Bending in and of itself is a study of contradictions. As a skill, it defies natural physics. She's sure there are some ridiculously intelligent people who have the patience to study the science behind it, somewhere, but perhaps it's best to put it simply, the way she thought of it as a child all those years ago - "when I move my hand this way, I can make water follow; if I stomp my feet in just the right way, I can make the earth move."
In order to hone that skill, however, in order to bend the rules of nature, there are entire other sets of rules to follow. Bending forms, for example. A special kind of kinesthesia - knowing which way to move your body to channel the energy needed to make bending possible. As a result, the practice takes discipline. Years of discipline. And so at the age of four years old, Korra is whisked off to a place where all she learns about are limits.
Don't wander too far with Naga, Korra.
No, you are not allowed to bend the water out of your cup during dinner.
Please stop digging random holes in the ground while the sentries are on patrol duty.
Master Tyro won't be coming to your lesson today - I don't think he's quite forgiven you for almost burning off his eyebrows.
Don't get her wrong, Korra is grateful. She wouldn't be considered a master of water, earth, or fire if it wasn't for her time there. But when Korra arrives in Republic City, the enormity of it (and of the real situation) engulfs her, and before long she finds that she's already overstepping boundaries. Fishing in the river, destroying public property in an attempt to do a good deed for a few merchants... as a result, she doesn't exactly give Chief Beifong the best first impression. Then she meets the brothers, and again finds herself in familiar (yet unfamilar) territory. In this case, it's less about breaking a few rules set by grumpy old men, and more about breaking hearts. Before long, Tarrlok throws her in the spotlight and the expectations have never been clearer. She is aware of the responsibilities that come with being the Avatar, but sometimes she wonders what her life would be like if she wasn't expected to be the master of all elements. She thinks about Asami, and wonders what her life would be like without bending at all.
Korra isn't sure what leads her there, but she finds herself at the pavilion where Tenzin prefers to hold meditation sessions in the morning. What takes her by surprise even more is Asami's presence. She's stripped down to an undershirt and shorts, a picture of the calm focus Korra has never been able to achieve in all her lessons with Tenzin, as she slips from one pose into another. If Korra didn't know any better, she would say it looked as though Asami was practicing bending forms, although nothing struck her as familiar. It isn't until the taller girl stands with both feet together and lets out a deep breath that Korra realizes she's been staring. The sight of those vivid green eyes causes her to clear her throat awkwardly, and she looks away to hide the sudden flush in her cheeks.
"What was that?" she asks, unable to hide her curiosity.
"It's called yoga. There's quite a bit of variation throughout the different nations, but you could call it a type of meditation, I guess? Except there's more of a physical side to it than sitting and breathing. My dad... hired a private instructor for me, sort of as an extension of my self-defense classes." There's only a slight tremor in her voice at the mention of her father, but Asami still has to bite back a sigh. Instead, she motions to a flat rock nearby where she's laid out a towel and a bottle of water. "I don't think I got the chance to tell you this but my self-defense classes were really just that... focusing on defense. It's hard to practice without a consistent partner, and there were days when I was just restless and needed a better outlet for my energy besides racing. Going through the different forms helps put my mind at ease."
"They look almost like bending forms." Korra admits, and the heiress nods before taking a gulp of water from the bottle.
"My instructor was actually a firebender. Sometimes he'd teach a variation of the forms inside a heated room, to help loosen your muscles. It made me want to be a bender so badly back then... but eventually I learned that I didn't necessarily need to be one."
There's a moment of silence as Korra lets the words sink in. It was such a delicate situation between benders and non-benders... she wonders how Aang managed to keep the peace, how she could possibly make it all better. Asami's next words don't exactly help either, "How's your training going?"
Korra hesitates. She's never been the type to let anyone catch her in a moment of weakness, but Asami trusted her enough to share something personal just now, and honestly, it's a relief to have someone else to talk to about the stress of it all. "My lack of progress isn't exactly a secret," Korra says, pulling a face, "I don't know what to do... being able to bend multiple elements has always meant that I need to change the way I approach each style of bending, but with air I'm just at a complete loss."
"Well... what if you don't think of it as bending?"
At this, Korra gives the girl a look of such bewilderment that Asami has to fight back a laugh. "No, really, hear me out," she says, becoming more serious as she chooses her next words, "all bending forms, or any sort of bending move really, has a specific purpose, right? With water, there's a lot of push and pull motion because it mimics the ebb and flow of water itself. Or, in regards to to fire, when you throw a punch and a flame comes out of your first, it's like an eruption from a volcano. Think about airbending, and the tradition it comes from. They were monks, right? Pacifists to the core? So it's all about evasion. You aren't necessarily striking to perform an attack by manipulating air currents (unless necessary)... it's more about fighting around your opponent."
