Lin Beifong never wanted any children.
So, she didn't.
And for her, that was okay
Most of the time.
She was sitting in her office, writing up reports on the last gang bookings when he burst through the door, his long beard frazzled and that one vein on his forehead bulging from his anxiety.
"Thank goodness you're here!" he exclaimed. He pushed back his long robes to reveal his infant son. He rushed over and spun Lin around in her chair and quickly, but carefully, shoved the child into her hands.
Lin was momentarily stunned—and that didn't happen often. But never in her 50 plus years had Tenzin ever just…tossed his children at her. Literally. The baby instantly awoke and squirmed, obviously uncomfortable with the metal-clad arms that held him. Rohan looked at her with his wide eyes—his mother's eyes—and Lin saw a glistening gloss of tears as his bottom lip quivered.
"Tenzin!" She hissed. "What is the meaning of this?"
Tenzin wove his fingers together and shook them in a begging manner. "Please, just watch over him until this meeting is over. It was last minute and I said I'd watch him, but I don't have time to go back to the temple—" he stopped as he watched Lin fidget with the baby. He saw the discomfort, the absolute confusion in her expression, as she fumbled to figure out the best way to hold him.
"I'm sorry," he immediately apologized. He reached out for his son. "Let me just—I bet I can find Mako in time."
Lin started rocking the baby up and down—Rohan's eyes slowly closed and she felt his little body start to relax into her touch. Her mouth almost fell open in shock—almost. She noticed Tenzin's arm in the corner of her eye and she took one step back, cradling the child close to her chest.
"No," she suddenly barked. She coughed, noticing Tenzin's baffled look. "No, it's quite alright." she tried again, softly. "I'm perfectly capable of taking care of him," she said, more to herself. "Now go on—I'll be here when you get back." Lin looked back down and noticed the baby's head was buried beneath her bust, fast asleep.
She could practically feel Tenzin's goofy smile.
Lin didn't look up, instead choosing to play with the baby's small tuffs of hair as she rocked back and forth on her heels. Plus, she could feel her own heartbeat, the heat burning beneath her cheeks, and she'd be damned if she'd let Tenzin see her flustered like she got when they were young.
"Go,"she barked; he did, wordlessly.
As the door to her office closed she felt herself smile.
Lin stuffed her hands in her coat as they walked. She had just finished watching over Rohan—a habit she picked up in the last few weeks. Tenzin started coming by more often to drop Rohan off. Sometimes it was just him, but most often he was with Korra. The young Avatar would burst into her apartment like she owned it and start to dirty her kitchen as she tried to cook. Well, not as much as cook as bake sweets. And not as much bake as burn. Sometimes she brought along a deck of cards or books. Today she had bought her a Pai Sho set that they could play while Rohan slept.
All in all, Lin had been spending a lot of time with the Avatar.
A light autumn breeze blew through the park and Lin watched as leaves got caught in Korra's ponytail, unnoticed by her.
"So, you're training Bolin to be on the force?"
"Yes." Lin answered, wandering over to sit on a park bench, Korra hot on her tail. The Avatar sat with a heavy thud, throwing her head back to look at the canopy of leaves above them. The bench was under the largest tree in the park—it was bursting with colors. Some leaves were still green, others, bright yellow or dark red. Korra's eyes traced the spaces of light, trying to collect patterns.
"He said you were going to train him personally. Since when do you work at the academy?"
Lin regarded Korra, one slender brow pushed to her hairline. She watched as the young girl nibbled on her lips and more leaves fell from the tree, collecting in her hair and her lap. Finally, Lin reached over and gently tugged a red leaf that was dangerously close to brushing her cheek away. Korra sat up instantly and watched with quiet awe as Lin picked out a few more leaves. Lin made sure to yank at her ponytail playfully before she was done.
"Your friend is very talented. I intend to see that he masters in my mother's art form. After all, I'm the only one who knows all her secrets." A knowing smirk tugged at her lips.
Korra beamed. "That's great!" Another breeze blew, cold, and Lin saw the slight shiver that ran up Korra's spine.
"Why aren't you wearing a parka?" Lin snapped.
