Shyu froze on the steps at his father’s voice. His arms were filled with two bags of spicy cheese doodles, a can of peanuts, and a soda. It was actually the second load he’d gathered for Mica; she was already up in his room consuming the first half. He winced and placed the food in the middle of the stair. His father was no doubt listening to every step he took now. Sneaking off never worked as well in the house with Dad as it did everywhere else with random strangers.
Well, I guess if I don’t come back up soon enough, Mica will eventually come down here and find my corpse. He swallowed hard, gripping the banister as he descended to his inevitable doom. Maybe she’ll see to it that my remains get treated with dignity.
He tried to smile a bit at his own hyperbole. It just would have been more amusing if he knew how much of an exaggeration his death was. He’d never heard that sort of fierce anger in Dad’s… in Firelord Iroh’s voice before. He walked towards the sitting room, peering nervously around the corner. Dad was in there, all right. He had a nice crew of attendants around him, along with Mica’s parents, Bolin and Tenna. There were some photos on the coffee table, Shyu noted, though he took care not to look at them as he approached his father. He could guess what they were, and probably would get a earful on it sooner rather than later.
“Y-yes, sir?” he asked, his voice coming out in a pathetic squeak. Good, that sounded good. He had his spare glasses on right now, and he kind of wished he still had the broken ones. Maybe those would make him look pathetic enough to just give a good scolding and send off to his room.
“This is a disaster,” Iroh began. “An absolute disaster. I hope you realize that, young man.” The attendants all nodded adamantly to agree that, yes, this disaster did in fact surpass all other disasters they had ever had the misfortune to witness. Shyu swallowed hard and stole a glance at the photos spread across the table–all photos that would be showing up in the next day’s newspapers, without a doubt. The not-so-bad ones showed a couple fruit carts with cracks or hole in their sides. The ones that would actually make the front page showed the perfect path of destruction that the motorcycle had taken through the square. There were ripped banners, smashed windows, even a guy who’d gotten injured by the flying bits of debris. Nothing too serious, not that that made it too much easier to take.
I never meant for any of this, Shyu kept thinking to himself. He’d always been the quiet one. Boring, but quiet. How did he get himself into this sort of a mess?
Iroh shook his head and pushed the photos to a corner of the table, like looking at them a second longer might make his head explode. He turned on his son.
“You realize I can’t just make this problem go away?” he said sternly.
Shyu lowered his head and nodded. Not much else he could do at this point. “Yes, sir.”
“People are going to want some repercussions for this,” Iroh went on. “I can pay for the damages, but I’m a big part of the public spotlight now. They’re going to want to see that you and Mica face some genuine consequences for your actions.”
Shyu felt his palms grow slick with sweat. His father had always been the kind-but-firm type. Now with news reporters documenting his every move, Shyu couldn’t help but worry that he might see less of the “kind” and way more of the “firm.”
But there was still something in him that felt more than fear right now. It felt anger. Anger that the best he could hope to do in this coronation, in this whole blasted royal life was to be quiet and not call too much attention to himself. Maybe that would have been great for plenty of people. But what if he wanted something different?
“So, what are they?” he heard himself say.
Iroh startled, like he’d forgotten his son could actually say things besides, Yes, sir, No, sir, and I’m so sorry; it’s all my fault. “What are…what?” he asked carefully.
“The consequences,” Shyu replied. His muscles tightened. He felt stronger, somehow, the more he spoke. “You said I’d have to face some major consequences. So what are they?”
“I-I…” Iroh stuttered. Shyu couldn’t remember ever seeing his father at a loss for words. This was almost entertaining. Not that he was glad he’d gotten in trouble, but if was going to be waist-deep in dragon crap anyway, seeing his father fumble a bit was a nice consolation. He wanted to see how far he could push this.
“You’ll what, Dad?” Shyu pressed. “Seriously, what’s the worst you could do? Force me into an agni kai in front of the entire Fire Nation? Actually, yes, please do that, because it’s the only way I’ll ever stand a chance of sitting on the throne!”
He jabbed his finger into their air, pointing in a random direction. There was clearly no throne room in the house, but it felt so satisfying. Shyu heaved with the effort. He hadn’t even thought that he had so much of that energy bottled inside of him. He certainly didn’t think it would never feel so good to get it all out.
His father made a few more good stutters, stepping back as he tried to figure out just what had gotten into his son all of a sudden. Then, much to Shyu’s frustration, he just sighed and massaged the bridge of his nose. “Look, I know this move has been hard on you. It’s been hard on all of us. This doesn’t feel like home yet. And I know you’ve had your frustration will all the attention being paid to Kaja…”
The words stung. Shyu had wanted to get his father angry, not go back to being compared with Kaja… to being pitied because he wasn’t Kaja.
“I don’t care what Kaja does,” Shyu snapped. The words sounded pathetically fake. He wasn’t sure why he bothered. All it did was get him even more sympathetic looks. That agni kai was sounding better and better right now.
“I know a few of the journalists that will be taking this story to print tomorrow,” Iroh said. “I think if I offer a few of them an interview, I can find a way to spin things so that it doesn’t look too bad. You were frustrated with everything going on, you didn’t think straight about your actions…”
“Geez, Dad, make me sound like a eight-year-old, why don’t you?” Shyu said.
His father narrowed his eyes. “You’ll sound however we need to get this incident quieted down as quickly as possible.” He took a quick glance at the pile of photos on the table, only to look back away from them immediately. “You know, I’m thinking that maybe this PR disaster would be a lot better if you and Mica weren’t here to contradict it.”
