He took the first document off of the top of the pile and then looked at the clock on the wall to his left. Seven forty-five. Mako had missed dinner, and still hadn’t arrived back to the island. He had nonchalantly asked his student where the firebender was and she somberly replied that he was either at work or probending practice. Bolin, who was a common face at the dinner table these days, had piped in and said that he was probably either practicing for their match next week or lifting weights. “And then he has to turn right back around and go to work at five tomorrow.”
“You’re kidding?” Pema asked incredulously.
“Nope,” Bolin chirped in between chews. “The factory is low on firebending hands, so they’ve been working their people overtime.”
Tenzin then found out that the factory only had fifteen firebenders who were capable of producing electricity. Unfortunately, fifteen was too small a number to efficiently power the machinery and lines for the entire city. Because of the lack of workers, each worker was typically worked overtime; a person was lucky if they got at least one day of the week off.
Tenzin stared blankly at the document, feeling numb as his eyes skimmed the title at the top of the page. He couldn’t focus; his mind on other matters—ones that pertained to his student’s friend. He hadn’t really given Mako too much thought until recently. Maybe it was because the young man was over at the island far more often now, or maybe it was because he was in such a predicament with Tenzin’s student, but Tenzin didn’t know. All he did know was that, despite finding the boy in Korra’s bed and being skeptical about his priorities, he still worried about Mako.
The airbender leaned back in his chair, setting the papers down in front of him and then proceeding to stroke his beard. He regarded Mako’s work ethic with admiration and sympathy. Even before Korra had found herself pregnant with Mako’s child, he had heard enough from his student to know that the boy worked harder than any young man his age ever should. He strove hard in probending to keep a roof over his and his brother’s head and he worked at the power plant to make ends meet. He had enough stress on his plate as it was, and now there was a baby in the mix. Now it appeared that Mako was pushing himself even harder than before. Again, Tenzin admired that; the firebender he was so wary of was, at the very least, taking financial responsibility for his unborn child.
But Tenzin could see that all of that work and stress was taking its toll. Mako looked just a tad thinner, and his gate much slower. His posture was more slouched and his appetite didn’t seem to hold the same vigor as it had once before. Bags were forming under his amber eyes from lack of sleep. It even seemed like it took Mako a few more seconds to respond to simple questions and small talk than before—like his brain was taking longer to process what all was going on around him.
Tenzin knew that it wasn’t just the physical part of it that was waning Mako; it was the emotional part too. Here was this young man who had lost nearly everything as a child and pushed through all of his insecurities to provide for himself and his brother. He never really had a steady source of income and he had to worry about keeping him and Bolin sheltered, fed, and clothed; which Tenzin assumed was barely at all, considering their clothes seemed to be a bit tattered. Then of course Mako stressed over probending matches, which came with the territory of the game. Things looked up for a bit when he met Asami Sato, but alas, the cards weren’t there; alcohol was, though, and teenage hormones. Still, now this young man was shouldering the responsibility of becoming a father. He had no time to address his emotional issues with the matter, nor did he have time to take care of his physical being. Tenzin had only ever heard of Korra’s dealings with this upcoming parenthood, and he could only imagine what Mako was going through.
Pema was right—Mako was a good guy. Tenzin knew it to be true, but he still had his doubts-- and finding the young man in his protégé’s bed definitely impacted his opinion. Regardless, seeing the dark circles under Mako’s amber eyes and the poor boy’s exhausted posture was enough to make Tenzin feel sorry for him. The concern only intensified when he saw how Korra responded to it and heard how she felt.
The airbending master allowed his thoughts to flicker back to a suggestion he had made to Pema; one that was of airbending nomadic nature, but not one of his own character:
“What if we let the boys stay on the island?”
She had looked at him as if he had sprouted another head. She had asked what brought this idea out of him, and he explained his concerns. She readily agreed, though she still sounded a bit wary, considering the proposition wasn’t something she’d expect to hear from him.
