INSTINCTS

It was so frustrating.

The Rabbiroos' firebender was actually putting up a fight. He was a really good pro-bender. Not as good as Mako, but definitely more of a challenge than his thin, wiry appearance had led Korra to believe.

She was stuck against the railing in Zone Three as he fought against her, hurling blasts of bright fire her way in rapid succession. It was taking nearly all of her energy to draw up water from the grate in front of her to lash away the attacks. He was bending too fast for her to get an attack in herself. She growled in frustration each time. Her instincts begged her to stop being an idiot and just use her firebending to cut through his attacks, whorl the flames down, around, and back at him, Avatar style. She ignored them.

Another attack, barely blocked, and she cried out, snarling. He was very strong, and he didn't seem to be wearing out. All she needed was a gap in his assault, and she'd be fine. He smirked at her from across the ring and shot two quick punches of fire in her direction. Korra gasped, but blocked them both before the heat got too close.

If only these chumps knew how she could really fight, they wouldn't be so confident about this match. She contemplated the possibilities. Most likely, she'd slash through his attack and send a kick of fire to his feet to unsteady him, a rock disk to his stomach, and a water whip to finish the job and knock the poor sucker out of the ring before you could say "Avatar Aang".

But she knew that would end rather poorly.

Last time she'd bent anything other than water in a match, she'd been lucky and only got moved back a zone. She'd known the rules then, but the referees hadn't the slightest clue what she knew. Now they did. If she broke regulation again, the consequences would be a lot harsher. She'd get kicked out of the match— maybe even off the team. The Fire Ferrets would definitely lose and then they'd be out of the tournament.

And perhaps the worst consequence of all… Mako would be utterly livid.

He'd been on her case a hundred times, irritated whenever she lost control in practice and fell back onto another element. It was always in that same voice, too. He never even yelled, but his calm tone always felt more condescending than anyone yelling. It drove her crazy. He just didn't understand what it was like to have her instincts, to have that special feel for all the elements fizzling under her skin, crying out to be used, to have the compulsion to do something, knowing that she shouldn't. He didn't get it.

"Don't give in to those 'instincts' of yours, Korra," he had said coolly before the game. "Just waterbend." She scowled at the memory. Stupid Mako. He didn't understand how hard it was to ignore them.

So she continued parrying the firebender's attacks only with ribbons of water, trying to think of when her opponent would allow an opening for her to get back on the offensive.

She had to attack soon. She had to. They needed to win this one, and Bolin had already been knocked out of the ring. He had taken down the other waterbender simultaneously, so that was good, but Korra knew that he was bound to be upset. They worked best when all three of them were up there, and they truly needed to advance in the tournament because of the money in store.

It was a lot of money.

Mako still held his own in the center of Zone Two, but things weren't looking good for him either. He seemed to be having a little trouble with the Rabbiroos' earthbender, but Korra couldn't tell why. He kept glancing back in her direction, and that was really irritating her. He wasn't focused, that was for sure, but at least he was still attacking, punching the air and sending bursts of flame toward the earthbender.

Korra's attention snapped back to her own attacker as he blasted a particularly strong jet of fire her way. Her instincts kicked in, and her body prepared itself to cut through the flames, palms outstretched, and bend her own fire back at him. She realized almost instantly what her body was trying to do, fought the urge to firebend, and reeled herself back in. Hoping it wasn't too late to change tactics, her hands dipped down and quickly clenched back up to her hips, drawing a wave of water up to protect her from the heat.

The fire was too close. Her defense rose up too late. When her water surged up against the fire, steam exploded up in her direction, fogging her protective mask and blinding her. She cried out, wiping at her face with her sleeve. When her arm lowered, she couldn't see the opponent.

She only saw Mako.

Mako had somehow appeared in front of her, slicing through the fire attack that was meant for her. The flames flew back from either side of him. She knew he wasn't supposed to do it and that it was an incredibly stupid move. When there were two left, each was supposed to handle one opponent at a time in two sections of the ring. That's what they'd been doing in practice. Spreading out spread the attack. If they were both on the same side, both together, they were easier targets. What was he trying to do? Take them both on? It was idiotic, she knew this, but Korra still felt a burst of hope.

Mako was the best pro-bender out there.

He was going to win this for them.

