The code worked exactly as Eagon had said it would. Really, there was no reason that Izumi should have been surprised. She sent her troops in with strict orders not to get aggressive with the combustionbenders. When Tenna shared with them that Eli had been killed, they took no grief in the event. There was no weeping or mourning; it was simply a fact. If any showed emotion, it was confusion — where were they to go now? What path were they to take? That was where Izumi had to help. For now, they’d taken up temporary residence in the capital’s conference hall while Mako headed up attempts to track down surviving family members. It wouldn’t produce much in many cases, but anyone they could help, Izumi felt it was worth it.
Of course, they didn’t have to do any further research to discover who Tenna’s family was. Izumi had that information already. And a photo besides. The trouble was, she wasn’t really sure how to give the photo to Tenna. It would hurt to see, she knew that, and the last thing she wanted to do was put Tenna through more pain. But, on the other hand, it might also bring some closure. Some healing. She couldn’t back down from that.
“Tenna,” she said, knocking lightly on the doorframe of her room. Tenna was sitting cross-legged on the top of the bed. In full Fire Nation uniform, of all things. She was also trying (and failing) to engage Shouga in chasing a squeaker toy without getting her fingers bitten.
“Hmm?” Tenna looked up and quickly dangled her legs over the bed’s side. “Sorry. Guess you don’t want boots on the furniture.”
“After what you’ve done for our country? I give you full permission to put boots on the furniture.”
“Oh? Well, in that case…” Tenna smirked and propped her feet back up on the blankets again. After seeing that it got a smile out of Izumi, she slid off the bed and walked over to greet her properly.
“How’s Mako’s research going?” she asked.
“It’s going as well as can be expected,” Izumi said. “Korra suggested we bring her friend Asami up here. Something about her being a genius at organizing things.” She felt the photo in her pocket. She was letting things get off topic. “Actually, on that note,” she said slowly. “I found… well, my father found something that I think you want to see.” She pulled the photo from her pocket and held it out for Tenna to see. At first, Tenna looked confused. Then her eyes welled with tears, and she made a small strangled cry. “My family…” With a shaking hand, she grasped the photo. “I… I remember this. The photographer shrieked like a baby when one of the dragons tried to sniff him. Grammy Ren called him a wuss.” Tenna raised her voice just a hair, mimicking the fiery matriarch, “‘and you call yourself a professional! My five-year-old granddaughter has more guts than you!'”
Izumi smiled. “She sounds like a strong woman.”
Tenna nodded. “She was. Mom was just like her, temper and all.” She moved her finger, letting it linger on the younger woman’s hair. “Her name was Sien.”
She moved again, this time pointing to the young man with a kindly face. “My dad Laythan was the only herbalist brave enough to bring medicine to the preserve,” she smirked, “and the only one who didn’t tolerate any of Mom or Grandma’s crap when he had to treat their injuries. Mom couldn’t help but fall for him.”
She swallowed hard, and Izumi waited patiently for her to continue. “He used to call us his three dragons.” She gazed at the photo again, a small ache in her voice. “Ren, Sien…” Her finger lingered beside the child, tapping gently. Once, twice, a dozen times, her brows furrowed in concentration. Then something stirred in her eyes. A spark of remembrance even she didn’t seem to expect.
“Mica…” she whispered. “My name was Mica.”
“It can still be,” Izumi suggested, not unkindly.
But Tenna shook her head. “No. I’ll never be that girl now. Too much has changed.” Her eyes started to tear again, but this time she rubbed them away with her forearm. “And anyway, what’s past is past. I have a new life now. And with any luck, a new career.”
“Yes, so I heard. A mover star, is it?”
“Filming isn’t scheduled to start for few months. So, in the meantime, Bolin wants me to take a trip back with him to Republic City. To see the sights.” She cleared her throat nervously. “And to… meet his family.”
Izumi raised a knowing eyebrow. “Oh. That’s a big step.”
“Yes, it is. I’m kinda terrified, actually.”
Izumi chuckled. She couldn’t help herself. Tenna had the same apprehension that Kalos had had the day she had introduced him to her father. And look how that had turned out. “You’re a strong young woman, Tenna. I’m sure you’ll do just fine.”
