It had actually been quite funny the first time it had happened. Asami had walked into breakfast, seen Mako and Korra making out at the table, and immediately vomited into the nearest rubbish bin. Everyone had laughed; even Katara had smiled as she'd made the poor girl a cup of stomach-settling tea. Mako and Korra had pouted but, thankfully, stopped kissing.
Lin's side had ached for an hour aftewards. She still couldn't think of a better way to tell a teenage couple they were giving everyone else the oogies.
Asami had thrown up again at lunch time, muttering apologetically about spoiled street gruel before running back to the room she was sharing with Lin. Bolin had eagerly scarfed down her untouched steamed fish, and all the adults had exchanged a collectively suspicious glance. But once the afternoon sun had come out and Asami had swallowed some of Pema's vegetable soup, the heiress had seemed to bounce back.
Until the next morning. Asami's retching had woken Lin at the ass-crack of dawn, and now, just a few hours later, the poor thing was throwing up off the front porch. Lin joined her, for reasons she hadn't quite figured out.
"You realize you're not actually hiding this from anyone by doing it outside, right?" Lin crossed her arms. "You should let Katara tend to you."
"I think it's just a cold-weather fever," Asami said, straightening and wiping her mouth and dripping nose. "It'll pass any day now."
Lin pulled off a leather glove and felt the girl's forehead. "Strange, then, how you don't actually have a fever."
"It's cold out here." Asami sniffed. "I'm chilled to the bone."
"All the more reason for you to see a healer," Lin said. "Are you going to go on your own, or am I going to have to make you?"
"Chief Bei Fong-"
"I mean it," Lin said sternly. "You're literally ten feet away from the best healer in the world. I'm not going to let you die on my watch."
"Okay," Asami sighed. "I'll talk to her."
Lin walked with Asami to Katara's hut, more to make sure Asami didn't skip out than because Lin was that kind of person. Katara was with another patient, so Lin sat with Asami while she waited. They both thumbed awkwardly through old books from the shelf. Lin had unfortunately chosen Marital Bliss for the Bender-Nonbender Couple, while Asami was staring blankly at the middle of a book about famous waterbenders.
"Just take it easy on that shoulder," Katara said as she saw a young Water Tribe man out the door. She smiled when she noticed Lin and Asami sitting there. "Well, look who it is. Is this a social visit or a healing one?"
"Healing," Lin said. "Miss Sato isn't feeling well."
As if on cue, Asami went quite pale.
"Well, come lie down and I'll see what I can do," Katara sad.
Asami stood up and took a few steps toward the healing room, then froze. "Is it- would it be okay if Chief Bei Fong stayed with us?" She gave Lin a pleading look.
It took all of Lin's willpower to keep from grimacing. Sick people had never been her strong suit.
"Of course," Katara smiled at Lin, making the old chief feel like she was seven again. "Lin has tough hands. They're good for squeezing if things get painful."
Lin supposed she could handle that duty. "Let's get this over with," she said.
Once inside the back room, Asami settled onto the bed, still wearing her coat.
Katara slid the door to the healing room shut and sat on the stool next to the bed. "What seems to be the matter?"
"Stomach trouble," Asami said. She was focused on the necklace around Katara's neck, not quite meeting her eyes. "Throwing up. Nothing exotic or serious, but Lin insisted I come over."
"I see," Katara said. Her face was always impossible to read when she was listening to a patient. "How long have you been feeling poorly?"
Asami looked down at her hands, pressing her fingertips together to make patterns. "I haven't exactly felt like myself for a couple of months, but it's only gotten bad over the last few days."
"Hm." Katara gathered water over her hands like two shimmering, shifting mittens. "Tell me about your cycle."
"It's usually not very remarkable," Asami said. "Lately-" She swallowed, her face tense as a metal wire.
"It's okay," Katara said gently, hands hovering over Asami's belly. "I'm eighty-four years old; I've seen it all. Nothing you can say will turn my stomach or hurt my sensibilities in the least. Tell me what's wrong."
