The man sighed as he looked over the full-length mirror and the dressing room table, playing with a pro bending earth disk. He knew what he had to do, but for the first time, his thoughts were troubled.
"Are you OK?"
Next to the man emerged a woman, dressed extremely formally, looking over the suit clad man as she put a hand to his face.
"I'm fine Opal. Really."
"Fine? In all the years I've known you, you've never had that expression when you're 'fine.' You're worried."
"I just…it hit me yesterday what I've done."
"Is this about your brother? I know what he said."
"But to hear him say it," the man replied, "that hurt. 'You were always the reject?' Really? He's bitter! That's all! And it's not like I told him what he couldn't do! I didn't tell him to stay single! I didn't tell him to stay in a job that he can't stand! I didn't make him a failure!" The last line was punctuated by him throwing the disk to the ground, which caused it to crack. Finally, he sat down in the chair, slumping backwards.
"Should I have just stayed in pro-bending?" he asked.
"If you did, you wouldn't have met me you know," Opal answered with a huff.
"OK, bad example. Should I have just stayed with acting? Or stayed with local politics? I mean…this." The woman shook her head.
"You are a success. And he isn't. You can't limit yourself to make you brother feel better. He has to live with his own life. You can't let him affect you."
The man smiled, holding the woman close to him. "Thanks."
"For reminding me why I married you."
"Well Mom always said I was the smart one." The pair laughed and exchanged a kiss while behind them, an aide walked in."
"Mr. President, it's time for your speech. The secretary is all set to introduce you."
"Well, I've got the cards in order," the man replied while straightening his tie. "Opal, shall we?"
"Of course, 'Mr. President.'"
"Still feels weird hearing you say that."
"Ok, then Bolin. Let's go."
Camera crews pulled away from the set as the man on set loosened his tie, muttering about 'lighting' and 'fluidity of lines.' All the while, Kushina looked on at the grey haired director, more interested in barking orders to his crew than dealing with the woman Tomorrow Technologies had sent.
"You're here about the cameras we're using right?"
"The cameras, and the vehicles we lent for the production," Kushina answered. "We have to make sure as per the contract that they're in all the shots they're supposed to be."
"That looks tacky if we don't do it subtly," the director answered. "It's bad enough I accepted a tax credit to film in the Earth Republic before I knew a freaking war was going to break out, but now I've got everyone telling me how I need to film my mover"
"Excuse me, Aarluk," a well-built man from the set interrupted, "Are you sure about these prosthetics for the face? Can't you just fix it in post?"
"Pramuk, I'm very busy with one of the sponsors right now, can it wait?"
"Fine. I'll be in my trailer when you want to talk actual movers and not just commercials," the man replied with a huff. Aarluk sighed heavily.
"The nerve of him. He stars in a few Nuktuk films during the summer and he thinks he's the second coming of Ratna! That was cheap popcorn garbage you hear!"
"Look, I heard that you're going to be doing some very complicated shots with the mecha suits you leased tomorrow. I thought that most of the battle was going to be computer generated though."
"I need actual shots to make it look good though. The Lava bender during his desperate escape from the re-education camp! We need to make sure there's realism or the audience will never buy it! It'd be like using a computer-generated rock instead of an actual one. It's tacky!"
The woman nodded while asking "So you're filming that tomorrow?"
"Yeah, that's the plan, provided the fresh from training slackers known as my STAFF are up to the job! I got Moonlight Butterfly done in 5 months of filming! I'm not going to let this run longer!"
The woman nodded, motioning to her two bodyguards, as they walked off. "We'll see you tomorrow then Aarluk."
"Yes, yes we will." Turning back to the crew, he shouted orders about wrapping up production. The woman meanwhile, just sighed heavily.
"Well, seems easy enough so far. Just get yelled at."
"And I just sit here, right?"
"Well, when you're on duty. When you're off duty, you can go look into that lead. What was it, the Horned Bull Bird?"
"The Black Bull Bird," Tong corrected.
