Work Header

Years When Something Whispered

Work Text:

Every ten days

---and every two weeks---

the ferry takes Jinora over the water, returning in both directions. The wind in the stretched sail is the same, and the breeze over the waves is the same on every ocean, in every world. Jinora breathes in the same pattern, and the timbre of her voice is young. Her words---always---are measured and exact. Just fine, thank you. They are doing well on the island, thank you for asking. If my father will consider bringing the new harbor law before the council, I will mention what you've told me about the squirrelgulls' tidal homes.

She carries with her the things she cannot leave anywhere, which are as few as the things she can. Tucked in her change of clothes: whatever book she might reading, a wooden necklace that she doesn’t wear, and a chunk of black meteor she breaks and reforms with thought.

Things are a little different, in this variation.


Toph Bei Fong establishes the Republic City Police Force, recruiting earthbenders that will become metalbenders that will become the law, and five years after her death her daughter Lin is the chief of operations. Lin Bei Fong reports directly to the grand council, oversees patrol overlaps, and adds a personal touch to witness protection and press response. She does her own recruiting, and contributes to the writing of the laws she will enforce.

This is the same. Lin Bei Fong is always a busy woman.

Does Toph Bei Fong ever meet her granddaughter?


Air Temple Island is open skies, and trees, and the sounds of her half siblings high above her, chasing one another through raw shifts of the lower atmosphere. There are dirt paths that go blurry when they meet the water, and stones that are as ancient as the sea itself.

The section of Republic City police station where Jinora waits for her mother---those days---is a den of cornered hallways and closed-off rooms. There are low ceilings lit by wired lights. There is an area with benches, near windows that come to a close view of the next building, where men and women wait to collect older brothers, or wives, or husbands or sons or---sometimes---girls her age. Jinora remembers these girls vividly: either sullen or sneering or weeping outright. She does her best to never stare, to never look for her own heart in the brief selves of these city criminals.

None of them pay her much attention.

The desk clerk knows Jinora, but he still puts her name down in the log book, every time.


Are Lin Bei Fong and Tenzin in love?

For a time, yes.


Most evenings, her mother has paperwork, or meetings with the prosecutors’ bureau. Sometimes she is held on special rounds, supervising patrols that have taken on new officers or new responsibilities. It is typical for Jinora to not see her mother until after the station has cycled to the night shift, officers trading tired nods, acknowledging her presence politely. They’ve even brought her food, before, snackstuffs full-removed from menus or from kitchens. Paper-wrapped rice balls or greasy sealpig strips. Moth-honey dough in bags.

“Chief told us to pick this up for you.”

Late case. Or simply, “You know how it is.”

Jinora does.

Once—in winter---when reporters had hounded the station for facts about a missing leader of the Agni Kais, a camera lifted to the window caught a close shot of two of the assigned investigators. The next day, a junior captain handed Jinora a copy of the R.C. press and pointed to the photo on the third page. The crop is awkward, and the paired story has nothing favorable to say about the force, but Jinora is there---in focus---concentrating on working stone chopsticks around a clump of fire flakes.


Jinora does a lot of reading, solitary hours spent in books, days spent in books, in solitary hours.


The third photograph of Jinora ever taken is a photograph of Ikki, and Tenzin, and Pema. The second is a photograph of a Tenzin, blessing the launch of a new airship.

The first is a photograph of Lin.


Jinora does a lot of reading. Only here, her place in the pages is marked in sand, a little grain she can always feel and find.


Do Lin Bei Fong and Tenzin love eachother?

For a time, certainly.


Jinora knows the first four paths through the spinning gates, the steps and the stances that will carry her like current through the relic maze. She knows the next two paths as well, but she cannot glide, and cannot twist herself out of gravity with a palm.

"Ikki will demonstrate."


When Jinora is eight, she will always teach Ikki how to brush the most direct picture marks. First “Air”. Then Water. Then her Earth. She instructs Ikki in the characters for their names, and the symbols that will push phrases into tenses. Ikki is an impatient learner, and forgets roots halfway through compound sentences, but she believes in her sibling’s knowledge, and together: they write, and together: Ikki reads.

What is different?

Jinora bends her marks in layers of wet clay. Ikki copies her in black-dyed water. She makes mistakes, but Jinora shows her how to spread her hands and bend the surface smooth. It makes sense, but the lesson only translates into Ikki splashing her with spellings, and Jinora changing the marks for Ikki’s names into a crude scrawl of a fat sky bison, and Ikki splashing her again, and both of them laughing, and really: nothing changes here.


What does Lin teach Jinora?

Is Lin a good teacher?

Is Toph?

What does Toph Bei Fong impart to Lin of their element and power? How to be as rock itself, the stuff of mountains in your knuckles. How to clear dust with the hands. How to walk upon the earth so that it recalls your steps. How to listen.

Toph Bei Fong is Lin’s model for this kind of caring, always.

What does Lin teach Jinora, in the city? Bending impure alloys and chipped pieces of the street? How to run an arrest, a raid, a riot? Does she believe that what she gives Jinora---if not time---should be intensely personal?

Toph Bei Fong was a figure and a force in more than just Lin’s world. But their world was made of earth, then, hills you could tear into with your hands.


Officers have brought Jinora food, before, snackstuffs full-removed from menus or from kitchens. “Chief told us to pick this up for you.”

