It's, like, impossible to be a fan of Mako's today. Or yesterday. Or the day before. But whatever, she has to be about the peace, the harmony, and the extreme sensibility of her supposed-nature. She promised to play nice for Bolin, anyway.
But after Tahno, she is so not in the mood (she feels pretty guilty, okay?) and for once, in the fast open space that is the Island, she just wants ten minutes to herself to blow things up. Problem is it never works out that way.
"You're not okay," Mako calls.
"Ugh," she groans, her hands dropping to her sides. The footing is lost. The panels are on the other side of the house; today she's using actual dummies that she actually just wants to set on fire. "Seriously, you need to work on your terrible timing. I am now convinced it's a thing."
"You're not okay," he repeats.
And it's out of spite, that she sends a whirl of earth and water to him. Double the elements, double the expectation; Mako is limber enough to beat earth, but her water blast slams right into his belly.
Mako skids back, halfway into balance, more onto his knees, and dirt is everywhere on his jacket and knees. She's breathing heavily, eyeing him as he makes a fist into the ground.
"Feel better?" His voice is low, disappointed.
She wants to hit him harder.
"Doesn't matter," she mutters.
"Look," he starts, but she ignores him.
They're not here, Bolin, Mako; choosing to go to Asami's is fine, totally fine. Maybe she should feel jealous. Maybe she shouldn't. She is supposed to feel better about keeping everybody together.
But here and there, they kinda show up to see her. Bolin, takes mornings. Sometimes it's Asami and Mako.
This is the first time Mako comes by himself.
But she's burning, you know. She's burning over things like placement and lack of placement, the infinite regiment of her training and then lack of it - step here, step here, patience patience Korra - you're going too fast, no, no, you have to remember that to know air is to know the extension of your own awareness. Oh and footwork is important too.
"You're not listening," Mako says flatly.
She stops and shrugs.
"Seriously," he continues. "All I want to do is talk to you."
"I don't want to talk," she snaps.
She thinks of Tahno again. Poor, defeated Tahno - it's not feeling sorry for him, but it's her inability to act the way she should have acted. It's not like she can leave for a week either, go back home to Katara and her parents and forget, spirits, forget that she's really, truly the Avatar.
"People keep losing their bending," she says, and she sits, just over the step. Her knees feel heavy. Her fingers dig into her pants. It's hitting her again and she's angry. "And I keep - I don't know what I keep doing."
Mako doesn't have an answer for her.
Korra decides that now is not to time to try and speak to the other Avatars - which, technically (ugh, seriously) should be the right thing to do as it is.
Instead she sneaks out of the house, ignoring that she is pretty (helplessly) obvious when it comes to some things. If Tenzin wants to stop her, he'll stop her. Or make faces. She bets it'll mostly be faces if he tries. It's just not her fault that it's impossibly hot tonight and she can't really stand being in the pants, or the boots, or the stretch of fabric that she can no longer call a shirt because she's basically sweat through it.
Her hair is curling at her throat though, outside of the twine and the high ponytail. She steps deeper outside, past the guard gates. The house behind her is full of murmurs and heat, and the radio, on high, takes her to point, just past the training panels, and the circle, and Naga's second favorite place of rest.
She is peeling of her pants before she even thinks about it. The boots have been left back in the house. Her tank is next and she's spreading her fingers over her hips and underwear, her nails scraping over a few scratches over her belly. From the wires, she remember. And the glass - there was glass too.
"You're terrible at this."
Korra stiffens. "Seriously?"
Mako is behind her (of course, he's behind her and seriously, she's got to talk to Bolin about dropping boulders over his head so that he can so get the concept of space, space is important and honestly, stay at your own digs) and watching, even as she curls her arms around her chest and pulls them together hard. She's not afraid of skin. She's not even afraid of being naked.
"Are you - " he takes one look at her and his eyes are dark, her eyes are dark, and she just wants to knock him over again. He swallows and the light sort of hits the side of his face. "Look, just answer the question."
"You need to let go," she mutters. She looks away.
"You barely come around," he shoots back.
Her eyes narrow, but she still doesn't look at him.
"I've got things to do, okay. It's just not that simple - ugh, whatever."
It's happening again, the panic. Slow and almost thoughtful, waiting for her to burst. It's patient and that's almost frightening.
"I know you're not okay," he throws at her, stubbornly. "And you're worse than me - like, we've gotta talk about these things."
