‘Understanding others, the other elements, and the other nations will help you become whole.’
– Iroh, ‘Bitter Work’.
Katara has had more than a few conversations with the Avatar, in their various incarnations. But she doesn’t think she’s ever had one quite like this one.
“So what actually happened, Korra?” She asks before taking a sip of jasmine tea. She had offered Korra a cup, but she had refused, explaining that she didn’t want any tea, because it was dumb and tasted like hot leaf juice.
It’s nice to see that her favourite firebender is having such a positive influence on her.
“Naga had puppies,” Korra explains. “And they look super cute!”
“I’m sure they do,” Katara agrees. “How’s the new mother doing?”
Korra scratched her nose. “She’s okay. She’s kind of sleepy now, though.”
“Giving birth does take a lot of effort,” Katara agrees. She feels quite a bit of sympathy for Naga. Kya has been a stubborn girl from the get-go.
“And she didn’t want to play earlier,” Korra continues. “Which was kind of boring. Tonraq told me that Naga didn’t like it when I was bending snowballs for her.”
“Naga probably just wants to rest, Korra,” Katara says. “It takes quite a bit out of you, giving birth. So maybe you should just let her sleep for a while without trying to get her to play with you, hm?”
Korra grumbles, but Katara knows she’ll accept it as the best course of action. She loves Naga, and if Katara even hints that such-and-such a course of action will make Naga happy, Korra will go storming down that path with all the single-minded determination of an extremely precocious six-year-old who also happens to be the Avatar.
“So what’s been happening in the meantime, now that Naga’s been giving birth and you haven’t been racing round and terrorising the otter penguins?”
“Ataksak wanted one of Naga’s puppies,” Korra says.
“Is Ataksak the girl you shared your seal jerky with last Tuesday?”
Korra doesn’t reply. That tells Katara that she was.
“Did you two have a falling out?” Katara frowns slightly. “What happened?”
“It’s not my fault,” Korra protests.
“I didn’t ask whose fault it was, Korra.”
The little girl looks down at her feet. “Sorry, Master Katara.”
“What did I ask?”
“You wanted to know what happened.”
Katara gives Korra a small smile, so the girl knows she isn’t mad at her. “Can you tell me what happened, Korra?”
“Well, Naga had the puppies, but Naga’s my polar bear dog. So that makes them my polar bear dog puppies, right? And I wanted the middle puppy back, but Ataksak wasn’t giving them back!”
“How many puppies did Naga have?” Katara asks.
Korra looks up at the ceiling as she counts. “Naga had one, two, three – four polar bear dog puppies!”
“That sounds like a lot of puppies,” Katara observes. Oh, she’s going to give Naga such a belly rub as soon as she can. Poor girl.
“Four is a lot of puppies,” Korra agrees. “They’re really cute!” She adds happily.
“So if Naga had a lot of puppies, why couldn’t you give Ataksak one of the polar bear dog puppies?”
Korra looks stymied for a moment before she rallies again. “Why do I need to give it up when it’s mine?”
Ah, Katara sighs softly. She can’t help but feel like she’s had this conversation before. Avatars.
“Did you know that polar bear dogs only live in the wild at the North Pole and the South Pole?” She asks Korra.
Sometimes water has to smooth down some rough edges before it can start flowing. And sometimes a river has to flow the long way round an obstacle before it can reach the sea.
Korra nods her head. “You told me that when I brought Naga home.”
“You’ve got a good memory,” Katara compliments her. She smiles toothily at the praise. “Can you remember why I said that was important?”
“Um,” Korra thinks for a moment. “Because even though Naga lives here at the South Pole, she can still live in Republic City or the Fire Nation or Kyoshi Island. And… and you said that was important, because she should be able to go anywhere she wants to go, and she shouldn’t be stopped from doing anything she wants to do.”
“As long as she doesn’t hurt people,” Katara adds. Korra always forgets that part, she thinks to herself amusedly.
“As long as she doesn’t hurt people,” Korra repeats.
“You’ve got a really good memory, Snowdrop,” Katara smiles. “I think that gets you an extra-big piece of that Fire Nation chocolate with dinner tonight.”
She shouldn’t really be promising Korra treats when she’s still technically in time-out, but Katara’s always loved to see her Avatars smile.
“I wanted you to remember that because I think you and Naga have a lot in common,” she tells Korra.
“We’re like sisters!” She chirps, wriggling in her parka and doing a happy dance where she sits on the bench. Her feet are nearly touching the floor now.
