"I'm sorry I'm late!" Korra rushed into the gym, strapping the last of her protective gear on her forearm. Her two teammates were currently working on some strength training. Bolin was doing push-ups, counting out in grunts. Mako paused his lunges, stood, and glared. She knew he was going to be mad at her. He was always mad at her these days.
"You're beyond late. We only have ten minutes of practice time left," he said, gesturing at the gym's clock. She couldn't dispute this. She was late to practice. Again. At least she had an excuse. It was the usual excuse that she'd been using the past few weeks, but it was an excuse nonetheless. She put a hand on her hip.
"I was with Tenzin, okay? It's not my fault."
Ever since she had challenged Amon (and lost), Tenzin had been working her harder than ever. She spent hours upon hours practicing, training, studying, learning. A lot of these hours were spent alone. It was miserable, but she forced herself to do it. Nobody else had to know the things she did, nobody else had to be as strong as she had to be. She had to save this city.
He crossed his arms and rolled his eyes. "Whatever. Just go do some squats, rookie." He approached the tall stand that stored all the weighted balls. Before he was able to reach up and grab one to give to her, Korra kicked the ground with her heel, bending the earth underneath the stand. The ball flew off and rolled over to her feet.
"I got it," she said, leaning down to lift it off the ground. She felt Mako's eyes on her, but she ignored them and approached Bolin, who was struggling through the last of his push-ups.
"Hey," he growled through gritted teeth as he lifted his body off the ground. He stopped and sat up, watching as Korra started her squats, holding the weighted ball at chest level. She lowered her body. "What were you doing with Tenzin?"
"Oh, you know, the usual," she said, unbending her knees and rising up again. "Airbending, meditation, learning more about the spirit world and the Avatar State. You know, just a regular day being the Avatar." She winked.
"Any progress on your airbending? I cannot wait for you to blow me away… not that you haven't already." Korra laughed and tapped her foot against his leg. He clutched his knees to his chest and started rocking back and forth. She tossed the ball in front of her and stood.
"Watch this." She rolled her neck before getting in the proper stance in front of Bolin. She curled her wrists out and waved her arms, and a gust of wind blew in his direction, ruffling his hair up with the air current. It nearly (nearly) knocked him over, but it was clear that her airbending wasn't that strong yet.
"Awesome!" Bolin yelled, releasing his knees and pumping both fists in the air. Korra grinned.
"Bolin," Mako said as he peered over at the two of them, "C'mon, focus."
"Someone's grumpy today," Korra mumbled under her breath as she picked the ball up again. Mako strode away. Bolin ignored him.
"So, I've obviously heard of the spirit world… but what's the Avatar State? Is that some place that only Avatars can go to?" Bolin asked, now bouncing on his feet, throwing out some practice punches.
Korra's eyes lit up. She'd known about the Avatar State for most of her life. Having discovered that she was the Avatar so young, there had been some leniency in sharing the information that she was going to learn and exactly when this happened. The problem was that a lot of the things she had learned as a kid were very basic, and none of the White Lotus members who were monitoring her training expanded upon it when she aged. They acted like they simply didn't want her to know, but she assumed that they just didn't have a clue what they were talking about. Tenzin, however, knew a lot of things. Aang had shared information with his son with the sole intention of teaching Korra (he had even left her old scrolls to read), and she was definitely grateful for that.
Mostly because she'd never spoken to Aang herself.
"Apparently, I can enter this state where I am incredibly powerful. Almost unstoppable. I've always known that it existed, but I've never been in it. I really, really want to experience it though. Tenzin was telling me more about it today. He said that I'll be crazy powerful." It was insane to think about having that much power, but she wanted it. She wanted to be that strong. She needed that strength. That's why she was the Avatar.
He lifted an eyebrow. "Crazy powerful?"
"Yeah, I get the power of all the Avatars before me. I'd be able to create tornadoes or make volcanoes erupt or just break off an island. I could make an island! Think about how much power that would take! It just sounds so cool. Not to mention I'd really be able to kick some serious Equalist butt."
Bolin rubbed his arm then grinned up at her. "Always a good thing. But you said… almost unstoppable, though."
