A/N : Hello, wonderful readers! I am terribly sorry for the lengthy hiatus that I've been on. I am not going to make any excuses for my absence except to say that it was a bit difficult for me in terms of writing this chapter. However, Chapter 12 is officially complete! Hopefully, the following chapters will flow easily and you won't have to wait another year for an update. Thank you to everyone that has reviewed the story or added it to your alert or favorites list. Things like that make me realize how many people actually read and appreciate this story and it gives me a certain pride to know that you all like it. Now, without further delay, here is Chapter 12!
Karin lay in bed, staring up at the ceiling as the morning sunlight filtered in through the cracks in the shutters. Even without moving, she could feel the pain in her body. The gash in her left bicep pulsed painfully beneath the wrappings.
The healer that had attended to her had cleaned out the wound and assessed the damage. "You got lucky, not something that we can't fix," he had said with a small smile. "But, you'll feel some pain and tension in the muscles for a couple of days."
He had healed the torn muscle and stopped the bleeding, but chose to stitch the cut itself instead of healing the wound completely. She had seen the angry red abrasion marring her light brown skin before the healer had wrapped it and hoped that it would heal quickly. I'll have to come up with some explanation for the injury, just in case, she had thought to herself as she walked out of the hospital that evening.
The rest of her body hurt as well. The fight at the arena, while short, had taken a physical toll. A deep bruise spread across her left ribs from where she had smashed against the glass dome of the arena before falling through, her right side was swollen and red from Korra's flaming punch, and she had multiple lacerations from smaller shards of glass.
She knew that she could probably heal the wounds herself, but she didn't want to draw any attention from the Equalists. She didn't know if they would question her lack of wounds, especially if someone had seen her fall through the roof. She would already have enough questions to answer about how she had survived that fall if someone had witnessed it.
The noise in the restaurant below slowly grew. It was time for her to get up and go to work.
She took in a deep breath and raised herself up from the bed, her body screaming in protest. She grabbed a pair of dark grey pants, tucking them into her brown boots, and gingerly pulled a navy quarter-length sleeve shirt over her torso. The strips of white fur along the neckline and sleeve edges of the shirt itched momentarily against her skin.
Karin was already breathing hard from the effort it had taken to get dressed, so she decided to leave her hair down. She grabbed a brush from atop her dresser and ran it through the tangles in her hair before pushing her hair aside to let it cascade down her back. She slowly made her way downstairs, intending to grab her apron and get to work.
"Shouldn't you be resting?" Narook's voice floated down the stairs and Karin glanced up to see him standing at the top of the steps. "I saw you walk in last night. You looked pretty beat up," he continued as he started towards her.
"That's an understatement," Karin muttered to herself as her arm throbbed.
"I already called Chihiro in to cover your shift. I want you back in bed, kid," he said as he walked past her and into the restaurant without glancing back to see if she had done what he'd said.
She headed toward the partition leading to the kitchen. Chihiro waved to her half-heartedly from the back of the restaurant. Karin gave a small wave in return. Upon reaching the kitchen she peeked her head in to see Haku already hard at work on someone's order.
"Hey, Haku?" She asked quietly and he glanced up at her with a small smile.
" 'Morning Karin, how are you?" He replied before shifting his attention back to the food.
"Fine. Can you fix up a cup of tea for me when you get the chance?" Karin continued as she looked around at the familiar patrons occupying the few tables this morning.
"Sure thing," Haku said as he placed the food into a bowl and turn to grab a tea set for her.
That was when Karin noticed a familiar man sitting at a booth near the front door looking intently at her. When their eyes met, he gestured for her to take the seat across from him. Karin narrowed her eyes at the man before turning back to Haku. "Um, I've got to go talk to someone real quick. Just have Chihiro bring it over for me, okay?"
"You got it."
Karin made her way over to the booth, her mind racing. Why is he here?
"Glad to see you doing well, Karin. You gave us quite a scare last night," Chen began as Karin slowly eased herself into the seat opposite him.
"I wasn't aware that you were at the arena. I'm sure you enjoyed yourself." Karin replied in a monotone as she rested her forearms on the table.
"As a matter of fact I did," he responded smugly. "Though I must admit, I would've loved to have been on stage with Amon as he cleansed those filthy benders," he whispered, spitting out the word benders with as much disgust as he could muster.
