Kimberly T. gave me permission to expand and combine two drabbles from her wonderful series, "Avatar Drabbles: Book 4 & Beyond".

The first assassination attempt came only a month after Zuko's coronation. Although it was clearly a professional effort, the assassin had obviously not given any thought to the abilities of anyone other than the intended target, since Toph had sensed and stopped him before he got within twenty feet of Zuko. Under questioning, the assassin admitted that this was to have been his first job and he had been hoping to make a name for himself with it.

After the guards had taken the assassin away, Zuko sat down heavily, massaging his temples. "I think I'm rather insulted," he said, looking at his friends. "For someone to actually think that killing me would simply be a matter of getting close enough to stick a knife in me is a strong indication that the rest of the country has a very poor opinion of my intelligence."

"It's more likely that he was too focused on you to stop and think about other possible factors," Aang said reassuringly. "After all, he did admit that he was hoping to make a name for himself with this job."

"Aang's right, Zuko," Mai said, putting a comforting hand on his shoulder. "The simple fact that people are sending assassins instead of trying to manipulate you or challenging you themselves shows a healthy respect for your intelligence. People know that you're not going to be fooled into doing something against the country's best interests. That assassin was just too new to the job to have developed the sense he needed for such a mission."

"I suppose you're right," Zuko said, covering her hand with his own.

:-:-:-:-:

The second attempt came two weeks later, in the middle of the night. Although Zuko and Mai were aware of the assassin's presence before everything was over, the credit for stopping him ultimately had to go to two of the Kyoshi Warriors that Suki had left behind as an honor guard for Zuko.

Sitting in his study with Mai, one of the Kyoshi Warriors standing guard outside the room, the other inside the room, Zuko took a calming drink. "At least this one had the sense to wait until I might be vulnerable," he said. "It makes me very grateful to whoever it was that suggested putting trays of broken sea shells beneath the windows, though.

"Not that I'm trying to belittle the efforts of you and your comrades, Kami," he added, turning to the Kyoshi Warrior.

"That's quite all right," Kami said. "I understand your meaning. It is much easier on the nerves to be aware of a danger before it has passed than to only find out about it afterwards."

"Exactly," Zuko said, running his hand through his hair. "If I hadn't known about the assassin's presence until after he had been caught, it would make me wonder what else I was missing."

:-:-:-:-:

Slightly less than two months after the second assassination attempt, Zuko collapsed into the chair behind his desk, his heart pounding. "I knew before the coronation that there would be assassination attempts," he said, shaking his head, "but this is the third in a month!"

"Third in three weeks," Mai said, retrieving her dagger before the corpse was dragged away. "There was this one, then there was one six days ago and one the week before that."

Zuko just buried his head in his hands. This one had come too close. If Mai hadn't seen the outline of the knife against the arm of the supposed "servant" who had brought the snack he had requested…

Aang rushed to the Fire Nation as soon as he heard about the latest attempt. "Something has to be done!" he insisted. "How can you negotiate with the Earth Kingdom over the Fire Nation colonies when you're too busy just staying alive?"

"Well, short of 'disappearing' the nobles who disagree with me, like my father did…" Zuko sighed. "If you think of anything, let me know."

:-:-:-:-:

Aang stayed in the Fire Nation for three weeks after the latest attempt before sending a request to Sokka. Once Sokka arrived at the palace, Aang prepared to leave.

"Where are you going?" Zuko asked as Aang climbed onto Appa's head.

"I think that I may have a solution for stopping the assassination attempts," Aang said, "but I'm going to have to visit the Sun Warriors to see if it can happen."

"Is that why you asked me to come here?" Sokka asked, a lopsided grin on his face. "Because you have to leave?"

"Yes," Aang said. "You're not quite as effective an assassination deterrent as I am, but I'll feel a lot better knowing that you're here to help protect Zuko."

"I'll do my best," Sokka said.

"Thanks, guys," Aang said as he settled himself. Picking up the reins, he called, "Appa, yip yip," and was off.

Watching as the sky bison disappeared into the horizon to the north, Zuko sighed. "Don't worry, Zuko," Sokka said, putting a companionable arm around the older teen's shoulders. "Aang will be fine."

"I know he will," Zuko said. "I just hope that his idea works. The most recent attempt came far too close to succeeding and it is very difficult to have effective negotiations when you're having to watch almost everyone for suspicious behavior."

:-:-:-:-:

Aang arrived at the Sun Warriors' ruins around noon. Landing Appa in front of the building that housed the Sun Stone, Aang seated himself in front of the closed doors. Closing his eyes, he began to meditate while waiting for one of the Sun Warriors to appear. When no one had shown up by sunset, Aang decided to take a more proactive approach. Cupping his hands around his mouth, he called, "Hello? This is Aang, the Avatar."

Resuming his meditation, it was not long before Aang heard footsteps approaching him. Opening his eyes, he looked up into the face of the Sun Warrior Chieftain.

"Why are you here?" the Chief asked gruffly, glaring down at Aang. "You have learned the secret of true firebending, so what more do you need from us?"

Getting to his feet, Aang bowed to the Chief before saying, "I need to speak with Ran and Shao. The war begun by Firelord Sozin has been ended and Zuko has become the new Firelord, but he has been facing frequent assassination attempts that are making it hard for him to do his job. I think that Ran and Shao may be able to help stop the assassination attempts."

"If you wish to speak with the Masters, then I will take you to see them on the morrow," the Chief said. "However, I can not guarantee that they will be willing to help with the problem that you are facing."

"All I am asking for is the opportunity to speak with them," Aang said. "The decision of whether or not they will help shall be their own."

:-:-:-:-:

Two weeks after Aang had left the Fire Nation capital to visit the Sun Warriors, he returned with a large grin on his face.

Rushing out to greet the young Avatar, Zuko and Sokka enveloped Aang in a hug. "Well," Zuko asked, "how did it go? Is your idea going to happen?"

"It's going to happen," Aang said, laughing happily. "Let's go inside. I can tell you all about it over lunch."

The day after Aang returned, Zuko survived his sixth assassination attempt. As the guards took away the hapless assassin, Zuko grumbled, "I hope your plan happens soon. This is starting to get very annoying."

"It'll happen soon enough," Aang said. "They were going to wait for a few days after I left before they came, but they should be here within the week."

Three days later, two giant, sinuous shapes came flowing across the sky at noon. For the first time in nearly one hundred years, dragons were seen over the Fire Nation capital!

An astonished crowd gathered as the dragons danced above the palace, spiraling around the central tower in a red and blue helix before beginning a new dance above the plaza inside the main entrance to the palace.

Although the palace guards prevented them from passing the palace gates, the gathered spectators were quick to notice that the dance the dragons were performing in the sky had been joined by the Avatar and the Firelord on the ground. Using their entire bodies to mimic the flowing aerial movements of the dragons, the Avatar and the Firelord worked their way around a circle just inside the gates, firebending with each movement, finishing bent to the side towards each other, fists touching, their arms forming a double arch.

As Aang and Zuko held their positions, the dragons ended their dance to perch on the central tower of the palace, one on either side. Raising their heads to the sky, the dragons spouted rivers of multicolored flame that joined to form a double helix of fire rising above the palace.

Eventually, the dragons let the fire die and the red one abandoned his perch on the tower to land on the front steps of the palace, where the Firelord was waiting. Carefully climbing aboard, Zuko proceeded to ride dragonback across the entire Fire Nation, the first Firelord to do so since Sozin.

At the end of the year, with no more assassination attempts having occurred since Zuko's dragon ride across the Fire Nation, Aang proudly said, "I told you it would work!"