Korra desperately wanted Tenzin to meet and like and approve of the Fabulous Bending Brothers. Tenzin very much wanted to meet the two young men who had made such an impression on his young charge. But between Tenzin's crammed schedule as a Republic City councilman and Mako and Bolin's day-to-day hustle to scrape up enough cash for the tournament pot, a meeting seemed impossible to make happen. Until Korra had The Idea.
"We'll babysit the little ones!" she shouted, unfortunately out loud in the middle of a practice session, to the brothers' momentary bewilderment (Bolin almost dropped an earth disc on Mako's foot). But Bolin was on board right away once Korra explained what she was talking about, and all Korra had to add was "Of COURSE he'll pay you! Well! Really well!" to get Mako to agree.
Tenzin and Pema were a little more difficult to convince, but not by much. Once Korra gushed about the free time this meant Tenzin and Pema would have together -- free time that would definitely be a bit more scarce once the baby came, she made sure to point out -- Pema did all the work for her. "And I'll be there, supervising and everything," Korra said proudly, "so you know nothing's gonna go wrong."
"Of course," Tenzin replied politely, though she knew Tenzin well enough to recognize his eyebrow twitch of skepticism. "But are they experienced with children?"
"Oh, Mako RAISED Bolin," Korra said breezily, flapping a hand. "And Bolin's good with EVERYONE. And all the kids love them, too!"
"The street orphans, you mean?" asked Pema wryly.
Korra hesitated a moment before replying, "Uh, yeah...," unsure whether or not this would hurt her cause. Pema looked up at her husband, and the two of them shared one of those mind-ready super-coupley looks. Korra bounced on the balls of her feet, twisting her hands as she attempted to decode their thoughts. "It'll be great, and you can meet them before and after! Please, pretty please?" she entreated.
"It's certainly not often we're begged for the opportunity to look after our children," Tenzin mused, pulling on his beard. "But Pema, if you're sure..."
"I'm sure," Pema said warmly. And there was nothing Tenzin wouldn't give his wife, so that was that.
Mako and Bolin showed up to meet Tenzin and Pema like they were going to a press conference for the Fire Ferrets, polished to the nines after their own threadbare but neat fashion. Mako was so pressed and polite as he introduced himself and his brother that it was all Korra could do to stand there and watch, her fingers fidgeting in her sweaty palms. After a few minutes of Tenzin's civil but serious inquiries about their childcare philosophy, background and experience, Pema interrupted.
"Oh, don't let's interrogate the boys, Tenzin," she urged, breathtaking in a richly-hued scarlet and gold evening gown that draped beautifully over her round belly. Intricately carved bangles clacked together as she took her husband's arm. "We'll be late."
"I know, dear, I know," said Tenzin, creases forming between his brows. "Just -- remember that Meelo MUST be in bed by eight, and check on Jinora after you've put her to bed, make sure she hasn't snuck a book under the covers and stayed up reading --"
"Tenzin, Tenzin, I know, I know!" Korra produced her most winning smile. "Remember, I've babysat them tons of times! With four extra hands on deck, it'll be a piece of cake!"
"Thanks a lot for trusting us, Councilman Tenzin," Bolin said, in that amiable, earnest way of his that so easily won people over. Korra could watch it happening again as Pema smiled back at Bolin, as Tenzin visibly relaxed. "Don't worry, we really are good with kids. We can't wait to meet 'em."
Tenzin smiled at the three of them. "Well, then. Meelo, Ikki, Jinora! We're leaving!"
"Have a great night out!" Korra said as the kids ran out from behind the pillar where they had all clearly been eavesdropping. The children exchanged farewells with their parents, Pema extricated Meelo's teeth from her bangles, and the adults departed. This left the children standing in a row on the porch, regarding Mako, Bolin and Korra for a moment in eerie stillness.
Ikki broke the silence with one of her ear-splitting sudden giggles, elbowing her sister, who attempted to look stern. "I TOLD you they'd BOTH be cute," she said slyly.
"Cute!" shouted Meelo, flinging up his little arms, and ran off into the night.
"But I wanna go here," Meelo protested, twisting his whole body around in an attempt to escape Bolin's gentle but firm grip on his hand. And honestly, Bolin could totally get why Meelo might want to go here. The dirt looked firm and cool, the plant Meelo was fixated on had lots of big leaves that provided great shade, and it was just short enough that if Meelo tiptoed he could see the pond on his family's grounds. When Bolin was little he'd probably have thought peeing in a primo a spot like this easily worth the trouble he'd get into if Mako found him.
"I know, kiddo," Bolin said, kneeling next to the child, who sucked on his lower lip obstinately. "It's a pretty good bush, huh?"
Meelo nodded, still twisting restlessly in Bolin's grip.
