Korra didn’t have a plan. Didn’t have time to make one. Her muscles screamed as she clung to the strap protecting her from the lighting lancing through the metal. Broken glass rained down on her head. The electricity stopped, she dropped, and prayed he didn’t decide to zap it again for good measure.
“Open the box. Tie her up.”
When the door squeaked open everything became a flurry of motion. Her mind was oddly distant as she choreographed her movements, as an instinct deeper than fear made her move. A fire kick to blast them back, emerge from the flames while they were still disoriented. She dodged the bolas one of the equalists still had the sense to toss. Dropped to pound the earth into a wave, and shot past fallen enemies as flying grit pelted her face.
Through the door and… oh spirits. Amon was a tall figure, masked and cloaked dark as a crowmoth against the flurries of snow. His mask revealed nothing, but his eyes… his eyes laughed. He could see her fear and reveled in it. For a moment she was frozen. Only for a moment, but it was enough. A jolt of electricity sent her to the floor in a twitching heap.
The remaining equalists grasped her shoulders and hauled her up, jerking her head back by her hair so that she faced the shadow dancing in her addled vision. "How does it feel, Avatar? To be helpless? Powerless?” He caught hold of her jaw just like he did the first time, and as his mask-face swam into focus the rush of terror was the same. His thumb caressed her brow. “You won’t get used to it. I will break you.”
A paralyzing chill crept over her, sinking into her muscles and bones until her entire body shot right past numb and into ache. Pain didn't begin to cover this. Her mouth gaped in a silent scream as her blood burned cold... then the world went mercifully black.
They finally spotted her from above, slumped motionless on Naga's saddle. Mako nearly threw himself off Oogi. He struggled against Bolin's grip on the back of his shirt and cursed breathlessly until they landed.
Mako pushed his way to the front with a worried growl. Tenzin nearly snapped at him, but his irritation was quickly snuffed out again by worry. Bolin's ever-present smile was finally crumbling at the edges. He’d been joking all day as if one of his friends hadn’t been kidnapped by a mad anti-bender, but the terror his jokes held at bay was creeping into his green eyes. Even Lin let a little of her unease leech onto her normally steely face. Asami hovered in the back observing from some distant place inside her head, rendered almost numb by worry and stress. She couldn’t process right now; she’d simply break down where she stood.
“Don’t touch me,” The words came out strangled. “Just… don’t touch me.”
She knotted dark hands into Naga’s coat and buried her face in the thick neck. The Polar Bear Dog whined at her rider’s distress.
“Take me home, Naga.”
They all just stood there and stared at the retreating pair, and the trip back to Air Temple Island went by in sickening silence. Something was about to go horribly, horribly wrong, and no one dared speak for fear of shattering the lull before the storm.
It took them an hour to talk her into allowing a healer into her room. Pema had gathered the original search party - Tenzin, Bolin, Mako, Asami, and even Lin - around the table in the main dining room. The whole world was holding its breath, waiting for the answer they all knew was coming.Mako drew into himself, with his scarf wrapped almost up to his mouth and his eyes gleaming slits. Bolin drew jittering swirls on the polished table with his fingers. Occasionally he cooed comfort a bristling Pabu. Asami felt like throwing up. An unsteady sip at her tea revealed it had gone cold - along with the other three cups sitting at her right hand. Pema hadn't stopped brewing tea since they got home, despite the face it kept going untouched. She wished she could go back to a few hours ago, when her biggest worries were her father and whether or not her boyfriend was cheating.
A howl tore the air, made unfamiliar by grief.
Finally the head healer hobbled from the hall, leaning heavily on her walking stick. There were three vivid scratches forming across her right cheek. The other two healers were much younger women who showed marks of Earth Kingdom and Fire Nation Ancestry respectively. Their faces were drawn with apprehension – one had a bead of water darting between her fingers in the beginnings of a nervous tic.
“It’s as we feared. The Avatar’s bending has been taken.” Her words hit the air like lead weights.
“W-will Korra be all right?” Ikki peeked around the doorframe, and was nearly bowled over by Meeko.
“Yeah, Yeah, will she be okay?”
Jinora stood awkwardly in the doorframe, a book clasped tightly to her chest. “Is there anything we can do?”
“I’m sorry.” She looked at each of them in turn. “We gave her a mild sedative. I advise you have someone there when she wakes.”
Lin’s fingers clenched on the table. She hadn’t even changed out of her dented armor, despite the strain showing on her face. “And my benders?”
“We haven’t received communication from the hospital… but I believe the news will be the same.”
Tenzin's once proud stance was stooped under the weight of sorrow as he stood. He’d never really looked his age until that moment. “Thank you for your time, ladies. I… you’ll understand if I ask that this is kept confidential? At least for now.”
The healer’s bow was more a jerked nod. “We will be the spirit of discretion.”
The airbending master waited until the healers were gone before speaking again. He was tactful enough not to mention why Korra might need watching.
“I believe we should take watches in shifts. I –“
“I’ll take the first one.” Mako peered out of the folds of his scarf like an angry trutleduck. Any other time she would find this endearing, but…
“I don’t think that’s such a good idea.”
