Disclaimer: I do not own Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Author's Note: Watching Katara dancing in The Headband, it occurred to me to wonder where she had learned to do gymnastics/acrobatics, since she's never moved like that before. I concluded that Aang must have taught her, which led to some very interesting possibilities of what those lessons might have been like. Thanks to SnakeEyes16 for previewing this for me.First Lesson
Katara was conducting one of her regular waterbending lessons with Aang. All formality and structure had disintegrated, however, when she showed him how to create a platform of ice at his feet and use the water under him to zoom around. Of course, this kind of thing often happened during their lessons, so Katara wasn't particularly concerned. They raced each other up the river they were using for practice (down the river would have been far too easy). They twined back and forth, Aang gaining and eventually passing Katara. She was irresistibly reminded of the time they'd gone penguin sledding at the South Pole, and she suspected that he was using airbending now to increase his speed, as he had then.
Still going at full speed, Aang drove his ice-board right into the riverbank, using the impact to help launch himself forward as he jumped at the exact same moment. He tucked his body, did a somersault in midair, and landed with flair, balancing perfectly on one foot with the other knee bent at a sharp angle and his arms raised into the air. Katara came to a much more sedate halt, stepping lightly onto the shore before her ice even made contact. She still hadn't quite figured out why her skin never seemed to get cold when she was manipulating ice with her hands or around her feet, but she didn't want to question it. Maybe it was just that she was in control. She was just glad it allowed her to be in the freedom of her underclothing. As usual during their lessons, Aang was just wearing his knee-length pants.
"Showoff," she scolded, though the fact that she was laughing made any chance of his taking her seriously impossible. "I never would have thought of dismounting like that."
"Sorry," he apologized. "I guess I just get carried away with the speed."
"Boys!" Katara rolled her eyes rather theatrically. When she brought her gaze back to Aang, she found him regarding her speculatively.
"I could teach you," he offered.
"What?" Katara exclaimed, suddenly alarmed. "I'm not an airbender."
"You don't have to be. Look at that girl with Azula. She's not any kind of a bender."
"Ty Lee?" Katara wondered how she had picked up her name. She couldn't for the life of her remember ever hearing it used.
"Yeah, her. Maybe, if you learned some of the ways she moves, it could help you prepare for what she's going to do and even counter her."
"Well…" It did sound logical, and she hated that she'd been bested by the acrobat before.
"Come to think of it, Azula moved pretty well, too," Aang continued thoughtfully. "She reacted to my evasion a lot better than Zuko did."
"Okay, you've sold me!" she exclaimed, raising her hands in surrender. He did make a lot of good points, and besides, that pleading look he was giving her could melt stone. Aang's face brightened immediately.
"Great! Let's start with something simple."
"Wait. You mean now?"
"Why not? Aren't we done with waterbending for the day?"
"I guess," Katara admitted slowly. They had covered everything she'd planned for the day.
"Well, if we go back now, Toph will just want to beat me up with some more earthbending."
"You can't avoid it forever," Katara reminded him, barely suppressing a giggle.
"I don't avoid it," Aang retorted defensively. "I give her just as much time as you."
Katara decided not to mention that he had more earthbending to learn, having just started, and he would eventually need to allow correspondingly more time for that. Instead, she sighed, defeated.
"Fine, let's start," she allowed. Besides, these reciprocal lessons could be useful for her, as Aang had pointed out. And the opportunity of spending more one-on-one time with him didn't figure in to her decision at all. Of course it didn't.
"Okay. Have you ever done a cartwheel?"
"A cartwheel. It's called that because your arms and legs look like the spokes of a huge wheel." Aang stretched his arms out at an angle on either side of his head and spread his feet to about shoulder width, keeping all of his limbs straight. "Then, you just roll." He did so, and Katara watched the fascinating alteration of blue dye and pale skin as he turned end over end.
"Just like that," he concluded. "Ready to try it?" With embarrassment, Katara suddenly realized that she'd been so distracted by watching the whirling pattern of his tattoos that she hadn't really been paying attention to how his body was moving.
"Could I see that again?" she requested, trying to sound nonchalant.
"Sure." Fortunately, he didn't seem to have noticed anything amiss. Aang repeated the move, and this time, Katara carefully observed as he seemed to almost launch himself from his right foot onto one hand, then the other, allowing his legs to follow through and land one at a time until he was back in the same position he'd started, but several yards down the beach. He jogged back to her.
"That doesn't look too hard," Katara remarked.
"It's not, really. It just takes a little practice to get the right feel. Give it a try."