Korra snorted. "Um, because it's not even cold?" her words betrayed her as a gust blew this time, forcing her to clamp her teeth together to keep them from chattering.
Lin rolled her eyes. "Spirits, Korra," she reprimanded as she got up and untied the sashes of her coat. She shrugged it off and threw it at Korra, making sure it smacked her in the face before she took her seat again.
Korra sputtered, bunching the somewhat heavy coat in her hands. "Oh, it's not that bad, I don't—"
Lin held up her hand. "Don't give me that. You're shaking. You've got nothing but that measly tank top on," her eyes roamed over her, picking up the details she'd just bothered to notice; the slight rips up by the shoulder, the loose threads where the hem was coming undone—the color was faded almost white and she wondered if this girl had any other clothes.
But Korra didn't argue and slipped the coat on—the sleeves were way too long and the bottom brushed the back of her calves. But it was warm, she decided, so warm she was tempted to snuggle in the collar. "Thanks!" Korra chirped.
"Don't mention it, kid."
And it wasn't until Korra was back on the island, eating dinner with Tenzin and his family did she realize—
"Korra…is that Lin's jacket?"
—Lin never, not once, asked for it back.
For some reason, Lin felt herself having to squash hesitation before she picked up the phone and called. It rung three times before a song-like voice on the other end picked up.
"Sato Residence, Asami speaking."
"Miss Sato, this is Chief Beifong."
She waited for a response. She heard a bit of scuttling before, "What can I do for you, Lin?"
Lin stared at the mug shots on her desk. "We've apprehended your father."
This time, Lin heard the distinct sound of the phone hitting the ground. A few seconds later she finally replied, "…Good."
And then Asami hung up.
Lin wasn't sure what to do next. She hadn't gotten the chance to explain that, unfortunately, it was necessary for Asami to come down to the station. There was paperwork she needed to sign, confirmations to make, statements to look over. But Lin pushed the thought out of her head and decided to make the most of the situation. She began weeding through the paperwork, taking out a highlighter and highlighting the important parts in hope that Asami would get this done as fast as possible.
She was on the trial declarations when a faint knock sounded on her door. "Saikhan, I've already told you. I don't give two—"
"Sorry, Lin, I got here as fast as I could."
Lin stopped short as Asami shuffled in—her face was pale, void of makeup, and her hair was tied up in a neat bun. She sat in the seat across from her desk and reached for the papers in Lin's hand. It was a big pile, but Asami licked her index finger and began casually flipping through them, trying to get the gist of what was going on.
"So, do I read and sign these first or—"
"—wait, does this include company rights and homeowner-ship because I've already had a hard time—"
"Miss Sato, please."
"—with my lawyers because they say that since my mother died, things haven't been updated and I just—"
Lin waited for the same shade of pale green to look her in the eye. She must have been staring at the young girl more intently than she thought because she immediately looked away, flustered. Asami sighed and slapped the papers back on the desk.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, looking to the ground.
Lin simply nodded, rising from her chair. "Would you care to see him?" Lin asked.
Asami whipped her head up so fast her neck cracked. A few strands of hair fell out of her bun and came to frame her face. Lin noticed the fear, the sadness; the utter and complete frustration bundled up inside her. "Only if you want," Lin added.
Asami stared, her expression blank, before she nodded, slowly. They filed out of the office, Asami hot on her tail. When they reached the interrogation room, Lin stopped abruptly and Asami tripped, colliding into her back. Lin spun around and squinted at Asami.
"…Would you like me to accompany you?"
Asami peered past Lin, trying to see through the terribly small window of the door—she caught sight of her father's round-rim glasses. "…No, but thank you."
A bit reluctant, Lin opened the door and Asami went in.
The young woman shut it with a slam
Lin stood outside the door the entire time—she never budged. Their conversation was loud, heated, and the vibrations from their shouts tickled her feet. She didn't need her mother's ears to pick up some of the cries:
"…You've destroyed yourself!…"
"…I did what was right!…"
"…I hate what you've become!…"
"…I should have killed you when I had the chance!"
