Disclaimer: I do not own Avatar: The Last Airbender or The Legend of Korra.
A/N: Hello readers! I've got another oneshot for you and this time, it's a doozy! And by doozy I mean long, the longest in this collection thus far. Essentially, this oneshot covers those days in-between Korra's confrontation with Amon on Avatar Aang Memorial Island and the first match of the pro-bending championship tournament. Remember after the Fire Ferrets' first win in the tournament, Korra mentioned to Mako that they should spend some time together and Mako said they'd been spending alot of time together? Well, that mysterious together time is what this fanfic examines. Something must have happened in that time for these two (and Bolin) to develop such strong and confusing feelings about each other. Now, I'm not sure if there were twelve days during that time span, I'm just taking some artistic liberties with that, but here's what I think may have happened in those missing days.
Episode(s): In-between A Voice in the Night and The Spirit of Competition
Characters: Makorra. So much makorra. And some Borra and Masami, just to keep things nice and confusing.
Summary: A look at the daily lives of the Fire Ferrets twelve days before the first match in the pro-bending championship tournament.
Mako pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed.
"Okay, time out," he said, and he could see Korra's shoulders sag with both relief and defeat.
"That was bad," the Avatar sighed as he approached her, head hanging low, hands on her hips as she wallowed in disappointment. It was the seventeen year old's first day of pro-bending practice in weeks, and frankly, it showed. Seeing that Korra was well aware of how poorly she had performed, Mako bit back a few of his more scathing criticisms and decided to try and be constructive.
"Your centre of balance is off," he began, moving to stand beside her.
"I know," she agreed.
"You weren't following through in your strikes."
"You're staying too rooted to the ground. You gotta pick up those knees, flow more with the movement of your spins, like your element."
"I know!" she screamed, her blue eyes flashing dangerously in the direction of her team captain. She was embarrassed to say she had forgotten a lot of what Bolin and Mako had taught her about the quick and light movements that were required of pro-bending athletes. Over the last few weeks she had practically drowned herself in airbending training, teaching her body how to move like a leaf, not like a pro-bender.
"If you know, why didn't you fix it?"
"I'm trying!" Korra exclaimed.
"Not good enough!" Mako barked, getting on the defense the moment Korra started yelling. In their short acquaintance, Mako had discovered that it didn't take much from Korra to get his blood boiling and his temper flaring. The girl was like an itch, grating, irritating as hell, and so deep under the skin that no amount of scratching could ever cure the annoying, persistent prickle. All he could do was chase the itch with an extreme determination.
"Do you wanna fight, Captain?"
"I want to win the tournament, Avatar."
"Guys, guys," Bolin interjected. "It's gonna be fine. Korra, it really wasn't that bad."
"No, Mako's right," Korra huffed, her admission surprising both boys. Shaking her head in disappointment, the Avatar kicked at the floor and growled. "I stink."
"I didn't say that!" Mako countered.
"It's what you meant."
"Look, you just need some more practice. All of us need more practice," Mako stated, his eyes turning on his brother who was patting Korra kindly on the back, his reassuring gesture going unnoticed by the young woman. "Let's take a short break," Mako suggested. "Ten minutes. Give us a chance to clear our heads."
"Good idea, bro. Hey! Korra, do you wanna see the new trick I've been teaching Pabu?" Bolin asked excitedly, so eager to earn a smile from his pretty teammate.
"Sure. I'd like that," Korra agreed, a very small, practically indistinguishable grin lifting the corners of her mouth as the sixteen year old rushed out of the gym.
Mako didn't move, remaining by Korra's side, waiting with her in the dead silence Bolin's absence had created. It wasn't awkward, it was quiet, and Mako was perplexed when he found himself actually yearning for Korra's boisterous attitude to slice through the stillness like a hot blade.
"I can do better," she finally said, her voice small and quivering, reminding the firebender far too much of that vulnerable and unsure girl that had confided in him about her confrontation with Amon and all of the fear it had fostered within her. His fingers twitched, ready to reach out and curl around her hand, squeeze her palm in a reassuring and protective manner, thanking her for helping him get to the tournament, promising without words that he would stand beside her through all of her trials in and outside of the ring.
He bumped his arm against hers instead.
"I know you can," he said evenly, encouragingly. His words, simple, blunt and honest, were exactly what Korra needed. She nodded her gratitude for his belief in her, biting the inside of her cheek to distract her from the blush she could feel blossoming across her nose.
She hoped Mako didn't notice.
"Oh, Hideki., I know that it's wrong for me to love you. I'm promised to your brother, but whenever I look at him all I can think about is y –"
"– experiencing a low pressure front that's sure to see those thick clouds rolling in a hefty heaping of the white stuff. Sorry to say it, folks, but winter has finally come to Republ –"
"It don't get any hotter than Flame-o!"
"– oblem isn't that non-benders are jealous of the abilities of benders. The problem is that benders have persisted in supporting and maintaining an archaic caste system that blatantly favours those individuals with bending skills, while those who are not so gifted are belittled and undermined by an economy that is unjustly bias –"
"– xt we have the latest toe-tapper that's got every citizen of Republic humming, On Yue Bay."
"– there has been some dissent in the Triple Threat Triads since the mysterious disappearance of their leader, Lightning Bolt Zolt. Rumour has it that the gang leader has gone into hiding due to unknown reas –"
"If it ain't Cabbage Corp, it ain't worth beans!"
"– ave you hugged your boomerang today?"
"– sure to check back with us tonight at eight when we report to you live from Future Tech Industries –"
"–ost my heart in Republic City –"
"Regarding the resignation of Avatar Korra from his task force, Councilman Tarrlok issued the following statement: 'Although it is disappointing that the Avatar has chosen to ste –"
"Well I guess we're not listening to the radio while we practice then."
Korra's eyes narrowed as she pouted petulantly at her team captain. Mako remained unfazed by her irked glower, continuing to fiddle with the nobs on the old radio Toza had set up in the gym. He'd thought it would be a good idea to have some background noise while they practised, but all the radio had done was waste time as he and Korra had been switching stations for the last fifteen minutes rather than warming up.
"I don't want to listen to the news," Korra muttered, chin lowering and eyes flitting away from his clear, honeyed gaze. Mako understood why his friend wanted to stay away from all the latest Republic City gossip, particularly that sleazy Tarrlok's press conference, so he tried to compromise.
