How Lin has convinced him to drink sake at Uncle Sokka's house while they're supposed to be baby-sitting his grandkid, Tenzin will never know. Why Sokka even considered leaving Lin in charge was beyond his comprehension, but maybe it was a she's-harder-than-you'll-ever-be-Tenzin-you-are-way-too-gentle-Tsuki-can-kick-your-ass-and-she's-a-year-old.
"You've never had sake before?" Rena asks. She looks just like Aunt Suki, the only indication that she is Sokka's child being the dark coloring of her skin.
Tenzin bristles. "I'm not old enough."
Lin laughs. "Goody-two-shoes here is too scared of his mom."
Tenzin lowers his voice. "Have you seen her? She's damn-well frightening!"
Lin rolls her pale green eyes, waving his concern away with a big, calloused hand. As if on cue, Rena reveals a sake bottle from behind her, opening it to take a large swig. She sputters delicately, smearing her red lipstick on the back of her hand, before handing the bottle to Lin.
Tenzin considers snatching the dusty bottle right out of her hands, but he knows what it's like to be on the receiving end of Lin's fist. So instead, he watches with mild horror as she takes her own gulp of the bitter liquid and doesn't even shudder.
"Your turn," she motions.
"Because it's good for social situations."
He takes the bottle but glares at her over the rim. "This feels more like peer pressure."
Rena pushes the bottle towards his mouth. "Come on."
"Your father will kill me," Tenzin argues, but he's already lifting the bottle to his mouth.
Rena pushes her short hair over her shoulder. "No he won't. Auntie will do that herself."
It takes two sake bottles for Lin to flush red all the way to the roots of her hair. It takes Rena and Tenzin far less than that, and soon the three are sprawled over the table.
Tenzin feels a hand crawl over his ribs and prod him painfully in the stomach, where alcohol is swimming and possibly eroding his insides. He turns to look at Lin, who is watching him fiercely.
"Do you think they ever felt this way?" she asks.
There's a painful headache pounding away at his skull as he tries to focus on Lin's eyes. He wishes he could have met her father. He wonders if he'd know who the man is just by the eyes. "What're you talking about?"
"Our parents." She's never been really good at explaining things. "Traveling the world, saving it—do you think they ever felt this way? Carefree?" Her next prod is gentle, more a scratch against his clothes than anything else. "Alive?"
Tenzin frowns. "They were fighting a terrible man."
She nods. "Aang says he knew he and your mother were always meant to be."
He shifts for a better angle to observe her and the way her hair has fallen out of its fierce bun, the way her eyes appear softer with the blur of alcohol. He's always thought she was pretty, in the hard, jagged way that being an earthbending master must be.
"I guess it comes with being the Avatar," Lin continues. "Knowing your soul mate. Sometimes, I wish Toph had known."
Tenzin reaches to place a hand on her shoulder, to caress her cheek, but he keeps his arm firmly at his side. "If she hadn't met your father, you wouldn't be here."
She shrugs noncommittally, as if she's never really thought about that. "I just don't want to end up like her."
He doesn't really know why he does it, but he tucks a lock of her hair behind her ear. "You won't. I promise."
"REALLY? MY GOOD SAKE? NOT EVEN THE ONE AANG SPIKED WITH CACTUS JUICE?"
Rena shoots up and pulls the two up with magnificent strength. "Dad's home. Let's go hide."
They shouldn't be doing this. Tenzin thinks it's a terrible idea, like most of Lin's ideas usually are, but he thinks this one is especially horrible.
"A date?" he echoes. He gulps nervously when she turns her eyes on him. She's rimmed them in black kohl and her lips are a darker shade of pink than he's used to.
Dammit, Rena, he thinks. She's the only one Lin would probably approach about makeup and he'd been stupid enough to tell his cousin he may or may not have a terrible, wonderfully torturous crush on the metalbending genius's daughter.
She scowls. Her fingers pull at the dress she wears, trying to get it to reach the bottom of her feet but it's only long enough to cover her past her knees. She is obviously uncomfortable and it makes her prettier, not that he'll tell her that.
"Fine then," she says. "Don't go out with me. I don't care either way."