That was the last thing Lin heard before Asami burst through the door. She left it open, leaving two metalbenders to deal with Hiroshi. Asami stormed past her, sparing not a glance, not a word and headed straight for the door to the station.
Lin felt teardrops hit the metal floor as she walked.
The chief suddenly found herself following the young woman—Asami had stopped right outside, two steps from the street. Her eyes kept following the trail of honking Satomobiles that flew past the busy street. Lin could feel Asami's heartbeat go wild in her ribcage. Her feet kept twitching, as if trying to step in to the street, but she seemed to stop herself every time.
Lin knew what it felt like to be alone—albeit, she wasn't entirely familiar with the feeling of her parents hating her—but she knew the feeling of abandonment. It had happened, long ago, and she watched as the love her life leave her, because while he promised her he still loved her, they just couldn't work.
Lin knew what it was like to love someone but…it just couldn't work.
The young girl whipped around, surprised. She wiped away her tears. "Lin? Oh, goodness, I'm sorry, I—"
"Do you know Korra's size?
Asami stared at her, baffled, before her lips twitched into a shaky smile. "Yeah?
"Good. Come with me."
It was weird. Lin had never been down the fashion district in Republic City before, but as soon as Asami pulled up, she could tell the young woman was right at home. Asami dragged her to her favorite store, a small boutique right on the corner. It was quiet, with no one in it with the exception of the owner. There was a corner of just fabrics, where you could buy all kinds to sew your own clothes. Asami marveled in the new seasons new shades of red before she finally dragged Lin to the other side so they could pick something out for Korra.
"This was a good idea—I needed a fun distraction." She eyed Lin. "What exactly did Korra say she needed?
Lin busied herself by looking through a rack of blouses, completely unsure of what to do. She pulled one out: puffy and frilly, and quickly shoved it back, making sure to hide it so no one else would think to buy something so heinous. "I've noticed her wardrobe is…lacking. Many of her things are tired and worn." She snorted. "If she keeps wearing that tank top, the threads are going to unravel completely one of these days."
Asami laughed: a great booming laugh that had the shopkeeper looking over fondly. "I can't tell you how many times I've told her that! I've tried buying her stuff several timesbefore, but she never came with me." She picked up a dress and examined it closely. "Now that she knows it was your idea, there's no way she'd reject them."
They continued looking around, Asami picking out things for the approaching winter and Lin just pretending she knew what she was doing. Eventually, she stumbled upon a dress: It was made of some soft material, and judging by the price, she guessed it was quality. It was a deep emerald green with faint patterns of flowers stitched in gold up the sides.
It wasn't exactly Korra's style, but Lin figured it would look good on Asami.
"Here," she said bluntly, shoving the garment under Asami's nose. "Try this on."
Asami beamed. "I think I will. Nice pick."
As she sauntered into the dressing room in the back, Lin took note of the large pile of clothes Asami had already saved for Korra on a chair by the register. Reaching into her coat pocket, she walked over and slapped some money on the counter.
"This should cover everything in that pile—including the dress that young lady is trying on right now."
The owner sifted through the wad of cash. "Such a sweet thing to do for your daughter, ma'am."
Lin's eyes widened and she coughed into her hands. "Ah, well…I better get going."
Moments later, Asami came out twirling in the dress. "Damn, Lin, you've got taste! I mean, I love how—Lin?"
The store was empty.
"Your mother just left, sweetheart. But don't worry—she already paid for everything. Including that dress!" The owner squealed, prancing over. "She knows you well, doesn't she?"
But Asami was too lost in shock to register the compliment. "Wait, she paid for?…but she's not my mo—"
She stopped herself, laughing.
"Yeah, I guess she knows me pretty well after all."
"You got to keep the ice on, to keep the swelling down," Lin told him softly, handing him the small icepack. He gave a faint nod and covered his right eye. He was slow with his movements, and as she watched carefully, she noticed the shaking of his hands, how he gripped the hospital sheets until his knuckles were white. She leaned forward in the chair.
"…Are you taking any pain medication at all?"
His response was slow as he bit his lip and shook his head. The kid only had one eye now, and he kept it closed, tight. Lin sighed and reached over to the IV and saw where he had pulled it out.
