Korra wakes up grumpy. She always wakes up grumpy, though.
Crawling out of bed she emerges into the world and, when the blue smoke dissipates, she puts her hands on her hips and growls, "What?"
A dark-haired youth in his ill-fitting, often patched jacket gapes at her in wonder. He holds her teapot in one hand, the end of a long red scarf in the other. "You...you're...you're an actual...I mean, you're--"
Korra groans. These things always go the same way. There is some variation in the details, but any excitement that she might once have felt at moments like this has long since been lost. "Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know what I am, you know what I am. Can we get to the wishing part?"
"...genie," he says, pouting slightly. "I was surprised, okay? I've heard the stories, but I didn't think you were real! And...slightly rude, which seems weird. I wish you wouldn't talk over me like that!"
Korra grins, waiting an extra second to be sure he's done talking. Just as realisation makes his amber eyes widen, Korra smugly says, "Granted."
Because that's how it always goes: they always waste the first wish. This mortal got it over with quickly at least. And now comes the inevitable question...
"...I suppose I can't ask for more wishes?"
"I bet you wish you knew!" Korra smirks at him, but even though she's grumpy, and her grumpiness feels justified, because she was having a nice dream, she's beginning to notice things. Things like: they're in a filthy alley, and the youth is almost a kid, and though he stands up straight and tall, he's obviously been missing more meals than he's been getting.
So in a softer tone she adds, "You get two more. No power in the worlds of spirits or humans can change that. No power can break our bond, not until your wishes have been granted or time erases one or both of us. When the wishes are gone, I'll be gone, too. From your life and memory. But the power of the wishes will remain."
"Two more wishes, got it." He frowns. "Two wishes seem like a lot, but I have to be careful, don't I?"
Korra doesn't say anything to that. She's too busy noticing the other kid, broad-shouldered, with green eyes and black hair. He's almost as badly clothed as the one who found her lamp, and looks about as starved. But he's grinning broadly as he runs up the alley towards them, proudly brandishing a burned loaf of bread. "Mako! We're eating well tonight, bro!"
Mako rolls his eyes, but there's a smile tugging at his lips. "I'd say so, Bolin, yeah. Look!"
Bolin blinks, but dutifully looks around the alley. "Uh...you found an old teapot? Oooh, is it an antique?"
"...I was talking about the genie?"
For a second, Bolin frowns, then he relaxes into a grin again. "Ooooh, okay. Funny how when I wanted to play Jump In The Dumpster last week you acted like you were all above it, but now you're into games?"
"That dumpster was full of broken glass! And there really is a genie here!"
"I can't believe you peeked! What fun is Jump In The Dumpster without some risk?" Bolin asks, waving an arm through Korra's shoulder, passing through her body as if she were composed of mist. "You're in danger of becoming No Fun Mako, you know."
Mako ignores him, reaching out hesitantly towards Korra.
"Nope!" Korra swats his hand aside, making him yelp and jump back. Korra sighs. "Only the one who woke me can see and hear me. Well, and the spiritually attuned. Oh, and furry animals! And I can only be touched by the owner of my teapot. But I don't like being touched, so...nope!"
Mako bites his lip. "Oh. So Bolin really can't...wait, why furry animals?"
Bolin looks around eagerly. "Where?"
Korra shrugs. "Eh, all animals can sense us to some extent, but furry ones...are the cutest, right? Why wouldn't we want them to be able to see us?"
"That's...not the answer I expected, genie."
Bolin chuckles. "You're really into this game, huh? Don't worry, bro, I' ll play along!"
Mako huffs in impatience. "Bolin! I'm really..." His expression shifts and he smirks. "I...am really in need of your help! I wasted a wish already. Only got two left. What should I wish for?"
"Hmm..." Bolin purses his lips and taps the edge of the loaf against his chin. "Who are we being right now?"
Mako rubs the back of his neck, shooting a nervous look at Korra. "Us."
"Oh." Bolin clicks his tongue in disappointment. "That's...why can't we be a travelling circus act? Or silk-snake farmers? Or--"
Korra yawns. "Hey, come on, Mako. You need to make a wish or let me sleep. And then I may not be available to make your wishes happen for a while."
"Wait, what? Why?"
"...I'm a heavy sleeper..." When Mako gapes at her, Korra feels herself pouting. "What? I like sleeping, okay? It's not like I can do much else."
Mako snorts. "So you're making me decide right now?"
Bolin clears his throat. "Okay, how about...wishing you knew what to wish for?"
Korra blinks. It's...not actually the dumbest thing that a mortal has ever come up with. It's certainly smarter than the guy who used all three wishes to replace the cabbage carts he kept losing.
Mako shakes his head, looking at Korra with a calculating expression. "I don't want to waste a wish on something I could figure out for myself."
Bolin shrugs. "Well, I'd wish for a neat pet, like a fire ferret. Then I'd teach it tricks, and we'd take our act to the streets! The Bewildering Bolin and the Powerful Pabu!" Bolin sighs dreamily. "I always wanted my stage name to be Pabu. And then..." He smiles wistfully. "I could make enough money for all three of us to find a little place with a roof that didn't leak and where we could eat every day. So, yeah! Wish for that!"
Mako swallows. He pats Bolin's shoulder. "Good plan, bro," he whispers. He glares at Korra defiantly. "I wish I could find a way off the streets for both of us."
And there are so many ways that Korra could twist that wish so that it ended up hurting both of the brothers, but Korra isn't like her uncle. Korra may have occasionally gained some...amusement at the expense of a mortal, but she knows her duty. She always tries to steer mortals' wishes to their betterment. Besides, looking at Mako and Bolin, Korra knows that she'll never feel any kind of peace again if she doesn't make this one of her best wishes ever.
