|The Noble Path
Author: Dorkness Rising PM
Spoilers for "The Aftermath." Korra runs into an old acquaintance outside a bar, and learns a painful lesson about the need to connect emotionally with others. Especially those who make it hard to like them. Previously "completed", now being expanded.Rated: Fiction T - English - Angst/Drama - Korra & Tahno - Chapters: 3 - Words: 4,102 - Reviews: 11 - Favs: 20 - Follows: 24 - Updated: 06-02-12 - Published: 05-18-12 - id: 8127162
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Disclaimer: I own not, you sue not.
Burn It Down
Tahno was still sleeping by the time the evening meal had ended, and Korra thought to bring him his share as the sun was starting to set. It wasn't very much - a few vegetable dumplings, some tsampa, a piece of dragonfruit, and some tea - but it was something at least. She set the tray down on the nighttable, sitting on the bed and gently shaking him awake.
His eyes fluttered a moment, and she lifted a few locks of damp hair from his face, letting him come around easy. "Hey, there. How you feeling?"
He groaned. "Like your polar bear just sat on me."
She couldn't help the slight smile. "Yeah well, I brought you some dinner, since you slept through it."
He carefully pushed himself to sit up, the blanket falling and baring him to the waist. He turned to her with an arched brow. "Why'd you let me?"
"You were exhausted," she said, letting a frown crease her brow. "And it's the only time I've seen you look...peaceful. Since...since..." As much as she tried to force the words out, she couldn't. He sighed, looking at the covers for a moment before reaching a hand over to cover hers on the mattress.
"...You don't have to say it, you know."
She bit her lip and nodded, able to translate that well enough. Remembering the food, she took one of the dumplings and pressed it into his hand. "Yeah. How abouit I shut up and let you eat."
He seemed fine with that, biting into it more carefully than she'd ever seen him do before. She knew he wasn't hungry. Or at least that he didn't care enough to do anything about it, but he'd humor her if she brought him food. Whether it was out of genuinely not wanting to upset her or just not having the energy to argue, she wasn't sure.
He ate in awkward silence while she went about straightening up the small room. He was looking better physically at least. Less like a sack of liquor and bones than he'd been when she'd found him outside the bar and beaten like a side of tenderized beef. He was still bruised pretty good, the discolored patches on his ribs, shoulder, and arms looking especially painful since he was rather pale for a Waterbender.
She finally decided to break the tension, clearing her throat a moment. "So...uh...ribs healing okay?"
He shrugged, now working on the tea. "Much as they can, I guess."
She came back over to his bed with a sigh, sitting down again. "You know...if you want to talk to me, you can."
He took another sip, closing his eyes a moment. "Why did you bring me here? What's the point of all this?"
"To keep you safe," she said. "If you're going to ask me again why I care about that, I...still don't really have an answer. Other than I just do."
"Is it for my sake, though? Or for yours?"
"What do you mean?"
This time, he looked up at her. One of the few times since the incident that he'd ever met her eyes. "Are you doing this because you care how I feel? Or because you don't want to feel bad if anything happened to me?"
She felt as if he'd asked her what color her eyes were. "Of course I'm doing it for you! I-"
"Then tell me," he cut her off, "one good reason why I should bother. Tell me, Avatar. Just what the hell's in it for me."
She stared as he went back to his tea. Not wanting to admit it wasn't something she'd thought of before now. Life and caring about it just came naturally to her. For that moment, she tried to put herself in the position of someone who didn't care, and found the very thought of it like a vice on her chest.
"I'm waiting," he said.
She swallowed hard. "Having people around who care what happens to you. Knowing your life matters to someone, whether you can bend or not."
He winced, pausing only a moment before draining the rest of the tea in his cup in one gulp and turning away from her. She rested a hand on his shoulder, mindful of the still healing bruises. "Tahno?"
He only shook his head in response, though she felt the muscle under her hand tense in a telling way.
"You...aren't used to that, are you? Being cared about. Maybe even liked."
"The world doesn't work that way," he spat with a shudder. "People don't just like you for the hell of it. They like you when they want something. And when you can't give them that something anymore, they stop caring. That's just the way it is."
"So...what do you think I want from you?"
"I don't know."
"Of course you don't," she said. "Because I don't want anything." Her fingers ran through his hair again, gently, from root to tips as she turned his head so he faced her again. "Except for you to stop shutting me out."
He seemed to lean into that touch in spite of himself, and she smiled a bit. "I'll make it okay, I promise. Somehow." Her hand coasted over his forehead as she brushed the dark strands from his eyes.
He tensed for only a moment, eyes widening before he raised his hands to her shoulders with a surprisingly hard shove.
She startled back, leaving him shaking and sitting bolt upright, hands still held defensively in front of him. "Tahno?"
He scrambled out of bed as she aspproached him again, not seeming to care about being naked as he backed up against the far wall. "No," he choked out. "No, please... Don't..."
"Tahno, it's okay," she said, reaching for his hands. "It's all right, I'm not gonna hurt you."
He only stared straight ahead, as if he no longer recognized her, sliding down against the wall and covering his head as he trembled. "Don't... Please, I'll do anything..."
Carefully, she managed to take his trembling hands in her own. The way he shook made her feel queasy, but she fought the sensation admirably. "Tahno... Tahno, it's okay. You're safe. No one's going to hurt you again. Not on my watch. That, I can promise you."
He was still shaking, but a little less as she kept holding his hands, rubbing them with hers. After what felt like hours but she was sure couldn't be more than a few minutes, the first signs of lucidity slowly spread over his face.
"Yeah." She squeezed his hands. "I'm sorry."
He sucked in a few deep breaths, before choking on one and slapping a hand over his mouth when his body buckled in response. Her own stomach did an uncomfortable flip as she grabbed the basin she'd been putting water in to bathe him while he was unconscious and put it on the floor in front of him while his body heaved uncontrollably. She held his hair back, but dared not look down. Not even as she look the basin and emptied it outside, coming back in to find him still curled up against the wall and breathing hard, with a sickly cast even to his normal pallor.
She approached as if he were a particularly skittish squirrelcat, reaching out her hands slowly until her fingers twined and wrapped around his. They felt as if he'd dipped his hands in icewater. "C'mon, it's ok. Let's get you back to bed for a little bit."
He complied all too eagerly it seemed, gripping her hands tight as though they were a lifeline. She lay atop the covers while she pulled them over him, smoothing the blanket over him and biting her lip. "Again...I'm sorry."
He shook his head. "N-Not you. That was just...the place he touched me when he..." Like it had happened to her before, the words just wouldn't come. She nodded, patting his shoulder in a manner that wasn't supposed to be affectionate but felt like it anyway.
"You don't have to say it, you know."
He smiled, but it was weak and bitter like the worst pot of tea ever brewed. "Yeah. I know." A frown replaced it. "I'm going to feel dumb anyway so there's no point in hiding it, but can I ask you something?"
"Sure," she said. "Ask me whatever you want."
"Can you...stay with me tonight?"
She arched a brow.
"I...I don't want to be alone."
An uneasy knot formed in her gut. It was the way he said it. The look in his eyes when he did. He was afraid to be left alone, and likely for the same reasons she was afraid to leave him. She didn't hesitate a moment before nodding.
"Yeah. I got nowhere else to be."
While he didn't smile, the relief on his face was palpable. "...I know it sounds pathetic and stupid, but-"
"It isn't," she cut him off. "If it makes the sun rise for you in the morning, it's not pathetic."
He seemed to mull that over for a moment, before relaxing under the covers. "Then...thanks."
She smiled. "Anytime, Pretty Boy. Anytime."