Author's note at the end, this time!
When they were finished with breakfast and about to leave the house, she waited for them. The cool of the morning washed over her where she stood in the doorway, looking into the decrepit wreck that would never be finished. She felt a faint pang. Rather uncomfortable with that, her first reaction was hurrying to tell herself to stop, to make that feeling go away—but, reluctantly, she let go a little. It was… okay to feel a bit weird. This house had seen a lot of weird. She needed to be more focused and not fighting with herself today.
For the first time, she wondered who had lived here before Noatak and Tarrlok had tried to make it their own. Who had they been? Where were they now? It must have been a long time ago that this house was lived in. She tried to imagine it as it might have been or could have been. Closing her eyes, she started with the basics; she painted the walls a light green—when in the Earth Kingdom, after all—clean, fresh, and the floor was laid with new, smooth wood like back in Republic City. The window frames would be painted too, with shutters. No glass, because they wouldn't have glass out here; maybe they wouldn't have wooden floors, either, but they definitely wouldn't have glass windows. Some Earth Kingdom furniture to fill the empty spaces… she didn't know what that would look like, but thinking of the people that she had met while she was here, she imagined some sort of stocky, functional chairs and tables, arranged to form a circle where everyone could see one another. She managed to hold it all together in her mind for about five seconds…
It was no good. She opened her eyes again and looked at the old, warped reality in front of her. Whatever she might have wanted it to be, for all of a second, it was too radically different to ever be changed. Korra cradled the tiny amount of sadness in her chest, and was surprised to feel a wave of relief crash over and wash away the sadness. She could see that this would never have worked. Not with her actively fighting it, not with the two of them left to their own devices. Never.
Noatak emerged from the old kitchen, carrying the waste of their breakfast, and raised an eyebrow to see her still standing there. She met his gaze, quite sure that he suspected or even knew what they were up to. Why didn't he say anything? "This is unusual," he said, slightly amused. Korra scowled and turned on her heels to walk away. She'd waited out of some stupid sentimentality, and now the moment had passed and she was going to go on her own. A hand closed around her arm and pulled her back, and she rolled her eyes as she turned gracefully right back to look into an affable smile. "Humour me."
"No," she said.
He shrugged. "As you like it. I thought something might have changed since our conversation, but evidently not. Go on ahead." Without hesitation, Korra moved away from him. She could see that he was gearing up to say something else and she didn't want to hear it. The silence stretched out behind her for a long moment; it passed into too long, and the potential for what he might have said evaporated. Instead, he leaned back into the house—she heard the creaking of the doorway—and called to Tarrlok that they were leaving. Korra listened carefully, but only heard a heavily muffled response, unable to make out any words.
She turned her face to the sky, and felt the heat on her face, even this early. The seasons didn't seem to affect this place. It had been snowing when they had left Republic City. The desert seemed unchangeable, except at night, when the temperatures plummeted right down to winter in Republic City. Home. Maybe for a while she'd go back to her parents. They were always where she'd felt like home truly was, when she'd lived in the compound. Had they missed her? They must have missed her.
A quick look behind her showed that Noatak and Tarrlok were probably still at the house, or far enough behind not to matter. Korra stopped, and stood there, and stretched just to feel the joy of tension and relief in her body. She grinned, and set off at a run to take care of her unwieldy charges.
She arrived not even really out of breath, much to her pleasure, and bounced into the circle of waiting adults. They looked up at her with some surprise. Some of them looked wary, others pleased, and some were just not quite awake. She beamed round at all of them, fizzing with the sudden influx of energy coursing through her, and stretched her arms up over her head long and luxuriously. "Right," she said mischievously, "who's ready to get in shape?" The general lack of response and outright laughter didn't bother her in the slightest. "Up on your feet!" she told a few remarkably sleepy looking people, sprawled on the floor. They clambered up to standing, long suffering expressions identically pasted onto each face.
"Today, if some of you want to, we're going to work up from a brisk walk to a gentle jog," she said. If she was going to leave, she wanted to show them what to do before she abandoned them. That would be a regret, however small. Noatak had promised to aid these people, and she had resigned herself to going through with it, even finding it kind of enjoyable, and these people deserved the tools to improve their lives. It… wasn't fair that some people got all the tools that they needed to succeed with, and others lived in places like this, nearly starving and having to steal to survive. It wasn't right. And honestly, she did want to help. But the world needed her. It couldn't have two Avatars in a row disappear. This had been no Hundred Years War, but she dreaded to think what might have happened back in Republic City by now.
"Everybody after me!" she called, setting forth at a pace that was a little more than some of the bleary people could quite manage. In view of that, she slowed down. Xue nearly went past her, still speeding along at the original pace that Korra had set, and hung back to fall into step with her. Wherever Xue went, it was probable that Mei-li would follow, and sure enough, the other woman emerged from the crowd. Briefly, she rested a hand on Xue's shoulder; a look went between the two of them, and Xue gave Mei-li's hand a gentle squeeze.
