"It's funny how sometimes the people you'd take a bullet for, are the ones behind the trigger." - Ritu Ghatourey
All at once (nothing like usual), Jason is wide awake and all too aware of his surroundings. His hands rest atop satin-soft sheets, the duvet thicker than the one he is used to— thicker than the one he’d fallen asleep underneath.
This is most definitely not his home— their home.
Brushing the strangely sleek and comfortable cover to the side of the bed that meets the wall on his right, the lanky young man swings his legs over the edge of the bed without any issue and rises to his feet. Or, more accurately, the second he puts the full weight of his body onto said feet, he crumples forward onto hands and knees, palms hitting the cold, stone floor with a harsh smack, wrists twinging from the impact. Suddenly panting, he relieves the weight on his now-trembling arms by sitting back and to the side, legs bent, resting on his right hip.
It is only now that he sees (and perhaps psychosomatically, feels) the neatly bandaged puncture wound just above the joint of his left arm, the sterile white square of gauze interrupted by the sanguine stain of his own blood. His heart’s swift cadence seems to beat behind his eyes, and a mild feeling of disorientation and something like nausea washes over his whole body.
Everything is bright and strange in his immediate vicinity and worst of all, he sees no signs of the lover whose bed he had been sharing when last he had anything to remember. His throat is painfully dry and the sound of words comes forth without his permission.
With effort, he begins to lift his off-balance and foreign-feeling body back onto the twin-size bed at his back, starting by resting his right elbow on its edge. Barely 40 seconds of struggle finds him mostly where he started his day, save for the one leg hanging slightly over the side, and the fact that his head is now nearer the ‘wrong’ side of the mattress.
Huffing with the effort and exertion of it all, the tousled head of brown hair hardly turns to one side when an abrupt, metallic thunk sounds from the huge door directly across from the bed. Several more seconds slip by, accompanied by a series of clanks, deep clicks, and a final anticlimactic set of tentative knocks.
Through the now open portway slips a very familiar figure—intimately familiar, in fact. This is…. this is at least unlikely, if not impossible.
“… Liza?” he voices, disbelief and total confusion colouring the hoarse exclamation.
The gorgeous woman he had dated for close to a year and a half, prior to their ill-fated expedition to the Rook Islands steps through the small opening and pulls the oversized metal door up behind her, before approaching the room’s center. She stops several feet before the bed and lowers herself into a crouch, meeting eyes with the wan-looking man haphazardly sprawled atop the glossy bedsheets.
“Hello, Jason,” she says, not unkindly.
It is somewhat at odds with her expression, which, to the perplexed man before her, is best described as unreadable. Watching her face closely, he makes his way slowly back to partial uprightness, using the wall behind him as helpful leverage, something his shaking arms are in need of. His eyes make their way quickly down her body, noting the fresh-looking outfit and the apparent lack of any injury on her person.
“Ah, Liza. Uh- hey. What— what are you…?” he coughs, abruptly, speaking leaving him feeling more parched than ever, wishing suddenly for anything with a modicum of moisture to soothe the odd cottony quality of the way his mouth feels. A sudden, sharp throb of pain lights up behind his right eye when he coughs again, and he hisses, lifting a hand to cover said eye and apply heavy, soothing pressure.
“Nnh, f-fuck. Sorry, sorry. Uh, oh— “ the dark haired woman proffers a bottle of water from the leather satchel that crosses her body in front and hangs at her hip, pleasantly surprising the pallid-looking adventurer. “Ah, thanks.”
While Jason fumbles with the sealed lid— the mostly forgotten/willfully ignored needle mark near his left elbow twinging as his arm flexes— the brunette actress drags an innocuous, plastic stool from the corner adjacent to the bed and takes a seat, observing his fairly desperate bid to empty a full bottle of water in under 10 seconds. She smooths back a few wisps of hair that have escaped at the front of her hairline and guides them back toward the elegant (if rather utilitarian) chignon that sits low, behind her right ear.
She assumes her former paramour still has questions. (She is not wrong.) The words tumble forth, wreathed in anxiety, his eyes pleading for answers, perhaps hoping against hope that their shared history has curried him some favour. (It has not.)
“Liza. Liza, where- uh, what are you doing here? Are you okay? Jesus Christ—where the fuck is here, anyway??”
Slowly, she leans forward, twisting the bag hanging to her side so that it sits in her lap, then resting her elbows atop her knees. He recognizes this posture and the way she is twisting her lips ever so slightly. This is Liza Snow about to deliver bad or unwanted news. Her brow furrows as she meets his eyes again.
“Jason,” she begins, slowly and evenly, “how long have you known me?”
In turn, his own eyebrows move to emulate her expression, the sudden question seemingly at odds with any of his recent inquiries. Gamely, he humours the typically compassionate and astute young woman before him.
“I, um. We met about… 3 years ago, now? Dated for, like, a year and a few months.” He licks lips cracked from prolonged exposure to dry air and lack of hydration, “I’m not quite sure what that has to do with wh—“
The shrill squeak produced by the stool sliding backwards is not loud, but it is surely enough to cause the now-eldest Brody sibling to cringe away from the sound and momentarily squint his eyes. His ex-girlfriend leisurely paces a measured path before him, seemingly taking a few moments to gather her thoughts. Behind the continuous throbbing in his skull, a thought bubbles forth, muddy as his mind may be.
