Notes: Picks up after Korra loses her bending in the Finale, kind of like a missing moments type of thing.
He's slightly grateful that the meeting of her parents is tragic; he doesn't want the attention taken from her, especially when Korra had said she was excited to see them after so many months. It was the first time she sounded optimistic since defeating Amon.
He had expected her to rush off the ship they had arrived on with Naga in tow, flinging herself into the arms of her parents and whatever large welcoming committee that he had no doubt would collect on the dock. He envisioned the entire Order of the White Lotus arriving to accept her back to her homeland, with more people from her village and tribe to make it feel more sincere. Their Avatar was returning broken, but she was still theirs.
Instead when they walk to the exit of the ship, it's just one man and two women, one old and frail, standing before the group of people they already know. Tenzin, his family, and Lin had arrived before them by flying bison.
Mako's hand grips onto Korra's shoulder and she shudders out a sigh. She looks tired.
He realizes that this is everyone.
He doesn't know much about parents, but he's sure they should be comforting her, not the other way around.
He stares as Korra wraps herself around her mother, the pair of them nearly identical, while her father curves around both women protectively. Her mother is shaking while her father starts unabashedly crying into his daughter's hair, fat tears spilling down his cheeks while his throat tenses.
Korra holds herself together, wiping away her parents' tears with her thumbs. When she moves to greet the older woman, he notices the slope in her shoulders and wonders if now is the time she'll break. She had cried against him once, loud and wailing for a long time the night they had reclaimed Air Temple Island. If she can cry for him, he sees no reason for her to put on a brave face for her family.
The old woman holds Korra as if expecting her to start sobbing, smoothing her hands over Korra's back in a practiced way, like she's done it a thousand times before and doesn't mind doing it again. But Korra doesn't give.
Korra's mother is slightly shorter than her, hair thicker and eyes a different shade blue. Mako extends his hand when he notices her walking towards him, expecting a formal greeting of tight nods and quiet words. Something similar to a funeral.
Instead she reaches up to wrap her arms around his shoulders, holding him so tight that the air is forced from his lungs. He freezes instantly and wonders what he should do until her hand starts to rub his back. Under normal circumstances he would be embarrassed, but he hasn't been hugged by a mother in years. He has to bend his knees in order to comfortably hug her back, and he props his chin against her shoulder. The fur of her collar warms and tickles his skin.
He sees Bolin greeting Lin Beifong. He shows all his empathy with the slight movements of his hands as he talks, the way his shoulder bow and eyebrows are tipped together. Lin still wears her police uniform. Her eyes start blinking rapidly at his brother's words and she places a hand on his shoulder, shutting her eyes and nodding.
Asami is talking to Korra's father. He's a large man, intimidatingly so, but as he smiles to greet his daughter's friend, tears keep falling from his eyes. Asami's lip trembles at the sight, and suddenly, his arms are open and she gives. She buries her face into the thick warmth of his coat and shakes with tears, the pair of them trying to console each other for what they've lost.
"I'm Senna," Korra's mother says, jarring him from his thoughts. "Are you Mako?"
He realizes this woman just hugged him with no questions, not even knowing his name. He hasn't felt love this instantaneous and without conditions for as long as he can remember.
She pulls away and starts brushing the tears from her cheeks with her gloves. She smiles up at him. "It's a pleasure to finally meet you."
When Senna turns to greet Asami, his brother is by his side to meet Korra's father.
He's never seen a grown man cry before, not like this - Mako is accustomed to Bolin's outbursts, he's seen Triad members cry in pain - but this is the type of sobbing that is supposed to happen in private. Her father just lets the tears flow and he snorts more than sniffles, dragging the back of his gloved hand under his nose. Korra might look like her mother, but she inherited her presence from her father.
"I've heard a lot about you boys," he says, voice far more gentle than either of them expected. "Thank you for keeping my daughter safe. I'm Tonraq."
"She's done a better job at keep us safe, sir," Bolin says instantly.
Tonraq's mouth forms a wavy line, ends curling down as if to bite back more tears. He places one hand on each of their shoulders until their knees buckle under their force and weight. He looks them both in the eye before drawing them all together in a hug.
He doesn't know where he fits into Korra's family, but he knows now more than ever that he needs to find out. The fact that the door is open from where he left it is the farthest thing from his mind when he tells her he loves her.
He was so sure it was what she needed to hear.
When they walk back to the compound, she's in this odd state of calm that washes over her with each relieved sigh. They could ride Naga back, but instead they just walk, her falling against his side while he leans against Naga to hold onto her saddle. Even though they just kissed and admitted their feelings for one another, he still has to work up courage to wrap his arm around her waist.
She talks quietly about what happened, what he wasn't able to see. Thousands of different lives lined before her, her lives.
"It was like looking in a mirror after getting your hair cut," she explains. "It's you, but you look different."
"I'll take your word for it."
