Tenna declined to participate in the docu-movery right away, and Iroh had to admit, he wasn’t upset at the news. His mother certainly seemed relieved, adding on that “the poor woman has been through enough without that nincompoop Varrick bringing up bad memories and displaying them on film.” Even though Iroh had not gone with his mother to free the combustionbenders back then, he knew enough of their story to understand why Tenna would decline sharing it.
He also felt guilty, wishing he had gone with her. Out of moral duty, to a point, but part of him couldn’t help but wonder if his reputation wouldn’t be so terrible now if he had gone. The whole story of his role in taking back Sunport was a joke. Based on the witness accounts, he struggled to take the city, even with his army and the Fire Nation army backing him up. Only when the voidbender Nanami helped disable the bloodbenders did he finally gain the upper hand.
There was so much more to it than that, but of course, since it involved his mother’s bloodbending, he couldn’t share a word it.
He sighed and shook his head. At least Tenna was escaping Varrick’s incessant demands. When the man had said that the interview would take “just a few moments of your majesty’s time”, Iroh had taken the statement at face value. Apparently, that was a terrible mistake. Iroh had done interviews before, of course. After smoothing over the incident with the spirit attacks on the coronation, he considered himself quite an expert. Press conferences, radio talk shows, the works. This was his first time interviewing on camera, however, and it was quite a different experience.
“Do the lights have to be that bright?” he asked, shielding his eyes while a workman fiddled with the equipment.
Varrick sighed dramatically. “Well, of course they do! How else do you expect the camera to see you?”
“Um, because it’s a nice day and the sun is out?” Iroh guessed.
Varrick pointed angrily at him. “The sun is the great destroyer of perfect shots! That moment when your actor had that flawless look of perfection nailed down? Bam! Now it looks like her face got eaten by a dark spirit because of all the shadows. No, sir, the sun is my arch nemesis. Give me artificial light any day!” With that, he signaled, and the camera crew readjusted the light’s angle so that it went past Iroh’s hand and back into his face.
“Also, about my outfit…” Iroh said. He motioned to his “Firelord robes”, which instead of the standard deep crimson were now a sort of cherry red color with bright yellow suns and phoenixes on it. The crown he wore was also a prop crown, about twice the size of the real one. “This isn’t exactly…” Varrick looked at him expectantly. “…authentic,” he finally finished.
Varrick shrugged off the concern. “If movers were about authenticity, Nuktuk would be a lavabender, now wouldn’t he?” He snapped his fingers. “Start rolling, people!”
The camera made an off sort of clicking sound that gradually picked up speed, and Iroh could only assume that said sound was completely normal. He tried straightening in his chair, although it was not easy, as that was a cheap prop as well, made to look like an exaggerated version of the Firelord’s throne. Varrick had a director’s chair set up opposite, and once the camera was working, he took a seat and leaned forward.
“First of all, Firelord Iroh, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us.”
“Huh? Oh, um, sure.” Iroh found his thoughts quickly wandering. How was Shyu doing right now? Had the kids reached Marah’s safely? What were things going to be like at school for them, with all the news broadcasts going around?
Varrick snapped his fingers in Iroh’s face. “Okay, focus here,” he whispered. Then, loudly, and with a look of plastered sorrow, he said, “So, your highness, I know this is difficult, but tell me about the moment when Lord Zuko died.”
“What? Why do you want to know that?”
Varrick groaned. “I’m going for drama. So dramatize. If you could cry, that would be a great bonus.” He looked at the cameraman. “We’re not putting that in there. We’re gonna cut that out.” The camera nodded and made some notes while Varrick put his very-serious-and-sad face back on.
“Anytime you’re ready,” he murmured.
“Well, I…wasn’t actually there when my grandfather died,” Iroh said. “He passed in his sleep at his home on Ember Island. I got the message on the phone a few hours later.”
“Yes, but what did you feel knowing he had passed without you, his only grandson by his side?”
“I…was sad, of course. But he knew I loved him. And I kept visiting as often as I could. I think we had a very good relationship.”
Varrick gave a long sigh.
Mica sped Clunker all the way to the harbor. Not because she was in any sort of hurry to get there. More that she knew breaking a few traffic laws would make her parents angry. What were they going to do about it? Ground her?
Admittedly she was at least in a better mood now. Yesterday in the middle of a tear-filled, packing-rage Dino had surprised her with a visit. They had a long talk (well, mostly he just sat there while she ranted on about everything that had happened) and afterwards he pulled her into his arms and held her close.
“It’s not all bad, babe. You didn’t get eaten by a dragon-spirit. Your bike is fixable, and you said your Uncle is going to give me a job.
“Yeah but–” She forced down a sob. “I don’t want to go to the Fire Nation.” She sounded so pathetic and childish that Dino actually laughed.
“Oh, don’t be so dramatic, Mica. You’re not getting shipped off to prison. You’ll be living it up with the royal family.”
“Trust me, babe. In a few days you’ll be lying on a beach sipping drinks in the sun. And by the time you get back, I’ll have your Uncle Varrick eating out of the palm of my hand.”
Mica forced out a laugh. “I don’t think it’s going to be that easy, Dino. You don’t know my Uncle Varrick. He can be a bit…eccentric.”
Dino waved her off. “Sure it will. You know why?”
His mouth crooked into a devilish smile. “Because I’ve got you to back me up.” He kissed her deeply, melting away the last traces of her anger as he mumbled in her ear. “My fierce, strong, beautiful woman…”
Dino spent the night in her room. It wasn’t the first time he had. But this was the first time Mica had insisted he stay even though her folks were home. There was no point in trying to be sneaky anymore, she decided, since her stupid mom apparently knew everything there was to know about everything she did all the time.
