If Lin was asked to rank the worst days of her life, finding out Tenzin wasn’t hers, had never been hers, would rank third. It didn’t hurt near as bad as when she lost her bending, and part of her had always been waiting for the other shoe to drop. Her own mother and sister left her. Soulmate or not, why wouldn’t Tenzin? That this fear had come to fruition, and so publicly was Lin’s worst nightmare.
She had heard the gossip surrounding them, how she wouldn’t get married, how he had to be miserable with such a sour partner, how she was so frigid it was a miracle they worked together. It stung that they had all been true. She wasn’t enough for him.
She refused to take a leave of absence from her job for this incident. Any breaks had been for his benefit, not hers, and without him to nag her, she could get more done anyway.
She worked on the pile of backlogged paperwork well into the night, trying not to wallow or seethe. Lin was not prone to meditation. Uncle Aang had invited her a couple times, and she had tried to humor Tenzin every so often but she shied from the self reflection required to properly meditate. She tried focusing on the words in front of her, even as the page was blurring in front of her from dry eyes and exhaustion.
She started thinking of the absolute wretchedness of now being Unrequited and had to put down her pen and shut her eyes. He was supposed to be hers if she was his. That was how it was supposed to work. She wasn’t some pitiful lovesick teenager who got her heart broken and spent their time moping.
Lin refused. It had only been a day since, and news didn’t travel that slowly in the city. Soon her subordinates would look at her with an expression she hated, one that looked a lot like pity, one that she grew sick of when her sister had marked her for life.
She looked at the hanging on the wall, a certificate that meant very little but made the powers that be preen when they saw it hanging in her office for a visit. She hated the gold medallion embossed on it, the green scrollwork that decorated it, the reddish brown of the mahogany-teak that framed it. She hated the silver that decorated the walls of the precinct. She hated the blue ink she was currently writing with.
She scolded herself for getting distracted and readjusted the pen. Lin restarted the report, trying to see if there were any major errors before signing it and moving onto the next.
She would go back to her apartment later, when she knew she would fall asleep instantly. And she would get his things out of there in the morning and ship them to the island.
Unrequiteds were rare, but not unheard of. Colors should have emerged simultaneously in a Pair’s vision when they met, and then they would know.
It was the spirits at work. Aang had once told her that it was the spirit Yanzu who had given the gift of color to people, and that her partner, Biat-lai had protested, saying that people wouldn’t appreciate it properly if they didn’t know what life was like without. Biat-lai had insisted that humans must earn it. Yanzu took this into consideration and decided that when someone met their greatest love, their partner in life, their soulmate, then they could properly appreciate color.
Some people claimed to have multiple soulmates, that some colors appeared while others didn’t as they met more people in their life. These people were considered especially blessed by the spirits.
Those who were colorblind and could not perceive color even after meeting their soulmate, they were reliant on their partner to tell them. Healers in the Northern Water Tribe were capable of telling if someone was colorblind by birth defect or if they had just not met their soulmate yet. The Southern Water Tribe had known before the war, and the art had nearly been lost after the Fire Nation decimated the South and severely damaged the North.
It survived and the knowledge was passed down — the the North by their healers and in the South by Katara.
She was the one who suggested testing Tenzin for colorblindness when Lin started talking about grass being a different color depending on the season. When Katara had confirmed that he was colorblind, that it was to be expected because her mother’s maternal grandfather was colorblind, everyone had celebrated the two of them finding each other so early. Lin had barely started toddling around when the discovery was made, and the two were inseparable friends.
It was not know that partial colorblindness was a thing, when Tenzin was tested. When he met that blasted teenager, the blues and yellows had lit up his vision. The sky was something else to behold. The grass was even a different, more varied shade of grey than it was before. That child was gushing about Tenzin’s red cape, that he couldn’t even see properly, about the gold robes being a beautiful shade.
No, Tenzin wasn’t properly colorblind. Tenzin was partially colorblind and Lin was Unrequited.
If those who were colorblind received near endless sympathy, those who were Unrequited received near endless pity. Once, Unrequiteds had been social pariahs. How despicable of a person were you that your soulmate couldn’t love you back? That they couldn’t love you enough to see color? Unrequiteds were spirit cursed, were bad luck, were unwanted by their own soulmates.
Now most people accepted Unrequiteds in society. It wasn’t their fault, after all, that they were spirit cursed from birth. Some people just had bad luck. It was frowned upon for Unrequiteds to seek out others. The spirits didn’t give them a partner for a reason. No one would want an Unrequited, not for keeps anyway, but perhaps they were needed, their life to be devoted to their community.
After a few days Lin realized she could handle that. Tenzin didn’t really want her, didn’t really ever want her. She was there in the interim, before Pema. She was a placeholder for something more and she should have been grateful that he loved her enough for almost two decades that she could pretend it was enough for a lifetime.
Lin could throw herself into her work. No one could properly love a workaholic. Of course Lin would be an Unrequited. She lived and breathed her job. Her purpose was to devote herself to Republic City, not to birth a new nation.
Lin was Toph Beifong’s daughter. Lin could follow in the same path as Chief of Police, with no life outside of work.
She could do it, Lin told herself. As if she had a choice.
It was enough for almost twenty years. The shocking news of their break up, that Lin was an Unrequited had died down in only a few months, quickly replaced by their wedding and the fact that his new bride was pregnant. Lin had more important things to focus on instead of a failed relationship. Triad activity was increasing and she was determined to curb it as much as possible.
The Avatar’s return to Republic City put a wrench in Lin’s meticulously scheduled life. Her return meant that realizing she was unlovable was moved from second to third on the list of shittiest days in her life, because not being able to remove her own armor or feel the earth beneath her made any relationship anguish Lin had ever felt feel like a mere paper cut.
The Avatar’s return meant that Lin was able to see her childhood friends more often as they all returned to the city.
The Avatar’s return meant that Lin saw her sister for the first time in nearly four decades.
The Avatar’s return meant that Lin found out her mother wasn’t dead.
