Another request, this one for Secret River Fan.
Her idea was an "AU where somehow Lin gets tangled up in the Kuvira/Zaofu/Earth Empire mess…and somehow she gets taken hostage by The Great Uniter" and basically what would Tenzin do? It took a while to figure out where to place this and I finally decided to veer off from Operation Beifong. So!
Let's pretend here that, as the Beifongs, Bolin, and Zhu Li were flying away on Opal's bison after that final fight in Operation Beifong, their escape wasn't quite so simple. This four-chapter story starts right after Opal gathers everyone as they are trying to escape from the compound and jumps right in. It will merge with Kuvira's Gambit and then right back with canon by then end.
Even the Sun Must Sleep
"You need to get us up higher!"
Lin's steady command cut through the chaos around them, giving Opal something firm to hold to. She tugged her bison's reins, urging him to veer right and upward, but a steel cable shooting to their left startled him into a downward spiral. More cables shot toward them on the wave of the first, their pursuers intent on snaring them.
Her family, joined in their escape by Bolin and Zhu Li, held to the side of the saddle as Opal soothed Juicy enough to get him straightened out, no longer flying back toward the earth where several soldiers waited to take them captive again. Very slowly, he started going toward the clouds above them. Lin shot a quick glance to her niece, who seemed to have her own situation under control, before looking down over the saddle.
More soldiers were coming, pouring out of the compound like ants - though unfortunately they were still not high enough for them to look that small yet. She stood, extending one of her knives just as she saw yet another cable coming far too close for comfort. She cut it before it could curl around the saddle's lip, the frayed edge landing on Baatar Senior's feet. He yelped and clutched tighter to Suyin, who held his arm with both her hands, trying not to show how badly she was shaking herself when all she could do was sit there. The twins looked to their mother then, as well, wanting to help but at a loss of how. She turned her own anxious eyes up to her sister.
"This isn't going to work," she interrupted before Su could speak any more than her name. "We're not going to escape this way. Not if I'm the only one who can -" She sliced another cable, spinning to cut a third as it found purchase on the leather. "I'm the only one armed."
"Then do something about it," Toph said gruffly from the center of the group, her blind gaze turned unseeingly toward her daughter's. They shared a moment of connected silence through the growing panic of their companions, and Lin turned away.
"Exactly what I was thinking."
Su looked between them, not appreciating being left out of their unspoken conversation. "What? What are you going to do, Lin?"
"I'm going to shift the odds." She put a foot up on the edge of the saddle and crouched over her leg, peering down at the swarm below them. They were still too low. Only a lucky shot - or several bad shots at once that she couldn't undo - and all of them would be taken. But if she could just give the rest of her family a distraction enough to get out of range...
All in a rush, Suyin understood. She released one hand from her husband's arm and reached it for Lin's, her fingers closing around her wrist. She could feel the steady beating of her sister's heart through the metal of her armor, not showing a trace of fear, and her face fell in worry. "No, you can't go back down there. We're leaving together."
"You're leaving without me or not at all," Lin replied immediately, not focused on Su. "Only options."
"She's right and you know it," Toph interjected. "Let her allow you to get your kids to safety. It's why she came at all. We're running out of time."
Suyin paused, everyone's eyes but Lin's and Toph's on her as she slowly relaxed her grasp. Without another word, Lin pulled away from her fully and stepped out of the saddle into the air.
Su realized the moment after Lin began to jump that Opal was not aware of their change in plans, too focused on keeping her bison from scaring again to pay the rest of them her complete attention. It was as she saw her aunt falling that she called out, and Suyin climbed over the rest of her family to reach her daughter. "No, Opal, keep going!" She put her hand on her shoulder, hoping to comfort her child as much as herself when her heart wanted to break.
"We have to keep going, sweetheart," she spoke loudly over the wind. "Lin will be all right, she always is."
Opal shook her head, turning to look at her mother over her shoulder before she could cry with anger. "It's not all right!" But she turned her gaze ahead again and continued them on their path, using the break in onslaught from below to turn them upward at a faster pace until they came through the clouds.
Suyin sat back, watching as her sister became smaller and smaller below.
The air buffeting around her was almost a comfort, as Lin allowed her body to free-fall to the earth. She and Tenzin used to play like this in their younger years, him taking her below the clouds and letting go - always close, should she need a catch - for her to command the earth to swallow her landing. It had been a very long time, even before their relationship had broken apart, but she still remembered the feeling, etched under her skin into her muscle with every memory of bending she had.
If she let herself close her eyes for the briefest second, she could almost imagine he was there with her, flying at her side with his glider and ready to open his arms to gather her into them. But he wasn't and she was alone.
Ground loomed nearer, and she shifted to direct her feet to land first. As soon as she sensed the earth humming through her, she tugged it, turning it to sand and opening it below her. Her feet sank quickly and she fell up to her hips as the momentum died before she pushed out, the sand spinning her upward to deposit her neatly on solid land.