Xue yawned, wide and unrestrained, and gave a sleepy smile. "Every morning I'd swear it's harder and harder to turf this bod out of bed. One of these days I'm not gonna bother; I'll get my underlings to start the cooking instead. Of course," she said, lightly teasing, "guess who's the real problems? Your lot's always in at the crack of dawn for their food. Nobody else's up so early!" Korra didn't really know what to say to that but, luckily, Xue always had something ready if the other party was reticent. "So," she said, still playful, "how fit d'you think we are, by now? Are we gonna be ready to take on the big city by the end of the month?" Korra scratched at her head, trying to come up with a diplomatic answer. Xue laughed and gave her a generous whack on the shoulder. "I see, miss. Maybe by the end of the month we'll be fit for the chop, is that it? We'd make a nice dish, with some meat on our bones, and that's it. Well, it's a sad world, I tell you."
Korra frowned; she enjoyed Xue's chatter, but something was niggling at her. "When is the end of the month?" she asked.
Xue shrugged. "We don't really do months out here. We haven't got much contact with the rest of the world, most of us don't bother. Especially if you're a cook and other people bring you the supplies, no point knowing when time passes. Could be tomorrow, for all I know. Got a birthday coming up?"
"Not exactly…" She just wanted to know how much time had passed, she thought wistfully. Time had sneaked past her, in great big lumps and aching stretches, and it had piled up somewhere along the line in an unknown quantity. "It doesn't matter," she said. Turning back to her ungainly herd of people, she raised her voice to call to the rest of them. "We're going to pick up the pace!" A chorus of groans resounded, and she grinned. "Come on! Let's go!" She broke into a jog that felt awfully slow, and saw the puppies lurch into their own versions. Summoning her courage, she turned to Xue and Mei-li. "Could I talk to you afterwards?" she asked. "I have something I'd… something I'd like to tell you."
Xue's eyebrows rose, and then drew together as she looked thoughtful. "I been wondering," she said, quietly, in between considerable pants of effort. Korra slowed a little with the jogging. "Course," she said, affectionately, "tell us whatever you like. You're always welcome, turtle-duck."
Korra smiled at her, feeling unbearably hopeful, almost bursting with the desire to spit it out right now— "Thanks," she said instead. "Really, I mean it. Thanks."
"Don't seem to be anyone here," Xue said, looking around the corner of the cookhouse. "If there is I'll kick 'em out, but I think they'll all be on a break." She snorted. "They're always on a break." Korra followed her in, and Mei-li brought up the rear. "We should be able to talk private—I figured that was what you were after, and, well, if you weren't then we're in private anyway and we can have a good gossip. Sit yourself down, I'll check in the kitchen." Korra dragged out a chair and threw herself into it, feeling a welcome ache in her muscles. While the others did their movements, she performed the more advanced forms so that she didn't fall behind. The baby steps that she set them would have been adequate for her when she was about ten.
Mei-li perched neatly on top of a table, resting her chin in her cupped hands and watching for Xue. The other woman emerged after a few seconds, nodding. "Nobody here," she said confidently. "We can talk how we want. Go ahead and say what you want, and we'll be sure to listen." Now that the moment was here, Korra wasn't entirely sure how to say it. Did she just burst out with the series of events—or would it be better to start with her identity, and then that of Tarrlok and Noatak, and then the situation… When she looked up, she saw two people focused on her, diligent and slightly concerned, and waiting. As time passed and she struggled to produce what she wanted to say, Xue spoke up gently. "We think we got an idea of what's troubling you, but we want you to say whatever it is in your own time," she said. "If today's not that day, then that's fine, and you can have another go some other time, all right?"
"No," Korra said, firmly, "it needs to be today." Xue and Mei-li exchanged an utterly incomprehensible look, and Xue nodded. She leaned against the table where Mei-li sat, and the two of them moved close together. "I… well," she said, "I—my name isn't Kanna, to start with." The two of them nodded. Neither looked surprised. "I'm actually… well, I'm Avatar Korra." That got more of a reaction. Mei-li's eyes went wide, and Xue shook her head disbelievingly.
"The Avatar as in all four elements?" Mei-li asked, leaning forward eagerly. "Could you show us? Please do."
"I thought I'd have to prove it," Korra said. "But I actually… can't do all four elements yet. I was learning air when—okay, I'm getting ahead of myself. Would two elements be fine?" They nodded again, reverent. "Fire and water should do it."
"I'll get you a bit of water from the kitchen," Xue said, hurrying off. She returned with an absurdly large pail. It had been a while since Korra had bent water, but the knowledge never left. It had been her first element, after all. With movements that were sure and fluid, she lifted it from the pail and made it dance about a bit for her childishly spell bound audience. They didn't look away for a second until she dropped it back in the pail.
"Stand back," she warned them, ready to make fire. They rushed back to the walls, holding hands in breathless anticipation, and she produced a small burst of flame, making it arc above her head. She loved working with fire. She had missed it, honestly, and the specific type of warmth it gave her. As the fiery trail disappeared, the heat seeped from her, joining the warm air. "Do you believe me?" she asked them, staring at the floor.
"Of course," Xue breathed, and Mei-li nodded emphatically. "Of course we do."
"Then I have some more things to tell you. I… hope that you believe me…"
"Is it to do with the men you travelled with?" Xue asked impulsively. Mei-li looked over at her reproachfully, and she shrugged. "We noticed that you didn't seem comfortable, but we didn't want to say anything—who are they?"
"They are brothers, and they're from the Northern Water Tribe," Korra said. "Arnook is really called Tarrlok—he was a councillor in Republic City up until recently. Noatak was leading an anti-bender group called the Equalists. He was… taking people's bending away," she said, shuddering. "Long story short, I got kidnapped"—she didn't think that she had time to go through the whole fighting with Tarrlok and then the resulting kidnaps and relocations, and it would probably be unnecessarily confusing anyway—"and brought here."
