Disclaimer: I do not own LoK.

~P~

Trust in Fear

~P~

It happened in a split second that was suspended over what felt like a short eternity.

It was the night of the Championships, and much to their immense unhappiness, the Fire Ferrets were up against the Wolfbats. Korra wasn't afraid to face their leader – hell, she wanted to be the one to knock him clear into the drink – but she more than a little concerned for her teammates. She knew they could handle themselves, but even Mako was on an edge. He paced back and forth in the little preparation room, trying to calm and center himself, but he just couldn't seem to relax. The Avatar knew how much this match meant to him – how much this victory meant to them all, so he couldn't afford to be a mess of nerves. And yet he had been.

Up until the one match, the team had trained mercilessly, honing their skills and connecting closely, becoming nearly unstoppable. And while the Wolfbats lacked the emotional connection they held, they certainly had the physical aspect of it all down. A few weeks earlier, Tahno had temporarily blinded a man in a match with his accuracy – this didn't help with their apprehension. The cocky Waterbender already had it out for them, and this was the final, deciding match they were all competing in, so he would be even more ruthless during it – and they had been completely right.

Korra had made it very clear to the two Bending brothers that she was going after Tahno – she had a grudge against him, and it needed to be expressed. Into his face, that is. But so far, up until the moment that sent Mako flailing downwards into the water, she hadn't been doing too well.

In the first round, she had gone after Tahno immediately, and for the first time, experienced his relentlessness. He threw harsh, stinging water attack after attack at her, startlingly swift in his movements, fluid like the element in which he bent. He gave her no time to gain her bearings, even throw an attack – all she was doing was defending herself. But when she had been pushed back into Zone Three, she had had enough – she had come there to win, and win she would. Pushing past the sharp shots of water, she threw her own fierce barrage of attacks at the man, and he was taken aback by her sudden change of attitude, but took it as a challenge.

And with extremely injured egos, did the Wolfbats the first round. Tahno had been livid when he had been thrown out of the ring by Korra, who had cheered boisterously afterwards, only adding to his humiliation. He went into the next round of the finals with a burning enmity against her. Having consulted with his team, they all decided to ignore Mako and Bolin – single Korra out first, she was their real threat.

And that was what led to it happening, so agonizingly slow as it unfolded before her.

Tahno and his teammates had backed Korra into a corner, ruthlessly hitting her. Her feet had tottered over the edge, threatening to slip and send her falling into the water below. Mako had noticed their plan almost immediately – Tahno was just unfair enough to gang up on her. And so with little consideration for the situation or himself, when he saw a three element barrage being sent at her simultaneously, did he jump in and defend her, believing foolishly he could offset the attack with a wave of fire. Oh, how he was wrong.

And it was in that moment that everything slowed and Korra watched as Mako cried out as the attacks hit him head on. The earth disk hit him squarely in the abdomen, cracking and shooting out its shards, while the fire seared his left shoulder, burning through the fabric of his uniform and marring the flesh. Lastly, Tahno's vicious shot of water knocked him in his bruised stomach, causing him to lose his delicate balance and fall ungracefully into the water below.

"Mako!"

Korra watched the pain register on his face, heard the grunt that escaped his lips as he fell and she wanted to jump off the platform and go after him, help him, but she knew she couldn't. She had to ignore him – for the time being – and win against the Wolfbats. And with her newfound anger and sudden adrenaline rush, that wouldn't be too difficult.

She turned, and saw the smirk that Tahno's face was radiating, and she swore she would Waterbend it off with all she had. However, he had her right where he wanted her, and sending a look to his other teammates, they rushed off to the other side of the ring to complete a tandem attack against Bolin, leaving the two alone once again to brawl it out.

Korra wasted no time in collecting some water in her palms, before shooting unrelenting attacks at him, not once taking a moment to think – it was just a continuous assault against the man she hated. Tahno was cocky, but when he realized how absolutely furious she was, the look of abhorrence in her eyes, he knew that she was fuelling all of this into her attacks, and that if he didn't buck up and stop being so overly confident, he was going to get thrown out of the ring for the second time that night. And he'd be damned if he let that happen.

