Bolin let out a disgruntled sigh and slurped his drink. The fire fries in front of him were growing cold. He had been waiting for Mako for almost twenty minutes, which was odd since the firebender was usually so punctual. At least he was able to get a table under an umbrella to get relief from the blazing sun.
The other chair shook the table and brought Bolin back to attention. Mako wiped his brow as he collapsed in the shade. "Hey, Bro. Sorry I'm late."
Bolin raised an eyebrow at his brother before pushing over the fire fries. "They're cold." Mako rolled his eyes but waved a small intense flame over the food. Bolin grinned, "Thanks, Bro!" He tossed a now hot fry into the air and caught it in his mouth. He tried to go for two, but Pabu, who had been sleeping in Bolin's shirt, reached out and snatched the snack away before he dashed under the table.
"So…" Bolin shoved a few more fries into his mouth as he spoke. "Any luck?" He let out a yelp at the spiciness and gulped his drink.
Mako shook his head as he ate a fry. "No, sorry. Although I did get trapped by an old lady who introduced me to all fifteen of her cats. Anyway, I'm guessing you weren't so lucky either?"
The younger brother dejectedly shook his head. "No, nothing."
Team Avatar had taken a trip to the Fire Nation, and they were all excited for this new adventure. Unfortunately, they hadn't spent much time together. Korra was off meeting with Fire Lord Izumi in Capital City, and Asami was in the works with a potential business partner for some new aircraft, something called a "chopper." No one knew what it meant. Even Opal had come along as an ambassador for the Air Nation and was visiting a new airbender and his parents. That left Mako and Bolin by themselves, but they had a mission of their own: finding their mother's family.
Of course, that was a lot harder said than done. While they had stumbled onto their cousin Tu and Uncle Chow's fruit stand by accident, they had at least known that their dad grew up in Ba Sing Se. They had no idea where in the Fire Nation their mother had lived. All they knew was that her town was surrounded by water, since she had told them stories of going to the beach as a child. However, that still didn't leave them much. There were too many islands and coastal cities to check, and it turns out Naoki was a common name; they had met at least two women in the past two days with the same name. Even Mako, for all his experience as a police officer and growing detective, could only do so much with so little information. The brothers had decided to split up and show a copy of the one picture they had, Grandma Yin's family portrait, to everyone they could think of and see if anyone recognized their mom.
"This is going to take forever!" Bolin moaned and slumped over the table, nearly spilling his drink.
"I think we can pretty much rule out this town," Mako sighed. "You should ask Opal if we can borrow Juicy tomorrow and go over to the next island."
" 'Kay," Bolin mumbled into the wood. He slowly munched another fry.
The resort town they were staying in was very lovely. It was an island within view of the mainland and surrounded on all sides by sandy beaches. There were plenty of hotels, restaurants, and stores all over town, as well as the locals' homes and a lush forest. Over the trees stood the volcano that created the island, Mt. Kagami, looming majestically in the distance. Bolin wouldn't mind taking an extended vacation here.
The brothers were deciding where they should continue their search when Pabu perked up his head and became still. After a few seconds he let out an alarmed screech before scampering up Bolin's arm and wrapped himself around the earthbender's neck, chattering in his ear.
"Pabu? What's goin' on, Buddy?" There wasn't anything under the table that would have scared him. Bolin scratched the fire ferret's chin. "Aw, it's okay. Nothing's coming to get ya."
"Come on, Bo, let's go," Mako stood up. "Let's see if anyone at the hotel knows anyone on the other islands."
"Okay, right behind you." Bolin slapped down some bills for the food and tip, then followed his brother to the street.
As the boys headed back to their hotel, Bolin started to feel… off, but he couldn't really point out exactly what was wrong. Mako noticed Bolin's silence. "You feeling okay, Bro?"
"Yeah… I don't know, something just feels weird."
"You did eat more than half of those fries in under a minute."
"No, it's not my stomach! Okay, maybe a little, but not like I ate something. I don't know how to describe it. It's like… there's this pressure. It's not painful, but it's in my stomach and my head…" He held up his hands to see them shaking. "Well that's weird."
Mako frowned in concern. "Maybe you should lie down when we get back to the hotel."
"No no no, I'm not sick!" Bolin reached out with his bending, trying to calm his fingers, but that's when he felt it. He didn't need Toph's seismic sense to feel that. "Ahh… Mako, something's really wrong!"
Suddenly the earth rumbled; trees shook and store windows rattled. Pabu buried his head in Bolin's shirt, his fur standing on end. Mako's limbs flailed as he tried to maintain balance. "Bolin, please tell me you're doing that!"
"I wish I could!"
The pressure in Bolin's belly dropped as the volcano exploded. Black ash billowed into the sky, illuminated by the orange-red glow of the lava starting to seep down the sides. Flaming rocks rained down on them, blown sky high from the blast.
Screams echoed through the town as people dropped their belongings and sprinted through the streets. Mako yanked Bolin out of the way of a large stampede. People shoved each other; children cried as their mothers and fathers desperately clung to them. Ash fell around them all like snow.
"Come on, Bolin! We've got to get to the docks!" Mako shouted and dragged his brother into the crowds. "The boats will take us to the mainland. We've got to get to Korra somehow!"
