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"Song!" I heard Hideki whine through my closed bedroom door. The sound had become commonplace in my apartment.
It had only been two weeks since Hideki started living with me, but it felt like I'd been dealing with his complaining every morning for an eternity.
Nearly every single morning since he started living here, I had woken up to the sound of him bellyaching about the lack of cereal we had in the pantry. And let's just say I'm not a morning person, so... yeah. It kind of made me want to ram my fist through a wall.
But every time I got annoyed by Hideki's complaining, I was reminded of the fact that he used to be a street orphan, and that always guilt tripped me into being more patient with him.
Then, finally, after about a week and a half of hearing it and not having the time to do anything about it, I went out to the store and got him the kind he wanted. That shut him up for a few days. But now we must have run out, because the whining had commenced once again.
After emitting a low groan of pure and utter annoyance, I threw off my covers, hopped out of my bed, and exited my room.
Sure enough, there he was standing in the middle of the kitchen shaking an empty cereal box in his hand.
"You out of Choc Rocks again?" I asked.
"Yeah," he said. "I could've sworn there was at least a little bit left in there yesterday."
"Well, I didn't have any," I replied. "I can't eat that stuff. It's literally like biting down on a chocolate-covered rock."
"Could you pick up more for me at the store later?" he asked.
"Sorry, Hideki. I'm gonna be working really late tonight," I replied. "But I promise I'll get you some as soon as I have the time."
That was how it always worked. Once I'd finally woken up, I always ended up feeling really bad for the kid. And not even just because of his stupid cereal. But because I was hardly ever there for him.
Hideki was an orphan. He hadn't seen his parents in years, and he would probably never see them again. He had been living by himself on the street for who knows how long. Freezing his ass off every night and sleeping in the gutters. What he needed right now was a mother figure and I was the only one around to fill that position, but my stupid job kept me from spending that much time with him. I could tell he already kinda looked up to me too. Hopefully I could connect with him before he started to resent me instead.
"I'll tell you what," I said to him. "I'll sit here for a minute and have breakfast with you before I head to work. That sound good?"
"Yeah, sure," Hideki said, trying and failing to hide a grin.
I made my way across the room and plopped myself down on the couch as Hideki grabbed another cereal box out of the pantry and started pouring.
"Can you pour me one too please?" I requested, not really feeling like getting up. "Yeah, no problem," Hideki replied.
Then, in no time at all, he was on his way over to the living room holding two bowls of cereal. He placed the first one down on the coffee table right in front of me, and sat down on the couch with the second one in his hands.
"So, if you don't mind me asking," he started. "What exactly is your job? You've never really mentioned what it is you actually do."
If you had asked me that question before I got made, I would've been scrambling for some kind of a response. For an answer that sounded reasonable. But ever since this thing became my profession, I took it upon myself to act like a professional. And one of the things that entailed was having an official fake job title for whenever people asked me what I did.
So, without any hesitation, I said, "I work in construction."
"Really?" Hideki asked. He seemed shocked by the very idea.
"Yeah," I replied, taking slight offense to his surprise. "What's the matter? You don't think that's a job for a woman?"
"No, no, that's not it at all," Hideki insisted. "I just didn't know construction workers were required to wear a thousand-yuan burgundy pantsuit."
"No," I responded, understanding now what he meant. "I'm not a laborer. I don't go out there and work with my hands. It's an office job. That's why I wear a suit."
"Oh, I see," Hideki replied. "Well, that makes more sense."
My newfound roommate was able to slurp down just two spoonfuls of cereal before I started up with him again.
"Y'know, I could be a laborer if I wanted to be," I said.
"Believe me, I know," Hideki laughed. "I know how strong you are. Even if I hadn't seen you lay out those two guys who attacked me, I'd believe you could kick just about anybody's ass. Much less pick up a wooden board."
"Well, good," I said with a chuckle. "I'm glad we got that straightened out."
