dedication: les and b and whoever the fuck else I know.
notes: I JUST HAVE A LOT OF FEELINGS OKAY
notes2: for some reason, I love it when titles are longer than summaries.
notes3: shipping Makorra is suffering.
title: maybe if my heart stops beating, maybe if my lungs collapse
summary: She's still just a teenage girl, you know. — Mako/Korra.
Korra doesn't cry.
She just… doesn't.
But her stomach is in her throat and her heart is somewhere in the vicinity of her toes, and it is pumping acid through her veins instead of blood fast to eat away at her lungs, her flesh. The bile's turned thick on her tongue, but it's the burn that freezes her in place. Can't move, can't breathe.
It's the buzzing in the back of her skull that spins his voice on repeat:
half-baked Avatar half-baked can't save anything can't bend anything right you're still just a child—
Oh, Spirits, she's going to vomit.
"I'm, uh—I'll be right back," she says, scrambling backwards away from the table, nails scrabbling against the wood in sharp little sounds that grate a harsh melody against her ear drums. She doesn't wait for an answer, doesn't wait to be excused; she just goes, jumps up and swings around, a flash of dark skin and blue fabric.
Pema's voice is a faint whisper on the wind behind her.
Korra doesn't look back.
She crashes outside into lavender-grey dusk, gasping for air. It's late enough that the airbending pavilion is deserted. She stumbles along the path, and hurts, and hurts, and hurts—and the earth hurts with her.
(The earth always hurts when the Avatar does.)
Somewhere along the way, she loses her shoes.
Then her furs.
And then her shirt goes, and she can't bring herself to care.
The almost-night air is cold against her skin. And she stands huffing in front of the thin wooden panels in bare feet, soft blue pants, and a breast band, itching to send them spinning dizzyingly fast. Jinora could do it—Jinora or Ikki or Meelo, even, and Spirits, they're just children, but the wind dances under their fingers without thought.
It kills her that she can't have the same results, even when she works and sweats and prays.
Korra is not fragile.
Korra is not weak.
Korra is not vulnerable.
(But the chi-blockers make her vulnerable. Tarrlok makes her weak. Mako makes her fragile. And the world is a heavy burden for the shoulders of a fragile weak vulnerable girl. Sometimes she wonders how Aang ever did it.)
This shouldn't stop her—and she spins once, twice, and that movement is right, she knows it's right, she can feel it but there's not—no power behind it. The air she so desperately wants to control floats away softer than down feathers.
Korra clenches her hands to stop them shaking, grinds her jaw to keep from screaming. This is not—is not—
Her knees give out and she slumps. The earth catches her on the comedown, cradle-rocking her back to the ground and the dirt stirs a lullaby across her skin in dust.
If she cries then, no one but the empty sky is around to see it.
But she doesn't; her eyes are dry(-ish) when someone flops down next to her.
"You left your shoes," he says and holds them up for her inspection.
Korra doesn't even turn to look at him, laid out on the ground as she is. Her blood's turned to ice, splintering away with the bile and Spirits, she can't even do this right, can she?
"I know," she says.
"Because I don't like shoes."
(The sloshy feeling behind her eyes comes back when she remembers that Sifu Katara once told her that Aang's earthbending teacher never wore shoes—Lin's mother—and then she thinks of Lin. Her intestines tie themselves into knots. She should be better than this.)
"Don't be insane," he says, a little too fast, catching a little on the end like he's trying to stop a cough or maybe a snarl. Mako shifts, slide of fabric against skin.
"Don't be an ass," she snipes back, and Korra doesn't have to look to know that he's lounging, spine curved with his arms pulled out straight and his palms against the ground to keep himself from falling over and that ridiculous scarf still wrapped around his neck.
Normally, the thought would make her smile.
Now, she's just a slice too unstable to smile properly. Her heartbeat is off-time, like bad-dum-tiss off-time.
There's a bloodbdender for that, she thinks, and she's not even mad.
Vomiting, though, is looking more and more lucrative. Maybe she'll get it out of her system, and then she won't feel like crying anymore. Her nails bite into her palms so hard she bleeds, and she bites her tongue harder to keep from making a sound.
But he notices.
(Of course he does. He just can't let things go.)
"Hey," he says, achingly gentle. "Hey, stop that."
And he reaches for her hands to pull her fingers away from the soft flesh. Korra lets him if only because touching is something they haven't done in a long time. Bad karma, or something—
"Agni, Korra, you're going to kill yourself," he says, checking over the red crescents with the practised eye of an older sibling used to looking over cuts and scrapes.
She hates it a little bit.
But not him, because hating Mako would take more energy than she has to spare, and it would hurt more than she would like to admit. Hating anyone hurts because hate hurts everyone it touches.
But hating Mako would hurt the worst.
"Probably," she says instead, and winces a little when his thumb swipes over still-forming bruises and fresh blood. "Ow."
"No, you're not," she mumbles. She looks past him towards the sky. "Moon's rising."
"Aren't you cold?"
Goosebumps rise on the surface of her skin. "No."
"You look like it."
"I'm not. I grew up in the South Pole, remember?" and her lips quirk a little bit.
"Freak. Sit up," he shakes his head and says. He doesn't give her time to react—just pulls her up, and then they're sitting next to each other, pressed thigh-to-thigh. He's too warm, hands around hers, skin bleached white in the moon-dusk light.
Korra doesn't let it mean anything at all.
"Ow," she says again.
Mako rolls his eyes. "Idiot."
"You're the idiot," she sticks her tongue out. It's not the most intelligent thing she's ever come up with, and she's pretty sure he's going to burst out laughing any second which is bad because she doesn't think she can take that right now, she really, really can't—"Ow, Mako, that hurts!"
"Would you stop moving?!"
He leans down to lick the blood away, bent over her hands.
Oh, she thinks. Oh.
It would be the easiest thing to fold herself around him and sleep for maybe an eternity, but—
Korra thinks she is going to be sick.
"Maybe you shouldn't do that," she whispers. The colour's drained out of her skin—she might even be pale as he is, and she has to fight not to sway and giggle like one of the lovesick girls that Asami spends so much of her time scoffing at.
He freezes, tongue still pressed against her skin.
"You have a girlfriend," she reminds him.
"I know," he says.
"Who is also kind of my best friend," she continues to remind him.
(Which is true. Asami is her best friend—makes her laugh until she's hurting from it, lips stretched wide and cheeks aching, and her ribs trembling from the force of it. Asami is her best friend and Korra cannot do this to her best friend.)
But it doesn't feel like a reminder.
Her throat tightens.
Mako doesn't let her go until she pulls her hands away, and even then, they are too close. Korra drops her chin to avoid looking him in the eye. Hatred's never been this easy and she wants to leave it in the dead of the South Pole, in the dead of a time when the only thing she knew was ice and snow.
But that was a long time ago, and Korra is someone else now.
"We can't do this," she tells him, very, very quiet.
"I know," he says again.
"Then maybe we shouldn't be sitting like this."
He exhales long and slow. "Shut up, Korra."
"Mako—" she stars.
"Just shut up," he says, gentle again. He slings an arm around her waist. "We're friends. Just friends. This is fine."
"…Sure," Korra murmurs. Forces the bile that rises in the throat away, because this is not the time. "Sure."
She sags against him, curls into the warmth. It is unfair. It is so, so unfair. They don't say anything for a long, long time.
For a second, he laces their fingers.
This time, she doesn't pull away.