This was written as a request for Secret River Fan on . Her request was along the lines of "what would happen if Lin or Tenzin was sent back in time to when their relationship was still good". I chose Tenzin for this, with the help of Varrick, since he certainly seems the type to cause these sorts of issues. Nothing as complicated as serious time travel, though! It will be wrapped up nicely in two chapters. Just a lot of fun.
Set after the end of season 4, with no spoilers at all. Rated for language and themes.
All Lovers Young, All Lovers Must
"So why, exactly, are we here?"
Both Tenzin and Varrick looked over at Lin as she crossed her arms grumpily. She lifted an eyebrow at them before turning her head to the sunlight coming in through the high-set windows of the large assembly room in Asami's factory. She was there, too, as were Korra, Bolin, and Zhu Li, all of them gathered around Varrick and his newest machine in the center of the space. It was rather small, glittering with gold and copper and sitting regally on a bamboo pedestal table.
"I don't know why you're here," Varrick said cheerily with a large, toothy smile that spoke more than his tone did about her presence, "as I didn't invite you, but everyone else is here to view my greatest invention! A sure money-maker! A luxury to end all luxuries! So you tell me, why are you here? Because really," he added in an undertone, his happy expression vanishing, "I wouldn't be at all sad if you left."
Lin shot a scowl to Tenzin, who frowned back at her. "Chief Beifong is here at my request," he replied. "We were together when I received your urgent demand for our attention."
"Together, were you?" he jeered, waggling his eyebrows. Lin's glower deepened dangerously and he just shrugged, letting it go as quickly as he had started the joke.
"Just start your demonstration or whatever it is you wanted us to see," she growled irritably.
"It's exciting, though, isn't it?" Bolin asked in an effort to break the tension, nodding at his own question. "Varrick's inventions are always great! Such an air of mystery and intrigue!"
"You're coming on the road with me for this one, kid. Right, Zhu Li, get 'er warmed up for us now!" Varrick clapped his hands twice.
Zhu Li raised an eyebrow to mimic Lin's and began punching buttons and lifting levers on the machine's intricate display panel. A soft humming could be heard from the workings inside. Lin shifted her weight into one leg, bringing her close enough to Tenzin to whisper to him, "I don't trust any of this."
"Relax," he murmured back to her. "It's just a little creation he thought up. No harm will come of it, surely. Look at the size of the thing, it's so small."
"The energy in all that copper wiring is going to overload everything, there's too much going on," she continued despite his reassurances.
He glanced at her, noticing the scars on her face were turning a faint purple the way they always had when she got angry or upset. The blood tended to rush there before filling in her cheeks. They hadn't changed much over the years, and he vaguely wondered if any of her other scars – battle wounds, some of them – had healed or if they had marred her skin the way these had.
One, particularly, came to mind, received during an explosion on the island when they had been in their late twenties. A burn on her abdomen, where debris had struck through her clothing. She hadn't been wearing her armor that night. It had been bad at the time, and he couldn't recall the last time he had seen the scar left behind. Surely his memory was correct in telling him it was now just a small puckering of flesh under her ribs, not the beastly thing it had been. Not the constant reminder like those on the tender skin of her face.
"We're just going to need a volunteer to stand in front of this opening, here," Varrick said with a sweeping gesture of his hand toward a cylindrical opening at the front of the box as he plucked up a remote that had been sitting by the control panel. His declaration brought Tenzin's attention back with surprise. "A bit of air will puff out at you, if all goes according to our testing phases. Isn't that right, Zhu Li?"
The teenagers by the machine all took an uneasy step back, even Bolin with his magnificent words from before. Lin shook her head. "Look, I don't -"
"Don't want to show your envy that I'm choosing the Councilman to be the first to experience the magic?"
"What?" Lin and Tenzin said together, his voice with a slight ring of alarm to it despite his faith from moments earlier as Varrick grabbed his arm and dragged him forward to plant him right in front of that copper tube.
Tenzin started to back away, Lin reaching out her hand to snatch at him, but Varrick ignored his subtle protests and pressed the large, shining button on the remote in his hand. The humming increased, and suddenly a large, fragrant puff of air hit him in the face and chest hard enough to send him sprawling backward.
He heard Lin and Korra calling his name as his vision went black.
"Tenzin! Fuck, Tenzin, wake up. The power's out and it's already after seven, we're both late."
He rolled over in bed onto his stomach, exhausted and not wanting to move. A pillow hit him soundly in the head before two strong hands pulled him back over. "Come on, Airhead, I don't want to be fired and you told your mom you'd meet her on the island an hour ago. Today is not the day to be lazy. What's wrong with you? You're acting odd."
"You can't be fired," he slurred without thinking, "you're Chief of Police."
