Lin visits Korra regularly during her recovery. At first, she comes armed with excuses, with earthbending exercises that can be performed without the need to stand and tidbits of gossip about Republic City. After a while, however, she doesn't bother to explain. She's just on the ferry every other day, like clockwork. Korra is not recovering as fast as anyone would like. She has a look in her eyes that reminds Lin of Aang in certain quiet moments. He was never one for despair, at least not in Lin's memory, but he would sometimes grow quiet, thinking, he said, about all the choices in his lives that brought him to this place. He'd always grin, eventually, but Lin doesn't see Korra smile much.
"Hang in there, kid," she says, when she leaves, but it feels inadequate. She's never been good with words; she'd rather make the actions count.
She runs into Kya quite often on the island. She and Katara are monitoring the healing process, no doubt hovering over Korra in the most frustrating way. That's how they always were if they were around when Lin was hurt or sick. It's been a long time since she's gotten to spend any time with Kya. She'd left to travel the world and hone her skills back when Lin was still dating Tenzin. Her visits back to Republic City were infrequent and often ended abruptly after squabbles with her siblings. She isn't rooted here, not like Lin, whose bones are in the buildings, whose breath is in the city air.
Lin spends the afternoon pushing Korra around the temple since Asami hinted that the Avatar could probably use some sunshine. This is a frustrating endeavor for them both. Korra hates being pushed, but her muscles haven't recovered enough for her to move more than small distances on her own. And it reminds Lin how much the Air Temple was built for people who can walk, with stairs everywhere. After the past few weeks, she thinks they should have made accommodations. She smooths stairs into ramps with a sort of vicious satisfaction and doesn't change them back behind her. Tenzin will complain later that she's ruining the traditional architecture, but he's not here now. He and some of the other airbenders are providing aid in the Earth Kingdom for the next month or so.
Pema invites Lin to dinner, like she does most days, and Lin accepts, which is somewhat unusual, but Pema doesn't even blink. She hands Lin chopsticks and bowls to set the table, and after the meal, Lin and Kya stand outside together and stare out into the sunset.
"I worry sometimes," Kya says, in one of her more serious moods tonight. She glances over in Lin's direction. Lin squints into the gold of the sun and nods.
"Korra isn't recovering as quickly as you hoped," Lin says, less a question than a statement.
Kya blinks, brow furrowing in surprise. "No, Lin, I mean about you. Do you do anything with your life besides work and visiting Korra?"
"You don't need to worry about me," Lin answers. How many times has she had this conversation with a well-meaning friend over the years? (Less and less. She doesn't have so many friends anymore who don't have the same kind of marriage to their career.)
"You Bei Fong girls would say you're fine right up until your foot falls off," Kya says. "Your aura isn't as bright as it was."
"Big surprise," Lin says, turning away, "we're growing old."
"Lin!" Kya says, reaching for her sleeve, "please. I'm not -- I'm not saying you should be married with a bunch of little earthbenders running around. I know you're not Suyin. I just wonder if you're happy."
"I'm happy," Lin insists.
"Okay," Kya says. "I'm glad," she continues, sounding sincere. It's been a while since someone who asked that question has actually believed Lin.
The next time Lin visits, Kya runs into her in the hallway.
"Hey, do you know any good restaurants in the city? I am dying for some actual protein," she says, whispering behind her hand like they are co-conspirators, children again with their "girls-only" cave. Lin doesn't sense any deception in her; this isn't a pity date or a check-in, just a woman who could really use non-vegetarian food.
Lin knows all of the good restaurants in the city, the ones with faded signs and sawdust on the floor, the great Fire Nation takeout restaurant in the heart of an Earth Kingdom neighborhood, the ones you only visit on weekdays around noon for the lunch special.
"Come on," she says. They end up eating fried eels three blocks from Lin's house, and Kya licks the grease from her fingers with satisfaction.
"There used to be a little place we used to go, down by where the ferry lets off, remember?" she says to Lin. "The one we got banned from when I was fifteen. It's not there anymore."
"Mr. Pha died quite some time ago," Lin says. "He un-banned me after I made detective and promised not to finish any more food fights."
"I thought you started that one," Kya says with a laugh, and Lin smiled.
They reminisce for a while, Kya trading stories of her journeys for stories of the city she had left. When Kya finally has to go back to the temple, Lin goes home to her quiet house and sleeps better than she has in weeks.