Bolin took in the scene around them as they ran. There were just so many people, and the lava was coming down fast. The town probably wouldn't make it. Would it be too late for the people as well? What could be done? It's not like they could slow the lava enough to get everyone off the island… wait…
He spied an abandoned jeep in an alley and immediately knew what to do. Wrenching his arm out of Mako's grip, he dashed across the street and leapt into the driver's seat.
"Bolin, what're you doing?" Mako barked when he caught up to him.
"I need to get to the volcano."
"What?!" Mako sputtered, "No, that's crazy! Get out of the car!"
"Yeah, I'm not gonna be doing that," Bolin answered as he started tearing at pieces of the car, trying to get to the wires underneath the metal.
"What, you think that you can actually fight a volcano? We need to get out of here now!"
"No, I'm not leaving!" Bolin shot Mako a no-nonsense glare, one that the detective was shocked to see on his little brother's face. Bolin looked just like him for a second. "I know I can't stop it, but maybe I can buy enough time for everyone to get off the island. You should go though. Find Korra; she's the only one who can help."
"No, I'm not leaving you here to play hero!"
"NO! Mako, please, let me go! I'm a lavabender; I have to do this. So, get out of here!"
Mako scowled at the familiar words. He hated it when Bolin listened to him.
The two brothers held their gaze for an eternity, neither one backing down. The earth quaked beneath them, and ash continued to fall. Pabu squeaked frantically in the passenger's seat. Finally, there was a shift in Mako's expression; Bolin couldn't quite place it. "Move," the firebender growled dangerously. The younger brother was yanked out of his seat with a yelp. Mako reached under the steering wheel, and after a few seconds of fiddling with wires, the engine roared to life. Bolin stood dumbfounded as Mako backed away. "Looks like I found a good use for some of Shady Shin's lessons."
Mako whirled around to Bolin and shot him the sternest look he could muster. His jaw strained with anger, but his eyes were glistening. "If even for a second you think you're in over your head, you come straight back here. Your life is more important. You come back. Promise?" He held his hand out to seal the deal.
Bolin's heart clenched as he stared at his brother's face, then his hand. He was actually going to let him do this? He gave a firm nod as he shook his hand. "I promise." He yanked Mako in for a hug, which was returned with vigor. They clung to each other, hoping and praying it wouldn't be for the last time. When they pulled apart, Bolin's throat tightened. He suddenly wished they were back home in Republic City, safe in their apartment, listening to the radio or throwing popcorn at each other. Doing anything but this. "I love you," Bolin choked.
Mako nodded, the faintest of smiles gracing his lips. "I love you too."
Bolin took a deep breath before climbing back into the car. Pabu leapt into his lap, and Bolin kissed the fire ferret's nose. "I love you too, Pabu. Be a good boy." He picked up the ball of fur and draped him in Mako's arms. "Take care of him for me." Mako gave a jerky nod and cradled Pabu tightly to his chest. Bolin strapped himself in with a click of the seat buckle, and eased the car onto the street.
"Remember, you're coming back, you hear me!" Mako called.
"I'm coming back!" Bolin hollered over his shoulder, then took off down the road.
Mako watched as the jeep rounded a corner and left his sight. "Be safe," he breathed. With a shake of his head, he set a whining Pabu on his shoulders and started jogging towards the docks.
"Come on, ya hunk of junk!" Bolin exclaimed as he struck the steering wheel in a fit of rage. He made it outside the town, but the jeep hit a rut as he neared the base of the volcano and stalled. He wasn't as familiar with vehicles as Asami or Mako, or even Shady Shin, and now he really wished he'd paid more attention to their lessons. Grumbling in frustration, he jumped out of the car and kicked the tire. "Guess I'm gonna have to do this the hard way."
He pulled up a small rock platform under his feet, then swung his arms as he earthbent up the mountain. Already the fallen ash was piling up around the bases of trees and bushes, giving the illusion of a gray snowstorm. The air got warmer the higher he climbed, and soon the trees gave way to the bare earth thrumming under Bolin's boots.
He could already see the lava flow fast approaching. Taking a deep breath, he thrust his fists skyward, and an enormous rock wall shot up in front of him. It was at least six feet thick and ten feet high. He punched left, then right, and more rock erupted up from the ground, stretching the wall as far as he could. He continued down the wall, pulling up more rock at every gap. Soon a giant barrier stretched wide across the volcano separating the forest and town from the oncoming destruction. "That should hold anything I miss for a while. I hope." He jumped over the wall and continued onwards up the rocky face.
The lava itself wasn't very fast, at least not as fast as Bolin was used to, but there was a lot of it. Even worse, the farther up he went, more debris fell around him. He whacked away chunks of burning stone with his earthbending and dodged boulders. The first wave was soon upon him, and Bolin was ready. He thrust out his palms; the lava cooled instantly into solid black rock.
"Ha! This isn't so bad," Bolin chuckled. His smile quickly disappeared as a vent opened in front of him and spewed hot gasses into the air. He jumped back with a cry as his hand was almost burned. He accidentally inhaled some gas and immediately started coughing. It was hot and burned his throat and nostrils. Blinking back tears, he gazed back up as another lava wave rushed down the mountain.
