A/N: Oh wow, it has been a month. And it has been almost a year, 11 months and 1 day since I started this thing. And now, good people, I present you the last chapter to Events Unexpected. I am so thankful for all of the reads and reviews. I don't think I have ever written anything that sucked my life out so much and that I loved doing to this extent. Thank you all! Now I have to go cause my mother is yelling at me. D:
Disclaimer: I own nothing but a very satisfied feeling.
Previously on Events Unexpected…
A ways across the expanse of grasses, a glorious golden dragon tussled with the charcoal cylinder that was Koh. The fire wyrm had completely wrapped itself around the centipede, trapping it against the ground like a massive sunlight shackle. The talons digging into the armor produced streams of tar-like blood, deepening the furrows as the dragon's prey fought to dislodge it.
Kaji's smile beamed with the light of the animalistic form of her deity. Her voice rang out on the tides of crisp blue sky as she called out his name, "Agni!"
"Grab the necklace, the both of you," Aang beckoned. "Now, think of your world, your home. Imagine yourselves transposed there through the medallion."
They were back. No more endless deserts of sand and grass. No more careful seclusion due to burning body temperature. And- the most gratifying- no more Koh to haunt their every waking thought. Opening her palm, Kaji glanced at the key between worlds nestled in her skin. The magic was wearing off, leaving the thing cracked and ugly until it completely disintegrated, pouring through her fingers onto the plush carpet.
It was then that the door to the room burst open and ten Earth Kingdom soldiers filed in. The man in charge pointed a calloused finger in Kaji's direction, yelling, "Seize the firebender!"
Korra glared at the stoic men standing on either side of the giant, pearl-painted door. The corridor was lit by torches, despite the early afternoon sun gleaming outside; the room lay buried in the depths of the stone building with no direct exit to the world beyond its confines. The Republic City police had at least consented to the more comfortable lodgings for holding the woman they had taken prisoner instead of throwing her in a dingy cell with the common rabble of thieves and cutthroats. Not that there was much else to be thankful for. The Avatar was still furious with the measures they had taken to place the firebender into custody, clapping her lower arms in iron so that her hands were completely immersed in the metal with no means of movement. 'Precaution,' they had called it. Korra called it politics.
Their little jaunt around the Spirit World had seemed like no more than a week, maybe two, but to the corporeal one, four months had passed. Without Kaji's guidance, the Fire Nation's secretive spread of empire had all but catastrophically fallen apart. Omashu had been taken by the resistance fighters the moment Izuru Kain had been captured by Tenzin and Lin- or more accurately, dragged to the infirmary for her extensive wounds after the fallout of Kaji's supernova eradicated half of the palace arena. She had recovered enough to stay awake for prolonged periods of questioning in which the earthbender had been more than happy to spill out the finer details of Kaji's war strategies in exchange for a more lenient sentencing to her own trial. The Northern Water Tribe had been easily liberated once the Earth Kingdom soldiers were called back by the newly instated council members chosen by Tenzin himself; charged with the rule of the massive continent during King Daoguang's leave of absence. Katara had been working with the opiate addict for the better part of Korra's disappearance, making tremendous strides toward replacing the shrunken, corrupted man into the strong patriarch he had been. Chief Satren had grudgingly accepted the official apology of the Fire Nation, given by Iroh II, and had released all war prisoners with only a minor struggle. The Fire Nation itself had been handed over to an appointed council, tied loosely to Republic City, but loyal to its citizens and the peace effort more than anything else. The rest could have been defined with only an annoyingly mountainous pile of paperwork for every country to fill out and the superficial public apologies and reparations to appease the citizens and restore the overall feeling of peace and tranquility. Since Kaji's dominance had been so covert, her strings of conquest still not quite secured, there was a much smoother transition than the recovery from the Hundred Year War had been. The truth was, since the 'mastermind' of the entire fiasco had allegedly vanished from the face of the world, most of the people were more than willing to let bygones be bygones and settle back into their lives. They had grown too used to peace to jeopardize it by villainizing one another.
Of course, the moment news got out that the Fire Lord had been found within the confines of Omashu's palace, the uproar was monumental. The Northern Water Tribe and Earth Kingdom wanted nothing less than life imprisonment, though they couldn't agree as to where she would be kept. Both had compiled quite the long list of grievances in attempts to further their claim over her head, but Tenzin had stepped in quickly and aggressively, pushing for the trial and sentencing to be carried out in Republic City. The officials of the two nations had begrudgingly agreed; the Northern Water Tribe acquiescing because of the city's sovereignty over itself and the Earth Kingdom glumly conceding that it was still located on its continent.
