Pema has given birth to three airbenders already when the fourth one decides it's time to come out. Her waters break, Meelo stops playing with Ikki, turns and says 'look! Mommy wet herself!' in such a tactless way that only a child of his uniqueness could ever have said it. Ikki draws in that long breath she usually takes to begin an endless, one-sided conversation and then shouts.
"Daddy!" the seven-year-old exclaims, her head whipping over her shoulder excitedly. "The baby! The baby!" she claps her hands together, catching onto the happiness of the event before the seriousness of it. She runs toward her mother and takes her side, but doesn't know what she should really do to help, other than call for her father. Pema is at first surprised by all of this, and then a 'here we go again' expression takes over her face, and she puts one hand atop Ikki's head.
Tenzin is making Korra meditate with him and Jinora when he hears Ikki shouting for him. Having been deep into his own mind, it takes a few shouts to bring him back to the physical plane. Korra has already gotten up by the time he is fully alert, and he expects that she was just sitting still to make him think she had finally gotten the hang of it. At the very least, he supposes, her patience is getting stronger. Meelo come toward them at an airbending bound to relay Ikki's shouts, since Pema and his sister have gone to alert the servants to bring Oogi around the courtyard.
"Daddy, Mommy said to come get you! She says baby's on the way! On the way from where, daddy?" Meelo tugs at Tenzin's robes, and the older man is on his feet in moments. Jinora is still coming out of meditation - that's her only flaw; that she takes a while to come out of it. To many great airbenders, according to Tenzin's father, it is considered a good thing to be slow coming out of meditation; it means you are harder to disturb. Tenzin won't rush Jinora out of it, but he must go to his wife now.
His eyes turn to Korra, who's moving toward the house at a run. "Korra!" he calls calmly, moving at a fast pace, but still only at a walk. Korra turns and faces him, surprise written on her face. She smiles quickly, seeming to hope he doesn't know she wasn't actually meditating. Before she can come up with an excuse, he cuts off her train of thought. "Stay here with the children. I must accompany Pema to the hospital. It'll be a long night, but you should be able to handle it."
Korra blinks at him, and then shakes her head quickly. "Me? I don't know the first thing about babysitting!" she hisses in a panic.
Tenzin is unfazed by this. "Then you'd better learn, hadn't you?" he deadpans, seemingly having more things on his mind than her difficultness. He breathes a sigh, lifts a hand and puts it on her shoulder. "You'll do fine. Just get them to bed on time, and be sure they've eaten well. And … keep them entertained," he stops, realizes he's not helping, then shakes his head. "Jinora will help you," he points out, and then turns toward where the sound of Pema's first contraction is wailing over the air from.
Instead of his usual, calm, stately speed-walk, he airbends himself right over the buildings, to the main courtyard, and out of Korra's sight. The young Avatar in training stands in confusion as Tenzin, Pema and one other servant soar toward the city on Oogi, wondering just what she is supposed to do to keep three kids entertained.
She raises a hand and scratches her head. How is she supposed to go to pro-bending practice now? Mako will have her ass if she doesn't show up; she's still mixing up certain rules, and he's already irritated enough with her as it is. It seems like he'd rather be on a two-man pro-bending team than a three-man one, considering that according to Bolin, the Fire Ferrets haven't held a waterbender for longer than two months throughout their entire run. Korra wants to like him, and she would like for him to like her too, but that seems almost impossible right now, with him acting like Tenzin reincarnate.
Ha. That would be funny, she thinks.
"Where's my dad?" Jinora's voice calls over to her, and Korra turns to it.
"Oh, uh …" Korra stalls for a moment, pulling out of her thoughts. She wonders why she can't sail off like that in her meditation, too. "Your mom went into labor, and he went to the hospital with her," the avatar explains in a nonchalant tone. "He … kinda put me in charge. I think."
Jinora blinks at Korra for a moment, and then one brow goes up. "But you don't know anything about kids."
Korra has already decided she likes Jinora, but in this moment, she really, really, likes the girl. "I tried to tell him that, but he had to go in a hurry, so I guess I was the last option. Sorry about that," Korra smiles awkwardly, and scratches her head a little more. She finds herself thinking about her pro-bending practice again, and winces at the idea of Mako throwing a fit. She also feels a little sad for Bolin; training with Mako can't be fun, especially without someone to talk to when the firebender's back is turned.
Jinora shrugs and smiles on one half of her mouth. "Oh, well. I guess it can't be that hard, right?" the girl thinks aloud.
She's wrong. Very, very wrong.
