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The Path

Chapter Text

Prelude

She remembered the light. The blinding light. The flash spewing malevolently from the weapon’s barrel that was engulfing everything around its perimeter with the single intention of obliteration. The light that had turned against its owner and now attempted to erase her existence. The void that laid on the other side of the light would at least ease the pain of her failure. It would allow her to surrender her burden, to rest, to forget. But eternal darkness never came for her. Instead it was the bright colors, a column of pure light rising to the skies enveloping her like a caress. She could sense the power in it, it seeped through her pores like nothing she had experienced before. This was her opponent’s doing she realized. It was her real power, a power even superior to the one she attempted to harness. Facing her inside the pillar, streams of soft yellow and green intertwining at even intervals, the Avatar floated in gentle levitation.  Deliverance had not come in the guise of death but with the many colored splendors of the Spirit World.

She also recalled the blue. Blue was the gaze observing her intently, a myriad of emotions made transparent in its depths. Was it pity? Contempt? Anger? It was none of those, realized a perplexed Kuvira. Those she recognized and understood deeply from personal experience, but the young woman was looking at her with profound empathy. Since when empathy had become an alien sentiment to her that it made it hard to recognize it in someone else’s eyes now? Perhaps since the moment she felt that pieces of her soul began inexorably detaching the more broken and empty she became.

“I see a lot of myself in you” Korra had said. Her voice was firm yet gentle, her expression serene. Kuvira looked on astounded. Was this the same person she fought ferociously moments before? She expected severity, sternness, disdain, yet this unexpected reaction caught her completely unaware and left her utterly defenseless. Vulnerable.

“I had to do something!” she could still hear herself scream, fist balled up, nails digging in the palm of her free hand drawing blood. The short haired woman sat down while observing her attentively. Something deep, bitter erupted inside her chest. When she realized what was happening she fought desperately to withhold it but it was already too late. The dam broke and chocked sobs escaped her throat like a torrent. Salty tears made their way out and she couldn’t recall when it had been the last time she had allowed them to fall. The sobbing spasms collided with her battered and ruptured ribs, spreading white hot agony through her injured side but she was unable to stop crying until her drained body was finally able to subside the tremors. She sensed a warm presence surrounding her and when she opened her eyes she was met with ethereal faces floating around her staring at her with what could be read as curiosity. She remained still and noticed how on her opposite side Korra spoke to similar creatures amiably. Few things had unsettled the metalbender in her stern life. She mentally checked spirits as one of those things as she followed their flying patterns, alerted to any threatening gesture. However, they seemed more amused than irritated or intimidated by her presence and after apparently having their fill in their dissection of her, they left in a flurry of colors and bizarre shapes.

The Avatar had approached while she saw the last of the spirits leave amidst the wild and dreamlike vegetation. “It is time” the former Great Uniter accepted the hand that aided her to get back on her feet.

“Let’s go Kuvira. You have a war to end.”

Chapter Text

The sounds of footsteps approaching alerted the sole occupant of the vast dungeon. She had just shifted from a kneeling position to a lotus position, making a conscious effort to meditate and to provide some relief to her chaffed knees against the hard ground and the throbbing cramps on her legs. The weight of the platinum shackles around her wrists and the clanking sound of the chains at every movement didn’t aid well in this effort. At least while she was here securely tied down to the floor she didn’t had to deal with the animosity of the other prisoners. Whenever she was transported from the small provisional cell she spent her nights at to the dungeon, gruff, accusing voices would greet her from other cells:

“Murderer!”

“Tyrant!”

“Traitor!”

That last one hurt the most. She didn’t expect many of the Republic City prisoners to be sympathizers to the cause but apparently, even with the fallout of her disastrous attempt to annex Republic City to her Earth Empire, there had been many who truly expected for her to lead a prison break and to reorganize the remaining loyalist forces from exile. Several long months later since her surrender to the Avatar and Republic City’s authorities with a total tally of zero escape attempts had proven them wrong and now she had to deal with their daily disappointment.

The sound of a heavy door opening caught her attention. Her body shuddered out of its own accord as four guards surrounded her. She dreaded this part of the day. In order to ensure her submission while being moved back to the cell, the warden would apply a rather nasty variant of chi blocks strong enough to leave her defenseless but that it still allowed her to move on her own just enough to bridge the gap between both locations to finally collapse inside the cell. She was quite aware how and why she had earned this treatment. Beating the Avatar once, standing her ground countless times against the likes of Chief Lin Beifong and Suyin Beifong just served to enhance one’s reputation. And there was that bringing back a whole nation plunged into chaos to order within three years to then harness said nation’s resources into building a fearless army thing. Notoriety was indeed ensured. Apparently Tenzin had been opposed to the method having heard rumors how it was used more as punishment than to ensure cooperation from its receiver but President Raiko had adamantly insisted, pointing out the massive damage just one person with the right weapon had inflicted to his city.

Today she felt drained to the core. For the last few feet the guards had to drag her through the corridor until disposing of her with an unceremonious push and the loud sound of the door closing behind her. It wasn’t the cold, hard floor that bothered her or the musty air. It was the chills, the tremors, the vertigo, the pain stabbing her head, the nausea rising bitterly from her stomach to her throat that followed the “treatment.” In this state she wouldn’t dare delude herself into stopping the tears that slipped bitterly down her cheeks. She wondered if the Avatar saving her had really been a mercy because there was nothing merciful about losing control of one’s body on daily basis. Another bane added to her extremely dangerous prisoner status was the time the construction of a more permanent cell customized just for her and her abilities was taking. It should be almost ready by now, at least that’s what she hoped because it would avoid her this daily torment. While wrecked with exhaustion, she wondered for how long she would be able to endure.

The memories of what had transpired in the last hours of her offensive against Republic City replayed all over again through her mind’s eye. It had become part of her new routine and when she came back from unconsciousness, it told her it was night time. The metalbender stood up, sensing her body had recovered into a somewhat operational status again. Physical pain now gave way to mental torment. During the day she spent every drop of energy and forced every fiber of her body into maintaining this unbreakable façade of the famed leader of the Earth Empire. Every insult, every discomfort and pain they put her through during the day she would endure with the same cold, imperturbable expression in her green eyes and she was quite aware of its impact on her captors. They had deprived her of everything but she would not surrender easily the little control she still had. If she could exasperate her captors with her indifference, she would continue to do so even if she later paid the consequences of her defiance.

The price was usually paid in sleeplessness. Or nightmares. Most times both. On her conscious moments it was the emptiness that menaced to swallow her whole. That emptiness had been a long-time companion she realized upon her incarceration, for longer that she could recall. Probably she had refused to acknowledge it and found things to fill the void or to distract from validating its existence but it had never went away. It just grew deeper, hungrier, darker.

And then there was the numbness. Weeks after her surrender, as the preliminary hearings against her in Republic City went underway, she sensed as if she was coming out of a trance like existence. It had been hinted since she stepped out of the Spirit Portal and slowly it felt as if a dark curtain was being slowly drawn, revealing things under a new, harsher light. Her single minded purpose had blinded her to many things she was just becoming aware of now. But that trance like state had felt invigorating, exhilarating, fulfilling, making every muscle in her body thrive with steeled purpose and focus. The certainty of absolute control was intoxicating. The allure of absolute power at her hands, irresistible. Every cell of her body was commanded into one purpose. Now that the purpose had been removed the moment the dream died with her defeat, for moments she doubted if she would be able to feel anything again. That’s when bruised palms and broken fingers and toes and occasionally a bloody temple began to appear. The numbness drove her to abuse her limbs against the walls in an attempt to force herself to feel, even if it was pain.

After one of these violent rampages had rendered exhausted to the point of unconsciousness, she was surprised to find Korra treating her damaged hands instead of the prison medics. Apparently, her solitary rampages had been noticed and perhaps fearing there would be no more Great Uniter to judge should they continue unchecked, the prison staff alerted their superiors and somehow the Avatar herself decided to intervene for reasons unknown to Kuvira and only known to Korra.

She shifted her glance from the extremity she was treating to her face. For Kuvira it was still hard to reconcile the memory of the woman she defeated barely breaking a sweat and the one sitting down beside her. This version possessed an air of boundless confidence and wisdom the other lacked and now was glancing back at her with a knowing expression.

“If you keep this up you will end up damaging your bones and tendons to the point no spirit water will be able to mend them” Korra offered with genuine concern.

“Wouldn’t that be the best interest for all of you? I wouldn’t be a threat anymore.”

“I don’t think you are one now” Korra murmured as she concentrated the water on a particular spot. “Listen” she added more clearly now “I know what you’re doing and why. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t work.”

The Avatar casually admitting weakness to her caught her attention. “You’ve done this…So what works then?”

“You have to face yourself and deal with what’s driving you to do this” she pointed at the wall, smudges of dried blood staining its surface.

“Easier said than done” Kuvira tried to grin but instead winced at the pain of bones on the mend.

“I know, but it can be done… if you really want it.”

That was the question that remained after Korra was long gone. Did she wanted to face the demons head on or she had contented herself with a half existence of pain and numbness until every shred of sanity would be eventually torn into oblivion? She faced the wall again, fists at the ready, feet firmly planted to the ground. She threw a punch but stopped mere centimeters from the wall. She drew in a cleansing breath and laid down in her hard bed, closing her eyes. “One battle won.” The phrase reverbed inside her mind and sleep soon overcame her.

Chapter Text

“Captain, I’ve been hit!”

Captain of the Zaofu guards Kuvira sprinted towards the voice. A chill ran down her spine. It sounded like Lei, her youngest recruit. She had pleaded with him back at Zaofu to stay with Suyin and to join them when he was older and stronger but the kid wouldn’t take a no for an answer. He was determined to do something for his nation and couldn’t stand idle while many of his fellow guards served. The campaign to stabilize Ba Sing Se had been an uphill struggle the higher they moved. It was ironic considering that the lower rings were the ones most affected by the Queen’s tyranny but the upper ring had turned into no man’s land. Anybody that could muster a shred of strength was staking a claim over the centers of administrative, military and economic power. A group of defectors of the Earth Kingdom’s military and the Dai Li decided to lay a claim on the National Bank and now they were fiercely refusing to surrender it to her forces. Most of the riches of the Royal Palace had been plundered. The armories had been wiped clean and national treasures were now well on their way to be sold in black markets but the National Bank hadn’t been plundered yet. It wasn’t lack of haste from the looters but rather due to the complex logistics of transporting what was held in its vaults due to the Earth Kingdom’s quaint currency policy. It was almost comical that a country that had airships and satomobiles still held on to managing money in coin currency instead of paper, and for the looters it had become quite the inconvenience. Her forces had arrived just in time to stop this at the behest of Zaofu’s wealthy defectors to the stabilizing cause. Their rationale was that after such a disastrous collapse, the nation would require every single yuan for the reconstruction effort and it was imperative they recovered the bank and its treasures. It made sense but it was proving to be costly in lives, her guards’ lives.

When she reached Lei, he was clutching his neck. That’s when she noticed that the green of his uniform was stained almost completely in bright red blood. This had been the handiwork of a master earthbender that favored finesse over brute force. A deadly finesse as life escaped from her young guard’s neck from a narrow puncture wound that belittled the fact that the rock projectile had pierced the artery in one shot. Kuvira held his head while holding his free hand. It should be over soon, she felt his strength faltering as his grip began loosening and his eyes could no longer focus on her.

“Captain, don’t let them win…you must….promise you will stop them…”

“I will. I promise you.”

Her reassurance given, Lei allowed himself to rest. Kuvira cursed bitterly under her breath and rallied her guards into a fiercer offensive. They will show these lowly rock tossers what metalbenders could truly do.

It felt like a lifetime ago. Lei, the Ba Sing Se campaign. Their resounding victory. The overwhelming pride in having proved everyone wrong against all odds and that had been just the beginning. Her ambitions were tall but so were the odds against her and she had the determination and the combined talent of amazing people that shared the same dream. But when the dream soured, it was up to her to take the fall. Perhaps it was that even in victory, in success, she had been in truth, alone.

The door opened. At last her permanent cell was ready. She steeled herself for the incoming round of blocks that mercifully had been more precise and less punishing. Probably the disclosure of Earth Empire secrets was finally bearing fruit and her cooperation was deemed indeed genuine.

“On your feet. You’re going to your new home Kuvira” the gruff voice of Chief Beifong startled her.

“Chief?” she rose to face the detective. “Am I so valuable that I require the visit of Republic City’s esteemed Chief of Police?”

Lin Beifong appraised her through narrow eyes. “Let’s just say your new cell withstood the rigors of my testing. It is more humane but you won’t be able to bend a thing inside.”

“I appreciate that you are taking time of your busy schedule to honor me with a visit” Kuvira extended her arms in front of her body exposing her wrists.

“Spare me the courtesies.” Lin noticed the gesture. “That won’t be necessary. Should you attempt any foul play and I doubt it, you know I won’t hesitate to do what’s needed.”

A guard opened the cell. Two heavily armed police officers augmented the prison guard detail used to escort her. Lin stood close behind her. It felt strange. Being in full capacity of her body, her wrists almost missing the weight of the metallic bracelets. She felt almost whole again. The long corridor twisted into a corner, narrowing the further they went. They stepped inside a sturdy lift and began a downwards trajectory that took them deeper into the bowels of the prison complex. The lift stopped with a loud clatter and they walked until they reached her new cell. A guard opened the door and Chief Beifong escorted the metalbender inside.

“I see some platinum was spared from Zaofu’s reconstruction to build this. I’m impressed” Kuvira commented as she visually inspected what was to be her new home for the next decades or so.

“It wasn’t easy designing something that could hold up skilled metalbenders which your army certainly didn’t lack. It has been a challenge with the materials shortage due to the reconstruction effort but Ms. Sato came with a clever solution in the end. Yours had priority number one of course but many will follow.”

The cell wasn’t much larger than the one she spent her nights before but it looked more pleasant, or at least as pleasant as a prison cell for a maximum security prisoner could be. Nary a speck of earth or bendable metal could be seen by the naked eye, not even on the sink or the toilet and she doubted one would be found at a closer inspection.

“I bet she did. I would probably had fared better if I had requested her services rather than Varrick’s.”

“If it means Asami wouldn’t hesitated to call you up on your crap long before you had the chance to develop any funny ideas, then yes she would have” Lin replied with a severe expression on her face.

“I meant her inventions but probably in that too. You can tell her that I appreciate the fact that she was able to suppress her personal feelings towards me when designing this place and I’m not being sarcastic.”

“I will try to pass on the message but I seriously doubt she’ll be interested in receiving it.”

“I understand.”

“Your personal belongings have already been moved here. On the table there’s writing material, some books and letters addressed to you. If you have any requests you may write them down.” Lin made a gesture to show the prisoner the writing supplies that were granted as reward for good conduct and collaboration.

“I guess a garden with a koi fish pond is out of the question.” Even in defeat and captivity Kuvira still found her way with words, something that Chief Beifong did not fail to notice by the particular way her eyebrows knitted together.

“I’ll be on my way now. We’re following up closely on the leads you’ve given us so you’ll probably see me more often. You should continue collaborating as you have done so far. Privileges can be added to your incarceration depending on your behavior.”

“My war is over Lin. I don’t have anything else to do but to help my nation in any way that’s available to me.” The Chief of police nodded.

 “Lin”

Chief Beifong turned around halfway through the door. “Yes?”

“How’s Suyin?” the former captain asked tentatively.

“I think you should ask her yourself” and with that the Republic City Chief of Police was gone as Kuvira began her stay on a new prison cell and with a most difficult task assigned, one that she thought could take her whole sentence to accomplish.

 

Chapter Text

Canta per me addio

quel dolce suono

de’ passati giorni

mi sempre rammenta

                Canta Per Me, Yuki Kajiura

 

Five white envelopes laid over the table side by side in orderly manner. In each envelope a handwritten name, the calligraphy bold, clear and straight.

 

Ms. Asami Sato, Chief Executive Officer of Future Industries

Zhu Li Moon, President of Republic City

Suyin Beifong

Opal Beifong

Bataar Beifong Jr.

 

The dark haired woman held the first two and placed them on a tray designated for the outgoing mail. Each envelope was carefully sealed. A ream of paper and some pens were at the ready at the left side of the table and Kuvira now stared at the remaining three empty envelopes. A single sheet of paper and a black pen stood unused in front of her. She let out a long sigh and proceeded to collect the writing materials back into its pile and the empty envelopes to another tray. She paused for a moment with the last envelope in her hands, the one with Bataar’s name as her mind transported her to a moment when the future was still unwritten and happiness seemed bright and inevitable.

The captain of the Zaofu guards couldn’t stop giggling. She was getting sort of annoyed because she wasn’t certainly the giggling type but wasn’t sure why it was happening. She didn’t know whether to blame the now nonexistent contents of the bottle beside the bed, her present quarters (in temporary loan from a former Earth Kingdom bureaucrat) or her present company. Perhaps it was a combination of all three since Bataar could not stop laughing either, only pausing to pay attention to her neck and lips.

After victory was formally announced and the last stronghold had surrendered to her forces, her camp and their allies had started an impromptu celebration that went on for long hours until the first morning light. The opportunity to share with the Earth Nation people the path towards unity and progress was finally at hand and everyone felt compelled to celebrate this most auspicious beginning.

