Iroh wasn’t happy; Izumi knew it even without her bloodsensing skill. But unfortunately the decades spent mastering her bending also meant she got the added misfortune of feeling her son’s tension and fatigue, of feeling everyone’s, and not being able to do a blasted thing.
For now, she could only lean into Kaja’s sturdy arm and listen while Iroh complained for the umpteenth time.
“I fail to understand how having a dinner at Bolin and Tenna’s is going to improve my family’s reputation.”
Varrick came up close to him, pointing a finger dramatically.”You see, right there, that’s exactly the point. Tenna told me weeks ago, and I quote, ‘Iroh needs to loosen up and show some emotion, for flame’s sake–‘”
“Varrick!” Yuki scolded, covering Kiki’s ears.
“Her words, not mine!” Varrick defended. “Anyhoo, that got me to thinking. When is our beloved Firelord here least likely to actually behave like a firelord?” He paused, waiting for Iroh to come up with the answer on his own.
When he didn’t, Izumi cleared her throat and replied, “Around his family. And his friends.”
“Bingo!” cheered Varrick. “So here’s how this is going to work. Tonight I want you to forget about the cameras. Just have a nice dinner and spend time with the kids and pretend I’m not even here. Got it?”
Well, that’s certainly easier said than done, mused Izumi.
The same thought must have passed across Iroh’s face, because Zhu Li stepped forward. “In that case, maybe I should do the fliming this time,” she suggested, in her politely-insistent way.
“Excellent idea, hon!” Varrick grinned. “And while you do that, I’ll have the perfect opportunity to record the dramatic commentary Tenna promised me. After we film some action shots of her, that is. Can’t show a sequence on combustionbenders without a few explosions, right?”
Right, thought Izumi with a sigh. And the fact that you also owe her an apology has nothing to do with it.
They continued up the winding driveway to the edge of Bolin and Tenna’s property. A tall wrought-iron gate and twin eel-hound statues blocked their entrance. Kiki immediately ran to the intercom. “Mr. Bolin? Mrs. Tenna? We’re here!”
“They weren’t expecting us for hours.” Yuki cast a disapproving look Varrick’s way. “Maybe we should come back then?”
“Ah, they’re probably just out back in the garden or something. They won’t mind if we show ourselves in.” Varrick went to the leftmost hound statue and slid aside a keycode panel.
“Are you sure that’s a good idea, Varrick, sir?” Kaja asked, making a point to indicate the huge and numerous Beware of Dog signs adorning the tall stone fence every dozen yards of so.
“Sure I’m sure,” said Varrick. The gate gave an audible click, and Varrick pushed it open, making a polite gesture to Iroh as he did so. “After you.”
No sooner had the words left his mouth, something huge and sleek sprang out of the shadows, lunging for the open gate. Iroh yanked Varrick back by the shirt collar while Kaja ran forward and slammed the gate shut just in time. A female eel-hound the color of ash pushed her muzzle between the iron bars and bore her teeth in a silent snarl. Half a heartbeat later, a second hound, a huge white male, barreled shoulder first into the gate and roared, making Kiki and Yuki jump back with alarm.
“Or not…” Varrick corrected, brushing himself off.
The commotion soon brought more hounds. Izumi saw a nursing female with a hide as black as jet. Shadow’s daughter? And a huge rust and copper-colored male that had come from her own stables as a pup. Flames, what’s Tenna been feeding him? Lastly came Shadow—older and gray-muzzled but still going strong. While the other hounds stalked the fence restlessly, Shadow sat and made a shrill whimpering call over his shoulder. A moment later, Bolin’s voice echoed, loud and annoyed.
“For the hundredth time, people. We put up signs. It says beware of dog for a reas–Oh, you’re not reporters.”
“Hiya, Bolin,” said Varrick cheerfully, like he wasn’t the cause of all the commotion. “We’re a bit early.”
“Oh.” Bolin scratched his head. “Sure, no problem. We weren’t expecting you for another four hours, but hey, who’s counting?” He smiled at the end, in his Bolin-ish sort of way.
Izumi admired him for that. Having Varrick underfoot for a few weeks was almost as nerve-shatteringly frustrating for her as it was for Iroh. Bolin had spent his entire career dealing with Varrick’s impromptu script changes, and he could still greet the annoying little man with a shrug and a smile.