The thing was, Lin really isn't lonely. There is more than one way to find happiness in the world, and she has hers. Her life is not perfect, but she has a job that makes a difference in the world, a house she has to share with no one, and friends, old and new, she can spend time with if she chooses. She dates occasionally but she hasn't had a long-term relationship for a while. And yet, every time someone wants to hurt her, they tell her that she's made nothing for herself in the world. Lin has made a space for herself; that's all she needs.
Lin meets with Kya for dinner a couple times a week. It's just a small addition to her comfortable routine. They walk through the streets together afterwards, most days. Kya notices things that Lin has never seen. Lin sees her past here, the criminal enterprises she has raided and the citizens she has helped. Kya buys flowers at a ridiculous mark-up from the street children and makes Lin take them home, telling her that she got her sense of style from her mother and needs more greenery in her house, less rock and metal. Sometimes Lin remembers to water them.
It is comfortable, being friends with Kya again. Kya tells her about the small healing practice she's opened, since she doesn't need to be with Korra all the time, especially as she begins to finally improve. Lin talks about work and about pro-bending (they're rebuilding the stadium now, and she's gotten caught up in the excitement). By mutual unspoken agreement, they don't talk about Tenzin. Sometimes Kya stays over with Lin to have a break from the busy life of the temple.
That arrangement works perfectly until Tenzin comes home, dirty but satisfied with the progress they have been making toward peace.
Korra explodes over dinner. Lin has missed the Avatar's rising tension, caught up in a discussion of bending techniques with Kya. Earth and water are not quite opposites, and Lin has thought of a couple of techniques that she think might work quite well with ice. Lin doesn't even know what the other end of the table is talking about when the Avatar slams to her feet. Everyone stops moving and stares. Korra has been walking a little with a cane, but she doesn't move quickly.
"Stop talking like that!" she shouts, tears in her voice. "I'm here, I'm sitting right here, I'm still the Avatar and I don't need you to do my job ever!"
She seizes her cane and walks out of the room, leaving utter silence in her wake for just a moment before everyone stands up to go after her. It makes the little room seem crowded, even with Asami and Mako and Bolin absent on their own errands.
"Let me talk to her," Kya says.
Lin rose when everyone else had and she has her feet planted to the floor, listening to Korra's determined shuffling back toward her room. She's glad that Korra makes it on her own. She knows what it feels like when your body won't respond the way you need it -- she remembers losing her bending, and she knows how sore she is some mornings when she doesn't get enough sleep or she's overdone it the night before.
"Korra and I have been making some progress -- not just physically, but mentally. I think she'd listen to me," Kya says.
Tenzin sighs. "Well, she's never been very good at listening to me. Please go, Kya."
She does, and the rest of them hesitate, staring at the table as if trying to remember what they had been doing. The kids sit down and go back to eating. Lin picks at her food for another few minutes before she gets up. Kya and Korra haven't emerged from Korra's room, which isn't surprising, but there isn't any more shouting, so that's something. She helps Jinora feed the bison and watches Ikki demonstrate some complicated little air game that seems to work on rules that she makes up as she goes along. She's not bad with older kids; it's the younger ones that are a mystery to her, and Pema, Tenzin, and Katara seem to be fine with Meelo and Rohan.
After a while, children entertained and food put away, she finds a place to wait for Kya and watch the sun go down. It warms her armor in a comfortable way and she's dozing a little on her feet when she hears Tenzin's light step down the hall. She opens her eyes.
"Lin?" he says, sounding surprised. "I thought you'd have left by now."
"I'm waiting for Kya," she answers with a shrug. She moves over a little and Tenzin joins her on the porch. He glances toward Korra's door, which remains closed.
"I never meant for her to think I was replacing her," he says. "I just didn't want her to hurry her recovery because she was worried about taking care of everyone."
"I know," Lin says. He always has the best of intentions, in her experience, but that doesn't always lead to the best results. He's never been able to figure out why.
Tenzin sighs. "It's been a difficult few years for everyone," he says.
"You should be telling her that instead of me," Lin says.
"I know, I know," Tenzin says. He tells her that he visited her sister before coming back to Republic City, and Lin is pleased that the sound of Suyin's name doesn't evoke so much anger and frustration any longer. She has her sister back, in all of her irritating maternal glory.
They talk about easier things, like the weather and small issues the council is currently debating, the things he is teaching his new airbenders and the more interesting arrests that Lin has made lately. Whatever else Korra has changed, she has helped Lin's life change as well. That's something an Avatar does, Lin thinks.
