Mako watched The Avatar walk away from him and it didn’t sting.
Maybe he had grown up a little. When it came to looking out for Bolin, it was always necessary for Mako to be the adult, but falling in love with Korra years ago pierced the fragile shell of his macho self-image. Mako knew he’d handled things between them badly, but they were in a good place again, as friends and comrades.
What a long, strange journey it has been. From street rat to pro-bender to cop; he’s seen so many incredible events, done so many crazy things, and met so many amazing people. Watching his little bro dance with Opal Beifong, surrounded by cherished loved ones, gave Mako a feeling of wholeness that he hadn’t experienced since the two brothers lost their parents.
It was almost enough to make him forget the damnable itching under these bandages. Almost.
Mako ambled around the perimeter of the pavilion, enjoying the festive atmosphere. No one was taking notice of him and that was also strangely good. He’d been at the center of the action for a while now. A little less excitement was in order.
Moving without aim, Mako eventually happened upon Lin Beifong. Holding a half-full champagne flute, she too was inhabiting the periphery while others celebrated. This was not unforeseen, as the Chief of Republic City’s Police Department and Metalbender Corps could be described in many ways, but ‘personable’ was not among them.
Even so, Mako was pretty sure he saw the faintest tiny smile on her austere face.
Like himself, Lin didn’t have any particular desire to socialize. Given her relative proximity to the open bar, as well as the variety of escape routes that Mako was able to case – instincts honed more by years on the streets than on the force – he could tell the Chief was planning to slip away unobserved, sooner rather than later.
“So … that was a nice ceremony, huh?” When there was no reply, Mako changed tack. “And you’re looking pretty sharp, Chief. That suit really brings out your eyes.”
Lin drained the last of the bubbly beverage in her glass, then leveled her trademark ‘I don’t have time for this’ look at her subordinate.
“Small talk isn’t your strong suit, lover boy. I can see why you’ve been dumped by two of the prettiest women at this party. Now the question is, why exactly are you trying to butter me up? Because if you’re looking for a third conquest, I’m going to need a lot more to drink.”
The Chief’s frank takedown would have caused the old Mako to wither and make excuses, but this new and improved Mako was able to take it in stride.
“To business then,” he began crisply. “I have it on good authority that Prince Wu is dropping out of politics for private enterprise. Now that the regional tensions have stabilized, he’s not likely to need a dedicated bodyguard anymore, so I was thinking—”
“I’ll talk to President Raiko about getting you reassigned to your old beat, Patrolman. You’re a war hero by all accounts, so it’d be a waste of your talents to leave you shackled to that tone deaf fop.”
“I’m pleased that you agree, Chief. In regards to my returning to normal duties—”
“Still not making you a detective yet. You’ve proven that you have good instincts and the necessary skills, but seniority counts and I have other officers in line for pinions.”
'Pinions' was a reference to the primary feathers of the noble hawk-moth, a detail unique to the badge of RCPD detectives, which symbolized patience, attentiveness, and swift action. The young firebender was honest enough with himself to acknowledge that he possessed at best two out of those three valued qualities.
This was not the exact outcome Mako had been hoping for, but was better than it could have gone, so in the balance of things, he chalked this up as a win. When one of the waiters dressed as Nuktuk (Hero of the South) glided by with a fresh tray of champagne, Mako smoothly scooped up two glasses with his good hand and presented them to his superior.
“Setting that matter aside; here you go, Chief. In the spirit of the occasion!”
His abrupt cordiality may have startled the older woman, because Lin stiffened like a board. This prompted Mako to question whether he had overstepped the bounds of propriety, but while he stood there reviewing his manners, Chief Beifong’s face softened.
The expression she made then was an enigma. The narrow slant of her eyes over those high cheekbones gave the impression of a predatory feline sizing up its prey. Mako experienced the base instinctual terror of having entered dangerous territory.
Lin’s lips drew a tight line as she swept a few strands of iron grey hair out of her face. Then she accepted a flute from Mako and downed it in one long pull.
Upon swallowing, she said simply, “Cheers.”
Mako took a sip himself and wondered if running away would trigger a pounce, or if he should try to defuse the tension … but he didn’t have to.
“How is your, uh, arm thing, anyway?” Lin asked with uncharacteristic concern. “Is that going to get in the way of doing your job? Because I can’t have one of my best officers making the rounds if he isn’t one hundred percent.”
Although they came out in a clipped tone, her words assuaged Mako’s fears enough that he could relax.
“It’s not as bad as it looks; thanks for asking. The army medic who took care of me said I’ll have permanent scars, but I should regain a full dexterity. All this is just so I don’t overexert myself while it finishes healing.”
Mako raised his left arm out of its sling and wiggled his bandaged fingers, suppressing a wince.
“Itches like you wouldn’t believe, though.”
