Summary: The end of a mission leaves Leon with a beautiful amnesiac and a lot of disturbing questions. The deeper the blood runs, and the better it tastes, the less he wants the answers.
A/N: Hello everyone! I'm glad to finally be able to post this on here. I've fretted over it long enough. Thanks to anyone who reads and reviews, and hope you enjoy. Special thanks to Maiafay for putting up with me and giving me her helpful suggestions.
Ch 1: An Appearance
"Michael Claireborne" drives a grey camper van. The textile plant where he works hardly knows he exists. He has a one-bedroom apartment in Colorado Springs. Few friends, no family. Everyone knows he's foreign, but he and his paperwork say he was born here.
Leon's manila folder calls bullshit.
Mykolas Cleja. Hungarian arms dealer. As of late, he's also dipped his hands in the bioorganic weapons trade. Leon has been monitoring him for a couple of weeks, but he managed to keep up the façade of normality until now.
His device beeps. Leon brings it to his ear.
"Have you reached the airport?" Ingrid's voice has become older, almost maternal, despite the fact that she's younger than he is.
"I'm parked right across from the terminal. Claireborne's meeting up with a friend."
"Alright. Contact me at your earliest convenience."
"Will do." Leon pockets the device. Across the street, Mykolas has his hands in his pockets, trying to suppress his desperate boredom. Exasperated, he buys a magazine and sits on the far edge of a bench, dismissing every page like clockwork. Leon feels his frustration with the mania of film stars, waistlines and romantic liaisons. However, unlike poor Mykolas, Leon's training has his patience finely tuned. Those bizarre interpersonal skills courses that required he stare blankly at other people for uncomfortably long periods of time are coming in handy. The government has made him such an adept phantom that time loses it measurements, for which he can certainly be grateful. Makes waiting in line at the bank or the hospital less of a pain in the ass. In this way, two hours of voyeurism pass without much notice.
Leon sits up in his seat when Mykolas looks askance from his magazine twice in one minute, only to follow his glance and see the man that had his legs fall asleep is finally on his way over. The man sits next to Mykolas and they wax old friends. Leon squeezes his toes together in his mountain boots to alleviate the beads of numbness.
They leave together in a leisurely stride, trying to appear like they have all the time in the world. Leon puts the key in the ignition when they're a safe distance away. They get into his camper van. The other closes his door gentler than a car of that size would normally warrant. Almost as if they're trying not to disturb what's inside.
The last van he opened held two sedated Lickers in metal cages. Their mouths were tapered closed with a gum-like adhesive and their arms and legs were shackled with titanium manacles. Assumptions work against his training and a cooler state of mind, but he's been right too many times to ignore the notion.
They approach a red light. Two cars behind, Leon's stomach tightens. He imagines the creatures shuffling from the sudden stop, their claws beginning to wriggle, wakening gradually.
Fear rises, but the holsters at his hips remind him of all the warped abominations he's blown away despite their size and speed. The beating of his heart abates, replaced by an impatient burning. The smell of wrong and the need to bring it to account.
The streets meld into each other. Neon lights of small restaurants streak past and the lampposts become a never ending arch of craning necks. He wishes Claire were here for a bit of conversation; these kinds of rides always compound the loneliness, reminding him that while others watch TV or have a few drinks at the bar, his idea of fun is following a couple of insurgents into the night with every intention of sending them back to Hungary in body bags.
He can't trail them for much longer. The roads they travel are beginning to get less and less congested. Cars to hide beside are starting to veer off into neighboring exits. With a heavy heart, he joins the last two cars as they take the turn that goes downtown.
They continue straight along, happily alone. Not for long, he promises.
Leon takes a pit stop at a nearby Exxon and makes the call he'd rather have made after he readied them for the coroner.
"Hunnigan. I've had to lose them. But I think I know where they're headed."
"You 'think'. Not a good word."
"If my hunch is right, you owe me a drink."
Hunnigan readjusts her glasses, makes what he knows is a Mona Lisa smile and ends the transmission.
