Lin Bei Fong awakens with half of her face pressed into a coarse pallet and a big emptiness wallowing out her gut. Or her heart. It's difficult, lying twisted in a prison cell in the blurry moments of waking, for Lin to exactly pinpoint where the cavity, the vast canyon carved out by the loss of her bending, truly begins and ends. So she reaches with one hand toward the edge, reaches until her fingers wrap around the cold steel bedframe.
It is as her fingers tighten and tighten, going white and bloodless with the pressure on her pinched flesh, that she figures it out. Where she should feel the buzz of tightly-packed minerals, there is only a cold, smooth surface. Where the bed should echo its shape into her head, there is only the darkness. The canyon has no edge.
Bull-scales. She's got a city to serve. There may be no edge to the emptiness, but her feet are two good feet and they hit the floor just fine. Sitting up and she's dizzy, now. She remembers the way her men had peered up at her, the sorrow and slack of them. She forgave them instantly. But she doesn't forgive herself.
"You'll get up and you'll stay up and I won't hear another damn word about it." Her voice is hoarse – more so than usual – but it has the gravel still, the grit and rumble that has been with her as long as the bending. Longer?
Blinking hard to clear her vision, Lin glares around the other empty bunks, the filthy slop bucket, the slightly-bent bars of the cell… and she recognizes it. This is the cell she'd rescued her benders from just, what, days before? A matter of hours? Amon and his cronies had the foresight to straighten a few things up before throwing her back in. Think they're so clever.
Lin narrows her eyes at the corridor beyond. She can't be sure what's out there and that's frustrating. With her bending, she could have felt out the whole wing from this cell. She could have known the positions of every snot-nosed little Equalist within a five-hundred foot spherical diameter and counted the change in their pockets. Then, she could have put that change right up their—
Lin braces her forehead in one hand and her knee in the other. There's no point ripping the bandage off more than once.
She stretches her shoulders and her legs and back, rolls her head on her neck and it cracks like rock-claps (but not the same – never the same) and then carefully, breathing deeply, stands up. There are scratches on her shoulders and down her back from where the Equalists had to pry her armor off with bolt-cutters. She remembers that from her arrival, when she'd still been in too much shock to react, to move or blink.
No. Lin braces a hand against her head and scowls. Not shock. She'd been in shock before. This was different, like everything had been stripped out and her mind was rolling around in a mixer with too little cement. It's better now, but only because she's gotten used to all that absence.
Has it only been a few hours since she leapt off that bison? Or has she been tumbling with the debris for days? Weeks? There's no way to know in here.
Lin swings her arms, twists her spine, rotates her hips until every joint is awake. That's what Lin is. Awake. What she isn't – well, that's gotta wait.
Someone is coming. Lin sits back on her cot, hunching forward and hanging her head, twisting the wiry gray hairs in one hand. Through the hair she watches the guard come with a bowl of some filth for her to eat. He throws it down in the cell and turns to go.
"Wait," Lin grates. She'll have to work more pleading into her voice if she wants half a chance. "Please. I— It's my hip. My armor used to support it. I can't stand up alone."
The guard turns back and scoffs under his black hood. "You expect me to believe that? You're faking." By his voice, he's a pup – half her age, if that.
"We'll see who's faking when this mattress gets so soiled you have to smell it in your damned office. I'm not a young woman and my bladder control isn't what it used to be."
"Eich." Even through his little sock-mask, Lin can tell he's making a face. "Fine, fine. Just give me a minute, wouldja?" He shuffles off.
Lin gives him exactly one minute – or her approximation, anyway – and then bangs the side of her bed. Continuously. "Hurry up out there! Would you keep your mother waiting like this?"
The guard returns with another just like him and for a second Lin can't tell which is which. They're standing out in the corridor, chuckling and taking their time with the keys. Lin groans for effect. They eat it up.
The door swings open but they're still taking their time, sauntering in and looming over her with crossed arms. "What'd I tell you, Rahn? Isn't it about the most pathetic thing you've ever seen?"
Rahn is grinning. Lin can hear all his teeth as he speaks. "The mighty Chief Bei Fong," he says. "An afternoon with Amon and she can't even get up on her own to take a piss."
They have a great little chuckle at that one.
"Laugh it up," Lin says, tight-lipped. She slouches there as long as they make her, wondering now how it was possible for her men to stay still this way. All she wants to do…
Rahn and the pup get their hands under her arms and haul her up. They're a lot handsier than she cares for. Rahn even pulls her arm over his shoulders and puts his hand on her waist. But that just makes what comes next that much easier.
"Need help getting your pants down, too?" the pup asks. He's on the verge of giggling.
Lin has to work hard not to smirk. "Yes," she says, very quietly.
It's as he reaches for the buttons of her pants that she snatches her arm from his grasp and breaks Rahn's neck. He doesn't even see it coming. Lin doesn't wait for him to slump out from under her, she spins in place and elbows the pup right beneath the goggles. There's this crunch of a nose getting crushed and then he's backing up fast, but in the wrong direction. He hits the bed and stumbles and Lin is there, shoving him down on the pallet and gripping his shirtfront and punching his face until the black hood is wet with blood and he stops moving. Probably unconscious. Possibly dead.
Lin backs up to the center of the cell and spares a glance for the bodies. She's not a killer. Never was. But muscling someone out is a lot trickier than using earthbending to capture or incapacitate. She'd been capable of great delicacy as a bender.
Not anymore, though. Never again.
Lin Bei Fong stands in the middle of the cell and stomps one of her bare feet. Nothing happens. There's no echo painting a world in her mind, no earth quaking to obey her command. All there is is a thump that fills the room. Small. Hollow. Then it's gone. They're still good feet. Still good for stomping.
Just because they can't find the next thing needing stomped doesn't mean they can't stomp it once it's found.