Separation

Part three of a fanfiction by Velkyn Karma

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.


The next three days were unpleasant ones, filled with a lot of worry, fear, and misery as Bolin discovered he could do little but wait. By the end of only the first day he felt stretched thin; he'd endured so many emotions in such a short time period it was like his soul had been flayed to the core, and he felt weak and exhausted.

Yet he couldn't afford to rest, physically or mentally. There was just too much to do, too many things he had to focus on. And that was if he even could convince himself to do so. Part of him almost felt guilty resting, or trying to calm down and not strain himself too much, not when he should be there for his brother whenever he could be.

Because Mako still hadn't woken yet. Three days had gone past and he had never stirred once, never mumbled in his sleep or opened his eyes or even smiled or frowned when Bolin held his hand and talked to him or Pabu curled up by his neck or on his chest. He was still as the grave—it was a terrifying but apt comparison for Bolin. Only the fact that he still breathed, chest rising and falling slowly, and that Bolin could still feel a pulse in his wrist whenever he held his hands, reassured the earthbender that his brother was still alive.

Just be patient, all the healers told him. But every day that went past when Mako only slept on, Bolin felt the tension grow just a little thicker, felt his soul flayed just a little deeper, and his mental begging to the spirits became more and more frantic and desperate.

Bolin stayed with him whenever he could, holding his brother's hand and talking to him, encouraging him to wake up, supporting him any way possible. He took his meals down at the cafeteria; the food was cheap and filling, and he never really tasted it anyway, just let it fill him up so his stomach wouldn't rumble and he could sit by Mako in peace. He slept there too, sometimes using one of the spare beds if he had to, but mostly sleeping in the chairs by Mako's side or folded over the edge of the bed. By now the staff had become very familiar with him, and he could already greet most of the nurses and healers on a first-name basis. They seemed to think it was sweet that he was so loyal to his brother, and usually helped him out in little ways. Most of them turned a blind eye to Pabu, when they caught sight of the fire ferret, and they would occasionally bring him a snack or a blanket or offer gentle words of sympathy and well-wishing.

He went back to the the arena only to change his clothes and shower, and to take care of the odd chores around the gym for Toza that let them earned their keep. He covered Mako's half of the work, too, which meant it took twice as long, and he hated being away from his brother for several hours. But it had to get done, and Bolin didn't want his brother to get out of the hospital, still weak, only to discover they were back on the streets again. People weakened that badly on the streets tended to not last long.

If he even left the hospital to begin with. Bolin tried hard not to think about that.

Whenever he left his brother he always made sure to leave Pabu with him, just in case. It wasn't that Bolin didn't trust the hospital staff—they all seemed like very nice people, and he was sure they were doing their best to help Mako. But if his brother did wake up when Bolin wasn't there, the earthbender wanted Mako to know for sure that he had been around, and to have someone familiar and comforting with him so he wasn't alone. Mako wasn't as close to the fire ferret as Bolin was, but Pabu would definitely be more reassuring than an unknown bed in an unknown room with unknown persons all around him. Bolin always instructed Pabu to stick close, and the fire ferret took his guard duties seriously, curling up by Mako's side and only moving to hide under the covers or the bed when somebody entered the room.

It was a good thing he could leave Pabu with his brother, because as the days went by Bolin was called away from the room more and more often, and not just to change or take care of the arena chores. There were plenty of other things to deal with as well, and for the first time he felt the heavy weight of responsibility on his shoulders as he was forced to handle things he'd never had to before.

For starters he'd had to fill out paperwork for the hospital, in order to take care of Mako's stay and treatments. It hadn't been too difficult, fortunately. He'd needed help with some of the questions, but the nurses were always happy to assist.

Then more paperwork and a quick interview with the metalbenders, as they continued to work on the case for Mako's attack. He'd had to head down to the station for that, which worried him a little. He didn't exactly distrust metalbenders, but Mako always acted cautious around them, and even more so when they'd done work for the Triple Threats. He didn't want to inadvertently get himself or his big brother into trouble with their gang history—Mako more than himself—and he was afraid that if they asked too many questions about the attempted hit, they might dig too deep.

