Asami woke up in a daze, blinking heavily as her eyes struggled into focus. Her body was shivering violently despite being wrapped up in a cocoon of blankets and a massive weight holding her down. Where…am I?
She tried to look around to get her bearings, but whatever was holding her down only gave her enough room to adjust her position and wiggle beneath it. As she stirred the massive weight which she realized was furry and white, lightened but didn’t move. At hearing a soft whine above her head Asami craned her neck as much as she could manage to look up. “…Naga?”
At hearing her name Naga’s tail thumped against the floor, her body excited but not wanting to jostle the smaller one beneath her. The polar bear dog lay with her body completely encasing Asami, but as Naga nuzzled into her, little whines escaping her throat and clearly relieved that she was awake; despite her previous confusion Asami smiled at the affectionate display. Naga had Asami tucked in her paws and held tight against her wide chest, and although the pressure was somewhat suffocating, Asami buried her face into the thick and plush fur.
They cuddled together like a mother and her cub and Asami was grateful for the additional warmth Naga provided; her body was still shivering.
“Hey kid! Glad to see you’re awake!”
Asami turned away from Naga to see Varrick sitting across from them. He was seated on a pillow with a warm fireplace crackling behind him and had a blanket wrapped around his shoulders but didn’t appear nearly as cold as Asami was. Her mouth watered for the taste as she watched him lift a steaming teacup to his lips.
Varrick took a long swig before his mouth broke into a wide grin. “Welcome back to the land of the living. You gave us all quite the scare back there.”
Land of the living? “…What happened?” Asami asked, and with some effort eased her body from beneath Naga and pushed herself to sit up. Naga adjusted herself around Asami so the woman could lean back comfortably against her ribs.
“What happened? You really don’t remember a thing?!” Varrick asked incredulously, eyes wide as he leaned forward with his hands planted on his lap.
Asami glanced around, now recognizing the space she was in as Korra’s parents living room—but still shook her head, brow furrowed and brought her fist to her chin in contemplation. Since waking she was trying to remember something—anything—but her brain was still foggy as to why she was suddenly here when- “Wait…I do remember a bit. We came to the Southern Water Tribe because Korra and I wanted to go to the Spirits Festival… and you tagged along on business.”
“Mmhmm, mmhmm, anything else?” Varrick pried, his eyes searching and from the look on his face Asami could tell his brain was in motion.
Asami eyed him suspiciously, knowing he was up to something, but no one but Zhu Li knew how this mans’ brain worked so she continued. “Well…Korra and I were enjoying the festival, but we had to separate. Someone from the council needed her help so we promised to meet up at the ferris wheel as soon as she was done. After that you pulled me away for something but I'm not sure what…” Asami trailed off, still raking her brain. She was glad her memory was coming back but paused when a more important matter came to mind. “Where’s Korra?”
Varrick shivered at the mention of the Avatar, his face contorting into a grimace. “Uh...let’s talk about that later. No need to worry though she’s completely fine,” Varrick added when he noticed Asami’s worried expression. “The most important thing is you don’t remember anything incriminating and that really saves my blubber! With that being said, allow me to catch you up in a manner too ambiguous to end up in court. Tea?”
Asami glared at him as she took the proffered teacup in her hands and sipped graciously. She closed her eyes as her body shuddered at the warm, sweet liquid running down her throat and sighed contentedly as her shivering body finally started to calm down. She was still cold but at least her body was finally retaining some warmth. And now the reason as to why it was so hard up until now would finally cease the questions swirling around in her mind.
With Varrick telling the story it was sure to be interesting to say the least. Asami finished her tea and lounged back against Naga; green eyes meeting blue expectantly as she waited for him to begin.
“Alright, now, where to start…Oh! I have the perfect spot. You and I were left alone at the festival when I had the perfect idea…”
“Hmm…Looks like Korra got caught up talking to Daruk. Great guy, wonderful investor and councilmen but he’s definitely one to talk your ear off! The Avatar’s going to be caught up for a while. How about instead of waiting around… you and me go and check out something more exciting!” Varrick said eagerly, looping his arm around Asami’s shoulders and leading them further into the festival grounds.
“What did you have in mind?” Asami inquired and took a small bite of the cotton candy she and Korra were sharing before her girlfriend was called away. A heavy nudge in her back made her stumble forward and out of Varrick’s grasp and they both looked back to see Naga staring at Asami, head bowed and giving her best puppy eyes as she looked at her cotton candy.
