She remembered seeing the Avatar vaulting through the air. Korra moved at an unnatural speed, launching straight up, only to bank at a violent angle and turn almost ninety degrees. She also remembered thinking that that kind of motion should have broken bones. She could only look on helplessly, seeing the two figures in the air dance like puppets on strings. She wanted to call out, to scream and interrupt the scene, but she couldn't find her voice. Her jaw moved, but nothing managed to escape her lips.
She tried to move. One step forward, reaching out with a hand, trying to close the impossible distance between them. But Korra felt so far away. She was a tiny speck, only visible through squinted eyes. And then, she wasn't anymore. Korra came crashing down, her body twisting as it fell ragdoll onto the hard stone below. Zaheer fell, too, but she wasn't watching him. She didn't care about him. It was Korra she was frightened for.
Her knees felt locked, but she forced herself to move. She ran for what felt like minutes, bolting as quick as she could toward the young Avatar. She'd never reach her in time, not from this distance. Even if she made it, what would she be able to do? She saw Korra fall. She could feel the tremor of the planet shaking, cracking in half when Korra struck it. She felt the crack reaching out from the earth as gnarled fingers, uncaringly breaking her in half with it.
She was too late. Standing over Korra, she could see it as clear as day. Her face looked pale, and she was motionless in the dirt. She felt the buzzing of movement, of other people's blurry forms rotating around herself and Korra. But they couldn't help her either. She stared, unbelieving, at the lifeless body at her feet. The Avatar, she—
Asami awoke suddenly. Her form twisted against the sheets. The motion of her own body startled her, causing her to wrench toward the edge of the bed. A blur of sensations spun around in her head. It was impossible to think. The shock of being pulled from an apparent dream and into reality was always jarring. She tried to turn onto her back and sit up, finding her coordination and strength to be just far enough off that she fell onto her side instead. Slowly, her thoughts started to shed the fog of her dream. She silently focused on the pounding of her heart, caught low in her throat. She then realized she was holding her breath. Her lips separated, letting out a pent-up gasp, and carefully resumed normal breath over several long seconds.
It felt like ten minutes, but Asami finally collected herself in the bed. She was on her stomach, supporting all her weight on her forearms, with her head dipped low enough that her nose touched the blanket below her. She stopped breathing through her mouth, and she could no longer feel adrenaline rushing through her. She could feel strength returning to her limbs. With that knowledge, she pushed herself up and moved into a sitting position. Asami opened and closed her eyes repeatedly. A hand absentmindedly drifted through her raven hair, tugging on a small knot to relieve it. It gave her time to think. And to realize she was shivering. She felt that she must have been sweating in her sleep. She could feel the thin layer of dampness on her arms, causing her to shake as it evaporated.
She was dreaming. Obviously. She always hated the feeling immediately after waking up. In her dreams, everything seemed real. Upon opening her eyes, it was obvious how wrong the few details she still remembered were. The surrounding terrain was completely off. Asami was standing too far away, but could hear everything clearly. Everything was blue, for crying out loud! It would be embarrassing, if Asami didn't already know that everyone suffered from the occasional nightmare.
Asami's mind wandered. While she focused on the details the dream got wrong, the finer details started to escape her. A few seconds ago she felt horrified. And yet, now she could only recall snippets. She was somewhere with Korra, and Korra was hurt somehow; did she hit her head? Korra's dad was there too, or maybe her mother? Tenzin too, and Mako.
"Mako." She scrunched up her nose, twisting it to one side in order to reinforce the disgust she felt. She really didn't hate Mako. If anything, she was glad to have him around, at times. But in times like this, in moments of vulnerability, she found it hard to completely forgive him. She had a hard time letting go the first time. And it was so difficult seeing him lie to Korra when she lost her memory. She felt a sinking in her heart, not just for herself, but because of what he did to Korra. When she heard the two finally broke up for good, she felt so much tension lift from her shoulders that she thought she might cry.
