Asami looks down at her hands. They are pale and soft, smoothed over with the valleys and hills of her palm print. They are not worn. They are almost delicate, and if it weren’t for what she’s seen and done she would not think them capable of destruction or change. Even then, they have achieved very little.
She threads her hands together in her lap, shivering against the chilly, thin air. Flying on an air bison is not her favorite way to travel. She prefers the reliable hum of a machine under her, the controls vibrating slightly under her hands as she controls it. But she can see beautifully up here, and she almost likes it. Perhaps one day she will figure out the planes her father had invented, and then she will be able to soar above the city on her own terms.
Asami stares out at the bright lights of the city below. The city is not delicate. It is hard and harsh, filled with horrors. Her father always told her that, but he never told her about the horrors that come from within. He never explained that they could grow inside of her, a pit of jealousy, no, an ember burning in her stomach.
Asami sees Mako and Korra cuddling for warmth out of the corner of her eye. She wishes that, at the very least, he would have had enough respect for her and Korra to end things properly. Instead, she feels like a discarded toy.
Korra has found him easily, more easily than Asami ever had, as regretful as she is to recognize that. Korra finds everything easy.
Bolin meets her eye accidentally and she catches a look of pity. Asami quickly looks down at her clenched fists.
Korra stands firmly in once stance, bending water in fluid movements at the targets she has set up with Bolin. Mako is nowhere to be seen, thankfully, but Asami has carefully stationed herself on a bench behind a few bushes to watch the benders practice, just in case. The new pro-bending season is on the horizon, and Korra fully intends to participate once again. They had never really stopped practicing, even after the matches were cancelled. Korra had even tried after she lost her most of her bending, trying to unlock something.
Asami admires their stubbornness. Most of all, she admires Korra.
There is an art in bending, she sees it now. She sees it in Korra's motions as she moves like the tide to push and pull water through the air. It's in the flex of her muscles as she sends dirt flying, the twist of her fingers as she forms the air around them, and the arc of her body as she flies through the air to send flames shooting into the blue skies. Asami can not help but be entranced.
Asami finds herself copying a small motion with her hand, knowing it won’t work and hoping it will, and blushes. She looks around, but she’s safely hidden.
Turning her attention back to the pro-bending practice, she sees Korra’s footwork fall over their makeshift lines and hears the splash of water against stone. In a fit of frustration, Korra makes a swift jumping, spiraling motion and shoots down a random target with a blast of fire. Asami winces slightly. Bolin claps Korra enthusiastically on the back and says something Asami can’t quite make out.
“Don’t tell Mako I said that,” she does hear him chuckle, and the knot is back, twisting at her. Korra rests a hand on her stomach and laughs with Bolin at another joke. Asami looks down at her hands and drives her fingernails into her palms, making two fists. She wishes she could join them.
“What are you doing, Asami?” Meelo says, poking through one of the bushes to blink at her with large eyes. She finds him a little unnerving, but he’s adorable.
“I’m looking over the biplane designs that were my father’,” she says, holding up the sketches the police had found. “None survived, so I’m trying to see if I can build another.” Jinora appears in the bushes as well.
“How did the biplanes stay up without airbending?” she asks, and Asami spends the next half hour trying to explain what she knows of engineering. When they finally leave her, she sighs and glances towards the courtyard. Korra and Bolin are long gone.
Korra’s hands are calloused and dark. They create a rigid form in front of her as she forms the next stance in her air bending practice, spinning in circles with carefully placed footwork. Asami holds her breath as she watches, a breeze ruffling her hair out of place. She doesn’t notice, watching Korra swooping around gracefully, building up a wind that starts one way and goes everywhere else after an instant. Korra trips over her own feet, falls, and huffs loudly before getting to her feet.
“I had it!” she yells in frustration. Tenzin moves forward to correct the angle of her elbows and her fingers.
“You’re thinking like an earthbender,” he says, splaying her fingers apart, “for this pose, you must keep your hands relaxed.
“I don’t understand what my fingers have to do with anything,” Korra complains, “I know this move!”
“Patience, Korra,” Tenzin says for the hundredth time this session. “Try again.”
She does, and Asami peers around her bush to see Korra complete the move.
“Yes!” she yells when she finishes, jumping high into the air and pumping her fists.
