Disclaimer: I do not own ATLA. It belongs to Mike and Bryan.
A/N: So I'm clearly insane. I start nursing school in two days but I can't stop writing fic *shakes fists at LOK/various fanartists and fic writers*. I blame you!
Basically, this is another companion piece to Tales of Republic City. I kept thinking about Tenzin/Lin running away and how Aang, Katara, Toph and Sokka would react to that, what adventures would ensue and well...this idea was born. It's a multi-chapter, but I definitely won't be able to update everyday as I have in the past. My plan is to update each Saturday. Hopefully, I can keep up with that and stay sane in the process.
The house was uncommonly quiet. Rather than the knowledge relaxing Katara, however, the silence filled her with a vague sense of unease instead. Her house was never quiet.
On the surface, nothing really seemed amiss. Ever since Kya had married and left home a year earlier, the boys spent most of their time in different pursuits which kept them away from home most days so quiet was a given. That particular day wasn't any different.
Bumi was out in the city with friends, no doubt getting himself neck deep into trouble. Some irate father would likely be dragging him home later that evening. Aang was sequestered away inside his dojo, deep in the avatar state and currently on a meditative journey into the spirit world. Katara anticipated that he would be gone for a few hours so there would be no random pandemonium coming from his end either. And Tenzin, her serious and studious baby boy, had taken his best friend Lin Bei Fong out for a joyride on his beloved sky bison Oogi.
As she put away the leftover remnants from lunch, Katara smiled to herself with that last thought. Under normal circumstances, "joy-riding" and "Tenzin" didn't belong in the same sentence at all but there was something about Lin that reminded Tenzin not to take himself so seriously. Only when he was with Lin did her son truly act like the twelve year old boy he was rather than the forty year old man he believed himself to be. It was a welcome change, but a surprising one as well.
The strong friendship between Tenzin and Lin was difficult to fathom at times. On the surface, much like their parents, Tenzin and Lin seemed to have very little in common. In fact, their interactions sometimes reminded Katara of the friction that had existed between Aang and Toph when they had been that age. Lin was brash and hotheaded, whereas Tenzin was calm and methodical. She tended to lead with her heart. He tended to approach matters logically. Lin was all action while Tenzin was, at his core, a thinker.
On the surface, the two pre-teens seemed like polar opposites. However, Katara recognized that the two had things in common as well. Both were equally intense about their bending, not only proficient with their respective elements, but gifted in their use of them as well. They pushed themselves to be the absolute best and pushed each other too. There was no room for error or personal weakness. Lin could also be ridiculously quick to temper and, depending on the situation, so could Tenzin. That was a legacy that he had inherited from his mother.
Consequently, as a result of their extremely strong personalities, Tenzin and Lin could have some of the most forceful and most volatile disagreements that Katara had ever witnessed. Their blowups were swift and explosive. And yet, just as quickly as discord would flare between them, peace would be reestablished with equal ease and apologies freely dispensed on both sides. No matter what was said or done, it was impossible for either of them to hold a grudge against the other and all sins were eventually forgiven. Still, it was strange to see Tenzin moody and temperamental especially when he was usually so quiet and reserved with his own family.
Katara noted that during his disagreements with Lin, Tenzin never seemed to fall into the usual airbender tactics of evading and avoiding. Lin brought out a different side to him altogether. He could be stubborn and sometimes downright aggressive when it came to her, resolutely standing his ground in the face of Lin's tendency towards bullying. There were times when he acquiesced to her will for the sake of peace, but when the subject pertained to something Tenzin felt strongly about then he refused to back down and, when that happened, it was like watching two goatbulls lock horns.
While mild mannered and longsuffering in all other aspects of his life, Tenzin definitely had a "hot button" when it came to Lin Bei Fong…and she pushed it. Often. Though the realization was fascinating, Katara was still trying to decide if she liked the way Lin managed to get under her son's skin. On the one hand, the eleven and a half year old kept Tenzin grounded and reminded him not to take himself so seriously all the time. On the other hand, she stirred up a passion in him that Katara felt was way too intense and very unlike Tenzin. When in the company of Lin Bei Fong her levelheaded and even-tempered son wasn't so levelheaded or even-tempered. That fact concerned Katara.
