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|For the First Time in Forever|
January 14, 2015
chapter two :: For the First Time in Forever
[every story has a beginning. here's one of them.]
i. once upon a time,
The first thing that always comes to your mind when asked about your mother's bedroom is that it's large and roomy and it absolutely reeks of death.
You avoid that place like the plague anyway, ever since The Incident, but despite all your efforts, the sound of crackling fire and your mother's screams are featured prominently in your dreams.
Your self-defense tutor is hired when you are seven, not two weeks after your mother's death. A typical seven-year-old (and one who's been traumatized by the death of your mother at that), you're shy and apprehensive about meeting him at first, even though your father gently nudges you forward, murmuring reassurances that ring soft and sweet in your ears. So you get around your fear, and he greets you with a warm smile and you call him sifu and he calls you Asami, and he's as kind to you as if he was part of your family.
He's a wiry man, someone that your father had met through his "connections," whatever they were. He has a skinny mustache and you never fail to let him know how funny you think it looks. But your sifu is kind and knowledgeable and only ever laughs at your childish jabs, before he corrects your forms with the aid of gentle words and encouragement.
"Nothing is impossible," is one of his anecdotes. "If you look closely, you'll even see that the words 'I'm possible' are contained within. You, Asami, want every stance to be perfect, and without a doubt you are capable enough to make them such."
"Some people may have an advantage over you," sifu continues. "It isn't fair, but if you work hard, you can overcome that advantage."
You only nod solemnly at your sifu's words, and shamelessly proceed to feign understanding, because his words are just that important and grand.
(Still, you do not quite understand what this advantage that your sifu speaks of is.)
At school one day, you manage to knock down an earthbender during recess, hard. His breath leaves him in a whoosh when his back hits the ground, mouth gaped in a soundless wail, that's audible even from your frozen position above him. Your eyes widen in vexation as you process what you've done.
It's not as if he hadn't deserved it. He's an impudent braggart of a boy, all swagger and no brains, who uses his bending to flick rocks and dump piles of dirt onto students who are smaller than him.
He looks up, shocked. There's a pause that lasts a few seconds, or maybe a hundred lifetimes; then, an ugly grimace snaps into existence across his features, and with a snarl he kicks your feet from under you.
And now it's not that you don't know how to defend yourself, because sifu's lessons have really amounted to something over the past couple of months, but what you aren't prepared for is someone who doesn't fight fair. You hit the ground with a thump and a gasp, rolling over on your side as your breath unwillingly forces itself from your lungs. A shower of dirt quickly follows and a sizable rock whacks you on the shoulder.
You are rendered speechless by the time you prop yourself up on your elbows — your hair, which your father had so lovingly brushed that morning, is in an absolute disarray, and your clothes are torn and smudged with dirt.
The boy laughs nastily at your crumpled form, his green eyes glinting with cruel amusement. He saunters away with a triumphant swagger evident in his movements and leaves you on the ground to boil in your abject humiliation.
You vaguely register the fact that there are students laughing at you, whether it is because they truly find some kind of sadistic pleasure in watching the tears well up in your eyes, or because they themselves do not want to be on the receiving end of the earthbending boy's solid rocks and cruel fists. It is at that moment that you don't think that you can feel more rejected or alone.
Your faith in your sifu — and yourself — is shaken that day.
You'd hurt that earthbender boy, and you come to terms with the fact slowly.
But he'd hurt you back, and so much more than that.
(Bending, you conclude, is a significant advantage indeed.)
You don't realize at the time that this incident with the earthbending boy will come back to haunt you for years to come.
ii. there were two
You are nine when you're sitting at the Sato mansion's dining room table, alone save for a glass of apple juice whose contents are rapidly disappearing down your throat. You finish your lunch quietly and your father's abandoned plate glares almost accusingly at you. You stare back, and eventually slide out of your seat to wander after your father. His trail leads you to his office, and the door is firmly closed and locked, as always.
You can hear him arguing over the phone, and after a few moments of unabashed eavesdropping, you eventually meander away to take a dip in the pool.
It's about benders, you know.
It's always about benders.
You keep your love of pro-bending a secret — something that you are quite good at, a trait that you've fortunately acquired, albeit through questionable means. You have been schooled your entire life in keeping certain aspects of your life a secret, and so, it is not that much of a feat.