The road to the bustling metropolis felt longer to the exhausted Avatar than it should have been. Her thoughts raced over what she would do to prove that Kaji had repented for her actions, but she knew that it would be more than a long shot for the firebender to be released without any penance. The chains and cuffs were more than proof of that. Half of the world wanted her blood- Korra was unsure as to whether it was simply figurative or if the girl's life was truly in peril- and the Fire Nation could not afford to fight for its leader when the country was still recovering its reputation from the past war. If the Capital were to absolve her, the mistrust would cripple the moral fortitude that had taken seventy years to build.
No, Korra could see that she and Kaji were very alone in this. All she could hope to the Spirits for was for Tenzin to give the woman a fair trial and find the strength to deal with whatever that sentence happened to entail. She had awaited their return to the land of the living for what had been an eternity in the spiritual plain, but now that they had finally made it back, Korra was faced with yet another wall to climb. At times, she had wanted to just scream and tear at the guards who cast her apologetic looks every time she asked to be let into the armored train car holding the firebender. It had only been when they had reached Republic City's main station that she was able to catch a glimpse at the tall, poised figure climbing out as if she still owned the world despite the compromising binds which must have weighed more than sixty pounds. Korra had roughly pushed aside the poor boy that had been unfortunate enough to try and keep her from walking beside her lover, aware of the effect her feral glares produced among the line of Omashu's elite guards.
Lin had taken them after that, waving off the offered escort from the Earth Kingdomers. Her steel eyes softened at the sight of Korra's defiant frown, patting the young woman's shoulder in a comforting gesture. Korra visibly relaxed after the demeaning- and thoroughly unnecessary in her opinion- cuffs were removed and replaced with much lighter ones which only encircled the wrists, joined by a thick link. The redness of the rough metal gradually diminished until Kaji's forearms and delicate fingers were once again their milky perfection.
They had taken the back roads into the Council Building, keeping far from the curious eyes of the multitude of residents out and about. Spring had come slightly early, warming the atmosphere and calling out the various citizens of the ethnically eclectic city and bringing every prospective vendor to the streets. Korra was more than grateful to the metalbender for being so discrete. There had been enough insult flinging on the way to the train in Omashu and during the trip through the massive continent. It had only been silence the entire way through Republic City's ghost streets and Korra settled for leaning into Kaji's warm body and praying that it would not be the last time she would be allowed that close to the firebender.
And now, on the day before the trial would take place, Korra had finally been given clearance to visit the prisoner in the small room that was usually reserved for visiting delegates but had been made into a makeshift holding area. One of the guards, a young man with hair the color of chestnuts and eyes as green as spring grass, opened the door for her, politely bowing before motioning that she could step into the shadowed space. The candleholders that were stood at each corner glowed with fledgling flames, but the fire was too dim to light the center completely. As such, the plush couch and its current occupant were slightly veiled by the soft shadows dancing opposite the light. Kaji didn't move and Korra thought that she had walked in on the firebender while she slept. It was only when two bright, golden irises locked on her own cerulean eyes that the Avatar was made aware of her mistake.
Silence stretched across the space. It was not a cramped room; complete with a well furnished if not slightly condensed bed on the far side of the door, snuggly placed between two candleholders, the couch upon which the firebender was lazily lounging, and a cabinet for clothing. Kaji had been given a robe of green and gold satin to replace the tattered remnants of the attire that she had worn before, giving her the look of a jade princess. Her hair fell down across her back and shoulders in waves of darkness and the occasional gold reflection of the candlelight which only further complimented her eyes. The pallor of her cheeks was the only indication that the woman felt any sort of trepidation for the oncoming sentencing, and the lack of red lipstick which left her lips a light pink. Korra suddenly felt underdressed in her usual tank top and loose-fitting pants. At least the hide boots she had on were new and held a pleasant sheen. But none of that mattered in the second that it took her to rush across the floor and fall on top of the firebending prodigy. It had been too long. The preparations for the legal proceedings had taken three weeks, which was a considerably shorter time than Korra would have liked; but during the entire ordeal- the choosing of the judges, the incoming witnesses and government heads eager for a taste of what they called justice, and the errands Tenzin had sent her on to keep her busy- Korra had not been allowed, even once, to see Kaji. And now she was here, with the very person she had craved to hold for longer than she should have. Kaji welcomed her rushed hug, but pulled away instantly when her hands began to shake against the Avatar's back. The skin turned an even paler white over the firebender's knuckles as she clutched her traitorous appendages in an effort to keep them still. Korra brought her own hands to cup them, gesturing that it was alright to show a hint of worry around her. Kaji bit her lower lip, searching for any good news to be found in Korra's sapphire depths. The Avatar wished that she could have given more than the truth, but there was no use in hiding how very dire their circumstances had become.
