A Toast to the Good Old Days
Characters/Pairings: Amon/Noatak, Tarrlok; none
Genre: Hurt/Comfort, Family, Angst
Words: 1737
Rating: T for language
Author's Note: I got to thinking about the brothers, and what a reunion prior to the finale would have been like. Clearly Noatak would have been aware of Tarrlok's presence in the city and wouldn't surprise me in the least if he followed his brother's career closely. Of course he could tell his followers that he follows all of the council members closely, but Tarrlok is a special case.

Anyway, bro feels. Lots of 'em. Sorry I'm not sorry.

Every year on the anniversary of Noatak's birth, Tarrlok poured a drink, offered up a toast, drank his, and then symbolically poured Noatak's into the snow.

It started with tea, but Tarrlok switched to alcohol once he was old enough to drink. And once he moved to Republic City it was too warm on Noatak's birthday for there to be snow, so he poured it into a plant instead.

This year was no different. Noatak would have turned forty this year, a milestone age, and at home there would have been a huge party with lots of food and friends and family. The laughter would have echoed through the entire village. No doubt his parents, or at least his mother as his father had been considerably older than most men when Noatak was born, would be retelling every embarrassing story they could remember from Noatak's childhood.

Eyes misting over as he poured the drinks, Tarrlok blinked it away as he grabbed his tumbler of fire whiskey and lifted his glass. "Happy birthday, Noatak," he murmured, and then he tipped it back and drank.

Every year it was the same, holing himself up alone somewhere, drinking until he couldn't see straight, and wondering what had become of his brother. "I wish you were here."

"There's an old saying that says to be careful for what you wish for," a voice said from the darkness.

Startled, Tarrlok dropped the tumbler, causing it to shatter when it hit the stone floor. The last person he expected to come out of the shadows of his office was Amon, and yet there the leader of the Equalists stood, looking like he belonged there. Standing, Tarrlok raised his arms in a bending stance. "I don't seem to recall wishing for you."

"That's certainly true." Amon stood still in the middle of the room. "You wished for your older brother, did you not?"

The color drained from Tarrlok's face. "How…"

"I know everything about you," Amon intoned.

"You can't possibly know everything," Tarrlok replied, taking comfort in the wall of water behind him. He had heard that Amon was fast, but the advantage was his. If his waterbending failed…well if it failed there was another option, even if he was loath to use it.

"I wonder what the other council members would say if they knew that your father was Yakone, the infamous leader of the Red Monsoons."

"You're talking nonsense."

"Am I?" Amon took a step forward and noticed how Tarrlok's stance stiffened, coiled like a rat-viper and ready to strike at a moment's notice. "Are you going to bloodbend me?"

"You're still talking nonsense. Besides, it isn't a full moon and bloodbending is illegal."

"I don't think you have the guts to bloodbend me anyway."

"You're assuming that I even know how."

"I know you won't bloodbend me."

"Because I don't know how."

"Such a liar, councilman. You won't bloodbend me because you're a coward. A disgrace, a weakling."

It felt as if all of the air had been pulled from Tarrlok's lungs. He'd heard those words twenty-six years ago and he hoped that he'd never have to hear them again. "No," he whispered. "It's not possible."

"Anything is possible."

"You're supposed to be dead."

"Am I? Last I checked I was very much alive." Amon took another step forward.

"There is no way he could have survived. I don't know who or what you are, but you cannot be my brother."

"Oh?" Another step forward, this time Amon pushing the cowl of his tunic back. Tarrlok swallowed the lump in his throat as Amon reached up and untied his mask and then slowly pulled it away from his face. "What do you think now, Tarrlok?"

There was no denying it now. He looked enough like their father that it was almost eerie. Dropping his arms, Tarrlok stared at his brother. "I…I don't know what to say."

"How about explaining the occasion? A little odd to be toasting alone, isn't it?"

"You don't know what today is?"

"It's the middle of the week. Seventeenth day of Heyue. Why does that matter?"

"You really don't know?" Tarrlok asked. He supposed it made sense. Every piece of intelligence that he'd gathered on Amon was that the man was a workaholic and had a penchant for losing all sense of time. "Noatak, today is your birthday. Your fortieth birthday."

Noatak looked taken aback, glancing down at the shattered tumbler on the floor and the still full glass. "You…you did this for me?"

"You idiot! Of course I did, I thought you were dead!" Years of anger came bubbling to the surface. Tarrlok's face flushed. "You said I was weak and a coward, but you ran away when you couldn't stay any longer. You didn't stay and face it, you just quit. You gave up."

