One of Kya’s favorite details about Ember Island vacations was watching what the change of scenery did to everyone. Tenzin woke up early, as always, and dragged Kya out of bed with him to go meditate in some remote corner of the island. Izumi tended to linger in her room for a while, glasses shoved in a book.
Lin, who was usually an early-riser, seemed to shift her entire sleeping schedule back by three hours.
Kya watched Lin come down to breakfast one morning, loudly announcing her presence by smacking the overhanging edge of the ceiling as she descended the stairs. Apparently it was loud enough to jolt Bumi awake from his spot on the living room couch, where he and his siblings seemed to be rotating their sleeping arrangements.
“Shit, Lin,” he groaned, annoyed. “Make a little more noise, will ya?”
Lin landed a solid slap across his arm when she walked past. “It’s almost ten, fuckface. Get on up.”
Kya chuckled into her lychee juice and looked towards the table where Katara and Mai sat. Her mother’s reaction was sure to be beautiful.
From the kitchen, Katara dropped the morning’s newspaper to the table with a rustle of pages. “Spirits, Lin. Who on earth raised you?” she said, half-joking.
Lin scooped up a mug of coffee from the counter and seemed to have half of it down in a second. “Oh? And who raised him? ” asked Lin. She motioned widely towards Bumi, who had begrudgingly turned away again on the couch.
Katara sighed dramatically. “I suppose you have a point, dear.”
From beside her, Mai sipped her tea politely and said, “I think they’re both charming.”
Lin rolled her eyes while the two women giggled to each other. From across the kitchen -- illuminated in its orange light from the Sun reflecting off the sand -- Kya met Lin’s eyes for long enough to throw a wink at her. Lin’s heart jumped so fast that she almost tried to catch it.
“And then the guy let the tigerdillo loose on me!” Bumi gestured wildly as he reenacted the motion of a stampeding animal. “I’ve never run so fast in my life, I’ll tell you.”
“No, you didn’t,” said Tenzin, making a face. “And he didn’t set it loose. It was just clawing at the cage.”
Bumi crossed his arms in defiance, puffing up his chest. “How do you know that, big guy?” His exaggerated features sharpened in the light from the fire.
Tenzin nodded his head towards Lin, where she had laid herself out on a nearby log. “Because Lin and I were there. The guy was arrested for illegal animal transportation. You were just being dumb and managed to get into a fight with him.”
“I wasn’t being dumb,” Bumi insisted. “I accused him of criminal activity and rustled him up pretty damn good.”
“You were also as drunk as I’ve ever seen a man,” muttered Lin, staring up at the darkening sky, speckling itself with white dots.
Bumi finally chuckled to himself, as if proud of such an achievement. “Gotta smash a few sometimes if you wanna take on an exotic animal rustler.”
Lin groaned in response. “Eloquent, Bumi.”
Finally settling back in his own seat, Bumi squinted down the beach to locate his sister. She sat at the edge of the water, tapping her feet in the wet sand, eyes on the sunset.
“Come join the cool kids, Kya,” he shouted at her.
A second of silence, and Kya barely turned her head to say, “I’m good.”
Lin worked herself up on her elbows to find where Kya was. The waterbender’s long, dark arms glimmered golden in the late-evening light.
“You never miss out on a party,” Bumi called again.
Down at the water, Kya snapped her head around with mock annoyance in her eyes and said jokingly, “A party that involves one dumbass, one airhead loser, and Miss Type-A rich girl? I’ll pass this time around.”
“Thinkin’ about Izumi again? She’s inside, if you want to --”
“Shut up,” Kya shouted back at him.
“Well,” said Bumi dramatically, standing again, “On that note, I’d like to go watch the sunset on the west side of the island. Anyone care to join me?”
Tenzin groaned and heaved himself up. “I suppose so. Just don’t drag me along on one of your side quests.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it.” Bumi bowed excessively low before his brother. He jumped up again and asked, “Linny, you wanna come along? Or are you gonna hang out with our favorite sulky waterbender?”
