Title: It's In The Water
Rating: M for later.
Summary: Every gift is a sleeping curse. Post-finale.
Pairing: Korrlok, some Makorra in the beginning
Author's notes: I'm a slow burner. But trust me, there is hot sex somewhere in the future. And I ship water tribe/water tribe. ALL OF THEM. ALL OF THE WATER TRIBE. This is dedicated to aiffe, who reminded me why I love writing all fiction, original and fan. I love her and you should love her too. Anyway. Here. Have some angst.
"i set a course for a new shore
it looked the same as the one before
and i forgot what i'd been sailing for
and why i thought this time would be different"
-Steven Page, "A New Shore"
i. bite the hand that feeds
When Tarrlok wakes up, the first thing he sees is Korra.
She is sitting by his bed, her arms up, her hands casually cradling the back of her head while she stares at the ceiling. Her legs are crossed as a man would cross them, one foot propped on her knee, kicking arrhythmically as she hums without tune. If his... well, if his everything didn't hurt, he would sit up and demand to know what she is doing in his room.
But he's not in his room, he realizes. The sheets are worn and soft instead of silky, and the air smells sharp and clinical. The light from the windows slants from the wrong direction, is diffuse and pale, and the noise from the street outside is far too boisterous for his home. The hospital, he realizes, and he remembers.
He should be dead. Should be dead, but isn't. Why didn't it work? Does that mean that Noatak...
He swallows, and its like a fist clenching in his dry throat.
Korra glances at him at the sound, and it takes a moment for her to realize he is awake.
"Tarrlok!" she says, as if she has just remembered his name. It makes him want to laugh, but in a way that feels like screaming.
He licks his dry lips. "Avatar," he rasps, "what are you doing here."
The look of surprise on her face dissolves into a scowl. "Saving your ungrateful butt," she snaps at him.
How am I ungrateful? he wants to ask. He's only just woken up. His brain is fuzzy and he can't seem to think straight, and speaking to her has already drained him. He sags further into the pillows as the door opens with a squeal of ungreased hinges.
A nurse strides inside, carrying a bowl of water, and he realizes that he still cannot sense water, much less the blood of other people. It feels as though his skin has gone numb. His bending is still gone, and something sparks in his chest, an emotion too strange for him to dwell upon.
Noticing he is awake, the nurse stops dead. A bit of water splashes over the side of the bowl, but Korra reaches her hands out-a movement so graceful and familiar it almost brings tears to his eyes-and catches it in mid-air. Gently she guides it back to the bowl and takes it from the nurse. "I've got this," she says.
"Y...yes, Avatar Korra," the nurse says, bows a fraction, and hurries out, no doubt to report this change in his condition.
Tarrlok closes his eyes, just for a moment. He wants to ask how long he's been asleep, how he came to be here, what happened, what happened, what happened-
But she is lifting something from his skin. Gauze. Air hits him, and he wants to recoil, but he can't recoil from his own body. Then cool water caresses his face, sinking into his skin, and the pain that dwelled there, that he hadn't even been able to discern in the cloud of agony all around him, begins to dissipate.
The Avatar is healing him.
He has little strength, but he is able to turn his head. The pain comes back, fire and razors scraping over him, and he grits his teeth.
"What are you doing? Hold still!"
"Go away, Avatar," he tells her.
She huffs. "No, I won't. You're a mess. Let me help you."
He laughs, and it grinds inside his chest. He hurts. "Why would you help me?" he demands. Exhaustion is spreading over him, a creeping sickness.
"Well, for one thing, I need to know where Amon is. Noatak. Whatever." Again he feels the touch of healing water, mercy on his screaming body, and this time he doesn't have the strength to move away. "I thought you might know."
Tarrlok thought he knew. He thought he knew where they were both going: down to the bottom of Yue Bay in pieces, their tainted blood returning to the sea where it could do no harm. The ocean spirit would welcome its own back to the fold, surely.
But it hadn't happened like that. Obviously. And he has no idea why. He remembers nothing. His own eyes were closed as he pressed the glove to the gas tank, igniting the boat.
"I don't know," he rasps. "Leave me."