"Lin," he tries, reaching for her.
She ignores him, flipping her hair over her shoulders. "I'm going to go train."
He grabs her wrist and forces her to turn around and face him. "In a dress?"
She smirks and gives him a once over that is not at all appraising and is all harsh judgment. "You do it well enough."
He sucks his teeth and crosses his arms. "I'll have you know that this is a traditional robe that Air Nomads used to—"
He stops speaking when Lin's mouth is on his and her arms wrap around his neck. He thinks that maybe their first kiss should be a lot softer and with a lot less teeth, but he likes it just the same. Any other way, and it wouldn't be Lin.
"Se—babies are a lot of—when people love each other—monks are celibate, you know," Aang explains.
Kya is giggling behind her hand and Bumi is sitting cross-legged on the ground, mouth open in shock.
Tenzin has never felt so uncomfortable in his life, which is saying a lot, because he's the son of Avatar Aang, who despite being nearly fifty-years-old is still a child. Throw in Kya, who likes to blame everything on him, and Bumi, who likes to blame everything on Kya, and Tenzin doesn't know how he's managed to survive all these years.
"Alright Dad, you're going to need to sit this one out," Bumi interrupts. He turns to Tenzin and says, "Sex is great if you use a condom—"
"GO AWAY, BUMI, I DO NOT WANT TO HAVE THIS CONVERSATION WITH YOU—" Tenzin begins.
"Katara, Bumi is ruining our baby's innocence!" Aang calls desperately.
"He isn't a baby," Kya declares. "He's eighteen."
"I can take you to this one place in town," Bumi says, wiggling an eyebrow suggestively.
Aang nearly faints. Katara appears with a spoon and a container of water. Kya disappears claiming she needs to return home to her husband.
Tenzin is left sitting uncomfortably in the middle of the commotion before sneaking off to Lin, who he finds sitting in the gardens of her home.
"What're you doing here?" she asks when she hears him. She doesn't seem surprised as he walks towards her; she is merely entertained, a small smile playing on her lips at the sight of him. "Isn't it family game night at your place?"
"I told my father about us."
She looks at him carefully and then laughs. "Oh no, he tried to give you the talk, didn't he?"
"It was horrifying," he admits, taking a seat beside her on the bench. She slaps his thigh as her laughs become louder. "Bumi tried to get me to join him on a night on the town."
She grimaces. "Toph's told me she's had to arrest him three times for indecent exposure."
He groans and rubs his temples. "I mean it's not like we're even thinking about it, you know?"
He doesn't get a sound of assent, so he looks to his left, finding Lin's eyes narrowed.
"You haven't?" It isn't accusing. It's a simple question.
Tenzin feels a blush work its way up his neck. "I mean—well… We're so young."
"Aang was eighteen when Kya was born."
He scratches his arm. "They're different."
"Soul mates?" she asks, and her voice is so soft he isn't sure he's heard right. "You don't think we're soul mates?"
"That's not it."
She nods. Her hands are gathered in her lap. On any other woman, he'd think they would be too big, but they fit Lin perfectly. He's held them so many times he can't imagine hands being soft and gentle. There is so much strength in her fingertips that he feels weak when she tells him that his hands are as soft as a cloud.
He takes one. "I've thought of us for a long while now," he admits, blushing again. "No one else understands me the way you do."
She stands suddenly but he's still holding on. She licks her lips. "I know you're a scaredy-cat but—I want to spend the rest of my life with you."
He places his hand on her right cheek. The skin is pale and smooth beneath his fingers, the soft glow of the garden lamps illuminating her. "I think I've always wanted to spend the rest of my life with you."
Somehow, they manage to get to her room undetected. Like their first kiss, he wishes their first time were gentler. But Lin isn't having any of that, and as they lay together, his eyes counting the various holes in the ceiling that Lin has put there with her metalbending practice, he knows that there's time for gentleness later.
They are fighting again. Tenzin hates it because it's neither of their faults. They have different goals, different priorities. She wants to avenge her mother. He wants peace.
"Leave me alone!" she yells, pushing him away from her. He lands in a flurry of dirt on the steps of the Air Temple, his hands scratching against the gravel. Lin doesn't even help him up; she looms over him, the two scars on her cheek still the bright pink of healing.
