Lin grimaces as her booted feet make contact with the hard packed snow as she steps off the ship. Her senses always feel dulled when she’s out here, unable to touch the ground. It makes her feel antsy; uncomfortable. When combined with the anxiousness bubbling away in her stomach, and the general sickness she’s feeling for having been at sea so long, it has Lin wondering if this is even a good idea.
She dismisses the thought as soon as it forms. No matter her discomfort, she’s here for a reason. This will all be worth it to see the look on her face.
Lin trudges across the snow to the outskirts of Harbor City. Her destination is one she has frequented a few times over the years. The building itself is quite nondescript; modest. The times when Lin has visited before, in the summer, there are usually children running about, screaming and playing games. The thought is irritating, and Lin flinches. Thankfully, she comes in the dead of winter, when the sky is ever dark and the chill fearsome (to outsiders, at least). One of the crew had mentioned it was early evening when they docked. The houses in the city are lit up, and Lin does have to admit, it is a nice sight. She doesn’t feel as though she has to watch over her shoulder, or ready an attack every time she turns a corner. Maybe Kya has a point - she should vacation more.
She stops outside the door, and feels the nausea rise up in her stomach once more. Lin takes a deep breath and forces herself to calm. Everything is going to go according to plan. She takes another deep breath, and nods to herself. She can do this.
“Lin!” Katara’s eyebrows raise in shock. The metalbender tightens her mouth in an approximation of a smile that ends up more like a grimace. The acidic bubbling in her stomach clearly did not listen to her pep talk.
“Hi, Aunt Katara,” she replies gruffly.
Katara quickly steps aside to let the younger woman through, guiding her to the sofa in front of the fire and hastily preparing some tea. Lin settles into the furs and tugs her fingers out of her gloves, letting the fire’s warmth begin to seep into her skin.
The living room to Katara’s Southern home looks much the same as it did when she was young. Photos of their families and newspaper clippings of countless achievements adorn the walls, interspersed with traditional decorations, and tokens of other nations; memories of their travels.
“What brings you out here? I wasn’t expecting Kya for a few months,” Katara says. She hands Lin a steaming cup of tea. Lin takes a second to inhale the scent deeply, and smiles. It’s Katara’s special blend; the one she’s sent with a letter every few months since she moved away to the South. She’s always had a special relationship with Katara; not quite mother-daughter, but something she thinks might be akin to that. Even through her break up with Tenzin, as Lin did her best to avoid anything and everything to do with the airhead and his family, Katara stubbornly visited and wrote and firmly kept herself planted in Lin’s life. There are several times Lin has come to the master waterbender for advice, and this time is no different. Katara has seen and experienced much, and her quiet wisdom is something Lin has always treasured.
“I, uh- I wanted to speak to you,” Lin says eventually. “Kya doesn’t know I’m here. And I’d prefer if she didn’t.”
Katara’s eyebrows furrow. “Is everything alright?”
“Yes!” Lin is quick to reassure her. “Yes, Aunt Katara, everything’s great.”
Katara looks at her concernedly, but there is no sign of impatience in her gaze. The older woman is happy to wait her out. Lin shifts in her seat. She may as well get straight to the point. The sooner she’s done here, the sooner she can return home, and the sooner the irritating sensations in her stomach can abate.
“I came to seek your advice,” Lin says after a long while. Katara lifts her chin, assessing Lin.
“This must be quite a sensitive matter, for you to come all the way out here, rather than just writing,” she observes. Lin swallows hard. Her fingers itch to fidget with the edge of her coat, or her gloves, or something , but she does not give in. Instead, she shucks off her coat, now feeling sufficiently warmed, and squares herself.
“I wanted to ask about the customs on betrothal necklaces,” she states bluntly, not quite able to keep her voice steady. She trains her gaze on Katara, unwilling to let herself look away. She will not be cowed by her feelings.
Katara smiles knowingly at her, as though she’d been expecting this. The old woman takes a small sip of her tea, and begins explaining the ritual to her.
The plan is simple, Lin explains to Katara as they set off for a cluster of caves at the base of the mountain in the tundra. Despite Lin’s protests, Katara is determined to guide her through the storm and see her to the caves - she has often wondered what the caves held for Kya (other than a place to sneak off to with her girlfriends).