"Okay, I guess I spoke too soon." He'd have to raincheck that extended vacation.
Mako was trapped in the throng of refugees as it shoved it's way towards the docks. Boats were quickly filled with passengers, but even from here he could tell there wouldn't be enough space for everyone, even with the privately own ships taking on extras. And now his little brother was alone fighting a volcano. They needed help. They needed Korra.
He had to get to a radio. No doubt by now someone had called the Fire Lord to let her know what was going on; maybe Izumi and Korra had been together at the time and she already knew? He couldn't take that chance, but he didn't even know for sure if she was still at the palace. No, he should call Asami. She had brought a portable radio with her; she'd be able to find Korra.
Finally he saw a frenzied policeman trying to direct people into neat lines, but of course it wasn't working. Mako had to swim through the sea of humanity with Pabu clinging to his shoulders. "Officer! Officer, excuse me!"
"Please, Sir, stay in line and head towards the boats!"
"No, please! I'm with the Republic City Police Department! I need a radio to contact Avatar Korra!" He flashed his badge as he stumbled out of the crowd.
The officer blinked in surprise. "The Avatar's here?"
"Yes, she's in the capital! I need to call her right away; she can help!"
The officer ordered one of his subordinates to take Mako to the police station. It was only a five minute walk, but each step felt like an eternity. They rushed inside, and Mako gave the radio officer the frequency of Asami's portable radio. 'Come on, come on, pick up!'
After about a minute, a familiar voice called out, "Hello?" Asami.
"Asami, it's Mako," the detective grabbed the microphone. "Where are you? Where's Korra?"
"We're still in the capital. I'm going to meet Korra and Opal as we speak. I heard on the radio that there was a volcanic eruption?" Her voice was strained like she was running. "Mt. Kagami, right? Our island? Are you and Bolin okay?"
"Um, no, I'm gonna say no," Mako cringed at the growing black cloud out the window. "There aren't enough boats to get everyone off the island, and the lava's coming fast. Bolin—" his mouth went dry. "Bolin went up to the volcano to try and slow it down."
"He what?!" a new voice echoed, the speakers whining. Korra had arrived on the other end.
"Korra, thank spirits! We need you!"
"The Fire Lord already heard the news," Korra answered. "She's sending some navy ships over for evacuation as we speak. Now, what's this about Bolin at the volcano?"
"He's trying to slow it down enough for everyone to get off the island. You all need to come help, please!"
"We're coming, Mako, just hang in there," reassured Asami. "We'll find Opal and fly over as soon as we can."
"Okay, I'll be at the police station."
"Okay. Mako," Korra's voice was steady and firm. "Bolin will be all right. We'll get him, I promise."
Mako let out a breath. "Okay. I trust you."
"Good. See you soon." The Avatar hung up with a click.
A deep bellow echoed through the sky. Korra and Asami squinted into the sun as Opal and Juicy came in for a landing. The bison plopped down on the ground with a loud thud as Opal jumped down with a gust of wind.
"I heard on the radio something about a volcano!" the Beifong exclaimed. "Do either of you know what's going on?"
"We just got off the radio with Mako," Asami answered. "It's Mt. Kagami. Everyone's being evacuated. The Fire Navy is on their way to pick up passengers."
"What about Bolin and Mako? Are they okay?"
Asami wanted to reassure the younger girl, but Korra was too fast. "They're still stuck there. And Bolin's holding back the lava so everyone can evacuate." Asami jabbed Korra in the side. "Oh, but he's totally fine!" Korra added.
It was too late though; Opal's face went pale. "So what you're saying is… Bolin is basically… fighting a volcano…" The other two nodded nervously. Opal snapped. "Well what are we standing here for?!" she shrieked as she flew back onto Juicy's head. "Get on the bison!"
Bolin let out a frustrated grunt as he made another trench in the earth and fed the lava into it. He'd been digging trenches for so long now trying to divert the flow around the mountain side towards the ocean. It was very taxing work; he had to make sure they weren't too deep or else he'd hit more lava, and he had to avoid the vents, of which he had come across several. The lava was the biggest problem; it just kept coming, wave after wave. Not only was all this bending exhausting on its own, but it was unbearably hot, and the air was thick with ash and suffocating gasses. It was so hard to breathe; he kept breaking into coughing fits, and his throat, nostrils, and eyes burned. Still he pushed on.
He couldn't keep it up like this for much longer. He needed a new plan. If he could just keep the lava from coming down this side completely…Well, it was worth a try. Bolin raised another platform under his feet and pushed forward, parting the lava as he made his way to the top of the volcano. As he climbed higher the heat became stifling. His clothes were drenched in sweat; time was of the essence. He cooled down as much of the overflowing lava as he could, then shot it up as a rock wall, slanting over toward the volcano's mouth. Lava splashed against it and started leaking around the sides. Bolin climbed on top of the wall, nervously peaked over the edge into the bubbling molten cauldron, then thrust his arms with all his might. The overflowing lava was forced out the other side, rolling towards the ocean, melting itself a new outlet through the stone. "This is good. This is working. This—"
The earth rumbled again, and a loud crack echoed behind him. Lava burst through an enormous hole down where he previously stood. "This is not working." He started running back down towards the crevice and hardened as much lava as he could to rock. Wanting to make double sure that it was secure, Bolin bent more earth from around him to make a thick stone patch over the hole.