The way Tenzin figured, having the boys live on the island would relieve Mako of paying for living and food expenses, which in turn would relieve stress and allow him to save up money for other things—such as new clothes for him and his brother, the baby, and he could save the rest of his money for later. Not to mention it would cut his commute time down; instead of running all around the city, he could start the day off at the island, go to work, practice, and then go back to the island. As of now Mako was starting off at the arena, going to work, going back to the arena, going to the island, and then going back to the arena and getting in late. It probably wouldn’t save him a lot of time, but it might alleviate a bit of pressure; or at least Tenzin told himself.
He had brought up the idea over a week ago; as to why Tenzin had yet to invite the boys to live under his roof, well…he had a few things holding him back. He supposed he wanted to wait just a bit longer to see how things would pan out. After this morning’s events he certainly found himself second-guessing the offer. But the other thing that kept him from talking to Mako about the idea was because Tenzin already knew the answer.
That boy would humbly decline and go on about his day.
Tenzin wouldn’t question it either. Whatever Mako’s decision was, he would accept it. Maybe some people couldn’t understand Mako’s way of thinking, but Tenzin understood it all too well.
There was a saying Tenzin had heard growing up: “A man’s conviction was to be respected, a man’s pride was to be revered, and a man’s love was to be admired.” And as he went through life he found it to be true. He knew better than to question a man’s convictions, and he knew that everything Mako was doing was for his own personal dogma. As much as it would pain him to watch such as young man wear himself down to his bones and threads trying to keep his world together, he would let it be.
He glanced at the clock again; eight o’clock. It was completely dark outside his office, aside from the few lamps that lighted the stone path. Tenzin saw something moving out of the corner of his eye, and turned around just in time to see Mako trudging along towards the entry of the main building. His gate was slow and he was a bit slouched; exhaustion radiated off of the firebender and could be felt all the way from Tenzin’s office. He held a bag in his gloved hand, while the other one was stuffed in his jacket pocket.
Tenzin sighed heavily. His conscience was tugging at his ear and whispering to him about all of the things he was brought up to believe, and it reminded him that Tenzin was a kind person who couldn’t leave anyone in a bind.
Running his hand over his face, Tenzin pushed himself out of his chair and made his way to his office door. He might not know how to feel about Mako’s role in Korra’s life right now, but he supposed he would have to push his conflicting feelings aside—for everyone’s benefit.
Sure enough, when Tenzin spoke with Mako in the hall just minutes later, he got the answer he had anticipated. He had stopped Mako on his way to see Korra—just down the hall from her room. They exchanged brief small talk;
“How are you doing?”
“Fine, sir. And you?”
“I’m doing well—how was work?”
“Alright; just long.”
“I take it you’re on your way to see Korra?”
And that’s when he eased the conversation into the topic pertaining to Mako and Bolin’s current living arrangements. He brought up all of the concerns he had about Mako’s daily schedule and how stressful it must be for him, but he kept it short and decided it was best not to go into too much detail. Mako was a smart boy from what Tenzin had gathered. He was sure to pick up on all the underlying implications. And he knew that this was a straight up formal conversation—men’s talk, if it were to be called that. This wasn’t a conversation where the people involved revealed all their cards; emotion filled spades and begging diamonds. Mako wasn’t one to pour out his heart to just anyone, and Tenzin supposed he wasn’t really one to talk. But the airbender knew well enough to keep the request and the facts behind it simple.
So he asked.
And Mako declined.
Short, sweet, and just as predicted.
Mako thanked him for the offer, but respectfully told him that he was fine and could manage. He didn’t go into detail about how he could manage, but Tenzin assumed that he meant he would just work harder to make everything play out as smoothly as possible.
Tenzin asked if he was sure, just to give Mako another chance.
Again, Mako declined by nodding his head and giving a simple “yeah” in response.
