Hello, everyone! I've returned! How could I stay away from Lin, really now?
This story was written in its entirety for my dear friend Elizabeth (the lovely Amira Elizabeth). It is dedicated to her and any readers of my previous stories who are still around in this wonderful fandom.
This piece is set in the same timeline created by Warrior Raging and All Their Light, though the biggest plot device to be taken from those that differs from the original canon of the shows is Lin's established relationship with Tenzin, which is created over the course of those stories. Hear the Distant Drumbeat, here, takes place roughly four years after the end of the show.
Hear the Distant Drumbeat
"Just over this rise, boys, and we should be able to see the valley."
Suyin stood back for a moment after she spoke, watching with a small smile as Wing and Wei hiked passed her on the trail, dust following their steps. They each held a pack over their shoulders and were laughing about something or other, their voices coming down the way to her before she continued on the path herself.
It had been her idea to hike up the mountain that morning in search of a bluff one of her guards had described to her several days before - a lovely outcropping not far from the city, he said with such pride, that came to overlook a valley nestled between that mountain and the next, filled with trees and a river far below. She had immediately wanted to make the trip herself, and the twins had jumped at the chance to join her. They'd been hiking for nearly four hours and, whether they found the valley or not, she was still very pleased to be outside and enjoying their company.
The sun was blistering overhead, the summer day hot, but Wing paused and turned back to look for her without regard for the heat. "Come on, Mom, it looks like the path clears a little up here!"
Suyin smiled widely at him and quickened her stride to catch up to them. Sure enough, the steep incline leveled out after a few more minutes into a flat sort of ridge, scraggly trees scattering as the cliff opened before them. "Well," she said with another grin, truly happy now. "Would you look at that. Isn't it beautiful?"
The boys came up on either side and they looked down the headland together. The sunlight was glittering off the water of the river, which was just a thin ribbon from their height, and the trees of this valley were green and healthy, quite unlike those near them, which had suffered a good deal from the heat of summer and lack of rain. It was like a small oasis below them, surrounded on all sides by rock and cliff, only the river able to escape through a tumbling waterfall on the very far side by the next mountain. This terrain had not been settled. It likely had not been touched at all.
"I wonder if there is a way to get down without disturbing the earth?" Suyin mused, looking around her.
But the cliff of their own mountain was smooth, weathered by wind and time. The only way down would be to bend the earth to help them, and she was somewhat reluctant to do that. She let her eyes wander up the straight edge of rock, taking in the full of their surroundings. Another beaten path led off to the side, though this one looked very fresh and not well-used, perhaps put down by a large animal. She was about to turn her gaze back down to the valley when a flash of color, very out of place for their location, caught her attention. A dirty scrap of reddish orange, under a bush near that new path.
Suyin frowned and stepped back from the cliff's edge. "Boys," she muttered, "stay here for a moment, all right?"
They watched her, confused, as she made her way slowly toward that out of place color and pushed the shrubbery back. It didn't need to go far. A woman was lying there where she had fallen, quite dead. Her heavy jacket was caught in the nearby brambles, several of them tangling her hair out of many intricate braids.
"Wei," she called softly. She could tell both twins had come closer despite her request that they stay back, though she didn't reprimand them for it. "Would you please use the radio in your bag to call for a bit of assistance?"
Something about this woman, so far from her home, did not feel right.
"So what, exactly, are you doing?"
Lin smiled at the question, her eyes still on the sheaf of paper in her hand before raising them to the chalkboard on the wall outside her office. Tenzin was behind her, leaning against the doorframe of the room, watching as she made notations on that board from her paper. It was boring work, really, but for all he knew this small task could be the lifeblood of her entire operating system.
"Scheduling," she finally said, glancing over her shoulder at him. "I usually let the commanders of each squad handle their own, and I approve them before they're posted. But both Hana and Vi are out with some kind of influenza, so I'm doing theirs. Isn't it exciting?"
"Terribly." Tenzin pushed away from the door and came to stand beside her, watching as she wrote out the names of several officers and detectives into various time slots. "Do you still want to get dinner tonight before the mover?"
