I was kinda in a funk when I wrote this, so sorry for all the angst. It was also 2 in the morning. PLUS, after that last episode, I think that all remnants of a happy, fluffy fic were completely erased from my mind.
Mako watched her quietly. His head was cocked in one direction, his eyebrow in another. A look of incredible confusion was plastered across his typically stoic features.
She had a strong affinity for rendering him speechless, but usually that was when she was speaking. Once, just once, when she nervously rammed her lips to his for a split second. But never like this. Never as silently and motionless as she was now.
He swallowed several times, trying to find his voice, which he'd seemed to have lost somewhere deep down in his soul. His throat felt dry and sticky, his palms cold and sweaty.
And she was quiet. So quiet.
Her knees were pulled up underneath her chin, and toned arms wrapped around bent legs. Her shoulders were hunched over in a defeated position that was very unlike the prideful, perfect posture she usually held as she went about her business. Strands of dark hair that had fallen from her ponytail whipped about lightly in the breeze.
Mako stood and watched her for a long time, unsure. He felt uneasy, seeing her like this. She was so strong. "Tough as nails," as Lin Beifong had put it. But here, now, Korra seemed so... young. So vulnerable. It was something completely new and foreign to him.
He suddenly felt guilty. Like he was spying on her in her moment of weakness. He was sure that she wouldn't want him to see her broken down like this. And Mako turned to leave, to amend the mistake he'd made by standing there for so long.
Her voice was quiet, yet carried the same authoritative tone as it always did. Even in her current state, she knew she was a leader. But it wasn't a command. A command would have angered Mako, most likely. She knew that. It was a request. If he wasn't fancying himself too much, he'd say it was a plea.
He turned back around to face her again. Her back was still to him.
Lame, lame, lame, he berated himself. That was all he could muster up the courage to say?
"You don't have to stay," she said, and this time she looked at him. The sapphire eyes he'd grown so fond of -he'd never known how much he'd loved the color blue- held immense despair, pain beyond her seventeen years. For a moment, he wished he could do something, anything, to just glimpse that beautiful, somewhat smug smile on her face.
The feeling vanished when she did offer him a smile- a small quirk of her lips deliberately made to look real, and failing miserably at the attempt. A half-hearted half smile that caused the feeling of a million ice-cold pinpricks to his heart.
She was hurting. And it made his heart break, his lungs burn, his soul ache.
"You don't have to stay."
Even her voice sounded broken, as she stated that blatant lie.
He moved to sit by her side. She scooted over to make room for him at the edge of the lake and glanced away to break eye contact.
"Yeah," he said slowly, regaining his will to speak, "I do. You're my... friend." Just a friend? Yeah right. "And I'm not leaving you alone like this. Not unless you want me to."
"I don't want you to," she said quietly, bending the water ahead of them absentmindedly, sending little ripples in every direction. Mako watched quietly, silently awestruck by the ease with which she did so. Sure, she was the Avatar, and water was her native element, but even his firebending required some amount of focus. Yet here she was, moving the water in such graceful, beautiful patterns even as her mind drifted elsewhere.
She was amazing. Though he'd come to know that long ago.
"Thank you," she said finally. "For being here."
"Uh, yeah." He blushed madly, though to his embarrassment he had no idea why. "It's the least I could do... I mean..." he searched for something, anything to say. To comfort her. He couldn't. His mind was maddeningly blank.
For a long time, he just looked at her, brown eyes level with blue. In the moonlight, her skin seemed a shade paler, though it could also be taken into account as the toll of her emotions.
"Look, Korra..." he tried again, running a hand through unkempt dark hair. "I'm not a word person." He took a breath, unsure of how to continue. "I mean... I'm an action kind of guy. I don't know... I mean... I don't think..." Mako sighed angrily. "I'm not exactly the first person you'd want to comfort you, I guess is what I'm trying to say."
She shook her head. "You being here is comforting enough." She gave him that heartbreaking half smile. "I have to be strong around the others. You know, to keep their morale up. But I can be me with you. And I think the real me is a lot weaker than I like to admit."
He held her gaze, losing himself in those sapphire eyes. The very eyes that now had a wet, teary shine to them. He slowly placed his hand on her cheek, cupping her jaw in his palm. She froze for a moment, and Mako leaned in to press his lips gently to hers. Her lips fit perfectly to the contours of his mouth, and as she kissed back, he savored her taste. His tongue darted out from between parted lips, running along the inside of her mouth, grinding up against her teeth and pressing into her own tongue. He tasted salt, and pulled back as he realized that hot tears running down her cheek had been mixed in.
He ached. A calloused thumb went to wipe the tears from beneath her eyes. "I told you, I'm an action kind of guy." He gave a humorless laugh, sliding his hand down to hers and entwining their fingers. She gave a short cry, a sob long held back, and buried her face into his chest, finally breaking down, releasing pent-up emotions.
And he held her. Rocked her.
The night contained a lot of kissing and touching and crying.
And even Mako let himself break down a little. She was hurting. It made his heart break, his lungs burn, his soul ache.
In the morning, they awoke in a tangle of limbs and clothes and emotion. And she gave him that half smile. The one that caused the feeling of a million ice-cold pinpricks to his heart.