6: A New Type of Torture
Bolin lay in the corner of his tiny cell, ribs aching from the previous beating he had received just a short time ago. His right eye was almost swollen shut, and it really hurt to blink, leading Bolin to think that they might've cut his eye. His shirt was soaked with sweat, and had pretty much fallen to rags over the last two weeks or so. Bolin didn't dare ask for new clothing, though—considering the need for actual food and water, clothes were barely a necessity.
Bolin recalled when Vanek had hurt himself falling down the stairs a couple of years ago, and how he and Tukka had practically dragged him to the hospital. Akari, who had been a trainee nurse in her second year of medical school back then, had helped Vanek recover with steady tips on what to do if the pain ever hit. She'd calmed him down when they set his broken leg, and had entertained him whenever Bolin and Tukka had to go back to school.
One month after Vanek had been discharged, the two had gotten together.
That's love, alright, Bolin thought groggily, burying his face in his knees as his hands were handcuffed behind him. Kinda like what I had with Gainika. Or what I thought I had, he corrected himself. The traitorous bitch…
Suddenly, the door was thrown open, and two Agni Kais waltzed into his cell, holding between them a squirming teenager who was barely seventeen. Bolin's heart ached for the kid. Behind the Agni Kais strolled the "traitorous bitch" herself. Her long, raven-colored hair swished in rhythm with her pace, and her brown eyes lit up at the sight of him. Stop thinking about her appearance, you idiot. She's not your girlfriend. "Hello, Bolin."
"Well," Bolin croaked, absolutely hating the sound of his voice: it was cracked and broken, like he'd been screaming for hours…which he had, he reasoned. Being beaten to within an inch of your life definitely caused you to scream, he thought in agony. "Welcome, everyone. Can I offer you a beverage?"
Gainika ignored his sarcasm. "We've brought someone to keep you company, Bolin." She spoke his name like it was the most foul thing she'd ever heard. Her nose wrinkled in disgust as she pushed the kid down onto the floor with a thud. "Honey, say hello to your new playmate. I'll leave you two to get acquainted with one another." Gainika's trained monkeys followed her out the door, making sure to tread on Bolin's toes on the way out.
Ignoring the slam of the door, Bolin peered at his apparent new cellmate. His pale figure was bruised, but not severely as his own. Aside from a few cuts on his face, the kid seemed relatively okay, if not shaken up. "Kid," Bolin whispered. "Are you okay?"
The kid looked at him with wide blue eyes. "I—they…who are they, man?"
"I wish I didn't know," Bolin mumbled. "They're Agni Kais. A street gang, from Republic City."
"Well, isn't that nice," groaned the kid, causing Bolin to snort in amusement. Maybe it was better to have a cellmate. "So I've been kidnapped from the streets of my hometown by some idiots from my hometown. That's just fucking awesome."
"You're really something, kid…what's your name?"
"Satoshi Daichi. Some people call me Ash, though."
"Alright, Ash, my name's Bolin." Bolin almost reached out to shake Satoshi's hand, but remembered his handcuffs. "Nice to meet you," he covered up lamely. "Wish it wasn't under these circumstances, though."
"Ditto." Satoshi moved over to where Bolin was stuck and the two sat in silence for a while. "How old are you?" Bolin asked finally, trying to find a way to break the awkward silence.
Bolin swore under his breath. Fuck. What the hell are these zozzled morons playing at, kidnapping a fucking seventeen-year-old kid? Spirits… "How old are you?" asked Satoshi.
"Twenty." And he would be turning twenty-one in a couple of days, he remembered. Not surprisingly, he hadn't remembered. Of course, if things had been different, Vanek and Tukka would have been planning his party nonstop, Midori and Asami would've driven up from Republic City, and as for Gainika…stop thinking about her! He growled in frustration, causing Satoshi to jerk in surprise. "What?" Ash asked.
Bolin shook his head wearily. "Nothing, man. So…do you have a girlfriend?"
Satoshi almost blushed. "Kind of."
"Kind of?" Bolin snickered. "What does that mean, kid?"
"There's this girl that I like…back in Republic City, I mean," Satoshi said quietly. "She's about six months younger than me…but she's really pretty, has beautiful blue eyes…I could listen to Mai talk all day. But…" he trailed off.
"But what, Ash?" Bolin prodded gently.
"She kind of has a crush on my older brother, Hikaru," Satoshi mumbled. "It sucks. I don't know what to do about that."
