GROWN UPS

It is an emerald garden sprinkled with little bushes and willowy flowers spot the grass. It isn't that expansive; most of the ground is covered by ice before the green grass carpets the perimeter of the pond. It is not the same as it had been those many years ago although it remains glorious; it is now smaller somehow, charmingly quaint and nothing short of enchanting…

But it may have had everything to do with the woman standing stiffly by the ponds edge, dressed in such a military fashion; dark green garment under a metallic black vest with arm braces polished and gleaming, her lush black hair pushed and set in such a manner that causes the overgrown bangs to hide most of her face and shield her opaque eyes from beguiling the wits of those that were cursed with sight.

She makes no reaction as I move over the frozen ground. I wonder stupidly whether the ice covering the earth would disrupt her seismic sight. I hope it does… the prospect of startling her intrigues me. I put one foot deliberately in front of the other, watching her and waiting for her to give a reaction.

She does nothing, head slightly tilted one way and fists clenched by her sides. Each breath she takes sends her hair floating briefly up-she is upset and fuming over something. I immediately stop; I am so used to being the reason for her anger over these past years… I try and recall our last conversation.

Surely she is used to our ferocious and sweet interactions by now? She and I were like two tornadoes attempting to slow dance; there would always be pandemonium… we would inexorably leave casualties in the wake of our romance and the excess of collateral damage that would come from permitting such a yearning and desire would be offensive to any sound logic and decency the world could contain.

"It's beautiful out here" I call and her lips purse. She knew I was here and I had just wasted ten seconds of my life trying to sneak up on her on the ground… I should know by now, that only through the air could the Great Toph Bei Fong be startled.

"Wouldn't know" she retorts tetchily. She turns completely away from me, her hair swinging violently with the motion. "It's cold… but it is also the only place with rich earth that is somewhat unfrozen"

She moves along the rim of the pond, occasionally sighing-I see a cloud of smoky air move from her each time. I may be tipsy…

My wine glass is half empty and as I tilt the crystal glass, the beautiful satin color stains and swirls enchantingly. I raise the glass to my lips, still watching Toph and gulp down the remainder of the liquid and seal any confusion over my state. Now, I am definitely tipsy.

Everything is different; I can no longer hide behind the reckless passion of youth and attack her into an embrace. I understand too much of the world now, I understand too much of my world and that of hers… I understood that she and I were like the moon and the sun. The unnaturalness of both standing side by side…

"This place is peaceful" I tell her, moving forward with a little more speed. There are guards at the entrances, watching us tensely… or rather, watching me tensely. Of course, the last time a Fire Nation citizen had been in this serene place… the moon had turned red and a spirit was left dead. I gulp down that guilt and concentrate on her form; I notice how her hair is set almost identically in the style she would have it when she was a child. When she was a child and would shrewdly hide that distressing beauty she possessed from the world and thus, spared many a million the agony of falling senselessly and irreconcilably in love with her. Oh, she had spared the world in her adolescence but now in her fresh adulthood she had flung the arsenal upon me and I was wretchedly and willingly plagued by the love I had for her-my every heartbeat haunted by my everlasting affection for this one woman.

"It is also sacred" I say, now standing beside her by the edge of the pond.

"Is anything sacred anymore…?" a glorious ghost of air moves from her lips and she tilts her head to the night sky and breathes out deliberately again. She isn't short any longer; it is as if she grew overnight. It reminds me exactly how young we had been when we had rescued the world from Ozai… how incredibly young she had been, more so. The youngest of us.

"You are so beautiful it hurts" I breathe.

"You are scorching the earth…" she retorts and I look at my feet. Through my leather boots the heat seeps out and the grass crunched beneath my shoes is wilting and sweating and soaked in a browning puddle.

"You could feel that…?" I ask her. She sighs beautifully again, vaporized diamonds flung lavishly from her lips and into the clear night. I am past tipsy maybe, but the truth has always been that her every action hypnotized me.

"I can always feel your heat" she laughs nervously after a minute "it is a serious give away in a combat"

"I miss you" I say.

"You shouldn't" she reprimands followed by another wistful sigh from her delectable chilled pink lips. She moves away from me, a few steps and then tilts her head towards me and says "I miss you too, Zuko"

I let her have her space, I allow her to move two more steps. If she needs it, if she thinks it would help with the hallowed sin her and I have awoken between us… then she can have it all! A kilometer too on top of her steps if it woul give her peace of mind...

I know I can't be helped or institutionalized from this… I am conclusively stained for the balance of my life; and as Agni had cursed, I was still far from death in this youth unless I just gave up on it all and allowed all my conspirators to each have a piece of the sum of my life right this moment.

They could extinguish it and I would not protest because the light it gave was dim, meager and pointless against the darkness of never exclusively and freely having her.

I watch the two spirits dance in the crystal waters of the pond; an eerie purple light seems to pulse from somewhere deep in the revered waters. I wonder which one she is between the two fish… it doesn't matter with the way the move. They are one…

"She is eternal"

"She?" Toph asks.

