Bolin came to meet Fuse at the stables like usual. But unlike usual she wasn’t with Juicy or the eel-hounds. She was hunched over a workbench outside the Fire Palace’s huge metal barn, and resting in the paddock alongside her… Bolin leaned back on his heels, craning his neck upward until he lost his balance and fell backwards.
“Wow… that’s a big dragon.”
Fuse glanced up from her work polishing one of the fire palaces’ saddles to a glossy shine. She gave him little smile.
“Yes, she is. Her name is Flare.” She reached over and patted the dragon’s forelimb, prompting the animal to lean down and nose at her. “Want to pet her?”
Pet her? Was Fuse serious? Who wouldn’t want to pet a dragon? “Are you kidding… I’d love to–” Bolin began but froze when the aforementioned dragon snorted a small puff of fire at him. “Or not. That works, too.”
Fuse shook her head lightly. Grabbing ahold of Flare’s muzzle she stroked the dragon’s nose until Flare’s eyes drooped. Then she beckoned Bolin over again. “It’s okay, really. Just think of her as a big, scaly Pabu.”
Right. No problem. I can do this.
He swallowed then reached out a tentative hand. “Nice, big, scaly, fire-breathing Pabu.”
He rested his palm gently on the dragon’s cheek and after Flare didn’t turn to eat him, Bolin felt an old childhood thrill. He was petting a dragon. A dragon! One of the biggest most powerful animals on the planet!
If only Mako was here to see this. Huh, come to think of it where was Mako anyway? Off doing more boring research most likely. Typical Mako. What was he even looking for anyway?
Only one way to find out. He’s have to pay his big brother a visit in the library. Later of course. After he was finished hanging out with Fuse. And Flare.
Flare made a throaty noise and tilted her head, indicating for Bolin to scratch behind her ear.
“Huh, what do you know. She is just like a big, scaly Pabu.”
“I told you.” Fuse said knowingly. “Dragons are no different then any other animal. Respect them and they will respect you in turn.”
Bolin smiled. “You know when I was a kid I always dreamed of having a pet dragon. Being able to fly wherever I wanted. And with a dragon at my side I could help people and never have to worry about being bullied by anyone, even if they were bigger and tougher then me…”
His voice trailed. Now was the part where Fuse would tell him he was being ridiculous like Mako did back when he was six. And like Opal did last year when, on a whim, he actually tried asking Lord Zuko for permission to borrow his dragon Druk for an afternoon, just to see what it was like.
Fuse merely shrugged and said. “A nice dream. But it also takes a lot of discipline to earn a dragon’s respect.” She scratched Flare under the chin. Then she cast Bolin a fleeting glance. “You’re much too kindhearted for that.”
Bolin felt his ears warm a little. “Yeah, you’re probably right.” He gave Flare one final pat, leaned back on his heels and crammed his hands in his pockets. “So, if not a dragon, what animal would you recommend for me?”
Fuse thought a moment. “A flying beast with a kind nature… I’d say a sky bison would fit that description.”
Bolin laughed. He couldn’t help it. “Tell that to Juicy. He tried to throw me off his back twice on our way here.” He had meant it at a joke, but somehow his tone only wound up sounding sarcastic and bitter by the end.
Fuse startled back a little. Probably wondering if it was something she said. “Odd, Juicy’s never given me any trouble…”
“Opal probably told him to do it.” Bolin thought to himself. Or at least he thought it was to himself. He quickly learned otherwise when Fuse cocked her head and asked. “Who’s Opal?”
Bolin clamped his mouth shut. But it was too late.
Crap, crap, crap. What did I just do?
“Opal? Oh, you know…she’s a girl…” That’s right. State the obvious. Real smooth, Bolin.
“Yes, I gathered that,” said Fuse. “She is a friend of yours?”
Bolin shifted in place. “No. Not exactly… I mean, she was once. Well, actually, she was more then that until…” He felt his throat tighten. Why did he even bring this up? Stupid!
Fuse had a puzzled look on her face, like he was speaking a foreign language. Though he was pretty sure he wasn’t. Unless pathetic-blubbering-idiot-who screws-up-relationships-ese counted as a language…
“More than a friend?” Fuse asked.
“Yeah, you know, we were involved.” When Fuse’s expression didn’t change he tried again, even if it did make his eyes water. “We were an item.”
No good. That only confused her more. His chest ached.
“We were in love,” he practically spat out the words.
That struck a cord. Though not for the reason he expected. “Love?”
“Jerkface never told you about love?”
“No.” Fuse lowered her eyes a bit. “Weapons have no need for–” she started to recite, then stopped. “I mean–the topic never came up.”
Hard to believe, but right then, Bolin almost envied her for that. “Yeah, well, you’re probably better off.”
Fuse came to his side. When she spoke her voice was soft, almost careful, like she was handling a wounded turtle duckling.
“This Opal… she hurt you badly.”
“No more than I hurt her.”
