The Other Side of Me

19: Caught in the Act

Present Day

Alone in the nothingness, Bolin wondered vaguely where he was and why he was here. Had he been hurt again by Zolt or Gainika? He tried to think, searching his mind for the answer, but nothing came to him that would explain what he was experiencing.

With a sudden shock, he realized he couldn't feel his body. Perhaps he was paralyzed. Had Gainika shot him in the back? Had Zolt broken his neck? No, that couldn't be the case. He'd most likely be dead if that had happened. And, that wouldn't explain away the silence. Or the nothingness. The Spirit World, according to Korra, wasn't a pale nothingness that seemed to stretch for eternity.

He remembered Liao and Xin in his cell, looking terrified as they felt for his pulse and shook him and asked him questions about injections. Had whatever Gainika shot him with caused this? If it had…damn.

Would he ever wake up from this? Already he was tiring of the void…

If he could feel his heart, he was sure it would've skipped a beat at his newest revelation. Oh Spirits, maybe he was dead. That must be why he had no feeling in his body: He didn't have one! He had become a disembodied Spirit, drifting around in some kind of endless hell. Not exactly what I expected from the Spirit World, Bolin thought. Then he realized that if he could still think, then he definitely wasn't dead—at least not yet.

Besides, he was sure that if he was, after all, deceased, his parents would be waiting for him, welcoming him home. Ash too, because he surely deserved Heaven for taking the bullet meant for Bolin.

"Hey, kid? You with me here?"

Bolin flinched at the noise that had come out of nowhere. It was a bit garbled, as though he was listening to words through static on the radio, but he could still mostly understand it.

"Bolin. Kid, listen to me. We need you to wake up right now. Please, kid. We have to go."

Go where, wondered Bolin. Where could they go?

"Xin's waiting by the car, Bolin. We're going to get you out of here. Can't if you're not awake, though." The voice chuckled. "Come on, buddy. Wake up. Now."

He continued to drift, an immense warmth cradling his entire body as the sounds around him grew louder and louder. Well, I'll be damned, Bolin couldn't help but think. I guess there is a white light.

(*) (*)

Liao swore that the clock in the infirmary had been stuck at two fifteen for the last twenty minutes. He made a mental note to ask Doc to fix it, but then immediately scolded himself for considering the future. Once he and Xin got Bolin back to Republic City, there was no way in hell that they could ever go back to being Agni Kais. Perhaps he could go and do police work with Mako, be an undercover cop and help bring down the Triads and the Red Monsoons, he mused thoughtfully. It'll be me and Xin, the most feared coppers in the business, Liao thought before snickering. Two Agni Kais reforming and becoming undercover cops—it sounded like the beginning of a bad joke.

He almost turned to ask Su-Bin a question how long Doc had said it would be before Bolin recovered from the anesthesia, but then remembered that she had gone off to distract Doc and Kimura while he was supposed to be getting Bolin out of this place. Xin was probably waiting for him by now.

"Hey," he commented to the still-sleeping earthbender. "Look, kid, I get that you need your beauty sleep and all—Spirits knows you can't wake up and be awesome like me, but you need to wake up, Bolin." He gripped Bolin's hand in his own. "Freedom, kid. Think about the freedom."

Liao started to wonder of the merits of dozing off while waiting for him to wake up when Bolin's hand suddenly twitched in his own. The Agni Kai let go of Bolin's hand, leaned forward and tilted his head, scrutinizing the twenty-one-year-old earthbender, who had begun to moan. "Bolin? Are you waking up now?"

After a few minutes of Bolin scrunching up his face and moaning, the kid's eyes finally opened. His green eyes were slightly glazed over and full of confusion.

"L-Liao?" Bolin was clearly disoriented and sounded scared, and Liao felt an unusual twinge in his stomach, much like the one he'd felt when Xin had woken up from his coma. "W-what…h-happened?"

