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“Bolin,” says Mako, coming up to him. They’re on the busy street, and Bolin’s sitting on the steps outside of where the city council meets—where Iroh, Bumi, and Tenzin are currently, anyways. They’re discussing something about getting some fleets back to the Fire Nation while others should stay and protect Republic City for the time being.

Of course, none of this is to Bolin’s interest.

“Yeah?” says Bolin, and when he looks up he can see in his brother’s eyes that Mako knows exactly what he’s up to.

Mako sighs. He sits down next to him. “Don’t tell me you’re still hung up on—”

Bolin turns away and Mako breaks off. He touches Bolin’s knee gently. Glances to the flower dangling between Bolin’s index and middle finger.

“You’re not actually going to give that to him, are you?” he asks. He sounds like he doesn’t want to be, but he comes off as teasing.

Bolin can’t help smiling at him. “No,” he says, and then shuffles his feet and looks back down at the ground. “What’s the likelihood that he’ll like me back, anyways?”


He goes back to his room later that evening. He remembers the first time he’d met Iroh, which was a little over three years ago. Iroh had come during one of his probending matches and Bolin hadn’t seen him in the stands, because before then, he wouldn’t have thought about looking for him in the stands.

Afterwards, he can’t believe that he hadn’t seen him before. Bolin likes looking in the stands—he likes the look of adoring fans and people screaming his name. He doesn’t know if Iroh had, but after that match, Iroh had come to the back and said to the Fire Ferrets, “Good game.”

Mako had asked, “What are you doing here?” and Bolin had said, “Don’t you know who this is, bro? It’s General Iroh from the Fire Nation!” Then Iroh had looked at him, had given him a little smile, and Bolin was lost.

He is lost. He’s lost in him.

Iroh—General Iroh—still gives him the little smiles, fleeting moments that Bolin keeps locked in his mind. He remembers every single moment: there had been that time when he’d visited during another Fire Ferrets game, and Bolin had spotted him in the stands and, bam!, smile. Bolin had lost his footing then.

There had been another time, when General Iroh had come to inspect Republic City and, by complete coincidence, they’d run into each other. Bolin had been thinking of going up to him, of saying hello, of asking, Want to get something to drink?—but Iroh had just given him another one of those smiles and Bolin had known it was enough.

Mako opens the door to the attic and Bolin lifts an arm, says, “Hey, man.” Mako looks a bit dirty and slightly flustered, as if he’d just come back from making out with his girlfriend. Bolin grins sleazily.

“How’s Korra?” he asks, trying to sound as subtle as he can.

Mako glares at him. “If you want to know, you can ask her,” he says. “She’s downstairs.”

“Ooh, hot date tonight?”

Mako’s still silent and he’s rummaging through his clothes, so Bolin assumes that’s a yes. He’d push for more details, but Iroh is still on his mind. His crush on Korra had been small, one of those temporary things—but Bolin’s admired Iroh since Iroh had congratulated the Fire Ferrets for the first time. It’s been a good few years.

“Since you’ll be alone, why don’t you ask Iroh out for a drink?” Mako suggests, and Bolin throws a pillow at him. He can think of a billion excuses, like, Iroh’s probably busy or He probably doesn’t drink or He probably has a girlfriend, anyways; but they all amount to the same thing. Bolin won’t. He just won’t.


By some miracle Bolin and Iroh find each other, and they’re alone, with neither Bolin’s brother nor Iroh’s lieutenant-friends around. Iroh’s exploring through Republic City, and Bolin decides to join him. He says, “I hope I’m not bothering you.”

“You’re not,” says Iroh, giving him a sidelong glance. Bolin laughs, hopes he doesn’t sound as awkward as he feels.

Iroh chuckles as well and asks, “What was that for?”

“What was what?” says Bolin.

“You were laughing at me.” The corner of Iroh’s lips twitch. Bolin doesn’t let himself stare. “Were you?”

“I wasn’t!” says Bolin defensively. “I was laughing because I felt—nervous.” He feels a blush come on his cheeks and turns away so Iroh wouldn’t see.

Iroh doesn’t mention it, not even at Bolin’s expressed nervousness. “How’s your brother?” he asks instead, changing the subject. “And Korra?”

“You see them every day, don’t you know how they are already?” says Bolin. “Cruising the streets, maintaining order, street patrol, blah blah blah.” He rolls his eyes.

“Well, yeah, but I want to know what you think,” says Iroh. And then, “How’s probending training?”

Bolin perks up. “It’s going great!” he says enthusiastically. “Our Waterbender needs some practice but Korra comes in every once in a while to give him lessons, and our Firebender’s really good—this other day, we were practicing, and I was trying to chuck an earth disk at her but she totally deflected it and shot a fire at my hair and geez, my hair was awful for weeks, but it was totally awesome, and—”

Iroh laughs which cuts him off and Bolin scratches the back of his neck, embarrassed. He’s well aware that he’s probably smiling too hard, blushing to the color of a peach, and hopes Iroh won’t mention that either.

Iroh doesn’t, but he does say, “That’s good; you always look like you’re having fun when you’re probending.”

“Yeah,” says Bolin.

