The final chapter! Thank you, everyone, for reading and to everyone who has reviewed. I had a lot of fun writing this, and it came out much longer than I ever expected it would. Truly, I sat down to start seeing it as two, maybe three, chapters and then this is what came to fruition. I appreciate every one of you who has followed and enjoyed this story as much as I enjoyed writing it.
I do have another long chaptered piece in the works so, if you're looking for another adventure with Lin and Tenzin, it should be started here in the next few weeks. More one-shots are always coming, as well.
Enjoy, and thank you all again!
Even the Sun Must Sleep
It was only two hours later that a nurse emerged from the depths of the hospital. Tenzin looked up hopefully, just as he had every time someone wearing blue robes had walked out during the time he'd been sitting there. This time the woman approached him, a tired smile pulling at her lips. She stopped a few paces away and gave him a respectful bow, even as he got quickly to his feet.
"Master Tenzin," she said tidily. "Master Unduli will see you now."
He followed as she beckoned him down the hall, up a flight of stairs, and down another corridor. There were rooms of patients here, and his heart leapt into his throat. Unduli poked her head out of one room, catching sight of them and waving her hand to send the nurse in another direction.
"Here, Master Tenzin," she called to him before he could ask.
He stepped into the room. Lin was lying in bed, her eyes closed and seeming just as unresponsive as she had been when he had last seen her. Her breathing, though, appeared to be coming much easier, and bandages could be seen under the thin cotton of the hospital-issued nightshirt. Unduli was standing at the bedside, pulling healing water from a small portable basin sitting on a nearby table to heal the remaining cuts left on her arms.
"Small stuff," she said as Tenzin came up behind her, "what's left here. Just thought she'd appreciate having a few less scrapes to deal with on her own."
"How is she?" he asked softly, watching over her shoulder as she worked and resisting the urge to reach out for Lin's hand under this woman's sharp eye.
"She's just fine now. It was rough there at first," Unduli told him without holding back, "but once we got her lung healed everything else fell right back into place where it should be. Day after tomorrow and it will be as though this never happened. That handiwork with the metal, I must say." She paused to shake her head, chuckling slightly. "Saved her life, it did. I haven't seen work like that in a few years, not since the first Chief Beifong was in office when I was still an apprentice."
Tenzin did come forward then, walking around to the other side of the bed and slipping his hand around hers without caring anymore. Her skin was warm and flushed now, healthy, and he grinned with relief.
"I saved the metal," the healer said quietly, sending the water back to the basin and dropping her hands. "From the brace. I could tell it came from her armor, so if she wants it back I left the piece right there on the chair by the window."
"Thank you for everything." He meant every word, and Unduli returned his grateful smile.
She did one more glance over her patient, then left the room without another remark. Tenzin kept his eyes on Lin, looking away only to glance around to find the chair. He carefully picked up the heavy metal scrap from the seat and placed it on top of a chest of drawers set against the wall before scooting the chair to the beside so he could sit, taking her hand again even before he was settled.
Suyin had left not long before to rejoin her family. Baatar was a nervous wreck, she explained earlier with an endearing smile, and she hadn't wanted to leave him alone longer than she needed to. He knew he should call her, or send word somehow that her sister was all right, but he wanted this moment with Lin to himself.
He still loved her. He had known it for a while, truthfully, but the weight of this revelation hadn't changed much in his mind until recently. Three years ago, five, ten – still loving her meant something unattainable, something to be held sacred as a precious memory. A love he had once had, true and passionate and resonating. Real, was the word he wanted to use. Real and fierce, in every wonderful way he could ever have imagined.
But still a memory.
Now…now something had changed. Some small thing between them had shifted to bring their paths to merge again. He could not mark a day or time, aside from 'recently'. And so – 'recently' – still loving her meant something dangerous, in that real and fierce way. Dangerous, but still so wonderful. He could feel it beating through him, tingling under his skin and through his muscle as memory turned real again. Every tiny thing he remembered from their youth was there, waiting to be awoken with the smallest touch, a fleeting glance, a smile. It had merely been waiting for them.
