Disclaimer: I do not own Avatar: The Legend of Korra or anything pertaining to it.
The Art of Dating
Chapter 7: Forces
Mako always believed himself to be a person burdened by guilt; while some people could feel vindicated in saying a hurtful thing, Mako was not one of those people. So when it became clear that things had not been as they initially appeared, and his confrontation with Korra included unproven accusations, a wave of guilt hit him like a bag of bricks from the top floor of his building.
But he had just been so sure she had lied and thrown him under the bus; how could he have not overreacted the way he did? This had to be her fault, right? How could it not be her fault?
Yet no matter how he tried to sort through his emotions, consoling his conscience, reasoning with his sense of morality, his attempts to dam the overflowing rush of guilt were futile.
"I think you should go, Mako," Howl muttered, his voice conveying the same hurt and disappointment as before, but with a new twist of embarrassment.
Mako wasn't quite sure when he ended up outside of Howl's apartment, as for some reason, time seemed to elude him for a brief moment and he felt like he was on autopilot, but when a cold gust of winter air hit him square in the face, another light clicked on in his brain. Korra moaned his name? She was thinking about him, Mako, in a very personal, very intimate situation.
All the sudden, he felt his entire body burning up. Was it really hot outside for winter in New York, or was it just Mako's imagination?
"Maybe you should look at getting a new job," Jinora suggested on Skype, removing bobby pins from her stylish bob. "Especially after that confrontation; it just could be really complicated to work together after that."
Korra sighed a bit. "I know but, where am I going to go? I basically get the vacation and whatever other time off I want, and believe it or not, I like my job. Well, parts of it. Future Industries is involved in a lot of great things, and I really enjoy the big role I get to take in the charity programs we sponsor. Not to mention, my work visa review is soon. I can't exactly ask the Americans to renew my visa when I'm unemployed and promise them I'll do my best to find a new job soon."
"Agh, I forgot about that whole legal resident status thing. Hmph," Jinora groaned. "Can you not ask for a transfer then? Didn't Miss Sato like you a lot or something? You could work for her; she seems so super nice."
"But if she has another assistant I would feel like I was kicking them out of their job, and maybe she likes that person more than me," Korra frowned. "Don't you think?"
"I don't know her, Korra, so I don't know if I can offer a fair opinion about that, but I think you really ought to owe it to yourself to look after yourself first and worry about stepping on toes later."
She sighed in frustration; Korra always thought those movies or television shows that depicted a fledgling romance between coworkers that culminated in ultimate happiness and joy were so deceptive. Two exceptionally attractive people, fighting obstacles and overcoming their pride to admit their feelings towards one another in the penultimate scene which resulted in a passionate kiss and some cheesy pop song to go with the credits a scene or two later. Of course, this didn't stop those corny romantic comedies from being a guilty pleasure of hers, but they weren't exactly a wealth of knowledge when it came to sifting through her own personal life.
"Office politics are hard enough; I could have done without my boss hating me because he thinks I told my boyfriend we were having an affair," Korra sighed.
"Ex-boyfriend," Jinora reminded her.
Korra wrinkled her nose and gave another dramatic sigh, "Yeah, ex."
"Just a thought though," Jinora piped up after the line had been silent for a few moments.
"Have you thought about what could happen if Mako went to talk to Howl?"
"What do you mean?" Korra asked, opening and closing cabinet doors to look for a can of ravioli and tomato sauce.
"Oh, I just mean like... do you think Mako will go talk to Howl to try and clear things up, and maybe defend himself and tell him that you guys weren't together? Especially if they were such good friends, or supposed to be or whatever. You know what I'm saying?"
"Korra? Korra? Did you drop the phone?"
Had she not been seized with pure panic, Korra might have cared that her iPhone's screen had shattered completely after picking it up and replacing it at her ear.
"Korra, are you there?"
"Two words, Jinora: holy shit."
"Are you seriously telling me you didn't consider the fact he would find out the truth?"
She began massaging her temple with her free hand, pacing back and forth through the kitchen. "Yes. I mean, no. I mean, I don't know! I guess after our tiff, it didn't seem like it would be such a big deal! I mean, at least if I had told him, I could have put my own sort of spin on it to make it seem a little less..."
"Dirty? Slutty? Creepy?" Jinora suggested.
"Awkward," Korra said slowly. "The word I wanted was awkward."
"Anyway, at least I could have made it less awkward, but Howl. He's so dramatic and knowing him, he'll make it sound like we were rounding third base, half-way to home plate and then make it sound even worse than it really was."