Then, she turns on her heel and begins walking straight to the edge of the water, as if she has every intention to simply swim back to Republic City.
He stands and flies to land in front of her. She halts, seething, her hands balling into angry fists.
"Calm down," he pleads.
Her voice is unlike he's ever heard it. She's twenty-one but she seems far older as she glares. "Move aside."
"She's dead." Her voice is flat, void of any emotion. "Toph is dead because she was caught off guard by a man holding a bolt of electricity."
"She was trying to protect you." Instinctively, he wants to trace the scars along her cheek with the pad of his fingers, but he keeps still. "The police have him," he argues. He's afraid to get closer. She's radiating so much anger he doubts she'd feel bad about unleashing it on him. "He'll be on trial—"
She shakes her head. "She will still be dead."
"Lin—" He finally does reach for her because he feels that he's losing her to something dark and unyielding, something terrible that's writhing somewhere deep inside of her.
Something snaps when his fingers curl around her surprisingly small wrist. Her knees give beneath her and she falls to the ground. Tenzin follows her, gathering her in his arms, her body shaking.
"It isn't even Yakone—it would have been better if it were him. But it was just some… some… non-bender, he got her so easily—"
He doesn't say anything. He wraps his arms tighter around her as tears begin to soak his shoulder.
"I never told her—" she heaves one great sob and becomes incapable of continuing.
He knows. He knows what she's never said. She's never said it to him, either, and he doesn't blame her, doesn't think it's a problem. But now he knows that it's a problem for her.
They sit on the dusty ground of Air Temple Island until the sun disappears behind the sprawling buildings of Republic City.
Tenzin bursts into the Beifong mansion with very little regard for the classic Earth Kingdom doors and the metalbending police stationed outside. He knocks them over effortlessly as he strides to Lin's bedroom and blasts open the door.
"You should have knocked," she greets, bored.
"You should have told me!" he booms. He's never felt so angry in his life. Not at his silly father, not at his embarrassing mother, not even at his siblings or Yakone or the Triple Threat Triads. He feels it roiling in his veins and he ignores his father's voice in the back of his head, telling him to breathe.
"It was none of your concern," she says simply.
He wants to shake her. She sits in bed, her dark hair spilling over her shoulders, as straight as her back. She is startlingly pale, and her lips are almost purple. Lin has never been weak, but for that moment, she looks as if she could fall apart.
"It was my child," he says slowly, untrusting of his own voice. He wants to break everything in sight. He wants to break the windows, break the walls—and for a split second, he almost wants to break her. It terrifies him enough to take a steadying breath.
She curls her lips in a sneer. "No, it was mine."
He has no grasp of anything other than his feelings, which rage inside him like a storm. "How dare you—"
"I can't conceive!" she yells at him. Her eyes are bright with tears but none fall. "I didn't even know I was pregnant until I was in the hospital and it was already dead!"
Suddenly, he understands. He should know Lin doesn't do things without thinking them through.
Lin turns her face away from him. Guilt settles on his shoulders like the weight of the world, and he nears her with apprehension. He'd hate him, too, if he was Lin.
"I'm sorry." He sits on the edge of the bed but she doesn't move, doesn't acknowledge him. When he reaches for her hand, she pulls away.
"Don't apologize." Her hand absentmindedly travels to rest on her belly. "It was not my fate to become a mother."
He doesn't know what to say, because he's sure it's his fate to become a father.
The distance between them is nearly unbearable. They are only standing three inches apart, glaring down their noses at the other, and yet Tenzin swears there is an ocean, perhaps even an entire world, separating them.
"Marry me," he demands once again. He doesn't even know why he bothers arguing with her, why he's fighting. If she doesn't want to get married, he should forget it and thank his lucky stars.
She scoffs in his face. They are thirty-years-old and sometimes he's convinced she's still seventeen. But she's not the same girl he fell in love with. He still loves her, but it's different, now.
"Who do you think I am?" she asks him. "You're only asking because you think it's what you're supposed to do, not because you want to."
