Yello. This is something I wrote probably, what, five or six months ago? but never posted because I thought it was embarrassing. I found it floating around on my computer today and thought, well, since my beta and I toiled so long and hard over it, I might as well just go on and post it so all that work doesn't go to waste. (love you, Rocket. ;)
So, um, here it is. I hope it's not too terrible... *cringes*
"So, what's this 'special game' you wanted to tell me about?"
This was one of those days when Tenzin and his family were taking one of their rare visits to the mainland, and so Korra and Mako were able to catch a period of privacy on the deserted side of Air Temple Island. And instead of making out in a secluded corner, picnicking in the woods, or going for a swim in the inlet, they had decided to try something new; Korra had been hit by a flash of inspiration and insisted that they go to her rooms to play a game. If anything, it was bound to be a more interesting way to lead into the activity they'd almost ended up doing last week.
In the room next to her quarters, there was a huge round carpet embroidered with Air Nomad symbols that engulfed over half the area of the floor. It was perfect for her purposes, and as she lead him there, she had explained the rules of her game.
"This is a training exercise I did when I was younger. You spar hand-to-hand with a single opponent, no bending, and we each start with ten points. Every time I push you out of circle, you lose one point. Every time I pin you down, you lose two."
Mako nodded at her after each rule she relayed to him, recording each one in his head and prompting her to continue. Uh-huh, uh-huh. They stopped on the carpet and Korra nervously curled her toes into the fine wool as she revealed her catch.
"Now here's the twist for us: For every point you lose, you have to take one piece of clothing off, and the first person down to nothing loses."
Mako gave her the precise look of disbelief that she'd expected from him. He recovered quickly, though, and as he tilted his head, thinking, the ends of his mouth curved up in a little smile.
"Ah...so the key here is to not get distracted."
He nodded again. "Okay. You're on," he said. It was hard to refuse an offer like that.
"Good. Come on, let's begin." She smiled back at him as she cracked her knuckles, although her smile was perhaps a little more predatory than his. She was going to have fun with this.
"Wait." He loosened his scarf a little. "Wouldn't want you choking me with it."
She chuckled. "That scarf is going to be your downfall, Mako. Just wait."
"You won't have to wait long to realise that overconfidence is going to be your downfall, Avatar."
The wolfish smile on Korra's face didn't falter.
Korra and Mako faced each other on the circular mat and assumed defensive stances. The funny thing, Korra noted, was that they had both chosen the exact same one. Mako also seemed to notice this, and gave her a smile that made her breath catch. Her wolf grin fell away and was replaced by a shy smile that was hard to wipe off her face.
They circled each other cautiously. Korra bounced lightly on both feet and Mako stepped forward and back and side to side in rhythmic patterns.
Neither of them seemed to want to or know how to make the first move. They had practised bending and fighting with each other plenty of times in the past, and applied what they'd practised in more dangerous situations than they would have preferred to, but they had never fought directly against each other.
Eventually Mako stopped circling and gave her a little bow as a gesture for her to begin. "Ladies first," he said.
She didn't hesitate to accept his invitation. She had thrown a swift punch at him so immediately after he had finished speaking and taken his position again that he almost didn't have a chance to sense it. Almost. It would have smacked him upside the head, had he not ducked in the last millisecond. He retaliated with a punch directed at her abdomen, which she blocked easily with her forearm.
He threw some more at her. One, two, three, in quick succession. All of which she blocked. She hopped back slightly and lashed out at his stomach with her left leg; he grabbed the foot of this leg in both hands and turned the attack on her by pulling her towards him and off her other foot. As she went down, she wrapped both legs around him and dragged him down with her. Now they were wrestling each other on the floor, each of them trying to gain the upper hand, literally. However, once Korra realised that it was a futile for her, she forcibly disentangled herself from him, rolled away, and leaped back on her feet. He was stronger than her in the arms and upper body, but facing each other on foot more-or-less put the two of them on equal terms.
They exchanged more blows. One of Mako's got Korra in the side of the face, which made her hunch over for a split second, holding her cheek. He was about to continue his assault, but paused instead. Something was telling him that he shouldn't. His parental instincts, which were usually directed at Bolin, sometimes leaked over to Korra.
"Korra, are you alri–"
But while Mako was having his brief moment of uncertainty, Korra had already recuperated, and subsequently returned the favour to him with a smash to his chin.
"I'm fine," she replied matter-of-factly. She didn't wait for him to recover. Grounding herself by bending her knees and holding her arms close to her sides, Korra swept a foot across the mat, with the intention of tripping him. Unfortunately for her, he had anticipated it and already jumped to avoid it.
