Author's Notes: I haven't written fanfiction in perhaps seven or so years, but it should be akin to riding a bicycle. I write as I go along; there's no real schedule to updates, though I will attempt to be somewhat consistent. I tend to chew off more than I can bite, but I'm excited about this.
I'm certain the rating will change, and as I am continuing after the first season ended, there are few minor spoilers. I decided to base this work on the "four temperaments," just because I tend to like frameworks. I planned about four chapters for this, though if I don't finish what I established, I will add as necessary. Please enjoy.
What does she know of fear?
Or what does she know of everything else? Breathing hurt, because she could feel the pull of rib-lung-skeleton, because she could feel herself—this is what she is, what she was, and what she will be. Each movement ordained the next; perhaps that was why she could go. Perhaps that was why she could go on.
Her fingers burned numb with relief. She wondered if the rest of her would follow suit, one big logical procession of not feeling, not breathing, not seeing. In her mind's eye, she could only replay the events, fresh and hateful, and a little sad.
She cried for him, she thought. But daughters will cry over their fathers.
When they took him away, she had refused to say a word. She'd been too much of a coward to bring sound to her tongue, to taste the sentences and the phrases that she might have said. There were words to take back and other words to replace them with, but she knew the inevitability. Her father was not the same, and he never had been.
It should have been days now, but it'd only been minutes and hours after she climbed from her father's creation. The mecha tank, hollow but spitting with spark and fuel, had housed her for those brief seconds. There were glass shards in her hair, and setting her legs to the floor had sent her stumbling to her knees.
The memory was not blissful. It was continuous, sitting in the cavern of her breast, intrinsic—first, of slipping fingertips into that black, electrified glove. Second, of hurtling through space and the volts, and the crumple of her father's body. He was limp then, as limp as her mother had been. Asami did not know if she could eviscerate it. She did not know if she could forget.
And third? Was there a third? She had stopped enumerating. She had made him limp and vulnerable again, but perhaps it had been the last time.
It was colder here, outside, where everyone was not.
As much as her bones would complain, she had already known that. Weariness could not settle itself before the chill. Katara would make her return, but she was stubborn.
She clung to the edge of the edifice, her back adhering to brick and mortar and the solidity of an object that wouldn't go away. That was the laugh of it, the brutal jest—everything in Asami Sato's life went away. If she had the patience, she would detail the loss: accounting for them, filing them, storing them with the rest of her errors. Her treasure trove of sentiment would be rich with begotten misery.
But she would not scream. She would not cry. They would hear her, and what then?
They could not understand the depth of it. They would not begin to comprehend the way of it—the nature of things, to push, to pull, to ebb, and finally, to flow. She had held in her misgivings, grieved in private, and gave them the smile, as if she could not be courageous enough to find comfort in those who offered. She was a coward in all ways, and it made her spiteful that nothing was easy enough. It had been easy enough before she had known the wickedness of her father. Before she had realized that she wasn't what Mako needed. Before she realized that, finally, she was only there.
It had not hurt as much as she had thought it could hurt. To hurt was a strange mechanism, a gear-change in the torso, a loud and voracious twisting that spent and collided. Hurting was breathless. Hurting was the start of healing, but how was Asami to know the motions? The directions to recover were not a simple set of instructions, scrawled so neatly in the mind's eye that she could come crawling with the ambitious need to make it feel better.
Better to forget. Better to go. They had no need for her, because it was over. Everything had its expiration, and her own time had transpired—the city was in ruins, but so was she.
It was over before it had begun.
General Iroh had not been there. With them, with the rest. He had helped, too. But she was unsure of what she had been expecting, or why she had been expecting him at all. There had been an eloquence in him—a graceful assemblage of limb and ligament. An amalgamation of a world she had grown up in: finery, decorum, civility. Perhaps it had jarred her that someone like him, someone who had been brought up in an environment as similar as hers, would not shy from the fight.
She was the very same, so why should she have been startled at all?
He had felt warm, or his voice had that quality of radiant heat. It had settled in her, reassuring, and she had smiled at him, in spite of that gnawing fear. For as much as she appeared unfazed, the bravery was a front of sorts, a circumscribed wall of confidence that masked the seed of worry. Who would ever prepare daddy's girl to go against her daddy? That was the crux of it: that she was wholly unprepared, that she wasn't sure of what she would do or how she should do it.
