The baby was too gentle to be an earthbender. Katara confirmed it one day when everyone was helping Tenzin move into one of the bigger family rooms on Air Temple Island. Katara stopped Lin to place dark hands on her stomach and then said, conspiratorially, "That's an airbender right there." Lin figured she'd let Tenzin keep his illusion that his firstborn would be a replica of her, just because he liked to plan all the ways he was going to help train his future earthbending child.
There was once when Lin awoke to the sudden craving of meat. After months of denying herself her favorite meals, she was shocked to find herself salivating at the very thought of meat. She heaved herself out of bed to settle the craving once and for all, diet be damned. That got her trying to fit her swollen belly under her metalbending uniform to no avail. It also woke Tenzin.
"Lin," he began carefully, lifting his head from the pillows, bald head shining in the moonlight. "What are you doing?"
"I'm hungry," she responded indelicately. She cursed under her breath, removed her uniform, and sent it crashing onto the ground.
"What do you want to eat?" He stood to look for his shoes, probably lost in the carnage of her cravings. Not that she cared. The baby wanted what it wanted and the baby was going to get it.
He stiffened at the word and turned slowly to look at her. "You're vegetarian."
"No. You're vegetarian. I'm pregnant."
He gagged at the image. "Really."
She nodded. When he made no move to help her, she figured her metalbending uniform could sit in her closet for another few months for all she cared, and went straight for the terrycloth robe. It wasn't too chilly now that spring was about to bloom but she couldn't very well go out into the streets wearing her negligee.
Tenzin followed dutifully behind her and was even kind enough to carry her spoils back to Air Temple Island.
That was how it went for the most part. It became difficult to think of herself un-pregnant. Even though her ankles had swelled and she had an insatiable desire to consume every fruit pie ever made, she liked to pass a faint hand over her belly sometimes and think about what their child was going to look like. She always imagined it looking a lot more like Tenzin, but he refused to entertain the idea. "Like you," he'd always say, right before kissing her into coerced agreement. Never before had she felt so wholly unattractive, not even when she first got her scars. Tenzin, however, was undeterred from making love despite her growing belly. In fact, it seemed like he loved it all the more, and she'd wake up to him whispering about how beautiful she was, sneaking past the barrier of her waistband. She only entertained him because she was hornier than usual. She kind of really hated that.
When the day came that the baby was determined to greet the world, the pain surprised Lin enough to accidentally drop a suds-soaked dish that crashed on the floor. The first thought that came to mind was that now she had to find a way to bend down and clean the mess when the second thought rudely interrupted the first and screamed, You are having a baby!
It—it being the baby—did not seem to care that Lin was supposed to appear at the Metalbending Academy graduation that day as the guest speaker.
Tenzin ran into the kitchen to find her standing there gripping her stomach. He was much less prepared and actually yelled at her belly, "No! Not now! Lin has a very important speech to give!" The baby didn't listen.
Katara came as soon as she heard. Aang went to get her mother while Katara shooed Tenzin away and locked him outside of the bedroom. Lin tried to breathe deeply as she was instructed to lie in bed, Katara helping to prop her legs. It occurred to her why Ursa was so adamant about having Katara and Kya help. This position was utterly embarrassing.
The baby didn't let her think about that too long. It decided it was time and tried to get out, albeit rather slowly, as if mapping the entire terrain out. Like father, like evil spawn.
Lin screamed at the top of her lungs, nearly bringing down the apartment building to its foundations. There were many curses that let Tenzin know just how much this was never going to happen again. He came into the room at one point, much to both her and Katara's protests, and let her grip his hand until she almost crushed bone.
The baby was born after thirty-two hours of labor. Katara was the first to dissolve into tears, quickly followed by Aang who gazed in awe at the small thing being wrapped up in a gray blanket. Tenzin broke next, his tears silent as he helped his mother place the baby into Lin's arms despite all of her protests that she didn't know how to hold one, maybe someone else should take her for the first few years. It wasn't until Toph began to cry, fingers memorizing the planes of the newborn's face, that Lin felt the tears begin to prick at her eyes.
"She's an airbender," Lin murmured quietly when they were finally alone. Tenzin sat on the edge of the mattress, head resting against hers. "What do you want to call her?" The baby blinked blearily, brown eyes inquisitive.
"Jinora," Tenzin whispered. He began to cry again.
Lin thought it was funny but kept that thought to herself.
She spent three months on maternity leave. Tenzin tried to convince her to take more but she earthbended him out into Yue Bay when she got tired of listening to his arguments. He ignored her for a whole twenty minutes before Jinora's crying got him to seek forgiveness if only so he could see his beautiful daughter.
