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Thicker than Water

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Strong hands held Tahno’s arms, twisting them painfully, forcing him to kneel. He looked up at the masked monster, more afraid than he’d ever been in his life. “I’ll give you the championship pot,” he babbled, “I’ll give you everything, just please don’t kill me.”

There was no sympathy in the eyes behind the mask. Amon hated benders. And everyone knew there was just one way to take a bender’s bending away.

Amon knelt beside him, and Tahno tried ineffectively to squirm away, his heart pounding in terror. Amon’s hand brushed his cheek, and then he grabbed Tahno’s hair, twisting it around his fingers, and pulled his head to the side, exposing his neck. Tahno could only watch as that mask moved closer and closer to him, until he couldn’t see those cruel eyes looking at him anymore, and Amon slid the mask up just a few inches, enough to expose his mouth, now hidden in the curve of Tahno’s neck.

Tahno cried out at the sudden pain. Amon pulled his hair harder, twisting his face around almost to his shoulder. He could see the stands, full of shocked faces. An entire crowd was watching him die. He could hear Amon sucking at his wound, feel his cold lips on his skin. The pain was getting worse. “Please stop,” he whimpered, barely even knowing what he was saying, knowing it wouldn’t help anyway. “I learned my lesson. I’ll never….” he trailed off. He’d never what? Cheat? Bend? Breathe? Amon was going to make sure of that.

He was beginning to feel quite faint. His vision swam and darkened. Everything sounded distant and echoed, as though he were at the end of a long, narrow tunnel. He knew the Equalists’ hands on him were the only things keeping him upright.

Finally, it stopped, and for a moment he dared to hope Amon was showing him mercy. Maybe he’d just been giving him a good scare, put him in the hospital for a week or two, but everything was going to be all right. Then, dimly, he saw Amon making a cut on his hand with a knife, and he felt someone opening his mouth. Amon thrust his hand partially into Tahno’s mouth, forcing it open as wide as it could go, and he didn’t even have the strength left to bite down. He could feel the blood draining down his throat, and gagged, making some of it dribble down his chin. One of the Equalists held his head in position and stroked his throat, forcing him to swallow.

Tahno only felt weaker as this went on. His extremities were cold and numb. His vision had dimmed so much there were only shadows moving against the light. He wanted to throw up, and being forced to swallow Amon’s bitter blood certainly wasn’t helping there. Finally, it stopped, and he felt himself fall to the ground. He lay there, dazed. He wasn’t sure how long. The world seemed to be swaying queasily. Please let this all be over.

A boot pushed him, rolling him over, and he realized he was being kicked over the edge of the ring. Terror flared anew. He knew he didn’t have the strength left in him to swim out. He reached out blindly, trying to catch something on the floor, the boot of the person kicking him, anything, only scraping his nails on the taut canvas of the ring floor. Another push, and he felt the world give out from under him, a moment of freefall, then the hard slap of the water’s surface, knocking the wind out of him. In his panic, he gasped, drawing in only water, and realizing that this was really it, if he didn’t make it out of the water he was going to die right here. He swung his arm out, and the water responded, forming a weak wave that didn’t do much of anything, before Tahno lost awareness. That was the last time he used his bending.

-

This has got to be the worst hangover ever.

Tahno opened his eyes, sticky and blurry, and blinked hard a few times. Everything hurt. He was so hungry he thought he might faint. The bright electric lights were giving him a headache.

Blearily, he took in his surroundings. A jail cell. Must’ve been a wild night.

He realized there was somebody standing on the other side of the bars. He convinced his eyes to focus. He knew her from the newspapers. The police chief. Tahno tried to sit up, quickly regretting it. “What’s the big idea, Chief?” he said. “I do something wrong?”

“No,” she said. “We’re just holding you for observation.”

Fragments of the previous night started coming back to him. Amon had attacked him. He put his hand to the bite on his neck. It still hurt. “Wouldn’t a hospital be better for that?”

“This is more appropriate,” the chief said. “In a hospital you could be a danger to others.”

