They all tried to help, after, each in their own way. Of course they did. They were good people.

Korra hugged him tight enough his ribs creaked. It was painful in a way that felt right, and he was grateful for it, distantly.

The twins just looked at him for a minute. “He’s still thinking of you,” one reassured him in a hushed whisper, eyes wide and serious, and, as always, he could never tell whether or not they were serious, so he just frowned at the both of them, because he felt like he ought to. Wasn’t that what he was supposed to do? This wasn’t a time for jokes, he should feel annoyed. But he didn’t feel anything.

 Verick dithered around him awkwardly for a while. Verick was a good man, despite what he wanted people to think, and a good man to have around, but he wasn’t at his best at situations that required anything other than charm and sleaze.  “There’s a chap,” he said eventually, at a loss, patting vaguely at Bolin’s shoulder. “There, there. Um. There.”

He looked lost, so Bolin grinned at him encouragingly. It wasn’t hard. He’d been faking grins for years now. Iroh was one of the few people he ever let see –

Well. That was over now, wasn’t it. No one to call him out when he was faking it, so he could grin as much as he wanted, now, he could laugh and laugh and laugh, he could laugh until it felt like crying and why hadn’t he cried, the love of his life was dead and all he could do was stand there like some stupid unfeeling lump of rock and -

Iroh’s crew mainly just nodded to him, curt and straightforward, but then one stood straight and saluted him, and that of all things was what made Bolin start crying, finally, big messy sobs like some kid, full-body sobs that left him breathless and gulping.

They all tried to help, and Mako came the closest to actually helping, of course he did, he always had. He stood at Bolin’s side, shoulder to shoulder, close but not too close. And he just … stood there, silently, and didn’t say a word. Just kept him company.

“You never liked him,” Bolin said, after a while.

Mako sighed a little. Bolin glanced at him, and was startled to see that his eyes were a little reddened, too. “Didn’t like him? He punched a bomb once,” Mako said, and Bolin choked out a laugh that turned into more crying, and Mako smiled a little, his thin self-deprecating smirk, and rested a hand between his shoulder-blades, heavy and warm.

Mako stood with him there for a long time, longer than the others. Two brothers side by side with the fire painting their faces shades of gold.

In the end even he left, though, and it was just Bolin and Iroh. Bolin stood straight and tall with his arms held behind his back, like a soldier or a cop, like Iroh would’ve wanted. He didn’t shift an inch. Earthbending came in handy, there; he would’ve surely wanted to fidget, if he hadn’t had that feeling of rock-solidness beneath his feet, keeping him anchored, keeping him sane.

“I wanted to bury you,” Bolin remarked, to the pyre. Iroh said nothing. Well, duh, he was barely a skeleton by then, his flesh had been all scorched away, he – he’d never say anything ever again, never snap orders or murmur sweet nothings or rasp enthusiastically about his stupid plays. Not ever.

Why couldn’t they have buried him, at least then he’d be part of the earth, he’d be part of the world still in some small way – but this was better, of course it was, Iroh was Fire Nation to his bones, the bones that were burning now. There had been a spark in him that burned brighter than anything Bolin had ever seen, so this made sense, this is what he would’ve wanted. Burnt until there was nothing left of him but ashes.

The sun started to slip below the horizon, and the flames faded, and Bolin stood there alone until at last night time came and everything was sunken in shadows, everything. He even let himself mourn Iroh a little, let himself feel just the tiniest part of his own grief. He couldn’t let himself mourn him properly, not without tearing the whole damn country apart, but. Just a little.

He stood there alone, until he wasn’t alone any more.

All his friends tried to help him, in their own way, and that wasn’t limited to his human friends. Pabu had refused to budge from his neck for hours, this morning, and Naga had licked his face raw, and now …

“Hello again,” he said.

The night spirit made a little clicking-hissing noise and moved so it was in front of him, and now that it wasn’t trying to hide its eyes lit up, twin torches in the black chasm that was its face. “Man of earth,” it said. Its voice was like whispers and terrors and the wind in the trees at night. “Earth boy who loves too much and too well.”

“Weird night shadowy ice-spirit thing,” he said back, politely, and bowed a little.

The spirit curled its whip-thin tail around his legs, fondly. It was hard to make out its shape, even with its eyes glowing like that; it just looked like a stilt-limbed shadow, a jagged silhouette, a trick of the mind. A will-o’-the-wisp. “You have the talking,” it said, a rattling sigh. “You have the way.”

“Nice to see you too. Hey, buddy, I was wondering – okay, this is a weird thing to ask, and it’s okay if you … I, just, um, remember how I helped you out with the, the thing with the farm and your land and, y’know, the fighting and such, and um I was thinking – not that I did that just to have a favour! I wanted to help you! Just, I was wondering if … you could help me, now. Uhh.” It was hard to ask because it was a hard thing even to think, it was a bad thing to think, he knew that and so his words came out in his usual cheerful nonsense babble and he couldn’t seem to say what he wanted to. Maybe that was for the best. It was wrong. He knew that.

The spirit swung its empty head in the direction of the pyre, then back again. Its eyes burned brighter.

“Yes,” it said. “I can bring him back.”

Bolin breathed out shakily, and dropped to his knees. His legs just couldn’t support him any more. The spirit nudged up to him worriedly, and he automatically did what he’d do to reassure Pabu, patted at its head. Its fire was cold to the touch; more like ice, really.

“I’m fine,” he said, once he could speak around the lump of hope mixed with horror in his throat, “I’m fine, I’m … I’ll be fine, now. Because of this.” He breathed out once, twice. Felt the solidity of the earth beneath him, and thought of Iroh, and found the strength.

“What do I have to do?” he asked, and the spirit laughed, high and cackling.

“What are you willing to do, little earth boy?” it asked, standing up on two legs, and he stood up as well.

“Anything,” he said. He felt so empty, like a cave, like a shell; none of his usual solidity, he was wisp and wind, he was lost. But of this thing he was certain. “I would rip the whole world apart just to see his smile one more time. Anything.”

The spirit said nothing, just looked at him. Its eyes burned like stars, like ice, like Iroh when he fell from the sky. Bolin had thought he was a shooting star, for a moment, because he had been falling so fast. Far too fast.

The spirit chittered in amusement like it could somehow read his thoughts, and he snapped his mind away from the thought of Iroh dying Iroh falling dying dead. “Are you sure?” the creature said, leaning in uncomfortably close, eyes blinding-bright. “It may not work, you know, silly sweet rockling thing. If he comes back at all he will come back … changed!”

Changed. This – this wasn’t what Iroh would have wanted, not at all, this was the very opposite of what he would’ve wanted -

But Iroh wasn’t here any more. What he wanted didn’t matter in the least.

“I’m sure,” Bolin said, grinning broad and empty and fake fake fake, because there was no one to call him out on it any more.

(Continuation here, if you don’t mind necromancy.