Chapter 1: A crowd of twisted things
LET us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question….
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.
- T.S. Eliot: The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
The water was too still for Mako. He was used to stray ripples brushing his face, cooling his flippers and constantly murmuring of other things the great deep kept openly hidden. Somehow, there were no familiar currents in the courtroom, despite the high ceilings and grand white marble columns that made the vast, massive space of the courthouse. Despite the sunlight and water streaming in from the sealights arranged in periodic rows and columns, despite the ebb and flow of lawyers, mandarins, judges, officials, jury members, spectators, reporters, despite the echoes of booming voices and unbearable silences. Despite everything that should’ve been, the water was still.
He couldn’t help himself. He started fidgeting. So much for serving as an example to Bolin, who had started fidgeting the moment he sat down on the defendant’s bench. Bolin’s widened eyes also betrayed his fear, and Mako frequently caught his brother glancing at him. Ugh. I really should stop fidgeting, thought Mako irritably.
The marble bench under the brothers was hard and the edge of it bit into his tail. Mako adjusted his position.
Okay. This time, he really needed to – really would – stop.
After twenty more minutes and countless fidgets and eyebrows furrowed even more than they usually were, a herald entered the courtroom with the reverberating of a gong. But what other important person was going to enter? The Council was already settled, jury in the stands, nobles in their priority seatings.
“Announcing His Majesty, The Great Peacebringer of the Central Sea, Emperor Tao!”
Oh, right. Of course. Half Hai Ren half Human children were unheard of, especially during and after the Hundred-Years War. They had been banned a long time before that, though, and even then they were as rare as clownfish in the North Pole. No wonder the Emperor decided to attend court today.
“Silence in the Court!” Councilman Toza called, banging his gavel. The ruckus caused by the Emperor and his train’s entrance ceased.
So the trial began. As the announcer introduced the case, Mako reviewed what Toza, his and Bolin’s guardian, had advised them to do. There was already overwhelming evidence that they were part human, so they had no chance of being proven innocent. The most lenient sentence possible consisted of Mako being sent away onto land, while Bolin would stay under the sea until he was of age. The siblings would be able to visit each other, but Toza wasn’t sure of the limits to those visits. Toza would, however, fight for the best possible scenario, whatever that was. All Mako and Bolin really had to do was to be quiet and act like scared kids. Which they were doing perfectly.
It went on, and on. Mako caught many sympathetic glances over time. He also got stabbed with angry ones, murderous ones, disgusted ones, though these were less in total than the nicer. There were folk who did not like humans at all and folk who abhorred the thought of mixed parentage children (called Haidi) and love between a person of the ocean and a person of the land. It was not natural, and Mako knew it. Half of (known) Haidi born were miscarried or stillborn, another fifth were born live but died soon after. A quarter had some sort of serious defect or another. That left only one-twentieth of all Haidi with relatively good health. All living Haidi, though, were able to walk on land (provided they survived long enough to learn how to walk) and yet turn their legs into a tail to enter water.
He fingered his shirt – he wore his best today – nervously, rubbing the kelp-green fabric. Toza against Councilman Yakone, a fair match. The first older by twenty years, with lots of experience and canny, the second younger but just as insightful. Mako had been working under Yakone, a white-haired wave-wrinkled elder who was a boy at the ending of the War, as a page before all this. He’d been cleaning the Councilman’s office when papers sticking halfway out from a large pile on a desk snagged his attention. Mako had only registered the words “taking bending” and “arrived, we must begin.”, before Yakone had stepped into the office and taken in Mako scanning the document.
“Mako, thank you for your work, that’s all you need to clean today. Would you mind bringing me some lunch?” he had asked kindly. As Mako had closed the door and set off down the hall, he had heard frantic paper rustling that vibrated the door.
The next day, Yakone had come to Toza, rage roiling deep in his eyes. They shut themselves in Toza’s home office to talk. Mako could still hear their roars reverberating through the halls.
Toza had originally sent Mako and Bolin to be Yakone’s pages because Yakone was one of them who hated humans. “Might as well get to know their kind so you know how to deal with them.” Toza had stated. Mako had nightmares every night the week before his internship started. And Yakone had been gruff with the two of them at first, but he gradually began to tolerate them and treat them as he would any other page. Until then.
