Description: A chance encounter brings an outlaw and a law enforcer together to share valuable information about sadistic killers and favorite foods.
Southtown's waters are sluggishly rolling putrescence. A brackish rot that exudes a sharp chemical stink. A smell that's nearly strong enough to dull the drumming at the back of Leona Heidern's head. Hunting the source of the throbbing madness, Leona has passed this river several times. Each time she has stopped to look and wonder just what it could be that draws her here.
She worries at her palm, scratching at the leather of her gloves with her thumb, again and again. Look left, scratch, look right, scratch. She shakes her head and walks more, but only makes a few steps before she stops. She has a mission, she thinks to herself, she needs to be focused on it. The river is polluted mess, but it has naught to do with this blood, Iori, or the blonde man.
She looks away from the river, forcing herself from the view, and she sees the people walking, the thoughts running to the people that she saved in trying to stop Justice. And the people that now want her and the rest of the Ikari imprisoned. Enemies.
The drums of war beat hot blood in her veins.
Tug on the glove, hard enough to pain her hand. Leona walks again. The Ikari are solid, they are strong, they need not fear. Just focus. There are allies, the Interpol Special forces, the governments that are not bought into the NOL's bounty systems, people like Hayley who deserve proper justice. They exist out in the world, and for that, Leona knows she must move on and finish her mission.
Something is eating at her heart, something dangerous and large and coming. And Leona Heidern is an assassin. If her mission will bring her to killing the thing that would spill the blood of many and quell the blood in her heart, then she will gladly take it.
But even she can wish she weren't so alone.
The pollution runs deeper than what seethes and stinks upon the surface of the river; deeper than the dying flora rooted in toxic soil; deeper than eyeless fish with pocked scales locked into a cycle of sickness.
Too deep for the woman poised on one of the docks in lotus pose to escape. Eyes closed, lungs rhythmically filling; shrinking; filling... senses sinking into the fabric of the world, melding together 'til newer, subtler ones eke to the fore... Chun-Li feels the stain of greed and worse permeating what was once a source of life, and can only reckon with-- endure the nearness of it. Deep as it goes, it's an indelible part of the river now, twisting a complex ecosystem into a pale, gasping mockery of itself; if she cannot clean it, cannot avoid it, then she can exist in proximity to it without succumbing.
No matter /how/ deep the poison runs, she has it in her to avoid drowning in it.
It's a beautiful thought until red-hot violence begins rapping at the very edges of her perception. Her eyes slit open with a gasp, and-- even when it begins to dawn on her that the feeling's encroaching, growing from /without/ rather than within, the reminder lingers: it's /just/ a thought; hanging onto it's harder.
Even sans qipao and 'horns, she's an easy woman to recognize for someone familiar with Interpol-- not to mention the professional fighting world, where she's spent the last few months making quite a splash on the 'might be livestreamed on Twitch.tv' circuit: she's the one who has never skipped a leg day in her life. In black lycra pants, a zipped blue windbreaker, and blue sneakers, she slowly pulls herself towards her feet and tries to look around without-- /looking/ too much, letting her senses lose their heightened sharpness and the expanded awareness that comes with it.
So she's also the one squinting and slowly swiveling in place on a dock-- and then the breeze carries a fresh hit of that rancid miasma to her nose, grouding her fully and firmly back in the concrete world. After a surprised gasp, she scowls-- then frowns-- then continues searching.
It doesn't take long before she winds up staring at Leona Heidern with arching brows. The violent thrum might be gone, but there's a file with that name on it; she has seen pictures.
Not to mention the professional fights.
It's a curious place to find an assassin out for a stroll, so Chun-Li stares for a few nakedly curious seconds before finally deciding to slide her hands into the windbreaker's pockets and begin a measured approach.
Shoes on pavement. New sound, different sound. Leona stops, arms crossed over her belly. Her head cocks to the sound, chin tucking, as subtle a look behind her as she can do. This isn't the NOL coming to collect, doesn't match the dossiers. But this could be a rogue bounty hunter. Maybe being in Southtown for this long was a mistake. Maybe being a part of the SNF organizations showcases was a mistake. Maybe losing was a mistake, painting her too much as an easy target. Too many thoughts, too much discomfort, the drums beat on.
The stench of the river's flow is thick, arising new with ever belch of the churning waters that dislodges some long submerged pocket of air and rot. But the latest wave is enough, it's clarifying in a way, and Leona blinks, forced to cough and sneeze at the assault. It breaks her own tension, and she feels exposed, but the reality is it opens her just enough to look and see who is strolling not far from her.
Hair, clothing, legs, identifiers that point Leona to a unknown known factor. Detective Chun-Li of Interpol. Ally. Not a bounty hunter. Leona stops, she stands, her arms drop to somewhere between a rest and a ready. She will wait for the Interpol agent. She would like to talk, and it seems just to stand and wait is the best course of action since Chun-Li is coming this way. Expends less energy on Leona's part.
Then Leona's eyes blink, widen a moment, she has to greet this ally. The drumbeat washes away with the rancid smell of the river for that moment of clarity but it has thrust Leona Heidern into a new problem. But one she quickly overcomes. She does what any young woman would do to greet another friend or colleague.
Leona Heidern snaps a ready salute, prim and posture perfect.
Abruptly, Chun-Li draws to a stop and squints at the young woman a few feet away from her.
Who /salutes/ to greet someone in public?
A stranger who isn't even in /uniform/?
Leona's Interpol dossier is thin around the personality/biographical details, and Chun-Li has a passing at best grasp of those; studying the Ikari Warriors in-depth was never particularly critical while she was still in rotation.
Maybe she's /that/ by the book? Maybe this is just her sense of humor? Not the best options to work with, but Chun-Li is staring, at this point; staring demands a release, whether it's escaping or explaining.
Still asquint, she slowly lifts her right hand towards her brow, palm flat towards the ground.
Escaping, explaining, or echoing. She holds it for a few uncertain seconds before dropping her hands into her pockets and crossing the rest of the distance at a brisk clip. She-- /can't/-- avert her eyes at this point, not /really/; not after looking for so long. The best she can do to defuse the-- is it strange? Awkward, to try and communicate with an enigmatic killer on her own terms?
/Regardless/, it's certainly a moment that she's responsible for, so while she briskly works on swallowing that, she keeps her gaze squarely on Leona's face, if not /quite/ her eyes. A smile hits her lips after the first couple steps.
"Should I be worried," she lightly, quietly wonders once she's close enough for it, "that I'm seeing you /sight/seeing, here? Are you between matches, or are we five minutes away from a shoot-out?"
The Ikari have a storied history, and it's members come from diverse, unique and equally dangerous backgrounds. Leona, however, has a rather narrow set of life experiences. The thin dossiers on her life are thin because her life has been little more than her time with the Ikari. A foundling, blood, and the Amazon is her history.
The salute, a sign of that limited experience. A recognition of power and respectful showing on Leona's part for someone she has seen prove capable in many regards. And an ally. When it's returned, Leona may not smile outwardly, but there's a light lifting of concern from her chest. She did the right social thing.
The Silent Soldier lives up to her moniker for a longer than necessary time, watching as Chun-Li approaches, waiting with her arms resting behind her back. She's silent still, no emotions on her face, stone and square and looking not so much at Chun-Li's eyes as an imaginary spot in between her eyes. But there's a smile, and Leona's head tilts just a tiny bit to acknowledge that. This is friendly and normal opening of conversations, certainly.
Then comes the question, and Leona has to consider it. She looks left, right, back to Chun-Li; assessing the situation in a moment of intensity that bleeds off the stoic Ikari. "No," she states, "Between the two of us, potential threats are limited." That is entirely what it means to avoid worry.
"Should I be seeing things other than sights?" she inquires, "And I am always between matches, unless I'm already in a match."
"Which I'm not."
She looks away from Chun-Li, to the brackish river. Her steady lipped stern facade dips a brief frown. She can still hear the drumbeats. "You want more information as to why I am here," she says, more to herself than not. "On mission. Investigation, or reconnaissance. Target unknown, danger potentially great, but not founded on evidence."
"I-- guess I just didn't picture you as the sightseeing type."
Chun-Li's still smiling, because she's trying to keep things light with this highly skilled, highly mysterious assassin who may or may not be on a mission. It isn't the easiest feat - her left eye twitches slightly as she staves off the impulse to 'correct' the point about matches, since Leona is /technically/ right, here - but she's done enough post-fight press; there is some overlap between those smiles and this one.