So she closes her eyes and she reaches into herself, then through herself, to the world of spirit. She takes the shape of the wish in Mako's heart and fills it with her own desire for a happy outcome and she takes the seed of the magic that she's making and plants it in the Endless Field of the Possible and she bids it grow, true and strong.
It takes a lot out of her. When she opens her eyes she almost stumbles even though she's standing still. Quietly she says, "Granted."
Mako stares at her doubtfully. "Just like that?"
Korra shakes her head. "Nothing is ever 'just like that.' But...it was a good wish, Mako. Good things will come of it, for you and your brother."
Mako tugs at his lip, frowning at her.
Bolin nudges him with his elbow. "Hey!" he stage whispers. "Wish for a fire ferret now!"
Mako shakes his head, throwing his arm over Bolin's shoulders. "I think I'll hold onto the last wish. We're done for now, genie."
Korra says nothing, because this is how it almost always goes. One wish wasted, one wish testing how the magic works, and then the last...the last Korra has to wait for. Sometimes for years, sometimes for decades. Sometimes it never comes, and someone new finds her teapot and she has to begin all over again.
Sometimes Korra hopes that things will go differently, but she's been at this task for a long, long time, and it's only ever the details that differ.
Mako has already turned his attention away from her as she dissipates and is dragged back into the confines of the teapot. Korra sinks into darkness. She's exhausted, and she should be glad she's getting a chance to sleep. But with sleep comes dreams, and Korra is tired of dreams. She has dreamed for centuries of freedom, of friendship, of a life beyond the ceramic walls of her prison and her role as a conduit to other people's desires.
Never once has one of Korra's dreams come true.
For a short while, Korra drifts, aware vaguely that in the human world, Mako carries her teapot protectively nestled beneath his jacket. She's aware that in the spirit world, in a field that isn't really a field, a flower that is not a flower takes root and begins to grow.
Then she is aware of nothing, for far too brief a time.
Korra sinks deeper into sleep. Korra dreams.
Her nap is interrupted only a few years later.
Once again, Korra emerges from her teapot at Mako's summon. Once again, she's initially grumpy. But this time, things are different.
Mako is taller. He's still lean, but he looks athletic rather than hungry. His skin is clean, his eyes clear, his clothes are tailored to fit him, though he wears the same old scarf around his neck. He frowns at her when she appears in front of him. "Genie. I have...a problem."
"Yeah, hi! Nice to see you, too," Korra mutters. She looks around, finding herself in a small, but beautifully decorated apartment. The furnishings are tasteful and comfortable. Korra's teapot is sitting on a battered but comfortable looking armchair. Next to the chair is a basket with a worn and chewed cushion lying in it. Korra finds a smile on her face. "Bolin got his pet!"
Mako's frown deepens. "You don't know what's happened?"
Korra shrugs. "I was asleep. Remember?"
"All this time...?"
"Yeah, and?" Korra folds her arms and glares at him. "Look, you said you had a problem? One you wanted to wish away, maybe?"
"Maybe. Although...I think your wish caused the problem."
"What?!" Not that she's surprised. This is a pretty common preamble to the final wish: blaming Korra for everything that her magic couldn't accomplish. "It was your wish, jerk! I just made it happen. And I put a lot of effort into that wish! It was a good wish, even though it was badly worded!"
Mako wearily holds up his hands. "Okay, okay! I wasn't accusing you, I...Bolin and I did make it off the street. We're both...we've got jobs, we've got a home, we've got...we've got futures." Suddenly he smiles. "And, yeah. Bolin got a fire ferret."
Korra slowly relaxes. "Okay...good. So, what's the problem?"
Mako chews his lip for a second. "I met someone. Someone who turned my life around. Well, I say met. She, uh, she ran into me. With a Satoscooter."
"Oh, ouch. Yeah, that'd hurt, sure." Korra has no idea what a Satoscooter is. She hasn't really had much chance to learn about the world in the last few decades, but she's learned a few things about people. "But...it got better after that?"
"It did," Mako admits. He rubs his head, ruffling his hair and releasing the scent of some kind of fancy pomade into the air. "The woman who hit me was Asami Sato. Her dad invented the Satoscooter. And...a lot of other things that people use all over the city. And she was sorry about hitting me, and she was, uh, she is very kind. And beautiful. And she helped me and Bolin get a start when no one else would have."
Korra snorts. "Yeah, she sounds great. And you're doing well. So...why aren't you thanking me?"
With a groan, Mako throws himself onto the couch. "We started dating. Me and Asami. And...and for a long time I thought I loved her. And I do! I...think I do. But I don't love her as more than a friend. I think I...I think I understood that a while ago, but things were so...I was scared that if I broke things off, it could mean Bolin and I ended up back where we started."
Korra rolls her eyes. "Oh, so you messed up your relationship with this Asami Sato, and now...what? You want me to fix it?"
"No! I told you, I don't love her like that!"
"So you want me to break it. Got it. All you have to do is wish!"
"Stop it," Mako snaps. "I...I 'm hurting her. I didn't realise but...I think she knows I don't love her. She's become so distant lately, but she won't...talk to me. And I think it's because she's worried about what her father might do if I...if I don't..."
Korra waits until it's clear he isn't going to say anything else. "What?"
"I'm supposed to marry her in a few months," Mako says wearily. He rubs his face with both hands. "I can't do that to her. But I don't want to hurt her! But...but I am. I don't know what to do."
Korra shrugs. "Yeah, well. Don't ask me for relationship advice. I live in a teapot."
Mako snorts out a laugh. "I suppose there aren't many dating opportunities when you're granting other people's wishes."
Korra's surprised by a sudden stab of loneliness. "It's, uh...it's not...no. There aren't opportunities for anything, Mako. That's kind of by design." She sighs, when she sees the confusion in his eyes. Before he can ask any questions she isn't allowed to answer, Korra says, "It's wishing time, Mako."
He closes his mouth and puts away his doubt. He nods. "It is."