The mountain started to rumble again. "Oh no you don't!" Bolin growled as he shoved his palms forward and tried to keep the earth still. He could feel the pressure of the lava crumbling the patch he'd made, and it only continued to grow. Vents around him spewed forth boiling steam, and the gasses were making Bolin lightheaded. His lungs burned and every breath felt like torture. Finally, the pressure became too great; rock and lava burst forth from the hole, the explosive force knocking Bolin on his back.
At this moment, one half of Bolin's brain thought, "You know what? Maybe this was a bad idea." The other half of his brain was filled with unimaginable pain. Bolin had been able to bend most of the lava out of the way, but it had been too much too suddenly, and a large glob had splashed onto his right bicep. An agonized scream ripped his throat; his vision went white. The second he registered what had happened he waved his good arm and bent the lava away, but his sleeve had already burst into flames, melting the fabric into his skin. Rolling on the ground to put out the fire, he screamed again. It hurt too much to press his arm against the rock. Instead he ripped off the sleeve as it burned to ashes.
He couldn't bear to look at his arm. The pain was excruciating, and he was already nauseous enough without looking at his burn. He just let it hang as he whacked away more debris and lava. Struggling to his feet, he moaned; he had to get away from the overflowing crevice as fast as possible. He let out a rattling, thick cough. Yeah, this was a really bad idea.
Mako's shouts were lost over the noise of the ever panicking crowd. The local force had recruited Mako, as an officer himself, to help herd everyone safely at the docks, but he stayed as close to the station as he could. He'd help direct terrified tourists towards the pier, but every few seconds he'd stare unblinking at Mt. Kagami as it erupted. Minutes would pass, then he'd glance at the sky towards the mainland or scratch Pabu's ears; the fire ferret had taken up permanent residence on his shoulders. It had been a long time since he had gotten a hold of Korra and Asami, or at least it felt like it. Still no sign of them, and no sign of Bolin. He could hear the hysterical screams from streets over where the rest of the officers were still trying to organize. The navy ships hadn't arrived yet, and the black cloud above just kept getting bigger, ash filling the streets. While his efforts were appreciated by many of the officers, the chief and deputy kept begging him to get in line and get on a boat, but Mako refused until Bolin was with him. He would not leave without his little brother.
Suddenly a loud deep horn blast echoed across the water. Mako whipped his head around and saw three large ships with the Fire Nation flags billowing above them; the navy had arrived. Cheers rose from the crowds as their rescuers came into view. Mako breathed a sigh of relief. At least everyone else would get off the island. There was a spot in the sky slowly getting bigger, and Mako shielded his eyes and squinted to try and get a better view. The dot soon grew horns and a giant arrow. "Juicy!" Mako exclaimed as Pabu perked up his head. He could soon make out three dots on Juicy's back. The air bison quickly overtook the navy ships and circled above the town. Pabu dug his claws into Mako's jacket as the detective ran out into the open and shot a fireball into the air to get their attention. Juicy let out a bellow before they swung back around for a quick landing. Opal sat on Juicy's head at the reins, and Korra and Asami peaked out of the saddle.
"Korra! Asami, Opal!" Mako breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank goodness."
"Mako! You're okay!" Korra exclaimed. "Is Bolin back yet?"
Mako shook his head as he climbed up Juicy's side and into the saddle. "No, I haven't seen him." The firebender looked like he was about to snap from stress. "It's been so long…"
"Juicy, Yip Yip!" Opal called, and the air bison took off into the sky.
"Don't worry, Mako," Korra gave the firebender a pat on the knee. "We'll find him."
Mako could only give a numb nod in response.
Upon reflecting over all that transpired, Bolin concluded that today wasn't a very good day. In fact, he'd probably go as far as saying he was having a bad day. He didn't really like labeling days as bad, since every day he and Mako were off the streets was a good day; but there were a few exceptions: the day they lost their parents, the day he was kidnapped by Equalists, the day he defected from the Earth Empire, Harmonic Convergence, a few others. He was considering adding today to the list.
He couldn't feel the pain in his arm anymore; he guessed he had gone into shock, and he was surprised that he was still standing. He just let his arm hang limp as he weakly bent the lava flow away and cooled it, occasionally dodging a flying rock. His movements were sluggish as if he was wading through the molten earth itself. His head felt too heavy for his neck. His ears were stuffed with cotton; his lungs were on fire as he struggled with each breath. His tongue and throat were as dry as a desert. His vision was blurry and his eyes stung; the tears that sprung forth from the pain only made them hurt worse.
He coughed as a cloud of ash passed over him. He felt like he was going to cough up a lung and vomit at the same time. Bolin supposed that now would be a good time to leave, but his legs were shaking. There was no way he'd be able to make it back to town. He was too tired to walk, and his bending dragged and was putting a huge strain on his body. Still, he made a promise. He had to get back to Mako… to Pabu, to Opal, to Korra, and Asami. He had to at least try. Slowly he stepped backwards as he kept the lava at bay. He was growing dizzier by the minute, but he held all his concentration on hardening any oncoming molten earth. The going was slow; he had only made it a few yards before he stumbled. The pounding in his head intensified, and Bolin let out a painful cry.
