Korra shifted her messenger bag a bit and rested the tablet on her hip. She punched 0-4-1-4 into the door lock and pulled hard. The door’s weight surprised her a little.
“Home sweet home,” she murmured to the small room, dumping her bag on the floor and setting her tablet in front of the left computer. Unlike most of the art building, the editing suites made her antsy. She booted up the computer and glanced around the room, as though she’d notice some new window she’d missed the first time around. Rooms without windows always pressed in, and this one was maybe three paces by four? There wasn’t even room to walk, really, let alone get up and do some stretching or shadowboxing.
A single shared desk stretched along the wall opposite the door with two computers and chairs set up. She would have been happy to do her animating anywhere else on campus, but the software was only available in the editing studios and they weren’t allowed to relocate the expensive desktops. Behind the left computer there was just enough room for a small, armless couch. It was more of a glorified chair than anything else.
Korra dug around her bag for a moment, digging out her flashdrive. She plugged it in after logging into the computer, then stared at the setup before unwinding her tablet cord.
The computer still wasn’t done sorting itself out. She sighed. Every other room in this building, all the studios and classrooms, were spacious, well-lit, and generously supported windows along every possible wall. The building was one of the reasons she’d picked her art major.
No room to move and nothing to see. She fished her phone out of her pocket. There was only one alternative if she was going to make it through this project.
hey bolin can u bring me some snacks? I hate the editing suite. need food.
The computer finally finished it’s post-boot up idling and Korra spent a few minutes copying all her video files off the flashdrive before Bolin texted her back.
Already? You just got there.
Korra snorted and started importing her first file from the desktop to her program.
She had just finished importing the last video file when a few knocks at the door sounded his arrival. She almost called ‘come in’ before remembering that the door needed a code. She tucked the tablet pen behind her ears and pushed the door open for him. “Snacks?”
“I’ve got you covered.” He grinned and held up a few bags of chips. “How’s the world’s next Miyazaki coming along?”
Korra rolled her eyes and grabbed a bag. “I haven’t even started animating yet, Bolin. I’m just importing files.”
He sighed, but the expression froze when he looked over at her computer screen. In an instant, a huge smile stretched across his face. “It’s me!!”
Korra glanced over and chuckled. “No, it’s Nuktuk.” She opened her bag of doritos and started munching. Even with Bolin there, technically taking up space in the room, it already felt more comfortable.
Bolin would not be waylaid. “No no when you animate that, he’ll be Nuktuk. But right now, that’s me!” He pointed at the screen. “I’m gonna be a movie star!”
As the video imported, her animation software broke it down into frames, displaying stills for about half a second each as it did so. The video of Bolin doing some exaggerated martial arts looked even sillier when the frames had him moving in stilted slow-motion. She smiled. “I’m not sure how accurate your rotoscoped doppleganger will be,” she admitted, “But all the movements will be yours, at their core.”
“That’s fine, that’s fine.” Bolin opened a bag of chips. “But, uh, speaking of accuracy and cores, I don’t suppose you could give me an extra pair or two of abs?”
Korra snorted and nearly started choking on a chip. “What?”
“I’ve just been a little, uh, you know.” He patted his tummy and ate a few more chips. “The dining hall is a buffet and I’ve had a lot of homework. Less time to practice... you know how it is.” Bolin patted his stomach a few times. “I don’t mind a little pudge. I just think that maybe Nuktuk could use some hardcore washboard abs.”
“I can make that happen.” Korra winked.
Bolin did a happy little wiggle. “Sweet! I can’t wait to see the end product.” A pause. “Hey, so are these snack runs going to be, like, a Thing?”
“I’ll give you some cash, don’t worry.” Korra sighed and made a dramatic gesture with her dorito. “I’m basically living here for the next... forever?”
“The semester is only six more weeks.” Bolin raised an eyebrow as he finished up his bag of chicps.
“Fine. I’m living here for the next... six weeks?” She snorted. “If I haven’t shriveled up from lack of sunlight and physical activity by then.”
Bolin tilted his head. “You might wanna write that down.”
“Because I glanced at the sign up sheet on the door, right before you opened it, and it looked like someone’s reserved a TON of slots for this room.”
Korra set her chips down. “Shit. I forgot that there are other classes that use the editing studios.”
She stood up. “Sometimes, with how much time this class takes up, I forget that other classes exist at all.”
“Generally inadvisable,” Bolin commented, following behind her as she opened the door. “I forgot a class once. Apparently the teacher still wanted those assignments from me. Didn’t go well.”
Korra started skimming the sign up sheet right as she dug a pen out of her pocket to write her name. She was about to add it when her skimming started to actually register words.
Korra went still.
In neat, stylish cursive, ‘Asami Sato’ had apparently reserved the studio for several hours almost every day for the next six weeks. Next to her name, the other girl had written ‘(right chair)’ on every single line.
Bolin was just a few beats behind her, reading the sheet over her shoulder. “Oh hey, I didn’t realize it was Asami.” He cleared his throat. “You know, Mako’s friend? His ex?”
Korra nodded mutely. “I know her,” she said, although that was, strictly speaking, false. She saw the taller girl around campus, certainly, and she recognized her from seeing her around Mako. But they’d never really spoken and, Korra probably would have said she ‘knew of Asami’ if she were being more honest. However, it seemed weird to try and explain all this to Bolin. Way too complicated, and there wasn’t really a reason for it to be that way. Asami was just some person she saw around, but whenever the other girl came up in conversation, things had a way of making themselves more complicated, somehow.
