Chapter 3 - Broken Ice
"Kanna…" Pakku said unsteadily.
"Pakku…" Kanna said stiffly.
He bowed politely nonetheless.
She asked coldly, "Why are you here?"
"We have heard that there has been much harm done to your tribe. We are here to help you rebuild the Southern Water Tribe, and to provide water bending and training for those who might still have the gift. Many have come to live here, and become Southerners. There has been much change in the North, Kanna."
"We don't need the North's help," she stated flatly.
"But we heard…" explained Pakku.
"You heard wrong!" she snapped, and was about to dismiss him from her quarters forcibly as her aides surrounded him.
Pakku knew the only chance he had to right the wrongs was only seconds away from ending, so he blurted, "But Kanna, before she left, Katara told me…."
She interrupted Pakku and her eyes grew wide and softened, "Katara? What about Katara?"
Her knees grew weak, and with help from aides who had entered to remove Pakku, she sat on the skins. She dismissed them. Pakku remained standing, in respect to her tribal leadership role. He had not been invited to sit.
Pakku gathered himself and said, "Yes, Katara. She and the Avatar and her brother made it to the North."
"My grandchildren made it that far already? There were many dangers between here and there. Are they all right?"
"Yes they did. And they are fine. You raised them well."
She appreciated the genuine compliment, and asked, "What of Katara? Tell me of her."
"She has great water bending talent. And I think she has special feelings for the Avatar. And he for her," noted Pakku gently.
"Pakku, I knew all of that when they left. What more? Please sit beside me," Kanna invited.
Pakku was delighted to sit next to her and told her the tale, "Well, they came to us a few months ago. The Avatar needed to be trained in the ways of water bending as…tradition…dictates. He needed a Master. He is so young. They charmed Chief Arnook, the Chief's daughter Yue, and many others, but for one stubborn trait. Katara fancied herself a water bender. She sought a Master as well."
"Oh dear," fretted Kanna, knowing what that meant, "So what did the Master do?"
"Kanna, I was the water bending Master for the entire tribe. And I, like all the Masters before me, educated her on women's place in society, and sent her to learn the way of healing. With Yugoda and the younger girls."
"Yugoda…" she repeated. She hadn't heard the name of her other close friend in decades.
"So, she learned healing, but that was not enough for Katara. She still wanted to be trained as a water bender. As tradition requires, I refused. But the Avatar firmly supported her teaching. He taught her what I taught him. He dishonored me by doing that, so I stopped his lessons. She challenged me to force me to keep teaching him. And her."
Kanna thought to herself "Good for them", but said aloud with a knowing smile, "She challenges a lot of things. There is much spirit in that girl."
"Like someone else I once knew," observed Pakku kindly and they actually smiled at each other.
"So, who won?" teased Kanna in the cordiality that now existed between them.
Pakku, cleared his throat, but rather than snap back at her, his tone softened further, "Well I won the challenge. But she actually won the battle. She… changed my mind."
Kanna was shocked at his admission, "Oh? How could my headstrong granddaughter change your mind when I could not?"
"I saw the betrothal necklace. The one I gave you. Then I knew. I should have known though. She's very beautiful. She looks just like you."
"Oh. Umm. Thank you, but I'm just an old woman now," she scoffed.
"You will always be 16 to me, Kanna," Pakku said with feeling.
She heard Pakku's sincerity and blushed.
It was now or never. Pakku confessed to his long-lost love, "Look, Kanna, I made a terrible, awful mistake. It cost me my friends, it cost me my family, and it cost me you. I don't want to make the same mistake twice. I have come to tell you I am sorry. Truly sorry."
"You came all this way just to apologize?" she was incredulous. Pakku was indeed a different man.
"Yes. But I also came to say something more important."
"What is that, Pakku?" she barely whispered in anticipation of what he could possibly tell her.
He cast his eyes to the floor for a moment, took a deep breath, and then looked straight at her, "I was looking for a fresh start with you."
"I think you just made one," she smiled kindly, "Stay awhile, Pakku. Have some tea with me, and tell me all about them. Especially Sokka."
He rolled his eyes, but tried to say politely, "Sokka is… unique."
"That he is, Pakku. And I wouldn't have it any other way," they laughed together.
And so began weeks that extended into months during which they engaged in many conversations, teas, meals, and contented evenings together after each day's work to help restore the village. The commitment and sincerity of all the Northerners helped gain the respect of their once-estranged brothers and sisters of the South, and together, the village began to recover. Pakku and Kanna's slow strolls over the months became longer and longer, and one day, Pakku let his gloved hand brush up against Kanna's. She took it, removed their gloves, and interlaced fingers. He was thrilled.
They broached a subject never asked until now, "Did you leave someone behind, Pakku?"
"All these years, you didn't find another?" she felt lonely for him and even sadder about leaving him.
"Others tried, and even my parents tried to meddle in matchmaking again, but I refused them all. That did not go over well."
"I can imagine," she noted.
"None of them were like you. You made quite a permanent impression on me. I threw myself into water bending and nothing else mattered after that," Pakku explained.
She blushed and squeezed his hand, realizing that her refusal to marry him, and the choice he made to not marry another because of her, had kept him lonely his entire life. Maybe she had been too harsh on him. She felt sad that her own choice to deny him had cost him so much.
"I am so sorry, Pakku. I…I did marry," Kanna stuttered.
"Yes… I know. I am happy for you," replied Pakku sincerely.
"But it took me nearly three decades for someone to find me, Pakku. I dedicated myself to building this tribe, and to forget about you - which was very hard, by the way - and to supporting the chiefs that rose from within. The experience with you made me not think of marriage again. But there was one who was charming, and insistent. He was a good man. It was a good 'arrangement'. He was a great hunter, and he gave me two fine children. Hakoda – the current Chief - and his younger brother, Turok. My husband was kind to them, too."
She looked up at him, squeezed his hand, and noted, "I'm not sure you could have ever called it true love though. You had your effect on me, Pakku. I rejected everything that your family and the North stood for. But I never forgot the nice, handsome young man - who tried so hard to have tradition and me at the same time - that I lost when I left you at that bridge."
With glistening eyes she continued, "Despite your stubbornness, in those secret rendezvous together, I came to realize what you felt for me over the years, even though I couldn't at the time return it. You risked everything to be with me. I am afraid I was stubborn too, in my own beliefs. I wouldn't give up my beliefs no matter what."
"We are both guilty of that. So what happened to your husband, Kanna?" he asked carefully.
"We'd only be married six years when I lost him and Turok in another senseless Fire Nation raid. That was the most terrible days of my life. The day I lost them... " she paused, with a lump in her throat.
She swallowed hard, and continued, "I couldn't handle their loss, and so I've remained single since. I raised Hakoda, saw him rise to leadership, cried happily when he married, grieved terribly for his sweet wife when she died at the hands of the Fire Nation protecting Katara's secret water bending from them, and I have helped raise their children since. So here I am, helping all the children of the tribe, and as the oldest, leading them while Hakoda is gone with the other men. They have been gone three years. I despair of seeing any of them again," she said despondently, with a tear in her eye.
"I'm so sorry. So much sorrow and loneliness for you, all because of my inflexibility."
"That's all past now, Pakku," she encouraged, tightening her grip on his hand.
With that leading remark, Pakku dared to say what he felt, at the risk of what she might still not feel, and took both her hands into his. She did not pull back.
His voice quivered as he said the words six decades later than what he had wanted, "What matters is that I have you now, Kanna."
"Yes, Pakku. I am yours."
They smiled broadly, turned and kissed, hugging for what felt like an eternity, feeling the weight of the decades apart melt away in one embrace.