On the last night, as they nestled together in bed while Jinora slept peacefully in her arms, Tenzin leaned down to place a tentative kiss on her shoulder.
"You're not getting laid for at least another week," Lin said easily.
He chuckled. He moved a little, causing Lin to look at him with questioning eyes, until there was something hanging from his fingers. She tried her best not to gulp.
"Will you marry me now?" he asked. A blush spread across his cheeks quickly.
"Was this your plan all along?" She shifted Jinora's weight so she could turn and face him. "Get me pregnant so I'd say yes?"
He shrugged. "Not a bad idea, right?"
She took a closer look at the betrothal necklace. The insignia of the Earth Kingdom was surrounded on three sides by a spiral. Tenzin's love for symbolism was evidenced even in his proposal. What an idiot.
"How long have you had it?" Lin forced herself to look into his eyes. "And don't lie."
"Since you turned twenty-one," he admitted in a rush of breath.
That touched her. Just a little. She sighed in defeat. "Fine. Whatever. Do what you want."
Tenzin cried a lot nowadays. Tears fell into her hair as he clasped the necklace around her neck. Jinora smiled in her sleep. Lin thought back vaguely to her mother's story. She would have liked to know her father. He could have bonded with Tenzin over their tearbending.
The wedding was small. Only the most important people in their life were invited. Lin extended the invitation to some of her officers, namely Officer Feng, who was so delighted he bought her a wide variety of baby-related things, "For the next one." Lin had the opportunity to meet Xiao Li, the beauty that had convinced a then-twenty-two-year-old Feng to get married. She conceded that Feng had a point. The girl was exceedingly beautiful. So beautiful Ursa felt like she had competition.
Kya had to remind the princess it was Lin's wedding, not hers.
Jinora didn't cry during the ceremony. Everyone else did, but the baby remained quiet and placated in her maternal grandmother's arms. Lin wished for her metal boots and not the deadly contraptions she wore on her feet. Her mother had flat out laughed at her when she complained about them.
As she turned to face Tenzin, now newly married, she imagined herself in another life. Without this silly marriage, without Tenzin, without Jinora. Alone, carrying the Beifong legacy on her shoulders with no intention of passing it on to another, letting it live in the hallowed halls of Police Headquarters, under the scrutiny of a stone statue that looked like her mother. As Tenzin's face neared, his eyes staring deeply into hers, Lin found that she wouldn't have minded such a life. But that was another life. Not hers. She had a husband to kiss, and she did so eagerly, never closing her eyes.
Ikki was born the day after her grandfather died. She wailed loudly in the silence, lungs powerful. Gray eyes identical to those of her late grandfather. Tenzin couldn't look at her for a whole day, opting instead to meditate in the pavilion far from the ever-looming presence of his father's statue. Lin decided she wouldn't ask for Tenzin's help until he was ready to give it and slept with Ikki in her arms for the entire week that Tenzin did not sleep in their bed. When Toph reassured them that Ikki was an earthbender six months later, Tenzin cried with grief.
Lin pushed away Tenzin's creeping hands, nestling closer to her pillow and further from him. He growled and let his fingers trail along her arm. She could hear his grin in the darkness. As much as she enjoyed feeling his skin on hers, she had sleep to catch up on. Just because she slept didn't mean the streets did, and she had an early day tomorrow at the station.
"I love you," Tenzin said. He kissed her ear for emphasis.
She sighed. "I know, Tenzin."
He brushed his nose against her cheek. "Let me show you."
"Lin." With ease, he turned her around to face him. He propped himself on one elbow and she narrowed her eyes at just how familiar the conversation was. It had happened ages ago but was still something she frequently thought about. After all, it was the conversation that had changed everything and brought them to this. "Let's have a baby."
She laughed. He knew exactly what he was doing. Running two fingers down his nose and over his lips, she leaned to kiss him, avoiding his wandering hands as he sought to bring her closer.
"You have three kids. And one of them is Meelo," she reminded him. "Isn't that enough?"
He shook his head and dipped low enough to nip her neck. "I enjoy making them with you."
"I don't enjoy carrying them for nine months at a time. You know my officers are placing bets on how many we're going to end up having, right?"
"Then let's have dozens more. They can't possibly be predicting that many."
"If you're the one popping them out." Her breathing quickened as his lips trailed lower, pulling down her nightgown to expose more of her skin.
He looked up and smirked, triumphant. Lin had to keep her grip on the sheets to keep from punching the stupid grin off his face. "Sure."
There was little else she could do. She gave in as his lips parted over her stomach and delved even lower. One more, she figured darkly. After that, she was going to see her damn herbalist.