Then I went ahead and shoved a few spoonfuls down my own gullet, trying and failing to get the taste of morning breath out of my mouth. It didn't occur to me that I'd probably been bombarding Hideki's face with the smell while we were talking.
Then, as the awkward silence that filled the room became more and more unbearable, I finally came up with something that would brighten up his spirits even after I left.
"Hey, I've got an idea," I said to him, spewing some more morning breath right into his face. "How about tomorrow, I finally teach you some self-defense moves?"
Just as I predicted, the smile he had on his face was brighter than the sun. "That'd be awesome!" he said. "I mean, not that it'll do me much good if I'm in a fight with some bender, but I guess it's better than knowing nothing."
"Oh, trust me," I replied. "What I'm gonna teach you is enough to fight any bender."
"And what's that?" Hideki queried.
"You'll have to find out tomorrow," I said. "I've gotta start getting ready for work."
And with that, I lifted myself off the couch and headed over towards my room to start getting ready for the day.
The day was still young by the time I'd gotten to our crew's restaurant hangout. I was in the back room where we usually hung out, sitting in a wooden chair opposite Gun, who was seated behind the desk against the left wall. Sitting next to me was Chi Pa, sporting a dashing, black three-piece suit with a navy-blue tie to match.
The three of us were discussing business matters, which made me feel quite a bit flattered, as I had never really been let in on important stuff like this before.
It was funny though. While most people spent eleven o'candle in the morning darting their eyes over towards the clock every five minutes counting down the minutes left before they got to go on their lunch break, I was sitting in the back of a diner plotting the systematic intimidation of a large group of people.
It was weird. That was the first time thinking about that didn't seem to faze me.
"Alright, so here's the situation," Gun said. "Last week, we hosted a pai sho game. A big one. It was a great night. Lotta laughs. Lotta tears. We all had a good time. By the end of the week, everybody who'd lost had paid what they owed. Except for this one dumb fuck who came with no money to wager."
"Why would someone do that?" I asked instinctively.
"Happens all the time," Chi Pa replied. "These dumbasses are gambling addicts. They come to play thinking it's always their lucky night. The thrill they get from it clouds their judgment."
"Exactly," Gun said. "And lo and behold, two weeks after the game, he still hasn't paid up. Qin sent two guys over to his place a few days ago, and told him to have the money ready by today. And that's where you two come in."
"Understood," said Chi Pa.
"And if he doesn't have the money?" I asked.
"Then he's history," Gun answered.
All I did was nod my head in compliance as I said, "Understood."
Half an hour later, I was sitting in the passenger's seat of Chi Pa's Satomobile on our way to this gambling addict's apartment.
I spent almost the whole time thinking about nothing other than what we were about to do. What I was about to do. It's not like I wasn't prepared for it. I knew what I signed on for when I took that oath the night I got made. This was part of it.
I tried to take comfort in the fact that it would become a lot easier the more I did it. But that also seemed to distress me further. The idea of murder becoming no big deal to me was something I never thought I'd ever have to come to terms with. But, hey, I'd already murdered one guy. So at least it wasn't gonna be my first time.
I decided to put it out of mind and tried to strike up a conversation with Chi Pa. Even if it was about the most insignificant thing.
"So, I hear it's supposed to be a full moon tonight," I said.
"It sure is," he replied. "Tonight, waterbenders will be at their most powerful as the moon spirit blesses us with her strength."
"You always call the moon spirit a she," I said. "Is the moon spirit a she? I always thought it was a fish."
"Well, just because she's a fish doesn't mean she can't be a she," Chi Pa laughed.
"I guess you're right," I chuckled, realizing how stupid my question sounded. "But, like, how do you know the gender of the fish?"
"Because the current moon spirit was once a human girl," Chi Pa said.
"Really?" I asked.
"Yep," Chi Pa replied. "Back during the war, the Fire Nation killed the original moon spirit, so she gave up her own life in order to restore the balance."
"Wow," I said. "I never even knew that."
