The Other Side of Me

18: The Nail is in the Coffin

Present Day

"'M dying," Ash mumbled, streaks of blood trickling out of his mouth and down his neck. His eyes began to glaze over.

"No, you're not, Ash, you're going to be fine," Bolin said furiously, putting pressure on the gaping wound that tore its way through Satoshi's gut. "Satoshi!" Bolin yelled when he saw his friend closing his eyes. "You're not dying, don't you go to sleep on me! You're going to be fine!"

"This death…it's saving me," Ash muttered through his own tears. "Didn't want to…go like this, but it's okay, Bo."

Ash suddenly began to splutter, coughing and choking on his own blood. He spat a wad of red-tinged saliva onto Bolin's shirt, but Bolin didn't care. The only thing that mattered was keeping Satoshi alive. Ash gasped twice, inhaling and exhaling sharply before his eyes closed and his head tilted to the side.

He was dead.

Bolin screamed, banging on Ash's chest with his fists and howling at the unfairness of the world. Behind him, Zolt, Gainika and the Goon Squad cackled with laughter. "NO!" he roared. "No! Ash, no, nonono…don't go, please don't you go… don't you dare fucking die on me!"

"If you never wanted him to die," interjected Gainika, wiping tears of mirth from her eyes, "then why did you cause his death, street scum?"

Bewildered, Bolin looked down at Satoshi, and saw, with his guts churning in his stomach and his heart in his throat, that Satoshi had been impaled by three earth spikes: one through the heart, one through his wound, and one right between his eyes. There was no question that he was dead.

But Ash had died by the hand of an earthbender.

Breath quickening, he looked around the room at the horde of Triads and Agni Kais.

He was the only earthbender in the room.

A horrible noise erupted from his throat as tears poured down his face, the guilt of the situation almost overwhelming him. "Ash," he whispered, shaking his head furiously. "No. No. No, no, no! I didn't do it! I didn't do it, Ash, oh, Ash, I promise you I didn't do it!"

Gainika, Zolt and the Goon Squad cackled in laughter. With a snap of Wanryoku's fingers, Ash's body caught on fire, and Bolin threw up; puke splattering Ash and the floor. "Ash," he keened. "Please…"

A sharp whistle and crack echoed in the cell and a horrible pain flared through his back, jolting Bolin out of his nightmare and back into the hellish reality he faced. His head shot up, and Bolin whimpered at the fresh pain that now radiated from every crevice of his body. Blood trickled down his bare back and down the torn rags that were once his pants (he'd gotten them on sale for twelve yuans at a department store on college campus). He cringed and whimpered again as Gainika gave Zolt the whip, who cracked it even harder down on his back, and Bolin barely managed to swallow a scream of pain. Bolin felt his mouth quivering underneath the duct tape. He was so tense it felt like his muscles were going to snap but was unable to stop shaking.

Gainika applauded Zolt. "Not bad, honey," she said with the faintest hint of approval in her voice. "Not bad at all."

Zolt puffed up like he was having an allergic reaction. He nodded with a wide grin, as if Gainika had had sex with him and then had given him a thousand yuans.

Bolin would've laughed at Zolt's behavior around Gainika underneath different circumstances, but he hadn't had any reason to laugh since the beginning of his imprisonment. He was struggling to hold on to the knowledge that rescue was going to come, but as the torture had gradually increased over the last week, his hope was struggling to remain intact. Bolin was losing the grueling battle against his feelings of agonizing heartache.

His nightmares about Ash's death and his best friends dying because of him didn't help his situation in the slightest.

Bolin thought about Ash's dying words at least thirty times a day, especially his statement that death was saving him. He hadn't understood back then, but in the last two months, he'd grown wiser and realized that Ash was right: surely death was better than the reality he faced, with torture and deaths on his conscience and the illusion of freedom and escape so close, but yet so far.

Bolin wouldn't admit it out loud, but he was scared shitless. He wanted to go home. And he wanted more than anything else in the world to see Asami again, so he could tell her his true feelings for her before he died.

A fist to the stomach jolted Bolin backwards, causing him to spit up blood. He struggled to control his breathing in attempt to listen around the sound of his pulse thudding in his ears.

