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|Back Alley Brawl|
And that's that taken care of. Jinora walked out of the crackhouse again, feeling pretty pleased with herself. The deal with The Innkeeper had gone down smoother than ever this time around. Give him the product, collect the money, and she was on her way again. Couldn't be simpler.
For a change, he had given her the money in large bills, which was a nice change of pace. Typically, he took it from his *ahem* clients in the smallest possible measures, mostly because they had to scrape it together, but this time, he decided that 2000 yuans would be more easily counted in 50's than 10's and 20's.
She was taking a shortcut, as it was kind of cold, and she had herself to blame for being slightly underdressed. She wanted to get back to Iroh's den quickly, collect the money she earned here, and get back home.
It must be said that much like she had suspected, things had improved since she made the deal here. Ikki's warning had resonated in her head, and she found that the easiest way to get her mother to take the money was also the simplest: put 100 yuans in a simple, white, unmarked envelope each week, and post it in their mailbox. At first, Pema had been very hesitant, but she decided that they needed the money than they would need to be honest and turn it in with the police. Ha. The police. Give it to the guy at the front desk, and he'll be taking his girlfriend out to a nice dinner that night.
The second week it happened, her mother was more suspicious, but couldn't find a reasonable explanation. And now, six weeks in, it was the middle of winter, and she was now convinced that someone was taking care of them. She just couldn't figure out who. Jinora scaled back the amount of time she was spending out on the streets to avoid suspicion, limiting it to three nights a week, plus the delivery at Gaoling. The rest of the nights she spent back home again, assuring her mother that everything was fine.
Iroh didn't even blame her for that. He was glad she was raking in big profits for the both of them, and he actually admired that she still wanted to finish school. But there was that one thing. Korra once informed Jinora that Iroh was starting to distrust her. She was gaining influence and contacts, and that was not good. Sure, she wasn't on Korra's level yet, but Iroh was worried that might happen some day. Not to mention, she was clever enough to know that if 'some day' came, she would be in Iroh's way, no matter how badly she was trying to stay on his good side. It was something she would have to be careful with.
Speaking of good sides, Ikki had kept her word. Buying her a phone had put a significant dent in the little stash of money that Jinora had saved up, but it was worth it to keep her quiet. Her little sister had been smart about it, she had to admit that. She kept the phone hidden from their mother, and pretty much didn't use it at all in their house, just to make sure Pema wouldn't find out. Hey, as far as secrets go, there are worse ones to keep.
It had one downside though: since she typically earned more than 100 yuans a week, she had that little bit extra to spend on herself. The majority of what she earned went to her family, but she kept a little bit for herself, and some of that she spent on cigarettes. She had most certainly picked up the habit now that she started to make a meaningful amount of money and had a little bit of disposable income.
A cold breeze pulled her back from her thoughts. She pulled the cords of her hoodie a little tighter, closing the gap between her neck and the fabric. Jinora looked up at the sky, and sighed when she saw how gray it was. Great. Balance of probability says: you're walking the last 10 blocks in the rain. She quickly lit one up, hoping to finish it before the heavens opened.
By the time she reached the end of the alley, a guy suddenly jumped in front of her, pulling out a knife and poking it in her side. It definitely startled her, and she wanted to jump away, but he grabbed her by the left arm, preventing her from doing just that. "Listen up and you won't get hurt," he growled in a low voice.
Her breathing deepened as the adrenaline started racing through her, triggering her fight-or-flight systems. She knew that her gun was in her front pocket, and if she could only reach it... Her other option was to run, but this guy was half a head taller than her, and chances were he could easily outrun her. She decided to go for option three. "What do you want?" she asked, trying to keep the quivering of her voice to a minimum.
-"You mean it isn't obvious? I want the money you just made in there, plain and simple. Give it up and I'll let you walk."
Mother. Fucker. This was the worst kind of situation to be in. If she would give up the money, Iroh would be livid, not to mention that her mother had pretty much started calculating it into their weekly plan. She would be fucked if she gave it up.
