Disclaimer: Resident Evil and all of the characters belong to Capcom, not me.
Chiaroscuro: In drawing, painting, and the graphic arts, chiaroscuro refers to the rendering of forms through a balanced contrast between light and dark areas. The technique is effective in creating an illusion of depth and space around the principal figures in a composition.
Momentarily entranced by the black and white pleated skirt playing tricks on his eyes as the multi-hued light show danced around and alongside the blonde's lissome form, Leon Kennedy found that he enjoyed watching Ashley Graham dance. She moved with a feline-like fluidity, graceful and vivacious, eyelids sealed, mind given completely over to the rhythm of the music that surrounded her, enveloping her in its inviting presence, her lithe body swaying in perfect harmony, enslaved by the beat but granted artistic license to interpret it as she saw fit, to create a series of movements that belonged solely to her, a blissful smile gracing her features, beautifully summarizing the ecstasy the experience bestowed upon her.
But in truth, Leon's interest in the young girl's dance was not because he had any romantic inclinations toward her – though there was no doubt that he found her very attractive – but due in part to what the dance itself represented.
Her dancing demonstrated that she had the ability to let her mind go, to lose herself in the music, to let instinct take over and control her actions. Her ability to have fun, to enjoy the life she was given was what he had taken note of. Though the President's daughter had gone through a horrific ordeal in Spain back when Leon, as the agent tapped by the U.S. government for the retrieval mission, had first met her – on par with what he had endured his first day as a police officer in Raccoon City – the circumstances were different for her, thereby affecting the choices she would face. The directions her life would take her were not the same as the ones Leon had faced when he had been her age. She had a relatively normal life ahead of her.
And wasn't that exactly what he had hoped for, precisely what he wanted for her and others like her? Hadn't that been what he had been fighting for all of these years?
Leon had witnessed Ashley grow so much in the few years since he had rescued her from her captors in Spain. Her once-cherubic baby face had become more striking, mirroring the rare maturity she displayed for someone her age. She had taken back the reigns of her life, vowing never to be a slave to the will of others, managing to vanquish her nightmares of Spain with very little effort, a feat her protector had become envious of, having not yet learned how to dispel his own even after all this time. Once she had outgrown her school-girl crush for him, a torch he felt she only carried out of what was often referred to as hero-worship, the two had become fast friends.
Leon managed to pull his eyes away from the dance floor, shaking himself out of his reverie, catching sight of himself in the mirror behind the bar, his visage just visible above the jutting bottlenecks of the wide assortment of multi-colored liquors lining the shelf. Pushing aside the dirty-blond hair that partially obscured his view, what he saw was so far removed from the fresh-faced kid he had been back then. He looked older than his thirty years, his boyish features a bit more weathered and mature, a five o'clock shadow lining his jaw, noticeable bags under his eyes, though there was still a fire that smoldered behind the ocean-blue eyes he leveled at himself. His finger instinctively traced the thin scar on his right cheek, a physical reminder of the lifestyle he led.
Women find scars sexy, though, he reminded himself, a sly boyish grin spreading across his lips, reminding him that despite the grim nature of his chosen profession and the hellish trials life had thrown his direction, that optimistic, good-humored boy would always remain a part of him through it all, would always be there wherever life found him.
Currently, life found him in a bar in downtown Rome. Leon had followed Ashley to Italy; or more precisely, he had tagged along on her little European getaway, taking a "vacation" of his own. Rome had been his suggestion, and though she had been noticeably suspicious, she saw no reason to argue against it… so long as he promised that they would visit Venice before the trip was finished. Who was he to argue?
The girl had become quite determined and strong-willed, with an insatiable appetite for life, so it was not surprising that Ashley had dragged him yet again to another seedy bar with repetitive music playing over the loudspeakers and sweaty lust-filled young people dancing endlessly to the same beat.
Same old song and dance, he thought to himself amusedly.
After having eyeballed every nook and cranny of the club, uncovering every potential blind spot, noting all points of entry in order to keep tabs on everyone coming and going in addition to determining all possible escape routes, Leon finally settled himself on a stool near the end of the bar, the side more shrouded in darkness, away from the other patrons, all the better to keep an eye on Ashley – close enough to move if need be, but far enough out of sight where he could sneak up on an offender. Over the years, Leon had grown accustomed to remaining in the shadows, keeping his distance from his charge to allow her to live her life without interference.
It took a few seconds before he realized his unconscious over-protectiveness, then he shook his head, amusedly berating himself. Old habits die hard, he supposed.
It wasn't that he had no intention of protecting Ashley. That he would do in a heartbeat. It was simply that it was no longer his official duty to do so.
President Graham's term in office had recently expired, and thus his daughter, being well over sixteen years of age, was no longer under the jurisdiction of the United States Secret Service, and therefore, also no longer under Leon's official protection. In addition, as of two days ago, Leon was now "officially" on temporary hiatus while his transfer to an as-of-yet unspecified government agency was being processed.
In all honesty, though, protecting Ashley had not been his full-time job over the past few years either. Leon had often found himself "on loan" to various other covert government agencies, leading and planning infiltration and reconnaissance missions around the world against the newly resurrected Umbrella Corporation.
The Umbrella Corporation was a pharmaceutical company tasked with finding cures and defenses against biological agents that could be used as weapons to decimate populations. But this was only a cover for Umbrella's true intentions; for in order to find a counter-agent for potential biological weapons, one must create the weapon first.
Umbrella ultimately used their research to create Bio-Organic Weapons, at first utilizing viral strains such as Ebola to create mobile disease carriers – often referred to as zombies – to spread their lethal contagion through their insatiable desire to feast on flesh. These experiments eventually led to a city-wide viral outbreak in Raccoon City, a government sanctioned nuclear annihilation of said city to contain the outbreak, and the eventual cover-up of Umbrella's involvement in the tragedy; countless thousands dead in the name of avarice and greed, their fates desecrated by a lie. The uncovering of that lie, a years-long crusade that Leon had voluntarily played a role in, had eventually led to Umbrella's demise, the harbinger of every major corporation's greatest mortal threat: bankruptcy.
