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Her name is Hai. Her raven hair is swept back into a red and gold hairpiece, the only hint of a distantly wealthy past on her person, and her feminine curves reveal nothing of the hardship she has endured. Yet her eyes, amber as jewels and hardened as diamonds, betray the fires always attempting to spring free and burn down her entire world.

Mako has long noticed that the vast majority of people in the area are firebenders; a few are nonbenders; and perhaps three or four water or earthbenders guard specific parts of the mostly uncharted warehouse. Charged with showing them around, Hai is unusual in several respects. First, she doesn't lie about anything. If Mako inquires on any subject, she answers as curtly as possible. Secondly, she is the most apathetic woman, or man, he has ever met in his entire life. Thirdly, she is undeniably pregnant.

When she came to get them the first day, the brothers thought she was bringing them breakfast. Then she threw the rags at their feet.

"If you're going to eat," she snarled, "you're going to work. Say hello to your closest friends, Mister Bucket and Miss Mop."

Now, as Mako runs the wet rag over the floor and stares at the bedraggled child looking back at him from the swipe of water, he wonders if he made the right decision about taking up Nani on her offer. Of course he did. Another swipe. Dip in the bucket. The chill of the liquid makes him wince. Swipe again. Clean at last.

Hai watches them. Much like Nani, she usually stands with her arms crossed, a mask of neutrality cast on her features. "You should never have come here." Her comment is matter-of-fact, straight, direct. "I don't know what you proved by showing up. Except for your idiocy and willingness to die."

Bolin stands up abruptly, wriggling his arms and legs. "Know what's stupid?" He sniffles. "This! I have a better idea."

"And what's that, Mechanist?" Hai quizzes dryly. "Going to reinvent the hot hair balloon?"

He giggles. "What if I tied the scrubs to my feet and danced around in them? I like running around."

Her eyes glisten dark as coals for an instant. Mako stiffens.


A sigh of relief collapses him, and he returns to steadily wiping the dusty ground while his brother rushes around the warehouse asking for string from any and all. Within seconds he is returned, his toes wiggling in Mako's face. "Can you tie it please? Pweash?" Bolin's sheepish smile brings one to his own face, and he sets himself to work, fingers readily taking to the needed motions, remembering the many times he would help Mommy with readying his brother for the day.

The thought of Mommy chills his blood. He doesn't realise he's passed out until he comes to a few moments later, Bolin and Hai peering at him, one concerned and yelling, the other silently masquerading a façade of not caring whatsoever.

The woman slaps his face. Mako's cheek stings where her palm touched, fire burning the flesh of his face. It dissipates before he can register the pain; the full agony rushes after he tries to sit up. "Never do that again," Hai commands, rubbing her arms. "Because next time, I will murder you mercilessly. Do I make myself clear?"

Mako bows his head. He becomes aware of the sweat beading on his forehead and running down his back between his shoulder blades. Half-nervously and half-sadly, he turns his head to his brother, biting his lower lip. "Mako? Are you okay?"

"I think." Increasingly he feels as though a stone has beaten his brains out in a pulp on the floor, and he shakes his head, trying to clear it.

"Finish your cleaning." Hai's words are emotionless as granite, but a molten line of magma through the centre causes him to rush towards the bucket more swiftly than a bolt of lightning.

Reverting to sweeping the ground with his rag-bound feet, Bolin nudges her. "Are you grumpy because you ate too much?" he question, his eyes glittering. "Or are you having a baby?"

"I'm not grumpy at all. Get away from me." Her eyebrows draw close, her brow furrowed.

But the earthbender doesn't listen; instead, he gently strokes her stomach. "I think that mommies need to be nice. Mommy is. She's getting cake for me. She'll come back, like my brother told me she would." He beams, his cheeks glowing. "Are you going to be a good mommy? I know you will. I know you!"

Mako blinks as Hai's mask breaks for a moment. With an expression of shock, she looks away, swivelling about on her heel. "Your mommy's not getting cake." Her voice is hoarse and muffled, a lump caught in her throat, a lump Mako understands. "And if you don't leave by winter's end, you'll never get cake either."

"There's a winter every year," Bolin observes. "Are we supposed to leave every winter? Daddy taught me that some people don't like winter because it's cold and everything is dead, but that winter is really a time of re-growth." He sounds the last word out, Mako moving his lips along with his brother's speech, recognising it. "Summer is when things start to die, but we don't notice it until autumn. Winter is when life begins in the littlest of places, places so itty bitty we can't see them. But it's there." He pokes her belly. "Like here. And when it's ready to blossom, it's vibrant and alive, and we see the fruits of our—of our—"

"Of our labour." He has forgotten the sound of Daddy's voice, yet he hears it through the childish tones of Bolin's.

Hai's response is silence, but Mako notes the tears glistening on her cheeks, embers in a field of snow.

The next day she brings them breakfast and tells them they have three months.

Frost plunges the world into sleep.

The lizard crow calls.

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