“Thanks.” She tucked the photo safely away in the top dresser drawer. Then she lifted Shouga onto her shoulder. “I think I’m gonna go take Shadow out for a ride. You and Flare wanna come with?”
Izumi smiled fondly. “Another time, maybe. Right now I have somewhere I need to be.” She turned to leave.
“Going to go see how many more combustion benders you can make cry?” Tenna teased after her.
Izumi paused in the doorway and smiled. “No. Going to try out the technique on a skilled bloodbender, actually,” she said. “There was someone I promised to introduce my father to.”
The royal family gathered together in the throne room. Iroh cradled young Kaja and gently placed the infant into Zuko’s arms. Kaja was sleeping at the time, which made him look all the more angelic, a look that Izumi was sure he did not uphold 99% of the time.
Even so, for the short moments it lasted, it was wonderful to watch. Zuko looked down at Kaja like nothing else existed in the universe.
“It is… a beautiful thing to hold one’s great-grandchild,” he said, bouncing the infant so gently in his arms, Izumi barely caught the movement. With a warmth she hadn’t felt in her chest for a long time, she stroked Kaja’s forehead. The baby opened one eye, glanced up at her like an adult human being had to be dumbest-looking creation on the planet, then slipped back into a peaceful sleep.
“He’s amazing,” she whispered.
“Yes,” Iroh agreed absently, but his mind was clearly elsewhere.
“You’ve got something on your mind,” Zuko observed.
Iroh stared at the floor and did not answer. That was Izumi’s first clue that he was quite upset. Iroh always had answers for everything. When it came to someone in authority over him, that answer was usually, “Yes, ma’am” or “No, sir” or some variant thereof. He never argued, never questioned, and certainly never told his infamous grandfather that life was anything other than perfectly fine, thank you for asking.
“It’s just…” Iroh looked down at Kaja’s peaceful face, and Izumi could see his defenses breaking.
“Spit it out, Iroh,” Zuko said. “I’m not going to live forever.”
Iroh tightened his fists. “Fine. I don’t want Kaja to be a bloodbender.”
Neither do we, Izumi thought. Was that all he was holding back, as if it would offend her? She didn’t want it, and she’d been dealing with that fact for sixty years now. Iroh didn’t seem to take the hint, however, and he turned to her with a bow of apology. “Mother, I respect you immensely. I think what you and Grandfather did today was amazing. I really do. And you helped saved our nation with it. But I still think the technique is too dangerous. And I think…” he took a deep breath, “…and I think it was wrong of you to hide it from me.”
“It was wrong of me,” Izumi agreed. When had she ever suggested otherwise? If that was all Iroh needed to get off his chest, then this conversation was essentially over.
Except that her father still needed his say. “And what will you do if Kaja is a bloodbender? Just ban him from using it? I promise, that never worked on your mother.”
“Dad!” Izumi snapped. Blast him and his elderly freedom to just blurt out whatever was on his mind.
Zuko shrugged. “What? It’s the truth. But if it will put your mind at ease, Iroh, Kaja is a firebender. Probably a very good one with the right teacher.” He handed the infant back, while Izumi tried not to let her jaw go slack.
“Wha… how… you never told me you could sense a person’s bending.”
Zuko shrugged. “There’s a great number of things I never told you. When I was younger, it was because I was coward like Iroh here and thought any use of the technique was dangerous.”
Iroh huffed a bit at this, but didn’t interrupt.
“Then, by the time I got old enough to realize how paranoid I’d been, the damage was done. You wanted nothing to do with the technique and you hated me for ever training you in it to begin with.” He shook his head sadly. “I love Katara, but her propaganda over the years has done more damage to this family than even she realizes.”
The three of them stood in silence for a long while, until Iroh lifted an eyebrow and asked, “Wait… did you just you lo–”
“But give me credit,” Zuko said loudly over him. “If an amateur like Amon can go so far as to take bending away, don’t you think I could at least tell what a person’s bending is?”
“Um, sure, I guess that makes sense.” He looked down at the infant in his arms once again. Finally, Izumi saw some of the old Iroh coming back, that warm face full of compassion and dedication to his family. “I love you, Kaja,” he whispered. “Never forget that, okay, little man?”
Kaja burped in reply.