"Still no sign of him?" Iroh asks when he returns home at the end of the day.
One morose look from Bolin and Iroh has his answer.
"I'm sure he'll turn up soon, Bo," Iroh says reassuringly. "He's probably just off chasing after the skunkoons again. With our luck he'll show up in a couple hours smelling like he's been rolling around at the dump."
Bolin lifts his head up from the table. "You really think so?"
"Of course," Iroh says with a smile. "We just have to be patient." He comes up behind Bolin's chair and wraps his arms around the earthbender. He rests his chin on top of Bolin's head and gently squeezes his shoulders.
"I know," Bolin sighs. "I'm just worried about him."
"Hey now," Iroh says, coming around to face Bolin. "Pabu is the toughest fire ferret I know."
"Pabu is he only fire ferret you know."
"Doesn't matter. Pabu has street smarts, the same as you and Mako. He can take care of himself just fine. When he's done having fun, he'll come home."
"Okay, but if he doesn't come home by tomorrow, I'm hanging up missing flyers."
"And I will gladly help you," Iroh says, kissing Bolin on the nose.
When Iroh returns home the next day he finds Bolin at their kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by heaps of crumpled paper, ink smeared across his forehead.
"Bo?" Iroh asks gently.
Bolin looks up at him, tears threatening to spill over. "I - I can't do it!" he sobs.
"Come here," Iroh says, opening his arms wide for the other man. He wraps Bolin in a hug and squeezes tight, trying to comfort him. "Shh, it's okay, Bo. I'll tell you what, I'm going to call over to Air Temple Island, and we'll see if Ikki can help up make up some flyers. Sound good?"
Bolin nods his head and then notices the small smirk on Iroh's face. "You still think it's sad that a ten-year-old can draw better than me, don't you?"
"I didn't say that," Iroh defends himself.
"But you're thinking it."
Iroh kisses his forehead. "Maybe a little."
They spend the majority of the next day hanging up the posters around the city and going into the different shops to ask if anyone has seen Pabu. No one has.
They check all of their favorite haunts. The pro-bending arena, the noodlery, the docks, all without luck. Bolin seems to get more and more dejected as they go, and the boys return home with a sense of defeat.
Iroh tries to comfort Bolin in the best way he knows how, but even seaweed noodles from Narook's can't bring up his spirits. They turn in early, and the only thing Iroh can do at this point is wrap his arms around Bolin, back to chest, and will the sadness away while they sleep.
Iroh is brought out of his slumber by the feeling of something warm and wet against his cheek.
"Mmm, Bo," he sighs. "Love your kisses."
Suddenly his face is covered by a heavy something and Iroh blearily opens his eyes only to see bright auburn fur.
"Gerroff," he mutters, mouth full of hair. He hates when Pabu crawls into bed with them because he always - wait.
"Pabu!" Iroh exclaims. "Bo! Pabu!"
"Whaa?" Bolin groans sleepily.
"What!" Bolin bolts up in bed. "Pabu!" he yells happily, scooping the fire ferret up into his arms. "Where have you been?"
Pabu nips at Bolin's nose before squirming out of his grasp and leaping to the floor. He lets out a few chirps and cranes his neck towards the door.
"You want us to follow you, boy?" Bolin asks, pushing aside the covers.
Iroh smiles at his boyfriend's words, ever amused by his ability to understand fire ferret.
Bolin follows Pabu to the door, Iroh trailing not far behind. The fire ferret leads them out the back door and into the woods.
"Pabu, where are you taking us, buddy?"
They make their way farther into the trees until Pabu disappears beneath a bush.
"Where'd he go?" Bolin asks.
"Shh, listen. Do you hear that?" Iroh says.
There's some scratching noises and then a few soft chirps, and the Pabu is poking his head out from under the brush, beckoning the men to come closer.
Bolin kneels down in the dirt and reaches his hand out when all of a sudden anther small head pops up next to Pabu's. And another one. And another one.
"What - ?" Iroh starts, but he's interrupted by Bolin's happy shout of, "Babies!"
Pabu scurries out and three tiny fire ferret pups scamper behind him.
"Look how adorable!"
Iroh laughs as he joins Bolin kneeling on the ground. "Well, at least we know what he's been up to this week."
"I wonder where their mom is."
"I don't know, Bo."
"Something must have happened to her," Bolin says sadly. "Fire ferrets never just abandon their pups. They must be orphans just like Pabu was when Mako and I found him."
The pups hang back a bit, not used to the presence of humans in the forest. But then Bolin holds out his arms and Pabu nudges the little ones forward. One of them approaches Iroh and tentatively sniffs at his knee before deciding that the man means no harm.
The other two come forward and within seconds Bolin and Iroh find themselves rolling around in the dirt and leaves with the four fire ferrets, laughing like children.
When the pups finally tire out, they cluster around Pabu, who looks up at Bolin and lets out a plaintive chirp.
"Of course they're coming home with us," he says in response.
Bolin and Iroh gather the pups in their arms and Pabu scampers alongside them as they make their way back to the house.
"I think we just became grandparents," Bolin says, once the pups are all tucked snugly into Pabu's basket-like bed.
"Huh," Iroh says thoughtfully. "I've always wanted to have grandchildren. I just always thought they'd be…you know…human children."
"You want grandchildren?" Bolin asks.
"Very much," Iroh replies.
"Me too," Bolin says.
"You know that means we have to have children first," Iroh says.
"I know," Bolin says.
"Huh," Iroh says, wrapping his arms around Bolin in a hug. "We should really do something about that." He kisses Bolin softly on the forehead.
"Mmm, we should," Bolin agrees. "But first lets worry about these little guys, yeah? We should probably name them."
"You always have the best ideas," Iroh says with a smile.