"What do you want, Chen?" Karin asked, deciding to cut to the chase.
He glared at her as he took a sip from his tea. "Kaito wanted me to check in on you. You didn't come back to the compound after the attack. He was afraid that the police might have captured you. Can't have you spilling all of Amon's secrets, now, can we?"
His voice irked her. Irritation settled heavily in her stomach. "Well, you've seen me. I'm fine. Now you can leave," she replied, her voice still retaining its calm.
"What a shame, too. I was hoping that you would fall through the roof and plummet to your death, but I guess we can't all get what we want," he said coldly as he pushed himself up and out of the booth. "Have a good day, Karin."
Karin could still see his smirk burning in her memory even after he had exited the restaurant. The feeling is mutual, she thought to herself, reflecting back on her plan to have him arrested in the raids.
"Here's your tea, Karin," Chihiro said tiredly as she walked over to the booth. "Who was that guy?"
"Nobody important," Karin replied coldly as she picked up the steaming cup of tea.
Chihiro raised her eyebrows and glanced back at the empty doorway. "Doesn't seem like nobody. Want to talk about it?"
"No. I don't," Karin said, her eyes focused on the swirling liquid in her cup.
Confusion crossed Chihiro's face, but she chose not to press the matter and went back to waiting on her tables. Karin let out a sigh and tried to loosen her tense muscles. The hot tea was soothing and helped warm her body, but the stiffness settled once again.
Karin was only halfway done with her tea when a young man came shooting through the entrance to Narook's, searching frantically. When Bolin's eyes came to rest on her, she could see visible relief. "Karin! Thank the spirits you're okay," he said. A couple of long strides brought him to her table. He quickly pulled her up from her seat and into a friendly embrace. Karin winced in pain as his arm pressed against her wound.
"Of course I'm okay," she replied calmly as he pulled back to get a thorough look at her. "I should be the one worried about you. I tried to find you once the arena had been evacuated, but it was so chaotic." The lie came out smoothly despite the sudden onset of nerves she had experienced upon seeing him.
"So you were there," he began as he looked over her again. "They didn't hurt you, did they?"
Karin felt a trickle of guilt settle in her gut as she forced her lips into a small smile. "They didn't really harm anyone in the crowd. Just some minor scrapes and bruises from rushing out of the arena. No need to fret over me after what you went through."
The relief on Bolin's face melted into a look of happiness. "A little electrocution isn't going to do me in. I'm too strong for those Equalists." She could see a spark of fear in his eyes and knew that, despite his happy exterior, the events at the arena had shaken him.
I should act appalled. That's how a friend would react, Karin thought to herself.
She widened her eyes and scrunched her brows together in horror. "They electrocuted you!" She shouted, drawing the attention of nearly all the patrons at the restaurant.
"I'm fine. Korra looked over all of us when it was over and she's the best healer around," He replied and Karin let her face sag with relief.
The trickle of guilt became a fierce wave in her chest as she gazed into his green eyes. Karin never had been a big fan of lying, but this mission had shown her to be a true master at it. When it came to Amon and the Equalists, the lies felt justified. She was working to protect the Avatar; they were necessary for her cover. If she failed to convince the Equalists, they could kill her.
But lying to Bolin? It came just as smoothly, but it felt like a betrayal. Her relief upon seeing him unharmed was real, but her surprise at his injuries wasn't. She knew what had happened to him.
Suddenly the horrified faces of the Wolfbats came to the surface of her thoughts and she wondered to herself how she would be treating Bolin now if she had idly stood by while his bending had been taken. How would she react if she had pushed him off of that arena and into the water? It was one thing to lie to the enemy for the sake of the mission and something completely different to lie to someone uninvolved.
"So, I take it that you aren't on the clock right now?" Bolin asked, shaking Karin out of her thoughts.
"No. Narook decided to let me have the day off. Why?" Karin replied, stepping out of his embrace.
"Well, we didn't get a chance to go out after the match..." Bolin began, scratching nervously at the hair at the nape of his neck.
"No, we didn't," Karin said, a knot of nerves settling in her stomach.
"Would you want to walk around the city with me?" Bolin finished, his question filled with hope. Karin was gobsmacked. Here was Bolin, not even twenty-four hours after being attacked by Equalists, and he still wanted to take her out.
