This is the second gift request for Secret River Fan and the first for MinisterSweetGoodKid. Without even knowing, they both requested the same thing. Not only that – I had actually started writing this before beginning work on Silence of the Sound and was waiting for the inspiration to kick it back up again.
This is one of those pieces that I feel amazing about, and I truly think this is one of my top three favorites I have written for Legend of Korra so far (likely why I took so long to post; I've been going over it for days to get it as perfect as I possibly could).
Set just after Season 3, with spoilers for the entire season in regard to the Airbenders. I hope you all enjoy!
(And I am still taking Lin/Tenzin requests, so please send me a message here if you would like to discuss anything!)
She found Tenzin just before dusk, sitting on the wall of the garden overlooking the Airball court. Ikki and Meelo had spent the day explaining rules and strategies to the new Airbenders, and by now they were finally finishing up their first real game. Tenzin had left them to it hours before, content to come up to the garden high above to watch.
Lin made sure her boots clacked across the neatly cobbled stones as she walked up behind him. He glanced over his shoulder to see who was intruding on his solitude, so far from the house, and grinned peacefully as she approached.
"Pema told me you were out here somewhere," she explained, swinging one leg, then the other, over the wall to sit beside him.
He appreciated the way she did not ask permission to interrupt or apologize for her incursion into his space. Everyone else on the Island, the acolytes especially, treated him with reverence here, and her familiarity was a comfort. "I didn't feel like returning to the house just yet," he said softly. "It's been a nice day, I don't want it to end."
Lin nodded, her attention caught by a flurry of movement and burst of sound from the court below. Ikki's team made a score. "How are you, Tenzin? A real answer, not one you'd give as placation. Everything changed so quickly, and I'm just…I want to make sure you're doing all right."
He smiled and turned his head slightly to look at her. "I'm happy. I'm excited – thrilled, really." His grin widened and he looked back toward the Airbenders on the court. "I suppose I'm still a little shocked, to be honest, and nervous about leading everyone in the right direction, but I am very happy."
"Good." She nodded again.
"I never thought this would happen, Lin," Tenzin continued quickly, the door opened for him. Lin did not stop his flow of words. "Look at them all! Weeks ago there were only five of us and now…now we have the Air Nation back. It's absolutely incredible."
"Your father would be so proud of you." The reply was quiet, but she meant it. He squeezed her hand briefly with gratitude and released it back to the stone wall.
They fell into silence, watching the rest of the game – Tenzin with enthusiasm, Lin with a hint of melancholy in her posture. The sun began to set and with it the game came to an end. As the two teams came together, their argument drifted through the fragrant garden over who had won, who had cheated – Meelo, of course – and who should decide the tiebreaker.
"Think of all the children these people will have in the future," Tenzin murmured, leaning forward to rest his arms on his legs as he thought out loud. "The Air Nation will never be in danger of extinction again, all thanks to Korra. I will never be able to express that to her enough. I'm not sure if she even understands the implications of what she has accomplished with this."
"She probably doesn't," Lin agreed. She reached out to touch a nearby lily, wilting and broken at the stem, snapping it the rest of the way and bringing the flower to her nose. The talk of children brought a familiar sore twist to her stomach that Tenzin was completely oblivious to in his delight. "At least, she won't – not for a while. She's still a kid."
"You're right, yes." He smiled again and pointed as one of the new benders pulled a more advanced move, showing off, truly, for everyone else. "Look at that! Look at that, Lin. They're learning so quickly, it's unbelievable. I can't wait for children, can you imagine -"
"Stop," Lin interrupted sourly. He glanced over at her, confused, but she wouldn't meet his eyes. "Your enthusiasm is charming, and I'll listen to it all day. But enough about children. Most of these new benders are still children themselves."
"Are you still hung up on that?" Tenzin asked, the slightest bit of aggravation creeping into his tone.
