Shyu yawned and rubbed his hands through his hair. It was never particularly neat, but first thing in the morning it tended to be especially evil. He sometimes got it to calm down by applying some heat from his hands to it, but when he tried it this morning, he ended up singeing a piece instead, causing the whole room to smell less than pleasant.
He stood up and grabbed his toothbrush and toothpaste from his bag. No, nothing was going to push him down today. Especially not this early. Besides, he almost never got his bending to produce heat that strong before. So, really, burning a piece of his hair was sort of a good thing.
He still wanted to get into the bathroom to try to make it look a little less like he’d stuck his hair in toaster this morning. And that proved to be the second challenge of the day. Aunt Marah, despite being a Fire Nation princess, only had two bathrooms — one for herself, and one for everyone else.
“Um, hello?” Shyu called out, tapping lightly on the door. It was still pretty early; the sun was barely up. How had someone else gotten in before him? “Aunt Marah, you in there?”
“Nope, try again,” Mica’s voice called out.
“Um, you’re up already?” Shyu asked.
“Yeah, I am. How come you are?”
Because I was hoping for some space to unwind before my first day as a temporarily banished prince. “I… like my quiet time in the morning,” he admitted. “Gives me a chance to, you know, relax and plan out my day.”
“Ah, that’s nice!” she called back. He glanced down at the bottom of the door where her shadow blocked the light as she moved back and forth. “Well, hate to tell you, but my morning time tends to be a bit more active than that.” The door flew open. Steam poured out from the shower and instantly fogged up Shyu’s glasses. He reached up to wipe them off, then found he was struggling to breathe. The entire bathroom smelled like chemicals. He coughed and backed up, waving his hand in front of his face.
“Is all that stuff really necessary?” he said. When the fog cleared, Mica stood there, her hair all up in some girly doo with lots of… whatever it was called when girls curled their hair and sprayed it until it was solidified in place. She was still wearing a bathrobe and pajama pants, and Shyu might have found her incredibly attractive if he wasn’t otherwise occupied with being irritated at her.
“It is necessary that I don’t look like a slob?” Mica asked. “Yeah, it kinda is.” She stepped out and looked over his face. “What happened to your hair?”
“None of your business,” he shot back. Then, realizing he didn’t have a whole lot of options, he pushed past her into the bathroom and opened the window. The steam started to drift out, and the chemical smell lessened, but not by nearly the amount he would have liked.
“I’ll meet you downstairs for breakfast,” she called out. “You can explain to me how Fire Nation breakfast cereal works. Do you guys set it on fire or pour milk on it before eating?”
“I… we, uh…” he stuttered, completely unable to tell if she was being sarcastic or not.
She laughed and waved at him and she walked back to her room. “Never mind. I’ll try it both ways and see how it works.”
Shyu’s face flooded with heat. Yeah, sarcastic. She was definitely sarcastic.
Shyu had himself cleaned up and downstairs in not nearly as long as he’d expected. He found that Mica had made herself more than comfortable in Aunt Marah’s living room. She was sitting on the love seat in front of the PB, a bowl of cereal on a small table in front of her and a spoon in her mouth as she flipped through the channels. She didn’t let any one channel keep its place for long and followed a pattern of changing it, pulling the spoon from her mouth, scooping up more cereal, sticking the spoon back in her mouth, then flipping the channel again. Shyu descended the stairs slowly and carefully, as if trying to sneak past someone again.
“Yo,” she said with her mouth full.
He nodded at the back of her head. “Hi.”
She didn’t say anything else, so he fetched himself a bowl from the kitchen, poured some milk into it, then went out and picked up the cereal box from where she’d dropped it next to the love seat. He sat on the couch while Mica flipped the channel for at least the third time since he’d descended the stairs. This time it landed on some sort of morning talk show.
“…here with Iknic Blackstone Varrick,” the anchor was saying, “who is in the middle of a new production on the Fire Nation Royal Family.”
“You got it,” onscreen Varrick said, swiping the microphone from her. “And we at Varrick Industries couldn’t be more excited to be bringing this newer, more realistic brand of movers into the theaters. As I’m sure you’ve heard, my dear, Firelord Iroh has recently declared a national holiday in honor of Lord Zuko, and this mover will be premiering just in time to celebrate.”
The interviewer started to say something, but then realizing she no longer had the microphone, tried pointing to it and motioning for Varrick to return it. Instead, he turned back to the camera. “Why, thank you for asking! We do have a clip, as it turns out.” He snapped at someone off stage. “Zhu Li, make them do the thing!”
The scene then cut to a picture of Shyu’s dining room. It looked beautiful and elaborate as always; the place was generally for formal events rather than everyday meals. But there his dad was all the same, at the head of the table, while the camera zoomed in on him chewing awkwardly.
“…and here we have the Firelord eating a hot dog!” Varrick’s voice narrated. “Smile, Mr. Firelord!”
Shyu’s dad did try to smile. It was uncomfortable to watch.
