Longest A/N ever: This story is a sequel to "The Cave", which is also on my FFN account. It is highly recommended that you read that one first if you want this story to make a lick of sense!
Thank you SO MUCH, everyone, for your overwhelming support for that little fic o' mine! I have no words for how much I appreciated each and every review. Your words mean so, so much to me, and you can visit my tumblr for thank you doodles. I love you all! I hope you will enjoy this story as well. Also, thanks to all-about-your-old-adventures for excellent help with names!
As with "The Cave", this story is canon to episode 8, and AU after that. As a quick recap, in this universe:
-Amon was telling the truth about his background, which means that he is no relation to Tarrlok or Yakone, and cannot naturally resist bloodbending
-Amon is a firebender, but has only used those skills once as a child in an encounter with a gang member, who ended up killing his family in retribution
-Tarrlok went crazy with Draconian measures in Republic City; Amon & Korra teamed up to take him down
-due to an unnamed spirit's intervention, Amon's swift movement and ability to energybend were because he possessed a part of the Avatar's spirit. This unnamed spirit claimed to be an ambassador for many in the spirit world who were unhappy with the balance. Amon shattered his old mask – the link to his benefactor spirit – and relinquished the stolen Avatar powers to Korra
-After the final encounter with Tarrlok, after which Amon was assumed to be dead, Amon fled Republic City and stayed away for 3 years. Eventually, he returned using the pseudonym "Zoran", his late father's name
-once Amon returned, he and Korra hooked up again
Phew. I think that about covers it. Our story begins nearly 4 years after Tarrlok's defeat...
Shadows of the City
Amon stepped into the shop, the wind chimes over the door jangling to announce his arrival.
"Zoran," greeted the portly merchant as he adjusted his spectacles. "What can I do for you today? A new ledger? More tea for Councillor Midori? Oh, I received a new selection of historical maps that might be just to your tastes."
"Thank you, Feng, but I'm not shopping for myself today." Amon breathed in the familiar scent of warm wood and herbs. The shop always seemed to have faint wisps of smoke floating in it, as if it had one foot in the spirit world. His eyes scanned the wooden shelves, cluttered with curios from around the world. "I'm looking for jewelry. Women's."
"Ah, I see. For a special lady?" Feng stepped around the counter and cocked his head for the other to follow him. Once they reached the far corner of the room, he lifted a dusty stack of books to reveal a glass jewelry case. Amon bent over it and stared into the mess of gems and metals, feeling completely out of his element.
"This style of necklace is very fashionable with the ladies these days," said the merchant, selecting a silver necklace with a small flower pendant.
Amon hesitated. "She comes from the water tribes, so a necklace might be misinterpreted."
"Ah, I see. Not ready to propose marriage just yet. Smart man. Then how about a bracelet?"
That was appropriate: something she could tuck beneath her wrist bracer, hidden but close, just like their relationship. Amon's fingers skated across the bracelets and lifted one that caught his eye: a broad silver cuff etched with curling scrolls.
"That one isn't very feminine," cautioned the merchant.
"I disagree. What is more feminine than a strong foundation with highlights of subtle grace?" Amon flipped over the price tag to read it and nearly dropped the bracelet back into the case. "I'll give you half."
Feng laughed. "I might be able to adjust the price a bit. How special is this occasion?"
"First anniversary." Amon considered. Or was it fourth? He was never sure how to calculate the milestones of their relationship.
The man's eyebrows rose. "A whole year, and you aren't going for the necklace?"
"It is a complicated situation."
"I'm sure it is. You seem like a complicated fellow." Feng patted Amon's arm with affection. "You're a good customer, Zoran. Tell you what: buy just one more item, and I will give you twenty percent off the whole purchase."
"Twenty-five. Final offer. Might I suggest some herbs?" He leaned in close. "I just got in a special batch for a client, and I'd be happy to give you a sample. I think you'd find it worth examining. It's an oil mixture used by monks in ancient times – tradition says it helped them forget their corporeal selves. Opened them to the spirit world."