Then as soon as it had hit, her hope was sucked away. Time seemed to stop as the earthbender kicked up three rock disks, flinging them at Mako.

Korra cringed as one made impact with his right shin, sending him to his knees. She bent up a whip of water with her left hand and slapped back the other two disks before they could hit Mako. She already was drawing up a second whip with her right, when she sensed the heat coming too fast.

That firebender sure was a fighter.

He took advantage of his opportunities, and he definitely took advantage of this one. He kicked up with his left leg quick and slammed it back down, and a rush of fire flew out towards Mako. The collision forced Mako back so far that he skid past Korra, fell off the edge, and splashed into the water below.

She didn't even look back, didn't even acknowledge the bubbling anger growing inside her at Mako's stupid move. There was no time for that. It was all up to her now.

Korra yelled out again, way past the limits of her frustration. She may not be allowed to fight fully, but she wasn't going to hold back with her waterbending. The Rabbiroos' small victory left a gap in the assault, and Korra spun out to the center of her zone. She attacked the firebender with renewed vigor, evading his attacks with some quick ducks and dodges. Now that she had the space to move around and wasn't pushed back in the corner like before, she swirled about easily. Water gushed forth from her side of the ring, jetting into the firebender's face, pushing him all the way back into his Zone Three. A rock disk from the earthbender flew past her, and she spun around, easily avoiding it. One swift water whip, and he was out.

The firebender's stare locked with hers, and Korra finally saw the fear in his eyes. Finally. This is what she was waiting for. She was the Avatar, and she was going to win this match no matter what.

This chump was just going to have to deal with it.

Her arms whirled around her and pushed forward, and the water below her flowed up and out, crashing against the firebender's chest and slamming him out of the ring.

The scream and subsequent splash was so, so satisfying.

The crowd's explosion was even more so.

"Woohoo! Yes!" Korra cried, punching the air with her fists, tiny spurts of fire flickering from her hands with excitement and relief. She sprinted around the ring, overcome with the crowd's enthusiasm. They jumped up and down, screaming as she ran, calling out for their Avatar. She bowed at them and bent all three elements simultaneously. Korra grinned as a whirlwind of earth, water, and fire surrounded her. The crowd erupted, shrieking.

"What a turnaround!" the announcer overhead yelled into his microphone, just as pumped up as the crowd. "What a match! After it seemed like she couldn't recover from that fierce beating and Mako's knockout, Korra came out of nowhere in the end and knocked the last two Rabbiroos out within seconds of each other! What impressive waterbending the Avatar has—"

Korra leaped dramatically off the edge and dove into the water, blocking out the cheers and the rest of the announcer's charismatic recap of the game. It wasn't until she was surrounded by the calm silence of the water, swimming up to the holding room below that she realized what Mako had done, and how stupid it had been.

He'd almost cost them the match.

Why the hell had he jumped in front of her like that? Did he think she couldn't handle it by herself? She'd been getting back on her feet. She was the Avatar after all. He was supposed to just be dealing with the earthbender. Why did he try and tackle the two of them at once? Since day one, he'd always joked about how Korra should just stand to the side and let him take over, but he'd never actually done it! It was the dumbest maneuver she'd ever seen him attempt.

Besides, of the three of them, he was the one most concerned with winning, and he almost threw that all away. He'd lost focus for who knows why, but that had to change. None of them could lose focus now, and she was not going to deal with it next match, because she might not be able to handle a situation like that again. Besides, he deserved a good talking to. He got on her case all the time.

Just because she made mistakes doesn't mean he couldn't. And he'd proven tonight that he definitely could. Besides, she was sick of his nagging whenever she made an error.

She was going to knock some sense into him. Now.

She waterbended herself up onto the floor and somersaulted forward, nearly bumping in Bolin. She looked up at him from the floor. The crowd still roared.

"Impressed?" she said, raising her eyebrows.

He yanked her up to her feet and pulled her into a tight gopher-bear hug.

"You did it! I couldn't believe it. I was so nervous the whole time. You and Mako were getting pummeled and I was so sure we were gonna lose and then BAM—they didn't know what hit them!" Korra laughed and Bolin dropped her before continuing, "Oh wait, the Avatar hit them! With her Avatarness."

She prodded his chest. "Bam."

"That's my gal!" He picked her up again and spun her around.