Asami smiled and held out the fluffy pink treat for the polar bear dog, giggling as the rest of the swirl of sugar dissolved on her wide tongue with a single lick.
“I love flashing lights and prizes as much as the next guy but we’re ditching this festival. The real fun is a bit further away…” Varrick said deviously, covering one side of his mouth and looking around as if it were some secret location they were going to. “We’re headed for a true place of inspiration!”
Asami hummed in acknowledgement, her interest piqued as they walked further away from the festival grounds. Varrick may be eccentric but as a fellow innovator she was curious to see what had him so excited. They walked for about ten minutes before they decided to hitch a ride on Naga when the snow began to rise and Varrick started complaining about his calves burning.
The polar bear dog easily plowed thru the snow, her stride strong and steady as Varrick steered them onward and chattered aimlessly about how his best ideas come when he’s upside down.
When they finally stopped Asami dismounted Naga and a powder of snow fluffed up at her feet. A breeze swirled around them and she pulled her winter coat tighter around her, hugging her body to block out the cold.
“Oooh, feel that chill in the air? We’re close.” Varrick said with a grin and marched forward up a snowy hill.
Asami glanced over her shoulder and could still see the outline of the festival lights, noting they were nearly two miles out. On Naga it wouldn’t take long to get back; and although she was interested in what Varrick wanted to show her, she was more excited for her rendezvous at the ferris wheel with her girlfriend. Cuddling with Korra was always nice and even more so during cold weather.
When she caught up to Varrick he was lying on his belly, grinning excitedly as he looked ahead. She took her place beside him and her eyes widened at the sight before her.
A mass of otter penguins was mingling a few feet ahead of them; tottering around in the snow, sliding around on their bellies, gulping down fish or lounging in adorable piles of black and white. Asami even saw little baby ones yipping and bouncing around and the scene was so cute it made a slight blush tinge her cheeks.
“When this idea came to me, I was thinking of a way to travel underwater. How amazing would it be to do some undersea exploring or travel undetected for miles to different parts of the world? Anyone can spot a flying bison and ships in the air and on water but underwater you’re virtually invisible! And that’s when I got the inspiration from watching these little guys!” Varrick threw his arms out toward the otter penguins, gesticulating as he explained his idea. “Their design is perfect! So smooth and aerodynamic! These little guys zip and cut thru the sea like butter! If we design an underwater machine like that we can too!”
He has a point. Asami thought as she studied the otter penguins from an engineering perspective before catching a keyword in his last statement. “We?”
“Yeah kid! You’re the business partner I wanted to show this too.” Varrick said slyly, nudging Asami with his elbow and ignoring her disgruntled expression at being tricked into a business pitch.
Naga grumbled beside them and Asami reached up to scratch the side of her head, wordlessly agreeing.
“We should have a closer look and get some pictures for design reference.” Varrick got to his feet and pulled out a camera Asami didn’t even know he had on him and walked confidently toward the group of penguins. “These guys are pretty docile so there’s nothing to worry about.”
Asami stood up and brushed the snow from her coat as she and Naga followed him. They barely took a couple steps before Varrick whipped around and stiffly held his arm out at Naga. “Uh…no polar bear dogs allowed. They may not be on your list of cuisine doggy but I'm pretty sure they won’t be eager to see a huge predator near the babies.”
Naga let out a dejected whine and plopped down in the snow. Asami smiled at the display and bent down to look at the polar bear dog in earnest. “We won’t be long girl, just a few quick pictures ok?” Asami promised, petting the top of Naga’s head. “I’ll get you some more cotton candy when we get back.”
At hearing that Naga rose her head and panted happily, not minding being left behind now and simply watched as Asami and Varrick walked away.
It took about ten minutes but true to their word they really did take just a few pictures. Albeit at the unfortunate expense of an otter penguin being flipped and stretched and positioned awkwardly at times by Varrick while Asami snapped away. Satisfied, Varrick dropped the otter penguin he was holding in the snow with a plop when they were done.
Asami gently grabbed the penguin he treated so poorly, balancing it on its fins as she smoothed down its fur. “Don’t be so rough with them.”
“It landed in a pile of snow I’m sure it’ll survive…” Varrick waved off dismissively before another group of penguins caught his eye. “Hey check that out! Look at how they’re shooting out of the water and sliding back here!”
Asami watched as one penguin slid up to a group of babies and barked warmly as they surrounded it, bouncing excitedly. Then it promptly vomited into their open mouths. Asami blanched at the scene.