“Very sweet sisters,” Katara agrees. “But Naga used to only be a little pup, remember? And now she’s gotten pretty big.”
Korra giggles. “Mister Haru said it felt like she was really big after she sat on him.”
Katara still feels bad for Haru about that. It really had been an accident, but Tonraq probably should have realised what was going to happen as soon as Korra had asked Zuko if she could borrow his tsungi horn, and had promptly dropped it. It had been inevitable that everything would end in tears, after Momo the Third had spotted that.
“Mister Haru’s pretty tough to be able to have Naga sitting on him,” Katara decides to let bygones be bygones, and she hopes Haru’s moved on too, even if Toph does still tease him about it. “But Naga’s growing up, just like you.”
“I’m gonna grow up to be the best Avatar,” Korra declares proudly. It is her mission statement, and Katara will do anything to help her fulfil it.
“That’s right, Korra. You’re the Avatar. You know what that means?”
“I can bend all the elements,” Korra announces with another toothy grin. For a six-year-old, it’s hands-down the coolest part of being the Avatar. “I’m not just a waterbender, I can make sparkles too!”
“That’s right,” Katara agrees. “You’re not just a waterbender, and you’re not just a firebender. You’re an earthbender as well, and, pretty soon, when you’re old enough, you’ll be an airbender too.”
“Mister Haru said it would have been really useful if Tenzin was there when Naga sat on him,” Korra recites. “He could have lifted her off of him with his airbending.”
Katara smiles fondly. “It’s always good when benders use their bending to help people.”
Korra nods. “That’s what I want to do. I want to use all four elements to help people! And keep the balance,” she adds, almost as an afterthought.
Katara smiles. “That’s really great of you, Korra. And you’re right – it’s by bending and understanding all four elements that you, the Avatar, can be the World Spirit, the keeper of the balance.”
“Sifu Toph Miss Beifong says that Avatar Aang was a keeper,” Korra says. “She also says that you always got annoyed when she said that.”
Katara heaves a sigh, but she can’t help but smile fondly. “Sifu Toph Miss Beifong likes causing a rumble.”
Korra nods seriously. “I think the Blind Bandit likes rumbles.”
“She probably does,” Katara agrees. “You know, Toph and I used to fall out all the time.”
“Don’t you still fall out all the time?”
And, yes, that’s fair. Katara can accept that. “Maybe. But that’s not important.”
Korra beams. “Zuko who did Fire Lord stuff and now just slums it all the time always says that when I’m right but he doesn’t want to say it.”
Katara loves Toph, she really does, but the nicknames haven’t gotten much better with age. “Maybe you could just call him Zuko, Snowdrop, hm?”
“He told me I could call him Uncle Zuzu.”
Katara feels a warm glow in her heart. “That’s very nice of Zuzu. So you should probably be very nice to him in return, hm?”
Korra eyes her with some hitherto-hidden Avatar perceptiveness. “Does he let you call him Zuzu?”
Erm. “Maybe. But that’s not important.”
“Maybe you should just call him Mister Zuko,” Korra opines, kicking her heels against the little bench.
Avatars. “I think I was telling you about how sifu Toph Miss Beifong and I used to argue a lot.”
“Kind of like how you and Ataksak are sort of arguing now.”
Korra scowls. “’m not arguing with Ataksak.”
Katara eyes her knowledgeably. All the Avatar perceptiveness in the world doesn’t match up to a waterbending master. Not to mention that she’s taken lessons from Toph on listening and hearing what others don’t say.
Korra kicks her feet and folds her arms. “She’s arguing with me!”
Yes, Katara cannot help but feel a sense of déjà vu. “That’s what sifu Toph always said, too. I’m just saying.”
Korra heaves a sigh. “What are you saying, Master Katara?”
“What I’m saying,” Katara leans forward. Korra leans forward too. It’s what a six-year-old will do when someone older (a lot older, Katara can admit to herself) acts like they’re sharing a secret. “Is that sifu Toph and I had a friend who told us what we needed to hear. And then we stopped arguing and became friends.”
“What did your friend tell you?” Korra asks, entranced by this new mystery. Katara suspects she likes the idea of having some magic phrase that makes everyone stop arguing with her and lets her get her own way.
Katara leans back and smiles knowledgeably. “They told me that there were a lot of people out there who wanted polar bear dog puppies, and it wasn’t fair of me to try and keep them all to myself.”
