"Mako, we've searched everywhere." Asami sighed, "There's no sign of her or Tarrlok."
"We've gotta keep searching, she's somewhere around here. I just know it." Mako snapped, his footsteps quickening as Bolin and Asami fell behind. His breath fell shallow, whispering to himself, "Where are you Korra?"
"Bolin—" Asami's voice was barely above a whisper, "Do you know what's going on between Mako and Korra?"
"Uh," Bolin scratched his head, "what are you talking about? Of course there's nothing going on between them. Crazy talk!"
"Bolin, I'm serious. You're his brother, tell me." She looked at him, and his face fell. He knew it wasn't his place to discuss what had happened between Mako and Korra, but Asami's sad and torturous stare made his knees buckle. She deserved to know, and Bolin should at least tell her what he knew.
"Well, during the tournament," Bolin shrugged, "They kind of, sort of, you know…kissed. I know, I know. I was upset too, but I don't think it meant anything."
"I doubt that." Asami turned on her heel and started after Mako. She didn't know what to do with herself. She was angry, more than angry, Asami was livid. She couldn't believe that Mako had been in love with another woman and used her as a suitable replacement for the time being. It wasn't fair, and as much as Asami knew how perfect Mako and Korra were for each other, she couldn't shake the feeling of despair that overtook her. First she lost her mother, then her father to the Equalists, and now she was losing her boyfriend to the Avatar. She couldn't change a single thing, either. She was helpless to watch the people around her leave.
"Asami, c'mon. Listen, I know it sounds bad but—"
"Just let it be Bolin," She shook the tears from her eyes, taking a deep breath, "there's nothing we can do except get Korra home safe."
"Ugh!" Mako slammed his fist into the side of the alley, the brick almost reverberating under his strength, "We're never going to get to the mountain pass in time. We're still an hour away from the outskirts of the city."
"Maybe we should just wait for Chief Beifong and Tenzin. Then we can just do a sweep of the city on Oogi…" Asami began but Mako was quick to cut her off.
"No, Asami. We don't have time to waste here. Korra's been gone almost twenty-four hours. We're cutting it too close as is." He growled, "When I find Tarrlok, I swear—"
"Kids!" Tenzin called from the air, a deep bellowing growl from a sky bison filled the air around them as Oogi touched down a few feet in front of them, Lin and Tenzin perched rigidly on his back. "Let's go, we don't have much time. Korra's not in the city, we have to check the mountain pass. It's the last place we can think of."
"Hold on Korra," Mako pulled the scarf up to his mouth, "I'm coming."
"I'm going to take your bending away." Aang's fingers slid over Yakone's head and heart, and with that all color drained from Yakone's face as he fell out of Aang's dissipating rock grasp.
Korra's eyes shot open, her body aching. She had managed to burn her way out of the restraints that Tarrlok had used to bind her, but her limbs were still heavy, pulsating as she leaned against the platinum wall of the container. That's what Aang had been trying to tell her all along, that Tarrlok was Yakone's son, that he wasn't to be trusted, and that he stood for everything Amon was against. Korra let out a soft laugh; "You couldn't tell me that before, Aang?"
It made complete sense now. Everything that Tarrlok stood for, he was trying to get the city under his control. He wanted to be the city's savior. The Avatar threatened him, because he wanted the glory. He wanted the recognition. He wanted a statue built of him in the center of the city to stand for how heroic he was. That's why he offered to run the taskforce, that's why he wanted the Avatar working for him. He wanted to be the city's savior.
Korra wiped the tears from her eyes, her fingertips skimming the open wound on her cheek. She recoiled at the touch, wishing that she could bend and heal herself, but the truth was there was really no way out at this point. She had been down here for hours, but it felt like days. Tenzin, Lin, Bolin, Asami, Mako…they would never find her out here. Out in the outskirts of the city, deep under the snow of the mountains. She had made so many mistakes, and now she would never get the chance to ratify them. She would never get the chance to thank Lin or apologize to Tenzin, to hug Bolin or explain everything to Asami, but most of all—she would never get to see Mako again.
And that hurt her more than any open wound.