Korra smile dropped off her face when she finally looked around. Mako wasn't here.

She frowned. "Where is he?"

Bolin dropped her. He coughed and adopted a silly accent. "Of whom might you be speaking? Who is this mysterious he?" Bolin said.

"Your idiot brother."

"Oh, him! He already went upstairs, but I don't think you should bother him right now."

"No. I'm not gonna let him mope."

"He really wants to be alone right now!"

"Do I look like I care?" She began to walk towards the exit.

"But Korra!" Bolin grabbed her wrist.

She whipped around, eyes blazing into his. "Mako always gets on my case if I mess up in practice, if I follow my instincts and firebend or earthbend when I get frustrated. And I actually controlled myself tonight and focused everything, everything, on my waterbending. I won. So all I'm doing is giving him a taste of his own medicine." Bolin opened his mouth, but Korra cut him off. "This was a match! Not practice! I can't have him lose focus like that next time. We're in the semi-finals now!"

"True." He loosened his grip, but still held on.

"Don't you want to win?"

"Well, yeah."

"Then let me go pound some sense into him. He needs to understand that he makes mistakes too, and that he can't keep nagging me whenever I do."

"Relax, let him be for a bit. You can harp on about it with him tomorrow."

"No. Let me go, Bolin."

Bolin rolled his eyes, and she yanked her arm out of his grip. She stormed off before he could stop her. He cried out after her, "Stop! He doesn't want you to see him right now!"

She ignored his protestations and ran down the hall, past Toza's gym, to arrive at the first set of back stairs, the ones that only competitors were allowed to use. She slammed the door open and bound up the steps three at a time. If Bolin were trying to run after her, he would never be able to catch her.

When she got to the next floor, she sprinted to the back section where the second set of stairs was located. She used the water from the nearby fountain to bend herself up faster, not having to use the staircase at all.

She arrived panting at their front door, a wide, wooden one hidden behind some tattered green drapes. She shook the water off her and kicked open the door.

Mako was sitting on his bed in the far side of the room, facing away from her. He was holding his helmet in his right hand, his elbow on his knee. He still wore his uniform shirt, but his padding was scattered around him on the floor.

"How much did it cost us?" he asked.

"How much did what cost?" Korra asked, crossing her arms and leaning against the doorframe.

Mako whipped his head around, genuinely surprised to see her there. She glared at him, and his expression quickly faded into a grimace, and he turned back away from her. "I thought you were Bolin. What do you want, Korra?," he asked softly, tossing his helmet up and down with his right hand. She absently noticed his left arm propped out awkwardly.

"You get all over me whenever I make a mistake, because you're Mako and you've got moxie, and I get it, okay? You're a really, really good bender. You're one of the best I've ever seen, and I've seen a whole mess of benders. Granted, maybe I haven't seen a lot of pro-benders because I'm still a bit new to it, but that's not the point. I'm admitting that you're good. But you need to admit that you can make mistakes too. That I'm not the only one on this team that messes up." Mako sat there quietly. She continued, stomping towards him. "And you don't get to mope up here by yourself because that's not fair. When I lose control, you get on me like crazy, and for once, for once, I want to yell at you!"

Mako stayed calm. "I'm not moping."

"Yes you are!" she yelled.

"Is that why you're here? So you can yell at me?"

"Yes!" she scoffed. "No… I dunno." She paused, standing over his right side, hands on her hips. "… You know what? I'm the Avatar, and I've got moxie too. I was just having problems getting my firebending instincts under control, but I was handling it just fine! I get it, I'm new, you don't trust me on the team, but you didn't have to step in and take over for me."

"Well, we won, didn't we?"

He was just making her angrier, like usual. "That's not the point! You don't think I can handle myself out there. You think you're a better pro-bender than me, and maybe you are, but I'm pretty good too, okay? I'm a natural. You've said it yourself. You don't want me on the team, just admit it!"

She was mad at him, but as she ranted, Korra realized that she couldn't pinpoint exactly why she was mad. Did she just want to yell at him because she always got yelled at? Was it because he'd made it seem like he was trying to protect her? She wasn't weak, and she didn't need anybody's help. Was it because she wanted him to acknowledge her skill? Because she wanted him to yell back and start another argument? Because she was so tired of not being able to understand her feelings towards him, that she was just getting mad for no reason at all?