That being said, a knife to the ribs wasn't a very appealing prospect either. Korra's words resonated through her mind: "No amount of money is worth your life."
There was just one thing working to her advantage: he probably didn't know that she was armed. "Alright, no need for violence," Jinora said, but her voice was shaking. "I have it right here." She reached into her front pocket with her free hand, feeling her hand shake against the cool metal of the gun. His eyes briefly glanced down, and Jinora decided to act now. She kneed him right in the family jewels, all awhile pulling out the gun and aiming it right at him. "Back off," she hissed, trying to appear confident. It was, however, fairly likely that he picked up on her nerves, given how badly her hand was shaking.
Now that he was a bit further away, Jinora had a chance to properly eye him up. On closer inspection, he appeared to be about her age, but he definitely came prepared. He had his face covered with a bandana, ironically enough one with the same design that Korra had given her when they went out to beat up Toza. He had a green hoodie over a white shirt, both of which had seen better days. Dammit. This kid is doing this for the same reason that you are: he's dirt poor. His surprisingly green eyes were drilling right into hers, trying to figure out if she would actually shoot him.
Because of the stand-off they were in, he started laughing. "You won't shoot me. You don't have it in you."
"Care to push your luck?"
-"Well, you still have the safety on." After he said that, everything happened at once. For the briefest of moments, Jinora doubted herself. Did she really forget to switch the gun to 'fire'? By the time she realized she hadn't, the robber already made his move. He swung his knife, coming in from the left, and reached for her right arm, trying to push the gun out of his way. But Jinora's reflexes were quick. She raised her left arm to protect herself from the knife, and pushed her right hand down to make sure he wouldn't get hold of her gun.
Both moves ended up worse than she could have imagined. The way she reacted to the incoming knife meant it actually ended up cutting a massive gash over the palm of her hand, which hurt like hell. That, however, was a minor thing compared to what happened with her other hand. The robber tried to grab it, and ended up yanking on it. Now in the heat of the moment, Jinora had completely forgotten what Korra had taught her about trigger discipline, i.e. not to put your finger around the trigger until you're about to shoot. She had her finger on it, and because of the sudden move forward, the gun went off. The shot was extremely loud and incredibly close, and had her completely stunned. It took her a moment to realize that she was fine, outside of the cut on her hand.
But everything was not fine for the robber. He stumbled back, putting his hand over his abdomen. When he took a look at it, they both realized that it was covered in his blood. His tan skin turned deathly pale, and he fell against the wall, sitting himself down.
Jinora felt like she was nailed to the floor. Her one instinct was telling her to help this poor kid, as she had just shot him. Her other instinct was telling her to run as far away as she could, because, well, she had just shot him. "I-I..." she stammered, unable to come up with something coherent.
Then she finally decided. She ran away. After stuffing the gun back in her pocket, she ran as hard as she could. She didn't really look where she was going, and it took her a while to realize that she was running completely the wrong way.
Ultimately, she had to stop to catch her breath, and sat herself down on a fuse box, trying to get a handle on herself. Her hands were shaking uncontrollably, her heart was beating about 180 times a minute, and her breathing was all over the place.
Holy fucking shit, what did you just do?! You shot him, and now you left him on the ground in an alley, waiting for him to bleed to death! A wave of guilt and nausea rolled over her, and it took her everything not to give into it. She let her bleeding hand hang beside her, and tried not to start crying so out in the open.
Suddenly, a familiar voice called out to her. "Jinora? What are you doing here?"
She looked up. It was Mako. Without even realizing it, she had ended up right next to The Triangle Club. "Mako... I-I..."
But he interrupted her. "Shit, Jinora, you're bleeding! What happened to you?" He threw away his cigarette, and urged her to come inside the backstage area of the club so that he could clean and bandage her hand.
"I... I shot someone..." Jinora ultimately managed to choke out.
Mako's eyes grew wide at hearing this. "You did what?"
