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He doesn't know how he knows he's falling, only that he is. One moment, the ground is firmly under his feet, supporting him, no matter how damp it is. The next the rug has been pulled out from under him, pushing down the slippery slope, like his parents, there one moment, gone the next, gone from his life but for myth and legend, the words still on his tongue.

Getting cake.

Like every life on the street, there one moment, gone the next. A knife sliced into delicate tissue and fragile ribs, intestines spilling into the street or clutched in bloodied hands, fingers broken under hard-tapped boots. The winds of winter catching one unguarded, a simple cough turning into a raging fire that burns until there is nothing left but cold ash and colder skin, sharp beaks shearing apart soft jelly, ripping out the tendrils at the back of the sockets, clear fluid dripping down black feathers. Or an easy collapse in the centre of the road, fingers pressed into the skin stretched taught over the stomach, bones rippling under fingers, the pain in the belly too great to heal no matter what is done, until at last the darkness calls, eyelids lowered, breath escaping, gurgle of blood thick in the throat, ragged clothing suddenly wet as muscles relax, the chaotic grip of life severed, replaced with the cooling touch of death.

There one moment, gone the next.

Falling, he realises he doesn't know his parents' names.

Falling, he realises his brother hasn't stopped screaming.

Falling, he realises that he has done nothing, caught for a blaze of hopelessness, and he instantly looks down, the water rushing up to them rapidly. Bolin's arm is still in his hands; taking the opportunity, he flips both of them around, squeezes his brother tightly, and closes his eyes.

"Earthbend." The word whispers from him, emptying into his brother's ear. "Bo, you have to."

But his brother is shaking too fiercely.

And the walls could be metal for all he—

His back snaps itself forward, the back of his head exploding into agony, his world transformed into a sheet of paper, an inky blackness materialising in front of him. The lizard crow with the missing foot, its beady sable eye burrowing into his spirit, the pink V on its chest a scar from an earlier fight in an earlier time, its caw breaking him—

The current sweeps him under the surface of the river of sewage, the stench nearly suffocating him alone. Bolin clings tightly to him, arms and legs hooked around his body as though Mako were his brother's lifeboat, but he's more of a piece of driftwood caught in the storm.

A wave of sewage water splashes over them, sending them under. His blood roars in his ears. Heart pound. Water rush. Inhale, exhale. Kick. Beat. Beat. Kick. Swim. Move. Water again. Kick. Air. He needs air. His chest from his shakes, his existence shaved down to two words: Bolin, and water. Three, now. Air. Air. Frantic, Mako inhales rank water, the sudden pain in his lungs bringing darkness to the corners of his vision. No. He has to stay awake.

Kick. Beat. Move. Kick. Swim. Move. Kick. Swim. An irregular rhythm, one that grows progressively slower, progressively weaker, progressively floating away. A sharp object crashes into him, dull blade tearing his arm, and is cast away, but the wooden barrel is salvation. Letting go of Bolin for the moment, Mako grabs at the drifting object, the edges cutting into his palms and the pads of his feet as he climbs up onto it. His head chills abruptly, and he breathes in deeply, his vision clearing at last. Under him, Bolin begins to hyperventilate as well; the earthbender's grip grows tighter, Mako's pulse not yet thinking of returning to normal.

"It's okay, Bo." He can't hear his own words for the drums in his ears. Blood wells from his hands and heels. Gloves would be useful. Gloves and shoes. The barrel jerks as it is pushed roughly through the waters, spinning about, and it is all he can do to hang on, his eyes squeezed shut, fingers of his left hand clenched tightly in Bolin's hair, his right scratched by the rough wood. The rapids rip them up, toss them about, spin and twirl them as if they were a leaf in the wind. Several times, the barrel threatens to dunk down, but it resurfaces, breaking the vomit-green surface of sewage.

After a time, Mako feels the river collect, a curious serenity stealing over them, and he cautiously opens his eyes: The current has indeed steadied, and he can see to the end of the sewage where there appears to be a sidewalk of some kind, or at least a place to stand.

As he gazes at that sliver of safety, his arms shake, and he collapses onto the barrel, depleted, a streak of scarlet running through the black of Bolin's hair. His brother unwinds his limbs. They drop to the wood with quiet thumps, as of fiery birds alighting on a fence wire, the fear coiling his muscles draining away with nothing to replace it.

"M-mako?" Bolin's eyebrows knit together, his face covered in tears and sweat, blood trickling down from his hair. "Mako, what's going on?"

"We're going to be okay." The firebender opens and closes his hands, embers flickering weakly in the centres, put out almost instantly by the flow of blood. The wood has bitten into him, a cursed bite, but he doesn't think Bolin will be able to pull another miracle from his pocket for all the earthbender's cattish smiles and brilliant eyes.

A shark rat glares at them from the edge of the sewage, its long scaly nose twitching in the air, stretching to its formidable metre-long length prior to leaping into the waters, the sharply ribbed fin disappearing under the surface.

Mako exhales; Bolin embraces him.

Then, from nowhere:


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