Kuvira sensed a low rumble under her palm, marveling at how tiny the back of her hand looked against the fur of the Sky Bison. She smiled when the gentle giant relaxed her massive body at her behest with a whispered command. This bison was still young and had yet to be paired with an airbender but she already responded well to simple instructions. Jinora had once again made a display of the wisdom beyond her years that characterized the young master when she selected this bison for Kuvira to take care of. As the metalbender climbed over the bison’s back to brush its thick fur, for a brief instant she envied those that had been touched by Harmonic Convergence to become part of a new generation of airbenders. They would get to choose their own companion and together soar the open skies. But she was a daughter of the earth and that’s where her strength and resilience resided.
Her ears caught the windswept sounds of excited chittering contrasting with the deep groan of the bison as they welcomed the volunteers that arrived that morning to take care of them. The newly minted airbenders assumed this task not only with the utmost respect for their bending ancestors but also with boundless joy. Kuvira’s keen eyes swept across the lush green valley nestled by a snow-capped mountain range shimmering under a bright summer sky at one side and a thick forest dutifully guarding the opposite side. The large white bodies of the herd of bison surrounded by dozens of yellow and red-clad airbenders made for a peculiar sight, one that still to this day stirred Master Tenzin to tears. The Air Nation was alive and thriving and this view was living proof of it.
About ten paces from her location she spotted Opal, as she gently patted her bison Juicy. Bolin was at the opposite side, balancing Pabu over his shoulders. The fire ferret held an apple, ready to toss it inside the animal’s mouth. With an uncharacteristically cautious look on her face, Suyin Beifong did her best to keep her eyes averted from the bison’s moist snout and the green snot bubble slipping from it, but whenever the animal moved his head towards her, her tight-lipped smile turned into a grimace. The disgust she felt at the sight was so much she was unable to keep her casual demeanor for too long. Suddenly, a bird landed with a loud squawk landed on top of Juicy’s nose and the bison harrumphed his irritation. Opal’s face paled in anticipation of what was about to happen.
“Mom, I think you should move away!”
But it was too late. Juicy dipped its head and let out a noisy sneeze. Panic flashed in the matriarch’s eyes when she noticed in horror the huge snot blob that had detached from the bison’s snout. Her shriek reverberated across the valley as a protective barrier emerged from the ground in front of her.
“Don’t worry Su, I got it,” Korra said. The Avatar had frozen the offending bodily fluid with a timely feat of waterbending. At the sight of her mentor staring horrified at the frozen lump of snot that lay at the opposite side of her earthen shield, Kuvira let out a thunderous chortle. Her bison grunted in protest at the noise that had stirred her from her pleasant rest. Su snapped her head back in search of the offending cackle and that’s when she saw her former captain perched atop a bison guffawing hysterically, a tear slipping down her eye. Fuming, the matriarch stared daggers at her former protege. Gulping loudly, Kuvira quickly scurried down, attempting to hide her face over the bison’s white coat but it was too late. Fortunately for Kuvira, and unfortunately for Suyin, her reaction had unleashed a cacophony of raucous laughter around her as Korra, Bolin, and even Opal had joined Kuvira in her laughing fit.
“Mom, you owe Korra one. That was a big snot even for Juicy!” Opal exclaimed as she held her aching sides.
Suyin kicked the frozen blob away as she straightened her shoulders and fixed her hair. She had tilted her chin up slightly, Opal observed with a slight grin. The matriarch assumed this gesture when she wanted to assert her authority in a dignified manner.
“Have you tried to change his diet or perhaps you still can change bison. I think yours is malfunctioning,” Su offered as she cautiously moved further away from the bison’s range.
“It’s too late, mom. We’re bonded for life.”
“And you had to be the one stuck with the one with perpetual allergies.”
“But he’s so loyal and sweet!” Opal exclaimed as she hugged one of his huge feet. “Besides, he reminds me of Junior whenever he got a bad case of hay fever.”
“Don’t make fun of your brother like that!” Suyin chided, but Opal noticed how her mother gracefully lifted a palm over her lips to hide an incipient chuckle.
“Admit it, the resemblance is uncanny,” Kuvira shouted. Korra, who had reached the metalbender’s side, snickered openly. The airbender and the metalbender foster siblings shared a complicit glance.
“Maybe that’s why Juicy chose me. After all, I was the only one of the family who would hang around Junior when he got a bad case of allergy.”
“You’re right,” Suyin admitted. “I’ve never been good with sick people. I’m glad you take after your father in that regard.”
“You’re so sweet and compassionate,” said Bolin as he glanced all starry-eyed at his girlfriend. Pabu chirped in agreement.
“Or maybe I don’t get grossed out so easily,” retorted the airbender with a smirk.
“Speaking of your father, I haven’t seen him in a while. Do you know where he could be?”
“Last time I saw dad he was one of Ikki’s guests in her baby bison tea party.”
“He was? Ooooh, I must absolutely see this” Suyin exclaimed as she sped towards the area she had noticed earlier a gathering of frolicking baby bison.
“You might not be an airbender, but you sure are doing fine with this big girl here,” Korra observed as she offered Kuvira’s bison an apple she took from Bolin’s basket. The animal uttered a happy hum as she accepted the treat.
Kuvira replied with a gentle smile. She maintained a steady upwards and downward movement as she brushed the bison’s left side.
