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Hey, Youngblood

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Mako hated weddings.

Granted he hadn't been a guest at too many of them, but after a brief stint as a server for some ridiculous catering company in Republic City's rich North Side, he'd grown sick of them.

Weddings, Mako mused as he picked up a kabob from a passing server, always had the same miserable components. For instance. He glared at the kabob. Raw fish, root vegetables, and- was that a strawberry in there? Well, the food certainly reflected the couple of honor. It usually did, and it was usually miserably elaborate to the point where the effort of eating the food was too great even to justify its gourmet status. That was the first necessary evil of a wedding, in his experience.

He tugged a precisely cut cube of yellowtail from the stick and torched it with a fingertip until it actually smelled appetizing, popping it in his mouth. A trick he'd learned in his years of service under Wu. Mako had long ceased pondering the wealthy's affinity for undercooked food and instead concerned himself simply with finding the best methods to get by comfortably in their presence. His eyes roamed the room, looking for the little man, finally falling upon his form gyrating on the dance floor alongside- or just on top of- some giggling, flushed girl.

Dancing was the second offense at weddings, as far as Mako was concerned. He was miserable at it, and preferred to keep it that way. Already, he'd been approached by a guest, blushing and heavily made up and wrapped in a flimsy silken dress that just covered her chest, asking if he could do her the honor of a dance. Mako had stuttered through a lame refusal and she'd walked away, head lowered, and he'd felt bad for a moment before reminding himself that she wasn't close to his type anyway. There was something about women with delicate clothes and perfectly done pink nails that made Mako afraid he might break them if he held them too tightly.

Mako turned his kabob in his hands, cooking it as surreptitiously as possible. He watched Korra and Asami on the dance floor, Bolin and Opal kissing at one of the doorways. Weddings' third offense was how frustratingly lonely they made him, even when he was just working them. Armed with the knowledge that he and the rest of the staff would just get drunk off the excess champagne later, he still had a twisting feeling in his gut, the annoying one that never really went away. His eyes wandered back to Korra, her tanned, large hands suspiciously low on Asami's curved hips. Well, that was a long time coming. Maybe Mako deserved to be on the sidelines for this one. Even if it meant he'd be alone.

"That's a useful trick."

"Chief," Mako breathed gratefully as Lin walked up to him, leaning on the wall to his right. She too was armed with an undercooked kabob, but that was surprisingly the extent of it; her dress was so form fitting that she couldn't have hidden the usual uniform underneath. He blinked twice.

"You clean up nice."

"Suck up." She thrust the food towards him. "Do mine next, if you wouldn't mind. This food- I swear, the strategy is to lose more calories working off the pieces from the stick than you gain by eating them. Some of us actually need to eat." She glared at the kabob as if it had personally offended her.

"I used to work for a catering company," Mako explained as he took the stick from her, glad at the easy camaraderie. The two of them got along quite well, when they had something to complain about together. "This is hardly the worst of it."

She snickered. "I'd assume Varys' wedding would be close to the worst. I guess that man's restraint can surprise me yet."

Mako's eyes roamed to Varys and Zhu Li on the dance floor, gyrating quite wildly to the music and certainly giving Wu a run for his money. He turned to Lin, grinning. "I wouldn't be so sure."

Mako watched a slender, defined eyebrow raise as her emerald eyes found the couple. They were a lighter shade than Bolin's, characteristically piercing, with flecks of gold that stood out quite prominently under the twinkling lanterns. He swallowed, suddenly uncomfortable as they turned back to him.

"On the subject of dance floor atrocities, I overheard your conversation with Wu."

"We've been working on the concept of inside voice, but I don't think he's entirely grasped it yet."

Lin waved a hand dismissively. Mako's eyes followed the glint of a silver ring on her finger. "He can yell as much as he wants about disassembling the Earth Kingdom monarchy. It might save me a press hurricane when the news goes public. Any idea what your plans are now you'll no longer be in his service?" She took the food back from Mako with a grateful nod.

Mako hesitated. "I thought I could return to the force- If you'd let me, of course. I've missed it."

She flashed what was an almost imperceptible smile. "I was hoping you'd say that. We have an open position, one that I thought you'd fit well in."

"That's great! What is it?"

"Deputy chief. City's criminal division."

Mako studied her face, but it was inscrutable. His stomach felt as if it had climbed upward into his chest. "Are you serious?"

"Well, I can't promise you'll find it as enjoyable as detective work. Late nights, lots of responsibilities, more managerial, of course. And more dangerous, when the time comes. I'll expect you to go through some physical training again, too. We've changed a lot of our hand-to-hand tactics and from what I hear, you've been living something of a cooshy life with Wu these few years." Her eyes swept down his arms and torso. "But I also don't like to make a habit of lying to a future deputy. So yes, I am being serious. What do you say?"

Mako blinked. "What do I- yes, that would be great! I can't believe it."

"Believe it." She looked up at him. "You're good. And we're starting an initiative to bring more diverse bending to the force. As well as nonbenders. The force's ranking officers have always been Metalbenders. It's about time we changed that." She ripped a cube of fish with her teeth, chewing it. "But don't start expecting regular compliments or anything."

"When can I start?" Mako hoped he didn't sound too eager. He'd dreamed of working in the force the last few years, missed it so much he ached, even down to the surprisingly comfortable sleeping spot beneath his desk in the detective offices.

"You can officially be on-duty this Monday, unless you want more time to get your affairs in order before then?"

"No, Monday's great." He couldn't wipe the smile from his face if he tried.

His friends might shudder at the thought of working under Lin Beifong, but Mako welcomed the idea gladly. She was fierce and determined and quite cutthroat and he found it made him want to work harder and do better, just to impress her, just to coax out a rare smile or even rarer compliment from the woman. Mako, like the rest of his coworkers, had spent his years on the force trying to impress Lin. Perhaps it was her sky-high expectations of her officers- she believed in their abilities far more than the officers usually believed in themselves. Not to mention, the two of them forged an easy repoire. Mako, criticized by his more sensitive friends for his loose tongue and inclination towards the sarcastic or even harsh comment, found a ready conversation partner in Lin. He admired her more than any other person he'd met, too, save perhaps Avatar Korra. The promotion from her- the actual compliment- was enough to make his head spin.

"Do you want to dance?"

She stiffened, looking up at him disbelievingly. Mako swallowed, wondering if his mouth was trying to get him killed. He hated dancing. Hated it. What was he doing, asking the most feared woman in the city to dance? Lin Beifong, who would probably have him charged with felony assault each time he accidentally trod on her foot? He felt heat start to color his cheeks and he ran his fingers aggressively through his hair. Not even day one, and he'd made a fool of himself. Damn it.

But instead, a corner of her mouth twitched upward. "We'll have to save that for next time, Firebender. It feels like Tenzin's looking for me." Sure enough, Mako looked over her shoulder and saw a bald, arrowed head searching through the crowd. She touched a hand to his arm. "Find me later, if you're interested in talking more about the position."

She turned towards Tenzin and waved. His eyes lit up when they caught her, and he began to sidle his way over to their corner. Lin hesitated and turned back to Mako. "Or don't, actually. Take some time to actually enjoy yourself before you throw your personal life away with this job, hmm?" Mako felt himself flush even more under the knowing glint in her eye.

"You got it, Chief."

-

Mako wasn't surprised when the telephone beside his bedside, his personal line, woke him up his first morning as deputy. He reached out a groggy hand and knocked the receiver to the ground. In his haste to retrieve it, his ankles tangled in the soft linen sheets and he fell to the floor beside it.

Fuck. Not a good start to the morning, and not really a good sign for his first day on the job- if Mako was the type to believe in ridiculous things like fate. Without thinking, he pressed the receiver to his ear. "Where do you want me, Chief?"

"Mako?" He felt a rush of satisfaction. Of course it would be her. "Do you just answer your phone like that all the time, in the hopes that I'll be calling? Wait, don't answer that. No time. I need you to meet me at the intersection of Pao Min Lane and the courthouse. Can you do that?"

He rubbed his eyes viciously, pulling down the little watch sitting on his bedside. A classy gold thank-you present from Wu. "Happy first day to you too."

"Uh-huh. Work now. We'll celebrate later. See you in twenty minutes."

The line clicked and Mako groaned as he pulled himself from the floor. He'd laid out his things his previous day, with a sneaking suspicion something like this might happen. He pulled on his clothes and armor, taking care to set the buckles properly. He still remembered his first day on the force; Lin had walked up to his desk and snapped her fingers, bending an undone clasp by his side into place. A mildly embarrassing start to the job, one he didn't care to repeat.

Mako was almost out of the little, darkened apartment when the doorway to his left opened and Bolin, scratching his scalp, emerged.

"I thought I heard the phone," he muttered through his sleep-dried mouth. I was worried Korra, Asami-"

"They're fine." Probably. Mako pulled a trench over the reassuringly heavy metal. "Just Beifong, calling me in."

Bolin eyed him resentfully, batting his infernal eyelashes. "That mad woman's sleeping patterns are going to rub off on you, aren't they? Tell her to get a life, so you can keep yours. I'll miss you otherwise."

"Yeah, I'll go ahead and tell the chief of the Republic City Police to pursue a healthy sleeping cycle. Crime mostly happens in the day, after all." Mako rolled his eyes. Bolin's guilt tripping had stopped working on him long ago, a common side effect of general older-sibling imperviousness.

Bolin just heaved a dramatic sigh. "I'll remind you that you said that, when the next time we see each other you can't recognize me from the wrinkles." He retreated into his room and closed the door behind him.

"Go back to bed, Drama Queen."

"Hey, it's Drama King, thank you!" Bolin shouted back through the wood.

By the time Mako made it to the designated street, Lin was already there, along with three other officers. One was holding a camera while the others wrestled a woman, bound by the signature metal cuffs, into the back of a police car. The street had been torn up badly, with large chunks of asphalt ripped from the ground, and a little nearby bakery was on fire. The smell of burning bread wafted down the block.

Mako approached Lin. She was wearing her own dark trench, the one that made it appear she wasn't wearing any armor, if one wasn't familiar enough with Lin Beifong to know she was always wearing her armor. It was badly singed, and her loose hair was wild. "What the hell happened here?" He asked.

She turned to him, placing a paper cup of dark coffee into his hands. "An attack. Three perpetrators. One dead, two injured. Earthbender and two Firebenders, respectively."

"Spirits." Mako surveyed the damage and sipped at the coffee. "Who was attacked?"

"Me."

He blinked. "They attacked you?"

"I didn't say they were smart attackers." She surveyed the scene. "Members of the force have been especially targeted as of late. This makes our third intentional assault on an officer in two weeks. It's why you're on the scene for this one- these attacks are some of our biggest concerns. Now that there's so much incognito real estate in the middle of the city, all the destroyed buildings from the portal, we've seen an upswing of gang activity. I'm sure you've been keeping up with all that."

Mako nodded. He had.

"They've been feeling powerful, making bigger moves than usual. Like I said, you've got to be feeling bold to attack a member of the force in broad daylight. It doesn't help that half the citizens haven't even moved back to the city yet. And I guess these imbeciles thought they'd try to murder the chief of police on my way into work this morning."

"You said one was killed?"

Lin's shoulders tensed for a moment. Mako followed her lidded eyes to a crack in the pavement, stained maroon with drying blood. "It couldn't be avoided. Spirits, I wish it could have been. The other two surrendered when the first went down, so we might be able to get some information out of them."

Mako caught the guilt in her voice and he reached out to touch her shoulder lightly, wondering if she could feel it through the plate that rested there. "Don't blame yourself for this. You were attacked. What could you have done?"

She tossed her spent coffee cup in a trash can and crossed her arms. "That's the thing about being a member of the force, Deputy. There's always something we could have done to save them. Or at least that's what the papers will say." She heaved a sigh, looking especially tired. "Which reminds me, the press needs to meet with you for comment on your promotion. Tomorrow, I think."

"What will they want?"

Lin waved a hand. "Assurances that you'll give your life and sanity for the city, any plans you might have in heading the criminal division. The usual."

Mako yawned until his jaw popped. "I'm thrilled."

Lin snorted beside him. "Just reign in the sarcasm. It's the easiest way to make an enemy out of the press. Trust me on this one." She studied him. "You look dead on your feet. Don't tell me you forgot these glamorous parts of being an officer?"

"The bad memories may have been obscured by the excitement," Mako admitted sheepishly.

"Don't worry. I'm sure they'll all come rushing back soon." She lifted a corner of her mouth at him and he smiled back.

-

The courthouse was just a few short blocks from headquarters, and Mako mused on the gall of the attackers while he trudged over, downing the dregs of the dark coffee and dropping the spent paper cup in a waste bin. The city was already waking up- not that it ever really slept, and Mako thought he caught a reporting van on its way to the courthouse, grateful to not have to deal with the papers that morning. The Republic City press seemed to work at absolute, inconceivable odds with the police; a malevolent force the officers loved to rip on when stress levels were high.

Mako pushed into the familiar building and down two hallways to the primary, open office. It was already lively, the familiar room of desks crowded and busy, the shuffling of paperwork and loud laughter from the small kitchenette reverberating around the space. He breathed deep; the room smelled of burned coffee beans and ink and the sweet creamy filling of doughnuts and Mako hadn't realized just how much he'd missed the station until that very moment. Wu always smelled like lavish, spiced colognes. His apartment smelled like Bolin's favorite takeout and the awful Water Tribe incense Varrick had gifted them as a move-in present. But the station smelled like home.

Some of the officers not chatting or glaring down at paperwork nodded at Mako, or cast respectful smiles in his direction. Mako blinked, suddenly nervous, looking around for his old desk.

"Mako."

"Shan. Thank the spirits."

A large Earthbender, even taller than Mako himself, walked up to him and clapped him on the back. Mako returned the friendly gesture gratefully. Shan had joined the force just after Mako himself, and they'd more or less immediately formed a comfortable bond. Shan reminded Mako a little of Bolin, with his happy-go-lucky attitude and eyebrows as thick as his Northern Earth Kingdom twang.

"Imagine my surprise," Shan's brown eyes glimmered, "when I heard from Beifong you were promoted to deputy. I thought she'd finally lost her mind."

"Imagine my surprise when I heard you'd be working under me. Or rather don't, because I wasn't."

"Ouch." Shan's face showed no sign of hurt. Rather, he grinned even wider. "Looking for your desk, Deputy? Lost on day one?"

"It looks like you've done some rearranging since I've been away." Mako's eyes swept the room once again. There were two lines of outward facing desks with more rows and tables behind them. The primary desks formed a walkway leading back to the chief's office, sealed with its usual heavy metal door.

Mako received a nudge from Shan's bony elbow. "You're damn right we did. While you were out lounging on cushions, getting your toes manicured-"

Mako almost corrected Shan- really, it was a pedicure- but he was able to catch the slip.

"-We were being forced by Beifong into the manual labor of moving the civil division down here."

"Civil's down here, too? Why?" The force had always split officers between civil and criminal duties. Officers in civil were trained in diplomacy, escort tactics, basic guardsmanship, and PR. The latter, on the other hand, received the brunt of the combat training and much more ground-time. Of course, the numbers in the criminal division surpassed civil three to one.

Shan shrugged. "Beifong thinks we'll have better communication, to have the criminal and civil divisions in the same room. She's right, of course, damn it. We're running like a well-oiled machine. Makes it hard to be resentful at her for all the furniture I had to move. Criminal's left side of the room, civil's right. We made sure to get the side with the kitchen."

Mako nodded. The coffee machine was nothing short of sacred in the force; proximity was key.

"Anyway, that one's yours there." Shan jutted his chin to the desk on the lefthand side of the room, closest to Lin's office door. "Brought it special from the detective office, it's the one you used to have."

"Thanks." Mako grinned at the man. "For the welcome, mind you, not the labor."

"I'm going to pretend you're thanking me for both. Later, Deputy."

"Officer."

Mako walked to the desk and sat behind it, running his hand across the metal surface. The calloused pads of his fingers traced a long, ugly dent that marred the surface. A souvenir from all those years ago when he'd dumped the Avatar. He grinned and reached without looking to the metal box on the desk top marked in, finding the first in a long line of case paperwork to catch up on.

The case files were few, but concerning. The perpetrators were all of different backgrounds and bending styles, and had no qualms about attacking a member of the force in a public place. Each officer had survived so far, but the scrapes were getting closer. The fact that they'd been bold enough to go after Lin was worrisome enough. Before the threat to her life this morning, they hadn't even caught any of the attackers.

"Troubling, huh?"

Mako looked up. A woman stood in front of his desk, cropped black hair complementing the harsh lines of her well-ironed cloth uniform. Her badge informed him that she was a deputy as well.

"Yes it is." He closed the file. "Mako."

"Jina." She took his outstretched hand and shook. "Deputy of the city's civil division. You must be my criminal counterpart."

Mako grinned. "Yep."

"A man of few words." She examined him, lips pursed. Her black eyes flashed. "I guess now I understand why Beifong promoted you over the other options. So tell me, Mako." She leaned over the desk. Mako averted his eyes from the deep, revealing opening at her chest. "What's it take to get in with Beifong, hmm?" Her eyebrows waggled.

His eyes locked onto hers. "What do you mean?"

"Ha!" She laughed a loud, startling bark. "Odd, how your brain suddenly jumps to that. Get your mind out of the gutter. What's it take to get on her good side? I worked my ass off to get this job and you just drop in with the promotion. Makes a girl feel a little underappreciated."

Mako wasn't entirely sure there was a strict formula for getting on Lin's good side. All he knew was that, now he was there, he certainly didn't want it to change. "Why are you so interested in getting close with her?"

Jina leaned back, ticking off on her fingers. "She's the most powerful woman in the city? She's my boss? She's sexy as all hell? Take your pick."

Mako's face warmed. "I'm not sure-"

The station lights flickered. Jina looked up and cursed under her breath.

"What was that?" Mako asked, grateful for the distraction.

She waved a hand dismissively. "The entire city's electrical system's been on the fritz since that bitch Kuvira. The station's been like this for a while now. Beifong asked the city to prioritize other buildings first, of course." She sighed. "I've gotta go. Nice to meet you, Mako."

"And you," he said, not really sure if he meant it or not.

Mako had just about finished reading the final case file- save the pending document from this morning- when the exterior door swung open and the decisive tapping of metal-bottomed boots on marble announced Lin's presence.

Lin insisted that nobody stand or salute when she entered, but her presence even in the great, bustling room was always noticeable. Mako had learned long ago that the officers quieted around Lin, either from respect or just nerves. She commanded a certain presence that wasn't quite calm as much as it was motivating; it gave officers the will to simply get shit done. While Lin wasn't looking, however, wars were fought and won to stand out among the many, to receive any sort of commendation from the esteemed chief of police. Even though he'd spent much more casual time around her, Mako still understood the fascination with Lin. The way she moved, even battle-singed, was poised and confident, even elegant, although nobody would be idiot enough to tell her that to her face. And she almost always brought food for the force- another winning factor among officers.

Today, it was a yellow box of cheesy pastries, and the officers gathered around the kitchen happily once she'd set it down, making her very direct way to the secluded office. She stopped by Mako's desk on her way.

"I see you've settled in?" Her gloved fingers traced the dent on the desk's surface. Mako's eyes followed their movement.

He grinned. "Right at home, Chief. Thanks for the souvenir."

"It's my pleasure, Firebender." She plucked the stitched leather gloves from her fingers. "Our very own desk, touched by the Avatar herself. It certainly deserves a place of honor." She rolled her eyes and Mako suppressed a laugh. He'd forgotten the standing feud between Lin and Korra, one that had become much more for show since their first interactions years prior. "I'll need you to alert the division to the latest attack. I've decided to wait to question the idiots we caught today- a day or two in holding should do well to loosen their tongues."

"Whatever you want, boss. Your word is law. Literally."

She huffed a quiet laugh, looking down at Mako. He caught something- amusement, maybe- glittering in her eyes, and it made his stomach flip weirdly, but he held her gaze a second or two longer before she turned, bending open the door to her office and stepping inside.

Mako's gaze rested on the door, trying to calm his nerves, before it roamed to the desk facing his across the walkway. Jina's dark eyes were on him, a thick brow raised in amusement. Mako, suddenly hot, stood, making his way to the box of warm pastries demanding its own attention at the back of the room.

-

Between onboarding logistics and meeting each superior officer working underneath him, Mako had enough work to keep him at the station until the night, but he liked it that way. Once almost everyone else had filed from the little room and the moon began to rise was when he got his best work done. Maybe it was something about the sun setting; when he no longer felt the instinctive Firebender itch in his veins, he could relax and concentrate, almost alone in the station with the cadets suffering their night shifts and one or two others behind on their work.

His little golden watch had just ticked nine o'clock when Lin's office door opened and she emerged, looking entirely unsurprised to see him. She made her way over to his desk and placed on it a little glass bottle filled with amber liquid.

"What's this?" He looked up at her, trying to hold her intent emerald gaze.

"Onboarding gift. With the state the city's in, you'll probably need it." Lin didn't smile, but her eyes warmed a little. Or perhaps Mako was imagining it.

"You're okay with me drinking here?"

She rolled her eyes. "Please. There's enough liquor hidden in these desks to last us through a monthlong rendition of Love Amongst the Dragons. Just don't be stupid about it."

Mako grinned, fishing two glasses from a drawer. "Join me?"

"Thanks." She took a glass, filled an inch with the deep liquid and swirled it appreciatively, leaning against the edge of his desk. Mako stood to lean against it beside her, sipping his deeply. It tasted bitter and woody, with a lingering sweet aftertaste. Although he was certainly no whiz when it came to assessing liquor, the way it seemed to move straight to his brain told him it was likely of Fire Nation origin. The Fire Nation certainly liked their drink potent.

His eyes went to Lin's form, still rigid against his desk, sipping at her own glass. They unconsciously traced the curve of her hip.

She's the most powerful woman in the city? She's my boss? She's sexy as all hell? Take your pick.

He choked on the liquor, tearing his eyes from Lin quickly. When they refocused on her face, she was giving him an odd look.

"Too strong for you, Firebender?"

"No!" He gasped, coughing. The liquor was great. Just making him delusional, apparently. "Down the wrong pipe."

"Mhmm." Her eyes flicked to his, looking especially gold in the low light. He caught a flash of something hard beneath their surface, unfocused now with the drink.

"Chief, are you-" He cleared his throat once more. "What's on your mind?"

"We need to start pairing up officers." She took another swallow. "These attacks- I'm not losing anybody to these criminals. Nobody should be on duty alone. I'm thinking none of them should be alone even off-duty. Tomorrow we'll change some shifts to allow that."

"Glossing over who were going to assign to be tortured on your personal schedule-" the corner of Lin's mouth lifted- "I was asking how you're doing. You know, um. Mentally." Mako grimaced at his own words. He was never good talking about emotions, especially to the least emotional person he knew.

She downed the remainder of the drink. Her eyes seemed to focus far away. "I don't like killing."

"You didn't have a choice."

"There's always a choice." Her hands clasped hard around her elbows. "At some point, we decide that our lives are worth more than that of another person, because we're simply on the popular side of the law. I've made many of those decisions. Too many, sometimes, I think."

Mako grimaced, unsure of what to say. When he was younger, the notorious Chief Beifong always seemed harsh and unfeeling, made of a million roughened edges, stoic and unbreakable as her element. It was almost foreign to think of her as somebody with feelings, to remember that she was a person. A person with a city's worth of responsibility on her shoulders.

When he was younger, he'd been responsible for himself and Bolin, and it had nearly killed him. But Lin? She was responsible for the entire city. It made Mako's blood run cold, to think of a person having to carry that weight alone. He looked at her again, cautiously avoiding where the metal bands stretched around her torso. She'd chosen a lonely, dangerous life for the sake of the city. It was amazing, really.

He extended a hand to her arm, wanting to touch her, to let her know she wasn't alone. But before his fingers made contact, the station door crashed open and a crazed looking cadet ran into the room.

"Chief! Deputy," he breathed. "There's been- another attack. Come quickly."

Lin swore and jumped from the desk and Mako followed her movements, searching for his armor. Before he was able to pull it on, Lin placed a hand over his.

"Mako, go home. Rest. I've got this."

"But- are you sure?"

Her face was set. "Just because you're a deputy now, don't think you can suddenly start questioning my orders."

Mako swallowed. "Yes, Chief."

-

The following morning, Mako was ready for the call that woke him up far earlier than he'd, far too optimistically, set his alarm. He grasped the receiver, intent to be in a good mood.

"This had better be good, Chief. You interrupted my morning yoga."

"Deputy, I need- wait, yoga? Seriously?"

He rubbed his eyes. "Of course not. I was sleeping, like any smart person should be- like you should be, you know."

"Do me a favor and take a look at your badge, Firebender. It should be right at your bedside, where I imagine you gaze at it wistfully in your free time."

Mako eyed the betraying badge on his nightstand, resolved to keep it pinned to his uniform the next day. "Uh huh."

"You see what it says on the very top?"

"The characters read 'deputy.'"

"That's right. Remember the ones on mine?"

"They probably read 'chief.' Or possibly 'sleep thief.' It's so hard to remember- synonyms, you know."

"The former. Funny, that means I outrank you, and can fortunately avoid your orders pertaining to my sleeping habits." Mako grinned despite himself- she sounded amused. "Get down to the station- we've got an assailant ready to talk."

"Right away, Sleep Thief."

The line clicked and Mako pulled on his uniform and his thickest coat, making his way quietly from the apartment. Bolin didn't try to make conversation that day, and Mako couldn't decide if he was relieved or disappointed by his brother's solemn closed door.

Three long staircases lead from the station entryway down to the long-term holding and interrogation cells, and Mako pulled his peacoat a little tighter to combat the chill of the underground hallways. He considered lighting a fire, but the rooms were kept cold for a reason- the greater the discomfort, the more likely criminals were to talk.

A little room outfitted with a panel of one-sided glass looked out onto one of the interrogation rooms, where the woman they'd arrested yesterday- definitely a Firebender, judging from her gold-flashing eyes- was shivering in heavy metal restraints and too-light linen clothing. Lin stood over her, arms crossed, looking quite furious, and Mako didn't blame the Firebender one bit for cracking so easily. Cold temperatures were the bane of a Firebender's existence, the chi blocking cuffs preventing her body from running at its usual, hot temperature. And Lin, well. She was terrifying when she wanted to be, which seemed to be almost always.

Mako entered the more comfortable room. Jina was already sitting there, looking intently through the glass, sipping on a hot drink in a mug that gave off the pungent odor of cider.

The metal chair scraped noisily on the stone floor as Mako pulled it up, and he drummed his fingers on the little table in front of them, eyes wandering to Jina. The silence was tense. Through the glass, neither of the women were speaking either. Mako watched Lin's steady breaths turn to steam in the cold room. He concentrated on the rhythm, matching his own breathing to it, eased by it.

"I can't believe one of them broke so easily." His voice was still rough from sleep and he cleared it, frustrated.

"Sucker." Mako turned to see Jina glaring through the glass. "If they're going to commit a crime, they could at least stay resolved to it. Stupid fucking petty criminals."

"Did you have a go at her, too?"

"Yep." Jina shoved a clump of hair behind her ear. "Last night. Just sat in silence in the corner, glaring. You should've seen her face- it was hilarious. I warm 'em up, and Beifong goes in for the kill. It's a good strategy." She buried her nose in the mug once more. The glittering emblem of the Sato showroom emblazoned onto the mug caught Mako's eye and he smiled, thinking of Asami.

Mako cast around for something else to say. "Do you own a Satomobile?"

"Got my first one just last month."

"My friend Asami makes them."

"You mean, your more-than-friend, turned friend, turned more, turned current girlfriend of the Avatar?"

Mako frowned. "Friend is still accurate, you know." The damn force. Rumors traveled around the officers like wildfire. Rumors that were, more often than not, completely truthful. A side effect of employing the city's best detective minds.

"So, are you seeing anybody now, Mako?"

He started. Her glittering black eyes were finally turned on him. "No."

"One of those married to the job types?"

Mako sighed at the knowing inflection in her voice. "Probably."

"Well if you ever need a distraction from your life of celibacy, Deputy." She leaned back with the mug, crossing her heeled shoes on the table in front of them. "You know where to find me."

Mako felt heat rise to his face and quickly turned from her, looking back into the room. The Firebender was still in her metal chair, casting furtive glances at Lin, who now looked rather bemused as she drummed slender fingers against her armored bicep, a hip thrown out nonchalantly. If Mako was going to be married to his job, at least he'd be in some damn good company. He smiled.

Minutes passed in silence, in which Mako resolved ten times over to never again try to make small talk with his fellow deputy, before there was action in the room ahead of them. It was Lin, taking a single step forward towards the Firebender, who jumped violently.

"Here's the deal," Lin spoke quietly to the shuddering girl. "I've just spent twenty minutes thinking of each way I could string you up with my metal restraints and force you to talk."

Beside him, Jina snickered.

"You'd be making things a lot easier for me if you were to just tell me whose orders you were working under-" Lin placed a palm flat on the table in front of them, contorting the metal around the woman's hands- "When you thought trying to murder me was the optimal use of your free time yesterday."

The girl swallowed, her arms now fully encased in the fluid, silver substance. "Please. Please, I don't work for anyone, I just heard a rumor-"

"A rumor?" Lin leaned closer.

"Ten thousand gold pieces for any dead officer," the girl whispered, shaking even harder now. "A hundred thousand, for y-you. Please, we just needed the money, we-"

Lin slammed her hand on the table. The look in her eyes was murderous, the emerald flashing. "Where did you hear this rumor?" She hissed. "Who the hell is behind it?"

"I don't know," the girl whispered. "We were just supposed to bring the bodies to the tunnels beneath the city. To claim the reward." Her eyes were downcast. Mako frowned.

Lin turned and left the room, the metal of the table remaining in place, encasing the Firebender's arms to her shoulders. Mako jumped up to follow her as her footsteps echoed along the hallway.

"Morning," he greeted, catching her as she was bolting the door. Her eyes slid over to him.

"Did you hear all of that?" Her brow furrowed. Concern sounded fresh in her voice again.

"We're being hunted. What else is new?"

They set down the hallway together, and up the staircase. The air warmed with each step.

"The bounty that she mentioned. If it's widespread knowledge, we'll be seeing even more attacks on our officers. Criminals will come out of the woodwork. Maybe even from around the Earth Kingdom."

