Neither one of them knew exactly how this part of their relationship grew but there was a definite starting point. It had happened when Iroh had been invited over to the Air Temple one night for dinner. When the others had dispersed after some conversational tea during sunset, Bolin and Iroh were the last ones left in the room. Bolin, of course, was there for more food and Iroh stayed to watch the peculiar behavior.
They winded up talking about the war and then slowly moved to more personal things. They were quite different in many ways but they both had conviction about the things and people they loved. Plus it helped how Bolin could actually turn a couple of suitable jokes to make Iroh laugh. Because of the new topics, they had become quite boisterous and Pema had come in to tell them the children were going to sleep now and they needed to be quiet.
Bolin knew for a fact he had no volume switch so he invited Iroh over to his room on the island. Since the teen had asked with a purpose, the general did not feel awkward about accepting. They sat on the small window ledge that overlooked the water. The cool breeze that sweep across them calmed down their conversation to very slow pace.
Eventually the chill of the air became too much, but instead of Iroh excusing himself he sat there and waited for Bolin to suggest they sit on the only place to do so – the bed. At first things were a bit awkward on the bed.
"So…" Bolin said, finally out of words for the night.
The general smiled at him, not wishing to cause Bolin to feel uncomfortable.
Bolin smiled back, still a little unsure, but happy nonetheless.
There was a suddenly strong gust of wind and Bolin shivered. Iroh felt at fault since he had kept him up. He pulled at the blanket on the bed behind them and draped it over Bolin.
"Urm…Thanks, sir, General."
The general chuckled at the teen's formalness. Bolin blushed and looked down, sadly.
"What's the matter, Bolin?"
"That just…" he looked up and tried to laugh it off, "It reminded me when I was little," he then grasped at the blanket around him, "Mako would always make sure I was warm at night when we were little, even if he had to give up his blanket for me."
Iroh watched as Bolin was caught in his memory.
Bolin continued, "He would take the blanket and do this fire-bending trick with it, so it was all warm and cozy…"
The teen snuggled tightly in the cloth as Iroh leaned forward. He slipped a hand under the blanket for a moment and gave it a puff of hot air. Bolin straightened up and looked at the older man with wide eyes.
Iroh expected the earth-bender to be cheerful, but instead his eyes began to well up with tears and his face grew distraught. Without a moment's thought, the general grabbed the mass of Bolin and blanket and squeezed hard.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you."
Bolin found the man's shoulder and rested his forehead against it.
"It's okay," he sniffled, "I didn't think that I would-" he took a deep breath and tried to continue, but couldn't.
Iroh patted and rubbed his back, "How about you lay down?"
Bolin followed the suggestion, but blindly took his arms out of the blanket and wrapped them around Iroh so the both of them ended up sprawled on the bed.
After a few moments, Bolin made very nervous eye contact with the general, "You don't mind, do you…staying?"
He shook his head because he wanted to stay, "I don't have any meetings in the morning so it will be fine."
Iroh caught a glimpse of Bolin smiling before he ducked his head under the blanket, "Good."
It wasn't long until both of them fell asleep.
In the morning they woke to what should have been awkward situation, but it wasn't for some reason. They gazed at one another for a few minutes waiting until their bodies wanted to finally move. After all the war Iroh had seen recently, this was nice. Instead of waking up to an empty, cold room, he opened his eyes to see the charming face of Bolin, who was surprisingly handsome for just waking up and which the general was now jealous of.
After a short conversation, Iroh skillfully and quietly left out the window.
These kinds of secret night calls continued for a month now and the both of them had become very close with each other. Tonight, though, was the night that their relationship made a turn for the much more intimate. Earlier in the day Bolin had gone out with Asami and Korra to do some shopping in the newly awakening Republic City. General Iroh was again coming for another dinner and they were buying some food.
When Korra rushed ahead to talk to a cabbage merchant, Bolin pulled Asami aside.
"Um, could I maybe ask for some advice and stuff?" he nervously asked.
Asami smiled, "Of course, Bolin. What is it?"
"Well, there's this…person I'm really starting to…like a lot, but I'm not sure how to make it a…romantic relationship, you know?"
"Have you asked this person out on a date?"
Bolin had continually asked Iroh to come anytime he could, so that counted…kind of.
"Yeah, but we've never really call them dates…it just doesn't fit."
Asami thought for a moment as they walked the streets behind Korra, then a particular vendor stall caught her eye. She led Bolin over and gestured to very romantic looking things.