"What about the weather?"
The deadpan look Korra gave him made his skin prickle.
"Seriously? I'd rather meditate," she snorted. "Why not the debate?"
"Because I'd rather watch you meditate than listen to that," Mako countered. "Besides, you'll focus more on the debate than the sparring and you can't be distracted, Korra."
"I wouldn't be," she argued lamely, crossing her arms and huffing, only admitting to herself that he was probably right.
"I liked the soap opera."
"No!" Korra and Mako declared, turning their irritated faces towards the fidgeting earthbender. Bolin shrank under the twisted and annoyed expressions of his brother and their friend, berating himself for even attempting to tip-toe in the middle of their disagreement. He shuffled away from them, Pabu perched on top of his head, deciding it was probably safer to go through his warm-up drills alone.
Watching as Bolin slunk away, Korra and Mako shook their heads.
"Seriously, how can he listen to that garbage?" Korra wondered, moving to tune the radio to a different station.
"I don't know," Mako sighed, shaking his head, silently wondering how he and the earthbender were even related. "That stuff isn't even remotely realistic. I mean, a girl torn between two brothers? It's stupid."
"Right," Korra scoffed, resuming her endeavours with Mako to find a station they could agree on, "so stupid."
"Hey, city boy!"
Mako seethed as he wiped the snow away from his face, his whole body shuddering when one stray clump of the freezing white fluff slipped down his neck and under his collar.
He should have known that his last day at the power plant wouldn't be peaceful.
Thanks to Hiroshi Sato's generous sponsorship, Mako hadn't had to keep the job at the power plant, glad to put that gruelling work behind him in favour of the pro-bending ring. He'd hung up his face guard with such relief that even the snow, which had blanketed the city thickly the night before, couldn't damper his mood. He'd practically skipped towards the trolley stop, fondly eyeing the spot on the street where he'd first met Asami, when something large, wet, and freezing had smacked him in the back of the head. Stopping, the firebender had turned around to yell every obscenity he knew at his attacker when another snowball slapped him in the face, the hearty chortles and the 'city boy' comment giving away the identity of his ambusher.
Mako was still seriously considering flinging his best curses at the guilty party.
Korra was sitting on top of Naga like some sort of ice queen, that damned smirk of hers twisting with amusement to the left side of her face as she continued to chuckle at him. Groaning, the firebender approached his teammate, crossing his arms when he finally stood in front of Naga.
"Are you having fun?" he asked irritably, like he was talking to a naughty child.
"Not quite," Korra admitted, her eyes twinkling with trouble.
He really should have seen it coming.
Before Mako could even take up a defence, Korra moved her arms in a smooth motion, bending another large ball of snow and promptly dumping it on the firebender's head, her laughter drowning out his irate screech of her name.
"Now, I'm having fun," she conceded, bending over Naga's saddle and watching her friend with far too much amusement. The amiable polar bear-dog gave Mako a friendly lick, her hot, thick tongue slurping up most of the snow that was clinging to the teenager's hair and face. Forgetting his exasperation with the Avatar for a moment, Mako's features softened as he scratched Naga thoroughly behind the ears.
"Are you done now?" he asked.
"Well…" Korra drawled as she tapped her chin, appraising her dishevel friend. "Yeah, I think you've suffered enough."
"I've done nothing but suffer since the minute I met you."
Six weeks ago, Korra would have taken the bait and started flinging insults at Mako. However, she had learned a lot about the quiet firebender during their short acquaintance, in particular, when he was trying to make a joke. When it came to humour, Mako was no Bolin, but he had his own dry wit about him, a deceivingly droll sort of comedy that could be easily misinterpreted as sarcasm or even ridicule. It had taken time, but Korra now felt confidant she knew when Mako was being serious, and when he was trying to be amusing. So she smiled down at him and was almost giddy when he smiled back.
"Oh please," she said, "you cannot deny that your life has been so much more interesting since I came along."
"You say interesting, I say suffering," he commented, golden eyes keeping a cool focus on the girl before him. "What are you doing here, Korra? We don't have another practice scheduled today."
"Oh!" Korra stammered, her cheeks tingeing pink, and Mako was certain it wasn't from the frosty bite of the air. He couldn't help the little swell of satisfaction he felt, realizing he was making the mighty Korra blush. When she got bashful, it was cute.
"I was running some errands for Pema. She's not feeling too good today, says the baby's moving around a lot, so she asked if I'd get a couple of things they need to finish the nursery," Korra said, trying to sound casual, although her fidgeting was a bit bizarre.
"OK, but why are you here?" he wondered, raising one eyebrow in question. Korra fumbled as she stared at that quirky eyebrow, thinking the expression made Mako more handsome than he already deserved to be.
"Well, I was in the neighborhood," she began. Mako knew immediately that she was lying. The power plant wasn't anywhere near the shopping district. In fact, it was a good ten blocks from it. Still, the firebender kept quiet as Korra explained herself. "And I remembered it was your last day, and I figured that since I was close by, maybe it'd be nice to give you a ride back to the arena." She shrugged then, trying so hard to act like she didn't care if he wanted to take her up on her offer. "Only if you want to, though," she stressed when he didn't answer right away. "So…do you want to?"
When she asked like that, with her blue eyes shimmering like falling snowflakes, her lips pulled into that pout he loved to hate, and her cheeks coloured by a blush he had caused, how could Mako refuse?
He swung himself up on Naga's back, getting comfortable as his hands found a solid grip on the rear of the saddle.
"Let's go home," he said.
Korra scrunched her eyes shut, relishing the victory, reeling in the pleasure she felt at the sound of his voice so close to her. If only he'd put his hands around her waist, the moment would be perfect, but Korra would take her triumphs where she could.
"Alright," she said, pulling on Naga's reins and directing the polar bear-dog back to the arena, "home it is."
"Are they always like this?" Asami asked, shooting Bolin a wary sideways glance. Towelling off the sweat from his face, Bolin gave the heiress a perplexed look. Asami shifted her green eyes towards her left and the earthbender followed them, landing on the sight that had the pretty girl so worried.