She also tries to look Leona in the eye when she can. Not between them, or at her nose, or her brow, or some other nearby point-- full-on, direct, standard conversational eye contact. It takes a couple seconds before this evolves from subtle and instinctual into something more intentful; by the time Leona's attention moves to the river, Chun-Li's eyes are wide, just this side of a chestnut scream for attention. She gladly takes the opportunity to flick them skywards while her cheeks puff with a brisk exhale.
"Yeah," she quietly says once she's looking at Leona again. The volume rises a little:
"Yeah, I was curious. /Am/ curious! I /am/ curious as to why you're here, but it sounds a little like you might be too...?" she tentatively posits while canting her head slightly. One of her hands comes up circling as she adds, "There's some ambiguity, anyway," then she loosely folds her arms over her ribcage. "What are you, uh. Investigating-slash-reconnoitering? What's the /danger/?"
She pauses for a beat to give the excitement she feels fluttering in her chest a chance to settle, so as not to color her voice too badly when she asks,
"Do you need help with anything?"
No smiles from Leona. Just steady, distant eyes holding a mixture of sadness and depth. Dark as her hair and looking to something outward and inward at the same time. She tugs on her glove. Fingers tightening, the leather creaks. "Orienteering is important," she tells Chun-Li, quiet, steady, wondering for a moment if she was doing something strange.
There is a struggle when Leona looks back at Chun-Li, a tug of war for eye attention. She blinks, she looks to the side, looking down, she thinks about what she's done wrong. She considers things, to look people in the eye, to listen. She leans every so slightly back from Chun-Li, she did something wrong. So now she corrects with a cold killer's eye staring into the attention seeking from Chun-Li.
To her, she could not fathom the older, more accomplished woman had any reason to be flustered in any way in dealing with someone like herself. Thankfully for Leona, Chun-Li is direct with her questions. That makes things very, very easy to understand. Chun-Li is clearly there to ask questions and help. Assistance from Interpol. But detectives need pertinent information, they need facts and clues. And that is something Leona feels woefully few on.
"The danger is unknown," she answers curtly, adopting an at rest stance, hands behind her head, chest and chin out, eyes ahead. "Directly. Circumstantial evidence is held between a blonde man of currently undetermined and uncertain name, one known combatant known as Iori. It involved unprovoked surges in violent behavior that may or may not be tied to blood."
The firmness of her stance softens, curls, she looks aside. "I am afraid to report a failure to determine any direct information. Furthermore, I feel that I may be compromised in my pursuit, ma'am."
The attention goes back to Chun-Li. "But I have my mission, and I cannot allow anything to keep me from uncovering what could be a threat to myself or the Ikari."
Be careful what you wish for.
Chun-Li's gaze doesn't waver once it's struck with cold, lethal instinct. This is another place where past experience helps: Chun-Li has fought and interrogated dead-eyed murderers of all kinds, because supercrime cartels the world over all seem to frequent the same staffing service.
/Helps/. Ice crawls along her spine and there's a extra beat between breaths as she works to keep her eyes set on Leona's as long as they're turned her way. Success, such as it is, is only mitigated by the crucial difference between those killers and this one: Leona, at least, is on her side-- on /Interpol's/ side, anyway. The frozen daggers in her gaze are (probably) not /for/ Chun-Li; they just happen to be pointed at her right now.
Because she asked for them.
She quietly clears her throat when Leona gives her a reprieve from politeness.
"Like a disease?" she wonders, voice spiking incredulously towards the end. The sky gets a bemused squint. "So you're out here just-- looking for Patient Zeros, then, huh? That's-- it seems a little inefficient, but if you've got /nothing/ to go on..."
A thoughtful pause as Chun-Li taps her bottom lip.
"You know, I think I saw fliers for a band Iori plays in, but they were /months/ old; the show was last summer..."
She takes a brisk, but deep breath once those eyes are upon her again; after letting it out, she meets them.
"How long have you been looking?" she wonders, smiling as warmly as she can while frost creeps across her skin. "It's a /big/ city to find two men you don't know in."
Those eyes just happen to be those eyes. And so much their dullness is because of how much she is holding herself up for the world. So that she can move forward on her mission. On her duty. There was so much blood back then. Heidern found her, he taught her, he showed her that she could be what she is and also be good. That she could do good for the world. To focus herself an control the red coming over her eyes and the drumbeat that was in her mind.
She would never admit it, but she hated blood. She thinks of it, sees it, red and flowing and bright and smelling of iron. She goes quiet, stares. She itches at her palm, hands held behind her in her resting position.
Disease? Leona blinks and comes back down to earth. Chun-Li. The woman from Interpol. The Ally. Someone to focus on, it wasn't as easy and comfortable here as it was in the jungle. The drumbeat was so loud here, it was too much going on at once even when nothing was happening. She wishes she were in the Jungle again, or on the Ikari's ship. She was more comfortable there.
"Not here without reason," Leona says. "First contact here. Combat, civilians wounded. Success. I was partnered with an NOL operative, name Noel. The man would be known by them." She does not go into how she would get this NOL information while being wanted by them.
Leona looks away from Chun-Li. "If you have intelligence on Iori, it would also be useful. You would be helpful, and I would appreciate that."
Since Leona's eyes aren't boring into her, Chun-Li takes the chance to study Leona intently. The empty expression; the precisely struck posture; the way she analyzes her surroundings as much as she /looks/ at them...
Her badge and service weapon are in a drawer somewhere in Southtown, waiting for when she's ready to reclaim them. Leona's search isn't /hers/, and she has no obligation to make it so.
(Had it been more of a fight than a search, this would still be true; it would also be true that she'd be all but dragging Leona towards it right now.)
Two knives in a densely packed haystack, one without so much as a name; it'd verge on impossible for a pair of highly motivated, highly skilled investigators. For an assassin who won't - can't - use one of her few leads and a fighter still working not to lose herself to polluted currents...?
It's a good thing that this isn't Chun-Li's problem, isn't it?
That holding a near-silent soldier's hand through a dilemma that she at least seems to understand the shape of is no concern of hers at all?
"... think... I might," she slowly says while her eyes shrink in thought and she tugs a phone from her pocket. She keeps the screen tilted up to be absolutely /certain/ that she's the only one of them who sees her searching, fishing through playlists, saving...
"... but we'd have to go to my apartment for it."
She flicks her gaze up from the screen after that, checking-- bracing.
"If you can spare the time, anyway! I-- know you've got a lot on your plate, here. It, uh, /sounds/ like you do, anyway..."
After a beat, she drops the phone and offers the other woman her hand.
"Up to you."
Leona Heidern, as a matter of course, carries few weapons on her. She is her weapon. Though she's not above carrying a few explosives in her earrings and as accessories from time to time. She's found not having a very stringent uniform requirement to suit her just fine. She is under control, she is holding herself, but she isn't entirely certain how Heidern and his Ikari Warriors line up in discipline with the militaries and authorities around the world.
And still she carries herself with precision and care.
The woman stood across from her is thinking, considering, and exciteable. It is, to Leona, a little off-putting but it reminds her in some ways of the passions Ralf has. It makes things easier if she can draw ties and relations between people. Chun-Li=Lady Ralf. It's as good a start as any.
"You have answers at your apartment?" Leona asks, head tilting. She blinks, thinks, nods, it does make sense that Interpol Detectives might have answers. And Chun-Li, a fighter of world capability, is someone that may be able to handle the situation is the blood drives her to a rage.
"I will go to your apartment with you," she states, looking at Chun-Li's hand for a moment before nodding, understanding, and grabbing Chun-Li's offered hand.
"My intentions are to question or infiltrate for NOL resources. This is simpler."
"No, just-- a little relevant data," is what Lady Ralf goes with.
She wraps her free hand around Leona's and squeezes for a long moment. After it passes, she begins walking, letting her hands slip from Leona's through the first few steps.
"It might help you get a better understanding of Iori, if nothing else! And it doesn't involve being /here/, smelling /that/." A brisk head-tip towards the river. "Which is a bonus, right?" The sentiment's punctuated with a big, broad smile that slips considerably as soon as she turns her head and eyes away.
A career focus on Shadaloo and other cartels of its ilk makes for limited NOL contacts; the desk-bound symbols of authority make for similarly limited access to Interpol's resources. Her password for the internal bounty crawler is still good, though; maybe she can find a name, a picture, /something/ for Leona to work with.
How many blondes could there be?
She smiles towards the woman who is hopefully strolling beside her. "Are you hungry, Leona? We're gonna have to get a taxi from here, but we can stop somewhere first; we we can find something closer to my place, too, or have something sent over, even-- what do you /like/? What's your favorite?"
