He's three when he's kidnapped for the first time.
But he's not scared. A prince of the Fire Nation is never scared. The woman smiles nicely at him and gives him cookies. There are lots of other men and women around but they leave them alone in the small room. When he tells her that his Daddy will come for him, she smiles again. When he says his Mommy will come too, her smile falters.
He's right of course. Daddy does come and he knows it when he feels the building shake and the people run grabbing weapons. He hears the word "Avatar" thrown about. Athyer knows that is what other people call Daddy and he smiles knowing that soon he will get to go home. When Daddy gets here, he will ask if he can go play with his cousin Akihiko. He's not seen Akihiko in days.
The woman closes the door against the noise and sits him on her lap as she tells him a story about a moose-lion cub. Athyer settles against her and tries to listen over the loud crashes beyond the door.
When the door opens, his gray eyes are immediately drawn to the yellow and orange robes his daddy wears. The woman tenses behind him. The torches in the room suddenly burn brighter as he steps inside. Behind his father, the shape of a man looms but before Athyer can warn him, a sapphire fireball knocks the man back. He falls screaming. More fireballs follow and more screams are heard.
Daddy never turns around.
Instead he steps farther into the room and the woman gently sets Athyer on his feet. He watches in fascination as she kneels in front of his father and begs forgiveness. He runs past her into his daddy's waiting arms and is hugged close. Over his shoulder, Athyer sees his mommy in the doorway, her golden eyes bright and glowing.
Her golden eyes lock with Athyer's gray ones and she gives him a brisk nod of acknowledgement.
He squirms to be let down so he can run to Mommy and Daddy lets him down. Mommy doesn't sweep him into a hug like Daddy though. He grabs onto her leg and hugs her close and her hand rests on his back. He fidgets against the heat pouring off of her though. Mommy only burns this hot when she is angry.
Looking up he can see that her golden eyes aren't looking at him or Daddy; they are fixed on the woman who is kneeling still, staring back with wide eyes.
"Your friends are dead." Mommy is using her princess voice and Athyer slowly backs away.
He knows what that voice means.
Daddy does too and he steps in front of the woman with his hands raised.
"No, Azula." Daddy is using his Avatar voice.
Usually when the Avatar speaks, people listen, except Mommy.
She glares at him.
"They kidnapped our son." She bites out with a sort of harsh quietness that gives Athyer chills to hear.
Daddy nods slowly and takes a step towards her, still standing between Mommy and the nice lady.
"Yes, but he's safe and not hurt." Athyer has heard Daddy use that voice with Mommy many times.
Sometimes it works.
This time it doesn't.
Mommy moves to step around him. She is fast even though her belly is large and round. Daddy moves faster though and matches her step.
"Azula," There is more of a warning in his voice and his gray eyes darken.
Athyer looks from his parents to the lady. First, he frowns at the woman's tears but realizes the lady is scared of Mommy.
Mommy does that thing with her lips where she only smiles a little. Athyer has never liked it. It's scary and Daddy looks worried.
A Prince of the Fire Nation must have courage so Athyer musters as much as he can and says, "Mommy, don't hurt her."
All eyes in the room lock on him and he steps back closer to the wall. Swallowing his fear, he says, "She gave me cookies and told me stories. Please don't hurt her."
He feels a sense of pride that his voice doesn't waver. Mommy stares at him with those bright glowing golden eyes of hers. Athyer feels fear, not for himself but for the nice lady who is still quietly crying behind his daddy.
Commotion sounds in the corridor and one of Uncle Zuko's men appears in the doorway.
"The building is secured, Princess."
Never taking her eyes off Athyer, she nods. "Take this one into custody. My son wishes to spare her life."
Something about the way Mommy says it though makes him think it's not a wish she will grant.
"Yes, Princess," The man bows and crosses the room to take hold of the woman.
As she leaves, the woman's wide brown eyes lock with his gray ones and he still sees tears and fear.
Daddy picks him up and tucks him close as they leave the room.
"Keep your eyes closed, Athyer."
Athyer obeys and buries his nose into his daddy's robes to try to get away from the smell of smoke in the air. There is another smell in the air that he can't quite identify but it smells an awful like the meat Uncle Sokka likes to eat.
