Disclaimer: I do not own Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Author's Note: Here we are at the long-awaited final lesson. In the interests of time and not repeating myself, I've skipped a few. This has been fun to write but a lot of work. I'd like to send one more thank-you to SnakeEyes16 for helping me with the research on the moves. I added a little tidbit for you at the end, based on our recent correspondence. I think you'll know it when you see it.;)Final Lesson
"Come on, there has to be someplace to waterbend around here." Katara took Aang by the wrist and began leading him through the winding streets of Ba Sing Se, feeling unreasonably giddy. She knew that they had problems yet to face – Appa was still missing, the Dai Li were watching their every move, and it was uncertain whether they would ever get to see the king – but for the moment, she was ready to put all that aside.
In fact, the city had much to recommend it. Food and shelter were not a daily concern, as they had been during most of their journey. Everything Katara could ever imagine needing or wanting was available within a few blocks. Thick walls and an army of earthbenders stood between the Fire Nation and her.
Her true enjoyment of their stay here stemmed from something more subtle, however. She remembered only too well the somber crossing of the desert, during which she had watched Aang steadily withdrawing from her. This had all culminated in the night spent on the treacherous Serpent's Pass, when he'd actively pushed her away. Katara knew that he was hurting and trying not to feel it. She'd always been there to comfort him, but she hadn't understood how much she also gained from such moments until they were withheld. It had been like being without the use of her right arm. The depth of her feelings towards him actually frightened her, and his distance hurt more than she would have imagined possible.
Her Aang was back now, though, and she was determined to never take him for granted again. She found herself touching him at every available opportunity, simply delighting in the fact that he allowed it. This attitude was probably foolish, but Katara no longer cared.
They reached a large fountain in the middle of a plaza, and Katara dropped Aang's arm in order to begin manipulating the water. She coiled it like a serpent, twining it around Aang to bind him. He watched the technique until she handed the water over to him and let him try it on her.
The trick was to quickly trap your opponent's arms, effectively preventing them from bending or fighting. A more powerful waterbender could take control of the water and keep from being bound, and a strong firebender could use firebreath to evaporate it, but it still had its uses.
As Aang concentrated on the movements, Katara could see the sadness still lurking in his eyes, and she wished there were something she could do. She thought she understood how he felt to be separated from his oldest companion, since she knew how it had been to be emotionally separated from Aang for a while. In fact, their errand today had been to get flyers printed bearing Appa's image, in hopes that this would help to find him. Since it would take several hours for them to be done, it made sense to get some practicing done in the meantime.
There wasn't enough water to do really big things, but Aang still managed to take the water cascading from the fountain and make it into an ice slide that twisted around and curved into the pool below. He even convinced Katara to go down it with him. The ride, brief though it was, held its own exhilaration. Katara sat behind Aang with her arms and legs wrapped around him, letting him use air to get them started. There was at least one point where she was sure they would go flying off instead of making the turn, but Aang managed to keep them on track.
After they'd splashed down and rolled apart, coming up laughing, Katara declared she'd had enough and melted the slide. She thought she caught some groans of disappointment from a group of children who'd been watching them, but it really wasn't safe for anyone who wasn't an airbender or a waterbender, and those were in pretty short supply in the Earth Kingdom capital.
They climbed out of the pool, and Katara pulled the water out of her clothing while Aang air-dried himself. When Katara lifted her gaze, she found Aang looking at her speculatively. He took a small amount of water back out of the pool and turned it into ice. She wondered what he had in mind.
"Don't look," Aang warned, and he turned his back, making intricate movements with his hands. Curious but wanting to accede to his wish, Katara turned her attention to other things. She amused herself by doing back walkovers around the fountain. At last, Aang declared that he was done and presented her with a flower made out of ice.
Katara suspended the small item between her hands so that she could scrutinize it. It was a delicate, many-petaled creation of a variety she'd never seen. That wasn't surprising, actually, since she hadn't spent much time in places where flowers were blooming. She wondered if this were something native to Aang's home at the Southern Air Temple. She didn't ask, and he didn't offer the information.
