Before you chuck fireballs at me for killing off Kuvira, please hear me out.
There's a debate on the 'net about Kuvira's punishment, and I actually agree with what the majority thinks: If canon had shed more light on Kuvira's fate, it's likely that she'd get life in prison instead of an execution. Many valid points support this: Zaheer committed regicide and (for some reason) still lives. Kuvira would be tried in Republic City, which was founded by Aang and would likely oppose the death penalty. And if she were to die, she'd go down as a martyr for her cause. I decided to disregard all that in writing this, which is more of a "what-if." Plus her dying gives more ground for good angst. All things being said, I ask that you suspend your disbelief; I hope that isn't too much to ask.
My favorite characters in LoK are actually the Bei Fong sisters, and I really hated Kuvira at first, but she grew on me at the end of Book 4. She ended up joining my list of faves. Like Suyin said, Kuvira's a complicated person, and as a writer I enjoy the challenge of digging into and exploring the minds of such characters.
For the sake of creative liberty, stirring up drama, and bending the rules of reality (no pun intended), the death penalty procedure isn't 100% accurate.
Now I'll hush and let you keep reading.
"By unanimous and decisive vote from the jury: guilty as charged. Illegal harvest of spirit vines, attempted mass destruction, multiple counts of murder, and unlawful subjugation...for these crimes against the free peoples of the Earth Nation and Republic City, Kuvira is hereby sentenced to death."
No one broke out into a smile, let alone leap for joy. The verdict brought upon a heavy, stony silence that threatened to crush the entire courtroom. All eyes of the defendants, prosecutors, and witnesses alike laid on the condemned in question.
Handcuffed and flanked by Lin Bei Fong, Kuvira remained stone-faced. Stripped of her power and metalbender armor, she looked small and defeated, a shadow of her former glory. Dull eyes, disheveled hair, and slumped shoulders told of many weary, sleepless nights behind bars. She finally reacted with a silent bow of her head, accepting the fate she expected and deserved.
Then the shutters went off, camera lights flashed, and pens scribbled. People gathered in the courtroom broke out into low whispers. Some shook their heads in resignation. Others nodded in grim approval of the justice being dealt.
Tenzin's scowl deepened. Befitting of his identity as an Air Nomad, he had always been an outspoken opponent of the death penalty. The minority among the majority, only a grain of sand swept away with the tide, he couldn't do anything to overturn the rule. Of all the people in the room he looked the most unhappy. The others, Mako, Suyin, and her family, simply sat in numb, speechless silence. Even Bolin and Varrick, with their common testament to Kuvira's craziness, had nothing to offer in the comedic department.
Lin kept a firm hold on Kuvira's arm as they rose together and left.
Suyin was the first of the witnesses to leave. Her heart weighed heavier than any metal she had bended in her life. Her family followed suit and they tried to offer her comfort, but they went unheard and in vain.
Outside the courtroom, where she had waited with the rest of her family, Jinora gasped and her eyes flew wide. "I sense them. Korra and Asami are back." Her declaration did little to lift the heavy mood.
At the new spirit portal, Mako was loath to ruin Korra's return from her vacation, but he had no choice but to give away the news when the Avatar prompted for any.
"Kuvira's trial was today, and she's being put to death. Lethal injection, most likely."
Korra's heart sunk. She expected as much, considering the magnitude and severity of Kuvira's crimes. Still, this wasn't the end she had wished for someone she so closely related to. In all honesty, she would've liked to get to know Kuvira better. Maybe turn her over on a new leaf, even. Absolute motions of the judicial system crushed any hope of that. Korra sneaked a glance at Asami, whose gaze hardened at Mako's words.
"Kuvira murdered my father. If it weren't for his sacrifice, she could've killed me too." Then her eyes lost its cold glare as she returned Korra's somber gaze. "Is this the right move, though? Paying for her crimes with her life won't bring him back. It won't bring back anyone she's killed. It won't fix the damage she's done."
"I agree," Korra replied. "I bet Tenzin's not happy about this at all."
Mako only shook his head and sighed. "The people have made their decision. What's done is done." He looked hardly in the mood for debating the merits of capital punishment. He gestured to the city in ruins. "All we can do now is move on and rebuild Republic City."
Asami nodded, and while Korra agreed with her friends, she had something else in mind, something to take care of first.
Wood formed the prison that contained Kuvira.
She preferred this over a cell covered wall-to-wall with platinum, which would only remind her of the havoc she wreaked with the mech.
She sat in silence, waiting to die. With no way to tell the time, without a clock or the sun, Kuvira felt as if time stretched on forever.
"You have a visitor."
Kuvira pulled her gaze from the floor.
Lin stepped aside to reveal Korra.
