Ever since he was young, Tadashi's been afraid of fire.
Ironic, he knew, considering he was a fire bender; something he hadn't even been aware of until three years after his brother's birth. The memory of that night a cold, bitter one; one that's caused many sleepless nights for Tadashi.
In the beginning he always remembers with a sort of detachment that comes naturally in dreams before it sharpens itself out, becoming more vivid and precise. Everything then becomes real, like it had been that night. The fire. The screaming. The pain. The panic. Everything.
He withdrew from the sensation the memory caused with a sharp gasp as the flames resided, and he was able to focus on his aunt's concerned gaze. Blinking, he glanced around himself and realized he was in the small kitchen of his aunt's café, and that the fire burning on the gas stove had been extinguished. His aunt must have flipped it off when she saw him standing, stock still and pale, in her tiny kitchen with an all to familiar look crossing his handsome features.
"I'm fine," he forced out, answering her unasked question as he swallowed sharply and tried focusing on the world around him. The world he knew and loved.
He wasn't dumb; he knew how lucky he had been for Aunt Cass. Under law had anyone been obligated to care for the two newest orphans that either had to survive on the streets by themselves (unlikely) or hope that someone would take pity on them, and take them in. Both of them, a fact that had seemed incredibly important to younger Tadashi as he clung to his three year old brother in hopes of protecting the kid from the harshness of the world.
He remembered how several people approached them, eyes solely focused on Hiro as they offered to take him from him. To relieve him of the burden of having to care for a child, practically a baby. As if Tadashi saw Hiro as anything but his sole reason of living. As if he could ever once consider his brother a burden, or like the idea of pawning him off to some stranger who'd do who-knows-what to him.
It had made him sick to think about, and he would snap, shouting at them to mind their own businesses. He'd refused, over and over again, to give Hiro to any of them and he slowly felt himself grow paranoid as he clung tighter and tighter to his brother with every passing moment.
And then she finally found them.
Tadashi would tease Hiro at first, telling him that she had been an angel coming down to save them from the streets. He would reassure his brother that she was anything but malicious and slowly Hiro started to warm up to her, Tadashi soon following. Now he couldn't imagine a life without Aunt Cass or the protection she offered.
She'd never know, either, how much she had saved them by not only taking them off the streets but also sheltering them under a roof owned by a human- not a bender. Like both his parents, she was human.
In the present she frowned, still uncertain, as she moved past him to gather something out from the oven as she asked over her shoulder, "You sure? Would you like anything to eat?"
He shook his head, brushing past her concern, as he reassured, "No, thank you. I think I'd prefer a walk more. You know, to clear my head."
"Alright then," she permitted as she removed whatever gooey snack she had fixed from the pan onto a plate prettily, "Be back before dark."
"Of course," he nodded with a broad smile as he stepped up to press a feathery kiss to her cheek before disappearing.
She gasped in surprise at the act of affection, her fingers rising to linger against the spot on her cheek where he'd kissed her as her eyes went to the door. As if she was going to trail his every move, but he was already gone. Outside in the cooling afternoon as the sky prepared for nighttime.
The city around him had already started to calm down, most people locking themselves in their home for the night. At one time, Cass had told him, the city would've remained busy but because of the new laws that's forbidden anybody from being out past dark the city all but dies once the black falls.
Today was no exception.
The city had already dwindled down considerably, cars and trams no longer bustling back and forth on the busy streets except for an exceptional few. Most of the lights dangling from light poles and buildings had been flipped off, no longer in any need. And not for the first time Tadashi has wished he could see the city as it once was; not as the shell the Empire had caused with all its laws and regulations.
He blinked, stopping midstride as he suddenly became aware of his mindless walking. By then only one or two cars remained on the street, speeding past in their attempt to hole back to wherever they came from.
Tadashi frowned, berating himself silently at being so careless to wonder mindlessly. After how many times he's lectured Hiro over not doing it?
Hiro would have enjoyed Tadashi's momentarily lapse in his otherwise precise carefulness. Too bad for the teenager that he'd never know. It's not like Tadashi would benefit from telling him.
"Hey kid!" a voice called and Tadashi turned, catching sight of the red uniform and felt his blood turn to ice.
"Yes officer?" he asked coolly, not betraying his sudden sense of fear or panic as he took comfort in the fact that it wasn't past curfew yet. He hadn't broken any laws past existing, but the man in uniform hadn't need to know about that.