An hour after Tenzin has left, Korra feels as though she should never, ever, ever have children. Ikki is swinging upside-down by her knees in a tall tree, and singing at the top of her voice that Meelo is a bed-wetter, and Meelo is standing under the tree trying to throw stones at his sister, who he presumes to be less attractive than a pile of bison dung. Korra is a huge failure as a babysitter. She wonders what to do to sort this out, but she's never really had much experience with kids' squabbles.
Growing up, Korra has never had any siblings, and after being announced the Avatar, was moved to the compound at the South Pole; which didn't have any other kids her age around. She simply doesn't know how to fix this.
"Alright, who did what, and why are we fighting?" Korra steps in, her voice as firm as she can make it. She hates sounding like Mako, but she is beginning to get one of those headaches parents always say they have coming on. Ikki shouts from the tree.
"Meelo went into my room and opened my toybox and stole my favorite doll - well, actually, she's not my favorite favorite, but she's my second favorite because she has messy hair 'cause I never brush it and it goes all tangled and messy like that and my favorite favorite is Princess Lu-Lei because she has pretty pretty dresses to go on her and-,"
"All your dolls are ugly anyway!" Meelo laughs out, and Korra has no idea what she's supposed to do.
Korra decides she can't fix this, and she turns to go inside to make them something to eat. Hopefully this argument with have passed by the time she figures out what she knows how to cook and gets it onto the table. Jinora has retreated to her bedroom to do whatever it is that Jinora retreats to her bedroom to do - probably reading or meditating or something. Korra has no idea how anyone can enjoy that boring, sitting-in-one-place thinking thing that everyone here is so fussed about. Honestly, it's like everyone here desperately needs a hobby or something.
When she gets to the kitchen, she sees noodles and rice and some fruit and vegetables, and decides she can whip something up if she just tries hard enough. How hard can cooking be, right? She's a firebender and a waterbender, too, so she can probably throw together something nice in a few minutes flat. It'll be really easy! She begins to feel optimistic about cooking her first meal. Then she realizes there's no meat. There hasn't been meat here since she arrived; she gets her fix in the city.
She frowns, but gets on with making a vegetarian meal. The noodles go into a pot of water on the stove, and some peppers and other healthy items go into the frying pan. This is easy as pie, she concludes, putting a few more items to go; some of those pastry things Ikki likes go into the oven, and the miso soup goes into a pot on another hob. She puts on an apron to make it more authentic. There are three hobs going, and one left free, and Korra can't help but think there should be something going on there too. Pema always has all the hobs going, and makes something delicious each time. Therefore, it's only logical to assume that if there are four things on the hobs at once, everything with come out wonderfully.
"Korra, Meelo won't give back my doll!" Ikki wails, swooping into the room on an air scooter. Korra turns from the food and breathes a sigh.
Meelo comes running in with a doll held high over his head. He is making airship noises, like the ones of Lin Bei Fong's police balloons. "You're under arrest!" he shouts to himself, as though there is nobody else in the room.
Korra leans down to them. "Meelo, can you give Ikki back her doll. Please?" she asks nicely, a small smile making its way onto her face.
Meelo looks from the doll, to Korra, and then to Ikki, and then back to Korra. "No," he answers, still grinning. She sees some snot dribbling down his nose, turns and gets the cloth on the counter to wipe it, and then turns back to the children.
Korra's face contorts in irritation. "Meelo-," she tries on some authority, and lifts the cloth to Meelo's face, but he moves away. She grunts. "Meelo, stay still," she orders him, and he ducks out of her way. She glances to where Ikki was just standing, and then jolts when the girl isn't there. "Ikki?" she looks around quickly, and sees her by the stove, reaching up for the food.
"Ooh! What are you making, Korra?" Ikki's hand draws too close to the fire hob for Korra's comfort.
Korra snatches Ikki's hand away from the food. "Ikki, don't do that!" she snaps suddenly, and hates how she's sounding. She sounds like Tenzin. "I'm making food. I don't really know what the name for it is, but it's food, and you'll eat it," she points at Ikki sharply, and glares forcefully at her.
Korra goes to stir the noodles in the pot, and then lifts the lid from one of the frying pans to see how everything browning under it. She checks the rice pot, and something isn't right, because a white glob jumps out of it and sticks partially to Korra's hair, and partially to her cheek. She is really, really tense now. Her eyes turn back to Ikki, as she wipes her hands on the apron.
Ikki smiles innocently. "I only eat what Mommy cooks," she blurts, reaches for Meelo, steals her doll and turns away. "Maybe Jinora will eat it!" she calls back to Korra.
Korra is extremely annoyed by this. "You'll eat whatever I put in front of you, Ikki!" she shouts, and is ready to shout some more when she realizes what she has just said. Meelo is standing beside Korra, looking up and laughing, and Korra makes a whine like Naga, hanging her head. Meelo dances around Korra's feet for a moment, and then stops.
