A/N: It should be noted that this isn't remotely canon nor is it even my speculation of what could happen on the show (in fact, I believe if Bolin's ever going to get kidnapped it'll probably be because of some gambling debt with the Triads over probending or some fangirl gone Fatal Attraction). This is just a story, and like all stories it's meant to be enjoyed and I truly hope you do. :)
I'd like to thank Kim for going over this monster for me. She knew I was sick when I wrote this and still offered to help. Bless her heart.
The Heart Is a Lonely Warrior
"Have you ever lost someone close to you?"
"When it happens, all you can think about is that last conversation you had with them, what they looked like, the sound of their voice. And you wish you could take back all the bad and have just one last chance to make up for the time you thought you had."
". . . You'll have that chance."
"Yeah . . . I'll make sure of it."
i. blitz attack
When the attack comes, it comes quickly.
"Don't let them touch you!" Mako yells, punching quick bursts of fire at one of the Equalist's heads. "They can chi block your bending!"
Korra nods in affirmative and jumps back. She's used to grappling with her opponent, even when bending. She's used to the close proximity. But now she must adapt and stay back, far enough away to avoid their sharp movements and long-range weapons. She must become a leaf on the wind.
Turning back and forth, she dodges projectiles before uprooting the earth beneath her assailants' feet. Only one falls while the other two avoid the rock-slide and leap forward. A steel bola shoots out and nicks her ribs. She feints left before turning and diving beneath a fruit cart for shelter. She needs to find higher ground so she can better assess the situation. The streets are too narrow and there are too many pedestrians walking about and she's not sure how long she can avoid the Equalists' long-range weapons without setting a few shops on fire.
She slides out from beneath the cart, rubbing her elbows hot. Twin steel bolas soar past her face this time and she narrowly avoids them as she twists and turns, sweeping a low, wide arc of fire just to throw them off her position. The bolas break glass and wood; splintering shards spray up into the air. She rolls over, buying herself a moment, before flipping up onto her feet.
Gathering her chi into a tight cord, she snaps a whip of fire at her attackers, trying to trip their ankles or at least burn their weapons. They are resistant, like the protective suits they wear, and the bastards are far more nimble than she had expected.
After raising a solid rock wall in front of her, Korra jumps up and flips backwards onto the canopy above. Here she has a better view of her surroundings and of her adversaries. She does a quick scan and spots the three Equalists below her on the streets and to their rear, not some five hundred yards away behind another building, is an open courtyard and fountain. She thinks she can lure them there, giving her more space to move and less places for them to hide.
Korra sneaks a glance in Mako and Bolin's direction to see six on two, with Mako trying to take the brunt of the attack. One of the Equalist's launches an electrical assault on Bolin, striking out with a taser, but Mako pushes his brother out of the way. It's painful to watch the firebender absorb the shock, but he manages to knock one of the assailant's to the ground before falling to his knees. Bolin forms a solid wall of cover while Mako recuperates, regaining his strength.
The brothers are keeping their ground but Korra's not sure how long they can hold off a frontal assault like that. She can try to lead her three away, tackle them on her own, and then go help Mako and Bolin or she can bring her three over and try to help them fight all nine at once. It's a risk to the brothers, but so are six on two.
Korra wavers. What would Mako do?
She makes a quick assessment and concludes that the three of them haven't been teammates long enough to know each other's moves or work properly together in a real fight. Korra's used to fighting on her own and the brothers are a well-oiled duoing machine. They can hold their own while she disposes of the three Equalists in front of her. She just needs them to buy her some time before they can regroup.
She has made her decision.
Dodging projectiles, Korra whirls back around and jumps off the canopy, driving her adversaries back with a series of hard, fast rock punches followed by white-hot fire kicks. The flames are fanning high, licking at their masks, and she backs them towards the fountain where she intends to freeze them in place. With those three secure she can assist the brothers.
It looks like she's about to get her wish when all three Equalists pull out several small objects from their belts. They look something akin to marbles. The Equalists throw them to the ground and the pellets explode with a greyish-blue mist, suffusing the air with eye-stinging smoke and a vile stench that leaves a throat-clenching taste at the back of Korra's throat.
The Equalists become shadows, fading into a smoke so thick that Korra can barely see. Her eyes involuntarily well up with tears and she begins to bend blindly. Though she can't see through the obscuring field, she suspects her adversaries can. She tries to warn Mako and Bolin, but she can't even speak. Smoke fills her lungs and she coughs.
She stops attacking and flips backwards, climbing high up onto the rooftops to evade the suffocating smoke. Taking in a sharp breath of fresh air, she coughs once more and looks down onto the grey scene below. The shadowy figures of the Equalists are gone.
As the dust and smoke begin to settle, only one figure can be spotted kneeling in the ruins of the market street. It's Mako, and he's screaming.
Bolin is gone.
ii. placing the blame
They say the entire world becomes your enemy when you lose the one you love, and once the dust settles that's exactly how Mako views Korra—as his enemy. So he goes off to search for Bolin, alone; he gets pummelled by Triad gang members, alone; he discovers no sign of Bolin or the Equalists, alone.
Hours later, Korra finds him staggering in a back alley, bloodied and bruised.
"Did you find him?" she asks, leaping off Naga.
"Do you see him here?"
Korra frowns. "What I meant was did you find any leads as to where the Equalists might have taken him?"
"I'll get in contact with Tenzin." She nods reassuringly. "He'll know what to do."
But Mako just crosses his arms over his chest and turns away.
"Hey." She reaches out tentatively. "You're acting like we've already lost."
"I have lost, Korra. Right now my little brother's all alone and I'm not there to protect him."
"I know this is hard, but if we work together—"
"What do you know!" Mako snaps. "You're the reason he was taken! It's your fault that we got mixed up in this mess to begin with!"
His words cut through her like a knife. She wants to yell at him, call him a jerk for placing all the blame on her, but a large part of her shrinks away in guilt.
"Korra, I—" He drops his head. "Look, I didn't mean it. I'm just upset and—"
"No, I get it." She nods. "You're right."
"No, I'm not."
"Yes, you are." She takes in a shuddering breath. "It's my responsibility as the Avatar to protect the people and not drag them into my conflicts."
There is an awkward moment of silence and Mako closes his eyes with a sigh. He looks defeated.
"We're going to save your brother." Korra placed a hand on his shoulder. "I won't give up—and I won't let you give up either."
He turns to look at her, and for the first time that day there is hope in his eyes.
iii. restless nights
News travels fast, and what information they can gather leads them to the outskirts of the city. They purchase what food and supplies they need and take off in search of their captured comrade. They travel for hours, half that time spent on Naga's back and the other half on foot. At sunset they set up camp.
