A/N: Sorry I haven't updated in a while, but I've been out of the game. But now I'm back and I hope to be updating more consistently! I just had to work in one of my favorites characters in the series. You might find it helpful to read the third installment in this fic before reading this. This one's a little darker than the other installments, so please let me know if you like it!
Smoke and Mirrors
A little girl sheds silent tears as she hides underneath her parents' bed. With her chin pressed to the ground, she peeks out from below the bedframe. She can make out a pair of unfamiliar boots prowling menacingly about the room. The intruder's gruff voice mumbles a string of profanities under his breath as the sound of his hands rifling through her parents' things violates her ears. Smoke seeps underneath the mattress, stinging her eyes and throat. She can't stand the smell of it. It has a pungent, metallic odor that vaguely reminds her of burnt grilled meat.
Through the haze, she can see the flickering glow of flames coming from the corner of the room. The fire's hypnotic rhythm draws the little girl's eyes across the bottom of the floor to its source. An object shimmers brightly near the flames, reflecting the dancing firelight. It's her mom's wedding ring. She instantly recognizes the specially engraved golden band, but not the hand on which it rests. Instead of her mom's slender ivory fingers, she sees a set of gnarled and blackened digits, twisted into an agonizingly fixed pose. At that moment she comprehends with sinking finality that the burning smell is coming from her mother's smoldering corpse. Her mother is gone. The little girl chokes back a sob and tastes only the salt of her tears.
The smoke continues to force the acrid stench down her throat, clawing its way to her lungs. She bites hard into the frilly sleeves of her pink nightgown. All the tiny girl wants to do is cough and scream for her lost mother. But she promised her mom that she wouldn't make a single sound. She promised to stay put until the bad guys are gone. And Asami is a good girl who always keeps her promises. But she's also frightened and absolutely petrified with fear.
The sound of another pair of footsteps enters the room. They stop abruptly by the burnt corpse on the floor.
"What the hell happened here, Kwan?" yells the new voice.
"She had it coming," spits back Kwan, "she scratched my damned eye out!"
The second man lets out a loud sigh.
"You idiot! Boss is gonna have your head for this. You were supposed to take her alive so that we could use her as leverage to get those blueprints from Sato. Now we've got nothing!"
At the mention of her mother, Asami glances once more at the body that is charred beyond recognition. Her lips begin to tremble uncontrollably. Her roiling emotions betray her and a sob escapes her lips. The room suddenly goes silent. Asami prays to the spirits that her sobbing hasn't given her away.
She sees the Kwan's boots move towards the center of the bedroom and then stop abruptly. Asami holds her breath, not daring to exhale for fear of being heard again. She waits a beat, and then another.
"Wait," says the second intruder, "doesn't Sato have a kid?"
Finally the boots resume moving, more slowly this time. Deliberate. Stalking. They stop right beside the bed, inches from her face. They're so close she can see the scuff marks on the toes.
For a moment the boots stand still. Her heart beats in her chest like a hammer. As if answering her prayers, the boots take a couple of steps away from the bed. Just as she begins to quietly exhale, a hand suddenly shoots under the mattress and grabs her by the arm. The vice-like grip on her bicep feels hot to the touch as it drags her out from under the bed.
Kwan lifts her up painfully by the arm until her feet dangle in the air.
"Well, look what we have here."
Asami is face to face with Kwan, her mother's murderer. His left eye is a bloody mess. She kicks and claws to get free, but her attacks have no effect on him.
"You better learn to behave little girl," he hisses, "unless you want to end up like your momma."
Asami feels completely helpless in the grip of the one-eyed thug. She wishes she were stronger. She wishes she could have saved her mom. Frustration boils over her. She puts as much strength into her kicks and punches as her little body can muster. Vision blurred with tears, she screams.
"You killed her! You killed her!"
The second man grabs her by the chin and forces her to look at him. She meets his eyes with an enraged and defiant glare. He opens up the palm of his other hand in front of Asami's face. A small flame ignites and dances wildly in between his outstretched fingers. The heat of the fire presses uncomfortably against her face.
"Listen here," he threatens, "if you don't quiet down, then you're gonna find out what it feels like to get roasted on a spit."
