A fanfiction by Velkyn Karma
Summary: Life can always take a turn for the worse, and Bolin learns it the hard way when he's forced to come to grips with the fact that he might be on his own a little earlier than he thought. Written for Bromotions week. Prompt: Alone. Family/friendship only.
Note: Set pre-Legend of Korra, just a little bit after the brothers get their apartment in the arena. Also partly inspired by Masterarrowhead's brawler Bolin concepts, which I would seriously love to see turned into a fic.
Warnings: Rated T for a little violence and mentions of blood.
Disclaimer: I do not own, or pretend to own, Legend of Korra or any of its subsequent characters, plots or other ideas. That right belongs solely to Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino. The only thing that belongs to me here is the concept for the story.
Bolin headed back for home in high spirits with Pabu curled around his neck. He hummed to himself as he trotted down the streets that were just streets now towards the place he and Mako had to call their own.
Heading back home. Even two months after they'd moved into the attic of the probending arena, the phrase still sent a comfortably warm bubble of happiness and contentment all through him. He didn't remember having a home before this. His memories of the house his parents had owned were shadowy and full of holes, and while the streets had been where they lived for nine years now, it certainly couldn't be called home. The arena's attic was a place that felt like theirs. It wasn't much, and most people probably would have turned their noses up at it, but it had a beautiful view and it was safe and they earned their right to stay there—or, well, mostly Mako did, but it was earned.
The train of thought caused Bolin's cheerful smile to slip a little as it reminded him of the morning. He'd been sick a few weeks back. It hadn't been serious, but it had put him out of commission for a few days as he was forced to stay in bed, aching and feeling terrible everywhere, and Mako had spent a lot of the money they'd earned doing odd jobs around the arena on medicines and things for soup or tea. It meant they were behind on the rent for their apartment, and Mako had been forced to scrounge around the city again for a few jobs to make a little extra cash.
Bolin hated seeing his brother working so hard at factory shifts or stocking shelves or running around the city making deliveries, on top of their already-large workload of arena chores and their probending training with Toza, while he didn't do much of anything. Since the problem had been caused by him he'd suggested finding a job or two for himself as well to help with the bills, but Mako had adamantly refused, insisting Bolin take it easy.
"I'm not sick anymore, bro," Bolin had protested. "I don't need to take it easy. You do."
"Don't worry about it," Mako had said, shaking his head. "You should enjoy the time while you've got it, Bo. We've got it easy after the streets; why don't you take some time to appreciate it?"
Bolin had pointed out Mako ought to take his own advice, especially when he was running himself just as ragged now that they had a home as he had been when they were living in alleys and under bushes. That hit a sore spot with Mako, who seemed to take it as an implication that they weren't better off after all despite his attempts, and things only went downhill from there. By the end of the argument they'd had to split up just to cool their heads. Mako left for his latest shift at one of the temporary jobs he'd found downtown, still steaming (almost literally), while Bolin took off to, ironically, enjoy himself out on the town in order to clear his head.
It had worked, and by now in the afternoon Bolin felt in much better spirits, but the argument still worried him a little. He felt sort of bad about turning it into a fight—he hadn't intended to, and especially hadn't meant to imply that he wasn't happy now, because he was. But Mako did work too hard, and if he kept this up he was going to burn himself out, firebending pun entirely intended.
"Think I'll be able to talk to him about it better, now?" he asked Pabu thoughtfully, as he started heading up the extremely tall staircase to the attic.
The fire ferret squeaked at being addressed and flicked his ears, tickling Bolin's cheek, and he laughed. "Yeah," he said, "You're right. I bet Mako was just focused 'cause of work. Now that he's actually earned the yuans he'll probably relax a little more."
That was an uplifting thought. Mako did tend to stress out before he started anything he took seriously—new jobs, probending practice, and he'd probably be the same way with the matches when they finally had enough experience to put a team together—and it made him a little irritable as a result. But normally he was a rock of common sense (that was the earthbender in him, Bolin thought with amusement; even if he didn't have the element he still had it in his blood) and maybe he'd listen to what Bolin had to say when he wasn't worried about feeding them for the day.
