Set somewhere around seasons two or three, I think. No spoilers, though there is some foul language (but not quite enough to bump up the rating to T).
I'm still taking Lin/Tenzin requests! If you have any, please feel free to PM me here.
I also want to give all of my reviewers a very heartfelt thank you. All of you make me so incredibly happy, and I am so pleased to share what I write with you. FFnet doesn't exactly give us a good back-and-forth communication platform for each story so I can't reply to your reviews individually the way I would like, but I appreciate each and every one of you dearly. Thank you.
"Hey," Tenzin murmured, kneeling by Lin's sofa and reaching out to touch her hair. She was asleep, curled tightly on her side with one of the uncomfortable decorative pillows clutched to her chest. He ran his hand over her hair again, noticing how soft it was and how he could feel heat radiating from her skin even as far from her face as he was.
"Lin, wake up for me," he implored softly. "Just for a moment."
Her eyes fluttered open, squinting in the light of the single lamp he had turned on before focusing blearily on him. "Bloody spirits, Tenzin," she rasped, "what are you doing here? What time is it?"
"Early," he told her, answering her second question first. "The sun only just set."
She pushed at his shoulder feebly, still not quite fully aware of her surroundings, and rolled further in on herself until her knees were against her chest, pillow flung to the floor. "Go away."
"I came by to pick you up for dinner. Hutou told me you left the station hours ago, that you had a headache. I wanted to make sure you were all right. And this…does not appear to be a headache." He pulled his hand back when she gave him a searing glare from the cushions of the couch. "It must be serious, for you to actually leave work," he added with a small smile.
"Fuck off," she barked, followed immediately by a deep cough.
"Mm, yes, serious indeed. Come on, up you get." Ignoring the next vicious glare she sent his way and somewhat glad she was too weak to hit him, he slid an arm under her shoulders to ease her into a sitting position. Her breathing, which had been rather labored, eased slightly, though she still snarled at him when he attempted to pick her up fully into his arms.
"I've been taking care of myself just fine -" She paused to cough, sucking in a halting breath to still her lungs and continue before he could stop her. "Just fine, damn you, for the last ten years. Leave me alone."
Tenzin pulled gently on her shoulders again, urging her easily to her feet. Lin tried briefly to fight his efforts, but she gave up quickly and allowed him to help her stumble forward. "I'm just taking you to bed," he explained calmly. "You'll be more comfortable there than on this hard couch all night."
Weaving around the pieces of armor she had dropped on her way inside hours earlier, he led her down the hall. It spoke to how sick she was feeling, that she was no longer arguing, and he took a moment to focus on her skin where it touched his. She was burning against him with fever, her face flushed across her cheeks though her lips were pale. An infection of the lungs had been going around the last few weeks and, while some cases were not terrible, it appeared Lin had come down with one of the more devious strains. Given how hard she pushed herself, it wasn't a surprise her body was reacting like this.
"Here," he muttered, sitting her on the bed and leaning around quickly to pull back the neatly made duvet and sheets. He grabbed the second pillow from the other side and used both to prop against the headboard. "Lie back and settle in. Let me make you some tea. Do you have any slippery elm?"
Lin rolled her eyes as she scooted under the covers and pulled them high over her chest. "Oh, sure, I keep so many medicinal herbs in the house."
She was already closing her eyes and drifting off in the seconds it took him to leave the room and walk to the kitchen. Being as quiet as he could and realizing he had grown somewhat unfamiliar with the kitchen he used to cook in himself, he set the kettle to boil and rummaged around to the very back of the cabinet where she kept her tea.
Black teas, mostly, and some very fine green and white teas used nearly down to their ends likely not to be replaced. A handful of florals in loose boxes scattered through the mixture, and a dusty tin of powdered matcha for ceremonies she hadn't deigned to perform in at least thirty years was upside down. He pulled the matcha out to dispose of for her when another copper-plated tin caught his eye. He took it gingerly and popped the lid open. Slippery elm, though several years old as well. It would work for now.
Eyes skimming over the selection once more, he selected a delicate white tea to brew with the bark. Hopefully she would actually drink it. He opened another cabinet and found a well-used clay teapot to take into the bedroom, measuring out an unsure amount of tea into the strainer. He put more bark over the leaves.
Surely her throat was hurting, with the coughs he'd heard already. And her chest must be aching. Perhaps there was a salve somewhere he could find for her, to rub away some of the pain? Kya told him a week or so ago, when this first started making its rounds through the city, that the best cure was rest. Healing could only do so much.
Tenzin chuckled despite himself. Rest. Right. Lin would be back at work tomorrow unless someone was here to stop her. Perhaps he should call his sister to ask her to stay with their friend. But that was no use. Lin was already in a foul enough mood, and pain made her angrier. Involving anyone else would simply make the situation worse.
Setting the empty teapot on a small try beside a cup, he turned off the flame under the kettle and poured nearly-boiling water over the mixture of leaves and bark, filling the pot.