"Hey! Who are you?" he grabs Korra's trouser leg and his fingers pinch the Avatar's skin under them.
Korra looks up in surprise, ready to attack an intruder - she's a fighter, not a mom - and then her eyes go wide. Mako is standing in the kitchen, his brows up but his expression otherwise unrelenting, and his hands in his pockets. She glances to the clock and realizes practice has ended just over half an hour ago. It's been four hours since Tenzin left, and she's screwed up really, really badly. Mako's eyes are fixed on her, and she feels like a failure at both babysitting and pro-bending.
Mako is somewhere between amused and confused. He's come here to tell her off for not coming to practice, only to find her at a stove, trying her hand at cooking. She's failing miserably, but it's kind of endearing. She has a glob of rice in her hair, and another on her cheek, and she's wearing an apron. That's just on ten different levels of weirdness. She's the Avatar. In an apron. Not to mention the disaster whatever she's cooking looks like it's turned into.
But his expression remains stony and calm.
Her shoulders sag. "I'm sorry," she quickly apologizes, and sighs. "Pema went into labor, and Tenzin asked me to…"
"What are you doing?" Mako suddenly speaks up, his expression now more curious than previous, but still cynical.
Korra blinks at him. "I'm … explaining why I skipped practice?" she answers, her voice as confused as her features.
Mako rolls his eyes. "Not that," he approaches. "You've got everything going at once," he steps closer until he's at the stove too, looking down at the meal she plans to prepare. He arches one of his brows at her. "And you've burnt the rice," he points out, raising a hand to point.
Korra's brows come down hard and she whirls to look into the pot. "What? No I haven't!" she plucks the top off it and points into it as well. "Look, it's still gloopy!" she grabs the ladle and pokes into it to show him how goopy it is, to prove her point. What is wrong with him? It's not burnt! You can't even burn rice! Can you?
Mako exhales, steals the ladle from her and drives it down into the pot, to bring up the bottom layer of the rice, which is a browny black. "Burnt," he repeats, and then drops the ladle back into the pot, dusting off his hands, which have gone clammy in the steam rising from the rice pot. "And you made way too much."
Korra's shoulders sag a little more, and then she draws a breath and glares at him, hands going to her hips. "Well, I've never done this before! How was I supposed to know?"
The firebender shrugs.
Meelo suddenly shouts out. "Hey! No fair! That's cheating!" he runs out of the room after Ikki, finally realizing she's stolen back her doll. Korra stares after the child, and a breath of fire escapes her nose.
The Avatar turns back to the stove, her eyes moving over each pot and pan. She now wishes she could have just gone into the city, gotten some take-out and prought it back for the kids. She can't cook, and will never be able to. Even Mako knows better than her how to cook, and he's a guy. Korra, at this point, doesn't see herself ever having children. She could master all the elements (except Air, maybe) but kids? They were nutcases!
Mako is witnessing it - possibly even reading her mind - as she eyes the different items on the stove. She looks like she's ready to give up, and he feels sorry for her. She reaches for her neck to untie the apron and pack it all in, and he reaches out to catch her hand. Korra looks at him in surprise and confusion. He quickly releases her hand and speaks. "The noodles are still okay," he tries to be optimistic, but it sounds like an order the way he says it. He's not very good at optimism.
Korra glares at him, and moves to untie the apron again. This time, he doesn't stop her. "Well, then, you cook it. I'm a horrible babysitter," she grumbles, and her hands undo the knots of the apron. The knot at the back of her neck has caught the end of her ponytail, and she grunts as it comes free, tugging her hair irritatingly. Mako gets the feeling Korra doesn't like failing. He wonders if it will make her a better pro-bender.
"KORRA! MEELO STOLE MY DOLL!" Ikki's voice whines across the house, and Mako sees Korra tense visibly.
The Avatar's gaze falls on Mako, and she suddenly thrusts the apron in her hand to him. He takes it, and then watches as she marches toward Ikki's voice. Mako wonders if she's forgotten about the glob of rice in her hair, and it seems she has. He doesn't put the apron on - he won't let Korra see him in a freaking apron - but flips the peppers in the frying pan and then goes in the direction Korra has just stormed off into.
Korra, by now, feels as though she could just cry with how bad she is at this. Tenzin is going to get home to find his children starved, and declaring war on one another, and it will be her fault. Jinora is supposed to help, she thinks, but she has done nothing of the sort. She has disappeared. Korra searches for Ikki and Meelo, and she can't find her way around with how flustered her mind is, and when she finally gets to Ikki and Meelo, they are outside by the trees. Ikki is shooting air after her brother, and Meelo is avoiding all her blasts without difficulty.