“Has anyone told you how cute you look with glasses?” Bataar murmured against her ear, trying to remember when she stole them from his face.

“I think you just did.” She smiled inwardly. He looked cute totally smashed. He had never been good in holding his liquor, unlike her who by the time she had made captain was already used to sneaking out with the sergeants to celebrate every guard’s promotion and award. Bataar had been to her promotion celebration and it had been evident he lacked their practice in imbuing spirits but she didn’t care because that day he had felt emboldened enough by liquid courage to confess what she felt for her. Suyin never suspected her eldest son who was expected to marry into one of Zaofu’s prestigious families was instead dating her protégé under her nose and under her roof. The shock in her face had been genuine when she realized that Bataar had more than patriotic duty as justification to leave with Kuvira’s group. Su had accused her of brainwashing her son but in this she was completely wrong. A mother’s love sometimes can shield from acknowledging unpleasant truths and the unpleasant truth here was that she didn’t know her son as well as she thought she did. Bataar had confided in her his patriotic fervor and frustration at not being able to contribute beyond his city’s boundaries long before they were an item. He too had felt too sheltered and limited and was as impatient as her to move beyond the shimmering silver domes of their marvel city and into the outside world where they could truly make a difference and leave a mark. Suyin had done it with Zaofu and now it was their chance to do the same but for the whole Earth Kingdom.

“Can you believe it? We really did this!” Kuvira said, snuggling closer to Bataar. She noticed he had put on some muscle since they left Zaofu and faced the rigors of life under military campaign. It suited him well, she appraised as she ran a hand over his arm and shoulder.

“I knew our victory was inevitable. We bring a new future of stability and prosperity. The other nations will no longer look down on us” Bataar replied. The dark haired captain stared at her lover intently. In moments like this, his face would transform from the bespectacled unassuming engineer to a passionate ideologue and she could watch him for countless hours transfixed, listening as he laid out his ideas in stunning clarity. It was fated for them to be together to lead their nation into this new era of prosperity and order.

“So that’s why you managed to set aside a couple of bottles from the royal cellars. You knew we were heading to a celebration, not to mention securing this place.”

Bataar recovered his glasses from Kuvira’s face and put them on, as a hand absentmindedly played with the long strands of hair that fell over her temple.

“Kuvira” his voice no longer seemed affected by the effects of alcohol. “Are you ready for what’s to come? Will you accept the burden that will be laid upon you?” There were rumors that she was being considered for the position of provisional head of state, most likely the work of their wealthy benefactors from Zaofu who now stood to become the most influential movers and shakers of the Earth Kingdom. A nation could not move forward with a power vacuum and she seemed like the most logical option for the need at hand after the first choice turned her back on the call to service.

“With you I can.”

“I will be with you every step of the way. I want to witness our nation’s rise from turmoil and I want to see you leading it. Mother will learn too late of her mistake.” His voice grew harsh and cold with the last words. She could sense the disappointment, the pain and anger that drenched every syllable. She had been hurt by Su’s refusal to lead their country in its time of need but Bataar had been utterly devastated and heartbroken.

“She might come around once she sees what we’ve accomplished so far and what we plan to do.” 

Bataar had shifted so now he was towering over Kuvira. “I would prefer that to happen but that’s not important now. We must remain focused on achieving our goals. We can’t look back now. This is bigger than you or me or the two of us. No matter what, you must never forget why we left our family and our home, why we abandoned the lives we had to face the unknown.”

The tone in his voice was earnest, almost solemn. She caressed a firm cheek already covered in dark stubble.

“Never forget what we came here for and don’t let anything or anyone stand in the way. Do you understand?”

 “I do. I won’t allow it.”

 I won’t allow it she had vowed that morning in the dawn of their new empire. Three years later she had to prove to her lover and to herself she had not forgotten and that her will was as resolute as ever. Their shared dream, their purpose was what mattered above all. Certainly the man who was beseeching her to stop just when they were so close from complete victory wasn’t the Bataar who had painstakingly engineered their path towards total unity of their nation. He would never allow the love he felt for her to undermine their shared vision. She would honor his true intent and the purity of his ideal even if she had to sacrifice his own life to preserve it. The deeply held conviction had made her sanity dance dangerously on the fine edge between earnestness and madness.

Tempra la cetra e canta

il inno di morte

a noi si schiude il ciel

volano al raggio

“See my love? I did not forget” she mused inwardly as the impeccably polished barrel of the weapon pointed towards the warehouse.

A single envelope laid over the table on a separate corner. The characters that had been so carefully written were now almost illegible, black ink bleeding downwards, scattered dried water marks still noticeable over the smooth surface.  It was left unmoved there for days until the owner finally secured it between the pages of a book, not to be taken out again.

 

Chapter Text

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.

Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize winner

 

When Chief Lin Beifong unlocked the heavy bolt of the door to the prison cell, she found a rather curious sight. The prisoner was sitting down in front of the small table, cup of tea in one hand and a rather voluminous book on her lap, her dark hair still undone falling in waves over her shoulders. A contrast quite jarring to the eyes from the sharp, tidy image from distant times of the former military leader always impeccably clad in silver and greens. 

Kuvira lifted her glance from her reading and offered a lopsided smile. “Good day to you Chief Beifong. Welcome back to my humble abode. Nobody told me beforehand I should have expected a visit. If I knew I was, I would have made the effort to be more presentable.” She put her large tome aside and began fixing her long hair into a single braid. “Tea? I’ve been told by the guards my tea is actually decent” she added while glancing at a teapot over the table. “They provide the hot water in exchange of a cup prepared by the former Great Uniter herself.”

“Thank you but business is what brings me here. I was entrusted to deliver this letter personally.” Kuvira noticed the bundle of papers the Chief of Police was carrying in a beige folder. Lin extended a very official looking envelope with the seal of Republic City embossed over the white smooth surface.

“I take that Zhu Li not only received my letter, she actually read it. It’s a pleasant surprise.”

“It would have been unwise of her not to read it. I also have this” Lin slid the folder over the table. “Are you sure you want to continue along with the trials without legal representation? Even you have a right to a defense.”

The former military leader finished fixing her hair and let out an audible sigh as she stood up, placing her hands behind her back. Lin kept close watch of her while leaning against a wall with arms folded over her chest. With the hair fixed and the pose, the metalbender now resembled much more her former past self.

“Me?…who would dare to defend me in this city? Besides, I’ve made it so far without any assistance. I don’t think having one at this point will change anything. I understand the charges. I’m familiar with the events and I have stated my case clearly.”

“You may not find representation here but that doesn’t mean you can’t find attorneys willing to take your case from other nations. There have been some from the Earth Kingdom that have expressed their interest and have also voiced their dissatisfaction by the fact that trials have proceeded with the accused lacking proper legal advice. They claim it sets a bad precedent and the optics looking from outside aren’t good either.”

“Someone wants free publicity out of my case? Sorry, not interested” Kuvira replied with a dismissive wave of the hand.

The eldest Beifong sister countered. “It is not only that. There’s a perception, erroneous as it is but still a growing perception among the general public that our government is willingly withholding assistance to your defense, pushing the narrative that the trial is just cosmetic and the verdict has already been decided.”

Kuvira shot a knowing glance at the Police Chief. “Which I would believe it’s actually the case.” Lin’s expression told her the Chief wasn’t particularly bothered by that possibility but having been flung to the pavement forcefully while still stuck inside the arm of a giant mecha like it had been her case made her position seem rather reasonable.

“So you worry that the insurgent elements remaining in defiance of my call to surrender might take this as a justification to continue their resistance, or even worse. I see…I knew that the offer was not out of benevolence.”

 “There was nothing benevolent in your invasion to our city” Lin growled back, hands now firmly placed over the table. The Chief was never one to mince words.

Kuvira regarded Republic City’s top cop cautiously, pacing slowly on the limited space the cell provided her. “No, just as there was nothing benevolent about the feckless governments the Earth Kingdom endured before, during, and after the 100 Year War. It was common knowledge that citizens were very dissatisfied with the rule of Queen Hou-Ting and what Zaheer did with her assassination was just to stir into a fever pitch the general discontentment that had been brewing since the Fire Nation invasion.”

“There was nothing that the other nations could do about the internal affairs of the Earth Kingdom.”

“And yet there were interventions. I believe this very city is the result of one of said interventions, isn’t it? And let’s not forget that instance about kidnapping Earth Kingdom conscripts.” Kuvira stopped pacing to look at Lin directly.

“If you are referring to the airbenders, they were held against their will” the Chief replied firmly.

“And yet their rightful ruler had a right to conscript any of her citizens. I think that was an internal Earth Kingdom issue but we both know how that ended. I’m not one to defend the rule of that despot yet I do recognize that her position gave her the authority to deal with her citizens as she saw fit according to law.”

“Lawful doesn’t always means it’s right or ethical.”

The former leader smiled at that. “And I’m glad you are aware of the difference Lin and it means a lot coming from you as the city’s highest representative of law and order. Antiquated laws gave the Earth Kingdom incompetent governors like Deng from Avatar Kyoshi’s time. What business did a mere child had in governing a province? But that was lawful then and spirits know if it might still be lawful now. I couldn’t review all our laws during the three year span I spearheaded the government and it would have been impossible anyway even if I had dedicated my time just to do that.” Kuvira paused while Chief Beifong kept listening, suspicion etched on the peculiar way her eyebrows burrowed together. She was keenly aware of the former commander’s cunning ways with words.

“Now I ask you from your position of authority; was it really lawful to appoint a mere city captain of guards to provisional head of a crumbling state? Was the situation so dire there was nobody else available with the qualifications and the resolve, somebody capable of holding the reins of a nation in urgent need of leadership? Oh yeah, there was someone highly qualified and with the right family name to boot but she refused!” Kuvira’s tone had morphed now. There was a marked accusatory inflection in the last sentence that Lin evidently caught by the severe expression on her face now and the narrowing green eyes. 

“At least I was a woman grown and not a spoiled child like Deng but still, rather young to be given absolute responsibility of a nation in shambles without the benefit of being groomed for power or governing since childhood like Wu was.”

“Yet you accepted it. You shouldn’t shift the responsibility of your actions to others. It’s too late for that” the Chief countered sternly.

“I’m not shifting the blame” replied Kuvira pensively. “I’m just stating mere facts. Actions have consequences. I’m contending with mine now but at least I will never regret stepping up to do something others weren’t willing to do.”

“Hope you are quite aware of the consequences then. You should be dealing with them for a long time.”

“That’s why I’m in this place isn’t it? But I don’t plan to dwell on the past forever and being here should help me to put things in perspective. I mean, aside from reading huge books, all I have here is time to think. But I don’t mind debating history or the law from time to time.” Her face no longer displayed the combativeness of instants ago, returning to the usual composed demeanor, down to the conciliatory tenor of her voice.

Chief Beifong raised an eyebrow. “I should be on my way now.” The Chief of Police knocked twice and the guard outside began unlocking the door. Before leaving, she added, the sternness on her face softened a notch. “I’m not really the debating type but you’ve made your point about something.”

“What?”

“That you don’t need legal assistance. You can manage yourself on the courts well on your own. Who knows if you end up speaking your way out of this mess.” Lin sounded slightly intrigued by the possibility. Perhaps it was her unique way of conveying respect towards the prisoner’s skills and intelligence without necessarily sympathizing with her deeds.

As Chief Beifong went on her way, her steps fading into the distance, the metalbender reached for her book. She was about to open it when she noticed the letter with the Republic City official seal still on the table. She took it, opened it carefully and began to read. The first paragraphs were mostly formalities, delivered in a pleasant yet firm language.

“Our government expresses our deepest appreciation in the voluntary disclosure of the existence of sensitive information that if made public, could potentially tarnish the reputation of the current ruler of the Earth Kingdom, Wu and therefore, derail the progressive efforts of bringing a new form of elective government towards said nation.”

Kuvira’s mind took her back to the day they her guards recovered the National Bank from a hardened and well organized band of looters comprised of Ba Sing Se’s elite forces. After the battle was won, at close inspection of the facilities they found out that it was not only treasure of the type measured by precious gems and gold that was heavily guarded and that they intended to secure. Carefully stowed among the gold, stored for discreet safekeeping were several stashes of documents deemed too sensitive to be kept within the National Archives vaults or even at the care of the individual families. Secrets of state, the inconvenient truths and secrets of many wealthy and powerful families, the crown family included, were kept there on a separate, inconspicuous section as if to mask its actual value and importance. Kuvira and Bataar had the nagging suspicion that some of the wealthy benefactors from Zaofu that accompanied her group were in the know of this fact and their urgency in recovering the bank was due to the urgency to seize such material, perhaps even more than the treasury itself. One of their first political decisions was to withhold the knowledge and whereabouts of said documents, their benefactors included, keenly aware that whoever possessed the secrets held sizable bargaining power for future negotiations. In the present, she had no longer any need nor use for such volatile secrets with her tenure as the Great Uniter over. Instead, it now served as a good will gesture of her disposition to aid the new administration in fulfilling its duties without the concern of compromising information out in the open. The last handwritten lines brought amusement to the dark haired metalbender, a grin curving on her lips:

“PS. The following comments are not an official expression of the President of Republic City but are made in my personal character. Although I do not hold a grudge for the several attempts made against my life during the testing of the Spirit Cannon nor during combat operations sustained by Republic City against the invading Earth Empire army, in particular the giant mecha, you should be aware that I will ensure these actions are duly recorded during your trials. It will be up to the courts to decide the nature, malicious or otherwise of these actions. However, your collaboration upon your surrender and the valuable information and intelligence provided should be also noted publicly. I will strive from my position that justice rather than revenge is served in your case. Signed, Zhu Li Moon.”

It seemed that with the benefit of hindsight that it was obvious she had made a crucial mistake: she had greatly underestimated Varrick’s unassuming assistant and now had to contend with a formidable opponent. A small silver lining out of the scenario served as consolation of sorts for the former military commander: she suspected the time served by the now president in her organization, working alongside many empowered women served to embolden her until she was finally able to grow into her own better self. And with that thought still lingering in her mind, Kuvira returned to her book.

Chapter Text

It was a good enough moment for a nap. It had been so far a rather monotonous day, even more than usual. Life, even in prison maintained its routines and its rhythms which allowed humans living under these trying conditions to adapt and structure their daily habits around it. Confinement’s worst challenges were boredom and isolation like in the case of high profile prisoners like her. The way days could seamlessly fold into months and months could fold into years made difficult to track the passage of time when devoid of usual cues like sunrises and sunsets. The former commander learned early on that she had to rely instead in deciphering the particular patterns of her imprisonment. Calendars didn’t make much of a difference when you couldn’t appreciate the seasons or observe the shifting constellations signal a particular point during the year. She had last heard faraway chatter about half an hour ago, signaling the shift change of the guards. She had also noticed that there were new guards judging by the different cadence of their steps, the footfall sounding lighter and quicker. The afternoon meal was hours away and she had already completed a round of Sudoku in less time than the last round. That meant the guard owed her double dessert rations now. It was fun betting with them since most times she would end up winning the bet but they still held out hope that someday they would be able to defeat the former Earth Empire leader.

The cell’s inhabitant mind drifted away in a state between consciousness and unconsciousness. Sometimes she dared to allow it to wander beyond the walls that surrounded her and into the world outside, a world that was no longer the same after the immense surge of energy unlocked by her weapon had culminated into the creation of another Spirit Portal. Her imagination traveled further, moving from the physical reconstruction of Republic City to the political rebuild of the Earth Kingdom. A bold proposal had gained traction suggested by Wu of all people, and soon elections were to take place in the different provinces. After the failure of her Empire, the rest of the world had no choice but to compensate for the neglect of years and now paid closer attention to her nation.

Sleep had finally overwhelmed Kuvira so she wasn’t able to notice beforehand that additional steps had been added to those of the guard. Louds knocks on the door stirred her up. The knocks were unusual enough to capture her attention. The voices outside woke her out completely.

“Knocking is not necessary ma’am.”

“It’s just being considerate. I don’t want to barge in while she’s using the toilet or something. And don’t call me ma’am. Do I look old enough to you to be called ‘ma’am’?” Annoyance seeped on her words.

“No ma….Avatar Korra…!” the guard mumbled nervously while opening the door. Kuvira was still lounging about when Korra stepped inside.

“Sorry to wake you up…” the Avatar commented, relieved to find her former enemy lying down on her narrow bed, hands clasped behind her back instead of the other scenario she had concocted.

Kuvira regarded her curiously through slitted green eyes. Korra was the last person she expected to be visiting her. After she had overcome for the most part the rage fits that had pushed her into self-harm during the initial difficult transition from freedom to confinement, Korra had deemed her intervention was no longer required. There was a whole world in need of balancing and brand new challenges byproduct of the spiritual realms intermingling with the physical that required constant attention so Kuvira assumed that would be the last she would see of the Avatar. Apparently, she was wrong on that count. But then again, Korra had demonstrated the particular ability of defying her expectations.

“I hope I’m not being impolite, but what brings you here Avatar Korra?” the metalbender inquired as she rose up, and sat with legs crossed in front of her. Korra noticed the chair beside the small table and sat down, using the back of the chair to rest her chin while lacing strong tanned arms around it leisurely.