She rolls her eyes. "I just want to swim though."
He steps further, pulling off his coat. She hears the snap of his buttons. His scarf joins her pile of clothes on the ground; it's his boots too and then, he's down to his underwear.
Her throat feels like it's burning and all too tight.
"Mako," she says quietly.
If he's flushing, she can't tell. The heat in her face is slowly fading.
"I'm not trying to interrupt." He steps forward too. There are no marks on his skin. Not yet, she thinks. Then she feels guilty. Tenzin's words are playing in her head again: there's a war. We're at war.
"That's not what I said."
"I know," and then he's moving past her, just to the edge of the cliff.
It's a small out on the cove; it's not really the cliff, not the one that goes straight down to the narrow and horrible tide. She's a fierce swimmer. She's used to it. She's just terribly selfish and doesn't want to worry.
Is that wrong? Is that really that wrong?
Mako still stands on the edge. He hesitates or hovers - she isn't entirely sure. But her arms pull away from her chest. The air is cool and sticky against her skin, crawling along her throat, between the valley and plane of her breasts and just, right there.
She thinks it's too easy to watch him jump.
Korra does not want to share the water. It's not some fancy pool. She gets it, you know. She doesn't have a monopoly; the four elements are hers and then they are not hers.
But water is familiar, water is habit and home, and it sinks into her skin, just like an old friend, curling around her hips and waists, all over her throat and then to wet her hair. She is aware of Mako - how can she not be - and he comes into focus, treading water in front of her.
"This is the only way I could get you to talk," he admits. It's not an apology. "We're worried," he adds.
"I don't really want to talk." She cranes her head back. Her hair sinks deeper into the water. "I don't know how else you want me to say it," she says too, her gaze cutting to the sky.
He sighs and looks away. "I'm not Bolin."
"I don't want you to be," she murmurs.
"That's not it," he says, and she sinks into the water, disappearing. When she reemerges it starts to spin around her, her palms turn up to the air. Parlor trick, she thinks. Mako clears his throat. "I'm actually jealous of the way he talks with you - "
She eyes him wearily.
"I mean, how he can talk to you," he corrects.
"He just talks," she says dryly.
She turns her palms back into the water and it all calms. The stars aren't out, she thinks. She imagines them cutting anyway.
Mako sighs. "You trust him."
"I trust you too, idiot."
"No, no," he says. "You trust him," and maybe she doesn't hear resentment in his voice, but there is something she cannot place - whether it's for her or for Bolin, it doesn't seem to matter right now.
"I thought we decided we weren't going to go here." Her lips purse and she shifts, dragging her hand back into the water. She picks a motion. "Considering how well it worked out -"
"The last time?" he interrupts. "Yeah, sure."
Neither of them say repercussions. It's a dirty word and she's left thinking about both Tahno and Asami; different reasons, same reasons, and ultimately it doesn't matter. Jealousy is a stupid word. So is guilt. But, like, repercussions are going to be repercussions and she feels like she's steeling herself for a million different choices just to be safe.
"I saw Tahno today," she decides to say, well, she blurts.
It's dumb and dumber. He shuffles himself closer and she sees his stupid eyes - too bright, too focused. Being alone with him like this is too different now. She doesn't like that.
"It's like a debt now," she says absently.
Mako scoffs. "That's dumb."
But it's not. It's duty, it's responsibility, it's kinda like how he treats his brother, one for all and all for one, a shrewd sense of self in the end.
"I don't want to think about losing -"
"It won't happen." He's quick.
"Yes, it will." The pause is unnecessary. It's Tenzin's words again. "War is war, you know?"
"Oh bullshit," he groans, and she scoffs into a laugh. "That's like the time you joined that stupid squad. You're better than that."
Her eyes flash and she hits the water in his direction. It cracks and Mako ducks (it was lazy, okay) and pulls himself somewhere behind her.
She jumps when his hand sinks over her hip. She sputters water too, turning to face him.
"It wasn't stupid."
"You were nearly killed."
His gaze is sharper up close. She sees the flecks of color in his eyes in the dark; they glow and she hates it. It's not easy to hate any of this.
"He won't kill me," she says quietly. She doesn't mean to - "I think Amon's gonna do something, like, slow torture to me. It's about satisfaction, not the spirt of the fight. Taking people's bending is like ... killing animals or something."
"Where'd you get all that?" he asks.
