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|More from Sparkstoaflame||Alternate universe||PG||NA||No update page|
June 15, 2014
It should be noted there is some rough language in this chapter.
Akua and Akna had always been very close, even for twins. Whether they were crouched by the docks of Republic City and playing in the water, or roughhousing happily in the streets, one was never found without the other. Rambunctious and extremely loud, the two of them were quite a handful.
The task often fell to their elder sister to take care of them and make sure they didn't do anything stupid or something that would aggravate the neighbors too much, for Aana had work to do around the higher ends of the city as a washerwoman, and Ata was always on the fishing boats. The taxing job that had been bestowed upon her included, among other physical activities, dashing up and down the streets of the Otter Falls Borough, searching for her younger siblings while they crouched in some abandoned alleyway, all bright smiles and soft trains of giggles.
You two, she grumbled after the twins' last escapee sent her scrambling through two main streets and a junkyard, are going to be the death of me one day.
Akna only laughed and tugged against her sister's small but tight grip before proclaiming, That's because our skills at hiding from you are so good!
That's hardly the point, Korra sighed tiredly, worrying her eyes with the back of a hand while Akua and Akna pranced around her legs, You could get killed out there.
And at this Akua protested with a fresh, total innocence surrounding his words, But we won't get killed!
His twin agreed feverishly with him—Yeah, Korra. Promise. Akna smiled a wide, toothy smile at the older girl, bright blue eyes stretched bright and clear.
Akua cocked his head, staring up to look at Korra's expression before sticking a pudgy finger into her face—Hey, Korra, did someone hit you under the eyes?
Hmm? She sounded quite surprised, staring down at him quizzically. No—no one did, why do you ask?
Akna's eyebrows furrowed together into a disbelieving pout. But you have bruises underneath them.
Do I? she lightly asked, whisking the twins down another bend before she offered them a wide smile: Well, I'm fine. Don't worry about it, she added, almost as an afterthought, don't you worry.
But you have boo-boos, Akna stated baldly.
Korra only laughed openly and loudly, breaking out into a brilliant white grin—a really big and genuine smile, not the fake one Akua always saw her giving to the vendors out in the street who all but rob them of their hard-earned yuans for sustenance—and he felt a rush of intense satisfaction, terribly happy to be on the receiving end of one of her bright smiles.
Korra then ushered them into the flat—Don't worry about me, she said softly, You should worry about yourselves more often. She unceremoniously deposited Akua and Akna onto two rickety stools before crossing over to the half-broken cabinet to fill two cups with cold water—the one resource they have that never seems to be exhausted.
Hmph! Akna pouted even as Korra banged around the kitchen, squirming in her seat while Akua silently giggled behind his twin's back, You worry about me enough for all of us!
Korra placed the two tin cups of water down, and leaned over Akua to ruffle Akna's messy dark hair—And that's because I care about you, kid.
Too much, Akua offered.
He watched as Korra looked down to give him a shadowed half-smile. No, not too much, she said slowly, her eyes the precise shade of blue as Akua's, I'll never care about you two too much. If anything—always too little. Then she stood up, told Akna and Akua not to destroy the house while she went out to get some sandwiches, and left the flat.
And these were the times that Akua had wished would never end. Just him and Akna and Korra. Together, as one big family.
Unfortunately, fate is never that kind.
The Otter Falls Borough is about as decrepit as you expected it to be, if not even more so.
Threadbare clothes, tattered and patched, hang limply from fraying clotheslines strung up on large poles, flapping wetly in the small breeze that's doing absolutely nothing to help dry the garments. There are a few old men with skin like folded leather puffing on a shared, old and chipped pipe, some kind of thick white smoke lazily drifting up from its bowl—it's a smoke that stings your nose with its acrid, strangely salty stench and sends you into a small fit of coughing when Korra marches you past them. You can feel their sunken eyes honed in on your back even as you self-consciously pass by them, distinctly aware how very extravagant your neatly pressed casual-wear clothes are compared to the shabby rags that lay around their bony shoulders.