The ice sculpture was heartbreakingly beautiful, wherever in his mind Aang had found it. As soon as he stopped concentrating on it, though, it would begin to melt. The fact that he would expend this much effort for something so transitory was part of what made him so special.
Katara felt her eyes welling up against her will. She wasn't sure if Aang could see that, but he at least commented on her silence.
"Is there something wrong with it?" he asked, drawing closer to look critically at his work. Katara shook her head slowly, swallowing down the lump in her throat and trying to find her voice.
"No; it's perfect," she assured him. To give herself a moment to compose herself, she sat on the low wall surrounding the pool and gently lowered the flower to float in the water, sending it off with a current so that other people might get the chance to enjoy its beauty before it vanished.
"What's the matter?" Aang shifted from foot to foot, as though he were trying to decide whether to sit beside her. Katara collected herself and looked up at him.
"I have nothing more to teach you," she said simply.
"What do you mean?" he seemed genuinely blank.
"I mean that I've taught you everything I know about waterbending," she clarified. "You're as good as I am now." In fact, he was probably much better. Katara didn't think she could possibly create an ice sculpture as detailed as his flower. When she thought back to the way he'd made himself into a snowman back at the North Pole, it was obvious how much his finer control had improved.
"So…I've mastered it?"
"Yes, you have." Katara smiled and stood up. "That means it's time for you to teach me something!" Aang grinned back at her, lighting up his whole face. As she watched the transformation of his features, feeling her breath stolen away by the effect, Katara was struck by how much she loved him. It was not the love of family, to which she'd alluded at other times. It was a definitely romantic, penetrating-every-fiber-of-her-being kind of love. She wasn't sure exactly when this had become true, but she had the sense that she had felt this way without knowing it for quite some time.
As she pushed this knowledge to the background for the time being, the pair rushed through the city again, this time to find a good place for acrobatics. Another advantage to being in the city was that Sokka had completely forgotten about his resolve to watch Aang and Katara train. Katara thought Suki was largely to thank for that, but there had been plenty of other distractions between the desert and the walls of Ba Sing Se.
There was really no shortage of places for this activity, and they had discovered that the many earthbending arenas made suitable practice grounds for their purposes. At the moment, however, they found a grassy part of a park where there weren't too many trees.
A bigger issue for Katara was what to wear during their lessons. Stripping down to the bare essentials was all very well when it was just their little group in the wilderness, but exposing her undergarments in the middle of a large city just didn't feel socially acceptable. On the other hand, the long panels of her dress weren't appropriate for these kinds of movements, either. The layers she and Sokka had worn during the winter had been lost along with Appa, and that would have been too warm, anyway.
To solve her dilemma, Katara had purchased a close-fitting black shirt that she began wearing under her dress. It was short-sleeved and ended at her waist. This allowed her to take off her overdress while still observing the basic requirements of decency. She revealed this shirt now, waiting for what Aang would show her today.
Katara had taken advantage of the relative freedom of the past two weeks to throw herself into their acrobatics lessons. She'd completed the front handspring and moved on to backwards moves. This had been quite scary at first because she couldn't see where she was going. She literally had to throw herself backward and hope that the ground was where she thought it was. Aang had been there to help her, of course, but it had been difficult nonetheless.
Katara had mastered the back handspring and followed with the back-flip. This required somewhat less concern about where the ground was, since she wasn't putting her hands down and risking spraining a wrist or something. On the other hand, it also meant that she had to move faster and get higher to make sure she'd get her body all the way around in time. There were many parts of her that were available to hit the ground before her feet were in position, as she'd had occasion to learn even with Aang to cushion her falls.
She'd quickly found that starting with a round-off or a back handspring helped her to get the altitude she needed to complete the back-flip. Once she could successfully repeat the move on her own (without Aang's airbending, which she strongly suspected he'd been using at times), the back tuck and pike had not been that much more effort to learn. Lately, she'd been working on some additional combinations of these maneuvers. She was expecting more of that, but Aang surprised her.
