Don't Let The Darkness Overcome

Note: This ones a rollercoaster, boys. Even I had to be slow with it. btw there's absolutely 0 editing done for it so I'm super sorry but I just can't be bothered to ediiiiit.

/BREAK/

"Nya, Cole, Kai, Zane and Lloyd. Long ago, the five Elemental Masters lived in harmony. Then, everything changed when Kai attacked," Lloyd dramatically begins their daily ritual before they can turn the TV on. Watching The Legend Of Aang is something of a tradition on the bounty and every time, they have to go through the opening - except it's their version and as Kai has gladly put it many times, the better version. It's something they used to do all the time and apparently, haven't done since Kai fell into a coma. For various reasons but Kai is going to let his mind wander and instead uses one of the lighter excuses - there is no Legend of Aang without the fire nation attacking. With Kai gone, no fire nation.

Everyone is smiling at the return of their daily antics - even Jay has managed to conjure up a smile, unable to keep it down. It's starting to feel familiar to him again.

"Why must you do this to us, Kai?" Zane asks, not nearly as dramatic as Lloyd's opening but coming close. Jay snickers, covering his mouth with his hands to muffle the sound. Cole is biting his lips, trying to keep quiet. From experience, they all know that if anyone makes a sound, they change the tide of the war and they get attacked instead of the designated element. Kai distinctly remembers Jay interrupting once and his Nation getting totalled by Nya and Zane. Even the motormouth had learned to keep quiet during the ceremony. This wasn't as chaotic as Monopoly but it certainly came close. It was always exciting.

"I did what I had to!" Kai cries, standing up and pretending like he's about to fight a battle he has no choice but to take a part in. The sound of muffled snickers only pushes him to be more dramatic. "My nation is-" he struggles to come up with something to say. Once upon a time, his ego would continue the rest for him but now, he has no idea what to say. He could compliment himself 20 times a day and it still wouldn't be enough but now he can't even think of one good quality about himself, let alone his fake nation.

"Is, uh…" He scrambles for words, hoping that the others won't pick up on his internal turmoil. "The best nation because we're… we got good hair-" He winces slightly at his own words but a big smile forms anyway. He may not believe the things he used to, but he can pretend.

"That's not a very good reason to wage war on the world, Kai," Cole interrupts and Kai spins to face him so quickly, he's worried he broke something in the process. He pushes down the irrational fear trying to creep on him. He will be happy today.

"YOU DARE DEFY ME?" Kai booms in fake anger. Jay looks at Cole, a smug look in his eyes and Kai just knows he's delighting in this. It's usually Jay that interrupts, after all. "FOR YOUR CRIMES, I WILL DESTROY YOUR NATION! EARTH MUST GO!"

(His element screams in his chest, burning away at its cage and spitting fire everywhere. Kai forces it back with all the willpower he has left. This constant battle is never over but Kai refuses to fight himself every single moment. The fire roars, yearning for destruction and Kai dismisses it, pushing it further and further away from him.)

"What?!" Cole demands, outraged. He stands up defensively. "You wish you could beat my nation! Ha, I'd like to see you try and breach the walls of Ba-Sing-Se! We'll obliterate you!"

Kai moves so he's directly in front of Cole. "Bring it, Earth," Kai challenges. Cole grins and crosses his arms. Nya is rolling her eyes but her smile is hard to miss. Lloyd throws himself back onto the couch to watch the show - which is obviously currently Kai and Cole before they can start the actual show.

"Oh, we will, Fire," Cole retorts. (He's not the master of fire anymore. He's the master of Nothing. He's fighting a losing battle and he can feel his control slipping.) Kai feels his face split into a grin and he can't stop his laugh. Cole slings an arm around his shoulder and with that, the dramatic ritual is over. (This weight drags him down and tries to keep him under but he won't let it.) They settle down on the couch while Lloyd turns on the TV.

It's just as Kai remembers it. They're rewatching the show because 1, it's an awesome show. 2, it's been a year since anyone watched it and a recap is necessary but they didn't want to go back by just a few episodes. Better to watch it all. 3, To see if they can spot any differences. The following hours are not particularly peaceful - they're a loud and chaotic group watching a series with quite a bit of action - and Kai can still feel his fire trying to fight against him. He ignores it, for the most part, just wanting to have a good time. He can worry about his fire later.

Despite that, it's a constant presence in his mind, weighing him down at all times. He can't ignore it. It's like a constant reminder without any alerts. It's just there and he knows it is but, in those moments, there's nothing he can immediately do anyway. He just wants to think he's okay for a little bit, even though he's far from it.

They spend hours binging Avatar. He doesn't know when exactly he falls asleep but he knows it's somewhere deep within the night, nestled amongst his family.

/BREAK/

The wind rushes through his hair and pricks at his eyes. Panic suffocates him as he flails wildly. He can feel himself hurtling towards the ground at a rapid rate, unable to stop his fall. He has to-he needs to- the ground, he can't let himself hit the ground-.

He tries to summon his Dragon, tries to summon the creature that has saved his life more times than he cares to count, that has caught him countless times when he's fallen, but something is blocking him from reaching his Dragon. It's like a wall and despite how he tries, he cannot summon it into the world, can't call for its help. Instead, his dragon remains sleeping and uncalled for.