Another glare from Kya and Lin smiled. “I’ll stick around here. Have fun.”
The boys waltzed on down the beach, Bumi kicking at the sand with Tenzin strolling along beside him. Lin rolled her eyes as she watched them leave.
“Hey,” said Kya from down by the water. “Come sit.”
Lin abandoned the circle of logs around the firepit and walked barefoot down to the place where Kya sat. She watched the smooth ripples of water lap at her toes. Her nails were painted gold, thanks to Suki's bout of creativity the night before.
“Is something bothering you?” Lin asked Kya. She shoved her hands into the pockets of her loose pants.
Kya shrugged. She only wore a strapless wrap of pretty royal blue around her chest and a yellow skirt that revealed her calves and thighs when sitting like this. Droplets of water freckled her shins, glittering in the last few minutes of sun.
“Bumi’s right,” said Lin. “You never seem this quiet.”
“Bumi’s a dumbass.”
Lin lowered herself to sit in the sand beside Kya. “True. But if there’s something on your mind, I’m not in a rush to be anywhere anytime soon.”
Kya took a long time to inhale and exhale deeply, crossing her arms atop her knees. “I don’t know. I guess I’ve been feeling strange for a while.”
She made a face. “Like… melancholy, I guess. It doesn’t feel bad, but it feels odd to just sit in it.”
Lin watched the sand shift around her feet as the water pushed and pulled. Mesmerizing. “Is something making you feel like that?” She suppressed a smile as she asked, “Is it Izumi again?”
Kya pulled a hand back in a mocking threat. “Watch it, Beifong,” she said with a grin.
A spark of pride warmed Lin’s chest, seeing that she had made Kya laugh. She thought Kya’s eyes were particularly lovely when she smiled. The way her voice opened up and seemed to beckon the heavens made Lin’s stomach flip.
“Short answer: no, it’s not Izumi,” said Kya through her chuckle. “I think --” She sighed again and rested her chin on her arm. “I think I need to get out of here.”
Lin tilted her head to the side in confusion. “I mean, we go back to the city in three days, so --”
“I don’t mean that.” Kya waved her hand in the air to scatter away the misunderstanding. “Like, I need to get away from everyone, I think. My family, and stuff. I love them, but… I need to get away from them and the city for a while. I think being here has helped me see that.”
Lin nodded. “You want to set out on your own. I get that.”
“Yeah. I feel like so much of my identity has come from my parents.”
“Fuck. Tell me about it.”
Kya grinned again. She dug around in the sand with an index finger, forming a little burrow of some kind.
“I just need to get away from them for a while,” said Kya. “Find some tiny house on a river and a nice girl to spend some time with.”
Lin watched her closely, noting every minor movement and shift of her eyes. “Can I ask you something?”
“About -- About Izumi. Is that whole thing just a Bumi joke or…” Her voice dissolved into the air, admittedly too shy to speak the words. She felt childish to have to ask.
An insecure chuckle came from a shallow spot in Kya’s throat. “It’s, um -- It’s more than a joke, for sure.”
“I mean, you don’t have to tell me about it if you don’t want --”
“No, it’s fine,” Kya assured her. “Probably would do me some good to talk about it. I’ll say that Izumi and I would probably still be -- involved, if the Fire Nation wasn’t so screwed up.”
“Involved,” said Lin, like a small child trying to make an understanding out of it. Even though Lin could feel the heat in her stomach at the thoughts that Kya’s insinuation conjured up. Having watched both the waterbender and Fire Nation princess for years, Lin had eventually realized that the jealousy over their pretty hair and feminine bodies was, in fact, admiration more than anything.
“Involved,” Kya repeated, forming dead-on eye contact with the earthbender sitting beside her. “You know, fingers and tongues and all that stuff.”
