Tarrlok was gone by the time Ikki woke the next morning. If not for the wrinkled sheets on his side of the bed, she would have wondered if she'd dreamt falling asleep in his arms. She sat up and yawned, and the sickness hit her belly so suddenly she barely made it to the toilet in itme.
Jinora knocked on the bedroom door seconds later, and Ikki weakly invited her in.
"Are you okay?" Jinora asked. There was a hint of real sisterly concern underneath the forced coldness.
"I don't know. I think I'm really, actually sick," Ikki moaned. "I hate germs."
Jinora pressed the back of her hand to Ikki's forehead. "You don't have a fever. Have you been drinking your tea?"
"Yes, every single morning." Ikki glared at Jinora. She didn't want to be cross with her sister, but throwing up so much lately was putting her in a bad mood.
"When was the last time you bled?"
"I don't know, Jinora," Ikki sighed.
Jinora left and came back a moment later dressed in a black cloak. The hood covered half her face. She threw a similar one onto Ikki's leg. "Put it on."
"Where are we going?"
Jinora didn't answer.
Ikki washed her face and pulled the cloak on, and Jinora led her to her new car.
"Can you drive into the city?"
Ikki shrugged. "I guess so. You might have to remind me how to get there."
"That's fine." Jinora climbed into the passenger seat. "Go straight out of the estate and then turn left."
Jinora led Ikki to a restaurant on the edge of the nice part of the city. "Get out," she said. "Take the keys."
Ikki reluctantly left her shiny new car in the parking area. She walked towards the restaurant, and Jinora grabbed the back of her cloak.
"Where do you think you're going?" Jinora demanded. "We're headed this way."
She steered Ikki across the street, into the not-so-good-part of town, and Ikki shivered.
"Where are we going?" Ikki asked again.
"We're visiting someone." Jinora traded her grip on Ikki's shoulders for one on Ikki's hand. "Just walk like you know where you're going. You're drawing attention to us, and that's the last thing we need."
Ikki trailed behind Jinora's long steps, fighting the urge to raise her head and look around at everything. They finally reached the back door of a tall building with bars on the windows. Ikki peered up at it; it seemed to extend for a lot higher than she could see with the cloak blocking her vision.
Jinora slipped down an alley and rapped out a pattern on the side door of the building. It squeaked open a second later, and Jinora tugged Ikki inside. They were suddenly in a huge, stuffy kitchen. The smell of food made Ikki feel sick again, but before she could be overwhelmed, Jinora was pulling at her again. They went up flights of stairs and through twisting corridors until Ikki was thoroughly confused and nauseated. Jinora finally stopped outside a room that looked just like every other room in the building and knocked on the door.
"Come in," said an elderly woman.
Jinora stepped into the room, closed the door, and pulled back her hood. Ikki followed suit. At first she didn't understand why they were in this random woman's room, intruding on the old lady's reading time. And then she realized who the old lady was.
"Gran-Gran!" Ikki threw her arms around her grandmother's neck. "I've missed you so much!"
"Ikki?" Gran-Gran asked in surprise. "Is that you?"
"Yes, it's me!"
"Well, this is a surprise." Gran-Gran kissed Ikki's cheek. "What brings you girls to this part of town?"
"Ikki's been sick," Jinora said. "Since Tarrlok is away, I wanted her to see the best healer in Republic City."
She and Gran-Gran exchanged meaningful looks that Ikki didn't understand.
"I see," Gran-Gran said. "Why don't you sit down and tell me what's bothering you, Ikki?"
Ikki sat on the edge of the bed. "Jinora's making a big deal out of nothing. It's just a little stomach problem."
Gran-Gran's wrinkled hands touched Ikki's forehead, then the bottom part of her stomach. "Have you been drinking your tea every day?"
"Of course," Ikki said. "Why does everyone think I haven't been?"
Gran-Gran patted Ikki's stomach. "Because it seems the tea didn't do its job."
There was silence for a moment. Jinora was the first to break it.
"You can tell just from putting your hand on her?"
Jinora rounded on Ikki. "You must have skipped the tea at least once!"
Ikki's face felt hot as she realized what all the fuss was about. "You've watched me drink it every single morning, Jinora!"
"Did you dump it out while I wasn't looking? Did you make yourself throw it up?"
"No! Why would I do that?" Ikki bit the inside of her mouth to keep from crying.
"You've been doing all sorts of crazy stuff to get on Tarrlok's good side. It's like you doesn't even care that he killed Dad and hurt our entire family. You must have done this on purpose."
"I drank the tea! I drank it every single morning, and no, I didn't throw it up! If I'm having a baby anyways, maybe it was just meant to be."
"Oh, no. You are not throwing your whole life away! Gran-Gran, you have to get rid of it before she tells Tarrlok."
"No!" Ikki shrieked. "You can't!"
"Hush, both of you," Gran-Gran said sharply. "Do you want the nurse to investigate this ruckus? Let's settle this quietly."
The threat of being caught was enough to silence Ikki and Jinora.
"You can't let her have this baby," Jinora whispered. "You know she must have done this on purpose."
"Now, Jinora," Gran-Gran chided. "If the tea always worked, your father wouldn't have been born. If Ikki says she drank her tea, I believe her."
Jinora scowled and said nothing.
"Ikki, why don't you tell me why you feel so strongly about Tarrlok?" Gran-Gran suggested.
Ikki burst into tears. "I just don't think he can be all that bad, and everyone wants me to treat him like, like he's Fire Lord Ozai or something!"