"I don't think so," says a woman's voice from the doorway.
Before anyone can react, a metal cable wraps itself around the second burglar's neck and sends him flying head-first into the wall. A loud crash reverberates through the room and cracks spread out like spider webs from the point of impact. Just as quickly, the metal coils release him and he slumps down to the floor, unconscious.
Kwan backs up reflexively, maintaining his grip on Asami's arm.
"You're under arrest. Let the girl go," commands the woman, dressed in the unmistakable uniform of the metal-bending police force.
"Like hell," spits back Asami's captor. "If you come any closer the girl's a goner! Just try me!"
Asami sees the look of cold determination on her savior's face. The woman's emerald green eyes are framed by dark wavy hair that is pulled back behind her neck. Two thin scars run down her right cheek. The officer's eyes quickly scan the area and re-focus back on the firebender. Her body is coiled in a fighting stance, ready to strike. The woman stares Kwan down.
"I mean it!" shouts the firebender in a panicked voice. He ignites a flame in his free hand brings it towards Asami's face.
Asami struggles helplessly to move away from the fire. She looks up at the female metalbender, eyes pleading for help. To Asami's surprise, the woman drops her stare and lets out a resigned sigh. She relaxes from her fighting stance and stands straight up.
"Okay, I give up."
Asami can't believe what she's hearing. A crushing feeling of disappointment floods through her. But when the woman raises up her hands in surrender, Asami hears the thud of a piece of mortar from the wall behind her as it slams into the back of Kwan's skull. His eyes roll to the back of his head before he falls down face-first.
The police officer quickly bends steel cables around the two criminals before scooping Asami up into her arms. The woman looks at her with concerned green eyes, the same color as those of Asami and her mother.
"Are you okay?"
Asami nods as she tries to rub the tears out of her eyes.
"Did they hurt you anywhere?"
The girl shakes her head, eliciting a relieved smile from her rescuer.
"That's good. My name's Lin."
"I'm Asami," the little girl sniffles back.
"You've been very brave Asami. Now let's get you out of here."
As Lin carries Asami out of the room, she cradles the child into her neck and tries to shield her from the sight of her mother's body.
Despite Lin's efforts, Asami still cries out.
"But . . . but . . . my mom! Mom!"
Lin holds the girl closer and strokes her hair in an attempt to soothe her distraught charge.
"Shhhh . . . I'm so sorry sweetheart."
Asami sobs into Lin's chest.
On their way out of the Sato home, Lin barks orders to the other police officers arriving at the scene. Asami clutches Lin tightly, deriving what comfort she can from the warm strength of her rescuer's arms.
When they get to the police carriage, Lin places Asami in the back seat and begins wrapping her in a blanket. Asami peeks through the folds of fabric and looks at Lin tucking her in.
"Mom's gone. I couldn't save her."
Lin stops what she's doing and gives the girl a sorrowful smile. She tenderly places a hand on Asami's cheek. Lin's eyes water as she looks at the young girl who has experienced something that no child ever should.
"It's not your fault sweetheart. Remember that."
Tears slip silently down Asami's face. Lin can easily see the sorrow and shock in her young eyes. But she sees something else too. Determination.
"Someday," Asami chokes out, "can I be strong like you? Can I save people?"
Lin gently wipes the tears from Asami's face and gives her a warmer smile this time.
"Perhaps someday, you can be something even better."
Asami never forgets those words from Lin Beifong.
There are only a handful of people that inspire actual fear in Tahno. Chief of police Lin Beifong is one them. Unlike most of the bureaucrats in positions of power, Chief Beifong is a literal force to be reckoned with. Her skill and ferocity in metalbending and earthbending is unmatched in Republic City. Tahno has witnessed it firsthand. The woman is scary.
Her impassive stare bears down on him from across the interrogation room table. The surrounding metal walls make him feel claustrophobic in the presence of this formidable woman. It's almost like he's boxed in with a vicious tiger. That can also bend metal. He finds the image quite unsettling. After a moment of eyeing Tahno as if determining which of his limbs to pluck off first, Chief Beifong breaks the silence.
"Do you understand why you've been asked to come in for questioning today?"
