A/N: A cordial welcome to the slowest-paced Korvira fic in the fandom.
Post-finale with flashbacks to between Book 3 and 4, Book 4, and pre-LOK; spoilers for said finale; Pairings: Korvira, with bits of Baavira and Korrasami.
Dictators don't need fair treatment.
It was all Kuvira could think as she burned under Suyin's hateful gaze. All through the sentencing, the transportation, it was all Suyin gave her. Kuvira almost preferred Suyin's harsh words, the cold disregard for the decades the two of them had been family. She couldn't tell what hurt more: the guilt, invading her heart cut by cut, the same way the Avatar cut into Colossus, or the knowledge that Suyin and Baatar would never forgive her.
The nameless White Lotus guards stopped as they reached Kuvira's new home. A wooden box, suspended hundreds of feet in the air. The same sort of cell Kuvira had put Suyin's family—her family—inside in the madness of a goal growing too fast.
One of the guards pushed her forward, and a new, physical pain joined all the mental anguish, licking it up for just a moment. She cringed, hands automatically trying to quell the pain from her broken ribs.
"Hey!" the second guard barked as he grabbed Kuvira's arms.
Another shot of pain burned through her. She'd been through pain far worse than this and didn't bat an eyelash, but tears burned in her eyes as she waited for this pain to stop. She needed to keep it together. At least until she was in that cage.
Spirits, how could they have thought she was well enough to take guard roughhousing so soon after the battle. You didn't give all those people days' recuperation after attacking. You deserve even less. She had to count her luck. Avatar Korra hadn't needed to save her, especially after trying to kill her with the weapon. She could've sustained much worse injuries than a few broken ribs.
The first guard grabbed her by a handful of her shirt, forcing her to look up and at him. She clenched her jaw to mask the pain he was causing.
"Let's go, Great Uniter. We have a schedule," the first guard said.
He dropped her, and she nearly fell to the ground. She stopped herself with a quick change of footing. The guards grabbed her, and they continued their walk. The last real walk she'd be taking for a while.
They stepped into an elevator shaft, and lurched upward. There didn't seem to be a single motion these guys made that didn't send a new wave of pain through Kuvira, but dictators don't get fair treatment.
She glanced down as one of the guards formed a bridge to the cage.
If she moved quick enough, she could throw herself off this bridge.
It would be deep enough to end it, and neither of these guards were air benders or metal benders. There would be nothing they could do, and she could end it before it began. Before they closed the door on that cage and let her inner demons eat her alive. She knew she was quick, efficient; she could do it. Let it be her one last battle move.
No one would miss her. Not her parents, not the Metal Clan, not Baatar…
She squeezed her eyes shut, pushing the thoughts back as best she could. Mistaking the Spirit World for death made death seem tame, but she knew she still couldn't guarantee anything better if she jumped off that platform.
It would be the easy way out, and she never took the easy way out.
The guards led her forward before she could give it a second thought. She kept up pace as best she could, knowing them pushing her along would be worse than the fast walking. Nothing would be a picnic at this point, and some primal part of her wanted to get inside that cage just so she could stop moving.
"Welcome to your palace, Great Uniter," the second guard sneered as she stepped in.
He closed the door before she'd even turned around to face them. She watched them return to the elevator shaft, the earth bridge disappearing behind them.
Teeth gritted, tears and sweat welling, she lowered herself to the ground, knees first. The pain was tolerable up until her knees hit the floor, then it became unbearable. She lost her concentration, one hand cradling her ribcage and the other splayed on the wooden floor. Her arm shook, and she willed herself to roll back against the cage's wall instead of dropping onto her stomach.
How had this happened? How had she gone from the leader of the Earth Empire to a prisoner who couldn't sit down without agony? She had the dexterity of a senior citizen, and knew even if there was metal around her, she'd hardly be able to do the motions to bend it.
The injury is temporary, she reminded herself. She'd seen people over the years with rib injuries, and it just took time to heal. Everything looked hopeless when emotion took charge from logic. She hardly had the strength to trust anything but her emotions, but she had to try. She had to survive this prison sentence somehow.
Slowly, barely moving an inch a second, she leaned backward enough for her back to touch the back of the cage. She exhaled and let her legs stretch out straight. She winced and rubbed her hand over her broken ribs.
What would happen if she told the guard who brought her food and water about the injury? They'd probably ignore it. Maybe she'd get lucky and she needed real medical attention. Even if it was just a day or two outside the cage, it would be worth it.
Except there were no guards around her. No one but her, the wooden cage, and the dark abyss below. This was the dictator's reward. Avatar Korra had defeated her, and she had to not only surrender to Su and Lin, but look Korra in the eyes and see all the mistakes she'd made. See the madness, the violence, the suffering she had caused. She had wanted to save her people, protect them, help them, but all they would remember her for is the pain she caused. Was this injury supposed to be poetic, the pain she projected onto her people twisting her insides up, making her end all the more real?
