“All right, you two,” came Aunt Zarah’s sharp voice when the car finally pulled up to her house. “You both get up those stairs, and don’t you dare take a step into my kitchen until you have things settled.”
Mica opened her mouth to object, but Shyu knew better than to start an argument with his aunt. Without a word, he walked past Mica and made his way up the stairs. Satisfied that at least one of her charges had listened to her, Zarah walked towards the kitchen, leaving Mica still eager to vent at someone but no one willing to listen. Her feet pounded into the floor as she grunted and marched up the stairs after him.
Shyu’s first step was the bathroom. Every household in the Fire Nation had ointment for burns as part of a standard first-aid kit, and Aunt Zarah’s was no exception. He opened the medicine cabinet and found a generous-sized tube sitting front and center on the middle shelf.
“Here,” he said, holding it out to her. “For your wrist.”
Mica looked down at the offering like he’d presented her with a dead rabbit and snatched it out of his grip. Shyu followed her as she stalked towards her room.
“Listen, I’m sorry…” Shyu began.
“Oh, shut up,” she told him as she squeezed a generous blob of the green gel onto her red skin. She gritted her teeth when the stuff made contact. Shyu was well familiar with the sensation. When he was a kid, he’d gotten in the way of Kaja’s firebending practice more times than he cared to remember.
Mica sat down on the sofa-turned-bed, gingerly rubbing her arm. Shyu was still in a mix of awe and shame that he had caused such a burn to begin with. He wanted to make things right, explain that he never meant to hurt her, that he’d never even been capable of generating that much heat before. But being banned from talking to Mica and banned from going downstairs until he finished talking to Mica left Shyu in an awkward position. With nothing else to do, he sat himself cross-legged on the floor. Mica continued to make fleeting eye-contact for a while; then she realized he wasn’t planning on going anywhere until she spoke to him.
She glared down at him from her perch on the couch and rolled her eyes. “Fine,” she said, tossing the tube of ointment onto the nearby desk. “I’m sorry, okay?”
Shyu opened his mouth to reply, but had to pause a moment to rethink his words. “Um, you’re sorry?”
“For that crap I said about your grandmother. It would suck if she went to jail. I’m sorry.”
Shyu hung his head. He couldn’t think of any reply. It might have been the ointment’s potent scent messing with his head, but he doubted it. All he could think about was Mica’s pain. Both of their families had been hurt by the mover; there was no doubt about that. But the mover was supposed to be about the royal family. They were the ones who were supposed to take the risk of being honored or humiliated. Mica’s family never should have been involved.
“I’m sorry, too,” he said. “All that happened to your mom–”
“See, this is why I told you to shut up earlier,” she said. “I don’t want to talk about what was in that mover, okay? Not ever.”
Shyu hung his head and felt a flicker of anger in his chest again. Not at Mica this time but at his family. They were the ones funding the mover; how could they have let such a huge mistake through?
I’ll bet it was Dad, Shyu thought bitterly. He hates Grandma’s bloodbending. I bet he exposed her on purpose. Shyu took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. He couldn’t get angry now. His dad wasn’t even here. That was another problem for another time.
“I’ve been thinking a lot lately about where my place is in the royal family,” he said quietly. “I’m still not 100% sure on that, but I’m pretty sure I can at least apologize for when they screw up. And they did screw up. Big time.”
Mica looked at him with eyes narrowed, like she couldn’t quite decide if he was mocking her or if his apologize was genuine. She must have decided on the latter, because she made a meager attempt at a smile. “Yeah, well…family. They can pull a real Ozai when they want to.”
“You’re telling me.” There were about a million other things Shyu wanted to say, not the least of which was that if he was in charge of that movery, none of this mess ever would have happened. Maybe the Fire Nation citizens were right; maybe his dad was unfit for the throne. But if Shyu ever wanted to change things, he still had to help keep the country together. That was his duty as the prince.
“It’s okay,” he could almost hear Zuko saying. “I had to deal with a failure of a father as well.”
“I’m starving,” Mica finally said, interrupting Shyu’s meditation. “You think we’ve made friends enough that your aunt will let us into the kitchen?”
Shyu stood up, feeling a surge of new confidence. “If she doesn’t, you can always blast your way in, right?”
Mica smiled, much more genuine this time, and slid off the couch. “Good point. That I can.”
The two walked out the door, with Shyu leading the way, both of them fueled with the energy of their plans to defy authority. Of course, Shyu was pretty sure that if Aunt Zarah yelled at him to march right back up the stairs, he would do it without question. But at least imagining he might stand up to her felt good.
The two of them reached the bottom of the steps with no objections. The kitchen smelled like she’d had some tea on–the scent of green tea leaves was mixed with the smell of smoke. Aunt Zarah never could make tea without spilling at least a few leaves on the burner.
“So, you settled things, did you?”