“So,” says Iroh. “Hook up with any of your many fangirls before?”

“I—” says Bolin, thrown off. (What’s he supposed to say?) “I don’t have that many fangirls,” he finishes.

Iroh’s the one who laughs this time and Bolin has to stop himself from staring again. “That’s a lie,” he says.

“Okay, that is,” says Bolin, and they both laugh.

They walk around Republic City and don’t bring it up again. Bolin loves this, but he’s a bit scared—he says good-bye too early and goes back to the probending arena and tries to get Iroh out of his mind, and when he can’t, wishes that he’d stayed with him for a little bit longer.


“You know,” says Mako. “If you can’t get Iroh, there’s always—”

“No,” says Bolin before Mako can finish. Mako’s been trying to get him out of this rut ever since Iroh’s been staying here more often, and while Bolin appreciates the sentiment, it’s not helping him—well, get over Iroh isn’t really his goal. Neither is getting Iroh.

Sometimes it’s hard to know what you want when you like someone too much.

Mako sighs. “I was gonna say Asami,” he says.

Bolin crinkles his nose. “I’m not taking your leftovers, bro,” he says.

“She’s not my leftovers,” says Mako. “I was suggesting, because she’s single now too and me and Korra are together so I thought that it would—”

Bolin throws a pillow at him and Mako says, “Fine, fine, I get it.” He throws the pillow back and Bolin buries his face in it.

“Sitting around and not doing anything about your feelings isn’t accomplishing anything,” says Mako, sitting down on the couch next to him.

“Thanks for the wise words, brother,” says Bolin, and then removes his pillow. He sighs. “And I know.”


Iroh’s out getting dinner with Bumi and other members of their seaforce and Bolin pretends that he doesn’t know—or, notice, rather. Bolin’s with Mako, Korra, and Asami (Team Avatar, he likes to call them, or the Fearsome Foursome. They just roll their eyes when he calls them that, but Bolin’s sure that if Iroh heard him, he’s laugh. Bolin likes that about him.) He doesn’t look when they incidentally go into the same restaurant; he just watches from the corner of his eye.

“Hey, look who it is,” says Korra, to half Bolin’s dread, half his happiness. “We should go over and say hi.”

“We should,” says Asami brightly, and Mako glances at Bolin. Bolin pretends not to notice.

They do and Bolin says, “Hi,” along with the rest of them. Iroh and Bumi say hi back and Iroh gives him a smile, which Bolin involuntarily returns.

“You guys want to sit with us?” offers Iroh, and Korra says, “Sure.” They pull up more chairs and sit down.

“The food’ll be on me, guys!” says Bumi, letting out a loud laugh. “It’s good to see you again, Avatar,” he says to Korra, and they start a conversation with others occasionally chiming in.

Bolin had expected that he’d be less interesting to everyone else, that maybe he and Asami or he and a single lieutenant would be off to the side with their own conversation while more important people talk about more important things; but then Iroh turns to him because somehow, they’re sitting next to each other, and Iroh says, “Coincidence meeting you here.”

“It’s a small city,” says Bolin, and when Iroh laughs, he says, “Okay, it’s not.”

“It’s not,” Iroh agrees. He takes a sip of his drink. Bolin pretends he’s not watching and instead turns to his food.

“So, how long are you guys staying in Republic City?” he asks. “When are you guys going back to the Fire Nation?”

“Tired of me already?” Iroh teases.

Bolin shoots him a grin and wishes he could say, No, I want you to stay as long as possible. “I’m not tired of you,” he says. “Just, y’know, wondering.”

Iroh exhales deeply and takes another sip of his drink. “I dunno,” he says. “Once we’re sure that there’s no more revolution or anything. So as long as everything’s peaceful.”

“Well, it’s not possible for everything to be peaceful ever,” says Bolin.

“True,” says Iroh, and then smiles at him. “I guess I’ll just stay here forever then.”

I’d like that, Bolin thinks, and drinks to wash his thoughts away.


Asami and Korra glance at him every once in a while and giggle to each other. Bolin hadn’t thought much about it before until Korra comes up to him on one of her shifts and says, “So, are you gonna do about that little crush you have?”

“W-What?” Bolin splutters. “I—I do not have a—I do not have a crush on any—”

“Oh please,” says Asami. “We both know that you have a raging boner for Iroh—”

Both Asami and Korra burst into giggles again, and Bolin’s cheeks feel fire hot. He storms up to Mako later and says, “You told them!”

“Told who?” says Mako, bewildered.

“Asami and Korra! You told them that I like Iroh!”

Mako blinks, and then shoves Bolin away a little. “I wouldn’t do that,” he says. “You’re pretty obvious about it, anyways.”

“What—I am not,” says Bolin. “I am the master of subtlety, okay! Then they probably just noticed because they’re my friends.”

“Uh huh,” says Mako, sounding bored. He’s flipping through some of his police reports. “Well anyways, I’m going to go on patrol now. You go practice your probending or eat or pine after Iroh like you always do, every day—”

“Hey!” says Bolin, but Mako merely throws a grin over his shoulder before leaving the attic.