"Close," Mako commented coolly as he landed, sounding more like a spectator than a participant. "Try aiming a little lower next time."
"I'll show you low," Korra growled.
She grasped one of his fists as they flew towards her, and used her other arm and her knee to flip him over onto his back, but he continued to somersault even after he landed, until he was back on his feet again. And as soon as he was, she aimed a smoothly executed spinning kick at his head, which he managed to block using both arms, but which also nearly pushed him over. She took advantage of his momentary loss of balance to knock him over with another kick to his legs. He landed hard on his side, but sprung back up again before she could pin him down to the mat, ready again to deflect her elbow and fist blows and send some of his own at her.
They continued like this for a few more minutes, back and forth, give and take, both of them carefully avoiding the border of the decorative mat. However, somewhere in between her jabs at his head and her jabs at his shoulers, his scarf had loosened even further, and when he arched his back to dodge a blow, it had somehow become tangled around his head. She had purposely blinded him with it – or had she? Had it been his imagination, or had she pulled it over her face with her little finger as her hand shot past his head, in the second before she had cut his feet out from under him?
When he fumbled it away from his eyes and jumped up, Korra had disappeared, and he had been pushed out of the circle. He looked around and found her standing nearby. She was bent over laughing, clutching her stomach.
"I'll get you for that," he warned.
"Go ahead, scarf boy," she retorted. She wasted no time waiting to remind him of the rules of her game, and watched, arms crossed in satisfaction, as he roughly pulled off his shoes. He had briefly considered only taking one shoe off, to exploit the loophole in her rules, but he would look ridiculous fighting with only one shoe, and he didn't want to exacerbate the humiliation. He settled for taking her up on his promise instead.
And so he did. Ten minutes was all it took. Once he traded his defensive style for a more rigorous offensive one, he was able to turn the tables on her.
She caught on to this much too late.
It was easy to forget that he was the orphan who had kept himself and his younger brother alive on the streets starting when he was eight; there was very little she, even as the Avatar, could ever do to best that feat of tenacity and determination. He was a tenacious person, and she had just majorly provoked him.
She hadn't predicted that her smaller size and lesser strength would be an inconvenience when they ended up fighting at closer quarters down on the mat, either. It had never been an inconvenience when she was waterbending or firebending or earthbending or airbending. All he had to do to get the upper hand here was to bowl her over.
But most importantly, there was the fact that she had been wearing much less than he had in the first place. Why hadn't she thought of that? It wasn't like her to rush into battle without thinking.
Okay, well, maybe it was. She had been getting a lot better at controlling her impulses lately, though. It must have been the apprehension that clouded her judgement. Audacious moves like this one were her specialty – but not in romantic situations.
They grappled and struggled and wrestled. She lost the next two rounds, a single point and a double point, and sacrificed her fur-trimmed protective garments and her trousers. This presented both an advantage and a disadvantage: Although she was now much lighter on her feet, she was also more susceptible to any attacks he made at her legs.
With the direction of mind that she'd been honing in her airbending training and meditation, however, she was able to ignore the distracting breeze flowing around her legs, and unleashed a flurry of attacks, managing to secure one more win for herself. Mako lost the next two points, and removed his gloves and knee-high-leggings. The next round began with both of them rushing in with the same forearm strike, and colliding midway to no avail.
Fighting hand-to-hand, Korra realised, was nothing like fighting with bending. The movements were similiar, but instead of shards of ice or bursts of scorching hot fire, her primary weapons were now her fists and her feet. Korra felt like she was being forced to write with her left hand. Or her foot. She'd been relying on bending too much, and for too long. She hadn't practised this exercise since she was a little girl, and not very seriously then.
She swung with her right arm, and then her left, and he swerved left and right respectively to avoid her. Then he enacted something which caught her completely off guard. He locked his hands on her shoulders, and, in a flash, launched himself bodily over her head. She stumbled, her knees buckling under his weight, and as her back was still turned, he kicked her feet out from under her and dived at her before she was even on the floor. There was no escaping from his grip after that.
She was too astonished at first to be dismayed at losing the round. "Where did you learn that move?" she breathed, genuinely curious.
He released his hold on her, and admitted, "The firebender on an opposing team once pulled that trick on me in a tiebreaker."
He fell back on his bottom and watched her as she sat up, leaning on her elbows.
"I see." She smirked. "You lost the match, didn't you?" He must have, if he remembered the trick down to every movement. She would bet that it had been a semifinal or final match, too.
