Note: I updated before November 2014! Still, I would like to apologize to all my readers for the more than one month wait. Thank you for still being here, and thank you so much to all of you who have left reviews.
Korra strides through the maze-like network of tunnels, head high, eyes wide open, without quite seeing where she is going. She isn't sure how she gets back to the pre-determined meeting place that she and her friends had decided on. All she knows is that she gets back to the trolley stop, and she can't recognize Mako, Asami, and Bolin in the crowds of Equalists standing near the tracks, waiting for the coming trolley.
At least, not until she accidentally bumps into this guy, and he coughs and whispers, "Meatballs." There are two people standing next to the person that had spoken, and a quick glance confirms that all three of them have a few white strands of fur clinging to their slick black uniforms.
Korra's shoulders sag in relief, and she stops. "Hey," she whispers. "It's me."
"Good," Bolin sighs. "The last couple of girls I tried that on looked at me like I was crazy. Not like I could really see their faces, what with the..." - he waves his hand in front of the mask and green goggles - "But still. I knew."
"Find anything?" Mako mutters, his voice barely audible. "We didn't." Asami shakes her head, checks her watch, and then peers anxiously down the tunnel, in search of the trolley.
"Yeah." Korra shifts from foot to foot, her shoulders tensing up, as soon as she sees the approaching trolley lights.
Bolin looks back toward the tunnels. "Should we go back, then? Do we need to...?" He mouths the words 'bust anyone out.'
"No," Korra says tersely. "I'll explain in a second. Hang on."
They board the trolley alongside the real Equalists, and stand in a corner, a heavy, awkward silence falling over them. Korra cranes her neck and tries to read Asami's watch. Her chest is tight with strain, and she feels dangerously close to vomiting up the trail mix she had stuffed down her face this morning, on the way here. They have thirty minutes until they have to be at the arena...and break the councilmembers out of the grasp of more than a hundred armed and dangerous Equalists, not to mention the most powerful bloodbender alive.
At first, she had hoped that maybe, they would have a chance at getting to the arena early, and rescuing Tenzin and Lin and the others before the event even started. But the trolley had taken forever to get there, and the ride is longer than she had remembered. It looks like they're going to have to snatch the prisoners right off the stage, just like she and Mako had done with Bolin at the Revelation. Except that this is much, much bigger.
Finally, the trolley grinds to a halt. They push to the front as discreetly as they can, disembarking first. The second they're off, Korra opens her mouth, but Mako puts a warning hand on her arm, nodding to the group of real Equalists right behind them.
"Let's take this way to the arena," Bolin says, too quietly for the others to hear, pointing down an empty side street. "It's faster."
They turn right, and thankfully, the group of Equalists stays on the main road. Mako keeps glancing backward, and finally, he nods, giving them the thumbs-up.
Asami slides her goggles up to her forehead, and the worry is clear in her eyes. "Korra, what's up?"
"I couldn't find Amon's office, but I found Tarrlok's cell."
Mako and Bolin both stop dead and stare, and Asami gasps. "What? But I looked down that tunnel, and he wasn't there-"
"They just moved him in this morning. Amon was keeping him at someplace outside of Republic City, but I guess they wanted to free that up for more dangerous prisoners. Like me." Korra reaches up, rubbing the back of her neck, trying to loosen the tight muscles, and then cracks her knuckles. If she's going to fight, she has to be prepared. "Tarrlok..."
She hesitates, realizing that in a few moments, her friends are going to be seriously questioning her sanity. "Tarrlok told me something important about Amon. About how he takes bending. About who he is."
Her friends exchange nonplussed looks. "What, like his real name?" Bolin says, puzzled.
"Is that going to help us take him down?"
Korra keeps her eyes forward, and doesn't slow her pace. The roof of the pro-bending stadium is starting to come into view. "Amon isn't who she says he is," she replies bluntly. "He isn't a non-bender. And he definitely isn't taking people's bending because the spirits gave him the power to." The rage overwhelms her, in that second, and she kicks a fallen trash can out of their way viciously. "Fucking liar!"
"Amon is a bender?" Asami asks incredulously. "But...he hates benders! All of them! Is Tarrlok sure-"
Korra spins around to face them, and they stop, startled, as she yanks her goggles down, so that they hang limply around her neck. It's almost impossible to keep her voice down, to keep from yelling the disgusting truth to the rooftops, and the struggle makes her voice crack. "Amon is a waterbender. A bloodbender. That's how he takes bending. That's how he beat Tarrlok, don't you see? Who could beat a bloodbender, but another one?"
Asami's mouth opens, but no words come out. "The arena," Mako says, after a few moments of terrible silence. "You...you waterbended yourself up there. And he looked at you, and you just fell. I've never seen you make a mistake with bending before. I always thought it was weird."
