A loud crash, followed by a distinct, guttural grunting sound wakes me up, and I can tell that it’s daylight from the amber light sneaking between the cracks of the window blinds. Soon after the disturbance, Korra groggily appears at her bedroom doorway, rubbing her eyes.
“Hey sleepyhead. What time is it?” I ask, yawning.
“Six. I need to head to the shelter in about an hour,” Korra says, quite bluntly.
“And you just… wait, did you fall out of bed?” I ask, suddenly putting two and two together.
“Mornings are evil,” she replies, then with a loud snort she kind of... well, sleepwalks into the bathroom, slamming the door behind. Ah, that’s right. Korra told me last night she’d need to head off first thing, and that I should ignore her because she ‘doesn’t do mornings’. I chuckle to myself, thinking that seeing her like this is a strange mixture of terrifying and adorable.
Once the sleep-induced blur clears from my vision, I look around the room. It seems we left the cardboard boxes and plates out from our meal last night, so I slide off the couch and start to tidy up. I figure it’s the least I can do.
Once I’ve finished, I lean against the kitchen doorframe and smile, looking down at the large backpack brimming with ‘stuff’ that Korra has loaned to me. Clothes. Toiletries. Even a few snacks that she thinks I liked the most. She really has been a Godsend, a guardian angel, and I still very much hope I’ll make this up to her, one day.
As soon as she’s finished in the bathroom, Korra grunts something about cereal and skulks into the kitchen. I quietly chuckle, and head into the bathroom myself, taking in a fresh change of clothes. I’ve been given a red T-shirt with a cute kitty on it, a pair of blue denim slacks, and a soft black jacket. Korra says the jacket is too tight for her ‘huge guns’, the jeans are too long, and she has too many T-shirts, so I can just keep these. I wasn’t about to argue, since I’m hardly brimming with wardrobe options right now.
I strip and scrub myself clean over the sink, feeling remorseful that I don’t have time for another shower, then dry off and brush my teeth. My hair comes next – it just needs a quick brush, and once I’m done I smile at myself in the mirror. Perfect, or as good as I’ll get without makeup. It’s not my first time thinking it, but I really do miss being able to paint my face. It’ll definitely be something I invest in with my first pay check. And a date. And some clothes. And the rent. And food.
I feel a thrill of excitement rush through me, strangely giddy at the fact that I’m going to have to manage a miniscule income and that I’ll barely be able to get by. Still, I was always good with money. I’ll make it work.
Once I’m dressed, I head back into the room and again have to hold back a laugh when I see Korra staring dark-eyed at the TV, hunched over and munching glumly on her cereal.
“Cereal’s in there,” she says, pointing her thumb back whilst still chewing.
“Thanks, sweety,” I reply, and notice how she perks up a little at the experimental pet name. I make a mental note of this, in case it’s ever useful again in the future, like how to deal with a wild, grumpy Korra in the morning. I should be so lucky, I think to myself, smirking as I pour out a half bowl of cereal flakes.
No sooner am I done eating, than it’s time to go. I take one last look around the room, grab my backpack, and I’m already feeling a pang of sadness by the time I climb into Korra’s car.
We drive in silence, in Korra’s case it’s probably because she’s still half-asleep, whereas in my case it’s because I really don’t know what to say that I haven’t already said. Before long, we’re both stood outside Kai’s. She gives me a warm embrace and suddenly I’m holding back tears, holding her tightly. It’s silly, it’s not like this is good-bye, but I guess it’s been a crazy few days. I tell her as much, and she agrees, sniffling.
“I’ll see you soon?” I ask, my voice a little choked with emotion.
“Definitely,” Korra says, flashing me a confident grin before she turns and heads back to her car, looking as though she’s ready to save more lives. I think once I’m back on my feet I’ll go over to that shelter myself, do my part too.
“You guys are too damn cute,” Kai sighs, standing in the doorway of his shop; my new home.
“Hey, we haven’t officially dated yet, don’t be coupling us up,” I grin.
“Seems pretty inevitable, though,” he laughs, and I can’t help but widen my smile at the statement.