One of them calls out to Korra—Ei, Korra, qa Kapkaanam Ya'allua! Apqar-elen cuqli da arnaq. Nasquq-n—et, kina una?
Korra says something sharply back to them in the Winter Tongue before dragging you off. What were they saying? you quietly ask the blue-eyed girl, a slight hint of trepidation evident in your tone.
Oh, nothing important. Korra waves a dismissive hand. They basically just told me it's November—too cold for me to be out in these clothes. She plucks impatiently at her ratty gray shirt. And they asked who you were. She catches sight of your scandalized expression and smirks widely, but she doesn't tell you what she said, instead grabbing your arm and pulling you through the streets once more.
So, why are we here, again? you ask, unable to keep from staring at the dirt and squalor around you.
Well, Korra says, whipping you around another turn, we were going to talk, but I just remembered—Bolin's stopping by today. Oh, and Mako, too—
What?! you exclaim loudly, a bolt of surprise racing through your body even as you tear your hand from Korra's grasp.
Korra slows down behind you, her bright blue eyes now questioning. Uh...what's wrong with Mako? I mean, look, I know that he can be a whack job and really, really prissy sometimes, but he isn't that—
You wring your hands, scrambling to find the right words and really not quite sure why you're reacting so badly to this little bit of information—I—he's— you splutter, and then cave in and mutter, He's my ex-boyfriend—
Really?! Korra's eyes look like they're about to pop out of their sockets before she sobers down—Hmm'. She starts to walk you through the streets once more.
Besides, you splutter, wasn't he—hasn't he been in a juvenile delinquent center?
Sweetie, and Korra says this in a mocking voice that practically drips with satire with the tiniest bit of a sneer painted across her face, if you're so disturbed by that concept, then what are you doing walking through one of the poorest slums in the Four Nations with me? The whole police system in this city is really fucked up, in case you haven't noticed.
You glance at her shadowed face. ...Yeah?
Korra begins to rattle off a list, tapping at her fingers—Police brutality. Racial profiling. Bribery. Unwarranted break-ins... She sighs heavily at the last one, rounding another corner with chipped bricks and stagnant water pooling at the base of the wall before stopping to point at the evidently-abandoned flat in front of the two of you.
It's one of the worse-looking shelters in the borough, with a crushed, half-broken door made of wood that has long since rotted from years of exposure to the elements. Large chunks of wall have been taken off from the front side of the home; stone litters the ground near the base of the structure.
Korra stares blankly at the home—My best friends when I was little used to live here... She shivers. And... Gesturing sadly at the wrecked house in front of the two of you—Then they moved back to the Northern Water Tribe, last I heard. I haven't seen them nor heard from them in years—
Korra's facial expression turns from melancholy to shocked to slightly amused, almost like a set of broken traffic lights, as something large and green comes exploding out of nowhere. And you scramble back as fast as you can, tripping out of the way as the stocky boy comes barreling out of the flat across from the one you and Korra are standing in front of before he very literally tackles the blue-eyed girl with a hug:
Hey, you're back! You're finally back! Wow, and the boy draws this word out somewhat mindlessly, I was getting worried, you know, the sun passed the midday mark already...
A muffled voice comes from somewhere underneath this boy: And how in La's name can you even tell that the sun's passed its zenith?
Well, you know, the thing about the sun is that it makes a big loop through the sky—
—Yes, I do know; now let go of me, I still need to breathe—
—Oh! All right. Sorry. Yeah, I'll go and do that n—oof!
And Korra pushes the stocky green-eyed boy off of her before seizing your arm and dragging you in front of her: Oh, and Asami, this is Bolin.
Bolin sits up, rubbing the back of his neck and observing you with large, good-natured green eyes that spark with recognition as they skid across your facial features: Oh, wow! he exclaims excitedly, I know you! You're Mako's ex-girlfriend!
Before you can explain to him that you really don't want to be referred to as "Mako's ex-girlfriend", he wraps a muscular arm around your shoulders and grins widely at Korra. So, are we taking her with us?
