I can’t believe this, Katara-in-her-head said. Or maybe I can. Toph would’ve reminded Katara-in-her-head that her real life counterpart did stupid, impulsive things now and then--breaking into an assassins’ hideout with Mai was awesome, but it was not good diplomacy--except that Katara-in-her-head had a point. She couldn’t believe this. In its individual details it made a lot of sense: of course Azula would break her promise not to mention that thing at the North Pole ever again. Of course she would insult her in the most obnoxious way possible, and of course she'd do it in a letter.
("Bei Fong: come to the palace,” Iroh had read in the back room of the Jasmine Dragon. "You owe me for saving your life.")
No, the part Toph couldn't believe was that she had actually spent a week sailing from Ba Sing Se to the Fire Nation capital, and was sitting in a room that didn’t echo. “Her Highness doesn’t like open spaces,” the servant who brought her here said. Bisonshit. Azula did like it if she could corner you so you couldn’t escape. At least, Toph hoped so, because it was kind of strange that she wouldn’t keep her in some huge hall to show off and prove how insignificant Toph was.
Azula kept her waiting, of course.
When Toph felt her come in--skipping-stone footsteps, as hard to find as Aang’s--she said, "Saved my life, my ass!” It was a little louder than she'd intended.
"So you came," Azula said. “My brother will be thrilled."
She smelled of sandalwood (awfully close, wasn't she?), and Toph was glad; she prefered salt, the spice of fear and anger, the stewed seal meat on your breath. “Like he’s the one who asked,” she said.
"No. He'd rather I took my uncle. Or my physician. If you behave, I'll describe Zuzu's face for you when you tell him."
Don’t wreck Zuko's floors, Toph told herself, breathing as deeply and as quietly as she could. Don’t wreck Zuko's floors. When she was suitably calm, she said, "What the fuck do you want from me?"
"To help me find something." Azula crossed in front of her. "Ironic, I know.”
“Well, you are crazy."
“Shouldn’t your insults be better when you’re sober?” Azula asked after the smallest of pauses--as if Toph didn’t know how well her own boulders hit. “You once said I was the most obnoxious girlfriend you’d had since Zuko.”
Toph would’ve accused her of lying but that..sounded vaguely familiar. Instead she said, “Wow. I didn’t know you were so hot for me.” She did not know why.
“And here I thought you were sane,” Azula told her. “You're not my type--I just have to be stuck with you for however long. You're less incompetent than my other...assistants, including my brother."
("Is my writing crooked?" "Perfectly flat, Firelord Goofus.") "Because I don't care," Toph said. She'd also been trying not to die in a place where she had no bearings, but still.
"What you said to Zhao was certainly better than anything he could've come up with.”
“Who?” Toph asked.
“Exactly," said Azula. "Besides, that thing you do with metal might be useful. As might your freakish consolaion-prize powers.”
Don’t kill Zuko’s sister. Don’t kill Zuko’s sister. “Fine,” said Toph, her voice like the sharp, easy arc she’d make in the earth with her toe. “I won’t tell you if people are coming for us. King Bumi always says you’re welcome for tea and tribunals anyway. Maybe he’ll give me a reward for hauling your ass in.”
“My, you really don’t listen to yourself when you talk, do you?” Azula asked. "You’d be aiding and abetting a war criminal--again. It must make a nice addition to your rap sheet.”
“What rap sheet?” The question was a reflex more than anything else.
“Well, you do have a talent for petty theft.”
“That wasn't petty--it was a family heirloom,” said Toph. “And besides, it was just the one time.”
“That’s not what Mai said.”
“You told Mai about that?”
“No, you fool, she recommended you,“ Azula said. “Something about an expense ledger and the Earth King’s bear.”
If Sokka was going to blab to heads of state about the stuff she did--as a friend, mind you, because he asked--then she wasn’t going to do him any favors ever again. Toph didn’t care to learn what other…exploits Azula knew about. “So, what we lookin’ for, anyway?” she asked. “Your conscience?”
Toph (Fuck I have five seconds to live don’t I I hate you Zuko and your life-changing field trips forever you asshole especially because it’s not like there are worse people to spend time with than Azula but even she isn't that bad just…FUCK) had nothing to say.
“It’s Zuko’s idea, you understand,” Azula went on. “He insists she’s still alive. I don’t think we’ll find her, but he did promise to spare no expense. Poor Zuzu. He doesn’t trust me out of the palace alone. He thinks I’m...fragile.”
“Or knows you’re a bastard.”
Azula laughed then; Toph didn’t think her laughter was fake, but it sounded weird anyway. “We had such fun together, don’t you remember? Oh, right. You were dead-drunk half the time.”
“I was not drunk,” said Toph, “but if I was, it was your fault.”
“I’m so glad to have such a responsible person on this mission,” Azula said. “Shall we hash out the particulars, then?”
“Hold on a minute. I never said I was coming.”
“Really, Bei Fong. You’d come all the way out here on an earthless boat and go home right now just to prove a point?”
“I hate you,” Toph said.
“That’s not what you said in that bathouse.”
“I was drun--Fine,” said Toph. “I’ll come. I don’t have anything better to do. But Zuko owes me big time.”
“Good,” said Azula. “We set sail for Ba Sing Se in the morning.”
“I hate you,” Toph said. Then she told Katara-in-her-head to stop laughing.