The rain fell from the sky in sheets, and the small boy huddled in his coat as he sped down the road as fast as he could. The back of his tattered coat was pulled up over his head, and his red scarf fluttered in the gales that whistled around him. His black hair, sopping wet, fell into his eyes. They were amber, and wide with fear. He clutched the parcel to his chest as if he'd lose it if he let even an inch come between them. It wasn't as efficient for running, but he'd keep it safe and dry.
He'd already had too many close calls with the Triple Threat Triad to risk losing it; they knew who he was. He was the ten-year-old urchin who was constantly pickpocketing them. Tonight, they'd nearly seen him as he crouched under the overhang in front of their headquarters, nearly noticed when a few things were missing from a table. A glove, two dumplings, a knife. It was all he'd been able to manage.
He wished he were bigger, he wished his parents hadn't died, he wished
He shook his head. Wishing got you nothing and nowhere. It only caused more pain. And pain was something he didn't want any more of.
His chest constricted as he felt another cough rising in his throat. His breathing had been shallow, he'd lost a lot of weight, but he didn't care anymore. It was routine; it had been routine for the past two years. At least the nightmares were less frequent, at least the homesickness had been ebbing away a little.
Taking as deep a breath as he could, he turned into an alleyway and made his way toward the back. Tarps were tacked to the buildings on either side of the alley, boxes stacked in front. A small light shone inside. The boy sighed and knocked on a box. "Bo? Bolin? You in there?"
"W-what's the password?" the eight-year-old's timid voice rang out.
"Pabu," the boy flashed a small smile. It was their old fox-dog's name, their favorite pet. A box moved aside, and he ducked his head to get in.
Bolin slid the box back in place and looked him over. "You're all wet," he frowned.
"It's pouring out there." The boy shook his head, sending spatters of water all over.
"Mako, stop it!" Bolin squeaked, covering his face. "You're raining on me!"
"Sorry," Mako yawned, and sat cross-legged on the floor. He let space between the parcel and his chest and dropped it to the floor. "I gotcha dumplings."
"Really?" Bolin smiled and sat next to him. "Are they like Mama used to make?"
Mako's breath caught in his throat. "I don't know," he whispered, and drew them out of the little paper bag. They were cold, he noticed, and set them on his palm. He hesitated, but focused his energy.
"Mako," Bolin bit his lip. "Don't. You don't like to. Don't do it."
"They're cold." Mako's hand heated up, and so did the dumplings.
"I don't mind it cold," Bolin frowned.
"You should have a warm meal. Shut up and be a little gracious."
Bolin's chin quivered, but he shook his head. "I am gracious," he muttered. "I just don't want you to be sad."
"I'm not sad. I can't be. I'm taking care of you."
"Maybe I can take care of myself," Bolin blinked big green eyes at him. "So you don't have to."
"No." A small fire was roasting the dumplings, and Mako stopped heating them. "Get me a plate."
Bolin rose on wobbly legs and got a small sheet of metal that they used for a dish. Mako set the dumplings on them and handed it to Bolin. "Eat up."
Bolin looked down at the dumplings and back up at Mako. "You take one," he said.
"You didn't eat anything today."
"Yes I did."
"I had Leechi juice."
"That's not food."
"That's something, isn't it?"
Bolin crossed his arms. "I won't eat if you don't take one right now."
"You're being an idiot," Mako frowned. "You love dumplings."
"And you're skinny."
"So are you."
Bolin stuck his lower lip out. "I'm gonna cry," he threatened. "I'm gonna cry and pound on the floor and hold my breath until I die."
"Mako!" Tears welled up in Bolin's eyes, and he nudged Mako's arm with his hand. "Be a good big brother and listen to me! I
"Of what, Bo?"
"I'm scared you're gonna die and leave me all alone!" Tears streamed down Bolin's cheeks and he wrapped his arms around his knees as he cried into them.
Mako's face softened and he set the metal down, making sure the dumplings didn't roll away. "Bo," he whispered, holding his brother tightly. "Bo, I'd never leave you. We're all each other's got; I'm not gonna let that happen."
"I promise," Mako vowed, and stroked Bolin's hair. "We're alone in the world, so we gotta stick together. Everything'll work out, don't worry. We'll find a way."
"I d-don't want you to d-die."
"Don't say that. You don't know."
"I'll try not to then."
"Then eat one." "Please."
Mako sighed. The kid wouldn't let him win. "Alright, Bo. I'll eat one."
Bolin yawned and snuggled against Mako's chest. "Sing to me," he whispered drowsily, eyelids drooping. "Sing to me like Mama used to."
Mako bit his lips, but sighed. "Alright." He cleared his throat and tried not to stammer on the words of their old lullaby. It was soft and sweet and slow, and he was afraid he'd ruin it.
"Little one, don't you cry, don't shed one little tear. The moon is up, the stars are out, and your mother is here. Take one deep breath, give me one smile, rest in my arms tonight. No monsters in sight. No need for fright. Never fear, my son, of things others may do. There will
Mako broke off, tears forming in his eyes. He looked down at Bolin, who had fallen asleep on his chest. He forced himself to finish the lullaby.
"There will never be a day when I don't love you."
He shuddered a little and held Bolin close. "I'm going to try and find a job again," he whispered to no one. "I'm going to take care of you. We're gonna grow up to be the best grown-ups ever. We'll live in a big house, out of the city. We'll have a yard and a pond full of turtleducks and all the fire ferrets you can chase." Tears streamed down his cheeks, but he couldn't stop talking.
"We'll be rich, we'll never be hungry, no Triple-Threater'll wanna bother us. We're gonna be happy, Bo.
"And I'm gonna make it happen."