Spatial awareness began to set in. Asami's vision slowly focused, and she found herself staring at the floor. She blinked and sat up, one leg hanging freely off the side of the bed. As her senses pulled inward, she became acutely aware of the uncomfortable sensation in her lower back, and the tingling in both legs. Asami arched her back and curled her naked toes. She couldn't help squint, enjoying the fleeting pleasure that stretching always seemed to offer. She strained the muscles in her legs to their limit, shuddering until finally releasing all the tension in her limbs. This finally led to a hand lifting to hold back a yawn, unsuccessfully.
Asami looked to the window. The shades were drawn, and she could tell it was still dark. She didn't intend to wake up this early. Her green eyes wandered to the mechanical alarm next to the bed. It wasn't set to go off for hours, but more recently she only kept it running to keep from sleeping in and making a poor impression. She knew, though, that she couldn't simply go back to sleep — she never could, once awake.
She pushed all her weight to one side. Her legs swung over the edge of the bed, reaching down to touch the cold floor underneath. Her lavender nightgown drifted around her body as she moved to stand. She needed to test each leg first to make sure it was awake. Satisfied, she wandered in front of the mirror she kept on her wall. She rubbed absently at her eyes, one after the other. She reached for her brush while fluffing her hair with her other hand, but she thought that it could wait. She felt unusually flighty. She could almost feel her legs tugging restlessly, compelling her to move.
Asami walked into the unlit hallway. Her night vision still functioning, she moved with her head down, buttoning her gown. She thought perhaps she could relocate to the back yard and get some fresh air. Maybe it would help take her mind off the dream about her friends. About someone getting hurt — Korra, she believed. She felt a familiar nagging in her head, as though acutely aware that the puzzle she was putting together kept losing pieces.
As she floated down the hallway, her smooth stride broke and her toes tightened on themselves. She felt the grit of something rough on the soles of her feet. Sand, or perhaps tracked dirt. She wanted to scoff, settling on a heavy exhale through her nose. She decided immediately that she'd have to complain to whoever was supposed to tidy the previous day. Her eyes drew narrow, concentrating on the floor long enough to pick out the flecks of dark earth scattered down the hallway. She generally disliked the sensation of dirt underfoot, and she moved with her eyes locked, carefully avoiding each clump. It seemed such an obvious thing to miss that she decided to follow it. She rounded the corner, past the doorway leading into the back yard, to the opening of the kitchen.
"Hmey, Ashami," came a muffled, puffy-cheeked voice. She was concentrating so heavily on the floor beneath her that the sudden ringing in her ears made her heart jump. She very nearly choked on it, and what twisted up through her mouth was a ridiculous mix between a shocked exclamation and the squeak of an elephant rat.
Her eyes were wide with alarm, but they quickly fell on the source of the noise. Her brain pieced together the clues. Tanned skin, blue eyes, short-cropped hair, an unkempt blue and white outfit, exposed shoulders, and muddy boots. She knew immediately who she was looking at, though her stomach decided to twist anyway. The knot persisted, granting her a stronger feeling of relief than she expected. Not just from realizing that it was Korra who snuck into her house and not a thief, but something else as well. She couldn't quite place it.
Asami wanted to regain her composure and greet Korra. She wanted to stand up straight and smile, and then find out why Korra was awake at this hour. But her attention fell onto the expression on Korra's face. Realization slowly crept over Asami. She saw from the woman's elevated cheeks, and the squint in her eyes, that she was suppressing a laugh. She knew instantly that Korra was about to start giggling, no doubt because of the sound Asami just made. It must have been amusing. The silly, girlish, startled chirp.
Asami accepted her fate. She hid her face in a palm, concealing both the smirk on her face and the tint of red on her cheeks. Korra was eating, and called out to her with a mouth full of food. After swallowing it, she started cackling, rocking on the stool she was seated on. Asami let her have her fun, even finding herself cheered up by the Water Tribe girl's energetic laughter. But she had to chime in eventually. She removed her hand from her face, crossing both arms against her chest. She threw a pretend fit, pushing her lower lip outward. "Korra, you scared me!"
"I know," Korra replied. She beamed, apparently proud of herself. She clearly didn't intend to give Asami a start, but she never passed up an opportunity to enjoy a situation. "I didn't mean to."
