Azula watched her companions as they talked about their fight with the Avatar’s friends. Again the Water Tribe boy was the main topic of discussion, especially by Ty Lee. Personally, she thought the girl was acting the fool. Love. She had seen Ty Lee and even taciturn Mai fall under its spell, but she was better than that. There would never be any man that would make her act so ridiculous.
“Mai, I still think that guy was cute! Those pretty blue eyes were so dreamy. And his aura! Don’t get me started…” Ty Lee sighed happily.
“We weren’t trying to.” Mai’s dry voice made Azula laugh.
“Oh, leave her alone, Mai. After all, it was not so long ago that you were mooning over my brother.” She was rewarded by the reticent girl’s blush.
“I don’t moon.” Mai crossed her arms and frowned.
“Awwww, I think she still has a thing for him, Azula.” Ty Lee's musical laughter filled the air.
In an uncharacteristic show of pique, Mai balled her fists at her sides. “You two! I swear… I’m going to look for food.”
Azula joined Ty Lee in laughter as the other girl marched off. “Ty Lee, why don’t you go with her? See if you can find some of those red berries that I like.”
Still chuckling, Azula settled down to plan her strategy for capturing the Avatar. After the fiasco in the abandoned EarthKingdom town, she had realized the need to reassess the little monk and his companions. They were quite competent as a group and, fighting alongside her brother and uncle, had been difficult to beat. She didn’t think that the prince had actually joined the merry band yet, but given his traitorous bent it was only a matter of time before they were truly on the same side. If she could only find some way to separate the group permanently, she was sure she could handle the young boy.
Time passed as she discarded idea after idea until finally deciding on a plan. If all goes well I will have the Avatar for you shortly, Father. She looked up.The sun was already high in the sky and Azula disliked going hungry. She sighed and tamped down her impatience with the late-returning girls. Where are they?
She was about to go hunt for them when she found herself completely surrounded by smooth stone walls.
Her screams of anger and frustration bounced back at her. She quickly realized that fire blasts might not be the best idea in such a confined space; besides, they ate up precious oxygen. So she sat down to think, and plan the death of the one who put her there.
“What do you have in mind now, sir?” The soldier looked at his superior officer. He was still amazed that someone so young could have advanced so far so fast, although no one could question his skill. The captain had earned his position.
“Do you have the others in custody?”
“Yes. It was difficult, but we were finally able to subdue them.” The little acrobat had kept paralyzing the men, but their greater numbers had eventually won the day.
“Very well. Take them to the encampment. I will follow shortly with this one.” The young officer gestured to the cube of rock.
“Sir… are you sure that’s wise? To handle her... alone?” The soldier really didn't want to be the one to speak up, but the plan did sound a tad foolish.
“Are you questioning my judgment?” The captain's eyebrow was raised. Uh oh.
“No sir. Of course not. It will be as you wish.” Discretion is sometimes the better part of valor. And staying alive.
The young officer sat down in front of the earthen prison to wait. He could hear that her muffled screams had died away; she must have realized the futility of it. It was only a matter of time before her oxygen ran out and she fell unconscious. Then he would act.
He had been amazed at his luck when they had spotted the trio. A spy had leaked information about the Fire Lord sending his remaining heir to search for the Avatar. Capturing her would be quite a coup. Recognizing her was easy: she had a commanding presence that practically shouted royalty. But he had to be fast; her firebending ability was renowned. So he erred on the side of caution and encased her in stone before she could react. It was the only way. When she was incapacitated he would use the crystal shackles that all commanding officers carried, courtesy of King Bumi, to bind her.
Breathing was becoming difficult. She couldn’t hear anything from outside. Are they going to just leave me in here to die? Don’t they realize who I am? Perhaps that was it. They knew exactly who she was, and were going to eliminate her.
Azula rarely knew fear. It was a weakness that she refused to indulge in, had beaten out of herself long ago. But sitting in the dark, laboring for every breath, she was visited again by that faint specter.
I don’t want to die this way. Not this way.
She slowly opened her eyes, the light harsh and blinding. What? Where am I? Her memories came back in a rush. She tried to leap to her feet to attack, only to fall on her face.
“That might not be a good idea, Princess.” A pleasant male voice was coming from above her.
She flipped over and yanked against the clear manacles that held her hands and feet immobile, before taking a deep breath and blowing fire at him.
A small wall of dirt blocked her attack. “Don’t make me gag you. I would rather not have to do that.”
She stared at him, her bronze eyes flashing with hate. “What do you plan to do with me? I am going to assume that you intend to keep me alive, or I would have never woken up.”
