Description: In the aftermath of the Ikari Team's loss in the King of Fighters, their mission remains true. But some of the Ikari have more than one mission on their plate and when Leona and Lita speak about it, Leona comes to explain the connection she finds in herself and in the strange Lieutenant Vermillion of the Ikari's enemy, the NOL.
The King of Fighters Tournament is over for the Ikari Team, but it is not over for the Ikari Warriors. There is still the matter of the strange devices showing up around fights. There is still that animosity of the NOL. There are still matters at hand that need to be investigated, threats to anticipate, and evil to thwart. Ralf is busy doing his part, and while the failure of the Ikari team in the tournament does rob them of the excuse to be mobilized, that is never a reason to avoid a mission.
The drum beat in Leona Heidern's ears is steady and consistent. It has been for some time, but it has begin to dull, to grow familiar, to lose its stakes. Something that Leona knows should be causing more distress than it is. All the same, she picks at the palm of her gloved hands. Her flat expression doesn't do much to suggest thought, but to those that know her, the tilt of her eye and the quirk of her thin lipped stoicism suggest a greater turmoil than usual.
She's stalking around the NOL base for a period. She still wishes to know what they do. She wishes to see what it is that they see. Because she feels they have more insight into the situation surrounding the King of Fighters than any other known threat at the moment. But there is the ever present matter of how to approach the situation. After all, she told Chun-Li she wasn't going to infiltrate. And so she won't. Instead, that means she has to do the more difficult thing, and that is contact someone so that they can talk.
After the loss to Mai Shiranui, Lita Luwanda had kept mostly to herself. She had taken the defeat pretty hard. Intellectually, she knew that Mai was a more skilled fighter than she was but she came incredibly close to overcoming that gap in skill with her swordsmanship. And it hurt being part of the reason that they didn't move on.
Lita, for her part is taking a walk, more to clear her head than any particular mission. When she comes across Leona, Lita doesn't snap off a salute since it's not like they're on base or in the field and a salute would draw more attention to them than Lita and possibly Leona would want upon them. There is a nod of acknowledgement and slight pause in her foot steps ready to move in Leona's direction should the other Ikari Warrior want to speak to her.
The loss itself is painful, though secondary to the feeling of letting down one's team. But with the missions still at hand, and its purpose held close to heart, Leona has soldiered on with her steady and still indifference to the matter. The Ikari are not tournament fighters, not really, and she was more at home moving forward with her goal in sight.
In her literal sight now, however, is Lt. Lita Luwanda. Someone she cares about. Someone she can speak to. There's no salute, and Leona is fine with that, even if she herself isn't exactly dressed to disguise and stands out quite readily on the streets of Southtown. She is still all too wary from the cat-themed swimsuit incident to disbelieve the notions of "disguise".
Lita need not change her course much, it's Leona that openly approaches her this time. And she does so with purpose and directness. A swift, ever so slightly leaned forward stalk. Somewhere in the back of her mind she knows Lita has knives, and that means blood. But it's quashed. It's a foe to beat, those thoughts, and today, Leona is winning. So much so that there might be the precursor to the notion to the concept of a smile on her face when Leona reaches Lita and offers a welcoming, "We did not make the tournament, but we've still got our mission." It's reassurance, Leona style.
As Leona alters her course, Lita shall do the same attempting to meet Leona Heidern in the middle as it were. The slight stalk forward is barely perceived and it reminds her slightly of the flashes of what made Kim suddenly declare her team mate evil. But just as quickly as it shows up, it disappears not really giving the blonde an opportunity to process it or the emotions it would draw out in her. Probably for the best because it would probably lead her down the road of getting angry at various people and things.
When her Ikari counterpart brings up not making the tournament, she know what Leona is attempting and appreciates it but it stings. While the Ikari as a whole aren't tournament fighters, Lita still has a competitive streak a mile long, be it cricket when she was in school, martial arts tournaments, even having held one of the belts. A belt that has remained unclaimed since the one who had defeated her attempted to obtain a higher level belt. So it still hurts.
"Yeah. Less distractions from our mission."
She thought back to having been a runner-up in a previous KoF. The team was too distracted to do any investigation but part of her didn't believe it was the tournament that was a distraction but the chaos of the team's in-fighting. Because of that, her echoed in her head feeling empty.
Leona's relaxed and militaristically at-ease posture doesn't carry the primal stalk she had a moment ago, as though the passing specter of violence had indeed done so. She tries her best at smiling, the faintness there lingering and seeing, feeling the hurt off of her fellow Ikari. It made that at-ease stands less than easy.