Little by little, the chill recedes each time she catches them, making it that much easier to see the gloom lurking in them.
Relevant data is the best kind of data. Though Leona would also take pertinent data. Valid data can do in a pinch. The hand shake is finished, Leona isn't so ignorant of things as to mistake it for anything but, and she also appreciates that Chun-Li is already moving. The direct and efficient way of handling things is already proving relaxing. No wasted effort, time, or attention on the nothings and wandering around. Leona should have sought out Interpol before that.
But as Leona strides along after the brisk pace of Chun-Li, she finds herself fearing again. The danger. The blood. The rage. Can Chun-Li handle things if they go wrong? If the blonde man and his tainted blood overtake her? Or the Red-Headed Iori. The fight would calm, but would Chun-Li be able to stand it?
"Detective Chun-Li," Leona speaks with the utmost seriousness. Quick and direct, she shucks the potential fear for what it is, a threat to herself, the mission, and others. "Are you willing to neutralize me?"
Awkward reigns as lord on high. Leona askes her question the moment a smiling Chun-Li asks her the terribly serious question about food. Serious enough, that Leona swiftly and abruptly leaps on the opening to attack the conversation like a waiting foe. "Vegetables. Roasted. Skewered. Also plantain."
"Did not intend to interrupt. Question stands. Neutralize me if necessary?" She looks at Chun-Li, and Leona's hands fold into each other. There is something under the coldness, under the steady stoicism and dull expression meant for the world. There are limited allies for the Ikari and she does not want to fail her father. She must know if she can trust others to be stronger. It's why she has left on her own for this, after all.
For a moment, Chun-Li's smile actually widens when she's interrupted. The beginnings of a laugh rattle past her lips.
Just for a moment, though. Leona's too quick and direct for more.
"Why would you need me to neutralize you?" she softly wonders in the squinting, tentative moments that follow. Her pace doesn't slow /much/; she's had plenty of converstions about fighting friends and allies, even if 'neutralizing' is a new one. "Are you worried you might-- I don't know, go too far, if we /do/ run into one of these guys? Do you need someone to keep you from crossing a line...?"
A beat passes.
"I can stop you," she adds, still soft but devoid of hesitation.
"If I /have/ to, for some reason."
Probably, she thinks. It doesn't creep into her voice: projecting confidence at phenomenally powerful opponents is a matter of reflex for her, by now. Even with a few televised matches under her belt, Leona is a wildcard; probably, /maybe/ Chun-Li could manage her if it came down to it, but it's hard to know for /sure/ what surprises a fighter might have up her sleeve.
(Or in her ear, or tucked in a convenient pouch, or...)
A strong hand squeezes Leona's shoulder.
"Just 'Chun-Li' is fine, by the way."
An honest question, a needed question. And one that certainly seemed to put Chun-Li on her back foot. She asks more, clarification, Leona chides herself mentally for not having been up front about things. She's caught between wanting to explain more, and being afraid of pushing her newfound ally away.
But then the answer comes that Leona is looking for. Somewhere, distantly, the corner of her mouth turns up just enough to be called a smile of hope and relief.
The drumbeat and itch have subsided. It's a rare feeling for Leona outside of the Ikari base.
"It relates to the investigation," Leona admits. "There is something between us. Blood."
A blink, a hand on her shoulder, Leona looks at the hand, the squeeze, she considers if Chun Li is trying to stop her now and if she hadn't made a mistake in clarifying. She is almost ready to speak when Chun-Li makes the touch's purpose clear. A nod from Leona. "Chun-Li then. Thank you for making that clear."
She looks downward, then back to Chun-Li. "Are we still getting something to eat?"
At no point does Chun-Li stop moving. Turning so she's fully facing Leona necessitates slowing down even further because she hasn't quite manifested eyes anywhere else in her head despite Gen's best efforts, but not stopping.
"So," she quietly exhales once her eyes aren't quite so wide, "a little more than a disease, then."
She winds up gripping Leona's shoulder, but she keeps moving. She hangs on for a while after the mercenary's question, squeezing instead of speaking; no stopping.
Last year, this encounter would've surely led to a thickening of Leona's dossier. Alliances are no excuse for ignorance; intensive knowledge on even its associates gives Interpol's agents an advantage when they find themselves alongside a friendly but otherwise unfamiliar face in the course of duty.
Nevermind that not every alliance is forever; that friendships can sour; that the threat of corruption lurks in the shadows of the world they live in, wearing many guises.
It would've been her /duty/ to give her fellow officers a clue of what's hidden in this otherwise reserved woman's veins.
Now that it /isn't/, she finds herself relieved not to have to build a new relationship on deception. /Much/ deception. /Overt/ deception.
Technically, the playlist she has queued /does/ carry some potential for insight into an otherwise reclusive figure.
"Why /wouldn't/ we?" Chun-Li wonders, smiling as she veers towards a taxi stand. "I know just the place, not far from my apartment. I /am/ gonna have to make an addendum to your file, sometime, though:"
"'/Can/ smile, despite appearances.'" Her hand leaves Leona's shoulder so she can place each word of this very important piece of intel in the air before them. That hand stays slightly lifted and ready for hailing afterwards.
"Do you have /any/ control over it?" she then asks, quiet and sober.
Keep moving. Keep pushing forward. Seek the end of the mission. That philosophy has moved Leona so far, it will continue to move her in the future. That Chun-Li follows it in a physical way is something of a small comfort for the young silent soldier.
There is one thing, one constant in Leona's life, the Ikari. There are those she doesn't know, doesn't trust, they will do as their individual missions lead them. But the Ikari are there, and they will always be there. When she sees the chance of things changing, of corruption, of threats, she can only see herself.
She is the danger. She is the thing that might hurt them. She deceives them even when she doesn't know it, or cannot control it.
"Because I've explained the danger," Leona explains. "You do not need to remain."
But Chun-Li remains. She has her own goals, that is understandable. She is thankful for such things. They're understandable, and yet the girl is remaining. More importantly, she is asking questions rather than being too quiet.
"I have not lost control," she tells Chun-Li, still quiet, still sober. She uses careful words, she hasn't lost control, not that she can control it. The moment simply hasn't happened yet, not to the degree that she expects it to. Not to the madness that she has seen from the blonde man. Not to the degree that she has seen many years ago in a Brazilian jungle, where a town was slaughtered and her world was bathed in blood.
"My life would be /much/ simpler if knowing about danger was enough to keep me away from it," Chun-Li wryly replies, hand still extended for cab-summoning.
Leona's control issues-- /sound/-- theoretical more than anything, so that helps. A flat tone and affect make it easy for Leona to work her way around the truth: there's nothing to tell Chun-Li, even subtly, that she's anything less than credulous. Scared, perhaps - in a reserved, emotionally dampened fashion - but trustworthy /enough/ for a virtual stranger. They also lend a certain clarity to the dedication oozing from the Silent Soldier's every pore, sharpening it to a point where anything /but/ risking a meeting with unrestrained savagery would verge on cruel: dedication's admirable in the proper context, but it has a greedy way of gnawing at whatever's inside of a person that doesn't support it.
A break for food and-- fellowship? -- assisted shadow-chasing, anyway-- is the least Chun-Li can offer in lieu of a real lead.
"/Besides/: you already asked me if I could take you, so what do I look like if I back out /now/?" she adds, grinning. There's a twinkle in her eye as her hand falls.
"You're safe," the grin falls into a determined point, "and if it really comes to it, so is anyone around us; I promise."
A taxi pulls up alongside them.
"We can talk about it, if you want," she softly offers after a glance towards the cab, "or we can just ignore it as much as your mission /lets/ you; whatever feels best. You don't need to be alone with this, though, /whatever/ it is." A beat; a soft, self-conscious chuckle.
"Alone right now," she amends, "while the rest of your squad's-- wherever they are."
Once that's out, she goes for the cab door, intent on gesturing Leona in ahead of herself.
"You move toward it then," Leona states of danger, watching Chun-Li with analytical, dull eyes. Like a scientist studying a particularly interesting specimen. "Why?" she wonders aloud. She wants to know, needs to know, there is so much about the question that will teach Leona about Chun-Li. And Leona wants to know, to connect, to understand. It's not always easy, and she really could use a lesson in how to provide more context, but she's still learning that part of socializing.
The promise cuts hard. Leona fidgets and tugs at her gloves, pulling the fingers taut against her hand. "I will put myself into danger when I need to," Leona says, "If I'm safe, I'm not putting my all into the mission. Others could be hurt."