The harbor was crowded with people when she arrived. Mostly royal guards but also an impressive mob of sign-waving protesters. Her Uncle Mako and his police units were there, too, trying to keep the crowd at a reasonable distance. When someone in the mob spotted Mica, a portion of them tried to block her approach. Mica blared her horn at them, not slowing. They scattered like spooked viper-rats, some even having to fling themselves into the water. Ha! Served them right!
Clunker screeched to a halt a few yards from the dock. Shyu and his family had already arrived. Mica saw Shyu give a small wave. Lady Izumi smiled and nodded.
A third woman–Shyu’s aunt, most likely–gave a bark of laughter. “Now there’s a girl who knows how to make an entrance.”
Iroh, Kaja, Yuki and Kiki stopped what they were doing to gawk at her but didn’t look nearly as amused.
Mica pushed her sunglasses to her head and hopped gracefully over her non-opening car door. Bandit followed, bounding onto her shoulders and squeaking with excitement. At least her folks had allowed her to bring him along.
They drove up a minute later in the four-seater wagon Aunt Asami had loaned. Her mom sat stiffly in the passenger seat, hands gripping the dash so fiercely her knuckles were white. Her father was at the wheel,
“Sure are a lot of people here…” he was commenting, as he leaned his head out the driver-side window to get a look at the scattering protesters.
“Bolin! The road!” her mom snapped, to which her father jerked back and slammed on the breaks.
Uncle Mako came over, eyeballing the mountain of luggage her parents had stuffed in the back seat and lashed to the roof of their vehicle. He glowered at Mica next. “You were supposed to pack light.”
“I did,” she said as she pulled Bandit’s basket bed and a duffle of his favorite toys and treats out of her car trunk. “You gonna give me a hand or not?”
Mako grunted but took two more suitcases, Mica’s clothes this time, out of Clunker’s back seat.
On her way up the ramp onto the ferry, Shyu stepped up and offered to take one of her items. She didn’t really need the help but shrugged and handed him Bandit’s bed anyway.
“You didn’t tell me you had a pet,” he said as they ascended the loading ramp side-by-side. “What’s the little guy’s name?”
“His name’s Bandit.”
When they reached the deck, two ship workers whisked the luggage away leaving them free to chat. When Shyu reached out a nervous hand to offer Bandit a head scratch, Mica pulled her pet off her shoulders and set him in Shyu’s arms.
“Go ahead, say hello.”
Bandit squeaked. He climbed up Shyu’s chest and danced about his shoulders as Shyu squirmed uncertainly, trying to figure out what to do with himself. Then, finally, he fished a pack of crackers out of one pocket and proceeded to feed them to Bandit as the little animal perched on Shyu’s shoulder.
“I’ve never met a volcat before. Aren’t they supposed to be feral?” Shyu asked, smiling when Bandit insisted on licking the cracker crumbs off his fingers.
“Bandit’s only half volcat, on his mom’s side,” Mica explained. “We might even run into her over in the Fire Nation. Shouga likes to hang around the Fire Palace grounds.”
“Oh,” said Shyu. “Aunt Marah doesn’t live in the palace.” He kicked the floor a little. “She and the rest of my family don’t exactly see eye to eye.”
A rebel princess? Maybe Dino was right. Maybe this trip wouldn’t be so bad.
Somewhere on the deck behind her she heard the captain complaining about time, so she left Bandit with Shyu to go get the rest of her things. On her way back down the loading ramp, she passed Uncle Mako, who was chatting with Marah.
“Sorry about this,” he was saying. “I know my niece can be…difficult.”
Difficult. Mica wanted to spit. This coming from one of the most annoyingly difficult people in the entire city!
“She’s just letting off steam. Nothing wrong with that, is there?” Marah winked at him suggestively and Mako…did he actually just smile? Eww!
Mica strolled up beside them, deliberately bumping shoulders with Mako as she did so.
“Ah, I see you’ve met my uncle.” She grinned at Marah. “Did he tell you how his two ex-girlfriends are dating each other?”
Mako’s face turned bright crimson. “Mica!”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Uncle. Am I being difficult again?”
Mako didn’t have a good answer, so he just looked away and muttered, “I’m going to go see if your father needs help.”
When he had gone far enough away, Marah raised a brow. “Not very subtle, are you, dear?”
“Nope. Not in the slightest, princess.”
“I’d actually prefer if you didn’t call me ‘princess,'” said Marah with only the slightest disapproving undertone. It was almost refreshing, actually. Normally when people wanted to scold her, there was a lot more shouting.
“Okay,” Mica agreed, since Marah was being so polite. “I won’t call you princess…if you don’t call me ‘dear.'”
When all her luggage was on board her family gathered on the docks to wish Mica farewell.
“Stay out of trouble,” said Uncle Mako in a tone that was more warning than goodbye. Her father came next, eyes welling with tears. He threw his arms around her blubbering. “My baby girl! We’re gonna miss you soooo much!”
“It’s not too late to change your mind…” she coaxed, putting on her pathetic face. It almost worked for about two seconds, until her mother came up beside him.
She held out her palm, gesturing for Mica’s car keys. Bitter rage flared again as she handed them over.
Her mother saw this. And even though she could always tell when Mica didn’t want to be touched, she came forward and hugged her feather-softly.
“I love you, Mica,” she said. “I hope you know that.”
Mica didn’t reply. She kept her arms stiffly at her sides, refusing to return the embrace. A horn blared. The ship was getting ready to leave. Mica turned on her heels. She strode towards the loading ramp with her back straight and her chin high and didn’t once look back.