At eighteen, and by some red string of fate, you end up nearly running over the captain of your favorite pro-bending team, the Fire Ferrets, with your moped.
Turns out, it isn't a total disaster.
(His name is Mako.)
You've never had the best relationship with fire or benders before (put them together and that would probably end up becoming a one-way ticket to disaster), but Mako forces you to reconsider.
(Because, you tell herself when twinges of unease prod at the edges of your conscience, at least he cares.)
(Or he pretends to.)
The first time you meet the Avatar, it's at a ridiculously ostentatious gala.
You're wrapped in a dark red number that flatters your svelte frame rather nicely, if you do say so yourself, and it slips silky smooth against your skin. You and Mako are going as a couple and you wouldn't want to have it any other way.
Though it appears that the Avatar herself, upon meeting the two of you, would in fact like to have it a different way, judging by the irritated glance she shoots you when she probably thinks that you aren't looking.
You pretend not to notice it, still hanging from Mako's arm, but the unbidden thought pops into life and leapfrogs through your mind anyway, croaking ungracefully as it bounces wildly around your skull.
The Avatar's kind of cute when she's envious.
By the end of the week, you conclude that the Avatar is so much more intriguing than you've ever given her credit for.
It's not the aura of omnipotence and grandeur that shrouds the title of Avatar itself, but rather no-strings-attached Korra. You've grown up around machines and stuffy private tutors ever since you could toddle around on two legs, being the only child of the founder and CEO of Future Industries, and maybe it's just the fact that you finally have another person your age to talk to instead of chunks of metal that makes Korra so fascinating. (Even if Korra herself seems to be a mite unreceptive to your advances for the two of you to become friends.)
Korra is brash and loud and the very opposite of sophisticated grace, barreling her way through problems she encounters like a battering ram thrown against a stone wall. But, you will readily admit, that is also what makes her fun. From her airbending — or lack thereof — to battling it out with Bolin for the last handful of fire flakes, there is nothing Korra does that she does not give a hundred percent of her energy and concentration.
And perhaps it reminds you of yourself the tiniest bit, for reasons that aren't quite as good as the mere fact that they are passionate.
("Intriguing" doesn't really seem like the right word to use sometimes.)
Korra, as you find out one day when you take the Avatar out onto the race track, is an absolute adrenaline junkie.
Which immediately gets her into your good books.
(The Avatar, you conclude, can really be a good friend.)
At eighteen-and-nine-months, your heart cracks into two.
Your father offers you a glove that sparks with lethal blue tendrils of electricity, offers you a choice that you really have no choice in.
We are family, Asami, his steely eyes say, boring into your own. You wouldn't turn on your family, would you?
Your hand stretches forward, trembling imperceptibly enough that no one knows that you're seizing up inside. Your outward façade remains cool and collected and you steadfastly ignore the sharp gasp that sounds from behind you, a gasp that rushes out of a person you know as Avatar, a girl you know as Korra, in a gust of air that reeks of betrayal.
The glove slips onto your hand like it's made for you. You test out the joints, supple and smooth movements, and a handful of electricity crackles into existence. The sparks dance across your palm, blinding blue streaks that snap through the air, eagerly awaiting the moment it gets the chance to touch warm flesh.
And then you are seven again, and you are glaring at the leering green-eyed boy who has stolen your toy without even a warning, and you move.
Your father crashes down. His breath leaves him in a whoosh when his back hits the ground, mouth gaped in a soundless wail, that's audible even from your frozen position above him with electricity still dancing in your palm. Your eyes widen in shock as you process what you've done.
You're seven again, and then you're eighteen, and you're every age in between, and you've just shocked your father with who knows how many watts of electricity.
The difference lies within the fact that where the earthbending boy had gotten up and retaliated, your father does not.
And that's what hurts you the most of all.
iii. young women, and
Love is not a competition.
Or so you tell yourself.
They've just found Korra, hauled into the city by Naga, after she'd been kidnapped by Tarrlok, who'd turned out to be a bloodbending megalomaniac. One thing leads to the next, and somehow, you find yourself leaning against the wall, peering into Air Temple Island's hospital ward.
Korra's hair is down and it spills across the pillow, dark waves of brown lying pooled and splayed across the cotton. Mako's sitting right next to her, as he had been ever since the Avatar returned.
You stare at the scene for another moment or two, and then turn away.
