15: Ain't Misbehavin' in Ba Sing Se
As the Avatar, police detective, heiress and curly-haired teenager gathered in the living room of Mako's apartment, Asami couldn't help but think how much things had changed. This time, four and a half years ago, Asami hadn't even met Midori, hadn't even considered the notion of reconciling with Mako, hadn't hidden Bolin away in Ba Sing Se…her entire world had been twisted out of reality since she'd hit Mako on her moped so many years ago, but the horrible event of Bolin's kidnapping had really made her life completely insane. How strange is it, thought Asami as she fiddled with the zipper on her purse, that we needed Bolin's kidnapping to bring us all together?
Bolin, the same lovable, goofy earthbender that she was proud to call her best friend, was kind and sympathetic, hilarious, yet could be deadly serious and badass when the time called for it. He was Team Avatar's voice of reason, the glue that held them all together—even when he'd been kidnapped by the Triads and the Agni Kais.
From Liao's tales of Bolin's torture, Asami knew that it had been no picnic—especially when his torturers were the notorious gangbangers Lightning Bolt Zolt and Liao's Section Leader, whose name Asami constantly forgot as it was so scarcely mentioned. Gadara, perhaps? No…Gainika. That's what it was. It didn't matter, Asami reasoned. Once Liao took them to their hideout, she would gut them both open. Slowly. With a spoon.
"When's he coming?" Midori asked impatiently, bouncing up and down. "He said he'd come at two."
"Midori, it's one fifty-eight," Korra said offhandedly, giving Mako a quick kiss on his cheek.
The sixteen-year-old flushed red. "I knew that," she replied, crossing her arms across her chest. "I'm just saying—"
"Be patient, babe," assured Asami even though she was just as impatient as her adopted sister. "He'll be here soon, okay? Have you got your stuff?"
"Yep." Midori nodded.
"Have you got Xióng and June?" pressed Asami with a small smile.
Midori nodded again, her curls bouncing up and down as she picked up her worn teddy bear and doll that Bolin had given her for Christmas nearly three years ago. "Got 'em."
"'Sami!" Midori exclaimed in exasperation. "We're getting Bo back. Who the hell cares what I bring or what I wear? I'd go into that hellhole in my underwear if I could help get Bo out."
"Careful, Blue Eyes, they might think you're a hooker," joked Asami, entirely expecting the playful punch to the arm. "Did Ming teach you that one?"
"That is quite correct, madam," Midori said proudly, prodding Asami's shoulder with her finger. "Ming taught me that one last—"
Someone knocking on the door interrupted Midori's bragging about her defense instructor, and all four of them nearly jumped out of their skin. Taking a deep breath, Mako slowly walked to the door, and, bracing himself, quickly opened it.
On the doorstep stood Liao, dressed in a casual black shirt and brown pants, his light hair carefully combed back. Standing next to him was another man, at least a year older, leaning heavily on a crutch with his arm in a sling and a couple of bruises on his face. The bruised-up stranger wore torn pants and a brown shirt, with his hair mussed up. "Can we come in?" Liao asked, hands stuffed in his pockets.
Mako nodded wordlessly, stepping aside to let the two men in. Liao helped the stranger inside, even though the other man protested that he was fine.
"'Lo, everyone," Liao said with a slight nod. "Good to see you." With a nod at the man beside him, he said, "This is Xin, my partner."
The man on crutches offered a wave and a nod to the people in the room. "Okay if I sit?" Xin asked, his voice a little bit hoarse. When Korra nodded yes, Xin turned to Liao. "Liao, mind helping me to the couch?" Liao grabbed his partner's elbow and helped him to sit down carefully.
"What happened to you?" Midori asked sympathetically, unconsciously leaning closer to Asami, who put an arm around her.
Liao clenched his fists at his sides and let out a breath slowly through his nose. Xin rolled his eyes at his partner. "Got into a slight altercation."
"Slight my ass," said Liao under his breath.
"What was that, kid?" Xin asked with a cocked eyebrow.
"Slight my ass," repeated Liao louder. "Xin, you were in a coma for a week. You got the ever-loving shit beaten out of you, partner. I don't call that slight."
"In any case," Xin said with another roll of his eyes, "I'm fine now. What'd you expect me to do, stay with Doc and the meddies? Reading old magazines from Avatar Aang's time and sleeping can really only entertain me for so long."
