|When You Come Back
Author: tardisblues PM
Goodbye isn't forever, just for now.Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Angst - Korra & Mako - Words: 4,139 - Reviews: 5 - Favs: 41 - Follows: 3 - Published: 04-18-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8037558
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N: Yes, this is one of those 'the four times they did this and the one time they did something different' stories. I'm a sucker for those. Anyway, enjoy!
"I'm going to miss you," Bolin says into her hair as he hugs her.
Chuckling softly, she squeezes him round the middle. "I won't be gone long enough for you to miss me," Korra replies. Though she knows her words are true, tears sting her eyes and her voice trembles slightly. She's not scared, but she's not exactly excited to travel to the Northern Air Temple all by herself, but Tenzin says it's necessary, claiming it'll help her connect to her spirituality.
They hold each other for another long moment before Bolin unwinds his arms from her waist and steps back. "You're going to kick the Spirit World's ass," he assures her, gently nudging her chin with his knuckles. The smile on his face is broad and confident, and it eases some of the anxiety that's been eating at her stomach for the last few days.
"I'll try," she says, stepping back and letting her arms fall to her sides. Rather than wiping her tears with her thumbs, she lets them fall, forcing her mouth into a half-hearted smile. Bolin touches her hair fondly, the weight of his hand comforting, and then pulls her into another quick hug. She holds onto him tightly, her fingers bunching around the back of his tunic. As much as she wants to cry, she doesn't because this has to be a happy memory.
Besides, this goodbye isn't forever, just for now.
When they finally disentangle from one another, Korra's eyes are dry and the smile on her face is lighter, though there's still a slight wobble to it. Bolin pretends not to notice as he backs away, almost stepping on Pabu's tail in the process. The fire ferret hisses at him before scurrying up his leg, leaping onto his arm and twisting around his neck. Once he's settled in place, Korra reaches out to scratch Pabu behind the ears and the ferret all but purrs in contentment.
"It figures he warms up to me as soon as I leave," Korra quips dryly, pulling a laugh from Bolin and a scowl from the ferret. She sticks her tongue out at him, retracts her hand, and turns to the last member of the goodbye party.
In typical fashion, Mako's hands are pushed deep into his pockets and his broad shoulders are hunched, his head bent, and there's a guarded look in his eyes. His mouth is a tight line, lips pressed thin, and his brows are furrowed. She tries to ignore the hollow forming in her chest as she regards him, blue eyes searching his face for any sign of emotion other than indifference, but she finds none. Something in her deflates and she has a hard time keeping her disappointment at bay.
"I should go," she blurts, gesturing behind her to the ferry. "Tenzin's waiting for me and well," she pulls a face and lifts a hand to scratch the back of her neck, "he's not very patient. So…yeah, I'm going to go."
As she turns to leave, she hears him call his goodbye after her. His quiet voice is muffled by his younger brother's much more boisterous shouts, but she can still detect it, the oddly warm sincerity under the layers of bored monotone.
Her heart doesn't swell to bursting point and her anxiety is still overwhelming her senses. She does, however, allowed herself a small smile as she spins on the spot to wave goodbye to them one more time. Bolin's waving his arms over his head; shouting unintelligibly at her, Pabu is jumping from one of his shoulders to the next, and Mako merely nods his head.
She couldn't have asked for more.
Korra paces in front of the small table for what must be the fifteenth time in the last five minutes alone, casting a shadow on the fine newsprint. He furrows his brow, scowling at the text.
"When did you say you're leaving again?" Mako asks irritably, not tearing his eyes away from the crisp pages of the newspaper spread out on the table in front of him.
"As soon as your brother finishes getting ready."
Mako sighs heavily. "That could be hours."
"Or minutes," counters Bolin as he strolls into the living area, slipping the last button into place. He stops in front of the pair and holds his arms out at his sides, a smile on his face. "How do I look?" The suit jacket he's wearing is one size too big for him, the tails hitting him mid-thigh, his shirt has seen better days, and his slacks are in desperate need of a good hemming, but his hair is slicked back against his skull and there's a hat balanced precariously on his head, the brim of which dips down low and obscures his left eye.
"Snazzy!" exclaims Korra as Mako intones, "Stupid."
Korra shoots him an irritable look and Bolin laughs, twisting on spot. "You're just jealous," he says with a wink.
Mako blinks at him. "You know it," he replies dryly, rolling his eyes before returning his gaze to the article he'd been reading.
In turn, Korra rolls her eyes at his behavior and draws up next to Bolin, slipping her arm through his. She leans to Bolin, her elbow digging into his side and says, in a loud whisper, "I think it's past someone's bed time."
