A/N: Alright, you guys. Here comes a chapter from both Korra and Tahno's points of views—I hope you guys enjoy! Also, I believe the song "Viva La Vida" by Coldplay well fits Tahno. So, enjoy these lyrics:
I used to rule the world
Seas would rise when I gave the word
Now in the morning I sleep alone
Sweep the streets I used to own
For a few brief days, Korra hopes Tahno might actually be strong enough to accept what's happened and turn out to be okay.
She searches for glimpses of hope as they spend mornings and afternoons chasing down healers all over the city. They come begging before the best healers, hoping to gain a handful of guidance. Sometimes it takes hours sitting in small waiting rooms while more urgent cases are attended to. They rarely speak, preferring long gaps of silence. For Korra, his reluctance to talk makes it easier. What can she as the Avatar, future master of all four elements, say to someone who's lost the single element that made him whole? He won't admit how much water meant to him, but she sees the weight of loss even in how he sits. Before, he always leaned back with his chest and shoulders wide and open to take up space. Now he tends to lean forward, off-center as always, but gravity is dragging him down. He keeps his hands in focus. Just staring at his pale fingers resting on his lap.
"How did you get to Republic City?" she asks while they're waiting to see yet another healer, the third one of the day.
She speaks because usually the silence is fine, but sometimes there is a flicker of something more than quiet in the stuffy conditions of the waiting room. It's not anything on the outside but an internal force. She feels a lonely surge of sadness loom up so sudden and large. With his bending gone, Korra doesn't think Tahno needs more weight on his shoulders, but she's afraid the strength of their bond may be growing beyond physical sensations. Right now that's on the backburner. Fix his bending, then fix their connection. In the meantime, she can use the flickers of his emotions—that's her best guess of what she's feeling—to gauge if he needs a distraction. That's when she lures him into a chat.
"Hey," she says again. "I'm not talking to the wall."
"Why not?" he says. "You're equally thick. You could talk on the same level."
An attempt at humor. This in itself is a good sign. It's been a few days since the incident, and he's gotten a bit more lighthearted little by little. She still remembers what those moments down on the lower level of the pro-bending arena were like. The unbearable weight of his sorrow.
Come on, she whispered against his back. Let's get out of here.
But Tahno refused to get up. He simply sat on the edge of the lower platform and stared into the water.
I'm sorry Amon took your bending, she said. But of course, words don't change anything.
A hand came down on her shoulder. You go make sure everyone else is okay, Ming said. We'll take care of Tahno.
Yeah, we'll take care of him. He's our leader, Shaozu seconded.
Korra nodded and gently punched Tahno's upper arm. Stay tough, pretty boy.
She got up, knowing she had to return to her friends up above. They'd be worried. But she couldn't help but feel like Tahno had lost more than bending. He looked like a man who had lost everything that ever held meaning in his life.
But that was a few days ago, and hopefully he's recovered a bit by now.
"So, seriously," she asks in the waiting room. "How long have you been in the city?"
"I was little when I came here to live with my aunt. She raised me for a while. Not that long. Ever since I was about ten years old, I've had to fight my own way through life."
Korra isn't sure she's ready to hear a sob story about his past. She's also not sure he needs to be reminded of the details of bad memories at a time like this. "Are you from the North or South Water Tribe?" she asks on a lighter note.
Tahno chuckles. "You know, there aren't only two Water Tribes."
This is when the healer calls him in for his session. She stays behind in the waiting room, hoping the answer will be something other than I've tried everything in my power, but I can't restore his bending. But of course, that's the only answer they ever hear. It's the same this time, too. After about half an hour, Tahno returns to collect Korra. "What did the healer say?" she asks.
"That my connection to bending has been severed. It's permanent."
She wishes she could do something to at least ease his suffering, even if only for a few minutes. "Hey, you said liked tea. Want to get a cup somewhere before we head home?"
Tahno suggests they visit a traditional tea shop called the Jasmine Dragon. Some posters on the walls explaining its history refer to origins in the Upper Ring of Ba Sing Se. The original shop's popularity and excellent tea led to a sister shop opening in Republic City many years later.
"Hey, pretty boy."
"You're a pretty good boy sometimes," she says. Her attempt at something between teasing and compliment. "Not all that bad when you're not being a total douche."