For some reason, Korra always put Asami at ease. She could never place her finger on it. Korra was very different than the type of people Asami usually associated with, and not just for her tomboyish nature; Asami had her own share of masculine hobbies and interests. Perhaps it was just that Korra never seemed to fully integrate into Republic City. She was her own person, with her own unique personality. She always seemed so willing and able to find happiness in the simplest of activities.
"Well," Asami began, "what are you doing up at this hour, anyway?" As she spoke, Asami pushed away from her position standing in the entryway. She approached Korra, letting her eyes wander to the food the Avatar prepared. She was sitting with a bowl of noodles in a dark broth. It looked and smelled like the cheap kind that Korra asked her to stock. Why would she prepare cheap noodles for breakfast?
"I couldn't sleep," Korra said. She paused long enough to lower the chopsticks from her mouth and fold the wooden implements across the top of her soup. Asami could sense a hint of hesitation in Korra's voice, but the Avatar sometimes had a habit of being quiet about her feelings. "Recently I haven't been able to sleep late. My sleep schedule has gotten kind of erratic."
Asami nodded along to Korra's words. She knew exactly what the younger woman meant. But even if she could relate, she didn't want to trouble Korra with her own stories. Korra had difficulties sleeping for the last three years, as far as she knew. Just the fact that Korra could sleep regularly these days made Asami feel warmer. She felt the fuzziness welling in her fingers and face, and she could tell Korra took notice of her expression because of the way the Avatar elevated an eyebrow.
"And what about you, Miss Sato?" Korra asked in a teasing tone. "It's not like you to be wandering around at this hour, half-dressed." Asami suddenly realized what she must look like. She remembered to button up at least, but she was still walking around barefoot, her hair unbrushed. She became aware of the small tears in the edges of her eyes, residual evidence of her sleepiness. She wasn't wearing makeup, and she could stand to take a bath before having any meaningful human interaction. But she found that it didn't bother her terribly. She knew, innately, that Korra didn't care. Korra was more relaxed, and would never judge her on her appearance. Not seriously, at least. In fact, she started to wonder if Korra was wearing the same clothing as the day before, now that she was paying attention.
"I, um, had a bad dream. It's okay now, though," she finished lamely. Her eyes rolled and turned away, avoiding interaction. She wasn't entirely sure why, though. She found it hard to remember what she even dreamed about. She just thought that she shouldn't be complaining to Korra about dreams. Clearing her throat, she tried to move on to a different topic. "So, why are you having noodles for breakfast?" As she spoke, she found it easy to segue into the new conversation. She started to walk across the kitchen, noticing the mess Korra left on the counter. She apparently prepared lychee juice to drink. "Did you smash berries using bending? You know, I have a machine…" she trailed off.
"Oh, yeah. I just find it easier to do everything myself. And the noodles were quick. Some of the stuff you have in your pantry, I can't ever tell what it's supposed to be." Asami found herself smiling at that. For some reason, she found it calming that Korra could be so content with simple things. Asami grew up on fancy foods and expensive clothing, and she always had someone to prepare things for her. It was refreshing to know Korra was so self-reliant. "Why are you staring at me?" Korra then asked, breaking her concentration. Asami came to, realizing she was staring off into space.
"Sorry, I—" Asami didn't know what to say. She wasn't really staring, but she found it hard to put into words what she was actually thinking. She really didn't want to weird Korra out by waxing poetic about the nature of Korra's like for the simple things in life. So she simply fell back on an earlier thought. "I—I was just noticing you're wearing the same outfit as yesterday."
"Huh? Oh." Korra looked down at herself, raising a hand to pinch a segment of fabric and pull on it, as if testing to make sure it was still there. "Well, I was going to eat, and then do some exercises, and then get cleaned up. I thought it would be silly to change clothes just to get them dirty." Asami found the sentiment charming, if only because she knew Korra wouldn't try to explain herself to anyone else. It flattered her to know that the Avatar most likely only gave a reasoned response because she actually cared about Asami's opinion.
"What exercises? Did you want me to get my arm guards?" Asami asked absently. She thought perhaps they could practice boxing or sparring again.
"I wanted to work on some of my bending stances, actually." It seemed Korra immediately realized she shut Asami down, because her eyes widened and she chimed in with a louder, more rushed voice. "But, I mean, you could watch! Or I guess you could get the pads, and I could do that later."