He finally looked up at her. "Korra, you're an amazing bender. You always impress—"

"JUST LET ME BE MAD AT YOU!" Korra yelled, shoving him down onto the bed. He inhaled sharply, grabbing at his left shoulder as he rolled off the bed onto the floor. "Oh, come on, I didn't push you that—"

That's when she noticed it. He'd been sitting so that his left side was away from her, so she hadn't seen it until now.

The burn on his upper arm was bright pink.

"Mako!" Korra cried out, forgetting her anger for the moment and falling to the floor. She rested her hand on his knee and inspected the wound. It wasn't bad, but it was still a burn. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine. Bolin is out getting some medicine." She grimaced. She hated burns. "It's not the first time I've been burned. I'm fine," he repeated.

"Why didn't you tell me? Why'd you just let me yell at you?" He opened his mouth to respond, but she cut him off. "No. Stop. Ugh, what would Master Katara do?" She hit her head with the heel of her hand. "Just, um, take off your shirt."

"My shirt?"

"Yes. Your shirt," she said nervously as she stood up, meandering about. "I gotta fill…" she mumbled as she searched for a vessel before snatching up a large bowl from their kitchen. "This!" She ran out the stairwell and bent some of the water from below into the bowl. She rushed back in, trying not to slosh too much over the sides. Mako was shirtless, leaning back against the side of his bed, resting his head on the mattress. His eyes were closed, and his face was tight with pain.

Korra stared for a split second—she'd never realized before how beautiful his body was— before approaching him and placing the bowl on the floor next to him.

"Well, aren't you full of surprises. The Avatar and a healer," Mako said, keeping his eyes closed.

"Not quite," she said. "I know I've technically mastered waterbending, but I've never really been able to truly heal." She bent up water and pressed it against his arm. He clenched his teeth at the contact. "It's just to take out some of the heat and make it feel better until you can get some medicine." He looked at her, and she continued, unable to stop the flow of words coming out of her. "I should be able to heal, and Master Katara has tried way too many times to get me to do it, but I think it's a bit too spiritual for me to get. Same with airbending. I'm hoping that once I can airbend then I'll unlock some crazy healing powers. But until then, this is the best I can do. Then again, there is always the chance that I'm not a healer at all, which would—"

"Korra. Shh. It's nice." Mako pressed his hand on her knee as she bent the water up and down his arm, letting its coolness seep into the damaged skin like Katara had taught her.

She hated burns. When she was a kid, before she had any firebending training, she had a lot of problems keeping herself under control. It led to a lot of burns, which were healed quickly and easily by members of her tribe, and her skin never seriously scarred from those careless childhood injuries. The scars of pain, however, were still there. She remembered how badly burns hurt. And Mako had jumped in front of her to take this attack. It should have hit her; she should be the one with the burn right now, but instead Mako had been burnt, and he had let her rant without even mentioning it.

"Why did you just let me yell at you like that when you were in pain?" she asked again, her voice finally softening.

"I was trying to let you be mad at me," he said simply. Meaning he didn't want to argue with her? For once?

She sat up on her knees and scooted a bit closer to him, keeping her eyes on his arm so she wouldn't stare at his chest. "I'm sorry."

"No, you can be mad. I'm the one who should be sorry. You're right. I messed up. And you have every right to yell at me. I shouldn't get mad at you when you make a mistake. Everyone makes them, even me. That's why Hasook left; I know it. Bolin keeps telling me that he ditched us because he's a no-good, talent-less boarcupine, but he ditched us because I kept yelling at him."

"I'm not going to ditch you guys."

"Still, I… I like having you on the team, Korra. You're really good. A natural. And I know you can handle yourself."

"I like being on the team… even when you get on my case for following my 'instincts'."

They smiled at each other, and she bent fresh, cool water up out of the bowl, replacing the now warm water she'd been using. They sat in silence for a few minutes, Korra focused on bending the water around his burn. Mako stared at her concentrating. She felt his amber eyes looking at her, and it made her nervous for some reason. She tried to ignore it.

"Korra?"

"Yeah?"

"I promise not to get mad at you for following your instincts anymore," he said calmly, looking away from her again. "Not now that I know how it feels."

She glanced at him. "What are you talking about?"

"That's why I messed up. I followed my instincts."