“Not at all. It has been a while since I’ve been here. This is certainly an improvement from your old cell. It could use some natural light but other than that, it’s definitely nicer. You look better too from the last time I saw you. I take that you are faring better adjusting to your new circumstances?” The former leader noted the subtle yet careful assessment her visitor was making of her, scanning for physical signs of violence on her extremities. She seemed satisfied to find none evident on her limbs.

“I am. The small details do make a big difference when your days go by in almost the same way.”

“Being forced into a new unexpected reality it’s hard. You are dealing with physical confinement. Three years ago I had to deal with being confined into my own broken body after being poisoned. It is very frustrating for people like us. We’re used to depend on our strength and abilities to accomplish our goals and being so limited is a tough challenge.”  The Avatar paused for a moment. Kuvira perceived it was a topic that still stirred deep painful memories in her visitor. Given other circumstances, she would usually come out with a witty response but now she could not, feeling uncharacteristically tongue tied and uncomfortable with the subject at hand. The truth of the matter is that she still felt uneasiness around her former enemy. The fact that she was addressing her casually and not with the marked distance others did felt disconcerting. 

“Anyway, you must be wondering why I am here, besides checking in on the new cell. I’ve heard rumors you enjoy a good chat so here I am. With the right topic I can be a good conversationalist.”

Kuvira raised an eyebrow. She was now utterly confused. 

“We all know why you are here. We are also aware that in the beginning the intentions were good and you had made good in the assigned purpose of stabilizing the Earth Kingdom until you got all power hungry and all that. After surrendering you’ve have kept your word and so far, you have collaborated with the new authorities as promised.”

“It might seem difficult to believe coming from me after all that’s happened but I really don’t have a reason for not cooperate. I still wish the best to my nation and can only hope those who have now the responsibility to lead it care as much too.”   

“That is why we…well, really me and a couple others believe that all’s not lost with you, that you can get back on the right track and who knows, maybe in the future society could consider your debt fulfilled earlier than expected.”

Kuvira regraded her visitor with skepticism. “Avatar Korra, are you sure the world doesn’t require your services enough that you can spare time for a rehabilitation pet project for a deposed tyrant?”

“It’s not a pet project and you can’t imagine how hard is trying to keep people AND spirits happy and not at each other’s throats. Who would have imagined that guarding this new portal in downtown would be so complicated? And I thought it was complicated enough with the spirit vines from Unavaatu…” Korra was rambling now, evidencing how overwhelming her new endeavors seemed to be.

“So evidently you are busy. And even here I’ve heard the rumors…how do you manage to balance your personal life with Ms. Sato and all the world saving?” Korra blushed violently at this.

“How do you found out about Asami and I…?” Kuvira offered a grin, not really attempting to dissimulate the fact that she enjoyed unsettling Korra for a change.

 “Both of you are highly driven, are very relevant and therefore, very busy people. Nurturing and maintain a relationship under those circumstances can be challenging.”

“You managed to do so quite successfully …until that blowing up the warehouse incident.”

Green eyes flashed all of a sudden under burrowing dark eyebrows. Korra tensed momentarily realizing the slip of the tongue and the subsequent foot in mouth. She held her breath in anticipation of an outburst of anger. Fortunately, Kuvira decided to let the subject drop before the conversation soured past the level of civility. She let out a sigh instead with a warning sign of sorts etched on her face directed at Korra.

“What I’m saying is that what do you expect to gain from this? Do you always befriend your defeated enemies?”

“Well, there’s nothing I can do about Amon being that he’s gone, presumably dead. The gangs here try to stay as far away from me as they can because they know ell what happens when they cross me.” Korra drove a fist forcefully against her opposite palm for emphasis.  “My uncle who tried to kill me is dead…luckily my cousins didn’t make a big fuss out of that. Out of the Red Lotus only Zaheer survived and we have a sort of understanding. So that leaves you.”

“I wasn’t expecting you to answer that but okay…but you still haven’t said what you think you’ll gain from this.”

Korra picked up her chair and sat down properly, legs crossed and hands rested over her knees. “Honestly? I have the best support team ever in Team Avatar and the smartest, most understanding and beautiful girlfriend in Asami. But when she needs to talk engineer, magnate stuff, she can talk to Varrick, even if it sometimes annoys her to no end. Mako has Bolin and Bolin has Mako and for boring detective stuff Mako has Lin. Tenzin is a great mentor and all of them are great and they care immensely for me but I feel that there are things they might not fully understand.”

“You are in an unique position Korra. There’s only one Avatar and that’s you. Trying to picture themselves in your position will be hard for any ordinary person and even for extraordinary ones like the ones in your team.”

“I’m aware of that. But seriously, the only other person aside from my Northern cousins and they’re not too keen in chatting with me…anyway, as I was saying, the only other person that comes to mind that might have a sense of grasping with the idea of having to endure a huge responsibility and great expectations shoved to you happens to be you. You were given this enormous responsibility and all of a sudden you found yourself having to care for a whole country and to protect the lives of your people.”

“A job that apparently I did so well it landed me here” Kuvira mused, the sarcasm of her tone not lost to Korra. Blue eyes locked pensively over the former guard.

“That’s because you didn’t have a team like I do.”

Korra noticed the stunned expression in the metalbender’s face and realized she had hit a nerve. “I had advisors…I had my inner circle, my fiancée, Bolin, Varrick” she countered.

“But I don’t think they were really your team because you put yourself apart from them. You were isolated even when surrounded by your advisors. You were always seen as the leader and something tells me that you weren’t the type to express your doubts and fears to others, concerned that in doing so you would project weakness and lack of control. Even surrounded by people, you were in truth alone and having the kind of power you wielded without the proper accountability proved to be a recipe for disaster.”

Kuvira did not reply. Korra had described in simple terms what had been her reality. The Avatar pressed on:

 “As soon as it was known I was the new Avatar, even before I was aware of it, the sole purpose of many people was to train me and guide me so I could be able to fulfill my duties successfully. I don’t think you were provided that chance, but that doesn’t mean you lack the capacity to do great things. And you’ve been there. You know how hard it gets trying to do your best, trying not to disappoint the people who have put their trust in you. Each enemy has shown me something about myself and I believe I can now learn from your mistakes. When I said I see a lot of myself in you I meant it because I still believe it.”

The former Great Uniter stared at the Avatar in silence for a moment pondering on the meaning of her words. They revealed something she didn’t dared to imagine it was still available for her: hope. Her reasoning was sound and besides, under the present circumstances there was nothing else to lose. Time was all she had.

“Okay. If you want to pick my brain, you may do so. It’s not that I anticipate going anywhere anytime soon” she replied looking at the walls that surrounded her for added emphasis. She stood up and approached Korra extending her right hand. The Avatar met it with hers and shook it enthusiastically.

“Like you said, between the portals and the new political situation in the Earth Kingdom, I’m super busy but I’ll try to drop by personally whenever I’m at Republic City. I’m not much of a writer but I’ll try to send letters with updates but don’t expect literary gems. Oh, I almost forgot!” she exclaimed slamming a hand against her forehead. “Do you remember the information you provided about the platinum ore deposits?”

“I do. What about it?” As a precautionary measure, although the former commander never doubted their victory over Zaofu and their precious platinum domes bounty at that time, she had tasked a group of geologists to identify and list all the metal mines in the Earth Kingdom. Her expanding rule would certainly require resources to continue their technological leap into the future. They had been extremely successful, not only cataloging the existing resources but mapping possible new deposits, including some of extremely valuable and coveted platinum. Her last letters to Zhu Li and Wu disclosed that last fact and it seems they have quickly followed up on the lead.

“Your people were right about the platinum deposits. The president has tasked Asami in collaborating with Wu and Suyin in surveying the deposits for future joint mining ventures. It was only fair to include Zaofu since there’s not much left of the platinum from their domes after your mecha got destroyed and what has been scavenged is nearly not enough to build them back.”

“At least that should keep Suyin off my back about her precious domes” Kuvira mused to herself amused. “Glad that lead paid off then. Are you going too?”

“Just for a couple of days and then I’m off to tour the Air Temples with Tenzin.”

“Could you do me a favor then?”

The Avatar was approaching the door when she shot Kuvira an inquiring glance. “What?”

The metalbender replied with a wistful lilt in her voice. “Say hello to the family for me.”

Chapter Text

It was a rare moment of idleness for the group which they had decided to take full advantage of by enjoying a relaxing, uneventful afternoon at the lake nearby their campsite. Some guards were frolicking in the water while others were sprawled around, taking naps under the comforting shade of the trees, relishing on the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that follows the successful completion of a mission and the momentary peace earned by it.  Kuvira’s group was the advance party to a larger contingent which was scheduled to meet an even more numerous group of soldiers comprised of garrisons from different provinces of the Earth Kingdom. Her group had managed to take Ba Sing Se with mostly the forces they had mustered out of Zaofu but to stabilize the rest of the nation as tasked they would need reinforcements, all that they could obtain. Her current strength was now comprised of a combination of her guards, Ba Sing Se forces who had not fled nor joined in the looting and had remained loyal to their country, and new recruits who volunteered to the cause. She suspected that many of the volunteers had come attracted more by the prospect of three square meals, clothing, equipment and training than patriotic zeal but for the task at hand, the end result was the same. Somehow she as the appointed commander would have to turn this diverse group into a cohesive force entrusted in bringing back order and stability to the nation.

The afternoon heat had made her drowsy. Her armor was neatly stacked at her feet along with her boots and she was now at ease wearing just the inner layers of her green tunic and pants. Her back was leaned against a large tree while her head rested comfortably over Bataar’s shoulder. He had decided to forego the relaxation that his group had favored and instead kept himself busy with work, reviewing maps and writing letters to supporters and allies while occasionally glancing at his side to enjoy the unusual sight of an unguarded Kuvira. But for her, today work could wait. She anticipated quiet moments like this would be far and between in the days to come so they should be fully enjoyed while they were still available.

Even before she could finish the thought, as anticipated and dreaded, *R & R was interrupted by the frantic screams of a group of villagers approaching their campsite who claimed were from a nearby nondescript village. They had heard rumors that a group of soldiers had camped nearby and had rushed in seek of assistance to finally be rid of bandits that had accosted them for months, raiding what little and less they possessed.

“I should be back soon” she had assured Bataar as she finished donning her armor, discreetly placing a kiss over his lips. “After dealing with rogue Dai Li agents, bandits are a welcome change of pace” she added with a confident smile. Ten volunteers eager for action followed her, leaving in the newly acquired off road satomobiles procured from Republic City with the villagers.

Soon they found themselves at the village and calling it village was too generous of an assessment. It was more a collection of hovels spread over dusty, narrow streets. The village’s name was faded on the frayed welcome sign and there was barely any sign of what livelihood supported it, being away from the better farming lands, forests for lumber or main roads that eased commerce between towns. How it eked out its meager existence the captain couldn’t determine, but it was certainly prime example why her country was in dire need of attention and modernization. Human beings should not live each day overwhelmed by the uncertainty of not knowing how they would obtain their daily sustenance or frightened by the prospect of roaming bands of thieves. She hoped her efforts would soon put an end to both.

“So the rumors were true then. The liberators of Ba Sing Se in the flesh! But from the rumors I had expected a woman as tall as Kyoshi and as thick as a badgermole followed by hordes of fearless combatants!” The booming, unpleasant voice of an oaf of a man commanded the newcomer’s attention. Evidently this was the bandit’s leader judging by the commanding pose and the rather flashy clothing he sported, contrasting sharply with the modest clothes worn by the villagers. The bandit went to address the villagers who were trying to hide behind the vehicles. “This is what you cowards have brought to fight me? A girl and not even a dozen soldiers? To face the Scarlet Serpent daofei?”He slicked the end of a long jet black mustache with fat fingertips as he glowered contemptuously at the arrivals.

More bandits approached closing in on their leader, surrounding him for behind while looking menacingly at the metal clad soldiers. It was a sizable group of about twenty to thirty, all displaying the same unpleasant sneer as their leader. From some of the huts, the panicked faces of the villagers could be seen peeking from the windows in cautious anticipation. For how long this band had been terrorizing this place the captain wondered as she remained composed, carefully assessing the current situation. Her forces were better trained and equipped but the marauders had the numbers advantage and knowledge of the field. She opted to diffuse the situation. Perhaps the realization that they had sucked this poor village dry and having to face her forces could avoid unnecessary violence. Lieutenant Colonel Gamn from the Earth Kingdom forces was approaching for their rendezvous with his Eastern troops so eventually the bandits would be dealt with and apprehended. She would be giving them a chance to stand down and stop pillaging, something she knew Colonel Gamn would certainly not do.

“Word has come to us that these villagers feel you have abused their hospitality and you have extended your stay for far longer they would have wanted. Leave this place now and no harm should come to any of you, as long as you vow not to steal again” Kuvira addressed the bandits in an amiable, reassured tone.

“Bold words from the girl! Whose gonna make us? You?” the large man guffawed and his cronies followed suit.

“If you don’t comply, you will leave us no choice but to force you to surrender” the captain replied with the same even, calm voice but underneath the silk the steel could now be perceived in her inflection. Her guards had already assembled into battle formation behind her, alerted by the subtle yet evident change in her voice.   

“Come try to get us then!” and upon hollering this, the man shot repeated volleys of fire against the metalbender, which she easily sidestepped with grace and speed, replying with her own metal cables wrapping around his left wrist, robbing him of the momentum of his attack. A second cable wrapped around his right leg and with a sudden pull, she managed to unbalance the big man off his feet, making him fall hard against the ground with a loud noise. Even with the superior numbers, the battle was woefully stacked against the bandits and before they could muster an effective defense, it was over in a matter of minutes, her well trained and disciplined guards easily disposing of the opposition. Many had fled in panic once they saw their leader literally bit the dust and the lieutenants who stuck around in an effort to aid him were captured with little difficulty. Once the threat had been neutralized, the inhabitants of the village dared to leave their homes and went to narrate the dire situation the bandits had put them through. Kuvira had finished communicating using the radios from their off-road vehicles to provide an update of their status to their camp when she noticed from the corner of her eye a haggard looking women desperately dashing towards the vehicles. Misery clung unto her, noticeable in the ragged clothes, hair in disarray and sunken cheeks. She didn’t look she had a decent meal in days.

“How can we help you?” the captain greeted her.

“I don’t need help but my daughter…” her voice broke momentarily. “She has been very sick and what little my family had left of food and medicine these thieves took it away.” Instants later Kuvira was inside a small house. Several pairs of eyes stared at her expectantly from the largest room in the house. The sounds of chocked sobs from a darkened corner made her stop all of a sudden, a heaviness setting inside her chest. They had arrived too late, she realized sorrowfully. The girl’s mother also heard the crying and erupted in tears of her own as she embraced a man with a grief-stricken expression in his face. The metalbender approached carefully and knelt beside the child’s parents. Resting over blankets over the floor she saw the girl. Her face was pale and gaunt, the body small and fragile. She didn’t look a day older than six but malnutrition could make older children appear younger than they really were. She felt a lump rising to her throat. 

“I…I am so sorry…”

The man approached her, grief, pain and rage etched in every line of his weather battered face, fists balling against his sides. “Those men out there…they’re not men. They’re worse than beasts. We pleaded with them to leave us with only food enough to take care of the little one. They wouldn’t listen. They feasted outside so we could all see them while we starved and my daughter languished here hopelessly.” His head turned to face the small body and tears bathed his cheeks. “This…this was an unnecessary cruelty! They could have taken what they needed and spared my child.” An infuriated, pained expression settled on his features as he directed a hard glance towards the captain.

“They should receive what they have sowed.” Kuvira knew his words were aimed at her and understood what they truly meant. She took a last look of the innocent life that had been carelessly snuffed away by man’s greed and before leaving, she placed a reassuring hand over the man’s shoulder.

“Justice for you daughter will be delivered” she promised the grieving father. Upon saying this, her steps led to where the leader was kept as a small sharpened blade reached her right hand, the metal gleaming ominously on her fingers.

Later at night at the campsite, as he observed her sitting quietly with over a small rocky promontory overlooking the lake, her features still reflecting the same withdrawn countenance she had when the group arrived, Bataar wondered what had really happened at that village. All of the guards made it back without a scratch. Supplies were sent in a haste to the village and Colonel Gamn’s forces were alerted of dangerous thieves heading their way, but only Kuvira had returned with blood stains on her uniform and a darkened glimmer on her eyes.

 Whatever had happened there, it had been enough to replace the hope filled spark they once held with a steel cold resolve that wouldn’t leave her until three years later when the bitterness and despair of defeat obliterated in equal parts the remaining flicker and the hard resolve. All that remained was the regret and the grief that filled endless hours of self-reflection in solitude and would chase her relentlessly in her dreams.

 

*R & R – Military jargon. Rest and recreation

Chapter Text

The sad, gaunt face of the little girl still haunted her dreams. Another small pale face with fierce green eyes was superimposed over the girl’s. The girl who had been abandoned by her parents years ago and was left to fend for herself. The girl who anguished bereft of control, of safety, of warmth.

“I never even knew her name. I never found out that village’s name. How many anonymous lives were lost by the incompetence of those tasked to care for the people?” This voice she recognized as her own.

“How many lives did you ruin with your tyranny?” Another voice replied accusatory. “How many families did you hurt with your camps? How many were torn apart by your war?”

“I didn’t mean to hurt them…I only wished for a better place in which little girls didn’t starve to death!”