"Give me back my doll!" Ikki shouts irritably.
"Na-na-na-na-na-naaa!" Meelo sings as he dodges.
Korra rubs at the clean side of her face, her brows furrowing. She draws a breath to shout at them, finally pissed off. She knows what she's going to say, too. 'That's it! I've had enough of this! I'm taking the doll and you can argue over it when Tenzin gets back, or so help me I will earthbend you to the ceiling!' is what she plans to say, when Mako nudges her aside, and moves toward the kids. He seems to realize something that she doesn't.
Mako knows, of course, that they're really only playing, and that they're not trying to irritate one another so much as they're trying to irritate Korra. How he knows this is down to years of big-brotherhood.
Meelo is just jumping out of the way of one of Ikki's blasts when Mako catches the five-year-old by the sleeve. Meelo stares up and waves the doll at Mako, a look of surpise forming on his pudgy face. "Unhand me stranger!" he raises a hand to airbend at him, but Mako kneels down to his height, and Meelo stops.
Mako breaths a sigh, and then a small smile finds its way to his face. "Look," he begins reasonably, "Korra is really, really stressed," he gestures back at Korra, who doesn't appreciate him pointing this out, but looks on at what he's doing curiously, "and you guys running around is stressing her out even worse. You guys like Korra, right?" he asks, and his eyes move to Ikki, who has drawn a little nearer, curious about the handsome firebender boy.
Ikki nods, and then Meelo does, slowly.
"So," Mako holds out a hand to Meelo, gesturing for the doll. "Give me the doll, and you can play with it later," he smiles at the boy. Meelo hands over the doll, and a grin spreads on the child's face. Meelo is staring at Mako with strange fascination.
Meelo reaches out and touches Mako's eyebrow. "You have weird eyebrows, mister!" he pokes for Mako's brow again, and catches the bender in the eye. Mako moves out of the way and raises a hand to his eye, standing up. Ikki moves closer to Mako and stares up at him. Mako's hand comes away from his face, and he meets her gaze in kind.
"Hi!" she greets suddenly, and raises a hand to wave. "I'm Ikki!" she holds her hands behind her back and rocks on her feet, a blush crossing her cheeks.
Mako has seen that greeting before, and finds it cute on a seven-year-old girl where he finds it annoying in an eighteen-year-old one. Still, he smiles and introduces himself. Korra concludes that he likes kids more than he likes adults. Well … not like, adults, but people his own age. "Mako," he holds out his hand to her politely.
Ikki grins girlishly, takes his hand and shakes it. Meelo grabs hold of Mako's leg. "I'm MEEEELOOO," he exclaims, seeming very impressed with how own name.
Meelo clings to Mako's leg, while Ikki proceeds to talk. "Hey, are you one of Korra's pro-bending teammates? Are you that Mako? Or are you a different Mako? Are you the one on the Fire Ferrets' team? Huh? Huh? Are you?"
Mako nods and looks back to Korra, who's now watching with her arms crossed and an unfamiliar look on her face. She looks like she's been shown up, but at the same time, thankful. Mako will admit that these are particularly difficult children, but the key really is to just give them attention. Not that he'll tell her the secret just yet; he thinks he'll let her suffer for a little while first. As punishment for missing practice.
When the kids seem settled, Mako turns the doll in his hands as he and Korra head back to the kitchen. She clears her throat awkwardly. "So …" she starts, and then tilts her head thoughtfully. "I … didn't know you were good with kids," she says clumsily. "Or cooking, for that matter."
Mako shrugs again. "I didn't know you weren't."
Korra is unsure whether he has insulted her or not, still flustered by Jinora's absence.
Mako serves up the food, and it's good. Jinora finally makes an appearance to sit down at the table with them. Korra expects Mako to leave now with a reminder to come to training tomorrow, but instead he sits down with a bowl of his own. Korra arches a brow at him in confusion. Jinora glances at Mako, then at Korra, and then leans toward Ikki and whispers something. Ikki giggles and tucks into the meal.
Korra stares at Mako, who's taking off his gloves to eat. When he catches her stare, he glances to the children, and then to Korra. "You made too much," he says, by way of explanation. "And I haven't eaten," he adds. He also feels the need to tell her that he has made this meal, and why shouldn't he be allowed to eat it? It smells good, now that he has rescued it, and he's hungry. It's the least he could get in return for rescuing Korra from her babysitting disaster.
Korra makes a face and tucks into the meal with enthusiasm. Mako watches, wondering if she'll praise it or not. She doesn't, but by the gusto with which she eats, he knows she likes it. She doesn't eat 'properly'; the way ladies do at restaurants around the city, but she eats with a balance between manners and hunger that allows her to eat both quickly and politely. Mako is intrigued - Korra is unlike most girls he's met before.