"Doc told you that you were supposed to stay in bed for at least another week, buddy," Liao said, half-smiling. Asami didn't understand why. "You insisted on coming after me."
"Like I could let you go out on a cock-brained scheme without me?" Xin laughed without humor. "Not on your life, sport. We're partners, remember?"
"I remember, Xin," Liao said, now fully grinning. Asami supposed this was either serious Agni Kai humor or that Liao was so happy to have his partner back that his entire outlook on life was all sunshine and rainbows.
"Anyhow," Liao continued, "Xin, you already know Mako from afar." Xin nodded politely at the bemused firebender. "That's Avatar Korra, and that's Asami and Midori over there."
"Pleasure," Xin said before coughing into the crook of his arm for a couple of seconds. Liao tensed up and only relaxed when Xin stopped coughing. "S-sorry," Xin apologized. "Happens every now and then."
"You city slickers ready to move?" asked Liao. "Packed and all?"
Korra, Asami, Mako and Midori nodded. "So, how's this going to work?" questioned Mako. "I mean, this is my brother's life we're talking about. If you need money, drugs, anything—I'm willing."
"It's going to go down like this," Liao began slowly. "In about two weeks from now, a letter is going to be given to you, Asami. It has all the information about where Bolin is hidden, where to go, how to get there, inside of it. Once you get that letter, you call collect on a payphone, number sixty-two seventy-four. Either me or Xin will pick up the phone."
"Who do you want to make the call?" Korra asked curiously.
Liao paused, thinking it over. "Midori," he finally decided. The person in question looked quite pale and Asami gripped her arm. Liao held up his hands in a gesture of surrender. "Spirits, Asami, you aren't going to punch me in the face again, are you?" he asked with a mock grin.
Xin snorted. "She's the one who punched you? I figured you got it beating up the CID that beat the shit out of me."
"Negative," Liao stated, shrugging. "Punched me in the face when I told her that I belted Bolin."
"Great way with people you got there, kid," Xin commented, and Liao shot him a death glare. "Kidding. Anyways," Xin said, "either me or Liao will pick up the phone. Midori, you're going to say, 'package received.' Either me or my partner will follow up asking, 'is it in good condition?'"
"What do I say after that?" Midori inquired.
"Say, 'soon to be better.' Then we'll know it's you."
"And what happens after that?" Asami put her hands on her hips. "What will happen after that? Will a band of armed zozzled idiots come and kidnap my sister and torture Midori like Bolin? What if—"
"Hey." Liao placed a hand on Asami's shoulder and looked into her eyes. "That won't happen, okay? I promise."
"He's right," Xin added. "We won't let anything happen to Midori or to Bolin, Asami. Liao and I are firmly on your side. We aren't going to switch back or turn you over to Gainika and Zolt."
"Asami." Liao took his hand off of her shoulder and cocked his head to the side a couple of degrees, like he was sizing her up. She blushed. "Don't you trust us?"
She opened her mouth and closed it, actually considering the statement instead of giving the Agni Kai Recruit an outright 'no' without even thinking about it. Did she really trust him? At all? Yes, he was a member of the same group of gangbangers that had killed her mom and Midori's family, but Liao…was almost different, in a way. He seemed like he truly had seen the error of his ways, but how could she really know that for sure?
Asami looked at Xin, who nodded almost imperceptibly. She remembered that Liao had said that he had been in a coma for nearly a week, and that the doctors had thought he wouldn't wake up. Obviously Liao cared deeply for his partner—Liao treated his partner like he was made of glass and would shatter at any second. She knew that Liao cared, and therefore had a heart. He was funny, and nice, and wanted to break Bolin out of hell.
But did she trust him?
Asami really didn't know.
What she did know, however, was that the possibility was out there: she could learn to trust Liao.
She could at least try.
So she looked at Liao in the eyes and said evenly, "Not especially. But I trust Bolin, and he trusts you guys. If you can rescue Bolin—" She coughed and looked at her hands. "Then I'll trust you," she finished awkwardly.
Liao didn't even blink. "Works for me," he said calmly. "Everyone's packed, right?" He received nods from Mako, Korra, Asami and Midori. "Brilliant," Liao said. "Let's go to Ba Sing Se, everyone."
