lizbee: (LoK: Lin and Tenzin (DVD cover))
[personal profile] lizbee
Title: Avalanche
Author: LizBee
Fandom: Legend of Korra
Characters and Pairing: Lin/Tenzin; OCs
Rating: Teen

Summary: Lin put her whole life on hold to move to the Southern Water Tribe and help protect the Avatar. That was three years ago, and she's ready for a change.

Notes: Sometimes I get a terrible idea that just won't go away. In this case, it was, "AU where Lin goes into politics instead of policing". That, of course, led to, "Um, self, what? How?" This is a bit of worldbuilding for that AU.

Content warnings for Children and Self-Indulgence. Many thanks to AmiraElizabeth for her support, comments and sketches, and Branwyn for her ruthless beta reading.



Avalanche


It was late at night, the girls had long been in bed, and Lin was at her drafting table, thinking about turning in herself, when she heard the rumble of a sky bison landing in the courtyard outside.

She jumped up, no longer tired, and hurried downstairs, reaching the main door just as Tenzin pushed it open. His face lit up when he saw her.

"Lin--"

He barely got the word out before she grabbed him, pulling him in for a long kiss.

"I missed you, too," he said when they parted for breath.

Lin wrapped her arms around his shoulders, heedless of his damp cloak. "There's snow in your beard," she said, watching the last of it melt.

"As I said. I missed you." His arms tightened around her waist. "Are the girls asleep?"

"Yeah. If Oogi woke them up, they'd be out here right now."

He kissed her quickly on the cheek, then pulled himself away from her. "I'll just look in," he promised.

Lin watched him walk upstairs and, when he was out of sight, made her way up to her own room, to shed her clothes and wrap herself up in blankets, waiting for him to come back to her.

They hadn't seen each other in months, but they had been together for a long time, they knew how to find and rebalance their bond, the give and take and laughter that had to be muffled so their children wouldn't wake up.

Afterwards, Tenzin curled himself around Lin, pressing lazy kisses into the back of her neck. He had allowed his beard to grow, which she didn't care for, but it was worth it to feel his lips on her skin.

"I need to visit more often," he murmured. "Air Temple Island's too quiet without you and the girls."

"And my bed's too cold without you."

"We're at the South Pole. It would be cold regardless."

She pinched him. Then, because he wasn't wrong, they retrieved their clothes, dressed, and pulled the blankets up higher.

"Why did Senna call this meeting?" Tenzin asked.

"Too complicated to explain now," Lin mumbled. "You'll find out tomorrow. Same as everyone else."

"Hmm."

She had expected more questions, but, exhausted from the long flight south, Tenzin was already snoring. Lin curled herself up against him and, for the first time in months, fell asleep quickly.

*

Three years ago, she had put everything on hold -- her career, her business, her daughters' places at Republic City Girls College -- to move to the South Pole. At the time, she was happy to do it: the Avatar needed protection, and who better than Lin Beifong? Tenzin agreed, even though his burgeoning political career made it impossible for him to join her full time. Lin would protect Avatar Korra, train her in earth and metalbending when the time came, and the girls would spend time with their grandmother and great-uncle, learning more about their Water Tribe heritage.

She had been glad of the change of scenery, happy to be close to Katara and Sokka. Becoming one of the Avatar's protectors was like finding a part of herself she had discarded when she left the police force. It felt right. Training with Tonraq and his warriors, learning to earthbend in a setting where rocks were limited and metal couldn't be touched with bare skin -- it was a challenge, and she had welcomed it.

That was three years ago.

Lin woke up with a dull headache and an unpleasant tightness in her chest, but she barely had time to register them before she heard Jinora and Nima stirring.

"Is that Oogi outside?"

"Daddy's here!"

Tenzin sat up, pushing the blankets aside. "What happened to morning meditation?" he asked Lin as the door burst open.

"Are you kidding?"

"Daddy!"

Jinora launched herself at Tenzin, shrieking as he picked her up and threw her at the ceiling, generating a small funnel of air to direct her fall. She landed on the bed, still giggling, while Nima shouted, "Me next! Do me!"

"Aren't you getting too old for this?" Lin asked Jinora, who gave her a look of exaggerated horror and said, "No way! I'm only eight!"

