I have no explanation for this other than a recent binge of Leverage. Just a oneshot, unless people are interested in reading more.
Zuko took a sip out of the red lacquer-effect mug in front of him and winced at the taste.
In the presidential boardroom with the leader of a damned empire and meeting coffee still tasted like burnt mud. Forget terrorism, they should be meeting about how to search out and destroy whoever made this dreck.
Uncle Iroh gave him a smug look from across the table, taking a deep breath of the fragrant steam emanating from his fancy glass travel mug in which some indefinable melange of tea leaves swirled. Zuko rolled his eyes and stole the last pastry.
The pitifully small tray was probably an attempt by some undersecretary to show distain for the disgraced former heir, the kind of empty, petty gesture Zuko had gotten almost used to since he'd gone off mission to rescue his team, lost the package, half his face and any trace of affection or respect his father might have had for him in the process.
Skin grafts and public relations spin doctors were for people who didn't fail their mission to save lives.
Once it had tormented him, today he just didn't care.
Ozai swept into the room with the smoothness of an Armani clad oil slick, flanked on the left by Zhao and on the right by Zuko's sister Azula in a tight, short-skirted power suit the colour of fresh blood. Half the room stood, nervously at their entrance. Iroh just smiled beatifically, Zuko fiddled with his smartphone and didn't even bother looking up.
"Sir," Lieutenant Jee nodded, almost bowing from his place by the wide bank of screens that covered the back wall of the room. "We're ready whenever you are."
The imperious looking trio settled themselves at the head of the long conference table and Ozai nodded minutely. "Run it."
Jee hit a button on the complicated remote he was holding and the blinds over the windows clicked shut as the lights dimmed. Instead of the usual flame logo, the image that began the presentation was a circle divided into four equal and differently coloured quadrants.
"For those of you who have had the good fortune never to see this image before, this is Avatar."
There was a rumble of what might have been amusement from the newer executives, the kind of not laugh that meant no one around the table wanted to be the first to show amusement. Jee simply waited, using the utterly impassive expression that made him the perfect discrete executive assistant.
"In the lower levels we try to discourage mention of this 'fictional subversive group'. Up here, we know better.
"Avatar as an organization has existed in one form or another since before our foundation. Originally set up as a mutual deterrent between arming countries, Avatar decided to take a more ...proactive approach and moved pre-emptively against warmongering nations. Eventually they were attacked and forced into an underground movement where they continued to deter empire builders. The traditional phrase was 'if Avatar stands against you there's no point even digging your own grave, there won't be enough of you to bury'.
"They had branches all over the world that provided support and secondary operatives, but there was only one major active cell. Referred to as' The Avatar' and chosen from the best of the best in their organization.
"I use the past tense because fifteen years ago, using a number of deep cover operatives we were successfully able to infiltrate and destroy Avatar. All known safe houses were purged and their directors were detained,"
Which meant captured and tortured for information.
"The new Avatar operative is never chosen until the current incarnation has died. When Roku, the last Avatar was killed we assumed that was the end of it but we've had reports of a new team, working their way through our backers, taking them down one by one; a group that claims to be under the direction of The Avatar."
"This is preposterous," Zuko couldn't remember exactly what Shu Yan did, but judging by the size of the portly man's jowls it was something sedentary. "Small time crooks claiming a history, nothing more."
"Minister," Azula said coolly, her hawk eyes fixed and unmerciful. Ozai had called the briefing, Ozai thought the matter worthy of concern. Thusly, others would take it seriously or die. "I wonder if your total lack of caution would be remedied by a few months as a frontline man in one of our mining operations? It can be very dangerous work, but perhaps it would help you appreciate the value of certainty." Her face twisted into a cruel smile, "The improvement to your physique alone would be worth it."
The man went white and fell silent.
"We have dossiers for every known member of the group. If it is The Avatar, they've put together an impressive team."
"First up, we have Aang,"
Jee punched up an image of a bald man. It took Zuko a moment to realize that he was younger than the bare pate would have suggested. His head had been shaved and something that might have been blue henna and might have been an actual tattoo traced over his skin in intricate designs which formed the point of an arrow on his forehead. The man was dressed in the kavi orange-yellow colour of a monk and his ears were awkwardly large.
"Well he shouldn't be too hard to track down." Azula drawled.