Lin paused, her arm lowered slightly as she turned to look at him. "That stupid mover is tonight? I thought the premier was next weekend."
"Varrick changed it. Didn't he tell you?" He couldn't help the chuckle at her frustrated expression, and she quickly went back to filling in her large timetable.
"He certainly did not tell me of this little change, and I'm sure he's known for several days. This is probably his not so subtle way of telling me he does not actually want me to attend. Arrogant little man." She frowned so intently her lips turned into a thin line. "I don't want to go."
"So we won't."
She grinned again, still without looking away from her board, and the frown vanished from her face without any indication it had been there at all. "I appreciate the sentiment, Tenzin, but I'll go. You always have given into me far too easily." Her eyes glanced in his direction with that, the look far from innocent - and definitely not completely about the mover she did not want to see - and he smiled somewhat bashfully and lowered his gaze from hers as she went back to writing. "Is it the same time, then? Meet me back here at seven. I won't have time for dinner, but I'm going to the damned thing, if only to make Varrick miserable."
Tenzin opened his mouth to reply, but an aide filling in for Hutou, her personal secretary who was falling into semi-retirement until Lin could convince him to retire fully, came up to her and cleared her throat nervously. Lin looked at her, eyebrow raised when the girl fell into a quick bow rather than sharing her message.
"Yes?" she pressed, not eager to go through all of this again with a new secretary.
"There is a call for you, Chief," the young woman said, going into her bow again. Lin moved her weight into one leg, reading the anxiety pouring off her as though it were a tangible thing, and let the silence stretch just long enough for her to continue on her own. "It is an urgent call," she clarified quickly, "from Zaofu. Master Beifong there wishes to speak with you immediately. Er, her words, not mine."
Lin looked at Tenzin, surprised by this, before quickly refocusing on the aide. "Yes, all right. Please reroute the call to the private line in my office."
The girl sprinted off back to her desk to do so, and Lin glanced at Tenzin again as she walked by him into her office. She held the door open long enough for him to follow and then closed it so no one would hear whatever was coming on that call. Just a moment later, the telephone on her desk began to ring, and she took a breath before answering.
"Beifong," she said steadily.
"Oh, Lin, it's so good to hear your voice." Suyin's came through clearly over the line, and Lin sat down, pulling the cord to stretch comfortably.
"Ishka said it was urgent?" Lin pointed out before her sister could say anything else. She could feel Tenzin's eyes on her, though this time she did not look at him as he watched her. This was uncomfortable, too surreal. "Is there something I can help you with, Su?"
There was a moment of silence, crackling between the lines, and then her response cut through it. "Yes, Lin, dear, I hope so. I seem to have stumbled upon a bit of a situation out here and could use your expertise."
The mover was to be missed after all. Tenzin was still watching her, quiet as she moved around her bedroom packing what items she needed into a single bag. "Two days, is all she said," Lin scoffed, shoving sleepwear into the rucksack. "Knowing my luck with Suyin and Zaofu, I'll be there for a month."
"Would you like me to come with you?" Tenzin asked softly.
She paused, hearing the unspoken support in those words. She lowered her head, catching sight of everything spread on the bed that still needed to be packed. "No," she finally muttered, "but thank you."
His hand on her shoulder startled her, and she realized she hadn't noticed him approaching her side until he touched her. She met his eyes again then. "I know Suyin is simply asking for your help investigating this mysterious death she found this morning, but please be careful. If I am not joining you, I would like to see you returned in one piece."
Lin covered his hand with hers where it was still resting on her shoulder. "I am sure Su and I are in more danger of destroying each other than some outside force doing it for us." She grinned at her own joke when he didn't, and went back to packing when he took a step back. The relationship with she and her sister was definitely better than it had been, and that was certainly saying something. 'Better than it had been', however, did not necessarily mean completely healed - or even that they were on perfect speaking terms every time they saw one another.
But they were both making a tremendous effort to fix the damage as well as either of them could, and part of that meant Lin was willing to drop everything to come to Suyin's aid when she needed it. At least for a few days.
