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Hard Knocks

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Because Korra can’t stop bending all four elements once they are returned, Lin has to find someone else to spar with. She wants to flex her fingers and toes, she said, pale eyes sharp and hawk-like as they scanned across the faces of those at the compound.

Her eyes locked on Bolin and it was exactly like the time he was nearly eaten alive by a trio of owlcats when he was ten.

The snow seeps into the worn canvas of his shoes, chilling his feet, but he shivers because of Lin poised to strike ahead of him. She doesn’t hide her smiles.

He wonders why she chose him of all people to spar with, and not a master, not one of the adults. He manages to hold his own but it’s hard for him to shake away the limits of pro-bending rules; they’re what he’s used to. He’s never sparred without them.

When Lin lobs a rock for his head and he just manages to duck, things change.

Suddenly he’s ten years old and staring down a trio of owlcats while Mako robs a tailor shop with the Triple Threats. He’s got to find any weapons at his disposal to win this fight and keep his flesh from ripping between claws and yellow teeth.

When Lin steps out of the way to dodge one of his usual disks of earth, he steps his foot forward and lifts his fists, spinning the earth beneath her feet fast enough to make her stumble onto her back.

Here is where he’s supposed to run away thankful for his life, but instead he’s frozen.

She lifts her head and stares at him wide eyed.

He covers his gaping mouth with his hands and has an apology at the tip of his tongue when she laughs. It’s harsh and travels across the flat land like the shriek of a bird of prey.

“You ever think about joining the force?”

—-

He never thought of becoming a police officer. Even after Lin suggests it, the idea still doesn’t sink it.

Not until he’s downtown in Republic City, helping raise broken storefronts and working in construction after they return from the South Pole. He catches a guy brandishing daggers of ice in his hands at a pair of kids coming back from the market. He sinks the man into the earth and waits for the police to show up.

Lin shows up and stares at him sternly.

“Have you given much thought to my offer?”

He stares up at her blankly, dragging the back of his hand over his sweaty brow. He has to get back to work soon. “Uh…oh, the police thing?”

The way Lin’s eyes narrow implies that she isn’t a fan of his vocabulary, but she nods curtly.

“Wait, you were serious?”

—-

He knew Mako wouldn’t like the idea. But he didn’t think his older brother would be this angry.

“No. That’s got to be the worst idea you’ve ever had.”

Korra frowns in her seat at the kitchen table. “Why? I think it’s a really good idea.”

Rather than respond, Mako just sends a glare at Bolin. He shrinks in his seat and stares at the floor, because this is not something his older brother wants to discuss in front of his girlfriend. Bolin should have known better.

“Lin said she’d teach me,” he says.

Mako raps his spoon against the pot where soup bubbles on the stove. “I don’t care. You know what I think.”

“But it’s Lin -”

“- She’s the Chief,” Mako corrects and says the word with regret, like it’s Lin’s only flaw.

—-

Bolin stands before the metalbending school and flexes his fingers by his sides. The sign isn’t painted; it’s bent gold, shining and perfect against the morning sun. Two flying boars round off the prestigious family name.

Mako doesn’t know he’s here. No one knows he’s here, and for the first time, he’s completely alone.

When he walks through the halls, hearing the sounds of chains and zips of wires and cracking earth and metal on metal, he feels panic roll around his chest as he peers into classes. Some people wear full uniforms and that’s enough to make him remember, to kick up instincts, make him think he’s got to run somewhere because all that police officers do is force him and his brother out of their shelters.

But then he runs into Lin and he feels a different type of panic, the kind he feels when he wants to make a friend and hopes the person will like him back. The corner of her mouth twitches into a barely-there smile.

“Ready to get started?”

—-

On his first day he shows Lin what he’s currently capable of. There are some other new cadets watching in a line, ready to prove their worth, but Bolin is first.

He’s nervous but then Lin makes some remark about pro-bending, and even if it was supposed to be at his expense, he remembers that he loves to perform. The nerves disappear and he’s having fun lobbing rocks at a metal dummy at the end of the training room.

