Irrel on Livejournal made this great fanart yesterday, under the theme "rain". See the fan art at:

http/ irrel. live journal. com /27442 .html

I stared at it for a long time and then eventually had to write. Before you read this ficlet, go look at her fanart.

As sometimes happens, my fic comes with a soundtrack:

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - The Line
Mike Doughty - I Hear the Bells


Zuko gently removed the oni mask and felt the raindrops on his face at last. They pounded against his skin and made tiny rivers down his cheeks and neck.

"The fortuneteller was right." Katara's voice cracked. "She was right about everything."

"What did she tell you?" the prince asked, tone quiet and cold. The water fell in curtains around them, between them, but Zuko didn't even see it anymore. The rain was irrelevant, inconsequential. He didn't care that every part of him was soaked to the marrow, or that his supplies were ruined and as useless now as everything he touched. Nothing mattered to Zuko except the words Katara had spoken with a tremor in her voice.

"What did that old woman tell you?" he repeated, taking a step closer. "Did she tell you that I'd owe you my life? Did she tell you that you'd be there when everything I wanted was destroyed in front of me? Did she tell you how easily I'd fall into your trap if you only spoke to me the right way, told me the right things? Did she give you the words, Katara?"


Although she ached inside, Katara could not cry when she answered him. The sky was crying for her, and even if she'd been able to bring the tears forth they'd prove nothing, show nothing. They'd only be lost in the downpour that already blurred her vision and chilled her flesh. But even in a storm no amount of blur could change the face in front of her. The face she'd knew she'd see, but prayed would be a lie. Because she was guilty of everything his tone implied, and had known that his face was behind the mask the entire time. She'd used Zuko, manipulated him, and she'd done it believing that the importance of the mission—Aang's mission—could excuse any wrong. He was only a selfish killer, after all. Katara had told herself that if it truly was him, then he must deserve this and worse. With all the lives he'd destroyed, a few hurt feelings were mere drops in the ocean.

Yet the answer to his question twisted in her throat, refusing to come out. "She told me... she..."

Katara could not cry, but nor could she speak, for Zuko was standing in front of her unmasked, golden eyes dark instead of blazing, and the claim that he deserved it rang hollow in her skull.

Now he was real, and what she'd done to him was real too.

"She told me I'd find a warrior. She told me that I had to gain his trust and do what was needed to be done to save my friends. That I would know you by the mark on your face and the fire in your hands. She said that—that you wouldn't be able to refuse me."

Incensed, Zuko strode toward her, narrowing the ocean of betrayal that lay between them into a mere hand's-breadth. His mask slipped from his wet fingers and he clenched his empty fists at his sides.

"Your friends are safe, Katara. Your precious Avatar has not a scratch on him. Are you pleased? Did I do well?"

She flinched as his words became a spear that ripped into her stomach and left a gaping hole where everything good about her used to be. Everything moral and righteous began to bleed out of her and wash away with the storm, leaving not the master waterbender or the friend of the Avatar, not daughter of the chief or the legacy of the Southern tribe, but only Katara. Katara who felt cold, wet, and like she might be dying inside.

"I'm sorry," she croaked, the last bits of her heart climbing up into her throat. "I'm sorry Zuko. I knew it was you, but I didn't want to believe it. Then something changed and a part of me did want it to be you. As horrible as it is, I still wanted it to be you."

He jerked his head to the side, staring into the wet forest. The scar on his face had never looked darker. "Why?"

"Because...then maybe we could trust you, and you wouldn't—"

"What? I wouldn't chase the Avatar?" He stepped back abruptly and snapped, "If that's your reason, if that's all there is, that's not good enough. Goodbye, Katara."

She heard words and knew that he was leaving her. He wasn't just walking away, he was walking away and he would not be coming back.

Even now he was turning his back on her just like she deserved. Zuko was going to break her heart as surely as she had broken his. Unable to bear the thought, she screamed at him to stop. He refused to listen, walking toward the dark of the trees. In Zuko's mind this nightmare could not end soon enough. He wished for sunrise and for Iroh's comforting presence. He wished for a home and—

"Zuko, I love you!" Katara cried into the storm, and the prince felt his limbs freeze as surely as if she had turned the rain to ice around him.

"I love you," she repeated breathlessly, suddenly close enough to place a trembling hand on his shoulder. Had she followed him just to toy with him more? Katara tugged on his back and Zuko's body turned to face her, again a doll to which Katara held the strings.

"You're lying," he said, wishing the rain would sweep away her touch. "You're lying like you've been lying this whole time."

"I'm not," Katara replied; her hand still resting on his shoulder. Zuko focused on the feel of it, connecting the delicate sensation to every instance of touch between them since he'd known her: every strike in battle and every desperate embrace. The months and weeks swam together in his consciousness, her voice floating above it all.

"Believe me Zuko, please. I didn't want to admit it, but that was part of Wuu's prophecy too. She said I'd love a powerful bender, and that the false warrior— that you— would lead me to him. And you did. I'm so sorry Zuko. I love you so much and I've been such a coward."

It was everything he'd wanted to hear her confess.

It was almost too late for him to care.

Zuko blinked back raindrops from his eyelashes, and realized he did not know what to say, to think, to do. The rain was falling heavier and the sound of it swamped Zuko's thoughts, drowning out everything until he could imagine nothing except her words repeating endlessly in his ears. What would he do if he were more clever, more wise? What would his sister do, or his uncle?

Azula would never have been fool enough to let herself be ensnared by emotions, would never be in such a position in the first place. Iroh would know the right thing to say, would have the words to solve this catastrophe of feelings that weighed in Zuko's heart and poured from Katara's lips. But Zuko did not have his sister's foresight or his uncle's gift of wit. All he had was a chest filled with regret and anger and love that was so deeply ingrained in him that he knew no matter what he did from this moment forward—no matter how far he ran or how hard he fought—he would never be able to banish Katara from his heart.

She was in his mind and his soul. She was the air he breathed.

The deluge of water continued to fall, but instead of drowning him, Zuko felt it wash the last of his doubts away. He reached out to the waterbender and pulled her forward, lips finding hers as surely as the night finds the morning.

Katara clutched the prince's shoulders and returned every tide of feeling, mouth opening to draw him closer. Zuko tasted like rainstorms and pine trees, like berries and journeys and places far from any home she'd ever known. His hands tangled in her hair; she clutched his shoulders and poured her love into their kiss. Above them the storm intensified, splashing raindrops over their bodies like a waterfall from the heavens.

Since I originally wrote this ficlet, there have been three prequels written by various authors (with my blessing), and Jakia (who wrote "Tea Leaves") and I have started a livejournal community "rain-tealeaves" to host official fanfic written for this alternate universe. If you have written something for the Rain/Tealeaves series, or think you want to in the future, and you want it to be part of our 'canon', email us. We will look over it and make sure it fits in alright in our canon/fanon world. If it does, we'll post it and give you credit for writing it, more than likely giving you access to post at the LJ community as well. Please notify us, however, as this ficverse is our baby and we're a bit protective of it. This is not an advertisement; it is more of a notice to prevent confusion on the subject of who has written what. While the characters are not ours, the story that's been created is owned by myself, Jakia, and the people who've already contributed via the Livejournal community.