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Mako smiles.


He doesn't recall when he last—


It's not the time for recollections, for remembering things past, for dwelling on the bad.

It's time to eat.


Bolin is already halfway across the kitchen, exploding in thank you thank you thank yous and glancing about as if deciding what to eat first. "You don't have a magic conch that could tell me, do you?" he asks, grinning at Mako.

"That old radio show . . ." Running across the room, surprised at how wide each of his strides is, he reaches out to grab Bolin and picks him up, hugging his brother tightly. Bolin squirms out of the embrace, laughing, but Mako hugs him all the more tightly and swings him around, his brother's mirth infectious. Soon they've dissolved into a pile of hugs and laughter, and he ruffles his brother's hair fondly, wondering at the two spikes poking out at the back. Mako touches the back of his head and feels something similar, the hair naturally spiking up as Daddy's did. Before he can say anything, Bolin suddenly gasps and flails his limbs, pointing frantically at the cake quivering on the counter.

"Cake," he cries out, his shoulder blades arching into the firebender's chest, a stray foot kicking him in the leg hard enough to cause him to wince. "Cake!"

Still holding Bolin, Mako carries him to the counter, almost like a procession or a festival, until the earthbender is mere centimetres away from the soft café mass begging to be eaten, a curl of dark frosting hanging tantalisingly over the edge. The firebender's mouth curiously doesn't water but dries instead. Cake. What happens if, after all this time, they finally . . . get cake? The thought is unfathomable to him, but his brother is a different matter, the light in his eyes bright enough to bring out a shine in Mako's. Eagerly Bolin strains, his fingertip nearly at the frosting, but the woman with the ladle calls out.

"That's for the big boss." She waves the ladle, tapping it on Mako's head. The fire-hot wood bids him hiss out a breath from the abruptness of the pain. "You can have anything else."

Nodding, he tries to move away from the counter, but Bolin continues to struggle. "No! I—want—cake!" His feet press onto Mako's thighs as he attempts to launch himself onto the cake; Mako spins around and manages a better hold.


"No!" A storm of motion, strong enough that the firebender can barely control it. "I want that cake!"

The firebender sets Bolin down on the ground, keeping his grip firm on his brother's sides. "Bolin?" His brother's tantrum subsides, his form slackening, and he buries his face in Mako's chest. One arm resting around his brother's shoulders, the firebender draws Bolin close and strokes his hair softly. "It's okay. We'll get cake, just like the kind you wanted for your birthday."

His brother sniffles. "Sorry, Mako. I just . . . I wanted cake."

"It's okay, Bo. It's okay."

He doesn't care if the woman is judging them. As far as he's concerned, she's not even here, about as important at the furniture or the food. It's him and Bolin. And it's okay. And it will all be okay.

The woman lifts the ladle from the ocean kumquats again, a few drops splashing noisily on the floor. "Hungry boys, you can't have cake, but look at the rest I made! Eel pigeon? Tart?"

Bolin's grin snaps back in place. "Tart? Tart? What kind of tart? Where?"

"Here you go, silly boy." Opening a drawer, she rummages around in it, her thick hands pulling out a golden-brown tart, steam still rising from the surface. "Egg custard tart, that is. Old Air Nomad recipe."

As Bolin leaps onto the food, recklessly poking a hole in the crust with a finger, letting out a shout when it undoubtedly burns him. Alerted by the crackle of crust, Mako gently takes his brother's hand. "Are you okay, Bo?"

Bolin shakes his head. "I wish Mommy could kiss the boo-boo," he confesses, biting his lower lip, the child's speech reminding both of them of their age. He turns his brother's hand over, inspecting the burn: Smooth skin, the only sign of a wound a reddened circle.

Letting out a sigh of relief, Mako kisses the injury. "You'll be fine."

"Thanks, Mako." Bolin hugs him again.

The heat in the egg custard tart seems to call to the firebender, and he looks at it, unsure what to do. The woman speaks up: "You're a firebender, aren't you? Ain't you ever used your bending for some cooling?"

"Cooling?" he echoes, his confusion escalating. "What do you mean?"

"You poor darling." The woman clucks. "You don't know a thing about your bending, do you?"

Bolin interjects: "He knows lots. He kept us warm all winter and cooked fish and firebendeded at this guy who was going to steal my bag, but I didn't want him to steal my bag because it was my bag, and this one time—"

"Firebent, dear." She chortles, resting her hands on her hips. "When did you find out 'bout your bending, sweetie?"

Mako frowns. "I don't know. I think it was when Bolin and I . . ." He swallows. "Never mind."

The woman nods her head knowingly and leans down to taste the stew. Nodding a second time and grumbling about something that sounds like see prunes, she slaps the ladle down and removes the pot from the fire. "Don't worry, dear. Never ask if you don't want the answer. Anywho, I should introduce you to my daughter. She's a sweet, she is, and teaching you 'bout firebending she can quicker than two shakes of a koala lamb's tail, I tell you."

Mako tilts his head to one side. "Why are you helping me?"

"I help everyone." She shrugs and extinguishes the fire. "It's what I was put on this earth for."

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