Whilst these necklaces are typically carved of stone found in the Water tribes, Lin’s keen to employ her earthbending skills to create something non-traditional; a hallmark of their relationship. (Plus she knows Kya’s a sucker for romance and dramatics and who is she to deny her love that?) With that in mind, Lin’s first destination are the caves that have provided Kya with fond memories and good stories over the years. It’s a place she’s always promised to take Lin, but they haven’t found the time to make good on it yet.
The storm is bitterly cold, and Lin is glad she’d followed Katara’s recommendation before they set out. She had sealed every seam she could find in the lantern they’re using to guide them, save for a small spattering of openings around the metal for the flame to feed on. Katara is effortlessly bending snow from around them, allowing them to see further ahead of them than Lin would’ve been able to on her own, and she is grateful for the woman’s presence. They don’t talk much; can’t, with Katara’s hearing being what it is, but Lin is enjoying the companionable quiet.
Since their conversation the night before, a sense of calm has settled the monsters in her stomach. Katara is overjoyed at the thought of ‘her two daughters’ (Lin had blushed deeply at the phrase) finally getting married. She doesn’t share Katara’s certainty - Kya has never been one to be tied down. Even at this age, the siren song of wanderlust calls her, and she’s never in the city for more than a month or two at a time. She takes regular visits out to the Pole, to visit Katara, to the Fire Nation, to visit Izumi, and to countless other destinations to meet with numerous other friends. Lin misses her fiercely when she’s gone, but is always overjoyed that she returns, delighting the days when Kya surprises her with dinner, or else has fallen asleep on the sofa, awaiting her return. She’s been staying for longer periods, lately. Always a week or two before her next departure, though, Kya will become antsy, nervous even, and Lin will encourage her to spread her wings, and return when she’s ready.
Katara’s surety is a comfort, though. That she thinks Kya will be more than willing to accept her proposal. Lin has stressed to her mother-figure that it will always be on Kya’s terms - Lin knows Kya is terrified of feeling trapped, and never wants to make her feel that way. She just wants Kya to know that Lin will be patiently waiting for her to return home.
It takes a while, maybe an hour or so as they slowly make their way across the tundra, but they reach the caves. The roar of the wind dulls as the step into the mouth. It really is as wondrous as Kya described; the lantern casts an ethereal red glow upon the walls that starts to fade into deep purples, then a dark blue as Lin gazes upon the edges of the lantern’s glow. The loosely-packed snow at the entrance soon gives way to more solid ground and Lin almost groans in relief at the feel of the vibrations beneath her feet. The thick soled-shoes still somewhat dull the sensations of the ground below, but vibrations filter through, like tinnitus ringing through the ears. They venture further into the cave, eventually coming across a small drop in the ground where a fire pit lays. Further behind the fire pit, there is a chest which Lin believes to contain some furs Kya has collected here over the years to keep herself and her lovers warm.
Crouching, Lin peels the gloves from her hands and hisses as the freezing air makes contact with her warmed skin. She presses her hands to the cave’s floor and has to grit her teeth against the instinct to recoil at the icy bite of the ground. She takes a breath to centre herself and closes her eyes, feeling below the surface of the cave and searching until she hits rock. She rises from the crouch to settle into a bending stance. Lin lifts her arms, grounding herself through her feet to sense the rock she’d found, and begins pulling it towards the surface. After a few moments, a faint rumbling sound echoes throughout the cave, getting louder and louder until the rock breaks through the surface and separates from the ground below. Lin supports the large rock with one hand as she uses the other to pull bits of smaller stone together. She lets the large rock fall back down into the ground, sealing the gap she’d initially created, and then brings the small fragments of stone together until they create a perfect quarter circle.
There are streaks of green and black running through the otherwise grey stone. Lin pulls a small knife out of her pack, and carefully etches a small waterbending symbol into the stone. When she’s finished, she straightens and holds the stone out to Katara for inspection. The older woman turns the stone over in her weathered hands for a moment, then looks back to Lin, a warm smile stretched across her face and what looks to be a sheen of tears in her eyes.
“It’s perfect,” Katara murmurs, handing the stone back to Lin. Lin smiles at the praise, and places the stone safely into a pouch she carries bundled up in her coat.
Lin grimaces at the sweltering heat as she steps off the airship. At least this leg of the trip should be quicker than the last. She can already feel sweat beginning to form on the back of her neck and she’s hardly been on the island for five minutes.