"How could he hide it, all this time?" Asami whispers, horrified. "It's been years... Why would he even...?"
Bolin leans against the filthy gutter pipe of a nearby store, looking like he's close to fainting. "We're going up against a bloodbender? I didn't know there were more of them, besides Tarrlok, just running around everywhere!"
Korra laughs bitterly. "Amon is Tarrlok's brother. Tarrlok didn't even know that, until he lost his bending."
Mako shudders. "This is getting unbelievably weird. How did this guy get elected into office again? Yakone as a dad, Amon as a brother-"
"Tarrlok never told anyone, obviously." Korra turns and starts walking again, and her friends follow, but they're all moving slower than they were before. "While we were in the Earth Kingdom, he told me that he had a brother, once. An older brother named Noatak. Noatak ran away from home when he was fifteen, in this blizzard, and Yakone and Tarrlok never found him. They just assumed he had died."
"A bender...who pretends to be a non-bender, and hates all benders...and says that there's no place for benders in this world...and wants to get rid of bending forever." Bolin shrugs helplessly. "I don't get it! Why would he hate bending, if he's a bender? That would be like hating himself! And he's using bending - which he thinks is the worst - to get rid of other people's bending! This is so stupid!"
"If my dad knew... If Lieu and everyone else knew that everything has been a huge lie..." Asami trails off. "Korra! Is that what we're going to do? Are we going to tell everyone the truth?"
The pro-bending stadium is within sight now, and Korra stops, gesturing for them to do so as well. They huddle in the shadows of a tree, pulling their masks and goggles on again. All of them are breathing fast. "I can't just blurt it out and expect everyone to believe me," she says, in an undertone. "Amon is going to say I'm lying. Everyone is going to think that I'm insane."
"If he's not Amon, then he won't have scars on his face! If we show them-"
Korra shakes her head, in response to Mako's suggestion. "Tarrlok says he paints them on, just in case. You're right, though. We are going to show them, just in a different way. If I can get him to reveal himself as a bloodbender, who was lying about his whole 'the spirits sent me to restore balance to the world through getting rid of bending,' thing, the crowd is going to go crazy. That's going to give us our in to free Tenzin and everyone else, and get out of there."
"Genius," Bolin says fervently.
Mako nods in agreement, and Asami checks her watch again, before looking at the entrance to the pro-bending arena. "Tell us exactly what you need us to do, and we'll do it."
Their faith in her hastily thought-out plan gives her some confidence, and Korra smiles. It feels good to have a team, and she can't imagine the fact that so many Avatars throughout history had worked alone. "Thanks. I'll do the talking to Amon - Noatak. When it comes to fighting him, and getting him to reveal himself as a bloodbender, me and Mako will handle that. While we're doing that, I want you guys to free Tenzin and the others. They'll probably be tied up like Bolin was, at the Revelation."
Asami taps the toe of her knee-high boot against the ground, where they all know she hides her knives. "No problem."
"How are we on time?"
"We have five minutes."
"Let's go in." Korra hesitates, and then turns back to them, reaching a hand out. She will not think of any one of the many things that can go wrong, or of the fact that Amon-Noatak, like Tarrlok and Yakone, can bloodbend multiple people at once. She will not think of the vengeful streak that runs through both of Yakone's living sons, and how both of them can be frightening and deadly when crossed. She will not think of how she might lose them, or how much danger they are putting themselves in, just by being here, at her side.
"Thank you," she says softly.
Bolin puts his hand on hers, and then Mako and Asami. "Thank you," Mako corrects. "For coming back to us."
The pro-bending arena is packed. She had once thought that the Revelation had been frighteningly full of non-benders who held some kind of anti-bending sentiment - but that had been nothing, compared to this. Korra feels bile rise in her chest, as she, Mako, Bolin, and Asami push their way through the crowd, toward the staircase leading to the balcony. The only balcony seating area still open, on the left side of the stadium.
There are so many people here, some laughing and chatting, like this is some casual event, some looking serious, and some eager. The sight makes her stomach sink like a stone. Even if she does take down Amon today, and expose him as a liar and a fraud, it doesn't change the fact that a huge part of the city's population has anti-bender sentiment, and believes in Amon's ideals. Throwing them in jail, like Tarrlok would want to, isn't the answer. It's going to take a lot of work to change the city, and reform the practices that had sowed so much anger and dissension among the non-benders of Republic City.
They finally reach the balcony viewing area, and Mako closes and locks the door behind them, making sure nobody will be able to follow. Korra stands near the railing, trying not to stare at all the people below. Trying to take deep breaths, and not lose her composure.