“This is what you left behind instead. Behold your handiwork, your legacy!” the voice boomed ominously. A city demolished, ruins and destruction everywhere eyes could reach, the path of destruction etched in every obliterated structure. Another city lay unprotected bereft of its iconic shimmering domes, its people looking at her with a mixture of confusion and fear. She was one of them. She used to protect them and now she had turned against them. She had betrayed them. The sadness and frustration of those sent to languish in the labor camps. Fear. Resentment. Anger. The emotions their faces displayed as their eyes never left hers in a silent accusation, in wordless judgement. Guilt rose up menacing to choke her. Her breathing became labored and pained, each breath failing in sending oxygen to her lungs. A heavy weight had settled against her chest and she felt she was unable to move under it. Soon she would be crushed by it…

“It wasn’t supposed to be this way!”

Eyes flung open as Kuvira gasped loudly, her heart beating fast against her agitated chest. Cold sweat had gathered over her forehead. Again, the recurring nightmare that relentlessly drove home the fact that she failed and worse, she betrayed the trust of those who believed in her. Those who once she had vowed to protect and those she wished to save from abandonment and starvation. She wondered if even if she could someday forgive herself, those whom she betrayed would be able to do the same.

Kuvira drew in a deep, cleansing breath in an attempt to slow her accelerated breathing and calm her muddled state of mind and agitated body. She attempted to move but a strong arm was surrounding her waist. Her muscles coiled as her mind shouted an alarm. She’d barely managed to suppress an attack against the invader, cautiously concentrating on fact gathering before launching a response. This reaction startled her because instinct would have made her deal with the intrusion in a swift, expedient manner already but something in the back of her mind prevented her from doing so.  Her eyes began scanning for clues when they noticed that the forearm that rested loosely against her waist was clad in a charcoal black glove that went past the elbow. She placed its wearer immediately on her mind’s eye. “Korra?” the metalbender murmured under her breath. Upon realizing the identity of her companion she allowed herself to relax but her wits were still in disarray, attempting to make sense out of the discovery. The rhythmic rising and falling of the Avatar’s chest against her back was even and serene. The former captain closed her eyes, allowing her other senses to fill in the remaining pieces of the puzzle. She could hear the faint sound of breathing and her sense of smell placed the scent as uniquely Korra’s. Since when she had been here? How did she end up like…this? One part of her mind made her almost leap as she had done back then when the Spirit Portal opened and she had come to her senses to find herself away from the city and in a foreign world held by the Avatar. However, another part was begging her to remain, to revel in the warmth and feel of another person against her. She missed this. She missed the closeness to another human being. The shared warmth, the intimacy. The haunting dreams she had awaken from emphasized even more how the reassuring physical presence of another person helped her ease the bitter aftertaste left by them. She was actually intrigued on how pleasant it felt to be like this with Korra. She admitted to herself that one of the consequences of the incarceration and her severed connection to family and friends was that she missed and craved human companionship and affection, things that ruefully she realized she had taken for granted even with her tendency to keep herself guarded. She remembered fondly the years of camaraderie spent among the Zaofu guards and the dance troupe, and that camaraderie had served them well when their mettle was put to the test in Ba Sing Se. Her biological parents weren’t affectionate and she would have probably never learned the comfort of the reassuring presence of another human being hadn’t been for Suyin.  Under her protection she came to learn more about affection and to experience what it was to be cared for, yet she had always perceived an invisible divide that made the term “family” seem incongruous with her actual relationship with Su and the Beifongs save Bataar. In a sense, it probably was for the best since the idea of being attracted and eventually engaged to a foster brother didn’t quite sit well with her.

Assessing her present situation, in other circumstances Kuvira wouldn’t have expected she would have enjoyed a close moment like this with a former enemy, much less Korra of all people given their history. It wasn’t because she didn’t think Korra wasn’t likeable or attractive. Quite the contrary, but their relationship was…complicated to say the least and her feelings towards the Avatar in many ways were still undefined, and in her current state of mind still struggling to come to terms with the aftermath of her actions and the seclusion itself scrambled her emotions even more. She was still musing on these thoughts when she sensed Korra stirring from her slumber. The movement put distance between them and the metalbender’s body immediately regretted it. Even with closed lids she could sense the Avatar staring at her intently and when she heard the sound of the chair scrapping against the floor, she opened her eyes finally allowing herself to move and shift into a sitting position. She was met with a kind blue gaze and an expression of curiosity perched on her face.

“Bad dream? You seemed very agitated when I came in.” Her voice reflected genuine concern.

“Yes. Recurring nightmare.” She directed an inquisitive look towards Korra. “For how long you’ve been here? You should have woken me up.”

“I’ve been here long enough. Have you tried meditation? I used to have lots of nightmares after facing the Red Lotus but I found that meditation helped clear my mind and spirit and in time, they became less frequent and vicious. I can teach you different techniques if you wish.”

“Yes, I think I would like that” she replied as she slicked back the damp strands of hair that had fallen over her forehead in disarray. “So, what brings you here?”

 “I wanted to give you the news personally.” Korra extended her a folder.

“What’s this?”

“The date of the last hearing of your trials. The details are there and you should know that Suyin and her family will be there.”

Kuvira inhaled deeply. “I see.” She will be facing them face to face one more time. She scanned meticulously the documents inside the folders and when she lifted her head, she met Korra’s compassionate glance.

“I won’t be able to make it in time to be there.” Korra added. “I will be at the South Pole and hopefully Asami will be able to meet me there so she won’t be at the trials either. She is still processing the loss of…you know.”

 “I understand. I know that the point is moot now and it won’t make an iota of difference but I didn’t mean to hurt Ms. Sato. ‘I’m sorry’ sounds empty, even shallow when you are apologizing for taking a life but I do mean it and I don’t know if there’s any other more effective way I can be able to convey this.”

A shadow of sadness crossed over Korra’s face. “I can’t really imagine how hard that might be. She is a good person and she was able to forgive him before his passing. Their relationship hadn’t been the best in the last few years but in the end he redeemed himself to her, which has made the loss harder to manage.”

“I don’t expect her to forgive me but I still need to come clear with what I did and how I feel about it.” The once leader of the Earth Empire looked contrite. Another specific consequence to her actions to fuel her nightmares.

Korra nodded. The dark haired woman noticed her visitor seemed preoccupied and less enthusiastic than her usual self.

“Your mind seems to be somewhere else. If you have business to tend to, please go take care of them. I appreciate that you came in person all the way here to deliver this information.”

“No problem…” Korra appreciated the sincerity that was reflected in her former enemy’s words. Silence echoed through the cell as both women remained engulfed in a polite silence, as if each was allowing the other time to regain composure following the difficult subjects alluded in the previous conversation.

“Kuvira…” the Avatar decided to break the silent pause. “Can I bother you with something?” Kuvira gestured in affirmative.

“It’s just that I’m worried about me and Asami. It’s just that lately things between us seem to be…different.” The former Zaofu captain raised an eyebrow. Among all the things in the world, she would have never imagined herself as serving as sentimental confidant of sorts to the Avatar. Her detainment had brought in many changes to her life but this one was completely unpredicted. Then again, all sorts of unexpected things happening to her seemed to be directly linked to Korra since she decided to befriend her former foe.

“Different in what way?”

“It has been what…I think close to a year since we began our relationship. The first few months were simply amazing, spent in filling in the gap of my three years of absence and all the things that had happened to each of us. I had lost so much when I had to part from my friends and later when I decided to face my demons alone that I was determined to make it up for all of it. Then between her duties as head of Future Industries and her collaboration with Republic City’s government, she began to be busier every day. Her company is her livelihood and after her father’s passing, it’s her responsibility to maintain his legacy. I’ve been pretty busy too and before we’d realized it, we were engaged a long distance relationship because she couldn’t just leave her duties to go gallivanting the world with me every time it needs saving. In the beginning we got used to spent every spare time together but now sometimes a couple of days go by before we even get to talk to each other. It has been really hard to keep up and I worry that now we might become even more distant than when I was away recovering from the Red Lotus.”

“But you’ll be meeting her at your family’s home, right?”

“That’s the idea. She said she was going to try really hard to make it. I really need to do this, to see Asami, actually see her again and spend time with her to sort out my feelings.” The brown haired woman was deep in thought, her face displaying how distraught she was by her sentimental situation. Kuvira thought to herself that Ms. Sato should really consider herself fortunate because it was evident how profoundly Korra cared for her.

“I don’t think you should worry about your feelings. You know exactly where your feelings lay but distance and insecurity can distort them and it can make one doubt. Try not to worry and just concentrate on enjoying your time together. She must be in the same situation as you but getting back together should help you return to your annoying, energetic self.”

Korra smiled. She seemed less disturbed now. “See? You aren’t so bad after all.  But seriously, thanks for this. I think I really needed to unload my mind for a bit. Sorry for unloading this on you but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to involve my friends on this because I’m not sure if they would be able to just listen without trying to stage a crisis intervention for me and Asami.”

Kuvira was amused by the thought of what a crisis intervention might end up becoming with the likes of Bolin and Opal involved. It might seem that having the isolated prisoner as confidant wasn’t such a bad idea after all. “You’re welcome. I’m no relationship expert but I can listen and I have no sides on this. Under these circumstances I could even listen to Bolin ramble on about his Nuktuk movers and pro bending and I would listen on mesmerized.”

“Okay, you really need to pick up something to do here if you are that desperate!” Korra snickered at the scenario, not failing to notice how some the distinctive hardness seemed to be fading from the former military leader’s face. She smiled inwardly, glad to have followed her gut instinct to approach Kuvira more as a person and less as an existential threat.

“I think you’re right. I’ll stick with meditation then until prison authorities feel comfortable enough to grant me some privileges that can take me away from these four walls for a few hours. Apparently, that might happen sooner than I had anticipated” the metalbender added with an optimistic tone.

 The Avatar stood up. “That’s good news!  Hopefully by the next time I drop by, you’ll have earned those privileges and get some much needed fresh air and sunlight on you. Well, I gotta go now. Thanks for listening…and best of luck in your trial. I don’t think the outcome will surprise us but at least it will be over.”

“Enjoy your trip and Korra?”

“Huh?”

“Thank you for keeping me company while I slept even if you ended up sleeping on the job too.” Kuvira offered her a complicit look. The short haired woman blushed, realizing that not only her supportive gesture had been noticed, but that she had failed spectacularly in remaining inconspicuous. Before she could attempt to apologize for what could be perceived as a trespass, the former commander approached Korra and gently placed a hand over her shoulder offering a conciliatory smile.

“Best of luck to you too.”

Chapter Text

For what the deposed leader had logically expected to be a rather grim week, it had turned out to be unexpectedly amusing. While packaging back the sharp looking uniform she had briefly used in her latest court hearing in a neat, orderly bundle, Kuvira recapped the most recent events that highlighted this particular week. The monotony of her seclusion had been markedly altered by the events that took place during the last days, concluding rather spectacularly with today’s events. A few days ago she was informed that she would be allowed to spend an hour every day at the prison’s yard under close supervision as part of the newly added privileges earned by her cooperation and good behavior. The prospect of being outside under the sun again after countless days under the underground dimness of the subterranean levels of the prison where her cell was located almost made her tear up. The fact that she would have to endure being handcuffed while outside and that she would be separated from the rest of the penal population didn’t dampen the joy of a most welcome change in scenery.  She recognized it was a huge leap of fate on the part of the prison’s administrators to allow this to a dangerous inmate but the fact she had been nothing but compliant since her arrival surely weighted in her favor. It was her first major victory since her arrival and she was determined to make the most out of it.

Today, the day of the last hearing of her trials another surprise awaited in the morning. The night before she had tried not too successfully to make her prison uniform look somewhat presentable for her last public appearance. She might be a convict but still held a modicum of pride and wanted to look her best and to display a strong impression under the given circumstances. Apparently the fact that it was her last public appearance had not been lost by some government bureaucrat with a flair for the dramatic and the next morning a package was delivered with what she assumed contained a new set of prison garb. Instead, it was her Earth Empire uniform. Dark eyebrows rose in amazement.

“They really want to remind everyone beyond any doubt that it is me in that courtroom” she had retorted with a smirk while inspecting the pieces of clothing that comprised her martial ensemble sans any piece of metal as obvious safety measure. It would be a powerful, indelible image guaranteed to make it to the cover of the newspapers: the deposed dictator in fetters and chains put away for good. She immediately tried the uniform on, noticing that the fit was looser, undoubtedly due to the weight lost during her incarceration. Not being able to follow the rigid physical routine she had maintained for years had made its impact in her physique.  The uniform felt incomplete without the metal adornments but it still looked sharp and presentable and was a far better trade than her convict clothes. Clad back in the familiar silver and greens, enjoying the comforting weight of the boots on her feet she appreciated the publicity stunt, savoring in the aura of strength the uniform projected. As she fixed her long hair to complete the image, Kuvira vowed to make sure they would get the impression they were expecting.

And then it was the trial itself. The stands were filled to the brim by spectators who did not want to miss the conclusion of the most important trial in years. “It should be over soon” she told herself as she approached with measured, confident steps her place facing the panel of judges. The events played just out as she had rehearsed many times on the solitude of her. A litany of charges were recited as in the first day, and as if in a replay of previous sessions, Kuvira articulated her apologies for the destruction that came from the invasion and voiced her willingness to collaborate in whatever the government saw fit to mitigate the damages. However, she did not recant of the decision to annex Republic City territory based on the principle that the city’s origin was and would remain a sore subject for Earth Kingdom citizens due to the fact they were not given a choice on how their territory was to be disposed of and therefore, her efforts, misguided methods and all, had been focused in correcting what in their opinion was an historical slight. She was quite aware her unwavering stance wasn’t going to endear her any fans if there were any to win anyway, but her pride demanded to have her opinion recorded for posterity. She didn’t expect to have more opportunities to do publicly after the trials were over.

This had been the easiest part of the trial. Even hearing the verdict out loud didn’t bother her as much, having dedicated for the past months developing the mental fortitude to endure this moment. What it was difficult and no amount of resilience would have properly prepared her for was to glance across the courtroom and witness among the spectators her adoptive family and the myriad expressions on their faces, none that could be considered particularly approving of her or the events taking place. The former leader was grateful none of them participated actively of the trial. It took most of her resolve to maintain her detached countenance in their presence. Since her surrender and detention, the Metal Clan and she had barely crossed words and every letter she attempted to write to them had ended tossed as a crumpled ball of paper on a corner of her prison cell. The dispassionate expression she held almost collapsed when she exchanged a quick glance with Bataar and saw his pained, disappointed look. And yet, there was not anger displayed in his eyes; rather the melancholy of remembrance of better days gone by and for a brief instant, the faintest of smiles. Kuvira wasn’t sure she wanted to meet Suyin’s eyes. She didn’t have to see them to know what they would reflect and she wasn’t sure if she felt ready for that just yet.

Just when the procedures were about to conclude, an unexpected intervention that sure made radio breaking news occurred. At the last minute to add to the courtroom drama, a group of Earth Kingdom jurists requested the opportunity to announce their petition: that custody of the prisoner should be bequeathed to the Earth Kingdom authorities on the basis of the prisoner’s nationality and her inherent right to receive a trial under that nation’s laws. There was also a challenge to the legality of a head of state from one nation interfering in affairs of another nation by making executive appointments, being in this case Raiko’s appointment of Kuvira as provisional ruler. She found quite extraordinary that even with the transition to self-ruling states, the different provinces had agreed to make common cause in this petition. It seemed Chief Lin Beifong had been right after all and even if these jurists were seeking fame rather than reaffirming a sovereign state’s rights with their intervention in her trial, their ploy threw a wrench to what was supposed to be an open and closed case. Judging by Suyin and Bataar Sr.’s aghast expressions, it seemed Zaofu had not been informed by the other provinces of their intentions, outmaneuvering them before they could present a staunch opposition to the petition. It seemed that even with the new political changes going underway, the nationalistic pride still lingered enough to claim their sovereign right publicly. After a rather lengthy deliberation by the panel, it was decided that the request from the Earth Kingdom provinces would be received to be reviewed in all its merits. In the meantime, the prisoner would remain in Republic City custody pending the resolution of this new angle to the case. And with that unexpected turn of events her trial had ended, or at least this chapter because a new chapter had just begun.

The hectic day had finally come to an end and Kuvira was left with a contradictory mixture of emotions. On one end, there was the knowledge that some people still proffered some measure of gratitude and respect for the fact she had stepped up when the nation needed a leader. On the other, the realization that the possibility of mending her frayed relationship with her foster family was nowhere near close to attainable and that last fact tarnished the other positives. Then again, the sibling relationship between the Beifong sisters had been at odds for decades and just recently had improved. Ironically, fighting against her as a common foe had become just the right motivator and bonding experience to solidify their relationship and had brought Lin closer to her sister’s Su’s family.

“Perhaps I should try writing those letters in ten years” Kuvira murmured with a grin, reflecting on the unyielding stubbornness of the sisters, something that apparently had inadvertently rubbed on her too. Fragments from better days gone by flashed through her mind as her memories took her back to the days when becoming a stone cold dictator would have been seen a most ridiculous notion and the young protégé of Suyin Beifong was a far cry from the woman who took into her own hands the reins of a whole nation.