"It's not the way of the Ikari."
She looks at the taxi, questions why she's here a moment, but she knows the question is mindless mental looping. She has her focus. Asking why reaffirms it. She knows who she is, and she is assessing who Chun-Li is. "The Ikari have a great deal to do in the world. This mission is mine, not their's."
"I wasn't asking them, I didn't ask you, but I like that you want to be part of it. Numbers hold strength."
She looks at the gesture for a moment, it takes her a second to realize the offer. She wants to object, but she is Silent. She enters the car, she looks for the door opposite her entrance. She makes notes of exits and potential threats. Not out of discomfort, simple habits of her lifestyle.
She waits for Chun-Li to enter with her, to sit down, and to be captive before she repeats the point of her earlier question. "Why do you fight, Chun-Li? Who do you fight for?"
Why does Chun-Li still fight? Who's she doing it for now that she's on a steady diet of small scale tournies and idle vigilantism? It's complicated.
"I have to," she replies, climbing into the car after a quiet beat. "For everyone who can't."
Another beat, this one spent staring a hole through a refurbished leather seat back and weighing internally.
"I don't know who I'd be if I didn't, and I'm not in a hurry to find out," comes out in a murmur. Her eyes slide towards the other woman towards the end, instinctively checking for something other than stoicism. They shift towards the rear view mirror after a second so she can rattle off an address, then it's back to the seat as the car begins rolling.
"I started learning when I was a little girl," she says. She isn't quite sure /why/ she's saying it, no more than she's entirely sure of why Leona got the addendum, but it's happening; the safety of detached ears, probably. "Just-- /because/, honestly. Because I saw a movie, and I was /so/ sure that I could do what those people did on the screen. Because I was five." A smile briefly touches her lips, but she doesn't look over.
"And I was /good/ at it. It was my favorite thing to do in the world! But then I--" Any time. Chun-Li could stop at any time, but Leona asked a complex question, and Leona probably won't judge, or call her a fool.
Or help (/make) her find something more pleasant to think about, or recontextualize somehow. Or find some way to spin what she's saying into a comment about her butt.
Probably, she'll just listen. And she'll analyze, and practically stare /through/ Chun-Li while she's doing it, but she'll probably let whatever's said stand on its own.
"-- lost someone important to me, and fighting became the only way to deal with it. There's a scale that needs to be balanced, but more than that, there are so /many/ people out there just-- /primed/, all but /waiting/ to be chewed up and spat out by some gangster, some /monster/, /somewhere/, and..." Her eyes close as she slowly sighs and slumps back in her seat. "So. Like I said," her lids crack so she can glance across the car, "I /have/ to." Her gaze neither wavers nor widens.
"And you? It doesn't sound like it's about the money for you, really, you sound... well. You sound like you're very invested in your unit-- their mission, /them/, all of it. So why do you do it?" A slight pause before she can finish her reiterating. 'Who' isn't, at this juncture, as 'why'; not to mention:
"How does it make you feel?"
Mt. Fuji. Justice. It seems so far away. A struggle to survive against an insurmountable warrior. A warrior who considered herself a weapon. Two were on that mountain. Questions and conflict together brought a lot to Leona Heidern's mind. Even as she faded from consciousness, only to wake up hours later in an Ikari infirmary, she thought about why she fought and who she fought for.
And here, still in Japan, but in the quiet backseat of a cab, she finds herself asking the question this time. To learn and to gain from the woman she sits with. And she does stare. She does look through Chun-Li rather than at her. And she takes each bit of explanation as what it is.
Desire, fun, and want tempered by loss and duty. Leona understands that. She looks away from Chun-Li. She nods, organizing what was said, taking her time to parse it, and to consider her words before speaking. "You are a warrior, Chun-Li."
When the counter question, expected as it is, comes, Leona looks back at Chun-Li with a cold, intense direction. Lips thin, she is resolute. "I do it because I am not a weapon. Heidern taught me. Helped me. I will follow him and the Ikari way by choice, because it is my choice."
Her hands tighten, balled at her side. Jungles. Years ago. Blood. The rushing sound of water in her ears. And then the end. Quiet. Heidern.
"I was made to kill everything I knew. I was given something else."
"A /World/ Warrior," Chun-Li corrects with a hint of sardony. Technically; last time was a miss, but she managed to make the early rounds of the first.
It pretty much counts, but the technicality means there's a wan sprinkling of jazz fingers for accompaniment.
She's definitely looking dead-on /at/ Leona when the blue haired woman gives her succinct answers; if Leona's looking back at her, it'll be easy to see the sympathetic arching of brows, the surprise that parts her lips, the creeping horror as she considers why someone would feel the need to specify that she /isn't/ a weapon--
-- the sharp inhale that leaves her mouth snapped shut when speculation's given brisk, terrible confirmation...
Her hand covers the one Leona's got balled up between them. Briefly, her eyes drift down as she swallows.
"I'm sorry you found yourself in a position where you had to make that distinction," she offers in a quiet voice as her thumb rolls over taut knuckles. "I'm glad you've got someone looking out for you-- and people to look out for in turn; it's important, you know? Whatever we are, being it alone isn't nearly as fulfilling..."
A soft smile forms after a beat. This time, when her eyebrow arches, there's a much lighter sense of curiosity behind it.
"What-- /who/ are you, then? Since you aren't a weapon."
Hand covered. Leona stills, tenses. She cannot hear the drums. She doesn't itch. She looks to the door. Looks to the driver. She looks to Chun-Li. Her free hand turns upward, positions itself as a knife's edge strike. Chun-Li is a master at kicking, not grappling as far as Leona' knows. She may have the advantage. Strike throat, claim wrist control, use earring bomb to blast free.
Leona Heidern breathes deeply. She looks again at Chun-Li. She reads the situation. The eye line, the lack of muscle tension. The promises and finally, the words that Chun-Li is saying to her in that moment. "I have the Ikari. I am not alone," she speaks the truth, and she admits it, but speaking it aloud does feel better than quietly knowing it.
She blinks at the next statement. It comes across as happier. But Leona has to delay to process just how to answer it. Not because it was difficult, but because she felt she already did and she tries to find a secondary way of saying it. "I am an Ikari Warrior. I am a soldier. I have my mission, but it's one I choose to follow. I have my targets, but they are ones that I choose. I follow, but it is the one I wish to lead me. I am Leona Heidern."
She looks away and then back to Chun-Li, then back to her balled up hand, which she has still kept balled up because Chun-Li put hers over it. "Is that not in my file?"
Laughter bubbles up after Leona's correction. Quiet, (loosely) restrained laughter-- Leona's serious! And doing her best in the face of a concentrated effort to interrupt her sworn duty with socializing. Chun-Li brings the back of her hand to her mouth and turns her head aside, leaving Leona's hand free for a couple seconds.
"No, it," she exhales as amusement settles, "it /is/, absolutely-- sorry--" Her head turns towards the other side of the cab once again.
"And you've been very clear!" she continues through a faintly self-conscious smile. The tension didn't go unnoticed; the violence it nearly portended might've, but she's too close and too invested in bridging the distance between them to miss stiffening muscles. "I promise:," her hand falls into her lap, "I'm not trying to be difficult, or obtuse, just... well, /curious/, really. You're more than what we've got in your file, after all..."
(Granted: this is increasingly entering the realm of presumption, but she's trying to maintain some optimism.)
"... right? They tend to stick to what's mission critical: affiliations, capabilities, bio, et cetera, et cetera... and /yours/ is kind of light, even with that in mind." Her lips freeze mid-phrase, then; eyebrows jolt upwards.
"By design!" she hastily supplements. "They're limited by design, and the state of /yours/ is..." One of her hands lifts for a few dismissive sweeps while she shakes her head. "Not my department. You're good, here; you can relax, promise. I just-- am curious about you." Chun-Li makes a face. Plain language is-- /probably/-- the way to go, here, but just /saying/ what she might normally communicate through suggestion and context feels strange. Still, she perseveres; she's best at kicking, but she isn't half bad at wrestling awkward conversations into submission either.
"Who you are-- I mean, what do you like to do when you /aren't/ working? I like to dance, but I don't get to do a lot of it; there's an erhu starting to gather dust in my apartment, but /sometimes/..." Her smile grows a little larger and more self-conscious as a wince whispers over her face. "I get more time for movies. You can just-- you can let a movie wash over you while you're recovering from the day..."
Another, smaller sweep of her hand, then her smile shrinks and settles into a warmer setting.
