Andante – "in a moderately slow tempo"
All people leave slowly, Asami finds.
Her mother took years to fade into the portraits of the Sato mansion walls and the yellowed corners of photo albums. Even now, Asami would see a flash of colour or catch a whiff of flowers and think of the emerald of her mother's eyes and the scent of her perfume.
Her father was drifting, too, at the speed of continental shifts and moving glaciers. In the early hours of morning, still half-asleep, Asami remembers the dinners she ate alone, the increasing hours her father spent in his study behind locked doors, the subtle hardness in his eyes as she enthusiastically recounted her first pro-bending experience.
Asami remembers the growing loneliness within a house several sizes too big for only two occupants.
All people leave slowly, Asami thinks. Fallouts at funeral pace.
Mako is no different.
"We should take a break."
Mako's head swivels around. "What?"
"You know, see other people. Break up. End this."
He actually drops the laundry basket. "What – how – where did this come from?"
"Bolin told me."
She trains her eyes on his face, pinpoints all the emotions as they flit across his handsome features: shock, panic, guilt, regret.
There is no denial.
She wants to break something.
"I'm sorry. I was stupid –"
The anger finally boils over, dousing her insides with fire. "You should have told me; why keep stringing me along with something that isn't real? I trusted you."
"It was a mistake!"
"It was not! You're a liar!"
He cringes visibly at that.
She takes a moment, looks away, remembers to breathe. "I'm not stupid, you know. I see the way you look at her; everyone sees the way you look at her. It was never me."
Mako suddenly sounds tired, old beyond his years. "I do care about you, though. You have to believe me; that was never a lie."
She finally stands, insides a swirling mess but knees steady and hands strong.
"I know. Too bad you love her more."
All people leave slowly, Asami reminds herself.
From the moment they met, Mako was leaving her.
He still is.
For the next few weeks, everyone treads on thin ice.
Asami makes it a point in avoiding Mako, and the firebender does not give chase.
Bolin stays on the sidelines, nervous in his neutrality.
And Korra. Oh, Korra.
The young Avatar stammers jumbled but sincere apologies to Asami on her front step for about a good fifteen minutes before Asami finally manages to cut in and ask whether or not Korra would like a cup of tea.
"Korra, you've said that at least eighteen times in the last half-hour."
"I know. But I mean it. I'm sorry."
Asami takes a dainty sip.
"Are you…mad at me? You have a right to be, you know. I don't deserve this tea right now."
"Spirits Korra, of course I was mad; you kissed my boyfriend, he kissed you back, and no one remembered to tell me."
The young Avatar shakes her head. "I was such an idiot; that was huge a jerk move, I'll make it up to you no matter what, I swear –"
Asami waves an airy hand. I must be a masochist. "You and Mako should have come clean, and I would have known to stop chasing a lost cause."
But it wouldn't have hurt any less.
"Plus, he clearly likes you a lot," she adds, as an afterthought, and the words taste like broken glass in her mouth.
Korra looks down at her toes.
There is a long and heavy silence.
Asami finally breaks the quiet, this time voice and expression gentle. "Korra, you've always been a friend to me. Gave me a home when I lost my own. We fought the Equalists side by side. So I can't help if Mako doesn't feel the same way about me, and I can't stay mad for the rest of my life. Here, want a biscuit?"
Korra accepts the sweet. They munch in companionable silence.
It isn't quite all right, but its close enough.
Asami realizes later that she has yet to shed a single tear.
She runs into Mako the next day at the market, where he's buying Bolin's favourite dumplings from the usual roadside stand, hair mussed from another long day at the power plant.
He opens his mouth to speak and she passes him without acknowledgement, throat suddenly constricted, hands curling into fists.
All people leave slowly, Asami tells herself.
Hurry up, she thinks.
Someone is sitting on the steps in front of her modest new apartment when she pulls up beside the curb.
The younger brother beams at her, leaping to his feet. "Asami! What's up?"
She takes a moment to remove her helmet and shake out her hair. "Not much. What about you? I haven't seen you in a while, what are you doing here?"
He shrugs, and Asami tries not to pay too much attention to his broad shoulders. "Just thought I'd drop by, see how you were doing." He pauses, suddenly awkward, and Asami thinks she knows where this is going.
"This is about Mako." Her voice is flat and leaves no room for questions.
Bolin's eyes go wide. "What? No! Well, I mean yes, but not really, actually…" He runs a hand through his hair, sheepish. "It's just, I know you haven't spoken to him in a long time –"
"A month." Her lip purses in a straight, thin line.
"– right. Anyway, what I mean to say is that I know you and Korra sort of patched things up, but with Mako…" The Earthbender fumbles for words, careful and choosey, and Asami thinks of Mako's rash outbursts and fiery words that come easily but are impossible to take back. Anger flares anew, deep in her chest.
"He's my brother," Bolin finally amends. "I know him, and I know he's truly sorry for what he's done. I'm not defending his choices, but won't you try hearing him out? None of us want to lose you as a friend because of this mess."
