Katara waited until the kids left the kitchen before she asked her husband what was wrong.
"Nothing," Aang replied. He held out a hand for the plate that she was washing. Tonight was their night for doing the dishes—Aang refused to ask the kids to do any chores that he wasn't willing to do himself. Katara might have protested that that meant they didn't have to actually do those chores, but she liked these quiet nights, just them and the sound of water sloshing. The prospect of being roped into the task kept Bumi, Kya and Tenzin far away. Some weeks, this was the only time they really got alone.
She handed him the plate and he swiped at it with a towel, far too focused on the plain surface for her taste.
"Something is bothering you, Sweetie," she said, her eyes following him as he gathered more dishes from the table and placed them on the countertop beside her.
He wouldn't look at her as he sighed. "Katara..."
She hated it when he said her name that way. It meant that he'd gone on some inner guilt trip. She waited silently through the expected pause, wondering what unnecessary weight he'd taken on his shoulders this time. Katara pushed her sleeves back up her arms, waterbending out the wet spot and reached for the next dish.
"Do you think I'm a good father?"
"What?" Katara jerked around to face him, the large dish slipping from her wet fingers. Only Aang's quick gust of air kept it from shattering on the ground. "Aang, what put that in your head?"
Aang retrieved the dish and handed it to Katara, who dumped in in the sudsy water and then turned back to her husband, hands on her hips. He scratched behind his ears, looking through the door to hallway their children had just disappeared down a short time ago.
"Aang, you go ask any one of our children if their father loves them and their answer will be yes." With that, Katara turned back to the sink, pulling the large serving dish back out of the water and scrubbing it with the dish rag. She didn't know who had said something—and that was undoubtedly what had planted the idea in his head—but she was going to finish these dishes and then she was coming for them. Aang. A bad father. The idea was absolutely ridiculous.
"I'm not so sure Bumi and Kya would share your sentiment," he said as she handed him the dish to rinse and dry.
Katara sighed. This was going to take more than her setting him straight. He'd been stewing on this for a while if the look on his face was any indication.
"You're forgetting a child," Katara said.
"That's just it, Katara. Tenzin is the one I never forget about."
She raised an eyebrow. "You forget? That we have three children?"
"Well, no," Aang said. "I just—He's the one I'm always spending time with."
And there it was.
"It just seems—a little unfair." Aang picked up a stack of dried plates and put them in the cabinet. "Don't you think?" He closed the cabinet door, but he didn't come back to the sink. Instead he held onto the handles and leaned his head against the cabinet.
Katara left the dishes in the sink and went over to him, her hand making a wet patch on his sleeve as she placed her hand on his shoulder.
"If life was fair," Katara said, "then there would be more than two airbenders in the whole world." She grabbed his face, making him look at her. "If life was fair, you wouldn't have gotten stuck in that iceberg and the Fire Nation wouldn't have ruled the world for a hundred years."
Aang smiled a sad smile. "If life was fair, I never would have met you."
"And you wouldn't even have children to be feeling guilty about. Can you imagine that?"
Aang shook his head. "No." He pulled away from her. "But that doesn't change the issue, Katara. Tenzin gets time with me every day and Kya and Bumi get ignored."
"Really?" Katara said. "Because I distinctly remember you throwing part of an orange at Bumi during dinner."
"He started it."
"And you continued it."
That got her a better grin.
"And what about that waterbending scroll you got for Kya the last time you went to the Northern Water Tribe? Buying gifts for your children is a pretty strange way to ignore our children."
"Because I missed her birthday."
Katara shrugged. "You're the Avatar, you don't get to decide when people are going to need you. And while I would appreciate it if the world would stay out of trouble on birthdays and anniversaries, I'm not nearly self-centered enough to expect that." She took a step back so she could look at him without having to crane her neck. It was hard to remember that he had been the shorter one when they first met. Who knew Air Nomads got so tall? "Tenzin isn't just your son, he's your student. You are the only one that can teach him what it means to be an Airbender. And it's not like you forbid Kya and Bumi from morning meditation or lessons with Tenzin." It was true. Aang would have welcomed both of his other children to learn the forms of his style of bending, but Bumi had no patience for it and Kya was far more interested in practicing her waterbending.
