There was a legend as old as the Avatar itself that the face you wore in this life reflected the face of the person you loved the most in your previous life. It was something Ta Min had heard in her youth, something like an old wives’ tale that brought upon notions of splendor and fate. When she was a little girl, she often wondered if her face was of someone she had cared for that deeply so long ago.
It was the easiest thing to let her imagination get carried away. She had always been quite creative. Oftentimes, this would be to her detriment. The nobles she was surrounded by had little appreciation for porcelain theater masks and pretty words. Suitors seemed like they were just trying to please her when she spoke of those things. No one ever cared.
However, there was one man that did.
Roku saw her passion for the arts in her more than anyone else. “You glow when you speak to me about the plays you’ve seen,” he had told her, golden eyes glittering. “You’re radiant when you are telling me about ideas for your scripts.”
He had liked to compare her to fire. Not the raging, angry kind, but the kind that was the sun. He spoke of her in strings of poetry that reminded her of the elements he controlled. Changing like water, steadfast like earth, fervent like fire, gentle like air. Out of everyone, Roku was the one who adapted to her rather than the other way around.
“You’re just saying those things,” Ta Min would shoot back, a challenging smirk on her face. “You don’t really mean them.”
“I assure you I do,” he had said. He had been so handsome. So different from the other aristocrats of the Fire Lord’s court. He was genuine.
He could have had anyone—what with his status as the Avatar—but he had chosen her, and she had chosen him. They fit together like the two leading roles of a stage performance. The curtain rose on the pair of them, open and welcoming. They had children of their own, a house, a village. She had gotten to see the tiny crying bundles of three of their grandchildren.
And then, just like that, the curtain came crashing down in lava and ash and betrayal.
When she watched as the volcano erupted, taking both her home and her husband, she pondered what kind of face the next Avatar would wear. Would they have her gray eyes? (Roku liked how they looked like a storm waiting to happen.) Would they have her hair?
A tear trailed down her cheek, and she could not help being grateful that the Avatar would be an Air Nomad. After all it was possible that perhaps Monk Gyatso would find them. Roku would like that, she thought. It would give him comfort.
In the wreckage that had been her life upon the island that now burned before her, she could see her world go up in ragged gasps of smoke. She hoped that her love for Avatar Roku did not follow suit.
Aang always told Katara how much he loved her, and it was something she would never forget. “You’re beautiful, you’re wonderful, you’re perfect,” he would say every time she would doubt herself. His words made her feel like she was the most extraordinary woman on earth. Like she was special, like she was a sight to behold.
In truth, she had trouble coming to terms to his affection at first. But he had a way about him that brought out the best in her. She found herself waiting for his whispers, the brush of his lips to her ear, the embrace of his arms around her, and the steady beat of his heart thrumming against her back.
He left her breathless, a feat that she supposed only an airbender could achieve so well.
“Don’t worry Katara,” he had murmured to her on their wedding night, “we can go as fast or slow as you want. Whenever you want. I’ll follow you.”
He let her choose, and that was everything to her. After a life of being disregarded because of her gender, being underestimated because of her tribe, he was the person she needed most. He saw her as an equal in all the things they did together. He never pushed her, and he never forced her. Aang spun around her like the winds he tamed, meeting her when it was right.
He was her breath of fresh air. He was the fun she had been missing in the harsh reality of her childhood.
“The first thing you do after we decide to take the kids to the Southern Water Tribe to visit their grandfather is to ask us to all go penguin sledding as a family,” she had laughed right after he suggested it.
“Of course!” he beamed. “It’ll be just like old times!”
And it was for that moment. He had taken her, Kya, Bumi, and Tenzin to an icy hill near the South Pole with the widest grin on his face. She helped him catch enough penguin otters for them and their children, wiggling little fish by their tails in between her fingers.
They were so happy, and all five of them reeked of fish and animals afterwards. She pulled him close to her in the middle of a snow drift. Her cheeks were flushed because even years later he had still done that to her.
It was the memory of him that kept her awake.
She thought that when it was time to meet Korra, she would be prepared. After all, Aang had been gone from the world of the living for four years until then. She had been ready for a myriad of scenarios, including outrageous ones. She thought she could meet an Avatar whose personality was like him, whose mannerisms were so similar to his, who remembered her without prompting. She was right about some of those things, particularly that Korra appeared to latch onto her faster than any other person she had met.