"Sorry to put you on the spot, here," she gently offers. "We don't /have/ to talk about non-work stuff if you'd rather not; we only just met, after all."
Laughter wasn't expected, but laughter isn't a threat. Leona realizes that she did misread the situation. She feels a heat in her face, but not the rush of blood and drumbeats of rage. But her hand is free, and she takes it to rest in her lap, closing off physically and looking away from Chun-Li.
But then comes an apology and an explanation. Leona looks back at Chun-li, she isn't feeling the tension at the moment, other than her own self-directed embarrassment. And she listens, watching, knowing she's probably staring but she's trying to be a listening as possible.
The listening pays off, Leona smiles slightly when Chun-li starts to talk about things that she likes to do in time off. It makes Leona think about her own time. She looks down and then looks back sharply when the smile on Chun-Li's face shrinks. "I walk around the base. I listen to the jungle."
"I also like factories. Everything working together and moving together. It's soothing. But loud." She looks at Chun-Li, uncertain if her thing was weird. But watching videos of factory work and machines makes her happy in a quiet way. But talking about it makes her scratch the back of her hand when she compares it to the exciting things that Chun-Li talks about.
Leona's thing is pretty weird.
"Everything in its place," Chun-Li muses, "working together to do something none of them could by themselves..."
Objectively, this is true. Chun-Li's ability to disassemble a Hummer with her feet is objectively weird too, though, and her growing appetite for street vigilantism ranks is worse than either.
"There's beauty there," comes with a pearly white flash. "It's nice, in its way; kind of-- well, you said it: soothing; calming... have you had a chance to visit the Suntory factory, here? It's great, if you like beer!" Chun-Li's arms stretch forward the little bit they can, then she slumps in her seat. Leaning towards Leona, she drops to faux-conspiracy levels as she adds, "It's probably nice as a factory, too, but if I'm being honest, I /generally/ like beer more than I do factories." Once that little joke's been shared, she leans away, leaving her attention set on Leona.
"Do you /live/ out there? On the base, in the jungle?" she wonders. "I'm sure it's nice out there. Remote, maybe, but /nice/; clean, you know? And not /quiet/, just... removed from everything else."
Leona is pretty weird.
She nods along when Chun-Li is working out the details of the kinds of things that Leona figures are fun. And when Chun-Li smiles, it puts a little tinge of nerves to rest in the silent soldier's heart. She exhales a breath she didn't know she was holding. This was going easier, and she couldn't feel the drumbeat in her ears.
She leans close, and is surprised to find out that Chun-Li's conspiracy is liking beer. She looks left and right, eyes darting, trying to figure out why Chun-Li would be secretive about liking beer. She can't find a reason and falters, mouth opening, then closing in thought.
"Do you like beer on the job?" she asks, wondering if that's the reason for the secrecy. "I don't like it, I haven't had much. Ralf and Clark do sometimes. Faolan. Lita. Whip. Yes. I don't. I need to keep control." She fidgets, looking at her hands.
"Yes. That is where I'm based." She looks away now. "I cannot give you more intel than that. I don't know what Interpol knows and currently I am wanted by the NOL."
Chun-Li keeps a laugh penned in, but her lips otherwise flicker broadly for a moment after the entirely matter-of-fact question.
"Only off-duty, I swear," she lightly replies. Her right hand lifts in a show of solemnity, or something like it.
Once it's in her lap, she adds, "Control is important when you've got people's lives in your hands," with a small nod. "Even at the top of your game, things can just-- they can go wrong, they can /slip/... people like us can't afford that kind of handicap."
Her lips purse and twist through Leona's explanation, falling into a muted smile towards the end. "Fair enough; basic security, right?" Her eyes drift towards the window and stay there for a while, afterwards. Bit by bit, even that remnant of a smile wears away into a pensive line.
"I'm not working for Interpol, right now," eventually comes out, just loud enough to break the silence. "It's-- last summer was /trying/. I took a sabbatical."
Another, much briefer silence ensues before:
"Which is to say: I'm not about to report-- /anything/ we talk about back to anyone; I'm /miles/ from the clock, at this point," she promises with a bouncier tone and a thin smile. "Mostly, I just think it's fair that you know."
Leona nods once. She has misjudged, but she's happy that she did, it allows her to keep considering Chun-Li with a greater degree of regard.
"You're right," Leona tells Chun-Li, keeping to herself, though she wants greatly to mimic Chun-Li's earlier gesture of support. "We are soldiers, warriors. But we are not alone."
She leans closer to Chun-Li. She can see something is wrong, something is off. She listens. "Shadaloo's operations," she hazards a guess. "We recovered one of theirs."
This is good news, she has to say it, and it's only fair that Chun-Li should know of this. "A group of children, meant to be made into weapons. A woman coerced into service. Made into a weapon. We recovered her. The Ikari helped her. We did not turn her over to Interpol as a criminal."
Leona looks directly at Chun-Li. "I will not forgive Shadaloo for making weapons of children."
Chun-Li doesn't answer; she stiffens.
She scowls at the city outside because she can't /help/ but scowl. That the Ikari managed to pull someone out of there brings her eyes flicking towards the other side of the cab, but the scowl's still there, so her gaze is short-lived; it isn't meant for Leona, after all.
But there's /more/ good news to be had. Not some/one/, /ones/--
An incredulous little chuckle rattles past her lips. Wide, chestnut eyes whip Leona-wards-- towards those cold eyes set directly upon her.
"/Thank/ you," bursts free with a firm squeeze of the other woman's knee. "I-- let Ryuji Yamazaki get away from me in Sunshine City," she continues, quieting and pulling away, "right when things were starting to get bad last year. Then I met a fighter with Shadaloo programming guarding one of their transports, and-- well, I /thought/ that I could break him free, on the spot-- I don't know if maybe I was trying to make up for Yamazaki...?"
The shrug is limp as her hands fold in her lap.
"Nevermind that Shadaloo's why I do this to begin with," she softly adds.
"Anyway, I'm better now," she softly sums up with a brisk handwave. "But I'm glad to know that there were others out there to look out for the people who needed it."
She keeps her eyes trained on Leona's, but it's a challenge after letting herself be Seen.
"I'd like to meet her sometime, if I can," she says after a moment.
Lita Luwanda is a good soldier. She might be called a hero by many. Leona Heidern trusts her and her efforts for the Ikari. She cannot go unspoken in this moment. Leona must speak up when thanks is offered so graciously. "It was not me on that mission. It was a woman named Lita. She is very capable. Perhaps you will meet her at some point."
But it's barely out when she hears a name and the briefly smiling eyes of Leona turn hard as honed steel. A heartbeat. The rage? The blood? No. Cold and steady fury. "Yamazaki is the blonde man."
She looks forward, and it is a good thing she cannot shoot laser beams from her eyes or the cab would be minus one driver. "I no longer need to infiltrate the NOL facilities," she declares.
An almost robotic turn of her head toward Chun-Li. A shark eye look. "If you are able to assist me with this Yamazaki. To learn what's in me. Then I will repay you in any way that I can."
It's Leona who Chun-Li's cabbing with, not Lita, so Leona gets another grateful squeeze before separation.
-- before the steel veil falls.
Before she learns that at least she isn't alone in failing to contain him despite theoretically having the ability to do so.
/Another/ squeeze, for support and good measure.
"He murdered police officers in cold blood, then laughed about it-- then his Yakuza contacts pulled him away before I could--"
She presses her teeth firmly to her lip for a second then exhales slowly.
"-- yes," she answers, quiet and strong. "Of course I'll help you?"
Chun-Li's finding that she isn't /quite/ as inured to those eyes as she thought she was, all of a sudden.
"He deserves to spend the rest of his life in a hole," she murmurs after letting her gaze sink, "and /you/ deserve a little more peace of mind."
Yamazaki, the blonde man, there are others that have him in their sights. These others are allies, and these others are respectable and capable people. "A Lieutenant from the NOL and myself put a stop to a rampage of his here in Southtown. He noticed a connection between us. I noticed it as well. Violence. Blood."
Leona shuts her eyes during the squeeze, she is a fighter, but blood got to her. It put her back in the body of a child. It put her there again. But now, like then, there is a gentle reassuring contact.
Leona doesn't see Heidern when she opens her eyes, but Chun-Li. It is different, but she appreciates it all the same. And she's promising to help her. With that being all that's needed, Leona is quick to begin considering directions. "If he is Yakuza, then they are targets as well," Leona states. "They may have information."