"From what you told me, that sounds pretty accurate," Jinora replied.
"I thought you were supposed to be on my side," Korra groaned.
Jinora laughed. "Now who's dramatic?"
"Thank you for meeting me."
"I do what I can," Howl said, trying to maintain his composure. He took a seat across from Korra in the café and folded his arms across his chest.
She hooked a finger around a strand of hair and looped it behind her ear, looking down at the menu. Her eyes must have scanned over the words half a dozen times, but no grouping of letters seemed to register with her brain. What should she say? What would he say?
"Korra," he said, almost sighing her name in exasperation.
"Want some coffee? I can go buy us a cup-"
"Korra, it's not a date. You said you wanted to talk, so talk," he leaned back in the chair and pinched the bridge of his nose before adding, "Or I'm leaving."
"Well, there are some things I wanted to clear up I guess," she mumbled, cracking her knuckles anxiously. Truthfully, she was offering to talk out of kindness, and was utterly surprised when he accepted. Did she even have anything to say?
"Korra," his repetition of her name seemed to serve as a warning: get to the point, or I'm gone.
She nodded again and cleared her throat. "I never cheated on you."
Korra watched as Howl's body tensed, but she couldn't register if it was relief, disappointment, or just discomfort with regards to the topic. Howl's eyes darted over to Korra as if to say, 'Go on.'
"The truth is, well," she paused. What was the truth? "I guess, I just... I was never very good to you, was I?"
"Don't do that," he interrupted before she could continue.
"Don't make it seem like even our good memories and good times were that bad. You have no right to take that away from me," he glared.
She furrowed her eyebrows. "I'm not trying to take anything from-"
"Yeah, you are. See, people always do that. Especially when they feel guilty. You try and convince me we weren't that happy, we didn't have that good of times, you didn't treat me well, whatever. It's just a form of Freud's moral masochist; you taint my memory of you, poison me against you, make me angry and loathe you, and you find some relief in that and suddenly feel less guilty. Me punishing you is way easier than me not punishing you," he said in a hushed whisper, leaning in to make sure she was the only one who heard him.
"Howl, please, I'm not trying to-"
"Then what on heaven, hell, and all the in between are you trying to do?"
What was Korra trying to do? To be honest, his miniature rant almost hit the nail on the head. She was, on a subconscious level, trying to convince him she had never been good for or good to him and just wanted him to believe it and punish her - to tell her what a terrible human she was, and then leave. It would just be so much easier if he would hate her, just as she had hated all her previous lovers.
"I just wanted to tell you I was-"
"-sorry? Sorry doesn't cut it!" his voice raised a bit as he slammed his fist on the table and a few patrons glanced in their direction. He inhaled sharply, paused, then released the breath and looked down to his lap. "I can't hate you; I won't. I love you. I just want the truth, I want to know why I'm not good enough for you. You owe me that much."
She frowned, her eyes watering. "But, Howl... you are good enough. I love you, too."
"You don't love me the way I love you." he closed his eyes and leaned back in his seat. "We both know that."
Howl put his hand up and said, "Stop. Korra, I want to have this conversation with you. I do. But you haven't really thought about what's going on here. It's not about you saying a previous lover's name; you said the name of someone who is in your heart at this exact moment. I take you to be a go-getter, so it's probably that you don't even realize it. But you need to do some introspection and think about it. I don't have the answers for you, and I refuse to hate you. I'm heartbroken and disappointed because, God, how I love you, but I will never hate you," he stood up and walked over to her. "Goodbye, Korra. I wish I could have been enough for you."
The brunette felt her muscles tighten as Howl pressed his lips softly on her forehead and remain stiff even after the source of warmth left. It was probably seconds, but felt like minutes before she opened her eyes to see he had left the café... and he would never be coming back.
"Picked up the habit again?" a woman asked as she slid into the bar stool beside Mako. "May I?"
"Be my guest," Mako shrugged, offering her a cigarette from the half-empty box. He grabbed the lighter from his pocket and cupped his hand around the flame as she drew on it.
"I always preferred clove cigarettes myself, but then again, you were always a guy who preferred lights, hm?" she remarked, exhaling a cloud of smoke.
"Old habits die hard, I suppose. What can I do for you, Ms. Sato?"
"For starters, you could call me Asami," she replied as she raised her hand to flag the bartender down.
Mako snorted a bit, shaking his head as he flicked the end of the cigarette over the ashtray. "Fine, Asami. What do you want?"