Of course they all looked at her like she was mad. She crossed her arms, only narrowly resisting the desire to smack the suspicious look off his face. As if she would let jealousy get in the way of something like this.
“You know he won’t wake us when his shift is over.”
Evidently she made a good point. She took first watch, and Pema herded the kids back to bed. Tenzin left immediately to gather the council members. Lin was to stay behind and protect the temple in his absence. Asami leaned against the wall and watched Mako. He hadn’t moved from his place at the table.
“You know what? I think I’ll just… go give Pabu a bath… yeah. I’ll just get going then.”
Bolin's eyes were just a little too bright as he whirled and ducked out the door. Mako nearly followed him out before she snagged his hand and pressed a kiss to his cheek. She smiled faintly and ruffled her fingers through his dark hair. His weary smile brought a jab of pain. They had a lot of things to talk about later, but she was too drained to deal with it right now.
“Go on.” He needs you right now.
Asami hadn’t spent long in the temple, but it had always possessed a homey quality. The prayers of a hundred peaceful souls had soaked into the wood and stone, giving it a soothing air. It did nothing to calm her disquiet – almost amplified it, like her emotions were a spot of black on a sea of white. Korra’s room was somehow just as she remembered it, even though everything had changed.
She pulled a stool up to the edge of the bed, and scarcely noticed as time passed and the candles fizzled out in their own wax. Built-up exhaustion was creeping up on her. The events of the last few days: her strained relationship with Mako, her father... her awkward encounters with Korra.
The heiress found her eyes wandering to her friend’s sleeping form. She looked so small and bedraggled. In her mind’s eye Asami could see Korra bending under the moonlight. Korra laughing at some crazy thing Bolin did, or flushing over some real or imagined slight.
“Asami.” She jerked out of her doze as a voice cut into her thoughts. Korra rolled over to face her, the hollow expression softened at the edges by whatever drugs they had pumped into her system. “Good… you’re awake.”
Brushing a few strands of hair out of the sleepy face was habitual by now. She managed a croak through her dry throat. “Hey.”
“I pretended to be asleep.” She forced a smile. The attempt was painful to watch. “I can’t face them right now.” She hauled herself up with Asami’s help and dangled her feet over the edge of the bed. The former bender flexed her hands, entranced with the moonlight playing over her fingers. Asami was reminded so strongly of the night after her father’s betrayal she almost couldn’t breathe. This wasn’t something she was equipped to handle.
Open. Closed. Open. Closed. Korra's fists went white knuckled.
“I’m so cold.”
The edge of panic in Korra’s voice cut through her paralysis. She knelt before the other girl, taking the bruised hands in hers. Asami rubbed her thumbs across the knuckles until the dark hands relaxed.
“It’s…” It’s okay “It will be okay.” It’s okay sweetheart, daddy’s got you.
A floorboard creaked. Bolin slipped up to Korra’s right, draping his arm over her shoulder. Mako was just as quickly on her left with his arm wound around her waist. The former bender leaned into the touch like a drowning person grasping for air, and turned her head into Bolin’s shoulder.
“I don’t know if I can do this.”
The phrase had a well-worn air. Like she was thinking it this whole time. It was written in silences that were too long or an answer that came just a little too quickly, but Asami suspected the boys hadn’t noticed properly before today. She hadn’t felt it was her place to ask, even with – because of - those companionable silences they’d shared some nights. There was a distance she kept between them on purpose, and now she wished she hadn’t.
“We’re here for you.” Mako looked like he wanted to say more, but his eyes said enough. He was just happy to see her alive.
Bolin rested his chin on top of Korra’s mess of dark hair. “Yeah… we’ll work through this! You’re the strongest girl I know.”
Asami squeezed the hands in hers gently. “We’re here for you.” She echoed. If only it were that easy.
It was three days before Korra left her room. Three days of worrying and constant vigilance.
Asami was in the kitchen fiddling with an Equalist glove she’d captured. The heiress had a pile of them by now, but this one was spread out over the table in pieces. Mass production over a short period of time had made them less efficient. She just knew she could improve on the design. It was also a nice distraction.
Lin muttered something about ‘police seizure’ into her tea as she passed through, but Asami ignored it and the former cop hadn’t mentioned it again. No one was quite sure why the metalbender stuck around, but it likely had to do with the recent meetings that were keeping Tenzin out at all hours.
A familiar set of dark, scarred hands entered her vision. Wait… what…? How was she that quiet?
Korra held one of the gloves gingerly as if it were an angry spiderat, an unreadable expression on her face. Asami could not reconcile hate with the Korra she knew. The avatar’s emotions (her anger in particular) were like flashes of lightning – exhilarating, sometimes terrifying, but gone almost as soon as they came. The girl wasn’t one to hold grudges.
Wasn’t. Past tense. The remnants of her lost fire burned in her eyes as an inferno, not a light. She lifted her chin as she slipped the Equalist glove over her right hand, and answered the question Asami didn’t ask aloud. “I’m still going after Amon.”
Her smile was a little too grim, but it was a smile. The first real expression the girl showed since sobbing herself to sleep on Bolin’s chest. ‘No’ froze on Asami’s lips when that dark gaze turned on her. The command cut the air with the electricity that crackled in the cup of her hand.