The celebrations are explosive, maybe even a little destructive as a city on the brink of revolution lets out a collective breath of relief. Even on the island the festivity is wild as friends and family revel in their victory, casting away inhibitions for one jubilant night.
Iroh sits on the courtyard steps nursing a bottle of firewhiskey, thoughts inevitably sliding to a letter received in the aftermath of the battle. A bitterness unsuited to the party roils up within him, sharpens his eyes to a glare, but he can't help the pain that sparks deep in his heart at this. He takes a long draw from the bottle, tries to drown everything in the numbing burn of the drink but it doesn't really work. Years spent soldiering have inured him to the effects of alcohol. A forlorn sigh rattles past his lips.
"What's got you in such a dour mood tonight, little Roh?"
Bumi collapses onto the steps beside him, calloused hand already reaching over, palm up. Iroh ignores the hated nickname, wordlessly taking another drag of liquid fire before passing the bottle to the older man, voice bitter.
"They invited me to their wedding."
His old comrade pauses, gruff face wrinkling in confusion for an instant before the bemused realization sets in, eyebrows wriggling above his knowing grin.
"Who's weddin–Ah...her, eh? That old fire from the capital?"
"It's been five years since I last spoke to her, Bumi, I thought I was over this. I am over it, but now they're inviting me to their wedding?"
Iroh sighs again, the cool night air brushing against skin flushed with the warmth of inebriation, and takes another drink when the bottle comes back around. Sympathy softens the edges of Bumi's face, takes the wildness from his eyes.
"That's rough, kiddo."
"I can't just not go...a snub like that? People will be talking for years."
"Trust me, I know the feeling."
Amber eyes meet blue, connected by a shared misery and both men chuckle, a self-deprecating sound lost to the merriment around them. Iroh takes another drink and the numbness finally begins to creep into his mind.
"Yeah, I guess you do..."
Bumi perks up suddenly.
"And to think, if things had gone differently, I could've been your old man!"
Iroh splutters on the whiskey, twists his neck to stare into the other man's laughing gaze for a long moment, mouth hanging open as he thinks back to the long-forgotten stories of his mother. Bumi only grins, mischievously.
"When we were younger, your mom and I–"
"Stop! Just...stop–can we please not get into this?"
The younger man tips the bottle back again and hastily hands it off, fighting back images of his mother and the man beside him that he'd rather forget. Bumi bursts into uproarious laughter, punctuated with a hearty clap to Iroh's back that bleeds the tension away leaving an amicable smile to steal across his lips. The firewhiskey ceaselessly changes hands as they settle into the comfortably empty silence shared between brothers-in-arms.
He finds himself thinking back to a girl with golden eyes, the lustrous silkiness of her raven hair and the cultured lilt of her voice. A scar from that time long-gone aches with a deep pain, the only mark of the arrow he once took for a girl he'd thought he loved.
The softness has again crept into the older man's face as he watches Iroh's fingers hover over that old wound.
"Yeah...some days. Sometimes I wonder if it'd be easier to just lock it all away, to give the rest of me to the soldier's life like you did, Bumi."
"And grow into a crazy old bachelor like me? I'm flattered, kiddo, but you're still young and there's plenty of time to find another spark in your life. Plenty of time for second chances."
Iroh's eyes slide to the Avatar–Korra–happily absorbed in the merriment, and he thinks of the long conversations shared in the morning sun, the hesitant touch of an inexperienced girl and the undeniable bond growing between them. When he turns back his friend, there's an uncharacteristic wistfulness in Bumi's gaze as he turns to the celebration below, lingering on something Iroh can't see. The bottle is passed.
"It's never too late for second chances, old man, even for you."
"Hey, kiddo, you were the one talking about giving your life to the soldiering and locking it away."
The pitch of his imitation is impressively whiny for a man of his age and stature. Iroh only smirks.
"Maybe, but that doesn't change the fact that I'm right."
Bumi only looks mildly peeved that the topic has switched to him, swigging from the bottle before he continues.
"You know, your mom–" "Don't want to hear it!" "–and your gramps looked exactly the same when they got smug like that."
His sigh is explosive, intermingled with the cackling of the other man as the relief settles around him.
"I'll take that as a compliment."
"Don't, it's disconcerting and weird."
"...Sometimes, I really do forget that you're the older one."
Bumi only laughs, handing the firewhiskey back and that amicable silence once more descends between them. It's as Iroh's lowering the bottle again, the numbing fire burning its way down his throat, that the older man speaks up again.
"Well, time for me to leave."
Huh? He drags his baffled gaze up to meet twinkling blue eyes just as Bumi tips a lazy nod to something beside him, teasing grin in place.
"Howdy, Korra–" Iroh whips around to see the girl, cheeks flushed from the revelry, "–what brings you here?"
"Oh, er...hey Bumi, didn't see you there." Her flush deepens and he wonders if she's been drinking. "I was just looking for General Broody here...didn't mean to interrupt your man-chat, sorry–" Bumi stands, waving her closer as she turns to go.
"No no, don't be so hasty, I think we're done with our commiserating for the night and now, I have an earthbender to find anyway."
The older man takes one last draw from the bottle before passing it back to Iroh with a flagrant wink.
"A toast to second chances, kiddo."
As Bumi walks away, Korra steps a little closer, one hand resting lightly on his shoulder, smiling when she asks.
"Earthbender? Second chances? What were you guys talking about out here?"
Loves we lost long ago.
"Nothing important, just a bit of misery in paradise."
She chuckles. He smirks, draining the last of the firewhiskey with a silent toast.
To second chances, old man.
"Would you care for a dance, milady?"
"You're drunk." A giggle.
"So? I can still dance perfectly."
"If you say so, o great general." A blush.
As they walk away hand in hand, enveloped in warm laughter and brilliant grins, the ache of his mark begins to fade.
My life will be complete if Iroh and Bumi turn out to be best buddies/bros.
Anyway, this headcanon of mine has Bumi as the aged bachelor (because I can just see him doing that) who's relationship with Iroh's mom (who I'm trying to avoid naming for as long as possible) in their youth fell apart when he decided to become a soldier (a very long time ago). A similar situation happened for Iroh as well, his long-term relationship with a childhood sweetheart breaking down when he decided to join the UF.
Bumi would likely have been invited/expected at Iroh's mom's wedding, the same way Iroh is expected to be at his ex-girlfriend/fiancée's wedding.