Eyes drifting up towards the clouds, he hoped to catch just another glimpse of blue sky, but everything was too dark. The clouds were black with the faint orange glow from what lava was still running. A gust of wind blew his now disheveled hair into his face. Wait… wind?
The clouds were suddenly churning above, almost as if something was dragging them. That's when he saw: a fuzzy white dot; a red and yellow dot; a blue dot that was starting to glow brightly. His friends were here. He wanted to laugh, but his lungs hurt too much; instead he just let out a chuckle and smiled in relief.
He had to let them know where he was. With as much force as he could muster, he pumped his good fist into the air, and a burst of lava followed. Unfortunately, he was too tired to make much of it, and he couldn't get it very high with only one arm. He let out an exhausted gasp, and the lava fall back to the ground. He was so tired, he didn't feel the earth shift until it was too late. Another vent opened underneath his foot, shooting a stream of gas directly in his face.
Instantly his throat closed up as he choked. His vision swam and blurred into a swirl of black and orange. His brain swam in his skull. All he could think was "Ugh…" before his vision faded and his body shut down. He was unconscious before he even hit the ground.
The smoke and ash steadily thickened as Juicy drew closer to Mt. Kagami. It was getting hard to see and breathe.
"Opal!" Korra called out as she stood up, her glider in hand. "I need you to help me move the clouds out of the way for us."
Opal nodded and unsnapped her suit. "I'll stay closer to Juicy to make sure he can still breathe. Asami, I need you behind the reins for me." Asami climbed over the saddle onto Juicy's head as Opal and Korra leapt into the air, wings and glider outstretched.
The two women each took a deep breath before blowing huge gusts of wind. The clouds immediately were pushed back towards the volcano. Korra took the lead as her eyes started glowing white; the Avatar State had activated. She zoomed above the mouth of the volcano and started flying in a circle. Faster and faster she flew, the smoke spinning around into a funnel. Opal landed on Juicy's saddle and started bending the air around them. Soon they were protected by a large bubble of air as Korra sucked away the ash around them.
While Opal kept them safe, Mako and Asami eyed the ground looking for Bolin. Through the gaps in the clouds, there were hardened shapes of cooled lava. A large wall stretched across the volcano's side that was clearly made by an earthbender. It kept waves of lava from oozing into the forest and towards the town. They saw slow lava rivers glowing brightly, and occasionally a new spout of steam and liquid earth. Asami flew them around in circles before they spotted the signature black rock made from lavabending. Frozen waves jutted from the surface and obsidian rivers made great curves and loops.
Asami lowered Juicy through the clouds as they followed the rock trails higher and higher up the volcano. Opal kept up their air bubble as Mako scanned the ground. It was so hard to see. The smoke stung his eyes, and the heat was unbearable. Pabu had buried himself in the firebender's side to get some relief. On their third pass up the mountain, a familiar brown and green lump caught Mako's eye through the smoke. "There he is!" he exclaimed, pointing at the lump.
Asami brought Juicy down closer, but immediately pulled up when a vent opened and shot a stream of hot gas and lava into the air. "I can't get him in much closer," she called back.
"Well, we can't leave him!" Opal cried. She slowly edged to the side to try and get a glimpse of the earthbender, but slipped from Juicy's sudden movement and had to strain to keep the air bubble in tact.
Mako set Pabu aside and stood up. "I'll go get him. Asami, keep Juicy as still as possible; I'll be right back." Then he turned to the airbender. "Opal, I need you to make a clear path for me." She nodded as she shifted her stance.
Asami got Juicy as close as she could to the surface, a couple stories, before managing to keep Juicy relatively still. Opal circled her arms and shot a tunnel of wind at the ground, blowing back smoke, ash, and gas, as well as cooling traces of lava that hadn't already hardened.
Mako jumped from the saddle and lowered himself down with firebending. He took off in a dash the moment his feet touched the ground.
"Bolin!" he called as he slid to a stop. Bolin lay curled in a crumpled heap and didn't move at the sound of his name. "Bolin? Bo, can you hear me?" He shook his shoulder, but Bolin didn't move. Mako's heart leapt into this throat, but he took a breath to settle himself. First things first: get out.
Mako wrapped an arm around Bolin's middle and pulled him up, putting up a mild struggle with his brother's dead weight. Making sure Bolin was secure, he swiftly made his way back to Juicy. Opal's air tunnel was strong and steady, blowing away the gas that escaped the vents. Asami had climbed back into the saddle and tossed down an emergency rope ladder that had been packed with Juicy's supplies. Using his firebending, Mako rocketed up the short distance to the ladder and started to climb, always making sure his grip on Bolin was tight. Finally, he reached the top, and Opal stopped her airbending to help pull the two brothers to safety, while Asami got back to the reins and flew the bison up to the sky.