Leon hits the interstate again, quelling his stomach with a quick swig of Gatorade. The condensation makes the bottle slip through his fingers and plop into the cup holder with a precarious splash. He screws the lid on, damning his frustration.
Hunnigan, always such a tease, doesn't like to show how much confidence she's had in him since Spain. He wishes he has that confidence now.
Half an hour of road later and no sign of them. All he's managed to retain is a full bladder and a heavy amount of anxiety. Did they go through the toll? Are the bastards on their way to New Mexico now?
The transaction could already be over.
His breath hitches. Just ahead the shoulder drops off into a dark, earthy drive. The car slows to a crawl. The headlights illuminate the sharp end of an amputated guardrail that curls in toward the path. He shuts off the engine. A ridged plateau towers over the jungle of thick pines. They were headed to Pulpit Rock, as he'd suspected.
Leon checks his weapons, ejecting the clip into his gloved hand to double-check if it's loaded. Satisfied, he pushes it back in. He adjusts his holsters, pockets his Night Vision scopes. The Silver Ghost gleams beautifully in the dark of his car. His world-traveler, savior and uncomplaining ally. We have some heads to split, Gladys.
The grass is dead and grey, the whiskers of old men. In puffy tufts it pockets the path, sharing the same color as the wispy soil. The rut of tires leads the way, but not in a straight line. The ground is too hardened and pocketed with stones that jut out in sharp angles to allow a smooth ride, especially for such a large vehicle. They've been here more than once. It could be an intermediate location, one they use on their way to greet the buyers, or perhaps they're scouting locations to let their cargo loose and cause another outbreak.
Leon can't deal with the way he thinks sometimes. He knows enough about bioterrorism to enact it himself, all with the most depraved means of the business.
He quiets his thoughts and keeps his ears open, still for the moment. Just the rustle of trees, shrubbery. It's pretty disappointing. The rustle of feathers points his attention to an interested owl, its eyes being its only discernible feature. It rests in the blackness of the tree's orifice. Eyes the color of lit caramel stare back. It is kind enough not to betray his stealth, and allows him to pass without a hoot.
The scope shows the tracks in fluorescent green. Feeling distinctly like Buffalo Bill, Leon follows what's been laid out for him. He shuts out conscience as he so often does, readies himself for the kill. He makes himself want it.
Voices emerge. He stills again. Not English. Russian-sounding gibberish. Hungarian. Their voices are low and he can't pinpoint them just yet. The crunch of leaves and the unzipping of a duffel bag point his ears, and subsequently his eyes, in the right direction.
Mykolas and his other friend have started a small fire and are warming their hands. Mykolas sits on a severed trunk. The other doesn't mind the dirt floor and assumes all the complacency of an Indian chief, legs crossed, eyes narrowed at the fire.
A third man emerges from the back of the van. He closes the doors too quick to allow Leon a glimpse. He has a rough buzz cut, coarse skin and a massive, cruel frame. His eyes are hard, his mouth set in a mild sneer. Leon can't tell if that's his default expression or if he's just been insulted by a fourth man in the van. Whatever the case, he's the one to worry about. The other two have guns, doubtlessly, but the third has enough mass to survive being dog piled by several men of Krauser's size. Underneath his open, weathered parka is a thick tactical vest. His legs end in large, seasoned boots, attuned to the crushing of skulls. He is as patient and deliberate as death would be.
The other two are chatty Cathy's. They must be better friends than he thought.
For another half hour Leon assumes the existence of a hidden totem pole with impeccable trigger discipline until Mykolas and the other, whom he decides to refer to as No.2, finally give him a glimpse of what he's been waiting to see for weeks.
Mykolas goes in. No.2 dangles out, pointing at something in the van and nodding in approval.
No cages. He slowly allows the breath he'd been holding to leave his nostrils. This mission just got a whole lot easier.
The opening reveals the partial view of a reservoir. He catches the edge of two pale toes, the slither of a folded leg. A woman's leg, judging by the thinness. Leon isn't happy to add human trafficking to their list of vices, but the evidence is pretty compelling.
