The bell on Toph's desk rang three times loudly, making her secretary jump. He ran in to the chief's office, fearing her foul mood which has been continuing for almost a week now.
"Chief?" He said respectfully, entering the office.
"Where's that report on latest Triple Threat attack two weeks ago?" I specifically asked officer Beifong to hand it over before this Monday. Today is Tuesday!"
She's your daughter! Go ask her yourself! The secretary would have liked to suggest. But he, been the sensible young man he was, did not.
"The report still is not ready chief". He explained. "Officer Beifong has been working on it for the last three days continuously. She has not reported to work today. She seemed exhausted. But she refused to leave the HQ until it was midnight every day since you assigned it to her".
Toph glared at him. She may be blind but she was infamous for her surprisingly accurate and terrifying 'glare', across the Republic City. So, it was no wonder that the young man stepped back.
"The draft report is on her desk" He stammered. "May I bring it to you Chief?"
"Now". Toph barked. "Check if officer Beifong has taken leave. No one in this precinct can defy the protocol".
"Yes chief". He saluted and left.
10 minutes later he reappeared, holding a thick bundle. "This is the report" He said placing the document on Toph's desk. Then he drew out a tape record from his jacket pocket. "Officer Beifong has finished the recording as well Chief. I found this tape record atop the report, labelled with the case number".
"What about the leave then?" Toph enquired.
"She has called in sick". He answered hesitantly.
Toph stared at him for a second, her nostrils flaring. "Thank you Song. Dismissed" She said waving him off.
As the office door closed behind him, Toph took the tape record and inserted it to the player on her desk.
'Case No. 394. Reporting officer, Lin Beifong'. Lin's measured voice came out of it, giving Toph a pang she could not quiet describe. This was the first time Toph had heard Lin voice a complete sentence after Su left for Goalin. As the record unraveled, Toph noted how Lin's voice cracked at every four words, and how she seemed to talk with great difficulty. There were pauses in between lines that would be too long under normal circumstances. Toph also noted how detailed and descriptive the report was. Lin has surely put lot of work in to the case. At the end, Lin's voice was almost feeble, and she seemed to take shallow breaths with each word she read.
Toph stopped the player. For another ten minutes she just sat there blindly staring at the report on her desk.
As she ascended the stairs that lead to Lin's small apartment, Toph felt drained. Su was gone, Lin was not talking to anyone. Any exchange of word between them for the last week had been nothing but official. Toph mused on how very alike they were and how that alikeness has led to this depressing silence.
Lin was inside. Toph 'saw' her lying on the bed. She raised her fist and knocked on the wooden door several times. There was no response. Toph knocked again. The seismic senses told Toph that Lin was not moving at all. She seemed to be asleep. With a flick of her wrist, Lin's door lock came undone and Toph went inside.
Lin was indeed asleep in her bedroom. Still dressed in the tank top and trousers she wore underneath the metal armour. Her metal boots were still on and it looked like she had collapsed on to the bed after her night shift yesterday.
Toph went around the bed to stand at Lin's bedhead, kicking aside the metal armour that lay unceremoniously on the floor. It clanged loudly, giving Toph hope that Lin would wake hearing the clatter. But Lin continued to sleep.
"Lin" Toph called, but Lin did not wake. "Oh for goodness sake" Toph mumbled. "Lin, wake up!" She called again, this time grabbing Lin's shoulder and giving her a small shake. Lin jerked awake by the intrusion. She clumsily sat up, rubbing sleep away from her tired eyes. It took Lin two more minutes to realise who was standing at her bedhead, with a angry look in her blind eyes.
"Chief?" Lin mumbled, getting off the bed and removing her metal boots with one swift motion of each of her legs. She walked out of the bedroom, rather haphazardly so, in to the pantry. Toph followed. Lin searched the kitchen carelessly until she found a bottle of milk, half empty, and poured the remnant to a metal container. She took effort, Toph noted, in carrying the container to the stove and clumsily turned the gas on. Then she turned to Toph. "Tea, Chief?"
"You weren't at the precinct today" Toph commented.
"I called in sick". Lin said fumbling through the pantry cupboard for tea leaves and sugar. "The report is finished. I left it on the desk. Forgot to notify Song. Sorry". She added carelessly.
"You have a fever" Toph commented yet again, to which Lin didn't bother responding.
