‘How about one where Bolin & Iroh are sparring and Bolin accidentally knocks Iroh out or gives him a bloody nose or some such?’
This is kind of a weird story, sorry. Sparring and awkward!Iroh and I dunno, stuff happens? I was getting exasperated with myself for not just writing it already, geeze self, so it’s uh. Possibly not my best. On the bright side, it’s probably hilarious!
General Iroh didn’t look happy at the news. “Leaving tomorrow?” he said. “I understand that she wants to be home where she feels safe, but the city needs its Avatar …” He sighed. “I wish I could do more to help. Will you tell her—”
“Yeah, I’ll pass along your best wishes,” Bolin said. “She just – she kinda needs to be around people she trusts, right now, and I mean, well, not to be rude but.”
“She barely even knows me. I know that.” He frowned. “I just feel …” he said, and then glanced at Bolin and stopped. Probably remembering that they didn’t know each other very well, either, that Bolin wasn’t exactly the best person to go spilling his soul to.
“Useless?” Bolin suggested, cheerfully, and General Iroh looked a little taken aback. Bolin chuckled. “Tell me about it. Normally what I do is go beat stuff up until I—”
He stopped talking and stared at General Iroh, for some reason suddenly remembering that he had punched a bomb. General Iroh stared back.
“Can we maybe—”
Half an hour later they were in the gym’s sparring ring. Everything was a bit dusty and disused, no one had been here since pro-bending had gone boom, but it was still familiar and pleasant, and Bolin bounced on the back of his heels excitedly as he looked around, because somehow he’d actually missed this place.
“We should do this without bending,” said Iroh, who was looking a lot more cheerful now that he actually had something to do, even if it wasn’t a useful thing. He must be the kind of guy that always had to be moving, solving whatever problems he saw, roaming around being all heroic. Bolin had once spent three hours counting every one of Pabu’s hairs, just because he couldn’t quite be bothered moving. They were radically different people. “Hand to hand! Out of solidarity,” Iroh explained, when Bolin frowned quizzically. “Bending isn’t everything, you know.”
“Nah, that’s good, I don’t have Korra to heal me if I get any burns,” Bolin said cheerfully, though he was a little disappointed. He’d gotten most of his early combat practice sparring with Mako. He was good at fighting firebenders.
Iroh winced. “That’s exactly the kind of thing I’m talking about,” he said, then heaved a sigh. Bolin knew that kind of sigh; it was the how-are-you-so-stupid sigh, and he heard it a lot.
Bolin wrapped cloth around his knuckles; flexed his hands. Grinned. He was gonna enjoy this.
“You look confident,” Iroh remarked, shrugging off his shirt. When Bolin did the same, his eyes widened. “… For good reason, I suppose. How did you manage to get that level of definition on a peasant diet?”
Wow, that was mean. Bolin laughed. “Haha, yeah – I didn’t figure out I was a bender for ages, actually, I had to be good at just, y’know, fighting, so when I did find out I kinda just … kept in the habit! And that’s why I’m all gorgeous and strong. Now c’mon, are we gonna fight or not!”
“It’s not fighting,” the general said, stiffly, “it’s a tactically sound exercise that works to our mutual benefit,” and Bolin rolled his eyes. It turned out Iroh was a lot less interesting when they weren’t fighting evil Equalists. Go figure.
“Yeah, yeah, sure,” he said, settling into fight-ready posture, side-facing and light-footed.
“You may be strong,” Iroh said, doing the same, “but I think this’ll be a decent challenge, all the same. I’m quick.” He grinned. “Good luck pinning me down.”
And that grin, with him standing there all shirtless and cocky and saying something like that, and wow, okay, maybe Bolin’s body didn’t agree with his mind about how insufferable this guy was, judging by how dry his mouth went. “Uh?” he said, and then Iroh was throwing the first punch and fortunately he didn’t have to think any more.
Iroh’s fighting style was unfamiliar, sharp jabs and smooth movements – hints of the evasive fighting style airbenders used, too, redirection, and that was interesting. Bolin only took a couple hits, nowhere near enough to phase him, and the second time he let it happen so he could suckerpunch Iroh in the gut while Iroh was distracted hitting him, but Iroh spun away, lashed out another quick hit which Bolin ducked quick and easy and this was fun, it really was, the thoughtless rhythm and weave of it. Mako had been too busy for sparring lately.
“Break,” Iroh panted after ten minutes, and Bolin nodded and leaned thankfully against the ropes.
“So, hey,” he said casually, eyeing Iroh while the general sipped at water. He was all sharp lines and symmetry, and sweaty, right now, which. Wow. “You wanna get dinner tonight?”
Iroh wiped his mouth. “Certainly,” he said. “I’d welcome the chance to further my acquaintance with you and your brother.”
Bolin rolled his eyes. Stupid stuffy Fire Nation men. “No, I mean – you and me. No Mako.”
Iroh straightened, looking alarmed. “Is Mako unwell?” he said. “I know he’s very important to Avatar Korra, that’d be horrendously poor timing—”
Stupid, stupid man. “Mako’s fine,” Bolin said.
Iroh frowned. “Okay?” he said.
Bolin heaved a sigh. “Dude,” he said pityingly. “I am trying to ask you out, okay?”
“Wha,” Iroh said, blankly, and then he stepped back a pace, shaking his head. “That’s – we’re both men, how does that even – what – no, that makes no sense, I’m fairly sure that’s … what? What? No!”