"The fish, the spirit… Sokka's first and at times I think true love" I murmur. "She will live on… after we are done making our mark on the world. After our little lights flicker and go out… hers will still burn brightly"

"Wow…" Sokka walks across the lawn, a thick bottle with dark liquid in his hand. He isn't swaying but his eyes are bloodshot and there is no hope of seeing the heat on his skin with its dark shade. The guards tense more so and I notice that some of them have moved closer. Who could blame them; the shambled group surrounding their spirits was as unpredictable as it gets.

"You make it sound so… sad… Zuko" Sokka slurs, opening his bottle and taking a long swill from it before wiping his mouth with the back of his hand "She did a great and noble thing" he adds in veneration, positioning himself between Toph and me and pulling us by the neck so we are huddled over the dancing sleek fish, his breath tinged with alcohol.

"So selfless…" his voice was shaky and the alcohol-whiskey I realized-strong "But she… she left me and turned into fish! And now…" he paused, gulping away a sob and readjusting a politely squirming Toph more securely in his grip "And now Suki and Suki has…"

"Turned into a fish?" Toph offered.

"Worse…!" Sokka croaked "She has turned into… into…. Azula's best friend!"

"Now, how on earth did all these girls manage to free themselves from you with your titanium grip…!?" Toph gasped managing to free herself from Sokka "Is beside me!"

"Toph?" I turned stiffly in Sokka's grip and watched her charge off, insolently waving her hand for the guard to move out of her way. In a second, she had disappeared back into the palace.

"Zuko, old buddy… I know I never used to like you when we were kids…" Sokka began and I groaned, freeing myself from him, unable to hide my annoyance and accidentally sending him stumbling half way over the pond before-by the grace of Agni-he righted himself and saved us both the embarrassment and shame of explaining why he was swimming with the spirits.

"…but you couldn't really blame me" Sokka hiccupped "You were trying to kill my sister's crush"

"My intention was to capture your sister's crush" I snapped "And secondly, when I was trying to capture Aang… I was not doing it because he is your sister's crush but because he is the Avatar. And another thing Sokka…!" I growled "Timing!"

"Timing for what?" he blinked bewildered.

"Argh, forget it…" I hissed, grabbing the bottle of whiskey and taking a long swig.

"Why is your sister talking to Suki?" Sokka asked after a moment.

"How should I know?" I sighed "For entertainment…"

"She wont… eat my ex girlfriend, will she?" Sokka asked half seriously "I mean, the break up was bad… but I don't think Suki deserves to be chewed up by an actual dragon"
"My sister isn't a dragon… and if she were, Suki wouldn't be her ideal choice for a meal" I grumbled "Stop worrying about it… you have enough on your plate as it is. Aren't you trying for council member?"
"Yeah… soon" he sighed "Many people are up for the idea of an adjustment in the structures of the justice… oh, man… why are we talking about this? I am way to drunk for this!"

"Right"

He took the bottle from me and walked off, still muttering on about Azula and Suki, in between stammers of his lost love. The moon emerged from behind a thick cloud and every beauty in the garden was blown out of proportion…

And my loneliness with it.

Xx~xx~xX

"Is it me… or does everyone seem a little…" Aang whispered, pulling me to a corner of the room "You know, tensed and depressed?"
"It's you" I muttered glaring at the bright room, and hating that I had to wear so much clothing to ward of the chill "I mean, of course everyone is happy; you have Sokka in the place of his first love's departure from the ways of humans as well as his ex girlfriend floating about with other beautiful kyoshi warriors he can never get with thanks to their loyalty to Suki…"

"Then you have Toph who hates the cold…" I continued, pointing at Toph who was scowling at a random Water Nation man, who I prayed was not trying his luck with her (although her scowl made me hope he was… maybe she would give the night some entertainment… or a funeral) "You have many others who are taking to long to get drunk…"

I neglected to point towards a laughing Azula whose cheeks were blazing from too much wine, nor the poor girl who was Azula's source of entertainment… or the fact that the scene was topped of with Katara trying to pull Azula away from the girl who was close to tears. Katara finally managed to remove my sister from the miserable girl and they both made a beeline towards Aang and me.

"You know what I think Aang…" Ty Lee breathed but her opinion was interrupted by a sniggering drunk Azula.

"Ty Lee… thinking…!" Azula gasped, swinging from Katara's arms to cling onto my shoulder "Brother, save her before she bursts that singular brain cell she possesses!"

"Azula… enough" I sighed. "Ty Lee, you can say your piece…"

"I was going to say this would have been better if it weren't so… formal" Ty Lee's face was red "Oh, and that Zuko's funeral was more eventful than this bachelor party thingy you are attempting. At least at Zuko's funeral… he came back from the dead"

"Sweetie, Zuko wasn't really dead?" Katara said, in shock at Ty Lee's limited understanding of the world she lived in. "He never died, do you understand that part?"

"Boom!" Azula wiggled her fingers by the side of an unamused Ty Lee's head "The brain cell just exploded!"

"More like committed suicide" Aang whispered to me and my eyes widened.