His eyes were kind. “I don’t want to kill you. As for what’s to be done with you? That’s for someone with more power than me to decide. Perhaps they will ransom you or trade you for some of our captured men; I don’t know. When we reach Ba Sing Se we will both find out. Until then, you are my guest. My name is Haru.”
Azula remained silent, thinking about her situation. The EarthKingdom had captured her, and she was soon to be on her way to their capital. It would be a long journey, with plenty of opportunities to escape. She would just bide her time. Perhaps she could even convince this gentle fool to help her. She studied her captor for a moment. He was young, perhaps only a year or two older than she was, and certainly handsome enough. His features were so finely cast he could be the son of a noble, with heavily-lashed eyes green as grass and mahogany hair long and thick enough to envy. He wasn’t built badly either; tall with broad shoulders leading to a narrow waist and hips, nicely muscular without being bulky. All in all, he was a quite attractive mark.
She was startled out of her thoughts when he picked her up. “What are you doing?!”
He had the nerve to chuckle. “Well, Princess, we need to reach my camp. I don’t think walking is going to work, so we will ride. If that is OK with you?” His voice held a faintly condescending tone that made her grit her teeth.
“I’m going to kill you as soon as I get the chance. You know that, don’t you?”
“Whatever you say, Princess.” He laid her across the ostrich-horse before climbing up behind her, and then maneuvered her so that she was sitting across his lap with her legs over his. She could feel the rock hard muscles of his chest against her shoulder. She had to admit that his sheer strength surprised her. Her position didn’t bother her either; it would be an easy matter to burn him from here. Fool. She took a deep breath and found her mouth full of fabric.
“I asked you not to make me do that. If I take it out, will you promise not to burn me? Keep in mind, it’s a long drop to the ground should we fall.” He looked down at the swiftly passing trail, and then back at her. “What do you say?”
Her eyes followed his. Perhaps this would not be the best strategy. Frowning, she nodded. The cloth was pulled from her lips.
“Good, now I can see your pretty face.” He smiled.
Haru had to laugh at her confused expression. He wasn’t lying. She really was pretty... no, beautiful. He hadn’t expected to think that about the princess of the Fire Nation. Her people had enslaved his. His father would be shocked at his wayward thoughts. After the escape from the shipbuilding rig, Tyro had resumed his place as leader of their village. With so many earthbenders in tow, it had been easy to rout the largely complacent and unprepared Fire Nation contingent that had taken over their home; and once they had peace, Haru had felt the need to help elsewhere. He had joined the army; rising quickly through the ranks to eventually command his own unit. And now he had accomplished the unimaginable, the capture of the Fire Lord’s daughter.
Said daughter had lost the puzzled look and was scowling. He was relatively sure that firebenders couldn’t shoot fire from their eyes, but the way hers were glittering made him wonder.
He held up a hand in defense. “Hey, don’t get mad. That was a compliment.”
“Keep your compliments, peasant.” She may be beautiful, but her attitude sucked.
He leaned forward, bringing his face close to hers. “Listen Princess, it’s going to be a long trip to the capital. There is no need to be unpleasant. If you act like a lady, you will be treated like one. Don’t mistake my kindness for weakness.”
Haru noticed her studying her bindings. “I wouldn’t try it if I were you. They are impervious to heat. And don’t try to break them either, or you will find them tighter than before. Remain calm and they will stay loose enough for comfort.”
He steered his mount through the opening in the brush that led to the camp.
There was no one there.
He shifted her off his lap and leaped down. The camp was in complete disarray, with scorch marks and up-turned earth everywhere. Fire Nation.
“It looks like your men met up with firebenders. What are you going to do now?” Her mocking laughter was ringing in his ears.
He turned to look at her. “I’m going to take you to Ba Sing Se.”
“Alone? You are a fool.” She sniffed disdainfully.
“I think I can handle you. I did before.” Chew on that.
“Like only a cowardly EarthKingdom peasant would. Take off these fetters and fight me like a warrior.” She held up her joined wrists.
For a moment Azula really thought she had gotten to him. His warm green eyes went cold for a second and she just knew he was going to release her.
He smiled tightly. “Nice try, Princess. I may be a fool, but I’m not stupid.” He climbed up behind her again and, after getting situated, took off.
She began to watch the shifting prism of color reflected by the restraints that held her wrists and ankles together. Reds and purples. She looked up to see the sun was falling behind the trees. Azula hadn’t eaten since early that morning and ignoring the empty feeing in her belly was becoming difficult.
“What?” He looked down at her.
“Stop. I need to eat.”
