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"I'm going in," yelled Korra, turning to face the fray.
"Wait." Amon stopped and whirled, catching her arm. "I'm coming with you."
Korra's eyes, still as blue and defiant as the day they had met, locked onto his. "No. It's too dangerous, Amon."
He heard the unspoken words: You are retired now. You are too old to fight. He would have argued, but behind him, he heard his eldest daughter yelling at them:
"Mom. Dad. Hurry!"
He whirled to see that she was waiting for them in the road. Two of his grandchildren ran past her, dodging among the falling bombs and burning houses.
"Protect them," whispered Korra, her voice hoarse. She stood on her tiptoes and lunged for him, shoving his mask above his lips and pressing her mouth firmly to his.
For a moment, there were no explosions, no yells, just the warmth of her mouth. He sank into it and gripped the back of her greying hair, pulling her against him, until she broke away.
"I'll come back to you," she said. "I promise." Her eyes flared white, and then she turned away.
"Dad, come on!" called his daughter. He ran for her.
The world exploded around them. Amon caught his daughter's arm and dove behind a crumbling wall. He flattened her to the pavement, shielding her with his body. Another bomb exploded, the force of it rocking the ground. Dirt and mud caked them. Once the echo of the blast faded, machine gun fire filled the air.
Amon lifted his head. Far in the distance, he could barely see the rest of his extended family through the dust and smoke, running to safety.
The woman groaned beneath him. "Dad?" She sat up. "The kids - where are they?"
"They escaped. Stay flat against the wall." He raised himself just enough to peer over it, ignoring the aching creak in his knees.
Korra stood in the centre of the battlefield in full Avatar State, her eyes glowing white. Spiritual wind whipped her long hair and blue dress around her muscled frame. Her air shield deflected the guns, and she redirected a stray shell that was plummeting toward the ground, sending it into the mountainside instead. United Republic Forces were scattered around her, frantically trying to maintain a semblance of formation amid the chaotic attack. They had been caught flat-footed. Amon gritted his teeth.
"I should heal the injured," said his daughter.
He shook his head. "You need to get to safety." Another wave of airplanes dove at the city, and he shoved her down by the shoulder. "Stay down."
Bombs. So many bombs. He knew he should seek shelter, too, but he couldn't tear his eyes off his beloved wife. She was using all four elements to deflect, block and redirect the bombs, but there were too many. Hundreds.
Only one bomb got past her, but it was enough.
There was a flash and a shock of heat so blistering that Amon instantly remembered the day eighty years prior, the day his family had died. When the smoke cleared, Korra lay on the ground. In spite of the distance between them, he could see shards of silver shrapnel in her chest and neck, blood pooling around the cuts.
The glow faded from her eyes and she turned to look at him. Even across the battlefield, he could see her lips move:
Amon held her gaze, his heart in his throat, as he realized what had happened: she had intentionally buried the Avatar State so that she would not end the cycle when she died.
"No!" He vaulted over the wall, ignoring his daughter's yells, and bolted into the battlefield. He had lost a lot of speed with age, but not his agility, and he darted around small explosions and ducked beneath streams of bullets, only taking a few in the shoulder. They slowed him, and he grunted, hobbling, but did not stop. He would not stop until he reached her.
When he finally arrived at Korra's side, he could tell she was already gone. He scooped her up and slung her over his good shoulder. By the time he had returned to his daughter, tears were streaming down his face. He slid behind the barrier and cradled Korra to his chest. Her blue eyes, once so vibrant, so vivid, stared blankly at him.
"Korra, my love," he whispered. His eyes snapped to his daughter. "Can you save her?"
The woman was already holding glowing blue hands over the wounds, eyes damp. "Dad, she's gone."
The words sparked recognition in him. Grains of sand ran together in his mind, forming the memory of a dream once forgotten.
A growing calmness filled him as he realized what came next.