"Avatar!" I gasped and he smiled sheepishly.

"Sokka" Suki arrived at our loose circle amidst all the other guests and gave Sokka (who had staggered in) a curt head nod.

"Suki" Sokka slurred before looking behind him, at Toph who was in the middle of reducing her potential courtier to ash. "I think Toph is going to lightning bend"
"Toph's an earth bender" Ty Lee shook her head "Even I know that"

"I can't believe these are the people who helped me save the world" Aang continued giving me a private peanut gallery to the absurdness happening before us. "I mean… I am starting to think Toph may be… you know, different"

He nudged me and cocked his head over at Toph-and the retreating man. She was fuming, her nostrils flaring and hands clenched at her sides.

"Nothing feminine going on over there, if you know what I mean" Aang winked at me "She looks scarier than 'the Boulder'. I swear, if you did do what you think you did…"
"Which is what?" I hissed, pulling him away from our squabbling old comrades and further into the shadows "Aang, I thought you were not permitted to drink under the laws of the bold and tattooed?"

"I am the only bold and tattooed person left and thus, I live by my own laws!" he raised a self righteous finger "And might I commend your humor, Zuko"

"It's the wine and whiskey" I said off handed "Now, what is it that you think I did?"
"Fell in love with Toph Bei Fong" Aang grinned "I knew you were, well… brave but that is taking on a whole lot more than you could ever handle" his grin fell off his face and seriousness clouded his grey eyes suddenly "I mean… you understand the situation with Takeshi"

"Katara insisted you talk to me about my happiness" I guessed "Women and their meddling. Your concern isn't only for my happiness… it is also for the peace of the Fire Nation and Earth Nation, respectively"
"Zuko, you know better than that!" Aang insisted "I am your friend, your brother…"
"But you are the Avatar foremost and we had been dancing over the matter profusely, for too long" I said tonelessly "Don't worry, Avatar Aang. Toph Bei Fong and I know exactly where we stand with each other… if you would excuse me… I would like some fresh air of the non-spiritual kind"

"Zuko…!" he cried, startling our slowly drunken friends, but I didn't turn around… ignoring Toph's questioning expression and passing her silently. I was out and away from them. Let them sort out the inconsequential party… let them carry on as though we could return to our youth and come out victors a second time.

The world was changing, and if we denied its change and clung onto the little heavens from our past… we would be lost forever.

Xx~xx~xX

"Can I come in?" Katara asked.

"Katara, you are already in…" I sighed, wiping my face and turning away from her. I could see her easily through the reflection on the giant mirror. She was uncomfortable with being in my chamber with me half naked and wet, and so she opted to just stare intensely at a blank wall. "The guards here are useless… I said no visitors"

"I am the Avatar's wife… not some visitor" she grinned.

"I think we are getting ahead of ourselves there, Miss Fiancé" I chuckled, toweling my hair "And I don't think I am comfortable with the Avatar's anything visiting me at such strange hours while I am in my bath towel…"

"Well, get dressed then!" she flicked her hand impatiently, still looking away from me "I can wait…"
"Right" I sighed, reminded by her firmly held lip that Katara was very dictatorial when it suited her. I pulled my shirt over my head and was forced to comically pull my pants up from under the towel. I had given up my room for Azula, and refused to move into Azula's room. I wanted to be away from the royal dignitaries' wing completely… I wanted to be in a place were I wouldn't be searched for.

I wanted to be alone with my loneliness.

"Done?" she asked petulantly, a sign that she was very much embarrassed for barging in when I could have been changing… because she was the 'Avatar's wife'.

"Done" I sighed, sitting on the edge of the bed and busying myself with socks and a thick jacket... I may be a fire bender but the cold in this place was offensive to my chi. Was I to wear myself out to stay warm? I supposed it was my fault for throwing a mild tantrum for Aang and insisting on a lower quarter that had a fireplace positioned so far away from the bed that the cackling fire was ineffective…

"You stormed out?" she raised an eyebrow "Then insisted on this room..."

"Yes, I did" I answered her keeping my face impassive.

"I would have asked Toph to come and talk to you…" Katara wrung her hands over each other, never meeting my gaze "But she is the only one capable of managing Azula... and she sort of said she didn't really want to"

"Okay, and then?" I sighed "Katara, we had our heart to heart on the ship… the next heart to heart is scheduled for three more years. Can I sleep? It has been a long night of snobbery and hand shaking and then the girls got drunk…"

"Okay, fine" her anger flared "I just wanted to let you know that tomorrow night Suki and Azula are preparing the bachelor and bachelorette parties and I foresee disaster. And since one of the culprits to that pending doom is Azula… you may want to put up with snobbery and hand shaking before she burns this whole building down!"

And with that, the Avatar's fiancé stormed out…

"Being married to the Avatar doesn't mean you can just barge in and not close doors..." I grumbled but she was long gone and the guard sheepishly closed the door for her.

AUTHORS NOTE:

did i realise it had been five months... oh my gosh (hides in shame). Seeing as I am on holiday... i shall try and make up for that!