3: Matchbox Blues and Spies
Two Years Previously
After an exhausting long day brought on by two lectures from his professor about misbehaving and an impromptu game of Pai Sho with his college buddies, Vanek and Tukka, that lasted for almost an hour, causing them to miss a class, Bolin drove home in the Satomobile that Asami had given him for his eighteenth birthday. His backpack, which was filled to the brim with books, crumpled paper, food wrappers and inkless pens, was carelessly tossed in the backseat. He sang along to a song on the radio that was blasting at full volume. "Hotter than hot, newer than new, meaner than mean, bluer than blue, gets as much applause as waving the flag!" sang Bolin even after the car had been parked outside the apartment complex. "Hey, Kaito," he nodded at the doorman, shimmying to the catchy tune. "What's happening?"
"Not much, Mr. Tanahi," Kaito said in amusement. "Still singing that song?"
"Why wouldn't I be? It's a great song," exclaimed Bolin. "Come on, man." He prodded Kaito. "Come on, you know you wanna…"
"Can't on the job, Bolin," Kaito laughed.
"I won't tell Vahni," Bolin joked. "You'll be fine."
"I would, if it might actually get a reaction out of that broad," cracked Kaito. "How does it go again?"
Bolin hummed the tune to himself before starting to sing once more. "You can pass many a class, whether you're dumb or wise, if you'll all answer the call, when your professor cries—"
"Everybody down on the heels, up on the toes, stay after school and learn how it goes, everybody do the varsity drag!" echoed Kaito, dancing with his friend around the doorway to the apartment complex while passerby stared on. Bolin cracked up. "I gotta go do my homework, Kaito, more to come?"
"Yeah, next time Vahni picks the song," Kaito joked, opening the door for Bolin.
"I heard my name," called Vahni from the front desk where she was assisting a few people that Bolin recognized as his neighbors a few floors down. "Why am I singing?"
"Don't ask, Vahni," Bolin said, dropping a couple of yuans into a tip jar on Vahni's desk. "Here you go, buy yourself something pretty."
Vahni blew her heavy black bangs out of her face and rolled her eyes, the faintest blush creeping up her cheeks as she looked at Kaito and Bolin still dancing in the lobby to the tune of that song. "Stop doing that."
"Doing what?" asked Bolin innocently, grabbing one of his neighbors and twirling her around to giggles from the entire lobby.
"Stop dancing already!" said Vahni, laughing at their antics. Kaito froze in a comical position, his hands stuck in the air and his legs spread slightly apart. "Knock it off, Kaito, and get back to work."
Kaito unfroze, mockingly saluted Vahni, and returned outside. Bolin released his dance partner with a flirtatious wink and goofy grin before waving to Vahni and heading towards the elevator. "Bolin, your friend and that little girl—"
"Asami and Midori," corrected Bolin as the elevator creaked open and Asa Kimura was revealed through the opening.
"Yes, them. They came by again today, they said that they're going to visit this weekend in honor of your graduation coming up soon." Bolin nodded. He'd almost forgotten that his graduation had been coming up, what with school and his job at the local bar and his weekly meetings with Asami and Midori taking up most of his mind. He'd gotten an excellent job opportunity through his hard work with the top psychiatrists in the Earth Kingdom. He didn't particularly like psychology, and wondered half of the time why Asami had gotten him to assign it as his major in the first place. Then again, she probably uses whatever she learns from my homework to deal with Mako and Korra, reasoned Bolin as he thanked Vahni, got into the elevator and was soon at his apartment. Before collapsing on the couch, he turned on the radio, where a new song was playing. "Oh, that's why I wonder, will a matchbox hold my clothes? Hey, sometimes I wonder, darling, will a matchbox hold my clothes? You know I haven't got so many…But I got so far to go, yeah…"
Lying down, Bolin closed his eyes, allowing memories of when Asami had first brought Midori to come and visit him for the first time, almost two years ago. It had been almost two months since he'd moved into this apartment…
/Asami flew up to Bolin, wrapping him up in a hug. "Hey, Bo!" she exclaimed, brushing her long black hair out of her eyes. "Great to see you!"
Bolin found himself grinning wider as he hugged his friend tightly. "It's awesome to see you too, 'Sami," he grinned, pulling away. "So how's Republic City?" he invited her to come inside his apartment, but she declined to come in and instead stood.
"Well," she hesitated. "Chief Beifong named a fund for police officers after you. The BCF, Bolin Courage Fund, or something like that."
"Sounds cool," Bolin allowed, leaning against the doorframe. "Nice of her to do that."
"Mako and Korra…" Asami faltered. "Uh, I heard that they're on vacation together in the Ember Island. Um, yeah. They haven't really mentioned you. They haven't even come to visit your grave."