Korra tries to quell a bout of nerves. There are so many ways this could turn into a bad wish.
Mako slowly stands up. He smiles suddenly. "I know what Bolin would tell me to do. So...I wish I knew what the right thing for Asami would be."
Korra's eyes widen in surprise. "Oh!"
She reaches into herself, and through herself, and she plants the seed of his wish in that other place. It's a small wish, but a good wish, and it grows swiftly. Korra takes a petal from the bloom, cupping it in her palm. She places her hand on Mako's head, and lets the petal rest against his skin. His eyes widen and he gasps.
Korra steps back, smiling a little. "Granted. Goodbye, Mako."
He stares at her, and slowly he grins. "Oh! Oh, that's not what I expected, but...ha! See you around, genie!"
He won't, of course. Because the wishes have been given, and now that Korra has fulfilled her purpose for Mako, he'll forget her. He'll pass the teapot on, never knowing why he kept such a battered old thing for so long in the first place. He'll prosper or fail on his own accord now, building on the foundation of the magic that Korra has granted him. Perhaps she'll hear of him again, or somehow learn his story, but it's rare that Korra gets the chance.
Still, in the field where his wishes took root, good things will grow, and that goodness will spread. Mako wasted his first wish, but Korra thinks he made good use of the others. She thinks he'll make good use of the other decisions that are granted to him throughout his life.
That's a comforting thought.
Korra returns to her prison and to her sleep, wondering how many years it will be before she's called upon again.
Less than three months pass before she's pulled from sleep and from the depths of her teapot and thrust back into the mortal world.
"Oh, come on," Korra growls, rubbing at her eyes. "I'd just got comfy!"
"What...is happening...?" asks a woman's voice.
"What do you think? All your wishes are about to come true!" Korra snorts. "Well, three of them."
Korra clears the mists of sleep from her eyes and looks at the woman who summoned her. She's sitting on a couch at a table. On the table is Korra's teapot and a cleaning cloth. The woman is...beautiful. Mortal beauty is a fleeting thing, but Korra becomes sharply aware in that moment of how potent that beauty can be.
The young woman's green eyes are bright, warm, and curious rather than shocked or afraid. Her black hair falls in lustrous waves around her shoulders, contrasting with her pale skin. Her lips are very red, and slightly parted. She has high cheekbones, a delicate nose, an elegant curve to her jaw; her features combine into a face that burns itself into Korra's memory at the first glimpse.
"Uh...hi," Korra says, feeling oddly ashamed of her rudeness. "Hello. Would you...do you like wishes? I hope you like wishes. I, uh, I do wishes."
"Spirits! You're a spirit! Obviously..." The woman shakes her head. She gathers her composure with remarkable speed. "I'm sorry, I'm being rude. My name is Asami. Can I ask yours?"
It's rare for a mortal to ask Korra her name. It's never happened this quickly in the conversation before. Korra smiles uncertainly. "Uh...I'm Korra."
"And you...want to make my wishes come true?"
For some reason, her own phrasing echoed back to her embarrasses Korra. She...can't remember the last time she was embarrassed by anything. "I mean...you woke me up. So it's my duty to grant you three wishes. And then I...uh, and then you won't...ever see me again."
Asami stares down at the cloth in her hand. "Cleaning the teapot woke you up..."
Something in Asami's expression shifts, and like a shutter pulled back from a window, Korra glimpses past Asami's calm surface and finds a depth of sadness beneath. Korra gasps when her sleep-addled mind finally realises the obvious. "You're...Asami Sato."
"Yes...?" Asami looks up, and the shutter closes. "You've heard of me? Oh. Mako."
"Yeah," Korra says, shuffling her feet. "He was my last, uh, wisher."
"I see. He gave me this as a gift when he left. He told me it was the most important thing he owned, and he hoped one day I'd make him tea in it. When we...when we're friends again."
"He...you two aren't getting married?"
"No." Asami lowers her eyes to study Korra's teapot. After a strained minute she says, "For a long time, I hoped he'd propose. When he didn't, I proposed to him. It should have made me happy, when he said yes, but I think I asked him to see how he'd respond. Not to hear his answer...just to see the look on his face when he gave it. I knew after he said yes that it was only a matter of time before it ended. I...wasn't brave enough to let him go, though."
Korra's heart sinks down into her boots. "...my fault."
"Mako's wish...his second wish, it caused you two to meet. I'm sorry."
"Really? Did it cause me to fall in love with him?"
"What?! No! I don't grant wishes like that!"
"Then don't apologise. I'd prefer it if we'd been more honest with each other, sooner, but...I don't regret meeting Mako."
"I still feel bad," Korra mumbles, rubbing the back of her neck. "But...maybe a wish would help? Most people waste their first wish, you know, but I'll make sure you get the best possible wishes all three times! I...I never meant to cause someone else harm by helping Mako."
Asami takes her time thinking about it. Eventually, her red lips make the shape of a smile. "I don't have many things that I want that I can't get. And I don't want any of the things that I'd wish for to happen."
"Uh..." Korra shakes her head. "I don't understand that. You don't...want your wishes to be granted?"
Asami sighs. She pats the seat next to her. "Come on. Sit."
Surprised, Korra slowly obeys, sinking into the space beside Asami. "Uh...thanks."
This time, Asami smiles for real. Her eyes are sad, but she has such a lovely smile. "I...have had moments in my life where I've wished that I could change things. Where I've wished for things to have turned out differently. But I've learned to accept that I have to live with the consequences of the past. Without them, I wouldn't be alive. Or at least, I wouldn't be the Asami that I am now. Do you understand?"
Korra chews her lip. "No...? There are limits to what wishes can achieve, but...there is still a lot that you can do, and..." Korra groans. "I helped Mako, but it hurt you. It shouldn't have happened that way! I tried to make it a good wish! But...but...you're sad. I owe you."
