|By Agent Slash||Genre||Rating||Reviews||Updates|
|More from Agent Slash||Crime/Noir||PG-13||Positive||N/A|
|The Boy from the Streets|
"You're out of your mind!" I yelled to Gan, who was standing on the other side of the bar I was sitting at. "If both teams were still in the game today, the 129 Elephant Koi would fucking obliterate the 132 Komodo Rhinos!"
"Oh, my goodness," Gan replied with a head shake. "And you call yourself a pro-bending fan."
It was so nice that the two of us were seeing each other so often again. Even if he had no idea what the fuck he was talking about.
It was one o'candle in the morning, and the two of us were debating about which retired pro-bending team would've won in their prime. I'd also managed not to drink as much as I usually would have on my night off, which I considered to be some form of personal growth.
"I'm telling you," I started back with Gan. "The Elephant Kois' captain was one of the greatest players in the game. No one on the Rhinos' 132 team, or any team for that matter, could move the way he could."
"Okay," Gan replied. "Even though the 129 Elephant Kois couldn't stay in the game for more than four years, let's just agree to disagree."
"You act like that was because they got bad or something," I said, completely ignoring his attempt to end the argument. "They all just moved on to bigger and better things."
"That's what every Elephant Koi fan has been saying for the past sixteen years," Gan shot back. "It's so obvious they just couldn't play anymore. People always act like there isn't an explanation as to why, but the truth is, they just got way too complacent. If they were really the better team, then they would've kept training instead of just thinking they were the best all the time."
"Or, or, or," I stuttered. "Maybe they really did just move on. You don't know! I mean, is it really so hard to believe they all just wanted to use their talents elsewhere?"
Gan stopped to laugh for a moment before speaking again. "Damn, child," he said. "You really get worked up when it comes to pro-bending. I swear, you're exactly the same as you were when you were little."
"Well, I take this shit seriously," I chuckled. "Especially when somebody comes after my Elephant Koi. I don't fuck around when it comes to my Elephant Koi."
"Yes, I know," said Gan.
I threw my hands up above my head and allowed a yawn to escape from my mouth as the lateness of the hour made me sleepier by the minute.
"Well, I guess I should probably go," I said, hopping off my seat at the bar. "It was really good seeing you again, Gan."
"You too," he replied. "Try and stop by again soon."
"Oh, don't worry," I said. "I definitely will." And that was the truth. Mainly because I wanted to start seeing him on a regular basis again, but also because I was too used to the booze he sold to buy it from someplace else.
Once I waded my way through the crowd of people swimming in the narrow sea that was this club, I pushed the front door open and walked outside into the desolate, dimly-lit neighborhood that surrounded it and started walking down the street.
I grew increasingly anxious with each step I took down the sidewalk, hoping more and more every second that a cab would eventually pass me by. My plan was to take the el-train home, but having lived in this part of town for the majority of my youth, I knew the reputation it had better than most. Let's just say triad members weren't the only kind of people you had to watch out for.
And feeling that way made me think about the way I was when all of this first started.
Now I know I'm not supposed to think about anything like that. I learned after killing Khan that thinking about the past and what I could've done to prevent all this from happening would keep me from moving forward. I knew that and had no problem with it. But I couldn't help but think of the way I behaved before and how stupid it was for me to act that way.
I always felt like I was so tough and that nothing could scare me, and, in some ways, I was right. I'd always known how to fight, and I was always really good at it. For most of my life, I'd never backed down from a challenge and I was never scared to face anybody, no matter who they were.
But what I didn't realize until I sat in front of the most feared crime boss in the United Republic and he spoke my name while threatening to end my life, was that I knew nothing about what real fear was. I was so arrogant to assume I was this untouchable badass who couldn't be harmed. Who would find a way to escape from the bad guys' captivity and teach them all a lesson while making a snarky remark about how I'd just beaten them.
For the first time in my life, I was put in a situation I couldn't fight my way out of, and it terrified me.
It was okay though. I'd learned my lesson. I knew now what real fear was. Real fear was watching four innocent people die before your eyes. Real fear was being pinned to your couch, feeling the air leaving your lungs as you looked up into the eyes of your boyfriend as he tried to strangle you to death. Real fear was having to kill a man with your own two hands in order to save your best friend's life.
The world I lived in now was filled to the brim with real fear just like that, and now that I'd experienced it for myself, I was beginning to learn how to live in this world. And I would only keep learning.
I was halfway to the el-train station when it happened.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw two huge guys tailing a smaller guy on the other side of the street. Both of the big guys were jacked. One of them was pale and white, while the other one was tan, which led me to believe one of them was a firebender, and the other was a waterbender. I couldn't get a good enough look at the smaller guy to make out any of his features. All I could see was that he was wearing a standard, blue Water Tribe parka, with the hood over his head in order to keep his ears warm.