"I didn't realize you and Kya were so close," Tenzin says abruptly. He gives her a quick, uncertain look. The sun has almost disappeared over the horizon.
"She wanted to know where she could buy good tea around here," Lin says, and now she feels guarded. She's not sure where Tenzin is going with this.
"Pema said you go out quite a bit," Tenzin says carefully.
"Yes," Lin says, after a moment's consideration. She says nothing else. The rising tension stretches and breaks. Of course Tenzin is the one to break it. Best intentions, right?
"Lin, are you in a relationship with my sister?"
"What kind of a question is that?" she asks, irritated. She can hear the blood rushing in her ears, her fists suddenly clenched at her sides. "Is that any of your business?"
"Well, are you?" he asks. "I wouldn't be upset--"
"You don't have the right to be upset," she answers back, and she must have started shouting without realizing it, because Korra's door has opened and Kya is looking out.
Lin hasn't kissed Kya; she's hardly touched her, really. But she does know what Kya smells like -- she always smells a little like the sea -- and the confidence in her walk, the laugh in her voice when she teases Lin back. Lin has never realized how beautiful Kya is. Now that she has, she will never be able to look at her the same way. She is surprised by how terrifying that is.
"Are you guys okay out here?" Kya asks.
Lin nods curtly and then she walks away. She keeps walking, crossing the compound and descending the one-hundred eight steps to the dock. (She counted once.) She goes home alone. No one comes after her.
The next night Lin takes an evening shift at work. She doesn't do that very often now that she's the one approving the schedule, but the officer scheduled to work the desk is out unexpectedly; her sister had a baby today and there were complications. Instead of calling one of the junior officers, she sits at the front desk and watches. She makes the night shift nervous, but they do their jobs. She takes theft reports and coordinates officers going out. It is relaxing to do only this much.
When she goes home at dawn she cannot sleep. She goes back to work but dozes off in her office around noon. Mako is the one who interrupts her, and he's nearly as embarrassed as she is when he catches her sleeping. She goes home for the day.
She wakes up again when it is beginning to get dark, disoriented and achy and irritated with herself for ruining her sleep schedule. She's late for her usual visit with Korra and she isn't sure what will happen if she goes. She can't bring herself to stay home, though. Not going would be like admitting there's a problem. Lin isn't ready to admit her current uncertainties to anyone.
As it turns out, Kya isn't present anyway. She and Katara are on a trip to the South Pole to catch up on some necessary business. Lin fights down the disappointment and tells Korra a number of stories about her and Tenzin in their youth, much to Tenzin's dismay. She doesn't stay for dinner.
Kya comes back the next week and they pick up just like before. Lin doesn't ask if Tenzin took her advice, but the atmosphere lightens on the island gradually. Korra leans on Lin sometimes as they walk around the temple and begins to talk about returning to her duties.
Sometimes Lin feels like she's drowning. Now that she has noticed Kya it is impossible to stop. She hangs back, is careful not to show it like some lovestruck little girl. They are too different for this to work, she decides. Kya won't be here much longer. When she leaves, Lin's crush will fade.
It had better be soon. Lin loves Kya's gentleness and her candor. She admires Kya's ability to talk to anyone, anywhere, her astonishing lack of suspicion. She tells Lin that trusting someone can bring out the best in that person.
Lin knows that Kya would be polite in rejecting her, and she can't imagine any other scenario. Kya is bubbly and open with her affections, often taking Lin's arm as they walk down the street or resting a hand on her shoulder. She doesn't shy away from the cold metal of Lin's armor.
Lin likes that, but she doesn't say anything.
Four months after Korra nearly lost her life to the Red Lotus, she ends up in a holding cell in Lin's jail. The officer on duty calls Lin at home. Kya and Lin abandon a pai sho game that Lin had been winning. Korra looks at Lin curiously when she arrives with Kya beside her.
"What's that about, Chief?" she asks, and Lin pretends not to understand the question, launching into a lecture about criminal behavior in her town so Korra has accusations to rebut. Kya offers to take Korra back with her to Air Temple Island. Korra refuses. She wants to begin investigating the woman who landed her in this situation, a thief, she says, with bright green eyes. That describes about half of the women Lin has on file for theft, but she offers to let Korra look through her recent arrest files. She doesn't expect Korra to take her up on the offer, but surprisingly she does.
"Call me if you find something," she commands, not expecting her words to do any good, and she and Kya head back out into the night. She can think of worse places to leave the Avatar than in her police station, she tells Kya. Kya laughs.
