The last chapter of Secret River Fan's request! This really was a lot of fun, I enjoyed writing it very much. If anyone else has a Lin/Tenzin request, please send me a message! Two more are coming and then my queue is empty (aside from my own things).
Anyway, I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did writing it.
All Lovers Young, All Lovers Must
It wasn't until they had started their search in full that Tenzin remembered they – the investigators of the original blast – had never been able to pinpoint exactly where the explosion had started. The fire had erupted so quickly that everything was engulfed in flames nearly at once, with no discernable trigger. And since Lin had been hospitalized then, she hadn't been able to lead the investigation herself until almost a week later when much of the evidence was already gone. The culprit had only been found months after, when he confessed to everything in an attempt to gain fame.
After they had scaled down the side of the mountain to the beach, Lin checked over her clothing and frowned. "I don't think we're going to find anything."
"We have to keep looking!" Tenzin insisted, twirling himself up on a burst of air to see over the rocky coast and coming quickly back down again. Apprehension was clenching as each second passed with nothing found. Surely history – or whatever he was reliving – wasn't different this time. There was something, somewhere, that was going to –
"We've been looking for two hours," Lin pointed out bluntly, "and it's nearly time for the party to start. We can't just not go -"
"But what about -"
"Even for this." She stepped toward him and rested her hands high on his chest, feeling the quickening pace of his pulse with both her nearness and the pending threat. "I'll keep both eyes open tonight, I promise. My feet, too. If anything happens, I'll know."
"But shouldn't we -"
She put a finger to his lips, stopping the flow of words. "Hush, Tenzin. We've scoured every inch of the island, we've done what we could. Are you sure the threat was genuine?"
"I thought it was," he whispered, almost broken-spirited now as his fluster grew to mix with the agonizing worry infecting his nerves.
"You're so sad today," Lin murmured, wrapping her arms up around his back and bringing him into an embrace tight against her. "I can tell it is not just because of this mysterious letter, either, though I won't ask you again to tell me what's wrong. Just remember I'm here for you. All right?"
He bit back a muffled sob at her words, holding her to him just as tightly and turning his face into her neck. She smelled exactly as he recalled, just as she did back – back wherever he was supposed to be, in those rare instances he caught the scent as she walked by him or leaned in to speak. He was once again thrown into that sea of the unknown, where Lin was his only anchor. And yet…he still wasn't sure what to do.
"Let's go on back to the house," she said quietly, breaking his circling musings and pulling slightly away. "The path this time, please. I almost ripped my pants coming down the cliff and these were too expensive to ruin the first time I wear them. Maybe next time, hmm?"
"And then – and then -" Kya guffawed, pausing in her story to catch her breath and look at the people gathered in a ring around her. "And then he said, 'are you sure that's a bison, it looks like a hippo cow'!"
Everyone laughed heartily, save Tenzin and Lin, who had been affected by his unease over the last few hours. He reached for her without thinking, twisting his arm inside hers and letting his hand take her own. She squeezed his fingers reassuringly and neither let go.
She was reassuring, truly. He glanced sideways at her, watching as Kya launched into another story of her travels that year. Lin was listening attentively, but her bare feet were pressed solidly into the ground, listening to every groan and movement of the island around them as well. It was a testament to how much she trusted his judgment that she had removed her fancy silk slippers the moment they reached the top of the cliff and left them sitting dejectedly out of place in the living room of the house. She was taking him seriously, without question. Just like she always had.
Her fingers twitched when she felt the change in his heart rate, though she had no way to know it had increased then because of how much he still loved her in that moment.
His gaze left her and traveled away from their group, over the many people gathered in the courtyard for the party. Lights were strung up, giving a lovely glow to replace the sun, and nearly a hundred faces were happily lit around him. His mother and father loved throwing parties; this was for them as much as it was for Kya, and many of the people here were their friends as well. A popular jazz band of the year was playing away by the gazebo, several couples dancing nearby.
Kya's tart voice cut through his wandering thoughts and he snapped his head around again. "What?"
Both Lin and his sister were looking at him. "You didn't hear a word I just said, did you?" Kya asked sourly. "Really, Tenzin, you are turning into a great grouch. You and Lin are perfect for each other, I swear."
It was meant in a joking manner, but she had already had far too much to drink and her words came out much harsher than she had meant. Lin released Tenzin's hand to cross her arms, rolling her eyes and looking away without a fuss. Tenzin, though, opened his mouth to retort when a quick movement caught his eye.