"Now why would I want to do that?" mused Amon.
"You have had a strong interest in the spirit world for quite some time, have you not?"
"Yes, and I've had just enough interaction with it to know that I only ever want to experience it in the form of printed words. Peddle your drugs elsewhere, Feng."
There an uneasy edge to the shopkeeper's smile. "Very well. Then how about some performance-enhancing herbs to give your lady friend the night of her life?"
Amon shot him a sharp look. "Now you're just being insulting."
"No offense meant, Zoran. By all means, please look around for something more to your tastes."
Amon nodded and began to scan the shelves. His eyes landed on a cage containing black mask that looked strangely familiar. He pointed. "May I see that mask?"
"Oh." Feng looked uncomfortable. "Very well." He pulled out a hooked pole and detached the cage from the roof, dropping it into Amon's hands. Buried beneath a bed of feathered masquerade masks were three black masks made of wood.
Amon lifted one, his thumb running over the dark surface. "The shape looks like Amon's mask."
"Indeed - it's leftover propaganda. Rich Equalist supporters used to wear these to their fancy costume parties."
He looked up, surprised. "They used to dress as Amon?"
With a nod, the merchant said, "It was particularly popular in the festival season after his death."
"I had no idea," said Amon honestly, not sure whether to be amused or taken aback. He had gone to great lengths to make himself a symbol, but costumes smacked of extreme idolatry or farce, and neither made him comfortable. "Why are they black?"
"Ah, right, I suppose you were out of the city during that time. Councillor Midori banned all Equalist propaganda as a part of her bid to integrate the Equalists with the Council. I thought maybe if I dipped them in black paint, I could still legally sell them, but I can't move these last three."
Amon considered. He missed wearing a mask, and though she didn't say it, he knew that Korra sometimes missed his mask as well. It might be fun to surprise her. "I may take one, in case I have any costume parties to attend." Without any hint of irony, he added, "I can do a decent Amon impression."
"With a voice like that, I'm sure you can. Tell you what: take all three for the price of one."
"What am I going to do with three black Amon masks?"
Feng shifted his stance, his face uneasy. "All three for half the price of one, and twenty-five percent off the bracelet."
"That desperate to get rid of them?"
"Well, between you and me, there's a group of people in this town who truly hate Amon's memory. People that I wouldn't want to anger when they come by the shop, if you catch what I'm saying. I keep forgetting to put those damned masks away, and I spend each visit praying my visitors won't look up."
Amon's jaw clenched. Gang activity in the city was on the rise, and the thought of gangs bullying the kindly merchant made his blood boil. Setting his satchel on the counter, he counted out several folded notes and passed them to the man.
The transaction completed, he slid the masks and bracelet into his satchel, called his farewell and stepped outside the door. The street was surprisingly empty for mid-afternoon, and several shops were closing up early. Even when they weren't openly walking around, the gangs were harming businesses, the ghosts of fear haunting innocent people. His brows furrowed as he began to walk down the block.
The shops gave way to a row of houses, small businesses that also doubled as living quarters for downtrodden families. The cobblestone here was worn, grass poking between the broken stones. Amon's nose wrinkled; the stench of garbage that wafted from the alleyways was stronger today than usual. He had just started to turn off the street when a scream caught his attention.
In front of one of the houses stood a man speaking to a young girl. The girl was maybe eight, her dark hair in pigtails. Amon recognized her as a girl who usually sat in the garden, yellow eyes alight as she played with a doll made out of a knotted sock. Every day he had passed by, she had reminded him of the sister he might have had, the one taken from him in her infancy. Today, however, she was all young Amon. Her fists were on her hips, and as the man took a step toward her, she let out a bloodcurdling shriek of resistance. Passersby gave them a wide berth, no one looking directly at them.