“Wait… what?” That comment actually came from Bolin, though goodness knew Shyu was thinking it, too. Bolin and his wife exchanged confused glances, which made Shyu all the more nervous. His father was making stuff up on the spot.
Iroh stroked his chin and began to pace the room the way Shyu had always seen him when he was giving a pep talk to his soldiers. Everything always had a plan, and as long as the great Iroh’s plan got followed to perfection, nothing could possibly go wrong.
“Yes…” he said, now with his back to Shyu and talking more to the wall than to his son. “I’m sure she’d agree to it. …”
Do I get let in on this anytime soon? Shyu asked, though he kept it to himself this time. Finally, his father turned back to face him. “I’ve made my decision. You’ll be staying with your Aunt Zarah for a few weeks.” He turned to Bolin and Tenna. “Actually, I’d like to talk to you two on this topic, as well.”
The couple exchanged some very skeptical looks, Tenna more than her husband, but Bolin still gave a polite nod. Looking satisfied, Iroh waved a dismissive hand at Shyu. “Back in bed,” he ordered. It filled Shyu with fury all over again.
“I’m not one of your stupid troops,” he muttered. Iroh didn’t hear him. But from the way she locked eyes with him, he wondered if Tenna might have. If she had, she didn’t say anything. Figured. The adults always ganged together like that. Shyu stomped back towards the stairs, though the energy in his steps quickly dissipated. The wide hallway felt cool and empty… and Shyu felt utterly alone.
For a few moments, Shyu just sat on the middle step with the foodstuffs next to him. He didn’t feel like going up and explaining to Mica what had just happened, and there was a certain satisfying defiance to parking himself a whole ten steps away from where his father ordered him to go. But eventually, he heard his father’s voice bark out, “I said bed! Now!” and he had to grab the bags of snacks and hurry back up again.
Mica was leaned up against his bookshelf and looked up curiously when he re-entered. She had his comic collection out, he noted, though she’d been polite enough to leave the ones still in the plastic sleeves alone.
“I heard your dad yelling about something,” she said quietly. “Rough talk?”
“Meh. Just ruined my life for the next few months. No big deal.” He dropped the armful of food next to her and plopped face down on his bed. The pillow was suffocatingly soft and felt warm as he breathed into it. Maybe he could just sleep here for three months. Yeah, that could totally work.
He heard the sound of Mica replacing the comics to their place on the shelf and walking over to him. “So… you gonna tell me what happened down there? Or are you just going to drown your sorrows in overly priced bedding?”
Shyu rolled over onto his back. “Seems my dad wants to ship me off to live with my aunt until this whole thing blows over. Could be months.”
“Oh.” There was a long silence before Mica said anything else. And even then, all she could come up with was, “Your aunt…seemed nice enough.”
Shyu laughed. “There were three rows of people up on that stage. Do you remember which one she was?”
To this, Mica just grinned. “Sure. The Fire Nation lady in the fancy dress.” She leaned over onto the dresser. “Look, you’re talking to someone who’s in the business of getting pushed around and rejected. The best you can do is figure out where you went wrong so you can plan better. For example…” She put a hand to her chin and leaned forward to examine Shyu’s face as she were inspecting a painting for authenticity. “What kind of expression did you have when your dad came up with this idea? Come one, show me your face.”
Isn’t that what you’re looking at now? Shyu tried to think of something that didn’t sound snarky. “My…face?”
“Yeah, you know,” Mica said with a shrug. “Your I’m-so-young-and-inexperienced-and-pathetic-please-don’t-yell-at-me face.”
That’s impressively specific. “I… don’t have one of those,” Shyu admitted.
Mica straightened, looking genuinely bewildered at this specimen of a teenager before her. “Well, what do you do when you get in trouble?” she asked.
Again, something in Shyu snapped. He couldn’t explain it, but it felt like a second personality took over the controls in his brain. “I don’t!” he said. She took a step back from the bed in surprise, and he groaned at his outburst. “Well… not before yesterday, at any rate,” he added on, much more in control.
He sat up and hung his head in shame, still unable to figure out how any of this had happened. He felt like he had good reason to get mad at Mica, or Dad, or really anybody else for it. But he could only summon up enough frustration to be mad at himself.
“Hey,” Mica said after a moment, “maybe if things are bit calmer tomorrow, you and me can hang out and watch a mover or something.”
Shyu lifted his head. “Really? You think we’ll be let out of the house?”
She shrugged. “Wouldn’t have to. My folks have their own screening room. Your guards could bring you over. And if your dad’s worried about security, you can tell him my mom has a pack of trained eel-hounds guarding the property.”
Shyu felt himself smile a little despite himself. Dad was pretty angry now, but tomorrow, who knew? Maybe Dad would be happy Shyu was making an conscience effort to stay out of the way. “Are you sure your parents wouldn’t mind?”
“Nah, they won’t care. Especially if it’s one of their movers. You ever see Vol-Cats?”
Shyu shook his head. Mica groaned at this pathetic level of pop culture ignorance, and yet grinned all the same. “You’re are up for some good stuff.” She went over to the corner and retrieved the snacks he’d gotten for her. “Thanks for the calories. I think I’m technically supposed to be in the guest room, so–”
“Turn left out of my room and go two doors down,” Shyu said. “It’s decorated with turtle-duck decor. You can’t miss it.”
She nodded and walked out of the door. Shyu thought he heard his dad snapping again, followed by Mica shouting, “Flames! It’s just me! Shyu’s trying to sleep!” He smiled to himself as he imagined his dad apologizing. If he had to get bad news, it was a nice change to get it in front of someone who listened.