"You think they'll actually get the kind of money they're being offered?"

"Ideally, we don't ever find that out." Her face had hardened, jaw set. "Even more insulting than knowing my officers have a bounty on their heads- that I have a bounty on mine- the last thing she said was a lie."

"What?" Mako asked, momentarily shocked. Then, he remembered the truthsayer living at the Metal Clan. Given her renowned mother, it figured that Lin would have those powers, too. He quickly resolved to never lie around her. "The part about- beneath Republic City?"

"Yep." Lin lead Mako outside, to one of the waiting force Satomobiles, climbing into the driver's side. "It's a trap. Must be."

"So where are we going?"

"We, Deputy-" Lin grinned, a contortion of her face that didn't quite reach her eyes- "Are going to spring that trap."

-

Lin drove Mako to a large storm drain in the heart of the ruined part of the city. They disembarked, and Mako lit a fire in his palm, the grate still dark in the early morning light. Something about the space tugged on his memory.

"I've been here before, I think."

"Amon," Lin said by way of explanation. Mako noticed that her voice wavered a little on the name. She walked to the grate and performed a series of quick jutting motions to lift it, motioning for Mako to follow. Her hands balled into tight fists, and it slammed behind them.

"That should be enough to let them know we're coming."

Mako caught up to her, breathing rather heavily. She was fast. "Will it be okay? With just the two of us."

"I won't let anything happen to you, Firebender. If it seems too much for the two of us, we leave." Her hand brushed his elbow, as she turned her emerald eyes upwards on him. Mako felt something in his chest warm.

"I know you won't." Although a deputy's work was predominately logistical, they were also expected to perform in the highest-danger missions, after the chief herself. Mako knew what he'd signed up for. It was an easy decision, when he'd always felt safe with Lin.

Lin knelt, a palm flat to the ground, eyes closed. Mako stood by, watching her. Her hips were accentuated well with the armor, her hair hanging loosely above the neck. Mako's eyes traced the sharp curve of her jaw, the two slender scars that ran up the side of her cheek to stop just beneath her closed eyes. He wondered how she'd gotten them. He wondered if anyone had ever been brave enough to ask. He wondered what they would feel like, beneath his fingertips.

"Firebender, what the hell?"

"What?" He started. The flame in his hand had grown a foot in height, sweat beading onto his forehead from the heat, probably. It must have been the heat.

"How in the hell am I supposed to be listening for vibrations and mapping out this place if your pulse is pounding through the floor?"

And, shit, Mako was completely certain he didn't want to explore one inch deeper into the reasoning behind that. He swallowed. "Nervous, Chief. Sorry."

She narrowed her eyes and Mako realized, too late, that he'd already lied to her. So much for that resolution. "Uh huh. Whatever. Quiet now, please, if you'd be so kind."

Lin turned back around and Mako stepped away, concentrating on breathing, his thoughts straying to the first time they were in these labyrinthine tunnels. Although Lin had distracted him, he really was nervous. Any reference to Amon, any reminder of the suffocating fear he'd felt fighting the man all those years ago, made him react badly. It was a fear that Mako still occasionally saw reflected in the eyes of his brother and friends upon a casual mention of the Equalist. Being in the tunnel must have been too much for him.

Mako closed his eyes, and Amon's mask loomed back at him. He balled his hands into fists, swallowing against the rolling of his stomach. Amon's gloved fingers, tugging upward on his chin. The desperate, fracturing composure of his lightning that had exploded from his fingertips, striking himself as much as he struck Amon. His breath hitched.

"Mako. Mako. Are you okay?"

There were fingers on his chin again, but these ones were soft, tugging his face not upwards but down. He opened his eyes.

Lin was in front of him again, genuine concern across her face. Her touch was gentile and warm on his chin.

"Thinking about-" He stammered.

"I know." She ran a thumb along the line of his jaw, pushing abrasively against the rough stubble. "It's okay."

She removed her hand and made to turn away.

"Chief, I was wondering-"

"Hmm?"

"How- do you sleep, after revisiting something like this?" He'd have terrible nightmares. He always did.

"Oh, Firebender." She smiled sympathetically. "I don't."

They set off through the tunnels again, Mako wondering if he was reassured or not by her words.

Lin had felt people farther down the primary tunnel, where it opened into a cavern, she explained to Mako as they walked. Seven life signs, hanging from the ceiling from cloth cords, waiting.

"A decent ambush, if they didn't once again underestimate me." She sounded a little disappointed.

"Chief, I'll take criminals underestimating you over the opposite anyway." Mako stepped over a large, foul smelling puddle.

She grinned. "Where's your desire for a challenge? Don't tell me you'd rather be sitting behind your battered desk right now staring at papers."

He definitely wouldn't have preferred it. To be on the ground, risking a little bit of life and sanity, was what being a Republic City Police Officer was all about. He'd missed it so much he'd ached.

They stepped into the cavernous room and, without even looking, Lin snapped her fingers, severing the stone from which the attackers were hanging from.

One by one, each body hit the ground. Two, done in by the surprise of being detected, didn't land correctly. Mako spun at the crunching sound they made and saw the shocking white shape of fractured bone peeking out through reddening wounds; the bodies broken, crumpled. The rest of the group stepped over the forms dismissively. They were dressed in black, masks and scarves pulled up high to obscure the bottom halves of their faces.

Nice of you to drop in, Mako's mind supplied for him. He'd also gotten damn good at his criminal one-liners, if he said so himself.

They circled around Mako and Lin. Mako instinctively stepped ahead of her, turning his head, trying to get a count.

"Lin Beifong," one of them called out through the mask, lowering it to reveal a gleaming row of teeth. His voice had taken a sing-song tone, and Mako glared at him. He was slender and tan and wore a pouch on his back. A Waterbender. "Hiding behind one of your many pets. I wouldn't have expected it of you. But then again- maybe you're just getting old."

"Who are you, and what the hell do you want?" She demanded.

"Someone who has seen the rotting heart of the Republic City Police Force, and thinks it would do better under new leadership."

"You mean, you're someone who would benefit from no force at all in the city," Mako spat at him, glaring. These people were no officers, had clearly never been trained in any formal fighting style. They were criminals; bow-legged, emotion clearly written on their half-covered faces. It meant they would fight more passionately, with more abandon. It meant they had more to lose.

It meant they were more dangerous.

The Waterbender just laughed in Mako's face. "Your little pet speaks, Lin. You should put a shock collar on him."

"You-" Mako took another step forward, only to be stopped by Lin's restraining grip on his shoulder. The Waterbender's smile widened, turned crooked.

"Oh, interesting. You care about this one, Lin. Grooming him to take your place some day? Or are you just fucking?"

Her grip tightened on his shoulder.

"I'll give you the chance to spare him, you know," the man said. "I'm not heartless." The ring of criminals snickered. "Surrender to me peacefully now, and I'll let your little Firebender go. All you have to do is surrender."

"Hmm," Lin hummed beneath her breath. Mako turned towards her. "Chief-"

"Let me think, Deputy." Mako tried to catch her eyes as she turned her head, looking the ring of criminals up and down. Suddenly, he understood, and angled his back to almost touch hers and they spun, finally getting a look at their attackers. Mako could tell almost instantly, from stance and musculature, what kind of benders they were. A perk of his years in Pro Bending, when he certainly hadn't had enough time to evaluate the color on each uniform as he was being attacked. They were divided up neatly, unconsciously; two Waterbenders, two Earthbenders, a single Firebender.

"What do you think, Deputy?" Lin asked. Sarcasm was now clear on her voice, dripping from each word. "We surrender nicely?"

"I'm not really one for surrendering, Chief," he said back.

"Oh, good."

The Waterbender stepped toward them again, poorly concealed rage in his deep blue eyes. "Make any decision you want to, Pig. You'll just pay with both of your sorry lives."

The ground beneath them shifted and Lin crouched, shattering the loostened concrete slab with a fist. Mako mirrored her, crouching, deflecting a sheet of flames that came spinning in her direction, splitting the rush of heat with his hands and casting it to the attacking Earthbenders behind him, who had to pull large stone shields from the ground to avoid it.

The shields cracked and hurtled towards him and Mako ducked, sending a blast of flames back. He heard a cry but didn't turn to look; instead, he stepped forward, feeling Lin's hips shift along his. They remained back to back, deflecting the advances, looking for an opening, a way to even the odds.

Just like in training.

Lin found one first, pulling a strip of metal from her own armor to compress around the ankles of the second Waterbender as she took a step forward. The Waterbender fell to the ground and Lin lifted her body by the metal restraints and threw it across the chamber, where it skidded to a heavy halt and remained motionless.

Mako sent a line of fire at a stone column crashing down on them from the ceiling, two more from the walls. The stone cracked and weakened, and a last punch from Lin shattered it. While great chunks of rock fell, Mako jumped over the columns and towards the Firebender.

The man's footwork was quick but sloppy, slowed by the wet floor, the foot of disgusting city water that covered the concrete. Mako balled his hands into fists; he was used to fighting in water. It was just a Pro Bending match all over again. Two jabs to the left and a sweeping blast of fire from his foot while the Firebender tried to dodge and he was slammed against the stone wall, knocked unconscious. Mako turned, satisfied. It would have been a round in their favor, in a match.

Lin was locked in battle with the two other Earthbenders, deflecting their blows precisely, using her signature metal cords to whip through the air and slice apart their less superior rock attacks. They seemed to be trying to hold her, summoning stone restraints from the floor to trip her up. Mako watched as a boulder the size of his head hit her shoulder, jolting her body to the ground.

"Chief!" Mako tried to lift a foot to run to her. Their formation was scattered. They would always be stronger fighters together. But he couldn't. He looked down; ice encased his boots, traveling upward to his knees, his thighs.

A jolt of panic shot through Mako's brain as the adrenaline finally hit him. He blasted his own body with flames, ignoring the sharp burn on his skin as the ice melted away.

He flipped backwards and a stream of water wrapped around his wrist, lifting and slamming him unceremoniously into the stone wall. He felt his legs crumple and he sank into the foot-deep sewer water.

The Waterbender joined him, laughing down at Mako. Mako remained still, watching the man move into the pooling liquid. One step. Two steps. Mako inhaled.

On the third step, he jumped upward. "Chief!" He shouted again.

She whipped her head around, catching his eyes, and understood. Mako jumped as high as he could out of the water, summoning delicate tendrils of lightning to his fingertips and hurtling it into the muck. The water lit with electricity, turning an unnatural blue. The screams of the Waterbender echoed horribly off the chamber. When Mako fell, a stone slab appeared from the pool to catch him.

Mako jumped out of the still sparking water, engulfed in the smell of burning human flesh and hair. He hurtled towards the Earthbenders, kicking one in the side, cracking ribs, and slamming the other into the ground by her throat.

As Lin hurried to restrain the living attackers, Mako leaned towards the Earthbender. She was young- his age, maybe- and bleeding profusely from a scar on her neck. Mako stared at it; one long, skinny wound. It looked familiar.

"Who the hell are you?" He gasped in her face, lungs heaving for air. "Who do you work for?"

"I'll never tell you," she gasped. "You're a puppet, a doll. The force is dead weight- you've condemned yourself by your actions today." Blood pulsed out the side of her neck and she gasped. "Please, I-"

Lin walked over, her brow furrowed. She pulled a glove from her back pocket and handed it to Mako.

"Apply pressure." Her eyes glittered. Mako presses the fabric- an expensive suede, if his time with Wu had taught him anything- to the bleeding gash.

"One more chance to tell me," he whispered, suddenly inspired. "Or the gloves come off."

Lin snorted beside him, and Mako felt a wave of satisfaction. The Earthbender's eyes widened.

"You wouldn't-"

"Depends on if you're helpful to the force or not." Mako was glad this Earthbender couldnt read his pulse. It was a blatant lie- he'd never allow somebody in her position to die.

She let out a small choking sound. "Fine. We're Triads. We're the ones who've put out the bounty. And the man you just killed?" Her eyes slid sideways to the Waterbender's body, floating face-down in the muck. "He was big. And you have no idea what kinda shit you've gotten yourself into now, Pig."

Lin stepped up to Mako. "Good work. I'm going to radio in." Her eyes swept his face, his torso, and Mako shifted under the weight of her gaze, pressing the glove more tightly against the girl's neck. Her voice softened. "Are you hurt?"

He shook his head and she walked away, pulling a radio from a pocket beside her hip.

Soon, more officers had arrived, carting the attackers into the backs of cars and pulling sheets over the dead ones. Mako glared at the sodden sheet that covered the Waterbender. He quietly added another tick to a mental list.

Lin walked beside Mako and grasped his elbow reassuringly. "Remember what you said to me yesterday?"

"I do. But Chief- I'm terrible at taking my own advice."

She squeezed and Mako leaned into the touch. "Try, Firebender. You did extremely well today."

When they walked out of the grate, force members, bodies, and prisoners in tow, the press was waiting for them. Mako gratefully stayed quiet beside Lin while she addressed the reporters, taking the usual Deputy spot behind Lin's right shoulder for the very first time. It was overwhelming; the flashing cameras were much brighter and more shocking when they weren't coming from across the moat of a Pro Bending stadium. He averted his eyes and studied Lin, instead. She kept calm under the distracting flashing and looked even more comfortable when her hair was disheveled, her armor dented, when she had streaks of blood down her face and filth around her boots. She looked wonderful, Mako thought. She looked like she'd just risked her life again for the city. Then, Mako remembered, he did too. He felt a rush of pride.

-

The station's showers had never been more welcome, and Mako allowed himself a long soak beneath them, taking care to wash off the blood and grime that had wound up seemingly everywhere on his body. Then, he dressed in a new uniform and made his way to the primary office where his desk, and presumably loads of post-incident paperwork, waited for him.

After that, Mako's second day passed in a whirlwind of much-needed black coffee, hurried scratching of characters onto paper, and his scheduled interview with a reporter where Mako stumbled through sentences none too eloquently and sat uncomfortably through at least ten photographs. By the end of it all, Mako was overwhelmed, jittery yet exhausted, and needed a drink.

The station was quiet again that night, and Mako fished out the little amber bottle from his desk before walking to Lin's office door and tapping on it. He hadn't seen her since the morning and briefly wondered if she was in; despite her ability to somehow attract the attention of everybody in a room, she could still slip out with nobody noticing. Mako wondered if she had a pole leading downwards to the streets from her own office.

To Mako's surprise, the door's knob twitched and it swung open. He stepped inside.

She was bent over the desk, scratching small characters onto a paper. "Deputy," she greeted, without looking up.

Mako looked around. The office was dimly lit and comfortable, with a shelf of books on one end beside some squishier chairs. A little statue sat in the corner, looking like a miniature version of Lin herself made from bronze. The office was clean and professional. There was no visible exit, save the door he'd just come in through. "I thought you might like a drink."

"After a day like today? Who wouldn't?" She frowned at the paper, pushing out the metal chair that sat in front of her desk with a wave of her hand. "Start without me, I'm just finishing this up."

Mako did, swirling around the liquor in his mouth and enjoying the sudden, tingling numbness that it brought. He finally got a chance to inspect the bottle- Fire Nation origin after all. He smirked.

For a while, there was nothing but the scratching of Lin's pen and the almost imperceptibly light ticking of the second hand on Mako's wristwatch. He let his head fall backward, more relaxed in that moment than he'd been in years, maybe.

Finally, she put down the pen and pulled her own glass towards her. "How do you like Jina?"

"What?" He jumped. There went his calm mindset. "Why do you ask?"

"I felt quite a bit of tension coming through the wall this morning. Is she bullying you already?"

Damn, and Mako kept forgetting just how astute Lin's Earthbending really was. He sighed. "She wanted- I mean." His face heated. "She extended the offer to break my police force celibacy, if I wanted."

Lin was quiet. Mako stared down at his hands. For some reason, he was unable to bring himself to look at her.

Then, she laughed, and Mako jumped. Her head was tilted back, an arm thrown over her eyes, the sound rough and fresh and unused. "Oh, so it was that kind of tension!"

Mako blinked. "What?"

Lin caught his eye. "I respect her forwardness. Don't look so surprised, Firebender, you know the force's policy. Engage with whomever you want, as long as you don't bring any unnecessary drama to work." She grinned. "Everyone around here fucks like rabbits, anyway. I can't stop them, even if I wanted to."

And damn it even more if his face didn't get hot. "I'm- not interested in Jina," He muttered. It was weird to talk about this with Lin. And well, Mako was certainly one prone to awkwardness.

She shrugged. "Make sure to enjoy yourself once in a while, Deputy. Otherwise, you'll find that the job eats you alive." Mako watched her shoulders tense. "Trust me."

"Hey, I'm living the life." He grinned. "Mildly life-threatening workouts each day, and when I want a break, I can just sit around and get my picture taken for an hour."

"I'm surprised you let that reporter take so many."

"I thought she'd run some smear piece if I didn't, to be honest." Mako remembered the woman's sharp red fingernails and beady eyes. He'd certainly felt threatened.

"It makes sense," Lin reasoned. "You make the force look good. They'll probably use you as the new poster boy."

"I make the force look good? How?"

She rolled her eyes. "Well, aside from being our first Firebending deputy and best friends with the Avatar, not to mention Pro Bending champion, you're pretty good looking. The press is probably going crazy trying to find ways to feature you in more stories."

"You think I'm good looking?" He asked, out of surprise more than anything.

She frowned. "Don't let it get to your head. All I'm saying is that with you heading news stories, we probably won't be resented by as many citizens. Well, at least not as many female ones."

Mako sipped at his drink, remembering the first time he'd seen Lin. He'd recognized her immediately of course; almost every newsworthy story published in the papers was accompanied by a photograph of her. She presented a better face for Republic City's force than Mako ever could. She was reassuring and fierce and still quite nice looking herself, really, immediately recognizable with her defined cheekbones and piercing eyes.

"You make the force look good too, you know."

She leaned back in her seat. "Firebender, I have promoted you to the highest possible rank in my authority, save my own job. You'll accomplish literally nothing now by sucking up to me."

"I wasn't trying to suck up to you." Suddenly, the remaining droplets in his glass were very interesting.

Lin stilled. "Oh." Mako dared a glance at her face to see it was turned away from him, looking more confused than anything. He carded his fingers through his hair. Damn it. He still wasn't able to talk around Lin, apparently. He was just trying to pay a harmless compliment. A compliment that had no relation, at all, to the fact that his mind had suddenly supplied him with a healthy reminder of the metal armor wrapped snug around her hips.

Mako sighed. "Sorry, Chief. I'm exhausted."

"Of course you are." Her face had resumed its usual, inscrutable expression. "Why don't you try to get some sleep?"

"And if I can't?"

"Then call me, and we can bitch about nightmares together." A corner of her mouth lifted. "Or, I don't know, write some bad haiku about sleeplessness. Get your brother to help you with that- he seems poetically inclined. We can pin them to the bulletin board for the whole force to appreciate."

Mako grinned and left her office.

-

Mako knew it would be a long night, and wasn't surprised when he was ripped from sleep by vivid, miserable nightmares where his feet sank in quicksand and he was forced to watch as Korra's bending was taken, again and again, dreams where he was lifted by the very blood in his own veins and bent until his bones snapped, broken and twisted into a tiny, fleshy ball. Amon's mask was everywhere, in his dreams. Whenever he closed his eyes, it swam out of the darkness, the image burned to his mind. Or he had the itching feeling that it was right behind him, remaining just out of sight.

Although he hadn't had them in a while, Mako was no stranger to the nightmares. They left him sweaty and shaking and nauseous, and feeling all in all rather pathetic. He'd gone to his friends for help with them, to no great success. Asami had grimaced and recommended an expensive therapist, the one who'd helped her through her own trauma. Asking Bolin for help had been even worse. The boy had never had trouble sleeping in his life.

"Just, you know," He'd said to Mako, leaning over his ramen. "Maybe your body needs to calm down."

"So what should I do?" Mako had asked, almost desperate. It had been three years ago, and Mako's dreams were filled with the Red Lotus.

Bolin had just shrugged. "Maybe you need release. You know, masturbate or something."

Mako had dismissed the idea, resolving to never ask Bolin for body advice again. He'd almost asked Korra, but was too afraid for what her answer might be. If Mako's nightmares contained things that Korra'd had to deal with firsthand, he certainly didn't want to risk bringing up any more bad memories than she was already dealing with on a nightly basis.

Mako had resolved to suffer in silence, but his discomfort reached a peak that night. He'd even been desperate enough to slide a hand hesitatingly beneath his sleeping pants, but his body wouldn't reciprocate. The little golden watch on Mako's bedside had just ticked four in the morning when he gave in, wiping the sweat from his forehead and dialing Lin's number. He wasn't sure what he was doing, or if he'd get a formal reprimand for bothering the chief in the middle of the night, or perhaps arrested and held in a cell where he couldn't reach a phone. He wasn't even sure she was being serious. He'd just about lost his mind, he figured, more with each buzz of the line. Mako held his breath.

The phone clicked. "This had better be good, Firebender. You've interrupted my meditation."

He could have laughed. "How'd you know it was me?"

"The only person brave enough to call me in the middle of the night without invitation is Tenzin, and he's currently down in the Southern Water Tribe visiting his mother."

"Oh." She didn't sound tired, Mako noticed. Only rather amused. "So- meditation?"

"A bad habit I picked up from aforementioned Airbender. Although I still don't think I do it quite right."

"Isn't it just sitting? With your eyes closed?"

She snickered. "That's what I said, too. And I was treated to an hour-long lecture about clearing my chakras, or aligning my chi, or something along those lines."

"Sounds awful." Mako grinned.

"I'll tell you what, though- it helps to feel like you're accomplishing something, rather than sitting around wasting time when you can't sleep." She sighed. "Which is why, I'm guessing, you called?"

"Yeah."

She was quiet for a minute. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"I have dreams where Amon lifts me into the air and snaps each bone in my body, rolling me into a ball of flesh." Mako grimaced- it sounded terribly stupid, out loud.

"Spirits," Lin breathed. "That's fucking awful, Firebender."

Mako wondered if she was going to say more, but she remained quiet. He laid back onto his mattress, listening to her steady breathing on the other end.

"When you meditate, what do you think about?"

"Logic behind criminal activity, and beating criminal activity. The only two things that actually relax me, you know."

Mako grinned. "Any thoughts on this new case?"

"After you left, I reached out to some of our contacts involved in the Republic City underground. Apparently the Triads have been recruiting, making big moves even for them. Sounds like their power structure has changed. They're now headed by one powerful bender from each element; water, fire, earth."

"And the Waterbender-"

"Is the one you took down yesterday. Good job with that one. He was notorious."

"I bet they're scrambling now!" Mako said excitedly. "Looking for new leadership. Maybe the Earthbender or Firebender will be looking to take full command."

"I wouldn't be so sure," Lin cautioned. "Remember, The Triple Threats are the most dangerous gang in the city. They're careful and organized, and have apparently decided that the force is enemy number one." She sighed. "When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time with my friend and her great uncle. He had a saying- well, he had many sayings, but this one stuck the most- A dangerous beast is one fueled by its health and glory. But one fueled by brokenness and pain is a far greater danger to behold."

"That's a good point."

"You like it? I'll make you a plaque. It can sit on your desk."

Mako grinned, thinking of angling the plaque in just the way so that it faced Jina. He remained silent on the line for a few minutes more, listening to the sound of her breathing, until his hands had stopped shaking.

He really was quite tired.

"I'm going to turn in, for a couple more hours. Thanks for talking me down."

"It's my pleasure."

"You're a great chief, you know. For doing this for a deputy."

"You're damn right." She laughed. "But Firebender, if you tell Jina or anybody else on the force that I'm handing out middle-of-the-night consolation, you'll be a dead man."

The line clicked and Mako fell asleep with a warm feeling in his chest.

Chapter Text

In the following weeks, the attacks only worsened.

Four more members of the force were assaulted, with no foreseeable pattern. Three made it out with minimal injuries but the last, a young cadet barely out of training, had to be hospitalized for burns.

"It's the damned bounty," Lin explained to Mako as they marched from the hospital, after guaranteeing the girl was going to make a full recovery. "They've ensured that no actual Triad members are getting their own hands dirty, unless it's an almost assured win. These are just petty criminals after some gold. It's brilliant." Her eyebrows were drawn together, her voice frustrated.

"I thought you liked a challenge, Chief," Mako reminded her, trying to keep his tone light. His mind was jumping back to the horrible wounds all over the cadet's arms and legs, and he regretted the morning's decision of black coffee on an empty stomach.

"When I'm risking my own neck, hell, I welcome a good fight," Lin shrugged. "When the lives of my force are on the line? I'd rather criminals remained predictable and stupid."

Mako and Lin decided to ultimately operate under the notion that the Triads would fall apart if their power structure was dismantled, learning from a confidant that the gang had become strained after the sudden death of their Waterbending leader. However, one blaring problem remained; members of the Triads were, suddenly, impossible to find. Mako lead teams into the abandoned buildings beside the new spirit portal, clearing out any dangerous-seeming inhabitants, but they were unsuccessful in finding anybody even close to capable of the attacks. It seemed that almost everybody who'd taken up residency in the skeletal structures were homeless or mentally unstable, and even rather friendly. Mako, empathetic as always to their condition, allowed them to stay. He then ordered thorough sweeps of the tunnels beneath the city and into the mountain range to the north, but each turned up negative for any suspicious activity. However, the force remained positive, reflecting their chief's newfound determination, thriving off of the thrill and excitement of the hunt.

"We know they're gaining power and importing weapons into the city," Lin said one evening, pacing the length of her office. "So where the hell are they?"

Certain members of the force, like Shan, took personal responsibility in keeping the morale high. Mako was grateful for it- even when he was in the Fire Ferrets, he'd been a miserable morale-booster. That had always been Bolin's job, after all. Mako even allowed Shan a respite from his more tiresome duties to instead chat with discouraged officers, or surprise them with weird, strange foods from around the city. Together, the officers would crowd around the tiny kitchenette and evaluate Shan's discoveries on a scale they made themselves: typical Republic City grub to what-in-the-Avatar's-name-is-that. It was a necessary distraction, one that kept the force amused and willing to come into work each day, and that was good enough for Mako.

Lin's duties, on the other hand, got more difficult with the rise in attacks. Mako, who'd taken to bringing Lin the latest of Shan's discoveries, walked in on some uncomfortable phone conversations and once a visit from President Raiko himself, who had glared pointedly at Mako until he'd set down the candied octopus tentacles on Lin's desk and stepped outside. The man only trusted Lin with his personal concerns, even though she caught Mako up on each detail later that evening.

"What the president says is that he doesn't approve of the force spending so much time internally," Lin had explained, throwing back her drink and resting her heels on her desk, where Mako's already sat. She tilted the chair back to recline beside him. "What the president means is that he desires the force to only focus on civilian welfare, even though we're the ones being attacked. We're treated as less, because our job is to serve. But everybody's lives are just as valuable and deserve to be treated as such, including our own people. Including criminals too, if we can save them from themselves."

"And what the president may not even know is that he's just scared of appearing weak and unable to control you before the election this summer," Mako added.

She nudged his feet, still propped on the side of her desk, with her own. "Very good, Firebender." Mako caught the rare upturn in her lips through her glass and flushed with pride.

In the midst of the attacks, Republic City has many other demands of its criminal deputy. One day, a rogue spirit demolished the portside marketplace. Mako had desperately wished Korra were there, painfully aware how inadequate he was in his dealings with spirits. Later, over the final glasses of the Fire Nation liquor, he'd requested a subset of the civil division; a spirit-centered unit of Waterbenders trained by Korra upon her return, to Lin's coveted approving nod. She'd dropped the glass bottle unceremoniously in the bin beside her desk and leaned towards Mako and together, they'd begun to work out the new unit's logistics. On the following day, there was a new bottle of liquor in his bottommost desk drawer. Mako smiled as he traced the label, boasting the new drink's Water Tribe origins. That night, he and Lin began to work their way through that one, too.

Meanwhile, there were many parts of being back on the force that brought Mako joy, and although the rare thank-you from a civilian and his new friendships in the force were enjoyable enough, perhaps Mako's favorite part of his new position was the boss herself. Mako spent more time with Lin each evening and evenings, coincidentally, became his favorite part of the day. Sometimes they'd talk about nothing and share a drink, or stratigize over coffee. Sometimes Mako sat in silence to the sound of her scratching pen, or brought his own work into her office when the load was heavier. Working with her was so easy, making stupid conversation even more so. She was bitingly sarcastic, Mako learned, in a way that was more intelligent and abrasive than mean, and sometimes she was even quite funny. Mako enjoyed the camaraderie they forged. Being at her side was natural, so he remained there a lot. And Mako really was quite comfortable there, except on the occasion where her eyes locked onto his or she'd touch his arm without warning and send uncomfortable shocks through his body, or when he stood beside her in front of the cameras and was suddenly made aware of just how wonderful she looked in her armor, in the spotlight. And even on those uncomfortable occasions, Mako just ignored the feeling, trusting that it would vanish of its own accord over time. Frankly, Mako consoled himself, it was usual for newer recruits to the force to develop a crush on a superior officer. And just about everybody seemed rather taken with Lin, anyway.

The afternoon of Mako's twentieth day of the force found him at his desk working harder than usual; Bolin had cornered him in the apartment that morning and demanded they spend the evening together. And although Mako felt guilty about taking time off so quickly into the new position, he did quite miss Bolin, painfully aware of the boy's intensifying relationship with Opal and another Nuktuk moved about to begin production. Mako had agreed, to his brother's surprise and sweet giddiness. A benefit of his deputy status meant no need for approval of time off.

Mako was trudging none too happily through a case of petty crime in the city's west side when his pen jerked and a dark bolt of ink appeared on the document.

He grimaced. The next thing he would do with his authority was purchase some normal, wooden pencils to write with. The kinds that had no metal, and therefore couldn't be bent from his hand by meddlesome fellow deputies.

"Yes, Jina?" He asked, refusing to look up at her across the aisle. His pen pulled from his hand and floated, tauntingly, in front of him.

"You work too hard, Deputy," she called back, flipping a lock of hair. "Do you ever take time off?"

