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Chapter 2: First Impressions
"Here we are, sir." Agent Zu stated, and gestured to the manor before them. Long Feng gave a curt nod.
"Good. Remain here for the time being, Agent. I will go retrieve the...child." He said. Zu gave a slight nod of his own, and Long Feng strode into the open doors of the Bei Fong's Upper Ring manor.
The journey to the manor had been a short one, but nonetheless the Grand Secretariat had been getting more and more anxious every minute it took to arrive. Even now, a good deal of apprehension filled Long Feng; and that was something he hadn't experienced in years.
A part of him questioned the sanity of this whole plan. He had never been a father before, and in all honestly he had no idea how to raise a child at all. Becoming a father-figure in general had never figured into his grand designs.
Admittedly, it was true that he had fallen in love, once. However, that had been a long time ago, not to mention the fact that Lien was long dead. In fact, he had even given up the very notion of having any sort of family after assuming control over the Dai Li. But now, here he was: on the verge of adopting a young, blind little girl.
Fate had an interesting sense of humor, it seemed.
Still, Long Feng was committed to this course of action. He was now responsible for this girl's destiny, for better or for worse, and the Head of the Dai Li would ensure that whatever future she had now, it would be the best possible one he could grant. If that meant that he was to become her father...then so be it.
Though he wasn't doing this just because of his new-found responsibility to the child. No, not at all. Guilt played a part in it, of course. He did not regret eliminating the Bei Fongs, since they had cooperated with the dangerous dissident movement within Ba Sing Se, but he did regret orphaning this poor girl. Had he known the Bei Fongs had an heir, he might have simply ordered them to be 'reeducated' in Lake Laogai, and then sent back to Gaoling.
But that didn't encompass everything, either. Guilt and duty drove him to a certain degree, but those feelings played a minor part in the grand scheme of things. If Long Feng was truly honest with himself, he was mainly doing this because...because...
"...Please wake up, Mom. Please. I-I'll be better, I p-promise! Just...just wake up already..."
...No child deserved to lose their parents, no matter what their crimes. Even if the girl's birth parents were dead now, she would still have someone to look out for her. She would still have someone to call 'Father' at the end of the day. She would still have a family, even if it was an unconventional one.
And in the end, Long Feng hoped that would be enough for this poor, innocent child.
After a brief search of the house, he finally came upon Agents Fukoda and Hiu, standing in front of what he presumed was the bedroom of the Bei Fong girl. Though the two Dai Li agents weren't as...ready and alert as Long Feng would have liked.
"I assure you, being an undercover tailor is a respectable assignment!" Agent Fukoda insisted to his comrade, sweeping his arms dramatically. Hiu appeared unconvinced, however, and openly scoffed at his partner.
"Right," Hiu shook his head. "And the Fire Lord is a flying Platypus-Bear. I'd sooner eat the gruel Agent Lee calls food than go undercover as a tailor, of all things. I'd rather do something useful, like train a Joo Dee, instead. And we all know how boring of a job that is."
"Oh, come now! You're just being close-minded. You'd be surprised what people talk about with their tailor around—"
"Agents!" Long Feng barked in an irritated growl. Hiu and Fukoda immediately stood at attention, and ceased their conversation.
"M-My apologizes, sir." Fukoda stuttered as he flushed an uncomfortable shade of crimson. "We were just, ah..."
"I don't care." Long Feng replied, sending them both a sharp glare. "Status report. Now."
"All the guards and servants in the manor have been neutralized, sir, and are ready to be disposed of at the usual place. Right now they're piled in the basement, awaiting an extraction team." Hiu promptly stated, and after a hesitant pause, nudged Fukoda.
At once he said, "Ah, and the...child is unconscious, sir. Luckily for us she was fast asleep when we found her. Shall we...dispose of her, too?"
"No, not at all." Long Feng declared, his voice set. He noticed the Agents visibly relax at that knowledge.
While he was hesitant to admit it, the Grand Secretariat was rather pleased to see that these men had been just as reluctant to harm the child as he had been. It was a good thing to know that, for all the questionable actions the Dai Li undertook for the continued preservation and safety of Ba Sing Se, there were some lengths that even they were unwilling to go to. For reasons he couldn't quite understand, that...comforted him.
"I will let you know the girl's fate shortly. For now, join Senior Agent Zu outside, while I...tend to her." Long Feng ordered. Hiu and Fukoda exchanged a glance, but they obeyed him nonetheless, and swiftly walked away.