He's surprised to find that she's right. Yes, he wants to wake up to her every morning, but sometimes he thinks he can do without. But they've been together for so long, nearly half of their life.
She watches him, her eyes searching, and then she laughs bitterly. "I'm going home," she declares.
He does not stop her.
A young woman shuffles to him awkwardly. Her brown eyes are kind as she offers him a moon peach. Her hands are soft when they accidentally graze his.
"She's tough," she says admiringly, staring after where Lin has already faded away.
He recognizes her as Pema, one of the newest Air Acolytes.
He nods in agreement and bites into the fruit. It is sweet, the juice filling his mouth. Bitterly, he compares the fruit to the object of his affections—nothing alike, he deduces.
"Stubborn, headstrong, and irritating," he declares. And then, softer, "But yes—tough."
Pema nods and steps away from him. "Have a good evening." Then, she's gone.
He smiles, biting into the fruit again.
The more time he spends with Pema, the more he notices that she is unlike Lin in almost every way—while Pema is soft and gentle, Lin is abrasive and curt. Pema likes to smile a lot—she has a lovely smile, so lovely Tenzin finds himself smiling back every time it is bestowed upon him—but Lin's mouth is almost always set in a permanent frown.
Lin confronts him about the girl. He calls Pema a girl because she's fifteen years younger than him.
"Do you like her?" Lin asks.
"Can't we ever have a nice dinner?"
She stabs chopsticks into the plate of lettuce between them. "Can't we ever have meat?"
He scowls at her. She scowls right back.
"Do you like her?" she repeats.
"She's a child."
Lin does not back down. "Do. You. Like. Her?"
"I love you," he says.
She stops. He's never said it before. For good reason, he supposes, because the woman in front of him has practically stopped breathing. Her hands are shaking and she is glaring at him so intensely, he wonders perhaps if she's somehow tapped into the Avatar's powers because he feels he's about to burst into flames.
She takes her chopsticks and begins to fill his plate, like she always does. He sighs, relieved the storm is over, and then she speaks.
"But you're not in love with me," she notes.
He does not refute her.
Lin gives her a curt nod. "Pema."
Pema stares guiltily at the ground and then, "Lin, I'm so sorry—"
But Lin won't hear any of it. She raises a flexed hand. "Are you? Are you actually sorry?"
Tenzin clenches his hands behind his back. Pema's eyes darken. Lin is as unyielding as ever.
"No," Pema says softly. "I'm not."
Lin breathes heavily, her nostrils flaring. She grinds her teeth and turns on her heels. Tenzin can't help but think that despite how hard she appears she is one of the most beautiful women he has ever met. He regrets not loving her more and wonders if the universe works in certain ways, if fate has truly etched a path for him, and if it must be this path he must travel.
He wants to go after Lin, assure her that he loves her. But he would end up hurting her because he would be lying.
Pema edges near him. "Are you alright?"
He shrugs. "I feel I have hurt her too much to be forgiven."
"It isn't your fault," Pema assures.
He sighs. Pema is lovely, kind-hearted, soft. She is everything Lin is not. He loves her very much, had loved her for a long time even if he hadn't exactly realized it. But she is still young. She knows nothing about what hate could do to a person.
She places a small, gentle hand on his arm, her touch warm even through his clothing. "It isn't your fault," she repeats.
He places his hand over hers, keeping her in place. "Perhaps not. Or perhaps it is. I could have tried harder. We grew apart—but I could have tried to repair us. You're young… you don't know what it means to believe you've found the person you're going to spend the rest of your life with and find you're slowly growing apart and there's little you can do about it."
She pulls away, insulted, but he tightens his hold on her. "Don't misunderstand me," he says. "I love you—but I loved her, too. I grew up thinking I would grow old with her… and I grew up to know I was wrong. It's hard for us."
Pema nods. He knows she understands—she is the kind of person who understands more than she should. When she removes her hand from his, it is not out of hatred, but out of respect.
"I'll wait," she tells him. She bows her head to excuse herself and he watches her go.
At the engagement party, his father takes him aside. His father still appears young, but Tenzin has a sinking feeling he won't be around for long. But the cycle of life must continue, so he, his siblings, and his mother do not say a word.