"How about these?" Asami asked.
"I'm not sure this is my crush's style…I mean me doing the overly romantic thing isn't exactly…"
"Well, maybe there's just one little thing here that might set things in motion?"
Bolin searched over the items and saw an interesting metal globe with intricate designs carved out of it. He picked it up to see there was a hole in the bottom.
Asami took notice and smiled, "Oh wow. What a pretty candle shadow-caster. Should we find a candle to go with it as well?"
He shook his head with a smile, "Nah, I don't think I'll need one."
"Oh?" she smirked, "She's a fire-bender?"
Bolin faltered a bit at her calling his crush a girl, but Asami took it as embarrassment.
"Hey!" Korra called as she jogged up to the two, "You guys done yet? We should get finished shopping so we can the food started."
"Um, right," Bolin answered, "Let me just pay for this."
He handed over the money for his item and stowed it away as Korra gave him a questioning look.
Asami leaned over and whispered in Korra's ear. She lit up and grinned at Bolin. He turned red and started to walk off to get out of the situation. Unfortunately, Korra and Asami didn't let him off the hook, continually asking questions and guessing who the lucky 'girl' was. At some points, Bolin found himself talking honestly, though editing out the 'he' for a 'she.' He never realized how crazy he actually was for the general until he was voicing it. And he wasn't worried about the girls finding out because the person he described sounded nothing like what he had first thought Iroh was like.
As dinner progressed that night, Bolin grew more and more excited, inwardly, of course. He would soon have the general to himself. The night ended a little more formally than the last time. Everyone said farewell to Iroh on the steps of the air temple as the sun set. He had a meeting in the morning and needed to leave quickly. Bolin grew disappointed as the man walked away and the others went back inside. He really shouldn't have talked to the girls…or he should have told them the truth. A fantasy had been worked up in his head now. That their relationship was normal and encouraged. Because this was the farthest thing from what either of them should be doing.
Bolin sighed and sat down on the stairs. It's what he's doing…not the both of them. It was him with the crush, him thinking of a romantic getaway. He pulled out the candle holder from his pocket and let his fingers trance along the design. As the sun finally set and it was finally dark, Bolin let himself cry.
"What's wrong, Bolin?"
The teen popped his head up to see the dark figure of the general.
"I thought you left," Bolin said blinking back his tears.
"I didn't want anyone to see me come back."
"Oh," was all that he could manage.
Iroh sat down on the step very close to Bolin, which helped his aching heart from breaking from what he knew was the inevitable.
"What's that?" Iroh inquired, pointing to the object in the teen's hands.
Bolin gulped but handed it over and then tried to play it off as though he not placed much thought into it, "I was at the marketplace this afternoon and I thought it looked cool."
The general smiled when he comprehended what the thing was, "But you didn't buy a candle?"
"Well, I- there was no…"
Iroh chuckled at the blubbering earth-bender, "Don't worry, I get it. I was just teasing you."
He formed his fingers into the correct form and positioned them under the holder. A small flame came to be and it changed the atmosphere. The shapes of jagged flames were now tattooed on the surfaces of the nearby stairs and their bodies.
Iroh looked up from the flame and gazed over at Bolin. His smile practically made the teen melt. The general just made him feel like no one else and that's why he couldn't wait another minute. It didn't matter what happened after, but he was going to try his best. Bolin picked himself up slightly and leaned over to plant a kiss on Iroh's lips. As he moved back and opened his eyes, it was brighter than he remembered and shot a glance over the general's hand the see it burning much hotter. When he returned to the man's face, Bolin saw the same height of fire in those eyes.
Suddenly, it went dark and Bolin heard the small clunk of the metal ornament being placed down on the stone. Then, all the earth-bender could feel was warm and pressure around him. And then a kiss. A soft, tender one that made him moan softly into the mouth of the other.
They parted within a minute, breathless.
"Wow…" Bolin chirped before settling back onto the steps.
"Yeah…" Iroh agreed.
The general picked up the candle holder and gave it to the teen.
He pocketed it and he continued to stare at Iroh in absolute awe. Bolin never thought this would happen, but here he was, in the aftermath of an amazing kiss with Iroh.
It only took a second more for Bolin to gather that he didn't have to continue to sit here like a proper, little kid, so he grabbed the man and smashed their lips together.
