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Something nuzzles his chest, squirming in his lap a few seconds before settling down again. His eyelids flutter, letting in a mixture of dappled too-bright light and hints of darkness patterned over the skies, as his hand travels towards the something perched on his thighs. Hair meets his fingers, tangling itself, and Mako smiles at his brother's warmth and soft breathing; he sounds utterly at peace with the entire world, like there is nothing that could ruin his day, and the thing that Mako wants most, right now, is the ability to somehow make sure that Bolin never, ever feels differently.

Suddenly he jolts awake, sitting up in a second, his brother nearly sliding off. Shifting his weight to brace his back against the edge of the canoe, the firebender hastily pushes Bolin from his lap and looks down, but the blanket is still there, appearing a bit worse for wear, the corners crumpled. He snaps his head to stare, terrified, at the bag of food; he dives for it, ignoring Bolin's cry of surprise when his foot accidentally jabs into the earthbender's side. The zipper glints. Mako jerks it open, a trickle of sweat cool against his brow, only to sigh with relief when the food is indeed all there.

"Bro, what's going on?"

"Don't worry about it," he answers automatically, sifting through the bag to ensure . "Sit tight and I'll get you breakfast."

From the corner of his eye, Mako watches Bolin slowly blink and stretch until his back makes a satisfying crack. He glances back and forth, confusion clouding his emerald eyes, before turning back to the firebender. With a sigh, Mako pulls out a box of fire flakes, waiting for the inevitable questions. "Bro, where are we?"

"Let's play a game." Cautiously peeling back the top of the box, he inspects the inside, even though he knows beggars can't be choosers. But it's fresh, or at least as fresh as it's going to get, so he pulls out a handful of powdery flakes and eats them off of his palm. The taste instantly floods his mouth with saliva, his stomach churning eagerly from the thought of being able to eat however much he wants. Although Mako's aware he should ration himself, he can't bear to close the box. "It's called the Quiet Game. The first person to speak loses."

"Didn't you just talk?" Bolin inquires, yawning. "So you lost?"

Mako shakes his head and tilts the box forward, spilling out more of the fire flakes into his palm, his stomach growling with hunger for the first time in a while. He realises he's used to being at least somewhat full; the thought almost makes him laugh. "Here, take this. Don't eat all of it, or you'll get sick. The Quiet Game starts . . . now."

Bolin rolls his eyes. "Sure, Mom," he jokes, digging into the box.

The firebender doesn't even comprehend where his hand is going until he feels the sting on his palm and hears the rough crackle of fire flakes spilling. "Never make fun of Mom or Dad again," Mako snarls, the voice he hears not his own. The moment the last word leaves his lips, his eyes widen at the red mark on Bolin's cheek and the fear in his emerald eyes, a fear Mako has never seen directed at him.

He stares at his hand as if it were a monster.

"I'm sorry," he bursts out, reaching out to touch his brother's shoulder, but Bolin scrambles away from him, the earthbender's breathing becoming ragged and wet with the first signs of crying. "Bo. Bo, I'm sorry." But his brother is stumbling over the side of the canoe, jumping out of the firebender's reach to tumble onto the dock at the other side. Dizzyingly Mako understands Bolin means to leave, forever. But after all he's done for his brother, he can't just . . . leave.

His brother picks himself up, a tremor racing through him visibly enough for the firebender to suck in a breath at the thought of Bolin's pain, and then he glances back over his shoulder; Mako catches a glint of green, somehow un-dulled even though they've been through so much, the pain and the panic and the hunger.

"I lost the Quiet Game," Bolin says softly. "I lost it, and that's why you hit me, right?"

Mako's brow furrows in his puzzlement, his heartbeat still loud and far too fast from his horror at himself. "No, I—"

"Because I'd never make fun of Mommy. Or Daddy. You know that, right Mako?" Bolin sniffles, wiping his nose with the back of his hand. "Right?"

"Bo . . ."

The earthbender grasps the fabric of his shirt and brings it up to his face to soak up his tears. "It's okay. I'm sorry, too. You're not Mommy."

No, he's not. Because Mom would never hit a child. His throat constricts; Mako clenches his right hand, the tingling settling in his palm.

"I'm okay." Bolin hesitates. "Am I okay, Mako?"

"You're okay." Mako leans down to pick up the box, the fire flakes strewn wildly over the inside of the blanket. Two years ago, maybe he would've tossed them into the bay and settled for the ones in the box. But not today. "You're okay because I love you. And Mom and Dad love us, too." The fire flakes taste of sea salt, but they're better than nothing. He doesn't have a right to complain anyway: They're safe, they're away from the triad, they have food—

"When are they coming back?"

He grabs the box so tightly the sides collapse slightly, furrows of cardboard digging into the creases of his palm. "Come here." Mako forces himself to exhale. "Eat breakfast. We've got a lot to do today." He'll make something up, something to keep Bolin busy.

His brother nods, the canoe rocking when he climbs back inside it. "Bro?"


"I want to play the Quiet Game."

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