Korra drew a slick hand across her forehead, squinting at the salt of sweat burning her eyes. With her other hand she bent water from the ground into a thin barrier between her and her probending teammates, using the short reprieve to take a breath and center herself. Only a moment later a powerful blast of flame from Mako sent the water steaming into the air around her. Korra took the opportunity to shift to the left, avoiding an earth disc sent whizzing towards her by Bolin. As she did she drew a surge of water from the barrel behind her, sending twin jets towards the brothers. The last of the steam caused by Mako's fire blast dissipated just in time for Korra to see the water hit Bolin square in the chest, knocking him backwards and off his feet. Mako was more adept at dodging that his younger brother and easily avoided Korra's attack. With a grunt of annoyance Korra focused on sending more jets of water towards the fire bender, advancing as she did. Mako met her at each turn, bending powerful surges of fire to collide with her attacks, until at last the entire gym was enveloped in a thick layer of steam. Bolin gave a heavy cough from the practice mat.
"Um, guys? Maybe we should stop before this place gets mistaken for a sauna room?" he suggested devilishly.
Both benders paused, acknowledging for once the wisdom in Bolin's words, as neither could see what they were aiming at any longer.
Korra leaned forward, placing her hands on her knees and breathing heavily. Across the room Mako pulled off his helmet and made his way towards the benches along the far wall. Bolin gave a yelp as Mako nearly stepped on him, still unable to see much further than his own feet through the steam.
"Watch it would ya!" Bolin cried indignantly.
"Sorry." Mako said, without much apparent regret.
Korra emitted a loud guffaw at the antics of the still incredulous Bolin, who was now making faces behind the retreating back of the firebender.
"Bolin." Mako sighed, annoyance tight in his voice. He knew what Bolin was doing without even turning his head.
Korra often forgot exactly how in sync the brothers were, having lived so long on the streets, watching each other's backs to survive, the pair knew almost every move the other would make sometimes before the boy seemed to know it himself. It often made Korra feel like an outsider on the team, a foreign presence impinging on a perfectly unified force. She could understand why they had lost so many water benders before her. It was difficult to feel like you belonged in the same arena with Mako and Bolin when they were working together. But everytime Korra felt most uncomfortable Bolin would make a funny comment, once again including her and making her feel like she belonged. After a while, she really began to feel like she fit in with the brothers. The probending season was drawing to a close, and after all the practice hours the three had put in together, Korra finally felt like they were a real team. They had each other's backs. Somehow, she had managed to carve a place for herself among the infinite closeness of the two boys, something she was incredibly grateful for. They were her closest friend's in Republic City, and she counted on them in and out of the ring.
Bolin brought her back from her thoughts.
"Well, I think this a good stopping point." He said with a shrug of his wide shoulders casual stretch of his arms. He winked at Korra.
"Anyone up for food?" he asked.
"Yes!" Korra cried, rubbing her growling stomach.
Just as the two were about to make a frantic dash for the door Mako let out a sharp "Oh no you don't!"
Korra and Bolin sighed in unison.
"We have hours of training left. There's no way I'm going to let you guys sneak out of this." Mako said, folding his arms across his chest.
"We weren't sneaking." Korra said petulantly, emulating Mako's movements and pursing her lips into her signature pout.
"Bro, I can't practice without food." Bolin grumbled.
"There's food at the apartment!" Mako cried in annoyance.
"Are you saying we can go eat?" Korra asked hopefully.
"Ugh." Sighed in defeat. "Okay yea fine. We can go get food, but then we are back down here practicing until night fall. Got it?"
The last of his words were drowned out by the gleeful cheers of Korra and Bolin as they dashed out the door and up the stairs to the brother's attic apartment. Mako followed grimly behind them.
He had long since given up the fight to keep some boundaries when it came to Korra. The first time he had come home to his apartment to find her grinning up at him from the floor next to Bolin, playing cards, he had been furious. They didn't invite people back to their apartment. Even through the flurry of Bolin's overzealous fan girls, no one had ever set foot in their home. Having a private place he could call his own was something Mako had dreamed of and fought for during his years on the streets, and he wasn't about to extend visitation rights lightly. Then again, Korra wasn't exactly the type of girl who asked for an invitation. With her usual head strong stubbornness she had woven her way into their lives, making herself an almost permanent fixture in the boy's apartment.
Mako entered the apartment to find Korra and Bolin ravaging the pantry, pulling out everything that looked remotely edible until the kitchen counter was covered with a random assortment of jars and boxes.
"Let's make dumplings!" Bolin shouted with all the pomp of a man announcing that he had just invented the first flying Satomobile.
"Okay." Korra agreed enthusiastically. Bolin reached up to grab a sack of flower from a cabinet. As he began to pull it down by the corner the bag ripped, showering it's continents on the three teens like a snow flurry.
There was a moment of silence, broken suddenly by Korra's sharp peals of laughter. She laughed uproariously, running a hand through Bolin's now completely white hair before clutching her abdomen and collapsing to the floor in giggles. The sounds of Korra's merriment mixed with absurdity of everyone's appearance soon had all three benders rolling around on the floor. Mako was the first to stand, dragging a gloved hand over his face in attempt to remove the white powder. Bolin followed, completing an absurd dance as he worked to shake the flour from his clothes. Korra giggled again as she watched. Bolin quickly realized it was an impossible task and dashed off to his room yelling something about new clothes. Mako offered Korra his hand and pulled her up from the floor. She looked down at her now white ensemble.
"So, I guess we should clean this up. Sorry Mako."