"Fine, but Aunt Katara can still kill you."
He opened his eyes slowly, blinking twice as Lin's face came into view hovering over him. She had crawled back onto the bed, on her knees beside him and already mostly dressed with a hairbrush by her feet. Bright morning sunlight was streaming in over her shoulders from the windows behind her, illuminating her youthful – and frustrated – face. "Lin?" he mumbled, realizing quite abruptly how wrong this was.
"Spirits, are you sick or something? Get up or your mom is going to have your hide."
She threw one leg out and started turning her body away to dive out of bed again, her mind already flying toward other things. The rest of the room was dark, and the small alarm clock she set every night had stopped working when the power surged sometime overnight and caught the cogs inside. He knew all of this. It had happened over thirty years ago. He reached out for her arm, catching it just as she made to stand, and he sat up in bed to look at her fearfully.
His expression took her off guard and she sat gingerly on the edge of the mattress, taking his hand from her arm and squeezing it tightly. "Are you all right? You really do look ill all of a sudden."
"No – I mean, I'm all right, yes. I think," he added softly, staring at her for a moment until his stomach began to hurt and he had to look away.
She nodded, not believing him but without time to pressure him for an answer. "If you say so," she muttered. "Call me at the station if you need anything, will you? I'll see you in a few hours at the party, but I can leave work early if you need me to."
"I know," he replied automatically.
"Good." She smiled at him and used her free hand to bring his face around so she could lean across the space that had opened between them to kiss him sweetly on the lips. The contact almost seemed to burn through him and he closed his eyes, leaning into her touch. "Now I really do have to run. I'll see you soon." She kissed him once more, and then jumped up and dashed from the room to gather the rest of her things.
Tenzin watched her go, his heart racing until his chest was tight with anxiety. He heard the front door open and slam closed again, and then he leapt from the bed and ran into the bathroom. The lights were, indeed, off, the electricity not powering to run them. He remembered this morning vaguely – the mad rush for Lin to make it to the station before anyone noticed her absence, him right behind her to make it to Air Temple Island for…for the celebratory dinner. Kya's annual birthday party. Only this year, the year the power went out…he stumbled over the threshold into the bathroom and immediately leaned forward to brace his hands against the granite countertop, lowering his head and closing his eyes tightly as the memory flooded back, horribly vivid.
This was the year someone set an explosion at the island.
The event he had just been recalling, back in Asami's factory. Had he really been there minutes before? What was going on? Surely this was some kind of dream, it had to be.
But the granite was cool under his palms, and his fingers were curling around the lip so tightly his knuckles were beginning to ache and turn white. Warily, nausea settling in his stomach like a pulsing wound, he cracked open one eye, then the other. Sun from the bedroom window gave just enough light for him to catch his reflection in the small oval mirror hanging over the sink. His own young face was staring back at him. He was twenty-nine this year. Lin was twenty-eight, fully elected chief by then a year prior. Their relationship was as strong as it had ever been, and just seeing her like this again was making him burn with love that had never really vanished. He hadn't even met Pema yet.
Pema. What was he doing, letting Lin – any Lin, this Lin – kiss him? Whether he wanted her to or not, despite how his soul, deep and lasting, was longing to be with her this very moment… But, spirits, what was even going on?
He turned on the water, splashing it over his face in a desperate attempt to clear his mind enough to think. The boiler wasn't working due to the lack of electricity and the cold brought only the slightest bit more clarity to him. It had to be Varrick's bloody machine, of course it had to be. So how did he fix this, was the next big question.
First, though – should he continue on to the island, help his mother with preparations the way he had promised? Yes, he nodded to himself, he probably should. Besides, Lin would be arriving there in a few hours, too, and he wanted to see her again. Now that he had a bit more of a grasp on his bearings, that thought, being with Lin, was starting to overwhelm him with its intensity.
He had to be with her, touch her again while he could, bathe in her smiles and glances while they were filled with adoration. He needed her so badly in that breath he almost wasn't able to draw his next, and he closed his eyes again, bringing her face to his mind. But it wasn't her young face that met him there, it was the one he saw every day where he should be – aged and roughened, angry yet so sad in a way only he could see.
A hum preceded the light in the hallway flickering back to life, the only one they left on during the night in the event either of them was roused for an emergency and needed to see enough to leave the apartment without waking the other more than necessary.
Tenzin took a deep, steadying breath. He needed to go to the island. That was the logical next step in this bizarre chain of circumstances.
He wandered back into the bedroom and found clean clothes in the dresser, just where he remembered they would be in the drawers beside Lin's, and retrieved his glider – looking much better in its younger years than it did now, nearly as old as he was – before making his way to the street.