She flags down a cab and instructs the driver to bring her to the beach. As they drive through the town, Lin can’t help but think of the summers she spent here with her family. Sleeping in of a morning, and having breakfast cooked for her, chatting quietly with Tenzin and Izumi as Bumi and Kya caused a ruckus for Su’s entertainment. Watching Uncle Aang and Uncle Sokka fool around in the water, sometimes accompanied by her mother, or Katara. Sipping tea with Zuko as he taught her advanced Pai Sho techniques (and kicked her ass every single game without fail). Sitting under the stars with Kya, listening to the older girl talk about her hopes and dreams and wondering if she could ever find something like that to look forward to.
At the time, she had thought she was looking for some kind of purpose, something meaningful in life beyond trying to outgrow her mother’s shadow. But looking back on it, she wonders if she knew what Kya could grow to mean to her.
The feeling in the pit of her stomach has turned to yearning, now. As she gets closer and closer to a place that is theirs alone, Lin feels herself craving her girlfriend’s presence.
She pays the cab driver and steps out onto the sand, heading west until she finds the spot she’s looking for. There’s a small cove that Lin found at the bottom of one of the cliffs, to hide away from all of the antics of the rest of the kids, and get some studying done. Kya found her one evening and it quickly became their spot. They’d never discovered its name (never tried hard enough to look) and so Kya teasingly dubbed it KyaLin Cove . It was here, under the glow of the moon and watching eyes of the sun, with the waves lapping at her feet, that Kya had first confessed to Lin of her feelings for girls. It was here, two decades later, where the two shared their first kiss; their first night together.
Lin remembers waking up and feeling so vulnerable with only the blanket draped around her and Kya’s head on her chest.
She was no stranger to one-night flings, but these tended to be with random people she didn’t know and never saw again. The one time it had happened with a ‘friend’ (Lin used the word tentatively), the woman hadn’t taken it well when she told her it didn’t mean anything.
Having lost Aang, then Tenzin, and Sokka... she couldn’t bear to lose Kya, too.
Her heart immediately kicked into overdrive and she tried, with futility, to stop herself from waking Kya. The older woman woke, looked at her with a warm smile, and kissed her deeply. That had made Lin pause, relaxing into Kya’s soft mouth and calm aura.
“It’s okay, Lin,” she had spoken softly, as though she could hear the thoughts running through Lin’s head. “What’s a night of fun between two friends?”
“We’re still friends?” Lin had blinked up at the waterbender, cursing herself as her voice broke over the last word. Kya placed a palm against Lin’s cheek and nodded.
“Of course,” she replied, a light laugh in her voice. Lin felt the corners of her mouth pick up, too.
“Is this how you treat all your friends?” she asked, her voice a little rough. Kya’s smile turned roguish as she leaned in closer.
“Only my favourites,” she breathed conspiratorially, pressing her mouth to Lin’s once more.
It was the start of a beautiful arrangement.
The rock Lin pulls from the cliff of the cove is a dusky grey, with lighter specks running through it. She once more forms a quarter circle, and steadily etches the firebending symbol into the smooth stone, before placing it in the pouch alongside the other segment.
Happy with how smoothly this portion of her journey has progressed, Lin decides she’s probably got time for Pai Sho with Uncle Zuko before the airship leaves.
Her final stop brings her to the estate where her family used to reside, in Gaoling. She looks up at the excessive buildings and grounds with disdain.
She feels the sensation of someone approaching, lightly and quickly, and whips around in a defensive stance, with a scowl on her face.
“Chief,” she says exasperatedly, relaxing. She should’ve known, really, being this close to her mother’s swamp, that she mightn’t make it through here without her mother’s knowing.
Anxiety is already creeping into her stomach, and she hates it. She’s long since stopped wishing that the longing for her mother’s approval would subside, resigned to the fact that if she’s felt this way for this long, she probably will for the rest of her mother’s life. Still, she resents the feeling. It angers her.
Toph smirks up at her eldest daughter. “Hey, Linny. What brings you to this part of the world?”
“Like you don’t already know,” Lin grumbles, a blush covering her cheeks. It’s half indignant at the childhood nickname, and half embarrassed.
“What I wanna know is, why this dump, of all places?”
Lin sighs. She doesn’t have particularly strong memories of the place at all, truth be told. But she wanted the necklace to be meaningful. To represent the places Kya’s from, the places she’s from, and the places they came together. It’s sappy as all Raava, and she knows it, but Kya’s always been one for sentiment. Besides, this is the only time she’s going to do this in her life, so she’s going to do a damn good job of it.