So he sat vigil at her beside rather than returning home, silently repenting every transgression he had made against her over the last several days until he could say them aloud for her to hear.
It was nearing dusk when Lin's fingers twitched in his.
The movement brought Tenzin's attention quickly, his gaze darting from an unfocused spot on the blankets to her face. Her eyes fluttered for a moment before staying open, looking up at the ceiling above her and then left and right, slowly taking in her surroundings. She didn't see him at first, not until she began to turn her head and caught the blurry image of him beside her bed.
She blinked at him, trying to recall to her mind what was going on and how she had come to be in the hospital. "What happened?" she asked, voice hoarse.
Tenzin's free hand came up to brush against her cheek, moving a few strands of hair behind her ear, and he gave her a small grin as he sat back. "We accomplished our daring escape from the so-called Great Uniter. Do you remember?"
Lin took a breath, feeling the pressure in her lungs and around her midriff, and pressed light fingers to the bandages around her ribs. Tenzin took her hand from the healing wounds, squeezing her fingers with his, and asked again, "Do you remember anything from the last day, Lin?"
"I remember bits and pieces," she whispered, looking at him again and then over his shoulder. "Mostly you being a big wimp. That, right there," she said, holding up her other hand to point at the dresser. "What is that?"
She was referring to the metal brace Toph had made from her armor, and Tenzin stood to retrieve it for her. She received it gently from his grasp, holding the metal delicately as she gazed at it. Her eyes narrowed sadly as she took it in through her senses. "My mother made this," she murmured with no question. "We were with my mother long enough for her to make this for me."
"Yes," Tenzin confirmed softly. "How did you know?"
"Right here, this mark." She turned the piece over to point out a small oval shape imprinted in the corner where the two gauntlets had been melded together. "It's her thumbprint. She would only ever mark things like this for me or Su, to let us know she was leaving them for us. Usually knickknacks, you know, when she got bored and wanted to make something. She'd leave it lying around somewhere for us to find, typically by tripping over. How we knew it wasn't an accident, but a gift. This," she paused, touching the indentation, "this isn't actually her thumbprint, here this time, but it may as well be."
He didn't quite know what to say in response, but Lin shook her head, resting the brace on her stomach as her arms grew weary of holding the heavy piece above her. "The work was rushed," she continued in a hush, "but she still did a perfect job, I'll be able to mend them right back. Tenzin?"
"Yes?" he replied, reaching for her hand again. She slid in into his easily.
"I said such horrible things to her the night before we rescued Suyin. I never had the chance to apologize, given how we parted ways so quickly. I wish I had. My temper just got the better of me, I couldn't -"
"She knows, Lin," he interrupted gently before her face could fall any more than it already had. "Or at least, I'm rather sure she does. And when this is over, I'll go with you to find her again so you can tell her yourself."
"I truly appreciate that, Tenzin, thank you."
Her smile was genuine, and it made his heart erupt in his chest. She moved her fingers in his, threading them together, and he knew she felt it even as tired as she was. "Lin," he whispered, "I am so sorry. I am sorry for ever refusing to help you in the first place, and I am sorry for every poor choice I made that brought you here."
"Oh, Airhead." She squeezed his fingers and tugged at his hand, forcing him to lean forward as she brought him close enough to kiss his knuckles without moving herself. Just like that, her apology was given.
"Do you remember…"
He let the question drop off, the memory painful, but she had lowered their clasped hands to her chest and he could feel the faint beating of her pulse, giving him strength. It was as though that tether, which had been so frayed and torn since the moment he knew she was gone, had so suddenly repaired itself. "When we were flying back, you asked me to land rather than keep flying. Do you remember doing that?"
She gazed at him, her lips faltering into a small frown. "Yes," she said softly, "I do."
"Why did you want to land?"
