avirjin: (Default)
Title: Excess
Fandom: The Legend of Korra
Focus: Mako-centric, Korra/Mako
Genre: Gen
Rating: PG
Length: Oneshot, 6757 words
Summary: Mako is all about control, both in and out of the Pro-bending arena -- even when the Avatar is standing on the other side of the ring in the other team's colors. Episode 2 AU where Korra doesn't join the Fire-Ferrets. 

"--I'm so happy to be here! Thank you, Republic City!"

"Alright, that's all the questions the Ava--"

"So, what do you make of that, Mako?" Bolin asks, interrupting the radio broadcast he's had playing all day. He's staring out one of the attic's large windows, this time in the direction of City Hall where the already infamous Avatar is concluding her press conference. Mako knows Bolin had wanted to go and sneak a peek at the city's newest celebrity, but only the press and anyone rich enough to bribe their way in were allowed access.

He and Bolin were neither one nor the other, obviously.

"I think you should change the station to something more important," he says quietly, not bothering to look up from the torn shirt in his hands. His needlework is nothing special -- laughably bad even, judging by how Hasook always turns his nose up at it whenever they come to the gym in poorly mended shirts -- but someone has to make sure they don't run through more clothes than they can afford. "Better yet, just turn it off."

Bolin makes a huge show about pouting, but seeing as the councilman the Avatar appears to be training under has effectively ended the conference, he switches off the battered old radio anyway. Besides, there aren't any good tunes are on this time of day, and the same repeated comments on the Avatar's sudden arrival in Republic City would probably dominate all of the other radio stations.

"Do you think she likes Pro-bending, bro? Do you think she'll come to a match? One of our matches?" Bolin chatters with that same enthusiasm in his voice that he injects in everything he does, as if eager to fill the sudden silence, "Do you think she'll be in a match?"

Mako can't hold back the scoff. The Avatar -- of all people -- taking up Pro-bending? He rolls his eyes at the mere thought of this legendary figure standing in the ring alongside a couple of former street rats like him and Bolin, brawling for a championship title and prize money rather than the fate of the world.

"She'll probably be too busy doing Avatar-like things," he answers vaguely, knowing perfectly well that neither he nor Bolin know exactly what such things would consist of.

Bolin chuckles, and Mako can see him scratching the back of his head sheepishly, his lips turned up into that silly, carefree smile. A warm feeling of contentment flares up inside of him, suddenly so pleased at the fact that such an image is now their reality -- a daily occurrence, even -- rather than a mere dream.

"I guess she should be pretty busy," Bolin concedes easily, "being the Avatar and all that."

"Yes. Now go train," Mako tells him, squinting his eyes as he pokes the needle through the cloth one more time. He doesn't need to look up at Bolin to know his younger brother is rolling his eyes at him playfully.

"Yes, mother," Bolin jokes with the smallest hint of exasperation in his voice.

Mako freezes, the needle accidentally poking his finger instead. He says nothing though, not even after Bolin has left the attic and shut the door behind him. He simply stares at the tiny drops of red trailing down his finger, darker than the scarf around his neck. Mother is a word -- an idea -- he doesn't allow himself to think of often for a good reason.

He wipes away the blood with a nearby rag and closes the stitching on the shirt with a tiny, tight knot.

That's the end of that.

Their match against the Hog-monkeys ends without a hitch -- not even Hasook manages to screw up, his improved footwork earning almost as much praise as Bolin's "light-on-his-feet" style of earthbending or his own "cool-under-fire" schtick.

Those are the exact same reasons why Mako makes sure to rag on Hasook so hard before their match with the Tigerdillos; too much confidence has ruined more than one Pro-bender, Toza has always reminded them. Yet somehow, that's something Hasook and Bolin always manage to forget between matches.

"Ease up, pal," Hasook hisses through gritted teeth after one burn too many.

"I'll 'ease up,'" Mako replies, keeping his voice cool and his expression carefully controlled, "once we're safely in the tournament."

"We're as good as!"

But no, they're not. They're still two more -- "Just two!" Bolin would insist with a happy grin -- matches away from a spot in the championship tournament. It's the only thing Mako's been able to think about since their last match, the only thing Mako can think about as he suits up for their upcoming match with the Tigerdillos. He wishes Bolin and Hasook could stay just as focused, but his brother seems more concerned with babbling about how he passed by Toza chewing out some Water Tribe girl while their waterbender is too busy bolstering his ego with pointless trash-talking.