Varrick didn’t seem disturbed; but being a native of the Southern Water Tribe he was most likely desensitized to the habits of his homeland’s native fauna. “Let’s get a couple shots of them coming out of the water.” Another breeze swirled around them and they both shivered at the chill. “The sooner we do the sooner we can skedaddle.”
Otter penguins meandered around as she and Varrick walked through a crowd of them. “Right here should be a good spot.” Varrick said shakily, rubbing his arms as they approached the frozen sea.
It was much colder by the water, and despite how packed solid it was underfoot, Asami was a bit wary of kneeling so near the ice’s edge; but it only took a few minutes to capture enough shots.
And only a few moments for her to notice the sudden silence.
Asami pulled her gaze out of the camera in her hands and looked to her left at Varrick; he was oblivious, bouncing and breathing into his gloved hands for warmth. She looked to her right and saw groups of otter penguins bunched tightly together, ominously away from the ice’s edge.
But it was the deep, rumbling growl behind her that made her freeze.
Asami slowly looked over her shoulder and flinched at the sight of Naga—previously patiently waiting a few yards away—suddenly crouched low and padding quietly towards her, blending in and out of the snow in her approach. The feral look in her eyes sent chills down her spine. “…Naga? What are you-
Otter penguins bursting out of the sea and scrambling onto the ice by the dozens startled Asami’s attention back to the water. Varrick sputtered as several of them smacked into him and sent him falling backwards into the snow. Reflexes alone made Asami reel back from suffering the same fate as more of them sailed overhead but she was too slow to react to a lone otter penguin diving at her chest in a miscalculated attempt to escape the sharp, gaping jaws of a roaring tiger seal lurching out of the water after it.
She screamed in unison with the otter penguin as the tiger seals jaws locked onto its prey and caught the front of her coat with it; and with an effortless twist snatched them both into the icy water.
Frantic barking was the last thing Asami heard before her body was submerged.
The freezing water paralyzed Asami and her body’s immediate response was to gasp at the sudden cold shock. Water painfully seized her lungs and felt like shards of glass but her body uncontrollably inhaled more and more. Her heart raced desperately as she tried to break away from the tiger seal dragging her further below the surface. She twisted and kicked and punched but the tiger seal only shook off her attempts, and within seconds her vision started to blur and darken at the edges.
Her heartbeat was labored as it loudly beat in her ears, and yet she could still hear voices calling out to her. Memories played out like a movie in front of her eyes and Asami weakly reached out for them, as if trying to pull them back into her mind. She saw her mother and her life with her father and the battle of Colossus and Mako and Bolin and Zaofu…but the last vestiges she saw was of Korra, and the memories went by too fast. From the beginning of their friendship to their budding romance to their first kiss and confession of love for one another to every time they made love and every little thing they shared in between…to their most recent goodbye kiss before parting at the Spirits festival; at the thought of that being their final one, Asami felt every cell in her body cry out in anguish.
A sudden force entered her space and ripped the tiger seal away from her, sending plumes of blood staining the water around her with one swipe of a massive white paw. Vision fading and unable to fight it, Asami’s eyes closed. Her body went limp as another set of jaws gripped the hood of her coat and the force that rescued her raced her to the surface, tearing thru the water like a jet.
Above the ice Varrick flailed wildly in the snow and shoved the otter penguins that knocked him over aside as he sat up. He heard Asami scream and a chilling splash before he fell. He spun his head around wildly, his blue eyes searching for the woman and noticed Naga was missing as well.
As he scrambled to his feet and ran towards where she last was, he reared back with a shout when Naga exploded from the frozen sea and landed heavily in front of him. And his heart sunk at the sight of the waterlogged woman she was carrying.
“Oh no…” Varrick murmured as Naga walked forward and gently set Asami down at his feet. She nudged the woman for a few moments with a high-pitched whine, trying to her rouse awake and watched tensely for a reaction before pulling her face away.
Her body remained eerily still.
“Damn it of all the times not to be a bender!” Varrick exclaimed and dropped to his knees and felt for her pulse.
At feeling nothing he began to preform CPR. He pinched Asami’s nose tight and took a breath before he blew into her mouth until her chest rose and began compressions. He was grateful to see water rising out of Asami’s mouth from his efforts with each pump; that was a good sign. He continued CPR until her body suddenly convulsed and coughed up the remaining water in her lungs.
Varrick checked her pulse again, and although it was very weak, it was there. If the Avatar’s girlfriend died on his watch, he knew he’d be next.