Toph observed as Lin shakily prepared them tea. She poured two large cups of plain tea and turned to Toph. "Chief, would you like some milk in yours?"
"Pack your things" Toph ordered. "We are going home"
"I'm fine" Lin replied, pouring milk in to both the cups. She passed a cup to Toph and sat down on one of the stools in her pantry.
Toph ignored the tea cup passed to her and gritted her teeth. "No Lin. You are not fine" She said taking a step forward. "You are weak, have a fever and apparently you have been living on nothing but milk for the past few days". She half yelled, pointing her index finger at the heap of half a dozen empty milk bottles on the floor near the dustbin.
Lin quietly drank from her cup. "I'm fine chief". She said again after a minute. "It's just that I've been busy. Will report to work tomorrow".
Toph slammed her palm on the pantry top in anger. "As of now, you are officially on leave for one week". She barked. "And that's final". She went on, cutting Lin off as she tried to protest. "Finish your tea. Pack your things. We are leaving".
"No". Lin said firmly, taking another sip. "I'm fine here. May be you could adopt one of Su's friends to play 'mom' with. Those delinquents will make a great substitute for her."
Toph glared at Lin at the mentioning of Su. The frustration, sorrow and anger she had been fighting since the incident, were threatening to surface, and Toph was losing her cool by every passing second. Since Su was sent away, Lin had not spent a single night at Beifong household. Both Toph and Lin had been working restless, trying to ignore the emotional mess they were in.
"Delinquent or not, Su is my baby!" She yelled walking to stand right in front of Lin. "And so are you. No amount of your resentment towards me will ever change that. I will do whatever it takes to protect my kin. Now get off that stool, pack your bag, put on an overcoat. We are leaving!"
"Kin? Am I now?" Lin asked hoarsely. "I didn't ask to be born to this family! I'm sorry to have burdened you for 22 years chief". She said hotly, her voice cracking here and there.
That was it. That reply threw Toph off the edge. She outstretched her left arm and slapped Lin hard on the right cheek. "How dare you?"
Toph was confused as her palm did not come to contact with the Lin's face. Instead of skin, she felt her palm touch a sticky piece of gauze. There was a howl of pain, a toppling of a stool, and a clatter of a tea cup. Next second, Toph found Lin on the kitchen floor, gasping for breath, both her hands pressed against the right cheek.
All anger forgotten for a second, Toph dropped down to Lin's level. "What's- what's wrong?" She asked fearfully, gingerly touching Lin's head. "Don't tell me you can't take a punch". Toph took hold of Lin's wrists and tried to remove her hands from her face. "Lin!"
Lin's response was another cry of pain. Toph felt something thick and hot drool down her fingers. 'Blood!' "What the-, BJ what happened? What did she do to you?"
Lin stopped struggling at the mentioning of her oldest nickname. Toph's voice was so fearful and soft, Lin, despite herself, let the first teardrop escape her eyes.
"She cut me. Cut me with my own cords" Lin trembled in Toph's hands. "I can't eat, I can't laugh, I can't even keep talking". For the first time since it happened, Lin was admitting that she was wounded. Toph had slapped her so hard that the already infected wound was now bleeding once again.
"Up you get" Toph said supporting Lin's weight. She half dragged Lin to the sofa in the living room and made her sit. "Stay put. I'm calling Katara". Toph said hurrying to the phone.
Lin fought back great sobs that came flooding. A little attention from Toph had broken her resilience completely. Lin hated this effect Toph had on her. Why was she such a sucker for affection? Lin felt Toph sit beside her on the sofa. She tried hard to stop her shoulders from shaking. Lin bit her bottom lip to keep the sobs in her throat. The searing pain of her face had magnified by tenfold thanks to Toph's firm hand. A trail of blood was soiling her white tank top.
Feeling Lin's suppressed sobs and the valiant effort to fight off the pain, Toph threw a hand around Lin's shoulders and started stroking Lin's hair soothingly. "Bare with me kiddo, Katara will be right over" Toph said in the softest voice, "Goodness! Why wouldn't you tell me pet? Why wouldn't you tell me?!" It was overwhelming for Lin. The emotional turmoil she had been experiencing since the arrest was finally wearing her down. To add to that, she was reminded of how much her mother actually cared. Lin gave in. She gave in to the pain. She gave in to the love. As her living room began to swirl around her, Lin leant on Toph's shoulder and closed her eyes.