5: The Jig is Up
Mako was speechless. He was absolutely frozen to the floor. Asami's previous statement about Bolin had almost sent him into a catatonic state. His tongue had turned gelatinous. It had been four years since his baby brother had died, and every minute since his pseudo-suicide attempt had been horrible. Every day, he'd had to force himself to get out of bed and not make another suicide attempt.
But then Korra had helped him. Korra had helped him get through his depression, through his pain. Asami had simply isolated herself from him, adopting that street orphan Midori who Bolin had used to help all the time and making strange visits to Ba Sing Se every week. Her gas bills had gone absolutely through the roof. He'd pretty much stayed away from her too, and had just been with Korra.
So now, when Asami burst into his house in the middle of the night talking about Bolin for the first time in years, he was speechless. "Asami, what're you on about? Bolin's dead," he enunciated. Maybe the stress of work and taking care of Midori had finally gotten to her.
Asami just shook her head. Her shoulders were shaking, and she kept shaking her head and clutching a small piece of paper in her right hand. "No, Mako," she said quietly. "He's not."
"Asami—" He approached her and put his hand on her shaking shoulder. "Maybe you need to take a break for a little while if the stress—"
She wrenched her shoulder out of his grip and looked infuriated. Emotion poured back into her eyes and she stood up straight, crossing her arms across her chest. "I'm not crazy!" she shouted.
"Did I say you were?" Mako asked, even though he had.
"Yes, you did! You were insinuating it and—" she took a deep breath. "Never mind. I don't have time for this, Bolin doesn't have time for this!"
"Asami," Mako said, forcing his ex-girlfriend to sit down. "Bolin is dead. He's been dead for four years, and you know it. You arranged his funeral. Remember?"
"Yes, I arranged his funeral," Asami said, fighting to stay calm and barely refraining from shouting. "But I promise you, Mako, Bolin is alive."
Mako snapped. "Get out of my house!" He stood up from where he'd been sitting next to her. "That's it, Asami, get out of my fucking house right now!"
"I'm not lying to you, Mako!" yelled Asami, pushing him back onto the couch. "I'm not lying and I can prove it, you selfish bastard!"
"Fine, I'll bite," Mako scoffed. "How is my brother, whose funeral I fucking spoke at, alive?"
Asami spoke fast, furiously, and her words dripped with thinly veiled contempt. "Because I saw him just two weeks ago. Because he is enrolled in a community college in Ba Sing Se as a psychology major, and Ienrolled him there! Because when he was in the hospital, I paid Doctor Kono and all the other surgeons to tell you, Korra, and anyone who asked that he was as dead as a fucking doornail, Mako! Those weekly trips Midori and I make to Ba Sing Se? We go to see your dead brother, Bolin." Asami was starting to calm down. "Bolin and I made an agreement that if he ever got hurt and had to go to the hospital, I'd pay the doctors to say that he was dead, and I'd get him out of the city."
Mako's tongue was numb in his mouth. "May I ask why?" he finally asked.
Asami hesitated. "I don't know."
"Bullshit," Mako seethed. "That's complete bullshit and you know it, Asami."
"What do you fucking want from me, Mako?!" she said, getting aggravated once more. "Shall I begin with the fact that because your stubborn-as-a-mule girlfriend wouldn't give the Triads and Agni Kai's their bending back, they used your brother as their literal punching bag? How about the fact that you took the job that Bolin had rightfully deserved? Or, wait," she laughed sardonically, "how about the fact that you were never there for him? Don't even try to deny it, Mako," she said once he opened his mouth to protest. "You know that you were never there for him."
"I—" he spluttered, cheeks turning bright red. "I—I…Asami. Is he really alive?" A shriveled-up ball of hope grew bigger and bigger in his stomach. "Honestly?"
"You can ask Midori if you don't believe me," Asami said firmly. "She'll tell you everything. Do you think she'd try to lie to you?"
Mako considered. Midori Sato, the now sixteen-year-old curly-haired orphan who was timid and shy and always honest, no matter what. No, Mako thought, she wasn't the type of person who seemed like a liar, let alone someone who would lie about something like this. And neither was Asami, he realized, taking a closer look at his ex-girlfriend: her eyes were bloodshot, her shoulders were shaking, but she looked resolute. "You're not lying," he said slowly, his voice cracking and tears coming to his eyes. "He's alive?"
Asami nodded, tears pooling in her eyes and she ducked her head to avoid his gaze. "Yes."
"Oh my Spirits!" He collapsed on the couch, burying his face in his hands, feeling as if he had been reborn. "Spirits…he's alive. My baby brother…he's alive, he's alive…" Suddenly, something clicked, and a bit of the happiness drained away. "Wait," he said slowly, "wait. Asami. You said…you said that he didn't want to talk to me, and that's why he faked his death, right?"
Asami nodded her confirmation.
"So…then why would he want to talk to me now?" he asked.
"Because…" she hesitated. "He's in trouble. Like I said, he left me a note, Mako." She gave him the crumpled up note, and as he read it, he recognized his younger brother's handwriting, bringing another confirmation of Bolin's well-being. "Is this…blood?" he asked, fingering the large splotch of blood that covered a part of the piece of paper.