Before taking his leave, Tenzin made sure Mako knew that their doors were always open for him and his brother. Mako nodded with a small courteous smile, and thanked him.
They parted ways: Tenzin back to his paperwork, and Mako to Korra. Mako played the proposition off and kept it to himself, and Tenzin sighed when he got back to his office and beheld his majestic mountain of paperwork.
Well, at least he tried to talk to Mako. He didn’t have time to worry about the young man now; Mako’s answer had been enough to get at least some of his festering concern off his back. For the time being, the airbending master would dismiss the troubling affair. He had paperwork up to his eyeballs, and if he wanted to get to bed at a decent hour, then he had better start working.
She was pouting; no, pouting was too light of a word. Sulking was a much better description of Korra’s state of mind. Tenzin had informed after her training today that she would no longer be permitted to train physically. She knew that the restriction would be upon her eventually, but she hadn’t expected it to be so soon. She thought that she might be able to clear another month easy before having to sit around all day. But Tenzin reminded her that just because her body could still move vigorously, didn’t mean that she should. No, from now on she was going to be meditating, reading, and listening to Tenzin lecture her on airbending history and practices whenever he saw fit. The idea of doing any of those things left a bad taste in her mouth, and made her trudge to her room once dinner was over. Her mood only dropped more when she lay down on her bed only to find that lying on her stomach was no longer comfortable.
It was a little after nine when she heard a knock at her door. She already knew it was Mako, and numbly granted him permission to enter.
“Wow, what’s wrong with you?” Mako asked as he slid open Korra’s bedroom door. “You haven’t looked this down since Naga ate that batch of Water Tribe pastries your mom sent you.” He stepped inside and shut the door behind him.
“Ha-ha,” Korra bit wryly. “No, Tenzin just cut me off my training regiment.” She figured she should at least sit up to greet Mako; it wasn’t like it was his fault she was in such a bad mood. She propped herself up on her elbow before correcting herself, “Well, at least the physical part, anyway.” She completely sat up, crossing her legs and slouching forward with her elbows on her knees.
“Well, he told you that would happen, right?” Mako reminded. He stopped in the middle of her room, hoping to make some headway with this conversation before the contents of the bag went cold.
“Yeah,” she mumbled. “I guess I just wasn’t expecting it to be today though.”
“I guess a heads up would have been nice,” Mako said.
“Yeah,” Korra scoffed. “Just a little.” She was about to go on, but she noticed the plastic bag in Mako’s hand, “What’s in the bag?” She pointed and gave him a curious stare.
“Something I think that might help cheer you up,” Mako smiled. He sat across from Korra on her bed and handed her the bag. She took it from him, still looking between him and the bag, wondering what it could possibly be. When she started digging around inside, the smell of food assaulted her and the boxes inside appeared to be take out. She suddenly had a very good feeling about just what was in the take out boxes.
Once she had opened one of the boxes, the sadness that had been present on her face melted off in an instant, and it was replaced with a smile filled with excitement and eyes star-struck with gratitude. “You’re my favorite person in the world, you know that?”
“Well I mean, I know I’m great, but it’s always nice to be reminded.”
“Shut up,” Korra chuckled before lightly punching Mako in the shoulder. “But seriously, thank you.”
“Not a problem,” he smiled as Korra began to fish through the bag. “I know you’ve been talking about how much you’ve wanted meat lately, so I figured I’d stop by Narook’s and take advantage of the Water Tribe food there; that and I hadn’t eaten yet.” Mako couldn’t even begin to count how many times he had heard Korra mention how badly she wanted meat. It was a simple craving, but being on an island of vegetarians made finding such a delicacy difficult, and since Korra was on lock down, she couldn’t just go out to the city to get some. So in an effort to put a smile on her face, and maybe stop her complaining, Mako decided to oblige her food cravings. He supposed he should be grateful; at least Korra wasn’t craving anything ridiculous.
“How much do I owe you?” Korra asked as she took a take out box out of the bag.
