Description: Hayley Bretherton is once more found by Leona Heidern. The two have a simple chat and some noodles and nothing potentially bad happens whatsoever as two friends get together in Chinatown.
The mission continues for Leona. The King of Fighters Tournament was suspicious, but without word from Ralf, there is no determinant for attack. That has left only the insight into Yamazaki and the strange case of her own blood driving Leona to seek answers. Set out, alone at the moment, but confident in the present support of her fellow Ikari, Leona seeks what she has sought since combating Justice above Mount Fuji.
She hasn't found a thing.
Cold traces, half remembered interactions, and a lingering promise not to infiltrate the NOL for information has brought Leona to a stand still in her investigation. Not that she was ever a truly intrepid detective. She was a warrior, the silent soldier, not the type to piece together clues and pull at the threads through investigations.
But she did hear of something, one thing, that caught her attention. A few days prior she had heard about a Syndicate bar being assaulted by some young women. One was an unknown, the other tried to be unknown. And while Leona Heidern is no detective, she is intimately aware of fighting styles. And from what she heard, it could only be that of Hayley Bretherton
The woman taken by Shadaloo, tormented by them, was now fighting on streets against criminal syndicates? It was curious. It was something worth seeing and surveying. After all, this could always be a plot, or Hayley could be in trouble.
But maybe, perhaps, Leona truly just wants to catch up with someone for the sake of catching up with them.
The road led to Chinatown as the last location seen. So that's where Leona went to stake out the neon streets and night time life. There is, stand out as she can with her azure hair and militaristic clothing. A lingering, stone faced watcher of people tracking a target in a teeming city.
Trouble seems to follow Hayley Bretherton. Whether it's washed-out television stars, nefarious criminal syndicates, or just vigilantes wanting to sock it to a few perceived bullies, Hayley tends to attract fights lately. Perhaps like draws like.
And this is true today as well, even if Hayley's been graced with the good fortune of a familiar face. Leona's detective work may not be particularly noteworthy, but neither is Hayley trying particularly hard to stay hidden. From a cursory inspection one could hardly tell what brought her to Chinatown in the long term. Perhaps she is investigating. Perhaps she is on the run from those same gangsters she battled before.
In any case, there are noodles for now. Hayley is dressed in a dark green hoodie and matching sweats and standing in front of a street stall in the crisp December air. She hands the man her money and takes a large disposable bowl. Within a moment of getting a mouthful, she spots Leona and almost gags herself. The proceeding wave is delivered with a handful of chopsticks as she tries to dab a bit of broth from her mouth.
Like attracts like. But what attracts Leona to Hayley Bretherton is not exactly their shared warrior spirit or martial skills. Leona saw in that medical tent a person that had been used as a weapon; someone that had lost control. No, not lost but had control stolen from her in order to do terrible things. Someone like a small girl in the Amazon with the blood of her loved one on her hands.
The smells and sounds of Chinatown are as distracting as the sights. The noise of people and the cacophony of food scents clashes all around as the low and the high compete for the patronage of the people on the street. And among it all, Leona walks with a steady, serene and stoic expression. Though she is jostled, she pushes through with all her focus set on the finding of her target.
The steady push that keeps the louder, crashing, destructive drumbeat in her mind at bay.
Everything stops the moment the target is acquired. Hayley Bretherton, in workout gear, and eating. They've locked eyes. Will the target evade? Will the target strike? The world may as well descend to silence and darkness in that moment. Tense. Pulsing. A coiled spring ready to burst.
Target. . .waves?
Leona blinks and the sound of the world comes pouring back in around her. She looks around to remind herself of what's happening and that's when she bends little more than her elbow to wave back before she approaches. Now, she doesn't push and plow, but she slithers through the crowd with the serpentine grace that her combat training has given her. And it's this time that she does the impossible.