"You are displeased," she states, losing the posture and picking at the cuff of her glove, tighter to feel it dig against the webbing of her fingers. "Ralf hoped we would serve as a distraction in fighting. Is that it?" she asks, wanting to know more, pushing herself into directly asking.
She releases her glove and wiggles her fingers. Her eyes turning toward the NOL's Southtown headquarters. She listens, but she isn't looking Lita in the eye. A shoulder offered in what she can only guess is a terrible torment in Lita's mind.
"It was something I talked about it in the briefing. Daniel Little was a team mate of mine on Team Interpol. Daniel Little's former intern was more productive in investigating the tournament than we were. The early elimination of the former intern's team was partially responsible for it. Meanwhile Team Interpol's team remained too distracted to do any effective investigation even as we managed to get to the finals."
She pauses for a moment. She lets her gaze follow along Leona's sight towards the NOL Southtown HQ.
"It was me trying to find a bright side in being eliminated. At least we won't be distracted from our investigation."
Leona looks back toward Lita. She rests her hands behind her back again. She thinks, runs the words being said over in her mind, and she studies Lita to understand, to try and figure out just what's going on. And when she feels she's hit upon it, she nods.
"I am sorry I failed you in leading this part of the team," Leona states, quietly. "There is no excusing, I could have done more." She looks along with Lita to the HQ. "I'm afraid I don't know how to do better than that for you," she adds.
And now she stands, fidgets in place, wanting to do something, knowing that this challenge here is about Lita. And focusing on it allows her to avoid the itch spreading form her palm to her wrist.
Hold up. Leona's taking the blame for this. Lita is not about to let her take responsibility for this one. As far as she was concerned, Lita was the one who let Kim Kaphwan run right over her. Lita was the one who loss to Mai Shiranui as close as she came to overcoming a skill level gap.
"With all due respect, I can't honestly let you say that you had failed me. You had put me in a position where I could contribute and I didn't execute."
In taking responsibility for the failure of the team, as wrong as Lita may view it, Leona may have at started the process of shaking her out of her funk.
"I'm alive. Correction. /We're/ alive. Our team is stable and not a bleeding chaotic mess like my runner-up team. And while I may prefer being eliminated in prelims on this team to getting to the finals on Team Interpol, losing..." She pauses for a moment. "Losing, as the Yanks would put it, sucks. I'll get over it."
Leona couldn't defeat Kaphwan herself, either. Not even after Lita's initial stand. Certainly, the judges declared it a wash, but that wasn't the case in Leona's mind. She simply saw that she could not hold up the burden for her allies.
"I did not seek out opponents," she points out, "I was too focused on other things." The other things being the itch, the drumbeat, and her search for Yamazaki. Things she doesn't bring up here and now. Things she goes quieter for to listen to her fellow Ikari.
"We are alive. And we are still Ikari. We must rejoin Ralf and redouble efforts on the mission." Surely, she tells herself, Ralf has done much to uncover whatever plot is at hand. But, there is one thing she has to speak on. Part of the team isn't entirely there. "Hayley Bretherton has been relieved. It is good to see her healthier."
Her eyebrow rises obscured by the bangs that fell down over her forehead. A smile comes to her lips.
"That's good to hear. I'm glad she got some fighting experience in during the tournament. I had concerns about her getting a chance to fight and I was concerned about how she was holding up after..."
Lita goes into a full bodied shudder. She didn't even want to think about how Shadaloo must've messed with her head and how the Lightning Spangles based brainwashing changed her. It was a scientific abomination that broke all sorts of ethical rules and even just a passing thought about it came dangerously close to making her want to vomit in her mouth.
"Have you had a chance to get in contact with Vermillion yet?"
A needed subject change if only to at least temporarily change her thoughts to a less disturbing subject.
"Yes," Leona says, hands going to her hips. She nods, considering Hayley. "She will be strong."
A pause, Leona thinks on the matter. She considers Hayley, what has happened, how much that those events make Leona rage. She decides, then, to add something a little on the side of showing her feelings on the matter and toward Hayley. "We will keep reconnaissance on her." A small, focused, mission covering way of saying that she would like to keep tabs on the girl's recovery. After all, she was sort of, kind of Ikari adjacent.
She blinks at the thought of Noel. Things weren't said there. Not that Leona said much. Her hands-on-hips confidence shifts an arms crossed closed off defense. "Have not," she says, and yet here she is outside of NOL headquarters, a wanted woman. "Warned her once. Of standing opposite."