Your eyebrows shoot into your hairline as the blue-eyed girl smiles maniacally. 'Course! Then she assures you—Don't worry, 'Sami, it'll be fun. It's going to be like a once in a lifetime experience! She smiles brightly.
You incoherently splutter around your tongue before you can find your words—What are you doing, trying to kidnap me?! I thought that you just said we were talking—?
Well, we are talking right now. And no, we're not kidnapping you, Korra says in a very unconvincing tone of voice. Calm down, it'll be fun, I promise you. She tilts her head. Tell me, have you ever been to a street fight?
You stare at her in flat disbelief:
The nice man with amber eyes started coming to Akua and Akna one day and began to offer them sweets.
Korra had taken both of them to the grocery sector of the city and was vociferously haggling with a street vendor over the cost of some greens, while Akua and Akna loitered a few feet away from their elder sister, not the least bit interested in grocery shopping, when a heavy hand fell on Akna's shoulder.
Akna loudly squealed, struggling to extricate herself from the clamp of the meaty paw, while Akua whirled around in horror only to face a man with a lined, sun-beaten face smiling amiably down at them from underneath a dark brown, wide-brimmed fedora—You want to buy some candy, kids?
He removed his hand from Akna's shoulder, who immediately stepped back into her twin, her face scrunched up into an expression of extreme annoyance before she pouted, We don't have money.
First packet's free of charge, he instantly told them, thrusting a torn cloth bag that seemed as if it had been partially ravaged by a saber-tooth moose-lion into the twins' faces.
Akna hesitated, her eyes flickering from the man's hand to his weathered face to the cloth bag and moved to step away. But Akua only saw her take a few steps towards Korra's general direction and then forgot about it as he gleefully eyed the sugary bounty in front of him—he reached into the bag and withdrew a brightly-colored red packet—I've never seen this before! he cried eagerly. What is it?
They're new, the man told them. They're called Skittles. He started to tip some into Akua's outstretched hands before a hand closed around the scruff of his neck and someone was yanking him away from the candy. Crying out in surprise and annoyance, he twisted futilely in his detainer's grip even as she pulled him even further back behind her, where he stumbled straight into Akna.
We don't want any, Yakuza, thank you very much, Korra's voice icily said from somewhere far away. The groceries hanging on her arm all but hit Yakuza across the face when she spun around, and then began to herd Akua and Akna away from the man.
What was that all about? Akua complained, hanging from Korra's unoccupied arm, as the other was loaded with groceries.
Korra threw him such a disparaging look before marching onwards that Akua reeled back immediately, his blue eyes widening into the size of saucers. Something began to sting at his eyes, and in the background, Akna tagged miserably along behind him.
Korra? Akua tentatively tugged at his older sister's elbow, biting down hard on his lower lip, his throat clenching slightly as she continued to refuse to meet his gaze, Korra?
But she didn't respond to his harried inquiries, only taking longer and faster strides so that Akua and Akna had to jog to keep up with her until they reached their decrepit flat. Korra flung open the door with much more force than necessary, her back ramrod straight and practically quivering with bottled-up fury as she silently waited for Akua and Akna to careen past her and into the main room before she closed the door, let the groceries drop on the floor, and slammed the heel of her hand onto the wooden table—What in the name of Yue were you doing back there? she tightly snarled, her expression screwed up into one that Akua would have expected to see on a raging tigerdillo rather than his older sister.
I was— Akua weakly stuttered, the burning in his eyes intensifying and his vision growing quite blurry, I was just—
Have I not taught you anything?! Korra raged, her jawline twitching and her right fist clenching so tightly that Akua could see the stark white outline of her knuckles against dark mocha skin. Do you have any idea what "common sense" means, Akua?
I—I didn't mean—
You didn't mean to do what, now? You would have taken that stupid package of candy without any regards to your personal safety whatsoever if I hadn't stopped you! Why—what the hell were you thinking back there? Spirits, Akua, you don't just take random objects from strangers on the street!
He was really starting to cry now, his lips curling down into a wide, quivering frown even as he bowed his head and hot tears dripped onto his clasped hands, each impact of salty water onto brown skin like drops of boiling oil that ate through his flesh, one by one.
