Motherhood, Part II
Bolin and Mako are still fighting when they go into their next match. It’s not often that Korra gets to play peacemaker, and she’s more excited than worried about the whole debacle- gives her a chance to practice at keeping the peace as the Avatar- and it makes both of them pretty mad.
So by the time they go up against the Komodo Rhinos, none of them are on speaking terms- and they’re all pretty proud people, all three. Korra and Bolin dress in a separate room from Mako, and while the two of them have been arguing, the brunt of their malice is devoted to Mako.
Korra hunkers down in her spot in the arena, hands up. She refuses to look at him, staring down the Komodo Rhino’s earthbender, instead. He’s a big guy- tall and brawny. Mako’s brother is an alright bender, but he’s no match for this guy. Their waterbender is small and slight and faster than Korra and their firebender is someone Mako’s heard talking on the radio before. They look tough.
The gong rings, and Bolin moves to kick a disc at the waterbender’s belly, but before he can, he’s tripped up with a bit of tricky earthbending. He’s lying on the ground, stunned, and Korra moves to protect him (something which she would never do for Mako, he thinks bitterly) and ends up getting thrown into zone two by a blast of fire as a result.
Mako shifts down in his stance and makes to move, but the waterbender catches him and, with a nasty grin on his slim, dirty face, pins him to the side with a water whip. He keeps waterbending him, which is, technically, illegal, and Mako’s starting to worry because this doesn’t seem safe and nobody is ringing the bell when the earthbender of the team bends the earth under Mako and flings him sprawling back with immense force.
He barely has a moment to scrabble at nothing and register the fact that there is no way he’s going to make the pool of water- he’s just going too goddamn fast and far- before his body collides with the cement side of the arena and everything goes dark.
Things fade in and out of his vision for a long time. Little flickers dance constantly in front of his eyelids, warm and fleeting, like fires, fathers. The whiteness of Asami’s teeth and the gold of her eyes, nothing but colors, but he knows their designation. The curl of Korra’s muscle, determined, bullheaded, noble. And Bolin, a hundred thousand pictures of Bolin, laughing, crying, playing, nothing but a kid, watch this Mako, I can bend, I can be like you
But there are other things, other people, little glimpses. The greenery of a park they’ve slept in. Light passing over the arena, golds and golds. Toza, caught in the rare moment of happiness, of pride, smiling down at a younger— Pema. His mother. To be fair, there’s no telling the difference anymore.
The pain in Mako’s chest appears before the light does, and he winces at both. He opens his eyes to see Pema placing a wet cloth on his forehead, brow creased in concern. “What happened?” The creakiness of his own voice alarms him.
Pema shakes her head. “Hold still, alright? It was equalists. They’d infiltrated the team and- spirits, Korra didn’t know anything- they barely managed to fight them off. Thank god for Lin and the metal benders. You hit the wall pretty hard.”
“How long?” Mako croaks out, feeling like an old man.
“Hold still,” Pema says sternly. “A few days. Your brother’s been hysterical, and Korra hasn’t been much better. Your bending should be fine. There’s no reason you can’t compete as soon as you’re well again. The whole tournament’s been suspended anyways. They’re running background checks into every team, and you won your match by default.”
Mako shuts his eyes. Bolin. He hadn’t even thought about it, but- his mother had died like this, wasting away in bed day after day, despite their best attempts. It must’ve made it worse- the fact that they weren’t even on speaking terms-
“Mind telling me exactly why Bolin is so upset?” Pema asks. There’s no challenge in her voice, just gentleness. She leans over with a wince and sits on Mako’s bed gingerly as possible.
His entire body is just a line of pain, nothing more than a weight, and every movement a crack. Mako is a rock, and he relays his story to Pema.
After his mother dies, Pema takes his hand, and Mako doesn’t let himself think about it, just keeps barreling on through these stories he’s never told anyone, memories of his mother that even Bolin’s never heard- how Mako cried every night for years over her, stifling the noise from his brother, how he wants to hate his father, but can’t really stand to, and how much it hurts, every single part of him, physical and emotional- how he’s afraid, he’s so scared, that his brother won’t love him anymore after the things he’s said, because when all is said and done, Bolin is probably the only person on the entire planet capable of loving a fuck-up like him-
The next few days are Mako’s gradual return to humanity. He manages to eat in between the stories to Pema. They’re not all depressing- there’s the story about sleeping in a bush and being given a bowl of noodle by a cop, and the story of how they find Pabu, which is pretty funny, and the story about the day Bolin discovered his earthbending, which Pema cries at, although she blames it on her hormones.
Eventually, Mako has enough strength to get out of bed, with Pema’s help. His chest is bandaged- head, too- and one of his arms is broken. That’s where he took the brunt of the attack. She puts a hand to his back and helps him rise to his feet, which isn’t an easy task, considering they’re a pregnant woman and a (however temporary) cripple.
“You’re worrying,” Pema says, straightening his shirt. “Don’t.”
“How can I not?” Mako replies, a bit hoarsely. “My brother probably hates me.”
Pema steps forward and brushes his hair out of his face. “Look at me.” When he doesn’t respond, she tips his chin up. “Hey. Look at me. Nobody hates you, Mako. Your brother loves you very much. You’ve protected him for so long. You don’t have to be alone anymore.”
Tears are pricking his eyes, and Mako’s face heats in shame. He turns away. “Thanks, Pema.” He says, but in his head, she’s mom.
“Come here,” Pema says kindly, putting a hand on his shoulder. “I think you’re probably healed enough for a hug.” She’s warm and soft and Mako buries his head into her shoulder and breathes in deeply. Pema smells of home.
Pema watches the brother’s reunion from the balcony, a hand on her bulging stomach. Her husband comes up from behind her, and it’s just one absent move to rub the back of his head. “You’re good for those boys,” Tenzin tells her, arms around her.
Those boys, without a home. Without years and years of family like they’ve had- without that privilege. And Pema can’t imagine that- losing the missing teeth, the day trips, every sick day and family dinner and hug and kiss and cry. It makes her upset to even think of it.
“Yeah,” Pema says, swallowing, and turns around to kiss him.
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