"Growing fond of me, little girl?"
"I'm not that little. I can take care of myself."
Tahno swirls the loose leaves around in this cup. "Right now, you're taking care of both of us."
Korra suspects this is the closest to gratitude she can expect. She takes a sip of her tea. She'll accept it.
"When I was little, I hated this city," he admits. "All I wanted was to go home to my family because I missed everyone so much. But I kind of like it here more now," he says. "To be honest, you could say I'm starting to think I lost my heart in Republic City."
"In a good way?"
For the first time since she's known him, his smile is warm and genuine. He keeps his eyes on hers as he takes a sip of tea. "The best way possible."
And in such precious moments, Korra believes he's really going to be okay after all.
But soon after, that illusion ends.
The unraveling of her hopes begins at the worst possible moment when Hiroshi Sato has just pushed one of the control levers of his mechatank, shooting out a grappling claw at herself, Lin, and Tenzin. Korra jumps out of the way, proud for correctly guessing that Asami's father was a lying, no-good Equalist. Problem is, she still has to bring that discovery to the surface. If she's killed down here in the secret underground factor, the rest of the city will never know of Hiroshi's treachery.
But fighting back would be a whole lot easier if not for the cloudy haze beginning to infiltrate her mind . . .
"No, no!" she shrieks. Somewhere far off in the city, that fucking bastard is drowning his sorrows in alcohol. She has to end this fight quick while she can still think. Korra whips around to kick and punch blasts of fire at a nearby mechatank. A blast of air comes from over her shoulder to help. Tenzin runs past her, each of his steps a different attack that unleashes a strong force of airbending wind. They double-team because Korra's no longer sure how long she can fight off the substance slowly saturating her brain and bloodstream. Her firebending gestures grow weaker and clumsier. When the mechatank she's fighting shoots out another grapping claw, she's able to dodge with a series of backward flips. Summoning her fading concentration, she earthbends a chunk out of the floor and flings it at the mechatanks.
What does not penetrate her foggy mind is the claw coming at her from behind.
It catches her right in the back and flings her into a wide metal pipe on the far side of the factory. There is crushing pain against her chest, a sudden trickle of emotional terror, and a swirling sphere of air that catches her as she falls into unconsciousness.
Korra doesn't remember much of what happens next other than the fact that Mako and Bolin saved her life and then accepted her offer to live at the Air Temple. All she remembers is wanting nothing more than to get to the city and track down the bastard who almost got them both killed. She gets it right on her first guess and finds him nursing a hangover over a bowl of noodles in his usual corner at Narook's later that night. The White Falls Wolfbats posters are still on the walls around the booth, though one of them is beginning to peel. It's near closing time and they're the only two around.
"Feeling sorry for yourself again, huh?" she snarls.
"Hey, Uhvatar," he says without looking up.
She doesn't have time for formalities. "We made a deal!" she yells, and she would have tossed in you stupid fuck to adequately summarize her entire opinion of his pathetic life if not for the almost perpetual grief flowing from his end of the bond. "That wasn't one of your scheduled drinking hours, and I was fighting Equalists. I was almost killed, okay? If it weren't for my friends, we'd both be dead now."
Tahno stares into the bowl of noodles. "Maybe we wouldn't both die. Maybe that would just break our connection."
"Look at me." She knocks the bowl off the table with a swipe of her arm. The noodles splatter all over the floor. The dish cracks into two pieces. The two halves go spinning off, breaking into more crumbling fragments. "We're not risking that, okay?"
"Sorry I'm such a burden," he says calmly.
"You think this is a game?" Korra feels like punching something else, but it's not enough to throw bowls around. Why can't he at least pretend to care how much trouble he almost got her into? He's just sitting there with his sad little grin. There is nothing she wants more than to shatter his calm. She grabs the collar of his jacket for emphasis. "My life was fine until you showed up in it! You're the worst thing that's ever happened to me."
Tahno doesn't flinch under her assault. His expression remains calm. Bordering detached. "Thanks for the compliment."