"I gave up? That's ostrich-horse shit! I got away from him, I made my own life," Noatak snarled. "I was not his puppet to be used. You should have come with me!"

"You have no idea what you leaving did to them. Mother was never the same!"

"And father?"

"I know you don't really care, but if you must know he passed a few years later. I was barely fourteen years old and the man of the house," Tarrlok ranted. "I was in no way prepared for such a position. Suddenly making sure that there was food on the table came down to me. Mother tried, oh she tried, but she was living in a perpetual fog after you left. You abandoned us and you're acting like I should be happy and relieved that you're okay. I really do wish you were dead!"

Tarrlok sank to the floor, choking sobs wracking his body. The memory of his brother was now tainted by the truth, the knowledge that he had survived, that he'd simply carried on with his life without a thought about his family.

"Did you ever wonder what happened to us? Did you never think about going back, to see if we were okay? Or did you just say screw it all and keep walking away?"

Crouching in front of his brother, Noatak reached out. "Tarrlok…"

Tarrlok responded by swinging his fist at Noatak's face. "I don't know who you are anymore, but you're not my brother. My brother is dead. Do you hear me, my brother is dead."

Using his lightning fast reflexes, Noatak reached out and pulled Tarrlok against him, pinning his arms against his side. "I'm sorry, Tarrlok, I didn't know what happened, I just knew that I couldn't stay and continue to be used like that." He rested his cheek against his brother's forehead. "I never wanted you to get hurt, that's why I wanted you to come with me."

"We would have never made it," Tarrlok mumbled into his brother's chest.

"The two of us together? We'd be unstoppable."

"So you say," Tarrlok said as he managed to pull out of his brother's embrace. "I don't have your bending skills."

"But you're so smart. Not just anyone can become a councilman for Republic City. I read your biography in the newspaper, everything about you graduating from university early and all of the academic honors you received. That's worth something."

"You're lying."

"I would never lie to you, Tarrlok."

"You let me believe you were dead. There was no way that you could have not known I was in the city. The press had a field day with my arrival; you just said that you read the biography that ran in the newspaper. You could have come to me. You could have said something. Instead I kept up this ridiculous tradition, toasting to your memory. I should have been cursing you instead."

"Tarrlok," Noatak murmured. "I couldn't. I wanted to; I wanted you to know how proud I was of you."

"Twenty-six years, Noatak, twenty-six years of believing that you'd died on the tundra. In my first week in Republic City I would have welcomed you with open arms and I would have never questioned your absence. But this…" He tugged on the tunic. "You and your followers are turning the city on its head and as a councilman it is my duty to stop you by any means necessary. You made yourself my enemy, Noatak. I can't forgive that. I won't forgive that."

Looking down at his brother's tear streaked face, Noatak's heart clenched. "Tarrlok, no. It doesn't have to be like that."

"Don't you get it? When I was sworn into office I made an oath to protect this city and uphold its laws. I have to stop the Equalists. I have to stop you."

"You could work for us."

"Why would I do that?" Tarrlok asked. "Why would I help a bunch of terrorists, and don't try and deny it. I know what you are, I've read the police reports."

"Because you are the perfect person to do so," Noatak answered. "You could be Republic City's savior."

"But at what cost, Noatak? It can't be as simple as you want me to believe. You said I was smart, well, let me show you how smart I am." He narrowed his eyes. "You're going to want something, perhaps for me to turn a blind eye, to turn the council's eye, to whatever illegal activities you and your followers would get up to. I will do no such thing. I take my oaths seriously."

Noatak looked somber for a moment as he considered his brother's words. Tarrlok had always been the one to do the right and honorable thing. He had stayed because he had known that both of them leaving would have killed their mother. Perhaps Tarrlok was the strong one after all.

With a deep sigh, Noatak nodded. "Then I suppose this is good-bye."

"I suppose it is."

Pulling away, Noatak warily regarded his younger brother. A lot had changed over the last twenty-six years. Tarrlok's innocence had been shattered a long time ago, and this jaded man had taken his place. "I'm sorry," he said as he put his mask back on.

"For what?"

"For being unable to protect you."

"It's fine," Tarrlok replied, his voice hard. "I had to learn to stand on my own two feet after you left. It's made me who I am today."

Amon regarded the councilman sadly. "And that is why I'm sorry. Good bye, brother."