Title: Two Lovers, Two Brothers
Characters/Pairings: Bumi/Lin, implied Tenzin/Pema, Mako, Bolin, Equalists, Kya/OC.
Summary: Sheriff Bei Fong finds herself in over her head when outsiders come to the Nomad tribe. Sequel to Howl Like a Coyote. Part of the Sheriff Bei Fong and Coyote Bumi series. Inspired by teaanemone's cowboy AU sketches, one of which is featured in the coverart. See the original HERE. Done for Linumi Week's Day 3 prompt, "AU/Crossover."
Note: Spoiler warning for everything Avatar. Also, everyone is about 5-7 years younger here than they are in the first episode of Korra, and Tenzin and Pema don't have children yet. See the glossary of the first story if any of the cowboy slang confuses you. No beta reader, so feel free to politely let me know if you see a grammar/spelling mistake. Also I had a lot of fun doing this. I could be persuaded to do a few more stories set in this universe if you guys like this one.
Two Lovers, Two Brothers
"Is it really so bad, being my little woman?"
"I'm not your little anything," Lin retorted, jabbing Bumi sharply in the shoulder.
He made a face at her, then resumed walking. Kya's tribe – their tribe? – had just made camp after a hard day's ride. Lin and Bumi were taking their horses to drink from the river.
Two days had passed since they had woken up as husband and wife, mistakenly married under tribal law while completely roostered on the Nomads' prized spirit, cactus juice. They had traded in their city clothes for buckskins, the better to blend in. Bumi was still wanted for murder, and Lin was likely to hang with him for helping him escape if they couldn't clear their names.
"There's worse things, is all I'm saying," Bumi continued. They reached the stream. "This could be a good life. The both of us could ride with the hunters to earn our keep. Travel west with the tribe until we fall off into the sunset. Then at night," he turned to her, winking, "we pitch our tent and keep each other warm. Just the open plains and a missus I can ride the river with…" He sighed. "Now that's freedom."
Lin scoffed. "We can't do that, Bumi. And I'm not really your wife."
"Name a reason why not!"
"You're rude, you snore, you –"
"I meant why can't we ride with the tribe," Bumi interrupted, giving her a hangdog look. "You could hurt a man's feelings that way, Sheriff."
"If you had any feelings, I'd agree," Lin said dryly. For the barest second she worried she had really offended the old cowpoke, but then she looked over to see Bumi grinning his crazy grin, his eyes lit up with the hellfire that Lin was sure ran in his veins.
She let out a sigh of relief. Some men went all soft once a woman rolled 'em through the hay. Lin was glad to see Coyote Bumi wasn't one of them.
"'Sides, you know as well as I do we can't stay gone forever. I don't mean to be on the lamb the rest of my life. Soon as we've rested up and got ourselves kitted out proper, we're going back to that town and rustling that Equalist Gang."
Busy with the horses, Lin didn't notice how Bumi's grin got wider when she said 'we'.
"Sure, I know that." Bumi skipped around the stallion Kya and Flows-The-River had given them as a wedding present. "But there ain't any harm in enjoying things while we're here, and dreaming they can last."
Lin laughed. "Never figured you for much of a dreamer."
"I got lots of dreams!" Bumi protested. His voice turned to a seductive growl, "Wanna hear about the one I had last night?"
He pulled Lin into his arms.
She looked up at him, telling herself that she was going to push him away, and then give him a smack.
Her eyes caught on his lips. She knew from experience they were soft and warm.
Any minute, she was going to push him away. This whatever it was between them seemed to be more than an hour's slap and tickle for him. Not like it was for Lin. It wouldn't be right, to take advantage.
Bumi leaned down. Lin loved the feel of his beard against her cheeks. He slid his tongue into her mouth, and she made a little moaning sound without meaning to, heat pooling low in her belly as her hands slid up to tangle in Bumi's wild hair.
She'd have let him plow her field right there at the edge of the river if a Nomad boy hadn't run up at that very moment.
Lin pushed Bumi away, feeling her entire face flush. She sputtered, before remembering the Nomad boy wouldn't understand anything she was saying, then redid the laces on the front of her buckskin dress. She hadn't noticed Bumi untie them, the sly fox.
As for Bumi, he just smirked like a smug son of a bitch, like he was proud to be caught in the act.
The boy didn't blink at what he had witnessed. They were married in his eyes, after all. Lin supposed it mustn't be entirely out of the ordinary to come upon a couple like that when you lived in a tribe.
The boy bent over, catching his breath. He must have been sent to get them for something important, to have run so fast. As soon as he could speak again, he started babbling at them in Nomad.