Asami took a deep breath before speaking. "Right, well... I haven't had a cycle in a few months. I'm not stupid; I know what that usually means. I even had an appointment to visit a women's doctor. Then my life turned over in so many different ways, and suddenly I didn't have the money or energy to take care of anything, so I just... it just seemed like a better idea not to think about it. "
Lin had always faced her problems head-on, like most earthbenders were wont to do, so she couldn't pretend to understand. Even so, she nodded her acceptance when Asami seemed to wait for judgement.
Katara streamed the water around her hands back into the basin and sat back on her stool. "Are you ready to think about it now?"
"Like most women, you have a good sense of what's going on with your body," Katara said.
Lin sensed the change in Asami's physiology, the way her breathing hastened and her face flushed around the hairline and ears.
"You have a few options at this point," Katara continued. "You can carry the baby and raise it yourself. You can carry the baby and give it to someone else to raise. I can end your pregnancy and restore your cycle-either today, or tomorrow, or some other day in the next, oh, five or six weeks. Each choice will be difficult in its own way, and they will all hurt some now and some later, to varying degrees."
Asami didn't say anything.
Katara touched the girl's hand. "You have some time before you have to make a decision. I'll be here if you want to talk."
Katara had always said that most times, people needed an open ear more than a healing hand. When Lin had been younger, that had seem stupid, a waste of time. It made more sense in adulthood.
"I don't feel like I really have options anymore," Asami admitted. "I'm completely alone in the world with no money, no home, and no prospects. I'm not even sure how I'm going to take care of myself, let alone a baby."
"I know that your father is in prison and his assets are frozen," Lin said. "What about other relatives who could help?"
"I think I might have a great-aunt alive somewhere, but I don't even know her name," Asami said.
"What about the father?" Katara asked. "Is he in the picture at all?"
Asami made a noise that sounded like a cross between a sob and a bitter laugh, and suddenly the tears were falling like a summer downpour. "Mako said if I kept the baby and tried to force him to help-" She wiped furiously at her eyes, but more tears replaced the ones she'd cleared away. "He said his pro-bending friends would tell the judge I slept with them, too, and that it's impossible for me to know who the father is. I'm not that kind of girl, but I'm a little obsessed with pro-bending and I used to go to every game. Everyone would believe them... Everyone would believe him, even though he's the one who cheated on me and lied to me. Even my own father would probably believe him."
Goodness. The girl had never even let on that she had so much on her plate. Lin felt guilty enough for her own obliviousness that when Katara wrapped her arms around the girl, Lin did too, if a bit stiffly.
"Korra wouldn't believe anything like that," Katara said firmly. "She may be naive, but she cares about the truth, even if it makes her life more difficult. And the earthbender boy seems like a good friend to you. I wouldn't be so quick to think the worst of him."
"Bolin is really nice to me, but he would believe his brother over the girl his brother dated for a few months," Asami said. "And Korra... you've seen the way Korra and Mako are. She would believe anything he told her right now."
"There are other people who care about you," Lin pointed out. "I know Tenzin and Pema care about you. I care about you."
"And I'm grateful, I really, really am, but it would be really selfish of me to bring one more mouth to the table when people are being kind to me," Asami said. "There are enough hungry children on the street, waiting for a family to take them in, so I wouldn't want my child to contribute to that. That leaves me with two options, and one of them seems incredibly foolish when you're reliant on near-strangers for your next meal."
Katara gave Asami a thoughtful look. "Money, shelter, food, support- plenty of people have less than what you have, and they still choose to have children. If you really want to keep your baby, those problems aren't insurmountable, and you would find plenty of help from this family. On the other hand, if you've already decided what you want to do, there's no need to try to come up with a noble enough excuse for asking for it."
"Don't think about the details," Lin said. "Do you want a baby right now or not?"