The guy closed in and Tadashi realized that he didn't recognize the man. A relief because he really didn't need to be recognized as Hiro's brother this far away from the café without any witnesses.
"What are you out doing so late?" the man demanded, voice and eyes like ice as he seemed to seize Tadashi up with his eyes.
Tadashi was smaller in bulk but what he lacked in muscle he gained in height, as the guy stood only a couple of inches taller than himself. He also knew that he could take the guy out easily enough, none of the Imperial Guard having much fighting experience past electrocuting the crap out of their victims.
Being a fire bender, though, Tadashi was impervious to electricity. Having it flow as naturally through him as the flames.
"I was simply out for a stroll, officer," Tadashi replied politely as he tipped his head to the side and concentrated on the man's features, "I didn't realize it had gotten so dark all of a sudden. My apologies."
The officer blinked, clearly not expecting politeness from him but that was the whole reason Tadashi would play polite. To throw them off guard and usually weasel his way out from trouble.
And Hiro claims he doesn't have a conniving bone in his body…
"Alright then," the officer nodded as he quickly schooled his expression back to a professional one, "I suppose you head on back before you start breaking curfew. You know what happens then, don't you?"
"Yes officer," he nodded smoothly as he felt a swelling lump gather in his throat.
Once someone gets caught breaking curfew, they're immediately branded either an orphan or a traitor depending on age and sent to work somewhere none return from. Hiro likes to think it was some awful salt mine where they're forced into backbreaking labor, but Tadashi wasn't so sure. It just seemed wrong somehow, for the Empire to go through so much work gathering you to only toss you down some hole to work in the rest of your life.
Tadashi opened the door to his aunt's now empty café, brushing off his thoughts as he caught sight of Cass wiping down tables without chairs already stacked on top of them. She glanced up when he entered, offering a mirthful smile as she straightened her back with an exhausted groan.
"I was worried you weren't going to come home," she informed him with a teasing smile, "I had to distract Hiro with sugar."
He blinked at her words, stuck on his brother's name, as he asked, "Hiro came downstairs? While people were still down here? Willing?"
Her dark brown eyes seemed to cloud over in thought before she shrugged and brushed off, "The café was all but empty, and he was looking for you. Said something about the bathroom sink no longer working and was wondering if he could fix it-"
"You told him no, right?" he snapped almost instantly, feeling something sharp and prickly rising from his back at the thought of Hiro bending- even in the security of Cass's home.
"Of course," she replied slightly taken aback, "I'm not stupid. I know what'll happen if he gets caught, although that child seems to go out of his way to disobey my every word."
Hiro might be stubborn and rebellious, but he loved Cass almost as much as Tadashi. He respected her and never maliciously sought out to disobey or hurt her. He could just be extremely careless and stupid some times.
"I'll go check on him," Tadashi decided as he waved goodnight to Cass before disappearing up the stairs, ending on the other side of the door that marked him and his brother's shared room.
From the other side he could hear Hiro softly humming to himself, and he swiftly opened it to reveal his brother flipping through one of Tadashi's old books Cass had gotten him as a gift. He was dressed in his sleeping clothes, worn down black fabric covering his thin body while tufts of his hair stuck out in every direction.
He glanced up whenever Tadashi opened the door, ceasing his humming as his eyes lit up at the sight of his brother returning. Tadashi could only focus on the too large bound book propped in Hiro's lap, three more scattered at the foot of his bed.
"Are you reading one of my books?" he demanded incredulously, and Hiro's grin turned mischievous as he nodded.
"Sure am," he chirped in the sweet innocent voice he's mastered by now as he held up the book for Tadashi to see and added, "It's quite fascinating."
"I'm sure. I just never realized when you became fascinated with politics," Tadashi replied just as smoothly as he strolled over to his brother's bed only to see that the three other books were also ones depicting in painstakingly detail the Imperial Laws and government and history of their great Empire.
Hiro made a sour face, puckering his lips out towards his brother, as he pouted, "You and aunty just always seemed so worried about what I do, I was curious as to know why. Now I do. Anyone caught bending for any sort of reason shall be arrested for treason and executed publically, as an example." He shivered, large gaze finding his brother again as he whispered, "Can you imagine what they'd do if they ever caught you bending?"