“Anyway, come on in. Today you can get settled, tomorrow is when I’ll put you to good use,” he says, winking.
“I can scarcely wait,” I chuckle, following him indoors.
True to his word, Kai allows me a day to get settled, set up my living space however I need it. I’m led upstairs, quickly shown around, then pretty much left to it.
My room is tiny, almost shoebox-sized, but I don’t mind. It’ll be easier to heat it, thus easier to keep warm in these harsh winter months. There’s one window at the far side, with a pair of blackout curtains, which is great because I love sleeping in the pitch-black. I take my shoes off and wiggle my bare toes into the thick, purple carpet beneath me, it’s soft and squishy, feels fairly new. A wardrobe is built into the wall next to the window, and within it there’s both a hanging area and a set of drawers.
I unpack everything, placing my underwear in the top drawer, and my vests and T-shirts (all three of them) in the next. I leave drawers three and four empty, for future expansion plans. Lastly, I pull a thick, blue jacket out of the sack. It’s the one Korra gave to me, back on the street. I hug it to my chest, smiling, then hang it up.
The bed is small, I’ll probably have to rest my feet over the end, but I don’t mind; it sure as hell beats a cardboard box. There’s a small dresser with a mirror, just opposite the bed, where I deposit the hairbrush, ties and clips which Korra donated. I’ll move my toiletries into the bathroom later on. Hopefully Kai won’t mind his space being half taken-over.
Once I’m happy with my room, I head back downstairs. Kai buys us both sandwiches from the shop just down the road, and we end up chatting about computer stuff, naturally. He’s more up to date than I am, thanks to the last six months, but I know I’ll soon catch up. He even gives me an old laptop, says it’s too slow to sell anyway, yet I soon manage to speed it up with a few tweaks.
I lie on my bed and catch up on a few websites that I haven’t been on for ages, and before I know it, it’s after six in the evening, at which point I’m interrupted from my movie database search by Kai politely knocking at my door.
“Come in!” I yell, and he enters the room, thrusting his phone at me, joking how he’s sick of Korra spamming him to ask how I am, and that I should just talk to her. I eagerly take the handset and we text a little, but when she finds out I have a laptop she demands we switch to internet chat instead.
There’s a small chance that I spend the last few hours of the day doing just that, pausing only to eat Chinese takeaway with Kai. Korra seems to buzz with energy online, she over-uses emoticons and sends random images and memes to convey her thoughts. It’s hard to keep up sometimes, and she has to explain some of the jokes to me since I’ve been away from all of this for a while.
My bed is actually very comfortable, it turns out. I fall asleep with the laptop on my chest, enjoying its warmth.
“Okay, apprentice. Just watch me work!” Kai says, rolling his sleeve up.
“Yes, master Kai. I shall learn your ways,” I say, with a polite and not-at-all sarcastic bow.
I watch as he spends two hours trying to put together a pretty low-budget PC. Then he switches it on. Something inside it pops loudly, there’s a whiff of smoke, and all of the lights in the shop flicker.
I clap, slowly. “How about I fix the next one?”
The next one doesn’t explode, and hums into life with a lovely little beep, followed by a bios screen. The operating system loads perfectly. Kai says it’s beginners luck. I remind him that I’m not actually a beginner.
Later that day, Korra swings by in the middle of her jog. She looks amazing, as always. I want to stand from my workbench, leap over the counter and kiss her all over, but I talk to her instead, just talk, like a normal person would, a person who isn’t harbouring the biggest crush, or marvelling at how those sculpted abs can be seen even through that vest.
“Having fun?” she asks, leaning over the counter and peering down at me as I work.
“Definitely. I think you found me the perfect job,” I chuckle, tearing my gaze away from her and screwing a laptop chassis closed.
“You know, you look kinda hot, hunched over down there with that screwdriver,” Korra purrs.
“My, is the famous movie-star flirting with little old me?” I say, trying to sound cool and sarcastic whilst actually fending off a blush.
“Always,” She winks, “Anyway, gotta go, we’re shooting soon. See you online later?”
It’s been almost two days apart, and if anything, my feelings for her have grown. Strange how these things work.