Lin was asleep when he returned with the tea, and he set the tray on her bedside table. He could hear the wet rattle of her breath as her chest rose and fell with effort, making him frown as he listened for a long moment. He didn't want to leave her alone like this. He wouldn't.
He brushed the backs of his fingers across her warm cheek, waking her easily. Her eyes blinked open, taking longer than usual to find him sitting on the bed beside her. "Have some tea? I found that slippery elm you said you didn't have, it will help your cough."
She took the newly filled cup herself before he could move it away from the try, though he was able to cool it slightly with a puff of air as she brought the tea to her lips to sip. "Thanks," she whispered gruffly. "You can go now."
"I was thinking, actually," Tenzin began, looking away from her ever-perceptive gaze as if she could see straight through him. "I was thinking I might stay here with you tonight."
Lin grunted in a very ambiguous manner, taking a large gulp of tea instead of answering. It soothed her throat, just as slippery elm always did, and she downed the rest of the liquid in another long drain. She silently held the cup out to him to refill. He did, and she took a sip from the fresh cup before muttering, "And Pema?"
"I will tell Pema exactly what I'm doing," he told her, voice bold through his soft words. "She cares about you, too, Lin, and I'm sure she'd agree that you should have company right now. She'd probably even send Jinora by with soup for your dinner."
She just blinked slowly, clearing her throat and trying to breathe around a cough that was attempting to come up from her lungs despite the work the tea had done.
"May I?" Tenzin asked, touching the cup in her hands. She looked at him and released her hold slightly, enough for him to take it from her and set it down again. "Let me follow your air," he suggested quietly, "to see where your lungs are catching."
Lin did cough then, leaning over the side of the bed as she gasped for breath until the spasm subsided. "No," she told him weakly. "It's uncomfortable."
"And this isn't? It might let us see if you can breathe into a different part of your lungs instead of the part that's not expanding fully," he told her sternly. "Let me."
"Fine," she gave in without any more fight, falling back into the stacked pillows roughly. Her face was paler than it had been, and Tenzin reached out to touch her cheek again. Her anger at his presence was releasing itself, only to be replaced by a filling exhaustion pulling on her every muscle. "Will you catch this?" she asked, turning only slightly into his comforting touch.
"I'll try my best not to," he said with a small smile. "Kya and the other healers at the hospital think this one is spread by ingestion, you know, drinking or eating after someone ill. It's not spread through the air. Have you been secretly seeing someone, Lin?"
The joke made her grin. "Only my work," she wheezed, "and she's a terrible mistress. Ready for a new one."
The insinuation was not lost on him, though he let it go as easily as she did. He slid his arm under her shoulders again, urging her to sit up as he scooted more onto the bed. She fell heavily against him, her forehead immediately dropping onto his shoulder. His arms wrapped around her, both for support and so he could press his hands firmly against the muscled expanse of her back, already clammy through the cotton shirt she wore under her uniform. "You remember how this works," he murmured, turning his face into her hair when she swallowed. "When I say, take as deep a breath as you can. I am going to push the air just a little, enough to find where you're having the most resistance. I'll release it the moment I do, or if you start having any difficulty."
She nodded once, indicating she heard him.
"All right – inhale."
She did, taking the breath in through her nose. Tenzin closed his eyes and let his senses follow the air, using his bending to take just the slightest control as it reached the cavernous opening of her lungs. He used what she had provided to push down, then toward the back and front, and up again, feeling the confrontation of unusual pressure quickly. He let his hold go just as fast. "Finished," he told her.
She started coughing again at once, curling against him as her body reacted to what he had done. He rubbed her back slowly, his hands moving up and down her spine as her muscles contracted in on one another.
"Breathe into the back of your lungs," he said softly. "They're free there. Right here." He moved his hands down her back, over where he was trying to instruct her to breathe, and took the inhale when she did. He felt her ribs attempting to expand as she followed his direction, releasing with a cough before trying again. Finally, after several minutes, she succeeded and the fit died away.
"I hate when you do that," she muttered, her hot words hitting his neck where she was still resting her head. "Put air in my lungs. Feels like I'm suffocating."
"I know. I'm sorry. It does work, though, you can't deny that – even if it has been years since the last time we had to go through this." He didn't release her from his arms and she made to motion to move back toward her pillows, heaving slightly against him as she continued to catch her breath. "Now you know you can breathe into the back of your lungs instead of the top. You'll get less resistance and, hopefully, you won't have as many fits."
"Yes," she agreed. Nothing else was forthcoming and she fell silent as she got herself under control.
"So," Tenzin began conversationally, his hands resuming their soothing movement on her back. "Did someone drink straight from the water jug in your office? Or leave you a half-eaten pastry from the whole box? Oh," he added with a chuckle, "did Huan try to eat your lunch again?"