There were no words to say. Everything fell to ash in her mouth. The younger girl gripped at the loose, dark green sleeve as though the fabric hid away some answer. It did not. So they stayed, for however long, in the semi-darkness of the windowless room, and reveled in one another's presence because it would not last and they knew it.
Kaji's face suddenly upturned from where she had been resting it atop Korra's unruly locks. Her right hand slid carefully into the folds of the belt tying the fabric close to her waist. Korra shuffled, placing the arm encircling the firebender's middle higher up so as to allow the older girl access to whatever it was she was reaching for. The doorknob began to shake as someone put in a key, making Korra aware that, even with her in the vicinity, the security did not trust Kaji enough to keep the room unlocked. Before the wood was swung inward to allow a guard to poke his head inside and inform the Avatar that her time was over, Korra felt something crinkly and dry being shoved into her hand. She clenched it as though the entire world would come undone were she to let go.
Leaving was like stepping on hot coals while her heart grew colder and colder with each stride away from the firebender on the little couch. The solace she held in her tightly clenched fist was the only thing keeping her sane. Korra did not turn back, could not turn back, because she knew that she would break irreparably if she were to meet that desperate gaze for even a second more. She would become rooted to the floor, or do something very violent and very illegal to the guards so as to run away with the condemned Fire Lord. The door shut behind her and she felt her legs burn with the need to leave the claustrophobic clutches of the stone walls surrounding her. She needed to see the waves crash on the shore and smell the sea breeze and know that she was alive and that there would always be something to cling to as long as she and Kaji breathed the same air. Her eyes stung with the tears she refused to give in to; and so she ran.
The rock she stood on was a ways away from shore, jutting out of the ocean like a whale frozen forever in its breach to breathe. Her clothing was slightly damp, the sea spray and sunlight feeling so good against her once clammy skin. Only when she could feel her heart's beat level did she take the paper and unravel it. The letters had been written in a hurried fashion, but Kaji's flowing script was unmistakable. A red string tied the half-fold together, looking so similar to the string which had tied Korra to her in the Spirit World and had allowed the Avatar to find her in the reaches of the Arctic Circle. Korra was about to pull the billowing thread, to undo the gentle knot keeping the contents of the note from her eyes, but the writing on the cover caught her attention.
Open only after the trial
Korra couldn't help but feel disappointment. There was less than a day left before the decision that would change the course of their relationship and the curt little sentence stung more than a thousand needles jabbed under Korra's skin. No confession of love or plea to visit her if Kaji were to be imprisoned; not even any closure since Korra knew that she would not dare to even touch the parchment until after the verdict had been reached. There were only those cryptic words which she read and reread until the ink began to blur under the loose mist of salt water which seeped into the paper. Korra stood, gripping the note once more before stowing it securely in her pants pocket. Her legs hit the shore and the ice bridge she had formed broke under the intensity of the sun's rays, melting away into the depths of the ocean as the troubled woman walked away in search of something with which to occupy her time.
Bolin greeted the slouched form of the Avatar with a wide smile though it lacked some of its usual mirth. The earthbending boy closed in for one of his signature platypus-bear hugs, spinning her around before placing her hide boots back on the carpeted floor. The little apartment was colored in deep oranges and browns against the setting sun. Korra had spent quite a lot of her time in the company of the brothers after being rejected time and again in her petitions to visit Kaji. Mako had been just as supportive of her as his brother, even after the manner of their last farewell. It was soothing to be back with the Fire Ferrets, giving Korra the friendly cheer she desperately needed. As night drew in closer, the boys relented to her insistence on cooking, knowing full well that the girl needed something to keep her mind busy and her stomach stable.
"How do you think it's going to go?" Bolin murmured after they had partaken of the meal. No one was explicitly hungry so there were plenty of leftovers lying on the small table.
Korra looked up from where she was unraveling a bit of loose twine from the hem of her shirt, expression morose, "Not well. The only thing Kaji has going for her is the title of Fire Lord, which means that she can command support based on her status, but it's tentative at best. Iroh II has voiced that he is not willing to take over the mantle if she were to be stripped of her holdings so it is slightly more secure… but I just don't see anything good coming out of this."
"And Tenzin?" Mako inquired, his hand resting comfortingly on Korra's knee.
"He's doing everything he can," Korra answered, lowering her head, "He can't blatantly go against what two of the most affluent nations in the world are demanding though. And he isn't the presiding judge due to personal bias, so it all depends on who they choose."
"Anything more we can do?" Bolin shifted restlessly, hating that he had to watch his friend struggle with the prospect of the following day without some kind of plan to fix everything.
"Just wait and see, I guess," Korra mumbled.
