I think these go from in order from depressing-as-hell to sort-of-depressing to sort-of-uplifting. All requests I got on tumblr, written as drabbles rather than chapters.
And then we're well and truly done with GTR! Thanks so much to everyone who reviewed, favourited, story alerted or author alerted. I already have a new story for you, which should be coming Friday… so I might see you then!
The doctor moved clinically over her skin. He was nervous; she could tell. She could understand it, as well. Being Amon's personal physician must be a nerve-wracking job, and she was fairly sure that the man hadn't volunteered for the position.
"Everything seems to be in order," he murmured, sounding as if he was reassuring himself as much as her and Amon, who was present in a corner of the room, keeping a careful eye on proceedings. "Yes, she's pregnant."
"Is there anything else you can inform me?" her husband asked. Korra didn't bother to speak. She wasn't sure that the doctor was allowed to speak directly to her anyway. "Other details?"
"Not really, at this stage… Pregnancy isn't really my area," the man said, with a weak laugh. Nobody else joined in, and the noise petered out awkwardly. "I could contact some particularly good midwives and nurses, if you want; they'd probably know more than I would… not really my area," he repeated, swallowing. Korra leaned back in her chair, trying to conceal her frustrated sigh before it escaped. This… this growing in her had put an end to her real involvement in the growing rebellion; Asami was trying to co-ordinate the various rebel groups, but they were becoming increasingly fragmented. At least two had already split due to arguments over the level of violent protest prominent leaders were willing to use, and nobody was really willing to wait 9 months while the Avatar had their chief enemy's child.
She'd cried when she'd realised, after days of trying to pretend that it wasn't happening. This was a reality, a bitter, bitter reality, and she had to deal with it. There was no way to get rid of this thing—if she had wanted to, which she couldn't decide, she was so confused about this—under Amon's watchful eye, and her new attendants. It must be a propaganda victory, she thought hollowly. She'd heard the speech that Amon had made through the speakers inside the house. The exact words were a little bit fuzzy, but she seemed to remember a symbol of their unity; the literal fruit of their union, an example for the city; hoping to be a doting father.
It was impossible to avoid shivering at the thought of Amon as a father, and the doctor looked up at her questioningly, lifting whatever he was poking her with off her skin. "Is it too cold?" he asked, eyes bug wide, looking nothing more like an insect, some creature. She was being unkind, but she thought that she'd earned unkindness. If she had a child, how was she ever supposed to get out of this—if she had a child, how could she leave them behind—if she had a child, how… how could she love it, them, it, if they, it, looked like him? If his eyes looked out at her in that child's face, how could she bear to look at it?
She ignored the doctor's question, and he carried on prodding regardless. She hadn't been listening when he'd said what he was doing, and she had no idea what was going on. Maybe he hadn't actually said what he was doing. Keeping her own body a secret from her sounded an awful lot like Amon. Maybe she'd die in childbirth. That would be a tragic end to her.
The commands slipped in one ear and out the other as she sank further and further into despair, and Amon gave up words and simply grabbed her by the arm to propel her out. "Do not embarrass me like that in front of other people," he hissed in her ear. Korra just tried not to shudder. Don't show your fear. He likes the fear. "We're having a child; you could at least be civil around other people." Well, that was laughable, but she wasn't going to be laughing any time soon. "I'll be naming them. No Water Tribe names, but if your behaviour improves then perhaps I'll allow you some input." She didn't bother to respond.
Pregnancy bothered her. She hadn't had a period in a while in between stress and starvation, and this was… worse. She didn't want to be pregnant; she really didn't want to be pregnant with his stinking child—though it wasn't its fault, she guessed; she still oscillated between loathing and simple reluctance—and she hated what it did to her. She especially hated all the attendants fluttering around, paying an obscene amount of attention to her. They went to offensive lengths to ensure that nothing upset her—"bad for the baby, mistress, bad for the baby!"—and as a result everything upset her. They never left her alone; she couldn't even have a proper cry in private without someone flapping about and telling her to stop.
A painful amount of her time was spent in an indifferent stupor, switching between fits of anger and crying. When she was feeling rational she knew that it wasn't really their fault, but she couldn't bring herself to care.
