Thankfully Varrick was able to smooth things over at the theater. “Pennypincher” might not have actually been a villain, but he was greedy. By the time Bolin and the fanboy came back from re-exchanging outfits, the owner had a fat wad of money for his troubles and Varrick was the proud owner of a Fire Nation theater.
They went to dinner afterward at the little noodle shop Bolin liked so much. Fuse and Bolin tried to decline of course, considering Varrick had probably just saved them a very awkward conversation with the police. But he had insisted in his own Varricky way that treating them to dinner was the least he could do after all the free promotional work they had just done. Plus, it would give Fuse a chance to meet Zhu Li and let all of them ‘talk shop.’
To quote Varrick, movers didn’t just make themselves, after all.
Zhu Li, Varrick’s wife, met them there. She was an observant woman, Fuse could tell right away. Judging from the smile on her face, she already knew exactly how Varrick’s quest for inspiration had gone. Nevertheless, Varrick and Bolin told her the whole story over the course of the meal. Dinner was all-you-can-eat, which was great since the skirmish had worked up both Fuse and Bolin’s appetites. Varrick even had several bottles of imported Earth Kingdom wine brought over to celebrate.
Fuse had never had wine. Not even on field missions. Alcohol was forbidden to weapons with good reason. She wouldn’t be much use in combat if she couldn’t aim straight. But that was before, under Master Jerkface’s rules, and she was no longer his tool. And anyway, tonight was special, so she tried some. It burned like fire going down, but had a pleasant taste afterward. And the more she drank, the tastier it got.
“It will be a few months before filming can start,” Varrick told them. “I need time to get word to some investors. Then there’s set up. I’m thinking we’ll do the filming out here. Better scenery. Plus, I’ll need to get access to some dragons.”
“Hey, did you hear that, Fuse?” Bolin gave her tipsy smile, “Varrick shays he needs someone to handle dragons for him.” He was trying, and failing, to twirl the same bit of pasta onto his fork that he had been ten minutes ago. He had just about succeeded, too, until he pointed his fork at her and declared, “You could totally do that!” The noodles slipped off, this time splattering to the floor, which made the two of them snicker.
“Fantastic! A woman of many talents. That will defiantly make things easier once filming starts.”
Fuse blinked. Had she heard correctly? Or was the wine making her head fuzzy? “You… want me to work for you?”
“Well, of course. Who else am I going to get to play Fusa, but Fusa?”
“Buh… I don’t know anyfing about acting.”
“Bolin didn’t know anything about acting either… and look how he turned out!” Varrick nodded to Bolin, who was busy looking in the bread basket for a roll he was already holding in his other hand. “You’ll be fine. Plus, I’m sure Bolin will give you plenty of lessons, am I right?” He winked in Bolin’s direction just as he took a bite of the roll, nearly causing him to choke.
This again. What was it about Varrick’s implications that made Bolin so nervous? They seemed to refer to her somehow. Should she be feeling awkward, too? What was she not understanding?
Zhu Li shook her head. “Varrick, don’t embarrass them.”
“I’m not–” Fuse began, only to realize a second later that her face was flushed. Perhaps it was time to change the subject. “What I mean is–that’s not my only worry.” She struggled to find the right words, something vague enough to get her point across without blurting out her entire history to these people. “I’ve done things I’m not proud of. In the past…”
“Join the club, sister,” Varrick grinned. “I once hired men to kidnap the president of Republic City to try and start a civil war between the Water Tribes. Would have gotten away with it too… if it weren’t for you meddling kids.” He chuckled in Bolin’s direction. “I got tossed in jail and everything. I won’t lie, it was the hardest six hours of my life.”
“Um,” said Zhu Li. “your ‘cell’ had a private bathroom, a fully stocked kitchen, and a four-poster bed, dear.”
Varrick sipped his wine. “Yep, those were dark times. But they taught me a valuable lesson.”
“Oo… ooo, I know!” Bolin piped up. “Never kidnap the president.”
“No. Well, yes. But also, when life gives you an opportunity, sometimes you just gotta reach out and take it.”