She must have remained silent for too long, because Bolin's hopeful expression started to drop and his nervousness became almost tangible. "We don't have to go on a walk if you don't want to. We could go get breakfast somewhere. Whatever you want to do is cool. Unless you don't want to go out at all - that's fine..." he began talking very quickly. Karin felt her lips tugging into a genuine smile.
"A walk would be great," she replied, cutting Bolin off mid-sentence. Bolin's nerves visibly dissipated. He flashed her a wide smile.
"My lady," he said with a grandiose bow before presenting his arm for Karin to take.
She shook her head as a nervous smile graced her lips. She awkwardly threaded her arm around his before exiting the restaurant.
As they walked down the streets of Republic City, Karin and Bolin held an awkward silence. The weight of their arms wrapped together made Karin's chest feel tight. An unfamiliar feeling had settled under her breastbone. She felt as if her stomach was in knots. She quickly extracted her arm from beneath his and they continued on, their hands brushing together occasionally as they progressed.
Karin could feel the tension steadily rising as the silence grew. She glanced over at Bolin to see if he felt it too. Her blue eyes met his green ones, and he flashed her one of his winning smiles. She felt the tension ease slightly.
Get a grip, Karin. It's just a walk. She thought to herself, smiling back.
"So..." Bolin began as they entered the park. "What's your favorite color?"
With that question, the tension around them burst.
Karin laughed softly. "My favorite color? Why would you want to know that?" she asked.
"Well, I just realized that we don't really know that much about each other," Bolin explained and Karin shook her head.
"And my favorite color is going to provide you with some great insight?" she replied with a smile.
"Absolutely," he said.
"It's blue," she answered.
Now it was Bolin's turn to shake his head. "Typical Water Tribe," he said with a laugh. Karin smacked his arm playfully.
"Not all people from the Water Tribe like blue. And I don't just like any blue. It's more specific than that," Karin explained.
"Okay..." Bolin trailed off, waiting for Karin to elaborate.
"Well, I don't know if you would understand, being from the city and everything. The lights obstruct your view. But, it's that dark, rich blue that encompasses the moon." Karin could picture the color clearly in her mind's eye, remembering how the night sky looked at the compound in Shu Jing. Whenever she couldn't sleep, Karin would walk out to the cliff overlooking the waterfall and look up at the moon. The sight and sound of the moon and waterfall had always put her mind at ease. It was the most peaceful place that she knew.
Suddenly, she ached for home. She looked away from Bolin and stared off into the trees surrounding their path.
"I thought you were from the city too," Bolin said. Karin forced herself to remain calm, but was inwardly kicking herself.
Stupid, Karin. The cover story is just as important here as it is at the Equalist camp, she berated herself.
She forced out a fake smile. "I am, but my father used to take me up to the North for certain waterbender holidays. So, what's your favorite color?" She asked, attempting to deflect any further questions.
"Oh, green. Typical earthbender," he replied with a chuckle.
"And you were giving me a hard time," Karin replied.
Another bout of silence took over as Karin continued to mentally kick herself for opening an opportunity to blow her cover. It was several minutes before Bolin spoke again.
"You said your dad used to take you. He doesn't take you up there anymore?" He asked curiously. Karin ran a hand along the length of her braid, remembering that in Republic City she was an orphan.
"No. He left me and my mom when I was still little and married another waterbender. He moved back up North," She explained.
"That sucks," Bolin replied, kicking a pebble down the path. "So, it's just you and your mom?"
"No," Karin began, sticking her hands in her pockets and clenching her fist. "We were living on the streets for a while. My dad didn't leave us anything when he left. One day she went out to find work and didn't come back."
"I'm sorry," Bolin said, looking sideways at her with sympathy in his eyes. "My parents were killed by a mugger when I was really little. Mako and I lived on the streets for a long time until we got into pro-bending. We were really lucky when the owner offered to let us live at the arena."
Karin felt her eyes widening at the revelation, but tried to keep her face neutral. She felt her gut twisting with guilt as Bolin shared his own dark family background. She hated herself for lying to him and telling him she was an orphan. For her it was just a fabricated story, but for him it had been reality. She began to look at him differently, wondering how he could be so upbeat and friendly all the time when his childhood had been so full of sadness.