Yet, what prickled her with the mild stirrings of worry only seemed to please and amuse her husband. Aang, of course, welcomed the change in Tenzin because one of his longstanding fears had been that Tenzin would lose his childhood too early. Consequently, Aang welcomed Lin's ability to shake the foundation of Tenzin's world and even encouraged it. He also seemed to believe that their son's inconsistent behavior with Lin was indicative of something much greater than a mercurial shift in his personality. Aang was absolutely certain that their twelve year old son was slowly losing his heart to the only daughter of their best friend.
Katara wasn't sure how she felt about that either. Tenzin was still a child. The idea that he was falling in love when he was still so young and still had so very much to experience in life was daunting. It did not thrill Katara in the least. Granted, she wasn't in a position to admonish Tenzin about the subject either considering that Aang had fallen in love with her when he was roughly the same age and she with him when she hadn't been much older.
However, in Katara's mind, her story with Aang had been a rare and special case. The bond between them had been instantaneous and strong and undeniable. Even before she had recognized any romantic feelings for Aang, she had felt an unshakeable connection with him, liked and admired him from the beginning…even before she knew his name. Katara had known immediately upon setting eyes on him that he would change her life…and that she would change his.
There had been an element of destiny, fate and "star-crossed lovers who surmounted all odds against them" to her love story with Aang. But Katara recognized that they were most certainly the exception and not the rule. True soulmates were few and far between. And even with a transcendent love between them that was more powerful than all the cosmic energy in the universe, she and Aang had still endured their share of misunderstandings, fights, tears and sometimes even heartbreak. All of those trials had only been compounded by their youth and inexperience.
That wasn't to say that Katara regretted her choices in life because she did not. If she were given the opportunity to live those years all over again there wasn't a single thing that she would do differently. Loving Aang and spending her life with him was etched into her soul, as vital and necessary to her as water itself.
But Katara understood love wasn't like that for everyone. That was a lesson that she had drilled into her children faithfully because she hadn't wanted them to harbor any unrealistic expectations when it came to romantic relationships. They needed to grasp that, while the feelings between her and their father were real and deep and transcended almost everything imaginable, that kind of love was also inordinately uncommon and not everyone experienced it…not everyone could.
Katara's practicality on the matter was a nice counterbalance to Aang's inherently romantic nature. He believed in soulmate love for everyone because he had never known any other kind of love. Every relationship he'd had in his lifetime, and even the lifetimes he had lived before, had been shaped by love that was continually reborn, something so strong that it renewed itself again and again. Therefore, he was a bit biased in that regard.
As a result, Katara tended to be the grounded realist to Aang's quixotic optimist. They created beautiful harmony that way and thereby instilled in all three of their children the capacity for being both. Of course, there had been some snafus along the way…Kya's first disastrous attempt at a relationship and Bumi's first rejection from his longtime crush, a girl he had been sure he would "love for the rest of his life." Yet in the end she and Aang had been successful in their efforts to create a balance between their children's romantic and reasoning sides.
Kya was now happily married with a newborn daughter. Bumi, on the other hand, while he enjoyed female companionship, wasn't interested in marriage at all. And Tenzin, her precious, steadfast, serious little boy…he was already well on the road to giving away his heart completely to a girl who, in some respects, already claimed large parts of it for her own.
As she polished the interior of her kitchen sink, Katara sighed inwardly with that sobering realization. It's not that she thought that Tenzin falling in love with Lin was the worst prospect in the world. It was that she didn't believe it was the best one. Then again, Katara also recognized that there was little she could do about it if Tenzin was indeed falling for his best friend. The heart could be a very stubborn thing and it wanted what it wanted and she knew that better than anyone. In fact, she and Aang had discussed that very matter just the night before as they had cuddled together in bed.
"Would it really be such a terrible thing if he was developing real feelings for her?" Aang wondered aloud drowsily, stroking her hair as he did so, "It was bound to happen sometime, sweetie."
"Yes, it would be a bad thing. He's twelve," Katara replied, as if that were answer enough.