The Avatar’s return meant that Lin’s city was absolutely demolished by some spirit cursed weapon creating another blasted portal, like the first two weren’t enough of a problem.
Lin had to create an entire task force to guard the damn thing in addition to organizing relief efforts. The water tribes both sent large numbers of healers to help with the large number of wounded civilians, and Kya was the de facto leader, creating camps on the outskirts where the injured could be safely treated. Bumi and Tenzin were helping Su with the housing relocation efforts, and every day Lin was reminded that despite all their hard work, little progress had been made in repairing the city, as what was damaged had to be removed or scrapped before any repairs could take place.
Kya visited her once, twice, then nearly every other day in her office. At first the visits were ostensibly to discuss the police presence in the healing camps over a bowl of noodle soup, but soon they devolved into a nice thirty minute break Lin could take to relax as much as she was able and almost forget the sheer amounts of work ahead of them.
It was at one of these chats that Kya asked about her Unrequited status and if people were still bastards about it.
Lin lowered her noodle laden chopsticks. “Not anyone I’m around regularly, no. Sometimes we’ll arrest someone and they think it’ll bother me if they call me a frigid bitch, as if I hadn’t heard that comment even before my status changed.”
Lin frowned, realizing she had never heard of Kya meeting her soulmate, not in the twenty years Before or the twenty years After.
“Did you ever get to meet yours?” she queried, picking up her utensils again and eating.
“Can I see color? No, everything is just as black and white and five thousand shades of grey as it always has been.” Kya said with the sound of forced nonchalance that Lin recognized intimately.
“Have you been tested for colorblindness? I know Tenzin is only partially colorblind, but it still might be worth a try.” Lin suggested, expecting a brushed aside response. Certainly it was what she typically provided when people had the nerve to ask her about Tenzin and his family.
“And find out that I might have met my soulmate and they decided they didn’t like me enough to mention it? No thanks. I’d rather just not know.” Kya explained as she dipped a dumpling in a sauce Lin had never seen before.
Lin snorted and raised her mug of tea to clink with Kya’s bottle of beer. “I can get behind that. Spirits, I wish I’d never known.”
She took a sip of tea and was reminded of how Pema still didn’t trust her around Tenzin, as if she was some lovesick teenager determined to destroy a committed relationship. Lin forced herself to gloss over the irony. No, Lin would have preferred never knowing her soulmate and simply viewing the whole ordeal as a missed opportunity instead of knowing she was never wanted back.
“Do you have any days off soon?” Kya asked, “It’s not healthy to work every day, all day you know. Tea isn’t a replacement for sleep.”
“I have two mandatory days off, per President Moon, starting three days from now. I’m trying to arrange everything so I don’t wake up to a call asking where something is.” Lin told her, annoyed that President Moon had insisted on this in the first place. As horrible as he was, Raiko had at least never interfered with her job.
Lin thought for a few seconds, brow furrowing then smoothing, “Do you want to come to my place for dinner? I can make something or order us takeout.”
It was the least she could do, after Kya had kept her fed and somewhat sane for the past month. Any attempt Lin had made to pay for dinner had been thwarted, and Kya insisted on being the one to bring food, citing that she knew more about cuisine than Lin.
“Are you a better chef than the last time I ate your cooking?” Kya teased, and Lin winced as she remembered the charred stir fry and crunchy rice from one of her first forays into cooking.
“I think I’ve gotten better in the past thirty years, yes. I normally don’t eat take out this often.” Lin said dryly. “That much salt usually makes my tongue swell.”
“Show me your tongue. Is it swollen now?” Kya demanded, a look of unbridled glee on her face.
Lin obliged, sticking out her tongue for Kya’s inspection. Kya pretended to be studying intensely before proclaiming with mock seriousness, “Your tongue isn’t swollen. If you continue to feel like it is, drink more water until it goes down.” A mischievous grin overtook her face, “Or I can take you out to find someone who likes a swollen tongue after dinner on your day off.”
Kya laughed at the instant rejection on her face. “I can find my own partners, thank you.” Lin replied, disgruntled.
Lin glanced at the now empty containers and at the clock on the wall. She sighed. “It’s getting late. You should go home and get some rest. I’ll clean up here.”
“You know, you should be getting some rest too.” Kya admonished as she started stacking the containers. Lin helped her, neatly organizing them into the bag from which they came.
“I have to finish that,” she waved a hand towards the smaller pile next to her, “And then I can go home.” Where she would sleep for five hours and then slog her way back to the station. She wisely omitted that part.
“How long is that going to take you?” Kya said disapprovingly.
“It shouldn’t be more than an hour's work.” Lin reassured her. Lin didn’t even have to stretch the truth. The pile was two or three lengthy documents, with only a few areas she had to really focus on.
Kya frowned but let it go. “So, if the next time I’m seeing you is at your place, where is that exactly?”
Lin grabbed a notepad, scribbled her address on it, and handed the sheet to Kya. She read the note and tucked it into her dress. “It’s a date, Lin Beifong. I’ll be there. I expect to be blown away by your cooking.”
Kya winked and waved as she walked out the door.
Lin sternly reminded herself that it wasn’t a date. She was too old for nonsense like that. She was comfortable remaining single for the rest of her life. It was what was expected of an Unrequited after all.
Now that Kya had planted the idea in her mind, she couldn’t shake the idea of a date. She had spent a truly ridiculous amount of time thinking about what exactly to make that she couldn’t fuck up. Her nerves were shot, and it had been years since she felt this anxious about anyone visiting her apartment (there hadn’t been anyone since him) or eating her food (again, much of the same). She couldn’t even remember being this nervous when she went to bars to try and forget that no one would want to be with her again, not for keeps.
All of this was unbecoming of a woman in their late fifties. All of this was ridiculous when Kya had just meant it as a turn of phrase. She wore nicer pants than her sweats, but was determined for this to be casual and wore a simple shirt. Lin had tried wearing her normal tank top, but she couldn’t escape the feeling of wrongness, that it was unbecoming to dress like that after Kya had called it a date.