At the same time, Korra had managed to make a huge cyclone above the volcano. When she deemed it stable, she used the Avatar State to push the black tornado out and over the ocean. The lava that had been on top had hardened from Korra's airbending; there were still some bubbles bursting, but any more lava that would come would flow down the seaside of the volcano, thanks to the barrier that Bolin had created. Korra determined that the worst had been dealt with and flew back to Juicy, who was retreating towards the mainland.
She touched down just as Mako was getting Bolin situated. Pabu was licking his master's face in a vain attempt to wake him. Opal brushed back Bolin's messy hair before turning to the Avatar. "Korra, that was amazing!"
Korra was about to thank her when Mako croaked, "Korra! Korra, I need you!"
Korra knelt next to him, Opal on the other side of Bolin, and the girls gasped. Mako revealed Bolin's bicep, which was bright red with horrendous blisters and sticky blood, the skin turning black in spots. It was like his arm had been been eaten away by lava. Mako's face was pale with worry, and Opal turned green. Korra swallowed the bile in her throat before shaking her head. "I need water. Did we bring water?"
Asami turned around and tossed back a water bottle. There wasn't much in there, but just enough to help. The liquid started to glow in in her hands before Korra pressed against Bolin's arm. Her brow furrowed in concentration; the burn was bad, really bad. If she couldn't do enough here, he might lose his arm.
Mako watched intently as Korra worked until he noticed something. Placing an ear to Bolin's chest, he listened, then held his hand in front of his brother's mouth and nose. He felt nothing. "Bolin?! He's not breathing! He's not breathing!"
The girls went rigid. Mako leaned forward and desperately shook his brother's shoulders. "Bolin, wake up! Wake up!" Korra tried to pull him back, but he wouldn't budge.
Opal narrowed her eyes. "Wait a second." She held out her hand above Bolin's chest. Her fingers twitched a few times before she nodded to herself. "Okay, I have an idea, but it's dangerous."
Mako gave her a heartbreaking stare. "You can save him? Please, Opal, help him!"
She bit her lip and gave a determined nod. "Of course. Mako, I just… I need you to remain calm." She couldn't afford to have Mako freak out. If he couldn't keep calm, there was no way she could. "And Korra… please don't look." Korra didn't question and kept her eyes glued to the burn. Mako's face turned to stone as he tightly grasped Bolin's limp hand. Pabu was secure under his other arm.
Opal took a few breaths to steady herself, held her hands over Bolin's head, then carefully started to move. Slowly gray smoke seeped from Bolin's mouth, until a ball of gas and ash was circling above his head. Mako grimaced as he clutched Bolin's hand tighter. All of that had been in his brother's lungs? Korra kept her head down in concentration, but she was shaking. She knew what Opal was doing and didn't wanted to be reminded of her own experience with the technique.
When Opal was satisfied with the ball of air, she held it with one hand while twirling the other. A new fresh ball of air appeared, and slowly she fed it between Bolin's teeth. His chest rose with the new air but otherwise made no movements. She let the toxic air ball blow away in the wind; with the gas and smoke out of his lungs, Opal just had to work on his breathing. She splayed out her fingers and steadily drew the air out of Bolin's lungs before pushing new air back in. She repeated the process again and again. She couldn't afford to lose her concentration for even a second. If she pulled too hard, she might collapse his lungs; if she pushed too hard, well… she didn't want to think about it.
After the fifth round, Bolin's body jerked slightly as his back arched off the saddle; Opal immediately stopped bending. He let out a faint but desperate cough before struggling to inhale. His throat rattled as he fought for breath that wouldn't come. "Opal, he still can't breathe! Keep going!" Korra exclaimed, having finally looked up from her work. Opal nodded and resumed her airbending. Bolin's body soon settled back down with the increased air supply, but he didn't wake.
Mako bit his lip so hard he tasted blood; he felt so useless as he sat there watching his baby brother hang on to life. Korra continued healing his arm as Opal airbent, and he faintly heard Asami use her portable radio to call the capital letting the hospital know they were on their way. All he could do was grip his brother's hand and hope. Bolin had always been lucky; Mako just prayed his luck wouldn't run out.
After a few more minutes of Juicy flying at top speed, Asami touched down in front of Capital City's hospital. Korra and Opal had worked the whole trip to keep Bolin alive, and they were relieved of duty when the paramedics settled him onto a gurney and strapped an oxygen mask to his face. Mako, as Bolin's family, was the only one permitted to follow, which left the girls alone on the front steps.
Asami let out a relieved sigh, Korra bowed her head and wiped her increasingly wet eyes, and Opal collapsed to her knees, the tears she had been hiding for Bolin's sake finally spilling down her cheeks. The older women knelt next to her and rubbed her shoulders. She needed all the comfort she could right now, but she'd never forget the fear and stress from literally holding her boyfriend's life in her hands.
The pounding in Bolin's head slowly brought him back to consciousness. It felt like someone had used him for target practice back at the probending arena. His body weighed a ton, and his throat and nostrils were dry and stung, as if he'd shoved his head in a bucket full of Fire Nation spices. His bicep had a tingly feeling, which was weird. There was also something on his face, but he couldn't think about it for long; his head hurt too much.