Again, Bolin laughs, loud and hard, and nearly trips over his own feet as he guides them towards the door. "Later, Mako!" he says around his laughter.
Mako barely lifts his hand as he waves them out the door. "Bye."
"So," Korra starts, folding her arms over her chest and leaning against the rickety ladder. Her eyes are hard, her expression a mixture of perplexity and a slowly simmering anger. "What does that mean?"
He worries the inside of his cheek with his teeth, trying to think of the best way to respond. The truth is, he isn't entirely sure what it means, just that he'll be gone and they'll have to make do without him for a few weeks. The thought terrifies him and thrills him simultaneously. "It means that the sponsors want to see what I can do – on my own."
"Are you leaving?"
"Republic City?" he says, knowing deep down that's not what she means. "No, of course not. I'll be on the outskirts of town, but –"
"That's not what I meant," Korra interrupts, adjusting her position so her hands are on her hips and her feet are planted a shoulder's width apart. He knows that stance better than he probably should. She's not going to let this go, not without a few well placed barbs and maybe a few shouts. "Are you leaving the team?"
"Do you want me to?"
"Do you want to?" she throws back viciously, her nostrils flaring.
"No," he answers, thoroughly bristled. "Of course I don't want to leave the team. We work well together. I wouldn't leave that for anything."
Korra arches her brow. Her mouth twists into an unpleasant smile as she questions,"Not even if they offer you money?"
It's a low blow and they both know it, but Mako clenches his jaw and steals his nerves. He doesn't want to give into the anger pushing through his veins. That'd be too easy, and this is anything but easy.
He keeps his silence, pursing his lips, and his quiet betrays him.
Finally, after what feels like an eternity, Korra speaks. Her voice is far softer than he's ever heard it before and when he detects a note of hurt, it zings him right in the heart. "Is it because of me?" she asks, turning her gaze away from her stony staring at the floor to his face. "Did I do something wrong?"
"No," he says at once. Mako locks his eyes onto hers and adds, with as much sincerity as he can muster, "You were fantastic."
He rolls his eyes. "You know what I mean."
Another beat of painful silence passes between them. Mako lowers his head and fusses with the wrist of his gloves, undoing the snaps and redoing them with fumbling fingers. He doesn't know what else to say or if there's anything he can say to make it better. There's no guarantee that the whole experiment will go successfully and even if it does, that still doesn't mean they'll make him an offer he can't refuse. He's put his blood, sweat, and tears into the team, and he'll be damned if they can take that from him so easily.
As much as he wants to say these words, he can't because before he can even muster the courage to clear his throat, Korra pushes away from the ladder and moves towards the exit, her footsteps muffled by the mats beneath her feet.
Since his return home, things have been different between them. She's not as open with him as she used to be. She doesn't seek him out to tease him and when he tries to get a rise out of her, she sighs and leaves the room or ignores him completely. He can't decide which is worse.
And every time he tries to pull her to the side to talk, she comes up with reasons why not: she has to get back to Air Temple Island to mediate otherwise Tenzin will have her head on a platter (which is probably true), there's someone who needs saving, or she promised Asami that she'd met the older girl at her father's mansion for some bogus reason or another. He knows when she's lying and he knows she knows it, but he never says anything because it's not his place.
After all, he was the one who left.
But he came back.
That had to count for something, right?
It takes a few weeks, but enough becomes enough. He's sick of the cold indifference, the way she pointedly ignores his gaze when he looks at her and how she keeps skipping out on practice, citing her duty as the Avatar as her reason. And he can't exactly challenge that, can he?
He doesn't corner her after practice, but he does run after her as she flees the arena without so much as a goodbye. When he catches up to her, Korra's standing on the edge of the dock, prepared to dive into the churning waters below and swim her way back to Air Temple Island. However, before she can plunge into the bay, he cups his hands around his mouth and shouts, "Korra!"
The sound of his voice startles her so much she falls backward on the dock, right onto her backside. He winces just as she sucks in a breath of air through her teeth. As she pushes herself to her feet, she rubs her lower back. "Did you have to do that?" she asks, scowling.
"Do what?" A furrow appears in his brow as he draws up next to her, his hands slipping into his pockets. "I didn't make you fall over. You did that all by yourself."
Her scowl deepens, but she doesn't contest the point. Instead, she shifts away from him, putting a considerable amount of distance between them. However, her arms remain at her sides, which is a good sign. Or so he hopes.
"Look," Mako says, his hand leaping out of his pocket and to the back of his hair. "I'm sorry, okay?"
