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Suki is born a commoner.

Like most of Team Avatar, she did not grow up under the rigid manners, the startling structure, the suffocating suppers. She grew up with "please" and "thank you," and washing her hands before dinner, but never with the strict pleasantries that the upper class seem to follow. She grew up with structure, but it was more the kind that came from living in the lower middle class -you bowed your head to those "above" you, but never let them think they owned you -you were free. The suppers were open, funny, full of laughter and accidents. If someone spilled a drink, there was embarrassment and scolding, but never shame and punishment.

Like most of Team Avatar, she grew up foreign to the ways of royalty.

But, like most of Team Avatar, she finds her place among them, anyway.

Katara and Sokka are royalty, but not in the traditional sense.

Their family comes from a long line of Water Tribe Chiefs, and they are royalty in their own tribe, but they never grew up under the traditions that their sister tribe kept -the Southern Water Tribe had always been more of a free spirit, not as stuck in its ways as the Northern Water Tribe. More lenient towards change, not as icy towards the evolution of the universe.

Yes, Katara and Sokka are royalty, but they don't know the customs of the upper class, not like Toph, or Zuko, or even Aang. Aang grew up in a time far gone, where everyone had the same manners, in a culture where everyone was free but polite. And it helped that Aang had past lives' worth of wisdom stored in him.

Still, by the time the war ends, Suki has some catching up to do. Because sure, Katara and Sokka -and even Aang- had started off not knowing too much, but Toph had taught them. She didn't like the customs of her class, but she had learned them, and Toph was a stellar teacher. They are miles ahead of Suki, and she feels neglected. Forgotten.

And so it is a surprise, when one day, as the sun rises, she is interrupted from her meditation by the Firelord himself, standing there in his quiet power, in his unmistakable glory. That's the thing about Zuko, Suki thinks -he never could grasp how powerful he is; how breathtaking.

He bows to her, and Suki feels a strange. She bows in return, genuflecting and then rising to look him in the eyes. "Master Suki," he says, "thank you again for letting us stay on your island."

It's the second time he's said that; he and the gang -her friends; her family- have all been residing on Kyoshi Island for a week, as a way to gather their wits, and also to go over some plans for a dream of Aang's. She wonders if he still feels bad for what he did all those years ago: burning down half her island. She wonders if she ever told him she forgave him.

"Anytime, Firelord," Suki inclines her head, and it occurs to her then that she and Zuko never really became friends; more like close acquaintances with mutual comrades. There has never been a moment after the war when he has not called her "master," and there has never been a situation where she did not address him as "firelord" or "your highness."

There's a pregnant pause, and Suki wonders if those will always exist in her life, or if it's just a side affect of being twenty-two and one of the most powerful figures in the world. "What can I do for you, your highness?"

Zuko heaves in a breath, and sits down in front of Suki, cross legged, ready to meditate with her. "I hear you are looking to expand your practice."

Suki tilts her head, a sign that she is listening, and nods.

"I am in need of competent warriors, guards for the castle; I am also in need of someone to train them." Zuko's good eye twinkles at her, his shoulder-length hair blowing in the wind. "If you are willing to travel all the way to the Fire Nation, I wold be more than happy to host you and pay you well, Master Suki." He hesitates, falling into that awkward sixteen year old boy he used to be, instead of the twenty-three year old Firelord he now is. "If -if not, it's completely fine. I just wanted to let you know that the... the proposition is open to you."

Suki takes in two steadying breaths. "You would trust my abilities that much, Firelord Zuko?"

His answer is immediate: "Master Suki, I would trust your abilities with my life."

She looks around her, at the small form of Kyoshi island. The most imposing figure on it is the statue of the Avatar herself. And, well -the Kyoshi Warriors will be more than fine under the care of Miel. Suki has always loved adventure.

"I am no royal," Suki warns. "I don't know the ways of the upper class, not like Toph, or like Aang, or even like Katara and Sokka. I was never taught."

Zuko smiles, "That's good; we're all boring, anyway." Then, more seriously, he says, "whatever you need to know, I will teach you. But bear this in mind: I don't need you to be royalty. I need you to be a leader. I need you to be a warrior."

Ah. Well. A warrior, she can be.

It is time to expand the practice.

Suki smiles at the Firelord, and he looks beyond relieved when she says, "shall we go inside to discuss payment?"

When she leaves Kyoshi Island, with Zuko, Suki has no regrets. There was nothing left for her there, no room left to grow.

Sokka is confused. They've let each other go, but he still gets her. "Why leave? Zuko's great, but he's not exactly -er- chatty."

She laughs. "He's offering adventure, stupid. You know I love a challenge."

"Riiight." Sokka snorts. Teasingly, he adds, "don't fall in love with him."

Suki rolls her eyes and pushes her ex-boyfriend turned friend: "like that will ever happen."