Bolin came to the gate, muscling the gray hound aside to enter the keycode. “Off you go now, Phantom. Ghost. Thrash. You too, Shade.” He waved a dismissive arm at the rest of his four-legged family. The huge rust male, Thrash, gave one final snort before turning away. He was followed closely by Shadow’s daughter, Shade, who offered her sire a submissive muzzle as she walked passed him. Ghost and Phantom, also Shadow’s pups by the look of them, followed suit a moment later. When they passed Shadow, Phantom licked his muzzle politely while Ghost leaned affectionately into his side. Shadow shooed them both off promptly with a snip and a grunt.
Kids, mused Izumi. No matter what the species, family is family.
“Sorry about that,” Bolin said as he guided the gate wide open so they could step inside. “Please, come in.”
“Is it safe?” Iroh asked, eyeballing Shadow suspiciously.
“Oh, yeah. They’re very friendly with people. It was your camera they didn’t like.” Bolin gestured to the mountain of photography gear Dino was hauling like a pack-mule. He frowned a bit. “The paparazzi have been a bit more…persistent these past few weeks. It’s got all of us a little on edge.”
“Oh, dear,” said Yuki. “Is Tenna still not well? Varrick told us she’d fallen ill.”
Izumi frowned. That had been Varrick’s polite way of putting it. She and Iroh, of course, knew better. Tenna may have volunteered for the interview, but Varrick was the one who pushed her too hard. Varrick, her friend, who flames-well knew better. She and Iroh both shot a look the man’s way, and Varrick shrunk back a bit.
Bolin cleared his throat uneasily. “She’s…recovering. In her own way.”
“Oh,” said Yuki. “I hope this gathering wasn’t too much trouble.”
“No, no,” Bolin assured her. “Having some company will do her good. She’s out back train–er–exercising. I’ll go let her know you’re here.”
“What’s the matter, Bolin? Don’t you want to give them a tour of your assault course?” Varrick piped up. No surprise. It had been a whole five minutes since he heard himself talk.
Iroh raised an eyebrow–at Bolin this time. “You…have an assult course?”
“They sure do! Yours truly helped design it.” Varrick beamed, jabbing a thumb at his chest and wrapping the other arm around Bolin’s shoulders.
Bolin gave a nervous sigh. “Well, Tenna did agree to do some action shots. Can’t get much more actiony then when she’s training, I guess.”
Varrick thumped Bolin on the back. “That’s the spirit!”
Bolin led them through the house and out onto the patio. From there they took a scenic stroll around a landscaped garden of colorful flowers and herbs (all medicinal, apparently) to a second gated fence, this one guarded by arch-backed, hissing volcat sculptures. Bolin entered a keycode, as Varrick had done before. The doors opened, triggering another alarm which Bolin quickly silenced with another code.
Inside they turned right, following a safe path along the far wall to a bunker with triple re-enforced windows.
“We can watch from in here,” Bolin explained as they filed in. The bunker looked like a cross between an observatory, a control room, and a clinic. Ahead of them, humming generators powered an elaborate panel with built-in monitors. To their left was a medical station with a stainless steel table, trays of tools, and fully stocked cabinets. There was a locker, too–with several sets of Bolin, Tenna, and Mica-sized armors made of every material from leather to varri-fiber. Tenna’s varri-fiber was missing, a fact that made Bolin shake his head head with worry before closing the locker door.
“Looks like you’ll have to film from in here, too, Varrick.” He paced nervously to the control panel, double-checking switches as he spoke. “Tenna’s using live ammo today.”
“Really?” Varrick sounded genuinely surprised. “I thought she promised she wouldn’t do that anymore.”
Bolin frowned, leering a little in Varrick’s direction. “She did. But she hasn’t exactly been thinking too clearly lately.”
Varrick grimaced again, avoiding Bolin’s eyes as he helped Dino and Zhu Li unpack the bulky camera and mount it on a tripod. Outside, distant explosions sounded as Tenna ran into view. With the exception of her face, she was clad from head to toe in the silver varri-fiber. And thank the flames for that. As she moved to complete the various obstacles–climbing walls, jumping pits of water, inching under barbed wire–she triggered sensors which sprang up targets that fired real crossbow bolts or real throwing knives if she didn’t combust them quick enough.