But when Bolin finally reached the apartment many, many steps later, he was a little surprised to find it dark. That wasn't too odd, seeing as it was only late afternoon, and if the sun was starting to get lower in the sky it still wasn't quite getting dark yet. But Bolin did find it a little puzzling all the same. Mako usually came straight home from whatever job he'd found when he'd finished, to cook lunch or dinner or to just pass out on the couch after a long day. On occasion he would stay out a little while, but usually it was just to take a walk around the park or browse for new job options, if he could find any. They didn't exactly have a plethora of friends to hang out with, being from the streets, and most of the connections they did have weren't the sort you wanted to hang around with unless you were desperate. Bolin grimaced slightly, and did his best to put the Triple Threats out of his mind for the time being; they were done with those guys forever.
But that still didn't explain where Mako was at. He searched through the entirety of the apartment, and Pabu leapt down from his shoulder to help him look, but the place wasn't exactly huge and it was obvious in minutes that Mako wasn't there. It didn't look like he'd been back at all, either. The makeshift stove was completely cold, the dishes—what few they had—were still stacked neatly on the table where they were kept when not in use, and Mako's cot didn't look slept in at all.
"I wonder where he's at?" Bolin asked Pabu, scratching his head. The fire ferret didn't answer, but accepted Bolin's outstretched arm to scurry back up around the earthbender's neck.
Maybe he was training, Bolin thought. If whatever job Mako had lined up today hadn't been super labor-intensive, it was almost guaranteed that he'd be down in the gym, practicing the techniques Toza had drilled him in for probending. Bolin loved practicing for probending too, but Mako didn't like it so much as he devoted himself to it, like he absolutely had to be perfect at every aspect of the game, regardless of if he was enjoying himself or not. Bolin could understand, in a way—to Mako probending was just another job to excel at, in order to earn a big paycheck that let them stay fed, warm and safe—but he wished Mako would at least try to enjoy it a little. Well, maybe they could talk about that too, later.
But Mako wasn't down in the gym, either. The big room was empty, and none of the targets used for firebenders looked like they'd been moved or torched recently. Now Bolin was starting to worry a little, and he reached up to stroke Pabu's long, fluffy tail reflexively for comfort. It was probably stupid to worry—Mako could take care of himself, he'd proven it for years, and they were much safer now than they'd ever been before. But still, it was hard for Bolin to shake that crushing, knotted feeling in his heart that told him something bad was going to happen. He'd felt it far too often on the streets, left to hide in an alley while Mako went to find them a few yuans or something to eat or to scout out a safe place to sleep, alone and terrified that his brother might never come back, just like his parents. Two months definitely wasn't long enough to lose such an ingrained worry, even if Mako was probably safe.
"He is safe," Bolin insisted out loud to Pabu. The fire ferret chirruped, and Bolin added, "He's just fine. Just fine. I bet he's just taking a walk outside to cool his head some."
He decided to take a quick walk himself...just to be sure. Mako could be coming in right now. Maybe he was just delayed a little. Or down by the harbor. Or finding something to eat. There was nothing to worry about, Bolin told himself firmly, as he headed for the arena's entrance.
He didn't see Mako, but he did nearly run smack into Toza as the coach stomped up the steps. Bolin was surprised. Toza didn't have the infamous earthbending-vision that the legendary Toph had, but he was experienced enough as an old man and as an ex-athlete to know when people were around him, and it was almost impossible to sneak up on him. To nearly run into him now meant that there was something on his mind, enough to distract him. Bolin wondered briefly what it was—he didn't really like it when anybody was feeling down. But he was also distracted by his (totally, absolutely unfounded) concern for his brother, so he only said, "Woah, sorry Toza! I didn't mean to—"
"What the hell are you doin' here, boy?" Toza cut him off gruffly, looking genuinely surprised to see him. His old, hard face was twisted into a frowning sort of grimace, but since Bolin had pretty much never seen him without a sour look on his face—even when he was perfectly happy—he thought nothing of it.
"Sorry, Toza," Bolin said, doing his best to sound cheerful despite his concern. "I didn't mean to startle you, I was just—"
"You didn't startle me," Toza interrupted immediately. "I knew you were there. I just...didn't know you were there. What're you doin' here, boy? I'd have thought you'd be straight off to the hospital first thing, not lollygaggin' about here!"
"I...I don't..." Bolin swallowed suddenly, feeling the uncomfortable, heavy knot in his stomach tighten and grow. "H-hospital? What are you talking about?" On sudden impulse he added, "It's not—Mako's not—he's fine, right?"
Toza's eyes widened just slightly. To an outsider it wouldn't look like much, but Bolin had known him for a few months now and he was already good with people, and to him it was as good as a shocked look. "Oh, spirits, kid, you don't know, do you?"