Korra couldn't help but laugh a little. "I didn't see you do any earthbending, Mr. Hat Trick." She winked.

He looked up at her seriously. His mouth opened and closed, as if he wasn't sure exactly what to say. "My instincts kept telling me that you were getting hurt, and that I needed to protect you. I kept looking back at you, and I knew you were fine, and I could see that you were fine, but when you cried out I suppose I kind of… gave in."

He thought she was getting hurt? Was he serious? She could always defend herself, no matter what.

"You don't have to protect me, Mako."

"I know." His voice sounded ashamed. "'You're the Avatar, and I'm an idiot,' right?"

"And now you're burnt."

"I know," he repeated, closing his eyes. "It was stupid."

They fell into silence again, Korra unsure of what to say. Mako had stepped up… to protect her? She'd lived her whole life being the fiercest, strongest fighter she knew. She never relied on anyone's help but her own. But because he got in front of her, she was able to win the match for the Fire Ferrets. Because he protected her, she didn't get burnt.

"Yes, it was stupid," she said. "But it was also… sweet. Nobody's ever… done anything like that. For me." She sighed. "I just… usually I'm… Sorry, I'm not good with stuff like this."

He allowed a smirk. "You could say thank you."

She bent the water back into the bowl. "That's about all the good I can do until Bolin gets back with some medicine."

"That's fine. Thank you, Korra. It feels much better."

"No, thank you." She didn't know what else to say. Why was her mind all foggy like this? She couldn't speak at all. She just wanted to help him, to make up for yelling at him. She felt really guilty about that now. "Is there anything else I can do to make you feel better?" He shook his head and cradled his arm against his bare chest. She pressed him again, "Are you sure? I mean, I feel bad enough that I'm a terrible healer and probably didn't do anything substantial. And it was my fault anyway for almost firebending and then being too late with my defense. And for getting trapped in that corner in the first place, I mean I've worked so many times on being the stupid leaf you'd think that I'd be able to avoid that kind of situation, but no, I just—"

"No, I'm fine, I promise." He stood and sat back down on his bed again. He patted the space next to him.

Korra got up off the floor and sat next to Mako. "But you said you were fine before, and clearly you weren't. And now I feel guilty about yelling at you. I was wrong. If I want you to stop getting on my case, then getting on yours isn't going to solve anything."

"You feel guilty? Well that's a first."

"Shut up. Don't make me hurt you."

He laughed. "I thought you wanted to help me?"

"Ugh, when I finally think that you're done trying to argue with me, you start up again. I mean I just cooled your arm off, and this is the thanks I get? I suppose you got it because of me in the first place, but you should just let me be mad and stop arg—"

His finger pressed against her lips. Her eyes widened at the touch. He looked warmly at her.

"Korra, shh."

His hand lowered from her face, and there it was again. It was much stronger than when she was bending, but it felt the same. The desire underneath her skin, the compulsion begging her to do something she knew she probably shouldn't do. It sparked inside her, and she stared at him, trying to get herself under control, but she already knew that she was losing it.

She leaned forward and kissed him.

His eyes widened, but he responded easily, cupping the back of her head with his hand and pulling her closer. Their mouths moved together, but it was all slow, innocent, sensual… Kissing Mako was interesting. She'd only ever kissed boys from her tribe, but this was different. He tasted smoky, his lips were very warm, and… it was lovely. Korra forgot all her guilt and worry and anxiety and anger as she kissed him and he kissed her back. She only felt… she felt… she wasn't really sure what she felt, but she felt… right.

Wait, what was she doing? She pulled away fast.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to…" She scratched the top of her head. "I guess I was just… following my instincts. Uh… yeah."

He put his hand on her cheek. "Didn't I say I wasn't going to get mad at you for following your instincts?" he said.

"Yeah, you did."

"So, I'll let you be mad at me if you let me kiss you."

"I'm not mad at you, Mako."

"Can I still kiss you, though?"

"Ye—"

He pressed his lips against hers.

a/n: WOOHOO! MAKORRA OBSESSIONS. This is pretty bad, since I don't know their characters all too well yet, and the plot is kinda wonky, but WHATEVER I'M JUST EXCITED ABOUT THE MAKORRA. EVERYTHING IS MAKORRA AND NOTHING HURTS.