"That's because they don't teach these things in school anymore," said Chi Pa. "In the Northern Water Tribe, everybody's always been taught the history of the moon and ocean spirits. Not here. They call this place the melting pot of the four nations, but nobody here respects the other nations' cultures. Not really. They just buy clothes based on them in shopping centers."
"I'm sorry," I said, ashamed of my lack of cultural knowledge for the first time in my life.
"Hey, it's not your fault," Chi Pa said. "I can't blame you for the education system not doing it's job."
As guilty as I felt for never knowing that much about Water Tribe culture, I was delighted to hear Chi Pa's spiritual mumbo jumbo for once. It managed to take my mind off of the reason we were together in the first place.
Only for a minute, though. By the time we'd finished the conversation, we'd reached the gambling addict's apartment.
"We're here," Chi Pa said as he parked the car on the curb.
Then the two of us climbed out of the ice blue Satomobile and made our way towards the apartment building.
By the time the two of us got to the guy's floor and we started walking down the hall, I had finally managed to build up my confidence.
I mean, I was a gangster, right? I wasn't just some rookie girl off the street anymore. I'd killed the underboss of the Agni Kai Triad with my own two hands, and that was just my first murder. That's what I had to keep telling myself. That I was a professional. That they made me for a reason. And that I was about to make Gun proud.
Once we finally reached the addict's door, Chi Pa began pounding his fist into it, probably letting the whole damn apartment building know we were there.
There was no answer, so Chi Pa banged on the door again. Still no answer.
Then, having lost all patience, Chi Pa belted his fist into the door repeatedly for what felt like about thirty seconds. "Open up!" he said. "We know you're I there!"
Finally, we heard the sound of the door unlocking, and Chi Pa ceased his knocking. The door swung open and there before us stood the gambling addict. He was slim, bald, had thick, black glasses and clearly hadn't shaved in about a week. He was very disheveled, which was to be expected I guess, considering the predicament he currently found himself in.
"Hey," he said, trying to appear nonchalant. "You guys with the Triple Threats?"
"Yeah," Chi Pa replied, stepping into the apartment without asking if he could come in.
I naturally followed suit and stepped in with him, then shut the door behind me.
"Can I get you guys anything?" asked the gambling addict. "Some tea? Maybe a snack?"
"How about we just stick with the money for now," Chi Pa said.
"Oh, right, the money," the addict said. "Um, listen, I'm sorry, but I don't exactly have it right now."
"Is that right?" Chi Pa asked.
"Look," the addict said. "I promise I'll pay you by the end of next week. You just gotta give me mo-"
Whack! Chi Pa pimp slapped the addict across the face before he could even finish, sending him crashing down to the ground while groaning in agony.
"How many fucking times have we told you to give us the money?!" Chi Pa roared. "Huh?! You degenerate gambling addict fuck!"
"I'm sorry," the addict wept, lying flat on his back with a fresh, brick-colored bruise brightening up his face. "I'm sorry. Just please give me more time!"
Rather than comply with the man's request, Chi Pa quite literally kicked the guy when he was down, landing several blows with his feet on the addict's torso.
It only took me a moment to follow his lead, joining him in kicking the poor man myself, until, finally, we relented.
Then Chi Pa bent some water out of the vapor in the air. He formed several small drops and then hardened them into ice, effectively shaping them into ice bullets. "It's pretty funny, isn't it, Song?" Chi Pa asked me. "Whenever this guy's gambling, he always thinks it's his lucky day. But I'd say his luck just ran out for the last time."
"It sure has," I replied, forming a flame in the palm of my hand.
"NO!!!" the addict wailed, moments before the elements of fire and ice flew from our fingertips. In just a few intensely chaotic moments, the once undisturbed apartment had an ice bullet-ridden corpse with blood pouring out of it right in the center of the living room. Oh, and with a pretty huge singe mark on the wall.
By the time all the shots had been fired, I had crumpled down to the floor in near hysterics, barely able to breathe. My chest was hurting and I felt like I was about to pass out. It was at this moment I realized that this was never something I was going to be able to get used to. It would never be possible.
