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A surge of fury rages through him, the surf upon the pebbled shore, at the sight of the fire ferret in the cake, icing clinging to its fur.

How dare that stupid red ball of fluff get into the present he's stolen and saved up and begged for, a present meant for his brother, a present that was supposed to show Bolin that he doesn't need Mom or Dad around to have the best birthday ever.

Especially an eighth birthday. An important birthday. The kind of birthday that marked, for the firebender, the difference between receiving and taking, the kind of birthday that fills one up from head to toe with a shivering sort of maturity, as though one is on the brink between learning that Mom and Dad can't do everything, that there won't always be a skirt to hide behind, that terrible things will always happen.

Every heartbeat brings with it hardened eyes and tightened jaw, his muscles coiling, tensing, preparing to spring at the fire ferret—a rat viper, more like—ruining his brother's birthday. His anger rising, Mako lurches forward, arms outstretched and fingers splayed to grab the cake thief and salvage what remains of what should have been the birthday of a lifetime.

Fur. Warmth, writhing under his fingertips, the fire ferret radiating its fear at his touch, or maybe its excitement at being able to devour Bolin's birthday gift. His nails dig into the creature's flesh, and he snaps his arms back, taking the animal with him.

His brother yelps, his green eyes wide and shining, his mouth opened into an o. "Mako!" Bolin squeals. "What're you doing?"

"He's ruining the cake," Mako snaps in response, holding the creature painfully; it squirms, squeaks of alarm causing him to wince. His gaze shifts to the crinkly brown paper, the chocolate smeared over it, bits of icing dropped to the bottom of the canoe, the entire thing squished and sprinkled with reddish hairs. And yet Bolin doesn't seem to care, scooping up a handful of cake and grinning.

"He didn't ruin nothing." With a giggle the earthbender sniffs at the brown mess in his palm and bobs his head eagerly up and down, a curl of hair on his forehead—separated from the rest of his dishevelled hair, a nest of blackbirds—springing against his brow. "It smells delicious and I bet it tastes delicious and do you want some bro?"

Seeing his brother's uncorrupted joy, Mako hesitates. The fire ferret is still struggling against him, his palms and wrists scratched from those sharp claws, and he sighs and loosens his grip; the creature shoots out like red lightning, smacking directly into Bolin's chest and knocking him backwards, nearly over the canoe, before leaping back onto the cake and burying its head in the chocolate ocean. "I said that's not for you!" the firebender snarls, lunging for the stupid animal.

Seconds prior to contact, he senses the canoe shifting below him, as though the floor itself were moving, ascending, falling. Bolin, perched on the very end of the bowl from the fire ferret's leap, is sinking, but his heels are lifting upwards, his body tilting downwards.

The fire ferret cheeps in terror. And then he's below water, his mouth filled with salt and bitter spray. Thrashing, Mako kicks his way to the surface, breaking through the waters and gasping for breath to soothe his burning lungs. While he treads water he glances around, his blood roaring in his ears, to see the overturned canoe and the flailing form of his drowning brother. "Bolin!" His arms wrap themselves around his brother's chest, pulling him up out of the water, pushing downwards on the area above his heart to force the ocean's blood form his throat.

For a moment nothing happens, and the firebender swears the world itself has stopped, his limbs going numb. Then, miraculously, Bolin begins to cough and gasp and strive for breath. "Bolin. Bolin! Are you all right?"

"I'm fine, I'm fine!" he splutters, liquid dribbling down his chin and dripping into the waves. With his right arm Mako lets go of his brother's body, keeping the earthbender against him with his left, and swims towards the canoe, the waters splashing over them and dampening him further than he already is. If only he were a waterbender, he could do something about the sogginess of their clothing and how water-logged both of them feel. He reaches blindly through the water until his knuckles connect with wood in a shower of pain, then heaves it over to bob innocently in the bay once more, the scarf-coloured rope tying it to the dock and preventing it from being washed out to sea. "But where's Pabu?"

Hoisting his brother over the rim of the canoe, Mako exhales in relief. Until he realises that the food from the triad is gone, along with the newspaper and the fruit he scavenged this morning.

More importantly, the cake is gone, this time forever, the last speck of fudge somewhere in the ocean by now.

"Where's Pabu?" Bolin demands again, his voice shrill. "Mako, tell me Pabu's okay!"

The firebender glares at his brother, who silences himself instantly. "He ruined your birthday," Mako explains impatiently. "I don't think we—"

Bursting out once more, his brother breaks in: "Mako! Tell me Pabu's okay, please!"

He wants to say no, wants to shake his head, wants to turn back to how things were.

But then—

"No more getting cake." Those green eyes, Mom's eyes, are shiny with tears. "No more." Guilt swallows him whole, and he pushes off of the edge of the canoe to dive into the depths, the fire ferret floating within.

And soon Pabu is jumping nimbly into Bolin's arms.

"I'm sorry I couldn't get you your cake," Mako tries, his throat burnt.

Bolin snuggles into his lap, a great ball of warmth and laughter and love. "Thank you. For the best birthday ever." He smiles.

Confusion washes over him. "The best?"

"Because you're here with me."

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