Bolin is born when the first winds of spring arrive, bringing warmer winds and the promise of lighter nights; Mako’s favourite season. He likes it when the buds start to collect at the ends of the trees, blossoming green shoots weighing down the branches with the promise of ripe fruit in just a few short months, the juiciest of plums and the sharpest of apples that their Mother would later pluck and collect from to make the sweetest of pies. Mako’s favourites were the cherry kind because their Mother always added a spoonful of cinnamon and ginger, the spices melting alongside the sugar on his tongue and for hours afterwards it’d stain your mouth and fingers a bright cherry red like you’d just got stung by a hornet-wasp and gone all blotchy.
At least this is what Mako tells him.
Bolin doesn’t remember the pies but his mouth waters all the same whenever Mako tells him the stories.
One day, Mako says, he’ll make Bolin his own cherry pie and it’ll be so sweet and so sticky that Bolin will never be able to forget it.
Bolin wakes up to the sounds of silence.
It’s creepy and cold and too dark even if he is in his own bed, underneath his own blankets, and his wrist stings and itches underneath the bandages.
“Stop playing with that, it won’t heal if you keep fiddling.”
Bolin wonders how his brother can even tell what he’s doing when he’s curled up with his back towards him, and his Father’s deep voice rings out in the shadows about eyes in the back of his head, the way he’d always tap one finger in the middle of his hair, right in between his parting, grinning down at the two of them.
Mako’s own bandage curls around his ribcage, the fabric hitching up to just beneath his shoulders and his skin slick with salve were the raw pink of a burn shines through the dim glow of the window.
Mako refuses to light the candles and Bolin misses the soft glow that would always be there to greet him if he woke, the golden light chasing away the shadows and the worst of his dreams, his Mother’s hand sweeping through his hair as she sang snatches of lullabies to comfort him.
“Go to sleep.” Mako says as if he can hear Bolin’s thoughts whirring, but his wrist hurts too much for him to be tired and it’s too dark for him to feel safe, comfortable.
“I miss them,” he whines, curling closer towards his brother.
His shoulders hitch up and Bolin can sense the breath of air that Mako’s trying to suck into his lungs, like there’s not enough air in the room for him to breathe in, falling back down as if he’s given up, the air stuttering back out of him, the skin across his back stretching, tight and glistening.
They’re running out of food in the cupboards and the sympathy stews and loaves that the neighbours spoiled them with dwindled out weeks ago. Most of them take to avoiding the house and the both of them when they go out, as if staring at two small orphaned boys might bring down misfortune.
It doesn’t stop others from knocking.
The woman smiles at Bolin through the crack of doorway that Mako refuses to open any further. Strangers, Bolin thinks and the way his Mother would have pulled him closer towards her, safe next to the curve of her hip, protected.
“My Aunt isn’t in,” Mako whispers, his fingers white against the door’s frame, the back of his neck reddening, but the woman politely nods and smiles down at him.
She’s got a round belly and hair that looks like a birds nest, all over the place and wispy. Her teeth are white against the bright red stain of her mouth, her nails painted a stark polished red to match her lipstick. She looks nice enough, Bolin thinks, even if she is a little scary, nails click clack clicking against the folder she brandishes in front of her like a weapon.
“Do you know when she’ll be back?” And when she speaks her voice sounds like warm honey, like when his Mother finished a good cup of tea and sank back into the cushions alongside him, nuzzling her nose into the side of his face, her lips smiling.
“Mama told us not to open the door to strangers.” He replies, putting down the colours and paper he’s supposed to be playing with and walking over.
The woman hesitates, her eyes shifting, teeth setting at the edge of her lip, but Mako looks tall next to him, Bolin standing in his shadow, right behind him.
“Of course, of course,” she mutters, shifting the folder. “Be sure to tell your Aunt I called when she gets back. It’s important I speak to her about the two of you.”
“I will,” Mako says, closing the door tightly and sighing before looking down at his brother. “Let’s see what we can make up for dinner, you hungry?”
Bolin nods and follows Mako to the kitchen, wondering when their Aunt will arrive and why if she is, just the other night Mako had whispered that from now on it was down to just the two of them.
“We have to leave.” Mako runs through the door, leaving it to snap loudly back on its hinges. The noise startles Bolin from his sleep, fingers peeking out to grip tight to the blanket that’s covering him.
“Why?” He asks, his voice sleep slurred, eyes blinking.
This is their home after all and there’s nowhere else for them to go to.
But Mako’s not listening, raiding through empty cupboards and dust filled tins, looking for anything that might help them. There’s a few coins left in their Dad’s secret stash and Mako goes to pocket them.
“You can’t do that!” Bolin cries, shivers running up and down his skin as his bare feet hit the floor, running. “Papa said-”
“Papa said,” and Mako’s voice gets louder, louder than Bolin’s ever heard him shout, right next to his ear and angry and sad and hurting. The coins dig into his hands, white circles that’ll line his skin all night long as he traces his fingers over them, the almost outline of the faces on the coins if you look closely. “Papa would want us to use it,” he continues quieter and just like that he’s a different person. “It’ll be like an adventure,” he says and smiles softly and instructs Bolin to pick a handful of things to take with them. “Just the two of us together.”
