Despite what everybody thought, Suki had not always been a morning person. But one didn't become a Kyoshi Warrior by lying in bed half the morning, and pre-dawn calisthenics were part of her overall philosophy of discipline and training, so she had conditioned herself against her natural inclination over many years. Now, if she was still in bed when dawn broke, she felt lazy and slow. It energized her to be up as the sky lightened from starry darkness to rosy pink to blue sunshine. That didn't mean it wasn't still tempting to stay in bed, especially on chilly mornings when she was warm and comfortable and snuggled up with Sokka.

She'd missed having her Kyoshi sisters with her to greet the dawn, but these days she had company again. Aang was a natural morning person, although he usually didn't get up until dawn, by which time she'd already completed her calisthenics and was on to the drills. Soon after they'd all moved into this house, she'd taken an interest in his morning exercise. He did some kind of slow-moving deep-breathing movement-based forms before he started in with the bending. After a week or so of surreptitiously observing him, she'd asked him what it was. "It's called tai chi," he'd said. "It centers you and warms you up. It's more demanding than it looks. When I lived at the Air Temple, the whole place did the morning tai chi together. The monks, the students, everyone. After that we all went off to do our own thing, but this was sort of our together time."

"It looks peaceful."

"It's a lot like Waterbending, actually. I think that's why Waterbending came so easily to me."

"Couldn't have been the appeal of your instructor, could it?" she'd teased him.

He'd blushed. "Let's just say I didn't need much encouragement to practice."

She'd watched him move through another sequence. "Will you teach me?"

He'd lit up with a bright smile. "Sure!"

Ever since, they'd met in the garden at sunrise every day and done tai chi. He was right, it was more demanding than it looked, but as advertised, it was very centering. It had also improved her balance and her breathing. So each morning after her calisthenics were over, she'd go into the house and tap on Aang and Katara's bedroom door to wake him, and he'd join her in the garden. Bai would usually bring them tea when they were done. At first it had just been good physical exercise, but she'd come to appreciate the company. They didn't talk during the forms, but often did afterwards over their tea.

"I like this," he'd said to her one day, about a week after they'd begun this routine.

"This tea? I don't know, is it new?"

"No, not the tea. This. I like getting to talk to you."

She'd smiled, touched by the sentiment. "Yeah?"

"Yeah. We've never really had a chance to do that, you know?"

That was certainly true. Suki had often felt like the outsider in this group. Aang, Katara, Toph and Sokka were closer than family and she was just sort of there, a hanger-on because of Sokka. Everyone was friendly and she was always included, but she didn't yet feel like a member of the inner circle. Hearing that Aang wanted to get to know her better was flattering. So they had, and as she and Aang had strengthened their friendship, her role in the group had begun to shift. She'd become the unofficial fitness trainer and weapons specialist. She and Sokka jointly planned most of the group's more tactical missions. The day she knew she was really in, though, was the day Toph had bestowed her with a nickname. One morning at breakfast she'd come stomping in, in ill-humor as she always was in the morning. Suki had greeted her brightly. "What's so good about morning anyway, Lady Pain? All it means is that you're gonna make me do jumping jacks."

Everyone had laughed. "Lady Pain," Sokka had snorted. And just like that, she was One of Them.

Katara was a tougher nut to crack. There was still a touch of distance there, and sometimes she felt the weight of Katara's judgment on her. She was, after all, dating her brother. But at the same time, Katara had started coming to her with cautiously-broached discussions about - well, Girl Stuff. She had questions and concerns and no one to talk to about them, no mother, no older sister. She'd started with pretty neutral topics like dealing with getting hit on by strangers and gradually moved to more personal ones, mostly having to do with dealing with one's boyfriend, or Suki's favorite remedy for cramps. Sometimes Suki didn't have much wisdom to offer either, so they'd just commiserate. They'd had some pretty personal talks recently. But at other times, Katara held her at arm's length. Suki just tried to go with the flow and not push it.

But Aang was easy to talk to. He made no demands and had no expectations. He just wanted to talk. So they did, without form or intent.

It was still dark but already warm when Suki tapped on the bedroom door. It'd be a scorcher for sure. She moved off down the hall to wait for Aang in the garden. She never opened the door. He was a light sleeper and never failed to hear her quiet knock. She didn't want to risk getting an eyeful of...whatever. All of them had gotten inadvertent glimpses of each other in the altogether from time to time. It was unavoidable while traveling by sky bison. And both the couples in the house had been walked in on by various other people more than once. No reason to push one's luck, though.

She stretched her arms up over her head in the garden, turning this way and that, feeling the pull of her muscles. "Morning," came Aang's voice.

She turned and smiled. "Morning, Sifu Aang."

He grinned, shaking his head. "I've had plenty of Sifus, but never been one."

"Get used to it. I'm no expert in bending, but the others say you'll soon have no more need for any masters."

"No bender ever stops learning. At some point we just all start teaching each other." They settled into the opening stance and began the fluid movements. They didn't have to talk anymore, nor did she really need Aang's guidance after months of going through the forms. She felt her blood flow to her warming muscles as they went through the sequence, slower and then faster, her pulse speeding, then slowing as they did the final few minutes' worth of calming forms.

They bowed to each other and went to the cushions by the tea table, where Bai had already left their steaming kettle. Smelled like oolong this morning. Suki poured for both of them. Aang looked out at the rising sun. Looking at his profile, Suki was struck by a sudden curiosity. "Can I ask you something?"

"Sure."

"Have you ever sensed any bending ability in me?"

Aang looked at her. "I've been wondering when you'd ask me that."

"What's the answer?"

"What do you want it to be?"

That gave her pause. "I'm not really sure."

Aang contemplated her for a moment. "No. You don't have any bending ability."

She nodded. "I didn't think so."

