Author: drinktea PM
Just when one of them begins to build, the other breaks. How Korra and Tahno come together, fall apart, and get under the skin of a tyrannical - and too far-gone - Tarrlok. Post-Episode 8. Tahorra.Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Romance - Korra & Tahno - Words: 9,397 - Reviews: 12 - Favs: 35 - Follows: 3 - Published: 06-07-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8194085
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/n: Hey, I'm ba-ack! And with more Tahorra, except this time I'm bringing Tarrlok along for the ride. This is set post-episode 8, "When Extremes Meet". This started as a much shorter story, but eventually evolved over three days into the giant monster you see now. Basically I wondered "what would happen if Korra did get loose? She'd tell the whole city what Tarrlok did to her", and then I thought that Tarrlok was just a little too villainous to let that happen, and ta-da, this story was born.
Well, I've rambled on long enough. Please enjoy and leave a review!
Korra's screech echoed loudly in the mountainside cavern. "Tarrlok! Let me go!"
Tarrlok sneered at the captive Avatar. The girl was a loose canon he had no hope of controlling. He snaked out his control over her arteries and veins for insurance, then approached her now still form on the truck floor. "Not a chance, Avatar Korra. Do you take me for a fool?" he condescended. His hands closed around her arms and he placed his nose inches from hers. He felt the heady, absolute power in this contact, his bloodbending permeating the tiniest capillaries in her body. He could damage her irreversibly if he wanted to. All it took was a little less blood flow here, a little more there...
The spike in his hold had rendered her literally speechless. He relaxed the bending through her throat.
She spit in his eye. "You're despicable," she rasped.
He roared back, rubbing the saliva away. Then, with shaking hands, he restricted the flow to her throat again. "You'll regret that dearly," he promised. And with a mere twist of his wrist, he momentarily cut off the circulation to her brain, and she was out.
Rain. It was impossible not to hear, drumming on the windows, swishing through the drains and dripping through his ceiling. The drops filed through the crack neatly - plip plip plip - into his one metal bucket. He would have called the building super, but he felt too tired for that today. Some days post-loss were more bearable than others, and this was not one of them. The rain really didn't make it any easier.
Tahno went to grip his mug of cold tea and brought it to his cracked lips. It was strong and it was only dehydrating him, but he figured this was okay. It was some kind of equilibrium even - wet outside and dry inside.
He'd nearly drifted off again when one of the neighbour's dogs started barking. The building next door allowed pets, and this was perhaps the only downside of his spacious, central penthouse apartment. Well, that and the one mysterious leak in his ceiling.
"Shut up," he mumbled to the dogcat/ dogcoon/ frog-a-dog. His suspicion was dogcoon, since the barking was deep in register.
But the dogcoon wouldn't stop barking. And it sounded a lot louder than usual, as if fewer walls were between them.
He sat up, got up and traversed the floor over to the slit in his curtains. Hating something was easier when you had a visual.
And indeed, barking on the street outside his building was a dog. But this wasn't just any dog. This was a polar bear dog, and it undoubtedly belonged to the Avatar. Waiting for her owner? In any case, the Avatar needed to learn how to train her pet properly.
With his appearance in the window, the polar bear dog - Naga, was it? - began to bark louder, and in double time. When he drew the curtains closed and hunted through his drawers for earplugs, Naga got even louder.
He grew more and more annoyed. And when Naga began to bark about five times a second, he'd had enough and descended the stairs, determined to find the infernal polar bear dog's owner, or at the very least, muzzle the annoying animal.
It really spoke for his state of mind that he hadn't bothered to bring an umbrella down with him. He was soaking almost instantly, his gone-two-days-without-washing hair sticking to his forehead.
Naga stopped barking and bounded up to him fast. She gave him what appeared to be a cursory sniff, then turned to present him with her flank. Here,she seemed to be saying.
He stared at her with the most confusion he'd registered since that fateful night. What was this dog doing? And wouldn't she move so that he could find Korra? He refused to talk to this animal like it could understand him, and made to skirt around her mammoth body.
But she blocked him. There was one forceful bark and a waggle of her ribcage. Then, so gracefully he knew it had to have been taught, Naga sidestepped up to him, bonking him in the chin with her saddle.
He growled and rubbed at the offended portion of his face. What did this dog want? Well, at least it had stopped barking. Let Korra handle this silly animal, whenever she came back. He turned to go back inside to make a fresh pot of tea-
And she began barking again. He whirled in place, ready to lose it because of an animal of all things, but then he was being lifted up in the air by his collar, and by a pair of very strong jaws. Was that slobber dripping down the back of his neck? It was uncomfortably warm, so the answer was probably yes.
"Let go, beast," he growled.
A snarl ripped through the back of her throat, and he found himself more scared than he'd like to admit. But then she was lowering him back down gently (his ankles weren't even jarred) and once he'd directed his gaze upward, found himself facing her saddle again.
It took a moment to process. The barking outside his apartment, the invigorated barking upon seeing him, the sniffing, the stopping, the blocking... the polar bear dog was here for him. Overcome with this realization, he looked her full in the face and asked, almost softly, "What's going on?"
The whine she let out had his eyes darting all over.
"The Avatar? Is it Korra?" he guessed, feeling certain of the answer already.
The longer whine was confirmation enough.
He huffed a small sigh and looked unseeingly at Naga's collar, inlaid with decorative stones. What the Avatar did wasn't his business, and it hadn't been since he'd lost his abilities. Whatever was going on, she had plenty of other people in her life to contact. He could easily lead this polar bear dog to Air Temple Island.
