Spoilers for Season 2 here! Set between episodes 10, A New Spiritual Age, and 11, Night of a Thousand Stars.
I suppose I just kind of assumed Tenzin would tell Lin what was going on. There's so much pressure on him to keep things together for everyone else, who would he go to when he needs some serious emotional support? Someone who won't ever judge him (meaning Lin). We didn't see it happen in canon, but that doesn't mean it just didn't happen at all. Poor guy.
The shrill ringing of the telephone on her bedside table only took a moment to break through Lin's slumber. Her eyes opened quickly when she came to, her mind groggily trying to catch up as it broke itself out of the deep sleep she had finally found. She pulled herself to the side of the bed and reached for the receiver as she used her elbow to prop up against the mattress.
"Beifong," she said hoarsely, voice still loath to work.
She was met with static and silence, and she frowned in annoyance as the adrenaline from an expected emergency wore away. Someone was on the line, the faint buzz coming from the other connection made that obvious, and she said gruffly, "If this is some kind of prank -"
Tenzin's voice meeting her ear was a surprise, but the tone behind her name overwhelmed anything else. She sat up quickly, taking the weight off her arm and throwing her legs over the side of the bed so her feet could touch the chilled wooden floor.
"Tenzin? What's wrong, are you all right?"
There was a muffled sob on the other end and she breathed his name again, not sure if he heard. It was only a second before he regained himself. "Jinora…" he told her haltingly, the static picking up and dying away. "She…she's gone."
"Gone?" Lin repeated, her stomach dropping in horror. "Not-not dead, Tenzin, is she - ?"
"No, no, she's not – " he interrupted, though he wasn't able to say the words himself. He fell silent again and Lin held the phone closer to her ear, waiting for him to go on. She felt sickness clenching and took a breath to disperse it. "Lin," he suddenly moaned in despair, "it's my fault, Lin, this is my fault! My daughter, my precious daughter…"
Lin shook her head and, even not understanding yet what was happening, rushed to stop him. "Tenzin, no, nothing is your fault, you would never let anything hurt her, I know you wouldn't!"
He didn't seem to notice her, the words continuing to topple out around hers. "She went into the Spirit World with Korra…she went because I couldn't. My own failings, Lin, mine! I let her go and she didn't come back." His crying became obvious when he didn't try to hold it back any longer.
"Where are you?" Lin asked. "Right now, Tenzin, where are you?"
"South Pole," he answered quickly, confused by her question. "We needed to bring Korra here."
Her throat burned at how quickly he returned to Master, to Korra's guardian and guide, forced to be strong for everyone around him, a position where emotion meant weakness to those who saw the cracks. Tears stung her eyes for his plight, having to hide his fears from the world in order to bring everyone else to peace at the cost of his own wellbeing. Even when his daughter…the tears slipped down over her cheek. She was in the same position, and it killed them both. They were one another's support, the only person who understood the other's worries and fears and dreams without judgment.
"I'm going to come down there. Okay? I'm leaving right now to come to you."
The utterance came through his choked weeping and she paused even as she started to turn on her lamp. "What? I can be there in just a few hours to help you."
"You can't," he told her firmly, but she could tell the denial hurt him. "I want you with me, Lin, so badly – but you can't. Republic City is going to need you more than I do by the time this reaches its peak."
"Tenzin…" She felt herself deflating, aching for him, wanting to take him into her arms when all that was reaching him now were hollow words over a thin connection stretched too far. "Oh, Tenzin, are you sure?"
"No, I'm not sure at all. I want you with me, I do…but we can't." He began to cry again in earnest, and she could see him in her mind's eye, sitting hunched over the table, closed in the little communication room in Katara's home with the door locked at his back. "I can't, I can't."
"Can't what?" Lin asked quietly, trying to pry through the walls he was rebuilding around his misery.
"I can't do any of this, Lin, I can't do it any longer!" he wept brokenly. His voice was rough in her ear. "I never should have – I just – I wish I could take it all back, all of it…all of my failures -"
"You have no failures, do you hear me?" she broke in through his tumbling thoughts. "You may not have been able to enter the Spirit World like your father, but that was never a failure! Whatever is happening now – it is not your fault, none of it is."
"Then why does it feel like I could have prevented all of this, if I had only tried a little harder?"
"Because you blame yourself for things you shouldn't." She could hear him sniff loudly on the other side of the line and her fingers seared, wishing she was there with him to touch his face, make him listen to what she was saying as she wiped away his tears. She settled for brushing her own from her cheek.
"She's my daughter, Lin…"
She bowed her head, still keeping the receiver pressed tight against her ear. "And that is why what happened to her is not your fault. You would die before letting harm come to someone you love." He was silent, his breathing heavy as he tried in vain to gather control of himself.
"What can I do?" she asked, not able to hide the desperation from creeping in. "Tenzin, truly, what can I do for you?"
"Just stay on the line with me," he murmured thickly. "Please, I don't have anyone else to go to. Pema, she's beside herself, I can't – can't let her see I -" He couldn't finish his sentence, instead letting it fade off. Despite the silence that fell once more between them, she knew he was crying again.
"You don't even have to ask. I'm here as long as you need me."