"And I'm only seven!" shouted Nima, as if Lin could have forgotten.

Jade, the eldest by a full decade, leaned against the doorframe, trying to look unimpressed and unmoved by her father's presence. Lin had hoped this cooler-than-polar-snow phase would be over by now, but apparently Jade was determined to be the moodiest, most miserable seventeen-year-old since … well, since Lin herself.

But Jade's stony face relaxed into a smile when Tenzin turned to her, and she gave him a tight hug, even letting him lift her a couple of inches from the ground.

"I missed you, Dad," she said.

"Likewise."

"I missed you more!" yelled Jinora, earthbending herself to Tenzin's eye level.

"No, me!" shouted Nima, using an air scooter to raise herself an inch or so higher than Jinora. "I thought you weren't coming until lunchtime, Daddy! When did you get here?"

"Late last night, long after you were in bed."

"Why didn't you wake me up? I wouldn't have minded."

"Me neither!" added Jinora.

"I don't think your teacher would be very happy if you fell asleep in class today, though."

"Oh, Master Niqa wouldn't mind. Korra fell asleep once, but she didn't get in trouble, she said she was trying to commune with the spirits."

"But she was snoring," Nima said. "That's what gave it away."

"We told Master Niqa the noise was coming from Naga--"

"--but then Korra started drooling. So Master Niqa said--"

Time to bring this reminiscence to an end.

"Girls," Lin snapped, "get dressed, you'll be late. You can finish your story while we have breakfast--"

The younger girls left, but Jade lingered.

"Cold sea prunes and rice," she said, "my favourite."

"If you want something else, you're more than welcome to cook it yourself."

Jade's jaw set. "Maybe I will!"

She didn't quite slam the door behind her, but she certainly closed it with more force than it needed. Lin sat down and put her head in her hands, massaging her temples.

"Are you all right?" Tenzin asked.

"Nothing. Jade's just … I'm glad you're here."

She opened the wardrobe -- maybe a little harder than necessary -- and pulled out her favourite suit, dark green embroidered with fine silver thread. Silver was soft, useless for fighting, but she always felt better when she wore metal. Her wrist cuffs, worn over the undersleeves that covered half her hands, were steel, easily bent into a weapon if the need arose. Not that it ever had, which was part of the reason for the day's meeting…

She started on the first of her intricate Water Tribe-style braids as she watched Tenzin dress. Imagine being an airbender, and never feeling the cold at all unless you chose to.

Or, she reminded herself, unless you flew too high and fast in the polar winds, because an extra night with your family was worth the discomfort and risk.

He straightened his robes and looked up, catching her eye.

"What?" he asked.

"Nothing."

"Really?"

"I hate the cold."

She gave him a weak smile and started pinning her braids back, winding them through her long, greying hair. It was a style she had adopted in her first months here. Jade had wanted to practise putting beads in hair, she recalled, and her sisters had rebelled after the first couple of goes. And then Lin started doing it herself, because it seemed to make Jade happy, and she had been so homesick.

Now it was habit. A sort of meditation, maybe.

When they went downstairs, they found Jade cooking sea prune batter cakes. She gave Lin a look of triumph.

"Smells good," said Lin, squeezing her shoulder. "I'll set the table."

Then Jinora and Nima emerged from their rooms, spreading noise and chaos until -- at last -- Tenzin said, "Look at the time! Shouldn't you be on your way to the schoolroom?" and they left to find Korra.

Lin, Jade and Tenzin ate in relative silence, until Tenzin asked Jade, "Don't you have school today?"

"Only in the afternoon. I'm sitting in with the healers this morning." Jade glanced up at the clock. "I need to go. I'll see you tonight, Dad."

"You don't want to join us for lunch?"

"Please." Jade gave Tenzin the look of disdain she usually reserved for Lin. "I have lunch with my friends."

She pulled on her parka, arranged her hair so that her waist-length braid, heavy with beads, was visible, and gave Tenzin a quick kiss on the cheek.

"I'll see you tonight," she said.

"That puts us in our place," Tenzin said when she was gone.

"She's at that age where she knows everything."

"Really?" He got up to make more tea. "She just seems moody."

"She's on her best behaviour. You're here."

He smiled. "I remember when we were that young."