Outside the city, night is actually dark and the stars are visible in the sky. Mako lights a fire and they share a small meal in silence. Then Mako retires early.
Korra lies in her sleeping bag and stares up at the sea of stars glittering in the night sky. She closes one eye and follows the pinprick of diamonds with her finger, making a pattern in the air. Lowering her hand, she rolls over and studies Mako's back. His entire body is stiff and compartmentalised, yet ready and alert should action strike. It reflects his strict, controlling nature. Everything must perfect. There must be no vulnerability.
Maybe it's a defence mechanism of his. She's not quite sure. She's never really been able to automatically read people and their natures. She's a creature of instinct. She acts, she reacts. She's not prone to deep thought. But Mako intrigues her. She wants to learn more about him—to discover what makes him tick.
A howl sounds in the distance and Naga lets out a grunt of annoyance. Korra rolls over and pats the patch of grass next to her. The polar bear dog gets up and ambles over, lowering to the ground with an even louder grunt before resting her chin on Korra's chest.
"It's okay, Naga," Korra whispers, slowly stroking the dog's fur. "It's gonna be okay."
While Korra murmurs comforting words to Naga, Mako lies awake on his side, listening to the soothing sound of Korra's voice. He stares into the black forest and tries to hold onto some semblance of hope.
Is everything really going to be okay?
He closes his eyes and does something he hasn't done since he was a child: he prays. When sleep finally comes to him, it's fitful and empty.
iv. heated words
Each morning, just before Mako's fully awake, for a few seconds everything seems normal, like nothing's happened. But once he opens his eyes, the dim awareness of reality buries him like a landslide. His brother is missing, and the thought weighs like a heavy stone upon his heart.
"C'mon, let's go," he orders, and Korra stumbles to get dressed.
He's an early riser. It comes with the territory of being a firebender—he rises with the sun and all that. Korra, however, does not. She's anything but a morning person. She's barely functional, remotely coherent, and her morning hair looks like a bird's nest that fell out of a tree—and was randomly attacked by wildlife.
"Wooz za waah a mo!"
Mako lifts an eyebrow. Korra has one boot on and her other foot has a sock dangling half off at the toes. Her shirt appears to be on backwards and inside out, and there's a toothbrush sticking out of the corner of her mouth.
"What was that?"
"I sawd—" she pulls the toothbrush out of her mouth "—would you wait a moment!"
There's a little bit of drool and paste mixed together and its dribbling down her chin. He shakes his head in disgust and turns.
"I'm heading out now. You can catch up when you're done." He gives her a pointed look over his shoulder. "You can do that, can't you?"
When he turns back around he can already hear her mimicking his words to his back. Twenty minutes later she finally catches up. It helps to have a polar bear dog as a mount. She offers him a lift but he refuses.
"We'd do better to cover the first ten miles on foot, rest on Naga for the next ten and then alternate," instructs Mako. "We don't want Naga to be exhausted in case we get ambushed. She's our only means of a fast escape."
Korra begrudgingly complies and jumps off Naga.
Tenzin's information from Chief Beifong is that the Equalists have a remote secondary headquarters located several days outside the city—a week's journey by foot. However, with Naga they are able to cut the travelling time in half. Word on the streets is that Equalists were seen transporting an iron cage in that particular direction. With no signs of Bolin in the city, it's their only lead.
From the beginning Mako decides against using a car since the roads are narrow or non-existent in that part of the country. Plus, a vehicle is loud. They would be heard, spotted and ambushed before their journey even starts. They need to rescue Bolin, not become fellow prisoners.
Mako and Korra continue their walk in uncomfortable silence. After an hour of humming to herself, Korra finally gives in and tries to start some idle conversation.
"You know, my earthbending instructor always used to say, 'Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger'."
Mako snorts. "And you believed that?"
"Sure, why not?"
The look she gives him is so innocent that he knows he shouldn't get upset, but he can't help but get angry.
"Then you're an idiot."
Korra stops. "Excuse me?"
"I said you're an idiot! Your earthbending instructor's an idiot!"
His temper is rising. He can hear the words he's speaking but he just can't seem to stop himself. Despair has become an anger that has no place to go but to dwell deep inside.
"This explanation I've gotta hear," says Korra, folding her arms beneath her breasts. "So tell me, oh Wise One, what makes the rest of us idiots for believing?"
"Because what doesn't kill you maims you. It cripples you and leaves you weak." A familiar pain tightens in his chest. "Whatever doesn't kill you makes you a different person than who you used to be."
"I don't believe that."
His eyes have a hard edge to them. "You mean you won't."
She glares at him and he can tell that she's had about enough. He expects her to lash out; he wants her to. Instead, her features soften and she sighs.
"Why are you so cynical?"
It's the last straw. Something deep inside himself snaps.
"Maybe because I didn't live the sheltered life you did, Korra. Maybe growing up an orphan on the streets jaded me." His jaw tightens. "They told me that in time I wouldn't feel so bad. That being abandoned isn't something to feel sorry about. I had my health; all I needed was time to heal."
"I don't want to be healed, Korra!" he yells, rounding on her. "There's a reason why I'm like this and, yeah, some people might think it's made me cynical or stronger, but it's made me who I am. Like it or hate it. Don't pretend to understand it—or me."
The second the words leave his mouth, he regrets them. But he cannot take them back and he cannot bring himself to apologise. His pent up anger has left him impotent, and his heart has become a lonely warrior bent on fighting battles it cannot win.
v. the naked 'truce'
This time it's Korra who rises with the sun. The first thing she thinks of is him and nothing else. When she puts on her clothes, she wonders if he will talk to her today, if he will emote in some way—or if he will just diligently walk behind her like usual.
Every day she's learning something new about him and each new thing is somehow important. For one thing, he never leaves out his toothpaste. As soon as he uses it, he screws the top back on and slips the tube inside the cloth bag where he keeps all his grooming products. He's fussy about his sleeping bag, too. At night, the corner has to be neatly folded away before he can enter. He is fastidious with almost everything he does, including how he sets out his clothes. They must be neatly pressed and folded and ordered in importance of what he will put on first: underwear, socks, undershirt, trousers, outershirt, jacket, belt, boots and gloves.
She begins to wonder if the fact that she notices all these little habits of his is merely a mark of her obsession or infatuation. Or is it something else altogether?
Forgoing these thoughts, she decides to take a bath. Their camp is next to a river, so she ambles her way down, stripping as she goes. The water is cold. Point of fact, it's freezing. She uses fire to heat the space around her. By manipulating both fire and water she is able to quickly raise the temperature to a comfortable degree.
