disclaimer: disclaimed.
dedication: NOT TO MY COMPUTER WHICH HAD A SPAZZ AND LOST ME SO MUCH WORK KSRGHSKDFHSJ fuck
notes: for fuck's sake, fandom, get your shit together. we are way too old for this, okay?
notes2: I am always going to hate this, because I lost so much of it and it was so good.

title: candlelight eyes
summary: Pressed against the glass, watching people pass; the world had seemed so much smaller before he'd met the Avatar. — Mako/Korra.

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Republic City was not meant for winter.

Air off Yue Bay left the city icy-wet, gushing something between sleet and snow. The streets would be more or less impassable except on foot, and even then, being outside was unpleasant. People hurried on their respective ways with nary a look to other passersby, scarves up around their faces to cut the wind.

Even Republic's underbelly had shuddered to a halt to stave off the cold. The gambling houses closed their doors, the opium dens went silent, and the city's orphans huddled together around garbage fires to keep from freezing to death.

Once, Mako had been one of them.

But from behind thick glass in the dripping gold heat of the interior of City Hall, that time seemed very far away; seemed to belong to someone else entirely, a different history, a different world. He'd been a different person then, intent on protecting different things.

Pressed against the glass, watching people pass; the world had seemed so much smaller before he'd met the Avatar.

He wasn't always sure he was grateful for it.

Especially now, when he was forced to smile to keep from causing another international incident that he'd have to smooth over in the morning. Especially when Ikki went bouncing around the councilroom on an air scooter and flippantly filching everything she could get her hands on. Especially when the paperwork piled towards the ceiling, and Mako had to wonder how Tenzin had put up with years of this.

Especially when Korra wasn't around to clean up her own messes.

Four years, and people were still falling through the cracks. The orphans and the gangs and the pushers and the bigotry; it was engrained so deep. It was something Republic City could not afford. To have people falling through the cracks was akin to failing all they'd sacrificed.

But Korra had wanted to see the world.

And it made sense for the Avatar to be connected to all parts of the world that she was supposed to keep in balance. Republic City was only one city amongst a thousand cities, and she could only be in one place at once time—the world needed its Avatar (it had been deprived of its Avatar for so long, and things were still only just beginning to be back in order), and it was unfair of one place to keep her all to itself.

The whole world needed her to mediate and fix and balance because there was still so much that needed mediating and fixing and balancing, and that was her job.

And so she'd gone.

Mako didn't like to think of it, but nights like this when inane conversation and shady businessmen hoping to get a good word in with the council were the norm, he couldn't quite help himself.

He was left to wait for the fireworks, and to hope that Tenzin's children felt like behaving themselves tonight.

(This was hoping for a miracle, and so Mako didn't expect too much.)

Korra had left the night after the midsummer festivals a year-and a half previous, grinning widely as their makeshift family saw her off. The children chattered too loudly. His brother tucked a flower in her hair. Tenzin held her for a moment too long, and even Chief Beifong had looked a little choked up.

But Mako couldn't even look at her.

(Well, there were lots of things he hadn't forgiven him for, yet. The fact that he hadn't said goodbye was only the most pressing of them all.)

Then she'd gone.

No one had heard from her since.

It made sense for her to go.

But Spirits, he missed her sometimes.

Two years with no word set his teeth on edge. News came slowly. Worse, it came inaccurate and from too many sources to accurately identify if they were only rumours or if they had a droplet of truth to them.

Because there were tales, of course.

Merchants spoke of a Water Tribe girl who twirled through fire and spun sakkri fortunes without getting burned in Oma Shu; a dark-skinned woman accompanied by a polar-bear dog who laughingly raised pillars on Kiyoshi Island; a blue-eyed bender who seemed to walk on air in Ba Sing Se—the list went on.

The Earth Kingdom seemed to be where Korra danced, these days.

But no one knew for sure.

The orchestra struck up something between a waltz and a lament.

He exhaled.

Korra would make her own mistakes, tumble and break against the rocks, and she'd laugh all the way down. He just wasn't there to pull her out of it anymore, and she was probably going to get hurt, and there was nothing he could do about it.

Mako clenched his fists 'til his knuckles went white.

"If you keep making that face, you're going to freeze like that."

Mako fought the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose again. That was never any good.

He turned away from the window, and inclined his head towards her. "Ms. Sato."

Asami tossed her hair over her shoulder in a long shimmering wave, crossed her arms over her chest like she hadn't a care in the world.