There was a familiar licking on his cheek that immediately brought him back. "Pabu…" he breathed. A chirp answered him. "…Too early…" He groaned when he tried to move, but when his limbs wouldn't obey, he started gasping in panic.
"Bolin? Bolin, can you hear me?"
He knew that voice, filled with warmth and concern, and immediately relaxed. Slowly his eyes fluttered open, and a black blob swirled above him. "Bolin?" the blob asked again. Bolin's vision kept shifting in and out of focus, but the blob eventually stopped moving enough for him to make out his features. His face was pale with dark bags under his amber eyes. His hair was slightly disheveled, and the beginning of a five o'clock shadow could be seen. Even under all that combined with his headache, he could still recognize the worried face of his big brother.
"Mako?" His voice was hoarse and his throat scratchy, and the thing covering his mouth and nose was making it hard to speak.
A relieved smile spread across Mako's face as he took Bolin's hand. "Hey, Bro. 'Bout time you woke up."
His brain felt like it was being pulled through the mud, but he was able to give his own smile in return. "Hey, Bro." A chattering red furball was suddenly in his face licking his forehead. "Hey, Buddy."
"How are you feeling?" Mako asked. All Bolin could do was groan, and Mako let out a chuckle, the first in a long while. "Yeah, I expected as much. Here, this should help." He moved the obstruction on Bolin's face before sliding a glass of water between the earthbender's lips. Bolin took a few grateful sips before he started coughing. The water was wonderful, but the sudden sensation of cold liquid on his burning esophagus was too much at the moment. Mako took the glass away and replaced the object, which Bolin now recognized as an oxygen mask.
It took a few moments of steadying his breath before the fuzzy shapes around him took form. The walls were white and the curtains bright red as daylight streamed into the room. There were some beeping machines against the wall, and a flower vase on a bedside table. An IV attached his left arm to a bag on a metal rack. It finally hit Bolin that this wasn't his apartment back in Republic City. "Where am I?" he croaked.
"You're in the hospital," answered Mako. "We're in Capital City in the Fire Nation. Do you remember what happened?"
Bolin frowned as he wracked his brain. Everything was so fuzzy; it was hard to think straight. "We… We're here looking for our family." Mako nodded in answer. "Then… there was all this black smoke, and it was so hot, and…" His eyes shot wide open when the images flashed through his mind. "Oh spirits… I fought a volcano."
Mako nodded. "Yes you did."
Bolin started gasping as he struggled to remember. There were lots of gaps in his memory, but what was there had him shaking. "The… the volcano… the island, is, is everyone—" He started another coughing fit that made him feel like his lungs were withering away.
"Hey, hey, it's okay, take deep breaths," Mako's voice was calm and steady as Bolin took in gulps of air. "The navy came and got everyone off the island. You kept everyone safe. And Korra finished up with the smoke and settled the volcano. Everyone is fine."
Bolin nodded slightly as he took it all in. Everyone was okay. He'd done it. Instantly he felt himself relax back against the mattress.
That is until Mako gave him a dangerous glare. "As for you—" He gave Bolin a light slap on the back of the hand. "You almost died! I can't believe I let you do that. Of all the stupid things you've ever done—" He couldn't even finish his sentence. A flame licked at his teeth. "You promised me you'd come back!"
He was so relieved to be alive he didn't have the energy to find his brother intimidating. "But you came to get me," Bolin whispered, his throat weak. "Now we're even."
Remembering that horrible day in Republic City, Mako continued to glare, but he was losing his edge. "I almost lost you, Bo. You weren't breathing when I found you. If it weren't for Opal…" He bit his lip to keep himself steady, but Bolin could feel Mako's hands trembling. "She made sure you stayed alive. I just—"
Bolin may not have been intimidated, but he did feel guilty. He couldn't stand seeing his brother upset. "I'm sorry," was all he could say, the mask making his words even softer.
Mako's stern face melted as he shook his head. "Oh, Bo…" Carefully he wrapped his arms around Bolin's shoulders and hugged him as tight as he could without hurting him. "No, don't be sorry. I was really worried. I'm just so happy you're alive." Mako's body shook a little, and a sob was muffled by Bolin's neck. Was he crying? Bolin gently wrapped his left arm around Mako as best he could and gave a comforting squeeze. They sat like this for a few minutes before Mako pulled away, no tear tracks on his cheeks, but his eyes were rimmed red. The firebender gave him a warm smile. "And I gotta say, what you did… You're amazing. I'm so proud of you, Bo."
Bolin smirked. "Please, go on. I enjoy praise." Mako just rolled his eyes and ruffled Bolin's unkept hair.
"So, how long was I out for? A few hours?"
Mako raised an eyebrow. "A few hours? Try almost two days."
The earthbender's jaw went slack. "T-Two days?"
His brother nodded. "Let's take count of the damage, shall we? Dehydration, poisoning by toxic volcanic gasses, hypoxemia, suffocation, third degree burns, one from lava, respiratory failure, and complete exhaustion from hours straight of chi-intensive lavabending. Like I said, you almost died!"