Iroh jumped in surprise, but embraced Bolin quickly. The younger of the two felt himself being picked up and he hooked his legs around the man's strong body. He was so hot against him and Bolin wanted more and more. He kissed the general deeper and was happy when the other stumbled in his walk from the passion.
They, thankfully, made it to Bolin's room without being caught. The teen felt like ripping off the man's clothes, but hesitated when he remembered the uniform he donned. He let his vice grip on Iroh loosen and he stood in front of him before starting the difficult task of unfastening the uniform. The general snickered as he let Bolin complete the task, admiring the way his eyebrows knitted together in concentration.
Bolin undressed the man down to his underwear and hung his clothes up properly which made Iroh pull him into a hug with a laugh.
"You must be a virgin, yes?"
Bolin turned red, "…I was procrastinating, wasn't I?"
"Just a bit," he said and kissed the top of Bolin's mussed hair.
The teen eagerly started another war of tongues as he undid his own clothes much faster. Their hands wandered, but when Iroh noticed the other staying above his waist, he pulled back and stopped.
Bolin whined, which made the general want to move back in, but he stopped himself.
"You're not ready yet," he spoke softly.
"But…" Bolin stared at his feet, feeling disheartened, "I'm sorry."
Iroh held him close, "No need for that. The physical is not everything and it's definitely not the most important part. Let's go to bed."
Bolin didn't stay sad for long with the thought of snuggling up with the one he cared for. They crawled into bed in just their boxers. Iroh spooned the younger, lightly placing kisses on his back.
The sensation soothed Bolin more than anything he had ever experienced. The problems he had to worry about disappeared for the time being and it was just the two of them. Together.
When they woke, it was well into the morning. Bolin enjoyed their tangled up limbs and the sunny smile on the general's face that probably no one had ever seen but him.
They kissed chastely and then Bolin remembered.
"Don't you have a meeting?"
Iroh huffed, "Eh, they can go on without me. Someone will fill me in later."
A finger was pressed to the earth-bender's lips, "Hush, now. I want to be with you."
Bolin was flattered into silence and they laid there as the birds sung outside and the morning sun warmed them.
Then, suddenly, there was a rush of commotion out in the halls. From what could be heard, it sounded like they were trying to find someone. A heavy, quick and familiar knock was rapped on the door before it swung up.
Mako hung onto the other side of the door and Korra and Asami were further outside the door.
"Bolin, have you seen…?" Mako started to ask before turning red in embarrassment, then a mix of that and anger.
The three companions got quite a sight. The couple on the bed were facing them as they spooned with their legs and arms intertwined and the sheets were nowhere to be found, so their mostly naked bodies were exposed.
"What the hell is going on?" Mako roared.
Bolin began to sputter, but Mako didn't let him start to form an argument, "What are doing? Get the hell off of my brother you disgusting man!"
He began to march over to the bed when Iroh was too stunned to give the proper reaction Mako wanted. His hands reached out angrily to grab the man, but Bolin intervened.
"Don't hurt him," Bolin said, pushing his brother back.
Mako looked at him with confusion, "What? But he…"
Bolin grew nervous at everyone's eyes on him, including Korra and Asami who were still trying to connect 'his crush' to the general.
"I invited him here," Bolin said with a great deal of suggestion because of his vagueness.
Mako was left speechless and Asami moved in, "How about we give them a moment to get dressed, Mako?"
The fire-bender blankly left with Asami as a guide. The door was shut and Bolin instantly broke out into tears.
Iroh hugged him, "Shhh, Bolin. It will be okay."
"No, it won't," the teen cried out, "We shouldn't have done this. I knew no one would be okay with this. We can't-"
The general ceased his shouts with a kiss and did his best to pacify the sobbing earth-bender, "Mako was just being protective. It's only natural. He doesn't hate you, Bolin."
"But he hates you, now," Bolin choked, "And that's even worse."
Iroh took the other's face in his hands, "Why is that worse, Bolin?"
"Because I love you," he confessed, crying hysterically.
The door opened up again and Mako stood there with tears in his eyes, a face similar to his brother's.
"I'm sorry," Mako said, solemnly.
Bolin turned and opened his arms for Mako, who walked over and hugged him.
Mako gave his attention to Iroh for a moment, "I apologize for reacting so violently."
The general disagreed, "I know how much he means to you. It would be strange for you to not hit me in the face."
Mako gripped his brother tighter before letting go.
"I better go tell the guards we found you."
And with that Mako left the two alone to be with one another until the general was forced to go back to work.