Asami stared at her thumbnail for a long time, apparently thinking. "I did want one, at first, or at least I didn't not want one." She sniffed deeply and reached for a clean handkerchief on the table. "I told Mako my worries the day before we found out about my father's Equalist ties. He was really sweet and protective of me at the time! But the second I lost access to my trust fund, he started acting cold and distant toward me. Everything was my fault. He couldn't handle providing for two more dependents, and it was unfair of me to ask him to. It was my fault I was pregnant, because I should have called his bluff when he said he'd rather never have sex again than use a condom. If I didn't whisper such dirty things in his ear he would have been able to pull out in time. I think when he saw I could take care of myself and that I wasn't going to blindly obey his every order, he went straight after Korra. It was like he'd already decided we weren't in a relationship. But I was so stupid! I kept trying to convince myself he wasn't like that."
Lin squeezed her hand. "I've been there," she said. "You just have to tell yourself that you deserve better until you're able to believe it."
"What if better never comes along, though?" Asami sobbed. "What if my life just gets worse and worse and worse? If the past few months are just the beginning of my bad luck, I don't know if I want to stick around to see what else happens. What if my life just never gets any better?"
"It will," Katara said firmly. "These things always happen in cycles. The longer and more terrible one season is, the longer and happier the next one is. If you're still here when the former Fire Lord comes for his visit, the two of you should have a long talk over some tea. He went through quite a lot before getting anywhere close to his happy ending. Things will get better, Asami."
"But my life was so privileged and happy for so long," Asami pointed out. "What if this is the debt I have to pay for that? Or for what my father did?"
"The universe doesn't work like that," Katara assured her. "What you're going through is monsoon season. Give it some time, and it'll be sunny and dry again."
That seemed to work for Asami, who began to cry more quietly. "I'm sorry," she said. "I'm not usually much for crying."
"Weepiness is common in your condition," Katara said. "Why don't you take some time to think about things? There's no huge rush to make a decision."
"Thank you, but I think I made my decision weeks ago," Asami said, her face tear-streaked but as determined as ever. "I've wanted to not be pregnant for a long time now. I don't have money to pay you right now, but... will you please help me?"
"Of course," Katara said. "Are you absolutely sure this is what you want?"
"Completely," Asami said.
"Then that's what we'll do," Katara said, and suddenly everything was all business. "Lin-"
"On it." Lin pulled tins off of the shelf, all those summers of being forced to help Katara still fresh in her mind. "How much Dong Quai?"
"Do a pinch more than usual," Katara said. "She's quite tall. Asami, dear, you'll need to take off most of your clothes at some point so I can see what I'm doing."
Lin mixed together the standard tonic while Asami undressed. By the time Katara had a blanket around Asami's shoulders and another draped over her legs, Lin had a cup of strong tea ready.
"What is it?" Asami wrinkled her nose.
"It relaxes your muscles and prevents infections," Lin said. "Don't worry, it tastes less weird than it smells. And you'll be glad for the pain relief once the cramping starts."
Asami was kind enough not to ask how Lin had firsthand knowledge of the drink's taste. She drank all but the dregs of the infusion and then laid back against the tall stack of pillows.
"Now we wait," Katara said. "Tell me, what are your plans after you leave here?"
"Dinner, I suppose?" Asami said. "I don't know. Maybe I'll catch up on my reading."
Katara chuckled. "I was actually wondering about once you left the Southern Water Tribe."
"Oh." Asami wiggled her toes against the foot of the bed. "I hadn't thought much about it. Maybe I'll try to open my father's factories back up and keep building Satomobiles. I don't even know if I'll be allowed to, or if anyone would work for me."
"You're welcome to stay here if you need some time to think," Katara said. "I get lonely with Korra gone. I could use someone young to keep me company."
"I couldn't impose," Asami said. "I'm already indebted to you."
"There's plenty of work to be done around here, and I could show you some basic healing," Katara said. "I could also use a hand with the herbs."