Childbirth nearly ended her. She nearly gave up then and there, decided not to try any more—let go and give up, she thought, her face tear-stained from the extraordinary pain. I don't want this anyway. This wasn't something I chose. They knew that she was giving up. She never figured out how. Perhaps she said it, delirious in the middle; the line between what she was saying and what she was thinking blurred in the painkillers that they'd given her and the sky swept up into the ground, though she wasn't sure about that last one.
Asami held her hand. Korra wasn't sure when she had arrived, but she was there, and she was crying, and the fog cleared a little enough to realise that she was eighteen—she'd missed her birthday but she knew that it must have passed at some point in captivity—and she'd barely lived yet. There was all life to live yet. There must be a time after Amon, a good life, a life worth living—
"Hold on, Korra," someone said, and it reverberated around her head, refusing to leave. It echoed until she shrieked for it to stop, and she sank back into that stupor—
When they put her child into her arms, she stared dully at it. So small. Had she ever been this small? She must have been.
She didn't know how to hold a baby. She was terrified that she'd drop it and break it. For all the months that she'd carried this thing, she didn't know it. At no moment had she wanted this thing, and now it was here and she was sure that she was supposed to have a duty of care to it. She sat there woodenly, staring, until it began to cry, opening its mouth to shriek at a level of noise that she would have never expected was actually possible. Someone took it away, and she looked dully down at the cradle her arms made, bereft. They felt cold. This thing was… a person, something that would grow up to be someone, a defenceless child with Amon for a father, and Korra felt the tiniest stirring of something protective. She was fighting to overcome Amon—she could fight him through the littlest things, through that tiny baby, that baby who wasn't at fault here, but she still wasn't sure that she could bear to take care of it.
"Do I get to see it again?" she asked, her voice a quiet croak, and she received only a contemptuous look. "Tell me," she said, louder, more authoritatively. "Do I? When?"
"It's a she," the nurse sniped, and walked off. Korra sat there staring at her hands, unable to articulate the terror she felt at really acknowledging that it was a little human being, an unformed one yet, but a little tiny human being that had come out of her, had come from her and him, when she hated him so much and couldn't get away from him, what that little thing would mean, "a symbol of their unity" as he'd said—the fact that it made it all real, but she knew it was real, but that it made it realer, and that hurt, and she couldn't reconcile that with her own mother and how intensely she knew her parents loved her, the people she knew without parents at all who grieved and raged, Asami with her father who had turned out to be a man so full of rage that he fuelled terrorists, how easy it was to mess up a child and how sure she was sure that she couldn't be a good mother or wouldn't be allowed to anyway, how at this point she could barely bring herself to feel anything on most days but she knew that she should be feeling something for that little thing that was so alone in this world.
"She," Korra repeated emptily, and five days later when she tried to kill herself she thought of the little thing. She. It's a she.
"Postnatal depression," the doctor assured Amon nervously, wringing his hands. Korra stared at him through a curtain of her own hair, leaning listlessly against the wall. "Totally normal. Quite common, actually. Not really a lot you can do; perhaps let her see the child, under supervision of course—I'll suggest some… things, medicines that she could take, not here, though—some exercise, perhaps, and don't let her be alone."
Korra nearly laughed. She was always alone. She closed her eyes. Soon they'd let her see… it. Her. It's a she. The… baby. Her baby. Their baby, but mainly hers, because if she could do nothing else then she'd try and make sure that that little thing had some love in its life. In her life.
"Good," Amon said, turning to her. "I intend to be an active parent, so I suppose we'll be spending more time together in the future."
Depression doesn't get easier, but he lets her be present at important times. The first birthday is passed with Korra there. She spends days holding onto the baby and wondering how it's possible that something can simultaneously terrify and draw her in so strongly. She watches the baby grow into a toddler, speaking words and throwing things and tantrums. She watches when Amon nearly hits her baby, almost casually, and tells her that he'd never hit a child. She wonders powerfully what his upbringing was like, that he has such odd compunctions about never hitting a child but is quite content to leave the threat there, only withdrawing the physicality of the threat.
