Tenna shifted in place, trying to find the right excuse to edge away from the metal clan woman who had spent the last ten minutes rambling on about her great city and her great family and just how great everything was. Tenna didn’t even mind that so much. Suyin seemed like a decent sort. The paparazzi rabidly snapping pictures from the planter behind her, however…
“Well, it was lovely to meet you, Suyin,” she piped up at last.
“Yes, you too.”
But Tenna barely made it two steps when–
“Hey there!” a familiar voice called, subtle as a locomotive. “If it isn’t two of my favorite ladies.”
A bead of sweat formed on Tenna’s forehead. “Hello, Varrick.”
He wrapped an arm around her shoulders, hugging her and Suyin close like old pals. “Tenna. Suyin. Catching up, I see.”
“Catching up?” Su questioned.
Varrick’s face shifted suddenly from suave to confused. Releasing his grip, he pointed between the two of them. “Haven’t you two met before?”
Su and Tenna exchanged glances.
“No,” said Tenna. “Not until a few minutes ago, at least.”
Varrick scratched his head. “Huh. Thought you got in a scuffle a while back. Wasn’t it–Oh, no, wait!” He slapped his forehead with one hand. “That was the other combustionbender.”
“Other combustionbender?” Tenna didn’t remember any rumors of one of her compatriots falling to a metalbender. Granted, it was a long time ago, and she generally tried to forget most things having to do with her past. Still, from the way Varrick was talking, that sounded like the kind of news that would travel. It wasn’t every day, after all, that a “weapon” was slain in single combat.
Varrick rambled on. “Yeah, that one that was all trying to murder Korra and stuff. Man, you took care of her good!” He nudged Su in the ribs before turning to Tenna. “Su here threw some metal armor around the gal’s head during a blast. Bam! Whew, I bet that was a mess to clean up afterwards! Am I right?”
Tenna’s stomach churned. P’li. It was P’li he was talking about. P’li who had been the closest thing she had to a friend back when she was a…
No. Tenna swallowed. She would not call herself a weapon. Never again. She was a human being. A woman. A wife. A mother.
She was grateful that P’li had broken away, too. Even if her friend had ultimately made the wrong choices, at least P’li died a free woman. Tenna tried very hard to focus on that instead of the images Varrick had so vividly described of P’li’s final moments. At this point, Suyin looked about as queasy as Tenna felt. Trying to chat with a woman whose friend you brutally murdered had that effect, apparently. She tried to excuse herself politely, muttering. “Oh, I think I hear my daughter Opal calling…”
“Wait–” Tenna blurted before she could stop herself. “You’re Opal’s mother?” She felt herself starting to sweat. As if things weren’t awkward enough today. Now she had to find out that Su was mother to her husband’s ex-girlfriend. Suyin raised a nervous eyebrow as Varrick’s eyes lit up with sudden realization.
“Oh, yeah, she is!” he laughed. “Small world.” He gestured to Tenna, grinning at Su all the while as if this was the most amusing coincidence in the history of coincidences. “Tenna is Bolin’s wife.”
The tables suddenly turned, Tenna forced a smile as Suyin made a sort of “Oh, so you’re the one” gesture with her mouth.
Thank the stars Bolin chose that exact moment to come up behind her, nervous and out of breath. He had probably rushed over trying to prevent this disaster of a conversation. Tenna told him with a look that he was about ten minutes too late.
“Oh, so I see you two have met.” He cleared his throat. “Hey, Su.”
“Bolin.” Su nodded.
Bolin shifted. “Right so…um, beautiful day for this, huh?”
“It is, isn’t it?” Tenna broke in right on cue, before Varrick had a chance to blurt out something else inappropriate. “And I could actually use some fresh air.”
“Good idea,” breathed Bolin. They strode away arm in arm, dodging the paparazzi on their way out. Outside they strolled into a fountain-filled courtyard. Aromatic flowers scented the air. Tenna breathed in gratefully.