"I suppose you're right," Aang said.
Katara kissed his cheek. "I'm always right."
Aang wisely kept his mouth shut.
"Can I ask what brought this on?" she asked, plunging her hands into the soapy water, which was now tepid. Katara made a face. "Aang, do you mind?"
He had it warm again in a quick minute.
"I heard the kids arguing when I got home," Aang said. "Bumi may have said something to Tenzin about being my favorite."
Aang gave her a look. "Is Kya yours?"
"There's my snarky husband," Katara said, flicking water at him. A move which always worked better with Bumi or Tenzin. Aang twisted his wrist and sent the water back at her so fast she didn't have time to react. The water splattered across her face, making her sputter.
"Sorry," Aang said, biting his lip. It did a terrible job of hiding his grin.
Hands in the air, Aang backed away from her. Katara pulled more water from the sink, lashing out again. This time Aang just ducked. That was she'd been waiting for, quick as a flash, Katara pulled the water back towards her. Aang was just starting to straighten up again and it hit him squarely in the back of the head, soaking his entire back.
Aang narrowed his eyes at her, pulling more soapy water out of the sink. Katara deflected it, taking control and sending it back at her husband. Aang vaporized it with a burst of fire.
"No cheating," Katara yelled, sending more water his way. Aang grinned and flowed into a waterbending stance.
Before long there was more water on them and the floor than there was on the sink. Katara ducked, a wet splat sounding behind her as she moved out of the way. Her foot hit a patch of water, and she slid. Aang reached out to stop her, but he slipped on the same patch of water and they ended up sprawled on the ground. Laughing, Katara pushed off of him. Aang rubbed his side and grinned.
"What are you two doing?"
Katara looked to the door to find Bumi, Kya and Tenzin staring at them, wide-eyed.
"Me? I distinctly remember you bending water at me first."
"I flicked water at you because you were being mopey."
Aang growled and flicked more water at her.
"I though you two were supposed to be doing the dishes," Kya said. "Why are you allowed to have water fights and I'm not?"
"Because your brothers cannot fight back," Aang said. "Your mother and I on the other hand—"
Kya yelped as Katara splashed her. Aang chortled, slapping his palm against the hand that Katara held up. Bumi threw his hands up in the air.
"Benders?" Kya said. "You mean parents!" Looking highly offended, Kya bent the water out of her dress.
Her older brother just grinned. "Yeesh, get a room you two."
"We had a room," Aang said. "This one."
"Dad," Kya whined. "Gross, we cook food in here."
"Yeah, gross," Tenzin echoed.
Katara burst into giggles. At nine, he was still too young to realize why his older siblings had such delightful looks of disgust on their faces, but he was trying his best to look stern anyways.
"Thanks, Kya," Bumi said. "There's a mental image that I will never get out of my head. Let's go." He grabbed Tenzin and started marching away.
Kya glared at both her parents. "You'd better clean this mess up. Because we aren't."
Katara and Aang waited until they'd gotten at least partway down the hall before they burst out laughing again.
"Did you see Bumi's face," she asked, wiping a tear from her eye.
"And Tenzin...he was so disapproving."
"Sometimes I think he got all of your seriousness and none of your humor."
"And then an air acolyte ends up with a pie on their head."
"I've taught him well then." Aang got up, extending a hand to Katara. She stood, rubbing her hip with her other hand.
"We're getting too old for this."
"You, my dear, will never be too old for anything." Aang grabbed her waist pulling her in and kissing her soundly. "Thank you."
"You are a wonderful father," she said. "You may not get as much time with any of them as you like, but that doesn't make you a bad parent."
Together, they bent the water up from the floor and out of their clothes and sent it out the window, before pulling fresh water into the sink.
"I'll finish up here," Katara said. "You go hang out with the kids. Wouldn't want anyone to think you were neglecting them."
Aang kissed her cheek. "Thank you."
"Aang," she called right before he zipped out the door. Sometimes he still moved like he was twelve-years-old.
"I'm not the only one that can teach Kya to waterbend."
Aang gave her a skeptical look.