Tahno's first instinct is to respond with some wisecrack, but the rational part of his brain reminds him that this would be a very bad idea.
The chief of police wastes no time enlightening him.
"Three weeks ago you were identified leaving the scene of an altercation in front of Mrs. Hahn's dumpling shop, accompanied by Asami Sato."
He doesn't like where this is heading. Perhaps he can feign ignorance or lack of memory?
"And before you say anything," Chief Beifong reminds him, "I can tell when you're lying."
Tahno does a mental facepalm. How could he forget? Lin Beifong inherited all the techniques invented by her mother, the legendary Toph Beifong. Unfortunately for him, Toph happened to invent a technique that uses earthbending to see into someone's soul. He's totally screwed.
Knowing that resistance is futile, he concludes that finding creative ways to tell the truth is probably his best option.
"Yeah, I was there. Why?"
"Certain individuals are seeking to press charges against Miss Sato for assault and battery."
"What?" he blurts out in surprise.
Chief Beifong leans forward on her elbows and tilts her head in what Tahno interprets as an inquisitive manner (for her).
"Are you saying that there's no basis for these allegations?"
"No," he answers, "she was just defending herself."
"Then tell me exactly what happened."
Tahno takes a deep breath and thinks carefully about what to say next.
"I was outside Mrs. Hahn's dumpling shop. These two guys were busting up the shop's windows. Asami goes over and tells them to stop. They yap back and forth, then one of them talks about how he's a firebender and what he's gonna do to her. So the firebender walks over to her and grabs her face."
Tahno grins at the memory of what happens next, but he doesn't realize he's doing so before his interrogator notices.
"You find this funny?" says Chief Beifong while shooting him an incredulous look.
In response he just smirks back at her and continues his story.
"You should have seen it. He was a fairly big guy and compared to him, she was tiny. So he probably thought he was gonna have his way with her. Then all of a sudden, bam! She head-butts his face and he's out cold."
"Huh, so she knocked him out with one shot," remarks the Chief. Tahno swears he can detect a hint of respect in her tone.
"Yeah," he continues, "then as soon as me and the other guy stop gawking at what just happened, he starts earthbending and throwing big rocks at her."
"What happened next?"
"So she starts dodging all the rocks, which is pretty impressive since she's not a bender, then she jumps in the air and knocks him out with a kick to the face."
Chief Beifong sits up straighter in her chair and puts her hands on her hips. Her stare intensifies in an accusing manner.
"And you just stood there?"
"Well," admits Tahno reluctantly, "I did use a technique on the earthbender to keep him from hitting her with a rock."
To his surprise, Beifong's glare softens somewhat.
"I see. So why did you flee the scene?"
"Well," he responds honestly, "me and cops don't always mix. I didn't want either of us to get in trouble, plus she didn't do anything wrong. So I grabbed her and hightailed it outta there."
"Anything else you want to add?"
"No, that's pretty much it."
"If that's all, you're free to go."
Tahno is surprised that the interrogation is over so quickly. He stands up to leave, but pauses before leaving the table.
"Wait, you're not really going to charge Asami with anything, are you?"
After hearing Tahno corroborate the testimony of several other witnesses, Chief Beifong already knows that there isn't enough evidence to bring charges against Asami. But it's against department policy to talk about potential cases before the investigation has been closed.
"We'll announce a decision after our investigation is complete."
Beifong's seemingly noncommittal answer worries him. There's no way he's going to let Asami take the rap for something he was involved in. He feels the need to say something to clear her name.
"Hold on. Asami's the last person that would start a fight. Like I said, it was self-defense. She's all about helping the helpless and all that crap. Like a damned saint . . . that happens to kick like an overprotective mule."
The chief of police almost smiles at him. She's relieved to know that Asami has found her way. Lin finds it quite amusing that someone like Tahno is falling all over himself to defend Asami Sato. She decides to poke at the waterbender one last time, just for kicks.
"Well, that's good to know. It seems to me that you've taken an interest in her."
Tahno huffs in response.
"Not really. She's not really my type or anything."
This time, Lin's mouth actually does quirk up into an amused grin. It's the first real lie he's told all day.
Reviews are greatly appreciated!