“Varrick?” Bolin asked.
“Varrick,” Tenna affirmed. “I swear, the man just doesn’t know when to keep his mouth shut.”
She leaned into his side, shivering a little despite her heavy clothes and the warmth outside. P’li’s death was going to give her nightmares–she knew it already. Just what she needed right now. Between Mica and their money situation, Tenna was having enough trouble sleeping as it was.
Bolin kissed her cheek.
“Come on,” he said, gesturing across the courtyard to a group of familiar faces. “Let’s go see what Team Avatar is up to.”
They approached the seating area where Korra, Asami, and Mako were chatting it up.
“…her parents are Opal and Edwin Beifong,” Korra was saying as she gestured to a Metal Clan girl with ribboned hair. “Edwin was just a kid at Harmonic Convergence, but he acquired truth sensing. He’s pretty well-known for being astounding at it.”
She turned to acknowledge Bolin and Tenna with a wave, and Tenna nodded back at her.
“But what Edwin’s daughter does isn’t quite the same thing as truth-sensing,” Mako said. “She can just sense thoughts without the person saying a thing.”
“I know,” Korra said. “Not to mention you’ve got Nanami who can just knock out people’s bending altogether.” She motioned to the woman, who was trying to get the decorations organized. Nanami gave a nervous wave then turned back to her work of making sure the banners didn’t collapse on the Fire Sages mid-coronation. “It’s amazing the way bending has evolved over the years I’ve been the Avatar,” Korra continued. “I can’t even imagine what things will be like by the time I retire.”
“The avatar doesn’t retire,” Tenna pointed out. “You mean to say by the time you die.” It was a bit distasteful, she realized a second later. But Korra was her friend–she’d forgive her. And anyway, it wasn’t like she was lying.
“Okay, yes, but I wasn’t planning on doing that for a while yet.” She coughed loudly. “Hey, Bolin, how’s your show going?”
Tenna felt Bolin stiffen beside her. And nearby, Mako’s mouth twitched a hair. Tenna forced her face to stay impassive. But inside all she wanted to do right then was cry.
Korra didn’t notice. When her question didn’t jumpstart a conversation like she intended it to, she tried to compensate by talking some more. “I, um, think it’s hilarious how your character keeps saying, ‘I wanna be in the movers’ and then… y’know, you are in the movers. In real life.” Again no one responded. The conversation was almost painful to listen to. Bolin took the cue. “It’s, uh… it’s going great,” he said. “Everything’s just fan-tastic. Life couldn’t be better. Yes, indeed.”
Tenna groaned to herself. For all his skill in acting, Bolin was really awful at lying to his friends. He did it anyway, though. Because they didn’t need their family problems broadcasted in front of the entire world. Which is exactly what would happen if even one of the paparazzi creeping around this place happened to overhear their conversation.
Tenna felt a small ache in her chest. With any luck, she wouldn’t have to lie for much longer. If the rumors were true, Lady Izumi would be arriving at any moment. Then, when all this coronation chaos was over, Tenna wanted nothing more than to have a cup of tea and a nice long honest conversation with her best friend.
A few minutes later, Shyu and Mica were out and about in the back gardens at the Four Elements. With plenty of earthbenders on staff, the garden statuary seemed to change on a semi-regular basis to reflect whatever major event was happening at the time. In this case, a series of sculptures in the shape of the Firelord’s crown were nestled among bushes of bright red and orange flowers.
The walking path was made of pebbles, rather than paved, and Shyu watched curiously as she picked up two rocks by her feet, weighing each one carefully in her hands. The first rock was nothing more than a tiny pebble while the other took up most of her palm.
“So, here’s the scoop,” she said. “I’m technically an earthbender. But my bending also lets me use my chi as fuel to manipulate the energy in the rock.” She held up the tiny pebble and held it between her thumb and forefinger. A light flared like she had lit a tiny sparkler. She tossed the rock a few inches and it gave a little pop like a firecracker.