It turned out that Yakone still wasn’t happy about the two of them. The day after the shouting, Toza told them to stay at home, and he went to work. He came back an hour later with the news that Yakone had publicly accused them of being Haidi. Everyone had known, of course, but the majority of the Hai Ren would not call out two poor boys for their parents actions. The rest were not actively enlightened of the boys’ heritage. But Yakone had finally, officially, announced it, and there was no help for them anymore.
Of course, it didn’t seem like Yakone would throw them out on a whim. The more likely reason was that Yakone was angry at Mako for peeking at his papers, in addition to his hatred for Haidi. Toza had tried to assuage Mako’s guilt, reassuring the two that Yakone was never quick to anger at anything. Perhaps there was more going on with Yakone than they knew, their wizened guardian had muttered, almost out of their hearing.
Chapter 2: Rhapsody on a Windy Night
And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
- T.S. Eliot: The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
The Ocean gurgled softly under the ceiling of their room. Bolin slept soundly on the pallet next to Mako, whose arms were crossed behind his head. Mako couldn’t, just couldn’t even doze. Today, the Judges and the jury decided that he was going. Exiled to land, to the world of his other – human – half. He could only visit Bolin once a week, no more than three hours each visit. Mako’d have to get a job. When Bolin turned eighteen he would to be exiled as well, joining his unlucky big brother. All because Mako had read confidential material written in Councilman Yakone’s handwriting. Or something of the sort.
Bolin drew in a long, stuttering snore and shifted a bit in his blanket. It was no use. Mako might as well get some fresh air at the surface. He was going to live in the human world anyway; he’d better get used to it.
Mako creaked out of his cot and wandered out into the hallway of Councilman Toza’s house. He reached the servant’s door and opened it cautiously, then slipped outside.
Mako headed straight up to the surface. When he broke out of it, he felt the warm night air push gently around him. In the distance, near Yue Bay with its twinkling lights, rocked a United Forces Navy ship, festooned with lights as well. Mako could hear voices and the tinny, golden sound of modern music coming from it. Well, that was rare. He decided to go check it out.
With a few powerful strokes, he was at the side of the vessel. Oh. This one was smaller than most Navy ships, but that was all right, since this one was being used for a party or something. In fact, it only had two main decks, more of a light, low barge than a battleship. Decorative, gilded designs akin to waves curled atop the prow of the bow, around the sides, and up to the stern; intricate crests and troughs. Leaping gold.
The hull was painted in mid blue and imperial red – blood red, shadow-of-dusk red. Darker than the color of Mako’s vermillion tail, definitely. He could hear the hubbub aboard more clearly now, but he still couldn’t make out any single word or phrase. The upper deck was low enough for him to just pull himself up, though…
Why was he being so curious? Mako usually just eyed things from a distance, or swam up to things to observe, but he never endangered himself like this before. Maybe because these three days were the last days of his life in the Ocean, he had lost his mind.
Mako finally clambered up the boat and onto the edge of the deck, so that his forearms were holding him up. There. He could hear the conversations going on now.
There seemed to be some sort of dinner party going on, one of those with live musicians and very important persons and fancily dressed waiters and delicately arranged delicacies on tiny porcelain plates and fine tablecloths so white they sparkled and snapped like some kind of physically manifested fire or some kind of untouched permanent snow.
And Mako really could smell the food from this position behind the navigational cabin, on the stern. He could see most of the party’s activity from here as well, but he chose this spot for that reason anyway. There was also a ridge below the deck here, where he could rest his tail.
Though he could hear the conversations going on nearby, most of them weren’t all that interesting; small talk about the weather (which was very nice, someone had just gone on a picnic in the park with his family today and it had been most delightful), how they were doing, how their families were doing, have they seen certain friends recently, etc. Politics and business Mako found vaguely interesting, so he listened for more of those topics. Hmm? Equalists? What were they?
