Disclaimer: I don't own Avatar: the Last Airbender. If I did, the miniscule subplot investigating the whereabouts of Zuko's mom Ursa would not have been important enough to leave us hanging at the end with such an embarrassing tease.
I drew this up as a comic first, but after Zuko asks about the situation's relevancy to real life it's all made up on the fly, which I'm a little proud of.
As usual, he heared her distinct footsteps before he saw her. It was one aspect of her personality he remained surprised to find he didn't mind. She had confessed with more than a touch of Earthbender pride she was too frank and opinionated to bother hiding her thoughts and motives. He bemoaned the correct status of his first assumption—"sooner or later everything would have to be said, so it might as well be sooner" was her modus operandi so far as effective communication went. He only begrudged her for it because it could no longer be his.
"Hello, Toph," Zuko answered the slammed door quickly. Without looking up from his paperwork he could feel her scowl. One of the many ongoing battles of war strategy she had instigated to help him with his duties ("But this is peacetime!" "That's what you think.") dealt with reflexes, prioritizing, and interpersonal tact—the round was won by he or she who greeted the other first in a "timely, cordial manner". Why all these challenges seemed to pit him against her directly eluded him, but any victory was honey-and-clover sweet with Toph.
"I gotta talk to you!" she shouted across the room in her belligerent fashion, but he noticed she held the door open, waiting for his consent.
"Uh, sure," he assented, straightening a stack. "Not like I was serving my country or anything important…"
With that, she slammed the suspended door. Halfway to his desk her steps morphed from stamps to a quick, sharp, but uncharacteristically light-footed gait, and Zuko began to become alarmed. She stopped stiffly at his desk, opened her mouth, shut it, gave an anguished grunting moan, and turned to pace. Zuko watched with growing apprehension. Had Iroh won a bet, the penalty involving him, as it often did? Some punishments were mildly-humored enough, but some called for heinous breeches of lordly conduct, such as what they both dourly referred to as the Buns Incident.
"Look Sparky, I'm only coming to you because Iroh laughed at me, Aang's hopeless at this crap, and Sokka's—ARGH!" She clasped her hands to her headband in frustration. "Maybe you should think of this as just venting. Got it?" she added as menacingly, regaining her thug composure.
"Venting? Toph, we're friends, of course, but couldn't this wa—"
She must have felt his eagerness to avoid an actual talk, because she immediately slammed her hands on the desk's edge to face him head on, disregarding the fact that he couldn't be intimidated by such an unfocused stare. "How did you tell Mei that you…"
It is, thought Zuko in despair, it's one of those conversations. Ever since he had let it slip that he'd made his peace with his ex-girlfriend's decision to leave the Fire nation on a journey with Ty Lee, Toph had officially stripped herself of all censors and set out to badgermole him with only the most cringe-worthy questions. And now, after segments on underwear choice and shared straws and switched clothes and toys and placement…"Toph," he said dubiously, "I'm the Firelord and you're asking me about love?"
"Okay, fuhgeddaboudit," she said, waving the idea away. "Let's talk hypothetically. Say you like somebody, you big goober, you."
"It happens to be my job to like everybody in my nation," Zuko bristled.
"And—" she went on, ignoring him, "and what if you knew it was too late, that she was taken?"
"Are you kidding? I'd still have a better chance than the other guy."
"But if you weren't Firelord?"
"Oh, yeah, then I'm sunk."
"Don't give up!" she spat, leaning over the desk as fare as her short stature allowed. "Not that easily! She says you're immature and delusional! Are you just going to take that?"
"Sure," Zuko said calmly. "Sticks and stones make second-rate kindling, as Uncle says." Years ago his reply would undoubtedly have been, "No, that would be grounds to plan an ambush," but she was flustered, and somehow it was when his closest friends were at a loss that he could best step up to the level headed voice of reason role.
"But she's the delusional one!" Toph's face was flushing with her suppressed anger. "She's getting married, Zuko-what do you do?"
He stared blankly. "Are we still talking hypothetically?"
"No." At least she said it with only traces of anxiety and a whole lot of evil eye, which Zuko found familiar and comforting under the circumstances. Without further prompting she continued, her expression hardening but her voice wavering as she went on. "I know he met her way before me, and that she's a lot older and more mature than I am—and that he's a lot older, too—and that now he's got his home and people to think about, and I don't belong there, but—but he's the first person I could really relate to, and I thought…"
Through this Zuko had found a terrifying pattern, and the straight path to panic. 'Mei and I have a history; she's a helluva lot more mature than Toph; I'm a helluva lot older than Toph; what' she still doing in the Fire Nation, anyway Isn't she curious about the affairs of her own people? Oh, right, she's practically royalty, and self-disowned, which gives her leave to think whatever she wants of them…she's really cut off…kind of like how I was—'
So he blurted, "I'm not getting married."