At this point, Jinora speaks up. "So, your name is Mako, right?" she asks, eyes narrowed curiously.
Mako nods, gives a brief smile and continues eating.
"Are you Korra's boyfriend?"
Mako and Korra choke at the same time, and then stare at Jinora, who looks on innocently. Ikki looks ready to burst with laughter that she's holding back. Korra knows what Jinora is up to, but she won't go on about it while Mako is here, lest she accidentally say something less than tactful. She discreetly glances to Mako, whose cheeks have colored up a little. It looks cute, but Korra needs to get a hold of the situation, and fast.
"No!" Mako quickly answers, and then he clears his throat and answers a little more calmly. "Uh … no, I'm not."
Korra looks relieved at his answer, and avoids his gaze, even knowing that it then turns to her for a moment. Korra stuffs some food into her mouth so she has a good excuse not to answer if he asks her anything like, 'why would they think that'. She feels her own cheeks growing hot, and takes a sip of water, hoping it will counteract it.
"So whose boyfriend are you?" Ikki leans forward, slurping up noodles.
Mako seems not to understand the question. "Huh?" he asks, one brow going up.
"You look like a boyfriend to me; I saw a girl in the city once, and she had a boyfriend that looked like you, and in school, my teacher's boyfriend looks like you, so you're a boyfriend right?" Ikki chatters on, her reasoning almost painfully illogical to Mako. "Aren't you? Because-,"
Mako feels the need to stop her before she continues. "Uh … I'm nobody's boyfriend," he answers awkwardly. He looks as if he's going to elaborate, but then he doesn't, and takes a mouthful of noodles.
At this point, Mako notices the dark stares Korra and Jinora are shooting at one another. He tries to ignore it, but it's rather distracting.
"So, Mako, if you're not Korra's boyfriend, why did you come here to help her?" Jinora wiggles in her seat, her voice holding a teasing tone to it.
Mako blinks, and his cheeks grow hot again. "Uh …" he swallows, blinks and looks to Korra, whose eyes have been fixed on him and suddenly look away, embarrassed. "I … didn't have anything better to do. I guess."
Korra suddenly clears her throat and interjects, reaching for the water pitcher in the middle of the table. "Does anyone want more water?" she quickly changes the subject, and glances from one child to the next.
Meelo's hand goes up and he gestures to his cup, which is thankfully empty. Korra pours for him and then returns to eating.
Jinora speaks again, toward the end of the meal. "So … you're definitely, definitely not …" Jinora glances to Korra, who is staring daggers at her, her chopsticks held in a fist, "… Korra's boyfriend," Jinora reiterates, her eyes going back to Mako.
Mako draws another awkward breath. "No. I'm not."
Jinora suddenly smiles innocently. "Do you want to be?" she asks brightly.
Both Mako's and Korra's eyes go huge and stare at Jinora. Korra snorts a breath and looks apologetically to Mako, who can only look at her with his eyes wide and his mouth dropped open. At this point, Korra tries some damage control. "Actually, Jinora …" Korra inhales, "I have a boyfriend."
Both Jinora and Mako say the same thing at once. "You do?"
Korra blinks at Mako in surprise, and then looks to Jinora. "Yes," she answers simply. Of course it's a lie, but hopefully Jinora will shut up now.
The meal passes and then it's time to get the children to bed. Jinora takes care of herself, and goes to bed without a problem. Meelo and Ikki will be the harder ones to get down. Meelo goes to his room, at least, to play with his toys, but Ikki takes off to go scooter around the place. They have to catch her before they can get her to bed. Mako decides they should get the children in bed before washing the dishes; otherwise they'll have them under their feet while they try to get that done.
Korra has accepted him as the all-knower when it comes to children by now, and agrees.
They walk outside to find Ikki.
"So …" Mako begins disinterestedly. "It's not Bolin, is it?" he asks sideways, looking at the darkened sky.
Korra glances to him, confused. "Huh?" is all she says.
Mako raises a hand to make a 'you know' kind of motion with it. "Your … you know," he finally looks at her and gets up the nerve to say it. "… Boyfriend."
Korra stares at him for a moment and then throws her head back in laughter. Her hand claps him on the shoulder. She howls and howls in laughter before she can stop herself and smile, humored, at him. "Mako, I made that up. To get Jinora to stop asking questions."
Mako blinks at her and then raises a hand to cough into it, embarrassed. "Right, right … sorry."