“The more rock, the bigger the explosion,” she went on. Then, she held up the bigger rock and repeated the process. This time, Shyu got to see how her bending worked a bit more clearly. The rock glowed for a moment, and as Mica tossed it up it burst apart, sparks flickering like diamond dust before dissolving away.
“Cool!” he exclaimed, then quickly collected himself. What was he doing, oohing and ahhing and some new bending display? He sounded just like Avatar Korra. Or Mica’s dad, Bolin. Neither idea made him too happy. “I mean… that’s nice, I guess,” he finally said. Then he looked around at the obnoxious stone crowns all around them. He gestured to the nearest one. “Think you can blow that up?”
He hadn’t meant it all that seriously, but Mica stroked her chin like she was giving it her full consideration.
“I could,” she mused. “But it would take about twenty minutes to charge. And the explosion would probably kill me… if I didn’t keel over from exhaustion first.”
“Huh?” Shyu asked.
Mica gave a shrug. “Pooling chi drains my energy. No energy, no way to make things go boom.” As if to offer proof of her claim, her stomach growled loudly, and she gave it a pat. “Speaking of drained, I didn’t get brunch this morning, and that little demo burned some serious calories. I don’t suppose you know if they’re serving food at this thing?”
“I–” Shyu shuttered. He had no idea how to take this girl. She was obviously proud of her powers to some extent, but she’d also been talking about how they were ruining her life a short while ago. He wasn’t sure whether to sympathize with her or get thoroughly infuriated by her whining about something he could never have. “I, um… I should get back to the crown… crowning thing. The coronation. For my dad and stuff.”
She laughed at this but not rudely. More like someone who stumbled with words all the time and just appreciated finding a kindred stumbler. “It’s okay. I have to talk to someone anyway.” And with that, she turned and jogged away, leaving Shyu feeling embarrassed and kind of happy all at the same time.
Mica managed to catch Varrick’s eye just as everyone started getting seated. She didn’t have to pretend to smile this time. Mica loved her crazy, eccentric uncle. Not just because he invented nifty gizmos for her (though those were pretty awesome). Mica loved him because he was one of the few people on this earth who didn’t get offended or embarrassed by her when she blurted out exactly what was on her mind.
“Hey, kiddo!” he greeted her with open arms. Mica threw herself into them, and he swept her around like in one of those dramatic reunion scenes in the movers. “Wow, love the dress. Very femme fatal,” he said when she was safely back on the ground.
Mica grinned. “Thanks, I thought so, too. Though Dad wasn’t too thrilled…”
Varrick laughed. “Well, of course he wasn’t. If he liked it, then you obviously wouldn’t. It’s classic parent opposition.”
Mica nodded agreement. Good old Uncle Varrick. Thank the stars he understood her. She sincerely hoped she wasn’t about to ruin their rapport with what she was about to ask.
“So as long as we’re on the topic of things my parents don’t like but I do… I need to ask you a favor.”
Yet another reason Mica loved Uncle Varrick–he wasn’t afraid to be blunt. There were no fake smiles or masked feelings. He didn’t sit there and pretend to be on her side through one conversation then turn around and gossip about her behind her back. No. If Varrick didn’t approve of her choice, he told her up front and to her face. It was the same now, the moment she mentioned Dino.
“Sorry kiddo, no can do.”
“Because the kid’s a punk.”
Mica frowned. That was the same word her father always used, and it pissed her off hearing it come out of Uncle Varrick’s mouth. “So he’s not perfect,” she tossed up her hands, “Mom wasn’t either, and you still gave her a chance.” She was starting to lose control. Her fingers twitched, yearning to vent her frustration on the nearest rock. She drew a breath and exhaled slowly. Time for a new strategy. “Come on, Uncle Varrick,” she tried again, smoothing her voice into the calm, rational tone her mom used to mask her temper. “What about helping the little guy? Isn’t that kinda your thing?”