Amon tilted his head and began to pad toward them, observing. The girl's clothes were tattered and her bare feet were braced in a fighting stance that looked to be firebender posture.
"I just want to talk to your father," said the man, his voice heavy with impatience.
"No! You're going to hurt him again." The girl held her hands in front of her. Definitely firebender posture. Behind her, a man with slumped shoulders hobbled out of the house and tried to pull her inside, but her stubbornness held her fast.
Amon came to a standstill twenty feet from them, his throat suddenly tight. The scene was far too familiar for comfort.
"Your payment is long overdue," said the threatening man to the little girl's father.
"Please, I cannot pay you today."
In Amon's mind's eye, he saw his own father begging for mercy. Heat flickered in his chest.
"Leave him alone!" screamed the girl, and she blasted a bolt of fire at the man.
The man grinned, easily dodging, and then he clawed his hand into the air.
The girl shrieked. Her legs twitched as her feet left the ground. Puppet-like, her body began to float and contort. Her father howled.
"Do something," whispered Amon, waiting for the father to intervene.
"Pay me," said the bloodbender. "I wouldn't want to hurt her too badly."
"Please! I'm telling you, I can't. Don't hurt her." Amon could tell by the fear in the man's voice that he was not going to stand up against his daughter's attacker.
The bloodbender grinned and clenched his fist, and blood trickled from the girl's mouth.
Amon dropped his satchel and bolted to the attacker's side. Six blows to the flank hit the bloodbender before he knew anyone was on him. He whirled, dropping the girl, but Amon was already on his other side. Six more jabs and the man was completely disabled. A holler of frustration left the man's mouth as he began to sag toward to the cobblestone.
Out of long-unused instinct, Amon's hand clamped onto the back of the bloodbender's neck, pushing him to his knees.
"You dare to use bloodbending," he said, his voice dangerously calm. "And on a child. You are pathetic."
The man turned to spit at him. Amon dodged and punched a finger into the man's neck in retribution, eliciting a scream and a sob.
"Listen closely." Amon's grip tightened on the other's neck and he leaned close to his ear, using the deepest timbre of his voice. "You will not abuse your bending like this again, or there will be consequences."
The man was gasping hard, sweat and tears trickling down his face. "Like what?" His eyes were white all the way around the irises. "You'll take my bending?"
He figured out who I am. Though he managed to keep his face impassive, Amon's heart seized. He tossed the man to the ground and stood. "Do not follow me, and do not touch them again. I won't hold back next time."
The girl and her father had run inside. The streets were deserted, though eyes peered out of cracked doors and shutters. Amon's lips curled. Too much fear. He should not have been the only one fighting back.
He stormed back to his satchel. One of the masks had spilled out; he shoved it back into the bag, hoping no one had seen it. It reminded him of all he had given up. Once upon a time, he could have decisively ended this bender's tyranny. Now all he had were words and empty threats. His greatest threat, his identity, wasn't even one he was free to utilize.
Footsteps sounded from behind, running. The bloodbender was trying to charge at his back. Amon listened; at the last second, he flattened to the ground and spun, taking out his attacker's legs. The bloodbender flew over him, crashing into a wall. Amon swooped at the man and drove his palm into the other's face, slamming his head back against the wall once, twice. The man slid to the ground, unconscious, leaving a smear of crimson on the wall. Blood from his nose began to trickle down his face, and the colour faded from his skin.
Amon stood in front of the fallen man, hunched over, and struggled to catch his breath. He hadn't meant to hit him so hard.
Sirens began to sound in the background; one of the neighbours must have called the police.
Standing tall, Amon brushed off his robes, then slung the satchel over his shoulder. Every instinct told him to flee, but he knew that becoming a fugitive was no longer an option – he had a new life now. He held up his hands as the first car arrived, offering himself up for questioning.
In his mind, he was already drafting a speech for Midori to deliver to the Council. Maybe he couldn't fight against the benders as Amon anymore, but he would do what he could as Zoran.