"Oh, Gods," she scoffed, "are you really going to be stuffy all night? If I may remind you, Councilman, we dated. I think you can call me by my first name."

Mako swallowed convulsively. The woman who stood in front of him was not the girl he'd known—Asami Sato was vicious. She was all lightning and electricity, a walking powerhouse with her hip popped to the side; she was heir to one of the biggest companies in the world. She fairly dripped with gems and sultry looks, eyes slit and dark in the incandescent light.

The glint of the metal Equalist glove on her right hand wasn't to be missed, either.

She'd fought long and hard to keep it (it had been a public relations nightmare—Mako went near cross-eyed just remembering that situation); every bender in the city screamed that they all be destroyed. They were still the symbol of everything the Equalists had stood for. They were still the symbol that the radical anti-benders drew to, moths to flame. They were still dangerous.

No one had wanted to concede.

Eventually, Korra put her foot down and said that as Asami had saved her life often enough, she was at perfect liberty to choose whatever weapon she wanted, and everyone else should just shut up because I'm not changing my mind, you might as well quit it, alright?

(Public. Relations. Nightmare.)

Underneath the fur and the satin, the glove looked incongruous against her skin.

Asami smiled with her teeth, and wore it well.

"Hello, Asami," Mako sighed.

"Better," she said.

"Don't punch me?" Mako offered weakly.

"Please," Asami rolled her eyes. "That's Korra's thing."

This was true. Punching was the Avatar's thing. Mako tried not to grit his teeth because despite his best efforts, there were some things he could just never quash out—Korra's natural violence was one of them.

(Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Ikki pulling at Jinora's hand, a daring grin on her face. Oh, Agni, no, he was not going to deal with the fallout of whatever it was that that eleven-year-old had planned, he was going to put a stop to it right now—)

Asami snapped her fingers in front of his face.

"Mako. Focus."

"Right. Sorry."

They stood together, surveying the room. He could see Bolin, tucked behind Chief Beifong, breaking up whatever little party Ikki had planned. The other council members milled about the room

Mako was inordinately grateful.

"Ugh, what is going on? It's so stuffy in here."

"It is not, Korra, it's—"

Asami's screech drowned out the rest of the sentence. "KORRA!"

Korra caught Asami on the fly, laughing from her stomach. The whole room turned towards the Sato heir—this was so scandalous, Asami Sato screaming, but wait, what, was that the Avatar—?

"Uh. Hi!" Korra managed, and waved to the room at large. "I'm back?"

She wore a blue dress like the summer sky soaking up ink and strewn with white jewels like starlight. Second-skin tight, dipped so low at the back that when she turned to grin down widely at Jinora the dimples at the base of her spine winked, and she looked perfectly at ease.

Mako's mouth was drier than a desert.

The room converged on her.

She caught his eye over Tenzin's shoulder, and mouthed I'll talk to you later.

Mako was determined that she would.

It was four hours before he spoke another word.

He found her outside on a balcony, snow settling into her hair and rimmed thick around her eyelashes. She was going to get soaked, going to catch a cold—how had she even survived this long, without him?

"You look uncomfortable," Korra told him conversationally.

"You don't," he replied.

Her lips quirked up and she ran her fingers through her bangs. Her hair had gotten so long, and it curled around her shoulders dark and damp. "Nah. What's the point in being uncomfortable?"

Mako stared at her for a long time.

"You haven't changed at all," he said.

"Did you expect me to?" Korra asked, still grinning.

"No," he replied.

"Liar."

He couldn't deny that.

But looking at her, looking at this beautiful woman who couldn't have been the Avatar he'd known, he didn't know what to say. She was older, she was different—there was a quiet sort of forgotten dustiness in her eyes that didn't belong in the gaze of someone so young.

And Korra was so young.

Younger than he was, anyway.

But Mako felt so very, very old, and looking at her… looking at her, he couldn't help but think who are you, woman in my best friend's skin?

"You need to stop thinking so much, Mako," Korra laughed.

That shook him out of it, a little. "What?"

"Nothing. But, you know? You're right," she told him. "I haven't changed at all."

And she slipped an arm around his waist and began to tuck in all his ragged edges, sewing up the last vestiges of old wounds and cauterizing them. The light from inside turned her eyes to golden lamps in the dark, and it was beautiful and simple.

Terrifying, too.

She wound their fingers together, and this was the only thing he'd ever cared for.

If Mako pressed his lips to the top of her head, there was no one passing by to notice.

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fin.

notes3: why can I only write in the middle of the night?
notes4: why can't I write anything coherent, either?