He's eighteen when he finally asks the question that has plagued him for years.
His mother's cool gaze would be unsettling if he were not use to facing it on a daily basis.
"No one's called me insane for quite some time." There is a hint of amusement in her voice. She sips her tea quietly.
"But you were once called insane?" He knows the steps in the dance with his mother to get her to tell the truth.
His mother doesn't lie to him but she does make finding the truth rather difficult.
"Where is your father?"
"In the kitchen with Midori, Hiro and Aya showing them how to bake a fruit pie." Athyer already knew which was how he was able to get away to corner Mother.
She makes a face."Horrid things. He wanted to divorce me because I don't like them."
Athyer raises an eyebrow at this but doesn't comment. It is widely known just how devoted the Avatar is to his wife and the idea he would leave her over a fruit pie is laughable. His father is very devoted to Air Nation tradition though so there may be some truth to it but he files that away for a later time.
It's one of his mother's tricks to divert the topic.
They stare each other down. Many men have been in staring contests with the Princess, his father included. She always wins.
Eventually she relents and smiles. "Good boy." She sips her tea again. "When I lost the Agni Kai against your Uncle Zuko and Aunt Katara, I did indeed lose my mind. I was imprisoned but was too crazy to really know it."
"And?" Athyer has to know. He won't let it go.
"I managed to escape halfway around the world before your father caught up with me," Her smile widens at the memory. "He convinced me to return to the Fire Nation to stand trial."
Athyer is sure he doesn't want to know what persuasion techniques his father used.
"Custody of me was given to the Air Nation, which as you know is your father. Those peasants at the Northern Air Temple could care less." She gives a wave of her hand showing her disdain for their breeding. "He imprisoned me in these very rooms."
He frowns at her. "He imprisoned you in his house? That doesn't seem very proper."
Her smile is bright. "I assure you it wasn't."
"Mother!" Mention of his parent's bedroom life still turns his stomach.
"You're a man now, Athyer, engaged to be married yourself." She admonishes him.
He shakes his head at the thought. "That doesn't seem like something Dad would do. It just seems wrong."
She laughs. "I was always the exception for your father it would seem. I assure you I didn't mind." Her eyes get that faraway look. "Ozai did." She sets her tea down before leaning forward to speak again. "My own father wanted me dead for it."
Over the years he has heard many things about his grandfather, nothing good. He is glad he never had the chance to meet the man.
"So you were insane while you were Dad's prisoner?" He's trying to piece this together to get the full picture of his parent's past.
"Yes, I was rather insane at that point." She laughs in a way that still seems slightly maniacal. "I visited my father in prison and he tried to kill me for being with the Avatar. You should hear what I had to do to get your father to take me to visit Ozai in the first place." Her lips turn up slightly. It's a dare for him to ask.
Athyer takes the bait. He always does with her. "What did you have to do?"
Her eyes blaze like the sun. "I had to shoot him with lightening."
"You shot Dad with lightening again?" It is a surreal experience to hear these details.
She nods in a way that tells him she took way too much joy in it. "Of course he redirected it. I'm glad I didn't kill him." Her lips turn down slightly as she looks out the window.
"So you went insane and shot Dad again so he would take you to visit your father who tried to kill you?" He restates the facts to be clear.
His mother nods. "It wasn't one of my best plans but I had to see him. Before that I hadn't seen my father since the Day of Sozin's Comet."
The day the war ended.
Knowing his mother had not seen her own father for years and when she did the man tried to kill her tells him quite a bit about her. Add to that the fact that she was the one to kill Ozai and it paints a rather disturbing picture.
"When did you regain your sanity?"
She levels him with a deadly gaze. "Who says I have?"
Athyer stares back at her quite unsure how to respond.
He tries a different tactic and target.
His father is so surprised at the question that he nearly falls off his perch on top of a sphere of air.
The wind dies down and his father is standing in front of him with a serious expression.
"Why are you asking?"