When he launches himself in the air to spin and kick two more rocks forward, Lin lifts her hand to stop him.

“You can earthbend without touching the ground?”

Bolin pants and looks back at the surprised faces of the other cadets. He nods.

“Yeah. Can’t everybody?”

How else would he have been able to bend fissures in the road while sitting in the back of a Triple Threat car, running dangerous jobs Mako never knew about to put extra money on the table?

“No. Not everybody can do that,” Lin says, chewing on her bottom lip in thought. “I’m bumping you up a level.”

—-

Being raised to another level means he has to wear a blindfold for a week straight. 

It’s how Mako learns that he’s joined the force.

Thankfully, he doesn’t start another argument.

“I hope you know what you’re doing.”

Bolin nods and he keeps tapping his foot on the ground in order to see his brother sitting across from him at the kitchen table. There’s just blurry mush coming back to him through the floor.

He really doesn’t know what he’s doing, but Bolin is used to that. He’s always been given a limited view of the world because of Mako’s protection, because of being homeless, of having no education.

There really isn’t much of a difference in his life yet. He’s waiting.

—-

When he hears another teacher remark that it’s strange for Lin to keep popping in at the school, he asks why.

“She never teaches new recruits. She’s usually too busy for it.”

He asks Lin about it and he doesn’t even have to tap his foot on the ground to see her, as she does it for him unknowingly with impatience.

“I’m not letting any more slip-ups happen under my command. Now keep your feet on the ground, Twinkletoes.”

“Twinklewhat?

She constantly harps on him for dancing around the earth rather than keep his feet flat against it, but this is the first time a nickname comes out of his mistakes. 

It’s also the first time since putting on the blindfold that he feels someone’s heartbeat race through the earth.

“Get back to work,” she snaps, and she marches away.

—-

He learns a lot during the week with the blindfold.

—-

Whenever Korra says I love you to Mako, whether it’s supposed to be quiet and soft, or just when she’s running out the door while saying goodbye, her heart races a bit.

At first Bolin wondered if she always acted like this, if she was just an excitable person, but the pattern revealed itself quickly. Her heart rate escalates as she waits to hear him say the words back, and he does, every single time, usually his own pulse picking up but it’s less pronounced.

She sighs with relief and everything is back to normal.

—-

Mako places all of his weight at the tips of his toes as if he’s prepared to run at any second.

This one comes as less of a shock. Bolin gets that way too, sometimes; antsy around people and situations he’s been raised to avoid. The only difference is that Mako is like this constantly, he never rests unless he’s in his own apartment with Korra and Bolin present. Even then he slips into being ready in case something happens.

Like the police knocking on the door for whatever reason, and having to leave through the windows. Like well-intentioned civilians trying to drag them to the police station to bring them to an orphanage.

—-

Asami is an amazing liar.

He brags that he’s being trained to be a human lie detector. He can hear the smile in her voice when she says:

“Let’s test it.”

They’re supposed to have dinner with Korra and Mako. Bolin struggles to feel her heartbeat pick up as they wait on the steps of Air Temple Island for their friends, but they don’t even notice when the couple doesn’t show up as the hours pass.

At first it’s funny (I am an orange flying bison with bright pink arrows, I love driving Cabbage Corp cars, I am an airbender) but then he really needs to try.

“Give me a serious one. One that you think you’d be difficult with saying.”

There’s a pause. He hears her lungs fill with air before slowly exhaling. Her fingers tap against her knees but nothing else changes.

“I love my father.”

Bolin taps his heel against the ground and finds her hand. He reaches for it and it’s the first time he’s managed to see clearly all week.

—-

He begs and begs and begs until finally, one afternoon where Bolin is bending thicker rock in the hot sun, blindfold still on, Lin talks.

She tells him to stop abruptly, right in the middle of his lessons. He’s dripping with sweat and thristy but he knows there’s no chance anybody will give him relief from the heat. So he’s surprised when Lin hands him a glass of cold water and she raises two stools in the shade.

