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 think I have a plot. Forgive me, but I'm just going to vomit this out and post it as I go. I'd like to just...relax with it, if that's okay? I just want to give something to the Korrlok wing of the fandom because they have brought me much joy. And agonizing rarely seems to make things better in any case. Enjoy the character study and eventual sexual tension. Also just sort of think of this as one long fic posted in installments instead of chapters because that's how I roll.
"if anybody comes to see me
tell 'em they just missed me by a minute
if anybody comes in to our room while we're asleep
i hope they incinerate everybody in it"
-The Mountain Goats, "Palmcorder Yanja"
ii. the tremor becomes a quake
Her first instinct-her first-is to reach out and shake Tarrlok. The fact that he has fallen asleep on her when she desperately needs to know what he knows is intolerable. The idea of Noatak still out there, still able to take bending away, is terrifying. He was hard enough to take down the first time; he would be more subtle next time. Wouldn't he? Would he continue his campaign, or would he move on to something else?
She doesn't even want to think about what a bloodbender like Noatak could do on the loose. Lifting her hands, she readies her water again, hoping to heal him enough to wake him up, but then she hesitates.
He looks fragile in the bed. Too fragile for her to disturb. His weight has plummeted, and she knows all too well that the bandages conceal a damage so extensive she thought he would die. He needs his rest.
Korra sighs. After he kidnapped her and bent her like a doll, she never thought she would care if he lived or died. Perhaps if he were still dangerous she would feel differently.
Anyway, she should know by now that her first instinct is usually a bad one. She leaves the room, closing the door quietly behind her. Down the hall, a janitor is mopping the floor, but no one else is around at this time of evening. The shifts are probably changing over to the night watch. She moves to the narrow stairway that leads down to the lobby where there's a phone she can use. She rings Tenzin.
"Hello?" Ikki answers.
"Hey, Ikki, can I speak to Tenzin?"
"Sure, Korra! Just a minute!" A loud clatter resounds in her ear and she winces. At the other end of the line, she hears Ikki racing off to find her father.
The minutes stretch out until at last the phone clatters again. "Hello?"
Korra sighs. "Jinora?"
"Oh, hey Korra. What are you doing on the phone?"
She grits her teeth. "Ikki was supposed to get Tenzin."
"Oh, you can't count on her for anything," Jinora informs her, as if Korra didn't already know this. "I'll go get dad."
The phone clatters again and Korra sags against the wall. She listens to the noise in the background, then, when she realizes that she will be waiting for quite a while yet, she tunes it out. Her eyes wander of their own accord over the wall in front of her. The wood is scored with graffiti, some vulgar, some mundane. Idly she scratches at a number someone hastily scrawled down, picking at it with her thumbnail. The line is quiet, and, she notices, so is the hospital. She glances at the front desk, but there is no one there. Outside, a car beeps, but inside it is silent.
Her hair stands on end. Her instincts are bad, but they aren't that bad.
A thump comes from the floor above her. Korra drops the phone and charges up the stairs.
The door opens, startling him from his doze, but he keeps his eyes shut. He doesn't want to see anyone.
Footsteps shuffle over the floor, and he hears the squeak of a wheel. His head is so foggy that he merely files this information away, unable to make sense of it. Something heavy and wet flops on the floor.
Not Korra, then, and not a nurse bringing food. Just as well; he isn't hungry anyway. He drifts in the in-between place, with waking on one side and sleep on the other. The sounds in the room are too loud, and his head hurts.
Someone is breathing by his bedside.
Years of well-honed instinct stir, but he remains still, keeps his breathing deep. Up until his visitor slaps him, that is, right across his burned cheek.
Agony explodes across his face and he can't even make a sound. He is overcome. His eyes fly open.
A face he has never seen before floats above him. He is dressed plainly, the handle of a mop in one hand. His eyes are cold. His mouth is set.
Tarrlok knows an enemy when he sees one. His muscles tense to fight or flee, but even those small movements send black spots swirling across his vision. His body is too damaged.
Ah, well, he thinks. Might as well finish the job.
"The Equalists survive," the man says quietly, "and we remember what you did."
But what did he do? Only tried to defend the city. Only sought to bring down a madman. His own brother. The dark skills they shared-it was too much. It was like lava poured into a metal goblet, melting them, overrunning them, until they were only twisted versions of their former selves, consumed by their own power.
He says nothing, only watches as the man reaches inside his sleeve and pulls out a knife. It gleams dully in the light of the setting sun streaming in through the window.
And then he hesitates, a moment of doubt flashing over his face.
It's the only opening Tarrlok needs. His fist darts out, aiming for the man's wrist.
But his hand is missing.
Of course, he thinks in the moment. Of course it's missing. I destroyed the boat with it. Of course, of course-
The punch falls short, and quick as lightning the blade flashes, slicing him across the ribs. He can see the man didn't want to, was only acting on instinct, because killing a burned cripple in a hospital bed-who could live with that? Horrified eyes meet his own before years of combat training kick in for him, and he heaves himself away, rolling over the side of the bed.