The Avatar claps him again on the shoulder. Then she pauses and frowns. "Wait, you thought me and Bolin would …"
"No!" Mako suddenly negates, "I just … thought … I mean …"
"Spit it out," Korra crosses her arms over her chest.
"Well, I don't know, you guys just seem pretty … chummy. That's all," Mako rubs at his brow, his cheeks a deep pink shade now.
Korra laughs again, but just the once. "Me and Bolin aren't like that. We're buddies. Hell, sometimes I'm his wingman."
Mako blinks again. "Wingman?"
"You know … the job you're supposed to have? As his brother?"
Mako shakes his head to indicate he has no idea what she's talking about.
"Well, we go to a club, he points out a girl he thinks is cute, and I go over to talk to her. Because if a guy walks up to a girl in a bar, it's instantly … you know, a 'thing'. So I say I like her hair, or her dress, or whatever, and get her chatting about whatever, and then I wave over Bolin and he joins the conversation about whatever," Korra makes motions with her hands while speaking, despite that she really doesn't need to. "Ultimately, I leave to get drinks, or get some air, or talk to someone, and bam, Bolin's talking to a girl. The end."
Mako stares at her and then one brow goes up. "Bolin's never had trouble getting girls without a wingman," he deadpans.
The Avatar rolls her eyes. "Well, it's a bondy thing," she answers calmly. "Anyway, the point is, he's not my boyfriend. I don't have one."
"Okay then," Mako replies, tucking his hands into his pockets, pulling out his gloves and putting them back on. "So why didn't you want me to answer the question?" he asks, and then realizes what he's just said, stopping in his tracks and wanting to smack himself. Korra stiffens and turns to look back at him. He knows he needs to backpedal; change the subject or something.
She smiles awkwardly and raises a hand to the back of her neck. "Uh … well … I just … you know …" she looks from one side to the other, searching for something to say, and then Mako finds something to change the subject. He sees Ikki just past her and is relieved.
"Ikki!" he calls, and Korra looks forward to see the airbender girl looking tired for once, walking toward them.
Ikki smiles tiredly and rubs at her eye. "Hi Mako," she yawns, and then smiles at Korra. "What's up?"
Korra stares for a moment, and then shakes it off. "Uh … it's time for you to go to bed," she tells the girl slowly, hoping she doesn't meet any resistance.
Ikki nods and stretches, passing them and yawning again. They turn to follow her back into the house to tuck them in, or whatever. Mako says nothing, hoping they don't return to that little subject he had accidentally brought up. And besides, how would he have answered that question anyway?
'Yes'? That would be tactless and awkward and if Korra doesn't like him he'd have gotten shot down at a table of youngsters! Could it get any more embarrassing than that?
'No'? If Korra likes him, he'd have ruined any chance of … of anything! It's a double-edged sword!
Korra smiles awkwardly and gestures to the hallway where the kids' rooms are. Her eyes tell him she wants to know who's taking which child. Mako considers for a moment, and knows that either way, it's going to be hard for Korra to get them down; even Ikki, who seems just about ready to go to bed anyway. Mako raises a hand and points to Meelo's door, where crashing sounds and shouting is coming from inside, before he moves toward that door. Korra nods and approaches Ikki's door.
She glances back to see him disappearing into the child's room, and here's Meelo shouting Mako's name. It's cute. Korra can't believe how good he is with these kids; they'd only just met him!
"Hi Korra," Ikki yawns, sitting on her bed and stretching her arms up to the sky. The yawn passes, and when its gone, she jumps where she sits and looks at Korra as though her energy is all back. Korra groans inwardly. "So how did things go with your boyfriend?" Ikki asks loudly, and Korra's eyes go wide, just as she kicks shut Ikki's bedroom door to be sure Mako hasn't heard.
"Ikki, don't!" Korra hisses in a panic. She doesn't need this right now. She's tired, and she wants to go to bed, and she needs Ikki to go to sleep now. "Don't do that!"
Ikki blinks and tilts her head. "Why not?" she queries, only seeming to realize now that she's done something wrong.
Korra draws a breath, and considers. Maybe she can try that whole reasoning thing Mako did with Meelo earlier. She presses her back to the door and sighs. "Because … you'll embarrass me," she begins awkwardly. She's never been one to express feelings to people, but she supposes if she wants all the teasing to stop, she needs to get this off her chest. "I don't want Mako to … know I like him," she finishes, her voice a hiss, but louder than a whisper so Ikki can hear it from the bed.
Ikki's eyes go wide and she looks shamefaced. "Oh, I'm sorry, Korra!" she blurts out. "I won't do it again," she promises.
