Shyu angled his face downward, hoping his glasses hid his expression in just a way that told all passers-by, “Please don’t talk to me.” It seemed to be working. He held out a book and watched several pairs of expressive-looking shoes shuffle by on the marble floor without even pausing at him. Shyu tried to look interested in the book; it was something about the history of the Sun Warriors. Not exciting stuff, but if Dad caught him with his nose in an issue of “Popular Pro-Bending”, it probably wouldn’t have gone over nearly as well. Still, maybe he would have been sympathetic; the family had just gotten back from their second funeral in a week. After all the crowds, Shyu severely needed some alone time, even if he had to take it in a room full of people telling the Fire Nation Royal Family how sorry they were for their loss.
Shyu thought it was awkward a few days ago when everyone around him was mourning one of the world’s most beloved leaders, not to mention the Fire Nation’s longest-ruling monarch. Everyone had something wonderful to say about Great-grandfather Zuko, whether they had ever met the man or not. The funeral he’d just arrived back from, however, was much more uncomfortable. People kept approaching Dad, trying to say how much his Great Aunt Azula would be missed, but then they couldn’t actually find anything kind to say about her. That she hadn’t done anything too destructive in her final years of life was about the highest compliment anyone could give.
When the crowds of footsteps had worked their way away from him, Shyu reached into the back of the book and pulled out a paper-thin piece of metal he’d stuck between the pages. He’d gotten a stash of the stuff from that retired police chief, Ms. Lin Beifong. Supposedly, it had a low melting point. Holding it between his fingers, he focused all the energy he had on it. It grew to a dull red, but no brighter, and only bent slightly. Shyu grunted and dropped the shred of trash to the floor. He then closed the book and stood, looking for a good way to slip up the staircase to somewhere he could be legitimately alone. Kaja was chatting up the crowds now; he’d been doing so for the past three hours and even he looked tired of it. That was one advantage Shyu had in being the future Firelord’s middle child and a mediocre bender, besides. If Kaja tried to slip out, there’d be a panicked search party underway within minutes. Few people noticed Shyu was sitting around to begin with, let alone when he left. He got to the staircase easily enough. He slipped his shoes off at the bottom step and picked up them up in his hands so his footsteps wouldn’t draw attention. The tactic worked. He actually walked right past one chattering couple who completely missed the fact that a teenager was sneaking up the stairs behind them.
“…now, I’m not saying that Lady Azula didn’t have a few screws loose,” the man was saying. “But she was a true Fire Nation woman, that one.” His lady friend took a sip of her drink, but nodded with enthusiastic agreement.
“I couldn’t agree with you more. Not that Firelord Izumi isn’t kind-hearted, but you need that… that fire to understand the Fire Nation. You know what I mean?”
“I tell you one thing,” the man now downed the rest of his drink in a single gulp and pointed at his friend, “Lady Azula wouldn’t have been so soft on all these bloodbenders. No, sir, she would’ve had them all rounded up and locked away in two shakes of a volcat’s tail…”
Shyu hurried up the steps the rest of the way, not caring to listen to anymore. He actually shuddered a bit as he reached the top step. While he wasn’t too fond of people opening bashing his grandmother’s rule (or his father’s rule that hadn’t even started yet), he could agree on one thing. Bloodbending freaked him out. He’d much rather have the Fire Nation’s most pathetic firebending than even a hint of bloodbending in his veins. No one in his family had been affected by Harmonic Convergence, his father had assured him many times. Thank goodness for small favors.
The bike was everything Mica had dreamed of. Sleek, polished to perfection, with an engine that purred like a puma-deer. Dino had even painted it for her–black and red–her two favorite colors.
“Not bad for a pile of scrap, huh?” Dino smiled proudly. He had a right to be. A year ago this bike was a hunk of garbage Mica had found rusting in the scrap yard. But now, thanks to Dino’s mechanical genius and Mica’s choice scraping privilege, this once broken motorcycle had been transformed into something amazing.
“She’s perfect.” Mica turned the keys and fired up the engine heedless of the Republic City residents she might wake up. The bike revved to life, obeying her as easily as a well-trained eel-hound. There was no stalling or sputters. Just eleven-hundred pounds of raw power beckoning to be driven.
Mica couldn’t stand it anymore. She grabbed hastily for the helmet she had secretly snitched from her Aunt Asami’s and that Dino had painted to match her new ride. “Lets take her out right now!” She reached again, this time for a tiny pair of goggles and a leather flight cap which she pulled onto Bandit.
But Dino just shook his head. “Hey, now. Take it easy. You’ve still got a few more lessons yet before you can drive one of these babies solo.”
“Oh, come on!” Mica tossed up her hands. “You’ve been saying that for months now.”
“Yeah, and I’m gonna say it again. And again. And again until you get it through your stubborn head. You’re not ready yet.” He made a gesture for her keys. “Plus it’s the middle of the night. We’d wake up the whole street.”
Okay, he had a point there.
Dino’s secret motorcycle driving lessons wouldn’t be much use if her Uncle Mako busted them and confiscated her bike. Not to mention the veritable heap of punishment she’d have to deal with if her parents found out.
She withdrew the keys, quieting the engine. Dino took them, her helmet, and Bandit’s gear and hung them on the wall of his father’s garage right next to his own biking gear.
She looked at the dangling keys longingly. “How long? Until I’m ready?”
He came over and lifted her off the bike and into his arms. “That depends on you, babe. How long until you can convince your folks to let you try for your motorcycle license?”
Mica groaned. “Forever until infinity and then some.” She gave a halfhearted laugh. “Dad might go for it I can get Uncle Mako to vogue for me. But my mom… she’s has serious trust issues when it comes to vehicles. And in general, really. If she found out half the stuff I’ve done…” Mica shuddered. She didn’t want to think of what would happen.
Dino set her down gently but kept his arms around her shoulders so she had to gaze up into his eyes. He looked thoughtful. “What if I tried to convince her?”
“You?” Mica laughed.
“Sure, why not? I can bring it up all casual like.” He wasn’t joking.
“Two problems, Dino. One, my folks don’t like you. And two, they’re barely home.”
Dino wasn’t offended. “Well, maybe if I could get some time on set with them, I could get them to warm up to me… and your ride.”
If only it were that easy. Still, the idea was intriguing — her parents actually approving of her boyfriend. She could ask Uncle Varrick to pull some strings, but he was hardly the quiet type. And her father would be the first person he told. Still, maybe it was a gamble worth taking.
“I guess I could try talking to Uncle Varrick about getting you a job…”
Dino’s face lit up and Mica could see some of the fire return to his eyes. He spun her around. Then tickled her ribs. She tried to stifle her giggles and talk at the same time, which wasn’t easy since Dino was also trying to kiss her. “Buh I still– don’t fink–parents–will approof…”
“Just promise me you’ll talk to him soon. Promise?”
Mica gasped for breath. “Okay, okay! I promise.”
He kissed her again, for real this time. Mica leaned into him, breathing in his sweet scent of oil and cologne and suddenly wishing that the night didn’t have to end.