This would not stop haunting my thoughts until I wrote it down, and I figured that since it was written, I might as well put it online in case anyone else might be interested. Amon x Korra, with a horribly contrived plot and, no doubt, some OOC-ness and some liberties with bending. Fits the canon right up until (and including) episode 8, but will be AU after that point.
SPOILER WARNING - S01E08
This story takes place after episode 8. Korra is already back from wherever Tarrlok sent her, and Team Avatar has been freed from prison, but Tarrlok has not yet been dealt with. I'm running with the assumption that Tarrlok has continued to impose Draconian measures on the city, and more and more people are getting being detained and imprisoned. I'm also saying Korra turned 18 shortly before this.
EDITED TO ADD: Having just seen the season finale, this is officially AU...though I expected that anyway. :) So if you're just reading it now and have already seen the rest of the series, please keep in mind that this was written with only a few pieces of the puzzle (season 8 and before), and I filled in a lot of the blanks with things that now completely contradict the canon. Hope that doesn't make it too confusing!
A sequel, "The Cave II: Shadows of the City" has started up on my profile, so if you like this one, please check it out!
I have an extremely urgent proposition we need to discuss. Alone. No men, no guards, no traps. Just you and me.
There is a cave on the outskirts of the city, near the south-eastern peak of Observation Mountain. I will be there tonight at midnight.
Come alone. Tell no-one.
"It has to be a trap," said the lieutenant, reading over Amon's shoulder.
"No, this is too clumsy to be a trap." Amon smoothed the letter on the desk. "This is desperation." No doubt it stemmed from Councilman Tarrlok's abhorrent actions as of late.
"Surely you aren't entertaining her request?"
"The Avatar will get her meeting – but on my terms, not hers." Cocking his head at the lieutenant to follow, Amon began to walk for the door.
The meeting ended before it began.
Amon had stationed his troops around the peak, ready to strike at his lieutenant's command, and entered the cave alone, pressing against the wall by the mouth. The plan, once she entered, was to emerge from the shadows, intimidate her until he had squeezed out every bit of information about Tarrlok, and leave her paralyzed with fear. Not elegant, but effective. The Avatar was an extremely valuable tool to the Equalist cause, but only so long as she truly feared and respected him.
Shortly before midnight, she entered, holding a glowing fireball in her hand like a torch. "Amon?" she called.
"Avatar," he greeted, and she jumped and spun, her eyes wide with fear. Good. Walking slowly up to her, he kept his shoulders broad, his gaze strong. A bead of sweat trailed down her temple, glistening in the light of the flame, but she stood tall.
"You came alone?" she demanded.
He stopped, looming over her, and did not answer.
Her brow cocked with suspicion and she folded her arms over her chest, wilting a little under his gaze. "Look, I hate you and you hate me, but right now we have a common enemy. I have a proposition."
A deafening groan drowned her next words. The cave ground heaved.
Normally light on his feet, Amon staggered. Behind his mask, his lips curled into a sneer. Earthbending. That this was a trap was not surprising, but how had her troops gotten past his?
"Call off your earthbenders," he intoned, struggling to maintain decorum as the ground shuddered. "We agreed to meet alone." Another tremor nearly knocked him off his feet.
Across from him, the Avatar fell to all fours. "I did come alone!" Her voice was panicky.
He barely had time to register that it was a legitimate earthquake when the ground pitched, upending him. Jagged rocks crumbled from the cave roof, their slams sending sprays of stone showering down on them. A shard sliced into his arm, through cloth and flesh, and drew blood.
His eyes snapped to the Avatar. He had to keep her alive; all his plans depended on it. She had managed to rise onto one knee, her hands deftly bending the fallen rocks away from herself. She was skilled indeed, but too focussed on the immediate. Above her, the ceiling was beginning to crack, a heavy load of debris about to drop.
"Above you!" he yelled, but his deep voice was lost in the echoing moans of the earth around them. Still she focussed on the stones around her. Still the ceiling began to give.
He launched himself at her, barrelling toward her on all fours, the ground rocking so harshly that it hit either shoulder along his way.
She lifted her head just before the impact, her eyes widening, but he was too quick for her to avoid.
His momentum sent her tumbling. He rolled, landed on his back, and a crushing white pain seized his shoulder and enveloped his mind in darkness.