Instead of trying to find words for all that nonsense, Korra started putting her name down in a steady column under Asami’s. Even though it was kind of implied, she wrote ‘(left chair)’ next to her name every time. Coincidentally, Asami’s schedule of availability seemed to overlap Korra’s quite a bit as she wrote out her hours.
Bolin observed the writing in silence, munching on some chips. When Korra straightened up, he looked at her and grimaced. “Are you going to be available ever again ever?”
Korra shrugged. “Maybe? Once this project is done I’ll try to schedule in having a life again.”
“You better.” Bolin wagged a dorito at her and Korra realized he must have stolen her bag off the desk. “Just don’t pull a Mako and start spending more time with Asami than you do me.”
She snatched the chip out of her hand. “Unlikely,” she said, talking as she chewed. “I mean... what could we possibly have to talk about?”
“Shared ex-boyfriend?” Bolin suggested.
Korra shot him a glare.
Korra plugged the code back into the door and opened it. “We probably won’t say five words to each other for the whole six weeks.”
“Maybe not,” Bolin agreed as the door shut. He didn’t seem to believe it though.
Korra held her pack of oreos in her teeth so she could punch the code in the studio door with one hand. 0-4-1-4, then a beep. She pulled the heavy door open and nearly dropped her oreos when she realized there was somebody already inside.
Wavy black hair flowed over the back of the right chair in the room. It looked glossy even in the studio’s crappy fluorescent lighting. Korra quickly resumed her composure, glad that Asami hadn’t turned around, and dumped her stuff on the small couch. A moment later, she moved the oreos from the couch to the left side of the shared desk and started setting up her workspace.
For Asami’s part, she glanced over for a moment at Korra’s snack, then went back to her work.
“Hey there,” Korra said, feeling awkward in the silence only slightly filled by her computer’s boot up noises.
Asami didn’t respond.
Korra’s eye twitched. “Um, hello?” She was halfway to reaching over and poke the other girl’s shoulder when she realized Asami was wearing headphones. Korra quickly revised the gesture to be a friendly wave, shifting her hand so that Asami could definitely see it.
The other girl turned to look at her and Korra smiled and tried really hard to mouth a completely normal, nonchalant hello.
“Did you say something?” Asami pulled one of her ear pads off her ear. “I’m sorry if I ignored you or something, I just get really into my work.”
“No, no, I just wanted to say hi.” Korra gestured at her half of the desk. “I figured I’ll be here for the next few hours. Seemed, uh, good to say hello.”
Asami chuckled, turning away from her computer and taking her headphones off entirely. “I checked the sign-up sheet. It seems like we’re going to be spending way more than a few hours in one another’s company.” She extended a hand. “I’m Asami.”
“Korra.” They shook hands and Korra wondered if the niceties were entirely necessary when they both definitely knew who the other person was. Mako didn’t exactly date a ton of girls and it wasn’t a big college. “It’s, uh, nice to meet you.”
“ Nice to meet you too, Korra.” Asami smiled and, for a moment, it really was nice to meet her. Korra smiled back automatically. The other girl had a genuine smile that belied her overall pretty-rich-girl vibe. Asami glanced back at her screen. “I’d love to talk a little more, especially since we’re basically cellmates for the rest of the semester, but I’m kind of in the middle of something...”
“Oh yeah yeah I get it.” Korra sat down and got back to plugging in her tablet and opening all the right files. “Yeah, we can chat more when you have a good stopping point or something.”
Asami nodded. “Sounds good to me.” She slipped her headphones back on and Korra noticed an emblem with a gear painted on the side in shades of red.
“Oh cool headphones, by the way,” she added.
Asami didn’t respond.
Korra resisted the urge to smack herself in the face. She waved a hand at the edge of Asami’s vision again and the girl glanced over. She seemed (maybe?) mildly annoyed, but softened and smiled when Korra gestured at her headphones and gave a thumbsup, mouthing ‘cool’ as she did so.
“Thanks,” Asami said, winking before getting back to her work.
Korra brightened and sat up as she opened up her Nuktuk file and settled in for a long evening of animating.
She popped an oreo in her mouth and held out the pack to Asami. “So I glance over at your screen sometimes, but I can’t seem to figure out what your movie is about,” she said.
Asami hesitated a moment, then took one of the cookies. She leaned back heavily on the small couch. “It’s... kind of abstract,” she said. “Which is really unusual for me. I’m trying to do something different.” A shrug. “I mean, the film class itself is kind of an experiment for me just in general, so I figured why not just keep it up, right?”
“Eh. If you’re already outside your comfort zone, might as well go deep.” Korra grabbed another oreo.
Asami finished chewing and gestured vaguely with the rest of her oreo. “I guess it’s weird to me because normally I have a better sense of how to put together the pieces I’m working with.” She snorted and Korra smiled. “With this, I have the footage I shot and this... weird sense of how I want to put it together, but it’s still odd to be working on editing my raw footage, sorting through it all, and I’m listening to Mako say some lame one-liner over and over as I figure out where it goes and then how to trim the clip.”
Korra tried, she really tried, to resist asking. But... she couldn’t. “What about Mako saying one-liners?”
“Oh, I’m sure you know,” Asami said. “He can get so hung up on how people see him sometimes that he ends up planning out these larger-than-life lines to say in advance.” Asami popped the rest of her oreo in her mouth.
Nodding slowly, Korra said, “Yeah I think I know what you’re talking about.” She cleared her throat and plucked another oreo out of the pack. She glanced up at the corner of the room, remembering how some of those one-liners had landed better than others. After a moment, she thought of the perfect bad example. “Like at the end of a date one time, he told me that my eyes had ‘sparkled brighter than the stars’ and I remember blinking at him and saying ‘it’s two in the afternoon.’”
Asami laughed. “Yes, that! Exactly!”
