Mako found that even for all of his ‘cool under fire’ attitude he still had quite a ways to go when it came to stifling the impatience that stereotypically came with being a firebender.
Instead of going straight home, Mako had opted to plant himself on the sandy beach to think. And think.
Of course that really only lasted him an hour and before he knew it he was throwing all caution to the wind, deciding that for some reason he could not for the life of him grasp that he had to fix this. The tiny part of him that said it wasn’t even his fault and that surely it could wait was snuffed out in a heartbeat. This was Korra he was dealing with and that notion in itself meant he was bound to do things that were crazy.
Like diving headfirst into the bay, fully clothed, when winter was just around the corner. Two seconds in and he knew he was bound to get a cold for all of his effort, but none the less he’d pushed on the chattering of teeth being the only thing to distract him from the pin needles of the unforgiving bay.
The way he figured it, if Korra really had felt rejected by him she wouldn’t have stayed in the city where he could have easily bumped into her. The probending arena, while a good place to punch out frustrations, would be even moreso taboo. And much the same way a wounded animal limped with pride to go nurse it’s wounds in private, he held no doubts that the fearsome Avatar ever human would do the same.
So here he was, more or less dripping head to toe in water that threatened to freeze him to the spot—he hadn’t thought to dry himself, no time—staring at her door with determination. Alright Mako, no backing out now. Steeling himself over, he took a deep inhale, squared his shoulders, and slid apart her door with a slam.
“Korra! What’s the big idea?”
The last place she expected him to show up was her doorstep.
Literally, there he was, almost hulking in the light—until she realized he was soaking wet and not hopping mad. Maybe he was both, but it was the former that really grabbed her, helping her out of that gaping fish expression undoubtedly written on her face. He’d come all the way there… and he’d swam?!
“Sorry, City Boy, but the competition’s over. Swimming here doesn’t change that I won,” she managed under the guise of the smirk, all the while shouldering her way past him down the hall. She’d been on her way out anyway, because lingering any longer would just get her signed up for extra chores or worse, run through another meditation stint to cool her temper. The only thing she wanted cooling was whatever she decided to light on fire to blow off some steam.
She figured he would follow. However many leagues across the sea and there wasn’t going to be any stopping him. Just another reason to get out from under the roof of Tenzin’s house; she knew well enough that those walls had six little ears and probably even more in passing Acolytes.
It was on the tip of her tongue to tell him he shouldn’t have bothered coming, but she couldn’t seem to push it out. There was that staunch reminder of the last time he’d been there, and of the time before that, two separate instances with one solid connection: someone in trouble. First, it had been Bolin, but next it had been her, vulnerable in the aftermath of her failure to defeat Amon head-on. He’d seen her at just about her worst—and stayed the night.
Of course they weren’t going to talk about that. Their relationship was a patchwork of all the things they didn’t talk about, and Korra was starting to get pretty certain they never would. That was part of how the city worked, and he was, as labeled, as much a part of it as anything else.
The beach incident could have just as easily been another square sewn in that quilt. Why this was suddenly different was beyond her, but she had to admit, she was just a tiny bit curious as to why it was. She still hadn’t figured him out, but she also wanted to make it clear that he hadn’t figured her out either, even if he had found her when she’d run away. So she didn’t stop, her boots stomping a determined path toward the stairway to the gates. If he lost his nerve on the way there, maybe it would be for the best.
Nothing wrong with a little sunshine
He couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt this relaxed. For all of Bo’s insistent teasings—however good natured— about needing to un-tense once in a while and relax he’d never actually found the time to do so. And it wasn’t like he didn’t try. There were some instances when he’d had a sliver of time between jobs and practices in which he could afford a small walk. But while his body wound down, his mind cluttered up. Whether it be jobs, probending, food, or triads; they all seemed to run together in an endless cycle, leaving no time for him to even begin to process the simple luxury of relaxation.
That’s how it had always been, he had to worry and fret and analyze or they’d never make it. As tolling as it was he did what he had to in order to keep them going, to keep surviving. So perhaps in all of those hardknock years he’d forgotten how it felt to have his mind a blank slate and to just let his five senses take over.