This is why I came back. I need to do something to restore balance to Republic City, and keep Amon from eradicating the city of benders. This is my purpose-
But I'm scared. I want to go home. I want to go to back to Mom and Dad...
Our showdown, while inevitable, is premature. Although it would be the simplest thing for me to take away your bending right now, I won't. You'd only become a martyr. Benders of every nation would rally behind your untimely demise, but I assure you, I have a plan. And I'm saving you for last, then you'll get your duel, and I will destroy you.
Korra closes her eyes, exhaling slowly. This is the day. This is the day of their final showdown. But she won't be destroyed.
Still, she's afraid. Her stomach hurts, and her skin is slick with cold sweat, underneath the Equalist uniform. She's never been this scared in her life, and it is the worst feeling ever. She's been in a lot of fights, she's no stranger to combat, but no situation - except for her fight with Tarrlok in his office - has had so much riding on it.
And she has to perform. She has to be brave, and prove herself as worthy of being the Avatar.
All of a sudden, the lights in the arena dim, except for the ones on the main stage. A low, excited murmur ripples through the crowd beneath them, before a hush falls over the arena. Korra's fingers tighten on the railing, and on either side of her, she can feel Asami and Bolin tense up.
When the platform rises into view, Amon with it - dressed in dark clothes, both hands clasped behind his back, features (like Tarrlok's and hers? Dark brown skin and blue eyes?) obscured by that eerie cream-and-red mask... It's the first time she's seen him, actually seen him, in more than nine months. He is her nightmares made flesh, and Korra's skin crawls with the knowledge of the power he really holds in his hands, but she won't look away.
When he starts to speak, she can't help but listen to see if there is any trace of Tarrlok's voice (familiar, comforting, irritating, and even beloved) in Amon's. He opens, as always, with his pathetic story, the falsehood that he had used to ingratiate himself with supporters like Hiroshi Sato, to make himself seem like one of them. When I was a boy, a firebender struck down my entire family and left me scarred. That tragic event began my quest to equalize the world.
You lie. Korra has to bite her tongue to hold it back. If only it were that easy...
She has to listen to another several minutes of him gloating, before he steps forward, to the center of the stage. "And now," Amon-Noatak says, his voice dripping smugness and victory, "...The main event. Today is the dawn of the new era, the one that we have waited for for decades, if not centuries. Today, we cast out the old, once and for all, and embrace the new world order."
With that, another, smaller, platform behind him begins to rise, the harsh glare of the spotlights throwing the sight into sharp relief. Though they had all been expecting it, the breath leaves Korra's body at the sight of Tenzin, Lin, and the other councilmembers. Each of them are tied to a pole on stage, bound at the arm and leg and waist, gags stuffed into their mouth, and blindfolds around their eyes.
"Oh, no," Bolin whispers, pointing at the representatives from the Fire Nation and the Southern Water Tribe - both of them older than Tenzin and Lin by ten years, at least, and both looking so very frail. "They're old! This - this is..."
"This is an injustice!"
Korra's voice echoes around the arena, loud and clear, effortlessly cutting across Amon's. He stops, looking up at their dimly-lit balcony, and whispers break out among the crowd. Amon's guards move from the sides of the stage toward the center, flanking him, but there's nothing they can do, from down there.
"This is insanity!" Korra yells, before Amon has a chance to say anything, to cut her off. "Non-benders of Republic City, the struggles you face are real and need a solution, but this is not it. What Amon is talking about is dangerous! He wants to get rid of an entire population of people, just because they were born with a certain trait!"
She flounders for a second, unsure of where to go, but plunges on, raising her voice even more, to make sure that she can even be heard over the crowd. "Saying that there's no room in society for benders, and that we need to stamp them out, is unacceptable! What's next? Saying that there's no room in society for blind people, or people who aren't smart enough to work at high-paying jobs?"
"There has never been a time in history where benders have even suggested the elimination of non-benders!" Asami calls, her voice just as strong as Korra's. "The solution is to work toward equality peacefully! Non-benders of Republic City, is this the world where you want to live in? Is this where you want your children to grow up? In a place where equality is brought about through pain and force, instead of cooperation, unity, and respect? The violence of this...this forced equality will only engender more violence, hatred, and misery, among the people of this city!"
The crowd is making noise, but it's not booing or jeering, not that she can hear. Emboldened, Korra pulls her mask and goggles off her face, flinging them to the floor, and facing the stage. "Amon, listen to us! It's not too late, yet. Just let them go, just stop this, and work with me to find a reasonable solution to the problem-"
"More meaningless words from the bending establishment, after decades of the same. But it's so sweet, Avatar," Amon says, his voice dripping poison. "You've come to share your mentor's fate." He turns, ever so slightly, to his guards. "Seize her."
