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Non Ministrari, Sed Ministrare

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Korra slides into the world on a cold night, the same night the worst storm to hit the Southern Water Tribe in over a decade howls outside of her family’s home. Rain pelts down onto the roof. The wind shakes the walls. The ocean rages just out of reach, battering the ice at the South Pole, threatening to split it in two. When she tells the story much, much later, Senna will describe how her screams get drowned out by the storm, explain how she clutches her husband’s hand hard enough to break two of his fingers. Her mother says that at the exact moment Korra emerges into being, with a great screaming cry loud enough to pierce through even the screaming wind, a powerful gust blows the roof completely off of their home. Her mother, weak from birth, and her father, cowering over mother and child to protect them from the dangers outside, clutch each other tightly, bracing for an onslaught that never hits.

Her mother says that whole night, not one drop of water touches any of them.

Her mother says she was born waterbending.

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Ancient practice dictates that the Avatar must not be told of their true destiny until their sixteenth birthday. Enough time must first pass so they can become a master of their natural element, mature and grow enough to understand the responsibility of caring for the planet and its inhabitants, people and animals alike, before any other forms of bending should be introduced. Too much power in the hands of a mind too young breeds recklessness at best, all-out corruption at worst. And historically, there’s been an understanding amongst the spiritual leaders of the different nations that children must have time to be children. Wars and spirits are for grown-ups, those old enough to know the difference between responsibility and desire, between duty and self-interest. The Avatar is a being as old as bending itself; in times of peace, like their world has been in for the past seventy years, the world can keep itself in balance for a decade or two without the Avatar’s interference. After all, the world survived 100 years without Avatar Aang. Under his guidance peace reigned and progress flourished. When Avatar Aang died, there was an interest in finding and training the new Avatar, but no real rush, which is perhaps why the White Lotus doesn’t show up at Korra’s front door until she’s nearly six.

The Avatar is not supposed to discover that she’s the Avatar until her sixteenth birthday.

Korra figures it out by her second.

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Korra takes to earthbending like a fish takes to water.

Earth is a solid element. Stable, enduring. Stubborn. Bending a substance that does not want to bend takes incredible focus, incredible steadiness. To bend earth, you must understand exactly what you want and attack the problem head-on. There is only one way to overpower the earth, and that is to be stronger than it.

Korra is as stubborn as they come. She puts her foot down, and the earth splinters beneath it.

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The fire comes accidentally, but it comes naturally, too.

Korra’s rages are famous in their tribe. She’s strong for a child so small, and angry enough to make even the bravest warriors think twice before taking away one of her toys or denying her an extra piece of fish at dinner. They’re wary of her temper, wary of her tears, wary of the way others give her a wide berth whenever they hear her shrieks. No matter that her parents pay her no mind during her fits; being ignored only makes her rage harder. During her Terrible Twos the whole village walks on eggshells around her, dreading the inevitable explosion from the bomb that’s always primed to explode.

Korra understands innately, without having to be told, that fire is power. Water is power too, in its own way — without water, there would be no fish, no drinking, no ice, no ocean and moon spirits, no flow or energy. But without fire, there would be no way to cook the food, no way to clean the water, no heat, no warmth and protection. Water is life, but fire is energy.

There’s so much energy inside of Korra’s body that it quite literally spills out of her, too strong to be contained inside of one tiny frame. It spills off of her tongue, off of her back, off the bottoms of her feet as she races on thick ice between the center of the village and her home. She talks a mile a minute, even though she still doesn’t know too many words. The arctic wind cuts through her, but it never seems to make her cold, no matter how little she’s wearing. There’s a hot pit in her stomach, always burning, turning itself over and over. Her father calls it chi.

Korra calls it tummy grumbles.

Either way, it’s the energy that keeps her alive, and Korra only has to sit and think about the feeling for a few days before she starts to notice the way it shifts inside of her when she breathes. The way it seems to roar into life whenever Desna and Eska gang up on her (she’s a better waterbender than either of them, but not when they combine forces, and though they’re only six and she’s only five the sting of defeat burns white hot inside of Korra, and she hates the feeling).

She tips her head back, feels the sun’s rays warm against her face, feels the pull of the sun on the energy inside of her body. She punches forward, and a flame shoots from her closed fist with enough power to blow her back off her feet. She almost burns down their house a few times that year, but getting to feel the pent-up energy burst from her body is totally worth it.

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When her parents can’t ignore it any longer, they send for the White Lotus.

“Are you sure your daughter is the Avatar?” they ask, foolishly, before Korra breaks down the wall between her room and the main one, shooting fire and water in front of her, just to prove her point.

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She’s a full-fledged waterbending master by 10. An earthbending master by 13. By the time she turns 17, she’s mastered fire, too. She can beat any of the White Lotus trainers and most of the Masters, as long as they don’t cheat or gang up on her. She pants at the end of her long days of training, sore and sweaty and full of pent-up feelings that she can’t quite figure out how to release.

She takes Naga running, when they let her out of the compound. They leap over the ice together. Sometimes Korra rides on her back, sometimes they race each other over the icy tundra. They chart paths to the ocean, slicing across their snow-covered land without maps, using only the stars for navigation. The salty spray hits Korra’s face and sticks to her skin, burning at her eyes. She breathes deeply and practices her bending by following the movement of the waves, feeling the way the moon pulls at the chi inside of her.

She hasn’t lived with her parents since she was 6. She’s still allowed to see them just about every weekend, and the White Lotus lets her go home for a few days at a time for her birthday and for the Winter Solstace, but otherwise the compound is the only home she’s ever known. She’s never been anywhere else. She’s never even seen a forest.

She has no friends. She’s never had a friend, outside of Naga, because the Avatar ‘is above such earthly concerns’. That’s what the White Lotus tells her. Katara’s tried to get them to be more reasonable, to let her visit the village more often, know more of the tribe. When she was younger Katara even lobbied for her to go to school with other children her age, but she’s always shut down.

Korra doesn’t mind the isolation too much. She’d rather focus on her training.

Avatar Aang was the most powerful Avatar who ever lived.

She’s got big shoes to fill.

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Air is the element of freedom. In order to master it, the airbenders had to detach themselves from trivial earthy concerns. To bend air is to allow the flow of the wind itself to push and pull your body; to throw yourself onto an updraft with abandon, trusting that you will be caught. It’s about being light on your toes, easily adaptable, quick to shift perspective and attention. Never allowing your opponent to land a hit, knowing where you will place your feet before they brush the ground, allowing the energy around you to exist, and to move yourself around it, rather than moving it around you. The strongest airbending masters can go weeks without food; they can meditate for days without speaking to another living creature. They value all life, the existence and creation of all energy and matter. They preserve; they shift; they do not harm; they do not destroy.

Korra is destruction personified.

She turns 17, a master of 3 elements; the fastest Avatar in history to master so many, besides Avatar Aang himself (except really he was over a hundred when he became a master of more than air, so Korra’s technically got him beat, too). You wouldn’t know it with the way the White Lotus talks about her, though.

She’s heard stories of Avatar Aang all her life. He’s always there, haunting her days, slipping from the whispered lips of the people who train her who all knew him and trained with him, long before she was even a twinkle in her parents’ eyes. She knows Aang’s children, his wife is one of her waterbending masters, for crying out loud. (She thinks she dreams of him, sometimes, but she wakes up without remembering what they’ve spoken about.)

She thinks of Aang like a signpost: go this way, that’s what Aang would do; your bending must be stronger, Aang would never make that mistake; don’t lose your temper, Aang would never let his emotions get the better of him. She’s tasked with upholding his legacy — the peace he created in the world, the mistakes he was forced to right, the progress he fostered, the harmony he preached. She thinks of herself, young and destructive and angry and all bluster, all might, no finesse, and she grits her teeth against the inferiority that floods her. She grits her teeth and pushes herself harder, she trains harder, she gets stronger, she gets better, because Aang was perfect — the White Lotus still talk about him like he hung the stars in the sky, and Korra burns with the feeling of never being enough. She pushes against that feeling with everything she has.

But she can’t make a single puff of air. She tries and she tries until she’s blue in the face and crying in frustration. She sneaks out to the cliffs and practices her training motions all through the night, and all through the next day, under the moon of the South Pole, then under the sun, in the snow, in the rain, in the heat. She breathes, she tries to meditate, she abstains from food and water until she’s dizzy and faint, she closes her eyes and tries to meditate, tries to summon calm and tries to feel harmony and balance.

The air exists around her, unmovable, untouchable.

For twenty-three straight hours she stands still, breathing, waiting for anything at all. She shifts, impatient, and sighs, impatient, and punches the air, eyes peeled for any disturbance in front of her. Twenty-three hours turns into thirty, which turns into forty-eight, until she’s so tired her eyes are burning dry. She aches. Her stomach feels like it’s turning in on itself. She’s shaking and she feels like crying.

Not a single jet of air. Not one. She can’t even make the hairs on Naga’s back move.

She blasts a jet of fire straight into the sky and screams her frustration to the wind. An artic wolf howls back, somewhere in the distance, and Korra sinks to her knees, the snow beneath her soaking slowly through her pants.

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She can’t go into the Avatar state. She’s tried, but all of her teachers tell her it’s about meditation and communing with spiritual energy, and Korra’s never been very good at meditation. Katara tries to help her open up her chi, but without better spiritual guidance — without someone with practical, not just theoretical experience — Korra’s worried she’ll never be able to access it.

But she knows the stories. She’s heard the tales. She knows the Avatar state saved Aang’s life when he was younger than her, knows that when his life was in danger it kicked in subconsciously, knows it’s the reason he ended up frozen in ice for a century. She knows that it lives within her, innate, if she could only reach it.

The White Lotus tells her to meditate. They tell her to be patient. Katara brushes her hair and says “You’ll do it when you’re ready,” and Korra wants to scream. She’s ready. She’s ready now. She’s an Avatar locked in a cage — she’s no use to anyone here, no use if she can’t do what she was born to do. But meditation can only get her so far. And the only other time an Avatar can go into the Avatar State — when they haven’t learned to control it, that is — is when their life is in grave danger.

Korra’s never felt the adrenaline rush of danger. She’s never been in a real fight, she’s never saved anyone’s life, she’s never felt the risk that comes with a solo-adventure, or traveling the world with only her animal guide and her pack. She’s never known what it’s like to fend for herself, or survive on her own. She’s never even had to go a single day without a meal.

She throws herself head-first into the ocean one day, impulsively, while Naga howls in distress on top of the cliff. The water is colder than death as she hits, so piercing it knocks the breath right out of her. The waves buffet her, threaten to toss her against the rocky cliff’s edge, and Korra struggles in the surf, gasping for air.

She shoots up, a whirlpool of water ejecting her before she’s dragged under for good.

“Korra!” Master Monak screams at her, his face red with fury, “What were you thinking?”

She shivers on the ice. Naga curls into her back, whimpering, distressed and anxious. Through chattering teeth and blue lips she manages to say, “S-slipped.”

It’s three months before they let her out of the compound again. They keep a close eye on her, like they’re worried she tried to kill herself, like they’re worried if they don’t watch her every waking moment she might try to do it again.