He heard her words, but he couldn’t quite understand the meaning. “Hey, Chief, do you think I could get a blanket at least? I’m cold,” he said.

Her expression was pitying. “It wouldn’t help you much,” she said. He stared at her face, his jaw slack. No one had ever looked at him that way before. Like some unfortunate. Like a victim. His eyes slid involuntarily down to her neck, and he felt the ache in him throb. Hungry. He could smell her, even from ten feet away. That seemed strange, but he didn’t mind. She had a nice fragrance.

With his hand still on his neck, he felt for a pulse. Seconds passed, and he moved it, trying to find a better spot. Tears pricked at his eyes. “That bastard killed me, didn’t he?”

“I’m sorry,” she said. “By the time we got you out of the water it was too late. We thought you might wake up, so we brought you in for observation.”

“Shaozu and Ming?”

“The same. They haven’t woken up yet. I was just going to check on them.”

Tahno nodded weakly. The chief, after another guilty glance in his direction, walked away. Tahno lay there, the information sinking in. With difficulty, he got up, and stared at the toilet. He tried a simple waterbending move on the water, and nothing happened. Of course. Only the living were in tune with the natural world enough to bend. He was an abomination, his chi stagnant. And he was so hungry.

He must’ve been left alone in his cell a few hours, long enough to stew in his situation and go nearly out of his mind. He went to the bars and shouted a few times, demanding to know what crime he’d committed, but no one answered him.

Finally, the chief returned. He could barely stand to look at her. He knew what he wanted to do with her now, and it sickened him.

“Listen up, kid,” she said. “Being a vampire is not actually a crime in Republic City, but almost everything associated with it is. You bite anyone non-consensually, that’s assault. If you kill anyone, that’s murder, and no one will care how hungry you were. There are government programs and charities you can apply to for blood. The waiting lists are long, so you’d better get applying if you want to survive. The only neighborhood you’re allowed to live in is the Dragon Flats district. This is to protect the citizens. You’ll be permitted to get your things from your apartment, of course. And under no circumstances are you to turn anyone, do you hear me? That’s illegal under any condition, and one of the only crimes in Republic City punishable by death. You turn someone, I will personally stake your ass. Do you understand?”

Tahno laughed bitterly. “Where were you when it was done to me, then?”

To his surprise, there was guilt in the chief’s eyes. “I’m sorry for what happened to you. Amon will pay.”

Tahno wanted to see Amon staked and gone more than anything, yet somehow these words didn’t comfort him much. “Good luck with that. Don’t end up like me,” he said.

The chief reached in a cooler, and pushed a glass jar through the bars. He picked it up. He didn’t have to ask what the dark red liquid in it was. Something pricked in his mouth, and he ran a finger over his teeth cautiously. Fangs.

“To tide you over,” the chief said. “Wouldn’t want you going berserk and killing someone on your first day.”

Tahno opened the bottle and drank. It was cold, which he found repulsive, but he was hungry enough to choke it down anyway. There was an unpleasant, chemically sort of taste to it, which he would later learn was due to anticoagulants. Overall, he found it to be an underwhelming experience, considering how much his body had been clamoring for the stuff. Yet when it was gone, he felt a lurch in his stomach, the yawning emptiness in him not close to filled. “Is there more?” he asked.

“Sorry, kid, you’re lucky to get that. Blood’s always in short supply. I had to pull strings to get you anything.”

Tahno nodded weakly. “Thanks, then,” he said. “Can…can I go now?”

“In a little while. We’ve got some paperwork for you to sign.”

“Great. Paperwork.”

“Basically it just promises that you’ll abide by the rules of this city and won’t hurt anyone.”

Tahno couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity of this.

“You think the laws of this city are funny?”

“I think it’s pretty funny that you think my signature is going to be the difference between killing someone and not,” he said. “Or even the idea of me killing someone. What Amon did to me….” He shuddered. “It was awful. And disgusting. I’d never hurt anyone like that.” His voice was starting to break. “I’d never make anyone feel so afraid.”

