Description: Leona comes home to find the Ikari Base empty, and a brooding, yet utterly sober Ralf lamenting the what-ifs.
Time is a very fickle thing. When you focus on it, seconds feel like hours, and days feel like months. Yet, the opposite can be considered very true as well. Lose track of it, and months can feel just like only a few days.
The commanding officer of the Ikari Warriors has been missing for what feels like decades to the very man who is attempting to fill his shoes. Colonel Ralf Jones has been struggling to do his duties. The Ikari Warriors fought hard in the last King of Fighters tournament, but it just wasn't the same. Without Heidern leading them, it just feels somewhat like someone just going through the motions of living.
And unfortunately for the Ikari Warriors, it looks like that just so happens to be what happened with Ralf Jones. He made some big statements about how he'll keep on leading while Heidern is gone. He made big motions about getting Leona to lead her own troops through battle.
He even stayed sober for the longest period of time in his life.
However, the Ikari base seems empty, as the normal hustle and bustle of the members who remain to keep the base moving is no longer present. The only one who remains at this time is the lone Colonel who lays unmoving on a bunk in the furthest part of the barracks.
Leona Heidern has been busy. She has had little time to consider its passage. From Japan, to the Americas, back to Europe, she has traveled to find her center and to put to rest her fears of the everpresent drums of war that pulse in her ear and drive her to a degree of violence past her control. A degree of violence that reminds her of a young girl in Brazil who saw nothing but red.
She has not wholly been successful.
She knows full well that her 'family' is present in the base. And after time spent away, she returns to seek them out. There is a groundedness to herself there. A different feeling than she confronts in the world outside. A restful vulnerability.
But her returns sees a quiet place. Quieter than usual. Though with the current state of the world an uneasy stillness in the wake of action in Southtown, she suspects most of the Ikari forces to be combing the world ready for when they would be needed again.
As such, she is not surprised to find the pro tempore commandant alone. She stands, lit behind by the still bright lamps of the air strip and loading fields outside of the barracks. Her lips press thin and she tugs on the hem of her glove before entering. Her approach silent, quick, direct as she had been trained as she skulks to the man's bunk.
"Leona Heidern, returned to base, sir!" she barks, saluting, staring stone ahead at the side of the colonel's resting place.
There's a loud thud as Ralf suddenly bolts upright, slamming his forehead into the frame of the bunk bed. A full minute of creative swearing and attempt to remember where he is and what's going on later, the large man sits on the edge of the bed, scowling at Leona as a large lump clearly starts to form upon his forehead.
"Jesus fuckin' Christ Leona?! Are you /trying/ to fucking kill me by a heart attack? No? Maybe you figure me givin' myself a concussion to make it a little easier?!"
It takes the man another full two minutes to finally stop grumbling and take a better look at the young woman before him. A slight pang hits his heart before he quickly regains control of himself. Part of him knows her nature. The silent soldier. Slowly, he rises up from the bed and moves to stand before Leona.
Eventually though, he breaks, and quickly embraces her, pulling her into an extremely tight bear hug. "It's good 'ta see 'ya kid."
Leona stands stock still, unmoving and stoic while Ralf bolts up and clangs his head against the bedframe. Her salute holds even through the string of cursing in all of its creativity, color, metaphor and resounding insight into the human condition. She continues to remain still when the cursing shifts from general to a more direct accusations.
Leona cannot let the accusation stand, and clarifies simply, "I believe your physical conditioning would make cardiac arrest an inefficient vector for assaulting you."
And then she is grabbed up in the tight hug. Stiff as she is, she blinks and realizes what's happening. It brings a smile to her face and she relaxes into the affectionate hold. "It is good to return, Colonel."
"It's Ralf! Not Colonel! No one else is here, so there's no point in bein' uptight! Jeez kid, relax."
The hug suddenly intensifies before it finally ends. Once Leona is released however, Ralf sits back down on the bed. It takes him a few moments to catch back up again, but eventually he seems to remember something thanks to the new lump on his head. Reaching up into rails of the top bunk, he retrieves a rather mangled looking large envelope. Whatever writing may have been on the front of the envelope has faded away. He opens it up, and pulls out a large photo, which he then holds out to Leona.