"Like the spinning gates!" Korra exclaims, her excitement growing as she follows the other girl's train of thought. Unable to hold it in any longer, she gathers Asami into a lifted hug and even spins her around for good measure. Only slightly embarrassed, she sets the girl down a moment later and laughs breathlessly. "Where have you been all my life?"
At those words, Asami cracks a grin herself and Korra thinks it's the most genuine smile she's seen since that night in the tunnel. The thought makes her chest ache, and she vows to make Asami smile more often.
"Did you want to try it out right now?" Asami asks.
"I'd love to, but how?"
"We can spar... sort of. You could say that the type of martial art I learned was tailored to pacifists - it's more about dodging and, if someone does try to attack you, knowing how to use their momentum to your advantage and turning it against them. It's how I disarmed the Lieutenant."
Asami's already gotten up from her seated position on the rock, and is settling into a fighting stance a few steps away. Korra follows more slowly, clearly apprehensive. It's then that Asami finally does laugh, shoving her playfully on the shoulder. "Come on, Korra! I can handle myself remember?"
"How do you want to start?"
Asami grins again. "I'll attack you. The catch is you can only evade... no throwing counter punches! That way we can focus on what your body positioning is like while you're avoiding my attacks, and try to make improvements from there. This should be fun, huh? I mean when am I ever going to get to say I beat up the Avatar?"
Korra scoffs, unzipping her parka and tossing it aside carelessly. "As if you could lay a hand on me!"
Asami does, though, throwing a sharp jab that lands on Korra's shoulder and catches her off-guard. There's a smug puff of laughter that seems to echo in the air before Korra finds herself having to duck a left hook that comes out of nowhere. Oh, this was gonna be good.
When the pair walk into the dining room chatting excitedly, they are greeted with silence. Even Meelo has dropped from his air scooter in the middle of the room and is staring at them rather comically. Unsurprisingly, it's Korra who reacts first, huffing indignantly before bodily dragging Asami into the seat next to her. The heiress is unsurprisingly more polite and offers a shy smile to the rest of the room's occupants. She spots Mako attempting to make eye contact but chooses instead to stare determinedly at the food on the table. Korra bumps elbows with her accidentally, asking if she would care for some rice, and she welcomes the distraction wholeheartedly.
An hour after dinner, Korra finds herself in the unpleasant situation of having walked into a heated debate.
"I'm not going to break, Mako!"
Korra freezes in the doorway to what she thought was an empty kitchen. Asami looks up sharply, features softening while Mako glares at her for her impeccable timing.
"Uhh," she blunders, and wants to bury her face in the nearest wall, "I just... needed Naga's water bowl. But I can... grab it... later?"
Mako glances at Asami again, opening his mouth, but seems to change his mind halfway through and shakes his head. He straightens the scarf on his shoulders, proud as always, and stalks off. Asami simply stares at a spot on the wall just to the left of Korra. The Avatar rubs the back of her neck, and for the second time that day, releases a breath that she isn't aware she's been holding. Why is it that she always manages to overstep her boundaries at the most inappropriate times? An apology tumbles awkwardly out of her mouth, but Asami's moving now, reaching for the water bowl Korra had wanted to retrieve. Their hands brush slightly as she hands it over. Still uncomfortable, Korra fills the bowl in the sink and hesitates before moving to leave the room as well. Korra glances back just as Asami shifts her weight from one foot to the other in a nervous fashion, and their eyes meet. There's a sort of desperation in those green eyes that she hates to see, and even before the heiress asks to come along, Korra is sure she never could have refused.
They make their way to the shelter Naga now calls home. The polar bear dog growls affectionately and nuzzles Korra's side forcefully when she gets close, causing some of the water to spill from the bowl. She chuckles and bends the water back in before it can hit the ground. Placing the dish on the ground and taking her companion's furry head into her arms for a playful wrestle, Korra almost forgets that she has other company. "Well, I don't think you two have ever had a proper introduction! Asami, meet my best friend Naga."
"Hey there," Asami murmurs haltingly before tentatively scratching the animal behind it's ears. Naga simply leans into the caress, tongue hanging out of her mouth as she stares up at the new addition to her adoring party. She predicts many hours of adoring belly rubs from this one as well. Asami cracks a delighted smile, surprised but obviously pleased with such a warm acceptance. "What a sweetheart."
"Yep," Korra gives her childhood companion a hefty rub on the head before moving off to pick up her saddle, "Spoiled and she knows it."
Leaving Naga to her water, Asami walks over to help Korra with the carry the leather arch over. "Going for a run then?"
"Yep," Korra says again, but turns to smile warmly at the other girl, "And you are coming with."
Asami can't hide her surprise. When she doesn't say anything, Korra begins to fiddle with the straps, turning to hide her face in embarrassment. "Uhh... well, I mean, if you want to." she finishes, feeling foolish.