He tries to use his fire - if he can create enough force behind it, it can slow his fall. But his fire isn't responding properly either. He can feel it, inside him, shifting and changing. It won't respond to him right now, despite how much he tries to force it out. He needs it, it's his last resort for stopping his fall but it's not responding to him. He has long since felt the beginning of corruption but now he's losing and it's taking the last of his strength to simply fight back. He's being stretched too thin, he simply doesn't have the additional power right now. Regardless, his desperation has him trying anyway but the parts of his fire that he can reach are simply too weak to be able to do much.

His brothers and sister aren't here and he honestly doesn't know when they will be, so that leaves a last-minute rescue out of reach (unless a miracle occurs and they catch him before he hits the ground). Maze is too far away to grab, as is his helicopter and the walls of the canyon(where is he? He has no idea where he is) are also too far away. He throws his arms up, hoping against hope that he'll have the luck to find something to grab onto before he lands on the ground.

The ground approaches him far too fast for his liking and he can see it all clearly. He squeezes his eyes shut, wishing to be anywhere but here. He's not ready, he can't hit the ground, he doesn't want to. There has to be something else he can do, something to stop that horrible impact, anything. Something, there has to be something- He doesn't want to hit the ground. He doesn't want to die. Not like this.

CRACK!

Kai wakes up with a soundless gasp, out of breath. He's covered in sweat again. The room is dark. Kai rubs a hand down his face in frustration - another nightmare (flashback? He honestly can't tell). He winces at the feeling of his hand, still not used to feeling the scars. His fire had left 2nd-degree burn scars all the way up to his elbows and the scars were rough, patchy and itchy. It's weird and infuriating and another thing that bothers him that he can't do anything about. He just has to adjust. He tries to cover the scars - reminders - but gloves tend to get too itchy and it makes him uncomfortable. It's like the scars can suffocate and it's annoying. Long sleeves didn't work out well either - his fire is making him overheat frequently and having long sleeves just makes it worse. He's settling on just keeping his arms and fingers wrapped at all times but he takes the wraps off every now and then to not irritate the scars too much (he can only hope the sensitivity will fade soon). This night was one of those instances.

Kai quietly groans, pulling himself up and sitting up, his feet touching the floors. He'd traded bunks with Zane so he was at the bottom. He just… can't do the extra height right now. (Being on the bounty is honestly giving him a constant heart attack but there's nothing he can do. This is their home. The Monastery was destroyed sometime throughout the past year and they're rebuilding. Again. There's nowhere else to go but the hospital but Kai doesn't want to go back there. He can't. He won't. He hates hospitals now. He's spent - lost - too much time there.)

He rubs at his eyes, sighing. With a flare of annoyance, he realises he's been crying in his sleep. Great. He rubs the tears away tiredly. Needless to say, he's not very happy right now. He looks around the room. Looks like all his brothers are still sleeping. He squints in confusion. Hold on, where's Cole? The realisation that Cole isn't here sends a bolt of anxiety through him and he quickly stands up. Cole is fine, he has to be, but Kai isn't going back to sleep any time soon and his fears scream at him, telling him that something is wrong. In order to calm his own fears and ensure his brother is okay, he marches out of the shared room - quietly, of course (the instinct to be quiet never really went away, even if he didn't use it when it mattered most. E.g. stealth missions).

He finds Cole relatively quickly - he checked the living room first, then the kitchen, which is where he finds him. It's not much of a surprise, it's a small ship and there aren't many things they tend to do at night. Kai himself fondly remembers a few times his anger or frustration got the better of him and he ended up secretly training out on the deck. It was actually harder than it sounds - training wasn't exactly quiet and when all occupants of the bounty were fast asleep and most were light sleepers, he had to be very quiet. Somehow, he managed it but at least half the time he got caught. Sometimes Sensei Wu would offer advice, sometimes he'd pretended it never happened, and others he'd go extra hard on Kai during the day - whether that was to tire him out so he wouldn't do it again or as punishment, Kai could never really tell. Sensei Wu was hard to read on the best of days.

Cole is nursing a cup of hot cocoa and staring down at the table, frowning. He looks like he's deep in thought. Kai debates leaving him be, since he may be looking for some alone time but then he remembers how he's left them all alone for long enough and now is the time to start interrupting.

"Hey," Kai greets, taking a few steps in the kitchen. Cole jumps, startled, hot cocoa pouring out of the mug and onto his hands. Kai winces as Cole hisses. (Fire eats away at his skin, burning away the cells and leaving nothing behind. The pain is unbearable as it strips him of all that he is. A heat so intense it's unmanageable for the rest of his body, let alone the parts of him it's actually burning. He screams, trying and failing to do something to help deal with the pain of being ripped apart by his own powers.)

"Uh, crap, sorry. I didn't mean to-uh, hold on…" Kai quickly moves to the counter, grabbing the nearest dish towel and handing it Cole. "I'm sorry, man. Didn't mean to scare you," For a brief moment, he debates asking Cole why he's always so jumpy but decides against it. They aren't there yet. Maybe.

"No, no, it's fine. I just wasn't expecting anyone. Why are you up? Shouldn't you go back to sleep?" Cole asks, wiping off the table and the bottom of his mug. He rinses his hands off and then returns to his earlier position.