Word gets out fast that the prestigious art of karate in the style of Kyoshi is coming to the Fire Nation, and that, along with it, comes a job working for and with the Firelord. Suki is famous in her own right, as well, and the applications start pouring in; she and Zuko read them all, but mostly, it is her who picks out the applicants -Zuko is a busy man.

Mai and Ty Lee stop by sometimes. Ty Lee came back with Suki, to help her train but also to spend more time with Mai. Suki notes the stress that graces Zuko's shoulders whenever he and Mai are in the same room, the coldness that leaves Suki and Ty Lee sharing worried glances. When they leave, Zuko always tilts his head back and sighs.

"It's times like these," he will tell her, "that I miss Uncle Iroh."

Ten applicants are picked to begin with: Naomi, Bijali, Vanna, Cai, Xing, Zhara, Lan, Kono, Ja, and Hea. Six of them are picked by Suki; four of them are picked by the Firelord and Suki.

The training begins, and she finds she and Ty Lee love each and every moment of it, but there are duties Suki must tend to; she leaves Ty Lee to teaching five out of the six days they train, and during the day, Suki stands watch, guarding the Firelord.

A year passes, and Suki supposes that it's natural that they get close. After all, she does guard him every day.

But it isn't until one relatively normal day that she realizes they aren't close acquaintances anymore.

They're close friends.

They are laughing over a memory of Toph and a cabbage merchant, when Zuko looks her right in the eyes, and beams. His hair is down to his shoulder blades now, regal and dark. There's a happiness to his smile that wasn't there until he was almost seventeen -he's twenty-four, now. She's twenty-three, but laughter has always come easier to her.

There's an unspoken sentiment in his eyes, when he greets her; Suki finds she needs to clear her throat, her mind spinning, trying to get back into job-mode. In the past year there have been four attempts on the Firelord's life, and though that is significantly less than usual, it is still cause for worry. "Firelord-"


Suki starts.

Zuko does, too.

But still, he clears his throat, and plows forward. "Call me Zuko."

Her mouth opens. Closes. Then opens again: "I, it, well... I, it wouldn't be right, I'm-"

"-you're one of the people closest to me," Zuko reminds. "Call me Zuko."

There's a blush spreading across Suki's cheeks for a reason she can't quite place. She nods. "Then call me Suki." She smirks at him, "I insist."

Zuko rolls his eyes, but five minutes later, when he makes a joke, it's "Suki" that falls from his lips, with no "Master" in the address.

The Kyoshi Warriors in the Fire Nation are fast learners, and they reach the advanced level fairly quickly. Suki and Ty Lee have them guarding the entrance to the castle when a large, imposing figure flies in, landing with a thud in the courtyard. Those who have never seen a flying bison are alarmed but intrigued. Suki tells the Kyoshi Warriors to stand down, as she walks swiftly towards Appa, who is looking at her with warm eyes.

Ty Lee, on the other hand, sprints. Mai is right behind them both, having been at the castle to visit her girlfriend; they've started dating recently, and the change in Mai's mood is considerably better (Suki notes that Zuko's mood is better, too). There's a lot of scuffling on Appa's saddle, until a tall figure jumps down from the reigns and stands, towering over the three women, clad in orange. There's a beard on his chin, tattoos on his body, and confidence in his bones. But humility clads his aura, and the wanting for fun makes him look younger than his previous incarnations did at his age.

"Avatar Aang," Suki greets warmly, already halfway to hugging him.

"Suki!" His voice is deeper than she remembers, and he pulls back, looking her in the eyes as he says, "it's a pleasure to see you again, my sister."

He greets the other two women, before turning and calling up at the saddle: "what's taking you so long?"

There's a muffled yelling, before Aang apologetically holds up a finger. "One second," he says to them, and then stomps the earth, rising up to the saddle. More yelling is heard, and then a woman steps over the saddle, being led gently by Sokka. Katara takes Aang's hand and steps onto the stone, as well, holding something in her arms.

The rock is lowered, and Suki is greeted by the following: Sokka, with a goatee on his chin and the most patient look on his face; Toph Beifong, six months pregnant, grumpy and dirty and tired and independent; Katara, holding a baby boy in her arms; and Aang, with Momo on his shoulder, looking tired but proud.

"Well," Toph finally breaks the silence, "it's been a hot minute, hasn't it?" She breaks into a smile, and Suki unconsciously does the same. "Come here, ladies; let me look at you."

Zuko is, of course, over the moon.

He and Suki rush this way and that, preparing things, and he chatters to Suki all the while. Last they saw Katara, she was still pregnant; they have never met Bumi II. And last they saw Toph, she was single and not pregnant; but Sokka sends them letters, and he told them months ago that Toph wanted them to know she was pregnant. ...but still single, Sokka had added. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

They sit at a private dining room table and eat like pigs, Suki at Zuko's right hand, guarding his life while laughing at stories. She knows there's an underlying reason they're all here; she knows it has to do with Aang's dream, that city of his.

