The arena was gorgeous at night, and Korra didn't know if she'd ever get used to the sight of it.
She had been tossing and turning in her bed unable to sleep for over an hour and had finally given up. Now she sat in her room, elbows propped up on her windowsill, staring at the arena, trying to relax. She wanted this constant irritation and doubt that had plagued her all day to just go away, but even the beauty of the arena's lights sparkling off the water didn't seem to be helping her forget her troubles.
It had been another rough day of training with Tenzin and the kids.
It was indeed true that something had clicked inside Korra, and after days of frustration, she could finally airbend. It was also quite true that she wasn't very good at it.
No matter what she did, it didn't seem like the rawness, the pureness, the sheer power of airbending was there for her. Tenzin kept trying to tell her that all she needed to do was practice more meditation, but that didn't make any sense. She wasn't going to get better by sitting around. She should just be able to airbend, plain and simple. With the other three elements, they had come to her at such a young age—and with such power too. She hadn't needed to practice ever. She was a natural! Her training was used to refine techniques and keep her strength under control, not to teach her how to actually bend the element.
"It's not all about the power," Tenzin had said many times. "Practice makes perfect."
Korra tried to put her mind in the right place and listen to Tenzin and the girls with their advice, but nothing seemed to work. She'd even practiced her meditation! Really, she had. Practice makes perfect? What a joke! All she'd been able to accomplish was be a little lighter on her feet, and even that was a struggle. She could barely make it through the spinning gates, and sometimes she still got hit. It frustrated her to no end.
It didn't help that Meelo was a better airbender than she was, even when he fell asleep during meditation.
It made her feel awful, and staring at the arena wasn't helping.
Korra stood, deciding that if she wasn't able to fall asleep, she might as well use the time wisely. She needed to clear her head and stop all this thinking. It wasn't getting her anywhere. She just needed to do some bending. That would help.
However, if she started training this late at night, explosions of rock and fire weren't far behind, and she would wake everyone up. And besides, even if she was able to keep the noise down, she didn't want the White Lotus sentries to keep an eye on her; she wanted to lose herself in the elements without being monitored by those grumps. She knew they would never be able to keep their mouths shut and would definitely inform Tenzin about her late night non-airbending session.
So to avoid his certain fury, she'd go to the arena instead.
Korra climbed out her window, scaling the sides of the tower and avoiding the windows. She'd snuck out of her room before, so this time was much easier. She just used the jutting pieces of rock that she had bent outward last time as hand and footholds. She reached ground without a problem, ran to the edge of the island, and leapt out over the water, legs tight together and arms outstretched.
She reached out to the water's surface and pulled back, her fingers curving in. The water rose up to meet her, and she dove into the column, her body slipping in and hardly making a sound.
Korra swam effortlessly to the city.
She followed the same route she had used the first time she'd ever gone to the arena. The water spit her up at the building, and she landed with ease. Everything was dark. A much different place now than when a pro-bending match was happening. She shook the water off her body with a little help from her bending and walked to the gym's entrance. Korra had been expecting peace and quiet and alone time (after all, it was the middle of the night). She peeked in hesitantly.
Mako stood alone.
With her newfound lightness of foot, she tiptoed closer, and leaned against the doorframe, watching him. He was dressed in his normal workout clothes, his loose pants and his white tank top, and a thin layer of sweat glistened on his skin under the gym's lighting. He stood still, arms hanging loosely at his sides, rolling his neck as he prepared to start another practice assault. His target was a dummy made of rock that he had set in the middle of the gym. Continuing to stand still, he breathed in deeply. He lifted his shoulders slowly, stretching the muscles underneath as he rolled them back, up, and forward again.
His shoulder blades jut out as he stretched backwards, the muscles bunching up by his neck before smoothing themselves again. He reached up to the ceiling for one final stretch, and Korra couldn't help but stare. Slight curves ran down his arms, outlining his muscles as they shifted beneath his skin. They weren't big, but they were powerful and lean and controlled, strong and defined and beautiful. He lowered his arms again, pulling them up into position, his knuckles just grazing the bottom of his chin, and began.
Mako always impressed her.
She'd seen him pro-bend a few times now, and every time it shocked her. Even though he wasn't fighting a real person, he was still dazzling her. The way he moved was so different than any of her firebending teachers had ever shown her. With them, it was all straight motions, thrusts in one direction. With Mako, he was… he was smooth, controlled, and fierce. She needed to convince him to show her some tricks.