"Spirits, kid," she grumbled, hooking it back in. She slapped his hand a little harshly when he tried to pull it back out again. "You don't have to be so brave—you just lost your eye. That's got to hurt."
Lin picked up on the soft shrug of his shoulder. "If there's anything you taught me, it's that I'm strong enough to push through pain."
Lin sighed again. "And if there's anything youtaught me,it's that I've grown into the same stubborn ass my mother was." She felt her own anxiety lesson when his grip on the sheets got looser and looser. "You are strong—you kept fighting even after that knife went in your eye."
Bolin frowned. "Did you get him?"
"What do you think?"
His frown instantly turned into a faint grin. "I hope you made him hurt."
Lin sneered, leaning back in her chair. "Not enough—but Saikhan had to pull me off before I could beat him any more."
He sighed, somewhat contently—she suspected the pain meds were at work. "Ah, you're better than that scum anyway, Linnykins."
She let the nickname slide—there was no sense in beating him up at the moment. "I know."
"Thanks for teaching me, for making me your apprentice. It looks like that seismic sense is going to be even more handy these days."
Lin grimaced. "You still have your other eye," she reminded him. "You'll be surprised how well you'll adapt." Lin was reminded of how her mother had better senses of everything to replace her sight. Better hearing, better smelling, better taste. Lin imagined that his other eye would only get stronger, sharper.
Bolin chuckled, and she heard the sleepiness in his laugh. "Now I see why this was so important to Toph."
Lin sucked in a breath and breathed it out slowly. "You aren't like my mother."
"Well, not yet—I got one more eye to go." he snickered. He finally opened his eye, bloodshot and tired, and looked over at Lin. For the first time since he joined the police force he saw worry in the lines of her forehead and the wrinkles around her eyes. "I'm…fine," he yawned. His eye twitched, fluttering closed.
She watched as his breathing steadied, his fingers relaxed. The pain medication was wiping him out. The room was silent, save for a few chirping birds heard outside his open window and the heart monitor that reminded her that his job didn't kill him,he was still alive.
But it didn't make that sinking feeling go away.
Lin didn't like how scared she was when she found out he was in here.
"I'm so sorry, kid," she whispered. He was her student, her apprentice, and her right hand man. Other people had been injured on the job—a few missing fingers and hands, dozens of scars. There were head injuries that wiped out memories and of course, there were head injuries that left people sleeping for an eternity.
She was good at being strong, and pushing forward. But this time, not so much.
When she thought him asleep she stood slowly from the chair. She leaned down, and gently moved his hair aside and pressed a light kiss to his forehead. She collected her things and headed for the door when she heard it, faint and fleeting.
Bolin was released a few days later under Mako's care. Lin kept calling, trying to check up on them, but there was never an answer to the phone. Fed up with not having the control she was so used to, she dug up their address—they had moved back into that ratty attic apartment. She marched over there and barged in, not even bothering to knock.
It was late when she found Mako standing in a small kitchenette in the corner of the room. She instantly felt his posture tense, ready to defend himself, but he slowly relaxed.
"What are you doing here?" he groaned, and she heard the weariness in his voice she walked over. Her hands glided over the counter tops—dusty. She wiped the grime on her coat and huffed.
"Just checking up." Her nose wrinkled and she peered inside the pot. "What are you cooking?"
"Are you sure?" Lin sniffed. "Doesn't smell like it."
Mako gritted his teeth. "Yes, I'm sure. Just because we don't have real money for real food doesn't mean I can't cook."
Lin shifted her weight, her hands on her hips. She didn't appear fazed. Mako groaned, rubbing his hands over his face.
"I'm so sorry," he breathed. "It's just I had a double shift and the power plant today and Bolin is still healing and he had another bleed, It's normal, the doctor said, but I had to wrap new bandages and now I have to cook and It's just late and—"
Lin rolled her eyes. "Don't sweat it. Just sit," she demanded, pointing to the couch.
She gripped him by the shoulders and walked him to the sofa. "Sit. Lay. Sleep. I'll take care of it."