Iroh stood back, watching the display through the window with a mix of tension and confusion on his face. “I don’t understand,” he whispered to Izumi, too low for Bolin to hear. “After everything she went through, why would she subject herself to this?”
The same reason I confronted your great-grandfather, Ozai. To prove to herself that she’s not weak. She cleared her throat and touched her son’s arm softly. “I imagine the same reason you still practice your firebending every morning.”
“To keep myself from going insane?” muttered Iroh.
“To keep your skill honed so you can practice with the kids.”
Her son’s face softened just a bit as his eyes went to his children. In front of the window Kiki had her fist up, cheering “Go, Mrs. Tenna, go!” as Tenna sprang backwards gymnast-style to avoid another volley of daggers before blowing up the final target. She wasn’t entirely successful in her evasion. One of the daggers left a bleeding gash in her cheek. She came inside the bunker a moment later, mumbling choice words under her breath. She nearly sprang out of her skin when she saw she had an audience.
“And here she is still going strong. No stunt double required,” greeted Varrick with a wave.
Tenna pulled off her armor cowl, causing her sweat-soaked hair stick up messily as she noted the rolling camera.
“Got anything to say to the fans, Tenna?” Varrick prompted.
Tenna took the cue, touched her cheek tenderly, and commented, “Don’t try this at home.”
“And cut!” said Varrick.
The instant the camera quieted, Tenna’s actress smile lessened. “You’re early.” She sounded a little embarrassed, like they had strolled in on her changing rather than fighting. The disapproving look Bolin gave her only made it worse.
“I thought we agreed…” he began.
“About using actual knives…”
“I know.” She went to the medical station, yanked off her gloves, and fished out an antiseptic-soaked cotton ball with forceps.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to call a doctor?”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
“But it looks deep!”
“Stop fussing, Bolin. It’s only a scratch.” She dabbed the cut clean. It wasn’t bad. Nothing Tenna couldn’t handle. Still, Izumi felt herself move her fingers on instinct. Tenna smiled a little as she inspected the wound closer in a mirror and found it sealed unusually quickly.
“See, it’s fine. I’m fine, okay? Come one, now. We’re keeping our guests waiting.” She smiled kindly at Izumi, Iroh, Yuki, and the kids.
Kaja, ever the gentlemen, bowed politely in turn. “Thank you for inviting us, Mrs. Tenna. I have to say that’s a very impressive obstacle course you have.” There was a hint of excitement in his voice at the end, Izumi was pleased to hear. As much as Kaja tried to be his father, he was still a young man, after all.
“Thank you,” said Tenna. Her body-language reading skills hadn’t lessened, either. “You want to try it out?”
Kaja’s face lit up like the sun. “Seriously? I can?”
“No!” scolded Iroh. “Absolutely not!”
“I won’t load it with knives this time, Iroh. I promise,” Tenna assured him. “We have paintballs or foam darts if you’re really worried the crown prince can’t handle himself.” She gestured in Kaja’s direction, prompting him to flush a bright red.
“Dad, come on!” Kaja whined.
Izumi patted her son’s arm. “Come now, Iroh. Let him have some fun.”
“Oh, all right,” Iroh harrumphed after getting an approving nod from his wife as well. “Just be careful.”
“Can I try, too?” Kiki asked, which prompted chuckles from most of the adults.
“No, sweetie. You’re too young,” Yuki said, patting her daughter’s hair.
She wasn’t really. Tenna and Bolin had started Mica’s training when she was six. But Izumi doubted that detail would change Yuki’s mind.
Kiki stuck out her lip. “But–”
“Wouldn’t you rather see the eel-hounds, sweetie?” Tenna piped up in the knick of time. “Shade’s got a litter of pups that would just love some extra attention.”
“That’s brilliant! Everyone loves kids and puppies!” Varrick cheered.
“Daddy, can we?” Kiki begged, coming over to tug her father’s shirt-sleeve.
“Yeah, Dad. Can we?” Varrick mimicked.
So much for pretending he wasn’t there. “Okay,” Iroh agreed, softer this time.
“Great!” said Varrick. Then he snapped his fingers impatiently. “Dino! Bring the thing!”
