A few minutes later, there was a knock at the door. Iroh watch Tenna stood up as if she expected to answer it, and then sit back down when she apparently remembered this wasn’t her house. The sound of a servant’s footsteps tapped across the hall to the front door. There was the groan of heavy hinges, then a pleasant exchange of voices before the footsteps made their way back to the sitting room. Two familiar women turned the corner.
“Marah! Nanami!” Iroh exclaimed happily. “I’m so happy to see you both safe!” Iroh rose and hugged his sister, who playfully pinched his cheeks and tussled his hair, reminding him why he didn’t hug her that often.
How is it that she twelve years younger than me and treats me like the family baby?
He straightened and cleared his throat. “Thank you for bringing her here, Avatar. Chief Mako,” he said, with a professional nod and they too stepped into view. “I take it the Fire Sages are also safe?”
Mako opened his mouth to speak, but Marah jumped in ahead of him. “The cops are still getting everyone back to their rooms at the Four Elements. But since you live so far out of the way, this fine, strapping man made sure to personally escort Nanami and I home.” She stepped back and patted Mako on the shoulder, an action that he seemed more than a little uncomfortable with. Iroh felt sorry for the guy. When Marah noticed that her teasing bothered someone, her first instinct was to do it all the more.
“I see,” Iroh said, narrowing his eyes at her before turning his attention to Korra. “What about you, Avatar? Aren’t you staying at the Four Elements, too?”
“Hmm?” Korra said, as if she’d forgotten she was in the room. “Oh, yeah, I am. But I had something I wanted to show you guys first.” She reached into the pouch she had slung over her shoulder and pulled out a Mason jar with something glowing inside of it. It almost looked to Iroh like some embers she must have scooped up from a dying fire. But when he got a closer look, he saw it was something like a beetle-wasp, translucent, clearly from the spirit world but looking like it had seen better days.
Korra sat the jar on the table, and Bolin tapped the glass curiously. This resulted in the beetle-wasp rearing up like a snake and hissing at him. Bolin jumped backwards and hid behind his wife.
“So…what is this?” Tenna asked.
“This is the dragon spirit that attacked Republic City tonight,” Korra said.
A look a pure confusion passed over everyone’s faced, though it did not seemed to bother Korra terribly much. In fact, she almost seemed happy about it.
“It got smaller the more it fought outside the portal,” she said. Then it got on my arm for a little bit and I could feel it trying to attach itself like some kind of parasite. I froze it in a block of ice, and it got much more cooperative.” She grinned at her own cleverness, but no else seemed to join in the gesture.
“And you’re telling us this because…?” Iroh prompted.
Korra shrugged her shoulders. “Well, odds are this only followed the kids out of the spirit portal because it was looking for a host,” Korra explained. “So, if you think about it, since I’m the one who ripped open the spirit portal to begin with, that whole disaster of a coronation was actually my fault.”
She smiled way too broadly, an expression which died quickly when she realized no one was joining her.
Iroh rubbed the bridge of his nose. “I appreciate that you’re concerned about the kids,” he said. “But no matter what this thing is, it doesn’t excuse their behavior today.” He stared over at his sister, who was paying much more attention to her nails than she was to the parasitic spirit in the jar. Iroh inwardly groaned.
“Speaking of which,” he forced himself to say, “may I have a private word with you, Marah?”
Mica got her own dose of bad news the next morning. In retrospect, Tenna wondered, maybe it would have been better to simply call her down as soon as she and Bolin had spoken with Iroh and his family. But it was late, and Mica had been pretty wiped out from all her bending…
Perhaps it didn’t matter. This conversation was destined to end badly no matter what time of day they’d chosen to have it.
“No! That’s not fair!” Mica slammed her fist down on the table so hard that Tenna actually heard a few dishes shatter in the adjoining room. “You can’t just ship me off like this!”
“It’s only for a few months, Mica. Just until things calm down with the press.” Bolin, bless him, was doing his best to be assuring. He never did like when they argued. He even held up the morning’s newspaper, complete with the worst possible photos of Mica and Shyu, as some strange sort of peace offering–proof that spending time with Princess Marah in the Fire Nation really was the better alternative. If only a newspaper and a few calm words was all it would take.
“Your father’s right. It’s only temporary,” Tenna broke in, voice unwavering even as her daughter blinked back frustrated tears. If anyone here should be frustrated, it’s us. “And thank the stars for that. After the stunt you pulled, you’re lucky we weren’t thrown out of the city.” She narrowed her eyes. “Where did you even get that contraption, anyway?”
