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The training courtyard is dimly lit, the stench of gasoline from passing Satomobile lurking under the otherwise fresh wind, the horns of the moon curving upwards as though the silvery crescent were smiling down upon them, the three shadows flitting along the end of the courtyard. A current of electricity races through him; Mako is shocked to see a hint of beauty in the midst of triad territory: Other than the ghastly cement strip around the rim of the courtyard, the centre is inlaid with cobblestones, brown, white, yellow, black, grey, smoothed of ragged edges as if taken from a river or the shore of an island, the pattern spiralling through and ending around the base of a single ancient tree growing from the middle of the rock, its gnarled roots pushing through the ground, cobblestones falling from them, the trunk battered and weary, the branches sagging, the scarce leaves drooping and fluttering downwards to land softly on the stone, the tree weeping.
But for what?
Miza snaps her fingers, grabbing his attention, and she takes Mako down towards the tree itself. With precise movements, she takes the still-warm egg custard tart from Bolin's grip—the earthbender bites down on empty air, then looks up, his mouth open in an O. Keeping the tart poised on her arm, Miza folds herself into a sitting position, her heels somehow pressed against her opposite hips, her knees pointing outwards towards him, her hands clasped together in her lap, the posture so natural that Mako cannot help but try to imitate it. He studies her, seeing how she has linked one leg with the other, and tries to do the same, sliding his right foot along his left leg, barely able to make it reach halfway down his thigh, soreness welling in the back of his foot, his knee, and his hip from the stretching. Grasping his leg in his hands, he pulls it down the rest of the way to the crook of his hip, the muscles of his face twitching from the effort to keep it there. When he removes his hands, the palm a centimetre away from his skin, his foot slips off of his thigh again, his pose unravelling. Frustrated, he resorts to crossing his legs normally, his ankles brushing against the rock. It doesn't have to be rough, he realises, to rub his skin. Even smooth stone can hurt after a while.
Miza smiles, her shoulders shaking with a silent giggle, and she balances the egg custard tart on her lower legs, cradling the pastry. A faint trail of steam continues to rise from the surface, promises of food and warmth and comfort like whispers in the night. The girl splays her fingers, as though opening a fan, and places them onto the crust of the tart, the tips indenting the surface. Mako watches her closely, aware that she is about to show him something. What, he doesn't know. But . . . something.
She lifts her hand from the surface, the steam cloaking itself about her fingers, a glove of mist. Mako leans forward, adjusting his feet, his elbows propped up against his knees as he sees, in utter awe, what Miza is doing: Drawing her hand further and further away, she wills the steam to follow. No, not the steam. The heat, leaking from the tart, rising through the cool, crisp autumn sky, the night for once not a harbinger of fear and terror but of a time when the world sleeps soundly, the other noises muted, false echoes, an otherworldly melody descending from the stars spangled across the inky black sea, broken up by islands of light.
He understands why she is mute.
The silence is fragile, so fragile, like a baby bird, a mockingjay with downy feathers and wetness glistening, fragments of pearly white eggshell still caught on moist down.
Sound would break it, the baby bird thrown from its nest, wet feathers sticky, peeling back in the wind, the poor living spirit never knowing what the roar in its ears is until the end.
He glances at Bolin, his own baby bird, and knows that if one had to be pushed from the nest, he would be the one to jump.
Miza gently lowers her hand back down to the tart, the steam trailing, and the crust glows with the heat invading its surface. Less than before, some heat given up to the universe. But heat nonetheless.
Mako feels himself trembling, though he doesn't know why.
Her blue eyes glittering with the same dark light as the stars, Miza pushes the egg custard tart towards him, their hands touching for an instant as he accepts the trial. His lungs fill with the steam; he senses the heat melting, steadily, into him, or himself melting, steadily, into the heat, or both at once, for all he is heat as well. He concentrates on the heat within himself and the heat within the tart, envisioning the pastry as a golden circle of fire that he can bend like any other. Much as Miza did previously, Mako opens his fingers wide, engulfing them in the flame of the circle, willing the fire to his hand, quivering on the surface of perfection.
The heat flows softly to him, traveling from his fingertips through his hand, up his arm, warming him up, cascading down his shoulders and sending an ember down his spine, spreading across his lower torso, down into his legs, heating even his toes. The scarf warms, too, as if it were part of him, the fabric red as flame.
His fingers curl into his palm, his hand slipping from the golden circle and landing on the smooth stone. A wind rustles the leaves in the weeping tree, the same wind that cools down his body, stealing away the heat.
"Mako?" Something pokes him in the arm. Bolin. "My tart's cold."
Mako opens his eyes and looks at Miza, her smile gentle. "I'll heat it."
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