If he focused hard enough he could hear the lapping of the waves inching closer as they reached high tide. But even a soothing sound such as that was merely static; simply paling in comparison to his other senses. Sight was more or less out of the question, his eyes were close to the kiss. His mind more than made up for it however, images of the wild and fiery being he’d come to trust over the weeks filtering through. The smell, taste, and touch all mingled and meshed perfectly into one another to the point that he couldn’t tell them apart. The smell of the sea air gave way to the taste of her lips and try as he might, there was no possible way to differentiate that from the touch from it all.
It wasn’t like he had been pining for her. There were just inflections of desire and want each time they crossed paths and that wasn’t enough for him to go in for the kill. He hadn’t even been sure he wanted to, confusion was still a very daily thing when he was around her. And with probending, and Amon, and having to be responsible and focused…well he just couldn’t fathom the idea of thinking about her in that light. But this…this…it felt too real, too good, too right.
Oh, who was he kidding? He was sunk. So completely sunk he hadn’t even had the chance to yell for help before the heavy lead of this—whatever this was brought him down.
And then the pressure lifted, the heavy feeling still captured his chest, but as he blinked slowly the confirmation he had been looking for—as well as dreading—had been found; she was pulling away. Not only that, but apparently that kiss had done a lot more to him then it had to her for her smugness was back in full force. With a thump, his head fell back to the sand and he made a frustrated noise that was armed with a flush.
“Korra… what did you go and do that for?” Seriously, he had a mind to just reclaim those lips yet again to shut her up—though he couldn’t lie and say it would have…other beneficial intentions. Right here, right now though…he mainly just wanted to wipe that smug grin off her lips.
Funny how high spirits could be so easily dashed, splintered against the same rocky shore that cut the waves in two. All it took was that look, that sound, and the way she practically felt disappointment, or something alike to it, rippling through him. Her good humor, dull. The thrill, empty.
That fleeting moment where all seemed immensely right in the world, gone.
Her pout was back—but not just that, it came with the jut of her chin and the shift of her weight back and away. Away from him, away from the sting of rejection that burned more than the singe of flame when her practicing had too much gusto. She’d never put much faith in Master Katara’s stories about love being some gentle, flutter of a thing, nor had she listened to her mom’s nostalgia about being swept off her feet by her ‘handsome warrior.’ But she’d just felt something, and subsequently, felt it trampled to death.
It hurt. And when Korra was hurt, that temper flared, a defense mechanism as old as time itself.
“Why’d I—? Why’d you? You were the one who practically begged me for more!” Right, she’d keep telling herself that. In all honesty, now she was completely doubting herself; here she’d thought she was doing a fairly good job reading his body language and it turns out she’d gotten it all wrong. Again.
Always with him she never knew where she stood. To make it past that completely cold and indifferent facade seemed to take near death or the capture of his brother. Even a kiss, her first kiss, was barely enough to scrape the surface—and for what? Had what she sensed just been his tacit acceptance that she’d gone and done something stupid again, so he could judge her harshly for it later?
No, thank you.
With a growl, she shoved him back in the sand as she pushed to her feet, running the back of her hand across her mouth. Instantly, she regretted it; there had been something indelible there she’d have wished to keep, but once again, left herself room for only regret. Nevertheless, there was nothing to do but push on, and that meant angry footsteps over to her clothes as she tugged them on. “Don’t worry,” she said roughly, gathering Naga’s saddle in an arm as the polar bear dog padded back over on instinct to investigate, “It won’t happen again.”
She didn’t even buckle the leather that she slung over her companion’s back, launching herself to a seat as she called out, “Enjoy your walk back, Captain.”
Nothing wrong with a little sunshine
He was in one word, humiliated.
Not because he was losing; oh no if he wanted, he could have easily tumbled them over again and initiated another wrestle for dominance. Sure, it might have taken awhile and the battle for that top position could have easily yielded one way or another all the same… but he would have at least have had a chance. Unfortunately for him, in order to get to that blissful chance he would have had to thrust his hips to buck her off; as much as he wanted to be victor, he was not willing to be quite that bold.