I really need to learn to speak their language if we're going to be staying with them a while, Lin thought to herself as Bumi tried to decipher what the boy was saying.
"Alright, alright! Just slow down and let me think for a minute," Bumi flapped his hands at the boy, screwing up his face in an expression of concentration. "I know he's saying 'Coyote,' which I'm thinking means me, and I recognize 'Grumbles' – that'd be you."
As if Lin could forget the name the Nomads had given her. Grumbles-Like-The-Earth.
She started to grumble, caught herself, and rolled her eyes instead.
The boy babbled some more, and Bumi nodded, the tip of his tongue sticking out of his mouth.
Lin had a sudden flash of that tongue doing very different things and deliberately redirected her gaze, reminding herself that she already knew how this cattle run ended and she wasn't going to play this game with Tenzin's brother of all people.
"Ok. He's saying something about outsiders – recognize the word from before they gave me a name – and my sister. They call her Summer Storm. So. There's outsiders at the camp, I think, and Kya sent this boy to get us."
Bumi met Lin's eyes.
Outsiders at the camp.
The Nomads could be in danger. Anyone showing up looking for Lin and Bumi wasn't likely to be the friendly sort.
Bumi drew the one pistol they had between them, taking out one of the bullets and handing it to Lin. She nodded to him. He needed the pistol if they were heading into a fight, but Lin could do just as much damage with a single bullet and metalbending as she could with a fully loaded gun.
Ready, they told the boy to mind the horses and marched back into camp.
Bumi had the pistol cocked and ready to fire when he and Lin reached the camp. If some no good, yellow livered, namby pamby shave tail thought he was going to hurt a hair on Kya's head, they had another thing coming.
Bumi didn't bother to worry about protecting Lin. He was pretty sure she was actually a wildcat walking around in human skin, like in some of the old Nomad legends. Worrying about her safety was like worrying it would rain in the dry season.
But Kya was his sister. Master waterbender or not, married or not, it was his job to protect her.
He got himself so worked up for a fight, his signature coyote howl waiting at the back of his throat, that when he saw who the outsiders were he actually made a confused squeaking sound, like a dog.
Lin raised her brows.
He shrugged at her, and holstered the pistol.
Sitting next to Bumi's sister, looking half-starved and covered in road dust, were two little boys. Both were fair, with black hair. The older one was wearing a red bandana, and gulping down a gourd full of water. The younger boy had green eyes that lit up when he saw Bumi.
The boy got to his feet, wobbled for a minute, then ran at Bumi full tilt, slamming into his legs.
"Bo!" the older boy cried, sloshing water over his cheeks. He struggled to his feet, a plainly difficult task, and came forward, trying to pry his little brother off of Bumi.
"What are you two doing all the way out here?" Lin asked a bit gruffly.
"Bo ran away," the older boy said quietly.
"To find you! And we did!" the younger boy exclaimed, turning Bumi loose just long enough to wrap his arms around Lin's legs.
Lin looked down and then shot Bumi a panicked look, like the kid was a rattlesnake waiting to strike. Bumi had to choke back a laugh. Who knew? Sheriff Bei Fong, The Justice of the West, cowering away from a five year old boy.
"I tried to bring him back," the older boy went on, looking at the ground. "But by the time I caught up with Bo, we were lost." He fell silent, looking like he wanted to say more, but didn't dare.
Bumi felt a lead weight settle in his chest. Kneeling to be on the kids' eye level, he asked, "Bo's your name then? Why'd you come all the way out here looking for me, Bo?"
"I'm Bolin, and that's my brother, Mako," the boy chirped.
"Bolin. Good, strong name for a cowboy," Bumi smiled. Bolin giggled and smiled back. Bumi liked the little tyke. Almost made him want a squirt of his own. "Why'd you come find me, Bolin?"
"Why not?" Bolin replied with a child's simple logic. "You took care of us after the man made Ma and Paw go 'way..." Bolin stopped, shaking his head to himself, then started speaking again. "You took care of us. And then when the mean men tied you up, we took care of you. Family takes care of each other. So we're family."
"It's something Paw always said," the older boy interrupted. "I tried to tell him, but Bo don't listen…"
Bumi swallowed past a lump in his throat, looking up at Lin. Her eyes were bright.
They'd both lost parents. They both knew how it felt. How lonely. How lost.
How much worse it had to be, to have it happen when you were still little more than a babe on the teat.
"We can't just leave them here," Bumi heard himself say.
"No, we can't," Lin agreed. "But surely there's a Nomad family that can –"
"Mako and Bolin don't know the language."