Korra is not that silly, but, really, she doesn’t need to point her finger at Katara that accusingly. “No, they didn’t!”
Katara laughs at the offended look on Korra’s face. “Okay, okay – no, they didn’t. But they did tell me some Avatar stuff that helped sifu Toph and I become friends.”
Korra brightens up at that. She likes being the Avatar. It’s the destiny she wants for herself, and she likes the idea of having her voice heard. Katara is proud of her, but she can’t help but remember a boy in an iceberg, who had also been told his destiny before he turned sixteen, and who had liked fruit pies, and penguin sledding, and making glass sculptures with his sifu Hotman.
Katara is determined that Korra will see the Avatar’s destiny as the wings on her back, not the weights holding her down.
Toph has pointed out in the past that she can’t coddle Korra the way she coddled Aang, but Katara has gotten a lot better at picking her battles over the past sixty years or so. They’re still friends.
“So what Avatar stuff did your friend tell you?”
Katara hums to herself as she tries to come up with something. Zuko had confessed to her – a long time after the fact – that he had just made up the Elements 101 lessons as he went along. He’d gotten a little miffed at how she teased him for never thinking things through, but she thinks she gets it, now.
“Well, uh,” she begins. “How about I talk to you about the polar bear dogs first, and then we talk about the Avatar stuff next, okay?”
Korra looks dubious, and shifts on the bench like she’s about to get up and leave. Which is unacceptable, because Tonraq has put her in time-out for fifteen minutes, and she still has six minutes to go. Katara is here of her own volition, to make sure Korra doesn’t get fidgety or bored.
The last time Korra got bored, half the roof of Panuk’s igloo came crashing down when she had tried waterbending with her eyes closed.
“It’ll all make sense once we talk it through,” Katara promises.
That seems to convince the Avatar, and she settles back on the bench. “Fine. But I wanna hear about the Avatar stuff!”
“You can hear about the Avatar stuff in a bit, Korra.”
The look on Korra’s face reminds Katara of this one time Sokka had flatly refused to go airbending penguin sledding. Aang had pouted in a very similar fashion until Gran-Gran had handed him one of the fruit pies she had gotten from the Fire Nation trading ship that had come through a few weeks before.
“So,” she begins. “Everyone wants a polar bear dog puppy, right? Because they’re so cute and fluffy?”
Korra has to smile unwillingly. “Right. Especially Mappa.”
The name is unfamiliar to Katara. “Who’s Mappa, Snowdrop?”
“That’s what I called the littlest one.”
Of course. “Well, everyone wants a polar bear dog puppy, but there aren’t enough to go round, right?”
Korra looks sad at this, like it is some sign of a greater spiritual imbalance that the Avatar must mend. Katara is inclined to agree. Everyone should have a polar bear dog puppy.
Zuko is still adamant that dragons are better, though she suspects he disagrees with her more on principle than because of any real objection these days.
“So some people are going to have to be okay with not having polar bear dog puppies,” she continues. “And that’s okay, because they know that the people that do get the polar bear dog puppies are going to take care of them.”
“But how do you know that?” Korra whines.
“Because when you love someone,” Katara says. “You want the best for them. And you have to choose to always love them. So when the people with polar bear dog puppies choose to take them home and start loving them, what they’re really doing is choosing to take them home and love them forever.”
Korra seems to find this especially worthy of thorough consideration. “But what if the polar bear dog puppy doesn’t like the people they went home with?”
Katara has heard a question like this from another Avatar, too.
“If you love someone and they don’t love you back,” she tells Korra softly. “Then you need to love them enough to let them go.”
Korra blinks. “What does that mean?”
“Well, if the polar bear dog puppy wants to go and live with a family, they can do that,” Katara explains. “And that’s okay. But if they want to stay with you, you can choose to let them stay with you. But you have to be very careful to always love them as much as you did when you first wanted them to stay with you.”
“You should always love polar bear dog puppies,” Korra agrees, declaring it with all the authority of the Avatar, the World Spirit, the Bridge and the Harmony.
“And if a polar bear dog puppy doesn’t want to stay with you,” Katara goes on gently. “And if they don’t want to go with the other family either – and they just want to go and live with the wild polar bear dogs – then you should let them do that, too. Because polar bear dog puppies like living with other polar bear dogs.”
“Even if they want to live away from people?” Korra asks in a small voice.
“Even if they want to live away from people,” Katara says tenderly. Toph has taught her how to be firm when she needs to be.
“That seems really sad.”
