It isn't Aang's intention to pry; when he enters the room of his teenage son it is only to retrieve a book. He finds a stack on the floor beside the bed, an unusual placement in Tenzin's room- he is typically one for keeping everything in its place when not in use. There are three books here, poking out from just under the bed. The top one is on mathematics, the middle is a biography of Guru Laghima, and the last in the stack, with a cover of gold inlay, reads simply, Fertility Awareness.
At first, Aang doesn't give it a second thought. He moves onto the bookshelf in pursuit of the text he originally came for- only to pause a moment later. Tenzin is currently studying math, he has well-known preoccupation with Guru Laghima, but Aang can't think of any good reason he should be reading up on fertility cycles.
A gust of wind carries him back to the small stack of books. He nearly snaps the sturdy spine of it when he wrenches it open nervously flipping to a series of earmarked pages. The chapter titled, "Avoiding Pregnancy" is suspiciously trafficked- the pages are limp and worn with overuse and notes dot the margins. There are underlined passages explaining which types of tea a woman should drink to stave off motherhood (pomegranate with thistle) and information on tracking the menstrual cycle. When Aang reaches a paragraph on something called the "rhythm method" he slams the book shut, alarm rising a blush into his cheeks.
After a moment of careful thought he tucks the book under his arm and exits the room, sliding the rice paper door closed behind him. He understands that his next mission is to apprise his wife of this discovery, but he must find her first. The savory-sweet smell of veggie bao steaming in the kitchen leads him to her directly.
She has her back to him, humming happily as she rinses out a recently used wok.
He clears his throat. She continues to hum.
He tries again, "Sweetie?"
This attempt is more successful and she turns to him, wiping a bit of sweat from her brow, "Hey, Sweetie. You okay?"
Aang shrugs, book under arm. He's about to reply when she interrupts, "You have that look on your face."
"That look you had when I told you that I found dirty magazines under Bumi's mattress," she answers, wringing out a dishtowel.
He tilts his head; lips pressed together, "Well...not quite."
"Oh spirits," Katara returns with a sigh, "what is it?"
Without further fanfare, Aang produces the book- holding out for her inspection. Katara approaches quickly, wasting no time in grabbing it and leafing through.
"Found this in Tenzin's room. I think he's thinking about…" Aang begins, letting the conclusion dangle like an apple from a branch before Katara's face. She swipes by answering, "Having sex?"
Katara sighs, shoulders sloping, "I guess that the least worrisome reason for him to be studying up on menses. We'll need to talk to him about this."
He offers a nod before she adds; "…and we need to talk to Toph about this too. I think maybe we should get together and decide how to approach this conversation with Tenzin and Lin."
An adoring smile stretches across his face, "You always know what to do, Sweetie." He drops a kiss to her temple; Katara accepts it without much acknowledgement, still transfixed by the book in her hands, observing wryly, "well, he is a diligent note-taker at least."
Her focus is interrupted by the sound of the front door opening. She drops the book onto the seat of a chair just in time for Tenzin to appear in the doorway of the kitchen. The book is out of his view, but the fact that his parents are standing side by side and staring forward does not escape him. His eyes dart about nervously, "Hello."
"Hi," they reply together.
Their eighteen-year-old son glances around the room again, waiting for some explanation for this unusual greeting. Katara is quick to follow up; "you're just in time for dinner."
Tenzin nods, catching his father's eye to wordlessly ask if he is being set up for something. When Aang looks away he knows it must be bad.
"I'm just going to go wash up then," Tenzin announces finally, pointing one finger down the hallway awkwardly.
"Great!" his parents chorus.
Another nod of his shaved head and he is gone, disappearing into the recesses of the house. A breath Aang didn't even realize he was holding passes through tightened lips, "Should we just say something now?"
"No, let's just eat and act normally. If he's still in the researching phase it's likely he hasn't done anything yet. We'll talk to Toph about it in the morning. I think we all just need to keep calm heads about this and make sure the kids understand the consequences. Tenzin is responsible. When we talk to him…he'll make the right choice."
At the end of the hallway, Tenzin's heart is racing. He doesn't have many secrets and he has even less privacy- the list of uncomfortable things his parents could have discovered about him is exceedingly short. In fact, it doesn't go far past a book he lifted from the Firelord's library last summer.
The golden cover glinted in the light of the torch along the wall, catching his eye. The tip of his finger curled over the lip of the spine, pulling it out ever so slightly, just far enough that he could read the title.
He looked over the top of it at Lin, who was busy thumbing through some other tome, which appeared light on words and heavy on bending diagrams. She must have sensed his gaze because she looked up, green eyes startling him, "What?"
"Did you find something interesting?"
Tenzin swallowed hard, sliding the book back into place with a snap, "No."
