This is pretty much my first oneshot in like forever. But this is also a sign that I am overcoming my writer's block. HURRAH. I really rather like this one, I just got the idea like an hour ago. In the shower. Seriously, best ideas come in the shower. The reason why is beyond my ability to comprehend.

Disclaimer: I do not own Avatar


Katara, at a very young age, crafted for herself a disguise. A mask that she never took off. It wasn't made of wood or metal, it was stronger than any tree trunk or hunk of iron could ever be. It was made from her emotions.

She wore her heart on her sleeve. When she was feeling something, she didn't keep it to herself. She allowed herself to be angry and ecstatic and everything in between. No one could contest that fact.

What the rest of the world didn't know, however, was that this was a clever ruse of her own design. The emotions that ruled her, overtook her, overpowered her, she buried. She hid beneath her mask of superficial emotion. The heart on her sleeve was synthetic. Katara's heart was wounded, vulnerable, and her only defense was this façade. This mask.

Nobody knew. Not her father or her brother, not Toph, not even Aang. Her mother would have known, but if her mother was still alive, the mask wouldn't have been created in the first place.

So she hid things. She covered things up. She buried things.

She hid her overwhelming empathy that nearly brought her to tears when Aang told her about his past during the storm. She hid the rush of anticipation when Aang stopped the volcano at Aunt Wu's village. She hid the storm of confusion within her when Sokka demanded that she abandon Aang beside Bato's ship. She hid her disappointment and rejection in the Cave of Two Lovers, and she hid her desire to kiss him again afterward. She hid her horror at the prospect of Aang being boiled in oil. She hid her devastation upon observing the change in Aang in the desert and the Serpent's Pass.

She almost, almost, hid how torn to pieces her heart was when Aang fell. When Aang stayed down. When Aang woke up and was angry with her. When Aang left. Almost.

Her armor was cracked. Her wounded, vulnerable heart was defenseless for the first time in longer than she could remember. So she cried. She cried hard, for a very long time. She cried for her lost childhood and her ruined mask, she cried for her mother and father, she cried for the world, she cried for her broken heart, and she cried for Aang. Most of all she cried for Aang. He was lost, he was broken, and he thought he was alone.

He wasn't.

Katara was lost. Katara was broken. She just hid it behind her mask. Aang… he didn't have a mask like hers. He had a shell. He withdrew into it when he was under fire. Katara didn't withdraw into anything. She simply remained hidden as she had always been.

So for the sake of self-preservation, she mended her mask. She put herself back together. She started hiding again.

She hid that she had fallen in love with him. She hid her mounting fear of losing him. She hid her scorn for a world that would force him to face such odds on his own. She hid her desire to feel his arms around her, to kiss him, to fall asleep beside him and forget. Forget her fears, forget her woes, forget everything but him.

She hid the flurry of emotion within her when he kissed her on the day of the eclipse. She hid the crushing fear that she would never see him, speak to him, touch him again after that kiss. She hid her disappointment upon being left behind while the others went on to face the Fire Lord, or so they thought. She hid her guilt and shame for how she treated Aang before she and Zuko went in search of the Southern Raiders.

And then, Ember Island. The Boy in the Iceberg. The play and its aftermath that nearly brought an end to her mask.

Aang jumped her. He came at her mask in a surprise attack. He asked her, head on, why they weren't together. She had been so busy hiding, she hadn't seen what the uncertainty was doing to him. She had become so used to hiding, she couldn't quite stop herself. She had grown so good at hiding, she pulled away from his lips without thinking. Her defenses slammed up without her consent. She grew angry with him and fled. She turned and she left without looking back. She left him there, hurt and confused, and she hid her broken heart. She hid her confusion and her tears. She retreated, she withdrew, like she never had before. Her mask became a shell, like Aang's.

Next thing she knew, Sozin's Comet was just days away, and he was gone. They found his staff and his footprints, and that was all that was left of him. Gone.

She left the house with Suki, out to look for him in town. She was silent. Behind her mask, a storm was raging.

Gone. No, can't be gone. He couldn't just leave. He wouldn't. He must be here, he has to be here, can't be gone, can't have left, can't be gone. He wouldn't leave us. He wouldn't leave us.

He wouldn't leave me. He couldn't leave me.

How could he leave?

How could he leave me?

She hid her panic. She hid her devastation. She hid her fear and her hopelessness and her strong desire to cry. She hid her reluctance to go to the Fire Nation with Zuko, as it would take her away from where Aang was destined to be.

But when the battle with Azula was over, Katara made a decision.

Katara stopped hiding.

She didn't try to hide her panic, her fear, her impatience as they waited for a sign, any sign, of how the battle to end all battles was faring. She didn't try to hide her tears as she brokenly confessed to Zuko that she was panicked and afraid and impatient because she was in love with Aang.

She didn't try to hide her relief when Aang walked down the gangplank of that beat up airship. She didn't try to hide how much she loved him, how much she regretted not telling him before, how glad she was that he was alive and victorious and with her.

That day, Katara stopped hiding. And looking back, it was one of the best decisions she had made in her life.

"Katara?"

The young waterbender glanced over as Aang came out of the palace. She was sitting on the very steps where, three years ago, she had looked up at the red sky and prayed to all the spirits she could think of to keep him safe. The very steps where, three years ago, she had decided to stop hiding.

"Hey," she said, smiling warmly at him as he took a seat beside her. Around them, the Fire Nation palace grounds hummed with life, people rushing around in the bright afternoon sun. Aang slid a hand down her back, coming to a rest on her waist and making himself comfortable at her side. She leaned over and kissed his cheek by way of greeting. He grinned and kissed her soft, smiling lips.

"What've you been thinking about out here?" he asked quietly, turning and burying his nose in her hair, eyes closed in relaxation as he took a breath of her familiar scent.

Katara shrugged and leaned her head on his shoulder, her own eyes sliding shut in comfort. "Oh, a lot," she sighed, not sure where to start and settling on the simplest answer she could think of.

She heard the smirk in his voice when his hand slid down to her hip and he murmured into her hair, "Katara, you hiding something from me?"

Katara laughed and nudged him gently with her elbow. He grinned and pulled her tighter to his side. She sighed contentedly, snuggled into his shoulder, and sincerely whispered, "I don't hide anything from you."