His childhood years have the kind of smokey edges of a dream — something that he knew happened, but sometimes cannot distinguish if they were real.
He remembers his father and his dashing red scarf, dropping his lunch tin upon the table only to sweep his mother into his arms and then swing each of his boys up and into the air with much gusto. His father was a laboring scholar, who knew all sorts of stories because he found aesthetic pleasure in reading and was quitegoodat it but often teased that his arithmetic was not good enough to secure him a scholarship to university.
(“Work hard at school and especially at those numbers, my boys, so you can get into the University — you’ll be set for life.”)
He remembers his mother with her soothing voice and her warmth, and the irresistible smell of almond cookies, homemade dumplings, and —a few times during the summer months when they could afford all the paraphernalia—shaved ice topped with colorful syrups, rice cakes, jellies, and fresh fruit. He remembers her smiles, the way she’d sigh sometimes, and blow a stray strand of hair from her face as she watched her boys play in the yard. Or the times when she would beckon him close, a pair of torn trousers or a shirt or something else the neighbors needed fixing at a price in piles at her worktable.
(“Come here, Mako, I need your sharp eye to help line this thread right here.)
And then, of course, there’s Bolin who has been his constant companion for as long as he could remember, but even those memories of their childhood before it all came crashing down have a hazy, dream-like quality about them.
Thatnightis something he doesn’t like to remember in all its grisly detail. But the sad thing is, it’s all he can remember about the final moment of his mother and father. He’s not sure why Bolin wasn’t with them, inseparable as they were, because all he can remember is his father shouting“No!” his mother’s scream and suddenly he’s shielded from everything as fire engulfseverythingand his parents are no more in a sudden surge of brightness…
However, the precise truth of his childhood ishisalone and he has precious few possessions already; what exactly transpired nearly ten years ago and even before then is something he’d rather keep private.
Everything else is easier, and it all happens in a whirling series of events that are everything but unfortunate.
With the death of their parents, and no one willing to step in as guardian, Republic City appropriated their property and assets. As a child, Mako was too numb to understand what was going on as he and a crying Bolin watched Metalbenders swarm their house and take most of their things. (Corruption and graft run rampant just about anywhere, you know)
All he could do was grab Bolin, a handful of things that busy fingersdidn’tsnatch up the first time around, and out the door they went never to return again. The cops might have been a sham, but Mako was sure that no petty thief would bother to dress up as an orphanage official if one were to come knocking at their door, and herefusedto be separated from his brother, the only family he had left.
For a time they lived and worked from a base of operations underneath a bridge; it kept out most of the rain and the snow, and with discarded plank-wood and one of the blankets snatched from their family home they made a decent lean-to. They shared fire and body-heat as Mako worked out how to eke a living out on the streets, trying to keep ahead of their dwindling money and food supplies each day.
If there was one thing he was determined to do for the rest of his life (And still does to this day), it was to keep his brother safe, to try and give him a home when all else was lost. He played the role of father, mother, and brother all in one and started, at first, to try and be the “honorable”, outstanding citizen his parents would have been proud of.
Of course, honest work for a child is hard to find. They both relied on “trick bending” during the warmer months, rushing to-and-fro along crowded streets and in front of the train station when it used to be a bustling commuter center. It was all chump change, really, but Mako was a man of honor and during his time of childish idealism he believed he could make it this way, this good and honest way.
But then he learned that maybe pick-pocketing would be a more lucrative pay-off.
He and Bolin were a team, one provided the distraction and the other nabbed the goods. And the goods were not necessarily money, either, but more often than not bobbles and trinkets that they pawned to sellers who didn’t ask where little boys came across such expensive watches or jewelry. Sometimes they stole handkerchiefs and fans made of ivory or broken, expensive purses tossed into the rubbish heaps; nights at his mother’s side paid off when Mako repaired the tiniest of tears, or even unstitched the initials on the fanciest of kerchiefs and the folds of cloth fans to sell right back to dealers.
They were an affective pair, and more often than not, got away unscathed from these encounters.
But they made perhaps their best — or maybe worst — haul when they easily picked the pockets of one young and brash “Shady” Shin. They got everything from his pocket-watch to an ivory bone comb and even a nice metal tin that held some kind of alcohol, and theyshouldhave gotten away with it, if it weren’t for a miscalculation.
Shin wasn’t bright about pickpockets, but his companion at the time was and hastily brought the theft to Shin’s attention. Shin also wasn’t merciful and as a young teenager slowly rising up in the underground crime syndicate his fury was terrifying.
His punishment should have left them half-dead, battered and bruised and flogged thoroughly with water, if Mako and Bolin were lesser fighters. But Mako was always, always infuriatingly calm under pressure, because he had control over his breathing unlike any other street rat Shin ever had to deal with.
He tried restraining the kid with ice, Mako burned it away, he clamped a hand over his mouth to keep him from roaring fire, but he “sneezed” it out anyway, and each time he tried to get an arm under control, there’d be a leg waiting to kick up embers — all in all it wasn’t a fun experience for Shin.
As for Mako, it was a moment of truth, as he glared down Shin and his companion, as Bolin cowered in the corner for only a moment before he too surged up to fight back — sending rocks and dirt and brick at the other bender while Mako made Shin’s work hell. Fortunately (Or maybe not) for them, they were watched and as Shin backed off, panting and frustrating and mad that a little snot-nosed-brat was giving him such a hard time… it all stopped.
The rest is another blur as Mako found himself and Bolin congratulated and then “offered” a job by a leering, large man, with too-white teeth and a smile that reminded him of a dragon. From that day on they were “honorary members” of the Triple Threat Triad, and were allowed to sleep in the back of the restaurant that served as a front for their operations, so long as they did a few odd jobs for them.