The lights flickered, buzzing mildly as the electricity thrummed through the wire beyond the dirty glass encasing it. Outside, the world changed from fluorescent to indigo purple and finally black with the smattering of stars fighting to shine despite the glowing golden light of the metropolis spreading out below and beyond them. Korra's eyelids drooped, pleading for sleep. Her limbs loosened, slumping against the plush cushions of the little sofa they were all crammed together on. Bolin's shoulder became a comfortable pillow as she played with the fingers of Mako's hand in her dreamlike consciousness. She had not slept well in days, maybe even longer- she could not find the mental capacity to remember. Feeling the loving embrace of her best friends soothed all of the impossibly helpless emotions which had been running through her mind like headless pig-chickens, allowing her muscles to finally relax and the stream of blissful nothingness to sweep her away from her troubles, if only for one night.
The hall was glistening white as the rays of the morning flowed down in wide streams past window panes of transparent glass. The seats of polished wood were filled to the last available space with delegates and dignitaries high with anticipation or distress depending on their origin. The balconies, usually kept clear of onlookers, were now holding a massive crowd of civilians eager for the rare opportunity to gaze in on the proceedings taking place. People of every race and nation had gathered upon the second story, leaning over the gilded banisters as though such an action would compel the court to convene sooner. Children ran through the corridors, gaping in glee at the strange men and women adorned with a wide range of exotic jewelry and clothing. More than the quiet affair Korra had been hoping for, Kaji's judgment seemed to be the highlight of some strange circus performance where every Lord and Lady had come to compete for the title of most impressive display. It made the Avatar grit her teeth to keep from biting out a string of insults and curses that would have gotten her removed from the building. Ahead of the assembly of officials on the lower story, was the curved table where the council would sit and deliberate over the facts and the fitting punishment. Tenzin stood, stiff as the statue of his father overlooking the harbor, to the far left of the curve. Next to him was a sour looking Earth Kingdom man whose trim black beard fell down to his knees. His head was conspicuously bald, except a ring nearly touching his neck, which ended at his ears. Cold grey eyes searched his surroundings, but he never stayed on one aspect of the hall or the people in it for very long. To the far right stood the Fire Nation dignitary. The old woman had never completely recovered from her time in the Northern Water Tribe, keeping a wet cough every few minutes. Korra wondered whether she would be an ally to Kaji or whether the ordeal the young woman had put her through would affect the old woman's judgment negatively. Beside her was the Northern Water Tribe councilman; a man Korra had not seen before since the previous men who had held the position kept on dropping dead. And the Head of the proceedings; the chosen Judge who would pass the final sentencing. Korra gaped at the familiar blue furs and white braided hair; the clear blue eyes that met hers with a stormy seriousness that lacked its usual warmth and care. Master Katara paced across the small space between the conversing, arguing representatives looking much like a caged leopard-lion ready to strike. Korra had not known that the elder woman would be the one to lead the court or she would have not let her go anywhere without a word in Kaji's defense. Thinking back on the past weeks, Korra realized, somewhat smitten, that she had done nothing but that regardless. And the ice behind the willful stare the waterbending master shared with her pupil gave Korra no hope. Katara would have portrayed some form of reassurance if there was any to be given, but all that filled the cerulean depths was business.
A hush fell over the marble room. Movement seemed to be nonexistent in the cavernous hall excluding the swinging doors to the end of the corridor. Three guards entered, two flanking the prisoner and one standing behind. They wore ceremonial green robes with twin black phoenixes circling their cuffs and the backs of the swirling fabric. Long spears were held perpendicular to the ground, gleaming at the tips whenever they hit a beam of sunlight. Korra groaned inwardly at the show they were putting on, knowing full well that Lin's force were hiding behind every ornate column and around each corner leading out of the great hall. They would be the ones who would react if someone stepped out of line, not the overdressed green boys in their silken wrappings and medieval weapons.
Kaji herself had been allowed to keep the robe she had worn when Korra had spent those few moments alone with her the previous day. The soft slippers made small clicking noises, giving away the wood soles which would be more supportive during the long period of standing and listening to the list of accusations being read. Her hair had been done in a tight topknot; each strand neatly tucked in and tied by a shining evergreen band. The missing crown made Korra's stomach flip as she wondered the possible implications of its gaping absence. The Fire Lord's head was held high and she walked with the elegance and grace of a ruler, making sure to keep her eyes locked on the five men and women on the dais and completely ignoring the angry scowls directed her way. It was only when she passed Korra where the Avatar stood at the front left edge of the row of seats at the right end of the room that she made a slight acknowledging bow. Korra hated not being able to do anything but return the gesture with her own inclined head, but she knew that it would do little help for their cause if she were to burst into tears for a seemingly unknown reason.
"Kaji, daughter of Kirei, of Agni's bloodline; Fire Lord and ruler of the Fire Nation," Tenzin began with the long list of titles. Korra felt a sudden relief wash over her as the words rang across the silenced crowd. Angered whispers hissed their dissent, but they were quickly quieted by the continuation of Tenzin's speech.
