He blames his older siblings. They are two idiots who will get into the deepest of trouble, so he follows along to help dig them out of their own holes. Lin accompanies because she likes adventure, and she's much better at getting out of trouble. Besides, Bumi and Lin are exceptional liars and could convince anyone of anything.
Now, they are convincing him to drink.
A monk should not drink. It addles the brain, the mind, the spirit. And a monk should always be one with his spirit, with the world. It slows all processes, a thing an airbender by nature should avoid. It was one of the first things his father taught him. There were some rules he was always meant to follow.
"No," he says with finality.
Bumi pretends not to listen while Lin listens but chooses to ignore his refusal. She presses the cup of whiskey—what was whiskey, anyway? Something awful, he was sure—into his hands and he marvels for a moment at the heat that spreads through him when she accidentally brushes her thumb against his skin.
"Drink," she orders. Even though she hasn't had as much alcohol as his siblings, her pale skin is bright red, her cheeks flushed. He can tell only because of the thin strips of moonlight that streak against the floors of the gazebo. The many trees of Republic City Park dim the city lights, but Lin glows with a light of her own. She is as radiant as the stars.
"If you stare any harder, Tenzin, your eyes are gonna pop outta their sockets," Kya comments offhandedly. Her smirk is so wide, and Bumi's guffaw so loud, and Lin's sudden fierceness so adorable as she punches Kya's shoulder that Tenzin realizes he has no choice but to take a swig of the dark, amber liquid. It burns all the way down his throat but it's nothing compared to the burning in his heart every time he glances at Lin.
When Kya chases Bumi out of the gazebo because he has spilled the bottle down the front of her dress, Tenzin takes the chance to sneak closer to Lin. She notices, of course, because he isn't very sneaky.
"What're you doing?" she asks. She hiccups softly, trying to hide behind a large, calloused hand.
He catches her hand and brings it to his cheek. He's drunk off whiskey and the sight of Lin's green eyes.
"I'm going to kiss you," he tells her. She rolls her eyes and dips to catch his lips instead. She tastes like whiskey and it is the most intoxicating taste he's ever had the pleasure to feel upon his tongue.
A monk should be vegetarian. The Avatar's family is vegetarian on principle, although one day Tenzin's father pulls him aside and sits him down.
"You know, Tenzin, you are free to make your own decisions."
Tenzin cocks his little head. "I know."
Aang smiles warmly and musses the locks of dark hair that grow on Tenzin's head. "Even though your mother and I are vegetarians, you are free to eat whatever you'd like when you're not home."
Tenzin narrows his eyes. "But airbenders don't eat meat."
Aang nods slowly. "Air Nomads didn't, but we live in a very different time. Your siblings can eat meat and so can you. If you'd like."
It is a tempting offer. He's seen Kya lick her fingers clean to savor the taste of fried goose chicken. Bumi is always sneaking out for live octopus, and although the idea of tentacles trying to wrangle down his throat isn't extremely appetizing, Tenzin has to admit he is curious.
"Okay," Tenzin says. "If I want to."
His father nods once more. "That's right."
Tenzin doesn't want to. Not for years. Not until Lin accidentally mentions she wants to eat barbecue for her eighteenth birthday before realizing she has uttered the words in front of her vegetarian boyfriend and his siblings. She quickly tries to take the wish back, talking about how she was watching her figure, but Bumi snorts in disbelief and Kya giggles nervously. Tenzin does one of the few things he can for Lin.
"We can have barbecue. If you'd like."
She stares at him. Her jade eyes are piercing right through him. She has probably discovered that he loves her, even though he's never said it.
"Really?" she asks.
"Yeah. I could eat if I want to."
"But…" she trails off and looks at the Air Nomad necklace he wears around his neck. "You can't."
"I can," he assures her. The very thought of it makes him a little queasy. He clears his throat to get rid of the bile.
She is conflicted. He can see the battle raging within her, the imbalance in her stance, the way her shoulders have slumped, the tilt of her chin that indicates confusion. Finally, Bumi leaps up and decides for everyone that they will, indeed, have barbecue for Lin's birthday.