"You're too kind to me," Asami said. "I'm practically a stranger to you. But I will definitely think about your offer. Thank you."
"Lin used to help me out when she was your age," Katara said. "I think her mother was trying to set her up with any of my children."
"I guess it worked," Lin remarked.
"Three times, in fact." Katara beamed.
Lin sputtered. "You can't just tell everyone that!"
"Asami isn't everyone."
Asami actually giggled. "Doesn't Tenzin have a sister?"
"Yes, and his brother gets along better with men." Katara pressed against Asami's lower stomach, testing. "I hear Lin can be very persuasive."
"That was only with Tenzin," Lin said. "You know as well as I do that Kya was the aggressive one. And Bumi doesn't count. So it's actually more impressive that Tenzin was the only one who didn't come onto me first, let alone the only one who took a lot of convincing."
Asami laughed again, and her fingers explored her mouth and cheeks. "Is my face still here?" she asked, words beginning to slur. "Silly question, but it's gone all numb."
"She's ready," Lin said.
"I am?" Asami touched her lips again. "This is such a strange feeling."
Katara tucked a bedpan under Asami. "Try not to move, dear. This might hurt a little."
Lin offered Asami her hand, just as Lin's mother had offered her own calloused hand. Asami squeezed it weakly. Her muscles wouldn't be working properly for the rest of the day, Lin was sure.
Katara rubbed two fingers from Asami's navel to the top of the sheet over the girl's hips. She pressed her palm over the tiny curve in Asami's lower stomach and stuck her other hand under the sheet.
Asami flinched away.
"Relax," Katara instructed.
Asami did, pulling Lin's hand to her chest and taking a deep breath.
Katara continued her work, and it was just as bad as Lin remembered. Even so, Lin couldn't stop watching. The sheet had obscured her view before; she hadn't realized there was so much blood. Katara was used to working with blood, though.
"Nearly finished," Katara said when Asami groaned.
"Thank you again," Asami murmured. "I really do appreciate this."
"You're more than welcome," Katara replied. "I wish I could heal the other things that are troubling you, but even I'm not that good."
"It means a lot that you care," Asami said. "I'm sure things will get better eventually."
"They will," Katara said, taking the bedpan away. "And you're finished. Lin, if you could put some padding down?"
"Got it," Lin said. The clean linens were exactly where they had been thirty years ago. Lin rolled Asami onto her stomach, sticking a folded towel under both her hips and her head.
"Wh' was 'at for?" Asami asked, trying to keep her eyes open.
"In case you feel sick again," Lin said, throwing a pelt over the girl's back. "You can sleep now, if you want."
Asami was unconscious before Katara returned from washing up.
It was early afternoon before Asami moved. Her foot twitched, and a moment later she gasped and fought the blanket.
Lin marked her place in her book about pro-bending and set it on the nightstand. "You can relax," she said. "You fell asleep in Katara's healing room."
Asami collapsed against the sheets at Lin's voice, but she'd started crying again.
Lin remembered the disorientation or waking up from her own deep, drugged sleep. She was pretty sure she'd fallen out of bed and laid there until her mother had barked at her to get back on the mattress. Lin engulfed Asami's dainty hand with her own.
"Is it all over?" Asami asked. "Is Master Katara finished?"
"Yes," Lin said. "She finished hours ago. You've been sleeping off the pain medicine since then."
Asami rolled onto her back, her wet green eyes staring up at the ceiling.
"Are you okay?" Lin asked. Dammit, where was Katara? Lin was no good at this sort of thing.
"I don't know," Asami replied. "I don't know what I'm feeling."
Once again, Lin couldn't relate. The only tears she'd cried thirty years ago had been from relief: relief that her career wouldn't be ruined, that she wouldn't be forever burdened with a child she'd never wanted, that there was no longer anything binding her to a man who had hit her and tried to isolate her from her family and friends. "I expect that's normal," Lin said.
