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|More Equal Than Others|
Jinora sighed, and slipped her typical orange hoodie on, which could only mean one thing: it was that time again. She reached under the bed, and took her gun from the board with a bit of space over it, and stuffed it in the front pocket of her hoodie. It was the safest place to store it that she could think of, mostly because her mother would never think to look there.
The loud whine of the vacuum cleaner came from Meelo and Rohan's room, which was good news for Jinora. It gave a her a solid opportunity to leave without anyone noticing, or so she thought. She grabbed her backpack and made for the front door as quickly and quietly as possible.
-"Going somewhere?" her mother's voice came from behind her.
Damn it. "Uhh, yeah, I promised Korra to hang out tonight. Opal has to work a night shift and she didn't feel like being alone all night." To Jinora's knowledge, that was even true. It was very likely for Opal to be working at The Triangle Club now, especially after a short day at the supermarket, which it had been, because they closed up early.
Not that it made her feel any better. She hated lying, especially to her mother, with whom she always used to be honest. They could talk about everything, yet now there was only one small piece of fabric between them and a very long conversation.
Pema sighed, and thought for a moment, before gesturing over to the dining table. "Sit down."
Jinora hesitated. Iroh wouldn't be happy if she would be late, because that meant her chances of her making any real money would be even slimmer. "I don't know Mom, I kind of want to get going."
-"Korra can wait five more minutes, now sit down," she repeated, only a lot firmer this time around.
Jinora realized she couldn't bullshit her way out of this one now, so she had no choice but to sit down beside her mother.
-"I'm worried about you, Jinora. You have been spending an awful lot of time with Korra lately." She fell silent for a bit. "You're not stupid, but neither am I. We both know what she does for a living, and I don't want you to get involved with that."
Well, this better sound convincing. "Do you really think I'd be dumb enough to go along with that? She's a criminal, and who knows what she has been up to outside of... whatever it is she's selling." You do, for starters.
Pema frowned. "I don't think you're dumb, but you might be desperate. You want to help, always have done, and I appreciate that, but I would rather... do those things to Toza then see you end up selling drugs."
Jinora sighed and wanted to kick herself. Too late, Mom. Not that it would have mattered, she was going through with this. "I'm not planning on doing that, but I'd also like it a lot better if you wouldn't do that for us. I can get a job on the side somewhere, help out more."
-"No, you worry about making it through school, I'll worry about keeping food on the table." Pema gave Jinora a piercing stare, making sure her message would sink in. She didn't even blink, convincing her mother that she was telling the truth. "Alright, you go to Korra now. And if you're home late again, try not to make a racket like the other night. Deal?"
"Yeah, deal." Jinora stood up, tapping the table as she did. "Right, I'm really going now. Bye mom!" She didn't wait for a reply, quite sure it wouldn't make her feel any better. Her mother really hadn't been in a rush to warn her, and now she was running late.
To make matters even worse, it was raining. Outside of the obvious downside of getting wet, it meant that no one would be on the street to do business with. That also meant she would have to go inside sleazy bars, and much worse, crack-dens that always looked, or rather smelled, like they hadn't been cleaned in years. Jinora had yet to see, or smell, the exception to this.
Iroh went easy on her this time around. He didn't give her any trouble for being late, which was not really like the Iroh Jinora had come to expect. "Expecting much business tonight?"
She had trouble keeping a straight face and not scoffing. "What do you think?" she sarcastically threw back.
-"Don't talk to me like that Jinora, you shouldn't forget who gets you work. But I can safely assume you're not very hopeful right now."
He nodded over to whatever passed for the lounge in his office. "The bag on the table should be enough to cover you for the night. If not, well, you can always come back for more. There are always more customers."
Jinora glanced over to the bag and sighed. It was tiny. "Thanks, I'll keep that in mind." She felt like rolling her eyes, but had the good senses not to do that. "I'll be back later with your money." With one swoop, she grabbed the bag, and threw it in her backpack before she was out the door again. No need to draw any unnecessary attention, if anyone could be bothered to give her any.
Her mood was foul, to say the least. Not only was the rain making it colder than the Northern Water Tribe, Iroh had pretty much just told her to fuck off. Passive-aggressive doesn't quite cover it here. Worst of all, she really wasn't looking forward to going out to meet the people to sell to. What she really needed was a fixed address like Korra had with The Triangle Club, but that wasn't going to happen. All good places like that were already taken by others who had the same bright idea. There was some *ahem* circulation, but it was slow and a stiff group. Plus, she needed connections for that, and so far, the few strings she could pull on were pretty long.
It went about as well as she thought it would. The few people she did run into who wanted to buy were either being obnoxious, trying to screw her over, or even worse, tried to screw her. Typically, telling them to piss off worked, but there was always that guy.
Jinora was sitting at the head of the table, with two guys at the far end. It was in the furthest corner of a sleazy-as-shit bar that was mostly empty. She was down to her last three pouches, which meant she could almost go home. This one guy seemed to be interested in buying everything she still had, but something about him rubbed her the wrong way.
"So do you want to do this or not?"
He gave her a smile of yellow and brown teeth, plus numerous holes where they were missing. "Show me the product."
"Show me the money first."
He nodded to his friend, and he threw her a small roll of bills. She counted it, and immediately realized something was off. "This is not what we agreed on. You gave me too much."
-"The rest is for you, since you're a part of the deal." He moved over to her, placing his hand on her leg. She pushed him away, and started to get nervous.
"I'm not part of any deal, back off."
The other guy spoke up. "Honey, you became part of the deal the moment you walked through that door. Now," he said, while he flicked open a switchblade on the table, "we can do this the easy way, or the hard way. Your call, baby girl."