She is wide-eyed where he is lying through his stupid teeth. He's not baiting her (if he were, she'd so sock him in the face) but he's decided, suddenly, that this is the best way to talk to her. He's got balls, or whatever, and she almost doesn't really tell him to spite him.
They're close and there's that too.
She's tired again. "Go back to Asami's," she says.
You'd think -
and really, she does feel really stupidly guilty about Amon and Asami and Tahno even though she's basically promised to kick Amon's teeth in for everybody in Republic City
- that she'd back away from Mako because that would be the right thing to do. Not climb back onto the cliff and stare at their clothes like they're more foreign than the weird little twitch her fingers are doing as she tries not to reach for him.
But she does. Reach for him.
Her fingers curl around his wrist and never mind she's half-naked. It doesn't matter. Breasts are breasts and she has a waist and now's not the time to tell him that she totally knows he's a dumb boy and blushing. But it's like, what else can she do?
"You haven't told her," she says quietly. She thinks: we're talking, right?
"No." He doesn't say Asami. And this is the worst. Mako leans over her or trying not to look at her. It's a weird contrary set. "I will though. It's not your place."
"No," she agrees. "Kinda like none of this is yours either."
She doesn't mean to be spiteful. Her voice is heavy and hard and she so catches a wince. But then Mako pushes some of her hair behind her ear.
"I want to help."
There's your problem, she almost says. You can't, she almost says too.
"I know." She shakes her head, lips curling. "Bolin already told me I have no choice in the matter - even though, well, at some point I've got to kick it into gear on my own."
"Yeah," he says, and his fingers are still curled against her hair, just at her ear. "I just -"
And he pauses, only because she is catching a glimpse of his scarf, the only thing she ever thinks she could go and point out and totally be like mako. She can't think of anything like that for her. There is fire, earth, water, and air and each is poignant in their own way. But they haven't fixed to her, like the smaller things.
It makes her head wander back to earlier and Tahno, the awful rings digging into his skin, under his eyes like a welcomed weight. She can't even talk about the blatant acceptance either. She's already decided that she can't see anymore people like that.
"I won't leave anyone behind," she says quietly.
"That isn't it." He shakes his head. She watches his mouth part. It's abrupt; her fingers catch over his lip. He bites at the pad of her thumb - it's an accident.
It's an accident.
When it's about them, it's not about them; this is how you know they are so not great with talking.
Korra knows that she could say:
"It was a mistake."
That would be the right thing to do.
"Look, I seriously like you. I was stupid and I know that there's a girlfriend, on that you like - " but isn't me - "and I'm trying to focus on everything else because that's what I have to do!"
Which, well, would be sort of the right thing to say, if there would a right thing to say, and she's not taking total blame for any of this. She just doesn't want to hurt anyone and she thinks, at least, Mako's there too with her.
But Korra could say a million different things, for a million different reasons, and line them all up to pick and brood and set things on fire for a little bit of space.
Mistakes happen, you know.
Mako doesn't kiss her.
She doesn't kiss Mako.
(she knows that should have said go home ages ago, but it doesn't want to work like that and she doesn't know what to do)
Kissing, that kind of kissing though, it's all on hold; somehow his shirt's made it's way to her hips and her pants are too wet to wear back into the house so she's wearing his shirt and her underwear and carrying wet stuff with her boots over her arm.
It's a weird thing, slowly gaining perspective. Maybe she's getting older. Maybe this is how she's supposed to slowly become all Avatar-y or whatever because it can't all be about compulsions and habits, the different weights and drawls of all the elements, and how she is pulled to each one with a reason.
This is what she'd like to tell you.
They stop just outside the house though, too aware of the radio around the corner and someone singing - she thinks it's got to be the new guy, the one that Katara sent to be Team Korra to drive Tenzin crazy and give her a little breathing room. But Mako leans against the door and she sort of hovers back, watching.
"It's weird that we don't talk," he says.
"Yeah." She drops her boots on the ground. "It's not like we work on it either."
"You're frustrating -" Mako is teasing; the curl of his voice lightens.
"And you're an ass," she's unapologetic, biting at her thumb.
He's quiet. His head leans back against the door too, turning. She sees his throat. She sees the bruising along his collar bone. Tahno, she remembers. Too many cheap shots and rocks - she bets their purple and Mako hates himself. She would too.
"I think," she says slowly, "we have to get over the weirdness."
"Easier said than done."
"Honesty is the best policy?"