He gathered Asami’s soaking body in his arms and watched as she breathed weakly but didn’t open her eyes. “She’s alive but we’ll be in deep trouble if we don’t get her out of these wet clothes. Her body isn’t even shivering.” Varick gently set her down and stripped off some of his outer layer of clothes before quickly working on Asami’s. He wrapped her up tightly in his coat and a thick scarf around her neck before standing up.
Naga stood off to the side, shaking her body violently and repeatedly until she was practically dry. Her attention snapped to Varrick when he started speaking. “Damn that tiger seal! I’m going to head back to the festival and get some help. You stay here and keep her as warm as possible.”
Naga snorted in reply and dutifully began clearing the snow around she and Asami as Varrick ran off. In moments she reached the topsoil and although it was cold and hard, it was dry. Naga tenderly pawed her best friends freezing mate onto her back and huddled on top of the woman, shielding her body as much as she could from the elements around them.
She carefully pried her forearms apart, taking care not to let in too much cold air as she peeked between her paws at Asami. Still breathing.
An anxious whine crept up in her throat and Naga tucked her head, completely covering Asami until the woman was encompassed in her fur and invisible to the naked eye.
No matter what or how long it took, Naga would protect her and keep her warm.
A short while later, Naga’s ears perked up at hearing distant voices approaching and her tail began to wag at hearing Korra’s voice among them.
Everything would be ok now.
“Once we got you back to town and with the proper medical professionals well…let’s just say the Avatar reacted pretty strongly after I told her what happened and wasn’t exactly pleased with me.” Varrick said with a shudder, and for the first time Asami noticed he had a swollen eye. “Whether or not I knew it was peak hunting season and may have endangered your life despite that is debatable. The important thing is, my quick actions brought you back from the brink of death. So even though the Avatar assaulted me, we can easily drop one court case for another and put this whole thing behind us. No thanks necessary.” Varick crossed one leg over the other and clasped his hands together in front of him, clearly pleased with himself.
Asami rolled her eyes at him and freed her arms from her blanket cocoon to run her arm along Naga’s side in steady, smooth strokes. She wouldn’t be here without her. “Thank you, Naga.”
The polar bear dog leaned gratefully into her touch and the two of them shared a warm moment before movement in her peripheral vision and the voice that reached her ears made her heart soar in immediate recognition of who was there.
Asami looked up and beamed at Korra as she entered the room. She missed her so much. When their gazes locked Asami felt her throat tighten sympathetically at seeing her girlfriends’ eyes were swollen and pink—and eagerly reached out for Korra as she closed the distance between them. Whether it was from worry or exhaustion Korra collapsed into Asami’s waiting arms and couldn’t help smiling into their embrace. They held each other tightly, sinking into the feeling as if the other was going to fade away at any moment.
“I was so scared I was going to lose you…” Korra choked out, burying her face into Asami’s neck.
Asami remembered her last fleeting thoughts when her life was flashing before her eyes and sighed. She thought the same thing, but instead of falling into morbid thoughts, she decided to live in the moment she was grateful they were sharing together again. “You can’t get rid of me that easily, Avatar.” Asami teased and smiled at the small chuckle it elicited from her girlfriend.
“I love you so m—
A long, obnoxiously loud sip interrupted Korra and they both turned to look at Varrick across from them. He smacked his lips with a satisfied ‘ah’ when he finished, completely unaware that he’d interrupted their moment.
When he set his teacup down in front of him, he caught the Avatar’s venomous glare and flinched. “Oh! Uh…I’ll just…go grab some more tea.” Varick broke into a cold sweat as he stood up, avoiding their eyes as he inched out of the room and left the two women alone.
They pulled away from each other and Korra sat back to wipe the tears streaming down her face. In the fire’s glow Korra looked so beautiful, and Asami smiled at the sight, soaking in every faucet of her girlfriend and imprinting her into her mind. She’d never forget Korra, but spirits forbid her life ever flash before her eyes again, she wanted to have as much of it filled with Korra as possible.
“I love you too.” Asami cupped Korra’s face in her hands and gently kissed both of her eyes, ignoring the salty taste of her tears on her lips. She then kissed her forehead and her nose and her puffed out cheeks and Korra giggled as her girlfriend peppered her face in kisses before planting one on her lips.
They’ve kissed thousands of times, and yet this one was different; filled with so much fervor and intent that it made Korra’s heart skip a beat.
And ironically, even though Asami was the one who took a plunge into the frozen ocean, it gave Korra chills.