Ugh, there’s that smirk…
If she had won fair and square perhaps he’d find it bearable, maybe even endearing, but now with her atop him, eyes blazing with furious blue-green that he easily recognized as smugness he didn’t want to do anything but wipe it from her upturned lips. Her words put him on the verge of looking away, but just as his chin moved slightly to the left her eyes changed and locked him there.
There was something new and yet all too familiar in those eyes that kept him there on that teetering brink. She was going to do something unexpected again, he could feel it with the way her body stilled. She was a woman on the move and the only time she relaxed was to build up the momentum to do those crazy things that always caught him off guard. The what’s and why’s were in-graspable to him at this point, lost in the depths of his usually organized mind. While he had anticipated her attack—whatever it was—he could have never in his wildest dreams prepared himself for when she finally gave way, putting a stop to that engulfing stillness only to move their faces closer then they already were. The fact that it had only taken mere seconds for her breath to fall in warm whisps on his lips served to further paralyzed him.
When had they gotten so close to begin with?
His thoughts came to a crashing halt when those eyes hid beneath eyelids and her lips fell out of his line of sight. He almost opened his mouth to voice the question when something obstructed them. Something warm and pleasant and pressing against his. He inhaled slightly upon realization that she was kissing him, but that was perhaps the only realization his mind could come up with for the rest his time suddenly became devoted to his body.
Eyes closing, he pressed back—if only slightly—and let his tensing muscles relax in the sand. A part of him wanted to do more, to hold her face, or wrap around her waist, maybe even thread fingers through her hair. That wouldn’t do though, if her wrists still clamping around his arms had anything to say about it.
He guessed this was fine enough, and he definitely wasn’t complaining, the kiss itself had his mind whirling in ways he knew only she could cause.
She’d only kissed someone once. It barely even counted, a childish whim stemming from a dare. Even at seven the village children knew that all they had to do to get the Avatar to attempt something, no matter how reckless or ridiculous, was to tack it onto the end of a challenge. She always took the bait, and that was no exception.
But of course, it was nothing like this.
There was no fresh-powdered snow crunching under her boots, no mittened hands grabbing his head to hold it in place so she wouldn’t miss. No cold noses touching, no teeth clacking, none of the clumsiness and yet even less of the forethought—if that even made sense. This was probably the single most impetuous thing she’d done just for herself, with nothing in her head but her own personal gain. After all, if this wasn’t gain, she didn’t know what was.
It didn’t take experience or genius to know he liked it. If not liked, he at least wasn’t against it; there was no rough shove, no jerk back, no renewed struggle in the sand. She might be a novice kisser but something about it did seem right, even as she eased off on the pressure a little and let herself actually enjoy the gesture rather than force it on him. Maybe all the stories they told about knowing the right time or the right moment were merely conjured to make people stop and think before they went rushing in—
Usually good advice, but not this time.
Something about it, something about him, made this the right time. The right moment. It could have been something as sublime as the sound of the ocean just beside them, or the grain of the sand sticking to their skin, or even just the taste of something subtle and sweet he’d eaten for breakfast that day lacing the edge of the kiss. Whatever it was, when she finally drew back, what danced in blue was still the elation of triumph and victory. She hadn’t thought to release his hands in the tide and sweep of that “moment” but as she loosened her grip, it was to place a palm on either side of his head when she loomed over, signature smirk sliding back into place. “If you think that’ll get you out of making good on your end of the bet, you’re wrong.”
So much for romance.
Nothing wrong with a little sunshine
Ugh, she could be so infuriating sometimes!
No not sometimes, all the time. So smug and over confident and annoying to the point that he wanted to let that anger that harbored deep within him boil. And if it had boiled, taking on a physical entity it was snuffed out with the water that landed cold atop his head.
“K-korra!” He groused, eyebrows knit together as he shook himself from the liquid only to run a heated hand up and over his head to evaporate it. He was none too amused by her childish antics, even going so far as to scowl her way. “Alright, if you think you’re so entitled to your victory so be it.” The way he smirked contradicted his words and he gave a mocking wink that just added to the effect.
“But no way am I giving up without a fight.”