She decided on a mild curry, and started slicing the onion-shallots and mincing the garlic, trying to calm her thoughts as she prepped the ingredients. The thwacking as the knife repeatedly hit the cutting board was working and she soon soon found herself finding a soothing rhythm. Each component was transferred to a bowl and once the prep was done, Lin started scrubbing the counter top and utensils. She didn’t know exactly when Kya would arrive, and was reluctant to start cooking before that. While the curry could sit almost indefinitely so long as Lin kept adding water, she was loath to wait.
She moved to the living room, hoping she could distract herself with one of the cold case files she brought home. She settled on the couch and after ten minutes, she could feel steps outside. She stiffened in anticipation, wondering if it was for Kioki across the hall.
A knock on the door and Lin hastily stowed away the file, moving quickly to the door. She looked through the peephole to see Kya, and her fingers quickly unlocked the door, opening it wide to see Kya holding a paper bag.
“I hope you don’t mind, I brought a bottle of wine.” Kya held it up, a small smile gracing her face.
“Of course not. Please, come in.” She gestured and Kya quickly came in, placing the bag on the table. She shrugged off her coat and folded it on the back of a chair.
“You look nice.” she said, and Lin tried to ignore how the compliment made her feel. “I guess your day off treated you well?”
“You don’t look half bad either. I spent the day catching up on chores, so.” Lin tried to sound flippant as she moved back into the kitchen and turned on the stove. “I wanted to wait until you got here to start. It shouldn’t be very long.”
Soon the kitchen was filled with the delectable aroma of caramelized onion-shallots and Lin added the rest of the ingredients before closing the lid and letting it sit. The rice she had already washed was put into a pot and Kya watched her fill it with water.
“Where do you keep your glasses? I figured I could pour you a drink while we wait for that to cook.” She offered.
Lin pointed towards one of the cabinets and rechecked the stove to ensure that all of the settings were correct before turning and seeing Kya pour two glasses with white wine. She handed one to Lin, who accepted it carefully, and leaned against the counter.
Lin took a small sip and perked up, “You chose well, this is going to go great with this tofu curry.”
“I’m glad to meet your high standards.” Kya wrinkled her nose, “Tofu curry?”
Lin laughed, “I promise it’s better than anything you’ll eat on that island. Vegetarian food doesn’t spoil so quickly, so it’s nice when something comes up and I can’t make dinner when I planned.”
“You better be telling the truth, Lin Beifong. I won’t forgive you if this tastes like Tenzin’s vegetable stew.”
Tenzin’s vegetable stew was nothing less of a horrible failure every time he attempted to make it. He claimed that he copied Katara each time, but it came out mushy and near flavorless. Lin had attempted it once, and it came out decent. She had told Tenzin she used a different recipe because he seemed so disappointed with himself.
“If it tastes like that, I’ll order carry out.” Lin promised, fighting another smile. “You were at the camps today, right? How did that go?”
Kya began animatedly telling Lin about a young healer and how he suggested vaccine drives in the healer’s tents to stop the rampant spread of disease in the refugee camps.
“And it’s such an obvious solution that it astounds me that we haven’t done it before now!” She finished.
“Sometimes you can’t see the obvious right in front of you. Saikhan was the one who suggested twice yearly reviews of officers after the two detectives nearly got Raiko kidnapped. We’ve fixed a lot of issues before they became big problems.” Lin glanced at the clock.
“Okay, this should be done. Do you want to grab a couple of bowls from the cabinet next to the glasses?” Kya did as she asked while Lin fished out four spoons, two for serving and two for eating, and moved everything to the table, the utensils moving with bending while she carried the pots with curry. “Help yourself. If it’s too hot, I have some yogurt in the ice box I can give you.”
Kya scooped a generous amount of both onto her plate, and Lin followed suit. Kya bent more wine into each of their glasses, swirling it in the air before putting half in each glass.
She took a tentative bite, and Lin asked, “So, what’s the verdict? Better than that godsawful stew?”
“Please teach me how to make this so I never have to eat that again.”
Lin laughed, “I’m glad to appease your high standards.”
She took a bite of her own food.
Kya had stayed longer than Lin had ever expected her to, and she found that she didn’t mind the company. She laid in bed, reminiscing about the day and trying to figure out why she was so nervous before Kya showed up. The two of them were great friends. Kya was closer to Lin than anyone else had ever been, except for Tenzin. She knew Kya better than anyone else, and her nervousness was insulting to Kya.
Lin tried not to think about how much she enjoyed Kya being in her apartment, eating the food she made, laughing at her quips.
She tried not to think about how she wanted Kya to smile more, to talk to Lin, to look at her as though she was her dearest friend.
Lin knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that she would have to be careful moving forward, that she would have to curtail any new feelings and bury them with all the other negative emotions in her life. It was inappropriate and wrong for Lin to want her soulmate’s sister. Kya wasn’t a cheap replacement, and she still hadn’t met her own soulmate. Lin would be more than foolish to fall for someone who would inevitably leave her, and to do so knowingly this time was pure masochism. It didn’t matter that Kya was almost sixty, and that not meeting your soulmate that late was unheard of.
Lin refused to fall for another one of Aang’s kids, refused to bother Kya with her feelings. It would just ruin a friendship, and Lin couldn’t even destroy the island this time.
Unrequiteds were not meant to enter relationships or trysts after the rejection of their soulmate. Lin didn’t typically consider herself one to follow the rules, and refused to stay celibate after Pema, but she did avoid relationships. Unrequiteds weren’t that common, and all of the people she was with hadn’t met their soulmate yet or were widowed. Neither option was appealing to Lin long-term. She refused to be second best again.
No, Lin and Kya would remain friends. Lin could neatly pack away these feelings like she did the last time, when he threw her away, and pretend it wasn’t happening. Kya wasn’t a truthseer and would never know.