Hayley likes it here. It's familiar, in a way. It reminds her of home. Not the home of trailers and hotel rooms, of sleeping in airport lobbies that she associates with her father. Her mother's home in Hong Kong. Chinatown is familiar. A transplanted piece of home for her just as it was for the people who brought it here.
"Hoy, Leona," Hayley says, getting her mouth free of noodles. She stabs her chopsticks into her bowl with a sort of precision that implies this is hardly her first bowl of street vendor noodles.
"What brings you here?" Hayley leans in confidentially. "Is it a mission?" she whispers, perhaps too softly with the noisea and with her bowl raised to block her lips from being read from anywhere but Leona's direction.
The sound and bustle is so far from Leona's home. From the relative placidity of an active military base in the jungle. There, things run in order and the hustle and flow have clear directive and focus. It's busy, but she can understand it. Here in Chinatown it's all a great deal of chaotic force.
For a moment, Leona wonders if there is a vegetable bowl she could get, remembering it has been a time since she's eaten. Not the first time that thought had slipped away while she was focused on other things. Things like the mission she had given herself.
A mission she admits to Hayley. "Investigating the tournament," she says. "Intel came that you were here. I," she pauses to consider her words here. "Did not want to imply you are under investigation. I want to see that you are doing well."
A light picking at her gloves and Leona looks past Hayley. "There was word of involvement in gang fights. I recognized they were talking of your technique."
Hayley's attention stays on Leona as she speaks. Even with all she's went through, the Australian girl has a sort of childlike wonder, at times. A rapt focus when she's being spoken to, at least here, with someone familiar.
This is even more true with the subject of the conversation. Her eyes widen a little and her breathing intensifies. There's those telltale signs of tension creeping through the cracks as many things do here in Southtown. When Leona clarifies, Hayley exhales deeply.
And then tension returns with the last statement. "Oh, uh," Hayley rubs the side of her face with her free hand. "I was hoping nobody heard about that..." She pauses. "Can I get you something?" Hayley quickly gestures at the stand with her bowl.
Leona holds no fault to Hayley for staring, she's guilty of the same. She doesn't like to move her focus from her target and right now that target is Hayley. So it's Hayley that gets undivided attention and a cold, distant stare through from Leona. Because it's sometimes hard enough to understand people without them getting upset at someone trying to understand them.
"You can, but it's not necessary," Leona answers quickly. Her stomach also answers in a gurgling kind. Swiftly ignoring that, Leona continues. "Were you involved?"
Now she steps closer, thinking and remembering the best ways to approach this situation. She reaches to tap Hayley's arm. And she smiles. "If you are, and you are doing this because you want to, I am happy for you."
In this sense there's another bit of camaraderie between the two. Hayley smiles sheepishly and glances away. She takes her chopsticks and gets another mouthful of noodle, finding a moment's reprieve in the fact she shouldn't talk with her mouth full.
"Oh, I want to," Hayley says after she's cleared her mouth again. "You can get what you like, or I can suggest something?" When Leona taps her arm, and Hayley gives her another awkward smile.
"Well, they seemed to be causing trouble, and I didn't want someone else to wind up like me, you know?"
A moment's reprieve lasts for both women. Moments of one eating, another just staring and considering and burying the drumbeats in her head. Her arms naturally begin to settle folded behind her back. At ease, her mission shifts from finding Hayley to keeping good company.
As good company doesn't refuse an offer like food, and Leona being hungry in the first place, her decision comes with as much quickness and decisiveness as Leona is wont to do under fire. "Vegetables." A pause. "Please." A completion.
"I should be buying for you," she adds, "If you are taking to keeping others safe. That's good that you've found a mission for yourself. It can help." Help focus. Help the mind. Help keep the feelings at bay. Sometimes a person lives more for others and for duty than perhaps they know what to do for themselves. And if it works for Leona, then it can work for Hayley.
Hayley doesn't seem to mind. Perhaps she's used the staring by now. Maybe she just wants to give Leona pretty of leeway because she knows her. In the long wrong, it matters not because there's no complaint from her.