The soap is out of her reach and she's feeling exceptionally lazy, so she bends the hard sand of the beach to lift the soap to her palm. As she begins to wash, she ponders the concept of the four elements: earth, fire, water and air. They are all essential for survival. And though the body craves all four, the spirit requires more. Companionship. Family.
She's never been able to identify with the spiritual side of things. And though her past lives have experienced the aching pain of loss, she has not. Korra finds herself wanting to learn more, to understand that an emotion like grief is forever. It's not something that simply goes away; it's something that becomes a part of you. As the Avatar she needs to accept Mako's pain for what it is but also help him understand how to move past it.
"Oh, sorry. I didn't expect you here so early."
Korra's thoughts are disturbed by Mako's voice and she turns on instinct.
"That's okay, I was just—"
Her eyes are met with a most unaccustomed sight: Mako is standing on the beach in nothing but a towel.
Korra's eyes blink wide open.
The narrow strip of linen barely covers the midsection of his waist and she cannot stop herself from drinking in his image. From the strong arches of his feet to the beautiful boning of his ankles to his rounded, muscular calves of his creamy pale skin, everything about him is perfect.
Her eyes roam, travelling up his torso and noting the sinewy muscle hidden underneath soft-looking skin. He's not bulky but lean and defined, the image of coiled strength. She finds herself mesmerised by the sharp lines of his body, following where all the angles meet, past the mecca of his chest and over the ridges of his collarbone and up the staves of his neck until she reaches his face. The bow of his mouth is turned downwards in a slight frown and his hard slanted cheekbones are stained with a soft pink hue.
He shyly glances away. Is he embarrassed? Why?
Not bothering to dwell on the thought any longer, she shakes her head and quickly reigns herself in. "I'm sorry, what? What is it?"
"Uhm . . ." It's the only sound he offers, but still his eyes won't meet hers. In fact, he refuses to face her.
Korra frowns and looks down in confusion. That is when she notices that she is naked—completely naked.
Her arms instinctively lift to her breasts, covering what skin she can and maintaining what little modesty she has left. Luckily the dark blue waters of the river hide what they can from the waist down, but her torso is entirely exposed and she's feeling oddly vulnerable.
With what dignity she can muster, she clears her throat and speaks up, "Yes, so, uh, what did you want?"
Mako hesitantly turns around and hazards a glance. His cheeks are effulgent with colour. "This can wait."
No, she won't show him that she's embarrassed.
"Go ahead. I'm not going anywhere."
The tips of his ears turn red and he looks down at his feet. "I, uh, wanted to apologise for yesterday."
Korra is about to wave him off when she realises the danger of such an action. Instead, she holds her breasts even tighter and shrugs.
"It's no big deal."
"Yes, it is." He places a hand on his hip and meets her eyes for a nerve-racking second before glancing back down at the ground. "You have done nothing but help me and my brother since the beginning. I was angry at the situation—at my situation—and I took it out on you. I had no right. I was jealous of the life you have and I'm sorry."
Korra can only stand in the now-freezing waters and stare. Sometimes there are just no words. What can she say to something like that? She knows he's a proud man and to tell him he doesn't need to apologise or that she understands won't make things right. Instead, she nods, accepting what he has to give.
"Hey, uh—" she begins to move around in the water, feeling an embarrassing flush creep up her neck "—could you, uhm, turn around?"
She manages to wiggle her index finger free and awkwardly points at the shore. "I'm gonna get out now."
"Oh—oh!" A deeper shade of pink blossoms on his cheeks and he sharply turns his back to her. "Yeah, right. Sorry."
She slowly wades out of the water, never dropping her arms. When she finally locates her clothes she begins to speedily get dressed as if it were a sport.
"I'm gonna make breakfast," she says, pulling on her coat. "You want one egg or two?"
"Hmm, what?" Mako instinctively turns to look at her and immediately lowers his head and blushes. "Oh, uh, two. Please."
Korra tilts her head and begins to ring out her hair before stepping past him.
"You know you owe me now," she says, glancing over her shoulder.
"Owe you?" Mako's hand is on his towel and Korra's lips curve upwards into an evil smirk.
"Yeah. You owe me a peek."
"Mhm." She points at his towel. "Tit for tat and all that."
Mako just stands there, speechless, and Korra laughs, wondering how pink his face can really get. When she turns around and heads back to camp, her steps somehow feel lighter. She thinks she's beginning to understand him. In Mako there's this ache in his heart for the imagined beauty of a life he never got to live—her life. And though his losses are the kind of pain that never goes away, Korra promises herself that for every sad memory she will give Mako a happy one.
vi. lightning strikes twice
Mako pauses to listen to the sounds of the forest around him, searching for anything that might indicate an approaching enemy. He hears nothing but the steady patter of cold rain.
"At least this rain will wash out our trail," Korra says. Her eyes and ears are trained just as sharp as Mako's.
After a long morning's travel they are closer to their destination, less than half a day's walk. The day had started out sunny only to be met by a deluge not some ten minutes after setting out from camp. The entire forest floor has become nothing but mud and slush.
Taking a moment to adjust his collar, Mako sets out again, trying not to hurry his steps too much. He wouldn't be much of a rear guard if he closed up right behind Korra and Naga. On the other hand, the last thing he wants to do is fall behind in case they're attacked from the front.
"C'mere." Korra beckons him close. "I can give us both cover."
The Avatar is relatively dry, bending both the water above and below. And just as Mako is about to accept her offer, the rain suddenly stops.
"Figures," he mutters, shaking out the collar of his jacket.
Korra just smiles and bends the water out of his clothes. "Better?"
It's so quiet now that he can't even hear the birds in the trees. Soon he becomes aware of an insistent sound in the distance, like water in motion—a swift forest stream.
"There's a river far up ahead."
Mako squints, making out a dark, wide stream sluicing over muddy banks covered in thorns and bracken. A large mossy log runs across it to the bank on the other side.
"Looks like that's our bridge."
Both nod and continue onwards through the woods. The only sounds are the occasional rustle of leaves the dull, distant roar of rushing water drawing near. Korra frowns. The forest was alive with the sounds of wildlife earlier. Where have they gone now?
A low whistling noise carries high in the air and Korra halts. She senses the briefest hint of movement and the sound of feet rustling softly in the underbrush. Then she catches sight of him: a furtive figure dressed in grey and earthy tones, prowling through the forest like an animal. A mask hides his face—or at least she assumes he's male.
The enemy knows he's been spotted and immediately begins his attack, throwing steel bolas at Mako and Korra's ankles. The two recover from the surprise with incredible alacrity and Mako's already whirling a clean arc of fire at the interloper. The masked Equalist dodges the flames and flips backwards, demonstrating an amazing display of acrobatics.
