Nobody made any pretense of trying to sleep that night. Pema made the obligatory suggestion once the spare bedroom was set in order for the boys and Korra's room was prepared to accommodate Asami, but nobody saw any point in going to bed with such an ordeal as tonight's so fresh in their minds.
After sharing a customary pot of tea and letting Korra heal all their injuries, the residents of Air Temple Island, old and new, scattered to pass the rest of the night in their own way. The White Lotus guards made their rounds in a state of heightened alert, treating every tree and shrub as if it concealed a chi-blocker in its shadow waiting to pounce. Pema roamed back and forth between her three children every five minutes to assure herself they were safe in bed. Chief Bei Fong sat alone, writing her letter of resignation; the words came slowly and painfully. Tenzin was busy writing his own letters and reports and dispatching them to the Council members and other necessary officials by messenger hawk. Bolin, unable to stay still, was exploring the island's border of cliffs with Pabu. Korra was sitting on the steps surrounding her Airbending training area, stroking Naga and wondering where in that bright city across the bay Amon was hiding.
Mako was sitting in the gazebo atop one of the cliffs hanging over the bay, a row of burning candles in front of him, eyes closed, breath steady and rhythmic. The appearance of composure was the most he was able to achieve; no matter how hard he tried, this was obviously going to be one of those times he could not calm his mind. Indeed, the silence, darkness, and solitude of meditation only seemed to make memories of the past few hours all the more vivid and easier to recall...
Maybe you don't know everything about your father. I'm sorry. Korra shouldn't have been the first to realize the truth.
Sponsoring our team, supporting the Avatar... it was all just a big cover. One he should have seen long ago. He should have known not to trust the man, should have somehow deduced long before tonight that it was all an act. He was the older brother, the team captain, the responsible one, the careful one, the smart one, the leader; he of all people shouldn't have let his guard down, shouldn't have let himself be duped. But he was. He didn't notice the flattery the day they first met was laid on way too thick. He didn't realize the offer was too good to be true. Why hadn't he ever suspected a thing? What had he missed? If only he'd been more cautious, more wary, more like himself, they surely would have learned the truth sooner. Hiroshi might have been exposed in time to prevent the attack on the arena. His secret might have been uncovered without endangering so many people. It might have been less devastating for Asami.
I have to find out the truth about my father.
I understand; that's why I'm going down – to find out for you. He was supposed to fight for her. He failed. Instead, she ended up fighting for him
You should stay here. We'll check it out. He was supposed to protect her. He failed. Instead, she ended up saving him.
No... How could he have doubted her?
The most difficult part was watching my daughter traipse around with a Firebending street rat like you!
A sharp gasp brought Mako back to the present. He opened his eyes and saw the flames before him were blazing three times as high as the candles beneath them. One deep breath. They calmed down. He blew them out, admitting defeat, and turned around to see whom they had frightened. A familiar pair of dazzling green eyes emerged out of the darkness. She took a few steps towards the gazebo only to stop short (when she got close enough to recognize him, he assumed), turn, and walk away.
Mako turned his gaze back to the sea and sighed. He didn't blame Asami for wanting to avoid him. He had let her down. What could he possibly do for her now? She had continued to cry and shake with grief even when he held her in his arms on the airship. He could offer no empty words of comfort, he couldn't replace what she had lost, he couldn't undo what her father had done. He was powerless to help her.
But that was the way it always was with them, wasn't it? Asami was always the one giving, always the one providing, always the one offering aid and support. To a street rat who could do nothing for her in return. Korra was wrong; Asami didn't need him – she never had. That hadn't mattered much when she'd been a princess who lacked for nothing. Now that she had sacrificed everything to protect him, his brother, his best friend, and their allies, Mako owed her more than he felt he could ever repay.
Well, I can at least give her the apology I owe her, Mako told himself as he rose to follow her. That's better than nothing.
He hadn't walked long before he found Asami leaning against a boulder not far from the gazebo, facing the breathtakingly beautiful view of the star-studded open sea but, Mako guessed, not really seeing it. He walked up next to her, relieved that she didn't walk away as he half expected.
As always happened with them, she made the first move. "You couldn't sleep either?" she asked listlessly – the customary introduction under such circumstances.
"Didn't try," he answered.
"Me neither," she continued. "I keep wondering what happened to my father after we left. I heard Chief Bei Fong say he must be taking the officers to Amon."
"We would have been going with them if it weren't for you," Mako pointed out.
If he thought that would cheer her up, he was wrong; even in the darkness, he could see that she shuddered. "I can't believe he wanted me to help them… I can't believe he thought I would. I thought he knew me better than that."