Korra smiles. It worked. Maybe she doesn't completely suck at this. And it feels kind of good to say it out loud, too. She pushes away from the door and approaches Ikki's bed. "So, Jinora turned out to be really helpful, huh?" she murmurs, sitting down on the bed and gesturing for Ikki to come closer. Korra grabs the hairbrush from the bedside table.
Ikki blinks at Korra for a moment, scoots closer, and leans back so Korra can get at her hair. "Jinora likes to read and stuff, so she spends a lot of time on her own. Daddy thinks she's being antisocial but I think Jinora's really smart, because she always has something funny or smart to say from her books. Sometimes she's even smarter than Daddy is. Mommy doesn't mind so much, because Mommy knows how to get Jinora to come out and hang out with us." Ikki pauses and glances back to Korra, who is in the process of undoing one of the wrapped buns on top of the girl's head.
Korra continues with her work, and takes out the bun, glancing briefly to Ikki as she starts to brush out Ikki's shoulder-length hair.
"Don't tell anyone I said this, but before Jinora liked to read, she used to play dolls with me. And now she doesn't. I kind of miss playing dolls with her," Ikki says mildly, and her eyes are sad as she looks at Korra, looking for comfort.
The waterbender brushing Ikki's hair breathes out. "Well, have you asked her to play with you?" she tries on what Pema might have said.
Ikki nods. "She says yeah, and then she goes off to read. She's really … prock- … procas- …"
"Yeah. That one," Ikki agrees. "So what do I do? I want to play dolls with her again," she reaches up and plays with her now loose hair on one side, as Korra moves to the other bun.
Korra shrugs as she unravels the other bun. "I don't know. Maybe … ask her if she wants to act out a scene from one of her books with your dolls?" Korra suggests thoughtfully, Ikki's hair slipping through the brush like silk in her fingers.
Ikki seems to think about it for a moment and then she frowns. "But I don't know any of her books. And what if I mess it up and she gets mad at me?"
Korra finished brushing out the other side of Ikki's hair. "Well, what books do you know?" Korra asks patiently. She feels like she is channeling Mako; she's doing great at this!
Ikki climbs up to the top of her sheets and climbs in; Korra sees the doll from earlier sitting on her pillow. "I don't read for fun. Just for school." Ikki rolls onto her back and cuddles her doll to her chest.
The Avatar sighs and frowns. "Well, what does Jinora like to read? Maybe you can borrow one of her books; who knows, she might be really happy if you take an interest in what she likes," she smiles hopefully. Yeah, she's an expert now. Mako has shown her the ropes, and she has the hang of it.
Ikki grins mischievously. "Jinora reads the kind of stuff you would like. Romance, and what my Daddy calls 'drivel'."
Korra smiles optimistically, standing up. "Well, I think you'd like them too. Give it a try," she moves to the door and leans to blow out the candle. Ikki makes a squeak of protest, and Korra sighs, leaving the candle lit. "Night, Ikki," the Avatar opens the door behind her and steps back out into the hall.
"Night, Korra," Ikki replies, yawning.
Korra steps back into the hallway and shuts the door. She waits a moment, and then pumps her fist into the air happily. Yes! She did it! And she hasn't made anyone cry, either! She had really and truly believed she'd end up making someone cry tonight, even if it was herself, but now she feels like a million yuan! This is great! She does a silent victory dance, so as not to wake anyone who's already asleep, and then straightens her posture and shakes it off, glancing to Meelo's door and waiting for Mako.
Mako comes out a few minutes later, with a quiet breath that screams the word 'finally'. He shuts the door silently, because it's taken him long enough to get Meelo to sleep, and he doesn't want to start again. He looks up and sees Korra, and he has to keep himself from grinning, because she still had rice stuck in her hair. He keeps his expression hard.
The two walk in silence back to the kitchen, and then Korra hoists herself to sit on the counter, leaning forward and putting her elbows on her knees. "Alright, Mako, you are amazing," she lifts a hand and nudges him playfully in the arm, as he begins to wash the dishes in the sink next to her. "Seriously, how do you know all that about kids?"
Mako smiles - not one of his mild smirks, or even that quick flash thing he does sometimes, but a genuine smile - mildly and slowly, and it's bittersweet. "When you live on the street with someone to protect, you learn things to make life easier," he says simply, and keeps his eyes trained on the dishes as he says it. Korra is silent, and he wants her to understand him, and at the same time, is afraid of her understanding. Afraid she'll think he's just another street rat; a thief. And he has been a thief, but only to keep Bolin safe. But he doesn't want her to see him like that.
The Avatar looks down and thinks. She wonders why she goes all ponder like this when she isn't meditating, but she's more focused on what Mako has just revealed. The reason he is the way he is. He's struggled and fought to keep Bolin safe for his whole life; he hasn't had time to be carefree and playful, because he's had to grow up to keep Bolin fed and happy. The happy attitude that she sees on Bolin is proof of what a great job he's done of it, too.