"Have you talked to Lin?" Aang asks seriously.
Tenzin shakes his head. It has been six months since they last spoke. Not that he blames her—he doesn't think he'd talk to her if she decided to break up with him for another man.
"You should," his father says. "You grew up together."
He knows he should listen, but he simply turns away. "Perhaps one day."
Aang nods. "I'm going to go see her. Would you like to come?"
"I don't think that's a good idea."
"Probably not. Do you want me to say anything to her?"
His father leaves. Pema finds him and asks him what's wrong. She's seventeen and he knows her parents are slightly furious with her choice of partner, but he feels something with her he never had with Lin. He lets her lead him back to where their families are gathered. Bumi slaps him on the shoulder but Kya and Rena are sitting away from the gathering, glaring daggers at him.
They have every right to. He is an awful person.
An hour later, he stands and tells Pema he'll be right back. She doesn't question him, nodding for him to go ahead. Kya grabs the lapels of his shirt and warns him, "You will only hurt her more," but he doesn't care.
He reaches the Beifong mansion in minutes. He tiptoes his way around the grounds, careful to keep away from the guards. He hears murmurs near the gardens and almost stumbles onto Lin and his father, sitting across from each other, a game of go between them.
"Want to see something?" Aang asks.
Lin says tiredly, "Of course."
Aang produces a marble and sends it spinning in a small circle above his palm. Lin stares at it for a long time before she bursts into a fit of laughter that just as quickly turns into sobs.
Tenzin watches guiltily as his father allows the woman to rest her head on his shoulder. The Avatar says, "I am so sorry, Lin."
She is inconsolable. Her cries make Tenzin's heart flip in the worst way, and he leaves quickly, letting the air carry him home.
He goes to Toph Beifong's grave an hour before the wedding ceremony. She is buried on the outskirts of town, in a plain surrounded by trees. Lin had chosen the spot because she had memories of her mother being happy there. He's never visited without Lin and he doesn't think it's fair of him to be there now.
He stops, however, when he recognizes another figure kneeling by the grave. His father lights incense and clasps his hands together in greeting.
"I didn't protect you," Aang begins. "And I couldn't protect your daughter. I am a horrible Avatar. I am a horrible friend."
Tenzin breathes. There are tears in his father's voice and he feels the familiar prickle in his own eyes.
"I'm sorry for your loss."
He turns to see Lin looking down at the late Avatar's body. The man had spent too long in the iceberg. One hundred years of suspended animation took its toll even on the most powerful mortal in the world.
"He was a good man," she says.
"Unlike me," he finishes for her.
She doesn't say anything. She places the tips of her fingers against her lips in salute to a man Tenzin still doesn't believe is truly dead.
When he looks for her, she is already gone.
He storms his way into her office. She sits at her desk, files of reports littered on the surface. She rolls her eyes at him and leans back, her chair standing only on its hind legs.
"I know what you're here for," she starts, interrupting him just as he opens his mouth to speak. "And I'm not stupid."
He straightens and clears his throat, pulling his cape tighter across his body. "He is not Yakone."
"No," she agrees. "Yakone is dead."
"And it isn't the man—"
She lifts her hand. "No. I killed him myself, remember?"
He nods. "I know you're still angry about him, about what he did to your mother, but do not let that anger control you. Do not let revenge take over."
Lin is still beautiful. Even at fifty. She is as graceful as she was in her prime—Agni, she probably still is in her prime.
She waves his concerns away just like she did when they were young. "If I let revenge control me, I would have arrested Pema."
He tries to keep his face serious, but a smile tugs at the corner of his lips. "It is good to see you, Lin."
She does not smile. She is all business again. "I would say the same to you, but then I'd be lying."
He deserves that. He turns to go but stops at the sound of her voice.
"How far along is she?"
Tenzin turns slowly. Lin does not betray any emotion. Still, the guilt claws at him with sharp talons. "Four months."
"Pregnancy suits her," Lin observes.
He doesn't know how to answer.
"Better than it would suit me," she finishes.
He bows his head and excuses himself.
AN: I am such a sucker for lost and unrequited love. So I had to write about Lin and Tenzin.