Her path forward decided, Lin turned on her shoulder, pulled her blankets up to her chin, and closed her eyes. Eventually sleep would come.
Sticking to her resolve proved harder than Lin thought. Kya still kept coming to the precinct and Lin kept ignoring the dragonbutterflies in her stomach. On Lin’s rare days off, Kya was always there. They even started leaving the apartment and visiting what was left of the city. Kya showed her beadwork that she’d been working on, and Lin, after a few moments of deliberation, showed Kya one of the figurines she had made.
Lin couldn’t remember when she had been so desperate to talk to someone and spend time with them. When she locked the door to her apartment, she had to quell the guilt filling her. Even at the beginning of her relationship with Tenzin, it wasn’t like this. The two of them had seamlessly gone from a solid friendship into something more without this awkward, desperate stage in between.
Not that Lin wanted something more from Kya. Kya still had someone out there waiting for her. Kya was waiting for her soulmate and Lin, in a truly pathetic fashion, had started dreaming about how she wished she didn’t match with Tenzin, how she wished she had matched with anyone else just so this creeping loneliness stopped threatening to consume her.
Guilt, from wanting to deny her connection to Tenzin, from wanting to steal Kya from whoever her soulmate was plagued her. What kind of self respecting friend did that? Lin didn’t have much practice with friendship, often beings restricted to the other men at the precinct or her relationship with Tenzin, but she knew friends were not supposed to want to be soulmates. She knew the kind of pariah she’d be if she ever admitted this outloud. Even Unrequiteds were expected to stay, if not faithful, loyal to their soulmates. Lin had proved that time and time again, from when Amon threatened them to Kuvira destroying their city. Tenzin never shamed her for not being celibate, but Lin knew if she had ever entered a relationship she would be able to feel his disapproval.
It was wrong, to deny who the spirits had chosen for you, and despite Lin’s displeasure for twenty years at their choices, she thought she’d never feel this bone deep comfort with anyone but Tenzin. It was even easier with Kya, and Lin resented how easy it was to fall in love again with no hope of it ever being returned.
Possibly more than Kya, Lin was insulting Kya’s soulmate. Kya had someone waiting for her, and Lin couldn’t, refused, to be in the way of that. Kya wouldn’t want her the way she’d want her soulmate, and Lin could give everything and it wouldn’t matter. She would have to be a fool to knowingly enter that kind of situation again.
Knowing all of this didn’t stop the ache of loneliness from taking up residence in her gut, and Lin hated how familiar it was. Was her entire life to be doomed to pine after Aang’s kids? At least she had never felt this way around Bumi, she thought derisively.
She resolved to take a break, to stop being around Kya quite so often. If she could avoid her, these feelings would fade, just like how she loved Tenzin. It would work.
Lin was certain it would have worked had she not almost died and if Kya hadn’t found out about it. They had received bad intel and, in hindsight, she should have been alert when no one was around when the area should have been bustling with activity.
She was pretty sure she had a, if not broken, badly sprained ankle, her hip was killing her, more bruises than she could count, and was, in general, not feeling great.
It was far from Lin’s worst day at work, considering being blown up by a spirit cannon was on the list, but nevertheless she knew how close it had come, especially if those triad members had better aim. The precincts healer had done their best and sent her home with strict orders of taking it easy. She finished out the work day despite the healer's suggestion, and instructed Mako to call her if he had any news. She grabbed the pile of work she had waiting on her desk and shoved it in a bag before hobbling out of the office to go home and lick her wounds.
She would be back in two days for another session with the healer, but there was no reason for her to sit in an uncomfortable office if all she would be accomplishing is paperwork. Her apartment was significantly more comfortable and she wouldn’t have to commute in the morning.
She made herself tea, took a dose of painkiller, and settled down, pulling her file onto her lap as she read through the potential budget for the upcoming year.
Eventually she ran out of steam, and having not quite finished the review, carefully placed it on the coffee table and prepared herself to stand. She grimaced as she carefully walked to her room, preparing herself for a world of hurt in the morning when the painkiller wore off and she had been motionless for many hours.
When she woke up, she knew her prediction had been correct. She gritted her teeth as she swung off the bed and delicately limped to her kitchen, toasting some bread and making more tea. The painkillers would be hell on an empty stomach, she quickly ate the bread, not even bothering with any spread.
Another dose and she sat back down in her living room. She worked until her stomach alerted her that it was hungry and fried some possum-chicken eggs. She washed the dish and sat back down on the couch, determined to finish all her paperwork so she could restock tomorrow.
She was signing the final document approving one of her officer’s leave request when someone knocked on the door. Immediately on edge, wondering who on earth would be visiting at this hour. The sun had already set and she had to use a lamp to read.
She called a blade towards her, lengthening it in case someone had followed her to finish the job. The knocking came again, and she crept toward the door.
“Lin, I know you’re in there. Open this damn door.”
She relaxed immediately, knowing it was only Kya. Lin sent the blade back to its original shape and position, and limped to the door, unlocking it. She gave a small smile that quickly disappeared when Kya gave an accusatory look at her.
“What are you doing here?” she asked gruffly, standing to the side so Kya could walk in, then relocking the door and moving to the couch. She landed with a small thud.
“I thought I’d visit after you nearly died.” Kya sounded frustrated and Lin didn’t get it. She hadn’t died, and her injuries weren’t even that severe, the triad member had such bad aim.
“I wasn’t aware I was supposed to tell you if something happened to me at work.”
“Well, I walked into your office with some dumplings, only to find it empty and Mako told me you had been sent home for being injured.”
Lin frowned, looking at her guest, “Do you still have the dumplings?”
“No! I gave them to Mako and came straight here.” Lin tried to quell her disappointment. “Why didn’t you tell me you were injured? I am literally one of the best healers in the world! I can help you.”
Lin didn’t know what to say. I didn’t think you’d care. seemed harsh, even for her and much too close to the truth. She settled for being annoyed, “I wasn’t aware I had to tell you every single thing about my life.”