Bolin scrunched his face in thought, mentally going through the checklist of his injuries. Most of that made sense, but he never got a… Oh, that's what that tingling was. "Lava burn?" he asked. His eyes finally fell on his gauze wrapped arm. "Oh yeah… That really… really hurt. Can't remember much after that."
"The doctors said there might be some nerve damage. You'll still be able to use your arm, but you're not allowed to earthbend for a week, and no lavabending for a month."
"A month!" Bolin moaned before dissolving in another fit of coughs. Mako fed him some more water before he calmed down.
"Yes, a month, and Korra agrees, so you better listen. She's been in here every few hours giving you a healing session. You would've lost your arm if not for her."
Bolin was silent for a moment, then, "Can I see it?"
"Are you sure? It's not very pretty." But Bolin gave a firm nod, which he regretted a second later when his aching head protested.
Slowly and tenderly Mako unwrapped the gauze around Bolin's right bicep as the younger brother waited with baited breath. When his arm was finally revealed, his eyes widened in shock. The burn covered his whole bicep, and it was large, shiny, and angry red. It was jagged and raw, and looked like someone tried to cook him alive. Bolin swallowed.
"Trust me, it looked worse before," Mako explained. "And Korra wants more sessions with you. But it will scar, and you'll probably lose some feeling in the worst spots. I'm sorry, Bro."
Bolin stared at the burn for a long time, soaking it in. Finally, he leaned back with a breathy chuckle. "Hey Mako, now we match."
Mako glanced down at his own hand and pulled up his sleeve. Of course Bolin's scar didn't look anything like the lichtenburg figure that Mako sported. Maybe it was because of exhaustion, relief that Bolin was well enough to make jokes, or a combination of the two, but Mako burst out laughing. "I guess we do!"
The firebender had just finished rewrapping the gauze when the doctor came in, extremely pleased that Bolin was awake. He had a nurse come in to adjust the oxygen tanks and check his vitals. Another nurse brought in a tray of food. Bolin was starving and happy to finally eat something, but was less enthusiastic about Mako having to feed him; his tired arms couldn't hold anything longer than a minute without shaking. The doctor asked him questions and wrote the answers on a clipboard, and then he read the same list of things that Mako had told him already, in much greater detail that almost had Bolin nodding off again.
"We'll keep you here a few days to make sure there are no residual effects from the gasses, so just rest. One of the nurses will come check on you in a few hours." As the doctor started to leave, he glanced back. "Oh, and I think there are some very excited ladies out here who want to see you."
Bolin's eyes lit up and Mako nodded. "Send them in."
The doctor hadn't been gone for five seconds before Korra burst through the door, Asami right behind her. "Bolin!" she exclaimed as the two immediately embraced the earthbender.
"We're so glad you're okay," Asami said as she moved back, careful not to bump his IV.
"Yeah, you had us all worried," Korra chimed in. "Look at our lavabender, the big hero! Well I helped too, but you! You are one of kind."
"She doesn't want you to know that she cried," Asami smirked.
"I did not!" Korra was incredulous, but one look at Asami and Mako's raised eyebrows and she backed down. "Okay, so maybe there was a tear or two. But you know, it's just so dusty in this hospital." Despite her attempts to brush off the accusations, she never took her hands off Bolin's arm, gently rubbing the gauze.
Bolin just smiled, his throat too sore to laugh. "You should… have a word… with the janitor." After Korra and Asami chuckled, Bolin looked around; there was someone missing. "Hey, where's…?"
Opal stood in the doorway watching them. She looked like she was on the verge of tears, as if she couldn't believe what she was seeing. "Come on in, Opal!" Korra called, waving for the airbender. "Come see your crazy boyfriend!"
Opal's nerves had been fried for the past two days, constantly worrying, trying not to relive those terrifying moments on their flight. When she finally met Bolin's happy but tired green eyes, his one good arm reaching out for her and a smile on his face, her resolve broke. She literally flew across the room into his embrace. "Bolin!" she sobbed into his hospital gown. "You crazy goofball! Don't you ever scare me like that again!"
Bolin smiled as he dug his face into her hair. "I won't."
Then he looked up at his friends' beaming faces and smirked at Mako. "Hey Bro, look at me! I'm surrounded by all these beautiful ladies! Jealous?"
Mako shook his head with an exasperated sigh as the girls rolled their eyes. "Well, now we know for sure you'll be okay," giggled Opal as she wiped her tears.
"Yeah, if he's being a terrible flirt he's got to be feeling better!" Korra laughed.
It wasn't long before Bolin's throat grew too sore and tired to talk, so he just settled into his pillows as his friends conversed around him. Pabu curled up against his side under the blankets, hidden from the doctors and nurses. In spite of his exhaustion, Bolin was warm and content; he almost felt at home.
Mako soon noticed Bolin nodding off and patted his brother's hand. "Bolin, if you're tired, you can go to sleep. We'll be here when you wake up."
Bolin didn't have the energy to argue. His eyes closed as he listened to Korra enthusiastically regale them all with a Water Tribe story from her childhood. Pabu and Opal warmed his left side, Asami and Korra's weight dipped the foot of the bed, and Mako still clasped his right hand, as if trying to reassure himself that his brother was still alive. The quiet laughter of his friends slowly lulled him to sleep.