The knot in his heart grew still tighter, and by now it was as though it filled his whole chest and pounded heavily, uncomfortably, painfully. His mouth was suddenly dry, and he had to lick his lips two, three times before forcing his wavering, frightened sounding voice to ask, "Know what, Toza? Mako's okay, right?"
"He has to be okay. He promised he'd never leave. He promised, so nothing bad can happen to him, right?" He was aware on a distant level that he was babbling like a child, but he couldn't help it. Toza wouldn't react in surprise like that for nothing. He was usually pretty reserved when it came to showing his emotions, but he'd been shocked. And maybe it wasn't Mako, but why would Toza react like that any other way? Pabu was the only other thing that mattered so much to Bolin besides his brother, and the fire ferret was safe and secure right around his shoulders, and that meant Mako...Mako was...he was...
"Kid!" Toza growled at him, and Bolin was aware very suddenly that the coach had called him several times now. Shakily he forced himself to focus, and Toza said slowly, "Listen, ki—Bolin. I'm not sure exactly what happened, I wasn't there for it 'til the end. I was just able to identify yer brother for the metalbenders."
Bolin panicked. Identify? They only did that for dead people, didn't they? Oh, spirits. Mako couldn't be—he couldn't—he'd promised never to leave Bolin alone like that—
"Bolin!" Toza said sharply, calling the teen's wavering attention back into focus. "Look, your brother's still alive—least he was when they started takin' him to the hospital—but he was completely knocked out. I could tell the metalbenders who he was, but that's it. You want the whole story, it happened three blocks that way and two blocks up." He pointed, and added, "You'll have to ask the cops on duty which hospital they took him to, anyway. I don't know."
"Right," Bolin said distantly. "I...I gotta...later, Toza."
It was probably the most unfeeling, thankless exit from a conversation Bolin had ever made. But Toza seemed to understand, and didn't even hmph as Bolin threw himself down the steps three at a time with Pabu clinging frantically to his shoulders, across the street (barely missing getting hit by a passing satomobile), and towards the place Toza had indicated.
He made it in a record minute and a half, and it wasn't hard to spot where it had happened, whatever it was. The road had been blocked off, with detour signs planted stoutly on either end of the street to keep the satomobiles away, and a crowd of people were gathered at the far end of the block, pushing and jostling as they tried to get a good view of...whatever was going on.
Normally Bolin was acutely aware of his large size and strength, and did his best not to abuse it. He was careful whenever he handed out hugs or stood in crowded areas, very aware of how easily he could break something or hurt someone with his earthbending-enhanced strength unless he applied it carefully. And he always had a smile on his face, just to prove he really wasn't all that intimidating. Now he could care less. He used his strength to his advantage to shove his way easily through the crowd, just careful enough not to hurt somebody but not opposed to letting his bulkier frame and muscles do the talking for him for once. If more than a few people shot him irritated glares or tossed angry words at him, it didn't matter; he just ignored them. He had to find out what happened to his brother, and he wanted to know now.
He pushed his way to the front in record time as well, and was stopped only by a series of metal blockades erected to keep the public at bay while the police worked. Metalbender cops were everywhere in the clearing made in the street, interviewing witnesses, gesturing to each other, studying the street cobbles. Bolin craned his neck to see what they were looking at, and was appalled to see an ashen scar blasted into the stones, and a little ways away what looked like several large splashes of blood and some scattered, dropped belongings. There were no bodies, but that didn't make Bolin feel better in the least. Oh, no. Oh, spirits, what had happened? Was Mako okay? Toza said he was alive, but—oh, please no...
"Excuse me?" Bolin yelled, addressing a bored-looking metalbender. It took three tries before she turned to look at him with a flat expression, clearly expecting another stupid inquiry, and Bolin said timidly, "I...I just...do you know what happened here? I just...I th-think my brother got hurt, and I want to know what happened, where I can find him..." His voice wavered again, sounded small and weak, and Pabu licked his cheek gently in comfort.
The cop did not look impressed until Bolin described his brother—tall, dark hair, gold eyes, wearing a red scarf—whereupon her bored expression turned into one of professional sympathy. "Oh, hun," she said tiredly. "Here, come over the line and we'll talk." She made a quick hand gesture, and the metal blockade bent just enough for Bolin to step over it, and snapped back into place to deter any would-be eavesdroppers.
She led him farther into the clearing—nearer to the scar cut into the earth, and the red stains and the dropped items—and passed him along to another metalbender, this one a man and clearly in charge of the investigation. Bolin clutched Pabu to his chest like a stuffed animal as the man gravely explained the situation, desperately trying to take comfort in the fire ferret's fuzzy warmth and familiarity, struggling to keep the heavy knot in his chest from squeezing up into his throat and failing miserably.