That hit a nerve. Mica could see the indecision in his face. Time for her secret weapon. She looked up at him with big, sad eyes and made her lip quiver just so. If there was one thing she knew Uncle Varrick couldn’t resist, it was her sad face.
“Pllleeeaaase, Uncle Varrick. For me?” She made her voice quaver a little, like she might burst into tears at any second. She could actually make herself cry, too, if necessary. But she doubted it would be. Uncle Varrick was a sucker for her sad face. Had been since she was three.
Today was no exception. “Ah, don’t give me that face…with the eyes and the tears…okay, fine.” He let out a long sigh of resignation. “If it means that much to you, I’ll give the kid a shot.”
Mica’s heart fluttered. “Oh, thank you! Thank–”
“At-ah,” Varrick waggled a finger in front of her. “Don’t go thanking me yet. First he needs to prove he can handle himself on the set. That means doing what I say when I say. If he can do that for a few months and doesn’t cause any trouble, then maybe, just maybe, he can start as an extra.” He extended a hand as if signing off on a business deal. “That’s my offer. Take or leave it.”
Dino following Uncle Varrick’s orders. Not exactly a recipe for success. But it was something, at least.
“I’ll take it,” said Mica, mimicking his posture and clasping his hand all formal-like before giving his hand one exaggerated shake.
“Mica, there you are.” Her mother’s voice piped up drawing both her and Varrick’s gaze. “Come on. It’s time to get seated.” Her mom looked aside, indicating the elaborately decorated platform and speaker podium. Mica caught a flash of movement, then somebody waving ecstatically. Was that…?
“Your father managed to save us places right up front,” her mother confirmed. Mica groaned. Sure enough that crazy waving person was none other than her dear old dad.
“Yay,” she said with fake enthusiasm to match her equally fake smile.
When Mica first sat down, she thought there might be a chance of some excitement. Not everyone was thrilled about Iroh taking the throne, and there were actually a few protesters holding handmade signs to say as much. The signs had various complaints against the monarchy, but the most common demand seemed to be, “Ban bloodbending now!” She craned her neck as she watched her Uncle Mako walk over and have some sort of conversation with them. One or two yelled at him, but then they moved peacefully back to wherever on the street he was directing them to.
Mica couldn’t see them from her spot this close to the stage anymore, leaving her with no choice but to watch the Fire Sage who now climbed the steps. The man looked to be over a hundred, so she kept her fingers crossed that he’d tire out halfway through the ceremony. Sorry, folks. Looks like we’ve got to cut this short. All hail the new Firelord. Bye, now. Thanks for coming.
“Let us now sing the Fire Nation anthem,” warbled the old man into a squealing microphone. Though how they expected this old bird to sing anything was beyond her. The royal family stood, indicating that the rest of the audience do the same. Then they started to sing.
“Oh, Fire Nation! My flame burns for thee…”
Mica imagined this would have sounded very impressive at the Fire Palace–the royal family leading their people in song to usher in their new Firelord. It was both symbolic and poetic, which the entertainer in Mica could definitely appreciate. The trouble was this wasn’t the Fire Nation. In total, only a few dozen citizens of Republic City were even born in the Fire Nation, and of them, only a handful had stayed in the country long enough to learn the traditional songs. Her mother knew them, of course, and sang along proudly accompanied by Aunt Korra, who pretty much had to learn all the songs or else look like an unsupportive Avatar. Aunt Asami, Uncle Mako, and her Dad made do with mumbling noises that were almost in key with the lyrics.
Mica sang, too. Not out of pride for the Fire Nation. Not to cover up her Dad and Uncle’s flames-awful singing. Not even to show her Mom that, yes, she did in fact memorize the lyrics on the car ride over. Mica joined in because she loved music, and she just couldn’t help herself. She could already hear her voice carrying above the others–practiced and beautiful like a finely honed instrument. Her instrument. She hit every note spot on. And when the anthem rose in a crescendo, Mica sang out the final high note a entire octave above everyone. Her finish brought approving glances from the old Fire Sage and even some of the royal family. She saw Firelord Izumi nod appreciatively.
