Cold Comfort

This is a continuation of the fic I wrote for the Broh Week prompt ‘comfort’, which you can find here! http://harshwhimsies.tumblr.com/post/28313819252/comfort I would definitely advise reading that first, heh.

Warning for bringing-people-back-from-the-dead and some gore and stuff. Also kinda dubcon? Ish?

You can bring people back from the dead, but that doesn’t mean you’ll still like who they’ve turned into.

“Meet me at midnight,” the spirit had said, and here he was, dressed in his thickest coat and trying not to shiver all the same; the wind on the tundra was icy-cold, and it bit him to his bones.

The spirit loped up to him, larger than it had been before, towering above him; it shrunk down and said, “Earthling boy.”

“Ice spirit,” Bolin said.

“Let us begin,” the spirit said, its eyes lighting up, and there was a terrible eagerness in its voice that Bolin tried not to think about. It wasn’t good work he was doing, he knew that. It wasn’t good at all.

“Ashes!” the spirit sing-songed, and he shook his head to clear his thoughts and took out the bag containing all that was left of Iroh. He hesitated over it, till the spirit, impatient, snatched it out of his hand and shook it out over theh ground, porcelain-white snow that greyed as the ashes mixed in with it. Bolin stepped closer, but it hissed at him, so he stayed where he was, patiently, shivering, until it proudly uncoiled itself from around the thing and revealed it: a little man-shaped statue made out of packed snow, about the height of his knees.

Bolin eyed it doubtfully.

“I thought necromancy would involve more … chanting,” he said. “Dark forces better left alone. That kind of thing.”

“Blood?” the spirit suggested.

“Yeah! Exactly.”

It cracked its tail through the air. “No. Stupid creature. Blood.”

“Oh,” Bolin said, and he stepped forward and tugged back his sleeve, tugged off the glove with his teeth. His skin was numb, so it didn’t really hurt. He cut a deep gash into his wrist and turned it over. The blood trickled thickly down his wrist and dripped from his fingers, onto the crude sculpture; there wasn’t very much of it, and he remembered, belatedly, that he hadn’t been eating much, or drinking either. His blood looked black against the grey-white of the snowy ash, and thick.

“Make it,” the spirit said, but he didn’t need it to tell him; he knew what to do, somehow, deep in his bones. He knelt awkwardly in the snow and pulled off his other glove and tried to shape the snow, awkward at first with his fumbling fingers, until he found the earth in it and bent it, just a little, into shape. It didn’t look much like Iroh even when he was done with it, though.

“Doesn’t matter, it’s a mere homunculus, earthboy, mudboy, do you know nothing of these things,” the spirit said. Its voice had more of a screech to it than normal, like wailing wind. Bolin wondered, idly, if it was nervous.

“What now?” he said, standing, and it grew up again and pushed him back down, firmly, with one sharp-clawed paw pressing hard on his shoulder. He sank back to his knees.

The spirit shrank small and rested its claws on the little Iroh’s shoulders, looked down at it thoughtfully. Its blazing blue eyes painted the snow around it in uncanny colours, like the aurora dancing high above. Bolin looked at the little statue, too. Ice and ashes and blood.

When he looked back up the spirit had vanished. He stared, uncomprehending; looked all around, but there was no one on all the vast whiteness of the plain but him.

He knelt there anyway, staring at the stars, and then, as his head nodded, at the clay man, and then, at last, at the snow; and then nothing. He slept.

He dreamed of – he wasn’t sure what. Trees, maybe. Forest, swelteringly hot.

He woke to find Korra shaking him, face furiously miserable. “You could’ve died!” she yelled, “what were you thinking,” and she hugged him tightly, too tightly; he let her hug him, then shake him furiously and yell at him more. He could barely feel his limbs. He could barely think, it was like thinking through cotton wool, everything was blinding white.

“What were you thinking,” Korra said again, despairing, and Bolin glanced in front of him, but there was no sign of the statue or the spirit either, no sign of anything.

“Nothing,” he said. “I … I wasn’t thinking of anything.”

She sighed. Rested her head on his shoulder. She looked like she was about to say something, but then she just said, quietly, “C’mon, Bo, let’s go home,” and pulled him to his feet, let him lean on her as they started to walk back.

He didn’t say that it wasn’t home, not any more, not with no Iroh there. He didn’t say anything at all.

*

There was a blizzard that night, and then a knocking at his door.