"But we gotta go in the house. How about I go with you?"
"But I don't WANNA go in the toilet," Meelo whined. "It has a big mouth, like THIS--" He let his jaw gape open, his gray eyes huge and very serious. "And nothing ever comes back out!"
"Do you really WANT something coming back out?" Bolin asked, wrinkling his nose.
Meelo considered this, then ceased in his endless twisting, a giggle escaping him. "No...."
"So come on, little bro!" Bolin grinned at the child. He never got to call anyone little bro, and it felt good. "I'll carry you."
This time when Meelo's eyes went wide, it was with excitement. "Potty ride! Potty ride, potty ride!" he exclaimed, and airbended himself onto Bolin's broad back.
"And what kind of girl do you want to get married to?" Ikki asked, blinking widely with her hands folded on her lap. She looked the very picture of girlish innocence, sitting with impeccable posture on a cushion in the family room. Korra knew that picture for a total lie, because the little minx was definitely plotting to turn Korra as bright red as humanly possible with this line of evil questioning.
"Ikki..." Korra ground out.
Jinora leisurely turned a page in the book she was reading, a children's history on the Hundred Year War. "Ikki is asking the important questions that need to be asked," she opined from her seat on the chaise lounge.
"Uh, one that likes me," Mako said. He gave a huge shrug at Ikki's narrow-eyed look. "What?"
"You have to get more specific!" Ikki insisted, banging her open palm with her fist. "Like, should she be a FIRE bender or a WATER bender... or maybe a BOTH of them bender..." Her smile came over her face like an imp's, fast and full of mischief.
"She doesn't have to be a bender," Mako said carefully, turning as red as his scarf. "If she doesn't, uh. Wanna be. Or, I mean..."
Korra was a less vivid, but no less painfully hot, shade of red. "Ikki, leave Mako alone!"
"Oh, it's fine," Mako said. He scratched the back of his neck, still blushing, and finally met Korra's eyes again, something he hadn't done since Ikki started her interrogation an hour ago. "Bolin used to ask all kinds of crazy questions when we were little. Never shut up. I'm not sure he's stopped yet, honestly."
"So would you say... BLUE eyes or YELLOW eyes?" Ikki interrupted, leaning forward.
"Maybe green," Mako replied, a little smile on his face. Korra's heart sank, though it fluttered bravely at the teasing lilt in his voice. "Or gray. Or brown."
"That's all the colors in the whole world," Ikki said dismissively. "You got to pick ONE. Girls don't have seven eyes."
"That was only five colors," Jinora corrected without raising her eyes from her reading.
"Pick!" Ikki demanded.
"I guess if I HAD to pick," Mako began, but before he could finish, Bolin burst into the room with Meelo on his back.
"I went potty in the potty room!" Meelo announced, landing on the floor with a little whump of air. He threw his fists up in victory. "I went!"
"He sure did," Bolin confirmed. "It was a real good potty. I couldn't have done better myself. He, uh, had me check."
"I did a good potty!" Meelo squealed, and pounced on Ikki, who shrieked as she tumbled off her cushion.
Jinora slammed her book shut with a huff. "I'm trying to READ," she snapped at her tussling little siblings, who paid no mind.
Mako grabbed Ikki; Korra extracted Meelo. "No fighting," Korra told Meelo. Meelo's mutinous look brightened with the flash of an idea -- "And no airbending at your sister," she added. Meelo deflated, and the little whirlwind he had instinctively summoned up veered off course after harmlessly knocking a few petals off a flower in a vase.
"How about dinner?" Mako suggested. Ikki, who had stopped struggling the moment Mako grabbed her, whispered something in his ear intently. He looked at her consideringly, then nodded. Ikki all but pranced off when he released her, smug as a catowl on her perch.
"Can't believe how easy Meelo turned in," Mako remarked. Moonlight swirled in through the kitchen window, washing his angular features in silver and blue. "I guess when you're a hundred percent on all day, sleep's when you get to go a hundred percent off. Heck, Ikki is OUT."
"They're real energetic. Man, they're all so cute, though! Hey Mako, was I ever that much of a handful?" Bolin wondered, his cheek pushed up against his palm.
Mako chuckled. "Yeah, you were a pain. Always wanted a cup of water, a bedtime story, another hug... I used to have to let you sleep in my scarf to get you to shut up."
"At least I was cute, right?" Bolin posed as though in the ring, a sprightly ebon curl bouncing off his forehead as he tossed his head back.
Korra watched them fondly. "I wish I'd had siblings," she said wistfully, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear. "It could get a little lonely sometimes. I always had plenty of trainers and everything, but not really any kids my age to play with. Maybe that's why I don't mind babysitting."