"Now!" Korra shouts. She grabs Mako's arm, and he reads her mind, using his firebending to jump from the balcony to the wall. The arena tilts wildly as they sprint across the wall, and she's vaguely aware of Bolin and Asami swinging overhead, via the metalbending cable that Bolin had stuffed in his pocket before they left the shelter of the tunnel this morning.
The four of them hit the stage, and everything is chaos. The guards are running toward them, lightning sticks charged. Without thinking, Korra ignites fire in her palms, as much as she can summon, sweeping it toward them - and to avoid it, they dive off the stage.
"Go!" she yells, looking wildly around at Asami and Bolin. They're already yanking the prisoners' blindfolds off, frantically sawing and tugging at the lengths of rope that bind them. More guards run from backstage, and Asami throws the knife back to Bolin, charging at the nearest few guards-
Amon advances on her and Mako, and her throat dry as sandpaper, Korra looks over at Mako. Understanding, he runs not at Amon, but around him, seemingly toward the doorway where the guards are coming from, to help Bolin hold them off. A chill goes down Korra's spine as she glimpses Mako halt and stumble, for no reason whatsoever. Bolin freezes in the middle of a tussle with a guard very strangely, letting the guard slam a fist into his stomach so hard that he falls to the floor.
It had just lasted a second, enough not to immediately arouse suspicion among the people in the crowd. Nobody would even notice unless they had been really looking for it... But that's going to change. That's going to change very soon.
Out of the corner of her eye, Korra sees the one thing that she had been counting on: the reflection of the dark water, shimmering on the concrete walls. Someone, either the police or the Equalists, had closed off most of the pool that she and the Fire Ferrets had fallen into, and forced other teams into, a dozen times...
Most of the pool. But there's still enough to do what she needs to.
Amon sprints toward her, closing the distance between them, but it's not at him that Korra looks at. It's at Mako, behind Amon, whirling to face his back. In that instant, she exhales, and makes the same rapid, sweeping movement with her hands as Tarrlok had, on the night of their battle at his office.
The water streams out of the pool, transforming itself into sixty sharp, impossibly fast-moving daggers of ice, in one second. They fly toward Amon's face and body, in the same second the wall of fire that Mako breathes flies toward his back, wrapping around his sides, so that there is no possible way for him to dodge-
The crowd is screaming, and Korra stumbles backwards. Time slows to a stop, and she can't breathe, and it has nothing to do with the smoke billowing from the blazing velvet curtains and Equalist banners. Will he?
She sees his eyes widen, behind the mask. There is fear and panic there, just like the fear he had instilled in all the benders of Republic City, and Korra has time for a moment of vindictive pleasure before Amon strikes, as quick as a lion-snake, too fast for the eye to see. One sharp, circular movement of his arm, and the ice daggers dissolve, forming a stream of water that flies around to his back, colliding with the fire, making it explode into so much steam.
For two breaths, an eerie hush falls over the entire stadium. Korra catches a fleeting glimpse of Tenzin, Lin, and the councilmembers shaking loose their bindings, as Bolin and Asami grab them, guiding them to the door in the back, and getting them off the stage.
Slowly, very slowly, Amon turns to her, and Korra's blood runs cold. Their eyes meet, blue to blue, and bizarrely, she has never been so aware of their shared heritage. It's like she is him, in that moment. She feels his all-consuming rage, and-
Mako slams into his back, knocking him to the floor. "No!" Korra screams, and she lunges forward, grabbing his shoulder, wrenching him up and free of Amon. They run through the smoke still billowing from the curtains, trying not to trip on the guards' unconscious bodies and the discarded gags and rope, and they're through the door. Korra can hear Amon's footsteps just behind them.
She slams the door behind them, once they're out into the hallway, throwing her body against it. "Go," she pants, looking at Mako. "Get out of here. Find the others. I'll hold him off, I don't want him coming after everyone else."
"No way!" he snaps. "There is no way I am leaving you alone with him. He's seriously angry, and Korra-"
She shrieks, toppling forward, as Amon's foot slams into the door, kicking a hole in the wood. Mako's hand closes around her arm, and both of them start to sprint, even faster than they had before, through the deserted hallways of the pro-bending arena.
"Where should we-" Korra pants, and Mako changes direction suddenly, pushing open the first door he sees.
It's one of the practice rooms. Actually, it's the same one that she, Mako, and Bolin used to practice in, so long ago, laughing and joking together between drills. For one stupid second, Korra feels the sting of tears behind her eyes. It was so long ago, when the most serious of their worries was whether they stood a chance of getting to the pro-bending finals, and Tahno and the Wolfbats were their only real, personal enemies. And now...
