The group sat around the dying embers of the fire, none having the heart to get up and re-kindle it. They had thought that winning would feel so different, so much brighter and happier. But the cost of victory had been so great. In the aftermath of Ozai's death, the children couldn't bring themselves to think of the future, for they were so caught up in all that they had lost.
"This sucks," Toph said bluntly, her elbows on her knees and her chin in her hands. There were several murmurs of agreement from around her, and she lifted a bottle of liquor to her lips. No one knew when exactly the twelve year old had gotten her hands on the bottle, and even Katara couldn't bring herself to care.
The Water Tribe girl rested her head against her brother's chest, and Sokka had wrapped an arm around the girl's slight shoulders. After all they had lost, they couldn't cry. It had gotten to the point where the pain had been replaced by a lack of feeling, and to be honest, they liked it better that way.
"Hey Toph," Katara said after a short time, surprising everyone. "Could you pass that over here?" she asked. Her inquiry was met with dead silence, and all the members of the group could merely stare in stunned silence as the matriarch of their little group…the responsible one, took a deep swig.
Without making eye contact, Zuko took the bottle from her and drank deeply of it himself.
"I think we're going to need another one," Toph noted dryly, and somehow, someone found the strength to chuckle. She stood up, wiped her muddy hands on her equally muddy tunic, and walked away. The bottle continued to be passed around the fire in her absence, and the silence was a surprisingly comfortable one.
"So long as we're all going to get drunk," Toph said when she got back, her arms full of liquor, "We might as well make a game out of it." She passed the bottles out, and each member of the group gratefully and shamefully accepted them.
"I learned quite a few of those, traveling with sailors," Zuko ventured to say, and Toph leaned forward to demonstrate her interest. "Most of them were crude, but…" he shrugged, and took a deep swig from the bottle he held between his palms. "'I Never' was always interesting," he proposed, and several of the others frowned.
"Basically, someone says 'I've never…' and they say something else. Like… 'I've never won a battle.' If that statement is a lie to someone, they drink. In this case, everyone would take a sip," he explained.
"I've never had my heart broken." Katara's words surprised everyone, simply for the fact that the levelheaded member of the group was the one to initiate a drinking game. With a wry twist of her lips, Katara tilted the bottle and took a deep swig. Slowly, every other member of the group did the same.
"I never ran a scam," Toph said a moment later, and Sokka chuckled wearily. The Water tribe siblings, Toph, and Aang all drank. Zuko lifted a brow and turned to Katara, who shrugged and gave him a self depreciating half of a smile.
"I've never killed someone," Zuko murmured softly, his voice thick and heavy. All eyes suddenly dropped to the floor, and each one of the children took a deep, bracing swig of liquor.
"I've never let anyone down," Aang said, his voice quiet and serious. Katara tossed the boy a sad smile over the dying flames, and the avatar couldn't find the strength to return it. Once again, everyone took a gulp.
"I've never misjudged someone," Katara said softly, and then swallowed hard. She took a quick swig, and then reached out and enveloped one of Zuko's hands with both of her own. Zuko met her warm, apologetic gaze, and tossed her a lopsided smile. He had forgiven her long ago.
"I never doubted that we were going to win," Sokka said after several heartbeats. He, Suki, Zuko, and Katara drank deeply while Aang and Toph sat stone faced side by side. They were still young enough to cling to childish fantasies, and so they never once doubted that they could wrench the world from Ozai's grasp. The others were older, wiser, and had seen too much of war. They knew the odds, and had all questioned their abilities on more than one occasion.
"I never fell in love," Suki murmured from her place beside Sokka, and then quickly lifted the bottle to her lips. Every last one of the children followed suit.
"I've never slept with anyone," Toph said, a wicked smile on her face. Sokka, Suki, and Zuko took a quick swig, and after a moment's hesitation, Katara followed suit. Sokka stared at his baby sister for a few seconds, his gut wrenching. Perhaps she wasn't such a baby after all.
"Jet?" he asked softly, and Katara slowly shook her head. Sokka frowned, and that frown deepened when her eyes skittered over to where Zuko sat beside her. "Him?" he demanded in a harsh whisper, and Katara closed her eyes and took a large, bracing gulp of the liquor.
Zuko met Sokka's eyes, and gave an apologetic shrug. Sokka glowered, and then lifted his bottle. "I've never wanted to kill Zuko," he exclaimed, causing Toph to laugh, Zuko to flinch, and Katara to flush. He then took a long, deep swig, attempting to banish certain images from his mind. Many of which involved a boomerang and lemon juice.
"I've never stole a girl's necklace," Katara said afterwards, with a pointed look in Zuko's direction. Zuko scowled and shook his head.
"I never stole it!" he protested. "I found it!"
"Shut up and drink, Sparky," Katara replied dryly, and Zuko grudgingly did as she bade.
And then suddenly, the ice was broken. The cloud of sorrow dissipated enough to allow the children to act their ages, to remember the better times and forget the losses, if only for a moment.
"I was never tied to a tree," Zuko retorted, and Katara took a swig.
"I never tied a girl to a tree," Katara replied, and Zuko took another gulp, muttering all the while.
"I've never giggled," Toph said with a grin, and Katara and Suki took a drink. "Come on, Twinkle Toes! You giggle all the time!"
"Do not!" Aang exclaimed, and Toph laughed.
"Puh-lease! That Ember Island player had you pegged. Now come, on! Don't be a wuss."
"I'm not a wuss!"
"Then prove it, Pea Brain!"
"Sokka's the pea brain!"
"Hey! I happen to be a tactical genius!"
A snort from Zuko. "Why don't I believe that?"
And then it was suddenly just a normal night, with the same people and the same arguments, and the same laughter. It may have been the alcohol that brought about the change, but more likely, it was the hearts of the children themselves. For that was all they truly were…children… despite all of the pain and the heartbreak and the loss. And children are resilient; they repay sadness with laughter and loss with love.
"I'd be nice to me if I were you, mister. I've got my sister's honor to avenge!"
"Like you could hurt me!"
"Want to bet?"
"Hey! Cut it out you two!"
"He started it!"
"Don't make me come over there!"
And the cloud of sorrow was dissipated with laughter, brooding faces replaced by grins.
"Well, I never!"