"You have come before this court, in Republic City, to be tried for your past crimes which will be read out shortly. It is in the spirit of peace that we hold this judging here where the Four Nations agreed to build a city dedicated to keeping that peace amongst one another. It is with these virtues- peace and justice and truth- upon which this council was founded on in mind, that we will continue. If there is anyone in this room who holds biases against the accused, they may stand and exit for there will be no need for blinded hate in the decisions we must make."
Korra glanced around the room, noting quite a few people who would have fit the criteria splendidly, but no one dared move. The event would be marked in the history of all the nations and each person standing or sitting was willing to die rather than miss what would happen next.
"Very well," Tenzin sighed after a moment's pause. His long fingers pushed the rim of his glasses higher over his nose, picking up the piece of parchment presented to him by an attendant. "Kaji of the Fire Nation, you are charged with conspiracy to kidnap four delegates of this council; conspiracy to undermine the working government of the Earth Kingdom; conspiracy to overthrow the Northern Water Tribe and colonize it for yourself; conspiracy to kill and the eventual murder of Fire Lord Inzei; the deaths of the former Earth Kingdom dignitary; the false accusation of Aroostook and his eventual murder; and conspiracy to start another world war. Among the other charges are the deaths of several Earth Kingdom and Northern Water Tribe citizens who were caught in the crossfire of plans for territorial conquest which have been linked to you through the confession of Izuru Kain, former Dai Li agent and leader. What do you plead?"
The tension pervading the assembly hall was palpable; Korra pictured an old magazine cartoon of a bender cutting smoke with his bending and could not keep the image from transferring to the oppressive atmosphere clinging to her body. The cooling air drafts were suddenly not enough to stay the heat pulsating through the Avatar's nerves, catching her veins on fire until her heart was unable to beat. A collective intake of breath was held as every single person in the world awaited an answer. And through it all, standing just as though she was being given an oral exam on the history of cabbage sales, Kaji didn't so much as flinch. Stoicism was the only word for the prosecuted party, shared only by Katara's cool gaze. Even Tenzin had begun to sweat slightly, the droplets falling along his long neck to darken the yellow of his robes into a rustic brass.
The room echoed with the one word. The exhale came, spewing from many faces red with exertion and the strain to release the compressed air. Korra's heart broke from its stricken state, exploding into a rhythm far surpassing ramming speed. Her throat was dry and the meaning of Kaji's utterance was lost upon the assembled audience, each confounded as to what the two syllables could possibly translate to.
"Guilty of all charges."
Hell breaking loose would not have begun to cover the calamity that befell the Council Building. The stone itself shook with the rising voices shouting in victory or outrage. Earth Kingdom men cried out punishments, each one getting worse than the last until the roar became unintelligible and Korra could only hear animalistic shrieks. Women in the stands clawed at each other as their husbands shoved one another, each one agreeing on one thing if nothing else: the extent of the consequences to Kaji's confession. The Avatar herself was the last one still seated amidst the madness that was the struggling mass of warring opinions. Some brave Fire Nationals stood up for their Lord, but the tide of rage soon washed away their meek protests, gathering steam until a few men broke from their places and charged at the bored firebender.
Instantaneously, steel coils sprang from behind the decorative pillars, wrapping the offending personages and pulling them away to the waiting areas. More shouts ensued; curses rang out, insinuating some hidden agenda. Not that Korra blamed them. She too had to wonder what the Fire Lord was thinking to confess when, clearly, she knew that it would be the ruin of her.
"We will have order!" though the command was said at the decibel of a normal conversation, the effect was unanimous. Master Katara's words would not go ignored without serious repercussions and all present were perfectly aware of the frightening reputation of the woman when she was pushed past her calm demeanor. Once the hall had returned to its attentive aura, the waterbender continued, "Nothing has been decided yet and any further disruption will not be tolerated."
With his mother's approval, Tenzin picked up his list once more from where he had dropped it in preparation for the worst. His grey eyes scanned the words slightly before his lips gave them life and projected them across the stands, "Since these crimes are of an international nature, it will not be possible to punish them in accordance to the laws of any one nation."
Annoyed calls rang out in several places to be silenced with a sharp glare and a few more bundles of wire being dragged from the room.
"Aside from that, there is also the issue of your status as leader of the Fire Nation," the monk continued unperturbed.
Korra sighed. She had known the title to be a tentative barrier against a life sentencing, but if Kaji was relying solely on that then Korra could not agree with the immediate confession. It would have been a lie to plead otherwise, however. It was so difficult not able to vouch for the woman's innocence, and yet to have seen Kaji as she had been in the Spirit World- so full of willingness to give up all of her empire of fire for the Avatar's love- was a constant pressure against Korra's chest. She could not condemn the girl. But she was a rabbit-mouse in a sea of vengeful leopard-lions. A rabbit-mouse could do nothing.