Her voice is dry. Pema and Tenzin come to mind; she blushes and looks away, embarrassed. Korra knows she thinks too fast with her heart.
"I don't really know what to do," she admits - about this, about everything. Not just Tahno, but the sectioned off groups of former benders waiting to be interviewed.
She can only imagine the questions - how did it feel.
"I'm not a prodigy," she adds.
"No one's expecting you to be," he tells her.
Korra rolls her eyes. "That's sweet," and her voice is dripping with sarcasm. "Right on the money as always." And you look at me like that goes unspoken too.
"Shut up," he says. He pushes himself away from the door, hovering over her. "I'm just -"
"Talking, yeah. I know." She shakes her head. "Weird how that works," she says.
And back they go, one foot and then the other.
Except that's a lie too.
The problem isn't kissing, or talking, or not talking - she's sure that eventually, it's all going to come back and bite her really hard. Count all your blessing, right?
Sitting in the small bathroom, she's waiting for him to finish drying off. It's easier said than done and really, she doesn't know if she wants to go to sleep, or not go to sleep. Her head's starting to pull and losing it to that, that's just hard enough.
Korra keeps his scarf in her hands.
"It's like I don't even know," she confesses then, finally or something. It's a lump in her throat, tight and heavy. "If I'm doing this right, if I'm not doing this right - it's just, it's a mess -" her fingers tap her forehead " - and no one's giving me anything."
Mako leans against the tub. He opens his hand and the fire bursts out, a small tuft of air and heat, whirling right in front of her.
Then his hand closes.
"No one's supposed to," he says gently, and she can't decide if it's patronizing or not. Really though, she's back to wanting to punch things.
She's cross. "I know."
"Okay," he agrees.
"You should go." Her fingers curl in her hair.
She guesses she's waiting for the punch line, which, it's stupid. She pushes herself to stand - the mix of tiles and wood is cool underneath her legs and she's anxious, stupidly anxious all over again.
She cannot think about losing her bending. She will and she won't. It's sort of pointless in the end, you know. It's how you build obsessions.
Her feet shuffle forward though. Mako steps in front of her and she can't help it, really. She hits his stomach and he scoffs into groaning, rolling his eyes at her as he wraps an arm around his stomach.
They stare at each other. It's quick, it's impulsive, and then they're both laughing - both soft, both unsure. She sobers quickly. Her mouth is tired. The lines hurt and then, there, Mako is bending into her space.
His mouth hovers over hers. He doesn't kiss her. Her fingers curl into her fists and she's trying, seriously trying, not to be impulsive and do it. It's the heat in her belly too, pooling. It's the call of everything she knows she shouldn't be doing. Remember, remember - fire and earth are impulses, water is character, and air is everything she doesn't have quite yet and is unwilling to give.
But she still pushes herself onto her toes, her mouth touching his. It's soft, too soft for Korra. His hands grasp forward too, one at her hip, the other awkward turning over her shoulder. But no, no, they're not kissing.
Mako isn't sweet, or panicked - the last time was panicked. She remembers. The sheer impulsivity of his mouth, and how it was all reflexes, how there was no consideration. She feels her age now, she thinks briefly, which is weird, so weird to think about because she's supposed to be ageless.
"Go back," she says again. Her lips pucker and he's sighing into her mouth too. Her teeth skim his. "I mean it."
"I know," he says. "I know."
"Do you really?" she asks. "Because from where I stand -"
It's not the first time she nearly says it, talking about how it would all be had she hadn't run off to really, truly discover what path her life is supposed to take. Her head spins and they're touching, but not. Her hands move away from his chest and his start to drop.
She isn't sure if he pulls away first. She stares straight at the column of his throat, low and hooded eyes even as his fingers shift to drag back over her throat. Maybe she flinches. Maybe she sighs. She knows she will feel guilty and angry and that kind of awful shame, the heavier kind that is going to stick with her through all of this. It's his mouth and her mouth and the real, sheer weight that makes it different from that first time. The problem is that she knows Mako's mouth now.
And you won't.
Korra is making a list of the secrets of the worst kind.
She cannot slip in and out of their lives. Fuel for the fire, right?
( - she'll figure it out, don't worry, the difference between pressure in her palms, from the one in her legs, and oh, well, she and Asami won't be great friends, but they'll be friends, safe enough for the time being while she and Mako and Bolin just operate as a three, then a two, because Mako wants to talk and she doesn't really want anything to say - )
Guilt's kind of a strange thing as it is.