He looked at the growing shadows and slowed the large beast. “I guess this is as good a place as any to stop for the night.” He turned off the trail and went further into the brush. Haru climbed down and took the heavy pack off the animal. Moving the earth, he made a small clearing. After setting up camp, complete with a stone “tent”, he came back and pulled her into his arms. He carried her over to a raised area in the soil and sat her down. Again, Azula was quietly impressed with his strength; he handled her as if she weighed nothing. It made her wonder about his strength in other areas. Hmmm. That may be a means to escape. I shall have to test the waters. But first other needs must be attended to.
“I hope you have something decent to eat.” Her tone was very sharp.
“I’m sure I can find something to please you, Princess.” The indulgent smile he gave her made her feel like a child. Impotent fury rose in her. She opened her mouth to curse him and he put a morsel of food in it, pulling his fingers back too quickly for her to bite them. She chewed angrily for a minute before realizing that whatever he had given her was absolutely delicious.
“What is this?”
“Want some more?” He held up another piece.
“Yes.” She was too hungry to be stubborn.
He set the food near her hands. Apparently, he was not willing to risk his fingers a second time. She tried to be delicate, but hunger overrode manners as she hastily pushed the fragment into her mouth.
“My, you were hungry.” His smile was full of amusement.
To her everlasting horror she felt a blush rising in her cheeks. She had never been thankful for the setting of the sun, but tonight it was a true blessing. Azula was unaccountably grateful when he said no more, but simply kept replacing every hurriedly snatched bit of food with another until she had eaten her fill. It was then that she noticed the encroaching darkness and steady drop in temperature.
“Aren’t you going to light a fire?” She despised the cold.
“And alert my enemies to our position? I don’t think so. No, you and I will have to do our best to keep each other warm tonight.” He began to clean up the scattered rations.
“And how do you propose we do that?” His head shot up at her seductive tone.
“By sharing my tent and blankets. How else?”
She touched his knee. “There are other ways. More pleasurable ways.”
He removed her hands. “Princess, remember what I said about acting like a lady? Now would be a good time.”
So the princess wanted to have sex with him. At least he thought that was what she was suggesting. Haru shook his head and began unrolling their bedding. She was his enemy. He would have to keep that in mind, no matter how much the idea might appeal to him. Unfortunately, the thought of lying with her swirled around in his head refusing to depart. Making love to the princess... would she feel like fire or ice in his arms? He lifted his eyes and studied her. The moon had come out and he could just see her in the soft light. She sat straight and proud, her profile sculpted from the finest alabaster. Even shackled, she looked like a goddess deigning to visit lowly man. The shimmer of the crystal reminded him of why they were here. He needed to get her to the capital, and after that he would search for his men. This was no time for fantasy.
Tiny puffs of fire were coming from her lips, but it didn’t appear that she was aiming them at him. “What are you doing?” He was curious.
She turned to him. “If you must know, it’s called breath of fire. It is a firebending method of keeping warm. I felt the need to use it since you were taking so long with the bedding.” The princess sounded irritable. She must still be angry from earlier.
“Everything is ready if you would like to go to sleep.” He approached her.
He lifted her up in his arms and carried her to his “tent”. Ducking inside, he laid her down on the sleeping mat and climbed in next to her, arranging the blankets to cover them both.
“Comfortable?” She was lying so stiffly.
“Touch me and burn.” Boy, did that tide turn. Somehow, her threat rang with a deeper truth to him.
He just smiled. “Good night, Princess.”
Azula hadn’t meant to go to sleep. She had intended to fry his ass as soon as he drifted off and do… something. Perhaps light a fire and signal the Fire Nation troops that must still be nearby. So when sunlight forced her eyes open, she was understandably in a bad mood. It didn’t help that she had somehow buried herself in the earthbender’s arms during the night. Arms that were tightening slightly.
“Are you awake?” His lips brushed her ear.
The tingling sensation that arose robbed her of any biting reply.
“Princess?” His soft whisper made the honorific sound almost like an endearment.
“Get your hands off me.” The huskiness of her voice made the command less vehement than she had intended.
He leaned back and looked at her, smiling. “You are awake.”
With his hard body no longer pressed against her, her wit returned. “You were the intellectual of your village, then?”
“And fully rested, I see.” He chuckled and crawled out of the tent before sliding it back into the earth around her. She watched him pull supplies out of his pack and became aware of a suddenly pressing need. Pushing herself up to a sitting position, she cleared her throat. He looked at her.
“Do you need something, Princess? Breakfast will be ready shortly.”
“Yes. I need to…” This is humiliating. “…to have some time alone.”
“Alone?” He frowned before his eyes abruptly lit with understanding. “Ah, of course. I’m sorry, but I can’t allow that.”