Eventually, their attacks were colliding, making no solid hits on the other, just water hitting water. They dodged wayward earth disks and funnels of water that managed to skim closely with trained expertise. They were putting up a hell of a fight, and the crowd's cheering and shouting of encouragements only helped add to their energy, their need to win.

However, Bolin could not evade the Firebending and Earthbending tirade being sent after him for forever, and eventually, he, too, was sent into the drink along with his brother. Korra quickly, desperately scoped out the ring – for an opening, a weakness in the link that was the Wolfbats. But as the three men closed in on her, Tahno's confidence renewed and rampant now that his teammates' attention could be focussed on her, she felt the dread of losing that round sneak up on her. Wishing to suppress these feelings, she gathered more water in her arms and shot it in the Firebender's direction, and while he tried his best to dodge it, he was sent into Zone Two.

At this, it was once again the three on one elemental brawl that Mako had been trying to prevent Korra from being in. The Avatar put up a fighting chance, attacked with all of her might, but with their combined raw force, the Wolfbats easily knocked her out of the ring and into the drink surrounding them, securing them the victory for Round Two.

~P~

Pain radiated through Mako's system as he collapsed against the small bench in the preparation room, eyes closing in the process. He was sprawled out on it, unable to sit because of the severe bruising on his abdomen. Groaning, he moved his arm, but cringed when he remembered it was burnt at the shoulder. And from the sound of the bell dinging in his ears, the Fire Ferrets had just lost Round Two. Today was just not his day.

Bolin was kneeling beside him, a hand on his forearm. "Mako, Spirits, you're... well... you're—" he was pointing at the most prevalent injury, Mako's singed shoulder, trying to utter his words but unable to at the atrocious sight before him.

"I know," Mako managed out, wheezing a bit. It still felt like he was struggling to keep his breath, and he figured the earth disk had bruised his lungs. Brilliant.

"The medics are going to come and patch you up," his brother told him, avoiding looking at his shoulder, "and tell you if you're still good to continue on."

At this, his eyes snapped open, and he glared at his brother. "I'm fine. I don't need anyone to help me – I can continue on if I need to." He didn't want anyone coming near him – he was fine, he was fine, he was – Mako winced as he shifted his shoulder, barely repressing a grunt of sheer pain. This only further solidified his brother's reasoning, much to his chagrin.

"Mako, you're bleeding," Bolin argued, motioning to his brother's shoulder, and Mako's eyes reluctantly followed. They widened at the sight – sure, the Firebender had gotten severe burns before, from his days on the streets, but nothing to the degree he was seeing. His shoulder was a disgusting picture to behold. His flesh was black in areas and, like the Earthbender had said, bleeding. He could still feel the searing heat of the fire in it – he knew at that moment that the Wolfbats' Firebender had used a flame much hotter than regulation to do his damage. "You can't just go back out there like usual, Mako – this has to be looked at and cleaned up. I'm sorry."

The disappointment, the utter failure these words created registered in Mako's heart and mind. If he couldn't continue that match, then the Fire Ferrets would be disqualified and everything would have been for nothing. He would have failed himself, his little brother...

Bolin caught the conflicting emotions, the pain, in his brother's eyes, and Mako looked away, ashamed. "Mako..." the Earthbender sighed, but Mako didn't respond. When a few more moments passed and nothing was said, Bolin walked away and gave his brother a bit of space.

Throwing his good arm over his eyes, Mako groaned. He heard Shiro Shinobi call something about a momentary intermission while they figured out "physical difficulties regarding a team member". He took the short time to reflect on the situation – why had he gone and protected Korra like he had? They had decided before the match that Bolin would be on the defensive for the two, and that Mako and Korra would be offensive against the Wolfbats. But then he had gone against that, his own plan of attack, in favour of defending the Avatar. He remembered watching the trio of attacks fly at her and feeling the overwhelming need to keep her safe, keep her out of harm's way... and so he had. He couldn't imagine letting Korra take three intense hits like he had, and the thought of seeing the woman he cared about in her own pain made his heart wrench. Despite the pain he was in, he knew that his impulsive decision, while stupid, had been an act of concern, of genuine care, for the Avatar. It was worth it to him. He didn't want to see her get hurt – he had already put her through enough emotionally; the least he could do for her was protect her physically. And now he was suffering for that decision... but she was safe. He knew she could take care of herself, but it was nice to have a little reassurance, that being himself.