Korra felt her shoulders relax at the response and chuckled along. “He always got hung up on the right words.”
“He just gets nervous sometimes,” Asami added. “But it’s not a bad thing, really.”
“No, of course not.” Korra shook her head, shifting how she was leaning over the back of her chair. “I think we all do that a little bit sometimes, plan out what we’re going to say in advance before we say it and sometimes the script doesn’t work as well as we imagined.”
Asami regarded her quietly for a moment and grabbed another oreo. She pointed it at Korra. “That’s one of the feelings I’m trying to get at. Having expectations subverted by reality.”
Korra wrinkled her nose. “That’s a rough prompt.”
Asami stood up and stretched for a few moments. She bent and easily pressed her palms against the floor, surprising Korra. She wouldn’t have assumed the other girl was so flexible. “Tell me about it,” Asami grunted. Sitting down, she sighed. “And it’s probably time to get back to work.”
“Mmmhmm.” Korra turned back to face front and closed the oreos back up. She felt a bit warm for some reason and promised herself that she’d take a break and go outside as soon as she finished rotoscoping the clip she was on.
Korra pulled the door open to the familiar sight of Asami sitting in the righthand chair. She smiled reflexively when the other girl turned and waved at her, but the expression froze when she saw who was sitting in her chair.
“Oh, hey Mako.”
He blinked. “Hey, Korra.” A beat passed and Korra glanced down as Mako seemed to realize that he was in her spot and jumped up. “I was just, uh, coming to see how Asami’s project was coming.”
Asami moved Korra’s mouse aside so she could set her tablet down. “He really just wants to see how he looks on camera,” she teased, sending a wink at Korra.
Korra dropped her bag on the floor and nodded toward Mako. “Asami showed me some of your clips. They’re pretty cool.”
Mako nodded, glancing between her and Asami. “Thanks.” He sat down gingerly on the couch, as though afraid it might break. “I hear your project is, uh, coming along well? Bolin seems really into it.”
“Your brother is just like you,” Korra said, winking at Asami. “Only drops by to bring me snacks and see how he looks on the screen.”
Asami chuckled a bit. The last time Bolin came by, she’d asked him to recreate one of his more dramatic Nuktuk poses and he’d accidentally kicked the couch. Korra smiled and turned back to her computer.
“Sounds... like him.” Korra could hear Mako shifting on the couch. He always seemed more than a little awkward about the fact that Korra had stayed such good friends with his brother after the breakup. Given how he still hung out with Asami, however, she didn’t think he had room to criticize. After a long moment, he popped to his feet. “You two ladies have, uh, a lot to get done. Here.” Mako cleared his throat. “So I’m gonna go do, uh, my homework. Seems smart.”
“Okay, Mako,” Asami called after him as he dashed out the door. “See you later.”
“G’night,” Korra added.
He waved as the door shut. “You, uh, too!”
The door closed heavily behind him and the room felt suddenly more spacious. Korra felt her posture unfolding in the silence after he left. Asami hummed a few notes, drawing Korra’s attention, before she sighed good-naturedly. “He always thinks things are more complicated than they have to be,” she said, twirling a finger in her headphone cord.
Korra chuckled and took a deep breath. “Heh. Yeah.” Because she... totally hadn’t thought being studio-mates with her ex-boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend wouldn’t be complicated either.
But Asami had a way of breaking things down. “It’s just like... we’re not in some sort of competition. Neither of us are even dating him anymore.” Asami shook her head. “But when I mentioned you’d reserved the same studio, his first reaction was to come up with some sitcom-level plot to help me escape having to use the same one as you.”
“I mean, I can see why he might be awkward,” Korra pointed out. She’d gone into this assuming it had to be awkward, after all.
“But it isn’t.” Asami smiled and pulled her headphones back up.
Korra shook her head. “You’re just you. I’m just me.”
“Sounds like a plan.” Asami winked before turning back to her computer.
The rhythm of Korra’s work was drawing-drawing, then a tap for the next frame. Draw-draw-tap. Draw-draw-draw-tap. She’d keep going until she had to either snack or to stretch, maybe walk laps around the hallway outside the studio. Do some shadowboxing and smile to herself when it reminded her of her dad.
Asami’s rhythm involved a lot of clicks. Click-drag-type. She’d type to name clips or to make notes. Click-click-drag-type-type. Something like that. Asami generally had her headphones on to listen to audio, but sometimes she’d take them off and sit back, close her eyes. Asami’s breaks tended to involve less restless movement. Sometimes she’d get up and stretch.
Sometime in the middle of the second week, Korra finally found herself comfortable enough to poke Asami’s shoulder while she was sitting back in the middle of her break.
“Hm?” Asami pulled her headphones off.
“I just realized I don’t know your major,” Korra said, continuing to draw.
Asami sat up. “Oh. I’m a mechanical engineering major,” she said.
Korra considered this for a bit as she got back to work adding in some nice biceps for Bolin’s Nuktuk. Unlike the abs, her friend didn’t need much exaggeration for those. “It fits,” she said after a moment. “That sounds perfect for you.”
“Why is that?” Asami got to her feet and did some stretching, propping her foot on the back of the couch and reaching for it. After watching more than a few of Asami’s stretch breaks, Korra had come to the conclusion that the other girl had a background in dance or martial arts or something like that. She had crazy flexibility.
It took Korra a moment to get back to answering Asami’s question. “Oh, uh, you just... you seem to have this habit of breaking things down into systems and seeing all the parts as very specific pieces.”
Asami tilted her head. It was an odd gesture since her cheek was resting against her knee. “That sounds very like me, but how do you get that answer?”
