Open Invitation, Chapter 1

Title: Open Invitation
Pairing: Broh (Iroh II/Bolin)
Warnings: Pretty mild as of this chapter.  No warnings yet.
Length: ~2,000 words
Summary: Iroh takes great interest in Bolin and pursues it.  Bolin doesn’t know how to handle the attention.
Notes: THIS IS NOT A COMMENTARY ON MAKORRA, MASAMI, OR BORRA.  (I don’t want to get in the middle of ship wars, ogod, that’s what crackships are for.)

Also remember, if I get 100 followers, I’ll make this an audio fic for you lovely people you. 8D

“You must be Avatar Korra.”  The crew turned around.

“Yeah, and?”  Korra put her hands on her hips and frowned at him.

“General Iroh, Miss,” he said, an arm crossed over his stomach as he bowed.  A perfect gentleman.  Well, Bolin thought so.  He stepped behind Korra a little, not liking the way the General was acting.

“Bolin,” he said boldly.  “And Mako.”  He pointed to his brother.  “And she’s Asami.  Yep, we’re all here too.”  A smirk formed as he crossed his arms over his chest.  That got his attention! he thought as Iroh stood upright again and looked at Bolin as if considering him.  The gaze lingered, though, and Bolin shifted now even more uncomfortable than when the General was greeting Korra.  “But uh, if you need to talk to Korra, by all means…”

Iroh returned his attention to the Avatar.  He started talking about things — Amon, equalists, bending, chi-blocking — Bolin heard some of the words, but his heart was pounding too loudly in his ears to make sense of them.  Iroh seemed to glance at Bolin out of the corner of his eye every now and then, and their eyes would catch.  Bolin would look away, his face hot, and by the time he looked back, Iroh’s attention was back on Korra.  Every now and again, Bolin thought he could see the tiniest smirk…

He hoped it was just his imagination.

———————————————————-

Bolin —

Your presence is requested by the General of the United Forces.  Please report to the Republic City Council Housing at 1900 sharp.  Be well-dressed.  Come alone.

———————————————————-

It had no signature on it, but the official seal was unmistakable.  Bolin read it over twice, three times, fifteen.  Even on the nineteenth, it still didn’t make sense.  What did the General want with him?  He’d made it quite clear earlier he had no inclination for paying anyone attention but the Avatar.  The invitation was plain as day, though.  It was absolutely for Bolin, and it absolutely told him to come alone.  Without Korra.  Without Mako.  Alone.

He took in a deep breath.  Well-dressed?  The formal wear Asami’s father got for him was still at Air Temple Island.  If he followed up on the invite, he’d have to go in what he wore.

Sliding the note into his coat, he set off to find his brother.  He and Korra had been in an argument, which Bolin was feeling pretty bad about, but he held his back straight and approached with no apparent guilt or fear.

“Hey, Mako?”

“Not now, Bolin.”  Mako brought his scarf up over his mouth and turned away.

“It’s not about—”

“Just tell her I didn’t care about it anyway!”

Bolin laughed nervously and rubbed the back of his neck.  He would have said more on the matter, but Mako was already walking away from him. 

Footsteps from the other side.  “Oh, Korra!  Perfect timing!” Bolin said, reaching for the note in his pocket. 

But she was clearly going after Mako. “We’re not done here!” Those words weren’t aimed at Bolin.  She walked right on by without even hearing him.

Bolin wanted to dismiss it.  He wanted to just accept that they were having a hard time, to pretend it wasn’t that they didn’t see him.  Lately though it had only been Mako and Korra, Korra and Mako, Mako and Asami, Korra and Asami, and Bolin couldn’t help but feel invisible.

He tucked the note back in.  He’d barely gotten it out anyway.  With his shoulders slumped and his eyes on the ground, he began making his way back to their makeshift lodgings.

“Oh, hey Bolin.”  Asami was sitting by herself.  Bolin wasn’t stupid, she was having a hard time staying around all these hobos.  It was admirable with how much dignity she handled it, though.  He couldn’t imagine just any rich girl able to do these things.

“What’s up, Asami?  Hungry for more gruel yet?  You barely touched your dinner!”  He sat next to her and bumped her shoulder with his.

“What’s going on?” she asked gently, leaning over to look at him.  “You seem down.  Is everything okay?”

“Nothing’s wrong here!”  Bolin grinned at her, crossing his arms over his chest.  “You know me, everything’s fine.”

Asami smiled.  Bolin felt lighter, relieved.  “If you don’t wanna talk about it, it’s fine.  Just know I’m here.”

“Oh, actually, I got this!” Bolin remembered, and he handed the note to Asami.  “I don’t know why.  It’s just for me, not Korra — see, it says there, ‘come alone.’”  He paused for a beat.  She handled it delicately, her fingers brushing the writing.  “What do you think I should do?”

Asami made a face and laughed lightly before handing it back to him.  “We should start by washing your hair,” she said, reaching up to touch the curl on his forehead.

Bolin laughed loudly.  “Will you give me a makeover?” he asked, bumping his shoulder against hers again.  “We never did get to them.”

———————————————————-

Bolin was pacing the door.  Asami waited patiently beside him to calm down, saying nothing while Bolin continued ranting.

“I’m not the guy who does these things!  That’s Mako!  I’m just supposed to be the guy that- that- I don’t know!  Says funny things!  Makes people laugh!”

He threw his hands up in defeat. 

“Why did he even invite me?  What am I even doing here?  Did I offend him?  Am I in trouble?”

“Calm down, Bolin.”  Asami put one hand on his shoulder and the other on his back.  “If you offended him earlier and you were in trouble, he’d have sent officers, not a confidential note.”

“Ooooh, that just makes it scarier!” Bolin cried out.  “This is terrifying, Asami!”