Mostly they ran numbers, hustling to and fro because no one would care for two little boys, slowly growing into two young men, running “errands” for their parents at local shop-keeps. Finally out of the miserable cold and rain of their bridge they kept two corners and a warm fire as long as they did a few less-than-legal things, but Mako was fine with that; he and his brother were safe, and they got some money out of it besides warm lodgings.
In fact, they started to fill out more under the watchful eye of the restaurant’s cooks who sent them out on their own errands with dumplings, cookies, and spare change as rewards for lifting heavy crates or gathering deliveries. For growing boys, this morally gray way of life was a gift; they didn’t have to go to school (Although distantly he remembered once wishing to go to Republic City University) and they had all day to run around andtrain.
Most importantly they were allowed to train and grow stronger, because as much as some of the members of the Triple Threats loved to bait them and pitch water, fire, and earth at them for cheap shots, there were also those who wereconcernedwith the littlest members of their gang. There were some days when Mako was taken aside to get a few rounds in, his fire-bending technique improving under the tutelage of some of the Tripe Threat’s toughest thugs who weren’tgoodbecause they weretechnicallyadept at Fire Bending, but because they knew how to keep their wits about them in a street fight.
Improvised moves, speed over form, ruthlessness but deadly calm under pressure was what Mako was taught amongst the Triple Threat’s best firebenders underneath Lightning Bolt Zolt. And true to their ringleader’s legendary name, some of his best underlings and Mako’s teachers were also able to bend lightning, and Mako learned the art as well. It was suited for him and for that inner calm in the face of his chaotic life, and once someone had said that lightning-bending was useful to kill and also as a “cover”.
(“They’ve got mooks goin’ in and out of those factories everyday, kid, if you ever need to hang low but don’t got the funds to do so for the long term, just get a factory job. No one notices nothin’ unless you mess their nest.”)
This was all valuable wisdom that Mako kept on hand, especially when the Triple Threats stopped asking him and his brother to run numbers. They started out small, just “security” work now that he and Bolin were taller and more imposing and definitely filling out with muscle. They spent many a night standing in front of the restaurant, ever vigilant in case something went down.
The new position was exciting, it meant more money coming their way and it was different and maybe, for just a second, Mako was actually proud of this new job.
It all went to hell when a meeting with the Agni Kais didn’t go so well and the restaurant eddied up in smoke and flames. Since they were a front, they also had civilian customers who expected nothing of the sort, but the screams and the fury that was going on inside made Mako change his mind about being proud of this kind of work.
Especially when he and Bolin tore through Agni Kais that tried to flee the scene; they knocked their heads together, crushed and electrocuted those that retaliated, and he distinctly remembers managing to toss a very light Agni Kai grunt halfway across the street. Civilians stormed out, some dragging their companions behind, others left in the smoke.
Then they raced inside to assess the damage – some people caught up underneath tables, fires scorching the drapes, and the still body of one of the cooks halfway out the kitchen door, broken, battered, and dress torn. She was also the one who would kindly give them cookies-– it made Mako sick.
Some of his teachers, those few “friends” of his who took the time to train him were dead, one with half his face burned, the other missing two fingers… “Shady” Shin seemed to get out unscathed, but that was because instead of fighting he hid, and that made Mako’s blood boil because out there were civilians who got hurt, civilians who still worked for them, or patronized their front store even thought they knew it was owned by the Triple Threats and no one did anything to protect them.
Mako vowed to never have anything to do with the Triple Threats again, moral ambiguity be damned.
They “quit” then, taking the money and the clothes on their backs and, once more, they took to the streets. They had enough to maybe rent out a tenement in the poorer area of town, but having money was the ticket to just about anything. Mako was not going to lose their “hard-earned” yuans so easily, the scraps he put together after years of working with the Triple Threats.
They took to the streets for a short amount of time, staying out of Triple Threat territory as Mako tried to find a way for “honest” work but found himself more often than not turned down. Even those factories, once promised as a potential source of income, wouldn’t hire a day laborer without “proof of address” if only to keep homeless and desperate men away.
Luck, though, was ever on their side. One day they were accosted by some thugs hoping to make an easy steal but their training underneath the Triple Threats ensured an easy victory. And their style, coordination, and their determination to not seriously injure or kill any of their attackers earned the praise of one former pro-bender, Toza, who saw in them a spark ofsomething.
So long as they promised to do odd-jobs around the pro-bending arena, ranging from moving heavy equipment to powering up the back-up generator for the arena and all sorts of other odd-jobs, they were allowed to stay. Toza was getting old and he needed good hands to help him out, and besides, they showed potential – the kind of “rags-to-riches” potential that always made a good story, and as Mako would learn, Toza always bet on the underdog to win.
Now, Mako and his brother happily live at the arena doing the sort of “honest work” that would have made their parents proud after the years underneath the Triple Threats. Sometimes they take out extra factory jobs, Mako now smugly showing his proof of residence with a wink and a whistle. It’s back-breaking work and it drains his energy, but it feels so good to know that he’s keeping Bolin safe, warm, and happy legally.
He’ll even tolerate his brother’s playboy status, and the random girls he brings in at nights, so long as they keep quiet to let Mako brood on his life and although it’s tragic, how determined he is to keep it going up, and up, and up.
From petty thieves, to thugs, to (hopefully) pro-benders — they’ll be safe, and happy, and secure. And Mako is damn proud of that.
Their pro-bending skills are slowly, but surely, improving, and after a year of training with Toza in-between odd-jobs they are ready to tackle the sports field. Of course… Maybe if they had a better water-bender things would be easier for them but as of now, Mako has little to complain about – everything seems to be going well for him, after all.