But the interview wasn't as worrisome as Bolin had originally anticipated, and the only question he had been leery about was their ages. Mako had told him once that Republic City had laws about legal guardianship: one had to be eighteen in order to take care of a younger sibling, and they also had to be qualified as fit enough to care for the brother or sister in question. Mako was only seventeen and seriously injured, which might not let him qualify. If the police caught on, it was always possible they could be separated, even though Bolin wasn't really a child. He lied and said that Mako was twenty and he was eighteen; it was a bit of a stretch for him, but Mako definitely looked the part, since he'd always looked a little older than he really was. The metalbenders didn't question him further on that and sent him on his way, promising to report anything they uncovered further about the Triad attack right away.

That left Bolin with the uncomfortable thoughts about the Triple Threats running through his mind as he headed back for the hospital. Would they leave Mako alone after this? It seemed more like a deliberate hit than being unlucky enough to get stuck in the crossfire, and it had probably been intended to teach Mako a lesson for trying to clean up his act and get off the streets. The question was, if Mako had survived, would they keep trying to teach him that lesson, or was this punishment enough? They hadn't come after Bolin, and they could find him easily enough if they wanted to; maybe the attack had been enough for them. Bolin wasn't sure, and it left him anxious for his brother's safety. He'd fight the Triads if he had to to keep Mako safe, but he wasn't sure how well he'd do, and he could end up just like Mako. He resolved to discuss it with his brother if he woke up. This would be the sort of thing Mako would know.

When. When he wakes up, Bolin corrected himself with a sick twist in his gut, and felt terribly guilty for ever making the mistake.

Then there were the medical expenses, which made Bolin's eyes pop when he'd seen the cost for emergency medical care, and the continued treatments as Mako slept on. He'd had no idea healing was so expensive; no wonder Mako had always done his best to keep them from getting sick on the streets. He'd managed to make the payments, barely, but he'd had to tear the attic apartment apart to find Mako's hidden emergency money stash (it was definitely an emergency), and borrow a lot from Toza to boot. He'd be owing the coach a lot of extra chores for a couple of months, and be scrubbing the arena from top to bottom as well until further notice, but it was worth it if Mako would be well taken care of, still alive, and off the streets. He'd scrub the arena for the rest of his life if he had to.

It meant he was working even more now and had less time with Mako, which was frustrating. But Pabu was still with him, and Bolin would be there every night for certain, holding his brother's hand and watching as he slept-but-not-really, oblivious to the world. And it was during the third night, as he stayed loyally by his brother's side, that he realized just how lonely and painful it was being the parental figure, doing everything he could and still facing the frightening realization that maybe everything just wasn't enough. Spirits, was this what Mako went through every day...what he'd gone through for almost ten years now? Struggling so hard just to make ends meet, to keep them going one more day, to find answers where there weren't any, to make sure his little brother was always safe and taken care of and never had to worry? Three days of it alone was wearing Bolin thin. He couldn't imagine how Mako had ever found the strength to do this for so long.

Or...maybe he could. The more Bolin thought about it, the more he realized that all of those things—the exhaustion, the work, the responsibility—none of it would matter, if Mako would just wake up, manage a smile, be happy, be okay. Bolin would deal with all of it and more if Mako would just come back, not be a lifeless shadow of a firebender. He could handle anything if he saw that his brother was safe and happy, he was sure.

And...wasn't that what Mako had done? Living on the streets, and then in the arena, he'd often seem so beaten down and exhausted and stressed when he tried to find food or a place to sleep or jobs to supplement their arena chores. But he'd always cheer right up, seem stronger and more composed, when he saw Bolin laugh or grin or enthusiastically accept gifts of food. It was like those things all made it worthwhile for Mako—knowing that his brother was safe and happy, knowing that all his struggles and efforts were for something. Even in the fight they'd had before the accident, it was obvious. He'd told Bolin to enjoy himself now that they were living better, and had seemed hurt when Bolin had unintentionally implied that Mako wasn't doing well enough by them—no, by him.

Unexpectedly it all clicked. He understood his brother in a new way that he hadn't before he'd been forced to accept the role of responsibility. The overwork, the stress, the focus, the satisfaction when it all became worthwhile—he understood why it happened, just as much as that it did happen. And he knew he'd do the same for Mako if he had to, because even if the roles were reversed forever, and the responsibility was crushing and painful and exhausting, it would all be worth it just to know Mako was okay.

