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Sacrifice

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At night he sees lightning. The explosion. Flashes behind his eyes. It burns.

In the morning he rises, though he hasn’t slept. He sits up in bed and winces, waits until Bolin clears the room. He won’t undo the bandages until his brother is out of sight.

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“There ya go. That’s it. That’s it!” Zolt cheered.

Mako stretched like a viper, extending his arms as far as they would go, bowing as the electricity wrapped around his arms and followed his every movement. The energy crackled on his fingertips, wormed its way to his core. He was empty. He was desperate.

The first flash he saw was a spark.

“Again,” Zolt growled.

Mako centered his arms, breathed deeply, emptied himself once more, but he could go no lower.

“Again.”

Lightning was not weak. It was not helpless. So he tried again, light filling his sight.

Bolin watched on from the corner of the warehouse, Pabu hiding inside his collar. Mako saw Bolin trembling between the flashes.

“Again!”

Again and again he wound his arms, balanced his energies until he was hollow. He struck again and again until he could only see lightning.

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Tokuga is cornered. With nowhere for him to go, Mako hurls fire with his fist, but he can only use one arm. He has no left hook, no uppercut. No way to follow up his punch. He’s fighting like the bender he was but it isn’t enough, because Tokuga sees him for the man he is, sending him flying face-down onto the vines with one good slice. Onto his scars.

“Back off!” Bolin shouts, charging forward as Mako groans on the ground, stunted by the pain.

He shuts his eyes. He sees the flashes.

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“Use the lightning only when ya got to,” Zolt said. “But watch your back. You’ll need it a lot in this business.” He laughed, deep and rumbling, confident and cruel.

“Yes, sir,” Mako said, averting his gaze. He knew it wasn’t right.

“You’ve got promise, kid. Don’t waste it. Stick with me and I’ll make a Triad out of yous yet.” As Zolt walked away, he glanced at Mako over his shoulder, his eyes like the glow of fire, his laugh lingering like ash. “Your number-crunching days’ll be over soon enough.”

Mako swore he would only use it to protect his brother. He wouldn’t be like Zolt. He knew better. Even as he stole bread, ran numbers, took deals, he always knew he was better.

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He sees them first. The dummies, rigged to explode. There’s no time. He doesn’t have to think, because there are lives at stake. There’s Bolin. He only has to face the consequences.

He’s their only chance, so he tears off the sling, exposing his scars, straightening his stiff arm and enduring the pain because he needs to fight. He doesn’t see the lightning this time - only smoke and fire.

When they blow, Mako sucks in a deep breath, struggling but centering himself. He holds the wall at bay, light and pain blurring his vision. It’s hard to keep cool under fire when it still burns.

Bolin gets only a glimpse, sees the scars in the glint of firelight, but he’s fleeing, running again but never leaving his brother behind.

Mako catches the wall of fire as the flames curl around him. It comes close, but he can breathe. He keeps fighting through the pain, through the fire. As he pushes it back, all of him burns.

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He would do anything to protect his brother. He would always come between him and the fire.

So he stood between Bolin and Shady Shin when the gangsters had backed them into a corner, prepared to fight them all off.

In the end, it wasn’t power that broke them apart from Zolt, but honor. Toza stepped up and stepped in, forcing Zolt to stand down, relinquishing his hold on them. It didn’t come to blows or lightning. It came down to choosing the right thing. Sacrifice isn’t suffering when you make the call without a second thought.

When Toza offered them a chance at pro-bending, a final way out, it was right - for Bolin, for both of them. An honest life. It seemed safe. They couldn’t burn if they fled the fire.

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Seated at the edge of their vehicle, head lowered, body folded, Mako sighs. He retrieves a spare sling and set of bandages from the back. He looks down at his arm, his scars exposed, his decisions bare. He decides without thinking, because he’s a soldier. His duty is to his team and to his brother. This would set his recovery back. The bandages had already come off; he had been looking at only a few more weeks left in the sling. Now, he has to look ahead a few more months, to dozens more nights of lightning and fire.

When Bolin walks to the car, Mako glances away. “Get out of here, Bo."

“No,” Bolin says, clasping Mako’s shoulders. “When I look at you, I don’t see your scars or your sling. Nothing like that. I see a hero. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you.”

“Right back at you, bro.”

Mako unwinds the spool of bandages, covering over the scars but not his sacrifice. He'll wear it like a badge instead of a sling.

At night he sees lightning but not regrets.