And he was calm. He was so sure of himself. She had watched him with envy, jealous that this man should know what to do when she had no idea at all.
Asami Sato was proud, and maybe that had been the worst of it. But when the smoke had cleared, when she had the time to breathe, it had seemed empty without his assertive presence. She had not wanted to dwell, but the afterthought lingered with question. Why did she care at all? She had known and spoke to him in parentheses—their fingers had hardly touched. Their eyes had met for seconds.
She looked up, faltered, and shook her head, resolutely. She would not react—no fingers to reach up, to press her palms against her cheeks. "It's just the cold," she dismissed, because it was half the truth. She was cold and hot and all the in-betweens; hues and tones that coalesced into a gray of uncertainty. She was uncertain of Iroh.
But Bolin was persistent and perceptive. He gave her a glance, mouth parted with an addition for riposte, wanting, maybe, to replenish the smile on her lips. Wanting, maybe, to say otherwise. Instead, he said nothing at all, only understanding, only nodding, because he was Bolin, and listened for the things that slid between the cracks.
He was a friend in the most definitive sense. She was grateful for that.
She could hear the water muddying by the shore, coming and closing. The tide was well-worn. They had returned to Air Temple Island the night prior—exhausted, weary, but hopeful. She had nothing else to go back to, so she came with, unsure of her proper place, unsure of what was next for her. Perhaps those companions, who had kept her back unscathed throughout the hardships, would never think of her as the outsider, but who was to claim that truth? She had concluded so much on her own, as insecure as the next, as alone as the next.
It had been like this before. She would have been a fool to say that there were others who were waiting for her. The mansion would continue, lifeless. The servants would be beckoned by no one. Her father sat in prison, while she sat, underneath stars and sun, waiting for the next adventure—if there would be a next.
She would worry no more, because there was nothing to worry over. They would revel, they would celebrate, and she would forgive and let go. Hurting was transient.
Water rippled. She looked out, far ahead, and listened for silence, as if there would be anything else in the wind. She had been taught to expect nothing, to prepare for everything.
There were footsteps behind her, but she might not have heard them. Soft. Sinking. She settled on that distant skyline instead, watching for the unknown. It could have been Korra, she reasoned. It could have been Bolin, or Mako, or even Meelo, who had sworn to profess his devotion since their arrival. She started to smile, pasting it when it didn't require the effort, and turned.
Pausing, paralyzing. Her smile warped into a gentle circle. Somehow, she had failed to account for him.
"General Iroh," she supplied, amending all the other things she would have said. The utterance of his name fortified her, but it could not provide the rest of it. She eased herself into another smile, uneasy but evident. Her hands folded together, her head bowed gently. This was how her mother had taught her. This was how she presented herself, in separate parts instead of her whole. She felt frustrated that she should seek the routine, that she should recede to that demure, pretty picture of Asami Sato. She had fought along his side, but there were manners to consider. He was a prince, and she was not.
"Miss Sato," he mirrored—a greeting of obligations. They had exchanged names; the opportunity for more hovered between them. But what was the "more" that she wanted?
Nothing. I want nothing.
The endless negation of object, of that concretion in her hands rang clarion. She was sick of having her desires thrust into her open arms, as if her privilege trumped the rest. She could rebuild herself, by herself.
"A fine night," he commented, contributing to shallow talk. All conversations devolved to the mundane, as it appeared. Was she so plaintive that there was nothing to speak of? That she should entertain the quotidian as topics of speech? An impatient flare snagged through her, a vicious skein of something untouched.
How could she react like so? This was Iroh, who had helped her and her friends. Iroh, who knew nothing of her. They were dancing formalities, and this was the protocol. She spoke a sigh, urged a grin. "A better night, now that Amon isn't a threat," she proposed, as pleasant as she could. She was reaching for something, searching, wanting to steer into brighter waters, into hotter—boiling. Instead, they were wading in tepid tides, trading futilities until the dust of their broken city came to rest.
There was that hesitation, of the slightest intake of his breath. An inhalation. She heard it, and wanted to interrupt, to blurt something else that would make him laugh. The impulse wound down, then inward, compelling her to dismantle the charade—
"Yes, he's gone. We've locked up the rest of his lackeys. Hiroshi Sato, as well. It's a good thing we have him in custody—who knows what else he could be capable of."