“Nothing.” Mako shrugged as he reached into the bag and took out an identical box. “It’s on me.”
“Are you sure?” she asked. “I’m sure Tenzin wouldn’t mind reimbursing you—Spirits know he’s probably sick of me complaining about craving it.”
Mako couldn’t help but chuckle slightly; poor Tenzin had probably sighed more in the last week than he had in a long time. He’d have to save his breath, though-- there was still so much more to come. “It’s fine.” He immediately directed the conversation to a different topic—he didn’t need Korra trying to chide him spending money needlessly on her. “So what kind of training are you going to be doing now?”
Korra took a deep breath; of course Mako would dodge the topic of finances and work. She let it out in a noisy sigh, popping open the carryout box as she did so. “I’ll still get to do some light exercise, but other than that it’s meditation and lectures from the master.” The smoky smell of the meat shoved neatly off to the side of the box filled her nose and dimmed her snide attitude. She could swear the aroma was almost relaxing.
“Probably for the best,” Mako commented nonchalantly as he took a dumpling out of his box. “Maybe meditating more and reading will help you unlock your airbending.”
“Maybe.” Korra’s eyes shown with uncertainty and skepticism as she shrugged and averted her gaze.
“Well you’ll never know if you don’t try.” Mako offered her a smile. “Maybe spending more time doing those things will give you the boost you need.”
“Can we talk about something other than my airbending training?” Korra’s eyes pierced Mako like a spear. She didn’t like being reminded that she was practically an airbending failure. She’d been with the air nomads for over a year now and she had barely made any progress.
“Okay,” Mako started slowly. He wasn’t sure he should even tread into the next territory, but he felt like he should ask. He supposed they needed to start talking about it more and he didn’t want to seem like he didn’t care by not asking. “How’s the baby doing?”
“Ugh.” Korra visibly slouched as a heavy sigh escaped her gaping mouth. “Fine, I guess.” Her tone was borderline sardonic; the baby wasn’t exactly what she had in mind when she asked for a subject change. She still wasn’t comfortable talking about it. Granted, she was coming to terms with everything with each passing day, and she did care about it—she even found herself talking to it sometimes whenever things were quiet and she was by herself. She supposed she just wasn’t ready to openly talk about it with others yet. She hated the attention she got; how everyone’s eyes immediately zoned in on her stomach and how she felt like her identity was slowly being taken over by the child in her womb. “Still pregnant and still getting bigger.” Her eyes scanned the ceiling as she pondered whether or not her next words were too much information. “My boobs still hurt and my body is still changing at an unsettling rate.”
Mako’s eyes temporarily traveled with Korra’s at the mention of her chest. He wasn’t dumb—he had noticed that they had gotten bigger. He couldn’t help but restrain a chortle though at the memory of Bolin greeting her with a bear hug last week and Korra yowling in pain. Bolin immediately put her down, apologizing and asking what was wrong. Korra had been leaning over a tad with her arms wrapped around her chest. “My chest hurts,” she had said.
Of course, Bolin assumed that she meant ‘my heart/lungs/what-have-you’ hurt’. She then corrected him with an awkward gaze and a flatly stated, “My chest hurts.”
It took the earthbender about three seconds before he finally caught on to what Korra was insinuating. “Oh…oh gosh, I am so sorry!” Bolin’s face flushed red, and Mako decided it was time to take his leave, before Bolin embarrassed them any further.
“I guess that means everything’s going well,” Mako agreed casually, taking his eyes off of the ceiling to meet her blue eyes simultaneously. It was enough to make his heart skip a beat and bring a crooked smile to his tired face.
“Guess so.” Her smile mimicked his, and unknowingly, her heart mimicked his as well. “But enough about my weird bodily changes.” Korra offered Mako a smile. “How was your day?”
“It was alright. Work was long, but at least I’m off the day after tomorrow.” He took a moment to take a bite of his food. He hadn’t realized just how hungry he had been. Fatigue had numbed his stomach and before he knew it the day was nearly gone and he had hardly eaten at all.