"If I didn't know any better Tenzin," Lin looked over at him, "I'd say you were scared."
"Now's not the time Lin. We need to be focused on Korra." He stated, his eyes forward and his hands tightly gripping Oogi's reigns.
"Listen, Tenzin." She leaned over the edge of the saddle, "We're going to find her. She's tough as nails, I'm sure she busted out of there no problem."
"But what if she didn't Lin?" Tenzin asked, his voice low, "If anything were to happen to Korra, I'd never be able to forgive myself—"
"You put far too little faith in her." Lin shook her head, "She's strong, Tenzin. Stronger than we realize sometimes, and after all, she is the reincarnation of your father."
"You said she was nothing like my father."
She turned from him, keeping her eyes on the streets below, "Perhaps, I was wrong."
"Mako, whoa! Easy man. Lay off the flaming hand thing already, would ya?" Bolin grabbed his bother's shoulder and pulled him back onto Oogi's saddle. Mako's hand immediately went out, his fingers running through his hand instead.
"Sorry Bo," He sighed, "I've got a lot on my mind."
"I know, I got hit by Hurricane Asami earlier." Bolin laughed.
"I'm sorry Bo, I didn't mean to pull you into this too." Mako leaned his back against the saddle, his eyes fixated across the way, the city lights illuminating Asami's back as she leaned over the saddle scanning for Korra.
"Hey, what are brothers for?" Bolin smiled, scooting next to him, "For telling secrets to, that was the correct answer. Now why don't you tell little old Bo what's going on in that head of yours?"
"The kiss meant everything Bo. Absolutely everything, but she's the Avatar and I'm—and she's—but I'm—ugh." He buried his head in his hands, "And Asami, she's incredible, but Korra is—I couldn't—she doesn't—I have to—"
"I've never seen you like this, bro." Bolin's voice was heavy with concern.
"It's not fair, Bo. I can't do this now, not with Asami like that, and with Korra missing. I have to focus on Korra, I have to make sure she gets home safe; I have to be there for her. Asami doesn't understand that." He let go of the breath he had been holding onto so tightly, "Korra told me that Asami needed me, but it's not fair."
"Because you need Korra." Bolin nodded. Mako looked up at him, wide-eyed, half-expecting his brother to burst out in tears or accusing him of being a bad brother, but Bolin merely smiled. "It's okay to admit Mako."
"You're right." Mako pulled the scarf away from his mouth and looked his baby brother, the boy he had taken care of his whole life, and nodded, "I wanted Asami, but…I need Korra."
"I told you not to underestimate her!" She heard Amon's voice pierce through the darkness, but she couldn't bring herself to glance behind. Korra needed to focus on the snow in front of her, bending it to her will, trying to put as much distance between her and her destiny as possible.
Her bones ached though, straight through, and her usually thick skin was like paper against the gale force winds. She couldn't go on much longer, her body screaming against the cold, but she had to use every last bit of strength she had. If Amon caught her now, everything she had worked for would be useless, and Republic City would be doomed. Her foot caught a branch as her mind wandered elsewhere and she went tumbling down the mountainside until her back met the unkind base of a pine tree. Snow toppled down on to her but she couldn't even lift a finger to brush it off.
She was so tired.
As the cold rippled through her body, she wished that Mako were here. She thought of how warm he was the night they searched for Bolin, but instead fell asleep on Naga. He always made her feel warm, safe, like nothing could touch her if he were there. But he infuriated her to no end, the way he always had some snarky comment for whatever she said, whatever she did. How he acted so high and mighty around her. It set her heart on fire, but at the same time—if she had listened to him, and not gone after Tarrlok, they could've avoided all of this.
Korra would be back on Air Temple Island, Tenzin would have gotten them out of jail, and then they could have formulated a real plan to go up against Tarrlok and Amon.
She was just too thickheaded sometimes to realize the repercussions of her actions, but he always seemed to know. Mako always seemed to have the answers to everything. If he were here, he'd tell her how to get out of this, how to find the strength to keep going, how to stop this cold from overtaking her.
She felt a warm and wet sensation on her face, not knowing how much time had passed; she opened her eyes and came face to face with a very familiar polar bear dog. Naga.