He squeezed his brother's hand tightly and whispered, "Thanks, bro." And although Mako was silent and still as always, Bolin knew his brother would understand it anyway.


By the fifth day after the accident with still no progress, Bolin was starting to despair more than a little. The healers had said to give it time, to be patient, but Mako still hadn't woken up. He was as silent and as unresponsive as ever, and when Bolin returned for the night the nurses reported no progress while he was away. They were as kind as ever, but Bolin could detect a sad edge to their mannerisms now. And although they never said anything, Bolin could guess all too well that they thought his brother's chances were dropping fast with each new day of no developments whatsoever.

That made him feel sick to his stomach, because it only reinforced his own worst fears, made the frightening dreams he'd had every night since the accident slip closer and closer to becoming reality. He envisioned Mako like this for the rest of his not-quite-life, sleeping isolated from the rest of the world, alone in his own head, shut up in a box of a room while strangers tended to him because he couldn't even take care of himself. This wasn't how Bolin wanted it to be. He didn't want to work so hard for Mako just for him to still suffer in a cruelly unfair way, eerily silent, unresponsive and trapped. He wanted Mako to wake up, to talk with him and joke with him and lecture him sternly when he did something stupid. He'd take care of everything if Mako would just come back and be his brother again.

He sat with Mako like he always did at night, gripping his hand tightly, like it was a lifeline, like he could somehow drag him back from that silent world of the half-dead by sheer determination and physical contact alone. He felt too exhausted to cry, but Pabu seemed to understand how he felt and crawled up onto his shoulder to lick his cheek, as if clearing away invisible tears. It helped a little, and he scratched the fire ferret's head fondly before turning back to his brother.

"C'mon, Mako," he pleaded. "You gotta wake up. Just wake up. That's all you gotta do. Please. Please."

Mako didn't respond, as always. Bolin sighed tiredly in defeat, and an hour later he had flopped forward with his head pillowed on Mako's bed, soundly asleep from a long day of work and worry.

He woke up hours later when he felt something move, and jolted into consciousness with a start. A blanket slipped from around his shoulders as he shot upright. One of the nurses had probably put it there when on the rounds, but that wasn't what woke him up, and there was no one else in the room. It wasn't Pabu either; the fire ferret was curled up comfortably at the crook of Mako's neck, his little head pillowed on the edge of Mako's red scarf as he slept soundly. Bolin glanced blearily at the clock he could barely see in the darkness—two-thirty in the morning—and then frowned, trying to remember what had woken him with the fuzzy mind of the only half-conscious.

He felt the movement again, and realized with a start that it was Mako's fingers, still wrapped in his hand, twitching ever so slightly.

Bolin's eyes widened, and he felt a surge of hope, primal, powerful and burning bright, flood through his heart. "Mako?" he gasped breathlessly, squeezing his brother's hand gently. "Mako, can you hear me? You awake, bro?"

He held his breath and and waited impatiently for some sort of response, something to show his brother had heard him and understood. For a long time there was nothing, and Bolin's hopefulness started to dissolve into gloom. Maybe he'd just imagined it. It was late, and he was exhausted. But then Mako's even breathing hitched for a fraction of a second, his fingers twitched again just barely, and the expressionless, empty face of sleep shifted ever so slightly as his brows drew together in a ghost of a frown.

I'm not imagining this, Bolin thought, hopeful once again. And if I am dreaming, I don't want to wake up to the reality. Out loud, he said encouragingly, "C'mon, bro, wake up—if you can hear me Mako, you've gotta open your eyes, wake up, c'mon, you can do it, just give it a shot—"

Mako didn't snap awake at the prompt, but he did seem to respond to his brother's voice; his breath hitched again for a moment, louder this time, and his fingers twitched harder, with a little more movement and strength than before. The signs continued—breath shifting slightly, out of the pattern of sleep, the slight stirring that grew gradually stronger, the barest hints of emotion flickering across his sleeping face for a tiny fraction of a second. They were small signs, but Bolin spotted every one with a mix of excitement, relief, and (just barely) horror, because it was like watching a man's soul pour back into his body, like watching him try to claw his way out of his own buried grave after lingering in the world of the dead for too long, and it was frightening. But more so it was wonderful, because Mako was fighting now, and Bolin knew it, and his brother would never give up on him like that, not when he knew Bolin was there and needed him and he could do something about it. So Bolin whispered encouragement—"you're doing great, bro, c'mon, wake up, you can do it—" and clutched his hand tightly like a lifeline, and Pabu woke up to help by nudging Mako's head with his nose and squeaking shrilly in his ear.