Wait. She was safe, right? If she had been in the ring all by herself, then there was no way that Tahno and his team had gone easily on her. For all he knew, they had beaten her bloody before sending her into the drink – his heart clenched again at this, and he sat up suddenly, grumbling as he was reminded by the significant bruising on his stomach.

"Mako!"

The voice was not his brother's chiding one, but the frantic voice of a female. And not the one of his girlfriend – but of the woman he had been trying to protect. He lay down as she arrived in the preparation room via returning platform, unable to stand the jolting shocks that sitting sent through his core.

She was kneeling down beside him, and though he was avoiding eye contact with her, he knew she was scrutinizing and assessing his injuries, probably just as disgusted with them as he and his brother were. He felt her hand on his good shoulder, leaning into him.

"Spirits, Mako," he could hear the breathlessness in her voice – yep, she was disgusted. "W-water. I need some water." Bolin immediately recognized what she meant as she said this, and hauled forth a bucket of water from the table behind him. Korra hastily bent some water out of it and moving to sit on Mako's other side, worked at healing the bleeding flesh at his shoulder. He relaxed a bit at her gentle touch and the steady flow of water around his injury – if he could trust anyone to heal him, it was her, someone he trusted undeniably. Not some highly-trained group of medics paid for by Asami's father, or the stadium on-call medical team, but Korra. His friend, his teammate, his love.

The Firebender's body alternated from quick periods of relief when she relieved some of the pain to shuddering violently and him having to suppress an angry cry as he felt muscles stretch and reattach to their connecting strands, causing pain of indescribable nature to well up and fill his entire being.

When Korra got to the marred flesh closest to his bone, she worked slower, taking her time to clot the blood the best she could and meticulously allow for skin and muscle to reform and set itself accordingly again. The experience was utterly excruciating for the Firebender, each second sending him into a further round of deeply set, hysterical pain. Eventually, it became too much, and when her hand touched his scarred flesh directly, did he let out a loud shout of unexpressed pain which then lowered to a hiss.

"I'm so sorry," she whispered lowly, and he could tell by her tone of voice that this was genuine. "I promise... I'm almost done. You're going to be fine." He held back quipping that there was still his abdomen. A few more agonizing moments passed, and when Korra hands left his shoulder, he felt peace and an ache fill him. He knew that some natural healing would have to take place in order for his shoulder to stop hurting even in the slightest, and even then, who was to say his ligaments would ever be the same? But at least the pain had dulled. Looking at his charred shoulder, he saw the bright pink skin, angry and enflamed, deeply, irreparably scarred.

Mako sighed heavily and closed his eyes as he relaxed a bit, before feeling someone grip his hand. He forced them open and peered at Korra, who was holding his hand in hers steadfastly. She was looking at the floor, a guilty, but annoyed, look in her bright eyes. Watching her, he noticed a few dark bruises on her face, and a long scratch of blood that fell across her forehead and right eyebrow. If that was how her face looked, rugged and tired and beaten, then he wondered how her body had taken the damage of Tahno and his team's ruthless attacks. He swore if she had somehow managed to get injured anymore than he was already seeing, then he would personally throttle Tahno after he had healed and the tournament – and its rules – were officially null and void.

A few moments of silence passed between them before she spoke harshly. "Why the hell did you do that, Mako?" she looked up at him then, giving him a hard look. He blinked at her, but it was unwavering, and it would remain that way until he gave her an answer.

Not even attempting to sit up, Mako stared at the cement ceiling. "I... I wanted to protect you," he admitted honestly. Normally, his ego would want him to lie, but at this point, he didn't want to cause her anymore heartache than he already had. Just by being with Asami, he knew her heart hurt, even if she didn't admit it.