Lin sighed, looking down at the boy who was still determinedly holding her legs. "Fine. But just until we find someone else to take them. It's dangerous, them being with us when we've got a price on our heads."
Bumi stood and put his hand on Lin's shoulder.
As Kya bustled the children off to get them cleaned up and fed, Bumi cupped Lin's cheeks in his hands and placed a gentle kiss on her lips. "Thank you."
She rested her forehead against his and said nothing at all.
Lin didn't know how to interact with children. The most she'd ever done was question one or two alley rats, and toss them a few coins in thanks afterwards. And those kids weren't really kids - they were tired little old men in children's bodies, hardened by a life on the streets.
Mako was a bit like an alley rat already. Lin was more comfortable with him. He sat silently in the corner of the teepee, speaking only when spoken to, and looking as if he expected to be tossed out on his ear at any moment.
Lin wondered what it said about her, that she got along better with the moody, distrustful boy.
Bolin, despite being thin and clearly worse for the wear for his trek across the countryside, was all bubbling energy. He bounced around the tent, asking pert questions, and getting into everything.
It was clear that Bumi had found a kindred spirit. Lin couldn't tell who was having more fun – the five year old filling the air with childish questions, or the fearsome old cowpoke answering them with equally childish glee.
"How come she rescued you? Is she your girlfriend?" Bolin asked, pointing at Lin.
She found herself blushing and listening far, far too hard for Bumi's answer.
"She's my wife, as a matter of fact," Bumi answered with a proud smile, as if they'd gotten married on purpose. As if their marriage meant anything outside the Nomad tribe.
Bolin clapped his hands. "That's real love, when you marry someone! Right, Mako?"
"Right," Mako assured his brother.
He only smiled when he looked at Bolin.
Lin blushed harder. Even Bumi turned a little red at that one.
"Well, huh…" the big man sputtered, putting one hand behind his head as he glanced at Lin.
"What should we call you?" Bolin asked, replacing a slightly awkward moment with a downright terrifying one, as far as Lin was concerned. "Should we call you Ma and Paw?"
Lin couldn't breathe. She looked up to see a wild look on Mako's face. He looked as horrified as she felt.
"How about just 'Bumi' and 'Lin'?" Bumi said gently.
Lin felt like she could kiss him.
"Ok," Bolin sang, unaware of the tension he had just caused.
"Time for bed!" Lin announced, to fill the silence that had fallen.
Children had bed times, right?
The next morning, Lin woke next to Bumi. She'd taken to sleeping next to him when Bolin asked why she was setting up her bedroll on the other side of the teepee.
Feeling that she couldn't just tell the kid that she and Bumi weren't a real couple, she'd told him that the bedroll she was setting up was for him and his brother, helped Bumi tuck the kids in, and then resigned herself to the not so horrible fate of sleeping next to Howling Coyote.
She'd just have to talk to Bumi later, when they were alone, to make sure he wasn't getting the wrong idea. Seeing him interact with the kids had shown her that for all his rough and tough reputation, he was an old softy under that leathery skin and wild hair.
She didn't want to break his heart.
Pushing herself up on her elbows, she looked down at her husband, and had to suppress a bemused smile.
Sometime in the night, Bolin had crept out of his bedroll and into theirs, and now lay sprawled over Bumi's chest. It was a wonder Bumi could suck in enough air to snore as loud as he was snoring, with the weight of the boy on top of him.
Glancing across the teepee, Lin was unsurprised to see Mako, too, had moved in the night. Not as daring as his little brother, he slept curled in a ball at Lin and Bumi's feet, one of his hands gripping Bumi's big toe.
In sleep, he looked younger. Lin realized he couldn't be more than nine, at the very most.
Frowning to herself, she rolled out of bed, pulled on her buckskin dress, and ducked through the front flap of the teepee. She liked doing her bending forms before the camp had really woken up. It was more peaceful.
Bumi joined her about halfway through, seemingly navigating the world with his eyes shut. He was a bit slow to rise when no one was chasing him.
He settled into a horse stance next to Lin, falling into the form she was doing. Somehow, it was unsurprising that he knew the forms, even though he wasn't an earthbender.
"It's funny, you know," Lin said once they'd moved on to the next form. "In the past week, I've gotten myself a husband and a couple of kids. Two things I said I never wanted. If I didn't know any better, I'd think Tenzin planned this whole thing."
Bumi threw his head back and laughed loud enough to wake the dead. "Yeah, but if Tenzy had planned it, it'd have been a lot less exciting."
"You're probably right," Lin agreed.