The breath was stolen from her lungs as she watched him, or a piece of him, best as she could. She focused on his ear, lest her eyes stray too close to that sorry intent in his face. She hooked palms to the sprawl of skin above her elbows, hauling herself close and closer. "Good, I'm glad," she murmured, because it was the most she could breathe. Her father's name incited something cold and peculiar in her torso; remorse curled through her ribcage, bringing her to moments and rips of time that she had thought she'd managed to inter
"I'm glad my father can't do any more wrong." Everything, exhumed.
A flurry of movement marked the step backward, the sharp exhale that came with mistake. She was burning, but she didn't know why. Her eyes tracked his, and she saw the apology there, saw the regret. This was not something she would hold against him, but the thought of it soothed and assuaged. He was considering. She was considering, too.
"I spoke out of turn, Miss Sato. I—I don't quite think things through," he admitted, worrying the back of his head with an embarrassed hand. She could do no more but tilt the edges of her lips, to spare him with that slight upward tremble. "I think too much of what goes right, instead of what goes wrong. I'm sorry for the offense."
She registered the elocution, but saw no else but the open and close of his mouth, muttering antiquity and beautiful motions. She shook her head, because the refusal of things kept her safe. Because the refutation would save her. She would not think of it—of her father, withering in restraints, because she could not show the vulnerability. It would be too much, not enough; overflowing, running, spilling.
"It's fine," she intoned—turning, needing to face something else but him. He was decorated and vibrant, filling their gap, saying things he shouldn't. He was too large and too lively, colored by an energy she could not name. She glanced; a mistake. "It wasn't your intention."
"But a mistake all the same," he replied, coming closer when she didn't want him to. He was imposing, infringing, but she was not denying the approach. Would he touch her, she thought, a wild thought, a visceral thought. But foolish. Her face shifted, imperceptible, pausing as she looked to him from the periphery of her eyelash canopy. Underneath the light, the angles had given way to lengths and strips of dark shadows, coloring him with sooty indignation. He was marble, chisel-straight, and if she deigned to inspect, he would cut her.
She felt herself shrug. It was her defense, to claim indifference when there was turmoil. "He didn't seem like my father anymore. He changed. It was not out of line," she dismissed. And that would signal the end of it.
The loop did not want to close. It would never be easy or simplistic, but jagged. "But how much change is too much?" He was infinite, and infinitely close, with an arm to span the ellipses between their shoulders. He was asking enough, asking more than she had thought he could. She heard him breathe before he slipped a sigh, world-weary as her, as distraught and sick as her. How could he relate, when his hand had never been raised against his own flesh and blood?
"Enough to betray."
Telling silence. She could hear an echo colliding with the break of the horizon—where the sun had shuddered its last bleak light. She inherited those dull washes of moonlight, covering her hands in ordinary. Iroh was pausing, as if to mull. But the words were clear and succinct, and they were true.
"I don't think it was a betrayal," he corrected, meaning to override and render obsolete. He had his manner of accomplishing; regimental and structured, line by line, to replace and to build with each encroach. She swallowed her throat shut. She didn't want his pity.
"My father did," she clipped, bending down to retrieve the stones at her feet. She wanted him to stop—to turn around and leave her, to return to whatever duty he had, to the rest of his responsibilities. She was not someone to feel sorry for, not an object of sorrow for his fretting.
She tossed the rock. It plucked at the water, testing, before surrendering to the vast swell. Plop, it sang. As immoveable, as heavy as her.
He snarled his fingers into her palm, wrenching the sister stone from her grip, reconfiguring their inhibitions, upsetting their boundaries. She tore her gaze to him, mouth open for a retort, but he was already sending that filament across the shore, skipping it for her internal count. Her ribcage could not contain the thwarting heart, panicking to that rhythmic metronome across the water—one, two, three, four.
"Maybe, Miss Sato, you should consider that you could have been the one who changed."
He parted on the last of his words. Leaving, he took his footsteps back into the brush, back into the hillock and the mundane. She listened for him until she could listen no more, coming up with the empty pour of what had been before him. The quiet and her absolution. She was alone again, with a hand for no one.
But his fingertips had not been cold against her flesh, but warm and there.