"Yeah, but my mom was never around to--" Lin stopped. "It's fine. At least she's usually quiet." She watched Tenzin searching through the cupboards. "The ginseng's right behind you," she said.

"Did you rearrange the kitchen?"

"No."

Tenzin ducked his head, accepting the implied criticism. Lin watched him make the tea. The day she quit the police force, he had peeled the bandage from her cheek, kissed her fresh scars and promised she wouldn't be alone. Now he was broader, the veins on the backs of his hands more prominent, but she could still see traces of the young man he had been.

He put the teapot on the table and said, "Jinora and Nima certainly seem like a handful."

Lin sighed. "You keep talking about our daughters like they're strangers."

"Well -- I see them so little, and--" He spread his hands helplessly, and Lin's vague melancholy was replaced with irritation.

"And whose fault is that?" she snapped.

"I--"

"Never mind." She pushed her chair back and started gathering the plates. "You should go visit Sokka. He has some ideas he wants to run past you."

"Lin, are you angry with me?"

"Go talk to your uncle. I have work to do."

She hated emotional conversations. Arguments were fine, but she'd sooner fight an angry walrus-seal than bare her feelings.

Lin took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.

"Come back," she said. "We need to talk."

*

She had her younger daughters for Aang. She loved them, of course, although she often wanted to strangle them, but she'd have been just as happy to let Jade remain an only child.

But Aang was unwell -- dying, in fact -- and almost the last airbender. And Jade wasn't a bender at all. When Tenzin suggested having another child ("Just one more, Lin"), Lin had gone along with it. She hated being pregnant, and she didn't like babies, but she could cope with children.

And she herself had suggested following Jinora with another, because Aang had rallied for that grandchild, and she had been so happy to see him regain his strength. He had welcomed her into his family when she walked away from her own, even though he loved her mother like a sister. She owed Aang … everything.

He died two months after Nima was born, not knowing that his youngest granddaughter would be an airbender.

Lin managed motherhood the same way she managed her architecture firm: she figured out what her weaknesses were, and found the best possible people to assist her in those areas. This mostly meant Tenzin, who was able to temper strictness with affection in a way Lin had never quite mastered. They never quite achieved balance, but they had managed. Until four maniacs tried to abduct the Avatar, and Lin and the children moved to the South Pole, leaving Tenzin to handle politics in Republic City.

*

Tenzin poured her a cup of tea. Lin inhaled the fragrant steam, but didn't say anything. She could feel him watching her, but he didn't press her to speak. She sat, watching her tea cool, searching for words.

Finally, she said, "I can't do this anymore. Either we live together, or we call it quits."

Tenzin reached for her hand, then hesitated and pulled back. He swallowed.

"Is that an ultimatum?"

"I don't want it to be." Lin's voice cracked. "But this arrangement we have, it's not working for me. The girls need you around. So do I."

This time, he did take her hand.

"I miss you, too," he said. "All the time. I'm proud of the work I'm doing for Councilwoman Lhamu, and I tell myself that Republic City is Dad's legacy, but then I think, what about my legacy? What about my children?" He gave her a weak smile. "Then I berate myself for being selfish."

"And then you meditate on the problem and nothing happens?"

He looked ashamed. "Something like that."

"Let me be blunt."

Tenzin managed a smile. "For a change?"

"I can think of half a dozen Acolytes who could serve as Assistant Councilman for the Air Nation. But no one else can take your place here." She covered his hand with hers, tracing the outline of his tattoo. "I love you. But we're not going to make it if we go on like this."

"I know."

"It's too easy to be angry with someone I never see. I need someone to argue with."

"We'll find a way," Tenzin promised. "My term's almost up, I won't run again."

"There might be another solution," Lin said. "But you'll hear about it at the meeting."

"You really won't tell me?"

Lin shrugged. "It's not fair to the others. Maybe I shouldn't have said anything at all."

"No, I'm glad. Not that you're unhappy," he quickly amended, "but that you've said something. We'll work something out, I promise."

"I know." Lin got up and kissed the top of his head. "Go talk to your uncle," she said. "I have work to do."

*

She spent her morning reviewing surveyor reports and engineering layouts for her firm's next project, using earthbending to create a scale model of the site. It wasn't the same as being there, of course, and photographs and sketches were only partially helpful. She had spent too long among buildings made of snow and wood. Metal skyscrapers seemed further away every year, taxing an imagination that was limited to start with.