And in this case, Suyin had so little information over the phone - really, only that she had found a body somewhere up in the mountains the previous day and wished for Lin to come help her find the woman's cause of death - that she felt obliged to assist when there was such a small amount to go on. Surely Suyin's police force was not unable to handle this themselves; there must be a reason she was asking her sister's help.
"I'll be fine, Tenzin," Lin said softly, and believing it this time. "From both my sister and from any errant murderers running around up there."
He smiled at her, reaching out for her hand as she finished stowing another item in her bag. "I am glad to hear it. I love you, Lin, very much."
"I know." Her lips quirked, and she leaned up to kiss him. "Now help me gather the rest of my things, would you, please? I've asked the airship to be ready in an hour, and it wouldn't look very good if I'm late." He nodded his acquiescence, squeezing her fingers before letting them drop to walk toward the bathroom for the few remaining items to be packed. She watched him go for a moment, hesitating only a heartbeat to feel the words before she spoke them. "Tenzin? I love you, too."
Lin gazed out the wide windscreen of the airship as it began its descent into Zaofu. She couldn't help the displeased expression that pulled her face taut as several people hastened forward to take the thick metal cables as they descended from the underbelly of the craft, helping to guide it smoothly to the landing bay, where it alighted with a gentle, swaying thud. She didn't move from her position, watching silently as Suyin came from the far hangar, followed closely by Wing and Wei at either shoulder, ready to greet her.
"Chief?" the captain, a kind-faced man named Eret, said beside her. Lin glanced at him, loosening some of the tension from her shoulders before turning her eyes back to the party awaiting her descent. "Would you like us to stay here with you?" he asked, referring to the small crew of himself and one other person aboard. "We could always come back tomorrow."
She sighed heavily, finally taking a step back from the windscreen and turning to unfasten her bag from the snug luggage compartment at the side of the open cockpit. "May as well stay. You deserve a bit of a holiday, don't you?" She gave him a small smile and he quickly returned it. "I'll make sure you have accommodations prepared. Leave the ship here, Suyin's people will look after it."
The captain cut the engines completely and began his final check of the controls as she left him, making her way to the stairs that had been lowered at the door. The warm breeze wafted inside, and then the late afternoon sun, just about to set, lit upon her face.
"Lin! Oh, Lin, it's marvelous to see you!"
Suyin was on her in a moment, both arms tight about her neck and shoulders until she dropped her bag from the pressure of the embrace. Wing came forward to grab it from the ground for her, a delighted grin on his face, as his brother stood at his side.
"Yes, yes, pleasure seeing you, too," she said, voice strained. Su released her, hands still firm on her arms as though she might turn tail and run right back onto her ship.
"Thank you for coming," Suyin said sincerely and, for the first time either now or on the telephone the earlier that day, Lin heard a note of real strain to her words. "I'm not sure what to do, Lin, and I'm starting to get worried. What if people start talking? That poor dear."
"Can we go see the body?" Lin asked. She tried to take her bag back, but her nephew told her quietly that he'd put it in her room for her and she relented without argument as Suyin spoke again.
"Now?" The response was positively startled, but Su recovered quickly under her steady gaze. She opened her arm toward the hangar and the elevator inside. "Yes, of course. Of course we can. Wing, Wei, would you please go tell your father that we're going to be a bit late to dinner?"
The boys jogged off, one of them hitting his brother in the shoulder as they neared the doors to the hangar so he would reach them first. Suyin did not call a reprimand after them, which Lin found more telling than anything, and she looked at her sister from the corner of her eye as they began to walk. Her face was drawn and tired, and there was little color in her cheeks. It was obvious something larger was going on, though what exactly that was, Lin could not ascertain just yet. Perhaps, despite her assurance to Tenzin, this would take more than just a day or so.
Lin listened to Suyin go on about her family and her city as they made their way to the train, and from there it was a very quick ride to the hospital – and the morgue.
"I see you've replaced the domes," she noticed with a small gesture upwards.
"We certainly did!" Suyin said with enthusiasm that seemed almost out of place. Lin watched her as she would a person she was interviewing, and she quickly turned her eyes away again, almost shameful. "Yes," her sister continued as they both looked over the railing of the train. "We repaired the domes first, after we won the war against Kuvira. It helped repair the people's morale along with them."