“That’s what I like to hear,” the chief said, looking at him with approval. “Try to get those fangs in, though, I’m not opening the door with them out.”

Tahno ran his tongue over his fangs, and willed them to retract. They didn’t, and the air was still heady with the opened bottle of blood and the police chief’s scent. “Sorry,” he muttered, embarrassed. “I can’t seem to get them to go back.”

“I’ll be back in a few minutes, you can work on it,” the chief said. “Pass that bottle back to me.” Tahno did so. “Your friends are awake, by the way,” she said.

“Oh,” Tahno said, not sure how he felt about that. So they were going through the same hell he was. “How are they doing?”

“About as well as can be expected.”

“Can I see them?”

“I’m sure you’ll be running into them a lot.”

Tahno nodded. They’d all have to live in Dragon Flats, and probably end up on the same government programs.

The chief left, and Tahno did manage to retract his fangs before she got back, a small victory that he couldn’t seem to muster much excitement over. She brought paperwork, most of which he signed without really reading, and then he was allowed out of the cell and brought to another room where he gave his report of what happened. Finally, he signed a different paper giving the terms of his release, listened to a few more lectures, and was taken to the front desk to receive his personal effects.

He was already wearing the clothes he’d worn to the match, but the police returned to him his shoes and wallet, and gave him his share of the championship pot. “You may not have won it fairly, but you’ll be needing it,” the chief said. “There are places in Dragon Flats where you can buy blood if you get desperate. They’re technically illegal, but we turn a blind eye as long as no one’s being forced into anything. Better to end up there than to assault someone, got it?”

Tahno nodded numbly. “Yeah.”

The cops escorted him to the door, and as the big metal door opened, Tahno was struck by something unexpected.

Sunlight.

He hadn’t even realized it was the middle of the day, in that windowless place.

It hit him, bright and sharp, and he backed into the corridor, looking at the outdoors mistrustfully. “Come on,” the officer said, “it won’t kill you.”

Tahno took a few tentative steps forward. The light felt unpleasant on his skin, and he had to squint to see anything. Even with just one eye cracked open, everything looked washed out, and he could hardly make anything out. “Can I just call a cab?” he asked, stepping back into the shadowed corridor.

The officer sighed. “Fine, phone’s over there. There’s a phone book next to it.”

“Thanks,” Tahno said, going to the phone. He could hardly see the page, with the spots swirling in front of his eyes from the sun. He blinked hard a few times, and managed to pick out a number and tell the operator to send a cab to the police station. They made him wait outside, and he pulled his jacket over his head, for once not giving a shit how he looked. People passed by in front of him, and he could smell every one. He tried just not breathing, which did cut down on the scents considerably, but felt much too unsettling.

He didn’t think he’d ever been more miserable, or felt more abandoned.

Finally, the cab rolled up in front of him, and he climbed in and gave his address. The relief at being off the street and into the relative shade of the Satomobile was short-lived, however. The cab driver’s scent overwhelmed him in the confined space, and even holding his breath didn’t seem to do much, as though the scent had already soaked into his lungs and filled his nasal passages.

The cab driver was a middle-aged man, squat and hairy and not anywhere near what he’d have considered attractive. He’d always somehow assumed that vampire hunger was sex-like in a way, that vampires only lusted after pretty young things, but he was finding that very much not true. It seemed anything with a pulse would do. It’s like me when I’m drunk, he thought wryly. He couldn’t stop thinking about biting the cab driver, and felt his fangs unsheathe. He kept his lips tightly closed, so as not to alarm the driver, and willed himself to just hold still. That was all he needed to do—nothing. Just until he got home.

He could hear the driver’s blood in his veins now, and the heavy scent in the air was maddening. His hands were shaking with the effort of just doing nothing. “Pull over,” he choked out. “Pull over here.”

“But we’re almost there,” the driver said, confused.