“Urg, change it now!” he begged. Mica complied and then tossed him the remote muttering something about, “Don’t say I never share.” Shyu held it awkwardly while trying to balance the bowl of cereal on his lap. The next channel was showing some sort of preview for an upcoming musical mover. A teenage girl with a full head of blonde hair belted out notes and threw her arms dramatically towards the sky. She was dressed in Water Tribe gear, which looked kind of weird on her, and the notes left something to be desired.
“Urg, change it now!” Mica groaned. Shyu thought at first she was mocking him from earlier, but then he saw the disgusted look and her face and realized she was being completely genuine. He changed the channel, almost slipped his breakfast all over the floor, then reached forward and put the remote safely on the table near Mica.
The next channel was the news, as evidenced by the bold scrolling letters across the screen that read, “Breaking Report.”
“Republic City citizens are still cleaning up the mess after the spirit attack at Firelord Iroh’s coronation two nights ago,” the reporter announced. “Things started off badly when some unhappy protestors cut the power during a traditional history reading. But the evening may yet have been salvaged if not for the Firelord’s son and his motorcycle-riding female companion, now identified as the daughter of celebrated mover stars Bolin and Tenna…”
The image on the screen shifted revealing two photos side-by-side. The one on the right was a stiff-looking photo of Shyu posing in his royal attire, taken, Shyu recognized with disgust, the day before the coronation. The one on the left was one of Mica, posing, smiling, stunning. The kind of photo that looked like it had been taken (or stolen) out of her professional portfolio.
The images changed again, showing shaky footage that looked like it was being filmed from a tree or the top of a wall. In the distance there was a brief glimpse of the backs of Mica’s parents going inside their house. Then the camera wobbled and tilted down revealing three huge, snarling eel-hounds staring up at the, most likely terrified, reporter.
“Though Bolin and Tenna have declined to comment on the matter the Firelord had this to say…”
Now Dad was at a podium with a dozen microphones being bombarded by questions and more than a few jeers. “Be assured I in no way condone the children’s’ behavior and measures have been taken to ensure it will not happen again–”
“Urg!” Shyu and Mica both exclaimed at the same time. She reached for the remote while he grasped his bowl and reached for the off button on the PB itself. The thing clicked off and both of them sighed in relief.
“Sorry, I don’t think there’s anything interesting on,” Shyu said.
Mica shrugged. “Meh, it’s okay. Think I went through all the channels anyway.” For a few minutes, they sat and ate in silence, and Shyu got to enjoy the little pleasure of consuming breakfast without worrying if he was going to spill it all over Aunt Marah’s carpet. But after a while, the quiet only made things more awkward, and he found himself anxious for some conversation.
“So, why did you want to change the channel away from that girl singing?” he asked. “I thought you liked that stuff?”
Mica looked ready to crush her spoon in her hands. “I like seeing good singers,” she said. “Not Honey Gagmore pretending she can sing when it should have been me in that commercial.” She shoveled a bunch more cereal in her mouth and stared at the blank PB screen.
Shyu caught himself suppressing a smirk. He’d thought up until this point that nothing could bother Mica. Now it seemed he’d found her weak point.
“So, you’re jealous then?” he asked.
“No, no, no,” she said, rising and heading back to the kitchen with her now-empty bowl. “Bitter. The word you’re looking for is bitter.” She dumped the bowl in the sink, where it clattered against the other dishware like it was looking to start a ceramic war. “Now, come on, your highness. I’m pretty sure we don’t need the news reporting that we got kicked out of Republic City and then had the gall to miss the bus.”
Bolin found Tenna in their screening room, a reel of home movers playing. It wasn’t big by a screening room’s standards. They could seat ten people, maybe twelve if they squished. But the little theatre served their needs. Ironically, Tenna had been against building the room at first, arguing that they didn’t really need one, and Varrick had a perfectly good screening room that they could use any time. But Bolin eventually won her over, explaining that “part of the awesomeness of being rich was buying things that were just for fun.”
To prove his point, he had gone with the miniature screening room rather than the big one and shared the leftover money with Tenna so she could buy something impractical that she wanted. Tenna had surprised him, choosing to buy music lessons so she could learn the piano. She had gotten pretty good, too, over the years. Though with all the chaos going on this past year, she hand’t had much time to play.
Things will get better, he promised himself. Once Uncle Chow gets his act together and all this frenzy with the royal family settles down.
He couldn’t do much about Uncle Chow right at the moment. But the mess with the royal family, that was another story. True, he may have convinced Tenna not to do an interview (thank the stars), but that didn’t mean they couldn’t help in other ways.
“Hon?” he said.
Tenna turned around in her seat. “Oh. Bolin, I didn’t hear you come in.”
She rose and turned off the player, avoiding his eyes. Had she been crying?
“What have you got there?” she asked.
Bolin glanced down to the metal canister in his hands. “The rough edit of Varrick’s docu-movery. He wanted us to give a ‘completely brutal and unbiased opinion’ seeing as how we’re his number one stars and everything.”
“Oh,” she said. “That sounds like something he’d do.”