You turn away from Mako tenderly brushing Korra's ragged hair away from her face because you don't want to hear the sound of your carefully guarded little heart cracking into pieces. You turn away from Mako looking at Korra with something more than an I-care-for-you-because-you're-my-best-friend look in his eyes because you're so damn confused. You turn away from the Avatar and the firebender because love is not a competition and this thing that Mako and Korra seem to have, it has to be a connection and it has to be there. You don't know how you feel about Mako anymore, don't even know how you feel about Korra, but you don't need to know. Not now, at least. What you need to know and do know is that you would give anything — anything — to have your relationship with your father mended, one untainted by the name of equality (equals suppression equals distaste equals desperation) and simply bound with love, the kind you haven't truly felt for years now, really.
Mako-and-Korra, though, leaves a strangely bitter taste in your mouth.
So you turn, and trudge away on silent feet without sparing a single glance back.
Love, you recite monotonously, is not a competition.
Not a week later, you're facing down your father once again, and you hate every moment of it.
The mecha suits are made of platinum, cold and impersonal in the face of snapping grappling hooks and electric explosives. You can only see a smear of your father through the tinted glass of the glass panes that cover the head of the machines, but that smear is all you need to see him snarling down at you with a metaphorical arm raised, ready to smash you into a pasty mass of flesh and bone.
Your father. The earthbending boy.
And what's the difference now? you bitterly ask yourself. Between the boy that pushed me down with bending, his advantage, and the father who is about to kill me?
(It hits you at that moment that it really doesn't matter whether or not someone can control rocks or fire, nor if they can't, but it matters who they are at the base, as a human.)
"You really are a horrible father."
The next couple of months are a swirl of hectic absurdity that leaves your head spinning. Future Industries nearly collapses into bankruptcy and recuperates within the span of a month. You cannot help but think that Vaatu, for all his imposing "spirit of darkness" image, looks like an innocent, giant black kite.
Then you try to teach Korra how to drive and end up nearly suffering from a coronary, and resolve to never do it again. You have such little time for light-hearted activities now that you don't really mind, though.
Spending time with Korra is nice.
(Three weeks later, Korra is poisoned, and what's left of your world crumbles into dusty bits around you.)
"I'll only be away for a few weeks," Korra promises, a month or two into her recovery and after the fight with the Red Lotus, smiling weakly at you.
If you say so, is what you want to say.
"Well...see you then," is what comes out. "I'll miss you."
You don't stop waving, even long after Korra's ship has melted into the fog.
iv. they eventually found
The two of you had corresponded with each other a lot at first.
Korra had sent letters to you all the time after she left for the Southern Water Tribe, and you in turn kept every single one of them locked inside a special drawer in your desk; for all you're worth, you'd taken to hoarding them like a squirrel frog does its nuts.
Korra's letters always arrived in the same format, which was certainly a welcome constant that you sought solace in when your life as CEO of Future Industries proves to be perhaps a little too hectic, a little too capricious. The solid black characters, brushstrokes refined in a certain way that Korra herself never really had been, would be inked neatly onto a piece or two of light parchment folded exactly two times split into thirds, hidden away from prying eyes in an unadorned and plain blue envelope. If you'd happen to find such an item while checking the mail for the day — and they usually arrived within two weeks of each other — it would be torn open immediately, right there on the driveway. There'd been many an embarrassing moment when you had almost tripped over the front steps to your home and bashed your nose in because your eyes had been fixated eagerly onto lines of cramped black characters instead of where you were stepping.
But then the letters had stopped coming, and you were left with nothing but air in your hands when you trudged up the winding path that led to your home in the dark, to a desk devoid of anything but soporific reports and crumpled negotiations and an even emptier hole in your chest.
You hadn't realized how much you looked forward to the Avatar's letters until they stopped arriving.
Dear Korra, your latest and last letter reads, an ugly scramble of words you throw together and then disassemble countless times over.
(You find herself keeping count of every failure.)
I wish you were here.
Too sappy. (One.)
It's been a long time. If you could respond, it would make me feel better.
Too insistent. (Two.)
I just want to know if you're okay.
Too abrupt. (Three.)
How are the sea prunes?
Too casual. (Four.)
I need to see you.
Too desperate. (Five.) You trash this one immediately and sit back, throwing the dark pen onto your desk with a groan. You remain there for a period of time — you don't know how long — but the sun is slipping below the line of mountains that border Republic City when you put the utensil to paper again.