She stops. Something digs at her and Leona picks at the back of her hand, tugging on her glove. She shouldn't have just dove into the mission, despite how easy it was to keep moving forward. "I appreciate you saying that. You deserve peace of mind as well."
"I haven't been focused on them lately," Chun-Li says, "but I'll bet they know /something/. They might've just... picked him up, then /dropped/ him somewhere, because what else can you really /do/ with someone like that? He's a sadist, he's /unhinged/..." She tries to swallow her disgust instead of letting it-- letting /him/-- dominate this conversation just because she's met someone who understands what Yamazaki's like. Keep it to the mission-critical details; don't editorialize...
"But since then... they /must/ have picked him up since then. Sunshine City's not what it was last year; I'm sure they've got better things for him to do..." It's still woven through every word, but at least they're /relevant/ words, now. She taps her bottom lip as she trails off, even as part of it is drawn in for chewing.
"The soldiers are--"
Chun-Li's eyes flick towards and settle on the rear-view mirror for a tick.
"The soldiers are useless," she whispers after leaning closer, "but if you can find someone higher up the chain... just be wary of Duke Burkhoff. He's... it isn't just that he's strong, he-- he barely seems /human/, anymore."
She closes her eyes for a moment and remembers.
"Maybe just be patient, if you happen to meet the Syndicate's hacker, Nagase," comes as they open and a corner of her mouth quirks up, "because she's /infuriating/, but not-- /entirely/-- unreasonable. I couldn't say how likely she'd be to give you anything about what /they're/ doing - even if it involves Yamazaki - but... maybe?"
Chun sits up and leans away with an encouraging smile. After taking a second to try directing Leona's eyes towards the mirror, she says, "We can talk about all of that once we've got lunch in front of us, though!" at a higher volume. And then it's back down-- not all the way back down to conspiracy levels, but down.
"Thank /you/ for saying /that/. You have a good heart, Leona; I bet whatever /monster/ tried to weaponize you would be livid if they knew. /Is/, if they /do/."
"Where they dropped him off is intel we don't have," Leona states, but her eyes are looking sharp at Chun-Li. She is focused, close, and her talking is less a conversation piece and much more a mental note taking methodology.
But the words that Chun-Li speak hit Leona in a way she doesn't react openly toward. Unhinged, sadist, disgust at Yamazaki's behavior. And knowing that she feels the drumbeat, the call of that blood. She wants to stop Yamazaki, but her fear is ultimately that she may end up like him. And to see how other people see that, it cuts across Leona's heart.
Still, she cannot say that, she cannot admit it. She has to nod and listen. Soldiers, she wouldn't call gang members soldiers, but she makes the connection. And Duke Burkhoff isn't a name she's paid much attention to. The Ikari have had run ins with the Syndicates before, but there are many targets, and recently much of her attention has been focused elsewhere.
Leona lays her hands across her lap, she looks down at them, she thinks on the name given to the lead. Nagase. A better target perhaps. "I'm not good at talking," she admits, "I don't think I could interrogate well." In her head, it goes neutralize the target, get answers. However, Leona knows that that isn't always the case.
And while she's looking away, she hears the call back to lunch. That is the purpose of this new mission. And one she should focus on. "Yes, lunch. Please pick a location. I do not know any. I, just would like vegetables today."
"She's a fighter-- a /good/ one," Chun-Li softly says. Something between a grimace and a grin flashes over her features. "And she's smart, and she knows /all/ of that. You probably wouldn't have to do that much talking. She couldn't /wait/ to fight me."
Left out is the part where she (and Nagase, but Chun /definitely/ started it) spent every second from the moment they first met talking shit to each other. Some details are more pertinent than others.
"I... don't think she's as bad as some of them are," she murmurs, tentative.
"The proof's somewhere safe," she promises, just above a whisper.
"And as far as interrogation goes," comes at higher levels, "it's-- well, it helps if you're patient. Perceptive... you want to try and build a relationship with whoever you're trying to interrogate, right? Because they're not gonna talk to a /stranger/, but if they trust you, or respect you, or fear you..."
Syndicate-busting might make for risky cab conversation, but digging into the tricks of the trade? Perfectly safe.
ONE CAB RIDE...
The restaurant was small, its entrance tucked in an alley and its interior an otherwise unused stretch of what was a drug store lunch counter, decades ago. The lunch counter closed; the drug store became a boutique; the little niche carved out and equipped for dining (and cooking!) became a chance to double dip on rent.
An opportunity became a loud, sweltering den of skewered, spinning meats; a long wood-fired grill set a ways back from the counter for grilling off whatever isn't already skewered for display/easy carving; and just a few cramped booths. Everything is peeling, yellowing, cheap-- except for the food, which is only one of these.
... AND RESTAURANT VISIT LATER
A few blocks from the restaurant, Chun-Li's apartment is small, but everything is clean, cared for, a bit pricy. The living room and kitchen make one large main, wood-floored space. One end holds contemporary-ish appliances, a dark, round wooden table, and matching chairs; the other, a plush lavender sofa, TV, and stereo system. A hallway just a couple feet beside the entrance leads elsewhere.
There are quite a few skewers in the two bags Chun-Li hauls inside. Also, a large container of brown rice, several foil packets of flatbread, a box of salad, and several cups of yoghurt sauce. Most of the skewers are made up of vegetables: whatever Leona wanted with enough for sharing, plus a few made up mostly of zucchini and eggplant. Several are nothing but chicken and shrimp; Chun-Li was training before this chance meeting and isn't about to shy away from protein.
"Alright," she murmurs after setting the bags on the table so she can retrieve her phone. /Now/, cradling it, she considers if perhaps she should have found a moment to make sure Leona's expectations were properly calibrated, instead of talking interrogation theory.
"My 'intelligence on Iori' is-- well..."
She swipes. Across the room, the stereo system comes to life with screaming guitars, bass so distorted it's positively mangled, and frantic drums all meant to give a woman's raw lyrics about alienation and heartbreak the right context.
"Iori's the bassist," she tentatively explains, just loud enough to be heard over her intel.
"That /does/ mean that the band's a--" Her eyes stay glued to the screen and her pace ramps up, the longer she goes, "obviously, you'd have to handle them /gently/, but there /are/ people out there who know him."
She sharply exhales, and /then/ she glances up towards Leona while that freshly ripped band-aid falls away.
A talk of interrogation. The swirling closeness of savory scents and aging alley dining. A ride in a cab. All places taken quietly, observing, following. Leona isn't in her element, and she takes the lead of the older, rather talkative, woman. But each step is measured, and this new terrain is considered and studied. It might bear fruit to know the lay of this land if Leona finds herself here again.
A small apartment, one with value. Certainly nicer than the barracks of the Ikari base. Leona may not be one to attach herself to luxury, but she can certainly appreciate the simple comfortable living. "I like this," she tells Chun-Li, nodding.
She looks over the spread taken out of the bags. She leans over the layout and takes her fill of roast skewers. Mostly vegetable, squashes, zucchini and more. And a bit of chicken. She has her favorites, but she knows what she needs.
Leona looks up when the music begins, a piece of chicken still hanging in her mouth. A quick swallow and she nods. "I did not know he was a musician," she says. "Do you listen to him often?"
for a moment, she looks at Chun-Li, she feels something may be off. She blinks and thinks, and turns the skewer in her hand. "I am guessing you think I feel negatively toward Iori. We fought, yes, and he recognized something in me. He also defeated me. But I bear no ill-will toward him. He is not my enemy."
"No," Chun-Li murmurs, rubbing her forehead, "it's..." then flicking that hand towards a speaker, "... I'm regretting not being a little more upfront, is all." After a brief beat, she brings her hands up to form quotes around a rueful, "'Intel'."
It helps that Leona doesn't seem to think that this is nearly as big a deal as /she/ does (or any kind of deal at all?) but it only helps so much. As her arms fold across her chest, her eyes tilt away, her brow creases, and her lips purse while she works to keep them from letting the contrition levels spike too high.
"That's good, though-- that he isn't your enemy," Chun-Li quietly continues. "I'm sure you've got /plenty/ as it is, beyond Yamazaki."
She just seemed so strange-- so /sheltered/ beneath the eaves of the Ikari and her solemn duty; alone, with her improbable task and sad, distant eyes.
"Not /often/; occasionally. He's not /really/ on-- our radar, but I respect the musicianship." Slipping the phone away, she gives the soldier a weak smile, then turns her attention towards claiming a skewer and pulling a shrimp into her mouth. After chewing a couple of times, she remembers an important detail, subtly swells and starts to bring the back of her empty hand towards her mouth, then just deflates, glances down, and chews briskly.