Damn. Good thing I listened to Korra. Jinora reached into the pocket of her hoodie, clasping her gun tightly. She took a deep breath, mustering up as much fake confidence as she could right now. The adrenaline racing through her veins made it difficult to focus on anything other than the knife, but she managed to tear her eyes away from the object, looking both men in the eyes. "Not to be a stickler for details, but I think you just brought a knife..." she clicked the safety off as loud as she could, trying to scare them off, "to a gun fight."
This seemed to work. They leaned back, clearly not expecting a little girl to be walking around with a gun in her pocket. With her free hand, Jinora reached into her backpack, and threw the last of the drugs on the table. "We can either do this neat, or make it messy. Now I don't know about you, but I prefer neat. So you take the stuff, I walk out of here quietly, and we're golden."
They got the message, took the drugs, and Jinora stuffed the entire roll of money in her front pocket. They should have thought about the possibility that I bite back. "Consider this the last time we do business." She got up, taking her backpack with her, never taking her hand off her gun. She didn't click the safety back on until she was outside again, where she also let out a breath she didn't realize she had been holding.
Finally, Korra's warnings made sense. Even though she hated her gun for what it represented, she sure was glad she had it on her. It gave her some sense of security, especially in a place like that and with figures like those. The cool nickel-plating started to feel reassuring, which was worrying; she didn't want to feel that whenever she reached for it, or brushed past it in her pocket.
Jinora walked into the alley, giving herself a moment to slow her heartbeat down again. She leaned against the wall, collecting her thoughts, as it slowly started to drizzle again. This was her cue to get back to Iroh's.
She dropped herself on the couch in his office, tired of it all. He raised an eyebrow at her, unaccustomed to the slacking attitude she was showing here. "Long night?"
"You can say that again. Made a few extra bucks along the way, you should like that." Iroh walked over to his lounge, took the bag from Jinora, and sat himself down in the chair across from her. He looked surprised. "You actually sold it all? I thought you said it would be a slow night."
"I thought so too, but there you go. It's still not much," Jinora remarked, not entirely happy with the catch of the night. She handed Iroh the money, and he counted it, and then recounted it.
-"Why is it so much? How did you do that?"
Jinora scoffed. "Bunch of guys thought they could get me as part of the deal, so I had to force them to stop. Remind me to thank Korra for this," she said while pulling out her gun and placing it on the table. "Say, have you got some cigarettes in here? I'm starving."
He laughed at this, and stood up. "That's a bad habit to have, Jin, and I should be feeling bad for giving you these," he said while taking a box and a lighter from a drawer in his desk and handing them to Jinora.
"Well, add it to the list," she snidely threw back while lighting one up. For the first time tonight, she felt the stress melt away while she contently leaned back into the old but still comfortable couch. Jinora blew the smoke straight up, and finally felt like she could relax.
Iroh came back around, and handed Jinora her share of what she had sold. She flicked through it, and even though he had included the extra she made (Iroh held on to a fixed percentage of what he bought it in for) it was not that much. Jinora sighed, and put it in her pocket.
-"What are you sighing about? You just made a nice bit of money."
"Are you kidding me? This is bullshit money. I just spent the entire evening out on the streets in the pouring rain, and I get this out of it. I want something better than this, considering the risk I'm taking."
-"Can't help you there. You knew the terms when you signed on, and I'm not about to make an exception for you because your life sucks. We're all equally fucked out here."
"But some are more equal than others. Come on, you've been in this business for years, surely you know more than I do. What about a fixed address, some place to take a large load to on a regular basis?"
Iroh laughed her comment away. "Are you kidding me, Gyatso? Don't you think that if I knew about a place like that, I'd have Korra or Tahno checking it out already? I know you're referring to Korra's little deal at The Triangle Club, but those kinds are rare." He was interrupted by loud footsteps coming up the stairs, followed by Korra half-drunkenly barging into the room. "Speak of the devil..." Iroh smirked.
"And she shall appear," Jinora finished for him. Korra unceremoniously dropped herself next to Jinora on the couch, and held out her hand for a pull of Jinora's cigarette.
-"Hmm, didn't know lesbians wanted to smoke after sex too, but there you go," Iroh sarcastically remarked while raising an eyebrow.
-"Hey, there are kids here!"
"Please Korra, don't embarrass yourself here," Jinora remarked. "You smell like cheap perfume and there's lipstick on your neck, it's not very hard to tell."
-"Well, no need to make this anymore awkward than it already is, so yeah, I did, but at least I made some money while I was at it." Jinora scoffed. "Or at her," she muttered under her breath. Iroh didn't hear it, but Korra did, and playfully smacked her on the shoulder.
Jinora smiled back, and looked how Korra repeated the exchange of the money with Iroh. She got her cut, safely stuffing it away next to her gun. Meanwhile, the younger girl took the last pull of her cigarette, and put the butt in the ashtray on the table. "So anyway, would you please think about what I asked you, Iroh? I need something, anything that might be a bit more lucrative than this."
He thought for a while, before nodding. "You know what Jinora? You're right."
This took her by surprise, and the same went for Korra. "I am?"
Iroh smiled. "Yes, when you're selling the same product as Korra, you're only competing with each other, and that's not helping any of us. I've had my eye on something new for a while, and I think I could get that for you. Diversification and all that."
It sounded promising if nothing else, but there was something that had Jinora a little worried. "What stopped you from jumping in earlier?"
-"There is always an inherent risk to delivering a new product to the streets. It won't be just you who'll be trying to get a foothold in the new market, so if you're going to do this, you'd best keep your guard up. But if you can pull it off, well, you'll have the monopoly on it."
Jinora smiled. "I'm already taking risks now, so might as well have them pay off. Count me in."
-"Then I'll make some calls. You just be on standby, I should have something for you by next week."
That's. More. Like it.
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