"But you're the Avatar," Xue said, shaking her head.
Korra rubbed the back of her head. "I'm a half-baked Avatar," she said ruefully. "And not a fully realised one anyway. I still haven't mastered air. And… Noatak and Tarrlok are bloodbenders. They can manipulate your blood, make you turn against yourself, and they're really powerful waterbenders. But Tarrlok's working with me now," she added hastily, "against Noatak. He's not as bad, basically."
"What do you need us to do?" Korra grinned. It was nice to work with someone who had the right sort of mind-set.
"Tarrlok and I are going to take Noatak down," she said, deadly serious. "I want to take him back to Republic City to face trial there. I don't want anyone getting hurt in the way. If you could evacuate the people… slowly, so he doesn't really notice what's happening. We're going to fight, and I don't want anyone getting hurt, yeah, but I also don't want people getting in the way." She paused. "And… if I don't see you again, I want you to know that I have really—uh—I've, I guess I've learned some stuff being here. I mean, seeing how people live. And stuff. And I hope that I helped a little bit."
Xue enfolded her in a hug, and after a moment's hesitation, Mei-li joined in, forming a big sandwich. "Nice to have met you too, Avatar Korra," she muttered into Korra's hair. Korra pushed back sniffles, trying to turn them into manly coughs. She'd known them for like a… not very long period of time. This wasn't really emotional. She was being silly.
When they untangled themselves from the mess, Korra sniffled once more and straightened herself out. She had a big fight coming, and sniffling at Noatak wasn't going to help anyone. "Thanks," she said gruffly. They each gave her a resounding pat on the back.
"Buck up," Xue said. "You've still got the fight to go. Kick his arse!"
Korra grinned. "Thanks," she said again, feeling stiff and slightly foolish. "Could you start now? I'll go distract Noatak, if possible. He's pretty clever, though"—however grudging, she could admit that—"so it might be hard. So as quick as you can would be good."
"How far d'you need us to go?"
"As far as possible," Korra said. "Bender battles aren't like normal fighting. I'll try not to fight in the town, but we might have to, and that means falling debris, roofs caving in and that sort of thing. It's… serious. The damage can reach really far." Xue nodded. She turned to Mei-li, tapping a finger thoughtfully against her hip.
"You start with the kids. Take 'em to… the old shop. It's furthest from their house. Organise people there. I'll go and tell the middle people; don't tell the big guns, they'll panic, useless buggers. Off you go, pet." Mei-li drifted out the door, leaving only a warm smile and a vaguely floral smell behind her. Korra watched her go, wondering if they ever would meet again. She hoped that they would. Then it was Xue's turn; Korra received another bracing 'pat' and they had both disappeared off to do the job that she had assigned them.
So it was time for her to go tell Tarrlok that the plan was underway. She hoped more fiercely than anything else—even more than hoping that they would succeed, because they could not possibly succeed if he was having doubts—that he was prepared and ready to fight. Otherwise, she was in some serious trouble.
Walking through the town, she saw Mei-li talking to some children; as she did so, some left the group and trotted off in different directions. Mei-li gave her a wave as Korra passed by, and she waved back. The sense that something significant was happening undeniably charged the air. She had hoped that Noatak would be in the house; he wasn't. Instead, he was walking about outside, right in the way. Korra frowned. How on earth was she going to get him inside without acting suspicious? She paused by the doorway and rested her head against it, looking in his direction. The only thing she could think of right now without yelling at him—an unsubtle strategy—was just to hope that he would come over to her.
"What are you doing?" Tarrlok inquired. Korra jumped, irritated that she hadn't been aware that he was there, and shrugged.
"The plan's underway," she told him in the lowest voice she could manage without it being totally inaudible. "My friends are evacuating the villagers. I need to get Noatak inside, and distract him, but if I'm all nice to him it'll be totally suspicious and he'll know that something's up. What do you think we should do?" As she spoke, she looked him over, conscious that he was the lynch pin to her plan. She might be able to do it alone, but that was an option that she didn't want to contemplate. He looked like he had had a sleepless night, and he'd been haggard before that. Right now, he was leaning against the wall heavily, and it seemed like he might fall over at any moment. "Are you okay?" she asked hesitantly, the question loaded with far too much.
He ran a hand back through his long hair, uncontained as of yet, and shrugged. "I'm still doing this," he said grimly, "so don't keep checking on me." Korra wrinkled her nose. If he felt like he looked, then there should be no surprise about why she was asking. Either way, that was the assurance that she'd wanted, so she would just have to… trust in him. Ugh.
"We make a good team," she blurted out.
Tarrlok stared at her for a second, brow furrowed, in total silence. His expression shifted, morphed, changed, for a few long moments, as he flickered through a range of emotions that she couldn't identify. Eventually, he pushed off the wall to stand up himself, and a small but honest smile grew out of nothing until he looked almost like the Tarrlok that she had known in Republic City—just a little older and lot sadder. "Yeah, we do," he said softly, and then he moved past her and called to Noatak. "We're going to do a little bit of work on the house! Come and help!" Korra nearly went to give him an incredulous stare, and thought better of it. It was a plausible excuse, and one that Noatak would be willing to engage in. But still, just as they were about escape and Tarrlok was still on about the damned house… She settled for glaring at him instead.
