Happy solstice and happy holidays to you all!
I had wanted to post this on the actual winter solstice a few days back, but lost track of time with work and holiday parties of my own. There are (not very subtle) hints of pre-series and coming-back-around Lin/Tenzin in this one here, and the idea of Lin at a party of some kind came from, you guessed it, Amira Elizabeth. Set during Season 2, no spoilers.
"You seem to be having about as much fun as I am."
Lin smirked at the startled expression that came over Mako's face as she approached him, standing rather sullenly by the wall instead of mingling among the many throngs of people, and she stood beside him there, glass of wine in hand. Mako's hands were empty, arms wrapped around his waist, and she said, "There's plenty of food over there, you should help yourself. It's not often the city provides such delicacies for their workers."
Mako shook his head, looking at her and away again. She noticed the way he quickly took in her sweater and very normal pants, no armor in sight, and the color that brought to his cheeks. "I'm not hungry. I ate before the party."
She nodded silently, taking a sip of her drink and glancing around the room, bored. White and gold streamers and dozens of flowers of the same colors – all to pay honor to the winter solstice that day – decorated the large banquet hall in City Hall, where not only Lin's police force, but every government worker in Republic City was gathered by invitation to celebrate the year's end. It used to be the city council who threw this party, though this year was Raiko's second attempt at doing so himself. He'd gone quite overboard with decorations, food, drinks, a band – everything was overwhelming with its opulence. He'd learn soon enough.
The voice cut through her wandering thoughts, and she focused on Mako again. He wasn't looking at her, but at one of the crowds in the middle of the room. She followed his gaze. "Thank you," he said again with a bit more clarity, "for letting me bring Bolin. We've never been to this kind of – I mean, I think he's enjoying himself."
She didn't miss the hesitation and embarrassment in his tone, but she didn't press him. There was no need to, she knew very well what their childhood had been like. And it was true, Bolin seemed quite in his element, in the midst of an engrossing tale with several of her officers and a few other city workers all focused solely on him without eyes for anyone else as they listened. He was enjoying himself immensely. Far more than his brother, at any rate, at his very first office party.
"Your invitation was addressed to you and a guest," Lin said by way of easing the subject away from how tense it had turned. "You could have brought anyone you wished. It was kind of you to bring him."
Mako nodded, taking in her words and letting out a breath. "Did you invite anyone?" He seemed to understand the question the moment it left his mouth rather than before, and his eyes widened in slight horror as he quickly tried to take it back. "I mean, well -"
"No," she answered calmly. "Though that does not mean I was lacking someone to invite. I simply did not wish to extend the invitation this year." She gave him a little smile that made him blush from the awkwardness of the situation he had created. "You need to work on your small talk, officer."
"Oh, relax," she muttered, waving her hand dismissively and looking back out at all the people. "That was a suggestion, not an order. We're not on the clock right now, kid, calm down and try to have a little fun before life gets away from you."
A flutter of gold and scarlet by the doorway caught her attention then, and she watched as Tenzin and Pema entered the room to join the party. She leaned back against the wall and sipped at her wine again. "You know, I've been coming to these parties my entire life because of my mother. I can't remember a year when I was not here on the day of the solstice. But Tenzin and I -" She smiled again, this one real and reaching her eyes. "Tenzin and I had a little custom we'd do before coming here that made it all so much more bearable."
She felt Mako watching her, felt his eyes on her face and the surprise in his gaze at hearing this, but she didn't mind it. The smile lingered on her lips as she lost herself to the memories. "It is tradition to burn away what you wish to release from the old year to bring in the good of the new," she said softly. Mako continued to stare at her, and she looked for Tenzin again through the crowd. He was gone amongst the many people. "We decided one year – we must have been, I don't know, thirteen or fourteen, perhaps – that we truly disliked these parties and would rather have our own ceremony instead. So Tenzin flew us up to the mountains in the morning, and we had a fire ritual to burn away everything we wished to release to make space for the good of the new. We continued this every year until we no longer did."
She fell silent and swirled the wine around in her glass.
"That...that sounds very nice."
Lin smiled at the hesitation in Mako's voice and pushed away from the wall. "It was. If you'd excuse me, I need to go find someone."
She didn't look back at him as she finished her wine and set it on a tray before moving off into the thick of the crowd. It didn't take long to find the person she was searching for. Tenzin's bright robes helped him stand out, after all, and she easily spotted him and his wife talking with another former council member by the opposite wall. The other man saw her first as she approached, and she gave him a polite nod.
"Chief," he said when she neared, smiling at her. "What do you think of the festivities this year? Marvelous, aren't they?"
"Quite," she replied. Tenzin looked over at her when she paused beside him and, after exchanging a few more pleasantries with his companion, she touched his arm in a very innocent manner, dropping it again almost immediately. But the contact was enough to get his attention at once. "Do you have a moment? I'd like to ask you something."
"Of course. Pema, dear, I'll be right back." He didn't wait for her to reply and neither did Lin, walking away slightly and out of hearing. He followed. "What is it?"
"Do you remember -"
But she paused then, glancing around the crowded room. No one was taking notice of their conversation, or even paying them any attention at all, though she still found the words that had flowed off her tongue so easily to Mako minutes before getting caught in her mouth. She took a breath and let it out slowly, seeing Tenzin coming closer to her from the corner of her eye. She turned her gaze back to him again to see him looking at her, a mildly concerned expression on his face.
"Do you remember the fire ceremonies we used to have on the solstice?" she finally asked.
Tenzin smiled, his eyes sparkling with the memory she had suddenly conjured. "How could I ever forget? The fun we had - it put these parties to shame."
"Let's have another," she said, the suggestion spilling before she could truly think it through.
She interrupted him before he could continue. "Tonight, before the solstice ends. I certainly have a lot I'd like to burn away. Don't you?"
"Yes. Yes, I'd like that." His smile widened until it reached his entire face, and she realized not for the first time how much she missed him. "I'd like that very much. Shall I pick you up a little later this evening?"
"All right," she said with a nod.
"Master Tenzin! I didn't know you'd arrived already, how wonderful to see you!"
Lin backed away a few steps when an old woman hobbled forward to take his hand into both of hers. He look over at her quickly as the newcomer began to speak, but Lin was already several steps away. She gave him a fleeting little grin and walked into the crowd. Just like that, she felt contentment welling in her chest as it chased away the melancholy that had settled there so fully over the last several weeks as this day approached.
She had grown to dislike this party over the years, where her mother's presence had always been so strong in her youth and where she had never been able to truly celebrate anything as she grew older due to the weight of her title. But now, with the prospect of having a real celebration to honor the solstice the way she had always enjoyed with her closest friend - now she could look around her and see joy.