"I was twelve when I fell in love with you."
"It was different for us," she argued, "There were incredible circumstances that bonded us…inexplicable things that set you and me on a course towards one another. I believe that in very rare instances there are people who have a perfect mate made for them. Someone who is their compliment in every possible way and you are that person for me, Aang. I believe with everything inside of me that I was made to love you."
He pressed a lingering kiss to the rumpled hair falling across her temple, his breath escaping him in a contented sigh. "And I was made to love you too."
"But it's not like that for everyone," Katara insisted, "and I would hate to see Tenzin jump into that kind of emotional intensity before he's truly ready to deal with it."
"Katara, we weren't ready to deal with it either," Aang reminded her softly, "How do you know that Tenzin doesn't feel for Lin what I feel for you?"
"I don't know," she admitted, "and I'm not sure that I want to know. It scares me a little, Aang. I still think of him as my baby and I don't think he's ready to be in a relationship much less in love."
"I get what you're saying. Soulmates or not, being in love is hard and maintaining love is even harder. And it will always be hard. There's no denying that it takes an incredible amount of work. But we don't get to choose when it happens, Katara, or when we're ready for it. Love happens when it's ready for us."
She nuzzled a kiss across his shoulder, her breath escaping her in a small, lamenting sigh. "I know. I know this isn't something I can control. But knowing doesn't make me any less scared for him."
"Yeah," Aang agreed, pulling her closer, "it doesn't make me any less scared either."
Katara recalled that conversation with an anxious frown, made more anxious because Aang had admitted harboring some misgivings as well. It wasn't like him to become alarmed easily so if he was feeling some uneasiness with the situation then perhaps it was time for them to sit Tenzin down for a talk. By now, she and Aang should be experts at the conversation, having had the discussion with both Kya and Bumi in past years. Yet the idea of talking to Tenzin about love and sex and commitment, a young man who had always been so analytical and reasoning about everything, seemed a bit intimidating.
Mellowed further by the mere thought of that prospect, Katara left off in her obsessive scrubbing of her kitchen. Moments later, she found herself drifting down the corridor towards Tenzin's abandoned bedroom, suddenly filled with the inexplicable need to surround herself with her son's presence. Rather than entering his room immediately, however, Katara hovered in the threshold, a faint smile ghosting her lips as she surveyed the tidy, sun dappled interior. It was a sharp contrast to Bumi's den of utter disarray.
Unlike his older brother's bed, which was buried beneath a mountain of clothing, discarded papers, books and general junk, Tenzin's bed was fresh, clean and neatly made. There was no sign of fermenting food, no odd, unpleasant aromas wafting from different corners or suspicious piles, no secret fear that something small, furry and furtive had taken up residence there. Not a single thing was out of place. It was a perfect representation of Tenzin's well-ordered personality.
His clothes were out of sight and tucked away in his polished armoire. Books lined their shelves in straight, color coordinated rows which where alphabetized and arranged by height. Shoes were situated compactly against the wall and not strewn haphazardly across the floor. In fact, it was the room's pristine order that finally alerted Katara to the fact that something was seriously amiss.
Tenzin had three pairs of cloth boots. While he wore one pair, the spare two were always put away in their proper place in the tiny space between his bed and the wall. However, on this particular day, Katara noticed that only one pair was folded alongside the wall while the extra pair was curiously absent.
With narrowed eyes and alarm shivering down her back, Katara entered the room for closer inspection. As she did so, she knocked aside a rolled piece of parchment that had been placed on the small table situated beside the doorway. Well aware that Tenzin had a proper place for everything, Katara unrolled the scroll because she knew that if Tenzin had left it out he had meant for her to find it.
As soon as she read "Dear Mom and Dad, please don't be angry…" in Tenzin's neat, even scrawl, Katara knew she wasn't going to be happy. Upon further reading, however, her aggravation gradually gave way to disbelief and dread. She dropped her head forward with a dubious groan.
It seemed that Lin Bei Fong had talked her son into yet another one of her unpredictable adventures. They hadn't taken Oogi for a mere joyride after all. They had run away from home.