Disclaimer: I don't own Avatar. Property of Bryke. We know this already.
A/N: I am not sure where this came from, but once it entered my brain, it wouldn't leave me alone so I had to write it.
Aang had never been what people would describe as a negative person. In fact, he was one of the most optimistic people that Katara had ever known. His ability to overcome even the most debilitating emotional pain was both amazing and inspiring. But even he had his limits.
As Katara surreptitiously watched Aang watching Zuko as the young firelord and his long-lost mother embraced tenderly, she knew that something was wrong. His smile never wavered, nor did his wistful expression. Clearly, he was happy for Zuko, but there was something else in his expression that caused Katara to frown slowly. His gray eyes, which were usually bright with love and laughter, were clearly haunted as he watched his friend. When he rolled to his feet quietly to excuse himself from their circle of friends, Katara rose as well and followed him out.
He didn't go very far. Katara found him a minute later loitering outside on Ursa's small balcony. His face was turned up towards the starry canopy of the night sky, his features clouded with an expression that Katara seldom saw. In the spilling moonlight, she could easily discern the misery that Aang had carefully concealed earlier when he had been inside the house among their friends. His eyes were pinched shut, his mouth a tight, compressed line...as if he were waging a valiant attempt to hold back tears.
Instantly concerned by that disheartening thought, Katara stepped out from the shadows and closed the small bit of distance between them to place a gentle hand onto Aang's tense shoulder. He jumped at her touch. Yet, despite being startled by her presence, he offered her a genuine smile when he saw her standing there.
"I was just thinking that this would be a good night for flying, don't you agree?"
Katara leaned into him and dropped a light kiss to his bare shoulder. "Just give the word. You know Appa and I are always ready."
Aang emitted a low, approving laugh before turning his face back towards the sky. "It's good to see Zuko so happy. Rare and...weird, but really good. Even Azula seems a little..."
"...Less homicidal?" Katara ventured irreverently.
"That's not exactly the way I would have phrased it," Aang replied after swallowing back an amused spurt of laughter, "and yet, somehow it seems very appropriate."
The two shared a laugh before Katara sobered much too soon and nudged him with her shoulder. "What about you?"
"What about me?"
"Are you feeling..."
"...What? Homicidal?" he queried with a teasing smile, "Nope. Can't say that I am."
Katara rolled her eyes. "No, you doofus! I was just wondering if you were happy."
"Am I happy?" he echoed, taken aback by the question. He smiled at her sweetly. "Of course, I am. You make me happier than anyone in the world."
His sincerity was compelling, but it was difficult for Katara to dismiss the despondent expression she had glimpsed on his face earlier. "Well, if you're so happy then why are you out here all by yourself instead of inside the house with me? You've kept to yourself all night."
"I haven't been avoiding you," he reassured her.
"Maybe not on purpose," she volleyed back dryly.
"I've just been thinking...that's all." If Aang expected that Katara would be mollified by that vague response, he was sorely disappointed. She was not.
"Thinking about what?"
"Katara, don't make me talk about it. It's silly."
She tugged lightly at his arm. "It's not silly if it's troubling you. I want to know. Talk to me."
" I don't know..." he hedged with a sigh, "I guess seeing Zuko with his mom tonight made me think about my own mother."
Katara's brows snapped together in a dubious frown. "You were thinking about your mother?"
She sounded so astounded by the idea that Aang couldn't help but favor her with a wry, sideways smile. "I did have one of those, you know."
His irreverent teasing earned him a playful shove. "I know that," Katara huffed, "But you've never mentioned her before now. I didn't think those sorts of attachments were important to your people."
"I wouldn't say they weren't important so much as there wasn't a great deal of emphasis put on them," Aang explained lightly, "The focus for my people was always on our unity as a nation and not as individuals. Regardless of biology, we were one people, one family united by bonds stronger than bloodline. And I truly believe that was a beautiful thing, but...that doesn't mean that I never thought about my mother or wondered what kind of person she was...because I did. I still do sometimes."
Katara bit her lower lip to still its trembling as Aang continued, "When I was younger, I used to imagine that one day when I was old enough I would go off and find her. I never had any intention of disrupting her life. I wasn't even going to tell her that I was her son. I only wanted to see her, to know what she looked like...to know if I could see myself in her.
"I would watch her from afar and I would know immediately that she was my mother without anyone having to tell me. Somehow, I knew that the bond would simply be 'there' between us, even if we never spoke a word to each other." When he looked at Katara again, Aang discovered that Katara was regarding him with shimmering blue eyes. A self-conscious laugh quivered from his throat. "See? I told you it was silly."
As Katara shook her head to deny the claim, Aang expelled a melancholy sigh. "I suppose there was a hopeful part of me that really wanted to know her in spite of everything. I know that it wasn't supposed to matter, but it did."
It took Katara several moments to formulate a response, partly because she wasn't entirely sure what she should say to him and partly because the lump of emotion that had risen in her throat made it impossible for her to speak. Finally, after a few repressed sobs, she managed to choke out, "I never knew you felt this way, Aang. You never said anything to me. We talk about Gyatso all the time. Why not your mother?"
"Katara, you lost your mom in a Fire Nation raid. You still carry that pain with you. I didn't want to dwell on my feelings about it and I certainly didn't want to burden you with them."
"It's not a burden," she whispered, "These are the things you share when you're in a relationship, Aang...when you love someone..."
His gaze skittered away guiltily. "I know. It just didn't seem fair to you. Besides, she's been dead a long time now. The likelihood is that, even if things had been different, I probably would have never met her anyway and, even if I had, I wouldn't have known it was her. Maybe it was better that I didn't know her at all."
"Oh, Aang, I don't believe that..."
Hearing the trembling sorrow in Katara's tone and regretting that he had been the one to put it there, Aang offered her a reassuring smile. "It's okay. Don't cry for me."
"No, it's not okay," she insisted stubbornly, "I know how it feels to lose a mother. To know that you've carried that pain this whole time..." Her jaw tightened with remorse. "Don't tell me it's okay. I know it's not okay, Aang."
"But it's not really the same. It's not like what you went through, not even close, Katara. My mother wasn't in my life. I didn't even know her."
Katara pressed her hand against his cheek. "Don't you get it? That doesn't matter. You wanted to know her...and that was enough."
Aang turned his face into her palm, his silent tears leaking in between her fingers. "Yeah...I guess it is."