"I mean, it would mean a lot to her if you gave her lessons too."
Her husband nodded. "That might be a good idea..."
"And Bumi's been practicing with the staff. He might like to have a sparring partner that wasn't three feet tall."
Aang's face lit up. "Katara, you are a genius." He scratched at his chin. "It'll be tough, but I'll find the time."
Katara took a deep breath. "And maybe you should think about taking Bumi and Kya with you on occasion. If that would be alright."
Katara nodded, despite the butterflies in her stomach at the idea of her children going with Aang. These weren't fun mini-vacations she was suggesting he take them on—not like with Tenzin. Yes, the world was at peace, but his mission's occasionally turned dangerous. But Bumi and Kya were older than both of them had been when Zuko's soldiers had sent them running across the world. And she trusted her husband; she knew he'd do everything he could to keep their children safe.
"Really," she said.
Aang crossed the distance between them in single bound, doing a flip in mid-air—this was the reason Air Nomad temples had such high ceilings she had realized a few years ago—and landing right next to her.
"You are the best, Katara," Aang said, kissing her again. "And a genius. And the most beautiful waterbender I've ever met."
She smiled. "I know I am. Now go, I'll join all of you as soon as I finish up here."
"Bumi! Get over here or I'll—" Kya's shriek was cut off in wordless frustration.
Aang shook his head. "Guess I'd better go play referee."
"You do that," she said. She flicked a water whip at his butt as he left the room.
"Now, now, Katara," he said with a wink, "There are children about."
Katara rolled her eyes and set to work on the last of the dishes, but she knew what that wink meant. Maybe later, they'd take Bumi's suggestion and get a room.
This is possibly the most physically painful fic I've ever written. It took me five minutes before I was able to type out Aang's original question, "Do you think I'm a good father?". It was heartbreaking, it was maddening, and it was SO Aang. Of course. Of course, he'd be worried about the amount of time he spent with Tenzin. Of course he'd feel like he was neglecting his other children.
I wrote this early this year after coming across some posts about Aang being a neglectful Father and it just made me SO freaking angry. Like what? That's what you got out of that episode? And so I sat down and wrote this to kind of get my thoughts in order. And then I forgot about it, but I've found it.
I do not in any way believe that Aang was ever purposefully neglectful. There is not a doubt in my mind that he loved each of his children equally. WhatI know about Aang tells me this. He loves with all his heart. By necessity he would have spent a lot of time with Tenzin. Just like I think Katara would have spent a lot of time training Kya-Kya was her daughter, I doubt she would be happy letting anyone else train her. Where Aang is at a disadvantage is that he is the Avatar. He has a lot less time to use to make up for those private lessons. As I mention in the story, he probably wouldn't have forbidden Kya and Bumi from participating in some parts of Tenzin's training-like mediation, but I doubt they would have been interested.
Another point of contention I had with the whole "Aang is a bad dad" argument is that what we know is purely from Bumi, Kya and Tenzin's points of view. They are all colored by their experiences and their frustrations. They don't know how Aang felt about these things, because they probably didn't ask them. Also, when you're mad at someone (as Kya and Bumi were at Tenzin in those two episodes), you tend to focus on everything that frustrates you about them. As someone with a younger sibling, I can say that when I thought my parents were favoring him over me, oh, I could pull out and dwell on every instance of special treatment he got. This is what I feel Kya and Bumi are doing in this episode. They're frustrated because Tenzin thinks everything was so hunky-dory with their family. A very real imbalance is further escalated in their minds, so we don't hear about any time Aang might have spent with them. We don't hear about that time Aang took Bumi to the Fire Nation or the fact that sometimes he stepped in to help with Kya's lessons because that isn't what they are focused on. They are focused on the trips Tenzin brings up, because those are the trips he went on and that's what he remembers about his dad.
Anyways, those are my thoughts. Basically 1) I think Aang was very aware that he spent a lot of time with Tenzin, but he wasn't always able to make up for that fact and 2) I think the cloudbabies perspectives and frustrations mean we aren't hearing the whole story about Aang as a dad-close to the whole story, but not the whole story.
Hope you like it...Still debating whether I should post this in the Korra fanfic archive too...