Asami places a hand over hers, effectively halting her movements until Korra is willing to meet her gaze. The desperation is gone now, but replaced with something she can't quite read. As a result, she continues to prattle on awkwardly, "It's no motorcycle ride, but she can go pretty fast, and if you close your eyes when you feel the wind against your face, it's almost like-"
The hand over hers tightens and Korra can't help but stop abruptly.
"I'd love to join you."
Later, with the taller girl's arms wrapped tightly around her waist, and the wind brushing her face, Korra thinks this is as close to airbending as she's gotten since she arrived on the island.
The elation with which Korra awakes the following morning is quickly swept under the tide. With Tarrlok having taken over as the new chief of police, there is a constant reminder of Amon being more dangerous than ever, while she remains on the island with nothing to show for herself.
Disheartened, she can hardly remember the progress Asami helped her achieve yesterday afternoon. And speaking of the dark-haired beauty, Korra is startled to find her playing audience at her airbending training for the day. Asami tilts her head slightly and, almost as a stark contrast to the winks she would often throw in Mako's direction, flashes Korra a shy, encouraging crook of her lips instead. Korra barely musters up an answering smile.
When Tenzin announces that today's lesson will be a sparring match, he expects more enthusiasm from the young woman before him. He attacks relentlessly in an attempt to get her to focus, but it only seems to frustrate her further. "You're thinking like an earthbender, Korra," he chastises, "the point of the exercise is to elude these attacks, not absorb them."
Korra twists into a complicated backflip in order to avoid an airswipe, but Tenzin is quick to follow her and as both figures land, Tenzin uses his momentum to deliver a powerful downward gust that knocks Korra on her back. The force of the blow is jarring in a way that strikes her beyond the physicality of it. She lays on her back and pays no heed to the collection of bruises singing their protests - the feeling of the stone floor digging harshly into her shoulders is nothing compared to the sudden torrent of sheer and utter doubt that assaults her. Flashes of Amon's masked features interspersed with jumbled recollections from her previous lives - the rustling of fabric as Roku folds his fingers together in a thoughtful gesture, the glint of light from the edges of Kyoshi's trademark fan. She blinks down at her arms and sees the faint outline of arrows coming to a halt on the back of her hands.
There are voices coming from far away. She blinks again and the arrows are gone, replaced by her favorite arm bands. Pale skin has darkened to a light tan once more but the trembling in her limbs has not ceased.
She stumbles to her feet and her vision has finally cleared enough for her to notice the crowd of concerned faces before her. "I'm okay!" she says, and laughs awkwardly in a poor attempt to clear the tension. Korra isn't sure what bothers her more - the crippling evidence of compassion in Asami's eyes, or the feeling that looking into Tenzin's familiar grey eyes is like facing judgement from the previous Avatar himself. "Master Tenzin... I..."
"-will be taking the rest of the day off." he cuts in gently, but firmly. The benevolence in his voice reminds Korra so much of the way Katara used to speak with her when she was younger that she almost crumples again on the spot. She turns on her heels and walks away without looking back.
The sun is just setting by the time Korra hears Asami's light footsteps come up from somewhere behind her. Wandering the island after this morning's incident, Korra eventually settled down in the secluded bay area on the Eastern side. She doesn't know if it has something to do with being a waterbender first and foremost, but the constant push and pull of the tide is comforting. She thinks of the time Katara told her about the moon and ocean spirits, about their eternal dance. A sudden desperation rises up from deep inside her, threatening to spill forth onto the sand like her own version of a rising tide. Korra yearns for that balance, she realizes. She's been fighting for so long - constantly reminded of her limits, and constantly overstepping those boundaries, yet the expectations have never been greater.
Asami's boots come into view out of the corner of her eye and she pointedly stares out into the water. "How'd you find me?"
The heiress smiles a bit and points to the sky even though Korra continues to look away stubbornly. "Tenzin was a bit worried... so we took a little trip on Oogi and spotted you here from above."
Korra's brow furrows - a dead giveaway that she had somehow forgotten about Tenzin's sky bison. She doesn't have much time to dwell on the thought, however, because Asami sits next to her. Shoulder to shoulder, thigh to thigh... it is much too close and yet exactly what she needs. Korra looks down just as the tide comes up to lick the sand in front of her, and weight on her chest tightens as a reminder. She finds that the urge to sigh isn't out of irritation, but resignation. It hasn't been long since the two girls have tentatively struck up a friendship, but the heiress has a way of making her open up to her. "When you were younger..." she begins tentatively, "what kind of bender did you want to be?"
Asami shifts beside her, and her tone comes out with a hint of apology because she thinks her answer might not be what Korra wanted to hear. "An airbender." she says, and Korra almost laughs at the irony. Asami steals a glance at the Avatar and is relieved to see that her smile isn't quite as melancholy as this morning. "I wanted to be able to fly." she adds by way of explanation.
