"Daddy, tell me a story."
"What kind of story?"
Mako pulled the blankets up to his daughter's chin, and rested the back of his hand against her cheek. Her skin was warm.
Reika looked just like him. Well, mostly like him... She had his golden eyes, his thick, black hair, his nose and chin. She was tall for her age. But she had Korra's brightness, Korra's fire.
Their daughter was a bender.
Neither were surprised.
They still discouraged her from bending inside, though. After all, she was only four and a half, and she'd already discovered her bending. Once she'd unlocked it, it's all she wanted to do. But after she'd burned up their curtains for the second time, they made sure that she only practiced her bending outside.
Reika's eyes were sleepy, but she grabbed his hand and turned it over, rubbing her cheek into his palm as she smiled.
"I want a love story."
Mako got into her bed, laying his head next to hers on the pillow, and folded his hands over his stomach. She snuggled up next to him, burying her face into his shoulder.
"I only know one love story," he confessed.
After glancing at her father, she rested her head back down next to his and folded her hands over her stomach. Mako smiled before he began.
"Once upon a time, there was a young firebender-"
"Is he a prince?" she asked excitedly. Reika always loved her fairy tales to have a dash of royalty in them, of princes and princesses and lost kingdoms. But Mako knew that this was no fairy tale.
This was no fantasy.
"No," he said. "This boy was a... he was a pauper." Reika settled back down. Mako stared at the ceiling as he spoke. "Part of him always wanted to be a prince, though. After his parents died, he wanted that life more than anything. Even though he still had his brother, an earthbender- and he loved his brother very much- the streets were cold and lonely and scary. He didn't have a teammate to get him through it all. He wanted to have a princess; he wanted to live in a palace, not on the streets. He wanted food and money to always be available so he didn't have to scrounge and fight to survive. Most importantly though, the boy wanted to feel safe, and safety was something that he just didn't-"
"This is a sad story, daddy," Reika said, turning her head towards him. Mako looked at her. Her eyes were wide, waiting, wanting, sorry.
"It gets better," he said. "I promise."
Reika pouted, just like Korra always did, and turned back to face the ceiling.
"Let me see," Mako continued. "Well the two brothers lived on the streets for a long time. Almost ten years. And it was very hard for them. But one day, the boy got into a really big fight. He fought a lot, so on most days, it would not have been a big deal. But this time, a man had been watching."
"The man was quite impressed with the boy's firebending, and offered him a place to live and a place to work. The boy told the man that he would only come if his brother was able to as well. The man agreed, and just like that, the brothers were off the streets and living in the arena."
"The arena?" Reika was fully engrossed in his story at this point, and Mako hadn't even gotten to the good parts.
"Yeah," he said. "The arena. Because he had showed so much talent with his bending-" Mako paused her to light a fire in his palm, holding it above the two. Reika tried to reach for it, and giggled when Mako dropped an ember down into her hands. "-the man wanted him to be a pro-bender. And pretty soon, the two brothers were pro-bending stars."
"Well, they were on the radio."
"Oooooh," she said. Mako extinguished the flames in her hands.
He sat up, adjusting his position in the bed, and when he did he saw that Korra was leaning against the doorjamb with her arms crossed and a smirk on her face. She was also listening intently. Her hair was down. She was beautiful.
"Now," he said, ignoring Korra's presence, "the brother was quite the flirt. He always brought girls to the locker room because he just loved showing off to them. And this irritated the boy, because pro-bending was very important to him; it was how he made his money. And one day, he brought in the girl."
"Is this the princess?" Reika asked. Korra snorted from across the room. "Mommy! Come sit with me." Shaking her head, Korra walked over to the bed and sat at the end, pulling Mako's feet into her lap. She rested her head against the wall.
"No," Mako said. "This girl was not the princess. But she was very special. The boy just didn't realize how special she was because he was quite the idiot." Korra laughed again, and the whole bed shook. Mako rolled his eyes. "He was very rude to the girl, you see. He paid her no attention. Even when she tried to compliment him, even when their teammate was a no-good, no-show-"
"Fucking Hasook," Korra mumbled under her breath, still grinning.
"-will you let me tell the story?" Mako asked, leaning up on his elbows so he could properly glare at her. Reika propped herself up on her elbows too.
"Yeah, mommy. Stop with your jibber-jabber! Let him tell the story!"
"Fine, fine," she said, conceding.
Mako sighed. "Even when their teammate didn't show up and the girl offered to take his place, the boy still wasn't very nice to her. He did not want her as his teammate. He didn't want a teammate, he wanted a princess. It wasn't until after they'd won the match that he started to realize that hey, this girl was pretty good at bending, and then the brother asked her to join the team permanently, so he knew she'd be around. He still didn't think much of her, though. He didn't really know her just yet.
"Let me see..." Mako paused. "Oh, yeah, so shortly after this, the boy's brother was kidnapped."
Reika gasped, clapping her little hands over her mouth.
"But the girl insisted on helping him! She helped the boy save his brother from people who were trying to take his bending. The boy realized how brave she was then, how loyal she was to these two brothers."
"Is this when the boy told her that he loved her?"
Korra struggled to stifle her laughter.