"Oh the neons are a gleamin' and the gamblers are a dreamin'
"Oh it's night life, yeh! night life
"The chips are a spillin' and it's time to make a killin'
"Oh it's night life, yeh! night life
"Oh the pockets are a-burnin' and the money flies
"With dice roll a-turnin' and you'll hit snakes eyes
"You can't be a quitter when you're caught up in the glitter of
"Night life night life…"
Asami sat on a barstool, ears pounding with the pulsing beat of the song that a hot thirty-something man was singing up on a brightly-lit stage. Several women wearing skimpy shirts, skirts short enough to be underwear, and six-inch high heels were carrying platters of hors d'oeuvres and tiny glasses of cactus juice and handing them out to everyone in the packed casino. Korra had dragged Mako away some time ago to go and play the slot machines. Asami had nearly broke a rib trying not to laugh when Korra threatened the manager that she was going to go into the Avatar State if the 'fucking, goddamn machine didn't give her back her stupid, goddamn yuans back right fucking now!' The copious amounts of alcohol the couple had drank probably didn't help in the slightest.
"Hey there, gorgeous," a tall man stated when he slumped onto the barstool next to her. Asami ignored him and took another sip of her tequila. She usually didn't like to drink whiskey, but she hadn't had the greatest last two months, what with the whole Bolin situation, and her life seemed like it was only going to get worse by the looks of the brainless, boorish idiot next to her. He grabbed her arm in a tight grip and forced her to look at him. "Yo, bitch, look at me when I'm talkin' ta you," the man said, spit flying out of his mouth and landing on her arms. Asami flinched in disgust.
"I'm not interested," she stated calmly before taking another sip.
"How 'bout you and I go back to my hotel room and have a little fun?" the man crooned, like he hadn't heard her at all. "You can come home with a real man…I'll make it worth your while."
Asami scoffed. "Sorry, honey, but I don't settle for three inches or less."
The man merely shrugged, seemingly undaunted, although Asami noted with pleasure that a vein in his forehead was pulsing. "Well, you're in luck, babe, I got a solid six here."
"Is that it?" Asami chuckled, taking another sip of whiskey. "Single digits aren't worth my time either."
A couple of people, including the bartender, snickered at her comment. The man pressed on. "And—"
Asami grimaced and slammed down her drink on the counter with a thud. The guy just didn't get it. "Look, I am not interested in you, so back the hell up," she said loudly, bringing the attention of passerby towards them. She did not want to start a scene, but damnit, she was not going to get taken advantage of in Sin City because of someone like this guy.
"Hey." Someone tapped the guy's shoulder, and the man turned around to face a pissed-looking Agni Kai Recruit. "Hasn't anyone ever told you to stay away from what belongs to others?" His question was seemingly casual, but it was stated with so much anger that Asami was impressed the man didn't faint from fear.
"She's yours?" asked the man. He gulped.
Liao laughed. "Lemme tell you a little something, bud. I'm a Recruit of the Kasai Mage Makumei, and the babe's already spoken for. She's primo ass, and taken. Better luck next time." Toph Beifong could've read the subtext of 'touch her again, and I will shoot you in the balls'.
The man slinked off, muttering obscenities under his breath. Liao plopped down in the man's seat and ordered a beer.
"Thank you," Asami said quietly. "You—you didn't have to do that, you know."
"Don't mention it." Liao downed his drink. "Xin says I have a strange urge to assist damsels in distress."
"Xin's right." Asami smiled and turned to the bartender. "Cactus juice, please." He gave her a shot, and she turned to Liao. "How good are you?" she asked, downing it. Liao's grin signified that he immediately understood.
"Barkeep?" he asked. "One round of tequila for me and this lovely lady."
The bartender gave them the drinks and handed them the bottle too. "I'm going to assist some more, so help yourself from the bottle, okay?" he said with a half-grin before going over to another group of people.
"Cheers," Liao said with a nod before the two of them downed their glasses in a couple of gulps. He shook his head quickly. "Damn, it burns."
"Giving up?" Asami asked playfully, not knowing at all why she was acting this way. She blamed the alcohol.