"Sounds good! Noodles or no?" Hayley asks, stepping aside. "--do you mind holding this?" She raises the bowl and waits for Leona to take it.
"Oh, nah, it's fine!" Hayley smiles, a little more confidently now. Wider. More naturally. "I kind of fell into it, but it's good to help out, you know? I just hope I don't wind up in over my head..."
Without a sign that she shouldn't be quite as intense as she is, Leona doesn't relent in her focus. No complaint means she's doing just what she should be doing. She can't be held back by doubts and uncertainties, not around someone she wants to consider an ally and a friend.
Without a word elsewise, Leona takes the bowl and holds it close to herself. She wasn't going to just answer the question without taking up the implied direction. "Noodles, please," she says, "I have not eaten in some time. I should have done so, but the mission was paramount."
She looks out at the people walking around, wondering how many of them might be Syndicate, Akatsuki, or so many other ill actors in the world. Or even the NOL looking to collect on her bounty. "Hayley, if there is any trouble, you can count on the Ikari," she assures her. "What you are fighting is worth fighting against."
Perhaps Leona's intensity is familiar. Maybe Hayley feels it's not her place to say anything. The answer is unclear, and so it goes.
%Freed from the constraints of juggling her own bowl, Hayley steps back to the shop and gives the operator a friendly, if slightly awkward wave. The man's nose crinkles just a little in consternation. A joke is made before Hayley gestures to Leona off and behind her. The ritual of order, cash, food is completed; Hayley makes her way back to Leona once more and offers a trade of steaming vegetable noodles for the Hayley's container. It looks like chicken?
"Thanks, Leona. That means a lot to me." Hayley says, exhaling deeply. She stirs her noodles with her chopsticks, perhaps in an effort to redistribute the heat a little. "You should eat though, even if the mission is important." Hayley gives her a lopsided smile.
A gift of food, and a social showcase that Leona watches with a faint curiosity. She wonders if there's something to the food cart man's distaste at Hayley returning. And why Hayley gestures to her. It's a confounding dance and show; Leona would presume the vendor would just want more sales, regardless of whom does it. But she is not a vendor and so she doesn't question these things. Merely, she waits.
The food is exchanged. "Thank you," is given. The first bites of the vegetable covered noodle are enjoyed. It genuinely tasted good. Though, and this Leona keeps to herself, she does prefer fire roasted.
"The mission was to locate you and ascertain your condition," she states. "I have succeeded." She smiles, trying to show that this was indeed a joke based on her usual habits. "Were you coming here to take part in the King of Fighters?"
"You're welcome!" Hayley seems to wait expectantly for Leona's reaction. When she seems to be enjoying herself, that's enough for Hayley.
"Really?!" Hayley asks, then seems to pick up on the joke. "O-oh," she chuckles, her face flushing just a little. "Honestly?" Hayley says, "I'm not entirely sure what I'm doing. Southtown seemed like a good place to get started if I want to improve. There's a lot of strong fighters here, and some pretty well-known schools..."
So the joke was actually only partially a joke. Leona did in fact want to talk and check up on Hayley. There were few people that Leona felt comfortable around to be more open and talkative. Hayley is one of them and if the moment arose then she would take it. But she was also taking up this moment to eat like a soldier possessed. A quick and voracious gnashing that is entirely un-ladylike in her pacing. She was hungrier than she knew.
She nods while Hayley talks. "Your," she swallows, continuing, "Your mission, what is it? To improve yourself? To save those from being preyed upon?" These are the things she expects from Hayley, but suspects Hayley needs to hear again. Leona knows when she is lost that reaffirming her mission guides her forward.
But, perhaps there was one more thing Hayley could use for focus. "There is an investigation. Would you help me?"
Hayley is not especially ladylike herself in such matters, so she has no room to judge. For a moment there's no discussion as the two of them eat in peace, and in that peace Hayley takes a moment to put her thoughts together. Why IS she here?