Mako takes in a deep, calming breath as he pulls on his wrist-guards and only exhales once he’s tightened the straps.

He can do this. They can do this. He knows he’s skilled and Bolin is strong and even Hasook puts in a decent enough effort on most days. He knows they have what it takes to make it to the tournament.

They just have to actually pull through.

“I wonder if she’s watching,” Bolin sighs, leaning against Mako’s shoulder. He gazes anxiously into the hundreds of distant faces, slicking his hair back self-consciously with a silly smile on his face. Normally, Mako would savor the sight -- but he can’t. Not this time. The last thing he needs is for Bolin to get distracted by some pretty face, just another on the long list of fangirls twittering after his little brother.

“I mean, she should be, right?” Bolin continues as he strains his eyes, “Otherwise, she wouldn’t have come to the arena, I mean, it’s not like there’s anything else to do here--”

“Bolin,” Mako finally interrupts, “I need you to focus.”

He ignores the way Bolin rolls his eyes, a pout on his lips and his mind still on that girl if the way he keeps scanning the crowds is any indication. Eventually he gives up though, settling for squeezing Mako’s arm firmly, comfortingly.

“I won’t let you down, Mako.”

And Mako knows he’ll never let Bolin down either.

They’re one-to-one and Hasook manages to be worse than utterly useless by getting himself and Bolin thrown off the platform.

Mako bites back a swear, focusing on weaving between the barrage of attacks aimed solely at him. It’s probably the worst odds he’s faced by himself since before they started Pro-bending, but the reminder that he and Bolin may end up facing even worse if he manages to screw this up keeps him focused on the attacks.

He sidesteps a particularly intense burst of flame, keeping his eyes peeled on the other team. Growing up on the streets had helped his eyes grow sharp -- sharp enough to see openings, sharp enough to see weaknesses.

All he needs is one little hint.

He finally gets it when he notices the waterbender barely stumbling, the mass of water drawn up in front of him sloppy and dripping.

After dodging yet another disc, Mako immediately draws back his arm and launches a strong blast at the waterbender. He’s rewarded with the immensely satisfying sight of his target flying backwards and off of the platform, the echo of his fall into the water, and the stunned inaction of his teammates.

He takes advantage of that last one, advancing and attacking with both power and precision. Two against one aren’t great odds, but he’s feeling a whole lot better anyways as he throws blast after blast of fire at his opponents. It’s only a matter of seconds before he sends the firebender into the drink as well.

Mako can practically feel the adrenaline pumping in him as he zeroes in on the remaining earthbender.

The same one who had knocked Bolin out of the ring, he remembers.

It doesn’t take a Pro-bending expert to realize that Mako has the upper hand in spite of being in Zone 3 of the Fire Ferrets’ territory. His fire is connecting with the earthbender’s discs long before they even come close to approaching the line dividing the two of them, and while his opponent is visibly panting from exhaustion, Mako is still relatively fresh.

The smoke and dust doesn’t even come close to being a problem. Instead, the grime settles on him like a second skin and the smell of all of the smoke is so familiar, it doesn’t even register.

All that does register is that this is it -- he’s seconds away from winning this. Winning this for the team, winning this for Bolin.

The thought of his brother is enough to help him launch a fireball strong enough to push the earthbender all the way to his own third zone.

The smoke and dust cover most of the ring, hiding him from his opponent. It’s better that way, it lets him cool himself down, lets him focus on the task at hand. He can’t get ahead of himself, not until he is absolutely positive of the win.

And there’s only one way to do that.

He figures the Tigerdillos’ last player is probably seeking him out, and so he keeps well enough away from the zone for the first few seconds. There’s no point in exposing himself too early. Instead, he waits for the smoke to clear a little, just enough that he catches a glimpse of a shadowy outline.

He pounces.

All it takes is a carefully executed leap and a strong, clean blast of fire to knock the earthbender into the drink. The sound of the man hitting the water with a resounding splash is more satisfying than the roar of the spectators, the praise of the commentator.