She gave him a lingering look before closing her own, clapping the pages together so dust billowed out like chalk from an eraser. She sighed, "There's nothing good here. Let's go to the bonfire."
He agreed, following her out of the library.
But the next day, he returned- flipping through the book long enough to discern its future value. Surely, the Firelord wouldn't mind loaning it out. Tenzin slipped it into his bag.
After that, the book found a new home off the shelf- and as Tenzin groped around beneath his bedframe he suspected it might have been relocated again. With a defeated sigh he rest his forehead along the edge of the bed, banging it twice to iterate, "Stupid, stupid."
Like a lamb to the slaughter, he made his way to the dining table. The conversation that evening was sparse. The book didn't come up. Tenzin slept that night; foolishly hopeful the storm had passed with out a single drop of rain.
Lightning spiders out across the gray morning sky, heralding the roar of thunder that finally wakes him. The sky is threatening, but only that. The courtyard remains dry, but the scent in the air is tinged with the premonition of rain. If he means to make it over to Lin's house before the weather changes he must do so soon and without Oogi.
Emerging from his room with glider in hand he is stopped by his mother, who is pulling on a lightweight parka- perfect for a summer shower, "Heading over to Lin's?"
"Yes, we were planning to hike out to the marshlands and have a picnic there," he explains, casting a skeptical look at the sky out the large window in the front room, "but maybe not."
"Ah," Katara nods, "well we will head over with you."
A panicked jolt runs through his body at this assertion, "to Lin's house?"
"Mmhmm," Katara confirms just as Aang joins them, "Dad and I are going to have some tea with Toph."
Tenzin looks to his father, Aang averts his eyes again, "Over there? Doesn't she normally come here?"
"Yes, " Katara replies, "which is why we should go to her once in awhile. Its not really fair to make her come to us every time, is it, Sweetie?"
Aang starts, "Hm? No, no. You're right. We should go there sometimes."
The whole story is wrought with suspicion, Tenzin thinks. In all his years he has never known his mother to express this type of concern for Toph's commute nor has he ever known his parents to gather in her sitting room for tea. Katara hoists a square bag over her shoulder and Tenzin's throat constricts at the sight of it. His mother does not carry a purse.
"Shall we?" she smiles, opening her arm toward the door. Tenzin shuffles forward, feet weighed down by dread.
When the door of the Beifong home creaks open, Tenzin's worried eyes communicate dismay silently to Lin. He knows she has gotten the message by the way her eyebrows jump and quickly drop at the sight of his parents behind him.
"Oh, the whole family is here," she states obviously.
Aang and Katara file in, each pecking Lin's cheek as they enter. "I didn't realize you were all coming over."
That is the statement that finally coaxes a kernel of truth from Katara. Gathering a breath she looks between her son and his girlfriend, who exchange a furtive glance.
"We actually came over to talk with you both and your Mom….where is she?"
Lin's brow furrows, "in the kitchen making tea with Su…"
"In here, Twinkletoes and Company!" Toph's nasal drawl confirms from a room away. As Aang and Katara move forward, Lin's eyes widen in Tenzin's direction; his non-verbal response is a frown and a shrug.
In the kitchen, a ten year old Suyin is rifling through the cupboards, "What kind, Mom?" she asks, bouncing on the balls of her feet.
"What do we got?" Toph returns as Tenzin's parents enter and find a seat at her table.
"Jasmine, Lemon balm, Pomegranate-" Su recites just as Aang and Katara exchange a fleeting look of their own.
"No, not that one," Toph declines, "the pomegranate is Lin's. Anything else?"
Biting his lip, Tenzin resists the urge to crawl into a hole.
"We have matcha," Su announces, pulling a jar from the cupboard.
"That'll do, yeah? Everyone okay with that?"
Toph's survey is cut short by Lin's sharp interjection, "Can I ask what the hell is going on?"
She is standing at the threshold of the room beside Tenzin, arms crossed and scowling. Her mother shrugs, "Don't ask me, Katara is the one that said we all need to sit down and discuss something."
All eyes in the room drift in Katara's direction and she motions to the chairs on the other side of the cedar table, "Have a seat."
Lin clicks her tongue in annoyance, waiting a beat before she accepts Katara's invitation. She finally relents in deference to Katara specifically- if anyone else had asked, Lin would have remained standing at the doorway obstinately. The expressions on the faces in this room leave no room for doubt in Lin's mind- this little family meeting is in her honor.
She isn't alone in assuming she is the reason they are here today- Toph's hands raise innocently to clarify, "if this is about me, you can save your breath. A little sake now and again never hurt anyone."
Katara pulls a face, "No, this isn't about you, Toph…this is about-" her eyes catch on Su's bouncing curls- "actually…maybe we should reserve this conversation for adults. Suyin, would you please excuse us?"
At the stove, Su's lip curls in displeasure, "Ughhhhhhhh. Why do I always have to go?"