Twinkletoes is Avatar Aang,” she says, and he can feel her tremble with a sigh.

She talks about how he could earthbend without touching the ground, how he could make her laugh despite his terrible jokes, how he was one of many beloved uncles.

He wishes he knew what to say in response, but Lin expects nothing from him but 
results.

“Now get back to bending. You should be on Zinc by now.”

—-

The first time he bends metal, he’s not even really trying. He’s joking around with Korra across the kitchen table, wiggling his fingers, but something must’ve locked into place because suddenly the prongs of the fork in her hands curl downward like an blooming flower.

Asami and Korra shriek while Mako’s lips press into a tight, thin line.

“Aw, relax, Mako, we’ve got tons of forks,” Korra says, punching him in the arm.

Bolin shuts his eyes.

Mako’s body is tense and he knows that his older brother is angry and upset and worried but Bolin’s too proud that he knows this and metalbending now to care.

It gets even better when Asami promises to take him out to lunch the next day in celebration.

—-

Bolin can metalbend.

He can metalbend steel and iron and aluminum and gold. 

The gold is easy and when Lin places the block in front of him, he doesn’t want to ruin it.

“You won’t ruin it. It’s just earth,” she says.

“Really expensive earth, yeah.”

“Just bend it.”

He struggles not with the actual force of the metal - it’s so soft he can actually sink his fingers into it - but with the knowledge that this showy display of wealth is sickening. Other students are busy making crude jewelry and all Bolin can do is dip his index finger forward. He pushes it across the table.

“There, done.”

“Make something.”

Bolin twitches his fingers against the table, which he wants to try to bend instead. It’s Titanium, and it’s a higher level metal than he’s ever tried. Lin stares at him and so does the brick of gold that he would have tried to steal if he were twelve again, shoving it into his coat pocket and handing it to Mako nice and new. And Mako would scold him but keep it anyway because they need it.

He stands up and with all the force he has at his disposal, he shoves his flat palms down and bends the table in half.

His teachers are mad because he was not supposed to do that, to go against superior’s commands and wreck school property, but Lin’s pleased. She’s quiet and she doesn’t say anything, but Bolin can tell. He’s learned to read the earth and how to read her.

—-

There are a few roadblocks he has to stumble through to graduate. None of them have to do with bending. It’s all frivolous stuff nobody ever thinks about when signing up.

Like paying for his uniforms.

Like having to write reports.

Like relearning how to hold a pen because apparently, that one Triple Threat member he and Mako learned from was holding it wrong all along.

Like having to slowly remember how to spell as Lin stands over his back, watching him pluck away at a typewriter.

Korra helps him with his calligraphy and Lin gives him a dictionary. The Chief has all the patience in the world with this one failure of his and she never, not once, makes him feel stupid. She mentions her father never had a day of school and signed all of his documents with an X.

“Like Mako,” Bolin says before thinking.

Lin’s face conceals any emotion at the mention of his brother.

The biggest surprise is Asami’s help. She picks him up after classes and instead of driving to a restaurant, she pulls up before a tailor shop and pays for every uniform he’s ever going to need.

—-

He didn’t expect anybody besides Korra, Mako, and Asami to attend graduation.

When he spots Tenzin and his family in the audience, along with Korra’s parents who said they were visiting to see their daughter, he’s shocked. He can’t show it because he’s supposed to be paying attention to whoever is giving some speech about strength and justice.

He glances at the row of speakers. Lin catches his eye and gives him a reluctant smile, but it’sproud.

He’s the first in his class. Him. Bolin. Top of the class at the first school he’s attended in his life.

It ends and only when he’s rushing into the audience to thank everyone for coming does he notice the two empty seats by Mako. They’re reserved with white ribbons.

Mako still isn’t please but he hugs Bolin and says he’s proud all the same. Bolin starts crying when he hears, Mom and Dad would be proud

For some reason, when it’s late and they’re all still celebrating back at Air Temple Island over drinks and food, his mind keeps drifting to the kiss Asami planted on his cheek when he went to hug her.