In this glittering, foreign domain, Mako could lose himself and forget about everything. What happened, what was happening, what was to happen – he could just stare at the soft glow shed by paper lanterns and people fluttering amongst each other. He could just observe, just watch, a bystander gazing at things and beings and situations he had no part in or with. These guests would be the social elite of Republic City (that great and fairly new human metropolis on the mouth of Yue Bay): the movers, the shakers, the must-know faces. Mako highly doubted he would be joining them anytime soon, even though he was going to be a human for the rest of his life, minus three more days.
Too bad oblivion couldn’t last for more than five minutes at a time. Every time someone so much as glanced in his direction, he dropped into the sea to avoid being discovered.
Two middle-aged women stood near the area where Mako was established, just off the rail.
“I couldn’t seem to find you at the Republic Gala. Were you in attendance?” one asked.
“Oh, no. I was out sick, so I couldn’t come, unfortunately.”
“Yes, that was unfortunate.” The first one paused, then clapped her hands together in delight. “Ah! But that means this is your first time meeting the Avatar! I assume you have met her?”
Wait. So that… meant…
“I have met Avatar Korra. Isn’t she just lovely?”
“Indeed! She is such a delightful young lady!”
“Yes, what a vibrant, pretty girl! She seems very capable. Didn’t Avatar Korra defeat some Triple Threat Triad members on her first day here?”
“I read about that! She’s very strong, isn’t she?” The first woman lowered her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “Did you see her arm muscles? She would knock me out before I’d even start thinking about firebending.”
Um, Mako probably didn’t need to hear that. But that meant the Avatar was on this ship?
“Yes, but she’s so young. Her coming here to the City is a great honor, but there’s so many things going on, and it’s hard for a teenager to carry such a large burden. I hope she finished her airbending training before anything boils over.”
They strolled over to the refreshment stand, still conversing. Before all the trouble had happened, Mako had heard that the Avatar had arrived in Republic City a month ago, but…
He had heard that she was from the Southern Water Tribe and that she came to Republic City to learn airbending with Councilman Tenzin, but Mako had never expected to be able to ever see the Avatar.
He returned to eavesdropping on discussions and breathing in the scent of food (all unfamiliar to him but mouth-watering nevertheless). Oh, look, there was Councilman Tenzin, the son of the previous Avatar and taller than most on the ship, highly visible with his Air Nomad robes and his arrow tattoos.
Mako continued scanning the crowd, when his eyes suddenly returned to Councilman Tenzin. Was that a… girl talking to him? Ah. What was different about her was that she wore casual, dark blue pants in a sea of skirts. A simple, billowy, snow-white blouse gathered in a puff at her sleeves and hung loose by her waist. Her dark complexion suggested she was Water Tribe, as did her various blue hair accessories. Her back was to Mako, but he could see confidence emanating from her straight back and casual stance. As she talked with the councilman, she rolled her sleeves up to her shoulders, revealing strong arms.
Was this the Avatar? What other Water Tribe teenage could talk freely with Councilman Tenzin?
Councilman Tenzin waved his finger at the girl. Her shoulders slumped. She reluctantly unrolled her sleeves, and Tenzin nodded. She straightened her shoulders again and waved to him, then left. Almost immediately, various people broke off from the crowd and clustered around her, trying to engage her in their own discussions.
This must’ve been the Avatar. What other teenager could dress like that in a party like this, be chided by Councilman Tenzin so easily, and warrant so much attention?
Mako returned to eavesdropping in on conversations. They weren’t interesting, but they weren’t entirely boring, either. Mmm… the waiters were arranging plates of cold cuts on the tables…
The Avatar reappeared in Mako’s line of vision, still with her back to him. She caught sight of someone and waved, turning so that Mako could see her side profile. Strong was still his impression. Who was she waving to, anyway?
Mako craned his neck in the direction the Avatar was facing, starboard, trying to answer that for himself. A pregnant, middle-aged Air Acolyte who held a little boy and lead two girls staggered toward her, smiling ruefully. Mako couldn’t hear anything, but he could see the woman, probably Tenzin’s wife, gesticulating and the Avatar nodding. The woman turned to the two girls and said something to them, causing them to nod as well and trot over to the Avatar. The Avatar spoke with them, then beckoned and turned around to the port rail, heading for the refreshments table. So Mako finally saw her face. She was really pretty. The Avatar had lively eyes that sparkled blue-green like the Central Sea; her bronze Water Tribe skin only accentuated them further.