But then what would he do for the rest of the day? Lie in his unmade bed, listen to the plink of rainwater, brew tea and then forget about it until it went cold? Call Ming and Shaozu for another depressing reunion of the ex-Wolfbats, search up more healers in the phone book that couldn't cure him?
He looked up at the polar bear dog with reluctance. Then he rounded her and put a foot in a stirrup. He landed in the saddle with a squelch. "Take me to her."
Where... was she? Why were her hands bound? What- what was going on?
Korra rolled from her side - which had gone numb - onto her stomach so that she wouldn't crush her hands. She didn't know why, but something told her that her hands were a little more important than average.
Wherever she was, it was dark and stank of iron. She tapped the floor experimentally with her foot - metal. She squirmed her way over to the closest wall. It was smooth, and upon another tap, she found that it was metal as well.
She blinked, eyes adjusting to the dark. Her eyelids fluttered, her brain straining to remember...
She was the Avatar, right?
Tarrlok flexed each muscle in both of his arms as he drove back into the city, cargoless. He hadn't bloodbent in a long time, except to practise on rats or gophers, and he'd forgotten how draining it was, never mind against a girl as willful as Korra. He'd left her in the mountains trapped inside a steel box, shutting in with her a meager helping of gruel and one peach-apple. She was no good to him dead, after all.
Once he returned, he would immediately set to work on framing the Equalists. The task force had troves of confiscated equipment, and it was all at his disposal.
He stretched his fingers, then closed them around the steering wheel again. He could still feel the thrill in having complete control over her, the primary object of his frustration. Absolutely everything in her body had been under his power, as there was nowhere blood did not reach. To reach inside someone and tamper with them was absolutely wrong, but he had gotten past that moral stumbling block long ago. And once that had been achieved, nothing was off-limits.
All it took was a twitch of his finger, and he'd cut part of the supply to her hippocampus, the very place memory solidified (he hadn't gone to university for nothing). The decision to tamper with her memories was a stroke of genius. The less she remembered about their fight, the better. He was free to bring her back as her saviour even, and she would be none the wiser. It was the first time he'd done it, so results weren't guaranteed, but he was confident in his abilities.
The Avatar was definitely, definitely out of his way.
Riding a polar bear dog was not as easy as it looked. Sit too high and her shoulder blades jabbed between your legs (ow), sit too far back and you couldn't hope to rein her in. Sit too tense and your muscles would scream at you later, sit too loose and your skeleton threatened to fall apart.
Tahno established the fine balance in riding posture almost halfway through the ride, just as Naga crossed over into the mountains lying outside of the city boundaries. How Naga had managed to track her owner down - and himself, for that matter - in the rain was an astounding feat, to be sure. But he couldn't think positively for too long once Naga began climbing the slopes- he had to adjust his posture again.
His internal alarms had already risen once they had rode outside of the city, but going into the mountains, he felt even more wary. He even felt annoyed, almost burdened. Just what had Korra gotten herself into?
As if reading his thoughts, the polar bear dog beneath him gave a whine. They came to level ground, and a few more paces revealed a large opening into a cavern. Naga jerked her head to the right and took off.
"Whoa!" he called, tugging back on the reins, but of course the beast didn't listen. She took them deeper into the dark at a pace that didn't give his eyes quite enough time to adjust. When she stopped, he almost fell forward in the saddle.
More whining. Then low growling.
"Alright, alright. Calm down now, would you," he said a little self-consciously, not quite past his "talking to animals like they understand" embarrassment.
The growling erupted into periodic barks, then off she went again. At least the saddle was drying out. His hair, too.
When Naga stopped once more, he knew it was more final, even before she began to nudge something with her nose. The poor lighting in the cave reflected off of a metal shell of some kind. Keeping his eyes trained on the box, he felt his way down Naga's flank until his feet hit the ground. "Is she in there?" he asked the loyal pet as his mind sprinted ahead with questions galore. Why was she taken here? Who had dumped her here? What could have been done to her?
Another whine. Then Naga began to scratch the metal, her claws finding no purchase on the smooth surface.
The clicking of Naga's claws must have done something though, because Korra's voice started calling, "Is someone there? Naga?"
Naga gave a hearty bark, then nudged Tahno forward with a headbutt to his back. He shot the polar bear dog a dirty look, then turned to face the metal box. He said, "Naga's here. And so am I, Avatar." He began to inspect the lock dangling from its place between the double doors of the container. Given enough time (which he wasn't sure he had), he could pick it and free her.
Her voice, though muffled, was not misheard by him. "Who is this?" she asked.
He felt only mildly insulted. He knew his voice had taken on a dreary quality since his bending was taken. "It's Tahno," he answered simply. He went to check the saddlebags for something he could pick the lock with, and found a variety of fish hooks that looked to have come from the Southern Water Tribe. Bingo. He walked back over to the doors.
Korra hadn't said anything in response, and he guessed he shouldn't have expected much. She was probably shocked. In actuality, he was, too. It was all the work of her insistent dog.
A few switches between hooks and lot of sleight of hand later, the lock yielded. Although Naga was on the lookout, he glanced around anyway before sliding the lock out of place.
When he threw the doors open, he was first greeted with a confused pair of eyes. Korra sat just behind the doors, apparently very ready to leave, hands bound behind her back.
