This is a vague companion piece for Warrior Raging, and gives a touch of background to a character mentioned in that story. You do not, of course, have to read Warrior to read this, though, and it stands alone just fine.
Set during Season 3 (and long before Warrior Raging).
Tenzin wandered almost aimlessly through the stark halls of the police headquarters, his focus entirely on the first paper in the large stack clutched carefully in his hands. Reports for Lin, mostly. Nothing he needed back, nothing she needed to sign, but still matters of some importance that would demand her attention eventually.
'Proposed budget cuts for the coming year' was scrawled across the top of that first page in the city hall secretary's neat hand. She wouldn't be pleased with that at all, he knew. Perhaps he should move it lower in the stack, save it for later.
"She just needs a good lay, don't you think?"
The voice cut through his thoughts like a piece of hot iron, coming from the corner he was about to round. Peals of laugher followed, several voices giving wordless agreement to the first, encouragement to keep going. "Yeah, maybe then she wouldn't be so awful to us all. I mean, where does she get off, giving me that reprimand last week? I didn't do anything wrong."
The voices hummed wordlessly again and Tenzin's stomach clenched. They were talking about Lin.
The person continued, not put off by the lack of pure vocal support. "She's such a tyrant! And do you know what I think? I think more people would stand up to her if she looked like a hippo cow, that's what. She just has to find some guy to take the edge off, if you know what I mean."
There were more guffaws, and then someone else finally joined in, brazened by her companion. "But who would want her?" she threw in carelessly. "Arrogant and insufferable as she is. Master Tenzin is the only person she ever listens to. Too bad he's not available to work those kinks out of her armor."
Laughter followed this. Tenzin's face burned with fury as he overheard more than he ever wanted to, but his feet were glued to his spot in the hall, hidden from the group as they dug their hole deeper.
"That's not really fair, guys, is it?"
Mako's earnest question rang through the growing crude remarks, and a brief silence fell. "It's not," he continued quickly. "She's not a bad chief at all, and you did kind of deserve to be told off for losing your report. It's the seventh one you didn't turn in this month."
"Look at this, baby detective is standing up for his mama! Do you like her, Mako? Do you have a crush on your big boss lady?" The woman this time.
His cheeks must have flamed at that jab because the group burst with jeering laughter again. "Maybe you should be the one to help our chief, Mako, if you catch my drift. You'd like that, wouldn't you?" It was the first voice again, much braver than he had been before, and his tasteless jokes turned into something more akin to nastiness.
Tenzin sucked in a deep, calming breath through his nose, having heard enough. He tucked the stack of papers neatly under one arm and forced himself to take the step around the corner, finding a group of three young men and two women gathered in a loose circle near the wall. Mako was on the edge of that circle, trying to walk away, but one of the others kept him engaged with an arm thrown over his shoulders, likely the person who had started this whole thing.
Mako saw him first, his eyes widening in surprise. "Master Tenzin!"
He shook the arm from his shoulders and stood up straight. The others around him startled, jumping away from the wall and turning hurriedly to see him. They all bowed awkwardly, though he did not acknowledge the sign of respect from them. He stood there, watching with a neutral expression as they stared back at him in mild alarm and confusion, clear on their faces that they were wondering if he had heard anything.
But then he frowned, his eyes narrowing as he took each of them in one at a time. "Which one of you," he asked slowly, "is so concerned with Chief Beifong's sleeping habits, I wonder?
Several in the group staggered backward, nervous, and two pointed quickly to the mousey-haired man who had been holding onto Mako. He immediately smacked the closest hand away from him, a livid glare pulling at his eyebrows. "I did not say those things!" he said defensively, looking at his friends even as his voice gave him away. "It wasn't me! This new kid said it all, with his ridiculous thing for the chief. You should turn him in just for that."
He shoved Mako forward. Tenzin caught his arm before he could stumble and moved him aside without a glance, his attention fully on the other young man.
"It is very telling, that you would sacrifice one of you own before yourself," Tenzin said, the effort to control his anger becoming difficult. "Perhaps you should take a look around to the people you work with and wonder if any would do the same to you. You are supposed to be protecting one another as you protect your home, not saying such lurid things about the one person in this entire city who would put her life on the line for yours without pause. You should be ashamed of yourselves, all of you."
The man stared at him defiantly for a second before lowering his gaze and then dropping into another stilted bow. "Please accept my apology, Master Tenzin."
Tenzin didn't say another word, the anger burning in his stomach and starting to make him feel ill even without the insincere bit of contrition. He turned and continued down the hall in the opposite direction, toward Lin's office, where he had been headed to begin with. It wasn't the fact they had been speaking badly of her that was upsetting him, exactly, but the tone and content…hearing anyone speak of Lin that way made him angry in a way he didn't quite understand, ignited in him a strong desire to set every misspoken word right because she was his friend and she deserved so much better.
The door of Lin's office was open when he arrived and he entered without knocking, his slippered feet quiet on the old rug that had been there since her mother's time. Her back was to him as she poured a carefully measured amount of water from a tea cup into the pot of her favorite bonsai tree, sitting happily in front of a sunny window. He set the stack of papers on her desk, not expecting her to turn around even though she knew he was there.