Prince Shyu had his eyes fixed on her as well, his eyebrows raised. No surprise there. Mica always did had a knack for shocking people. To his merit, he didn’t run away screaming when he learned she could essentially turn rocks into lit dynamite, which was more then she could say for most people. Shyu had even given her the courtesy of an audience and–despite some obvious personal feelings on the matter–he had waited to see for himself what she was about before making judgments.
He was doing it again now. He continued clapping a second longer than the rest of his family before taking his seat. Mica, in turn, offered the slightest curtsy. It was a bit presumptuous, she knew. She had so few friends…maybe it was too much to hope that she might have found one in Shyu.
Back on stage, two more Fire Sages hefted an enormous tome onto the speaking podium. The old man blew off a layer of dust before opening it.
“Now,” he said in a voice that sounded like a dying goat-monkey. “As we gather together at this time to celebrate the crowning of our new Firelord, we are reminded of our past. One cannot move into the future without honoring the past. And we honor the past today with our traditional reading of the life histories of every Firelord that has ever lived…”
Mica’s enthusiasm died. “Ugh,” she groaned. “I knew it!”
“Shh!” her mother hissed.
After about the third Firelord, the mood of the audience had gone from revered quiet to just plain bored. Even her father, who had been practically jumping out of his socks excited the day before, looked like he was going to fall asleep any second. Not a bad idea, actually. Mica leaned her chin on her elbow, eyes drooping. On stage the royal family shifted about in their seats, trying not to look uncomfortable. No easy task, that was for sure. What kind of reputation would Iroh be setting if he started yawning at his own coronation? And that went for the royal princes and princess, too. Mica felt a swell of pity for the young heirs. Especially Shyu–with his utter lack of social graces. What was it like for him, being watched constantly? Not able to take a single step without some promotion-hungry journalist plastering it all over the front page of the newspaper.
Ugh, Mica cringed. It’s like living in an entire city of paparazzi.
She knew that annoyance. All too well, in fact. The difference was, if one of those shutterbugs bothered her, at least Mica could set the eel-hounds on them. Or sneak away to the scrap yard. Or blow up their camera if she was really desperate.
She wondered. Had Shyu ever gotten the chance to quit living for the cameras and just plain live for a change?
The old Fire Sage’s microphone squealed, startling Mica from her daze. Flames, what she wouldn’t give for a coffee. On her other side, her father gave a muffled snore and next to him, Uncle Mako was trying to hide a yawn. Only her mom sat primly in place like a model Fire Nation citizen. It was disturbing sometimes how intently her mom could focus–almost as if her life depended on it. She did snap out of her reverie when Mica rose out of her chair.
“I’m going to get some coffee. You guys want any?” Mica extended a tantalizing peace offer bound to win over supporters. Sure enough Aunt Korra was the first to jump on board.
“I’ll take one,” she piped up, giving Tenna a disarming smile.
“Just green tea for me, please,” said Aunt Asami after Korra gave her an encouraging rib nudge. Uncle Mako was too proud to say anything, but Mica could see the caffeine craving etched on his face, which was as good a request as any.
Lastly, Mica nudged her dad, who woke mid-snore. “Huh? What? I wasn’t sleeping!”
“Coffee?” she asked.
“Mmm…yes, please,” mumbled her dad. That put the score at four against one. Not even her mom could beat that argument, and she knew it.
Her mother massaged between her eyes and around her forehead tattoo. “Fine, Mica. Just make it quick. And don’t blow anything up,” she hastily added.
Mica rolled her eyes, not daring to admit that the thought of “accidentally” setting off a few fireworks prematurely had crossed her mind. “Sure. Fine. Whatever.” She started to leave, muttering, “Though if you ask me, this ceremony could use some excitement.”