"They're lucky kids, for sure," Mako said, sounding more than a little wistful himself. The three of them sat quietly in the hazy moonlight for a moment. "But, hey, Councilman Tenzin and his wife should be home soon, right? Let's make sure the place looks good."
"Oh! Right, good instincts," Korra said, as though she hadn't totally forgotten about all of that.
"I'll make sure the kids are all still in bed," Bolin volunteered, hopping to his feet.
"I've got the dishes, I guess." Korra made a face.
"And I'll do the rest." Mako rolled his sleeves up as Bolin left the room to check up on the children.
Waterbending made dishes go a little easier -- scraping dry food off with an ice chisel ensured dishes were as clean as clean could get -- but it was still a tiresome chore. Having someone else in the room, even someone as quiet as Mako, was nice. Pfft, 'even,' Korra thought to herself. Mako could make himself much worse company if he felt like it. Their first meeting bubbled up in her memory, and she smiled to herself.
"What's so funny?" Mako asked as he wiped the counters down.
Korra looked over her shoulder at him. "Nothing," she said. "Hey, what did Ikki tell you when you yanked her off Meelo?"
"Oh, that." He came over to help her put the dishes away. "It was nothing, really."
She arched an eyebrow. "Really?"
"You gonna tell me what's so funny?" He arched an eyebrow right back at her.
"I was remembering what a jerk you were when we first met, that's all, if you've GOT to know," Korra said.
"I was stupid," Mako replied with a shrug. "And, uh," Mako turned away to place a dinner plate in the cabinet precisely, "she just asked if I thought blue eyes were pretty."
Korra paused for a moment, the ice chisel dissolving into water that splashed harmlessly against the counter, and tried to bite back a grin that just spread over her face till her cheekbones ached anyway.
"Thank you so much," Pema told the bending brothers in the family courtyard as she folded Mako's fingers over the generous pile of yuans she had placed in his palm. "Tenzin and I were able to enjoy a wonderful, peaceful evening out, and we're very grateful."
"It was no problem, your kids are fantastic!" Bolin said happily. "Really cute and really smart. We had a blast."
Mako looked a little stunned at the stack of money in his hand, though he immediately stuffed it into his knapsack as though the breeze might carry it away if he didn't. "It, it wasn't a problem, ma'am," he stammered. "Really, we'd be happy to help any time."
Korra stood with her hands on her hips, grinning, chest puffed out. "See! I told you there was nothing to worry about," she declared.
"They're really all asleep?" Tenzin asked again, blinking. "They didn't give you any trouble?"
"Meelo just wanted to be rocked a little, no biggie," Bolin reported with a cocky shrug. "Then Jinora wanted a story, so I told her one Mako used to tell me when I was little about a group of crimefighting fireferrets--"
"--oh, man, THAT one?"
"It was my favorite growing up!" Bolin made a face at his brother and continued. "And Ikki was knocked out the second her head hit the pillow. Guess all that jumping around really winded her." He paused, and then a wide smile unfurled itself across his face at the pun. "Hah! Get --"
"They get it," Mako cut in. Bolin chuckled.
"Well, just know that you young men are welcome in our home any time," Tenzin said, spreading his hands with a small, regal bow. The brothers both pressed fist to open palm and bowed respectfully in turn.
"We'll have to have you over for a nice homemade dinner one of these nights," Pema said. Korra beamed at her. "If your schedules allow."
Bolin's bright green eyes, even brighter in the moonlight, went huge. "Oh gosh, we'd love that, any time, ma'am," he said.
"Do you gentlemen need a ride back to the city?" Tenzin offered, though Mako was already shaking his head.
"We appreciate the offer, Councilman, but we'll take the ferry and tram. It's not a problem. Come on, Bo." Golden eyes cut over to Korra, as inscrutable as Bolin's were expressive. "See you at practice tomorrow, Korra?"
"When I left this morning Meelo was threatening to hold his pee until you came back, Bolin," Korra announced as she strolled into the practice room.
Bolin looked at Korra incredulously before releasing a whoop of laughter. "Oh, no way!"
"Mm-hmm," she hummed, stretching.
"That kid is classic," Bolin sighed through another burst of giggles, wiping his eyes. "Clas-sic."
"The Councilman and his wife were incredibly generous," Mako said. He shook his head like he was shaking off a daze as he buckled his gauntlets. "I mean, heck, we're happy to babysit for them anytime."
"The kids LOVED you, and Jinora's already adding to the adventures of the Ferocious Fireferrets, so I think they'll definitely be taking you up on that," Korra said, and muffled a mighty yawn behind her hand. "Tenzin and Pema were really impressed." Despite the unholy hour of morning, she smiled. "I'm so glad you were able to meet them. And the kids, and everyone."
"Totally our pleasure," Bolin said, and Mako's rare smile gently lit his face as he nodded quiet agreement.