Kya made a frustrated noise, “How bad is it?”
“A sprained ankle, some bruising. I’ve been worse.” She tried brushing aside Kya’s concern. Surely someone at the station had exaggerated her condition for Kya to be so angry.
“You could be better if you’d called me and let me help.”
“Why?” Lin couldn’t help herself from asking.
“I already said this! I am more than qualified to treat a damaged ankle and bruising.” Kya looked mad and Lin frowned further.
“No, why would you bother? I have an appointment tomorrow and it’ll heal eventually.” She explained. There was no reason for Kya to go through all this special effort to heal her. To waste her own precious time.
“Because I care about you, you dumbass.” Lin ignored the flipping of her stomach at the words. Kya didn’t mean them that way, and it was wrong to wish she had. “I—“
Kya cut herself off, took a deep breath, and sat next to Lin.
“Don’t hit me.” Kya asked and Lin was even more confused.
“Why—“ Kya cut her off by pressing her lips against Lin’s.
Her brain short circuited. She had wanted this for weeks and now that it was finally happening, it was better than Lin could have ever hoped. Her hand reached up to cup Kya’s face and she kissed back with fervor. If this was the only time it was going to happen, she was determined to make the most of it. Before Kya came to her senses and realized she didn’t want her brother’s discarded soulmate.
Kya pulled back and Lin let her, hand dropping to her lap, dreading the stuttered apology and the I didn’t mean... that was sure to follow.
“I like you, Lin Beifong. A lot. Please let me help you.”
Still dumbfounded, Lin nodded and let herself be led to the bathroom, where Kya started the tub.
“You can wear that if you want or you can take off your pants. It’ll be easier to heal everything if your whole body is submerged.” A moment of thought and Lin shucked her sweats, then sat in the tub. The warm water felt nice on her aching joints and when it started glowing, the pain slowly melting away until there was nothing but cool relief. Her ankle felt like it had been iced, and when the glow finally subsided she looked at Kya again.
“Can I get out now?” she asked dryly.
“Yeah. Be careful.” Kya warned. Lin rolled her eyes and stood.
She looked down at her dripping clothes, “Can I get a little help here?”
Kya laughed and bent the water out of Lin’s clothes. Lin got out and toweled her skin dry before redressing. “I feel good as new.” She softened her voice, “Thank you.”
Lin deliberated only a few seconds before offering, “Do you want to stay for dinner? I can order something in.”
She wanted Kya to say yes. “I’d like that.”
“There's an amazing dumpling place down the block. I’ll ring them up.” She walked out of the bathroom towards the phone in the living room, trying to quell her too fast heart.
She placed an order and they told her it would be there in thirty minutes. She nodded and searched for her wallet. Lin pulled out the correct amount and set it on the shelf by the door.
She joined Kya on the couch. They were silent for a few minutes, not looking at each other before Lin blurted, “Do you want to stay, tonight?”
She saw Kya’s hand approach her in her peripheral vision, and Lin turned towards her. “Yeah, I can stay.” she said, a soft smile on her face.
This time, Lin was the one to lean in, capturing Kya’s mouth. They rearranged themselves, and Kya was sitting in Lin’s lap.
She was looking forward to tonight.
A month of Kya staying over, of gentle affection, and Lin realized how truly ruined she was. Her heart fluttered when she thought of Kya, the way it used to for Tenzin. Her stomach was in knots whenever she heard and saw Kya’s laugh. Lin knew it was stupid to be so besotted, at her age and with their statuses.
A small part of her was slowly growing larger, the part that said People don't meet their soulmates that late in life. and You've known Kya just as long as you’ve known Tenzin. started occupying her thoughts when they just existed near each other, Kya reading a novel while Lin was perusing something for work.
It was over breakfast that Lin finally said the words she had been mulling over for two weeks. “If we’re going to continue to do this, I think you should get tested.”
She was using the newspaper she was reading as a shield, trying to avoid looking at Kya while she made the request. To hide how desperately she wanted Kya to do this.
“Tested? Lin, we’ve been having sex for weeks, don’t you think it’s kind of late for that?” Kya responded, voice light. Lin couldn’t tell if she was feigning ignorance or not.
“That’s not what I meant.” She started folding the newspaper, tired of being a coward. She looked at Kya, who was wearing an unreadable expression.
“I thought I told you I wasn’t interested. I don’t want to find out.” Her voice had lost all the airiness from before and was now quite hard.
Lin knew that being Unrequited meant people looking at you with unwanted pity. She knew it was a fate most dreaded. She swallowed the lump in her throat that Kya would rather be in ignorance than be labeled Unrequited. Just because she didn’t want the label for herself didn’t mean she thought less of Lin for hers, she reassured herself, not for the first time since this had started. It didn’t matter. If there was a possibility of Kya meeting someone new and leaving her alone and unwanted, again, it was too much. And a much smaller, yet very loud, part of herself was hoping that if Kya was totally colorblind then maybe Lin wasn’t Tenzin’s reject after all.
“I don’t think we should keep doing this, then.” Lin said, hating how her insides felt sliced open at the declaration. It would be better now, she reassured herself, to nip this in the bud before it became too much. Before Lin deluded herself into thinking Kya would love a reject, that Kya might feel the same way about her, that Kya wouldn’t inevitably leave her. It didn’t matter what fantasies she had entertained if the reality was Kya didn’t feel the same way.
“That’s it?” Lin looked and Kya was truly angry now and Lin tried to suppress the part of her that wanted to rage at the situation. She had used that up the first time. At least now it was on her own terms and it hadn’t blindsided her. She had offered a choice, and if Kya didn’t take it that was on her. “I won’t get tested and you want to break up?”
“Yes.” She tried to keep things short. She looked at Kya’s brown skin, even more tanned from working outside, the way the blue of her dress complimented her perfectly. She tried to commit the way she looked to memory because when this was over, Lin was certain their family would want nothing to do with her.