He started listening in on two United Forces officers’ discussion, but his eyes kept occasionally wandering back to the Avatar. Councilman Tenzin’s wife and the little boy (Mako was sure that boy and the two girls were Tenzin and his wife’s kids) had joined her again.
Abruptly, the Avatar grinned. Her eyes crinkled and her teeth flashed. Was there a fish in Mako’s gut? Did Mako need to throw up? Certainly didn’t seem like it, though. Too exhilarating of a feeling. Usually throwing up felt much less pleasant.
Now Mako’s vision could light on other things for maybe – ah – a minute before searching for the Avatar again. What was her name again? Erm… it was… Korra. Yes, it was Korra.
At the refreshments table, the younger of Tenzin’s two daughters butted into Avatar Korra’s conversation. This elicited an exalting laugh from her.
Mako’s arms turned to seaweed and he nearly fell off the edge of the ship.
The little boy who was perched on Tenzin’s wife’s shoulder waved at Mako.
“Hello there, strange youth!” He yelled out cheerfully. Mako jerked off the ship and splashed into the water.
After a while, Mako dared to climb up the ship again. The little boy was still on his mother’s shoulder, but she was facing a different direction, so he wasn’t paying any attention to Mako.
Mako was just beginning to relax when waiters started to usher guests into seats at the dining tables. He could make out individual place cards at each seat.
When everyone was settled, a gong sounded, silencing them. A man in a Commander’s uniform and Avatar Korra were the only people left standing, facing the tables. The man must’ve been the General Iroh everyone was mentioning. He was really young, for such a high position.
“Thank you.” He said. “Tonight, we celebrate Avatar Korra’s arrival at the heart of the United Republic.”
Applause started and there was a little murmuring, but it quickly quieted down.
“The United Forces has decided to do so by making Avatar Korra an Honorary Officer of the United Forces. In times of crisis, Avatar Korra will be able to take command and help direct the United Forces.”
Two officers walked up ceremoniously to Avatar Korra, carrying a folded, dark blue cloth of some sort that was embellished with silver and gold trimmings. They handed it to her, then marched away.
The guests started clapping. It became louder and louder, soaring into a deafening forte.
“Thank you, thank you!” Avatar Korra finally spoke. Mako felt heat rush up from his chest and into his face. Her laugh had given him an idea of her voice, but her voice sounded so extremely wonderful, like the chuckle of sea water on sand.
The clapping gradually stopped and Avatar Korra continued.
“Thank you for this honor. I will try to live up to it! As Avatar and Honorary Officer, I will strive to work with the United Forces and bring peace to the Republic!”
And the clapping grew to a roar again. Two more officers took the cloth from Avatar Korra’s hands and unfolded it, revealing a United Forces Officer’s jacket of some very high rank, complete with three badges on the left collarbone. She slipped it on. It shone in the lantern light with a thousand twinklings of gold and silver. Needless to say, it looked very good on the Avatar. Why was Mako thinking this.
Avatar Korra gave an embarrassed grin afterwards that made some guests chuckle softly. Mako’s lungs felt like a birdcage, what with the fluttering his heart did.
She ambled off to join Councilman Tenzin’s family at their places and dinner commenced. Mako watched lazily as the cold cuts were eaten and the main vegetable dish came in. Tenzin’s family wasn’t served the cold cuts at all, but ate the vegetarian dishes.
This was getting a little monotonous, watching other people eat while he couldn’t eat anything. Even Avatar Korra couldn’t fully break the boredom. He was grateful he still had some control over himself.
A movement behind the other side of the cabin caught Mako’s eye. Something seemed to climb up the stairs from the lower deck, take a running leap, and dive straight into the water. Mako craned his neck to try and see it, but he couldn’t; it was gone. But at the last moment, just before the figure hit the water, he thought he saw a tail.