Noatak ambled over, and looked questioningly at Tarrlok. "I thought we might do a bit of work on the house, now that Korra finally got back," Tarrlok said. Korra had to admire how quickly he'd managed to flip the tone; a moment ago he had sounded reasonable, though tired, and now he sounded like he was willing to throw things if nobody did any work. She grimaced, giving the appropriate response, and he made a face right back. "Come on," he snapped. Crossing her arms over her chest resentfully, hoping that her average acting would carry it, she stomped in.
Noatak followed the two of them, with one last, lingering look outside.
When Korra could take it no longer, she made the excuse of going to get a breath of fresh air, and peered outside to check. She listened, long and hard. The usual noise of the town was gone; the faint sounds that echoed around were absent. It seemed that Xue and Mei-li had successfully achieved evacuation, and now she didn't have to pretend any more. Taking a deep, relaxing inhale, Korra grinned. Time to turn the tables. She had told herself that she would try not to damage the town, but she had made no promises about this fucking house, and she intended to pulverise it and then roll in the ashes.
To start with, she would have to be gentle. Crushing Tarrlok wasn't a good idea. So… where to begin? She regarded the house critically. Maybe if she was inside and pushed it away… But the walls were so fragile… Damn. There was nothing for it, but she was going to have to get them out before she got any demolition done.
"Amon!" she called, as loudly as she could, and then waited. "Guess what? I'm going home! Are you going to come and stop me?"
Noatak stepped from the shadows of the doorway and into the light of the harsh desert sun. "You're not going anywhere." As he was most of the time, he seemed perfectly calm. Almost ignoring her, he turned back, and Korra thought that she could just about make out Tarrlok standing behind him. "Another escape attempt," he said affably, "don't worry. You can continue working on the house, and we'll be back in a few minutes."
Tarrlok raised his bowed head. "It's over, brother," he said. The words emerged heavily, and it really did seem like they had physically pained him, but they came.
The exact moment that Noatak realised that the coup really had come to pass showed on his face, and Korra revelled in it. "Checkmate," she said cockily.
Noatak's eyes narrowed, and he crossed his arms. "Stop this nonsense," he said sternly. "You're both being ridiculous."
Korra grinned. "Come out here and say that."
"Korra," he said, as if he were reprimanding a small child. She shrugged, and began the short march to the house. If he wouldn't come out, then she would go and drag him out. "Tarrlok," he said, turning back to his brother. Mid-step, Korra hesitated. "Surely you can't really mean this—I believed you were keeping an eye on her. Did you think that I was unaware of this little plot? I trusted you, Tarrlok. I never thought for a second that you were serious in these childish plans to escape… Are you?"
"Don't listen to him," Korra called. "He's just trying to confuse you; you promised me, Tarrlok!" He was uncertain, she could see it, and he looked between the two of them. In that moment, he seemed tiny, reduced to a pathetic amount of his former influence. When he didn't move she shouted, "You promised me!" again, rawer and angrier.
Noatak held out his hand to his brother. "Stay with me," he urged. "You know that it can work. We can have a family again, Tarrlok, we can build our own family this time. We are so far from any of the poison of that life; we can do whatever we want out here."
This was a little more unreliable than Korra liked. It was unclear which way Tarrlok was going to swing "You have ten seconds!" she called. "Ten, and I'm coming in to rip that house apart. You know that I can do it! I'll bring it down on your head!"
"Be quiet," Noatak snapped. She looked him over, appraising; was he losing control? In a second, he was back to his unruffled self, and her disappointment was nursed with the knowledge that he might be slipping. "You don't have to decide right now," he murmured urgently, as Korra counted. "Just help me subdue her, and we can have a calm and cool conversation in private, without being shouted at."
"TIME'S UP," Korra bellowed gleefully. She hoped that the work outs she'd been doing would be enough, that she was good enough to take him down. Charging headlong and letting her instincts take over, she determined that on the next step she would send forth that earthquake she'd been planning on letting rip. (Some distant part of her checked out the earth's vibrations and was sure that the villagers were far, far away.) Breathing evenly and tidily, Noatak in her sights, she stamped down.
It was as if she'd run into a brick wall. Centimetres off the ground, her foot hovered with an unbearable tension, and her arms were frozen either side of her mid-motion. Only her hair moved, carrying on forwards with the momentum and swinging back round to lash her in the face. She knew this feeling. It was a frequent visitor in her nightmares. Unable to move her head, she looked up as far as she could, and saw Noatak with his arms outstretched in a horrible parody of a waterbending stance.
"Will you be quiet now?" he asked, quite politely. "Kindly allow us to have a conversation."
"You—" she spat. He shook his head sadly and cut her off mid-sentence. The pain that spread through her limbs like fire was enough to dry her words up and distil them into a low grunt. Korra squeezed her eyes tightly shut, trying to control her body's reaction to the pain, trying to suppress it; in the end, she just rode it out, hoping that Noatak would decide that she had suffered enough at some point.
When she opened her eyes again, the agony draining away, he stood in front of her. They weren't that far from the house and, behind him, she could see Tarrlok standing in the doorway. He still wasn't moving. Korra glared at him with all the venom that she could manage, and he simply looked away.