Korra's beside Mako, shifting her stance and uprooting the very earth beneath the scout's feet. She digs in deep and hurls chunks of stone in the air, pummelling the sharp, solid projectiles at his back and ankles. It's a rapid succession of moves in unison and the scout has no option but to hop away, fleeing into the bushes.
Korra turns and places her hands on her hips, feeling the smugness that comes from outwitting an adversary, when something rustles in the trees above her head. She looks up in time for it to slam into her face and knock her down. The shock of the impact fades quickly and she's already up on her feet, flipping back and away. More Equalists drop from the trees like leaves and Korra lets out a string of curses that would make a sailor blush with shame.
Mako manoeuvres around until he and Korra are back to back, circling round as the flanking line of Equalists close in.
"Any ideas, Capt'n?" Korra is suddenly reminded of her probending début.
"Yeah, force them off the end of the line."
Korra immediately follows Mako's train of thought and looks to the river. If they can drive them back just a little bit closer she can overwhelm the Equalists with the water and freeze them all at once.
Mako's already pushing them back with wide arcs of flames that refuse to allow their enemies to escape up into the trees. Korra takes her cue and closes off all sides around them, uprooting rock and soil. A shaft of bright orange flames shoots out from Mako's palms, blazing through their assailants and forcing them back. The column of fire rises higher and higher until the attackers have no recourse but to retreat towards the river.
Korra continues flanking them on either side with thick jutting columns of rock. The Equalists have no idea where the next attack will come from and they have no means to dodge the flames or escape the landscape that threatens to swallow them whole.
Suddenly Korra is pivoting, using the momentum of the earth to carry her towards the stream. She's moving faster than the enemies can retreat, and with a deliberate flick and rounded arc of her wrists, she summons forth a monstrous wave that sucks the men into the water. Her arms move fluidly through the air, gathering speed and accuracy as she uses the water to toss them about, disorienting them. Then there's a loud snap followed by a series of pops and crackles as the water begins to freeze over, encasing the enemies in ice up to their necks. Six men down in one go.
"We rock!" Korra jumps triumphantly in the air.
Mako's still running towards her, his eyes alert on the trapped and now unconscious prisoners.
"That's not going to hold them for long. We're going to have to—"
A white-hot light comes into Mako's line of vision and he finds himself frozen in place, transfixed by the blinding light. There is a taste of spent electricity humming in the air and the fine hairs on the back of his neck are standing at attention. He's almost too shocked to move and barely avoids the attack before dodging and rolling to his side.
Everything has become white noise. He tries to blink away the fuzzy pinprick of stars that cloud his vision, but the distorted images remain. He has temporarily gone blind.
They had forgot about the original scout.
Korra leaps through the electrically-charged air, raining fists of fire on the artificial lightning-bending enemy. She punches at the ground, sending a shockwave of earth and debris flying. There is an unmasked fury to her assault, rage pounding in her fists and feet as she volleys wave after wave of elemental attacks. She can feel the pressure drum in her ears. She is relentless, building momentum as she goes. There is fire in her chest and throat as she roars out, shooting a wall of flame as high as the trees.
Leaves catch fire and the air begins to fill with smoke, but Korra keeps pressing onwards, driving the assailant back. Once given a moment to catch his footing, the Equalist levels his arm and sends out another bolt of lightning. Korra barely dodges it. She's so intent on striking that she ploughs through everything he throws at her.
Finally he changes tactics and begins throwing smoke pellets to the ground. Combined with the smoke from the fire above, it creates a noxious gas that Korra cannot speedily run through. She starts breathing heavier; her motions become slower and wilder. She's performing too many actions at once without pause and the smoke only hinders her reflexes.
The Equalist drops another smoke bomb and Korra battles furiously at the space around her. Logic dictates that her attacker has to be there, but her fire merely sweeps through empty space, hitting nothing. Her lungs ache with the need for air and she feels unconsciousness nibbling at the back of her mind.
She needs air, and she has no options left but to create that air herself.
It's a gamble, especially since she's never properly bent air before. She begins to blow with her mouth, if anything to expel the poisonous smoke from her lungs, and at first she can't seem to penetrate the mass in front of her. She flattens her palms out and begins to turn the circle but loses her footing. She strains and she snarls in her throat with effort—an effort that only exhausts her, dizzying her even more. Her throat clogs shut and she begins to suffocate. Falling to her knees, she claws at her throat in vain.
Above the smoke there is the smell of electricity and it hums against her skin. The Equalist materialises from out of the smoke, unaffected. His mask protects his lungs and his goggles protect his eyes, sharpening his vision. He stretches out his hand and Korra can hear the crackle of the electricity. Head ringing, her world begins to blur.
This is the end.
A brilliant bolt of lightning illuminates her vision, lashing out with a dozen crackling arcs as it travels through the smoke. Suddenly Mako is diving through the air in front of her, gathering the lightning into the centre of his body. The heat from the blast tears a hole through his jacket, disintegrating it into ash.
Korra wants to scream but no sound escapes her mouth. The smell of burnt flesh outweighs the acrid stench of smoke and Korra feels her heart plummet into her stomach. She squints and tries to peer through the haze.
Mako is standing.
He's breathing heavily. His face is smeared with ash and his body is smoking and torn, but he's still standing. Korra doesn't even notice the fresh wave of tears stinging her eyes.
The enemy quickly opens fire with a second quick burst of electricity but Mako redirects it—again. Bare to the waist, he ignores the burning pain in his gut and shifts his stance, tightening his core. The Equalist lowers his hand and he and Mako begin to circle each other. Both stand straight and step lightly, like well-trained fencers.
Mako strikes first with fast, hard movements, like a boxer delivering rapid, successive blows to the abdomen. Each burst of flame is controlled and precise, sending the enemy reeling. No matter how non-flammable the enemy's suit is it cannot protect against the sheer force of Mako's blitz attacks. The moment the Equalist falters, Mako is on him, bursting through the flames and ash to deliver the final blow. He hits the enemy square in the face and his foe falls to the ground with a listless thud.
Choking for air, Korra stumbles to her feet and out of the cloud of smoke. She gulps in the precious oxygen and coughs. She can finally breathe, though the stinging heat in her throat and chest persist. Still coughing, she shakes her head to clear her vision and makes her way towards Mako. She quickly summons the water from the river, freezing make-shift shackles around the unconscious Equalist's wrists. They will have to properly tie the rest of them up later, but right now she has to check on Mako.
He's on his knees, breathing hard and heavy. There's a red mark just above his solar plexus. It's puffy and sore-looking, but he's alive and breathing and Korra has to restrain herself from falling into him and wrapping her arms around his neck.
"So these guys can bend lightning now?"
"It's some kind of long-range electrical device," Mako says from his spot on the ground, wincing in pain. "It's manufactured lightning." He glances up at Korra. "This is bad."
