Lin crossed her arms, convinced that the boat taking her to Air Temple Island wasn’t going fast enough. Sensing her unrest, her mother, Toph, smirked at her.
“Tenzin will still be there when we land,” Mother teased.
Lin grunted at her.
Mother didn’t know the real reason Lin was always begging to go to Air Temple Island. Tenzin was nice, and she liked the way he squeaked when they sparred together, but he wasn’t what made Lin impatient.
He wasn’t what tied her stomach up in knots, or put a blush on her cheeks.
Their boat rocked as the sailors tied it up at the pier. Lin was jumping over the railing and running up the island shore before Toph could so much as scream, “Knock ‘em dead, kid!”
Lin stopped to catch her breath just before entering the practice courtyards, where training and sparring took place. Then she peeked around a corner, and had to catch her breath all over again.
Kya was practicing waterbending with Katara. She was so graceful, her hair flying around her face as she spun and leapt, looking like she was dancing. Water flowed around her, making her look like some kind of spirit. Too perfect to be real.
She was Tenzin’s older sister. Emphasis on older. She’d probably think of Lin as a kid, a baby, if she noticed her at all.
Someone tapped her on the shoulder. Flushing red, embarrassed to be caught watching Kya, Lin spun.
It was Tenzin, giving her a little goofy smile. “Hi, Lin.”
“Hi,” she answered shortly, then turned back around.
Tenzin tapped her on the shoulder again.
Lin scowled at him.
He blushed, holding out an orange blossom. “For you,” he said, turning even redder, if that was possible.
Lin blinked, mechanically taking the flower from his hand. Not sure what else to do, she stared at it awkwardly, then glanced at the hopeful look on Tenzin’s face.
Tenzin beamed. “I hoped you’d like it. They’re my sister’s favorite and – ”
“Kya likes these?” Lin interrupted, holding the flower to her breast.
“Uh, yes, it was actually, um, her idea, see I was wondering – ”
“It was her idea to give me a flower?”
“Ah, yes, you see…”
But Lin was no longer listening. She flushed again, in pleasure this time, and then tucked the flower into her hair. Turning her back on Tenzin midsentence, she marched out into the courtyard to thank Kya for the flower.
“You’re welcome, Lin!” Kya chirped, her smile so bright that it made the world seem better.
Lin went quiet, completely blindsided by that smile. Her tongue felt like lead in her mouth.
“Do you want to spar with me?” Kya continued, saving Lin from the mortification of a prolonged silence. “Bumi and Tenzin aren’t really a match anymore. Even when I take them on together.” Kya laughed, a sound like a babbling brook.
“Hey! We can take you any day of the week!” Bumi howled, popping up from… somewhere.
Everyone was used to his odd entrances.
“Oh really?” Kya taunted. “What do you say to a death match then? Boys against girls?”
“You’re on!” Bumi called back, pulling a protesting Tenzin into the courtyard. “Loser has to muck out the sky bison stables on their own for a week!”
“Ready?” Kya smiled down at Lin.
Lin smirked, in that moment looking exactly like her famous mother.
The fight went quickly. It was soon apparent that Bumi and Tenzin were outmatched, in no small part due to the fact that Tenzin was reluctant to hit Lin. Lin used his hesitation to her advantage, pinning him under a slab of earth.
Though the fight was a small thing, the only prize an escape from chores, it felt like more to Lin. It wasn’t just boys versus girls.
It was her and Kya against the world.
“Gosh, Lin, you’re so strong!” Kya said once the match was done, laying her hand on Lin’s bicep.
Lin’s belly did flip flops. “Yeah, well…” she muttered, subtly flexing the muscle.
They would have a similar moment, in years to come, and Lin would react in much the same way. And then she would go home, and pull out a book, opening it to find an orange blossom pressed between the pages.
The first flower Tenzin ever gave her.
The flower that had been Kya’s idea.