He greeted her, "Korra." Then, with a bit of his former gusto, boldly spun her and loosened the ropes from around her torso.
She brought her arms in front of her and rotated her shoulders with relief. Then she turned back to him, and with sad eyes, confessed, "I don't know who you are."
Amnesia was the diagnosis. Up until this point in her life, it was little but a three syllable word, something mentioned in passing during training sessions and as a part of soap opera stories. When a master is hit with amnesia, it's a great loss to the bending community. And then the power of their love overcame her amnesia, and the world was set right again.
Now, amnesia was her reality, and it felt larger than anything. How strong this was, to be able to reach back into her mind and steal memories from her. It was scary and simultaneously saddening.
Stranger still was the nature of her memory loss. Seemingly disconnected elements had been wiped from her memory, things that she should have known: the task force, the ball held in her honour, the resignation of Chief Bei Fong. Worst of all was her lack of knowledge on her captor. She had absolutely no idea of what had happened the night she'd woken up in the metal box, and no inkling as to who could have committed the crime. Tenzin had tried to get her memory jogging, even suggested that she consult her past lives for advice, but she knew it would be fruitless. And if she were to be honest with herself, revisiting that night was not something she wanted to do.
The one good thing that had come out of that night was Tahno. She remembered not a thing about him - except that he used to be much better looking. But as he settled behind her on Naga's saddle, she felt his warmth through their clothes, and found a bit of comfort for the first time in long, lonely, disorienting hours.
"Your name's Tahno, right?" she had asked him tentatively over her shoulder.
He peered at her through the partial darkness. "You're not joking, are you?" he asked her seriously, voice soft and hollow.
She shook her head no. At the small measure of understanding in his voice, she felt her lips begin to shift shape. "I... I almost didn't remember I was the Avatar," she confessed. She might not know him very well, but he had saved her, and that was enough.
His eyes flickered to the armlet she wore, then back up. "We'll get back to town and find a physician," he said, to which she nodded.
It was the first of many things he would say that she would comply with. Not because she had to, but because he had been there and he understood and she trusted the serious bent of his mouth. Even before he had told (reminded?) her on their ride back that he'd lost his bending to Amon, she'd known. Even with her memory wiped clean in some parts, you just didn't forget the look of a person in pain. Muted though it was, it was there. It was like a reflection of her own hurt, mirrored right back.
With a grunt, Tarrlok let the daily newspaper fall from his hands and onto his new desk. He'd bought a heavy mahogany affair since his last one had been waterbent and earthbent to smithereens. It was the perfect excuse, really.
He put two fingers to his right temple. The title story was, of course, the return of Avatar Korra after a stressful and fruitless 24-hour search on the part of the police force. The parties credited with her return were none other than her dog and a former probender, the infamous Tahno. The press was having a field day, what with tearing down the police and its new chief and building up ex-rival Tahno.
He let himself cuss into his coffee. He should've known the dog was outside, would track his truck into the mountainside. But how had the former waterbender freed the girl? With no bending to speak of, there was just no way...
So, he'd lost his chance to be heralded as her saviour. That was fine. The papers also reported that the Avatar was suffering partial memory loss, and there were no incriminating quotes in there from either Korra or Tahno. He'd made the right choice, fidgeting with her memory. At least he could take comfort in that.
A knock on his door. Must be the architects, come to restore his water feature. "Come in," he called, flipping through the rest of the paper.
No one was more surprised than he was when Korra invited him to stay for dinner. "Please," she said, looking up at him with big, blue eyes. Naga grunted, then licked the side of his face in agreement. The airbending family laughed at his obvious disgust. The Fire Ferrets and the Sato heir (freshly freed from prison) tossed uneasy looks amongst themselves. He figured this was excuse and support enough.
"I should get home," he said, spinning an excuse out of thin air, "there's a leak in my ceiling that needs some looking at."
The light in Korra's eyes drained completely. "Oh," she said. She sounded hopelessly adrift.
Almost in disbelief, he felt pity rise in his chest. He thought he had used up all of his sympathy on himself. He was certainly selfish enough to have done so. But those blue eyes proved otherwise, because he found himself looking straight at her saying, "Twist my arm, why don't you."
Her answering smile was brilliant. It was on this that he chose to focus as they all retreated to the house. Korra fell into step with him. "Tahno, I never said thank you for saving me."
He looked at her from the corners of his eyes. The suggestive how will you repay me? and smirky don't mention it were phantom responses in his mind. He could practically hear himself utter them. But this Korra was different from the one in the noodle shop all those weeks ago and she didn't know that part of him, at least not very well. Why shouldn't he accept her generosity, her friendship? For a few hours, he'd had a taste of her liveliness, dealing with the reporters and worrywart Tenzin, and it was a hell of a lot better than the taste of long-cold black tea. There was something here, and it wasn't the pity he'd been receiving as of late. Korra didn't pity him. Korra was a little different, and yes, he was too. She showed him that it was time he got moving again.
Thinking this, he turned, fixed her with a fragile smile and told her, "You're welcome."
"Korra, could you please sit for half an hour and meditate?" Tenzin asked her firmly, gesturing at the very patch of ground she had just sprung up from.
She jumped from foot to foot. "I, um, think I'm not very good at that anymore," she lied.
Tenzin frowned and stated baldly, "You never were. But you should try. It may even help your mem—"
"I'm going to visit Tahno, see you tonight!" she called over her shoulder, sprinting away so fast that if Tenzin didn't know any better, he'd have thought she was born an airbender. So apt at evasion.