Tenna, meanwhile, smiled sweetly at her husband. “Bolin, would you mind showing them the kennel?”
“Sure.” He gestured aside, indicating the door they had come in from. Kiki scampered out followed closely by her parents, Varrick, Zhu Li and lastly, Dino with camera and tripod slung awkwardly over his shoulder. When Izumi didn’t follow, Kiki doubled back and tugged on her shirtsleeve. “Grandma, are you coming?”
Izumi smiled. “Oh, no thanks, dear. I’ve got a whole stable of eel-hounds back home. If it’s all right with you, I think I’ll go find nice comfy place in the den.”
“Of course,” said Tenna. “Let me just get cleaned up, and I’ll make us some tea.”
Her family departed soon after, leaving only Izumi, Tenna, and Kaja in the bunker. Tenna reset the course with paintballs for Kaja who, after a bit of struggling–and a few choice words Izumi had to scold him about–finally managed to outfit himself in some of Bolin’s leather armor. Though Tenna set the controls on a beginner level, Izumi still stayed and watched him for a minute after the start buzzer rang, just to be sure. Call it grandmotherly paranoia.
Once she was satisfied Kaja could indeed handle a few paintballs, Tenna led her by the arm back through the volcat-guarded gates. Shadow was waiting just outside the training grounds. He stuck close to Tenna’s side all the way back back to the house, tail wagging the whole time. He whimpered at Tenna when they reached the patio door.
“I’ll be all right,” she insisted, taking Shadow’s muzzle in her hands and pressing her face into his. The eel hound whimpered again licking Tenna’s face, almost reassuringly. Then he paced in a circle and lay down, his huge body blocking the door behind them.
She showed Izumi to the den and helped her onto a velvety loveseat. Izumi wouldn’t lie, it felt good to sit down for a moment. Tenna didn’t miss a beat and brought her a blanket, too. Though Izumi was grateful for this as well, she made a show of trying to refuse and then a bigger show about being able to take care of herself even as Tenna tucked the blanket around her.
“I’m not some feeble old lady, you know.”
Tenna smirked at this and answered smoothly. “I know. But you are my guest, and it’s my job to make sure you’re comfortable.”
She fetched Izumi the PB remote and tucked another pillow behind her back before finally whisking off into the kitchen to check on dinner. Izumi clicked on the device to humor her but payed little attention to what was actually playing. Instead her eyes swept the room, admiring Tenna and Bolin’s framed photos which decorated virtually every surface. Her eyes lingered on one, a silver frame propped on the coffee table. It was of Tenna and Mica at the piano. Both smiling. Both happy. The way a daughter and mother should be.
Izumi closed her eyes, feeling a small stab of pain. She had never known that closeness with her own daughter. Had never let herself. Her secret came first, always–to shield her children from the danger and the persecution. Back then it had seemed the right thing to do. But now…
The next she knew, Tenna was nudging her shoulder gently. When had she fallen asleep? Blast, she hated getting old. Tenna was no longer wearing armor, Izumi noticed, but a casual blouse and long skirt. Her hair was damp, too and still smelled of shampoo.
“I made tea,” she said kindly. She had set a tray out on the coffee table. Izumi smiled as Tenna poured her a mug.
Tenna nodded, and Izumi smiled with approval. She took a sip and raised one eyebrow at the warmth that settled in her belly. “And…fire-brandy?”
“I figured we could both use a little stress relief.”
Izumi took another sip, savoring the flavor and the comforting warmth. “You’re certainly right about that.” They chatted for a while about trivial things, letting the fire-brandy slowly ease nerves and loosen their tongues. Eventually, with some prompting from Izumi, Tenna unleashed her pent feelings as she always did. She ranted on about her Uncle Chow and how she and Bolin had been supporting him through his money troubles. She ranted about the paparazzi hounding her at every turn. But most of all, she ranted about Mica and all the delinquent things she had been up to.
“I just don’t know what to do, Izumi. I’ve tried to raise her right and still…” She rubbed welling tears from her eyes. “We used to be so close. Now it’s like I’m the enemy, and I don’t know why.”
Izumi patted her hand. “It’s a phase, Tenna. I went through the same thing with Zarah when she was that age. Mica’s testing her own limits as much as yours, trying to find her place in the world.” She lowered her voice a bit. “You went through a similar phase, if I recall. Back when we first met.”