Kai decides he's not too fond of telling Cole about his constant nightmares. Don't they worry about him enough as it is? "Couldn't sleep," he states. Cole immediately gives him a look that says he doesn't believe that in the slightest and Kai has to withhold his wince. He manages well enough but Cole can probably see through him. "What about you?" He redirects the conversation.

"Same reason as you," Cole replies mildly, taking a sip of his hot cocoa. Kai debates if he means the nightmares or the excuse. He decides it isn't his place to pry.

There's silence as Kai sits opposite Cole. The gap between them is wide and neither know how to mend it (they'd be better off without you. You should just leave), despite how both want to fix it. It's unintentional but neither know what to do in the current situation.

Kai sits there a few more minutes. Cole finishes his hot cocoa and stares at the table. Something is heating up in Kai. He forces it back, reigns it in and puts a steel lock on it. He holds it back for several moments but eventually it snaps free and Kai can't take the heat anymore.

"Okay, I gotta ask, Cole. I really do," Kai finally snaps. Cole looks up immediately, questions in his eyes but says nothing, instead waiting for Kai to take the lead. "What is up with you? With everyone?"

Cole looks more confused than anything. "What do you mean?" He tilts his head slightly. Kai acknowledges the movement as something Cole often does when confused. He's glad at least some things are the same. Kai supposes he can't expect Cole to immediately understand as to him, everything is normal and the same as it had been for months. But for Kai, the changes are drastic and easily noticeable.

"I mean, you're all different and that's fine and all, it's been like a year, so whatever. But you're all so different! Lloyd is more closed off than a rock, Zane stopped acknowledging he's a person, Jay barely even speaks two sentences a day and you're looking over your shoulder all the time! What the hell happened?" The more Kai speaks, the more he finds that he really wants answers now and has no intentions of stopping whether Cole wants to explain or not.

Cole, for his part, just looks confused and increasingly anxious. "I… you…" He stammers, "haven't figured it out yet?" There's a brief flash of horror across Cole's face and then it's gone before Kai can really register what it means.

"No, Cole! Because I'm not a bloody psychic!" Kai snaps angrily, glaring at him. Seriously, how do they just expect him to know? He's not smart like Zane or perceptive like Sensei Wu. "Figure what out? What in Ninjago happened? I found the new reports about Aspheera coming back somehow but you guys dealt with her! What'd she do to make you all like this?"

Cole winces at that and he looks like he wants to be anywhere but here. Kai briefly wonders if he will literally make a hole in the ground and sink into it before he remembers they're still on the Bounty so that's probably impossible.

"Kai… this has nothing to do with Aspheera. Mostly, anyway. I just…" There's a flicker of something in his eyes and it's too quick for Kai to comprehend. "Don't you realise how hard it was without you all this time?" His voice is desperate now, almost pleading with him to understand through just that sentence alone and for the life of him, Kai cannot. He doesn't understand how he could be the one to cause such changes in his family. He was gone, sure, but he was alive, he was coming back eventually, he was just-...

No, not even Kai believes that. He doesn't really remember his final moments but he remembers sinking into the darkness, not expecting to ever wake again because the battle was over and he could feel the damage was surely beyond repair. He closed his eyes, expecting to never open them again. But, he can't exactly tell Cole that, can he?

Even if they did expect him to wake up again, he just can't wrap his head around how he caused such changes. Zane acted as if he wasn't a human that had his own wants and needs - how could Kai have possibly caused that? Cole acted as if something was going to spring out of the shadows at any moment and rip him limb from limb - how did Kai make him feel so threatened? There must be something else. Lloyd was acting like a battle-hardened warrior - how could Kai have caused such a thing?

"Sure I do, you were down a man," he says instead. "But still! It's nothing you haven't dealt with before, nothing that happened to me could have possibly made you all change this much-" He's interrupted by Cole slamming his hands on the table. Kai jumps in surprise. It cracks slightly from the impact but Cole is too mad to care.

"Yes it can! Gosh, Kai, are you really that oblivious? Or do you just not remember?" He snaps and Kai startles, mind whirling. Crap, remember what? Honestly, the end of the fight and his rescue was beyond his memory. The last thing he really remembers in detail (far too much detail, far too vivid, it haunts him) is his fall. That was when he hit his head and after that... Well, he was essentially fighting blind, in a sense. He doesn't remember how they found him nor what he did.

(A terrifying thought rushes through his head and he begs and wishes to whatever deity is out there, that he did not turn on them and attack them too.)

"...Remember what?" Kai asks uncertainly. He desperately prays to the First Ninjago Master that he didn't hurt them. That he didn't attack them. That whatever he did was what made them like this and they were only putting up with him because they had forgiven him with the belief that he simply couldn't control himself. That would never be an excuse in his mind and he swears to himself right then and there, that if he attacked them, if he truly was the one to cause such changes, he would leave. He would leave as soon as possible so they would never have to look at him again.

"How you were-... when…" Cole took a deep breath, steadying himself. "When we found you…" he starts again, carefully. Cole looks away from him, his gaze turning down to the crack in the table. "You… You were… god," Cole runs a hand through his hair and moves away from the table and Kai swears, this is it. He did it. He attacked them. He has to leave. There's no other option for him - he has to leave and never come back.