"Scotch," she smiled at the bartender before returning her attention to Mako. "I thought I would let you know Korra asked if the offer to be my personal assistant was still open. I told her yes."
"I figured this was coming," he shrugged. "She's a little mouthy, but I'm sure you two will get along okay.
"That's all you have to say? I thought you loved her as an assistant."
Mako shrugged. "Assistants can be replaced, it's no big deal. I'll start interviews soon. Will she be transferred this week, or do I get at least two weeks?"
Asami sighed, "Mako, what I really wanted was to know what happened to you."
"Oh, right. What happened to me. Of course. What part of my epic adventure that I call 'life' would you like me to recant? The part where my father died? Or my favorite is when you cheated on me and left me for Captain America? Always a great one for parties and social gatherings! Speaking of which, where is your white knight in shining armor?" he sneered.
"I never cheated on you, Mako, and you know that. But for some reason, it's so hard for you to admit you pushed me away. And you have sat here, resenting yourself for so long because you know it was your fault," she took another drag on her cigarette. "And I let you go. I did. But I did because I love you so much, but I just thought you wanted me away... that if I left you, you would finally be happy. That's all I wanted."
"Loved," he corrected, shaking his head and taking a sip of the dark liquor.
"Love," she repeated. "I haven't stopped loving you since the day you decorated my room with flowers on my twentieth birthday. But you and I... we were never written in the stars. The universe had other plans for us. And it's time we let go."
He placed his fist over his mouth, taking a gasp of crisp, winter air to fight the urge to cough. "I think you already did," he muttered.
Asami took a sip of the bitter drink after the bartender set it down and turned her body to face him. "Iroh was me trying to move past you. And it turned into something more, but I was never able to tell you goodbye the way I wanted to. I don't think we really ever allowed ourselves that much. But we have to. I can't get married with this on my mind, and you can't be with Korra until you let go either."
"Oh, fucking Korra," he grumbled. "Of course." His assistant wasn't even there and somehow she got dragged into the conversation anyway.
"Oh, Mako, don't be a child," she said, her voice even.
"Why is everyone on my case about Korra? She's with Howl, and I'm not going to sabotage their relationship."
"Because you think you deserve some kind of emotional purgatory. This is what I'm asking about - why do you hate yourself? Why did you think you didn't deserve me, and now that you don't deserve Korra? Who told you that you didn't deserve to be happy? Was it me?" Asami reached forward and grabbed his hand. "I need to know, because if I did, I was wrong, and selfish, and I never meant it and I should have never said it."
He looked up at her, taking her hand in his. "No, you never did. But after my father passed, I just got so lost... in smoking, in alcohol, in... anything that would take the pain away. And I didn't want you to bear that, but somehow, I wasn't even able to do that for you. So I thought if I pushed you away, you would be happier elsewhere."
Her eyes brimming with tears suddenly softened and her red lips turned upwards into a smile. "Mako, for someone so smart, you," she laughed a bit, putting her cigarette out, "you know so little about love. What ails you, ails me. We face things together. All I wanted to do was share your pain. I didn't need you to protect me; I just needed you to let me in. And now Korra needs that, too."
"What if she doesn't want me after everything?"
"How could she not?" Asami replied, placing her hands on both sides of his face. "Go get her, tiger."
Usually, Korra wasn't one to be at work before the sun had peeked over the horizon, but she had been up since four in the morning and decided if this was her last week at Future Industries in the Financial Department, she needed to go in early to clear things up. Even Saikhan hadn't made it to security yet when she strolled in around six-thirty.
"Thanks," she smiled at the guard after scanning her security pass and pressing the button for the elevator. The next few minutes seemed to go by in a flash and on autopilot, because she didn't seem to snap back into reality until she was standing in Mako's glass office, staring as the orange glow of the sun started to creep up.
"I hope that's not what I think it is," Mako said from behind.
Her heart skipped a beat in fear as she turned around to be faced with a pair of eyes she didn't think she was emotionally prepared for.
"Mako, I-" she began, feeling as if the part of her brain that processed language had just been switched off. "Good morning."
"Good morning, Korra," he replied. There was something in his eyes that was different from before. She couldn't quite place her finger on it, but it was almost like he had changed.
"Are you drunk?" she asked dumbly, and closed her eyes in embarrassment. Probably not the best way to start off the conversation, especially considering their last interaction had been rather hostile.
He smiled a bit and shook his head, "No. I've just been here all night."
"All night? But the fiscal year is over, and we don't really need to start reviewing the quarterly for another week or so. Why were you here?"