Bolin woke instantly. Lay in his cold bed, thinking. Mako was at Korra’s place, as he tended to be these days; he was alone in this little A-frame hut, now that Iroh – he was alone. Mako was busy. Korra was busy. Verick wouldn’t visit this late. So who –

The knocking came again, and Bolin was leaping out of bed, scrambling slapdash down the stairs, rushing for the door eager as a child before his brain had even finished putting it together.

He opened the door, and – “Iroh,” Bolin said.

Iroh dusted snow off his immaculate jacket. “Bolin,” he said, something slightly questioning in his voice, and Bolin grabbed him, hugged him tight, so tight, and … he was cold, he was deathly cold. But he had been out in the snow. He needed to warm up, he needed to eat, they needed to talk about things who gave a damn it was Iroh, it was really Iroh, he was back, solid and perfect in Bolin’s arms.

“I love you,” Bolin told him, frantically.

“I love you too,” Iroh said. “…Yes?”

Bolin bit at his lip. There was something almost hollow about the way Iroh was speaking.

He ignored it.

“Yes,” he said, laughing, “yeah, you do,” and he pulled him inside.

The gang reacted about as you’d expect; incredulity ranging to horror, changing into cautious delight when they realised he was really there and alive, fading into … something else, afterwards. Iroh’s skin was cold to the touch and he spoke very little, and he stared.

“Bolin, old thing,” Verick said, in what for him passed as a quiet voice, “there’s something wrong—”

 “Bo, we need to talk about—”: Korra, impassioned and worried.

“Bro, what have you done—”: Mako. Wide-eyed for once, anger in his voice to mask the fear beneath it.

It didn’t matter what they tried to say; Bolin ignored them, one and all. “He’s still sick,” he told them, closing the door on their faces. “He just needs to rest, that’s all.”

Iroh didn’t eat, and didn’t sleep, as far as Bolin could tell; he’d wake suddenly, in the middle of the night, and Iroh would just be lying beside him, cold as a pillar of ice, staring up at the ceiling.  He did that whenever he wasn’t actively engaged in anything else, too; Bolin talked to him all he could, tried to draw him out, but still Iroh spent hours, sometimes, standing still and staring blankly and doing nothing. Nothing at all.

Bolin thought of the Iroh who’d prowled his ship restless, who’d launched himself into the air for the sheer joy of it. He said nothing.

Things came to a head when he walked in on Iroh holding down the neighbour’s cat, ignoring its struggles and yowls; Bolin had time to say, “What are you doing,” appalled, but he couldn’t seem to move from the spot. Iroh’s hand plunged down into the cat and ripped it open, raggedly. Organs spilled out, staining the wooden floor slippy-red. The cat thrashed and screamed and slowed, finally, and Iroh examined it thoughtfully, parted its ribcage with his fingers to peer inside.

Bolin pulled him up and away, finally, clinging to Iroh as though it could ever even help. “What are you doing what are you doing what are you doing, Iroh, no,” he said nonsensically, desperately, burying his face in Iroh’s chest like he had in the old days. Iroh’s arms wrapped around him with practiced precision, hands patting at his shoulders then combing, bloodied, through his hair.

“I just wanted to see how it worked,” Iroh explained, like this was perfectly reasonable.

Bolin choked back a sob, then retched, sank to his knees and vomited and cried messily while Iroh rubbed mechanically at his back. There’d be bloodstains on his jacket now. They’d be a pain to wash out. Iroh always had been better at doing the laundry.

“I can’t do this,” he whispered at last, wiping his face. “Love, I can’t, this isn’t me, this isn’t you. This – this was a really bad idea, oh, Roh—” He squeezed his eyes shut. “I miss you,” he admitted, out loud. “So, so much. I – I wish you were here to complain about doing the washing and, and do stupid heroics, so long as they didn’t get you killed this time, I wish – I wish you were here to get me out of this mess, ha … I miss you. So damn much.”

“You see someone else when you look at me,” Iroh said, and Bolin blinked up at him. Iroh was staring at him intently. It was the same way he’d looked the first time after he came back when someone had tried to shake his hand since, the same way he’d looked wrist-deep in gore. Like he was trying to figure out a puzzle.

“I see you,” he said, denying it, but it was perfectly true. How many times had he glanced at Iroh expecting to see dancing golden eyes with weary creases at the corners, expecting a wry remark – and instead seen this, this thing, standing there cold and silent. “Who … who you used to be, I mean.”