"Naw," he consoled and Asami's shoulders sagged with relief. "Sometimes they actually fight." Green eyes widened and ruby lips pursed into a surprised 'o' as Bolin chuckled at her reaction. "Don't worry, Asami," he said, patting her on the shoulder. "This is nothing. They just need to get it out of their system."
"But they've been yelling at each other for the last fifteen minutes," she noted.
"Really? That long?" Bolin asked, turning to look at the clock that hung over the door of the gym. "I'm so used to it that I kinda tune them out."
"You're used to this?" Asami echoed, returning her full attention to the battle that was happening across the gym. All the heiress had wanted to do was catch the last few moments of the Fire Ferrets' training session and invite her boyfriend out to brunch. Instead, she found herself watching with more than a little trepidation as Mako and Korra had a screaming match that was surely rattling the foundation of Avatar Aang Memorial Island.
The pair were standing toe to toe, Korra keeping her shoulders held back and chest high even as she faced the man who was a good head taller than her. There was no fear in the Avatar's narrowed, angry blue eyes, just defiance. As for Mako, he was putting up just as strong a fight as Korra, keeping his body stiff and unmoving, a wall of muscle and strength that could easily stand up to any abuse thrown at him. The sharp, witty, and sometimes cutting comments he was hurling at Korra were not unlike the blasts of fire he tossed in the arena, hot, destructive and smoking. And Korra gave as good as she got, matching Mako for each verbal attack, throwing in a patronizing nickname every so often for good measure, smiling with far too much ego when she noticed how her goading truly irritated the firebender.
Asami was absolutely stunned.
While she'd never expected this sort of belligerent behaviour from the Avatar, she'd never imagined that she would see Mako not only rise to Korra's taunts, but also fully participate in this heated and ridiculous argument. Asami had never seen Mako like this before. Whenever he was with her he was always so calm and kind. With Korra, all of that decorum seemed to be swept away like ash. His hands were on his hips, his face contorted, brows crinkled, cheeks flushed, golden eyes blazing with aggravation and...passion?
No, that wasn't passion. It couldn't be.
"Do they do this often?" Asami wondered, returning her attention to Bolin.
"Every day," he said with a smirk, finding amusement out of the situation. It was the earthbender's casual demeanour that calmed Asami. If Bolin wasn't worried about the tension that electrified the air between Mako and Korra, then she wasn't going to worry about it either.
Startled, Asami looked back towards the feuding teammates and her jaw immediately dropped, a hopeless croak escaping her throat. It seemed that Korra had had enough of the verbal sparring and had opted to take the fight to the next level. She'd tossed Mako clear across the gym, throwing him into one of the training nets. Before Asami could run to her boyfriend and assess any damage done to him, the eighteen year old was out of the netting and screaming a battle cry worthy of Avatar Kyoshi as he launched himself at Korra, fire at the ready. Korra met Mako jab for jab with her own firebending.
Asami was speechless, and Bolin laughed so hard he began to cry.
"See? I told ya' the yelling was nothing."
Korra was strong.
Well of course she was, she was the Avatar and had been trained in three traditional bending styles since the age of four, so her strength really shouldn't have come as a surprise. Yet as she completed her two hundred and fiftieth pull-up, Mako couldn't help being stunned by the girl's power. She gently lowered herself down from the bar, grunted softly as her feet touched the floor. Her arms were like steel, the muscles underneath her rich umber skin tightly corded, straining and sweating from the vigorous workout they'd just endured. Korra had stripped off the top of her uniform, opting to continue her strength training in her sleeveless white undershirt. The seventeen year old pulled at the damp cotton, gently fanning herself before rotating her shoulders, groaning at the pleasurable burn she felt coursing up and down her arms.
Mako gulped, the air in the gym suddenly too thick.
He'd never denied that Korra was pretty. He'd noticed her rare attractiveness the first time they met, his eyes watching her like a hawk as she and Bolin had practised earthbending that night so many weeks ago. Even then, Mako had been mindful of Korra's flowing physical beauty, the shapely lines of her body, the feminine swell of her hips and breasts, the defined curve of her back, the angular power of her jaw, the upturned tip of her self-righteous little nose. She was an amazing athlete, astounding him with her perseverance and dedication. She was also becoming an unwelcome and titillating distraction.
Even though he reminded himself that he had a girlfriend, reminded himself that Asami was elegantly stunning, and kind, and generous, and gentle-natured, Mako couldn't keep his eyes from straying to Korra. When she was bending, when she was weight training, when she was talking, or laughing, or yelling at him (especially when she was yelling at him), or when she chewed on her bottom lip, or quirked her mouth in a half-grin when she was particularly pleased with herself, he noticed everything. It was like Korra was a book and he was enraptured with the story that was her.
This was bad.
This was stupid.
He was being an idiot.
Mako had never had many friends, and he'd certainly never been close friends with a girl before. He was just confusing friendship with attraction. It was fine to think that your female friends were pretty, and while he did feel a smidgen of guilt for blatantly checking Korra out when he was taken, Mako chalked it up to harmless hormones. He and Korra weren't ever going to be anything more than friends because he didn't feel that way about her, so a little peek here and there wasn't so bad.
Nodding his head decisively, Mako smiled congenially at Korra when she looked up from her stretches and noticed him staring in her direction. He shrugged and waved before returning to the hot squats he'd been doing before Korra distracted him.
Korra felt her cheeks flush and it had nothing to do with her workout. It wasn't bad enough that he had smiled at her so casually, but now Mako had turned his back to her, granting the Avatar a stellar view of the firebender's rear end as he lowered his torso between his bent knees and clenched his ass before straightening his spine and doing the exercise all over again.
Korra swallowed hard.
The firebender was in peak physical condition, his long, limber body a wall of solid muscle, his features sharp and strong, his face dashing, eyes intelligent and deep, lips thin and soft. The eighteen year old was stunning, something Korra had thought since the moment she'd watched him pull-off one of the most astounding hat tricks she'd ever witnessed. She enjoyed spending time with Mako, bending with him, sparring, working-out, she even enjoyed their constant arguments and head-butting. Mako challenged her unlike any of her sifus. Not only was he scathingly critical, demanding more than the best from her, but he was also encouraging, a good leader, and most of all, he was slowly teaching Korra the value of tactical planning.