"I think she's feeling better," Kya says. "Mom is talking about going home soon. She misses the village."
Disappointment swells hotly in Lin. She just nods and doesn't say anything.
"I'm really going to miss it here," Kya says, looking over at Lin.
"I thought you liked travel," Lin says, trying to keep it light.
"Well," Kya says, "I do, but I always miss the people." She reaches out and catches Lin's hand in hers, swinging their arms, and when Lin turns toward her with the forward momentum, Kya catches her under the chin and kisses her on the mouth.
Lin kisses her back. There is a part of her screaming that they are in a public street and she is in uniform (she is always in uniform) and someone could see. And it isn't that Lin is embarrassed to be caught kissing a woman -- that is hardly a concern nowadays -- but that she's embarrassed to be caught being vulnerable. There are few things she likes less than betraying weakness, but she is beginning to realize that there's something brave and daring to it, into taking that leap. And Kya has beaten her to it.
She drops Kya's hand and gribs her by the elbows, not roughly, but firmly, and they kiss in the street like teenagers until an actual passing teenager shouts something rude in their direction.
"Let's go back to my house," Lin says. Kya agrees.
Lin hasn't had anyone in her bed in far too long. At least a couple of years, she thinks, possibly longer. When had Korra come to Republic City? The Avatar brought, just like she'd thought at the time, a lot of chaos to her life. It's probably saying something that she's glad at how quickly Korra has recovered.
She's missed the intimacy, she realizes. The orgasm is nice as well, but she feels a deep satisfaction when they are done and curl up together, sweaty, with Kya's arm wrapped comfortably around her shoulder. She traces a raised scar with a finger.
"Non-bender, knife. I was off-duty, wasn't wearing my armor," Lin says. Kya's fingers cross Lin's breast, pause at a pucker on her sternum.
"Perp had the brilliant idea to try to bend my armor. Picked the wrong officer," she says.
"Your body looks like a war zone," Kya says, sounding almost exasperated.
Lin says nothing. Sometimes, that's the way she feels about her job. That does not stop her from loving all of it -- from the exhilaration she feels when she is pushing back against law-breaking, to the little soft feeling she has when she gets to pull someone back to her feet, even the way the armor freezes a little against her body when she's out on a cold night, even the twinge in her knee from a barfight that occurred the second week she was on the job. She is still amazed that her mother gave it up, and that was twenty years ago.
"Why'd you do that?" Kya asks, looking up at her.
"What?" Lin asks.
"Go so stiff," Kya says. "You're like a board."
Lin shuts her eyes. "Are we fooling ourselves?" she asks. Her heartbeat stays steady, somehow.
"What do you mean?" Kya asks, and she sits up in the bed. She starts to comb tangles out of her hair.
"Are we fooling ourselves?" Lin repeats. "That this could work, I mean. You and I. I can't... I won't leave Republic City."
Kya looks surprised. "I wasn't going to ask. I figured you might get some vacation, though. Since I imagine you haven't had one in the last twenty years. And I like to travel. There are letters. It's not like we're getting engaged right now, Lin. We don't have to know everything right now."
Lin has always had expectations hovering over her relationships. These are usually the expectations that end them. She takes a deep breath.
"As long as you don't write letters like Uncle Sokka, I think that could work," she says. Kya giggles; Lin smiles. She likes the way that she feels with Kya, like they are girls again, caught up in excitement together.
"At least half of those letters were usually legible," Kya argues. She smiles at Lin and Lin smiles back. Lin reaches over for Kya's hand, and takes it.
Tenzin shouts about it when they tell him. They shout back and win the argument. Korra says it's weird, but she soon has more serious things to focus on. The thief that landed Korra in jail, the night she first kissed Kya, is only the beginning of the problem. But eventually Kya goes back to the South Pole and writes a number of letters. Lin writes back. Kya visits. Occasionally they argue, sometimes for fun. Lin had been happy with her life before. She is still happy now.
Lin steps off the boat, her feet crunching on the snow that Kya jokes is either late or just really early. In Republic City the trees are budding. There are two interim police-chiefs, in the hopes that that will be sufficient. She has three weeks off, and Kya has already been talking about the places she wants to visit in the southern Earth Kingdom, places Lin has not been in years. She did her best to talk herself out of worrying about her city on her way over, but it's Kya's smile that finally drives those concerns out of her mind. She takes Lin's hand, and it feels like the first time.