Written as a request for Secret River Fan.
Major spoilers for Season 4, specifically Operation: Beifong and Kuvira's Gambit. This is set during Kuvira's Gambit, actually, immediately following the scene where Lin returns to Republic City with Su and the whole group has the meeting with President Raiko about Kuvira coming to the city. So yes, spoilers!
This ties in, too, with two others I wrote a while back revolving around the same theme, Thunder Passes and Storm Overhead. All are fully independent of one another, though still fit together quite nicely.
Anyway, I hope you all enjoy!
Lin hustled herself from the room and down the steps of City Hall as quickly as she could once the president gave even the slightest indication the group's discussion had come to an end. Tenzin had continued to glance in her direction throughout the never-ending conversation about weapons and evacuations and plans, an expression on his face that made her stomach ill, and moving to the other side of the bank of chairs had done nothing to ease the tension between them. Her boots struck against the marble steps and she gazed up at the sky, a marvelous blue not impeded by clouds despite her darkening mood.
Suyin came running down the stairs behind her and, though Lin had felt her coming several yards back, she still continued her path toward the police station without pause.
"Oh, Lin, my wonderful, brave sister!" Suyin forced her to falter as soon as she caught up by grabbing Lin's arm and wrapping it with her own in an endearing half-hug. Lin gave her an agitated frown and tried to pull away, but Su held tighter the more she struggled. "Have I thanked you yet for coming to our rescue?"
"Yes, several times. Let go. Please?" She didn't add that she wanted to be gone before Tenzin emerged and continued forcing along her way through the large courtyard.
"Mother - yes, I expected Mom to show up eventually. How could she not?" Su plowed on, matching Lin's pace and even leaning her head to rest on her shoulder companionably. She ignored the jostling, not put off by the cool metal against her cheek in the least. "But you! As soon as I saw you, I knew everything would be all right. And it was, wasn't it? My big sister, always saving me from myself."
Lin started to slow down when Suyin's words began to sink in. She'd given flippant 'thank you's during their travel back to the city, but she had been so preoccupied with her family - mainly her terrified husband - that this was the first heartfelt conversation the two of them had had about the battle they'd just returned from. She turned her head, seeing the mass of Su's darker hair against her uniform, and some of the frustrations around her chest eased. When she opened her mouth to reply, though, another voice drifted over the courtyard to interrupt their moment together. Tenzin was making his way down the stairs now, finally unencumbered by the president.
"Come on," Lin muttered, her previous words forgotten. She strutted forward again, the quick stride jerking Su's forehead up from her shoulder, but she continued to latch to her arm as she quickened her steps as well.
"Is it him you're avoiding? It wasn't me?" Su shot a quick glance behind them. Tenzin glared when this made their movements obvious, but she didn't care. "Why in the world are you running away from your old lover boy?" A thought occurred to her and she gasped with glee at the prospect of gossip, angling her body to gently smack Lin's chest. The contact made a clang ring out around them. "The two of you haven't slept together again, have you? Details, Lin, I want details!"
"Su!" She shot her an angry look from the corner of her eye, but a very faint blush crept into her cheeks for the briefest of moments at the insinuation she would do something so lurid. "Don't be absurd."
"You really don't have anything going on in your personal life, do you?" Suyin almost pouted.
Wanting the freedom to escape on her own Lin started to bodily pry her sister from her arm, twisting it this way and that with no luck when the grip held like iron. "That truly is none of your business," she muttered, getting annoyed when she saw a flurry of gold and red coming closer.
"It can be, you know! You and I could be the best of – oh," she suddenly broke off with a cheerful grin, "Hello there, Tenzin."
He had used a burst of air to push himself the final distance between them – what Lin called cheating, which she said to his face and he frowned at – and came to a stop in front of them to block their retreat. "This is ridiculous," he grumbled. "You only just got back, I'd like to speak with you before you go running off."
Lin ticked her head, a tiny movement that held more anger than she kept in her face. Su released her and took a step back, baffled, though she kept one hand on Lin's back when she felt her heart start to thud through the metal there with the effort she was using to keep her emotions in check. "What's going on here?"
"I haven't the slightest idea – but you remember how Lin can get sometimes," Tenzin replied rather cruelly, speaking to Suyin as though the subject of his words was not with them. "All I wanted was to welcome her home and this is how she treats me?"
It was a goad, Lin clearly understood it was, but he knew every button to press to get a rise from her. The anger was too deep to let this one go. "Are you sure that's all you wanted to do? Or did you want to lecture me again? Or tell me how incredibly stupid you find me for acting rather than thinking?" She jabbed a pointed finger into his chest when he took a pause to respond, hard enough to hear his sharp intake of breath at the pressure. "All I wanted was your help. I see where I stand in your life now, so you can leave me well enough alone. I'm done with this – this – whatever we were trying to do."