She ignores him, because that is who she is. Wrappings lift and water travels over his body, and he realizes that he is nude except for the bandages snugged around him, but he is too preoccupied with trying not to shriek to be humiliated. She speaks no more, and neither does he, and the air in the room is thick and heavy.
When she is finally done, she covers him with a sheet and calls the nurse.
He is already falling asleep as practiced hands wrap his injuries again, and he barely hears her pause in the doorway.
"I'll be back later, Tarrlok," she says, her voice coming as though from very far away. "Get some sleep."
He does, but not to please her.
Korra walks into the Air Temple courtyard, so lost in her own thoughts that she doesn't even see Mako approach. She starts at his hand on her arm, then relaxes with a smile.
"Hey," she says.
"Hey," he replies. "This is new. Haven't seen you here in a while." His smile is teasing as he wraps his arm around her.
She smiles back, the familiar giddy feeling of being with him making her heart flutter in her chest. She places her arm around his waist and shrugs. "Yeah, well. Avatar duty calls."
"Don't let it call you too often." He gives her a squeeze. "You look worn out."
"Tarrlok woke up," she tells him.
He stops dead in his tracks and she pauses in surprise. "What?"
"Wow," he says. "I didn't think he would. He was so... well. Let's just say I've seen some pretty bad burns in my life. I didn't think he'd survive."
She grins at him. "You forget you're talking to the Avatar, trained by Master Katara." She puffs out her chest and pounds a fist against her heart. "I'm the best there is!"
He laughs, but it sounds forced, and she remembers his parents and wants to kick herself. She may be the Avatar, but she has a lot to learn about people. If only she could social-bend. That would make things easier.
She reaches out and grabs his hand. "Come on," she says. "I'm starved. Want to raid the kitchen?"
"I'm not Bolin," he tells her. "I don't need to eat every hour, on the hour."
"Well, I do," she replies.
"You're going to make me lose my girlish figure if we keep eating like this."
"Not if you race me!" And she takes off, laughing. He chases her into the temple.
"So Tarrlok's awake," Mako says, some time later, after eating, after finding their favorite tree to cuddle under, after quick, furtive kisses that leave her heart fluttering and her face flushed. She's not ready to do anything more, but her body urges her to go further and further. Only the watchful eyes of the air acolytes around every corner keep her from going forward. She's not into that, or at least she doesn't think she is.
They are wrapped in a blanket against the cold, and she snuggles closer to him. "Yeah," she said. She didn't really want to think about it. "He was kind of out of it. He didn't want me to heal him."
"Do you think he'll remember what happened?"
She shrugs. "I don't know. I need to know where Amon is... His power with the Equalists is gone, but he still did terrible things." She shudders. "Even though..." She trails off, thinking of the story Tarrlok had told her, then shakes herself. Whatever his past, whatever their past, Amon-Noatak-and Tarrlok had committed the crime of bloodbending, and they would face justice, one way or the other. She'd restored bending to everyone who had lost it-except Tarrlok, that is. She would have to see if he deserved it or not. Perhaps she could restrict him to only waterbending, weaken his power so he could never bloodbend again. Despite what he had done to her, to so many people, he had still lost part of his self. He wasn't like Yakone or Noatak, though. If she ever found Noatak, she would see he got what he deserved.
"Yeah," Mako says, breaking into her thoughts. "I'm glad to have you back, though."
Surprised, she looks up at him. "What do you mean?"
He smiles. "You spent so much time healing him and hoping he'd wake up. Now that it's happened, you don't have to go back there until he's able to talk."
She frowns at him. "Yes, I do. He still needs to be healed."
"That's what the doctors are for."
Korra looks away. "Yeah, but..." Her mouth twists as she tries to explain the responsibility she feels. "I know him, you know? He wasn't a great guy, he did terrible things, but I know why he did them... If things had been different, we could have made great allies. Just because we weren't... I don't know. I guess it doesn't mean I should just abandon him. I feel obligated to help because I can. Does that make sense?"
Mako is quiet. "That sounds like some pretty good Avatar talk," he says finally.
She gives him a shy glance. "Yeah?"
"Yeah." He squeezes her and kisses her forehead, and she relaxes against him.