But with an old nemesis named Albert Wesker now at the reigns, Umbrella had managed to rise from the ashes once more, revived and reinvigorated by the discovery of the Las Plagas parasite that Leon had stumbled upon in a little town in Spain while retrieving the President's abducted daughter, undoubtedly with the intention of creating a faster and more intelligent breed of zombie, albeit a completely subjugated one.
Even the government quickly understood the threat this new Umbrella represented, and apparently Leon's extensive past experience with anti-Umbrella task forces and his uncanny knack to wade through the most horrifying of ordeals seemingly unscathed made him a prime candidate and an invaluable asset to the newly reformed anti-Umbrella task force.
It was in many ways ironic, and yet somehow fitting all the same. Leon had dedicated years to working his way up the government ladder, bouncing from agency to agency, one grueling training regimen after another, before attaining the pinnacle of national security – working for a secret security organization under the direct control of the President of the United States and granted the opportunity to safeguard the First Family – only to come full circle, to find he was right back where he had started.
To be perfectly honest, though, he wouldn't have had it any other way. He had helped bring down the shady corporation once before, it was only right that he be brought in to wage war against it once again.
Rookie police officer Leon Kennedy had survived the nightmare of Raccoon City, had walked away from that city of death with renewed determination and strengthened resolve to protect and to serve, to act as the shield to the people and the knife to the black heart of corporate injustice and negligence.
He had become a weapon, a highly trained and skilled government operative whose personal duty had become to shield the people from those with sinister intent, to help those that had not the power to protect themselves. It was the life-long pursuit he had saddled himself with, the trade he had bartered – his life for those of everyone else. That was the responsibility he had gained from his ordeal in Raccoon City.
But nobody made it out of Raccoon City intact, not even the survivors. They too had lost something, something left behind in the embers of a once thriving city that had become a playground for the dead, now nothing more than a haven for ghosts.
Leon was no different. He had been forced to leave his innocence behind in the wake of reality, his faith in the inherent goodness of the world shaken ever so slightly. But the mantle he had assumed as a result of that eye-opening experience carried with it a hefty fee, one that he would be forced to pay for the remainder of his days.
His ideals had taken its toll on him, his dedication to the mission gradually isolating him from his friends and family. Ashley was one of the few true friends he had left; and perhaps only then because, for a time, she was the job. "Vanished into thin air" was how fellow Raccoon City survivor – and perhaps the closest thing Leon had to a best friend – Claire Redfield had phrased it in her last email to him several months ago. The time spent in top secret training facilities, on clandestine operations around the globe that forced him to flit in and out of the lives of those he had once been close with, missing birthdays and graduations, phone calls he never got around to returning, personal emails he only occasionally could respond to in the precious spare time his life afforded him, had exacted its penance.
Marriage, kids, family – he could never find the time for such things, would never be around enough to be a good husband and father, could never let go of the mission enough to make them his priority. Nor would it be fair to put anyone in a position to face inevitable heartbreak. How could he even possibly consider such a thing as family knowing that the path he had chosen would one day inevitably kill him? Skill only got your so far, and one day luck would run out.
His personal life had become the sacrifice along the way, a series of regrets accumulated over the years, the price he paid for the personal war he waged, for the destiny he had chosen for himself. He had become a lone-wolf, a crusader whose first and foremost responsibility was to the mission; a spook in the truest sense of the word.
But all of those sacrifices had been the result of the aftermath, losses he had come to accept over time, losses that had been the product of his own choices in the wake of the Raccoon incident.
But she had not been a part of that; the woman in red.
She had been the first thing he lost, the first casualty in his duty to protect and serve, the one loss that he could never accept, never forget; that he could never be forgiven for, least of all by himself. Thanks to her, Leon Kennedy had escaped Raccoon City with his life. She had not, or so he thought.
She had not been who she had claimed to be either, and Leon, in his youthful naïveté, had become another one of her prey, ensnared by her exotic beauty and projected innocence. She had played him for a fool, lied about who she was, used him when it was convenient for her own selfish ends, just as she had always done to everyone else. She was a cold-hearted spy, dedicated to the job and the rewards that success would bequeath her, caring nothing for the victims left in her wake, or so she claimed.
But Leon had still refused to believe that was who she was, to believe that she did not genuinely care about him after all they had been through together, even as she leveled her gun at his head and told him as much, demanding that he hand over the G-Virus sample in his possession, the item that she had been contracted to obtain.
But he had been proven right about her. In the end, she chose him over money, her determination faltering under his pleading gaze, lowering the gun – which turned out not to have even been loaded, thereby rendering her defenseless had he called her bluff and taken action against her.
Her reward had been a bullet in the back and a plunge over the cat-walk railing into the seemingly infinite chasm below. His strength compromised by the bullet wound in his shoulder – the one he had earlier taken in her stead – Leon couldn't save her, couldn't maintain his grip on her hand without being pulled off the footbridge along with her. He had resigned himself to taking the plunge together.
But her final act was one of selfless sacrifice, wanting only to save him, releasing his hand so as to not drag him down into that black void along with her.
And in doing so, he had failed her; he had lost her. And yet she had remained a part of him ever since, having held onto his heart even as she plummeted into that vast abyss, taking all of it with her, a piece of his soul along with it.
Leon Scott Kennedy, this is your life… he thought to himself amusedly, the voice in his head that of a television game show host, a slight smirk tugging at the corner of his lip in light of his own self-reflection.
It all tied back to Raccoon City, and in many ways, his losses and gains were interconnected and inseparable, both factors playing an equal role in shaping his destiny, in revealing the path he had set himself on after that horrific experience.
The life he walked away with that fateful night had given his life purpose. The loss of her had given it meaning.
But the past always had a way of catching up with you, and as he learned all too well that ill-fated night, the dead don't always stay that way.