He started out with a duck, bobbing closer towards the dummy. His arm curved out and up, and he attacked with a flurry of hooks and uppercuts, the fire bursting from his fists. Twisting around, his right leg whipped out fluidly and kicked flames at the target. He landed on the same leg and kicked out again with his left, never missing a beat. The heat and light blazed out from the gym, but he kept going, moving perfectly. If he'd been in a real match, Mako would have already overwhelmed his opposition with this constant assault. He spun around again, his face tight and furious as he prepared another kick.
"Korra?" he asked, stumbling backwards but catching himself before he fell over. "Is everything okay?"
She scratched her head, embarrassed that he caught her staring at him like that. "Oh, um, heeeey." He lifted the bottom of his shirt to wipe the sweat off his face. It took everything Korra had to not stare at his abs and keep eye contact. "E-everything's fine! I just… um, I couldn't, uh, sleep?" she managed to sputter out.
"Yeah, I'm… fine. What about you?"
He walked right up to her. "I'm fine. Couldn't sleep either." He crossed his arms. "So… why are you here?"
Korra laughed nervously. "Well, I wanted to work out, but I couldn't just do it on the island because I'd wake everyone up and then Tenzin would get mad and it was just a bad idea. So I came here. I didn't expect anyone to be here, honestly."
He lifted an eyebrow suspiciously.
"I just had a bad day. Airbending being impossible and all. You know, the usual. And I just needed to get my mind off it. I'll just leave. Sorry for bothering you.
"K-korra, stop. You can, um, stay. You're not bothering me."
When she turned back around, she had one of her goofy smiles on her face. "Well," she said, drawing the sound out, "since you're here and all, you don't think you could teach me some new firebending moves?" She'd been begging him since she officially joined the Fire Ferrets and the answer was always the same:
Her smile dropped. "What? Why?"
"Because if I'm gonna let you use the gym, you're gonna work on your waterbending. Our next match is in three days, remember?"
"Aw, Mako, come on," she begged and punched his arm jokingly.
"Besides, I'm not a good teacher."
Korra doubted that. He was one of the best firebenders she'd ever seen. Surely he'd be able to teach her something new. "You know what'll help me with the match?"
He rolled his eyes. "What?"
"Some new, modern fighting styles!"
"And you know who is really great at modern fighting?"
"No, Korra. I'm not gonna teach you."
She threw her hands up in exasperation. "Come on, Mako! This is really important to me! I'm the Avatar; I should know all the best moves. And I promise I won't mess up the match, I promise! Besides, you saw how good of a learner I am when Bolin taught me some earthbending tricks."
Mako sighed, and looked at his feet, shaking his head. "Will you keep pestering me until I agree to teach you?"
"Of course." She grinned.
"Okay, fine," he groaned.
"Woohoo!" she yelled, punching the air, and Mako laughed. Was she hearing what she thought she was hearing? Was that the sound of Mako chuckling to himself? She actually got a laugh out of him? Seriously? She didn't mention anything out loud but relished the moment internally.
They walked back to the center of the gym.
Mako gestured at the dummy, "Okay, show me what you got."
Korra smirked, steadied herself, and started her attack. The fire flowed out of her easily, and she moved around the dummy quickly, doling out hard-hitting punches with her fists. She thrust out her leg, growling a bit as she did so. She jumped up, and slammed her hands together, releasing a powerful explosion. She flipped in the air, landed, and looked at Mako for approval.
"Well, you're a strong firebender, that's for sure, but the duration of those attacks would get you kicked out of a pro-bending match for sure. Especially that last one." He bounced back and forth on his toes, his hands in position again under his chin. "You have to be quick, smooth. Add more twists and curves. Fewer straight motions." He punched out a few hooks and a spun out a curvy kick. "You can throw in some jabs, but the trick is the curve."
"Okay." She steadied herself again, jabbing out a few punches.
He grimaced slightly. "Try again. Practice makes perfect."
Really? She was already getting irritated by her inability to adapt instantly to Mako's demands. When Bolin helped her earthbending, it was nearly instantaneous. Doing this over and over wasn't going to change anything.
Practice makes perfect? Please.