Late case. Or: interrogation. Her mother has inherited a sense for lies, and skills that Jinora will not let herself think about. It is a little overwhelming, how much Lin cares about the city, how few gates there are between her awareness and her focus. Jinora has tried to carry herself like her mother---her manner is steel---but she cannot bend metal, and she cannot speak in orders. There is a sense of strength that is all earthbender in her, but she is ten years old, and quiet, and reserved. A stone is reserved. A boulder is reserved.

When Jinora reads of Republic City’s history, and of The Discovery Of The Iceberg and Victory Over The Phoenix King, it is easy to picture the character of her grandmother: the frail secret of the rich Bei Fong’s, the crass champion of the badgermoles, the blind trickster.


Jinora’s favorite book---in fiction---is the story of a child emperor’s sacred guards and the charge of their royal caravan in a hostile jungle. Only, one of the guards is really the emperor’s older sister. Except, no one else is supposed to know this, because she’s had to doubly disguise herself to escape the other players in a prophecy that foretells of the emperor “forgetting his kingdom”. But the caravan must pass through enemy lands, and she can’t figure out if she’s in love with the unknown warrior that claims that the emperor has already forgotten him, and that he heralds a---well, it is all very complex.


Jinora likes Korra right away. Korra rides a polar bear dog, and gives hugs, and is the Avatar.


Jinora’s favorite books---in all styles---are those that feature a little of herself.

Lin belongs to newspapers.


Officers have brought Jinora food, before, snackstuffs full-removed from menus or from kitchens. “Chief told us to pick this up for you.”

Late case. Or: Lin cooks. They find a fire-tile, and Lin and Jinora clear out a little space on the floor of the main Resources office to cook the food that Lin has brought to share. Lin runs the tile too hot, and the three packets of noodles come to froth before they’re cooked. Jinora removes the eggs and the greens from the chest of waterbent ice and tries to time their entrance to the pot, but they end up with sticky noodles and peppers that crunch like tar.

There is little that Lin can enjoy describing to Jinora about her job, and her job is everything in this building, and everything in the city. Even while bending the lip of metal closed over the steam, dumplings sizzling a little too soft, Lin is sorting through a folder of the week’s reports. But she has a free hand, and her fingers nudge out the rice and spoon into the middle of their space. She has endured enough Events and Ceremonies to know that bending your food is a Bad Example, but Jinora’s etiquette is impeccable already. Jinora answers the proffered rice with a flask of tea. Lin accepts. Lin wants badly to try to find more than these simple givings in these nights, but Jinora is nothing she can bend, not even if she wanted to, not even if she knew the shape it would make of her own self.

“I’m thinking of promoting Yu Zei.”

Jinora takes these words like a sound. ” Is she that good?”

“If you’d see her in the field, you’d be impressed.”

“Has she tested in the Ground Sixth, yet?”

The U.F.’s earthbender training course. Nine days' journey from the city.

“This isn’t like that. She’ll have to be decisive, and she’ll have to be alright with working when things aren’t in control.”

Lin peels back the first skin of her third dumpling. She is hungry. It has been a long day. Now it is Jinora’s turn to guess at what the conversation wants.

“Will the others believe in her?”

“They’ll trust her. That’s enough.”


Jinora is on Air Tempe Island when she hears that her mother has resigned the force. She tries to recall everything she can about the officers that might have been there that night, that might have lost their bending, and it is only when the third bell rings in the temple that she remembers that none of them are dead.

Only missing.


Yu Zei is promoted to the head of Hostage Squad. Chief Saikhan tells her he would have made the same choice.


The equalists come down on black hooks that bite into the rock. With a cry, Jinora sends a flurry of stones at a chi-blocker’s knee---elbow---face---ribs---four quick strikes that put her in the next crouched stance. Eyes to movement at the north. Ears to movement at the east and south. Earth all around her. The next equalist rushes in, and Jinora puts everything into her heels, vaulting off the tip of the newborn claw of earth.

She flies a little like an airbender.

She comes down like a falling rock. The next attacker’s shoulder takes the bit of meteor, gives it back wet. She checks her breathing. Even and calm. She cries out again.

Ikki and Meelo do not join the fight. They only watch as The Police Boss Lady and their sister drag up walls from the ground and lash at the ring of masked warriors. Amon’s lieutenant holds up his batons to catch Lin’s whips, but before he can do anything else, Jinora squeezes his ankle in pebbles and twists. It’s sloppy form, but her mother draws back her iron lines and turns to the southwest, just slightly.

Jinora will cover the open corner. Jinora will---

Tenzin is there in the courtyard like a hurricane.

“Get inside! Get Pema and anyone else onto the bisons and go!”


The great Sato airships grind cloud through their engines, pushing through the headwind, gaining speed.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

It is one year ago, and there is an “emergency mission” that Lin has expected for a month and so Jinora is alone today. Her book is dull, and the view of the street is practically blank, so Jinora works her senses into the seams of her mother’s apartment. There is only a little dirt in the woodbeams, and near the corners of the chairs, and the empty shelves, but Jinora claps her hands and lets the room's grit rise up like a truth. But the air in the room is full, and still, and hot, and the dust settles in the currents she cannot feel.

She falls asleep. When she wakes up, there is no light in the windows. She opens her book to a random page and stays awake until her mother comes home.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

What has Lin Bei Fong given her daughter?


They are so far above the water, so far distant from the earth, the shore.

Lin looks at all of them, and then back across the gap of sky.

"Whatever happens to me... don't turn back."

What would Lin Bei Fong give her daughter?




The same thing she will give in every world.