It’s so stupid. Korra doesn’t want to die. The exact opposite.

All she wants is to live.

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Leaving for Republic City is impulsive.

Korra has always lacked self-restraint.

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Tenzin thinks she’ll never master airbending. He doesn’t say as much — how could he, how could he focus on anything with that giant stick up his ass? — but she can tell. It’s in the way he sighs, the way he looks at her, the way his forehead grows wrinkled and his lips press together thin and white. She frustrates him. She disappoints him. He doesn’t think she has what it takes to be an airbender. He doesn’t think she has what it takes to be the Avatar. Jinora is already on her way to becoming a master, and she’s only 12. Meelo can bend more air out of his butt than Korra can in her entire body.

It isn’t fair. Bending has always come so naturally to her. And water is her home element; it’s where she feels most comfortable, where she has the most control. She’s the most powerful waterbender at the South Pole, after Katara, and airbending and waterbending are sister energies. Water and fire are opposites, and air and earth. But water and air are fluid, changeable, adaptable; they are about feeling the energy in the world, and learning how to channel it. Korra’s been doing that her whole life. She can bend water as easy as breathing. She mastered fire and earth like it was nothing, but here she is, getting out-matched by a six year-old whose preferred mode of bending is farting.

Korra can’t stand it. It makes her sick.

She does what she does best — she destroys. She blasts a thousand-year old relic apart because she can control herself, and Tenzin’s eye twitches, and he looks at her and his eyes seem to say I always knew you were like this and Korra wants to scream.

She stalks off, instead.

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She finds Mako. Bolin. She finds pro-bending. She enters the ring and it’s the first time in her life she’s felt really afraid, and when she goes blasting off of the edge of the arena she’s furious, but she has to bite down a laugh because she feels alive. She’s sweating and she’s getting her ass handed to her by a bender who has a fraction of her skills, and she couldn’t be happier.

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Korra gets used to the feeling of almost-dying. It seems like a near-weekly occurrence, ever since she came to Republic City.

Amon almost kills her. The Equalists almost kill her. She almost dies, and Tenzin almost kills her for almost dying.

She meets a boy, falls for him, then wants to kill something when he finds someone else.

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She wishes she could hate Asami. This would all be so much easier if she could hate Asami, but she can’t. Asami is rich, sure, and Korra’s never liked rich people, but she’s also smart, and beautiful, and funny, and she doesn’t blame Mako for falling for a girl like Asami, because Korra’s petty but she isn’t blind. Asami is charming. She’s easy to fall for.

Still, Korra watches them together and feels something sick and ugly twisting in her stomach and she can’t stand it, she’s afraid of the feeling, of what it might mean, of what she might do with the feeling if she lets it take hold of her.

(What she does instead is break Bolin’s heart, and almost ruin everything anyway.)

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When Amon takes her bending, Korra thinks about killing herself. She never really considers the possibility, not seriously — she’s never wanted to die, not when she has so much she still needs to do. (She doesn’t think she has the stomach for it.) But without her bending, she’s nothing. She’s less-than-nothing. She’s an Avatar neutered, an Avatar destroyed, a figurehead, a body to take up space and food and give nothing, nothing to the people who need her. She can’t connect to the past Avatars, she can’t enter the Avatar state, and Katara tells her her bending is gone. Forever.

Korra thinks about killing herself. An Avatar is no use to anyone when they can’t do the actual job, when they can’t even talk to spirits or defeat one bad guy. Logically, Korra knows that if she dies, the cycle starts over. A new Avatar will be born, one who isn’t powerless, one who can do something to help.

She stands at the edge of the South Pole and looks out over the water and thinks about what it would be like to throw herself over the edge. She’s done it once before. And this time there’s no Master Monak to save her. There’s no Avatar state to pull her out, to freeze the water around her for a hundred years until the world needs her again.

“Korra!” Mako shouts, and Korra turns to him.

____________________

She masters airbending. She masters the Avatar state. She restores the bending of the countless benders who have been captured and crippled by Amon. She speaks to Aang. She speaks to Roku, Kiyoshi, and the Avatars who came before her. They smile at her, as if to say, Welcome.

She still feels like there’s something missing.

All Korra’ ever wanted is to be the Avatar. And it still feels like no one believes she can do it. No one trusts her. It’s the only thing she’s ever trained for, but all of that training doesn’t seem to matter. She might be the youngest fully-formed Avatar in history, but speaking to her father and trainers, no one would know she’s anything more than a reckless, spoiled teenager. Even Tenzin doesn’t think she has what it takes to succeed as the Avatar. Maybe that’s why she fires him.

Maybe that’s why Unalaq is so persuasive.

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She tries to unite the Northern and Southern Water Tribes and in the process starts a civil war. Her parents are arrested for treason. Her father is sentenced to life in prison. She loses her memory. She opens the polar spirit portals, connecting the North and South by a few steps. She steps into the Spirit World for the first time. She meets Raava, then loses her, then finds her again.

She almost dies. Then she almost dies again.

She doesn’t die.

Somewhere in that whole, complicated mess she and Mako break up. For good. She figures it’s probably for the best.

Then the day of Harmonic Convergence. Vaatu’s ascension, Unalaq’s rampage. Korra, as is apparently common practice now, almost dies.

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She accidentally births a new Air Nation.

(They find that out much later.)

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She hears Tenzin crying in his room on Air Temple Island, she listens to Pema comfort him, she hears the way his voice shakes as he says, “I wish Dad could have seen this,” and she thinks maybe, just maybe, she’s finally done something right for a change.

____________________

She doesn’t like to think about Zaheer. She doesn’t like to remember hunting him, being hunted by him, his shaved head and empty eyes, the way he would close those eyes and fly through the air without the help of any glider.

He poisons her. There isn’t anything more to it. He poisons her, he pulls the air from her lungs, he captures the airbenders, he almost kills them, he tries to kill her. She doesn’t die, but she almost does, and she can feel the Avatar state flickering in and out of existence, can feel Raava’s spirit shuddering inside of her, thrashing, and she’s deranged, like a rabid dog on a chain. She is rage and she is fury when she takes Zaheer down.

And then she collapses, and everything goes dark.

When she opens her eyes again she’s on Air Temple Island and she can’t feel her legs.

Asami is hunched over, asleep on her bed, her hand loose around Korra’s wrist. Korra moves, as if to stand, but she can’t feel her legs. She looks down at her toes, focuses all her attention on the bump in the bed sheet, stares at them and thinks move move move move until she forgets to breathe, forgets to count.

She must shift or something because Asami stirs. She bolts up when she realizes Korra is awake, her eyes wide and relieved. She looks terrible, like she hasn’t slept in days, but her eyes are shining and she’s smiling at Korra — smiling at her, of all things — and Korra just stares back.

“Korra—” Asami breathes, and there’s something terrible in the softness of it, something that makes Korra want to shudder and turn away, and Korra can’t bear it, can’t bear the thought of what it might mean.

“I can’t feel my legs.”

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Asami builds her a wheelchair. Korra can’t even get into it and out of it herself. She needs help to do everything, she needs help eating and shitting and bathing and doing her hair.

It’s worse than Amon, worse than losing her bending. She’s in pain when she sleeps, she’s in pain when she shits, she’s in pain when she sleeps and when she sits up and when Asami lifts her from her bed to her chair. It hurts to breathe. She can’t walk, much less bend, so not only is she useless, not only a failure, but she’s a burden on top of it. She’s weak. She let Zaheer get to her, she let him poison her, she let him almost kill her, and now she’s crippled. She can’t even get herself in and out of her own wheelchair. She’s never been so weak. She’s never been so pathetic.

Tenzin sends for the best healers from around the city, and they all take their turns submerging her in water (warm, cold, from the South Pole, from the North Pole, iced and heated and salty and fresh, they try it all). She spends the first three days after she wakes up entirely underwater. She passes out twice from the cold, but she refuses to budge. Her skin is so pruned by the time they lift her out that she looks like she’s aged a hundred years.

She still can’t walk.

The closest they get to anything like a result is from the first healer, an elder from the Northern Water Tribe who ghosts her hands over Korra’s spine and something within her body snaps, a crippling shock that causes every muscle in her body to stop working. Korra’s body shakes and her eyes roll back into her head and she almost swallows her tongue when she seizes. Asami watches from the doorway, horrified.

Korra doesn’t let her come to her healing sessions after that.

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She stops sleeping. She stops eating.

Jinora gets her tattoos, the city applauds their Avatar for saving the day, once again, and Korra sits in her chair, unable to walk, and thinks about how difficult it seems to be for her to die. Death seems to follow behind her, always a breath away, always knocking at her window, but still she just can’t seem to die.

(She doesn’t think she could do it on her own. That’s the only thing that stops her from trying. She doesn’t think she could do it on her own, and she couldn’t bear to put that burden on anyone else. Besides, who would she ask? Hey, Mako, I know we recently dated and broke up but I was wondering if you’d be willing to help me kill myself? Hi, Asami, I know that seeing me in pain makes you want to throw up, but how about a shock straight to the heart from one of your gauntlets to put me out of my misery?)

She’s the Avatar in name only. A burden. A cripple. Useless. She can’t help anyone if she can’t fight, she can’t fight if she can’t walk, and she can’t walk period. No matter how many healers put their hands on her body, no matter how many herbal teas she drinks, how many medicines she takes, how many specialists and spiritual guides she sees, she isn’t getting better.

All she’s ever wanted is to be the Avatar. It’s the only thing she’s ever trained for.

If she isn’t the Avatar, who is she?

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The decision to go South is an easy one. The decision to go alone is even easier.

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She doesn’t like to think about Zaheer, and she doesn’t like to think about the time after him. She doesn’t like to think about her time in the South Pole, the years that stretch like endless miserable lifetimes.

She doesn’t like to think about losing herself, slowly but surely, nor about trying to claw her way back out of the darkness and failing, every time. She loses her mind, her bending, her spirit. She loses her body.

She doesn’t like to think about it.

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Mako and Bolin write her dozens of letters. There are a lot of days in 3 years, and that translates to a lot of letters. She thinks that they write her 3 times a month at the start. Bolin keeps up his cheery pace and tone longer than Mako, but in the end, even he stops writing when he continuously gets no response.

By the end of the 16th month of her self-imposed isolation, Korra can barely walk from one end of a room to the other, and Asami is the only person left in her life who still consistently writes to her. She’ll get the occasional letter from Bolin, or a status update from Mako, but they’ve all but given up on her ever saying anything back to them.

But Asami still writes to her. Asami writes her long letters, overflowing with care, endless stories about the airbender kids, how Republic City is experiencing an invasion of spirit vines, how President Raiko is gearing up for his re-election campaign. She asks about Korra’s family, about the weather at the South Pole, about the lights in the sky, and if they’re as bright as she remembers. She asks about Naga, if Korra’s visited the Spirit World recently, if Katara needs any supplies sent down from the city. She doesn’t ask about Korra’s physical health, or how her training is going, or if she can bend more than a pebble at a time, and Korra is so thankful for that. Her letters are a distraction and a reprieve. Korra is so glad she never stops writing.