—-

He’s Lin’s partner.

“Is that normal?”

“Nope,” an officer remarks in the locker rooms where Bolin is trying to shove his personal items away. “Rookies like you usually get security work.”

Bolin beams. He wants to go and tease Lin about this, ask her if she requested him on purpose, but he holds back. He knows her better than that by now.

Plus, she must like him a lot to break standard procedure just to work with him.

He wonders once if it’s because he’s just that talented, or if it’s because Mako had a word with Lin. It wouldn’t be the first time that Mako’s threats gave Bolin a leg up in life.

But then he hears Lin barking at seasoned officers over their inability to carry out simple tasks, ones that rookie Bolin can do better. He enjoys praise but he knows to keep silent about it around Lin so it’ll keep coming.

—-

He knew it would come up. He just didn’t think it would be this soon.

He’s on the night shift with Lin a month into work when there’s a disturbance by the docks. Lin drives the cruiser and Bolin points out shortcuts, which by now she trusts him enough to listen to. They’re the first car on the scene.

Some Triple Threats are having a minor scuffle over turf with some Red Monsoons.

Bolin’s stomach lurches when a Triple Threat member who’s Mako’s age recognizes him, and then things turn.

It’s all: Bo, is that you? Does your brother know about this? What happened to pro-bending and security work, hot shot, you think you’re better than us? You’re a traitor.

Despite the shouts of abuse and threats his old friends give him, they hold back on hurting him much. They leave that to the Red Monsoons. Nobody steps up for little Bo to ward off rival gang members anymore.

By the time they’re shoving everyone into the backs of the cruisers, Bolin has a nasty cut on the side of his face and he can feel bruises blooming under his armor.

The Triple Threat members stare and yell at him through the barred windows of the cruiser. His fellow officers’ stares are paired with silence.

—-

On the ride back to the station, Lin doesn’t say anything. She lets him curl up in the passenger’s seat, even prop his feet against the dashboard.

By the time they’re back, it’s clear by the stares he gets that everyone’s already heard about what happened at the docks. He can feel their eyes following him as he makes his way to the locker room to change and head home.

Taped to the outside of his locker is a copy of the mugshot he had taken when he was eight.

Maybe it was supposed to be a joke, but Bolin pulls it off, folds it, and tucks it into the back of his locker. He wants to be angry but for the moment he’s feels like he’s mourning something that he’s sure he doesn’t really want to let go of.

—-

He had nearly forgotten that he was supposed to have dinner with Mako and Korra.

He’s never wanted to turn away from something more than he does when he finds himself before their apartment door. All he wants is to go home and crawl into bed and never come out.

Inside it’s just Mako at the stove, wearing a dirty apron, and already glaring.

“I heard what happened.”

Bolin grits his teeth and looks at the floor to walk to his usual seat at the table. Instead of sitting, he stands behind it, gripping the back of the chair.

“How?”

“This.”

He looks up and finds Mako gesturing to the mess of mesh and wires on the kitchen table, rigged to the electrical outlet with tape. It’s a police scanner gutted from an old Satomobile.

Bolin sinks his short fingernails into the wooden back of the chair.

“How long did you think you could keep this up without something like this happening?” Mako asks.

Normally, Bolin would pick up Pabu and bury his face into the warm, red fur, and quietly walk off to his bed. But now he’s a metalbender, he’s been tested and trained to stand his ground for any reason, and this feels like the most important test of his life.

“I don’t care. What the triads do isn’t right and I’m keeping people safe.”

“Do you even hear yourself right now?”

“They’re bad people, Mako.”

Mako rolls his eyes. “I know they’re bad, Bo, but without them, where would we be? What about those other kids they’ve got employed? You’re taking away their livelihood.”

“Then I’ll find some way to help the kids!”