“Kai, you can’t keep components out of their bags like that, the static in the air will destroy them!”
“They’re already destroyed! Those are dead parts, on display ‘cos they look cool!”
“Look cool!? That’s shelf space! That’s potential sales, lost!”
Kai’s phone beeps before our argument can go any further, and he sighs, holding it out. It’s Korra again, and I grin widely whilst we quickly text each other.
Korra: Still showing Kai how to do stuff?
Korra: haha, nice. btw, house has been quiet without you.
Me: Miss you too. ;-)
Korra: I never said that!
Me: Why don’t you ask your sister around, maybe do some smooching
Korra: R U J E A L O U S ?
Me: N O P E. Anyway Kai’s getting mad, talk later. ;-)
Korra: Okay, have fun, don’t let him blow more stuff up.
And as ordered, I do make sure he doesn’t blow anything up. Later, I fall asleep with the laptop on my chest, my latest conversation with Korra still glowing on the screen until I sleepily flip the lid closed.
“Kai, what’s in this huge box?” I ask, shaking it around.
“That’s my junk pile, stuff I couldn’t fix or gave up on. Maybe useful as spares.”
“I bet I can fix some of it.”
“I bet you can’t.”
“Do you have a soldering iron, and spare wires?”
“Then just watch me.”
Tonight I lay on my side for a change, with the laptop resting in front of me.
Sato22: Hey, you there?
Korraguns: Whoa, I literally just got here. You psychic?
Sato22: Yeah, I must be. :-) How was work?
Korraguns: We’re well ahead on shooting, so got tomorrow off! Woot!
A day off? I’m tempted to ask her to meet up, but before I can type the question, she beats me to it.
Korraguns: Gonna go see Mako, see if he can help you.
Sato22: Oh yeah, he’s a lawyer, right? But honestly Korra, there’s no need.
Korraguns: But I want to! It can’t hurt to try!
Sato22: Well, why not just call him?
Korraguns: Urgh, one of his ‘quirks’. Won’t talk business unless it’s in person, worries about things being traced, used in evidence. Dumb lawyers.
Sato22: I don’t know, sounds kind of smart.
Korraguns: Sounds kind of paranoid, too! He’s in South town for a few months, but I should be able to get down there and back in a day, easily.
Sato22: Aww, so no internet chat tomorrow?
Korraguns: I’ll text you. Promise. :-)
Sato22: I’ll try steal Kai’s phone, then ;-)
Korraguns: bahaha, poor guy! Anyway, gonna get an early night so I can head off first thing.
Sato22: Okay then, talk later. x
I close the laptop lid, trying not to feel jealous, but despite what she says Mako is still her ex, so I can’t help it. I fall asleep feeling rather unsettled at the idea of her going down there.
“Kai, I fixed those spare parts, and the mobile phones you had in there, too.”
“What? The ones in the box? How many?”
“All of them.”
I hear a loud crash, and Kai’s head pops around the corner, looking at me incredulously.
“I’m gonna go ahead and put these on sale on that shelf you’re wasting, okay?”
I don’t hear from Korra at all today, even though she promised she’d text. Maybe she’s with Mako, ‘catching up’. I throw my nervous energy into my work, repairing Kai’s quite impressive backlog of failed attempts.
And by night time, I’m anxious as hell, so I barely sleep at all. Kai loaned me his phone and I keep hoping it’ll buzz, flash up with a new message. I wait for a few hours, but there’s nothing.
“Where are you…” I whisper, hoping she’s okay.
I wake up and check the phone again. Still nothing. Well, I guess it was just a stupid crush after all, and she’s probably back with Mako, and I should just be happy that I have a roof over my head, and a job.
“What’s wrong with you today?” Kai asks, presumably noticing my constant, over-tired scowl.
“Nothing. Tired,” I grumble, passing yet another fully-repaired laptop across to him.
“You know, we’ve made three times more than usual this week, thanks to you.”
“That’s great!” I manage a forced smile, trying to ignore the sadness gnawing away at me.
“I’ll pay you tomorrow, and you can have a little bonus by way of thanks.”