"Sit up," Zolt growled at him, kicking him in the groin when Bolin didn't immediately respond, eliciting yet another screech from the twenty-one-year-old earthbender. "I said to sit up, you stupid little piece of shit!"

Bolin tried to move to his knees, but couldn't move at all with his hands chained to the bit of wall above him. If there was one thing he had to say about Gainika and Zolt, they really thought out things to the last detail. They'd chained his hands up high enough to be uncomfortable, but low enough for him to still be on his knees, and with enough room for his torturers to whip him.

Suddenly, Zolt's rough hands jerked him up without warning, making him gasp with pain. He realized with shock after a moment that his hands were being untied. Holy shit. He flexed them, unnerved by the bruises underneath them.

Bolin wondered why Zolt freed his hands, and even more so why Gainika was allowing him to do so. Who cares, you idiot, his mind screamed at him. Hit him. The second you're able to, punch him in the face as hard as you can, and see how much he likes it.

"Do it, you fucking pussy," Gainika said coldly. "Make a move." She cupped her hands around her mouth and whispered mockingly, "or do you not have the balls?"

Bolin's fists clenched, half-smiling at the very thought of punching Zolt in the face, or even better, kicking him in the balls. But deep down, he knew that Gainika was baiting him, and that if he punched Zolt, Bolin's torture would quadruple until he died a slow and miserable death.

Zolt lashed out at Bolin and punched him in the nose, causing him to stagger back in fear and pain. He fell to his knees, trying to stem the flow of blood from his clearly broken nose.

"Just what I thought," Zolt chuckled, crossing his arms across his chest as he walked toward Bolin, Gainika at his side. "You're just a little pussy." Zolt leaned down so that he was eye-level with him. "Just like Satoshi Daichi."

Bolin's head shot up and he saw red.

Oh, hell no.

He did not—he did not fucking just go there.

No one insulted Ash.

No one.

Bolin cocked his fist back, gritted his teeth so hard that it hurt, and punched Zolt as hard as he could in the face, two months of anger and pain and pure, unadulterated rage at Zolt's jibe.

Zolt actually took a couple of steps back, rubbing the bruise on his cheek. He eyed Bolin with a whole new appreciation, much like one would eye a choice cut. "Not bad, kid," he said casually before nailing Bolin in the head, causing Bolin to collapse to the floor with a loud thud.

Stars twinkled in his vision and Bolin screamed as Zolt stomped on his already hurt shoulder, definitely dislocating it. Bolin squirmed, remembering how long it had taken him to pop it back into place. If he'd had anything left in his stomach, he would've thrown it up at the thought of going through the pain of a dislocated shoulder again.

Gainika leant down over Bolin, giving him a handsome view of her cleavage (possibly on purpose), and jabbed something into his neck, grinning evilly the whole time.

Mercifully, Bolin capitulated to the unconsciousness swirling inside of him, without a single thought towards whatever the hell Gainika had injected him with.

(*) (*)

"Who are we?" barked their latest CID, patrolling around the ragtag group of Recruits who had been specifically signaled out by Gainika for this particular training session.

Liao, along with Xin and the others, had his right hand in a clenched fist and placed it on his chest above his heart, then bowed his head to complete the salute. "Kasai Mage Makumei!" he and twenty others shouted at the top of their lungs.

"What do we stand for?" roared the new CID.

Liao smirked as he barked the necessary response: "The firebending revolution!"

"Excellent," said the CID gruffly, pacing around the Recruits with his hands behind his back. "Dismissed, Recruits." Liao let out a breath he wasn't even aware he was holding as the Recruits immediately dispersed. He found Xin in the crowd, who still leaned on the crutch but had been forced to attend the TS anyway. He seemed a bit pale, but nonetheless alright.

"You good, partner?" asked Liao worriedly when Xin placed his hands on his hips and let out several deep breaths.

"F-fine," Xin coughed. "Damn. I am not as young as I used to be."

"No surprises there buddy," Liao couldn't help but say. Xin immaturely stuck out his tongue at Liao, who smirked. "Yeah, yeah. Ready to see you-know-who?"