"Water jug," she confirmed hoarsely with only a slight waver to her voice. "During a meeting this week. He didn't look this sick. Maybe I should fire him."
Tenzin laughed, his chest rumbling against hers. "Or give him a good talking-to about workplace etiquette when it comes to illness and sharing drinks." She hummed her response and, despite not wanting to, he gently started to lower her back to the bed. Her eyes, which had been closed as she rested in his embrace, opened quickly in mild alarm when she felt herself moving. "Get some sleep now," he said as he got her settled again with her pillows and blankets. "I'm going to go make a phone call, I'll be right back."
"Ask Pema not to tell anyone," she entreated, her gaze finding his. "My officers don't know I'm sick, I don't want word spreading."
"Of course. She'll keep the secret for you."
"Would you like me to ask her to send Jinora with a mint balm for your chest?" he asked, finding her hand and cupping it with both of his so he could rub the back with his thumbs. "We have several in the house that may help your cough."
The question, though, made Lin frown and she pulled her hand away suddenly, pretending to adjust the covers. "No," she said shortly. "And I changed my mind, I don't want you to stay. You can leave now."
"Lin…" Tenzin stared at her, his eyebrows coming together in confusion. He reached out for her face again, fingers curled to run his knuckles over her cheek, but she turned her head away, not looking at him to see his pained expression. "I don't want to leave you like this. I have no intention of doing so."
Lin shrugged, lying further back into her pillows and rolling away from him even when it made her lungs tight. Her voice, when she spoke, was horribly raspy. "Like I said before, I've been taking care of myself just fine for the last ten years. I don't need you to -" She paused to clear her throat before continuing her thought. "I don't need you to look after me. Go home to your family, okay?"
"I know you don't need me to look after you," he told her tenderly. He put his hand on her shoulder, curling over the top of her arm, and moved closer so his hip nudged against her back with his fervor to get her to hear him. "This has nothing to do with your ability to care for yourself, truly. And just because I was unable to help you for so long before…does that mean you won't accept my help now? You shouldn't have to suffer alone."
"Unwilling," she muttered.
"Sorry?" He leaned over her slightly, enough to see that her eyes were still open and focused on the opposite wall as she listened to him ramble on.
"You weren't unable, Tenzin, you were unwilling. There's a difference."
His hand on her arm tightened its grasp slightly as her words rang true in his ears, and he swallowed. "You're right." There was silence for a moment, through which he could hear her strenuous breathing, and without thinking he moved his hand to rub across her back. "You're right. I just never knew how to close that distance between us, once it opened. I wanted to, Lin, I truly did, so many times. It just took an outside force to give us that bridge."
She let her words fade off, not because she couldn't finish but because she wanted him to finish them himself. He continued to move his hand over her back in soothing circles, trying to find the answer. He knew what he wanted to say – what they both wanted to hear – but he also knew the time wasn't quite right, not yet.
"And now," he murmured instead, leaning down to kiss her temple and pausing there so she would hear what he was leaving unsaid. "I would like to stay the night with you, because I want to give you the company while you rest – not because you need someone to care for you."
Lin rolled over again, returning to lie on her back. He was so close to her that her side pushed against his leg with her movement and he gave her a small smile, which she returned through a slight quirking of the lips. She blinked tiredly at him for a long few moments, absorbing his words, said and inferred, before nodding.
"All right," she whispered. "I don't want you to go."
She didn't respond again and he used the tips of his fingers to brush a few strands of sweat-dampened hair from her face, moved out of place when she shifted. Her skin was still flushed and warm, and he could tell the fever was pushing her to her limits even if her wit was still sharp as ever. "Would you like any more tea while I make that call?"
Instead of answering, she simply shook her head and closed her eyes. Their conversation, both surface and deep, was finished and Tenzin gathered his robes to stand. She didn't watch as he left the room again, making his way to the telephone in the living room so he wouldn't disturb her. The call itself only took a few minutes and, as expected, Pema was very understanding. She promised to keep Lin's illness to herself, though she told Tenzin she would have a basket of food, balms, and herbs for him to pick up in the morning, if needed.
Lin was sound asleep when he returned, this time not waking to his touch when he placed his hand against her forehead.
Sitting where he had been before, with his hip and leg snug against her blanket-padded side, he pressed the backs of his fingers to her burning cheek. Her breathing was still difficult, wheezing with each inhale, rasping through her throat thickly with the exhale. It made him ache deep through his chest, watching her, feeling her sickness under his skin and knowing he should have been here for her so much sooner. Not even because of illness, to care for her – as she accused him of earlier – but because no one should have to live their lives so alone.
No one, and especially not his closest friend.
His hand moved upward to run over her hair. Her back was unreachable, given she was resting on it, and he wanted to give her some kind of comfort as she slept. Rubbing her back had always done the trick when they were younger, though this would work, too.
No, he thought. No one should feel as though they are alone in the world. And he would make sure Lin was never alone again.