"You're one to talk." The life of a deputy was not an easy one, and Mako has noticed that although she treated it with humor, Jina stayed to work late nights as much as he did; as much as Lin. Jina certainly had a habit of rubbing him the wrong way, but Mako wasn't one to argue with her phenomenal work ethic.

And, well, a natural talent in rubbing people the wrong way seemed to be a prerequisite for promotion to a ranking position in the force.

Jina just grinned, the same look in her eye that made Mako fear she might very well eat him alive one of these days if he weren't careful, perhaps as a side dish for one of Shan's repulsive discoveries in the city. "I've got a present for you."

"A more surreptitious way to hit on fellow officers?"

She had the decency to look mildly affronted. "No, silly. Why would I mess with perfection? Here."

Jina bent Mako's pen over the aisle to her desk and speared it through a page of the paper the force had delivered each morning, sending it back over to Mako with a lazy wave of her fingers. Mako looked down at his own ink-stained face which grimaced back at him, mouth half open, clearly having just been disrupted for a photograph during one of the trivial tasks they'd performed that week.

"You look a little tired there," her voice sounded, much closer than Mako was expecting. He jumped; she'd walked across the aisle too, to lean on his desk. She plucked a second pen from the metal tin he kept and twirled it in the air. "Long nights at the office will do that to a person."

"You couldn't have just come over and handed it to me?"

Jina shrugged.

Mako looked back at the paper. He did appear a little haggard. His unshaven beard was growing in quickly simply because he hadn't had time to fix it, and his hair was on end from the frustrated fingers he'd been running across his scalp; a habit he'd picked up somewhere along the line. Maybe his father had done it. Maybe Bolin would remember.

"For the record, I'm seeing my brother tonight. That counts as time off."

"The mover star?" She looked interested.

"That's the only brother I have."

She kept her black eyes trained on his as the door opened. "And that'll be Shan. Want to see what he's found for us this time?"

"Maybe later."

"I'll bring you something back, if it's especially interesting!" She stuck the pen back in its tin point-up, and Mako corrected it with a frown.

He breathed out slowly, running his fingers again through his hair and staring down at his photograph in the newspaper. Since his promotion, he still hadn't made it on the front page of the news- at least not alone. Any photograph of Lin seemed to end up as front-page news, and Mako had made a few appearances in them, standing as usual at her right side. Even Jina was featured in some of those photographs, at Lin's left. But really, he'd been pleased to remain out of the spotlight.

"Deputy looks good on you."

Mako jumped. Lin was leaning over his desk, examining the photograph as well. She was dressed in her heavy trench, pulling on another pair of leather gloves. Mako caught her eye unwillingly and ignored the uncomfortable feeling in his stomach at the warm emerald color flashing back at him.

"What do you mean?"

He wished she'd release his gaze, already. "Unshaven. A bit tired. Kicking some gang leader ass. I remember some of my first news features as deputy. They got some remarkably bad photographs of me. I'll show you, sometime."

"I wasn't even kicking gang leader ass, though," he argued. "This was some small jewelry store robbery, that one from last Thursday."

"A secret, Firebender? When you look impressive enough, they don't even ask for the details." A corner of her mouth turned upward as her eyes finally left his, evaluating his hair. She reached out and touched the tips of the strands lightly; the ones that were probably standing inches in the air by now, with how much Mako had been tormenting his scalp. He shivered at the touch.

"Is Jina harassing you again?" Her brows came together. "The force has strict rules about unwanted advancements. Should I talk to her?"

"No," Mako said, surprised that he was being honest. She'd maintained some sort of distance after her proposition, at least. "Why would she be?"

"You toy with your hair, when you're feeling especially uncomfortable."

Mako felt warmth creep into his chest, his cheeks. "How did you even figure that one out?" He asked, halfway between impressed that she'd noticed, and embarrassed he'd been so easy to read.

"The force employs some of the best detectives in the world. Remember, for a few years, I was one of them." She buttoned the coat. "Have a nice night off, Firebender."

-

"-And then she runs back to him, and flings herself in his strong, waiting arms. And they share this final sweet kiss, with just the right amount of tongue. And then Nuktuk lifts the sexy water spirit onto the back of his polar bear dog and the last shot shows them slowly making their way into the setting sun."

"How much tongue is the right amount of tongue, anyway?" Mako asked Bolin, amused, raising his voice over the noise of the bar. Bolin had insisted on bringing Mako to his newest, favorite North Side haunt for their evening together, and although Bolin cycled through favorite restaurants like the Nuktuk movers cycled through overused cliches, Mako had to admit that perhaps his little brother was on to something here. The venue was crowded with younger, attractive citizens, benders and nonbenders alike, and it served decent kung pao. Decent enough for Mako to have no qualms about spending a good chunk of his first paycheck on a second order.

"Oh, big bro," Bolin said, leaving over the table and patting Mako's shoulder sympathetically. "When you've experienced the right amount of tongue in a steamy kiss, you just know. You know?"

"I guess I don't," Mako replied, grinning. "Maybe this latest installment in the Nuktuk series will open my eyes to all my lapses in education."

"You can count on it." Bolin's eyes glowed. "Varrick's a genius! I know I say that all the time, and I say that I mean it, but this time I really do. He's on to something big here." Bolin picked up his chopsticks and tossed a thin slice of ginger into his mouth. "And his latest idea is to film on-location. You know, no set. I bet I'll really be able to channel Nuktuk in the Northern Water Tribe."

"Hang on-" Mako said, turning his eyes away from a little screen showing a real-time pro-bending match in black and white above the bar. "You're going north?"

"Yep." Bolin sucked a grain of rice from his little finger. "Just for a month, to film."

"What am I supposed to tell Korra and Asami when they return and ask where their welcome back party is? You know I'm terrible at that sort of thing," Mako argued. "And I'll miss you!"

"Korra and 'Sami can be patient. Or, hey, they can visit me too! The spirit portal leads there, right?" Bolin traced the rim of his sake glass with a thick finger. "And you're so busy, you'll barely notice I'm gone."

"Bo," Mako sighed. "You're my best friend. I miss you all the time. Even when I'm working my ass off. Because money's also important, sometimes."

"And you promise you'll always make time for your best friend?" Bolin batted his lashes, again. Apparently Opal loved it.

"Yeah. Promise."

Bolin pulled Mako into a hug, over the table. Mako nearly dipped an elbow in the soy sauce from the awkward angle.

"Don't look now, but there's a very attractive lady at the bar who's been checking you out for the last ten minutes," his brother whispered in his ear.

"What?" Mako jumped and turned to the bar. It was full of people. Bolin smacked his hand and he turned back around at the sting.

"Ow, what-"

"Didn't I just tell you not to look?" Bolin asked, exhasperation mingling with his amused look. "Seriously bro, sometimes I wonder how you dated both girls in Team Avatar." His eyes widened. "She's coming over! Act natural."

Mako resumed his glower towards his little brother. It was a natural enough feeling for him, at least.

A light, manicured hand touched Mako's shoulder and he looked up. A slender woman dressed in a simple cloth uniform with loosely curled dark hair smiled down at him.

"Buy you a drink?"

Mako flushed. Bolin nodded his vigorous approval.

"Sure, I guess."

She smiled and turned back towards the bar.

"And that's my cue to go," Bolin said, standing. "Responsibility calls, in the form of a very cute and wonderful Airbender. I'll be at the temple tonight, just in case you need the apartment for- activities."

"You're leaving me?" Mako was wholly unprepared to deal with a woman he wasn't entirely interested in. He didn't like his women smooth and bar-savvy. Rather, he liked women who tried to run him over with a moped; women who saved the world.

He sighed as Bolin left, sending a series of none-too-subtle winks and gestures back to him. Maybe he did need some sort of remedial course with women. Frankly, the idea of dating hadn't even been on his mind lately. It was a part of his mind he'd been trying to ignore, with the cues it had been sending him at work.

He ran a hand through his hair, trying to suppress the tingling feeling that had lingered on his scalp since Lin had touched it that afternoon. Maybe the only type of women he was interested in were the ones that were laughably unattainable.

Mako groaned and massaged his temples. This was certainly not a good train of thought to be following now.

"Did your friend have to leave?"

He'd forgotten about the woman. "He's my brother. And yeah, he had to go."

"Too bad." She slid into Bolin's seat with two glasses of dark liquor, filled an inch each. "He seemed nice."

"I can't believe you didn't recognize him," Mako said, evaluating her. The intentional slit in her thin skirt that climbed up her muscled thigh. The sheen of freshly applied rogue on her cheeks. "He's a mover star. I've never met a woman in the city who doesn't know about him, in some way or another."

"Well, I'm new here," she held up the glass. "To making new friends?"

"Sure." Mako smiled and toasted, then sipped the liquor. This one was sweet and musky, probably with hints of many things he's never be able to place.

"Water Tribe origin? The drink, I mean."

"I'm impressed!" Her eyes glimmered and she set down her own drink. Mako watched the fluid swish around the cut glass, the way the light seemed to refract more than normal through the material.

There were so many colors.

Mako cleared his throat and sipped more of the drink.

"So, Bolin's movers. What are they about?" The woman asked. Mako's brow furrowed.

"He plays a Southern Water Tribe warrior," Mako explained. "He has adventures with a bolar pear- a polar boar-"

He rubbed his temples again. His head was fuzzy, and his stomach was beginning to protest. He stood, swaying.

"I'm not feeling well. I should go."

"Let me help you," she said smoothly. She stood too, grasping Mako's elbow. Her fingers were cool and he gratefully leaned into the touch. Everything else was too warm. Stifling.

"Thanks." Mako threw some coins onto the table and she lead him outside. The street was quiet, with only a few passers-by. The blast of cool air cleared his head for a moment.

"Where do you live?"

"72nd and Hei Bai."

She laughed. "Those damn street names. Thank the spirits somebody stepped in before the Avatar named them all something ridiculous."

Mako stumbled and caught himself poorly. "I think they're cute."

Her grip was tight around his waist. "That's rich, coming from a man with your name."

Mako hesitated, dragging the rubber sole of his shoe until she stopped steering him down the road. "Hang on- I didn't tell you my name."

"Yes you did. Don't be ridiculous." Her face was inscrutable.

"I didn't tell you my brother's name, either. How did you know that?"

She tossed her hair back, frustrated. "I heard you two talking. This isn't important right now. You're sick. Let's get you home."

Mako leaned forward, grabbing her shoulders and pushing her into the glass storefront to her back. His mind was sluggishly trying to catch up, as if there were a crucial piece of information he was missing.

The sloshing of the untouched drink. Her impassive coolness when he'd taken ill. Her outright criticism of Avatar Aang.

"Who the fuck are you?" Mako ground through his teeth.

He watched the calm demeanor slide from her face, mask-like, to be replaced with alert eyes, downturned brows, a broken smirk lingering on her lips.

"Never you mind, Pig."

She shifted beneath him and a stone brick from the sidewalk slammed into Mako's jaw with enough force to lift his body and throw him into the middle of the road. Two Satomobiles swerved around him, honking, and smashed into each other. The owners emerged from each vehicle, looking alarmed.

"Get back!" Mako screamed to them as another square of the street was lifted and came plummeting his shoulder. His head was fuzzy. He was gasping for air. All he could feel was the sick, jolting pain.

Mako sent a burst of flames in the direction the woman had been standing, but she was no longer there; instead, the little storefront caught on fire.

"Call the police!" Mako screamed to one of the Satomobile drivers, standing as if paralyzed in the middle of the avenue. Mako's words must have resonated; the man took off running.

His eyelids were growing heavier, and Mako allowed them to close for a moment. When he forced them open again, the woman was standing over him.

"Stupid fucking pig," she spat in his face, kneeling over him and pulling the metal hubcap from one of the cars, twisting it into a thin rope of substance and wrapping it around his neck. Mako tried to struggle, but his limbs were leaden. He choked for air, but none was entering his lungs.

The last thing he saw was her face, contorted in fury, fingers bending the cord even tighter.

Mako couldn't breathe, couldn't think, and sank into the welcoming blackness.

-

Mako was lying on soft sheets. They were cool and silky and he'd never owned anything like them in his life.

His fingers grasped the material, forcing it to ball as he clenched his fists beside him. His arms worked, which was definitely a good sign. He didn't even hurt anywhere, save for a mild throatache and a crick in his jaw.

He chanced opening his eyes, and dim early-morning light greeted him, landing across a high white ceiling that was certainly not his own. He forced an elbow beneath him, surveying the room.

It was simple and warm. Rose-tinted light streamed in through enormous windows and Mako breathed in gladly, feeling the sun ignite something hot in his chest. His fingertips heated and he was awake, fully awake, with the encouragement of the hot rising sun.

An armoire sat in the middle of a wall, and two doors lead from the room. They were both shut, although the sound of running water came from the one nearest him. Steam rushed from beneath the door.

A large bookcase sat in the room's opposite corner, full of thick novels. Mako recognized only a few of the titles as he scanned the shelves. Some, he noticed, were in other languages, gleaming foreign characters printed on their spines.

And beside the armoire, displayed prominently, was a metal Republic City Police Force uniform. Mako glanced at the badge: Chief.

A type of awe rushed through him. So this was what Lin's apartment looked like. Mako didn't know what he'd been expecting, but something so clean and bright- it suited her. He took a deep breath, wrapping his arms around himself. He was still fully clothed. His pants were torn, his shirt dirty with city grime.

Mako jumped as the handle to one of the doors turned and Lin stepped out, followed by a cloud of steam and the light scent of lavender. He hadn't even noticed the water turn off. She was dressed already in the usual casual force uniform; a tight white sleeveless top and dark, loose pants, with a towel slung around her neck. Her hair was wet.

She leaned against the doorway, looking down at him, a brow raised in amusement. "I leave you alone for one night, and you try to get yourself killed."

"Chief." Mako grinned at her, trying to hide his relief. Lin's presence, after the night he'd had, was extremely comforting. "Couldn't let you have all the fun."

She sat on the mattress in front of him. Mako's eyes followed a droplet of water as it traced her cheek, her chin, down the smooth side of her neck. Damn it, despite his relief, seeing her like this wasn't doing anything good to his addled, confused brain.

"So what the hell happened to me, anyway?"

"You don't remember?"

"Bits and pieces. I trust you more than I trust myself, anyway."

Her eyes lingered on his, amused. "Another assassination attempt, from what we can tell. This one was much smoother and better thought out than the previous attacks, which makes me think you were dealing with a member of the Triads themselves."

"I think she drugged me."

"She most certainly did. When I arrived, you were delirious, spewing all sorts of garbage."

Mako didn't want to ask what he'd said to her when he wasn't fully conscious.

"-As to why you're here, Firebender, I couldn't reach your brother and we figured you needed someone to explain things to you when you woke up. We decided to take you somewhere someone could keep an eye on you. Clearly, I drew the short straw."

"Bolin's at the temple," Mako explained.

"I'll send word once we reach the station. Hopefully we can get to him before he reads a paper."

Mako grimaced. "Thanks, Chief. For everything. And thanks even more for letting me steal your bed."

She just shrugged. "I was joking, Deputy. It's my pleasure to have you. Anyway, what's the purpose of having a bed if you don't sleep?"

Mako turned away, his brain supplying him with myriad responses. Thank the spirits Lin couldn't read his mind. At least, Mako was almost certain she couldn't. "Good point."

Lin nodded, leaning back onto her wrists. Mako glanced away uncomfortably, wishing there was a desk between them, something that enforced a strict, professional boundary. Here, in her bedroom, with her relaxing so casually in front of him, his mind was wandering to forbidden places, crossing the already blurred line.

"What happened to the attacker?"

"She didn't make it." Lin didn't sound sorry this time. "You were just blocks from here- did you know that? I was first on the scene. She thought she would try to go after me rather than run. Stupid decision on her part, especially after I'd ripped the metal cord from your neck and seen what she'd done to you."

"Extremely." Mako forced a smile and caught her eye. She examined his face, down to his neck. Slowly, Lin extended a hand towards him.

"Do you mind?"

He swallowed. "Go for it."

Lin's fingers made contact with his neck and he jerked backwards at the touch, hitting the metal headboard.

"Does it hurt that badly? You do have quite a bruise."

Mako didn't think he'd felt pain at all. If he did, he certainly couldn't have been expected to remember it. His blood was flowing hot in his veins, pumping in his ears. He shook his head, taking a calming breath.

He didn't jump as she touched him again, circling his neck lightly. "It cut through the skin a little," Lin muttered, "but I don't think it'll scar. Scars from metal are a bitch to heal. You got lucky, Firebender."

Mako's eyes fell to the two slender scars against her own cheek- she was so close now that their red hue stood out especially prominently against her light skin. He watched the way the folds by her eye crinkled as she squinted, examining the wound further. He'd never thought before that wrinkles could be sexy.

And there it was; the thought he'd been skirting for weeks now. With it, Mako had taken a great, decisive step over the professional line. But, he wondered as her fingers ran around to the back of his neck and he shuddered unconsciously, maybe he'd been toeing that line for a while now.

Because, spirits, sexy suited her perfectly, down to the defined curve of her hips and her lean muscled arms and her wild gray hair, the arch of her brows and the way she worried her bottom lip between her teeth as she examined him.

Mako reached a hand up to hers, tracing her fingers as they inspected his neck, circling the thick metal ring she wore on the middle one. "Thanks again. For saving me." His fingers moved to her slender wrist, feeling at the bones. She shifted closer to him on the mattress.

"Be more careful next time," she breathed. "You gave me- all of us- quite the scare."

Her eyes locked onto his again. Mako's fingers trailed to her elbow.

"I didn't know you cared so much, Chief."

He could have sworn, for a moment, her eyes flitted down to his lips before something in her expression hardened, and a crease appear between her brows. Her arm dropped, wrenching itself rather roughly from Mako's grasp.

"Of course I care, Deputy. You're a damn good addition to my team. And I care about all of my officers."

"Chief-"

"Come." She stood, bending her armor from the corner of the room and onto her body. Businesslike, brisk. "It's still early. We can stop somewhere for breakfast. And pick up something for the rest of the force, too."

-

In the following days, Mako's life became much more complicated.

Sure, he could blame his discomfort on the itchy, healing wound on his neck, or how he missed Bolin down to the dirty socks the boy usually left strewn across the apartment floor. Mako could blame the rigorous hand-to-hand combat course he was required to take; a newly developed style since the art of chi-blocking had become so popular with Amon. He could even blame the regular nightmares that still haunted him, now featuring a woman in a tight skirt with a whip of metal clenched hard in his fist. But none of those were really culpable for his jittery sense of unease since the attack.

If Mako was one for gambling, he'd bet every last copper piece he owned on the cause of his discomfort being Lin Beifong. Specifically, the way she was able to make his breath hitch and heart beat much more quickly than was acceptable by simply entering a room, or how she could send his stomach into knots just by catching his eye. The unstable mixture of joy and desperate unease when Mako looked up from his late-night work at her desk and caught her eyes on him, frowning, as though she couldn't quite figure him out.

"Are you feeling okay, Firebender?" She had asked one evening.

Yes, Mako had wanted to respond. My feelings are quite alright, thank you. In fact, they're jumping off the charts each time I see you. That's more than alright. Right? But instead, Mako had just nodded and pulled his feet as surreptitiously as he could from the floor.

Mako was no stranger to the sudden, adrenaline-pumping rush of lust. Firebenders seemed especially susceptible to carnal desires. But with Lin it was different, for some reason. He liked her rough laugh as much as her hips, her sarcasm and sharp wit as much as her muscled arms. And it was only one night when Mako had laughed so hard he'd been reduced to tears as she recounted a story- an idiotic confrontation she'd had that day with Raiko- that he realized his feelings for her were far more than just physical.

The realization had been bone-chilling and rendered him speechless in his laughter, and he'd picked up his things afterward with some half-assed excuse and headed home. Then, Mako had sat under the shower water until it had turned cold, perhaps trying to wash away the feelings, and fallen asleep. But of course, they weren't forgotten so easily.

The following day, he'd gone about his duties and left at seven sharp. The next, he scheduled himself on evening patrol. For the remainder of the week, Mako worked hard at his own desk into the night, refusing to even glance at Lin's closed door. He didn't even know if she was in.

Jina had thrown a crumpled up paper ball at his head from across the walkway. "Fighting with the Chief?" She'd asked. "Trouble in paradise?"

Mako had glared at her and resumed his work.

If Lin noticed Mako's absence, she didn't comment on it. Rather, she acted the same in their necessary interactions. They still strategized about how to find the remaining two leaders of the Triads, how to assure their officers greater protection while on the streets. They still appeared together for press conferences. Just now, they were separated in the evenings by the heavy metal door.

Once, Mako packed up his things at the same moment Lin left her office. They walked out of headquarters together, the lonely night hanging heavily between them. She'd held the heavy outside door for him and he'd thanked her with a nod.

"Deputy-" She had called after him as he walked down the steps.

"What?"

She'd opened her mouth as if to say something, frowned, and closed it again. "Have a nice night."

And it was all for the best, Mako told himself one evening, sitting on the leather sofa at his apartment and bored out of his mind. His little watch had just ticked ten o'clock in the evening. Maybe he'd go for a run, or to a pro-bending match, or do anything else that a normal person would do who wasn't going crazy about a woman thirty years his elder.

His resolve didn't last, though. After a particularly frustrating day in which they'd had not one but three separate attacks and a holding cell now full of criminals spouting the same vague story, Mako was avoiding his evening paperwork at his desk when Lin's office door opened and she stepped out of it, stopping directly in front of him with her arms crossed.

"Deputy." She nodded. "How's your evening?"

Mako ran a hand through his hair. "It's been a little shitty." They'd all been a little shitty since he'd stopped spending them with her.

She snorted. "Tell me about it. I'm nervous; it's too quiet. Like we're waiting for the other shoe to drop. And frankly, I'm sick of feeling your anxiety through the floor."

Mako grimaced. "Sorry, Chief. I can get a wooden stool-"

She waved a hand dismissively. "Don't bother. Rather, I had an idea." She leaned forward. "You've been taking those combat courses I assigned?"

"I just finished them last morning."

"Good." A corner of her mouth turned upward, and Mako's stomach jumped. "Spar with me."

"What?"

"Spar with me, Firebender. Let's look for any lapses in your training. And it's not like either of us can sit still, anyway. Don't bother lying your way out of this one- you're flopping around like an elephant koi out of water out here."

Excuses died on Mako's tongue. A spar did sound good. So did spending time with Lin. "Alright. You're the boss, after all." He pushed back his metal chair.

"Youre damn right I am."

Lin lead Mako to the gymnasium, nestled in the southern side of headquarters. It was expansive and smelled a little of sweat, with designated areas for bending and non-bending practices. Only a couple lights were on, their dim beams reflecting feebly off the thick plastic mats. A massive banner hung from the ceiling; thick white characters spelled out Beifong Metalbending Academy, Republic City.

Mako stripped off his armor as Lin removed hers, and she stepped up to him, taking his hand in hers. He jumped.

"What-"

"Chi blocking bracelets," she said by way of explanation, snapping a thin silver cuff onto each of his wrists. "So that you don't flambé me, by accident. You can remove them with the clasp on the side there."

"You don't trust me, Chief?" Mako asked, feigning offense.

"Accidents happen." She grinned, snapping her own in place. "And I hear you Firebenders get feisty when you lose too much."

"We'll see about that."

He lost. Much. Of course, she was a much better hand-to-hand sparrer than Mako was. They began with weapons, selecting from the variety in the force's stores, many of which had been confiscated from criminals in the past. Mako chose a lavish jewel-encusted longsword only to have it wrenched from his hands by Lin's twin daggers. Then, they tossed the weapons aside, opting for quick jabs and long sweeping kicks as their attacks of choice.

Lin was ruthless, but instructive. She pinned him time and time again, giving suggestions and shouting advice. And Mako was failing miserably, because each time her hand landed on him or she had his chest pressed flat into the mat with her knee at his back, his resolve cracked a little more. He breathed heavily, screwing up his eyes, wondering how he could both fight and completely ignore the same person all at once.

"Come on, Deputy," she said, reaching out a hand to help him up from the latest hard fall. "You're good. Remember, I have quite a few years of experience on you. Use your superior agility to destabilize me."

Mako lifted himself to his feet, ignoring her offered hand. Her jaw clenched at the refusal but she shrugged it off, lifting her fists in the ready stance once more.

Mako swept a foot right, then switched his weight at the last moment to aim a kick at her legs. An Earthbender's greatest weakness was to be removed from their connection to the ground. Lin predicted the switch and jumped over Mako's sweeping foot, pinning an arm to his chest and using the momentum to push him down to his back.

"Come on, Firebender," she said, her breath hot in his face. Her knees were on top of his thighs and she had his dominant wrist pinned above his head. Her cheeks were flushed and a bead of sweat trickled down her forehead. "You're so close. Size up your enemy and make a single blow to turn my own force against me."

Mako struggled against her arm and legs, but she was steady on top of him. His betraying eyes moved from her own down to her lips. They were full and red, her steady breathing rushing past the thin part between them, and he was quite conscious of the rest of his resolve shattering.

Using his remaining hand, Mako reached up, tangling his fingers in her hair, and pulled her downwards, crushing her mouth into his.

Her lips were soft, and his heart was racing, and her hair was silky between his rough fingers. And for a minute, Lin remained unmoving, locked with him at the lips.

The moment that she pulled away, Mako tore his legs from beneath her, rolling her onto her back and pinning her body beneath his.

She checked his stance, surprised. "Well, Firebender. A bit of an untraditional strategy, but-"

Mako wasn't listening. She was beautiful beneath him, wild-haired and sweaty, and the taste of her lips lingered on his own. His mind went blank; he leaned down and kissed her again. His free hand moved to the nape of her neck, pulling her head upward into his as he fitted his lips more securely against hers. He slid his knees off of her thighs, pressing his body flush against her own, riding out the thrill as his hips pushed downward into hers. His nose was full of the lavender scent from her shower, his thumb stroking the severe line of her jaw.

When he pulled away this time, she wasn't wearing her usual, composed expression. Her cheeks had flushed a deep red, her mouth was open. She looked shocked.

"Fuck," Mako whispered, pushing himself away from her, completely, numbingly aware of what he'd just done. He half expected her to attack him. Or perhaps to order his immediate arrest. "Fuck." He could still feel the press of her lips against his and the silky feeling of her hair in his hand and-

"Mako," Lin breathed, propping herself onto an elbow. "I-"

"Don't." He held out a hand to stop her. It was trembling. He carded the other roughly through his hair. "I'm sorry, Chief. You win, okay? Let's just forget that ever happened."

"Firebender-" she tried again, but Mako stood, riding out the surge of adrenaline that was pumping through his veins.

"Please. Please. Just forget it. Okay?" Mako popped the bands from his wrists and, without looking back at her, walked from the gymnasium as quickly as he could.

-

Mako slept miserably that night, tossing and turning on his lumpy mattress. He wished he'd brought the chi blocking cuffs home with him; his body overheated when he thought of Lin, which was doing quite often. Soon, his mattress was soaked with sweat.

Mako found a respite on the cool leather of the sofa in the living room, and had just nodded off when he was jolted awake by the sound of ringing. It was muted; his personal line. Mako stumbled into the bedroom, grasping at the receiver.

"Hello?"

"Deputy. Huh, I was expecting some sarcastic comment on your part. Losing your touch?"

Mako didn't think she'd ever willingly talk with him again, if he were being honest. "What is it, Chief?"

"I need you to meet me at the station."

Mako cleared his throat. "Okay. Be there in twenty."

Even the cool, early morning air of Republic City did little to calm Mako's nerves as he trudged the familiar path into headquarters, taking the same route he always did. His sleep-deprived mind was running wild, and by the time he was standing at the building's front enterance, Mako had readied himself for a miserably awkward conversation about his actions, and perhaps a formal reprimand too.

He pushed inside the building. Just apologize, he told himself. Say you weren't in your right mind. And perhaps re-evaluate your reckless, idiotic life decisions, although that can certainly wait until later.

Mako opened Lin's office door with shaking hands, not even bothering to remove his trench. Lin was standing over her desk and looked up at his entrance, catching his eye. Mako breathed a sigh of relief; she didn't look too upset. Then, he realized she wasn't alone. His eyes fell on the other figure in the room.

"Korra?"

"Mako!" She threw herself at him, wrapping her muscled arms around his neck. "Spirits, I know it's just been a few weeks, but it feels like forever, doesn't it?" She pulled back and her eyes swept over his face. She looked wonderful; her cheeks were flushed, her blue eyes sparkling. Her hair had grown out a little. It looked good on her.

She tugged on his own hair, grinning. "What the hell? You look like a wreck. You know you always mess with your hair when you're uncomfortable."

Mako grimaced- these women and their annoyingly perceptive abilities- trying desperately to flatten his hair with the palm of his hand as Korra turned to Lin. "What are you doing to him, Beifong? Are you working him too hard already?"

Mako flushed, keeping his eyes cast to the marble floor. She was certainly doing something to him. When she responded, however, Lin's voice was quite steady.

"It's not normally this bad. The city's just been a bitch to deal with, especially without our Avatar."

"I've got it," Korra said. Mako heard her wide grin on her words and looked up. "I could take over running the city for a bit, and the two of you can go on a romantic, spirit-world vacation. Sound good?"

Mako couldn't keep his eyes from Lin this time, and was surprised to see a faint pink color her cheeks as well. "So, Avatar," she said, and cleared her throat. "Why don't you tell my deputy what you told me?"

"Oh, yeah." Korra turned to Mako again. "When Asami and I got back to the portal, you know, where we would emerge back into Republic City, we found a group of benders. They were scouting the area, moving in and out and communicating with some sort of radio devices."

"What?" Mako asked, shocked. "What did you do?"

"Nothing then." Korra grimaced. "Asami wasn't armed, and I wasn't certain of what was going on. I'm trying to hold off on the Avatar-style confrontation until I get a better handle of the situation." She shrugged. "But then more of them came out of nowhere. They were dressed in heavy furs and carrying these huge crates. There must have been fifty of them."

"You know what this means, Firebender?" Lin asked. His eyes locked onto hers, which were glowing. "It means we know where the damned Triads have been hiding. They've been right under our noses the entire time-"

"-Using the portals to hide, and transport their goods!" Mako walked around her desk, grabbing her elbow. "They're hiding in one of the poles. Or just the Spirit World itself. This is huge. I can't believe we didn't realize it sooner!"