She was actually surprised the firebender had seen the humor in Bolin's accident. She had fully expected him to explode the moment he saw the bag ripping. Even now she waited to see if he would regain his composure and burst out in characteristic anger.
Mako sighed in response, turning from inspecting the empty flour bag to look over his shoulder at Korra.
Suddenly she let out a snort and, as if it were nothing, reached her hand up to dust a large white streak of flour from his cheek. Mako sucked in a breath as her fingers left an electric trail across his skin. His eyes locked with Korra's and she looked down quickly, apparently intent on inspecting her shoes. Mako realized the awkwardness he had created.
He cleared his throat. "Uhhm. Yea, so cleaning.
"I'll grab the broom." Korra cried loudly, moving forward at the same time as Mako.
The result was a frantic collision, throwing both benders back onto the flour covered floor. Mako landed flat on his back. Korra fell towards her side, emitting a yelp of pain as she slammed into the wood.
Mako pushed himself up to find Korra pressing both hands to her left ribs.
"Are you okay?" he asked, guilt churning in his stomach.
"Yea. Fine." She said too quickly.
He gave her a look of exasperation. She was being herself, always trying to brush off an injury.
"No you're not." He said, anger seeping into his voice. How could he have been so clumsy? He was an idiot and now he had hurt her.
Korra heard the anger in his words and it stung.
"Yes. I am." She said forcefully, her forehead pulled into a frown.
"Okay, then let me see it." He challenged.
"No. It's just a stupid cut I got on a raid with Tarrlok's task force last night."
Mako felt some of the tension in his body release when he realized he hadn't caused the injury, but it was quickly replaced by a gnawing sense of worry. Sometimes he forgot just how busy Korra was, how many dangerous things she did. He would never have admitted it, even to Bo, but he worried about Korra. She was far too stubborn and arrogant for her own good. Mako was afraid that one day it would get her into a mess she couldn't blast her way out of. He had seen it happen on the streets. It wasn't always the strongest who survived, it was the most calculating, the cleverest. These were qualities he desperately hoped Korra would develop, but until that happened, he planned to be there to bail her out if she needed him.
Korra brought him back from his mental rant with a quiet groan. As she pulled her hand away from her side he saw that it was slick with blood.
"Oh crap, Korra hold on. Just stay right there."
For once she complied, leaning back against the counter as Mako hurried to grab a crude first aid kit. He came back moments later holding gauze, bandages, and antiseptic. He knelt beside her to examine the red patch spreading across her top.
"Okay, I'm going need you to lift your shirt up so I can bandage it." The firebender mumbled, his cheeks turning red.
Korra fought the urge to laugh at his awkwardness. He was so clearly unused to interacting with anyone other than his brother.
She pulled the hem of her shirt up just enough to reveal the long gash that traced a red swoop across her ribs.
Mako winced at the sight. Still, it wasn't as bad as he would have expected for having been inflicted last night. The cut looked days old.
"I tried to heal it yesterday." Korra explained without prompting.
"I'm actually kind of terrible at healing myself though. I'm fine when it's other people. It's just like I get too wrapped up in my own head when it's my own injury…you know?" she asked.
Mako resisted the urge to inform her that, no, he actually didn't know what she was talking about since he wasn't a water bender. But she seemed so content rambling on that he just let her talk in silence.
He swabbed alcohol over the gash, apologizing when she gasped in pain.
"It's fine." She said through gritted teeth. "It actually doesn't hurt that much."
He gave her a grim and knowing smile.
At last he pulled out the gauze and, laying it over the cut, placed bandages firmly across her side, pressing them into her back to keep them in place. He pretended not to notice that his fingers left trails of goose bumps across her skin.
"Alright. You're good" he said finally, pulling the hem of her shirt back into place.
Korra sighed, letting down her guard. In that rare moment Mako saw how tired she really was. Between airbending training, probending and Tarrlok's task force she was spread thin, beaten and tired.
"Thank's Mako" she said. She gave him a sweet smile, and he returned it.
It was probably the most civil interaction they had ever had, he mused.
Bolin chose that moment to rush back into the kitchen, sliding the last few feet and sending a spray of flour into the faces of the two benders.
"Whoa! This place is still a mess. I thought you too would have gotten it cleaned up by now. I gave you plenty of time!" Bolin exclaimed.
They both laughed and Mako reached over and chucked the broom at Bolin.
"You make it you clean it." He told his indignant little brother.
Bolin began to sweep and Mako watched as Korra pushed herself heavily up from the floor, wincing in silent pain.
He placed a hand on her shoulder to steady her.
"So, I was thinking." he said, turning to the two of them. "Maybe we should be done with training for the day."
"Really?" Korra and Bolin cried in unison, joy washing over their features.
"Yep." Mako said, folding his arms across his chest and leaning back against the counter top.
Bolin and Korra broke into an excited dance, high fiving each other loudly.
Mako spoke over their celebrations, "Instead, we'll make the rest of today a strategy session."
"What?" Bolin exclaimed.
Korra groaned. "No. Please no."
Mako grinned. "You didn't think I'd let you off that easy, did you?"
Korra walked over until she was only a few inches from his face. The firebender's eyes went wide.
"Mako, that was cruel." She said, before presenting him with her own mischievous grin.
Her bright blue eyes grew soft and with a laugh she pulled away, moving to help Bolin clean up the flour covered kitchen.
Mako watched her retreating form with a small smile playing across his lips. She was just, so…Korra. And there really was no other way to describe it.