author's note: i wrote the bulk of this when my internet was out for three days. it's amazing what you can get done when tumblr and netflix are taken away from you, wow.

dedicated to dicey, aka thecivilunrest, because she will probably always ship makorra harder than i do and she kept pushing me to finish this.

title is from winter song by sara bareilles and ingrid michaelson.

disclaimer: bryke owns everything. (including my soul i mean what)

It's too soon.

That is all he can think as he cradles Korra's head in his lap, begging her to stay with him. "Please, Korra, just keep your eyes open a little longer," he gasps out. Smoke fills the air around them, fires blazing in the windows of the surrounding buildings. He hears screaming and hopes it's from an Equalist. Korra coughs. Blood stains her mouth.

Bolin's hands press over the gaping wound in her side, trying hopelessly to staunch the bleeding. "Mako, do something!"

(He can't because he's useless, he can't he can't he can't—)

Korra's eyes begin to droop again. "Stay with me!" He demands, gripping her face in between his hands.

Asami's by his side all of a sudden, crouching down with one hand on his shoulder. "Lin and Tenzin can't hold them off for much longer; we have to go."

"No!" He snaps. Asami, to her credit, doesn't so much as flinch. "No," he says, a bit softer, "Korra's in no condition to be moved right now. And I'm not leaving her!"

(There's blood on Korra's lips and he can remember a fleeting moment during the tournament when they were pressed shakily to his, his heart pounding loud in his ears as his mouth slid over hers, his hands gripping her forearms and her warm breath fanning over his face—)

"Mako, we're sitting turtleducks out here! The Equalists are hot on our tail, and Amon's sure to be with them!" He has never seen Asami Sato look frightened a day in his life, but right now, she looks positively terrified. He sighs, opening his mouth to argue with her again

"Hey." A hoarse whisper. A tug on his scarf. He looks down to see Korra grinning lazily up at him. There's blood on her nose. He wipes it off with his shirtsleeve, gently.

"Yeah?" He chokes out.

"You've gotta go."

"There's no way I'm leaving you here." His fingers brush past her jawline.

"Yeah, well you're going to." She grimaces, one of her hands clenching over Bolin's, over the wound in her abdomen.

(Red is slowly taking over blue and there's too much blood, it's all too much and he doesn't know what to do—)

"No! No way."

She sighs softly. Her hand slowly reaches up to touch his face before she flinches and drops her arm, her body curling in on itself. His fingers finds hers and squeeze. "Hey. Take it easy."

Her body shakes with silent laughter even as her face screws up into an expression of pain. "You're always so stubborn. I don't know why I even fell for you in the first place."

He shakes his head as she lifts her face to look at him. "Listen," she says, "you've gotta promise me something right now."

(His throat is closing up because she shouldn't be talking like that, no no no—)

He swallows hard, ignoring the stinging feeling behind his eyes. "Yeah," he says, gripping her hand tightly, "anything."

"Promise you'll find me again?"

Tears drip from his chin into her hair. "Why are you talking like this? Stop. You're going to be fine—"

"Promise, Mako!" Her eyes flare quickly before she doubles onto her side and coughs again, more violently this time. Blood sprays from her mouth, splattering onto the gravel. Asami's hand tightens on his shoulder and he can hear Bolin crying.

"Yeah," he says, once her coughing dies down. His voice breaks. "Yeah, I promise."

She sighs, her head lolling to one side. "Good." Her eyes close.

(Bright azure is covered by caramel lids and the blue of her shirt is turning dark red, and it's too much, it's too much—)

"No, keep your eyes open, Korra! Korra? Korra, answer me!"

(His cries are met with silence.)

The floor of the attic is cold under Mako's bare feet. He stands in front of the sink, icy water pouring out of the faucet over his hands.

(Water is the element of change, she had said sagely, before she formed a water whip and wrapped it around his ankle, pulling him to the floor and laughing; she was so alive and beautiful in that moment and he misses her with this dreadful, awful ache—)

"While Amon and his followers are no longer in Republic City, Chief Saikon and his police force advise all benders to stay indoors after dark, as the Equalist force could still very well be a major threat. In other news, the memorial service for Avatar Korra will be held this Sunday at City Hall; if you wish to pay your respects you can—"

Mako turns the radio off.

(The faucet runs. He cries.)

Mako is nineteen years old and he has too many graves to visit.

He leaves flowers at his mother's grave, runs his hand over the headstone on his father's, and then leaves to visit Korra.