(She’s the only person Korra ever responds to. Maybe that has something to do with it.)

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When the time comes for Korra to return to Republic City, return to her life as the Avatar, return to saving the world (her mission, her job, her purpose), she knows that she isn’t ready. She’s weak. She’s haunted by visions of demons who stalk her, chains dragging slowly on the ground, eyes glowing white and empty. She aches when she sleeps, she aches when she bends. She isn’t the Avatar, not anymore; she knows because the Avatar spirit haunts her every waking moment, always in the corner of her eye, tormenting her with her failure.

When the time comes for Korra to return to Republic City, she does the only thing she can: she runs away.

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If she’s not the Avatar, who is she?

____________________

Korra stumbles out of the spirit portal with Kuvira draped over her shoulder. Her entire body is screaming in pain, but she doesn’t let it show on her face. Her knees shake. She thinks she’s moments away from collapse.

Her eyes catch Asami’s, and she almost bursts into tears. Alive, she thinks. She’s alive.

Tenzin hugs her first and tightest. She grips the back of his cape like her life depends on it.

Kuvira surrenders. Mako and Bolin stumble forward, also alive. Ikki and Jinora and Meelo, Lin and Sue, Opal, Asami. Alive, she thinks. They’re all alive.

She doesn’t collapse the second they make it back to Air Temple Island, but boy does she want to. But there’s still too much work to do for sleep. There are wounds to tend to, injured people to take care of, beds to make up and pillows to find, there’s food to cook and refugees to house, and she struggles through the briefest attempts at helping before Pema shoves her off in the direction of her bedroom. “Go,” Pema urges, “sleep. There will be work when you wake up.”

Korra’s head hits the pillow and she’s asleep within moments.

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When she wakes up it’s dark outside, and her mind is foggy. She blinks and squints, trying to figure out what woke her up. She’s still wearing her dirty outfit, stained with soot and residue from exploded spirit vines. Her hair is a mess. Every muscle in her body hurts. Her shoes are still on her feet, and she grimaces thinking about the state of Pema’s sheets.

There’s a soft knock at her door, and Korra realizes that it’s the second time she’s heard it. “Come in!” she calls through a throat that’s coated thick with sleep.

She sits up straighter when Asami’s face peeks around the edge of the door. Korra throws her legs over the side of her bed and brushes her fingers through her hair, nervous in a way she can’t explain. “Asami,” she says stupidly. She blinks, wishing desperately for a clearer mind. “Are you alright? How long was I out? Did something—” she moves to stand but Asami holds up a hand, stopping her. She freezes, halfway between sitting and standing, unsure of what to do.

“Everything’s fine,” Asami reassures. “And you’ve been asleep for almost nine hours. It’s already past midnight.”

“That long? It feels like I just fell asleep.” Korra rubs at her eyes. “I’m sorry I was out so long. Do you need something?”

“No. Nothing.” She pauses. “Actually… can I sleep here?” Korra blinks. Asami swallows. “You can say no. I can squeeze in with Ikki and Jinora, they’re just—”

“Yes.”

“Everyone’s already doubled-up and I know you need more rest than any of us so I can always—”

“Asami.” Korra stands now. She steps forward, grabs Asami’s hand and pulls her into the room. The door shuts softly behind her. Korra has no idea what time it is (past midnight, Asamsi said), but it must be late. The whole island is silent. “You can sleep here.”

Asami shifts on her feet. “Are you sure?”

“Please. I could use the company.” Asami ducks her head, and if it weren’t so dark Korra might be able to definitively say whether or not she’s blushing.

“If you’re sure.”

“I’ve shared beds with Ikki and Jinora before. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.” She smiles. “And you’re not my worst enemy.”

Asami sags. The corner of her mouth twitches, a twitch that would be a smile if she weren’t so exhausted. “That’s a relief.”

Korra kicks off her shoes and tries not to think about how disgusting she must look. She sniffs discreetly and has to stop herself from physically recoiling from her own smell. She clears her throat. “Um… I didn’t really… get to take a bath, or anything, so I’m going to… do that. Sorry if the sheets— yeah. Um, there’s clothes in the—” she points to the wardrobe because she’s forgotten the word— “You can wear anything. Or what you have on! If you want to. It just doesn’t look very comfortable. For sleeping, I mean! It looks comfortable for… workshop… stuff.” Asami is laughing at her. Not out loud, but Korra can see the twinkle in her eyes, and it makes her want to slap herself. “Okay, shutting up now. I’ll just… be right back.”

When she’s in the bathing area she lets out a breath she hadn’t known she’d been holding. “This is fine,” she whispers to her own reflection. “You’re fine. You can do this. It’s just Asami. It’s just for the night. You’re tired, you’ll be asleep in seconds. This is fine. You’re fine.” She nods to her reflection, as if that’s enough to harden her resolve.

Her resolve crumbles when she emerges from the bathing area, still in the midst of toweling her hair dry, to see Asami curled up in one of Korra’s lighter coats, her very long, very pale, very bare legs crossed over each other. Korra freezes in place, eyes widening, as she drops her towel to the floor with a soft thwump. Is Asami waiting in her bed naked?!

Asami,” Korra croaks, taking a step inside her room.

Asami shifts on the bed and squints, her eyes blearily meeting Korra’s. She tries to sit up, still half-asleep. “Korra, hi. Sorry, I’ll move over.” She scoots to the side and the coat gapes and Korra lets out a breath she hadn’t known she’d been holding. Asami’s not naked, she’s just wearing a loose shirt and a pair of shorts that are covered by Korra’s over-sized coat. Not naked, just… not wearing very much. Which isn’t the same. So this is… fine.

Korra’s heart is still hammering in her chest. She doesn’t know if it will ever slow down. For just a moment, she thought—

“Sorry,” Asami says, because Korra’s still just standing in her own doorway, gaping like an absolute idiot. “I didn’t know what to do about the sheets, and I was cold. I hope you don’t mind I borrowed some clothes.”

Korra kicks herself and jumps into action. “I have some furs. In—hold on.” She digs through the trunk at the foot of her bed and pulls a few furs from within. Mementos she’d taken from home, all those many years ago when she first moved to Republic City. Lifetimes ago. Buffalo yak is the largest but the polar bear is the warmest, so that’s what Korra takes with her when she emerges.

Korra loves her furs. They’re some of her only prized possessions. Their quality is unmatched, made by the best furriers in the South Pole; nothing like the cheap, synthetic furs the ladies of Republic City prefer, the ones that can be made in factories for dirt cheap, with no respect for the animal who gave its life for the warmth and protection of its hunter. The delicate ecosystem at the South Pole is sacred to Korra’s people, and the ritual of hunting, skinning, and treating a first polar bear kill is a time-honored tradition in her tribe. In her hands is the skin first animal she ever hunted with her father.

Talk about lifetimes ago.

Asami takes the furs from her gratefully. “Thank you,” she says, pulling the largest one over herself. “It’s chilly here.”

“You can blame Aang for that. He loved a good breeze while he slept. This whole building is basically a wind tunnel.”

Asami shivers. “That would explain it.”

Air Temple Island is not what anyone would call comfortable or luxurious, but it’s mostly okay. Korra’s main gripe is that she really doesn’t like the beds. Historically, airbenders believed in giving up all earthly possessions and creature comforts including, naturally, anything like a comfortable bed. Tenzin, of course, insists on maintaining the air nomad way of life, even if he’s the only man in the world who cares about the historical accuracy of the beds his family sleeps on. He also says they do wonders for the spine, but Korra’s spine has never enjoyed nights spent stretched out on the hard and unyielding barebones mattress. The furs help with that. They cushion everything, they wrap her in warmth and softness, they smell of home, they remind her of her family, her people. She doesn’t usually have them out — she prefers them well-kept and neatly-pressed, carefully folding and unfolding them every night and storing them for safe keeping. She forgot earlier, with her exhaustive collapse. She hadn’t even thought to take her shoes off before passing out.

Korra is still standing next to the bed, staring at Asami. Asami raises her eyebrow, clearly confused. “Are you… going to get in the bed?”

“Oh, uh, yes. Yep. Right, uh, now. Yep.” Korra clambers under the furs, making sure to remain as far from Asami as humanly possible. There’s an entire mattress between them. It’s not a very large mattress, but it’s enough space for two or three small airbender children to squeeze into, which is as safe a distance as Korra can manage without falling off the side. Still, Korra crowds the edge, ramrod straight, her arms folded over her chest as she stares up at the ceiling. Every muscle in her body feels tense.

She can feel Asami’s eyes on her like a brand.

“You’re uncomfortable,” Asami says after a few moments, and Korra does her best to relax her shoulders.

Korra shakes her head, eyes still trained on the ceiling. “No, I’m great! Never better. Super comfy, actually. Tired, too. Definitely gonna sleep like a log.” She lets out a yawn, fake and over-pronounced. “Wow, I’m beat. Well, goodnight, Asami. See you in the morning.”

Asami sighs and sits up. The fur falls to her waist, and the movement catches Korra’s eyes. Asami is frowning at her, looking… Korra doesn’t know what she looks like, only that she seems extremely put-out. She’s sitting in Korra’s bed, under Korra’s furs, wearing Korra’s clothes, and she looks put-out. Korra wants to punch herself.

“I’m sorry,” Asami says, and Korra swallows and meets her eyes finally. “I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. I’ll just go stay with Ikki and Jinora.”

Korra sits up too. Her hands grip the furs and release, flexing quickly. “No,” she says, even as Asami starts to clamber towards the bottom of the mattress. “No,” she says again, firmer this time. Her hand grabs Asami’s wrist. Asami stills. The moment stretches.

“I’m sorry,” Korra whispers. In the moonlight Asami’s eyes seem to gleam. Korra is captivated by them. “I don’t want you to leave. I’m not uncomfortable. Well, I am, but not… not for the reason you think.”

Asami whispers, “And what reason is that?”

Korra knows what she means, what she’s getting at. It’s the thing that’s been hanging between them, unspoken, unacknowledged, for more than three years now. Since before Zaheer, before the South Pole. But Korra can’t say it. The truth is too frightening, too large, too uncontrollable to comprehend. Instead, she answers the question posed, not the question asked. “I’ve just… never slept with anyone before.” Korra flushes. “I mean I have! Figuratively. I’ve just never shared a bed with anyone before. I… don’t really know how to do this, so I feel awkward. But it isn’t you. I promise.” She smiles. Asami smiles back at her. Korra squeezes her wrist one more time before letting go. “If you’re okay with me being a bad cuddler, I’d really like for you to stay.”

Asami chuckles quietly, but she slides back under the furs once again. She’s much closer to Korra, now. Korra’s not really sure which one of them moved in. Maybe both of them, unconsciously drawn to each other.

“Don’t get ahead of yourself, Avatar.”

Asami’s breath is warm on her face. It’s late at night, too late for any noise from outside the window. Even the birds seem to be asleep.

Even though today was terrible and tomorrow is uncertain, Korra is underneath her thickest furs, and she is warm, and safe, and for the first time in a long time she feels at peace.

Asami might have something to do with that.

.

.