Feeling unaccountably nervous, Katara inhaled deeply and took up a stance similar to his. She tried to picture in her mind what she was going to do, and then, she pushed off with her back leg and managed to get her hands onto the ground. Unfortunately, she had failed to provide enough power to go all the way over, so her legs fell back the way she'd started, and she landed roughly on her knees.
"That was a good first try," Aang told her. "You just have to trust your body to carry you through." Katara nodded and tried again. She made it to the other side this time, but her knees were bent the whole time, and she was sure it looked dreadful. Aang remained encouraging, however, and after a few more attempts, she thought she had the hang of it.
"It's so…freeing, isn't it?" she offered once she'd successfully completed it with the right form. Aang just smiled at her, nodding slightly, and she realized how silly it must sound to him to have her talking about the freedom of a cartwheel when he could actually fly. She did a few more of them, eventually getting so she could do several in a row. Aang laughingly followed her down the shore.
"Don't wear yourself out," he admonished. "We still have some other things to cover."
"But it's so much fun!" Katara exclaimed.
"Yeah, it is," Aang agreed. Their eyes met, and with his shining and full of life, Katara felt her breath catch. He cleared his throat and looked away. "But we haven't even scratched the surface yet."
"Okay, what's next?" Katara had a new-found confidence that she could do whatever he taught her.
"The next move should be pretty easy for you." He demonstrated it for her. It started just the same as the cartwheel, but Aang balanced on his hands for a second, twisting his body slightly so that he landed on both feet at the same time, facing back toward her. Katara tried it and mastered it quickly, ready for the next technique. Aang stood thoughtfully, as though considering what his best option would be.
"I think we'll do the bridge, now," he decided. "It might be a helpful thing to get the feel of some of the moves you'll learn later. Besides, it's a good stretch."
"Okay. What is it?"
"Well, the easy way to get into the right position is this," he began, lying on the ground. He then bent his knees and elbows, placing his hands firmly beside his head. Finally, he raised himself up, supported by his hands and feet with his torso arched upward, and he did sort of look like a bridge. He looked at her upside-down, and she giggled.
"Well, that seems simple enough," she said. Aang bent his elbows again, and then almost seemed to throw himself off the ground, turning in mid-air so that he landed on all fours, like a cat. She was pretty sure airbending was involved with that. He watched as she followed precisely what he had done. As she suspected, it wasn't difficult. She was almost afraid to ask, but she did, anyway. "What's the hard way to do this?"
"You start from a standing position and lower yourself into the bridge. First, you raise your hands over your head, like this." Aang described each of his movements as he made them. "Tilt your head back, then arch your back. Let your eyes guide you as you stretch your arms to the ground. It can be a little scary at first."
"I think I can do that," Katara informed him.
"I'll spot you on this," Aang told her.
"It just means I'll be close enough to catch you if something goes wrong, so you don't fall on your head or anything."
"Oh." The sand was pretty soft, but she shrugged, figuring that he must know what he was doing. Katara took up her starting position, and Aang stood behind her, placing one hand close to the small of her back and the other at her neck. He was not even touching her, yet Katara felt acutely aware of how close he was and wondered belatedly if she should have put her clothing back on before they started this. Clearing her mind of these distractions, she raised her arms and tried to imitate what he had done.
Katara bent backward until she reached a point where she was struck by a sensation of vertigo, certain she was going to fall. She quickly straightened up again.
"It's okay," Aang said, seeming to understand what was happening. "Just follow your hands, and let gravity pull you down."
"Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I can't actually do this." Katara sounded like she had before trying the gliders at the Northern Air Temple, and she hated herself for it.
"Yes, you can. Trust me."
It was the last two words that decided her, and Katara tried again. She still kind of panicked as she passed her balance point, but Aang, as promised, caught her before she could hit the ground. After a few more attempts, she finally gained enough confidence to touch her hands solidly onto the ground and support herself. Shortly after that, Aang let her do it without him waiting to catch her. As she rose from one of these, he was smiling brilliantly at her, and she could tell that he was trying very hard not to say "I told you so." Even so, she couldn't help grinning back. His smiles had always been so contagious.
"Anything else you want to teach me, Sifu Aang?" she asked teasingly. He grinned even more broadly at her form of address.
"A lot of things," he answered, and Katara had the odd feeling that he meant more than just these acrobatic techniques. However, he was continuing on before she really got the chance to think about it. "I think we have time for one more move today."
"Bring it on!"
"This one's pretty tricky, but it's more about flexibility than anything else. I can't actually do it, but I know the theory, and you should be able to get it, with some practice."
"Wait. You're going to teach me something you can't do?" This idea was setting off alarm bells in Katara's head. "How's that supposed to work?"