“Why? If you want to end this, the least you could do is tell me why.” Kya demanded. Lin swallowed, trying to word it so she didn’t come across a pathetic wretch. She owed Kya this much, if she was asking her to do something she’d avoided for so long.
“I thought maybe we were wrong. About Tenzin and I.” Lin stopped speaking and was trying to interpret the look on Kya’s face. Kya didn’t say anything and Lin knew she had overstepped, “It was a stupid idea. Forget about it.”
Lin stood and started collecting the few dishes on the table, trying to brace herself for Kya’s gentle rebuke, but that wasn’t possible since she didn’t feel the same way.
She felt something grab her hand and looked to see Kya’s delicate fingers wrapping around her more calloused and scarred ones.
“No. You think we could be?” she queried and Lin hated how uncertain she sounded, the disbelief that Lin might have been given color to see her and the beauty that accompanied her.
She looked at their hands and gave it her best effort at nonchalance, “The timing is right, is all.”
“That’s all? The timing is right? No overwhelming feelings that are supposed to accompany you when you’re with your soulmate?” Kya teased and Lin snatched her hand free and moved the dishes to the counter.
“Don’t.” Lin warned, hating how her face was heating in embarrassment. If Kya didn’t feel as strongly, she didn’t have to mock Lin for it. She jerked the handle on the faucet to scalding and started scrubbing. Kya wasn’t saying anything and Lin felt like a fool. She gritted her teeth.
“I’ll get tested if you promise me the results won’t change anything.” Kya offered, and Lin blanched at the possibility of Kya leaving her if the results said she wasn’t colorblind. At least this time she would know it was coming, and despite how deeply she felt, it wouldn’t blindside her. She pursed her lips, rinsing off the last of her dishware and turned to look at Kya, who was still sitting at the table, staring intently at Lin.
“I promise the results won’t change anything. I just… I have to know.” She could make it work, whatever they were. Even if it killed her inside, she could cherish this while it lasted.
Kya looked at the clock on the wall, and sighed. “I have to go to work. Someone there is qualified to look and I should have the results tonight.” She stood and the chair leg scraped against the ground, causing Lin to glare at it.
Kya kissed Lin’s cheek, and wished her a good day off work. Lin squeezed her hand and went over the list of things she had to accomplish by the end of the day, or they’d be pushed back yet another week.
She grabbed the laundry basket from her room and went down the hall.
Lin had expected Kya to be back later than normal, but after an hour past her usual arrival time, Lin started to get nervous. She was only willing to wait a few more minutes before calling Kya’s work. She sat on the couch, forcing herself to stop fidgeting. She had tidied what mess had been made in the last week, finished laundry, cleaned the kitchen and bathroom, and Lin was running out of things to occupy her time.
She tried recalling the various techniques Aang had tried teaching her as a child and only really managed to focus on the itch on her left foot.
She scratched her heel and heard a key in the lock. Her shoulders relaxed and she looked at the door as Kya pushed it open. Lin gave a small smile, “Welcome home.”
Kya hung up her jacket and placed her shoes on the rack. Lin shifted so Kya could sit next to her comfortably. She clasped her hands and looked down, waiting for Kya to say something.
When a minute passed, Lin felt like she knew what the answer had to be. It was fine. It was a fleeting fantasy, one that she hadn’t put much faith into and that she had foolishly wished was true, considering how attached she felt to Kya.
“How was your day?” Lin asked, hoping that if she gently prompted her, Kya would say something.
“I’m fully colorblind.” Kya blurted, grabbing Lin’s clasped hands, shocking her. Lin intertwined their fingers, squeezing. Kya leaned over and rested her head on Lin’s shoulder. Lin pretended her voice wasn’t cracking.
Relief filled Lin, and she felt her eyes burn as she fought back tears of joy, “Oh.” Tentatively, Lin began to hope she had spent almost sixty years with the wrong impression, that Kya was hers and she was Kya’s.
“Yeah,” a sniffle, “Oh.”
Lin’s stomach sank, that Kya was so upset at the very real possibility of being soulmates. “I’m sorry.”
It was the least Lin could offer, since she had asked Kya to do it. While this was the news Lin had hoped for, perhaps it was what Kya had dreaded. Even if she wasn’t Tenzin’s Unrequited soulmate, and wasn’t that something she would have to get used to, she still was his ex. Lin considered that Kya hadn’t wanted anything serious, but dismissed it. She had gotten tested despite not wanting to, and that had to mean something.
“Why are you sorry?” Kya asked, on the wrong side of bitter.
“You don’t seem happy with the revelation. I know it’s not a, uh, guarantee, but it’s looking that way.” Lin explained softly.
“We’ve known each other for almost six decades and didn’t know! How could we not have known?” She cried out, and Lin gently rubbed circles into her back, hoping that would help soothe the distressed waterbender. “I can’t believe we missed out on so much time.”
“We know now, and that’s enough. You would have hated me at eighteen.” Lin knew she had been uptight and bossy and Kya had been carefree and flighty. No, had they found out sooner, she couldn’t imagine that they would have gotten along so well.
“I never would have hated you, Lin Beifong. You’re the reason I realized I was into women.” Kya argued, and Lin blinked.
“If you say so.” Lin definitely remembered other pretty girls that knew Kya well, but she didn’t want to argue the point.
She turned her head to kiss Kya’s forehead, “Do you want to eat? The soup place is having a special.”
“Yeah. Pick something you’d think I’d like.”
They readjusted and Lin went to the phone. It would be fine, she reassured herself.
The only thing of note that Lin could tell had changed was that Lin stopped holding back. If she was overcome by the desire to tuck Kya’s hair behind her ears, she did it. If she wanted to hold the taller woman in her arms, she did. Despite the evidence appearing circumstantial, both of them accepted that they, and their parents, had made a mistake.
Lin told her in whispers how different this felt from when she thought she was in love with Tenzin, how this time it didn’t tire her, instead filling her with warmth that the two of them were so well matched. This time she didn’t dread passive aggressive arguments every time she got home from work.