"I learn from my mistakes," he said, with a sharp nod. "Anyway, do you want to keep going?"
"You did lose two points, though," he pointed out.
As if she could forget. Korra sighed heavily. "I guess I did," she said grudgingly. She stood up and quickly pulled off her top and undergarment. Then she turned away from him.
Silence. Then, tentatively, Mako spoke.
"Korra...? What's wrong?" He approached her carefully and rested a warm hand on her shoulder.
"I - " She stopped. "I just...nothing's wrong."
"Then why won't you look at me? Look, there's no reason to be afraid."
"I'm not afraid!" she protested. It would take some time before she would be able to readily admit she was afraid of anything.
He let go of her shoulder. "Then turn around."
She inhaled deeply and gathered up her courage. Squeezing her hands into fists, she pivoted to face him again. When she looked into his eyes, she recognised that they were directed at her face, not her body. He was searching her expression for signs of discomfort.
Apparently he didn't find any. "See, that wasn't so hard, was it?" he said gently. "I won't hurt you, Korra. You know that."
Her fists unclenched and she calmed a little. "Oh, really?" she asked, raising an eyebrow at him. She touched her slightly bruised cheekbone. "What do you call this, then?"
He paused. "I call that a mistake," he conceded, grinning slightly. "Alright, so maybe I will hurt you, but it'll be in a way we've both already consented to." He pointed out a similiar injury she'd given him to his chin.
Mako held her gaze for a minute, as if asking permission from her to step back. He took her slight nod to him as an answer and backed away from her. Korra continued to watch his eyes until they inevitably shifted away from her face.
She reminded herself that this was her idea.
She stood there for several moments, trying to tame the heat rising in her face; obviously, firebending wouldn't work in this regard. And it didn't help that her whole body seemed to be trembling.
She was expecting him to say something, but he remained standing there, jaw slack, his eyes raking every inch of her body.
"What?" she demanded, trying to keep her voice from quaking.
He seemed to catch on that he was staring, and his eyes flickered back to her face.
"Uh...nothing. Nothing." He didn't sound as calm as he had just moments ago, though. She noticed to her own amazement that his face was flushed, almost as red as hers must be, and that he seemed flustered.
She stood there, frozen, as he began walking towards her. What was he going to do?
It wasn't what she had expected. He assumed his position on the mat again and formed his stance.
"So?" he said, glancing up at her briefly. "How about that next round?"
"But – I've got nothing left. I lost."
"What about your hairpieces?"
She touched her hair, and sure enough, her hair ornaments were still in place. This time the little smile crept over Korra's face.
"Come on, Korra. I know you have at least one more fight left in you."
She skipped sideways onto her spot. "Oh, you don't have to tell me that!" she exclaimed. He had the right idea, she thought. This was fun no matter who was winning.
So she faced him head-on and mirrored his stance.
"After you," she said politely.
Their last match didn't last very long. As they fought, Korra found it harder and harder to stay focused. While she had been at least half-dressed she had managed to concentrate adequately, but now, not only did her self-consciousness impede her every movement, but every touch of Mako's hands on her body seemed to send a jolt through her that pulled her completely out of her zone. He even seemed to be avoiding her more sensitive areas, but all it took was one accidental slip of his right hand into the gap between her thighs to cause nerve-wracking shivers to shoot through her, making her lose touch entirely. Shortly after that, she found herself fastened to the carpet yet again. But she didn't care anymore.
At this point they were both panting hard and sweat rolled off their skin in rivulets. He released his hold on her and collapsed next to her.
"Still want to keep going?" he gasped.
"Nah." Instead, she kneeled over Mako and surprised him by giving him a long, hard kiss, which he returned wholeheartedly. There was something she felt a vital need to express to him, and her heart was telling her that a kiss was the best way to do it.
At the beginning of their relationship, Korra and Mako had been gentle, almost shy with their kisses. But as things progressed and they got more comfortable with each other, their kissing turned into something else altogether. They were fighters, through and through, and both of them could stand a bit of roughness.
And neither of them had ever been afraid to break the ice. Mako's hands began to wander, gingerly at first, but emboldening quickly. Korra didn't mind. Her hands were sliding and snaking through the folds of his clothes to find the firm muscle underneath.
When they broke apart, Korra hovered over him and studied his face. She loved his unusually-shaped eyebrows; they were unique and striking, and she rather thought they were a statement about his personality. They drew attention to the fiery colour of his pupils, and to his eyes, which were currently gazing at her in that fervent way that she had always revelled in.