The last he’d seen Liza, she had been riding away on the reconstructed boat Daisy had patched up. He’d watched his entire past— or at least, all the people from it— cutting across beautiful blue waters and into a horizon holding freedom and familiarity and all the other good things that come with civilized society. So how is it that one of those people stands before him, now?
“Jason, I met you in our senior year at UC San Diego. We were both a little closed off— both feeling a little too much pressure and not enough attention from our families. I—. I, uh. I actually had already been in another track, so far as majors go; I had transferred into UCSD from another university, one very far away.” Liza’s eyes, a guileless blue topaz, bore into his own green-blue irises. “By the time we met, I already had two degrees under my belt.”
Bewildered, the drug-weakened male struggles to formulate an entire new set of questions to attempt to understand a whole new set of information. Before he can utter even a sound from a mouth already slightly agape, the still-pacing woman continues as though unaware of his burgeoning (or rather, burning) curiosity.
“In reality, I have just over three years on you. Luckily, I carry it well.” Here she pauses and smiles, mostly to herself, and then presses on, “Well enough, anyway…. Right. So, I went to the U.S. to complete the last bit of schooling I thought best suited my needs and complemented my skills. Once I was finished, I was supposed to return home and begin work in the family business. Hopefully, I would take over one day in my father’s place. Instead, I met a boy— a well-meaning but occasionally and unintentionally callous boy— very apprehensive about life after graduation. We found out that ‘Captain of the Varsity Men’s Soccer Team’ doesn’t do much on a resume, but we were doing well. We were happy. Happy enough that I thought maybe you could finally meet my family.”
“You,” she interrupts, “need to listen.” Liza’s gaze sharpens and chills in a way he’s never seen or experienced from her. Her eyes pull away from his and wander over the barren walls as she walks her well-worn circuit, deliberately as ever, and showing no signs of being in any type of rush. “It was easy to put the idea of Bangkok in everyone’s ears as the perfect place to celebrate Riley getting his pilot’s license. Everyone has their vices, and pretty much all of them can be found there.”
Jason is beginning to feel a bit light-headed and he is not at all sure if it has anything to do with his physical state, at this point. He blinks dazedly, eyes like unpolished chrysocolla, tempted to simply escape into another, more comprehensible state of mind. (Unconsciousness, specifically.)
“It also happens that one of the businesses my family owns has some rather spectacular drink specials and a particularly obedient bouncer with a good memory for faces he is told to look out for. Or rather, let in,” she muses. “More importantly, a family friend— or employee, rather— Doug, frequents that very same place.”
“Wait. Doug? That— that skydiving guy?” he weakly interjects, somewhat unsure of his assertion. Blue eyes cut to his and move away once more.
“Yes, the very same. He fucked up on one big count: he never radioed ahead to let a soul know we were coming. And that fucking Vaas character’s idiotic, untrained bunch of powder-sniffing pirates just ran away with the rest of any salvageable opportunity to rectify the situation by keeping us separated.”
The young woman before him is getting worked up, frustration peaking and becoming evident as a sneer taking residence across her features, something Jason thinks he might never have seen. And there is something else, too. The way she is speaking— no, the way her mouth is forming around her words is changing. The cadence is off, in some way: some R’s are being rolled and many consonants are becoming harsher or more abrupt, somehow.
Her accent is changing. It sounds— it sounds like…
“And then, the drug-addicted jester of a rejected Rakyat himself, tries to off me in a ramshackle concrete ruin of a building! Ag—fokken bliksem!” More quickly than he thought possible, the ball of contained (but building) fury in human form, lashes out with one booted foot and sends the forlorn white seat crashing into the door across the room.
Seemingly unperturbed by the chaos she is causing, the brunette actress forges ahead. “The last good thing you may have ever done was to get us both out of there. If I had known back then that that Citra bitch had already given you enough of that freaky island “muti” to have you dancing like a particularly blood-hungry puppet, I’d have offed you myself, then, in the cave. Before anything more happened.
Unfortunately, it took a while longer for me to arrange my own escape.”
At last, a sense of placidity seems to wash over her whole body, limbs losing the steadily building tension coiling within them, and her visage shifts to become neutral, if not pleasant, in its cast. Turning her body to face the bed, and therefore its lone occupant, she commands any and all available attention. Her eyes now seem to blaze like blue fire: their intensity is difficult to bear in close quarters, but her ex-lover perseveres.
“Jason. My name,” she says, “is Isabel Nicola Volker.”
In his mind, hysterically, Jason expects the rest of the sentence to include the phrase ‘You killed my father. Prepare to die.’ Unaware of her quarry’s internal monologue, the Volker heir continues.
“Now, you may think my father cruel and terrible and barbaric and whatever else. All of these things are true. However, what you have no experience in— no expectation of, is how well and how very diligently we will work together to add many, many more pejoratives of that kind to that list.”