When it did happen it wasn't at all like Bolin expected. He figured it would be gradual, like everything else had been, and did not expect his brother's eyes to fly open suddenly, or for his whole body to go unexpectedly rigid with tension. The gold of Mako's eyes was dulled in the darkness, looking more like weak copper, and combined with the bright whites through the gloom it made him look unexpectedly sickly and very, very confused. They flickered around wildly, and Bolin saw no recognition in them as Mako glanced at his own brother, which terrified him at first—they forget things the healer had said. Belatedly he realized it was dark, Mako had woken suddenly in an unfamiliar place after being unconscious for days, and he probably didn't even see Bolin in the gloom, which explained the tension and what the earthbender now recognized as a very primal sort of panic.

"Mako, calm down, it's me, it's Bolin!" he said frantically, gripping his brother's hand with one of his own and placing the other palm on the firebender's forehead.

Mako went frighteningly still at the contact, and for one terrifying moment Bolin panicked. But then Mako rasped softly, "Bro? You...you here?" His voice sounded hoarse and weak, and his eyes flickered tiredly in the dark. He was still obviously deeply disoriented from the unexpected wakeup.

"Yeah, Mako, I'm right here," Bolin said, unable to hide the relief and excitement in his voice at being recognized and responded to. "How you feeling, bro? You got hurt pretty bad and you've been unconscious for a long time, I'm guessing not good..."

There was a long moment of silence as Mako mostly concentrated on breathing, and Bolin returned both hands to Mako's one, giving him all the time he needed. He could be infinitely patient now, just because Mako was alive and awake and everything could only get better from here.

"Tired," Mako finally said, after a long moment.

Bolin couldn't help but laugh at that. It was a weak sort of laugh, one born of exhaustion and too many emotions being put through the wringer, but it was laughter. "You can't be tired, bro, you've been sleeping for five days straight!"

"Doesn't feel like it," Mako answered back, although he did sound groggy.

"Okay, fine," Bolin humored, squeezing his hand again. "How about the rest of you? Are you sore or hurting anywhere?" The healers had listed these as possible symptoms amongst many other things for lightning strikes.

"No," Mako answered.

Even when they were both half-asleep and barely able to focus, Bolin was able to recognize his brother's evasiveness. It made his heart squeeze tight with appreciation for his brother. Even after being unconscious for five days straight and waking up in a strange place unexpectedly, Mako was still trying to keep Bolin from getting worried by downplaying his own problems. Mako was definitely an expert when it came to being the big brother; looking after Bolin was practically in his blood.

But he wasn't allowed to get away with it right now, not when he was the one that needed looking after. Bolin knew he had to be hurting at least a little, but Mako would deny it repeatedly unless he was forced into admitting it in a different way. So he said, "Great!" and bent over to awkwardly wrap his brother up in a relieved hug. He was extremely careful with it, doing his best not to put too much pressure on his brother, but even so he heard the hiss of pain and Mako's sharp intake of breath at the contact.

"Okay," he admitted groggily after a moment, in response to Bolin's stern glare as the earthbender sat back once again, "maybe a little sore." He seemed too out of it to realize he'd even been played, which was definitely indication enough that he had a ways to go before he was all better.

Bolin fastened his hand around his brother's again, and said with genuine, heartfelt relief and happiness, "Mako, I...I'm just...I'm so glad you're okay, and awake, and...spirits, I was so worried, watching you just lay there like that and not waking up, and they c-couldn't promise me if you would or, or..." Oh, no. He'd wanted to be strong for his brother and already he could feel his throat getting thicker and his voice starting to catch as all his fears and anxieties and sorrows came pouring out in a sudden rush. He sniffled, doing his best to try and cover it up and failing miserably, and finished lamely, "I've been so scared for you."

"Sorry, Bo," Mako rasped softly. "I didn't mean to worry you...it'll be okay now." How strange it was, for the injured man in bed to be reassuring his perfectly healthy brother after barely escaping from his forced rest.