“Surely, you don’t intend to watch me?” She arched an eyebrow.
“Your mind does go in interesting places, doesn’t it, Princess?” His eyes were sparkling. “No, I will make you a small, and private, room to use for your needs. Is that acceptable?”
“Yes. Do so. I will require assistance first.” She gestured to her pants, galled by the need to ask.
He stood before her and undid her pants, pushing them down over her hips slightly, with all the emotion of a healer.
All the while, he never looked at her face.
Off to one side of the clearing he made an upright rectangle of stone and helped her into it, before closing it up around her. The open top provided ample light for her use. A small piece of fabric flew over the edge and fell at her feet.
“Sorry, I forgot.” He sounded embarrassed.
Breakfast went smoothly after that. She was ever surprised at the variety and taste of the EarthKingdom foods. He was presently eating some kind of biscuit with preserves spooned from a small pot. She watched as he licked his fingers clean of the sticky fluid. Her lips parted, and she ran her tongue against the edge of her teeth.
“Would you like to try some?” He was smiling again, a knowing look in his green eyes.
“What is it?”
“Moon peach jam. It’s good… here.” He must have gotten over his fear of her teeth because he held a small portion of jam-covered biscuit to her lips. The intoxicating scent of peaches filled her nose as she opened her mouth. He gently placed the food on her tongue. All the while, his eyes never left hers. His fingers lingered and she couldn’t resist catching them between her teeth, pressing down lightly.
His pupils dilated. “Going to bite the hand that feeds you?” His voice was husky. Ah, so he is interested. Good.
She released him and allowed him to slide his fingers from her mouth. He licked his thumb and forefinger again.
“Delicious. Don’t you think?” He moved closer. “You have a little on your face. Let me get it for you.” Instead of his fingers wiping it away, he leaned forward and pressed his lips just to the right of her mouth, his tongue flicking out to clean the sweet substance from her skin.
She turned her face and kissed him.
When Haru had awakened that morning with the princess in his arms, her soft breath feathering his throat, he knew she had been right when she warned him against touching her… because he was burning. He had tried to distract himself by getting breakfast ready and helping her to “take care” of things, but when he saw her watching him eat, the fire returned, and his natural sense of caution disappeared. He had never meant to touch her. He had certainly never meant to put his fingers near her teeth again, either. But there he was, sliding them out her hot mouth, overwhelmed by the feel of her teeth scraping his skin. He noticed a tiny smear of jam beside her lip and could not stop himself from tasting it.
He had kissed a few girls before, tentative forays that left him hot and embarrassed; but when the Fire Princess kissed him, all his illusions of experience vanished.
She took control of the kiss, biting his lower lip and pulling it into her mouth. His head began to spin. He cupped her face in his hands to anchor himself. She deepened the kiss, slipping her tongue into his mouth. She tasted like peaches and fire. He slid his fingers into her hair and pulled her closer. His heart was pounding so hard he thought it would beat right out of his chest. The princess moaned and he could feel his pants grow uncomfortably tight. She began to explore his face with her mouth, licking and biting at the skin of his jaw before moving to his throat. When she sucked hard at the tender flesh there, he groaned with pleasure.
Gods, this feels incredible.
“Princess…” He was panting. She raised her hands and touched his chest, rubbing it. His hands tightened in her hair, and pulled.
“Ow, careful!” He raised his head and looked at her dazedly. “You are hurting me. It feels better when you are gentle.”
“What if I don’t want to be gentle?” He kissed her, hard.
Heat coiled low in her belly at his words, along with a slight sense of unease. She couldn’t allow this to get out of hand. He was just a means to an end. She was in control.
That didn’t stop her from shivering when he used his greater strength to force her to the ground. He looped her wrists over his head and pressed himself against her. Burying his head in her neck he suckled at the delicate skin. She hissed as his teeth grazed her flesh, lust filling her.
The sound of her voice was like a blast of cold air. What am I doing? Haru pulled back and looked at her. Her ivory skin was flushed, her parted lips swollen and glistening with moisture. They looked so succulent he nearly leaned in to kiss her again. She moved her hips against him and he gasped at the lightning-like sensation that caused.
He had to stop this or he would do something he’d regret.
Slowly, he lifted her arms from around his neck. “I’m sorry, Princess, I can’t do this.” His body throbbed with need but he somehow managed to move away from her and sit on the ground, wrapping his arms around his bent legs.
She just stared at him in silence. Her dark honey eyes had narrowed in anger, but he would not apologize further. It was clear even to his inexperienced senses that she had wanted what he was doing. He vowed not to make the mistake of giving in to his desires again. She was his enemy. He would do well to remember that.