"Speaking of bad—" Korra bends down and puts a hand on his shoulder "—how are you doing?"
"I'm okay." Mako removes his hand from his solar plexus and grimaces. "I think."
Korra squeezes his shoulder and smiles, tears rolling down her soot-stained cheeks. She suddenly rises up and begins pumping an energetic fist in the air.
"You were amazing out there! You're like a bona fide superhero now." Korra places a hand on her hip and regards the firebender with wonder. "I had no idea you could redirect lightning. I mean I've seen you absorb the electricity from the kali sticks before but this was just—wow!"
"Wow feels a lot like the cooking of internal organs," Mako comments wryly, clutching at his abdomen in pain. "And I didn't know I could redirect lightning either. It's not something that's taught—nor is how to generate lightning."
"I'm thinking maybe you could do both." Korra nods emphatically. "You just need training."
"Hey—" Korra proudly points to herself "—I'm the Avatar. I'm tight with the White Lotus." She folds her arms beneath her breasts and offers him a confident wink. "You just leave it to me."
"Thanks, I think. But first thing's first." Mako struggles to his feet. "We've gotta go save Bolin."
He tries to stand but the pain in his abdomen is too strong and it's spreading to his chest like a haematoma. He stumbles back and Korra blindly reaches out to catch him.
"Whoa, slow down there. Let's give you a few minutes to recuperate." She sets him back down on the ground. "Do you, uh, need to be healed?"
Mako gives her a sceptical look. "Can you heal?"
She looks affronted. "Hey, I'm a waterbending Avatar!"
"I ask again—can you heal?"
Korra shoves his hands away and bends a thin stream of water from the river where a half dozen unconscious Equalists lie frozen.
"Katara says I'm a natural—" she pauses and then mutters quietly "—when I concentrate."
"What was that?"
"Nothing!" Korra says quickly, offering Mako a brilliant smile. "Let's get you fixed up, Mr Superhero."
vii. the calm before the storm
They break hard for camp after the ambush, intent on reaching the hideout in case another patrol spots them. They leave the surviving Equalists back at the river, tied to trees. It will only be a matter of time before their enemies break loose or are discovered, so they have to move fast.
When they finally make it to the Equalists' camp, the sun is already setting in the west. They scout the surrounding area. The hideout itself is little more than a hole in the ground with iron doors and one man guarding the only visible entrance. There's no telling how many are inside. But whatever the case, they will be vastly outnumbered. All they have on their side is the element of surprise.
"We wait till nightfall."
They keep low in the bushes behind the partially hidden shack while Mako works on strategies in the dirt. As they wait, both go about gathering their wits, mentally preparing for the assault in their own way.
The sun slowly lowers past the horizon on the hill and Mako begins to fidget. Korra reaches out to grab one of his hands, squeezing it tightly.
"Bolin's going to be fine." She offers him an encouraging smile before nervously removing her hand from his. "We're gonna bust in there and save the day like the badass superheroes we are."
"Right . . ."
Korra doesn't like the way he pauses. It worries her.
"What is it?"
Mako takes in a deep breath and shakes his head. "It's nothing. It's just that—somehow all of this feels familiar."
"You've been here before?"
"No, it's just the feel of this place, or maybe it's just me." He runs his fingers through his hair and sighs. "When our parents died I used catch myself having these weird daydreams. It's been so long since I've had them, but ever since this trip they've been sneaking up on me every now and then—every time I get a chance to stop and think.
"I half-close my eyes and imagine this is the very spot where I lost everything. And then the fantasy takes hold and my entire childhood is right here." He lets out a breathless laugh. "I think if I wait long enough, my parents will appear out on the horizon. They'd wave, maybe even call out to me, but then I'd look next to me and see that Bolin's not there. And I can't—I can't go with them.
"The fantasy ends there and it's as though I am finally awake for the first time." He lifts his chin and his shining eyes meet hers. "The reality is so much worse, Korra. I can't have Bolin become a part of that fantasy."
Korra swallows hard. He looks so vulnerable, so unlike himself, and it's as if he knows. His eyes linger for a moment before he drops his head in defeat.
How can she relate to that kind of sorrow? The 'my life wasn't as great as you think' speech won't do. It would only be an insult. There's nothing she can say to make things right, nothing she can do to take away his pain.
"You know what my favourite story was when I was a kid? The Ugly Turtle-Duckling."
Mako lifts his head, a nonplussed expression settling on his features.
"It was the whole 'never judge a book by its cover' thing and the painful awkwardness of childhood and the hope that things would eventually get better. It was about acceptance, you know—not just being accepted by others but accepting who you were and your lot in life. I really identified with it.
"That was until I came here to Republic City and started my airbending training." She hugs her knees to her chest. "When I destroyed that ancient airbending artefact with my firebending, I felt like the ugly turtle-duckling trying to fit into a shell that I didn't have.
"Until that moment I had never truly understood what that story was all about. That it's really about loneliness and the struggles of self-worth and how much you base that assessment of yourself on how others see you—or how you think others see you. Maybe that's why I had taken refuge in it until I became confused with my own life."
"You, confused?" Mako snorts derisively. "I would have assumed that you woke up one day and just knew you were the Avatar—and forced others around you to accept it."
Korra laughs. "You're actually not that far off the mark." She shakes her head. "But, no, I just mean that there are aspects of being the Avatar that I still don't understand. I'm still that awkward turtle-duckling trying to fit in."
They both stare off into the distance, thinking about how much they've changed from day to day. Is life really a series of internal battles with yourself? How can the heart bear these burdens?
"Did you know that I've never been able to communicate with my past selves?" She doesn't give him time to answer. "I've never allowed myself to be open to the possibilities of a world beyond the physical one, to experience the spiritual side of being the Avatar."
"Why not?" His voice suddenly feels thick and unused.
"I dunno." Korra shrugs, still staring off into the distance. "It's just never come easy to me, and if something doesn't come easy, I don't try." She offers him a pitiful laugh. "Katara told me that with the cycle of the Avatar the next reincarnation is always trying to make up for the failures of the last."
"Weaknesses." She sniffs. "Aspects of themselves that they wished they could have improved on—done things differently. Avatar Aang was evasive and procrastinating. He was always on the defensive, refused to use violence. I am his opposite. I am reactive, always on the offensive."
"You feel like you need to make up for Avatar Aang's inability to act?"
"I dunno." She shrugs and looks up at him. "Maybe? Thinking about this stuff is the closest I can get to being spiritual and it frightens me." Tears begin to unabashedly roll down her cheeks and she turns away. "It's unknown and intangible and it's something I can't conquer. It just is. Thinking about my previous lives or even my future ones makes me feel incredibly small and I hate it."
