Disclaimer: I don't own Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Legend of Korra, their concepts, or their characters. No money is being made out of this.
"But I'm not tired!"
Zuko sighs. I can't believe this, he thinks as he throws another glance at the silent females sitting by the huge doors, their faces carefully neutral.
"Everyone else is asleep. Even the older kids. Even Tenzin," he adds, a little desperately. Lin looks at the door leading to the master bedroom, which the children are sharing for the night. Then, she glances at Katara. Zuko sees her give Lin a soft, reassuring smile. But the girl's face darkens and Zuko knows he's lost again.
"But I'm not tired right now!"
He can feel himself crumble. "Fine. What can we do to make you tired, then?" He sees Katara and Mai shaking their heads at him from the corner of his eyes, but he can't make himself look at them. Damn it.
A huge grin forms on Lin's face. "I could ride on your back!"
"We've already done that today."
"That'll only make me tired!"
Lin giggles, and he can't help but smile back. "We could spar!" she suggests.
Zuko sighs again, regretting the day he ever introduced the idea of 'sparring' with Lin. It basically consists of him letting her throw rocks at him while occasionally making pretty sparks for her amusement. "Too noisy. We'd wake up the other kids. Which we can't," he adds when her eyes widen excitedly at the idea. "Besides, I told you we can't leave these quarters."
Lin looks down, hopping from foot to foot as if on imaginary stepping stones. Zuko can feel himself start to panic as awkwardness descends between them. "How about we read a story together?" he suggests.
"Really?" he blurts out before he can help himself, glancing at the women again. He is so relieved he doesn't even mind Mai's smirk or Katara's open smile at his expense. He clears his throat. "Hand me a scroll from the bottom shelf," he directs as Lin jogs across the sitting room to obey him.
By the time they reach the end of the scroll, Lin is drowsy but insistently awake on his lap. She protests as he attempts to move her to the couch. Sighing, he stands and picks her up instead.
Mai clears her throat. "I wonder if they're done with the trial. Someone should have sent word by now."
"I'm sure everything's going fine," Katara replies, and her voice betrays some nervousness. She's not really as sure as she says she is. The thought makes Zuko anxious, and he's glad the children are safe with them in the Republic City palace. He squeezes Lin a bit more tightly as he sways, trying to tempt her into sleep. She raises a hand and touches the good side of his face, her fingers light as feathers.
"Uncle Zuko, you're pretty."
Katara's spluttering laugh only reddens his cheeks further. "I'm not pretty," he protests, but Lin giggles and he's already half-smiling in spite of himself.
He points at Katara and tries for a menacing glare. It earns him more laughter. "What is that supposed to mean?" she manages to ask.
"It means he'll get you for that," Mai drawls, and snorts as Katara laughs harder.
Zuko shifts Lin to his left hip. "There. Not pretty anymore!"
Lin's small hand covers his scar. "Still pretty." She shrieks as he pretends to bite her hand, and he shushes her at Katara's suddenly stern look. Lin lays her head back on his shoulder. Within minutes her breathing slows down with sleep.
He looks up at a soft knock on the door. Suki walks in, fully dressed in her Kyoshi warrior outfit, when Katara opens the door. "It's over," she starts quietly. "There were some… complications. Everyone's fine," she adds hastily at Katara's gasp, "but you guys should probably come. Toph is asking for you," she finishes, looking at Katara.
Zuko glances at Lin.
"I'll stay with the kids," Mai says. He shoots her a grateful smile as she removes the sleeping girl from his arms and heads towards the bedroom.
Suki and Katara are already on their way; he closes the door behind him and jogs to catch up.
A/N: So my headcanon is that Lin has no father, so Zuko, Sokka, and Aang are all father figures to her. Also that Katara and Zuko are BFFs, because I'll take what I can get, to be honest.