She thought that talking to Tenzin would relieve the tightness in her chest, but that ache was still there, expanding to her neck and shoulders. Lin tossed her pencil aside and massaged her temples. She was nervous, she realised, and that was unusual. But she had promised Senna she would help lead this meeting, and this sort of persuasion was new to her. The closest she had come was when she had lobbied the Republic City Council for new building standards in the Dragon Flats borough, and that had been -- well, "haranguing" was the word Tenzin had used. That approach wouldn't work here.

Giving up, she pushed her work aside and made herself a lunch of rice and salted seal meat, before putting on her parka and scarf and setting out for the meeting.

It was held in one of the chambers in the compound built for Korra and her family. Master Tranh of the White Lotus was already there when Lin arrived, resplendent in his white and blue robes. Katara entered a few minutes later, followed by Senna and Tonraq. Last of all came Tenzin, with Sokka leaning on his arm.

"No Zuko?" Sokka asked as he lowered himself slowly into his chair, Tenzin hovering at his elbow.

"The Fire Lord sent a letter," said Master Tranh. "He said -- I quote -- 'If it comes to a vote, I give Lin Beifong my proxy, and all my support.'"

"Oh, good," said Sokka. "At least someone knows what this is about."

"No," said Lin, reading the letter Master Tranh had passed on to her. "He wasn't told. I didn't expect--" She broke off, handing the letter over to Sokka and Katara. She was touched by Zuko's trust, and honoured.

Senna caught her eye, looking more optimistic than she had in days. Tonraq shifted, exchanging a look with Tenzin, a fleeting expression of Are they up to something? Do you know what this is about? Tenzin glanced up at the ceiling. Katara was looking down at the table, her hair loops not quite concealing her smile.

"Well," said Master Tranh, "perhaps, to start with, Senna should tell us why she called this meeting."

Lin had always perceived Senna as young and rather delicate, a person who would pursue consensus rather than assert herself. Not shy, but not one to put herself forward. And she was young, barely thirty, and a youthful thirty at that. Nice, but easily overlooked.

But there was steel in her spine, Lin would give her that. She just needed encouragement, which Lin had been happy to provide.

Swallowing, Senna stood up.

"I called this meeting," she said, "to discuss Korra's education and exposure to -- to society and people her own age. Which I think is much too limited here in the compound, and I think we ought to move her."

She dropped back into her seat.

Lin watched the reactions, gauging them against her expectations.

"But the compound -- this whole facility was built to keep her safe," said Master Tranh.

"What's wrong with Master Niqa's teaching?" demanded Sokka.

"But she has friends her own age," Tenzin said. "She sees Jinora and Nima every day."

"She seems so happy," said Tonraq.

At the other end of the long table, Katara said nothing. But a smile played around her mouth as she looked up at Lin and said, "And what do you think, Lin?"

"I agree with Senna."

There was silence for a moment, then the noise resumed.

"The protection of the White Lotus--"

"We all agreed that Korra needed to be protected--"

"Certainly Niqa's discipline seems to leave something to be desired--"

"Is she lonely? Did she say something to you?"

"No," said Senna, answering Tonraq, "not in so many words. But she knows there's something missing from her life. She sees everyone else going in and out of the compound as they like. Yet she's always here. Always watched. It's not a life for a little girl."

"Lin?" asked Sokka. "I take it you and Senna have been talking about this."

"Korra's not stupid," said Lin. "She knows she's not treated like other kids."

"Of course she isn't! She's the Avatar!"

"She's also a little girl."

"Dad--" Tenzin straightened his shoulders and adopted the formal tone that Lin thought of as his speechifying voice. "Avatar Aang did not want his successor to take on the burdens of her position too soon. He wanted the next Avatar to have a normal childhood."

"This is what you call normal?" Senna demanded.

"Are you kidding?" Lin demanded, unable to stop herself. "Tenzin grew up on an island, surrounded by Acolytes. Same as this place, except you couldn't see your breath."

This time, Katara gave her a cool look.

"Tenzin was also targeted by terrorists," she said. "Aang and I chose to keep him safe. Zuko did the same for Izumi and her brothers."