“That’s good—you’ve been working too hard lately.”
“Nah, it’s fine.” Mako had to be quick on his feet when it came to talking to Korra about work. He knew just where the conversation could go if he wasn’t. “And probending practice went well.”
“How’s the new waterbender doing?” She had to say, she was a little bit jealous of the new recruit. Korra was the Fire Ferrets waterbender, and she couldn’t help but feel a little protective of her now-former title.
“He’s doing good. He’s still a little rough, but he’s coming around,” Mako replied as he scoped out his food to see which article would be his next target.
“Is he going to be ready in time for the match this weekend?”
“I think so.” He picked out his next article of food. “I think he’s just more nervous about facing the Rabaroo’s earthbender,” he chuckled.
Korra smiled. “Well, we’ll be listening on the radio and rooting for you.” Her heart skipped a beat, but it still made her smile lift a bit more, perhaps in nervousness. She hadn’t exactly meant to include their child in the statement, but she had added it to one of their pastimes. Maybe it couldn’t understand, let alone hear yet, but she liked to think the baby enjoyed listening to the probending matches on the radio as much as she did.
Mako chuckled, and her plural seemed to go unnoticed. “Thanks.”
They ate, but hardly stopped talking. Bits of small talk, idle jokes, and recollections littered between bites and swallows. Glances, smiles, and secret heart palpitations brought forth laughter and subtle blushes.
And for a while, Korra forgot about what had been upsetting her before. This was always her favorite part of the day—sitting and talking with Mako, and just being. Mako wouldn’t say it out loud, at least not to Korra at the given moment, but these visits were his favorite part of the day, too.
The next morning Korra was getting ready to start her first day of lightweight training and heavy meditation. She wasn’t really looking forward to it, yet she found that she was coming to accept it with more vigor than she had the day before. Maybe Mako was right—maybe she just needed to spend more time meditating and reading to connect with her airbending. Tenzin had been telling her the same thing for nearly two years, but it was only now that her body was gradually being rendered enabled that she was beginning to consider that he might be right. Korra figured that she should at least try to make the best of her new training regiment, anyway; no use in pouting over it, or else she wouldn’t make it anywhere with Tenzin, let alone airbending.
A soft knock reverberated through Korra’s door and into her room. She hurriedly slipped her shirt on over her head before calling out for her visitor to come in. When she saw Tenzin step through the threshold, she assumed that he was coming in to either chide her to hurry up or to inform her of a change of plans. However, once she saw the envelope in his hand her blood ran cold from the anxiety that blossomed in her veins.
When he told her that the letter was from her parents her stomach plummeted and her heart raced, pumping the anxiety faster through her.
“It came in the mail yesterday, but I hadn’t had time to go through the mail until late last night,” he mentioned as she handed it to her.
Korra looked at the envelope with apprehension before gingerly taking it from her teacher. She slowly pulled it out of his hands, swearing that it would have fallen apart had she not handled it gently. She stared at the mail numbly and she bit the inside of her lip and rolled it between her teeth.
“I’m sure everything is going to be fine,” Tenzin reassured her.
“Yeah,” she agreed verbally, but her eyes betrayed her as she looked at her teacher.
“Would you like for me to stay?”
“Alright.” Tenzin turned to leave. He gave her one last look over her shoulder before departing. “Let me know if you need anything.”
She nodded numbly, knowing that he meant if she needed a shoulder to cry on, then he was there. She appreciated the support, but right now she didn’t want anyone. The last thing Korra needed was for someone to see her falling apart while she read her parents’ response. She had been worrying about their reply nonstop since she and Asami had sent off the letter a week and a half ago; she had been counting the days and imagining which day her parents had probably got the news.