He lands on the floor with a thump so jarring he blacks out for a moment, and when he comes to, the first thing he sees is Korra.
"Tarrlok!" she is saying. With one hand her fingers are fumbling with the skin of water at her waist, and with the other she is pressing against his new wound, trying to keep the blood from flowing, but it covers the wood floor, fills the room with its sharp smell. "What happened?"
He doesn't answer. He is reeling from the pain, teeth gritted, breath shallow and ragged.
She curses, can't seem to uncap the water. "Stop bleeding!" she almost yells, and then the cork pops and she is pressing cool, healing water against his side. The pain eases. He breathes out.
"What happened?" she asks again.
"An Equalist," he tells her.
His vision is blurry, but he sees her bite her lip. "I should have known you'd be in danger here," she says. "We should have brought you to Air Temple Island first. I didn't think."
She never does and he almost says that, but at the last second he holds his tongue and concentrates on blocking out the physical sensations that surround him. His side hurts, but not as much.
"Damn it," Korra says. "I need more water." She looks around frantically and shouts, "Help! Someone, help!"
He stares at her, disbelieving. "Are you sure you're not going to call more Equalists down on us?"
She scowls. "I have to go get more water and tell Tenzin what happened. Can you, I don't know, not bleed everywhere for a second?"
"If I were still a bloodbender that wouldn't be a problem," he tells her. He almost giggles at his own sick joke, but the pain strangles his laughter before it is born.
She doesn't find it quite as funny as he does. "Yeah, I bet you'd like that," she snaps at him.
He closes his eyes. "No," he says.
He feels rather than sees her discomfiture. "Fine. Whatever. I need more water. You stay here, try to live."
He wants to tell her that even when he's not trying he still manages to live, but she's already on her feet, and he hears her boots pound against the floor as she races in search of more water. He opens his eyes again and stares at the shadows on the ceiling, wondering if he'll bleed out before she returns. Given the way things have been going, he doubts he will be so lucky.
"Mako, be careful," Korra says.
Mako rolls his eyes, but she sees him readjust his grip on the stretcher as together he and Bolin ease Tarrlok's motionless body through the door. He's not asleep, but he's not quite awake, either. He hasn't quite recovered from the blood loss, and the irony is a little too much for her. His blood is still under her fingernails. She washed her hands the old fashioned way instead of trying to bend the blood off of her skin. It was too much... well. Too much.
"Ready?" Bolin asks as they set the stretcher down next to the bed.
Korra moves to Tarrlok's side and nods. Gripping the sheet, all three of them manage to lift him onto the mattress. It is unsettling to her, how light he feels. He always gave her the impression of solidity.
This is what happens, she thinks, when your bending is taken.
He grunts a little as they set him down, and Korra frets. He's already weak from the burns; the wound he has sustained could send him over the edge. They need to get more food and water into him, and she needs to step up her healing game. The amount of healing she's done already has left her very tired, and briefly she considers trying to call up the Avatar State to give her the extra boost she needs, but she's not entirely comfortable with it yet. It's a rush of power, but she knows there are a thousand lifetimes looking over her shoulder, even though she doesn't see them and cannot hear them. It gives her the creeps, just a little, though she's sure she'll get over it eventually.
She looks at him and sighs. His only acknowledgment is to crack an eye-the damaged one-and peer at her through the slit of scar tissue.
She should probably let him rest, but knowing he might have information about Amon is agonizing. She turns to Mako. "Could you get me a bowl of water?"
Mako's mouth twists, but he says nothing, only nods and exits the room.
"What about me?" Bolin says. "Can I get you anything?"
Korra smiles. "Yeah. Go to the nearest water tribe diner and get a bowl of noodles and seal-broth. Make that two bowls. Ask Tenzin for some money, I guess. Tell him it's for Tarrlok."
"No problem." Bolin salutes and saunters out of the room after his brother.
She hears a dry rasping noise from the bed, and she turns to see Tarrlok with the faintest of smiles on his face.
"Fine dining, for me?" he says. His voice is gravely, deeper from disuse. It sounds almost like his brother's, and the memory makes her shudder.
She shrugs to cover up her discomfort. "Everything here is vegetarian. You need real Water Tribe food if you're going to recover."
The faint smile deepens. "And who says I will be doing that?"
Korra scowls. "Me," she tells him. "I say you will be doing that. So get used to it. And I have questions for you."
"I have the same," he replies, and closes his eyes.
"Don't you dare fall asleep on me again," she snaps at him, just as Mako enters with a bowl full of water.
"Are you guys okay?" he asks.
Belatedly, she realizes how bad it looks that she is yelling at a burned assault victim. "I'm just tired," she says. "I'm sorry, Tarrlok."
He doesn't even acknowledge her, but Mako places the bowl on the bedside table before putting his arm around her and moving her away from the bed.
"Are you sure you should be doing this?" he says, his voice low. "You're exhausted. I don't like to see you pushing yourself too hard."
His concern touches her. "I'm fine. Don't worry about me. Now let me concentrate, okay?"