Korra snorted and tapped her tablet pen against her head. “Because I’m a studio art major and as much as we all like to act like art is always super serious and structured or whatever, I know how artists are. Film is an art. People act like they’re being really precise, but so often we just end up working at a breakneck pace and just tossing everything together however it lands.” She shrugged. “I’d guess that most of the people in your class are having tons of happy accidents as they start putting together their clips, but you... you’ve had this really precise vision from the start, even with this super abstract thing you’re trying to do. You’ve just really broken it down and are putting it back together very precisely.”
Asami blushed and Korra smiled at her. “I’ve glanced over and seen that ridiculous chart that says ‘outline’ at the top,” she added, “You’ve totally over-planned everything about this and I think it’s great.”
Asami’s blush just deepened. She looked down and away as she sat back at her desk, but was smiling. “Thank you,” she said. “I... I sometimes think I overthink things way too much. It’s nice to hear you speak so kindly about the habit.”
“You’re brilliant,” she said. Korra shrugged and went back to drawing. “I’ve only known you like a week and I can tell that already.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Korra saw Asami look toward her. “Thank you,” she whispered, then turned back to her computer.
Asami leaned forward from the couch, propping her chin on Korra’s shoulder. “Press play again,” she said.
Korra smiled and nudged Asami’s cheek. “Enjoying Nuktuk’s animated abs?” She clicked play and enjoyed the animated results of her labor. Hours and hours, but... the lines moved in a way that felt like magic to Korra, even with the animation class coming to a close for the semester.
“They’re lovely abs,” Asami said when the playback finished. “But I’m mostly just enjoying the artistic effort you’ve put into them. I’ve seen some of the raw footage with you and Bolin, but I’m still not entirely sure how you did it. I expected it to all look traced, or to look exactly like the two of you somehow.” Asami tilted her head, leaning it against Korra’s. “But instead... the animation just looks natural. And while the characters you two modeled look like you, they also... don’t?”
As Asami left off, Korra cut in. “Well that’s the beauty of rotoscoping.” A pause. “Well, good rotoscoping. I’m not trying to just trace Bolin to make Nuktuk. I’m using his movements in the video as a guideline, as a way to keep my frames realistic and well-timed.” Korra would have rubbed her neck, but Asami was in the way, so she brushed her bangs to the side a bit. “I’m exaggerating some things, like Bolin’s muscles, and I’m changing his costume as I go. Animation actually looks more lifelike and dynamic if you.... exaggerate a bit. Deepen the extremes and push the boundaries of what is actually possible in real life.”
Feeling that she’d rambled on enough, Korra tried to wrap it up. “Animation is like... the opposite of spontaneous when you’re making it. Everything needs to line up and match. Registration and all that. But... when you see it, it can be very spontaneous?” Korra sighed. “I’m totally rambling. I’m sorry, Asami.”
“No need to apologize,” Asami said immediately, pushing her cheek against Korra’s for a moment. “It’s fun listening to you talk about this. You’re passionate and excited and it’s just...” Asami trailed off and Korra felt her cheek lift as Asami smiled and wrapped her arms around Korra in a brief hug. “It’s just super cute and it makes me happy to see you that happy.”
If someone had told Korra that in two weeks of sitting next to Asami Sato, they would reach the hugging stage of their friendship, she would have laughed in their face. As Asami’s thumb brushed Korra’s shoulder absently, a deep blush cut across her cheeks. She was glad Asami was too close to see it. “Oh, uh, thank you,” she managed.
She cleared her throat and was trying to think of a good way to change the topic to something less flustering when Asami pulled back out of the hug and leaned around Korra to reach her mouse. “Let me see that raw footage again, actually,” she said.
“Uh, okay.” Korra shifted so Asami could reach more easily. “What for?”
“Because I want to take a look at your footwork a little.” A few clicks and Asami had navigated to the folder where Korra’s raw footage lived. She clicked on a video with Bolin in it, doing a dramatic move for Nuktuk to throw his enemies aside. “Bolin seems to be using exclusively Hung Ga style, if I’m not mistaken,” Asami observed.
Korra nodded. “Yeah, actually. I didn’t know you had a background in kung fu. Not many people would be able to recognize a specific style like that.”
“I used to study Northern Shaolin style,” Asami said as she got up from the couch and snagged her chair. She pulled it over so she was sitting next to Korra before clicking another video. “I haven’t kept up with it as much since coming to uni, but I used to really enjoy comparing schools and learning the history behind them.” She watched a video with Korra doing a few kicks for a minion before falling over when Bolin showed up and stage punched her.
They both giggled for a moment. Asami selected another video with Korra in it. “So you’re the model for all of the bad guys?” she asked.
“Yeah... I kind of procrastinated on taping the footage, so it’s just me and Bolin. All of the minions look the same because masked faces are easier to animate than a bunch of individual faces.” She rubbed the back of her neck. “When I get to the final villain, she’s basically just an evil-looking version of me. It kept my character models down to three.”
Asami watched a few more sequences, scrunching her eyebrows together. “You... you keep switching between different martial arts,” she said absently. Korra got the sense that Asami hadn’t quite heard everything Korra had just been saying. “You used Nothern Shaolin in this clip, but you’re definitely doing Tai Chi in that other one.”
“Yep! I really enjoy learning from different schools of martial arts. It’s a bit of a problem sometimes. My first style was Tai Chi and that’s probably the one I know best, but... I just like dabbling so much that I tend to spread out and diversify a lot.” Korra rubbed the back of her neck. “I should probably focus on one art and really master that, but... combining them all is just too fun sometimes.” She chuckled. “At least here, it came in handy. I was able to give each of the minions their own unique fighting approach, even if they don’t have different character designs.”