He had noted her presence several seconds before she made it known – or more precisely, before she wished to have it known. To her credit, she was better than most, but years of training had sensitized him to the presence of others, especially those who wished to remain hidden in the shadows.
As she approached the bar from behind him and slightly to his left, the woman's distinct voice cut through the surrounding chatter and noise, incongruously cold and detached, yet seductive all the same, almost a purr. "Buy you a drink handsome?"
Leon didn't turn his head in her direction – probably the only guy in the bar who did not, once he thought about it – and responded evenly, a hint of apology in his inflection. "I don't normally accept drinks from strangers." He did, however, allow himself a quick glance with his eyes, stealing a glimpse of the woman's reflection in the bar mirror before finally adding, "Even the beautiful ones."
Though the woman seemed to be on to his ruse, she still managed to convey the requisite balance of wounded pride and hopeful reasoning in her response. "How about an old friend?"
Though the term she used was subjective, there was never any doubt that the voice belonged to her: the woman who had pilfered his heart – among other things, he quickly noted – those many years ago; the "bitch in the red dress", as someone had once referred to her. A woman by the name of…
"Ada Wong," he acknowledged, finally allowing himself to focus his attention on her, feigning surprise, as though just that second recognizing her – no easy feat considering he had to, as always, exert all of his self-control to not appear caught off guard by her always-stunning appearance, his heart momentarily fluttering, the butterflies in his stomach taking to flight as he took in her sleek, angular figure, the cropped raven hair that kissed her shoulders, and the mesmerizing grayish-green eyes of a color unusual for a woman of Asian-descent. She wore a slinky red dress, tantalizing flesh exposed in the back starting from the neck down to where her lower back met the curve of her backside, the slit on the side designed to reveal leg but suggest so much more. Fortunately, Leon managed to keep his jaw off of the floor, instead sneaking in a mischievous grin. "Sorry, I didn't recognize you without the gun to my head."
Clearly not fazed by the fact that she had double-crossed him on more than one occasion, Ada simply shot him a cool smile as she eased herself onto the barstool beside him with uncommon grace, her left eyebrow slightly raised. "That could be remedied."
Leon sheepishly removed his gaze from her, a genuine smile parting his lips as he stifled a snorted laugh. "Pass, thanks."
"Don't mention it," she responded as their eyes met again, her voice laced with such sincerity, as though she had honestly been willing to oblige.
Leon allowed his eyes to travel down the length of Ada's form-fitting dress as she sat on the stool, legs crossed and clearly on display, "frisking her with his eyeballs" as she had called it at one time, noting all the places she could possibly conceal a weapon. There certainly weren't many, not in that outfit, but his experience with Ada had taught him to never underestimate what she was capable of.
"Red, huh?" he finally queried as his eyes reconnected with hers, his tone one that did not intimate surprise at her choice in fashion and color. "Subtle," he stated sarcastically, the irony clearly not lost on her, given her occupation.
Then again, he was no less predictable and therefore not one to talk, decked out in very muted tones of grey and black, commonplace for him, his ensemble rounded out by his favorite leather bomber's jacket – a gift from Ashley to replace the one he had lost during his adventure in Spain a few years back.
Ada simply shrugged. "You know me…"
Except that in many respects, her statement was completely untrue, even as it was validly sound. He didn't know her as well as perhaps he should, yet he certainly knew her well enough to know that he knew everything he needed to know about her; everything that counted at least.
Well, almost everything. There was still one nagging doubt, one important piece of the puzzle that was Ada Wong that was missing.
Additionally, though, he couldn't even say for sure whether Ada Wong was her real name. In fact, he was quite certain it was not, though she had never corrected him otherwise, nor had he ever actually heard anyone call her directly by name, so he was left with little choice but to continue using the name she had initially provided. There were moments, however, when he suspected that she reserved the name solely for him, for whatever reason she might have to do so, as though it held some meaning to her.
"Do I?" he asked quizzically, perhaps in the hopes of gleaning some new shred of information from the highly secretive woman.
"Better than anyone else," she answered pointedly in her casual even expression. But despite that – and perhaps proving her point in the process – Leon was quite certain he had detected the slightest trace of something more buried beneath the layers, a sentiment that most closely resembled regret. But regret for what? Because no one knew much of anything about her, or because he did?
"And what does that tell you?" he challenged. Though he did not outright pity her, a part of him did feel sorry for her. As many secrets as he may keep close to the vest – especially considering the nature of his chosen profession – he could not fathom what his life would have been like being unable to share certain aspects of his life with others, and vice versa. It would be a lonely existence, a life where the value of an innocent's life was inversely proportional to the value of the final objective, where closeness was measured as the distance necessary to plunge the knife in the mark's back.
As a spy, Ada was a loner by trade, and, if Leon had read her correctly, more than likely taught since childhood to use and betray, in turn used herself – wanted for her skills, not her personality; for what she could bring to the table, not what she could bring to a conversation; nothing more than a means to an end – and an untrustworthy one at that. One doesn't endear oneself to many people leading that sort of life.
Leon, the bleeding heart that he had always been, was perhaps the notable exception on both counts, refusing to give up on her, but perhaps doomed to play the sucker for all eternity on account of it.
But Ada had conditioned herself over the years, had resigned herself to her fate long ago, and was perhaps even proud of being something of a cipher, as there was certainly no noticeable lining of regret in her almost-curt response this time. "That I'm good at my job," she stated with finality.
The bartender, who had previously left Leon to his own devices, figuring him to be the type to just order water – and rightly so – had suspiciously made his presence known not too long after the exotic woman had strutted up to the bar. When Ada finally got around to consciously acknowledging his presence, she immediately dispatched him on an errand to retrieve two drinks; scotch and coke for Leon, gin and tonic for herself.
The lady knew his poison of choice, Leon mused, grinning at his rather apt choice of words, recalling the first time the two had met after Spain, each suspecting the other of having "tampered with" the other's drink. Ada had thought Leon might want revenge, given the nature of their parting in Spain, while Leon was never quite sure of the shadowy spy's motives to begin with. The gun she held to his head in Spain, claiming the Las Plagas sample she had come there for in the first place, certainly hadn't helped.