“Not quite,” Tenzin corrects her, but, of course, Korra rolls her eyes and ignores him. Asami smiles.
“Enjoying the view?” Bolin asks. Asami jumps and turns to see him standing a few feet away.
“I’ve never seen an airbender at work before,” Asami says quickly.
“Korra isn’t exactly an airbender yet,” Bolin points out, crossing his arms and giving Asami a look. She shrugs and hopes she isn’t turning red. She can tell by Bolin’s face that he suspects something, and looks down at her nails, fingers splayed outwards. She avoids his eyes. “Look,” Bolin starts, but she doesn’t. “Mako is my brother. But that doesn’t mean I think how he acted was right. I just think—”
“What are you guys talking about?” Korra says, rounding the bush into Asami’s private corner and looking at the both of them. “Where’s Mako?” Asami doesn’t know whether she should be grateful or resentful towards her for the interruption.
“He’s working,” Bolin says offhandedly, “is practice over?”
“Yeah,” Korra says, “wanna go get something to eat?”
“Do I ever!” Bolin says, punching a fist in the air and turning to leave.
Korra hesitates, wiping her hands on her pants.
“You coming, Asami?” she asks. Asami looks up.
The bench is not as much of a haven today, as Mako has finally found her “hiding spot,” (likely advised by Bolin) and has brought her tea. She doesn’t touch it, but digs a hole into the packed dirt with the toe of her shoe and avoids looking at him. He reaches towards her and moves as if he’s going to smooth down her hair, but stops and lets his hand fall to his side. Her hair has begun to stick up lately, her efforts and products no match for the wild winds of Air Temple Island. She doesn’t mind as much anymore.
“Asami,” he starts, awkwardly rubbing the back of his neck. She starts and looks up at him suddenly, at his eyes avoiding hers, his sheepish posture. Bolin has sent him, then.
“Yes?” she says sharply, meaner than she’d meant to, but she assures herself he deserves it.
“I just wanted to say… I’m sorry.” She takes a deep breath and tries to stare him down as she’s seen Lin do to Tenzin.
“You should be,” she says. He starts a little, but Asami just crosses her arms and waits.
“We’re good, aren’t we?” he asks after a long moment, finally looking up to meet her eyes. That’s all it takes, the familiar amber of Mako’s eyes, and she can’t hold it in anymore.
It burns in her eyes and the back of her throat, and she refuses to let tears team up behind her eyes. It is inexplicable and inexcusable for her to cry over Mako when she has faced so much worse. Regardless, she almost hates him, from his ragged red scarf to the singed smell of his clothes. She did not expect this emotion, this burning inside of her, and it brims up behind her eyes and threatens to spill over before she can control it.
“Asami—” he starts, but she backs away, one step, two steps, and then turns to run away. This is not what she had expected, and she cannot take much more of this.
Mako reaches out a hand after her, as if he could ever catch her, and shouts, “Asami!”
This time, Asami is discovered sitting on the railing of the meditation pavilion, legs swinging in the open air. It is peaceful here, and thankfully empty at this hour. Asami stares into Yue Bay, into the distance where there is a blurry line of sea and sky, water and air.
“Hey,” Korra says, “can I join you?” Asami nods and turns back to the view, startled from her thoughts. Korra perches on the railing beside her.
“I feel like I should apologize,” Korra starts, fidgeting at her airbending clothes.
“For what?” Asami asks, although she knows exactly what Korra is getting at. It has always been easier for her to glaze over things and smooth down the results when others have finished. She folds her hands into her lap and looks at them, avoiding the blue of the bay and Korra’s eyes. She waits.
“Mako. I just. I liked him so much, and I turned a blind eye to a lot of things because it felt so good.” Asami isn’t sure she’s just talking about Mako. “I…ended it with him. I guess we all got hurt in the end. I’m sorry.” Something in the way she has planned this apology, the rationality and organization that comes so hard to Korra, suggests to Asami that she has talked this out with Pema first.
“Do you regret it?” Asami snaps suddenly, surprising herself. Korra recoils and doesn’t answer. “I said,” she takes a deep breath, “do you regret choosing him?”