There was a rustle behind him, and Akna piped up—But you knew him, she said in a small voice, no doubt scared that Korra would blow up once more, Y-you called him a name. You called him Yakuza.
There was a moment of dead and taut silence, swinging through the room like a razor-sharp sword, that's only broken by Akua's choked sobs before Korra spoke again, and this time her voice was trembling with barely-suppressed rage—And you, neither of you want to get involved with him in any way. I hope that you remember Katara and Sokka.
What? Akna asked uncertainly. They moved to New Ba Sing Se.
So they did, Korra flatly said, and then she was pulling Akua up by his arms, roughly wiping her sleeve against the tears spilling down his cheeks. Don't do that again, you understand? she lowly whispered, her breath against his ear. Promise me.
A loud sniffle—P-promise.
The pressure left his shoulders as Korra stood up, regarding him with a cool blue gaze—Don't trust strangers. Then she picked up the groceries and vanished into the adjacent kitchen.
She's pretty sure that she lives in a castle of glass.
Korra sometimes thinks that this is funny, in a really messed-up way—a castle of glass, after all, is transparent. Everyone can see her through the walls, but should they try to approach her, they would only bash their noses into an invisible barrier while she waits inside, owl-eyed and not at all disturbed by the predicament unfolding in front of her.
She likes it this way. Appearing to be near the world, but in reality totally closed off. She doesn't know why—why she wants to remain sequestered from civilization like this, why she wants to pretend to be normal when she obviously isn't—but she does it anyway. Building up this fortress ever since the accident, layer by layer, until it's soaring up into the sky and touching the wispy clouds above.
Sometimes, though, she'll let someone in, in and close. Sometimes, she grows lonely enough to tap on the glass wall and beckon to that person to come to her.
It didn't hurt that they always come without fail.
She always ends up shutting them out again, though. Doesn't want to get quite too close to anyone—doesn't let them, for that matter.
Then she'll be alone again, and won't have any vestiges of guilt clinging onto her mind should anything happen to that person.
And then sometimes, Korra will go outside at night and looks at those twinkling dots of light hanging above her head and out of reach, and frankly asks them what the actual fuck is wrong with herself.
(Manipulative, the stars say. But driven, the stars say.)
She'll feel the cool night breeze ghost its way across her skin and murmur airy sweet nothings into her ears, and she'll wonder why she even bothers putting a smile on her face while the sun shines down upon the earth, when it hurts her so much to do so.
Not even necessarily the physical action, but the emotional emptiness behind that wide beam.
(She wants to stop pushing through her life and slow down, slow down however much she needs to so she can make time to mourn.)
Smile. She used to always smile. She used to always smile a genuine smile. People also always used to tell her that she had a very nice and refreshingly sweet smile. So Korra would smile at them some more because Korra hates disappointing people.
But she's disappointed Ata. Disappointed Aana. Disappointed Akua, Akna; every single person she's touched for the past seven years.
And what's a god to those who aren't aware of its existence? What use does power bring someone who can't wield it properly, because the consequences of utilizing it are far greater than its gifts?
(No one knows about the raw pool of power available at her disposal.)
There is this doddering and half-insane voice in the back of her mind that had been planted the day Akua met the world as it truly was and then crashed and burned against it. The day his mind simply seemed to shatter and he as a person withdrew back into the recesses of his conscience and stayed inside it, hidden and tucked away in the churning sea of his own memories.
It's partly her own fault, she supposes. She had spent the better part of her life sheltering Akua and Akna from tragedies, trying to maintain their clean, pure innocence. And then, when confronted with the cruel austerity of the world Akua crumples like a tin can underneath a giant's boot and Akna leaves bloody traces of haunted whispers behind before she passes on.
She spends a lot of time doubting herself, but she's certain of a few things.
(Very few things, the latter two of which she is not proud of at all.)
One, that she loves her family more than anything in the world.
Two, that her heart is split up into three pieces—one to Akua, one to herself, and another to the man who doesn't even know he has a piece of her soul.