Long Feng looked up at the door to the girl's bedroom, and paused. Once he opened that door, his life would never be the same again. Raising a daughter would have many repercussions in his life, both good and bad. There was no telling what kind of changes could be wrought from this single, momentous decision. And yet...it had to be done, for the sake of this little girl.
So without a second thought, Long Feng reached out to the entrance, and pushed the doors opened.
A small playroom greeted him: the floor was littered with various toys that young children often took delight in playing with, there were nor sharp edges anywhere in the room, not even on the furniture, and the room projected an overall image of being a youthful paradise.
However, Long Feng didn't really notice that at all. His attention was pulled to a small bed near the center of the room, where a little girl peacefully slumbered. Taking care to make as little noise as possible, he slowly crept over to the bed, and took his first glimpse of his new daughter.
She was...divine, one could say. Or at the very least, she certainly looked rather peaceful and calm. Of course, she was asleep, so that likely contributed to that image. She was also...pretty cute, too. Long Feng had never really been one to call things 'cute' before, or one to really notice such qualities in any person or thing, but he had to admit that this child looked rather...cute. If just in her sleep.
He'd never admit that in public, though. Long Feng had no doubt his reputation would never recover from such a blight as admitting something was cute, even if it was true.
Long Feng gave a gentle sigh, and did his best to banish such distracting thoughts. He had no time for such...affections. Right now he had a mission to do, and it would be best to do it before the girl awoke.
Long Feng reached down cautiously, and pulled the covers off the sleeping child. Ever so slowly, so he wouldn't disturb her sleep, he gathered the child into his arms and scooped her up to his chest. Blessedly, his actions did not wake her at all, and she merely tried to shift comfortably in his hold. Long Feng stared at her for a few moments, feeling...something well up in his chest, an uncomfortable and unfamiliar emotion...but he soon regained his senses and suppressed whatever it was that overcame him. This was no time for needless distractions.
He turned and ambled his way out of her room, and then moved to leave the Bei Fong manor. It took him longer than he would have liked, but he dare not increase his already slow pace. The girl was asleep for now, and he would like for her to remain that way, until he reached their new home. Dealing with a confused and possibly frightened child was not on his agenda this night, if he could help it.
And, while he was loathe to admit it, there was also a...paternal part of him that just didn't want to interrupt her peaceful sleep, or upset her in general, really.
Long Feng tried not to think about that complication too much. He could ill afford to get too attached to this girl, even if he was adopting her. If he grew too close to her, and something happened to her...
He had managed to survive the deaths of his parents, and later on, the death of his beloved Lien. Long Feng wasn't sure he could survive the death of his daughter.
In time, he finally came upon the exit of the manor, and stepped outside into the night. Agents Zu, Hiu, and Fukoda were all waiting for him.
"As of this moment," Long Feng began, as he lowered his voice and shifted the sleeping child in his arms, "I am entrusting the three of you with a state secret. Due to our limited options, in regards to the previously unknown Bei Fong Heir, I will be adopting the girl as my own. Until such a time I deem it safe for her to re-enter into society, her existence shall remain a top level secret. I trust the three of you can maintain your silence; you all know what will happen if you do not."
The three Dai Li agents all exchanged a glance, and in the dark of the night, Long Feng couldn't read their expressions. However, they offered no resistance to his command, and they bowed their heads in acknowledgment.
He then stated, "Good. You all have one final assignment tonight, then. Clear the house of all personal belongings and possessions. Anything of value that you find can be kept and stored away in Lake Laogai to sell at a later date, per the usual procedures. Everything else can be disposed of with the bodies. Once that is done, leave the house in a state that suggests that the Bei Fongs left Ba Sing Se in a hurry. After that is completed, you are dismissed. File your report as always, but omit any mention of this girl in the official report."
Zu, Hiu, and Fukoda nodded once more, and they shuffled back into the house to complete their last mission of the night. Now alone in the darkened streets of the Upper Ring, Long Feng allowed himself to look down at the peaceful little girl in his arms, and couldn't help but smile at her, if just for a brief moment. Then, somber reality returned to him, and for the first time in a long time, he prayed to the Spirits. This poor child would need all the help she could get.
"Time to go home, then." Long Feng thought, and began the long journey to his own manor in the Upper Ring.