But for now, laughing with her family, sitting next to Zuko -it is enough.

The night before they leave, Sokka comes to speak to her.

Aang is refereeing a sparring match between Katara and Zuko; Ty Lee is holding Bumi II; Mai and Toph are talking about God-knows-what. "All we're missing is Iroh, huh?"

Suki laughs.

They stand in companionable silence, watching the sparring match; Suki notes how beautiful Zuko looks with each of his movements. Katara, of course, looks the same, but Suki finds herself naturally drawn to the Firelord. She wonders when this occurs.

Sokka glances at her. "I told you not to fall in love with him."

This startles her so much, she almost falls over. "What?" Her eyes are big, "I haven't!"

Sokka snorts, but then his stance softens. His tone quiets. "C'mon, Suki," he tries again, gentler. "Anyone could tell from here."

Suki opens her mouth. Closes it again. This is not happening.

The water tribe man laughs, "if it's any consolation," he tries, "Zuko's head over heels for you."

"How do you know?"

This seems to startle Sokka. Peering closer at her, he starts, surprise evident on his features. "Spirits," he breathes, "you really haven't realized you're in love with each other, have you?"

Suki blushes. "We're not... in love."

Sokka laughs. "Zuko, I understand. It takes him forever to figure out how he feels about things. But you? It must have happened slowly for you to not realize."

Memories flash through her mind; lingering touches, borderline flirtatious comments, late nights eating food, playing games, stargazing. Hidden blushes. Suddenly, Suki feels lightheaded.

"... is it really that obvious?"

"It would have to be, for me to notice." Sokka's self-deprecating comment hits her hard, because, well... it's true. "You're good for each other. He's chattier when you're around."

"Or maybe you're just quieter."

Sokka hoots with laugher, just as Katara pins Zuko in a cage of ice. "Good luck to you both, Suki."

"Likewise," Suki murmurs. She feels tired.

Turning back to the ending match, Sokka yells, "YES! THAT'S MY SISTER, SHE JUST BEAT THE FIRELORD. YEEEEEAH!"

As he gets up, Zuko turns and makes eye contact with Suki. He winks. For the first time, Suki notices the pleasant flipping of her stomach when he smiles at her.

The day after Aang, Katara, Toph, and Sokka leave, Suki finds Zuko sitting on a balcony.

He's not wearing his royal robes; just casual pants, and light tunic. He's lying down on the balcony, staring at the sky, and there's a look on his face that seems almost trapped.

Suki promptly realizes that that's exactly what the look is.

She wonders, for the first time, how it feels to be constantly left behind; Suki could leave any moment she wanted to, and Aang goes wherever he pleases. Katara and Sokka and Toph are free to roam, but Zuko is cursed to stay put. "They'll come back, you know." Suki meant to sound like she was joking; instead, it sounds serious and almost morbid. "They always do."

"That doesn't stop me from missing them."

Suki plops down beside him, taking in her surroundings as she does so; there are no people around, and the way she is sitting, no one could sneak up on them. "I know."

Zuko closes his eyes, and then rises so that he is resting on his elbows. "Toph helped me realize something."

Suki hums, letting him know she's listening.

"Before you came back to the Fire Nation with me, I shared the idea of hiring you to Toph." The Firelord grimaces, "she was all for the idea, but she couldn't resist a jab; she told me, 'just don't go falling in love with her.' And I just laughed."

Shifting, Suki tries not to react. This story sounds familiar.

"Before Toph left, I-she pulled me aside and said, 'goddamn, I told you not to fall in love with her, and that's, like, the first thing you did.' I didn't understand what she meant at first." Zuko swallows. "I-it's-I know that-well, we-"

Suki laughs, because Zuko might be the Firelord, but even after years of practice, words do not come easily to him.

"I'm in love with you."

Suki says it plainly, simply, propriety be damned. Zuko looks at her, surprise etched into his features, disbelief evident in every crevice. She leans in, inviting him to either pull away or join her, and together, they kiss.

When they pull away, he smiles. "I l-love-" he stops, steadying himself. And then: "I'm in love with you, Suki."

Suki is born a commoner.

Like most of Team Avatar, she did not grow up under the rigid manners, the startling structure, the suffocating suppers. She grew up with "please" and "thank you," and washing her hands before dinner, but never with the strict pleasantries that the upper class seem to follow. She grew up with structure, but it was more the kind that came from living in the lower middle class -you bowed your head to those "above" you, but never let them think they owned you -you were free. The suppers were open, funny, full of laughter and accidents. If someone spilled a drink, there was embarrassment and scolding, but never shame and punishment.

Like most of Team Avatar, she grew up foreign to the ways of royalty.

But, like most of Team Avatar, she finds her place among them, anyway.

She wears the title of "Firelady" with grace.