Something in the way she said that caught Lin's attention, but the train stopped and Su walked briskly toward the hospital before she could press again. The morgue in Zaofu was not under the hospital, as it was in Republic City, but underground beside it, along a metal-clad passageway that could be reached from inside the hospital or through an alley around the back. There were no Waterbenders here to keep the space forever ensconced in ice, and so they had the city's cold water pipes fed through the earth overhead to keep the space cool – hence the need for it to be set apart from the hospital's main building.
A well-built woman met them in the receiving room, a dour look on her face that soured even more when she saw Suyin. "Can I help you, ma'am?"
She brushed off the woman's brusqueness and gave her a kind smile. "We would like to see the unclaimed body that was brought in yesterday afternoon from the mountains. Chief Beifong has come to assist in the case."
The lady huffed at her and shuffled away from the desk, beckoning for them both to follow. She pointed at a room, the crypt where they stored the bodies until they were ready for whatever final destination awaited them, and dropped her arm again abruptly. "I'll go find the healer."
Lin watched her go for only a moment before heading into the room herself. Rows of plain metal coffers adorned the chilly marble walls. There was one empty exam table off to the side. "Which one is she in?" she asked as Suyin joined her.
"I don't know. Shouldn't we wait for Sina?"
Something about this situation was starting to feel very unsettling, and Lin pursed her lips into a thin line. "I'm not so sure that would be a good idea at the moment. What have you gotten yourself into?" She didn't wait for a response, instead going over to the wall at her right and waving her arms so all the metal doors opened to reveal the bodies inside. "Is she here? Su, is she here?"
Suyin had paused, taken aback by Lin's aggressive charge ahead, and swallowed before stepping forward to look into the openings. "No. I don't see why this is necessary -"
But Lin closed the doors again and moved to the other wall, opening those just as quickly. "Here? Look, Su!"
"What is the matter with you!" she snapped, glaring at her as she came to her sister's side. "We should really be waiting for the healer, Lin. They're already displeased with me for bringing a murder investigation in on them, and now you're messing with whatever system they have -"
"It is not like you to worry so much about rules," Lin pointed out quietly. Suyin's glare intensified, but she did not respond. She turned her head to look over the rows of new bodies, studying them quickly.
"Here, this is her."
They both used their bending to move the tray she was laid upon out onto the exam table, and Suyin immediately frowned. "This – Lin, they haven't even begun to look over her yet. She's still fully dressed, and just as filthy as I found her. Shouldn't they have at least taken these clothes for evidence?"
Lin looked quickly at the door, knowing their time here was limited before that aide came back with the healer. "Yes," she said, answering the question. "Very interesting. Look over her clothes, Su."
This time Suyin didn't hesitate, hands going to pockets and folds in the fabric, creases and seams. Lin turned her attention to the body itself. The woman's skin was waxy and discolored, as one would expect with decomposition, but there was a green undertone to her lips and under her fingernails. Her tongue and gum line had the same tone to it. She picked up her hands again, turning them over. Tiny white spots marked her wrists and palms, going up the inside of both arms as she pushed up her sleeves. "Poison," she murmured.
A great rip caught her attention. Her heart jumped for a brief moment, and she saw Suyin tearing open the inside seam of the woman's jacket. Something stained and certainly not fabric was inside, sewn into the lining, and Su tugged hard at it. The object came loose just as footsteps grew loud out in the hallway. She shoved it down into the pocket of her dress, hidden from view, as the healer and her aide came in.
The healer, Sina, glowered at them, face livid as she came to a stop in the doorway, blocking the only exit. "What are you doing to this corpse?"
"Why have you not started examining her yet?" Suyin exclaimed, growing just as angry. Lin came around the table and touched her sister's wrist, trying to wordlessly ask her to keep silent. It worked, and she sucked in a furious breath and took a step back, arms crossed over her stomach.
"May I ask," Lin said, pointing to the dead woman with two fingers, "how you believe she died?"
Sina stood straight, shoulders rigid as she clenched her jaw. "A fall," she said tightly, "out on the cliffs. Obviously. What other explanation is there? And it is certainly none of your business, you do not belong here."