“To think I had to almost beg because you didn’t want to come with me. And now you look as if you’re about to join the Air Acolytes. I told you you would enjoy it,” Korra boasted. She was sitting down now as she fished for more fruits and treats inside her pockets.
“I don’t think I could get used to the vegetarian diet, but to be honest, it isn’t what I had in mind. Being around the bison has been remarkably soothing and comforting.”
Korra nodded. “It is. That’s why I insisted so much that you came with us. I knew a day away from the city and surrounded by these adorable fellas would do you good. Besides, have I told you how cute you look in Air Nomad clothes?“ Korra commented as she flashed a lopsided grin.
Kuvira took a moment to appraise her girlfriend. She was wearing the traditional robes instead of the streamlined version designed by Asami Sato. Korra favored this one because it made it easier to fold the sleeves up to her shoulders. Kuvira certainly didn’t mind the sight of her bare muscles either.
“Likewise, but isn’t that one of the Avatar’s hidden talents: looking good in every nation’s wardrobe?”
Korra’s cheeky grin grew wider. “What can I say, it comes with the territory.”
“Since you’re so talented, why don’t you come here and help me finish grooming our new pal?”
“Do I get a reward for this?”
Kuvira lifted an eyebrow as she flashed an impish smile of her own. “Why don’t you join me and find out?”
Korra made it to her feet in one leap and quickly rushed to the metalbender’s side. Kuvira paused to glance at Korra. A playful grin hung unbidden from her mouth.
“Well, I’m here,” Korra affirmed.
Kuvira leaned closer until her lips brushed Korra’s earlobe.
“And you have no idea how glad you’re here because I-need-a-break!” She placed a quick peck over Korra’s lips as she pushed the large wood brush against her chest.
“Cheater!” Korra exclaimed with mock annoyance.
“We can talk rewards later after we’re done here, don’t you think?” This time, the metalbender rested her hand over the Avatar’s waist as she gazed at her eyes. Korra smiled and leaned in for a kiss when a sudden exclamation paralyzed her. Not again…
“Aaaww, aren’t they the cutest thing you’ve seen, Baatar dear? Tell me you have the camera ready to capture this moment!” the matriarch exclaimed as she approached the couple. Kuvira whistled a long sigh while Korra muttered a curse as she rolled her eyes. Even the air bison reacted with an irritated grunt as if manifesting Korra’s displeasure at the interruption. The matriarch had such a preternatural talent for interrupting at the worst times.
“Sorry darling, I’m out of camera film. I spent it all in Ikki’s baby bison tea party,” replied Senior as he directed an apologetic glance at the girls. He had tried to dissuade his wife from interrupting the couple to no avail.
“That’s a shame. You two look so lovely in matching air nomad robes.”
“Thank you. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to see you here,” Kuvira admitted.
“Opal told me the last time we spoke. It’s been a while since Baatar and I saw you here so we decided to come. Finding you here was an unexpected and pleasant surprise.”
“Of course! Kuvira, despite what you might think, we miss you, and I’m glad to see you’re doing well.”
“We are,” Senior affirmed. Kuvira noticed the gentle and proud look on his face. Her glance went to Suyin and she saw the same expression mirrored in her elegant face. The metalbender stammered as words seemed to escape her.
“I-...” her voice trembled as her eyes shimmered.
“And we miss you too, Su, interruptions and all,” replied Korra with a smirk as she reached for her girlfriend’s hand and interlocked their fingers together.
Suyin subtly cleared her throat in response to the not-so-subtle jab before quickly directing her attention to the sky bison.
“How come this one doesn’t have a chronic runny nose? Korra, if this one’s yours, can you exchange it with Opal’s? She wants us to ride with her but I’m terrified of the possibility of being hit by snot mid-air!” Suyin’s face acquired a greenish shade and she looked as she was about to be sick.
“Come on dear, it’s not that bad….” Baatar rubbed her shoulders as he attempted to comfort her.
“Sorry Su, this one is not mine but you know better than I that once airbenders make their choice, they can’t change their minds, even if their bison turns out to be a snot machine.”
Suyin let out a deep sigh. “It was worth a try. Anyway, we have a lot of catching up to do. Let’s meet for dinner this evening. I think Baatar might have a spare camera so we can take a picture.”
“We’d love to!” exclaimed Kuvira.
“We’ll see you there then.”
Hours later, the volunteers and their guests gathered to enjoy a well-earned meal after a day of rewarding work. The herd of bison had already retreated to rest with some stragglers watching the volunteers with curiosity. As agreed, Kuvira and Korra met with Baatar and Suyin and they were joined by Opal, Bolin, Jinora, and Kai. Kuvira silently thanked again that Korra was as obstinate and relentless as she was because otherwise, she would’ve probably missed out on this. Suyin got her wish when Senior confirmed he had an extra camera with film snuck inside one of the many compartments of their airship, and she promised to send copies of the pictures to everyone at the table.
That night, as they made their return journey to Air Temple Island with Jinora and Pepper, the last thing Kuvira remembered before she allowed slumber to take over was the magnificence of the star-studded sky from above the clouds. The caress of the cool breeze as it ruffled her hair. The calming subtle sounds of the night. And as she rested her head over the crook of Korra's firm shoulder, she recalled the warmth that spread over her chest at the certainty that her family loved her. With this thought recomforting her heart and with Korra's strong arms surrounding her, Kuvira finally fell asleep.