Soldiers on foot and in tanks descended on her immediately.
She focused on the tanks first, crouching to dig her fingers into the earth and pulling it hard. It followed her will, the ground under the machines' feet jerking violently. All of them stumbled and several fell, though she didn't pause before lashing out with a foot, weight of her body balanced on her arms, to send a spike of rock to knock the rest. Without anyone to protect around her, she had nothing to lose - and so she didn't hold back. All they needed above was thirty seconds, at most, and then it wouldn't matter anymore.
Her feet hit the dirt again and as she raised her arms she brought up a wall of earth just as the tanks facing her on their sides sprayed fire from the mechanical hoses. She left the wall intact and pulled her wires out through her gauntlets, ready to attack when the first wave of soldiers sprang forward.
Four of them were in the front line, each pulling a massive boulder from the ground to throw at her in sync. Lin held up her hands and absorbed the will of their earth, turning them to dusty clouds of rubble. The same fate became three more before she tired of the back and forth and struck out with a cord, pushing down the first two rows of her attackers. She didn't necessarily want to kill anyone, or even maim them beyond what a healer could fix.
She spared a quick glance up to the sky. The bison carrying her family was nearly a tiny dot in the clouds. They were safe.
A thick steel wire blew by her face, startling her hair. She spun around to see two of the tanks were up again, ambling toward her. Her eyebrows narrowed and, when the wire shot again, she wrapped her own around it and launched herself forward with the momentum of its grab, knife ready. The blade sliced out, nearly severing the left arm from the machine's body, and the driver staggered backward in surprise at her attack. She swung again, shoving this time to break the platinum limb off.
"Get her!" the man driving the tank cried angrily, his voice muffled through the glass of his cockpit.
She was able to dismantle the remaining arm before allowing the soldiers to overrun her without continuing to fight as they dragged her to the ground.
Republic City came into view just after sunset, glittering brightly on the horizon. Suyin breathed a sigh of relief, her arms tight around her husband as he huddled against her. She raised one hand to the back of his head, reflexively looking for her own comfort in him.
"Land us as close to City Hall as you can, Opal," she said. "We need to find Tenzin and Raiko, they have to know what is going on."
Opal nodded, guiding Juicy over the rooftops and slowly down into the city center. People looked up at them, shielding their eyes against the sun as the bison touched down with a thud. Almost immediately, the Beifongs, along with Bolin and Zhu Li, slid off, thankful to be safe among friends again. Suyin started marching toward the steps of City Hall, intent on finding either of the men she had mentioned, but Opal reached out for her, stopping her mid-stride.
"What is it, dear?" she asked, trying not to let her impatience filter into her question. The expression on her daughter's face, though, clenched around her heart, and any irritation she may have felt vanished. She opened her arms and Opal fell into the embrace.
"Why did we leave her there?" Opal murmured against her.
"It wasn't done out of malevolence, sweetheart, you know that. We had to." She ran her hand over Opal's disheveled hair. "We'll go back for her as soon as it's safe to do so."
She nodded and took a breath. After a moment, she pulled away. "I thought you should know - Master Tenzin - well, Aunt Lin asked him to come with us and he didn't. I heard her telling Grandma Toph last night, I don't know if she told you before we left her in the swamp. Would it - would it have made a difference if he had come, do you think?"
"Oh, no, not at all," Suyin said automatically for her daughter's benefit, surprised at this revelation and keeping it to herself. "No difference at all."
Opal nodded again and walked off to join Bolin and her brothers, standing to the side and out of the way as they waited to follow Suyin inside. Zhu Li came forward and gave her a small bow. "Should we go on?" she asked politely.
"Yes, of course. Let's go inform the president his city is about to be laid siege to." And, she added to herself, to tell Tenzin that Lin had not returned with them.
Finding Raiko and Tenzin was not altogether difficult, as the president had gathered not only him, but Korra, Wu, and Mako into a meeting in his large office by the time she let herself in through the heavy wooden doors, Opal and Bolin on her heel as she guided Zhu Li inside. Tenzin got to his feet the moment he saw Suyin enter the room, while the teenagers looked around at her, startled to see her standing there at all.
It took only a moment for the surprise to fade and Korra leapt to up from the couch. "Su! You're here!" She ran forward to give the woman a hug, which she heartily returned.
"My family is in the hall," she explained, "but Zhu Li has some vital information for you all, it couldn't wait."
"Is Lin outside as well?" Tenzin asked, unable to restrain himself. He did well hiding the nervousness from his voice, and though Korra and Mako both looked at him and then to Su, wanting an answer as well, they didn't hear the undertone to his question the way his friend did.
She met his eyes for only a moment and then looked away again. "No, she's not with us. President, Zhu Li, if you would? There are some important things we all need to discuss."