The ship rumbled and groaned underneath him. Mako dove off instinctively, just as the vessel exploded.
Chapter 3: And then the lighting of the lamps
Mmm, the cold cuts tasted so good. Korra hadn’t eaten meat for such a long time. And it smelled so delicious, like… smoke?
Korra raised her head to sniff the air. A few other guests were doing the same, frowning in concern.
The deck started shaking. Korra, Tenzin, and General Iroh stood up on reflex, as did many others on the boat. This turned out to be a good idea, since a series of fiery explosions shattered the deck. Pandemonium ensued as most guests leapt out of their seats and ran amok. Shouts of “Fire, fire!” ran amidst blazing heaps that used to be tables and chairs.
Korra sprinted over to the nearest such blaze and killed it with firebending. She went on to douse more fires, while other firebenders started to follow her lead.
As she was doing this, some of the ship’s staff came tumbling out of the entrance to the deck, coughing and spluttering black smoke. One of them headed for General Iroh and began to confer urgently with him.
Korra finished stopping the fires on the upper deck and rushed over to General Iroh.
“What happened?” she asked, panting.
“Wires have short-circuited and started a large fire in the engine room. There’s a hole in the hull; we’ve got to evacuate the ship. My staff will bring out the life rafts and jackets, you and councilman Tenzin should direct the passengers to wear the life jackets and get in the rafts.”
Tenzin was nearby calming guests down while a healer checked for injuries. General Iroh issued a command to the staff member who had originally reported to him; that man saluted him and hurried over to the rest of the staff, shouting orders and pointing to the lifeboat and lifejacket storage area. Korra joined Tenzin in mobilizing the guests and soon had all of them aboard the rafts, safe in life vests. Where was Naga? She should’ve been up on deck by now, barging through the crowd towards Korra… oh no.
“Naga!” Korra called out. She whistled shrilly, but Naga didn’t answer. “Naga!” she screamed. “NAGAAA!!!”
No, no no no…
So it was Korra who barged through the crowd and burst down the stairs to the lower deck. Tenzin frantically called after her about something, but she didn’t pay attention. She, of course, didn’t care either way.
The lower deck was a disaster. Flames leapt in the air, showering light, cinders, and ash.
“NAGAAA!!!” she shrieked. She put out the fires in her path, looking around wildly for the polar bear dog. Naga had been lying down near the kitchen, eyeing the food hungrily but not doing anything. As such, Korra now headed for the kitchen first. Naga wasn’t there. Panicking, Korra sped around, racing into rooms, choking on the smoke and the taste of everything burning. Where was Naga?!
She passed cabins and bathrooms and storage rooms and rooms she (although there weren’t many rooms belowdecks on this small, decorative boat) that she didn’t even care about because all there was, was no Naga.
“NAGAAAAA!!!” she wailed, and doubled over hacking, furiously killing the hot flares in her path. “NAGA, WHERE ARE YOU!?!”
She blew down the doors to the electricity room, wild eyed. There, there was Naga, pushing at something frantically with her snout, whining. She snapped her head up at Korra’s entrance and whimpered.
There was a boy a little younger than Korra, unconscious and trapped under fallen machinery.
“Naga, lift it up and I’ll get him out!” Korra shouted, gesturing with her hands. Naga didn’t seem to understand, but she turned back and started to lift the machinery again anyway. Korra quickly slipped her hands underneath the boy and dragged him away. Naga then dropped the machinery. Luckily, Naga was still wearing her saddle, so Korra retrieved some rope from her saddlebag and tied the boy to it.
“Go, go!” Korra shooed Naga out. Naga reluctantly bounded away, Her concerned whine hung on the air as she left. Hmm? Korra glanced down at the floor; there was an inch or so of water under her feet, and it seemed to be rising. She needed to get out of here too.
She put out a few more fires and raced to the door. On instinct, she looked back just in time to see a wire fizzing with sparks touch the water. Korra waterbended dry all the area within a meter’s radius of her. She missed electrocution by less than a tenth of a second.