"He's probably not dead... I think... And I left him!" She could fight back the tears anymore. "I left him! What kind of little shit am I?!"
-"Hey, pull yourself together," Mako commanded. "Where is he?"
"95th and Gaoling... In the alley."
Mako nodded, and walked to the door. "Bolin! Get your lazy ass over to 95th and Gaoling now, there's someone in the alley who needs help!" he yelled out, and Bolin came through the door. Before he could be on his way, the older brother pulled him in close, and whispered something in his ear. The younger one nodded, and ran out.
Mako walked back to Jinora, and finished binding her hand. "There, it should hold for a while. It was a nasty cut." She didn't respond, and it was briefly quiet. "Jinora, what happened out there?"
"He... He pulled a k-knife on me... He wanted the money..." Jinora sobbed, half choking on her own words.
Mako sighed, and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Alright, I'm gonna call Korra, and she can take care of you." He stepped back a few paces to do just that, and even though he was well within earshot, Jinora couldn't be bothered to listen to what he was saying. She was sunken in her own thoughts, predominantly thinking about the boy she had shot.
Because let's face it, that's what he was. He wasn't some evil genius, he was probably just as down on his luck as she was. More so, actually, because you're not the one bleeding out in a disgusting alley. She still saw the look of horror in his eyes as he fell to the ground. She completely lost track of time, when suddenly, Mako was back in front of her, handing her a small glass. "Here, drink this, it'll take the edge off."
Jinora didn't even think about it, she just took the glass and threw it back in one swig. It was the same sickeningly sweet liquid that Korra served her all those weeks ago, but she didn't really care. Mako had been right though, it did take the edge off her a little. With that taken care of, Jinora lit up another cigarette, hoping to take a little bit of the stress away as well. She started thinking about the situation, and not just the end result. It was actually kind of obvious, the boy had forced her to do that. True, she didn't have to pull a gun on him, but he shouldn't have tried to rob her in the first place. And plus, if he knew that she was walking around with a big wad of cash, he should also have been able to put two and two together to realize that she owed that money to someone else. Trying to rob someone who has a lot to lose is always a bad idea. He had her backed up into a corner, and ultimately paid the price. Though maybe a bullet to the stomach was a bit much.
She was pulled out of her thoughts again when Korra threw the door open, and she looked around the room for her unofficial little sister. When she spotted her, Korra flew her around the neck, and picked her up like she weighed nothing. "Mako told me what happened. Are you okay Jinora?"
Jinora sighed. "Well, outside of a cut on my hand, yeah, I guess I am."
Korra sighed in relief, and put her down again. "Well, let's just be glad about that." Before Jinora knew what was happening, Korra was slapping her on the side of the head. "Then what the fuck were you thinking?! I told you, no amount of money is worth getting fucking stabbed over!"
"I know, I know, but it wasn't just money." She sighed again. "What if I had given that kid the money? Then Iroh would have been pissed, and he may have pulled me off the crackhouse. I need that place, Korra, you know that." Jinora pulled her in close, making sure she could whisper the next thing without Mako hearing it. "I had 2000 yuans of Iroh's money in my bag, I wasn't going to give it up without a fight."
-"And so you shot him over it?" Korra said after pulling back, a distinct chastising undertone in her voice.
"Hey, I didn't mean to! I pulled out my gun, then he tried to grab it, and it went off in his stomach!" Jinora turned away, partially aware that Korra was right on this one. "Look, I feel really bad about this, okay? I'm hoping that Bolin will come back with good news, and preferably soon."
Korra sighed, and just pulled her back into another hug, clearly a bit upset about semi-hitting her. It hadn't been hard, but it was more than playful. They sat that way for a while, when Bolin came back in, blood smeared over his shirt.
Jinora shot upright when he did. "How is he?"