“I’m sorry about your dad,” Korra whispers into the darkness. Asami’s hand slips into hers and she squeezes so tight Korra wonders if she’ll have any bones left in her hand come morning. She doesn’t pull away.

They fall asleep like that, holding hands, the distance between them under the fur not feeling quite so large or impassable.

.

.

The second time Korra wakes up is decidedly more pleasant than the first. She’s wrapped in something warm and soft, and there’s heat and comfort all around her. There are birds singing softly outside her window. Something sweet-smelling is by her nose and Korra inhales deeply, caught in that moment between waking and sleep when the world is just flickering back into being. She shifts, pulling the body in front of her closer, wrapping her arms tighter around her waist, sinking into the relief of Asami’s—

Her eyes snap open. Asami. Asami is in her bed. Asami is in her bed asleep. Asami is in her bed asleep and Korra is spooning her, wrapped around her like a flying lemur on a tree branch. Her face is in Asami’s beautiful, sweet-smelling hair and her left arm is curled around Asami’s waist. Her right arm has fallen asleep—the pins and needles are what woke her. Asami’s sleeping on Korra’s right arm and it’s painful, but she doesn’t dare move. Asami is holding Korra’s hand. Her fingers are loosely laced with Korra’s; they rise and fall together with her easy breathing.

Korra swallows and wonders how she’s going to get herself out of this mess. Asami is still fast asleep, as far as she can tell, and certainly the last thing she wants is to wake up to discover she’s being groped by Korra in her sleep. Korra flushes at the thought and quietly tries to extricate herself from the compromising situation.

“Don’t go,” Asami whines, tugging on her hand. Korra freezes, unsure of what to do. She hadn’t realized Asami was awake. Asami turns her head towards her, her eyes squinting against the sun. “You’re warm,” she mumbles. “Stay.”

Korra doesn’t know what to say to that. She doesn’t say anything. She sinks down onto the bed and readjusts, freeing her numb arm from Asami’s pillow and carefully returning to the space she’d just vacated. She flexes her tingling hand, hoping to get the blood flowing again, but in moments she’s distracted from her task. Asami shifts back into her, pulling on Korra’s still-functional hand so Korra falls against her more firmly. Asami squeezes Korra’s fingers, and Korra realizes that they’re hugging rather tightly, and that she really, really needed a hug. She closes her eyes and buries her nose in Asami’s hair, right by her neck, and Asami squeezes her fingers again.

“Korra,” she whispers, and it’s like someone else has taken over control of Korra’s body. She kisses Asami’s shoulder, lightly, barely-there, and Asami whispers her name again.

She twists in Korra’s arms. Korra blinks down at her, captivated by her figure, by her face soft and searching, by her hair spread out on Korra’s pillow, wild and unkempt and glorious. Asami’s eyes are focused somewhere lower on Korra’s face, and she licks her lips. Korra doesn’t know which one of them moves, maybe both of them, but she’s bending her head, falling towards Asami and her pretty eyes and her pretty lips, and a breath passes between them and something low in Korra’s gut clenches, and—

And someone knocks loudly on Korra’s door, shattering the moment apart.

“It’s past noon, Korra, are you feeling alright? We haven’t seen you all morning.”

Korra and Asami exchange a look. Tenzin, Asami mouths, and Korra has to fight back an audible groan. Great, just the person she wants to be loitering outside her door right now. Korra feels like a teenager again, caught in a horrifically pre-disastrous, pre-humiliating situation and wondering how she can sneak a pretty girl out of her bedroom window before her dad discovers them.

“Just a minute!” Korra calls as she slips out of bed and scrambles for the wardrobe.

“I know yesterday was draining, but you’ve been asleep for a very long time. Do you need to see a healer?”

“Nope, I’m good!” Korra jumps to put on her pants. Asami covers her mouth on the bed, trying to stifle a laugh. Korra glares at her. “Not helpful,” she hisses so only Asami can hear. Asami’s eyes gleam above her head. “All healed up!” Korra yells towards the door.

“Have you seen Asami this morning?” Now Korra really does groan out loud. “She doesn’t appear to be on the Island anymore. Pema’s been looking for her.”

“Uh…” Korra looks at Asami, her eyes wide. Asami is too busy laughing to notice her panic. What do we do?! she mouths frantically. Asami shrugs. “Asami?” she finally calls. “Why, uh, why do you ask?”

“Korra, I’m not going to keep shouting at you through a door, so why don’t we—” He pushes her door open and immediately freezes. Korra glances between him and Asami with her lip gripped between her teeth. “Asami!” Tenzin exclaims, his hand still tight on the doorknob. “What, ah… I wasn’t expecting you.”

Korra’s ears are getting hotter, and she just knows they’re beet red. She glances nervously at Asami, who seems nonplussed by the intrusion. “Korra let me spend the night,” she says simply. “Sorry, I thought I could slip out before anyone was awake. Does Pema need any help in the kitchen?”

Tenzin’s eyes are wide. He nods very quickly. “She’d love some help, thank you.” He turns his attention to Korra, his expression very serious. Korra swallows and stares back at him and tries to think of something to say.

“It’s not what you think!” Korra finally hisses, glancing over her shoulder. Asami has dressed in record time, and now she sits on the bed pulling on her shoes. Tenzin’s eyebrows are near the top of his head. “I mean it,” she whispers, “it isn’t—”

“See you later, Korra,” Asami whispers. Her hand squeezes Korra’s shoulder as she slips by her, and she presses a soft kiss to Korra’s cheek in passing, wiping the offending smudge away with a brush of her thumb. (When did she have time to put on lipstick?) It’s very easy, very practiced, and Korra blushes all the way through her scalp.

Korra flames red, eyes wide and darting everywhere but Tenzin’s face. “That, uh… that really didn’t help what I was trying to say.”

“Is there something you’d like to tell me, Korra?”

“No! That… wasn’t what it looked like. Asami just needed a place to sleep. It was either gonna be with me or Ikki and Jinora, and, well… you know how they are during a sleepover.”

“You don’t have to explain yourself to me, Korra. You’re a grown woman. You’re allowed to…” He turns red. Korra is mortified. This is not how she wanted to start her morning. Tenzin clears his throat. “Well.”

“We aren’t— I mean we didn’t… We’re just friends.”

Tenzin hums. Korra can’t tell if it’s disapproving or not. “That’s a rather complicated friendship to maintain. But it’s none of my business.”

“No, Tenzin, I’m serious, we—”

“It’s alright, Korra.” He places a hand on her shoulder and squeezes. “I’m your friend and teacher, but not your life coach. You are more than welcome to keep your personal life private.”

“But—”

“In fact, I insist on it.”

Korra snaps her jaw shut. She nods tightly, her ears still burning.

“Now, why don’t we get something to eat in the kitchen and forget all about the last ten minutes, hm? I think Pema’s almost done with lunch.”

“I’d like that a lot, thanks.”

Tenzin squeezes her shoulder once more. “I think you’ll be excited to hear about all the progress we’ve made overnight.”

Korra glances back at her bed, unmade and ruffled. Her mind catches on the feeling of waking up with Asami’s body pressed against hers, and she clears her throat and shuts the door with a loud snap.

“Progress,” she says to Tenzin’s retreating form. “Right.”

The kitchen is already bustling with activity when Korra and Tenzin arrive. Lin is engaged in an intense thumb war with Meelo, Varrick and Zhu Li are loudly discussing what sounds like floral arrangements at the table, and Asami is standing near the stove with a large mixing bowl in her arms. She’s laughing at something Ikki is miming, the bubbling sound bright and melodic. It fills the room with warmth, and Korra softens looking at her.

“Korra!” Meelo shouts. He twists out of his seat next to Varrick and flies towards her on an airball.

“Korra!” Ikki yells right after, as soon as she notices her, too.

“Meelo, no bending in the kitchen!” Pema calls, but Meelo has already thrown himself into Korra’s arms. She grunts when she catches him, then grunts again when Ikki flies onto her back.

“Good morning, guys.”

“It’s not morning anymore!” Meelo shouts. “You slept for a whole day, Korra. We thought you died!

“I just needed some rest. Look, I’m good as new.”

Ikki flips over Korra’s head. Once she hits the ground, she jumps up and grabs Korra’s head in her hands. “Hmm,” she says, squinting as she looks over Korra’s face. “I guess you seem alright to me. Hey… Korra, you have something on your cheek—” Ikki reaches for her it but Korra is too fast for her. She slaps her hand over the lipstick mark and rubs it quickly, keeping her eyes down to hide her blush.

She chances a peek at Asami, and is delighted (delighted?!) to see her pretty blush peeking out from behind a curtain of hair. They make shy eye contact. Asami smiles and Korra’s returning grin is goofy.

“Why’s everyone gone all quiet?!” Varrick’s sentence ends in a shout, as all of his sentences do. “Korra!” he barks. “You’re late. You missed the entire morning.”

“Sorry, Varrick,” Korra apologizes, sitting cross-legged on the floor at the table. Asami places a bowl in front of her without Korra having to ask, and her fingers brush over Korra’s upper back as she slides back towards Pema and the stove. Korra has to shake herself, but when she turns her attention back to the rest of the table she can see Varrick staring at her with eyes that are both judgmental and knowing. She diverts. “Uh… what did I miss?”

“A million things! None of which you even bothered to wake up for.” He points an accusatory finger in her face. Korra takes another bite of soup. “Zhu Li and I—Zhu Li! Do you have the thing?”

Zhu Li pulls something from nowhere. “Right here, Varrick,” she says, holding out a piece of thick cardstock.

Varrick snatches it from her hands and thrusts it at Korra. “Here, this is for you. We’re getting married!

Korra blinks down at the paper in her hands and now can see that, sure enough, it’s a wedding invitation. “Oh! Uh… congratulations? When did this happen?”

“Yesterday!” Varrick and Zhu Li say together. They share a soft smile. Korra blinks in confusion.

“Wow. Congratulations, you guys. That’s really… really something.” She looks more closely at the card in her hand. “I’m surprised you had enough time to get these printed.”

“We put in a rush order! The printing shop was destroyed by Kuvira’s Mechagiant, obviously, but I own the printing shop! And when I want something done, it gets done!”

“The ceremony’s in nine days,” Zhu Li says, helpfully pointing at the embossed date below their names. “You get a plus-one.”

“Uh… thanks, Zhu Li.” She turns to Tenzin, who is watching the exchange with something like exhaustion. “So,” Korra says to him, “I’m sure there’s tons of things that need to get done today. What does Republic City need the Avatar to do?”

Tenzin answers with a disconcerting shrug. “There’s nothing for you to do, Korra. Isn’t it wonderful?” Korra’s heart sinks. That’s not exactly how she would put it.

Tenzin continues, “President Raiko is still working on re-establishing refugees. The army has been dispatched to help the clean-up and repair teams. There are dozens of healers treating patients, and I believe Varrick is busy planning his wedding.” Tenzin smiles. “I think this might be the perfect time for you to take a few days off. Relax. Let yourself heal.”

