A/N: Mako is eight; Bolin, six.
Mako has not yet discovered that he's a firebender.
The day is Bolin's birthday.
Mako and Bolin's parents were getting cake.
Mako and Bolin were raised lovingly.
Their parents were razed violently.
This is the aftermath.
And all of the aftermath to come.
This is the story of a life on the streets.
The story of brotherhood.
The story of a scarf.
Enjoy the ride.
And a heart.
"Mako? Why are you on the doorstep? Where's Mommy? And why are you wearing Daddy's scarf?"
He is curled up around the welcome mat, his nose buried in the red fabric that still smells of Daddy. After a time he looks up. Bolin is standing over him, trailing his security blanket, his green eyes bright with curiosity. "Where's my cake?" he asks, nudging Mako with his foot. "Mommy and Daddy promised me a cake for my sixth birthday."
The boy's head is pounding; he can barely see what is right in front of him. Rock. Short, stiff bristles on the mat. Five bare toes, pink and plump, wriggling and prodding his nose. "Bo?" he croaks. Pressure on his arm. Movement. He's hauled upright, the disorientation hitting him a moment later, and he wonders why the world keeps spinning.
Fire. Falling. Screaming. His parents. Grabbing. Heat. Heart. Yelling. Begging. Monster. Red. Scarf. Running. Confused. Scared. Lost.
"Cake?" Mako repeats, blinking.
Bolin bobs his head up and down eagerly, clapping his pudgy hands. "Mommy and Daddy promised, remember? Chocolate, and vanilla, and mint, all with fudge and nuts and chocolate and more chocolate on top." He counts off on his fingers. "Six layers. One for every year! And then six spanks for luck." His face screws up for a moment. "I don't want that. But I like luck. Mommy says life is half luck and half wurk." Mako stands there, watching his brother's feet curve around the doorstep as he bounces on his heels, eagerly saying the word over and over. "Wurk wurk wurk wurk wurk." He giggles.
His eyes abruptly widen. "Bo, that's it! Mommy and Daddy are getting you cake, Bo, more cake than you could eat in a year."
"In a whole year?" His voice is full of awe.
Mako shakes his head. "In ten years. It's such a super special cake they had to go all the way to the other side of the city to get it." Taking a step into the home, he tugs his brother inside and closes the door, shutting the two of them off from the neatly trimmed lawn, the beds of flowers planted that spring by Mommy, and rest of the neighbourhood with its pristine cobbled streets and lovely white houses. "They'll come back soon. Promise."
"The other side of the city?" Bolin pouts, following his older brother; Mako checks by the sound of the former's footsteps, slapping loudly on the floor. "That'll take days. Weeks. Months. Years! They'll have to fight through monsters, and evil spirits, and broccoli —"
"They'll come back." The scarf is heavy around his neck, the tip nearly trailing to the hardwood floor. Mako approaches the staircase comforting in its familiarity and ascends it on all fours, waiting on the top step for his brother to catch up. "And Daddy will light the candles, and it'll be the prettiest thing you've ever seen."
"I don't care if it's pretty," he declares. "I'm hungry."
The walls seem oddly blank when he passes them, as though something has gone out of them. Or out of him. He can't tell, but there's something, somewhere, somehow missing. "There's the kitchen." The door pushes open, revealing the cabinets and frames crafted by hand by Daddy. "What do you want me to make?"
"I want Mommy to make me something." He sits on the floor, the soft thud making Mako smile. "Where is she?"
"She's getting cake. I told you. What do you want?"
His face brightens. "I want cookies. Can I get some cookies? It's my sixth birthday you know." His gaze travels to the cookie jar in the shape of a hedgecat with an upraised paw perched precariously on the edge of a counter, and he glances desperately at Mako, his eyes moist, his lower lip jutting out. "You won't tell Mommy, will you? I'll give you some, too."
"No, we shouldn't." Mako thinks about school for a moment, the thought striking him. He decides it's the weekend, since Mommy and Daddy aren't home, and they're always home during school. A hint of fire nags at him. He pushes it away, looking at his hands instead, recalling that Daddy told him it's all right he's not a firebender. "If you take some, Mommy will know. She always does." Seeing the look on Bolin's face and hearing the growl rumbling in both of their stomachs, he relents. "Okay, we can both take one. Two. But only three. Not a cookie over four. Got it?"
"Five it is!" Bolin agrees cheerfully, bumping the cabinet with his hip and earthbending the jar into his hands. He grunts, the container slipping, and Mako dives to the floor, barely catching it. The two laugh, but the older brother stops for a second to fill his mouth with cookie. His palm covers over the lip of the jar, his inner being convinced that the second he takes one of the treats, Mommy will appear and punish him. A whole week without sweets. He meets Bolin's gaze, the brothers exchanging a silent pact, and the younger one scampers off to stand guard by the kitchen door. He inhales, closes his eyes, and reaches in.
He touches cookie.
It frightens him how easily he can remove the treat from its spot, how Bolin has not made the warning sound, usually that of him running as swiftly as his legs can carry him across the room and into the next to hide under the dinner table—how Mommy has not burst through the door and caught him by his collar—how nothing has happened.
Carefully, he withdraws six cookies, one of each year of Bolin's life, and splits each one in half. Crumbs spill to the ground. "Bo, come here." His younger brother stuffs his pieces into his mouth at once, but Mako nibbles on each slowly, tears welling up in the corners of his eyes.
He draws his scarf up to his nose, breathing Daddy's scent.