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"Running numbers?"

Stenches of the poor and the deceased bring a tangible weight to the air, the sounds of someone screaming in a distant room fading to background. The bowl is heavy in his grip, and Mako adjusts it carefully, the street gruel slopping over the rim. Bolin doesn't seem to mind: Tipping the bowl over, he's downing the food as if it were a meal from one of the fancy restaurants to which Mommy and Daddy would sometimes take them. As he pushes the fragile music and mouth-watering scents from his mind, Mako returns to the girl standing over them, another dagger spinning in her grasp.

"Ya 'eard me. Runnin' numbahs." The girl smashes the edge of the blade into the table, the tip pinning a scrap of paper to the wood. Bolin chokes on the gruel, the bowl nearly slipping from his hands, and Mako, shifting his to his left, lunges to catch his brother's bowl smoothly with his right. It trembles on his fingertips and begins to tilt, but by then Bolin has returned it to his mouth, a dribble of gruel trickling down his chin. "Nice catch there, sparky. So 'ere's th' idea." The girl lifts her leg and steps on the handle of her dagger, pushing it deeper into the table, slicing it apart as easily as his parents' death sliced apart his life. "People out there, they stupid, right? They like t' believe luck's going t' drop some yuans on their heads. Well that ain't going t' appen."

"Why do you talk funny?"

Mako glanced at Bolin, his green eyes wide and bright with innocent naïveté.

The burned remnants of the girl's eyebrows knit together. "What'd ya say?"

"Why do you talk funny?" he presses. The firebender resists the urge to cut in; instead he watches the girl's reaction carefully. "Can't you talk normally, like Mako and me?"

"I don' talk funny." The girl snorts. "Ya talk funnier'n me. So shut ya trap 'n listen, ya fool."

Bolin giggles, and Mako sighs in relief, the crisis averted. "Okay. So what's running numbers?"

"Up 'ere in th' triad, we have a lott'ry goin' on. We pick th' numbahs, 'n ya run t' th' dumbasses on t' street cornahs 'n ya ask 'em their numbahs. Then ya run back, 'n we see if anyone's won. Make sense yet, stupid?"

Putting his meal down into his lap, he frowns and shakes his head. "Isn't that illegal?"

Her condescending stare burrows into his spirit and rips it apart. "'Course it's illegal, sweetie." She smirks, and he notes a chip in one of her few non-metallic upper teeth. "If it wasn't we wuddn't be doin' it, now would we?"

"I don't understand what you're saying," Bolin announces cheerfully through a mouthful of gruel. "Could you—?"

"Nope." Her fingers grasp at the hilt of the dagger. "'N if ya open ya mouth one more time, ya'll have t' scrape ya tongue off th' underside of my boot."

Mako's eyes narrow, his breakfast forgotten. "Don't threaten my brother."

"Just lookin' out fer his well-bein's all." Her wrist flicks; the blade protrudes from Bolin's bowl, eliciting a squeak as he scrambles to pull it out, only to jab it back in when the gruel starts to ooze out. "So's it's simple. I give ya kids a map of th' city, 'n ya run 'round like good li'l street rats 'n gemsbok bullshit, 'n then ya collects th' numbahs the agents tell ya."

"Agents?" The earthbender claps excitedly. "Like secret agents?" Under the table, Mako reaches over and gently touches his brother's hand, stroking the palm in a soothing circular motion somehow instinctive to him; he feels Bolin relax and quiet, and the warm weight of his brother's head soon rests on his shoulder. He looks up at the girl to see the smallest smile imaginable twisting her lips in the most horrible way.

The second she catches him studying her—her eyes open widely, then squint—she lets out a barrage of curses that Mako instantly blocks from his ears. "Anyways, ya get th' numahs, 'n then ya bring 'em back, 'n we do th' rest. A'ight?"

The door into the room bursts open, and a nude woman runs through, chased by a man whose gaze full of hunger has been lifted from the beast. Mako's hand is over Bolin's eyes in an instant, his other holding his brother close, and he himself turns away when the pursuit comes to a halt and the man tackles the woman, her never-ending wail of pain more than he can suffer. The girl unleashes a sound and fury, and Mako feels Bolin shudder in his arms while he listens to the beast-man's footsteps steadily drag away, the reluctance of his action—and the muffled moans behind the meaty fist mashed on her mouth—reminding him, again, of Hai.

Once the beast-man is gone, the girl coughs. "A'ight?"

"All right," he repeats uncomfortably, squeezing Bolin's hand, letting him slide from the embrace.

"So go." The girl steps away from the table but allows the dagger to continue to stay there, defiantly sturdy in its occupation of the wood. "Ain't got all day."

Bolin finishes the last of his gruel and places the bowl gently on the table. "Thank you for the meal." He grins. "That was delicious."

"Cork it." She gestures at the door. "If ya morons 'ope t' run, ya'll going t' die, ya 'ear me?"

Mako tenses, knowing that his brother is about to disagree, and laces their fingers, pulling both of away from the table as the girl brings her boot down on the surface, popping the blade free, and throws it expertly at them. The firebender ducks, but Bolin is quick enough to catch it with earthbending. The hilt comes apart, and a scrap of paper—a map—floats into his hand.

Mako lowers his gaze.

The first place to go is the statue of Fire Lord Zuko.

Their old home.

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