Korra bristles. “I’m fine. I’m healed. And there are so many people who still need help, I… I want to do something! I can work with the healers, or I can resettle refugees, or move boulders, or—”

“I have something you could help me with,” Asami interjects softly. Korra blinks and turns to her. “It might not be as glamorous as what President Raiko is up to, but I’m going to need a lot of help, actually. My factories were destroyed and half the city was blown up. If we’re going to rebuild, we need to rethink how our infrastructure interacts with the spirit vines. Especially if the spirits are going to be more integrated into the world.” She smiles. Something in Korra’s heart catches. “I could really use the Avatar’s expertise.”

It’s not direct assistance. It’s not exactly what she wants to be doing. She still thinks she could be more useful somewhere else — fuck, anywhere else. But Asami’s expression is soft and her eyes are warm, and Korra still remembers what it felt like to wake up this morning with Asami in her arms, her fingers tangled in Korra’s, her chest rising slow and steady and even. She wants that feeling back, and Asami is looking at her with eyes that are devastatingly green and soft and open

“Sure,” Korra says quietly. “I’d love to help.”

.

.

She and Asami spend the day traveling the city, surveying the damage. Asami lets Korra drive her satomobile, unsteady and unpracticed as she is. But they pull over every hundred yards or so for Asami to leap out and get a closer look at something, so it’s the kind of driving even Korra can manage. Asami spends most of the time taking diligent field notes in her journal. She sketches quickly, faster than Korra’s ever seen someone draw. Figures in the margins also reveal she’s doing complicated maths equations long-hand, in addition to doing everything else. Korra tries not to stare too openly, but it’s hard for her to mask her obvious admiration. Asami is a marvel to watch at work.

Any time they encounter significant spirit vine/human infrastructure intersections, Korra gets out of the car and inspects carefully. Asami asks her all kinds of questions. How do you anticipate them growing? Do the spirits create their own habitats with the physical world or do they move in to what already exists? How much space do you think is appropriate for them, and will they spread to other parts of the world? What do you think about open-plan buildings, lots of space in the skeleton? That way we can encourage the natural growth of the vines in a way that won’t impact durability?

They’re out until well past sunset. By the time Asami climbs in the car and finally announces, “Okay, I think that’s enough for today,” Korra’s stomach is growling louder than the engine. Asami laughs. “Maybe we should get dinner first.”

Please, I am so hungry.”

It takes thirty-five more minutes for them to find a restaurant that glows a soft orange, clearly open. The elderly couple that runs it are the only two people in the entire establishment. They refused the evacuation order, the only people in their building to do so and, miraculously, their building was left standing. Asami and Korra eat enough food for five (though that’s mostly Korra), and Asami pays as if they were a party of ten.

Asami kisses Korra’s cheek before Korra flies back to Air Temple Island. That’s a new development, too.

.

.

While she enjoyed the sojourn into the city the day before, Korra was hoping that the new day would bring about new and maybe (hopefully) more fruitful tasks.

But Tenzin, ever the buzzkill, holds firm. “Isn’t it wonderful? Another day off, another day of rest.” He smiles, and Korra deflates, but tries her best to hide it. With Varrick and Zhu Li taking up the majority of the courtyard meditation space with their vision boards for their upcoming wedding, there isn’t even a quiet spot on the island for her to sulk.

Pema is the one who suggests she see if Asami has anything else she needs help with. “She was talking yesterday about how busy she’s going to be over the next few months. Maybe an extra set of hands will ease the burden?”

Barely an hour later, Korra is landing in front of Sato Industries’ central manufacturing warehouse (after already striking out at Asami’s home and Sato Industries Headquarters) — or at least, what’s left of it. It can hardly be called a building, much less a functional warehouse.

Asami breathes a sigh of relief when she notices her presence. “Korra, I’m so glad to see you.” She wraps her arms around Korra’s neck and squeezes her in a tight hug. “What are you doing here? Republic City could afford to spare you for another day?”

Korra’s hands press lightly into Asami’s back; not returning her hug as fiercely, but appreciative of it anyway. She doesn’t get to hug many people. It feels nice. “Something like that,” she straightens and pulls away, surveying the damage in front of them. “I’m all yours. Just point me at what needs doing.”

Asami gestures toward her shell of a warehouse. Kuvira’s spirit vine weapon ripped a hole clean through the structure. It’s still faintly smoking. “This is pretty much what we’re dealing with. I know, it’s a mess,” she says apologetically. “I should just tear everything down and start from scratch, but there was a lot of really important work in there. I know it’s probably all destroyed, but if we can get the space clear and the structure stable enough to get inside and look around, we might be able to salvage some things. It’s a long shot, of course; I won’t know until I’m inside.”

The building has nearly caved in. Huge slabs of rock have cracked and fallen through the main entrance, and every window in the place has been shattered. They’re the only two people in sight. “You were going to try and clear this all by yourself?” Korra asks in disbelief.

“Of course not. But thankfully, because you’re here I don’t have to ask Lin to spare any of her earthbenders.” Asami winks at her. It does something funny to the inside of Korra’s stomach. “Think you can handle it, Avatar?”

Korra stands on her toes, peeking inside the workshop with mild interest. It’s completely demolished, debris and rock everywhere, jagged rebar stabbed through industrial carcasses. Metal structures ripped clean through, exposed wire and shattered glass litter the floor and there’s a small leak, likely from a burst water pipe, pooling in the southwest corner. It’s a disaster, that’s for sure. “Easy enough,” she says, smiling at Asami.

Asami beams back. “You’re in charge then, Avatar. What can I do that won’t be in your way?”

“Figure out where that leak is coming from?” Korra points at the puddle of water. “I’ll clear out the rubble. Maybe we’ll be able to find some salvageable tech from under all this mess.”

Asami’s hand lands on Korra’s bicep. It’s warm, unexpected. Korra swallows and Asami squeezes. “My hero,” she teases, and Korra laughs as the tension breaks.

____________________

It’s not that Korra doesn’t like spending time with Asami. She does. Asami is amazing. And when she’s in full work mode, she’s remarkable to watch. She keeps her hair up and her work gloves dirty, she keeps her goggles around her neck for whenever she needs to use her power tools. By the end of any given day her face and arms are covered with grime, and Korra’s are, too. They laugh when they catch sight of each other, a pair of grease monkeys ruining every outfit they own.

Spending time with Asami is great, and it’s really amazing to see just how busy Asami really is. She cares so much about her company, about her workforce, about the people of Republic City. She throws herself into the task of rebuilding with everything that she has. Watching her in action is awe-inspiring.

But Korra can’t help but feel like a neutered side-kick. She’s basically there as a grunt; an extra set of hands, an extra set of muscles, an extra bender when benders are needed. As the days stretch on Asami finds paid jobs for hundreds of people. Benders and nonbenders alike, mechanics and engineers, builders, politicians, experts in their fields. She organizes them like a well-trained general, giving out orders and assignments like it’s second-nature.

But she doesn’t need Korra around. There’s nothing for the Avatar to do here. Sure, she can consult a little bit about the volatile nature of the Spirit Wilds, and can give her advice about how best to maintain human-and-spirit cohabitation, but outside of strictly Spirit World matters, Korra is as useful as any other body. Which is to say, useful, but not necessary.

Still, every day when Korra asks Tenzin, “How can I help?” Tenzin shrugs, and says, “We’ve got it under control. Why don’t you see if Asami needs anything?”

And Asami always has something for her to do. Building bridges or talking with engineers or running errands to Varrick’s or delivering messages to Raiko. There’s always something for Korra to do, but… she’s the Avatar, for crying out loud. She should be out there helping to lead the people, helping to resettle refugees. She should be in meetings with Tenzin and Raiko and the other members of the Council. She should be helping Lin rebuild the public safety infrastructure, or trying to reconnect spiritually with the past Avatars, or… negotiating with spirits, or… or something.

But no one will let her. Instead she’s spent the past week as Asami’s errand girl, and she’s frankly getting sick of it. If there’s one thing Korra doesn’t need, it’s babying. If she can’t be helpful, they can at least have the decency to stop pretending that they need her. Sending her off to wait on Asami hand-and-foot, while it has its upsides (mainly: she gets to spend every day watching Asami in action, which is rewarding and exhilarating even as it grinds at her patience), she can’t help but feel like they’re condescending to her. She’s the Avatar. She can help. And if they don’t need her help, then they can at least stop insulting her intelligence.

All that to say, on the 7th morning when she is handily dismissed from Air Temple Island with Tenzin’s forced-casual, “Oh, maybe Asami has something you can help her with, today?” she’s positively fuming. She flies to Sato Industries with a cloud over her head.

Asami looks up when she lands, no longer surprised at Korra’s unexpected entrances. “Korra!” she says, and Korra hates the way she looks, hates the way she sounds so delighted to see her. She hates being treated like a little kid, having her ego stroked because no one thinks she can handle the tough news.

“I’m so glad you’re here,” Asami says as she stands from behind her desk. “There’s so much to do today, and I could really use your help, Avatar.”

She winks, and Korra’s not sure why, but it’s the wink that sets her off. She drops her glider and folds her arms over her chest and huffs. “Asami… stop, alright? Just stop.”

“Stop what, Korra?” Asami asks, still mostly-engrossed in the papers in front of her.

“Stop trying to keep me busy. I’m not some child, I don’t need… I don’t need you to give me projects just so I can feel like I’m doing something helpful.”

Asami blinks at her. She straightens her spine, her work forgotten. “What are you talking about?”

“This! All of these… chores. ‘Avatar, help me with my designs’, ‘Korra, run to Varrick’s for me’, ‘Avatar, help me clean out my workshop’, on and on and on. I don’t need to be kept busy. So all of you can just stop with the performance, okay? I can take a hint.”

Asami’s mouth has fallen open. She’s staring at Korra in abject disbelief, almost horror, and the fire in Korra’s veins cools, then cools some more, then turns to ice.

“Is that what you think I’m doing? Keeping you busy?” Korra opens her mouth but no words come out. Asami shakes her head, incredulous. “You think… spending time with me is a chore?” She shakes her head again, and Korra’s heart sinks.

She feels the inexplicable urge to backtrack. “I didn’t mean that.”

“You didn’t mean what, Korra? The part where you called me a nag, the part where you insinuated I infantilize you, or the part where you said spending time with me was a job for you?”

“It’s not… I didn’t mean that.” She shakes her head very quickly. And then, because she’s confused it doesn’t make sense what has this been about if not busy work: “Wait, you aren’t just trying to keep me busy?”

Asami laughs in her face. There’s nothing warm in her eyes. “You’re unbelievable. Unbelievable! All this… wow. Okay, all this time.” She rubs a hand roughly over her face. Korra doesn’t know what to do. “Okay, so I have… severely misread this situation.”

“Asami, wait.”

“I think you should go, Korra.”

“No, I’m… I’m sorry, I didn’t mean—”

“I can’t do this right now, okay? There’s work to do, and I…” She shakes her head again, turning away from Korra. Korra’s throat is tight and she doesn’t know why. Asami’s shoulders rise and fall, like she’s taking quick even breaths. When she speaks next it’s with force, but Korra can hear the way her voice shakes, and it’s crippling. “I’ll see you later, Korra.”