Iroh asks him out for drinks and it’s the first time they’ve gone out for drinks and after the first drink, Iroh sets his bottle on the table and turns to Bolin and says, “I like you.”

“Yeah, can I have a straw?” Bolin’s saying to the bartender, and then turns to Iroh and says, “So, w—wait, what?”

Iroh turns back to the bar. His eyes are fixated on a lamp above him. “I like you,” he says. “I’ve been meaning to—I don’t know.” He glances down and his cheeks are flushed. “Tell you, I guess, though I never imagined that I would.”

“You—” says Bolin. “You would—”

“Tell you? I guess I did,” says Iroh.

“You would like me?” says Bolin, and he grabs Iroh’s right shoulder so that Iroh is facing him.

Iroh still won’t meet his eyes. “If you’re grossed out, it’s okay—”

“I like you too,” says Bolin, and he watches Iroh so that he can remember every second, everything in this moment. Iroh looks at him and his eyes are surprised, at first—and then relieved, happy even. He doesn’t hug Bolin or kiss him (which is good, because Bolin doesn’t think he could handle that right now, at the least) but he looks back to the table and Bolin sees a smile from the side of his face. Bolin’s hand isn’t on his shoulder anymore but Iroh places his hand over his.

“Okay,” says Iroh, and then, “I guess that’s a good thing.”

“I think it is,” says Bolin, and they both laugh.


They go out for drinks a bit more and Bolin doesn’t know if they’re together, if they’re a couple, if they’re something official because that’s the most annoying thing about everything. Like Mako and Korra, except he doesn’t think they ever talked about it either, because Mako doesn’t like talking about his feelings and Bolin doesn’t think Korra would confront him about something like that. They’d just find something mutual, and understand each other without talking.

Bolin wishes he has that with Iroh and he thinks he could, except he thinks about it too much.

But they go out for drinks and dinner every evening they can, which is every few days. Iroh still has duties as General as well as patrolling Republic City with the police force, right now. Bolin would join him and Mako, except he has probending training and that takes up most of his day. Even when Iroh isn’t around, he goes out to eat at the place as they always do, and sometimes thinks of what Iroh would say if he were here.

“You’re eating too much,” Iroh might say, and Bolin would say, “You’re eating just as much as me.”

“Well,” says imaginary Iroh, “hardly. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, though.” He’d grin and Bolin would chuck a piece of meat at him and Iroh would say, “Nice maturity you got there.”

“You just like teasing me too much, don’t you?” Bolin would say to Iroh.

“Yeah, but I like it. And I like you.”

Bolin blushes and hides his face even though he’s alone and it’s not like anyone can hear what he’s thinking. Maybe he’s just flattering himself too much. Maybe Iroh doesn’t like him that much; maybe Iroh doesn’t think like this of him.

“Hey, sorry I’m late,” says a voice behind him and Bolin turns and beams when he sees Iroh. Iroh’s hair’s messed up and his jacket is slung over his arm but Bolin can’t be happier to see him.

“Don’t be,” he says, and pulls out the chair next to him. “Sit down.”

Iroh laughs. “I’m not a girl, Bolin,” he says.

“I don’t pull out chairs for only girls,” says Bolin, and smiles involuntarily at the slight reddening of Iroh’s cheeks.


“I thought—think about you a lot,” says Iroh when they’re walking home. Iroh’s staying on Avatar Island with Korra and Bumi and the rest of the army that’s here. They’re a few blocks away from the probending stadium and Bolin wishes they were even farther.

“I think about you a lot too,” says Bolin, surprised.

Iroh shakes his head. Bolin wonders if he’s had too much to drink. “Before—before I told you,” he says, and Bolin knows what he means: before I told you I like you. “I—thought of all the different ways I could’ve told you,” he says, “and all the ways you could’ve reacted.” He hiccups and his cheeks turn a bit red. “I don’t know why I’m telling you this.”

“I,” says Bolin, because he’s surprised.

Iroh shakes his head. “Forget it, I sound stupid,” he says. “You probably—”

“Iroh,” says Bolin, and stops in the street. Iroh turns to him.

“Iroh,” he says again, and takes a step forward so they’re close. “I like you, a lot.” He swallows. “I, um. I think about you a lot too.” His fingers flirt with Iroh’s, a little. Iroh grabs his hand and holds on tight like he doesn’t want the earth to push Bolin away.

“I really like you,” says Iroh, and it sounds like a warning, like he needs to let Bolin know before Bolin knows what he’s in for.

Bolin doesn’t think it’s needed. He’s a rock; he thinks he can be Iroh’s rock.

“It’s okay,” says Bolin, and he can see Iroh take a leap of faith, see the brief flash of doubt in his eyes before Iroh leans in and flits his lips against Bolin’s. Bolin presses back before Iroh can try to dance away, like a flickering flame.

They break apart and then Iroh holds onto Bolin’s face and kisses him properly. Bolin grabs onto his shoulders and feels like there’s nothing between them.

“If it’s not obvious enough,” he says when they stop, noses pressed against each other, “I like you too.”

Iroh grips his cheeks and says, “Okay,” and when Bolin blows into his face, gently, Iroh pulls away and lets out a loud, bright laugh.