“Oh. Well. I’m glad. Not about the itching, I mean. Nevermind.”
Chief Beifong turned on her heels and marched over to the bar, her black dress shoes click-clacking on the courtyard flagstones. Mako figured that was the last of the awkwardness he would have to endure for the evening. He was wrong, because the woman returned in short order, a sizable flask of rice wine and two cups in hand.
“Now you’re going to have a real drink with me, Patrolman. In the spirit of the occasion, of course.”
“Thanks, Chief, but I haven’t finished my champagne.”
“Then finish it. And come with me,” she added with the same commanding voice she used for issuing orders. And demanding reports. And most of her interactions with other people, truth be told.
“Oooh~kay. To your health?”
Mako gulped his champagne until it was gone, feeling the bubbles go right to his head. He shook it off and set the glass onto an unoccupied table, hoping the Chief’s choice of refreshment was of the mild variety. He fully expected to be wrong about that as well.
“—and wouldn’t you know it, Hasook whiffs it big time. Right over the Tigerdillos’ captain’s head. Like, even I could waterbender better than that and—and I’m a firebender!” Mako was saying, rather redundantly. He knew it too, but the fine rice wine made him care not so much. “Fucking Hasook! Anyway, we still won, because I’m awesome. I know because Bolin told me so.”
“Right, I was listening to that match.”
“You—what? You actually followed our matches?”
“Not the Fire Ferrets specifically, but I’ve never been much of a music lover, so pro-bending gave me something to listen to during late hours filling out paperwork. You’ll remember I advocated for the championship match to go on, after the Equalists’ threat to attack.”
“Yeah, I do remember! The cops were supposed to provide extra security too. That worked out great, by the way.”
There was a momentarily lull in the conversation when Mako poured himself another cup of wine. It didn’t take long for the tiny dish to fill and it was about then that he realized what had just come out of his mouth. He fumbled and dropped the flask, spilling what little was left in the grass between them.
“Chief, I’m sorry! That wasn’t—I didn’t mean—”
“Open mouth, insert foot.”
Lin tipped her cup and appeared to be savoring the warm wine as it went down, though whether she more enjoyed the beverage or Mako’s embarrassed stammering, he couldn’t say. She let him go on like that for a bit, before waving a dismissive hand.
“Forget it, I admit we were careless,” Lin began. “And I know that was just the wine talking. Or mostly the wine talking. It’s kind of cu—ahem! That is, you’ve been under me—working under me for almost four years now, so I’ve gotten used to it. And I think I’ve had just about enough to drink.”
After ditching the party, Mako and Lin settled at a quiet spot on the cliffs of Air Temple Island that had a pretty good view of the new Spirit Portal in the heart of downtown Republic City.
This was only the second time he’d seen the Chief genuinely relaxed. Buzzed like he was, Mako wasn’t quite so weirded out now. She’d quickly forgiven his gaffe, so that was a definite improvement. He even thought that maybe, just maybe, Lin Beifong knew how to have fun.
Lin leaned against the boulder at their backs and was taking slow, measured breaths. Mako might have thought she was going to doze off, if he hadn’t see the twinkle of one eye peeking at him through a grey fringe.
Both cops were sitting on their jackets. Mako was mildly surprised that Chief Beifong owned any clothes aside from her officer’s uniform and armor, assuming she hadn’t borrowed this outfit from her more stylish sister. The conservative gown hugged Lin’s stout figure. Shoes set aside, her stocking-clad toes curled in the trimmed grass.
Lin had the sort of rugged features which were usually called ‘handsome’ on a woman, but under the starlight and distant golden portal’s glow, Mako decided that she was still quite fetching, objectively speaking. Subjectively speaking, he thought she was probably a babe in her younger days, but Mako didn’t say that out loud either.
“I said forget it, you don’t have to apologize.”
“No, it’s just … I spilled the wine and this is the last cup. Do you, uh, do you want it?”
Mako offered his boss the tiny dish. Lin turned her whole body so that she was leaning towards him. The dark green throat of her gown was ever so slightly transparent, Mako noticed, and he found himself looking down her bodice.
“ … just about enough,” Lin seemed to whisper to herself.
Rather than plucking the cup out of his grip, she wrapped her hand around his and drew everything towards her mouth.
Feeling Lin Beifong’s lips on his fingers as she accepted the drink was like a splash of cold water in the face. She wasn’t breaking eye contact. The now-empty cup fell away, but she didn’t let him go. Flushed from drink, the woman’s face wore that same puzzling expression as before.
Mako noticed a dribble had spilled from the corner of her mouth. Looking back, he wouldn’t be able to explain what impulse drove him to do this: He wiped the wine off the Chief’s chin with his thumb … and then pressed it between her lips.
She immediately bit him.
To be continued…