Iroh nodded, curt and captainly, and in that moment he could so easily have been his old self that it wrenched Bolin’s heart.

*

He acted almost more like himself again, after that. A little. Maybe. Maybe Bolin just deluded himself that he did; but he was perfectly willing to be deluded, if that were the case.

Anyway he’d been acting enough like almost-himself that Bolin didn’t think twice when Iroh kissed him, not the awkward closed-mouth kisses he’d tried to press on Iroh with early on but an actual kiss, open-mouthed and greedy and wet. Bolin opened to him, and who cared if he was corpse-cold, it didn’t matter, not right now, not with his fingers quick and nimble playing at Bolin’s clothes, his body solid and real, alive, he was alive, wasn’t he? This was Iroh, wasn’t it?

Iroh kissed him deeper, savage, biting, and Bolin moaned and forgot about thinking.

They were up against a wall quite soon, Iroh pushing, Bolin yielding because he was so, so sick of passive doll-Iroh who stood still where you left him and never did a thing for himself, this was so good, it had been entirely too long and Iroh was nuzzling at his neck just like he always had, and Bolin moaned again, bucked encouragement, lost himself in it.

Iroh lifted his head and stared at Bolin – intently. Like he was a puzzle. Bolin grew suddenly sharply aware of what a bad idea this was, and he tried to move, but – fuck. Iroh had him pinned sure and steady against the wall, and his solid weight was nowhere near as reassuring now.

“Let me go,” Bolin said. His voice sounded very small. Scared. He missed the days when Iroh wasn’t something to be scared of.

Iroh kissed his jaw, his ear. “What do you see when you look at me?” he said, conversationally, his breath icy-cold on Bolin’s neck. “I’m empty. What do you see?”

“What?” said Bolin, uncomprehending, and Iroh growled, nipped at his ear painfully hard.

“What do you see that I don’t!” he yelled, furious and manic and for a sick sad moment Bolin looked into his blazing eyes and thought, at least he’s feeling something, and then the moment was over because Iroh was biting at his face

Oh spirits, no. No. No no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no NO -

“Iroh, no, stop, no,” Bolin whimpered, until it cut off in a cry of pain, and all the while Iroh was gnawing at his eye, loosening it around the edges. And then he closed his jaws neatly around Bolin’s eye, and bit down.

Bolin whimpered and shook against the wall and, when he collapsed, sagged useless, held up by Iroh still. Iroh swallowed the slimy bloody thing in one slick gulp, licking his lips, licking the empty socket when he was done.

Bolin fainted.

“Oh, I remember now,” he heard someone saying, distantly, as the black mists took him; “fire,” and then he was gone.

When he woke up there were warm hands holding him steadily, a familiar terrifying voice rattling out frantic words. Bolin flinched away, scrabbled away, no, no, please no –

“Bo?” Iroh said, and Bolin shook his head, crouched down small, he’d had enough, no more, how much was one man supposed to take?

… Wait. He’d sounded worried.

Bolin opened the eye that remained to him, which was gummed with tears but still usable enough. “Roh?” he croaked.

Iroh looked crumpled and panicky, and bloodstained, and very, very tired, and alive. “You are in urgent need of medical attention,” he snapped, his voice fretful and worried and loving and possessive and protective, all at once, and Bolin stared at him disbelieving.

“You’re back,” he said, and he flung himself at Iroh, clutching him close, “you’re back you’re back you’re baaaaack!”

“You’re bleeding,” Iroh said softly, but he gripped him tight. Bolin could feel the pump of his heartbeat, worry-quick. He realised, distantly, that he hadn’t heard it once these past few weeks.

Iroh’s skin was warm under his hands.

“You’re back,” Bolin said, blissful, “you’re back,” and he collapsed against him and laughed and laughed and laughed.

A little while later, something occurred to him.

“Hey,” he said, eagerly. “Can I have an eyepatch?”

Iroh was padding his eye, carefully, stemming the bleeding; it was hard because it was hard to get a bandage at it, in its position, and also because Bolin kept on fainting. The pain was pretty bad and Bolin didn’t mind it in the slightest, not with Iroh kneeling with him on the blood-slicked floorboards cradling Bolin’s face in gentle hands.

Iroh paused in his work long enough to snort. “Let’s start with a hospital and a good waterbender, hm?” he said. It felt like years since Bolin had heard that fond amusement in his voice, and at the same time it was as familiar as an old blanket, wrapping around him, warm.