“I know. Just pull over here. Please.” He shoved a bill forward, dropping it before the driver could touch his hand, and opened the door and collapsed out of the Satomobile while it was still in motion. Back in the sun, he pulled his jacket over his head, and managed to stumble into the shade of a building and sat down on the sidewalk. He was lightheaded with hunger, and felt faint again. How could he be this hungry so soon after the blood he’d gotten at the police station? How much did he even need? He realized, with a sick feeling, that if it hadn’t been for that blood, it surely would have been worse, and he really might have hurt that cab driver. He started crying at the thought of that. Maybe he’d never been a nice person, but he wasn’t a complete monster. He wouldn’t let Amon make him into that.

Equal my ass, he thought bitterly. How is it equal when some people are eating others? Amon’s sick rhetoric swam through his mind—the living elite, holding vampires under their thumb by refusing them blood, the basics of life, keeping them corralled in the Dragon Flats ghetto. Like anyone owes us blood. It’s their bodies, they don’t have to do shit with them if they don’t want to. He’d never donated blood, for sure. It had never seemed like his problem, besides, he needed to keep his strength up as an athlete. He couldn’t afford to take time off.

He wiped at his face with the back of his hand, and noted that his hand came away bloody. Great. So I’ve been walking around with blood all over my face. Nice of the cops to mention that. He hadn’t even known that his tears would be red. No one fucking told him anything.

“Hey, Mister,” someone said, and Tahno glanced up. He still couldn’t see very well in the daylight, but from the size and scent as well as the voice, he guessed street kid. “You all right?” the kid asked.

Fine,” Tahno snarled. “Go away.” He lifted his head up enough that the kid could see his face, and he saw the kid jump back. He must be a real sight now. He wondered if the rumor about mirrors was true. He couldn’t imagine never seeing his own face again, but in a way, it seemed almost like that’d be a blessing. He didn’t want to see it like this.

Realizing that he needed to get home before he attracted more attention, Tahno adjusted the jacket on his head and soldiered onward. It was just a few more blocks to his apartment. He moved slowly, and gave people a wide berth. It seemed a close thing between making it and collapsing, but finally, his own door was in front of him, and he breathed a sigh of relief. He’d thought he’d never see it again. Yet as he opened the door into his apartment, he got a chill. This wasn’t really his home anymore. He wasn’t even the person he’d been when he’d last left.

He draped blankets over the windows, trying to block out enough sun to make himself comfortable, and turned the heater on to the highest setting. Then he just lay on his bed and cried. He’d always felt safe here, but that was in some distant, better world. He found himself reliving the terror in the ring, feeling Amon’s cruel mouth on him, draining the last of his life. He tossed in the bed, trying to escape the thoughts, trying to find some kind of temporary peace.

There was a knock on the door, and he opened his eyes reluctantly. Go the fuck away, he thought, but it came again, more insistent, and Tahno opened it, not bothering to clean off his face. It was his landlord.

“Look, Tahno, I heard about what happened to you…you can’t stay here,” he said.

“I know that,” Tahno spat. “The police told me I could come here and collect some of my things.”

The landlord peered in at the darkened rooms. “Doesn’t look like you’re doing much packing.”

“Well, I’m hardly going to go tromping about in the daylight, am I?” he spat. “I can’t really go anywhere until tonight.”

“Fine. I want you cleared out of here by morning, though.”

“Yes, yes, fine,” Tahno said, and slammed the door in his face. He was shaking again, with fear and frustration. A large part of him wanted to open the door again and just eat his landlord. That’d show him, for being—no, no, no. He was better than that, dammit. He wasn’t better than many things, but he was better than that.

He went to the bathroom to wash his face. The mirror did reflect him after all. So much for that urban legend. He found a sheet to drape over it, not wanting to look at himself, and started washing. The water ran over his hands like it wanted no part of him. He didn’t really blame it, but it still hurt. He had the thought, this is my life now, and felt fresh tears coming faster than he could wash them away. You have to stop, he told himself. This is probably why you’re so damn hungry. Stop wasting blood. He tried licking the tears off his fingers, but whatever changes it had undergone in his body, it didn’t do much for him.