I had been followed exactly like that before on nights just like this one, and I knew what was about to happen.
It didn't take me long to decide what I needed to do. Before I even crossed the street, the tan guy had shoved the smaller guy into a trash can, knocking him off his feet.
"Where you goin' tonight, huh? You little shit," one of them goaded. "You on your way down to the homeless shelter?"
"Fuck you," I heard the little guy snarl.
"What the fuck did you say?" asked the pale guy, grabbing the little guy by his shirt and igniting a flame in the palm of his hand.
"You heard me," the little guy said.
I started speed walking across the street as fast as I could, knowing that if I ran, I would attract their attention. I had to get to this guy before they knocked his fucking lights out.
"You wanna take that back, you little shit?" asked the pale guy, moving the flame in his hand closer and closer to the little guy's face. The closer the flame got, the more the little guy moved his head away in fear. "Oh, what's the matter?" the pale guy asked. "You scared of a little fire? I bet you wish you were a bender, huh?"
"I'm not scared of you," the little guy spat.
The two benders shot each other a highly amused glance, before turning their gaze back to the little guy. Then the tan guy dealt him a crippling blow, socking him right in the gut. "Well," he said. "I guess we're gonna have to fix that right-"
Those were the only words he was able to get out before I stomped my foot into the ground, causing it to tremble for a moment as if there was a quake going on. The pale guy lost his grip on the little guy, accidentally dropping him to the ground, and then the two chucklefucks whipped their heads over to look at me.
"I'm only gonna ask you once," I loudly announced to them. "Leave him alone."
Then the two assholes gave me their full and undivided attention, each of them cracking a smile.
"Sure, baby," said the tan one. "We'll do whatever you say."
For a second or two, I stood there and hoped really hard that they wouldn't take any steps towards me, but, of course, that's exactly what they did.
As soon as they took their first step, I popped a boulder out of the ground and kicked it right past the pale guy's fat head. "One more step, asshole. I dare you," I warned.
Deaf to my warnings, the two assholes started lobbing their respective elements at me, with the tan guy unleashing a stream of water at me, and the pale guy expelling a fireball from his fist.
I ducked to avoid the blasts and hammered both my fists into the ground, creating a rock column beneath each of the two assholes that sent them skyrocketing dozens of feet into the air. Then, just because I didn't particularly want to kill anybody else who wasn't a mobster again for the rest of my life, I threw my fists sideways and bent the earth on the nearest building outwards into a platform in order to catch them as they fell back down.
Paying no more mind to the two assholes, I ran over to the little guy and knelt down next to him in order to see if he was alright.
Once I finally got a good look at him, I could see he was just a kid. He couldn't have been any older than sixteen. He had ruffled, jet black hair and tan skin, which led me to assume he was of Water Tribe descent, and was a little on the scrawny side. I was guessing he didn't eat very much, which was to be expected if the poor kid really was homeless.
"Are you okay?" I asked.
The kid looked up at me first before he said anything, first studying my face, then thinking deeply about something unknown to me. "You saved me," he wheezed, still reeling from the punch he took earlier. "Thank you."
"Don't mention it," I replied, before helping him back onto his feet. "So, you got a place to stay? Maybe some parents you can call?"
"No," the kid replied. "I don't have a home. I was on my way down to the shelter."
"Well, I'll tell you what," I said. "You can come back to my place for now and get something warm to eat. Does that sound good?"
The kid shot me a quizzical look, clearly and understandably unsure of my intentions. "You're just gonna take me into your home just like that?" he asked. "For all you know, I could be some nutjob."
"You don't seem like a nutjob to me," I replied with a chuckle. "The name's Song, by the way. What's yours?"
"Hideki," the kid replied.
"Hideki?" I repeated. "Huh."
"Why?" he asked. "You don't like it?" He seemed genuinely upset by my reaction.
"No, it's fine," I replied. "You just don't look like a Hideki to me."
Now he looked even more hurt by what I said. Like I'd just killed his pet fire ferret or something. So I tried as best I could to turn it around and brighten his spirits.
"But hey," I said. "If that's your name, and you're proud of it, then by the spirits, you stick with it. And don't let anyone tell you it's a bad one."
That seemed to make him feel at least a little bit better, since I finally saw a smile take shape on that face of his for the first time since I'd met him.
"Now come on," I said. "I'm getting cold."
"Yeah, me too," Hideki replied. "This city is always so damn cold."
"Yeah," I said. "Tell me about it."
