Darkest Before Dawn

This is not the way things are supposed to be.

She and Aang aren't supposed to fight. Zuko isn't supposed to be there to offer a quiet word of comfort—not now, when she's finally decided to leave everything (the scars, their mothers, and shared pain) behind. Above all, she isn't supposed to be standing here with him outside his bedroom in the dark before dawn; Zuko is not supposed to be looking at her like that, and she is not supposed to be looking back.

His blanket should not be wrapped around her. Zuko's chest should not be bare. They should not be out in the corridor only because it would be too painful to remain curled under the covers, heat pressed between them. Her hair should not be sweaty, and the spot between her legs should not ache, just as the woman of her tribe warned her of so long ago. And Katara should not be having these thoughts; she should not have to stifle the overwhelming desire to feel him inside her again.

Fate has never played fair. Katara never should've doubted that she could play this dirty.

The awkwardness between them is rough and unfamiliar, an undiscovered chasm between them. Katara takes a deep breath, and flings herself across it, praying that she is strong enough to reach the other side. "I'm—"

"Sorry," Zuko interrupts. His voice is coated with shame, guilt, and more than anything else, regret. "This is my fault. I never should've—I never should've let you..." He trails off.

"It's my fault, Zuko," Katara says hoarsely. "It was just a stupid fight. Aang and I...we're still..." She swallows, and her hand drifts up to the engagement necklace around her neck. "We're still getting married."

"Next week, right?" Zuko asks. Guilt weighs down on their shoulders, and Katara knows that they are both wondering the same thing: What would Aang do if he found out?

"Yes. It...it is. Exactly a week from today, actually," she admits, shivering. "Thank you for letting us hold it at the palace," Katara adds awkwardly. This is not the time for such things; there is no time for such trivial matters, not when she and Zuko have so much to lose.

"It will reassure the world that the Firelord and the Avatar are still...friends." Zuko's voice is grave, and his face paler than before. He understands what it means for the world if Aang discovers what happened tonight.

The truth of it all smacks Katara square in the jaw: she doesn't deserve Zuko. She doesn't deserve Aang, either. A lump swells in her throat, a bundle of tears that Zuko will not be able to wipe away.

"So..." He scratches the back of his neck. "Have you and Aang ever...?" Although Zuko does not finish, the end of his question is apparent; Katara only wishes that she was not there to answer it.

"No. This...this was my first time," she replies quietly.

"Mine, too." Zuko sounds relieved, yet horrified at the same time, as if he cannot imagine taking something to precious from her. In the Fire Nation, of course, honor comes before all else; robbing her of her chastity is too great a crime to contemplate.

As mingled love and sadness overwhelm her, she steps forward to embrace him. "I'm sorry," she whispers. "I...I..." Katara swallows.

"I love you." Zuko mutters the words for her, out of the corner of his mouth, as if ashamed to say them. Katara doesn't blame him.

His arms hold her close to him, and he presses his face into her hair. She can feel the scar from his Agni Kai with Azula beneath her, and can hear his heartbeat in her ear.

"Friends?" His voice sounds choked. She leans back to glimpse his face, and he blinks down at her, his damp eyes brighter than ever.

Katara steps away, and wipes the back of her hand across her eyes. The tears rub off on her skin, a strange counter to the feeling of Zuko's hand against her face. When Katara finally finds the strength to speak, her voice is thick with tears.


A/N: Hm...so...do you think they get their happy ending? hat's what the title is suggesting, while referencing the hour at which the discussion takes place. Maybe sunrise isn't so far away. Katara still has a week to end things with Aang. But Me? I'm not so sure it's possible. :-/ Review, please. :3