"Ooooh, I've heard of him!" Shing added. "Isn't he supposed to be a super assassin that kills for money? You think Avatar Affairs hired him?"
"The Fire Nation Intelligence guys thought that was the case, yeah. So they told me to look out here."
"Which just so happens to be where my first assignment is, to ensure that TT's materials are being used, and to be in a commercial. What a coincidence." Kushina's tone was practically overflowing with sarcasm, although that wasn't what caught Tong's ear.
"Commercial? Tong asked. You didn't mention a commercial."
"It's nothing big. I'm just driving a car and then some snooty guy adds a voiceover. Real simple."
"Is it wise though?" Tong asked. "What with…"
"Look," Kushina suddenly interrupted, "you don't get to tell me how to run my life. I get enough of that crap from my dad, alright?"
"OK!" Tong answered defensively. "I was just worried!"
She sighed, saying nothing, but walked back towards the hotel where she was staying.
"Did I say something wrong?" Tong asked. Shing just shook his head.
Sitting down in her hotel room, Kushina pondered what could have been considered either a golden opportunity others would kill for, or a gilded cage. Either way, she was stuck there. But then, wasn't it always the case for her? As if to emphasize that, her phone showed six calls, all from the same number, with accompanying messages.
Kushina, it's Dad. What the hell happened to you? I've been trying to contact you for weeks and you haven't responded. Just…call me if you're OK. Please.
Her hands went over her face, but at the very least, he deserved to know her daughter was alive. Pressing a few buttons on the display, she picked up the phone.
"Dad? Yes, I'm fine. I actually did get…no it's a bit more complicated than that. The dojo? We've been over this! You thought I ran away or worse and the first thing you ask me about is that? You have people that can do it! I have my own life to live! Ugh, just…yeah, bye."
That went about as well as she could expect. It was always the same with her father, ever since she was a kid.
Ugh, my rib. OK, you win.
I had to. Someone important was watching.
Dad! That was so cool! Can you show me how you did that?
That's why I bought you here today. From today on, I'm going to train you as a chi-blocking master, a deadly weapon!
That's how it started. And at the time it was the most awesome thing in the world, training with Dad, the renowned Master Tae Chun, learning every secret he had to offer. Hell, there were days where he would keep her late after a lesson just to show a new technique he was developing and to see her reaction. When did it all go wrong?
Brooding about it wasn't going to answer that question. Maybe some tea would help. She didn't bother to call her two 'bodyguards', wanting to have some time alone to process her thoughts.
The teashop looked fairly nice from the outside, with tables on the patio as well as an inviting exterior. Normally the inside would match, if not for the three thugs harassing a certain customer.
"I said we wanted the money for…insurance. We tried talking to the studio, but they weren't receptive. Now we're talking to you. Problem?"
"I'm an actor, not the producer! I can't get you your money!"
"You're pretty well-off. Sure you could. And I know just how."
"Wait, please! Let's be reasonable! I'm just trying to make a living in this hole, same as you."
"We are. Ever hear the saying, 'a pound of flesh'?"
One of the thugs accented the last point by drawing a knife, causing the man to scream in terror. All three were so focused on holding the man down that they were ignorant to the one person willing to stand up to them.
A powerful kick from Kushina dropped the first thug, while the second was stunned with an elbow and then thrown to the ground, giving their victim time to run away. The third pulled his knife, only to meet the barrel of a Shocker.
"Here's another saying for you. 'Never bring a knife to a gun fight.'"
"You're dead Pramuk, you hear me!" the man shouted as he dropped the knife and ran. "DEAD!"
As the trio of goons ran off, Kushina looked towards the panicked man, recognizing him from the set earlier.
"You…you're the representative from TT, right?" he began. "You saved my life! I don't know what they did to my bodyguards, but you have no idea how happy I am to see you."
"Who were those guys?" she asked.
"Local triad that entrenched itself here when the war broke out. We're pretty far away from the front lines and the government SAYS they're protecting us, but restrictions and the like have let thugs like that thrive."
"Something else to watch out for," she lamented. Pramuk however, didn't share her grim demeanor.