Liao hesitated, but he knew that he had to give Bolin all the facts; otherwise the kid would never let him hear the end of it. "Gainika and Zolt busted you up pretty good, kid," he said bluntly. "Doc had to treat you for a tracheotomy and pulmonary something-or-other. You're fine, though," he quickly stated as Bolin's breathing quickened. "Xin and I…we decided that we're getting you out of here."

"D-did…you h-hit your h-head or somethin'?" Bolin slurred. "A-aren't you g-guys…already g-getting me o-out? In…in a w-week?"

Liao did a double-take before he understood what Bolin was asking him. "Yeah, but we aren't giving you another week, kid. We're getting you out of here now. As in now, now."

Bolin looked as if someone had hit him in the face with something heavy, looking so dumbfounded that Liao almost wanted to laugh. "R-really?" he asked, his eyes lighting up. He tried to push himself onto his elbows, and Liao stifled the urge to push him back down. Bolin looked down at himself. "W-why am I…d-dressed?"

"Spirits, kid, what part of 'right fucking now' don't you understand?" Liao remarked, a bit exasperated with Bolin, even if was still recovering from surgery. "Did you think we'd be leaving after dinner or something?"

"I get that w-we're l-leaving now," Bolin stated in a slightly stronger voice. "I j-just want t-to know who d-dressed me."

"Oh." Liao felt a flush rise up his cheeks. "Su-Bin did—she's one of our meddies. She's distracting Doc and Kimura so we can get you out of here." He put a particular emphasis on 'distracting', and Bolin blushed, understanding exactly what Su-Bin was doing for them. "Ready to get moving?"

"N-never been more r-ready in m-my life," Bolin responded, sounding more awake already. With Liao's help, he managed to push himself into a sitting position. He swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood.

Bolin's body collapsed from under him, and Liao barely managed to catch him before he hit the ground. Bolin grabbed desperately for the edge of the bed, pushing himself back up on wobbly knees. Liao helped him back up, not expecting Bolin to collapse again, his face all scrunched up, in obvious pain.

Oh, dear Spirits, tell me he isn't going to—

In a sudden, violent heave, Bolin vomited.

Of fucking course.

It took every bit of Liao's willpower to not drop Bolin on the floor and yelp in disgust as most of the vomit got on his shirt and shoes. Thick saliva, slimy and discolored from bile, hung in syrupy strands from Bolin's mouth. Swallowing his own disgust, Liao wiped his wrist across Bolin's mouth and rubbed the nauseating mess on his own pants.

"Ugh… Liao," slurred Bolin, "S'ry." He coughed hard, drooling red-tinged saliva onto Liao's shirt.

I do not get paid enough for this; Liao thought darkly to himself as he forced a smile and helped Bolin to his knees again. "It's okay," Liao said somewhat robotically and unconvincingly. Maybe he should've fought harder with Xin about who had to help Bolin get out of bed. "It's okay."

"S'ry," repeated Bolin, clearly upset. "Blood."

"I can see that, kid," Liao replied evenly. "Your throat's probably sore from the tracheotomy and all this puking." As soon as he said the last word, Liao immediately braced himself for another onslaught of vomit, but Bolin didn't throw up anything else onto his shirt. "Come on, buddy." He waited for Bolin's trembling to die down before speaking again. "Think you can stand now, Bolin?"

Still shaking a little, Bolin nodded, a couple of tears trickling down his face. "Uh huh."

Carefully, Liao helped Bolin into a standing position and forced the kid over to the window, which was wide open thanks to Su-Bin. He snuck a glance at the clock and knew there wouldn't be much time left before Doc came back. "Kiddo, hey," Liao said to Bolin, whose head snapped up. "Look, we have to climb out the window, okay? It's on the bottom floor, it's not far of a jump—maybe a couple of feet. I'll go first, then you jump and I'll catch you."

Bolin violently shook his head. "I—I can't j-jump that." He swallowed nervously. "I'm g-gonna kill myself."