Asami's mask cracked as a single tear tracked its way down her cheek. "I think so," she murmured. Mako almost saw red at the thought that someone had hurt Bolin, then reset himself. Having the big-brother instincts once more after almost half a decade was going to take some getting used to.
"Okay," he said evenly, "okay. Asami, I'll call Beifong and—"
"No!" Asami exploded. "You can't get the cops involved. You can't!" She breathed heavily. "You read the note, Mako, if you get the police involved, they're going to do something horrible to him—to your brother. Do you want that on your conscious?"
Mako bit back a foul expletive. These people, these fuckers who'd messed with his little brother were good, as much as it pained him to say it. Shit. "Can I involve Korra?" he asked Asami, who sniffed.
"I guess, as long as she doesn't involve the cops," she said softly.
"Okay," he repeated. "Then let's figure this out. And when I find the fucker who did this to my brother, I'm going to rip him limb from limb."
"I was thinking more along the lines of feeding him to a bunch of rabid boar-q-pines, but your idea works too," Asami cracked, a faint smile on the corner of her face. She had a team. Spirits. Mako was going to help her get Bolin back, and perhaps Korra would too. They were going to get Bolin back. Don't worry, Bo, she thought, smiling at her ex for the first time in years, help is on the way.
One Week and Three Days Previously
"Get up!" Bolin was kicked in gut, causing his eyes to open immediately and for him to vomit onto the floor the meager remains of whatever filth they had fed him last night…or was it two days ago? "Get up already!" barked one guard, whose name Bolin knew was Wanryoku.
His partner-in-crime, Nǎo, stood behind him, twirling a set of handcuffs. "The Boss wants to see you," sneered Nǎo, unlocking Bolin from the wall and jerking him to his feet before handcuffing him once more.
Bolin, through his broken nose that he had acquired through a beating yesterday, belligerently inquired, "So I finally get a meeting with the big cheese?"
Wanryoku not-so-discreetly shoved Bolin into another room, this one about the size of a master bathroom whose only furniture was a mahogany table and two chairs, but Bolin didn't care. He was out of his cell, and that was all that mattered. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, gazing at the wooden floor.
"Yes," stated a silky voice from the shadows, "you do indeed."
Bolin's head snapped up. "Zolt! Lightning Bolt Zolt?"
"I don't go much by "Lightning Bolt" anymore, kid," said the gruff voice of the man who'd rescued him and Mako from the harshness of the streets in return for joining the Triads. It was one of those irritating ironies that could really kick you in the ass, Bolin thought. "Just Zolt."
"Okay, Zolt," Bolin said, pangs of nervousness starting to blossom within him. "Where's Viper?" he asked, looking for the leader of the Triads.
Zolt sneered, showing stained and broken teeth. "Where do you think, pal?"
Bolin didn't press. "Got it. What do you want?" He cringed, expecting a blow, but Zolt only laughed, stepping forward.
"We need your ransom note, punk," Zolt chuckled. Bolin studied the man. His hair had more streaks of grey in it than he'd remembered, and his normally burly frame was lighter, like he'd lost a lot of weight. His flashing amber eyes, almost the same shade as Mako's, were duller, but Bolin could see rage within them. Pure, unadulterated rage.
"R-ransom note?" Bolin gulped.
"Well, if that pretty little broad of yours comes looking for you, we need to tell her where you are, don't we?" Zolt asked with the air of someone explaining how one and one made two. "Her and the street rat…they'll be mighty fine to roll around with."
"You son of a bitch." Bolin moved forward to strangle Zolt, but was held back by Wanryoku and Nǎo, their meaty hands gripping his shoulders tight enough to cut off circulation. "Don't talk about them like that," Bolin growled.
"Easy there, tigerdillo," Zolt mocked, pushing Bolin a piece of paper and a pencil. "Write the note, Bolin, or else I won't hesitate to go after them…and your other friends." Vahni. Kaito. Vanek. Tukka. Akari and Madoka. No.
Bolin sat down immediately, picked up the pencil, and began writing as awkwardly as he could with the handcuffs on, the cronies flanking him from both sides. He tried to be as discreet as possible: Tell the others meaning "get Mako and Korra involved", take care of Pabu for me meaning "look out for Midori". She couldn't get the police involved. But most importantly, he had to tell his friend how much he appreciated her and that he loved her.
Signing it, he gave it to Zolt, who looked over it with a nod. "Your handwriting's improved," Zolt remarked, and Bolin barely refrained from rolling his eyes. "Just one more thing."
Bolin looked up in surprise. Zolt pulled out a knife with a shiny blade that reflected the light from the lanterns in the corners. He understood immediately and stood up, trying to leave, only to be held in place by the cronies.
"Now don't worry, Bolin," crooned Zolt, "this won't hurt a bit." In one fluid motion, Zolt sliced the knife down Bolin's forearm while Bolin howled in pain. The cronies laughed dumbly. Bolin's blood splattered the ransom note, and Zolt leered, sheathing the knife.
"This is great," Zolt said to himself, "I should've done this a long time ago."