"I need to thank you properly, such a lovely young woman coming to save me. I'm going to be headed back to the set to film the afternoon's scenes, but what about afterwards you and I grab dinner? There are some rather nice restaurants in this town."
"I'm flattered," she answered, nodding. "What time do you expect to finish?"
"You did WHAT?!" Tong yelled. Kushina just shook her head.
"You act like I can't take care of myself."
"Last time I checked," Tong replied, "I was hired as a bodyguard. That means I'm supposed to protect you!" Kushina shook her head.
"You're adorable when you get all angry and dedicated, but I'm fine, OK? We both know why you were hired, so focus on that, and I'll focus on my date tonight."
"You're dating Pramuk," he answered, not so much a question as it was a re-statement of facts.
"Yes, he was nice enough after earlier to ask me out to dinner. A 'thank you.' Why do you care?"
"Well…what if those gangsters attack again?" he asked.
"Then I'll do the same thing I did to them earlier." Smiling, she walked off, adding "And I think we'll be just fine on our own." Tong was set to protest, but thought better of it. All the while Shing looked on, smiling as everyone went to their places on the set.
"…Wh…no! It's not that," Tong answered. "I'm just worried, with the gangsters running around, and all the other nonsense. It feels like this job has bought out the worst in her. Or maybe," he sighed, looking at the set, "that was me."
"Don't think about it too much," Shing advised. "You can't protect everybody. They need to live their own lives."
"Yeah, I guess," Tong answered, looking on at the set.
The Fire Bender had just drank another glass of liquor from the clear bottle, looking on at his guest. "So I did?! What do you care?"
"Mako, I know you and Bolin have had your differences, but supporting Yoshida in the presidential race? Really?"
"It's my professional opinion," Mako answered, drinking another glass as he explained, "that my brother is not the correct man for the job. And I'd go on TV and tell the world if I was Chief of Police and not some lousy detective."
"He's your brother and my friend. And so are you. Everyone is worried about…"
"YOU DON'T GIVE A DAMN ABOUT ME ASAMI!" Mako yelled as he stood to his feet. "YOU NEVER DID! HE NEVER DID! NOW GET OUT!"
Asami Sato looked, shaking her head, headed for the door, before adding, "I did once. But the man I did care about is long gone."
Mako's hands trembled as he looked on at the glass, as well as a newspaper article with his brother on it. The words "Actor, hero, President?" emblazoned the headline. The second article on his desk infuriated him even more. A picture of Asami kissing Korra on the lips in full view of the public.
"If you loved me so much, then why did you decide to live with Korra?!" he asked no one in particular. His rage turned to sobs as he asked "Why did you take her away from me? You could have had any man or woman, and you took her from me!"
"Was that too melodramatic?"
"It's perfect! Remember, you're playing a man completely broken by rejection! Hatred and blame are the only things keeping him going! He blames everyone and everything for his problems except the one person who's actually at fault. Himself."
"If you say so."
"OK, so the next scene, I really need that glass thrown. Just as hard as possible. Got it?"
When an actor takes someone out to dinner, he doesn't spare any effort in impressing them. That was Kushina's first thought as she looked on at the restaurant, with everything about the place screaming "fancy" from the décor to the soft lighting to the music to the prices on the menu. For his part, Pramuk played the role of a suave celebrity to the hilt.
"You never saw Armor Hunter?"
"I heard of it, but no," Kushina answered.
"Well, that was my first major break in television. I mean, come on, you had to at least seen the poster. Me, with the huge sniper rifle? My agent said those things sold like crazy."
"So you started in television?"
"Yeah. I didn't really get into movers until Heart of Stone. Tell me you saw that at least."
"That I did see," she answered. "The Flying Fist, that was you too, right?"
"Yeah, but I never liked that one as much," he answered. "That's actually why I'm here. I wanted to do a more serious role after the Nuktuk remakes."
"Even if it drags you out to a small town in a country at war?"
"Well away from the front lines, may I remind you," Pramuk shot back. "The only mecha tanks in the area are the ones on the set, and the four or so that the security company is apparently bringing in after that horror show earlier."