When dinner was over and they had said their goodbyes to Varrick and Zhu Le, Fuse led a slightly staggering Bolin in the direction of the hotel he and his brother were staying at. Varrick’s wine had mellowed both of them significantly and they leaned into each other, singing the Nuktuk theme song and laughing each time they got out of sync. Halfway there, they stopped at in a lantern-lit plaza to catch their breath and admire the fountain which sparkled orange in the lamplight. It reminded her of the sunset they had watched from atop Flare’s shoulders. The day she had decided to truly embrace her freedom and leave her past, and her master, behind. Only she hadn’t. Not entirely. There was still one trace of him and that place left.
“Bolin, I need to ask you a favor.”
“Help me pick out a name. A real name.”
His expression shifted–surprise and confusion mixed with warm gratitude. “Okay… but what brought this on all of a sudden?”
“When you first rescued me and brought me to the Fire Palace, I didn’t know what to expect. Once my sentence was over… what was I going to do with myself? I have nothing. No family. No home. No dreams. I didn’t know how to act like a normal person, let alone live like one.” She met his eyes. “But that’s all changed now. For the first time in my life, I actually have a chance for a future. A real future with friends, a career, a home. Maybe even… ” She felt herself hesitate nervously. “…maybe even a family someday. You helped me become a new woman, Bolin. I want you to help me name her.”
Bolin smiled, even blinked away a few tears. Perhaps she shouldn’t have put this kind of pressure on him. “Let’s see…” he said, visually turning over ideas in his mind. “There’s my mom’s name, Naoki. No, too awkward. Or my grandma’s name, Yin. No, even more awkward… well…hmmm… Oh, I got an idea. If you could pick one word to best describe you, what would it be?”
Good question. Fuse tried to focus. But her head was still muddled from wine. In the end she could only think of one word. The word Varrick had used. “Tenacious.”
“Tenacious?” Bolin asked, a bit surprised.
“You don’t like it?”
“Oh, no, I didn’t mean– I do like it. It’s fierce, and so are you. don’t get me wrong, but… there’s more to you than that. You’ve got a softer side, too.”
Fuse nodded, unable to deny he was right.
Bolin scratched his chin, concentrating as hard as the wine would let him. After a time he snapped his fingers and grinned. “Tenna.”
“Yeah. It’s ‘tenacious’… but softer. And it’s pretty… like you.”
Tenna. She mulled over the name. It was everything Bolin said. And it was different, as she was. She felt a rush of warmth in her chest. A happy pride she had never felt. She leaned into Bolin and wrapped her arms around him so fiercely, they nearly toppled backwards into the fountain. “I love it!”
Mako stared out the smudged hotel window, blurred with the lights from the street. He saw Bolin and Fuse coming from a while off; it wasn’t like they were easy to miss. Lots of couples were walking past the hotel, but those two… Bolin had a certain openness about him that few other guys had. Whenever Mako had tried dating anything, he got stiff and nervous. Bolin was just himself… casual, having a good time. He had a certain glow to him right now, too. Mako had no doubts about it; his kid brother was infatuated with this combustionbender. And that meant the only thing for Mako to do was to let her know just how little he would stand for someone breaking Bolin’s heart. Again.
The two of them were standing outside the door now. They were out of Mako’s view, or at least, if he tried any harder to get a view, they would most definitely see him. He looked the door over. It was closed, but it had a mail slot on it. Detective skills at work, there. He knelt down on his knees, leaning into the metal framing of the slot, and focused on their voices.
“…guess, I’d better go,” Bolin was saying. “I’ll see you tomorrow?”
“Mmm,” Fuse answered. Her voice was softer, harder to catch. “Good night, Bolin.”
Did they kiss? Mako had his face against the door so hard right now, the edge of the mail slot was probably making an imprint on his face. He didn’t hear kissing, but he did hear the distinct sound of the key being slipped into the lock. Blast it, they weren’t supposed to stop talking that quickly. He jolted up, smacking his shoulder on the door handle, and jumping back onto the bed before the door swung open. He thought about faking being asleep, and settled instead on looking really interested in the hotel’s room service menu.
His eyes went straight to the doorway as soon as Bolin opened it.
His brother looked surprised, as if he’d forgotten anyone was in this room besides him. “Oh, hey, bro,” he said.