Rather than put me down like I expected, Chi Pa lowered himself down on one knee and actually attempted to comfort me. "Hey," he said. "Are you okay?"
"I can't do it, Chi," I huffed, fighting just to draw breath. "I can't do it. I can't."
"It's alright, Song," Chi Pa assured me. "It's always hard for beginners."
Finally my eyes began to water as I felt the sting of my tears. I felt so embarrassed to be crying right in front of Chi Pa, but I couldn't help it. All I could do was look away from the body and stare up at the ceiling as I tried to shift my focus to something else. Anything else.
"I can whack other gangsters," I sobbed. "Other people in this business. I just can't take out innocent people, Chi. I can't."
"Man," Chi Pa muttered in response. "Fuck Zolt for sticking us with this job. Slimy cocksucker."
That managed to get my attention. My focus had now been completely drawn away from the dead guy in the room and had shifted over to Zolt. "What do you mean?" I queried.
"Qin originally stuck Zolt's crew with this job," Chi Pa explained. "Zolt convinced him to give it to ours. He said Gun was managing the pai sho game, so it was his crew's responsibility. I wasn't supposed to tell you."
"That's bullshit," I growled. "He did it to get to me."
"That's not true, Song," Chi Pa insisted.
"Oh, really?" I asked.
"Yes," Chi Pa replied.
"Then why didn't Gun tell me about it? Why couldn't you tell me about it?" I asked.
It seemed to me that Chi Pa was a pretty bad liar. He didn't even try to come up with an excuse to defend himself with. Still. I appreciated the fact that he told me. It meant I was about to kick Zolt's ass for the third time in a row. And you know how much fun I had doing that.
On the cab ride over to the deli that functioned as the usual hangout for Zolt's crew, I had time to collect myself and figure out some very important things that would affect my life going forward.
That was actually an especially important day. It was the day I established what would be forever my number one rule for as long as I was in this business. The only people I would kill were the people who were a part of this thing of ours. Who had made the conscious decision to be a party to the triad life and everything that entailed.
Everybody else was off limits.
If Qin had a problem with that, he could kiss my ass. Any of them could.
Finally, I reached the deli, paid the cab driver, and hopped out onto the sidewalk. It didn't take me long to find the slimy little cocksucker. He was sitting outside with a bunch of his pals, shooting the shit.
The fact that he had a bunch of his cohorts around him definitely wouldn't help my odds if we actually started scrapping. I felt like I could take most of 'em though. Two of them were Grimy Gao, who I felt certain I could take, and Shady Shin, some newcomer who had even less experience than me. The only one I was afraid of was Twitchy Toji. I'd heard stories about some of the altercations this guy had been in, and it was enough to chill you to the bone.
Still. I wasn't gonna let any of them intimidate me. At the very least, they were all gonna get a piece of my mind before I left.
"Hey!" I shouted as I approached the patio tables they were sitting at.
"Hey, look who it is!" said Zolt. "The freak who can bend two elements! So, how'd the job go? You and Chi Pa have fun?"
"You've got a lot of nerve, you sack of shit!" I bellowed. "I know you stuck us with that assignment just to fuck with me!"
"Whoa, whoa take it easy," Zolt said. "How was I supposed to know Gun would send you? Y'know, you really oughtta get your facts straight before you start accusing people of shit."
"Stop playing coy with me, you motherless fuck," I shot back.
Suddenly, Zolt sprung up out of his chair like a firecracker, the flames of rage filling his eyes. "Hey, I said I didn't do anything," he insisted. "Now you watch your fucking mouth."
"I'm not afraid of you, asshole," I said, taking an attack stance. "Or any of you for that matter."
Before Zolt or anyone else could even respond, there was a deafening pop that rang throughout the air, causing everyone to practically jump ten feet off the ground. Everybody looked to see three men, all dressed in dark trench coats and fedoras, approaching us from across the street. Then we all watched in horror as Zolt toppled to the floor with blood gushing from his stomach.
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