He knows he won't ever understand and he doesn't really care to. He understands Korra just fine, and he isn't in love with all her past lives. It's just this one that's special.
When the compound comes back into view, nervousness starts to spike in his chest.
Korra's back to normal.
Everything will go back to normal.
He's about to meet her family at their best and brightest in a few minutes, he won't have to see her parents crying or Master Katara looking frail and weak, or the rest of Korra's family quiet and downtrodden.
He gets the feeling that he's about to walk into something wholly unprepared but Korra's arm snakes around his waist to tuck her hand into his coat pocket. He hopes for the best.
When they walk into the house smiling, everyone is rightfully confused. Korra breaks from his side and he watches her bombard Lin with the good news.
As they all walk to the small temple, Katara is at his side. They're quiet and listen to Korra talking to Tenzin and Lin, who are both still reserved about these new abilities she claims to have.
"They should believe her," Katara says with amusement.
She's the only one smiling as they walk. Everyone else is too scared to hope, but Mako trusts Korra and nods back.
"I saw her. She can do this," he says.
Katara looks up at him with a sad smile. It catches him off guard and he panics, wonders what he did wrong, but she holds onto his arm for support as they walk.
"You will be good for her. I trust you."
He doesn't know what it means but he has the feeling she's given him something she has carried for a long time.
After Lin's bending is restored, and after Korra's mother declares it's time for a party, Tonraq finds him.
Mako instantly agreed to help prepare the food, to make himself useful while Korra and Lin keep lobbing rocks at each other. Lin is at least more discrete and simply asks for a sparring match with anyone, while Korra makes clay cups fly through the air, sets pieces of paper and kindling twigs on fire, and refuses to drink in anyway other than bending the water to her mouth. It's loud in the main room, but Mako likes working to the sound as he stands at a counter, gutting fish.
Tonraq sneaks up on him somehow by slamming a clay cup onto the counter at his side. It's full of a clear liquid and Mako jumps, knife flipping down in his hand instinctually before he realizes who it is.
"Have a drink," Tonraq says with a grin. His eyes flick down to the knife in Mako's hand and Mako quickly drops it against the counter. "I brewed it myself."
Mako's throat runs dry and he knows the last thing he needs is to start drinking, but he does it anyway. It burns down his throat but is followed up with a cool dryness, like sucking in the freezing air outside on the tundra.
"So, you're in love with my daughter."
"W-well, I -"
Tonraq laughs and claps his hand on his shoulder again, and Mako wonders if he'll have to get used to that gesture. "Relax, son. Senna knew she liked you but...," Tonraq shakes his head. "Well, it is a bit of a shock, but I guess we'll get used to each other. Drink up!"
He tips more liquor into Mako's cup, still in his hand, and slaps him on the back before walking out of the kitchen.
Senna marches in moments later with a basket full of black, thick seaweed, laughing.
"My husband is already calling you son," she says, setting the basket on the kitchen table. Before Mako can make an ass of himself in response, she keeps talking. "Where did you learn how to clean a fish?"
Mako pauses for a second, watching the knife in his hand carve along the underbelly of the fish, careful to not puncture any organs to spill bile. "I had an old job back home."
"Old? You're a teenager!" she laughs.
Mako forces a weak smile and realizes this is the first moment out of what he's sure will be many where her and her husband will notice he and Bolin are different.
It's a good thing he's a decent liar.
"I've had a lot of jobs," he says.
Asami and Bolin are better at integrating into the family than he is. Mako stays in the kitchen for the most part, hands covered in fish scales, listening to Senna singing under her breath. People keep walking in and out to help until some new commotion picks up in the main room, and they drift back to the rest of the party.
Mako is better at playing the part of a helper. He holds his carving knife high out of Ikki's reach when she zips into the room, wanting to help. He distracts Jinora when she tries to fold some meat into seaweed wraps by asking her about her favorite books, as she folds them wrong. When Katara stands in the kitchen to talk to Senna, he notices the way she leans against the table for support, and silently leaves the room to come back with a chair. He places it near Senna and returns to his work, and seconds later Katara is comfortably seated.
Asami drinks everything Tonraq puts in her cup, and soon she's a mess of giggles while he and Korra try to teach her traditional drinking songs. She is ready to forget her father and accept these new people in her life, at least for tonight, when spirits are running high.
Bolin is ready to learn everything there is to learn about the Water Tribes from Master Katara. Like everyone else he comes into contact with, the older woman takes an instant liking to him. He makes her laugh with everything he says, and she even makes a familial connection, saying that he reminds her of Councilman Sokka.
They aren't perfect, though.
He watches Bolin's hand stuffed with seal jerky slip into his pocket at the dinner table. Mako says nothing about it.
When Tonraq's arm bumps his while he's eating, Mako jerks, instinctively grabs his plate and shelters his food close to his chest. Tonraq stops talking to Senna and the pair of them collectively stare at Mako, and he beats himself up mentally for his animalistic behavior. No one here will take his food.