At the restaurant, he sits beside Lin. The smell of cooking meat makes him uncomfortable, but he is glad Lin has taken special measures to sit as far from the grill as possible. She flags the waitress down and speaks in a low voice, requesting something. When the waitress returns, she carries with her plates overflowing with greens, setting them before Tenzin.
"Sorry," Lin mumbles. "I'll think things through before I say them."
He laughs at her and elbows her, laughing harder when she almost topples out of her chair. She must have been extremely worried if she's so easy to move. "Don't worry. It's your birthday."
She sucks her teeth and furrows her brows. A moment later, she is taking a lettuce leaf and wrapping it around a small piece of brown meat. She dips it in something and holds it out to him. "You should have some, even if it's just once. I mean, I don't think accidentally swallowing a fly on your first glider trip should count as your one instance of meat eating."
He glowers at her but takes her offering. It is savory and chewy and he doesn't like it, but he can see why everyone else does. Tenzin decides meat is not for him. But the way Lin licks her fingers makes him almost want to eat some more. If she'll do that again.
"Gross," Bumi says from the end of the table, his plate piled high with all kinds of meat. "Get a room."
This is meant to be a momentous occasion. This is also meant to be an occasion he is not supposed to partake in. He should be free of earthly desires, free of the need to feel naked flesh against his own. He is a monk. And monks abstain. From everything.
But he is also meant to repopulate the airbenders. He'd need practice. That is Lin's reasoning, which he really can't argue against because she is, in the end, quite right about that. And he really, really wants to practice with her.
Yet Tenzin is sure that this is supposed to be more romantic. Bumi had talked about extravagant dates and wine and gas lamps lighting the way to a chic love motel (the newest additions to Republic City). Kya had talked about calming baths and candles and rose petals strewn along the bed. But here they were, in Lin's spacious, minimalist bedroom in her tiny apartment. The electric lights flicker overhead, casting the room in an orange glow.
He can see a sliver of pale skin free from the meteorite bangle she usually wears around her surprisingly small wrist. He has seen it hundreds of times but in this context it is most intimate. Tenzin feels lightheaded at the mere thought of running a finger along the exposed skin. It makes all his blood rush downwards.
"Perhaps we should wait." He has no idea what for but it sounds like a good thing. Kind of. Mostly.
Lin regards him with narrowed eyes. She leans against her bed with a cocked hip and crossed arms, clearly not amused. In her casual clothes, something he hasn't seen on her in years, not since she finished Academy and went straight into the police force, she looks almost delicate. Approachable. Warm. Even in the middle of winter.
"Really," she deadpans.
"Really," he responds.
Her fingers curl around the hem of her shirt, drawing it upwards in one sweep, leaving her exposed. She's not embarrassed (not that she should be) and she lifts an eyebrow in question, like a challenge. Tenzin is positive he's drooling and his mind has completely derailed. Not that he minds. Not at all. He likes challenges.
He wets his lips and tries, "Lin," in his strictest of voices, the one he uses on the Air Acolytes he teaches, but it does nothing on her. Instead, it only makes her take a step forward, then another, and another until she's standing before him, using her deft fingers to remove the knot of his cape.
"I don't really want to take my own pants off," she admonishes, easily ridding him of his layers of clothing. Flashes of mustard and saffron catch his eye before they settle on the ground in a discarded heap. "I want you to do that." She kisses him softly on the corner of his mouth.
Tenzin is incapable of much thought after that. He kisses her until he's sure their souls have combined. He kisses her until there is no space between them. He kisses her and decides abstinence was not meant for him.
He watches Lin fall from Oogie and sail down to land on the airship. He sees her close her eyes in concentration, move with a smoothness and grace very few possess. She rips into the metal beast without a second thought.
He looks away in defeat and closes his eyes. He silently urges Oogie to go faster. The airbison responds with a small wail that mirrors the pain Tenzin feels inside.
For the first time, he imagines killing someone. It is brief, and he feels guilty once the image recedes, but the satisfaction of revenge is enough to fill him. Killing Amon would be sweet, and he would do it for Lin a hundred times over. As many times as would be needed to bring her back.