Korra was quiet before whispering, "Oh."

Tugging at one of her ponytails, Korra looked away. "You know, I can take care of myself..."

Smirking to lighten the mood, he responded with, "I know you can. But... I just did it. I don't like seeing you get hurt Korra – be it physically—" he paused and swallowed painfully before saying his next words, knowing he was being hypocritical. "—or emotionally."

Korra was silent once again, before smiling at him, squeezing his hand. "I... thank you, Mako." She wasn't in the mood to argue her ability to protect herself with him, and besides, she appreciated his concern and care for her. And though she tried to ignore it, hearing him speak such words made her heart tug wistfully – they were a reminder that, yes, he did still have at least the slightest of feelings for her, even if had been a long while since he'd shown her any type of affection.

Mako twisted a bit at this, and let out a wheeze as he shifted. He wanted to conceal his obvious pain, not wanting to cause Korra anymore worry over him, but his caught breath belied his wish. Her hand let go of his and they hovered over his stomach, and he immediately missed the warmth her palm against his had provided. "Are you still hurt?" she asked quickly, her voice verging on frantic.

Mako groaned. It's not like he could lie to her, and besides, he didn't want to. Nodding slowly, he pressed his forearm to his forehead and rested it there. "Yeah. My abdomen..."

"Mako, why can't you just tell me these things? Or would you rather sit around and suffer?" she scolded him as she removed the padding around his torso and lifted his shirt up so she could assess the injury. A darkening bruise, which was currently purpling, stretched across the taut skin of his abdomen, deep set and excruciating. The Wolfbats' Earthbender had used unnecessary force, and this was now the result – a blackening internal bruise.

Korra blinked at the sight, fearing if vital organs had been damaged in the process, before quickly setting to work as she had before. Unlike with the burn, where she could allow the water to do most of the healing and dirty work, she had to use her fingers to apply pressure and sink the water into his skin to relieve the ache, which caused him to yelp as they made contact with his sensitive flesh. Bolin looked between the two, worried by the noise his brother had made, and he stepped forward. He wanted to know just how serious this injury was, right then. What was taking the medical team so long, anyway? There was only so much Korra could do!

She did not remove her hands from his stomach, but released some of the pressure she had built. She looked up at his brother, her eyes radiating with concern that she would not allow Mako to see. His injury was debilitating at best, if not having damaged something significant, permanently. But he couldn't know that – at least, not right now. She needed to keep his stress levels to a minimum, for if it was far more serious than she suspected, and she did, then this knowledge would just end up straining him even further. "Again, I'm sorry," she whispered. "I can't promise you this won't hurt, though – it's deep; I have to apply pressure to heal and assess it. Bear with me, please."

She looked at Mako for any sign that he had acknowledged her words, and with eyes screwed shut, he nodded slowly. Breathing in deeply, she massaged her fingers back into the skin, and felt the Firebender tense as an intense pang shot into his kidneys. He bit his tongue so as to keep his complaining to a minimum, but Spirits – it hurt.

With each point of pressure she applied, the deeper ache within him relaxed minutely, but blinding shocks of pain were sent jolting through his system, leaving his head pounding and spinning. When her fingers arrived closest to his navel, where the disk had made the most impact, she pressed into the skin and rubbed at it, and Mako bit his tongue so hard he tasted blood. Eventually, the climaxing agony became too much for him, and much to his chagrin, he felt tears well up in his eyes and one roll down his cheek. Mako couldn't remember the last time he had cried – but those were always tears brought on by emotion, while the tears currently running the length of his face were caused by raw distress and pain. He knew Korra was doing all she could, and was even holding back and being gentle about it, but he just couldn't anymore.

It took Korra a few seconds to notice the tear falling off the side of his face, and panic and guilt paralyzed her heart. She didn't want to be the one to inflict such deplorable torment on the young man, but what else could she do? She couldn't just sit there and watch him suffer!

"Mako," she forced out softly, allowing the water her hands were bending to fall to the floor with an audible slosh. For the time being, she had pretty much done all she could – now all she could do was hope to bring some kind of emotional comfort to him. Whether it was distracting him from the tournament or the injuries, Mako needed to know everything would be okay. Even if that, currently, was farthest from the truth.

