You're turn, turn, turn, turning me on
Like a slow fire burn, I know that it's wrong
Still I run, run, run, run right into you… -Run by Matt Nathanson
Mako found Korra tending to Naga, her face pressed against the polar bear dog's muzzle, her eyes squeezed shut. Looking at the two, obviously a comfort to each other, Mako envisioned the caption in his mind: girl and her best friend.
The words "best friend" left a strange feeling in Mako's chest. He was well aware that he hadn't been the best of friends to Korra at times. He'd tried to make up for it, through gentle gestures and words of comfort. But now, he realized those gestures had come across differently to the others around him. His argument with Asami had brought that to his attention. And in all honesty, sometimes he wasn't sure what his actions meant, or whether they'd crossed the line between friendship and…something more. He couldn't remember when the line had become so blurred in the first place.
Maybe things would be easier if he had someone to talk to, but Mako didn't particularly have anyone to confide in. Bolin was his brother, but matters of the heart weren't exactly easy for the two to discuss. Mako sensed that bringing up his confusion and guilt over Korra and Asami wouldn't gain any sympathy from Bolin. He'd let his brother down once already with the whole kiss fiasco. He didn't need to rub salt in the wound. Besides, vocalizing his feelings remained difficult for Mako, no matter whom he was talking to.
"What do I do, Naga?" Korra started to speak, her voice carrying faintly to Mako's ears. It felt like an intrusion of privacy, but at the same time Mako couldn't pull himself away, so he remained out of Korra's line of sight, listening.
"It's killing me to stay here and watch the city fall. I don't even know if Tenzin and the kids got out safely. I just know that Air Temple Island belongs to the Equalists now. And I know Tenzin said to wait, but…the people need me. What are they saying about me now, I wonder?" Korra's voice took on an almost bitter tone. "Avatar Goes Missing When the World Needs Her Most," she intoned, thinking of possible headlines. "I get this funny feeling that it's been said before."
Mako took a step forward, only to reconsider, but too late. Naga's head whipped up at the sound of his approach, and she nudged at Korra's head gently.
Korra looked up. Mako expected her eyes to narrow, but they didn't. Instead, she simply asked, "How long have you been here?"
Mako shrugged. "Long enough." He hesitated before adding, "Sorry if I was…intruding. I wasn't eavesdropping, I swear, I just—" He jumped a bit as Korra reached out to place a hand on his arm.
"Mako. Relax." For a minute, even though they were in the middle of a war that was becoming more real by the second, there was a hint of laughter in Korra's voice. "You've been kind of weird lately. Is there something wrong?"
There were a lot of things wrong, but Mako pushed the thought to the side because it seemed petty and unimportant compared to the troubles facing them. He shook his head. "It's nothing. And I'm not here to talk about myself. How are you? I mean, really."
Korra shrugged, placing a hand on Naga's snout. "Well, you heard me earlier." She blew a strand of hair out of her eyes with a puff of breath. "I feel like a letdown, but at the same time I know Tenzin's right and I have to be patient." She looked at Mako, her voice suddenly small as she said, "I'm all Republic City has left."
Mako shook his head furiously. "You heard Tenzin. He said help was coming."
"Not fast enough."
From his vantage point, Mako could make out Air Temple Island very faintly in the distance, along with the rest of the city if he shifted his gaze. Everything looked smaller from a distance, but Mako knew how big the city truly was. It was an awful lot to look after and be responsible for.
"I know I've said it before, but you still have us," Mako said, trying to fill up the silence. "Bolin, Asami, Naga, me…" he trailed off, quieter. "We're all here."
Korra's mouth quirked into a small smile. "I know." She sat down on the ground suddenly, turning away from Mako and focusing on Air Temple Island. The way she held herself was so different from when he'd first known her. Korra sat calmly and quietly, not fidgeting at all—a far cry from how she'd been in the park when they'd been trying to find Bolin. A feeling of nostalgia surfaced in Mako. Things had been so much simpler then. He'd been a bit guarded, but that hadn't changed the fact that it was nice to have company that night, someone to help him find Bolin, unlike all the other times when Mako had to do things alone.