"A bit of both," Hayley says, then adds with volume. "A lot of both, if I'm honest." Hayley clutches another bit of noodles between her two chopsticks and lifting it to her mouth. She takes the moment to think about Leona's offer. To let it roll around in her head. A million little worries cross her mind in that time, it feels like. Who might be involved? What if I drag other people down? Would I really be that much help?
"Of course," Hayley says finally once her mouth is clear. "But I wouldn't want to bring you down..."
For the moment, the only reason that matters for either of them to be in Chinatown is that there is company there and good food. It's no mess tent in Brazil, but it will do. She doesn't have an Ikari Warrior there, but she has the closest thing adjacent.
And so she eats, and she observes, and she thinks about what she has opened up and whether or not it is worth involving Hayley moreso. "You have not done so yet," she states. "But I still need to find information on myself. What the man known as Yamazaki is up to. Or if he and Iori are just part of a larger situation."
Hayley works her noodle bowl with surprising leisure considering. Perhaps, in this moment, she wants to put everything aside. Maybe she fears being put on the spot without something to use as diversion to give her a moment to think.
"...thanks, Leona," Hayley says. Her smile is genuine, if quiet. It's almost as if she worries that being too brazen about it will attract poor fortune. "I'm really glad that you think so." Lingering a moment, Hayley then asks what's next on her mind.
"What's the deal with them?" Hayley furrows her brow. "Were they in KoF? Do you know them?"
Crowds of people. Shining lights. A crashing cacophony of crowds. All a mile away when Leona enjoys a simple bowl of noodles near a friend. Even the drumbeat; the pulse that hammers in her heart and head that screams for blood and rage, is washed away in the calmness of the moment.
Leona wonders if this is what genuine control feels like. True handling of self within the moment. True lucid control. Not angry, desperate, confused clawing at a focus. And maybe that it isn't just The Mission that she needs in her life. She may never fully understand or feel comfortable around most people, but she needs reminders that there will always be some people that are hers.
"I would not say so if I did not believe it," Leona adds to assure Hayley of her utility. "And with training and improvement, you will only get stronger as an ally."
But the happy talk of Hayley goes back to Leona's own mission. "No," she admits, "But I had hoped. Yamazaki is a wanton criminal. Iori is a musician. We are similar. They," and unspoken 'I' is left to hang in the air, "They believe we are related in some form. While blood is mentioned, I think it is metaphorical."
Hayley's reluctance cracks and a genuine smile makes its way through the seams. "Thanks, Leona," Hayley says. "I really mean it. I'm glad someone believes in me---I've had a rough time lately." Hayley lingers there for a moment, at an impasse as she tries to decide what to do. How much to say and how much to keep to herself.
"Like distant relatives or..." Hayley starts to say, "oh." It's a welcome interruption. Should she ask about Leona's family? How much does she really know other than Heidern? "Similar in what way?" Hayley finally asks.
Family. The dead in Brazil's past? Or the Ikari and Heidern? She would strongly believe that Heidern, her namesake, Ralf, and Clark are all family. Lita as well, has been close. And even Fio, Argent, and Whip have all been close enough to trust as compatriots.
But they do not have The Blood. They do not hear the drums. They do not boil with rage and manic fury that must by curtailed at every waking moment or a descend into a deadly madness.
Leona blanches. She looks down and away. A long, slow breath. "A capacity for violence."
Hayley stirs her broth idly and gazes into the bowl. For a moment, she's lost in thought, her focus on the slowly settling liquid as she listens to Leona. What was her family like? How did she and Heidern wind up in the Ikari Warriors? How did any of them get into that life? Did they face something like her, or?
Hayley looks up and blinks. "Sorry," she stutters. "I didn't mean to pry if it's something personal."
Drumbeats. Leona looks forward, staring. Her hand grips the bowl of gift noodles and veggies. Her gloves tighten, the leather creaks under the tension, a quiet struggle to show the torrent inside.