Scooting closer to his head, she reached her hand up and hesitantly wiped away a tear of his. She had never seen him cry before – and upon seeing the look on Bolin's face, apparently he didn't do it often. The Earthbender had his arms crossed, eyes wide, giving her a frantic look.

Placing her hand against his cheek, she saw relief wash over his face almost immediately at her touch, and she felt herself blush despite the situation. Though she doubted she could help, Korra briefly wondered where the Firebender's official object of affection was. If she was as enamoured with Mako as she always appeared to be – Korra made a face at this – then shouldn't she have arrived in the room minutes beforehand and shouldn't she be the one comforting him? Then again, this oddly spanned out intermission was just that – an intermission. The match wasn't officially over yet, despite how grim the Fire Ferrets' chances seemed, and so Asami wasn't allowed back into the preparation room quite yet. Though Korra didn't particularly enjoy seeing the non-bender in Mako's company, she felt as though it was wrong that she didn't get to see him and be there with him in his current condition – she was most definitely worried sick.

But now, Korra was the one who was providing Mako his much-needed comfort, not Asami. And she was more than prepared to take on that role.

Biting her lip, she pulled her thumb across the planes of his face, wishing to calm him. Her heart sunk when he simply groaned in response. "I'm sorry," she uttered for the umpteenth time, it seemed. "This is all my fault – I-I shouldn't have just gone off on my own tangent... I was just being stupid like usual...!"

"No, Korra," Mako managed. "I brought this upon myself – and I'd do it again if it meant you didn't have to sustain these injuries yourself. Don't blame yourself for something I willingly did." Bolin, at this point, had sat himself down beside Korra, peering closely, concernedly at his brother.

A few moments of silence before Korra, wishing to lighten the mood, cracked a smile. "You're an idiot, you know that, right?"

"We've already established that, remember?" He found himself smiling back at her as he remembered the first time they had met. Korra laughed at his answer, and for the first time in what they all knew was far too long a while, the tension of the room relaxed considerably.

Their peace was short-lived, however, when the entire stadium went pitch black, and an awful noise filled the air. Frantic, confused chatter could be heard from the crowd, but then the source of the discrepancy revealed himself when the platform light was cast on – there stood Amon in the middle of the arena, hand behind his back, the other holding a microphone, Equalists and Lieutenant at his side.

Korra's heart stopped at the sight of the man – he hadn't been kidding when he said he would there would be severe consequences if the final match wasn't cancelled. And there he was – ready to prove his threats to the world.

And Korra was going to have to stop him.

"Greetings, Pro-Benders and supporters alike," he announced darkly. "I suspect a large number of you heard my little announcement on the radio this morning – and yet you still decided to risk your lives to witness this match." He turned in the direction of Korra then, and she froze – it was as if he knew where she was in the stadium. "Ah, well, it is your decision, your loss. You see – I am not fooling around any longer. My plans are finally coming into action, becoming a reality. And the lot of you will finally be learning your place in society very, very soon."

He turned to his Equalists then, and motioning to them, they pulled out their cables and Lieutenant his kalis, and they began to swing them around, as if preparing for an attack.

Korra's pulse raced – that was it. An attack.

"Go, my brethren! Teach these disgraceful benders who should really be on top!" And at this command, his Equalists flew out of the ring and into the stands, and shrieks began to resound throughout the arena as benders were attacked. Hidden chi blockers revealed their disguised forms and joined in on the ambush.

Korra sat there, unmoving, until Amon taunted, "Come out, come out, wherever you are, Avatar. Don't you want to save your precious citizens?" At this, she swallowed thickly and stood up, reluctantly removing her hand from Mako's face. She walked over to the side of the preparation room, seething, ready to jump off and rip Amon's mask off and—

"Korra." The Avatar's resolve fell short when she felt a tug on her hand, and heard Mako's soft, pleading tone from behind her. "P-please, don't. Let us help you." She turned then, and gave him a gentle smile.