The blonde tries, in vain, to brush the bangs out of her eyes before deciding it was a losing battle and focusing on the person in front of her. Lita is, at the very least comforted by the fact that the Ikari will be close at hand to keep an eye on the Aussie if something were to happen. And considering how Lightning Spangles heavy the tournament had been, she suspected it was only a matter of time before it did.
"Honestly, I'd think that pointing out how much of a scumbag Relius Clover is would probably do more to convince her. But that's just me."
Lita looks at the NOL HQ once again and remains quiet for the next few moments wondering about her Leona's own thoughts about the NOL commanding officer.
Leona is unware, distant to the great bangs battle going on for Lita. She will be there for Lita, and the rest of the Ikari. Certainly she will. However, the fight against her hair is one that Lita must brave alone. A showdown that must be solved without help. Leona herself has her hair tied up and back, as she always does. Perhaps she may yet simply serve as an example for her fellow Ikari.
The question of Relius Clover comes up. Leona has to admit one truth, "Relius Clover is a strong man. It is respectable." But Leona knows strength comes in many ways, any while she has to acknowledge it. It serves no one to deny power because someone is despicable. "But he is no leader. He is no commander."
She looks away, down and low. "What outcome do you see in convincing Lieutenant Vermillion?"
"But not all who are strong are fit to be followed."
It was a simple truth the blonde Ikari's eyes. Sure, Lita could acknowledge that his power could keep people in line but she imagined that when given the opportunity to get out from under someone like that's thumb, if they hadn't been broken, they were going to take it. It has been said in the business world that people don't quit jobs they quit managers and Lita could see that applying in other types of command structures.
Noel being convinced however. That was something that Lita wasn't exactly sure about. She didn't know much more about her than the first impressions she gave during the fight against Team Family Values. The blonde soldier can only shrugs.
"I don't know Noel particularly well and I also don't know how much or what type of a psychological beatdown was delivered, if any. And that type of thing isn't exactly my expertise."
"Relius Clover is skilled at Psychological Warfare," Leona judges, eyes closing as she cradles her own chin in hand. "I should cease speculating on matters. It distracts from the mission at hand."
She shakes her head and lowers her hand, starting to tug at the cuff. She stands in silent opposition to the NOL building so close and yet so completely distant. The light wind of the city's glass and steel canyons brushes across her. The shade of tall buildings offering a small respite from the summer's heat.
"I feel," she goes quiet as usual. She scratches at the palm of her hand, thumbnail worrying at her glove. Wearing both down. She doesn't know what to admit, she doesn't know how to find exactly the words. "Familiar patterns with myself."
The light breeze, oddly enough, gives Lita a moment where the bangs aren't in her eyes. Something she can enjoy for a few moments before the wind releases the hair from its grip and returns the bangs to its rightful place on her face.
Lita's eyes go down to the palm of Leona's glove watching as she scratches at it.
The scratching continues, stopping only when Leona finally looks back to Lita and notices her look. She assumes an at-ease position swift, snapping almost. And she stands, stiff and stoic, she thinks about why she's reacting that way. She looks at herself. And at what it means to be in control; to what Heidern taught her.
The tension leaves Leona. "Her focus in combat. She is someone else. Something else." Leona takes a breath and directs her eyes, cold and distant, to Lita. Her mission stare. "I suspect she is being controlled in some manner."
Lita gets caught looking. Leona has her idiosyncrasies and as long as it harms none, it is not for Lita to condemn. Either way, Lita looks back towards Leona's face if only to keep attention away from something that she can only assume caused her fellow Ikari embarassment.
Without judgement, Lita listens to Leona. Taking in those details about what it was like to fight Noel. Questions form in her head. A finger touches her chin in thought and then she releases the questions.
"What makes you think she's being controlled? Did you have a chance to compare notes with Chun-Li?"
Leona might not be scratching at her hand, but the itch remains; it's something she can fight for now. Even as Lita looks at Leona and sees a still, thin-lipped stare of cold distant stoicism.
Behind that face, Leona thinks. She tries to consider what Lita is getting across in her stare, and what Leona might be thinking. She tries to ascertain what could be wanted while she hopes and hopes for a quick and easy answer for her questions about questions.
But Lita, being a dependable Ikari, asks those questions quickly. Leona's lip quirks in a way that might be called a smile of relief, but it's gone in a wink and Leona shakes her head. "No. Haven't. Need to," she admits of her last connection with Chun-Li. "You learn. Fighting someone up close. I spoke with her outside of a mission. She isn't the same when she fights. Her eyes are different. Not wrong, never, but different."