"Don't forget, you have a raid with Lin Bei Fong tonight!" he called after her, to which she lifted an arm.
She rocketed up to her room and tore her air acolyte garb from her frame (literally - she felt a seam rip, oops), replacing it with her usual attire. Then she left the house and dove gracefully off of the island and into the bay. Once she reached the mainland, she bent the water out of her clothes and hair and found his apartment. Her knock was impatient. "Tahno! Tahno!" she sung.
He answered the door half-asleep. "Korra, any idea what time it is?" he asked, letting her push her way into his studio apartment. It was spotless thanks to his revived clean freak ways, so he didn't have much to worry about in that department. But he was severely lacking in food and sunlight, which she rectified by pulling open the blinds (blinding him) and popping some soon-to-be stale bread in the toaster. He trudged into the kitchen and put water on the stove for green tea. She bopped him with her hip until he woke up a little more. She laughed all while she did it, which rankled him but still drew a small smile.
She nibbled her portion of toast with her feet propped up in his one other chair. He'd elected to eat on the floor with the papers spread around him, so he didn't mind. Sunlight fell across his floors in wide slats and bleached out the whites of his sheets.
"What're you up to?" she asked, crumbs tumbling onto her shirt.
"Looking up stories on the movement," he replied. He had about five different publications spread out around him, each opened to an article on the war within the city. Interesting. They all took the "benders versus Equalists" approach. But what about nonbenders who weren't Equalists or neutral, but were actually for bending? Was there anything on that?
She eyed the articles boredly. "Wanna go swimming?" she asked.
He winced internally. He hadn't been in the water since he'd choked his way to the surface after the tournament finale. He was better now, but he wasn't sure...
He darted a glance at his mug of tea. The liquid shook, rings forming unevenly as Korra stood and walked over to where he sat.
A look upward, and there she was, towering over him. Her teeth were white and her eyes were sky blue. She didn't treat him like he was a timebomb, ready to go off at any mention of water. He should be thankful for that. He held her gaze. "You don't have anything better to do, Avatar Korra?" he asked, a lopsided smile forming poorly on his face. He wasn't very good at smiling. Smirking, sure. But not smiling. He was working on it.
Something flitted over her visage, but it was gone as quickly as it had come. "Nope. You're the best I can get right now," she grinned back toothily.
He stood, abandoning his research for the time being. He piqued an eyebrow and said with a trace of arrogance, "Much thanks, Avatar."
She only laughed. Before they left, towels in tow, she downed her tea and his.
Nothing was going according to plan.
Still seated in his council chair, Tarrlok went over the numerous failures in chronological order in his mind: he'd lost Korra to her dog and that former probender, the police force was quick gaining a reputation as foolish enforcers, rumours of Lin Bei Fong heading up an underground force were cropping up, and his latest motion concerning resource restriction had not passed.
After the press disaster of imposed curfews and confiscations of nonbenders' belongings had spread itself all over the airwaves and papers, the new Chief of Police - what was his name again? Oh, who cared - was seen more and more as a tyrannical fool. What good was it having such a person working on your side, no matter the power he yielded? The world was laughing and pointing fingers. Allying himself with an idiot made him look like an idiot, and that wouldn't do.
It was time for something drastic.
And he knew just the thing.
Having escaped another training session - "I forgot the last two forms— sorry!" - Korra slurped up her noodles with extra vigour.
"No, by all means, make that racket as you eat," came Tahno's voice from the opposite side of their table in the noodlery.
She just stepped lightly on his toes beneath the table. His half-hearted protest only made her grin. "What did you say, pretty boy?"
He speared a sea prune with his chopsticks and looked her dead in the eye. "Slurp quietly, Uh-vatar."
Smiling, she stepped on his toes again. She knew she could count on Tahno for a lot of things, and lectures on etiquette was one of them. Some others: never going dutch, floating on their backs in the bay, critiques on reporters' articles and most important, never bringing up the past unless prompted.
Which she did now, albeit shallowly. "So, I called you pretty boy," she said with a hint of doubt.
He swallowed his bite of sea prune. "That you did."
She eyed him critically. "You sure? You're not all that pretty," she said, going so far as to cross her arms.
"Hm," he hummed as he leaned forward in his seat, propping up his chin in his palm, "I think you're full of it."
He was so close. Close enough for her to see the variations of grey in his eyes, close enough to smell the hint of cologne he'd begun to wear not a week ago. He had saved her, was the first person she'd clung to. He was sympathetic (in his own way), but he still wasn't afraid to stand up to her. He was handsome. He was safe. She felt herself shift forward in her seat, and she knew he was moving toward her, too.
So it was with noodles on her breath and sea prune on his that they first kissed. The edge of the table jabbed into her ribs, but she couldn't find it in herself to care. He was so, so warm and he kissed like a dream. She felt him mold her lips into masters, too, inexperienced though she was. Her fingers came up to touch his jaw.
They parted slowly. Her eyelids fluttered open.
"Korra," he breathed.
"Pretty boy," she smirked back, light-headed.
The ferry ride to Air Temple Island was romantic. Or it would have been, for any other pair. The sun began to set just as they left port and was fully behind the horizon by the time they docked. They stayed on deck, practising fight techniques in the dying sun. She threw punches unapologetically at his pretty face despite having kissed him not an hour ago. As they circled each other, he talked and she talked back.
"I'm thinking of starting up a... group. For nonbenders who support bending, and who want to take a stand against the Equalists," he said.