The same pain jerked him back above the surface. Something was pinning him, crushing him. His right hand reached for his left. Debris. Mounds of it. Below it, a damp pool. He tried to control the desperate gasps that heaved from his lips, echoing in the suddenly still chamber.
"Amon?" came the tentative voice of the Avatar. A small ball of flame hovered in the air above him, and she crawled forward, leaning over him. Her eyes were wide, her face pale. Even with the edges of his vision fuzzing, he could tell by the confusion on her face that she was debating whether she should let him live or die.
"How bad?" he managed between gasps.
"Hang on." A determined look pinched her features, and she stood square. A thrust of her hand, and the weight load on his arm lessened. His head lolled to the side and he saw a pile of stone on his arm. Blood leaked from beneath it. So much blood. Stars swam in front of his eyes.
She thrust and spun, and another load of debris was lifted, and he realized that she was using bending to save him.
"Don't." The word was swallowed by a writhe of pain.
With a triumphant yell, she lifted the last of the debris off of his arm. Blood spurted from his lacerated arm in pulses. His vision greyed.
"Hang on. I can help," she said, and she disappeared from view. When she returned, a trail of glowing blue water followed her. Her arms took on a circular movement and the water encased his arm.
Suddenly, his arm seized, the pain more violent than he could have imagined. He jack-knifed, sitting up, doubling over the offending arm. His own yell rang in his ears.
"Sorry. I didn't do that right." She jerked one arm upward; her other hand glowed blue as she hovered it over the wounds.
She was using bending to heal him. This would not stand! He tried to pull away, but his arm was too weak to control. The blue glow dissolved into his arm; though the wounds sealed, the pain did not abate.
Amon lay against the stone floor, his vision swimming in front of him as he tried to catch up to his racing breaths. Adrenaline had engulfed his normally calm demeanour, and his eyes ticked across her face.
"There. You won't die now," she said. Leaning back on her heels, she added dryly, "Now try to tell me how that bending I just did is evil."
Saving the Avatar for last, be damned! Fury erupted in a howl from his throat. He lunged at her, fingers reaching for the nerve on her neck that would cause the most pain, but blackness swarmed him.
The sounds around him muted, then were still.
He awoke with a splitting headache and a parched mouth. Bleary-eyed, he sat up, trying to focus on his spinning surroundings.
The small fireball still glowed at the roof of the cave – she must have left it there as a light, though he couldn't fathom how it was sustaining itself. It seemed the Avatar had some novel bending techniques up her sleeve.
The cavern was otherwise dark, and smaller than he remembered, its edges lined with rubble. The earthquake had sealed off the exit. A tunnel beside it was intact, but it burrowed deep into the earth. Perhaps another exit. So weak was he that even the thought of dragging himself in that direction was exhausting.
The Avatar was nowhere to be seen, but a small flask of water and a pile of what appeared to be dried seaweed was set neatly beside him. With a quick glance around to make sure he wasn't being watched, he lifted his mask just enough so that his mouth could accept the liquid. It coated his parched tongue, soothing its ache. Once he had drank his fill, he set it down and examined his wounds.
The leather over his left arm was shredded and mangled, and it still ached as though wounded, but the cuts had healed already. Rage boiled in his chest. How dare she use bending on him without his consent! It was better than bleeding to death, but not by much. His fingertips ran down the proud nose of his mask as he settled it back into place and tried to regain his composure. He was Amon, he reminded himself, leader of the Equalists, the man who struck fear into all benders with his calm, calculated disposition. He tried to stand, but sagged back to a slump, his head still throbbing.
"Easy there." The Avatar came around the corner of the tunnel, carrying an armful of the same type of seaweed that had been stacked beside him. "You lost a lot of blood. You're going to be dragged out for several days, so don't push it." She knelt before a flat piece of rocky debris and stretched out the pieces of seaweed, then waved her hand over it, an orange glow surrounding her. The scent of roasted seaweed floated through the cavern.
He slumped back to the ground, but fixed his eyes on her. "You have a lot of gall, Avatar, practising bending on me."