She scratched her head and lowered into another squat. "Um, I guess if I get killed in the Avatar State then the Avatar is gone forever."
From across the gym, she heard a weight clatter on the floor. The clang resounded throughout the gym, bouncing off the rest of the equipment. Her head whipped, and she saw Mako lifting up the barbell that he had dropped.
Bolin grimaced. Korra couldn't tell if it was at what she just said or if it was directed at Mako. She assumed the former. "Oh…"
Korra shrugged. "But it's not like that would ever happen. I'd be fine. And think of all the cool things I'd be able to do! Huge tidal waves! Enough wind to tear down buildings! It's so amazing, I just—"
"It sounds terrifying," Mako said, finally speaking up.
Korra glanced up at him. He wasn't even looking at her; he lifted the barbell with his back to her. She tried not to picture the muscles sliding underneath his gear, his shirt, his skin. Terrifying? Mako had no idea what he was talking about. The Avatar State was the coolest thing ever. As soon as she was about to say something, the words jumbled in her mouth. She didn't know how to respond.
So she didn't.
The last few minutes of practice were quiet, and Korra silently complained about Mako as she ran laps around the gym. Her gear bounced on her as she jogged. Mako was a jerk. A jerk. A jerk. The word bobbed in her head with each step. Her breaths became labored, and she picked up her pace, nearing a sprint. She didn't like him. Didn't like him. Didn't like him.
She stopped, panting, with her hands on her knees. He was looking at her again. He seemed… angry? She'd never been good at reading expressions.
The Buzzard Wasps came in for their practice time, and Korra was all too ready to pack up and leave, despite the fact that she'd only been there for a grand total of eleven minutes. Mako apparently was ready as well. At the first sight of the other team, he stormed out of the gym and headed for the lockers. She locked eyes with Bolin, who shrugged.
Korra followed quickly and caught up to Mako before Bolin could. Maybe he really was mad? Mako slammed his helmet on the bench as he started ripping off the rest of his gear. Korra stood in the doorway.
"What is your problem?"
"Nothing," he said calmly. She hated when he did this.
"No, not nothing. What is your problem?"
He sighed. His eyes narrowed as he turned to face her. He threw his armguards in the locker. "You don't get it, do you?"
"It's you. You're my problem, Korra."
They frequently argued, but she had never felt an attack this personal before. It enraged her. She felt the heat rising in her face and the familiar tingling in her fingers when she got upset. "Are you kidding?"
"No," he said, voice level, "I'm not. You don't care about the team. You don't care about how we do, don't care if we win, don't even care enough to show up to practice!"
"I told you before that I was working with Tenzin!" she yelled, approaching him. Bolin had made his way to the locker room and stood back, watching the scene unfold.
"Because that's so much more important." The sarcasm dripped from his mouth like thick venom.
"Yeah! It is!" She shoved her finger into his chest. He stepped back. "Being the Avatar is the most important thing in—"
He pushed her hand away. "But it's not the only thing in the world, Korra. That's all you think about, all you care about, and that's not all there is to life. You don't care, though! You don't. You don't care about us." He loomed over her, brow furrowed and eyes blazing.
"…What did you say?"
"You don't care about us," he repeated, his voice low.
She shoved him hard, and he flew back, colliding with the wall. The tingling in her fingers was almost unbearable. She was so mad at him. Furious. She didn't care about the team? She didn't care about them? She didn't care about… him? After all they'd been through, with the tournament and the Equalists and Amon and finding Bolin and falling asleep on Naga and that quick, powerful, perfect kiss that they never talked about but made her heart skip a beat whenever she remembered it and… was he honestly saying that? What a joke. What a complete joke. He didn't know what he was talking about.
Mako was the one who didn't care. He didn't care about her. She was the Avatar; she was the one who had to save the city; she was the one who was alone. And he didn't care. He didn't.
Fists clenched, knuckles white, Korra glared at him. "And this coming from the guy who only cares about his brother and himself. That's real rich, Mako."
He rose to his full height and crossed his arms, keeping his distance this time. A lingering sadness swam in his eyes. "And whose fault is that? You make it too hard to care about you, Korra."