The young Avatar sat down and crossed her legs while Lin excused herself and returned to her post outside. Korra lifted one hand in a tentative wave. "Hi, Kuvira."
The former Great Uniter acknowledged her visitor with a nod. "Avatar."
"You can just call me Korra. No need for formalities." She paused, then asked, "Have you had anything to drink yet?"
Kuvira shook her head.
"Want some tea?" Korra waited for Kuvira to respond, but got nothing. She went on, "I asked because Bolin told me you turned down an offer earlier." A fond smile spread across her face as she remembered Iroh from her venture into the spirit world, when she felt lost and had nowhere else to turn. "Someone once told me that nothing else mends a broken spirit like a hot cup of tea. He's right, you know."
Kuvira didn't seem to object, so Korra got up and motioned for the nearest guard. "Could you fetch me the ingredients for jasmine tea? I can brew it myself."
Kuvira looked on as Korra went about making tea for both of them. Warmth wafted into the cold cell when Korra heated up the water. An aroma came next when she put mixed in the tea leaves.
"This takes delicacy and patience," she said in a soft voice. "I never would've been able to do this before, but I've come a long way. I never would have made it alone. I had friends who helped me. I wish I could've been that kind of friend for you."
"Did you come here to pity me?"
"No, not at all." Korra drew back with slight surprise. "I didn't say that to make you think I'm better. I was just being honest. It's really hard for me to admit I needed and still need help. Whatever life throws at me, I like to face it on my own; sooner or later I realize I need help from others to get through. I'm not the god-figure you think I am."
Kuvira sighed. "I believe you now." She took a sip of her tea and warmth flushed down the rest of her body, relaxing the tension in her muscles and the knot in her stomach.
"My reason for coming here is simple," Korra said. "I just want to talk to you, Kuvira."
"Other people make for far better company. Like your friends."
"I beg to differ. How can I make that kind of judgment when I haven't even really known you yet?" She locked eyes with Kuvira, trying to see what the other woman thought behind that green gaze. "I realized that for all my fights against you to bring balance to the world, I don't know much about you. I want to change that. So tell me more about yourself."
Kuvira set down her cup and blinked in surprise. She had no idea where to start. "...What do you want to know?"
"You got me." Honestly, Korra didn't think she'd get this far into the conversation. Suddenly a funny thought struck her. "I remember Prince Wu wondering if you had any allergies."
Kuvira gave her a strange look. "Why would he ask that?"
Korra shrugged. "Not sure. I guess when we were figuring out how to stop you, he wanted some left-field weakness to exploit."
Kuvira didn't reply for several seconds. Finally she said, "I'm allergic to badgermoles."
"It's embarrassing, I know. Me, a prodigious metalbender, allergic to the world's original earthbenders." A dark memory resurfaced. Traumatic and miserable as it had been in years past, now it just made Kuvira laugh. "The last time I took a trip through the mines of Omashu was nearly the death of me. I broke out in hives and had a sore throat that lasted for weeks. I looked like a train wreck. On top of that, I sounded like the Earth Queen on a sick day."
Korra cringed. "Yikes. That doesn't sound fun."
Kuvira confirmed it with a rueful nod. A wry grin broke the composed neutrality on her face. "Any more embarrassing things you want to know about me?"
"For your own sake and dignity, maybe not. How about something cool?"
"'Cool' is subjective."
"My definition of cool accepts a pretty broad range."
Kuvira thought for a moment, then said, "I'm double-jointed."
"Oh really? Show me."
Kuvira looked around. "There's not much room in here for me to make that possible. For a metalbender, I'm freakishly flexible." She fell silent, as if she wanted to end it there. Then she said, "I guess this will have to do." She proceeded to pull her thumb down to the point it touched her hand, as if all the bones had vanished. She did the same with her other hand.
Korra gaped. "Whoa, that's gross." She quickly added, "And cool, too. Definitely cool. I lost the little flexibility I had after getting hurt in my fight with Zaheer. I could never do that even if my life depended on it. No wonder you were part of Suyin's dance troupe. The jump from dancer to fearless leader must've not been very high, I guess."
Kuvira shook her head. "I'm no fearless leader."
"What do you mean?"
"Everyone's afraid of something. It's just a matter of how well you hide it. Some are better at hiding fear than others."
"So what are yours, Kuvira?"
Kuvira didn't look up from her tea. "...I'm afraid of heights."
Korra was shocked. "From that humongous mech you piloted, I never would've guessed."
"At that time, I was willing to do anything, at whatever cost, to get what I wanted. If it meant facing my biggest fear, I took it on with no hesitation."
"You sure got determination, I'll give you that."
"Well, it got me in here and on death row, so don't take any inspiration from me."