Still, she’d sooner be caught dead than explain all of that to her mother, so she shrugs, knowing it irritates the older woman, and heads for the gardens.
“This has been a long time coming,” Toph comments as she follows. Lin rolls her eyes.
“Weren’t you the one who lost the bet to Katara because you didn’t think we’d actually get together?” she retorts.
“I thought you were more like me,” her mother replies. “That you didn’t need anyone.”
Lin bristles at this. She stops abruptly, and whips around to face Toph.
“I don’t need anyone,” she growls. Toph merely laughs at her.
“Of course you don’t. And neither does the Sugar Princess. And that’s what works about the two of you.”
Lin sighs, pinching the bridge of her nose and continues onward to her destination. It’s funny , she thinks dryly, how much I think I miss being around family until they’re actually present.
It’s not until Lin is bending the marble into a small segment that her mother speaks again.
“Good for you,” Toph says quietly. She thinks it’s probably the closest to her mother’s approval that she’ll ever get. Despite herself, Lin smiles.
“You took a vacation without telling me?”
Lin’s hand shoves the freshly formed pendant as far into her pocket as it will go. Smooth, Beifong. She's just finished carving the final quarter of the necklace - a light grey stone from the earth at Air Temple Island, representing the place they'd grown up together, and had been admiring the nearly-finished product, but her girlfriend's sudden appearance has caught her completely off guard.
“Kya! I thought you’d be in the North a little longer,” Lin is trying her hardest to act smoothly, but damn it, she was supposed to have more time than this!
“Well, I came home almost a week ago to try and surprise you, but you’d gone off to Agni knows where and didn’t tell anybody!”
Kya’s mad. It doesn’t happen very often, and usually not even directed towards her. Lin opens her mouth, not ready with a cover story to pull out of her ass, but Kya continues.
“It’s only because I ran into Mako at the station that I even knew you were taking a Spirits-damned vacation, and not dying in a ditch somewhere!”
Lin winces. She’d not told anyone where she was going, for fear of Kya getting wind of it. But the alternative seems not to have worked out any better.
“Don’t you sweetheart me, Lin Beifong, I want an answer. Where the hell have you been?”
Lin sighs. She’s not good at making things up on the fly; that’s Kya’s thing. “Could you, uh, turn around for a second?” she asks hesitantly.
“ Seriously?” Kya yells. At this point, a small crowd of island inhabitants have gathered nearby, and Lin feels like the spotlight is on her. This is not at all how this was supposed to go. There was supposed to be a romantic, home cooked dinner, and wine, and music, and dancing-
She looks at Kya pleadingly, and by the luck of the Spirits, her girlfriend makes a show of slowly turning around. Whipping around herself, Lin quickly draws a small amount of metal from her belt, and fashions it into a screw eye pin and metal ring. She hears Kya’s frustrated sigh and feels her foot tapping impatiently against the floor as Lin finally pulls all the pieces together, threading the pendant onto the necklace, and turning back around, holding the necklace out in front of her with a nervous look on her face.
She can’t quite keep the tremor out of her voice as says, “you can- uh, you can turn around now.”
Kya turns, and her face morphs from pissed to shocked in the few seconds it takes for her to focus on the necklace Lin’s holding out. Kya’s jaw drops, and her hand comes up to cover it as she whispers a soft “ What? ”
Lin shrugs, looking at a spot just past Kya’s shoulder. “It’s, uh, it’s a long story, and I can tell you it when we have less of an audience,” she nods to the crowd behind her, where she now sees several recognisable faces also gathered. Lin feels like her cheeks are about to combust.
“But the real point of this is I just want you to know that I never want to hold you back from coming and going as you please, but I would very much like it if you came home when you’re finished.”
Tears are rolling down Kya’s cheeks. The older woman sniffs, looking at Lin with such love that it bolsters her, confidence filling her body. Kya’s already striding to her as she says her next words.
“Will you marry me, Kya?”
All Lin hears is a quiet, emphatic “ yes !” growled against her lips as Kya pulls her in for a deep kiss.
There are hollers and cheers behind them, and Lin knows she’ll feel embarrassed in a moment, but right now, all she can feel is elated.
All she can feel in her stomach now is the dizzying feeling of falling, knowing that Kya’s there to catch her when she hits the ground.