"He knew enough to keep it a secret from you as long as he could," Mako explained. "He really must believe in what he's doing so much that… it only seemed logical to him that you would see things his way."
"Mom wouldn't agree with what he's doing," Asami said firmly. "Why didn't he think of that? Oh, I should have said that! I should have tried to reason with him, talk him out of this!" She buried her face in her hands as if to block out the recollection of what she'd done instead.
Mako instinctively began to reach for her but caught himself mid-gesture and stopped. He hoped she hadn't seen him. As difficult as it was, he turned forward so that he was no longer facing her before telling her, "There was nothing you could have said to make him change his mind. You heard him say how much he hates Benders." He suddenly wondered for the first time just how much she had heard but didn't have the courage to ask.
Asami let her hands fall back to her sides before saying, "But I shouldn't have left him with them. What if Amon punishes him because I helped you escape?"
"You don't need to worry about that. Amon needs your father and his inventions; he wouldn't do anything to hurt him," Mako assured her, saying what he honestly believed to be the truth.
Asami crossed her arms and turned her face away from him before she gathered the courage to say the next thing on her mind: "I don't know if I can fight him again, Mako. What will I do next time I see him?"
Mako couldn't resist anymore; he put his hand on her shoulder and said, "You'll do the right thing, like you did tonight. I know you will."
He feared Asami would pull away from him; the last thing he expected was for her throw her arms around his neck and bury her face in his scarf like she had on the airship. He regained just enough presence of mind to return the embrace when she whispered, in a strained voice holding back tears, "I'm so sorry.
Mako couldn't have heard her right. He backed up so that they were face to face, holding each other's shoulders. "What are you talking about? What do you have to be sorry for? You saved us all."
"I shouldn't have let it get that far," said Asami, looking down and shaking her head in guilt and shame. "I should have known, I should have figured it out long ago. I'm his daughter, I lived there – how could I never have noticed anything?"
"He fooled us all, Asami. The tunnel and workshop were hidden so well, only someone who could see through rock and metal could find them," Mako said as strongly as he dared, lest she get the wrong idea and think he was angry. He wasn't angry, only desperate; he couldn't let her blame herself like this.
"I never should have let you or anyone else go down there," she continued. "I should have gone alone first, talked to him, tried to work something out."
"The only reason you didn't was because Chief Bei Fong and I wouldn't let you," Mako reminded her.
"I was so rude to her and Korra," she said, hanging her head again.
"We both were," Mako reluctantly admitted.
Asami looked directly at him. "I'm so sorry you got dragged into this, Mako. I never meant to cause so much trouble for you." She tightened her grip on his shoulders. "I can probably never make it up to you, but I just had to let you know how sorry I am for everything... my father joining the Equalists, lying to you, what he did to Korra and the others, what he said to you, everything."
So she had heard. Was it a coincidence, or had that been what made her speak up? Had she been standing frozen out of sight, gaping in shock like he and Bolin had at first, before hearing something that touched a cord strongly enough to bring her back to her senses? Mako still couldn't bear to ask, but Asami must have heard the question anyway in his sudden intake of breath or seen it in his eyes. She hesitated slightly before reaching out and placing her right hand on his cheek. "I love my father," she said, "but he's wrong. About Benders, about the Equalists, about this war, and about you."
More instinctively than consciously, Mako ran the fingers of his right hand through her hair, silently savoring her words, before confessing what he'd been thinking all evening: "I thought you blamed me."
"What?" Her tone wasn't hurt but completely confused.
"I'm sorry I couldn't protect you," he continued. "I'm sorry I doubted you. When you took that glove, I thought for sure you'd turned against us."
"Well, that was the idea," she said almost sarcastically.
"That's not the point. I underestimated you. I'll never make that mistake again. I made a lot of mistakes tonight and let you down, but I hope, somehow, I can repay your for..."
"You don't owe me anything," Asami interrupted him, placing both her hands on his chest. "None of this is your fault."
"It's not your fault, either," Mako added. "Nobody blames you for what your father did."
Asami sighed deeply, and Mako could feel her shoulders relax as if dropping a heavy burden. She leaned forward and embraced him again, this time whispering, "Thank you." Mako's only response was to tighten his grip on her and hold her close.
No more words passed between them as they stood locked together under the moonlight, but Mako knew all the same that Asami heard him say that he had no regrets about meeting her or sharing her pain. He knew because he could hear her assuring him she had no regrets either.
The couple eventually returned to the house at the coming of the dawn, leaving all their doubt and guilt behind them.