"Korra, what are you doing?" Mako asks, keeping his eyes on the door and backing up, settling into a fighting stance. His hands are steady, curled into fists that are ready to strike, but his voice betrays the strain and fright. "Get into one of the supply closets. Maybe I can convince him that we split up, and that you headed in a different direction."
Mako glances over at her, evidently surprised by the steely disagreement, and Korra shakes her head wordlessly, her fingers curled into fists. The fear is gone, now, replaced by something colder and harder. It's time for her to face this, and put an end to it, once and for all. For close to a year, ever since their confrontation on Air Temple Island, Amon has haunted her mind like a dark specter. Like her own personal demon. The constant nightmares, the flashbacks, the panic attacks. The fear. I will destroy you.
The fear of him harming her family and friends. I'm saving you for last. The fear of walking down a street and being ambushed, or returning to Air Temple Island to find...
Korra swallows over the tightness in her throat. "No. I'm not hiding. I've waited for this day for a long time."
Mako hesitates, visibly worried. He looks like he's going to argue, but something in her face changes his mind, and finally, he nods. "Fine. If you're going to fight, I'm going to fight with you."
The slow, deliberate sound of heavy footsteps echoing in the hallway cuts him off. They freeze, and exchange a look, and - if I'm going to die, I'm glad that I won't be alone - and it's not the smartest thing to do, but Korra closes her eyes for a second, bracing herself. Calling upon the strength and courage of all the Avatars before her.
She opens her eyes to Amon-Noatak standing in the doorway. His face is still covered by the mask, but she can feel the fury radiating off him, as it had earlier. "Avatar," he says, softly, coldly, every syllable laced with a loathing that hadn't been present before. "It appears that we won't have an audience after all, but that does not reduce the satisfaction of what I'm going to do to you."
Korra's face tingles with the heat of the flames that Mako blasts toward him. Amon dodges them easily, his eyes still trained on her. Unexpectedly, Korra bursts into laughter, loud and bitter and mocking. "We don't have an audience?" she repeats, in an overly-deliberate, exaggerated mimicry of his deep voice. "That's funny, Noatak. More like, you had to run out on your audience, after we freed your hostages and - oh, yeah! Exposed you as the hugest liar and fraud ever."
Amon's fingers flex, and she can see him shift from one foot to another, like he's getting ready to strike. "You think that's funny, don't you, Avatar? You're so very sophisticated. So mature."
Beside her, Mako suddenly doubles over, clutching his stomach.
"Your friend thinks it's funny too," Amon says conversationally. Mako staggers forward a few steps, still bent double, his mouth open, but no sound coming out, in a cruel parody of laughter. His eyes are wide and panic-stricken, and he's clawing at his chest and stomach, and-
The square-shaped, ninety-pound earth disc that Korra sends flying at Amon nearly decapitates him. He leaps to the side, and Mako collapses to the floor, unmoving but breathing. Korra stares at Amon through narrowed eyes, her shoulders heaving. "Stay away from him," she says, and her voice doesn't even sound like her own.
She takes a few steps backward, forcing herself to shrug nonchalantly, and make the same dismissive hand gesture that she had shown to the Triple Threat Triad, so long ago. "Come on. You're going to preach about the evils of bending, and the unfair advantage that it gives benders over innocent non-benders, and then use it in your fighting? Bullshit. You posed as a non-bender for so long. Are you enough of a man to fight me without your bending?"
Amon doesn't move, and Korra smirks. "Thought so, hypocrite."
He flies at her with a snarl, moving across the floor with the impossible speed and agility of an airbender, and Korra slams her fist into his mask, with all the strength she possesses. The ceramic shatters, cutting her hand, cutting his face. He spits out blood and a few broken teeth, glaring at her with eyes so unlike Tarrlok's, before grabbing her arm and twisting it mercilessly. He drives ruthless fingers into a pressure point in her spine, sending lancing, white-hot spirals of pain throughout her body.
Korra lashes out with a kick, knocking him off balance, sending him staggering away. "So, finally, I get a look at the guy who thought it would be cool to suggest wiping a certain type of people off the planet forever-" A knifehand strike, to the back of his neck. "The guy who thought it would be okay to threaten another human being, someone more than twenty years younger than them, and their family and friends too..."
Another kick, catching him in the chest. "The guy who had a plan to kidnap an innocent woman, three children, and a baby, before Tenzin sent them away. And who planned to bomb this entire city with airplanes, and destroy the streets with mecha-tanks, rather than just work with me and the government to come to a nonviolent solution."
Korra dodges the punches he throws at her, and sneers at him, before catching him with another right hook to the face. He stumbles backward, hitting the padded wall, and she leans close. "You're human slime, Amon. I'm looking forward to working with the non-benders of this city to find solutions to their problems, and I'm even more glad that you'll be rotting in prison while we do that."