(It's sunny during the funeral and the music is too sad and this isn't like Korra at all—)

He drops down next to the stone monument and crosses his legs. Reaching out one gloved hand, he pats the statue's foot fondly. "This thing probably blows your head up even bigger than it already is, Avatar Korra."

(The metalbenders pull the statue up and the music is too sad and statue-Korra's face is too serious—)

She doesn't respond.

(She's dead, Mako.)

(It's sunny during the funeral and Bolin is crying on his shoulder and Mako just wants to go home now, please—)

He sighs and places a bundle of bright blue violets at the foot of the statue. "I miss you," he says plaintively.

She doesn't respond.

(People say things about her but they didn't know her like he did, and he wants to scream because this isn't like Korra at all—)

(She's dead, Mako.)

An hour later he's still at her grave and he's still talking to her and all of a sudden, it's like she talks back.

You're an idiot, Mako. Didn't you promise me that you would find me again?

His eyes widen and he snaps his fingers next to both his ears, to make sure they're working right.

You heard me, City Boy. Get off your butt and get to Avatar hunting.

He laughs.

(He loves her.)

Bolin helps him pack and Mako lets him, even though Bo's more awful at it than he is. He catches him trying to sneak extra food into his suitcase one day (You don't eat enough, Mako, you're way too skinny), and then finds Pabu in his sleeping roll another day (I swear I had nothing to do with this, bro, Pabu just really likes you, okay, he doesn't want you to go), and a week later, he's ready to leave Republic City.

"Where will you go?" Asami asks as she drives him to the port. Bolin leans forward from his place in the backseat, Pabu wrapped around his shoulders, and nods.

"Yeah, where will you go?"

Mako shrugs. "I'm not sure."

(The wind keeps blowing his scarf into his face and he remembers the time when he lent it to Korra when they went to that Equalist rally, and sometimes he thinks he still might be able to smell her on it, sweat and sea breeze and something distinctly her—)

"You really don't have a plan?" Asami's voice is dripping with incredulity.

He pushes his scarf back down to rest on his chest and sighs. "I was just going to head to the Earth Kingdom and see if I could hear any rumors. I figure it's best to start there." He turns his head away from Asami and his brother, facing towards Yue Bay. "But it's so soon. The new Avatar is only a couple months old."

Bolin laughs. "Bro, Korra was discovered when she was four. If this next kid's anything like her, you probably won't have to wait for long."

Mako laughs with him and Asami joins in, and it's almost like old times.

(But there's a painful hole in his heart that reminds him that it won't ever really be like old times again.)

He finds that the Earth Kingdom is not that unlike Republic City; it is loud and bustling and bursting at the seams with life.

(Korra is too, or was, he guesses—)

He spends his first night there in a rundown inn in the center of a small village. He asks the innkeeper if he's heard anything about the new Avatar, and the man says no and that he thinks the same as Mako — it's too early to tell.

He moves on the next morning, heading for Ba Sing Se.

(He really misses Korra.)

One year goes by. Then three. Five.

(Go ahead and take your sweet time, Mako, it's not like you promised that you'd find me soon—)

(He never stops moving. He won't until he finds her.)

It's almost nine years before he hears anything.

He's halfway to Omashu when he stops to rest in a village in the middle of a thick wood. He's sitting in a bar one night, eating a bowl of noodles, when a pretty girl sits down at his table.

She looks to be about his age, maybe even younger. He raises one eyebrow, his chopsticks halfway to his mouth.

"Hi," she says, sticking one hand out. "I saw you sitting over here all by yourself and thought I'd come say hello. My name's Kuma."

He sets down his food somewhat reluctantly and grasps her hand. "Mako."

Her eyes widen and she grips his hand tighter. "Mako? The Mako?"

Oh. It clicks in his head all of a sudden. Fangirl. "Yeah, Mako. From the Future Industries Fire Ferrets."

She shakes her head and drops his hand. "No, I wasn't talking about your probending!" She gestures to him, her head bobbing as she looks him up and down. "You're the guy who's been searching for the Avatar!"

His eyebrows shoot up into his hairline. "Wow. know about that?"

She snorts and leans back in her seat. "Everyone does! You've made a quite a name for yourself." She looks around the room. "Word travels fast around here. There are tons of people who are keeping an eye and ear out for anything, just for you." She sits up, flicking her long, dark hair over one shoulder and leaning her elbows on the table. "Is it true that you knew Avatar Korra?"

Mako crosses his arms over his chest, his scarf soft against his forearms. "Yeah, I did. She was the waterbender on the Fire Ferrets. And she was my friend."

(The image of her suddenly darting forward to press her lips to his flashes across his eyes and he pushes it away—)

The girl presses her lips together, nodding slowly. "I think it's romantic. You looking for her again."