He was a little reluctant to admit to what happened next. Memories of their dance flooded back as he gripped her arms from behind and swept a long leg under her. They’d toppled to the ground then and he made quick work of pinning her forearms against the grains of sand. So maybe it was his turn to play a little dirty, but all was fair in love and war right? Besides it wasn’t like he’d be able to hold her there easily, he held no delusions that she was some weak girl. But that was beside the point, he simply wasn’t letting her up.
It wasn’t that she was entitled. Oh, sure, she should have ridden the breeze to the finish line, more at home in her native element than most everywhere else. She’d have beaten him no matter how much of a fight he’d put up.
Now, it was just a real fight.
She still had standards. No cheap shots, no head shots, kind of like the rules of probending arena—but different. There was nothing in the book about the way her body was hard against his, how her arms tried to wriggle free and in doing so just caused more of that friction between them. In any other situation this would be blush-inducing, frenzied, cue that flip-flop in her stomach and the sweat on her palms, but not this time. This time, it was all about getting the better of him.
All she could do was grin. Quick, sly, teeth keeping her lower lip captive as one last twist sent them spiraling, tumbling across the golden sand that spritzed like the ocean spray against the rocky shore a few meters down. It wasn’t enough to loosen his grip but it was enough to get her on top, and he better believe that smugness was back in full force when that expression burst in brightness as it loomed over him.
“Nice fight,” she said, flexing her fingers still in his grip as she adjusted her perch above him, right across his lap. Hopefully he realized the ‘collateral damage’ she could do in this kind of tussle, because he’d definitely be enlightened if he hadn’t anticipated it. And she was completely unashamed; why, panting there above him, exhilarated, victorious, even she was slowly becoming aware of how tight they were pressed together, how primed her body really was, how close their faces were…
Something flashed in blue. Hesitation, desire, it was a strange mix with no real name that steadily darkened as those lashes fell. Did she? Dare she…? The way she leaned in closer was nothing short of poetic, a perfect exercise in simple momentum, in rhythm, in how breath could be shared, and before he’d be able to have another say in the matter, she made her finishing move. With only a subtle underflavor of softness, her lips were on his in a reckless kiss.
Nothing wrong with a little sunshine
He wished he could have said he hadn’t expected it.
When the atmosphere suddenly turned several degrees wetter, and when his breathing supply was removed in favor for water he had definitely been surprised. It took him mere seconds to regain his breath, longer to shake himself out of his shock, and longer still to realize that his lovely companion—not stopping her stride—had just bent at him!
That lousy cheating spiderat… he mentally sighed. After all, he couldn’t say that he was entirely surprised. This was Korra after all. Ever competitive-wanting to best everyone-confident to a fault-Korra. That mental sigh escaped his lips for real this time as his arm arched into a breaststroke. So much for tasting victory.
He glowered all the way up until he stepped out of the water, hand placed on his hip and chin jutted upwards, that lecture just dripping off the tip of his tongue.
“What was that?” Deja vu.
“Korra, you completely blindsided me, if I knew you were going to pull a trick like that from the start I wouldn’t have agreed to the stakes.” He glowered. His hands flew above his head, a momentary lapse in that control, but could she blame him? She totally cheated! Ugh, not to mention got water in my nose.
“I’ll get you back for that, you know.” He would usually not stoop to such a level, but this was supposed to be a day of relaxation, right? No rules, nobody to watch over and captain and scold. Just, fun. And if she wanted him to have fun, he’d have it, his way.
Shoot. How had he…?
Play it cool, she told herself. With a lift of her chin, she countered, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. The ocean can be temperamental, y’know…”
Okay, she wasn’t even convincing herself—and it was clear by the scowl on his face that she wasn’t going to get the upper hand on him. At least, not again, not like that. She heaved a breath, cheeks puffed before she managed a lopsided grin and tried a not-very apologetic, “Hey, we both knew I was gonna win anyway. I just… gave you a little more exercise?”
Wasn’t the team captain supposed to appreciate that?
Again, it didn’t look like he was going to buy it. Heck, she didn’t even buy it! And that meant she really had no other choice; he thought he deserved the victory? Well, they’d see about that.
