In retrospect, he doesn’t know who started it - it’s the kind of stupid impulse he’d follow, because hey, the Revolution is cascading down around them, Asami’s pop is a giant crazypants, and they were just busted out of prison by a polarbeardog and a fire ferret. What other crazy things could he possibly do today? Kissing a handsome Fire Nation general wasn’t necessarily on his to-do list that morning, but in the heat of the moment with an incredibly warm, distractingly-handsome guy who’s just about to go and risk his life to bring down Sato’s fleet of biplanes, your priorities get kinda skewed. That line of thinking makes sense, at least.
Bolin’s making all sorts of mental promises to Pabu after his buddy chewed through their bonds - he’s gonna buy him like, ten bags of dumplings on the off chance that this ends any time soon, he’ll look into finding Pabu a lady fire ferret friend, really, he’s got the best fire ferret ever. A few feet away, Naga’s sniffing Asami’s hair and making worried snuffling sounds; Iroh is rubbing feeling back into his wrists and already striding toward the hangar door and the sound of warming engines.
“We, uhh, got a plan, sir?” Bolin sets Pabu down near Naga and hopes he takes the hint to stay. Asami motions for him to go ahead, a set to her mouth that Bolin hasn’t ever seen. It’s scary and somehow fragile, and Bolin rushes ahead to catch up to the General, certain that Asami needs a few seconds to compose herself.
“Beyond ‘make sure the aircraft doesn’t sink the fleet?’ Not really,” Iroh admits. “If we had a metalbender...”
“Yeah, I’ll get right on that when we’re done here, sir,” Bolin says, turning red. “I can tear up the runways and keep some of them on the ground, but if there’s some in the air...” He trails off, frowning slightly. The General’s brow is furrowed and he moves like a soldier, although there’s some other, fancier metaphor, something about sparks and tension and raw potentiality that Bolin can’t think of right now.
Bolin can’t quite take his eyes off of him.
The thing is - well, so far this is a lot like pro-bending, without the roar of the crowd, the reliable klaxon of the timer, the breaks for product placement. Being electrocuted by an invisible fence and thrown into a cage by your former benefactor isn’t part of the pro-bending experience, either, but Bolin can feel the discrepancy in time already.
In the arena, time slows to a trickle. The rhythm of breathe, block, dodge, the crackle of adrenaline before returning a shot. In the arena, Bolin feels each moment that accompanies each heartbeat, can break it down into the individual second - and afterward, in the locker room, it’s all a blur that he has to piece together from the newspapers and radio play-by-play recaps.
(Once, he brought this up to Mako - “So, does time ever, like, not act like time’s supposed to when we’re in the middle of a match?” - and had earned a raised eyebrow and a confused chirp from Pabu for his troubles.)
Iroh throws open the hangar door, gusts of chilly wind greeting them like slaps to the face. Somewhere behind the wind and the roar of engines, no longer muffled, Bolin can hear each beat of his heart, he could start counting them if he wanted to. His hands already itch to pull jagged boulders out of the pristine runways, and work with the wind to throw up clouds of dust, but he holds back for the moment. Returning his gaze to Iroh - was he ever not looking at Iroh? - he can tell that the General’s train of thought is running along the same tracks. Ghosts of flame are practically haloed around his fingertips, Bolin thinks, no different than a firebender on the opposite team, seconds before the starting buzzer sounds.
After - everything happens so fast when he tries to remember it - after, he can’t even recall who said what, or who reached out to whom. It turns up in his memory, in a haze of heat, something like:
“If there’s not a -”
“Well, we’re going to -”
“Kiss for luck?”
Then Bolin can’t tell if that was out of his mouth or out of Iroh’s, or does that even matter now, because Iroh’s eyes are alive with golden sparks, and then Iroh’s mouth is on his. The General swallows anything else he might say, lips hot and persistent against his, brings his hands up to Bolin’s face. Even with his eyes slipping shut Bolin can still almost see the halos of fire that Iroh’s holding back, and shivers at the warmth of his palms against his cold skin. For a moment there’s the drag of their lips together, and it’s perfect, or it is until Iroh pushes for more ground and Bolin gladly yields.
Iroh’s mouth threatens to consume him, and it nearly takes everything Bolin’s got to remain standing until he remembers dimly that yeah, he can give as good as he gets. He brings his hands up to the front of Iroh’s ragged uniform jacket and curls his hands into the scratchy material, holds on and pushes back. The feeling of Iroh’s tongue, sliding slow and hot and sweet against his for a breathtaking moment, strips away any coherent thought he’s got left. In retaliation he pulls Iroh’s lower lip between his teeth for a second and feels a full-bodied shudder run up through him -
- and everything shakes, the wind scythed by approaching propellers, aircraft trundling past and headed straight for the prongs of the runway. Iroh and Bolin pull apart, and for a moment, just watch each other through heavy-lidded eyes.
“I think that’s going to be pretty lucky.”
“I think that was, like.” Bolin’s still having issues with coherency, he steps back and gives himself a brief shake. “That was the luckiest. I don’t think anything could get luckier than that.”
There are twin red spots, dotted high on Iroh’s cheeks, that have nothing to do with the cold wind whipping at them. The General doesn’t seem aware of them, though, he just gives Bolin a quirk of his lips and inclines his head.
“I tend to agree. Asami’s coming,” he says, abruptly, and stands a little bit straighter as her footsteps rapidly approach, followed close by Naga’s heavier footfalls. “We need to get moving.”
“We’ll take care of things on the ground, General.” Asami jogs up, all shards of fragility gone from her face. Naga’s right behind her. “They’re starting to take off, we need to hurry.”
“I’m going after those planes,” Iroh says, steel back in his voice. “If I can get on one, I’ll be able to destroy the rest of their engines.”
“I’d wish you good luck,” Asami replies, looking from him back to the Earthbender at her side, “but Bolin already took care of that, I think.”
Once he’s done blushing, once Iroh’s done the coolest firebending Bolin’s ever seen, Mako has to learn how to fly like that, he has to, Bolin is back to feeling his heartbeats and the pull of the ground, the roar of aircraft and machinery substituting for a crowd on its feet. Solid earth beneath his feet and hands, block, blood singing hurry, hurry, boulders rising strong from smooth-packed ground. Instincts urge him to fall back, support Asami in her terrifying steel machine, she’s a teammate too, now, and earth is solid, earth supports - but the feeling he’s carrying with him beneath the heady flood of adrenaline is confident. It feels like the lingering echoes of a kiss and he carries it close.
He holds onto his luck instead of trying to push it, because he’ll need it, if this hellish day ever ends, to follow the smoke back to Iroh.