A tradition had developed in the years since, wherein the government spook and the Umbrella spy would take turns buying the other a drink, despite knowing that neither quite trusted the other enough to actually risk a sip.
After the bartender had delivered their drinks, turning his attention to the other patrons at Ada's casual dismissal, Leon initiated a new topic of conversation, more as an ice-breaker than for any other reason. "So what brings you to historic Rome?" he asked, twirling his right hand somewhat theatrically as he said the word 'historic'.
"Taking in the sights," she remarked, the lie rolling smoothly off her tongue. "You?"
"Vacation," he responded casually, as if any intention of questioning his true motives would be unmerited. "How coincidental that we should be here at the same time." He laid the sarcasm on pretty thick.
"Don't tell me you weren't expecting me." She phrased it as a statement, not a question.
"Wouldn't have left my gun back at the hotel if I had been," he lied, though the woman next to him clearly saw through him, and both knew it.
Ada leveled him with her trademark sly grin, showing off just how well she knew him. "I'm sure the knife under your jacket will work just fine," she nonchalantly pointed out.
Not only was her observation spot on, as Leon never left home without a knife close at hand, but an understatement to boot. Leon's extensive training over the years had taught him to expertly utilize a knife in combat situations, as firearms were not always easily accessible or even advantageous in certain situations. A knife could mean the difference between survival and death.
But then again, now that he thought about it, the knife wasn't always the only determining factor in that regard.
"So you want to tell me why you keep dropping in on me?" Leon queried innocently, as though he had no ulterior motives for asking the question.
But Ada wasn't about to fall for his obvious ploy, instead playing the defensive card. "Can't a girl sidle up to a man without having her motives questioned every time?"
"Fair enough," he acceded. Patting the area of his chest over his heart where the blade was concealed, Leon smiled teasingly. "But let's just say I feel comforted having the knife."
As the familiar ring to the word passed through his lips, the government agent found his hand instinctively tracing along the contours of the faded scar on his right cheek, a permanent reminder of his knife fight with Krauser back in Spain. Jack Krauser: a former fellow operative whose reported death had been fictional – though it was now most certainly fact – and another old friend that had fallen in with the enemy, seduced by the promise of wealth and power; power of a nature only one man could provide.
"So how's Wesker?" Leon asked, his tone one of playful sincerity, as though the man had been a lifelong pal rather than a reviled adversary.
Albert Wesker, former captain of the Raccoon City police department's Special Tactics and Rescue Squad; part scientist, part officer, part "thing", but all evil in his intentions. Traitorous and enigmatic, he had his own agenda. Having injected himself with a regenerative virus he had helped create in order to live to see another day, he traded whatever humanity he may have at one point had in the process, becoming more ruthlessly inhuman, cold and reptilian. He worked his way up the ladder, behind the scenes, and had taken a certain interest in resurrecting his former competitor in the bio-organic warfare field of research, the Umbrella Corporation. He was also Ada Wong's employer, and had been for quite some time; even saving her life in Raccoon City when Leon could not.
"Not happy with you, that's for sure," she iterated.
"Glad I haven't lost my touch." Though his comment was lightly sarcastic, the smile that went with it was completely genuine. Leon enjoyed being a thorn in Wesker's side.
"He was especially displeased with your escapades in Lisbon." Naturally, she had been referring to the Umbrella research facility in Portugal that had been razed to the ground several months back, courtesy of one Leon Scott Kennedy.
"Your fault for hauling my ass out of the fire." Literally. He would be dead now had she not pulled him out of the way of a careening piece of flaming wreckage that had taken a fancy to him, flinging itself at him as though he were the last man on Earth. "Thank you for that, by the way."
Ada simply brushed it off, as though it were nothing. "I owed you for Guatemala," she reasoned.
Leon arched a curious eyebrow in her direction. "So then what's your excuse for Paris?"
A look of bewilderment took up residence on her face, though her none-too-convincing objection belied her innocent expression. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
Leon smirked, his tone mockingly apologetic. "My mistake."
Except that it wasn't, and they both knew it. Because the truth was that Lisbon had not been a one-time incident, nor had Guatemala, or Paris, or Chicago before that, and so on and so forth, tracing all the way back to that little town in Spain, where, as if by fate, their paths had crossed once more after six long years. The list was seemingly endless. For every time he assisted her or saved her skin, she would pay him back two-fold. And fortunately for him, the majority of the time she didn't wind up double-crossing him; sometimes, he suspected, even betraying her own employer in doing so.
The question that had haunted Leon all these years was the reason for why she did such things. Why risk her employer's wrath by protecting the enemy? Why protect her enemy in the first place, only to betray him in the end?
Though Leon had his suspicions, Ada had never outright stated her reasons, and as any police officer knows, the lack of concrete evidence proves nothing. Hence the mystery remained unsolved.
Silence sidled up momentarily in between them, the two looking at anything but each other, Ada distractedly playing with the straw in her drink, testing its flexibility by applying pressure with her fingertip or using it to swirl the ice cubes in the glass around, creating a whirlpool to suck the ice cubes in.
Leon just gazed at his own glass, focusing intently on the melting ice cubes as they slowly bled out, myriads of clear tendrils reaching out through the dark body of liquid suffocating them, snuffed out and ultimately consumed by the darker liquid. But such was not the fate for all, on rare occasion one of the water wisps managing to break through, breaching the surface, escaping the darkness they had been born into.
As if spurred on by the battle raging within his glass, Leon finally broke the momentary silence, leveling his gaze directly at her with a sincere expression, a slightly despondent intonation creeping into his throat. "It's not about fair trades, you know."
"No, it's not," she responded, her tone almost mirroring his own, facing him only after she had acknowledged his observation. Leon sensed something in her eyes; just a beat, but there nonetheless. There was far more underlying meaning in her response than she was willing to admit to, of that Leon was certain. Knowing her, though, he didn't push. It would do him no good anyway. Ada revealed what she wanted to when she wanted to; no sooner, no later.