A man wearing acolyte robes, shuffling by with his head down.
Anything he was going to say died on his tongue. It was him, the man who caused the explosion thirty years ago. Tenzin would recognize him anywhere. He was running away, right there, right in front of him.
"Hey!" he cried out, spinning on his heel and hurrying after the man as he quickened his pace in an effort to flee. "You, stop!"
"Tenzin?" Lin watched in confusion for a moment before sprinting behind him.
The man started to dart in through the crowd, hoping to lose his pursuer, but Tenzin never lost sight of him as he attempted to make his way to the docks far below. He was nearing quickly on the sloping path, almost close enough to reach out and grab the back of robes that were too large for the man's slight frame, when a scream sounded on the other side of the courtyard.
Tenzin stopped, hearing a second explosion right on the tail of the first, more people yelling now as the chaos broke loose. Biting his lip hard with his decision, he let the man escape, turning again for where he knew he was needed.
Lin was running down the path he had just turned on, and he grabbed her wrist, almost causing her to trip as he forced her to turn around as well.
"Was that him?" she asked breathlessly, not shaking off his grip on her. "Was that the person who caused this? Do you know him?"
"It was him," he said shortly. "We'll find him later."
She agreed silently by not arguing with his choice. "The acolyte quarters," she said instead, her voice jostled with her quick steps. "The first explosion came from there. Second from the main house. I can't tell if anyone has been hurt, but people are running in so many directions, it's difficult to see everything at once."
"Only two?" he asked in surprise. There had been three when this happened before, though then no one had been able to tell which had come first or second, spirits bless Lin and her feet. The tower was spared this time. Perhaps chasing the man off had prevented the third.
"Yes, only two."
They came over the crest into the courtyard. Light of fire replaced the string of lanterns, blazing brightly with orange and yellow, the heat intense as it attempted to engulf the house. Several Waterbenders, Katara and Kya among them, were already working hard to get the blaze under control, and Lin released herself of Tenzin's hand to run forward, pulling sand from the earth to throw forward.
Aang was already putting out the flames on the acolyte's building, the Avatar state fading from his arrows.
Guests were still in a panic around him, and Tenzin opened his arms to them all, ushering them toward the far end of the courtyard and away from the fire. Peace came quickly after that, smoke filling the air as the fire was extinguished much faster this time than it had been originally.
It was only twenty minutes later that Lin found Tenzin in the gazebo, the guests led away by Aang to the ferry and back to the city. He felt quite surreal in the darkness of the evening, watching from above as the boats left. This was absolutely nothing like what it should have been, nothing at all. The anti-climactic drop to the night was too strange, leaving his stomach twisting and waiting for the next disaster even as he knew one was not approaching.
Lin came around and pushed on his shoulder until he turned away from the railing enough for her to take him into a tight hug. "Everything is all right," she told him. "No damage that can't be fixed, and no one was hurt."
"You?" he asked, pulling away slightly to see her face. She gazed up at him with wide, confused eyes. "You weren't hurt?"
"No, I wasn't. See?" She stood back a step for him to look at her and, though her clothing was, in fact, quite ruined with soot and rips, she seemed wholly unharmed even through the dim light of the full moon overhead. No cuts, no bruises, no burning beams falling to break her ribs like before.
"I…I can't believe this happened. I can't believe this is happening at all."
"Hey, it's okay." Lin tugged him back into her arms, leaning forward to rest her head against his shoulder. Her hand rubbed his back soothingly. "Calm down, Tenzin. Everything is okay , we're both fine. It's over." She moved slightly to kiss his neck. "I want to go home now, so come on, let's find your glider. A good rest will help."
"Would you recognize him in a mugbook?" Lin asked from the bathroom a while later as she got out of the shower. Both had wanted to scrub the stench of smoke from their skin and she was just finishing getting ready for bed, brushing her damp hair and removing the towel from her body in exchange for pajamas.
Tenzin curled on the bed, listening as she spoke, and swallowed when she came out into the bedroom and turned off the bathroom light. Even though the nightclothes she had chosen were modest, by her standards, the plunging neckline and thin straps of her shirt left little to the imagination. He felt heat rising in his cheeks – and elsewhere – but she didn't notice as she reached for a jar of lotion on her bedside table to rub over her arms.