He finds himself breathing a soft sigh of relief only after he hears the bell ring, confirming the advancement of the Fire Ferrets into the next match. His body slowly unravels as much as it ever will in front of hundreds of strangers, under the intense spotlights of the arena, and he knows every eye in that arena is now on him, searing into his skin. His instincts tell him not to let his guard down just yet.

While being watched is a sensation Mako is all too familiar with, he’s still not comfortable with it.

His fingers reach for his neck, predictably finding only his chinstrap pressed too tight against his throat rather than his scarf as he would have preferred. The fabric is too scratchy, the clasp too cold for his liking, and for a second his eyes close and his body tenses up once again as he removes his headgear.

And then he opens his eyes and sees blue.

She’s a dark-skinned beauty, curvy and muscular and dressed in the blues of the Water Tribes rather than the muted tones and the industrial brown and gray Mako has become so accustomed to in Republic City. Her hands are tightly gripping the hand-railing, but rather than looking displeased at the loss of the team whose prep-room she’s standing in, she looks happy.

She looks -- and Mako stops himself there, refusing to continue down that line of thought.

He doesn’t have time for this. He needs to go make sure Hasook and Bolin didn’t hit the water too hard, he needs to collect their winnings, he needs to do anything besides wasting his time here, staring at some pretty face he probably wouldn’t be able to recognize come morning.

But her smile is so--. Her eyes are just--.

She’s looking at him. She’s looking at him like the rest of the crowd, but somehow it’s different. Something’s different in how those bright blue eyes seem to be just taking him in, almost savoring the sight of him.

He's sweaty and dirty, stinking of smoke and covered in dust, and yet she's staring at him like he's the most amazing thing she's ever seen.

His skin prickles. He bites his lip and turns away first without looking back.

He isn’t surprised to see her in the arena again the night of their next match -- the girl with Toza’s dark skin and darker hair and eyes that glow a bright blue in the brighter lights of the arena. She had seemed so captivated during that last match, watching with those wide eyes and a pretty, eager smile.

He is surprised to see her in the actual ring though.

“That’s her!” Bolin whispers excitedly, his finger pointing straight at the girl. He beams when she greets him with a friendly wave, an identical smile on her face. “That’s the girl Toza was raggin’ on before!”

Mako vaguely remembers what Bolin’s referring to and almost wishes he could point at her too and share his own anecdote about this stranger, but before he can even really consider it, Bolin starts posturing stupidly just like he always does before a match.

“Tell your brother to stop goofing off,” Hasook mutters, his tone irritable and the glare he shoots at Bolin’s back almost scalding.

“Dry up and take your own advice,” Mako shoots back immediately. He has to force down that instinctively protective rage that always flares up over the smallest of slights to Bolin, if only because Hasook at least managed to make it that night in spite of a bad run-in earlier with some particularly hostile anti-bending protesters. Not like the Platypus-bears’ no-show waterbender.

No-show waterbender. The girl -- once in blue, now in an oversized waterbending uniform in the enemy’s territory.

It clicks.

“Go for the girl,” he tells Hasook quietly, “Bolin will be too distracted. She’s just a replacement, so she can’t be that good. She should be easy enough to knock out.”

“How do you know?” Hasook grumbles. They both know he’s trying very hard to ignore the underlying insult in Mako’s words, and for once he’s impressed with the waterbender.

How does he know though?

Mako closes his eyes and blocks out Hasook and the crowd and the whole arena, easily remembering every detail -- eyes big and bright and amazed and impressed, drinking in everything about the match in all its splendor. Thirsting for more after that first delicious sip of something once unknown, something once so completely unattainable.

It’s the look that was in Bolin’s eyes the first night Toza took them in, giving them an actual roof and actual beds and regular meals for the first time in years. The look that was in Mako’s own eyes when he could finally see a future beyond the streets of Republic City for the first time.

That was what was so different about her.

The look on her face was the look of a girl at her first Pro-bending match, awestruck, stunned. Stunning.

He shakes his head, shoving that particular image back to a distant corner of his mind. “Just do it,” he says stiffly, fists clenched. It isn’t the time to be getting stuck on some girl he’ll probably never see again.