"Even Fire Lord Ozai wasn't completely bad," Gran-Gran said. "Did you know I found his baby pictures once? Fire Lord Zuko's told me stories about the nice things he used to do with his father. Even very evil men aren't completely evil, Ikki."
"Tarrlok's not even committing genocide. He's just a normal guy who did some bad things and makes mistakes sometimes. He's more like Fire Lord Zuko! Shouldn't we give him more chances instead of writing him off as evil?"
Gran-Gran patted Ikki's back. "Ikki, dear, would you say that your dad was a good person?"
"Of course," Ikki said. "He was perfect."
"Not quite," Gran-Gran said. "His heart was good, but his temper could get out of control sometimes."
"What?" Ikki dried her eyes. "I don't remember that."
"Oh, it was quite a problem when he was younger. You were probably too young to remember, Ikki, but your parents had a terrible fight just before Meelo was born. As I recall it, Tenzin got so angry that he shoved your mother into a pillar and left bruises all over her back."
"What?!" Ikki shook her head. "Dad would never, ever do that! Especially not while Mom was pregnant."
"Well, he was under a lot of stress, as I understand it. I know that he felt terrible afterwards and worked very hard to keep his temper from becoming violent."
"So you're saying Tarrlok could be like Dad?" Ikki asked.
"I'm saying that Tarrlok's temper could be like your father's- if he made any efforts to control it," Gran-Gran replied. "The difference between Tarrlok and your father, or between Tarrlok and Fire Lord Zuko, is that Tarrlok doesn't care whom he hurts. No one is completely good or bad, Ikki. But Tarrlok... Tarrlok has had many, many chances, and he's only become increasingly more violent with each chance."
"He is trying," Ikki insisted. "He bought me a car to apologize for hurting me, and he doesn't hurt me more than a normal amount as long as I behave and don't mess things up. And now I'm having his baby, so things will get a lot better!"
Gran-Gran and Jinora exchanged judgmental looks, but Gran-Gran just patted Ikki's shoulder. "I hope you're right, Ikki."
"Do you hear her?" Jinora's eyes were shining with tears. "She's completely brainwashed!"
"Jinora." Gran-Gran stood up and took Jinora's face between her hands. "I know this is hard for you, but you have to look past your own hurt and see things rationally."
"I am seeing things rationally!"
Gran-Gran glanced at Ikki. "Everyone reacts to this sort of thing differently, Jinora. Asami was like an earthbender, making direct strikes and standing her ground until she was shattered by something stronger than her. Your mother thinks like an airbender, pulling herself out of harm's way and escaping in any way she can. You think like a firebender; even though you can dodge like an airbender, you're always plotting a deadly counterattack. And Ikki-" Gran-Gran gestured to Ikki. "Ikki is our waterbender. She can adapt and change form to survive anything the world throws at her. You can't hate her for turning to steam when you would turn to ice, Jinora. All you can do is protect her until she's out of harm's way and can be herself again."
"I try!" Jinora's voice cracked. "I try so hard!" She began weeping. "Everything I've ever done has been to keep her safe."
"I know, sweetheart." Gran-Gran hugged Jinora. "I know."
Ikki couldn't help herself. She hugged Jinora too, resting her head on Jinora's strong shoulder. "I know you would do anything to protect me," she sniffled. "Thanks, Jinora."
They all hugged and cried for a few minutes, and then Jinora started wiping her eyes and it was all over.
"Ikki, you have to promise not to tell Tarrlok we came here," she said sternly. "He'll beat you just as badly as me if he finds out."
"I know that," Ikki said. "I'm not stupid." She didn't try to argue that Tarrlok wouldn't hurt her, because even she couldn't quite believe that yet.
Jinora cleared her throat. "Gran-Gran, are you sure you don't want me to break you out of here?"
"No need, Jinora." Gran-Gran smiled. "I've told you a dozen times, I'll break myself out when the time is right."
"How can you be so calm about staying in an awful place like this?" Ikki asked, forgetting her own sadness for the moment. "Aren't you mad that you got locked up here?"
"The universe has a way of working these things out," Gran-Gran said. "Speaking of good people doing bad things..."
"Not you, Gran-Gran," Ikki protested.
"Yes, me. I'm sure you've both read enough books about me to know I'm just as human as anyone else."
"Huh?" Ikki tilted her head to the side. "I haven't, at least."
Gran-Gran smiled sadly. "When I was young, I was partly responsible for sending another young girl to an insane asylum."
"But that wasn't your fault," Jinora said. "Azula was really crazy."
"Not as much as I let the history books believe," Gran-Gran said. "Truthfully, she was malnourished and sleep-deprived when she had her breakdown, and she would have recovered a lot more quickly without the abuse she suffered in the asylum. And when I got a little older, I realized she had experienced even more abuse from her father than Zuko had. I was crueller than I needed to be, so now I'm happy to sit here and bide my time. Asylums for the elderly aren't as awful as the one we sent Azula to."
"Three years is more than enough time for penance," Jinora said. "You're the only person who stands a chance against Tarrlok."
"Not the only one," Gran-Gran said. "You're better at resisting bloodbending than most waterbenders. Just wait for the right moment, Jinora."
"The right moment for what?" Ikki asked.
"Nothing," Jinora said. "I just don't want him to hurt you."
"He won't, not anymore," Ikki assured her. "Once he finds out I'm having his baby, he won't have any reason to hurt either of us."
"Be patient with your sister," Gran-Gran said, kissing Jinora on the head. "Now both of you should be going. They'll be serving breakfast soon, and they won't be happy to discover you two up here." She kissed Ikki's forehead too, and then hugged them both. "Come visit again soon."