Korra's hand wraps around his arm comfortingly, though he doubts she understands, but it calms him anyway. He sets the plate back down on the table and mutters out an apology, avoiding what he assumes must be judgmental gazes.
That night when he goes to the shared bedroom he has with Bolin, his little brother doesn't hide the way he takes his stolen food and stores it among his blankets. Bolin still doesn't understand that the food here won't disappear or be stolen, nor does he seem to care. It's habits like these that make them outsiders and now more than ever Mako wishes he had a normal childhood.
When he crawls into Korra's bed late at night, desperate and needy for her love and attention, he tells her everything.
It's a warning, really. He's trying to let her know that he's not worth it and she can still back out, she can take back the Iloveyou's and he will understand. How an orphan with a criminal record as long as his managed to win the Avatar's love is beyond him.
Each time he tells her something new, she cards her fingers through his hair, and presses a kiss to the center of his forehead.
His throat is tight and he hides his face in the curve of her neck, spilling secrets as his lips move against her skin, pressing the words there through sound and touch. She needs to know, he needs to have someone understand. He never wants to sleep outside again for the rest of his life, he doesn't trust banks or the police, he's possessive about food. There's a member of the Agni Kais still walking the streets of Republic City with a scar over the left side of his face where Mako burned him. He still stitches the lining of his coats with what little money he has saved because that's the only way he knows how to keep it safe.
She slips her hand under his ratty tank top to place her palm at his chest, and presses her lips to his forehead for a lingering moment. It's similar to how she's going to heal the world, but it's more intimate, and most importantly, just for him.
He has no intention of baring himself like that to anyone else in the world. His secrets are his, and he doesn't want pity. He still thinks he and Bolin and Asami can slip into Korra's family without questions.
But Senna walks into the living room with a basket on her hip, collecting the bedding from the rooms, and in her hand is a mixed wad of spare yuans and seal jerky.
He watches panicked anger flash in Bolin's eyes at the sight of something that is theirs taken from them, but it dies quickly to morph into guilt. Mako stands and collects the money, says that he misplaced it, and that the food is from a midnight snack. Senna doesn't verbally question it.
After that, they know. Korra must have told them something, because now they can't stop giving things to him, his brother, and Asami.
There's more food at every meal. There's more blankets, and Senna no longer takes their bedding herself. She asks for his and Bolin's coats, and not knowing the reason why, Mako complies. When she returns it there's a pocket sewn on the inside, the perfect place to stash money. Then, two days later and there's brand new coats on each of their beds.
Tonraq teaches them all Water Tribe customs. He brings Mako and Bolin on a hunting trip, shows them how to tie knots, how to fish through the ice. He's loud and full of smiles and keeps calling them both son. He laughs and slaps Bolin on the back when he agrees that the head is one of the best parts of eating a fish.
"Yeah, Mako used to work at the docks when he was fourteen, and his boss would give us the buckets of fish heads to eat," Bolin explains, concentrating on pushing line through a hook. "It was all we had to eat for so long! I guess that's why I like it so much."
Tonraq is quiet after that, not knowing what to say.
Mako cringes inwardly and is reminded of all those offhand comments Asami still makes about her father. It's hard to be candid among people that aren't outsiders.
By the time they have to return to Republic City, Mako is starting to lose hope. There's been so many more mistakes, so many silent moments, that he's sure he's far too broken to be considered as potential family.
But when they go to leave, both of Korra's parents engulf him in a hug at the same time. There's been many hugs these past few days and he's starting to get a better reaction from them, so after the shock wears off his arms cling around them both.
He likes that Tonraq is tall. It makes him feel young and protected.
He likes that Senna still holds him with an iron grip. She's never going to let go, just like his own mother.
Bolin lifts Senna in a hug enthusiastically, and she laughs while she scolds him to put her down. He has to bend in order to take in her embrace, and she's whispering something in his ear that makes his green eyes water and blink.
In retaliation for lifting his wife, Tonraq pulls Bolin up in his hug. Everyone laughs and the goodbyes aren't too hard anymore.
Asami silently cries when Senna holds her face in her hands, again saying sweet things before hugging her. She gets a lighter hug, with hands patting her jerking shoulders, because Senna knows it's what she needs.
With Tonraq, Asami does start crying in earnest, because she's going to miss this man who replaced her father so quickly. He tells her not to cry because he'll start crying, and just like his own daughter, she punches him in the arm before snorting with a laugh and falling into a hug.
They board their ship and three people enthusiastically wave them off even as the snow falls and the winds howl. They're not going to leave the dock until the ship disappears.
Korra leans against the railing next to him as they wave to her parents and Katara.
"It's cold. They should go inside," he says. They don't have to brave the weather on their behalf; especially not his.
She rolls her eyes and bumps their shoulders together. "You wouldn't. Neither will they."