When he’d managed to staunch the flow, he looked for something to dry off on. He never really kept towels around, seeing as he didn’t need them. He wiped his face on the sheet he’d draped over the mirror, and apparently he hadn’t done a very good job washing, because it left a bloody smear. Disgusting. He went back to the bed and lay down again.

The heater was starting to work, and he didn’t feel so cold anymore. That helped the hunger slightly. He was only as warm as the room, but the room was sweltering, and it made him feel almost human.

He curled up in a ball, and managed to sleep a few hours.

When he woke, it was dark out. That made him more comfortable right away, and he did feel slightly better for the sleep, though he was as hungry as ever, and still had a dizzy spell when he got up. He found he didn’t even need to turn the light on to go through his things, and his eyes seemed to work better in the dark anyhow. He packed a bag with warm clothes and any valuables he thought he could sell, and bundled himself up in layers.

Tahno spared a mournful look for all the stuff he was leaving behind. He didn’t have time to do anything with it, and it wasn’t like he had a place to bring it, even if he could hire movers at this hour. He shouldered his bag, noting how light it seemed despite how much he thought it should weigh. He’d been able to move fairly quickly while packing it, too. It seemed some of the urban legends about vampires weren’t complete bullshit.

He walked to Dragon Flats. It wasn’t a short walk by any means, but it wasn’t like any public transport ran at this hour, and he wasn’t getting a cab again. The streets were mostly empty, and he felt stronger than he had under the sun. He looked through some of the paperwork the cops had given him, and showed up at the address to apply for services. It was closed. The hours were posted on the door. They were only open during daylight hours. Nice, he thought bitterly. Real nice.

There was another address indicated on the paperwork, a motel that took vampires. He went there, but they had no vacant rooms. Frustrated, he turned back out onto the streets. Where exactly was he supposed to go? He didn’t want to be stuck outside all day.

While in Dragon Flats, he noticed other people going about their business in the darkened streets, and found he could tell the difference between humans and vampires fairly easily. Most of it was scent. The humans smelled wonderful, the vampires, not so much. But there was also the guardedness the humans had, the way many of them carried weapons or bending flasks.

He never asked anyone for directions, even when he got lost. The humans didn’t look like they wanted to talk to him, and he didn’t like the look of the vampires at all.

Eventually, he headed back to the government building, ducking into the alley on the west side of it, so it would at least be shaded when the sun came up. He felt the weakness come over him anyway when dawn came around, and waited a few hours for the office to open.

Inside wasn’t much better—the building was well-lit, with big windows. There were metalbending police there, and he realized there was something about them he found oppressive—the metal they wore was different. Silver, in the cable spools they carried, and trimming their uniforms. He didn’t know what would happen if the silver touched him, but he knew he didn’t want to find out.

He navigated the maze of lines and paperwork, going where he was told and repeating his story. He didn’t see why he had to explain it so many times, considering the whole event had been broadcast live on the radio with hundreds of witnesses. Finally, he was told he was put on a waiting list, and something in him snapped.

“How long is the wait?” he demanded.

“Usually about six months,” the clerk said. “Could be eight. I don’t want to promise anything.”

“Six to eight months?” Tahno repeated incredulously. “What exactly am I supposed to do until then?”

“Just hold tight.”

“Hold tight? Hold tight?” he repeated. He realized he was shouting, and didn’t care. “Why don’t you hold tight without food for six months? Don’t you people realize that feeding people like me is in the best interests of the city? I don’t want to hurt anyone, but you’re not giving me much of a choice, are you?”

The cops were moving in closer. “Please don’t threaten me, sir,” the clerk said.

“I wasn’t threatening you, I was stating a fact,” Tahno said.

“Well, the fact is, sir, that we’re working with limited resources here. Most of the city’s resources are put into looking after the living. I mean,” he said with a bit of a laugh, “you’re hardly going to get any deader, are you?”

“Yes, in fact, I could get ‘deader,’” Tahno said. “That’s—this is just an invitation to kill myself, isn’t it? Is that how you clear people off your waiting list? Just drive them to suicide?”