"You were covered in your blood, barely capable of breathing by yourself. You didn't recognise us at all," As Cole speaks, Kai sees flashes of things he didn't remember until now - ashes in the air, smoke suffocating him, he doesn't know where he is or what he's doing but if he lets his guard down for even a second, he is going to die here today. But he's dying anyway - he can feel it, the pain all over him, the element in his chest screaming, the burning of his own skin, the blood in his lungs. He's going to die here today and there is nothing he can do to change that. All he can do is fight back and take his attacker down with him.

"You attacked Jay," Cole continues and that's it. Kai closes his eyes, taking a deep breath as resignation settled in. So it all came down to that now. "You didn't recognise us, and you wouldn't even let us help you! You were so out of it so I guess you wouldn't remember but… god, that was the hardest thing I've ever had to witness. One of my best friends, my brother, dying right in front of me and no one knew if we could save you. It was different from the times we lost Zane and Sensei Wu and others… Before, there was never…" Cole's breath hitches and he stutters and a look of pure, unadulterated horror and literal trauma encompasses his face. "Never a body to discover. We didn't have to witness you struggle to take what could have been your last breath ever, knowing you were dying in pain, before. And when we finally, finally got you to the hospital," his voice is filled with so much fear and Kai feels his heart clench tightly in his chest. "After we waited hours just to know if you would make it… Well, to put it simply, the doctors told us not to keep our hopes up. and fuck, if we didn't keep them up for first few months," He almost sounds bitter with the last bit. Kai isn't sure what to make of that.

"But time… time passed. Seasons changed. Almost a year flew by and I…" His breath shutters again and Kai hear the overwhelming guilt in his voice. "I lost hope," he whispers, his voice breaking and Kai feels that the rest of Cole isn't much better than his voice. Cole quickly swipes at his eyes, rubbing away the tears building up. He looks ashamed and guilty, still refusing to look Kai in the eyes. For some reason, Kai finds his breath stick in his lungs too.

"Perhaps we all did, at some point," Cole mumbled, resigned. He turns away from Kai, running a stressed hand through his hair. "It was like we had just come to accept that you weren't ever coming back and we'd lost you forever and it was our fault, because if we had just paid a little more attention or done things just a little differently, we could have saved you. But we couldn't. We couldn't look for you. We couldn't save you. We couldn't change what had already happened. We couldn't hope that what we'd seen was just a nightmare or a short moment of weakness," It's almost like he's ranting now. Like he's held the words in for so long and now that they're finally coming out, he can't contain them and they flow through like a river. "No, we couldn't because it was real and happened and we never even got to properly say goodbye if you did leave us!" Cole spins around to face him and tears are streaming from my eyes.

"And we were supposed to live with that! How could we ever do that? How could I do that?" Cole sniffs, a single sob leaving him before he manages to put a lid on it and he continues speaking again but much quieter this time. At this point, Kai doesn't even know what to comment on first, let alone what to say. He's both horrified and shocked to the core by the tears streaming down Cole's face. He never wanted this.

"Then we get the call," his voice is so quiet now, Kai can hardly hear him. Coke gives him a sad smile and it's the most broken thing Kai has ever seen. "You're awake. It's like a dream come true… and it's so good to have you back. even now, I…" Cole lifts his eyes, looking over Kai's still form, sad with a brief shine of happiness. "Just seeing you standing here, awake, alive… it makes me happier than you'll ever know," Cole rips his gaze away, staring at the floor in shame. "But how the hell am I supposed to look you in the eyes, knowing I gave up on you?"

A thousand thoughts run through Kai's mind and he's unable to comprehend any of them at the speed they're going. His mind is like a whirlwind and he's unable to settle on one thought alone, constantly going back and forth and examining the words and turning them over and over in his head. He moves forward, instinctively, not sure what he intends to do but letting words slip past his lips anyway.

"You can look me in the eye knowing I forgive you," Kai states. For the next moment, it looks like Cole is holding the weight of his world on his shoulders and then being relieved of that burden all at one. Kai continues. "I… can't blame you, either," he continues, holding onto Cole's shoulder with his hand, hoping the gesture is comforting to his brother. "I gave up on me too, so I honestly can't blame you for doing the same."

It takes all of two seconds for the crushing look on Cole's expression to make Kai feel guilty for the last part. To rectify his mistake, he pulls Cole into him, not fully holding onto him in case the gesture is unwelcome. Cole takes it, wrapping his arms around Kai tightly, clinging to the back of his shirt as he breaks down, sobbing into Kai's shoulder. If Kai sheds some tears too, no one but Cole has the right to know. They cling to each other for hours, shedding Only Manly TearsTM and just taking comfort in each other's presence. (He realises then, that he can't leave them. He needs to fix his mistakes and help his family. He can't leave them, knowing what the aftermath of that battle did to them. He chastises himself for even thinking of leaving them. He needs to stay and remain by their sides and help them.)

And if anyone notices that Cole is slightly less jumpy - even if only by a little, throughout the following days, no one mentions it. If they notice him smiling and relaxing more, they don't say anything. If they notice how much more free he appears, like he's finally been free of a burden or the nightmares haunting him, no one approaches him on it.