Something inside her finally snaps.
"He lied to me, Bolin!" she cries out, drawing startled glances from passersby. "And after what my father did, I trusted him the most!" Her voice rises in a steady crescendo. "I should have heard it from him first, he shouldn't have kissed her back, I would have left first! I'm sick of people leaving me, Bolin, one after the other! I'm tired of being left behind." She takes a big, gulping breath, and realizes she's trembling.
Bolin's eyes are soft as he envelopes her hand in his, rough calluses smoothing over her knuckles. "We're not going anywhere, Asami," he states simply, and waits.
She studies his earnest face, honest with young age but determined with purpose, and she's not quite sure what she is looking for, but she knows she doesn't find it.
They stay like that for a while.
She finally trusts herself enough to let out a shaky sigh. "I don't guarantee anything."
Relief washes over Bolin's expression. "Thanks Asami." He grins, wide and honest. "You're really amazing, you know. Mako can be pretty dumb with girls sometimes."
As he turns to leave, she suddenly thinks of the way her stomach still clenches sometimes when she sees Korra and Mako together from the corner of her eye, thinks of the biting sharpness of reopening cuts, the sting of unravelling stitches. She thinks she knows what she is looking for in Bolin's face, and Mako is not there.
I'm not amazing, Asami thinks.
Mako is still leaving. Tempo andante.
Why can't I let go.
"Hey, Bolin?" she calls to his retreating back, curiosity and desperation winning over her urge to crawl into bed and never get out again.
He spins around, all smiles. "Yeah?"
"When you said that the kiss was no big deal. When you said you got over it pretty quickly." She takes a moment to steel herself.
"How much of that was the truth?"
Bolin's smile turns sad.
All people leave slowly.
And Korra is no different.
Asami feels a little better.
She gives herself five minutes.
The tears come fast and hot, drops of acid on her cheeks and the backs of her hands. She doesn't bother trying to silence the sobs that rack her body, and screams until her throat is raw.
At the end of the last minute, she straightens up, washes her face, and reapplies a fresh layer of makeup.
Smiles into the mirror.
(Less broken glass, more red lips and demure dimples.)
All people leave slowly, Asami concludes.
Mako's face is a portrait of surprise when he finds her standing at his door.
Asami gives him a half smile. "Got a minute?"
She cuts straight to the chase.
"Aren't you going to ask Korra out?"
Mako blinks. "What."
"I know and appreciate that you have been holding out on asking Korra out because of me. But really, this is getting ridiculous. I'm fine. Or, at least I'm getting there."
No broken glass. Just the bare truth of things.
Mako studies her face intently, doubt outlining his sharp features, and Asami notes the absence of fluttering butterflies in the pit of her stomach. Good. That was good.
She sighs. Bolin was right; the boy could be thick sometimes. "Listen to me. Korra's my friend – one of my few and true. I want her to be happy. And believe it or not, I also want you to be happy. If you two can be happy together, then so be it. Consider this my blessing, if that's what it takes."
The firebender can only gape at her. Asami suspects he had braced himself for another shouting match, and waits patiently for him to recollect his composure.
"So," Mako finally starts, slowly regaining his footing. "does this mean that we're…okay?"
Asami can't help but to crack a faint smile at the familiarity of his awkward cautiousness.
"Well, maybe eventually. Just thought we should have closure, you know?" She stands, brushing out her overcoat and heading for the door. "Go get her, champ."
A clean break.
She stops. Turns slowly.
"I owe you a proper apology. It's the least I can do."
She raises a finely arched eyebrow.
He stands up as well, expression somber, back straight, taking a deep breath. "I'm sorry I was an immature jerk who couldn't keep my hormones in check. I'm sorry I lied. I wasn't honest with my own feelings, and I wasn't honest with you. You deserve the truth, even though I screwed that up."
His eyes soften. "You deserve to be happy, too. And I'm sorry I couldn't give that to you."
Asami's smile this time is small but genuine. "You did make me happy, Mako. Very happy. But," – she stretches nonchalantly, smile widening – "I'm a strong girl. I can be happy by myself, too. For myself. "
Slowly but surely. Asami knows this by now.
Mako returns her grin. "Go get'em, champ."
A short moment passes between them. She counts the memories and residuals as they evaporate, one by one: the scooter accident; first date jitters; the smell of wood smoke on his jacket; Satomobile rides around town; the warmth of his arms around her as the devastation of Father's betrayal disappeared into the horizon; the spark and taste of his kisses.
Asami closes her eyes, suddenly a little sad.
But the feeling lifts quickly, and when she opens her eyes, the world seems a lot brighter than she remembers it to be.
Her steps are light as she heads out the door, but backtracks as an afterthought strikes.
"Oh, and I expect an invitation to the wedding."
She runs out laughing as Mako's jaw drops open.
All people leave slowly, Asami knows.
And sometimes, Asami finds, it's better to just let go.