She rubbed a finger down the length of one of his eyebrows.
The room was silent but for the sounds of their breathing and of the wind gusting in through the open window. Outside, the sky was darkening, the descending twilight shrouding the two of them in fading golden light. There was just enough of it, though, that she could spot the amber glint in his eyes, which occurred as if a flame was rising from inside of him and filling them both with its warmth.
Korra was conscious of everything around her in that moment: her bare shoulders, and her breasts hanging over his chest; the fibres and textures and rich honey and gold hues of the carpet beneath her fingers; her mussed-up hair which was almost completely lose from its ties; the beads of sweat sliding down her face, and, of course, his eyes piercing into her.
He reached out a hand and stroked her cheek lightly with the tips of his fingers.
"Korra..." He spoke so softly; it was only because she was this near that she could hear him. "I love you."
"I love you too," she whispered back.
And suddenly, she couldn't stand it anymore. The feeling inside her was becoming excruciating.
She looked at the sliding screen door.
Then she turned back to Mako with an inquiring expression.
He understood almost immediately. He nodded and rolled out from under her. As she sat up and made to stand up as well, he scooped her up in his arms, which got a whoop out of her.
"Whoa – what are you doing?" she laughed.
He carried her with ease towards the paper door, which he manouevred open with his foot.
"I'm trying to be romantic," he said affrontedly as he closed the door behind them. "You can at least pretend it's working."
She made a point of clearing her throat, and, in her best dramatic theatre voice, she proclaimed, "The time is finally ripe, and I am ready. Carry me to our bed of roses, oh my handsome prince!" and laughed again. It was a line from a romance novel that Jinora had quoted to her once when she was trying to give Korra 'advice' on her relationship with Mako. Maybe Jinora had rubbed off on her more than she thought. Or maybe Korra was just giddy, and nervous about what the two of them were about to do, because otherwise she would never have spouted such an asinine remark.
Mako groaned and rolled his eyes. "Shut up," he said, trying his best to keep the grin off his face. "You're ruining the moment."
She couldn't argue with that.
He reached the next room, which, coincidentally, was Korra's. It was a humble little space with nothing but a single bed, a curtained window, and two pieces of essential furniture. He laid her smoothly onto the single bed, and she stayed there for a few seconds, basking in the softness of the sheets against her bare skin.
Then she got up and stopped him before he initiated anything else.
"Hey, hey - not so fast," she said. Her voice held a teasing note in it; some of her assertiveness, smothered before by apprehension and a bit of fear, seemed to have resurfaced at the familiarity of her bedsheets and armoire. They may be crossing an new boundary here, but in this moment, they were in her room, in her home, and here she was in charge. She was still nervous, but that had never stopped her before.
Standing in front of him beside her bed, she seized the lapels of his thin longcoat, and pulled him close enough so that she could murmur "First I get to take my turn," in his ear. She grabbed a handful of his scarf to illustrate.
"Okay, but be careful with that."
"I know. It was your father's." She untwined it from his neck with a light touch and let it cascade onto the floor.
She wasn't as gentle with the rest of his clothes. His longcoat was torn off remorselessly, along with his undershirt, and his pants were indelicately yanked down. When she was done, she took a few steps back, propped her hands on her hips, and took her sweet time examining him just as thoroughly as he had examined her. She was unsurprised to find that the rest of him was just as pale as his face and arms, but enjoyed watching him struggle to remain stoic while a furious blush rose in his face.
Then, when she decided that she'd tortured him enough, she tenderly took his face in her hands and pulled him down to her.
Korra kissed Mako almost as aggressively as she had fought him. After a while she laid down on the bedsheets again, so that Mako's hands would be free and wouldn't have to steady her by holding her around the waist as they rocked back and forth. He was now able to physically investigate her figure with his hands just as she had been investigating his with her hands. They were driven partly with curiosity, but mostly with that electric and excruciatingly unquenchable feeling that ran through every nerve, the very same feeling that Korra had been unable to put a name to before. It was hard for Korra to control herself with it coursing through her. She was allowing her thoughts to drift away and that electricity and her instincts to take over.
"I'm scared," she inadvertantly blurted out, as they got closer and closer to the ultimatum. "Are you?"
To her surprise, he replied, "I'm terrified," and didn't stop, didn't even hesitate.
For once, Korra did not need someone to discourage her from impatiently rushing into were taking it slowly, but not reluctantly; this was new to the both of them, so they wanted to savour it. Korra was familiarising herself with every sinewy muscle on Mako's tall, slight frame. It felt like the right thing to do.