"Consider it a blessing," Toph deadpans, shooing her from the room, "kick rocks, kiddo. I promise whatever it is won't be nearly as exciting as you're hoping anyway."
Su departs in a huff, leaving a blanket of quiet behind. Toph is the first to disrupt it, clanking some teacups together clumsily as she gathers them, "So what is this about?"
Katara's throat clears as she reaches into her shoulder bag, producing the book and settling it in the middle of the table for everyone to see.
"Tenzin, we came across this in your room."
"What is it?" Toph wonders as Tenzin's head dips back, eyes closed. Lin, for her part, squints at the title, leaning forward in curiosity.
"A book about the reproductive cycle, with a fair amount of notes on how to avoid pregnancy," Katara finishes calmly.
Toph is wearing a puzzled frown as she places the teacups along the table, "And?"
"And," Katara continues, "we think its best that we sit down as a family and discuss what this means and examine the consequences intercourse to Tenzin and Lin before they engage in something they don't fully underst—"
"Pffffft," Toph's guffaw tears across the room, silencing Katara, "Are you serious?"
Katara's blue eyes darken, giving her old friend a murderous glare, "Of course I'm serious," she defends. Outside, rain obscures the world on the other side of the window- the storm has finally arrived.
"They're already doing it," Toph asserts with a lift of her shoulder, casually tossing her statement at the group like a grenade.
"We don't know that," Katara argues quickly.
"I do," Toph insists, sliding a tea cup in her direction, "the only big news for me is that Tenzin is even nerdier than I thought, digging up a book on the reproductive cycle," she scoffs, "you would."
Aang puts one calming hand on his wife's arm when the vein in her head begins to bulge. His gesture works in relaxing her, if only a bit. Drawing a breath Katara centers herself, decisively cutting Toph from the conversation and directing her next question to her youngest son, "Is she right? Have you two already…"
Tenzin's face is an unnatural shade of red, so Lin cuts across him, "Do we really need to answer this?"
Dodging the question is all the answer Katara really requires and her lips purse in response. A moment to gather her thoughts is denied to her by Toph who seems to find this situation utterly amusing, "what kind of fantasy world are you two living in? They're nineteen!"
"I'm seventeen," Lin corrects indignantly.
"Okay, they're seventeen," Toph agrees on a laugh, "and Tenzin sleeps over here at least one night a week!"
While Aang's mouth draws into a fine point, Katara's drops open, "WHAT?"
"Mother," Lin warns sharply.
"You lied to me?" Katara seethes, eyes staring daggers at Tenzin.
"Well…." Tenzin falters, "I stretched the truth…"
"You said you were staying with a friend in the city so that you could be at your Page job on early start days and-…do you even have early starts? ARE YOU EVEN A PAGE AT CITY HALL?"
"Yes," her son yelps in return, "Mom I didn't—"
"And YOU," Katara bellows, attention swinging from her son to Toph, "you let him stay here? You never told me any of this? They're children, Toph. As a mother you should have at least some sense of responsibility!"
Katara's comment earns her one finger aggressively pointed at her face, "Watch it, sister," Toph warns seriously, "I don't need a lecture on how to be a good Mom from you!"
"Are you sure about that?" Katara laughs caustically.
"Yeah, at least my kids don't have to lie to me just to get a little breathing room."
"That's it," Katara announces, pushing her chair out, "you and me, outside now."
A shrill whistle silences everyone in the room, the escalating chaos pauses long enough for Aang to sweep his hands across the air before him, clearing the air both literally and metaphorically.
"Everyone calm down," he instructs, "look at us- this is getting way out of hand. We came here to have a family meeting, not to fight each other.
"Sweetie, " he continues, "I know you're upset and you feel betrayed, but I think Toph may have a point. Maybe we do need to do a better job at keeping the lines of communication in our family open. And Toph, not keeping us informed is another missed communication. All Katara and I really want is to feel like we're all on that same side and we can each help each other become better parents. And Tenzin-" Aang pauses, fixing his son with a look of genuine affection, "well you're very grounded."
Tenzin's shoulders sag, but his father goes on, "We can't pretend you haven't been dishonest. But your Mom and I want you to feel comfortable coming to us with anything, even if you're afraid we will be upset. The fact that you've been staying here isn't nearly as upsetting as the lies you told to do it. Nothing is more damaging to family than a lie."
When he finishes, the room fills up with silence. Nobody argues, nobody protests. After a moment of reflection Aang speaks again, "And Lin. I'm sorry but I think you're stuck with this family for better or worse."
His comment garners the smallest chuckle from her, it is uplifting in one breath, ushering the negativity out on the sigh that follows.
Aang looks around the room, he didn't mean to pry, but it retrospect he is glad he did.
"Let's have some tea, huh?" he concludes, taking his seat again.
His family joins him.