“You’re just like them!” Mako shouts, pointing. “What next, talking about picking up street kids and sending them to orphanages? Did you forget all the stuff the police did to us? If you were still a kid you’d hate what you’ve become.”

“No, Mako, that’s you,” Bolin shouts back for the first time, voice booming. “You hate me.”

Mako is left standing with his mouth open and silent.

—-

When Bolin marches from the apartment, he immediately runs into Korra in the hallway. Based on the way her eyes are wide, she’s heard everything.

Bolin doesn’t know how he does it, because he’s never felt more like crying in his life, but he holds it back. He gives Korra a hug and apologizes for not being able to make it to dinner.

By the time he’s at the end of the hallway he can hear Korra and Mako arguing.

—-

He wanders around the city for a while, tracing back through shortcuts and alleyways. When he reaches the one where he smoked his first cigarette with some other kids running numbers for the triads, he realizes he’s close to Asami’s apartment.

It’s late but the only lights still on in the whole building are hers.

He doesn’t expect much when he showed up unannounced - maybe a cup of tea and come catching up since they last had dinner together - but she expects him to stay. She’s been awake for hours slaving over a new design for a Satomobile motorbike, and she’s frustrated.

They sit on the sofa and talk.

“Did Mako ever tell you about what we used to be like as kids?” Bolin asks.

Asami knits her eyebrows together and shrugs. “He said you were adorable. But that’s it, really.”

Realizing he can tell her before it’s too late, before that power is taken away from him and she finds out like Lin, or his fellow officers, or the Triple Threat members. He can make the choice to say that he’s helped launder money, he’s gambled, he’s smoked and had a few illegal drinks, he’s stolen from countless stores.

She doesn’t kick him out or wave his past before his face.

She lets him sleep on the couch and gives him a kiss on the forehead before she leaves to go to bed.

—-

When he walks into work the next morning, he finds his brother’s mugshots plastered to the face of his locker.

Even though he’s still angry with Mako, nobody has the right to do this. 

Bolin collects them all and marches to Lin’s office. He doesn’t bother to knock and she instantly harps on him for that, but he slaps the pictures on her desk and glares at her.

“If this keeps up I’m going to have to be fired for murdering fellow officers, Chief.”

Lin looks down at the photographs and looks just as mad.

“And I’d have to resign for allowing it to happen,” she mutters under her breath and really, Bolin loves Lin. He adores her. She waves her hand and the door shuts behind him, and she offers him a chair.

He sits down and takes the photographs from her desk to tap them into order against his thigh. “Thanks. I didn’t - I hope this isn’t a problem.”

Lin looks up at him and there it is, that expression where he’s sure she’s looking right through him, deep past his flesh and muscle right down to his bones. Weirdly enough, he finds it comforting.

“It has not and will never be a problem,” she says. “Officer Bolin, I’ve known about this since I first formally met you.”

“You - you what?”

“Your brother is the youngest person to ever be arrested for lightningbending in broad daylight,” she says and Bolin hates the touch of pride he gets when he hears it. “You don’t forget kids like that.”

Bolin looks down at his lap and finds his older brother glaring back at him, fourteen years old and with the world on his shoulders. He just worries, Bolin thinks.

—-

It’s around noon when Bolin walks across the front lobby and finds Mako awkwardly standing near the front desk, fingers gripping around a brown paper bag, weight shifted to the tips of his toes. He’s nervous.

Bolin realizes this is the first time Mako’s gone to the police station by his own choice.

“Hey.”

Mako nearly jumps a mile in the air but a small smile is on his face when he sees it’s Bolin. 

“Hey,” Mako replies, then clears his throat to turn serious. “I just - I wanted to - here.”

He hands out the brown paper bag and Bolin takes it. Scrawled across the front in the worst handwriting he’s ever seen is just the word Bo, but it takes up nearly the whole side. He opens it and finds leftovers from the dinner he was meant to eat last night, along with five handmade dumplings.

He knows Mako stayed up late into the night slaving over them, probably listening to the police scanner, worried and angry and not knowing what to do about it.

