A few floors down, they found themselves a nice quiet spot on a large balcony. Bolin leaned his back on a pillar, and crossed his arms. "So. What do you want to talk about?"
Iroh sat down on the floor. The wound on his side ached. He had been so surprised by Bolin's sudden appearance that he had forgotten to ask Korra to treat the wound again. The pain was greater than before, but he forced a casual smile on his face. He waved his hand to Bolin. "Well, for example what your show back there was all about."
"Don't think for a second that you didn't deserve that", Bolin said and chuckled. "You should've seen your face."
"So was it true?" Iroh waved his hand towards Bolin. "Did my men really have to peel you off those steps and drag you home?"
Bolin's smile faded. "Yes. And I really did spend a month in bed after that."
"I'm sorry. I know it seems like very little but I don't know what else to say."
"It wasn't your fault I got too attached to you."Bolin tilted his head to the side. "I think a big part of my act before was targeted at myself. I should've been stronger."
Iroh gave him a sympathetic smile. "It's not weakness to fall in love."
Bolin didn't argue with his statement, but he didn't seem entirely convinced either.
"So, how have you been? Broke a lot of hearts since then?" Iroh tried to sound cheerful, but failed miserably.
"Every once in a while, I meet someone I really like..."
"That's nice", Iroh said. He was utterly failing at sounding supportive.
"...and when I tell them how I feel, they tell me they'd rather be with someone else or that they simply don't like me that way", Bolin finished. Iroh didn't like his self-pitying smile one bit.
"All of them?"
"Well, since you left there's been...four? Four, yeah, and they all turned me down."
Iroh couldn't see why anyone would turn Bolin down, but he didn't say it out loud since he figured it wouldn't cheer Bolin up one bit.
"So you haven't dated at all since I left?" Iroh asked, feeling like the worst person ever. He really had screwed Bolin up.
"Well, I did go out with this one person for a while. He was also a pro-bender. It wasn't really about romance or that we actually liked each other, you see. But he was kind to me, and he was very good at the...how should I put it? Bed activities?" Bolin gave him a shy smile. Perhaps he was unsure whether it was a good idea to talk to Iroh about his experiences, given their history together.
Iroh blushed. "Oh." He shifted his position. "Shouldn't you have waited for someone who really loved you to come around?"
Bolin smirked. "Someone like you?"
Iroh cleared his throat. "No, I..."
Bolin shook his head to signal to him that he didn't need to explain himself. "When you left, I did wait for you. That was the month I spent in bed. Then I realized I had been waiting all my life. For my life to get better. For me and my brother to stop being so poor. For people to start caring about me. I just...I just decided that I had waited enough. So, I started doing things that made me happy. Maybe it wasn't ideal, but it was what I wanted for myself."
Iroh couldn't say anything to that. Bolin shook his head. "Please don't look at me like that."
"Like you pity me. Like you're guilty for me not getting my fairytale ending." Bolin stopped leaning on the pillar behind him and assumed a more typical Earthbender position that Iroh recognized from his travels in the Earth Kingdom. He started practicing pro-bending moves with imaginary disks.
"Am I not?" Iroh ran his fingers through his hair and found dirt. He would have to take a bath later. "I know first hand what a monster can do to someone so young."
Bolin stopped in his tracks and threw his arms in the air. He looked extremely frustrated. "You are not a monster. Why would you even say that?"
"I know what I am." The pain was starting to get the best of Iroh, and he couldn't concentrate anymore. He just needed to convince Bolin once and for all of the fact that he wasn't the ideal general everyone made him out to be. That he was the one who had been in the wrong, not Bolin. Maybe then he could...
"So you didn't love me after all?" Bolin's tone sounded angry all of a sudden.
"But not as much as the army? Had you stayed with me, they wouldn't have let you back. You seemed more than happy to ditch me to save your career!" Bolin's shouting sounded wrong. So wrong that Iroh couldn't help but snap as well.
"That's because THERE IS NO ME WITHOUT THE ARMY!"
Bolin's mouth opened but nothing came out. Iroh realized how loud he had been. He tried again, using a more apologetic tone of voice. "My whole life, I've tried to be a good soldier. I've done everything that was asked of me, I've risked my life countless times for my nation. Whenever there was something that could've harmed my career, I got rid of it. Yes. Sometimes it was lonely. But my goal was more important."
"I was just an obstacle for you?"
Iroh saw Bolin's expression turn into that of disbelief. Even though his side hurt, he got up. The pain stopped him from thinking clearly. Was he supposed comfort Bolin? Fuel his anger at him? He couldn't remember anymore.
"Bolin-", he started. He then lost consciousness.
Bolin was just about to storm off when Iroh uttered his name and fell. Bolin rushed to him and examined his body. He felt a damp spot on Iroh's side and realized it was blood. "Iroh, you idiot."
He carried the unconscious man up the stairs. To Bolin's relief, he realized he was now strong enough to carry the man with ease. The stairs proved to be a challenge, but Bolin figured it would be good exercise to him.
Iroh woke up to Korra smiling at him. "You know, I don't mean to sound rude, but I'm starting to miss the days when I woke up and you weren't there."
"Especially when me being there always means that you have a nasty cut on your side", Korra agreed and patted him on the shoulder.
Iroh looked around him. He realized he was in a large white room. He was lying on a bed that twelve of his men could've fit on. "Is this your room? Cozy." His hand went to his side to feel out the wound, but it wasn't there. "Your healing's gotten much better in these past few years. Thank you."
"Well, actually you were just out for so long that I had plenty of time to work on you. You should thank Bolin, too, he's the one who carried you here."
Iroh closed his eyes. "I just can't do right by him, can I?"
"No, so you should stop trying."
"I left. I thought that was enough. But now I hear he was a wreck afterwards."
"Oh yes." Korra crossed her arms behind her head. "Right after you left...that was not a good time for him. Mako came this close to going after you himself and bringing you back, just so Bolin would eat something."
"Mako? I thought he hated my guts. In fact, I'm positive he hates my guts."
"He does. But you don't know the state Bolin was in back then. I was scared. We were all scared. And then one day he just got better. Got up and started functioning again. Maybe even better than before."
Iroh opened his eyes. "Better?"
Korra placed her hands on her lap and stared at them. "Yeah, well, Bolin was always kind to everyone and he was the best friend you'd ever meet. At the same time, though, I feel like he was, at least sometimes, pretending to be happy when he really wasn't. After you left, he became a more honest version of himself. He was still like he'd always been, nice and helpful, but he became... more adept at speaking out when he felt something was wrong. Thanks to that, I feel like we got to be much better friends, he and I."
"It's good at least something good came out of that fiasco."
"You know, this gloomy brooding guy act of yours is getting tiresome."
Iroh smiled. "It's easy for you to say."
Korra gave him a wry smile. "Maybe it is. But for both you and Bolin's sake, you need to figure out what you want with him. Because if you hurt him again..." Korra leaned in to point her finger at Iroh's eye "... you'll have the Avatar coming after you." She got up and walked to the door. "You better get some rest, the festivities will start in the evening." When she saw Iroh's confused expression, she added: "It's morning now, so you have plenty of time. Bolin said he'd bring you breakfast, so you better think fast."