Korra's jaw dropped, and she felt a stinging rise up in her eyes. The buzz flowing through her fingers burned, creeping into her arms. Mako's expression changed, softened, and he opened his mouth to continue, but Korra was already turning on her heel and stomping out of the locker room, still wearing all her gear. She hurled her helmet behind her with a growl, not even looking back to see if she broke it or not. She didn't care either way. Maybe she'd just quit so it wouldn't even matter. She'd never look back. Mako would probably like it if she quit, the jerk. It's not like she wanted him to care about her. She didn't.
"Korra!" Bolin shouted after her. She marched on down the hallway, rolling her shoulders and stretching out her fingers to rid herself of the tingling feeling. Bolin caught up to her. "Korra, wait."
"What?" she snapped at him. He jogged at her side to match her pace.
"Mako didn't mean that. I know he didn't."
He grabbed her wrist. His expression was torn. "Just go back and talk to him, Korra. He just got upset when you started talking about—"
She whipped around. "No! I'm not talking to him." She yanked her arm from his grasp.
She jumped out the window into the bright day, the sun burning her eyes. A swift, swaying movement from her arms caused the water to flood up to meet her. She dove in, embracing the cold saltiness of the bay water. The tingling finally left.
And she was off to the island with the full intention of getting Mako (jerkyjerk jerkface) out of her head.
She failed miserably, of course.
The rest of the morning, she rode on Naga, remembering the first time that Mako had met her, remembering when they had rested against her in the park, how he had told her about his parents. The look in his eyes when the images of that horrible night came flooding back to him when she'd asked. She didn't want to believe that the same look had been there today when she yelled at him, but it had, hadn't it?
During the afternoon, she practiced at the spinning gates, burning her anger off with training, and complained to Jinora and Ikki about Mako and warned them that boys were stupid and that they should never like them… not that she liked Mako or anything.
That evening, she stood in the kitchen, absently stirring a pot of noodles with some waterbending as Pema finished cooking dinner for the family. She stared out the window and remembered every word she said to him, every word he said to her.
"Watch it, Korra," Pema said, "it's about to boil over." Korra's gaze snapped back to the pot. Bubbles rose up, popping at the edge. She gasped and cooled the temperature with her firebending. Pema sighed. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong!" Korra said, voice cracking ever so slightly.
Pema chopped the last of the vegetables. "Korra, I know something is bothering you. You can tell me."
Korra groaned, but Pema turned and smiled at her. While Korra never had much time to spend with her, Pema filled in the role of substitute mother quite well. True, she had three children and a fourth on the way (almost here!), so she had the experience. She just knew how to read people's emotions and always seemed to know the exact thing to say, whether it was Jinora complaining about Ikki following her around all the time or Meelo getting caught sleeping in the flying bison's pen again. She knew what to say. Always.
Korra rubbed her arm and launched into the story of the argument earlier that day… how she had been late for practice, and that set Mako off. How he yelled at her for it. How he said that she didn't care about the brothers. How she snapped back at him, pushed him, egged him on.
"I do care about him," she admitted as she carried the pot out to the dining table. Pema carried the jug of water. The kids scurried around them with the dishes.
"Ooo," Ikki chirped, "Korra likes Mako. I knew it, I knew it, I knew it!"
"I don't like him!" Korra stuck her tongue out.
"Maybe you should just go to him and talk about it. Share your feelings. Apologize." Pema suggested, sitting down at the table. Korra plopped down. Tenzin, already seated, started serving the food.
"But talking is hard," Korra complained.
Pema smiled. "You know what this reminds me of?" Korra rested her chin on her hand, waiting. "Katara and Aang's love story."
Tenzin dropped the serving spoon, flinging some noodles on the table. "Pema, please!" Tenzin choked out, and the kids (and Korra) giggled at his reaction.
"Calm down, dear," she said, pushing a glass of water in his direction. She turned back to Korra. "Katara told me once, right after Aang had died, that sometimes it was very difficult to love him."
"But he was the Avatar." Korra interrupted.
