Zuko's voice cracked with emotion as he spoke. The chilled air bit at Bolin's face despite the fur-lined coat pulled tight around it, and the crowd was still and silent.
“Katara was the most loving woman I have met, in my long life,” Zuko continued, “and words cannot express the depth of the love that we all carried for her in return. We take comfort that she passed gently, in her sleep-” He was cut off by a shout.
“Hell yeah!” yelled a clearly drunk Bumi from the crowd. “As if anything but old age could have whooped Mom's ass!” There was nervous tittering from some in the crowd, but most were glaring fiercely in Bumi's direction. Bolin could see Tenzin's face, and hoped he was never on the receiving end of that scowl. Zuko coughed to regain attention, and continued.
“And now this paragon of the South, the Painted Lady, beloved wife of Avatar Aang, shall now rejoin him in the afterlife. We consign her to the waters, that her spirit may rest in peace.” He nodded. Tenzin, Bumi, Kya, and Lin stepped forth from the crowd to pick up the small boat that Katara rested in. Around her body were mementos from her loved ones; letters from those whose lives she had touched, and small reminders of family and friends. She was peaceful in death, a content smile curling up at the corners of her wrinkled mouth. The bearers lowered the boat into the water of the stream, and they watched as the rushing waters carried Katara from them for the final time.
Zuko stepped forward and placed Katara's necklace in a small altar beside the altar to Aang. He bowed his head solemnly.
“Let us have a moment of silence for this wonderful woman.”
Bolin wandered aimlessly through the crowd at the feast, when he smacked into someone he'd never expected to see in the Southern Water Tribe.
“The one and only,” smirked the fully-restored waterbender. Despite his somewhat humbled nature nowadays, Bolin still wanted to slap that look off his face.
“What are you doing here? Did you even know Master Katara?”
Tahno rolled his eyes.
“Please, I know I'm amazing but even I had to start somewhere. Master Katara trained me as a child and turned me into a bending machine. Without her, the Wolfbats would have never existed.”
Bolin wondered if this wouldn't have been a good thing, but decided to keep it to himself out of respect for Katara. He certainly didn't want to be seen hanging out with Tahno, though. He had a reputation to maintain.
“That's uh—that's interesting, Tahno. You know what? I suddenly don't feel so good. Must have been the seal jerky. I think I'm gonna go...uh, lay down for a bit.”
Bolin disengaged from Tahno, realizing that he'd pigeonholed himself into returning to the complex of huts that was housing all these visitors. What a waste. There was free food and everything out here. Sighing, he drew the furs closer to his face and set off towards his igloo. It was a short walk. He drew the furs back from the entrance thankfully, glad to be getting out of the icy wind.
He wasn't expecting to find anyone inside, so was surprised to see General Iroh reclining against the wall of the igloo. His eyes were shut, and his face was forlorn. Bolin realized he'd gotten the wrong hut, and moved slowly backwards, trying not to draw the man out of his reverie.
His boot crunched on the snow near the entrance, however; General Iroh's puffy eyes flew open and snapped to Bolin, a look of surprise on his face. Bolin panicked.
“Hi there! I, uh...seem to have gotten the wrong...I mean, this igloo looks just like mine, and...I'm verysorryGeneralsir, I'll just be going, and...”
Iroh sighed, and gestured for him to come in. His eyes were silently pleading for companionship.
“Bolin. I didn't expect...I'm just a bit distraught over Katara's passing. I could use a diversion, if you've the time to spare.”
The earthbender hesitated. He didn't know Iroh amazingly well, but he seemed a decent enough guy, and he'd clearly been crying. Bolin knew when his considerable skills were needed. He nodded, stripped his jacket off in a quick movement, and moved around the fire to sit beside Iroh.
“Do you...do you want to talk about it, General, sir?”
Iroh sighed again, and put his face in his hands. He was silent for a moment, lost in his thoughts, then collected them enough to put them into words.
“Katara was...was more of a mother to me than mine ever was, and I was hardly ever even here. My mom was always busy preparing to run the Fire Nation, but Katara always had time for me when I visited. She treated me like a normal child, not some snotty prince to be indulged. I credit her for what I've become. I'd be your average bratty, undisciplined nobleman if she hadn't knocked some common sense into me. I suppose that's why her death has hit me harder than Aang's and Toph's.”
Iroh took a deep breath to continue, but couldn't. He looked so lost, a bit like Pabu had when Bolin had first found him. His red jacket hung limply off him due to the damp environs, and there were shadows under his eyes from lost sleep. His hands clenched and unclenched on the floor in an effort to grab hold of anything that could anchor him. Bolin couldn't stand it. He scooted closer to Iroh, and pulled him to his chest in a tight hug. He felt Iroh tense for a second, and then relax in his hold. Bolin could hear his own heartbeat acutely. He took deep, slow breaths so his pounding heart didn't disturb Iroh.
They sat together for spirits knew how long, until Bolin heard the crunch of boots on ice, and the subsequent firm knock on the side of the igloo. He hurriedly pushed the half-conscious Iroh from him, trying not to be too discourteous, and called for the visitor to come in.
Zuko entered, stooped enough with age that he didn't have to stoop much further to get into the igloo. His eyes widened as he saw a bleary-eyed Iroh disengaging from Bolin's vicinity, but whatever he thought, he kept it to himself, for which a blushing Bolin was eternally grateful.
“Ah, Bolin. I admit, I was only expecting to find my grandson here, but it's fortunate that you're here as well. I meant to ask if you'd like to visit the Fire Nation for a while, and take a bit of a vacation. Korra and Mako have already said yes, though I'm afraid Miss Sato declined in order to stay in Republic City and rebuild her family business. I just thought that after the whole mess with Amon and fixing up the city, you all might need a getaway.”
He laughed. Bolin was nodding fervently at him across the fire.
“I take that as a yes, then. Iroh, you'll be coming too—your unit is on leave for two months since you've been out so long. It will be nice to have you home again, however briefly.”
Iroh, having finally returned to cognizance, nodded in affirmation.
“Well then, I look forward to having you. Your ship will arrive tomorrow.”
When Zuko left, Bolin hugged Iroh close to him again.