Besides, after they’re through with her -- after he’s through with her -- he doubts she’ll ever look at him that way again. That’s fine with him though.

He has priorities, and they don’t include her.

It’s obvious he’s misjudged her from the moment she waterbends Hasook over the ropes of the ring, sending him plummeting into the water below. Even Mako can’t hold back a grimace as the referee interrupts her completely inappropriate, impromptu victory dance with a whistle blow and a declaration of a foul.

He was right, of course, about her being a total rookie. But even if she barely seems to understand the rules of Pro-bending, she’s not likely to be as easy to take out as he assumed. Not with such raw power.

Mako’s dealt with her type before though -- the inexperienced hotheads and stubborn asses who think strength beats skill any day of the week. That’s not necessarily true, whether in the ring or in the streets, so he still thinks she shouldn’t be a huge problem.

Not an easy knock-out, but not a particularly hard one either.

Her form is beautiful, he thinks once they resume the match and she starts lashing out at him with excessively aggressive strikes of water. Nothing like anything Mako’s seen beyond the windows of prestigious, high-hat bending dojos with decrepit masters teaching the old ways and impractically flashy moves to a new generation. But it’s too stiff, too formal in spite of all of the energy she throws into every swing of her arms. She attacks without considering her teammates’ positions or her own defenses and her strikes are sloppy and ill-suited for the fast pace and confined space that defines Pro-bending.

That’s where he’ll get her.

Or so he thinks until she firebends his own fire -- the very flames born from his body, his spirit, a part of him seethes silently -- right back at him from Zone 3.

“Foul!” the referee calls out, and although his last-second “I think?” is uncertain and muted, his words echo in the sudden silence of the arena as everyone attempts to make sense of what’s happened.

Mako knows he’s not the only one frozen, his arms still positioned to launch a fresh bout of firebending; Bolin accidentally drops and shatters the clay disc he was using with a large crash and Hasook manages to splatter water on all three of them. But the crash is overpowered by the frantic pounding of his heart and the cool droplets soaking through his uniform are nothing compared to the cold sweat he suddenly feels.

A girl who could waterbend and firebend, and probably earthbend too.

A girl destined to save the world from whatever disasters it may face.

A girl on the verge of ruining everything he had worked so hard for.

And he had underestimated her.

“She’s the Avatar, and I’m an idiot,” he mutters as he stares at this powerful, dangerous girl. At the Avatar.

“Both are true,” Hasook mutters, and Mako almost wants the Avatar to throw him over the ropes of the ring again. He doesn’t say anything though, maybe as some sort of unworded apology to Hasook -- useless as he can be at times -- for his own too-quick judgement and bad calls.

The Avatar!” Bolin gasps belatedly, pointing and gesturing at the girl like most of the spectators in the crowds.

“--the Avatar, folks!” the commentator echoes immediately after, and Mako wonders how many more times he’s going to have to be reminded, “Playing in a Pro-bending match! Can you believe it?”

It looks like at the very least, the referees are having just as much difficulty swallowing this down, given how long they’re taking to deliberate over it.

Mako doesn’t have the luxury of allowing it to sink it though. Instantly, his mind springs to work and he calls Bolin and Hasook out of their stunned states and over to him.

“We can still do this, even if they keep her in,” Mako immediately starts off before either of them can even think of throwing in the towel.

Bolin blinks at him in sheer disbelief before throwing his hands in their opponents’ direction. “But she’s the Avatar, isn’t that cheating?” There’s something desperate about how he says it that prickles at Mako.

“Not if she only sticks to waterbending,” he points out, and he wonders how likely that’ll be. How likely it’ll be for the referees to allow the Avatar to remain in the match. As he takes in the excited looks of the commentator and the crowds, he knows her chances of being thrown out of the match are shrinking just as quickly as their chances of winning. “We can’t afford to think like that. We need a plan.”

“I’m all ears, pal,” Hasook scowls, but for once he looks like he’s actually interested in what Mako has to say, “let’s just hope it’s better than your last one.”

Mako lets that one slide too. They have enough going against them already without worsening team relations in the middle of their most important match yet.

“She’s still a rookie who, from the looks of it, hasn’t even touched the book,” he reminds them, “and if you’d look at her stance--”

“Too flat-footed and upright!” Bolin interrupts with a snap of his fingers. He beams happily at his insight and Mako has to restrain the proud smile creeping onto his own face, the hand that wants to ruffle his little brother’s hair.