"I didn't mean to make you mad, either," Bolin rushed on, determined to get it all out, now, before it was too late. He'd stewed in the guilt for five days as he watched his brother that might not ever come back to him; he had to let him know right away, couldn't ever let a situation like that come up again. "I was just...I worry about you, bro, but I don't want you to think you don't do enough, you do great, I'd be in serious trouble without you, but I was never mad—"

"I know, bro," Mako said softly. "I know. It was a stupid fight for both of us..." He gave Bolin's hand a weak squeeze, and just like that everything was forgotten and forgiven between them. Bolin sniffled again, but his smile was one of weak relief.

They were silent for a long time, and Bolin thought that maybe his brother had drifted off—into real sleep, this time, not something enforced by a destructive lighting blast—but after a moment Mako said tiredly, "Where are we...?"

"Yugoda Memorial," Bolin answered automatically, as Pabu, feeling left out, crawled over to Mako's other hand and shoved his nose under it, demanding attention. Mako complied with a tiny, tired smile, fingers scratching weakly at the soft fur, but froze at the name of the hospital.

"For five days?" he asked slowly, as his tired mind struggled to comprehend it.

"Yeah."

"We can't afford that," Mako whispered softly. "Even with the money I earned on the way back—"

"That was stolen," Bolin told him guiltily—it was true, the Triple Threats that had attacked Mako also had the audacity to steal his hard-earned yuans before leaving him for dead—but then he added, "But don't worry, bro, I got it all taken care of."

"You...you did?" there was a mix of puzzlement and what almost sounded like worry in Mako's weak voice.

"Yeah," Bolin answered reassuringly. "I had to borrow some from Toza, but I figured out some extra work I can do with him to pay it off, unless we get lucky enough to form a team and start earning money early. I had to use up all of your emergency stash, though...sorry, bro." He winced; he'd never been as good with money as Mako, and had a feeling his brother wouldn't be happy.

Mako didn't seem upset, but he did appear concerned. "Okay," he said after a long moment, "Well, we've been there before...but I should really get out of here to cut costs—" He tried to weakly lever himself up, out of bed. Bolin frowned and pushed him back down.

"Uh-uh. No way, bro. You're staying put, for at least another week. The healers say lightning damage is pretty hard on the nerves, and it'll take you a while to heal completely."

"I feel fine."

"No, you don't," Bolin said, "Or you could push me out of the way and get up yourself. Please, bro, please just take it easy like the healers say, okay? I'll take care of things for the week. You can call the shots, but I don't want you to get hurt again, so just...just be careful until they say you're better, for me if nothing else. Please."

Mako was silent for a long time, watching his brother. Bolin felt like his emotions were written all over his face, and for Mako they probably were—Mako had always been good at reading him. And true to form, even exhausted and weak, Mako finally said softly, "I really had you worried, didn't I, Bolin?"

"You couldn't see it," Bolin whispered softly. "It wasn't fair. I was so afraid you were going to leave me all alone, and I couldn't do anything about it..."

"I'm never going to do that, Bo. I promised."

"I know, I know! And that's why it hurt so much more to see you just...laying there, like nothing was wrong, but I knew something was because you weren't getting up and..." Bolin shuddered and his babbling ground to a halt. "Just, I can do something about it this time, I can help you out this week while you take it easy so I know you won't get hurt again. Just let me help out, okay?"

A tired sigh from Mako. "Alright, Bolin. I promise I'll try to take it easy, for your sake. At least for a little while." His voice became, if possible, even more serious. "But I meant what I said before, Bolin, I'm never going to leave you alone like that."

Bolin nodded, squeezed his hand. "I believe you. Same back at you, bro."

Mako managed a weak smile—more of a crook at the corner of his mouth than anything else—and Bolin responded with a relieved grin of his own. Pabu, not to be left out, crawled on top of Mako's chest and squeaked shrilly, including his own promise in the mix.

Mako fell asleep shortly after that; it was obvious he was exhausted and still felt terrible, for all his pretense to the contrary. Bolin was okay with it this time. He knew his brother would come back again, and with that came the reassurance that everything would be okay once again. After all, they could figure it all out—the funding for the hospital stay, how to deal with the Triple Threats, the answers for the police, food, jobs, living—everything, anything, as long as they were together.


And that's a wrap.

Wish I had more time to do more of these prompts...well, maybe I'll do some belatedly.

~VelkynKarma