Suyin Beifong was nervously pacing the distance of the enormous hall designated as center stage for her latest endeavor. Her striding was so heavy and repetitive it menaced to leave a footprint trail over the hard, polished surface.

“Kuvira! Where in spirits is that girl? Hasn’t she realized what time is it?” The leader of the model city of Zaofu was a literal nervous wreck. She snapped her attention from inspecting the metal cables that hung from the ceiling to the group of young women in sleeveless shirts and wide legged pants performing stretching exercises at a nearby corner.

“Have you all memorized the routine as rehearsed?”

“For the fifth time in a row Su, we have” one of the young women replied exasperated, attempting to concentrate on her exercises while others visually inspected the white wrappings around their arms and feet. Suyin’s nervousness was spreading across the hall, compounding the anxiety already built up from anticipation to a live performance. Fortunately for the performers, Aiwei, the balding, bespectacled trusted advisor to Su was making his entrance, which shifted her attention from them to him.

“I’ve been told you seem to be a tad on edge Suyin” the man addressed the youngest Beifong sister.

“Of course I am. We’re about to perform in 15 minutes and I’m missing one of my performers. Where’s that girl run off to?” she replied, frustration lacing her words.

Aiwei offered a visual clinical assessment of the matriarch’s current state. It might not be the best moment to remind her of an oversight of her own doing that contributed directly to the situation at hand. But fate had a way of intervening in the right moments when such binds arose because a voice filtering from the hallway could be overheard speaking to an unknown interlocutor, in time to safe him from breaking the hard truth to his superior. Both Aiwei and Suyin lead their attention to a young woman who had just entered the hall, approaching the group with long strides.

“What do you mean she’s furious? She knew where I was and that I wouldn’t be able to make it today!” The long, dark braid of the young woman snapped from side to side when surrounded by the other performers, trying to reply to all of them talking at the same time. She was wearing the uniform of the city’s guard, albeit not in its usual pristine condition.

“There you are! What kept you so long and why you haven’t changed for the performance?” snapped Suyin at the newcomer which glared back at her with annoyed emerald eyes.

“What kept me? I just returned with my squad from our field exercise. You know, the field exercise I reminded you about a month ago..?”

“Nonsense. I would have known if there were scheduling conflicts.”

“And I think I told you exactly that in similar words.”

“Couldn’t you just have missed the exercise so you could make it with the dance troupe? You know quite well how important this is to me” the metal city matriarch retorted, hands resting at her waist.

The younger woman let out a frustrated sigh. “And so completing the required trainings for me to join the guards.”

“I thought you weren’t serious with that. You have an amazing artistic disposition which is served quite nicely with the dance troupe. Where does soldiering fit in all of this?” the youngest Beifong sibling inquired intrigued on the sudden martial interest of her protégé.

“There are not incompatible interests Su and as much as I like dancing, I really admire what the guards do and would like to join them and be a full-fledged member, not just a cadet” the dark haired woman replied earnestly.

Suyin assessing her protégé’s answer and demeanor, decided in her mind it would be better to approach the irksome subject on a more opportune moment. “Can we talk about that later? Since you’re already here, I think I can buy us some time so you can clean up, change and join the group. Can you do it? None of the other girls know your part of the routine as well as you do and the performance won’t be as good without it.”

“Really…how much time do I have?”

“About 10 minutes….I think I can squeeze a bit more if I can figure out some last minute delay.” Su’s eyes brightened enthusiastically when a tall, bearded man approached her.

“Darling, the guests are all here. They’re really curious on what you have concocted this time around” Bataar Sr. said with a gentle smile. Upon noticing his wife’s protégé choice of clothing and the stage of commotion among the performers he had stumbled into, he arched a worried eyebrow over thick rimmed glasses. “It’s everything okay?”

Suyin placed a reassuring arm over his shoulder. “Everything’s fine darling. I just need you and the boys to provide a bit of distraction until I get the troupe ready. How about you and Bataar Jr. talk more in depth in the design of the metal props and the cable and pulley mechanism? And I’m sure Huan will be delighted to talk about his latest sculptures.”

“Are you sure about that?” Bataar Sr. questioned.

“Of course” she affirmed confidently. “I just need some extra ten minutes to turn this soldier back to a graceful and elegant dancer.” Kuvira couldn’t avoid rolling her eyes at that. “And you, get going. Midori, Aya, go and help Kuvira change.”

A very successful dance performance later, a tall young man and the dark haired dancer mused on the events that had transcribed hours ago. The reputation of Zaofu’s matriarch had been preserved once again and the interpretation had gone without a hitch, the latecomer being able to seamlessly join her companions as if the hours of scarce sleep and vigorous physical exercise she had endured during the week of field exercises hadn’t dented the performer’s stamina and grace.

“Your mother doesn’t seem to know how to take no for an answer.” Kuvira was leaning against a balcony overlooking the domed city. A man that usually was taken as the younger version of his progenitor sans the gray coloring at his temples was listening attentively with emphatic expression. He had been many times on the same position as the eldest son to the metal clan matriarch.

“No, she doesn’t. You should know it well by now. Since you showed talent in metalbending and dancing, she’s been onto you more rigorously than even with Opal and the twins.”

“My abilities have been a curse then” she commented with a smirk.

“Don’t say that. Your skills might have given you a much better life that even you could have expected” the young man replied with a more serious tone, alluding to her companion’s sad backstory.

She smiled wistfully. “I know. It’s just that sometimes it’s hard for Su to listen, to actually listen to what you have to say. This past week with the guards was hard but I had an amazing time. I really think I have the aptitude to be a leader and do something worthwhile.”

“You’ll just have to manage the two things by avoid sleeping and eating most days and she should be off your back for a while” Bataar replied grinning.

The dancer laughed at that. “So that’s how you do it then. I know you have been wanting to promote your ideas but have been cornered to work on your dad’s projects instead which in turn are your mom’s.”

“I haven’t slept for two weeks straight but I finally finished the blueprints of my concept of a high speed rail transport for long distance travel.” Bataar turned to face his companion.” How about when you can spare time between twirling in cables and soldiering around, you drop by my office to see them?”

She offered a suspicious glance. “Are you sure you just want to show me blueprints or are you looking for an excuse to meet me in a more private place?”

“Uh…” Bataar stammered, color rising to his face.

Kuvira snickered at his mortified reaction. “I’m kidding! Tell you what…I should have time after the tests to select the next officer candidates. I’ll love to see your drafts. You know I mean it when I say that among all the people here, you seem to understand me. I really appreciate that. I’m also curious about those other designs you’ve been working on. You mentioned something about metal suits?”

“Mecha suits, yes...I believe they can have many applications in industry.  I think is possible to even build a bigger one but the right energy source for something with the dimensions I imagine still doesn’t exist.”

The dancer arched an eyebrow at that. “You men and your toys, it’s always about size!” Bataar coughed mortified and he was replied by her playful chuckle.

“Well, I think I’d better get going before I’m late again. Your mom wanted to celebrate her triumph with dinner with the troupe. Hope you can make it and we can continue our conversation there.” The performer waved and made her way inside.

“I’ll see you there” the young man replied with a hopeful lilt in his voice, following the dancer with his sight until she could no longer be seen.

 

In the present, Kuvira eyed the writing material over the table and concluded that perhaps, some letters could be redacted before ten years after all.

Chapter Text

A soft, pleasant breeze carried the sweet scents of trees from a small forested area near the prison’s location. Singing birds and the occasional stray spirit could be seen among the thick branches. The sun was warm and pleasant over her cheeks, paler than customary due to the extended involuntary time indoors, yet the dark haired prisoner didn’t appear to notice the nice weather or the clear, cloudless sky. She was walking around the prison yard with a paused, measured pace which allowed her to follow the content of the letter without jarring movements. Kuvira and the letter’s author didn’t really know each other for a long time. They initially crossed paths when one was a guest of her protector while the other was a captain of guards for said protector. In this capacity the former Zaofu captain had battled against the Red Lotus and even ended up saving Chief Tonraq’s life, who happened to be the Avatar’s father. Their most recent interaction had put them at opposite sides of a fierce, intense fight, culminating in the dramatic showdown that altered Republic City’s skyscape forever. More than a year into her incarceration, she had the opportunity to know more about her former enemy than in the previous years put together. That could explain why the content of the letter made her feel sorrowful and yet expectant at the same time, a paradox she was struggling to understand.

In short, simple yet poignant lines, Korra explained what had happened following her meeting at the Southern Tribe lands with her girlfriend Asami Sato. It seemed that even with Korra’s best intentions and Kuvira’s best wishes, the relationship between the friends turned lovers had taken an unfortunate turn that lead them to the difficult and painful decision of breaking up or how the short haired woman described it “to take a break as romantic partners” but pursuing the friendship they had kept for years.  It made sense they attempted to salvage what had brought them together in the first place but it was still an unfortunate scenario, one in which the former captain was sure it overwhelmed her friend with lost and sadness. Was it right to call her “friend?” Kuvira wondered. Perhaps at this stage of her life Korra was the only thing close to a friend she had, one of the few positive highlights of an otherwise exceptionally challenging experience.

“Time’s up Great Uniter!” the voice of the veteran guard brought her out of her contemplative state. Kuvira waited for the guards to approach her. As the daily routine went, they would inspect her binds and position to flank her at opposite sides to begin the long trek towards her cell. Another guard stood at the gate and once the access to the yard was secured, the guard would join the escort to deliver the prisoner back. It was a routine that had been dealt with quickly, efficiently and without incidents for the last past weeks.

“Today was much nicer than yesterday” the female guard commented. “It must feel good to see more than the confined space of a musky cell.”

They were transitioning now from the part of the building that held the regular prison population to the underground cells and dungeons which separated the more notorious inmates.

“It does…” Kuvira appreciated the guard’s attempts at small talk. Most of the times the journey was made in silence, with only the sounds of heavy boots against the ground accentuated in the dimness of the narrow corridors. The former captain caught something different in today’s scenario. She was used to the mostly quiet guards behind her, a gruff, wide chested veteran and a younger, taller one. The female guard was new to this duty. The metalbender had previously noticed her presence as one of the guards on patrol duty on the sector her cell was located at, but she was a fairly recent addition to the team of guards in charge of keeping her monitored. She sounded young but was as tall as the older guard and seemed to be very fit judging by her broad shoulders and confident stride.

“Tomorrow we should have another nice day. It’s summer after all” the guard replied.

“I hope so” the prisoner replied as all four approached the lift that would take them to the lowest level where Kuvira’s cell was situated. The veteran guard pushed the lever to take them down but the lift shook and refused to move down. He pressed again with the same result. The veteran cursed under his breath. The younger one looked confused but the female guard kept her composure. At the third attempt, the older guard let out a frustrated sigh.

“There’s no use. This thing’s busted. We’ll have to lower it manually. Zan, Irri and I will escort the prisoner while you lower us. And you…” he pointed at Kuvira “don’t try anything funny.”

“Even if I wanted which I don’t, I can’t. Remember, platinum handcuffs, platinum lift.” She lifted her bound wrists for emphasis.

The guard named Zan began the manual process of lowering the lift which made the ride downwards even more rackety and noisy. Kuvira let out a relieved exhale when they arrived at their destination in one piece. Between the slow pace, the wobbly rattle of the cage and the dim illumination, she was impatient to get to the safety of her cell. The contents of the letter and her confused thoughts still burdened her mind. In fact, she had been so distracted that failed to notice that when the lift reached ground level and stepped out, beginning to make their way towards the cell, the veteran guard was hurled forcefully back, his body violently hitting the metal structure of the lift. The man slumped downwards, seemingly unconscious with a stream of blood slipping from his forehead. The next thing she saw was a very familiar flash, that of a bladed object approaching her at an alarming pace.

“This is for my brother!” the woman screamed as she directed the edge towards the prisoner’s chest. Kuvira barely managed to avoid the blade but was pushed violently against a wall away from the lift by a sudden burst of water.

“A waterbender!” the former captain realized as she felt hands and knees hard to the ground. With the corner of her eye she realized the guard was readying another attack. As she rolled back she heard the impact of hardened icicles hitting the space where she had been seconds ago.

“You’re not so much without your army or your bending, aren’t you?” Irri taunted as she let out a new volley of weaponized ice. Kuvira managed to avoid the new attack but realized in horror that her balance was hampered by her manacled arms. She had to do something and fast before she ran out of space and strength.

“Irri isn’t it? What did I do to you and your brother?” the former Earth Empire leader asked with a calm voice that concealed the inner panic that had invaded her. She was grateful that due to years of training, subconsciously combat instinct took over her panicky state and her feet stood firmly in a defensive stance.

“I’m a waterbender and you know quite well what happened to people like us in your Empire. I managed to escape but my brother…he bought me time while fighting one of your mecha soldiers. He never stood a chance…” Irri spewed, rage seeping every word, her face contorted into a rictus of anger.

Kuvira felt a chill run down her spine. This was personal, too personal and if the guards did not arrive anytime soon, this girl was about to succeed in avenging his brother. The dim light made it harder for her to read the guard’s movements in an attempt to anticipate the next attack. Deprived of her bending, she was left to use evasive maneuvers until either her or the guard tired. Or worse, that she could no longer muster to sustain a defense.

“I’m sorry for what happened to you and your brother but now I’m here paying my debt to society.”

“My brother’s life can only be paid with another life and that’s yours!” Irri let out another barrage of iced shrapnel against the metalbender, some of the shards succeeding in finding its intended target. Drops of blood soaked her prison uniform. A thin stream escaped from a cut near her left eye which she struggled to wipe clean with her bound hands. Crimson fluid tinted the puddles of melted water on the ground as an agitated, pained breathing echoed against the narrow corridor. Kuvira was leaning her weight precariously against a wall, barely on her feet as Irri prepared to launch another attack as water turned into ice at the motion of her hands. Suddenly, the metalbender leapt, throwing her whole weight against her attacker with a tackle as both fell hard to the ground. The guard struggled underneath the prisoner who was straddling her, attempting desperately to hold Irri’s neck down with her shackles. Irri was franticly trying to dislodge Kuvira from over her and managed to free one of her pinned hands, reaching one of the ice spikes from the ground. Sharp, intense pain exploded from Kuvira’s left shoulder where Irri had driven the ice blade. The metalbender felt her sight clouding but did not relent in pushing her platinum binds against the guard’s neck. Her left arm began losing strength and the grip on her left hand became numb but when she feared all her strength had been drained, the guard ceased struggling underneath her until her body moved no more. The metalbender’s right hand went to her pierced left shoulder which pulsated in agony at the touch.  Kuvira groaned, forcing her own body to distance herself from the attacker’s limp corpse, leaving a bloody trail behind. Her weakened legs folded beneath her and she managed to get a glimpse of the panicked guards approaching before her mind faded into black.

Almost a month had gone by after the assassination attempt. Nobody had perished although of the three injured, Kuvira had fared the worst with the nasty wound on her left shoulder and several cuts from the shrapnel in different parts of her body. The veteran guard suffered a concussion but he was already back to work. Irri took more time to recuperate, narrowly escaping suffocation and was now residing in a cell of her own. Security had been tightened but not as response from the prisoner’s dangerous state but to prevent any who wished her ill to reach her.

The days after the attack had been pure agony for the former military leader. First it was the real possibility that the injury would damage her shoulder and arm past the point of recovery which filled her with genuine dread over the possibility that in the future she could no longer have proper use of her limb. Once her body began the slow, torturous process of healing, it was then her emotional state which frayed. This attacker might have not succeeded in killing her bure more fuel had been added to feed her nightmares with the tortuous images of watching herself tied and injured at fate’s fancy. Hadn’t she been injured already, she would have returned to the vicious habit of venting her rage against the walls. The fact that she had been almost helpless to defend herself tortured her psyche. It was even worse than being deprived of liberty. Her life was at the mercy of the circumstances and she was unable to do anything about it. The timid yet real attempts at a more positive approach to her situation that had been achieved until before the attack were replaced by sullen suspicion and worry, fearing threats that could arise from the least expected source. She hadn’t been particularly talkative with her captors but the brief, social interactions with the guards ceased altogether. Kuvira now spent her days withdrawn, dreading the prospect of another threat that could spring from anywhere.

This was the scenario Korra encountered when she dropped by for a visit. Upon her return to Republic City, she had been informed of the attack and wanted to go as soon as possible but was advised to allow the deposed leader some time to recover and she suspected Kuvira herself had requested this, probably her pride not tolerating to be again in presence of the Avatar in a broken state. After a couple of weeks, the prisoner had been deemed recovered enough to restart the daily outings to the prison yard and she was just returning from her latest hourly respite when she found a visitor waiting inside her cell.

“Hey…I hope you don’t mind I stayed here while you were away.” Korra watched as the guards removed Kuvira’s handcuffs. The door was locked and the former leader stretched her arms and sat down on her bed, her expression neutral.

“How’s your arm? I was told the injury went deep and that you were unconscious for a couple of days from the blood loss” Korra asked concerned observing the sliver of white wrappings underneath the prison garb.

“Arm’s doing better. The area is still sore but considering what happened, I consider myself lucky I can still use it.”

The Avatar listened intently, noticing the prisoner’s reserved, sullen demeanor. “I’m glad to see you’re recovering. So you’re back to visiting the prison yard. The fresh air should help you get better too.”

