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caught between the tides

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Lin has always kept her emotions to herself.

Sure, she shows her anger, her frustrations, the occasional display of compassion, but she learned a long time ago that anything else is a vulnerability that she can’t afford, a weak spot.

(Lin has encased herself in metal, and it’s not just her armor.)

When their rescue party frees the Air Nomads from the cave, for one horrifyingly selfish moment, Lin hesitates before rushing to Kya’s side, because that’s revealing too much.

But then two of the Air Nomads beat her to it, and a small part of Lin, one that she’s deeply ashamed of, is glad, because she doesn’t have to make that choice, doesn’t have to make herself vulnerable (because, if she was the one helping Kya up, she wouldn’t be able to hide the panic and fear that can only come from seeing someone you love in pain, and then everyone would know.)

“We have to get these two out of here, now,” she says curtly, not even letting herself look at Kya, and shoves all of her feelings deep into that little platinum box in the very back of her brain where no one can ever find them.

 

Later, when Zaheer is in chains and most of their party have been loaded onto the sky bison, Lin settles down beside Kya in Oogi’s saddle. Kya’s eyes are half-closed – she’s clearly bordering on passing out again – but she makes the effort to shuffle forward and slump onto Lin’s shoulder.

Lin’s heart aches. Then:

Vulnerability is okay around the people who love you, some voice in her head says. It sounds a little like Katara. Let yourself love openly.

Lin sighs, deep and bone-weary, and then, for once in her life, she lets her emotions overcome her desire for privacy.

She holds Kya’s hand all the way back to Air Temple Island.

Lin barely even notices the way Bolin keeps prodding Mako’s shoulder and unsubtly pointing at the two of them. She’s far too busy silently worrying over Kya, the way her head keeps lolling against Lin’s shoulder, like she couldn’t hold it up even if she tried, and how she’s holding her leg unnaturally still.

Kya keeps squeezing her hand – lightly, because she doesn’t have much strength, but it counts. Lin can’t tell if it’s out of reassurance or a way to keep herself awake.

 

--

 

Kya passes out an hour before they reach Republic City.

Lin doesn’t let go of her hand.

 

--

 

When they get to the island, Lin actually bares her teeth at Tenzin when he tries to lift Kya down from Oogi’s saddle.

“She needs healing, Lin,” he says.

“You think I don’t know that?” Lin snaps, and her expression suddenly shatters like a punched-out mirror - still technically holding together but splintered through with cracks. She looks exhausted. “Please, Tenzin,” she says, and he’s shocked to hear her voice crack like she’s on the verge of tears. “Let me take her. Let me have this.”

Wordlessly, he steps aside.

 

--

 

Kya’s unconscious for another three hours, and Lin doesn’t leave her side.

About half an hour after they land, one of the healers making their way around the island’s makeshift infirmary (previously a mass meditation hall) starts working on Kya. All her bruises and scrapes are easy to heal, but her broken ankle is a lot less simple, as is her concussion.

The healer says that she and Bumi were lucky to have survived the fall at all.

Lin can only stare blankly at the pulsating glow of the water in his hands. She imagines that the water pulses in time with Kya’s heartbeat. It’s oddly comforting. Bright, then dull. Bright, then dull. Steady and constant. She’s alive.

 

--

 

When a healer approaches Lin, she waves her off. The healer, who’s clearly used to uncooperative patients, insists on treating her, and Lin snaps at her.

“I’m fine,” she snarls.

“No, you’re not,” the healer says.

No, I’m not, Lin thinks.

The healer looks at Kya’s still form, then back at Lin. “I can treat you here, if you want. You don’t have to leave her.”

Lin stays seated at Kya’s bedside. She lets the woman heal her.

 

--

 

Kya wakes up just after the sun sets. Lin’s still at her side; she’s half dozed off, her exhaustion finally outweighing her determination to stay awake.

When Kya starts to shift around, though, Lin snaps awake immediately.

She opens her eyes, brilliant and blue and lined with creases that speak of a life filled with laughter, and Lin breathes for the first time all day.

“Hey, babe,” Kya murmurs. Her voice is crackly and hoarse from disuse, but she somehow manages to sound playful. “Bit stalkerish, watching me sleep, isn’t it?”

Lin wants to cry. “I love you,” she says helplessly, and doesn’t care who’s listening. “I was so worried. I love you. Kya.

Silently, Kya reaches out and grabs her hand. I know, the gesture says. I love you too.

 

--

 

It’s a little later on; now, silvery moonlight pools onto the floorboards like it’s tangible.

Maybe, Lin thinks wildly, I could pick it up and press it to her skin and she would be okay.