Mako stood up. “Hey.” He glanced between Bolin and Fuse. Her nose was red. Were they… drinking? Mako approached the doorway, eyes narrowed. He’d started off a little unsure if he should be having this talk, but now he had no more doubts.
If Fuse was intoxicated, it wasn’t enough to stop her powers of observation. She narrowed her eyes right back at him.
“I’m just gonna… step outside for a minute,” Mako said over her shoulder.
“Huh? Oh, okay,” Bolin replied, head already on the pillow. Mako stepped out and pulled the door shut behind him. He didn’t take his eyes off Fuse for a second, something she noted right away despite her inebriation.
“Okay, you obvishly want to talk,” she said with a little slur, after a moment’s silence. “Sho what’s your problem, exactly?”
Mako’s face burned. “My problem ‘exactly’ is you. You think I don’t see what’s going on between you and my brother?”
She stiffened at this. Surprise at the suggestion? Couldn’t be. Probably just surprise that Mako had caught onto her so fast. “We’re friends,” she finally said.
“Really?” Mako asked, one eyebrow raised. “Because it looked like an awful lot more than that.”
At this, much more than her nose went red. Her whole face flooded like an instant sunburn. For a second, her eyes darted away from Mako, and he genuinely couldn’t tell if she was angry or embarrassed. Maybe a bit of both? Either way, she quickly regained her composure, and her face shot back up at him. “Sho what? I’m not allowed to see him anymore because you said sho?”
I wouldn’t mind that, actually. “Listen, Fuse–”
She reached up and poked him in the chest. Her voice came out in a furious, drunken, hiss. “No, you listen! I’ve shpent too many years being ordered around, and I refuse to do it anymore. Oh, and my name ishn’t Fuse anymore. It’s Tenna.”
“Tenna?” Mako had no clue how to take that. But it wasn’t like that made Fuse a different person. “You… picked a new name?”
She lowered her hand, her voice a bit calmer now, but only just. She spoke slower, too, taking extra care to annunciate properly. “Your brother helped me pick it. Just like he’s been helping me discover who I really am. Bolin knows I’d never hurt him. That I’m not just some tool anymore. So does Korra. Flames, even the Firelord trusts me.”
Considering how little Mako trusted the Firelord now, he didn’t exactly take that last one as a welcome endorsement. But Korra had a good head on her shoulders…
“Maybe… you have changed,” he allowed. “But Bolin hasn’t. He’s impulsive and naïve and always gets into these relationships too quickly and ends up heartbroken in the end. The last time nearly destroyed him. I won’t let it happen again.”
“Oh, right,” said Fuse… Tenna… with a roll of her eyes. “So because you don’t trust me, I must be a heartbreaker, too. I guess you’d know best, seeing as how you broke up with Korra and Asami. Twice.”
How in flames did she know about that? Apparently Korra and “Tenna” were even better friends than he thought. Was he the only one left in the group who still employed some healthy skepticism? “I think it’s time you leave,” he said
“Fine.” Tenna started towards the street, but then twirled back to stare Mako down one last time. “I don’t care if you don’t like me. But you have no right to judge me, Mako. Not for my past. And not for this.”
Mako watched her storm off feeling a strange mix of satisfaction that he had made his point and nagging uncertainty. What had she meant by that? The detective in him wondered. What had she and Bolin been talking about these past few weeks?
Mako shook his head. It didn’t matter. Fuse… Tenna… was still dangerous. Too dangerous for his little brother.
Bolin was passed out on the bed in his evening clothes and snoring by the time Mako went inside. Typical Bolin. Growing up, even in the bad times, his little brother could always sleep like a baby no matter where they were. Mako had made sure he could. He had always made sure that Bolin was safe above all else.
It’s the same now, he told himself. Nothing’s changed.
Only that wasn’t true. Things had changed. His ‘little’ brother was old enough to go out and drink. To have his own career, his own friends… and, yes, even his own relationships… regardless of Mako’s feelings on the matter. Mako knew deep down…at some point, he had to trust Bolin to make his own decisions.
He draped a blanket over his brother and shook his head lightly when Bolin smiled and mumbled something incoherent about Tenna looking pretty.
I will trust him. Mako promised himself. Just not this time. Not with her.