The metalbender nodded in affirmative almost absentmindedly. Korra rose from the chair and approached the dark haired woman.

“May I?” she said pointing at the opposite side of the bed.

“Suit yourself.”

The Avatar sat down. “Kuvira, I think I know how you feel right now.”

“You do?” the deposed leader replied with derision. “So you know about how it feels to be stuck here pretty much helpless, judged every day for what you did, not that it makes a difference because I do that to myself all the time. Or is it that you know what is not being able to rest because the moment I fall asleep, the accusing voices return. Now I’ve added a couple of angry waterbenders to my nightmare selection who delight in hunting me. But do you know what’s worst? The worst is that they have every right in the world to want me dead! These people, my enemies, even Su and her family…and you!”

 Korra replied calmly. “If I wanted you dead, would I be here now?”

Green eyes were shimmering now. “I don’t know what to do…I understand there are things that can’t be forgotten, much less forgiven but do I have to live every day for the rest of my life convincing everyone that I wish I wouldn’t have done some things?” The metalbender’s voice was breaking now.

Korra stood up and began walking around the small cell, keeping her gaze over the prisoner.

“Yeah, pretty much…you’ll be constantly judged by what you failed to do and what you didn’t do right. But you have no choice but to learn from it and move on.”

Kuvira brought her hands to her face, struggling in vain to keep tears from escaping.  Korra was standing right in front of Kuvira now. “When I said I knew how you felt right now it’s because I’ve been like this, helpless. I felt exactly like that when you beat me in front of your whole army.”

The memory made the former captain’s head turn sharply towards the short haired woman. “I… didn’t realize…” For the Great Uniter, defeating Korra that day was evidence of her enemy’s weakness. With the benefit of hindsight, she could understand now that Korra was not only fighting her, she was fighting her own demons at the same time. Knowing what the Avatar was able to do now, she realized how foolish and deluded by power she had been in her challenge. If she had wanted to, Korra could have ended her life right then and there effortlessly.

“I’m sorry for what I did…” the metalbender offered apologetically.

The Avatar took a knee so now she was leveled with the deposed leader. “Don’t be. That feeling of helplessness just made me more determined to look for a way to get better. I didn’t know it at the moment but I needed to reach bottom before I could get back up and face what was holding me back. I thought it was the poison but it was more complicated than that. When I did, I got better, not only physically but emotionally too. Who I was three years ago would have not have been able to deal with what happened later. The fact that I can be here sharing this with you it is because of the lessons I’ve learned after being literally beaten and broken down.”

Kuvira realized her hands were trembling and she balled them into fists over her knees. “Of all the fights I’ve had, of all the battles I faced…even when fighting against you, I’d never felt fear the way I felt it when that guard almost killed me because I couldn’t fight back. I’d barely managed to defend myself and it almost cost me a limb. The other time I felt this dread was when the Spirit Cannon pointed at me, but even then I’d almost welcomed it.”

The verbalized admission stunned both Korra and Kuvira herself. The metalbender realized that the instant her giant mecha had been destroyed, she was already past sanity and understood she would not be able to prevail in her original intent. Instead, a nihilistic instinct took over which propelled her to engage in the utter folly of operating the weapon directly, which only resulted in more wanton destruction. She would have had succeeded in obliterating the city from the face of the Earth if it hadn’t been by her own weapon turning against her and for a few instants, she didn’t care anymore. It would be over for her and for everyone else and it wouldn’t have mattered anymore. Perhaps death would spare her the misery of feeling abandoned and helpless.

“I’m always fighting because I can’t stand feeling helpless. Nothing has changed since I was the little girl who was left behind.” The dark haired woman directed a dejected glance towards Korra who in turn offered in return a reassuring smile.

“It has. Only in recognizing and admitting what is hurting you, you can then move on to get better and it seems you’ve done just that.”

The prisoner nodded, her face slowly releasing the tension that spoke of  the tormented state the woman had been struggling with. Korra caught the change with a sense of relief. This brush with death had faced Kuvira with her own weakness and mortality. Compounded with her defeat, the isolation and the burden of the judgement of the world, she had now truly hit bottom. Now the only option was to get better or to wallow in misery but the Avatar sensed that her former enemy’s determination and fighting spirit would now drive her towards the goal of getting better. Perhaps because they were alike.

The metalbender winced and instinctively brought her right hand over her left shoulder. The wound would throb occasionally, the toll of the injury over an exhausted body. Korra noticed the movement and made the gesture to get closer. 

“You want me to check your wound?” she offered with concern in her voice. The former leader managed to reply with a small, grateful smile.

“That won’t be necessary but I can take you on the other offer if you have the time.”

Korra stared at the metalbender somewhat confused.

“What you said about meditation. I think I should get serious about it if I want to overcome what’s bothering me.”

The Avatar smiled. “Let’s get started then.”

About an hour later, a more calmed Kuvira was completing the first round of meditating instruction. The exercise had allowed her to clear her mind and in turn, soothe her spirit. She felt strangely refreshed.

“Try to make it a daily habit” Korra instructed. “If it helped an impatient dork like me, it’ll probably help you too.”

“Guess it doesn’t hurt to try” the former leader replied as she untangled her legs from the cross-legged position and stood up. The Avatar was already standing up and was now leaning against a wall.

“Korra…” Kuvira approached tentatively “may I ask a personal question?” Korra stared at her intrigued.

“Sure…don’t know if I’ll be able to answer it but go ahead.”

“How you’ve been holding up, you know since…well, since the subject you wrote me about.”

Korra was definitely not expecting this question based on the bewilderment and the discomfort that flashed over her face. The metalbender upon noticing the reaction immediately regretted asking. “Never mind. Sorry I brought that up.”

“It’s okay. I was the one who decided to tell you. It is still a difficult subject for me but I really appreciate your concern.”

“The day I read your letter was the same day I was attacked. I had planned to write to you when…” her body reacted in instinct to protect her battered side.

“It’s okay. You know what? Now you don’t need to write anymore!”

Kuvira despite the rather serious subject couldn’t help but chuckle at that. The Avatar, wanting to leave the melancholy mood behind joined in, adding her laughter to Kuvira’s.  

“I must get going now.” The Avatar closed in on the former captain and was now standing in front of her. “Next time I drop by I should be bringing the latest news regarding your case. I’ve heard that advisors from the other nations are being requested for counsel, which means my presence will be required too.”

“That should be interesting” Kuvira commented, her attention piqued by the subject.

Korra grimaced, not very amused by the prospect of enduring long hours of listening to people argue and philosophize. “I’d rather not deal with the politics side of keeping balance but I guess it comes with the territory and it can’t be avoided. Anyway, continue with what you’ve learned today until the next lesson. Oh, and another thing.”

“Uhuh?”

“Sometimes to feel better, you just need someone to comfort you” and without adding anything else, Korra hugged her former enemy who stood at wits end for a few moments with her arms at her sides. “Go ahead…” the short haired woman encouraged the metalbender until she returned the gesture hesitantly, remembering how pleasant and comforting it had been when she had found herself in her embrace while they slept. Moments later, Korra pulled back and couldn’t help but smile at the embarrassed face Kuvira displayed at that moment. “I’m a hugger so you better get used to that if we’re going to remain in friendly terms.”

“Okay…” the former leader managed to mumble.

With a wave, Korra left the cell and soon Kuvira was by herself again.  As she waited for the afternoon meal, the once Great Uniter had the certainty that today marked a beginning in her life that would allow her to leave uncertainty and fears behind. For the first time in months, Kuvira felt ready to follow the path that was being laid up in front of her.

 

Chapter Text

Kuvira was trying to remember the last time she had felt the proverbial butterflies stirring on her stomach. Pacing inside her cell, she had repeatedly read the official correspondence received earlier that week. She went over the most relevant lines again as a cautious hope kept building inside her.

“After receiving counsel from advisors representing all nations which celebrated an important milestone with the inclusion of counselors from the increasingly growing ranks of the Air Nomads, the panel from jurists from Republic City has decided to accept the suggestion of extradition of the convict Kuvira to a neutral territory. Due to the current dynamic political landscape in the former Earth Kingdom and the recent assassination attempt on the former Earth Empire leader at a Republic City penitentiary, it has been deemed that transfer to a yet undisclosed location can properly serve the cause of justice, the goal of rehabilitation of the convict and the preservation of her own safety.”

But it was what Chief Beifong, who as customary had delivered the confidential mail, had remarked that contributed to her current restless state:

“As you are aware, Korra participated on the meetings in her role as Avatar, so she was able to offer her recommendations given that she has been following up on your progress closely. Apparently, the counsel has finally agreed on the location where you’ll be extradited as well as the conditions.”

“When should I know where I’ll be taken?” Anxiety was painted on the metalbender’s face.

“I believe the Avatar wanted to deliver the news herself” the chief of police replied. “Guess after we take you to your new home, we won’t be seeing for a long time.”

“Are you going to miss me Lin?”  

 The Chief offered a cool glance at the prisoner but finally relented with a more conciliatory look.

“I admit that both your behavior here as well as the continuous collaboration our government has received seems to confirm Korra’s claims that you are on your way to rehabilitation. That doesn’t change the fact that you still have a debt to fulfill but I’d would rather have your talents put to good use than wasted in prison. You are young with a whole life ahead of you and history has proved that people can change for good when they want to.”

Kuvira regarded the Chief of Police respectfully. “I hope I can make good on everyone’s hopes because I’m tired of disappointing people.”

“If you keep displaying the right attitude, I believe you will. And don’t lose hopes on that family reunion but make sure doesn’t take decades like it happened to me.” Chief Lin Beifong wasn’t known for smiling but Kuvira had the rare privilege of witnessing one, albeit subtle.

“I’ll try Lin, but it’s up to Su and the others to be willing to give me a second chance.”

“Don’t lose faith. Who knows, they might surprise you.”

The metallic sound of the lock unlocking and the groan of the door hinges brought Kuvira out of her remembrance and in a leap she was on her feet. She knew exactly who was about to cross the door.

“Hi! Glad to see you awake… where you expecting me?” Korra said grinning noticing that Kuvira was right in front of the door watching her expectantly.

“Lin told me everything…so, it has been decided then.”

“Yup, it has. Some paperwork needs to be completed but you should be on your way to your new home in a couple of weeks.”

“So soon…!”

“Apparently the idea of your extradition from Republic City custody wasn’t as hard a sell as we all thought. As long as the new location agreed with their requirements, the bigwigs at the government didn’t had a problem relinquishing the ‘Kuvira situation’ to someone else. Even Zhu Li was impressed on how smoothly negotiations went. They even threw in an airship and everything for transportation so you can be on your way swiftly.”

“Korra…” The former captain was staring sternly at the short haired woman.

“Uhuh?”

“You haven’t mentioned where I’m going.”

“Ooohh, right, right! You have cold weather clothes, don’t you?”

Upon saying this, Korra presented the metalbender with a folder. “Details of your new location with pictures and maps are all there. I think you’ll notice that the new place has some advantages over this penitentiary but it might take you some time to get used to it.”

Kuvira sat down in front of the table and began examining the documents meticulously. “I see what you mean. I think I understand why everyone agreed without a fuss. More than extradition it’s practically an exile.”

“I guess you can call it that but think of it this way. You’ll be away from the public’s eye for a long time which means you won’t be hassled with reminders of your past every day. It’s your chance to really have a fresh start.”

The former leader gave the Avatar a suspicious glance. “Do I see your hand in this?”

Korra flashed a noncommittal smile. “Maybe. Actually, it pretty much ended up being the one option left that wouldn’t arise any controversy and could actually be considered neutral. But yeah, I threw in my input too.”

The former captain stared at the pictures attempting to imagine herself in a totally different environment to the one she had been accustomed to all her life. It was indeed a new challenge and a chance for a new life.

“And what does Chief Tonraq think about this? It’s his territory after all and he’ll be receiving the person who almost killed his daughter more than once even if it is for custody.”

“My dad agreed and in fact, he was the one to suggest the island as the location. My cousins were actually very interested in having you extradited to the North but dad and I didn’t believe it was a good idea. We know Eska was sort of a fan of yours so we weren’t sure that if from prisoner she might have ended upgrading your status to guest.”

“I wouldn’t have minded that!” Kuvira exclaimed amused.

“I’m sure you wouldn’t have but it would have defeated the purpose of the agreement and the whole being detained thing. Well, now you know. What do you think?”

Kuvira was still assimilating the news, especially the angle of the extreme cold weather, a concept that was alien to her.

“What do I think? That before I leave, I will need some pointers from someone who grew up in that environment so I don’t become an iceberg before I complete my sentence.” 

Korra laughed and added: “Of course. Speaking of pointers, I know that with the limitations here you can’t train properly but you still maintain the skills. I know you’ve been bending since an early age and you must have been quite the prodigy for Su to take you as tutor. I’ve been working to improve my metalbending but trying to get Lin to spare some time and patience with me has been impossible. I have figured out some things on my own by observing and by memory but I know I’m missing stuff.”

Kuvira arched an eyebrow. “I’m not sure how I’ll be able to help given the fact that I can’t bend a single thing here for demonstration.”

“Yeah…I sort of realized that now…”

The former captain burrowed her eyebrows in a pensive expression for an instant while Korra observed with curiosity. The metalbender let out a sigh. “How about this? We can go through some specific stances and I can practice them with you.” 

“Hmm, I think that might work.”

Kuvira stood up and pushed the table away from the center of the cell allowing for some additional space and went to occupy the vacated space, gesturing Korra to do the same.

“As you have learned, there are some specific variations from earthbending that allow metalbending to be possible. How about you go through some of the stances you know?”

Korra nodded and began going through several sets of movements while the Kuvira observed with clinical eye. As the Avatar went through the motions, the former leader took the opportunity to admire her form as well as the drive and determination she put into her routine. She was glad they were no longer enemies because they could now share moments like these in which they could exchange knowledge of their craft instead of fighting each other in anger with it. Once the Avatar finished, Kuvira took her place and repeated Korra’s movements. Even deprived of proper practice space and tools, the metalbender demonstrated she was still a natural as she ran through the routine almost flawlessly. Korra couldn’t help but respect the tenacity her former enemy demonstrated in maintaining her skills even when it was impossible to put them into practice in this place. It was a relief to remember she was no longer a foe because she could still be a challenge as an opponent. When she finished, she stretched her left shoulder, apparently still not fully mended from the attack but she hadn’t allow this to hinder her movements.

“I believe you can notice the difference between what you did and what I did” the metalbender commented self-assuredly.

“That was pretty impressive for being out of practice. There’s this one move you did…it went like this…” Korra demonstrated the maneuver. “Could you hold it for a few seconds so I can study it?”

“Sure” the metalbender agreed and soon acquired the posture and held it in place. The Avatar began circling around observing meticulously the stance. “Say Kuvira, for how long do you think you can hold it?”

“Su made us hold some stances for minutes, sometimes as far as ten minutes straight. I would get the worst cramps. It was horrible! I don’t think I can hold it for that long anymore but I can still try for five at most.”

If the former commander hadn’t been so focused in her stance, she might have noticed the sudden playful glimmer that flashed in Korra’s blue eyes. “Go ahead then.”

Kuvira closed her eyes for added concentration sensing that her muscles lacked the strong tone they used to have when she had practiced vigorously every single day. At least her future location promised to have plenty space for a new routine even if bending would probably be difficult there. Too much snow, too little earth and way too much cold. She thought she perceived a warm presence closing in on her until soft lips that landed over her cheek barely brushing the corner of her lips confirmed it. Green eyes flung open although by sheer will and discipline, she didn’t break the stance. A grinning Korra was still very close as she observed amused Kuvira’s perplexed expression and the color rising on her face.

“Okay, time’s up. You’ve made it.”

Kuvira allowed her limbs to relax but her face kept the same stunned look.

“Korra…what was that all about?” the metalbender mumbled.

Korra’s mischievous countenance morphed into sheepishness. “It’s just that you were so serious and I kinda wanted to see if I could distract you and before I knew it, well…I’m sorry.”

Kuvira sat down on the floor and made a movement to Korra to follow suit. The metalbender attempted to read the short haired woman’s expression which went from flustered to embarrased. She had the suspicion that there was something left unsaid that needed clarification.

“It’s that all?” the former captain inquired. The Avatar let out a long sigh.

“No…the truth is that I like you but I didn’t know how or when to tell you or if I should tell you at all.” Color was rising on her tanned cheeks. Her head hung low. “This is all so confusing and complicated with our past history and all.”

The former leader was listening carefully to every one of her companion’s words attempting to make sense out of their meaning. Her own feelings towards Korra could also be considered complicated by the very same reasons.

“Confusing and complicated is an understatement” Kuvira replied trying to inject some humor to her response. “Do you mean it? That you like me?”

Korra nodded, blushing an even more intense shade of crimson. “I didn’t mean to upset you. How about we just forget what I’ve just said and we continue with the practice?”

“I didn’t say I was upset.”

Korra’s tilted her head up and found Kuvira’s green eyes staring intently at her.

“You’re not?” her voice couldn’t conceal the amazement at her response.

“No. In fact, I’ve realized that I’ve been feeling the same way too for some time but like you said, it is a complicated situation and I have complicated circumstances. After all you’ve done for me I would have never dared to tell you what I felt because it would have added awkwardness to our situation that we certainly and you in particular don’t need.”