Toph started. She looked confused, and then he was horrifyingly aware of her face reddening once more, but with an altogether different feeling behind it. "Why would you say that?"
"Mei and I are over—"
"Who said it was you—"
"—but I'm older—"
"And I'm the Firelord, so—"
"Sokka's marrying Suki, you ass!"
For a moment he was stunned into silence. Then he offered a weak and regrettable, "congratulations?" before his collar was snatched and yanked upward by her elongated space bracelet. "Don't act like you didn't know, Sparky!" Said like that, he was reduced to a dog. "Everybody knew! It wasn't love at first sight, but it might as well have been for all the time they'd spent together before she made a move on him! Two days! What total crap!"
"I don't believe in it either." She furrowed her brow. "Love at first sight. It's…bogus."
It was the right thing to say. He was released. "Here I was planning to bide my time till the age thing wouldn't be so scandalous, and they've already decided to jump the cannon!"
She retreated a few feet and fumed, while it clicked in Zuko's mind why Iroh had laughed in the face of one of his most beloved friends. Toph affecting a feminine mentality about how this forbidden romance could work was about as hilarious as her practical solution. "I didn't know," he said, since she seemed to be waiting with her back turned to him for his words of condemnation or dismissal. "For some reason I'm always left out of the loop. I guess they'll tell me a few weeks before the wedding, but I didn't know they were getting married till now."
"Maybe you should just let yourself be pranked instead of having your personal guard check for Sokka's handiwork." It came out biting and with iron instead of ironic; that was her voice when she grabbed hold of a chance out of an argument—the unpleasant ones, only, of course.
He abruptly pushed his chair back and stood. He saw that she made no move, which meant she was feeling for him warily, gauging his thoughts by his heartbeat—which he was surprised to discover was fluttering in a way reminiscent of the days before he'd established rapport with the whole Gaang…as if it were now he awaiting judgment, approval or disgust the only anticipated responses.
He glided to the shelf and searched for materials. "Seems to me we've got two options. Either you fabricate a good reason for them to break off the wedding before it happens and you're miserable, or…" he held up a clean sheet of postage paper with the royal insignia at the top border.
"Paper," she said, and he didn't see her face scrunch up. "You're really tell—just because I—"
"Or I escort you to the wedding and we sabotage the reception. Maybe we could keep it small, since it doesn't have to be big to be special."
"I don't do small."
"But you are."
He thought he might have pressed another button, shallower enough to trigger a storm-off, but she sighed. "It really stinks to feel small, though. I never felt small, not in any fight."
"No, just in real life."
"That's enough outta you, Sparky," she said, flashing him a granite grin. "I don't like what you're insinuating." Just like that, she was reining the discussion under her charge, and making a hasty but stylish exit while she was at it. He looked after her, still holding the sheet, and when she stopped at the door he realized he could hear only enough breath to account for one.
"Now that that's settled, this shindig's in two days—what do I wear?"
Zuko felt his heart plummet. Toph felt it too; she smirked triumphantly. "What the hell are you saying?"
"Yeah, I heard about it three weeks ago and decided to let you in on it now so you wouldn't have to worry about it earlier. I am such a considerate friend," she said, folding her arms and holding her darkly satisfied expression.
He didn't want to be, but he was baited, and instinctively lashed out. "Well what was all that dumping on me for, then? You've been brooding around the palace for weeks; I should have known you were hiding something!"
"Yep, ya really should learn to keep track of me," she preened. "And if you think you can use all that garbage I dumped against me, think again."
"'Cause for my information you've been over Snoozles for months now," he sneered. "Don't make me laugh."
"That's my line," she returned without missing a beat, while her cheeks became stained. "You ate it all up. Sure you don't need a trip to the Old Wives' Theatre to let all your tears gush away?"
"You little turd! I was being thoughtful!"
"Apparently I get to be thoughtful enough for the both of us." She was grinning full-on now, hands akimbo. "We've got a reception to plan, but if you don't want the credit I'll take it on all by my lonesome."
"By all means! I'm not helping you with your asinine scheme!" He watched her glow with accomplishment and deflated. "You signed me up for planning the actual reception, didn't you?"
"Sokka wanted the wedding to be on Ember Island, where we made a lot of memories, since the Western Air Temple was too holy and he'd feel sacrilegious. You should be proud of the publicity."
He snorted, but she stood waiting. Once again, he was surprised at himself and at her. He wasn't nearly as angry as he thought he should be, and he couldn't help wondering if such an incautious attitude was wise around the earthbender. "All right, all right, I'll figure something out." She turned to leave and he hesitated. "And I'll have something sent down for you to wear. Can't have the Firelord mismatched with someone in cotton, you know. Bad publicity."
He thought she wouldn't turn again, but she graced him with a thousand-geminite smile. "Thanks, man," she said gruffly, and her cheeks were still red when she ducked out.