And three, that Asami Sato has no idea whatsoever that the Korra who always smiles is an illusion.
Because Korra lives in a castle of glass.
And Akua didn't trust strangers after that day with the man and the candy.
But that didn't stop the man from coming to them.
They were at the playground that day—Akua, Akna, and Korra. Korra had wandered off into the thin ring of trees that surrounded the playground, as she always did when she brought the twins to this particular place, and said twins were fooling around on the swing set, pushing themselves up high, as high as they could go, before they would jump off and see who faceplanted into the soft grass below and who stood upright on their feet.
At the time, Akua was taking more spills than he normally did and Akna was delighting in reminding him of this fact.
Akua grumbled. I usually win, he complained to her triumphant face after the third time he peeled his face away from grass.
But I won this time! She basked in the glow of her victory, grinning widely down at him. The smile is short-lived.
Why, hello there, little boy, someone breathed from behind Akua's back, and he lets out a terrified squeak, stumbling around to stare at a familiar man with amber eyes—amber eyes that glitter with cruel intent.
Akua stumbled back from the man, Yakuza, his hands instinctively reaching for Akna's. Wha—?
Would you still like some candy? Yakuza offered in a honeyed, sickeningly sweet tone of voice.
St-stay away, and Akua tried to keep his voice from trembling, but it came out as a terrified squeak, K-Korra told us—you're a bad man—
Ah, but Korra isn't here right now, and Yakuza's mouth twisted into a gruesome approximation of a smile as he reached into his brown jacket.
The sound was small, but it ripped through the air like a cannon blast as Akna sucked in a sharp gasp of horror at a gun being pointed towards her face.
You Water Tribe scamps have to understand, he hissed, his lips still stretched into a smile, there's no place for you in this world anymore. Least of all your sister. Korra, that's her name, isn't it?
Wh-what? Akua squeaked, his wide blue eyes still fixated onto the gun.
Oh, I see. She hasn't told you yet, and Yakuza cackled madly, the firearm shaking wildly in his white-knuckled grip, no matter, no matter. I'll deal with her later.
Akna gasped—What do you mean, you'll "deal with—
—a whiplash of gleaming silver flashing momentarily through the air—
—a piercing scream—
—crimson droplets falling from the sky like fat and glistening rubies—
Korra's words came tearing out of the woods a moment before their owner did, barreling straight through the trees before the blue-eyed girl staggered to a heart-shattering halt before a pool of crimson blood slowly leeching into the springy grass.
Her screams reverberated through the air:
—You fucking son of a bitch—
Akua could only stare after his elder sister, spewing a mad fountain of insults and swear words in her anger and panic while she descended upon a retreating Yakuza, in a foggy daze—
—what are you—
—Akna's life spilling out of her twitching body in the form of burning red liquid—
—a conceited and foul pig—
—but only when the hot blood hit Akua's hands did he lash out at nothing and sob and scream into the still air for help—
—don't deserve to live—
—he screamed until his throat seized close—
—screamed in desperation—
—screamed in pain—
—no one came—
—and he grabbed Akna, chalk-white from blood loss, by her collar and dragged her limp form into his tight embrace.
There were a few faint shouts coming from behind him—the sound of rushing flames, earth cracking against stone, a loud squeal of pain and a bang, and quite a few more dirty swear words, but he paid the sounds no heed; only when Korra came scrambling into view had he spared a glance back.
But Akna was suddenly so heavy in his arms. So heavy, like a ton of stone weighing his arms down. The rush of his thoughts were overcome with lethargy and the poison of fear, spilling into his mind and turning his hands and feet into molten lead.
And yet, he held her to him as close as he possibly could—
—Akua, Akna suddenly gasped, her chest shuddering and her pastel blue eyes turning even paler, Akua—Korra—don't leave me here—
I won't leave you, he shakily whispered in her ear, and he heard the rushing sound of great breaths being sucked in and then blown out behind him, undoubtedly sounds from Korra, and his remark was supposed to sound reassuring but it came out as a grim promise, as if the mere conviction behind his words could drive away the force bringing on Akna's demise, I won't. I won't let you—won't let you go, I promise—
—I...I can't lift my head—
He bit back another moan and slowly propped her up against him—Then...then just use your eyes.