"Bolin, think, man." Liao shook his head and climbed onto the windowsill, his legs sticking out the window. He sincerely hoped there were no training sessions outdoors today. "Would I let you fall?"

Bolin hesitated before shaking his head. "No," he whispered. "B-but…"

"You're going to be fine," Liao intoned slowly. "Hey. Trust me, okay, kid?"

"I…" Bolin nodded quickly. The prospect of getting out of here was so sweet that he was willing to jump off of the top of his old apartment building, let alone the bottom floor of this compound. Liao was right. This wasn't that bad. He could totally do this. "Okay."

Liao grinned and jumped out the window, landing on the ground with a thud. "Not bad at all," he called from outside, cupping his hands around his mouth and ignoring the small jolt of pain in his left ankle, knowing it was mild compared to whatever Bolin was going through. "Jump, kiddo, I'll catch you!"

Bolin steeled himself, clenching his fists and pushed himself onto the windowsill. He looked down at Liao, whose arms were open wide. He felt the urge to vomit once more. Oh, Spirits…

He heard footsteps down the hallway, and immediately pushed himself out of the window, free-falling for a split second and then landing in an awkward angle in Liao's arms, causing the Agni Kai to stumble backwards and fall on the ground hard.

Bolin heard Liao swear several times and instantly got off of him. "You—you okay?" he asked, a bit breathless.

"Fuck, kid," Liao said, brushing himself off and standing up, helping Bolin to his feet too. "What have you been eating?"

Bolin scoffed, partially offended even if Liao had meant no harm. "On and off, pretty much nothing for the last two months."

Liao felt like an idiot. "Uh…oh, right, I—kid, I'm…sorry, I just f-forgot and—"

"N-never mind." Bolin shook his head: it wasn't important, and Liao just hadn't thought before he'd spoke. "J-just…let's get the hell out of here."

Bolin slung an arm around the disheveled Agni Kai, who began to take several short steps while Bolin gratefully leaned on him, thankful for the assistance in walking. They made their way across the wide green lawn before turning right and walking all the way down a small hill and into an alley, where several Satomobiles and trucks were parked. Bolin made a mental note to ask Asami whether she knew just who bought all of her products. "W-which one's y-yours?"

Liao rubbed his hand over a black, slightly dusty Satomobile and grinned. "Bolin, meet Keiko. She's my one and only." Bolin snickered as the Agni Kai placed his hand over his heart and pretended to swoon, fanning his face.

"Very n-nice car," Bolin smirked. "Does Xin know your secret one-sided a-affair with Keiko?"

Liao shrugged. "Who said it was secret, kiddo?" he asked, grinning and patted the car a couple of times, raising one eyebrow. He checked his watch, and instantly the smile was gone from his face. "Where the hell is he?" he muttered under his breath, panic arising despite him that maybe Xin had gotten himself hurt or lost or kidnapped or…stop worrying, he commanded himself. Xin was probably fine. I'm definitely overreacting, Liao told himself. No need to make a mountain out of a molehill.

"W-where's Xin?" asked Bolin, looking around as if expecting Xin to jump out of the shadows.

Much to Liao's surprise, he heard footsteps coming towards him and Bolin, and was instantly prepared to yell at his partner for worrying him but stopped himself just before the words reached his mouth. The usual clank of Xin's crutch on the concrete was absent, and there were way more footsteps than usual, unless Xin had suddenly grown two or three extra pairs of legs…

Fuck. His partner was in trouble. Again.

"Xin?" he called hesitantly.

"Not quite," called back another voice, and Bolin's breathing instantly quickened and he took a step closer to Liao involuntarily. Liao's heart thudded to a stop as Gainika stepped into the open, two Recruits at her side: one of whom was holding a heater to his partner's head.

Xin attempted to smile weakly. "H-hey, kid."