"This is a very old picture." Jee warned. "Unfortunately it's the only one we've got. Aang was raised by the organization and then adopted out as part of another operative's deep cover and shifted into private care when his guardian died. No last name, no records of any kind. We took eyes off him when he left the Avatar program and he vanished.
"He resurfaces a few times under the alias Kuzon while he worked with the Flameos -"
"That group of kids working out of the caves?"
"They blew up a school," Jee reminded everyone, irritation that he wasn't being taken seriously clear in the tightening of his mouth. "And two administrative buildings, and the cars of about twelve major players in our shell companies. There are also reports of someone matching his description going by the name Pippinpoxadopolis - god knows why that didn't raise any red flags with the grunts - who was the one to break Bumi King out of prison. But the only real information we have is his MO.
"Infiltration specialist. This guy is like smoke. Sense of humour too, he likes to taunt his marks."
The onscreen image changed to a close-up of a crumpled post it bearing a blue arrow, followed by a photo of the empty vault where it had been found.
"Who's dumb enough to leave a calling card at all of their jobs?" Azula scoffed, obviously a little put out that her earlier remark had been dismissed so readily.
"Someone who only steals things that can't be reported. This Aang kid seems to be a fan of untraceables; stolen or undeclared currency, art looted in wartime, conflict diamonds, all things that can't be reported stolen."
"So where does he reconnect with the organization?"
"Aang is The Avatar's earliest known companion. We're guessing they knew each other as children, before Aang was taken from the temple. He's our best shot at finding The Avatar, but there are other options."
An old looking photo of two people with similar dark skin and hair moving through what might have been a train terminal appeared on the bank of screens. "These two belong to a family that has been attached to the organization for years, born and raised inside so there's almost no reliable information on them. All we know is that they're siblings."
"The boy's name is Sokka. He's made a name for himself mostly by running game on our subsidiaries. This man is a chameleon, and he's brilliant - specializes in the long con, which means he can do it all and make it look convincing enough to fool an expert. Lawyer, professor, general, scientist -"
"So he did his research," Zhao shrugged. "Most con artists do."
"You know those new prototype B-27 fighter planes?" Jee waited for a few nods from his audience. "He got them to work while in disguise as a physicist for the company's R&D department. He's got the brain to back up almost any persona."
A click of the remote in Jee's hand and the image on the screen changed to a series of photos, all of the same stunning young woman with sparkling blue eyes.
Zuko was suddenly a lot more interested in the meeting. Azula smirked at him from across the boardroom table. "Out of your league Zuzu."
"She's out of everyone's league," Jee nodded. The bottom right shot was enlarged to fill the screen.
The same girl, with a black wig and glasses in a white lab coat, was presenting something to an assembled group of doctors. "Katara; medical genius andprodigy. She's been revolutionizing fields since she was seventeen, under the name Kya Arnook."
"I read her paper on new techniques for tissue regrowth," Iroh offered. "Very interesting stuff. She was shortlisted for the Nobel prize for her work on remapping and rebuilding nerve paths in people who had been electrocuted."
"She was also trained by Hama."
The silence following Jee's announcement was deafening.
"What!" Zhao somehow managed to spit the word while avoiding spitting his coffee across the table. "I thought you said she was a doctor. She's a hitter too?"
"We're not sure." Jee shrugged, impassive.
"You damn well better be sure!" The older man looked as though he might leap up and throttle the lieutenant.
Zuko almost couldn't blame him. The name Hama was a feared whisper in their organization; the only person ever to escape the lower cells of headquarters. No one knew how she had done it but reports said that blood had been an inch deep in the hallways around her cell.
Doctors were always the worst when they went wrong.
"Oh get on with it!" Azula demanded. "Just because Zhao is scared of an old woman and a little girl."
The commander sputtered but knew better than to challenge Zuko's sister. Jee's expressionless expression gave the impression that he was inwardly rolling his eyes.
"Here is our last member," He clicked the remote again.
"What do we know about her?"
The photo of the dark haired young woman on the massive bank of screens was grainy black and white, clearly pulled off of a security camera. Jee sighed heavily and started up the footage.
The girl was walking into a generic office, her movements slightly awkward, but purposeful, as though she might be drunk. Zuko couldn't tell how small she actually was until she was flanked on all sides by the men in dark suits who were so ubiquitous in his father's organization.
The small woman did not look up at her assailants, but a wide grin spread across her face.
Zuko could feel even his bad eye widen in shock as she proceeded to disarm and practically dismember six well trained enforcers in less than a minute.
The video paused.