Tenna’s mouth hardened. “That was different. That was before–” She shook her head. “It’s not the same. Mica has a place here, in her home and with her family. Bolin and I gave her everything. We nurtured her talents. We made sure she knows how to keep herself safe.”
“You did,” Izumi agreed.
“So why do I still feel like such a failure?”
There was pain there. A deep, gnawing, insecurity Izumi knew all too well.
“You can’t make the right choices for her, Tenna. As much as you want to. The only thing you can do is make sure Mica knows you’re there and that you love her, no matter how much she may hate it right now. I know it’s frustrating. But sooner or later, you need to trust you did everything you could.”
Tenna lowered her eyes guiltily. “And what if I didn’t? Do everything?” She said it so quietly, Izumi wasn’t even sure if she had meant to speak the words aloud.
She drew in a breath. “Oh, Tenna. You haven’t told her, have you? About your past–”
Tenna jerked as if Izumi had tried to hit her. “Of course not! You think I want my child to know that her mother was someone’s slave?” She clenched her fists, trying to hold back her Fire Nation temper. After a moment, her breathing calmed some. “I’m.. sorry.”
“It’s all right,” Izumi reached over and took Tenna’s clenched hands in hers, holding on until she finally relaxed them. “Tenna, dear, please trust me when I tell you: no matter how painful they are, keeping secrets from your children is more devastating than just telling them the truth.”
Tenna swallowed hard, trying not to cry again as she nodded. “I suppose I’ll have to tell her, now that Varrick is going to plaster my sad life story all over the media.” She tried to say it with a smile at the end but only managed a choked sob instead.
This time it was Izumi who flinched. “Are you still having nightmares?”
Izumi frowned. “You’re lying. I felt your heart speed up just now.”
Tenna pulled her hands away. Her eyes caught Izumi’s gaze and held it, reading the guilt there before she could hide it. “Izumi, don’t do this.”
“And don’t think I didn’t notice how high you jumped earlier when we surprised you in the bunker. Or how Shadow won’t leave your side.” She shook her head. “It’s too much, Tenna. I can’t ask you to put yourself—or your family—through this.” She pushed herself off the couch, which was a lot harder than she cared to admit. In the end, she had to use a little bloodbending to help steady herself so she could walk without wobbling when she was trying to stand firm and make a point. “I’m going to tell Varrick to cut your interview from the movery.”
Tenna stood and blocked her path. “You will do no such thing.”
And Tenna wonders where Mica got her defiant streak. “I’ve made my decision.” Izumi declared.
“Don’t be foolish,” Tenna snapped back. “What you did for me and the others is too important to ignore, and you know it.”
Izumi glared, her body shaking. She had overexerted herself more than she thought, blast it. Tenna edged over and steadied her shoulders, helping her back onto the couch. Determined as she was, Izumi was not about to bloodbend her friend aside in her own home. “Tenna,” she said, sternly, as a former Firelord would. “It isn’t your responsibility to protect my family.”
Tenna shook her head, a little hurt. “Don’t you get it by now? You are part of my family.”
Someone sniffed. Tenna whirled, every muscle tensed, the mark in her forehead glowing. Varrick gave a little girly yelp as he jumped back and hid behind the doorway.
“Varrick!” Tenna snapped. “What did I tell you about sneaking up on me?”
“Uh, I believe your exact words were ‘do that again, and so help me, I will blow your head off,”” said Varrick, rubbing his hair nervously.
“How can we help you, Varrick?” Izumi obliged him. It was the fastest and most efficient way she had learned to make him go away.
“Just came by to have a word with my leading lady here about some commentary…but I can see you’re busy. I’ll come back late–”
“No. Varrick, it’s fine. I should check on dinner anyway.” Tenna took the tea tray from the table and almost shoved Varrick forward on her way out of the den. “We can talk in the kitchen.”
She glanced back over her shoulder, just before Izumi could open her mouth and gave her a look that brokered no argument. Then she was gone.
“All right, Varrick. Let’s see it.” Tenna held out one hand, accepting a script from Varrick while she dug out a cutting board and culltlery with the other. One thing she could say about the long work hours, Tenna had become a master of multi-tasking. She scanned the script as she mindlessly chpped carrots and other choice veggies from her garden for that night’s salid.