"We've had officers stationed at the portal day and night," Lin said thoughtfully, leaning against her desk. "It would take a tremendous amount of navigation on their part to move so many people and goods in and out of the city without us catching it. Unless, unless-"

"-Unless the force is compromised," Korra suggested softly from behind Mako.

"What?" Mako asked, appalled. "Are you suggesting we have a- a mole, or something?"

He turned to Lin, hoping she would deny the idea, oppose any thought that they had criminals working in the force at that very moment. She, however, just looked thoughtful.

"It would make sense," she muttered. "The woman who attacked you was a Metalbender. I've never known anyone to pick it up without prior instruction- well, aside from, you know. And right now, the world's only Metalbenders are employed in top security roles far away from here, or in the force."

"Unless Toph is off somewhere teaching random criminals," Korra said with a grin. "It seems like something she'd do."

Lin's jaw clenched as she stared down at her desk. Mako could have sworn it dropped ten degrees in the room. "Then you don't know my mother very well, Avatar."

Korra shrugged. "I'll take your word for it. But what are we going to do?"

"I'll tell you what we're going to do," Lin said softly. Her fingers grasped the back of her chair so hard the knuckles had turned white. "We're going into the Spirit World to confront those fucks who think they can put a bounty on the heads of my officers and get away with it. And we're going to bring them to justice. Mako, assemble a fighting team. And make sure that team includes Jina. She's going to want to be here for this."

"I'll join you too," offered Korra. "Let me get ready."

Lin nodded and, with a final playful hand through Mako's hair, Korra left the room. He made to follow her.

"Deputy."

"Yes, Chief?" He swallowed, his heartbeat spiking. He held his breath, hoping she wouldn't bring up the previous night.

"Are you feeling up for this? You do seem a little tired."

Mako nodded, relieved. "I'll be fine."

The headquarters had filled significantly since Mako had arrived that morning and he wasted no time in walking among the available officers in the criminal division, evaluating each member. A task force of twenty or thirty would be easy with so many available, talented officers. Mako spotted Shan in the back of the room by the little kitchenette.

"Mako," Shan greeted over the low gurgling sound of the coffee maker, holding out a pair of chopsticks in which a little gelatinous emerald cube was being held. "Taste this."

"Another day, maybe," Mako grimaced. "Ingesting suspicious substances just isn't high on my list of priorities right now."

Shan's face blanched. "Shit. Deputy. I forgot-"

"No bother." Mako waved away the apology, grinning as Shan tossed the cube into his own mouth and swallowed with a shudder. Another tally on the what-in-the-Avatar's-name-is-that list, then. "Feeling restless? Want to stretch your legs?"

"Absolutely." Shan grinned wide. "What do you have in mind, boss man?"

Before long, Mako and Shan had pieced together a team of twenty officers. Tremendous fighters all trained in the criminal division, all women and men Mako trusted with his life and then some. When he could avoid it no longer, he approached Jina's desk.

"Beifong's requested that you join us for a mission."

"What is it?" She looked interested.

"We know how the Triads are getting into the city. And we're going to catch them."

"Thank the gods," she said, standing. "I haven't had a real fight in ages- apparently I'm not as desirable as you, Mako. No attacks yet." She winked. "But you know, I'm okay with it. I'm off to get my armor- give me a few, will you?"

After an armor double-check and a quick strategic breakdown from Lin and Mako, the group set off, meeting up with Korra outside of the headquarters and walking in formation towards the spirit portal at the middle of the city.

Mako hung back with the officers, keeping a wary eye on Lin. Korra fell into step beside Mako. "I know I said it before, but I am pretty proud of you for the promotion," she said, nudging his side with her elbow. "I was catching up on all the city news from that gossipy cadet you have working the front desk- really, he just loves to talk, we should convince Varrick to find a way to turn his words into renewable energy- but he told me you were attacked. Twice. It sounds awful. You're being really brave."

Mako grinned at her, draping an arm lazily around her shoulders. He'd missed her so much. "Thanks, Avatar."

"How do you do it?" Korra grimaced. "After Kuvira- even after the vacation- I don't feel like I'm ready to throw myself back into it. Into defending, into being the Avatar. It all just feels so overwhelming right now."

"Maybe you need a partner who makes it less frightening," Mako suggested. "Someone who motivates you to do your best. Who believes in you, more than you believe in yourself. Who makes you just want to be better."

"Are you talking about Beifong right now?" Her face was skeptical. "Because you know we'd just kill each other. A tragic double homicide on day one."

Mako shrugged, his face heating a little "Partnering with her- it's just what works for me. I'm not suggesting her specifically. Just, someone who makes you feel the same way."

"Hmm," Korra hummed beside him. "Wise, Mako. I wouldn't have expected it from you."

"I've done quite a lot of maturing, in the eternity since we've seen each other."

She punched his arm playfully. "Yeah, yeah, whatever. I get it. The Avatar on vacation! Unheard of!"

He grinned at her. "How was your lover's getaway, anyway?"

A soft smile appeared on her face, accompanied by a deep flush Mako had never seen before. Well, maybe once or twice, long ago. "It was wonderful."

"I'm glad." He hugged her more tightly. "You two deserve it."

"Sounds like you've moved on, Mako."

He thought about it, stepping over a particularly large vine. They were getting close. "I have."

"Tell me about her sometime." Korra grinned. "She must be pretty amazing."

Mako hummed something nonchalant.

Even though it was midday, the spirit portal's purple hue was quite visible as it rose upwards into the sky, transfiguring the clouds above to an unnatural lilac. They descended the steep, vine-covered walls to the portal's entrance where Lin stopped, motioning for the group to circle around her.

"These radios should work through the portal, she said, taking two out of a side pocket. "We're going to send in someone first, for the all-clear, or else we won't know what we're getting ourselves into. Any takers?"

Shan stepped forward. "I'll do it, Chief." There were hoots and whistles from the officers- Shan was quite popular.

"Good." Lin tossed him a radio. "Let's do this."

The portal glowed violet as Shan stepped through. For a minute, there was silence.

The radio in Lin's hand crackled. After a few disjointed sounds, Mako made out, "All clear, Chief."

One by one, they stepped through the spirit portal.

Mako only had the chance to briefly enjoy the fresh, humid air and vast purple sky he'd come to associate with the Spirit World before he realized what he was seeing.

The force's small squadron of twenty-something was dwarfed by a massive number of Triads, encircling the portal, dressed in heavy winter gear. Beside him, Lin swore under her breath. Korra just grimaced.

Shan. Mako looked around and caught the metal-plated uniform captured between two burly men, most likely other Earthbenders from their similar build. They were holding his arms, broken, at weird angles, and Shan's face was screwed up in pain. A third held the radio. Shan was struggling, his eyes wide with panic, pupils blown from the pain.

Damn it.

"Expecting to catch us unawares, you stupid pen of squealing pigs?" The man holding the radio asked. "I think not." He was dressed in heavy furs beneath which Mako could just make out a trimmed beard and the ghostly white skin of a Firebender.

Lin stepped forward, in front of the officers. "Release him immediately," she demanded.

The man just shrugged. "Sure. Why the hell not? He's served his purpose."

He turned on his heel, summoning a tendril of flames to his fingertips and raising an arm. Mako realized what he was about to do a moment before it happened.

"No!" He screamed, as the Firebender brought the flames down across Shan's face, his chest. Shan's mouth opened wide in a silent scream.

There was a moment of silence from both groups as Shan's body hit the ground.

Mako had gone cold. The first tendrils of panic were seeping into his mind.

"You monster." Lin's shaking voice sent chills through Mako's body. She was still standing protectively in front of the group, staring at the broken body of her officer. "You fucking monster."

"You think we're playing, bitch? You clearly have no idea who you're dealing with." The Firebender called back to her. "You think you can scare us with a group of lapdogs and a half-baked Avatar? This pig's fate is what awaits all of you." He spat on the ground.

Lin breathed unsteadily, a forced calm. "You're all under arrest for illegal trespassing and transportation of unregistered goods into the Spirit World. Surrender peacefully and we won't hurt you."

The Firebender laughed. "We don't surrender."

"Good." A broken grin appeared on Lin's face. "That's what I was hoping you'd say."

She jumped at him, unspooling the metal cords from the casing secured on her back as she did so. Korra ran after her next.

And the realm devolved into chaos.

Mako dodged a boulder that came hurtling towards his face, running into the fray, trying to find Lin. All around him, officers were locked in combat with Triads. Screams and shouts echoed around them.

He watched an officer wrap a Waterbender with a metal cord, tossing their secured body aside. "Good one," he said, pulling her shoulders down as a whip of fire crashed over them, disseminating it with his hands. "One down. Just a few more to go."

"You got it, Deputy." She grinned and ran farther into the crowd.

Mako tossed himself on top of a Firebender, pinning him to the ground with his knee like Lin had shown him, whipping out some metal cuffs from his belt and restraining the man as he struggled. He left the man on the ground, running farther into the fray.

Fighters had spread out across the rocky terrain. Mako assessed the situation, watching Jina locked in battle with a fellow Earthbender. They appeared equally matched; neither was getting close to the other. He grimaced.

Jina was a damned good fighter. They were in trouble.

Waterbenders would be the easiest to apprehend here. Although they usually traveled with a pouch or two, it wasn't much, and the dry, rocky terrain of the Spirit World beside the portals didn't have a running source of the element. Firebenders would be next. With little to set on fire, a major strategic benefit of being a Firebender was removed. Earthbenders, however-

The ground shifted beneath Mako at that moment and he jumped in place as it dissolved into quicksand. Mako barreled at the responsible Earthbender, one he recognized as a man who'd been restraining Shan. His beady eyes followed Mako's movements.

Big, bumbling, and stupid. Mako swept a kick upwards into the man's temple. He fell over, unconscious, and Mako restrained him.

"Officers!" He shouted. "Restrain Waterbenders first, Firebenders second, Earthbenders third!" And if there were more Metalbenders in the crowd, well- they'd cross that bridge if it came to that.

Officers nearby nodded. Mako's eyes fell on Korra, dragging another heavy, cuffed body behind their lines.

He ran up to her. "You doing okay?"

She nodded, grinning. A trickle of blood ran from a thin cut above her brow. "The anticipation's the worst part. Once I'm in the fight? Piece of cake."

"I trained you well, Fire Ferret." They both leaned to dodge a heavy rock unconsciously.

She rolled her eyes. "Yep. Just go ahead and take all the credit for this one!"

"Have you seen Beifong?"

"Up front."

Mako took off running.

He spotted the flashing silver of her hair, standing out prominently against the deep crimson of flames. She and the Firebender has distanced themselves from the rest of the combat, and for good reason; his flames were wild, channeling their way fifty feet into the sky and out in all directions. His wild, uncontrolled style contrasted dramatically with Lin's precise movements as she rolled and flung herself out of the way of the flames.

"Chief!" He called.

Lin sank into the earth to avoid another strike, which then came barreling at Mako. He stepped through it, bending it away from his body.

Lin ran towards him, erecting a large stone barrier to shield them. They crouched behind it. Mako felt bursts of fire pummel the other side. The stone began to shake.

"Everything going okay by you?" She asked. "Our people?"

"Doing great. And you?" Mako's eyes fell on a split in her lip, the trickle of blood to her chin. The rock began to crack.

"Memorizing his footfall patterns." Her grin was crooked. "He's a little wild, so it's hard to get a good sense of his rhythm. But it's always there, with a Firebender."

Mako blinked. "That's amazing."

"Thanks, Deputy. I think I've just about got it down, now. All I need is for him to be distracted."

"I'm your man."

"I know." She lifted a hand to Mako's cheek, touching the ridge of his cheekbone with a thumb. "You be careful out there."

"You too, Chief."

The shield cracked and Mako jumped above it, running straight towards the Firebender. He split a wave of flames, sending his own back, which was deflected into the sky. Mako concentrated, looking at the clouds high in the atmosphere, feeling his fingers spark with electricity.

Separate the energies in his mind, and-

He sent a crackling wave of lightning through the air towards the Firebender, who was forced to lull his attacks to dodge roughly out of the way. As he was moving, rock encased each limb that touched the ground.

"No," the man screamed. "No!"

"That'll be quite enough of that, thank you." Lin stood behind him, coiling metal from her own armor to bind his wrists, his arms, his feet, his mouth.

Then, they joined the rest of the fight, rounding up the few remaining Triads.

-

The station was heavy with grief that night.

Sure, there had been a fair amount of celebrating, too. The second of three notorious leaders of the most dangerous gang in the city had been captured alive, along with fifty of his men. It was a massive holding for their small cells; they sent everyone but the Firebender away to prisons around the Earth Kingdom. The leader they were holding for questioning. Mako hoped they'd put a huge dent in the gang's power.

They'd most certainly put a dent in the gang's buying power. Hidden beside the portal, Lin and Mako had found crates of elaborate weapons, stolen goods. And drugs. So many little pills and powders and dried substances and Mako's hefty education in the illegal substances within Republic City still didn't apply to the vast collection they'd found. It was all confiscated and was being categorized into holding. And the press had gotten a photograph of Mako and his team emerging from the portal, pulling out the restrained bodies, and that was one picture of him Mako was certain he'd not hate to have run in the papers the following day.

And yet, the thick, drowning sensation of grief hung heavy in headquarters, after all was said and done. They tried to go about their day, but the officers seemed unable to stop glancing over at Shan's desk. The kitchenette seemed more dingy, dirtier than usual. Even Jina was quiet. It was after Mako caught a few of the civil division crying just outside the door that he sent everybody home early. They deserved it, anyway.

And yet, Mako couldn't bring himself to leave the station. Call it a bad habit he'd fallen into after many, many late nights. Maybe leaving would finally signify that the following day, his friend wouldn't come back. Maybe he just wanted to see Lin.

Because he still hadn't seen her, since they'd talked to the press after climbing from the spirit portal with Korra. Mako had kept his eyes on Lin during the address and caught the clench of her jaw when they'd asked about fatalities, the way her eyes seemed to focus far away when she talked more about Shan. They'd release a formal send-off to the press tomorrow, which would likely be published beside his obituary.

If he even had a family to write an obituary for him. It was so easy to give up fanciful things like family and love, when one was on the force. Which was weird, when Mako thought about it, because with so many tragedies on the job, his officers needed things like family and love the most.

His decision made, Mako walked to Lin's office door and knocked. After a few moments, it swung open.

Lin was standing over her desk, holding herself up with her arms. Her head was downcast, and she'd changed out of her armor. Mako grimaced. She looked broken.

"Deputy."

"Chief. Can I join you?"

She shrugged. The chair in front of her desk pushed outward but Mako ignored it, instead walking around her desk and laying a hand, tentatively, on her shoulder.

"Are you okay?"

She sighed. "I tried to write something for Shan, but-" she waved her hand. A few papers were scattered on her desk, partially filled with her neat characters. A pen lay, abandoned, beside them.

"You don't have to do that today," he said. "Do you want a drink?"

She shook her head. "I don't want to numb this." Her eyes fell on him. Mako was shocked to see that hers were wet, the emerald even more vivid through her tears.

"How are you feeling, Firebender?"

"Miserable." Mako grimaced. "Does it always feel like this?"

"No. It gets worse each time."

Mako traced the bone of her shoulder, feeling her warmth. She was trembling, and he watched a tear glisten on the hairs of her lash line.

She wiped it away aggressively, grimacing, pulling roughly away from his hand. "Thanks for sending everyone home, Deputy. That was intuitive of you. Now, you should be getting home yourself. Don't feel like you have to stay here."

Mako wondered if Lin always pushed people away when she was hurting the most.

"I'm not leaving you, Chief." He touched her elbow again hesitantly, and angled himself towards her, wrapping his arms around her waist. She was soft, and so thin without her armor, and after a second she molded against him too, holding him back.

She was shaking harder now. Mako's hand found the back of her head, stroking her soft hair, touching her chin, her neck. When he felt her cheek, it was wet.

He held her until her tears subsided, breathing in the lavender smell of her hair. When she finally stopped shaking, he loosened his grip around her. The proximity was becoming torture again, with each second he touched her beyond when her tears had stopped.

Her arms remained tight around him and Mako hesitated before dropping his arms, trying to step away.

Her grip tightened, pulling him closer. His stomach lurched. "Chief-"

Lin looked up at him, and her face was set, determined. Her eyes lingered on his and moved, decisively, to his lips.

Mako's breath caught in his throat as she reached upwards and took his chin in her hands, and guided his mouth down to hers.

Spirits, it had been less than a day, and he'd already missed the taste of her lips. Mako leaned into the touch, angling his face against hers and kissing her hard, pulling her roughly against him. And Lin Beifong was kissing him back. She was kissing him, back.

And she was gentle and sweet, threading her fingers in his hair and licking into his mouth and there it was, Mako thought: the perfect amount of tongue. He shivered and grasped her waist, lifting her onto the desk. Papers scattered onto the floor.

Lin wrapped her legs around him, pulling Mako's hips against her center. He broke from the kiss, gasping at the touch. "Chief-"

"Gonna run out on me again, Firebender?" She asked, a hint of amusement on her voice.

Mako examined her. Her eyes were blown, her lips swollen. The split in her lip was bleeding again.

He leaned forward, kissing the split, trailing his lips across her chin and jaw. "Run away from the sexiest woman in the city when I know she wants me, too?" He breathed. "Not on your life."

Her cheeks flushed, and Mako decided it was the most wonderful thing he'd ever seen. "You're completely ridiculous." She kissed him again, sliding her tongue into his mouth, exploring him until he could no longer breathe, until he was trembling with the effort of standing, of keeping his hands from dipping beneath the thin fabric of her tight shirt. "Come home with me."

"What?"

"Come home with me, Firebender. Unless you'd prefer we fuck on my desk?"

It was his turn to blush. She snickered.

Lin lead Mako northward through the city and he walked slowly beside her, keeping an arm around her, toying with the muscled dip of her waist and watching the way the neon Republic City lights shone off her silver hair. Once in a while, she'd glance over at him, and the corner of her mouth would turn up when she caught him staring.

But how could he not?

Her apartment was dark and cool, and she pulled the cord to a central light while Mako wandered around, touching the wicks of candles to light them, and it warmed quickly. The living space in her area was similar to her bedroom; expansive windows looked down onto what must have been a nice city view, in the daytime. Mako bent over, examining a second copper statue. It was newer than the other one, depicting what looked like a present-day Lin.

"Dinner, Firebender?"

"Sure." He motioned to the sculpture. "Did you make this?"

She snorted behind him. "No."

She moved around the kitchen and Mako examined her apartment, trailing his fingers on the fine leather sofa and touching the raised foreign characters on a novel laying, bookmarked, on the side table.

"What language is this?"

"The ancient language of the Fire Nation," she explained. "Citizens were forced over to the common tongue after Sozin. Better for colonization."

"How did you learn it, anyway?"

"My Uncle Zuko was interested in it. He taught me."

Mako blinked. "I forgot you were surrounded by so many amazing people as a child. It must have had a big impact."

"It certainly shaped me into- something."

Mako eyed her, busy at the countertop in the small kitchen. Her head was bent and her wild hair fell forward, exposing the nape of her neck, her muscled shoulders.

He walked up to her, wrapping his arms around her waist and kissing softly down her neck. She shivered beneath him, although her hands found his wrists and she held him tight against her.

"It shaped you into something pretty damn great."

She turned beneath him, pink cheeked. "Why don't you find another way to occupy your mouth, Firebender?"

"Gladly," he replied, and kissed her.

She kissed him back harder this time, biting down on his lower lip until he opened his mouth around her and licking into his mouth and Mako gladly explored her own plump lips and tongue, tangling his fingers in her wild silver hair and dragging her even closer, trying to breathe evenly through the kiss, through the jolts of pleasure traveling down his spine and- fuck. Mako moaned unwillingly as she pressed her hips against his and he bucked into the warm touch. He was already achingly hard just from kissing her and he detached his lips from her own, gasping for air, trying to get a handle on himself. Mako didn't know if he'd ever felt want like this before her-

Lin stooped instead and kissed at his cheek, his chin, down the side of his neck and Mako shivered above her, swallowing loudly. Spirits damn it, she was even more attractive up close than from a distance. He jumped as her lips closed around his collarbone and she sucked, hard, at the skin and he moaned; an embarrassingly broken, gasping sound. She just pressed her hips more insistently against his own.

Mako wondered if he'd faint on the hard, tiled floor of her kitchen as she slid a hand down his torso, touching roughly at the muscle before sliding even lower and cupping the straining front of his pants and that was it, he thought, gasping loudly in her ear and pushing against the warm touch of her hand, stroking him tortuously slowly through the soft uniform before she pulled back, cocking a brow, and capturing his gaze with her own.

"Everything okay, Firebender?"

He swallowed. "Why wouldn't it be?"

"You're shaking pretty hard." She cocked a brow.

Mako didn't know what to say, wondered briefly if he should tell her that she terrified him, that he was pretty sure he had only one real chance with her and would kill himself for messing it up. Instead he cupped her face, kissing her soft lips once more.

"You're just so damned sexy."

She laughed beneath him. "Good answer." Then, she reached to her waist and lifted the white shirt from her body, flinging it onto the floor and Mako lost himself in the moist wet heat of her mouth, the round curve of her breasts and he tweaked a nipple roughly and it was her turn to moan into his mouth. He swallowed it hungrily, trailing his fingers along her ribs and the muscles lining her stomach and the curve of her hips and suddenly Mako's nose was full of the smell of burned cloth and he jumped back, fanning out his burning hands, shocked.

He stepped back from Lin, appalled at himself. "Shit. I'm so sorry, I don't usually burn people-"

"I'll just take it as a compliment." She was smirking at him and Mako's eyes were glued to her hips as she pulled the charred remains of the bottoms from her body, tossing them nonchalantly across the kitchen floor, and Mako thought he might black out at the sight.

She placed a hand on his chest and pushed him backwards into the cool kitchen wall, pressing her body flush against his and Mako moaned at the feeling of her warm skin against him, how her hips pressed demandingly into his own, the torturous layers of clothing that still remained between his aching cock and burying himself inside of her-

She took his hand and pressed it harder into her breast, kneading the soft skin with his fingers as she guided his other hand between her legs.

Spirits. Mako moaned into her mouth as he touched the soft skin between her legs, tweaking her nipple with his other hand, sliding a finger inside of her- he was inside of her, and she was soft and wet and tight around him and she moaned back roughly, unbuttoning his shirt and sliding her hands over his chest and down into his pants-

He breathed steam when her rough hands found his cock, touching the beads of liquid gathering on the swollen tip and shaft and stroking it insistently and he matched his rhythm to hers, pressing upward in her folds with his thumb, separating her lower lips and rubbing at her clit as he fucked her with his finger, sliding a second inside of her and swallowing her breathy, insistent sigh, concentrating through the aching pleasure of her hand tightening around him.

He pulled her against him roughly, penetrating her deeper, desperate to notice, to remember as much as he could- the way her head fell onto his chest, breathing hard, as he sped up his ministrations against her clit, the way she smelled- Spirits, how he was already trembling against her hand, thrusting his cock into the cool space of her palm.

It wasn't enough anymore. Mako slid his fingers out of her and grabbed Lin by the shoulders, pressing her roughly into the wall. Her arms lifted and wrapped around his neck, her legs were tight around his waist-

He pushed into her, groaning loudly, pressing her body hard against the cool kitchen wall as he sank into her inch by inch until he'd filled her completely. His eyes found hers and he almost came right there- the emerald irises were darkened with want, her face serious, a deep flush on her cheeks.

Mako crashed his mouth against her own, pushing his tongue into the sweet wet heat of her mouth as he withdrew and shoved himself back inside of her, grabbing at her ass as she tightened her legs around him and he swallowed her broken moans as he fucked her harder against the wall, licking down the side of her cheek and biting her neck while she fisted her hands into his hair, pulling him even closer.

"Fuck," he moaned against her cheek, kissing roughly at the scars, grabbing at her breasts and her soft, wild hair. "Fuck, Chief-"

She was better than he'd ever imagined, ever hoped to imagine- impossibly tight around his cock and wet and he shifted slightly to penetrate her deeper and she was moaning, ragged and loud in his ear and Mako moved a hand to spread her and tweak at her clit again while she bit his shoulder, hard.

"I'm close," she gasped, raking her nails down his neck and back and Mako shuddered, pounding into her harder. "Gods, I'm so close-"

Thank the spirits, Mako thought. He was throbbing, the familiar tightening in his balls and he couldn't have lasted much longer if his life had depended on it. Instead he bit her neck hard, rubbing insistently on her swollen clit and pumping his aching cock into her hard until she jerked, screaming, and began to tremble and shake beneath him-

And that was it. He gasped, grabbing onto her hips and pounding into her, moaning into her ear, cursing as the first waves of pulsing pleasure swept through his pelvis.

"I'm-"

"Come for me, Mako."

He shuddered. "I'm going to fill you- Fuck, I'm there, fuck, fuck-"

He pushed deep into her one last time and released, spilling into her, cursing with each pulsing wave of his orgasm.

-

Her bedsheets were more familiar now, although now he was nude beneath them, and feeling them under far better circumstances. Mako woke in the middle of the night to the feeling of their silkiness beneath his fingertips, against his hipbones.

He turned to his side. Through the dim light of the moon he was able to make out Lin's form, sitting against the headboard beside him. Her face was buried in her knees, while her hand held the metal ring in front of her. Mako watched the dim moonlight reflect off the metal as it bent, and warped, and formed back in place again.

He touched her bare knee. "You okay, Chief?"

Her voice was muffled. "Firebender, you've literally been inside of me. I think that at least warrants a first-name basis. Wouldn't you?"

"Fine. Are you okay- Lin?" He asked, tasting her name on his tongue. It felt good.

"She sighed, stretching and looking down at him. "Same as always. I'm sorry if I woke you."

"You didn't." Mako moved to sit beside her, his hand still on her thigh. "Nightmares again?"

"Yes."

"What are they about?"

She waved a hand dismissively. "They're not nearly as exciting as yours."

"Tell me, anyway."

They sat in silence for a few minutes before she spoke again. "I dream- of the night I spent in Amon's cell. After what he did to me. It was metal, and I thought he'd done it just to torment me. I've never wanted to die more than I did, that night." She shuddered. "That was the lowest point in my life."

Mako turned cold. "Is that why you wear that thing?" He touched her ring.

"Even in the daytime, sometimes I get the feeling that it's just- gone. My bending. If I can bend this, I know it's not."

Mako pulled her down into the mattress, lifting the sheet above them once more. He pressed his mouth against her shoulder as she shifted closer to him. "Maybe they'll go away one day."

"And if they don't?" Her voice was impossibly quiet beside him.

"Then call me, and we can bitch about them together. Or, I don't know, write some bad haiku."

She actually laughed. "Deal, Firebender."

Chapter Text

Mako blinked awake the following day to daylight streaming through Lin's windows and the entirely foreign sensation of actually being rested. He didn't have to reach to Lin's side of the bed to know she was already gone, but she'd left him a covered cup of coffee on her bedside along with a single, slender, silver key.

She certainly knew how to console a partner through waking up to an empty bed. She must have had a lot of experience with it, Mako noted with a jealous twinge as he fingered the key. It was smooth and unscratched and he had a feeling it had been bent just for him.

Mako's clothes from the day prior were hung on the bedpost; another courtesy. He picked up his soft gray bottoms, remembering quite clearly that last time he'd seen them, they'd been kicked off across the kitchen floor. He'd burned Lin's, he recalled, as his hands had lit at the feeling of her hips beneath his palms. She'd just rolled her eyes, pulling the tattered remains from her body, and he'd almost blacked out at the sight. Mako smirked and pulled the cloth over his feet.

He fitted the little silver key in her lock and secured the door, descending the staircase of her building. This walk to headquarters was new to Mako; the city's North Side was richer, therefore had been rebuilt far more quickly than the western side of the city where he and Bolin lived. Mako enjoyed his time in a part of the city that was fully built again, skirting vendors and well-dressed citizens. He even stopped by a paper stand only to be overwhelmed by his own face staring back at him, beside Lin's and Korra's. None too surprisingly, their battle in the Spirit World was front-page news. He walked away, quickly.

Headquarters that day was crowded but oddly quiet, the hush of grief still hanging in the air, Lin's neon box of pastries sitting at the kitchen untouched. Only the coffee machine still gurgled away happily. Mako grimaced, thinking of Shan, and headed to his desk.

Jina looked up when he arrived. She appeared haggard, heavy bags beneath her eyes and her usual neat bob was messy and uncombed. "You're late."

"Sorry," He stuttered. "I was, uh-"

She waved a hand. "The only reason I give a single shit is because Beifong asked that we head down to interrogation when you arrived. Otherwise? No interest." She stood and pulled on a thick wool jacket, crossing her arms at him.

"Interrogation?" Mako asked curiously, fishing his suede gloves from his trench's front pocket and sliding them over his fingers. "That Triad guy is talking already?"

"No idea." Her eyes swept over his clothes, his hair. "All I know is that Beifong's been down there for hours now, and I've had to wait while you return victorious from some one-night stand to get in on the action."

Mako flushed as they set off down the walkway and out the door. Damn perceptive investigatively-trained Earthbenders. "No get in on the action pun? You're losing your touch."

She just grimaced back at him. She was certainly losing something, Mako thought as he examined her more closely. Her manicured nails were chipped, her suit creased. The bags beneath her eyes were quite pronounced. And she wasn't even tormenting him. Maybe Shan's death was affecting her more than she was letting on. Mako felt a twinge of guilt. They were all being stretched to the breaking point.

The chilly cells were unnaturally quiet that day, and the sharp tapping of Jina's heels echoed harshly off the austere walls. Normally, officers could be found talking quietly in the halls, or gruffly speaking to a criminal. Today, the floor was empty.

Jina lead Mako to the largest interrogation room at the far end of the hallway. Lin was already there, sitting behind the one-sided glass with a large mug of dark coffee and a stack of documents. She looked up as they entered and her emerald eyes caught Mako's, and he felt his heart beat a little faster at the warmth in them.

"Oh good. You two are here," she greeted, bending out the chairs beside her. Mako took the one on the left. Lin's eyes lingered on him for a moment longer, before turning back to the glass. Mako concentrated on keeping his breathing even, following her gaze.