“I didn’t know that you two weren’t broken up,” she replies, evading the question, “Ikki told me everything. He played us both…I’m not sure—“She takes a deep breath. “I just wanted to apologize. It’s my fault.”
“But do you regret it?” Asami asks. “Thinking about everything that happened just because of an impulse…did you regret it then? And do you regret it now?”
“This isn’t just about the kiss, is it?”
“I guess not.”
Korra pushes off from the pavilion and begins to pace across the stones.
“I’m sorry about what happened with your father, I really am. I wish I was wrong, but that doesn’t change what he did. And he didn’t do it to betray you.” Korra stops and crosses her arms, looking at Asami. “I know you feel hurt right now. But he did love you, even if he was wrong.”
“I’m not sure how I should feel,” Asami admits, sighing and feeling herself deflate.
“I don’t think you’re supposed to feel anything in particular, exactly,” Korra says, stumbling over what she is trying to say. “It’s confusing,” she continues.
“Yeah,” Asami says, finally looking up at her. “Thank you. For this.”
“Are you sure you should be thanking me? It kinda seems like I ruined your life, in more ways than one.”
“You didn’t,” Asami assures her with a faint smile.
“So we’re good?” Korra asks, scuffing her shoe against the stone.
“I guess we are.”
Asami watches Korra practice openly now, sitting on a bench and cheering with Jinora or Ikki or Meelo or Bolin. She cannot help but admire the tone of her muscles, her building skill as she shoots down target after target with a squirt of water. She flinches uneasily when Korra sets something on fire, but she always apologizes to Asami and looks self consciously at her palms afterwards.
Earthbending and airbending intrigue Asami the most, the strange firm and direct stances of the one style and the fluidity of the other. She wonders how they do it, move elements with their bodies. She wonders what balance of mind and body they use, and how it feels to hold such power in the motion of a form and the tension of a stance.
Korra makes it all look so easy. Asami can’t help but feel jealousy wind itself into tighter knots inside her. Korra moves in twists and turns, sends icicles flying into all of her targets, and skids to a stop. She smiles at Asami and her stomach flips again. It seems so simple, but she still wishes she could understand.
She remembers being seven and trying desperately to copy the movements of the pro-benders she had so admired while alone in her room. One day, her father had caught her desperate attempts and had sat her down and had a gentle talk with her. Then, he’d signed her up for self-defense training. The memory goes from fond to sour in a moment when she thinks about the hidden nuances of such a conversation.
“Are you okay?” Korra asks, sitting down beside her and grabbing a drink of water.
“Yeah,” Asami answers automatically, “I was just drifting off at little. I kind of miss the pro-bending matches. I can’t wait until they start up again.”
“Were you really a big fan? I thought you just took an interest because of, well, Mako.”
“Dad and I had our own box for years before we sponsored you.”
“That’s cool. I didn’t get to watch as many matches as I was in.”
“It’s amazing how much work and dedication goes into that sport,” Asami says, and then blushes. “You really work hard.”
“Not as hard as airbending,” Korra grumbles. “I’ve been trying to translate the different moves of the elements over to waterbending for future matches, but it’s hard.”
“Bolin was telling me something about that.”
“Yeah,” Korra says. She pauses. “I’m sorry for talking about bending all the time. You gotta be tired of it by now.”
“Not really,” Asami lies.
“Didn’t you take self-defense classes or something?” Korra asks, a spark growing in her blue eyes.
“I had a personal trainer,” Asami says, but Korra is already running off. “Korra — what?”
“Okay,” Korra says, startling Asami and pulling her scroll from her hands suddenly. Asami frowns and looks up at Korra’s blue eyes. She takes her by the hands and pulls her to her feet. Asami shies away from her touch.
“Hey! I was in the middle of — what are you doing?”
“Humor me,” Korra grins widely. “I have an idea.” Her enthusiasm is contagious, and Asami smiles a little in spite of her confusion. Korra takes a stance in the middle of the courtyard and raises her eyebrows at Asami. “Come at me.”
“You know. Flip me, or knock me over, or something. Attack me!” Asami takes a hesitant step towards Korra. “I can take it, come on!”
“I learned defensive techniques,” Asami says uncertainly. “You come at me,” she smirks. Korra narrows her eyes and runs at Asami, aiming a sloppy punch at her. Asami easily evades the maneuver and uses the force of Korra’s blow against her. She lands on the ground with a groan.