"I didn't realize how lonely I was," Asami cried. "I feel... empty inside. I don't regret anything, I don't think but... I'm lonelier than I realized."
Lin didn't know what to say, so she changed out the towels and brought Asami a cup of raspberry leaf tea.
Asami quieted down and drank her tea. Her hair was tousled from sleep and her eyes and nose red from crying, but she was still more beautiful than most women wearing makeup. Lin was impressed in spite of herself.
Katara slid the door open just a crack. "Ah, you're awake. Are you up for seeing some of your friends? They refuse to leave until I give them proof that you're all right."
"Which friends?" Asami asked.
"Korra and Bolin. Should I send them away until you're feeling better?"
"No, that's okay," Asami said. "I want the company. Just let me put on a shirt."
Lin helped Asami pull her clothes back on and tuck the sheets around her hips securely. Korra and Bolin bounded into the room and immediately climbed onto the bed, throwing their arms around her.
"We were so worried about you!" Bolin said.
"Have you been crying?" Korra demanded.
"What was the matter? Are you better now?"
"Was it the tigermonkey pox? Are you contagious?"
"No, no." Asami fidgeted with her blanket. "It's nothing like that. It was..."
Lin could see her thinking, struggling with the dilemma of whether to tell them the truth or not.
Asami finally smiled bravely. "You know, I was actually pregnant, but I... well, I'm not anymore."
The looks on Korra and Bolin's faces would have been comical if it weren't such a serious topic.
"You were pregnant? Why didn't you say something?!"
"Was it... was it from when you and Mako...?"
"No, it was from before I met him," Asami lied, and she hid her pain so well that Lin might have believed her. "It's really not a big deal, compared to all the stuff we've been through lately. But I'd rather not talk about it, if it's all the same to you guys."
Korra and Bolin were all hugs and snuggles, which Lin thought was rich coming from Korra. She supposed Korra could afford to act like a good friend as long as her precious romance with Mako wasn't being jeopardized. A surge of angry empathy for Asami boiled in Lin's stomach.
"I'm so sorry you lost the baby!" Korra said. "You must be so sad. What happened? Was it the fighting? Bolin told me about the electric fence-"
"I believe she just said she didn't want to talk about it," Lin snapped. "Part of being a good friend is respecting your so-called friend's wishes."
Korra looked chagrined. "Sorry, Asami. I wasn't thinking."
Asami's smile never wavered, just turned more gracious. "It's all right. I know you're only asking because you care."
"Is there anything we can do to make you feel better?" Bolin asked earnestly. "I could get Pabu to do some more tricks for you! Or me and Korra could read to you! Or we could play a game."
"A game sounds perfect," Asami said. "I saw a copy of Hundred Year War in the waiting room. I'd love to kick your butts at that!"
"Okay, but Chief Bei Fong has to play with us," Bolin said as he retrieved the pack of cards. "We need at least four players."
"Lin?" Asami asked, giving her a hopeful look.
"No, I'd rather enjoy the plethora of other exciting activities the South Pole has to offer," Lin snarked as she settled down at the foot of the bed. "Deal me in."
Hundred Year War was possibly the most complicated and fun card game ever invented. Sokka and Aang had invented it to keep five wiggly kids kids occupied during long, boring council meetings, and it had become famous world-wide within a month of its creation.
"My honor!" Bolin cried, tossing his cards face-up on the bed. "I can't restore my honor! I had the red king, but I have nooo idea who the avatar is."
"Blue queen, same on the avatar," Lin said. "Korra?"
"I have the green queen and the blue king." Korra glanced from her cards to the ones her friends had just discarded. "I'm going to guess that the avatar is still in the iceberg."
Asami gave an evil-sounding laugh and laid her cards down. "Wrong, peasants. Red queen plus the avatar card. Bow before your Phoenix-Queen-Avatar."