Mako's voice is full of worry but Korra just sniffs and wipes at her nose with the back of her hand, never taking her eyes off the horizon.
"I used to have this reoccurring dream when I was young. I saw myself dying, but it wasn't me. I mean it was me but it wasn't me, but anyway . . . As I lay dying, all I could think about were the things I didn't do, all the choices I didn't make, all that I might have been but couldn't be. I was just so sad." Her voice wavers. "I didn't want to revisit that again and so I made myself stop seeing."
She turns to face him. Her eyes shine with tears in the dying rusty-pink light of sunset.
"I gave up on seeking the spiritual side of the Avatar. It was too much. I felt too much. But you—" she shakes her head "—you're not like that. You're not like me. You're not afraid to keep going. You're always moving forward through the pain. You stand when others would have fallen." She offers him a watery smile. "I'm really envious of that—of you."
Mako opens his mouth and then closes it. Korra always seems to know how to render him speechless. After a moment, he finally manages to speak:
"So the Avatar is envious of me, huh?"
"The greatest people I've met in my life are those who have known hardships and loss and have still found their way out of the depths. They don't give up; they keep trying; they live." Korra reaches over to place a hand on his shoulder. "You are one of those people."
Mako smiles for the first time in days.
viii. time to be heroes
Their first plan of attack is to ambush the sole guard and draw the rest of the Equalists out into the open. But that plan quickly goes to hell the moment the guard yells out for help.
The iron doors open but no one comes out. The enemy cannot be so easily fooled. They know they need to be close in order to take the Avatar and firebender out of commission. So Korra and Mako move forward past the doors, launching themselves into the now familiar battle for control and survival in the midst of chaos.
The first foe in Korra's path is a masked woman whirling twin steel bolas. She launches into a spinning attack, throwing the weapons with deadly accuracy. But as fast as she is, Korra's faster; she simply dodges aside and hammers down at the Equalist's extended right arm with a white-hot shaft of fire. The woman grunts and leaps back, her suit protecting her from the fire but not from brutal force.
More Equalists move up and begin to engage Korra from all sides until she is forced to go on the defensive. She's parrying each attack with fire and earth, keeping her enemies at a distance while the room begins to fill with dust and smoke.
Mako's somewhere to her left, side-stepping the frontal assault of two larger Equalists with electrified kali sticks. He smashes down a flaming fist of fire, sending both enemies reeling. Suddenly there's a whizzing noise and steel grates on bones. Mako takes a steel bolas to the ribs and hisses in pain, staggering slightly. Then there's a loud crunch and his entire left arm goes numb. A third Equalist comes out of nowhere, hooking him at the ankles with the cord from the boleadoras.
Mako reaches the floor, finding himself fetched up against a stone wall—the only discernible landmark in a room quickly filling with smoke. He's cornered. Without pausing for thought, he scrambles forward at the best speed he can muster, hoping to emerge through the smoke with fire blazing and taking his new attacker by surprise.
He surges through, hitting his foe with blast after relentless blast, knocking off his mask. The Equalist begins to choke and cough, falling to his knees. Mako grins and crushes the mask under his boot before slicing his foot upwards and connecting with his opponent's jaw. The unmasked Equalist is down and out for the count.
Whirling around, Mako begins a fresh assault on the other two attackers while Korra's rounding up hers near the entrance. They begin to back towards each other. Their attacks are swift and precise. The Equalists redouble their efforts but Mako and Korra are too quick, pounding them backwards with a brutal onslaught of earth and fire.
The battle has only raged for minutes but it feels like hours. Mako and Korra are holding an impregnable line, not letting the chi blockers get close, but the enemy is just as relentless. It's the ruthless calculus of warfare and neither side is giving quarter. And now the good guys need to tip the scales.
"You're gonna have to bring out the big guns." Mako says, out of breath but still fanning the fire hot and bright, and Korra whistles for Naga.
The giant polar bear dog lets out a curt bark just near the door and Korra begins bending the water from containers on Naga's pack. If that water isn't enough, she can sense a well-spring just beneath her feet. Korra will flood this entire room if she has to.
She begins whirling the water about, forming whips that lash at the Equalists' feet and hands. She has become the centrifuge, disturbing their centres of gravity. She juggles the elements, feeling the strain of exertion, but with Mako at her side she feels like she is capable of anything.
The tide is turning in their favour.
Everything is going smoothly. One moment Korra's stealing along, quick and confident, eagerly assisting Mako's every move; the next she's experiencing the all too familiar sensation of peril when a cruel bolt of electricity strikes at them both. Twisting and turning, she watches in horror as Mako's flung high up into the air. The charred scent of burnt flesh fills the air.
Lightning flashes again, followed by the whining shrieks of bolas whizzing past her face, clipping her cheek. Unfazed, she struggles to get close to Mako. The haze dissipates and her vision clears. Mako is sprawled out on the floor. His eyes are closed and his chest is smoking. He isn't standing.
Mako isn't standing.
Korra's world turns white.
Suddenly the white hot intensity of chi is flowing all around her. Without any thought, she channels it through her, feeling it fill every empty space in her body. She can even feel it filter into her bones, maybe even her soul. She has no other way to describe the sensation other than all the elements have become one with her and the rest of the world has become a void that she needs to fill.
Her emotions are distorted. She feels everything and nothing. Anger and sadness have become inexorable forces beyond her control. She is only filled with the single clarity that she must consume as she cleanses, destroying those who take away what is closest to her.
Here enemies' world turns red.
The Equalists stand frozen for a moment, unable to comprehend the sight in front of them. The elements are swirling around the Avatar in uniform precision. She is the elements.
Shaking off their fear, they gain their footing and open fire with a volley of bolas and electricity. The fusillade hits air as Korra raises her arm. With a flick of her wrist she sends her enemies flying. Bones shatter and masks splinter, muffling cries. She's raising walls of ice and fire, sweeping blasts of destructive energy, and all are torn in her path.
Then it as though time itself stops, and Korra uproots the very ground beneath their feet. Stone crumbles, walls crack, and a heartbeat later they are all trapped underneath a torrent of water. The levels quickly rise, and while one enemy struggles to stay afloat, another drowns. Some try to climb upwards, hoping to snatch survival in the midst of the Avatar's wrath, but most are being slowly crushed beneath her fists.
She is drunk on annihilation.
She hears her name on the wind. It's a faint sound but familiar. It can only be a trick of the mind, she convinces herself, and continues burning.
Suddenly Mako's on his feet, wading his way through the water towards her. He grabs her by her ankles and tries to pull her down.
Korra blinks back colours.
He's hugging her legs like a lifeline. He's alive.