"Exactly," Pema said. "And you of all people should know the responsibility and power and fear that comes from that. And all of this is on your shoulders. Think of how overwhelming that must be for someone watching you, someone who wants to help you, even for a strong bender. And you know how strong your old master is."
She continued, "Katara wouldn't let herself truly love Aang until the Hundred Year War was finished." Tenzin coughed, still embarrassed. Pema rolled her eyes. "I think Mako does care about you, but he's just overwhelmed. Frustrated."
Korra hit her head against the table and groaned, rolling her face back and forth, smashing her nose into the wood. "But I'm frustrated."
Jinora and Ikki burst into giggles. Meelo slurped his noodles. Pema smiled and patted Korra on the shoulder. "Just give him a chance to explain himself."
"Give him a chance?" Her voice was muffled.
Jinora cleared her throat. "Yes. Give him a chance."
Korra looked up and pointed a finger in her direction. Her eyes narrowed. "Don't be smart with me."
Jinora grinned, and Korra fell back with arms stretched out, groaning again, knowing that if she went and apologized for earlier, she would feel better. She just hated apologizing. She dreaded it.
After dinner, she was still dreading it. But she rode back to the arena on Naga anyway. She was too impatient for the ferry. She needed to get this over with. When they arrived, Korra waterbent them dry and left Naga outside to enjoy the night air.
She entered the dark building, walking slowly. What was he going to say? What was she going to say? She understood why he was mad… well, she kind of understood. What Pema said didn't make sense, though. Mako didn't care about her. Not like she cared about him. He tolerated her. He… she had no idea what he really thought of her. She rubbed her arms. She hated feeling like this. Like she was out of control of the situation.
She passed the gym, meandering down the hall to the staircase. Her feet shuffled along. Korra was trying to delay it, but she knew that it was going to have to happen, that they were going to have to talk to each other about feelings and forgiveness and ugh, she really hated this. She wanted to make things right again, but was he going to apologize too? Did it even matter? Was she going to tell him that she cared about him? That she really cared?
Her stomach tangled when she thought of the possibility.
She didn't like the feeling.
She walked up the stairs to their attic apartment. When she entered, everything seemed right at first. Then she noticed… she noticed that everything wasn't right. Her eyes darted across the room, taking in all the wrong.
A few of the chairs were knocked over on their sides. The ladder leading up to the bedroom loft was tilted. The window was open, blowing a strong breeze into the apartment. Papers were scattered. A plate that had been on the table had shattered on the floor.
She felt a pit in her stomach.
"Guys?" she called out tentatively. "Bolin? Mako?"
She inhaled, quick and sharp, and stepped forward lightly. Nobody was here, but she still was nervous. She felt like she was being watched.
Korra saw it from far away. A lone piece of paper, set on the couch. A rock had been set on top of it so that it wouldn't blow away. And deep in her gut, she knew it was meant for her. It was for her to find. She stepped forward, and reached down for the wrinkled paper with a trembling hand. The calligraphy was smooth, and she processed the characters slowly.
Young Avatar,it read, your presence is requested at the old Sato Warehouse in the northwest district. Come quickly and come alone.
Equalists had been here. They had taken Mako and Bolin. How long ago had this happened? She had no idea. She knew she should go back and inform Tenzin—she knew this—but what if Amon took their bending before she got there? Even worse, what if they were killed?
Vomit rose in her throat at the thought. Anger, fear, and guilt soared through her body. It tingled.
She looked back at the page and reread the characters. She looked closer. There was something written on the back; the Equalists had written on a used piece of paper. She flipped the paper, and her heart sank.
It was Mako's writing, scratched out in a lot of places, scribbles running over the characters that he had worked hard to perfect. It was as if he'd been practicing what he was going to say to her, like he wanted to say the best thing, like he wanted to apologize, like he wanted to make things right again. She could barely make it out, but some of the characters were still legible.
Sorry. Scared. Korra. Want. Love.
Her eyes stung.
She had to go save them.
a/n: So heeeeyyyyy. Thought I'd do a chaptered story, which I generally avoid. So I'm not sure how the quality compares to what I usually produce. But anyway, I hope you enjoyed.
Korra and friends © Bryke