Lin sat up in a flash. The phone was ringing, demanding, from somewhere in her kitchen and she quickly leaped out of bed to find her way in the dark. She answered the phone with her most irritated growl.
"Lin!" The voice on the other end was familiar. "Did I wake you?"
"What time is it, Bumi?"
"Two. In the mornin'." Bumi sounded spectacularly drunk, and she could just picture him twirling the cord of the phone around his finger like a little schoolgirl. "Sorry to call but Tenzin's drunk."
Lin was wide-awake now. She cradled the phone closer to her ear so she could use her most menacing whisper. "What?"
Bumi was deservedly nervous. "It was just one drink. And it's my bachelor party!"
Patience was wearing thin. "Where are you?"
"Wulong Bar. On Trinity."
She didn't even bother with a goodbye. The metal phone was distinctly bent out of shape when she slammed it. But there was no time to worry about that; she had to go put on some pants, find her stupid boyfriend, and give him a good talking to. She had half a mind to call Aang but Tenzin would probably never speak to her again.
Would serve him right, she thought darkly, and made her way back to her bedroom.
He was drunk.
When she stepped into the bar, Tenzin was already throwing himself at her. He patted her hair with a giant hand and called it Oogi, which made a vein threaten to pop right out of her temple. Finished greeting his sky bison who had come to him in the form of his girlfriend's hair, he turned to everyone—including Bumi's bachelor party of United Forces marines—and declared to all the world that sure, Bumi may be marrying into the Fire Lord's family, but he had a Beifong.
There was a whooping applause from the room of mostly drunk men in response.
She placed a hand around Tenzin's elbow and hauled him out of the bar, his saffron robes billowing behind him. The night air was cool to her flushed skin and she hoped the chill would be enough to snap Tenzin out of it.
Tenzin stood as straight as he could, which was, quite frankly, not straight at all, and grinned at her. "You are so pretty. Both of you."
Lin was almost amused. "What the spirits did you drink?"
She stowed that information away for future blackmail. After all, she was a cop.
Her small apartment was only a ten-minute walk away but with a drunken Tenzin it proved to be thirty. Halfway there, the man insisted on rescuing a small kitten, and she had to convince him that it wasn't a kitten at all and was actually a pigeonrat. It took a hiss for him to realize that what he was holding was, in fact, diseased vermin, and then he nearly burst into tears afterwards.
Getting him up the stairs was another problem. He insisted she carry him up all four flights of stairs, claiming that he'd never had to climb them since he was an airbender and he could just float. That was a blatant lie but he was trying so hard that Lin actually chuckled. In the end, she carried him up the stairs as if he were her bride. Not because he'd managed to convince her that airbenders were against stairs of any sort but because he nearly fell flat on his face, having tripped over the very first marble step.
Once in bed and stripped of his robes, his skin flushed a dusty pink that clashed against his pale blue arrows, Tenzin turned to watch her change. The sudden change in his eyes made her grow warm under his unwavering gaze.
"I am so lucky to have you," he said, and if it wasn't for the slur of his words, she might have though he was completely fine.
She slipped into bed beside him once she was finished, pulling the covers over them both. "And you are most certainly wasted. Go to sleep."
He pouted and edged closer, one hand skimming along her stomach, resting lightly over the flat expanse of muscle. "I love you so much."
Although her body tensed and prepared to pull away, she kept still in Tenzin's light embrace. "I know."
He grinned cheekily as his hands started trailing upward. A gasp caught in her throat, his fingers trailing light strokes against her skin. He noticed and the smile became wider. "Let me show you."
"Tenzin." She quickly put a stop to his wandering hand. "I refuse to take advantage of a drunken idiot."
"Lin." He propped himself up on an elbow. His eyes were twinkling. "Let's have a baby."
She almost laughed. She considered turning over and bidding him goodnight. But she accidentally caught his grin, so honest and bright and hopeful. His eyes reassured her that no matter her answer, he would always love her. Warmth spread all the way to the tips of her toes and her heart pounded rapidly against her chest.
His eyes immediately began to brim with unshed tears and he buried his face in the crook of her neck and she prayed—she wasn't sure to what or whom—that he didn't remember in the morning.
She came out of the bathroom to find Tenzin sitting up in bed, hands in his lap, eyes glued to the door she had just emerged from. He hadn't touched the glass of water she had placed on the table by his side of the bed.
"Good morning, sunshine," she joked, running a towel through her hair. An uncomfortable weight settled in the pit of her stomach. The closet door was ajar, her uniform sitting in the shadows, a comforting sight.
"Did you mean it?"
Cocking her head, she raised an eyebrow. "Did I mean what?"
His scowl was enough to prove that he did not appreciate her little game. "Did you mean what you said last night?"
"You remember?" She laughed hollowly. "I'm surprised."
Her name on his tongue had always been her undoing. The room suddenly felt small and narrow, as if it were closing in all around her. Tenzin watched her so intensely with all the love in the world reflected in his gray gaze. It took only three seconds before she looked away, unable to hold his stare, unwilling to understand.