“I thought you said it was fortnightly pay?” I ask, yawning.
“Figured you could use the advance. Besides, you’ve earnt it.”
I’m not about to try talk him out of it, though I’m deeply saddened by the fact that if Korra wasn’t busy frolicking in South-town with Mako, we could have had that date. And early, too.
Before bed, I tire myself out by running around the block a few times, hoping I’ll fall asleep a little easier because of it. I don’t even bother asking for Kai’s phone this time, since Korra is probably still ‘busy’. With Mako. Just the two of them, out there, alone.
“As promised,” Kai grins, waving a brown envelope at me.
“Wow, that’s quite a bit more than we agreed,” I say, trying to run the numbers in my head, “did you forget to deduct rent?”
“Nope. Told you I’d throw in a bonus. You’ve repaired more in a week than I could in a month. Our customers are delighted!”
“That’s great! Thank you! Did you tell them to tell their friends like I said?”
“Yup. Word of mouth, it’s a wonderful thing. I’m so glad you took this job, Asami, seriously,” he grins, and I grin right back, feeling massively appreciated and more than a little smug.
“Well, as agreed you get Sunday and Monday off. You not gonna go spend some?” he asks, smirking.
“You bet your skinny ass I am,” I say, laughing.
There’s a bus stop just half a block down, and I hop onto the next East-bound bus, into the city. It’s only a ten minute journey, and when I get off, I stuff my hands into my pockets, trying to ignore the chill. Feels like it’ll snow again soon, and that thought actually frightens me. Maybe it’ll take a while before I forget what happened, how cold it felt, and how painful.
I spend three hours shopping, walking around shop after shop until my feet are sore. It’s a different experience than I’ve ever had before, because back when I had cash I’d buy pretty much anything that took my fancy. This time, I have to look at every option, weighing up the cost vs. quality, and finding the cheapest places to buy what I need. Turns out clearance stores are the way to go.
Before long, I’m the proud owner of:
Six new vests
Two pairs of baggy trousers.
A pair of blue skinny jeans.
A long, thick crimson coat, perfect for winter.
A pair of black boots with a thick wool lining.
Three bras, which I found in a buy one get two free offer (seriously, how can they turn a profit?).
A jumbo pack of cotton underwear.
Two pairs of laced briefs.
Ten pairs of black socks.
Three pairs of tights.
A green scarf.
Thick, fluffy gloves.
Two wooly hats – one red, one orange.
And all for around a quarter of my pay packet! Needless to say I’m wearing the winter coat, scarf, gloves and one of the hats already. Most importantly of all, I’m now the happy owner of two sticks of my favourite lipstick, deep crimson in colour, as well as a tube of black mascara, eyeliner, and a tray of off-pink eyeshadow. I’m buzzing with excitement all the way home, looking forwards to spending some quality alone-time in the bathroom.
“Have fun?” Kai asks, as I barge into the shop noisily, barely able to carry my bountiful yield.
“Definitely, but I need the bathroom for fifteen minutes, is that okay?”
“Erm. Sure?” He asks, looking confused as I let out an excited giggle whilst running up the stairs, my four full-to-the-brim shopping bags crashing into the walls as they swing wildly in my hands.
I rinse my face, dab it dry, and almost effortlessly paint myself, like the last six months didn’t happen. It took years to find a look I felt truly comfortable with, experimenting with colour after colour. Sometimes I like to mix it up a little, but today, right now, I want my look, the one I’d use to render guys (and even girls) speechless, the one that makes me brim with confidence. Less is more. Just enough eyeshadow. Accentuate my own looks, lengthen my lashes, colour my lips.
I’m soon finishing the last line of lipstick, and rubbing my lips together, finishing the motion with a loud pop.
“Perfect,” I say, smirking. Korra wouldn’t know what had hit her, and Mako can kiss my ass, not that I’ve ever met the guy, nor do I want to. I sigh, knowing that I’m being overly-bitchy, because after all I owe Korra life itself. I guess I’m just disappointed, I thought we had something. Still, once I get over her, I’m sure we can be great friends. I certainly hope so.