Hasook crosses his arms over his chest and glares at the Avatar, who seems to be getting chewed out by her new teammates. “Her moves are pretty traditional, but she’s using hard techniques like an old-school bruiser. It takes too long and it screws up her flow.”

“And,” Mako picks up, pleased at how quickly they’ve managed to pick out nearly every point he had wanted them to make, “she lacks restraint. You both saw how she came out swinging, how she pulled up that water from the grate -- she had to draw off the excess.”

Excess. The word leaves a bitter taste in Mako’s mouth because it’s not one he’s well acquainted with. It makes him think of cloth walls and paperthin roofs and Bolin’s stick-thin body peeking out underneath dirty rags. Of a girl who probably had everything she had ever needed or wanted in her whole life, who probably wasted more than he and Bolin had ever had in their whole lives.

Excess. Every firebender -- even the self-taught, the street-raised -- was expected to understand the dangers of excess. Too little fire and there wouldn’t be a spark, but too much and before you knew it, the world would be burning up and burning down in a blaze of destruction. Starting wars, destroying nations, cutting down innocent people, orphaning children.

All because of a sudden, momentary loss of self-control.

He grits his teeth, bites his lip, does anything and everything to keep himself from look at the Avatar.

“Let her waste all the energy she wants and just stick to what we usually do -- tiring them out,” Mako finally continues. He focuses on Bolin’s face, thinking of all the reasons why they have to win this, why they can’t let anyone -- not even the Avatar -- ruin this. “She may be the Avatar, but she’s green as grass. I’ll take care of her, but I might need one of you to sucker punch her while she’s distracted with me. Once she’s down, she’s out. I’ll make sure of it.”

“You sure this time?” Hasook asks wearily, actually sounding almost worried.

Mako finally turns to look at the Avatar, who stares right back at him with those big blue eyes. She grins, full of life and excitement, and it occurs to him how little this must mean to her. That this is likely all just a game in her eyes. She hasn’t spent months training for the tournament, fighting in matches night after night with barely enough time in-between to rest. She’s no better than some ascended fangirl, Avatar or not.

“Positive,” he whispers, his eyes never leaving hers.

They keep her in Zone 3 for the few seconds remaining in round one after the referees predictably allows the Avatar to remain in the match. Both events result in loud, obnoxious cheers from the obviously amused audience. The Fire Ferrets take that round, but the crowds are still too distracted by the novelty of it all.

Mako makes sure to knock her into the water halfway through the second round.

It’s a bit more vindictive than usual -- not that anyone other than Bolin can really tell, given how the Avatar’s giving as good as she got -- but the rush quickly fades away once Mako has real Pro-benders to contend with. He retreats back into his “cool-under-fire” style, weaving between flames and clay discs as Bolin and Hasook hang back and attack from where they’ve been knocked back to in Zone 2.

While they’re barely gaining territory -- the Platypus-bear firebender is in Zone 3 and the earthbender is in Zone 1 -- Mako sees the first signs of fatigue finally setting into their opponents. The heavy breathing, the weaker strikes, the sloppy footwork -- they’re all signs of vulnerability Mako has trained himself to watch out for his whole life.

They’re all openings.

He begins his barrage of attacks, one jab after another with the same energy he’d been conserving since knocking out the Avatar. Bolin and Hasook take that as a sign to charge, and once the Platypus-bear earthbender has been knocked back to Zone 2, all three of them advance forward by one zone.

The firebender is knocked into the drink by one of Bolin’s discs, and just as Mako scrawls to let Hasook aim one last water strike at the earthbender, just as the whip of water is about to connect, just as they’re about the win the match by a total knock-out -- the bell rings.

The bell rings before the earthbender has been knocked into the water. Before the earthbender has been knocked off the platform. Before the earthbender was even touched.

Mako wants to kill Hasook.

“The hell was that?” Mako hisses as the three of them retreat back into their territory. They have to wait for the Avatar and her firebender to return to the platform for the third round, leaving the Ferrets to listen to the commentator’s recap of how they had almost finished this.