Liao swallowed, fighting the urge to vomit. "Chan, Jiktun, you fucking traitors," he growled.

Jiktun at least had the decency to look embarrassed. "She paid better than you, bruddah," the Recruit said almost apologetically.

Liao's heart swelled with pride as Bolin shakily gave both of them the finger. Chan's grip on the heater tightened almost imperceptibly on the heater. Xin's eyes squeezed shut, and Liao wanted to bang his head against something and scream, praying that this was only a bad dream. "You okay, man?" Liao asked Xin.

"Bloody, but unbowed so far."

The Agni Kai fought the urge to laugh at the code quote that the two partners had come up with a while ago. Some physical damage, nothing too serious. Xin was okay, but his future didn't look good. He didn't have to be a psychic to figure that one out, though.

Gainika tilted her head, coolly gazing at Bolin, who was trembling so furiously that the car was almost shaking with him. "Hello, darling," she said, waving to the earthbender, who looked like he would like nothing better than to crawl into a hall and die.

If Liao hadn't been so worried about the safety of his partner, then he would've given Gainika the finger.

"Was there a road trip I wasn't informed about?" Gainika asked, laughing a bit before her gaze turned hard. "Were you two planning a shore leave with this slime?"

"No sir," Xin coughed, and Chan immediately backhanded him across the face with his heater. Instantly, Liao grabbed his own heater, pulling the safety and aiming it at Jiktun.

Chan grunted, cocking back the trigger as his own partner's safety was threatened. "Point that gun away from my partner."

"I will if you will," Liao stated, more serious than he'd ever been in his life.

Chan hesitated, staring at Jiktun, then at Xin, then back at Jiktun once more before staring with pleading eyes at Gainika, who subtly shook her head. Chan's eyes hardened before pressing the muzzle of the gun against Xin's throat. "Shut the fuck up and stand down," Chan ordered Liao. "Otherwise your partner might not be so handsome anymore."

Liao froze, the full possibility of the threat finally hitting him.

Xin could be dead—flat out dead—in less than a second if he didn't comply.

Xin swallowed, the heater's muzzle actually moving against his skin with the motion.

At that moment, the two partners locked eyes with one another, an unspoken fear etched clearly in both of their eyes. Liao gulped, feeling hot tears shoot to his eyes instantly.

He did not want to lose Xin. That had never been an option.

Never.

Although he wanted nothing more than to just shoot Jiktun for being such a traitor and to give Chan a taste of his own medicine, he knew that doing so would immediately result in Xin's death.

Liao lowered the heater reluctantly, and Chan gave him the smallest of nods—and was that relief in his eyes?—before pulling the heater away from Xin's throat slightly. He wanted to mouth his thanks to his fellow Recruit, but instead turned to Gainika, who was speaking to him and Bolin again.

"… and just what do you think you're doing, Recruit Liao?" asked Gainika quite casually, like she was asking him what he'd had for breakfast that morning.

Liao stiffened, because he thought it was pretty damn obvious what he was trying to do, and how could he concentrate on the question when his partner's life was still at stake? But the safest thing to do by now was to answer the question, no matter how obvious, and he did. "I'm getting Bolin out," he said boldly. "He doesn't deserve this, Section—Gainika," he corrected himself. "He doesn't deserve this," Liao repeated. "No one does. And I'm sick of watching you beat him to an inch of his life in exchange for something the Triads are never going to get. Avatar Korra made it clear she won't give them their bending back, right Bolin?"

Bolin weakly nodded, wondering where Liao had the strength to say all of that. He was barely managing to stay upright at this point.

"Besides," continued Liao, feeling like he was on a roll, "I think that you guys are pretty damn able to fight and kill using your bending."

"Are we now?" Gainika asked casually. Bolin wanted to strangle her with his bare hands, but kept leaning heavily on Liao. "Give me an example, Recruit."