Lin was silent for a moment, considering her answer. He could see several flitting across her face, her eyes downcast as she thought through what she wanted to say. Finally, she met his gaze again. "That bit of poem your mother used to quote – 'Burning sky is extinguished as black wings fold gently about the heavens' –"
"'Rest, my children, for even the sun must sleep.'" He nodded, distracted, and frowned as well. "What, do you mean you truly were dying?" His fingers tightened convulsively around hers at the idea, though he'd already known anyway. It had been nearly impossible to deny, given the shape she'd been in by that point.
"Well, yes, I did understand that much. But more than that…" She sighed, frustrated when she wasn't able to convey herself properly, and opened Tenzin's hand to touch his palm against her cheek. "While I was losing myself, I recalled that poem. It was comforting to me, it always has been. About letting go, letting the cycle of life follow into the next day. But it also brought you to me, through the pain I was in, and I knew if I could touch the earth I would be able to feel you as I fell asleep – that everything would be clear again, if I could have both you and the earth. Right," she added with a small chuckle, "it made sense at the time."
"It makes sense now," he told her, sliding his hand to press more firmly against her face. He wanted to kiss her in that moment, a real kiss like they hadn't shared in over ten years, not like the frightened, fleeting one from what may have only been several hours earlier. Her gaze, still held to his, was saying the same.
"Lin! Oh goodness, Lin, sweetheart, you're awake!"
Suyin swept into the room, pushing the door open to let the bustle of the hallway inside with her. She ran right over to the bed and leaned down to give her a hug as best she could about the shoulders and a quick kiss to her cheek before plopping down on the bedside. Tenzin pulled back in on himself as Lin's loose attention was taken by her sister, Suyin's hands touching her face and hair as though looking for any leftover damage. She shoved the piece of armor away and plonked it on the floor without a second glance.
"I knew you would be all right, I just knew it," she said with a wide smile, looking at Tenzin and then back at Lin. "Kuvira wouldn't have dared do anything to you."
Lin's gaze slipped to his in confusion and he shrugged, telling her silently he hadn't mentioned the missed execution to her sister. Truthfully, he hadn't told her because he didn't see what doing so would accomplish. To make her feel as guilty as he did, for leaving Lin in that situation? To prove to her he had been right about Kuvira's differing motives toward her and toward her sister? There was no point to it.
"I'll be back to see you after dinner," he said, standing and taking a step back from the bed.
Lin reached out her hand for his again, and he gave it to her without hesitation. "Bring me something," she requested, a lopsided grin pulling at her lips. "Hospital food is disgusting. Their rice is always undercooked and it gets stuck in my teeth."
"Certainly." He leaned forward slightly as though readying to give her a bow, turning her hand to press his lips to her palm. He lingered for only a moment, aware of Suyin's interested gaze even if she already understood everything the two of them were leaving unsaid. "I'll see you soon."
She nodded, unable to respond as Suyin immediately began to engage her in conversation again. "I saw your healer outside," she said excitedly. "She told me you'll be released in the morning. It's great, isn't it? We'll be able to spend some time together before Raiko will need you for the war efforts again."
"Mm, yes, wonderful."
"Aren't you glad I sent Tenzin after you?" he heard Su saying as he neared the door. He paused, listening as Lin once again gave a flippant nonverbal response and her sister laughed airily. "Oh, he was a boar to get going, really. We had a nice long conversation in the meantime."
"Is that so."
He turned to observe as Lin smirked, shaking her head slightly. She knew Su was bending the truth, not paying him any more attention. He wondered briefly if she would bring up the contents of that 'conversation' from the previous day, but then – he couldn't find enough concern over it at the moment. What she had said, about allowing Lin to save him, it was true, and he wanted it all.
Lin's eyes found his again over Suyin's shoulder as he watched her silently from the doorway and he gave her a little smile. Things were moving, as they always were. Only now they were moving in a very decided direction.
Tenzin took a step back out into the hallway, pulling the door closed behind him. Come what may, he was ready. So long as he had Lin beside him, everything would be all right.