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As Dad did.
His gaze settles onto the canoe, somehow yet tied to the dock by the bright red rope that marked it from the others. Two years, and the canoe is still here. Still here. As long as Mako keeps the canoe in his sight, nothing can go wrong.
A member of the United Forces. A general, maybe even.
He doesn't know exactly what that means, but he knows he should be proud, and he is. Bursting with it, his heart floating somewhere on the water, both because Dad was who he was—in the United Forces—and because Mako has a new sliver of knowledge about Dad's life. And somehow that makes Dad more real. Not just legend anymore, not just a reminder of what used to be and the food they used to have and everything else good about their lives, but a person who really existed.
Not a memory.
Or a memory of a memory.
He realises how long it's been since he thought about Mom and Dad as much of anything beyond symbols of everything his life was supposed to be.
"I love you, Mom." He tastes the words, his tongue not quite sure what it's doing, the words lost and rusty and bitter. "Love you, Dad. Thank you."
One step at a time, walking down to the harbour, down to the waves. There's nothing in the canoe—not after two years—but he feels like there is, the same thing pounding at the moment through his heart.
And then Mako recognises it.
"Come on, Bo."
His brother slides off of him and lands on his rump, springing up almost instantly. Mako rubs his upper arms, grateful for the removed load, and continues walking forward, the tapping of his feet on the wood more comforting than anything else. That, and the weight of the bag full of food, and the sound of Bolin's breathing, halfway in dreamland, halfway thrilled to be going somewhere. "Where are we going?" his brother chatters excitedly, his eyes twinkling with eagerness for the unknown.
"I told you about the canoe." And it's here, he wants to add. Because he remembered it. And he was smart enough to go find it. "I was right, bro. I always am."
He's a little shocked when Bolin suddenly hugs him from behind. "I'm lucky to have you, aren't I?" the earthbender says sleepily, rubbing his eyes. "Love you."
"Love you back." Mako listens closely to his brother's footsteps, taking his hand when they begin to sound slightly uneven. He idly muses if Bolin will ever know what it's taken to keep him warm and safe and fed. But he doesn't say anything.
It's easier this way.
He longs to glance at the boats they pass, from tiny sailboats good only for one or two to massive barges blocking out the light of the moon and the night sky swirled with multi-coloured stars above them, but he has to keep looking at the canoe.
The rope wrapped around one of the wooden pegs rising up from the harbour stops him short, the crimson like an angry slash through the darkness, a wound that won't heal. Sucking in a breath, Mako lifts a hesitant hand, considering the last person to touch the rope.
Quietly he brings the back of his hand near it, almost to check to see if it's real or one of those mirages from the radio dramas Mom liked to listen to. But it's there. Closing his eyes, Mako grasps the rope, the texture heartbreakingly familiar under the roughened pads of his fingertips. "Get in the canoe."
"Okay." Bolin's hand slips out of his; he hears his brother half-fall, half-tumble into the canoe. "Mm, it's so warm."
A snowflake lands on his eyelash. Mako wipes it away, feels it melt into water, and considers untying the canoe. "Not yet." Instead his fingers return to the strap of the bag slung around his shoulders; he pries it, shrugging out of it, and tips it into the canoe, a tad surprised at the soft thump rather than the noise of wood. Finished, he hooks his leg around the rim of the canoe and allows himself to drop down. A blanket. Softness in the bottom of the canoe.
His eyes snap open. Shifting the bag of food out of the way, Mako glances down: A blue blanket. And not one that looks like it's been in the weather for two years, but a fairly newish one at that.
The fact troubles him.
"Bo, get up."
His brother responds with a light snore. Despite himself Mako smiles, reaching out to ruffle Bolin's hair, the sea breeze already having mussed it up. Then he turns back. Part of him screams about the folly of falling asleep in a canoe where someone else left a blanket.
But another part of him, the largest part of him, can't stand the thought of fleeing the canoe. He doesn't care if the decision is stupid or selfish or dangerous. He can't leave Dad.
Mako touches the edge of the canoe, sensing the strength in the wood, the kind of wood that can last.
Silently, he pushes on it, testing it.
His eyelids lower as he rocks the canoe back and forth, pretending somewhere that it's Mom.
He knows it isn't.
But maybe, just maybe, he can pretend.
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