Away she continued, out the door and to the stairs. And she almost made it. Almost, but for a voluminous blast that sent her flying into the metal rail on the upper deck. Billows of orange and showers of white were all she saw before she hit her head on the iron. And away she fell, into the soft arms of the deep blue sea.
Chapter 4: Nor fought in the warm rain
Mesmerized, Asami sat watching the ship fall and sink, a second sunset on the waters. It was all blown up, she registered faintly. Then she remembered. Korra. She didn’t see Korra getting off the ship. She saw Naga, but she didn’t see Korra. And it would be no use yelling for her: if Korra was still conscious, she’d get out sooner or later. Plus, Asami would make a huge scene with all these socialites on board the raft (who still didn’t know that the Avatar was still on the ship), and maybe it would tip over. But Korra… what if she was unconscious? Was she okay? Asami fidgeted – she couldn’t do anything, and that really bit at her nerves. So all she did was watch, and wait.
Chapter 5: Out of the rolling ocean, the crowd, came a drop gently to me
Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows?…
I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
- T.S. Eliot: The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
Mako’s breath hitched. A figure he couldn’t mistake had flipped overboard, propelled by the fulmination. He swam a few long strokes, close enough to see her sinking somewhat, then floating back up a bit. Was she unconscious? Yes, she seemed to be: arms hanging a little above her head, legs dangling, moving only with the whims of the water. Mako swam the last two lengths to her side, gathered her in his arms, and shot for the surface.
As they reached air, the Avatar coughed up some saltwater, though still unconscious. Mako checked her breathing. It was steady and deep, which was good: she didn’t inhale much seawater. Then it occurred to him that he was holding her, and that she was very close. Mako’s blood turned to shooting stars. He held her closer than necessary and struck out for Air Temple Island, which was the nearest shore. Mako couldn’t deliver her directly to the entourage on the rafts, he’d be spotted. And though he was loath to admit it, he didn’t want to let go of the Avatar yet.
Unthinkingly, Mako rested his chin on her head. He jerked away, mortified. What was wrong with him? Why was he obsessing over one person, one girl – oh. Oh. No, surely it wasn’t that, right?
Maybe it would wear out or something, and it wouldn’t matter anymore; he could go back to acting normally soon.
His lungs highly doubted that. Partly because the sensation didn’t feel like it would dissipate early, partly because he didn’t want it to. In any case, he felt like he had some sort of nonexistent excuse to touch her hair now.
His right hand, the hand that was holding her, reached up a little and fingered a tendril of her hair that had escaped its tie. It was neither soft nor stiff, and it responded in little waves to the movements of the shifting silk water.
A movement up above caught Mako’s attention. Something was flying, something big, and orange, and faintly red… Councilman Tenzin?
Normally, Mako would’ve ducked under and bolted away into the depths, but he couldn’t do that with a comatose human on his hands, never mind a comatose Avatar. Nonetheless, the councilman was too close for Mako to escape his notice.
He really wasn’t right in the head. As Tenzin approached, Mako waved and pointed in the direction of Air Temple Island. To his utter amazement – only a select few people knew about Hai Ren, and probably just as many knew how to conceal surprise that effectively – the Councilman just nodded and flew on towards the island. Mako stroked harder to catch up.
Councilman Tenzin had been on the beach for a few minutes already before Mako swam up. The older man lifted Korra out of his arms and set her down gently on the dry sand. He laid his hand on her head, then a ways over her mouth, to check her breathing (which must’ve still been okay, since Tenzin straightened up fairly quickly after that).
He addresses Mako (not unkindly) now, turning to him. “What is your name?”
“Mako, sir.” Mako immediately answered, trying not to glance at Korra.
“Ah. You must be the young man that Toza told me about.”
Tenzin considered this, stroking his beard, while Mako’s mouth fell open like a caught salmon.
At last, Tenzin sighed. “I will have to tell Toza about this, but thank you for finding Avatar Korra. Can you watch over her while I inform the others that she’s safe? Once that’s over with, I’ll return and you can go. Is that all right?”
Mako could only nod. Tenzin had launched off on his glider already and was forty-some feet above the bay before Mako realized that the Councilman had just asked him to look after Avatar Korra.