The initial response is a simple nod. In that simple gesture is an understanding of why her fellow Ikari feels the way she does but also taking comfort in the fact that she will get a second opinion from the other person who had fought her.
The thing was the talk about seeing things up close put into perspective something she had in the back of her mind every since the Team Korea vs Team Ikari fight.
"During the fight with Kaphwan, I noticed a slight change to your demeanor and posture. Something I didn't see when we had fought."
Left unsaid was the fact she that didn't exactly back Leona into a wall either. Probably best for the blonde Ikari's confidence to avoid even mentioning the fact that she wasn't exactly skilled enough to do anything but let Leona coast through most of that skills assessment session.
"Every since that moment, he flew off the handle and dismissed all of us as evil. I think he noticed something too. But I also think he's a knobhead."
Leona closes her eyes. Red. Shouting. The smell of blood. The damp heat of the jungle. Faces she cannot remember, but she can feel. Pain and sorrow. Heidern.
In her memory the drums beat. Her hands itch. They tense, every inch of her body in a single flexing posture. In the real world, she is still and calm and placid as deep water. A breath, and the heat flows out of her.
Leona's eyes open. "I did not come here with a sole objective," she tells Lita. "I am searching for a man named Yamazaki. He has clues to my past."
She looks to Lita, and she finds a trust to admit things, "I asked for Chun-Li to accompany us not for the tournament, but as help for me in case I needed someone to neutralize me." Her arms shift, from behind her back, to a slight hug of her own stomach. "I try to maintain composure, but it is not always possible."
Now she looks away. "I am a threat if that happens. But I must find a way to put an end to whatever it is inside of me."
The closing her eyes, the breathing. Lita assumes it's just Leona trying to figure out how she wants to say what's next. She's completely unaware of the war that her fellow Ikari is waging inside of her. At least at first. Then the explanations. Clues to Leona's past, and something inside of her and the need to keep a lid on it or else she becomes a danger.
"I see... I'm not sure how I can help you fight it but if I can, I will."
She thinks to her team mate in her previous King of Fighters appearance. If she can't help but wonder if Daniel had been given a similar level support that Leona had received with the Ikari, Daniel may not have gone rogue due to his own fight against whatever he had inside of him.
Leona doesn't know how she's fighting it. Not beyond Heidern's teaching, her focus on her missions, and her family. But that is all Leona needs to hear at this moment. That Lita is one of those there to help her. And as Leona's self grip loosens just a little, her fist balls in a moment of resolve. A fist to defy the drumming in her mind and the heat in her heart.
"If I cannot control, do whatever you can to isolate me, and call for backup," Leona says, with the conviction of an order mixed with the need of a begging request.
Leona's face drops, she looks back at Lita and gives a short shake of her head. "Not to disparage your talent, but it will take more than one to reasonably control me."
Inside, Lita knew she wouldn't be able to stop her when she loses control when she'd have to fight out of her mind to deal with an in control Leona. At the very least, knowing about it and having a plan of action was reassuring. Lita once again gives Leona a nod.
"Understood. And if you ever want to talk about it, I'll be here for you."
She glances around at those walking around before looking back to Leona.
"Fighting it doesn't have to just consist of fighting you should your control lapse. Your fellow Ikari are here for you to help maintain that control as well."
Lita should not have had to make these statements. She should not have gone unknowing about the troubles with Leona for so long. She should have been apart of the control policy as much as Chun-Li was. It was one thing to keep information from Hayley, to keep up that strong front for her comfort. Lita did not need such soft touches.
"I'm sorry for keeping you in the dark," Leona apologizes with all of her usual stiffness allowing. "You are Ikari. You are there. But I don't know of any other way to fight. This is why I search for Yamazaki. He has something to do with the fire in my blood."
Did not need the soft touch perhaps but it was understandable why. Though Lita is Ikari, she still is the FNG. Lita herself still felt that she needed to earn a level of trust. After all, she came into the fold from another military squad after those above had came up on the wrong side of the entire Gear situation. If she had to be honest, there were probably a few here and there that still didn't trust her.
"Don't worry about it."
The blonde lets herself smile. As she moves to continue her walk she turns towards Leona once again.
"Just think of the people you know are on your side. Sometimes, just knowing that you're not facing it alone helps. Anyway, keep me in the loop."
With that, she strides away to finish that mind clearing walk that she started on.
Log created on 10:07:28 08/22/2019 by Leona, and last modified on 14:23:30 08/27/2019.