Back off,” Hasook growls back, and the only reason Mako does is because the round starts and the first thing the Avatar does is launch a vicious blast of water towards his face.

“She’s lucky there’s no rule against that,” Bolin laughs as he darts past Mako, sending two discs flying at her. The fact that they’ve won the first two rounds is getting to Bolin’s head -- as usual. It’s a situation Mako wishes they could have avoided, because with confidence comes cockiness and with cockiness comes carelessness.

They can’t afford any of it.

Mako sees it before Bolin does, the Avatar’s arms moving as she starts off a move he vaguely recognizes. He sees her eyes zero in on Bolin -- on his little brother -- and he sidesteps Bolin, drawing his forearms up in front of his face as he prepares to take the hit dead-on.

Don’t touch him, he wants to scream at her. He’s not a kid on the street anymore though. Bolin’s not in any real danger anymore either. They're in the middle of the ring in the middle of a match, mere minutes away from earning a spot in the championship tournament, and this is just another one of life’s many obstacles in their way.

He needs to keep his cool.

It’s hard to though, when the Avatar is relentlessly slamming him and Bolin against the ropes of Zone 1 with her water whips and water spouts. Even with all of their protective gear, it still hurts because of the sheer force in each of her attacks.

“We tire her out,” Bolin reminds Mako in between heavy breaths and bursts of water, “we tire her out, and then we win this. We’ve got this, Mako.”

Bolin is the only reason Mako can ignore the force of the water as it pelts him in the back. Instead, he stays focused, waiting for that opportune moment when the strength behind her attacks will falter, even if only for a second.

His narrowed eyes meet green, and he nods his head.

“NOW!” he calls out, twisting his body and aiming a roundhouse kick at the Avatar. His flames meet her water, and in the midst of the steam, Bolin thrusts several discs at her in rapid succession.

They hear her grunt, but the splash of someone falling into the water comes from their side of the ring rather than hers.

Hasook,” Mako spits out like a swear.

“I’ve got it!” Bolin tells him, and just like that he slams the firebender onto the ground with one disc and knocks him off of the platform with another. When he turns to focus to the other earthbender, Mako returns his attention to the Avatar.

She’s been pushed back to Zone 3, teetering on the edge of the platform. It should be an easy knock-out -- even the commentator is counting her out by now -- but Mako’s been wrong once and he can’t make that mistake again.

He gives it everything he’s got -- jabs, kicks, punches, strikes, everything that would take down even the strongest of his past competitors -- but she dodges every single one in a series of completely unfamiliar spiraling movements.

Whereas his weaving is scrappy, the product of trial and error and more street fights than anyone had any right participating in, hers is elegant and smooth as she practically breezes past everything he throws at her. It’s almost hypnotic the way she moves.

For the briefest of moments, he’s almost pleased that he’s fighting against her, if only so he could see something like this.

Every move is paired. When he throws a sharp jab with his right, she swirls to her left, her ponytail whipping around her face; when he aims a forceful kick at her head, she slips underneath the wave of flames, allowing them to fly over her, fly past her until they fan behind her like a pair of fiery wings. Each step is feather-light and deceptively effortless -- so different from the headstrong style she’s been favoring for most of the match, so different from anything he’s ever seen.

Watching her makes it feel like more of a performance than a fight, and she’s nothing short of beautiful as she dances in the midst of his flames.

But then he hears a startled yelp behind him that snaps him out of his trance.

He turns to check on Bolin and finds him on the ground of Zone 3. His counterpart is in Zone 2, readying another disc, readying the finishing blow.

It takes less than a second for Mako to knock out the earthbender, and the same amount of time for the Avatar to knock out Bolin.

The crowd screams and cheers at the development, always loving the potential of a game-changing knock-out. However, all of their voices are drowned out when he hears Bolin’s surprised shout as he falls into the water.

Everything disappears except for the Avatar, still in the same position from taking out Bolin.

They have two rounds in the bag and there must be under half a minute left on the clock, Mako realizes. The Ferrets could win this even if the Avatar knocked him back to Zone 3. He could literally stand there and take almost anything she threw at him and they would still win.

But Mako wants more.