It wasn't just enough to plow through opponent after opponent with overwhelming physical strength. Sometimes, it was better to have a plan, to observe, look for weaknesses and soft spots before launching an attack. Although this approach to fighting wasn't Korra's style, she appreciated that Mako was such a patient bender and that he believed she had it in her to do the same.
But right now, it wasn't Mako's mind that had Korra's attention.
The eighteen year old grunted as he descended into another squat, his thighs shaking slightly as he held his weight over his centre, clenching the muscles of his rear and lower back, squeezing them thoroughly before slowly rising up. The hair at the nape of his neck was drenched with sweat, and the little mewling noise he made when he rose out of his squat left Korra's mouth dry.
Her whole body was tingling, a wave of warmth she'd never felt before flowing up and down her chi paths. She felt like squirming, but at the same time, she couldn't look away. It was like she was seeing Mako for the first time, not as a talented bender, or a teammate, or a pain in the ass, or even a friend. For the first time, Korra was seeing Mako as a man.
And even though she was the Avatar, the Chosen One, a gifted bender, a destined leader, what more was she in this moment than Korra, a seventeen year old girl with a crush on one of her best friends?
The realization was like getting hit in the head with an earth disk.
She'd known Mako for almost seven weeks. In that time, Korra had found the firebender to be rude, irritating, demanding, challenging, gentle, sentimental, a jerk, and a friend. She thought him handsome, even charming when he wanted to be. She liked being around him, she hated being away from him. She enjoyed getting him mad but she adored his smiles and his laughter. She liked when he stared at her. She wanted him to stare at her.
Korra gasped. This was too much.
Pursing her lips, Korra turned away, her heart beating wildly like the drums that shook the South Pole during the winter solstice festival. The seventeen year old marched as far away from Mako as she could get, as if the more physical distance she put between them the easier it would be to hide from her feelings.
"Is...this your card?"
Korra stretched her neck to the side, looking at the card out of the corner of her eye as Bolin held it as close to her as his arm could reach.
"Not even close," she said, clicking her tongue and returning her attention to Pabu. The content fire ferret was lounging in the Avatar's lap, purring sweetly as she gently combed his soft fur.
"Are you sure?" Bolin asked, shifting so that he was comfortably lounging against Korra's back again, digging his bare feet under the cushion of the worn red couch, staring with perplexed intensity at the card in his hand.
"Positive," she sighed.
"I was sure this was your card," he insisted, picking up the pile of playing cards in his lap, fanning them out in one of his large hands and perusing them with a critical expression. "I said pick a card, you did, then you put it back in the deck, I shuffled them, cut them, and the top card was supposed to be your card."
"Maybe you're not very good at card tricks," Korra suggested good-naturedly.
"I'll have you know that I am a budding novice magician and an entrepreneur of card tricks," the earthbender stated with preposterous haughtiness. Korra could tell her friend was kidding around, chuckling at his bravado, her back rubbing comfortingly against his.
"Maybe you should stick to pro-bending," she said.
"Maybe you shouldn't be such a bad audience," Bolin shot back with a smile.
"Maybe you should take up a new hobby."
"Maybe we could find something else to do."
"How about the two of you stop flirting and get your heads in this game?"
Korra rolled her eyes, directing her attention to the brooding firebender whose irked, baritone voice had sliced through the fun little bubble she and Bolin had cocooned themselves in.
"Mako..." Bolin groaned, cringing when his brother stared him down, amber eyes hard as copper coins, brows furrowed together like a cross caterpillar.
"Why don't you pick a card?" Korra suggested. "Maybe Bolin will have better luck with you."
"It's not luck, it's magic," the sixteen year old grumbled.
"Magic, whatever," Korra shrugged.
"I didn't invite you up here to play card tricks and groom Pabu," Mako lectured from his seat opposite Korra, one hand raising to flap a thick paperback manual in the air. Korra stared at the book like it was the vilest thing in the world, seriously considering setting the stupid thing on fire.
The Pro-bending Official Rule Book.
When the Fire Ferrets had broken their team huddle at the end of their training block, Korra had been excited when Mako asked her if she could hang around in the attic for the rest of the day. Having only ever been invited to the brothers' apartment once before – so she and Mako could gather disguises and collaborate on a plan to rescue Bolin from the Equalists – Korra had been thrilled, imagining a few hours of team bonding, cracking jokes, playing games, even just talking or listening to the radio. She was sorely disappointed when she'd climbed the attic stairs only to find Mako flipping through that damned rule book, scribbling notes in the margins and dog-earring pages. He had no intention of having fun, he was still in team captain mode, and as soon as Korra had sat on the couch, Bolin enthusiastically sitting beside her, the questions began.
Korra had never liked tests that didn't involve bending. She had never been a particularly responsible or attentive student, much to the chagrin of her White Lotus tutors. Her lack of interest in anything remotely academic had always been a challenge for the young Avatar, and she suspected that that was why she was having so much trouble with her spiritual studies and airbending training; there was too much damn thinking involved!
And now, Mako was quizzing her on the ins and outs of pro-bending, practically giving her a history lesson on the sport before launching into a flurry of questions that had the seventeen year old's brain groggy with boredom. Korra had suffered through the interminable quizzing, thanking all of her past lives when Mako had excused himself to use the bathroom, relieving her of his monotonous lecture and giving Bolin the opportunity to show off his not so amazing card trick.
"Mako, you've been grilling me for over two hours about the rules. I know them," Korra insisted.
"You didn't know that it's a foul to hit the roof."
"Who's gonna hit the roof?" Korra exclaimed, startling Pabu, the fire ferret's cherubic face darting pointedly between the Avatar and the firebender.
"You could hit the roof," Mako stated, his tone neither berating or complimentary, but simply stating a fact. Though she didn't say it, Korra was flattered that Mako had such faith and respect in her bending skills.
"Yes I could," she chose to say instead, "but I won't."
"Because it's a foul."
"Yes!" Korra groaned. "Hitting the roof is a foul. Stepping out of your zone is a foul. Hitting the ref is a foul. Head strikes with earth and fire are a foul, and knocking a player over the side of the ring is a foul! Ugh!"
Exasperated, Korra sagged against Bolin's back, rolling her head backwards so that it rested on his shoulder. She didn't notice the earthbender's small squeak or the way he blushed as he focused on shuffling the deck of cards rather than on his closeness to the Avatar, but Mako did. His expression became pinched and sour, like he had eaten a bucket full of lemons.