"/Thanks/," she finally says once she can, cut with a few self-conscious chuckles. The skewer gets waved around broadly as she quietly clarifies, "About the apartment," then raised for another bite.
Leona is far from considering the information given a great deal. It might pays to know that Iori is in a band. It may be easier to locate him that way. The information also does allude to potential victims, though Leona has little to go on in thinking that Iori might be threatened by the same madness in the blood that she feels at times.
"I have enemies. The Ikari have enemies," Leona confirms. "The Novus Orbis Librarium have bounties on our heads. Criminal organizations like the Syndicate, Shadaloo, The Black Dragon. Individual agents as well. They are our enemies as we are theirs."
Her lips press thin, she looks to a middling distance, unfocused but aware. She closes her eyes. "We are not law enforcers," she admits, "We are soldiers. We are mercenaries. But we fight for those that do not always benefit from authorities. That is the mission of the Ikari warriors. We will have our enemies, but if we did not earn them, then we are not doing our duty to our mission."
She looks down, she remembers the skewer. She sheepishly eats it while looking away, a cold and stoic look that hides the slightest of red to her ears. She is certain she went too far and pushed at her host's position in society as a member of Interpol. "This is good," she notes of the food, desperately flailing for something approaching normal human conversation. "The cook is a capable man."
"Maybe you aren't the /law/," a grinning Chun-Li offers after swallowing a bite, "but at least you've got all the right enemies."
Time spent listening, a lingering desire for /something/ to keep herself busy with, and a burning need for post-workout fuel mean she's collecting a paper plate from amidst the order to store both an empty skewer and several fresh ones, as she offers this little bit of reassurance. "Nagase gave me data on Shadaloo and the Black Dragon Cult's dealings in Sunshine City, but I haven't gotten all that far past trying to roll that into something a little deeper," she adds. "If you're interested..."
She's a little too focused on pulling carrot and squash chunks from another skewer to go any further than that /or/ notice the tinge around Leona's ears, but:
This /isn't/ all that 'normal', whatever /that/ means for a Silent Soldier and the World's Strongest. 'Human', /maybe/, but...
"His kids are fighters," Chun-Li says, smiling. "In training; the girl's old enough for real tournaments, though... anyway." Intermittent skewer-stripping pauses long enough to let her scoop rice onto her plate with a plastic spoon. A few more chunks of chicken and veggies both are pulled from their homes to join it; her thumb on the rim of the plate keeps skewers steady while she works. "They've /both/ got potential; they /both/ want to keep fighting, so a few years ago... he moved /here/. Got the cheapest store front he could, and..."
Leona knows the rest, so Chun-Li just moves on to murmuring, "I try to go when I can," while briskly mixing, then lifting a spoonful of food to her mouth.
Chun-Li has intel. That is good. Though it's from a mutual enemy. Leona considers that fact. As she does, she nibbles on the end of a roasted pepper. "I do not want to disparage your intelligence," Leona ventures, not wanting to rock her early working relationship with Interpol's finest, "But it would seem that she is pointing you at her organization's enemies. It's a clever tactic if you were to remove them for her."
That said, Leona cannot help but add, "I am interested, though." She continues with a hesitant sigh of resignation, "I have learned that I am not as capable as I could be. While I do not attempt to kill my targets when involved with the SNF competitions, I have been shown my weaknesses."
Skewer held in her teeth, she rolls her wrists, gripping her left wrist with her right and squeezing. "I could," spoken through skewer, "Use field practice to keep my skills sharp."
Skewer out, she places it as she has the others she's eaten. A short pacing, consideration, she's already spoken a lot, but things are on her mind. Considerations for Yamazaki, and more threats out there, including herself. "Overall strategy would allow us awareness on Syndicate movements."
A shake of her head, a quick jaunt across the already small room to get to the foods. It's better to listen to the younger ones. Kids with potential. Kids that hopefully can grow up to choose to fight their own fights. "I will go more often," Leona states, wanting to help the person with those children. And with her words, that will most likely mean she will make it a point to go to that small alley diner everytime she happens to be in Southtown, whether or not it makes adequate sense.
"I'm sure he'd appreciate the business," comes with a fresh smile.
Chun-Li does a little more mixing and bit by bit, the smile shrinks.
"And I know," she eventually says, quieter. "About Nagase-- I know." After a brief pause spent nudging a chunk of rice-studded chicken across the plate, then scooping it into her mouth, she turns her head away and pulls the back of her spoon hand up over her mouth while she murmurs, "Still," then focuses in on brisk chewing.
"The information /is/ good," she murmurs after swallowing, "and even if she expects that /I/ might not give them as much trouble for a while..." Chestnut eyes lift and linger pointedly upon the Ikari Warrior.
"She's brilliant; she isn't /omniscient/," Chun-Li quietly notes.
Her attention returns to rice and the pile dwindles apace.
"I could help you sometime," she sotly suggests after a few bites without looking up, "if you wanted. I'd prefer it if you didn't attempt to kill /me/, too, but..." The corner of her mouth quirks up for a moment at that while she stirs what's left of her rice around the plate. "I could use the practice too, I-- when I fought Nagase, I almost..." Her bottom lip's drawn in a moment after she trails off.
"She's a criminal, yeah... but I was this close to /brutalizing/ her, just because she made me /mad/, I..."
A deep, slow breath is quickly released, and only then do her eyes (barely) rise towards Leona's.
"I could use the practice too," Chun-Li quietly concludes.
Leona looks downward. She focuses on that food. She tries to bore a hole through it with her eyes; as though she could muster more than a dull stare. She always bites back hard on her emotions. It controls the heat, the drums, it keeps her from seeing the curtain of red fall down in front of her eyes. And here, she not only needs to, she wants to.
So she bites down hard on her skewer. She chews, long, slow, deliberate chewing so she can listen to the other woman talk about her intel and her source. And more importantly, the uncertain darkness that Chun-Li alludes to. While there are things and times where Leona does not recognize other humans, that look and that feeling is one she is familiar with. And the words that came after that look confirm Leona's suspicions.
And now she is looking with that steel-eyed steady stare. The fixed gaze of a warrior, of an assassin, that knows her mission and has sighted her target. "Then we will practice," she states.
A warrior; an assassin; a woman who finds peace in nature and industrial noise.
A soldier on a mission against deep, old fears.
There's more than just steel behind those eyes, so Chun-Li doesn't flinch, twitch, stiffen, or do anything much more than meet them while Leona gives her taciturn response-- and then twist to set her plate on the table, afterwards.
And then advance upon the Ikari, arms snapping forward then seeking to snake beneath Leona's--
-- to capture her--
-- in an embrace.
It isn't quite the World's Strongest Hug, but it'll still be plenty powerful if she manages to lock it in.
It'll also comes with a quiet, "Thank you," for the person who heard Chun-Li nearly lost herself and pummeled someone-- who bore a misdirection from the mission that brought her to Southtown-- and /still/ wants to practice with her.
An approaching woman. One who wants to spar. Leona's head starts to incline, her fingers twiddle at her sides. Were she ready to fight, were she willing and eager to strike, she would have adapted her hands for knife edge jabs. Strike at the close approach, hit for the soft, ready and set up for a cutting chi slash.
But Leona Heidern doesn't wish to fight. Her arms raise up, she blinks in surprise. A lock? A throw? Neither. Though, she has to say, "I did not think you a wrester." If it's a joke, or an honest summation of her thoughts, neither is readily obvious from Leona's tone.
Leona tries to piece things together. What she knows, how she knows it. Chun-Li is a detective, a trained fighter, one of the strongest in the world. And here she is hugging. And despite what Chun-Li has already told her, Leona can't help but wonder why.
On the other hand, she can only work off the demeanor Chun-Li is showing, and it shows that Chun-Li is vulnerable. Leona's arms lower, soft, hesitant, though she stares ahead. "You are welcome, but we should see if I am an adaquate training partner before you thank me."
That Leona has to /wonder/ is at least half of why.
"I'm better with my legs," Chun-Li definitely jokes in turn, "but that'd make for a /much/ more awkward hug." The small smile this leaves behind gradually fades into a pensive line.
"I've seen you fight, and I know you'll be working to make yourself stronger, for the people you care about; you'll be /more/ than adequate," she quietly promises after a couple seconds of silence. "Just don't take it /easy/ on me, huh?" Her eyes fall through another beat of silence, tracing a shoulder, a hanging arm--
"-- ah, sorry," she exhales as she flicks her eyes back up and disengages with a small, sheepish smile. She quickly combs back through her hair while edging towards the table. "I--"
'-- just really appreciate you listening to me bitch about my life even though we're strangers and you're on a mission...'