She joked, asking if Kya thought Pema would finally stop eyeing Lin with distrust, only to receive giggles in return.
Lin relaxed, and stopped fretting that Kya would leave her due to cosmic forces that Lin couldn’t hope to compare to.
Lin told Kya she loved her, and Kya’s tears worried her for a few moments before Kya said, “I was going to tell you first! I love you too, if that wasn’t evident.”
Lin was still reluctant to tell their families. She would have been hesitant to believe the story had it happened to anyone else, and she didn’t relish the thought of anything Su or Tenzin might say.
Kya suggested telling Bumi first, as he was Lin’s friend and Kya was closer to him than Tenzin.
Lin thought it went as well as could be expected. They couldn’t do it on the island, and the only other options were in public, which was just as horrible, or Lin’s apartment.
So the two of them made dinner. Kya was in charge of the main part, some possum-chicken stir fry while Lin focused on preparing a salad. She whisked the dressing, trying to work out her nerves.
The meal was almost finished when there was a knock on the door. Lin smoothly took over at the stove while Kya went to answer it.
“This is where you’ve been staying instead of the island? I can’t say I blame you. It’s swanky.” He greeted Kya. Lin’s lips twitched, fighting a smile. She had been lucky her building hadn’t been destroyed by Kuvira’s canon.
“It’s great to see you too, Bumi.” Kya laughed and Lin looked up to see the two of them hugging. Bumi disconnected and walked into the foyer. He looked up and made eye contact with Lin.
“Lin?” he asked, confused. She guessed that Kya had given Bumi the address without any explanation.
“Bumi.” She nodded hello.
“Why do I suddenly feel like this is a lot more serious than I thought?” he asked, and Kya elbowed him. “Ow!”
“Don’t be rude!” she chided while her brother rubbed the place where she jabbed him.
“Sorry, Lin. I’ll keep my thoughts to myself next time.” he offered a faux apology, grinning.
“See that you do.” She warned teasingly before asking, “What would you like to drink? We have some wine or water.”
“Water’s fine.” He sat at the table while Kya filled all three glasses with water. Lin determined that the stir fry thing was finished, cut the heat and carried it to the table. She added the dressing and then tossed the salad to coat before placing it on the table. The two women sat down once everything was finished.
“You can eat.” Lin nodded towards the food on the table and he served himself before digging in.
After a few minutes, Bumi asked, “So why am I eating dinner in Lin’s apartment in the middle of the week?”
They had agreed it would be better coming from Kya. “I got tested a couple weeks ago, and I’m fully colorblind. I think Mom and Dad made a mistake when we were kids.” she explained, trying to gauge his reaction.
Bumi laid down his chopsticks and his head swiveled back and forth between his sister and Lin. She had to stop herself from gritting her teeth as they waited for him to say something.
“You’re kidding.” The disbelief in his voice rankled Lin, but she tried not to show it. “You think you two...?” he trailed off.
She bit her tongue, but both of them nodded. Bumi was the most open minded person either of them knew, and if he was going to react this poorly, it didn’t bode well for the rest of their families.
“That really blows. Wow. When’d you find out?” He was curious. None of them had ever entertained the idea that Lin’s soulmate was anyone but Tenzin after he was determined to be (partially) colorblind at age six. Even when she was rejected and left alone.
“I suspected, uh, for a while. And then Kya got tested and,” Lin shrugged, then continued dryly, “I’m pretty sure I would know the difference between how it feels with and without your soulmate.”
“Is that Lin Beifong for ‘I’m head over heels for your sister the way I never was for your brother’?” Bumi waggled his eyebrows at her and she grimaced. “I’m taking that as a yes, by the way. I’m happy for you two.”
Lin’s stomach unclenched, and she could see Kya relaxing infinitesimally. Lin picked up her chopsticks again and started eating. The two siblings started bickering over how they would travel to the South Pole for the upcoming festival, arguing the merits of bison and boats.
“Lin, you’re coming too, right?” he asked, drawing her out of her thoughts.
“When is it?” She asked. If it was going to be a trip longer than a week, there was serious planning to make it a reality.
“The solstice.” That was only six weeks away, but Lin nodded, trying to evaluate how to readjust her schedule. It was important to Kya, and Katara wasn’t getting any younger.
“So, have you told your sister yet?” Bumi asked.
“No.” Lin said emphatically. “And don’t you tell her either.”
Spirits, Lin would have to get a restraining order against Su if she found out about this from someone who wasn’t Lin. It was bad enough calling her every once in a while, or the occasional visit to Zaofu before the mess her protege had left.
“My lips are sealed, Linny, scouts honor.” He told her, winking.
“You weren’t even a scout, you asshole.”
It was Kya who suggested a weekend trip into the spirit world. Lin had been skeptical, but finally agreed. She wanted to be more familiar with the spirit world before using the portals to get to the South Pole, and Kya looked excited and Lin loathed taking that feeling away from her.
They had packed a bag with additional clothes and another with food. Kya had told her of the specific spot she wanted to spend the night, how there was a waterfall and it was beautiful. If Lin was being honest with herself, she was looking forward to exploring this area that was right in her backyard. Entering the bright beam had filled her with anticipation, and looking around she saw the purple grass and pink sky and was in awe.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” her partner said, smiling. Lin could only nod, having only really encountered spirits with the damnable vines and the dragonflybunnies that lived on the island. Kya gently took her hand, and Lin let her intertwine their fingers. No one was around to see, here, and she found herself overwhelmed with the desire to no longer hide their relationship.
Kya led her across the field they had stepped into, and Lin could see the other portals there, just as bright as the Republic City, but they were blue instead of yellow.
The two of them hiked until they made it to the meadow Kya wanted to be at. Lin helped set out the blanket while Kya pulled out some sandwiches she had crafted earlier that morning.
“While I’m sure seeing color might make this place more spectacular, I can’t ever get over how peaceful it is. The trees look weird, the spirits have so many different forms, even the water just feels different, you know?” Kya said, voice full of wonder.