Korra stares at her, helpless. “Asami…”

Asami’s eyes glint when they meet hers, cold steel. They’re glassy — the pre-cursor to tears — and Korra hates everything about it. There’s rage on Asami’s face and something else, something smaller and more terrible, and Korra can’t look at her. “Go, Korra.”

Korra leaves, heavy and full of some dreadful feeling. Asami doesn’t look at her, and that makes it all somehow impossibly worse. She flees with her tail between her legs and Asami’s angry voice echoing in her ears.

You’re unbelievable. Is that what you think I’m doing? Go, Korra.

.

.

“Korra?” Pema’s voice breaks through her daze and Korra blinks, looks down, and realizes she’s been scrubbing the same pan for about five minutes now, her hands growing soapy and pruney under the water. Pema’s expression is soft. Carefully-concerned. She gently lifts the pan out of Korra’s hands and sets it down. “Are you alright?”

“Sorry,” Korra apologizes, because even here, even as a dishwasher in Pema’s kitchen, she’s proving more useless than useful. She can’t even wash a dish right. Some Avatar she is. No wonder they think she can’t help. “Sorry, I’m just distracted.” She reaches for a cutting board. “I’ll pay better attention.”

“Why don’t you put that down for a moment. I’ll make us some tea, and we can chat.”

“Oh, uh… sure. That actually sounds really nice.”

“Is jasmine okay?”

Korra deflates. “Perfect. Thank you”

“So,” Pema says as she puts a steaming pot down in front of Korra. Her expression is determined, like she’s settling in for A Conversation, the way she sometimes has to have A Conversation when Jinora and Meelo gang up on Ikki. “What’s on your mind, Korra? I feel like I haven’t seen you all week. You’ve been so busy with Asami, it’s like you’re barely here.”

Korra sighs. Her tea is warm in her hands and it’s warm going down her throat. It pools in her stomach, and Korra’s chi reacts positively. She breathes in the steam as her body slows down, regulating itself.

When Korra doesn’t speak for a few more seconds, Pema hums. “Hit it on the head my first try, huh? So what’s wrong between you and Asami? Did you have a fight?”

“No. Yes. I’m not sure.” Korra pulls at her hair sheepishly. “I guess I’m really confused by her. She’s been having me over all the time to help her out with projects, but it’s all just been… meaningless, trivial work. It’s nothing that she really needs my help with. But she still treats me like I’m doing her such a favor just by showing up, and… I don’t know. It started to rub me the wrong way. Like why am I showing up if she doesn’t need me, and why is she pretending like she does if she doesn’t?”

“I see.” Pema’s face flickers to something unreadable before it falls back to neutral. “That sounds complicated. So, Asami keeps giving you little things to do, things that maybe anyone else could do just as well. So why do you think she asked for your help, specifically?”

Korra shrugs. “I figured… no one needed me here. And it sucks, being the Avatar and not being useful. So I guess she was keeping me busy. To make me feel better. And don’t get me wrong, it was nice at first, but after a while it started to feel like…” She shakes her head, failing to find adequate words. It started to feel like being broken again, being useless again; I started dreaming about not being able to walk or bend and it was terrible, awful, filled me with dread and despair. If I’m not needed, if the world doesn’t need the Avatar for anything else… why am I here?

Korra shakes her head again, trying to push those kinds of thoughts out of her brain through sheer willpower. “I get it, okay?” she snaps, completely unprompted. She’s always had a bit of a temper, and it flares in her chest even now, when Pema’s done nothing to deserve her ire. But her ire is wild and it can’t be tamped down. “I don’t need to be coddled by anyone. I don’t have to spend every single day doing something stupid or else I’ll lose my mind. I got tired of being babied, that’s all.”

“Oh dear. And you and Asami fought about it?”

“We… Yeah.” Korra slumps, her elbows falling heavily onto the table. “I guess I kind of lashed out at her. She was really angry with me. I’ve never seen her so mad. Even when I was gone for three years, she never yelled at me like that.” Korra can’t fight the small shiver that works up her spine. “But the thing is, I don’t know what I did wrong! And… and I shouldn’t have lost my temper, it was wrong of me and Asami didn’t deserve it. But I don’t get why she’s the one who’s angry at me, when I was the one being pushed around.”

“Oh, Korra,” Pema says softly. She puts her hand on top of Korra’s and squeezes, and Korra just stares at her, because she sounds incredibly pitying and that doesn’t make any kind of sense. What about this situation means that Korra needs to be pitied? “Asami wanted to spend time with you. That’s it, that’s the only reason.”

“What?”

“She came up with all of these— what did you call them? ‘Meaningless, trivial tasks’? She wanted an excuse to spend time with you. To talk to you, to be with you. She didn’t need your help, and she wasn’t babying you. She just wanted to be around you.”

Korra gapes at her. “But, all the… there were maps, and architects, and… We cleaned out her workshop. Well, that was mostly me, because I’m the earthbender, but—”

“Asami knows how busy you are,” Pema cuts her off, which is probably for the best, “and she knows that you wouldn’t want to give up on helping people just to spend an afternoon with her. I assume she thought if there was a reason for the two of you to spend time together, something that was purposeful and immediately needed, it would make you both feel better about taking time for each other. So I imagine it must have hurt her quite a lot, to have you say that being with her was a frustrating waste of time.”

“But that’s not what I meant!”

“What we mean and what we say are two very different things. And I think it’s clear, no matter what you meant, you hurt Asami’s feelings today.”

She feels terrible. This has all been one terrible, horrible, extremely unfortunate misunderstanding. She only hopes that Asami doesn’t hate her sorry guts forever. She only hopes that she hasn’t ruined anything between them before it even got off the ground. She only hopes that her fat mouth hasn’t sunk the only chance she’s ever going to get with a girl as unbelievably beautiful, patient, and kind as Asami; someone willing to deal with her emotional crises and breakdowns and bouts of extreme anger, someone willing to match her blow-for-blow, someone who gets her in a way no one’s ever gotten her before. Asami keeps up with her, helps her, defends her, even when Korra doesn’t deserve it. She has to make sure she deserves it from here on out.

“What do I do?” Korra whispers. “How do I fix this?”

“I think you owe that sweet girl an apology.”

.

.

She finds Asami in her second home on the outskirts of Republic City. The Sato Mansion was another casualty of Kuvira’s invasion. This is the only Sato property in the whole city that’s been left unscathed, and for that reason it’s the last place almost anyone would think to look for Asami, which is why Korra goes straight there. It’s a small house, a modest 2 stories with a few bedrooms, a small kitchen, and a large front porch. It’s a charming dark blue, and it’s an explosion of hanging plants and overgrown landscaping. Asami’s obviously been too busy to worry about the aesthetic state of her lawn.

It’s the house Asami grew up in, before her mother died, before her father made all of his money in weapons-design couched as industrial engineering, before they were the Sato Family Empire, back when they were just the Satos. Asami would sometimes tell her stories about growing up here, all those lifetimes ago, back when they used to take afternoon tea on the front porch, basking in the baking sun, hiding from their friends and responsibilities.

Coming here again is nostalgic and painful. Korra doesn’t linger. Instead she makes a beeline for the huge stand-alone garage in the back, where she knows Asami keeps most of her work equipment.

Sure enough, Asami is bent over her workbench, her welder’s mask flipped down over her face, sparks exploding from her plasma cutter. She must mess up a measurement because she abruptly stops what she’s doing to chuck the hunk of metal she’d been working on out the open door. It misses Korra by several feet, but she still ducks.

“That wasn’t aimed at me, was it?”

Asami drops her tools and flips up her helmet. Her face is stony and her eyes look a little red. Maybe from the heat but maybe from something else. Korra’s heart clenches thinking about something else.

“I thought I told you to leave.”

“Right.” Korra rubs at the back of her neck. “I did leave, but then I came back. I need to talk to you, Asami.”

“Well, I don’t want to talk to you, Korra,” she says, ripping her helmet off of her head. It makes her hair look wild, sticking out every which way. She yanks her gloves off next, chucking them to the ground with more vitriol than they probably deserve. Her apron follows next, heavy leather collapsing on the concrete.

Asami stalks by her as she makes her way back towards the house. She barely looks at Korra, but Korra isn’t deterred. She follows after her, making sure to maintain a safe distance.

“You’re wasting your time!” Asami yells over her shoulder. “So you might as well fly back to Tenzin. It’s late and I want to sleep, and you are not staying here.” Asami is storming across the lawn towards her house, quickly picking up speed, and Korra, realizing she’s going to lose her chance, has to jog to try and catch up to her.

“No, Asami—hey, hold on!” Korra twists her hands and a gust of wind curls around Asami’s waist, lifting and gently turning her until they’re face-to-face.

Asami glares. “Do not airbend me. That’s not fair, Korra. Just because you’re the Avatar doesn’t mean you can keep me in a conversation I don’t want to be in.”

“You wanted to spend time with me?” Korra blurts. It’s confusing and random enough that Asami’s tirade disappears off her tongue.

“What are you talking about?”

“Is that why you had me doing all of those weird chores with you?” Korra asks, taking a step forward. Asami doesn’t move. There’s a curious pull between her eyebrows but otherwise she stays still. “You wanted to spend time with me?”

Asami blinks at her. “I… thought you wanted to spend time with me, too.” Korra’s heart soars. Asami does not seem to be feeling the same weightless elation Korra is feeling, because shakes her head, looking down at her feet. “But apparently I was just another chore for you to—”

Korra steps forward and in one fluid motion she grabs Asami’s waist with one hand and her face with the other and she kisses her, right on the lips. Asami squeaks against her and tenses and for a moment Korra is sure she’s just made the biggest mistake of her life, but then Asami melts against her and her lips are feverish in their response and her hands are clutching at Korra’s shoulders like she’ll fall over if she doesn’t have Korra’s sturdy body to support her.

It takes a moment for Korra’s brain to catch up with her body. She’s kissing Asami. She’s kissing Asami. And Asami is kissing her back. She tastes like sweat and metal dust. Her hair is unkempt and she’s not wearing a stitch of makeup. She’s the most beautiful person Korra’s ever seen, and the way she kisses is devastating, world-ending. Korra drinks her in like a dying woman at an oasis, and Asami groans when Korra deepens their kiss even further.

Later — maybe minutes, maybe hours, Korra can’t say, it’s all a bit of a haze — she pulls back, breathless, and meets Asami’s thunder-struck expression. They breathe heavily together, wrapped in each other’s arms. One of them might be shaking. Korra can’t tell who. “I’ve wanted to do that for so long,” Korra breathes.

“I’ve wanted you to do that for so long.”

“I didn’t know,” Korra whispers against her mouth. “I’m sorry I didn’t know.”

Asami laughs and pushes at Korra’s shoulder, but not hard enough to push her away. Her laugh is equal parts delighted and disbelieving. “I came to your bedroom, Korra. I slept in your bed. What did you think that was about?”

Korra flushes. “I thought you just needed a place to sleep.”

Asami tilts her head and kisses her again. Korra’s heart does a little flip. Is this how it’s always going to be? Is this something we’re allowed to do, now?

“You really didn’t know how badly I wanted you to kiss me?”

Korra shakes her head. “I didn’t. Honest. I would have—we would have been doing this a lot sooner if I had known, trust me.”