He slowly dragged himself onto the beach. He couldn’t turn his tail to legs here (not without clothes), but he didn’t really mind the sand digging at his skin. Propping himself up on his elbows, he took a look at the Avatar. Her breathing was perfectly fine, chest rising and falling steadily.
Mako blushed and jerked his head away.
But slowly, he inched himself further onto the sand, alongside her. He was on her left, the side her head was facing. She’d freeze out here, though, being wet and all.
Concentrating, taking deep breaths of his own, Mako lit a fire in his palm.
Yeah, he was a firebender. He had heard from Toza that his father (the human) had been a firebender, but came from Republic City’s mix. Apparently Mako’s father’s father was an earthbender, and that accounted for Bolin’s earthbending. A Hai Ren with firebending, heh. Of course, the best Mako could do was a puny flame like this; he hadn’t been trained, and he could never have practiced on his own without awkwardly punching flames while floating on the surface (easily spotted by other Hai Ren), or going on land (which was often too risky – the shores were heavily watched by the Hai Guard). Though everybody knew what species their father was, nobody alive except Toza and two friends knew about their bending, a skill only too human and therefore too dangerous. Bolin was a better earthbender than Mako a firebender. Of course Bolin always had more chances to practice, what with the seafloor being made of rock. Mako had often envied him, but though he could practice firebending freely in a few days, he would gladly give it all up to stay with his little brother.
Mako held the flame close to Avatar Korra’s stomach, illuminating her face. Were there any people watching? He’d have to put out the fire if anyone was. Oh well. No one in his sight, at least.
Careful not to torch the Avatar, he reached his other hand out to finger a wet tendril of her hair. Her head would go cold if her hair was kept damp, but he didn’t want to wake her up or burn her, so Mako dragged himself further up the beach, leaving the water completely and wincing as his scales scratched against the sand granules. He now held the flame above Avatar Korra’s head, slowly drying out her black-brown locks. When he was done, he moved the flame back to her stomach. His other hand found its way to her hair again, fingering that tendril as heat evaporated the saltwater from Korra’s clothes.
Mako heard something above him. Councilman Tenzin was returning, saffron against the night sky. He moved away from the Avatar and awaited Tenzin’s arrival.
When he landed, Mako straightened up.
“I lit a fire to keep her warm.” He explained, almost as a question.
“That’s good.” Tenzin responded, almost as an answer. “Thank you.”
The Avatar began stirring. Tenzin glanced down at her, then at Mako.
“You may go now, if you’d like.” The airbender noted. Mako so desperately wanted to see her awake up close, to listen to her voice (to be addressed by that voice), to see her startling eyes flash, containing millennia worth of smiles and grins and beautiful, beautiful laughter. Just to interact with her would sate him better than any feast, would keep him full for days and days.
However, there was reality to take care of. Additionally, if he did stay up on the beach, it’d be kind of weird.
“Thank you, Councilman Tenzin.” Mako was grateful to him, after all. With an inaudible sigh, he turned over, onto his hands, and pushed himself off of the beach. His head was engulfed by the waves in an instant, and he veered sharply to his right, angling out to sea.
But he was aching, so he allowed himself one last peek at the Avatar and Councilman Tenzin before he slipped off. Poking his head above the surface, he rotated to face the beach again. Mako was just in hearing distance of the two. Luckily, Avatar Korra was now conscious, sitting up slowly with Tenzin’s help.
“Steady now. Do you feel any pain?” Tenzin cautioned as she was about to jump to her feet.
“On my head, and maybe a few cuts and cruises, but I’m fine, Tenzin. Seriously!’ Korra reassured, then jumped to her feet. “And what happened?” She started rolling her shoulders. Oww, her head really did throb a lot. It was probably a concussion, but she didn’t want Tenzin fussing over her.
“Well,” Tenzin began. These were strange circumstances, and the young Haidi Mako shouldn’t have shown face so near to here, but what was couldn’t be changed afterwards. He’d discuss this with Toza later. “I don’t know what happened to get you unconscious, but the young Haidi who’d going to stay with us saved you and swam you back here. I believe everyone else is safe, including Naga. That boy tied to Naga’s back is receiving medical attention.”
