I seem to be constitutionally incapable of writing anything but
opening chapters uh, one shots. AKA, I just found something I wrote shortly after the finale to cheer myself up. Re-reading, I apparently had a new and special definition of “cheer” going on.
(I think I meant to write Noatak and Tarrlok escaping and wandering off to go fight crime in morally ambiguous ways, but got hung up on how to make it happen at all. This happens to me a lot.)
title: Second Chance
Tarrlok’s remorse was genuine enough. He’d had days to dwell on his brother’s flaws and then, eventually, his own, to see all the places where they overlapped: the same thirst for power, the same determination to get their way at any cost, the same zealotry that made them more dangerous than mere opportunists could ever have been. Between them they’d wrecked a city.
Avenge me, their father had told them, over and over, his hands heavy on their shoulders. But they’d finally turned on him, defied him: I don’t want to ever bloodbend again and we’re your sons, not your tools of revenge! Afterwards,everything they’d done had been a rejection of him—Tarrlok sitting on the despised Council, Noatak leading the still more despised non-benders.
Yet in the end, they were exactly what he’d meant them to be. His sons and the agents of his revenge: bloodbenders, too dangerous to be set loose upon the world. When the Avatar found him, he told her his story and sent her away; he felt, obscurely, that he ought to be caged.
He stayed, shivering, in the prison his brother had devised for him, sunk into shame, misery, self-loathing. Remorse was easy, like this. He doubted it would last long outside the cell; suffering had humbled him, but Tarrlok was sufficiently self-aware to know that if the suffering vanished, his humility would likely go with it. Oh, he would still regret what he had done, but he knew perfectly well that his was not a disposition given to sustained penitence. His shame would pass soon enough, and he would again be—
What he was.
Tarrlok closed his eyes, as tempted as he was repulsed. He knew he could not be trusted; he did not trust himself. The world could, at least, thank his brother for putting him away.
Then Amon climbed into the attic. The mask was gone, but the hood still lay over his head, throwing his face into shadow.
Tarrlok’s eyes narrowed. “Noatak.”
He wondered, distantly, how the rally had turned out. Had anyone believed Korra? Was she even still alive? Was his city—the city, the city—now in his brother’s hands?
Noatak pulled the hood back. For the first time in over twenty years, Tarrlok saw his real face. He didn’t look like a villain, or a revolutionary, or anything in particular. He just looked like Tarrlok’s brother.
“It’s over, brother,” said Noatak, and dropped his eyes. “I’m sorry for what I had to do to you.”
Tarrlok couldn’t even remember the last time he’d heard Noatak apologize for anything. He had become cold and arrogant under their father’s tutelage, well before he ever left. Tarrlok, thoroughly cowed by both father and brother, and already resenting it, would never have demanded one.
“Our father set us on this path. Fate caused us to collide,” he said, looking up at him. Tarrlok was sorry, too. If only he hadn’t been so damnably weak, all those years ago, none of this would have ever happened. “I should have left with you when we were boys.”
Noatak’s face lit up. With a jangle of keys, he unlocked the door.
“Leave with me now,” Noatak said softly, and in that moment he seemed less the boy who had run into the snow than the affectionate older brother from before. His expression was warm and open. “We have a second chance! We can start over together.”
Tarrlok stared at him.
“Please,” Noatak added, his voice almost breaking. “You’re all I have left in the world.”
Dazed, Tarrlok got to his feet and walked out. Free. He was free. They were both free, and together—without Yakone. They could do anything.
Would do anything, some part of him thought.
Noatak absently dusted some wood shavings off Tarrlok’s shoulder. “I have a boat. We can get to the dock and make our way home.”
Tarrlok forced himself to think. Before, he’d always been the practical one. Noatak was brilliant, but he got carried away, sometimes.
“East,” he said. “We’d better stay in the Earth Kingdom, for now. They’ll look for us at home. We should find a city; we won’t draw as much attention there.”
Noatak agreed, and they snuck out of the Air Temple together, making their way under the water. Tarrlok had been on the point of spinning a water bubble around them; Noatak, with one stricken look, took care of it.