The Firebender they'd captured yesterday sat in one of the stiff-backed chairs, looking significantly slimier than Mako remembered; his black hair hung curled beside his ears and his thick beard had been shaved into spiral patterns across his cheeks. Even from where he was sitting, Mako could see him shiver and burrowed surreptitiously beneath his own trench.

"I notice you cleared the floor. Why the secrecy, Chief?" Jina crossed her heels on the table, looking warily through the glass. "Everyone knows who we've got in here. Hell, the papers ran an exclusive this morning. Literally no detail was spared. They even talked about how great Boy Wonder's hair looked as he emerged from the portal."

Mako snorted despite himself, glad he hadn't bought a paper after all.

"It's not the criminal we've caught," Lin reminded her. "It's the ones we haven't. I suspect the force has been compromised. Someone definitely tipped off the Triads yesterday that we were coming- the ambush they set was too perfect." The look in her eyes was murderous. "I can feel each movement on this floor. If someone tries to listen in, I'll notice."

"And you think this meathead'll give us the information we need?" Jina asked.

"He'd better." Lin sipped from her mug. "Want a go at him, Deputy Jina?"

"I'm going to sit this one out," she said, waving a hand dismissively. "Not in the mood to negotiate with fucking idiots. You two have at it, though."

Lin shrugged, standing. "That's our cue, Firebender."

The man jumped when they entered the interrogation room. "Lin Beifong," he spat.

Lin just sat across the table from him, throwing a leg carelessly over the other. Mako admired how casual she was, how she'd read the brief flash of resolve in the man's expression, how the information she needed to coax from his chapped lips was too important to scare away. She lifted a hand to drum against the table and the man's eyes followed the fingers, internalizing the rhythm. She really was so damn good at tuning her presence to a situation, Mako thought.

Lin glanced at a document in front of her. "Pang Mao-"

"Pyro Pang," he corrected.

"Excuse me?" She sounded almost amused.

"My name. It's Pyro Pang."

"Uh huh." She glanced at Mako, who rolled his eyes, despite the fact that it was a cool sounding name, really. Mako added it to his steadily growing list of things he'd never say aloud around her. "Look, we can make this easy for you. We know there are Triad members in the force."

Pang Mao's eyes narrowed.

"You can do two things for us." Lin leaned forward, placing a slender finger on the table in front of her. "One- you can name the third Triad head. The Earthbender. And where we can find them. Two-" a second finger on the table- "you can name each and every Triad member that has infiltrated my police force, who've stolen our knowledge of Metalbending and taught it to petty criminals."

"And what do I get in return?"

Lin sat back. Mako could tell she was surprised; no denying, no refusal.

"What do you want?"

Mako eyed the clenching of Pang Mao's fist on the table. So he was nervous, after all.

"Full immunity. What I have to say- it's big," he whispered. "But more than that- I want safety. I want you to guarantee my safety. That my compliance now won't get me in trouble with my own people later."

Lin smirked. "Word won't get out. There are only four people on this entire floor. Three of which I trust implicitly. The other of which is you."

Pang Mao's eyes traveled to Mako, and to the one-sided glass panel secured to the side of the room. His adam's apple bobbed as he swallowed and leaned forward again; this time, he looked scared.

"I want assurance from you personally," he whispered, "that you will protect me until I deem myself safe."

This time, Lin really did laugh, throwing her head back. When she'd finished, she stood. Pang Mao's face drained of the little color it had left.

"I'll discuss your options with my deputies and get back to you."

He leaned forward, catching her arm. The heavy chi blocking cuff strained against his wrist, cutting into the flesh. "Please," he whispered. Fear was fresh on his face, a cold sweat beading onto his brow. "Please, you can't leave me here, you can't-"

Lin ripped her arm from him. "Don't tell me what I can and cannot do," she hissed at him. "What I must do now is discuss your options with my deputies. I don't know if you noticed, but granting a notorious criminal full fucking immunity wouldn't make me the most popular person in the city- or with my own people. We catch criminals here. We don't let them go."

"But-"

"Care to re-evaluate your conditions?"

His face hardened. "No."

"Then I'll be speaking with you tomorrow."

Pang Mao didn't try again to stop them as they exited the room.

Jina was still seated in the side room with her heels propped on the metal table, scowling through the glass. "What a fucking slimeball," she noted eloquently.

Lin sealed the door with a snap. "He knows we need him. And he's willing to talk. The three of us have some big decisions to make."

Jina's black eyes widened. "Don't tell me you're thinking of actually taking him up on his offer? We can't guarantee safety to a man like that! How would we know his information is even legitimate? We let him go, and he'll have another criminal ring up and running in the city before you can say pai sho."

Lin frowned back through the glass. "We may be able to release him on a parole basis. Regular check-ins, close monitoring of his resource flow and daily life." She sighed. "Jina, I need you to look into the logistics of what we can offer him from a civil and rehabilitative perspective. Also, do some research into what the papers would say. How big of a hit would the force take, if word got out?"

"But Chief-"

"That's an order, Deputy." She sounded tired.

Jina's face drained of color too and she swept from the room without another word. Mako frowned, approaching Lin. "Why would you even consider allowing him that, Chief?" He asked quietly behind her. She turned, and he was surprised to see her face had weakened, her resolve cracking.

"Criminals deserve a second chance like everybody else," she said. "Fear for our own lives is one of the strongest motivators we can have to change. And what I saw and felt on that man in there was fear." She sat in one of the chairs. "I still feel it. Great waves of terror, coursing through the metal floor. Isn't it worth at least looking into what we can offer him, if it means no more attacks on our force? If it means this gang that's been terrorizing the city will be eliminated for good?"

Mako sat beside her. "You're right." She always was.

The corner of her mouth turned up as she looked at him. Mako twitched, wanting to touch her, and grasped the sides of his chair tightly to restrain his hands. "One day you'll learn, Deputy, that the task of being chief comes with choosing between equally miserable decisions on a daily basis."

"I don't know how you do it."

"Sleep helps."

Mako grinned at her, catching her eye. "So you did sleep, then?"

"Yes. Yesterday was very relaxing. Thank you, Firebender."

"Anytime."

"Careful," she cautioned quietly, "Or I'll take you up on that offer."

Resolve broken, Mako reached a hand to hers, running his fingers down her own. "Anytime, Lin," he repeated, grinning at the light flush that colored her cheeks.

-

"Full immunity with parole stipulations. An impartial guard of his own selection. Extra allowances given for the breadth of information offered." Lin sighed, crossing a foot over her knee. "And probably an exclusive front-page report in the papers about how the chief of police is losing her damn mind."

"The press adores you. They're not going to defame you as headline news," Mako pointed out, nudging her bare foot with his own lightly. "They'd at least save it for page three."

She rolled her eyes. "Reassuring as always, Deputy. You've clearly grown into your position quite comfortably."

Mako bit his tongue over the desire to point out that being directly beneath her was a very comfortable position indeed. Instead, he fiddled with his thin wooden chopsticks, sinking lower into her surprisingly comfortable sofa.

He and Lin had convened at her apartment that evening, wary at the idea of being overheard discussing Pang Mao's potential use for the force. They were spread out on her sofa, papers scattered on her little coffee table and across the floor, with the only open surface holding two bleached white cartons of takeout and a glass each of a deep red liquor that burned on the way down and made Mako's stomach unnaturally warm.

Mako picked up his glass and took the final swallow, breathing out a sigh of contentment. The liquor made everything blurry around the edges, erasing the tiny characters on the pages in front of him and giving him the courage to slide a little closer to Lin, touching her outstretched foot again with his own. His eyes tracked around her apartment again.

It was really quite comfortable. They'd moved from her little dining table to the sofa, to the floor, to the sofa again as they discussed Pang Mao's requests, and the trail of papers had followed their movements. Mako had tried to clear them up to Lin's dismissive laugh, and although he usually abhorred mess, she'd made the point that they were still using most of the papers. She was right again, damn it. He'd let them be.

Mako looked up to the simple light fixtures on her ceiling, the bare wall of the kitchen. Another side effect of the strong liquor meant that his mind was filled of thoughts of yesterday, and the bare wall had been catching his eye all night. Mako thought of how cool it had felt against the muscles of his back and thighs, how he'd braced himself against its pebbled surface to the timing of Lin's light moans.

"You're on fire, Deputy."

"What?" He jumped, turning to her.

She just pointed to his bare foot, thrown across his knee like hers was, his toes just touching her own. The skin was red and sparking and Mako quickly placed the foot down, flushed.

"Sorry," he muttered. "Distracted." He peaked out the expansive windows to his right. The moon was already high above the city's skyscrapers.

Lin's voice had the lilt of a smirk. "We can call it quits today, anyway. I think we've finalized our decision." She stood, stretching. "I need a shower."

Mako watched her disappear down the hallway and into her own room, heard the running of water. He blinked at the abruptness of her departure, a little unsure of what he should be doing in the meantime. He finally stood as well, rubbing out a kink in the back of his neck and avoiding another peak at the kitchen wall, and began to collect the papers. Legal documents, records of bodyguards from around the Earth Kingdom, documentation of various Triad crime from before he was even born had scattered around the room.

"Firebender."

"Hmm?" He jumped. She was back, leaning against the doorway with her arms crossed. An eyebrow cocked as she looked at him.

"Towels are in the cupboard to your left, if you'd like to join me."

Oh. Oh. Mako dropped the papers unceremoniously back on the floor and grabbed the towel at the top of the stack, ignoring her now pronounced smirk. He followed her into the bathroom and shut the door with a snap behind him.

-

Mako dreamed of Amon again that night.

The mask loomed over him again, smooth gloved fingers tugged upward at Mako's chin. He balled his hands into fists. Lightning, he pleaded desperately to himself. Please, make lightning, but his fingers wouldn't cooperate. Mako's mind was no longer clean, the energies no longer separated; everything was cluttered and messy and Amon's fingers touched Mako's forehead and there was nothing anymore.

He came to in a dim metal cell, broken bodies shifting around him and Mako tried to call out to them- did he take yours, too? Did he break you? Did he make you want to die? But they didn't answer. There was metal around his neck, a mysterious drug rushing in his veins. A flash of silver hair caught his eye and he turned, looking for Lin, but the cell floor had turned sideways and he was falling through open air, past the windows of skyscrapers and plummeting towards the earth, and nothing could save him now.

Mako bolted upward in the soft bed, gasping for air, sweating and shaking. For a moment he was disoriented, before he recognized the tall ceilings of Lin's bedroom around him.

A warm hand was at back, tracing his muscles, running down his spine. "Bad dream, Firebender?"

She was sitting against the headboard, a soft light beside her, an open book on her lap. He'd fallen asleep as she cracked the cover of the novel. Now, she was almost a quarter of the way through. Mako nodded, trying to quell his shaking. He touched his face, and it was wet. He scrubbed at his cheeks. "I'm so sorry. I don't know what's wrong with me."

"No," she breathed, turning down the corner to her page and snapping the book closed. She shifted closer to him, touching her bare chest to his back. He felt the light brush of her lips against his shoulder. "I'm sorry. You're too young to be having such terrible dreams. You should still be happy, refreshed. Invigorated. Not haunted by what you've already had to overcome in life."

Mako allowed her to coax his head back against the pillow. He looked up at her above him- the dim bedside light shone off her silver hair and reflected in her eyes. They were gold, in the low light.

"Same with you, though."

"How so?"

"You know. You should be happy, and everything else you said. You also don't deserve to have such awful dreams."

She frowned, he dim light enhancing the wrinkled crease between her brows. "I gave up on things like that long ago, Firebender."

Mako raised a finger to the side of her face, tracing the thin scars that crossed her cheek. She stiffened for a moment before leaning into the touch.

"Shall I teach you how to meditate?"

"I can already sit with my eyes closed, Lin."

She breathed a quiet laugh and her eyes swept his face, down his uncovered torso and to where the silky sheets just covered his hips. Mako trailed his fingers down her neck, to her shoulder, to rest on her collarbone.

"Or."

She raised a brow. "Or?"

He moved his hand even lower, brushing the swell of her breast and she shifted to lean over him, feathering her lips across his forehead and chin, his neck, his collarbone and sternum, the muscles of his stomach.

His breath hitched. "Lin-"

"Shh," she whispered against his hipbone. "Relax, Firebender."

-

The sharp ringing of her telephone woke Mako the next morning. He shifted over on the mattress as Lin sat up, picking up the receiver. It was still very early; Mako could tell instinctively the sun hadn't even risen.

"Chief." Lin listened at the receiver for a moment and then tossed it down. "Shit. Shit."

"What is it?"

"Put on your clothes," she said, standing and pulling on a loose white top. "Pang Mao was murdered in his cell last night."

They reached the station in record time, opting to take one of the force Satomobiles Lin kept outside her apartment rather than walking in. The first rays of light were just reaching across the sky when they entered the building, descending the usual flights of stairs.

A second hallway lead from the interrogation rooms to the cells, sealed with heavy metal doors that served as a noise suppressant. A cadet was seated on one of the smooth metal benches, her face in her hands. Others clustered around her.

"What the hell happened?" Lin asked without preamble.

"Chief." The girl looked relieved. "Deputy. Thank the gods. I was going in the cell to give him his breakfast and slipped on- there's so much blood-"

Her face turned green and she put her head between her knees. A second officer looked at Lin, grimacing. "We've been changing guards every two hours like you instructed, in groups of five. They must have come in from behind, through the wall. We don't even know how they could have gotten in- it's the interrogation cells behind that wall. It's been repaired now, though."

Lin's face was pale. "Let me see him."

They nodded solemnly and Lin swept through the doorway and down the hall of cells. Mako followed her closely.

"Deputy." She turned at the sound of his footsteps behind her. "You don't have to-"

"I need to see this, Chief." Mako frowned, resolute.

She sighed, nodding. Something unhappy glistened in her eyes. You should be happy- not haunted. You're too young to have such terrible dreams. Mako just clenched his jaw. This was the job he'd chosen- the one he loved. He'd take it, good and bad.

He smelled the iron tang of blood before they even reached the cell and when they did, Lin swore under her breath. Mako copied her unconsciously.

A tray of simple food, oats and vegetables and a cup of what must have been fruit juice, had been dropped on the ground. The contents spilled across the stone floor, mixing with a thick pool of drying maroon blood.

Pang Mao's body had been torn apart, deep gashes across his neck and chest and wrists. He was sprawled on the floor, crumpled. He'd clearly died before his body had hit the ground.

Lin bent close to the corpse, making sure to keep her feet from the blood. Her fingers hovered above the gash in the man's neck. Mako's hand instinctively went to his own where a much milder version of the wound was still healing.

"Metal," she confirmed, looking up at him. Mako swallowed down the previous night's takeout, nodding, not trusting himself to open his mouth. "The force's metal cords." She stood, turning towards Mako. "What do you think?"

"We've definitely been compromised," he said, relieved that he hadn't vomited once his lips came unsealed. "They know we're getting closer."

"It's a warning," she agreed. "I hate to do it, but we have no other choice- we can't risk someone destroying every chance we have of solving this mystery, of bringing these criminals to the justice they deserve. We have to smoke them out. Subject each member of the force to a screening."

"A screening?"

"An interrogation where we check to see if they're lying, look for holes in their story. Extensive background checks." She sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. "It'll take forever, but I see no other option at this point. We can screen each team one at a time. In the meantime, we'll need another impartial force to look after Republic City while there are less officers on the streets and in the skies."

"And where do you plan on finding one?"

"Come, Firebender." She walked from the cell. "We're going to the Air Temple."

-

Lin's Satomobile took them to the harbor and the usual tiny ferry transported them, frustratingly slowly, across the water towards the island. Mako leaned over the railing, eyes on the jagged waves the ferry made in the smooth water of the bay. Lin leaned beside him quietly, just touching his elbow with her own. Even the minimal contact reassured Mako. He wondered if it felt the same way for her, too.

The acolytes were just beginning to go about their tasks, the ones Mako had memorized in his brief stint living at Air Temple Island. He nodded to the faces he recognized as he and Lin walked up the sloping lawn to the communal house, although their numbers had grown significantly; many benders now joined the ranks, dressed in the usual brightly colored glider suits. Everybody seemed happy, at the temple. Mako had always felt as if the island existed in a world entirely its own, mercifully detached from the misery of Republic City. Even Lin looked better against the scenery. The wind caught her wild, undone hair and when she turned to look at him, her eyes looked especially green against the foliage. Mako's stomach jumped.

"Don't get distracted, Firebender," she said, smiling. Mako thought he caught something soft in her expression. Or perhaps it was just the Air Temple's effect, again.

"Me? Never."

She touched his jaw for a moment.

They entered the temple and found Pema first, sitting at a low table in a private side room feeding Rohan something brightly colored and chunky from a wooden spoon. Her eyes widened at the sight of them.

"Lin, what are you-"

"I need to see Tenzin." She crossed her arms. Rohan screeched with joy from Pema's arms, saying something disjointed that Mako couldn't quite make out.

"Why?" Pema frowned. "He's in his study, he doesn't like to be disturbed."

"Lin rolled her eyes. "It's a good thing I don't mind being on his bad side, then." She turned to Mako. "Why don't you find the Avatar and bring her down, too, Deputy?"

Mako nodded as Lin set off down one of the quiet hallways, looking back at Pema for guidance. Her expression was peeved as she shoved another heaping spoonful of food into her son's mouth. Mako watched Rohan pull a face and spit it all out again.

He stepped forward. "So, Korra-"

"-Is in the dining area if she hasn't already left," Pema finished for him, not looking up. Mako set off through the wooden hallways gratefully.

Korra was still in the spacious dining area, crouched beside a low table, especially distinguishable in her usual blues against the sea of red. Mako caught her eye and she waved.

"Mako! What a surprise," she greeted, patting the cushion beside her. "What are you doing here?"

"Well, you know. Can't beat that fine, vegetarian Airbender cuisine." Together, he and Korra grimaced down at the slop in her bowl.

"So I'm to assume you're not here to experience what Tenzin calls a healthy and invigorating meal?" She grinned.

He continued to eye the bowl, remembering the morning's scene, the oats mixed with blood across the cell floor. His stomach turned over. "No, thanks."

"Another attack, then?"

"In some way or another." He grimaced. "That Firebender we caught- he was about to talk, and someone murdered him in his cell this morning. Definitely someone on the force, definitely a Metalbender. Lin's talking to Tenzin about it now. I was supposed to get you."

Korra stood, gladly pushing away the untouched bowl. "Not looking too good for the force, is it?"

They walked down the hall. "It's really not." He sighed, eyeing her. "What are you doing here, anyway? I thought you'd be off at Asami's place or something."

She shrugged, her downcast eyes barely visible through her sloppy bangs. "'Sami can't really stand being home right now, after- you know. And I don't mind. She's up in our room now."

"Our room?" Mako asked, nudging her. Korra's cheeks pinked.

"Yeah. I thought Tenzin would freak the fuck out, but he's been surprisingly cool about it all." She sighed. "Asami's having a hard time with her dad's death. The Spirit World was good for her, but now that she's back and surrounded by so many memories, it's been tough."

Mako nodded. He well understood the sudden, ripping, desperately lonely feeling of being an orphan.

"I thought she'd like to see you. But when we stopped by yesterday, nobody was home."

"Bolin's been out-"

"-In the Northern Water Tribe filming," Korra completed for him. "I know. His letters are very descriptive, I'm sure you've read thousands of pages of them by this point in your life. And you were-"

"With Lin."

"With Lin." She nudged his side back, jokingly. "Sounds hot."

Mako colored. She really had no idea. He just cleared his throat, leading her into Tenzin's office.

Lin and Tenzin were crouched over his desk, prodding figures on a paper. They looked up when Mako entered with Korra. Tenzin looked unnaturally frustrated. Lin always looked mildly frustrated; she was a harder read.

Lin nodded at them. "Avatar. Thanks for coming."

"My pleasure, Beifong. How can I help save the city this time?" Korra cracked her knuckles.

"Actually, they're not exclusively here for you, Korra," Tenzin said. "Lin has requested teams of Airbenders to fill in various positions in the force until she's completed interrogations of the officers."

Korra's shoulders squared. "Sounds like Avatar duty to me."

"It most certainly is." Mako smiled at her. "And you'll be in headquarters, which means that you can see me."

Lin snorted beside Tenzin. "Just don't distract my deputy too much, Avatar. But we'd be glad to have you. Your presence would greatly console our innocent officers-" Her brows drew together- "As well as hopefully terrify the guilty ones."

"Thanks, Beifong." Korra sounded surprised.

"Great. Well, then. Tenzin's informed me that the team of Airbenders will be available within the day. If you don't mind such short notice, I'll see you tomorrow, Avatar." Lin swept from the office. Mako followed her with a smile at Korra, a nod towards Tenzin.

"And now, Chief?" Mako asked, catching up with her across the sloping pathway to the ferry.

"And now we figure out who the hell is behind all this."

-

They began interrogations that afternoon, placing squadrons of officers on paid leave until they'd completed the process.

"Are you sure there's money in for the budget for paid leave, Chief?" Jina had asked, running to keep up with Lin and Mako as they prepared for the process.

Lin had just shrugged. "I'll cover the funds myself if I have to, Deputy. There are things far more important right now than worrying about the meager funding we get from the city."

Interrogating was a standard procedure in the force. It was friendly but methodical, taking place in one of the larger downstairs rooms. They'd need the privacy, but didn't want to frighten any friendly officers; for many, it would be a simple and much-coveted chat with the chief. Lin again insisted that nobody else enter that section of the building, aiming for the most insight possible through her bare feet. Sometimes, she encased an officer's arms up to the shoulder in metal for a better read. Other times she'd send an officer away the moment they'd touched the metal handle of the door, given they signed their release paperwork.

"Are you sure that's being thorough enough, Chief?" Mako asked after the third time it had happened.

"Are you doubting my abilities, Deputy?" She'd returned, eyes glinting with amusement.

Mako didn't ask her again. If there was one person he trusted implicitly, it was Lin Beifong. So he contented himself with instead sitting back and watching the impact Lin had on her officers, how some flushed and others even shook with excited nerves to have a one-on-one conversation with her. She didn't seem to realize how much members of the force adored her. How much he did, too.

Or maybe she did, because she caught him staring many times that day. It really couldn't be helped.

The following day, Korra and the Airbenders arrived and Mako trained them in basic combat and force regulation before sending them off on airship duty. When he returned to the chilly underground cells, Lin just shook her head. No success so far.

They progressed like that for the rest of the week, and it may have been some of the most mind-numbingly tedious work Mako had ever done, including his stint with Woo which Mako had assumed would easily put other boring work into perspective. However, Mako found that trudging through the days was made much easier due to the very inspiring individual who happened to be his boss.

Because working alongside Lin was even better now, if possible. She and Mako found ways to motivate each other through the days of questioning, breaking for a lunch out in the city or an interview with the press. After a fair amount of deliberation and consult with the force's specialized PR team, they'd decided to come clean with the city about their suspicions, as well as outline a thorough strategy for force recruitment moving forward. They'd been nervous, and Mako had talked for most of the interview at Lin's request, trying to give the best justification and reassurance he could that the situation wouldn't harm any civilians.

"Did I do okay?" He'd asked Lin afterwards.

"Yes," she breathed, and her face was warm again as she looked at him. "You were very reassuring, Deputy."

She was right. The piece published the following day had been nothing short of inspirational; good enough for someone to tape it on the door of the fridge in the small kitchenette and leave little characters on the corner: badasses. Mako grinned each time he saw the photograph on his many runs up to the main floor for hot, black coffee. He and Lin worked damn well together, on the job.

They also worked damn well together off the job too, if he said so himself. Mako was now no stranger to spending evenings with Lin, but spending them at her apartment were far more comfortable and enjoyable than with the heavy desk between them. Once, she sat on the sofa and he sprawled on her floor in front of her, reading a novel he'd selected at random from her shelf. He'd looked up to find her eyes lingering on him. Soon, she'd tossed aside her novel and joined him, on her cool apartment floor, and they remained there for the rest of the evening. They also spent quite a bit of time together against the familiar cold wall in her kitchen, or in her shower. Or sometimes, even in her bed, although that was much more rare.

And she was still quiet and private most of the time, but Mako still found himself examining her, admiring her. He was charmed by Lin, charmed by the peek she was allowing him into her personal life. He liked everything about it. Like the way she burned through novels in the nights she couldn't sleep- and sometimes, how he could touch and kiss her so that she could sleep for a couple of hours. The simple rice bowls she'd make for them when they hadn't found time for takeout, which ended up tasting twenty times better than anything Mako had eaten from a restaurant recently, anyway. The look on her face that was halfway between sarcastic disbelief and begrudging amusement when he said something funny.

And although she usually kept a strict separation of their lives inside the office versus out, there was also a rather memorable day where she'd pushed him against the wall of the interrogation room and kissed him roughly, leaving him breathless and wanting.

"What was that for?" He asked her quietly as she pulled away.

She'd just shrugged, smiling. The rest of the day, throughout the interrogations, one of her hands remained on his thigh, rubbing the material of his slacks and the muscles beneath. And although Mako could spend hours wrapped so closely around her that he lost track of whose limbs and sweat was whose, her light feathering touch on his leg in public seemed even more intimate.

Of course, being a ranking member in the force meant a natural predisposition to rub people the wrong way, and although Mako was usually a proud owner of such abilities, they still sometimes ran away from him. One evening he and Lin stood together under the hot stream of water in her shower and he unlocked his lips from hers, pushing aside her hair that darkened to black when it was wet.

"Was your father a Firebender?"

"What?" She jumped. "How did you know?"

He quaked under her glare. "Your eyes- they're very gold in some lights." Not to mention her temperament.

She yanked her towel from a little hook beside the shower, stepping out. "I don't see how that's any of your business."

Mako had remained under the hot water a while longer, reprimanding himself for his curiosity. After what he'd experienced at the Metal Clan, he should have known better than to bring up Lin's family to her. He'd known it was a sore spot.

But when he finally turned off the water and toweled himself dry, she was standing in the doorway, wearing a robe and carrying a mug of coffee. "He was," she said finally, handing Mako the mug once he'd tucked the towel around his waist. "That's all I know."

"Sorry," he breathed.

"Me, too."

The headquarters were becoming more lively again too, and Mako found he wanted to be there more with each name they crossed off their list of interrogation suspects as innocent. There were still more attacks from petty criminals- Mako didn't really know when those would end, as they were all based on rumor spreading across the city- but since their capture at the Spirit Portal, it seemed that any remaining Triads didn't want to dirty their own noses. Korra's presence seemed to help with the atmosphere among the officers, not to mention that Mako and Lin had taken up visiting different hole-in-the-wall restaurants on their walk to headquarters each morning to bring in odd foods, a tribute to Shan.

Korra was in the station almost as much as Mako, Jina, and Lin. The work she put in was tremendous, and she basked in the well-deserved praise and attention from the officers. Mako enjoyed seeing more of her, too. After a long day, they'd convene around the kitchenette once many of the officers had retired for the night and spend some time together. Mako had missed it.

It was especially quiet one of those evenings, and Asami had finally swung by the station to visit, greeting Mako with a happy tug on his beard and a swift kiss on the corner of Korra's mouth. Bolin and Varrick would be returning in the next couple of days, bringing with them another opportunity for Varrick to partner with Future Industries. Asami's eyes shone as she told Mako about some of the deals they'd been writing about, and Mako grinned into his glass of liquor to see her so excited about something again.

"And I'm so proud of you, too," Asami finished, aiming a grin at Mako. "I mean, look at you. Another news feature this morning, and you haven't even done anything!" She traced the cut edge of the paper she'd brought for them, where Mako and Lin's faces stared out from the photograph.

"Maybe it's the beard," Korra said thoughtfully, scratching her chin. She'd pulled a desk up to the kitchenette and was sitting against the back of it beside Asami. Mako was leaning against the counter. "It makes you look more mysterious, you know? A little deranged. Like you're sacrificing life, limb, and sanity for the job. Maybe the press just wants to have enough photographs of you so they can do a before-and-after when you officially go off the deep end."

Asami laughed and Mako caught Jina's eye from across the room, the now familiar glare. He sipped some more of the liquor, trying to dismiss the way her black eyes pierced through him.

"So Mako, what's up with you and Beifong anyway?"

He jumped and inhaled some of the alcohol, choking. "What do you mean?" He asked, perfectly aware that his cheeks were blazing hot.

They gave him a confused look. Korra was holding the paper in front of her again.

"I was asking about your dream team headlines-" Korra began- "But hang on, I recognize that face. That's guilt. Spirits know we've seen it enough, right 'Sami?"

"Mako," Asami said quietly. "What's going on with you and the chief?"

Mako was eternally grateful that the room was almost empty. He ran a hand through his hair. "Work, stuff. You know."

"Spirits," Korra gasped. "Are you fucking?"

Mako quirked beneath the intensity of their gaze. "Please, I don't-"

"You're fucking." Korra traded a look with Asami. Mako couldn't tell if they looked horrified or impressed.

He swallowed, unsure of what to say. They sat for a minute in silence.

"So, how is she?" Asami finally asked. Mako sputtered. Korra laughed. "What? I can't pretend I'm not curious!"

Mako leaned farther against the counter to the kitchenette. His eyes found the clipping from the paper taped to the fridge. Badasses.

"She's- wonderful. Soft." He thought of being lulled to sleep by her hands and mouth. "Considerate."

"In my life I never thought I'd hear Beifong described like that," Korra whispered. Her brows drew together. "Be careful, Mako."

"I'll try."

-

Suddenly, they were two and a half weeks into the interviews, and almost every member of the force had sat in the little chair across from Lin and Mako. Discouragement was running high again, fear worming its way into their discussions.

"Maybe we missed something," Lin sighed one evening, flicking the final sheet of uninterrogated names over to Mako. He picked it up, discouraged, leaning back against her sofa.

"I see I'm on here."

Lin waved a hand dismissively. "That's our highest ranking officers. You're only there as a formality- you didn't leave my side once the evening Pang Mao was murdered, so I don't find myself too inclined to believe that you're my suspect. Not being an Earthbender also helps your cause, funnily enough."

"I'm a shit liar, anyway." He leaned over and laid a kiss beneath her jaw.