-"He's alive." Jinora sighed in relief. Hurray, you don't have a body resting on your conscience. Bolin continued. "He had passed out by the time I got to the alley, so I quickly picked up his knife and the empty shell that you had fired. I took him to Republic City General, and they told me that he was lucky. The bullet had missed all of the vital organs, and only damaged his small intestine, before lodging itself on a vertebra. They couldn't remove it without doing more harm than good, so they just left it in there. His body will take care of the rest. I took the shell and the knife, and threw them both into the river. The rain should have taken care of anything still in the alley, so you should be in the clear if forensics get curious. Not that they will, given that he's a simple street kid."
She let it all wash over her, and decided not to question Bolin on that one. She was mostly just relieved that the boy was at least alive for now. "Did you get a name out of him?"
-"No, he was unconscious the entire time. I told them I had found him and he needed help. The hospital will take care of the rest."
She sighed again in relief, and Mako spoke up. "You should go home, Jinora. There isn't anything we can do for you around here."
"You're wrong about that." A smile appeared on Jinora's face. "You've done nothing but good things for me."
Korra stood up as well. "Regardless, he's right. You should get some sleep. Come on, I'll take you home." She pulled Jinora to her feet again, and walked back to her apartment, when she suddenly remembered that she still had Iroh's money.
"Korra, I gotta stop by the den first. I have to give Iroh back the profits."
-"No, I'll deal with Iroh tonight. You just give me the money, and I'll give you back your share in the morning. Sound good?"
Jinora sighed. "Yeah, I suppose."
Korra gave her a little nudge on the shoulder. "Hey, come on, you know you can trust me. Besides, your mom is going to be curious about that," she said, gesturing to her bandaged left hand.
"Thanks. I'll figure something out. I guess I always do anyway."
This made the older girl chuckle. "Cheer up, everyone is still alive, right? Plus, you're smart, and you've become a lot better at improvising over the past months. Just think positive, and it'll all be fine."
"Yeah, I guess so." They had arrived at Jinora's place.
-"Just give me that backpack, and I'll come back to see you tomorrow."
It succeeded in putting a smile on Jinora's face, who handed Korra the money. "Alright. See you tomorrow." They each went their separate ways, Korra back to Iroh, and Jinora back inside.
Her unofficial sister had been right, of course. The first thing Pema noticed when she came home was the bandage on her daughter's hand. Nolens volens, Jinora had become fairly good at lying, even to her mother. She had fabricated a simple story where she tripped, falling on a piece of broken glass, and that Korra was the one who bandaged her hand. When Korra came by the next day, she managed to improvise on Jinora's behalf, confirming her story, and that was good enough for Pema.
-"Iroh was kind of impressed. He admitted to me that he didn't think you'd have it in you to shoot someone," Korra informed her.
"And I suppose you told him the truth?" Jinora sarcastically shot back, raising an unconvinced eyebrow.
This made them both laugh hard. For Jinora, it was once again a fantastic reminder that she could always count on Korra, no matter what. Now that part was done, there was just one thing she wanted to do, that was probably not very smart, but it would be best if it happened. "Korra, I want to go see him."
-"You..." Korra sighed. "I think I don't have to tell you why that's a bad idea in every possible meaning of the word?"
Jinora shrugged. "I know, but I want to. In fact, it kind of feels like I have to." Korra remained silent and stoical. "I'm the one who put him there, so I should at least take responsibility for what I did." She still stayed silent, so Jinora just said how it was really going to be. "Look, I'm going to do this either way. It's not like I'm asking you for your permission or your blessing, I just like to give you the heads-up beforehand."
Korra loudly sighed. "Yeah, I figured that much, but do you really think you are the person he wants to see? The person who put him in the hospital in the first place?"
"I'm gonna do this, so you might as well stop arguing."
Korra took a deep breath, and shook her head. "The stubbornness of the Gyatso's..." she muttered under her breath, and it put a little smile Jinora's face. The girls said their goodbyes for the day, and Jinora quickly made her way to the hospital Bolin told her about. She sent Bolin a text asking him about the room number, and used the spare time to buy a fruit basket, since she had no idea what else to give him.