The lady made sure he was fed well and clean but the smell of smoke lingers on him so Daddy gives him a bath when they get home to the palace.
He's quiet as he thinks about what happened.
"Did Mommy kill the others?" Now that it is just him and Daddy, his voice is that of a three year old boy.
Daddy stills. "Yes." He answers in a quiet voice.
Athyer frowns. Daddy always said all life should be respected.
"Are you mad at her for it?" He looks up at his father.
He may be three but his father is easy to read.
"You are mad." He looks back down at his toy turtle-duck.
Daddy gently lifts his chin so they are looking at one another. "I'm not mad at Mommy. I'm sad."
Athyer blinks at him. "Is Mommy sad those people are dead?"
Daddy sighs. "No."
"Is Mommy going to kill the lady?" His eyes start to tear up and he's glad that it's just him and Daddy right now.
Daddy hesitates, uncertain himself. "Uncle Zuko won't let her."
Athyer doubts the Fire Lord could stop her.
"Zuzu won't?" They both turn their head at the sound of her voice.
She leans against the doorframe, one hand resting on her stomach.
"Your son asked you to spare her."
Mommy gives Athyer a smile. "Yes, he did but the punishment for treason is execution."
Athyer knows what that word means and he doesn't like it.
"Azula, he's only a child." Daddy's voice slips back into his Avatar voice.
Her eyes narrow. "He needs to know these things, Avatar."
Mommy only calls Daddy by his title when she is mad at him.
"He's too young."
She looks at Athyer as she speaks. "You can't protect him from the world forever, Aang."
Daddy doesn't reply and Mommy slips out of the room just as quiet as she slipped in.
When his father looks back at him, Athyer meets his gaze.
"I'm brave, Daddy." He wants to assure him that he's old enough to handle what's out there, whatever it is that his mommy wants him to be ready for.
Daddy smiles. "Yes, you are."
Athyer sleeps that night nestled between his parents with his little head pillowed on his mother's chest and his father next to him, feeling warm and safe.
He's five when his cousin Akihiko learns to Fire Bend.
He stares at the orange flames in fascination then looks to his own hand. All he can make are gusts of wind.
His father finds him sitting in their private courtyard staring at his hand.
When Daddy sits beside him, he looks at him and asks, "Why can't I Fire Bend?"
Daddy smiles. "Because you are an Air Bender, like me."
He looks down at his hand then to his father's hands.
"But you can Fire Bend too." It doesn't make sense to him. "Mommy can Fire Bend."
Mommy's flames are always blue. From the way people react to them, Athyer realizes there is something special about Mommy.
Daddy gathers him into his lap. "Yes, Mommy is a Fire Bender but you took after me and I was born an Air Bender."
He frowns. "It's like how Aunt Katara is a Water Bender but Akihiko isn't?"
He looks up into his father's gray eyes. "How can you bend Fire and Water and Earth?"
Daddy smiles again. "I'm the Avatar. I can bend all four elements."
There's that title again. Everyone they meet calls Daddy, Avatar. It makes Daddy special too.
"Will I be Avatar one day?" Akihiko will be Fire Lord one day.
Daddy shakes his head. "No, it doesn't work like that."
Athyer wants to ask but Daddy will only explain so much.
He finds Mommy in his little sister Midori's room. She's rocking her in the chair.
Climbing on the stool, he looks at her and she returns the gaze patiently waiting him out.
"Why won't I be Avatar?" He blurts it out.
Mommy raises an eyebrow at him. "Did you ask your father?"
He nods but doesn't say more. Mommy knows Daddy doesn't like to go into details.
She sighs. "There is only one Avatar at a time and when the Avatar dies his or her spirit is reborn into a new person."
Mommy doesn't speak to him like Daddy or Aunt Katara does. She speaks to him like he's an adult. He likes it because it makes him feel like an adult too.
"So when Daddy dies, there will be a new Avatar and it could be anyone?"
She nods looking down at his sister who is asleep. "The next Avatar will be born in the Water Tribe. The Avatar after that will be born in the Earth Kingdom and the Avatar after that will be born in the Fire Nation."
He watches as she gently lies Midori down in her bed. Drawing closer to the crib he looks down at his sleeping sister as Mommy pulls her blanket up over her.