Karin didn't think saying sorry would cut it at this point, so instead of speaking she merely reached out for Bolin's hand and gave it a quick squeeze.
"Thankfully, I had Mako. As long as we're together, I can get through anything," Bolin said with a laugh, his face lighting up as he mentioned his brother.
Karin twiddled her thumbs awkwardly, the guilt settling in her gut as lie after lie poured out of her mouth. She wanted to tell him something about herself that was true, but what could she say that wouldn't betray her?
"So, what do you do? You know, when you're not working?" He asked her, with his characteristic easy smile.
She liked to practice on her bending and maybe spar with someone. But, in this life she wasn't a bender, and to him she wasn't a fighter, so that wasn't a safe answer. As all the possibilities raced through her mind, she barely noticed that they had stopped and Bolin was waiting for her response.
"Ummm, I like to read and listen to music, but with work I don't really have much time to do either these days," she said, settling on the second best answer.
He nodded, snatching at this little snippet of her personality and expanding on it. "What kind of music do you like? I'm partial to jazz myself."
"Oh, jazz is fine, but I've always been a big fan of classical," Karin replied. "I just love the sound of the string instruments swelling and sweeping through the piece effortlessly. When I was little, I begged my parents to let me learn the violin, but they knew I had other things that took priority and didn't want me to be distracted."
"What kinds of things?" He asked and Karin blanched. She had been determined to become a great bender and because of her commitment to that her parents had denied the music lessons, but she couldn't exactly tell him that.
"Just things. They didn't exactly have the money to afford more than one activity." Karin replied, effectively cutting off that avenue of conversation. "What about you?"
"Well, obviously, I love Pro-Bending. Bending in general was always something that I really enjoyed. We didn't have the money for other activities either, and when my parents died we had to utilize our fighting skills to survive. Though we also had to become great pickpockets and street performers," he said with a smile, glossing over the criminal activity that he and his brother had become involved in to make it off the streets.
"From what I saw at the championship, all that training didn't go to waste," Karin replied with a light smile.
"So, you like to read?" he said, reverting back to the previous thread of discussion.
"Yeah. Particularly mysteries or myths. It's something that allows you to lose yourself in the world on the page and forget your own for awhile. Definitely came in handy when I was younger. I didn't exactly have the easiest time," Karin replied, remembering the jeering and laughter of the boys from the compound.
The training had been rough on her and she had pushed herself harder than the boys so that she could prove that she was just as good as them. She would come home most nights barely able to stand. She recalled her father settling her on the furs in front of the fire and telling her tales about the Spirits and the Avatar while her mother cooked dinner.
"Rough?" Bolin questioned, once again seeking for her to elaborate.
"I was bullied a bit as a kid. I was surrounded by boys and they always liked to remind me that I was smaller and weaker than they were," she replied, keeping her eyes trained on the path ahead.
"It isn't like that now, right?" he asked, his voice gaining a different quality that Karin couldn't quite decipher.
"No," Karin said, shaking her head. "My father taught me a little maneuver that discouraged the boys from bothering me."
"And what was that?" he asked. Karin gave him a mischevious smile.
"It's something that's much better understood when demonstrated and I'd rather not hurt you," Karin replied. Bolin guffawed.
"I'll take your word for it."
Bolin walked Karin back to Narook's with an invitation to meet him at the Sato mansion the next day to go swimming in their indoor pool. She could tell by the twinkle in his eyes and the exaggerated motions as he talked about the Sato mansion that he was excited about experiencing how the "other half" lived.
Her mind stayed fixed on their walk through the park as she made her way to Equalist headquarters.
She was so preoccupied with her thoughts of Bolin that she didn't notice the darting shadow that followed her down the alleyways until she was almost at her destination.
Karin became aware of the person's presence suddenly. She slowed down in an attempt to discern the footsteps from her own, but they immediately matched her relaxed strides. She didn't want to alert the person, so she did not look behind her. Her gaze swept the area as she ascertained where she was on her route to headquarters.
As she rounded a corner, she quickly ducked into another dark alley and waited quietly in the shadows to see if her pursuer would pass by the mouth of the alley. She heard the footsteps stop as the person rounded the corner and realized that she had vanished, but instead of walking further down the road, the person turned around and began to retreat. Karin launched herself out of the alley, startling the man that had followed her. She grabbed the cloaked figure on both sides and slammed him against the wall before ripping off the hood.