Asami’s smile is soft. Korra blushes, glad that the night provides her with some cover. She’s never blushed so much in her life, it’s honestly a little embarrassing. “Do you want some tea?” Asami asks, because they’ve been standing in her background for a rather embarrassing amount of time, and it’s still spring but the night air is still chilly. Korra realizes Asami is the one who’s shaking, but she isn’t shaking she’s shivering.

“I thought you said I couldn’t stay?”

Asami rolls her eyes and grabs Korra’s hand. She drags her towards the house without bothering to answer. Korra thinks that’s probably wise.

Asami’s tea kettle is a softy baby blue, like an iguana parrot’s egg. It makes just enough tea for two people. Korra sits at Asami’s kitchen table (thankfully her table is surrounded by chairs, not floor-level like the air nomads prefer) and watches Asami’s soft movements through the kitchen, the light touches she drops on the leaves of her plants as she walks by them, the gentle way she stirs honey into Korra’s mug because she knows just the way she likes it. Korra never actually got to drink her tea with Pema; she flew off the island before it even stopped steaming. Asami slides her a mug and their fingers brush. Asami’s cheeks turn pink and she settles across from Korra and they drink quietly, both a little bashful.

“So, my hints were apparently terrible.”

“Or I’m just oblivious.”

Asami laughs. “Maybe a mixture of both. So how did you finally figure it out?”

“Pema. She sorta got it through my head how badly I was behaving. And how stupid I was being. I was so stupid. I was such a jerk to you, Asami. I totally understand if you haven’t forgiven me yet.”

“Well,” Asami says with a soft smile, “I guess you should feel lucky you’re so cute, Avatar. You’re very easy to forgive.”

“And that!” Korra exclaims, entirely too loud and uncalled-for, given the tone of their previous conversation. “You were always doing that.”

Asami frowns. “Doing what?”

“Calling me… you know.” Korra flushes. “How was I supposed to know what we were doing wasn’t Official Avatar Business? Especially when you just kept saying it.”

“I’m sorry,” Asami says, visibly apologetic. She reaches across the table and rests her hand on Korra’s. Her skin is warm and soft to the touch; thrumming with life. “If it makes you uncomfortable, I can stop.”

“Why do you do it? I thought… maybe it was part of the whole ‘keep Korra busy’, thing. Like, to make me feel like I was doing stuff for the city, important stuff. But you weren’t trying to keep me busy, so… why?”

“It was only to tease you. I’ll stop doing it, I’m sorry.”

“No.” Korra shakes her head, because that’s not what she means. Why is it always so difficult to speak around Asami? Why do her words insist on twisting themselves on her tongue, coming out jumbled and out-of-place? “You don’t have to stop. I just… never mind.” She shakes her head again. “Just forget it.”

Asami regards her quietly for a moment. Korra takes a sip of her tea, then goes back to looking at her hands. “I do it because it’s your name. And you always… react, when I say it.”

“What do you mean ‘react’?” Korra frowns. “How do I react to it?”

“It’s hard to explain. Just your expression. I thought it was a good reaction, so I kept doing it.”

“Good? Versus what, bad? What would be a bad reaction? What’s a good reaction? How do you know which one is which?”

Asami laughs. Korra turns red, embarrassed by her fixation. “I’m sorry, I’m not laughing at you. I just don’t know how to explain it, Korra,” Asami smoothes when she sees the look on Korra’s face. “It was just something about the way it affected your body. Why don’t you tell me what it makes you feel, and we can try to figure out if it’s a good feeling or a bad feeling?”

“Okay, I guess we can try that.” Asami rubs her thumb over the back of Korra’s knuckles. It’s a very comforting gesture, and it settles the fluttering in Korra’s stomach. She takes a breath, and is honest. “I guess… it makes me confused. I feel like when it’s just us, I’m not… I don’t want to be the Avatar, when I’m with you. At least I don’t think I do. It’s hard for me to know. All I’ve ever wanted is to be the Avatar. But it’s different when I’m with you. You’re maybe the only thing in the world that makes me want to keep the two parts of my life separate. So spending time with you, working for you as the Avatar made me feel… like I was just being used. Like the only part of me that matters to anyone is the Avatar part. And when it became obvious that no one needed her…” Korra trails off, not willing to say the rest.

Asami doesn’t need her to. “Oh, Korra,” she says quietly. Her eyes shine. Her hand is soft on Korra’s, her thumb keeping up its steady stroking. Its rhythm doesn’t stutter, which for some reason emboldens Korra.

“It’s fine,” she reassures. The tightness in her throat belies the calmness of her words. “I’m… working on it. I’m figuring out my place in all of this; what it means to be the Avatar, and what it means to be the Avatar when there’s peace. It’s been hard, and I still have a lot to learn, but I am learning. So I just wanted to tell you that. The other part of me doesn’t have to come into this. I know it’s not easy, dating the Avatar. You know where my priorities are, where they have to be. I won’t turn my back on the people, Asami. Not for anything.”

“I know you won’t.”

Korra looks down at the spot where their hands meet. “I just don’t want to drag you into something that you don’t want.” It’s hard to admit, even to herself. She’s been barely even able to consider the possibility of romance with Asami, much less the myriad reasons that it likely wouldn’t work out long-term if it ever impossibly, miraculously did happen. But in her lower moments she would rationalize the disappointment of her unrequited feelings with cold truths.

Dating the Avatar is tricky, unbelievably complicated. It’s what ultimately drove a wedge between her and Mako. Being the Avatar has already destroyed one of her relationships, Korra couldn’t bear it destroying another. And besides that, asking someone to sign on to being the Avatar’s partner is asking them to put themselves at risk, physically at risk (people who seek to hurt the Avatar always go after the Avatar’s weakness, namely: the people they love), and it pretty much guarantees at least some degree of unhappiness for the rest of their life. To be the Avatar’s companion is to always come second — to the safety of the world, to the people, to harmony and peace. Korra knows this. She’s always known this, even before she had the words to know that she knew it. After all, she’s known Aang’s entire family pretty much her whole life. She’s seen how difficult it can be to be someone who loves the Avatar, to be someone the Avatar has to leave behind.

Asking Asami to go through that… it’s asking a lot of her. Too much. If Korra can spare her any of that pain, she has to try. Even if it means locking up a part of herself.

She closes her eyes when Asami withdraws. When their hands drop Korra’s heart sinks, and she swallows the emotion bubbling in the back of her throat. Of course, she can’t help but think. Of course she doesn’t want to be a part of this.

A hand brushes her cheek. Fingers settle behind her ear. Korra opens her eyes and Asami is next to her, crouched low. Her other hand, the one that rests on Korra’s knee, rubs softly against Korra’s pants.

“I like you, Korra,” Asami whispers, her eyes wide and impossibly focused. “I really, really like you. I know it’s complicated. But being with someone is always complicated. Though,” she adds quickly, when Korra opens her mouth to interject, “I know that you being the Avatar definitely adds to the complications.” Korra’s hands twist her in lap. Asami grabs one of them and lifts it to her lips, pressing light kisses to her knuckles. “You are the Avatar,” she whispers into Korra’s skin. “That’s who you are. Since the moment I met you, I’ve fought with you. I’ve always known what it means to be in your life. And I haven’t run away yet.” Korra desperately wants to kiss her. It’s building in her chest, unstoppable and urgent. Asami doesn’t seem to notice. She keeps talking, unaware of the war being waged between Korra’s brain and her heart for control of her muscles and mouth and hands and limbs.

“Being the Avatar is who you are,” Asami continues, “but it isn’t everything about who you are. I know that your duty will always be to the people. I’m okay with that. It’s one of the things I—like so much about you.”

Korra’s brain is losing the battle. Her lips tingle. Her eyes are stuck watching Asami’s full lips, the way her tongue moves inside her mouth. “I know who you are, Korra. And I want you. All of you, every part.”

“Can I—?” Korra clears her throat and feels a little dizzy, “Um… how do you feel about—?”

“Just hurry up and kiss me, Avatar.”

Korra doesn’t need to be told twice.

Asami meets her halfway. She kisses her, and Korra loses herself in her touch, in the softness of her lips. Asami wraps her hands in Korra’s hair and Korra grabs onto her waist squeezes and lifts her onto the table and Asami moans into her mouth when Korra slips between her legs and she bites Korra’s lip hard when Korra grinds her pelvis against hers and it’s a lot, it’s a lot. Asami is pressed against her and Korra can taste blood on her tongue; Asami’s mouth is wet and demanding on hers and Asami’s skin is hot under her fingers and it’s a lot.

It’s a lot.

And it’s speeding up very quickly.

Korra’s hands have already divested Asami of her her shirt and bra. She kisses down Asami’s chest until she finds her nipples, pebbled and hard. She circles them with her tongue, bites at them, and Asami’s fingers are tight in her hair, pulling every time her teeth scrape the sensitive flesh. Her hands are at Asami’s knees next, sliding up under her skirt. Asami opens her legs wider, encouraging her wandering touch.

Korra knows this is all moving quickly, much too quickly. They haven’t talked about what any of this means. There’s so much they need to talk about.

But the desperate urge to feel to keep going to do now think later is powerful. They’ve entered a (hopefully) new age of tentative peace, but Republic City is still in ruins, and it’s going to be an unbelievable amount of work to rebuild, and the urgency still thrums through Korra’s blood unrelenting and unceasing. Korra feels like she’s been tensed, poised on a knife’s-edge for three years, ever since Zaheer (she didn’t have time to heal from Zaheer before she had to battle Kuvira and now both enemies are in chains and Korra is safe but it still doesn’t feel like it), and the energy is building up inside of her and it has to release in one direction or another or she’ll explode. All the fighting from a week ago wasn’t enough, never enough, not a release so much as delayed gratification.

Korra’s thumbs hook into Asami’s underwear, and Asami pushes her chest harder against Korra’s mouth.

Korra pauses, fingers toying with the fabric, and she looks up. She releases Asami’s nipple with a pop and Asami stares down at her like she’d like to be devoured. Still, Korra needs her to make it explicitly clear that she’s ready for this. They’re moving at a break-neck speed, faster than Korra could have ever predicted, and she just needs to check in. “Is this o—?”

“Take them off, Korra, please. I need you to fuck me,” Asami growls and wow, okay, that’s pretty fucking explicit.

She rips Asami’s underwear down her legs and flings them into the room behind her. Tomorrow’s problem.

She kisses Asami as she touches her. Her fingers fumble, uncertain and unpracticed, but Asami’s hand comes down to help her, to guide her, and within moments Korra’s found a spot that makes Asami shudder. She deepens the kiss when Asami bucks her hips, knocking Korra’s fingers lower. She pauses against Asami’s opening, teasing and barely-touching.

“More, Korra,” Asami begs. “Please.”

Korra presses inside of her with two fingers and Asami yelps and clings to her.

She’s wanted Asami for so long, for years and years and now they’re finally together they’re finally doing this. Korra is inside of her and Asami is gasping into her neck and she’s begging for “More, please, Korra harder, harder,” and Korra bears down and plows into her with everything she’s got. Her wrist is starting to cramp and her shoulder is starting to burn but Asami’s cries are only getting louder, higher in pitch, as her nails sink into Korra’s upper back and her calves tremble wrapped around Korra’s waist.

