Written as a request for an anonymous reviewer who left their name as Chen-Yue – I hope you see this! The prompts: "What would happen if Tenzin and Lin didn't just step over the line, but actually leaped across it. Do you think it or be purposeful, or accidental? How would everyone else react, and would Lin and Tenzin be prepared for the fallout?"
Honestly, in regard to the first part, I could see it going either way so this is just one take on it. But it went so well with Secret River Fan's request from a few days back that I wrote it as rather purposeful, and used Mulling Spices to almost lead up to this one (definitely not something you have to read first, though!) so they were written as vague companion pieces. As for the rest – I didn't quite get there, but if the inspiration hits for me to take this further or turn it into something more, I'll write another chapter for it without hesitation.
Also set after S4 and, as before, not placed on the loose "timeline" I may or may not have been creating/following. Reason and Mulling Spices are their own little world, I think.
Reason as Our Guide
"What're you reading?"
Tenzin rolled to his side in Lin's bed, gazing up at her face from the odd angle beside her. She didn't look at him, her eyes skimming over the words of the book propped against her bent knees. It was a long moment before she answered, the silence stretching between them like a physical thing that could be touched.
"A book," she finally murmured evasively, a smile just pulling at her lips before vanishing again.
"Well yes, I can see that," he agreed with a small chuckle. "What is it about?"
She glanced at him briefly, the words on the tip of her tongue to ask why he hadn't left yet, why he was still here with her as the clock ticked away later and later into the evening. They had finished their meal almost two hours ago when he had started stalling for time, finding smaller reasons to stay. She had decided after a while to come read and he had followed, curling up on the blankets next to her, his bright robes a stark contrast to the deep grey of her duvet.
"It's a mystery novel," she divulged, shaking her head slightly.
"A mystery? I'd think you would tire of those or solve them too quickly, after working on mysteries for your living."
"You still read all those silly books and scrolls on ancient Airbending masters," Lin pointed out, giving him another hint of a grin. "Though yes, I toss more of these mysteries aside out of boredom than I finish. Too easy to solve."
"I can only imagine." He scooted a bit closer, enough that he could rest his head on the edge of the pillow beside hers, and slid his arm over her waist. Heat from her skin radiated through the thin fabric of her shirt. The hem had risen with the movement across it and, after a moment of hesitation, he pushed it up enough to slip his fingers underneath, splayed fully across the curve of her side.
Though she made no response to the touch, the book slipped the slightest bit in her grasp and she subtly let it rest fully against her bent legs. "Tenzin," she whispered, her voice wavering only faintly, "you stayed last night. Shouldn't you – shouldn't you be heading home? We're wading a bit too far here."
"Tell me about your book," he implored, hearing what she said and choosing to ignore it for as long as he could.
She swallowed when he moved closer still, his chest and legs hitting her side firmly and not moving away. "My book?" she repeated. She glanced at him, their eyes meeting through the growing intensity of the moment. "It's about a young detective – typical – who stumbles upon his first big case in Ba Sing Se -"
His lips brushed her shoulder, cutting off her words. "Keep going," he urged, "I'm quite interested in what has your attention so caught."
"Caught," she laughed lightly. "I see."
"Mm, yes, 'caught'. Tell me." He raised his head for just a moment to grin at her, lowering again and kissing her shoulder once more, then a bit lower on the bend of her arm.
"He finds -" She paused, clearing her throat. "Finds a body in the Lower Ring. A rich merchant who was dealing in the black market with – with – Sprits, Tenzin, what are you doing?" He had brought his lips upward again, pressing his torso up on the flat of one arm – the one not still wrapped over her – and started kissing a slow line over her shoulder to her collar bone.
"Listening," he murmured against her, nipping gently. "Black market, you say?"
Lin took a shallow breath, the feeling of his lips against her skin searing into her belly. This wasn't fair – the situation as a whole and what he was doing to her, these light touches with so much emotion behind them but still not going where they both wanted. She lowered her book to the mattress beside her and purposefully shifted her shoulders, moving her chest lower on the pillows and causing his thumb, still pressed to her side, to brush just slightly against the underside of her breast. She had taken her bindings off hours ago, and he moved his thumb again to feel the warm flesh there for the first time in so many years. Clarity came back quickly, fighting through the fog.
"Tenzin – Tenzin, stop…we need to stop."
He did, heeding her breathless request and raising his head to meet her gaze, both clouded with longing. She reached up, running her fingers over the beard along his jaw before pressing her palm tight to his cheek to cup his face tenderly. "I can't do this anymore," she told him, feeling the words as harshly as he did.
"Can't…can't do what?" he asked, his expression falling into one of horrible loss. His hand against her clutched at her side impulsively, as if wanting to keep her there even when she made no movement to leave. "Lin…tell me you're only talking about this evening, right now. Please."