Liza— no— Isabel stands at parade rest, more terrifying and comfortable in her skin than he has ever known her to be. Her smile is small, but unkind and her eyes now hold nothing but a cold promise of what can only be pain in his future. He finds a sweat has broken out across his brow and that his stomach roils, as he twists anxiously in on himself.
He misses safety and certainty. He misses warmth. He misses Vaas.
“My father, he is… injured. Badly. I know you are already aware. Although, I believe you reassured us all that he was dead, so I suppose that is news to you. I suppose a failed attempt at a fatal stabbing by Jason Brody is something he and your new boytoy share, now, eh?”
A brief chuff of a condescending chuckle is audible between one sentence and the next, “Anyway, once he’s recovered enough, the real fun will begin. I’ve heard it’s been rather quiet around here, lately, what with all the compounds and organizations you burned down and blew to kingdom come. We’ve already let your lover-boy know who has you and where, so that’s one chess piece in motion.”
How…. how the hell could Hoyt be alive?? Jason remembers— no, he knows he’d left him stone-dead, with a couple of knives going through his goddamned head in a sick parody of a cross. That is not something a guy can just recover from.
Isabel quietly makes her way to the door, grinning all the while, before turning halway about.
“Oh, yes, and I’d keep in mind the phrase ‘don’t believe your lying eyes’, thanks to your Rook Island Princess encounters. I thought that, surely, a traveler as seasoned as you has heard ‘don’t drink the agua’ before, and yet… you not only drank it, here, you inhaled the powder, ate the mushrooms, and swallowed the pills— multiple times. And that’s not even mentioning the lot of those mysterious ‘syringes’ you always kept close at hand!
“How in the hell do you think Vaas was left alive enough to fuck you on a regular basis, once we’d all left? You’re a remarkable fighter under the influence, but your accuracy and recall are shit.”
The increasingly shocky captive’s eyes widen, before his brows lower, and he stares searchingly at the sheets underneath his pale limbs, as though trying to forcefully uncover the truth of his substance-addled “memories” by way of close scrutiny of the unfamiliar fabric .
“In fact, if you get the chance, I’d check up on Buck and Citra, too. You know, since you’re only at two for four, so far, with your usual M.O. of ‘shank until supposedly dead’. I certainly have,” she imparts gleefully. “Checked up on them, I mean.”
With that, she turns toward the exit again and swiftly departs, the many locking mechanisms clanging and clicking and closing with finality. Clearly, she has no plans of revealing what her investigation into his two former … “associates” has turned up.
Jason’s eyeline moves to the overturned stool in the corner before he closes his eyes and allows his exhausted body to lie across the strangely comfortable and plush bed, again. Aware of the small, mirrored half-dome of a camera in the ceiling’s center, he curls up toward the wall and begins to plan, mind flying in a million different directions.
If there is one thing the Volkers and their privateers don’t know, though— or at least, that they don’t believe in, it is the very heart and the mystery of these islands. Surreptitiously, he worms one finger underneath the taped gauze on his left arm and applies enough pressure to start the wound bleeding again. Wincing, he drags one drop to the very ‘end’ of the intricate designs on the same forearm, close to his wrist.
Pressing down as much as he can bear, he pants lightly as a burning sensation begins to spread from the center of the Tatau, pulsating from time to time, until abruptly, it stops.
The air in the room feels thick and hot, like the blast of hot air that steals your breath when you lean over an open oven door. Jason exhales and opens his eyes.
They glow an electric, oceanic blue.
** * **
Elsewhere, a figure begins to rise from a sudden stumble, pushing up on strong arms, one knee bent underneath, touching the ground. The other is bent as well, thigh parallel to the concrete floor and foot resting flat upon the surface.
The air is cool— chilled, even— like the darkest, deepest regions of the sea, those parts yet unexplored and replete with prehistoric dangers. Vaas’ eyes open.
They shine bright gold, tinted red as flame.
Ag - foken bliksem – Ah, fucking bastard. (South African/Afrikaans slang)
Muti - Medicine (South African/Afrikaans slang)
(As always, if I completely fucked up the above phrases, feel free to lemme know. The couple of languages/dialects I speak do not include the one[s] above.)
Did you catch the plot-revealing famous movie quote that was mentioned in the summary? Good ol' Inigo Montoya's "You killed my father, prepare to die," eh? Yeah. With Liza tagged, that's just a bit too obvious a giveaway of the "surprise", to me.
Also?? I obsessed over what her 'actual' name would be and did some research on popular S. African names + etymologies and such before giving her both of the two names I couldn't choose between. (You'll notice that Liza and Isabel [her 'real'] name are both derivatives of 'Elizabeth'. *pats self on back*)
Fun Fact: This is actually, like, the 2nd fic I wrote in this series. It's been edited and good to go for a few months, really. Except I made A Decision and didn't want to post any works until I finished the (gargantuan, to me) fic, that also just went up alongside this one. I was weirdly stubborn about that...)
As is so often true, I'm not super proud of/in love with this one, but eh. I'm just sort of learning how the hell to write, really. (Hopefully, these start getting better, over time, yeah? Here's to hoping!)
Come find me on Tumblr! :3