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Mako seeks help from those on the street, but the passers-by pay him as much notice as they would a pesky spiderfly. Bolin senses something is wrong and says little, content—or scared into—simply sitting quietly on a bench while his brother tries to ask, plea, and beg, anything he can.

Nothing works, though a few kindlier folks toss him spare change. He hopes the meagre collection of copper and silver pieces will be enough to tide them over for the day, though he knows it won't be.

For lunch he filches a fish when the merchant looks away for a moment, attention diverted, poised to an arguing customer or the loud wailing of a child found abandoned in a crate of sea prunes. At first he finds it difficult to remove the skin the scales biting into his fingers and bloodying his palms, but a hint of firebending is able to strip it, revealing the succulent meat underneath. It does not smell as it should, yet his attempts to cook it result in blackened stone. Feet tapping against the leg of the bench, the statue of Fire Lord Zuko towering above them, Bolin crunches the meal, squirming, the sadness not yet washing over his body but threatening to drop over the lip of the cup.

"Are you sure they're getting cake?"


The sickening crack of fish bone. "It had better be good cake," the earthbender mumbles to himself. "I wish Mommy and Daddy were here." Crunch. "I miss them. I love them."

That livid fury explodes in Mako, his core temperature spiking, smoke furling about his fingers. "Stop talking about them!" he snaps, flames trickling from the corners of his mouth, his scarf choking him. He digs his nails into the fabric, pulling it away from his skin, his eyes wide and wild, glaring at his brother, whose mouth is open, his heartbeat audible in his fear, his chest thrumming with quick and shallow breaths. "Stop it! I don't want to hear it! I never want to hear it again!" Pain wells up at the edges of his eyes; hot wetness stings his cheeks, salty on his lips. "Shut up!"

Hugging himself, Mako spins around, panting heavily, sweat beading his brow. If he presses hard enough, he can feel sharp ridges along his sides; his instincts inform him this is a terrible thing.

"M-mako . . . ?"

The word is a spear of ice that slices through him, piercing his heart. Steeped in sorrow, hurt, and confusion, it tells a thousand stories in one, but the tale that juts out the most is that of a grieving child too young to understand the storm gathering on the horizon but too old for naivety to protect him, the age at which innocence has only begun to give way to realism in the tiniest of ways, the time in which black and white mingles to grey, then radiates into colour, a child trying to make sense of the world and failing, trying to institute his own fantasies and failing, trying to reconcile the difference and failing again.

And the only person up to whom he can look is currently screaming at him, fire burning his throat, lungs suffocating from the ash.

Mako falls to the ground, the rage collapsing inside of him. His hands glide over smooth earth mixed with jagged pieces of concrete, broken bottles, and the remains of take-out containers, his left heel chilled from the wind blowing across the naked sole; he doesn't recall the shoe dropping off. "I'm sorry." His voice is empty, hollow, devoid of emotion. "I'm so sorry."

Warmth around his waist and on his back. Bolin nuzzles his brother between the shoulder blades. "It's okay. I was scared, brother. I don't ever want you to do that again, but I don't know what I did wrong." He rests his chin on Mako's shoulder. "Please forgive me. I don't want you to be mad at me!"

"I'm not mad at you." His fingers curl around his brother's. "You should be the one to forgive me."

"I'll stop talking about the cake if you want." Bolin's volume drops to the whisper of the breeze on their lawn from the ancient days of the childhood of a boy named Mako, but not Mako. "And . . ." He hesitates. "And about Mommy and Daddy.

"Mako, are they really getting cake?"

The older brother ignores the question. He reaches for the half-eaten fish yet discovers a murder of lizard crows devouring it, ripping the meat apart with their serrated beaks and reddened talons. The largest, his left leg missing the foot, stares at Mako defiantly, daring him to reclaim his prize.

"It's okay. I'm not hungry," Bolin offers. They both know it's a lie by the growls of their stomachs. "We can get more later."

Swallowing, the firebender embraces his brother and leads him away to the other side of the statue. To his surprise he sees an unattended box of fried possum chicken on the top. No one is around save for a group of teenagers passing an object between them, and none of them is likely to be the owner of the food. Without a sound he grasps the container and retreats to the darkness, gazing at the older kids. A few of them glance his way.

"That street rat just—"

"It's scraps, Kuro. Shut up."

"—stole my box. Whatever."

Bolin readily accepts the bits of skin left over from the teenagers' repast. Mako leans over to remove a leaf from his brother's hair, watching him eat with a subdued silence. "Bo, I love you." It is almost as though this will be the last time he will have the opportunity to say that.

The earthbender grins; Mako doesn't understand how a smile could be possible in their environment. "I love you too, Mako."

His brother's weight in his arms is all for which he asks.

But for that, he asks.

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