Asami leaned forward, propping her head on her hand as she continued to click on videos. “You’re pretty incredible,” she said. “You know that?”
Another fierce blush appeared on Korra’s cheeks. She swallowed hard and averted her gaze when Asami turned and looked right at her. “I... I’m not that, uh, thank you.”
A light laugh. From the corner of her eye, Korra saw Asami partially cover her mouth with her hand. “You’re welcome,” she said. “Watching you makes me want to get back into practice.”
A smile appeared on Korra’s face before she could help herself. “Maybe we could do some sparring sometime. Train together?”
Asami tucked some hair behind her ear. “I would like nothing better than to hold pads with you and get nice and sweaty together, but I think it will have to wait until we both have lives again.”
Korra nodded. “Oh, absolutely. Yeah, I get it. I... should probably get back to animating.
“And I should get back to editing.” Asami made a face.
Korra made a face right back. Without intending to, they were starting to fall into inside jokes and habits together. At the same moment, they broke the expressions and laughed.
Opal had dropped by with snacks.... at some point in the past. Korra wasn’t even sure exactly how long ago that had been. She stood up and stretched her arm out, rolling her shoulders. She’d been animating for hours, but without windows, the studio felt like a timeless, sunless void.
Even though it would take more time than nagging one of her friends to go get food for her, Korra decided she needed to leave the art building to procure sustenance. If she didn’t get some fresh air, she might forget what the sky looked like, or something like that.
Whirling out of the studio, she nearly bashed the door into Asami right outside. Thankfully, the other girl leapt aside in time.
“Oh spirits I’m so sorry,” Korra said.
Asami straightened up and shook her head. “I’m alright, it’s okay. Korra, what’s the rush?”
“Sorry, sorry. I just... I’ve been here all day and it’s a Saturday and I’ve barely been outside. I... I’m just going a little stir crazy. I’m starving.”
“Did... you have dinner?” Asami squinted, looking concerned.
Korra paused to consider. “I... it’s dinner time?”
“Past that.” Asami didn’t sound amused. “Korra, you need to take care of yourself. Have you eaten at all today?”
“Opal came by.... around lunch?” Korra rubbed her eyes. Even the hallway outside the studio seemed oddly bright. “Anyway, I’m gonna go grab something to eat.”
Asami seemed to relax a bit. “That’s good. Are you getting dinner or just more junk food?” She paused and seemed to take Korra’s guilty expression as answer enough. “You need to eat a real meal,” she said, staring at Korra hard. “I won’t let you back in the studio tonight if you don’t eat a real dinner.”
Maybe it was hunger. Maybe it was Asami looking so intense and focused on her. Either way, Korra wasn’t sure why, but before she thought it through, she said, “I’ll go eat a real dinner if you’ll join me for it.”
Asami’s expression shifted. Concern to surprise and... something else? Korra immediately regretted the impulsive statement. She cleared her throat and tried to back off. “I mean, I’m sorry I just... I’ve been alone in the studio all day aside from Opal dropping by and I’m just, uh, I was just thinking it would be nice to go out—”
“I’ll go,” Asami cut in. “I, uh, I kind of ate a really small dinner earlier anyway,” she said, speaking kind of quickly. “I was rushing because I wanted to get to work, but I’m still kind of hungry.” She smiled and rubbed her arm. “It would be rather hypocritical of me to chastise you for not taking care of yourself if I’m not doing the same.”
Korra brightened, feeling a weight fall off her shoulders. For some reason, it had felt deeply important and critical that Asami said yes. “Let’s go then,” she said. Her voice felt soft to her own ears. Asami dropped her bag off in the studio and they walked out of the building to a sky darker than Korra would have guessed it. Still, it was beautiful in its own way, especially with Asami smiling and laughing beside her.
Korra yawned and rolled up her hoodie sleeve to punch in the door code. 0-4-1-4. Of course she would start yawning as soon as she got to the studio to actually do something useful with her time. “Stupid selective insomnia,” she muttered to herself, pulling the door open.
A single computer monitor cast the dark room in a dim glow. Korra blinked and was about to flip the lights on when she realized she wasn’t alone in the room. Dozing on the cramped couch, Asami seemed oddly ethereal in the light. Korra’s hand hesitated by the light switch, reluctant to flip it and wake the other girl up.
After a pause, she checked her phone, which informed her that it was past three in the fucking morning. Shaking her head, Korra just went and sat by her computer, squinting as the monitor turned on. She went through the usual routine of setting up her workspace, but before she could start drawing, Asami shivered behind her.
Korra set the tablet pen down and turned around. She hadn’t noticed before, but the other girl was in a tank top. The building’s air conditioning had gotten rather chilly though...
Hesitating a moment, Korra decided it wasn’t too weird (maybe) and unzipped her hoodie, laying it on top of Asami. Immediately, her friend seemed more comfortable, or at least as comfortable as she was going to be sleeping on the tiny couch. Korra smiled at her before turning back to her work. She had only been wearing a sports bra on underneath her hoodie because she didn’t think there would be any need to take the hoodie off, but whatever.
Korra got back to working, rotoscoping Nuktuk doing a dramatic kick that knocked Minion Number Seven off-screen. She was in the middle of going easy on herself and letting Seven’s hands blur when she heard Asami stir behind her, yawning. Feeling a bit self-conscious in just her top, she pretended she hadn’t heard anything and kept drawing.
“Korra?” Asami took a deep breath and the couch groaned as she sat up.
“Yeah?” Korra wondered if Asami would be able to tell she didn’t have a shirt on with the room so dark. From where the other girl was, Korra knew she would be backlit by her screen. Thinking about the technicalities of the lighting seemed much preferable to thinking about why it mattered so much that Asami could or couldn’t tell that Korra was shirtless.
