Part 1: Are we broken?
Team Avatar had had a plan; they were supposed to stay together- strength in numbers, Mako had said, looking pointedly at her- but then she caught a glimpse of Amon's mask snaking through the crowd, a tyrant amongst his mindless minions, and the plan, the one they had constructed so meticulously, spiraled to hell, just like the city- just like the world, she thinks bitterly. So instead of maintaining formation, like she had promised, Korra bolts into the hellfire, pursuing the madman with an unprecedented speed, like she wasn't exhausted from a night of fitful sleep and graphic nightmares, like she hadn't been hit by more than one electrified glove today, like she is the hero everyone wants to believe she is.
She chases him through the crowd, being as discrete as possible, sticking to his flank like molasses, always just one step behind him as she dodges bolas and gloves, weaving between friend and enemy alike. Suddenly, a glove strikes her on the leg, hard, burning her flesh raw and leaving in its wake charred skin and wounded pride. She screams out in absolute pain and shock, not exactly prepared for the feeling of 1000 volts of electricity racing beneath her skin, and only then does Amon glance, just briefly, over his shoulder, picking up his pace to accommodate the Avatar's pursuit. Coward, she thinks as she regains her bearings and proceeds to bend the shit out of the equalist who dared mess with her, before continuing her chase albeit with a quite noticeable limp. She loses sight of him for a minute, caught up in the complete destruction war has brought upon the once beautiful city, but, before long, she spots him again as he scales the side of building, his movements calculated and presumably effortless.
The building is one of those tall, historical ones that have a way of taking you back in time with their complete and total elegance, all brick and wood and beauty, but also a death trap if your not careful, there are far too many Termiterats to consider in such an urban area. Unfortunately, there is nothing but unadulterated rage in Avatar Korra's mind as she shoots chunks of solid earth and razor-sharp ice into the statuesque brick, aiming haphazardly for a target that was much too fast for her, for anyone.
The first brick falls, fast and furious, towards the earth, grazing her tan arm before it thumps onto the ground like a grenade; in its wake lay a trail of blood, red as the flames that engulf the buildings around her and destroy everything she thought she knew: the Probending Arena, Air Temple Island, even Gommu's bush erupt in multicolored flames no longer safe. Not anymore, not while Amon's in charge. She can't help but curse the sprits under her breath because this madness was never part of her master plan. She was supposed to save the world, not cause it to come toppling down like some sort of industrial avalanche. And an avalanche it is, as bricks begin to fall from the heavens like holy projectiles.
She hears her name being cried out from somewhere in the crowd, she thinks it might be Bolin, but her eyes are glued to the collapsing structure, to the priceless damage she has caused, and she can't seem to look away from the horror- like Asami said, it's hard to watch two cars crash, Korra, but it's even harder to look away. Only when the bricks start pouring like heavy rain around her, scraping and bruising every piece of exposed flesh, and the screams of her involuntary victims penetrate her bubble does she spring to action. Summoning all her strength, her arms shoot up into the sky as she earthbends a rock dome up over the heads of herself and the people who happen to be the butts of her thoughtlessness. It takes every ounce of strength she has to sew together the earth and hold it above them; under her dome there are both equalists and benders, but when their lives suddenly flash before their very eyes, she guesses, they all become human before anything else because suddenly the fighting has ceased. Funny how things like that danger and death tend to bring us closer.
The rocks above her settle, and all too suddenly, it feels like the world is resting on her shoulders -maybe it is, she thinks-, but her moment of silent inquiry is short lived because keeping the structure erect is requiring her to maintain every ounce of concentration she can muster. Even the burning in her leg mutes to a dull ache, as the structure remains suspended around them, like frozen time, and she grunts in exertion as brick after relentless brick strikes rock and adds weight, so much weight, to the already impossibly heavy structure.
When she feels a sturdy hand clasp her shoulder she doesn't dare turn around or speak, for fear of collapsing the structure on herself and everyone else, instead she screams out in pain, a broken wail that penetrates the sound of colliding rock, an incoherent plea for help, and like a gift from the spirits, the weight lessens substantially as another earth bender joins her in bending the dome. Finally able to function, Korra turns breathlessly around to see a beaten, but not broken, Bolin. She scans him, looking for any prominent injuries because, no matter what the bending brothers say, she involved them in this revolution and that makes them her responsibility. He's a little torn up, dirt and blood crust around a particularly nasty gash in his arm, turning the wound copper, and when he turns his head the right way in the low light, she can see his eye is blackened and swollen, a shiner if she's ever seen one, but other than that she can identify no serious injuries, and her sigh of relief is louder than perhaps appropriate given the situation. She's almost tempted to reach out, to stroke his face, and make sure that he's as real as he seems to be, but, even with Bolin helping now, she must focus a majority of her energy on the dome and conserve what little she can.