She snorted, leaning into him, and caught his eye. Mako's stomach jumped at the warmth in her gaze, how her face seemed to soften when she looked at him. Those moments only lasted a few seconds apiece, before she seemed to catch herself and harden her expression, but he lived for them.

And damn his emotional Firebender instincts, because each time she looked at him like that, he had to bite his tongue harder to keep the words to himself. Mako contented himself with kissing farther below her jaw, running his lips against her soft skin. Before he knew it she'd straddled his thighs, brushing her lips against his nose and his cheekbone. She threaded her fingers in his hair and kissed him hard, rocking against him. leaving him gasping. And when she pulled away from him this time, the soft look in her eyes and her lips upturned in a smirk, Mako knew he wouldn't be able to stop them even if he wanted to.

"I love you," he muttered, kissing her earlobe.

"What?"

"I." He cleared his throat. "I love you."

She stiffened above him, her hands still twined in his hair. Mako could feel the deep thudding of her pulse against his lips.

And then she pushed herself off of him, sliding to the sofa roughly.

"No, you don't."

Mako swallowed. His throat felt like it had sealed, his hands shaking. It certainly wasn't the reaction one would hope for when confessing feelings like that. But-

"Yes, I do." He leaned towards her. "Lin, I-"

"Don't say it again," she interrupted, holding up a hand. "Please. Don't. This is- this is just sex, Mako." Her face was panicked now, a rough flush had crept onto her cheeks. The hand was trembling.

And there was something burning in his chest, uncomfortably warm. "I'm sorry, but I don't see it that way."

"Then you've lost your damned mind."

A spark of anger, now. "Have I?" Mako asked, turning towards her. "Have I completely misinterpreted what this is? The way you look at me, the touching, the-" He breathed out, willing his hands to cool, to stop their own damned shaking. "I won't believe that you feel nothing, nothing for me. I can't believe that."

"Mako," she raised her voice above his. "I'm your boss, I'm old enough to be your mother, do you have any idea how insane-"

"So what?" Mako took one of her hands in his, shouting above her. If he was burning her, she didn't comment on it, didn't jerk away. "I don't care, Lin. About any of that. I know you feel something here, too. I know you care about me, tell me why you won't-"

"Because I'm broken, Mako!" She yelled. Her expression was fearful and he blinked; he'd never before seen Lin looking so scared. She tore her hand from his and grasped her elbows, her fingernails cutting into the skin. "Be realistic. I am utterly, laughably unqualified to participate in any semblance of a romantic relationship. I draw the line at physical ones because that's all I can manage." She drew in a deep, shuddering breath. "I'm toxic," she whispered. "I'm mean. I can't sleep, I'm still suffering through trauma from years ago that's showing no signs in subsiding-" Her eyes found his again. They were wet. "Don't waste your love on me, Firebender. Don't let me ruin the potential that you actually have to find it with someone your own age who possesses the capacity to be happy." She stood, scrubbing at her face aggressively with the back of her hand. "I can't take any more of your life from you. I won't harm you any more than I already have. I'm sorry, I should have seen this coming a long time ago. It's over."

"Lin," Mako moaned. He walked to her, touching her shoulder. "How many times have you done this to yourself? You think you're toxic when you're not. You sacrifice everything because you don't believe that you deserve happiness or love. But you do, too."

"I told you." She looked up at him. "I gave up on things like that a long time ago."

"Lin-"

"Go home, Deputy. Please."

Mako walked to her door, stilling and turning back towards her. She'd turned away from him, looking out the large window of her living space. It had started to rain; the tops of skyscrapers and dark clouds framed her in gray.

Mako sighed, stepping outside the door and closing it with a snap behind him.

-

Mako walked from the building and down the familiar streets to his little apartment. The city was cold now, the rain coming down harder. He shivered and drew his arms tightly around himself, furrowing his brow and walking more quickly, thinking of Lin.

When he reached the apartment, the lights were on, and his heart jumped. He ran up the stairs.

"Bo. You're home."

The apartment had turned into a disaster in what must have been a few brief hours. Fancy clothing, socks, and a takeout container scattered across the floor and in the middle of it all sat Bolin as though in a nest.

"Mako!" Bolin jumped up and hugged him. "Where have you been? I tried the station but they said you'd left hours ago-"

Mako grasped Bolin even tighter, ignoring the twist in his gut. Bolin smelled of Varrick's cologne and takeout and a new woodsy aftershave and he'd missed his brother so damned much.

"Hey, hey, don't hurt the merchandise." Bolin disentangled himself, looking up into Mako's face. His brows turned up in the center. "Are you okay? You're normally not one for hugs."

"Well, my brother isn't normally one to jet off to the Northern Water Tribe for a month, so there you go."

Bolin grinned his lopsided grin, shrugging. "Hey, gotta do whatever pays the bills. Right?"

"And then some, looks like." Mako eyed the piles around the living area. A large silver pocketwatch bedazzled with some sort of gemstone glittered from atop a lavish printed suit jacket. An evening hat topped with a gaudy feather sat on the sofa.

"Hey, this is all just gifts from Varrick. The movie money hasn't even come in yet."

"Of course." Mako rolled his eyes, walking to the fridge, surprised to find a few beers still inside. He grabbed two. "Tell me about filming."

"Are you sure you don't have to sleep for work tomorrow? It's super late, my inner clock is all sorts of screwed up-"

"I'm sure." Mako sat among the nest. He couldn't sleep if he tried, anyway. "You're more important."

"Well that goes without saying," Bolin said happily, sipping his beer.

-

Mako woke at his usual early time the following morning and dressed quietly, maneuvering over Bolin's mess to leave the apartment. He was tired enough to stop by his favorite little coffee stand before he even got to headquarters- he and Bolin had stayed up talking for most of the night. And, well, waking up without Lin was much more difficult than he wanted to admit.

The noise of headquarters faded into a blur as he trudged towards his desk and dropped his things none too ceremoniously onto its surface. Jina stared at him, across the aisle.

"Today's the first day in weeks that you and Beifong arrived at different times," she noted.

"Do you ever get tired of creeping on me, Jina?"

"Nope." Her eyes bored into his. "I wonder what's going on between the two of you? The Avatar seemed very interested-"

"A personal conversation between friends. Or will you call her my more than friend, turned friend, turned-"

She waved a hand dismissively. "I'll just ask you tonight."

Mako started. "What's tonight?"

"Beifong didn't tell you?" Jina smirked. "My interrogation's tonight. I'm so flattered. She decided to have it at her apartment so that it doesn't embarrass me in front of all the officers here. Apparently it looks bad, to suspect a deputy."

Mako sighed, looking at her closed door. "You know it's just common practice. Don't be so offended. Where is she now?"

"Down in the rooms, probably insulting some other officer."

"Great. Thanks." He grabbed his jacket from the desk top.

Mako made his way down to the interrogation rooms, nodding to the latest officer on his way out from the interview. Lin didn't look up when he entered and took the usual spot beside her, scratching small characters onto the post-interview assessment.

"Another dead end?"

"Just another loyal member of the force." She turned to him. Mako noticed that she looked particularly unhappy as well, with deep rings beneath bloodshot eyes. His chest hurt to see her like that and Mako nodded, not trusting his tongue to form words that didn't seem too pitiful.

The interviews seemed to crawl by, the gaps between them went even more slowly. By the late afternoon, Mako's jaw ached from his nervous clenching and something in his chest felt torn. Finally, Lin turned to him.

"I hear your brother's back."

"How?"

"Noise complaint on Varrick's penthouse last night."

"Oh." Mako rubbed the back of his neck. "He is."

"That must have been nice for you." She stacked the papers. "Why don't you spend this evening with him and your friends?"

Normally, Mako would outright refuse, but it had been a particularly miserable day. "Are you sure?"

"Of course, Deputy. I'll see you bright and early tomorrow so we can reassess our strategy." She sighed. "I was so sure this would work. I guess my bending isn't as strong as I thought it was. We'll have to think of something else."

Mako's traitor hand touched her arm. "We'll think of something."

She shrugged off his touch. "Just- come ready to work."

-

"It's been far too long since Team Avatar's been together like this," Bolin mused that evening.

The four of them were clustered in Mako and Bolin's little living space, a bottle of liquor between them, dirty plates that had recently held Asami's wonderful cooking stacked in the sink. Bolin leaned back on the sofa, flinging an arm over Korra, who leaned into him. "I keep asking Varrick to do a movie about us- we could play ourselves! How fun would that be- but he keeps calling me Nuktuk and saying that I never knew the Avatar. It makes things really confusing."

"As is expected when one is around Varrick too much, I would imagine," Mako pointed out from his seat beside the coffee table, catching Asami's eye.

She grinned at him. "Mad genius, though. In his own way."

"Your contract with Varrick Industries now requires that you say that? You poor thing."

She just laughed. "No, I'm actually being serious! How weird is that, hmm?"

"Hey, whatever it takes to propel Future Industries into the, um. The future?"

"The futurer," Bolin corrected. "It's the word Varrick is using."

Asami groaned while Korra laughed beside them, shifting over while Bolin stood and made his- unsteady- way towards the kitchen.

"He's in love, I think," Korra said.

"What a miserable decision," Mako commented before he realized what he was saying.

"Hey, it's not like you're one to talk."

Mako just frowned into his drink. Korra and Asami exchanged a look, shifting closer to him. "Are you sure you're alright? You've been kind of dour all night."

He shrugged. "Yeah. Just give me a bit to return to my usual self."

"But he's dour, too!"

"Very funny, Avatar."

"Seriously, Mako." She leaned over, placing a hand on his knee. "I'm here for you. I've been feeling all kinds of weird heartbeats from you all day- sometimes I really regret learning how to Metalbend, but there you go. Let me know if you need anything, okay?"

"I don't want to bother you." He sighed. "Sorry about the Metalbending thing."

Asami took Korra's hand in hers, smiling. "It's just something we have to live with now. When I don't want Korra to be distracted by me, I put my feet up like this."

She placed one heeled foot on top of the other, propping them on the coffee table. "See? No vibrations."

"None?" Mako asked, surprised.

"Well, next to none. It's much harder to read her like that. Quite the strategy she's developed." Korra planted a kiss on Asami's cheek. "Such a little mystery!"

Mako stared at Asami's crossed heels on the table. Something about them seemed familiar, somehow.

Crossed black heels against a metal table, facing outward towards a sheet of one-sided glass.

I felt quite a bit of tension coming through the wall this morning.

Mako suddenly stood, eyes wide. His heart was beating fast, thudding against his ribs. He couldn't believe he'd never thought of it before.

"I have to go," he choked.

"What? But what about all the Team Avatar-"

"No. I need to get to Lin's. Now."

Mako jumped out of the door and down the stairwell, taking off running once his shoes hit the pavement on the sidewalk.

The woman who attacked you was a Metalbender. I've never known anyone to pick it up without prior instruction.

He splashed through a puddle, soaking his leather shoes.

Sucker. If they're going to commit a crime, they could at least stay resolved to it.

He skirted a vendor at a corner, packing up his wares for the night.

Someone who has seen the rotting heart of the Republic City Police Force, and thinks it would do better under new leadership.

He turned to corner towards Lin's building.

I'm off to get my armor. Give me a few, will you?

Mako took the stairs, two at a time, to her floor. He fell against the door, fumbling in his breast pocket for the little metal key and stepping inside her apartment. It was cold and dark. "Lin?" He called. "Lin?"

The door slammed shut behind him. The next thing Mako knew, the force's metal cords had wrapped around his arms and legs, binding them together. He crashed to the floor.

-

Mako caught his breath, tasting blood in his mouth. He'd bit a lip on the way to the stone floor and smashed up his jaw, which was already throbbing. A foot was at his side, turning him over. He felt a sharp heeled stiletto against his flesh.

"Expecting someone else, Deputy?"

"No," he moaned.

"Oh, Yes." Jina stood above him, her hair wild, deep bags beneath her eyes. She checked her watch. "Took you longer to figure it out than I expected, but you're still here. Good."

"You- but your interrogation-"

"-Was moved to tomorrow. Something about the chief not feeling up to it. I wonder." Her black eyes flashed. "I thought I was fucked until she canceled it this morning. Thought I'd have to skip town. Then, I realized I had just a little more time."

She kicked Mako in the mouth. Blood dripped onto the floor as he coughed, struggling against the metal.

"Now, to make sure you can't escape-"

She bent up Lin's dining table and slammed it into his stomach. Mako felt ribs crack and gasped in pain. "It was you," he wheezed. "You killed Pang Mao, you alerted the Triads that we were coming to the portal, you're- you're their Earthbending leader."

"Took you long enough. You're so fucking dense, I really don't know what Beifong sees in you, other than a good lay." She placed the table back on its feet, sitting on the surface cross-legged. "And you know what really just pisses me off about all that?"

"If you want me to answer," Mako shot back, spitting out more blood, "You shouldn't make a habit of kicking me in the mouth."

"-I spent years on this fucking plan, working up to the position of deputy. Once some lucky criminal killed Beifong, or once she was run out of the position from sheer embarrassment that she couldn't save her people, I'd be promoted and we'd own the city." Jina ran her fingers through her hair, looking even more deranged. "And if we lost too many officers? It'd be so simple to replace them with my own people. So simple. But nothing ever works, does it? Because in comes a dashing young, whatever- friends with the Avatar, riding on coattails deputy and suddenly he's fucking her- oh, don't give me that look. It's so obvious I want to vomit."

"You tried-"

"To fuck you? To distract you from the sickening jolts of your pulse each time you laid eye on her? Hell yes, I did. Who'd go for the old, jaded chief over this?" She motioned to her body. "Oh well, no accounting for taste." Her eyes trailed over him again. "It's a pity, Deputy. We could have had so much fun. You're hot. It's too bad I had to try and kill you."

"That woman in the bar-"

"You were being groomed for command. I'm not letting anybody get in the way of the Triads. Not you. Not Beifong. And not my partner for years who fucking crumbles under the pressure on day one of incarceration, who'd rather save his own neck than defend a cause we'd been working on for years." She spit on the floor, beside Mako's head.

"So what's your plan now?" Mako wheezed. "You lure me here, and then what? Lin will be here soon, she's probably already on her way."

She grinned down at him. "Oh, no. No. I'm not going to tell you. I'm not going to be that person."

Mako moaned, laying his head against the cool stone floor. His adrenaline was wearing off, the pain of his broken rib coursing to his brain. Each tiny movement had him gasping.

Twenty minutes passed, perhaps more, before Jina jumped to her feet, righting the table and chairs, unbinding Mako's limbs. And through the relieved feeling of blood rushing back to his extremities, Mako still couldn't move for the pain in his side.

"I need you to sit, Deputy. Can you do that for me?"

He grunted from his spot on the floor.

"How about you sit in that chair, or I slit your wrists?"

Well, she certainly knew how to incentivize a man, Mako thought bitterly as he hauled himself, gasping, into the chair. Jina sat in front of him, heels on the table. Her black eyes glinted as she reached over, taking his hand.

"Isn't that better?"

"No."

She summoned the metal whip from her back, drawing it down across the soft flesh of his wrist. The skin split and blood began to flow from the wound. The pain, the blood flowing from his body- Mako slumped on the table, gasping. Jina strapped a thick metal cuff to his arm, sealing in most of the flow.

"Better not move that metal much there," she cautioned. "Or you'll die."

"Thanks," he grunted. She snorted above him.

"It's a damn shame I didn't realize before how hilarious you are, Deputy. Now quiet."

He couldn't have said much of anything, anyway. The panic was sinking in, his own blood pooling onto Lin's table through the cuff. His hand had started shaking, the skin growing unnaturally white.

The door opened and Mako turned his head with an effort. Lin was standing in the doorway. Mako watched her eyes widen at the sight of him at the table, the pooling blood dripping to the floor.

"What the fuck-"

"Oh hey Chief." Jina waved, standing. "Come in, would you? Oh, and if you try anything, I'll kill him."

Lin walked into the room slowly, eyes skirting around the room. "Jina," she said softly. "What the hell are you doing?"

"She's the Earthbender," Mako moaned from the table, lifting his head. "Lin, Lin, she's the Earthbender, get out, please-"

Jina tsked with her lips, taking Mako's hair in her hand and slamming his forehead onto the table. "Such an astute observation, for being so dense sometimes. I know you agree, Chief- you know anyone'd have to be fucking stupid to get in bed with you."

Mako turned his head slowly. Lin's eyes were still wide, her features contorted in rage. She sat slowly on the second chair and reached for him, her thumb brushing the ridge of his cheekbone.

"Are you okay?"

"Well, you know."

"How sweet," Jina commented. "Wrists please, Chief. I don't have all day here. Neither does my fellow deputy here."

"No," Mako moaned. "Lin, no-"

"Your wrists, or I fucking kill him."

Lin's eyes lingered on the cuff around Mako's wrist and she grimaced, extending her wrists. Jina snapped two more cuffs onto them, crushing the removal clasps until they popped off; the same chi blockers Lin and Mako had used during their spar a lifetime ago.

Back when Mako wasn't dying, bleeding out onto the stone floor.

"What do you want?" Lin whispered.

"Your signature." Jina pushed over a paper and pen. "Didn't mean to hurt Boy Wonder here, but we both know it's the only way you'd comply with me."

"And what's this?"

"Stop stalling. It's my interrogation document, confirming that I passed."

"And after I sign it?"

"I've got a crew outside ready to transport you."

Lin reached over and grasped the pen, signing the document in her neat characters. Jina hovered over her, watching, until each stroke had been finely printed.

"Good, Chief. This should do just fine to convince the city of my innocence. I appreciate it." She grinned. "Don't let anyone say that you never did anything for an underling. Now you've done something for me, you've done Boy Wonder here-"

Lin's fist clenched around the pen.

Jina stood, brushing her hands, popping the paper into her briefcase. "Now, the surprise. I'm afraid we only have room for one in the car. Chief, Deputy?" She shrugged. "I'm impartial here. I'll enjoy killing both of you equally."

Mako was cold now, his head spinning. He was able to hear the delicate drip of his flowing blood into the pool on the floor. He looked up, catching Lin's eye.

"I'm already gone, Lin," He croaked through the pain. "My ribs, my wrist- I won't make travel." His voice broke. He thought of Bolin, of Korra, of Asami all back at his apartment. Somehow, he felt tears well in his eyes, a single hot tear slide down the side of his cheek.

"No," Lin insisted, touching his cheek again. He caught the emerald and gold flecks, and the warmth in them, holding her gaze for a moment as they traveled down his face and he wished, for a moment, that he could be back in her bed, touching her soft hair and kissing her neck. "It's you, it's you damn it."

"Lin-"

Her voice cracked. "Firebender, you've barely lived. You're not dying now because of me."

He reached out, towards her. Wanting to touch her, to feel the warmth of her skin on his. But she stood and her arm was dangling too far from him and he groaned in pain.

"Last words?" Jina unspooled the cord at her back, fingering the metal lightly.

"I would die a million times over to save that man."

"Well put."

Jina sliced a hand through the air, fully unspooling the metal cord. Mako watched the metal whip through the air towards Lin and jerked, holding his breath.

Lin sidestepped the cords and threw up an arm. The metal sliced through her armor, wrapping around her elbow and shoulder. She grimaced, planting her feet on the floor. Ever the Earthbender, even without access to her element. For a second, she and Jina just stared at one another. Lin looked determined. Jina's face was murderous.

"You-" Jina spat.

Lin gave a tremendous pull and Jina fell towards her, dragged by the cords still attached to her back. Mako saw the pen in Lin's hand and realized what she was going to do a moment before she did it.

And then, Lin plunged the sharp metal tip of the pen into Jina's neck.

Jina stilled, her hands on Lin's shoulders, making a horrible gurgling noise. Then, fresh scarlet blood spurted from Jina's neck and onto Lin's hand. Lin moved a step back and with a great crash, Jina's body fell to the ground. Lin stood over her, breathing heavily, and stepped over the woman's twitching body to Mako.

"Mako. Mako." She grasped his arm. He was shaking, the world turning black. He tried to lean into her warm touch.

Her hand hit his face. "I can't take these damned cuffs off- I'm going to make the call. You stay here, okay? Stay awake, Firebender. Don't you die on me."

He nodded, his eyelids fluttering closed. Her hand hit his cheek again. Her voice was panicked.

"No. Don't you dare die on me, Firebender."

Mako tried to stay awake, he really did, but it was too late. He focused on Lin's form as she ran away, scared it was the last time he'd see the flashing silver of her hair and armor. His eyelids shut. The quick, hurried tap of her shoes on the stone floor was the last thing Mako heard before the world blackened around him.

-

Mako was lying on foreign sheets, but not the ones he'd gotten used to at Lin's apartment. Rather, these ones were starched and rough and practical and he opened his eyes groggily, blinking at the light in the room.

He was in a small room in the Republic City hospital. An open window next to him had light from the setting sun streaming in and falling across his bed, the ceilings were low, and it smelled vaguely of antiseptic. No question why.

His left arm was itchy and stiff and Mako moved to look at it. It was bandaged heavily. The skin that peeked through it was unnaturally white. But still, he was alive, and that was certainly better than nothing.

Mako leaned upward. Bolin was slumped in a chair beside him, fast asleep. He raised his good arm to prod at his brother's hand.

"Bo. Bo."

Bolin jerked awake. "Mako! Spirits, I'm so glad you're up. They thought you'd sleep all night."

"What happened?"

"You know better than I do." Bolin grimaced, pale-faced. "Sounds like you lost a lot of blood. Beifong says you were attacked in her apartment? By another deputy?"

"Yeah, I- Lin was here?"

Bolin nodded. "Uh huh. She stayed for hours. Yelled at them when they tried to treat her own arm- wasn't looking too good either, really, but what are you going to do, give orders to the chief of police?" He grinned, checking his pocket watch. Mako watched the evening light fracture through the gemstone set into the top. "She left just about two hours ago. And I guess you're working on regenerating some blood. I ordered dinner for you and ate it, sorry. I didn't think you'd need it tonight."

Mako just grinned at his brother. "Thanks so much for waiting with me."

"Of course, Bro. You scared the hell outta me, I'll have you know." Bolin reached behind him, pulling out a crumpled wad of paper with his neat, blocky little characters across the pages. "Plus, I've been working on a script for a new Nuktuk! Inspired by events that happened to you, of course. Can't wait to show it to Varrick. Your story's gonna be famous!"

-

Mako's story already was famous, if the papers from the next day had any say in it. He certainly attracted more stares, walking down the familiar streets towards headquarters. Maybe it was his face that covered the first page of each paper in the city. Maybe it was his arm, still bound up in its sling. For once, Mako found that he didn't mind the attention as much- although he'd much rather it were directed elsewhere.

Inside headquarters itself, Mako was much more comfortable, even as officers and even the chatty cadet at the desk stood and shook his good hand, touching him lightly on the back, and congratulating him for a damn good criminal catch. He dropped his trench on the back of his stiff chair happily, eyeing what had used to be Jina's desk. It was empty.

Mako knocked twice on Lin's office door and the knob clicked, swinging open. The sight waiting for him was familiar except for Lin's own bandaged arm, which she'd removed from the sling herself. She caught his eye across the desk and smiled wide, and his head grew light with something that Mako suspected didn't have anything to do with the blood he was still regenerating.

"Deputy."

"Chief."

And then she moved from her chair and around her desk and had thrown her arms around him, pulling his body against hers and kissing him roughly. And Mako kissed her back, threading his good hand into her hair, sighing as she opened her mouth against his and pulled him tighter against her.

"Ow. Ow. Gentle with my ribs-"

"Sorry." She broke away from him, the wonderful pink flush on her cheeks. "I'm just glad you're okay."

"Me too." She helped him into his usual chair and leaned against the ridge of the desk top, touching his arm, his neck, running fingers through her hair and leaning down to kiss him again.

"If this is how you act when I almost die-" Mako whispered against her lips- "I'm going to risk my life more often."

"Don't you dare." She pushed a finger against the rough hairs of his beard.

"How did things wrap up at your apartment?"

"I couldn't tell you," she said. "Too busy at the hospital making sure they didn't finish Jina's work in murdering you."

"I'm flattered."

"You should be. Considering the donations I give to that hospital, their workmanship was disappointing at best." The corner of her mouth quirked. "I'll probably have to scrub the floors, but- good riddance."

"Yeah." Mako swallowed. "I just- I can't believe it was her."

"Me neither." Her hand clenched. "She'd been my deputy for years, the last person I'd have suspected. It was brilliant."

"I thought you liked a challenge."

The thin crease appeared between her brows. "Not when your life's on the line."

Mako touched her knee. "I didn't know you cared so much, Chief."

"Of course I care, Firebender." Her cheeks flushed. "Someone has to complete all that post-incident paperwork."

"I'll get right on that," Mako whispered. "But kiss me again first, okay?"

"If you insist." Her fingers found his jaw again and she tilted his head up towards hers, slipping her tongue between his lips. When she broke away from him this time, her breaths were heavy, her eyes dark.

"To be continued?" Mako asked. "Gently, later?"

"To be continued." She grinned at him. Mako's eyes followed the armor fit snug around her hips as she walked behind her desk, sitting lightly in the chair. "Now get to work, Deputy. We've got some ass-kicking to do."

Mako walked to the door of her office and looked back once more, catching her eye. "Yes, Chief."

Chapter Text

 

It was ten thirty in the evening, and Mako was being strangled by his bow tie.

Anything requiring a bow tie to begin with was certainly not what Mako would have chosen to do, at this point in the evening. Usually at this time he was across the desk from Lin, sipping some potent drink she'd bought from a little hole-in-the-wall shop in the city's south side. Or, more frequently now, he would be sitting beside her at her apartment with the company of a novel and some bad takeout, and she'd be trailing a finger languidly across his thigh as she read from her own. Hell, Mako would rather be on nighttime patrol duty than this.

But it wasn't often that Republic City's president deemed the accomplishments of the force so influential that he threw a gala in their honor, and seeing as he and Lin were the guests of honor, the bow tie had unfortunately been a necessity. Along with a stiff black suit, a half-hour spent trimming his beard, and a crowded, busy night where he could barely even see his fellow honoree.

Mako tugged at his collar again, looking across the heads of the crowd- ever grateful for his height- finally finding her, speaking to some older and rich-looking Water Tribe man wearing far too many medals than was necessary, in Mako's opinion. Lin's silver hair shone particularly nicely in the light of sparkling lanterns, and his traitor gaze trailed down the slope of her neck to the dark, form-fitting dress she was wearing, how it hugged her hips and emphasized the muscled dip of her waist and Mako swallowed a much larger gulp of sparking wine than he'd intended, coughing as the bubbles threatened to go up his nose. Although they hadn't even spoken yet that night, he'd already set fire to two napkins and a little toothpick from a server because he couldn't keep his damned eyes off of her.

Mako sighed, tearing his eyes from Lin and fixating on his current problem; sidestepping yet another woman who had sidled up to him, batting her false eyelashes hypnotically as she struck up a conversation, angling her feet meaningfully at the dance floor.

There had been a few more interested parties than usual that night. Some were subtle, some flat out asked him to dance, and Mako had poorly- but successfully- evaded each of them. He had no interest in dancing with overly made-up strangers. He had no interest in flirting. In fact, for the first time in his life, Mako was completely content with his personal life.

Perhaps content wasn't the right word, Mako mused. Was one simply content if they were wildly in love with the best looking woman in the city? Did content cover the intense joy and warmth of sharing her bed every night? Was one content if they wondered, every moment of every day, how they'd ever gotten quite so lucky? But, he figured, it wasn't like his current conversation partner would know that. He directed his thoughts back to the woman's story.

Since Jina's death, the Triads had officially crumbled, severed from their Spirit Portal trade route and uniting leadership. The gang had disseminated; remaining members either disappeared, or were succinctly rounded up. And for one miraculous week, there had been no crime in the city, and the papers had used the lull to cover each detail of Mako's personal life instead.

It wouldn't last, of course. The remaining members would reassemble and return stronger than ever. And there was always petty theft and spirit attacks and the odd mass murderer to occupy the force. But still, that week had been a restful hiatus.

-Oh, who was he kidding. Mako had been bored to tears, on edge and panicked, waiting for the other shoe to drop and rather hoping it chose sooner than later. He couldn't stand another interview request, another photograph. Another intrusive interviewer inquiring as to Mako's love life, whether he was on the market, what his ideal first date would be.

Let's see, Mako had pictured himself saying. I'm a bit less traditional, but if you give me a dark underground chamber holding tons of traumatic memories, a woman more than twice my age, and a group of villains who try to murder us, I'll be set. Instead, he'd muttered something about watching a pro-bending match. Lin had asked him later why he hadn't mentioned her, wearing her usual inscrutable expression. He'd shrugged, explaining that he liked his privacy, appreciated the quiet joy they'd found together. Lin had seemed a little relieved; she appreciated it too.

And his eyes were on her again, and Mako wouldn't have been surprised if he'd breathed steam. She was finally alone, and Mako saw his chance. The conversation in front of him had once again taken the fateful turn back to the subject of dancing, the woman opened her mouth, gesturing to the tiled floor beyond where couples were swaying to the music.

"I've gotta go." Mako cut over her rudely. He grimaced, frustrated with himself.

She looked offended. "I thought you'd want to-"

"I've got to talk to my boss. Sorry." He ran a hand through his hair- at least it wasn't a lie.

Lin was seated at the bar now, clutching her own newly refreshed glass of sparkling wine. Mako walked beside her and placed a hand at her back, surprised when she jumped at the contact.

"Count it: that's one point for me in being able to surprise you." Mako grinned at her, leaning over the bar and holding up a finger at the bartend.

"It's the shoes. An Earthbender's worst nightmare," she explained. "I can't feel any vibrations in these. Again and again, I try, and I fail to see the purpose."

He'd noticed she was wearing heels, reminiscent of Jina's. "They might be spirits-damned monstrosities," Mako commented, keeping his eyes on her, "But they do make your ass look phenomenal from behind."

He was thrilled to see a flush rise to Lin's cheeks and figured he must have a matching one, hoping it was at least partially obscured by the thick black beard he'd grown. He kept his hand at her back, trailing the dip of her waist, unable to care that they were in a room full of people. Lin reached a hand across her body to his, and although Mako braced for her to push off his touch, she instead twined her fingers with his, against her hip. Something butterflied in Mako's stomach.

"Are you having a nice night, Firebender?"

