Title: What Remains
Summary: They rescue Bolin from Amon, but no one comes back unscathed.
Warnings: Mature themes, serious injuries
Word Count: 2079
It's been two days and Korra still flinches at any noise louder than a gentle whisper or the rustling of her hospital sheets. The triggered bomb had blasted the equalists' downtown lair apart – one last resort to protect their secrets and take a few benders down in the process – and also succeeded in bursting open her eardrum. They have healers working on it day and night, but her head still feels fuzzy, swollen and useless and weighed down with bandages… and despite her threats and yelling and pleads, no, she still isn't allowed to see Mako and Bolin.
But, she tries to argue, a useless ear is nothing compared to the tangled, bloody mess that she'd seen the bomb make of Mako's leg before she passed out. She has to see him, has to see the both of them, just once.
Tenzin tries to calm her with what little information he himself has been given. Bolin is unconscious but his condition is stable. Stripped of his bending, raw, and bruised, but still okay. He will be okay. They will be okay. He doesn't know about Mako, Korra, so stop asking. No, you aren't allowed out of this room. Stay in bed and get some rest or I'll have the chief earthbend you to your bed.
It's a full moon tonight. She should feel powerful tonight, charged, emboldened. She's in good hands and she's safe at the moment. And she should be grateful to know that her friends are receiving the best medical treatment possible down the hall.
Korra tosses aside the stiff white covers and pushes herself to her feet, breathing heavily. Her head throbs, already spinning from the sudden motion, but she ignores it and makes her slow way to the door to crack it open. The floor is cold under her bare feet and she can sense a few sentries down the hall, but they're not facing her direction. If she's quiet, she can sneak into Mako's room a few doors over undetected.
She should be asleep, Tenzin would insist. She should be resting.
No, she should be with her friends. She's the Avatar. The world's safety is supposed to be her primary focus, after all. Her personal concerns come after everyone else's.
Korra slowly pushes the door open and quietly creeps out.
When she reaches his room, the first thing she notices is the silence. Mako's never been a particularly loud person, but he always has a presence; even when brooding, she always knows he's there. But it's so quiet in the room that for a moment, she barely recognizes the silent figure lying still as a statue on the bed.
Korra shuffles forward and takes a seat at his bedside. Mako's breathing is steady. The gentle rise and fall of his chest is soothing, in a way, a reminder that he's okay and still alive, still there. She wants to hold his hand, brush his hair back from his face – but her hands are so cold and he's so quiet. She shouldn't want to wake him.
She doesn't look down at his leg. She doesn't want to know what's happened to it, doesn't want to know if they were able to save it, not yet. She shouldn't be the first of them to find out what's happened.
But spirits, he looks so awful… his face is darkened by deep hollows under his eyes, his face is clammy and his hair is dripping in sweat. His breathing is starting to stutter now, coming out in gasps and pants. His pale face is flushed and his hands are shivering. They've been safe for a full forty-eight hours now, but maybe Mako doesn't know that. Nightmares aren't logical things. They don't care.
Mako's body may need sleep, but his mind needs rest. The least she can do is try to appease the latter.
Korra places a tentative, gentle hand on his brow. Her fingers are freezing against his warm skin; she can see goosebumps forming immediately on his forehead. "Mako?"
He jerks awake, eyes wild and pupils dilated. His fingers flinch, grasping, and she slips a cautious hand into his.
"Mako – it's me, it's Korra. It's okay, it was just a nightmare."
He blinks rapidly, coming back down to earth as his heart calms and starts to awaken from sleep. "Korra?" His voice is loud and raspy; it makes her head throb and her damaged ear pound.
"Yeah," she whispers, "I'm here. You're okay."
"Kor… Bolin?" He sounds haggard, strained. "Is Bolin okay? What's happened?"
She takes her hand from his forehead and pushes a finger to her lips, a silent request for him to keep it down, for her ear's sake and their privacy. "He's just next door. He's resting."
His voice lowers. "He's okay?"
Korra bites her lip. Maybe she isn't the right person to tell him this, but she probably should've thought about that before awaking him. "Bolin's – he's been through a lot. He hasn't woken up yet. But – he's stable, Mako, they say he's going to be okay."
"Tell me," he says, and his eyes lock onto hers. His pupils are still wide and in the dim lighting the amber almost looks black.
Korra takes a steady, shaky breath. "Mako, he… they took his earthbending. So – aside from that, he's okay. He's just a little bruised. He's – we're going to be okay."
Mako watches her for a long moment, his gaze steady and solemn. In the moonlight his face looks almost eerie, swathed in dark shadows and bruises that contrast the paleness of his skin.
"And Korra," he says finally, and she knows he's trying to sound as normal as he can, but the pain in his voice nearly breaks her. His hand is sweaty and shaking, but he lifts it from her grasp and motions weakly toward the bandaged side of her head. "What happened to you?"
"My eardrum burst," she whispers. "I'll be okay. They say they can fix it. It'll just be really sensitive for a while."