Liao grinned again. "Not on your life, Sato," he admonished, shaking his finger mockingly before pouring both himself and Asami yet another drink. Asami was glad Midori wasn't around for this—the sixteen-year-old and Xin were both back in their hotel rooms: Midori because she was too young, and Xin because the meddies had forbidden him to drink.
Asami wasn't sure how much time had passed or how much she'd drank: all she knew was that the world was beginning to look fuzzy and the music seemed too loud. "Thanks for this," she slurred over the music. "You didn't have to do what you did."
"S' no prob," Liao said, not looking much better than her. Apparently both of them couldn't hold their liquor. "You're not bad company when you're zozzled."
She put her arm up so that her hand rested on his shoulder. "You're not bad company when I'm zozzled either!"
"No one to talk with, all by myself…No one to walk with, I'm happy on the shelf babe…Ain't misbehavin', savin' my love for you…" sang Liao along with the female singing karaoke up on stage. Around the blackjack tables, someone shouted more obscenities before scowling and walking off.
"I know for certain the one I love, I'm through with flirtin', you that I'm thinkin' of…Ain't misbehavin'…Oh savin' my love oh baby, love for you," added Asami, clapping along with the rest of the drunk crowd as the singer bowed. "She's puh—pretty good," Asami garbled.
Liao choked back a laugh. "You should probably slow down on the drinks, 'Sami."
"What if," she stood up and fell onto his lap, gyrating against him, "I want to put the 'Sin' in Sin City?"
The Agni Kai Recruit stood up too, and placed both hands on her hips before entangling them in her hair. She moaned as his hips, mouth and hands pressed against her. "We should dance," he whispered.
They danced, bouncing and swaying against each other, arms looped against one another. Liao kissed her shoulders, her cheeks, and nibbled her neck playfully. Asami whimpered and pushed herself against him, leaving small kisses on his face and broad shoulders. He swept her into his arms, kissing her fervently as he lifted her off the ground and spun her around.
Somehow, they found themselves in their hotel room. They both tried frantically to undo the buttons on Liao's shirt, miraculously not ripping the cloth in two. Liao slipped off his pants, and Asami did the same with her shirt and pants, leaving her in a revealing tank top and lace underwear. She almost jumped on top of Liao and the bedspread, straddling him and kissing him like there was no tomorrow. She moaned as he ran his fingers through her hair and his hand squeezed her breast hard. Asami could just picture Bolin saying a random joke now and—
She jerked out of her daze, suddenly stone-cold sober. "Wait—" her voice came out as a light whisper. She cleared her throat. "Liao, wait."
Liao's head snapped up immediately and took in the apprehensive look on her face. His face turned deep red immediately. "Oh…oh, Spirits. Damnit. Shit, Asami, I'm sorry." He scrambled off of her, raking a hand through his hair.
"I—I'm sorry," she apologized, tugging her shirt over her head. "It…it's not that I don't want to, I do, it's…it's just—"
"Bolin." His voice was calm, even. Somehow, she wished Liao would yell at her. "You love him, don't you?" he asked.
She nodded before immediately shaking her head and blushing. Did she really? "I feel horrible…I kind of—led you on there and I just—I just never…I've never gone that far before and…" she trailed off awkwardly.
"I get it," Liao said quietly. "I'm not usually the type of guy people want to lose their virginity to."
She wanted to hit him. "Shut up! You're a great guy, Liao, for Spirit's sake. It's not that, I told you already. It's just…I…I don't think I love you." Saying the words felt like she was spitting bullets into Liao, one syllable at a time.
"I get it," he repeated. The two sat in silence for a while. "Sin City, huh." He shrugged. "I'll never get the appeal."
Asami laughed uncomfortably. "Same with me," she mumbled. "Same with me."
The two sat in the hotel room until the sun came up, and with it Mako and Korra came stumbling into the room with confetti in their hair, ripped clothing, and more drunk than Asami and Liao combined.
"Yo, 'Sami," Korra muttered before conking out on the rug. Mako stumbled to the bathroom and threw up.
"Lovebirds," Liao commented with a smirk, pulling his pants on. "I'm gonna go. I'll see y'all later."
As he rushed out of the room, Asami was faced with an irrational desire to run after him and kiss him senseless. She forced it down and returned to her own hotel room as well, collapsed onto the bed, and fell into an uneasy sleep.