“Of course not, sir, we would never—”

“Because you’re basically telling me to drop dead, you have to know that. I can’t last six months on nothing, and you know it. Do you expect me to value your life above mine, under those circumstances?” he asked, leaning in over the desk. He didn’t know exactly what he was doing—he’d sworn he wouldn’t attack anyone, of course, but he was so angry and so hungry and maybe if he just scared the stingy little bastard…. He felt his fangs extend.

Suddenly, Tahno cried out. Something snaked up his wrists, ripping his sleeves and pulling his arms behind his back cruelly, burning his skin. Of course. The cops. He was pulled to the floor, writhing in pain. He couldn’t get away from the silver biting into his skin. The feeling of complete helplessness was altogether too much like what the Equalists had done to him, and he felt himself start to panic.

“What should we do with him?” one of the cops said. “Put him in a cell to cool off?”

“They’re all full. Just get him out of here.”

Tahno was unceremoniously dragged through the building, and dumped on the stairs outside in full sun. He closed his eyes, wincing, and felt the burns snaking up and down his arms. The sun only made them sting more, and he didn’t seem to be healing all that quickly, which he suspected was due to the lack of blood in him.

Maybe I should just die. I don’t know why I’m fighting so hard. My life is over anyway.

Miserably, he crawled into the shade, and recovered enough of his strength to pull his ripped shirt off and get another out of his pack. Pulling his jacket over his head again, he looked for the shadiest place he could find, and found a park with good tree cover. The nice, shady bit wasn’t too far from a sunny field, and though he couldn’t see the children playing in the absolute whiteout that was the light of day, he could hear them and smell them. He felt terribly sorry for the human families that were unlucky enough to live in Dragon Flats. It was the cheapest neighborhood in Republic City, for good reason. Most people born here would never make enough money to be able to leave, and even those who did had a sort of fierce survivors’ pride about it. He’d known about that, and he’d met a few benders from Dragon Flats in his pro-bending career.

He’d never really thought to feel sorry for the vampires, though.

The day passed slowly, painfully. When night finally fell, he went to the motel again. Still no vacancies. He asked where he could find other housing, and was told he had to get a paper, though the newsstands were only open in the day. “Daytime’s your best bet,” the tough-looking old man behind the silver chain-link fence told him, “no one wants to deal with your kind at night.”

He wanted to ask where he could find blood on the black market, too, but knowing it was illegal, hesitated.

“You’ll want to be careful,” the man told him. “You’re not supposed to be out and about at all at this hour. Councilman Tarrlok’s passed a curfew on vampires.”

“A curfew?” Tahno repeated incredulously. “But I can barely do anything in the day.”

“Well, that’s the point. Your kind have a natural advantage at night. I wouldn’t even be open for business if it weren’t for this,” he said, touching the silver cage around his desk.

“I wouldn’t hurt you,” Tahno said, injured. He was fighting off thoughts of how much he wanted to, but this was becoming a steady chorus in his head, and he was getting slightly better at ignoring it.

“You’re hungry, though,” the man said. “I can see it in your eyes. You’re getting desperate. It’s been a while, hasn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Tahno admitted reluctantly.

“You’re not really in control of yourself, then. You wouldn’t hurt me, but you’re not exactly yourself right now.”

Tahno grit his teeth. It’s not true. I won’t let it be. “Do you know any…places…where people like me can buy….”

“Sorry, kid, I don’t really keep track of that stuff. You might want to ask another vampire.”

“Right,” Tahno said. He turned and left, not really knowing where he was going. He saw a commotion with a protest to the curfew, and some cops responding to it, and stayed well away from that. The last thing he wanted was the touch of silver again. His wounds were still raw and oozing from the last time. Still, he wondered if he managed to get himself arrested, if they’d feed him again. The very possibility almost made him run up to the cops and surrender himself. He thought of the chief of police quite warmly then, the only person who’d showed him any kind of grudging kindness since this nightmare had started. And even with her, he’d been able to tell by the way she looked at him that she didn’t like vampires. She just felt responsible in his case.