Blood. Blood Blood Blood. Blood-pouring. Blood pooling. Flowing and washing over herself, her world, her family. Drowning in blood.
Drowning. Breathing hard. Constriction choking. But she isn't drowning like the others. She is being squeezed. She is choking. There is blood.
Leona lurches forward, gulping for air. She feels the blood course through her own body, suddenly aware of every cell at once. Wide eyed, she looks aside to Hayley. Her hands grip the bowl, trying to hold onto it but she can feel it slipping from her trembling limbs.
"Leona?" Hayley asks, she steps over, setting what little bit of noodles are left on a nearby trashcan. Something is wrong. She doesn't know what's wrong. She needs her hands free. What if she needs to do something? What could she do?
Hayley steps forward. Confidence. It takes an effort, but she needs it now. A hand goes to Leona's shoulder, her fingers resting on it.
"Leona, is everything all right? Deep breaths!"
The drums of war beat. Kill. Spill it, watch them all die. How easy they break. How much blood will pour from them. And there's nothing to do about it.
Not-words that pound with the drum. She isn't hearing them, the words. It's the scream of a dying man. It's the heat in her neck and ears. It's the ice in her fingertips. She can bury her fingertips into Hayley's gullet. That would warm them.
Leona laughs, cracking, unbidden, it comes with tears. This is what she fears, this is what she knows drives her. This is what she is. She is a weapon.
She squeezes the bowl. It begins to buckle under her fingertips. Cold fingertips.
She screws her eyes up and turns, leaning, lumping toward Hayley, struggling to stablize herself. Struggling to not rip Hayley open. To add her to the pool of blood.
"Leona," Hayley calls again, her voice hard with a thin veneer of confidence over the uncertainty beneath like gold paint over tin. "Do I need to call a doctor?" A pause. "Do I need to contact the other Ikaris...?" Hayley takes a short step back from Leona as she staggers, not moving enough to bet out of her way but clearly taken aback as she tries to offer something to lean on -- for better or worse.
"I don't know what's going on," she finally admits, "But I want to help..."
Hayley's words, so close, sound like distant calls over a raging ocean tide. Leona's eyes, wide, staring, as though desperate to escape her own head see little more than a tunnel of red with but one destination at the end and not a light in sight.
Hayley moves and Leona's attention snaps to her, serpentine and feral. Coiled and ready to strike, Leona's wide eyed, manic fury focuses on the young woman with the intensity of a starving viper.
She desperately wants to be helped. She also desperately wants to tear out the girl's throat.
She had never felt it like this. She had never felt so raw and scared and euphoric and furious at once. It overwhelmed her. It threatened to drown her. Drown her like the target would drown in her own blood.
Slowly, under every once of her will, Leona takes on stuttering, shaking step toward Hayley. And then, her eyes shut. She gulps for air. She hadn't even noticed when her breathing stopped. She gasps and falls forward, dropping the bowl to the ground. Attention most certainly grabbed, Leona cannot feel her anxiety as she falls into Hayley and grips for sheer, desperate life. She doesn't know what happened. She doesn't know what's truly happening. But she knows just how close something caused her to lose her grip on herself. And how close she was to becoming the Weapon.
What she does not notice is that among the crowd is a tall blonde woman in a finely cut suit. One who has seen and felt the pull of the blood inside of Leona. One who now is disappearing into a finely appointed car so that she may leave and inform her superiors.
Hayley's heart beats like a flag in a windstorm. Her emotions are a tight knot of concern, helplessness, fear...and resolve. Thoughts of Jezebel, of that disastrous attempt to help creep into her mind like shadows under a lit door. What if something goes wrong again? What if she gets in over her head again?
No. This is different. Everyone is different. She bites her lip and tightens her resolve. Leona tumbles into her, but Hayley is strong. Stronger than she gives herself credit. She does the only thing she knows to do: she puts her arms around Leona and tries to hold her there and give her some semblance of comfort.