"I just said she was my friend—"

She laughs, cutting him off. "Right." She shakes her head. "Are you honestly saying that you're traveling across the entire world for someone who's just your friend?"

He doesn't say anything.

(There's nothing to say. Korra might have died as just his friend, but were she still alive he knows he would have liked them to have been something more.)

Kuma tells him that there have been rumors of a ten-year-old boy who could earthbend before he could even walk a couple of villages west of where they are. He's passed up all of the masters that have taught him.

"I mean," she explains, her hands gesturing wildly while she talks, "surely a kid that talented has to be the Avatar, right?"

Mako's skeptical, but he takes her information and leaves, squeezing her hand in thanks as he goes.

"Good luck!" She calls to his retreating back. He turns over his shoulder and waves.

He's still doubtful that the boy is actually the Avatar, but he supposes that it's better than nothing.

(The only thing worse than an Equalist is a pessimist, Cool Guy, Korra would say, smirking and punching his arm—)

(There are millions of stars shining above his head but there's no moon and he wonders if Korra is watching him.)

He finds the village where the boy is supposed to be a week later. He sees a little girl, probably ten or eleven, practicing her earthbending forms on the outskirts of town. Mako bends down on one knee and quietly asks where he can find the Lee family, doing his best to give her a kind smile. The girl's green eyes widen and she blushes before she nods. "Just over that hill," she mumbles, looking at the ground sheepishly and pointing. "Their's is the house with the waterwheel out front." She overcomes her shyness for a short moment and tips her head to the side. "Whaddya want with the Lees anyway?"

Mako squeezes the kid's shoulder and stands up from where he was crouching in the dirt. "I wanted to talk to them about their son."

"Oh, you mean Bay. Yeah. You're not the first to come talk to the Lee family, anyway."

Mako stiffens. "Really? Who else has been here?"

The girl shrugs. "The Order of the White Lotus people. Bay's parents wrote to them as soon as they realized how talented he is. But they came and went a long time ago."

His heart drops into his stomach. "How long ago?"

"Four or five years, I guess," she says, scuffing one toe in the dirt. "They thought he was the Avatar, but it turns out he wasn't. They kept an eye on him for a long time, almost a year, but when nothing else happened, they moved on." The girl's started to get antsy, gripping her elbows and bouncing up and down on the balls of her feet, eyes looking anywhere but at him.

She knows something. Mako pauses and crouches down in the dirt again, beckoning her close with one hand. "Thanks, er..."

"Umi," she supplies. She'd moved close when he gestured for her to, but she sill won't look him in the eye. Right now her gaze is trained somewhere over his left shoulder.

"Umi," he says. "Now...what aren't you telling me?"

She bites her lip and closes her eyes, shifting from one foot to the other. All of a sudden, her eyes shoot open and the ground is pulled out from underneath Mako. He falls onto his back and earth encases his ankles and wrists. "What? Umi, what are you"

"You can't tell anyone!" She cuts him off, eyes shining. She's breathing hard, hands raised into a defensive position, black hair falling into her eyes. "If you tell them they'll come take me away and I'm not ready to go!"

Mako struggles against the cuffs helplessly; she's done a good job. "What are you" he stops.

She's gone.

He groans in frustration and fire comes shooting out of his fists and feet. The earth falls away and he is back on his feet. His eyes scan the area, and he sees Umi disappearing into the wood. "No, come back!" His feet start moving and soon enough he's running, as fast as he can, because this is as close as he's ever come to finding Korra again and he is not going to give up now.

He bursts through the trees into an empty clearing. "Umi!" He looks around for her. "Umi! I'm not going to tell anyone, I promise! Just please come out here!"

He waits. "No!" It comes from a tree behind him. He whirls around. A rock comes flying from behind the tree and he dodges just in time, his scarf waving as it blows past. He's reached Umi now and he's starting to tell her to stop when

Fire shoots from her hands, just barely missing his head.

Her hands clap over her mouth as her eyes widen in fear. "Oh, no..." she whispers. "Oh, no." She sinks to the ground, landing hard on her knees. She shakes her head back and forth. "Oops," she says softly, looking up at Mako, irony in her eyes.

(It occurs to him in an instant; her eyes are green instead of blue and her hair is down instead of up, but it is, he thinks, it is, and his heart hurts so much just looking at her, so much he can't breathe—)

"I'm such an idiot," he breathes, dropping down next to her, his hands raking through his hair. He looks at her. "You're the Avatar."

She smiles weakly.

"Both are true."

(It's a good hurt.)