/BREAK/

Kai isn't sure if meditating is a good idea. In general, he hates it and it sucks but after his fight with Maze… Well, he's pretty sure he still hates it but he's not seeing any other options so… He's just worried that he'll end up dissociating again rather than meditating. As far as he's concerned, meditation helps with mental and spiritual matters but Kai's mental state is a mess that he can't even begin to properly sift through and it's the spiritual part he's aiming for. Or rather, his connection with his element is what he's seeking. He needs to fix his power but he doesn't even know where to begin. What better place than the very source of the problem? Which would be him and his fire. (Maze may have answers - after all, he's the one who started all this and did this to him - but Kai doesn't want to be within a 20-mile radius of the guy, so Kai places that particular option close down next to 'Never Happening'. It's nice and cosy there, where it can never be touched.)

Kai sighs and sits down. He can spend days debating it if he really wants to but the fact of the matter is he isn't going to get anywhere unless he actually tries. And honestly, he's really running low on options. He forces his mind to clear and starts to focus on the power (wrong, so wrong) stirring in his chest.

It takes longer than Kai expects but eventually, he can picture it all in his mind (is it his mind? He can't really tell. He just knows he's there, where he wants to be - the very same place he's been running from since he woke up). Kai tries to peer through the darkness, tries to find what he came here for but it's nowhere in sight. Confused, he spins around. He knows it's here but it's not in sight.

Kai wanders the darkness alone, looking for a light to guide him. Nothing shows, not even a flicker and he's left to navigate the void with no idea of what he's doing.

A red fog picks up and Kai startles, stiffening. There it is. Purple mixes in with the red and it gets harder to breathe. Kai releases a breath, forcing the panic down. He has ignored this for long enough.

Black flames erupt around him, trapping him within a ring of fire. Kai watches it as it burns away at nothing and tries to reach out to it, tries to call to the fire, asks it to listen to his commands again. It hisses at him, angry, ever untameable.

"You have the fire inside," Sensei Wu's voice rings out and Kai spins around, surprised. A few feet ahead of him, his Sensei stands, calm and composed, still carrying his bamboo staff.

"Sensei Wu?" Kai asks, confused. Crap, was Sensei Wu calling him? The mist swirls around him, tighter. Kai ignores it. If Sensei Wu is calling him, he needs to respond. He tries to retreat from this place, from his mind but with a realisation filled with horror, realises he can't. Somehow, his fire is trapping him here- he's fallen into the cage with his fire. Kai panics and takes a step back, head swiveling everywhere to look at his fire (no, not his), and realises just how tight the ring of flames is. He's trapped here. How is that possible? That shouldn't be possible. His elemental power should not have that type of power - after all, it's fire, there are no mental aspects to this power.

"Perhaps it would be best if you did not reach your true potential," Sensei's Wu's voice is angry, disappointed and Kai spins around to face him again, having forgotten about him. The panic fades and is left with confusion. The flames call out to him, responding to him - not in the way he wanted them to, but responding nonetheless - and urges him to continue. To see and understand. It pushes him towards Sensei Wu and Kai isn't entirely sure, but he feels like this is his fire's way of communicating with him. (And isn't that weird?)

"I… already did, Sensei Wu," Kai says calmly, cautiously, because he did - he remembers it. Back in the volcano, he chose Lloyd over being the Green Ninja, over power and responsibility. Because his job was to protect the green ninja, not to be him. He made his choice long ago and through that, he reached his true potential.

The smoke slithers around, dangerously close to his skin. "Not in the true sense," it whispers and Kai has no idea how to react to his own power talking to him. What does that even mean? Before the fight, he was the strongest he'd ever been, he'd long since reached his true potential and even Sensei Wu was proud of him (last time he checked, anyway). Of course, he still had things to learn and master, but… He was where he should be.

"Useless," Sensei Wu spits, angry and disgusted all at once. Kai flinches at the harshness of the voice. Sensei Wu morphs into something else and Kai stares, wondering what In Ninjago is going on here. Chen takes his place and Kai can't help the small gasp that slips past his lips. Chen smiles.

"I know you're still jealous Lloyd was chosen to be the Green Ninja," Chen states and something clicks in Kai's mind. This isn't just his fire - it's his memories. These are all things that have been said to him so far. He's not so sure how to feel about that. Regardless, what does being the Green Ninja have to do with his powers? His fire is something else entirely compared to Lloyd's energy (Lloyd holds the energy of life while Kai holds fire worthy of destruction).

"It could have been you," Chen continues and although Kai is still confused, he's not going to let this continue.

"No, it couldn't have been. I am not the Green Ninja and I never will be. I don't want to be either," Kai snaps, annoyed. Honestly, how many times does he have to go through this? He doesn't want to be the Green Ninja anymore. (He couldn't even be the Fire Ninja properly, let alone the Green Ninja.) The smoke starts to smother him and finally, finally, Kai can begin to understand what's happening here.

He hates every part of it.

The corruption from his fire begins to spread to him, tries to take away all forms of rational thinking and block out the part of him that knows how wrong this all is. It swirls around him, trapping him within its smoke and tries to force him to understand, to let it happen and let it take over. Kai refuses, resisting its control and attempts to push it away from him. He can't allow this.

Chen continues, "Have you ever wondered what it felt like to have so much power pulsing through your veins?" (Yes, you have.)

Oh hell no.