"You should come into the station with me tomorrow," she continued, innocent and unassuming. "All we'll need is a name or face and we can arrest the bastard. He won't get away with anything, especially since you know who he is."
"I wouldn't say I know who he is, necessarily," Tenzin mumbled, trying not to watch her as she moved so gracefully with her simple task. He failed, his eyes glued to her form.
"Regardless, you saw his face. You even chased after him." She shrugged, setting down the jar and sitting on the bed with her back to him as she arranged her pillow before turning off the lamp. "Just come with me tomorrow to look at some photos."
She smiled – a real smile he so rarely saw grace her face now – and lowered herself down beside him. "Are you feeling any better, Tenzin?"
He looked at her through the darkness, the urge to touch her searing and real. And, it occurred to him, he could. He could touch her here, in this moment, without consequence. Hand shaking, he reached out to run his fingers across her smooth cheek. She rolled to her side to face him. "I'm feeling better than I was," he admitted hesitantly.
"That's something." Lin took his hand before it could leave her face and held it there, firmly against her cheek. She scooted closer, pushing one of her legs between his so they could come almost chest to chest. "I'm here for you, when you're ready to talk," she told him softly, releasing his hand to run hers across his jaw, the touch strong and genuine and speaking of so much affection.
Suddenly overwhelmed by her nearness, by the scent of her, by the little touches and memories and emotions, Tenzin moved forward and kissed her, his hand slipping back into her hair to cradle her head. Her lips parted under his, a small sigh escaping as her arm crept around his neck to pull him closer.
"Lin," he murmured against her, "I love you, I love you so much…"
"And I love you," she told him the moment he broke away to kiss her jaw, his lips lingering against her skin.
He pushed at her gently, urging her onto her back to give him access to her neck. But he paused when he felt her body under his, lowering his head to rest against her shoulder as he absorbed everything. He shouldn't do this, not when he could see her face in his mind – the lines around her eyes deepening with a scowl, or perhaps with the smile he cherished so much. Still…she was here, right here, with him. Not the Lin he left behind, but she was still herself. Still Lin.
She turned her head to kiss to his neck, and he shifted to take her lips with his again, reveling in the sensation he hadn't felt in years. In that moment, he really, truly, could not remember why he ever thought leaving her was a good idea. Not when he never stopped loving her. Not when he was unable to pass a single day without thinking about her. Would kissing her now, back in that world where she was the age he should be – would it still feel like this? He knew it would, and the thought was a painful one.
"I love you," he said again, speaking to her as much as to the Lin he should be with. He pressed his lips to the underside of her jaw, following the line of her neck slowly to where it met her shoulder and leaving lingering kisses the entire way. He felt her hands sliding up under his nightshirt, and his skin prickled beneath her fingers.
Without warning, tears burned the corners of his eyes. It was too much, all of this.
She stopped the movement of her hands, hearing the subtle change in his voice and moving her head to catch his gaze. His expression was heartbreaking, and she put her hands to either side of his face, one thumb brushing away the moisture from below his eye.
"Oh, Tenzin, my dear, sweet heart."
Her words proved to be too much, and he lowered himself to rest on top of her, his face hidden against her neck as the tears fell, her scent enveloping him. 'Heart' was what she called him, her endearment for him that no one else knew. She always said he carried her heart, that he was able to feel enough for them both while she was never able to feel without him near her – her own heart was himself. He never thought he would hear her call him that again.
Just like seeing his father so unexpectedly, hearing her speak to him like this, call him her heart the way she used to so freely, yet so lovingly – he could feel himself breaking, all without even knowing why he was here. It was cruel, viciously cruel.
"Hush," she soothed gently, rubbing his back and not even trying to ask him to move from atop her. She lifted a leg to wrap over his, hugging him as completely as she could.
"I just love you so much," he tried to explain feebly, his arms slipping under her body to hold to her tightly, marveling at the fact he could touch her at all. "I don't know why…"
"It's all right, Tenzin," Lin said, her tone soft and more tender than he had heard it in so long. "I love you with all my soul, you know I do. It overwhelms me, sometimes, too. And after a day like this – well, it was a stressful one, wasn't it?" She chuckled softly, her free hand moving to trace little patterns up and down the tattoo over the back of his head. "Let's get some sleep. We can worry about the rest tomorrow, okay?"