Tadashi, ever-so-patient with his brother, smacked him across the back of his head as he replied, "Knucklehead. I haven't bended in years whereas you-"
He stopped himself, feeling like a jerk to point such a large blame on his brother who hasn't bended in a while now. At least, not that Tadashi's aware of, and that's what's frightened him. Hiro practically has a whole other life neither him nor their aunt knew about.
Hiro, to his credit, shed his eyes momentarily in shame. Whenever he turned back to face his brother, however, a broad smile had already started crossing his youthful face.
Tadashi was struck by the sudden overwhelming sense of love he had towards the kid. He truly did- love him- and felt the urge to wrap him up safe from the world. Free from adversity and pain and loss but he's already been affected by all that. When he was three.
The knot in Tadashi's throat returned as he forced a carefree smile across his face.
Hiro blinked, though, having seen behind the smile like he only seemed capable of doing as he whispered in a feather-soft voice, "Tadashi, what's wrong?"
Nothing and everything, Tadashi wanted to say but that didn't make sense. Yet it felt true to him, that nothing was wrong with him because everything was. The Empire. The law. The fact that both their parents were dead, leaving Tadashi to look after and care for his younger (rebellious) brother.
It wasn't fair.
He wasn't even allowed to go to school or make friends because Cass was worried about somebody finding out about them; something she needn't worry about for him but more so for Hiro, who was careless and stupid, and Tadashi loved him but the kid could be a serious pain.
"Tadashi?" and Hiro had reached out to brush slender fingers against the muscle in Tadashi's arm.
Tadashi focused on the wide-eyed expression on his brother's face. His brown eyes were so large that they seemed almost circular, tufts of black hair brushing against soft skin in a way that made Hiro look innocent. Angelic, even, and it was these moments that Tadashi could convince himself that his brother will listen to them and stay out of trouble.
"Tadashi?" Hiro half choked-half begged as his grip tightened, small hands closing themselves around Tadashi's skin-
"I'm fine," Tadashi reassured lightly, smiling lightly even though nothing about it felt genuine.
Hiro's expression didn't change but he lessened his grip, folding his hands back in his lap, before asking, "Have I done something to upset you?"
"Absolutely not," Tadashi denied almost instantly, as were their routine: Hiro would act innocent and Tadashi would pretend like he believed it. Like Hiro could do no wrong and that nothing he ever did would upset his brother.
Hiro frowned his quizzical frown that made Tadashi feel ancient because no 14-year-old should ever look like that. Almost as if he knew all the secrets in the world and that nothing Tadashi said or did could trick him.
Not for the first time, Tadashi's yearned for the younger Hiro whom gazed at him like he could do no wrong and never disobeyed anything him and Cass told him. He took careful care to keep the feeling away from his face and eyes where Hiro could see them.
Hiro was his brother and he loved him, period.
What more did he need?
"You should probably go to bed," Tadashi finally informed him with a soft voice and even softer gaze as he took the book from his brother's grasp, clutching at it tightly.
Hiro continued to stare a moment longer before nodding slowly, crawling underneath his covers and awaited for Tadashi to kiss him goodnight like he always did. Tonight was no different, Tadashi bent over the kid's slight frame and pressed a gentle kiss in his mass of unkempt hair.
"Night Dashi," he yawned, sleepiness drawing him under.
Tadashi just continued to gaze at him, sad expression escaping past his guard, as he returned just as softly, "Goodnight Hiro."
The light was on when Tadashi made his way downstairs, signaling that Cass was still awake.
Silently, he made his way down the stairs and found her curled up on the couch. Both her feet was tucked underneath her slight frame, a white mug clutched in her hands as she watched the television with a sort of morbid fascination.
Tadashi focused on the screen and felt a jolt of something rush through him.
Two people Tadashi didn't recognize were speaking on screen with steely gazes and Imperial uniforms. They were upset, he gathered, of the laxity in the laws.
"-and furthermore," the obvious dominant of the two announced with conviction in his voice, demanding everyone's unfaltering loyalty, "should anybody know of any bender and fail to inform the Empire then they are no better than the traitors infesting our wonderful Empire. They are leeches, no better than a parasite that threaten the great foundations we've built this Empire upon-"
"Can you turn that off?" Tadashi demanded, a sick sensation crossing through his gut as he stepped further in the room.
Cass jumped from her spot on the couch, and he felt momentarily guilty. He hadn't meant to frighten her, but then she quickly scrambled for the remote and flipped the TV off. The screen went dark, the sudden silence of its absence causing his ears to itch.