Huffing, Korra turned her attention to Mako, thinking his irked expression was meant for her and her outburst. Frowning back at him, she crossed her arms and snorted.
"Is setting your team captain on fire a foul, too? Cuz guess what I'm seriously considering right now," she asked.
Bolin couldn't help it.
The cards he'd been so diligently shuffling flew out of his fingers like water, scattering around his legs, the couch, and the floor. His whole body quaked with every loud chortle, tears pooling in the corners of his eyes as he tried so hard to catch his breath. He was tired, he was bored, he was hungry, but most of all, he was just happy to be spending the day with his brother and Korra. He was especially glad that Korra didn't take Mako's attitude too personally, meeting the broody firebender's stubborn streak with her own, taking him down a peg from his Mr. Serious Pro-bender persona.
Bolin knew Mako better than anyone else, well aware that his brother's tunnel vision-esque outlook on certain things, like the championship, was off-putting. But Korra didn't back down from Mako when he was being obsessively focused. She spoke her mind, insulted the firebender, teased him, challenged him, stood up to him, and that was why she was so great.
Korra was just amazing.
Clutching his belly as he continued to laugh, Bolin never noticed the concerned stares Korra and Mako shot in his direction, or the way the pair locked eyes, blue and gold clashing with matching passions, the ever present tension that coiled around them becoming palpable and heavy.
He never noticed Korra smile shyly at Mako.
And he never noticed his brother smile back.
Mako couldn't explain how he knew that it was his face Korra was visualizing as she waterbended at her targets. It could have been the way her brows furrowed, the way her cerulean eyes darkened with intense concentration, the way her lips were set in a lush but solid line, or even the way her body lunged with conviction and fluidity. Frankly, he didn't care if the girl was envisioning slapping his face silly as long as she kept hitting those targets dead centre every time.
And she was.
Korra's accuracy was impeccable, her stance was perfect, her focus was as sharp as a blade, her concentration unbreakable. She was finally fighting like a pro-bender and it made Mako proud. It also made him pity the poor saps who would be unlucky enough to face the Fire Ferrets in the ring. He watched her finish her drills, arms crossed over his chest, his ego swelling just a tad, but mostly, he was happy for Korra.
"Got something to say, cool guy?" she asked cockily.
She had completed her practice, a fine layer of sweat making her skin glow, her brow dotted with drops of perspiration that languorously trailed down the sides of her face. She was breathing heavily, eyes as bright as the sky, chest heaving, hair sticking to her neck, and a smile so full of victory that Mako was surprised she wasn't gloating. Instead, she waited silently for his approval.
Returning her egotistical smirk, Mako eyed Korra's perfectly punctured targets before giving her a slow, perhaps admiring, once over. She was challenging him again and, not for the first time, Mako found himself liking her fiery bouts of defiance, drawn to the strange, entrancing blue flame that was always alive and raging in the depths of her eyes. He was surprised by how much he liked taking her bait.
Snorting, he walked past Korra, patting her on the head like she was a child as he moved towards the exit before throwing a flippant comment over his shoulder.
He laughed to himself when he heard Korra's guttural cry follow him out of the gym. Mako may have found a strange fondness in Korra's mission to get under his skin, but he enjoyed getting a rise out of her just as much.
"Good practice," Mako said sincerely as the Fire Ferrets broke their group huddle. The trio dispatched to different corners of the gym, collecting their bags stuffed with their street clothes before retreating to the change rooms.
Mako was always the first one dressed, going back to the gym to quickly tidy up the mess the team had made. Usually he completed this task alone, Korra and Bolin always taking too long in the showers, so the firebender was surprised when Korra came bustling into the gym, her large blue eyes darting around the open space, searching. She'd obviously rushed through her shower, her dark brown hair still wet and hanging down her back, and she hadn't given much thought to dressing herself because one of her arm warmers was hanging loose around her wrist, the right leg of her pants was pulled up around her knee, and her pelt was hanging lowly on her hips, the knot threatening to come free with her next jerky movement.
"Something wrong?" he asked.
"Have you seen my bag?" she asked.
"Didn't you take it with you to the change room?" he countered.
"Not that one," Korra said, walking towards him, "the big blue one I brought in with me. It had the Water Tribe symbol on it."
Mako frowned, not recalling seeing the bag. He and Korra took a few minutes to scan the gym, the firebender's keen honeyed gaze spotting the telling blue sack peeking from behind one of the training nets.
"Here it is," he said, pulling the bag towards him, surprised by how hefty it was. "What's in here?" he asked, handing the overstuffed satchel to Korra.
"Coats," she said simply, swinging the bag over her shoulder like it didn't weigh the same as a husky child.
"Coats?" he echoed, wondering why on earth Korra would have a bag full of coats. The girl was from the South Pole and often proclaimed, with obnoxious pride, that she was practically impervious to the cold, laughing at the citizens of Republic City who bundled up with copious amounts of layers at the first signs of winter.
"Thanks," she said, nodding to him as she turned to walk away without further explanation.
"What do you need with a bunch of coats?" he called after her. Korra stopped in the doorway of the gym, seemingly debating telling Mako what she was up to.
"Well, it's cold out," she said cryptically, throwing him an innocent glance over her shoulder.
"I know that. Doesn't answer my question."
Knowing he wasn't going to let her off the hook, Korra sighed, dropping the sack and turning to face her friend.
"I'm going to Central Station to hand out these coats to the kids. You know, kids like Skoochy."
Mako hadn't expected that.
Like she had been doing since the moment they'd met, Korra had taken Mako completely by surprise. He was absolutely stunned at Korra's thoughtfulness and generosity.
"I just feel like there's so much I can't do but at the same time I should be doing more," Korra babbled when Mako continued to stare at her like she had sprouted three heads. "It's not much, just a bunch of old coats. It's not a safe home, or a warm meal, or parents, but right now, it's the best I can do."
'It's more than anyone else has done,' he thought, feeling the words weigh on his tongue. He wanted to tell Korra how much a warm coat meant to an orphaned kid on the street. Clothing was all most of them could claim as their own and to have something to keep them protected from those long, bitterly cold nights, it meant more than anything. A person could survive a few days without food or water, but all it took was one night cast out in sub-zero temperatures for a life to be snuffed out. Giving out those coats, Korra was giving out one more than clothes. She was giving out hope.