"You said it was time for me to teach you something new, right?" he said thoughtfully after they'd finished their stretching routine. When she nodded, he went on. "I think it's time for the aerial. It's kind of like a cartwheel, but in mid-air. That is, you don't touch the ground with your hands." He showed her what this looked like, and it was, quite simply, beautiful. As he'd said, he started with a form that looked ready for a cartwheel, but he launched off of his right leg, turned in mid-air, and his legs whirled over his head to land one at a time. It actually reminded Katara a little bit of the flat seed-pods that were twirling their way to the ground from the trees around them. She wondered if that was where Aang got the idea.
Katara asked to see the move again so that she could pay more attention to where the arms and torso were. It looked possible, but she knew it would take a lot of practice. Practice with Aang's hands on her waist, back, hips, maybe occasionally a leg…
Focus, Katara. So the close contact of these lessons was another thing she'd been enjoying. What of it? She wrenched her thoughts back as she realized Aang had just asked her something.
"I'm sorry, what?" she said, trying not to blush. She was pretty sure she was failing, but there were some advantages to having dark skin. "I was…thinking my way through it." Well, that was technically true, as far as it went.
"I said, do you remember the one-handed cartwheels we were working on?"
"Oh. Sure." They'd covered those about a week ago. Now that she knew what an aerial was, it made sense for one-armed cartwheels to be a step on the way to learning how to do it.
"Good. Let's do a few."
Katara did them, first with the leading hand, and then with the second only. The second one was harder. When he was sure she was doing all right with them, Aang did a few alongside her, probably just for the fun of it. Finally, he declared that she was ready to learn the new technique.
"There are a couple of things to remember about this," he said. "First, you really have to jump with your leading leg. Just drive it right down into the ground and push off. You can give a little hop first, if it helps. Second, keep your, um, chest high and moving forward. Third, lift your other leg really high and just straight up. Don't worry about form; that will come later."
"What about my arms?"
"There are a few options on that. It's usually good to get your right arm out of the way so you're not tempted to put it down. To begin with, it might be easiest for you to start with your arms up over your head, then swing them down as you jump to sort of pull you around." He demonstrated this, bringing his arms sharply down to his sides as he turned.
"Okay, let's try this." The hardest part, Katara quickly found, was trusting her legs to bring her safely back to the ground. She just couldn't get quite high enough and would touch her hand down at the last second, causing her to land quite awkwardly. Aang had to catch her more than once to keep her from spraining something. That produced a distraction in its own right, which had the effect of making her worse rather than better as they went along.
"Let's go at this a different way," Aang suggested after a while. He had her take up her starting position, right foot forward and hands stretched up above her head. "All right, now lean forward and bring your left leg up." Katara obeyed, thinking she could see where he was going with this.
"Like this?" she asked, bending so that she was nearly parallel to the ground, left leg straight behind her. Aang circled around and gently took hold of her extended leg. She felt him lift it upward, causing her to automatically go forward more. She was sure she was going to tip over, but she found a new balance point and steadied.
"Feel that?" he inquired of her. Her first impulse was to say that of course she knew he was touching her leg, but she bit it back.
"Yes," she said instead.
"That's how high your leg needs to get when you jump." He let go and walked around the side. It wasn't that Katara didn't believe him, but her nose felt awfully close to the ground at the moment. Aang put his hands gently around her ribcage. "You have to think about lifting this, though. Also, turn this way after you jump." He turned her torso to her left.
"Are you sure? It feels pretty awkward."
"It's easier once you leave the ground. Twisting like that will help you stay in the air longer, and it clears the way for your legs to come around."
Katara stood up abruptly, blood rushing to her face for more reasons than one.