"Tenzin," she whispered, thumb gliding against the skin of his cheek. Her heart pumped painfully against her chest when she saw the tears gathering in the corners of his eyes, the lines recessing when he squeezed them closed. "Oh, Tenzin."
He opened his mouth to respond, but nothing was forthcoming and he merely shook his head.
"Do you remember that ancient Fire Nation proverb – something like "wanting is more pleasurable than having"? It's not true, Tenzin, not for us." She moved her hand to brush the pads of her fingers under his eye, preventing his tears from falling. "I want you. I want you in my life, as my friend and as – as my lover. Why else have I not kicked you out of here yet?" She paused to give him a small, almost encouraging, grin that he halfheartedly returned. "But we can't keep kidding ourselves that we're not going to cross that line, because 'wanting' will never be enough. Look at us right now, what we were just doing."
He was silent for several seconds, leaning into her touch as she placed her hand back to his cheek, before murmuring, "I know."
"I'm not going to be the woman who leads you to adultery, and I am not going to be the woman you have hidden away. Tenzin, look at me." Very slowly, he turned his eyes back to hers, and she stared at him intently. "I love you. Everything I just said aside…I still love you."
Those words had not been spoken aloud between them in over a decade, and his breath came out in a choked sigh. He lowered his forehead to hers, his body nearly covering hers now though neither made any attempt to move. The emotion was too thick, too raw around them, to focus on anything but the other person, alive and warm so close.
"And I love you," he whispered, the admission changing the tensions between them to something much more real than anything they had had in the last several months, before almost a dream. "So much, Lin, it pains me to be away from you at night when all I want is you beside me."
"Then I suppose a different line has already been crossed," she mused sadly. "Tenzin -"
"I'm through with lines," he interrupted her softly before she could continue with her thought. "I'm through with worrying about how often I can see you, about whether or not it is too soon, or if someone – my wife," he said with a slight edge to the word, "Pema – will grow suspicious. You're right, you are. Wanting is not enough."
Hearing the implication in where he was going, Lin wet her lips and blinked, heart racing now with apprehension. She drew his gaze again. "What are you -?"
"You, Lin, I want you." He turned his head a fraction, bringing their noses together. "I am going to make a selfish choice, perhaps only the second in my life. The first – the first was leaving you at all. The second will be coming back. Am I allowed those two transgressions along an otherwise spiritual path?"
She was at a loss for words, too touched to know where to begin. She stared at him and shook her head slowly, almost thinking she hadn't quite understood what he was saying to her. "I'm not…not asking you to leave her, Tenzin, I would never…"
His hand finally left her waist, coming to touch her face and then sliding back into her hair. "I know you're not asking this of me. But you are right, Lin," he told her, "I can't do this anymore, either – and the only way out I can see, is the one right here."
"Are you sure?" She cupped his cheeks with both hands, holding him against her. "Your family, your children…"
"We'll be all right, we all will. The lie was hurting us far more than the truth could."
Lin bit her lower lip and closed her eyes, imagining briefly what it would be like, having him as hers alone again. Not having to see him leave her for his public life in the morning, not having to sleep without him every night save those precious few. Being able to touch him without that shadow of guilt or shame. Loving him as hers, as the half of her soul that was just out of reach for far too long.
"Okay," she finally breathed, looking up at him again. Her entire body filled with weightless adrenaline at the very thought of those imaginings coming true, though also with the faint prospect of fear at the coming end of his marriage. "Don't hurt her too badly, Tenzin. That kind of pain cuts deep, losing the person who encompasses your world."
He nodded silently.
"I love you," she whispered so softly the words faded into the air between them.
Tenzin gave her a fleeting smile and she could feel his heart pounding just as heavily as hers was. Using the hands still covering his cheeks, she pulled him the slightest bit closer, enough to seal the small distance left between them, and pressed her lips to his. His hand clenched around her hair, deepening the kiss without hesitation. She drew away after only a moment, their eyes meeting.
"Go home now," she instructed tenderly, "and come back to me when what we have is no longer something to hide." She tugged him back for another lingering kiss, unable to resist now that the first had been shared. "I'll be here. Go."
He slowly began to extract his limbs from around hers, but paused to lean back in to kiss her again. Her hand wound up around the back of his head, the other bunching in the fabric of his robes, before gently pushing him away. "Tonight," he murmured, "as soon as I can find the right time, I will."
"I believe you."
She didn't move, instead watching silently as he brushed his hands over his clothes to settle any wrinkles that had gathered during the time he had spent lying beside her. He turned his head to look at her. Reality was settling in around them, startling and clear as they understood what was unfolding around this situation they had created.
She reached out her hand, covering his where it stopped to rest on the mattress beside his leg. "Are you truly sure, Tenzin?" she asked again, for both his benefit and for hers before doubt could creep in.
He smiled at her, a smile that reached his eyes. There was no hesitation, no second thoughts flitting though his gaze as he stared back at her. Only love and eagerness. He turned his hand over into hers, threading their fingers and bringing them to his lips.