Suddenly, Mako was looking at her differently. He wasn't seeing Korra the athlete, or the cocky kid, or even the Avatar. The woman that stood before him was something else entirely.
She was amazing.
Fidgeting in the awkward silence, Korra mumble a goodbye to Mako and bolted out of the gym, leaving the firebender to stew in his newest revelation. Later that afternoon while he and Asami were taking a walk, Mako suggested that they go to Central Station. When they arrived, the young man felt his heart tug sharply as he spotted several kids dashing through the square, coats of saffron, orange, and ruby keeping their fragile bodies sheltered from the stinging early winter air. And when he spotted the few little ice forts and igloos tucked near the drier corners of Central Station, the craftsmanship no doubt influenced by Water Tribe design, Mako found himself wishing that it was a crazy, blue-eyed Avatar holding his hand.
The upbeat sound of a quick-paced jazz number greeted Mako when he entered the gym. He was a few minutes late for practice, having had to get new leg pads from the equipment room. He'd rushed into the gym, a quick apology already tripping over his tongue when he stopped suddenly, surprised by the scene before him.
"Back home, we call this move the squid."
Bolin's laughter carried to the high ceiling as the sixteen year old watched Korra wave her arms around her body, limbs looking like noodles as she curled them in and out from her torso, her hips swaying back and forth like a gentle wave.
"Not bad," Bolin commented, his green eyes bright with mirth as they subtly ogled the Avatar's librating body, appreciating the way the grey training uniform hugged her hips and rear end, the graceful curve of her wrist, the way her fingers tickled the air as she spun in a circle.
Mako tugged awkwardly at his collar.
While he'd suspected it from the beginning, the way his little brother was looking at Korra left no question.
Bolin liked Korra.
In fact, he really liked her if that sparkle in his eyes was any indication. Mako had seen that look on Bolin's face a few times in the past, always over some girl, and every time, Mako had wished his brother the best in his romantic conquests. But this time, the firebender couldn't find it in himself to support his sibling's latest infatuation.
As he watched Bolin approach Korra and take her into his arms, leading her into a quick-step that had the girl laughing whole-heartedly, Mako felt something leaden and unwelcome settle low in his gut. It was a foreign sensation, a poison, something toxic and coating. It crushed his insides into liquid, made him feel jumpy and sick, and he swallowed heavily when Korra dipped Bolin over her knee and pressed an innocent peck to his cheek as they finished their dance.
Mako didn't understand.
Since the moment his father had lifted him up so that he could peer at the baby in his mother's arms, all Mako had ever wanted was happiness for his little brother. Clearly, Korra was a source of Bolin's cheerfulness, so the developing relationship between them shouldn't have instilled a sudden panic in the firebender.
He could see why Bolin was falling for Korra. She was pretty, an exotic foreigner with beautiful dark skin, a tone and firm body, a charming smile and the bluest eyes he'd ever seen. But she was more than that. Korra was stubborn, a troublemaker, a spitfire, someone who fought selfishly and selflessly. She was eager and excitable, compassionate and kind (when she wanted to be). She was spoiled, she was naïve, she was obnoxious and difficult, but she was also gentle, and funny, and strong, and fearless, and was it really any wonder why Bolin liked her?
Why he liked her.
Mako shook his head violently, dispelling the thought from his brain, cringing at himself for even considering the possibility that the warmth he felt in his chest whenever he was around Korra was due to anything other than platonic feelings.
Very, very strong platonic feelings.
The firebender took a minute to collect himself before interrupting Bolin and Korra. He reminded himself that he was with Asami, that he liked Asami (and not in the strictly platonic way), and that Bolin had a crush on Korra.
Still, it wouldn't hurt to talk to Bolin later about the messy consequences that could come from dating one's teammates.
"Is that all you got?" Korra goaded, arms held out, fingers curling inward in a defiant challenge. "I thought you had the moves!"
"You want moves? You asked for it!"
Bolin laughed as he earthbended two clay disks at Korra, giving the left one just a little more power. Korra dodged one of the disks, flipping effortlessly into the air and bending water from a nearby barrel to slice through the second projectile. She flashed a victorious smirk at Bolin when she noticed him make a sudden movement, pulling both of his arms towards his chest. Realizing what he was doing, Korra ducked low, slamming her knees to the floor before the earth disk could strike her in the back.
"Nice one, Bolin!"
Korra grit her teeth at the sweetly feminine cheer, her ire rising, destroying her focus, destroying her fun. With a mighty cry, Korra jumped to her feet and punched forward, powerful, fierce, and sent a perfect stream of fire at the disk Bolin had bended back in her direction. The clay evaporated on impact, Korra's flames reducing the dry earth to millions of dust particles, obscuring her view of Bolin.
"Foul! No firebending!"
Rolling her eyes, Korra turned to look at the boy who was playing on her last nerve.
Mako was standing off to the side with Asami. The heiress had come to the gym claiming she needed to get Pabu's measurements for the uniform she was having commissioned for him. As soon as Asami had entered the gym, skin pale and radiant, hair glossy and lush, clothes pressed and pristine, her steps light and casual in the heels she wore, Mako had rushed over to his girlfriend so that he could give her a proper greeting. He'd picked Asami up and spun her around, laughing like a little kid before returning the girl to her feet and planting a noisy kiss to her cheek, and while Korra watched this overbearing display of affection, she gagged, feeling a dark, slimy sort of fire circle through her gut.
It was why she'd demanded Bolin spar with her one-on-one.
But then Asami had to go and ruin that, too, and now Mako was making things worse.
"I thought this was supposed to be a team practice," Korra hissed at the firebender.
"It is team practice," Mako agreed.
"Then maybe you should stop entertaining company and come join me and Bolin," she barked back, eyes narrowing in Asami's direction. Korra didn't care if the pretty, prissy girl noticed her hostility, she just wanted her out. Asami had Mako all the time, but team practice was just Korra's to spend with Mako.
And Bolin, too...
...but mostly Mako.
"I'm not the one who needs to brush up on their footwork," the firebender retorted.
"My footwork is just fine!" Korra protested, imagining how satisfying it would be to waterwhip the smug smirk off his face.