“What are you doing here, it’s...” A pause. Korra heard a click from Asami checked her phone. “It’s almost four in the morning! Why are you here working?”
Korra just kept drawing. It might look like she was wearing a tank top if she didn’t turn around. “I couldn’t sleep, so I figured I’d use the time productively. What are you doing sleeping here?”
Asami huffed and the couch complained. She’d probably leaned back in it. “I... I was working late and just meant to take a short nap.” Asami paused and her voice softened. “Thank you for giving me your hoodie.”
Setting down her pen, Korra smiled and shook her head. “You just seemed kind of cold. Wouldn’t want to have you freeze in here. I didn’t want to wake you, so it seemed best to let you sleep as well as you could.”
Behind her, Korra could hear Asami moving again. Not turning around was starting to feel a little ridiculous, especially since Asami was fairly likely to figure out that Korra wasn’t wearing a shirt the longer they kept talking. Steeling herself to decide that it totally didn’t matter that she wasn’t, that it was entirely normal and chill, and whatever-they-were-both-girls, Korra turned around in her chair and found herself face-to-face with Asami.
Lit by the computer screen, Korra saw that Asami had actually put Korra’s hoodie on, somehow making it look super cute in the process. Asami blinked and Korra watched her eyes flicker down, take in the state of Korra’s partial undress, and come back up to meet her gaze. A wry smile pulled at the corners of Asami’s lips, which seemed darker in the lighting. “Thank you,” she said again. “You’re just really sweet.” Quickly, Asami put a hand on Korra’s bare shoulder and pressed a kiss to her cheek.
Asami’s hand lingered on Korra’s shoulder, pulling away slowly as Korra tried to find words. Eventually, she settled on, “You’re welcome, but, uh, you should probably go get some sleep in your own bed.” Clearing her throat, she added, “That couch can’t be comfortable.”
Shaking her head, Asami finally sat all the way back on the couch. “In my own bed? What a shame, although it’s far more comfortable than this old thing.”
Korra fought down a blush, thankful that it was invisible in the darkness. “You need to take care of yourself, Asami.”
“If you have to take care of yourself, I guess I have to as well, huh.” Asami lay back and closed her eyes. “I’d like nothing better than to go sleep in someone else’s bed and have someone else take care of me, but I feel like sleeping, wherever I do it, will have to happen when I have a life again, after the semester is done.”
Sighing, Korra reached out and tried to playfully swat at Asami’s foot. The gesture ended up a little awkward, more like a lingering touch on her ankle. Korra pulled her hand back and brushed her bangs to the side. “If you’re gonna stay here and you’re not working, then go back to sleep,” she said. “Let me know when to wake you so you don’t feel too overwhelmed.”
Asami nodded and turned on her side, snuggling up in Korra’s hoodie. The blue fabric seemed to glow a little in the monitor’s light. “Thanks, Korra,” she said. “Give me two hours, or whenever you need to leave, whichever comes first.”
Korra hummed an affirmative, feeling oddly committed to staying and working for at least two more hours.
Out of the corner of her eye, Korra saw Asami glance over at her and shake her head. “I’m glad I didn’t know you before I dated Mako,” she said. “I would have felt like an inadequate follow-up.”
Korra snorted. “You’re joking. After we broke up and he started dating you, I felt like he’d totally upgraded. I mean, have you seen yourself?”
“Downgraded. Korra, seriously, you’re incredible.”
Before could respond and contradict Asami some more, a series of knocks sounded through the door.
“Food run!” Korra bounded out of her chair and pushed the door open to reveal Bolin and Opal grinning and holding a McDonald’s bag.
“Happy 3:38 in the afternoon!” Bolin called, stepping inside.
Opal shook her head. “We dropped by on our way back to campus, so we figured we’d get you some munchies for that post-lunch, pre-dinner snack.”
Korra took the offered bag and hugged it for a moment. “Thank you guys so much.” She moved over and leaned against Asami’s chair. “Look at me, totally keeping myself fed and all that.”
Asami rolled her eyes as she turned around to see Opal and Bolin. “I don’t exactly think friends bringing you McDonald’s counts as feeding yourself,” she said. “I would have been slightly more impressed if you’d gone out and got it yourself.”
“I don’t know how to drive, so I rely on the barter system to get people to bring me food.” Korra shrugged.
“If she wasn’t so tied up doing this project, Korra would normally just ride along with us,” Opal added.
Korra looked over to find Asami staring at her, askance. “You don’t know how to drive?” she whispered.
“Uh, nope.” Korra shrugged again.
Asami squinted at her. “I... but... How?”
“I was... focusing on other things?”
Straightening her posture, Asami took the McDonald’s bag, set it on their desk, then took Korra’s hands in her own. “Once this is over, I’m teaching you how to drive,” she said intensely.
Korra blinked. “Oh, uh, okay. That sounds like it could be fun.”
Asami smiled. “It will be.”
The room went quiet for a moment after Asami spoke. It felt comfortable to Korra, but she could feel a bit of surprise from Opal and Bolin’s side of the room. A beat later, Bolin cleared his throat.
“SO uh Opal and I have, uh, stuff to do. We’ll come by another time to check out how Nuktuk’s coming along.” Abruptly, Bolin pushed the door open again.
“See you later, Korra,” Opal said, shooting her an odd look before she disappeared with Bolin.
Korra blinked. “See you guys,” she called at the closing door. After it shut, she turned back to Asami. “I wonder what that was about.”