Well, I still have half a day to kill. What better way to spend it than to try on some of my clothes? I yell down to let Kai know that the bathroom is free, before closing my bedroom door. I realise to do this properly I’ll need to buy a full-length mirror, and mount it on the wall opposite the wardrobe, where there’s just enough space. For now, I’ll have to make do.
The first thing I try on is a pair of my lacy panties. They make me feel sexy, and I stifle a giggle, then chide myself, inwardly telling myself I’m in my mid-twenties, not a teenager. Still, they feel good, and I’m stood here, naked, wearing just my makeup and my panties, and I’m sure I’ve never felt quite so alive. Once I’m less entertained by my little bout of naughtiness, I dive into my bags, pull out my red jacket, one of my black V-neck tops, a bra, and a pair of crimson baggy trousers.
I can’t really see much in my chest-high mirror, but I see enough to know it’s a good combination, and I top it off with a cheap silver chain I picked up at the last minute. Then I sigh sadly at the realisation that I’m all dressed up with nowhere to go, that this could have been perfect for that date I wanted so badly. It would have been so nice, it really would, but life goes on.
I lie back on my bed, folding my arms above my head, wondering what to do next. Nothing comes to mind, so I get out my laptop, somewhat reluctantly. I don’t want it to be the first thing I do, but I can’t help it. I check the chat log, just in case. Nothing.
“Oh, whatever,” I growl, angrily. I surf the internet, trying to take my mind off my dark mood with internet funnies. It doesn’t work. After ten minutes of time-wasting, my tummy growls, reminding me I should have probably eaten somewhere between all of that shopping earlier.
“Fine, you win this round, body,” I grumble, closing the laptop lid, stepping off the bed and heading downstairs.
I push open the door into the shop floor, and at the same time I hear the outer bell ring, indicating a new customer has arrived.
“Kai, customer!” I yell, not seeing him anywhere. I’m hungry, damn it! “So much for a day off,” I grumble to myself, resting my arms on the counter and looking up, “Hi, how can I he-”
The words die in my mouth. Korra stands in the doorway, gawping at me like she’s just seen a ghost. The first thing I feel is excitement, but then I’m angry at myself for feeling that, because I shouldn’t be happy to see her at all.
“Oh, hi,” I say, trying to keep my voice level whilst butterflies swarm in my gut.
She rushes over to the counter, and it’s only then that I notice she’s filthy, dusty, her clothes are torn, her lips are dry and her face is burnt, she’s out of breath, and she’s literally panting as she speaks.
“I’m so, so sorry, I’ve been trying to get in touch!” she exclaims, placing a very broken mobile phone on the counter. The glass is cracked all the way down, it’s full of sand, and I’m not sure even my skills will do anything to resolve this one.
“Korra, are you okay? What happened?” I ask, furrowing my brows, feeling very worried.
“I ah… whoa,” Korra suddenly stumbles, and I rush around the counter, catching her and holding her up, “Sorry, dizzy spell,” she mumbles, placing an arm around my shoulder.
“Okay, let’s get you sat down,” I say, feeling anxious as I lead her into the living room around back, hoping nothing terrible has happened. Whilst she gets settled on the sofa, I quickly grab a bottle of cold water, which she drinks from hungrily. She wipes her lips, takes a deep breath and launches herself into the lengthiest explanation of anything I’ve ever heard in my entire life, ever.
“I went to see Mako, like I said I would. He’s going to look into a few legalities for you, and get back to us,” she pauses, only briefly, “But then my phone died, his didn’t have Kai’s number, his stupid hotel internet didn’t work, there was no damn wifi, even the stupid dumbass coffee shop wifi didn’t work, turns out most of the south-town network was down, so I…” Korra wheezes, and I’m worried she’s about to pass out, but she slams her hand on the sofa seat and looks at me determinedly, “… I thought ‘oh I know, I’ll just drive back!’ But then the damn car breaks down, I’m stranded in the damn desert, no damn phone,” she takes another long gulp or air, and I quickly scurry onto the sofa, sitting opposite her, “I bloody well walked almost a whole day before someone picked me up, I missed my shoot yesterday, I’m probably going to get fired, and I just got back,” she wheezes again, “and had to run like three blocks to get here, because turns out I left my wallet back in the fucking car, in the god damn desert, and I threw my stupid shitty phone on the floor which is why it’s now even more fucked, and…”, she pauses again, catching her breath whilst staring at me with her soul-destroying, sapphire blue eyes, “…and… By the way, you look very, very beautiful.”