"Tell me we beat them," he says suddenly, and his frail hand tightens back onto hers. "Korra, tell me we did some damage. Tell me we hit them hard."
She's quiet as she gathers her thoughts. He isn't asking about his leg or his own health. He isn't asking whether he'd be okay. Half-dead and broken, he's still worried about everyone else.
Korra may be the Avatar, but not for the first time, she wonders if maybe Mako understands her job better than she does.
"A lot of them were killed when the bomb deactivated," she says quietly. "There are a few dozen injured that Bei Fong is keeping for interrogation. Their base was destroyed, though… they don't have anywhere to go to regroup, but that was a lot of information we lost down there. Files, records, plans… and a lot of them probably escaped. It's possible they were expecting us to come and were prepared to have to destroy it all and start again. They may be waiting in another hideout somewhere…"
"He was the one that set it off." Her throat feels dry, parched. Korra swallows and tries to take a steady breath, hold her emotions under control, keep it together for him. "He sacrificed his people to keep their secrets and escape."
"Korra," Mako says, bringing a hand up to touch her cheek. He brushes back the tears gathering at the corner of her eye with his thumb. "It's all right. We'll get them next time."
"I can't stand it," she whispers, trying to level her shaking voice. "What kind of leader does that? How could he think sacrificing their lives is worth the goal he may not even reach? He's fighting and he doesn't even know he's going to win but he's willing to put everyone who follows him in danger – he's their leader, he should put them first – you all should come first – "
Mako watches her as she tries to gather herself together, attempting to hold it in and failing.
"You…" She swallows and looks up at the dark hospital walls, the glowing moon outside, anything but him. "You two wouldn't be in here if it weren't for me."
"No," he says, "we wouldn't be alive if it weren't for you."
She stubbornly avoids his gaze.
"You airbent," he says quietly. "I saw you. You blasted the Lieutenant back and saved Bolin's life. Then you saved mine when that one equalist had the knife at my throat… We wouldn't be here at all if you hadn't shown up."
"I didn't know what I was doing," she brushes him off. "It just – happened. I don't even know what I'm doing, Mako, but you two keep putting so much trust in me and I still have no idea… I don't know what you wanted, but it can't have been this. I'm so sorry, you weren't supposed to…"
Mako reaches up and takes her hand with his other arm. "Hey," he mutters. "It'll be all right. We'll get through it. You said we'll be okay, right? So we'll be okay."
"I'm the Avatar," she says. "I'm supposed to protect the world but I can't even keep you two safe."
"We're not children." His lips twitch upward with dry amusement. "We knew what we were signing up for."
"I doubt Bolin would agree."
He sighs, long and tired. "You can ask him yourself. I'm sure he'll probably tell you that he'd rather lose his bending than his life."
"Mako," she says, "we can't possibly imagine what he's going through. How are you so sure Bolin's going to be all right?"
"My brother's not the bitter grudge-holding type," he mutters. "That's me."
Mako lets out a soft breath of air, a quiet exhale that feels too heartbreaking for it to be just a sigh. "Yeah. Still."
Korra slips her hand out of his and rubs her arms. She's cold and tired and scared and her head hurts, her ear is pounding and Mako is being too nice and she just wanted to make sure he was okay, she doesn't want to lose composure in here with him…
Really, they've been dancing around each other for months, teasing and smirking and bickering, but it all seems like child's play now. Layers have been shredded and ripped, torn away to leave a thin, shivering seventeen-year-old in place of the brash and bold Avatar that the world has come to expect. She doesn't know what Mako wanted to see when they were finally open and honest with each other, when they finally opened up and shed the arrogant fronts, but it couldn't have been this. Never this.
"C'mere," he says quietly. His pale hand reaches out toward her shoulder, curling around her back, and she gratefully presses closer, moves down to lean against him and tucks her head under his neck. Her fingers curl against his chest, gripping his thin hospital tunic.
Mako doesn't say anything for a long while. His breath tickles her scalp. She concentrates on his warm heat, the firmness of his arm around her shoulders, the gentle rhythm of his heart, and tries to ignore how, from this angle, she's noticed that there's no bulge under the sheets where his left calf should be.
"We'll be okay," he finally mutters, breath stirring her hair. His chest rumbles as he speaks, moving up and down against her good ear, so she concentrates on his words, tells herself to remember and tuck them away for later. "And even if not… Bolin and I know what we're in for. We're with you until the end, no matter what. We don't regret a minute of it."
Korra swallows thickly. "And what happens if I lose one of you?"
"I'm proud of my choices. I wouldn't take it back for anything."
"Avatar Korra," he murmurs. The words are muffled in her hair, low and almost indiscernible. "It'd be an honor to die fighting next to you."
She belongs to the world, to the universe, to the people. She belongs to everyone and anyone and no one at all. Maybe she doesn't know what she wants, but Mako understands what she needs, and here… here, for a moment, she almost doesn't regret a minute of it, either.
She'll keep them safe. She'll save the world and she'll win.
So she presses closer, curls in tighter, finds his steady heartbeat, and quietly, softly, keeps her palm there.