 “I don’t mind it you know…the awkwardness…”Korra offered. Her former enemy smiled at that.

“You should…you might avoid complications to your already demanding job.”

“I know that but I just don’t believe is right to ignore or deny what I feel either. I mean, what are the chances of something like this happening? It must be for some reason.”

Kuvira let out a deep sigh, her mind immersed in profound thoughts as an internal debate ensued. What’s it right for her to accept this? Would it be right for Korra to do this? After long minutes of introspection, a sliver of determination crossed her eyes as she moved from where she had been seating and sat down facing an expectant Korra. She opened her arms and immediately Korra reacted, bringing her former foe into a warm embrace. A sense of contentment engulfed the dark haired bender concluding that this had been the right decision, complications be damned. Korra’s chin had settled over Kuvira’s right shoulder and she could sense her fingers playing with the dark braid that fell over her back.

“Do you understand that this…awkwardness if you want to call it can’t be known, right? You as the Avatar have a reputation to uphold and just imagine what it would happen if you were seen cozying up to a war criminal.”

“A cute looking criminal that is” the Southern Water tribe native offered, realizing that the small, almost imperceptible nick at the metalbender’s left eyebrow that remained as consequence of the prison attack curiously increased her roguish charm.  

“You don’t make this easy, do you?” The metalbender said breaking momentarily the embrace to look at Korra.

“Nope…I’m understand what you mean but at the same time I feel that it would be wrong to deny this connection.”

“I don’t want to either but right now I have little control over my circumstances. Soon I’ll be exiled to a snowy island in the middle of the ocean and will probably spend the next decade there until society decides I’m no longer a threat” the deposed leader said soberly.

“That snowy island happens to belong to my dad’s tribe” Korra retorted with a playful grin that she found was attempting and almost succeeding in distracting her from what she wanted to communicate.

“I know that” Kuvira conceded. Korra’s hands playing with her hair was proving to be even more distracting, a fact that was not lost on the Avatar who decided to continue the activity. Fearing that more pleasant distractions would soon sidetrack her from what she wanted to convey, she gathered a deep breath.

“Korra…” Green eyes locked with blue profoundly. “Let me propose you this. How about we see where this connection takes us but without pressures or labels. I’m aware that the loneliness of my incarceration makes the prospect of being liked by you so very appealing as you can imagine, and I’m also aware that you are still nursing a wounded heart. I like you but more than that, I have grown to genuinely care about you and I would like to do this for the right reasons.”

The Avatar held the metalbender’s hands with her own. “The fact that you are telling me all of this shows that you would do it for exactly the right reasons and that’s why I’m willing to take the chance.”    

Kuvira flashed a soft smile towards Korra. “Guess it has been decided then.” 

The Avatar stared at her with a serious countenance. “You’re forgetting something.”

“Uh?”

“Unless you want to turn into a popsicle in your exile, if you want me to help you with your cold weather gear, you’d better hurry up and kiss me!”

Kuvira laughed at that. As she brought Korra closer, she inquired in a more suggestive tone. “Is that an order?”

“Order, suggestion…” Korra was cut short by Kuvira’s soft lips over hers, more than complying with the order that had been given with a tender kiss that soon became more intense. Reluctantly, Korra broke the caress to gather some air and taking advantage of their pleasurable closeness, whispered against the metalbender’s mouth:

“I will be there to welcome you to your snowy island and I hope you’ll be open to receive more suggestions then.”

Kuvira arched a dark eyebrow amused. “As long as you are willing to consider mine too.”

“I think we can work something out” and with that, Korra proceeded to give Kuvira a long, passionate farewell kiss that later allowed the deposed leader to sleep profoundly and nightmare-free for the first night in months.

Chapter Text

A strong wind carried the distinct, invigorating scent of the sea, taking it from the small harbor that welcomed the few visitors that the island received to as far back as her current elevated vantage point overlooking the dark blue ocean and the distinct old lighthouse further away. This location had quickly become her favorite spot, far enough from the station complex that had become her new home to allow her some privacy to train and meditate but strategically located to offer a good surveillance point to both the station and the harbor.  The fatigued exhalations escaping her mouth created small clouds of white mist and the chilly breeze made her cheeks redden but her body welcomed the physical exertion she had just put it through. After almost two years of incarceration, her muscles felt as if they were awakening from a state of suspended animation and her senses eagerly processed every sensorial input the new environment fed her.  After been deprived of utilizing her skill by force and by the circumstances, bending felt almost foreign at first and familiarizing with her element was a challenge that kept her occupied the first weeks. Being able to bend again was recovering a part of herself that had laid dormant and forgotten and for the first time since her surrender, the deposed leader felt whole. She didn’t have a lot of material to bend but at least she had plenty space to move around and give her muscles the workout she had been missing since her incarceration. She wasn’t crazy about the cold but the rough, pristine polar landscapes had earned her appreciation in their stark, unspoiled beauty. The way the sun sank over midnight blue sea on the horizon brought a skyscape out of a children’s fantasy book. At night the firmament was occupied with countless shimmering stars and faraway satellites that never failed to enthrall. As far as detention places went, she didn’t mind coping with the cold and the hard life in exchange of views like this.

A formation of rocks that had been suspended in mid-air was deposited with delicacy over a growing heap that seemed to form a seat. She was practicing precision over blunt force, since many of the tasks the station small crew required from her required as much precision as brute strength and being the only earth and metalbender currently permanent on site meant her talents were in high demand. It feel rewarding to be able to do something after a prolonged period of involuntary idleness. Having a sense of purpose to wake up to every morning no matter how humble or small, provided all the motivation and the fulfilment of an accomplished job was all the reward she needed. Kuvira caught an assortment of cargo ships entering the bay from the corner of her eye and decided she could take the opportunity to watch the disembarking and unloading of the month’s supplies as a stopping point to rest. The metalbender shook off excess snow from her thick, blue cold weather outfit in the style of the Southern Water Tribe and readied to sit down on her rocky sculpture of sorts when a watery spiral rising from below captured her attention fully. Atop the gravity defiant column, the Avatar stood suspended mid-air, a smirk unbidden curved on her lips.

“Show off!  Aren’t you abusing your Avatar abilities with stunts like this?” the former captain inquired as she observed from her hard stone seat.

“This? This is just basic waterbender fare” Korra replied, the water still supporting her feet. “If I really wanted to show off, I would be airbending like this.” The water pillar gave way to a wind spiral under her soles that levitated her until feet connected to the ground with a short hop. The gusts of wind reached Kuvira, who let out a frustrated sigh upon realizing her hair had been undone from the bun that held it up.

“Thanks, now you’ve just messed up my hair.”

Korra guffawed at the combination of the metalbender’s frustrated expression and the mass of black hair no longer orderly tied up.

“Sorry…I kinda overdid the landing” she replied with an apologetic tone. Kuvira was already dealing with the unruly locks when the short haired woman intervened:

“Nah, leave it like that just for a little while” the approving gaze Korra was bestowing her was all the convincing needed for the former leader to stop. She abandoned her seat and proceeded to approach the Avatar with a suspicious glance.

“I’m starting to believe you did this on purpose.”

“Did I?” Korra replied, an innocent expression perched on her face but darkening blue eyes were betraying her intentions, her arms eagerly circling around the metalbender’s waist.

“Yup, perhaps it has something to do with something you’ve mentioned before” Kuvira’s arms surrounded Korra’s neck, her green gaze issuing a challenge.

“I think I remember now” the Avatar’s face closed in the dark haired woman’s ear, her breath warm against her skin amidst the cold. One of her hands was now running through Kuvira’s hair. “You hair like this turns me on.” A nip on her earlobe punctuated the last sentence and a shiver ran down the former captain’s spine.

“Hmmm…it does the same to me when you look at me like that” the metabender replied huskily and as confirmation, she joined Korra’s lips in an effusive kiss. The Avatar replied enthusiastically and for a few instants the cold and the snow were left somewhere forgotten in the back of their minds as they luxuriated in the long waited caress.

“How have you been?” Korra inquired when they broke off the kiss, the backs of her long fingers sliding down Kuvira’s cheek colored pink by the exposure to the artic weather. The metalbender caught Korra’s hand and placed a feathery caress atop the exposed skin not shielded by the glove.

“Good…still trying to get used to the weather but everything else is fine. How about you?”

Korra let out an exhausted sigh. “Busy with the Earth Kingdom elections. Holdovers from the Empire and monarchists have been the hardest to convince but I think they will eventually relent. Some of them have already been organizing in their own parties and are submitting their own candidates but they’re not really popular with the general public, which is good.”

“I’ve read a little bit of what has been happening but we don’t get that many fresh news here” The former leader seemed eager to soak in on the recent updates from her country, which to her relief, painted an encouraging scenario, taking into account the state she’d found the Earth Kingdom when she took over. As a small comfort, at least it seemed that even with the forced unification her country was still at a better shape now than when monarchy had been brutally abolished.

“I’ll be glad to put you up to date. If you don’t mind, there’s some Empire loyalists that we are keeping a close eye on so I’ll run the names through you later.”

“Sure, I’ll be glad to help. Speaking of help, don’t you think we should help unload the supplies? Besides, the crew is probably wondering where the Avatar has run off to” Kuvira pointed at the ships.

“You’re right and poor Naga must be anxious. I brought her with me this time.”

“So I’ll finally get to meet the famous Naga? I’m flattered.” The metalbender’s face lightened up at the prospect of meeting one of Team Avatar’s cutest and most loyal members.

“You’ll love her and besides she’s really sweet and soft and warm which is a plus in this place.” Korra opened her glider. “Race you there?” she added pointing at the harbor with a challenging grin.

Kuvira was almost done fixing her hair. “You know I’m not supposed to use bending outside the complex and my snowmobile is no contest to your glider but we’ll meet there, this time properly as exiled convict and Avatar” she added, fixing a stray lock of brown hair behind Korra’s ear.

Moments later, the Avatar and the deposed Earth Empire leader greeted each other as if it was their first meeting of the day, taking particular care in keeping with the appearances of their respective roles. That was the price to pay in order to maintain the cover for their agreed “awkwardness” but the day was still young. The evening would provide plenty opportunities to make up for the lost time since they last saw each other when Korra joined the official escort which delivered Kuvira to the new location to comply with her sentence. After the crates were unloaded, the ships left for their next port of call, leaving the station’s crew playing host once again to an important guest, this time Avatar Korra or how they preferred to call her, “the Chief’s daughter” which only sounded just a tad less intimidating than her more famous title.

Since the remote, unremarkable island of Blackstone Isle was chosen as the new location for the exile of Earth Kingdom military tyrant Kuvira, the assorted group of workers and tribesmen found themselves receiving important visitors like the Avatar or United Forces General Iroh, and of course their newly addition, the deposed leader herself, with more frequency. Regarding their notorious “guest,” the crew was largely indifferent to what had happened during the past years, preferring to see her as a welcome addition to help around rather than a burden or a responsibility. They weren’t comfortable with the role of wardens to an inmate. Even with the increment of security measures to the complex and the addition of a small Southern Water Tribe garrison to augment their numbers, the tribesmen opted to treat her as one of their own, following a duty that had been established since before the Hundred Year War when Fifth Nation pirates roamed the seas and later, when Fire Nation Navy ships scouted for fleeing Southern Tribesmen. What was once an outpost, the station eventually grew to include communications and weather surveillance, duties that to this day were the main reason of their current mission.

Flanking the complex, an elaborate conglomerate of modern looking buildings and warehouses shared the secured space. The buildings were property of none other than entrepreneur and inventor Varrick. After finding out of the place, in one of his Eureka moments he had decided to take advantage of the remoteness and anonymity of the place and assigned some of his more secretive projects here away from the prying eyes of his competitors and rivals. In a curious turn of events, it was now Kuvira whom inhabited the large, modern area that once had been designated as Varrick’s living quarters. She found the fact that in her exile she had ended up living in one of his properties rather humorous but sort of made sense as trade-off for the full pardon she had once bestowed unto him years ago. The official pardon had allowed the industrialist restauration of legitimacy to his reputation after the “alleged” Raiko kidnapping plot. With his criminal record expunged clean, he was back in business without any sort of legal knots limiting his ventures.  Although the place was no longer favored for his company’s full time projects, it still received periodic maintenance from Varrick’s people and the warehouses were used in full capacity by the crew since they were larger than the old one at the station.

It was inside the comfortable housing quarters where Korra met Kuvira during the evening. After spending most of the day with her fellow tribesmen, the Avatar was ready to call it a day. An enjoyable dinner peppered with lively conversations had been shared in the communal mess hall of the station where she was able to learn more about Kuvira’s integration to the crew. She was glad the idea of the transfer was paying off for all parts involved and the former commander’s behavior and attitude with the group told her everything she needed to know about the progress of the once Great Uniter. When Korra opened the door to the metalbender’s assigned quarters, she found Naga sleeping contentedly in a corner over a large, heavy rug. Her polar bear dog seemed to have made fast friends with the deposed leader judging by the completely relaxed state of her loyal companion beside the Earth Kingdom native. Meanwhile, Kuvira was leaning over her pet’s wide, fluffy body, so completely immersed reading a selection of newspapers the Avatar had brought her from Republic City that she didn’t register her entering the room. The image brought a wide smile in Korra’s beautiful features.

“You guys look adorable. I knew Naga would like you too.”

“Shhh…keep your voice low, she just fell asleep.” Kuvira said, petting the soft, white ears of the large animal. “We played for a little bit while you were radioing Republic City. How’s my progress report?”

“Outstanding. My exact words were ‘the prisoner is making continuous and remarkable behavior improvement which can be validated by several Southern Water Tribe witnesses.’ It took my awhile to come up with something official sounding instead of ‘Kuvira is no longer evil.’… Hmm, Varrick sure likes to live the life wherever he goes. This place is swanky.” Korra gave the large room an admiring glance.

“A bit too much for my taste but it sure beats the prison cell. I’m not even sure why there’s a fireplace here if there’s no chimney.” Kuvira gently nuzzled against Naga and proceeded to stand up. As Korra continued her awestruck examination of the room and its amenities, the dark haired woman busied herself on the area that served as a small kitchen. Moments later, she placed two mugs over a small table and gestured at Korra to join her in a couch.

“Must be a touch of visual flair” Korra commented referring to the mock chimney as she picked up her mug. Noticing the abundant brownish froth and the steaming beverage, she inhaled deeply the aroma coming from the mug. “Hot cocoa? Now we’re truly living on the lap of luxury!”

Kuvira smiled, taking a sip of her mug while nodding in approval. “I know. After two years of prison food, this is the closest thing to heaven I’ve known” she commented, savoring the sweet, rich taste of the cocoa.

“You’re sure about that?” the Avatar mumbled almost unintelligibly, a playful banter implied in her tone.

“You said something Korra?”  Dark eyebrows arched inquiringly.

“Nothing important” Korra quickly replied smiling inwardly. Apparently she seemed momentarily distracted by her own thoughts that weren’t related to warm beverages and more inclined towards warm companionship as she continued enjoying her drink. Suddenly, Kuvira guffawed almost spitting her own drink and Korra stared at her confused. It wasn’t the most dignified of the once Great Uniter’s reactions, but it did reveal a more goofy side to her. Lately, more of the seemingly hidden layers of the metalbender’s complex personality were slowly been revealed to Korra. The Avatar took complete enjoyment in the small discoveries that allowed her to see past the notoriety and delved more into the person and now the person was taking delight in making fun of her with an exuberant expression that lightened up her roguish features.

“Pfff!!! You’ve just made a mess out of yourself” And to demonstrate her point, the metalbender slid her index finger above Korra’s upper lip wiping residue of the beverage. She displayed a cocoa dipped fingerprint at the short haired woman.

“See?” she added. A mischievous idea crossed her mind and suddenly she cleaned her finger with Korra’s cheek.

“There, now you are a mess!” she exclaimed seemingly proud in her contribution to the Avatar’s messy state.

“Very funny” Korra pouted, attempting without much success not to laugh.

“Come here, let’s get you cleaned up” the former captain said as she brought the Avatar closer, her eyes shimmering a gentler shade of green.

It began innocently enough as Kuvira took the opportunity to play out an idea that had lodged on her mind. One thing led to another and the perceivable electricity of anticipation increased from mischievous playfulness into something far more intimate. Kuvira’s consciousness became a blur and when a sliver of awareness pierced the hazy, sensuous haze the former captain had plunged into, she became aware of hints of cocoa intermingled with other flavors at the tip of her tongue filling her mouth, flavors she savored as uniquely Korra's. The moment of clarity allowed her to recall how she went from kissing the chocolatey froth clean from the Avatar’s lips and cheek to what had followed the teasing yet tender intimate moment.  Then their mouths clashed and a need that had been building during the day was keenly made evident as the kisses became more ardent and profound and their hands no longer reacted out of their own volition but followed an instinct that had a life of its own. At some moment they had abandoned the couch when it no longer was comfortable enough for what it would follow and somehow between caresses and eager kisses, they finally located their way to the bed as their sleep clothes fell down, scattered haphazardly on the floor and discarded in haste.