"Tenzin, where have you been!" Katara rounded on him the moment he trudged into the kitchen of the main house. Food was laid out on every flat surface, some still in stages of preparation, others dishes already finished, and she was currently handing off a mixing bowl of some type of icing to an acolyte with a small frown.
Tenzin stared at her, too shocked to speak as he took in her appearance. It was something he had taken for granted, growing up, that she would always be this age – young, full of energy and never slowing down. Her hair was only just starting to streak with grey through the many ties she had it pulled back in, and the lines on her face were minimal, hardly able to be seen.
She glanced up at him. "Come on, now, there are things that need to be done!"
"Sorry, mother, sorry," he murmured, stepping fully into the kitchen and removing his light cloak. The sense of being out of place was strong as he looked around. "Our – well, the electricity in the city was having problems, Lin and I didn't have an alarm this morning."
Katara's face softened slightly and she came forward to give her son a tight hug. He returned it gratefully. "And how is our darling girl?"
"She's – she's Lin."
"Ah, of course. Busy as ever, I'm sure. I'm just glad she's coming tonight at all, I haven't seen her in ages, and I know it will mean a lot to Kya to have Lin at the party. Chief of Police, just like Toph. I almost wish, though, that she'd told Lin not to do it before she went off to who knows where. Probably living in a cave somewhere covered in dirt." She turned around again, still chatting away as she picked up the pace of finding things to continue working on. "Poor girl is going to be signing her life away, Toph always hated her job. Maybe I should -"
"What do you need me to do, Mom?" Tenzin interrupted gently, her words sticking to make his stomach start to feel ill again when he thought about how true they were.
"Would you help your dad clear the courtyard of all the leaves? The storms this season have been awful, it's so messy out there. Not good for dancing at all!"
His heart constricted painfully in his chest. His father. His father was still alive. He had been so consumed with Lin he had completely forgotten everyone else who had been here during this time. He could see his dad again. He covered his strangled noise of surprise with a cough, and Katara looked at him in that same concerned, confused way Lin had only an hour earlier.
"Are you all right, Tenzin? You're looking flushed. You're not coming down with something, are you? Do you want to lie down?"
"No, I – I'll go find dad now."
"All right, dear - "
She had more to say, but Tenzin nearly ran from the room and back down the hallway without waiting to see what else there was. His father – he was about to see his father again. He wished someone here with him now understood what he was feeling, the grief he was filled with once more, chased quickly by relief and fear. But then he saw Aang in the large stone courtyard, using small puffs of air to push away leaves and bits of storm debris, and all he could do was watch, his feet quite still as tears burned at his eyes.
Aang laughed heartily when Momo, old but still able to fly, chased a bunch of leaves onto the roof and threw them back down again. "So helpful!" he called as the lemur rolled back to the ground to move the dirt around. "Here, Momo, catch this one!"
He used a bit of Earthbending to pull some small pebbles into a sphere of air and tossed them up. Momo chirped excitedly, chasing them about.
Aang looked up quickly at the breathless whisper, his eyebrows raising when he saw Tenzin's distraught expression. "What's wrong? Lin hasn't been hurt, has she?"
Of all the questions he'd received so far, that one seemed to sting the worst, the anxiety and fear and confusion all coming up to the surface in a blinding rush as he took in his father across the way. "No," he managed to reply, "no, Lin is fine. I saw her not too long ago, we – I – I suppose I'm just having a bad morning."
"So bad a hug won't fix it?" Aang asked, sweeping across the yard to pull him into an embrace.
Rather than return it the way he had his mother's, Tenzin fell into his father's arms as though collapsing. It took a great deal of effort not to break down in sobs as he smelled the starch on his robes, the ink and parchment, the wind-swept earth on his skin – the familiar scents he had almost forgotten in the years since his father had passed that now surrounded him with ease. He inhaled them so quickly he became lightheaded.
Aang loosened his grasp and gazed down at his son's drawn face. "Is there something you want to talk about?" he asked kindly, the hint of a perceptive smile on his lips.
Tenzin just shook his head and, very reluctantly, took a step back. He swallowed, pulling his emotions back in as he lowered his eyes. "I don't even know where to start," he admitted sadly. "Mom sent me out here to help you clean the courtyard. Should we…should we start cleaning?"
"We should indeed!" Aang made a wide gesture with his arms, bringing with them a strong breeze to clear the entire space of leaves and dirt. "And now we're finished. Want to go play some Airball? It's been at least a week since our last game! Don't tell your mother, but that's actually the reason why I asked her to send you out here."
His heart lifting – and the pending explosion completely leaving his mind – Tenzin followed his father eagerly down the path to the reconstructed court.