"I am, actually. I'm surprised. Although I'd prefer a quiet time in, with you."

Lin rose a brow, a smirk tugging at her lips. "Not enjoying your company?"

Of course she would have noticed. "Spirits, no. It's terrible." Mako shuddered. "They keep bringing up the subject of dancing. I hate dancing. Some are moving in like piranha-eels."

"I thought you liked dancing, Firebender. If I remember, you even asked me some time ago."

Mako flushed again. "I guess I'll amend my statement- I don't like dancing with women like that."

"And the women you are interested in-"

"-Are the ones who stay frustratingly far from me all night even though they're being honored as much as I am. The ones who look better in armor than stupid impractical silks. The ones who don't have to glue on their own eyelashes to feel beautiful." His hand warmed on her waist. "And yet, they're the ones who look so incredibly good in their flimsy dresses and impractical shoes that all I can think about, all night, is pulling them into my arms and never taking my hands off of them again."

"Are you asking for a dance?" Her eyes found his. Something was glowing in them; her irises had darkened. "-Or to fuck me in a closet?"

"Yes."

"Alright." Lin seemed to think about it before sighing resignedly, standing and tugging at where her dress had hiked above her hips. Mako couldn't have averted his eyes if his life had depended on it. "But dancing's incredibly stupid, so let's just hope they have an available closet nearby."

"Oh, thank the spirits," he sighed, placing his hand once more around her waist. Lin allowed him to escort her from the room.

The hallways off the gathering chamber were labyrinthine and empty and they only walked down a few of them before Mako was lost. Still, they continued to wander, navigating past large ugly paintings and benches and rooms titled in no reasonable order.

"What is this place, anyway?" Mako asked, tugging at his collar again. "I remembered wondering about it during construction. I thought Varrick was building a permanent circus. Or maybe a second stadium for pro-bending."

"It's a new governmental center. So that everyone can be together in one place, rather than the capitol which is too small now," she explained. She stopped in the hallway, turning towards him and untying his bow tie with a swift flick of her fingers.

Mako rubbed his neck appreciatively. "Spirits, I love you."

She stiffened and Mako colored a little- the words had been slipping out unconsciously as of late. The first time- well, the second after Mako's disastrous first attempt- Lin had returned from a coffee run to the downstairs bakery with a box of his favorite sugary pastry. He'd moaned the words through a mouthful of apple crumble and she'd given him a long, evaluating look before shrugging and removing her trench. This time, she just turned and resumed walking down the hallway, although Mako thought he might have caught the flash of a smile on her lips.

"Do you think anyone's working late?" He peered into an office as they passed. It looked empty.

Lin snorted. "Are you kidding? These are the politicians of Republic City we're talking about. Of course they're not."

"Good." Mako took her hips in his hands and pushed her against one of the doorways. "Because I am just about finished with being patient."

He flattened himself against her and Lin's hands found the curve of his shoulders, pulling his mouth against her own. Her lips tasted wonderful and Mako kissed her roughly, greedily, licking along her bottom one until she opened for him, threading a hand into her soft, silver hair. She sighed into him, letting him guide the kiss. Mako felt right at home, sinking into the warm curves of her body and the fuzz of the sparkling wine.

Mako slid the hand gripping Lin's hip across her thigh, resting it between her legs. Lin gasped into his mouth, pressing her hips forward into his palm as her head fell back. Mako dove his tongue even deeper into the warmth of her mouth, just feathering his fingers against her. He knew her well, knew precisely how to touch her so that her knees began to shake. He pressed a finger against her harder; she moaned in response and a Mako felt a rush of pride as he continued to explore her through the flimsy fabric.

Mako was no longer surprised of the impact Lin could have on him; how a raised brow in his direction caused his heart to leap, how a single kiss left him hard and wanting. Tonight was certainly no different; he was already aching, could feel his erection straining through the fabric of his dress slacks, desperate for friction. Mako moved his hand back to her waist and pressed his hips against hers, moaning into her mouth at the touch, how she pressed back insistently into him.

"Chief. Lin. You- that dress- you look so damn good. This has been the only thing I've been able to think about, all night."

She reached down to the doorknob, unlocking it with a wave of her hand and allowing them inside. "Why don't we do something about that, then?"

Mako took a deep breath, using the moment to thank each of his lucky spirits for Lin Beifong, and followed her into the room.

They were in a little unused office and Lin wasted no time in bending the lock closed with a snap while Mako lifted her to the desk top. She reached down his stomach, trailing her fingers across his belt and the loops of his dress pants before brushing the material at its front. His hips unconsciously bucked into her grip and he throbbed, his mind threatening to blank in the pleasure.

He pulled away from her hand, gasping, and fell onto his arms, planting one on either side of her. He was already dangerously close. "Stop. I told you- I've thought of this all night."

She just pulled him closer, slipping her hand into his pants and his eyes rolled at the light, cool feeling of her hand as she began to stroke him. "And what you've been thinking about-"

His voice was broken. "How that dress- How I'd like to rip it, to burn it off of you," he gasped, thrusting into her hand, perfectly aware his arms were shaking with the effort of keeping himself upright. "How I want to trail my lips, my tongue over your skin, kiss down your neck and chest, please- please-"

She relaxed her grip and Mako sagged onto the table, breathing heavily, desperate not to move too much against the material of his pants; one more touch and he'd have finished right there.

He caught her eye. She looked amused, one brow raised as she watched him try to control himself. Only the flush that had risen from her neck to her cheeks gave her away. Mako felt a competitive spark; she seemed to enjoy making him lose control, watching him come apart in front of her. Tonight, he was going to do the same to her.

Mako stooped and grasped the hem of her her dress, pulling it up her calves and thighs, trailing his fingers across her soft skin as he rose the fabric. His hands shook as he lifted the skirt above her waist; she shifted on the desk's surface to accommodate.

"Do I still scare you, Firebender?" She whispered, amused.

His eyes found hers, and Mako knew lying would be useless. "Spirits, Lin. How could you even ask that? Of course you do." He kissed at her neck and shoulder and then lowered himself to his knees in front of her, spreading her legs gently with his hands and choosing to kiss up her thigh instead. He thought, for an instant, that he could feel her trembling as well.

"Firebender, I-"

His lips found her center and Lin jumped, the rest of her sentence cut off in an appreciative moan.

"Yes?" He whispered against her, his tongue beginning smooth, circular ministrations, looking upwards through his lash line to catch her eye. Her face was inscrutable; he pressed his tongue harder against her and Lin's head fell backwards. Mako smirked to himself. He loved having this kind of influence on her; watching her come undone beneath his fingertips and mouth. He loved that she let him see her when she was vulnerable.

Mako took his time in exploring her, licking at her lower lips and dipping his tongue inside of her and his head spun with her taste and his erection gave an insistent throb but he ignored it, sliding two fingers easily into her.

She bucked around him, gasping lightly, and although she was already wet on his fingers Mako felt a surge of frustration; it wasn't enough, he wanted to hear her-

He spread her lips with his other hand and sucked hard, without preamble, on her clit.

That did it. She moaned loudly, without restraint, as he continued to suck on her, to lick roughly against the nub.

"Fuck," she moaned. "Spirits- gods-"

He backed away from her, smirking. "My name's Mako, Chief-"

The look she gave him was disgusted, and begrudgingly amused. The same one she always gave when he said something that had impressed her. "Get the hell back to it, Firebender." She tugged his head back between her legs and he glued his mouth to her once more as she began to rock against his tongue.

Mako slid a third finger into her, pumping her as he resumed the circling motions of his tongue. He reached down with the other hand and pushed against his own cock- it was achingly hard, demanding his attention, and he palmed at it through his pants as long as he could stand without losing control of himself. It didn't take long, not with the string of breathy moans and curses coming from Lin's mouth. She was trembling, her breaths were staggered and delayed. She was getting close, Mako thought with another rush of pride.

Finally, Mako pushed his mouth hard against her, licking persistently at her clit and she screamed, rocking against his mouth to ride out the orgasm. After a couple uneven jerks, Mako watched her muscles relax and stood hesitantly, aware that his own knees were weak.

Her cheeks had turned a wonderful, rosy pink and she kissed him lightly. When she pulled away, Mako wiped the sweat from her forehead, looking into her eyes, unable to capture them.

She pulled away from him, rubbing the back of her neck. The crease had formed between her brows again.

"Lin?" He took her hand- it was shaking. "Is everything okay?"

She breathed in, still not meeting his gaze. "I-" She cleared her throat. "I love you, Firebender."

Something blazing hot ignited in Mako's chest and nothing, not even every single spirit of the past Avatars themselves, could have stopped him as he crashed his lips back against hers, reaching around to pull her body against his. Her legs wrapped around his hips, holding him close.

Lin fumbled with his belt and zipper, yanking down his pants. Mako breathed a sigh of relief as he finally, finally entered her, withdrawing and pressing back in, fingering the curve of her hips and breasts and the sharp line of her chin, needing to touch every part of her before it was too late, before-

"Lin, Lin, I'm going to-"

She held him tighter, pulling his head into hers and kissing him messily, her tongue in his mouth or on his lips or cheek. Mako thrust into her wildly, not caring that he was only inches away, not caring to tame the loud moans coming from his lips. Finally, he thrust against her one last time and the world blackened as the first waves of his orgasm crashed over him. He held her tight, shuddering, gasping with each pump of his release inside of her.

They remained like that, wound together, far after Mako's body had stopped trembling and their breathing had subsided to the usual, even pattern. Mako touched her neck and ran his fingers up her cheek and breathed in the lavender scent of her hair. She gripped him tighter with her legs; her fingers traced the muscles in Mako's back and shoulders. Finally, hesitatingly, they untangled from one another. Mako slid his pants up his thighs and Lin adjusted the hem of her skirt back down her legs, running a hand through her hair to arrange the strands back in place.

"Back to the gala, Chief?" He asked her.

"Back at it, Deputy," she agreed with a small, genuine smile.

They started off down the hall and slowly made their way to the gathering chamber. The light sounds of an Earth Kingdom quartet drifted through the doorway, just loud enough to sound over the talk of people.

Lin grasped Mako's hand as he made to enter the doorway. "Or."

He turned to her, trying to raise a brow like how she did, sometimes. "Or?"

"I know of this terrible, greasy little noodle place, on the way back to my apartment."

His shoulders sagged in relief as he turned from the doorway without a look back. "That sounds fucking fantastic."

Chapter Text

Six months later.

-

"Deputy- Deputy if you could please comment-"

"For the last time, no, I don't have time right now." Mako pushed past the reporter and into Headquarters. This one had been more determined than usual, opting to follow him for six entire Republic City blocks. She'd been clutching a new video recording device- a commonplace accessory for the arms of reporters since Varrick Indistries commercialized their use- and Mako was especially wary of them. He knew he was a miserable source for the public even before every action was later televised and picked apart by the papers. Giving comments was better left in the hands of Lin, or the new Civil Deputy they'd promoted, an impeccably clean-shaven middle-aged man named Huyu, who had an enchanting way with the reporters. Huyu always made himself available for comment. Mako was about the opposite. And yet, the reporters continued to flock to Mako like speckle-flies to an uncovered dish of meat. However, Mako had been close to an escape route. Even the boldest of reporters knew that Headquarters was off-limits.

Mako set off down the familiar hallways and into the primary, open room of the station. It was shocking to see the place so empty in the middle of the day, and for a minute he paused to appreciate the bands of bright summer light pouring in through the room's tall, narrow windows- really, he loved Headquarters down to the particles of dust swimming leisurely in the beams and the lingering burning smell wafting from the little kitchenette that could only mean somebody had recently done battle with the old, weary coffee machine.

Mako placed his new briefcase neatly beside his own desk- he had no need for a jacket that day, as summers in Republic City were particularly sweltering- and walked over to the only other occupants of the room, crossing the walkway that divided the Criminal Division of the force from Civil. Two officers hunched over a small Varrick Indistries television set showing some formally-dressed politicians and a large board with many tallies and percentage markers.

"How's it going so far?"

They jumped, eyes widening as they turned to look at him. "Deputy! We didn't-"

Mako waved a hand at them. "At ease, Officers. This is the most important thing going on in the city right now- I'd say it takes priority over your other work."

They nodded gratefully, sinking back into the metal chairs. "Raiko was up for a while," one of them explained. "But Yang-Jin has taken a surprising lead."

On the television, an update was announced and another decimal point was drawn on the right-hand number.

"Who'd you vote for, Deputy?" The second asked, coloring almost immediately as the first hit her in an arm none too surreptitiously. "I mean- do you think this new guy would be a better president than Raiko?"

Mako just grinned consolingly at her. "I cast my vote for Yang-Jin this morning. New has got to be better, right?"

She smiled, relieved, at Mako. "Me too. I hope you're right."

Mako turned away from the grainy black-and-white screen, turning out the hall and down to the locker area beside the building's gymnasium. The officers' extra gear was kept in metal lockers- much more for posterity than actual safety, as the majority them were Metalbenders and wouldn't be deterred by something as skinny as a combination lock- and pulled on his heavy plate armor.

It had been a trying day for the force. Since the infiltration of Triad members, their hiring practices had been stalled, and there was something of a shortage in their numbers. Each available set of legs was on patrol, or assisting with oversight of the voting center. They'd been there all morning, long before the first rays of sunlight peeked over the horizon. Mako had left a yawning Lin to don his plate. That night, he'd have to escort and protect whichever unlucky soul inherited the five-year term of Republic City President.

For better or for worse.

Mako liked Yang-Jin, though. An educated and well-spoken Earth Kingdom man, he was able to rile supporters with talk of a new age; of continuing the Avatar's efforts for a more progressive world, of the powers of democracy, of turning the city's many cogs into an efficient, well-lubricated machine. The way Korra's eyes lit up when she talked about him was enough to convince Mako that the man deserved his vote.

And, well, Raiko's avoidance of all topics Avatar or new or progress didn't seem to align particularly well with anything Mako held dear.

Mako grunted through buckling the particularly nasty clasp on his shoulder, cursing himself for not oiling it the day before, and exited Headquarters once more. The reporter was mercifully absent, and Mako used the free time to stop by a little market a few blocks down, requesting as many coffees to-go as his arms could carry.

The voting center was as crowded as ever, and the citizens' voices echoed off the high ceiling at a deafening timbre. Mako moved among the crowds, distributing cups of black coffee to the officers stationed at regular intervals at lines, or ensuring the privacy of little voting booths that had been erected for the occasion. The building was normally- what, a convention center? A medical academy? Mako had difficulty keeping up with how rapidly Republic City was expanding since all of the citizens had moved back.

Mako found Lin on an elevated stone dais she'd probably constructed herself, surveying the organized chaos beneath her with a raised brow. She was already dressed in her plate, and her silver hair was unnaturally wild behind her. It meant she'd been running her fingers through it, a habit Mako suspected she'd picked up from him. He grinned and approached her with the final steaming cup.

She extended a hand for it without even looking over. "Thanks, Deputy. That was intuitive of you."

Mako knew he'd felt her eyes on him as he'd moved about the room. "Bring food or caffeine to energize officers and make a good impression. I learn from the best."

She turned to him. Amusement glimmered in her emerald eyes. "You're still concerned about making a good impression with me, are you?"

"Of course, Chief. In fact, I actually brought all sixteen coffees just for you, but they were ruthlessly commandeered by the other officers. My mistake for bringing coffee into a den of addicts."

The look she shot him was sarcastic disbelief and Mako warmed beneath it; it was a look he only got when he'd said something that begrudgingly amused her. Lin didn't laugh much, especially on the job, but it might as well have been the same thing.

She stepped towards him, and Mako's skin prickled with her proximity. "If you're concerned about that, Firebender, I'd say what you did last night was particularly impressive, if you ever find yourself possessed by the desire to do it again."

Spirits, only all the time. He felt his cheeks warm. "If you say so, Chief, but I'm not so sure how comfortable I'd be stripping you naked in front of all these people and-"

She swatted him across the plate covering his arm and lifted the cup to her full lips. Mako saw that a flush had risen to her cheeks as well. He stood back, rather pleased with his work.

Mako would certainly not describe himself as a person especially inclined towards happiness. That was much more Bolin's expertise- he was the designated optimist of the family, after all. Mako had worked hard, sacrificed as much as he could, to ensure that Bolin had that luxury. But in the last seven months, Mako too had begun to harbor a great, impervious joy. He had fallen into the role of Criminal Deputy well, already having torn apart the city's most notorious gang and implemented a specialized task force for the city's more-than-infrequent spirit incidents. However, Mako knew that the majority of his joy- the kind that made a persistent upturn linger at the side of his mouth- was due to the Chief herself.

Because being Lin's- partner? Lover? They hadn't cared to give it a name- was nothing short of fantastic. Mako found he adored her more with each peak she allowed him at the woman beneath the heavy armor, through photographs and the odd story of when she was younger and even the rare night where she'd actually tell him what horrors emerged in the nightmares that ripped her from sleep. And although Lin was an exceedingly private person, Mako got the sense that she felt near the same about him, too. He had to examine the little things with her; the I love you that she'd only said once, the drawer she'd cleared out in her apartment where Mako neatly stacked some overnight things. How she took the time to notice his quirks and cater to them; how he actually preferred his coffee with a dash of sugar, that he hated seeing photographs of himself in the paper, that he was obsessed with her emerald eyes to the point where a single look upward as her perfect lips encircled his cock could cause him to-

They were on him again and Mako pulled himself from his thoughts, but not quickly enough to avoid the knowing smirk on her face. "Focus, Firebender. We've got an entire city to navigate through the voting process. I'm not paying you to sit there and think about things that can't possibly be work appropriate, judging by your heartbeat."

He ran a hand through his hair. She'd started it, damn her. "Has it been smooth so far?"

She rolled her eyes. "As smooth as it will ever be. I swear, all the times I recommended they do it by district and was shut down. It's been hectic, since each citizen who wants to vote must pass through these doors. It's like Raiko thinks that citizens will more likely sway his way in the obscenely grandiose chamber he built to commemorate the city's full repair after Kuvira."

"It's kind of a gross sentiment."

"Politics, and Raiko, in a nutshell. Intuitive again, Firebender."

"So you're hoping for Yang-Jin, then?" They hadn't really talked about it. The topic of the president made Lin abrasive and frustrated, the prospect of Raiko for another five years made her angry.

She just sighed. "Anything's got to be better than what we've got now, right?"

"Of course, Chief." Mako pulled the empty cup from her hand, sliding his fingers across her wrist. "But what we've got now is pretty good, too."

He descended from the dais to find a trash can. When he glanced at her later from his resumed position beside the entryway, he could have sworn she was smiling.

-

Republic City announced its new president around seven that evening.

Mako and the other officers had been told to prepare for a late night; what with hand-counting the massive number of ballots, it could very well stretch into the early hours of the following morning, or even later if they were particularly unlucky.

There had been no need. The majority favor for Yang-Jin had escalated in the late afternoon, once citizens began streaming in from their office jobs. The man was clearly quite favorable to the lower and middle classes. Just a few hours later, he'd already gained a city majority of votes. Yang-Jin would be Republic City's newest president.

It was a fast-paced series of events that found Mako on a brightly lit stage in front of far too many people, at his formal place just behind Lin's right shoulder. Beside him, Huyu stood proudly at Lin's left, and across the shining floor stood other notable members of the city. Korra waved victoriously from a spot beside Tenzin. To her other side, Varrick inspected his nails, indifferent. The city needed unity now more than ever; regardless of who each high-ranking member had voted for, they had all converged to greet the new president in a show of solidarity. And now, apparently, Mako was one of those members too. He flushed with pride.

The crowd beneath them was gathering, talking in loud, excited voices; being able to see Republic City's second ever president was an opportunity many valued quite highly.

Huyu leaned over to Mako. "Exciting, eh? To be up here, I mean. We'll probably be front-page news."

"If you say so." Mako grinned at him. Huyu had the charming, friendly demeanor that meant many people trusted him implicitly, lifelong friend or total stranger. Huyu made a name for himself in private crisis management before his recruitment to the force's Civil Division; he used the charm to his advantage, establishing and maintaining faithful bonds that he could later call upon in times of need. He'd been an easy pick as Jina's replacement, a dedicated smooth-talker who really did seem to have his heart in the right place. Mako quite enjoyed working with Huyu. He was certainly a drastic upgrade from his predecessor, no question why. Even Lin seemed to like him, although she'd certainly never say so aloud.

Huyu just socked Mako's shoulder, and Mako wondered how his fellow deputy could even make the act of hitting seem so affectionate. "I keep forgetting how camera shy you Criminal types can be! And yet you're still so young, I'd say you've got a long career of publicity ahead of you."

"Dont remind me," Mako moaned. Huyu just laughed.

"Remind me to train you, one of these days. We'll go out for lunch. We'll have ramen, I know a great place where they let me eat for free. When we're done, you'll never fear another lens or notebook again!"

Mako personally thought it would take far more than a free bowl of ramen and lunchtime training to help him get over the burning frustration he felt at the idea of the press, but he nodded anyway.

It was Mako's first time seeing Yang-Jin in person, and he was surprised by how much taller the man was than he'd expected. Dressed in a neat black suit and towering over the other members of the stage, the new president certainly commanded the cheers and attention from the crowd. His gray-streaked hair was slicked back religiously; his thick mustache clipped to perfection. He tapped twice on the copper microphone set in front of him and began to speak.

"People of Republic City," Yang-Jin's voice boomed over the crowd which hushed, immediately. "I can't tell you what an honor it is to have been elected your second president. This was a popular vote, as you know, and here I stand-" he spread his arms wide. "A true president of the people. Of democracy."

The crowd cheered. Even Huyu clapped politely. Mako's eyes fell on Lin, whose own hands hadn't left her hips. To his knowledge, almost each member on the stage that evening had given a public endorsement for Yang-Jin or Raiko except for her. One of them had even endorsed both. When Mako had questioned her about it, she'd just shrugged.

"The force will protect each citizen equally, regardless of their political inclinations," she'd said. "I will not alienate us to half of the city by giving an endorsement. Citizens never should doubt that we're totally on their side."

Mako tore his eyes from her, angling them back towards Yang-Jin. She was far greater inclined for the people than a president would ever be.

"This city's fallen into disaster," Yang-Jin's amplified voice was booming over the crowd. "Reparations from the United Forces attacks have been inappropriately slow. We are plagued by threats of gang and spirit violence. The people are scared; many still live in temporary homes and fear what the winter will bring." He stopped, looking out at the crowd. "More concerning still is the forces that hold our city together are becoming antiquated. We need progress, not tradition. We need to change or rebuild for the greatest success and not become weighed down in the past."

Mako frowned as the crowds cheered especially loudly.

"I have promised you all of that, Republic City," Yang-Jin continued, raising his voice. "And my final promise to you is that I will work tirelessly until those goals are accomplished. Starting tonight. Thank you for your nomination, Republic City. I will not let you down."

The cheers escalated. Beside Mako, Huyu was now applauding loudly. Lin glanced over her shoulder to Mako. "What do you think?" He asked her, leaning forward a little.

"Intentionally ominous. We'll just have to wait and see."

He nodded.

They stood through flashing cameras for a minute longer before descending the back end of the stage and filing into a wing. It was cool and private; the city must have gone to great lengths to keep reporters from the area. Mako retrieved his things, snagging Lin's as well. Yang-Jin wouldn't be the only one working late that evening.

Headquarters was dark and cool and Mako, struck by the long-incoming exhaustion, couldn't find the motivation to do much. Instead, he sat back in his usual chair across from Lin's desk and toyed with the curved metal handle, examining her, standing to examine the books in the shelf she kept in the far corner of the room, and re-organizing his paperwork: most tedious to least. He'd just lost himself in the forward of a particularly glossy-looking novel- Lin kept the worn ones at her apartment- when the clinking of glass snapped him from the page. Lin had pulled a small bottle and two glasses from her desk and was looking at him questioningly. He nodded, snapping closed the book and standing, stretching his shoulders.

Lin took him two floors up, the logistical and special-division floors of the building, and finally up a tiny spiral staircase to the rooftop, a flat expanse of stone surrounded by a low brick wall and metal railing. It was cooler in the city at night, and the view from the rooftop was stunning; it looked out at the courthouse and harbor. Far in the distance, Mako could make out the towering statue of Avatar Aang, lit from beneath. He wondered if Lin's mother had built it. He wondered if she'd tell him if he asked.

Lin poured the smooth, dark liquor into the cups and Mako sipped at it, leaning against the railing and letting the breeze ruffle his hair. He did quite like the nighttime, oddly enough for a Firebender. Maybe he'd always preferred it. Maybe he only begun to enjoy it since nights now were almost always spent alongside Lin.

The drink was delicious, and presumably expensive, knowing her tastes. "A great drink and a view. Are we celebrating something tonight, Chief?"

"We did good today, Deputy." Lin raised her glass for a toast and Mako clinked his against it. "And we'll celebrate whatever we damn well please. Otherwise, there will be nothing to keep us going."

Mako nodded his agreement. For a few minutes, they leaned against the railing, looking out into the city.

"I received a memo this evening," Lin said quietly. "The new president has requested that we pay him a visit early tomorrow."

"What could he want?" Mako was pulled from the sweet, tangy lull of the liquor.

"Your guess is as good as mine."

"Maybe he wants to meet the woman who will give him a fair run for the most powerful person in the city." Mako grinned at her as her eyes flashed up at him.

"If I didn't know better, Firebender, I'd think you were flirting with me."

"And if I was?" Mako set his glass down on the brick and pulled her against him, running his hands across the smooth metal that encircled her hips and the dip of her back. Beneath the plate, there were curves and muscles and skin so creamy he could become lost in it, if he wasn't careful. Her hands came to rest against his chest.

"Well, don't leave me hanging," she whispered and maybe she'd even smiled at him but Mako couldn't have known because he was kissing her, licking against the seam of her lips and tasting the tang of the liquor on her tongue.

She molded against him, impossibly soft even with the armor, touching his neck and hair and beard gently as he pulled her even closer into him and this was the wonderful problem with Lin Beifong, Mako thought as he trailed a hand low on her hip and placed the other in her silver hair. The previous night she'd been hard and demanding, pinning him to her floor for hours until he was begging for his release, his mind cleared of all thought but of the delayed pleasure so great it almost became pain and perhaps a small tally of how many times she'd climaxed around him. Today, she was considerate and soft, letting him guide her, take her as he pleased. Mako was going to get sexual whiplash. And he'd undoubtedly enjoy each minute of it.

"The door?" He whispered against her lips.

"Locked."

"Thank the spirits." Mako pulled her more tightly against him and focused on her mouth, her full pink lips and her jaw, touching the softened skin where the scars crossed her cheek- he'd done it so much, found such fascination with the reddened welts that she no longer jerked away like she once had. Instead, she leaned into his touch automatically, tangling a hand in his hair. And when Lin finally pulled away from his lips, Mako held her close, touching the shine of the moonlight in her wild hair and the slender point of her chin. He remembered the first time he'd looked at her and thought she was attractive. Funnily enough, it had been through the metal bars of a jail cell, so long ago. He'd probably have yelled at her- something about being framed, or Varrick, or just a string of curses but instead the moonlight had fallen on her face in a way that softened the harshness of her cheekbones and the words had died on his tongue. Perhaps it was then that Mako began to pay a little more attention when Lin was in the room.

"Remember when you had me arrested?"

An eyebrow quirked. "What the hell brought that on?"

"Thinking," Mako replied lamely. He touched her cheekbone, gathering his courage. Even now, asking Lin anything personal was a bit dangerous. "When was the first time you thought I was good-looking?"

"Are you wondering when I first realized I was attracted to you?"

"Are they different?"

"Of course." A crease drew between her eyebrows, but she didn't look away. "As for the former, I suppose I always have, although it never meant anything. At least, not until you decided that kissing me was adequate retaliation for getting your ass kicked in a spar."

Mako blinked at her honesty; he hadn't been expecting it. She was exceedingly good at dodging his questions, sometimes, especially the ones that pertained to her own feelings. "It never meant anything?"

She just looked amused. "Firebender, I'm not going to fling myself at every person thirty years my junior because they've got some damned good cheekbones. You have to admit what we have here is a bit of a- nontraditional arrangement."

She was correct. They'd remained purposefully quiet as to their relationship, adhering to a very clear line between their work and personal lives. Lin was extremely private, and Mako was happy. There'd been no reason to change, to risk the shitstorm from the press, the critique that would inevitably follow on how Mako had obtained such a high-ranking position in the force at such a young age.

Mako had even kept the romance from Bolin- how could he not, when his younger brother was involved with Lin's niece? When Mako thought about it critically, which he really tried not to do very much, what they'd done was messy. Which was an odd idea to land on, given how cleanly he and Lin fit together.

Mako hadn't even spoken more with Korra and Asami about it, although the two of them were likely the only ones in the world who knew. Sometimes, he caught Korra watching him and Lin from the corner of her eye, her brows scrunched together in bewilderment. Asami asked vague, unassuming questions on the rare occasion she and Mako got to spend time together without Bolin in tow and Mako would answer them honestly, gratefully. Yes, I'm finally sleeping better. I'm happy, thanks for asking. Very happy.

And yet. Sometimes, Mako laid awake beside Lin, listening to the soft flick of paper as she devoured a novel and tracing the bone of her knee and wondered just what he'd gotten himself into. He'd tried to picture a future with her, one that extended into the public eye. Sometimes, he wondered if their relationship could last outside the confines of her little apartment on the North Side and the tiny, private areas they were slowly discovering around the city together.

"Firebender." Her touch on his arm brought Mako back to reality. Her face was inscrutable. "What's on your mind?"

"Crime," he lied poorly and although the crease appeared between Lin's brows, she didn't comment on it. Instead, she took his jaw in her hand, capturing his lips with her own and Mako sighed into her mouth at the contact. "Come home with me?" She asked.

Mako only slept in his own bed once or twice a week, but something as trivial as habit couldn't stop his stomach from butterflying happily at her invitation. "Not interested in checking out a jail cell instead? For old time's sake."

Lin snorted. "How about- a real bed tonight?" She picked up the dirtied glasses with a light clink.

"Speaking of nontraditional."

She just shot him a bemused look.