"You look like hell," he says bluntly, skipping courtesies as he scans her body with his concerned eyes, and, maybe, if she had any modesty left at all, she would slap the silly boy for letting those green eyes linger a little too long on places that are most definitely not injured, but rules, courtesies, change when war erupts, and she'd be lying if she said she gave a shit about who stares anymore.
For the first time that night, she scans herself with trained eyes, scrutinizing every scratch and bruise littering her skin and deciding which will scar, which will take months to heal, which ones she should be particularly worried about. Her left leg, the one that took the blunt of the electrocution, is unrecognizable beneath her torn and burnt pants, and she can't help but think it is reminiscent of something from a cheap horror film, like the ones her and Bolin would go to see on Friday nights just to make fun of them- nobody really looks like that, she'd say, mocking the low budget zombies, I mean they're covered in ketchup for spirits sake. Then he'd laugh and she would too. It was so simple.
Humorlessly she thinks to herself, Karma's a bitch, because now her leg looks a lot like those "phony" creatures, red and blue, skin charred and curling from one too many volts of electricity, covered partially by burnt and blood soaked fabric, that clings to her wounds like glue, and while the rest of her is not particularly clean by any means, it is at least passable.
"I've had worse," she says a little too quickly, because they both know it's a complete lie and that twelve years in a secluded compound could never prepare her for this kind of physical abuse, for the incessant ache that starts in her toes and seems to stretch on forever, burning her legs and leaving her fingers on pins and needles until the world feels too fuzzy to be genuine, and for a second, she can't help but wish that this was all a dream, a horrific and chilling nightmare, but a dream nonetheless.
"Where are Mako and Asami?" she asks suddenly, realizing too late that she must not have been the only one to break protocol.
"Asami got a pretty nasty bang on the head from a bola and passed out on the battlefield. Shin carried her to the arena, that's where their keeping the injured and...," he trails off. So many dead.
"And Mako?" she insists a little more urgently, not really wanting to think about the lives that have been lost. That part will come later.
He stares at her dumbly for a second, "I thought he was with you," and that's when her stomach drops and her world turns red as the dome shakes precariously above them, her befuddlement leaving Bolin to pick up the slack.
Her mouth opens and closes as her brain scrambles to form coherent sentences- But he was supposed to be with you, remember. You promised to stay together.
They had all promised…
"Why would you think that," she asks, and she can't help but cringe at the desperation that leaks from her voice because she wants this-needs this- to he some kind of sick, twisted joke.
"When you ran off towards Amon, he ran after you, and I guess I just assumed you two rendezvoused," he says slowly, trailing off as bitter, unforgiving reality slaps him in the face. The reality where his brother, the one who has taken care of him his entire life, the one who has chased away every nightmare, his only family, his makeshift father, his best friend, is suddenly and indefinitely gone with nothing more than a tainted legacy to survive him.
His eyes grow wide, overtaken with crippling panic that Korra hopes she will never again have to see corrupt his typically vibrant, malachite eyes, "We have to find him!" he nearly screams in her ear, breaking the silence that seems to have settled underneath the dome, "What if Amon has taken his bending? What if he's dying? Or dead? Oh spirits, Korra, he can't die, not yet, he promised…" his speech breaks into disjointed babbling, incoherent to everybody but himself, and she tries desperately to console him, her hand reaching out to stroke his shoulder and push away the confused tears that are gathering in the corners of his eyes. She murmurs comforts under her breath, quiet enough that only he can hear, word and phrases, things she thinks her mother would have said to him, her tongue heavy with the drawl of her native language. She's never been any good at this kind of stuff, and she hopes her movements aren't as awkward as they feel, but despite both their discomfort, he settles down, his breathing shaky and uneven.
"Bolin, you need to listen carefully," she says, her index finger still tracing pictures into his sleeve, "You need to stay here and keep this dome up until everyone has been evacuated, get them to safety, and then meet up with Asami and make sure she's okay. Understood?"
"I'll find him," she promises, hoping she sounds more confident than she feels, for Bo's sake, of course, "I swear I will do everything in my power to get your brother back, but I need you to trust me."