"Don't, Tenzin." She tossed the lily to the grass, the feeling of the flower between her fingers starting to make her uncomfortable. Memories rose in her mind, memories she dreadfully wished to forget. But she released the stale anger with an exhale, leaning back with her hands strong against the wall for support. She gazed down at the group below wistfully, watching absently as they laughed. "Do you think…"
He looked at her again, even more baffled by her sudden change in mood when her words died off. Her expression was caged, but he could see just a hint of sadness through the lines around her eyes. "What, Lin?" he pushed gently, the irritation from before gone as easily as hers.
"Do you think…Tenzin, do you think these Airbenders were always fated to come into the world?" she asked so quietly he almost didn't hear when her voice was taken with the rising wind. He sat straighter, his gaze focused on her face as her eyebrows came together with hurt only obvious to him. "Could we have…"
She wasn't able to finish her question, lowering her head as she cut off the words again. Tenzin's happy little bubble disintegrated as he understood where her thoughts were going. He had been so caught up in reveling in the wonder and joy of his new nation, of how the universe had been so gloriously kind to him, to allow this path to be his, that he hadn't spared a thought himself for the pain getting here had caused – or what this would do to the one other person he desperately wanted to share it with.
There were so many variables that led to this outcome but, somehow, he had a feeling looking back on it now that this rebirth of his nation was always coming in some way. Whether he had been involved or not, whether he had forced the issue along with his own children or let the world take its own pace, the spirit portals would have been opened to allow these new benders entrance into the world around them.
As Tenzin remained silent to Lin's unfinished question, she began to cry, soundless tears streaking down her cheeks as she turned her gaze up to the darkening sky. The rest of her face remained unchanged through great effort, though just the sight of her reddening eyes was enough to make his own sting.
"I'm sorry," she breathed after a moment. "I didn't mean to ruin your evening like this."
"No, Lin, you're not ruining anything. I'm glad to have you here with me." He lowered his head, wanting so badly to touch her but not sure if it would make the situation better or worse. After a brief moment of indecision, he extended his hand and placed it on her thigh, willing to let her make the next move however she was comfortable.
She leaned forward to take the weight off her arms so she could cover his hand with hers, lacing her fingers through from above. "Do you know what Korra called me while we were in Zaofu?" she asked with a stifled chuckle, using the pads of her other fingers to swipe at her eyes. "She called me a bitter old woman. Old, can you imagine," she grumbled, putting emphasis on the part that least bothered her. "I am not old yet."
"You're neither," Tenzin offered firmly. "You're the most passionate person I know, Lin."
Far from making her feel better, she let her upper back slump inward as her free hand came up to shield her eyes when more tears clouded her vision. Gentle sobs shook her shoulders. "I'm happy for you, I really am," she told him. "I know I don't look it, but I am. You have everything you've ever wanted, everything your father wanted. It's wonderful, it is."
Tenzin removed his hand from hers, but quickly opened his arms to bring her into a tight embrace against his chest. She resisted for only a second before falling against him and scooting closer on the wall so their legs were touching, making the effort easier. Her arms were pinned between them with the strength of his grasp on her, though she didn't complain. She pressed her face into his warm neck, squeezing her eyes closed and attempting to get a hold over herself.
"It's all right," he soothed as best he could when his regret was on the tip of his tongue. He bit it back, knowing voicing such things now was not in either of their best interests.
He wanted to tell her he still had such deep feelings for her, that he longed to do more than simply rub her back, that his love for her still plagued his nearly every step. Her mask was always so cleverly attached, so opaque, when she reappeared in his life during Amon's reign of terror years ago he had no idea any longer how to read her, to tell if she had any of those same feelings for him. Holding her now, it was so clear she did. His heart wanted to explode with both joy and sorrow.
"Oh, Lin." He nuzzled his nose into her hair, knowing as he did so she could pick up the subtle changes in his pulse and breathing with that sense of hers. He should let go, release her, but he couldn't. Not yet, not while she was still crying against him, not when she had just wrapped her arms around his waist. "Lin.'
"Why is the universe so cruel with its gifts?" she murmured, the words hitting his skin where her tears had dampened it.
"I wish I knew," was the only response he could think to say.
She was the one to pull away a few moments later, taking a steadying breath before extracting herself from his grasp. He was loath to part with her and his hands fell down her back to rest along her waist.