"Deep breaths," Hayley says, "Take your time."
Justified fears of a tragedy waiting to happen. To help and to be pulled into the madness of others. And yet, Hayley Bretherton doesn't run. And in staying, she is the rock in a moment of Leona's own weakness. Haggard, raw breaths that gulp for air and stability are all Leona is capable of in that moment. Her eyes screw tight and her balled fists dig into Hayley's arms.
But it does relent. It does release. And Leona finds her feet beneath her once more. She doesn't speak for a long moment, but her eyes open and she stares and stares and stares.
". . .thank you," a small, cold, emotionlessly distant voice finally speaks. Leona feels the last of the drumbeats wash away, and herself returning. And with it, she retakes standing under her own power.
"I apologize for my lack of control," Leona states, "I do not wish to upset you more than you have been. I will take my leave."
Hayley just holds Leona for a moment. Is this what it's like to have someone rely on you instead of the other way around? There is no time to dwell on the idea.
"You're welcome..." Hayley says, unsure if that's the correct response. Could any response here be truly "correct?" One wonders.
"It's..." Fine doesn't seem right. No, something was not fine. Something was terrible wrong. "I'm glad I could help. -- you don't have to go if you don't want to, Leona." Hayley bites her lip and swallows. "I want to help you if I can. To find those two, I mean."
Leona closes her eyes, her arm bracing against her chest, she breathes and centers herself. The drum beats ebb away. And she once and finally gets a grip on the situation. But she's made a good deal of noise and clearly made herself noticed here. Her mood steels and cools against the crowd.
"I need to clean up," she says, almost robotically. "That should come before retreat." A decisive nod and an almost step away.
"I have enlisted other help, you may help as well, but I must warn you, if the worst happens I need you to do your all to stop me. Whatever it takes."
A hundred thoughts race through Hayley's mind again. What was that? Why was Leona losing control? Did something like what happened to Hayley happen to her? Did Shadaloo do that too?
"Okay," Hayley says, "...don't hesitate to call if you need anything. Do you have a place to stay here?" Hayley shifts from one foot to the other one. When Leona makes that last declaration, the color seems to wash out of Hayley's complexion.
"...I hope it doesn't come to that, but I'll do everything I can to help you." Hayley tugs at her hair. "I promise."
"I am okay," is Leona's only contribution to her current state of living and residing during her operations. And it is as she always has done, Leona makes do with what is at hand.
She is already down and cleaning her spilled bowl in a matter of moments. Focus now intently directed to the task at hand to keep her mind only barely recognizant of the people around her. But when Hayley makes the promise, Leona slows down a beat.
Without looking up, she says, ". . .Thank you."
"Don't mention it," Hayley says, "It's the least I could do." She shuffles again, running her hand along her forearm. "Just let me know if you need anything, OK? I'll try to stay in touch better."
Hayley looks toward her own ramen bowl. She takes it and gets ready to dispose of the last of it. "...I need to not leave what few friends I have out of the loop even if I think I'm trouble sometimes, y'know?"
Floor cleaned. Mission complete. Leona readjusts her gloves when Hayley speaks a deeper truth than Hayley might know. One that cuts deep to Leona and tells her more about her than she has often thought about.
Time and time again she can feel the depths of where she is headed, and where the drums of war, the rage in her blood, leads her and what little she can do to not feel a destined violent end for her family. She knows that the simple and the easy is in this moment, and she has rarely felt confidence in knowing what is coming. But she knows that, even if those around her cannot stop her, eventually she may have to do that herself.
"I understand that, Hayley. You are not trouble," she says. "We shall see each other again."
"Good," Hayley says, getting a second wind. It's as if the wind has started to pick up again and her sails have gotten just what they need to get the ship moving once more.
"I look forward to it."
Log created on 17:25:30 12/21/2019 by Leona, and last modified on 18:09:50 01/01/2020.