She stalled for a second at his words. He took advantage of her pause and threw a punch at her side, which she dodged last-second. "That's great," she told him sincerely. Sidestepping, she said, "What would you be doing?"
He launched another punch at her, which she blocked easily with her forearms. "This. We'd learn to fight. I'm thinking of weapons that could counteract their electrical gloves."
A one-two punch. "Plastic? Some kind of reinforced rubber?" she threw ideas out.
He nodded. "With a long reach. We'd be an asset. Chi blockers wouldn't have anything to exploit."
She smiled at him just as she tapped him in the side with her leg. "Maybe you shouldn't train them."
His eyebrows came down over his eyes, but he wasn't truly upset, not with this new idea blooming. She saw that he was healing, the look of loss in his eyes an echo of what it used to be. He knew it too. He lingered less on what he couldn't do and more on what he could. He didn't have to wallow and wait for someone else to handle Amon. He could dive in again. And she didn't know it, but it was Korra who'd helped start him on that path.
When the boat anchored, Korra started down the ramp and he followed. He fully intended on staying until the stars were visible, fleshing out his plans with her.
But at the end of the dock Tenzin was waiting, and he bore bad news: "Lin Bei Fong is in the hospital."
With a preparatory clearing of his throat, Tarrlok strode into the hospital room, bouquet in his arms. "Lin Bei Fong, I see nothing can bring you down," he addressed the occupant of the bed.
Lin looked up at him with disdain. "Tarrlok," she said simply. Her gown was thrown wide open to reveal a liberal bandaging of her torso.
He swept his gaze over the rest of the room and found it a virtual collection of those he hated most. The Avatar. Tenzin. Tahno. And even though it was beneath him to hold dislike for children, the annoying airbending brats hopped around Lin as well. Grouped in the corner were three youths he vaguely recognized - the Sato heiress and Korra's Fire Ferrets.
He placed his bouquet at the foot of her bed. "I just wanted to check in on the former Chief of Police. Such an unprecedented attack had to have been the reason we find you here now. Otherwise, and I'm sure you would have bested them."
Lin raised an eyebrow. "I'm surprised you would check in on a vigilante, obstructing justice," she responded coolly, culling words from the very metalbenders that had taken her down.
Tarrlok raised both of his eyebrows. "I hope you're no more surprised to find Tenzin here than you are me. We are both councilmen, after all," he intoned, a silent threat in his words.
Tenzin spoke up stonily, "I'm visiting as her friend, Tarrlok."
Tarrlok had to strain to keep the smile from surfacing on his face. His eyes darted quickly to Korra, whose gaze was trained almost unnervingly on him. It was probably best that he leave. All he needed was to make sure that Lin was being healed before being imprisoned on his (unpublished) claims of obstruction of justice. He turned to leave. "Very well. I'll leave you your friends, former Chief."
It was either very late in the evening or very early in the morning when they returned to Air Temple Island courtesy of Bolin's earthbending and Korra's waterbending. A warm invitation to stay the night had been issued by a tired and hugely pregnant Pema, which he accepted. They started up the gentle incline to the house, breaking up into twos and threes.
Though they were all exhausted, Tenzin had no trouble laying into Korra about her recent absences from training. Occasionally his words could be heard drifting back to them, words about excuses and lack of dedication and you could have stopped her arrest, if only we knew where to find you, for godssakes!
Korra took it all with her head bowed. Her shoulders slumped beneath his accusations, an indication that she believed in what Tenzin was saying and that she felt guilty for it. Although they had contingency plans in place should this exact situation occur, Lin and her small force of renegade police were a valuable asset, and they had almost all been captured. Their efforts had taken a huge blow. Once Tarrlok had left, Lin began issuing out orders to Tenzin and Korra concerning the remaining raids against the Equalists they had on roster. Tahno listened with a wide ear. Korra hadn't ever mentioned this side of the war to him.
By any measure, the evening almost couldn't get any worse. But get worse it did, and it did so in the form of Fire Ferret Mako.
"Tahno, a word?" the other man asked, turning and walking before he'd even had a chance to reply.
He followed Mako off of the path with a equal measures of annoyance and curiosity. He had come to hate presumption, and this guy was oozing it.
When Mako turned to him, it was clear that this wasn't a regular chat. "Listen," he said, a tired gravity to his voice, "I think it's pretty clear to us all that Korra likes you."
He was taken aback. He was not expecting a chat on matters of like or love. Furthermore, his use of "us" told Tahno that this had been discussed amongst the others.
"And I don't know if she told you this, but she hasn't made any progress with her airbending. It actually looks like she doesn't want to, sometimes," Mako continued, "She skips out on practise."
Tahno did not like what the other man was implying. "Your point?"
Mako looked up at him. "My point is that she skips out on it to be with you. Every time we try to talk to her about Amon or regaining her memory or even exactly what happened the night you saved her, it's 'bye, I'm going to Tahno's'. She was with you tonight, right?" Then Mako sized him up, and he liked it not one bit. "What's going on?"
Tahno lifted his chin a fraction of an inch. "She just doesn't want to be reminded," he stated obviously. He could understand that. The first time he and Korra had gone swimming, she'd waterbent a simulated shower above him, drenching him. He'd taken awhile to recover, and not just from his ruined hairstyle.
Mako brought him back to the moment. "You don't talk about that night with her?"
"No," he answered.
Mako crossed his arms. "And what else don't you tell her?"