It felt like she had been doused in cold water. Everything inside her froze and she scrambled to disengage, to retreat, to keep things from falling out of her control. A voice that sounded suspiciously like her mother's said, You're acting like a child—what are you afraid of?
She didn't really know. She was sure her fear was not ungrounded, but she hadn't any clue how to answer the question she'd asked herself countless of times when the discussion of family came up between them. The answer was as out of reach as it had been before.
But then there he was, sitting in her bed, practically naked, possibly hung-over for only the second time in his twenty-eight years of life. There he was in her room, in her home, in her life, always waiting patiently.
She crossed the room and handed him his glass of water. He took the glass gratefully but didn't move to drink it, watching her, the question still hanging in the air around them. So she gave him her answer.
"Of course, Baldy. Now drink."
After work, instead of going home or to Air Temple Island, Lin stopped by her mother's house with some groceries. It wasn't like Katara and Aang didn't already supply her mother with endless amount of vegetables; the real problem was that Toph couldn't cook and she couldn't be bothered to hire someone who could. Besides, her mother absolutely hated vegetables.
Toph greeted her at the door with a wide grin. "Good, I'm famished."
Lin rolled her eyes and set her bags on the wooden table in her mother's kitchen. Toph perched herself on one of the chairs, blind eyes following Lin as she moved around the kitchen to start dinner.
"Uh oh," Toph said. "That sounds like a serious 'Mother' there."
The sound of sizzling meat filled the room as Lin threw a few pieces of pre-seasoned steak onto the skillet. "You need to find yourself a cook. I can't come here all the time, you know."
"What if I'm away working on a case or something?"
"Don't worry about me, kid." Toph picked at her toes disinterestedly. "I've never asked you to come by."
Lin couldn't help but frown. A drop of oil landed on her finger that she barely noticed, wiping it away on her thigh. "I know."
She could practically feel her mother's attention focused solely on her. Shifting uncomfortably from one foot to another, Lin went back to concentrating on what was currently cooking in the pan, even as her mind drifted elsewhere to a certain conversation. It took a larger drop of oil landing on her hand to startle her out of her musings.
Lin hissed, staring at the tiny burn she had managed to earn on the back of her hand. It was only a little red, not much of a fuss, but it irritated her enough to snap. "Spill what?"
"What's got you so wrapped up in yourself?" Toph was suddenly standing beside her, a hand on her arm pulling her back. "Did something happen at work? To you?" There was a moment of silence as Toph considered her. "To Tenzin?"
Lin shook her head. "Would I really be cooking dinner for you if something had happened?"
Toph shrugged and returned to her chair, this time sitting on its back, feet planted firmly on the seat. "You're a weird kid."
Her mother whistled mockingly. "Already? When did that happen?" Then, a little more seriously, "Holy spirits, I'm already sixty?"
"Mother," she said, a little annoyed.
"Lin," her mother teased in the same little voice.
She was exasperated. Not at her mother, even if the greatest earthbender in the entire world was awful at sensing the air. She was mostly exasperated at herself, at her inability to distract herself from the gnawing feeling in her stomach, at her inability to concentrate on cooking a few slabs of steak without thinking about a potential future where she'd only be consuming vegetables.
In an effort to focus on something else, she took out some of the vegetables kept in the almost-empty fridge, and chuckled darkly at the irony. Here she was trying not to think about becoming vegetarian while trying to steam some vegetables.
Her mother was staring at her. And even though Lin knew that her mother couldn't see, the fact that her mother's blind gaze was turned on her made her uncomfortable. Try as she might, Lin could hide nothing from her mother.
Maybe this was what she was scared of. Not turning out like Toph, who for all accounts could have turned out to be a terrible mother but held, in fact, a similar title of greatness in parenting as she did with earthbending and metalbending (and Lin would earthbend anyone who tried to contradict her, no questions asked). She would never turn out to be like her mother, who was currently swinging one long leg even as the chair she perched on teetered dangerously on its hind legs.
"You're going to fall," Lin warned.
Her mother laughed. It sent her reeling backwards to land in a flurry of flailing limbs. Locks of graying hair obscured her mother's crinkling eyes as more laughter poured out.
Toph stood and rubbed a hand on her aching tailbone. She sniffed the air and pointed in the general direction of the stove with her chin, still the most authoritative figure Lin had ever known. "I think you killed the vegetables."
Cursing, Lin went back to salvage what she could of the vegetables. As she scooped mushy measly bits of broccoli and carrots—"What, am I rabaroo to you, Lin?"—onto a plate, she couldn't help think of a certain conversation. How quickly she had acquiesced, even after all the fruitless conversations that had been tentatively broached before. Staring at the soggy bits of produce and the somewhat-passable piece of cooked meat that looked completely unappetizing, she couldn't help but wonder: am I really doing the right thing?
"Lin, whatever deep thoughts you're currently thinking about—mind thinking about 'em later? 'Cause I can eat the house and the meat smells delicious."
Maybe things would work out. Maybe being a mother wouldn't be so bad. If she could bend metal by the age of eight and have succeeded her mother as Chief of Police by twenty-four, then Lin Beifong could have a kid and be a damn good mother.