“Last I checked…” and he’d be able to see that good humor shift, slide over the edge into mayhem from mischief, her hands tucked behind her back as a finger twirled to conjure a pyramid of a wave behind him and out of his line of sight. “We’re on my turf. I don’t think you’ll be getting me back, City Boy.” Had he ever even been to the beach before? They were in her element!
What better way to remind him than a playful splash of that bent stream right over the top of his head. There was definitely more where that came from.
Nothing wrong with a little sunshine
And they were off. He had to admit it took him a little longer then he’d expected to warm up to the water even with the added movement, but he didn’t let it distract him.
He was going to win. Usually letting his arrogance streak overcome his contemplative one was hardly a problem, considering he was smarter then that when it came to competition—sometimes the other team was just better and it’d be a stroke of sheer luck they’d come out the winner. This time was different though, he wasn’t going to lose. It just wasn’t in the cards. First of all, that would mean he’d probably face a good thirty minutes of listening to her brag about how she beat the ‘team captain’ and how she couldn’t wait to tell Bolin and Asami.
Though he couldn’t really say it’d bug him all that much, despite the possibility of having to face down a very smug Korra… he had to admit there was a certain charm about it. She got so overly excited whenever she got the best of a tough opponent. Perhaps that’s what would keep him sane during that thirty minutes, the fact that he was considered a tough opponent in her eyes.
However, that didn’t mean he was just going to go ahead and give up, they were closing in on that buoy now and matching stroke for stroke. He vaguely wondered if this is how it felt to be a waterbender, not that he was actually bending the water, but the pushing and pulling bit reminded him vaguely of the movements, a flickering thought struck him. Just how easy did his teammate have it in the water? She was of course in her natural element, and no doubt would probably have the edge in this race, but the thought only made him push harder, test those limits as he rounded that corner.
He chalked it up on the adrenaline that coursed through his pumping veins, but maybe he just wanted to win, to grasp that prize and added time he’d no doubt be spending with her. Either way they’d be sharing a morning together, but his win seemed like a far better option. Training. Training he knew, training needed no words, just movement and concentration. Breakfast was a different story. He’d have to be nice, cook—not that he minded—,and probably throw a conversation in there. He doubted she was going to let him walk away being a stern ‘stick in the mud’.
And despite having been in her room once before, he couldn’t quell the slight uncomfortableness of doing it a second time. He knew her prize hadn’t specified the breakfast to being in her room but there was always the possibility.
So there was no way he was going to let anything stop him from giving it all, not that she’d want it any other way.
Wow, he was actually doing pretty well. She knew he had to be able to swim, that had never been up for discussion, but to swim well was another matter altogether. Most of the non-waterbending probenders just doggy paddled to the platform out of the drink; it was easier when they were in their bulky uniforms anyway. Then again, in the middle of a competition it wasn’t like she expected him or anyone else to bust out an amazing backstroke.
She was still going to win. There was no doubt about that. Heck, if she really wanted to, she could just propel herself right out of the water onto the sand a half mile ahead.
Lucky for him, Korra had a few scruples.
Only a few, though. Because as they rounded that mark with him still in contention, she couldn’t help that sudden whim that flickered to life in the back of her mind. They could have a little fun with it, right? That’s what this whole trip was about, and if there was anyone who could use a little coaxing now and then in the lightening up department, it was Mako. As they continued to match their pace, and as his determination fueled even brighter, she hoped he wouldn’t notice that she was inching closer with each stroke, until…
Oops! Did that last sweep of her arm really send a mini-tidal wave crashing right into him?
It did. And in her eagerness to engage in mischief, she hadn’t even thought about the fact that Mako would know, that in fact anyone with half a brain would know, that a wave coming away from the shore couldn’t possibly be anything but bending made. Points for getting the drop on him, surely, as she easily glided away in the aftermath and secured her victory with one last languid butterfly to the end. But she was probably well overdue for an earful about how cheaters weren’t usually supposed to prosper.
Nothing wrong with a little sunshine
Looking at her was probably not his most well thought out plan. Not like it was a plan or anything but once he’d gotten his hair out of his eyes and took her in, he couldn’t look away. He tried, he really did. But despite his best efforts he just simply stared. And stared. He wasn’t aware of just how long this went on, but he was powerless to stop it. Her voice barely snapped him out of his limbo in time, and he couldn’t deny that face that his eyes lingered on her before ultimately looking towards the buoy.