After a few more minutes of this, her hairpieces had finally come loose. When Mako ran his fingers through her dark hair, they slipped off, and her hair spilled everywhere and fanned out around her head like the aura of the moon spirit. He pulled off her arm bands as well, so that he could feel her wrists. She was all warmth, and familiarity, and smooth, brown skin, and he couldn't get enough of it. His kisses moved down to her neck, and then her breasts. He lingered on them sweetly for a while, and then moved towards her waist.
She was so strong, he thought, and yet vulnerable in so many ways. So exalted and burdened with responsibility, and yet so carefree and child-like in her free time. He loved that he got to see each and every one of these facets. Strength and vulnerability, maturity and immaturity, all at once.
As always, they took turns, and so it was while Korra was doing the same to him that he suddenly remembered something. He put a hand up and said, "Wait."
Korra was still kissing his shoulder.
"Korra, wait," he repeated.
"Hm?" She stopped. "What is it? Is something wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong. I just wanted to ask first if you...if you got the...uh..." He rubbed the bridge of his nose. "What was it called? Heru? Erdu?"
He wanted to be absolutely sure. They couldn't bring more kids into the world, not now, and not when he and Korra had such high-risk jobs. There were more than enough orphans like him on the streets already.
Korra pulled back a bit and smiled. Katara had told her that it would hurt the first time; that was something she was expecting and mentally preparing herself for. She had not expected him to remember that little detail. It was always the woman's problem, not the man's, and it was the woman who couldn't run away from the result if she made the mistake of forgetting. Katara had been sure to reinforce that, especially after Korra had been told the story of Lin's father.
"Erhu," she corrected. "And I got it last week. Really, you don't have to worry."
The last time they had gotten carried away, Korra had stopped him before they went too far, explaining to him that there was something she needed to attain in advance. Katara had given her a lengthy talk about this when she was younger. So, the very next day, she'd taken a visit to Pema to ask her for a certain herb concoction. It had been just as awkward as she'd anticipated, but, as it were, there was no way around it. Katara didn't live there; there was no way she could ask Asami for it, and it was very unlikely that Lin had any. She was too paranoid about being seen buying it in the city to even try. She was too well-known and too conspicuous, and she didn't want rumours about her personal life floating around the streets, or worse, the newspapers. So that left Pema.
One of the worst things about her visit had been Pema jokingly calling "Have fun!" as she left the room, at which point Korra had twitched, surreptitiously looked around, and thanked the spirits that Jinora and Ikki were nowhere near them. She only hoped that Pema wouldn't breathe a word about it to Tenzin. That would open up an entirely new universe of awkward.
Mako's voice pulled her out of her embarrassing flashback.
"...So well planned out," he was saying. He gazed pensively at her and asked, "Have you done this before?"
She leaned back against the wall and snorted. "Are you kidding me? I was stuck at the South Pole for most of my life. The only guys I knew there were my dad, my training masters, my training partners, and the practice dummies."
Which was mostly the truth. In the village nearest her training facility, she'd met a few boys from her tribe who were her age. There had been one boy whom she'd kissed, and one more on a dare, but she had never been serious with one before now. She asked, "What about you?"
He sat next to her on the bed and looked at his discarded scarf on the other side of the room. There had been two girls before Asami: one was a fellow orphan who had also worked for the Triple Threat Triad, and the other was the daughter of a family that had kindly taken him and Bolin in for a brief period of time, but that had ended badly. And he hadn't gone this far with either of them, not even close.
He said, "I haven't done it before, either." Hiroshi Sato's words came unbidden into his mind. He looked away, muttering, "There aren't a lot of girls who are interested in dirt-poor street rats."
Korra rested a hand over his. "Hey. I don't care where you came from."
"Thanks." He smiled at her wearily. "Anyway, with all the training I had to do, and trying to keep Bo and me afloat, I guess I've never had much room for a love life."
He shook his head.
"Well, then," she went on, "I guess we'll just have to learn the ropes together."
"Sounds like a good idea."
A few hours later, night had fully descended on Air Temple Island. Korra was in her room, listening contently to the syncopation of the chirping of wild creatures and the pulsing sound in her companion's chest.
"That was a good practice exercise, Korra," Mako said thoughtfully to the ceiling. "We should definitely do it again."
Korra took one glance at his innocent face, and dissolved into a fit of laughter.
Mako stared at her. "What?"
That only made her laugh harder.
Good practice, indeed.