Korra wants to reach out to him, but she also doesn't want to set him off. He's been really different and fun to be around tonight, and she doesn't want him to go back to his regular serious self, as mind-numbingly amazing as his regular serious self is. "I …" she starts, and then drops her words. She doesn't know what she can say to that. She wants to comfort him, but she also thinks he's not partial to being comforted; he's always had to be strong and he thinks he doesn't need comfort.
Mako sighs and his sad smile has disappeared while Korra wasn't looking. "You don't have to say anything. It's my business; I'm not trying to make you feel sorry for me or anything."
The Avatar looks on with concerned eyes. "I wasn't. I was just … thinking. Making sense of it all. Making sense of you."
The Fire Ferret team captain puts the last washed dish on the counter, and says nothing.
All Korra can really think to say is, "Bolin's lucky to have a big brother like you," and she watches him turn his eyes to her, smoldering with … something.
Mako stares at her, and something rushes up inside him, welling up and making him want to explode, and he doesn't like it. He doesn't like the way she makes him feel things like this. He knows he's always been able to feel strong enough to hold his own, but when she's around, he feels like he can't protect himself from her, and he can't protect her from anything. He feels like a failure, and it hurts, and he doesn't like the way she makes him feel.
And at the same time, he wonders if there's a different way she could make him feel. He knows, somewhere deep down that she could make him feel amazing, too. But he's afraid to get burned.
Mako blinks slowly, nods, and then steps back from the sink. "I guess I should go, then," he says seriously.
Korra almost wants to ask him to stay, but she can't. Not without making herself vulnerable; and she can't do that. She's afraid to get burned too. "I'll … walk you to the ferry," she replies, and hops off the counter. It's cold outside, but she's used to the South Pole, so it doesn't bother her. They step out and cross the courtyard in silence.
The glowing vision of the city at night hits Korra like a Satomobile every time she sees it. Her eyes light up and the corners of her mouth tilt up, no matter what her mood beforehand has been. Mako knows this; he's seen it once when she came out of the gym after training all day, to the view of the glowing, lit up city. He wonders what growing up was like for her; when he first met her, he'd imagined her sheltered, spoiled and selfish, but now, at the way every little thing here excited her, he knows she's been over-sheltered.
She's his opposite when it comes to that; he's seen everything before, and he's prepared to deal with anything this city can throw at him and Bolin. Korra has yet to see a lot of the dark side of this town; the Triad, the Equalists, the shady politicians and vagabonds, all in one city. He wonders if she can handle the kind of reality that this place holds. He doesn't want to see her hurt. He wants to protect her.
They get to the dock just as the ferry is approaching from the middle of the water. They have time to stop and talk, if they so desire.
Korra is staring at the city again, and he doesn't know whether to find it endearing of troubling. But she's not staring in amazement today. This time it's pensive confusion. It's not like her to be so quiet, and Mako wants to know what she's thinking about.
He simply looks at her, and his eyes ask whatever he wants to know. That glob of rice on her face is starting to annoy him.
Korra sighs and draws her shoulders up, her face softening to a sad looking expression. "From the outside," she begins, her breath warm compared to the cool around them, "The city looks like a huge palace. You can almost forget there's people living in bushes, and street gangs and …" she pauses and shakes her head. "Look at me, getting all gloomy. Thought that was your job," she smiles at him awkwardly.
Mako doesn't know where to put himself with her. She completely turns his head around. He's afraid to get hurt by her, and afraid to hurt her, and afraid she'll get hurt. He's never been afraid like this; he's always made sure he had things figured out, so he and Bolin never got caught in the rain, or went hungry. Well, at least so Bolin didn't go hungry. "Yeah, guess so," he replies dryly, and looks out to the city too. "You almost forget.
"By the way, there's rice on your face."
"What? Ah, monkey feathers!" Korra reaches up to wipe it from her face, and it come off easily, but then she notices it in her hair and groans aloud. "Why didn't you tell me earlier?" she snaps at the firebender.
Mako shrugs. "Dunno." But he does know; he let her walk to the dock with rice on her face and in her hair because he thought it was cute.
Korra stares at him, and then glances away irritably. She has no idea what's up with him, but she still thinks he's rude. The ferry arrives and Mako boards. When he looks back, she's walking away, undoing all her hair and raking her fingers through it to get the rice out. He swears he can hear her talking, too. Korra turns, probably to get a view of the city again, and Mako decides he likes her hair out a lot better than tied up. Even with rice chunks in it.
Korra scowls at him.