Tahno's tired blue eyes stared back at her. The anxiety that had been slowly rising in her dissipated completely. She let him go instantly and backed away, shaking her head as she went.
"What do you want, Tahno?" she asked with a sigh, as he angrily readjusted his cloak.
"I want to know what the hell you're doing with them," he replied. His eyes were set in a glare, his lips pulled tight.
"I don't know what you're talking about and I suggest you walk away before I report you for stalking," she said, as she turned to walk back towards Narook's. She didn't need Tahno to figure out the location of Equalists' headquarters because he felt the need to follow her.
"You know exactly what I'm talking about, you damn hypocrite. I saw you!" Tahno shouted, his voice echoing off the empty brick buildings that lined the street.
"Yes, I work at Narook's, you see me all the time," she replied exasperatedly, a trickle of irritation beginning to bloom under her breastbone.
"I'm not talking about Narook's. I saw you at the Pro-Bending arena during the tournament," Tahno said, his voice full of conviction. Karin felt her stomach clench with panic.
"Well, yes. I was there watching Bo-" she began.
"Not in the stands, I saw you...falling from the roof." Tahno's eyes shone brightly, a mixture of anger and confusion reflecting Karin's image back to her.
Her heart stopped, but she consciously forced her expression to remain as it was. There is no way he saw me; he was practically unconscious after Amon took his bending.
"You'd had your bending taken away. You clearly suffered from some delusion," She rationalized, trying to convince him as much as herself.
"I was not delusional!" He shouted. Karin grabbed him roughly and shoved him down the alley where she had hidden moments before.
"Be quiet," She hissed angrily.
"I saw you. You fell from the roof and waterbended!"
"No, you didn't. I was in the stands watching in horror as they took away your bending," she replied, her tone sad as she remembered pushing his teammate from the fighting platform.
"At first, I didn't know it was you," he continued frantically. "But then you came into the changing room where I was hiding and you pulled off your mask." He reached out and gripped her injured arm, grinding his finger in the wound.
Despite her composure, Karin winced and Tahno smiled triumphantly.
"I wonder how Amon would feel if he found out one of his followers turned out to be the very thing he despises." He ground his thumb deeper into her arm and Karin pulled away, hissing in pain.
"He wouldn't believe you," she said calmly and Tahno nodded in acquiescence.
"No, but the police would definitely arrest you if they got an anonymous tip about your allegiances." Tahno flashed a smug smile as he dusted off his cloak.
"You don't know what you're doing," Karin replied, her mind whirling. No one was supposed to know. How could I let this happen?
"Yes, I do. I may not know what you're doing with them, but I know what I need. And what I need is for you to find out what Amon did to me and reverse it." He began to advance on her and Karin stood her ground. Eventually, they were toe to toe, anger clashing between their blue eyes.
"What makes you think any of us know how he does it or that he would tell anyone?" She replied, her voice rough with anger.
"I don't care what it takes or what happens to you. I just want my bending back," Tahno said, his voice breaking.
"I don't have time to be looking for answers for you," Karin replied, her voice rising as the rage made its way closer to the surface. Her blood boiled. "I've already got enough on my plate. So go ahead, tell the police. I already know you won't tell Amon."
"Why not make your fate the same as mine? You clearly deserve it," he said.
"You're terrified of him. Just saying his name is making you sweat," she observed. Tahno took a step back, narrowing his eyes at her. "You wouldn't go near him and you don't want to make anyone feel the pain that you feel right now. Not even me. No one deserves that." Her voice dropped, and her eyes showed the pity she felt for him.
"And why wouldn't you deserve it? You're betraying your own kind," he replied, advancing on her once again, his fury driving his actions.
"Am I?" Karin asked, her conviction returning. Tahno stood still, his gaze appraising.
"Who are you, really?" he asked. She shook her head in response.
"I'm not who you think I am." With that, she walked back into the bustling city, leaving Tahno behind to consider his choices.
I hope you all enjoyed this chapter. I will try to have chapter 13 up within the next couple of weeks, but I don't exactly have a schedule for posting so don't hold me to that. Have a wonderful week!