The bright sound of laughter gave way to ardent whispers and moaned requests. Kuvira laid on the bed, her back prone against the mess of tangled sheets and her head hidden deep against Korra's chest, sensing her strong heartbeat and quickened breathing against her lips. Her arms snaked around the muscled back, her fingers reaching the nape of her neck with the short brown hair ends tickling her knuckles. Korra’s breathing was coming out in short gasps, her nails digging over Kuvira’s shoulders as her responses were becoming more frantic due to the metalbender’s fervent attention to her breasts. Her back arched in a silent mandate, one Kuvira was more than eager to fulfill.  Their glances met, emerald green drowning in the depths of darkened blue. Korra dove down as her mouth invaded Kuvira’s leaving her breathless as she conveyed a desperate plea, one that Kuvira could not deny her anymore.  The ache had become almost unbearable. She needed this, she needed to demonstrate with actions what words were inadequate to communicate, a profound emotion that went past lust or mere gratitude, one that touched her soul.

With a swift move, Kuvira flipped them so she was now towering over the brown haired woman, her head craning down to possess her mouth hungrily, wincing when Korra bit on her lower lip as she grabbed her hair tightly. Kuvira almost chuckled mentally realizing once more that Korra wasn't exaggerating when she claimed her disheveled look turned her on. But any notions of humor were quickly quelled under the imperative of her lover's aching need. Her fingers deftly slid over soft curves and firm muscles, running greedily over the soft, tan skin eliciting a flurry of approving sounds on their way down.  Korra whispered something inaudible against her swollen lips but she didn't need to understand anyway. Her body was revealing every request and every demand and she was determined to satisfy them all.

 “You're a loud moaner” Kuvira breathed hotly against Korra's ear, hands circling ever closer to her objective as they slid past her sculpted abdomen and kept moving lower and lower.

“Shut up!” Korra barely managed to mumble breathlessly with hoarse voice, visibly showing the effort to suppress the involuntary sounds that escaped her under Kuvira's onslaught to her senses.

“Make me” her lover purred in teasing response, steadfastly continuing her relentless attack once her objective was duly reached. Korra's body coiled in tense anticipation. Kuvira had kept very obediently fulfilling each and every one of the Avatar’s pleas. She would have never imagined that this would become part of her exile and for the umpteenth time, she thanked her lucky stars for it.

“I...I ...I....” the phrase was cut short. Korra wasn't able to organize coherent thoughts, much less a string of words as her body shuddered from head to toe, a long whimper unbidden on her lips and eyes tightly shut, as the pleasure wave hit powerfully overcoming her until the promise of relief began to take over. Kuvira waited for Korra’s tremors to subside and when they did, she gathered her exhausted lover gently into her arms. Her touch was soothing now and Korra surrendered into the gentle relaxation, her pounding heart steadying its beat. Kuvira wasn't sure if she was still experiencing the most vivid, intense daydream she'd had or if she was really holding the most precious and unlikely thing to ever happen to her in her arms. She dared to open her eyes and there she saw it. Blue eyes staring at her intently with a content expression perched on her face. 

“Spirits, why do you have to look so damned sexy like this” Korra sighed as she captured a long strand of black hair between her fingers.

“I think you wanted to tell me something but something got in the way?” Kuvira teased. She kept staring lovingly at Korra, her fingers gliding soft as a feather against her shoulders. The Avatar stared at her back now with curiosity.

“I'm flattered. I've never seen that expression in you before.”

“What expression?” the former captain questioned.

Korra was bestowing her an affectionate glance. “That one. You look...vulnerable. I like it.”

Somehow the notion of allowing herself to be vulnerable with someone else did not seemed like an alien concept nor a weakness anymore. It was strange how removed she now felt from the Kuvira who had erected walls stronger than platinum to protect her damaged core, the one who projected an image of the epitome of control and detachment. But with Korra looking at her with genuine admiration and gratitude, she could be the living embodiment of vulnerability for all she cared as long as she was rewarded with the glance the Avatar was giving her right now.

“I'm glad you like it and that can give you this. It's all yours. You've earned it.”

Korra suddenly moved to straddle the metalbender's waist with her legs as her hands eagerly skimmed over Kuvira’s torso, her fingers tracing with care the scar that remained from the assassination attempt. The former captain drew in a sharp breath in anticipation. The brown haired woman placed a feathery kiss over its irregular surface and began a trail downwards that brought a deep sigh from the dark haired woman’s lips as a familiar tension began to build again spreading warmth to every inch of her body.

“We've earned it. Together.” Korra placed soft kisses over her face, enjoying the caress of Kuvira’s hands sliding down her back. A playful smile curved on her lips to which the metalbender lifted an eyebrow in response.

“You've earned something else” Korra affirmed suggestively.

“What?” the former Great Uniter inquired enthusiastically as she brought the Avatar closer.

In response, eyes so blue she felt she could lose herself within its depths locked with her own. The incipient pale sunrise was sneaking golden tendrils through a nearby window and its soft light allowed Kuvira to bask in the beauty of the woman who was now looking at her with all kinds of mischief curved on her lips. Her heart skipped a beat. With a quick nip at the bottom of the metalbender’s lower lip, Korra affirmed:

“It’s my turn to shut you up now.”

Chapter Text

It was an unusual slow day for the inhabitants of Blackstone Isle. The weather gods seemed to have granted them a respite from the difficult conditions that were the norm at this time of the year. The weather boon had meant that the workers had been able to finish their maintenance tasks quicker and sooner. Another thing that seemed to contribute to the improved efficiency of the crew in their daily duties was the addition of an earthbender among their ranks. Many details that normally would require the old fashioned elbow grease were now completed quicker and today they found themselves with the atypical scenario of having a bit of spare time for themselves to enjoy. Once she was informed of the situation, Kuvira decided the additional time could be used for some needed meditating. The last days she had felt a certain restlessness had lodged inside her and the reason remain elusive so far.

She had recently discovered another of Varrick’s luxuries inside the building where her quarters were located. It was a small indoor garden with a fountain in its center. Its tall glass ceiling allowed sunlight to filter inside. Its austere esthetic of sand, small rocks and green grass evoked a profound sense of nostalgia on the Earth Kingdom native. It felt like a small piece of home amidst the immensity of the vast sea, the snow and the tundra that surrounded her now.  She chose a quiet corner where she now sat in the cross-legged position practicing the breathing exercises Korra had taught her, focusing her energy until she could sense her own spirit. As she began concentrating, a stray thought brought a subtle smile to her lips as her mind took her back to the last time they had meditated together. 

“You’ve been doing a lot of progress lately. I’m proud to see that you’ve been applying yourself in my absence” Korra said, sitting down and joining the former commander in the spiritual exercise.

“Thank you. I have to admit that it’s easier to meditate here. I think the contact with nature and the open expanse have something to do with it.”

“That and the fact that the prison stirred negative emotions within with the difficult things you’ve experienced there and the resentment and anger others had for you. This place is a clean slate for you and your spirit can sense it.”

“I see…have you been there lately?” Kuvira asked.

“Where?”

“To the Spirit World through the Republic City portal.”

 “I have. Unfortunately, there’s always foolish people who think the Spirit World is like a walk in the park and have snuck in. It has been a real headache for Tenzin and me and we’ve even had to make a rescue or two, but some people haven’t made it back and probably never won’t.” Korra’s features sobered momentarily.

“That’s terrible!”

“It is. Why you were asking?” the Avatar asked genuinely intrigued. Kuvira seldom asked specifics about the portals or the Spirit World.

“I think it has to do with the meditations but since I’ve been practicing, I’ve been remembering more and more of the time I spent there. It wasn’t much but it felt like nothing else I’ve had known since then, and I must admit staring face to face to the spirits gave me a big scare. I thought I wasn’t going to make it out of there.”

Korra smiled. “I’m glad you’ve mentioned in. I’ll let you in on a little secret. When I noticed that the spirits were more curious than threatened by you, I took it as a sign of sorts.”

“Of what?”

“That you weren’t in essence evil so there was still a chance for you to come around. That’s why I decided to approach you in the hopes I that I could help you. And I’m glad I did.”

It was Kuvira’s turn to smile. “I too am glad you did. I wouldn’t have been able to achieve any of this without you.”

“I wouldn’t have been able to do anything if you didn’t wanted it. I was there for you like so many have been for me before. Hopefully, one day you will be able to return and see more of it, of the Spirit World. You’re partially responsible for that portal after all.”

This moment had allowed her to allow a cautious hope back in, to think the future still held possibilities instead of a dead end. The warm glow that hope ignited inside her helped dispel some of the restlessness away. The clarity of mind brought by soothing of the spirit was allowing her to understand the origin of the uneasiness that had slipped in recently. Another memory arrived bringing the answer. It was a conversation she knew she needed to have with the Avatar even if she had the certainty that it would wound her own heart.

They were at the top of the old lighthouse overlooking the harbor. The lighthouse was no longer operational but the structure still allowed for some breathtaking views of the sea, not to mention the added bonus of privacy. Korra’s time at the “snowy island” was almost up as the ship that was supposed to return her to her homeland was expected to arrive with the sunrise. The thought hung heavy in the air as the couple observed the ebb and flow of the waves in silence. Kuvira was leaning against wooden guard rail, the sea breeze caressing her face and pushing her hair back. Korra was behind her, her strong arms circling the dark haired woman’s waist.

“I’m glad we can have these moments” the Avatar commented as she placed a quick peck over her cheek.

Kuvira seemed lost in thought. “Korra…I need you to promise me something.”

“So serious all of a sudden” the Avatar commented sensing the more subdued tone of her voice. “What do you want me to promise?”

Kuvira turned around making a short pause to delight in Korra’s kind expression, the calm in the innocent eyes that seemed to soothe her anguish and doubt.

The metalbender inhaled deeply. “I want you to remember that even if I’m currently bound to this island, you are not. I won’t stand on the way to your happiness if it’s out there and you should be free to pursue it. The only thing I ask of you is to be honest about it when the moment comes. If our arrangement causes inconveniences for you, promise me you’ll tell me.”

Korra stood in silence for a moment. She replied by bringing her former enemy close to her in an embrace.

“Kuvira, you’re such a mood killer. I’m perfectly satisfied with our arrangement…”

“Korra, I’m serious. Just promise me, okay?”

Korra sighed loudly slightly exasperated. “Fine, I promise. Happy?” The former captain nodded and brushed her lips against Korra’s forehead.

“I think we should head back” she added as the wind picked up in speed. “It’s getting chilly here.”

“I know!” the Avatar replied shivering at a sudden gust hitting straight to her face. “But I think I have the solution for that” she added in an impish tone and a wink while staring at her companion.

That night they fought the cold and the impending farewell seeking solace in each other’s arms. Their lovemaking reflected the anxiety of the separation that awaited them once again, tenderness and burning desire manifested in two people who wished morning never arrived. Fatigue finally overcame unbridled need and as an exhausted Korra lay profoundly asleep nuzzled against her lover’s warm body, Kuvira sought to fight in vain the silent tears that escaped her eyes. In the heat of passion she’d faced a truth that both astounded and terrified her. She’d fallen in love with Korra. And she dreaded the inevitable day she would have to set her free.

Kuvira let out a long exhale as she lifted her arms over her head and extended her legs. Today’s session had been quite productive she concluded, sensing that her anxiety had relented somewhat. She was and still was quite aware her request to Korra had taken her aback but it was something it needed to be voiced even if it was unpleasant and painful. She didn’t want to harbor unrealistic illusions of what their “awkwardness” would lead to even with the admission of her feelings. No matter what would happen in the future, nobody could take away what she had been able to live these days even if they held a future promise of heartbreak.

Moments later, the former captain was heading towards the station when she saw Sammi, the station’s radio operator with Jin, the captain of the island’s garrison approaching her.

“There you are. We’ve just received a broadcast…we’re getting visitors.”

“But we were resupplied two weeks ago and we didn’t have any stops scheduled after that. Do you know who’s coming?”

“Nope, just that the Chief himself will be coming so probably someone important or maybe even Varrick with a new secret project.”

Their conversation was cut short by the sudden arrival of a brown haired blue clad figure.

“Korra?”

The Avatar made a pass on her glider and landed beside them. She seemed to be already aware of the topic of their conversation.

“Have they told you?” the short haired woman asked.

“About the visitors? Just about now. Do you know what’s going on?”

“I do.” She addressed the radio operator. “Could you excuse us for a moment? Avatar business.”

“Of course!” exclaimed both men saluting and almost comically turning around and running straight to the station to spread the news of the upcoming impromptu visits. Once they were gone, Korra led Kuvira to the opposite side, walking with a brisk pace towards Kuvira’s quarters. They’d just barely made it past the door to her room when all of a sudden, the short haired woman simply approached the metalbender and gave her a breathtaking kiss that swept her off her feet.  When they separated, the former captain was staring at her dumbfounded, mouth agape and wide eyed.

“Two things” Korra said pointing a finger straight at Kuvira’s face. “One: I hope this gets through that thick skull of yours. I am very happy and I’m fine with what we have. You may not believe it but this is not just some rebound relationship or anything like that. This is important to me and you are important to me. I really want to make this work. Please don’t try to push me away because it really hurts. I know this situation is frustrating but if you think I’ll give up so easily just because it’s hard, you don’t know me well.”

The former Great Uniter was still at wits end, her brain still processing what Korra just said. The happiness she felt in that precise moment couldn’t be described with words. Just when she had steeled herself to the inevitable possibility of losing her, Korra claimed her back. Her eyes began to moisten.

“I’m such an idiot.”

“Yes you are. You’re still doing things impulsively” the Avatar regarded her tenderly now. “I understand your reasons so that’s why I want to come clean before you got more funny ideas. I won’t give up but only if you wish to continue this.”

“I do…I’m so sorry Korra” Kuvira replied embracing Korra tightly, a sense of relief washing over her.

“Now that we’ve cleared this out, the second thing is what brings me here. I wanted to let you beforehand that the visitors are for you. Well, the visitor.”

“You mean Chief Tonraq?” the metalbender asked. She couldn’t imagine the reasons Tonraq would have to see her out of the blue. Korra’s response elicited an ever more flabbergasted reaction out of Kuvira, as the scenario she dreaded was about to play out much sooner than expected.

“Not my dad. Suyin is coming and she wants to see you.”

Chapter Text

Two groups began approaching the station’s briefing room from opposite side. The first group made its way as they directed their steps to the long table that was placed at the center. At the right side, Southern Water Tribe Chief Tonraq led his companions towards the table. Following him, his daughter, Korra, the Avatar. The visitor that they were hosting took a seat beside Tonraq, the green, silver and black of her robes a stark contrast to the blues wore by her hosts. Father and daughter engaged in an amiable chat while the matriarch of the Metal Clan, Suyin Beifong remained with a calm expression that hid the emotions brewing within, absorbed in her own thoughts. The sound of a door opening caught their attention as a second group began making its way inside. Captain of the island garrison Jin led the small retinue, followed by four guards flanking a dark haired woman. Chief Tonraq stood up and approached the captain while Suyin leaned over towards Korra, murmuring something barely audible on the opposite side of the room where the newcomers stood. The metalbender observed all of this, a mixture of anxiety and expectation colliding inside her. She wasn’t prepared for this, although she doubted there could be the day were she could feel ready for it anyway. But she knew she had to face this sooner or later. This meeting was inevitable, whether it was today or in 30 years, tit would come out to be just the same.

Kuvira didn’t know what she could expect from this. The only certainty she had was this was the required first step out of many if she was that fortunate, to hope to find some closure with the woman who was her former mentor. The former Zaofu captain had been so concentrated in her own reflection that she barely caught that Korra was addressing the room.

 “Suyin has agreed to this visit at the request of Prince Wu and President Zhu Li Moon, in order to demonstrate that the conditions agreed on regarding the prisoner Kuvira are being fulfilled. She can see by herself the remoteness of this place makes any escape attempt or any other ill intention unlikely.”

Kuvira looked at Suyin. She seemed to be giving a clinical evaluation to the place and to her current aspect. She didn’t seemed particularly pleased she wasn’t bound by handcuffs but the unworried demeanor manifested by the Southern Water Tribe members seemed to put her suspicions to rest, at least momentarily.  

“Kuvira” Korra was speaking to her now. “Su wishes to meet you in private. Do you agree?”

Although her expression remained noncommittal, inwardly Kuvira was unnerved by this request. She wouldn’t have Korra for support. She was on her own.

“I do” replied the former dictator. She could sense Suyin’s hard emerald glance dissecting her as the Chief led Korra and the guards out of the conference room. In her meditations, she had faced herself with this scenario, attempting to steel herself for this day. As she had concluded through her spiritual exercises,  she needed to let go of any anger and disillusionment towards the Metal Clan matriarch even if there were plenty things still unresolved from their relationship from the moment she left Zaofu behind. She needed to return to the child she once was, scared, skeptical and hesitant, the one who captured the attention of the youngest Beifong sibling in such a way she ended taken under her care. Kuvira hoped Suyin could still be able to see that little girl in the woman who stood in front of her now, one who had chosen to forego resentment and pain and instead accepted the path towards forgiveness and redemption.

The door closed and the last person left the room leaving former teacher and student alone facing each other. Kuvira drew in a sharp breath, her shoulders straightening and her head held high, her face displaying a quiet dignity interlaced with humility instead of the arrogance and hubris of old. She stared into Suyin’s eyes with a warm, nostalgic glimmer.

“It’s been a long time Su.”

And so Kuvira’s quest for forgiveness thus began.

 

-The End-