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Punishment. The satchel disappearing into the cloak of the girl with the scars ribboning her stomach, her hard eyes sparing not a thought of pity for the trials and tribulations through which the brothers have gone.

Punishment. The iron pole rising from the centre of the barren square room, the shackles about his wrists, rusted and serrated metal biting into his flesh, more wounds to add to those already scabbed on his palms. His knees ache from the cold floor, the rough pebbly texture imprinted in red on the skin; his head, bowed forward, shakes from the torture in his neck, keeping it tilted.

Punishment. The crackle of the whip held in the hand of she who knows how to use it, the tail slithering across the ground as she snaps it, cleaving the air in half. "Ya late," the girl intones solemnly. "'N ya got t' get punish'd."

Mako braces his forehead against the cool iron, his fingers twitching with anticipation of the pain to come, tears pooling in the corners of his eyes no matter how much he attempts to stop them. At least Bolin isn't being punished; at least Bolin isn't even in the room; at least the numbers weren't stale, merely an inconvenience.

"Ya ready?" He does nothing in response, afraid that even a single motion could give away his terror. The whip shrieks loudly enough to surprise him into jerking up. And then his vision flashes white and black, the agony ripping through him a moment later, his entire existence concentrated into a line on his back and the similar one on his left arm, pain shearing him in and out of life, his veins feeling as though they are bursting, the mirror of whoever he is shattered into shards and scattered across an endless sea of torture, every pulse of his heart doing nothing but bringing more blood to carry the agony back to the core of his body.

Wetness fills his mouth, the taste of copper flooding over the edge, speckles of scarlet splattering the stone. The sea is swallowed, forced back into him, receding down his throat, coating the rim with the promise of pain, more pain than he could stand, more pain than he could survive, tears flowing down his cheeks, the tracks of salt left behind burning.

No nobility, no strength, no pride. Nothing. Only pain and fear.

"One," the girl counts, wiping her face and bending her fingers prior to grasping the handle again. The cut across his back has settled into a sharp throb, and two against the other would be—

A blaze of skin torn apart, the purple-white banded edges of reddish muscle curling out from the wound, knotted together at the base.


His scream bubbles through the blood in his mouth, crimson trickling down his chin; nearly choking on his blood, he half-spits and half-vomits the liquid out, still screaming, his throat constricting. He fights to loosen the strain of his throat, allow himself to breathe, and, finally, with a gurgle speaking of a man about to pass, he expels the liquid, spraying the iron with red.

"Thr'." The girl gags. "Can't ya stop th't? Ya got two more, 'n then ya done."

Again, there is no response. Mako breathes through his nose, the air sickly sweet with the scent of blood, his mouth too raw and sore to let the breath pass over, his flesh puckering, tearing itself away from him in the torment of inhaling.

By the time the fourth one steals away the last shreds of his self, the tears have stopped. There is nothing left inside: His stomach is empty, his veins are empty, his eyes are empty but for the pain, the true equaliser of the world, capable of stripping away one's humanity and transforming it into an animalistic urge to stop the pain. Stop it. He would do anything—anything—to stop it. Anything.

The shackles prevent him from collapsing to the floor, but that is what he wants more than anything: To collapse. And to stop the pain.

Anything. Turn over his possessions. Give up his scarf. Leave his brother.

His eyes open involuntarily; he struggles to straighten himself but fails, falling back onto the pole, slick with blood.


"No." The first word he has said since coming in here. "No."

"Shut ya trap." Mako senses her lift the whip, and he closes his eyes. The tears helped, but he has none left. He has given everything but Bolin. And Bolin he will never, ever give.

Flashes of white and black, the new slice crisscrossing his back in the opposite direction from the first. In that second he forgets anything he has ever said or done, words and actions washed away, patterns of darkness and light fracturing across his vision.

"Five. Ya done."

Her hands touch the shackles, and his pain turns to rage, flame bursting from within, an inferno just below the skin, consuming him. "Wait!" he manages to gasp out, struggling to subdue the fire flickering in his mouth. "Don't do that!"

"Ya bein' daft. Stupid street rat." The girl flips the key up and inserts it into the lock.

"Don't." His voice breaks, caught between the primal hunger for blood and his own thoughts, his own morals, his own humanity. He feels like he is about to explode from the flame within him. Distantly, distantly he recalls this same feeling from another time, another place, another lethal mix of fear and pain, the bolt of lightning crashing at his feet, his parents' screams, his terror, his unending terror, his spirit-devouring terror destroying Mako and leaving . . . the fire.

The memory cools him in an instant, his inner panic turned to dull dread.

The key turns. The shackles drop. So does he, the ground cool against his cheeks.

"Git up. Ya got t' go do ya job."

Mako does nothing, and the girl hoists him over her shoulder, his only thought of Bolin.

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