The blood hadn’t even been good. But right now, he’d do anything for it. The desperateness of that thought struck him. Anything.

He saw someone coming away from the riot, and the first thing he sensed was human. He backed into the shadows, hoping they would just pass him by, hoping he would let them. He could feel his fangs extend just at their proximity. But the human stopped in front of him, staring at him. And there was something else he smelled, some kind of animal.

“What, do I have something on my face?” he spat, looking at the person. The Avatar. What the hell is she doing out here?

Tahno? Is that you?” She got off her great beast, taking a step towards him.

“Do I look that different?”

“Yeah, actually. Your eyes…” she said, reaching towards him.

He backed away further as though her touch could burn him. “Don’t come near me,” he hissed.

“Why?”

He laughed, near tears. He didn’t even know if he had anything left to cry, physically. “Do I even need to answer that? Are you just that dense? You know what Amon did to me.”

“Yeah,” the Avatar said. “Look, I know we weren’t exactly friends, but…I’m sorry about that.”

“Great, thanks,” he said. “Now please, go away, for your good and mine.”

The Avatar looked at him petulantly. “You don’t look so hot. Why are you trying to get rid of me? Are you hiding something?”

Tahno grimaced, baring his fangs. “No, I’m not hiding anything, you twit,” he said, his voice starting to tremble. “Since you apparently need this spelled out, I am in the process of starving to death, and I want to bite you very much right now, so please, go before I try to do that and you burn my face off or something, because I have enough problems without that.”

“So bite me, then,” Korra said.

Tahno’s eyes widened. “Don’t—don’t joke.”

“I’m not joking,” she said. She pulled the leather brace off one of her arms, and held it out towards him. “Come on. You look terrible. I can spare a little blood.”

He was shaking badly now. It took every ounce of his will to not be on that wrist right that instant. “I…I don’t know if I can stop myself, Korra.”

“I’ll stop you when you’re done. Come on, get it over with.”

He knelt in front of her, taking her hand reverently. The scent of her was overpowering this close; he wasn’t in control anymore. He licked her wrist and quickly drove his fangs in. The moment the skin broke he felt a burst of pleasure unlike anything else. Her blood spilled into his mouth, so warm and it seemed meant for him, wringing out ecstasy from every cell. He sucked at her wrist, gripping her arm, feeling he couldn’t get her inside him fast enough, wishing he could bite somewhere with stronger bloodflow—

He felt Korra’s fingers in his hair, pulling him away, and at first he reacted purely on instinct, resisting and gripping her harder. Her strength was no match for his. But she tugged at his hair more insistently and he became aware that she’d been saying something. Probably telling him to stop. Fuck. “Sorry,” he said, releasing her and crumpling forward on the ground at her feet. “I didn’t mean to…sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Korra said. She pressed a handkerchief to the wound, and put her leather brace back on over it. Smart, he thought. It’ll keep pressure on it.

“Did I hurt you?” he asked. He remembered how much it had hurt when Amon bit him.

“Not much. It’s fine. Getting hit in the ring hurts more.”

He thought of some of the tricks he’d played on her in the ring—hitting her in the head with rocks, for one. “Sorry,” he said again miserably. “And thank you, for…that.” He wasn’t anywhere near sated, but he could feel a warm glow in him, and it didn’t hurt so damn much. Miraculously, the wounds on his arms seemed mostly healed. And there was one other…side-effect. He found that he had quite an erection. He shifted, hoping to hide it from her. It isn’t even like that, he thought, it just felt so good.

“Do you have someplace to go?” she asked.

“No,” he admitted. “I can’t find anywhere.”

“You should come back with me. I’m sure we can find you a nice room somewhere with no windows.”

If he weren’t already on the ground, Tahno would have gotten weak in the knees at the prospect of a place to spend the day out of the sun. “But you can’t…it’s illegal for me to stay anywhere outside Dragon Flats,” he said.