The Fire Nation representative lifted her hand into the air, motioning her right to speak. The voice was weak from her sickness causing everyone in the room to lean in so as to catch her statement, "The girl Kaji has been stripped of her rights as Fire Lord by the Fire Sages when they held council after her disappearance. Our nation has taken upon itself a council of elders who will govern it until Prince Iroh II is ready to take his place, or instructions are given to the contrary. And to ensure she is not the source of further dissention, her name and power have been stripped as well."
Ice froze the fire in Korra's veins. Her body was a marvel to not have turned into some biological goop after all of the mental and physical shocks it was taking every split second. She turned to the former Fire Lord, now without claim or name, expecting some of the heated anger that broke through her tranquility every once in a while. If anything would break through the calm exterior, Korra would have guessed it to be the news that everything Kaji had worked so hard for had been taken from her, just like it had been done to her grandmother. And yet, not even a twitch. Kaji's face remained neutral, her lips pulled in a straight line and eyes facing the council with a gaze of such pure power that some of the delegates were shifting from foot to foot in discomfort. The old woman denouncing her visibly blanched, covering her step back with a fit of coughing until an attendant came to offer her a glass of water.
She knew about this, Korra thought. Had it been a surprise, she knew that Kaji would have been furious. No, the Fire National had known all along that she had lost. Korra could not look at her anymore. The striking cool façade was not one of strength anymore, but one of a woman who knew that she had lost. Kaji was staring into the maw of her doom, placing the rest of her pride on her face so that no man, woman, or child would question her personal prowess when she was faced with the chopping block. They would not see her break down under their stares of condescension because, though her lineage had been denounced, she was still a Princess of Fire in every fiber of her being. The Avatar watched as the crowd surged forward, waves breaking against a hard stone. Kaji's stone held against them all.
"Then we shall proceed as we would without consideration for the future of the Fire Nation's political stability," Katara continued on, not once looking at Korra's desperate face. She had known too. Korra angrily questioned whether she had been the only one who had not known of the firebender's dethroning. The feeling of emptiness threatened to consume her. She could have been there to comfort the stubborn girl as the floor dropped right out from under her, but no one had deemed Korra worthy of the knowledge that the trial had ended before it had even begun. There would be no happy endings.
More evidence was produced, writing read aloud, and confessions of accomplices uncovered, but none of it mattered anymore. Korra didn't hear anything; she had known of the plots and cared little for the fine details. The betrayal had lessened over her venture to the Spirit World with Kaji, though the familiar sting of it had not completely gone away. She just sat there; a ghost amongst the living, without breath or thought. Her eyes drifted over the new architecture, passing the milky marble swimming like ice cream melting down in sticky rivulets. The colors of those behind her and to either side of her blended in some sickening vertigo of the rainbow, hurting her eyes until Korra could bear it no longer and snapped them shut. Her ears rang with the whispered words she had shared with Kaji and Katara and Tenzin and finally everyone else she had ever known. She pictured her parents, and then Naga, feeling the pang of loneliness and wishing for nothing more than to curl up next to her polar bear-dog and never wake up again. The world hurt too much for that.
Someone shaking her shoulder broke her from her stupor. The golden eyes behind her eyelids were replaced with concerned grey, darkened by a phantom's shadow. The features of the man came into focus over time; the long nose and strong chin along with a very shiny bald head painted blue in some places to form an arrow. A beard hid the finer lines of lips which moved slowly as though the man were stuck in a dimension much slower than the one the Avatar currently occupied. Her mouth quirked up into a smile at the ridiculousness of the moment, though her humor did not seem to register to the man as his bushy eyebrows furrowed in the center between his eyes.
"Korra," her name was said. The Avatar shook her head to clear the dust gathering in place of her neurons and caking the synapses.
"Tenzin," she replied, voice hollow and unemotional.
"The trial is over," he spoke. It was then that Korra realized that the room was practically empty except for the two of them and Katara standing behind the curved table of the Council. Fear gripped her as the last moments of cognizance resurfaced in her memory.
Tenzin's stern look did not change; only his eyes flickered from worry to defeat. Korra did not need the words; she could plainly see that whatever had been decided on would not be anything good to hear. Still she gulped down the veritable bee-wasp hive in her head and braced herself for Tenzin's next line.
"It was better than what some were asking for. She will not be sentenced to death… but the Northern Water Tribe and Earth Kingdom both want her to pay partial time within their prisons to make up for her misdeeds against them."