Amon stares at her, bare face livid with hatred. Korra has enough time for one moment of futile resistance before a vice-like grip squeezes her heart, in one violent convulsion. She collapses to her knees, hearing them crack audibly. She can't breathe. She can't breathe, and her terror is absolute. Her ribs feel like there's something heavy sitting on them, and she can feel them creaking with the strain. No, she thinks, flashing back to what Aang had shown her, so many months ago. Yakone, bloodbending Aang, holding him above the ground, trying to break his neck...
Her neck snaps back with awful speed, leaving her neck exposed, and her face tilted up to Amon. To Noatak. The scream building in her throat has no way of getting out, and she can't even blink. Her wide eyes twitch desperately. No, no, no, no. This can't happen. After everything she has been through, this can't happen.
After I take your bending away, you will be nothing.
"Do you really think," Amon asks quietly, "that I will let you do to me, what Aang did to my father?"
She has never tried as hard to break the grip of bloodbending, as she is now. Not even with Tarrlok.
Amon leans over her. "They say..." His voice is so quiet, now, that Korra can barely hear it over the terrified thud-thud-thud of her heart. "They say that the old Avatars live on in the new. Aang..."
She doesn't even have time to hope that Mako, Asami, and Bolin's theory had been right, and that de-bending won't work on an Avatar.
And the pain is unlike anything she has ever experienced before.
It's blinding. It's severing, like he had reached into her brain and laid it bare and slashed through it, from end to end, with a hot, sharp knife. Before Korra even hits the floor facefirst, she knows that it's over. That it's gone.
I told you I would destroy you. Amon's voice, disembodied, floats from above.
No. No no no no. She's a child, clinging to her mother's dress, on the morning the Order of the White Lotus had come to take her away. Crying and blasting fire, except-
No no no.
Fingers close around her upper arm, harshly wrenching her upward. Her muscles feel like they've been gnawed on by an eel-shark, but Korra fights, trying to push his arm away, to get him away from her. Amon just tightens his grip on her, dragging her forward on her unsteady legs, and she almost collapses. "Move," he orders, pulling her past Mako, despite her best efforts to dig in her heels and stay with him.
Her chest still hurts too much to talk much, to swear and scream and rage like she wants. Her mouth tastes of blood. Maybe she had bitten her tongue when he had taken her bending. Maybe the bloodbending had made her spit up blood, like it had when Tarrlok had done the same thing to her, months ago.
"No," Korra manages, trying to pull away and go back to Mako, still lying motionless on the ground. Her vision fades black, and then returns to normal when she blinks. "No. Let go of me, you monster."
Amon ignores her, jerking her forward, like a dog on a lead, out of the practice room and into the hallway. Naga, Korra thinks, with a pang. Sitka. You'll still love me-
A muscle in Amon's jaw is jumping, and there are faint tremors running through his shoulders. "Taking you as a hostage worked well enough for my brother. You're worthless without your bending, but Beifong has a sentimental attachment to you, nevertheless. You learned to cooperate with Tarrlok well enough," Amon mutters, almost to himself. "Maybe I'll have similar luck."
Korra stops dead, and briefly, everything fades to the background. The pain in her muscles. The bruises - the rapidly-forming black eye that Amon had given her, and terrible ache in her head, the indescribable, disgusting sense of loss inside her...
Amon yanks on her arm again, enough to make her shoulder feel like it's going to part company with its socket. Korra lunges forward, and she isn't even conscious of what she's doing, just that her hands slam into him, and then fasten themselves around his throat, squeezing and twisting. "Nobody," she breathes, bringing her face close to his, and she shoves him hard, pushing him backward- "Is ever going to take my freedom away from me again. Nobody is ever going to make me powerless again. Do you hear me?"
She's shouting, her voice cracking, and Korra slams Amon against the large window as hard as she can, driving her elbow into his neck and slamming her knee up into his groin.
All the breath leaves Amon's body in an agonized, ragged gasp - but then, his eyes widen and his gaze goes upward, and so does Korra's.
Too late, she sees the glass blossoming with thin, spiderweb cracks. She tries to let go, to stagger backwards, but Amon grabs her, his face twisted with hatred.
The glass explodes, in a loud, sickening cacophony, and they're falling. Korra has a brief, dizzying view of the ocean, beneath them, and the sound of people screaming...
The moment of impact is stunning and painful, driving all the breath from her body.