“Well, maybe the laws are stupid then,” Korra said. “Like this curfew. Ugh, I could just punch that Tarrlok.” He could hear the rage in her voice. “He just arrested my friends for collaboration with Hiroshi Sato. Apparently it’s illegal to be related to a vampire now, or friends with anyone who is.”

“I see,” Tahno said. That was a pretty good reason for her to leave him here.

“So come on, get up,” she said. “Let’s go.”

“What, you’re taking me with you, knowing that you could be arrested for collaboration?”

“All the more reason to. Like I’m going to let that Tarrlok tell me what to do. And I’m not just going to leave you to die out here. I’ve failed to help enough people tonight,” she said darkly.

“Thank you,” he said again, hardly able to believe her kindness. After everything….I guess none of that matters now. Amon is our mutual enemy.

She mounted her polar bear dog. “Get on,” she said, indicating the spot in the saddle behind her. “I’d give you a ride in the Satomobile, but I, uh, crashed it a few blocks back. Lucky Naga followed me out here.”

He stood up carefully, shifting his bag off his back and in front of his crotch. If she noticed that, she didn’t say anything. He took a few slow steps towards the polar bear dog, which regarded him with mistrust, snarling when he got too close. “Easy, Naga, easy,” Korra said, petting it. “I know he smells a bit funny, but Tahno is a friend.” He thought that might be too strong a word.

Tahno let Korra pull him up behind her, and he knew instantly that this was a mistake. The warmth of her hand against his, the closeness of their bodies, the scent wafting off her hair and the back of her neck—he slid back down almost as quickly as he’d gotten there. “I can’t,” he said.

“Why not?”

He shook his head. “I just don’t think I can…ride behind you like that.”

“Okay,” she said, getting off too. “Come on. We’ll walk.”

“Actually, it might be easier if you rode.”

Korra frowned. “Okay, be like that.”

They walked a bit, and the fresh air seemed to clear Tahno’s head. The erection subsided, and his fangs slid back into place. His body began to settle down and accept that it had gotten some blood and should be happy about that, instead of demanding he take all of it. “So,” he said, “when you looked at me before, you said something about my eyes.” He hadn’t gotten a close look at them in the mirror. It’d be a shame if they’d changed color. He’d always really liked the color of his eyes. But it wasn’t like he got to keep anything about himself he’d liked.

“Yeah, they’re kinda…reflective.”

“Oh,” he said. “But still the same color?”

She squinted at him. “Can’t really tell in this light.”

This light. It seemed clear as day to him, in a manner of speaking. “I can see the color of your eyes,” he said.

“What, from all the way over there?”

He nodded.

“You’re stronger than I thought you’d be, too,” she said.

“What would you have done if I hadn’t been able to stop?” he asked. He hated being this strong physically, and so weak where it counted.

“I would have had to burn you, I guess. Vampires don’t like fire, right?”

“I don’t think anyone likes fire when it’s burning them.”

“Right. I wasn’t defenseless,” Korra asserted. “I was just giving you a chance. I didn’t want to hurt you.”

“You shouldn’t hesitate,” he said. “Do what you have to, okay?”

“Let’s hope it won’t come to that,” she said.

“You’re the one who’s got to stop Amon,” he said. “Before he does this to anyone else. So I’d never forgive myself if I….”

Korra was silent a few moments. “But I mean, you’re still basically you, right?”

It hurt that she had to ask that. It hurt more that he wasn’t really sure. “I guess,” he said. “I mean, a version of me that is dead and can’t bend and has the compulsion to kill people….” A tear rolled down his face before he could fight it back. Stop it, he commanded himself. You didn’t get that blood so you could weep it all out.

“Are you…crying?”

He wiped the tear away. “Sorry. It’s really gross, I know.”

“No, no,” she said. “That actually makes me feel better.”

“I’m glad my misery pleases you.”

“Ugh, I don’t mean that,” she said. “It’s just…good to know you’re not a remorseless killing machine like Amon. Since I’m inviting you into my home and all.”

“Don’t worry,” he said, “I’m nothing like that monster. He can do this to my body, but he will never make me like him.”