The Kyoshi Warriors usually maintained a healthy mistrust of outsiders in the best of circumstances, let alone when taken prisoner in the middle of a war. So after Fire Lord Ozai was defeated by the Avatar and Suki was reunited with her sisters in arms, she was taken aback to discover that they'd spent their time in jail making friends with their enemies.
"I know," Zhi said, standing beside Suki as they watched Ty Lee taking some of the warriors through her chi blocking moves. "We were pretty suspicious too, to start with. But it turns out she's sweet when she's not beating you up, and after a while being mean to her felt like kicking a turtle duckling." She shrugged, looking sideways at Suki. "So we kind of adopted her. Sorry, boss."
"And she really wants to join us? Come live on Kyoshi Island, the whole thing?"
"She really does. Don't think she has a whole lot to go home to, not really."
Suki folded her arms. Dammit, she could see Zhi's point - Ty Lee had the kind of face that made you want to make her tea and wrap her up in blanket and make sure she was okay. Suki was a leader of elite fighters, not a babysitter, but then Ty Lee wasn't really a little kid. If she did want to lend her skills to Kyoshi, she'd be invaluable.
"Can we trust her, do you think?" Suki asked Zhi.
Zhi shrugged again. "I think she's the sort of person who's loyal to people, not to causes or empires. When she first got thrown in with us, she was really cut up over whatever it was that happened between her and Azula. Now she's adrift, and looking for a new leader. That could be you, if you wanted."
Suki said nothing, watching Ty Lee for another few minutes. Zhi had said her piece, and Suki knew her second-in-command well enough to know that was her version of a glowing recommendation.
"Probation period. One month. Any sign of trouble and she's out."
Zhi smiled. "Thanks, Suki."
"Shut your eyes. Stay as still as you can."
Ty Lee did as she was told, sitting cross-legged in the middle of the training gym, folding her hands in her lap. Suki knelt in front of her, reaching for her paints. First, she dipped a sponge into the paint and brushed it over Ty Lee's face, smooth and even. She knew Ty Lee was perfectly capable of applying the makeup herself, but this was tradition more than tutorial.
Suki pushed Ty Lee's hair back as she daubed her forehead in white. Ty Lee didn't move a muscle, just kept her face composed and breathed in and out slowly.
"Now for your eyes," Suki told her, swirling a brush in red paint and drawing it across her eyes in vivid curves, bold colour next to stark white. Next she picked up her pencil, finishing off the design with a strong black brow.
She sat back and examined Ty Lee, who still sat demurely in front of her. Yes, she was pleased with her work.
"Avatar Kyoshi's warrior's garb used to strike fear into the hearts of all of her opponents," Suki said. "In her honour, we hope to do the same. You can open your eyes now," she added.
Ty Lee's eyes flew open and she leaped to her feet. "Oh wow, can I see?" She ran outside towards the lake so she could stare down at her reflection.
Suki trailed after her, laughing at Ty Lee's excitement.
"It's wonderful," Ty Lee said, waving her hands. "Thank you, thank you!"
She flung her arms around Suki in an exuberant hug. Bemused but pleased, Suki hugged her back.
After a while, it stopped seeming strange to have a Fire Nation girl in their force. Ty Lee told them stories about the circus, complete with impressions of all the animals, and her whole-hearted enthusiasm for learning everything there was to know about Earth Kingdom culture won her some points with a few of the more cautious islanders. The village trusted Suki's judgement for the most part, but she couldn't blame them for being less than thrilled at having a former ally of Princess Azula joining them while they were still trying to rebuild after the war.
Ty Lee ended up proving her worth by joining in with the rebuilding without having to be asked. Suki was surprised to see her so at ease with hauling building materials around, but Ty Lee shrugged it off, saying she did that kind of thing all the time at the circus.
Whether that was true or not, a hard day's work was the best way to win over the residents of the island, and when Ty Lee came into the hall that night for dinner, she was greeted with more smiles and no suspicious looks at all.
Suki found it hard to tell whether Ty Lee picked up on these things, or whether they really flew over her head the way they seemed to. But she did seem particularly cheerful that night, helping herself to rice and fish and the first of the autumn harvest.
Suki felt an unexpected swell of pride.
Suki was making her way towards the training hall a few mornings later when Ty Lee bounded up beside her.
"Good morning," Suki said, smiling. She was an early riser herself but rarely managed Ty Lee's enthusiasm at any time of day, let alone at this hour of the morning.
"Hi! So I was wondering, are you doing anything tomorrow?"
Tomorrow was their next rest day. Suki had quite specifically planned to not do very much, but if Ty Lee needed her help, she could hardly say that.
"Nothing special - why? You want to run some more drills?"
Ty Lee giggled. "Oh no, nothing like that. It's just, if you're not busy, I wanted to ask you if you could show me some more of the island? I haven't gotten to explore much and everyone says it's beautiful further down the coast."
Suki turned to look at Ty Lee properly. Ty Lee had clasped her hands in front of her and was gazing at Suki with an expression that was half hopeful and half something else.
"Sure," Suki said. "Sounds fun."
"Great!" Ty Lee beamed. "I'll get us a picnic basket." She ran off again, jumping neatly into a series of cartwheels that took her further into the village.
Suki watched her go, slightly taken aback. She wasn't exactly sure what she'd just agreed to, but was looking forward to finding out.
Ty Lee waited by her house the next day, a basket in hand and fresh flowers in her hair.
Suki went to meet her, leaving her armour and her weapons behind. She showed Ty Lee the shoreline, the birds that dove in and out of the sea to find fish for their chicks, swift and graceful.
They sat under a tree, just where grass met sand, and ate fresh fruit, apparently the only thing Ty Lee had considered worthy of bringing with her. It was perfect anyway.
"I wanted to say thanks. For taking me on and giving me a second chance. I know you didn't have to." Ty Lee ducked her head, avoiding Suki's eye as she spoke. "I'm really glad you did - I love it here."
"I'm glad too," Suki said. "We're lucky to have you."
As the sun began to hang low in the sky again, they reluctantly turned back. All of Ty Lee's usual chatter had come to rest, and in the contented quiet between them, it was suddenly easy to reach out and take Ty Lee's small, strong hand in hers.
Ty Lee smiled at her, and Suki smiled back.