"Then what was that fancy flip you did?" Mako countered, brows narrowing as his mouth twisted into a scowl. "I told you Korra, don't get too complicated. Fussy moves like that will cost us the first match."
"I'll do flips if I want. You're not the boss of me."
"If you're on the Fire Ferrets, then yeah, I am the boss of you. Team captain, remember?"
"Team captain of the idiots," she muttered lowly.
"What's that? Got something to say, Korra?"
She locked eyes with Mako. Every feeling she had for this boy, the good ones, and especially the bad ones, were waging war within her heart and mind. She'd never known anyone to get her so riled up, had never let anyone get that close to her, and she didn't know how to deal with it.
So she ran.
"Whatever. I'm done."
Korra stomped towards the gym exit only to have Mako block her path. She refused to look him in the eyes, opting instead to stare at his throat, licking her lips as his Adam's apple shifted.
"Practice isn't over."
His voice was low, smokey, like it had been touched with the fire he bended. It sent a shiver down her spine and that made Korra's need to escape desperate.
"It is for me!"
She pushed past Mako, easily shoving him away as she left the gym, feeling three pairs of eyes boring into her back. She knew Bolin would be concerned, his charming features marred by the downturn of his mouth, tiny crinkles of worry pinching the corners of his green eyes. She didn't care what Asami thought of her tantrum, she had no real opinion of the girl (the elegant, prissy, rich girl), and as far as she was concerned, Mako could spontaneously combust and she wouldn't bend a drop to put him out.
Korra pulled at her hair as she marched towards the change room, growling. She didn't know when it happened, how it happened, or even why, but it was something she couldn't ignore anymore.
She liked Mako.
It had taken time for Korra to admit that the anxious churning she would feel licking low in her belly just before Mako stepped into the gym for morning practice was because she looked forward to seeing the broody firebender. It had been difficult to define her feelings at first. Korra had never been one to swoon over boys, and she certainly had never entertained romantic fantasies, at least not since those early awkward stages of puberty. Realizing that the reason her heart hammered heavily in her chest, and her palms would sweat, and she'd catch herself blushing was because she was attracted to Mako was almost like drowning; she panicked, she struggled, she fought for breath and kicked for the surface, but in the end she was overcome, sinking into an unknown place. It was scary at first, terrifying, but strangely peaceful, especially when she finally accepted that this was her fate.
She liked Mako.
There were other things to be concerned about – her airbending training, her spiritual growth, the tournament, Amon – but in a corner of her heart, carefully tucked away like an antique porcelain tea set, there was a secret spot for a tall, broody firebender with golden eyes and a red scarf.
Stomping into the change room, Korra carelessly undressed and threw herself into a shower stall, letting the scalding water beat down on her body, almost as if she was trying to wash her feelings away.
She liked him, she liked him so much...
...and he liked someone else.
It wasn't fair.
"OK, I can't take this anymore," Korra stated, marching up to Mako and butting him out of the way with her hip. "Move. I got this."
"Korra!" the firebender cried, losing his grip on the frying pan and sucking in a panicked breath as it swivelled precariously on the single burner.
"Relax," she sighed, quickly steadying the iron pan and giving it a gentle shimmy so that the noodles were spread evenly along the surface. "Where do you keep the spices?"
"Do you even know what you're doing?"
"Better than you do."
Korra smirked at him, and Mako glared. He hated that smirk. It was so obnoxious, so superior, so damn infuriating and he wanted to wipe it off her face. The only problem was that he wasn't sure if he wanted to accomplish that by shaking her, or kissing her.
That last thought gave the firebender pause, and before it could manifest itself into an image flitting across his imagination, Mako opened the little cupboard to his left and fished out a small box filled with the few spices he used for cooking. Korra let the noodles and simmer in the oil as she perused the meagre collection. She examined each bottle, pouting in thought before setting aside the spices she wanted.
"Do you have any hot sauce?"
"Bolin doesn't like spicy food."
"Doesn't answer my question. Do you have any hot sauce or not, city boy?"
"Aren't you tired of calling me that?" Mako asked exasperatedly as he crouched down to open the icebox, stealthily pushing aside old take-out containers before his fingers curled around the small bottle of Hotman, his favourite brand of hot sauce.
Korra never answered, not looking up from the noodles as she held out her hand for the hot sauce. Mako rolled his eyes, slapping the cool bottle against her palm.
"Just don't use too much," he warned.
"I know. Bolin doesn't like spicy things," Korra repeated distractedly as she placed the bottle beside the spices and started sprinkling sesame seeds over the noodles. Mako briefly wondered if inviting the Avatar for dinner and a strategy session was a good idea, but he forgot his frustrations as he watched Korra cook. Taking up a pair of chopsticks, she added the mushrooms, onions, and peppers he'd had set aside to the noodles. As Korra watched the vegetables saute, their flavors infusing the oil, Mako found himself smiling.
"Why are you staring at me?" Korra whispered, her focus never straying from the pan of noodles. She was adding bits of cooked komodo-chicken that Mako had had fried the day before.
"Guess I never pegged you as a cook," he said, relaxing against the icebox. "You don't strike me as the domestic type."
"Well, I'm full of surprises," she answered sassily, flashing the firebender a toothy grin that had his ears blushing. "Hand me a bowl, would ya?"
Glad for the minor distraction, Mako did as he was asked. Korra methodically lifted a generous portion of noodles into the bowl, topping it with pieces of vegetables and komodo-chicken before adding a few drops of soy sauce.
"Bolin! Soup's on!"
Leaving his place by the couch where he had been trying to teach Pabu a new trick, Bolin bounded for the kitchen and took the bowl of noodles Korra held out to him. The sixteen year old cradled the dish like it was a newborn baby, holding it under his nose so he could take a deep, appreciative sniff.
"Smells delicious. Thanks, Korra."
"Hey, I did most of the cooking," Mako reminded, but his brother was already taking up chopsticks and digging in. Shaking his head ruefully, Mako looked back at Korra and watched as she began heaping a generous amount of hot sauce on the remaining noodles before topping them off with fireflakes. He managed to contain his surprise, barely raising one thick eyebrow as he noted that Korra seemed to like her noodles as spicy as he did.
"There," she said, spreading the sauce around the pan and turning down the burner. "We'll just let that simmer for a few minutes."