"You just don't understand when to quit, do you? You can't win," Noatak said, almost gently. He cupped her face in his hands, forcing her to look him right in the face. "You might be the Avatar, but you're young, most of all, and the young are foolish, Avatar Korra. No matter how many times you try to escape, no matter how many plots you make, I will always be one step ahead of you—just as I was in Republic City, so I am here. Give in, you stupid little girl." The growing contempt in his voice built the fury inside her until she was angry enough to try and break the bloodbending spell hanging over her. Grunting with effort, she tried to move her hand. More than anything else in the world, she wanted to rip that smug expression off of his face. "Did you believe that a fragile bond like yours would overcome the bond between brothers?" he continued, back to the faux-kind, mentoring tone he liked so much. "I suppose you were trying to bargain with all you had left. See what you are reduced to, Avatar Korra? Grow beyond that. Perhaps without your bending you will be more amenable to moulding. You've caused quite enough trouble with your steadfast trust in your precious bending."
"Shut up," Korra growled.
"I beg your pardon?" he said, sounding vaguely amused rather than angry.
"Shut up." She looked over his shoulder, past his warm hands and his strange, mercurial expressions, to where Tarrlok stood. "You promised," she mouthed, feeling childish and tiny for being forced to this. She had always known, however much she disliked it, that neither of them could defeat him alone. It would take teamwork. Without Tarrlok, she could not defeat Noatak. With her bending gone, Tarrlok would never be able to get away from Noatak. They had to work as a team. Come on, she urged him, come on. Move. You'll never be free of him any other way.
She became aware that Noatak had been lecturing her when he said, "You haven't listened to a word I've said, have you?"
"No," she said defiantly. He sighed, sounding only exasperated, and his warm hands slid off her cheeks with a lingering touch that made her skin crawl.
"Well, then I see no point in continuing this conversation any further. Goodnight, Avatar Korra." With a languorous stretch, he released the bloodbending holding her up like a puppet, and she dropped to the ground. While she was still feeling fairly stunned, he hauled her up. Her head lolled around to one side, only sky spinning above her in a sickly kaleidoscope, and then she felt his hand seeking out that spot by her jaw that would knock her out entirely. The realisation went through her body like an electric shock, and she struggled to get away. Through sheer luck, she managed to kick him in the back of the knees, and he hit the ground heavily.
Her priority was to put some space between the two of them. Her second priority was to yell at Tarrlok some more. "You have to take a side!" she shouted. Noatak stood in between them, collecting himself with frightening speed and getting back to his knees. "Do you want to go back home or not!"
"This is your home," Noatak said. His charisma was fearsome. She had seen how angry he had looked when she sent him tumbling to the ground, and now he looked only defeated, grieving, and hurt. "Make your home with me. I do believe that we can, Tarrlok. If you choose her over your own brother…"
Tarrlok shook his head, and Korra felt a pinprick of hope. Who was he shaking his head at? Her, Noatak—the whole situation? He must be making a choice. "Enough," he said, his voice raspy. "It is… over. This… this whole thing—it's over, Noatak." Rage blossomed on Noatak's face, spreading like wildfire, and Korra grinned. Tarrlok saw her expression, and shook his head again. She tried to wipe the smug look off her face; this was a sad moment for him, not a moment of triumph, and the last thing she wanted at this point was to alienate him. "I'll help you as far as Republic City," he said. "That's it."
"Okay," she said, a touch stand-offish. "I get it"
Noatak laughed as they both headed for him. The last thought she had before her brain was swallowed up by trying to stay alive was rage at his laughter—what on earth was he laughing at? He had no right to be laughing at anything.
She had been expecting to be bloodbent again, and true enough, that was his first move. This time, she didn't freeze up; instead, her movements were taken over, and Noatak sent her hurtling forward as a weapon against Tarrlok. He dodged her flailing attempts to shake off the bloodbending, but kept glancing towards Noatak. There was no water in this landscape, unless they managed to fight their way towards the canteen or the well. "Focus," she growled at him.
"I am trying," he said snippily, as fussy as ever. "Can't you break free? Try a bit harder."
Noatak sent her in another wild flail towards Tarrlok's head, still laughing in the distance. "If you can't even stop fighting yourselves, how are you ever going to manage to fight me?"
"He's playing with us," Tarrlok muttered, distracted enough that one of Korra's fists nearly connected with his side.
"Focus," she hissed.
"I am," he said, and she heard the tell-tale mark of a whine. Her leg shot out with such force that it hurt awfully, and that movement managed to ensnare him. Their limbs tangled, and they both went down. What irritated Korra the most was how amusing this must look to Noatak, how much of a shambles they must appear to be. How… pathetic.
As soon as that had passed, he was pulling her up again, and she was kicking Tarrlok with vicious force. The grunt of surprised pain that he let out was awful, and the low moans that followed were worse. If Tarrlok needed any more proof that his brother was a horrible person, surely this was it. No good person would do this. She couldn't break free of bloodbending. She hadn't been able to the first time, or when Noatak had done it earlier, and she couldn't now, definitely not under these panicked and fraught conditions. "Bloodbend me," she hissed at Tarrlok. She hadn't spoken loudly enough over his groans, and she had to repeat it until he heard.
"What?" he moaned.