“It’s called a motorcycle, Mom. And it’s none of your darn business where I got it.”
Mica stood, clenching and unclenching her fists. She was itching to blow up something, no doubt. Had the situation not been so serious, Tenna might have indulged her. Heck, she might even have joined Mica on the course. Even Tenna had to admit combusting targets into tiny pieces was excellent stress relief.
But now was not the time. And she certainly wasn’t about to give Mica any leeway after a smart alec remark like that. “Sit down, we’re not done.”
Mica made a dismissive huffing sound and turned to go. Flames help her, she actually started to leave.
Tenna stood, fast as a thunderbolt, and planted both palms on the table, every muscle in her quavering with Fire Nation temper. “I said sit!” She looked her daughter square in the eye. Her voice was low and steely, like the warning growl of a predator. “I will not give another warning.”
Mica sat. Tenna could see some of her rage had dissipated and been replaced with apprehension. Mica had good instincts at least. She could always tell when Tenna tapped back into her weapon training. And though Tenna had never gone into detail about her past, her daughter seemed to sense that this version of her mother was not a force to trifle with. Ever.
She was right.
Tenna continued, keeping her voice firm. “I’ve been more then patient with you, Mica. I’ve put up with your tantrums and your disrespect. Paid for all your damages. I even let you traipse around with that boy doing flames knows what–in my own house.”
Mica’s face reddened at that. Tenna could see shock mixed with shame.
Shame at being caught, maybe. Not for her choice. Beside her, Tenna saw Bolin look away in disappointment, which only made Mica blush harder.
Tenna pushed on, heedless of Mica’s humiliation. As far as she was concerned, she deserved to be embarrassed.
“I sat by and let you run wild…because I couldn’t stand the thought of anyone, including myself, holding you back from experiencing new things. I wanted you to be able to grow and make your own choices–even if they were reckless.” Tenna swallowed hard. “I thought you were sensible enough to actually learn from your mistakes. But obviously I was wrong. After what you did—flames, Mica! You could have killed someone!”
Mica’s fists clenched. “You think I wanted this to happen? You were the ones who made me go to that stupid coronation. And I never would have gone in the portal if some stupid spirit didn’t steal my bike. For crying out loud, Mom, it almost ate me! I had to–”
“No! No more excuses!” Tenna sliced the air with he hand with dramatic force. “It’s time you started taking responsibility for your actions!”
Flames, hadn’t Izumi given her the exact same lecture once? She’d laugh at the irony if she wasn’t so darn angry.
“Now get upstairs and start packing. The ferry to the Fire Nation leaves first thing tomorrow, and you are going to be on it with or without your things.”
Mica looked on the verge of crying. And not her fake, actress crying either. These were real tears. It seemed the reality of things was finally sinking in.
“But–I can’t–” She looked to her father, a final searching glance hoping for some glimmer of support. “Dad…please. Don’t make me do this…”
Bolin didn’t budge. Not for this. As much as he hated seeing their daughter so upset, he knew just like Tenna did that if things carried on like they were, Mica was going to get seriously hurt. Or worse.
“I’m sorry, sweetheart…but this is for the best.”
He reached over and gripped Tenna’s shoulder as if reinforcing his support. She wouldn’t lie, she was grateful for that. Having him by her side gave her hope they’d come through this.
Mica clenched her fists, fighting back a sob. “I hate you!” she spat, her voice on the verge of frenzy. “I’m never talking to you ever again!” Then she was gone. Tenna could hear her feet pounding up the stairs, then a door slammed. The kind of slam that left cracks in the wall.
Tenna stayed still for a long while afterwords staring at the palce where her daughter had been a moment ago. Bit by bit her weapon poise dissolved away, leaving her numb.
My own daughter hates me. She tried not to let the words sting. Mica was hot-tempered. She’d come back around, just like she always did. And still, Tenna felt some part deep inside of her ache with sorrow.
Bolin leaned over from behind and wrapped his arms around her shoulders. “Did we do the right thing?” he asked. He wanted assurance. Wanted her to tell him everything was going to be okay, just like she always did. But as hard as she tried to think of the logical, sensible words that would make everything fine again, Tenna could pry her thoughs away from Mica.
I was just trying to be a good mother. What did I do wrong? Tenna leaned her head into her hands and shivered. Then to Bolin’s surprise and her own she started to cry.