After careful consideration, Mako gingerly took a seat beside Korra, resting his elbow on one raised knee, his other leg tucked beneath him. Korra opened an eye—she'd been meditating. She bit her lip, as if mulling over whether to say something or not—yet another change. Korra had never really given consideration to her words before. In a way, Mako had admired that about her; taken it for granted, even. He could always count on her to be blunt and direct with how she felt—about everything, including him. Guilt pinched his chest. If only he could be that honest. Everything was a mess, partially inflicted by himself, he knew, because he couldn't make up his mind.
"I know this isn't the best time to be asking, but…are things okay with you and Asami? I heard what she said in the car, earlier. How are things really, Mako? Because it doesn't seem like everything is okay."
"It doesn't matter." Mako brushed Korra's question aside. How was he supposed to explain that he was still confused, even after all this time? But that wasn't even what it was. A part of him knew he'd already made up his mind. He just didn't know how to go about asserting it.
"Mako." Korra's voice took on a harder edge. "I'm serious. You have to talk about this sooner or later, you know." And suddenly he saw Asami in front of him: "You're really going to make me say it out loud? The kiss! Don't blame this on your brother! Why didn't you tell me? There might not be a relationship to talk about later." And then the fact that even though he'd been seized by sudden desperation, part of him had still brushed the confrontation aside, because that was what he'd done with Bolin all his life. Brushed the bad parts under a rug where no one would find them, where people couldn't see, so that Bolin would think that maybe their life wasn't so bad. It had worked, for the most part.
"I know." Mako exhaled. "I just don't—I'm not good with words, okay? Asami's mad at me because, well, she found out about the kiss."
Korra's eyes looked sad, but understanding. "Oh." She played with the hem of her pants. "Do you want me to talk to her and explain? I mean, because I started it." She moved to stand up.
"No!" Mako grabbed her wrist and Korra froze. A slow tingle worked its way from the point where his fingers met her skin and Mako tried to hide the faint heat he could already feel working its way through his blood. The air between them felt charged, and he needed it to dissipate, quickly, because this feeling wasn't making things easier, for him or Korra.
He released his grip and eased back from his crouch into his earlier sitting position. "It's not your fault. I kissed you back."
Immediately, he heard how the words sounded, how they could be interpreted as regret, and saw the look that slid over Korra's face, no matter how she tried to hide it. Hurriedly, he tried to revise the statement, to clarify things. "I mean, no, that's not what I meant...you're wonderful, Korra, a great friend, a great Avatar, great at everything and—" He reached out and gripped her shoulders because Korra looked on the verge of leaving again. "I was out of my mind with worry when you went missing."
Korra laughed a little as she sank back onto the ground beside him, her fingers coming up to brush her scar subconsciously. "So I heard."
They sat like that, side by side, arms barely brushing, for a while. Mako savored the peace. He knew they'd be hard-pressed for any once they returned to reclaim the city. After a while, he turned to Korra. "You know, about what I said earlier—"
"I know. You're not good with words," Korra finished, a teasing smile playing across her face.
"You never give me a break, do you?" Mako asked.
"Hm," was Korra's only response. She covered up a yawn and stretched. "It's getting late."
True enough, the sun was beginning to dip beneath the horizon, but Mako didn't want to move.
A gentle weight pressed against his shoulder, and he turned to find Korra's head resting upon it, her eyes closed, her brow smooth and free of worry.
Smiling softly, he turned his eyes back to the skyline, watching as the sky dimmed and turned colors. Maybe it was wrong to be sitting like this. Or maybe this was just what friends did.
Mako closed his eyes briefly, too, and imagined he was sitting under the red leaves of a tree in a park far from the troubles of the war and Republic City. A warm feeling trickled through his veins, like a slow fire burn.