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Huan, one of the five men chosen for Zuko's new bodyguard, came hurrying up to the Fire Lord on his way back from morning meal. "Fire Lord Zuko!" he cried, pulling up into a quick salute, "I have important information for Your Majesty."
Zuko frowned at the soldier. He was the youngest of the imperial bodyguards, hardly older than Zuko himself, with a childlike innocence to his features in the wide amber eyes and naturally raised brows.
Zuko refrained from demanding why Huan hadn't been guarding his quarters and instead asked, "What is it?"
"Forgive me, but I don't think this is the place to tell you, Fire Lord," Huan said, looking around cautiously. Zuko sighed and motioned to the closest door— the back entrance to the kitchen. Huan entered first, and Zuko followed.
The servants had cleared out of the kitchen shortly after the morning meal, and so the room was empty when Zuko and Huan stepped inside. Zuko looked at him impatiently, and Huan spoke, "Fire Lord, I heard about the assassination attempt last night. I apologize for my absence, but the other guards and I were attending to different matters at the time—"
"What 'other matters'?" demanded Zuko, "I am the Fire Lord, your first priority is defending me!"
"I know, Your Majesty, but please, that's not the point!"
"What do you mean, that's not—?"
"I know who tried to kill you."
Zuko fell silent. Then, "What?"
"The assassination, Majesty, I know who was behind it."
"Who?" Zuko asked, eyes narrowing.
"It was the Avatar and his friends, Fire Lord."
At first Zuko was too shocked to say anything. Then, deathly quiet, he demanded, "How dare you tell me that my friends did this? Avatar Aang would never—"
"I'm sorry, Fire Lord, but I heard them myself."
"How? They spent the night at their own house."
"Well, I was—I, well—"
"You were eavesdropping," Zuko realized, frown deepening.
Huan shrugged, "The important thing is that I heard them—"
Zuko's calm vanished. "Prove it, then, Huan!" he shouted.
The young man recoiled. "I—yes, Your Majesty. If you'll come with me, I had them brought in..."
"Brought in! Did you explain to them why they're here?" Zuko demanded.
"No, Majesty, if I had they could've fabricated an alibi before we could learn the truth!"
Huan backed away, then pushed through the door and held it open for Zuko, who was scowling so deeply that shadows appeared under his brows.
Huan hurried down the corridor, back stiff, and wound down the hallways to the throne room. Zuko sighed and followed him in.
Aang, Sokka, Toph and Katara were standing awkwardly in front of the dais, talking amongst themselves and waiting around for whatever would happen next.
"See, Majesty? They're developing lies even now!" Huan said.
Zuko gave him a dark look.
Huan went on, "Did you know Sokka is collecting weapons? To use against you!"
Zuko held up his hand to silence him.
Zuko strode to the center of the room, Huan following him. The four teens faced him questioningly, save Toph, who kept her head lowered.
"Look, Fire Lord. The earthbender won't even look at you. That's a sure sign of dishonesty," Huan whispered.
"She's blind, Huan." Zuko pointed out.
Huan opened his mouth to answer, but failed to come up with a reply.
Zuko sighed and faced him, "Look, Huan, I know you want to find this assassin and protect me, but really. It's not them."
Huan was silent for a moment. Then, "The assassin. What did he look like?"
"What? I don't know, he was wearing a mask."
"Did you see his eyes? What color were they?" Huan pressed.
Zuko thought back. He'd pinned the man, held a flame to his face...his eyes had caught the light, but their color? They were...he tried to remember...
"Blue. They were light blue," he said finally.
"And how many people do you know with light blue eyes?" Huan asked.
"Well, two, but—"
"Who are those two people?" Interrupted Huan.
Zuko closed his eyes. "Katara and Sokka. But there are other people in the world with blue eyes!"
"Here in the Fire Nation?"
"I know it's rare, Huan, but that doesn't mean it was Sokka who broke into my quarters. Any old mercenary could be from a different nation."
Huan just raised his eyebrows. Zuko ignored him and turned to Aang and his friends.
"Where were you four at midnight last night?" he inquired.
"In the house, asleep," Katara said immediately.
"Well, actually..." Sokka raised a finger.
"We weren't in the house," Toph finished.
Aang and Katara both looked at them askance. "What? Where were you?" Aang asked.
"What were you doing?" Katara demanded.
"You were together?" Aang said, looking bewildered.
"Cool it, Twinkle Toes!" Toph said, frustrated. Her blush was barely visible beneath her long bangs. "Of course we weren't together. I was sitting outside 'cause I couldn't sleep and I can't see in the house. I don't know what Sokka was doing."
"A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do," Sokka said vaguely, crossing his arms over his chest. Katara rolled her eyes.
Zuko looked at Huan as if to say, "See?" The young soldier looked frustrated.
"Zuko, what is this about?" Katara asked.
Zuko sighed, letting the breach in formality pass unnoticed, and said, "Someone sneaked into my quarters last night and tried to kill me."
