The air was thick, still, and quiet.
The sunset was warm.
It was a very beautiful day.
Mako walked through the island as he searched for Korra. He hadn't seen her all day, not even when they had all gathered for lunch, and it was almost time… He walked off the usual path, just in the line of the trees (the ten thousand, five hundred and fifty two trees) because he did not feel like interacting, not today. The last remnants of sunlight that trickled through the leaves overhead guided him through the forest. Every once in awhile, he'd turn and look through a gap in the woods and look at the air acolytes from afar as they shuffled about, carrying ornate boxes and fabrics and flowers. He avoided them, avoided their inevitable stares. They were quiet; only the slow dragging of their feet could be heard.
He saw her, way far off, sitting on the dock. It was the same dock that he had arrived at, the same dock where he'd met the airbender kids for the first time.
Korra looked very small sitting there alone.
It reminded him of the time, right after they had moved here, when they couldn't find her. He, Bolin, and Asami had searched the whole island trying to find her, calling out her name, but she'd hidden herself, hidden alone. He learned then that she did this when she was upset, upset with herself.
His hand ran down the bark of a tree as he approached, sliding down a hill, crumpling leaves as he descended to mark his presence. Korra did not react. She stayed where she was, staring out at the sea and at the colors of the sunset, blended and perfect. He shielded his eyes as he walked closer.
The ocean was alive, and the tide was high.
He touched her shoulder, gently and lightly and hesitantly, his fingers just brushing her skin. She still did not look up at him. Rather, she shied away, dipping down and folding her body into herself.
He sat down, making sure there was a good distance between them.
Korra was silent, and she was not crying. She just stared out blankly, lost in her thoughts and the pulse of the ocean and the warmth of the sun. He did not want to ask her what was wrong. He already knew. There was no need to waste his words on that.
But he hadn't expected to find her like this, to find silence.
But regardless of his expectations, the silence was there with Korra, cold and empty, just like it was everywhere else on the island, just like it was in his room last night as he'd tried to fall asleep.
He'd lain in bed for hours, staring up into the darkness, drinking in the quiet. He could not sleep. He'd shifted and moved and kicked but nothing seemed to help. He'd wondered vaguely if Korra was sleeping. He'd wondered vaguely what she'd do if he snuck into the women's dormitory to check on her, just like he used to check on Bolin when he was little. He wasn't asleep anyway.
He didn't check on her though. He didn't move, and it made his stomach hurt, and he stayed awake for hours, hesitant and frustrated. He could not sleep, and he didn't know why. He did not feel like himself.
Mako turned to Korra then, and saw the darkness below her eyes, the tiredness etched in tiny lines. She must not have slept much either. Time passed silently.
"Please stop beating yourself up over this, Korra." he said, his voice calm and steady because he needed to be calm and steady right now because it was almost time. "There was nothing you could do." She was quiet and she was still, only moving with her breath, with the tide. The moments passed, heavy and silent. Her throat sounded weak when she finally spoke, when she spoke to the sunset.
"But I killed her, Mako."
The Equalists had come late in the night. They were very bold, but the silence of the night covered all their tracks. Amon and his followers had kidnapped the three children in a last, pitiful attempt to get Korra to listen to their plight. If she didn't back down, if she didn't control Tarrlok, if she didn't fix the situation she had gotten herself into, if she didn't break, he was going to make her watch as he stripped the children's bending away.
He was going to make her suffer.
He remembered the way their bodies were bound, surrounding Amon, and he remembered the fire in Korra's eyes when she first saw them, when she, Tenzin, Lin, Mako, Bolin, and Asami had stormed into their hideout. He remembered the way she'd finally broken, finally released, the way her eyes lit up with fury and passion, and he remembered the harmony of voices that poured from her mouth. He remembered the devastation, the rocks that rose up to meet her, the fire that drowned out all things.
Avatar Korra had risen up in a rage, intent on killing Amon.
She did not intend, however, to lose control of herself. She did not intend for those rocks to get so close to the children. She did not intend for that one stone, jagged and lethal, to collide with Ikki's temple, to send her body crumpling to the floor, blood collecting beneath her, her sister screaming and her brother crying.
Korra had not intended this.
But it had still happened.
Korra spoke softly now, stating the fact like it was part of her identity now. "I killed Ikki."
The words burned through the air, and his stomach knotted up. He wanted to tell her that she was being ridiculous, that it was not her fault, of course it was not her fault. She couldn't help it. He wanted to tell her this, but the only words that could come out were "It's time."
He stood then, body weary, and extended his hand out to her. She stared at him blankly, silent and broken and empty.
"Let me help you," he said, an echo of those words that she had told him long ago. Slowly, she reached up to him, and pressed her fingers against his palm. He lifted her up from the ground, and he felt the silence and he felt the guilt, and they started walking back to the center of the island together.
His stomach hurt.
They walked slowly, even though it was time, even though he knew they were late, because Korra needed to breathe before. The ceremony would be long, from Mako's understanding of Air Nomad traditions.
When they arrived, they stood next to Bolin, far from the altar-like set-up. They stood back and watched as various acolytes glided near the covered body, past the flowers. Mako knew the girl was small. She looked even smaller dead. They poured out incense over her body. They sprinkled powders.