"It's getting dark," she started, not meeting his searching gaze. She carefully covered his hands with hers and drew them away from her body, keeping them wrapped in her fingers to bring to her lips. She held them there for a long second before pulling away fully. "Go on inside, I'll be fine here alone for a while longer. I'd like to see the moon without the city lights and then I'll head home."
He hesitated, not wanting to leave her. "Are you sure?"
"Of course I'm sure," she retorted, sounding so much more like herself it was almost as though the previous few minutes hadn't happened at all. But then she looked over at him again, finding his eyes for the first time since she had left his arms, and his heart ached. Hers swelled to match and she smiled thinly at him. "I'm happy for you, Airhead."
She meant it, which only made the wound between them all the more gaping.
"Go on." She pushed lightly on his shoulder in an effort to get him to leave, wanting to be alone with her thoughts before bravely showing her splotchy face to the public – or at least the people running the ferry that night. He caught her hand and brought it to his mouth to kiss her fingertips, a real kiss in return for the pressure of her lips against his own fingers. "Please, Tenzin, you should go."
"I know," he agreed. But he tugged her hand closer, kissing her palm instead and then her armor-clad wrist. Her eyes fluttered closed at the contact, feeling it through the metal as if it had met her skin. He paused there, gathering himself and taking reassurance from the fact that she wasn't moving away. He raised his eyes to find her watching him, her expression flustered.
"This isn't why I came to find you," she whispered hoarsely, eyebrows coming together. "I just wanted to make sure you were all right, not tempt you into making a mistake."
"Perhaps the sentiment of the evening is getting to us both," he suggested though neither truly believed it. Keeping his gaze connected with hers, he turned his hand to twine their fingers back together and then, very deliberately, he slowly leaned forward to press his lips to her neck just under her ear – a spot he remembered vividly was one she loved to be touched.
She canted her head to the side despite herself, a soft sigh escaping her when he moved to kiss the pulse that was quickly starting to accelerate with desire she had tried so hard to ignore. His beard, longer than it used to be and still so familiar, tickled against her as he unhurriedly, consciously, drew his lips across her neck and jaw. She felt heat rising high in her cheeks and knew what was once red from crying was now crimson for a new reason. He found her scars without having to look for them, his mouth lingering there along the bone as if the years had never passed. His free hand rose up into her hair to cradle the back of her head, gently urging her face toward his.
"Wait," she murmured, lips brushing his when he drew her closer still. She didn't pull back from him, but she placed a warning hand on his chest to ground the two of them from going farther. "We shouldn't, we can't."
"I want to. I want you, Lin," he breathed against her in a way that made her muscles shudder with anticipation.
She licked her lips, biting the bottom one hard when he grazed his nose along hers. It took more will than she thought she had to cup his face with her hands and tell him firmly, "And that is why you need to leave now. We both want this too badly."
She rubbed her thumb tenderly over his cheek when he tried to shake his head at her words. "Go be with your family and your new Air Nation. I'm not leaving, okay? Just going home."
"Thank you," he told her, emotion making his voice thick. "For coming to see how I was doing. No one else understands what this is like, suddenly having my dreams realized and handed to me unasked for. You, though…you understand in a way no one else ever will because you lived through the worst times of my life with me. Thank you."
She smiled at him, her hand leaving his cheek to run once over his bare head, forehead to neck. "No need to thank me, Tenzin. We've always been there for one another, we always will be." She removed her hands and, with a small exhale, leaned away from him. "Now go on, get out of here."
Tenzin nodded, standing slowly and gazing down to where the lights of the main house were blazing in the darkness. He took one step, and then another, toward the steep path leading along the hill. He didn't look back, knowing if he did he would not be able to stop himself from running back to her and pulling her into his arms again.
Lin watched him go in silence, no longer feeling tears wanting to sting her eyes. Instead she felt more at peace than she had in a very long time as she turned her gaze up to find the moon shining high above. Only the brightest of stars could be seen through the dazzling sheen of the city across the bay, but she smiled as she picked out her favorite constellation, listening to Tenzin's footfalls on the stone and accepting their vibrations through the earth as her own.