Leon loses his train of thought at the sight of opportunity. Both Mykolas and No.2 lock themselves in the van, leaving No.3 all by his big lonesome.
No.3 lifts his nose to the air, sniffing, then turns around. While he rummages around in a duffel bag, Leon steps away from the trunk he had been hiding behind. The laser points, steadies on the back of the man's unsuspecting head.
No.3 whirls away in a blur of muscle as the bullet whizzes past. Bounding, he charges at Leon. Before he can fire another shot, the man grasps both of his hands and quickly averts the bore of the gun to the sky, crushing their four hands together. The shot shatters the air and birds take flight in screeching cries.
Leon lifts his legs and throws him off with a suplex. The man tears away and stumbles, managing to wrench the gun from Leon's hands. The gun stumbles somewhere into the darkness. Temporarily stunned, he reels from the kick and grasps his chest.
Only to pull out a Nighthawk. Its glint is searing, the edge vicious.
Gladys lost herself in the leaves. That's both good news and bad news. At least Tiny here had butter fingers and now has no time to look for it. But that doesn't quite deter the fact that he's gunless.
He reaches his breast, unsheathing his own blade.
The van's latch cranes downward as they make a wary half-circle around each other. Mykolas breaks out, pointing a gun. His forehead already sports a greasy sheen. He isn't used to confrontations. The other kicks open the opposite door and aims his gun.
Leon dives into the foliage as the bullets pelt the area of retreat. Bark splinters off the trees as he makes a dash for his life. He pulls out a throwing knife and takes cover. The owl fled more gracefully than he did.
He spots No.2 and jumps out, tossing it like a Frisbee and then sprinting down the path. His heart leaps, almost out of joy, at the juicy thunk. He has already gone too far to hear him collapse.
The gunfire intensifies. If he keeps running, he'll hit the road. Can't advertise the shootout anymore than he already has. He takes cover again, crouching behind a springy sapling.
No. 3 comes into view. He has Gladys. No wonder he didn't hear the charging of the bull immediately after he bolted. Mykolas catches up to his partner in a quick strut, showing horrible consternation. His forearm is damp.
"Come out you bastard," he rasps. The wounded huskiness of his voice has him sounding more like a pissed off Russian than an injured Hungarian.
No.3 doesn't speak, gravitating toward the sapling Leon is hiding behind. Crouching, he lowers the blade toward the ground. When No.3 gets nearer than he should, Leon's blade slices through his Achilles tendon. His scream shakes the earth and he falls like a Titan.
Mykolas screams too and begins shooting wildly. He is silenced when a throwing knife lodges itself into his skull. He drops, attended by a flurry of dirty leaves.
No.3 yanks himself upright. His shots repeatedly miss Leon's retreating figure. He empties Gladys out of rage and the slide locks back. He discards it and props himself up on one elbow, readying his knife.
Leon lurks behind the trees. The man has his back to him. He can see blood spurt out of the smile cut into the man's heel. He spots a log nearby and picks it up.
One solid hit to the head and No.3 collapses. His large upper body slumps into the leaves. He lets the splintered log fall on his chest. He kicks the knife away.
He wipes his forehead. Breathe in, breathe out.
His muscles sore, nerves frayed, utterly pissed off at all the commotion, Leon stomps on the man's head for good measure and loves the little crack he hears. The Leon of a few years before might have spat on him too, but that's just excessive at this point. They're all dead, and Gladys is lying a few feet from him. Had she been a real woman, he would have a lot of ass-kissing to do.
He picks her up, dusts her off, and slides the top back in place. He replaces the magazine. Back in business.
The trees open into the clearing as he heads back to the camper. It sits complacently and waits. Open for him to see.
The capsule's glass has a slight layer of frost over it. Stained brown accordion tubes jut from the top. All in all, it looks like a white frosted egg with thick hairs on its head.
And of course, there's the girl.
Her faces hides in her folded legs and her arms are wrapped around her knees. Her skin is silvery, new. He looks around. On a stainless steel table, there are various implements that he supposes are for medical purposes – gauze, scalpels of varying sizes on a silver tray, some antiseptic, non-latex gloves, thermometers, scissors, and syringes. And blood bags.