The family stood apart from the rest of the acolytes. Jinora hid her face in her father's robes. Meelo looked scared, his eyes darting every which way. Pema sobbed silently. And Tenzin held them all, held his broken family.
The air was thick, still, and quiet.
One acolyte stepped forward and lit the pyre, and it exploded in a blaze of blue flames that licked the altar, licked the air. It lit everything, everybody. The scent was heavy and sickening.
Mako felt something against his fingers, and he turned and looked as Korra's hand blindly searched for his. Her face was tight, and she was quiet. In another circumstance, he would have said something, but he couldn't, he wouldn't. He wordlessly laced her fingers between his and held on tight as they watched the fire burn.
Night fell fast but time was slow as they watched, as they stood, waiting. It crackled and snapped and burned, blazing bright and painful.
When all that was left was smoke, rising up to the darkness, the acolytes began to chant. The notes were low; they had lovely voices. Korra squeezed his hand tightly as Tenzin finally let go of his broken family and stepped up to do his final duty, the final rite for his daughter. He stood back, cheeks visibly wet. His arms moved slowly yet precisely, pulling back and pushing forward as he sent a gust out in front of him.
Her ashes mixed with the air, and she flew away with the wind.
It was quiet.
Because she was gone.
Mako remembered how it used to not be so quiet, how Ikki filled the silence with her constant chatter. He remembered the first time he'd really spoken with her (or rather, that she'd spoken with him and he tried to keep up with the conversation). He'd been exploring the island, the morning after they'd arrived. It was early in the morning. He had assumed everyone else would be asleep. He'd been wrong.
Ikki found him by the sky bison cave. She had gone there to feed them.
"I don't understand you," she'd said, not bothering to greet him.
"Hmm?" he'd said, looking down at the little girl who was trying her hardest to stand on her toes. He stooped down so they would be at eye level.
"Why aren't you with Korra, Mako? It doesn't make sense."
He coughed, surprised. This girl did speak her mind, didn't she? "Ikki… grown-ups sometimes—"
"No, no, no, no!" she cut him off. "You're not a grown-up. My daddy and mommy are grown-ups and you're just a kid like me, but you're being stupid because Korra likes you but you're with Asami because she's got pretty eyes and pretty hair but Korra's pretty too, you know!"
"Korra is very pretty." He felt the heat rising up in his cheeks.
"And you're very stupid because you belong with Korra. You are true lovers! I just know it! And I really want you to be together because she is amazing and she needs you and and and you two are meant for each other!"
Mako was silent, knocked speechless by this little girl with big wishes. Korra had said the same thing once. That they were meant for each other.
Ikki smiled up at him then, her eyes crinkled, and she nodded emphatically because she knew she was right, even if Mako kept trying to deny it, to silence that part of himself that agreed. When Korra had told him that Asami needed him, he hadn't realized that she needed him too. But Ikki knew.
Korra needed him.
And Korra had needed him that night, the night Ikki died, but he'd hesitated.
He could have gone to her room to check on her, to hold her tight and tell her that it was going to be okay.
He could have grabbed her hands and pulled her down when he saw the white in her eyes, brilliant and terrifying. He could have calmed her with his words and made her see reason because that's what he always did. He could have pressed his lips on hers, to jolt her awake, to bring her back, to bring Korra back. He would have been able to stop her; he would have been able to prevent it.
And now it was quiet.
Later that night, after the smoke had cleared, after the ceremony had been completed, he did not hesitate. He'd hesitated too long, been hiding too long, and now that the silence had come, he could finally hear that quiet part of him that had been trying to convince him this whole time.
Mako slid her doors open just a little, and peered inside. She was already looking at him, sitting up in bed, clutching her knees to her chest because she was preparing for another night without sleep. He did not hesitate to walk forward, did not hesitate to sit next to her, did not hesitate to rest his hands on her shoulders and look into her eyes.
"Korra. I'm so sorry… please forgive me. For everything."
She sounded so tired. "What are you talking about? I'm the one who killed her."
The words burned as they left his throat. "No. You're not."
She looked up at him then and she looked into him then and she finally broke her silence. She finally started to cry.
She fell into him, sobbing against his shoulder, and his throat grew tight but the stomach in his knot loosened. He held her close, and it felt so right. He laid her back down and embraced her. Their limbs tangled. And she cried. And she cried hard. He would not let go, and eventually her breathing slowed again, her sobs abated, hours passed and she fell asleep in his arms. They fit together perfectly.
Mako began to drift off, and his mind wandered. Korra needed him, and maybe he needed her too, and maybe that little air girl with the big wishes and the big dreams had been right all along.
When he finally fell asleep, Korra in his arms, he had a very strange dream.
It was really quite strange.
He was walking up to Korra at the dock, just like earlier that day. The sunset was full of color, of pinks and purples and oranges, and he held a large glass in his hand. Korra stood when he came and she smiled at him. When she stood, the sunset fell into the glass, and a rainbow dripped down from the sky, mixing together.
Korra placed her hands over his and she urged desperately for him to drink it, so he did. She took a drink as well.
Wings grew out of their backs, big, feathered wings, and they flew up, up, up, and there was this magical castle in the sky where everybody was waiting because it was nearly time for their wedding. It was a quick ceremony. It was loud.
Afterwards, they ate clouds with spoons and used stars as ice cubes in their moonlight punch.
Ikki was there.
She was happy.