"We're not entirely sure what the full details are just yet, but it looks like a Triad hit. We're not sure which one, but it's probable it was the Agni Kai's. They operate frequently in this area, and everything fits them."
"Fits?" Bolin asked softly. He was shocked at how different his voice sounded. Pabu trilled in response, and Bolin clutched him still tighter.
"We think your brother was hit by firebending-generated lightning, and the Agni Kai's prefer firebending over the other forms. Witnesses having been reporting a flash of light and sounds frequently linked to lightning generation. We're not sure how your brother survived, but he was probably just an innocent bystander in a gang fight." The officer gave him a sympathetic look. "Rest assured, we'll find those responsible and make sure everything is taken care of."
Bolin was silent for a long time, holding his pet close to his chest with trembling arms, and he caught the officers exchanging looks with each other out of the corners of their eyes. On impulse, he said suddenly, "Mako's a firebender."
"He's a firebender," Bolin repeated. "And he knows how to redirect lightning." And shoot it too, but he wasn't sure if he ought to mention that.
"And that's why he survived?" one of the officers said thoughtfully. "Lucky kid. It's possible. The witnesses weren't clear exactly on what happened, the lightning was very blinding and most of them missed it."
"But he's hurt..." Bolin rasped softly, and his eyes slid unconsciously to the bloodstains. "It didn't work..."
"He might not have had time to redirect all of it," the female officer said. "It happens, I've read things about it before."
Bolin barely heard her. He was too lost in his own thoughts. The officers might not have had a clear picture of what had happened, but with the little pieces they'd offered him, he suddenly knew exactly what had gone down. A Triad attack was more than likely, but Bolin had a feeling the Agni Kai's had nothing to do with this one, and that the attack on his brother had been deliberate. After all, people on the streets had warned them all the time not to get in too deep with the Triads; once you did, you never got out again unless you were dead.
He didn't know how deep Mako had gotten with the Triple Threats. Mako had never let him go on those trips. He'd helped his brother run numbers for them, but that was a comparatively unimportant job, one they would be willing to risk on street kids. Mako had definitely done other things for them...and they probably hadn't liked it much when he'd gotten himself and his brother off the streets and severed all ties with the gang.
Bolin felt the heavy weight in his heart grow stronger, threaten to drag him down, crush him from the inside. How could he have been so stupid? This shouldn't have happened. He should have been there for his brother, not let him be alone like this. He should have warned Mako, known something like this could happen. He should have pressed the argument this morning, insisted on going with him to work. He should have—
Should have, should have, should have. The fact was that he hadn't, and had spent his day down at Narook's eating noodles and wandering around the park while his brother was getting struck by lightning and maybe even dying. He was the worst brother ever, and the thought made him feel so alone.
The feeling was compounded when his distant, unfocused gaze wavered to the things scattered across the paving stones by the blood spatters. Most of them were unimportant: a few scattered yuan coins, a ticket from the trolley, a scrap of paper with some work shifts scribbled on them hastily in wavering calligraphy. But the thing Bolin's eyes were drawn to immediately was the stuffed-looking white paper bag, now dripping with grease that soaked into the stones from laying on its side so long. Bolin recognized the bag all too well—it was from his absolute favorite vendor a few streets over, the one he visited at least once a week when they had the extra money, ever since the first time they'd been able to spend their yuans the way they wanted and not just the way they needed.
Mako had brought him his favorite dumplings as a peace offering.
It was the final straw for Bolin. The heavy knot in his chest crunched painfully, the thick feeling in his throat twisted and pushed and clawed its way out of him. The agonized howl that escaped him was barely human, eliciting sympathetic stares from the metalbenders and a frantic trill from Pabu, but he didn't care what anyone else thought; he was too caught up in his own grief and terror and frantic, uncontrolled panic. Mako had probably been just as hesitant about revisiting the argument as Bolin had been, but he'd still been thinking of his brother all the same, and he'd been hurt badly and probably still thought Bolin was angry with him, and Bolin had never, ever felt so alone and so absolutely worthless as a brother than he did right at that moment.
Originally I wanted to do all seven Bromotions Week prompts. This one sort of got out of hand though, so it'll be a multi-part fic instead. It's completely finished, though :)
I don't know how the word 'alone' can be used as a prompt and not be angsty. Sorry guys...