Asami pats Korra's shoulder. "I am sad. But I'll survive. And I'm grateful that I met Mako and Bolin. I'm better for having met them. So you see, if I made the kind of wish I used to long to make, and I somehow undid the things that make me sad, I wouldn't have lived through the things that have made me...me. I'd be wishing away the person I am now. I don't think I can do that."
"I definitely don't want that!" Korra blurts. "You're, uh, such a, um, nice...mortal. Person! Um. You're really nice. I don't think you should change."
Asami's smile widens. She gently runs her hand up and down Korra's arm, then folds her hands in her lap. "See? No wishes made, but I'm less sad already. Thank you, Korra."
It feels like there's lightning under Korra's skin, where Asami fingers touched her bare arm. Korra thinks that if she wasn't sitting, the sudden wave of dizziness she's feeling would make her fall. "Oh. Uh, you're welcome? I didn't...really do anything though?"
"You've been kind, Korra. And you've listened. Sometimes that's enough."
Korra stares at Asami. It abruptly occurs to her that Mako was wrong to call her beautiful, that Korra was wrong to think her beautiful. Beautiful is too small a word to describe what Asami is. "I...you don't want any wishes?"
Asami shakes her head. "Not that I can think of at the moment."
"Okay," Korra mutters. She swallows her disappointment and adds, "I'll just...be in the teapot if you change your mind."
Asami shifts in her seat when Korra begins to move, placing a hand on Korra's wrist. "Wait, why? I mean, do you have to go so soon? I...haven't ever spoken to a spirit before." She smiles again, and pushes her hand into the lustrous mass of her hair, flipping it over her shoulder. "Or a Korra."
Asami's restraining hand exerts no real physical pressure on Korra, but she finds herself pinned in place. Asami smells nice, Korra realises. She's the nicest-smelling mortal Korra's ever met. She smells nicer than the interior of Korra's teapot, so even though she shouldn't, Korra sits back on the couch. She says, "Uh...unless you make a wish, I have to wait in the teapot. It's...I'm not allowed to be out in the human world for long."
Korra swallows, which is weird, because she hasn't bothered with eating or breathing since long, long before Asami was born. "...I'm not allowed to say." She pauses, considering, and finds herself smiling sheepishly. "You know, no one's ever even asked before."
Something changes in Asami's expression. Her face seems to harden, without becoming hard. Her eyes seem to dim and grow distant as she thinks, then they brighten as she turns to Korra with a new intensity. "I wish we could talk freely together."
Korra gasps. "I...I don't think you should..." But within her, the magic stirs, and Korra finds herself responding, reaching within and through, and creating a new bloom in the field of possibilities. She shivers when she feels it take root, within the field and within her. "Granted," she whispers, dazed.
Asami tilts her head. "You can stay and talk now?"
"Uh..." Korra rubs the back of her neck. "I can answer your questions, yeah. But then I'll have to rest. Unless and until you make another wish."
Asami hums to herself. "Well, I have a lot of questions. So if we have some time, then I'm going to make tea. Would you like some?"
Korra blinks. "You don't need to...I don't really need to eat or drink or anything."
"You don't need to, which implies that you can. So, would you like to?"
Korra follows Asami into another room, a large, well-appointed kitchen. She watches as Asami makes tea for them both, her movements both efficient and graceful. She glances at Korra and smiles when she catches her eye. "What are you thinking about, Korra?"
"I was thinking...I already messed up. I didn't want you to waste your first wish."
Asami pauses, her brow furrowing. "I wanted to talk to you. Now I can. I didn't waste it."
Korra has no answer to that. Asami offers her another smile and then, moments later, a cup of jasmine tea. Korra sips it, closing her eyes to savour her first taste of...anything in more years than she can remember.
"Why aren't you allowed to stay in the human world for long, Korra?" Korra opens her eyes. Asami is leaning against a cupboard opposite Korra, cradling a teacup in both hands. "You look human, to me. Like a Water Tribe woman."
Korra grins. "Yeah? Good! The Water Tribes are...sort of cousins. Spirits and humans used to be closer, when, uh, before...well, stuff happened. The worlds separated long before I was born, but there are stories...I'm rambling, sorry."
"You have nothing to apologise for. So...you can't stay in this world for long because you're from the Spirit World?"
"No. No, not really. It's because I...agreed not to." Korra takes a quick gulp of tea. "I have to grant wishes, good wishes. That's my...my job, I guess. But I'm not supposed to...influence the wisher too much. I'm not to influence the human world at all, unless it's through a wish. There are...rules. And a reason."
"Rules? I'll need to learn them all." Asami blows gently on her tea and takes a sip. "But first, what's the reason?"
"Balance," Korra says, shocked at how easily she's able to just...say it. To a mortal! "I...it's about balance, Asami."
For some reason, Asami smiles, and Korra's struck by her beauty all over again. "Hmm. I'm not sure I understand. What balance, Korra?"
Korra licks her lips. "Uh, well...it's tricky, but...there are two...forces out there. " She pauses, searching inside herself. "I could tell you their names, but I think you'd be better off not knowing? Is that okay?"
"Yes. I don't believe you mean me any harm."
"I don't! But...but I harmed you already, didn't I?"
"I don't believe that's true. I should have said that I trust you have good intentions, Korra." Asami swirls her tea in her cup. She drinks. She says, "So. Two forces?"
"Right. Yeah. Um...it's maybe simplest to say that they sort of represent...darkness and light. And they used to be in constant battle, balancing each other. But the darkness has always been good at convincing people that they want things that will cause their destruction, and it...convinced spirits like me to convince humans to...wish for things. Bad things. Things that...that put the worlds out of balance."
Korra looks at Asami. She watches Korra attentively, her eyes bright. "Go on," Asami says softly.