"Mako, you can't really do anything in your current condition," she motioned to his bright red shoulder. He groaned at her.

"I-I know that," he looked up at her with determined, golden eyes, but then they fell, looking defeated. "You can't just run out there without any assistance, Korra... remember what happened last time? I... I can't let that happen to you a second time. I won't be able to forgive myself if I do..."

"He's right, Korra," she heard Bolin say quietly, avoiding eye contact, wringing his gloves in his hands.

She blinked at the concerned Earthbender, confidence fading altogether. "If you want to help me, then you two need to get out of here as quickly as you can. I need that reassurance – that you'll both be fine when I finish him off." The finality of her words belied her true feelings, ones of immense inner, unexpressed fear – could she really take on Amon?

Mako opened his mouth, about to say something, when a shout cut through the air, and Korra spun around, and saw Tahno being subdued by some Equalists, being sprawled out in front of Amon so that he could take his bending away. Obligation and mutual fear rose in Korra, and she knew that despite how much she hated Tahno, that she couldn't just let him lose his bending if she could prevent it.

Looking back at Mako, she strode over, took one of his hands and in one hasty movement, placed a quick kiss on his cheek – it was enough to reassure him, to relax him. It had the same results with her – she was going to be okay, they were all going to be okay.

Squeezing his palm gently, she whispered, "I promise, I'll be okay, Mako. Please, don't worry about me." She caught the momentary happiness and hope that passed over his face, and flushed a bit. Reaching over and taking Bolin's hand, she tightened her grip and then released it. "Bolin, help Mako out, please. I'll meet you guys outside once this is all over." Her tone was final, and the Earthbender wasn't going to argue with her.

Walking over to his good side, Bolin hoisted Mako up and onto his shoulder, and the Firebender held back a cry of agony. Korra walked up and pressed another soft kiss to his cheek, but was surprised when Mako turned his face and instead their lips brushed momentarily. His lips pressed against hers with a slight pressure, asking her to return their actions. Korra did so for a few brief seconds, indulging in fleeting, fluttering kiss, before pulling away suddenly when she heard another scream.

Mako fingered her cheek and whispered, "Be careful, Korra. Keep yourself safe and don't be stupid." He wanted to say more, but there wasn't enough time to verbally convey what he felt at that very moment. His heart was beating erratically – he trusted her unconditionally, but he was still extremely worried for the girl who couldn't take two seconds to think out a game plan.

"I promise, Mako," she smiled at him slightly. "You see – you two fight for me, and I fight for you two."

Mako realized the truth in this – he and Bolin were always there for Korra, and in turn, she was always indefinitely there for them. This simple, truthful statement caused Mako's confidence in Korra to rise, and consequently his furiously beating heart to slow a bit, steady itself. She could do this – he knew she could. She could – and would – face Amon and win.

Because she had the support and strength of her family and friends – and they had her. It was a perfect system, and one Mako was proud, thankful to be a part of. They were both vital components in the other's life, and that wasn't going to change anytime soon.

Korra leaned over and hugged Bolin quickly, before turning and walking back to the preparation room edge again, peering closely at the ring. Amon was standing in front of Tahno, setting up his bending removal position. Breathing in deeply, she let out a shaky breath and looked back at Mako and Bolin one last time, who both smiled encouragingly at her, before jumping off of the ledge and into the water below. At this, Bolin helped Mako and himself exit the room.

All of Korra's confidence – not cockiness – had returned at seeing their faces. She could do this, she could defeat Amon. As long as she had people like Mako and Bolin watching out for her – not the Avatar, but her, for Korra – she knew she'd never have anything or anyone else to fear.

~P~

Author's Notes: I don't think I can go longer than a week without posting Makorra – I'll die if I don't. And so, in my need to write Makorra, this... thing was born. It's a speculative mess, so ignore its sloppiness and inaccuracies, please. DX I can't wait for Friday – we'll finally learn how old the boys' are! And get their profiles, along with Asami and Tahno's! Hell yeah!

How old you think Bolin and Mako are? Asami? I think Mako's nineteen, Asami's eighteen, and Bolin's seventeen like Korra. :3