The man's eyes flickered back to his mother. Katara's superb sixth sense notified the old woman that she was to be the one to give the answer to the mortified Avatar sitting numb in her wooden seat. Without even a glance in their direction, Katara grimaced, "Forty years in each country. They agreed to nothing less than that or a public execution."
"F-forty" Korra stammered. Kaji would spend her remaining years, and most probably die, in the dark dungeons of the two continents. It was unbearable.
"Korra, it was for the best," Tenzin tried to quell the rising panic in the young woman's shaking hands. Korra didn't want any of it. All the placating would do little to heal the festering wound over her heart which opened further each time she tried to picture eighty years in a prison. The hand placed on her knee brought her back into her physical body. Throwing away the unwanted touch, she did the only thing she knew how to do when overwhelming circumstances pushed her past the edge: she ran to the sea.
Back on a rock, not quite sure if it was the same one as before or whether she had found a similar outcropping, Korra added her own salty tears to the raging waters swirling around her. The sky was as clear as any, completely opposite of the darkness creeping into Korra's being. She tried to remember Guru Pathik's words, but the kindly old man was always drowned out by the ominous thought of eighty years without the person she had fallen in love with. Her hands clamped down on the furs inside of her pockets, frantic for something to hold onto as the world spun out of her control. Only, one of her fists curled itself around more than just warm strands of animal. The paper had stayed with her throughout the worst day of her life, and now it was here to remind her of Kaji's determined final gift to her.
She reread the first words over. Open only after the trial. The trial was over. Her fingers could not pick out the steadfast knot for a few seconds of struggle until she finally cut the string in two and placed it inside her pocket as a keepsake. She felt that any connection she held onto was a stronger bond to Kaji's faraway form, wherever they had taken her to await transport to the Earth Kingdom's capital.
The parchment was damp only five seconds after she opened it because of the unrelenting winds. Korra deftly drew the water out and away before unfolding the small piece of parchment, all the while wondering how the older girl had gotten a hold of paper and ink when they had not permitted anything in her room other than food for the past weeks.
The rooftop above the noodle shop. Dawn tomorrow.
Korra stared dumbfounded. What the hell would be on the rooftop of the noodle shop at dawn? She did not dare hope for an actual meeting when the security around the firebender was tighter than Lin's arm hold when she was upset. There would be something else waiting for her though, surely. Kaji was no longer someone who would trick her. Not after Koh and the Faceless. There had to be something that would fix all of this. Something that would set everything to the way it had been on that evening under the midnight sky with the fireworks blossoming against the stars.
Walking back inland in a dazed confusion, Korra headed over to the Pro Bending Arena where she would wait out the last hours of the day and await dawn with a fervor that would undoubtedly keep her from sleep.
The rooftop was empty. She had searched high and low, dusted off every layer of residue from the industrial district, and looked into every nook and cranny for the past hour with not a sign of anything significant. She had even chased after a spider-scorpion for fifteen minutes, convinced that there was something resembling a message attached to one of its legs. Frustrated and filthy, Korra settled against the banister and growled under her breath. The infuriating firebender must have hit a snag somewhere along the line; maybe the parcel or whatever it was that had been meant for the Avatar had been taken by the deliverer, never to be seen by her blue eyes. That made her frantically look down on the street, searching for any shady looking character holding something that resembled a package. There were quite a few ruffians, and some pedestrians with wrapped baggage, but nothing she was willing to blow her cover for.
"Sorry I'm late," a sudden voice called out from behind, causing Korra to nearly jump out of her skin, "The guards were harder to lose than expected."
And there, standing in the middle of the rising sun like some resurrected hero from an ancient legend and patting down her casual red sweater and dark black pants, was the one person Korra had been certain she would have never seen again. With her signature smirk, Kaji came over to her and wrapped her in a long, soothing embrace before crashing their lips together in a much anticipated kiss. Korra found herself quickly pushed against the stone support as the heat in her head increased to epic proportions. It was like being given a reason for life once more, to feel the petal-soft lips flutter against hers and taste spice and cinnamon on Kaji's tongue. When they broke apart, it was only to breathe and Korra made sure to keep the firebender's body flush against hers so as to never break the contact between them ever again.
"I missed you," Kaji sighed into her neck creating butterflies in Korra's stomach. Her mouth was dry and she remembered no words with which to respond. All she knew was that she was never letting go ever again.
"You got away," she finally managed. She didn't know how, nor did she really care. All that mattered was the girl in her arms, and the fact that she would fight everyone and anyone who tried to tear them away from one another.
"I still have some loyal followers, though I'm sure they won't be happy to know that I'm not planning some amazing comeback after this," the smile on the older girl's face was so off place in their current situation that Korra had to laugh. Only the overconfidence of the former Fire Lord could lift her spirits under impossible odds.