Still, this was it. This letter could easily confirm her fears or put them to rest. But at least the waiting would be over; she would have an answer. Whatever the outcome of the letter, she could take it and move on—even if moving on entailed her to cry and pick up the pieces of her broken heart in shame.
Korra slipped her finger under the secured flap of the envelope and began tearing it open. The sight of the paper inside made her heart jump and the palms of her hands tingle.
She handled the letter itself with such care, as if it were going to break, but she knew that she only used gentle motions because she knew that the letter could break her.
She unfolded it and her eyes immediately jumped to the top:
We’re not really sure where to begin or what to say—it actually took us a few days to come to accept this news and to come up with a decent letter to send you. Even now, we’re still very concerned and shocked.
Korra breathed nervously through her nose, but her mind took relief when she noticed that this was her mother’s handwriting. It made the Avatar feel much better knowing that her mother was writing the response; while both of her parents were sound and reasonable people, her mother was always much more so than her father.
We definitely weren’t expecting a letter from our daughter telling us that she’s pregnant. It’s not something we were expecting to hear—not until you were married at least.
But your father and I let it sink in for a few days before writing to you, and we’re both glad that you tried to tell us everything you could through your letter. Though we still have a few questions,
Is it really safe for you and the baby in the city? What kind of person is Mako? Is he really willing to stay and be a father? How are you going to train if you’re pregnant? How does Tenzin feel about this? How do you feel about this?
We’re sure you know that there’s a lot that goes into taking care of a baby—but we’re just concerned about whether you really know what you’re in for.
But we know you, and we agree that coming home would be the wrong choice for you. And we understand wanting to keep Mako involved, even if we don’t know him very well. We’re just going to have to trust your judgment until we get to meet him ourselves. But we hope, despite how much of a jerk you’ve told us he is, that he still treats you right and is willing to take on this responsibility with you.
You’re right, though—you can only disappoint people if you’re disappointed in yourself. You have to do what’s right for you, and it makes us very proud that you’ve come to that decision.
We just want you to know that, no matter what happens, we love you and we support you in everything you do. While we certainly weren’t expecting to be grandparents anytime soon, we’re still here for you. Never think we’ll stop loving you because you hit a bump in the road.
We promise that you’re still our little girl; we’ll always be proud of you. Have confidence in yourself; we believe you can do anything you put your mind to. It’s only a wrong turn if you think of it that way.
We want to come visit you some time—to get more questions answered and to help you in any way we can. We’ll talk to Tenzin and Pema to arrange a time to come up, but until then, letters are going to have to do.
We love you so much and can’t wait to hear from you and see you,
Mom and Dad
Korra had been biting the inside of her bottom lip through the entire letter, and her breathing had been a bit uneven as well. But once she reached the end of the letter, all signs of nervousness dissipated, and made way for the relief that was swelling in her chest. She wiped her eyes, too happy to realize that a thin layer of tears has coated them. She smiled, and even let out a chuckle.
They still loved her; she was still their daughter, and they wanted to make sure that she knew that through their letter. They didn’t seem too disappointed, which she hadn’t expected, and they were obviously concerned. But what had her on the brink of tears and on the verge of hysterical laughter was the support that had been conveyed through her mother’s handwriting. She could practically hear her voice—every nuance and emotion. It almost made her feel silly for worrying so much.
She wished her parents were there right now; to hug them and thank them, and to laugh and cry in their arms. She couldn’t remember the last time she had felt so grateful and so relieved. They supported her and had faith in her, loved her and were proud. All of Korra’s worries, while justifiable, were now null and void.
She continued wiping her eyes as her smile trembled. When she caught a moment in between each film of tears, she took a deep breath and looked around her.
Everything felt new; her room was bathed in the bright morning light of the sun, and a few dust particles danced as they ascended upward out her window. For the first time in months, she felt light as a feather and as strong as an ox mole—like she could take on the world.
Korra set the letter, barely folded, on her desk, and continued getting dressed.
She would write them a response later in the day.
She had meditating with Tenzin to get to.