But the irksome doubt persisted. Did she genuinely care about him as she had claimed so many years ago, concerned for his safety? And if that were the case, why then did she allow him to believe her dead for six long years after Raccoon City, knowing that he was the type of person to allow such a thing to take a tremendous toll on him?
Or had he become nothing more than another tool in her belt, someone worth keeping alive so long as it served her interests; someone to do all the work only for her to stroll in at the last second and claim the spoils of his hard-earned victory? Nothing more than a potential liability her employer was willing to allow her – for the moment – so long as she accomplished her objectives? Were her goals even in line with Wesker's to begin with, or did she have an ultimate objective of her own that she had yet to reveal?
The answer could be all of the above, or none. That was what made someone like Ada so dangerous.
That was what made her so enticing.
"Why continue to work for him?" He was referring, of course, to Wesker.
"He saved my life," Ada simply shrugged. "Let's me keep it because I am of some use to him. How do you say no to that?"
"Um… politely?" Leon responded with the utmost sincerity, though he was consciously aware of how ridiculous it may sound, given the nature of her profession.
Her response was simply laughter, taking him by surprise. It hadn't been deep or loud, but just enough to stand out. Ada Wong rarely laughed, at least not without cynicism or disdain being the key motivator behind it. But Leon had managed to elicit a genuine laugh out of her on occasion – or at least he hoped it was genuine. With Ada you never quite knew what was real and what she wanted you to believe to be real.
"What's so funny?" he asked, sincerely puzzled.
"You," was her answer. "Such a straight shooter and yet still you manage to surprise me. How do you do it?" She seemed genuinely curious.
"Do what?" Leon still wasn't sure what she was talking about.
"Remain so innocent. After all you've seen, all you've experienced? How is it that reality hasn't crushed your spirit or corrupted your ideals?"
"Who says it hasn't?" The apparent death of a certain woman in red and the subsequent tailspin that succeeded it sprang to mind. That event alone had shaken the faith of an idealistic rookie police officer, in his ability to protect and serve, even if it hadn't outright stopped him from trying.
Ada looked at him earnestly. "I do." She turned away again, looking down at her drink as she slowly and meticulously swiveled the straw around the rim of the glass. "Face it, Leon. You're a boy scout."
That certainly was not the word he would use to describe himself. He only did what he believed was the right thing to do. Wasn't that what anyone in his position should do? The term "boy scout" usually had an air of self-righteousness to it, something Leon did not believe himself to be. "I don't know about that," he defended.
"Do you want Wesker dead?" she asked, almost nonchalantly, as though it were a question thrown around all the time in typical everyday conversation.
"What?" Though he had heard her, his query was more an automatic response, as if to stall while his mind fully processed whether or not he had heard the question correctly. Finally convinced that he had, he answered, though somewhat cautiously, as though he might be walking into an ambush for doing so. "I admit that the world would be a much better place without him."
"If it were Wesker sitting here at this bar buying you a drink, would you kill him without provocation?" she continued, her neutral tone still somewhat disconcerting, though he was fairly sure he knew where this was going.
"How could I after he was nice enough to buy me a drink?" Leon rebuked with a straight face, his tone completely serious, though the intention was certainly to bring a little levity to Ada's inquisition.
Ada was not amused, or more appropriately, pretended to not be amused. "Be serious for one second, Leon. Would you?"
There were few things Leon wished for more than to put an end to Wesker, and the fiendish man certainly deserved no less. But after careful consideration, the ex-police officer finally relented. "No, probably not. I wouldn't legally have justification to do so," he reasoned.
Once a cop, always a cop. Circumstances dictated the outcome; they always did. Forced to kill in the line of duty was one thing, but to kill without provocation was unjust. That was a line Leon would not and could not ever cross.
Ada, however, seemed quite satisfied with this particular outcome. "I rest my case. Unlike Wesker, you still play by the rules, even in a game that has none," she pointed out, something in her tone suggesting that she could just as easily have swapped Wesker's name for her own. "Tell me now you're not a boy scout."
She did have a point; that he could not deny, even if he didn't completely agree with her. Nor did he consider himself self-righteous, either. "You make it sound like that's a bad thing, a weakness on my part." He shook his head with grim determination, almost threatening. "Don't underestimate me, Ada."
The spy's response was quick in coming, as if reflexive. "Believe me; I'd never make that mistake a second time," she assured him, simultaneously showing respect for his ideals and his abilities. "As much of a boy scout as you may be, you're also the last person I'd want to meet in a dark alley when the stakes are high."
Likewise for her, he thought. She could be just as deadly as he, only she was more subtle about it; at least until she dropped the heavy end of the hammer.
As if reading his mind, she deduced, "We aren't so different, you and me. Two shades of the same color."
Admittedly, they were not so different in many respects, but in most ways they could not be more different. "Problem is we're on opposite ends of the spectrum." Leon was surprised at how wistfully he stated his observation.
Ada tilted her head in acknowledgment, the ghost of a smile in her lips. "There is that."
"It's not too late, you know." To choose sides, he meant to say.
Ada's smile went into remission, but there was a slight air of astonishment in the way she responded to his offer. "Are you still trying to save me, Leon? Even after everything I've done to you?"
"Shouldn't I?" he reasoned, what he imagined to be a questioning look on his face, allowing her the ideal opening to answer honestly.
And though he had hoped for a more honest and heartfelt response, having given her the perfect opportunity, he was disappointed to discover that in the end she only ended up deflecting his question. Though honestly, Leon wasn't quite certain why he should have expected anything less, as the manner in which Ada answered the question was more in line with what he should have expected in the first place.
"You flatter me, Leon," she responded sincerely. "But it'd be nice if I didn't have to share my guardian angel with the rest of the world."
The puzzled expression made its way back to his features once more in reaction to Ada's metaphorical rhetoric.