Bolin froze. He'd been on the recipient end of Satoshi's problem before. It was just different names, but it was the same problem. He remembered when he'd been in love with Korra, and how much it had hurt to see her falling in love with his brother. He'd let her go only in the hopes that maybe she'd see the error of her ways and come back to him, where he'd welcome her with open arms.
It only took one year to have his fantasy hopelessly shattered.
"Ash," he began slowly, "man, she's not worth it."
"W-what?" Satoshi asked in surprise.
"If she's in love with your brother, then she's in love with your brother," Bolin said with the wisdom of someone who'd had enough failed relationships to write a book: Korra, Eska, Ginger, and of course, the icing on the cake: Gainika. "You have to let her go. Trust me, it's not worth it to pine away on someone that doesn't love you back in the same way."
Satoshi sighed. "I know…but there's a part of me that still hopes that maybe—maybe she'll love me someday."
Bolin wanted to scream. He wanted to yell bullshit until the bricks that held the cell together came tumbling down. But he held his tongue. Satoshi was young; he had his whole life ahead of him. Maybe…maybe it would work out for him. Maybe. Ash was good-looking, after all. This Mai person didn't know what she was missing, Bolin thought to himself. "Maybe she will, Ash," he finally said. "You never know."
The two boys were silent for the rest of the day, and the only noise in the cell came from Ash walking around furiously, and sometimes getting Bolin and himself some water from the jug in the corner. As Bolin went to sleep that night, his hopes rose slightly. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad, he thought, drifting off where the pains of the beatings couldn't get him. At least he had a friend. That, at least, was a major improvement of the last two weeks he'd spent in this hellhole. At least I have a friend.
Two days later, Bolin awoke and found himself tied to a chair, his wrists being chafed uncomfortably by the ropes the Triads had used and having long since cut off his circulation. His fingers were number than ever, which helped since one of them was probably dislocated.
Suddenly, Lightning Bolt Zolt slapped Bolin hard across the face, almost knocking out one of his teeth. He had been alternating between whipping him and punching him for the last five hours. He'd demanded some sort of information at the beginning, but Bolin had long since forgotten what information he was supposed to know.
"I'm only going to do this one more time, you piece of shit, then no more Mister Nice Guy. Tell your friend to give us our bending back." Ah, there it was.
Bolin spat a foamy mixture of blood and spit in Zolt's face. "Go to hell, you bastard."
Zolt wiped the spit off of his face slowly and deliberately before kicking Bolin hard in the stomach, definitely bruising a rib or two…or six. Bolin gulped as Zolt loomed over him and leered. It was a hideous sight.
Fuck it all.
"Let me elaborate on this, Bolin. I could make the next twenty minutes—hell, even twenty seconds—of your unneeded life so agonizing that I doubt—and I don't care—you'll even live through it. But at the end of the day, Bolin, I swear to every Spirit living that I will lay my head on my pillow and sleep like an infant."
As Zolt finished his sadistic promise, he brought his hand to bear on Bolin's neck, squeezing it just enough that air would come through, but making it extremely painful. Bolin knew better than to struggle and instead looked at his enemy calmly. Zolt held on firmly, and then continued talking as though nothing was wrong.
"I've run out of patience with you piece of ostrich-horse shit, and now I'm ready to teach you the true meaning of pain. I've studied it for decades and have applied in my life longer than you've probably been alive. You think you're so tough when you've got your big brother, the Avatar, and that pretty broad of yours surrounding you? Let's see how strong you think you are, Bolin, now that it's just between me and you."
"I'm stronger than you," Bolin choked out, causing Zolt to tighten his grip, then, just as suddenly let him go with a funny smile running crookedly up the side of his face.
"Is that so?" Bolin gulped down a huge breath, fighting through the pain. Zolt took that for a yes. "Yuma! Wanryoku! Nao!" he yelled with the air of someone who had a huge secret. "Bring the kid."
Bolin watched the cronies (or the Goon Squad, as Ash had scathingly labeled them) vanish for a moment before bringing Satoshi in and throwing him to the ground at Bolin's feet. "You okay, Ash?" mumbled Bolin, and the kid nodded resolutely. He's brave, definitely braver than I ever was when I was seventeen. Or at any point in my miserable life.
"Mr. Daichi," Zolt spoke loudly and enunciated every word, like the kid was hearing-impaired, "how are you this fine evening?"