"You can just say his name," grumbled Xin as the two Agni Kai Recruits walked down the relatively full hallway to Bolin's torture chamber. "Calling him 'you-know-who' makes it suspicious to the others. What if Chan or Jiktun asks you who you're talking about?"

"I'll say we're going to go and see the turtle-duck you rescued out of a pond or that we're going to run one of Zolt's Initiates up a flagpole in one of Gainika's thongs," retorted Liao, grinning at his partner, who frowned down at him sternly, but Liao saw Xin's eyes had the golden flecks in them that only appeared when he was truly amused. "Seems reasonable."

Xin rolled his eyes. "One problem with your plan, kid. Where the hell did you hear that Gainika wore a thong?"

"I heard Zolt describe it in his sleep," Liao managed to say with a straight face before cracking up. Xin burst into laughter a few seconds later.

They made it to Bolin's cell door a couple of minutes later. "Either or," Xin said while fishing for the keys in the pocket of his jacket, "I bet that—" Xin's words died in his throat as the door swung open to reveal a bruised, battered and unconscious Bolin propped up against the wall, his hands flopped at his sides.

"Spirits," Liao cursed under his breath. "No, no, no. Kid! Bolin!" He didn't respond when Liao carefully touched him. "Bolin, open your eyes, goddamnit!" commanded Liao, blood thundering in his ears. His heart rate went down slightly as Bolin's eyes slowly opened. His struggle to breathe was incredibly apparent. Liao felt for his pulse, alarmed at its racing speed.

"Do you have any chest pain?" Xin asked cautiously. Bolin nodded slowly.

Liao noticed a small puncture mark in Bolin's neck and instantly put two and two together. "Did Gainika inject you?" he barked, anger flooding him. What had Gainika been thinking? When Bolin didn't respond, Liao shook his shoulder roughly. "Did she fucking inject you?"

He received a small nod.

"How many times?"

Bolin barely managed to raise one finger before his head slumped slightly to the side.

"Damnit, Bolin! Kid, come on, stay with us now, stay with us!" Xin urged, patting Bolin's face, trying to get him to wake up, but to no avail. "Liao…" Xin turned to his partner, who looked scared out of his mind and angry at the same time. "Liao!" he shouted, causing Liao to flinch and stare at him. "Come on, partner, get your head out of your ass," he ordered, feeling a bit guilty for yelling at Liao but knew he had to get his partner moving. He scooped Bolin up into his arms. "Come on," Xin said a bit softer, but still managing to get his point across. "We need to get him to Doc."

(*) (*)

Whatever response the two Agni Kais had been expecting from the head meddie, it wasn't this. "What the hell am I supposed to do with him?" Doc repeated, curling his lip.

Liao had to mentally count to ten to restrain himself, remembering that when he, Chan and Jiktun had brought Xin to the meddie, he hadn't hesitated in treating him. "Treat him," growled Liao. "That's what you should fucking do, Doc."

"I don't have our Section Leader's jurisdiction to treat prisoners," Doc explained calmly. Liao wanted to shoot him. "That's Doctor Zhen's job."

"Yeah, well, screw jurisdiction," snapped Xin, who was just as angry as Liao. "Doctor Zhen is currently rotting in a jail in Republic City. B—this prisoner is dying. He's fucking dying."

"Why does it matter?" questioned Doc, crossing his arms across his chest. Liao's blood pressure skyrocketed as he realized Doc was calling Bolin an 'it'.

"Because he's important to Section Leader; and Gainika and Zolt will wreak hell on our asses if he doesn't live," was Liao's bitter response. Usually mentioning the name of the Section Leader influenced the Agni Kais to do almost anything, but Doc looked skeptical. "Come on, Doc. Xin just got out of a freaking coma. If this prisoner dies, we'll all be in comas, you included. That is if we won't be shot in the head on the spot."

Doc grumbled something under his breath and stared at the ceiling. Liao knew the head meddie was thinking about it, and decided to lay on the flattery. "Doc," he pleaded, taking a step towards the meddie. Bolin's head lolled in his arms while Xin struggled to support Bolin's legs. "Please. There's no one I trust more to take care of him than you."