She slipped the home mover from the player and set the reel carefully back in its case before exchanging the tin with the one Bolin had.
He looked down, reading his own sloppy handwriting on the side. “Mica’s first birthday.” Memories of a time before Mica’s earthbending became more.
He felt his heart ache. The argument with Mica had shaken Tenna more then he had realized.
“It wasn’t your fault, you know,” he said gently.”None of this was.”
Tenna didn’t look up. “You say that. But if she hadn’t inherited my combustion… she’d be a normal happy teenager.”
In other words, not the kind of girl who sneaks off with princes or drives a motorcycle through the spirit world. “There’s no such thing as a ‘happy’ teenager, honey,” Bolin joked lightly. “And Mica was a handful even before her combustion emerged. Remember when she was four and she insisted on riding a big-girl-trike all by herself?”
Tenna sniffed a little.”How could I forget? She drove straight into a tree and needed six stitches in her arm.”
Bolin nodded, recalling the details as well. “We had to ride Shadow all the way to the hospital. And when we got there, Mica threw such a fit she nearly caved in the lobby. One of the nurses on another floor actually called the police.”
“Didn’t Mako faint when he came in?”
Bolin chuckled. “He sure did.”
“Was that before or after I yanked the doctor over the front desk?”
Tenna was smiling now. A weak smile but a smile nonetheless. “Any mother would have done the same.”
“Maybe,” Bolin allowed. “But I bet none of those mothers would build a training course in their backyard or risk her life every day to teach their child how to safely handle explosives.”
Tenna gave a little sigh. “I… suppose not.”
He took her hands in his, drawing her gaze to him. “I know you’re feeling insecure right now. But the truth is Mica and I would be lost without you, Tenna.” He squeezed her hands and she squeezed back. Her eyes glistened with tears and she wiped them away with a sleeve.
“Thanks, Bolin. I needed that.”
He smiled and kissed her gently. “What are husbands for?”
A poor choice of words, Bolin realized. He saw Tenna’s mouth quirk a little and he could practically hear her snarky and amusingly inappropriate reply. “Wait, don’t answer that,” he blurted, hesitated, reconsidered, then smirked coyly. “At least… not yet. I did sorta promise Varrick I’d call him back with our review of the movery this afternoon. And you know how he likes to barge in and check up on things when there are delays…”
Tenna arched an eyebrow, no doubt imagining the same scenario as he was. “That… would be awkward.”
Bolin cleared his throat. “Only… a lot.”
“I suppose we should get to reviewing, then.”
They sat side by side. Bolin draped an arm across her shoulders, and Tenna leaned into him as the reel began to play.
One thing Bolin could say about Varrick, he certainly did try to make Iroh look interesting. He tried really, really hard. Tenna wasn’t nearly as impressed with his work. She moved forward in her chair, her face getting more and more worried as the film went on. At long last, the reel sputtered to a stop, and the screen went to white. Bolin and Tenna sat in silence for a long while after.
“That was, um…” he started and found his brain couldn’t actually come up with a world to possibly describe the disaster they had just watched.
“It was awful!” Tenna answered. “Iron’s completely stiff and humorless…”
“Yeah, but… uh… the effects were decent, I guess,” he floundered.
They went quiet again for a long time, neither wanting to admit that, despite Varrick’s impressive efforts, the only thing this film would inspire was complete and utter boredom. And bored Fire Nationers could very easily become discontent Fire Nationers. The last thing Iroh needed.
Tenna rose stiffly. “We have to help them, Bolin.”
Bolin blinked. He didn’t understand. Wasn’t that what they were doing now? “What do you mean?”
“You know exactly what I mean.”
Bolin’s stomach fell. “No, honey. No, no, no. We’ve talked about this.” He stood and clutched her shoulders, forcing her to look him in the eye. “You can’t put yourself through this again… I won’t let you!”
“Bolin…” she whispered. “Izumi’s my friend. If it wasn’t for her I would have died, twice. She and Iroh are like family.”
Bolin sniffed. “I know, but–”
“We can’t abandon our family.”
Bolin pulled her into his arms and held on with all his strength. Tears welled in his eyes. Tenna was right, as much as he hated to admit it. Izumi had saved her life–in so many ways. At their wedding, Izumi not only called an ’emergency’ council meeting as an excuse to come to Republic City and attend, she had even insisted Iroh walk Tenna down the isle “for the sake of Fire Nation tradition.” And when Mica was born, Izumi always answered the phone, personally, no matter the hour, to handle Tenna’s frantic new mother questions.
Bolin swallowed back a sob. He didn’t want this. Didn’t want to see Tenna in pain again. He certainly didn’t want that pain broadcast across the four nations. But if he was in Tenna’s place, if it was Mako who needed his help, Bolin knew in his heart of hearts he would make the exact same choice without hesitation.
“And you’re sure, really sure this is what you want to do, sweetheart?” he tried to keep his voice from quavering as he spoke, to show Tenna that he would support her no matter what..
“It is.” Then she pulled away, straightened and drew a focusing breath. “Now, go call Varrick…before I lose my nerve.”