"Come along, Suyin, we've gotten our answers."
Su hurried out of the room, head down with her fury and trying to hide it. Lin nodded to the women as they passed in the doorway, not breaking Sina's gaze until she turned to walk away, boots confident on the metallic floors of the dimly lit corridor.
They didn't speak as Suyin led the way through city streets lit with the blazing sunset, around tall metal buildings and through grassy parks. Lin followed her closely, matching her quick stride, and it only took them a few minutes longer to reach the large expanse of her property. But still Suyin did not stop, running through her vast lawn and up to the front of her home. An attendant opened the door as he saw her coming and she went inside, not pausing to see if her sister was behind her.
Lin reached out and grabbed her wrist before she could continue her mad dash, obviously making her way toward the dining room and dinner. "What is going on here!" she asked in a harsh whisper.
"Nothing," Su returned, jerking her wrist away. "Nothing at all. In fact, I do not need your assistance after all, darling, thank you so much for coming. You may depart after dinner."
"You are lying to me! It is apparent something is wrong, and it is about you - you or your city, or something else very important." Lin put her hand on her shoulder before she could try to walk away again. "Do not ignore me, Suyin. Do not ignore this problem. I saw what happened down in that morgue, I saw the way they treated you! The way they treated that woman!"
Su took a deep breath, looking down to the floor and then up to the ceiling before back at her sister again. "I am not ignoring it," she said firmly, taking Lin's hand and removing it from her shoulder. She squeezed it tightly before dropping it completely. "Come, let's have dinner. I do believe the rest of my family is anxious to see you."
The entire family except Opal - who had made her new home permanent at Air Temple Island in Republic City - was already gathered in the dining room halfway through the second course when Suyin entered. Baatar rose from his seat, holding out his hands to her, and took hers to raise to his lips. "My dear, I've missed you today."
The presence of everyone around her seemed to ease the anxiety from Suyin's body, and she visibly relaxed as she took the seat beside her husband. There was a chair on the other side, obviously meant for Lin, but a hand grabbed her wrist as she began to walk toward it. She started, looking down quickly and then at the owner. Baatar Junior was there at the far end of the table, near the door, and he was looking at her insistently. She paused, confused.
"Sit beside me tonight?" he asked softly. "Please, Aunt Lin?"
There were plenty of additional settings along the table - the family often hosted surprise dinner guests - and she sent one more look up the table only to see that Suyin had not noticed the change in her direction, already lost in some pleasant discussion with her husband. Lin pulled out the chair and sat beside her nephew, wishing she had taken whatever they had found in the woman's clothes from her before they entered the dining room.
"She's told you everything is fine, hasn't she?" Baatar Junior muttered, face turned down to his soup.
This surprised her, and Lin suddenly gave him her full attention. "Is she wrong?"
"I think 'wrong' is an understatement."
"Junior, sweetheart, are you monopolizing your aunt all for yourself?" Suyin had just noticed where Lin was sitting as the chef brought out meals for them both, and there was something hard about her tone that made Lin catch her eye without a smile. "If you're going to keep her all the way down there, why don't you tell everyone about the fabulous designs you've put together for the newest expansion for the city?"
Baatar Junior caught Lin's gaze for a fleeting moment before looking at his mother. "Yes, all right. I was thinking we could add an arboretum out on the northern edge, we have plenty of space there. I have this new idea for a sheet of stone that can absorb sunlight and let it through for the plants, and then keep the heat inside during the winter. I have the designs in my study. Would you like to see them after dinner, Aunt Lin?"
"Yes," Lin said kindly, touching his arm on the table so he would know she understood his real question of joining him for a private discussion where they would not be overheard. "I would like that very much."
"Junior is brilliant," Suyin spoke over her. "Absolutely brilliant, just like his father." She covered Baatar's hand with hers, twining their fingers together and smiling widely. Not a care in the world, it seemed to anyone else, though Lin still saw the faint frown on her nephew's lips. "We're going to start construction in three months, we're having plants shipped in from all over the world. It's going to be just glorious, Lin, truly."