After a moment, Doc nodded gruffly, and called two other meddies toward him, including the pretty dark-haired one that he always seemed to confer with. Last Liao had heard they'd been screwing each other. Who knew the head meddie had game? "Su-Bin and Kimura: check his vitals," he ordered. "Liao, Xin, get the prisoner onto the cot."

Liao and Xin hastily obliged before relinquishing Bolin to the meddies.

"What's the BP?" barked Doc.

"BP is eighty over sixty," informed the pretty dark-haired meddie. "Respiration's shallow, and pulse is shaky: one twenty."

"Give me cricoid pressure," Doc barked at the other meddie—Kimura—who immediately did so. Doc's brows shot up to his hairline and he swore again. "Damnit—"

Liao swallowed, almost afraid to ask, but Xin was more adamant. "What?"

"Too much edema in his throat," Doc stated.

"What the hell is edema?" asked Xin. Liao had been wondering the exact same thing.

"It's an abnormal accumulation of fluid in the interstitium—"

"Oh for Spirits' sake," cursed Liao, "tell it to us in a way that we can fucking understand, Doc! We aren't meddies!"

"Damnit, fine. Edema's the buildup of fluid in the body," explained Doc as patiently as could. He turned back to face Bolin and snapped on a face mask while Kimura and Su-Bin ran around the room collecting necessary equipment. "It causes swelling in the arteries. It's bad. Very bad. Got it?"

Dumbfounded, Liao and Xin nodded in almost perfect unison.

"Doctor Yamakiro, do we need to perform a tracheotomy?" inquired Kimura, snapping on his face mask, Su-Bin doing the same.

"No, no, um, not yet, give me a second…"

"His O2 sats are dropping, Doctor—"

"Shit," Doc snapped. He sighed harshly. "Alright. Damnit. We've got no choice. Su-Bin, get the trach kit."

Su-Bin—the pretty dark-haired meddie—grabbed the kit from the counter and threw it to Doc, who caught it in one hand.

Doc positioned his fingers on either side of Bolin's neck while Su-Bin swiped it with an alcohol wipe and suddenly cussed. "When were either of you going to tell me that Gainika injected him?" demanded the head meddie.

Liao flushed down to the roots of his hair. Xin threw his hands in the air, almost knocking his crutch over. "Does it matter? Help him, damnit!"

Doc growled at both of them, "I'll deal with you later," and quickly went back to working on Bolin.

"Doctor, I found the location of the cricoid cartilage," reported Kimura.

Doc nodded and turned to Su-Bin. "Give me a scalpel."

She paused. "No pain medication, Doctor?"

"There's no time," Doc responded. "He's already unconscious. Won't feel a thing." Su-Bin hesitated. "Damnit, Su-Bin, give me the scalpel."

Su-Bin sighed but handed over the scalpel to Doc, mumbling something about the pain medication.

Getting right to work, Doc used his fingers to find a small indentation between the cricoid cartilage and Bolin's Adam's apple. Placing the scalpel beside his finger, he quickly made a small cut and inserted his finger in the newly made cut to keep it open, then demanded a dilator, which Kimura gave to him. "Thanks," he muttered, and dilated the incision over the guidewire. "Hook him to a ventilator."

In less than ten seconds, Su-Bin and Kimura set up the ventilator. Doc immediately snatched his stethoscope from his neck and listened intently.

Liao and Xin held their breaths along with the meddies.

"Good breath sounds bilaterally, everyone," reported Doc, and there was a collective exhale from the two Agni Kai Recruits. "Give me O2 sats."

"89 and rising," informed Su-Bin.

"Okay, good job, everyone," Doc said gruffly. "Give him a second. Su-Bin, go and get the scanner."

"What for?"

"Scan for a pulmonary embolism," ordered the head meddie, wiping a sheen of sweat from his forehead. "Gainika and Zolt's wonderful little cocktail from hell will definitely cause that in a patient, especially with these symptoms." Liao almost smiled when he heard Doc refer to Bolin as a patient, not as a prisoner. Interesting. "Did he say he had chest pain?" Doc asked.

Liao remembered Bolin's weak nod when Xin had asked him that question with a painful twinge in his stomach. "Uh, yes."