"She," Jee explained, "is Toph Bei Fong."
"Like the Bei Fong family?" Zhao interrupted. "With the diamond cartel? and the money laundering? The ones who covered up that mind altering pharmaceutical scandal for Dai Li Corp?"
"I was not aware the Bei Fong's had a daughter." Iroh mused.
"No one was," exasperation was beginning to show around Jee's eyes as he leapt into the momentary lull. "Ran away from home at thirteen and joined an underground fighting ring in South America. Fled her parent's retrieval specialists into China and vanished off the grid. Since then she's been linked with a dozen different private armies and guerrilla conflicts; the Kyoshi Warriors, the Freedom Fighters, the Golden Peony. This girl is the ultimate mercenary. They say it was her who liberated Whaletail Island."
"That was clean work, she ran that team?"
"No it was just her." Jee clicked again and the perspective shifted to an even grainer close-up of the woman's face just at the moment when her long bangs shifted away from her face and she was looking towards the camera. Her eyes on the poor quality video seemed milky white, even the pupils.
"Toph Bei Fong was born blind. Detachment of a specific nerve in her retinas; apparently untreatable."
"How does she function?"
"How does she fight?"
"No one knows," Jee shrugged. "Whatever it is she developed it young."
"You said she was born blind." The look on Iroh's face was the very definition of crafty.
Jee looked embarrassed. "Yes, but according to a lower level source Dr. Arnook - err, Katara has cured her. Though as Bei Fong's eyes remained the same it's hard to tell whether or not it's only a rumour." It was tantamount to saying she'd been fixed by magic and Jee seemed all too painfully aware of how preposterous the whole idea was.
Zuko let out a long breath, impressed as ever by the skills of a team he had yet to actually encounter, but Zhao just cackled smugly. "Little heiress wants to play with the big boys, she's going to get smacked down.
"Underestimating her for that would be a mistake." Azula sing-songed, reminding the whole room that she too was an heiress and most certainly not to be trifled with.
"And our primary target?"
"What?" It was the first time Ozai had spoken since the meeting began. His voice was low and deadly with displeasure; it made Zuko's scar twitch.
"Nothing, Sir. We know he was raised in one of the purged temples and that he vanished before we could wipe them all out. Rumour says that he trained at the poles, but there's no confirmation one way or another. No one has any idea what he looks like.
We know he runs this crew, that they're loyal to a fault, and that they have allies in a dozen terrorist groups across the world. But they're a splinter cell. That's the point of the organization. We still don't know how or why a person is picked, but once The Avatar is chosen no one knows who they are except the team they choose."
The lights went out.
Not just the lights. There was a very audible sound as every electronic device on the floor was forced into shutdown. Zuko's head rang with the sudden absence of unregistered noise.
Zhao was shouting, Jee was trying to soothe everyone but Zuko was more interested on the one blinking light in the corner of the giant screen wall that had remained on.
Abruptly the enormous television blazed to life.
The man who had suddenly appeared on their screens was young - probably younger than Zuko himself - with shaggy dark hair and a blinding grin. Thin wireframes perched low on his nose, the orange tinted glass marking them more as an affectation than a necessity.
"How are we all doing this morning?" Laughter was evident in his voice.
"Who is he?" Ozai roared. "How the hell did they get into our systems?"
"You," the boy continued as though he could hear them, "Can call me Teo. That's the Who. What you should be asking is why. Right now, as your organization scrambles to get the lights on, every terabyte of data on your servers is being whisked away by one of my favourite little programs. Such a shame you don't want anyone outside this pretty boardroom to know my team exists, or you might have told them to watch for our faces." He was clearly going for an evil smirk, but there was no mistaking the sheer reckless joy in his expression. "And now I'm afraid it's far too late. We have a message for you Ozai."
Teo blinked out and another image filled the screen; a face enlarged and cropped so that only the eyes were visible.
Visible and glowing unearthly blue.
The sound of a thousand voiced speaking as one filled the room.
"Surrender to the Avatar or be destroyed."
Everything went black for a moment before the lights came back on. Faintly out in the halls Zuko could hear people shouting as they discovered the extent of the damage, but inside the boardroom everything was silent apart from the frantic buzzing of Jee's phone.
Surreptitiously, Zuko glanced down at his own cell and the cheery blue arrow beneath the words 'synch completed', and had to resist the urge to sigh in relief.
Five more minutes of that briefing and he would have hijacked the damn thing without them.