Warm red flushed Lin’s cheeks. She wondered how much longer she could pass this off as purely embarrassment over the conversation topic. The vivid images taking residence in her head made it particularly difficult.
“But --” Lin thought hard to form a proper sentence. “But you’re not together?”
“Not really anymore,” said Kya. A small wave of water washed over the little tunnel Kya had formed in the sand. “I don’t know if I’d say we were ever really together, though. If that makes sense.”
Kya pulled her loose, thick hair over her shoulder, revealing the bareness of her back, dark skin now painted silver and navy by the nearly-invisible sunlight.
Without thinking, Lin brought her hand up to touch the smooth skin between Kya’s shoulder blades. Delightfully warm and soft. It suddenly became easy for those images of Kya and Izumi to come back, but this time, Lin could imagine her own hands touching and roaming. Her own lips painted with the gold and silver of Kya’s skin.
“What are you thinking about?” Kya asked quietly, unphased by Lin’s hand on her back. She even seemed to lean into it a little, Lin thought.
Lin inhaled quickly, preparing herself to speak without considering what she might say. “I think -- I think I’d like to kiss you.”
Her heart about dropped out of her chest once she realized the words had come out, still hanging in the air like lavaflies.
Kya appeared similarly shocked, but her expression shifted quickly into a sly kind of smile. Finally, she raised her eyebrows for a moment. Presenting a challenge. Her playful eyes said I dare you.
Almost frustrated at her own hesitation, determined to assert her own maturity, Lin leaned in with a hand on Kya’s neck to bring their lips together as firmly as she could. Kya dropped an arm back behind her hips to steady herself, just keeping from falling back into the sand. Lin felt her laugh quietly.
“Wait, wait.” Kya pulled back and chuckled at Lin’s tenacity. “I know the word ‘gentle’ is not in the Beifong vocabulary, but you gotta give a girl a moment to meet you halfway.”
Lin blinked. If her cheeks weren’t red before, they were on fire now.
Kya slipped a hand underneath Lin’s hair on her neck. “Slow and gentle at first, okay? Let me show you. Open your mouth just a little bit.”
This time, Lin sat still and did as Kya said. It felt almost torturously slow, when Kya barely brushed their lips together, warm cinnamon breath making Lin’s heart leap. But the kiss was soft and warm the second time around, lips interlocking and foreheads just barely touching for a split second. Lin found it positively delightful to drink Kya in like this.
If she thought hard enough, the rest of the world could melt away and leave the two of them alone. In a bedroom, perhaps, holding each other’s faces and feeling tongues and lips and teeth in an adoring union for more than just a few seconds on a beach. Perhaps their bodies could meet, too, arms wrapped around each other, hair falling in their eyes.
Her eyes flickered open once they broke apart. Kya’s standard look of calm smugness was still there, though Lin was sure she looked like she had seen a spirit.
“Was that good?” asked Lin.
Kya laughed again. “It was perfect. You did perfect.”
Lin finally smiled. She couldn’t help herself from covering her face with her hands for just a second, embarrassingly hot in the chest.
Bumi’s voice re-emerged in the darkness from down the beach. Kya whipped around to make out his form.
“Was a hell of a sunset, right, Ten?” He elbowed Tenzin roughly in the side.
“Yeah. Great sunset,” said Tenzin.
Close enough to see clearly in new moonlight, Bumi stopped to examine the arrangement that Lin and Kya sat in. Lin had turned away, chewing on her lip, praying that the darkness hid the thoroughly flushed nature of her face. Kya looked up at him, as expressionless as possible.
Bumi crossed his arms, a knowing smirk on his face. “What, did you two make out or something?”
Before Lin could angrily stand from the ground to smack him upside the head, a stream of water shot up to do it for her.
Lin couldn’t help but laugh when Bumi shook himself of the saltwater Kya had drenched him in. He sighed and mumbled, “Guess I deserved that.”
Tenzin shook his head. “You absolutely did.”