Dear Korra, you write at last.
I miss you. It's not the same in Republic City without you. How are you feeling? Things are going well here. I just got a big contract to help redesign the city's infrastructure, so I'll be keeping pretty busy for a while.
You debate adding more, but in the end, you fold the piece of stock paper up neatly, two creases that splits the letter into thirds, stick it into a plain white envelope, and send it on its way.
I hope I'll be seeing you soon again.
You still wait, even after two years crawl by with no indication of another sea-blue envelope being dropped onto your desk.
Two years after you had sent that last letter to Korra, waiting for a reply that would never come. Two years of unwillingly sharing space with a new being you dub as Worry and his brother Fear, because Worry and Fear go hand in hand and you don't really know how you'd react if you found out that the reason why you hadn't heard from Korra in a while was because there was no Korra left to correspond with.
You force Worry and Fear away from your mind. Shove them into a dusty, long-forgotten corner and shackle them tightly with chains made of Optimism and Faith, but still they wildly chafe against their bonds and their snarls echo across the vast expanse of the half-hearted tundra of dubious questions that still rage on inside of your darkest thoughts.
(Dreams of planting a fistful of electricity into your father's chest begin to make an unwelcome reappearance.)
Your secretary comes in one day with a single envelope in his hands.
"Miss Sato, this just came in for you —"
"Thank you, Liqun," you say immediately, because you recognize the stationary and it's blue and it's watermarked with the seal of the Water Tribes and oh spirits Korra's written to you she's finally written to you —
The tears are dripping down your cheeks even before you realize you're crying, ripping into the envelope as if it were a deliciously decadent meal you had been teased with for a month straight yet could never touch.
Dear Asami, you read.
Dear Asami, I'm sorry I haven't written to you sooner, but every time I've tried, I never know what to say. The past two years have been the hardest of my life. Even though I can get around fine now, I still can't go into the Avatar State. I keep having visions of Zaheer and what happened that day. Katara thinks a lot of this is in my head, so I've been meditating a lot, but sometimes I worry I'll never recover.
Please don't tell Mako and Bolin I wrote to you and not them. I don't want to hurt their feelings, but it's easier to tell you about this stuff. I don't think they'd understand.
You don't move for a long time after reading the letter, instead mulling over its contents in your mind.
In the end, you simply crumple into your desk chair, and cry.
You want to help Korra, but you're just so fucking helpless.
v. each other.
The letter (more like a note, really) that arrives another nine long months later is simple; ragged and stained with some unidentifiable substance.
It's also your birthday, and you don't dare think of it as a coincidence.
I remember when you told me you'd like to visit the Spirit World sometime. Maybe we can go, when everything is back to normal. When I'm...back.
I know this isn't much, but I dropped into the Spirit World recently to get you some stuff. I hope you like it anyway and that you're doing well. I'll be back soon, hopefully. Thanks. Love you.
Happy birthday, Asami.
There is no signature, nor any foreword. But the handwriting, albeit shaky and somewhat disjointed — you can identify it anywhere now.
Love you, you read, numbly.
(And who else could have been able to get a sparkling blue crystal fragment the color of those found around the Southern Portal and a bag of fresh tea leaves?)
Love you, you read.
(And who else but Korra would have been able to scrawl two words that are as light as air but carry so much meaning?)
Love you, you read.
(And who else but Korra would have been able to make a statement a hidden promise that you truly take to heart?)
At twenty-one, you wait.
You wait patiently, for Korra, and hang onto the promise that the Avatar's birthday note means something.
Because all your life, those you'd held close to your heart have ended up pushing themselves away, intentionally or not. Swaying back and forth like the inexorable tides lapping against the shore of a beach, eroding it away one sand grain at a time. Your mother, dead at the hands of a firebender. Your father, imprisoned and incarcerated in Republic City Jail, because he had hurt you in such ways that the scars will never completely heal, and because you had hurt him as equally, as viciously back. Mako, gone at both of your carefree volitions.
You're tired of losing people who mean something important to you. You're tired of running.
So you wait, instead.
(You refuse to let Korra go.)
When Korra rounds the corner with nervousness set in every crevice of her face three months later, you stop waiting.
You leap forward and crush the Avatar in a hug.
I missed you, the hug says.
The fact that Korra is smiling when you relinquish your grip says volumes.
I missed you, too.
(And that's how it begins.)
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