He allows their daughter to wear her hair in a traditional Water Tribe style—her old style, she thinks, tugging at the simple ponytail he allows her—and when he does it himself one day she wonders, she wonders, she wonders.
Korra's not a good mother, but with a father like Amon, somebody has to show some affection. The lines of love are difficult and blurred by this point, strained between public and private and all things in between, but when she thinks clinically, she suspects that she might love this child despite everything, just because they're all alone in enemy territory.
And because simply, Korra can't let another human being grow up so unloved and so miserable, right in front of her.
If only she wouldn't make him angry, that burning anger that lodged inside his chest would subside and disappear. If she didn't know every single way to push past his guard and strike at his very centre. "I can be good to you," he had said, and he would have honoured that. He wasn't an unreasonable man, but she refused to understand that. He was never unreasonable until people pushed him far, and then he was fair and exact.
He saw the mutiny burning in her, and found himself perversely attracted to it, but it made him so angry. Perhaps, as tragic as it was, they were simply not suited to each other and this was affecting him personally. That was something that he couldn't afford in the difficult political climate. Above all, he was a political leader, and an obsession couldn't be allowed to undo the years, decades, the lifetime that he had put into this objective.
Sadly, he lifted a strand of her hair and dropped it, sighing. She had fallen asleep—she was unable to fool him with her charming pretences—which was unusual. Most nights he knew that she remained awake long after he drifted off. It seemed that she had difficulties with her sleeping pattern. Perhaps he should notify a doctor and have some sort of remedy put into her food, but that might pose significant health dangers with the routine he had established for her feeding. It was to be irregular; he knew the advantages to keeping an enemy uncomfortable, reliant on outside sources for basic goods. It bothered him a little to have to have to use such infantile methods on his own wife, but until the point where she was trustworthy—some distance off at this point—it was necessary.
Korra was sweet when asleep, he had to admit. All that tiresome fight went out of her, all the hatred dissolved and it was rather pleasant. Perhaps this was what having a wife should be like; quiet moments together. Preferably the spouse should be conscious, but he wasn't going to quibble over small things. Larger issues, though… he wasn't quite satisfied for tonight, but it was tedious when she cried too much. If only she'd simply behave… The riots had taken up too much of his time recently, he'd not been with her as much as he would have liked, and his absence allowed backwards behaviour to flourish. She wasn't a dog, he shouldn't have to train her—but she was young, he supposed. Well, he'd been rebellious at that age, but that had, after all, been after someone who had pushed him too far. There were to be no excuses.
Perhaps if she'd smile he'd be less angry more often. If she made his rooms pleasant to come back to, they could have civilised conversation, the give and a take that he considered to be the standard procedure for relationships. Was she expecting him to make the first move? He wouldn't have thought that she was that traditional, but maybe he should take some steps in showing her that he would rather that she was pleasant company—setting up a charity for her to run, establishing a group of girls her own age to talk to, even some little administrative details that weren't too taxing. He was dubious about how reliable she'd be in public, however; she hadn't shown herself to be trustworthy. It was disappointing to have to keep her in check through threatening her acquaintances, but he needed a reliable method to ensure her good behaviour. She didn't quite understand the dynamic that she was expected to uphold.
He was tired of his own thoughts, bored and wide awake with hours to go until he was needed (though he liked to show up early, too early and it was simply inconvenient for the workers). Paperwork, he had covered before retiring to bed, and he was restless besides. Well, it was a sorry business to wake her from her rare slumber, but it was necessary. He shook her. Groaning, flailing, she rose out of sleep to meet his eyes, shining through the darkness of the windowless room and reflecting herself back. He wasn't ashamed that the fear that greeted him was stirring. Hadn't he been raised on fear and the inflicting of it?
"What do you want?" she asked, slurring slightly in her sleepiness.
"You know what I want," he said smoothly. Her eyes widened, and she propped herself up on one elbow, preparing to skitter away. He reached out and locked one hand around her bicep; she had a bad record of falling and hurting herself. It was endearing, but if he ever wanted her to appear in public he couldn't have bruises showing. Korra had never struck him as a clumsy girl—she moved with too much certainty—but when they were alone, she tripped over her own feet constantly. He rather liked it.