Tahno was fast tiring of Mako's cryptic speech. He didn't make his annoyance a secret - "What are you getting at?"
"Korra forgot a lot about you. This is all she's had to go on," - Mako gestured at Tahno's admittedly haggard appearance, which only ticked Tahno off further - "You had the chance to reinvent yourself for her."
Tahno resented that. He hadn't reinvented himself for Korra, he had done so because he hadn't had a choice. He had changed because he'd lost his bending and because he needed to get moving again. That night on the mountainside, and later in the city and on the Island, staring into her pleading blue eyes, she had inspired that. In a way, it was because of Korra, not for.
... But what Mako had said rung true. Would she have invited him into her life and given him a chance with her memories intact? He had intimidated her. He had put down her team and her bending. He had wanted to win so badly that he'd injured other people in the process. He could've injured her.
He thought that the past was behind him. It was, but only just so. It was looming behind.
As if reading his thoughts by his expression alone, Mako turned to set off on the path again and leave Tahno alone. Before he could though, Tahno spoke. "Why you?"
Mako's scarf whipped out behind him. "Bolin's too nice. Asami thinks you make her happy and doesn't want to interfere."
Tahno frowned and held his gaze.
"And I think— I think the city needs her. And I... know what a lack of truth does to a relationship," he said, the breeze carrying his words along.
Tahno narrowed his eyes at the other man. He thought of the Sato heiress, all strength and beauty and obliviousness. What crime Mako had stacked against her almost didn't matter. They both knew: she was too good for him.
He nodded once, up the hill at Mako. "Thanks," he said.
Mako nodded back and began his ascent.
He felt the burning of a pair of eyes into the space between his shoulder blades. So when he turned and found that the gaze belonged to Tenzin, he wasn't surprised. "Tenzin," he greeted, shuffling papers at his place on the council's long bench.
Tenzin entered so quietly it was as if he were a ghost. "Tarrlok," he said, voice dry.
He felt like asserting his power today. "How is the former Chief?" he asked.
"Very well," Tenzin replied. "She'll be ready to stand on trial within the week."
"Splendid," he said. Then he realized how the comment could be construed. "That she's doing well, of course."
Tenzin's expression didn't even shift.
"How is Korra? Have any of her memories resurfaced?" he charged ahead, laying down his papers.
Tenzin's face became solemn. "Yes, in fact."
Tarrlok tensed. His fist closed of its own accord atop his pile of papers, and he had to work to loosen it. "What did she remember?"
"More about her friend, Tahno," Tenzin said.
Tarrlok grit his teeth at the mention of that name. "Oh? How nice," he said condescendingly, in a way that made it clear he did not think that was nice at all. "It seems her most recent memories are returning."
Tenzin's voice was suddenly deeper. "What do you know of memories, Tarrlok?"
Shit. He cleared his throat. "Not enough to help, I'm afraid," he lied.
The other council members entered then, cutting their conversation short. But all through that morning's meeting, every stare of Tenzin's cut straight through him.
With half a mind, Tahno moved his anchor tile forward two spaces. "Your move, Korra."
Barely giving it a thought, she nudged her lady slipper tile up. Upon closer examination, he determined that the move was, in fact, brilliant. And there she was, humming the latest jazz hit with her head bopping along to the rhythm like it was nothing.
He looked up at her from their game of Pai Sho almost wearily. "Korra, have you remembered anything?"
She literally froze for a second. "No," she responded hesitantly. Her hesitance was because they had never talked about this before, he thought.
He moved his white lotus over and up. He was always one for the rip-it-off-like-a-bandage philosophy, so he told her, "I used to be a jerk to you."
Her gaze fell to her hands. "That doesn't matter now," she said.
His expression was soft as he examined her examining her hands. "Doesn't it, though? And doesn't it matter that the person who did this to you hasn't even been caught?"
She swallowed nothing. "Of course it matters. I just— I can't remember..."
Silently, he reached across the board and took her hands in his. It wasn't anything they'd ever done before. They weren't the hand-holding kind. And that was why, right now, he had her full attention. "Try, Korra. Remember how I hurt people. Remember who locked you up."
Her eyes began to water. "Are you—?"
Are you breaking up with me? was her question. But she couldn't voice it because that implied a start to their relationship, and there had been none. None officially, anyway.
He shook his head no, but he stood from his seat. She scrambled up, determined to not let him leave. "Tahno."
He put his fingers to her cheek. "Remember. You know where to find me, Korra." He stepped forward and gave her a lingering kiss. When she opened her eyes, he was backing away, expression sad but resolute.
The next few days saw her listless. She knew that Tahno was gathering his forces and imbuing them with knowledge and spirit, but she felt that she couldn't go to see him without having reached a revelation of some kind. She was low on revelations. Meditation didn't help, going through the airbending forms didn't help, the last few raids didn't help. The only good news was that Lin's case had to wait a few more days to be heard, during which she was kept in a wooden cell and able to be visited. Korra met her eyes with shame and apologized. Lin shook her apologies off - not your fault. Korra didn't believe her.
She didn't know what to do. Naga detected her unrest and paced with her.
On her 14th lap of the island, she turned to her polar bear dog. "I don't suppose you remember who took me," she said, pulling her hands through Naga's short coat.
As she stroked Naga, she thought back to the holes in her memory. Mako, Bolin and Tenzin had run through a blow-by-blow of the most important things she'd done, and apparently she had forgotten the welcoming ball thrown for her, her stint in the task force and the circumstances that led to the probending finals' recovery from being cancelled. She furrowed her brow. Was there... was there anything linking these all?