'-- am just really happy to meet an ally who probably won't summon a monster at me...'
'-- can't help feeling like you need about a /dozen/ of those...'
Chun-Li dangles in a web of options. Demeanor's about all /she/ has to work from, too. Leona's presents a stiff, tightly controlled shell; what lies beneath must be gleaned from what the Silent Soldier's willing to say aloud. A trained eye for subtle bodily shifts and twitches fills in a few gaps...
"-- didn't mean to make you uncomfortable," she says. "I'm, just." A hand goes back for the plate, and in short order she's looking down and nudging a few more vegetable chunks into her rice. "A little bit of a hugger," she explains, still smiling a little as she takes a bite.
"I can tell," Leona answers that joke with a normal steadiness that she has answered any other things. But it only takes a moment before Leona pieces together all the implications and a red color begins to come to her cheeks. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to imply," is quickly amended.
Contact disengaged, Leona steps back one foot step back, hands resting at her side. She stands, partially at ease in the military sense, but mostly not so in the civilian sense. The silence as Chun-Li considers the web of possiblities to her next statement is met with the silence as Leona tries to consider what might be coming next. But then it strikes her, a reminder that this place is comfortable. That this apartment is not a challenge. And the tension rushes out of Leona.
Shoulders shift, hands slip behind her back, a slight incline to the head. Leona looks over the apartment, thin lipped, dark eyed. "You've made that clear," she tells Chun-li, the amount of hugging proved such a thing. "I am not so comfortable. Forgive me. It's a weakness."
Clipping words, terseness, it's comfort for Leona. Simply the way that she is. At odds as it is with a lot of other people in the word. "I think Ralf would like you."
Chun-Li's legs are her deadliest asset by far. Lycra pants make this plain to an analytical eye, clinging to densely packed muscle; there is little in her wardrobe that /doesn't/, somehow or another, put them on display. They're lethal weapons; they're the result of a lifetime of dedicated effort and honing; they have a profound effect on her shopping habits.
It doesn't even take a conscious extension of good will to meet Leona's amendment with bright, quickly clipped laughter and a brisk headshake; when they disengage, there's even a quick wave to fully dismiss the worry.
The apartment is very much made for comfort-- albeit an efficiency-oriented version of it: what's there was carefully chosen to make brief bouts of respite between work and-- well-- /bouts/-- as comfortable as could be managed, and there isn't much of it at all. Beyond essentials, there's a ficus growing tall in one corner and a painting depicting a beach at sunset over the couch; decorations are otherwise lacking.
"Maybe we'll meet, sometime, if cooperating works out," she suggests after another spoonful of food. "Assuming that it feels safe enough, of course." One more bite, then she trades the spoon for a skewer.
"And you don't," she assures with a look up at the Silent Soldier and a small smile, "need to apologize. Not wanting to be hugged isn't a /weakness/, it's just..." The skewer lifts as she speaks, gestures through throughful fading, then lightly jabs in Leona's direction as Chun-Li shrugs a shoulder. "/You/, right? So. I dunno-- maybe next time, I just give you a really friendly salute?" As her smile grows, she tears a piece of shrimp free.
Leona is a woman that gauges nearly everything. At least, so long as it is relevant to her mission. For most other things, she simply pays attention to them. However, someone as highly trained and honed as Leona Heidern has a different definition of simply pay attention than most. She has respect for power. She has seen and understands the power of Chun-Li's legs. Therefore, Leona respects Chun-Li's legs. They would get a nod and a salute. But even Leona knows that's a bit silly.
So she stands, awkwardly, in a comfortable apartment, not knowing quite what to do with her hands so she rests them behind her back in a way that's stiff anywhere but militaries. Of course, in a 'uniform' that wouldn't fly in most militaries either. But Leona would say she really doesn't much follow military regimen as much as she finds similar behaviors comfortable.
"I would like that," she tells Chun-Li on the prospect of further working together. "I have worked with Special Forces in the past. A woman. She talked a lot." she considers that a lot of the people fighting in that paid bout did a lot of talking. And also that she failed in her mission.
A thin frown appears for a moment, but is gone in a stoic flash. "I am who I am. I've accepted that. But there are places to improve. I would like to. Do not go easy on me in the future, Detective. Hug if you so wish." A nod, a stern, steel-eyed determination. This is a challenge she will meet and this is one that she will destroy as the most hated of enemies.
"Thank you for this food, and thank you for the information." She fidgets, she loses her posture, and she picks at the cuff of her glove. "Wasted time if you hadn't been here. Need to report to base. I should not do this alone."
Leona's legs get a quick look in turn as Chun-Li chews. This was likely inevitable, because--
"You can sit down, if you want," she offers while backing towards a dining table chair and snagging its leg with her foot. A quick twist sends it sliding into position a foot or two away from Leona; she then backs up just a bit more and claims a seat on the edge of the table. "... I should've offered sooner," she notes after a second, quieter. It's the polite thing to do; Chun-Li doesn't get guests /often/, but she knows the basics. There's also the minor detail that-- probably-- Leona /needs/ the offer - or at least an /example/ - and the underlying permission to relax.
"Anyway," comes with a wave of the skewer when her eyes flick back up to the Soldier's, "you're welcome! Thank /you/ for keeping me company." A beat. "And listening." Another, then, quieter: "Everything-- but we've covered that pretty well by now, huh?" The plate's set aside so she can briefly take a napkin to her hands, then go for the salad box. There are little cups of dressing inside; all but one gets set on the table. "Whatever help you need," she promises while popping the top with her thumb and letting it rest in her hand, "I've got you... even if it's just conquering the Hug." A few chunks of lettuce get forked, dipped, and eaten with a grin.
"Yamazaki, and people /like/ him... they might get paid, /used/ by other bastards to do their dirty work," she murmurs after swallowing, low and intent, "but ultimately... they're /alone/, right? They're fighting for /themselves/; whatever-- /connection/ he has to you, however frustrating it is to know he's /out/ there... he'll always be outnumbered, /always/ at a disadvantage, as long as we have each other's backs."
Leona is nowhere near the specialist that Chun-Li is. The Heidern Assassination Technique is one that utilizes the whole body as a weapon. She doesn't put much thought into that while she looks Chun-Li over. She thinks about the situation, the location, and perhaps a need to train more for physicality.
She lifts her boot to stop the chair, she holds for a moment, thinking. Internal debate bounces what she needs to do back and forth in her mind. She closes her eyes and, using her toe, slides the chair back into position away from her. "Thank you," she says, "Maybe another time." She's already expended a lot of herself in talking and the growing gnaw of guilt over abandoning the Ikari for a personal vendetta quest is eating at her. With a kneading feeling in her gut, she has to turn down the offer of a chair.
"I would like to believe your words," Leona states, nodding once. "However, if Iori, and myself, and Yamazaki are all connected, there may be others on his side." She closes her eyes and tries not to think about herself losing control to the rage she feels at times. "But I do feel better when you say that."
Her hair bobs when she turns, and she turns sharply, feeling a growing need to wrench herself from a situation. "But I must see to the Ikari," she states. "You remind me that I need not be alone. They will assist me. Us. With this situation. It is all our mission."
Chun-Li stretches a leg forward and the chair stops against her sneaker.
"Yeah, of course-- just--"
The salad box hits the table and Chun-Li briskly heads into a short hallway, holding up a finger 'til she rounds the corner out of sight. Maybe half a minute later, she's back, closing in and reaching for Leona's hand--
-- pausing at the edge of her reach and just-- extending her hand towards the Ikari Warrior, offering a flash drive full of Nagase-derived data to be taken at Leona's leisure and listening.
"/You/," she gently reminds as Leona whips away, "are /not/ on his side, though, and Iori..."
She hesitates for a tick. There's a /reason/ that the best intel she could offer is full of distorted bass.
"... well. It's-- not /impossible/," she admits, "that /they're/... ... /but/: it doesn't seem /likely/, with as small of a mark as he's made on our radar, y'know? Neither them is... /subtle/. Maybe there /are/ others, though, it's-- kinda hard to say for /sure/, until we get a chance to really, really /dig/." Her hand lifts, freezes for a moment-- then goes through with reaching to squeeze the retreating Soldier's shoulder, firmly but briefly.
"Either way, the mission's the mission, and it /won't/ be left undone."
Log created on 00:16:37 03/29/2019 by Chun-Li, and last modified on 22:18:13 05/24/2019.