"I thought you and Hiro went to bed," she explained immediately like there was anything she needed to explain to him, like she owed him that.
She owed him nothing, though. By taking him and his brother in at their time of need she'd already gifted them something beyond return. There was no way he would ever expect her to do more than she already has.
"It's alright Aunt Cass," he reassured smoothly as he moved to stand in front of her, "Just… why were you watching that?"
She shrugged, still averting his gaze as she murmured from the corner of her mouth, "It's the law. Just like how, by not turning you two in, I'm no better than you in their eyes."
"Aunt Cass," Tadashi breathed in shock before crossing the last remaining feet to her and grasped her shoulders tightly as he replied firmly, "You're the best person I've ever met. Better than me. Better than Hiro. Better then the Empire."
She chortled a laugh, meeting his gaze, as she replied earnestly, "Better than you and Hiro? Impossible. You both have been through so much. Too much and I hate that you've had to."
Her tone was unmistakably bitter, and Tadashi didn't bother stopping himself as he bent over, drawing her in a tight hug. Squeezing her back as he breathed in her scent, calming his nerves. If he had no one else in his life, he knew he had her. Always and forever, that was their promise.
She pulled away first, eyes glistening with unshed tears as she pushed strands of hair from her face and forced out through a smile, though she still seemed shaky, "Why are you still up anyways? You should be in bed, asleep."
Tadashi just shrugged, a simple rise and fall of his shoulders, and she frowned again. Focused on him with the motherly expression of concern he's come familiar with.
"I came down to check on you. The light was on," he explained offhandedly and understanding filtered through her expression as she stepped away from him.
"Oh," she gasped in surprise, folding thin arms over her chest, "Sorry."
"It's alright," Tadashi reassured lightly before he noticed the papers lying unattended to the nightstand beside the couch; a frown marred his face as he stepped over to it, picking it up, and asked, "What's this?"
"Don't," she said instantly. Begged.
It was already too late though. Tadashi read the words, a slight creeping panic swirling in his chest as they started to make sense.
"We're in debt," he breathed in shock before she snatched the paper from his gasp, pale and panicked.
"I'm in debt," she clarified with a sharp expression, "because of the raised taxes. The café just doesn't bring in enough profits anymore, not with-"
She froze, horrified, as she stared at Tadashi with wide pale eyes. Her hands were trembling, the paper crinkling as it creased. Tadashi could only stare back, his brilliant brain piecing together everything in a careful picture that nearly shattered him.
"Not with us," he finished for her in horror, "You don't make enough money to pay the taxes, supplies, and fed us. Especially not with Hiro's appetite."
"Don't," she snapped then, face crossing over in anger as she shook her head and growled, "Don't you dare place this blame on either you or your brother. It's not your fault. I chose to take you both in, so I'll be the one to figure this out."
"But you never said anything," Tadashi continued as he thought back to how much sweets Hiro consumed in a day, his hunger coming with his growing, "Not once, and we were practically eating you out of house and home."
"No," she denied firmly, shaking her head, "No. I love you both, as I would my own, and none of this is either of your faults, and I don't want you to worry about it. I'll handle it."
Something told Tadashi that it wouldn't be the first time since taking them in. Not to mention the fact that they've burdened her with their impossible secret. Nothing they ever did or said could ever repay what she's done for them, what she's sacrificed.
"I'll go out and find a job to help out," Tadashi informed her instantly, determination set as he gazed at her with a kind expression.
"No," she shook her head miserably, "You don't have to do that. You'll know what'll happen if someone catches you."
"So I'll be careful," he reassured lightly, "It's not like I enjoy bending anyways. Not when all I have is fire-"
"What about your lapses?" she demanded, unrelenting, as she focused on his gaze with concern and determination, "What happens if you see the sight of fire and-"
"So I'll avoid fire," he told her with a slight shrug.
"Tadashi," she begged. Don't do this.
"Relax Aunt Cass," he spoke in a light tone as he gathered his arms in broad hands and focused on her suddenly scared expression, "I'll be careful. It's the least I can do."
"No," she choked, "Please don't do this because of me. I'm fine handling it on my own."
He pressed a kiss to the top of her head as he breathed, "You don't have to. I'm here to help out. Tomorrow I'll go find a job, and everything will be okay. You'll see."