One ride on the el-train later, and there I was, sitting in my living room around two o'candle in the morning with a kid off the street that I'd never met before tonight. The universe just loved to keep throwing all sorts of weird surprises my way.
While I sat in my chair chowing down on a bowl of cereal, Hideki was over on the couch ravaging a plate of dumplings I'd given him. It seemed my theory of him not having eaten in a while was proven correct. He didn't even say a word the whole time he was eating. He was like a wolf devouring a slab of raw meat. Maybe it had something to do with the Water Tribe blood he had in him. Or maybe I was just stereotyping. I don't know.
Once he'd finished, he just looked over at me and immediately asked me, "Do you have anything else I can eat?"
"Uh, yeah, sure," I said, getting up from my chair and going over to the kitchen. "I have some Flamey-O noodles if you want some of those."
"Yeah, please, just anything," Hideki said.
Damn. The kid must've been really hungry. Again, can't say that I blamed him.
I took out the package of Flamey-O noodles and started to heat it up, all the while Hideki and I conversed.
"I'm sorry if I'm being demanding," he said from the living room. "It's just that I barely eat, and I haven't had access to this much food in a long time."
"Yeah, no, it's all good, dude," I said from the kitchen. "If I were homeless, I'd probably act the same way around this much food." Then, once the noodles were heated up and ready to go, I walked back into the living room and handed them to Hideki, before sitting back down in my chair. "By the way," I asked. "How exactly did you end up being homeless?"
"I ran away from home," Hideki replied. "And now there's no way I can go back. Even if I wanted to."
"What do you mean?" I asked. "Did your parents move somewhere you can't find them or do they still live in the city?"
"I'm not from Republic City originally," he said. "I'm from a place far away from here. A place I never hope to see again."
"And where might that place be?" I pressed further.
Hideki hesitated for a moment before answering. He even stopped eating the noodles. Whatever the answer to this question was, it was obviously very difficult for him to discuss. I probably would've told him he didn't have to answer the question in a second or two if he didn't go ahead and answer it anyway.
"Just some faraway place you've probably never heard of," he said. "It's not important, is it?"
"No, no," I answered. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to pry. I'm just trying to find out more about you."
"It's okay," he said. "You have a right to know who's sitting in your home and eating your food."
That, to me, felt like the perfect moment to make the proposition I had been wanting to make all night. I don't know why, but I took such great pity on this kid. I felt like I knew him. Like I knew him really well, in fact. Maybe it was because I knew so many kids like him when I was growing up. Who were dirt poor and got harassed by guys like the ones I'd beaten up earlier. Whatever the reason was, it made me feel like from that moment on, I was responsible for that kid. That it was my duty to make sure the streets didn't eat him up alive. And you never know. If worst came to worst, he could end up working for the triads just like me. And if I could stop that from happening to just one kid, then I felt like I'd done my duty. "Actually, you can do more than just sit here and eat," I said. "You can sleep here, and bathe here, and listen to the radio here, and, well, basically live here."
Needless to say, this idea seemed to take Hideki by surprise. Then, after the initial shock of the idea, a grin took shape on his face that broadcast a sense of comfort. "You're not some crazy organ harvester, are you?" he joked with a chuckle.
That got an instant laugh out of me before I responded. "No, I promise I'm not."
"Well, that's good," said Hideki. "And I'd love to stay in your home. As long as you answer one question."
"Okay," I said, not really caring at the moment what question he might ask me.
"Why do you want me to live here?" he asked me.
I gotta say, I found it a little strange how he was so curious as to the reason why I wanted him here, instead of just being thankful that he had a place to stay. But nevertheless, I thought I should answer the question. "Because I wanna help you," I said. "I want to give you the life you deserve, instead of leaving you out on the street to rot. I know we just met and I barely know you, but you really seem like a good kid, and I don't wanna see the streets get the better of you."
Then Hideki's grin morphed into a smile and his eyebrows curved upward, and I just knew he was happier than he had been in a long time. "Thank you, Song," he said.
"Don't mention it," I replied, shooting him a smile back. "And one of these days," I added. "I'm gonna have to teach you how to fight back, in case you ever get into a situation like that again. What kind of bender are you?"
"I'm not a bender," he replied. "That's why they got the upper hand on me."
"Well, that's just as good," I said. "Even if you don't know how to bend, you can still fight back. I'll just have to show you how."
Then, with an increasing feeling of drowsiness setting in, I decided to end the conversation and stood up from my chair. "Now if you don't mind," I yawned, stretching my arms above my head. "I think I'm gonna go to bed. Goodnight."
"Goodnight," Hideki replied.
Then I walked into my room and shut the door, content with myself for what I'd just done. Whatever things I did tomorrow in the name of organized crime, it would all be evened out by the good I'd done that night.
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