Bolin smiles. “Apology accepted.”

—-

Lin never forces him to pull street kids from their homes and bring them to orphanages. They pass by them often, and he’s seen her buy them food countless times. She never says a word about it, not even when the kids shout out thanks. When they are too afraid of them both, she digs deep into her wallet and has this system of wrapping paper money around metal coins, just so she can gently bend the coins into their makeshift shelters.

“Aren’t you supposed to, y’know,” Bolin asks one night when they’re driving back from patrol.

Lin shrugs and pulls up next to a food cart. She walks out and tells him to stay put. He watches from the windows as she buys two large orders of noodles, and by now she knows what he likes, so she comes back with his exact order. They stay parked in the mouth of an alleyway and eat.

“There’s nothing wrong with breaking the law when the laws are idiotic, Bolin,” she says, gazing out at the street. “It’s rare we have politicians these days that have any idea of what’s best for the people.”

He knows now about her beloved uncles and aunts and her mother. It goes unsaid that she thinks they would know what to do.

“You’re a good person, Lin.”

He’s not supposed to call her by her name on duty, but he did it deliberately this time. She looks at him out of the corner of her eye and smiles, then lightly punches him in the arm.

“Back at you, kid.”

—-

For his first year everyone at the station calls him Rookie. He thinks it’s weird that this nickname sticks even as new recruits are ushered in fresh from school.

But then the nickname morphs into Junior and he really doesn’t get it.

“Why do they call me that?” he asks Lin one day.

She purses her lips and mutters under her breath so he can’t really hear her.

When he asks again, the officers laugh.

“Because you’re Lin’s favorite, Junior. Might as well start calling you Bolin Beifong while we’re at it.”

Lin doesn’t tell them to stop with either nickname.

—-

It’s rare that Korra gets to intervene with a disturbance, but when it happens to Bolin, he’s thrilled.

“Hey, teammate,” Korra calls as she jumps into the middle of the fight with leftover chi-blockers from a long dead revolution.

“Hello, fellow Fire Ferret,” Bolin says, tipping his hat to the Avatar.

They should be waiting for backup, because it’s just him and her, but they slip into their old pro-bending routines. It should be weird for Bolin to feel more comfortable fighting with water and fire at his sides, but it feels more natural than just earth and metal everywhere.

They’re all laughs and smiles when the rest of the force shows up, the problem and the mess cleaned up already.

“You should have waited,” Lin scolds him as they lean against the hood of her car, watching the chi-blockers put into the back of a cruiser.

Korra snorts. “And let you have all the fun? C’mon, Lin, Bo could’ve taken all those guys on by himself!”

“Aw, c’mon, Korra, stop,” Bolin blushes and waves his hand.

He expects Lin to agree, that this is unnecessary praise, but she looks too absorbed in thought to say anything.

—-

Later that night he’s called to Lin’s office and she makes him Captain of the force.

—-

For some reason the first person he thinks to tell the good news to is Asami. He rushes to her apartment and she’s wearing her pajamas, eyes bloodshot and begging for sleep, ink on her arms and face. But she spots the new badge on his hat as her face lights up her arms open.

He opens his arms as well and expects one of those excited hugs she’s taken to given him lately, where she launches herself up and starts screaming and laughing.

Instead she rushes forward and kisses him so hard he backs up and is pushed against the opposite wall in the hallway.

—-

He’s never been so busy and so happy before. He works and any spare time outside of it is dedicated to his friends and family. He has dates with Asami and practically lives with her. Dinner twice a week with Mako and Korra becomes dinner with them and Lin if he can beg her enough to come.

Those nights are the best. It’s a family dinner. They’re loud and the neighbors downstairs constantly thump their fists against the ceiling to tell them to keep down the noise. Arguments spring up constantly but they’re never with malice. Pabu runs across the table while they eat. Mako cooks everything and never asks for any help in the kitchen.

