always have you
-tattoos-

.-.-.

Tenzin celebrated his seventeenth birthday on the day he passed all his airbending exams, wowing the masters with an impressive display of control and power. His father proudly bestowed upon him the traditional tattoos of their people and, on his mother's unwavering insistence, Tenzin spent his first few days as a seventeen-year-old resting and recovering in bed.

On the first morning he woke to his ever-diligent mother, her eyes full of love and her hands gloved in glowing water; he sighed and let her baby him as the stinging redness across his skin began to fade, leaving clean lines of sky blue. He tried to look up from his position face-down on the bedsheets while Katara tended to his back.

"Thanks, Mom. For taking care of me."

She shushed him with a smile and ordered him to stay put.

On the second morning he woke to his ever-enthusiastic father, who threw open the windows with a flourish in order to examine the healing tattoos under the bright morning light. Tenzin inhaled deeply as the breeze tickled his bare skin, carrying with it the sea-salt smell of the bay. After a few minutes Aang announced that the recovery was coming along perfectly and once again declared himself the proudest father in the four nations, a wide smile crinkling the corners of his gleaming gray eyes. Tenzin bowed his head respectfully.

"Thanks, Dad. For everything."

He shushed him with an affectionate pat on the shoulder, noting with a wink that all Tenzin needed to do now (besides continuing to refine his bending) was to grow some manly facial hair.

On the third morning he woke to Lin Bei Fong sleeping on the side of his bed, her head pillowed by her arms, wavy basalt hair fanned out against the soft yellow sheets. He reached out without thinking, smoothing back her wayward strands, quickly withdrawing his hand when he felt her mumble and stir.

Lin sat up, rubbing the sleep from her eyes, grinning when she noticed his eyes on her. "They let me in to see you last night. You mom finally agreed after I promised not to sneak you out for some long-overdue sparring. Guess I fell asleep..." She yawned, stretching, and Tenzin tried not to follow the lines of her shirt as they pulled taut against her rapidly budding curves.

"It's good to see you, Lin," he managed instead, clearing his throat with a self-conscious smile and tucking his blankets more securely around his bare torso.

Lin scoffed. "Tenzin, really, it's only been two days. Missed me that much, huh?" Her voice was light, teasing. She got up from her chair and settled heavily onto the edge of the bed where she had been resting her head moments earlier. She flicked him forcefully on the forehead, right where his arrow came to a point. "That hurt?"

"No," he lied, wincing slightly.

"Ha, I saw that. You don't have to act like Mr. Tough-and-Serious around me, Tenzin. I could read you like an open book even before mom taught me how to use my seismic sense." She stuck out her tongue at him, like she had done so many times throughout their childhood, but this time there was something so endearing about it he felt his heart skip a beat.

"I'd give you your eighteen birthday rock-punches but you're fragile and bedridden so I won't," she sniffed.

"Eighteen? But I'm only seventeen, Lin," he began to protest.

"That's one extra for good luck." She flashed him a devilish smile. "You'll need it if you ever hope to as good of a bender as me, or my mom, or Avatar Aang!"

Tenzin fought a smile; he was used to their banter over the years. "Well, if I could direct your attention to these tattoos," he gestured towards himself, "you would see that my father considers me to be a very accomplished airbender. Speaking of accomplished bending, Lin, how goes your metalbending training?"

"Don't insult me like that, Tenzin," Lin huffed, swatting him playfully on the hand. "You know I'm progressing just fine at the academy. If you ever again even imply that I'm not better than you, I'll erase those tattoos right off your body."

Tenzin laughed. "Why do you always have to be so difficult?"

"Don't lie. You like it," she tossed back haughtily.

"It's the only thing I've ever known," he confessed. "I don't know how it's like not to have a best friend who's always beating me up one way or another," his voice dropped slightly, "or driving me crazy in all senses of the word."

Lin's eyes softened. "And don't you forget it." She laced her fingers through his. "I'm not going anywhere, so you better stay used to me."

He lifted her hand to his lips and gently kissed the inside of her wrist; he was pleased to note her tiny, almost inaudible gasp and a pretty blush spreading across her cheeks.

"Thanks, Lin. For being you."