“Oh fuck, Korra!”

She can do this. She’s good at this. This is what she was made for. She was made to help, she was made to serve, to service, and this is how she can serve: by giving pleasure. By making sure Asami feels as much pleasure as Korra can possibly coax from her. And Korra knows she is far from that limit. So she digs deep into her reserves and increases the speed of her fingers. Asami clenches tight around her, vice-like, trying to pull her deeper, resisting every inch of emptiness. Korra keeps up her speed. Asami is non-verbal as every part of her seems to tighten. She grips Korra with her fingers and legs and pussy. Korra bites her neck and presses her thumb just so at the same time, and Asami seizes.

Her orgasm is explosive and quick. Her hips bear down of Korra’s hand and she yelps and her pussy spasms around Korra’s fingers. Korra thrusts slowly, riding it out with her.

When her climax subsides Asami grabs Korra’s wrist, finally stilling her. They stay like that, panting together, Korra’s fingers still nestled inside of Asami, Asami’s naked body pressed against the cool oak of her kitchen table. Asami pulls Korra’s fingers out of herself and Korra’s pulse races at the wet sound of them leaving her cunt. Her pulse jackhammers when Asami brings her fingers to her mouth. Her tongue darts out, tasting herself, and it’s enough to make something deep inside Korra clench, but when Asami takes her fingers into her warm, wet mouth and sucks, Korra can feel herself flood. She’s sticky between her thighs, her underwear must be absolutely ruined, and Asami hasn’t even touched her yet.

But this isn’t about her.

Asami’s teeth graze her fingers when Korra pulls them out, slower than she means to. She’s enraptured at the sight of Asami’s lips, red and kiss-swollen, parting around her. She grabs the side of Asami’s neck, hand still wet, and slams their mouths together. She licks into Asami’s mouth, tasting Asami on her own tongue, and if that thought alone is enough to make her whimper, the actual taste of her is ecstasy.

It’s too much. It’s not nearly enough.

“Korra, what are you—?”

“Have to taste you,” Korra mumbles as she kisses under Asami’s breasts, as she licks over her navel. Her nose brushes through soft curls and she can smell how wet Asami still is, can practically taste her already and she hasn’t even touched her yet. Asami slides her hand into Korra’s hair and grabs it by the roots, not pulling her in any direction, just stabilizing her. Korra kisses the inside of Asami’s thigh, right on her hip joint, her teeth catching on the delicate skin.

She looks up using only her eyes, her mouth a breath away from where Asami throbs for her. “Can I taste you?”

Asami bites her lip hard enough that it goes white. “Yes, Korra. Taste me. I need your mouth.”

Korra is not very skilled but she’s determined, a fast learner, and a perfectionist by nature. She picks things up quickly. She focuses on the spots that make Asami gasp loudest, pays attention to what draws curses from her, and sucks on her clit until she’s grinding herself against Korra’s face with reckless, wild abandon. Asami comes with Korra's tongue buried inside her only minutes later.

Their following kiss is the filthiest of Korra’s life.

“Bedroom,” Asami says in the brief moment they take to gulp down air before kissing each other again. “Bed, Korra.”

Korra nods and helps Asami stand. They stumble their way through Asami’s house, still kissing. There’s a brief pause on the stairs when Korra presses Asami against the bannister for a few minutes, and a few more clothes are shed, but eventually they make it within arm’s reach of Asami’s room. It’s when they part for Asami to fumble with the doorknob that Korra discovers her mind — slow and hazy, turned on and hyper-focused between her legs — has no filter.

“No one’s ever made me feel like this, before,” she admits, pressed against Asami’s back, her hands roaming freely over Asami’s hot skin. “Fuck, Asami, I’ve wanted you for so long.”

They barely get inside the bedroom before Asami is slamming her back into the door. She’s still naked, and Korra lost her top somewhere in the hallway, so the feeling of Asami’s bare breasts pressed against hers makes her whole body shiver.

“Bed?” Korra asks when Asami moves to lick down her neck.

“You took care of me. Now let me take care of you, Avatar.”

Korra shivers again, stronger this time, more uncontrollable. “I like it when you call me ‘Avatar’.” She whispers the secret, her eyes closed so she doesn’t have to see Asami’s reaction.

But Asami’s lips immediately find the sensitive part of her neck. “I know you do.” She nips at the skin. “I like the way it makes you blush.”

Korra hums in pleasure as Asami’s fingers tug through her hair, massaging at her scalp. Asami’s tongue is warm as it slips over her neck, and she hums when her teeth nip at Korra’s ear. “You’re so beautiful, Korra,” she murmurs, and gooseflesh erupts down the entire left side of Korra’s body. She arches into Asami’s touch, feeling gooey and sensitive.

“Fuck, Asami.”

Asami kisses her, wet and messy. Her hand rests outside her Korra’s pants, her palm flat against Korra’s abs, her fingers teasing the waistband. “Do you want me to touch you, Avatar?”

Korra throbs. Yes. Fuck, please touch me.” Asami’s fingers slip over her puffy, dripping sex. Korra is so sensitive her knees buckle when Asami’s fingers brush by her clit. “Fuck,” she curses, her head dropping back against the wall. It thunks, and Korra sees stars, but that might just be because her eyes have slammed shut.

“You’re so swollen. So wet already. Just from tasting me?”

“Spirits,” Korra whispers, head head falling back into the wall with another smack. Her eyes nearly roll into the back of her head when Asami’s fingers start circling her clit, tight and slow and incredibly light.

“Inside?” Asami asks. Korra nods fervently. Asami’s fingers brush over her opening. When they don’t immediately enter her Korra whimpers and thrust her hips toward Asami’s hand. Asami wraps an arm around her waist, holding her steady. “How many do you like?”

“Start with one. No more than three, though. I’m too tight for more than that.”

“For now,” Asami murmurs into her ear, and it’s a filthy promise, full of so many possibilities that Korra feels herself gush.

Asami feels it too. Korra can feel her smirk against her neck.

Asami presses inside of her so slowly it’s almost painful. She languishes in the feeling of Korra stretching to accommodate her, and her finger is long but it’s not enough, Korra knows it’s not enough as soon as she’s all the way inside her. “More,” she whimpers, her hand a vice on Asami’s shoulder. “Need another.”

“Okay, baby. You can have another.”

The stretch of two fingers is so much more satisfying than one. When Asami crooks her fingers against Korra’s front wall Korra yelps, her whole body jerking.

Asami loves it. “Want me to do that again? Or do you want something else?”

Korra doesn’t know what to say. She’s quickly losing control of her vocabulary. “Just keep touching me. Make me feel good.”

“Okay, baby,” Asami reassures as her fingers start up a slow and agonizing push and pull. Korra’s breathing deepens and becomes more labored, but Asami never speeds up. She continues to fuck Korra slowly, and Korra is mewling in minutes.

“You look so beautiful right now,” Asami says to her, her gaze fixated on Korra’s face as if to memorize every minute change in her expression. “You’re doing such a good job. You’re taking me so well. So beautiful, so good, Avatar.” Korra whimpers. She’s beyond words, can only manage desperate, pitiful sounds ripped from the very back of her throat. Asami fucks into her slow, withdrawing her fingers completely before pressing them back inside Korra with full, deep strokes. Korra bites her lip to try to stifle the most embarrassing noises, but she fails.

“You saved my life,” Asami is muttering. She’s babbling, nearly as incoherent as Korra, but still able to form complete sentences, because she’s so smart and incredible and so sexy and she’s fucking Korra so well. “You saved the world, and the only thing you can think about is how can you keep helping. You’re so good, Korra. I can’t stand it. You’re so good.” Korra gasps and her hips jump. She comes within seconds.

Korra collapses against the wall. Only Asami’s arm around her waist keeps her from falling to the floor. Asami kisses her neck softly, her hand resting on the outside of Korra’s sex. Her fingers are soaked, Korra can feel them against her thighs and mound, and though her climax is tapering off the thought makes her hips jump again. She clenches, tiny aftershocks rolling through her, and accidentally rubs her clit into a second, smaller orgasm against Asami’s hand. “Fuck,” she whispers.  “S-so sensitive.” Asami presses her palm more firmly against her, cupping her, and it actually helps. The aftershocks calm and Asami kisses her again, tongue lazy and exploratory.

When she finally lets go of Korra’s cunt she raises her hand and Korra’s eyes widen. Her hand snaps to Asami’s wrist on instinct, stopping her mere inches from her lips. Asami raises an eyebrow. Korra just stares at her. After a moment Asami bends her neck and slowly takes her fingers into her mouth all the way down to the knuckle.

Korra gapes. “Not fair,” she whispers.

Asami smirks and when she’s done licking Korra from her own hand she wipes it against Korra’s bare stomach, which is a sticky, dirty choice that Korra absolutely secretly loves. “Sorry,” she says, her eyebrow raised and her voice light and teasing. “Was that too much?”

But Korra can’t muster the energy to play along. Instead she sighs, “You’re incredible,” all soft and awe-struck, and Asami loses a bit of her sultry posturing. The smile she sends back is soft and open. Korra leans forward and kisses her. “I can’t believe we just did that. Twice.”

“Three times, babe.”

“Gosh.”

Asami kisses her in a few quick, short bursts. “Think you have any more in you? Or are you too tired?”

Korra laughs, feeling a second wind approaching. A challenge. She loves a challenge.

.

.

The morning after, Asami wakes up after Korra. Korra has no idea what time it is, and she never meant to wake up early and spend many long, lazy, warm minutes just watching Asami’s chest rise and fall, watching the way her hair flutters away from her mouth when she breathes, but here she is. There are birds singing outside of Asami’s window. Korra has no idea what kind they are, nor does she care to investigate.

Asami eventually stirs. She stretches with her eyes shut, and when she blinks them open Korra loses her breath at the way they catch the sun.

Asami smirks at her and stretches again, more languidly. The sheet slips lower on her body, baring her chest — and all of the dark marks in the shape of Korra’s mouth littered upon it — to the room. Korra’s hands slip up Asami’s sides, palming her skin, her breasts. She presses her thumbs lightly into some of the darker bruises and Asami purrs. “Good morning, Avatar Korra,” she says sweetly. “How did you sleep last night?”

“Do you want to go to Varrick and Zhu Li’s wedding with me?” Korra blurts out-of-the-blue.

Asami pauses. She glances down at Korra’s hands, large against her naked chest. One of Korra’s thumbs is now playing with her nipple. It doesn’t exactly fit the situation. “Say that again?”

Korra blushes. “You don’t have to. I know we haven’t really talked about what we’re, uh… doing. You and me. Us. But I thought, if you don’t want to go alone… It’s dumb. Forget it.”

“Should we get matching dresses?” Asami asks casually, her fingers scratching lightly through the short hair at the nape of Korra’s neck. “Or is that a cliché?”

Korra hums, and lets out a puff of relief. She is warm and weightless. “Cliché, I think.”

“No matter. I’m sure we can figure something out.”

___________________