"We weren't all left to raise ourselves," Tenzin added.

That was it. Lin lost her temper.

She was on her feet before she had a chance to think, saying, "Yeah, and if you remember, you hated being cooped up on Air Temple Island. You used to tell me that the only times you felt free were when your dad took you on your little vacations. The second Oogi was big enough, you were sneaking away to my place."

Tenzin flushed. "I--"

"Is that how we're keeping Korra safe? Making sure that she'll take off on her own as soon as Naga's strong enough to carry her?"

Tenzin was still visibly reeling from Lin's attack. In the awkward silence that followed, Tonraq turned to Senna, a mixture of surprise and anger and concern on his face. He asked, "Did Lin push you into this?"

"No!" Now Senna was also standing. "For your information, Tonraq, I have a mind of my own. And a voice." Senna squared her shoulders. "Lin just helped me realise I could use it."

"What do you propose?" Sokka asked quietly. He was looking at Lin. "Do you want to open up the compound? Let Korra out -- and anyone else in?"

"No," Lin said. Tenzin was leaning back in his chair, watching her, his face expectant. Time to drop the bombshell. She sat down, straightened her shoulders and said, "Senna and I think Korra should grow up in Republic City."

The shouting was, if anything, louder this time. Except for Tenzin, who was still watching her, surprise flickering across his face. Surprise and cautious hope.

When the shouting had died down, he said, "Air Temple Island is secure." To his mother, he added, "You saw to that."

"I did," said Katara.

"Is there room for Korra and her family?" asked Sokka.

"There's space for Korra, her parents, the White Lotus guards and half of the Fire Nation royal entourage," said Lin. "Unless the new peninsula has fallen into the sea while I've been away."

"No, it's still there," said Tenzin. "Why Republic City?"

Senna leaned forward. "It's big," she said. "The Avatar should grow up around people of all nations. Rich and poor -- and benders and non-benders. But she'll be safe on Air Temple Island."

"And at school," Lin added. "Republic City Girls College takes girls from the most important families in the Earth Kingdom and Fire Nation. They know how to protect their students."

"No," said Katara. Her voice was mild, thoughtful. "I think Korra should attend Air Acolyte Academy."

Lin blinked.

"Okay," she said. "Why?"

"It's a good school!" said Tenzin defensively.

"And it's secure," Sokka added. "Aang wouldn't have sent his kids there otherwise."

"But it takes all students," said Katara. "I agree that Korra should grow up seeing the whole of society, but there's no point if she only meets spoiled rich girls at school."

"I went to Republic City Girls College," Lin muttered.

"Exactly," said Tenzin. This was an old argument, dating back to when Jade was first learning to walk, and she couldn't believe that he would bring it up now -- and he was smiling, just a little. At her, and this predictable, ridiculous debate about a child who wasn't even theirs.

Against her will, some of Lin's anger melted.

"We are all getting carried away," said Master Tranh. "I, for one, think the Avatar's current arrangements are perfectly adequate."

"Do you have children?" Senna asked.

"I beg your pardon?"

"It's ridiculous that we're even voting on this." Senna's voice cracked. "It should just be me and Tonraq deciding where Korra should grow up. Were other Avatars raised by committee?"

Tonraq reached over and took her hand, gently tugging her down into her chair. "I agree about that," he said. "But, honey, I grew up like Korra -- it was boring in the palace, but when I was old enough to take care of myself, I got to explore, meet other people -- and I was fine."

"But the compound isn't like your father's palace," said Senna. "That was practically a city."

Lin was mentally counting the votes. In favour of moving: herself and Senna -- and Zuko. Maybe Katara? Lin loved her mother-in-law, but she didn't always understand her.

Against: Tonraq. Tranh. Probably Sokka, he was frowning into his beard, looking unhappy as Senna pointed out the opportunities for Korra's bending training in the city.

And Tenzin? She caught his eye, and realised that, while she had been counting votes, he had been studying her. Looking at her, in fact, as if she was suddenly a stranger.

"Let's adjourn for a few minutes," she said, standing up. To Tenzin, she added, "Take a walk with me."