For a second, she's sure he will refuse, he'll be stubborn and insist that he go because Mako is his family, and he almost does- almost- but something about the way she is looking at him, her eyes full of something akin to desperation, causes him to yield.
"Go," he murmurs, and go she does, whipping away like a Wolfbat as she drops the rest of the dome into Bolin's capable arms, nearly missing the Be careful that drips from his lips like honey before she bends herself an exit and disappears into the bloodshed once again.
It's takes her eyes a moment to readjust to the streaming evening sunlight that momentarily blinds her, making her, for whatever reason, miss the muted darkness of her dome, where time stopped and the world ceased to burn. But she has a job to do, something that cannot be done with her face hidden from the world.
Once her eyes are adjusted to the orange glow that the setting sun has dyed the city, she scans the horizon, not quite sure where to start. The building, the last tangible landmark or her recent pursuit, is gone now. Shattered all over the concrete of the city, chunks of brick dispersed like pieces of a puzzle, and the only regret she can bring herself to feel is for not killing the bastard in the process. The fighting, fortunately, has seemed to have move away from this area, and she thanks the spirits before running down an adjacent alley, towards the last place she saw Amon.
The alley is rocky, covered with the remnants of her brash actions, and she stumbles several times, her orientation still a little hazy, before flat out falling, her bad leg banging against the alley wall in the process. She bites her tongue if only to keep from screaming as pain shoots up her leg and sets her nerves on fire. Using her arms, she pulls herself against the alley walls, leaning her head against the brick and squeezing her eyes shut as she tries, desperately, to regulate breathing, but it's hard when there stars are dancing across her vision and it seems like the stinging, the burning, the absolute pain will never fade away.
But it does because like every other evil in the world, pain is an impermanent part of life. Her eyes lull open and spot a puddle not far off. The water is stagnant and dirty, but it is water and she's not all that picky. She summons the it to her fingertips, reveling, momentarily, in the feel of it wrapped around her calloused fingers, before bringing her water coated hand to her leg and sealing the skin back together and then moving on to the rest of her body. The healing is crude at best, due to the combination ticking time and shaking hands, and she already knows they will scar; she can see the X's and O's imprinting themselves on her skin, but the time to care about appearances is long past: there are more important things at hand.
She drops the water and pulls herself slowly to her feet, ignoring the blood that rushes to her head, and pushes forward through the alley, led, perhaps by instinct, towards the outskirts of town.
She doesn't know what makes her stop her borderline-frantic pursuit, what makes her halt and look, really look, around, Perhaps it's the spirits whispering in her ear, perhaps it's luck. Maybe she'll never know, but it happens; she stops and observes.
The alley has led her right to the edge of the city, the part where concrete buildings are replaced by ancient trees as far as the eye can see, and at first, all she can see is green and brown and industrial gray, but then she catches a glimpse of red, a bad omen amongst the muted brown of the forest.
She approaches it slowly, hesitantly, and reaches out to it. It's a strip of bright red fabric, tied meticulously onto a tree branch, and once her fingers brush the fabric, her greatest nightmare is confirmed: it's Mako's. She recognizes the feel of the fabric, the rough yet oddly comforting scratch of the cloth, like his touch. She had worn that scarf, felt it wrapped around her neck surrounding her with the smell of smoke and parchment, the smell of Mako, that scarf had saved her life from wrench, it had made her crazy, he had made her crazy, and sometimes she wishes he would toss that scarf aside, accept that he can't live in the past forever, not when the present needs him more, but she would never ask him to do that, never could...
Her fingers unwrap the fabric delicately and retie it around her wrist- for safe keeping, she thinks- and looks around once again this time looking explicitly for red, and she finds it, about 50 yards into the woods, another piece of fabric, also tied meticulously to a tree. So meticulously... She squints and thinks she can see more red about 100 yards out, and that's when she knows. This is a trap. How could it not be? Conveniently placed fabric tied in perfect little knots right where she would find it.
But she promised Bolin she would find Mako- Even if it kills me? she wonders. The answer must be yes because she trudges into the woods and begins her hunt without a second thought. Each time she come across another strip of fabric, she ties it onto her wrist, some would say it's wishful thinking, others naivety, she hasn't quite decided yet.
The sun has set, and the effervescent glow of the burning city is replaced by the deafening silence of solitary forest as far as the eye can see, not that she can see much in this light. She has collected a little over a dozen strips of fabric by the time she comes across the cabin with a red cloth tied on the door handle. It's dark and silent, the perfect mirror to its environment. The shutters, that are locked tight, leave her completely ignorant to what waits for her on the interior, and she can't help but question her sanity as her fingers wrap delicately around the handle because she knows this is a trap, and what if she doesn't come out of this alive? What she is being more impulsive than strategic? What if she's getting ahead of herself again?