The police scanner still sits on the kitchen counter, but Mako doesn’t intervene anymore. Bolin knows he just listens and watches over him. That’s all he wanted.

One night just as they’re about to leave, Mako stops him with a hand on his shoulder.

“Hey, uh, I don’t think I ever said that I’m - well.” Mako pauses and licks his lips, looking away for a second and - oh no there are tears in his eyes. “I’m really proud of you.”

Bolin’s pretty sure they grab each other into a hug at the same time. Mako still has a few inches on him and Bolin really hopes it stays that way.

“Thanks. I love you, big bro.”

Mako sniffles when they pull away and he looks at the three women watching them, now self conscious about his public display of affection. “Yeah. Love you too, Bo.”

—-

He isn’t on duty when Lin gets injured, but he hears about it on the police scanner Asami lets him keep in the bedroom.

Asami is awake and working at her desk, but she just tosses him the keys to her car and tells him to call her in case it’s really bad.

In the hospital Lin is more annoyed than hurt, but Bolin still cries at her bedside anyway and is all apologies that he wasn’t there to protect her.

“Stop it. You have work in three hours and I am not leaving Huan in charge of my officers because I’ve got a broken leg and you’re a goddamn mess. Pull it together.”

The fact that she’s so pale and tired, but still barking out orders, makes him smile.

“Yeah, sure thing, Chief.”

—-

“Bolin, get the hell out of my apartment!”

Bolin whistles and places the tea kettle on the stove top. Lin can’t touch him while she’s stuck in her bed with her leg in a cast. As her voice keeps getting louder and louder, wailing for him to leave, he drowns it out by making more noise as he knocks pots and pans together.

“At least tell me what kind of mess you’re making out there!”

Bolin laughs. “It’s not a mess! It’s my brother’s famous soup recipe!”

It’s Mako’s only soup recipe. It involves whatever you can get your hands on, sticking it in a pot, and hopefully finding a source of clean water for broth.

He has a pot of water boiling on the stove when he brings Lin a cup of tea. She takes it and instantly spits it out.

“Have you ever made tea before?” Lin asks, sputtering, picking tea leaves from her mouth. 

“Uh. Actually, no, I don’t think I have. I’m more of a coffee person.”

“Bolin, get out.”

He leaves and comes back fifteen minutes later with a real mug of tea, and a bag stuffed with her favorite take-out. 

She lets him drag a chair into her bedroom, prop his feet on the bed, and eat with her while they listen to a pro-bending match on the radio.

—-

Once Lin is fully healed and back to work, she isn’t herself. Everyone can tell she favors her good leg, but that’s not surprising. She’s more serious but not as caustic, less easy to rile up, and she gives weak smiles.

Each time Bolin asks what is wrong, she just shrugs him off.

They’re writing reports in her office late one night, listening to the radio. She suddenly shuts it off and Bolin looks up to find her staring at him.

“We need to talk,” she says.

He nods and puts down his pen, straightening up and prepared for the worst.

“I’m not getting any younger,” she says.

Bolin doesn’t nod because that would be rude. He just keeps staring, and Lin sighs.

“And I never had any children.”

The joke flies from his mouth before he can stop himself. “Why, you asking for some?”

His face is burning with embarrassment when she just pauses to stare at him, but her shoulders jerk and she laughs, that same laugh she makes every time Commander Bumi makes a dirty joke or Tenzin is flustered by something Pema says. 

She rubs her eyes and shakes her head. “No, Bolin. As much as I’d like to have every member of the Beifong family in this line of work, I can’t. But…that doesn’t mean I can’t…chose someone. From my family.”

He has no idea what she’s talking about so he nods slowly, eyes narrowing.

Lin gets fed up and sighs.

“You’re my choice for Chief when I retire.”

That’s surprising, but it’s not what makes his eyes wide and jaw fall open.

Wait a minute, I’m fam-”

He holds back the end of his sentence. He knows Lin. She doesn’t like being emotional or sentimental or openly loving. 

So he smiles.

“Thanks, Lin.”