She looked at him, took a deep breath and tried to copy Mako's moves. She tried to curve her attacks, but the result was the same. She groaned, kicking the ground in frustration and hunching her shoulders over.
"Stop thrusting your arms out like that. That's the old style." He approached her and stood behind her, grabbing hold of her wrists. She prayed to the spirits that he couldn't feel her pulse through her wrists, because it was going crazy now. He had to feel it, didn't he? His fingers were on her arm, strong on her skin, but not rough.
He was… warm.
He led her through the motions, and their arms moved in unison, from underneath Korra's chin, out and around, slowly at first, but as Mako repeated the motion, the pace increased. Korra slowly began to forget the nervousness she felt at having Mako so close to her, and he gently began to lessen his grip on her until he stepped away, and Korra was doing the motions by herself, finally releasing the fire inside her and adding it to the punches.
She stopped, breathing heavily. It worked! She couldn't believe it. Maybe Tenzin wasn't so crazy after all… Firebending came faster, but maybe she'd give this whole practicing thing another try.
"Yes!" Mako exclaimed, the tiniest of smiles trying to creep onto his face.
"I did it!" Korra yelled as she turned, laughing.
"That was excellent!" He looked so happy, the excitement bubbling out of him.
She mock-bowed and lifted her head, catching his eyes again. "Wait, Is that a smile I see? I can't say I've ever seen a smile on you before," she teased.
Mako coughed into his hand and the smile dropped off his face. "Well, I, uh…"
"I'm just teasing you."
She patted his arm. "You're not a bad teacher, Mako. Really." He shrugged. She paused, and an idea hit her. "You know what? We should spar!" she suggested.
"Yeah! While the lesson is fresh!" She started bouncing around on her feet, throwing out sound effects and some quick fire-less punches towards his face.
He held up his hands. "Korra, no, we don't have any of our gear. Working out is one thing, but I'm…"
She put her hands on her hips and leaned forward. He looked nervous. "You're what?" she asked, crunching her nose up.
"I'm…" he sighed, crossing his arms. "Well, I'm scared I'd hurt you."
"Oh, please!" She laughed. "You should be more nervous about me hurting you!"
Now it was Mako's turn to scoff. "Please, Korra, like you could hurt me." He put both his hands on her shoulders, shaking her slightly. She always knew that he was tall, but when he was standing so close to her like this, he seemed a lot bigger. She looked up at him anyway.
"You wanna bet?" She smirked and gave his chest a little push.
He pushed her shoulder. She shoved him again, harder this time. Korra started to laugh and Mako was clearly trying not to smile as the two of them fought each other like scrappy little kids fighting over a new toy.
Korra finally forced him back, sending him falling to the ground. She pinned him down, hands on his arms, straddling him. She leaned closer to his face. "Gotcha."
He finally allowed himself a real, honest grin. Oh, goodness, did he have a smile. And nice lips. Oh, man, Korra was getting distracted, and her distraction made her lessen her grip on him. Mako took advantage of the opportunity. "Not quite," he growled before pushing himself and Korra up off the ground, flipping her so that he was the one straddling her. His face was so close to hers now. She could see his eyelashes. Black, like his hair. His eyes… she'd never noticed their color before. They were yellow. No, amber. Like gold. They were so light, so reflective.
Mako hovered over her, his hands on her shoulders and his gaze on her face. She felt his eyes run from her hair to her eyes to her lips, her lips that had dropped their smile but were trembling with nervousness and excitement, because they knew what was coming. She leaned her neck up slowly and her eyes closed.
Mako closed the short distance between them and pressed his mouth onto hers.
His lips were soft and warm, much warmer than she was expecting. She kissed him softly, her lips gently curling into a smile as she did so.
Mako sat up, his fingers touching his lips.
She looked up at him, confused.
He murmured, "I'm sorry, I just… I've never kissed anyone before. I'm not… good at it. That is, I don't think—"
She grabbed his shirt and pulled him back down so close their noses were almost touching. "Well you know what they say?"
"What do they say?"
She arched up for another kiss, her mouth closing over his bottom lip.
"Practice makes perfect."
a/n: MAKORRA FICS FLYIN' OUTTA ME LIKE HOT, STEAMIN' FLAPJACKS.
KORRA AND FRIENDS © BRYKE, YO.