"No buts."Her hands went back to her hips. "You're a mess; you've ruined that stew. So just sleep, alright?"
Lin wandered to the kitchen again. She sniffed the stew and fought a grimace. She opened up several cabinets and pulled out all the spices she could find before she began attacking the soup, trying to give it some flavor. Thirty minutes later, the stew was ready, Bolin was fed and when she went to tell Mako that she had everything under control, all she heard was his loud snoring.
So Lin took the blanket on the back of the couch, drapped it over him, and tucked him in. She checked to make sure the stove was off before she turned off the lights and went home.
Two weeks after Bolin was released from the hospital, she was invited to dinner at Air Temple Island. It was loud and rambunctious. As she walked up the steps to the training area, she saw Korra on the ground, Ikki in a headlock and Meelo gnawing on the Avatar's ear. Jinora was in he corner playing a game of Pai Sho, and Mako sat on Bolin's right, pointing out moves to help Jinora cheat, obviously thinking he was in Bolin's new blind spot. However, his brother was well aware of the sabotage and just as Lin had managed to get past the rowdy bunch of airbenders, Bolin turned around and tackled his brother to the ground, upsetting the board and sending pieced flying everywhere.
Lin leaned down and whispered in Jinora's ear. "Next time, try playing Four Nations—he's terrible at the one. You won't have to cheat."
"I heard that!"
Dinner was just as loud. There was laughter and shouting and Lin couldn't help but snicker at each and every embarrassing story about Tenzin that Korra or Pema would whisper in her ear. The food was great, the company even better and Lin almost forgot what being alone was like.
She was adding a second helping of fruit when it happened.
Bolin was sitting beside her, constantly bumping into Lin's shoulder when Ikki would try to swipe at his food. He laughed every time, but when he eyed the papaya in the bowl he pointed and exclaimed:
"Oohh, pass the fruit, Mom!"
The entire room went dead quiet.
Lin suddenly noticed every set of eyes on her. Tenzin's fork clattered into his plate and the food that Meelo and Korra were smearing on each other's faces dripped slowly as their mouths gaped wide. Lin braced herself and looked at Bolin: His cheeks were bright red with embarrassment and he tried not to look her in the eye.
That's when his brother reached across the table and took the bowl from her hands. "Nah, that's alright I got it. Thanks, mom."
Lin just stared.
The room burst into laughter—-most of it Korra's. Lin whipped her head over to Korra and tried to glare, but the cheeky avatar just threw her a twisted smile and a glittering wink.
"I'm just teasing, Mom!" she exclaimed.
From beside Tenzin, Asami waved her spoon in mock disapproval at Korra. "Hey. Don't go and tease my mother."
"But it's fun!"
Things went back to normal after that. And Lin, for the life of her, couldn't understand why.
They finished dinner and not once did she bother to correct them.
"She's beautiful," Lin told Korra.
Korra bounced her newborn daughter in her arms as she slept. "Yeah, I know," she whispered.
Mako came over with a tray of tea—he handed a cup to Lin. "Thanks for coming over."
Lin nodded, taking a sip—his cooking skills had improved. "Of course—but what was so urgent that I had to come all the way from Gaoling?" She smirked. "Not that I minded the interruption."
Mako shrugged. "We just thought our daughter should meet her namesake as soon as possible."
Lin sputtered on her tea. "What.
Korra laughed. "Lin, meet your goddaughter—Lin!" She held the baby out towards her. "Wanna hold her?" she asked softly.
Lin wordlessly accepted the offer. She rocked the baby back in forth. Eventually, the baby recognized she was out of her mother's hold and opened her eyes—bright and amber, the same color as her father's.
"Hey, Lin," she whispered to the baby. "I'm your godmother." The words rolled off her tongue and left a funny taste in her mouth, but she found she didn't mind all too much
Korra leaned over and squeezed her shoulder. "Since when did you become such a softie?"
Lin sighed. "You all are completely and utterly to blame." She deadpanned, sending the new parents into a fit of giggles.
"Good!" Korra exclaimed.
Good, Lin thought. Good indeed.
Lin Beifong never wanted children.
But she ended up getting them anyway.