She just made a noise that sounded like a cross between a laugh and a sob as she buried her face in his chest and he held her. Comfortingly. Wondering how he was going to find a job that'll help with Cass's bills, and determined to make everything better for the woman whom he regarded highly.
Then he thought of Hiro and let out a shuddering sigh as he pulled her away.
"Let's not tell Hiro about this," he said and Cass's expression immediately morphed into one of agreement.
Besides, Hiro wouldn't understand. He was still a child, struggling to grow up in a world that hated what he was. Sometimes he suspected that Hiro hated what he was although the teen has never voiced that opinion. Tadashi even wondered once if he hated what Hiro was.
He immediately disregarded the thought for the absurdity that it was.
Hiro was his brother, and he loved him. That was he ever needed to know in the past and- at the moment- that was fine enough for now. Hiro was his brother, and he loved him.
Tadashi just had to focus on helping Cass, and everything would turn out okay.
There is an unspoken law between the brothers to never keep anything life threatening from the other. Sharing feelings might not be popular, but if the other ever felt the need of talking to the other or they'd probably die then they'd have to tell. And it didn't even have to be a life or death scenario, just life altering.
In the morning, though, Tadashi didn't tell him about the bills Cass had been collecting.
Without much thought he'd carelessly broken the one sacred rule he's regarded above everything else.
The guilt never came like he expected it to. Instead he felt a sense of understanding fill him, like he knew without a doubt that what he was doing was right. Justified. Hiro wouldn't understand, anyways.
He found a job at a chop shop near the café, and he found something satisfying in fixing cars. A natural, his boss told him on his second day, gifted in the mechanics and, perhaps in a different life, he would've done a lot of good with it.
In this life, though, he was stuck repairing cars for other people. Smiling while he explained to them what was wrong, how it could be fixed, and how much it would cost them. Not necessarily an arm and a leg but, with the steadily increasing taxes the Empire demanded, it was close.
He really did love the job, though. After all, it had its perks and occasionally Hiro would visit him despite the fact that he suspected neither his brother nor his boss liked each other very much.
Tadashi was broken out from his thoughts when his boss- a tall broad shouldered man with greying hair and rough green eyes- slammed a tool box near Tadashi's head. The young man frowned, rolling out from underneath the car he was currently working on to focus on his boss's huffing face.
"Freaking know-it-all brat," the man snarled as he paced over to Tadashi and all but spat, "Hey Hamada, your brother's here to see ya."
Internally, Tadashi frowned as he wondered what Hiro said to his boss to make him so upset, when the bell chimed and two Imperials strolled inside with bored looking faces. Hiro, who had been the only other person in the waiting room, immediately ducked his face to hide his expression.
"May I help you?" Tadashi's boss asked, changing into a façade of politeness as he went to assist his other costumers.
"Not really. No," the taller of the two guards drawled lazily as he focused on Hiro before back at the man, "Unless you can tell us where to find someone. A fugitive and a bender."
Tadashi felt his heart drop and Hiro paled considerably, keeping his head ducked to avoid the attention of the other men. His boss just frowned, wiping his hands off with a cloth as he shook his head.
"I haven't seen anybody other than my employee and this kid," he gestured offhandedly towards Hiro and the guards immediately turned their quizzical eyes on him.
"Eyes up boy," the guard snapped and Hiro lifted his head far enough so he was able to see the guard's sour expressions from behind his mask of bangs.
The shorter, thinner, of the two guards grew impatient as he stepped forward and wrenched Hiro's head up until he was forced to make eye contact. The guard's fingers dug into the soft flesh of Hiro's cheeks as he forced his head to one side then the other.
A burst of indigent anger shot through Tadashi like the fire burning through his veins and he had to swallow it down, stomping out the urge to burn the man touching his brother. Hurting his brother.
"Young," the guard chortled, still not releasing Hiro from his tight grasp before snapping, "How old are you boy?"
"Four-fourteen," Hiro stuttered and Tadashi had no idea if his brother was genuinely frightened or if he was faking it from the guards.
It was how they learned to survive: Tadashi feigned politeness, Hiro fear.
"Fourteen, huh?" the guard snarled with an expression Tadashi wanted to torch, "Too young to fight in the war. Close but too young."
A cold hand clasped around Tadashi's heart at the thought of his brother fighting a war, his brain trapped on the idea even as his boss growled, "There is no war. We're at peace-"
"Are we?" the other guard snapped, turning to focus a laser intense gaze at the man as he snarled, "It shall bid you well not to mistake quiet as peace."