Catching on to his bafflement, Ada's eyes shifted focus momentarily to something over his right shoulder, nodding towards what turned out to be Ashley dancing, seemingly oblivious to the attempted advances of a sleazy-looking European guy at least ten years her senior; though the creep was certainly not oblivious to Leon at that moment, casually backing off the instant he caught the bodyguard's lethal glare.
Satisfied that the slimy man got the message, Leon's gaze returned to the Asian woman's knowing glance. Point taken.
Ada smiled innocently. "I see you and the President's daughter hit it off well. Vacationing together?" Any jealousy that Leon may have detected was undoubtedly fabricated.
"We're just friends," he defended nevertheless. "Been through something together no one else could understand." The Raccoon City survivor intentionally phrased his statement in such a manner as to suggest that Ada would not be able to comprehend his meaning.
Ada smirked slyly in response. "Wouldn't know anything about that."
Leon grinned in return, sarcastically stating, "Figured as much."
"Friend and bodyguard?" Ada mused after a momentary deliberation, as though simultaneously mulling something over in her mind, something more personal. "Must be tough to juggle the two."
"Not really," he answered reflexively, exchanging a very subtle look with Ada before finally reasoning, "It's easier to take a bullet for someone you care about – no hesitation."
"Most people wouldn't take the bullet regardless," she was quick to point out. "But you… you'd take one for anyone."
Leon just shrugged. He never much thought about it. He acted when it was necessary, did what he thought was right. It was more instinct than a conscious decision.
Ada continued, her voice a mixture of sadness and feeling deeply touched, or the Ada Wong equivalent of being deeply touched. "You took one for me."
At if to remind him, the phantom pain began to flare up, a hollow ache in his left shoulder where the bullet had passed through, a circular scar that had for years been the only thing he had to remember her by. "That was before I learned who – or more precisely, what – you were," he argued, not able to convince even himself.
"Yet you still barely knew me at the time," the crimson-clad spy reasoned, her argument much more persuasive, even as it was unwarranted.
Leon would've taken the bullet regardless.
Not that he'd ever allow her to hold that kernel of truth over his head. "I'm a poor judge of character, I guess." His response was almost sarcastic, amused.
Ada shook her head, her raven hair bouncing every so slightly at the motion, a half beat behind. "No, just a dying breed," she corrected. "The tragic flaw of the selfless: willing to trade your life to save that of another." There was clearly an expression of admiration in her assessment of him, yet Leon could also sense that there was a hint of trepidation thrown into the mix, as though she were wondering whether she had it in her to jump in front of a bullet for someone else.
Leon liked to believe that anyone, given the right circumstances, would do the same, that there was no greater reward than to give someone a second chance at life. "For the greater good."
Unfortunately, Ada's cynical view of the world was the more realistic of the two. "If only that was always the case. Too many people in this world are like me, Leon. Selfish, greedy, corrupt." Her next statement was spoken softly, just above a whisper. "Very few like you."
She paused, her attention turning to her untouched drink. "You're the world's self-appointed protector, always watching everyone's back." After a beat, she returned her attention to him, a gravely serious expression on her face. "But who watches yours?" she finally asked, as if to say, "How can you save the world – go the distance – when you're dead?"
Leon turned a curious gaze her direction. She wasn't smiling, and he could clearly see that there was almost something she wanted to say, or perhaps something she wanted him to ask. But, as expected, neither spoke a word, a terse silence settling in once more, though surprisingly free of discomfort.
Leon continued to let his eyes linger on her, hoping that it might yet extract a confession from her. Instead, all it garnered was the faint outline of a smile.
But it was enough. He understood what she had meant to say; understood that she protected him now, watching his back for him. In some ways he'd always known, even if he didn't always understand the reasoning for it. Ada wanted to be his guardian angel, had already appointed herself as such.
He couldn't contain the smirk for long, the woman in the devil's color a stark contrast to the laughable angelic image of her in his mind. "You're no angel, Ada."
"Admit it," she winked unabashedly. "You prefer it that way."
Leon simply raised his glass in her direction, briefly, as if to say "Touché".
Neither spoke for several long seconds after that. Leon spun his glass around, mesmerized by the beads of condensation that had pooled around the base of his glass where it met the lacquer bar top. In his periphery, he could see that Ada's line of sight was focused elsewhere, dead ahead, beyond the bar as she continued playing with the straw in her glass.
It seemed as though the two of them were avoiding the direction the conversation should have headed, neither one quite feeling brave enough to broach the topic that was most likely on both of their minds. His jovial mood from their flirtatious interplay began to fade as his light thoughts slowly drifted toward dark; back to the beginning, back to their initial meeting, back to the experience that haunted them both and probably would forever more. Back to the city of the living dead.
It always struck him as discomfiting how quickly those memories could sneak up on him, drowning out everything else.
"Ada?" he finally asked, cutting through the seemingly impenetrable silence. He was surprised by how quiet his voice was, how much his tongue struggled against his mind's will, as if wishing to prevent him from passing a point of no return.
"Yes?" She asked, her voice betraying no emotion.
"You know I've never pressed you to answer questions you didn't wish to…" he started.
"Definitely one of your sexier qualities…" she flirtatiously interjected, unleashing a predatory smile in his direction, though Leon was quite certain it was a reflexive nervous gesture, for the usually tight-lipped woman must have suspected what was coming.
"But I need you to answer this one question for me," he continued, taking a deep breath before committing himself to this line of questioning. "Why did you let go?"
As if on cue, her smile died in a heartbeat, replaced by a grim expression, and Ada turned away, not willing to face him when she answered – if she opted to answer in the first place. But Leon could still see her face in the mirror behind the bar, could see the storm clouds gathering beyond those grey-green orbs. "Because I knew you wouldn't," she admitted simply, honestly.
"I still haven't," he confessed, the weight released from his chest lodging itself in his throat.
Ada braved a peek at him, an almost repentant look in her steely visage, her voice barely above a whisper. "I know."