He wants a knock-out. He wants to knock her out, to see what sort of expression she’ll show this time when the Pro-bender she had watched with such raw admiration in her eyes comes at her and her pretty, swirling moves and knocks her clean into the water where she belongs.

How will she look at him then?

He doesn’t want to just imagine it.

He charges forward, taking a deep breath as the flames forming around his hands expand and he launches a series of precise jabs and fireballs towards the Avatar. He keeps his stance wide, easily dropping to the ground before a whip of water can connect and sweeps his leg in front of him.

The Avatar easily spins past the flurry of flames sent her way, twisting her body and directing another stream of water with an aerial kick. The angle of it is manageable though -- all Mako has to do is roll to the side -- but then he sees her other leg slamming down and a vertical wall of water headed his way.

He stops his roll with one hand and pushes himself off of the ground into a handstand. Instinctively, he plants his other hand on the ground and begins spinning, ignoring the blood rushing to his head as flames quickly flare up and shoot towards her from his feet.

Mako pushes himself into the air, into a twisted flip as his leg sweeps diagonally through the air, and this time the Avatar isn’t ready for the fire that comes flying at her, not when the flames are spread out so far.

The blast knocks her off her feet, but not off the platform. Instead of continuing his attack, he uses the fraction of a second she spends recovering from the impact to catch his breath.

He can feel his stamina running low in spite of his training and his strategies, and the only consolation he gets is that the Avatar surely must be as winded. Despite his controlled expression, his blood is boiling and he knows this needs to end this now.

She kicks a ball of spinning water at him, her arms already in position to launch another of volley at him, but he manages to hit the water with just the right amount of heat. Steam rises again, and while it’s not as good a cover as the dust and debris of shattered clay discs, it’s good enough.

He rushes towards the grate dividing the zones they’re in, his arm pulled back for another punch and his heart pounding in anticipation. Just one good punch and he could probably blast her off of the platform, completely secure in his victory in the way only a total knock-out could ever make him feel. They’d be in the tournament with no questions asked and he would never have to spare another thought for the Avatar again.

He sucks in a deep breath and throws his fist in whatever time he has left, with whatever energy he has left.

But then he sees a pair of baby blues staring at him from the other side of the line -- too, too close, he realizes, his chest tightening at the sight of them -- and he’s suddenly pushed back by the sudden collision of water and fire, steam fogging up his mask.

The Avatar disappears from his view, with her sweat-drenched skin and her narrowed eyes, but he knows it wasn’t enough.

He closes his eyes as his back inevitably slams into the ground, and yet all he can see is blue. He slams his fist onto the platform, unable to control the impulse for once as he silently curses.

The bell rings.

“And the rookies have nabbed a spot in the championship tournament! I can not believe it!” the commentator announces to the crowd, his voice being drowned out by their raucous cheers and catcalls.

He should be happy. The Fire Ferrets have won all three rounds, have won a place in the tournament. They’ve earned their place alongside the best Republic City’s Pro-bending circuit has to offer, and they’re that much closer to the jackpot.

But Mako isn’t satisfied. Not when he’s lying on his back in the Platypus-bears’ first zone and the Avatar is still somewhere on the platform. Matches like these, the ones that fail to end in the knock-out of a whole team, always leave a bittersweet feeling.

Good. But not good enough.

He wants to stay there, sprawled out on the ground and letting the victory slowly submerge his feelings. That’s not how the game is played though, so instead he pushes himself up off of the ground with a small, strained, practiced smile to the crowd and starts to unbuckle his chinstrap.

He stops when he realizes the Avatar is watching him.

He can’t read her eyes, can’t even begin to describe them. It’s not an expression he had expected to see -- no, he’s still not sure what he had expected in the first place.

“You were incredible,” she finally says once she picks herself up and starts walking over to him. He’s surprised to hear so much enthusiasm in her voice. It lacks the poisonous edge most losers tend to develop after such a one-sided match, and he can’t help but immediately feel suspicious. “I heard you play on the radio, and I went to your last match! Mako, right? I’ve gotta say, going toe to toe with you was amazing!”

Her smile dims considerably when he doesn’t reply right away, the awkward silence between them undisturbed even by the hundreds of people screaming from the stands and the commentator’s voice recapping the whole match.