Korra exhaled in relief, then realized what her mentor had said. Huh? The exact same person?
Mako jolted straight, fully alert. Did he hear the Councilman correctly?
“Wait, so, wow.” Korra pouted in thought. Mako abruptly lost his own train of thought. “Why was he – the Haidi – up here in the first place?
“Well,” Tenzin began again. “I’m not quite sure myself. All I know is that his and his brother’s trial was today.”
“His name is… it’s Mako, isn’t it?” Korra inquired. She was pretty sure that was the Haidi’s name… She’d never seen a Haidi before. What would he be like? “I’ll have to thank him when I meet him.”
Mako felt the world spin, glowing softly iridescent. He clutched his head tightly to keep from feeling too faint. When Toza promised that he would find a place close by for Mako to stay in, he’d never imagined it would be as close as Air Temple Island. How come Toza hadn’t mentioned this to the two brothers yet? Mako had thought he’d have to pay rent for a flimsy apartment in a seedy part of Republic City, not live and eat for free in the Air Acolyte sanctuary.
And most importantly, Avatar Korra lived on Air Temple Island as well. And she would actually talk to him.
Mako’s heart expanded a little, sponging up a quivering, fragile joy that even still felt centuries old in its surety. It hadn’t taken him over – he was pining, dreading the day he’d leave Bolin behind and try to stand on the unfamiliar earth with only wobbly sea-legs for support. Nonetheless, he was… happy. He would be able to see Avatar Korra again, even be able to speak with her – and that made all the difference between utter despair and hesitant acceptance of his banishment. What was wrong with him? Mako was sorely tempted to jump up right there right now and declare that um, hey, um, I’m still here, you can thank me right now, if you’d, um, like. Um, heh, yeah.
But Councilman Tenzin and Avatar Korra were already heading up the winding, white, weathered cliff pathway to the main temple grounds. Besides, Mako had just realized how truly ridiculous he was being, so with one last look at Air Temple Island (or more importantly, one particular inhabitant of it), he slipped back into the ocean.
No matter how ridiculous he realized he was being, though, there was a profound, buoyant sensation rushing through him. A lighthearted, reckless, ecstatic joy that would’ve made someone less stoic spin and flip and leap like a flying fish. All the same, he swam with vigor that just recently did not exist. Swooping and climbing, unnecessarily deviating in various directions on unmeditated impulses and trivial whims, Mako didn’t really know who he was and he didn’t really care to right now. There was Korra, there was a new home (with no pressing responsibilities to accompany it) that was still surrounded by the sea, and by the sea, Bolin.
But as he drew closer to the soft lights of his home city, he slowly came back to himself. Not only was the sight of familiar surroundings an effective sobering agent, everyone knew Mako’s face by now, due to the charges brought against him and his sibling. Because of that, the guards would recognize him. Why would that piteous boy who’d been sentenced to life on land and separation from his brother be frisking around like a dolphin? Especially outside of the city perimeter?
So Mako became Mako again. The city brought back thoughts of Yakone and Toza, of judging eyes and judging ears, of accusations he wanted to struggle against but could only plead guilty to, of how Bolin would cope without him. As he approached the gates, the guards took one look at him and let him in without a word. Their faces revealed nothing, but they shared a glance with each other after he entered. Poor kid. Mom and Dad dead, little brother to be left alone, he really didn’t deserve all this. But the law was the law, and they could do naught about it.
Mako found his way home again, eased back inside the building, and glided down the halls to the room he and Bolin shared. Bolin’s snores had turned into quiet breaths, only noticed through the rising and falling of his blanket. Mako found his eyelids drooping. His poor shoulders now felt the consequences of hanging onto a ship by the arms, then carrying an Avatar a quarter mile to the shore. He was too exhausted to discover the thousand other caches of throbbing pain in his back, waist, neck, arms.
Mako fell onto his cot, limp and tired. He forgot to draw his blanket over himself, in his fatigue, but sleep stole up to Mako and wrapped its own blanket sweetly across his shoulders.