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If he does it enough times, breathing again and again and again, maybe he can forget what happened.

Holding Zolt's fingers in the palm of his hand, in his fingers, in himself . . .

He snuggles deep into the blankets and pillows, their warmth comforting him, their heat driving him away. He fears for summer, when the temperatures will be far too high to sleep under a blanket. What will protect him from his nightmares then?

The door opens, creaking, the light footsteps whispering of his brother and his friend; he buries his face in the softness of the pillow, never wanting to stir from the spot again. The thought of seeing Bolin—of telling him what happened—turns his blood to ice, even more frigid than before.

For a firebender, he feels terribly cold most of the time. Perhaps that is why he was born in winter instead of summer. He's not a firebender at all but as cruel and inhuman as the never-ending chill, the frost, the creeping white that covers all and spares none, not even the seemingly immortal lizard crows mocking him from rooftops and fence-posts. Strong and weak alike.

The scarf is wrapped around his face.

If he concentrates enough, he can pretend it still has Daddy's scent.

But it doesn't.

It's gone.

Like everyone he has ever wanted or loved.


In the doorway, Bolin looks up at Miza, the encouragement in her blue eyes giving him courage, and he hugs her gently, stepping back for a moment to gaze at his brother curled up on the bed, more broken than Bolin has ever seen him. Miza mouths a word—go—and he understands.

Mako needs him now.

The door casts a triangle of light from the entrance towards the bed, fading and dissipating, becoming fuzzy at the edge. Through this triangle he walks, then runs, then leaps into the fort, the shield, the protective barrier of softness, Mako's body coiled into a ball. He slips his hand between his brother's torso and the legs drawn up until the knees nearly touch the chest, curving his arm around Mako's stomach and holding him close. Always it was the other way around, Mako's arms about him, but this time Bolin must the one to embrace.

"Bro?" He can't see his brother's face, but he can feel the tears held back in those golden eyes, the only beacon of hope in the dark days on the street. "Mako, it's okay to cry. Remember what Mommy says? Mommy says it's okay to cry."

Bolin turns his brother over as carefully as he can, though Mako resists, his form curling in on itself once more. But Bolin finds the strength to pry apart his limbs and brush the tears from his cheeks with trembling fingers. For once, he is quiet, his usual jibber-jabber replaced with hush, hush, as he squeezes himself into his brother's lap.

He knows that Mako needs to be the one to speak, to fill in the silence welling up between them. He doesn't know how he knows.

But he knows.

"Mako? What happened? Was Zolt mean to you?" His voice sounds almost too childish. Bolin gazes at his brother, unable to see Mako's eyes but able to read his emotion regardless. Fear. Horror. Shame. Guilt. Hate. Emotions no one should have, especially not Mako, who has done nothing but be the best brother in the city. The world. No, no, in the universe!

"Nothing." Mako's tone reveals his lie. "Nothing happened. " Shifting, morphing into truth, the silence too great to allow anything else. Bolin can feel Mako's heart leap into a new beat, increasing, rushing, thumping under his cheek. He finds it calming, no matter how swiftly it pulses, because it means Mako is still there, for him. The words are coming, forced out of his throat. "I heatbent Zolt."

Heatbent Zolt? Bolin blinks slowly, trying to comprehend what he just heard. "How do you heatbend a person?" he chirps, cocking his head to one side, a curl of hair bobbing against his forehead. "Mako? Tell tell tell. I want to know."

Fingers brush against his hair, smoothing the spikes at the rear. "I don't . . . I'm not . . . I heatbent him, Bo." Mako opens his fingers, the faint light from the doorway enough for Bolin to see their silhouette. "I . . . I could have . . . I could have . . . killed." The k catches in his throat, the rest of the word dropping away into silence, and the tears come again, trickling down his cheeks, dripping onto Bolin's head. He hugs Mako fiercely, burying his face in his brother's collarbone, sensing the warm wetness of Mako's neck where his weeping has collected.

"But you didn't!" Bolin smiles. "And that's what counts. Mommy always said that it doesn't matter what could've happened but what happened. Like that time you and Daddy went camping, and—"

Mako's fingers press into his head and shoulder suddenly, abruptly, his entire body tensing and tautening. "You don't understand." Bolin recoils, pulling away, at the anger in Mako's voice, a fiery fury, a rage sprung out of nowhere. "I almost k-killed him." His brother's hand is shaking, and he attempts to catch his wrist, to hold it until the spasm subsides, but Mako lights a fire in his palm. "For a second, I think . . . I was going to do it." Mako trembles badly enough for Bolin to begin to shiver as well. He can't breathe under the blankets, under the darkness, under the shadows, and he flings the blanket off. Mako jerks his arm up to shield his face. "Bolin, I can't see. The light's in my eyes."

Bolin glances at his brother, his reflection gazing back at him from the pools of amber in his eyes.

"The light's always in your eyes."

Slowly, steadily, subtlety, his brother ceases to shake.

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