Written as a request for Secret River Fan, who was wondering how Tenzin would deal/not deal if Lin were suddenly not available because she was with someone else. I went the way of "not dealing" with it.

Since this worked so well to tie into the next story I'll post in a few days, this one is set after S4. No spoilers, save very vague ones for Saikhan from way back in season 1. For the moment, as well, I think it is outside the back and forth "timeline" I've been creating myself.

Enjoy!


Mulling Spices

Tenzin ducked out of the rain and into the police building, giving the desk clerk a friendly wave as he went. It wasn't terribly late – perhaps only just after nine, if he counted the City Hall tower clock's resounding chimes correctly – and he made his way casually through the hallways toward Lin's office. The night shift was working diligently, either waiting for calls to come in and summon them away or chipping away at cases. Some of the people were still working voluntarily, not able to leave their job just yet to return to their lives or their families or whatever else may be waiting for them outside the main doors.

Lin's office was closed when he arrived, most of the gas lamps in the detectives' quarter already put out.

He paused for a moment, surprised not to see a light under her door to signal her own work pushing her into the night, and raised his fist to knock. No response was forthcoming. Frowning, he tried the handle. The knob was not locked, turning easily in his hand.

"Lin?" he called, pushing the door open slightly and peering into the gathering darkness broken only by the glow from behind him and that coming from through the large windows.

She was obviously gone for the night.

As he was starting to pull the door to again, his shadow moved off her desk and something bright suddenly caught his attention. He turned back, focusing harder on the strangely shaped object. Flowers. Flowers wrapped in tissue paper were sitting on top of a neat stack of folders. A beautiful bouquet, filled with different white blossoms set off starkly against dark green leaves and stems.

They hadn't been there hours before, when he had stopped by to bring her information from Raiko. His lips pressed together, confused, and closed the door so he could go back downstairs.

"Akrosh," he asked, bringing the clerk's attention to him as he rounded the corner into the main lobby. "Did Chief Beifong leave early?"

"Oh, yes! I apologize, Master Tenzin, if I'd known you were headed upstairs to see her I would have saved you the trouble." The youth smiled bashfully, giving him a helpless shrug. "She left a while ago. Saikhan came to pick her up, I don't know if they're stopping back by here or not."

Tenzin's eyebrows raised in surprise and, thinking he had misunderstood, he asked, "Saikhan? But didn't he retire from the force several years ago?"

Akrosh nodded with enthusiasm. "He did! I think, though," he added, lowering his voice as if bringing Tenzin in on a loosely guarded secret, "they had a date. He came in with flowers for her. Sweet, isn't it? Her detectives practically followed her out asking all sorts of questions."

"Everyone knows?" His mind was overwhelmed out of nowhere as it was inundated with this information – of Lin, off somewhere with another man. "Everyone knows she and – and Saikhan had plans tonight?"

Akrosh shrugged again, his face completely innocent of Tenzin's growing discomfort. "I don't think it was very planned, really. He just kind of showed up. Chief Beifong usually lets me know when she has visitors coming. Except for you, of course, you're the only one she lets go up without an appointment. Saikhan had to ask twice tonight before she let him in."

"Right." Tenzin nodded, not feeling the motion, and turned away from the desk toward the front doors. "Right. Thank you." He had taken several steps away before halfheartedly calling back, "Have a good evening."

It was still raining when he emerged, the cold drops waking his senses enough to bring him back to himself. Lin was on a date. She was with someone else. The ache in his stomach was startling, when he noticed it, and it took a great deal of effort to convince his feet to continue moving. Of their own accord, they walked the familiar path to her apartment, his need to be near her, to be surrounded by her, overpowering every other thought he had.

Her home was just as empty as her office, when he let himself inside. It didn't occur to him until his legs gave way to leave him on the couch, bathed only in the light of a small table lamp, that if luck had been against him he may have stumbled upon her here – both of them.

Jealousy.

He recognized its foreign weight with a wave of nausea. He was jealous. What he and Lin had been doing – the touches, brushing against one another, seeking her out as often as he could to fall asleep next to her, he had thought it was enough for them both. Enough to keep them together while still keeping aware of unspoken lines. This jealousy, the fear of losing her to someone else when they had only just rekindled what they could…it spoke so clearly, telling him with images of her happy, smiling face – it would never be enough.

He lied back on the couch, pulling his legs up and resting them sideways against the stiff cushions to stare up at the shadowy ceiling. It was dark beyond the small sphere of light, but he knew every line and contour of the room around him from memory. Just as he remembered her. He closed his eyes, calling every image of her forward he could, greedily and without restraint or discrimination.

What if Lin left – left whatever they had been doing, she and him, for someone else? The devastation of losing her again was unbearable to think about, but it was all he could focus on. His best friend. The woman he loved, yet could not love.

The images, the thoughts, followed him into unsettled sleep, surrounded by her even in his unconscious mind.

A loud click, followed by faraway voices, pulled him back again. Hours? Minutes? Tenzin didn't know and he didn't move, content to stay where he was as his eyes fell closed again, mind already being pulled under the wave of sleep once more.

"Thank you for dinner," he heard Lin's voice, hazy and distant. "It was nice. And the flowers are beautiful."

"Can I take you out again?"

There was a pause, and Tenzin's brain worked through the sleep-addled cloud to follow the conversation. He was able to parse enough information through the misfiring wires to make out two people were talking by the door, in the entryway.

"We'll see," Lin said, her words light and calm. Happy.

Nothing more was able to fight through and he dozed again, colors dancing through his mind behind his eyes as real sounds filtered in and out. Somewhere a thud, then water. Lin. She was everywhere, everything. All that mattered. A light touch to his cheek startled him fully awake out of his bizarre half-asleep state and he jerked, his eyes fluttering open to look around in surprise.

Lin was sitting on the low coffee table by the couch, the backs of three fingers brushing across his cheek. She smiled softly at him. "Hey."

"I thought I dreamed it," he muttered, blinking the sleep from his gaze to better focus on her, real and beside him again. "You coming in."

"No," she whispered. "I'm here, where I should be. What are you doing here, Tenzin?"

He stared at her for a few silent seconds, feeling her fingers still moving over his flushed skin. There was no agitation in her question, no annoyance, only surprise at having found him asleep in her home, and she watched him as his eyes traveled over her face. So much better than the one he had dozed off imagining, the real thing. "I wanted to see you," he told her, the honesty real between them.

"You found out," she said plainly, "about Saikhan asking me to dinner."

"I was on my way to see you already, but yes." There was no point lying to her when she could see right through him. She had always been able to. Her fingers stilled their back and forth motion, coming to a stop and turning so she could cup his cheek in her palm. He couldn't help but turn into her touch, feeling as though he were losing control over the finely crafted parameters they had wordlessly set so many months ago.

Instead of continuing the conversation down the road he desperately didn't want to travel, she removed her hand from his face and found his hand, giving it a squeeze. "Let's go to bed, shall we? It's been a long day." She grinned faintly at his relieved sigh when he released it. "It's late, I'm not going to kick you out. Come on."

His body ached as he sat up to follow her down the hall, watching from behind as she began to take off her armor to store in the bedroom. "We're going to have to talk, Tenzin," she said softly, her voice reaching him and making his limbs tense again. "And one way or another we have to figure this out. But for now…"

The words faded away as she stretched, and she turned to face him as he came into the room at her heel. "For now, let's just sleep."