"Naga, you came to look for me." She smiled, hugging her head weakly, "Good girl."
Mako jumped awake at the sound, an all too familiar howl. He jumped towards the side of the bison and looked down, "That sounded like Naga!"
"Oogi, yip, yip!" Tenzin yelled, the sky bison obeying and flying as quickly as possible to the source of the noise. As they descended Mako could make out a pale while blob walking through the streets, and when they got close enough, he recognized the loyal polar bear dog, but most of all, he recognized the Avatar sprawled out lifelessly on her back.
"Down there!" He yelled, the strength of his own voice knocking him back.
"Korra!" Tenzin yelled, jumping off the bison and running for her. Her body stirred slightly as she looked up to greet him with those childish blue eyes, "Oh thank goodness."
"Where is Tarrlok? How did you get away?" Lin asked, but Mako was quick to shove past both of them, hardly registering their presence at all. His eyes were only locked on Korra's.
"Give her some space!" He called out, pulling her into his arms, cradling her like a child. She was hurt, a deep gash running down her cheek. She was heavy in his arms, and her clothes tattered and torn. But those eyes of hers, that stunning cerulean color, looked up at him in childish wonder. It was the same old Korra, in the beaten and broken body of the Avatar. "I was so worried." He whispered, "Are you all right?"
Korra could feel her body warming up immediately as she was pressed against him, the pain in her wounds subsiding slightly. "I'm fine." She smiled softly, "I'm glad you're here."
"You're safe now." He laid her down on Oogi and brushed the stray strands of hair from her face. She couldn't help but stare at him; one hand still protectively at her side and the other grazed her cheek. She wanted to dive into his arms, tell him she was all right and to wipe that worried look off his face, but she would be lying.
So instead she let her eyes flutter shut, with Mako's name sitting quietly on her lips.
It had been almost two days before Korra even jostled in her sleep. Mako sat alongside her bed every moment, much to the dismay of Tenzin and the appointed gender dorms. He wasn't going to leave her, not until he knew that she was going to be all right, until she gave him absolutely no reason to worry. That wasn't a realistic expectation, though, because everything Korra did worried him. Every time she let that risk taking part of her take over, he worried. It got her kidnapped, hurt, and almost killed on a number of occasions. He had every right to worry.
"Mako." A voice called from the doorway, he turned to see Asami standing there, slightly more disheveled than usual, "You haven't slept in two days, what do you say we switch?"
"I'm fine, Asami. Just do me a favor and make sure Bo's okay—"
"Or you could go do it yourself." She stepped forward, her words sharp, "I know you're worried about her Mako, but the least you could do is not make me feel like the odd one out here. You go check on your brother and I'll stay here and keep watch on my friend. It's the least you could do."
Mako stared up at her wide-eyed and almost didn't recognize the girl looking back at him. Her face was stern, stoic almost. He had never seen her this serious before. "Asami—"
"Go, Mako." She pointed towards the door and he obliged, but he knew as he walked out of the room that he couldn't sleep. He would check on Bolin, and then high tail it back to Korra's room. But Asami was right, after all he had put her through, she deserved a few minutes with Korra.
"I hate you." Asami whispered, taking Mako's seat next to the bed, "I hate you so much Korra."
The tears welled up in her eyes as she pushed her beautiful black hair behind her ear, all the while looking down at her own hands, folded in her lap. "It's not fair. I love him, Korra. I love him! He's been everything I need, a shoulder to cry on, a hand to hold. He's perfect for me. I always thought I was perfect for him too."
She wiped the tears from her cheeks, "But then there was you, Avatar Korra, the girl who is supposed to bring balance back to the world. The chosen one. All these promises of peace and balance, but what good has that done? How can you say it will all get better when I have to sit here having lost my mother, my father, and my soon to be ex-boyfriend? You've ruined everything, Korra! Everything!"