"Bloodbend me," she said. "Or him. Distract him. But me first, so I'm not—" Their conversation was cut abruptly short as Noatak noticed it, and renewed his efforts to beat his little brother to a pulp from a distance. Tarrlok tried to roll away, and Korra followed, her arms and legs moving in a way that gained more and more proficient control, movements designed to crush and bruise and hurt. "Me first, so that I'm not—" she tried again, as she got closer. She was whipped around, her neck cracking, to face Noatak. He was walking over. That couldn't be good. Straining her eyes to see where Tarrlok was, she saw him still curled up on the floor, breathing painedly. "Now." Tarrlok didn't move. "He's coming over!" There was still no reply. "Tarrlok!" He really didn't look so good. Could he have fallen unconscious? His eyes were shut. Oh, good. They hadn't even managed to land a punch on Noatak, and he'd wiped the floor with them. Fuck.
"The young are so energetic," Noatak drawled. "Has that drained off some of your energy?"
"I'll show you energy when I beat you to a pulp!"
"Evidently not," he said, amused. "You have such fire. It would be impressive if it were not so pig-headedly obstinate. You have lost. Give in, Korra." Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Tarrlok move almost imperceptibly, and hoped that he was regaining consciousness. A stronger movement registered, and her hand moved—twitched, really—and flew out to backhand Noatak viciously across the cheek. Control was still not hers, for that moment, but then it flooded back as Noatak recoiled from the punch, reeling backwards. Tarrlok rolled upwards, and she realised with a pang of embarrassment that he had only been playing dead and she'd been too dense to notice, but she had her own body back and she wasn't going to waste time on beating herself up when Noatak would be quite happy to do that for her.
It was the strangest thing to see two people to fight to bloodbend each other, and she was nearly mesmerised for a moment. Tarrlok was losing, she was sure; Noatak was the far superior bender. His form was better, and he was just naturally stronger than his little brother. Her distraction passed quickly when Noatak turned to her, and she ripped the ground out from underneath his feet. He regained his balance disturbingly fast, but for the moment his concentration was shattered. Korra made a split second decision and, beckoning to Tarrlok, set off at a run for the centre of the town.
They needed water, she reasoned. Maybe it would give Noatak another weapon, but he was more powerful with his bloodbending, so she hoped that he would stay just wielding that. On the other hand, Tarrlok definitely needed something else to fight with. Risking a quick glance back, she saw Noatak in rapid pursuit, and Tarrlok not that far in front of him. Gritting her teeth, she guessed where he would be in a matter of seconds, and brought the earth in front of him in a curved, hopefully very solid wall. The dull thump behind her told her that he had run into it, though not hard, and she redoubled her efforts to flee.
She was incredibly thankful that the well wasn't that far away. Adrenaline coursed thoroughly through her now, inescapable, and it was making her limbs tremble ever so slightly. Tarrlok caught up with her, breathless, panting hard—well, he was old—and looking severely irritated. "We are supposed to be working together," he spat out, in between heaving breaths. "You can't just run off like that—" She cut him off by pointing to the well.
"Let's trip him up," she said. "With a mud-bath."
"Don't be ridiculous. That will backfire on us in seconds."
"I don't see you full of ideas! Come on then, what's your brilliant plan? At least I had one. How are we supposed to take him down?"
"Don't argue with me, you little brat—" he began, launching into a furious and stressed tirade. Somewhat on edge, Korra shouted over him when he wouldn't stop, throwing rude words at him.
"—STUFFY OLD NINCOMPOOP—" she bellowed, hands on hips, furious.
Noatak cleared the corner of the houses, and they both stopped bickering at the same time.
"Knocking him out?" Korra asked, coolly focused. "Blunt head trauma might actually kill him."
"The pressure point. It'll knock him out for a while and then immobilise him. But we'll have to get close enough, and hold him down for long enough to get to it."
Korra looked up at him as Noatak came closer, and nodded. "Okay," she said. It was a reasonable plan.
He looked down at her, expression opaque. "All right," he said.
"Two person pincer movement."
They both moved out, Korra going to the left—away from the well, which he needed more than she did—and Tarrlok going to the right. Noatak slowed to a light jog. He didn't look like he was going to chat this time. In fact, he looked more on the murderous side of things. Korra wondered if he would actually kill them given the chance, and decided that she would really rather not find out. She was tense, wondering if he'd try bloodbending her again, but he seemed more focused on Tarrlok.
In a comfortable position, Korra lashed out, defaulting to firebending. Noatak dispelled the flames with a well-placed kick, and ignored her. She sent wave after wave at him, and he didn't even turn to look at her. He was adequately distracted, though; Tarrlok had reached the well before Noatak had even moved to attack either of them. When Korra punched a trench into the ground, Noatak nimbly leaped out of it, only to have another neat kick from her open a deep, deep ditch below him. He turned to her, furious, and Tarrlok's wave crashed down on his head. For a second, she saw him bow under the pressure, and then she saw the bubble of air begin to grow within the tide. She wasn't sure if this would work within the water, but she tried to bring up four sharp walls around him. They needed some cage to keep him in to reach that pressure point, and it was going to be very hard to keep him restrained for that long.
The walls crumbled as Noatak froze the water around him and sent it outwards in a deadly rain of icicles. He was taunting her with that… Korra contemptuously turned it to soft rain, watching Tarrlok do the same on the other side. When they reformed into icicles at the last minute, Noatak's arms moving sinuously and carefully to orchestrate it, her reflexes were not quite quick enough. Some of them made contact. Knocked off balance, Korra fell. Was she bleeding? She was, in a few different places. She'd managed to dissolve most of the ice back into water, but about five had scraped her, and one had hit her viciously in the leg.