Kai yells, forcing his powers and Chen away from him. He pushes both the darkness and his element away, far, far away from him and refuses to let it get near him again. It tries to come back to him, whispering promises of power and freedom and no more hurt but Kai still refuses, shoving it away. It ignores him, slipping through the holes and rushing towards him. It avoids his attempts at pushing it away. Kai tries to force it back but it keeps slipping through the cracks, rushing towards him with a vigor and Kai screams as it engulfs him, lighting him ablaze and forcing its way through him. Even as it tries to infect him, he keeps pushing, keeps trying to refuse its influence. Voices whisper in his head and it's all he can hear. He yells, trying to block out the sound.

"There's so much potential in you, Kai. I want to give you the chance to find it."

"No! Go away! Get off of me!" Kai flails, pushing the darkness away. He tries to make it listen to him, tries to force it to bend to his will but it refuses, refusing to be tamed by him.

"The truth hurts, doesn't it?"

He struggles to breathe as it suffocates him, forcing memories and voices and whispers through his mind to the point it blocks out his own thoughts. He shoves and pushes and claws but none of it has any effect.

"You had all the power, but now it's my turn!"

Chains wrap around him, a cage slowly building around him and locking him in. Kai tries to untangle himself from the mess, tries to undo the damage he's done by trying to fix something he doesn't understand but nothing he does is effective. His power continues to overcome and corrupt him, filling his veins and every cell of his body.

"Ah, nothing I don't already feel!"

Kai screams, something raw and terrified and broken as the energy slowly fades from his body and is instead replaced by something darker, something far more sinister than he's ever felt before.

"I came for something greater; you."

Everything begins to warp, melding into one and Kai doesn't know which direction is up or down. It's all the same. He forces his eyes to stay open, struggling fruitlessly against the chains trying to keep him in place. "Stop it!" Kai screams, eyes squeezing shut. "Stop it! Leave me alone! Stop!" The dark fire doesn't acknowledge his commands nor his plea, instead pushing further inside of him, trying to corrupt every single part of him.

"Ah, I can't- I can't control it! ...I don't want to control it!" His own voice echoes back at him.

Something in him snaps from all the pressure and the power flows through, spreading and spreading and taking over him. Kai tries to move, tries to escape the black flames - what happened? Why is everything so wrong and dark here? - but it follows him everywhere he goes. Kai drowns in the darkness, unable to do anything against it.

"But I'm still here. Who cares about honour? It should have been me. I should have been the one who-..."

Kai lets out another yell, fighting desperately even though he's losing. With barely concealed panic, he realises it's already over. Tears of frustration well up in his eyes as the last of his resistance is drained away from him.

"You are finally the one," the fire whispers as it fully invades his mind. Kai suppresses a sob, unsure what to do as everything starts to fade away. The cage door slams shut behind him with a sense of finality and for a few seconds, Kai just stands there, uncomprehending.

This wasn't how it was supposed to happen. It was never supposed to end like this. Ever. And yet… How did he let this happen? When did it go wrong? What did it do to make everything go so wrong? Sure, he's always been selfish and self-centred, but for things to end like this… To not even go out while saving people, he… All of this and for what?

There's a spark.

Kai looks up, confused. It feels familiar. Why does it feel familiar? It sparks again and it takes Kai a second to realise it's coming from him. It takes another second for him to realise what it is - it's anger. His own anger, a remnant of who he was before he met Maze.

This is it? This is how it ends for him? He gets beaten by himself? (At least it's original.) This is how he loses, after his family went through so much for him and waited so long for him? This is how he relays them? He has survived so much over the years and his story finally comes to an end because he's too weak to control his own power? That's how the story of Kai Smith ends? No. No.

No.

Absolutely the hell not. Kai will not let everything end like this. He did not come this far just to stop now. He didn't survive Maze's plot for this - absolutely not. Sure, he lost way more than he gained when he beat Maze but he still won. He always won in the end. Why should this be any different? Why should he let himself succumb to his own power?

Kai will not end this way.

Furious, he doesn't even think. He turns towards the cage door and yells. A red flame ignites in his hand and he unleashes it onto the cage and melts it down until there's nothing left to hold him back. The darkness hisses at him and tries to wrap around him again, tries to consume and corrupt him properly but this time, Kai is ready and unrelenting.

He releases his fire - his real fire, the element that is his (it was buried so deep within him that he couldn't even sense it. Just like him, his fire was hiding away, scared. But he won't be afraid anymore) and warm and reassuring and the familiar weight of power he has always known - and burns bright. His own fire, steadily growing, burns away at the darkness, incinerates it until only light is left behind.

"GET. OUT!" Kai screams, forcing it back. He burns away the darkness, burns away the demons and hell hiding within him, within his head and heart, vanquishes the darkness and takes his body back. He wrecks the remnants of corruption, burns away the lingering poison threatening to come back, and destroys the corrupted fire - he fights fire with fire.

Light returns to him, clarity and righteous fire clear within him. His fire takes the mantle again, - it's true place, where it should be, where it has always been and where it will continue to be.

Kai pants, exhausted. Even so, a smile - pure, true, right - lights up his face. A disbelieving laugh escapes him. Then another, and another, until he's downright cackling. He wheezes, clutching his stomach, his happiness threatening to suffocate him (for once, no darkness threatens to do the same but in a more sinister way).