"I just overhead a rather..." He paused at the word inappropriate, feeling it didn't quite cover the depth of the conversation he stumbled on and fumbled for a better fit. "A rather distasteful discussion between some of your officers," he said instead.
"Oh? May I presume it had something to do with me?"
"It did," he confirmed somewhat grimly, the exchange still hot in his mind enough to continue fueling his anger.
Lin didn't respond right away, silent as she pressed a single finger to the soil and stones around the tree to check the moisture there. She touched the stiff feathering branches, then the pretty dark green foliage with gentle admiration, before turning around and setting the empty cup on her desk beside the papers he had brought her. Her eyes skimmed over them with disinterest before darting upward to find his, the emotion there giving her all the answer she needed. She looked away again.
"What rumors are they spreading now, then?" she asked. Tenzin flushed slightly, more from fury than embarrassment, and she gave him a fleeting grin. "Can't be any worse than the various others that have been through here over the years. Let me guess, shall I? Given your expression, I'd say my sleeping arrangements or lack thereof are going through the ringer this time."
"More or less."
He dropped into a chair by her desk, sighing in annoyance and staring up at her. She was gazing out the window listlessly now, watching without really paying attention as people came and went in the courtyard below. That she wasn't fazed by any of this startled him almost as much as the discovery itself had. How many rumors about her were there, exactly, that she didn't bat an eye at them now? He didn't want to ask - and it made him wish he had put down a firmer foot with the group he had heard.
"Was it Jinta?" she spoke into the hush that had fallen. "The person you found saying these things?"
She was still looking out the window rather than at him, and his eyes focused unseeingly on her back as he brought up the young man's face. His name, his name...
"Yes," he said after a few seconds of thought. "Yes, it was him. Several others, too, though I don't know all their names. Mako was with them; he was the only one in the group trying to speak up for you. He actually seemed rather distressed about it all."
She gave a barking laugh without turning around. "He would be." But then she added in a much more subdued tone, "I caught Jinta's brother mishandling evidence a few months ago. I had to let him and one other officer go. He's held it against me since. And with all the mistakes he's been making himself lately…well."
"But why?" His eyebrows came together, frustrated at the injustice of it all on her behalf. "That hardly seems like your fault."
"He doesn't know what else to do," she supplied simply. She continued gazing out the window for a second longer and then turned around again, leaning her hips back against the frame and resting her palms on the wood near her legs. "He's angry and upset, and so he's lashing out instead of talking to me about it. Not all of my officers know I don't bite."
Tenzin frowned, still rather put off by how casual she was acting about the situation when he was continuing to fume over the words ringing in his ears. "Surely there is some kind of disciplinary action you can take against him?"
She offered him a small shrug. "If I fired every officer who ever spoke ill of me, I'd be here alone. Okay," she interrupted herself with a chuckle, "here with Mako, alone. Maybe with a handful of others. But I can't take action against every single slight without hearing it myself. If I do hear it, yes, I will speak with him about it." She shook her head, dismissing his anger before he could retort. "These things happen, you know? You only had the other council members to deal with when you were in City Hall; I have hundreds of people working for me. Rumors spread. About them, as well, not just about me."
"I just..." He broke off, collecting his thoughts back to himself before continuing softly. "I hated hearing those things, what Jinta was saying about you. It was infuriating, truly."
Her voice had dropped with her gaze, the indifferent attitude slipping, and his eyes snapped to her again. For just a moment, she was her younger self, unsure as she followed in her mother's shadow in a desperate attempt to live up to that great image left behind and terrified of failing. But then she looked up at him again and the fear was vanished as if it had never been there at all.
"For me to hear, yes. Perhaps because I care for you in a way none of these people ever have. Maybe...maybe it's the same thing you've already heard that I simply stumbled upon today."
Lin nodded silently, concentration back on her tree. She touched one of the prickly fronds, running the pads of two fingers under the stiff branch. "I don't enjoy it," she said softly, her words surprising him. "I never have. I simply understand how to keep my skin thick enough to prevent it from bothering me. Showing weakness means losing power."
It was a belief she'd held since she was a child, competing with her mother and sister in a world that only saw her as her namesake, and his anger melted away into sadness. So much of who she was now was still shaped by who she had been forced to become. He stood from the chair and came to stand beside her at the window, on the other side of the small pedestal table the tree was sitting on. This one may even have been the bonsai he gave her for her twentieth birthday, eldest of the five in her possession. He looked down at it as well before bringing his eyes to her face again. She ignored his focus on her.
"Not with me," he told her quietly. She sighed gently, more a puff of air leaving her nose, but even without her commenting he knew she heard. "And I have never considered it weakness, Lin, when you show emotion."
The space between them was modest, the door still open to the officers and detectives in the next room even if they were completely oblivious the two of them in her office, but he felt her change in posture as though he were touching her. The way her shoulders fell just the slightest bit out of their rigidity, the way her face relaxed, the way her back lost a fraction of its tension. He wondered, briefly, if anyone else had ever taken the time to notice these little things, too, or if they were still his and his alone.
"I know," she finally replied, bringing her gaze up to meet his. "Thank you."