Sitting there, exhausted and pain oozing out in never-ending supply, it made sense.
Kuvira leaned her head back and closed her eyes.
You'll pay for everything you did. As if losing Baatar and the Metal Clan wasn't enough.
Yet, why let Su's reaction take hold of her like this? Su had never truly loved her the way she loved her real kids. Whereas Baatar could make a mistake like joining Kuvira and return to open arms, Kuvira was always the outsider, the kid on probation. One slip up and she was gone, back to being the same nothing her own parents had seen. All her life, Kuvira had been perfect, and her one mistake was done. It was a lost cause.
Perhaps the pain would dull with time, like this injury. Everything hurts the most at the beginning, but the body builds up tolerance and immunity, and the pain fades. The mind worked the same way.
Kuvira lost track of time, but it was quite a while in the dark before she fell into a pitiful sleep.
Eight years old, the eldest among the kids in the house, yet Kuvira had waited hours until Su was finished caring for the other kids to tell her about the cut she'd gotten while playing with Baatar.
Su sat on her bed, some papers out in front of her. She looked up immediately, the same way she'd done for the other kids. "What is it, Kuvira?" She held out her hand, blood soaked and dripping off the makeshift bandage. "Spirits, Kuvira. Follow me. How long ago did you get that?"
Kuvira followed Su into the bathroom and took a seat. "A few hours ago. Junior and I were trying to metal bend. I thought I could do it, but I ended up cutting myself when I tried to change its shape."
Su pulled off the old bandage and ran Kuvira's hand under some water. It stung, but Kuvira kept a brave face. "You must be doing pretty well if you thought you were already ready to change shape."
"I think so."
Su blotted some medicine onto the cut and wrapped it back up. "You're excelling at it. Even my mother said you're exceptional already." She kissed Kuvira's forehead. "You'll be an amazing metal bender one day, just be patient."
Kuvira awoke in the same darkness as before, the only marker of time's passage being how stiff and sore she'd become. She looked toward where she'd come in, and found a tray, a plate, and a cup sitting at the entrance of the cage. She thought about going for it, but one motion forward told her she wasn't going anywhere. She wasn't hungry, anyway.
She ran a hand through her hair, growing more and more tangled by the minute. She wished she could put it up, out of her face, but they'd taken away her tie. Metal, of course. She sighed and tried to occupy her mind without thinking about her childhood or anything involving the Metal Clan. There were about three hours' worth of memories to work with, then. Great.
She could plan something, but what was there to plan? She wasn't creative enough to make something up, and it left her wondering where her supporters were then. She'd learned a fair amount about a lot of her soldiers, and could mentally recite names and positions and temperaments—
She huffed. She just needed to take it easy and stop thinking for a while. She needed to heal and keep the guilt at bay. Once her ribs were healed, she could pace the cell, do push ups, sit ups, keep her body sharp and figure out how to sharpen her mind afterwards. People survived in prison without going insane, and she'd do the same.
She tried to take a deep breath, but all she could manage was a shallow intake of breath without the pain. She closed her eyes and tried to sleep again. She probably needed to make up for those months with little sleep anyway.
"Fix yourself up, Great Uniter. You've got a visitor."
It'd been a few days, and she'd just managed to flip back onto her hands and knees to crawl over to the food tray. She forgot what it was like to breath deeply without a second thought, or the sound of her own voice.
The guard took her tray away and walked back to the elevator without retracting the bridge. Kuvira had been planning to sprawl onto the floor, giving her core a break from all the barely supported sitting up straight, but she hadn't completely relinquished her pride.
It was Avatar Korra who walked across that bridge.
The Avatar got as close as she could to the cage and sat down. "Hi, Kuvira," she said, her tone somewhere between friendly and guarded.
Kuvira nodded towards her, unsure what words to use.
"I hope they're treating you okay. I've…never exactly checked on these high security prisons. I'd hate to think anyone was being treated inhumanely." Kuvira bit her inner cheek, so Korra couldn't see. "How have you been?" Korra paused. "Sorry, that's a stupid question. Obviously, not great." Korra shifted. "The Earth Kingdom's doing good, if you were wondering. You really did a great job keeping everything together. It certainly wasn't as crazy as when the Queen fell, pretty easy to hoist up." She paused. "You should be proud."
Kuvira shut her eyes, the shame welling in her chest stronger than the actual pain. Why was the Avatar trying to sugarcoat it? The last good thing Kuvira had done had been months ago. The Earth Kingdom had to recover because of what Kuvira did to it.
Kuvira tried to take a deep breath, but it hitched the moment the stabbing pain shot through her chest. Her hand flew to her ribs, covering them the way she'd done in her first few moments with the injury.
"Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," Kuvira said, her voice hoarse from disuse. She tried to clear her throat, but it only made everything more painful.
"You…You were hurt when the portal was made. I thought you were okay when you walked away with Su and Lin, but I guess…should I get a guard?"