"Really. So, why Bolin?"
Pramuk smiled. "You mean besides our clear resemblance?" he asked, imitating a photo of the former Earth Republic president from his younger years as he held it aloft on his cell phone. "He was such a fascinating historical figure. Someone who came from nothing, and went on to do practically everything. Pro-bending, acting, fighting in the war, more acting, politics, he was a true pioneer. I hope…to capture just a bit of that genius."
"I'm sure you will."
"And you my dear? How did you end up as a brand rep?"
"Well I was originally…"
She stopped, looking out the window, seeing a faint flicker of light. The fact that he was doing this was inexcusable.
"Could you excuse me for a moment?"
Walking out of the restaurant, Kushina's fears were confirmed. A man was sitting on a bench on a street opposite the restaurant, holding a phone and taking photos.
"What did I tell you about leaving me alone?"
"I'm your bodyguard, remember?"
"You're a royal pain in my…"
"I don't want you to get hurt. And besides, you have plenty of privacy. I'm not a child. I'm not spying on you or anything."
"So what's on that phone then?" she asked, looking over. As she looked on, she saw photos of her and Pramuk over dinner.
"It's work related."
"Go home. If you're still here the next time I come out, I'm going to see to it that you're fired."
"You know they won't do that," Tong replied before getting up.
"You're right. Because now I'm tethered to you just like he wants me tethered to that dojo!" Kushina gasped, covering her mouth in shock. For his part however, Tong was polite.
"I'll show myself out. Enjoy your date." With that, he walked off, while Kushina could only think back to her father. The images echoed in her mind throughout the rest of her date.
I was going to tell you after the graduation tomorrow, but I'm so proud of you that I need to tell you now. I have chosen you as this school's heir.
Dad, I got a scholarship to South Republic. Why are you telling me this now?
Because we both knew that you weren't going to accept it. This is your destiny. You are my greatest student, and as such, you will be this school's heir.
Uh, no. I'm not. I'm going to University, and I'm going to become an engineer. You know, like I've been saying for a while now.
But…the family. This school is my legacy, and you're the only one I trust with it. What would your mother say?
I think Mom would want me to be happy! Don't you?
And this wouldn't make you happy? You love chi-blocking!
Yeah, but I don't see myself making a living out of it. And I love building things just as much. That's why I want to be an engineer.
I can't stop you from going to University, but once you're done, you're going to realize that you were wrong. That you wasted four years. But go on, go.
No go on. You know so much, go out there and be wrong. You'll see. Go.
Aaraluk noticed the rather somber mood from the Tomorrow Technologies rep and her entourage but paid it no mind. He was outside, focused on what would be an incredibly complex scene to film. By the forest on the outdoor set were six mecha suits, all with the actors and stunt crew inside. Outside the perimeter, as Pramuk promised, were four Ox mecha tanks, a visual promise from the security company that they wouldn't let anything like yesterday happen again.
"Now remember, these mecha suits are ON LOAN! They belong to a private collector and if anything happens to them, the cost is coming out of everyone's checks! The actual destruction shots for the suits are going to be done in post! Now when I give the order, you're going to move like we rehearsed, got it?"
The crew all acknowledged the orders as Aaraluk sat down in the director's chair, looking at the feeds from the various cameras. "And…action!"
The simulated battle began as explosions went off by the mecha suits, just close enough to be realistic, but not close or powerful enough to cause any serious damage to the restored antiques.
"That's not the flame-thrower! What idiot designed these things?!"
"You did sir!"
"Less lecturing, more saving my life!"
The battle continued as the Earth benders responsible for effects began moving rocks to make it appear as if Pramuk himself was doing it. Everything appeared in order until one suit went right for Pramuk, completely out of sync.
"Cut! Cut! #3, what are you doing?"
Kushina, Tong, and the guards all looked up as they saw the suit raise its arm, aiming its flamethrower at Pramuk. He realized the implications of what was happening and began moving back.
"That mecha suit's been hijacked!"