It was Leon's turn to look away. "After Raccoon City, I thought…" you were dead, his mind finished for him. He couldn't even bring himself to say those words out loud, never could, though Leon knew that he didn't have to in her presence, so he pressed on, his eyes locking onto hers once more. "Why didn't you try to find me, to tell me that you were alive?"
"Leon, I…" she started before faltering under his pleading gaze, the second time Leon had ever seen her do so, her eyes dropping to the bar-top. As always, though, she recovered gracefully, supplying a cryptic answer in place of an honest one, as she was often wont to do. "Let's just say it's complicated."
But Leon wasn't about to let her off the hook so easily; not this time. "The explanation is complicated, or it would have complicated things?" he challenged.
Her only response was a look, a challenge in return, as if to say, "You tell me."
He had no choice but to concede. How could he deny what was staring him in the face? "Point taken."
And that was that, or would have been, had Ada let it go as Leon expected her to. But there was obviously something important that she still wished to ask – or perhaps reveal – that kept the thread alive. "Did it change things," she continued, albeit somewhat hesitantly, "knowing I was alive?"
"It changed everything," Leon confessed. How could it not? Ada's ghost had haunted him all those years after Raccoon City, always one step behind, catching up to him when he stopped, when he slept, the lead heroine in his nightmares, simultaneously his savior and his tormentor, the impetus driving him ever onward, always moving him forward. But he could never escape her memory, could not break free of the past, stuck with that indelible image as she released her hand from his and plunged into the darkness, one last goodbye on her lips. Guilt, shame, failure, and a broken promise he could not keep; emptiness in place of what could have been. Those were the things she had left behind.
Actions speak louder than words, and had Raccoon City been the last time he had seen her, Leon would have said with certainty that he knew she genuinely cared for him, that she had wanted to escape from her life to be with him, just as she had confessed in her final moments. Based on her actions, he would have known that had been the answer to his unspoken question. And so long as there was no one to contradict it, nothing to tear his faith down, then there was nothing that would change that.
But that potential contradiction could easily come in the form of the woman in red perched with quiet poise on the stool beside him, belief easily shattered with but a few words passing between her lips.
Misery had accompanied her death, but with it came certainty.
Now things were reversed, a conceit not lost on Ada. "But it didn't make things easier, did it, knowing where I had made my bed?"
"No." Of course it didn't. This very conversation was proof that it was not. Because there were no easy answers; no happily ever after. Because if actions speak louder than words, then how do you decipher actions with multiple interpretations?
And now… Now that he knew she was alive – and playing for the wrong side – she was still always just over his shoulder, the shadow trailing behind him, tracing his footsteps like a wraith, the heroine stalking his reality, the ghost of what could be gracing his dreams; each of them a part of the other but never whole. Now he knew what was, but he no longer had an answer.
"Some things never change, I suppose," he reflected aloud.
"I suppose they don't," Ada concurred, her tone neutral.
"We're not guardian angels, Ada," he clarified nonetheless, shaking his head resolutely. "We're still ghosts, haunting each other's every step; there one minute, gone the next." Disallowing either of them to find peace or move on was the unspoken sentiment he had been trying to convey. "Always reaching, but never touching. Never connecting," he finished.
Whether that was the meaning Ada had taken from it, Leon would never know, for cagey woman just shot him a coy look, her eyebrow arched mischievously, having learned to use his own tactics against him over the years. "Funny, that's not what I remember happening last time."
Leon almost blushed at her response, completely caught off guard by it. He liked to think that he had the ability to recover rather gracefully as well, however, using her caustic example to drive his point home. "Yet I awoke to find you gone, among other things missing."
She had certainly not left empty-handed, reclaiming the data file he had borrowed from Umbrella. Leon had already memorized the important details anyway, having expected her to abscond with it from the very start as it were, so it had been no great loss. It was the underlying principle of the matter that held significance, however.
"In all fairness, I did leave you breakfast in bed," she countered, as though it were enough to make up for her duplicity.
It was funny, though, how he never could stay mad at her for double-crossing him – or managing to change the subject for that matter. It was a part of her he had learned to accept, something he had come to expect. In many ways it wasn't so surprising. Such was his experience with women. They always managed to get the better of him in the end, the part of his naïveté he was never able to outgrow.
"An apple hardly qualifies as breakfast in bed," he riposted, hurt unconsciously slipping into his tone. A red apple at that. He didn't even want to get into the metaphor aspect of the offering.
"Did you honestly expect anything less?" she argued defensively, though Leon sensed that she was somewhat conflicted, perhaps not sure whether to be surprised at his reaction to what should have been anticipated, or upset because he had not, and therefore didn't know her as well as perhaps she expected him to.
"No, I suppose not," he relented, not completely sure how he felt about it either, his hurt tone taking even him by surprise.
"What more did you want from me?" The question she posed was serious, almost disarming in that it was not something Leon was used to seeing from the usually aloof spy.
"Coffee might have been nice," he offered jokingly, never one to let a perfect set-up go; or maybe just in an attempt to avoid having to answer a question he was not yet ready to answer, that perhaps he didn't know how to answer at that time. "Maybe some orange juice."
Ada's scorching look quickly brought him back on track.
What had he expected of her; what more did he want from her? "Honestly? Nothing," he admitted, only to then contradict himself, without actually contradicting himself. "Everything."
He knew it didn't make rational sense, in many ways not even to himself, because the truth was that he didn't quite know what he wanted. Because what natural human instinct and societal expectations wanted for his life wasn't possible. The lives they led, their opposing ideologies that made them enemies more often than friends, served only to keep them apart, and probably always would.
But in the end, he only knew that he wanted one thing, regardless of what came with package. He wanted an answer; he wanted her. And he hoped more than anything that both were one and the same.
She must have sensed his meaning nonetheless, sensing that he was frustrated; frustrated because he still had no answers and very little assurance to cling to.
"Leon," she started, attempting to placate him. "I'd hate for you to think…"
And just like that, everything changed.