"Oh, no. Remember, this boy isn't the sharpest knife in the drawer. This is actually when the boy was hit by a moped by a very beautiful, very different girl. Now this girl is very upset and so when she asks if he would like dinner to make it up to him, he obliges. And at this very dinner, he discovers that her father is the king of the city, that she's a princess!" Reika gasped again. "She's everything he thought he'd ever wanted! Stability, comfort, riches. So he and the princess became boyfriend and girlfriend."
"But what about the other girl? I thought he loved her..." Korra tickled Reika's toes.
"The boy was friends with the girl, yes. And he did like her, yes. But he thought the princess was better for him. He liked her too. The princess was very sweet and generous."
"Not to mention tough," Korra piped in.
"Not to mention tough," Mako repeated. "It wasn't until the girl confessed that she liked him, that she thought they were meant for each other, that he stopped to think about it, about how amazing she was too, how strong and brave and admirable and selfless she was, and after all those years spent on the streets with nobody to care for but his brother and himself, he had two girls who were both really, really great, and he cared about them both. He didn't know what to do, and it was all very confusing.
"But when he went to the girl to tell her this, she kissed him!"
Reika burst into giggles, rolling back and forth on the bed. "They kissed!" she shrieked. "They kissed!"
Korra shook her head.
Mako continued, "But they agreed to be friends, mostly because everything was so confusing. They both needed a friend at the time, because remember, people's bending was being taken, and it was all very scary.
"At the championship tournament, the bad man who was taking the bending came, and the girl ran off after him. The boy was really, really worried about her."
"Why would she do that? Is she crazy?" Reika's voice was mumbly now, slow and thick and tired.
"Well, yes," Mako said. "But she was the Avatar too."
Reika blinked once, twice, as she absorbed this new information. "Wait," she said, sitting up and putting a hand on Mako's chest. "Wait. This is a story about Mommy? Mommy, mommy!" She crawled over towards Korra, sheets tangling up in her legs. Her hands went up to Korra's face. "Did you know that Daddy's story is about you?"
Korra hugged her, burying her face in her daughter's hair.
"Lay back down, sweetie. Let Daddy tell the story."
Reika slapped a hand to her forehead. "And the boy is you, isn't it, daddy?" Mako shrugged. She snuggled back under the covers, pulling them up to her nose. "Okay, I'm ready!"
Mako cleared his throat. "So since the arena got mostly destroyed, they had to move out. And they moved into a palace. So the boy had his princess and his palace, and he thought everything was wonderful in the world, but-"
"But you couldn't forget about Mommy."
"He couldn't forget about her. But the girl was accusing the city's king, the princess's father, of working with the bad man. And this really upset the boy, and he was very mean to the girl. He didn't want it to be true. But it was. And everything started to fall apart. But the girl showed him once again how amazing she was, after everything that had happened, and she let them all stay with her."
He looked over at Reika, and the jolt of excitement that she'd had not even a minute ago had already faded. Her eyelids were drooping down, but she still watched Mako as he told the story, even if she was struggling to keep her eyes open.
"Not shortly after," he said, stroking Reika's hair back, watching her chest move up and down as the calm of sleep quickly overtook her. "They got arrested for trying to help people, and when the girl tried to save them, she got herself kidnapped as well."
"Mommy would... would never get kidnapped..."
"So when the boy finds out that she's gone, he starts going crazy. He can't imagine a life without this girl. It didn't matter that she wasn't a princess; it didn't matter that she was the opposite of what he'd thought he wanted. He couldn't let her go."
"And the girl didn't need saving, of course. She got out all on her own, but she got hurt. But the city was still in danger, and the girl insisted on ending it, on beating the bad man. And this was when the boy really realized that he couldn't let her go alone. So he broke it off with the princess. He had to go with the girl because he loved her."
He turned to Reika for her response, but she was fast asleep. Her breathing was even, her face already mushed against the pillow. Mako smiled; he smiled at his precious and beautiful girl that looked just like him but who acted so much like Korra that it hurt.
Slowly, he shifted away, taking care not to jostle the bed. Korra's hand was outstretched, and he took it. Hand in hand, they walked out of their daughter's room. Mako turned the light off, and closed the door.
The hallway was dark, and Korra's grip on him tightened. He felt her close, felt her warmth near as she wrapped her arms around his waist.
"So are you going to finish that story or what?" she asked. He kissed the top of her head.
"But you know the end."
"I still wanna hear it." She snuggled her head beneath his chin, and he put his arms around her, pulling her closely.
"Well," he said. "They fight the bad guy. And they won because the girl was so strong and so determined, even after she'd lost her bending-"
"And the boy was so brave-"
He laughed. "I thought you wanted me to tell it?"
"I'm just filling in between the lines."
His voice fell to a whisper. "But when they couldn't find a way to get her bending back, the girl was really sad. So the boy wanted her to know that he loved her, that he would always be there for her."
"And she didn't believe him at first, did she?"
"No, she didn't."
"But she did later. Because she loved him too." Korra stood up on her toes to kiss him. "The end."
"Not the end. Because the boy married the girl and they had a beautiful daughter and they lived in a tiny apartment in the middle of the city. And he loved it. Because he didn't need a princess or a palace. He didn't need riches." He pressed his lips to hers once more.
"He just needed a teammate."
"The end?" She held his face in her hands, waiting.