Bolin picks his blanket, his favourite stuffed hippobear, some colours and a picture of his parents, the four of them together last summer, the corners already curling in his fingers as a lump forms in his throat.
Mako tucks away the money and even some of their Mother’s best jewels, a necklace and a ring that would catch the light when she wore them and sparkle. “Only if necessary,” he says, patting his pockets and wrapping their Father’s scarf twice around his neck, the ends still trailing.
They take the last of the food, a few slices of bread that should last at least until tomorrow and leave the house, their home, for the city.
“No one will separate us,” Mako repeats, “It’ll be just the two of us together.”
The steamed bun Mako brought him is cold and falling apart, bean curd, which Bolin used to turn his nose up at, before, dripping through his fingers, and it’s still not enough to fill every corner of his mouth, the rumbling of his aching stomach.
“Don’t you want some?” Bolin asks of Mako, picking off the smallest clumps that he can in order to make it last when all he really wants is to stuff the lot of it in his mouth, cram the dough in with his fingers, swallow it back in one thick lump and savour the taste of it.
“Nah, I already ate,” Mako answers, patting the flat of his belly. “But it’s good, right? It makes you feel a bit better?” He prods two fingers into the corner of Bolin’s belly, making him squirm and giggle in delight.
They’ve been collecting what they can off the streets, Bolin picking up the copper yuans that people leave by the road, as if they don’t want them weighing down their pockets, and it takes a while to save up but sometimes he finds a shiny silver one, the glint of it catching his eye in the sun as Mako hugs him.
Jade, who refuses to tell them her real name, but grills the most fantastic fish if you manage to catch one, shows Bolin a scrapped and roughed up book on earthbending. The book’s cracked at the spine, yellowed pages that crinkle and seem as old as anything Bolin’s ever held in his fingers.
“It’s some basic forms,” she says as Bolin’s fingers trace over the writing, thick and calligraphy, not that Bolin can read it, “You don’t seem to know nothing.” It’s not callous, not mean, just a stated fact and a true one, and Bolin finds his fingers eagerly flicking through all the pages, fingertips tracing the faded drawings.
Nobody talks about before or the past, just the future and what’s to come of it, but Bolin can tell this book means something to her from the way she hands it over, like it’s a piece of her heart cradled in the thick of her palm, it’s important; like the hippobear that’s always tucked away safely in his blanket, its fur worn away now in roughened patches, or the scarf that Mako always sleeps and breathes in, wrapped around his neck every day.
“I can show you, if you like?” And she sits down and crosses her legs next to him, pounds the earth with a hard smack, her knuckles flat against it, and the ground rises up underneath her command, almost like its eager, waiting to greet them.
Bolin tries the same move and nothing, knuckles red and raw by the end of the hour, but they keep at it, keep struggling, until Bolin feels the earth rumble beneath his feet, gravel moving beneath his palms and at the command of his fingers.
He shows Mako what he’s learnt when he comes back at the end of the day and Mako always smiles, showing Bolin new tricks that he’s learnt too, how he can have fire ripple and move across the very tips of his fingers.
One morning he wakes up and there’s something strange, something missing.
The hippobear that’s stuck with him all this time is gone, vanished. He checks his bedroll and checks again, checking a third time for good measure but there’s nothing.
Mako helps him look and at the end of five minutes it’s obvious that somebody out there has taken him.
“But why?” Bolin whimpers, “Why would anybody else want him, why?”
Bolin knows he’s too old and too big now but he still feels the lump in his throat thicken, the tiny pin prick of tears that threaten to fall when Mako tells him not to worry, that he’ll sort everything out, he’ll find him.
He comes back when night is just beginning to fall and the moons shadow is fat leaning over them, there’s a blue bruise darkening under his eye and a limp to his right leg that looks painful, but he’s grinning, his back straighter than Bolin can ever remember seeing.
“I got a new job,” he tells Bolin, wincing, “I’ll buy you a whole house of hippobears with the money I’ll be making.”
It’s not the last time he comes back with cuts and bruises.
“I always wanted to be a water bender,” Chicory says, who’s a vegan and a pacifist and kind of a little obsessed with the last avatar a bit too much to be healthy. She wants to visit the island, she told Bolin the first day they met, maybe become an air nomad and continue their beliefs or something.
She’s a nonbender and Bolin doesn’t know her past, just like the rest of them that live on the streets and try to make a new living, but unlike most everyone else she’s always willing to help, completely calm and generous in any kind of situation. She takes to soaking wads of cotton for them in herbed water, right now trying to bring the swelling down on Mako’s cheekbone. “They could heal this right up with just a flick of their fingers,” she goes on as she slaps a sopped wad right against Mako’s cheek, forgetting to be tender.
“You could use a little practice,” Mako replies muffled, taking over and holding the cotton, moulding it to his cheekbone.