"Okay, I think I've got it." Katara noticed Aang was blushing, too, so at least she wasn't alone. She tried again and found that thinking about it the way he suggested (and not thinking about him watching her) really worked. She still didn't quite make it the first time, but the second time, she did. It wasn't pretty, but at least she got through it.
When it finally was gracefully done, she knew it as soon as she straightened up. This was not only because of the way it had felt, but also due to how Aang looked. When she turned to him, his eyes were shining, and he was smiling proudly at her. She felt a warm glow rush through her body at his clear approval. She wondered if he felt this way when she complimented his waterbending. As though by a mutual signal, they hugged each other.
After the hug, the two drew back but did not completely separate. Their eyes met, and for one wildly insane moment, Katara considered telling him how she felt. Something stopped her, though. It might have been the knowledge that they were being watched. Maybe it was simply the recollection of how much yet lay ahead of him. She didn't want to be a distraction from that. Maybe she already was, but that gave her no right to make matters worse.
"Thank you," she murmured, unable to think of anything else to say but feeling the irresistible need to say something.
"I…you're welcome," Aang responded, looking a little confused. Katara suspected that he, too, had considered saying something else.
"The flyers are probably done by now," Katara added, pulling away from Aang reluctantly. "We should get Sokka and Toph to help us with them."
"Yeah, we should."
Katara could sense the sadness stealing over him again, so she hastened to reassure him.
"These will work, you'll see," she said, risking taking his hand as they walked out of the park. "Someone will have seen him, and we'll find him in no time." He turned that deep, gray gaze on her, and her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth as the intensity of his expression threatened to overwhelm her.
"Thanks, Katara," he said simply, giving her a genuine smile. And though their joined hands quickly became moist, neither of them let go until they reached the printer's shop.
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: Sadly, this story is over. The events of Lake Laogai proceed immediately after this, and there just isn't much time between there and the end of the season for any more lessons. After that, of course, Aang is unconscious for several weeks, and they go pretty much straight from The Awakening into The Headband. I hope you all enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Aangsfan: Maybe Sokka was a little ridiculous, but he was also being him.
Dakyu: I'm not sure if you meant slow in the plot or in the updates, but it's done now. There really wasn't much in the way of plot to begin with. The idea was just to show how Katara might have learned the stuff she did in The Headband and throw some Kataang in there along the way.
DuHSPaZZiNGFel: Well, yes, it's the second season because I'm leading up to the events that occurred in the second episode of Season 3, and there just was no time between for this all to occur.
SnakeEyes16: Actually, since your body would be twisted and at least partially facing the ground, you'd probably have to go into a backwards move. You'd definitely need some serious momentum to make it work, though. Anyway, it was just a crazy idea I came up with, but I think I've seen similar things in movies.
bubba2494: Oh, I just thought I needed to bring Sokka in. I don't know if this is soon enough, but these chapters are pretty time consuming.
reconrox: Sorry, no Tokka this story, unless you want to count the subtle hints in the last chapter.
Justcallmewolfy: I wanted to alternate viewpoints so that we could see the situation from both sides. Therefore, chapters 1 & 3 were Katara, but 2 was Aang.
GeorgiaPeaches: Yes, well, what are big brothers for?
nutshak: Thanks, I'm trying to. Of course, it would be easier if Nickelodeon would air some more episodes!
donjonkeeper: I guess this answered your question.
LiveInThaskyE: Yeah, wouldn't it be cool to see earthbenders make quicksand in the show? That would have made short work of the drill, for instance.
Aangs fangirl1214: Actually, the moves of previous chapters were fairly basic and introductory, if you do this sort of thing. This one was more advanced.
ishmaranara: Thank you. I think I actually prefer writing Aang's point of view more than any other character. Unfortunately, since his thoughts and feelings are probably the most obvious on the show, writing for him is also often the least necessary.
shiro-wolfman-k: I'm really amazed that I can affect you so much, especially in a language that is not native to you, but I'm glad it's true. Thank you very much for your continued patronage.
i love snoozles: Okay!