"There's a...there's a sort of field out there, Asami. It's the size and shape of everything that could ever happen, and has happened, and used to have happened, but got, uh, un...happened? Because that can happen. And, um, the darkness wants to make the field barren. And the light wants it to be bountiful. My...ancestors, some of them tore the field up with their magic and with twisted human desires. I'm...trying to help replant the field. With good wishes, so that good things can grow. So that the darkness can be pushed back, and balance can be restored."
"And that means...sleeping in a teapot? Waking up only to grant wishes, then sleeping again? What about...well, what about your wishes, Korra?"
Korra smiles wearily. "I wanted to do this. I wanted to help make up for what my people helped cause in the first place."
Asami bows her head. "You volunteered. Then...why are the rules that bind you so strict?"
"We're...impulsive. My people. Me...ha, yeah, I'm impulsive. And I'm bad tempered. And...it'd be so easy to make wishes go wrong, sometimes. I...without the rules, we could be dangerous, Asami."
"You're breaking rules now, telling me this."
"...yeah. But only because the wish lets me. I almost wish you hadn't made that wish."
It's true, inasmuch as Korra didn't mean to place a burden on Asami. It's a lie because Korra has never spoken to any mortal like this. She has only discussed these things once before, with Raava, the Spirit of Light. And after that, Korra was bound to the teapot. Korra feels a little guilty at how much better she feels to have talked about it even a little bit.
Asami walks across the kitchen and places her hand on Korra's shoulder. "I feel enlightened, Korra. I don't feel like I'm in danger."
Korra sighs. Her shoulders sag. "It doesn't matter. When the wishes are gone, you'll forget me. You'll forget everything, including this conversation. That's the way it is."
"Because if you let a spirit like me influence a human like you...I can't make wishes happen for myself. It takes a mortal to shape the wish, then I just...guide it into being. If I was just allowed to convince whoever to wish for whatever, it could lead to ruin and darkness. It...it's better this way. Definitely."
Asami takes a few seconds to consider. "Is it the wishes themselves that make the field more...bountiful?"
"It's...no. Not exactly. Everyone makes decisions all the time, acting on their desires. And all of those have an effect, for better or worse. But wishes--good wishes, wishes that create opportunities or bad wishes, which lead to destruction--help speed the process. The darkness got a lot stronger for a long time, and both of our worlds have suffered. That's because spirits like me made humans make terrible wishes. I have to do what I can to put that right. There...there aren't many of us working for the Spirit of Light, and it's a really big field, Asami."
"I...see." Asami frowns. She seems to realise suddenly that she's still holding Korra's shoulder, because her cheeks redden slightly and she lets go. Asami takes a step back and looks away. Korra feels smaller, somehow, when Asami stops touching her. Abruptly, Asami says, "How many more wishes need to be granted to...restore balance?"
Korra laughs. "It won't happen in my lifetime. And I've only been around...uh, actually, I've lost count, but I think I'm under a thousand still? I've got a couple of millenia left in me, anyway."
Asami stares at her, her eyes so green, so close. "And you've agreed to spend them all in that teapot?"
"Not...maybe not. I only personally need to make 10,000 good wishes happen."
"How many have you managed?"
Korra grimaces. "I, uh, might get a century to myself when I'm done! Maybe a few decades. That wouldn't be so bad."
Asami purses her lips. "I imagine that one of the rules you mentioned prevents me from wishing for more wishes."
"Yeah. Balance. There can't be too much...light, either."
"...and if I make two more wishes, you'll move on and I'll forget you. Everyone you help...forgets you."
"Yeah. But the wishes remain, and the darkness gets pushed back a little bit more."
"And if I don't make two more wishes, you won't be able to move on, and you'll be stuck in that teapot that much longer, unable to do your job."
"Yeah..." Korra tries to smile for Asami. "It's okay, though. You do whatever you want. They're your wishes. I just want them to be extra good ones, if and when you use them. You've been...it's been really nice, talking to you."
Asami shakes her head. She walks away, and puts her cup in the sink. She keeps her back to Korra.
Korra sighs. "I've made you sad again. I'm sorry."
"No!" Asami turns so quickly Korra jumps in surprise. Asami's tone softens. "No. You have nothing to apologise for. I'm...I am sad. But I'm also very glad to know you, Korra. I wouldn't change that."
For some reason, it makes Korra feel better than she has in centuries. "Do you want to...I mean, do you have more questions?"
Asami laughs softly. "Thousands. Here's the first: would you like more tea?"
There should be a pressure building in Korra, a need to return to her prison and her slumber, but whether it's Asami's wish or the other pressure building in her chest and in her head the longer she looks at Asami, Korra doesn't think she'll need to return to the teapot just yet. So she nods, and she smiles, and she says, "Please!"
Asami smiles back. "Good. I'm not ready to let go of you just yet."
It feels like there's lightning coursing through Korra's whole body when Asami says that.
The next few months are like a living dream to Korra. She rests in her teapot, but only for hours at a time. Asami summons her every day, and every day she asks Korra questions. Questions about Korra's childhood, her homeland in the Spirit World, her experiences as a wish-giver.
Korra tells Asami about her time spent playing in the Frozen Lands, of the beauty of ice and water, of how she learned to see the way that all things can freeze and flow and change. She tells Asami about how she learned of the other world, and how she longed to visit it, even though the worlds of humans and spirits had been sundered and it was difficult to cross between them. She tells Asami about her father taking her to the Endless Field of the Possible, and how that visit led to understanding, and how that understanding led to her agreeing to be confined in the teapot.
Asami asks a lot of questions, but she seems to sense quite quickly that Korra is curious about the Mortal World, and she indulges that curiosity happily. In fact, once Asami learns that no one else can see or hear Korra, she takes Korra with her almost everywhere. To her place of work, which isn't one place at all. Sometimes Asami works in offices, sometimes in meeting rooms, sometimes in garages and workshops. All of those places are part of one organisation, the company Asami's father built: Future Industries.