Satoshi looked up at Zolt with a cut lip and a heavily bruised face. "Fucking wonderful, thank you. There's absolutely nothing I enjoy more than having to be stuck in the same room with you bastards for more than thirty seconds."
Bolin gasped, fighting between snickering at the flabbergasted looks on the Goon Squad and Zolt's faces and yelling at Ash to shut the fucking hell up, because Ash would die then and he would leave him alone and…no. That wasn't happening. Ash was going to live, even if Bolin wasn't going to. Ash was going to make it back, and he was going to kiss Mai and proclaim his love to her and see his brother and live.
Even if Bolin wasn't.
Ash had his whole life ahead of him. Bolin was twenty, almost twenty-one. He'd gone through college, failed more relationships than he'd succeeded in, became an earthbender, escaped the streets, and had faked his own death to begin a new life in Ba Sing Se.
What did he have to live for?
He was shocked out of his thoughts to find Zolt kicking Satoshi in his stomach repeatedly. Satoshi, to his everlasting credit, did not wince or cry out. He bit his lip hard enough to draw blood, but that was all. Zolt looked mildly bored. "Let's throw some action into this shit."
Reaching into his pocket, Zolt took out a heater, waving it around in the air like a magician doing his best trick. Bolin's heart leapt into his throat. "You can kill people with heaters, Zolt!" he found himself shouting, trying desperately to get Zolt's attention off of his friend.
Zolt leered hideously, showing stained teeth from many cigarettes that he'd looted off of the streets of Republic City. "Oh, I'm quite aware of that, punk," he said evenly. He clicked the safety off and pointed it straight at Bolin.
Bolin took a deep breath and let it out slowly, meeting Zolt's eyes with resolute. This was it.
Satoshi stared at Zolt with wide eyes. "NO!" he yelled, somehow leaping in front of Bolin right as the trigger was pulled with a bang.
Bolin screamed: it was long, primal, and had an animalistic quality that had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the bullet had scraped his skin before embedding itself in the wall. "Ash!" he screeched as his friend fell to the floor, like he was a marionette whose strings had been cut. The bullet…Bolin gagged, trying not to vomit and failing miserably, the puke staining his clothes and forming a puddle on the floor. The bullet had gone through Ash. No.
With strength that surprised him, he ripped free of his bonds and found himself near Ash, cradling his head in his lap, sobbing despite himself. "Oh, Spirits, Ash, oh my Spirits, damn it, just…just…"
Ash, somehow, gazed up at Bolin with a smile. "'M dying," he mumbled.
"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."
Bo. Bolin's tears came harder than ever. "No, please…"
"Bolin." With new resolve, Satoshi gripped his arm as tight as he could through his wheezes. "It's alright."
Bolin shook his head tearfully. "Ash, stay with me, please, please stay with me…"
"No…d-do me one la—last f-favor, please, B-Bo…" Ash slurred. "When you g-get out t-tell—" he took a deep breath. "Tell Mai that I—I love her."
"You're going to be okay," Bolin stated firmly, even though he now knew better. Wanryoku and Nao tried to grab him away from his dying friend, but he fought like hell. He wasn't going to leave Ash. Never. He elbowed Nao in the face, returning to Satoshi, whose breaths were slowly decreasing. Bolin fell to the floor, grasping Ash's hand tight enough that he would've worried about cutting off circulation if Ash hadn't been—
"Prom—promise me," Satoshi whispered, his eyes starting to close.
"I will," Bolin promised, crying hard as Ash's eyes closed and a small smile was etched on Ash's pale face, the ghost of his last words. "Fucking bastards!" Bolin screamed as the cronies succeeded in dragging him away from Satoshi's corpse. "You fucking murderous sons of bitches!"
As Bolin was lead out of the torture chamber, someone called, "Stop!"
The Goon Squad halted, and Bolin lifted his tear-streaked, bloody face up, with more effort than it had ever taken him in his life. Gainika, in all of her evil glory, stood in front of him, smirking. "Happy birthday, honey," she said mockingly, blowing him a kiss.
Bolin didn't even have the energy to respond as the Goon Squad tossed him into his empty cell, locking the door behind him.
Meanwhile, Zolt yelled out to Gainika, who still stood in the hallway. "Hey! Gainika, come here," he ordered.
Gainika glided over to Lightning Bolt Zolt calmly. "How may I help you?" she purred.
Zolt pointed at Satoshi's body like he was looking at a cockroach. "Do me a favor and dispose of that piece of shit before it starts stinking up the joint."