He turns back to the pod. The tubes are stained with this blood.
An image of Manuela flashes in his mind. Her Pocahontas mane, the sun-kissed skin, a tattered white dress and bandages wrapped around her arms. In her case, she needed organs. Is that what the blood is for? Maybe she's sick. He bends down and opens the mini refrigerator underneath the table. More blood bags piled on the rack. Some more at the bottom, and two Red Bulls. His best guess is she probably needs blood transfusions.
But if she's in this state, why was Cleja transporting her like contraband? What good would a sick girl be? His heart leapt. She might be infected.
He taps the frosty glass with his gun. "Hello? Can you hear me?"
The tubes wheeze recycled air.
Her emaciated legs open, and her knobby wrists detach, stretching. She unfurls like a tired flower. Groggy from the ride.
"Are you okay?"
She rubs her eyes, scratches at her collarbone. Her lips are chapped and blue. When she shivers, all previous thoughts of her potential malignancy are thrown right out the window. If she can itch and shiver… He scans the pod for any way he can free her. At the top of the 'egg', where the tubes are attached, is a rotational cap with a slot in the shape of a rectangle.
Jumping out of the van, he darts back into the woods and searches the bodies. No.2 has no presents for him. In Mykolas' left pants pocket is the heavy but portable key he hoped to find. Just to be safe, he searches No.3, but he's got nothing on him but a pack of gum (that he'll be taking) and another buck knife. He finds a home for it in his own holster and decides he'll take the other one that he kicked into the leaves as well.
The girl presses her palms up against the glass when he returns. Not in an attempt to escape, but to petition his attention. Even if she were to thrash about and struggle in her oval prison, he doubts it'd do any good, and she appears to be aware of it. He's sure the glass has been proofed in just about any way it could be.
The key and slot become one. He turns it clockwise, and it locks. Counterclockwise this time, and a glorious click is heard, along with some hydraulic whirs of confirmation. The cap elevates itself, spewing a fluffy mist of cold, sterilized air out of the egg. She is patient, shivering as he removes the cap and sets the hunk of metal on the floor.
She doesn't emerge from the capsule.
"It's alright. You don't have to be afraid anymore. I'm gonna get you some help."
He fights an eye roll as he considers that the only language she knows is Hungarian. He holds out his hand. She glimpses from him to his hand and decides to stand. Aside from being completely nude save for a black collar around her throat, the chill emanating from her skin disturbs him the most. Has she never been in the presence of another living creature? A bizarre first impression for a girl on the cusp of adulthood, but he can't think of any other explanation for the bewildered beauty on her face.
She topples into his arms and the capsule tips over, hitting the floor of the van like a simple clink of two glasses. It must have been reinforced like no one's business.
"You're not hurt are you?"
She seems astonished by his warmth and huddles closer. She presses her nose into the fabric of his shirt, breathes deep.
Leon blinks. "I'm guessing… you like me?"
He can feel the cadaverous firmness of her muscles quake through his clothes. All he wants is to warm those frozen bones. He shrugs off his leather jacket and drapes it over her.
"Treat this with care, alright?" he smiles. "I really like this jacket."
Her fingers creep up to his cheeks, tracing his features. She smiles.
Hunnigan's response team arrives in less than an hour. Leon zips up the jacket to hide her white breasts. Their black garb and impenetrable visors don't make them look like the friendliest bunch, but allies don't always look the part.
The EMT approaches at a quick stride. "Agent Kennedy. Have you sustained any injuries?"
"I'm fine. The girl, though… I freed her from this capsule. Her skin is practically frozen and she's very languid. I think she may have a blood-related ailment."
The man unzips his jacket and it falls off. She makes a move to put it back on, but he stops her. "Ma'am, I need to take a look at you."
"I don't think she speaks English," Leon offers.
He huffs. He goes through the motions while she looks on in wonderment that she is an object warranting examination. The EMT finds no wounds and covers her once more.
