her ribs. The scars from the poison were different to the others. They glimmered slightly silver, just like the poison that had caused them had. She tried to force back a cry, but a low sob escaped her.
“Korra?” Asami’s voice, soft, concerned, pulling her back to herself.
Korra dug her nails into her palms, trying to find the will to turn and face her girlfriend, to force the tears down, to pretend nothing was wrong. But Asami knew. Asami always knew. Korra felt her soft hands on her shoulders, reminding her where she was.
“Korra, it’s okay.” Asami knelt in front of her, taking hold of both her hands and staring earnestly into her eyes. “You’re safe here. Nothing is going to hurt you.”
Korra stared at the scars and tried to believe Asami, but it was so difficult sometimes. “Look,” she choked out, running her finger along one of the lines, a crescent of skin which the moon highlighted more than sunlight ever could. “I was hurt. they remind me every day that I was hurt. That it could happen again.”
“Do you know what your scars say to me?” Asami asked softly. “They say you were hurt, but you survived. They say you made it through, Korra. They say that you were strong.”
She ran her fingers over them, her touch gentle. “These ones...” she traced the ones where the poison had gone into Korra’s body, “tell me you’re a survivor, Korra. These ones...” her hand ran over the smaller group of marks where the poison had gone out again, “tell me you healed yourself. Tell me you fought through it all and came out the other end.”
She reached for Korra’s right hand, tracing the faint scar of a burn across one knuckle. “This one tells me you trained so hard to become the Avatar. That you took on that responsibility and you never gave up.” Her hand moved to Korra’s collarbone. “This one tells me you were a really awesome pro-bender.” She laughed softly. “And trust me, out there on that pitch, I thought you were the most... vibrant, electric, beautiful person I’d ever seen. And that was way before we were even proper friends.”
Korra smiled, her breathing slowing.
Asami wasn’t finished. She lifted the bottom of Korra’s tank top, tracing a scar on her side, just above her hip. “This one tells me you’re the kind of person who fights for the people she cares about. Because you got it fighting Tokuga, for me, and for the safety of the city.”
She kept talking, telling the story of Korra’s scars, her hands tracing them softly. Korra felt her heart stop pounding, the memories fading to the back of her mind, swallowed by Asami’s care and trust and tenderness.
“This one...” Asami traced a small burn scar on Korra’s left palm. “...tells me neither of us can cook, and we’ll probably burn the house down one of these days.”
Korra laughed a little, brushing her tears away.
Her hand moved to the back of Korra’s right shoulder. “This one tells me you love me enough to let me tackle you to the ground when I get excited about something.”
Korra grinned, remembering. She’d just agreed to move in with Asami, and in her excitement, her girlfriend had literally run at her and knocked her over. Korra, completely unprepared, had caught her shoulder on an open Sato-mobile door before she had time to catch them both with some hasty airbending. Once they’d righted themselves, she’d realised her shoulder was bleeding, and even though she healed it easily, Asami had not stopped apologising for half an hour, and taken Korra out to dinner as recompense.
Asami’s hand moved to rest over Korra’s heart, where the scars were not visible like the rest, but were there more than anywhere else. “And these ones...” she whispered, “tell me you have the strongest heart I’ve ever known. That you are the bravest and best person in my life. That no matter how many times you’ve been hurt, you still find room to love and care for so many others. That despite the pain you’ve suffered, you’re still the brightest light in my world. But they also tell me it’s okay for you not to be strong all the time, Korra. That sometimes you can let other people be strong for you, just like you are for them.”
Asami got up and sat down on the bed beside Korra, pulling her close against her side. Korra buried her face in Asami’s shoulder.
“Every single one of those scars tell me you’re Korra.”
Korra was crying again, but this time, it wasn’t from bad memories.
“When did I get so lucky?” she whispered, holding onto Asami tightly.
“Hey, I didn’t fall for you because of luck. I fell for you because you’re amazing.”
“Back at you,” Korra murmured tiredly.
Someday soon, Korra thought, maybe Asami would lie awake in tears, over her father, her mother, what she’d lost. And Korra would be the one to hold her and tell her she was there, tell her she could get through this. Maybe Korra would remember some time she’d been hurt and want to double over from the pain of the remembrances, and Asami would be there to catch her and make her feel safe again. Maybe Asami would wake sobbing from a nightmare of Guan’s brainwashing, and Korra would stroke her hair and remind her that she was herself, that he could never touch her again.
They’d break down and piece each other back together again, over and over. There would be days where everything seemed insurmountable, and days where the world felt bleak. But through every one of those days, they’d hold onto each other. With Asami there, the memories would not drown Korra. And with Korra there, she hoped, the sadness would not pull Asami under.
One step at a time.
“I love you,” Korra whispered. “Thank you for saving me.”
Asami didn’t ask what she had saved her from. She knew what Korra meant, as Korra had known she would.
“I love you too, Korra. And if you truly say I saved you... then we must have saved each other.”
Korra laughed softly, stifling a yawn. “Fair enough. You know I can’t argue with you.”
“Because you know I’m right.”
The moonlight still shone on Korra’s scars, but this time, they didn’t just tell her of pain and trauma. This time, she saw them with the stories Asami had told, too. This time, they spoke not just of the wounds that had caused them, but of the hands that had traced them moments before. Many of these scars had been born from hate. But now they told another story too. A story of love, always and unconditionally.
Only Asami could have changed that story. Because together, they could overcome anything.
And with that truth to hold on to, they could make it through the days and weeks and months and years to come.
One step, one wound, one night, one sob, one kiss, one scar at a time.