Shyu could tell Mica had something important to say to him. It read in everything from the way she kept her gaze fixated on him to the way she half-walked, half-pushed through the crowd to get to him. Navigating through the traffic of students waiting to be picked up from school was never a simple feat, but she was managing it pretty effectively.
The trouble was, Shyu was in no mood to talk. He’d given his speech on bloodbending only last period, and it was everything people expected of him–factual, objective, and with surprisingly little opinion on the morality of anything. He hadn’t joined with the crowd and brought more shame on his family, but he hadn’t defended any of them, either. And for that, Shyu felt like he had betrayed his grandmother as much as Varrick had.
“Hey, Shyu, we need to chat.” Mica was talking to him now. Shyu looked at her and tried his best to appear extremely interested in her words. He had a feeling he was failing miserably.
“Listen, I talked with Rina–” Mica began.
Mica looked ready to punch him in the face. “Um, that girl you dragged into the school office and defended from the principal’s kid?” he said. “Sound familiar?”
Shyu nodded quickly, and he noticed her left arm lower an inch. Flames, maybe she really would have punched him.
“Great,” she said. Then she looked nervously around, and her voice got noticeably more quiet. “Well, I was talking to her and four of her…friends. They’re all…skilled benders. Like your great-grandfather was. But…not like your dad.”
You mean they’re bloodbenders. Shyu wasn’t sure how subtle that was, but since the nearest group of students was at least twenty feet away and very centered around its own conversation, he wasn’t too concerned about it.
“Okay, that’s…interesting,” he said. “Why mention it to me?”
“Because they wanted me to talk to you. They’re worried about your family. They think someone might have interfered with Varrick’s editing, but they don’t know who could have–”
Rage built inside Shyu. The feeling was all too familiar now, like something felt wrong if he didn’t lash out at least once every few hours. “Again, why talk to me? If they think there’s some big conspiracy going on, they’re free to look into it.”
Mica’s arm went tense again. “What are you mad about?” she hissed, still visibly aware that the place wasn’t empty. “I mean, it’s your family they’re trying to help here, and you sound like they’re some sort of nuisance in your royal schedule.”
“Maybe I’m sick of everyone looking to me for the royal family’s official stance on things!” Shyu hissed right back. Not as quietly as Mica had; he got a few head turns and had to wait a painfully annoying block of time for everyone to go back to their own conversation. “Did you know that the principal, the vice-principal, and a representative from the school board all walked in to hear my speech today? Said they were ‘observing’ Ms. Shiro’s class, but somehow my speech was the only one they stuck around for. I can’t take this level of pressure anymore, Mica. I just can’t.” As the words left his mouth, the tension felt like it multiplied ten-fold. Shyu gritted his teeth and tried to hold himself together, but his body quivered with cold and frustration until he felt like his inside were about to explode.
“I need to take a walk,” he said, and hurried through the crowds away from the school before Mica got the chance to call after him.
Shyu kept his pace brisk and steady. Yes, he was technically walking off school property when he wasn’t supposed to. Yes, Aunt Zarah would probably wring his neck for walking into town on his own. But, yes, he really, really need some space to himself right now.
Shyu leaned against a metal fence just outside the Flare Ton Hotel. He couldn’t ignore the possibility that his grandmother had been set up somehow. But if not by Varrick, as Mica so passionately insisted, then who?
Whoever it is will pay for messing with our family, he thought he heard Zuko whispering. He shook it off and pulled his coat closer around him. He needed to think; needed to get a target for that anger before he lashed it out at someone.
“Hey, baby, come on! We’re out in public, here!”
Shyu cringed. Being in his own little world didn’t work so well when other people were barging their way in. He looked up and saw some tall guy in a black jacket not-at-all resisting the tender nuzzling of the girl on his arm. Shyu rolled his eyes and was about to make a detour down a side street, but a second glance told him that both the guy in the jacket and his girlfriend looked familiar. He narrowed his eyes at her bouncing, blonde curls. Yeah, that was the girl Honey from the commercial that Mica had been so worked up about. But then, why did her guy look familiar?
Shyu tried to keep his head low as the two lovebirds continued planting their lips on each others’ neck and ears until Mr. Black Jacket escorted Honey up the hotel’s steps and into the lobby. It was only a few minutes later that he emerged again, his arm empty, but his face full of self-satisfaction.
Oh, flames! Shyu thought as recognition flowed through him. That’s Mica’s boyfriend, Dino!
He didn’t know why he didn’t recognize it before. The jacket should have been a dead giveaway. But what was the guy doing here? And why was he with that other girl?