“These are amazing,” Bolin says, popping another dumpling right into his mouth. “Are you sure you don’t want one?” But Chicory’s nose wrinkles, turning her head away in distaste at the pork that fills the room with its smell and melts its way right down to Bolin’s stomach.
“If you like them that much, I’ll pick up some more on the way back tomorrow.” And Mako stands, letting the wad slide right off his face, craftily stealing a dumpling.
He’s a lot taller now, limbs stretching and filling out, no longer gawky, getting right past that awkward stage that Bolin feels he’ll never leave, and turning into the shadow of a man Bolin can no longer remember.
“The new avatar’s a water bender,” Chicory says, voice all dreamy as she imagines what could have been, at least in another life, another body.
But Bolin knows what he wants, what can be if he works really hard for it, a little closer to home than at one of the poles maybe, but just as big a dream as Chicory imagines.
His first time he comes back with a split lip, the cut widening any time he tries to talk or move, make any kind of emotion.
“Sit still,” Mako insists, trying to dab at the cut and do his best as a makeshift healer. “You’re really making this difficult.”
Bolin’s too busy re-enacting the action though, every hit he encountered and every slow motion detail of who he took out with his bending. They way that he flipped stone and rock from under people.
“Maybe we shouldn’t make a habit out of this.” Mako says, his voice light but still turning serious, and with the way Bolin’s head moves he ends up pressing hard on one of his bruises.
“What, why?” He demands, already feeling all the happiness drain out of him.
“You got hurt,” Mako says and just like that the room’s silent, contemplative.
“But you’ve been hurt before,” Bolin counters, “lots of times, how do you think that makes me feel?”
“That’s different.” Mako says, slamming a fist down on the table, the ground vibrating beneath Bolin’s feet.
“Because I’m older.”
At the quiet in the room he picks up the rag and goes back to dabbing.
“I’m supposed to look after you, that’s the rule.”
And Bolin understands that, he does, but at the same time, “You said we had to stick together.”
The lump under Mako’s chest keeps moving, tiny purring noises coming from underneath his clothes.
“You have to think of a name,” he says to Bolin; as the ferret scampers out, tiny claws catching in his top and then up and out onto his shoulder.
“Pabu,” Bolin says, sticking his hand under the ferrets chin and scratching. “You like that, hmm, Pabu, do you?”
“Pabu,” Mako repeats, listening to the ferret’s happy chittering. “It suits him.”
Pabu runs down his arm, hopping over onto Bolin’s lap and nuzzling his head into his palm over and over.
“Better than a hippobear?” Mako asks.
And Bolin grins, “Definitely,” lifting Pabu up into the air, “Welcome to the family.”
They’re back to back, fists out and ready as Mako shifts against his side, hand brushing his wrist, two fingers trailing up it.
It’s Bolin’s cue, foot sliding out and stamping down to shift the earth beneath the man’s feet as Mako follows through with a strike of fire a second later; a warning shot that carefully skims the side of his head, the smell of singing hair permeating the air around them, it’s enough to get the message across though as the man scrambles to his senses and scarpers down a side street away from them.
“And don’t come back!” Bolin hollers, kicking out at a stray rock as Pabu scrambles down the roof he scarpered off to, skittering up Bolin’s legs and chest and then content enough to curl himself happily around his neck and shoulders.
“You know you two are just what I’ve been looking for.” The voice comes out of the shadows, from around the corner.
Mako shifts one step in front of Bolin, fist still flickering with flame and heat as Pabu hides his face under Bolin’s collar.
“No need for any of that,” the man says, “I ain’t looking to fight you.” And he walks over palms face up, gesturing surrender.
“Then what do you want?” Mako asks, his fingers’ still dancing with fire as Bolin feels the ground steady beneath him.
He curls one crooked finger for the two of them to come closer, “You kids ever heard of a sport called pro-bending?”
Mako is born in the late end of summer when the winds start to pick up and begin to shift the swells of heat just as they start to get unbearable, bringing with them a cool breeze that smells of the promise of winter; the leaves beginning to turn their colours on the trees, bright and vibrant greens turning to rich reds and burnished orange, golden yellows.
At least that’s what Mako tells him, folding pastry and getting flour all over his face as he wipes off the excess all over his trousers.
“This will be amazing,” he says, de-stoning cherries by the bowlful. There’s too many probably, he can’t remember the exact amount or the recipe, just the smell that drifts now throughout the attic, sweet and sticky and like spring, like their Mother’s kitchen.
The crusts are uneven, sugar browned and golden, as cherry juice oozes out of the sides and the middle, but Mako cuts him a slice, wafting his hand fast over it and placing a plate down in front of him, watching eagerly as Bolin takes his first hot mouthful.
“Well, what do you think?” He asks, eager and waiting, hands like two twin birds resting lightly on the table.
“It tastes like home.” He says, grinning and digging up another mouthful, the pie sticky and sweet and their attic warm, smelling thickly of fresh baking.