“Okay,” Korra says, brushing herself off. “I think I got this. Defense,” she mutters to herself and walks away. Asami returns to her story and rolls her eyes good-naturedly. She just knocked the Avatar on her butt. It’s a good day.
“Airbending is about spiral movements,” Korra says suddenly to Asami one day in the middle of practice.
“Tenzin is rubbing off on you,” Asami smiles.
“No, it’s about finding the least amount of resistance. Defense.” Korra looks thoughtful, so Asami sets aside her scratch paper and pen.
“Waterbending is about using your enemy’s energy against them. Being flexible. Switching from offense to defense at a moment’s notice.”
“You want to translate my self-defense to your bending,” Asami says. "And vice versa."
“Yeah,” Korra deflates a bit in the anticlimax. “Do you think it could work?”
“There’s only one way to find out.”
They both smile.
“No, like—” Asami says, showing Korra the evasive twist again. It’s getting dark outside, and the lamps light their movements. The exercise has left them both sweaty and tired, muscles aching in a satisfactory way. Asami’s arms are bare to the cool spring air, but she’s warm from all of the exercise.
“Okay, so what if I —” They have long since stopped using proper sentences, and Korra finishes her sentence with Asami’s twist and a burst of airbending.
“Wow,” Asami says breathlessly. “That was —”
“Yeah, thanks,” Korra grins. “I think I get what Tenzin was trying to show me.” She switches gears almost immediately. “Now, back to that firebending trick…”
Asami sighs and moves back into the position Korra has been trying to teach her.
“I still don’t see what you want me to do.”
“Usually, with this pose, you’re supposed to, um, blast fire from your foot,” Korra stops to demonstrate, her muscles rippling as she sends sparks flying from her foot and brings her arm up as well. “But I think you could use it against an attacker.”
Asami takes a deep breath. “Okay,” she sighs. “I just don’t get this one. I don’t think bending is going to translate the same way. Bending is more of a concept—”
“No, it’s easy,” Korra says impatiently. “It’s your stance, it’s all wrong. Here,” she reaches forward to correct Asami’s posture. “Bend your knees more — there you go — bring you arm up —.”
Asami blushes as Korra takes her wrist in hand and forms a fist. Korra meets her eyes for a moment and then looks away.
“Now, just,” she starts, “just bring your foot up, like this,” she moves away to show Asami. “Got it?”
Asami nods, although she doesn’t think she does, and imitates the motion.
“Good. Now. Try it against me!” Korra grins wildly at her and lunges at her.
“What, no, I—” but Korra swoops down at her and Asami tries the move again, this time connecting her foot with flesh.
Korra yells, falling to the ground with a crash. Asami has no idea how she managed to land without crashing herself. She guiltily kneels down next to Korra.
“I’m sorry,” she pants, “I didn’t mean to hurt you! I thought I would miss again. I’m so sorry, are you okay?” But Korra sits up and grins even more joyfully at her.
“Are you kidding me? That was fantastic! We did it!” Korra leans forward and kisses her triumphantly. Asami freezes. Korra is warm and sweaty from practice and so is she, but she finds that she doesn’t mind at all. They’re kissing on the damp, dusty ground, Korra’s hand tangling in her hair. She’s kissing Korra, the Avatar, but that isn’t what’s strange about it. There’s something else there, some kind of a glow behind Korra’s skin, that draws her in and makes her press her hand to the side of Korra’s face to hold her closer.
And then it’s over, all too soon, and Korra blushes and scoots away. “Sorry,” she begins, “I was, um—”
Asami grabs Korra by the shoulders and pulls her back, kissing her fiercely. Korra makes a muffled noise of surprise before bringing a hand up to the juncture between Asami’s neck and shoulder. Her hand is calloused and rough on Asami’s skin, and when Korra threatens to move away, Asami brings up her own hand to hold her there, warm skin against warm skin, lips to lips, smile to smile. Korra’s hand is large and dark under her own, which is small and light and delicate looking. It is everything but that.
Finally, they pull apart, smiling only for each other, and Asami cups Korra’s hands in her own, thinking of all of the possibilities.
“I don’t think I got that move,” Korra says softly, “could you show it to me again?”