She took off for the house. Naga followed close behind. "Tenzin! Tenzin, I need your help," she hollered across the threshold.
Tenzin appeared from his study. "What's going on, Korra?"
"I need you to help me fill in some blanks in my memory," she said, hovering in the doorway. She didn't want to leave Naga for some reason, and Naga had been banned since she'd knocked over three potted plants in the living room.
Tenzin moved instinctively out the door for her. "Alright," he answered, and she could've sworn she heard some relief in his voice. She was finally coming around.
"I forgot a lot of stuff that seems disconnected. I forgot a lot about Tahno," - here, she gulped - "but I forgot Pabu and I forgot the backstroke. I forgot the welcome ball and the time I spent on the task force."
"Do you— could any of this be connected? Maybe in a way that I wouldn't know, lacking the memories I do?" she asked him, hope permeating her voice.
Tenzin stroked his chin, and by extension his beard. "Tahno and... Pabu are relatively new figures in your life. The memories that were affected seem to mostly be recent ones. The welcome ball and the task force were strongly linked. One led to the other, and they were marked by your fear of Amon," he told her, his voice sounding far away. "They were both orchestrated by Tarrlok."
Her mouth screwed up into a frown. "Was the probending final connected to Amon? Or Tarrlok?"
"Both, actually," Tenzin said. The intensity of his gaze told her his mind was elsewhere.
She thought for a moment, fingers moving idly over Naga's soft ears. "I think I have to go back to the place in the mountains," she told him.
Tenzin seemed to approve. But worrywart that he was, he added, "It may not be safe."
She only tossed him a small grin. "That's why you're coming with me, Master Tenzin."
Control was slipping through his fingers like so many grains of sand. It looked like Lin wouldn't be charged- the judge was a woman who appreciated the value of a kick well-placed, and he didn't dare bribe her. The idiot Chief of Police was finally growing a backbone- that, or he'd read the papers and discovered everyone's less than positive opinion of him. He was no longer an effective puppet, but at the very least he still fought the Equalists.
The most ingrating of all though was the intelligence he'd received this morning from one of his still-loyal spies. A new rebel group was forming to fight the Equalists, a group of nonbenders. This fact irked him. He'd wanted to paint all nonbenders as threats to make the take-down of Amon absolute, but here was an uprising for benders, fighting with tactical weapons against the Equalists. From what his information said, they were good. Very good.
And who should head this group but the illustrious former Wolfbat, captain Tahno. Rescuer of the Avatar, the very man who'd started this streak of failure.
Perhaps the new Chief wouldn't back him. But he had some tricks up his sleeve that would tip the scales in his favour.
The time had come for him to exact his revenge.
Tahno paced between the evenly spaced rows of fighters, all loyal to their cause. The strength of their determination was what brought them in at odd hours of the day and night, and what compelled them to learn the new style he'd adapted for fighting the Equalists.
The core of their style was precise hits from a distance. The gloves and lightning rods the Equalists wielded could take out a person in two seconds flat, but they had a short range. To counteract them, you needed to strike swiftly and accurately. The rods Korra had suggested were perfect. He felt a sharp pang then, a pang of missing her.
He had a great group in these people. Many were parents or children of benders, and many were already skilled fighters. Some were tradesmen, supplying them with raw materials for armour and weaponry. Word of his rebel group had spread almost too fast to be true, and the start-up was painless. He shot a look to Ming and Shaozu, side-by-side, leading the forms. A lot of the recruits were to their credit, and he owed them. They nodded back.
"Tahno," Shaozu waved him over.
He strode up to his friends. "What's up?"
"Got some specs on the latest weaponry," Shaozu said, grinning wide and pulling out a roll of blueprints. "They look great. We can overload their circuitry in no time."
His eyes scanned the drawings and notes in Shaozu's hands. Somewhat of an expert on lightning and electricity, it was Shaozu who'd brought up the need to destroy the Equalists' weapons while in battle, and the most effective way to do it. Knocking the weapons out of the Equalists' hands was no good if they could simply pick them back up again. They concluded that the best way to prevent that was to simply burn out the circuitry.
"I don't know what you just showed me," he laughed, "but as long as I can use it, I'm all for it."
Shaozu laughed in return and Ming chuckled.
But then, mingling sinisterly with their laughter... was another voice.
A hushed silence fell over the crowd. The whole gym came to a stand-still. Every last head whirled in the direction of the open door.
Tahno walked toward the entrance. As an avid follower of every major publication in the city, he knew the kind of tactics councilman Tarrlok liked to employ, and he could only see the man's presence here as a threat. Whatever agenda he had, it couldn't be good for them. "Councilman Tarrlok, good evening," he greeted.
"Evening, young man," Tarrlok boomed authoritatively. He took large, slow strides into the room. "I couldn't help but overhear your brilliant solution to the Equalists' weapons. Would you mind terribly if I took a look?"
He shot a quick look over at Shaozu, one from their days in the ring - hold. "We'd be happy to share, provided you give credit where it's due," he responded, very aware that this could not have been what had brought Tarrlok here.
"Oh, good," Tarrlok said, as if this was all clockwork. He approached Tahno until they met in the middle of the gymnasium. His expression had an air of pride about it, of waiting.
Tahno bit. "What brings you here, Councilman?"