She wants him to feel the intensity of her anger, and she knows he has to because of their bond, but he just doesn't seem to give a fuck about that or anything else. Korra drags him out of his seat by the collar and only lets go because he's choking and that means she can't breathe, either. Tahno doesn't even look up at her from his place on the floor. He just stares at the two broken pieces of bowl and picks up one half.
"You've gone and ruined good pottery," he says.
If it weren't for the expected pain rebound, she would kick him in the chest. "You really don't even care. You're not even pretending to give a fuck that I was almost killed."
He doesn't say anything immediately, but then he picks himself up off the floor and smoothes down his shirt. "You're right," he says without looking at her. "I got carried away. I guess I'll go home and punish myself for what I've done." His eyes flick up. "The pretty boy needs a time-out, huh?"
"You need to screw your brain in more tightly and use it sometimes," she snaps. "And will you stop joking around! This is serious. You treat everything like a joke."
He smiles, but it doesn't reach his eyes. "Don't worry, Uhvatar. I'll be dead serious from now on."
She's shaking from head to foot as he brushes past her. "Good," she says, her voice almost as calm as his and definitely far colder.
Tahno hesitates at the very door, his hand halfway through the gesture of pushing it open. "Hey, Korra?"
"What do you want?" she grumbles.
"Thanks for trying to help me."
She can feel the phantom prick of fingernails digging into her palms even though her own hands hang loosely at her sides. With that kind of intense pressure, Tahno's probably drawing blood from his skin. "Whatever," she says.
He glances back at her. "Can you promise me something?"
"Depends," she says. There's something softer in his eyes now that seems sincere.
"You gotta get Amon for me."
Korra closes her eyes. Then she nods. An affirmation. "Yeah. I can do that."
"Thank you," he says. It's his most genuine moment of gratitude.
This is their parting: Tahno gives her a half-smile and a casual salute. See you around, Uhvatar, he says. And for a moment she sees the flicker of that cocky bastard from Narook's surrounded by his posse, the jerk who offered her tea on his yacht, the one she threw a scroll at in the library, the one who teased her about meditation, the one who beat her in the pro-bending championship but really beat himself. The unique shape of his voice on her nickname suggests he's going to be okay after all. But as he turns away, the smile drops. He looks back at her until the final moment when the curtain of his limp hair hides his gaze. And then Tahno walks off alone into the world, leaving Korra to watch his retreating back as she stands between the two broken halves of the bowl.
It is only later that night as the young Avatar lies awake in her bed back on Air Temple Island that she realizes two very strange things.
The first is her feelings ever since they parted at Narook's, or lack thereof. She feels no foreign physical sensations. She feels nothing at all but a void where feeling once was. Well, almost, because there is one lingering emotion left. Korra feels the heavy weight of sorrow and know that somewhere far off Tahno is probably trying to bend water again even though he knows he can't. That he never can again. But, this is not the thing that surprises her most.
She sits up suddenly in bed. Korra. It's always been Uhvatar or sweetheart.He's never spoken her real name until their parting today. Something feels wrong about that. And despite the fact the she doesn't feel pain or anything really bad coming from Tahno's end of the spirit bond, she digs around her room for a scrap of paper. She finds it in a drawer. Written on it is a copied address that he originally wrote in pen on her arm.
It's the penthouse, he told her. Just in case.
Tonight, Korra thinks it's finally time to pay a visit to her rival at his home in Republic City.
Only a few hours ago, Tahno stood in front of the kitchen sink and ran water over his trembling fingers. His element ran down his arm and pooled on the floor in spreading puddles that caught the sunset light. Painted red by the dying light, the faucet water was his heart bleeding out on hardwood flooring.
He turned off the faucet, each handle cold but not nearly as cold as the nothing that was the sum of his entire life now. Even drinking couldn't drown out that kind of anguish. Not permanently. And Korra's anger tonight when she came to say you're the worst thing that's ever happened to me sealed something in his determination to carry out that which he had been considering for a few days now. How could he live in a world where the most precious of all things was taken away from him?
He wasn't sure he could. No, he was certain he couldn't.
That's because Tahno's life isn't some fiction story where the loss of his bending came to mean something else entirely. He didn't discover some secret truth in what was taken from him. Having tea with the Avatar didn't strip him of the shackles of his grief. The water running down his arm and pooling in puddles of sunset blood wasn't a symbol of rebirth, renewal, or regeneration. Korra probably expected to be a witness to his healing. What she didn't expect is that his story is not fiction but real life, and sometimes in real life you wake up and realize things aren't okay and never will be again.