Silently, it begins to snow.
He's been drifting in and out of consciousness, struggling to find the will or the courage to move, but Tarrlok finds himself more and more exhausted with each thought, and he falls asleep when he blinks. Sometimes there is a nurse by his bedside. Sometimes there is no one.
Then there is Korra. Again.
"Go away," he tells her.
She crosses her arms. "Look," she says, "I just need your help."
The irony is enormous to him. Where were you when I needed help? he wonders. I had to trick you into helping me. Where were you when I needed help, all those years ago? Where were you, Avatar? It was your fault. It was all your fault.
But those aren't fair questions, and the accusations are only half-true, and he knows it, so he says nothing. She wasn't even Korra, then. Back then, she was Aang. But he never met Avatar Aang. All he can think of when he thinks of the Avatar is her now.
"I told you, I can't remember anything," he says.
"I can help you remember," she tells him, and he notices she is holding a skin of water. "Master Katara taught me how to heal the mind."
This time he has to laugh, and it turns into a coughing fit. His eyes stream and her hands are on his shoulders, pushing him back against the covers of the bed. They are cool against his feverish skin.
"What's so funny?" she asks, and because she has to ask he knows he can't explain it.
"How badly am I injured?" he says instead.
Her mouth twists. "Looks like you got into a fight with a firebender," she says. "Is that what happened? Did some firebender find you and... and your brother?"
He manages to shake his head. "Mirror."
From the look on her face, he knows it's bad, but hell, he's not in pieces, so it can't be that bad, can it? Her mouth twists as she moves to the bedside table and opens the drawer. She pulls out a small hand mirror. For a moment she hesitates, then holds it out so he can see.
It is that bad. Bandages cover half his face, and from what he can see his hair has been hacked off to just above the shoulder. It must have been burned in the explosion. Just like the rest of him. Slowly he reaches up and moves a bit of the gauze. The skin beneath it is dark red and shiny and wrinkled. He lets the gauze fall back.
"I can't... I can't prevent the scarring," she says, "but you're healing quickly." For a moment she seems to hesitate. Then she swallows and clears her throat. "I'm sorry about your hair."
He can't help but give her a sardonic look. "Just my hair?"
She rolls her eyes. "And the rest of you," she says. "But your hair... I'm sorry."
She shrugs. "You kept it long. Most people in Republic city cut their hair, but you kept the traditional hair... It was nice. Reminded me of home."
He stares at her and her skin darkens in a blush. "Shut up!" she snaps at him, even though he hasn't said anything. "Are you going to let me help you or what?"
"I'd rather you go away."
Her brows draw down. "I'm not going anywhere until you let me help!"
"Then I have no choice, do I, Avatar?"
She opens her mouth, then shuts it again.
"Fine," she tells him. "You're right. Hold still." And she draws water onto her fingers and reaches for his head.
The moment she touches his temples, his brain is bathed in coolness, a soothing feeling, numbing the tangled thoughts that have begun to strangle each other, like a nest of vipers.
His life flashes behind his eyes, skipping from one memory to another without rhyme or reason: his fight with Korra in his office, Noatak when he was a young man, the councilroom, his father's corpse, Tenzin shouting at him, his mother's crying face, the first time he let the water flow in him, through him, the ship that bore him over the sea, the first glimpse of Republic City, the world unfolding before him like a flower, Korra dancing before him like a puppet-
-his brother's hand on his neck, the sharp pain behind his eyes as Noatak destroyed him, the glove on his hand, the sudden fire and fury-
At the edge of his hearing, Korra gasps and recoils, but the healing lingers for a moment more...
-water rising up to claim him, to cradle him-
A lump rises in his throat.
"Are... are you okay?" Korra asks. "I felt something..."
"I don't know if he's dead," Tarrlock tells her. "But I don't think so."
He hears her intake of breath as he turns his face away from her to stare out the window. The sun is setting, sending anemic pink light over the walls.
"So he's... still out there?" There is a tiny quiver in her voice.
He closes his eyes and pretends to sleep.
"Tarrlok?" she calls. "Tarrlok?"
He is too tired, and his ruse becomes truth as she calls his name.