Korra makes a sound that she takes to be one of pensive agreement. "The first time I saw Ikki and Jinora on their gliders, I was so jealous. I mean, I've seen Aang do it before. I have dreams sometimes... of past memories. It used to freak me out as a kid, waking up after walking around in another person's body. They told me it was a good sign, that knowledge of the past will only make me stronger..."
Asami takes her hand again, just like last night. Korra can't help but grip it tightly. Now that she's started talking, the words won't stop.
"They were all known for something... Roku was the wise one. Aang, the pacifist who managed to subdue without resorting to violence. I get the most comparisons to Avatar Kyoshi, because of my knack for fighting, but even she managed to master all the elements and live to be 230 years old. But me? Take away my bending and what am I?"
"Your duties don't define you Korra."
Korra's breath catches and for the first time that night, she looks at Asami. Blue eyes against green, she searches desperately for hesitation, for something to grasp onto as a rebuttal, but all she sees is honesty, and it makes her heart hurt.
"You don't have to prove anything to me," Asami continues fiercely, and Korra realizes that this girl has somehow managed to read her better than anyone else she's ever met. Because it's true... all her life she's been told what she should and shouldn't do. She's the new Avatar. She's Aang's Legacy... the legacy of all the past Avatars. She's a waterbender from a tribe where waterbenders almost ceased to exist 70 years ago; the same tribe where Katara, arguably the greatest waterbender alive, also hails from.
"I'm jealous of you." Korra blurts suddenly and it's Asami's turn to be incredulous. "It's true... I told you I had you pegged wrong, and the more I get to know you, the more I realize how amazing you are. At first... it was because of Mako. You're gorgeous, and classy, and god, you two even look freaking perfect together-"
Asami tenses, but Korra just grips her hand tighter, eyes begging for patience. "No, wait, let me finish... please. I don't care about your background. I don't care that you could've gotten anything you ever wanted growing up because you're so much more than that. You're more than anyone could ever know. What I mean is, you're greater than what anyone's expectations could ever be, and I've wished and fought for that my entire life."
Asami kisses her then. Korra takes a second to respond, but suddenly she's kissing her back and that tide that threatened to burst out of her chest earlier comes rushing out in a heady mix of liberation and desperation; a meeting between two kindred spirits that culminates in a blaze of the fiercest passion. Asami leans into her further, placing a steadying hand on the sand by Korra's hip as the other girl's hands tangle into her dark hair. In her eagerness, Korra can't help but pull too strongly and they tumble onto the sand with Asami half on top of her. She can't recall ever feeling lighter, higher. A delighted laugh bubbles out of her throat mid-kiss and she can feel the answering smile on Asami's lips before the girl breaks off and starts trailing heated kisses along Korra's jaw and neck. The shorter girl allows this for a few moments before she decides she just has to have another taste of those lips. Korra gives her a playful bite before soothing over the spot with her tongue and Asami can't help but let out a little whimper. Korra kisses the way she dreamed, with an unmistakable sincerity and hints of impishness that reaffirm her high-spirited nature, and it is intoxicating. Asami slows the kiss down, lingering slightly before finally pulling away. She bites her lip at the dazed expression on Korra's face and forces herself to get the words out before the girl can distract her further.
"Korra," she murmurs, and the other girl just stares at her with those lovely blue eyes. "Don't ever think that being the Avatar is the only thing that makes you special. It's a part of you that can't be denied, but that's not all there is to you. I've never met anyone like you."
Korra snorts then and avoids eye contact once more, "You've never met any brash, impulsive water tribe girls with a penchant for rule breaking before?"
Asami gives her a look then, begging for consideration, and Korra finds that her next words die swiftly on her tongue.
"I know sometimes you go overboard but that's because you care. No one likes feeling helpless and I know that you take that to heart more than anyone because people expect so much out of you, and sometimes it's unfair. I know you can do this, Korra. I can't think of anyone else who could, and I'm not alone in that, but that doesn't mean you have do to everything on your own."
Korra's giving her that look again, staring so intensely that it's almost uncomfortable, but then she smiles. It's timid, sheepish almost, which is uncharacteristic for the shorter girl but Asami finds it adorable and can't help but lean forward and give her another quick kiss. She pulls away, enjoying the intimacy for a moment before her lips quirk in a teasing smile. "You forgot possessive, by the way." she tells the Avatar, and Korra gives a surprised burst of laughter before using her strength to roll them over so that she's on top.
She gives the heiress a roguish smirk before descending to capture her lips once more. "I sure am... now you gotta deal with it."
A/N: I'd like to say I'm getting back into the swing of writing fics but this one was sort of just written on a whim. Unbeta'd, so if anyone notices any grammatical errors, or just sections that are a little off.. I'd appreciate the input. Thanks for reading!