Korra's world turns blue.
Her words are suddenly muffled by his chest. He has already pulled her down from the air and is crushing her frame against his. She can barely breathe, but none of that matters. Tears of joy stream down her face.
"Mako, you're alive!"
Her arms snake around his neck and she nuzzles her face into his pale skin, drinking in his scent. Her emotions erupt like a volcano and her heart feels like it's breaking and mending all at once. She prays to the gods that this isn't a dream.
"I thought I'd lost you!" Her salty tears stain his throat. "I was so—I was so scared."
He's stroking her hair while she continues to sob into his neck.
"Everything's okay," he murmurs, resting his chin on top of her head. "I'm all right."
Mako pulls back and holds Korra's face in his hands. "Hey, no more of this." He wipes her tears away with the pads of his thumbs. "You haven't got rid of me yet."
Korra's bottom lip wobbles and she throws herself back into Mako, holding him so tightly that neither one can breathe. Through the tears and the strangled hiccups, she thanks Tui and La and every spirit she can think of for bringing him back to her.
Suddenly Mako's fingers are curving up her jaw, awkwardly touching her ears before curling around the back of her neck. He pulls her forward so that her forehead is touching his. Korra sighs. There is only him and her and the staccato beating of their hearts.
After a while Korra slowly pushes away and takes in her surroundings. She gapes in amazement, transfixed by the indelible scene. Everything is a mad whirling jumble of rocks and fire, and rushing water threatens to flood the entire room. Those enemies that are still conscious are clawing at the walls, trying to catch onto any surface that will hold them, and Korra can only hope that Bolin wasn't being kept below—the place she had just finished flooding.
She begins moving her arms in a fluid motion, freezing them all into place, before slumping back into Mako's chest. She's exhausted and all she wants to feel are his arms wrapped around her, but they have to find Bolin.
"Let's tie these guys up and question them about Bolin," Mako says after a moment's pause, already helping Korra to her feet. "Be careful of their hands."
The entire floor is made of ice.
Korra is pointing at his chest and Mako looks down. His jacket has melted away, much like how it had earlier that day during the ambush.
"Dammit!" He sheds his burnt clothes and tosses them to the ground. "I only had the two."
Korra laughs while Mako glowers.
"Why are you laughing?"
"Because—" Korra points at the remnants of red wool tied around his neck "—your scarf somehow survived—again."
Mako unravels the damnable thing and holds it out in his hands. He grimaces. It's torn and scorched but still in one piece, like him. He looks up at Korra with her clear blue eyes crinkling with laughter. The corners of his lips begin to twitch upwards and he bites the inside of his cheek. But there's no use fighting it, no use stopping the laughter and relief from bubbling to the surface.
They both break out into belly-rumbling laughter, holding onto one another for support.
ix. reunion/it's about time
There's a crash and a bang and it sounds like someone's yelling. Bolin shifts in his tiny cell and begins pounding on the side of the metal cage.
"Would you keep it down out there! I'm trying to sleep!" He curls his legs up and rests his head against the side. "Crazy revolutionaries."
Suddenly there is an even louder cry, a grunt and the sound of someone falling to the floor with a listless thud. He can hear shuffling footsteps approach his cell and he tries to stand up.
The metal cage begins to sway; it's suspended above ground. He tries to look out the tiny holes but can see nothing other than dust and smoke. Then the entire cage begins to rattle and the locks holding the door closed are broken off, jarring his head against the side. He lets out a string of curses.
The metal door swings open and Bolin blink rapidly. He sees light—even if it's only artificial light—for the first time in days.
The image below him is blurry and dark but the voice is unmistakeable.
"Mako?" Bolin blinks again, adjusting his eyes to the light. The blurry blob suddenly takes form and Bolin leaps out of the cage, hugging his older brother. "Mako! You came! Man, it's so good to see you!"
The brothers embrace and there's a distinct intake of air as Mako holds his brother tighter. After a moment Bolin lets go and settles on his feet, holding Mako back at arm's length to get a good look at him. He looks his brother up and down, taking in the firebender's worse for the wear image, and frowns.
"You look like shit."
Mako laughs. "Thanks."
Bolin grins, bumping fists. "It's about time you got here. What took you so long?" He raises a bushy brow. "Did you crawl all the way?"
"Good to see you're safe."
Bolin turns to see Korra standing on the other side of the cage. He launches forward, grappling the Avatar into a tight bear hug before inching closer to Mako to pull him into the embrace.
"Korra! Mako! The crew is reunited!" He knocks their heads together. "I'm so happy to see you two. Wait—" Bolin promptly lets go while the other two breathe for air "—where's Pabu?"
Korra clears her throat before placing a hand on her hip. "Tenzin's kids are taking care of him while we were out rescuing you."
"Ah." Bolin grins sheepishly before rubbing the back of his neck. "Thanks for busting me out. The ladies will appreciate your efforts."
Korra snorts. "I'll bet."
"By the way—" Bolin points back at the cage before stretching his legs "—I am totally learning metalbending once we get outta here."
"Cool." Korra smiles and then hooks a thumb in the firebending brother's direction. "Mako's going to learn how to bend lightning."
Mako shrugs indifferently and Korra kicks at his shin.
"I guess so," he mumbles, directing a mutinous glare Korra's way.
"So . . ." Bolin bashfully tents his fingers. "As the Avatar you can hook us up with some quality trainers—right, right?"
"You know it."
Korra's looking far too smug so Mako intervenes.
"All right, enough chit-chat." He jerks his thumb in the direction of the exit. "Bolin, you ready to leave?"
"Absolutely." Bolin leans in close to Korra, putting a hand against his mouth. "The service here is terrible."
Korra sniggers and Bolin quickly joins in. It feels good to laugh again.
They slowly exit the makeshift prison, which is really just a hole in the ground. Bolin follows Mako and Korra through a narrow tunnel that leads up into a large room and he blinks in amazement. It's as though he's come upon the field of a furious battle—a furious battle that took place on ice. The entire floor, or what's left of it, is covered in it. Lined across the walls are the bodies of almost a dozen unmasked Equalists. Their wrists are bound together above their heads with rope and ice. He absently wonders if any of them are dead.
"I dread the trek back to the city," Korra says, manoeuvring her way around the icy debris while Bolin tries not to slip and fall on his arse. "Plus—" she hooks a thumb in the direction of the unconscious enemies "—what are we gonna do about them? Is there a car here somewhere? I don't know how to drive but I'm willing to learn."
"Yeah, but I'm not willing to die," Mako adds snidely.
"Looks like you two are getting along, as usual," Bolin comments, picking up a discarded taser and then dropping it back down. "But, no, there's no vehicle here—not that I've seen. I was driven here but I think the truck is only used for drop-offs and pick-ups. You know, like running supplies."