That trick had been solely for her benefit. Tarrlok hadn't been hit at all. Well, screw him. A little bleeding wasn't going to stop her. She rocketed back up to her feet and reassessed where the other two were.
The brothers had returned to trying to gain the upper hand through bloodbending. Noatak was clearly winning; he was taking entire steps forward across the drenched ground to where Tarrlok stood, spasming and twitching violently. She saw his mouth move but couldn't hear the words. Doubtless it was more vicious poison, designed to throw Tarrlok off his game. Over any other noise, she was tuned into the horrible sound that bloodbending made. It echoed in her ears like a drum as she thought quickly—distract him first, letting Tarrlok go, then strike.
Noatak ducked well in time to dodge the wave of fire, but he wasn't quite so quick to follow the water that came after that, or the icicles. She was pleased with her quick thinking on that front; she'd filled them with bits of rock. One or two hit him and exploded in a spray of ice and dirt; he brushed them off as if they were nothing, despite the red smear decorating his temple. "Come on!" she taunted him. "Tit for tat, Noatak!"
He shrugged, glancing back to where Tarrlok stood. His brother was bent over, hands on his knees, still recovering. Korra felt a twinge of worry. Was he going to make it much further? "Don't worry; I'll be sure to bandage your wounds when this nonsense is over, though I expect the favour to be returned. You're losing rather a lot of blood, aren't you, Korra? A good Avatar would never let something simple like bleeding to death bother them, I see." His voice was heavy with contempt. Breathing fast, she struggled not to let him get to her. He was trying to get a rise out of her, the exact same thing that she was doing to him. It was fine. She wasn't bleeding to death or any such crap. She was more worried about Tarrlok. Looking behind Noatak, she saw him standing up straight. He was swaying.
"The young are so careless," Noatak remarked. "You have no concern for your own wellbeing in the slightest, do you?"
It was the strangest sensation. It was even odder to watch. He was pulling the blood from her wounds, and it was agonising. Korra screamed, more out of rage than fear or pain, and slammed her foot down into the ground. Break his concentration, she thought through the haze. Knock him off balance. The flow of the blood changed as he dodged. She was too far away. Tarrlok was still too weak to do anything, and screw him if she couldn't do anything for herself. Korra lashed out again, sending an inferno, a towering blaze of flames out as far as she could. The draw on her veins lessened, and she gasped, a sense of relief flooding through her.
Feeling the vibrations of the earth, she found him, and a timely kick opened a pit below him. Following it up by freezing a solid metre of ice above him and sliding a plate of earth over that, she determined that, for the time being, she had immobilised him. Korra slid to her knees, much less gracefully than she had planned to land, and then fell with a thump onto her side. Okay, if there hadn't really been a danger of bleeding to death before this, there really seriously was now. She needed to stop the bleeding. If that wasn't possible, she needed to slow it down. Gritting her teeth, Korra ripped a generous swathe of fabric off the bottom of her—damned, getting in the way, way too resistant—dress and found the worst of the… punctures.
Noatak had opened up the scrapes to gaping, ugly wounds, and the one on her leg made her swallow uncomfortably. She didn't have much experience with wounds, and they looked bad—but how was Tarrlok doing? A rumbling in the earth told her that she didn't have long, but she looked anyway. Tarrlok was making his way over to her, still swaying. She wasn't sure that she'd heard any cracks when Noatak had turned them on each other, but he looked worse off than she was. Maybe Noatak had broken something inside him, damaged veins, because Tarrlok looked awful. Breaking into a shambling, limping jog for the last stretch, he dropped next to her with a loud grunt. His breathing was raspy and laboured.
"Give," he muttered, indicating the fabric. Business-like, she handed over a few bits, and he got to work bandaging other wounds. The earth blew upwards in a spray of dirt where she had tried to deal with Noatak, and he emerged, looking as light-weight and elegant as ever. Korra groaned. For the first time, she really believed that they were going to lose. Tarrlok glanced at her, as he redid the make-shift wrapping on her leg. "We can do this," he said. "There's no going back. And there's two of us, and one of him." Noatak was heading towards them, covered in filth; this time he said nothing, looking only grimly determined.
Korra took a deep breath. "Yeah, whatever," she said, blustering. "Don't worry about me, grandpa. You were the one who was all unsure about this, remember?" To her surprise, Tarrlok gave her a smile. A proper one: not at all bitter, just amused and even vaguely affectionate. He leaned over and kissed her briefly on the top of her head. Korra looked up at him, confused. "Okay?" she said, uncertain.
"All right," he said, getting to his feet. "Come on." They must have made a sorry sight, standing in the centre of all that ruin, but Korra felt better about this than she had before. It wasn't the adrenaline thrumming through her that was fuelling her now; it wasn't uncomfortable worry about Tarrlok, either. She could do this. Aang had faced off the Fire Lord alone. She could do this.