"Oh, I don't know." Liao paused. "That Satoshi kid?" Bolin felt a twinge of pain deep in his body at hearing his deceased friend's name. "Why did you have to put him down? Huh?"

Bolin had to speak up. "Because she's...an insane, degenerate..." he licked his lips, "piece of filth...and she deserves...to rot in hell...forever."

Gainika raised one eyebrow. "Is that all?" Without waiting for an answer from Liao, she pressed on. "How long have you and Senior Recruit Xin been partners?"

Shit. Changing the subject like that was never a good sign. Liao proceeded carefully. "Nearly two and a half years." He kept his statement short and to the point, yet cautious at the same time.

"Nearly two and a half years," Gainika repeated in a tone of polite, but false, incredulity. "Well. Not very many partnerships last that long. Senior Recruit Chan, how long have you and Recruit Jiktun been partners?"

"A year, ma'am," grumbled Chan, his voice reminding Liao of an avalanche. Liao knew that Chan also had no clue what Gainika was on about.

"Almost three years of partnership," mused Gainika, tapping her finger against her chin. "It'd be a pity if such a long, brotherly relationship were to be severed just like that." She snapped her fingers. "Just by one, simple mistake that could easily be eradicated."

Liao felt Bolin stiffen beside him as the implication of what she was saying crashed down onto both of them.

"Hand over that street scum," Gainika said, and damn it all to hell, she even sounded understanding. She even sounded nice as she ordered Liao to hand Bolin over to a psychopathic murderer. "If you hand over that piece of ostrich-horse shit, I'll let your partner go. You both can live. I'll even forget this minor infraction, if you just give Bolin to me."

"Don't you dare, kid," Xin suddenly barked, thrashing in Chan's rock-solid grip so badly that Chan actually took a step back. "Damn it, if you let this kid die, Liao, I will fucking kill you myself."

"But I can't—" Liao wanted to scream, rip out his hair, to be in a bar so drunk he couldn't tell which way was up or down, just so long that he wasn't here. "Spirits, Xin, I—I can't, I just c-can't let you die!" His voice trailed off hideously, and tears shot to his eyes again. He turned to Gainika, almost begging. "Please, G—Section Leader, please don't make me choose…"

"Oh, I'm afraid you have to," she replied, this time sounding a bit sad.

"Why are you making me choose?" he asked, trying to prolong his decision, anything to keep Gainika talking.

"Because I can," she answered with a small smile. And that smile, that evil, sadistic smile was what scared him more than anything else. "Will you choose, or will you have the choice made for you, Recruit Liao?" Gainika jerked her chin sharply at Chan, who pulled the trigger back and shot Xin in the knee, and Liao watched, transfixed by his horror, as a semi-circle of red blossomed through his partner's pant leg.

"No!" Liao shouted. He felt like he wanted to throw up as his partner remained standing, a pained grimace on his ashen face.

"Interesting," Gainika taunted darkly. She then gestured for Jiktun to step forward. "The street scum, then?"

"Fuck you!" Liao screamed, his hands clenching into fists as he took a step in front of Bolin. "No. No, no, damn you, no!"

"Me!" Xin shouted abruptly, instantly fixating the attention of everyone on him. "He chooses me." Xin swallowed hard, and although Liao could see that his partner was scared out of his mind, his voice was calm. "Leave Bolin alone."

Gainika's gaze swung back to Liao, who was by now shaking even harder than Bolin. "Do you choose him?" she demanded.

Liao stared at his partner, a horrible grief weighing down his body. Please, he tried to convey to Xin with his eyes. No. Don't do this to me, Xin. Please, damnit, don't make me choose. I can't.

Xin inhaled sharply through his nose and exhaled through his mouth, steeling himself. "Yes, he does," he told Gainika firmly.

No, I don't, Liao thought desperately. How could he? But how could he choose Bolin, whose life in the compound had been so miserable? How could he let down Asami? He could see her face crumpling, along with Midori's, if he told them that he had saved Xin only to let Bolin die a horrible death.

But could he sacrifice his partner, a man he thought of as his brother, only to let the twenty-one-year-old earthbender survive?

I can't. Please.

Xin's gaze stated that he had to.

"Then they both die," Gainika declared, turning to Chan and Jiktun as Liao's silence lengthened.

Liao furiously shook his head, unashamed of the tears trickling down his face. He swiped his eyes on his sleeve. Why was he forced to make such a horrible decision? To choose between Xin, his partner, or Bolin, his prisoner?

"If you don't choose, then they both die," Gainika repeated in a softer, more blasé voice that showed she didn't give a shit who he chose as long as she got to perform an execution today.

"N-no…" Liao pleaded. He locked eyes with Xin, begging for forgiveness as he forced out a trembling whisper. "I…I c-choose…I choose Xin."

"It is as you wish," Gainika said simply. Her hand flickered to her pocket.

Then all hell broke loose as Gainika shot Xin right between the eyes, killing him before he even hit the ground.

Liao screamed, "NO!" at the top of his lungs before firing a shot into Jiktun's abdomen, and the Agni Kai collapsed onto the ground in a dead faint. Chan dropped Xin's body onto the ground with a thud, rushing to his own partner.

"Xin!" Liao howled, rushing to his partner and gripped his body, not willing to let him go. He hoped that perhaps the Spirits would bring back his partner, his best friend, his brother. Why, Liao thought to himself in agony. Damnit, why? Why Xin? "…I'm so sorry. Oh, Spirits, oh my Spirits…Xin!"

He was so caught up in his torrent of misery that he didn't notice Gainika taking a step towards Bolin, her heater pointing directly at his heart. "I told you that you bring hell to everyone you meet, darling," she purred, pulling back the safety. "And now you'll join them."

Liao's head shot up as he cocked his hand back and threw the biggest fireball he'd ever created outside of training sessions at his Section Leader, who barely managed to duck it before it hit another car, and the car exploded, sending shards of metal all over the small alleyway.

In the confusion, Liao forced himself away from Xin's body and shoved Bolin into the passenger seat of his car, racing around the back and jumped into the driver's seat, gunning the gas pedal and raced away from the compound, tires screeching against the asphalt as they flew up the hill.

Liao heard Gainika screech and the slam of another car door before he saw in his rearview mirror another Satomobile approaching behind his own.

"Get my heater," he ordered Bolin, who looked queasy as Liao made a sharp right turn and flew down the interstate, Gainika on his heels and currently trying to shoot at his tires. "Bolin, get my goddamn heater! It's in the glove compartment."

Bolin looked at him, tears streaming down his face. "I'm sorry," he gasped. "I'm sorry, damnit; I am so fucking sorry…"

"Never mind that!" barked Liao. "Bolin, get my fucking, goddamn heater!"

Bolin grabbed Liao's backup heater out of the glove compartment and made to give it to Liao, who shook his head frantically. "Bolin, shoot at their tires!" he commanded, rolling down Bolin's window automatically before flooring the gas again and taking the next exit, weaving in and out of cars while Bolin attempted to shoot Gainika's tires.

"Liao…" Bolin moaned, "I think I'm gonna be sick!"

"Puke out the window," were the Agni Kai's terse, bitter words as other cars honked and the drivers made obscene gestures at him. Bolin complied, and the obscene gestures of the drivers changed to cries of disgust.

Liao kept driving, and even though Bolin kept trying to hit Gainika's tires, the heater eventually ran out of bullets. "I'm out!" Bolin shouted.

"I'm out in my other one too," Liao snapped, cursing in every language he knew. "Fuck, shit, fuck…"

"But…but how did you shoot Jiktun?" Bolin wanted to hit himself instantly as Liao's body tensed and his breathing quickened at the mention of a gunshot. The earthbender knew that Liao was thinking about Xin, and immediately shut up.

The Satomobile flew down the mercifully empty highway as a sign that proclaimed 'Welcome to the Fabulous Ba Sing Se, United Republic' flashed about two miles away. Suddenly, the two heard a shrill pop and the remaining tires screeched against the concrete, trying to compensate for the loss of two others.

Liao stomped on the brake, and the two men crashed into the dashboard, out of breath and bleeding slightly, but the car kept moving forward.

The brake was out, Liao realized. Oh, shit.

He bore down on the pedal hard enough to make a hole in the floor of the car but the car careened back and forth down the highway. Liao steered right, trying to parallel park, but his load overbalanced and the car collapsed on its side with a twisting, metal-shrieking roll.

(*) (*)

Bolin's world was fuzzy as he once more entered the realm of consciousness. He tried to speak, but a gag stuffed in his mouth prevented it. W-where am I? He swore inwardly. What the hell is going on here? He blinked several times and tried to stand, only to find himself unable to move without being overwhelmed by nausea. His heart began hammering frantically in his chest and he fought the urge to vomit.

Snap out of it, he ordered himself desperately. Think. Focus. Inhale, exhale. He ripped the gag out of his mouth, rubbing the feeling back into his jaw.

Had he been recovering from a torture session with Zolt or Gainika? Had one of them knocked him unconscious? No, that wouldn't explain the gag that had been in his mouth—they liked him screaming when they tortured him.

What was going on? Why couldn't he remember?

Calm down, Bolin told himself sternly. Maybe Xin or Liao can explain this to you… As sudden as a bolt of lightning, the sound of gunshots and screeching tires assaulted his ears along with the horrible image of Xin's head snapping back and Liao screaming.

Oh my Spirits. Bolin fought to hyperventilate.

Xin was dead.

Bolin swore, screaming bloody murder until his voice was hoarse. "No, no, no, goddamnit," he mewled, trying not to sob. Xin was dead. The brave Agni Kai who had recovered from a coma, taken care of Midori, who had been Liao's partner and best friend, was dead.

Dead because of him.

Bolin cried, burying his face in his knees, trying to get a good image of Xin, trying to remember him…but all that came up was the fuzzy memory of Xin asking him if he had any chest pain.

Even the last memory he had of the bruised Agni Kai Recruit involved Xin taking care of him.

He banged his head against the wall, ignoring the dull pain as tears poured down his face. Ash…Xin… he thought, I'm sorry. I am so unbelievably sorry. I'm a monster. I'm so sorry…

Suddenly, the door of his cell opened, and he half-expected to see Liao enter it with a goofy grin and news from Republic City, but was bitterly disappointed by the entrance of Gainika and Lightning Bolt Zolt, along with a plethora of Recruits and Initiates.

"Murderer," Bolin spat at Gainika, ashamed at how hoarse his voice sounded.

She merely cocked an eyebrow. "Hello to you too, Bolin."

Bolin gave her the finger.

"Oh, honey," she sighed mockingly. "You really thought you could escape? Tsk, tsk." She clucked her tongue and stroked Bolin's cheek. Gainika brought her hand down in a flash, leaving four long scratches on his cheek, one of them oozing blood. "You're sadly mistaken," she informed him. "There is no escape. No lawyers, no phone calls. You're stuck here until your warranty expires, and you expire with your warranty. Am I understood?"

Bolin nodded, dumbfounded. "Fuck you," he muttered under his breath, expecting a punch or a kick but didn't receive one. Relieved, he looked up. "What're you doing here, you fucking butcher?"

Gainika didn't bat an eyelash at the insult. "We're here to perform an execution."

Instead of feeling any fear whatsoever, Bolin felt the smallest hint of relief. No more torture. They were finally going to kill him. He could go on to the Spirit World, and apologize personally for Ash and Xin's deaths. He could see his parents again. "About fucking time," he finally managed to get out once the shock wore out.

That shut Gainika and Zolt up.