Bolin tried desperately to keep the smile on his face. Don't be stupid about this, Bo, he ordered himself. Come on. It's exactly what you expected. It's even the reason why you got away from him in the first place."Doesn't surprise me," he managed.
"I brought Midori," Asami offered.
Bolin perked up. "Really?" he asked, trying not to act overly excited. "How is she?"
"She's good, living with me now," Asami said. "I even started petitioning for an adoption order."
"Great!" Bolin was genuinely happy for them. He was glad that Asami was helping Midori out. "So—"
"Midori," Asami called down the hallway. "Come here, don't be shy, honey." Eventually, the young curly brown-haired teenager stepped forward. She wore a brand-new blue dress and new shoes and her hair was freshly washed. Her head was ducked forward.
"Hey, babe," Bolin said gently. "What's up?"
"You're real," Midori mumbled, looking up at him with tears streaming down her face. "I thought—I thought that maybe—"
"No, honey," Bolin soothed, "I'm here, I'm right here." He opened his arms. Needing no further invitation, Midori leaped into them, sobbing her eyes out while Bolin wrapped her in a never-ending hug. "I'm alive, I promise."
"Why'd you make Asami say that you were dead, then?" asked Midori, sniffling.
Bolin sighed, wishing once more his life wasn't so complicated. "Well, it has to do with Mako. I couldn't stand him being an as—mean to me anymore, so I botched the police job on purpose, and Asami bribed the doctors to show Mako and Korra that I was dead. So now I'm here." He punctuated his last statement by gesturing around him apartment.
"Oh." Midori sniffed. "I thought maybe that you didn't want to see me or Asami anymore."
Bolin's blood ran cold. "No, Midori, that's not it at all."
Midori wiped her tears away and Asami took a deep breath. "So, Bo!" she stated in an obvious attempt to change the subject. "Are you gonna invite us in or what?"
Gazing at a now smiling Midori and his best friend, Bolin smiled. Now this was a family. "I thought you'd never ask."/
Bolin sat up and began to make some dinner, the radio still playing the song, and Bolin began to hum along, understanding the melody now and wishing he had an erhu or something to accentuate the mood. Sweet spices began to drift in the air as he sang along. "If you gotta good woman, you better pin'er up to your side—"
"If you gotta good lady, fellow, you better pin'er up to your side," said someone from the doorway. Bolin whirled around, almost burning his hand on the stove as he stared at the woman in the doorframe. She had long, black hair, almost like Asami's, her eyes were a warm brown, and as he watched her smile Bolin saw the faintest shadow of a dimple on her left cheek. "Matchbox Blues, right?" she asked playfully. "I love that song."
Bolin stared dumbly at her. "Uh, yeah."
"Oh, sorry," she grinned, "I'm such an idiot. My name's Gainika. I just moved in across the hall yesterday."
"I'm Bolin Tanahi," he said, sticking out his hand. "Interesting name." He felt like an idiot. What kind of a thing was that to say?
She laughed nevertheless. "So I've heard…I've never heard the name 'Bolin' either. Sounds kind of Fire Nation-ish to me."
"My mom was from the Fire Nation, and my dad was from the Earth Kingdom," Bolin said immediately. "They both agreed on my name."
"Cool." They both stood in silence for a little while before Bolin spoke again. "Listen, I'm just starting to make dinner, would you happen to like some?"
"I'd love to," Gainika said happily, but then frowned. "Oh, wait. I'm sorry, I can't, Bolin. I have to meet my cousins for dinner tonight. But maybe some other time?"
"Yeah, definitely," Bolin exclaimed before backing up a little. "I mean, um, that'd be great," he said lamely.
Gainika grinned once more. "It was great meeting you, Bolin. See you around?"
"For sure." Bolin waved as Gainika left his apartment, his heart feeling strangely lighter than it had since the last time Midori and Asami had visited. Maybe this could be the start of something new, Bolin mused as he continued chopping up vegetables for his soup. I'd definitely like the chance to get to know that broad later on…
After he'd done all of his homework (yet another regret of college, really, why hadn't Asami just given him a job? Psychology homework was absolute torture…) and eating his dinner, he'd found himself in bed, staring up at the ceiling before falling asleep for the night.
Meanwhile, outside Bolin's apartment building stood a tall man with dark hair and a black suit. Underneath the dark glasses he was wearing, he pulled out a walkie-talkie and cursed, fiddling with the dial until he got a connection. "It's me, Liao," he muttered. "I've spotted him. Our inside contact said he lives on the fifth floor." A pause. "We'll get him when Section Leader damn well says that we can, kid!" The stranger laughed. "And when we do, that son of a bitch is going to pay. Nobody messes with us and gets away with it…"