"I.. forgot about this kid. I meant to give it to 'ya back on your birthday back when 'ya came of age, but. I guess late is better than never." The One Man Army pauses for a moment as he tries to even remember what day it is.
The photo is old, and it's one not many people would even know exists except for the four people contained within it. Sitting on the hood of a Jeep is a little girl. To her left, is a stern looking man with an eyepatch. Standing behind them in the drivers seat is a larger man with light hair and sunglasses. Kneeling before the girl, is a younger looking Ralf who is flexing his muscles like some 80's wrestling hero.
"Anyway. Yeah. Look, Leona.. I've not heard anythin' from the Boss, or from Clark in a long time. An' with that shitshow that happened in Sunshine City, I don't think I'm really cut out 'ta be in charge..."
"Colonel is your rank, sir. And I am quite relaxed," Leona states, matter of fact even as she's held onto in that muscle bound embrace. She speaks the truth, and though she isn't certain why the man is correcting her when both answers are correct. The protestation leaves questions. But she doesn't quite have time to ask them. Because Ralf doesn't give many moments before he's pulled out an envelope.
Leona tilts her head. She was curious that this was being introduced to her now. What could possibly be in an envelope like this? And what had this to do with her being 'of age'? Her mouth quirks downward for a moment as she tries to read Ralf.
Her movements stiff, she takes the photo and looks down at it. Slowly, she looks back toward Ralf. Down she looks again. She tries to put the logical situation together inside of her head. It is always easier to read intent and instinct on the battlefield than it is in these kinds of situations.
"Is this a parting gesture?" Leona questions, looking back up once more at Ralf. "It would be inconvenient to locate you at another bar somewhere in the world. I do not wish to do so again. And there is likely to be need of the Ikari once more in the future."
A look of surprise crosses Ralf's face as Leona comes to a conclusion he didn't think the girl would actually be capable of. "You're no longer a child and you're ready to get on out into the world to make 'yer own path. You just chose to stick around with a bunch of old farts like Me an' Clark. It's.. not a good-bye Leona. It's more of a 'I'm not able to do this.'"
Yet, there is something there that doesn't need to be said. Right now, the Ikari Warriors truly are in shambles. It wouldn't be the first time there was prolonged silence from the key members, but something about this time is different. This time they're being hunted like dogs from an organization with far more resources and manpower then they're capable of even scratching.
"Look. Leona. I just don't know really what to do here anymore."
Leona's lip quirks downward and her eyes narrow in puzzlement. What Ralf is saying, the situation that she found him in, and the notions that the colonel is bringing to the table can lead Leona Heidern to a singular conclusion. "Are you currently intoxicated, Colonel?" she asks in a flat tone that doesn't accuse so much as suppose a matter of fact.
She looks the man over, and she knows the situation the Ikari are in, but she has also been across much of the world recently and knows that they have allies throughout the world. The NOL's bounty has had minimal enforcement and importance around the world. And Ralf's behavior was quite curious to her. She tugs on her glove, pulling the seams into the webbing of her fingers. "You're speaking irrationally. You are not a great deal older than myself. The Ikari purpose has not yet changed. Threats to the world continue to exist."
Leona releases her glove and sets a stony eye on Ralf. "Have you lost your direction, Colonel?"
"I'm sober. Have been for a while."
The words are as much of a bombshell as the next ones to come from the mouth of the One Man Army. "Leona, have you ever thought about what it'd be like to just.. be a regular person? To not be fighting day in, day out. Settlin' down. Havin' that American dream of a house an' kids, and even a dog or two?"
There's a slight hesitation to Ralf's words as he glances up to Leona. Of all the Ikari, she's most likely the hardest to truly get a read on. Even Heidern has some tells of his own. Leona however, is still that mystery that Ralf does not have the best read on.
"We've both seen things that normal folks just would never be able to cope with. We've both done things as well that would make Mother Theresa spin in her grave. But, 'ya ever wondered about those what ifs? And don't you dare play the 'I'ma good lil' soldier card!' either. Seriously. Have you ever wondered about just gettin' out of it all?"