And then you make the only choice that's left to stop the horror that will never grow mild in your mind.
Tahno suspected he would come to this realization even as Korra was yelling at him at Narook's. He didn't mean to be a burden. He even wanted to apologize, but he was never great at showing how he felt. This way would probably be easier on everything. At least on her, the girl he'd grown a little used to having around when she wasn't treating him like the scum of the earth and instead tried to understand how he was feeling. He liked drinking tea with Korra. He hoped she liked it, too, and would remember that in the years moving forward.
Tahno wishes he could be a part of those years, but all of his years end tonight. They end with the black key he holds in his hand, and one he slowly slides into a lock used to open the door that has only been opened once before. He never expected to hesitate at such a moment, but for a brief instant he does. He knows why he does.
As he stands there with the key halfway turned in the lock, one fragile spark of an emotion beyond loss breaks through the dark world that is his grief. He tries to understand what he's feeling and where it's coming from. He can't answer the second question, but he does recognize the quality of this emotion beating through his heart. Concern. Worry. Someone scared for another living being.
Yes. Tahno has felt this way before.
His earliest memory of fearing for someone else's life was when he was a very small boy. One evening some foreign merchants came through his village. They were selling exotic animals. A tiny version of himself—he doesn't remember being older than three—dragged his mother to the market to buy a strange little pup brought from the caves of the Earth Kingdom.
His mother argued you can't have that, but you don't tell a child no without puppy eyes and pleading as your reward.
Please, he cried, tugging on her sleeve.
The merchant grinned, his eyes filled with the shine of yuans to be earned. If raised from a young age, wolfbats can be tamed. I will even give you a discount since you two seem to have bonded already.
Tahno poked his fingers through the cage bars. The wolfbat, young enough that it could be held in two cupped palms, licked the little boy's fingertips with its rough tongue. He giggled and turned his begging eyes up at his mother again. Please, I promise I'll take care of him.
His mother smacked her forehead with her hand. You know I'm going to end up doing everything—
No, no! I promise. I'll take care of him, and he'll take care of me, Tahno pleaded. He hugged her waist so tightly and pushed his face against her stomach, absorbing her warmth.
His mother ran her fingers through his hair. He remembers this soothing gesture back from a time when he had a family to call his own. It was a time when he knew the meaning of the thing they call love. Back when his mother kneeled and wrapped him in the warm world that was her arms and said okay, you can have the wolfbat pup. Tahno remembers his mother, and he misses her, and he will never forget the thing he did not do: say goodbye when he left his village home long ago. Memory is always pain. This much, he's learned in life. Sometimes Tahno wishes he could feel like there was a family for him in the world, but who could ever love a loser without bending like the person he was now?
Hoping for a family was part of a life in which he was a bender.
In this life, it's just an irrelevant memory.
The key held now in his hand?
That's freedom from pain.
Tahno stands before the black door with the black key in his hand and his heart in a black place of hoping for something he could never, ever have again. He tries to banish the growing worry from his mind. He shouldn't be feeling this. There's nothing to worry about now except remembering the order in which he must use the things beyond this door. But that's a physical and not emotional recollection. He's good with the physical. He remembers how girls kiss. He remembers every single girl.
He wonders what Korra's kiss might feel like. He wonders why he cares. Maybe he cares because he's kind of worried about how she'll deal with learning of what happened to him tomorrow morning. Maybe because he'd started to see her as his temporary family here in the city. But she'll probably only be happy. At least he won't be a burden on her life any longer.
Tahno smiles. At least he'll have done something right in his lonely life.
And so he turns the black key in its lock to open the door and goes through, leaving his life in the hands of fate.
A/N: The next chapter is going to be dark. Very dark. Just leaving that warning here so you guys can run and hide if you're not ready for what's coming. And, yes, there were a few allusions to Avatar: The Last Airbender in this chapter. I hope you caught at least some of them. And here are some more appropriate lyrics from "Viva La Vida."
One minute I held the key
Next the walls were closed on me
And I discovered that my castles stand
Upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand