(A/N: My previous fic "The Vow" is referenced in this story, so if you are into continuity please read that first. It is NOT required to understand this story however. Please enjoy!)
The acolytes filtered out of the meditation room in a dream-like state as if lazing down a sleepy river. Tenzin watched them go with admiration. He was continually impressed by their dedication and at times like these, his students seem to be fully relaxed and at peace. All of them, that is, except for Pema. Usually, the young brunette with bright eyes was the most serene and dedicated of all, but Tenzin noticed her eyes darting around behind their lids during meditation and the way her fingers kept lightly tugging at her robes. She was distracted. He considered mentioning it, but figured everyone is allowed some leeway now and again. He would have let it go completely, if she hadn't been lingering in the archway.
This behavior wasn't completely unusual. Tenzin and his pupil tended to get caught up in conversation after meditation fairly regularly as of late. It had begun with a few simple questions about his technique and in the ensuing months had moved on to more personal topics. Pema would talk about her upbringing, her admiration for Avatar Aang and the life of Air Nomads, and the broken romance that lead her to Air Temple Island several years ago. For his part, Tenzin offered an ear without usually disclosing too much of his own backstory. She would ask personal questions occasionally, with a tentative look. He was good about skirting most of her inquiries, but found himself letting her in on his private feelings more frequently. He did feel some kind of relief in talking to her about increasingly intimate topics that he would usually keep to himself. Pema was a good listener and so serene, she seemed to be the personification of calm and understanding. However, today she radiated a nervous, uneasy energy.
"Master Tenz-...Tenzin," she corrected awkwardly. He told her weeks ago that they should be on a first name basis by now, given how much they knew about each other. She shifted her weight anxiously.
"Is there something on your mind, Pema?" He asked courteously. She swallowed hard and met his eyes with steely determination.
"Actually, there is."
Her body language gave Tenzin pause. There was something foreboding about the way she inhaled deeply and fixed her eyes on him.
"Tenzin, I feel like I've gotten to know you really well in the past year," she began, sounding extremely rehearsed. "I respect you so much and I've come to value your advice. Our talks have been...amazing. I don't think I've ever connected with someone as much as I have with you. I don't want to make assumptions and I know you're with- well, I just like to think you appreciate our talks as much as I do. I think you do..." her resolve was crumbling and her speech started veering off into nonsense, catching herself she looked up at him for a brief second. Suddenly realizing where this was leading, Tenzin's stomach sank. Briefly, he considered running.
"...I just need to tell you that I think I'm in love with you," she exhaled. Interpreting his stunned silence as agreement, she moved forward, letting her eyes flutter closed.
Snapping out of his shock, Tenzin reached out and clumsily gripped her wrist to stop her from getting any closer. Her eyes opened and immediately clouded over with moisture. Her cheeks reddened, embarrassment palpable.
"Pema, please don't feel bad," he pleaded reluctantly letting her wrist go.
"Please, don't be. There is nothing wrong with being honest...but I think you'll understand..." he trailed off, letting Pema deduce the obvious. Tenzin was spoken for.
She nodded, "I just needed to get it off my chest."
"It's ok. I hope you know that I do value our talks," Tenzin wanted to say more, but somehow it wouldn't come. It was almost as if his mouth had dried up and his tongue swelled to stop him from speaking.
"I should go," she said in a small, fragile voice. It broke his heart. She was such a nice young girl, wise beyond her years, and so kind-hearted. He opened his mouth to reassure her of these things, but it snapped shut of its own accord. She took a few steps back and giving him one last solid look that must have taken all the courage she had, told him "I don't regret telling you."
He nodded and she turned away.