Then suddenly, everything is blurring fast and he's returning to reality. The smile doesn't leave his face because that's okay. This is okay. He fixed it. He did it.

The smile drops from his face when he wakes up. He's still in the same position - on the floor with his legs crossed and that's fine and all, it's just…

His entire room is on fire. There's yelling on the other side of his door and Kai realises that Sensei Wu and Lloyd are trying to get in but the entire doorway is also on fire and it's blocking them from entering.

Kai lets out a very unmanly yelp of surprise (and then a quiet curse because he is going to get in so much trouble for this.)

He quickly stands up and with a snap of his finger, the flames return to their normal colour - Kai has never been so fascinated with the simple red of his fire before - and then it all spontaneously goes out, revealing a terrified Lloyd and a horrified Sensei Wu.

"Hey guys, what's been happening?" Kai greets with an awkward wave - the scars still hurt, he can't force that away - and a grin, like he didn't just lose a battle to his corrupted element and get eaten alive by it, and then forcefully taken control while somehow - or was it his element that started this particular part? - setting fire to his whole room and oh gosh, his stuff.

Needless to say, they're not amused.

/BREAK/

Sensei Wu is livid. Kai has to endure a full hour - no, not even an exaggeration, it's literally a full hour, Kai checks the clock constantly - of being yelled at and lectured.

"Your power is dangerous, Kai! You cannot just use it as you please! It could very well harm you or someone else! What were you thinking? The poison that Maze injected you with is something even I do not understand, the consequences could be very severe, even if you think things are okay now! What would you have done if you hadn't been able to control your element in the end, hm? Then what? You burn yourself down until you're nothing left but ash and bone? What sort of plan is that? I cannot stress the importance of your safety enough, but I will certainly try!"

But I-" Kai tries to defend himself, tries to reassure his Sensei that everything is okay now, that he has his element under his control again. Because honestly, Kai knows that his anger is just hiding his concern. Even Lloyd is angry - but it's more see-through than Sensei's. About 20 minutes through his lecture, the rest of the Ninja joins them (they had been on a mission within the city, something about a gang fight) and it had taken about 2 minutes for Lloyd to fill them in before they were all glaring at him. They had all left to go take a look at his room (which Kai knows is a terrible, burned mess and yikes, he really hopes the flames didn't reach any of his precious stuff, like his photos) and when they return, they return with murderous glares and Kai gulps, directing his attention back to Sensei. He's honestly surprised that they're not straight up joining Sensei Wu in the yelling but he knows once Sensei Wu is done, they will all individually have their own turn to chew his ear off. He grimaces and tries to ignore the general "I am going to murder you right here and now" vibe every single one of them is giving off - even Zane! And Zane is usually the calm one!

He'd be lying if he said he wasn't intimidated.

Sensei Wu has no interest in letting him defend himself, so at some point, he'd stop trying and instead resigned to his fate. He's sitting on his knees as Sensei Wu paces back and forth and Kai can't help but worry about his health. His Sensei has always been strong, but surely this isn't good for him in his old age? It certainly doesn't stop him and Kai isn't about to interrupt to ask and make his situation worse.

Kai can feel himself dissociating but he forces himself to stay in control and in the present. Because if he doesn't, well… He's not going to be making his situation any better, that's for sure. So, although it takes an incredible amount of will, he forces himself to focus on Sensei Wu and uses him as an anchor to reality, by attaching himself to every word - which is already a big yikes on its own. It's painful to say the least.

He waits and waits and listens and listens, only ever really half-conscious at the time and endures it all. It takes another hour - yes, another full hour (they're so mad, so worried) - before they finally stop and give him a break. At which point, Kai is literally only holding on by a thread and can barely process what's going on around him but he's certainly trying his best to keep up.

Nya is the first to notice. She looks at him, studies him, sighs and then leans down next to him, a careful hand on his shoulder. She gives him a faint smile but it doesn't even begin to mask the worry in her eyes. Even so, she whispers, "You can let go now."

It's just what he needs to hear because immediately he's dissociating. It's like letting go of a rubber band being stretched too far and he snaps away from reality and far into his mind. This time, though, there is no metal cage. Just… silence.

(When he's finally pulled back to himself, he finds himself on the couch, Jay on his right and Nya on his left. They're both asleep, using him as a pillow. He decides to stay, watching the TV that was left on. It's peaceful and calm and Kai is content.)

The shadows that once followed him, once stuck to him like glue have been burned away.

/Break/

Kai decides that a day with Pixal sounds nice. Everyone is, of course, still mad at him (he's also not oblivious to how they just so happen to appear in the same room twice as much as usual - which was already a lot) and while the thought of hanging out with them sounds great, its less appealing while they're mad. Well, they're worried and scared and mostly expressing it through anger, but still.

Pixal is more disappointed and disapproving rather than mad and while that certainly takes away the appeal of hanging out with her, Kai also takes note of how they haven't hung out in a while. (You know, a whole year. Casual timing, really.) He and Pixal were close but not as close as Kai is with someone like Cole or Jay. Nonetheless, Kai has always appreciated her company and opinion. Even though she obviously agrees with everyone else about Kai messing with his powers when unsupervised, she seems to be willing to let it go so they can hang out.

