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Bolin's hands slip under Mako's armpits, and the firebender senses himself being tilted upwards even as his bloodied knees give way under him. When his brother brushes the lower part of the shoulder, Mako cries out in pain, flame spewing from his throat with his desperate need to thrust out the agony bringing tears to his eyes. He can feel the welts forming on his back, the tissue alternatively burned and merely set aflame, the last vestiges of whatever humanity the streets possessed lost in this final attack.

The pain ebbs away, and he realises he can no longer feel his lower torso.

"It's okay. It's okay. It's okay." Bolin repeats the mantra until the words flow into each other and become meaningless. He squeezes his eyes shut, his pulse pounding, the vein in his temple throbbing, the skin moving with each beat, and he is terrified that that is the last sensation he will be able to savour in his entire life, and he savours it.

"Is this how you died, Daddy?" His throat constricts, his tongue heavy and unwieldy in his mouth. "Fire."

Daddy's voice intermingles with Bolin's. A freshly caught catfish on his plate, the campfire glinting in his gaze, contrasting to the night colours outside the cave. "Be careful, there, Mako. Never forget how hot a flame is." The scent wafting from the skinned fish is so delicious that saliva is filling his mouth involuntarily. "Fire's the giver of life, but it's also the giver of death. Never forget."

"Daddy?" Mako is asking, scooting closer. His fingers are pulling at the meal, the temperature scorching the pads, and Daddy is laughing. "Why can't I firebend?"

"Not everyone can, not even if your eyes have the fire in them." Daddy's infectious smile is finding its way onto Mako's face as well. "Surprises happen all the time. Take your brother." The fish is roasting, the smell inviting, as he's speaking. "Your mother and I were both, well, surprised when he took up earthbending. No one in her family's an earthbender save her great-grandmother. But it was her great-grandmother's earthbending that manifested in Bolin. It was waiting for the right person, like the Avatar Spirit." Adding a touch of oil, he's dropping the fish onto Mako's plate now, using his firebending to extract enough heat to cool it while Mako is staring on in awe.

The meal is melting in his mouth, his teeth sliding through it as a knife through warm egg custard. "What do you think Bo and Mommy are doing right now?"

"I bet Mommy has Bolin on her lap, just so." Daddy's gathering him in his arms. "And she tickles him, just so." Daddy is tickling him, laughter bubbling from his stomach, and he's grasping at the scarf around Daddy's neck.

"Could I get a scarf like that myself one day?"

Daddy is nodding, his hand on Mako's heart. "It'll be your inheritance. I promise you."

Rain is beginning to fall outside, but somehow the water is dripping inside the cave as well, down his back, his skin burning where it's touching, and he is calling for Daddy to save him, but Daddy is disappearing into the shadows, and his skin is burning, and burning, and burning—

Fire blossoms in his palms as he spasms, flaming at everything in reach, but pressure forces his arms down. His eyes open, the darkness swallowing his vision, and his chest rises and falls rapidly, a shudder of fear working through his body and settling in his lower abdomen.


His brother.

"Both of us are okay. Don't worry. I found help."

Relief courses through him, and he sags back, his muscles relaxing. He's lying on something cool. Wet. Water. He's lying in water. Just as Mako is about to start to panic again, he feels Bolin take his hand. "You were burned pretty badly, brother. But I found someone to heal you. It didn't cost me much."

He sits up abruptly and notes that the skin on his back is almost ... new. And that he is wearing a shirt even though the would-be-thief burned the old. As his eyes adjust, he looks around: A dark-ish nearly-cave of some sort. His wandering fingers find a bathtub full of clean water.

Bolin kneels next to the tub. There is little light beyond the tinted blue patterns of waves on the cave ceiling. "Where are we?"

"Doesn't matter." A new timbre, a male tone perhaps a few years older than him. A candle light sparks, and Mako can make out a pale face marred by dark circles under the eyes seemingly done in war paint in preparation for a battle. "How do you feel?"

The firebender inhales, a pain in his side. "Okay," he says unsteadily. "Where am I?"

"Sewers. Under the city. Welcome to paradise." The boy steps nimbly closer, his gait inhumanly smooth, his limbs making no sudden motions at all but for those of a wave. "Only did it because of the triad honour code. Anything for a Red Monsoon."

His muscles coil. "A Red Monsoon?"

"'Course. Besides, your friend there had some money on him."

Bolin smiles sheepishly. Mako blinks, then immediately hates himself for it: What if something had happened in that blink? "Where did you—?"

The boy nonchalantly cuts him off. "I did my part. You did yours. Shoo."

Bolin springs to his feet, stumbling a few steps. But the firebender pauses and glances at the pale boy. "How do we know where to go?"

He shrugs. "It's Red Monsoon territory. You should know."

Mako gazes at him for a long moment, his mind whirling, and at last he looks at the darkness dropping away into a labyrinth of tunnels and passages, as many as there are paths he could have taken but didn't.

The question floats out of him, soft and gentle as rain shower, falling up instead of down, as upside down as his life.

"What if we don't?"

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