He looked … disgusted, repulsed by the very idea of it. Well. That sucked.
Bolin laughed. Forcing laughs wasn’t hard for him, he did it a lot. “It was a joke, idiot!” he said, and Iroh blinked at him and then laughed as well, heartily.
“Good one,” he said, “for a moment I honestly thought—”
“Break’s over!” Bolin said, darting back into the fight, but Iroh was slow, clumsy with surprise; two exchanges in Bolin landed a hit, his left jab slamming straight into Iroh’s face. Iroh’s head snapped back, and he fell to the ground and sat there.
Bolin stepped back. Oops. Oh no oh no oh nooooo. “Are you okay?” he said. There was blood on his wraps, staining the white cloth red. Stupid, letting his anger get the better of him like that.
Iroh stared up at him, eyes wide, one hand clasped to his nose, which was bleeding at an alarming rate. “You hit me,” he said, his voice pure shock. Well, nasally shock.
“I’m so sorry,” Bolin said, taking a step back. “I didn’t actually mean to! Well, I did, but – I thought you’d dodge, oh man, I’m sorry.”
Iroh surprised him by laughing. “Is that you joking again?” he said. “This is fantastic, it’s been months since I’ve had anything even approaching an equal bout.” He sprang back to his feet eagerly. “Can we go again, please, that was brilliant.”
“Uh,” Bolin said, eyeing him. “Only once you’ve stopped bleeding. Can I get you a cloth or something for that?”
“What?” Iroh said. “No, it’s fine.”
“You are oozing blood!” Bolin exclaimed, wringing his hands.
“Bolin,” Iroh said flatly. “I have fought off dozens of foes while heavily injured. Once I ran a mile with a broken leg. I think I can handle it.”
“Oozing blooood,” Bolin explained rationally, and then he blinked. “Wait wow, really? A whole mile?”
Iroh shifted. “Half a mile,” he said, a bit guilty. “I was exaggerating. Still.”
“Whoaaaah,” Bolin breathed. He paused. “Once I finished a pro-bending match with a dislocated shoulder,” he said, a bit irrelevantly.
Iroh grinned. “Nice,” he said admiringly, and Bolin had to fight the blush. No, face, don’t blush, he is a massive jerk.
“You’re nowhere near as foolish as you generally appear to be,” Iroh continued, and Bolin had to stare at him incredulously, because wow, he didn’t even seem to realise how that sounded.
“Thank you,” Bolin said sarcastically.
Iroh smiled, all perfect white teeth. “You’re welcome,” he said. “I should’ve tried to get to know you better then, I’m sorry. At the time I was a bit …” And he paused significantly. “Tied up.”
Bolin cracked up, clutching his stomach and wheezing. Iroh just stood there looking incredibly pleased with himself.
“I thought we were here to spar, not make jokes,” Bolin said once he’d recovered, and then he brightened. “Because I have lots of really good ones. In a joke-off? I would totally win.”
Iroh ducked his head, laughing. “I would never question your mastery in that particular art,” he said. “You’re not worrying over me any more; that’s all I was wanting.”
“Oh. Huh. Yeah, I’m not.” Bolin shrugged. “I guess you can take care of yourself?”
“As can you,” Iroh said warmly, and Bolin had to fight the blush again. Stupid handsome Iroh who was oddly nice for a jerk and made great jokes and didn’t like him.
Stupid Bolin, always wanting what he couldn’t have.
“Anywho, I should probably be getting back now, they’ll be worrying over me,” Bolin said brightly. They almost certainly wouldn’t be.
“Oh. Alright,” Iroh said, looking taken aback. “Ah – thank you for this. I enjoyed myself. Perhaps next time I’m in town we could do this again? And. And, ah. Perhaps. Have dinner, also? Or something of the kind.”
Bolin frowned. Yeah, great, more opportunities for him to make a fool of himself, no thank you. “Sure, okay,” he said, “if there’s time. Whatever.”
Iroh looked displeased. “Bolin,” he snapped, and then he cleared his throat, looking exceedingly awkward. “I didn’t mean to – look. What I’m trying to … I mean. I. I’d like it if you, um. If we.”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever, I really ought to get back to Korra now,” Bolin said, waving him aside impatiently, and then he left in a hurry, wanting to get out of there. Stupid Iroh not liking him.
Iroh ran to catch up with him, though, and Bolin spun around to glare at him. “What,” he snapped.
Iroh squared his shoulders, and then he grabbed Bolin and kissed him. It wasn’t the best of kisses, considering their respective poses and the haste involved; their teeth clicked together and their noses smushed and it was all rather awkward.
Bolin pulled away. “Wha?” he said intelligently.
“I think I like you!” Iroh snapped, glaring ferociously. “I’d like it if I could see more of you next time I’m in town!”
Bolin bristled. “Okay!” he snapped back, not quite sure what he was irritated about.
“Alright!” Iroh said, looking murderously aggressive and also quite confused.
“We can have noodles,” Bolin hissed.
“Sounds good!” Iroh said furiously.
“Fine!” Bolin yelled back, and Iroh nodded curtly and turned on his heel and exited, walking rather quickly. Bolin did the same.
Well that had been … strange. Maybe it was like how Iroh insulted people without realising it; he just wasn’t very good at that sort of thing.
And … he’d asked Bolin out anyway, even knowing that …
Bolin found himself whistling contentedly on the way back, and couldn’t quite seem to stop.