This girl was the closest he had found so far. Her dark hair framed her face same as the original, and her pale, creamy skin smelled the way he’d always imagined hers would, like peaches and smoke. Her eyes were a darker brown, but they turned a syrupy honey color in the sun, only a few shades off from that true gold. She was a moderately talented firebender. Of course, her flames were orange, not blue.
Her expression had caught his eye first. That arrogant, self-assured smirk reminded him so much of her that he had done a double-take, sure that his mind was playing tricks on him. He had made a beeline for her, practically shoving people out of his way to cross the crowded bar. She had raised an eyebrow at his eagerness, the corners of her perfectly painted lips curling up into a satisfied grin.
“I’m Aang,” he had introduced himself with preamble.
She scanned him up and down, eyes lasciviously lingering on his arms and chest before meeting his own. “Azumi.”
The name was enough to push him over the edge. “Can I buy you a drink?”
Now, Azumi writhed and mewled under him, arching her back, begging him to fuck her harder. Aang wanted to tell her to be quiet. She wouldn’t beg, he knew that for a fact. But he already felt bad enough, he never had the heart to tell any of them to stop talking. Instead, he tuned out their pleading and focused on the way they moaned his name, pretending they were someone else.
One of Azumi’s arms snaked around his waist, pressing against his lower back to coax him to thrust deeper into her. Her fingertips brushed against the scar on his back and jerked away, unfamiliar with the ropy texture. He growled and picked up his pace; Azumi seemed to understand and began stroking the scar on his back, caressing the long-healed wound.
When he came, he gasped out a name that was close to, but did not match that of the one panting beneath him.
It had started years ago, when him and Katara had finally chosen to consummate their relationship. Some parts had been awkward, but the vision of Katara spread out before him, eyes glowing with pure love and trust, had been worth more to him than the act itself. As he had struggled to find the right rhythm, her arms had come around to embrace him, holding him close to whisper encouraging words in his ear. In doing so, she had touched the scar. The unfamiliar sensation made him recall how he had gotten it and, more importantly, who had given it to him.
Now, in this most intimate moment, he was thinking about her. Katara’s broad, weather-worn hands became delicate and sharp, her blissful smile turning into a red smirk. It was both terrifying and arousing, and he had cried out when his orgasm hit him, leaving him shaking. Katara had pulled him down to her chest, murmuring praise, but all Aang could think of was lightning.
They had broken up six months later. It kept happening every time they had sex, and Aang grew disgusted with himself. He considered more than once just telling Katara to stop touching his scar, but could never bring himself to get the words out. Katara had been heartbroken, but he couldn’t explain how often he thought of the golden-eyed firebender, the one that had killed him. Not to the person that had brought him back.
It was an unfortunate series of circumstances that lead to his growing depravity. Of course he thought of Azula every time somebody touched the scar. It had been a traumatic experience, one that he would carry with him forever, both inside and out. But people were not casually touching the middle of his back throughout the day. It was only in those most intimate moments that hands would wander to the wound, and so his shameful mind had inexorably linked the two.
At first, he had tried to stay away from anyone and anything that brought her to mind. He slept only with men, or women that didn’t resemble her in any way. He instructed them that, under any circumstances, they were not to touch his back. Most assumed that the scar hurt him, and in a way it was still hurting him. He did everything he could to put the fire princess out of his mind, and still she remained, like a stubborn tick, feasting on his blood and life’s energy.
After a certain point, Aang had succumbed to his dark desires, accepting that Azula was permanently etched into his psyche. He tried to satisfy his cravings by swinging in the other direction, finding women that matched her appearance or disposition. But no matter how many gorgeous, powerful, intelligent women he bedded, he couldn’t get her out of his mind. Now, even when he was alone, one hand wrapped around himself, he imagined the princess was with him. She would surely have grown into an absolutely stunning woman, and likely the most formidable firebender in the world.
He wondered if she had transferred something to him when she had shot him with lightning. Something to explain why she filled his every waking thought, making him ache in her absence.
He wondered if, after he had died, he had come back wrong.
Azumi had granted herself only a minute of post-coital bliss before she was out of bed, on her feet.
“You don’t have to go,” Aang protested, struggling to prop himself up on his elbows from where he had flopped on his back. The woman threw him a scathing glance as she slipped back into her clothes.
“That was fun, Avatar, but I’m not an idiot,” she said blithely, pulling her pants up over her hips and smoothing down the fabric across her thighs. “I can hear when you say another woman’s name in my ear.”
Aang flushed a deep red, humiliated. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be.” She threw her shirt over her head and snatched her undergarments from the floor, tucking them into her pocket. “I’ve been compared to the fire princess all my life. I take it as a compliment.” A sharp smile flashed in the darkness before he could half-heartedly deny her claims. “She is beautiful.”
