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His second-favourite season, where there come soft rains and the smell of the ground, and the world at once is bathed in his element, the earth singing to his fingertips, the melody coursing up his arms and legs and thrumming in his chest in a beat in time with his heart. Days like these, waiting in the canoe is impossible, and both boy and ferret take to the mud from last night's rain, coolness squelching between their toes and drenching their bodies. Bolin knows Pabu well from their closeness through the winter-time, the hugs and embraces and tucking-into-shirts needed to keep warm; by now he is as comfortable with his friend as he is with himself.

Presently the earthbender flicks his arm up, bending the mud from his face and clothing, aware of Mako's disapproval at the destruction of even rags. "Come on, buddy," he calls to Pabu, who, with a comical twitch of his nose, scampers up from the brown pool, wriggling his torso and tail to clear the mud off of him. Yawning, the fire ferret reveals tiny white teeth where before were merely pinkish gums, and Bolin smiles at the thought of his little buddy getting bigger.

It's nice to have a friend during the time that his brother is gone doing whatever it is he does in the day, coming home towards evening with fruit and meat and everything they never had.

He pauses. They had those things once.

But that was a long time ago.

Shaking his head, Bolin crouches on the ground next to Pabu, offering his friend a lift, and the fire ferret bolts; the earthbender giggles, feeling claws on his legs, his chest, his shoulders, before the red puffball curls up around his neck, a spot of wetness detailing his nose.

"C'mon, my big bro'll be back soon," he says anxiously, wondering what Mako will think if he's late. The pebbles of the slope from the harbour to the Pro-bending Arena rough on the pads of his feet, he earthbender races back towards the direction of the bay, glancing back only for a second to catch a glimpse of the magnificent golden dome, breaking up the skyline with its size. Spring means off-season matches, practises, the teams getting ready for the tournament come fall. "One day," Bolin asks Mommy, if she's listening, "will you take me to see a match? That'd be the best birthday present ever." He considers. "Other than cake."

Pabu licks his cheek, causing him to giggle at first, and then laugh loudly, the mirth bubbling up from his stomach. As he approaches the canoe, he makes out the tall, lithe figure of Mako already there, and, cupping his hands over his mouth, he calls out to his brother across the dock: "Mako! Hey!"

The firebender's head snaps up. He waves towards Bolin, and the earthbender immediately senses an unusual happiness. He buzzes with excitement: Whatever could make Mako happy will make him overjoyed. The fire ferret can detect it, too, a loud squeak coupling with an eager jump that sends the kit tumbling off of Bolin's shoulder, but he snags his buddy and helps him back on. When the earthbender reaches his brother at last, he sees a package wrapped in brown paper and a newspaper in the firebender's arms. "Hey, Bo." Mako's smile—rare and radiant—leaves Bolin giddy, delirious, his mind racing to find what could possibly have made his brother this elated. "Do you know what day it is?"

Bolin blinks and cocks his head to one side like a bird; Pabu does the same. "Opposite Day?" he guesses.

His brother laughs warmly, setting the objects down onto the duffel bag wedged onto one end of the canoe and opening his arms for a hug. For a moment Bolin stands there, a quiver running through him from the top of his head to the soles of his feet, unable to understand, and then he decides to stop caring and leap at the chance. Flinging himself into Mako's arms, the earthbender snuggles him, rubbing his forehead against the hollow of his brother's throat as he's seen Pabu do. "Happy birthday, Bolin. You're eight years old."

His mouth drops open. "As old as you were when Mommy and Da—"

"I got you a present." Mako's interruption turns the conversation onwards, and the earthbender bobs his head, brimming with the kind of anxiety that fills one up and manifests into the widest grin imaginable.

"For me?"

"Of course for you." Pride is written on every centimetre of his form: With a flourish, Mako takes out the parcel in brown paper and unfolds it, one careful motion at a time, the package like a lotus blossom opening slowly to the outside world, each petal glistening with droplets of dew.

The scent is familiar, oh so familiar, but he can't quite name it, can't quite recall the words he needs—

The final fold, a flutter of his brother's hand, and then cake.

Chocolate, and vanilla, and mint, all with fudge and nuts and chocolate and more chocolate on top. Eight layers. One for each year.

As if a switch has been flicked on, his mouth begins to water on cue, his eyes widening until they, too, are the size of the dinner plate on which the cake rests, perfect enough to require its own word.

His mind snatches a passing one: Sublime. He doesn't know what it means, but it fits the cake, the sublime.

His heart squeezes in his chest; Bolin looks up to see a curious hunger in his brother's eyes, the amber glittering. The earthbender glances back towards the sublime, not yet comprehending its existence.

Slowly Bolin raises his left hand, his index finger, and pokes the sublime.

Fudge, on his nail.

He screams in delight and is about to attack the best birthday present ever when Pabu hurtles downwards from his shoulder and lands directly on it, a splash of chocolate splattering his shirt.

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