lizbee: (LoK: Lin and Tenzin (back to back))
[personal profile] lizbee
Title: Detour
Author: LizBee
Fandom: Legend of Korra
Characters and Pairing: Lin/Tenzin
Rating: All-ages

Summary: A few months ago, Lin was a promising young police officer. Now she has to find a new path.

Notes: Set in the same AU as "Avalanche". It's called the President Beifong AU on AO3, even though I haven't really gotten to any of the presidential stuff yet. This fic comes with thanks to multivitamins and praticamente-innocua, which between them gave me the strength to start recovering from The Cold I've Had Since March.


Officially, no one knew about Aang's last-minute diversion to the Northern Air Temple. In reality, a small crowd gathered on the terrace to watch Appa land. While the welcoming party's attention was on the Avatar, Lin climbed gingerly down from Appa and all but collapsed in Tenzin's arms.

"I had no idea you were coming!" he was saying. "Are you staying long? How was Omashu, did Dad get the succession sorted? Why is he here? I thought you were going on to the Northern Water Tribe. Are you okay?"

Lin pulled a paper bag of tea from her jacket and put it in his hands.

"Make me a pot of this," she said. "I have to go and be sick."

She made it to the bathroom in time, for once, and lingered afterwards, washing her face and trying to tidy her windswept shoulder-length hair.

She looked tired, she thought, and too pale. The scars on her cheeks looked fierce and red from the wind. Just a few months ago, she had been a promising young police officer, neatly groomed and unscarred, completely certain of the path her life would take. Now she looked like a stranger. She still had nightmares about metal cables striking her face. Part of her wanted to get as far away from Republic City as she could.

"Quit stalling," she told herself, and turned her back on her reflection.

Tenzin was waiting for her in the communal dining area, a pot of ginger and cardamom tea and a plate of dry rice crackers sitting before him. He jumped to his feet as she approached, helping her into a chair, fussing as if she were fragile.

"Quit it with the mother turtleduck routine," she said, swallowing her first cup of tea in a few gulps. "It's not the end of the world."

"But you're so rarely sick--"

She sniffed cautiously at a rice cracker, then put it down in favour of more tea.

"I'm not sick," she said. The dining area was almost empty, but she lowered her voice and said, "I'm pregnant. Congratulations."

"You -- we--" Tenzin froze for a second, then widened his eyes, forced a smile on his face and said, "That's amazing!"

"Isn't it, though." She finished her second cup of tea. "Look, you don't have to pretend you're not terrified."

"Oh. Thank goodness." He hesitated, picking up a rice cracker and snapping it in half. "It's not that I'm not happy ... I think? But a baby -- and it's so sudden--"

"I know," she said. "There's a thing growing inside me, and it's disgusting."

"Well, I don't know if--"

"Don't argue."

He gave her a weak smile and began to crumble the rice cracker.

"How far along are you?" he asked. "When are you due? Are you terrified? Where do you want to live? Should we get a place of our own? I should come home right away -- or go with you to the Northern Water Tribe. I should be with you."

"I think I'm due in the Fall," said Lin, "so I'm a couple of months along now, probably. I'll know more when I see a healer." She claimed a rice cracker of her own and took a cautious bite. "Travelling by sky bison makes me puke," she said. "We managed in Omashu -- just -- but I'm no use to your dad if I'm losing my breakfast over the Earth Kingdom. Aang will keep going north, and I'll take the next airship back to Republic City."

Her mother, she thought bleakly, would be delighted. A grandchild to fill the Suyin-shaped hole in their family. Another kid to be coaxed and occasionally bullied into metalbending before the age of ten. Another tribute to Toph Beifong's ego.

If she thought about it too much, she'd be sick again.

"I should come with you," Tenzin said.

And that was another thing. Obligation and expectations. She didn't know how to be a mother, let alone how to be a mother and a partner at the same time.

"You don't have to drop everything," she said. "We've got time."

"Lin," said Tenzin, "I want to be with you." His hand curled around hers. "This is an important time. We should share it. I want--"

She growled, "Tenzin, if you ask me to marry you, I will throw you off this mountain."

He stopped, nodded and said, "If that's what you want."

"Trust me. A kid is one thing, I'm not ready for the rest of it."

His grin made him look much younger than twenty-three. "Good."

Lin smiled in spite of herself.

"Stop trying so hard to do the right thing," she said. "I don't need you to have all the answers."

"I just … want to be a good father."

It was exactly the sort of earnest statement that her mother liked to laugh at. She didn't know how to respond -- whether to make fun of Tenzin, or burst into tears, or run screaming from the mountain -- so she just smiled.

"Whatever you want," she said finally. "I don't want to tie you down."

Tenzin frowned, hunching forward, looking younger than his twenty-four years. "I'm confused," he said. "Don't you want me with you?"

"Of course I do," Lin snapped. "But not out of obligation!"

"We're having a baby!"

He was almost shouting. Someone on the other side of the room cheered, but fell silent when Lin turned to glare at her.

When the others had hastily left, she returned her attention to Tenzin.

"That's not what I mean," she said through gritted teeth. "I don't need to be coddled. And I don't want you hating me because I made you leave your favourite Air Temple just to watch me -- I don't know. Getting acupuncture for morning sickness and fighting with Mom. Why should you give up your dream just because -- because--"

She couldn't bring herself to go any further. Her fists were clenched, she realised, and she had to force herself to relax and open her hands.

Tenzin took a deep breath, opened his mouth as if to speak, then thought better of it. She watched as he poured himself a cup of her now-lukewarm ginger tea, concentrating all her attention on his movements, trying to acknowledge her emotions without drowning in them, the way Aang always advised.