His dad is rarely serious and Athyer turns away avoiding the look he is getting now. It's the Air Bender in him encouraging him to avoid and evade so he pushes it away.
"People talk about her and you have to admit some of the things she's done are a bit odd."He uses as neutral a word as he can.
His father's eyes narrow."What people?"
Athyer recognizes that look. Aunt Ty Lee always said his father wouldn't allow people to say bad things about his mother even if they were true.
"Just people, Dad, relax." He feels freer to speak like this with his Dad than with his mother.
Aang relaxes but throws a few unsettled glances his way as if trying to nudge Athyer into giving names. Realizing the stories are most likely true, Athyer won't put the unfortunate souls at the mercy of the Avatar or the Princess if she were to find out.
His father sighs. "Yes, your mother has had a bit of difficulty with sanity. She's definitely done things I didn't approve of but it seems that's a Fire Nation way of dealing with things." His father may be an adult but there is a hint of pouting in his voice.
Uncle Zuko has sided with Mother on many occasions and it leaves Athyer wondering what the two got up to when he wasn't looking. Maybe Akihiko knows.
"She was only truly insane for a short time. Hallucinations and voices but she recovered from it. The rest of it is just her." Aang gives him a very somber look. "Your mother is difficult to handle and I pity the person that crosses her."
"Were you afraid of her, after she was living with you?"
There are times he nearly wishes his parent's weren't so willing to indulge him and answer his questions and that he was still the little boy he was stealing cookies when he thought they weren't looking. Mother always knew but Dad pretended to not see him or to help him get away with it.
His father sighs and looks away. That's a sure sign his father does not want to answer but he will. Athyer has faith he will.
"Yes, I honestly thought she would kill me in my sleep." His father's eyes are so gray and honest.
"Did you love her?"
His father smiles. "Oh, yes."
"You were terrified of the woman you loved?" Athyer laughs at this and his father laughs with him.
"Seriously, though, people may try to tell you she was insane and that was why she did some of the things she did but she's not. Your mother is one of the most intelligent, methodical women I have known. She had her reasons for what she did and she still believes in them too. Azula would do it again, every bit of it."
It does nothing to settle his thoughts. He walks the halls of the palace pondering his parents.
His father is so gentle and patient. People around the world revere and respect him. He holds such power in his hands yet he seeks to serve where he could rule.
His mother is patient but in a different way. She's waiting for the right opportunity to strike and get her way. She is ruthless and cunning. The world fears her even now and when they travel they eagerly approach his father but stare nervously at his mother, holding their children back as if she will snatch them away and burn them.
He happens upon Iroh in the garden. The old man looks content with his Pai Sho board and pot of tea.
Wordlessly, Athyer drops into the space opposite of him and moves a tile. Iroh raises an eyebrow but doesn't speak. He counters easily.
"Speak, Prince Athyer." Uncle is always sure to call him by his title. It's more affection than anything.
"I've been trying to understand Mother." He doesn't say more. With Iroh, one never has too.
"My niece was so much like Ozai. He demanded perfection and Azula delivered. The price was her own sense of self and the inner peace she needed to be truly happy. When they lost the war, it broke her." He pauses to smile. "I dare say your father was the one that helped put her back together with his patience and love."
Athyer can accept this. He has watched as his father has tempered his mother over the years and she has spurred him to action rather than inaction. They seem to balance each other.
"I worry Midori is too much like how she use to be."
Iroh smiles. "Midori will be fine. She is only a child now but she had what Azula did not and that is a strong loving and happy family."
Athyer frowns unsure.
"Fire Bender's burn hotter. We are more temperamental than the other benders. Your father can tell you about this. He has dealt with the four nations for longer than I have."
Iroh sometimes speaks in riddles.
Iroh smiles widely. "Your father is older than I am."
Athyer smacks himself in the forehead at the idea of another mystery to unravel about his parents.
Author's note: Thank you for reading! I may do some more one shot stories in this AU and see where the characters lead me.