Their conversation continued and meandered as they made small talk, dwelling over nothing important in particular. They still talked long after what remained of their tea grew cold. The confines of the cell echoed with laughter when Korra talked about the stupid things she had done as a kid. Kuvira had her own anecdotes on her end, recalling the time she had made up a reckless metalbending game to see whose metal-covered body could plummet through the lake and hit the bottom first. Last time she won she nearly drowned. Fortunately for her, Baatar Jr. knew CPR. Suyin had grounded her for a month, though out of pity she gave in and cut the time in half.
It was fun, and both wished it could last forever, but eventually Korra had to go. As the Avatar she had other pressing matters to attend, while as the convict Kuvira wasn't going anywhere, only waiting for death.
Korra's eyes were filled with sympathy as she rose to her feet. "It was nice getting to know you better, Kuvira. I'm glad we had this talk."
"I'm glad, too."
"You know, if it weren't for all the things that made us enemies, we could have been good friends."
Korra and Kuvira parted ways, both with heavy weights of memories and regrets in their hearts neither of them could remove through metalbending.
It wasn't often Lin wore anything besides her police uniform. Suyin couldn't resist greeting her half-sister with that observation. "Well, you sure look out of your element."
Lin was not amused. "So do you. We're just taking precautions."
"Of course we are. I was just teasing you."
Lin opened the door to Kuvira's cell.
"You have another visitor." Lin didn't elaborate, but Kuvira saw for herself soon enough. Suyin looked smaller and less formidable in a simple green robe, without metalbending armor to beef up her figure. Suyin didn't smile, but Kuvira saw warmth in her eyes.
Lin bristled. Not many people had the privilege to call her half-sister by that name, let alone a power-hungry, warmongering upstart like Kuvira. Suyin eased Lin's tension with a quick, assuring glance over her shoulder.
Kuvira did not move, neither backing away nor inching forward. Suyin came closer to sit in front of the bars. Something caught her eye: a bowl and a spoon.
The bowl was empty, but Suyin knew Kuvira so well that she didn't need a second glance to know what it once held.
"Fish and kale congee. Your favorite."
Kuvira nodded. Suyin was far from surprised. The fallen dictator had grown up on Zaofu cuisine. It made for a fitting last meal. Suyin remembered with bittersweet fondness how Kuvira, young and bursting with energy, used to bug her for seconds and thirds (and fourths on rough days) long after the rest of the family had finished dinner.
Kuvira spoke for the first time since Suyin's arrival. "Why did you come here?" Her question rang hollow, as if she already knew the answer.
"To see you, of course. You must be lonely."
Suyin didn't need Aiwei the truth seer or her blind mother to know that Kuvira lied through her teeth.
Kuvira may be hard to deal with, but she was no loner. She liked being around people. How else could she have been so popular and so successful with rallying them to her cause? Suyin wouldn't call it impossible if Kuvira was to be sentenced to life in prison and go insane from lack of human company.
"Korra came to see me," Kuvira said. "We made small talk, but that was just the thing she wanted. She wished we could have been friends."
"It was nice of her to pay you a visit."
Kuvira nodded in agreement. "I had lots of followers, and even more enemies, but no friends. It's nice to have friends."
"Yes...I wish you could realize that sooner. But now it's too late for regrets."
"I'm not afraid to die. I've resigned myself to my fate." Kuvira straightened her back and squared her shoulders. "I'm prepared for the consequences."
"Still, I don't want you to face them alone. I came here to let you know that I'm here for you."
Kuvira lowered her eyes to bore holes on the wooden floor. "You say that, even after everything I've done to nearly destroy your family?"
"You count as part of my family, too, whether you realize that or not. If it weren't for Korra you would have destroyed yourself."
Shame crept into the former Great Uniter, making her remember with a bitter taste in her mouth how power had changed her. Twisted her into a monster. Like the kind in those old movers that laid waste to the city. Now she was locked up like an animal in a cage, soon to be put out like animals that were beyond saving. At the same time she felt touched to hear Suyin consider her family. It was something she desperately wanted to hear, something she felt she hadn't heard enough of.
"I love you, Kuvira. Like a daughter. It seems I haven't said that enough, and I'm very sorry for that."
Kuvira's heart clenched at the sincerity and sadness in those words.
Suyin got up to leave, but not before saying softly, "Someone here wants to see you too."
Baatar Jr. came in. Kuvira averted her eyes as quickly as she had widened them. She squared her shoulders and braced herself for a blistering, heartbroken rant from the man she loved and betrayed. She deserved it, anyway. What did she have to lose? A broken heart? She had broken his heart, not her own. Her pride? That had been torn to shreds the moment she declared defeat and surrendered to the Avatar. She had nothing. She was nothing. Baatar had all the right to tell her that if he wanted to. He did nothing of the sort.