She let herself out of Aang’s room at the inn without looking back.
Aang had finally had enough. The years of self-loathing, of running away, had taken their toll on him. He had found it harder and harder to fulfill his Avatar duties, suffused with the nagging doubt that he had no right to tell others how to live their lives when he himself had no control over his own.
His first stop had been to the Fire Nation capitol. The last he had heard about Azula, years ago, was that she was imprisoned in Caldera City. He had carefully avoided asking about her during his subsequent visits to the capitol, terrified that Zuko’s follow-up questions might reveal his true motives. The Fire Lord’s information on his sister’s whereabouts were troubling. Apparently, Azula had been fully rehabilitated, but no longer wished to have any part in global politics. She had retired to a small village on the western coast of the Fire Nation, where she lived a simple, peaceful life. Aang was having a difficult time reconciling the image of fierce woman that he savored in his head with this new, passive vision. It didn’t sound like his Azula.
He flew there on his glider, leaving Appa and Momo in the palace. This was journey he had to make alone. Zuko had provided a description of her house; a small cottage on the beach, painted pale orange with cheery yellow shutters. A planter box of flowers was placed in one windowsill. It was all very neat and plain, but as Aang landed and folded up his glider, exhilaration flared throughout his entire body. The connection between him and Azula, forged in that lightning strike on his back, was humming at their closeness. Aang could sense her power, poorly shielded under this veneer of domesticity.
His brain skipped, and the next thing he knew he was on her doorstep, fist raised, the sound of his furious knocking still echoing in the air. There was barely enough time for him to second-guess himself when the door was wrenched open, and Azula stood before him.
She was at once both completely different to how he envisioned her, and exactly the same. She was tall and lean, his imagination having endowed her with far more generous curves. Her hair was longer than he remembered, cascading down her back in a silky waterfall. She was dressed in a simple robe and wearing no makeup, her previously painted lips now nude. But her eyes were exactly the same: intense, passionate, blazing with purpose.
Those eyes appraised him now, narrowing as she swept up and down his form. “Avatar?” she spoke, in a cold and clipped tone that somehow set fire to his veins. “What are you doing here?”
For a moment, Aang was at a loss for words. He couldn’t believe that he was here, two feet from the person that starred in every one of his fantasies. The air between them pulsated with an energy that only he seemed to pick up on.
He finally found his tongue. “Can I come in?”
Azula tilted her head, examining him, one predator evaluating another. Without a word, she walked back into her house, leaving the door open as an invitation. Aang took it.
The inside of the house was as tidy and warm as the outside. Aang took in the comfortably plush couch, the sea shells and pretty rocks that decorated the surfaces of cabinets. Paintings were hung on the walls, all with Azula’s neat signature in the corner. Some were realistic landscapes, but Aang’s eyes were drawn to one made of abstract swirls. He stared at it, and something seemed to snap into place behind his eyes, because now he could see that the swirls were made of hundreds of blue arrows, twisting and turning around each other like the wind.
“Did you come here just to stare at my art?” Azula’s voice drew his attention, like a magnet.
“Then what are you doing here?”
“I wanted to see you.”
The boldness of his statement amused her, lips curling up into a smirk. “Well, here I am. Is that it?”
Here she was indeed. “Azula, please.” The careful speech he had laboriously written and rewritten in his head disintegrated. “There’s something wrong with me.”
“I can see that.” Her haughty tone left him breathless, a rare feat for an airbender.
“I can’t stop thinking about you,” he rasped, and something in his frenzied manner must have begun to sunk in, because Azula was no longer smiling. “You did something to me, when you killed me.”
Her face fell into a scowl. “That was a long time ago. I’m not proud of it.”
“Eight years,” he pressed. “Eight years I’ve been thinking about you. I’m tired. I can’t keep kissing strangers and pretending that they’re you. They’re…they’re like shadows. They’re not good enough.”
He was babbling, completely incoherent. She was going to have him locked away. And yet something in him felt lighter and freer than ever before.
Azula was steadily watching him, giving nothing away. She glided towards him, stopping only inches from him. When she spoke, she sounded like thunder, dark and commanding.
Aang’s eyes widened. Impatience flickered across her features until Aang obediently sank to his knees.
One hand came down to cradle his jaw, her sharp nails prickling against his neck. She brushed the pad of her thumb over his lips, pulling his lower lip down. Obediently, Aang took her thumb in his mouth, greedy tongue swirling along its length. He stared up at her adoringly.
Her smile reminded him of cold fire.