He nodded against her and she smiled. "Good. Close your eyes, then, and get comfortable." She kissed the side of his head where she could reach and though her lips met the crest of his ear, she kissed him there anyway. "I'll see you in the morning."
"Tenzin!" Lin tapped her palm against his cheek with enough force to hear the slight smack of skin against skin, fear overwhelming her mind enough to be rough. She was kneeling beside him on the floor, and had spread him out on his back on the chilled tile. "Tenzin, wake up!"
"I've called the hospital, they're sending a healer right over!"
Asami's voice filtered through her ears, but Lin just nodded and ignored her. Tenzin jerked on the floor at her knees, his eyes starting to flutter, and the group pushed in close to watch. She shoved one arm back, trying to keep space around him. "Watch yourselves," she snapped, focus still on her unconscious friend. "Tenzin. Hey, Airhead," she murmured, almost touching his cheek tenderly this time before remembering the crowd and recalling herself with decorum. She settled for placing her hand on his shoulder. "You back with us yet?"
"Lin," he slurred, his bleary gaze finding her immediately. He reached his hand weakly toward her face and, confused and mildly horrified, she grabbed his wrist before it could get very far and placed his hand on his chest.
"How do you feel?" Varrick asked with excitement before anyone else could speak. Everyone looked at him, baffled – except Tenzin, who was still rather out of it on the floor, and Lin, who was growing angry. "What did you dream about? I told you it would work, Zhu Li! I bet he had a magnificent dream! One to write stories about, one to paint the most inspiring -"
"Dream?" Lin hissed, reaching up to grab a handful of his shirt to pull his face down to hers. "What the fuck did that machine of yours do to him?"
"Relax!" Varrick waved his hands dismissively, not perturbed by her furious expression. Korra, Asami, and Bolin had all taken several steps backward from the growing scuffle and Zhu Li was attempting to pry Lin's fingers from Varrick's clothing. He was doing nothing to help his own situation. "The thing just knocks a person out for a few minutes so they can relive a memory. A mixture of herbs to heighten senses and so forth, all makes the experience amplified. Brilliance, if you ask me! I can't wait to try it myself!"
Lin stood, taking Varrick with her so his feet were just off the ground before she let go. More enraged words were on her tongue, but she bit them back for later when she gazed down at Tenzin, on the ground with his head lolled to the side. "Asami," she asked softly, "is there somewhere more comfortable we can move him to?"
"Of course!" she answered immediately, explaining about the small office she had put together and a nice little couch in there.
Lin and Korra lifted Tenzin between them as Asami led them up a small flight of stairs and down a brightly lit hallway. He was a bit more aware of his surroundings now as they moved him – at least enough to ask what was going on – and, by the time they lowered him onto the lovely cherry-colored sofa, he was fully awake. Korra left them alone to go wait with Asami for the people from the hospital to arrive.
"I am going to murder that man one day, I swear," Lin muttered as she looked over Tenzin for any discernable injuries from his fall. "I wonder if this is enough to get him thrown back in jail?" she added somewhat hopefully.
Tenzin chuckled, batting her hands away and taking a deep breath to make sure his ribs were all right. "You're the Chief of Police, you can likely do that anyway."
She fell back onto her knees in a relaxed crouch, watching closely as he ran a shaking hand over his face, coming fully back into himself again. He blinked a few times, staring up at the ceiling for a long moment before dragging his eyes over to her. She seemed worried, her face closed but drawn just enough for him to notice the tight lines near the corners of her lips. His…his memory, had Varrick said? It had spanned over a day and yet, if the sun was any indication out the window of this office, hardly any time had passed.
None of it had been real. Or at least, not real in the sense that it had truly happened once more. The actual incident of the bombing on the island had happened, many years ago, but what he had just lived through – or relived, he was starting to get confused – with Lin, holding her tight to him, kissing her, inhaling her scent, touching her so easily, none of it had happened except in his mind. His memory, even if it played out differently this time than the event had in the past.
The realization hurt more than he expected it to.
"Are you all right, are you feeling ill?" Lin asked, noticing his change in expression as the full weight of the odd experience settled in. "A healer is coming, they should be here soon."
"It was just a dream, then," he whispered, letting go of a quiet sigh.