"Like I said, I know how it's supposed to be done," replied Aang patiently. "The thing is, I'm a boy."
"You know, I'd actually noticed that on occasion," Katara remarked dryly, arching an eyebrow. If she wasn't mistaken, Aang's cheeks colored slightly.
"Yeah, well, we're…built differently," he explained, rubbing a hand nervously on the back of his neck. He seemed to find this subject uncomfortable, and Katara just couldn't resist having a little fun with him.
"Surprisingly enough, I've noticed that, too," she remarked. At his expression of consternation, though, she regretted her flippancy and apologized. "Sorry. Go on."
"Anyway, girls can do this, but boys usually can't."
"Well, all right. What do I do?" Katara was wondering what it was, and what made it easier for girls than boys.
First, Aang instructed her to bend into the bridge position again. From there, she was supposed to sort of kick her legs up over her head and land them on the other side. Eventually, the idea was that she could use that momentum to bring herself back into a standing position again.
"I'm going to have to hold onto your legs, so you get the feel of the motion," Aang warned her almost apologetically before touching her. "Your right side is dominant, so you should lead with that foot."
Katara said nothing, and Aang grasped her firmly, one hand on the ankle and the other behind her knee. He carefully raised her right leg, and she allowed the other to follow naturally. She clearly felt the shift of her weight to her hands, then back to her legs again as they lowered to the ground. When her right foot planted in the sand, Aang moved one hand from her knee to her left ankle, making sure her feet were safely anchored before letting go.
"Got it?" he asked softly, and there was something indecipherable in his tone. Katara decided to ignore it. She found herself really enjoying Aang as the teacher for a change. It almost amused her to contrast that with her attitude from months ago, when he'd first tried to give her bending advice.
"More or less," she answered him. They practiced it a few more times, allowing Katara breaks in between to allow the blood to drain out of her head. She gradually got the hang of kicking her legs up and over, requiring less and less assistance with each attempt. Finally, there came a time when she finished the move and felt Aang shift under her. His arms encircled her waist, and before she truly realized what was happening, he was bringing her up into a standing position.
Surprised, Katara just stood there while Aang held her. She understood that this was how the maneuver was supposed to finish, once she really became secure with it, but it was hard to think about anything else but his proximity. His head was very close to hers, almost too close. After a few, breathless moments, he seemed to come out of some kind of trance, let her go, and stepped back. Katara wasn't quite sure whether she was relieved or sorry about this.
"I guess we--" he began.
"It's probably--" Katara said at the same time. They both broke off and laughed, breaking the tension.
"You first," Aang offered, gesturing toward her rather extravagantly.
"I was just going to say that it's probably almost dinnertime, and we should be getting back to the others," she completed her thought. "You?"
"Pretty much the same thing." They dressed quickly. When they were done, Aang added, "Can we plan for this as part of every waterbending lesson?"
The thought was very tempting, but Katara still had to be a responsible teacher. After all, the fate of the world might be riding on how much he learned.
"If we have the time for a full lesson," she allowed. "Not if it's just a few minutes to splash around."
"Great!" This seemed to be enough for him.
"It will only be at the end, when we've finished the waterbending for the day," she added, with a measure of sternness. "Don't think you can slack off. You have to work really hard to keep up. We can't have you falling behind while you try to teach me. Your training is more important."
"No problem," he assured her, and his self-assurance made Katara briefly entertaine the insane thought that he'd been intentionally holding back in order to spend more time with her. She'd once thought that he seemed to be progressing more slowly since Toph joined the group, but Katara had assumed it had been the fact that the techniques were getting more challenging. Besides, he was having to divide his memory and concentration now, which was just as good an explanation.
I'm getting delusional, she decided. I'm just tired and hungry. She would be more reasonable after a meal and a good night's sleep.
And more ready to face their next lesson.
Member of the Boomeraang Squad: charleegirl, Jesus.Lives, Liselle129, Strix Moonwing, Avatarwolf, MormonMaiden, libowiekitty, Snows of Yester-Year, La Vixen de Amor, chocolatecoveredbananacheese, Aangy, and honorary member SnakeEyes16
Author's Note: In the commentary for Serpent's Pass, the creators mentioned that they wanted Katara to be running around on something like a jet-ski, so that's the idea I was using at the beginning. I made a bit of a joke out of Katara knowing Ty Lee's name because we don't know how she learned it. I'm planning about three chapters for this, a sort of mini-fic. I envisioned this being somewhere between Bitter Work and The Library, since it's implied that there are a couple of weeks of heavy training skipped in there.