"Damn. Chest pain, shortness of breath… it's definitely a PE," Doc muttered to himself. "Okay. Liao, Xin, get the hell out. We need to dissolve the blood clot in his lungs. Go and wait in the hallway. Now."

(*) (*)

Xin limped to one of the hard plastic chairs in the hallway outside of the infirmary and sat down stiffly. Liao collapsed into the chair next to him, burying his face in his hands. "Damnit, Xin," he said, his words a bit muffled through his hands. "What am I going to tell Asami and Midori?"

This gave even Xin pause to hear Liao say 'I' instead of 'we'. Xin knew his partner well enough to deduce that he had taken full responsibility for Bolin's condition because he didn't want to let the earthbender or Asami down. Damnit, Liao."We," Xin enunciated, "will tell them that there was a setback and that he'll be fine."

Liao looked up at him, and he was surprised to see a small sheen of tears in his partner's eyes. How much does he care for this kid? "Midori worships you, Xin," Liao said, apparently changing the subject. "She won't hate you. Asami…will hate me for this. She will fucking hate me."

"It wasn't our fault," Xin immediately stated firmly. "How could we have known that Gainika was going to inject him? How were we supposed to know that he has a pulmonary…whatever it is?"

"Because it's our responsibility to look out for the kid, Xin," snapped Liao. "And we weren't there to stop Bolin being hurt."

"Spirits, Liao," remarked Xin. "Bolin will be fine. Doc thinks so, and so does his entourage. Besides, in one more week, we're going to get him out of here. Why are you freaking out about this?"

"Because he's not going to last another week!" exclaimed Liao. "Have you seen him in there? He looks like death warmed over! How can you possibly think he's going to be okay?"

Xin took a deep breath. "Alright, buddy. Where was all this misery when I was on that exact same hospital bed, in a coma, when Doc wasn't sure I'd live?"

Liao froze. "That's different."

"You're damn right it's different," countered Xin. "His situation is better. For one thing, Bolin is not in a coma, and for another thing, he's not dying. Doc thinks he'll live. When I was in a coma—well, there's your first thing: I was in a coma—Doc didn't think I'd live. He told you I was dying. If Doc did not tell you that the kid's dying, then he isn't dying, Liao. He will be fine, and up and around in a week."

"I…ah. I'm just—it's," stammered his partner before sighing. "Look, you're right. I agree with you, his situation isn't as serious as yours was, partner. But I don't think we can wait another week. We have to prolong his stay here, but if we do, Gainika will murder him. She'll murder Doc first, for treating him, and then she'll kill Bolin. That can't happen."

Xin, who was about to bury his face in his hands, when something occurred to him as suddenly as if someone had thrown a brick at his head. "Hang on," he said. "Who says we have to keep him here another week?"

Liao stared at Xin as if he'd lost all function of his brain cells. "Um, you did."

"Did I? Well, screw that. You said it yourself, partner, we can't wait another week and we definitely can't prolong his stay. But we can break him out early—" Xin's voice cut off abruptly as the door squeaked open, and Doc, Kimura and Su-Bin stepped out.

Liao and Xin were on their feet before Doc even closed the door. "How's he?" breathed Liao.

"He'll live."

Liao relaxed minimally and sat back down in his chair. Xin, however, had more questions. "How was the… what's it called—"

"Pulmonary embolism," substituted Kimura.

"Yes, that. How about that?"

"Very minimal clot. Fixed it up fairly easily." Doc didn't elaborate, and Xin didn't care as long as Doc wasn't suspicious of him and Liao. "He's under anesthesia right now, should be up and about in about six hours."

"Great," Liao said in relief before immediately trying to act tough. He raised one eyebrow and crossed his arms across his chest, and Xin had to fight the urge to bang his head against the wall. "I mean, uh. Good. That means our asses are safe."

For now, anyways, Xin couldn't help but think.

"O…kay." Doc rolled his eyes. "I'm going to get a cup of coffee. Kimura, Su-Bin, you want anything?"

Kimura nodded and Su-Bin shook her head.

"Kimura, come on then. Su-Bin, you stay here, we'll be back soon."

"Okay," she stated, playing with a strand of her hair and not looking at the head meddie, who shrugged and walked off down the hallway, Kimura right behind him.