Other times Asami takes Korra for rides around the city on her infamous Satoscooter, and they visit parks, or cafés, or restaurants. Korra sits beside her and--at Asami's urging--sneaks things from Asami's plate or steals sips from her cup. Slowly, Korra begins to learn about the city, and the mortal world, and the amazing machines that Asami makes, and food.
There are so many different kinds of food! And they're all so delicious!
Slowly, Korra learns about Asami, too. She learns that Asami is fond of physical contact: she likes to touch, to hug, to hold hands, and to be held. Korra used to think that she didn't like to be touched. Asami helps Korra discover that she loves to be touched, at least when the contact is as affectionate as Asami's is.
Korra learns that Asami is...smart. It's not just the way she absorbs everything that Korra tells her, or the way she comes up with questions that make Korra think harder than she's ever had to in her life. It's not even that Asami is as brilliant with her hands as she is with her mind: able to design, build, test and improve on different engines and machines. It's all of those things, of course, and a sense of curiosity unmarred by a possessive instinct. Asami wants to understand things. Asami respects what she doesn't understand, and once she does understand, her respect only increases.
Korra learns that Asami smiles whenever Korra emerges from her lamp, but she isn't always as happy as her smile seems. Korra learns that since she proposed to Mako, Asami's relationship with her father has worsened. Korra learns that Asami's mother died when she was young. Korra learns that since Mako left her, Asami has spent more time on work than she has with other mortals.
Asami does invite Mako and Bolin over a few times, and though things are tense at first, they get better. Mako can't see Korra anymore, of course, but that's okay. For one thing, he seems happy. For another, it means that Korra can make faces at him and watch Asami try not to laugh. Bolin seems happy, too. Apparently he's met a girl called Opal, and he's in love. And he has a fire ferret called Pabu, whose fur Korra strokes when they visit.
Korra learns that the more time she spends with Asami, the happier Korra becomes. She learns that it's the same for Asami: every day when she calls Korra, her smile is wider and more real. Korra learns that the best question in the world is when Asami asks, "What would you like to do today, Korra?"
But, happy as Korra is, it begins to worry her that Asami spends so much time with her, instead of with other mortals. Mako and Bolin's visits only serve to make Korra more aware of how little time Asami spends socialising with anyone else. Even more worrying is the fact that Korra isn't sure how to talk about it with Asami, because she doesn't want their time together to end.
One evening in a very fancy looking restaurant, Korra asks if it bothers Asami, to sit among other humans who think she's talking to herself.
Asami smiles, and the way her eyes seem to glow, Korra knows that she's happy. "When I get lost in a project, I tend to forget the outside world exists. People have seen me talking to myself before."
Korra chews her lip. "But...you book a private room or sit in the corner, like tonight and sometimes people do give you weird looks...don't you want to spend nights like this with your...other mortals?"
Admittedly, Asami's wearing a long, flowing, red dress, her hair is artfully styled and tumbles in a series of carresses across her bare shoulders, and her lips are as deep a red as red can be. Many of the people who look at Asami are looking because it's difficult not to. Korra finds it a daily struggle not to stare at her.
"I don't mind weird looks, Korra. Weird looks won't stop me living my life how I see fit. Nothing will."
It shouldn't make Korra so happy to hear that, but it does. But she can't deny that it worries her, too. Living like this with Asami has been a dream, but Korra knows from bitter experience that no matter how sweet the dream, it always ends.
"Asami..." Korra closes her eyes, which makes it a little easier to say what's been slowly building in Korra for weeks. "It's time to make another wish."
"...I see." Asami's hand covers the back of Korra's. "The only thing I'd wish for is something I wouldn't want to make happen."
Korra opens her eyes. Asami is staring at her intently, her lips slightly parted, leaning towards Korra, so close to Korra. With a groan, Korra says, "I...don't want to lose...this. Whatever it is that we have. But...but I have a duty. And you have a life in the mortal world. I'm...distracting you."
Asami's eyes flash. "You are not a distraction. You aren't...Korra, you've made my life so much better! Since I've met you, I've been...I'm..." Asami swallows. "You make me happy," she whispers. "Happier than I've ever been."
Korra places her free hand over the back of Asami's. "I wish I could be the one to make you happy for the rest of your life, but that can't be."
"I..." Asami smiles weakly. "I'll make a wish after dinner, Korra. I promise."
Neither of them are happy about it, but both of them try to enjoy Asami's meal anyway. Afterwards, when Asami leaves the restaurant in a cloud of smiles and perfume, Korra climbs into Asami's Satomobile. Korra's surprised when Asami doesn't drive them home, but takes them to a quiet part of the city. Korra thinks it's where Future Industries has some warehouses, and sure enough, Asami stops the vehicle in front of a cavernous building.
She leaves the engine on, climbs out, and strides to the huge double doors. She produces a key from her clutch, unlocks one of the doors and pulls it open. Asami returns to the Satomobile, grins at Korra, and drives them inside.
The warehouse turns out to be empty. It's just one huge, concrete-floored space, bounded by a roof and walls and nothing else at all.
Korra gets out of the Satomobile when Asami does, looking around in confusion. "So...why are we here?"
Asami reaches out, grabs Korra's hand and tugs her over to the driver's side of the Satomobile. "Well, Korra...I wish you'd let me teach you how to drive to a professional standard."
Korra gapes at her, but it's too late to protest. All she can do is guide the wish into being, feeling the magic flow through her, then back into her as Asami's wish once again changes the rules of Korra's existence.
When it's done, Korra shakes her head and gasps, "Granted! You...you wasted your second wish! Almost no one does that!"
Asami lets go of Korra's hand. She takes a step closer to Korra, brushing some hair from Korra's cheek and tucking it behind Korra's ear. Her hand is soft and warm against the skin of Korra's cheek. "I didn't waste it."