Her eyes sting from the salt water when she opens them, and Korra gasps for breath. Her mouth and lungs fill up with water-
It's only then that it really hits her, and the terror is all-consuming. She's surrounded by water, water to either side of her, beneath her, on top of her, and for the first time, she doesn't feel at home. The water around her doesn't respond to her touch, to her panicked flails - as it has, for as long as she can even remember. The ocean used to be her home, an environment that was almost natural. Now it feels alien. Hostile.
With all of her depleted, failing strength, Korra tries to strike out, to swim away from Amon. One of his hands closes around her throat, dragging her back, and she doesn't even have enough time to think why? before he moves his hands, and they're sinking. They're sinking fast, into the depths of the ocean, away from life-giving air.
She's coughing and spluttering, her eyes on fire. She can barely see him, as she fights, kicking and lashing out as best as she can, clawing and punching. All she can see is the loathing - truly merciless hatred - in his eyes.
This is going to be his revenge. For exposing him for what he is, he's going to do this. Kill her, in her own natural element - what had been her natural element. The first element she had learned how to bend. It's the ultimate irony.
Her head aches, and her chest, and her muscles and head and everything, from trying to fight. She can't go without air for much longer, not with Amon's hand tightening around her neck.
Korra closes her eyes, futilely trying to pry his hand away from her neck, to swim upward, away from his grip. He's not speaking, but she hears his voice in her head, along with her own. Dark and horrible, and pervasive, sinking into every nerve and muscle and bone. Why even fight this? If she dies now, the damage will be reversed, and a new Avatar, a better and whole Avatar, can be born again. An Avatar that can't bend - it's impossible. It's laughable. The whole reason that she even exists is to be the Avatar, and she can't do that without her bending. She's nothing without her bending, nothing-
If only she could have said goodbye to her mom and dad, to Tenzin and Lin and the kids. To her friends. Tarrlok, Korra thinks, and she thinks she's sobbing, now, sobbing without even being able to properly breathe. It hurts, but so does everything else. You were right when you said I would have been safer in the Earth Kingdom. But I did the right thing, and that's what matters.
And through the crushing pain in her head, inexplicably, she remembers the Earth Kingdom. She remembers Emi and Roumei. Fragments of celebrating her birthday with them, and picnics in the meadow, and tea at the bakery. Driving the Cabbage Car for the first time, and laughing. So much laughter.
They had loved her, even without her bending. Unbidden, Korra remembers the way Tarrlok would hug her every day when he came back from work, and how he would laugh as she picked him up and spun him around.
The rest comes in flashes. Her parents, holding her tight, when they had visited Republic City. Late nights with Mako, Asami, and Bolin, sitting on the beach on Air Temple Island-
I can't leave that behind.
They cared about her. Emi, Roumei, the other people she had met in the Earth Kingdom, Tarrlok, her mom, her dad, Mako, Asami, and Bolin. Not Korra-the-Avatar, but Korra, the person. And Emi, Roumei, Asami, Pema... They were all non-benders, just like… like she is now. And they were alive, and happy.
Korra opens her eyes, fighting for every increasingly shallow breath, with renewed desperation. I am not giving up. I am not giving up. She is going to fight.
Amon looks down at her dispassionately, and tightens his grip, and everything goes black.
Tarrlok paces from one end of his cell to the other, and back again, over and over again. Every few minutes, he stops near the wall, places his hands on the windowless cement, and looks toward where he thinks the pro-bending arena is. It's no use, of course.
He has never wished for a clock more. He paces, his heart in his throat, his hand in his pocket, clammy palm curled tightly around something small.
He had come home from work one day, to find the house empty, Korra and Sitka both absent. This had been after the time he had been worried about her trying to run away, and before the time had been worried about her trying to...
There had been a hastily scribbled note left on the kitchen counter. Gone swimming. Later, Korra.
He had shrugged his bag off, left it on the table, and slipped out, through the back door. The walk to the coast was a short one, and as soon as Tarrlok stepped out onto the sand, he saw them. Korra and Sitka were both dripping wet and covered with seaweed, trudging up from the water's edge. Sitka had barked and run toward him, tail wagging frantically.
Korra followed at a slightly slower pace. He still remembers how he had protested, when she had flung her arms around him, paying no mind to his dry clothes and her wet ones, and hugged him tight. Korra, can't this wait?
No complaining, tigerbear, I got you a present. Without further ado, she pulled it out of her pocket and held it out for him, cupped in the palm of her hand.
The pearl was of medium size and slightly misshapen, but it shone, even in the cloudy, watered-down afternoon light. Korra beamed, and it was just as striking as the gem in her hand. It's for you. For luck, and stuff. Well, that's what it means in the Southern Water Tribe, anyway.