He smoothed the mask off of his face and then clutched his daughter's hand, staring intently into her blue eyes, so like her mother's. "Listen to me, Katara. Bringing someone back from death requires more energy than one body can muster: it is upsetting the balance, and so has a heavy cost. You must use my energy. Channel it into her body to bring her back."
Horrified, she tried to jerk her hand away, but he clenched it. "Listen," he said earnestly. "Your healing has surpassed that of any bender known to history, even your namesake, so if anyone can do this, it is you. I have seen this done by the spirits, and even more, I have seen you do it before, in a vision. It will work. I know you can do this. This moment was foretold years before your birth. It is your destiny to save the Avatar, to use me to do so."
"Daddy, no..." At the childish plea, his heart broke. "Don't ask me to do this. Don't-"
He released her hand to run his knuckles along her chin. "I'm sorry to ask this of you, my dear. I really am. But we both know that the Avatar is more important to the world than any one person: she is our only chance to win this war. Besides..." He lay his cheek against Korra's forehead, which was still deceptively warm. "This is a debt decades old, one I have always expected to repay. The time has come."
He gripped his daughter's wrist and pressed her palm against his forehead. "I love you, Katara, and I am so proud of everything you have become. Never forget that."
The woman sobbed and closed her eyes, turning her head away. Her hand began to glow, and he felt his body begin to wilt beneath her touch. He had always wondered how he would face his own death - with fear, or anger, or panic - but he only felt a sense of great peace. He had already died twice in his lifetime; what was a third?
He pressed his nose into Korra's hair. "I promise you," he murmured as he felt his energies begin to ebb, "My search for you will begin the instant I am reborn. I promise that when my soul finds yours again, I will never leave your side." His eyes, too fatigued to stay open, slid closed. He smiled, embracing the glowing white that was fogging his vision. "I love you, Avatar Korra."
The last thing he heard was the gasp of air rushing into her lungs as she jolted to life in his arms.
When he opened his eyes, he was surrounded by violet fog, his guardian spirit standing before him. Maybe it was his imagination, but he swore it was smiling.
"Are you ready for your next adventure, little one?"
"Will I find the Avatar again?" he asked.
"Always," replied the spirit, already beginning to fade. "It is your destiny. But the context will be up to you."
Then he was alone.
Memories of other lifetimes seeped into his mind. He recalled waiting here, in this spot, lifetime after lifetime, seeking a body of immense strength and power, one that would allow him to rule. To dominate.
Not this time.
"I am Amon," he said. "Who crossed into this plane to save the Avatar. Who knows his own darkness, but instead followed the light. That is the path I choose."
He felt a pull. It was time to leave.
"I will see you in the next lifetime, my love," he whispered, and then he smiled and closed his eyes.
Glowing white light engulfed his soul.
The infant squalled with such vigour that the physician gave a surprised laugh. "Watch out for this one. He has something to say."
As if to remind them of where they were, the shelter was rocked by the sounds of bombs, barely muted by the earth around them.
"Born in a time of strife," said the elderly man from the corner of the shelter. "Just like his great-uncle Rohan." He chuckled, rubbing a hand over his tattooed head. "Boy, was that inconvenient. Between the Equalists and the police force, we didn't think he'd have a world to grow up in."
"Maybe it's a sign," said the proud father, swaddling the infant and handing it to his beaming wife. "Maybe, like Great-Uncle Rohan, like our ancestors before him, he's destined to fight for peace in this world."
"You'd better believe it," said the elderly man. "I'll train him personally, whether he's an airbender or not." Leaning over the infant, he said, "Trust in your Grandpa Meelo, kid. I see great things for you."
"Then I have the perfect name for him," said the mother. "Hamal. It means, 'one who is willing to work hard for the sake of hope.'"
"Hamal," repeated his father. "Yes: that's perfect." He kissed the infant on the head. "Welcome to the world, little one. We're glad you're here. Your life is full of possibility."