"Don't bother. They wouldn't be able to help."
Korra reached for something on her person. "I have some water and Katara taught me how to heal. Maybe I could—"
"Don't touch me." She took a shallow breath. "They're broken ribs. You can't help."
"I've seen Katara do it. Really, I could fix them. It's hard enough being in here…"
"Please Korra, don't. They'd notice you touching me, either way. I'll be fine."
"You can hardly breathe."
Kuvira gave her a look, hoping the Avatar would get the message. Korra nodded and shifted again.
"Did I thank you for saving my dad's life?"
"Well, thank you, again. I'm going to go see him soon, and sometimes, I forget to think about what happened around me when I battled Zaheer. You were a hero back then."
Kuvira quirked an eyebrow. "And now?"
"Now," Korra planted her elbow on her knee. "Now you can redeem yourself like Zaheer did. Like I said, I don't think you're evil. I understand why you did what you did. More recently, I've begun to think that you could even return to your Zaofu Metal Clan days." She paused. "Not literally, at least not for a while, but something like that. You're good, deep down." She smiled. "Aang would've thought so."
Kuvira looked away. "Don't patronize me."
"I'm not. I really feel that way." Kuvira looked back, right into Korra's eyes. "I never got to know you back when you worked for Su, but I wish I had. Maybe I could've stopped everything sooner. If I hadn't disappeared, or let Zaheer kill the Earth Queen…I don't blame you for how you started out. You're the first of my big foes that ever had enough self-awareness to turn themselves in. I think that's significant, and I don't want to forget it. But, I also don't want you to either. I can't say for Su or Baatar, but there's always hope. Don't give up on yours." Korra laughed. "I don't recognize the words coming out of my mouth these days. It's…It's been a long journey."
"I never wanted to hurt Su or any her family when I captured them, when I shot at you and Baatar. I know they won't believe me, but I need it to feel more than it does inside my head."
Korra glanced back and returned with a frown on her face. "I have to go. Seriously, is there nothing I can do about the ribs?"
Kuvira chuckled a little, but stopped quick. "If you've got something for numbing pain."
Korra's eyes lit up. "I don't have it with me, but I'll be back."
Another two days passed. She stopped sleeping at night and resorted to napping all throughout the day. Time melted away, pain mixed with soreness, guilt, and memories. She thought about her parents a lot, wondering if they were still out there and knew what she had done. She wondered if Baatar was wooing another woman, if he needed any time to get over her. She thought about the new spirit portal, and if it was fate that she helped open it. She'd never been a spiritual person, but there was no denying how amazing it was. How amazing Korra's powers truly were. To think she'd let a second of smugness pass across her face when she defeated Korra at Zaofu.
Hunger and energy came and went, but that day, at whatever time it was, Kuvira left her tray untouched.
"Visitor for you, Great Uniter!"
And there was Korra. She ran across the bridge and stopped quick in front of the cage with a smile on her face.
"Did you actually find something?" Kuvira asked.
Korra nodded. "I don't know if it'll work, but Mako thinks it might. Don't worry, I didn't tell him what it was for." She removed her hand from a fold in her clothing to reveal it was covered in some kind of clear liquid. "It's sake. Is your cup empty?" Kuvira shook her head. "Hold on."
Korra picked up the water from Kuvira's cup with one hand and dropped the sake into the cup with the other. One glance back and Korra dropped the water off the bridge into the darkness below.
"You got me…sake…" Kuvira said, wondering if this was all a dream.
Korra shrugged. "Best I could do so long as you don't let me heal you."
Kuvira picked up the cup with a shaking hand and threw it back. She hadn't drunk in so long, but the burn of the alcohol was oddly comforting.
"Thank you," she muttered.
Korra smiled. "Of course. Tell me if that works, and I can come back with some more. Should only be a few weeks until your ribs heal naturally, right?"
After a few minutes of small talk, so Korra could seem less suspicious, she got up to leave.
"Thank you, Avatar Korra," Kuvira said.
"You're welcome, again."
Korra nodded. "Hopefully they'll let you out within our lifetimes. Maybe I'll have trained enough to beat you in a dual."
Kuvira smiled. "Hopefully."
"Feeling any different?"
Not enough to really notice yet. "Enough."
Korra smiled. "Maybe I'll be back, then."
Kuvira watched Korra disappear into the elevator shaft, the bridge disappearing with her, and although it was definitely the sake working on an unprepared mind and body, Kuvira felt better than she had in a while. She ran a hand through her hair and looked down at the little scar on right hand. There was a fair chance that Su and everyone from Zaofu would never forgive her, but there was still one person who had hope in her.
Some day, there might be two.
A/N: I've been in love with Kuvira since the beginning of this season, and I'm surprisingly happy with how everything ended for her. So, hah, no alternative world or anything, just capitalizing on that awesome scene with Korra and Kuvira in the spirit world. Tell me what you think! :)