"I was waiting for you," he sat down on the front of his desk, smoothing his slightly wrinkled shirt. This version of Mako was different; his jacket was missing, he had no shoes on, and instead of a crisp and pressed shirt, it was wrinkled and looked slept in - not to mention his tie was loose and the top two buttons were undone.
"Why were you waiting?"
He pointed at the envelope in her hand. "Is that for me?"
"Oh, uh, well I was just going to put it on your desk and-"
"Disappear?" Mako cut in, holding his hand out.
She stepped forward, placing it in his palm gingerly. What was going on now? Her brain was flooded with thoughts trying to process the sequence of events, from Mako's early arrival to his disheveled appearance to even his slight tone of amusement.
"'...that due to personal reasons and in ways that I believe I have fallen short in lieu of my responsibilities as a personal assistant to you, I formally resign...'" he read aloud, tapping his finger on his chin. "Very formal. Right out of business school."
"Can you stop mocking me?" she asked, narrowing her eyes. Now he was going to goad her into quitting in an unprofessional way? What was his angle? Maybe he wasn't drunk, but he at least had to be high or something else happened to make him officially go off his rocker.
"Why do you want to quit?"
She folded her arms and shifted her weight. "I believe you just read it."
"I want the real reason."
"This isn't a game," Korra's voice quivered as she spoke. "I want to quit because I don't think we work well together anymore, and I can't carry out my job effectively."
"Ah," he said. "Because you know, I've had about a million and one reasons to fire you. You're insubordinate, disrespectful, hotheaded, and the attitude you give me sometimes just makes me crazy. And yet, I just can't bring myself to do it. Do you know why?"
"If I quit, you don't have to play unemployment?" she suggested, her voice cracking and her eyes beginning to fill with tears.
"All this time, I thought you made me crazy with anger and annoyance and irritation, and you made me crazy in all the bad ways. But you see, I think I was wrong."
Korra covered her face with her hands. "What the hell do you want from me, Mako? To humiliate me? I just want to quit!"
"I can't fire you because you make me crazy in a good way. I can't fire you because I need you. I can't fire you because I love you."
Her blue eyes darted over her hands. "Wha-"
He grabbed her in his arms and held her tightly against his body, kissing down the side of her face. "Don't go," Mako whispered.
Korra felt her body trembling as she wrapped her arms around him. "You... you lo-love me?"
"I knew it the moment I saw you in the train station with the ketchup stain on the corner of your mouth. I just wanted to kiss you so badly because you looked so cute, and I've regretted every second since then that I've wasted not kissing you," he said, cupping her face in her hands and pressing his lips to hers.
And the kiss stirred up something in Korra she had never felt before. It was warm, and felt like she had just been consumed by every emotion in the world. She had seen passionate kisses, she had read about them, imagined them, but never felt one until this guy, this man who made her crazy in every possible way had taken her into his arms. It suddenly made sense why things had never worked out with Howl, or Tahno, or any other guy she had known and dated before; they weren't Mako. And if they weren't Mako, she wasn't supposed to be with them.
She looked up at him, her face pink. "Mako, I-"
"I hope you'll let me spend the rest of my life making it up to you for every minute that I didn't kiss you," he whispered, looking in her eyes.
"Is this a trick, or some lesson about the art of dating?" Korra asked, her legs starting to feel like jelly the longer she sat in his arms.
"No. No more games, no more lessons. Just me and you. The way it was supposed to be this whole time," Mako answered. "If you'll have me."
Her mouth cracked into a smile and she punched him square in the chest before wrapping her arms around his neck and squeezing him tightly.
"It took you long enough."
A/N: Wow, what an awkward time to end this story after last week's Korra episode. lmao. But hey, maybe it's something to ease the pain of Makorra shippers all around. I wanted to leave the story open because the best kind of all is the one that stirs your imagination and makes you think about all the possibilities that could happen after. I hope you guys really enjoyed this story; I'm sorry it took me so long to finish, but I just needed the right inspiration, and here it was, written here on a rainy day in Taiwan!
I hope you guys love it as much as I do, and I hope you all find your own love story. All of you deserve it:) I promise I will work on Polar Nights soon (my Zutara fic) and I hope to hear from you guys very soon. Thank you so much for your encouraging words and positive feedback, and even the ones that were constructive criticism. They've made me a better writer entirely! Especially thanks for your encouraging words with regards to my family; divorce is ugly, but with good supportive friends and even a kind stranger giving gentle words, I'm making it through it. Legitimately - thank you. Thank you. Thank you.