He shrugs. "Everything, I guess." His fingers drop from his hair and land on the back of his neck, which he rubs as if there's some deeply nestled ache knotting his muscles. Maybe there is, but mostly he just needs something other than her face to focus on. He doesn't know how to form the words, so he stops thinking and just says what's on his mind. "I shouldn't have left," he admits in a rush, feeling the familiar heat of a flush creeping onto his cheeks. "I shouldn't have ever considered it."
"Why not?" Korra tilts her head slightly, confusion settling into her features. "You saw an opportunity and you took it. How can I be mad at you for that when I would have done the exact same thing?" Some of her confusion ebbs and is replaced by a wry twist of her mouth. "I'm not that much of a hypocrite."
There's a jest in her voice and Mako's so relieved, he releases a small sigh. "So you're not mad?"
"No," she replies, shaking her head. She doesn't, however, smile, which strikes him harder than it probably should. "A little disappointed, maybe, but I knew that you'd come back. You always do."
While that's not entirely true – he's stormed out of more arguments than he's stayed – but he appreciates what she's trying to do nonetheless. He doesn't deserve it, but he truly does appreciate it.
"Maybe you should call me Boomerang," he suggests, doing his best to mimic her joking tone.
Korra snorts and the corner of her mouth twitches. "And ditch Flame-o? No way. Nice try, though."
"I gave it my best effort."
"Really? That was your best effort?" She's teasing him and if he felt more comfortable, he would have nudged her shoulder, but they're still balanced precariously on the edge of recovery and he doesn't want to upset things.
So he offers her a small smile, returning his hands to his pockets.
Beats of silence pass between them and some of them are awkward, but mostly it makes him nervous. It's curious, the more he gets to know Korra, the more anxious he gets around her. It's dumb and stupid and at night, when he lies awake and stares at the rafters of the attic, more than a little problematic, not because it messes with the team's dynamic, but because it's messing with his head and his ability to act rationally around her.
"Well," Korra finally says. "I need to get home. If I'm not back before sundown, Tenzin will send out a search party."
"Are we still on for practice tomorrow?" he asks, cursing the hopefulness in his voice.
But when her lips split into a grin, suddenly it doesn't seem so bad. He doesn't return her grin mostly because he might vomit if he tries to. "Of course," she says, her smile reflected in her bright blue eyes. "Someone's gotta put you back into your place." Just before she jumps into the water, she looks over her shoulder and adds, "Bye Mako."
She leaps into the bay before he can respond, but even after she disappeared underneath the surface of the water, Mako finds himself muttering a soft goodbye and stays rooted in spot well pass sundown.
There's a cloud of black smoke billowing from the crashed satobike's engine, and Korra can taste blood in her mouth as she pushes herself to her feet, her limbs weak and her side aching. She doesn't need to check the motorist, knowing that there's no way they could've survived a crash to fiery. A cough scratches the back of her throat and she lifts an arm, coughing into her sleeve as her gaze sweeps along the street, searching for her companions.
"Bolin? Mako?" she calls out, though her voice is drowned out by the wail of the sirens in the distance, which grow louder with each passing second.
"Over here!" she hears Bolin call out.
"Thank the Spirits," Korra sighs as she stumbles toward the sound of Bolin's voice. The faint breeze picks up the smoke and blows wisps of it across her vision, but she bends the air and finds them with ease.
The state in which she finds them in, however, is a completely different story.
Even from a distance, Korra can see the bloody gash on Bolin's forehead, which is streaked with sweat and smudged with patches of black, most likely from the smoke. He's on his knees, kneeling next to his older brother, who is sprawled across the pavement, unconscious. Panic courses through her then and she runs over to them, nearly tripping over a stray piece of debris, a twisted pipe from the inner workings of the satobike.
"What happened?" Korra asks as she drops onto her knees beside the pair.
"I don't know," answers Bolin, his worry evident in the hitch in his voice. "He tried to block me from the blast and – and –" he breaks off then, pressing his lips into a thin line to keep the tears at bay.
Korra puts her hand on his shoulder, squeezes. "I'm sure he'll be fine," she replies, her own tears blurring her vision as she rakes her eyes over Mako's prone form. From the waist down, he's fine, just a few rips and scratches that hardly bleed. But when she lifts her eyes to his chest, she sucks in a breath, louder than she intended. Though she can't see the wound, the stain blossoming on his tunic is enough to make another flare of panic rise up within her. Without thinking, she leans forward, pressing her hands to the wound and hoping that she's not doing anything that'll hurt him.
"You're going to be fine," she says to Mako, wishing more than anything that he would open his eyes and glare at her, that he would tell her to back off because he's fine and she's just being overdramatic. But he doesn't. His chest rises and falls, each breath more labored than the last. She bites her lip and presses harder, her arms shaking, her hands trembling.