Seriousness sobered the Avatar up soon enough, "You can't stay here! They'll find you."
"I still have some time," Kaji looked over her shoulder as though expecting her captors to climb over the far wall any moment, "I wanted to talk."
Korra twisted her fingers through the long mane of silken hair, slightly billowing in the wind, "Talk about what?"
"Anything really," Kaji murmured.
"Where will you go?" Korra asked. "After this."
"Always business with you," Kaji chuckled before her face fell in concentration, "I have a few places where I can lay low. Don't worry, I've been taught what to do just in case world domination somehow falls short of its goal."
Korra returned the playful smirk, wondering whether the statement was exaggerated or, much more likely, the girl really had been given a crash course on evading guards and search parties.
"I always wanted to ask you…" Kaji began but the words died on her tongue. Korra's fingers splayed against her warm, porcelain cheek. When gold met blue against the pink of dawn, the older of the two continued, "How do you do it?"
"What do you mean?" Korra scrunched her brow as a sign of her lack of understanding.
Kaji sighed looking down at the Avatar's stomach and running her fingers up and down the expanse of light blue, "I read in a book once that the universe is constantly moving toward chaos. It takes an amazing amount of energy to reverse destruction into something with meaning and form. Balance is constantly being disrupted by nature itself. So how do you not break under the pressure? When the entire universe is against you."
Korra sat back, leaning her head over the short cement building. The pale sky above was cloudless and vast, keeping them all from shriveling under the power of the unbridled sun. She watched a flock of birds, too far away to discern the species, fly across an atmosphere that was so stable and constant no matter where she went, that for once it felt like everything was as it should have been. And then she knew her answer.
"Balance and chaos aren't so different from one another really," she whispered as though it were a secret. "Without destruction there would be no space for new things to blossom in the place of those that have been lost. I don't fight the chaos; I just try to lessen the impact. And there really isn't some grand scale plan I have for it… I just go day by day like everyone else."
A thought came to Korra's mind and she spoke before thinking better, "Why did you confess?"
Kaji frowned, biting her lower lip in contemplation before answering, "I didn't want to lie. Just once, I didn't want to lie."
The blissful quiet that enveloped them was supplemented with the sounds of the city waking up and setting its day in motion. The disorderly manner with which everyone moved about only served to compliment the living thing that Republic City had become. Each individual life tying in with others in an endless mesh of connectivity. There was no one alone in the gleaming mass of buildings. And it was so peaceful that Korra forgot everything for a moment. There no longer was any need to fret over the future and the past. There was only now, and she felt her chakras open to the universe for the first time in quite a while. Kaji drew herself into the welcoming embrace of the girl she loved without restriction, noting the content embers settled in the pit of her stomach.
Faraway shouting reached their ears, pulling the two girls out of their fancied daydreaming. Korra's eyes filled with unhidden worry while Kaji peered over the edge of the building's roof to take in the rushing policemen combing the streets.
"You have to go," Korra spoke urgently, though her arms wrapped around the body of the firebender with no intention of releasing her.
"I know," Kaji returned the iron grip with her own touch, light as the caress of a jasmine blossom.
"Will I ever see you again?" Korra had to know. Even if the answer was a definite 'no,' she had to have some sort of closure if she was to keep her sanity over the oncoming years.
Kaji smiled her brilliant white smile at the question. Standing up and stretching in the rising sunlight, she looked like the weight of her nineteen years had completely left her. With a wink she walked over to the far rim of the banister and stood atop it on one leg and laughingly said, "Don't worry. As long as I know where you are I will find you. Always."
And then she fell away. Korra ran over to the side of the building, wanting a final glimpse at the Fire Nation beauty, but found that Kaji had seemingly vanished from the face of the earth. Something next to her hand caught her eye and she saw a red string tied around a loose nail jutting out of the wall. The string stretched toward the distant sunrise and, for a split second, Korra thought she saw a shade jumping from rooftop to rooftop, giving chase to the sun. Slinging her feet over the edge of the building, the Avatar started humming a tune she remembered from her childhood and happily swung her legs back and forth as her fingers played with the red string of fate that would always lead her to her firebender.
Yes, she thought, there is life to look forward to after this.
P.S: I will miss you all terribly. I am sorry if this chapter lacked a bit in romance, but I just had my first kiss and it was really rather disappointing so I wasn't much in the mood for flourish poetry... but you all don't care about that. The ending is loose so that you lovely, awesome readers can imagine all of the shinanigans the characters will get into... or not, whatever it is you like. So with tears of sadness and joy, I close this chapter and this story. Fare well, but send me some reviews anyway and I promise to PM each and every one of you so we can celebrate the end together. BYE for now and hope to have written something enjoyable.