The guard holding Hiro finally released him, stepping back as Hiro quickly ducked his head. Tadashi could see from his spot in the other room how his brother's small fists curled up angrily as the taller man unfolded something from his breast pocket.
"Contact us if you see this man," they informed briskly before leaving the room with a dramatic flourish.
Hiro finally raised his gaze, anger clouding his dark eyes. Tadashi instantly went to him, tipping his head back so he could check him for bruises. There were none he could make out, though he imagined Hiro's face must be sore from being held so tightly.
"I'm fine," Hiro brushed off before Tadashi got the chance to ask, small hands swatting him away as he turned curious eyes towards Tadashi's boss.
Tadashi followed his gaze, landing on the man with a tight frown. He was pale and wide-eyed as he clutched at the piece of paper with a sort of desperation.
"Who were they looking for?" Hiro demanded before Tadashi got the chance to, small face puckered up as he regarded Tadashi's boss with a look of indigent anger.
Tadashi wanted to hit him, tell him to wipe that look from his face. It wasn't polite; it was disrespectful and the man had been kind enough to offer Tadashi a job. He didn't need for his employee's kid brother treating him like Hiro was prone to treating others.
It's that rebellious teenage blood surging through his veins, both Tadashi and Cass had decided awhile back once his moods started to take surface.
Tadashi's boss didn't seem fazed, though. In fact, he didn't even seem to have noticed as Hiro continued to stare- glare- at him. Like he had a right to be angry at the man whose office he had entered.
"Hamada, you're released for the day," the man breathed, "and for the rest of the week."
"Are- are you firing me?" Tadashi gawked openmouthed as he felt Hiro opened his startled mouth in protest.
"No," the man instantly denied, shaking his head as he set the paper face down on his desk, "It would be best if you stopped coming in for a while, though. I'll pay you for your troubles, to help with your aunt-"
"What'd the paper say?" Tadashi instantly demanded, trying to draw the conversation away from their struggling finances in front of his brother.
Hiro, thankfully, didn't seem to have noticed. He just continued staring up at Tadashi's boss like he was waiting for an explanation.
"It was a warning. They're looking for the Avatar. They believe they've escaped," his boss explained absentmindedly scratching the wood surface of his desk, "and they're dangerous. Half mad with insanity. It'd be safer if you stayed inside for a couple of days. Your brother too."
Tadashi felt something cold creep down his spine at the words. Not so much about the impending threat of the Avatar- he knew that was nonsense- but of the Empire searching for them. That meant that they were suspicious, expecting for one to exist despite all the laws forbidding it.
"Do you think the Avatar is dangerous?" Hiro asked suddenly.
Tadashi could've cursed his stupid brother. His boss didn't seem to think much of the question, though, just shifted his eyes over to the piece of paper still lying face down on his desk.
"I'm not sure," he admitted slowly, "They never have been before, but if the Empire got ahold of them and tortured them then I very well imagine that they might be. You two should better hurry home. Your aunt will be worried."
"Hiro, go home," Tadashi demanded earning sharp stares from both the other occupants in the room.
"I told you to-"
"I have some stuff I need to finish up here," Tadashi replied smoothly as he matched his boss's stare, "I'll go home as soon as I'm done."
"Tadashi?" Hiro asked him, the question not needing to be spoken out loud. What was wrong?
Tadashi forced a smile to grace his lips as he reassured quickly, smoothly, "It'll be okay, Hiro. I'll be home before dinner."
His boss's frown just deepened as he spoke, "I don't feel comfortable letting out a young child out where a dangerous fugitive could be lurking. Even one as obnoxious as you."
Hiro rolled his eyes, huffing out his chest, as he snapped, "Alright. Fine. I'm leaving."
But Tadashi suddenly didn't want him to. His boss was right, it was dangerous outside for Hiro and the kid would probably carelessly walk into trouble.
"Hiro," he called as Hiro's hand brushed against the doorknob and his brother froze. Waiting expectantly.
When Tadashi didn't speak again, afraid of the words he wanted to say (if you leave Hiro, you'll only make a mess. Stay here). After a pregnant pause, Hiro just rolled his eyes and left without another word, Tadashi's boss watching with slightly panicked eyes.
"There's something off about him," his boss breathed like it was first time he realized it, "Something that interested those Imperial guards."