"She'll still need to be monitored for signs of hypothermia," he tells Leon. "She'll be taken to the nearest hospital."
Her pace is wobbly as she walks with the man to the medic vehicle. Her legs are heavy with disuse. Her moony eyes gape into the blinking lights of spinning beacons as she's ushered into the back. The rear doors close.
The ambulance trudges down the path. The blinking lights eventually fade, and so does the retreating crunch of gravel.
He knows he'll probably never see her again. Just like Sherry and Manuela before her, she'll disappear into the impenetrable shadow of government custody for years to come. When she surfaces, if she surfaces, it will be as a tight-lipped woman with indiscernible secrets. She won't show any trust, and she'll have done away with that lack of pretension only found in a child's judgment. At least that's how he imagines it turning out. In Sherry's case, he did see her again—but only after she was an adult, and technically still government property.
Sherry has her own research facility right in the heart of D.C. As program coordinator and head researcher, all of those under her were hand-picked through extensive screening. Even to Leon, who's been inside there more than a few times, it still manages to retain all the intrigue that surrounds a secluded castle high in the mountains.
It's a sad thing that the keys to human advancement have to be protected so jealously. But knowledge can be terrible in the wrong hands, if Raccoon and his life since then have taught him anything. In a universe where the form of creation can be disfigured by what overcurious sociopaths call science, the better side can't win without trapping their tricks in their own vault.
Leon shuts off his disquieting muse and drives home after the usual run-through of inquiry and protocol, leaving the rest of the team to scavenge what they can from the van and the bodies. Hunnigan, and subsequently the Secret Service, know all they need to know about what Leon's experience tonight has been. All he has left to do is get a good night's sleep before booking his flight back to D.C.
The road back to the hotel is longer than he remembered. Time goes faster when your heart anticipates evil occurrences. But now that's all over. He can drink his lukewarm Gatorade and run his hands through his hair, steering lazily into the bypass and watching those same lights beam in serenity, when anxiety made them flicker like demon eyes.
The car door closes and a yawn breaks through; he lifts his arms to the night sky and bends them over his head, dropping them like the arms of a doll. He enters the hotel. He passes a set of teenage girls fretting over their iPhones and some tardy boys in the lobby, and their stares follow him for a few moments. He ascends the stairs in a very casual, civilian way, his face plastered over with the normality of boredom.
The dark greets him. In the stuffy blackness there is no room for coherent thought other than the earnest desire for a bed, again, and for following ghosts to find other ways of entertaining themselves rather than clinging to his company.
When the bed finally welcomes him, he can't help it. His dreams trouble him with that cold girl. Her ice sits on his shoulders, and he wonders if the scent of him is a comfort in the midst of all the strangers, the men who speak a bizarre language and want to run so many tests.
Leon wakes to the sun's grimace. He rolls over to cover himself with an imaginary item of clothing that he is so used to having the night erased the memory of its absence. Of course it isn't there, and the cold girl greets him, along with the men's dead-but-awake faces. His stomach rots and growls in tandem. So hungry. So jacketless.
He makes the bed, arches his spine and is reminded how the cracks he hears is a head stepped on. He almost feels sorry for the bastards.
The gun rests on bistro table like an idle boomerang next to his breakfast plate. A stuffed napkin holder sits in the middle. The eggs sizzle on the pan; he taps the tin and peppers the yolk. He puts the pepper back in the cabinet and takes out the salt, taps it over the pan. He can actually say he's feeling okay. Breakfast alone is enough to be content for.
He sits down and forks his eggs. Folding the toast, he dumps the chopped eggs over it. The yolk seeps through and glazes his fingers. Always so messy.
First breakfast, then his sit-ups, crunches, and pushups. After that –
He hears the window pane slide up in other room.
Without a moment's hesitation he slips a yolky finger over the trigger and rounds the corner, aim poised to kill. Someone come for revenge?
The gun lowers, and he blinks.
There she is.
Arms folded over her bent knees, smiling the smile she learned from him. No shame of being bare. His gift to her is folded and lies over her lap, an offering.
She has a jacket to return.