Leona tugs at the hem of her glove. She looks, flat lipped, half-lidded eyes, still as the grave while the words are put in order inside of her head. She understood the words. The knew their meanings. She could place them into a semblance of a clause. But she still did not fully understand.
"I am not American, sir," she answers, finding the first fault, the most obvious one, and she addresses it presently. Her hands dip to her sides, stood at attention while she answers.
She hesitates after the simple first answer. Her still body hides a moving mind that races to figure out how to answer the impossible. She fails. And her head bows slightly. "I am sorry, Colonel, but from where I stand I find it impossible to consider what you suggest. I am a soldier, I am an Ikari Warrior, I cannot be something other. I cannot so even if you order me, Ralph."
A slow inhale and Leona's head lifts. She sets her arms behind her back, leg position squaring. "You have given me this picture, sir, but you do not realize what it means. You do not realize what Heidern means. There is no parting from the Ikari. Not for me. There should not be for you."
Ralf's face goes blank as he stares at Leona, only to start laughing loudly. "Jeez kid. Way to get straight to the point there."
A loud sigh escapes the man as he flops back now upon the bunk, staring upwards with a distant look. If he ever had a chance to just make a run of it, now would be the time. Sure, it would be a blow to the Ikari, but at the end of the day...
Could he even do it?
Letting the thoughts race through his mind, Ralf eventually comes to a conclusion of his own. Even if he left, he'd still technically have a bounty on his head. He'd still have to fight for his own freedom. No, there still wouldn't be an escape. Not until he's accomplished the mission that he signed up for all those years ago.
"Leave it to you to be right in the end..."
A small, discomforted frown comes to Leona when Ralf begins to laugh. She stiffens, still uncertain at the behavior Ralf is displaying and still somewhat suspicious of Ralf's claims to sobriety. "It does not benefit the situation to approach things otherwise," she states, more than argues, her purposes for being so direct.
She remains firmly planted in her place when Ralf rises and clearly has a great deal on his mind. But it's just an alien thought to Leona. Or, it would have been if she hadn't had some concerns over the mad drumming in her head. The danger she knew was lurking just under the surface. The itching. The rage. The blood. The red haze and dead villages at the hands of a scared girl.
Leona looks down at the picture once more, the one Ralf did not fully seem to understand the importance of. Leona could run away. There was part of her that would desire that. But not to live some strange foreign dream. She couldn't do that. She would leave, only to insure the safety of her family.
She had not run. And she would not.
Ralf speaks again. Leona looks up. "Sir?" she questions, still unknowing what the Colonel was getting at with his naval gazing.
"It doesn't benefit the situation..." This illicits another loud laugh from the One Man Army, only for him to sit up once more. Slowly rising up fully from the bunk, the Ikari known as Ralf towers over the much smaller woman before him.
A firm hand is placed upon her shoulder as he gently squeezes. "There's no point in letting it all get to me. So, I need to just focus on the job at hand. Get back to business as normal."
The words are forced out cheerfully, but it's almost sincere enough to fool just about anyone who may hear them come from Ralf Jones. It doesn't suit him to be depressed. Which leads him to the one conclusion that only he could come to.
"All right kid. What do you say about gettin' out of here, and headin' up to Tiajuana?"
It's uncertain the the silent soldier just why Ralf is laughing. She presumes it has something to do with what she said, given that Ralf repeated her words. However, the man's body language suggests enough satisfaction that his laughter isn't derisive. Ralf may be much larger, but Leona is stern enough to take the heavy hand without much given response.
But then Ralf brings up something new. Potential leads? Some unfinished business? That outcome seems th emost likely as Leona's mind ticks over to connect the dots of her awareness. "Yes, sir. I do believe that there has been little follow-up to the investigation to Shadaloo activities in Mexico. Tijuana's presence as a tourist city would provide significant cover for their movements. It's strategically sound, sir. Good planning."
Log created on 22:02:18 02/18/2021 by Ralf, and last modified on 00:02:48 03/02/2021.