What Katara was not prepared for was the face that Korra wore. She had known since she was young that Aang had loved her, but perhaps she was not aware of just how much.
“Master Katara, when are we going to take a break?” complained a five-year-old Korra. “I really, really want something to drink!”
“After you finish this form,” Katara instructed. She moved the girl’s arms into the proper position. “You need to get this first. I know you can do it.”
She stared into Korra’s cerulean eyes, her round face, her dark skin. She might not have had the same build as she did, nor the same hairstyle, but her face was unmistakable. When Katara looked at Korra, she saw her own face. The face she had when she was her age. As Korra grew older, the resemblances were all too evident.
Aang had loved her into his next life.
Asami had known that a married life would not be easy. Her own parents had trials and tribulations, though theirs ended with tragedy in her mother’s murder. Marriage to the Avatar was especially difficult. She really should have known.
She and Korra had met in an unconventional fashion. They dated the same man at different times, had gone through a cycle of jealousy that most would not have recovered from. Of course, their relationship was anything but normal.
She had always admired Korra, and always thought her beautiful inside and out. She was her own personal ray of hope in a world that liked to batter her with obstacles. Then, when Korra sank into the black recesses of her own mind for three years, Asami saw her far more than she could have thought she could.
Asami wrote her letters. With every stroke of her pen, she poured her soul out to her. She wished her well, prayed for her speedy recovery. It would take a long while, but she believed that Korra would be able to make it through.
She had been right.
On the day Korra proffered her hands to her and they stepped into the yellow-gold lights of the spirit portal in Republic City, she knew her life would be full of wonder and joy. They saw spirits and other glorious things. Asami could hardly dare to dream that this would be the life she lived with the love of her life.
“You really are the kindest person I’ve ever met,” Korra told her one day as they sat at the foot of the old palace in Ba Sing Se. “You were the only one that wanted to donate to the orphanage! None of the other big businesspeople said a word.”
Asami did not have a lack of confidence in herself as far as she could remember, and she knew that she had the looks. But Korra was the only one that gave her the words she needed. She was the only one that picked out the things that she herself overlooked.
“It was the least I could do,” Asami had said, blushing.
Korra hugged her close. “No,” she had responded, “You did it because you wanted to and that’s all that matters.”
They were met often with interruptions as they were together. The world needed their Avatar. However, Asami never was frustrated. The world could have their Avatar. She would have her Korra.
The years went on, and they lived the life they wanted until it was impossible. Asami, now an elder and alone, remembered Korra for the brightness in her step. She had been the strongest of them all.
She waited patiently. The Earth Kingdom did not choose to reveal their next Avatar until their sixteenth birthday, reverting to the ancient ways. The White Lotus had claimed that they had made a mistake last time, that Avatar Aang had not meant for Avatar Korra to be locked up beyond the reach of the rest of the world in the beginnings of her life. They had also said that they learned from both previous Avatars that it was important to let each reincarnation live out as normal a life as possible until it was the right time.
There was something to be said about taking lessons from the past. Asami supposed it was only fair to Korra.
She had seen pictures of the new Avatar in the papers, seen her likeness at the revealing ceremony on black-and-white televised press. (She was still reeling over how much technology had advanced in the decades that had passed them by.) The teenaged girl looked so young.
“Lady Sato,” said the Earth Sage, bowing at his waist, “Would you like to meet the Avatar?”
“Yes,” Asami replied. “Take me to her.”
The Avatar had the same bright green eyes, the same pale skin, the same angular features. She could have been Asami’s granddaughter if one did not peer too closely at her lineage.
She had read a long time ago about The Legend of the Avatar’s Face. With every reincarnation, it was revealed who the previous Avatar had cherished so much that echoes of them transcended lifetimes.
Asami was both honored and saddened to know that she was one of those people. Honored because she was the face of such an important figure in history, saddened because she would be reminded of her lost love until the day she died.
She wondered then, whose face Korra had taken. Was she Master Katara? Did Aang share similarities to Ta Min? How far down the line did making faces go from Wan and Raava? And what happened if the Avatar never had someone to love?
She was just one in a line of never-ending loves. It was then that she questioned that maybe this was what it was like for the Avatar to keep the part of themselves that was human.