She shrugged, her back still to him. "The least you can do is call me by name, given that we've saved one another's life now." Stacking the roasted seaweed in a pile, she added, "Thanks, by the way. That pile of rubble would have crushed my skull if you hadn't pushed me out of the way." The tone was nonchalant, and his mood darkened further. Any power he had held over her had slipped through his fingers as he had lain writhing beneath her healing touch. Fixing that was going to be difficult while he was incapacitated. For the first time since he had reached the public eye, Amon did not know what move to make next.
Korra took a bite of the seaweed, then made a face. "At least it will keep us alive." She swiveled to face him, legs folded beneath her. "I'd be correct in guessing that you broke our agreement?"
Not sure what she meant, he eyed her.
She huffed with impatience. "I mean, you brought troops with you to our meeting, right? So how long do you think it will take for them to dig us out of here?"
Amon faltered. Would they bother? Or would they consider his life a fair exchange for the Avatar's? As valuable as he was to the movement, he had specifically set up the Equalist machine to keep churning should he become a martyr.
"Several days," was what he replied.
"Figured. I can start tunnelling out toward them. It might cut that time a bit." Scooping the bundle of seaweed in her arms, she marched up to him. There was no fear in her eyes. He racked his foggy brain: he had to regain the upper hand. As she knelt beside him and dropped the seaweed on the pile, he lunged, grabbing her by the collar, and pulled her nose to his.
"Listen to me, Avatar," he said, his voice deep and calm. "All that has come to pass here has changed nothing. I will still be your end."
There was a slight spark of fear in her eyes, but she pushed him away and set her jaw, jabbing him in the chest with a finger. "And you listen to me, Amon. We're stuck together for the next few days whether we like it or not, so you had better cooperate if we're going to get out of here alive."
He kept his gaze even. "You will come to regret not letting me die."
"Maybe I will. But I'm not the kind of person who can let a life go unsaved." Raising a brow, she added, "Based on the way you rushed to save my life in the first place, I'm guessing you're not so different."
"You saved me for the same reason I saved you: I need you alive." She could spout about saving people all she wanted – he would not be fooled. He needed her alive to use as a scapegoat for his campaign, just as she needed him as a scapegoat for her pro-bending propaganda. At the end of the day, they both had an agenda.
A troubled look crossed her face, but she stood. "Eat some food. I'm going to start tunnelling."
Carefully tilting his mask to guard his face as much as possible, he ate the seaweed and honed in on Korra's back as she began her work. This was an excellent opportunity to observe her for future strategic advantage. Her movements were skilled and powerful, the muscles of her arms and back rippling with each strike. While she was a bit more raw than the older generation of benders, a little rougher around the edges, she bent with an unbridled energy that would make her a fearsome Avatar once she matured.
If she ever had the chance – he was not about to let that happen. If he had his way, it would not be long until the Avatar cycle ended permanently.
Soon she settled into the same strikes over and over again, finding the most efficient movements, and with nothing more to analyze, his mind began to wander. He caught himself admiring the shapely curves of her athletic body.
That line of thought was not going to benefit him at all. This was the enemy, not a beautiful work of art to admire. Focus.
Focus on what? Helplessness was not an emotion for which Amon had patience, and it was becoming more and more apparent that he was absolutely useless in his current state. Even sitting up was a chore. The best thing he could do would be to sleep to regain his strength.
He closed his eyes, the rhythmic shifting of earth and Korra's soft grunts lulling him to sleep.
Amon awoke with a start when Korra dropped to a seat beside him. Dust caked her face and her clothes, sweat stains visible against her skin. With a wave of her hand, she pulled the dust particles from her body and deposited them on the floor beside her, the sweat following immediately after. Revulsion welled in his throat. To be given such a gift from the spirits, and to waste it on hygiene! How frivolous. She would be paralyzed once her bending was gone. Just like the others.
"I sure hope your guys really are digging on the other side," she said. "It's all rubble and debris - I can't tunnel through it like I could solid rock. It's going to take forever." Taking a bite of the seaweed, she added, "There's a pool deeper in the cavern, so we have food and water, at least. I was hoping there was another exit further down, but I couldn't find a way through."
He pushed himself to a seat, his head still fogged. His stomach told him that he had slept for several hours and it needed more food, but he wasn't about to risk lifting the bottom of his mask with the Avatar beside him.