Asami smiled. "It's fine. I'm still feeling tired. Before I ran into you, I was going to sit outside for some air anyway. Why don't I join you? You can pretend I'm not there."
"All right," Korra quickly agreed.
Asami didn't have to wait long. Korra looked to be finished with her noodles. No doubt they went cold over the course of the conversation. Asami felt a slight itch to clean the table and the kitchen floor. Or, at the very least, wake someone to do it for her. But she let herself be distracted, trying to follow Korra's example of being more relaxed and carefree. Korra would probably sweep the hallway with earthbending later, anyway. Korra wasn't likely to leave the kitchen a mess, even if she could be like a hurricane on arrival.
She followed in the footsteps of the other woman, stopping only to put on a pair of black slippers she kept near the rear doorway. Afterward, she gave chase to the back door and stepped onto the back porch. Finally, fresh air! Asami took the opportunity to inhale a deep breath, taking in the faint scent of flowers and fresh grass. Even with the sun hiding, the view and ambiance calmed her. She could hear insects chirping, droning soft white noise in the background. Korra was already doing stretches, so Asami found a soft patch of grass to sit down on. She pulled her legs in closer to her chest, crossing her arms atop her knees.
Asami watched, making sure not to interrupt once Korra started moving. She began by taking several paces forward, the placement of each foot crossing over the previous step. She held both hands up and in front of herself in a familiar pattern. The position of each arm seemed static, at least until Korra suddenly spun on her heels to reverse direction. She bent her spine and raised one arm overhead, lowering the other closer to her waist. After moving back to her starting position, Korra repeated the entire series of motions over again.
To Asami, Korra's movements looked so fluid and seamless, like the flowing of water. But the more she observed, the more she thought it might be air stances. She quirked the corner of her lip, realizing she found it difficult to tell them apart without the broad and exaggerated motions. She'd seen many of these movements before, but perhaps never committed any of them to memory. She started to wonder if she should try to become more familiar with the stances. It would make it easier for her to defend herself, if nothing else. Not that she generally had trouble with that. Especially if Korra was around too.
She continued to watch Korra's movements. She transitioned from one style to another. As far as Asami could tell, Korra was practicing all four, or maybe even trying to work out a seamless way to move from one to the next. No doubt a unique predicament that only the Avatar would have to worry about. It's unlikely anyone could even teach her about it, and maybe no one even considered it before. It almost seemed impossible to think about. Asami wasn't a bender, and yet her best friend could bend all four elements. The more she watched the change in Korra's steps, the more fascinated she found herself becoming. She finally blurted out what was on her mind, without stopping to think about it. "What's it like?"
Korra was mid-spin, twirling around from a recognizable fire stance and turning on the ball of one foot. She came to a stop, the sudden halt in motion making her clothing and hair attempt to continue in the direction she was rotating. Korra's blue eyes fell on Asami, showing off a perplexed expression. After a pause of silence, Korra spoke up. "What's what like?"
Asami nearly blushed in embarrassment. The question was vague enough to be confusing. Understandable. And it managed to slip from the edge of her idle thoughts and onto her tongue without warning. But at this point she was curious. "It—Bending. What's it like? You know I—I can't."
It was a clumsy way to ask, but Korra seemed to understand the question. She lowered her hands and took only a moment's respite to stretch her back before approaching Asami. Asami's eyes rolled upward, following the approaching Avatar until they were only steps apart. Korra placed her hands on her hips, apparently considering the question more seriously than Asami expected her to. "Well, it's like—bending is an extension of yourself. It's a type of energy you can feel inside… yourself."
Asami stifled a giggle. She listened to Korra fumble her way through the explanation that she knew the younger girl was trying to repeat from memory. No doubt some speech she was given by an earlier teacher. Maybe Tenzin, or someone earlier than that. She realized at once that Korra probably didn't have the best understanding. As the Avatar, bending came naturally to her. Other than the difficulties she suffered picking up air, Korra always struck her as especially gifted. And with the level of natural talent Korra possessed, and her unique personality, she seemed exactly the type of person who would fumble her way through the bending arts without precisely understanding what kind of power she was invoking. It almost seemed like an endearing quality; Korra was just fiery and stubborn enough to pull it off. "No, what's it like?" Asami repeated more clearly. "I know what bending is, but what does it feel like? What's it like knowing you can create fire and move water with your hands?"