It was well after one in the afternoon – and several games of Airball later – that Tenzin noticed Lin sitting on the spectator bench, watching him and Aang finish their last round. She waved happily when his eyes landed on her, and that confused tightness resumed its hold on his chest.
Aang flew down to her, a brilliant grin lighting his face. "Lin, sweetheart, it's so great to see you!" He hugged her tightly, giving her an affectionate squeeze before letting go. "Look at you, you're beautiful as ever. And it's nice to see you without that heavy armor on, isn't it, Tenzin?"
Lin and Tenzin both flushed, though for vastly different reasons. She had, indeed, changed from her police armor into a lovely embroidered tunic and pants in a pale green to bring out her eyes, and she had even taken the time to sweep her longer hair up into two pearled clips on either side of her head.
"Kya complained last time," she offered feebly. "When I showed up in my uniform at her party last year. I bought this yesterday."
Tenzin remembered how she had cried after that night, when Kya got drunk to the point of berating her for being "brazen" enough to come to her party as though she were going to work. Lin had kept a stoic face through the entire exchange – though it was really his sister sharing all the harsh words – but she had broken the moment they returned home, peeling off her chestplate and hurling it against the wall. The mark was likely still there, in the apartment where he no longer lived with her. She had confessed to him then, as they curled in bed, how she was scared of having accepted her position as chief, and how she was already starting to regret it yet also knew there was absolutely nothing she could do to change things.
They had never spoken about it again.
"You look gorgeous," Tenzin told her softly, forcing the memory from his mind to focus on the present around him.
Lin grinned brightly at him, her mood lightening slightly. She reached out a hand for him to come closer to her, and he took it hesitantly, covering the distance between them with only a few steps. As soon as he was within reach, she leaned up and kissed his lips, pulling away after a beat and fully aware of Aang watching, pleased, from the side.
Tenzin's heart thudded at the contact, more aware of it now than he had been half-asleep and flustered that morning, and he desperately wanted to kiss her again. But then the reality of what was going on fell in around him sharply. Her dress – this tunic she was wearing, it would be ruined later. Images of the fire seared through his mind and he felt sick for having forgotten it.
Her voice was quiet, only for his ears, and he blinked to bring his panicked focus to her. "You're acting odd again," she pointed out with narrowed eyes, gazing at his face in concern. "What's wrong? Tell me."
He opened his mouth and closed it again, at a complete loss for what to say. She tugged on his hand and, giving a brief farewell to Aang, brought Tenzin away from the court and toward a twisting path that led to the gardens. It was sheltered from the main house, large bushes high on either side of them. She released his hand and threaded her arm through his, matching his strides with her own to press gently against his side as they walked.
Tenzin glanced over at her as she led him, his throat tight as what was once a memory of her wanting to touch him as much as he did her relived itself. He stopped walking suddenly and she turned to look up at him in surprise. There was not a hint of the angry aggravation he found on her so often now.
"Really, Tenzin, what is wrong with you?"
"I think…" He wanted to tell her everything, in that moment, to have a companion in this who would understand, be able to help him through it. But he didn't have the faintest idea how to even put this whole vague notion into words, and he shook his head despairingly, lowering his eyes.
"Hey." Lin ducked her head, catching his gaze again and reaching out to touch his cheek until their faces were level with one another. "You can tell me anything, you know that."
"I love you." It wasn't what he was going to say, but the phrase overwhelmed anything else and slipped out.
She smiled at him, pressing a fleeting kiss to his lips. She was gone before he could respond, but she didn't recognize the longing itching over him every time she came so close, not having had the chance to learn it through separation yet. "And I love you, Airhead."
"There's going to be an explosion," he blurted without being able to hold it back.
Her playfulness vanished in an instant. "What? What are you talking about, how do you know?"
"A letter," he made up quickly. "A letter arrived at City Hall this morning. A-a threat, really."
"And you were out here playing Airball with your dad?" she asked incredulously, standing up straight as her mind quickly processed this information and tried to find various solutions for the growing problem. "You were playing games instead of requesting assistance from the police – from me?"
"I was waiting for you to arrive, Lin, truly. We just…just need to find the explosive device and turn it off, right?"
He grasped at her hand again, and she turned hers over to thread their fingers together without noticing as she heaved a deep sigh, still thinking hard about what to do. "It's much more complicated than that," she muttered in explanation. "What if it's some device I've never seen before? What if it explodes on contact, or doesn't have a timer?"
"Can we at least look for it?"
Now that the thought had entered his mind, to find the explosive before it could detonate, it was the only plan he was able to hold onto.
"Fine." Lin looked at him again, and though her face was hard at first she softened almost instantly when she saw how his unease was creeping over him so quickly. "Let's go, then," she said with finality. "Maybe we can still get back in time for dinner. I don't much fancy another verbal beating from Kya this year."