She cocked her head at him. "I didn't expect you to be so quiet. You can't seem to shut up when you have an audience."
He stared evenly at her.
With a sigh, she shook her head and turned back to her seaweed. "I'm so stir-crazy that I'm considering asking you to preach about the evils of benders just so I can hear a human voice."
"The words would be wasted on you," he said, his voice gravelly with disuse.
"Then can we discuss the proposal I was originally going to pitch before the earthquake?"
"I am not in the correct frame of mind." He could barely see straight.
"Fine. I'm sure we'll have time to discuss it later." A yawn split her face as she stretched, and then she flopped backwards. "You meant what you said that time about saving me for last, right? I can count on you not to take my bending while I sleep?"
"Good, because I'm exhausted." Her eyes closed. After a few minutes, her breaths deepened, and the small ball of fire at the cave ceiling shrank, then extinguished.
In the refuge of darkness, Amon pulled off his mask. He ate the seaweed and drank the water, using the remainder to rinse his face. These few movements were enough to exhaust him, and he cursed his frailty. Fastening his mask in place, he slid onto his back.
Without the glowing flame, the cavern grew chilly. Beside him, Korra was shivering in her sleep. The most logical move would be to nestle against her for warmth, but the prospect nauseated him. How many times had her water bending made others shiver, freeze? Let her suffer, just as her victims had. Huddling into his cloak, he curled onto his side, his back to her.
Korra's moan jolted him from sleep. Amon tensed, listening. She groaned again, and he heard the rustle of clothes as she thrashed.
"No!" she yelled, then echoed the word, whimpering.
So even the world's most overprivileged bender had nightmares. He had his share as well, filled with monsters who bent fire to char everyone and everything he had ever cared about. Every waking hour was dedicated to slaying the monsters that haunted his sleep – perhaps her tenacity was akin to his; perhaps she chased monsters of her own. He strained his ears to take in every sound, hoping she would reveal a weakness that he could use to his advantage.
"Amon, no!" she shrieked, and a burst of flame blinded him. When his eyes at last adjusted, she was sitting upright, flame dancing on her fingertips, her breaths harsh and sweat trailing down her temple.
In her dreams, I am the monster.
The thought should have been welcome – fear was a tool, one he had worked hard to hone – but it sank in his stomach like stone. His heart was pounding, her shriek still ringing in his ears.
Korra blinked, as if recovering awareness, then turned to look at him. He could have offered her some dignity, pretended he didn't know what had frightened her so badly, but his instinct defaulted to tactics rather than kindness. His eyes locked with hers.
She withdrew her hand, leaving the ball of flame as a light, and drew her knees to her chest.
He did not drop his gaze. "I am honoured to plague your nightmares, young Avatar."
"Don't give yourself too much credit." Her voice was defensive, though shame coloured her cheeks. "I once had a nightmare that Tenzin's children were trying to eat me. Doesn't mean I'm frightened of them." Her jaw jutted and she rested it on her knees. "I'm not afraid of anyone."
"Your mask is not so effective as mine. I know you think me a monster."
"Because you are a monster!" Her blue eyes pierced through him. "How many people have died for your revolution, Amon?"
"I'd prefer it if none did." She looked surprised at the response, so he added, "I only wish to equalize the benders. Any casualties beyond that are regrettable. And you, young Avatar: how many people have you killed with your bending?"
"None." Her eyes narrowed. "Want to know how many lives I have saved?"
"I, too, have saved lives." He pushed himself up on one elbow. "I have removed the bending of some of the greatest bullies in Republic City. Doubtless this has-"
"Stop," she interrupted. "Save your propaganda for the microphone." The light extinguished and he heard her fall back to the ground beside him. "If you were as benevolent as you pretended to be, you would see that our goals aren't all that different. Instead, you terrorize and manipulate. Did it ever occur to you to simply ask the Council to allow non-bender leadership, instead of marching ahead with this war?" She snorted. "You want the glory of being the figurehead of a revolution. That's what makes you a monster. You're pretending that vengeance and power-mongering are benevolence, but people like me see through that mask. Too bad the Equalists don't."
Guilt was kindling in his stomach, and he cursed her in his mind. So she was a skilled manipulator, too. He had to steel his resolve, block out her words.
A part of him was already agreeing with her.