Varrick actually did a decent job. Normally when he handed her a script they spent the next several hours debating over badly placed puns, cheesy one-liners and all the other clever Varricky things she flat-out refused to say. Not this time. This time, Varrick had chosen her lines with care highlighting how, with Firelord Izumi’s support, Tenna was able to break free from her weapon training and re-discover her lost identity. He noted how Iziumi had personally helped Tenna and Avatar Korra rescue the remaining victims from the combustionbender facility and, later, convert the old building into an orphanage. And of course, he emphasized how the she and Izumi had maintained a close personal friendship over the years.
“I can work with this,” she said.
“Great,” cheered Varrick. “And I was thinking after the battle footage I could splice in some of your and Bolin’s home movers, you know? To show all that you’ve accomplished. Maybe some shots of you guys with the Royal Family?”
Tenna thought a moment. “Iroh gave me away at our wedding. Oh, and I think we might have some vacation footage of our early trips to the Fire Palace somewhere…if you don’t mind shots of Mica tottering around wearing Izumi’s crown.”
“Are you kidding? Who doesn’t love cute kids doing cute things on camera? It will be perfect.”
I hope so, thought Tenna as she dropped the cut veggies into a bowl of spring greens and tossed them. “I’ll take a look after dinner. We can record the lines then.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
That was his cue to leave. Only he didn’t. Varrick held his position, one arm leaning casually against the china cabinet as he watched. Tenna pulled the roast out of the oven, set the boiled potatoes aside for Bolin to mash–he and Mica always insisted on finding creative ways to smash the potatoes–and prepped a frypan to sauté the asparagus. When her awkward silence still didn’t shoo Varrick out, she rummaged past him for a pack of matches and a bottle of wine.
“Was there something else?” she asked, striking a flame into her hand and letting it flare a little for dramatic effect.
“Well, now that you mention it, there was one thing.”
Odd. He almost sounded remorseful. But that couldn’t be. In all the years she had worked with the man, she had never known him to regret anything. At least nothing he’d admit to her face. Was she losing her edge? Or was it the anxiety messing with her?
“Yes, what is it?” She sloshed wine into the frypan with the asparagus, then ignited it with a wroosf. Careful finger movements kept the flame under control as she glanced over her shoulder.
Varrick cleared his throat. “I know the movery isn’t done yet, but I wanted to make sure you got your payment.” He reached into his suit pocket, extracting a check.
“Oh. Of course.” Still moving her fingers to control the fire, Tenna stepped and reached for the paper with her free hand. She glanced at the numbers, blinked, checked again, and then almost extinguished her cooking fire as she checked a third time.
“That’s not right,” she said at last, convinced Varrick had misplaced a decimal point by accident.
But Varrick didn’t seem surprised by the error, even as he cocked his head and questioned, “Whatdoya mean?”
“The amount is wrong. This is too much.” She extended the check back to him, but he didn’t budge.
“No, the amount is right. You forgot to factor in your bonus.”
“My bonus?” Had she missed something? Given the stress of the past few weeks that was entirely possible. Or was this just some ploy of Varrick’s?
“Yeah, you know, the bonus we talked about,” Varrick insisted, “I could have sworn I mentioned it. Ah, maybe I was mumbling. I do that sometimes. Annoys the heck out of Dino, let me tell you.” He laughed nervously.
Tenna extinguished her cookfire and leaned back against the oven to stare at the check again. Varrick was handing her a fortune. Why? Because he knew they needed it? Or because he felt guilty for pushing her so hard during the interview? Either way, Tenna was not happy. She had volunteered for this movery to help Izumi and her family, not to get pity, and certainly not to become a charity case.
Varrick must have seen this play across her face because he quickly cut in. “I know it’s a lot, but you work hard. You deserve it. You and Bolin should take a vacation. I hear Ember Island is beautiful this time of year.”
With this kind of money, they could buy a house on Ember Island. All she’d have to do was surrender her pride. But could she really? If not for her pride, she wouldn’t even be here. She would have broken years ago and died at the hands of that man she had once called Master. Surrendering her pride would be like giving up part of herself.