They had a proper plan, where they weren't individual people fighting someone in turn, but a pair working smoothly together. When Korra whipped the earth out from underneath him, Noatak was ready; it was an old trick by this point. He regained his balance in time for Tarrlok to bloodbend him—not enough to strain him, just enough to slow him down, and when the earth rumbled underneath him this time he stumbled, stumbling onto the ice rink that they both slid underneath his feet. Noatak turned it back to water with a contemptuous flick of his hand, but Korra took great pleasure in throwing his own trick back at him and re-freezing it just as he took his first sure step forwards.
What they wanted to was to keep him distracted for long enough that he couldn't bloodbend, and wear him out. It was going too well so far. Korra's body sang with tension, waiting for something to go wrong. Noatak broke the ice that had closed around his feet and threw off the bloodbend bind that Tarrlok tried to throw at him. Korra frowned, judging that he was close enough, and nodded to Tarrlok.
With the little energy they had left, they flew around either side of him again, enclosing him in between them. Much to Korra's pleasure, Noatak did seem to be tiring a little; he moved slightly more slowly than he had before. Tarrlok kept him distracted while Korra planned—and then she struck. She raised the earth just enough to make him stumble; watching carefully, she struck to raise another bump just where he put his foot down next. Noatak openly staggered, and she watched, felt, where he was going next. When he fell and hit the ground as if he were a human being made of mass and not air, she felt an almost unbearable sense of triumph.
She ran, and Tarrlok ran. On the way, Tarrlok froze Noatak, and then Korra trapped him within the ground. It was frightening, and satisfying, to see Noatak roar with frustration, transparently losing his temper. He managed to break one hold and they both flew to secure it again. Korra heard a dull crack, and realised that they might have broken something; if it kept him down, she could feel guilty later. She was stopped in her tracks by a momentary hold on her, bloodbending, and Tarrlok retaliated by hitting Noatak with the same, powerful in his panic. When she couldn't move further, he dragged her along with him.
Noatak was thrashing about violently enough that Korra was worried that they would never be able to subdue him. "Hold him still," she commanded Tarrlok curtly, and he understood her. Sweat beading on his forehead, he tried to bloodbend Noatak into immobility. As Korra darted closer, he broke free once more; she recoiled backwards until Tarrlok had him vaguely under control again. She managed to secure his head, feeling terribly vulnerable the whole time, and found the spot by his jaw.
Noatak went eerily still as he realised that he might well have lost, and then he heaved upwards with more force than Korra would have believed possible. She clung on, her grip around his neck tightening, as he tried to throw her off. She was screaming at Tarrlok to control him, and Tarrlok was shouting at her, and Noatak was making dreadful noises. It felt as if the top of her head had come off, the sky was flying around inside her, and everything blurred into a bizarre mix of reality. Struggling, dizzily unsure, she thought that she might have found the pressure point again. She pressed down harder than she needed to, probably dangerously so, and Noatak swayed. Hopefully, she pressed down even more forcefully.
When he fell, she was crushed underneath him. All the air flew brutally out of her, and she stared upwards, not entirely sure if her eyes were open or not. She was dimly aware that she was shouting at Tarrlok to block Noatak's chi points, right now, but she felt so heavy that she cut off mid-sentence. Her vision clouded over with black spots. Gloomily, she knew that she was probably going to faint. If she died now, though, she was going to be so annoyed.
Then the weight on her was hauled off, and she breathed deeply. That sent her nearly too far in the other direction, and she felt awfully light again. They didn't have long, she knew. They had to get out of here. Korra sat up, slowly, to see that Tarrlok was busily blocking Noatak's chi points. He moved like every bone in his body hurt, and she knew that feeling. "We need to get to the train station," she murmured, that quiet tone all that she could manage.
"We have no idea when the next train is coming," Tarrlok said. "Do you even know what direction it's in? I don't remember." Korra groaned, and dropped her head into her lap.
"Look, we just need to get him back to Republic City," she muttered into her legs. Blood had blossomed across the quick bandage they'd slapped on, and she was willing to bet that wasn't a good thing. Across from her, Noatak was regaining consciousness, though he didn't look like he was going to move any time soon. Remembering how that pressure point felt, she didn't envy him.
"Just," Tarrlok said, laughing a little underneath his breath.
Korra leaned back, lying down with a thump and feeling the relief in every aching muscle. "We got this far. I know we can do it."
Tarrlok looked across her, something unreadable in his expression. "I think we might be able to, as well," he said softly. She met his gaze, and held it for what felt like the longest time. Then Noatak coughed and spluttered to real life between the two of them, and reality faced them once more. "The train station," Tarrlok said, determined.
With a groan, Korra clambered back to her feet. She was light-headed, sure, but she could do this. "Let's go home," she said.
"Let's go back to your home," Tarrlok said, without the slightest trace of bitterness.
a/n: This is the end of the road, folks! When I was writing this fic-I finished it some months ago-I was rapidly running out of energy, and I didn't want to leave it unfinished. There was originally another arc planned; I might come back and write it as a sequel, I might not, but at least it has an ending rather than languishing unfinished forever (like those fics that are last updated: 2009 and you just want to bay at the moon).
As for other work, I have done Amorra Week twice, Amorralok week, and I'm thinking of doing a very late Korrlok week set of drabbles; I also have assorted drabbles that are not on this website. I could go through and put those up if anyone's interested; probably mainly for posterity, though, since the community's dwindled significantly. So I am not done with Amorra or Amorralok (though my update schedule will probably be just as erratic as ever)! One of the prompts involves spanking, for one thing, and I would be quite happy to revisit that.