"Come now, Lin -"
He had reached out a placating hand toward her and she smacked it away harshly. His eyes widened in real alarm. "No! It seems all I do is sacrifice myself for you, and yet when I ask one small favor -"
"A small favor!" His alarm turned quickly to ire. "You wanted me to engage the newly founded Air Nation in a war!"
"I wanted you – you, Tenzin - to help me rescue my sister!" Lin yelled back.
"Wait a moment," Su interrupted, her features starting to resemble Lin's as she put together the pieces of what was being argued over. Her hand slid up to curve fully over her sister's shoulder in a gesture of support, something Lin had not had in a very long time. "Hold on just a second here, Tenzin. She asked you to help rescue me and my family and you...you refused? That does not seem like you at all."
Both Tenzin and Lin looked at her in surprise, though for quite different reasons. It had been such a long time since anyone had spoken up for her that Lin wasn't exactly sure what to do, always having to raise her own voice to be heard among all the others.
Tenzin lowered his eyes briefly before bringing them to Suyin's again, taken aback by the fire there brought on so suddenly by both the realization he hadn't been willing to assist her captured family and the fact he had been willing to let Lin go into such danger alone.
"You don't understand, Su, you haven't been here. I have a duty to protect the Air Nation now, as young and fragile as it is. There wasn't anything I could do."
"You could have helped me!" Lin exploded, leaning forward aggressively. He took a startled step back, not having expected this burst of unrestrained fury. "I respected – and still do – your decision not to involve your Airbenders! I only wanted you, Tenzin! Your help," she clarified when his expression shifted from anger to one she didn't want to see, and she looked away. "When you refused to even come with me at all – of course I don't want to speak to you right now! You were content to leave my sister to Kuvira when I begged you to help me save her!"
But before he could even attempt to reply, Suyin snarled, "After everything the two of you have been through!"
She gently urged Lin to stand down, wordlessly relieving her of having to fight this battle any longer. Lin sighed heavily and turned away, crossing her arms. "You, of all people, should have understood how difficult it was for her to request something like that," Su continued vehemently. "She and I had such a difficult relationship until recently, I will forever be thankful she came for me. I owe her my life, don't you see that? My entire family does! And you, Tenzin, who says family means the world…you would have let her lose hers, as newly found as we are."
"That's not…well, that is not what happened. Everyone is fine now." Color rose over the crest of his head and ears as Su finished speaking.
"Only because my daughter came in your place," she said pointedly, her lips turned down. "And because our mother was waiting when Lin arrived. Yes, that's right – our mother." Tenzin lowered his head fully at that, recognizing a wave of shame. "I'm not exactly sure what happened before Lin got us out of that cage, but I can't imagine is was very pretty. Was it?" she asked her sister, and all she got was a terse shake of the head.
He remembered the moment he realized Lin had left, how terrified he had been to think she was heading straight to Kuvira, and he knew then that he had made a mistake. It wasn't until then, though, at Su's unforgiving words, that he felt truly ashamed for the way he had dismissed her concerns and pleas for assistance. He owed Lin his partnership in this, his support, and yet he had let her down. He owed her not because of everything she had done for him, but because they were as close as two people could be. It should have been given unasked. He should have been there with her.
"Lin," he whispered.
She still had her back to him, though she took a steadying breath and turned her head slightly to see him from the corner of her eye.
"I'm sorry," was all he could think to say to her.
After a long moment, she nodded and looked away again. "Like you said, we're all fine now."
"Su, would you give us a minute, please?" he asked.
"Fine," she relented, "but you and I are going to have a chat later. There are things we need to discuss about how you treat my sister."
"Su, that is wholly unnecessary," Lin muttered, her arms dropping to her sides as she started to turn fully around.
"I think it is," she replied firmly, putting her hands on Lin's shoulders and leaning in to kiss her cheek. "Find me when you're done. Or at least sometime tonight. Will you? There's so much we need to plan. And besides, I miss you, war or no."
She nodded noncommittally and Suyin smiled sweetly at her, walking back toward City Hall to find her children and husband. Tenzin reached for Lin again, this time letting his fingers brush over the back of her hand before hesitantly attempting to take it completely in his. She allowed him to, though hers was limp and unresponsive to his touch, ready to tug back immediately at the first wrong word that came from his lips.
"Please don't hate me, Lin," he implored softly. "I couldn't live with myself if you hated me again. Forgive me for being so foolish."
Hearing such similar words so soon after they had come from her mother made her throat burn, and she squeezed her eyes closed briefly before he noticed how badly that simple entreaty affected her. "I don't hate you, Tenzin," she murmured, drawing her hand away and consciously letting her fingers slide against his. "I could never hate you. Forgiving you is another matter entirely."
She walked away, leaving him behind and feeling how badly he wanted to call her back to him, yet feeling so incredibly forsaken despite his silent pleas.