Tarrlok had tried to refuse, insisting that she keep it, but Korra had tipped it into his palm anyway, with unusual gentleness. He had leaned down and kissed her, with no complaints about the cool saltwater on her lips, or the briny scent of the seaweed tangled in her hair.
He had never imagined himself to be this sentimental, but he treasured the sole pearl more than any of the countless expensive purchases in his house in Republic City. He'd had it in his pocket on the day of the ill-fated attack on the Equalist base, and it had survived his transport to the prison outside of the city that Noatak had thrown him into.
He should have given it to Korra, before she had left. Strode out of his cell, head held high, to face the unknown.
Tarrlok's fingers tighten around the pearl almost convulsively. And, outside of his cell, the key turns in the heavy iron door.
His heart skips a beat. He has just enough time to hope that the door will swing open and Korra will come charging in, followed by her friends, triumphantly announcing her victory-
When the door opens, it is Noatak that walks inside. Noatak, unmasked.
Tarrlok freezes, and his mind, normally so sharp and quick, struggles to comprehend it. What does this mean? Where is Korra? The fear is building inside him, and it is dreadful.
"Noatak," he says, and his voice doesn't even sound like his own any longer.
His brother won't meet his gaze. He stares at his knees, instead. "It's over, brother. I'm sorry for what I had to do to you."
It's over. What is that supposed to mean? Tarrlok should be asking these questions, he knows this. His throat is tight, and he thinks he already knows the answer, and he can't bear it.
Without waiting for a reply, Noatak moves forward, pulling a small key from his pocket. He unlocks the heavy padlock over the cell door, and then steps backward, pulling it wide open. It creaks, and Tarrlok stares uncomprehendingly.
"Come," Noatak says, like he's commanding a dog.
Tarrlok doesn't move. Noatak's nose looks like it has been broken. Finally, his brother speaks again, his voice barely audible. "Please. We have a second chance, now. We can start over, together." He pauses. "Like we should have, so long ago."
The words have an immediate, visceral effect on him, and it takes an effort to keep it from showing. All he had ever wanted, as a child, was to hear those words. He had dreamed about it, in the months and years after Noatak left. He had dreamed of Noatak coming back, and saying this-
The eleven-year-old inside him wants to step forward, out of the cell. To walk beside his older brother, for the first time in more than twenty years, and not look back.
Tarrlok doesn't move.
"Where is Korra?" he asks.
Noatak won't meet his eyes. It's as if he hadn't heard him. Tarrlok repeats the question, his voice louder and stronger than he had expected, and Noatak almost flinches. "Where is Korra?"
For a few seconds, there is nothing but silence. "Dead," Noatak says, at last, and the word has a heavy, terrible finality. "Drowned, in Yue Bay."
The words don't compute. Dead. Not Korra, so overwhelmingly full of irrepressible vitality. Drowned, in Yue Bay. Tarrlok almost laughs. Not the girl who had been as home in the water as she was on land. The ocean was her playground.
Not without her waterbending.
Tarrlok closes her eyes against the voice.
Not if a waterbender had dragged her beneath the surface and held her there.
"You killed her."
Noatak doesn't blink. He doesn't deny it. He actually spreads his arms placatingly, palms upward. "Tarrlok, the Avatar is gone. There is nothing for you here. Without her to protect you, you'll spend the rest of your life in jail, if not worse-"
It's the sight of Noatak's hands that does it. The same hands that had used bloodbending against Yakone, against him, that had taken his bending, and so many others' - the hands that had killed Korra - the hands that had indirectly killed their mother, as surely as if Noatak had opened her mouth and force-fed her the poison himself.
Tarrlok stumbles forward, and he sees Noatak's eyes widen, before his hands close around his throat, twisting and squeezing mercilessly. Despite the difference in height, despite the difference in strength, he's shaking Noatak like a rag doll, and once again, when he opens his mouth, it's the child that speaks. "You - ruin - everything! You killed her!"
Noatak chokes, and Tarrlok tightens his grip, and the words that come out of his mouth aren't even coherent. Mother, murderer, monster-
He doesn't see Noatak's hands move. All he knows is that one moment, he's on the ground, and the next, sickeningly, he flies off it, and goes hurtling back-
Tarrlok hits the bars, and he hears something crack. He collapses to the floor, and when he reaches up to touch his head, his hand comes back wet with blood.
His vision is blurred, going dark at the edges. He can't even see Noatak's features clearly. His voice sounds like it is coming from very far away.
You're still a fool.
Footsteps on the ground. The door slamming shut.
He can't keep his eyes open any longer.
Tarrlok's last thoughts are of his mother, and of Korra, before he closes his eyes, and the darkness consumes him.
to be continued
As always, thank you so much to everyone who has reviewed so far, and any and all feedback would be very much appreciated. I love hearing what you guys think.