He stares at her for a few more moments, long enough to make her uncomfortable, then nods. "All right," he says. He plants a kiss on her forehead and walks out of the room, sliding the door shut behind him, though he doesn't take care to do so gently, making the man on the bed jerk at the sound.
"Sorry," she tells him. "He's still not really okay with the whole bloodbending and kidnapping thing."
Tarrlok's face barely moves. "And you are?"
She takes in his broken body, burned and mutilated, and doesn't know what to say.
"Let's get to this," she says. "I'm going to heal you, and you are going to answer my questions."
"I have questions, too."
"Fine. We'll just... have a little chat." She kneels next to the low bed and begins to remove the bandages. She can hear him breathing, the air rasping in his throat, and the room is very quiet. It is different, tending to him here in her home. More... intimate. The thought slides down her spine and settles in the base of her stomach as a lump of unease, and she fumbles as she peels the bandages from his side. One finger pokes him in his newly scabbed wound and he whines.
"Sorry," she mutters. Reaching out, she bends the water from the bowl to her hands and holds them against the crimson scab. She'd been able to knit the skin back together long enough to hold while they transferred him here, but now she needed to work on getting the skin completely healed so the wound won't open again. Taking a deep breath, she lets her chi flow through her hands and into the water.
The healing glow lights up the room, amplifying the light from the single electrical lamp on the bedside. She has never quite understood healing, but Master Katara told her that it was her body's own healing flowing outwards, speeding and assisting her patient's natural healing process. No wonder she's so tired. Tarrlok seems to sleep more than a day-old canarycat. Which reminds her that she should probably get to talking if she's going to get anything out of him before he passes out again.
Tarrlok beats her to it. "Why did you not mention my hand?" he says. His voice is quiet, but his tone is only curious rather than devastated.
"I don't know," she says. "I couldn't really think of a good way to bring it up."
"And yet you brought up my hair."
She doesn't know what to say to that, so she changes the subject. "Can you tell me what happened?" She doesn't look at his face, only the dark skin beneath her fingers, slowly knitting together under her care.
"Noatak freed me," he says finally. "He had a boat, an escape vehicle. We boarded it and set out to sea. He..." Tarrlok trails off, seems to think better of speaking. "I blew up the boat," he says at last.
Korra is so shocked the coalesced water loses its shape, drops from her hands to the bed, where it immediately soaks into the sheets and mattress. She can't help but look at him. "With yourself on it?" she demands.
He is quiet for a moment. "It doesn't matter," he tells her at last. "The important part is that I believe Noatak escaped. I shouldn't have survived. But, of course, I have no bending. He may have bent the water around us so that we did not bear the brunt of the explosion."
Biting her lip, Korra bends the water from the bed and lets it coat her hands again. "I see," she says.
The atmosphere is awkward, as though his words have fallen into the space incorrectly. His confession has too many sharp edges. It doesn't fit comfortably between them.
"So Amon is still out there," she says at last.
She shakes her head. "How will we find him?" she wonders out loud. "Do you have any idea where he would go?"
She hears the slightest grind of his singed hair against the pillow as he shakes his head. "No. I did not even know he was alive until a few days ago. He is a stranger to me."
"I bet he's going to lay low for a while. Maybe change his face, like Yakone did." She grits her teeth. "We'd never find him that way."
"No. He is likely beyond our reach now, if he ever surfaces again."
She gives him a sharp look. "Our reach?"
He doesn't answer that. "Why must you find him?" he asks. "He is no longer a threat to Republic City."
"Because he's still dangerous. He has to pay for his crimes."
"I see." She hears the words he doesn't say: As do I.
The balance of power between them is so far removed from where it started that she finds herself reeling to keep her footing. Casting about, Korra attempts to regain control of the conversation. A memory tickles at her. "Hey. You recognized his bending when he used it on you!" she points out. "Could you recognize it again?"
He is quiet for a while. "No," he says at last. Her shoulders sag, until he adds: "Not as I am now."
She frowns. "What do you mean?"
A ghost of a smile flits across his face. "All bending feels the same to a nonbender, Avatar Korra."
Her eyes widen and she withdraws her hands. "Really?" she asks.
"Really," he replies. "I should know. I live as one now."
For a moment, Korra almost smiles, almost laughs. If she restores his bending, he could help her find Amon-but then again, he is Tarrlok, and she doesn't trust him farther than she could throw him. Which, given his current condition, was probably a fair ways away but still, she doesn't trust him at all. Perhaps this is just a ruse to get her to restore his bending-but he doesn't know she can do that, does he? There's a lot one misses out on by being in a coma. "Well," she says, because she's not sure what else to say. Gently, she moves the water back to the bowl just as Bolin enters with the soup she ordered. Korra steals one and sets the other by the bedside.
"I'll find someone to give this to you," she tells him. He doesn't respond, which makes her worry. The old Tarrlok would react with wounded pride. This Tarrlok-he is different.
I blew up the boat.
Brow furrowed, she pops open her soup, grabs her chopsticks, and starts shoveling them into her mouth as she walks. She needs to find Tenzin.