"Where's Liao?" Bolin asked, because he had to know. His one last request before his execution.

Gainika fixed Bolin with a cold smile, evidently gaining use of her speech once more. "Who?"

Bolin's heart froze in his chest. "L-Liao? Recruit Liao? You murdered his partner?" His breathing was getting faster, and he tried to stand again, only to fall to his knees. "W-where is he?"

"Liao?" Gainika tapped her chin mockingly. "Hmmm…ah. Yes. I do remember him!" She paused. "We found no more use of him, so we disposed of him. Just like we're going to dispose of you, darling." When Zolt spat at him, the last remnant of his self-control vanished, and Bolin's foot crashed into Zolt's ribcage.

"That's for Ash!" he yelled, kneeing him in the groin and thoroughly enjoying Zolt collapsing to his knees, looking woozy. "And that's for Liao and Xin, you fucking son of a bitch!" His words were abruptly cut off by Gainika holding a gun to his head.

"There are certain people in this world that are completely and utterly expendable, Bolin," she rattled off like she was preaching a sermon. "All relationships like that, while good in their merits, must eventually be eradicated, and I suppose it is the proper time to say our farewells."

Bolin didn't shut his eyes; instead looking directly into Gainika's eyes. He didn't want to die like a coward, he would die with as much dignity as he could muster. This is it.

As her finger moved toward the trigger, her gaze flickered to Zolt, and faster than anyone could blink, she fired a shot into his gut.

Bolin, the Recruits, and the Initiates were too shocked to speak or move as Gainika sauntered to a stunned Lightning Bolt Zolt's side.

"Goodbye, honey," she purred, and fired another round into the spot directly over his heart.

Bolin's jaw clattered to the floor, along with the other Initiates and Recruits. Did that really just happen, or am I hallucinating?

Gainika grinned confidently at the men in the cell, focusing particularly on Zolt's Initiates. "You men didn't sign on to follow me, so I suppose you have a rather hasty decision to make. The door is wide open if you would like to leave."

Zolt's Initiates weren't idiots, and one of them summed up everyone's thoughts. "No," he said immediately. "We signed a treaty for revenge, not for our loyalty to Lightning Bolt Zolt."

"Excellent," she said sweetly. "Get this piece of shit into another cell—no food or water. Tomorrow night, we broadcast his death all over the radio. If this doesn't make Avatar Korra give us our bending back, then we wage war on Republic City until the Council is on their hands and knees begging the Avatar to give us our bending back." She paused. "Who's with me?"

Every Recruit and Initiate slowly raised their hands.

"Great," she grinned before her voice hardened. "I'm going to assemble my Recruits. Back to your quarters, and somebody had better clean up that mess before his execution tomorrow."

She swept from the room, humming an unrecognizable tune to herself, the Recruits and Initiates on her heels. The last one out shot him a leer and kicked him in the gut before exiting and slamming the door shut behind him.

Bolin lay on the cold, hard ground, the wind knocked out of him, and stared at the ceiling, clenching the scraps of his shirt tightly while fighting the urge to scream. "Damnit!" he yelled, his voice echoing. "Spirits, damn it, damn it…why, why does this always happen to me?! Why does this keep happening to me?" he screamed. "What did I ever do wrong?!"

He punched the wall of his cell, not caring how much pain flared in his wrist at the contact. "Fuck!" he shouted, cocking back his arm before punching the ground as hard as he could.

But this time, instead of his wrist and hand hurting beyond compare, his clenched fist went through the metal.

Bolin almost screamed out loud.

Slowly, he jerked his hand out of the floor, and examined it closely. Aside from the bruises and scratches that his hand had had for what seemed like forever, it was fine. As was the floor.

What the fuck?

He carefully stuck his hand into the floor again, amazed when his hand went through and came back out, unscathed.

Holy shit, he realized; his heartbeat quickening.

Holy shit.

He could metal-bend.

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