Lin hummed in agreement, “The earth here is more… fluid? Softer? I’m not quite sure how to describe it.”
“Exactly! I’ve meditated here a few times, and I’m always more relaxed than when I do it back home. I think I’m just more in tune with my spirit.” She grinned, “You know, you might be more in tune if you meditated with me while you’re here. Your aura might shine a little brighter.”
“Sure, we can give it a go in the morning.” Lin knew it would end like all mediation sessions ever did between the two of them, with Lin dozing in Kya’s lap while she played with the younger woman’s hair.
They packed up the remnants of their picnic, making sure to leave no residue they had been there, before Kya suggested they walk around a little longer, to another valley that she knew about. Lin had no objections and readily followed Kya’s lead.
The light was slowly fading, but Lin couldn’t see the sun and wondered if the same sun fed both worlds. Certainly she thought they had been here long enough for the sun to set.
Spirits floated around the valley, and Lin couldn’t help but watch with wonder as they winked in and out of existence, their forms unfamiliar to her. Most of them seemed capable of flight.
They found a flat patch of grass and Lin created an earth tent and stowed their things inside. The small fire that Lin helped Kya create attracted some of the smaller spirits, and Kya smiled warmly at them as they basked in the golden firelight. Lin couldn’t stop herself from staring at Kya and marveling at how beautiful she looked. Kya periodically chatted with the spirits that visited, but Lin didn’t feel the urge to talk with them.
She was barely paying attention to the world around them, so she didn’t notice the large spirit that had floated across from them until it had already spoken.
“It gives me great joy to see you humans enjoying the gift I gave you.” A low melodic voice said.
Lin didn’t jump, but she jerked her head towards their new guest, stiffening. The iridescent being in front of them shimmered with each inhale, and it’s whiskers bounced with every word. It vaguely reminded her of an antelope fox, only three times the size, with wings, and an unnatural hue.
“Pardon?” Lin couldn’t stop herself from responding, confused.
“You two have the colors, do you not? I can tell from your aligned auras that you two are Matched.” The spirit chuckled at them.
“She does,” Kya said, gesturing to Lin, “My eyes can’t see color even though we’re together.”
The spirit lowered its head, looking at Kya. Lin glanced at her partner to see that she was calm and relaxed. Lin tried to mimic her posture and not appear so bothered by this intruder, who might take offense.
“Come here, human.” It ordered, and Kya squeezed Lin’s hand before walking around to meet the spirit. It leaned down and it’s forehead met Kya’s. Lin watched, enraptured, as a blue halo surrounded them, before receding. “That should rectify it. It would be just like your species to develop eyes that can’t see properly.”
The disdain in the spirit’s voice should have bothered Lin, but she was focused on Kya, who’s eyes were wide and filled with tears. Concerned, Lin jumped up and made her way to Kya’s side, brushing away the tears and glaring at the spirit.
“Thank you.” Kya said, looking directly at the spirit.
“It was my pleasure. Biat-lai may have had some merit, with her ideals.” Lin recognized the name, but she couldn’t place from where. The large spirit cocked its head, “I can hear her calling me now. She will be thrilled when I tell her of the love I have witnessed today.”
It flapped its wings, almost extinguishing the fire. The two women’s hair blew from the wind, and soon the iridescent spirit became only a dot in the sky.
“Kya, are you alright?” Now that the spirit was gone, she turned to her partner, who’s eyes still shone with tears.
“I—“ Her voice broke and Kya reached up to stroke the scars on her cheek. Lin grasped her hand gently.
“What’s wrong?” Lin asked urgently. She could fix this, the portal to the south wasn’t very far, and Katara would be able to help.
“Yanzu gave me color.” Kya started smiling, and moved her hands to stroke Lin’s hair. “Your hair is the same color it always was, and you’re even more beautiful than I ever imagined.”
“You can see color?” Lin was awestruck.
Kya nodded, “She said we were Matches, Lin. Yanzu said we were Matched.”
“Who is this Yanzu?” Lin asked, trying desperately to recall where she had heard the name before in an attempt to gather all the information she could before properly focusing on the fact they were Matched.
“The spirit who gave us colors. Her partner, Biat-lai made us soulmates. Dad told us about them.” The shorter woman could vaguely remember Uncle Aang telling them spirit stories to go to bed when she slept over on the island. “She fixed my eyes. She told us we were soulmates. Lin, we’re officially soulmates!”
Lin grabbed Kya’s face, pulling it down towards her and kissed her enthusiastically. She could feel tears of joy streaming down her own face. Kya broke the kiss to look at Lin’s face more, and she couldn’t stop the blush that filled her under the scrutiny.
“You’re going to have to teach me all the colors.” She smiled, and Lin gave a little nod before kissing her softly.
“Come on, let’s sit back down and you can ask questions.” The younger woman pulled Kya back to their side of the campfire, and Kya burrowed herself into Lin’s embrace.
“What color are your eyes? What color is the grass?”
Lin laughed, intertwined their fingers, and started answering all of Kya’s questions.
If Lin was asked to rank the best days of her life, solving the Poslik case would rank third. The high stakes case had been finished with minimal damage, on one of Lin’s hunches to result in a child getting back to their family safely in her first major case as Chief of Police. The pride and relief she felt was paled in comparison to when she reconciled with her family, after so many years apart. Even if her relationship with Toph wasn’t what she wanted, it was enough, and her relationship with Su was better than it had ever been. She had a niece and nephews that were interesting to be around and a brother in law who’s acerbic wit made visiting Zaofu for long periods of time bearable.
None of those feelings held a candle to finding out that Kya was destined to be hers, to see Kya’s face fill with wonder as the world exploded in color around her, to have the reassurance that it wasn’t just wishful thinking and infatuation but the bone deep familiarity that could be expected of two people that shared a soul. That no one could place doubt between them when they were spirit-confirmed soulmates.
Lin figured their meditation plans would be called off in the morning as Kya explored the spirit world in a whole new light.