A text came from Bolin, guiding her to the room the robber was in.
Now that she was standing in front of it, her nerves were definitely building. What if Korra's right, and he yells you out of the room? She sighed. Welp, only one way to find out.
Jinora stepped inside and took a good look around. Even though it was a group room with four separate beds, he was the only one in it for now. Now that he wasn't holding a knife on her, she finally had a chance to get a good look at him, and on closer inspection, Jinora caught herself thinking that he was kind of handsome. Very handsome, in fact. His face had been mostly covered with a mask and a hoodie before, but now she saw that he had a neatly kept undercut, despite the fact that his hair was adorably messy, and there was a hint of a slanted grin on his face.
He seemed to be puzzled by Jinora stepping in. "Afternoon..." he hesitantly said. "Do I know you?"
"You don't recognize me?" She chuckled. "Well, for the moment, I'm just a concerned fellow citizen," she said, sitting down on the chair next to him. "By the way, I brought this for you." She put the fruit basket on the nightstand. "How are you feeling?"
-"Listen, I appreciate this, and outside of the fact that I can't bend forward, I'm fine, but..." he stopped mid-sentence, and suddenly squinted. "Wait a minute... You're the girl from the alley, aren't you?!"
Jinora guiltily nodded. "Yeah, that's me."
-"You shot me!" he said angrily, though he was smart enough to keep his voice down.
"Well, you tried to rob and stab me," she put up as a weak defense.
He thought about it for a moment, before giving her a 'fair enough'-nod. "Call it even?" he asked, the slanted grin on his face growing.
"I can live with that," Jinora smirked, and he stuck out a hand to her. "I'm Kai Fong," he said.
"Jinora Gyatso." She didn't know why she gave him her real name. He probably knew she was The Airbender, given that he was waiting for her there, but there was just something about him that seemed trustworthy. "Look, I'm really sorry about shooting you. I didn't mean to. In fact, you were probably right; I wouldn't have had it in me to pull the trigger."
But Kai just shrugged it off. "Meh, it was was my own fault as well. It was a total bluff when I said that you hadn't taken the safety off, but I hadn't expected you to be quick enough to move out of the way."
There was a deliberate sense of morbid irony to the way he said it, and it made her smile. "This may sound stupid, but I gotta ask you: why did you do it?"
-"You mean beyond the obvious?" he asked, raising another sarcastic eyebrow. "You seemed like an easy target, no offense. I had been staking out the place for a while now, so I knew that you would show up eventually, most likely with a big wad of cash, and I wanted it. Am I wrong?"
"No, not entirely." Jinora paused for a moment, thinking over what she just said. "Not at all, actually. But didn't you realize that I had to get that money to someone else who would probably skin my ass alive if I showed up empty-handed?"
Kai gave her another 'fair enough'-nod. "Meh, that wasn't something I was really concerned with. Sure, I was backing you up into a corner, but a knife poking in your side tends to focus people. Where is it, by the way?"
"Bottom of the Yue River," she replied, not a hint of remorse in her voice. She was glad Bolin had thrown the damn thing away, and she wasn't about to put up a show for the sake of it.
-"Ah man, I liked that knife," he pouted.
Jinora felt kind of bad for him. "I'll make it up to you. Not a new knife, but something else. What do you want me to do?"
He thought for a while, before that dastardly handsome smirk appeared again. "Well, you shot me and left me for dead, so it's going to take more than a fruit basket. How about..." he rolled his head, look her square in the eye, "dinner, once I get out of here?"
She honestly didn't know what to say. Her mouth had fallen open a little bit, and her eyes were on totally surprised. "Are you kidding me? I shoot you, and your idea of an apology is asking me out on a date?"
-"Hey, you're cute and I'm single, it's not that big a stretch if you ask me. Besides, I can't really fault you for shooting me, like I said, it was really my own dumb fault as well. So what do you say?"
Jinora smiled, and was unable to repress the blush creeping over her cheeks at what he said.
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