Asami gave him one gentle pat on the back.  “It’s best not to keep a General waiting,” she said.  Bolin thought maybe she knew something he didn’t.  Defeated, he slumped his shoulders and stepped inside.  There was already somebody waiting for him.

“Bolin, Sir.”  He didn’t like it this time.

“That’s me, I’m Bolin!”  He felt nervous without Mako to take the brunt of the propriety and civilization.  It wasn’t fun like this, it was scary, and he felt like if he screwed up it would make things bad for Korra.  That was the last thing he wanted.

“Right this way, Sir.”

The Housing was easily as nice as Asami’s, but it seemed like it was all temporary — for people who come and go and are important guests of the city, not people like Bolin.  Unlike Asami’s place, it didn’t feel like a home.  It was much more sterile, and much more disconnected from what Bolin thought of as the real world.

He was led to what he thought at first was a meeting room.  There was a long table, a fancy chandelier, some artwork Bolin probably wouldn’t understand if he cared to look at it long enough… General Iroh was already there, too.  In his fancy military coat, with his honors, and his cravat, and Bolin blushed deeply.  The General bowed.

“Ah-ha-ha… hi there, General Sir,” Bolin breathed, looking around the room.  “So do I stand at attention, or salute you…?”

“Relax.”  The general pulled out a chair.  Bolin hesitated, but sat himself down while Iroh pushed the chair in under him.

“Soooo… Am I in trouble, or…?” he asked, rubbing his hands on his knees.  If Asami had only let him bring Pabu (“I’m pretty sure ‘alone’ means no pets, or furry friends”) maybe he’d feel more like his silly self.

“You’re not,” the General seated himself at the corner of the table.  Bolin realized the table was set with forks and spoons and knives.

“Oh!  I’ve already eaten, if that’s what this is?” he said.  A dining room was leagues better than a conference room!  “Gommu gave us some street gruel already, so I’m full.  So I can just leave, then, since—”

“Yes, I was hoping you’d stay for dinner,” Iroh confessed.  He smiled softly; Bolin was stilled by it, though it wasn’t exactly comforting.  “If you’d just like wine instead, that’s alright too.”

Bolin’s face lifted.  “Would I!” he shouted, forgetting his audience.  “Oh, yes please!”  Iroh nodded and made a gesture.  A woman entered with a bottle of red wine and two glasses on a tray, served it, and left immediately.  Bolin didn’t hesitate to drink.

Iroh watched with a clear trace of amusement even Bolin couldn’t miss.  Frankly, it made him more comfortable.  As long as the Iroh was relaxed, Bolin felt at ease.  “So, why ‘come alone’?  What do you want me for?” he asked finally.

The General twirled the wine in his glass, watching the edges of the liquid cling to the crystal.  He took a sip, very small, and held the glass distantly as he looked back to Bolin.  “I found you interesting,” he said.

Bolin’s face reddened.  “Interesting?” he repeated, shocked at the unclear praise.  “No, I’m just the rude, funny guy. I’m not interesting.”  He laughed nervously and gulped the wine.

“You are interesting,” Iroh said again.  “You speak before you think.  But you’re humble — you’re honest.  I like that.”

“Yeah but you’re a big, powerful, fire-man!” Bolin protested.  “You snap your fingers and get wine, and find the Avatar when she’s underground.”  He laughed and blushed from the strength of the wine which made his ears, cheeks and throat feel hot.  Without thinking, he drank more.  “Let’s talk about that instead, huh?  You know, my brother Mako’s a firebender.”

“And you’re an earthbender,” Iroh acknowledged.  “I’ve heard you’re a probender.  Good at it.  I don’t know much about it, but I’m impressed by what I know of you.”

Bolin was holding the wineglass with both his hands.  “Can we not talk about me?” he squeaked.  “Don’t you want to talk about Korra stuff?  What’s the plan with Amon?  He’s kind of a freaky guy, dunno if you’ve seen him yet.  Almost lost my bending!  That was scary, this is scary, will you stop looking at me like that?”

“Like what?”

Bolin frowned.  “Like you’re sizing me up.”

Iroh sipped his wine.  “Do you want to know what I’m thinking, Bolin?”

Yes, oh god , what did I do.  “Not really, no!”

“That you’re charming.”  He set the glass down and leaned over, resting an arm on the table.  “That you’re not very sure of yourself, and you don’t think anyone else is sure of you.  I don’t think you know how handsome you are, either.”

Bolin opened his mouth but only a tiny squeak came out.  After setting the glass down, he swallowed and placed his hands flat on the table.  “I think this is not what I thought this was,” he said quite plainly.  “Also, that I should go.”

“I would like it if we had more than one dinner together, Bolin.”

Bolin’s face, red from wine and shame, darkened and he looked right into Iroh’s golden eyes.  “I don’t think so, Mr. Fire-man,” he said with an attempt at his usual light airs.  I don’t need you to tell me who I am.  He pushed himself up.

“Please reconsider,” Iroh said.  “I won’t relent.”

“I won’t respond,” Bolin said, brows furrowed.  “Now’s not the time for this kinda thing.  I should be at Korra’s side, not kowtowing with Fire Nation royalty.”

“Korra already has someone at her side,” Iroh said, rising now as well.

Shaking his head, Bolin walked out the room, down the hall, and returned to Asami who was waiting for him just out of sight.

“How did it go?” she asked.

Bolin looked at her, unable to smile about it.  “He told me I’m interesting.”

Asami let out a tentative “…oh” before a longer, understanding “Oooh!” escaped her.  “Bolin, are you alright?”

He sighed and forced a laugh.  “I just told him no and left.  Let’s head back.”

Asami followed half a step behind, watching Bolin with unease.  She didn’t know what General Iroh was like, but she did know the upper class quite well.  “Yes, let’s,” she agreed.