Xin wanted desperately to continue his conversation with Liao, but Su-Bin did not leave from the waiting room. She shifted from one foot to the other, looking in every direction but at the two Agni Kais. "Look, uh," she began awkwardly. "I…"

"Mind leavin' us alone, sweetheart?" Liao asked, tilting his head to the side. If his partner hadn't been in love with Asami, Xin was almost ninety percent sure that Liao would've tried to look down the front of Su-Bin's shirt.

Su-Bin suddenly spoke up. "I heard what you were talking about."

"And what would that be?" Xin automatically inquired, even though his stomach felt like it had been strapped to a booster rocket. Liao looked just as bad.

"About breaking out the prisoner," mumbled Su-Bin, a hot flush rising in her cheeks. "Bolin, I think you said his name was."

"Look, I don't know what you heard," Xin began to say, but Liao held up a hand, stopping the flow of words. Su-Bin had muttered something else under her breath. "What'd you say?" probed Liao.

"I…I want to help you," Su-Bin repeated a bit louder. "I care about my patients, and this prisoner is a patient. He's not going to last here. You need to take him to a real hospital, with healers, not just doctors."

Liao and Xin's jaws had dropped to their knees as the pretty dark-haired meddie continued. "Like Doctor Yamakiro said, he hasn't awoken from the anesthesia yet, but I can dress him and remove the IV lines in five minutes or less. You should be able to get him out of here before Kimura and Doc get back."

"How will you distract them for an hour or more?" asked Xin in confusion before instantly understanding. Su-Bin shrugged and smiled.

"I've done worse in the name of a patient," she said softly, and at that moment, Xin could've kissed her for making their plan so much easier.

Liao was more hesitant. "What's the catch?"

Su-Bin laughed quietly. "No catch. I promise I'm not double-crossing you in any way. I'm not like that."

And the two Agni Kais believed her.

"I'll go call Asami and Midori and tell them the change of plans," Liao finally said, looking at his partner. "You help Su-Bin get Bolin ready, buddy."

"Oh, no, no," Xin laughed, shaking his head. "You," he tapped Liao's chest with his pointer finger, "are going to help Su-Bin. I'll make the call."

"Why can't I?" Liao whined, sounding like a toddler whose mother wouldn't let him have ice cream before dinner.

"Despite how much you want to hear from Asami," Xin snickered at how Liao's face turned an interesting shade of purple, "I think that they'll respond better to me. Plus, I'm crippled." He nodded at his right arm, still in a sling. "I couldn't help Bolin get dressed even if I wanted to."

"Which you don't."

"Which I don't," confirmed Xin with a grin. "So I'll go make the call. We'll reconvene near your Satomobile in an hour. Deal?"

After a few moments of serious contemplation, Liao nodded. "Alright. Deal." Liao shook Xin's hand firmly. Xin set off, limping down the hallway and leaning on his crutch. "Hey!" Liao suddenly called after him.

Xin turned around, his eyebrows raised. "Yeah, partner?"

"Be careful, will you?"

Xin chuckled softly. "You know me, Liao."

(*) (*)

The bruised and still-recovering Agni Kai found himself in front of the payphone booth, where the Agni Kais were allowed to make one phone call every month to their families or sweethearts. It usually didn't get used, except by Gainika, Zolt, and the few Agni Kais who were stupid enough to tell their families about their line of work. Liao had used it from time to time, to explain to the hookers he'd met on shore leave that he wasn't going to be returning, or that the United Forces had deployed him to the other side of the world. Xin rolled his eyes affectionately, thinking of the twenty-eight-year-old that he was proud to have as a partner and thought of as a brother.

He dialed the number absentmindedly, remembering how Midori had written it in ink on the inside of his hand. She was a nice kid, he admitted to himself. He knew, of course, that the curly-haired teenager had a small crush on him, but tolerated it. Like Midori herself, he thought it was cute.

"Sato residence."

"Oh." Xin was taken aback; he hadn't expected anyone to answer on the first ring, especially not a pompous-sounding butler. "Uh, hi? Hello. Can I talk to Asami or Midori Sato? It's an emergency."

"The Sato's are busy right now and have no time to answer phone calls."