"Korra," Bolin whispers in a voice so broken, she's surprised he can speak at all. "I can't lose him, Korra. I can't."
Tearing her gaze away from Mako, she turns her eyes to Bolin and stares at him, long and hard. Though her panic is threatening to take over, she pushes it to the back of her mind and infuses her voice with as much strength and determination as she can muster. "You're not going to lose him," she promises, fully aware that it's ridiculous to make such a promise. Whether he lives or dies, Korra has no control over the matter, but she'll be damned if she doesn't try her hardest to keep him alive, and not just because Bolin needs him, but because Korra needs him too.
It's bizarre, the way Mako has managed to make his way onto her list of the people she cares most about in the world. Before coming to Republic City, the list had been short, consisting of her parents, Naga, Katara, and few others, but as she slowly adjusted to life in the great big bustling city, the list expanded, but never in a million years did she think that she would consider Mako a person she couldn't imagine life without. For the longest time, he was on the fringes, not quite a friend but not an acquaintance; he constantly blurred the line, his image slowly coming into focus until finally, right in this moment, she was hit with the force of it.
They may squabble and disagree and get on each other's nerves more than they got along, but he's there for her when she needs him and vice versa. He might've had a way of getting under her skin until she could hardly stand to be in the same room as him, but there are times when he looks at her that she feels her heart give a tug of fondness, a little niggling that tells her there's more underneath the surface, that she's hiding just as much from him as he's hiding from her. They're still exploring the depths of each other and she's not ready to give up yet. She's too curious, she's too attached, too invested, and she doesn't want to let go.
She doesn't know if she can.
The sirens are getting louder now, and she can hear the faint whir of helicopter blades overhead. Korra shakes her head, snapping herself back into the present. When she looks down, her fingers are coated with a thick, hot layer of blood. Her head spins and she averts her eyes from the wound, focusing instead on his face, which is pale and drawn, but his eyelashes are fluttering as a police satomobile rounds the corner.
"Mako?" Korra says, her hands pressed tightly against his side. "Mako, can you hear me?"
It's a struggle for him to open his eyes, but he does it. His lids are heavy, his amber eyes glassy. He's lost a lot of blood and if he doesn't get help soon, he'll probably pass out. The thoughts race through her head and she applies more pressure – so much so, that Mako winces. "Are you trying to kill me?"
She chokes out a laugh. Beside her, Bolin is crying so hard, he can hardly breathe. "No, you idiot," she replies, her voice cracking as hot tears leak out of her eyes. "I'm trying to save you."
"You have a funny way of – of – of doing th-that," he mutters. Even as he struggles to keep his eyes open, he grins. It's a small grin, but she sees the wry twist of it and her resulting laughter burns in her throat.
Korra blinks, dipping her head and wiping her tears on her torn sleeve. "Help's on the way, okay? Just hang on a little longer."
"-think I'm going to say goodbye?" His voice is faint, breathy even, yet she doesn't tell him to be quiet, to save his breath. It's selfish, yes, but the sound of his voice is making her feel better.
"No," she says with a shake of her head. "Of course I don't. I still owe you that ass kicking from last week."
His laugh is harsh and brings up blood, which rolls out of the corner of his mouth and down his chin. Bolin wipes it away with his free hand, his other grasping Mako's tightly. He hasn't said a word, he's as white as a sheet, but there's hope in his eyes, and that's enough.
"You didn't really think I was going to forget about that, did you?"
The satomobiles screech to a stop and officers pour onto the streets, splitting into two groups. One inspects the wreckage and the other hurries over to them, the heavy sound of their boots against the pavement an oddly comforting sound.
"Besides," she says as one of the officers pushes her to the side, insisting that he can handle it from here. As the din mounts, Korra raises her voice, all but yelling over the commotion in order for Mako to hear her. "This would be a really shitty goodbye, don't you think?"
If he responds, which she doubts he does, Korra can't hear him. She does, however, imagine all of the things he might have said as the officers are replaced by healers and they hoist Mako onto a gurney, carting him towards the ambulance. Her gaze lingers on him as the healers set to work, cutting off his bloody tunic with a vicious pair of shears and bending water over his wounds to seal them up until he can be operated on.
It's only when Bolin grabs her hands to tell her that he's riding in the ambulance with the healers that Korra looks away. "Are you going to be okay?" Bolin asks, his kind green eyes boring into hers.
Korra glances over his shoulder at his older brother, who senses her gaze and meets her eyes, and she nods softly. "Yeah," she whispers, a small smile touching her lips. "I'll be fine."
A/N: I hope you enjoyed it! Feedback is much appreciated!