"And you think it was one of us?" Sokka asked, completely confused, "Why would we want to kill you?"
Zuko shrugged, "Huan here thinks he heard you plotting against me last night. He was eavesdropping outside your house."
"No, he wasn't." Toph crossed her arms.
"Huan! We thought you were our friend!" Sokka protested. Huan didn't reply.
Zuko shushed him. "Toph, what did you say?"
"If he'd been outside the house at any point last night, I would've felt it. There was no one nearby, except Sokka when he had to take a leak," she explained frankly.
Everyone looked at Huan. He deflated. "Fine. I'll admit, I didn't spy on you last night. But I still know it was you who attempted an assassination."
Zuko closed his eyes and sighed, "And how do you know that?"
Huan pointed to Sokka. "I'll bet that if you check his weapons collection, you'll find the knife used to attack you, Fire Lord."
"What!" Sokka exploded.
"How would you know what the knife looked like?" Katara demanded.
Huan crossed his arms. "Call it a hunch."
"Sokka, would you mind proving that the assassin's weapon is not one of your own?" Zuko sighed.
"Yes!" Sokka answered indignantly.
"Aha!" Huan pointed triumphantly, "You're withholding the evidence! You do have something to hide!"
Zuko pinched the bridge of his nose. "Sokka, please."
The Water Tribe warrior crossed his arms and scowled. "Fine. As long as he doesn't touch anything." He waggled his finger at Huan.
"Fine," Zuko nodded, "Sokka, lead the way."
Their little group left the throne room, and ten minutes later they were all standing outside Team Avatar's house. Sokka stormed up the three steps to the door and entered the house. A moment later he returned with an armload of blades. The jian, the military swords, the throwing knives, and the shiny new knife he'd obtained the day before.
"See anything you recognize, Fire Lord?" Huan asked.
Zuko looked over the blades. When his gaze landed on the new knife, his eyes grew wide and his head whipped up to face Sokka. "It was you. How— why—"
Sokka was bewildered. His friends looked at him, Aang looking unsure, Katara horrified. Toph stared at the ground, brows drawn together. Sokka said, "I got that yesterday, before we went to the meeting. How could it be—?"
"The truth is obvious, Fire Lord! Here is your assassin," Huan interrupted, pointing accusingly at Sokka.
"Sokka wouldn't do something like that! None of us would. We're your friends," Aang protested.
"It wasn't me! It wasn't! I—" Sokka was, for once, rendered speechless.
Katara looked at Toph, "Toph, you said yourself you felt Sokka nearby at midnight. He couldn't have been at the palace."
Toph hesitated, caught between telling the truth and protecting her friend. Then she bowed her head. "I did feel him nearby, but it wasn't at midnight," she admitted. Then added, "But he still didn't try to kill you, Fancy Pants."
All that Sokka managed was, "Zuko, I'm not the assassin."
"There's no way!" agreed Aang.
"Zuko, please," Katara begged him.
Zuko kept his head down, refusing to meet the desperate gaze of his friends. "Sokka, I'm placing you under arrest for attempting to assassinate the Fire Lord, withholding evidence, and denying your criminal actions. Huan," he motioned the young soldier forward.
Huan looked strangely relieved as he pulled a pair of shackles from his belt and stepped forward.
Aang, Toph and Katara moved in front of Sokka, a steadfast wall between him and unfair imprisonment.
"I don't care who you are, we're not letting you take my brother. He didn't do anything wrong," Katara said firmly, uncorking her water pouch.
"We'll help you find the real assassin," Aang addressed Zuko, gripping his staff.
"Your buddy Huan seems pretty suspicious to me," pointed out Toph, "Why don't you interrogate him?"
"Yeah," Sokka agreed from behind his friends, "Why are you so eager to accuse us? Where were you at midnight last night?"
Huan's young face darkened. "I am not the one in question here. Would you like to add 'resisting arrest' to your criminal charges?"
Zuko held up a hand. "Huan, where were you when the assassin attacked?"
Huan scowled. "Guarding Fi— Ozai's cell."
Zuko frowned but let the matter drop. "Well...the evidence still points toward you, Sokka. I have to place you under arrest. I'm sorry." Huan moved forward again, but Katara, Aang and Toph braced themselves in front of him, ready for a fight.
"Guys, it's okay," Sokka said, pushing past his friends.
"What are you doing?" Katara cried, "You can't go with them."
"I have to," answered Sokka, "Starting a fight will just get you guys in trouble too."
"But you're innocent!" Aang protested.
"Even if these meatheads can't see it,"" Toph agreed.
Sokka only said, "Find the real assassin. Find him and bring him to justice." Then he let Huan fasten the shackles around his wrists.
Tears welled in Katara's eyes. Toph turned away sadly, and Aang clenched his jaw.
Zuko nodded to Aang, then turned without a word and led Sokka and Huan back toward the palace.
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