Eventually, he said, "Do you miss being a cop?"

She sighed. Closed her eyes and put her head in her hands. That was Tenzin: still the gawky kid who read old Air Nomad scrolls for fun and called his sky bison his best friend, but also the man who could look at her and see everything, all her fears and secrets and failures.

"Yes," she said finally. "And it's stupid -- I've been doing important work with Aang, but this -- if I have a baby, I can't go back. Ever."

"Because … police officers can't have kids?"

"Because, in my experience, you can be a good cop or a good mom, but not both." She sniffled. "Isn't that stupid?"

"Maybe to someone who doesn't know your mom."

"I don't want to be like her."

"You won't be."

"I'm scared our kid might turn out like Suyin." Lin wiped her eyes on the back of her hand. "And don't tell me that won't happen, because I basically raised Su."

"Here." He handed her a handkerchief.

"Thanks. Sorry, I just -- feelings. Hormones, maybe. I feel stupid." She blew her nose and stuck the handkerchief in her pocket.

"The thing is," Tenzin said, "your mother was on her own, and I know for a fact she didn't like accepting help, even from my parents. It's not like that for us." He took Lin's hand and squeezed it. "We have each other, and my parents -- and your mom, if you want her around. My uncle. The Acolytes, if we live on Air Temple Island. Even my brother and sister." He frowned. "But only as a last resort."

Lin gave him a watery smile.

"Let's take a walk," she said. He slid his arm around her shoulders and squeezed her against him, and she felt some of her anxiety ease.

"Dad knows, right?" he said.

"Yeah. He felt pretty bad about finding out before you."


"I threw up on the new Queen of Omashu's shoes. I don't want to talk about it."

Tenzin winced. "I see."

He took her through to the mural room. The steam pipes the Mechanist had installed were gone, and repairs to the murals were almost complete. Painted sky bison covered the walls, the colours fresh and vibrant.

"This is nice," she said.

"It's my favourite part of the temple," Tenzin admitted. "I know Dad was upset by the Mechanist's changes, but I think it makes a difference, knowing this place wasn't completely abandoned. It's less lonely than the other air temples."

"We can bring our kid here one day."

"I'd like that."

Lin created a low stone seat and sat down.

"You want to know the stupid part?" she asked.

"Absolutely," said Tenzin.

"I don't even really want to be a cop anymore. That's not my life, now. It's just hard, letting go."

"I understand."

"I had everything planned. Detective by twenty-five. Sergeant by thirty. We'd get around to having kids one day."

"Yeah. One day." Tenzin's little snort stirred the dried plaster piled up in a corner. Children had always been an abstract. Something they didn't have to think about for a decade or so.

She sighed and said, "Now I'm ruining your plans, too."

"I'm an airbender. I'm meant to be flexible."

"'Meant to be.'"

He pulled her closer, and Lin put her head on his shoulder.

"We'll make it work," he said. "I don't really know what I'm doing either, but we'll figure it out." Sounding happier, he added, "There are books on parenting. We have lots of time to research."

It was the most ridiculous, most Tenzin thing to say. Lin closed her eyes and started to laugh.

After a moment, he joined her.

"What should we do?" he asked when they were calm again.

Lin sighed. "I'm not ready to go back to Republic City."

"Do you have to?"

She shrugged. "I guess I want the kid to be born there. But … you've got a Healer here, right?"

"Una. She's … brusque. Doesn't suffer fools."

"She sounds great."

There was a look of hope and delight in Tenzin's face as he said, "You want to stay?"

"Aren't you always saying the project needs more earthbenders? If Una says everything's normal, we can stay until the end of summer. Maybe by then I'll be able to look at a sky bison without throwing up."

And the distance meant she could write to her mother, instead of telling her in person. Whoever read the letter to Toph could suffer through her jokes and self-congratulations. That would probably be Katara, but Lin figured she'd be forgiven.

"It will be like a holiday," said Tenzin. "I know it's not exactly Ember Island--"

"It doesn't need to be," said Lin. "You know, I've barely stopped in one place for more than a week since I left the force."

"I didn't like to point it out." He traced the lines of her palm with his hand. "It's a miracle we've had enough time together to conceive."

"That's one word for it." She squeezed his hand. "I guess now I need to figure out what to do next. I love working with your dad, but I can't follow him around the world with a kid in my arms."

"I'm sure you could find a way. But I'd worry."

"I think…" Lin had lived with these formless ideas for years, but she still struggled to put them into words. But forcing herself to articulate them was better than looking back at her old, shattered ambitions.

"I want to build something," she said at last. "I keep thinking about how cities shape lives. Not just cities, but that's the biggest example. Houses. Homes. I keep thinking, if we had better housing in Republic City -- instead of stuffing poor families into tenements and slums, with five families to a couple of rooms and no running water -- would that reduce crime?"

"That's Mom's theory. But there's no motivation for landlords to do better."

Lin pulled her knees to her chest. "I think I'm going to go to university. Become an architect."

"With a baby?"

"Why not?" She elbowed him gently. "Weren't you telling me about all the people we'll have to help us."

"No, no, I can see it. It's just … so different from where we thought we'd be a year ago."

A year ago, she had been a promising young police officer with a sister. A year from now, she would be a young mother attending university. One day, she supposed, she'd barely remember how it felt when her cables lacerated her face.

Lin said, "Your dad told me that change is part of life."

"I know. But it scares me. I don't think I'm a very good airbender, Lin, I'm not good at this."

"Me neither." She shifted so that their foreheads were touching. That was the light chakra, Aang had told her, the third eye. The chakra of wisdom, blocked by illusion. She felt profoundly unwise. But maybe she had been disillusioned, at least a little. "We'll manage together," she said.

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