The three youngsters burst out laughing, and even Lin had to grin.
"Can you imagine if Fire Lord Zuko's sister had been able to bend all four elements?" Korra asked. "The world would have been screwed."
"Still, I have a lot of respect for a lady who can make her own lightning," Asami said. "I always felt bad for her in history class. Can you imagine being committed to an asylum at fourteen and staying there for decades and decades?"
"That's a myth," Lin said.
"What?" Asami and Bolin both stared at Lin with bright green eyes.
"I've met General Azula a few times," Lin said. "She was released from the asylum when she was fifteen. She just tells people she was committed for decades to intimidate them. She has a reputation to uphold."
"You've met General Azula?" Asami raised an eyebrow. "Exchanged words with her?"
"I was friends with the current Fire Lord when we were little girls," Lin said. "General Azula was always a little cold toward me- I think she never quite forgave Aang and his friends for winning the war- but she seemed pleasant enough toward her own family. I got the impression she was one of those moody, introverted geniuses who ignored most people. I know that Uncle Zuko relied heavily on her for most of his reign to keep the peace. We kids were a lot more interested in her consort, though. It's not every day someone teaches you how top secret chi-blocking skills, at least not when I was growing up."
Asami looked vicariously starstruck. A plan began to incubate in Lin's mind.
"So tell me this," Bolin said. "Did Lord Zuko ever chase Avatar Aang around the house? Because I've heard conflicting accounts about that."
"Only when Aang stole the crown off his head and zipped away using airbending. I think they were trying to amuse us children, because they kept shouting back and forth about honor."
The three teenagers guffawed over that story until the door slid open.
"All right, you four," Katara said, hands on her hips. "This room is for sick people, not healthy young people. Everyone, shoo for a moment while I talk to Asami, and then you can walk her back to Korra's home."
Lin and the other two waited in the main area. Korra and Bolin fidgeted and took most of the books off the shelves in the seven minutes it took for Katara to finish with Asami. When the door finally opened again, Asami was fully dressed and holding a satchel.
"Come visit any time," Katara said. She was addressing the whole group, but she smiled a little wider when her eyes fell on Asami.
"We will!" Korra said. "Bye, Master Katara!"
They stepped into the snow, and the jolt of cold weather made Lin shiver inside her coat. Korra and Bolin ran ahead and got into a friendly argument about whether they were supposed to scream, "Honor!" or "My honor!" if they had the red king at the end of the game. Asami was walking more slowly than the other two, her gait a bit wobbly, so Lin lagged behind with her.
"Any more thoughts about your immediate plans?" Lin asked.
Asami shook her head. "I might stay with Master Katara. I could use some time to clear my head. It's so cold here, though."
"While you're thinking about things, consider spending some time in the Fire Nation," Lin said. "I could arrange for you to stay with the Fire Lord, and goodness knows there are a lot of clever inventors in the Fire Nation. You could even meet General Azula in person, if you got along well enough with her consort, Ty Lee. And Ty Lee is the easiest person in the world to get along with."
"Really?" Asami asked. "You'd put in a good word for me with the Fire Lord herself?"
"I wouldn't have suggested it if not," Lin said. "And I don't doubt General Iroh would do the same. I'm sure you'd have more fun in the Fire Nation than hanging out with your ex-boyfriend, his brother, and his new girlfriend."
"But... they're my friends," Asami said. "I don't know if I should just abandon them."
"It couldn't hurt to make some new friends," Lin said, watching Korra and Bolin roll around in the snow, yelping and wrestling like polar bear dogs. "The ones who really care will still be your friends when you finish taking care of yourself. Besides, there's no more fighting right now. It's the best possible time to go on an adventure of your own."
Asami trudged through the snow in silence, a thoughtful look on her face. "I think I might do that," she said. "Thanks for the idea. And thank you again for the support. I don't have a lot of trustworthy adults in my life right now."
"Any time," Lin said, and meant it.