"You," she let out a hollow laugh, "you should have seen him today when he heard you were missing. Your cheeks would have turned red in an instant. He was so passionate about finding you; he even tried to sneak out of here alone to face Tarrlok alone. We were lucky to catch him at the last minute. I called him out on it too, I told him that you didn't need to be saved and he said he knew that already. Then I told him not to string me along and he said we'd talk when he brought you back safe and sound. But look at him Korra, you're back for two days, asleep, and he hasn't left your side once. I just had to basically throw him out to even get a minute with you, and you know he's on his way back right now all righteous and temperamental."
"Sometimes," Her voice drops again, "I wish I was you."
"I could say the same thing." Korra's voice squeaked, startling Asami back into her chair. Her heart started to beat out of her chest, how much had Korra heard?
"Korra!" She cracked a bit of a fake smile, "Uh, I should probably get a healer in here—"
"No," Korra grabbed her arm gently and pulled her back down to her level, "We need to talk, right now."
"But Korra you're hurt and they really need too…Mako will want…"
"You had no problem telling me what was on your mind when you thought I was asleep. It's obvious this can't wait Asami, you're really upset." She looked up at her with those big childish blue eyes, "Talk to me Asami."
"I don't know what to say Korra."
"Let's start with you hate me."
"You heard that?"
Asami sighed, "I don't hate you Korra. You're the closest thing I've had to a real friend in a long time, it's just—I guess I don't understand."
"Yes you do." Korra said simply, "What is it you want to ask me?"
Asami paused for a moment, looking down at Korra. She was hurt, badly, and she needed medical attention more than she needed to be ripped apart verbally. But Korra still asked, she still pried into Asami's thoughts and wanted an answer from her. Korra valued her friendship enough to put Asami before herself. Asami took a deep breath and closed her eyes, "Are you in love with Mako?"
A beat of silence passed. "Yes."
"How long?" She asked.
"I have no idea. Maybe since the moment I met him." Korra's voice was steady and quiet; "I may have even loved him then. But he wanted nothing to do with me, and we fought all the time about nothing, so I thought maybe he wasn't interested. Then we kissed during the tournament, after he told me he was confused about whether or not he had feelings for me. I couldn't take no for answer without trying everything I could, so I kissed him Asami. I kissed him."
Asami was silent. "And then," Korra's voice dropped, "He chose you."
"You must have hated me." Asami finally spoke.
"No," Korra retorted, "I never hated you. Asami, when I had to investigate your father's connections with the Equalists, it was the hardest thing in the world to watch you look at me the way you did. Like, I was ripping your world apart, and I was. I have taken so much from you Asami, things you didn't deserve to lose. I can't tell you how sorry I am for that. For all of this."
"But you love him." Asami said, quietly.
"Yeah, I think I really do." Korra nodded.
"You change him, you know." Asami stood, "You bring him out of his shell. It's amazing, really. I can't believe I didn't see it before."
"Asami." Korra called out as Asami made her way to the door, her back turned and hand resting on the doorframe, "Yeah, Korra?"
"I'm really glad I met you."
"Me too, Korra." She smiled, "Now get some rest."
"Bolin, stop it. You're going to get sick." Mako groaned.
"It's useless, Mako." Jinora didn't look up from her book, "Once Meelo challenges someone to something, there's no stopping it."
"Meelo has clearly never seen Bolin eat noodles before." Mako pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration.
"That's bowl seven for Meelo! Bolin you're falling behind!" Ikki squealed, jumping up and down in her chair.
"Hey Mako," Asami walked through the door of the dining room.
"Asami—" His voice caught in his throat, and for the first time Mako realized that he had absolutely no idea what to say to her.
"Greetings beautiful woman!" Meelo snapped out of his noodles and waved at Asami, a sheepish grin plastered on his face.
"Meelo stopped eating!" Ikki screamed, "He's disqualified! Bolin, you won!"
"Aw yeah!" Bolin threw his fist in the air, "What now little monk child? The Bo-man is still the Master of Noodles. That's right. You may bow."
"No fair!" Meelo cried.
"Rules are rules, right Jinora?" Ikki asked.
Jinora looked up, "I am not getting involved."
The kids, and Bolin, continued to bicker but it was all background noise to the thoughts running through Mako's head at a million miles an hour. He had to face Asami sooner or later, but he would have definitely preferred later.