Taking Mommy's hand he lets her lead him into the kitchen. He climbs into a chair while she prepares a snack for him. It's their afternoon routine to snack and talk while Midori sleeps.
He ponders the Avatar. "After the Fire Nation, the Avatar will be born in the Air Nation, right?"
His mother stills but nods slowly."Yes." Her voice is quiet though and she looks at him carefully. "The next Avatar that is an Air Bender will most likely be one of your descendents."
Athyer pauses at the word. He's heard it many times but that seems odd.
"Why? Aren't there more Air Benders?" The more he thinks about it the stranger it seems that he's not seen anyone else but Daddy that can bend Air.
Mommy presses her lips together but her golden eyes don't waver from him. "No, you and your father are the last Air Benders."
He kicks his feet against the chair, anxiously. When Mommy gets that look in her eye, he knows he's on the verge of hearing something big.
"What happened to the rest of them?"
"They died in the war." His mother's voice turns cold.
Athyer freezes. He's heard many stories about the war. When his aunts and uncles get together they like to tell stories about the adventures they had and the great battles they fought but no one ever died in them. The idea that all of his daddy's family must have died in a war makes him sad. He starts to tear up.
"Why are you crying?" His mother asks staring at him with fascination.
He looks up at her with eyes full of unshed tears. "Daddy must be sad." His voice breaks as the tears fall down his face.
His mother's eyes widen and she moves to wipe them off his cheeks as she pulls him into her arms.
"No, Athyer, it's okay." She pets him and shushes him, gently rocking him against her.
"What's wrong?" He hears Daddy's voice over his own sniffles.
He turns to look at him through bleary eyes. "Are we really the last Air Benders?" He blurts out, hopeful that somehow, maybe this once, Mommy is wrong.
Daddy's eyes widen in shock. "Azula, What did you tell him?"
Mommy is still trying to console him as she rocks back and forth rubbing his back.
Before she can answer, Athyer's words come in a rush. "Mommy said they died in the war and we are all that's left and that when you die the next Avatar will be from the Water Tribe." Fat tears roll down his face.
It's the understanding of a little boy frightened by what he's learned.
Daddy grits his teeth and looks out the window. He watches the steady rise and fall of his father's chest. Daddy only does that when he's angry and he's trying to calm himself before speaking.
Mommy doesn't say anything but kisses his cheeks as she holds him close. Having cried and told Daddy what he's learned, he slumps against Mommy feeling tired.
When Daddy speaks it is with an eerie calm. "You shouldn't tell him those things."
He feels Mommy sigh against him. "He has to learn these things, Aang. Sooner or later someone will tell him and it is best he learns it from us first." Mommy only uses that voice when she's sorry but won't just apologize.
Daddy never makes her say she's sorry.
He looks up at his father and he does see sadness in his eyes. "Azula, He's only a child."
She stops rocking him. Her voice turns stern. "He's the son of the Avatar and a Prince of the Fire Nation. He's one of the last two Air Benders in the world. You can't protect him forever."
Daddy's eyes darken. "I know who and what Athyer is but he is still a child, Azula." Daddy is getting angry.
"What were we doing when we were children?" Mommy's voice is cold but her body is burning hot with her own anger. It is lulling Athyer to sleep.
"We should have been doing what children do, Azula, not fighting a war." Daddy's eyes and voice soften.
"History is full of children that fought wars, Aang. We would be fools to think it won't happen again."
Daddy shakes his head and leaves the room without another word.
Mommy lifts him and carries him to his bedroom where she tucks him in for a nap.
"Will I fight in a war?" He asks with tired eyes.
She smiles at him as she adjusts his blanket around him. "I hope not."
Another thought occurs to him. "Will Akihiko?"
Mommy sighs."The Fire Lord will do what he must to keep his country strong. One day Akihiko may have to fight a war to do that."
Athyer frowns at the thought of his cousin fighting a war. Akihiko is clumsy and trips often.
"Then I will help him." It is his duty to protect his family.
Mommy pauses and her fingers lightly caress his cheek.
"I hope it never comes to that. Wars are terrible things."
Something cold settles in his chest at her words.
Mommy doesn't lie to him.