It’s not that he doesn’t want to say something -- it’s not everyday that the Avatar compliments someone’s bending, and there’s a small part of him that’s flattered. Flustered, even. The words just seem to be stuck on the tip of his tongue, his stomach tied up in knots.

And then he’s interrupted by a beefy arm throwing itself around his neck.

“YES! I told ‘ya we’d make it, Mako!”

Bolin’s cheeriness is more familiar, and thus more comforting to Mako’s ears and he finds the tension in his body fading away even as the soaking wet bulk of his brother’s body weighs down heavily on his back. His throat seems to loosen up, but not for the Avatar.

“C’mon, Bolin,” he says, and the miniscule hint of warmth in his voice draws out a bigger smile from his little brother, “Get off already.”

Mako finds it a little unusual how quickly Bolin complies, until he notices his brother offering a slick smile and a friendly hand to the Avatar.

Of course.

“The name’s Bolin, by the way.”

“Korra,” she replies, and she takes his hand heartily. The intensity of her smile returns, only this time it’s directed solely at Bolin.

Mako gently shrugs off his brother before taking a few careful steps back away from the two of them, looking away politely. Bolin’s always been better with people -- charming unusually kind old ladies out of their change, talking himself out of scuffles with other street kids -- and Mako knows that the whole experience works out a lot better for everyone if he isn’t around to tense things up.

“And I guess you know my brother then,” Bolin says, grabbing onto Mako’s arm before he can get too far. He grins happily and tugs him closer, touchy-feely as always.

The Avatar redirects her gaze back at him, still appearing a little interested in spite of her sudden hesitation. Her smile falters yet again, but she nods at him in acknowledgement.

He holds back the sudden urge to cough.

"You... really came alive in that last round," Mako says, keeping his distance and feeling all too much like an awkward turtle-duck as he fumbles for more words.

Her smiles softens, and it's almost too much for him to bear. Before she can say anything in response, he grabs Bolin's shoulder and leans in. "You know what, it's getting late. I think I'm gonna turn in. You have fun," he whispers, almost drowned out by the still-roaring crowd, but still loud enough for the Avatar to hear. "Nice to meet you, Avatar Korra."

"Yeah... Been a real pleasure," he hears her respond faintly. Her voice trails off as he walks away towards the mobile platforms that will carry him back to their team's prep-room, ignoring how easily his brother fills up the silence left behind with excited chatter and endless questions and once again finding himself with his back to the Avatar.

But as easy as it was to walk away from her in the ring, it's a harder challenge to keep her from wandering her way into his thoughts that night with the same light-footed steps and ecstatic smile from the match. Even as he attempts to clear his mind by gazing through one of the attic's many windows, all he can think of is how the moonlight colors the island across the bay such a beautiful shade of blue and how even then it still doesn't compare to the blue of her eyes.

But maybe he can allow himself to indulge, just this once. 


Author's Note: Oh man, a majority of this was really written in that gap between the special early release of the first two episodes and episode four (so basically before the whole messy love triangle happened and made Mako a lot more unlikable), so the characterization is really heavily based on the pre-premiere character bios and what I'd seen up to episode three. And as my dissatisfaction with the show grew, so did my detachment from this even though it's probably the longest thing I've ever managed to write.

Anyway, so it's over a year old by now,  but it was basically a "What if Korra had ended up being Mako and Bolin's opponent in the second episode instead of their teammate?" thing that spiraled? Which is why there are a lot of parallels to the true episode in this in addition to verbatim dialogue, I wanted to make it as connected as possible lol. I originally wanted to rewrite the whole series this way, but never got around to it. And probably never will tbh, I don't even have Nickelodeon anymore so even if my interest in LOK came back, there's that barrier lol. 

The theme here is more repression than excess. The original bios mentioned that he was stoic, brooding, with excellent control over his emotions and a calm and steady mind -- and I tried to catch all of that here, plus a single-minded determination to do good by Bolin. I do think at the time I wrote it rather heavy-handedly, but I think that if there's anything that could force Mako to keep his emotions and actions in check, it would be constantly reminding himself of the reason behind everything he's doing.

I'm too spent now to say much else, so yeah orz. Pretty much only posted this because Boss wanted to take a look. The ending wasn't finished though, so I tacked something on lol /kanyeshrug.

June 2017



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