"I," she began, eyes flicking around the room, "but—already tonight, already—"
"Korra," he said, casually but sternly, and she went silently immediately. Well, however disobedient she was in other aspects, he could always rely on submission in the bed—or wherever else took his fancy. It did pain him somewhat to see her so pale, though. If she wouldn't struggle so… but she was learning, indeed, as her instantaneous hush evidenced. "Good girl," he added, making sure to reinforce positive behaviour. He was sure that was supposed to be helpful.
She was a necessary evil, to a point. He was sure that if she died it would distract him—would haunt him perhaps, he liked that phrasing—and he wasn't willing to have his work compromised by an unfortunate obsession. It was a much better solution to have her slightly distracting him, back safely in these rooms, than thinking about what could have been and obsessing about possibilities. This whole situation was rather unfortunate, but he could at least damage control it.
Everything she did fascinated him, when it wasn't making him furiously angry. He stroked the side of her face, felt her shudder, and shuddered in turn. It was visceral, thrilling—he never felt more alive than here, exhilarating, stirring, moving—
If only every moment could be this, he thought, nearly passionately.
But underneath it all, he couldn't help but feel the tiniest twinge of discomfort. He caught that look in her eyes. That look that she thought that he didn't see. The look that he knew was aimed at his back as he left a room, turned around, moved his gaze onto something else—not fear or submission or despair. Anger.
Every so often, he caught anger in her, and that… it was nothing, nothing, she was nothing but what he let her be, but that anger… Sometimes he wondered if just as his anger consumed him, her fury grew too, but she was hiding it, hiding it behind that fear—he liked the fear—and it was all that much more insidious because she could hide it. It was ridiculous, of course. She was a spoil of war, a prize that he'd kept for himself with some political gain to be had—she was a child, she could barely think for herself—
All the same, it tugged at him. He knew the results when children were pushed one step too far.
The streets moved. Word of mouth flitted from person to person, and Jin watched it move too doubtful to shift. She had heard the tales, of course. The Dragon Flats were rife with gossip. Especially this end of them. Gossip wasn't currency but it was something close. Jin wasn't getting involved in rebellions. Her mam was an earthbender, and Jin was one too. She didn't fancy her chances earthbending. Never taught properly. Never had the money.
She had wondered if she should join the Equalists because the benders, the rich ones who could afford training and protection, had never done anything for her but when the masked man started taking away people's bending she'd slipped away from the rally. It wasn't worth it. She'd wondered if she should join the other people, the rebellion, the counter-revolution or whatever they were calling themselves. Some boys from her neighbourhood had joined.
"Go and get themselves bloody killed," her mam had said, and Jin had argued though, really, she agreed. That wasn't worth it either. The people in power never even really came down this far. Didn't get their feet dirty. Her mam said that once Avatar Aang had come down, when he were alive, and he'd given out sweets to the kids and been nice—her grandma had told her—but he had to keep balance and he'd gone other places and the Flats had become a bad place.
Then this bloody registration thing had come around, and Jin had thought about that, peering down from the roof. She hadn't put herself down as an earthbender. Well, she wasn't, really. No training. She was sure that you had to do more to be one. Move things proper. Shift big rocks. Nobody did that down the streets of the Dragon Flats, for fear of taking out the pipes. They barely had electricity as it was. Anyone took out the water pipes and there'd be a riot.
She watched the riots, and she watched the Equalists pour in, from her roof. Lying on her stomach like, so they couldn't see her. Only her head over the edge so she got a proper view. The man who helped the masked man was there, with his sticks that made electricity, and her mouth hung open as he shocked people. The smell as people let go when they were afraid, losing consciousness, was awful. She hid when she thought that he might have seen her. When the masked man himself arrived, she stopped watching, and she went inside.
Her mam looked up from kneading dough for tomorrow. Jin watched her hands move, comforting and homey, red-knuckled and coarse and as familiar to her as their tiny rooms. "Going out," she mumbled, pulling up her hood and slipping on her outdoor shoes. "Not be long."