-

The president's offices were located in a large, remodeled wing that expanded rather artfully off of the courthouse. Inside it was decorated lavishly, with colorful paintings of animals and scenery and fine leather furnishings. Mako had never been within the suite before and felt an odd pull back to his life with Wu; he was again remarkably out of place, a vastly separate class.

Mako and Lin arrived early for their appointment- with no experience yet as to the kind of man Yang-Jin was, they'd figured it was the safest bet, but the slender woman at the secretary's desk had just asked them to wait. Lin folded her arms and leaned against an open wall. Mako took the edge of an elaborate leather chair beside her, running a hand curiously across the armrest and trying to avoid making eye contact with the obtuse painting of a platypus-bull on the opposite wall, or the secretary who was none too subtly glancing him up and down.

Dancing spots of light on the ceiling caught Mako's attention and he tracked their source back to the metal plate on Lin's thigh. He eyed the line of silver up her leg and stomach, the matching color of her hair. She caught him looking and cocked a brow, reaching out to touch his cheekbone lightly with her thumb; a brief feathering touch that made his stomach jump.

The buzzing of the secretary's line jolted Mako back to the office as the woman stood, hoisting open the carved oak doorways at the far end of the room. "The president is ready for you now."

"Thanks," Mako muttered a little uncertainly. She flushed crimson. Lin snorted almost imperceptibly.

Yang-Jin was seated on a fine leather sofa that reminded Mako of Lin's own before banishing the thought from his mind in a hurry. He was dressed in a dark suit not dissimilar to what he'd worn the night before and his hair was, if possible, gelled even more closely to his scalp.

"Chief Beifong," the president greeted with a minute grin, standing as they entered. He walked forward and extended a hand, shaking hers and turning to Mako. "And this is your- partner?"

"My deputy," Lin corrected. A slender brow had lifted on her face. Mako shook the man's hand, looking up into his face, trying not to flinch under the crushing grip.

"Ah, deputy. I see." Yang-Jin's cool brown eyes lingered on Mako's face a moment longer before turning to the desk. "Make yourselves at home. Please. I've got tea, coffee-"

"We're fine," Lin dismissed. They'd stopped for coffee on the way there. Slowly, Mako was building up an internal map of every place he could obtain his caffeine fix within the city limits, ranked by how close he felt to a heart attack after drinking the brew.

"And you, deputy?" Yang-Jin glanced over to Mako.

"Uh- Nothing for me." Mako sat in another far too expensive chair, glancing up at Lin who had remained standing, folding her arms once more.

Yang-Jin collected his own tea from his clean office kitchenette before resuming his spot on the sofa, taking deliberate time to stir in the milk before tapping the spoon off and laying it on the saucer. He sipped from the cup, glancing up at Lin.

"You can sit, Chief."

"I'd prefer to stand."

Yang-Jin's mustache twisted upward with a smile. "A woman of efficiency. Your reputation precedes you. We'll get along well, you and I." He set the cup on the saucer, spinning it until the loosely painted patterns matched up. "It's truly an honor to finally be able to meet the great Chief Beifong and her Criminal deputy, both of whom I've heard so much about."

Lin was silent; Mako copied her. Yang-Jin smiled again, twisting a gold ring around his outermost finger.

"I'm sure you heard, Lin- May I call you Lin?"

"If you have to."

"Lin, I'm sure you and young Mako here listened closely to my speech last night. I'm an efficient and future-oriented man, with the people's true interests at heart." Yang-Jin spread his hands wide. "A simple politician trained at Ba Sing Se University, I've had to work hard for what I've earned in life. I've kicked and fought and struggled. Being a nonbender just makes it that much harder, of course, but we all can grasp our dreams if we just try hard enough."

"And well you fought, President."

"Thank you Lin. But I have to admit that what I've seen from Republic City- Avatar Aang's esteemed city- leaves much to be desired. The city's been encouraging quite a bit of bad publicity- you can't imagine what people from all around the world think. We're a laughingstock. The gang violence, the addiction, Kuvira's attacks destroying half the city, the Spirit Portal taking out the second half- everything bad seems to happen here, doesn't it? We need a fresh start, Lin."

"What do you propose?"

"I have big dreams." Yang-Jin leaned back on the plush sofa. "Dreams of restructuring the entirety of Republic City's inner workings. The leadership, the power heirarchy- the force. The way things are run now seem antiquated, don't they? We're stuck in the old ways, relying on what Avatar Aang dreamed of when he built the city. But he wasn't a man of the future, Lin. He was stuck in the past in more ways than one, no? He and his friends couldn't have even dreamed of what the world has become now."

Lin leaned forward. Her voice had become steely. "You want to restructure the force?"

Yang-Jin nodded, not removing his eyes from her face. "Correct. Here's my concern- it doesn't seem like the force accomplishes nearly as much as it should. When did you make your last big catch? Six months ago, now? The city still has myriad problems. Many of which I have promised to fix in an election promise. Homelessness. Drugs. The opiates the Triads managed to smuggle through have caused a dramatic rise in addiction, although you don't seem to care about things like that. Your officers aren't endangered by these addicts, so why should you care?"

"I-" Lin seemed lost for words. "Of course I care. We've been following leads for ages, putting out feelers into the black market-"

"Not enough, Lin. Not nearly enough." Yang-Jin waved a gigantic hand. "You know what I did this morning? I went to the hospital. Paid a visit to the rehab ward. It's a disaster. And it's your fault for not nipping this drug market in the bud immediately when you discovered they were being smuggled into the city in the first place."

"How dare you," Lin hissed. "What do you propose, putting an officer on every shady street corner and dark alley until we catch a lead?"

Yang-Jin waved his hand again. "I'm not just blaming you, Lin. Besides, the corruption in the city is far greater than your lenient leadership."

"The force is run how Aang, how my mother, designed it to. I've seen to it myself that outside powers do not corrupt it."

"Perhaps outside corruption is not the force's problem, then." Yang-Jin sipped from his cup of tea slowly. "From what I understand, in the foundation of Republic City, the Avatar and his friends assumed roles in top management with no consideration of the people's wishes, passing down leadership by favor and nepotism rather than democratic preference-"

Lin's voice was cut as she stood even taller. "Residents of the original Republic City wanted to be led by Aang. Or have you forgotten your history lessons, President?"

"Yes, well." Yang-Jin returned Lin's steely glare, undeterred. "Passing down the roles to the children leaves us in a bit of a monarchy, does it not? Avatar Aang's third child becomes councilman, you assume your mother's position at a shockingly young age-"

Lin's hands were shaking. "I deserved every part of my promotion. Nobody at the force worked harder than I did. And you would be insane to think my mother would ever care about something as trivial as family in a matter so sacred as the force was to her."

Mako's gut twisted. Lin's voice broke on the subject of her mother, raw emotion showing through the prickly facade. Yang-Jin's mustache twitched.

"Lin, Lin," he consoled, waving his hands. "I'm not questioning your merit. Gods, I'd have to be crazy to do that. The city adores you. I would be sacrificing my career to demand your resignation." He twirled the little spoon in his tea once again. "However, would it be crazy to insist that you earn your position democratically? Through the same vote in which I've earned my own? You've had the position of Chief for decades, now. Perhaps it's time to enforce a term limit."

"You can't do that." Mako leaned forward, his fingers sparking with electricity. "You said it yourself- the city adores Lin. She's worked hard for everything she's gotten and proved herself time and time over."

"Couldn't I?" Yang-Jin's gaze finally landed on Mako, who tried his damnedest to stare back into it. "There's no question to her merit, as I said." He stirred his tea again, sipping from the milky contents. "Our chief of police not being promoted by nepotism is believable, of course. Unless she too showed signs of favorable treatment to officers. If there were whispers she was harboring bias in her managerial decisions- that her influence could be swayed, so to speak- well, things would get a bit trickier, wouldn't they? Like mother, like daughter. What would the papers think?"

Mako blinked; his hands cooled immediately in time to an icy feeling sliding into his stomach. Lin's hand touched his shoulder lightly. "He earned every part of his promotion too, President." Her voice was softer now.

"I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about, Lin." Yang-Jin raised a brow in what Mako decided was very transparent false bewilderment. "But if I read between the lines here, I'd say you have quite the scandal on your hands." He stood- now, his form towered over Lin's. "Work with me here, Lin, and I'll throw my weight behind you for reelection. You won't even have to campaign; the city is quite fond of me."

"And in return for your- weight?"

Yang-Jin shrugged his enormous shoulders. "All I'm asking is that you work with me here. Toward fulfilling my election promises. I want the very best for this city. I know you do, too. We need to establish an understanding of who is in power, and who isn't, and communicate that to the people. Sometimes the lines seem to blur." He checked the ticking clock on the wall beside them. "Now, unfortunately that's all the time I have today. But you can be assured I'll be checking in for- significant progress soon."

Lin cast one more scathing glare up at the man before turning and marching from the room, Mako at her heels.

-

Mako drummed his fingers on the metal surface of his desk, glancing once again at his little golden watch set on his wrist. He'd been on edge all day, waiting until it was appropriately late enough to enter Lin's office and talk to her about the events from that morning. He'd tried to, as they exited the courthouse and down the sidewalk, but she'd dismissed him.

"I need time to think this through, Deputy," she'd said, brushing past a tittering group of civilians whose eyes opened with awe as they saw who'd just touched them. "Just- talk to me later about this. Please."

And so Mako had returned to his desk and barely moved for the rest of the day, except to make a second cup of coffee in the gurgling machine at the kitchenette. Normally, Mako had so much work that the time flew, even when the work was just a towering pile of paperwork and couldn't leave his desk. That day, time had slowed to a miserable, lethargic crawl.

Each time he'd heard clicking metal footsteps, he'd jerked up, thinking of Lin. But it had either been Huyu, sending an affectionate wink in Mako's direction, or a high-ranking Criminal officer looking for advice or Mako's signature on a piece of paper. To the best of his knowledge, Lin hadn't left her office at all that day- although he still hadn't ruled out the notion that she had a private escape route.

Six-twenty, ticked Mako's watch. Fuck it. He stood and rapped thrice on her door, threading some heat through his fingertips to warm them. When the door handle clicked, he pushed through the entrance quickly.

She was sitting at her desk, fingering the rim of a glass half-filled with liquor. She looked surprised to see him. "Deputy?"

"Chief." Mako sat in the chair in front of her desk- his chair, she'd called it once- still toying with his fingers. "You look calmer than I expected."

A brow rose on her forehead. "And what did you expect?"

"Honestly, I thought you'd tear out a room of the presidential suite."

Lin actually laughed, tossing her head back. Mako's stomach warmed as the sound washed over him; he loved the sound, rusty and unused but full and genuine nonetheless. "As much as I'd have loved to, Firebender, I've become marginally less destructive with age."

"But- this is bad, right?" Mako asked, confused. "He's threatening your position, he's trying to change the entire system- he's clearly terrified of the influence you have in the city, Lin. Of your own power!"

Lin evaluated him, amusement still dancing in her emerald eyes. "I'm sure you're right. Frankly, with my reputation and my mother's name backing me, I could seize political control of the city from him in a month, if I wanted to. But I don't. And in the last few years, I've grown used to operating under moronic leadership. This will be no different." She stood and walked around the desk, leaning against it. Her fingers found his chin and pulled it upward; she caught his eyes. "He's a moronic fuckhead of a president, and I intend to change none of my ways to work with him. I might have. But what concerns me is that he thought to make the request a threat, instead of a polite ask. It's irredeemable."

"He's trying to see how well he can control you."

"If he thinks assigning a man or two to watch my personal life will accomplish that, he has a lot to learn." Her fingers hardened on Mako's jawline. "The only thing I cannot accept is that he threatened you, too. It was low."

Mako leaned into her touch, flattered by the defensive note her voice took. "He won't be happy."

"No, he won't." Her finger pushed against Mako's beard.

"And he has that bargaining chip. Knowing about- about us."

"He does."

"What- does that mean for us?" Mako asked softly, a twist in his stomach. She stilled. The humor was long gone from her eyes, replaced by something Mako couldn't quite identify.

"What do you want it to mean?"

"It would mean the president could go through with his threat at any time. It would mean going public. It would mean everyone would know. The papers, the city-" Bolin-

"Are you alright with that?" Lin's voice had dropped to a whisper.

They'd never discussed their relationship in so many words. Mako reached up and circled his fingers along her wrist, feeling at the bone and the soft skin, over to the curved muscle of her hip. "I don't want to lose you, Lin."

Her eyes softened as she evaluated him. "Tell who you need to. Whoever the news would surprise. Test the waters- you can decide then."

Mako furrowed his brow. Damn it, she was always offering him a way out. After half a year, she still didn't understand what she meant to him, didn't see how much he cared-

He grasped her more tightly around the waist and pulled her roughly onto his lap, until she was straddling him. Mako yanked her face close, guiding her mouth to his. She waved a hand and the lock on her door clicked.

-

"-And they bend me over low, and tell me to flex, right? And Varrick asks me to do this simpering smile. Like this, here," Bolin demonstrated one to Mako, who snorted. He'd barely touched his drink, had to lean closer to Bolin just to hear him in the swanky, crowded bar. He wouldn't have chosen it as the evening's hangout, much preferring to be sitting beside Lin on her sofa consuming the rather intriguing novel he'd just gotten into, but desperate times called for equal measures. Already, some drunken woman had spilled on Mako's sleeve and the cocktail napkin he grasped in his left hand had come with a number scrawled onto the back. Of course, Bolin already had five.

"And what were you selling again?" He yelled.

"Those personal radio things! I asked Varrick how it relates and he just said show me your buns kid, I didn't make you a star because you're attractive on the inside." Bolin sighed dramatically.

"Maybe they won't sell," Mako tried to console him. "And you'll never have to do it again."

Bolin downed the clear fluid in his glass and grimaced. "The stores already sold out."

Mako couldn't help it; he laughed, and was soon joined by Bolin. His brother's stories got incrementally wilder with each interaction he had with his mad producer; one day, Bolin would have heaps to tell his grandchildren.

Ugh. Mako grimaced again, running his fingers through his hair in frustration as another wave of nerves wracked his stomach.

His carefully planned night had gone perfectly, operating under the assumption that Mako's news would be easier for Bolin to internalize with a fair bit of alcohol. Bolin had downed each drink Mako had set in front of him- including a few purchased by women in the various clubs, which Mako didn't object to- and his eyes were blinking slowly and happily from their potent impact. Mako, on the other hand, was too nervous to drink much. He was also a monumental coward, apparently. Stop the presses. He looked out across the heads of the patrons; many were dressed well as he and Bolin were, but it had come to the point in the night where they'd become drunk and sloppy. Ties were loosened around necks, the slender strap of a girl's dress cascaded from her shoulder. Mako's eyes followed the lean dip of the girl's back, so different from the muscled kind he was attracted to.

Bolin hit his arm a little harder than was necessary. "You should ask her to dance!"

Mako grimaced again. "I don't think so."

"Is this about the mystery woman?" Bolin's brows waggled suggestively. "The reason you're never home anymore? I know there's something happening, Mako! You can't avoid me forever."

"It might be. Yeah."

Bolin gasped. "I knew it! I knew you weren't just sleeping beneath your desk." His brows drew together for a second. "And I understand you're one for secrecy and all, but at some point not knowing just becomes hurtful. And we passed that point-" He checked his pocketwatch- "Four months ago."

Mako flinched from his raised voice, glancing around the club, but nobody was paying them any attention. "I know. And I'm so sorry. It's just been- hard. But I'm ready to tell you about her now."

Bolin slammed a fiat into the bar, which shuddered. "Great! When can I meet her?"

"You, uh." Mako carded a hand through his hair again. "You already have."

"What?" Bolin's face scrunched in confusion and despite his nerves, Mako grinned; his brother was so easy to read after a few drinks. "Was it that girl from the paper stand who insisted that you take a photograph with the photograph of you in the paper? Because she was a little scary, Bro."

Mako swallowed. Scary didn't even begin to cover Lin.

"No, it's-" Mako hesitated. "Look, I need your assurance that you won't flip out on me, okay? Your understanding. Please."

"Mako, you're freaking me out." Bolin looked worried. "Is it Wu? Because I told you, I wouldn't ever judge you for something like that, especially not the royalty thing-"

"No, Spirits, for the hundredth time, it isn't Wu, I'm not- never mind." Mako clenched his hands; they were trembling.

Bolin touched one with his own thick fingers. It was perhaps the only time his brother had been warmer than him. "Mako, he said, now sounding positively frightened. "You can tell me anything, c'mon. It's me. What would I do?"

Mako sighed a long, heated stream of air. "Bo- it's Lin. Okay? It's Lin."

Bolin was silent for a moment while Mako was subjected to the miserable, uncomfortable pounding of his own heart, the ruthless shaking of his hands. Then, Bolin shifted a little in his seat.

"Lin Beifong."

"Yes," Mako breathed, just barely louder than the music.

"You're fucking Lin Beifong."

Mako swallowed; for once, the look on Bolin's face was inscrutable. "Yeah."

"You're kidding me, Mako."

"I'm not, I- Bolin, we're being threatened. The papers might report on it soon. I just wanted to let you know first, okay? I just-"

"No." Bolin stood, looming over Mako. Something was off about his expression; he looked betrayed. "You are fucking kidding me, Mako. What is this, the second time you've done this?"

"Done- what?"

"I have a chance with a girl, a chance for actual happiness, and you do something to screw it up." Bolin's eyes narrowed. "I got over you kissing Korra long ago but this- this? I've been happy with Opal, Mako. For years now. And you tell me that the papers will start publicizing your- sordid affair with your boss- her aunt- and you expect us to still be able to be together after that? After Republic City's beloved crime-fighting duo is officially together?"

Mako turned cold. He hadn't thought of it that way. He hadn't thought of it that way at all. "Bolin," he moaned, grabbing his brother's arm. "Please-"

"No." Bolin jerked away from Mako violently. "Don't you touch me, Mako. Don't you pretend like you have any vested interest in my happiness- in my life." His voice was raising. "This is getting pathetic, Mako. Fuck this. I'm going to the temple."

Bolin turned from the club and into the empty street; Mako followed him and grabbed his arm.

"Please, Bolin. Just listen to me. Let me explain."

"Gods, Mako, I don't want to know anything more. She's mean. She's old. It's disgusting. Let me go."

Mako held onto Bolin's elbow tighter and Bolin turned, and Mako only had an instant to register the wild, hurt look on Bolin's face before the boy punched a column of stone and concrete into Mako's arm from below. Mako was pushed back by the blast and fell against a little glass storefront, moaning at the pain.

When he looked up, Bolin was gone, leaving him with a heavy load of guilt and a throbbing elbow.

Mako trudged to his apartment, not bothering to take his blazer off despite the sticky nighttime humidity. When he climbed the stairs, it was empty. Well, Bolin had said he'd be going to the temple.

Mako collapsed into the leather sofa, head and elbow pounding. He rubbed his temples violently.

What had he done?

He slid from the sofa to the hard floor, squeezing his eyelids together, trying to will away the betraying tears that had welled there but they came anyway, spilling down his cheeks.

He thought of Bolin, of the fractured look of betrayal on the boy's usually happy-go-lucky face. A look that had maybe been directed at Mako once before. He thought of the shadow of his mother in his memories; how the two of them would look down at Bolin sleeping peacefully swaddled or spread out as he aged and she'd taken his hand and asked Mako to promise, please promise that you'll take care of him, no matter what happens, you are a big brother first and your Bolin needs you, Mako. He thought of the sacrifices he'd made over his life to Bolin to make sure the boy was happy, was taken care of, even after they'd lost their parents. Bolin used to be his whole world; his only reason to go on. And although their worlds had expanded somewhat since then, his little brother still remained central to everything.

Mako thought of Lin; of her emerald eyes and curved hips and of touching her silver hair and his chest felt constricted, as if a bison were seated on top of it. He thought of tracing the thin scars on her cheek, of kissing her hipbone, of the way she felt wrapped around him, of the remarkable, inconceivable softness he'd uncovered beneath her prickly exterior.

And then Mako rolled onto his back and thought of the nature of being a Republic City Police Officer; the diverse workers united by the notion of duty and self-sacrifice for loved and hated ones alike. Where it was inherently understood they'd risk life and limb and sanity for the sake of their city, for their family. The officers were professionals at pushing aside their own needs and wants for a greater good. And although Mako had found a respite from that lifestyle with Lin, he was one of them, too.

Mako made his decision, although something tore in his chest to do it.

-

He must have fallen asleep on the leather couch; when Mako woke, the dim rays of early morning light were filtering through the foggy window above their kitchenette and Bolin's jacket was tossed unceremoniously on the scrubbed wooden table. The boy's door was closed.

Mako stood, staggering under the weight of memories from the night prior. He tapped on Bolin's door.

"Bolin." His voice rasped and Mako cleared his throat.

There was silence. No answer- but no heavy snoring, either.

"Bolin, I'm- I've decided that I'm going to fix this. Okay? There won't be anything in the press. There won't be anything with- with her anymore. Alright?" He sighed. "What I did- it was selfish. It was inconsiderate. Bo-" his voice cracked. "I am so sorry, okay? I'm gonna make this right for you. Please just don't hate me."

Silence, again. Mako sighed and turned, on route to his own room for a change of clothes.

The metal creak of Bolin's door sounded behind him and before Mako knew it, two large, muscled arms wrapped around his middle from behind.

"Thank you."

Mako tried to grin, but he couldn't. Instead, he just touched the curve of Bolin's wrist. "Anything for you, little brother."

-

It was one of the most tremendously difficult days he'd had yet at the force.

Mako was meant to be putting the finishing touches on their new training program; finally, finally the force would be receiving a new group of trainees, fresh from an extensive background check, lie detector test, and the usual physical and mental aptitude exams. Mako had been anticipating it for ages, and had spent quite a bit of time developing a training schedule: one that hopefully catered well to each element, as well as the force's first nonbending Criminal officers.

But today, he couldn't concentrate but for the waves of hurt that seemed to seep from his chest and settle in the palms of his hands, the suffocating knowledge of what he was going to do later. He'd run a hand through his hair so many times that it was standing on end; must have appeared deranged with the purple bruises he knew had blossomed beneath his eyes from the drink, the emotion, the lack of sleep.

Lin had passed by his desk a couple of times that day but hadn't commented on it, and Mako's body had tensed at the closeness but he'd willed himself to stay put, keeping his eyes downcast and hoping he looked engrossed enough in his paperwork to be left alone.

And leave him alone she did, until his gold wristwatch had ticked nine in the evening and the floor had cleared and her door creaked open, the steady tap of metal-bottomed boots making their way over to him."

"You're still working on this?" She fingered the paperwork in front of him.

Mako nodded. "Almost done."

She lowered her voice. "Would you like me to wait for you?"

He scanned the rest of the document; really, it had been good enough hours ago. "You know what, I think I'm finished." He filed the document into the little box on his desk top marked out. "Let's go."

She just nodded.

The familiar walk to Lin's apartment was torturously quick; Mako wished time would have slowed down, or that they could have lapped the block a few times. Anything to avoid going inside. Anything to avoid having to talk to her.

But soon, her little metal key was clicking in the lock and they stepped inside her apartment. Mako glanced around at the living area that had become so familiar to him lately; the kitchen table, the new maroon rug she'd bought to cover up the stains on the floor. Stains made with his own blood.

Lin deposited her things unceremoniously on a chair and turned to him. "What's wrong, Firebender?"

"What do you mean?" He tried to hold onto her but she stepped out of his grip.

"You've been nervous all day. Miserable." Her eyes were steady on his, accusingly. "I've been feeling your pulse going wild through the floor. And you look like shit."

Mako sighed. Exhaustion from the last night was setting in and he fell none too gracefully onto her sofa, sprawled across the soft leather. She joined him.

Mako's eyes tracked around the room once more, falling on the little things he loved; the novel he was working on that sat bookmarked on the coffee table, the gleaming bronze sculpture of Lin that he'd catch her eyeing sometimes with the soft look she usually reserved just for him. The little printed photograph that sat on one of her shelves showing a younger Lin, along with her sister and Tenzin and some pretty girl with impossibly white skin and black hair sitting together beneath a large beach umbrella. Lin was Mako's age in it and radiant; sometimes he'd look at it and wish for- wish for what, exactly? A life where he were born thirty years younger? Friends who tried to understand? A brother who wasn't involved with her own niece?

"I talked to Bolin." The words were out of his mouth before he could stop them and his eyes fell back onto her. She showed no sign of surprise except for perhaps an incremental clench of her jaw.

"I figured you had."

"He was- upset." To say the very least. Mako rubbed his elbow, still swollen and throbbing from the night before.

"And so you've tested the waters, and made your decision." There was no inflection in Lin's voice but a tightness behind her words; Mako took her hand in his.

"I don't think I can do this anymore," he choked out. "I'm sorry, Lin. I'm so, so sorry."

She slid her fingers from his; Mako tried to catch her eye but her face was turned away from him, towards the brass sculpture once again. He watched her take a single deep breath.

"We all choose our priorities, Mako. You're probably wise to choose your family. Spirits know I never have."

"Lin," Mako moaned. He needed to make her understand- to show her that he was tearing apart to be doing this, how very little he wanted to. He reached for her hand; she pulled it away again. "Lin, if it was any different, if Bolin wasn't with Opal-"

Her eyes found his again; they were dry, her mouth set in a thin line. "It wouldn't change anything."

"What do you mean?"

She waved a hand dismissively. "We were never infinite, Mako. Trust me- this was doomed from the beginning."

"How can you talk about it like it's nothing to you?" Heat flared on Mako's fingertips as he turned towards her, towards the steely nothingness in her expression. "How can you just sit there, so unfeeling-" He felt a wetness in his eyes, but there was nothing he could do about it now.

She sighed. "I'm old. This was fun while it lasted, but you've probably got dreams that I can't fulfill anymore." A thin line appeared between her brows. "And even if I could, well, we've been over this before; I am laughably unqualified to be in any semblance of a relationship." Her fingers touched his shoulder. "I'm glad you finally saw reason enough to not allow yourself to be dragged down by a stupid mistake. You got out while you could. You should be proud of yourself."

Mako stood, his heart thudding painfully within his chest. "So this was never anything to you."

She stood too, folding her arms. "To be frank, Mako, it's hard to become invested in something when you know there's an expiration date."

Mako saw red; his fingers sparked with the injustice, with the tearing pain in his chest and he ripped his thin jacket from her coat stand, thrusting his arms into it. He couldn't even look at her, he couldn't risk seeing the blank nothingness in her eyes once again. He reached for her doorknob. The room was suffocating- he had to get out-

"Deputy."

"What?" Mako asked, stilling, his hand still on the door.

"I'll expect you at the station at the usual time tomorrow morning. Don't be late."

"No, Chief," he choked.

Mako didn't know how he found his way from her building, but soon his leather shoes were pounding the concrete sidewalks of the city on the route back to his own apartment. He tried to breathe and couldn't and had to lean against the cool brick of an alleyway to teach himself how, again.

Mako hadn't thought before that night that he hadn't meant something to Lin. But now, the seed of doubt had been planted; one that was growing, infesting his mind. Mako scrubbed at his face, wiping away the tears that had fallen onto his cheeks and let his head fall back onto the brick wall rather harshly. The pain woke him up; he continued through the city.

Mako stalled outside his apartment building; the lights from their little kitchen windows were on and he reached into his breast pocket hesitatingly for the key. Mako didn't want to see Bolin tonight- as much as he'd just done for his little brother, Mako didn't think he could handle it. The pads of his fingers closed on something misshapen.

Mako pulled out a chunk of metal, glowing a soft silver in the glow of a streetlight a few feet down the block. He turned what had used to be Lin's key over in his palm, now reduced to a small lump of indiscernible metal. Yang-Jin was right; she was efficient. Mako's throat tightened and he turned away from the warm light of his apartment.

And Mako was back on the streets, letting his feet carry him, unsure of where to go. He could sleep beneath his desk at Headquarters, but reminders of Lin were everywhere. Instead, Mako made his way to the quiet harbor and hailed the little ferry that would carry him across the waters to the Air Temple.

Mako watched the ferry cut smooth fractures into the still water of the harbor, leaning far over the side of the boat. Mako looked down; he was still fingering the little lump of metal. What a ridiculous, sentimental thing to be doing. He flicked it into the water.

Once the ferry had docked, Mako wandered up the sloping, grassy lawn to the temple's main entrance, keeping an eye out for a flash of blue among the nomads. Korra and Asami still lived at the temple; they were renovating the Sato mansion and, Korra had explained to him, the bustle of the nomads was comfortable and familiar and healthy for the two of them. Mako exhaled, feeling some of the tension leave his shoulders at the smell of grass and wind in his hair.

He pushed into the temple's primary area, walking quietly down the thin wooden hallways. It was quieter inside the building; the primary wing served as quarters for married couples, gathering areas, and the room Korra shared with Asami. Farther down, Mako knew he would find hallways that branches into the dining area and the gender-divided sleeping quarters.

Korra and Asami were on an outside patio, complete with low wooden table and a thick stack of Asami's paperwork to rival the ones Mako dealt with at the force. They looked up, surprised and then alarmed, when he stumbled into the room, swaying over how grateful he was to see the two of them.

"Mako?" Korra reached him first. "What the hell happened to you?" Her eyes were wide with concern. Mako felt a flash of affection for her.

"I-" Mako's eyes were wet again as Asami reached him, taking his hand in her own. "I was hoping I could stay here tonight."

His voice broke; Korra and Asami shared a look beside him before guiding him to the floor. Korra put her chin on her knees; Asami held onto Mako's hand.

"What happened?" She asked.

"I ended things. With Lin," Mako said quietly.

They traded another glance before Korra reached a finger out and poked him, hard, in the side.

"Ow! What the hell was that for?"

"Testing to see if you're still alive."

Mako rolled his eyes. "I think that would require her to give even a single shit. She didn't get angry. She didn't even react, just dismissed it and told me not to be late for work tomorrow."

"I'm sure she was just hiding her disappointment, Mako," Asami sighed. "It seems like something she'd do."

"I dunno, 'Sami," Korra said slowly. "This is Beifong we're talking about. Maybe she really just can't be bothered to care. Or maybe she can't, anymore." Mako frowned against the wave of hurt that shot through his chest again.

"What do you think, Mako?" Asami asked gently.

He just shrugged. "It's too late to hypothesize, anyway."