"Damn." Korra folds her arms beneath her breasts and huffs. "We've got those guys back at the river to round up, too. They could be waiting for us when we head back."
"Guys at the river?" Bolin blinks nonplussed. "How many Equalists did you guys fight on the way here?"
Korra and Mako exchange glances. "Too many."
"Mhm." Bolin rubs at his chin, looking his brother up and down before pointing. "So is that why you've got this shirtless look going on?" He spreads his arms wide in supplication. "Hey, don't get me wrong. I was thinking of sporting that exact same look. I just didn't want us to conflict."
Mako's hand snaps out, slapping his younger brother upside the head.
"Oww!" Bolin rubs at the soft spot with a pout.
"Anyway," Korra interjects with a smirk, "what are we gonna do?"
"I heard one of the guards on the phone when they first brought me in." Bolin finds the exit and takes in a great gulp of fresh air before Naga walks over licks the side of his face. "We could call Chief Beifong and have her to come pick us up in the police airship."
"Ehh." Korra makes a slicing motion at her neck. "She doesn't like me all that much."
"Gee, I wonder why." Mako folds his arms over his chest and Korra mimics Mako's nagging voice exact.
"Meh meh-meh meeeh."
Mako is about to issue a scathing retort when Naga growls at him, sidling up alongside her master. Korra gives Naga an affectionate rub on the nose in thanks.
"How about we call the gym and get Toza to contact Tenzin?" Korra offers. "Tenzin can come pick us up on Oogi, and after we can alert the proper authorities to round up this scum here."
Mako regards Korra sceptically for a moment but nods.
"Sounds good to me," Bolin says, rubbing his stomach. "I'm hungry. Let's see if they have any food around here."
x. admit it
It's sunrise when Tenzin drops Korra and the brothers off on the roof of the gym. Naga leaps off the bison's saddle, taking a shaky step on solid ground. Meanwhile Pabu curls around Bolin's neck, purring softly into the earthbender's ear, happy to be reunited with his master.
"Korra, I will see you back at the temple for airbending training," Tenzin says in a tone that brooks no debate. "Bright and early."
Korra quickly complies, grinning sheepishly as she averts the master airbender's penetrating glare. With a tug on the reins and a yip-yip to Oogi, Tenzin takes to the air, leave the waving trio behind.
Bolin tickles Pabu's chin while Mako and Naga let out simultaneous grunts of boredom.
"I'm still hungry," Bolin says idly, taking off towards his room. "C'mon, Pabu, let's rustle up some grub."
Mako's voice is insistent and the earthbender turns around to gaze confusedly at his brother while Mako jerks his head in Korra's direction.
"Hmm? Oh, right. Sorry." Bolin tries to look contrite and turns to Korra. "Thanks for everything, Korra."
Korra gives him a dismissive wave before rubbing the back of her head. "Ah, it was nothing."
Bolin smiles and then nods to his brother before stealing down off the roof. "See you at practice tonight!" he says over the top of the ladder.
"Yeah! See ya then!"
Mako and Korra are left alone and suddenly the large roof that they're standing on seems a whole lot smaller. Korra swears she can hear her own heartbeat. When she glances over at Mako, he quickly turns his head, a small blush creeping up his neck. The two look down at their hands, their feet—anywhere but at each other. There's an awkward silence between them. Neither knows who should speak first or what should be said.
Korra takes in a deep breath, which sounds a lot louder than it should, and turns to take in the view. It's long past sunrise now but Korra can never catch the moment the sun rises in the city. It's always so bright, even way up on the rooftops.
The air above their heads is cool, but a warm, damp breeze wafts through and her palms begin to feel clammy. There's a swirl of blue smoke curling from one of the chimneys nearby and she looks past it to see lights twinkling on the tops of buildings and even a few windows illuminated from within. They're like their own little stars, and for some strange reason Korra suddenly misses home.
Mako's voice rings in her ears and she turns.
"Yes?" Korra takes a step closer. Her head is just underneath his nose. "Yeeeesss?"
"I, uh—" Mako nervously rubs the back of his neck "—I just wanted to thank you for all your help."
Korra frowns. "Right, of course."
Mako notes the expression on her face and his brow creases into a deep V.
"No, what is it?"
"Oh, c'mon," Korra blurts out, placing her hands on her hips. "Don't act so coy. Just admit it."
"Admit it." She leans forward. "You like me."
"I . . ." Mako drops his hands and his lips form a hard slant.
"Why is this even an issue?" Korra asks with a shrug. "What's not to like? I'm awesome. And now that you can admit it we can finally start working together as a team, like we did back in the forest."
"Probending and fighting for your life against people trying to kill you are two entirely different sports."
"Man, can you not take a break from that?"
"It doesn't matter." He takes in a deep breath. "Look, I just wanted to apologise for being—"
"Yeah, a jerk." His jaw tightens. "And I want you to know how much I—how much Bolin and I—"
Bolin's at the roof, his face partially visible from the nose up.
"Shut up, Bolin!" Mako barks, before turning his attention back to Korra. "I just—we just—"
Korra's already tuned him out and she suddenly finds herself hating how Mako towers above her. Standing on her toes, she does what she does best: reacts without thought. She closes her eyes and tilts her head back, leaning in to capture his lips with a kiss.
His eyes go wide.
This oughta shut him up.
She has effectively silenced him with this single act.
But it's more than that, and she'd be lying to herself if she truly believed that there isn't something more to what they have. Through her actions she wants to convey her thoughts, her feelings—that he's more than just a teammate, more than just a friend. When she thought she had lost him back in the forest, it felt like a part of her had died with him. Through the kiss she lets him know she cares and that she will never lose him again.
When she finally pulls away, Korra opens her eyes to see Mako's closed. With the pressure of her lips pressed against his removed, he slowly blinks amber eyes open. He's confused. Her name is on his lips but he cannot bring himself to say it aloud. She cannot help but smirk at the tint of pink that quickly blossoms on his cheeks. To Korra there is no better way to silence Mako than this.
"Mako and Korra sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I—"
Suddenly there's a bright arc of fire aimed at Bolin's head. He dodges, ducking out of the way just in time.
"Hey! Not cool, Bro!" He visibly pouts and checks his hair for damage before pointing an accusing finger in Mako's direction. "Not. Cool."
Mako and Korra turn to look at each other and laugh, feeling the weight of the world slip off their shoulders—if only for a moment. Responsibility. Duty. It can all just wait while they enjoy this moment.
This isn't the end. It's only the beginning. Where the next adventure takes them is anyone's guess. But what they do know is that they no longer have to travel that road alone.
The warrior's heart is lonely no more.