Korra's stance grew weaker, and Asami could see her slouching. Her shoulders slumped noticeably, and she began to rub the back of her neck with one hand while breaking eye contact. "This is a hard question. I don't—" Asami could tell she stumped the Avatar. Only just now did Asami really put much thought into it. She never viewed her inability to bend as a handicap. She never had trouble defending herself, and even now she felt a calm about the situation. She wasn't jealous, or upset, even if Korra may have been interpreting it that way. And she knew that this may be even harder for Korra to answer, being the Avatar. She was so much more naturally gifted than even the average bender. So coming all the way down to Asami's level and trying to understand it must be difficult. She knew from experience, when Korra's bending was cut off from her, exactly how upset she was. So she began to worry that Korra currently felt sorry for her.
"Can you show me?" Asami asked timidly. She wasn't even sure of herself, or why she had this sudden fascination with the bending arts. Perhaps just seeing and knowing how powerful a bender Korra was. But she'd seen that so many times before.
Showing, instead of telling, seemed easier for Korra to handle. Her pose strengthened, and she lowered her hand from her neck. Her face even brightened at the suggestion. "I can walk you through a few stances if you like."
"I'd enjoy that." Asami uncrossed her arms, putting her weight forward to stand up. After quickly dusting herself off, she turned to notice Korra was offering a hand to help her up, and tried to play it off as something else when left hanging. Asami restrained a chuckle, her eyes squinting enough to show her amusement. "Where should I stand?"
Korra moved her arms more quickly, making motions to usher Asami around her. She gestured back to where she previously stood, and started to follow Asami when she moved, close on her heels. Once they returned to position, Korra stood beside her, head turned to check that she was mimicking her stance. "What do you want to try?"
"The sun is coming up, and a lot of my family did come from the Fire Nation colonies. Why don't we try a fire set?" she suggested.
"Okay." Korra gave a short nod of her head before moving fluidly into a different stance. This time she stood with her legs wide apart, one forward and one back. She leaned her weight forward, with one hand raised in front of her, with the other held back. From the side, she looked like an X. Her motion was intentionally gradual, and Asami found herself harboring a smile when she realized Korra didn't have to be told to take it slow. Once Asami followed the stance, Korra moved again. Taking a full step forward, she brought the arm from behind her forward and up, while her other arm crossed underneath it and parallel to her chest. Asami repeated the same motion, prompting Korra to increase her speed as she turned carefully on her feet, now facing the opposite direction with the same stance. Asami followed. Lastly, Korra turned around once more to swing her arm widely in front of herself with the twist. Asami once again gave chase.
Upon completion of the turn, Korra returned to the original stance and repeated it. Asami was able to keep up, noticing that Korra naturally moved faster and faster each time. She almost felt giddy at their unspoken communication. She didn't have to say a word to have Korra increase the pace each time she caught up. With four more full rotations, Asami found herself outpacing Korra, having to slow down and recognize that the two were actually moving at the standard speed of the routine, and Korra no longer needed to make adjustments. Asami knew at this point that her cheeks were glowing from an increase in temperature. She felt a strange sensation across her body, almost like a faint numbing tingle. She felt a pleasant pressure in her stomach, too. Slightly pained, but filling her with energy nonetheless. She wondered if that feeling was what benders felt all the time.
She couldn't help notice Korra was going through the motions with her eyes closed at this point. Asami, however, couldn't keep her eyes off her friend as they went through the steps at least fifteen more times. She thought that they might be able to do this forever, and she didn't want to interrupt it. But she could feel the increase in her heart rate. No doubt the exercise wound her up, causing her to exhale heavily, even though the steps weren't strenuous at all. She decided to break the silence after sighing. "It's like a dance."
Korra's eyes opened, refocusing on the taller woman. The twinkle in the Avatar's expressive eyes showed she enjoyed the company. "It's very much like a dance, actually. This is the Dancing Dragon."
