Zuko has hidden a machine in the palace that collects all her thoughts so he can read them with the daily reports, and Toph is an idiot.
"I don't think Zuko would go to the trouble," Toph says. "He doesn't even care what I think when I tell him. Bei Fong City is a nice enough name, right? But, no--he goes with Republic Union. What kind of name is that?"
"You aren't as important as you think you are," Azula says.
"Maybe you're right."
"Of course I am."
"So." Toph sips her tea. "If there is a thought-machine in the palace--whether Zuko put it there or not--where's the closest place we can go to get away from it?"
"The gardens." Azula is sure of this.
"All right then. Let's go to the gardens and think about this, then." Toph smiles. "Do you want to do katas?"
The word makes Azula think of patterns: of movement, of fabric, of times when her wife has done this before. "Yes," she says, and hopes the patterns will straighten everything out.
When Azula blasts fire with both hands, she makes the inside of her elbows tighten up. Then suddenly she's in them, feeling only the little stretch. She makes more little stretches--her thighs, her shoulders. She likes the way the ground feels beneath her feet as she pushes off of it, knotting all her power in her calves.
She realizes, suddenly, that she's knotted the Fear there, as well.
Azula springs higher, stretches further, because the movement means she is better than it, than them: all the eyes watching her, the knives hidden in clothes. Her body is a much more advanced machine than anything Zuko could come up with, crushing through the forests of her mind, flushing out the creatures that live there.
The creatures run. They run far and fast. I sent them away, Azula thinks. Me.
And she did. Not only now, pushing through them with her body, but when she told Toph that if she were thinking something strange to ask her to do katas. Sometimes her body can give her things her brain cannot. Things like order, mastery, a sense or what's real without having to think about it. It doesn't make the fear go away. Nothing makes the fear go away, because people are always crouching in the dark, eyes everywhere, knives hidden in sleeves. But it does something better. It shifts the fear, makes it a power she can use. Her body makes paranoia feel good--it becomes fuel, like rage, a momentum to keep her moving forward. None of this means she's better, but it does mean that madness is less crazy-making.
"There. Is. No. Machine," Azula says, blasting fire. "Zuko isn't smart enough for that."
"Nope," Toph agrees. She sends out a wall of earth across the garden, holds herself perfectly still as it moves.
"Perhaps we should prove it," Azula says, and whispers to Toph all the ways she'd like to try.