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August 23, 2014
"Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains."
The morning air was as clear as the sky above Air Temple Island. After three hours of restless sleep, Koeni got up earlier than anybody in the temple, and went out to the yard, trying to gather the courage needed to do what he intended to do. He was in two minds. It's too late, I blew it; I shouldn't do it—or should I? Finally he got himself together and headed to the bedroom suite of Tenzin's family, and then to the small, quiet bedroom situated a long way off the noisy training sites—a perfect place to rest and heal. He opened the door silently.
Korra was in the bed, asleep. Her hand laid on the bedding; the arm was wrapped up in bandages. The fall was not gentle. She looked vulnerable, fragile, tired, and perhaps older, too. For a warrior character like her, being bedridden must have been a difficult experience.
He proceed to move forward; the floor squeaked under his feet. Korra opened her eyes, and noticed him. "It's you."
She didn't answer; she just stared at him, her face motionless and blank. Trying to counter her glare and not to blink, Koeni looked over her face and noticed bags under her eyes. It made him feel... sorry. Three days ago, he couldn't help but feel nothing when in all her rage and disappointment, she confided her failures to him. But now... it was a genuine sympathy. For some reason, though, he looked away.
"It took you two days to come here," she said finally.
It was true, he knew it well enough. And for the past two days, since he heard about Korra's fall, he was reminding himself of that, ashamed.
But in the end—he came.
"I..." the words got stuck in his throat. He wasn't very good at admitting mistakes. "I felt guilty I didn't stop you."
"You didn't stop me," she admitted. And that was all she said.
Another silence fell. Trying to think of anything to change the subject, Koeni was only able to recall a scene from before the fall, the scene of two of them talking. In the library, he asked the Avatar what attached her to the ground. "It's shame," Korra-before-the-fall replied and clenched her fists, just like she always did when she was furious. "I can't fly because I am ashamed." After all, they might have more in common than they both thought.
But as of now, Korra-after-the-fall looked too weak to clench her fists. She barely moved; talking seemed to wore her.
"Two days," Korra broke the silence. "It's a lot of time to think. Not during the day, of course, when the girls try to help you so much you start suspect something's not right, and Meelo does his best not to be scared when he looks at you. But at nights... my thoughts had whole nights to wander freely." Her tone was ironic, her face without a smile. "You see, I decided to take your advice. I started to think."
"Do you know what's funny? I don't remember the fall. I don't remember the moment I hit the ground. I don't remember my flying. The only thing I remember is us—talking." She paused for a while. "Two days is a lot of time to think; I was replaying our conversation over and over again in my head: especially the moment I told you I was ready. And maybe I was. Maybe I wasn't. The point is, I don't remember. There's no way to draw any conclusions from all this. The world just doesn't let me, even if I want to. Maybe it's a sign?"
Koeni coughed, but didn't reply.
"You told me to stop a little and think. I did. And the joke's on me."
"I'm sorry, Korra."
"Yeah," she snorted. "You're sorry. You're ashamed. What are the other bricks in your wall, Koeni?" she asked, mirroring his words from their last conversation.
I am. I am the brick.
"I wondered why Tenzin had you teach me; maybe it was to make us learn from each other? And I see it now: we both were so naïve. All the talking like we know everything, even though we're just teenagers, all this anger, all the pain we used to shield ourselves from the truth... I don't really know what caused it, and to be honest, I don't care anymore. But you shouldn't feel guilty. Most of it was my fault. You may have pushed me a little, yes, but... In spite of our wrongdoings, all of our mistakes, you have helped me, Koeni. You've helped me let go."
"Let go of what?" A second after he said that, he recalled it was the same question he had asked her last time. Now, however, the context was different: he was the one being lectured.
"Expectations." Korra's voice sounded calm, but her face was sad.
For a while, Koeni wondered if it was a barb about his "teachings," or about him being too afraid to see her for the past two days. She really doesn't seem to care anymore. Perhaps it's for the best. Even if that's my fault. Even if she blames me for it deep inside—despite what she says aloud. He had no idea if he should feel better about this.
Nonetheless, Korra was right, and he realised that she didn't just looked older because of her injuries—somehow, she matured. The fall first broke her, and then forged anew. She wasn't the girl with the glider he left at the cliff, not anymore.
After they parted—after she flew away—Koeni was so angry at Korra that he went straight to his room and went to sleep even though he knew it was futile. He, too, replayed the conversation in his head over and over again. But to his own surprise, for the first time in a very long time he found himself focusing on her pain instead of his own. And of course there was also this weird sensation somewhere inside his stomach... he had no idea what it was, but it appeared every time his mind wandered to Korra—and it made him even more angry, because he didn't understand it.
He used to be certain of his view of the world. And though he didn't want to admit it to himself, his illness, a direct result of randomness and meaninglessness of the universe, resulted in him trying to find a meaning behind the world. Deep under, he believed there must have been at least some reasons for things to happen, even if he might not be the one to uncover them.
This faith, however, had been just shaken: once again he failed to stay true to his own words—to what he earlier told Korra. He should finally accept that real life isn't about heroes and their great deeds or words. It's about people and their little big mistakes. But unbeknownst to him, the constant pain made him a kind of sufferer. Did he subconsciously expose himself to failures? He did not know.
And so, Koeni didn't sleep that night—but he didn't have any cough attack either.
He heard about Korra's fall first thing in the morning. She lost control of her glider, they said, and for some reason was unable to use airbending or the Avatar State to save herself until the very last moment; Tenzin speculated that her abilities were only unlocked when she hit the ground, and that was also when the Avatar State took over to use Korra's earthbending and ease off the fall. After dawn, someone finally found her; her injuries were severe, but not fatal, and Tenzin used his influence to get the best healers of the Republic City as soon as possible. That's why she lived.
As days passed, Korra was getting better. Koeni's shame, on the other hand, got only worse—up to the moment he came to visit her.
She looked at him.
"I'm... I'm glad you're not dead." Not the smoothest thing to say, he knew it, but it was all he could think of. And he really was glad.
Having smiled blankly, Korra moved in the bed to get herself up. After a while, she managed to sit and invited him to seat himself beside her. He did; he had no idea what to do next, though, so the two of them looked at the wall in silence. Koeni's guilt began to fade away, but his uncertainty did not—right now it was bigger than ever. I must go. He didn't know where or why. He just wanted to be somewhere else.
"I must go," he repeated aloud.
For the first time during their conversation, she seemed taken aback. But as it turned out, she didn't want to know why he was leaving. Perhaps she knew.
"May I ask you for something?" she said instead.
He nodded, eager to finally get out of there.
"That night... the night of the fall... I told you I've got to go, because there are things I have to fix. Debts I must pay off. This haven't changed." She sighed heavily. "What I meant back then is, I've got to say sorry to my friends. Mako... Bolin... Asami..." Even though her face livened up since they'd begun to talk, these words filled her eyes up with pain. "Things between us got nasty lately. Problem is, they haven't visited me yet. Could you... could you find out what happened?"
Tenzin hasn't told her about Bolin and Asami yet...
He nodded in silence and wanted to leave, when she interrupted him again.
"Thanks, Koeni." Her voice sounded tired—but warm.
Thanks, Korra, he thought—and went out.
| It's not finished yet.
As you can see, I'm trying out a new way of publishing Phantoms' episodes. The story keeps growing and expanding, so I decided that new chapters, starting with this one, would be split into parts to ensure you the comfort of reading experience.
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Scenes in the episode: 1/7
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