"I've heard of that before. I didn't know this was it," she said breathlessly, continuing into another rotation, still in sync with Korra.
"Well, you're a good dancer. We should do this again sometime."
Asami wanted to appreciate the compliment, but she felt herself becoming lightheaded. She slowed to a stop and lowered her arms.
It only took Korra one more step to cease her dancing and turn to address her friend. "Are you all right, Asami?" Korra asked, concerned.
Asami took two steps, now facing away from Korra. She raised a hand, clutching it to her chest while making a more dramatic exhale. "Yes." She felt an elevation of her heartbeat and her temperature. Perhaps she wasn't paying enough attention to her breathing. Or maybe she should have stretched first. "Sorry, I—I think I'm still tired. The nightmare I had, it wore me out."
Korra approached, placing a hand onto Asami's shoulder. The touch drew her attention, and she turned to address the young Avatar. Her body felt warmer now, and she could feel the knot of pressure upon her stomach. It felt more strained now than it was before. She felt as though she overexerted herself with the exercises. But Korra picked up the apparent lost look on her face and tried to chime in. Perhaps out of concern for her friend, but Korra was more willing to speak about her thoughts now. "You know I know what it's like to have nightmares. If you need someone to talk to—"
"I'll be fine. I don't even remember what it was about," she said truthfully. Korra seemed to believe her. But now that the topic was breached, Asami thought to press on it. Getting Korra to open up was usually a mixed bag. She never knew if it would work or not, but she wanted to be able to provide support for her best friend. "But how are you doing? Have you had any lately? Anything you want to talk about?"
"No," Korra replied. Her voice was soft, but it carried a hint of sternness. Either she didn't have anything worth bringing up, or she didn't want to talk about it.
Asami's inability to decipher which it was caused a long, awkward silence between them. Asami found herself shuffling her feet, knocking her knees together. She even found herself gazing off into the distance, appreciating the sun that was nearly in complete view at this hour. Eventually, the eerie silence broke when Asami's stomach started to protest. It growled as if it had been forgotten for ages. The interruption made both girls start laughing, defeating the quiet that lingered, and restored both of them to a brighter mood. "I suppose I should get something to eat," Asami said. She decided that the knot she felt in her stomach was hunger pains.
"I could make you something," Korra offered helpfully. She looked more chipper now. Hopefully having moved past the topic of dreams, Korra was now devoting her attention to the idea of food.
"Someone always makes me something," Asami replied matter-of-factly, though she tried to make sure her tone of voice indicated she wasn't really complaining. "I'd rather go out to eat anyway. There's a place near Kwong's that I'd like to visit."
"That sounds great!" Korra cut in.
Asami found amusement in the apparent self-invitation. She adopted a sly expression, crossing her arms in order to take a more authoritative stance. "I'd love to invite you, but didn't you just eat?"
"Sure, but I could eat again," Korra said dismissively. Asami did know the Avatar to put away more calories than she tended to expect. Though, Korra got enough exercise that it didn't seem to be a problem. Asami definitely couldn't complain when Korra was in better shape than she was. "Are you going to be going in your pajamas?"
Asami twisted her nose, wrinkling and wiggling it in a way that made Korra take notice and even chuckle at it. She entirely forgot that she was still wearing her nightgown. "Of course not! Let me get cleaned up first."
Korra let out an exaggerated sigh, throwing her arms into the air to let them fall and slap against her thighs. She was clearly aiming for maximum dramatic effect. "Oh, man, that'll take an hour!"
Asami couldn't restrain a laugh. She knew Korra was trying to rile her up. Ever since the two met, Korra tried to occasionally slip in comments about Asami being overly feminine. Korra usually dressed for comfort, and didn't often bother with makeup. Asami couldn't help it if she liked to take the extra time. "I'll try and be quick. You need to get changed, too." Asami made sure to keep several Water Tribe outfits on hand for occasions like this one. "I'll meet you back here. In an hour." The two exchanged smirks before parting ways.
Korra was very nearly out of earshot when Asami turned to yell across the mansion. "Oh, and make sure not to wear anything loose!"