Because he’s a lying piece of dragon dung, that’s why. The conclusion brought Shyu out his quiet and inconspicuous stance. Mica had nonstop problems with people not trusting her because of her powers. She barely trusted anyone else because of it. Now the guy, the one guy she opened herself to was out here treating her trust like garbage.
Shyu gritted his teeth. Mica wanted him to voice his real opinion on something? This seemed like as good a time as any to start.
“Hey, stupid!” he called out.
Amusingly enough, Dino turned around. “You talking to me, kid?”
“What do you think, moron?” Shyu quickly realized that his insult lexicon was pretty small. He backed it up with a raised fist. He could feel heat rising to his fingers, begging him to firebend at this jerk’s pretty face. “You lowlife, cheating…how dare you do that to Mica!”
Dino raised his own fist, and Shyu tried to remember if Mica had said anything about the guy being a bender or not. But then, Dino narrowed his eyes at Shyu’s face.
“Hey, I know you. You’re that Fire Nation Prince…Zu-something? No, Shi-something. Shii…yu?”
“It’s Shyu!” Shyu thrust his fist forward, a line of flame just barely missing Dino’s face. The guy quickly held up his hands. “Whoa, whoa! Relax, dude! I ain’t starting a fight with royalty.”
He dusted off his jacket sleeve, looking it over for any singe marks. Shyu’s fingers twitched, aching to firebend again. Images of Dino engulfed in flames leapt into his brain, and he smiled. He could almost hear the guy’s pitiful scream as he burned to death…
Shyu gasped and shook off the vision. What in Sozin’s name is wrong with me? Do I actually want to kill him over this?
He lowered his shaking hands, an action that didn’t go unnoticed by Dino. The guy’s stance when from nervous to full-out confident once again. “By the way,” he said, winking and pointing at Shyu. “Nice job crashing that coronation. You and Mica put on one heck of a show. Though next time you tell my crazy ex not to scratch up the bike so bad.”
“Ex?” Shyu’s throat felt dry. Was he mistaken? Had Dino and Mica broken up? But if they had, why hadn’t Mica mentioned it? “When did that happen?”
“Um, I’m gonna say it was when I stopped calling her weeks ago,” Dino said. Then he snorted out a laugh. “You seriously telling me she hasn’t gotten the hint yet? Man! Guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I mean, she’s not exactly the brightest star in the sky.”
The images leapt back to Shyu’s brain again, stronger this time, trying to push any rational thought away. Attack him!
“You shut your mouth!” Shyu yelled, no longer sure if he was shouting at Dino or Zuko.
Dino raised his hands. “Hey, like I said, your highness, I don’t want any trouble. If anything, you should be thanking me.”
“Thanking you?” The sheer bizarreness of the suggestion pulled Shyu backed to reality, at least for a few moments. “You hurt my friend. Why would I thank you?”
“For giving you fair warning before you got in too deep with Mica.” Dino threw up his hands like this was the most obvious thing in the universe. “Sure she’s pretty and rich and…” he gave Shyu a lewd smirk as he cleared his throat, “…talented. But she’s also a complete nut-case just like the rest of her family. I’m telling you, your highness, you do not want to get involved with them. Between her rock-headed dad, her psychotic mom with her explosives, her training, and her attack dogs…”
He took a moment to shudder at the memories before he continued, “What a nightmare. I’m lucky I got out when I did, before that crazy hag decided to turn back into a weapon and blow off my head or something. And if not her, then Mica’s Uncle, Mr. Follows-the-rules-when-he-feels-like-it chief of police. You know that jerk had my bike impounded twice because he didn’t like me? And don’t even get me started on that Varrick guy. He may not be Mica’s real uncle, but he fits right in with those crazies. Take my advice, Prince. No matter how sweet Mica looks at you, or whatever else she promises, she’s totally not worth the trouble.”
Shyu opened his mouth, but before he could process so much as a thought (let alone a sound), another voice said from behind him, “Is that really how you feel?”
The voice was scratchy, and it broke at the end of the question. Nothing like Mica’s usual confident declarations. But it came from her all the same. Dino’s face went white; Shyu slowly turned around, not sure he wanted to see. Mica was at the corner, steadying herself on the fence, her body quivering as much as her voice.
“Oh, crap…” Shyu heard Dino whisper behind him. There was genuine fear in the guy’s voice, and Shyu couldn’t blame him. From here, it wasn’t clear if Mica planned to break down sobbing or make something explode.
“Mica,” Shyu said, as calmly as he could. “What are you doing here?”
