Note: Set sometime in Season 2, after Toph arrives but BEFORE they lose Appa.
She knew it was a ridiculous question the moment it was asked.
Frowning, Katara set down the bundle of clothes as she glanced at the Avatar in question, curled up by the campfire and absently stroking Momo's fur. Turning back to her brother, she raised an expectant eyebrow.
"What do you mean, I act like a mother to Aang?" Katara asked, brow now furrowed in confusion. Deep within her, something stirred, a voice agreeing with Sokka: why, indeed?
Pushing it away, Katara focused on her brother. "What do you mean?" she asked again. "Is there something wrong with the way I act around him?"
Sokka shifted uncomfortably, and shrugged. "I don't know." He hesitated, and glanced at her speculatively before directing his gaze firmly at the ground. "But…you act around him like mom did around you and me," Sokka confessed. "Like you never want anything bad to happen to him."
As he took a momentary stop, a bit of the normal, unserious Sokka returning to his expression. "And the way you look at him is actually faintly reminiscent of the way a platypus-bear looks at his cub—like you'd tear apart anything that put a scratch on him."
Her brother paused. "In all honesty," Sokka admitted, "It actually kinda freaks me out."
Rolling her eyes, Katara sighed and picked up the collection of dirty clothes yet again. And here she'd been thinking they were in the middle of some great breakthrough. In all honesty, she'd been wondering about her feelings for Aang, too.
"If this is about you getting freaked out, then I'd really prefer we drop the subject till morning." Stifling a yawn, she murmured to herself, "I'm tired. With all of this training going on, it's hard for me to get some rest…"
Katara cast a worried glance at Aang, just as the boy's eyes drifted clothes and his breathing slowed to a slow but steady pace. "I sure hope Aang's getting enough sleep."
"See?" Sokka accused. "That's exactly what I'm talking about. You'd take on the world for him." He lowered his voice so only Katara could here, despite the Avatar's sleeping state. "Sometimes I think you would die for him."
"So what if I would?" his sister snapped back. Sokka's inquisitions were getting on her nerves…and digging in a little too deep. But all the same, the words were true. Why wouldn't she?
Her only regret would be leaving Aang with the guilt of knowing a girl he loved had taken his place. Yet the waterbender kept the thought stubbornly locked within, refusing to give in to the inquisition and oh-so-close answer gathering beneath the surface.
"He's the world's last hope for peace," Katara said stubbornly, as she had so many times. "You'd die for him too, you know, if it came down to it."
"Yeah," Sokka said slowly, his blue eyes searching out some hidden meaning in hers, "But it's more than that. I think…" Once again, Sokka's voice dropped in volume—this time to a hush. "I think you love him."
What could have been more obvious? And what else could it be, the fierce desire to protect and shelter, greater than any affection she knew she'd ever felt for her own family?
Now this was just frustrating. Her anger and irritation began to build, not just at herself and her own confusions but at Sokka for bringing out the emotions in the first place.
"Sokka! Arrgh!" Taking a deep breath, Katara massaged her temples. "Of course I love him!" she answered, trying her best to take deep, patient breaths and convince herself of these truths as she spoke. "He is my friend and he's sweet and brave and kind—" Katara stopped, realizing these traits in Aang only as she spoke them. "He's my friend," she repeated after a moment. "My friend."
"Then why—why do you—" Sokka seemed to be struggling with something. At last, with a sigh, he dropped his shoulders. "I just wanna figure out," Sokka said wearily, "Why you're so motherly toward him, that's all. Do you love him like he's your kid? Is that it?"
"No—Sokka!" Katara hands balled into tiny fists as she glared at her brother in frustration. As she spoke, a small stream trickling a few feet away seemed to pulse with the rise and fall of her hands.
Over by the campfire, Aang let out a string of mumblings and rolled over on his sleeping mat.
Suddenly, Katara was very, very aware of—once again—how tired the Avatar was, and how loud her voice had become.
It was time to take a deep breath, and explain to Sokka once and for all.
As Katara spoke, her own questions slowly ebbed away to a feeling of realization and self-comprehension.
"I act like a mother," the waterbender said quietly, suddenly at peace with her brother and ridden of her own confusion, "because that's exactly what Aang needs—a mother. If he needed a best friend, or a sibling, or even a…" she hesitated. "…Lover…that's what I'd be.
"All I want for Aang," Katara continued, a soft smile lighting up her face as she thought of the young Avatar, so cheerful and bright, but so needy as well, "is his happiness and safety. All I want if for him to keep wearing a smile…and I want to be the one that put it there. I just…I just want to keep him safe and protect him with my life."
Sokka nodded slowly. "I guess that makes sense," he admitted. "That's what mother's do—I think. And they obviously feel very strongly, like you do," Sokka added. He hesitated before posing his next question. "But…why?"
This time, Katara understood. "Why do I want to be all that I can for Aang, even at my own expense? Because," she answered the question herself, "He may be the world's savior, but he's also my savior—and I want to help save, him too. He may be the world's protector…but I want to protect Aang. And if that means giving my life, or going to prison, or whispering an argument so he can get sleep…" Katara adopted a fierce expression. "Then I'll do it. Whatever it takes."
"Okay," Sokka answered after a moment, trying to digest her words. "I guess I understand that….kind of."
"Maybe you'll understand better once it happens to you," Katara teased, only half joking. "Maybe an Earth Kingdom girl…"
"Not Suki," Sokka interrupted quickly, blushing furiously.
She glanced at him, and said quietly, "I wasn't talking about Suki." They both glanced over to Toph, head poking out of her earth tent, then quickly away.
Clearing, his throat, Sokka agreed softly, "Maybe I will."
Katara's lips curved up in a smile. "I'm sure you'll be the perfect protector. Sokka, guardian angel," she tried out.
"And his sidekick, Boomerang," he reminded, caressing the curved weapon. "Boomerang always comes back."
Rolling her eyes, Katara couldn't help but smile.
Because she'd finally figured out what Aang was to her, and what she was to Aang.
If Aang felt like a child, Katara was the mother.
If Aang needed a friend, Katara was exactly that.
If Aang required saving, then she would be the one to do it.
She was everything he needed her to be.
And as long as he was alive, and breathing, and smiling…
Katara knew that Aang was already that much.
A/N: This was inspired by the werewolf imprinting in the Twilight series, the immediate reation and fusing of a werewolf to their human soulmate--but so much more. You see, although a teenage werewolf may imprint on a young child, that doesn't mean it's in a romantic light. They are only what their love needs them to be, whether it be a father or a brother or a friend. And, eventually, a lover. I guess it just reminded me of what Katara is to Aang.
And also I was getting kind of tired of Zutarians saying "OMG SHE ACTS LIKE HIS MOTHER!!111" all the time. Or at least SOME of the time, lol. But...I understand where they're coming from :D So...what did you think of it?