Shyu was startled when he realized the voice wasn’t coming from the kitchen but the entranceway. Aunt Zarah stood by the front door with something slung over her shoulder. At first, Shyu thought that it might be a purse; she did tend to go out and enjoy herself on the weekends (too much, his dad complained.) But then when she turned slightly, he realized she was carrying a duffle bag. A fully packed one at that. He also realized he’d been staring blankly at her for the past thirty seconds rather than answering her question.
Mica coughed loudly. “Yeah, I think we got things squared away.”
“Oh, good,” Zarah said with a grin. “In that case, get back in the car.”
Was Shyu imagining things? Why in flames would they– “Um, pardon?”
“You heard me. I want your spoiled behinds back in that car in five minutes or else.”
“Or else what?” Mica asked.
Shyu shot her a look that he hope expressed just how unneeded her question was right now. “I think what Mica is trying to say,” he said through gritted teeth, “is, ‘where are we going, exactly?'”
Aunt Zarah readjusted the bag on her shoulders and then went to pick up a suitcase sitting alongside the staircase, previously just out of Shyu’s view. Did the woman just keep packed bags around so they could run off at moment’s notice? It didn’t seem unlike her.
“This whole place is about to get thrown into a panic,” she said. “I promised your parents I’d keep you safe. And right now that means getting you somewhere the public can’t find you so easily for the next few days.”
“And where would that be, exactly?” Shyu asked, hoping to get out what was no doubt Mica’s next question with a little less of her signature snark attached.
Zarah nodded at her nephew “Exactly where your grandfather went when he and Avatar Aang needed to cool their heads,” she said. “We’re going to the Sun Warriors.”
Mica belted out a hardy laugh. “Yeah. Sun Warriors. That would be fun if they weren’t extinct.” She looked at Zarah with anticipation of a clever punchline or a “ha, just kidding we’re actually going to–” but neither of these happened. Zarah just stood with her arms crossed and a smug smile on her face.
“Um, they are extinct, aren’t they?” Shyu finally asked.
Now it was Zarah’s turn to laugh. “Just get in the car,” she said, and opened the front door.
Mako had spent the past ten hours doing nothing but answering phone calls. Or was it twelve? Or twenty? His brain had tuned out time. Either he was sending out officers to deal with unruly citizens or he was assuring panicked citizens that no, Varrick’s idiotic mover was not some signal that a bunch of Fire Nation bloodbenders were planning to invade Republic City.
So when he got a call from President Raiko to come to a private meeting in his office, Mako was actually relieved. For the first few minutes, anyway.
“Ah, there you are, Mako!” the president said, extending his arms welcomingly when Mako entered the room. That was a bad sign right there. Raiko always acted courteous when he was about to ask for something. Granted, with Mako, most things were an order, but it was like the man felt obligated to give the worst orders with a friendly smile. He stepped inside, looking at all the framed photos around the room. Raiko shaking hands with Aang. Raiko shaking hands with Korra. Even, ironically enough, Raiko and Firelord Zuko.
“The riots seemed to be calmed for the moment,” Mako said. “But we still need a lot of people on patrol to keep the peace. Will this take too long?”
“Yes…about that,” Raiko said, clearing his throat. He motioned to the chair opposite his desk. Another very bad sign. He was either about to tell Mako that he was switching jobs with the sanitation department or…
Mako felt ill as he slipped into the chair. Unlike the president’s cushy purple velvet chair, this one was solid wood.
“I think we both know there is one obvious solution to keeping the peace in the city,” Raiko said, folding his hands. “We need to arrest Lady Izumi.”
Mako opened his mouth to protest, but Raiko quickly held up his hand. “I know she’s close to your family. But that’s the exact reason that I need you to be the one to make the arrest. I think if you explain to her the position we’re in, she’ll understand and not resist.”
“But she was–”
“Bloodbending on United Republic soil. We have video of it, and she admits as much. If we don’t react to that, the people are going to think we’ve lost control.”
We have lost control. Mako gripped the rounded edges of the wooden chair so tightly, it felt like he could turn it to sawdust. “The woman is over eighty years old. The penalty for bloodbending is thirty years in jail. You convict her, it’s a death sentence. Plus–” Now it was his turn to get a word in before Raiko could interrupt. “You do realize that if she wanted to resist, there’s not much I can do about it?”
Raiko narrowed his eyes. “You think she would bloodbend you?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.” He didn’t think she would at all. In fact, he agreed with Raiko that if Izumi actually thought people’s lives were at risk from the riots, she would comply right away. But that just made the whole thing worse.
“Listen, son, I know this isn’t simple. But it’s your duty as police chief to do the tough jobs. The city needs you.”
Mako shook his head. This is wrong, and you know it. She didn’t do anything dangerous. She was just trying to save Tenna from falling. But to Raiko, he only straightened and said, “Yes, sir. I think I know where she might be. But if you don’t mind, I’d like to get some sleep first. I’m going to need all my strength.”
“You don’t believe she’ll run, do you?”
She wouldn’t, and they both knew it. But Raiko wouldn’t be Raiko if he didn’t cover his own behind by asking Mako the question. “No, sir, she won’t.”