"Hey." Xin was beginning to get a bit irritated with this prick. "I wouldn't be calling if it weren't an emergency, sir. This is important, it concerns a package the two sisters have been extremely worried about the last two months."

"Sorry," said the butler, not sounding particularly sorry, "but I'm sure if they've waited two months, they can wait another day. As I stated earlier, they are both unavailable."

"I understand about Asami being busy, but surely Midori is available—"

"The younger Sato is cleaning her room right now—"

"Look, you pompous prick," Xin seethed, his patience firmly at an end, "I don't care if Midori is cleaning her bedroom for the birth of the next Avatar. Get her here right now. Tell her it's Xin, and she'll come."

On the other line, the pompous prick scoffed, like he'd never been spoken down to before. Then again, living with Asami and Midori, the chances that they talked down to anyone were minimal to nonexistent at most. "Very well." Xin waited for almost ten minutes before the familiar voice of the curly-haired teenager entered the line. "Xin? It's me, Midori. What the hell is going on?"

"Oh, thank the Spirits. Listen to me, Midori, it's about Bolin. He got tortured really severely and has a pulmonary em…embalm…emboli… well; he has a blood clot in his lungs. Our meddie, er, our head doctor fixed him up as best as he could, but he's not going last another week if Gainika or Zolt keep torturing him. Liao and I are breaking him out now."

Midori gasped on the other line. "Holy shit. What…how…what's…what do you want us to do, Xin?"

"Drive up to Ba Sing Se. It's the huge compound near the Raju Forest, you can't miss it: there're trucks patrolling a huge barbed-wire fence on top of a flat ridge." Xin tried to describe the Agni Kai compound as best as he could for the teenager. "Get off of the interstate and turn left onto the exit…fourteen, I think it is? No, fifteen. Yeah, that's it. You got it?"

"Hold on." Xin heard the sound of a pen scratching over a piece of paper for a few moments before Midori spoke again. "I'm back. Any other directions?"

"No. Just get here as fast as you can, and bring Mako and Korra too, because…" Xin's voice trailed off as the hairs on the back of his neck prickled.

"Hey! You still there?"

"Yeah," Xin said suspiciously. "Just have to—Mhmm!" He made a noise that was a cross between a gasp and a choke as someone grabbed the back of his shirt from behind and pulled him backwards, hard. The person shoved a gag in his mouth, making it impossible for Xin to speak without choking on the cloth or his spit.

Xin could hear Midori screaming his name from the phone, which he'd dropped on the floor, something that only fueled his anger. He tried to yell and kick, but his assailant just pulled the gag tighter to muffle the sound and swiftly brought up a knife against his clavicle.

"Don't you fucking move, Xin," growled the low voice that Xin would've recognized anywhere. "Or you'll bleed out before you even realize it."

His head was suddenly yanked backwards, and hot breath that smelled like stale alcohol was hissing against his face. Xin fought to moan in disgust.

"You are going to die," swore a second voice that Xin also recognized. "You hear me? You're going to fucking die. You can count on that, you scum fuck traitor."

The blood drained from his face. Oh, Spirits, tell me Midori can't hear this… But to no avail. He could still hear her screaming his name from the phone. He yelped when the first person's hand abruptly squeezed his throat, beginning to steadily tighten and cutting off his air supply. Damnit, oh my Spirits, this is it, they're going to kill me now—

Suddenly, the pressure on his throat released, and he inhaled the air around him greedily, sucking in huge gulps of it before he was roughly thrust at the first person, his crutch clattering to the ground. Pain shot up through his leg, but he ignored it as the second person went in and picked up the phone. "Hello? Midori, was it? Your friend is a bit…indisposed at the moment. I'm afraid he'll have to call you back later. Goodbye!" The first person hung up the phone to the sound of Midori yelling obscenities, and Xin cussed at the two men, his two fellow Recruits, through his gag. Fuck you all…

Gainika was behind this, that Xin knew for sure. As the two men ordered him to walk forward without the aid of his crutch, Xin could only hope that Liao would manage to get Bolin out of this hellhole without him.

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Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered book publisher, offering an online community for talented authors and book lovers. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books you love the most based on crowd wisdom.