She retrieved her outer layers and they stepped out into the cold afternoon air. Lin leaned against the raised walkway's railing and looked down into the snowy courtyard where her daughters were playing with the Avatar. Korra was bending a long water whip, and Nima and Jinora were chanting as they skipped through it:

"Taro, lychee, pears and plums, tell me when your birthday comes -- yī yuè, èr yuè, sān yuè..."

Jinora lost her footing and got wet, shrieking at the cold.

"Too slow!" Korra yelled, bending the water out of Jinora's leggings. "No, Naga, this isn't--"

Naga threw herself into the game, knocking Jinora. Nima pushed herself out of the way, and, laughing, threw a gust of air at Korra that knocked the little Avatar off her feet.

"They seem happy," said Tenzin.

"They are. Mostly." Lin buried her hands in her pockets. "It's the future I'm thinking of."

"You're a good friend, to stand behind Senna." He was still giving her that look.

"Spit it out," Lin said.

"I just … didn't think you had it in you. This sort of…"

"If you say 'manipulation', I'll bend you into next week."

"I was going to say political machinations."

Lin laughed. "That's your field, Assistant Councilman. I have a real job. Or I did, before I became the Avatar's babysitter."

"I admit, people skills have never been your strength--"

"Oh, smooth."

"--but you always do surprise me." He lowered his voice and added, "I enjoy it."

Lin smiled into her scarf. "Can you make an unbiased decision, though?"

"Of course," he said, to her surprise. "If Korra stays, I'll be right here with you."

The ache in Lin's chest lifted. She closed her eyes, smiling.

"Thank you."

"So tell me," said Tenzin, reaching for her hand and slipping his bare fingers inside her glove, tracing the lines on her palm, "when did you pick up these new negotiating skills?"

"When you missed the Glacier Spirits Festival last year--"

"I did apologise!"

"--Unalaq decided to make me listen to his thoughts on how Korra should be raised."

"Ah." Tenzin was smiling.

"He thinks she has too much freedom, by the way."

"You should tell Tonraq that. He might open the compound just to spite his brother."

Lin snorted. "And then," she went on, "he shared his thoughts on the best way to teach Korra earthbending."

"After which you threw him into the Everstorm?"

"No," said Lin, "I was polite. I even smiled. Twice."

"Impressive." Tenzin pulled her away from the railing, out of sight of the kids. He rested his hands on her hips, keeping her close against him. "Perhaps you should consider going into politics."

Lin smiled. His breath was warm on her face, but she ducked when he leaned forward to kiss her.

"Does this mean you'll vote to move Korra to Republic City?" she whispered.

Tenzin stepped back.

"I…" He lifted his hands. "I'm considering it. You and Senna make a compelling argument. And it would be pleasant to have everyone in Republic City."

"Mm."

The irritable, pessimistic part of her wanted to point out that, this way, he would get everything he wanted: family, career and the opportunity to mentor the Avatar.

This time, she ignored that impulse. She kissed Tenzin quickly on the lips and tugged gently at his beard.

"Trim this," she said. "For my sake. I'll see you inside."

In the meeting room, the others had broken off into pairs: Senna and Tonraq, Sokka and Katara. The odd man out was Master Tranh. He sniffed as Lin returned to her seat.

"You've certainly thrown the owlcat in with the rat-pigeons," he said.

"Isn't the White Lotus meant to serve the Avatar?"

"Precisely." Tranh leaned forward. "You're only concerned with yourself. You want to go back to the United Republic and your business, but you don't want the disgrace of walking away from your obligation to Korra."

It was a problem that Lin had been considering ever since Senna first took her aside and asked her if Korra seemed happy in the compound. It didn't sound any better coming from someone else.

But before Lin could answer, Tonraq said, "Lin has no obligations here. She volunteered. She's given us three years, and she can walk away any time."

"Leaving the White Lotus to find the Avatar an earthbending master, I suppose," said Tranh.

"That's your job," said Katara as Tenzin entered. "None of us are irreplaceable."

"Except Tenzin," Sokka added. "Until Nima gets her arrows, anyway, then he's redundant."

"Thank you, Uncle" said Tenzin, his voice dry.

Tonraq was drumming his fingers on the table.

"What's the latest intelligence from the White Lotus on Zaheer's supporters?" he asked.

Tranh sighed.