“Well, your aunt sure isn’t driving me home solo.” Shyu winced, not realizing he’d been out here long enough for his aunt to arrive at school already. But that was hardly the main concern here. Mica turned her attention to her ex-boyfriend, still struggling to keep her voice steady. “Answer my question. Now.”
It wasn’t a real threat. Shyu could tell when Mica was putting her full muscle behind something, and this wasn’t it. And if Dino had known Mica for any length of time, he could tell, too. Shyu decided he’d had enough of standing between the two and stepped off to the side, watching Dino. The guy looked around at the not-so-empty sidewalks nearby, and it seemed to give him a confidence boost. He grinned and straightened his jacket.
“Yeah. I meant it.” He made as if to turn his back on her, but froze mid-step when she spoke again, her voice soft and dangerous.
“So. Everything you ever told me. Those nights we spent together. It was all…just a lie. Did you ever even love me at all?”
“Oh, please,” Dino said, with a roll of his eyes. “Stop being dramatic and get over yourself. In this business you either sink or swim, and babe, you’ve been sinking since you screwed things up with Cabbage Corp. I should have just left then and cut my losses. But no, I was stupid and tried to make things work–even after you made a flaming fool of yourself in front of the Four Nations at Firelord Iroh’s coronation. I ‘thought’ Varrick’s connections would be worth it.” He snorted with laughter again. The guy was starting to sound like a chicken-pig that happened to own a motorcycle. “What a joke. I put up with that eccentric uncle of yours for weeks. Weeks, Mica! You know, I still have no idea what ‘do the thing’ actually means!”
This time, he did turn his back on her, with the full confidence of someone who knew he had won. “Whatever,” he muttered. “It’s done now, and thank the stars for that.” He took a sideways glance at Shyu as he started walking, and Shyu got the uncomfortable feeling that he was a host being sized up by a parasite. Apparently, though, his defense of Mica gave Dino pause.
Mica took a step forward and for one horrifying second, Shyu thought she might actually aim an explosion at his head. He shoved away the voice inside him that said it would be a beautiful thing to see. Whatever moral debate Mica was having about it, her sorrow won out over her anger. Her reddening eyes overflowed with tears as she sank onto her knees and buried her face in her hands. Shyu felt the uncomfortable sensation of several passersby staring at the scene, no doubt reading all the wrong things into it. Mica did nothing to help their assumptions as she buried her hands in her hair and rocked back and forth on her heels as the tear continued to flow.
Dino scoffed. “See what I mean? A nutcase. I’m outta here.” And with that, he headed down the street.
Shyu almost ran after him. He hated the guy more than he could explain. That pompous attitude–like he had power over every person in the universe, when in truth, he’d only had power over one. And that power he’d abused just because he could, because he knew that no one except Mica would put up with his crap. Shyu wanted to burn him down for that. But then he heard Mica crying again. He turned around and saw that they weren’t alone; Aunt Zarah was kneeling by Mica’s side, stroking her shoulder, speaking softly to her.
“I’m so sorry, Mica. I’m so sorry.”
Mica sniffled and rubbed her eyes. “They warned me,” she said through a forced smile. “My parents knew he was no good, but I didn’t want to hear them. I can read body language, but I didn’t listen, like an idiot. He used me and I let him, like an idiot. And I’m just…an idiot!” Her fake smile shattered as she let out a wail. “And I sound like my dad!” Mica threw her head back and cried, loud and hard and shrill until her sobs escalated into shrieks. She screamed so loud her voice started to give out. Shyu kept looking around them. People were whispering and pointing at them now; it wasn’t an impossibility that one of them might actually go and call the police. Not exactly what they needed right now.
“Please, Mica. Stop,” Shyu begged. But she didn’t. She kept crying until her voice was hoarse from strain. For a second, Shyu wanted to yell at her, to tell her to just pull it together and stop embarrassing all of them. For a second, he wanted to talk to her just like his dad always talked to him.
Shyu flushed with anger at himself. He was stupid, so stupid. Why did his aunt have to come all the way up here to do the most obvious thing, to comfort Mica and ignore the loser who’d hurt her? Dino was trash, and everyone knew what you did with trash–you threw it out and forgot about it. If Mica needed a little help in that department, it wasn’t Shyu’s job to judge her. It was his job to help her.
By then half the hotel residents were peering out their windows to watch the spectacle below. Shyu glared daggers at them as he slipped an arm under Mica’s shoulder and helped her up, as she had once done for him. “Come on,” he said calmly. “Let’s get you home.”
She didn’t argue. Didn’t fight him. Didn’t even seem to care.