Korra swallows. It feels like her cheeks are burning, both of them, even though Asami is only touching one of them. "Your wishes are supposed to help you," Korra protests weakly.
"They are helping me," Asami says softly. She suddenly grins. "I mean, imagine what people will think when they see me out for a drive and it looks like no one's behind the wheel!"
It forces a laugh out of Korra, and the tension that had built inside her throughout the night blows away like mist. "Well, then, since I don't understand driving at all, and you want me to be actually good at it, we'd better get started!"
"In my defence," Korra says carefully, "that wall is baaaaarely broken."
The outer wall of the warehouse is, indeed, barely broken. The wooden planks are more...buckled, than anything. That's because Asami's Satomobile hit the wall. That's because Korra, it turns out, is a terrible driver.
Asami lets go of the dashboard and shakes her head. She bursts out laughing. "Well, now you know the difference between the accelerator and the brake pedals at least!"
Korra flushes. "I...usually travel by teapot! Or, uh, by foot. This is really different, okay?"
"Don't worry, I can fix the hood. I just need a hammer and some paint. But, ah..." Asami smirks at Korra, and flips her hair out of her face. "I think these lessons might take a while, Korra..."
It gives Korra a pang of doubt, for just a second, before every other thought is swamped by joy. "I guess they might..."
It's during their eleventh lesson, when Asami teaches her something called a handbrake turn, that Korra almost loses control of the Satomobile and has to bring it to abrupt halt. She stomps on the brake, the Satomobile swerves wildly, and they come to a screeching halt near the warehouse door. Korra is slammed into the side of the vehicle. Asami is hurled into Korra's side.
For a second, Asami rests against Korra, gasping. Then she starts to giggle, so Korra does too. Asami claps a hand on Korra's shoulder and heaves herself upright, but she doesn't stop leaning into Korra. The laughter fades from her voice, her expression softens, and she stares into Korra's eyes with her lips parted, her breath brushing across Korra's lips.
Korra stares into Asami's eyes, frozen in place.
"Korra..." Asami whispers, and even though she hasn't made a wish, Korra can feel something like magic blossoming within her, filling her with power, and with hope. "Korra, will you kiss me?"
Korra is able to answer without resorting to words. Their lips meet gently, hesitantly, but doubt and fear are banished from Korra in a rush of warmth that flows through her and wraps around her. Korra understands in that moment that this is magic, a magic more powerful than any wish, a magic of mortals, a magic of fleeting moments that can shift whole worlds around it.
Perhaps something blossoms in the Endless Field of the Possible. But it's certain that something that had taken root weeks or months ago in Korra's heart opens its petals to Asami's light and warmth, and Korra is forever changed.
When their lips part, Asami smiles, but it's a sad smile. "I know what you're going to say. It's time, isn't it?"
Korra nods. "Almost. You need to let me rest, or make a wish."
"The third wish..."
"The last wish."
Asami sighs. "We have a little more time?"
"That's more than some people get. Will you kiss me, Korra?"
Korra kisses her. She learns no more about driving that night, but she learns that she's in love with Asami Sato. And she learns how much it hurts to know that soon, very soon, they'll lose each other.
The day comes when Asami summons Korra from her teapot and says, "I want to make a wish, Korra."
Korra finds herself in one or Republic City's parks. Korra's favourite park, in fact, because it's where the people of Republic City takes their pets to exercise them, and Korra has often been able to scratch behind ears and rub the bellies of a variety of cute furry animals.
It's early, and Asami is sitting on the ground, Korra's teapot beside her. She's wearing her work clothes and light makeup and she's more beautiful than the sky above and the grass beneath them.
Korra sits next to Asami, leaning her shoulder against Asami's arm. "I'm going to miss you, Asami," she forces herself to say. "I don't think you know how good you've been to me. I don't think you know how good you are."
"If I was good," Asami whispers, "I wouldn't be tempted to make a wish that would keep you here with me for the rest of my life."
Korra swallows. "But you won't."
"No. I won't. You chose to give your life to help both our worlds, and if I took that choice from you, I wouldn't be worthy of your love. I wouldn't be able to make you happy anymore."
Korra almost doesn't want to believe that Asami's right, but only almost. "I'll never forget you. I'll always love you. Please...please make your last wish count, Asami. You won't remember me, but you'll still have the wish."
Asami laughs. "Oh, I intend to make this a good wish. But you're wrong, Korra. I'll carry part of you with me for the rest of my days. I may not remember your face, but I'll know what it is to truly love someone. And I'll know that I'm brave enough to let go when I have to. You've taught me that."
Korra sits up straight, tension coiling in her as magic surges through her. Even before it's been spoken, Korra can sense the power in Asami's wish. "Asami..."
Asami turns to her and smiles. "Korra. I know that you'll make 10,000 good wishes happen. I know that you'll tend that field better than anyone else could, making our worlds better for everyone. You won't spend your whole life in that teapot. So. I, Asami Sato, make my final wish. I wish, Korra, that you will find happiness when there are no more wishes for you to grant."
Korra's heart drops, but the words have been spoken, and the magic is a river, an ocean, pouring through Korra's body and into the world of spirits. Korra 's heart is breaking, but even through her dread, she can feel Asami's love, her hope, so Korra focuses the magic and does her best to make Asami's wish the best wish she can manage. When the tides of magic recede at last, a single seed is planted in the field that is not a field. Just one seed, but one with more potential than any other that Korra has ever known.
When she recovers enough of her senses in the mortal world, Korra gasps, "You wasted your last wish on me?"
Asami smiles, her eyes shining. "I didn't waste it."
She cups a hand around Korra's neck and pulls her into a kiss.
Asami's lips are the last thing Korra feels before she's dragged back into the teapot.
A century passes before another mortal summons Korra.
His name is Feng, and he has a family to care for, and he's in debt to an evil man. Korra grants him three wishes which improve his situation, his life, and his family's.