Bolin would never support that, Tenna knew. Not for all the money in the world. And Mica? If Mica were here, Tenna wouldn’t even be debating at all. Her daughter would have blasted the check (and possibly part of the kitchen wall) into a moldering shower of ash by now.
Tenna could do that, she supposed, to make a point. But Varrick would just write her another. And when that failed, he’d use his vast array of contacts to slip the money into her and Bolin’s accounts weather they liked it or not. Tenna sighed. She might not be able to win this debate, but she could make sure something good came out of it. She went to the cabinet, pulling out a pen and a pad of paper.
“I’ll need to confirm thingswith Bolin,” she said as she made a few quick tabulations. “But if you insist on being so generous, then I’m sure you also won’t mind making sure this money goes exactly where I want.”
Varrick scratched his head. “Sure thing. You just say the word, and it will get there.”
“Good.” She turned the paper around revealing her interview payment split in half. “I need this half sent to my Uncle Chow in Ba Sing Sa. And this half put in Republic City High’s treasury with my sincere apologies.”
“O-kay…” said Varrick, rubbing his chin.
“As for the ‘bonus,’ there’s a certain orphanage in the Fire Nation running out of a certain old facility. I think you know the one.”
Varrick nodded. “Say no more. They’ll have it by tomorrow.”
Tenna finally humored him with a smile. “Thank you, Varrick.” She went back to the stove, forking the seared asparagus onto a serving plate then carrying it towards the dining room. This time Varrick followed on her heels and actually offered to help carry the salad to the table.
“So…you’re ok? We’re okay?” he asked when he had set the bowl down. He had an odd look on his face again, and this time Tenna saw it wasn’t just guilt. Varrick was worried, not for her as his leading actress, but for her personally as his friend.
“I’ll make it through,” Tenna promised. Then she gave a little smile. “I am tenacious, after all.”
That cheered Varrick, as Tenna knew it would.
“You’re darn right you are!” He snuck a carrot from the salad and poped it into his mouth. “Knew it from the first moment I met you, remember?”
Tenna nodded. “I believe your exact words were, ‘Bolin, you should totally marry this one.'”
Varrick beamed. “What can I say? I have excellent taste. Just one of my many outstanding qualities.”
Tenna rolled her eyes. “Whatever you say, genius. Just promise you’ll use those talents to make make this movery worth it.”
“You got it!”
Varrick worked late into the night on Sages and Superstars. This was nothing new; he always worked late into the night on his best projects. In fact, he would argue that if he didn’t down at least ten cups of coffee on the last night of a project, then it was clearly a stupid project, and why the heck did Zhu Li ever let him get started on it?
This, however, was going brilliantly. He’d tried not to rely too much on the footage of Lord Zuko, bringing the piece up to speed with modern times and all that. He’d gotten some especially nice moments splicing together Tenna’s interview (as much as it gave him the heebie-jeebies) with shots of her combustionbending at its best. But he still hadn’t found the perfect angle for Firelord Izumi. None of the scenes of her sitting around looking regal were good for action shots. He rummaged through the reel canisters one more time–the interviews, shots of Iroh firebending, shots of Fire Nation banners, flags, and unnecessary amounts of red stuff…
“Hey, what’s this here?” He picked up a canister he didn’t remember seeing earlier. He held it up, turning it side to side, but since no one else was actually in the room with him, no one answered his question.
“Weird. A piece of film that just shows up out of nowhere?” He narrowed his eyes at it. The silence of the room was so complete, he could practically hear his own pounding heartbeat. “Wow, that Zhu Li is good!” he finally exclaimed. Then he opened the canister and stuck the reel on the projector to take a gander at what he had to work with. His eyes widened as the images played. At first, he wasn’t quite sure what he was looking at. It was Firelord Izumi, and she seemed to making some kind of bending motion. Then there was a kid next to her mimicking the motion. But the former Firelord wasn’t a bender. And the stances looked like waterbending forms, not fi–
Varrick gasped. His incredibly superior brain whirled as he started to piece things together. He ran for another reel that he’d taken from the news reporters who were at the scene of the spirit portal attack. Of course. It all made sense now. He, Iknik Blackstone Varrick, was a genius. And now that genius was about to create a true masterpiece and save the Fire Nation Royal Family.