“It can be a little sad,” Katara agrees. “It’s hard to let go of people we love. But it’s also nice, because we get to see them go and be happy. You want Mappa to be happy, right?”
Korra sniffs quietly, but she nods. Katara is so proud of this brave little girl.
“Korra, because you’re the Avatar,” she says. “You’ll want a lot of things, and maybe sometimes what you want won’t happen. Maybe you won’t get to keep all the polar bear dog puppies, because they might want to leave. And that really sucks, Korra.”
Korra shoves her hands into the pockets of her parka.
“Whatever,” she mumbles fiercely.
Katara knows it’s not funny. But it is a little funny to see Toph’s influence on her student.
“And you might want to get the polar bear dog puppy back, or you might try and steal them back, or do something else that might be a bit mean. But sometimes you have to be okay with not picking that fight.”
“Sifu Toph Miss Beifong says that only wet benders try not to pick fights.”
“Sifu Toph cried when we went to see the Hira’a Acting Troupe’s performance of The Brave Turtleduck.”
Korra’s eyes goggle and her mouth hangs open. “Really?”
Katara nods solemnly. “But you can’t tell anyone.”
“Uncle Zuzu will be really happy to hear it.”
Katara relents. She’s sure Toph won’t mind. “You can tell Zuko, Korra.”
She grins. “Great!”
This is Katara, picking her battles. “You see, Korra – my friend told sifu Toph and me a lot of things that the Avatar needs to learn. But, actually, Toph and I needed to learn them, too. Everyone does. We need to learn when we should speak, and when we should listen. We need to learn to control what we want, and not let what we want control us. We need to learn when to stand our ground on our own, and when it’s better for us to decide whether to fight or to let something go. And we need to remember that even though we’re all so different, we’re all actually really similar. Because everyone wants a polar bear dog puppy, Korra.”
“But not everyone gets one,” Korra says sadly.
“No,” Katara says. “I’m sorry, Korra.”
Korra is six. Soon, she will be eight. Then fourteen. When will she start thinking she is too old to call her Gran-Kat?
Katara hopes the answer is never.
“So, what I mean is,” she says gently. “Because you’re the Avatar, you’ll bring peace by balancing the elements in harmony. But you need to make sure that you’re also be in harmony with yourself, and with others.”
Korra chews her lip. “I don’t know if I’m in harmony with Ataksak right now.”
“I’m not sure you are either, Snowdrop.”
“So I guess I should go and say sorry.”
Katara gives Korra the same little smile she used to give her when her dad said something silly. “You guess?”
Korra sighs. “Dad said I should sit in here and think about what I need to say sorry for.”
“What do you think the answer to that is, Korra?”
“That I need to be nicer to people.”
“Because everyone wants a polar bear dog puppy, and it’s not fair to try and keep them all for yourself and not let them go if they want to.”
Katara steps forward and gives Korra a hug and a kiss on the top of her head. “I think Ataksak will be really happy to be friends with you again, Snowdrop.”
Korra steps off the bench and gives Katara a little bow. “Thank you for your wise counsel, Master Katara.”
She raises her eyebrows. “That’s new, Korra.”
“Uncle Zuzu said I was probably going to have to use those words a lot,” Korra says blithely. “He says he had to use them a lot.”
She is going to have words with that boy when she sees him again. Part of her wonders how his trip to Ember Island is going, and part of her wonders if Azula has tried to set his beard on fire yet. “It’s okay, Korra. It’s not really my counsel, anyway.”
Korra looks adorably confused. “What?”
“Like I said,” Katara explains. “A friend of mine helped me understand these things.”
“They must have been really smart,” Korra says thoughtfully.
“Definitely not,” Katara chuckles. “But I’ll tell them you said that.”
Zuko will get a kick out of finally being thought of as wise by the Avatar.
Finally, he’ll grumble. A little respect. No more of this sifu Hotman rubbish.
“But I didn’t even know polar bear dog puppies could help me be a better Avatar!”
“I don’t think my friend did either, Korra,” Katara shrugs, still smiling. “And to tell the truth, we just… well, I think we all stumbled into realising these things together.”
Korra tugs on her hand as they make their way out of the igloo. “I like it when we figure things out together.”
“Me too, Korra.”
They are content as they walk over to Ataksak’s family igloo.
“Gran-Kat?” Korra asks.
“Did sifu Toph Miss Beifong really cry at The Brave Turtleduck?”
“Like a tearbender,” Katara says.
The Avatar giggles. Katara smiles. There is peace.