Tadashi hated that he couldn't help but agree.
The door to the chop shop Tadashi worked at closed behind him with a click, Hiro not paying it any attention as he stalked off down the street.
Of course Tadashi would say he needed to keep working and send him off without such much as a goodbye. Actually, that seemed a little concerning. Tadashi was protective- one trait he's never bothered to hide or stop. If anything ever threatened him then he knew Tadashi wasn't far battling tooth and nail for him to be safe.
So why did he send him home suddenly?
Even Nicolas, Tadashi's boss, had fretted over Hiro walking home. Alone. Or perhaps he was more concerned about Tadashi walking home by himself. After all, that made the most sense. Tadashi was his employee and a very good one at that.
Hiro shivered although the air wasn't cold, more of a slight musky sort of warmth, and he faltered mid-step.
A sharp clanging sounded from behind him and Hiro barely had enough time to duck before something whipped over his head, hissing in the sky like an angered snake. Startled, he spun around and was nearly plowed over by a tanned man fighting off three Imperial guards. What really caught Hiro's attention, though, was the water whipping around the man in crazy angles, wrapping itself around the guy's broad frame in a protective manner.
A water bender, then.
Hiro tensed up, not sure what to do. None of them seemed to have noticed him yet, which was good, but he couldn't tear himself away from the guy valiantly trying to beat away his attackers. At least, it seemed valiant up until the man noticed him watching and lashed out.
Hiro remembered seeing a blue blur before something wet and cold swallowed his entire face, wrapping down around his arms. Immediately, his body called to soothe the familiar sensation overwhelming him but he stomped down on the urge. If he revealed himself now, in front of the guards and bender, then everything Tadashi and Aunty Cass worked for would be ruined. Worst, they might investigate his family and discover Tadashi was also a bender.
So he froze as his face was cocooned in a water bubble and, unfortunately, he'd never been granted the power of breathing underwater. Although he could've probably tried creating an air pocket like he sometimes did in the bathtub, but that would undoubtedly give him away. Black dots danced across his vision as he shook off the tendrils of water creeping down his body to try clawing the thing off him.
No such luck.
He grew dizzy, head leaden by the overwhelming sense to free himself. To breath.
The concrete scraped the palms of his hands as he slapped at it uselessly, clawing at it as everything screamed at him to force the thing from his head and reveal himself in front of all these people- not only as a bender but as the Avatar.
Then it was gone, leaving him to swallow large mouthfuls of air as he pressed his forehead against the concrete ground beneath him. Voices were screaming above him, though he couldn't make out much.
Blinking bleary eyes he glanced up to focus on the water bender that tried killing him sprawled out on his back, a long black pole being jabbed into his side hard enough to leave bruises. Above him stood an Imperial guard, screaming in red faced rage as he continued to press the stick deeper and deeper into flesh. White streaks of electricity fluttered over his body delicately, causing the guy's eyes to roll so far back only the whites in his eyes were visible. His mouth was covered in a white foam tinged slightly with red.
Hiro looked away, sickened by the cruelty. Beside him, someone knelt down to check on him. They were talking but not to him.
"He's fine," one of them spoke, "Still conscious. Should we take him with us as a witness?"
"No," Hiro gasped as he scrambled backwards, head spinning and falling onto his side, "Don't touch me. Don't touch me."
"Whoa," one of the guards called as Hiro lashed out with his foot, kicking them away, "He's practically deranged."
"He just nearly got suffocated by a monster," another guard spoke in a reasonable voice, "That just adds to its list of treasons. I think no one will mourn its death after this."
Hiro's heart was beating erratically now, even as he realized that they weren't talking about him anymore. They were talking about the water bender.
"You're- you're going to kill him?!" Hiro cried, voice tinged with panic as he willed himself to stay conscious.
"Duh," the guard closest to him responded as if it were obvious, "and it'll do you wise to keep your nose out of this. Don't ever speak to anybody about what happened here unless prompted. Understood?"
Hiro nodded, mind reeling with a way to rescue the bender without revealing himself.
He came up empty and could only watch, weak and cold with his body pressed against the hard concrete, as the guards hefted the man up and half carried-half drug him down the street. Then he realized he was still shivering and that Aunt Cass was going to flip once she realized what had happened.
If, his brain supplied silently, if she finds out.
If. If was good.
That didn't mean she still wasn't going to flip when she saw him, though.Start writing here ...