"I suppose so, though I'm still not very clear on what happened. You were only unconscious for a few minutes." She watched him warily, eyebrows tilting. "What did you dream about? Was it bad?" He just gazed at her silently, his face holding his answer, and she shook her head. "Oh, Tenzin, no, not me! What – how -?"
"I'm not sure. I was…well, I think I was recalling the scar you got during the explosion on Air Temple Island in our late twenties, do you remember? Just before Varrick's machine went off. And then, suddenly, I was there. With you."
Her shoulders lost some of their tension when he laid the scene for her, even if it wasn't one of her own fondest memories. "Well, if that's the one you experienced -"
"No, I mean I relived the entire thing, start to finish," he tried to explain, his chest starting to fill with apprehension. "I woke up that morning with you, when we were late for work because the electricity had failed, and fell asleep with you that night. The memory spanned the entire breadth of time."
"But – but I was injured in the explosion, I was in the hospital with your mother. We didn't go home until two days later. Why are you looking at me like that?" His anxiety was catching, and she felt her breath starting to shorten as he attempted to tell her of his bizarre experience.
"I didn't understand what was happening, Lin, I-I made sure things did not come about that way again, just in case – I don't know, just in case this little adventure continued and I was able to save you from that single instance of pain. We were…we went home that night. In this version, anyway."
Lin shook her head again, quickly and with an air of panic that startled him. "But you didn't sleep with her – with me – Tenzin, did you? Please, you wouldn't. You wouldn't have sex with – spirits, with me like that, surely you wouldn't."
"I've missed you so much, Lin," Tenzin murmured, reaching his hand out and brushing his knuckles across her jaw. "Seeing you like that again, when we were so happy, I was overwhelmed and overjoyed."
"Tenzin…please, tell me you didn't."
"I didn't. I could never hurt you – this you – that way." He smiled sadly at her, turning his hand over and opening his fingers to cup her cheek in his palm. She didn't pull away, instead blinking once to push a frustrating tear from her eye and keeping the rest fully under control. "I wanted to, desperately," he admitted, the truth raw between them, "but more than that, I wanted to hold her close to me all night. Hold you – goodness, this is confusing – hold you, the way I used to. And so I did. I fell asleep there that way, and then woke up here, with you again."
"You can't do this! You have to stop doing this," she said harshly, closing her eyes when seeing him was starting to become too much. Still, though, she turned her face into his touch. "My heart can't take it much longer."
"I can't seem to help myself," he murmured, the vulnerability clear in his voice as his gaze roamed over her before dropping. "I'm sorry, I truly do not wish to hurt you, you know I don't."
"I do know," she confirmed softly.
"I saw my father, Lin. He was there." Tears welled in his eyes and she covered his fingers with hers where they still rested on her cheek, holding his hand there and squeezing gently to show she understood what that meant. "I don't know what to do with myself now. What am I supposed to do?"
She took a small breath to continue, but her thoughts were interrupted.
"Korra is coming up with the healer!" Asami rounded the corner into the office again. Tenzin snapped his hand back from Lin's face and they both turned to look at her, schooling their expressions into innocence as best they could, but Asami paused briefly near the door, obviously aware she had interrupted something. She glanced between them and swallowed. "The healer is here," she said again, smiling as if she hadn't seen anything. "Korra is showing him up to the office."
Lin got to her feet, refusing to bring her gaze back to Tenzin's even as she could feel his searching for it. "I am going to go have a little chat with Varrick," she said thinly.
"He's still down in the assembly room," Asami immediately offered helpfully.
Lin stopped near the door and turned to face the young woman, a scowl pulling her lips down. "It seemed like his machine was made mostly of copper and gold, is that correct?" she asked shortly.
Asami paused for a moment, taken aback by the abruptness of her question. She shot a glance toward Tenzin who, realizing quickly where this was going, rubbed a hand over his face. She looked hesitantly at Lin again. "I believe so? He was saying something during the building process about those metals having better conductive qualities and stocked the warehouse with them."
"All right, then." She nodded and continued toward the hall. "Easy enough to rip apart. Copper is weak already, but gold! It practically melts in my hands. Would you like the scraps to use for some other project? Because Varrick definitely isn't getting them back."
"Sorry, what?" Asami was positively alarmed now as she ran after Lin, who was already nearing the steps toward the assembly room. "You're not going to destroy his machine, are you?"
Tenzin just closed his eyes and chuckled as Lin's determined answer came floating back to him.
"I most certainly am!"