His mind was even slower—if that were possible—barely registering actual words. He let out a inarticulate “Huh?” before shaking his head and willing a slight blush down. Stupid, stupid, stupid! Snap out of it or she’s going to think you’re waterlogged or something!
“Uh right, no yeah that’s fine.” It seemed easy enough, long enough to exert energy but short enough where they wouldn’t wear themselves out. This was just the start of their day, there’d be no fun if they got tired after the first few minutes, right?
“Stakes?” So she really was going to make this a competition huh? Alright, he was game. “If I win…you have to get up extra early for next practice and train with me.” So maybe it was an excuse to spend just a little more time with her one on one, could anyone blame him? Besides…it had been a couple weeks since their last dancing session. Maybe a brush up was in order…
“What about you? What happens if I lose?”
What, he really expected her to be there early? Mornings were evil! It was a wonder she even showed up on time now that they were cracking down for championships…
But two could play that game. Ignoring her own little bundle of nerves swelling in her stomach to the tune of makeshift butterfly wings, she treaded water with ease as she threw back her head and announced, “You have to come to the Air Temple and surprise me with breakfast before practice.” Servanthood at its finest, right? Not to mention, maybe just a little bit of revenge for trying to get her out of bed at some unholy hour.
Either way, they’d both end up at the gym in time to get some good workouts in. With that in mind, she figured it wasn’t so much lose-lose as it was win-win—no matter the result of the race.
Not that she’d be going easy on him. “Alright, now that we’ve got that squared… Let’s count off together?” Eliminate the chance of cheating, if he was concerned about that. While she felt she had a leg-up being in her native element, she wasn’t so unfair that she’d beat him using every single trick in the book. This had to be a kosher win or it just wouldn’t count, or mean nearly as much. That was part of the fun of friendly competition.
“On three,” she said as she waded closer, lining them up so they were equidistant from the shore. She could barely skim the sand with her toes, though he probably had no problem standing there. Nevertheless, that wasn’t going to get her down; without wasting another second, she began the count. “One… Two…”
His suspicious expression relaxed. She was right, time alone was a precious thing that didn’t come by them as often as it had before he’d joined the police force. And hadn’t he come here specifically for her? Everyone knew parties weren’t exactly his thing. But she’d asked, so he came. That’s just how it went.
“Alright, alright.” He shook his head and smiled, voice quieting a few notches. “I have missed spending time alone.” A beat and he added with a bit more confidence and a look that lit up in it’s own mischievousness.
“Besides now I don’t have to use that silly passcode.”
“Really? Awesome! I knew you’d come around!” Now, let’s go.
Yes. The party could really get started now.
He knew that look. Man did he know that look. He’d spent several times a week staring that look down with one of his own.
“Korra…” He said, tone nothing less of wary.
“What are you planning?” A hand on his hip would tell her that he knew exactly what she was up to and that he thought now wasn’t the time. He’d gotten off work and rushed to get himself ready only for her to drag him up to her room. Though he knew once they were out of sight he’d be enjoying himself…but that wasn’t the point!
“Hey, I’m not planning anything.” No, she was much too short-sighted and reckless to actually plan that kind of thing.
“But come on, you don’t really wanna waste all our time at this party, do you? I mean, when’s the last time we got some peace and quiet without having to ride Naga across the city?”
And even then, Mister Policeman usually found something or other to steal his attention in the line of duty.
At least she was having fun, at his expense no less, but he’d let it slide.
“Yeah, we’re set.” He wouldn’t make a complaint about what an awkward situation it would be if he actually didn’t recognize his Korra and ended up saying the phrase to a stranger. He wanted to have faith that he’d pinpoint his own girlfriend though.
“So, what do you want to do first? There’s food to eat, people to talk to, dancing to be done…”
“What’s first on the list?”
And that’s when the thought struck her.
“Well, if you’re worried about getting separated in the crowd…” Or more like worried about having to use the password, she could sense it even if he wasn’t owning the sentiment, “I have a solution.”
“Everyone’s out here, which means no one’s in the house right now.”
Everything was going downhill from here.