Tarrlok wondered, vaguely, if Noatak would ever give him his bending back.
They climbed out near the docks, Noatak flinging the water off their clothes. Everything seemed very remote to Tarrlok, though Noatak’s hope and cheer, if not quite infectious, pulled him out of his bemused haze, a little. He needed to think things through, get the details squared in his mind. Noatak’s plan—it was very little different than the one Tarrlok himself had made, when Tenzin exposed him; Tarrlok, of course, had borrowed it from their father.
He felt sick at the thought. Had Noatak even made the connection?
Tarrlok glanced at his brother. Noatak was speaking to some kind of dock worker, his voice carefully raised. The plan had undoubtedly been inspired by Yakone’s successful escape to the north, but Tarrlok doubted Noatak would be so blithely unconcerned if he’d actually let himself think about that. He suspected that everything Noatak had chosen not to think about would fill several oceans.
The debate concluded, Noatak and Tarrlok climbed into the boat.
“I’ll steer,” Noatak announced. “You look tired, Tarrlok. Sit down.” He pointed an authoritative finger at the back seat and took the wheel.
My cell floor wasn’t exactly comfortable, Tarrlok thought. His heart was still thudding a heavy beat in his chest. Silently, he sprawled into the seat.
They headed away from Republic City, towards the unchecked freedom of the sea. The sea, and then—what? He tried to envision them living quietly somewhere, and his imagination failed. He couldn’t imagine Noatak in obscurity, anywhere: couldn’t imagine himself. Not any more. He thought back to the war-torn city they’d left behind, and wondered if they were even capable of walking down a street without leaving a trail of destruction behind them.
“The two of us, together again,” said Noatak. He sounded happy, almost triumphant. “There’s nothing we can’t do!”
“Yes, Noatak,” Tarrlok said evenly.
Noatak’s exuberance unsettled him. It was as if the revolution, the attacks, Tarrlok’s own autocratic rule over the city, had never happened. As if they could just collapse the last twenty years and flee Yakone together. Fleeing Yakone—when it came down to it, wasn’t that what they were doing? What he had already recognized as fruitless, back in his cell?
Already, it seemed a long time ago.
“Noatak,” his brother repeated, and laughed, shaking his head. “I’d almost forgotten the sound of my own name.”
His voice was still light. Tarrlok thought back to his horrified realization of what they were, what their father had made them. They meant to start over, make things right—but could they, really? Did they even have it in them to break their father’s hold on them? How long before they’d stop bothering? His despair was already slipping away, as he had known it would; it wouldn’t be long, now, before he ceased to care altogether.
Tarrlok glanced from his brother’s back to the Equalist gloves stacked along the side of the boat. For a moment, he was tempted to end it all, here and now, while remorse still churned in his gut. Put them down like rabid polar beardogs, for their own good, and the rest of the world’s. He thought of Korra screaming at him, presuming to defy him. He thought of his father, shouting him into submission—and Noatak, always placing himself between them, taking the brunt of Yakone’s demands on himself. If Tarrlok had been a little less warped by Yakone’s influence, it was only because Noatak had shielded him from it.
Tarrlok’s fingers were already reaching towards one of the gloves, unimpeded by bloodbending. He paused. Didn’t he owe Noatak at least the chance to try for the life their father had denied them? Didn’t he owe them both? This wouldn’t be like Republic City; they were together now, as they should have been all along.
He drew his hand back, and the impulse passed.
“It’s been a long time,” Tarrlok said.
The stiff line of Noatak’s shoulders relaxed. Casually, he lifted a hand to rub at something on his face, then dropped it again.
“Over twenty years,” he said. If possible, he sounded even more cheerful than before. “Thank you for reminding me!”
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- lunarblue21 said: Yes happy ending with no explosion yisss!!!!!! Btw anghraine, have you seen my fic for Tarrlok Appreciation Day yet? The one called Strong on the Surface? :) but yaaay!!! Happy ending for my Tarrlok yisss :D
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