"In fact there are very few benders on Kyoshi Island, which is a little strange considering that it was the birthplace of an Avatar."

"And almost everyone on the island is related to Kyoshi in some way."

"Are you?" Aang asked. His interest seemed piqued by this.

"One of my ancestors was Kyoshi's uncle, so she and I would be some variety of cousin. I had to petition the Warriors to admit me. Normally only directs are permitted to train."

Aang frowned. "Directs?"

"Direct descendants. It's kind of a status thing on Kyoshi to be a direct descendant of hers."

"That's...stupid."

"Agreed. No less stupid than women not being allowed to train to as waterbenders."

He nodded. "Or keeping men and women separated at different Air Temples."

"You thought that was stupid?"

"I hadn't really formed an opinion, but a lot of the monks and nuns did, including Gyatso. I remember a lot of discussions going on before I left about that. Some Nomads thought the system was old and outdated and pointless and wanted to integrate the Air Temples. I didn't give it much thought at the time. It didn't have much to do with me. But I get it now."

"Why now?"

"Well, the arguments being made for integration were all about spiritual harmony and unifying the complimentary male and female chi forces. Everyone wanted it to sound very high-minded. But Gyatso told me that it was really about people being tired of being separated from their opposite-sex children. And couples being apart for months at a time. I just accepted it that if you were spiritually bound to someone, it didn't matter if you only saw them when you took your yearly sabbatical together. You were with your partner in spirit, right?"

"But?"

"It was easy for me to say that before I had a partner. I didn't understand."

"Oh."

"I can't imagine being separated from Katara for such long periods. Heck, I hate being apart from her for one day! I don't know how any of them did it. Gyatso was married for forty-eight years before his wife died, and for all that time, he only saw her for one month out of the year. Every five years they took a six-month sabbatical, and every ten they took a year." He shook his head. "Gyatso said to me once that his only regret about his wife is that he wished he'd had more time with her."

"Did he have children?"

"Yes. He had three daughters. They were at the Eastern Air Temple. I met one of them once. They were grown and gone before I was even born, of course. But we were all his sons, and the sons of all the monks. It was..." He suddenly cut himself off and looked down. Suki wondered if he'd remembered something, but then she realized that he was just controlling his emotions. "It sneaks up on me," he murmured. "I forget they're all gone. All of it is gone. Then something reminds me and it's like it's happening again." He smiled sadly. "Sometimes I go into the spirit world just to see Yangchen. She's the only Air Nomad I can talk to."

"I envy you," Suki said. "I'd give anything to talk to Kyoshi."

Aang turned toward her, his gray eyes keen. "What made you want to fight in her name?"

"What wouldn't make me want to? She was amazing. She was strong and powerful. Don't you think so?"

"Yes, definitely."

Suki cocked her head at the hesitation in Aang's voice. "But?"

"But? But nothing." He cleared his throat and looked away.

A funny little suspicion grew in Suki's mind. "You don't like her, do you?"

"No! It isn't that! I like her fine! It's just..." He sighed and rubbed the back of her head. "I find it easier to talk to Roku or Yangchen. Even Kuruk, if I can catch him. Kyoshi is just very - severe. Everything's a life or death struggle for one's honor and she makes every piece of advice sound like it ought to be carved on a stone tablet and heaved at you from a great distance with considerable force."

Suki busted out laughing. "Well, she was an Earthbender."

"Which is probably why we don't click that well, now that I think about it."

"It's okay, Aang. I don't take it personally. My hero does not have to be everyone's hero."

Aang looked up at her when she said that. "She's your hero?"

"Absolutely. So I guess you are, too. I mean...oh, damn. Not that you couldn't be on your own merits! You're heroic! But you're also Kyoshi and..." Aang was laughing at her by now. "That came out all wrong."

"It's okay. Kyoshi is who you feel a connection to. I'm not her, I just used to be."

"Who does the Avatar look up to? Who's your hero, Aang?"

"That's easy. Katara."

Suki melted a little inside but didn't let him see. "Really?"

"Totally."

"Not Roku, or someone like that?"

Aang set down his tea and stretched his legs out in front of him. "People call me a hero a lot, and I've done the best I can to be worthy of that, but I get the showy advantages. Katara was a hero to me before she could do more than create a knee-high wave. She chased after a Fire Nation warship to rescue a boy she barely knew with nothing but her brother's boomerang and a sky bison she didn't know how to fly. She left everything and everyone she ever knew to look for a way to make herself stronger, and help me become stronger." He met her eyes. "I'd have been dead a half a dozen times over without her, we all would. If I'm any good at all, it's because of her. And I still can't quite believe she's..." He broke off, biting his lip. "I never really thought she'd love me back," he said, quietly. "I hoped, but deep down I thought it was a pipe dream."

Suki watched his face as he thought of Katara, and she wondered if Sokka ever looked like that when he thought of her. "I think I'm having deja vu," she said.

"Huh?"

"I was talking to Katara a few weeks ago, and you know what? She said almost those exact same words to me. About you."

He stared for a moment, then blushed. "Yeah?"

She nodded. "You guys need to talk more."

Aang blinked a couple of times, fast. "Suki, I gotta go."

"I know."

He leapt to his feet. "See you at breakfast!" he said, zooming off, presumably to go get back in bed with Katara and perhaps wake her up in some pleasant way.

Suki sipped her tea, smiling. Kyoshi would be proud. Of all of us.


Note: Aang's description of how Air Nomad couples interacted is based partially on how real Tibetan monks live. They are only celibate while in the monastery but frequently leave for extended periods and have relationships and travel. Bryke have stated that the Air Nomads were NOT celibate (as we have to infer from the fact that they, you know, had babies) but that the Temples were segregated. This is my conflation of these facts and some real-life societies.