"Don't you be," her mam retorted, "I went to the effort of bread and all, and you go off through the streets when there's rioting? Don't be daft, and get back inside." Jin ignored her, and hunched into her jacket. There were holes and the like. They must have been there for years, but she felt the wind whistling through them almost painfully.
"Not be long," she repeated, staring at the floor, and dashing out. The door slammed behind to her to her mam's irritated cry, and she was hopping over bodies in the street. Frightened, she poked at one. Not dead. She knew some of them. Silly boys. Not dead, though. But silly boys hungry for honour, because you didn't get that in the Dragon Flats. All the people up above, she knew that they'd been taken out and their bending taken away, but it seemed to her that they had an all right deal. After this—because Jin had no doubt that regimes fell and rulers disappeared but the common people stayed the same—those people would go back to their lives in their big houses, maybe a bit sad but not much worse off. She kicked irritably at a rock. It flew all the way down the narrow street to lodge in a wall ahead. She was stuck here, though. You didn't get out of the Dragon Flats.
Quietly, she slipped into the building, and rapped the pattern that her neighbour's cousin's friend's nephew had told her. "Here for the meeting?" a cheery man asked, and she nodded gruffly. "First time?" She nodded again. "Local?" For the third time, she nodded, reluctant to engage in conversation. She didn't want to be memorable, in case this all went wrong. "Thought so. Dragon Flats all over you," he said, confidentially, "I'm a Flats boy myself. This, this counter-revolution stuff, it's a good chance to prove yourself. Get out. Change things a bit, I think. Shake em up, show em we're people." She nodded again, more thoughtfully. Followed his directions through to a room, and sat down by herself.
The council was full of rich people, she knew. People in high places, politicians or the like. Folks who had no idea what the Flats were like. She knew that they had more people packed into the same amount of space than any other area in the city. Some folks had an island. The airbender man, he had an island. Some other people lived on it too, but she hated that he had some island and she shared a three room flat with her mam and her dad and her brothers and sisters and sometimes an aunt or a cousin.
But ordinary folk couldn't change that. Ordinary folk didn't change things, it just didn't happen. She'd go to the meeting to shut herself up with her dreams. All those dreams of honour and glory. Just as silly as those stupid boys lying in the street, pissed and shat themselves from fear and looking like they were dead.
The crowd was like a living being all of itself. It was a strange feeling. Jin felt charged. As if she was directing lightning. The ground shook a little below her feet, and she roared along. Her mam had been evacuated. Taken all their precious things with her. Kissed her baby goodbye as if it was real goodbye, and left for safe places. None of the rioters had been told where. Jin understood why.
She didn't care much for this "take back their city" talk. All that had changed in the Flats for her was the curfew. It was too dangerous to go out after dark anyway. She hadn't noticed much change. Down in the poor people's homes, politics only filtered from above. All the same, the air was charged and she was charged and ready. She knew that some had suffered. Benders on the registry who'd had their bending taken away. Her own wasn't much. She still thought she might miss it if it went. Those people who'd had it taken, then, they must be gutted, lost. It had happened to their neighbour's son.
Maybe Jin was there for them. She didn't think so really. There wasn't any honour properly in her, she'd discovered. Honour and glory got you in the street with piss running down your legs. Jin wanted the future. She'd heard the Avatar, some thin and bruised looking girl—younger than Jin herself!—scream "FREEDOM" at them all, and she'd liked it. Freedom was what everyone was saying. Yes, she liked that.
She wasn't here for any great rebellion. Or for the rights of benders. Not because she was important, either. She wasn't. Not even in charge of anything. Just a foot soldier. Maybe there would always be Dragon Flats. They'd always be the foot soldiers. But maybe they wouldn't. Or maybe there would be Dragon Flats, but not these ones. Being without the Triads would be a start. And then… then.
No, she wasn't here for any noble cause, and she'd been sceptical from the start. If she died, that would be proper annoying because she was no devotee, not too excited about this. She wasn't chomping at the bit to strike down their oppressors. But she figured that maybe she could do some things. Help a bit.
Get little children with no money some earthbending lessons, maybe, and move regimes with pebbles.