I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry, so I end up choking out a mixture of both whilst I lean across the sofa, pulling Korra into a tight hug, squeezing her. Her hair stinks, of sand, salt, and sweat, and I don’t care one bit, because right now her scent is intoxicating, like the most amazing thing I’ve ever inhaled. I start to pull away, but I’m reluctant to leave, and instead I run my fingers through her hair, trace my thumb across her lips, and my heart is suddenly thudding in my chest whilst I slowly lean forwards, cupping her cheek in my hand.
I suddenly realise what I’m doing, and I feel a hot flash of panic. I’m about to back away, but then her fingers slide into the hair behind my neck, causing a shudder to zig-zag all the way up my spine, ending in a groan, and I offer no resistance at all when she closes that tiny gap, her breath sighing against my lips a second before I close my eyes. Our noses nudge together, and then her lips are upon mine, they’re so warm, so soft...
It’s been a long, long time since I kissed anyone, and I don’t remember it ever feeling quite like this. Her kisses are electric, compassionate, loving, and every time her lips break away I find myself hungry for more, like she’s the most addictive drug I’ve ever known. Her tongue trails across my lips and I don’t hesitate to part them, allowing her to kiss me fully, threading my fingers into her strands of hair, welcoming her mouth against mine, moaning quietly every time she teases me with a soft flicker of her tongue.
“Ahem. Sorry, sorry! I’ll just leave this here,” Kai says, and I crane my neck to scowl at him whilst he quickly places a sandwich on the table, “I got you your favourite, chicken and bacon,” He mumbles, blushing, and scurrying back out of the room.
I keep my arms wrapped loosely around Korra’s shoulders, peering into her lidded eyes whilst my heart still beats hard, beats fast. And then, her belly growls so loudly I fear she may be harbouring a demon in there somewhere, and I laugh, finally breaking from our embrace, grabbing the sandwich and passing it over to her.
“For you. Eat up,” I say, softly. My hunger can wait. She doesn’t argue, almost literally inhales the damn thing, and I’m on such a giddy high after the kiss that I have to try my best not to laugh, especially after all she’s been through, but she’s making it difficult.
No sooner has Korra swallowed the final mouthful than I hear the bell chime out front, and then there’s a woman’s voice I’m sure I recognise.
“Is that Jinora?” Korra asks with a yawn, just as the woman in question bursts into the room.
“Korra! You’re alive!” she exclaims, “thank God! Do you have any idea how worried we’ve been? Where have you been?!”
It takes a few minutes to bring Jinora up to speed, after which, Korra looks positively exhausted. I feel kind of bad for the kiss, realising just how tired she must feel.
“I know it’s early, but I’m thinking of hitting the hay. Sorry,” Korra apologises, but looks at me meaningfully, like she’s afraid I might be offended.
“I think that’s a good idea. Talk to you tomorrow? I mean, if you’re free.”
“She’ll get a couple days off after this stunt, so she’ll have some time to kill,” Jinora winks at me. I guess she knows what’s up.
“Oh, so I’m not fired?” Korra says, yawning as she stands up.
“No, Korra. Not fired,” Jinora chuckles, “Come on, let’s get you home.”
I walk with them to Jinora’s car, and then giggle when Korra almost instantly falls asleep in the passenger seat, snoring loudly.
“You sure you can handle her?” I ask Jinora.
“I know I can. But what about you?” she chuckles.
“I… how did you even…”
“She never shuts up about you. It’s so cute that sometimes I want to puke. Anyway, let’s grab that coffee sometime, yeah?”
“Sounds great. Take care of her?” I ask, half tempted to ask if I can head over with them. But Korra definitely needs her rest, because tomorrow I’m going to ask her out on that much-awaited date.