Lin can see it in her mind’s eye; Kya, tall and strong and alive, surrounded by a glowing shield of white moonlight, so radiant that Lin has to look away or be destroyed by her mere presence.

I would let myself be destroyed for her, Lin thinks, and can’t help but be a little terrified of how true that statement is. 

 

--

 

When Lin wakes up (when did she fall asleep? She wasn’t supposed to do that), it’s clear she’s been moved during the night. She’s in a bed now, the sheets soft against her cheek, and the orange-gold morning light is kissing her bare shoulder like a pertinacious lover.

For a moment, it’s nice: the silence, the warmth surrounding her. Lin almost feels safe.

Then, everything floods back, and she panics.

“Kya?” she tries to call, but her voice has turned dry and raspy overnight, so it comes out as a more of a harsh whisper. “Kya!”

Before Lin can start thrashing around in an attempt to escape the mess of sheets, a hand shoots out from under the covers and latches onto her wrist. “Relax, Lin. I’m here; it’s okay.”

Lin pauses for long enough to fully take stock of her surroundings. She’s no longer in the main infirmary; she’s in a smaller, separate room, maybe one of the dormitories. There’s a window on the opposite wall with the shutters half-ajar, letting thin rays of sunlight trickle into the room.

Beside her on the bed lies Kya, her silver hair fanning across the pillow like a halo, one hand still clutching Lin’s wrist. She’s half-huddled under the covers, but she looks like she’s still in yesterday’s torn-up outfit, and the majority of her scrapes and bruises seem to have mostly healed up. Lin can’t help but notice how exhausted she looks.

“Hey,” Lin says. “How do you feel?”

Kya tugs at Lin’s wrist, drawing her closer. “Better. They couldn’t fully fix my ankle – that’s more Mom’s level of skill – so now it’s just kinda swollen and sore. Could be worse, though.” She’s squinting a little, like the bright light is hurting her eyes. Lin focuses on the shutter’s latches and metalbends them closed, cutting off the sunlight, and Kya seems to relax minutely. “Thanks, love.”

Lin smiles like a sap at the pet name. Kya’s eyes twinkle like she’s silently laughing at her and she carefully stretches out her arm to cradle the back of Lin’s neck, pulling her in for a kiss.

When Kya’s lips brush hers, a little chapped but sweet nonetheless, Lin can’t hold back a ragged sigh. She’s alive.

Kya’s thumb tenderly stokes Lin’s cheek, gently holding her in place like she can’t quite bear to pull away. “I’m okay,” she murmurs, as if she’s read her mind.

Lin shifts so she’s propped up on one elbow. “What about you?” Kya asks. She eyes Lin’s armor-less torso, clearly looking for any injuries.

“Fine,” Lin says reflexively. Kya, who is used to Lin’s deflections, glares at her until she relents. “I’m fine. Seriously. The healers looked me over.”

Then, it hits her. They’re in a different room now – in the same bed, no less. Someone had to have moved them here.

Lin silently panics, just for a second. If someone put us in the same bed, they must know, right?

Then, her inner-voice-slash-maybe-Katara’s words come back to her, and she forces herself to relax.

Other people knowing is okay - half of them probably already figured it out on the ride back, considering that their notoriously standoffish Chief of Police had spent the entire time willingly holding someone’s hand.

(Lin had asked Kya not to broadcast their relationship so that Kya didn’t become a target for any Triad that wanted to get to Lin. “I want to keep you safe,” she’d said. “I know you can take care of yourself; just… please? For my peace of mind?” A tiny part of Lin’s mind had whispered viciously, you just don’t want everyone to know that you care about something. You don’t want them knowing you’re weak.

Lin pretended like that wasn’t true.)

“Bet I could’ve done a better job than them,” Kya is saying, pouting petulantly up at Lin. If she sensed her momentary tension, she doesn’t mention it.

Lin smiles, soft and slow. “I know you could’ve,” she says. Kya grins triumphantly, as if she didn’t already know Lin would say that, and tugs her down for another kiss.

“I’m so glad you’re okay,” Lin whispers into Kya’s mouth, a secret thing, just for the two of them, and Kya makes a wounded noise. “I was so worried, Kya, I- I love you.”

In her mind’s eye, those last three words are painted on her lips in wet ink, and Lin presses her mouth to Kya’s, then her cheek, down her neck, then right in the hollow of her clavicle, her lips leaving an I love you in each place like a brand.

Kya doesn’t say anything, too overwhelmed to speak, but she grips Lin’s hand tightly. Lin shifts her thumb to rest over Kya’s wrist, where she can feel Kya’s pulse beating.

Ba-bum. Ba-bum. Steady and constant. She’s alive.