“If you… loved her,” Fuse spoke the word ‘loved’ slowly, like she was trying out the feel of it. “Why would you do such a thing?”
Good question. Bolin couldn’t remember how many nights after the breakup he spent lying awake asking himself that very question. Too many, Mako claimed.
“I didn’t mean to…” He felt himself sniffen and rubbed his nose with his arm. “Things were going great for a while. We defeated Kuvira and her giant robot, the world was finally safe for a change. Opal and I finally had the chance to spend time together. But… then Opal started talking about marriage…”
Fuse took a second to respond, as if marriage was a word she only vaguely recalled. “That’s good, right?”
Bolin felt his face go hot. “Normally, yeah… which is why… she sorta took it the wrong way when I, um… ran screaming from the room.”
There, he said it. Bolin braced himself, ready for the recoil. A lecture from Fuse couldn’t be any worse than the verbal thrashing Opal had given him. Or the literal thrashing her brothers did.
But Fuse didn’t scold him. Or call him a coward. Or accidentally use her awesome combustionbending to blow him into pieces from laughing so hard. She merely blinked at him like she was trying to understand, which admittedly was a surprise.
“And why did you…” and here she chose her words very carefully. “…react that way to her suggestion? You don’t want to get married?”
“No. I mean, yes, I do, someday… it’s just, well…” Bolin scratched behind his head. “It’s kinda a long story.”
Fuse considered him, then sat down on the ground crosslegged, leaning her back against Flare’s side. She patted the ground beside her. “I like hearing your stories. Tell me.”
So he did. Without sparing any detail he told her about his first near-brush with marriage to Eska at the Southern Water Tribe. Strangely, the more the talked the better he started to feel. Maybe Bolin had held in the pain for so long he couldn’t stand it anymore.
Fuse listened patiently as he rambled, not interrupting even when he got to the part about Varrick and him making a run for the docks hidden away in a fake platypus bear which then proceeded to “poop money.”
“And Eska… she actually tried to chase down your boat on foot?”
“Well, technically we were on water, but, yeah.” Bolin shuddered a little. “It was pretty scary.”
Fuse whistled. “After that experience, I can see why you’d be hesitant to marry.”
“I did try to apologize to Opal,” Bolin admitted. “But all she said was that she wouldn’t ‘burden me’ with our relationship anymore. She’s stubborn that way. Kinda a family trait.” He slumped a little lower.
Fuse shook her head. “I may not know much about love, but even I can see you’re being too hard on yourself, Bolin. You made a mistake hurting Opal. But consider what else you accomplished. You survived ten years on Republic City’s streets. You clawed your way to the probending championship. You helped defend your home against terrorists, single-handedly saved the president from being kidnapped, ‘willed’ yourself to learn lavabending, fought and defeated a dangerous group of assassins and Kuvira’s super-weapon. You’re a brave, selfless, person… and if Opal can’t acknowledge that, then perhaps the two of you are better off apart.”
“Gee… I never though of it that way.” Maybe Fuse was right. He had hurt Opal, but he had also tried to talk things out. To explain that he had a bad experience with Eska and, perhaps, had overreacted just a bit. But Opal couldn’t bring herself to hear his side of the story. Instead, she’d dumped him like their last four years together had meant nothing. Like he was nothing. Maybe just to make him feel how she felt…
But I’m not nothing. He remembered Fuse’s words. All the good things he had done. Sure, he may not have done them perfectly. But still, how many people could say they had helped save the world? Maybe he and Opal were never meant to be. Maybe they both just needed different things. And maybe… he could be okay with that.
Fuse certainly had a way of putting things into perspective. Admittedly, it was one of the things he admired about her. “Thanks, Fuse,” he said softly. “I needed that.”
“What are friends for?” She nudged her arm into his. He nudged her back, a bit too hard. She bumped Flare’s side with her elbow. Flare growled, nearly making him jump a mile.
Aakk! I forgot about the dragon!
Fuse was up in a heartbeat, the dragon’s head in her hands before Flare could so much as sniff aggressively in Bolin’s direction.
“Sorry. I guess she’s still a little cranky from being pent up…” Fuse’s voice trailed as she seemed to consider her own words. Bolin watched her look at Flare, than the saddle she had just finished polishing, then back to Flare again. Fuse had an odd glint in her eye too. Like the kind of look he used to give Mako as a kid just before he was about to do something his brother had specifically told him was a bad idea but that he totally had to try anyway.
Bolin’s suspicion was confirmed when Fuse gathered the saddle and began placing it across Flare’s neck.
“Um, is that really a good idea?” Man, now I’m starting to sound like Mako.
“Probably not,” she admitted, cinching the saddle into place. “But Flare needs exercise.” She set her foot in the stirrup and hauled herself up. Flare grumbled and shuddered under the new weight.
“Plus,” and here Fuse gave him a wonderfully childish smile, “I’ve always wanted to try this.” She paused, considered, then smiled even wider and offered him her hand.