Feng never asks her what her name is. Korra doesn't ask him if he knows anything about the Satos.
For nearly two thousand years, Korra toils, with only her memories of Asami to sustain her. Sometimes, Korra wishes she knew what had happened to Asami. Always, she wishes that Asami had a life as good as she was.
But Korra's magic can only make other people's wishes come true.
For nearly two thousand years, Korra's life is an empty echo, a series of distorted repetitions, as she grants wish after wish to a succession of mortals or she throws herself into the depths of sleep, hoping that she won't dream. She makes little effort to get to know any mortal beyond the most necessary details. She makes no effort to learn anything about the world of humans around her, or how it changes, though she thinks, perhaps, that it's changing for the better.
Korra loses count of the wishes that she's granted. She loses track of how long she's spent in the teapot. She even loses hope that her time in the teapot will ever end. The only thing she keeps, though sometimes she wishes she could lose it, is the love she feels for Asami, ever blooming in her heart, and all the memories that come with that love.
Korra toils. Korra sleeps. Korra dreams.
And then Korra is summoned.
"Look...you get three wishes, okay? No more than three. I'll make them as good as I can, but can we get a move...on...here...oh."
Korra stops speaking, because this is not the Mortal World, and this is no mortal summoner. Korra stands in a fragrant flower garden in the Endless Field of the Possible.
Her summoner is Raava, the Spirit of Light.
Raava is not a mortal, nor a spirit close in kinship to mortals like Korra. Raava is...something else. For a moment she rises above Korra, a towering being of light, and then she is an ageless woman in a flowing white dress, her face kind, her eyes twin suns. "Greetings, Korra. Do you like the garden?"
Korra sweeps her eyes across the rows of flowers. There is no sequence or order, no pattern or uniformity, but the explosion of colours and the mix of fragrances are beautiful and somehow soothing. "Yes. I, uh, I like your garden, Raava."
Raava smiles. "It is not mine, though I love it greatly. This garden is of your making, Korra."
Korra swallows. "Oh...oh. I made a whole garden..."
"Yes," Raava says simply.
Korra breathes in the fragrances and smiles. "It's pretty. Is it...are there really 10,000 flowers here? I...I'm done?"
Raava shakes her head. "There is one that has yet to bloom. Walk with me, Korra."
Korra climbs to her feet and follows Raava through the garden. A petal brushes against her arm, and suddenly Korra hears children's laughter. Korra smiles, as memories flood her. "Cixi built her school...that's good. Good for her."
"For her, and for many generations of children," Raava observes. She pauses, looking at Korra with an almost sorrowful expression . "When the wishes have been granted, the spirits who have planted them often wander the fields to discover how those wishes turned out. But you cannot do this. Your work is not done."
Korra bows her head. "Okay...sorry."
Raava's hand touches the crown of Korra's head, and warmth flows through Korra. "There is no need to be."
They resume their walk, Korra carefully avoiding the touch of any of the wish flowers. She's less careful in avoiding her thoughts, though, because Raava suddenly says, "You may ask me the question that sits uppermost in your mind. And in your heart."
Korra sighs. "I...just wanted to know if she...if she was happy? I mean, if As--"
"Asami Sato. Yes." Raava stops and faces Korra. "I will tell you only this: she closed her eyes when she kissed you in the park. A moment later, you were gone. A moment after that, Asami Sato opened her eyes and saw the one true love of her life looking back at her."
Somehow, it hurts. But past the initial sting, Korra finds first relief, and then gladness. "She wasn't alone. She found someone who could make her happier than I could."
"No," Raava says, her expression serene. "Asami Sato did nothing of the sort. But I must draw your attention to another matter. This."
Raava points at a bare patch of soil. Korra blinks, then kneels down next to it, studying it. The soil appears to be healthy, and Korra can sense a seed nestling in it, can sense the vast potential of a wish, a good wish, within it. But for some reason she can't understand, the seed hasn't taken root. The flower won't grow.
Korra looks up at Raava. "I...don't know what's wrong. Why hasn't it grown?"
"Because it could not. And yet it must." Raava smiles. "The time of that seed passed thousands of years ago. The time of that seed has come now. Thank you, Korra, for all your labour. After this, it will be over. Your magic will be gone, and you will have at most a century left. And yet...I believe you will be happy. Goodbye, Korra."
Korra blinks and Raava is gone.
She stares down at the patch of soil, chewing her lip. "But...what do I do?"
Hesitantly, she places her fingers on the earth. Magic pulses inside her and in the ground, as the seed takes root at last.
And in a flash, Korra is gone. In her place, a flower grows, tall and beautiful, with a blue stem and red petals.
The first thing Korra feels is Asami's lips against hers.
She pulls away, gasping. Asami opens her eyes, staring into Korra's face. Her hand moves, from behind Korra's neck to rest on her cheek. Asami's thumb gently strokes Korra's cheekbone. "Are you alright?"
"Granted," Korra says. And with that, her magic leaves her forever. Korra looks around, seeing the park just as she remembers it all those long centuries ago. Korra's heart is thundering, but she laughs. "Your wish has been...granted, Asami."
Asami smiles sadly. "Then I suppose this is goodbye..."
"No," Korra says, leaning into Asami's touch. "I...I did it, Asami. I granted 10,000 wishes. And the happiness you wished for me...it brought me here again. I'm really here. I'm here to stay."
Asami stares at her, and Korra can tell she's thinking furiously. At last she smiles. "In that case, I'd better book a table for two tonight."
Korra laughs, and falls into Asami's arms. "I love you, Asami," she whispers.
"Then I've got everything I could have wished for," Asami answers. "I love you, too."
When they leave the park, they walk hand in hand through the streets of Republic City. People stare at both of them, perhaps because of how widely they're both grinning.
Korra leaves the teapot in the grass. She lets the future take root in her.