Katara sighed as she walked along the beach, admiring the sunset. She'd slipped unnoticed out of the large beach house hours before because she'd had enough of Sokka's constant complaining. Not that she needed to just choose one reason; she had plenty to choose from. The burden of being everybody's mother when she was only just marrying age herself only added to her stress, and the constant presence of a certain traitorous prince kept her on edge without reprieve. The others would be worried once they realized she wasn't there, probably when they got hungry, but she couldn't bring herself to turn around yet. They could fend for themselves food-wise for one night.
She almost wished that a Fire Nation soldier would appear before her so that she could let off some steam. Almost. What she really wanted was to get off this island. The novelty of its beauty had worn off, and there was little to do without drawing attention. She sighed again, squinting out over the endless expanse of sparkling water to the same view she'd already seen countless times. Except… it wasn't the same. An island had appeared a mere three hundred or so meters from the shore, sitting innocently in the water as if it had always been there. Katara could discern no signs of habitation from within its wilderness, but she hesitated; from her experience, new islands didn't just spring into existence.
It could be a trick, or maybe I'm hallucinating. Although...there's been no sign that anyone knows we're here, and if I am imagining it then a quick swim won't hurt. I should tell the others… but the house is so far away… and I'll only be gone for a little while, they won't notice. The full moon's tonight, so I won't have trouble protecting myself… Spirits, I just need to get out of here.
Spurred by her excess of energy, Katara stripped down to her white underbindings to avoid ruining her only Fire Nation disguise in the salt water.
The sun had already set by the time she stumbled onto the shore of the mysterious island; the swim had been longer and taken more out of her than she'd expected. Katara peered around, attempting to penetrate the dark forest with her eyes and failing miserably. She set off towards it anyways, reluctant to have come so far without satisfying her curiosity.
It's too bad Zuko isn't here. His firebending would be very useful right now.
Katara almost tripped as she realized what she'd thought, cheeks warming for reasons she didn't want to contemplate at the moment.
Why would I want Zuko with me? Aang can firebend too, and he's much more fun to be around.
Still blushing, Katara continued her trek, climbing over a large mass of jagged rocks that had materialized before her in the darkness. Loathe to cut herself, she shuffled her feet forwards, feeling blindly ahead, and let out a breath of relief when her foot found smooth stone. She brought her other foot up to the other but misjudged the slickness of the surface; her legs buckled and she crumpled. Rather than collapsing onto rock, however, she continued downwards on a slide that she could have sworn hadn't been there before. Reaching the bottom resulted in a yelp as she landed hard on her ankle.
The dim light made it difficult to find her bearings, so Katara gently felt her injury as she waited for her eyes to adjust. The slide had deposited her in a small, ceilingless cavern dominated by a pool of water of indeterminate depth. A sharp pain in her ankle told her that it was broken, so Katara crawled as quickly as she could bear and slid herself cautiously into the pool. The full moon almost directly overhead invigorated her as she concentrated on healing herself. She didn't notice that the water started glowing slightly before she started healing.
"Katara? Katara? What the hell are you doing? Where were you?"
Katara woke to find her vision dominated by Zuko's face, peering down at her with worry. She jerked away, head colliding with sand as she got her bearings. She seemed to be back on the beach at Ember Island, though she couldn't remember returning.
"I saw another island, so I went exploring. It was pretty late when I came back; I must've fallen asleep on the beach," A light breeze alerted her to current lack of clothing, warmth creeping its way across her cheeks. "Do- Uh, did you happen to see my clothes anywhere?" She stood, longing for her parka as she dusted herself off. Zuko's worried expression seemed to have been frozen onto his face, though for a moment she could've sworn he'd blushed as well.
"No, I haven't. But more importantly, what island are you talking about? I don't see anything."
Scowling, Katara turned to point it out only to find empty ocean as far as the eye could see.
"I-I don't understand. It was right over there!"
Zuko was looking at her as if she had grown another head, and Katara was tempted to check.
"Whatever you say. Let's just get back to the house, we've been looking for you all morning."
He turned quickly and strode off, leaving her to run to catch up to her annoyance. She would be happy to bathe, though, because her skin crawled with a feeling that she couldn't pinpoint and she hoped that it was merely dry salt from the water.
The bath proved to be far less relaxing than she'd hoped. It began perfectly pleasantly, went quickly downhill when Katara dipped her hand in to check the temperature, and found herself lying on the floor unable to move her legs. She shifted, pulling herself up to rest on her elbows and shrieking when she discovered the source of her impeded movement: a scaly tail like that of a fish. It was long and startlingly blue, matching almost perfectly the water that she could see beyond the window. Footsteps pounded up the stairs.
"Katara? What's wrong?" Sokka rattled the locked doorknob. "We heard you scream, are you alright?"
"I'm fine!" Katara prayed that Toph hadn't come too, as she'd surely recognize the lie. She wasn't sure what would be worse, her friends seeing her with a fish's tail or topless. "The water was just a bit colder than I expected, that's all!"
Sokka left after a few more reassurances, annoyed that his eating had been interrupted, and Katara was able to return her attention to her newly-grown tail. She gave an experimental flick of her fins as her mind raced.
How is this possible? I've never heard of anything like it. Maybe a spirit did it, but I definitely didn't see any and I don't know why, or how, or- anything, really. What am I going to do? How do I get rid of it? Let's see… it appeared when I felt the water…so maybe I need to be dry? Katara concentrated on waterbending the water off of her, and was shocked at how easy it was; it felt almost like the water was eager to respond and she found herself wondering briefly whether this is how Aang felt with all the elements. As she removed the last time of the water she was overcome by a tingling sensation that ended as quickly as it began, leaving her with two legs once again. She let out a long breath. Great; I'm a waterbender who can't touch water.