Asami let go of Korra’s hands as though she’d forgotten she was holding them. A faint blush came to her cheeks. “I’m not sure,” she said, glancing back at the door. “I... I don’t suppose they heard us earlier? Joking about Mako?”
Plopping back into her own chair, Korra shook her head. “No way. Why?”
“I just... I know that you and I are fine. We can joke and both of us know that there is no actual malice behind it. Mako is my friend and you guys aren’t close, but you’re not on bad terms.” She smiled. “We dated the same guy and while most people would make it awkward, it actually just opens up this whole category of shared experiences to talk about. I just wouldn’t want Bolin or Opal to think we actually had something against Mako, you know?”
Korra pulled some fries out of the bag. “No way they’d think that, and besides, they definitely didn’t hear anything. The editing studios have the fancy doors, remember.” She gestured with a fry across the room. “It autolocks and is almost soundproof and everything.”
The previous concern vanished from Asami’s expression, replaced by an oddly tempered smile. She tilted her head and regarded Korra for a moment, then snorted. “Kinky.” She winked before slipping her headphones back on and getting right back to work.
Fries halfway to her mouth, Korra froze. Asami seemed to be studiously ignoring her, but the traces of a blush tinted her cheeks. Korra resumed eating her afternoon snack and thought over her interactions with Asami, combing through a pattern of subverted expectations.
Korra yawned and reached for her cup. “Thank you so much for the coffee, Asami,” she mumbled.
“You already thanked me, Korra.” Asami’s normally soft voice sounded rougher today. Korra noticed earlier that her makeup wasn’t quite as perfect as usual, but hadn’t mentioned anything.
If it would take more than 10 seconds to fix, Korra never pointed things like that out. “Thank you again,” she said. “I think I would have died without it.” She set the drink down and resumed coloring. Her wrist had started feeling sore, but, in the final week, she couldn’t let up on her progress.
Asami, for her part, seemed caught up in the tiniest details of her film. If Korra glanced away from her screen, she would see Asami playing the same two seconds over and over, make a small adjustment, then repeat with a new segment of film.
Korra yawned again, then leaned stretched over the back of her chair. Her back popped twice, reminding her that she hadn’t been doing very well with consistent stretching. A few weeks ago, stretching happened every hour on the hour. Granted, she’d become more comfortable with the space, with Asami, and the room didn’t press on her like it used to.
That wasn’t necessarily a good thing in this case. She’d had been in the studio all day and couldn’t remember the last time she’d stretched. Burying her face in her hands, an idea hit her and she mumbled, “Okay so new idea for how to do this.”
“Okay I have this footage and I need to add color.” Korra blinked sleepily at her computer. “What if. I just.... stop adding color. After Nuktuk reaches Evil Korra’s lair. She’s so evil there’s just no color.”
Asami didn’t answer for a moment, but she stopped clicking things in her program. After a pause, she stood up and stepped over toward Korra. “Darling... no.” She hugged her close, pressing Korra’s face against her abdomen and stroking her hair.
Glad that Asami was conveniently hiding her face, Korra didn’t worry about the blush crossing her cheeks. “Why not,” she asked, muffled against Asami’s shirt.
The other sighed and threaded her fingers through Korra’s hair. “Because you told me before about animation being a medium that looks spontaneous, but that it’s bad to just randomly change things up when you’re in the middle of the process.” She took a step back and looked at Korra intently. “Remember that? You can’t just change things up in the middle, and especially not now.” She put her hands on Korra’s shoulders and crouched, looking her right in the eye. “You can do this. You’re almost done. We both are. We’re going to make it.”
Korra ran a hand through her hair. “I know, I know,” she grumbled. “I’m just not normally so locked into a project like this. With most art, I can change things or make at least some adjustments last minute. Let serendipity lead the way.”
Asami sat back down, leaning heavily against the back of her chair. She took a long sip of her coffee. “Well... this is a good exercise in mixing it up, doing something a little different than how you usually are.” She yawned and even though they were both tired, over-caffeinated, and making a little less sense than usual... Korra still couldn’t keep from smiling.
“Yeah,” she said, voice soft. “I’m feeling... open. Open to something different.”
Shooting a smile Korra’s way, Asami’s gaze lingered on hers before they both turned back to work.
Korra woke slowly. First, with the realization that she was super cozy even though her back really hurt. She stirred and pushed her face against her pillow. Shifting her position, she tried to find a pose that wouldn’t hurt her back. After several attempts, she came to the conclusion that she probably wouldn’t be able to do that while bent in half, dozing on the desk in the editing studio.
Yawning, she inhaled deeply. For a moment, she wondered when her pillow had started smelling so nice. That’s when she remembered that she didn’t have a pillow, that she’d fallen asleep over the desk with her head just resting on her arms.
She sat up and blinked a few times, rubbing her eyes as they adjusted to the room around her. It looked exactly the same as it had before she’d fallen asleep (no windows made it creepily timeless), barring the addition of one Asami Sato to the room.
“Glad to see you’ve finally woken up,” Asami said, tone bordering on teasing. “I was wondering if you ever would.”
“How long have I been napping?” Korra rubbed her face against the pillow again, trying to wake up. “I just meant to take a quick break.”
Asami turned to look at her. Korra blinked. The other girl wasn’t wearing a shirt, but didn’t acknowledge the fact at all as she said, “Oh, I got here about an hour ago. You seemed pretty out of it when I arrived.”
Korra looked down and realized that the pillow she’d been sleeping on was, in fact, Asami’s shirt. Her gaze whipped back toward her studio-roommate and she opened her mouth to say... something, but stopped.