But as always, her heart is screaming louder than her head, and before she can even begin to question her complete and total brashness, the door has been kicked open and fire is dancing precariously across her fingertips.
She's not sure what she expected to find, but none of her imagined scenarios could ever be as gruesome as the one she encounter beyond that door, maybe it's because this is reality, and expectations can never be as poignant as reality.
Mako is gagged and tied like an animal to a chair in the center of the room. The only light comes from the smoldering embers in the brick fireplace, and the lowlight reflects grotesquely off the blood that pours from a deep gash above his eye; the shadows dance haughtily off his angular face and make him look like some sort of disfigured beast. The flames she was wielding go out, snuffed by the terror that grips her and leaves her breathless. She is scanning his body carefully noting the array of burns and scars that he has acquired in such a short period of time when his eyes snap open and lock onto hers.
It takes him a second to remember where he is and to piece together why everything hurts, but once he does, he begins struggling against his bonds, choking and gagging himself as he tries to free his mouth. Korra waste no time jumping into action, crossing the room in one stride and working fast to untie the gag, her fingers are awkward and clumsy with fear filled adrenaline, and eventually, she resorts to just burning it off, ripping it shakily from his mouth and throwing at across the room
There are so many things she needs to say to him, to tell him, but he wastes no time, "Korra, you have to get out of here!" he says, his words too loud and his breathing too frantic in the eerily silent room; her shaking fingers reach out and stroke his face tenderly, trying to calm him, maybe herself too, "It's a trap, Amon is trying to lure you here! He wanted you to come so he could kill you himself, oh spirits..." But his rambling is cut off by the sound of the cabin door slamming, and a low chuckle resonating across the wood. She holds back a shudder of terror as she wonders if maybe, this could be the beginning of the end.
"How sweet," the voice says from the space directly behind her, causing a shiver to dance down her spine, "Avatar Korra came back for her boyfriend."
She snaps around, her teeth bared as she summons fire to her palms, but before the flames can even reach her fingertips, Amon delivers a series of well placed jabs that leave her, at least for the moment, without bending, and when she summons all her energy in a pathetic attempt to strike him across the face, a chi-blocker snakes out of the shadows and holds her at bay.
"What do you want, Amon," she snarls, her voice an equal mix of venom and terror, as she struggles against her captor.
He takes a step closer to her, leaving mere centimeters between her defiant face and his stoic mask, before leaning down and whispering in her ear, " I want to make you scream."
Before she can even think about a response, he turns around and jabs Mako with a Kali-Stick, and the room fills with the sound of heart wrenching screams and electricity. She stands silently in the background, overwhelmed, heartbroken, terrified.
"I want to see you cry," he says, punctuating every syllable with another shock to Mako's beaten body, and this time she comes to her senses and screams with him, begging the tyrant to stop, to hurt her instead because this is her war, not anybody else's.
"I want to see you break," he spits, throwing the Kali Stick aside and pulling out a dagger. He teases it across Mako's temple before grabbing a fistful of the boy's hair and forcing the knife under his neck, pushing the blade just enough to draw blood.
She can't help the scream, the tears, the way her voice cracks, "Stop! Please! He's not part of this! Please just let him go!"
She's not sure what Amon looks like under that mask, but she's pretty sure he's smirking as he pushes the knife further into Mako's neck, and her pleas become more frantic.
"LEAVE HIM ALONE! IM THE ONE YOU WANT! I'LL DO ANYTHING I SWEAR, JUST- JUST LET HIM GO!" she sobs, wishing that she could be stronger than this.
"Anything?" He asks, his interest piqued, and she's pretty sure she should be afraid of the way he manipulates the word, but all she can focus on is Mako's terrified gaze locked onto hers and the second of relief she feels as Amon pulls the knife away from his throat a fraction of an inch.
"Yes- yes, of course," she stutters, her voice cracking with relief because maybe she can still save him.
"Marry me, Avatar."
Authors Note: Wow, that was a hard write! I hope you liked it, and as always reviews are highly appreciated; it's always great to get some feedback and see how I can improve :) I plan on continuing this ASAP, so be expecting Part 2 fairly soon. I'm thinking it will probably be a pretty long two-shot (maybe a 3 shot...) Well anyways, thank for taking the time to read, and have a beautiful day!