At first, they didn't really know each other and while Pixal was a part of the computer, he never really got the chance to get to know her. It was when she got her own body again (and after the whole 'world could be ending or we're all about to die' situation was dealt with) that Kai realised he had never really spent time with her - they had spoken here and there but never really and truly gotten to know each other. He remembered how his sister often felt as though she was only part of the time because Kai was there and she was just known as "Kai's sister" and imagined that maybe Pixal felt the same - except it'd be more of "Zane's girlfriend". Either way, he didn't want to unintentionally make her feel like she was only around because of Zane and had gone out of his way to get to know her. It hadn't taken long for Kai to understand why Zane liked her so much (aside from them both being robots, anyway). Pixal was nice and honestly quite funny - she also had a mischievous streak a mile long (which was easy to miss because that girl knew how to cover her tracks properly), making Kai very wary of her.

Considering recent events, Kai decided he probably wouldn't need to worry about her pranking him or something, even if she was mad (at least, he was seriously hoping). Patient as she was, even she occasionally ran out of it and eventually returned the favour tenfold. Honestly, she was one of the few people Kai feared turning his back to.

He found Pixal in the Underground Base. "Hey Pixal, wanna get some coffee?" Every Thursday they would do just that. Well, kind of. Pixal didn't actually eat and Kai mostly just munched on something and they'd spend the day just talking. Same thing.

Pixal looked briefly surprised but then a smile blossomed on her face. "Of course, Kai. Can you just give me a moment to finish this up first?"

Kai nodded, walking over to a nearby chair to settle down and wait. "Sure thing." He flexed his fingers absentmindedly, still not used to the limited movements. He couldn't close his fingers into a fist - he couldn't remember how he injured his fingers in the fight but however it happened, the result was he couldn't pull his fingers into a fist. They sort of awkwardly hovered above his palm and trying to pull them in any further hurt. His physiotherapist said that with time though, he'd eventually be able to get full function back. Just another problem to the list that required time to heal. That's what it all came down to in the end. Time heals all wounds.

Kai lowered his head into arms, banishing the thoughts. He needed to stop thinking about all of it. He needed a break.

/BREAK/

"An-and then," Pixal was struggling to speak through her laughter. Kai himself wasn't doing much better - he was clutching his stomach, a massive grin splitting his face into two as he leaned his head on the table, struggling to catch his breath. "Jay went spiralling down the stairs and somehow he managed to activate the training equipment and he- well, he got thrown right into the thick of it and he was thrown everywhere! Cole and Lloyd tried to turn off the equipment but Lloyd managed to get himself caught up in a cycle - I don't even know how, he's run that track so many times now. So, now Jay and Lloyd were being thrown around with the equipment and then there was a malfunction! Nya had been working on the equipment earlier and wasn't finished so no one was supposed to use it. It started to speed up and it sort of introduced a whole new pattern so their attempts to overcome didn't work out well at all. Needless to say, they were left with several bruises and Nya had to re-do all her work."

Kai has enough memories of watching his teammates get thrown for a ride with that equipment to know just how chaotic that must have been. Gosh, it sounds like a nightmare for them but Kai can't stop laughing. The training equipment has honestly handed their asses to them on a platter far too many times but for some reason, it's always funny to watch it happen.

"Neither of them wished for anyone to speak of that incident again but honestly, how can I resist?" There's a coy little smile on Pixal's lips and it only increases Kai's hysterics for some reason. He's wheezing, unable to get any oxygen through his lungs through his laughter but thankfully Pixal has finished with her story, meaning he can begin to calm down. It takes several long minutes for him to sober up and even then, a massive grin remains.

He feels light and for once, he stays feeling that way. There's no darkness pulling at him anymore. The smile remains on his face and his thoughts don't stray.

"What about Nya? I heard she like, tried to mow the mountain or something," Kai asks because honestly, it's been nagging at him for ages. He takes a sip of his drink while he still can and settes it back onto the table. The smile stretches on Pixal's face.

"Cole found a warren of bunnies! They were adorable. There was quite a few babies too and Nya decided that the grass was too tall for them to be able to walk in."

"Oh, come on, no way. She didn't," Kai scoffed lightly. Surely the bunnies wouldn't make their burrow there if they couldn't handle leaving in it?

"Oh, she did. She cut the grass in the surrounding area so the bunnies would have more space. There was a long argument about it. The grass could have been camouflage from predators and such…" Pixal continues with the story and Kai finds that the happiness doesn't leave him. He's left feeling light, feeling okay, peaceful.

It's the best he's felt in a year.

(He dissociates on the way home. It doesn't deter his good mood in the slightest. He's not sure how, but when he comes back to himself, he's lying on his bed, already tucked in. Pixal is the best. He missed dinner but they've left him a plate in the microwave, ready for him when he wants it. His family is great. He takes it and eventually joins in on playing video games with everyone else in the Living Room later that night.)

/BREAK/

Last chapter, I accidentally uploaded a scene which wasn't finished. Sensei Wu was supposed to have an emotional convo with Kai which eventually led to him going "okay, time to get better". But I forgot to go back to it and didn't notice for a while. And now, honestly, I just don't want to fix it despite how important it is. I'm too lazy for that, I'm sorryy.

Anyway, finally got some of that hurt/comfort part down. There should be more next chapter but idk for sure. I hope to but I haven't started yet and it honestly depends on how I'm feeling.