Tarrlok pulled at the gloves he wore. "I just wanted to inform you that this operation of yours runs strictly against the law," - murmurings broke out immediately - "The only legal movement against the Equalists is my task force."
Tahno faced him head-on. "Your task force is comprised solely of benders. You don't permit nonbenders to enter."
Tarrlok's expression changed to one of feigned surprise. "That reminds me, as nonbenders, you should all be in your homes at this hour of night. You don't want to be accused of Equalist allegiance."
"That's ridiculous," Tahno spit amidst the growing ruckus, "and you know it. This is a group dedicated to countering Equalist attacks."
"Come now," Tarrlok said, his tone conciliatory, "Tahno, you, of all people, should understand. Benders are the only ones who stand a chance." Now, his tone became pitying, "Your days as a superior waterbender are over. You can leave it up to me."
Tahno's nostrils flared and his temper bubbled. He just barely restrained himself from throwing a punch at the Councilman's nose.
But Ming didn't. He threw himself forward, ready to knock the teeth out of Tarrlok's smile—
When suddenly, he froze.
Tahno watched in horror as Ming slumped to the ground. His gaze darted quickly up to Tarrlok, who stood unharmed, hands out. "What did you do to him?" he shouted.
Tarrlok's deep-set eyes flashed dangerously. "You're about to find out," he growled.
All of Tahno's muscles seemed to seize at once. He let out a scream, but he didn't fall to the floor as expected. Somewhere in his peripheral vision, he saw Shaozu leap toward Tarrlok, but he too, was stopped, and in midair. Tarrlok had hands out to each of them, both still concealed by gloves.
The force began to attack in droves of twos and threes. They were stopped as well. When more weapons came flying at Tarrlok though, when the kicks and punches got too close, he had to drop a hand.
The force over Tahno weakened, but it would require effort to fight. He tried to stand. With his change in view, he spotted Tarrlok fighting his forces.
One of his hands was still out, but the other was savagely grabbing at the bodies launching themselves toward him. They were dropping like flies-
And from beneath the now-torn leather of Tarrlok's gloves, Tahno saw the cause - the pulsing core of an electric glove.
"Tarrlok!" he shouted, drawing the other man's attention. "What are you doing with that glove?"
Tarrlok tightened his invisible grip over Tahno and sunk him to his knees. "Worried, boy? Don't worry— I'm not an Equalist. This glove is confiscated material, easily attainable for the leader of the task force." Then he grunted, freezing more fighters before shocking them unconscious.
Tahno's eyes widened. What...?
Tarrlok turned to him now, and his veins wrenched in total pain as he was lifted into the air. He felt as if he were being lifted by his insides. Something kept his eyes wide open. He couldn't breathe.
"You," Tarrlok rasped, "are the cause of this. You, and the Avatar. I can promise you both that neither of your ends will be pleasant."
Realization struck him. "Bloodbender," he choked. "You're a bloodbender."
Tarrlok's chuckle was throaty and self-satisfied. "Bingo."
Tahno felt certain that his end was on the horizon. He shut his eyes. He hadn't thanked her, hadn't got to see her...
But then - of course - there came a mighty crash, and he was falling onto his back, cushioned by the mats on the floor. He gasped for air, chest rising and falling as he struggled to clear the webs of colour and light from his vision.
"Get up," she said, pulling him by his arm.
He did. He leaned heavily against her, and she looped his arm over her shoulders. Her face materialized from between the bursts of light, fuzzy from a lack of oxygen. "Korra," he muttered.
"I'm right here," she told him softly. He nodded, gathering the energy to speak.
"How did you find us?" he asked her, words breaking apart in his throat.
She gave a small smile. "I just knew where to find you," she said, quoting back his own words to him. "Well that, and Naga is an expert tracker."
His eyes found the polar bear dog in the middle of the chaos, rope dangling from her jaws. It was the rope that had bound Korra up in the cave all those weeks ago. He couldn't help but shake his head. It was always the dog.
"You are under arrest," proclaimed Lin Bei Fong, binding the fallen bloodbender's hands tightly with metal cord.
The glove sparked uselessly under Tarrlok's control. "You can't arrest me. You're not an officer," he argued weakly, thrown off by Korra's display of earthbending - she had taken out the ceiling to crush him.
"I beg to differ," Tenzin said, just a hint smug, "as does the judge, jury and this roomful of witnesses do."
Tarrlok's glove was pried off with a rubber rod. Before he was escorted out, he tossed a hateful glare in their direction. Korra glowered back enough for them both.
"Thank you," he told her, his words cut off by choking. Through his slowly clearing haze, he recognized that his head was pillowed in her lap.
She shook her head. "Thank you," she said. Her fingers - strong, capable fingers that had saved him - found the spaces between his own. They had come full circle - he had saved her, and now she had saved him. "I wouldn't have done this without you."
He gave a last cough before speaking again, "So, you remembered then?"
She nodded once. "I did. In the mountains."
His gaze flickered to her torso - she had torn her shirt - and back up into her eyes. The eyes that had started this all. They were obscured by tangled hair and decorated with new, pretty laugh lines, but they were the same. "And?"
She bent over to align her lips with his. She pressed a soft, tender kiss to his mouth. Then she straightened back up again. "That's a stupid question," she said, smirking, "I'm here, aren't I?"
He answered with his own smirk. Then, eyes trained on hers, he sat up and kissed her breathless, so perfectly and with so much fire that it would be impossible for either of them to ever forget.