Her lashes fluttered like feathers against her bloody cheeks.
The city stretched out in front of them, swathes of blinking golden lights set against a black backdrop; a swaying ocean of midnight blue. The mountains loomed in the distance beyond the twinkling stars, the dark shadows of the landforms shrouded in rolling mist. They could see the clouds, feel the wind on their skin, and the hands of the night of a thousand stars held them taut—darkness and light—willing them home.
—...I can see it, Akua—
He half-whispered, half-cried—It's all so beautiful from this place—
She sighed—It is—and her breath was so shallow that he had to strain to hear her words.
Blood dripped from her fingertips, falling into the snow like soft rain. Red bloomed across the white ice, the song of the wind swooping around them in a fluttering embrace.
I don't want to die, Akna whispered suddenly, still gazing through half-lidded eyes at the beauty of the city, but even as she said this her eyes were fluttering shut.
Akua shook his head frantically, willing so badly for the darkness to be gone, and suddenly Korra was right next to him instead of behind him, her blue eyes strangely luminous in the red glow of the dying sun, the light reflecting unshed tears.
And despite himself, Akua gasped in shock as he stared her hand—no, at the fire in her hand, in Korra's hand—Korra's a waterbender, he wildly thinks—Korra? he gasped.
She stared at him wordlessly over the stubborn, warm light of the flames, a flame that she must have kept hidden from everyone in the world for all her life, even him, even Akna, even her family.
Akua, Akna whispered.
Her eyes were fixed onto his, and he whispered in a tiny voice, It's okay, it's okay—he was not even sure if he'd convinced himself—Akna, you'll be okay...
Her quaking lips parted, washed-out blue eyes reflecting the weakly dancing flames Korra nurtured in her palm—Akua—A-Akua, I don't want to die—
—No!—and he cried into her mind, forgetting Korra, forgetting his surroundings—only remembering a bitter, broken-glass grief, cutting his insides into throbbing shreds and sending his emotions careening over the edge—No, Akna, please don't—don't say your goodbyes to me—
She reached up with trembling fingers; then, grazing his face with her bony digits and painting a bloody stroke onto his freezing cheek—I love you, Akua.
And Akna smiled dimly at him, the bleeding land of snow rushing away beneath her, a final gale of wind drifting away into blessed silence.
A cry welled up inside him and spilled over his limits, a wavering scream of grief echoed by the swaying forest behind him. He rocked back and forth; sobs, cheeks wet with tears—unable at the end to even find words. Inarticulate, amorphous sounds bubbled past his lips; a howling and threadbare wall until his throat could take no more.
No—no, wait, he shouted hoarsely. No, Akna—WAIT—
But she didn't wait.
There was a pair of nameless arms around his torso; strong arms, comforting arms, familiar arms, but not the arms he wanted—
Agonizing minutes crept by.
His hand rested on her chest.
She continued to bleed.
—Spirits, Akna, stay with me, and he begged with the coldly distant stars, face bared to the raw elements, please, stay with me—
He started to wriggle, desperate to escape the arms folded around him like a prison—
—Her pale lips were smeared with a pomegranate-juice red.
Something vital beneath his hand ceased to beat.
—No, I'm sorry, Akna—
Akua, and the quiet, terribly measured voice came from above him, Akua, she's gone...you can't do anything—
He cried out in anger and sorrow, twisting around for the briefest moment to glare at his elder sister—How can you even say that with a straight face?
Korra instantly let go of him as if he had burned her, her expression morphing into one of despair and hurt, but he didn't care—he was so mad at Korra, angrier than he'd ever been in his entire life—he hated that stinging remark she had uttered—he couldn't not be able to do anything, he just couldn't—
Akna died in his arms.
Blood still drizzled from her fingers, weeping tears of crimson droplets into the frozen ground, cold and empty.
Her life lay severed, red flowers blooming in the alabaster snow.
His heart besides it, torn open and bleeding for the whole world to see.
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