"I know," he cut in, not letting her finish. He suddenly didn't have to. With one word from her lips, he knew everything about her; everything that counted. Everything he needed to know about her was encapsulated in the way she had phrased his name; ironically, as it had been spoken in a very un-Ada-like manner: remorsefully. Ada had demonstrated remorse; not for what she had done to him, but for how it had affected him.
Ada was a spy, living a life filled with secrets and lies, always rigidly in control of every facet of her existence, bred to use and betray, to never trust anyone or let down her guard, to never care about anyone other than herself. It was a lonely existence she led; one not so easily unlearned.
But that didn't mean she wasn't trying to. Leon understood that now. Maybe he always had.
"Besides," he continued, suddenly filled with a greater appreciation for this woman that he cared about beyond measure. "I knew what I was doing. I made my bed…"
She shot him a sly smile, something Leon was quite certain she reserved only for him. "I certainly helped you unmake it."
The smile faded quickly, replaced just as swiftly by an apprehensive look, as though there were something more she wished to say, something – a confession perhaps – that she desperately wanted to get off her chest, but just couldn't seem to find the right way to say it; or perhaps even the courage to say it.
But this time… this time he knew what she meant to say. "Me too," he acknowledged, an affectionate smile reinforcing his claim.
Leon had his answer.
"Do you regret it?" Perhaps knowing the hardest part was past, Ada had managed to find her voice again. The translation: did he regret all of it, any of it? All that they were to one another, all that they probably always would be, all of the hurt and hope and pain and turmoil they had caused each other over the years – did he regret any of it, even for a second? Would he take it all back if he could, trade his life in for a different one?
Leon could have walked away from Raccoon City cherishing the life he still had, the life Ada had sacrificed herself to give him. He could have let go long ago, forgiven himself for that which he could not prevent. He could have moved on, finding a different purpose in life, another girl to give his heart to. He could have traded in his broken heart for a functional one, his loss for wholeness, his crusade to protect the helpless for that of self-fulfillment. Stability, security, vitality – normality. That was the person he could have been, had he simply chosen to let go.
How he pitied that man, knowing what he had sacrificed.
"No," he finally responded, assuredly, shaking his head ever so slightly before his eyes sought out hers. "You?"
"No," she answered, almost reflexively, as though she hadn't even needed to think about it, naked eyes meeting his.
A somber mood blanketed them in that moment, and though neither spoke for a long time, the smoke-filled air was clear, the silence comfortable.
Finally Leon tore through the somber lining, raising his glass, eyes never leaving Ada's. "Here's to never letting go," he toasted. To spooks and spies, light and dark, black and white, to always being together and always being alone…
"To angels and ghosts," she finished, clinking her glass against his, light against dark, clear empty glasses meeting mahogany bar top minutes later.
Ada leaned in suddenly, fiery lips fervently capturing his, a mix of gin and spice on her tongue, lingering just long enough to get her point across before slipping away from him, surreptitiously removing herself from her bar stool, body half turned towards the exit before the kiss was even finished, her parting words seductively spoken to match the curve of her ripe lips and the lustful gleam in her eye. "See you around, handsome."
He watched her reflection in the mirror, her retreating form just over the left shoulder of his own, sashaying gracefully towards the exit; the woman in red, once lost then found again.
Ada had once confessed to him that she was incapable of caring for anyone, but that despite that she didn't want to lose him. She had sacrificed herself so many years ago so that he could go on living. She rescued him several times when their lives crossed paths again in Spain, helping him when she had no discernable reason to do so, and had been watching his back ever since, protecting him from his enemies, her employer, and even his own idealistic recklessness at times. He understood the reason, could infer that it was her way of proving her devotion to him in the only manner she knew how. He knew that for certain now.
Certainly, every now and then she would hold her own self-interest above his own personal objectives, thereby taking advantage of his hard won victory for her own personal gain. But then again, her intent was never to ensure that he succeeded in achieving his mission objectives, but simply to ensure that he survived the ordeal. They played for different sides, fought for different ideologies, and it was only natural that such conflicts of interest would throw a wrench in the works. Besides, she wouldn't be the Ada he knew if she didn't double-cross him from time to time.
But there was still one thing that he did not fully understand. And that was why? Why him of all people? What made him so special, so different, that he could awaken such feelings in her; that would inspire such devotion years later, even after he had failed her, after he had failed to get her out of Raccoon City alive as he had promised? Why?
One word he asked, just before she was out of earshot, his eyes never leaving her reflection in the mirror; one word that encompassed everything. "Why?"
Ada stopped at the sound of his voice, cocking her head in his direction even as she kept her bare back to him, the half smile on her face a cross between genuine affection and disappointment that he would have to ask such a thing. But it was the glint in her grey-green eyes, the unmistakable sentiment that she was gazing upon the one thing in this world with the most value that truly spoke the truth in a way that her actual words never could.
Ada had changed his life, shaped him into the person he was today. And had Leon given it much thought before she made her final revelation, perhaps if he had just once tried to see himself from her point of view, then quite possibly it would have occurred to him that maybe, just maybe, he had done the same for her.
"Wesker gave me my life back, gave it a purpose," she stated simply, factually, her inflection shifting towards intimacy immediately thereafter. "You gave it meaning."
Author's Note: If you have made it this far, then I salute your commitment. Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed it, or at the very least got something out of the experience.
I'm honestly not sure how I feel about this story. Never before has an idea come about so naturally and yet still proven so difficult to write. I can't even explain why either, since the themes, ideas, and dialogue all came naturally – so naturally I was unfortunately forced to cut out several of Leon's best quips for the sake of the narrative. I even came up with the title within minutes of conceiving the plot, which is very rare for me. But much like Leon trying to drag the truth out of Ada, I too had to be persistent just to get the words between the words down on paper. It was quite a trying ordeal, and as such, my feelings on this story are tainted. So either it works well or I can chalk it up as a spectacular failure. I'll let you be the judge.