"You look beautiful with your hair down."
This wasn't the first time he told her that. Most of the time she just brushed it off like a speck of dirt from her armor. She hardly had the time and interest to concern herself with appearance. She had only cared for power and practicality, not looking pretty. Also a high priority in her mind was achieving her lofty ambitions and what it took to get there. This was, however, the first time she actually ever listened and took it to heart. Kuvira didn't know how to respond. She was the kind of person used to taking insults and blows, not sweet words.
"Aren't you angry with me?" She asked. "I'd call you a saint if you're not."
He furrowed his brow. "I was mad. At first. I couldn't believe you'd throw away my life like that." The tension on his face loosened. "Now...now I'm just sad. Very sad."
"The Great Uniter...what a joke." But she didn't laugh. "All I did was tear us apart. I love you, Baatar. I really do. You're a smart and kind man, but whether you can ever be trusted again is all my fault. I've driven a wedge between you and your family. I've pulled you too deep into my own mess."
"I followed you out of my own will," he insisted.
She shook her head. "You deserve someone who won't repay all that intelligence and kindness with a stab in the back. I'm sorry that someone couldn't be me. I'm sorry I couldn't be that kind of woman for you."
"Please know that I hold nothing against you, and I wish you only the best. In return, I'm not asking you to forgive me. I fear that'd be too much to ask of you, after all that I've done. I only ask that you remember me for who I am as the woman you loved, not as the dictator you served."
"Of course. Always."
Kuvira nodded in wordless thanks. She turned away from him, letting her long hair hide the tears that ran down her face.
Just outside the cell, where Suyin could still hear everything uttered between her son and the woman she once raised and loved as her own daughter, she pressed a hand over her trembling mouth.
Death came to her without a face.
The executioner was covered from head to toe and pale as a ghost. He wheeled in a tray that bore empty syringes, accompanied by appropriate doses of lethal chemicals. The physician came in next. Forbidden by the code of medical ethics to administer the injection, he was only there to verify clinical death that'd follow the procedure.
The very sight of these two was enough to make most criminals freeze in dread, but Kuvira felt nothing. Like she had said to others and to herself many times, she was prepared for this. She laid strapped on a spotless white bed, with one arm outstretched and hooked to several tubes. There was no show, no drama or splendor. It would be a quick and quiet affair, with Suyin and Lin present as the only witnesses to the end of Kuvira's life.
Suyin found she couldn't sit behind the wall of glass that separated the witnesses and the accused any longer. "Doctor, before you proceed, may I hold her hand?"
He looked to the executioner, who seemed to hesitate but moved his faceless head. The mask made it hard to tell if he meant yes or no. The physician met Suyin's eyes and verified his colleague's response with a quiet reply: "If only that...I suppose so."
Kuvira didn't hide her shock as Suyin went in to hold her hand. "I don't think it's going to hurt, if that's what you're worried about. They inject a numbing agent first."
"You never know. The dead don't come back and tell us how it felt." Suyin's voice lowered to a whisper. "Junior didn't come because he wouldn't bear seeing you like this. Please forgive him."
"Yes, of course."
There was some shuffling and clinking as the executioner prepared the syringes.
"What is it, Kuvira?"
"I'm grateful to you, Korra, and Baatar for coming to see me before I go. Thank you...and I'm sorry."
These last words from Kuvira were ones Suyin chose to forgive and never forget.
The executioner moved closer, hovering right over Kuvira's outstretched arm to administer the injections. Kuvira was wrong. It did hurt. Her lips would not move. She wished she could tell Suyin. Nothing in her body could move anymore. She couldn't even furrow her brow in pain. If there were tears, she couldn't feel them. Only when they swam and blurred in her vision she finally realized she was crying. Her eyes fluttered shut. Despite herself, Suyin felt her own tears flow and run unchecked down her face. She kept her hand over Kuvira's, even when the latter couldn't feel the tight grip anymore. All she could feel was the beating of her heart, which would stop soon with the injection of the last dose.
Flatline. An unending beep. Suyin felt her own heart stop for a moment at the sound. The doctor double-checked. He nodded in confirmation. Suyin and Kuvira were perfectly still, so still and for so long Lin could have thought that both of them weren't alive. Then Suyin rose without a sound, dry-eyed and raw with heartache as she rejoined her half-sister in the land of the living.
I've enjoyed ATLA and LoK for a while, but this is the first time I've written a fic for the franchise. I'd appreciate knowing how I fared. Did I get the characters right? Is my writing style okay? The random facts about Kuvira during her talk with Korra are just stuff I made up, by the way. Much thanks and love from moi for reading.