"If they exist," he said, "we've been unable to identify them."

"So, as far as we know, there's no immediate danger to Korra?"

"There's always danger," said Lin. "It's one of the things I learned when I was a cop. We just need to decide how to deal with it."

"Korra's safety will always be my highest priority," said Tonraq.

"I know. I feel the same about my kids."

"Well?" Senna asked him. Tonraq looked down.

"Okay," he said, and Senna squeezed his hand.

"Wait," said Sokka. "We can give Korra more freedom without sending her to Republic City. We've just finished upgrading the school--"

"Oh, Sokka," said Katara, smiling, "you're just mad because you won't have Tonraq around to do your job."

"He assists me," said Sokka with dignity.

"With the work you don't want to do?"

"I'm sorry, Chief," said Tonraq, "but the argument for Republic City's a good one. A city that big -- maybe Korra won't stand out."

"It is a great place," Sokka conceded.

Master Tranh cleared his throat.

"Shall we take a formal vote? Or just start packing?"

"Don't sulk," Katara told him. "All in favour?"

It passed. Easily. Lin didn't even need Zuko's proxy to sway the vote. And that was good, she decided, because she didn't know how he would feel about this development, and she didn't want him to feel his trust had been misplaced. She folded his letter neatly and tucked it into her jacket.

"We should wait for Republic City's summer before we move," Senna was saying. "That way the girls' schooling won't be too badly disrupted."

"And we have time to train Naga up," said Tonraq. He put his arm around Senna's shoulder, and as they walked away, Lin heard him say, "How much do you think it'll cost to register a polar bear-dog?"

Master Tranh shook his head as he followed them out, muttering under his breath.

"On the upside," said Sokka, watching him go, "maybe he'll go back to Omashu."

"Be nice," said Katara. "Well done, Lin."

"I told you, I just promised Senna I'd support her."

Sokka gave her a knowing look.

"Stop smirking at me," Lin snapped. "Korra's parents want her to have a normal childhood. They let a bunch of strangers into their lives after Zaheer's attack, and Senna's tired of it. And trust me, she put up with it for a lot longer than I would have."

"Then you might not appreciate me asking," said Katara, "but what are you going to tell Jade?"

Lin blinked. "That we're going home. Why?"

"She won't be happy."

"Jade's never happy."

Katara's gaze was steady. She was waiting for something, but Lin didn't know what. It was Tenzin who broke the impasse.

"What do you think we should tell Jade?" he asked.

His mother smiled. "That she's more than welcome to live with me until she's finished school."

Lin shook her head. "Katara, I know you let her hang around the healing huts, and I appreciate it, but--"

"Lin, Jade may not be a bender, but she's going to make a fine doctor. She can set a bone and deliver a baby--"

"Please tell me you supervised," Sokka muttered.

"--and, believe it or not, she's happy in the South Pole."

"But she's so moody."

"Just like her mother at that age." Katara chuckled. "She wasn't happy to leave her school and all her friends, but she found new friends, a new place for herself. She knows she'll have to go north for university, but … let her do that in her own time."

"She's so young," said Lin. She was trying not to think about Su, sent to live with her grandparents when she was just a year younger than Jade. Su was a stark memory, a warning: you failed your sister, don't fail your daughters. Lin brushed the thought aside. "How can she even know what she wants at that age?"

"You did," said Sokka.

"And look how that worked out," said Lin sharply.

"Keep it in mind," said Katara, and although her voice was gentle, Lin knew this was an order rather than a suggestion.

"She hasn't said anything to me," said Lin.

"Didn't you sometimes find it easier to talk to your grandmother than with Toph?"

'Sometimes' was an understatement, but Katara and Sokka mostly chose to overlook the fact that Lin hadn't spoken to her mother for years.

But Katara just smiled and squeezed Lin's arm.

"I can't pretend I'm not being a little selfish," she said. "I'll miss you."

"You could always visit," said Tenzin.

"I wouldn't mind checking up on Councilman Krenek," Sokka said thoughtfully.

"I'm sure he'd be delighted."

"Don't use that tone on me, Tenzin, I taught you everything you know about sarcasm."

"Sorry, Uncle."

Lin slipped her hand into Tenzin's and led him towards the door.

"Come on," she said. "Let's go home."


end
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