Mako could tell there was something wrong with Bolin. He had never seen his brother so distracted during practice. After what was probably the tenth time the earthbender let a rock slip from his control, Mako decided it was better to ask.
"Alright, that's enough. We can't keep on going like this. What's wrong?"
"What? Nothing…" Answered Bolin, shooting an uncertain look at his brother. "What makes you think there's something wrong?"
"Oh, come on, Bolin, I know you. Tell me what's bothering you." The firebender watched as his brother looked at him, transferring his weight from one leg to another, looking uncomfortable. "Or don't you want to tell me?"
"Okay", said him finally, "I'll tell you." The younger boy closed his eyes and sighed before continuing. "Something happened the other night and I'm really confused. I don't know what to think or who to ask… And I don't know if you'll be okay with it." He walked up to the nearest wall and sat on the ground, leaning back. His brother followed him, sitting on his right. "Mako… what do you think of Iroh?"
The firebender raised one brow slightly, confused with the sudden change of subject. "What does Iroh have to do with you being upset?"
"Just answer my question."
"Uh… Iroh is pretty cool. He… is very serious, I guess. A hard worker."
"Yeah… But he's also funny and cool and a great listener…"
"I think you spent more time with him than me, you'd know", said Mako, still puzzled. "What happened to make you upset? And why would I not be okay with it? Bolin, I don't understand."
"We kissed, alright?" was Bolin's blunt answer. His tone had been hushed, yet exasperated. The boy now looked expectantly at his brother, waiting for his reaction.
"Wait… who…?" The answer, of course, was obvious. Yet, the older boy couldn't believe it at first. "Not Iroh, right?"
"Yes, Iroh. Who the hell was I talking about this whole time?" Bolin seemed annoyed, but he still looked at his brother, waiting.
"You. Kissed Iroh." The earthbender only nodded in response. "You kissed Iroh." Mako was trying to process the information. He never knew Bolin liked boys. "Wait. Did you kiss him or did he kiss you?"
"I kissed him… But he did kiss me back." Bolin answered, thoughtful.
"Do you like him?"
"I… I don't know. It's different from what I've felt for any girl. I mean, I really liked kissing them and it was fun, but never really serious. And when I fell for Korra I think I was doing it just because it felt right. But with Iroh I don't know if it's right. It's more intense and just so confusing! If we had at least talked about it, but he wouldn't listen! I didn't know he could be so stubborn."
Mako was having a hard time picturing his brother with another man, let alone Iroh. The General was older than Bolin. Like, 6 or 7 years older.
"So, you and Iroh really kissed?"
"Yes, I told you already!" Bolin's expression now showed exasperation. He opened his mouth to say something else, then closed it, seeming to have changed his mind. Hesitantly, he opened it again. "Do... do you think it's weird?"
"I don't know, never really thought about it." But he knew how much his opinion mattered to his little brother, so he added: "Well, if two people are really in love, there can't be anything wrong with it, right?"
That comment alone seemed to brighten up Bolin's expression. The earthbender sighed, now seeming relieved.
"So… you'd be okay if I liked Roh?"
"Sure… as long as you're happy."
Bolin couldn't hold himself anymore, throwing his arms over the brother's shoulders and pulling him into a tight hug. "Thanks, bro. I knew I could count on you."
"I got your back", Mako answered, rubbing his brother's back as to comfort him. "So, do you think we can go back to practice now?" The two boys pulled away from the hug.
"Yes! I feel much better now!" Bolin was already getting up and running to the center of the improvised arena.
Bolin and… Iroh? That sure was new. The firebender finally got up, running to join his brother.
It was past 3 in the morning and General Iroh couldn't sleep. In less than a day he would be back in Republic City for a meeting with the United Republic Council. He wouldn't even spend the night, but Tenzin had already invited him over to the Air Temple Island and insisted once the General tried to refuse the offer. He wished he could call it off, but the meeting was too important. He wouldn't let a personal matter get on the way of his work.
However, that thought didn't calm him enough for him to fall asleep. He started replaying for what felt like the thousandth time the brief moments he spent in Bolin's room, over a month before. He had tried not to think about it but it was impossible. At first he denied he ever felt anything. The kiss had been nothing, it meant nothing. Except it did. It did mean a lot and Iroh knew that.
Once the General had gotten around to admitting to himself he had liked, and even returned the kiss, he started thinking it through. Did that make him… gay? Did liking to kiss another man really mean that? Or had it been only a onetime thing? Maybe he just really liked Bolin as a friend and he had gotten everything confused because of the boy's exaggerated demonstration of affection.
But then again, that hadn't been the first time he had kissed a boy, the first one had been too long ago. He had always dismissed his first kiss as childish behavior. He was only 11 at the time, and his best friend Yuki was 12. They had kissed right on the lips, in a hurried and desperate parting when the other boy came to say goodbye before moving with his family to a faraway village. It hadn't been much of a kiss, just a peck, a soft and quick touch. The General never saw Yuki again and they stopped exchanging letters after a few months.
Then, in his teenage years the General had dated girls. It wasn't too hard for him to conquer their hearts at the time, being handsome and quiet, the mysterious type. But none of the relationships had lasted long and once he joined the United Forces he dedicated his life to work. He never again thought of having a romantic relationship with anyone. He wouldn't have time for that. Or at least, that's what he always told himself.
And yet there he was, now the General of the United Forces. He was 23 years old and couldn't sleep just because of the possibility of meeting with Bolin again.
A/N: Much longer chapter this time! And sorry for updating this a bit late. I said I'd upload it on Sunday at the latest and it's already Monday here. It took me longer because I changed my mind about this chapter at the last minute, but I like it better this way. I left what I was writing before for the next chapter.
Also, I'd like to point out the fact that the story won't be told exclusively from Iroh's point of view, as you could see in this chapter. I'm playing around with the idea of not telling it from Bolin's perspective, though. I think it's more fun this way because Bolin is always so easy to read and so blunt about things.
And one last note: Iroh's age isn't mentioned in LoK, so I just decided he'd be 23. I hope it makes sense for you guys too.
Special thanks for the two reviews I got! They helped me put some aspects of the story into perspective and I'd be pleased if more people gave me their opinion too. Just knowing that there are people enjoying this story makes me want to improve and write more. Thank you!