"Don't worry." She smiled kindly, "I'm not here to talk about our relationship."
"No." She sighed, "Just the opposite, actually. I came to tell you that we're over, Mako."
"I'm serious, Mako. We're over. I know you want to protect me, but friends protect friends all the time. Korra can give you something, that for some reason, I can't give." She flipped her hair out of her face, "Maybe soon we can talk about it, but the truth is that the girl you love is laying right down the hall wondering where you are right now."
"She's awake?" Mako's voice perked, but fell quickly as he looked into Asami's eyes, "Asami, I am so sorry. We are going to talk about this, when it's better for the both of us."
"When we're not in a war." She smiled, kissing him softly on the cheek, "I'll run you over and then we can have a cup of tea instead."
"Korra!" Mako called out her name, his hands missing the doorway as he went bellowing through without warning, landing face first on the ground. "Are you okay? His muffled voice called out.
"I should be asking you the same question." She smiled, "If Tenzin caught you running in the hallway, you'd be meditation on it for hours! Don't get me in trouble!"
"What do you mean get you in trouble?" He asked, "You get in plenty of trouble on your own!"
"Oh, right. Says the boy who tries to climb out a window against orders to save the Avatar!" Korra barked, crossing her arms over her chest.
"You heard about that?" He asked.
"Yeah, Asami and I. We talked." Her face softened, "You know she really loves you Mako."
"Then what's the problem?" Korra asked, but instead of an answer, Mako just ran his fingers over her face, brushing the hair out of her eyes once again. There was something about her, something that drew him in. Maybe it was because he knew he didn't have to protect her, he never felt obligated to do so, he chose to do it. He knew looking down at this Korra, with the bright blue eyes, that she didn't need him to fight her battles. She wouldn't let him fight her battles, and that was new to him.
He worried, sure, but every minute wasn't spent trying to keep her safe, and when he could let go of his compulsion to be the hero, he got the chance to be himself with her. The real Mako. The passionate and fiery Mako, not the controlled cold Mako that did what was necessary. He could argue with her, get upset with her, and feel all those things he had been suppressing since his parents had died. Since he had to grow up far sooner than he intended. Simply put.
Korra made him feel alive again.
"You're the problem." He whispered, not out of secrecy, but in an honest sincerity. "You've always been the problem, Korra."
"Yeah, well. I'm the avatar. You gotta deal with it." She smirked, his hand cupping her face gently.
"Korra." He said seriously, "Asami and I broke up."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Her eyes dropped, "Are you okay?"
"I'll be all right, but Korra. There's something I want to talk to you about." His eyes glanced at the gash along her cheek, "When I pulled you off Naga earlier, I was so scared. This whole day, when I found out you went after Tarrlok, my heart felt like it stopped. I couldn't breathe; I couldn't concentrate on anything that wasn't you, Korra. Asami asked me why I would even try to protect you, but the truth is that I—"
"Mako," Korra grabbed his hand and held it in her own, silencing him for a moment, "Stop. I know what you're going to say, and you need to stop right there."
He blinked, "Why?"
"Because what you're about to say is what I have been waiting to hear since the day we met, Mako, and I don't want it to come within the same few hours as your breakup." She smiled, "Not that I don't believe you mean what you say, but if what you have to say is really true, you won't mind waiting until I'm back on my feet to tell me. That way I can kick your ass for needing this long to realize it."
He let out a booming laugh, the kind of laugh that shook the whole room, and he looked down at this perfect girl in front of him not able to believe his eyes. She constantly surprised him, put the needs of others before her own, and he couldn't believe how stupid he had been to never realize just how much he loved her. He thought back to the day they first met, and how cold he was to her. How indifferent he was to her. But the truth was, he wasn't indifferent, he was baffled, because she challenged everything he knew and threw it right back in his face. She had been proving him wrong since day one.
"You're right." He laughed, "I'm an idiot."
She smiled, "Both are true."
Yeah, he thought, I may have even loved her then.
A/N: Thank you guys so much for reading this! I know it was long, but I really wanted to keep it in two parts. I really hope you guys liked it, and you've all been so incredible with the reviews. You're the nicest people! Thank you so much!