She moved to stand beside Mako, leaning the back of her thighs against the icebox. The pair sat in silence as they waited for their meal to finish cooking, watching with contentedness as Bolin ate his noddles.
"Thanks, for helping me with dinner" Mako said, bumping his elbow playfully against her arm. She was warm. Korra smiled at him and returned the gentle gesture, sliding closer to him, their hips touching.
"Where would you be without me, city boy?"
It was the first time he'd ever seen Korra so still and Mako did not waste the opportunity. A loud, reverberating snore shook the air around the Fire Ferrets and Mako grimaced with mild surprise when he realized that the rumbling, hog-monkey sound had come from Korra. She was leaning against his shoulder, having fallen asleep moments after Bolin had, his brother curled up beside the Avatar, breathing evenly, his dreams undisturbed by their teammate's raucous snores.
They'd been waiting for almost two hours, bunking down on a pile of old mats in one of the equipment rooms while they waited for the Boarcupines to finish their training. The Wolf-bats had cancelled their training, a cocky move no doubt meant to send a message to the other teams – 'we're so good we don't need to train the day before the tournament' – so Mako had decided that the Fire Ferrets would take advantage of the Wolf-bat's narcissism. He'd booked the team to fill in that empty slot, allowing the trio an extra two hours of practice for the day. Unfortunately, that meant that he, Bolin and Korra were stuck waiting around, and rather than go up to the brothers' apartment, the friends had decided to camp out near the gym. Bolin had been the first to nod off, then Korra, the two younger teens wiped out from many early morning practices.
Mako didn't mind though. He finally had an opportunity to watch Korra without interruption.
She was pretty. Not dazzlingly beautiful like Asami, but natural and beguiling, like a waterfall. Korra didn't need deckles or cosmetics to accentuate her attributes. She didn't need blush to highlight her finely chiseled cheekbones, or mascara to curl and darken her long lashes, or rouge to draw attention to the plumpness of her lips. She didn't need to wear the latest fashions to hug her curves, or jewelry to contrast against her dark skin. All she had to do was simply be Korra...headstrong, impatient, loud, arrogant, crazy, generous, strong, kind, lovely, entrancing, amazing Korra.
This was bad.
He'd finally realized it the night before, when he and Korra had been eating their dinner. They'd been sitting across each other on the floor, playing a silly game of footsie while slurping on their noodles, tossing harmless taunts back and forth, laughing with Bolin as the earthbender continued to try and get Pabu to jump through an earth-disk. Korra had just finished the last of her noodles when Mako noticed a speck of hot sauce was sitting on her chin, just under the left corner of her mouth. For a moment, Mako had felt like that little dot was daring him to inch closer, to see for himself how Korra's skin would taste on his tongue mingled with the heady burn of the red sauce. But he'd come to his senses before he could even divulge in the fantasy, telling Korra politely she had some food on her face.
And then she'd lapped up the teasing smear with a casual flick of her tongue and Mako knew.
He liked Korra.
It was a lot like generating lightning for the first time, powerful, incapacitating, and terrifying, the epiphany so jarring that Mako had had to excuse himself from the room after the tongue incident and hide in the bathroom for ten minutes in order to collect his thoughts and calm down.
This was wrong.
He was with Asami. He liked Asami, he was dating Asami, Asami was a good person, a kind heart, a great kisser, a beautiful girl, one he didn't deserve, and she liked him. But, for all the praise he gave to Asami, one glaring negative kept pestering the firebender.
Asami wasn't Korra.
He was being an idiot, of course. He had a wonderful girlfriend, someone completely out of his league who didn't care that he came from the streets, or that he had no grooming, no background, nothing but an old scarf and a little brother he'd die for. Asami liked him for who he was, despite all the things that should stand between them.
Korra wasn't so different. They were friends, and although they argued, and teased, and annoyed each other, he knew that they cared for one another the way only best friends did. He wanted to protect her, talk to her, stand beside her, see her do all the amazing things he knew her capable of, both in the pro-bending ring and out in the world, but there was one huge, glaring complication that assaulted the firebender.
Bolin liked Korra, too.
In fact, his baby brother had a massive crush on Korra.
Mako couldn't blame Bolin for his infatuation with their teammate. She was incredible. Somehow, this girl from the bottom of the world had stumbled into Republic City, intent on fighting for the people, and somewhere along the way, she'd found them, making a comfy home for herself in the brothers' hearts. It had been years since Mako had felt this sort of attachment to someone who wasn't Bolin. He didn't feel this close to Asami, although that wasn't saying he wouldn't feel that way given more time, but Korra was special, something Bolin had known from the start.
Peering at his dozing brother, Mako smiled gently.
He couldn't hurt Bolin. He couldn't hurt Asami. It would be better to just ignore how he felt about Korra. Maybe, if he treated her like a common friend, if he denied that she was anything more to him beyond a comrade, if he was able to disregard the way she made his inner fire flare, maybe then he could forget the way he felt about her.
Sighing, Mako tilted his head back, his shifting body disturbing Korra's nap. The girl groaned, rubbing her cheek against his arm as she settled back into a comfortable position, her body heavy as it leaned against his own. Unable to help himself, Mako flicked a strand of brown hair out of Korra's face, his fingertips barely grazing her warm dark skin.
She was so soft.
Mako frowned, turning away from the girl at his side.
When did everything get so complicated?
So, did you like it?
I know that this was a long one, but as it turns out, alot happens in twelve days! Originally, this fic was going to jump between days, then I decided to do a little short for each of the days instead. Giant mistake or brilliant idea? I haven't decided yet. I wanted to keep a balance between Korra and Mako's growing feelings for each other, but also look at the growing bond between the Fire Ferrets and also the relationship both Korra and Mako have with Bolin.
Now, some of you may have noticed that I mention that Korra told Mako what happened with Amon at Avatar Aang Memorial Island ala epsidoe four. This was not a typo. I have a oneshot in the works that will be part of this collection that will detail that particular conversation.
Anyway, as much as this oneshot drove me crazy, in the end, I think it's one of my favorites.
Let me know what you think!
Thanks to everyone who has been reading, reviewing, favoriting and alerting.
If you want to leave a question, comment, or review, don't hesitate.
Keep calm and Korra on!