For Asami’s part, she didn’t acknowledge it at all. The only sign was a faint blush on her cheeks and (maybe?) a catch in her voice. “You were kind of sprawled out over your tablet, so I pulled it out from under you.” Asami shrugged, sounding entirely too casual. “And then you just had your head on one arm and I didn’t want you to get a sore neck, so... yeah.” Asami’s blush deepened and she glanced away before self-consciously adjusting the strap on her lacy red bra.
Sitting up straighter, Korra refrained from staring, trying to find something interesting to look at in the opposite corner of the room. “Um, thank you.” She cleared her throat when the words came out a bit thick. “That’s, that’s extremely sweet of you. My neck feels pretty good, actually.” Korra stood up and put her hands on her hips, leaning back. “I think my back disagrees with how I slept, however.”
“At least I took my nap on the couch.” Asami glanced back toward her and Korra met her gaze.
“Yeah... I guess that makes us both hypocrites.” Korra smiled, feeling her blush finally start to fade, even if she had to keep reminding herself to look at Asami’s face. “Either way, I’m glad we’ve had each other to take care of ourselves. At least the projects are almost over.”
Asami’s eyebrows drew together. “Yeah... I’ll miss seeing you though. It’s been really nice to spend this time with you.”
“Same here.” Korra rubbed her arm and realized she was still holding Asami’s shirt. “Oh! Here!” She tossed it over and Asami caught it handily. “Sorry, I forgot I had that. I’m sure we’ll see each other around though,” she said. “And, uh, maybe we can make time to see each other too?”
Asami paused as she unballed her shirt and smiled. “I would like that,” she said. She pulled the shirt on and Korra cleared her throat again. For all that she claimed to be out of practice, Asami hadn’t lost much of her athlete’s muscle tone.
Even in a wrinkled shirt, Asami didn’t look any less stunning than before. She winked. “If we keep undressing around each other, we might have to start making a different sort of time to see each other.”
And even though it was a flirty line that made Korra blush and stammer a quick, “Maybe when we have time again,” in response, it was the everything but the words themselves that lingered with Korra as she sat down and got back to her finishing touches.
She replayed the moment over and over in her head. Asami had winked, but she’d also pulled at her wrinkled shirt with one hand, trying to smooth it out self-consciously. She’d tucked her hair behind her ear right afterward, biting her lip.
Korra smiled until her jaw ached, working hard so she could be done with the project and have free time again. She had a few ideas of how she might like to spend it and who she’d like to spend it with.
Click. Click. Drag. Click. Double click.
Korra could hear Asami’s rhythm of work even when she was alone in the room. She dragged the next set of frames into her video editor and fought back a yawn. “Almost done,” she mumbled to herself.
The door beeped faintly and Korra reached over to wake Asami’s computer up. A beat later, Asami herself walked in. She looked about as tired as Korra felt.
“We’re almost done,” Korra said, flashing her friend a smile. “You can do this.”
Asami didn’t reply, pulling Korra up into a hug for a long moment. Korra relaxed and squeezed Asami tightly. They stepped back a moment later.
“I’m going to die,” Asami said, completely monotone. She’d skipped her usual makeup today entirely and looked a little less glossy than usual.
Korra shook her head. “Finals week can kick our asses, but it can’t kill us.” She gave Asami a brief kiss on the cheek before steering her into her chair. “Come on, you’re almost done. I’m almost done with Nuktuk. Let’s finish our projects together.”
Asami cast her a grateful look. “Thank you,” she said. “I’m just... If I can finish this up, I will be in a position to manage the rest of my classes.”
“Same here.” Korra sat back in her chair. “And if you find yourself going a little crazy, just look at me and remember that we’re in this together.”
A fond smile lit up Asami’s face. For a moment, the stress seemed to disappear. “You are the best roommate I’ve ever had,” she said, “and we’re not even living together.”
“We take care of each other,” Korra said. “And we reveal ourselves to be hypocrites who will insist on the other’s well being before looking after our own. As long as we keep it up, we should both manage to stay relatively sane and healthy.”
“And done.” Asami pinched her temples. “So done. I... am just so done with this. I have enjoyed this project so, so much, but I think I’m going to retreat back to the engineering department once this class is over.”
Korra chuckled as they both started to get back into the rhythm of work. At some point, in the dozens of hours she’d spent working next to Asami in this tiny room, it had stopped feeling like a windowless box and started feeling more like home.
If she were to hazard a guess, Korra would have said it had less to do with the room and more than a little to do with the girl who worked there beside her.
On their final day, they fell into familiar patterns and habits. Asami knew without asking when Korra was about to take her break. She pulled her headphones off and didn’t ask before grabbing a can of pringles out of Korra’s backpack.
Korra, for her part, knew exactly how to talk when Asami had her headphones on. A wave, a pause, and she could know without looking when the other girl had slid one ear pads off to hear whatever she wanted to say.
Perhaps it shouldn’t have surprised her so much that they hit ‘export’ at once.
Korra declared, “DONE!” at the exact same moment that Asami slipped her headphones off and leaned back in her chair.
“Me too,” she said, running her hands through her hair. “We did it.”
“We’re finished!” Korra jumped up, pulling Asami up and out of her chair into a tight hug.
Asami hugged her back, just as tight. “Maybe now we’ll have time to breathe,” she said.
After a beat, Korra smiled to herself and chuckled as she remembered their talks about dorky one-liners and being able to work without a script. “Are you sure you really need all that air?” she asked, taking a step back.
Tilting her head, Asami looked at her oddly. “Yes. Why?”
Korra took a small step closer. “Because I was wondering if I could take your breath away.”
Asami’s immediate smile and soft laugh gave told Korra her answer as they leaned in to kiss, a soft moment that felt at once spontaneous and scripted as it subverted her expectations in the best way possible.