Disclaimer: All Resident Evil characters and associated names mentioned therein do not belong to me. I've been wanting to own them since 1997, true, but Capcom would rather keep them to themselves. Not that I blame them.

Author's Note: Inspired by a single line in Resident Evil 4: "Got gum." It was supposed to be a short story. And then it became this. Hopefully it'll be finished before the 11th, before I get stricken for a week or two by that Ganado virus.

By Skyle

Change is an incremental process.

Claire Redfield was whistling "Secret Agent Man" as she waited outside the chain link fence. She had forsaken her trademark ponytail and now wore her auburn hair loose; she'd ditched her jeans and motorcycle gear for a casual black dress that was festooned with blood-red flowers and hung an inch over her knees. There was a touch of blue eye shadow on her lids and a tint of coral lipstick on her mouth. She did not look like someone who could outrun helicopter guns and go one-on-one against nine-foot-tall monstrosities with gigantic eyes imbedded in their arms.

But then again, perhaps that was the point.

She went through the chorus for the third time before shading her eyes to peer closer at the training field on the other side of the fence. "So he's in here, huh?" she asked, more to herself than the agency employee who had guided her there.

"Oh, one of his instructors is calling him right now," said the employee, all but falling over himself in his desire to please her. He was a young man in his thirties with ill-fitting tortoise shell glasses, probably one of the numerous pencil-pushers hired to keep track of the mountains of government paperwork. "He'll be here soon."

Claire turned her attention back to the area across the fence. The entire thing was impressive to look at, like a cross between a regular city block, obstacle course, and a war zone. Swarming around in a kind of organized chaos were sixty or so agents-in-training, all clad in nondescript gray shirts and sweats, apparently engaged in a drill of some sort. She tried to spot him amongst the trainees and was disappointed to find that she could not.

"There he is," the ever-helpful employee piped up beside her. "That's him."

Startled, Claire followed his gaze. There was a trainee standing off to the side not far from the fence, his back to them. Addressing him was an authoritative-looking middle-aged man whose suit and bearing screamed 'government spook'.

"...visitors are against regulations," the spook was scolding the trainee. "But for some reason the higher-ups apparently think that the sun shines out of your ass, so I'm guessing that you're probably JFK's long-lost second cousin, three times removed, because frankly, son, that seems to be the only explanation."

Claire strained to catch the trainee's reply to that, but was denied by the sudden spring of chatter from the obstacle course. Whatever he said, it was brief and seemed to defuse some of the spook's bluster, but not entirely.

"Hmph. Anyway, your visitor's waiting over at the fence." Then, as though he couldn't resist one last parting jab, the spook added: "And one more thing, kid—at least cut your hair and get some scratches on that pretty face of yours before you get out of here, or else you're gonna end up looking like some male escort for the First Lady!"

And with that, he spun grandly on his heel—and therefore missed the middle finger the recruit extended toward his departing back.

Claire felt her mouth stretch into a smile as the trainee finally turned around. He seemed too tall, his hair a bit different, but she called out anyway.


His head whipped around toward her, and it was him.

"Hey." Claire smiled tentatively at him from across the chain links. "I almost didn't recognize you."

Leon Scott Kennedy jogged up to the other side of the fence, his expression disbelieving. "Claire?"

"That's my name." She let her eyes flicker briefly over him: he was wearing the same comfortable gray shirt and sweats as the rest of the recruits, his feet encased in those ratty Adidas sneakers he had adamantly refused to throw out. Sweat gleamed on his collarbone and formed dark patches on his collar and back—he must've been halfway through the drill before he had been interrupted. "You look different," she couldn't help remarking.

She supposed she shouldn't have been surprised. It had been more than half a year since she had seen him, after all, long enough for him to change.

Evidently he was thinking something around the same lines. "I was going to say the same thing about you," he admitted.

Claire tilted her head to one side. "Is that a good thing or a bad thing?"

"Oh, good. Definitely good," he replied quickly. He still seemed to be trying to come to grips with her sudden appearance.

"Good." She leaned closer to the fence and curled her fingers around the diamond pattern of the chain links. "Actually, earlier...I didn't really mean to say 'different.' I mean...you look pretty good, too."

"I'm sweating like a pig and I'm sure I smell, but thank you."

Claire let out a bark of laughter, and Leon smiled a little, edging closer to the fence. He was about to say something else when his smile congealed, and Claire turned around to see why: the employee was still there, grinning inanely as he drank up the reunion.

He started guiltily as he realized that they were both staring at him. "Um, ah, sorry. Sorry. I'll go now." With that, he reluctantly waffled off, leaving the duo to their privacy.

"You gotta understand," Leon began, speaking unexpectedly close to her ear. "This facility's mostly guys, and most of the staff here don't have a life until we complete the final phase of training."

Claire nodded her understanding as she contemplated him once more. The effect was strange: one second he looked like Leon, the same old, comfortable Leon who had been one of her fellow renegades for five of the most tumultuous years of her life, but then the next second he looked like someone completely different: a fair-haired, unapproachable, roguish stranger.

"You look taller," she blurted out, more to herself than him.

He blinked, nonplussed. "I do?"

"Taller...or bigger, I don't know which. I mean, you're always been in good shape, but now you've...I don't know...really filled out." She lifted her eyes again to his face. "And you let your hair grow."

He ducked away before she could brush at the curtain of hair that hung over his right eye. "Yeah, it's a bit too long for regulations, but it's not interfering with my training, so I can get away with it. Besides, there're already too many members of the buzzcut club in here, and you know how much I hate conformity, so..." He shrugged. "Anyway, no matter how much the guys razz me about it, I'm not about to cut it because of them."

"Don't. It suits you." She let a teasing note infiltrate her voice. "Blondie."

"It's genetics," Leon sighed. He had always been light haired, but last year a four-month mission in South America had bleached his hair a shade of flaxen. It had taken Claire approximately three weeks to get over it.

She was silent for the span of several moments. "You've changed so much."

Leon inspected his scuffed-up sneakers. "No, I haven't."

Claire had to grin at the sight of Leon Kennedy—Raccoon City survivor, zombie-ass-kicker, soon-to-be-elite United States agent—looking abashed at her words. "Just on the outside, then."

Chris and Claire came back from Antarctica to find their secret S.T.A.R.S. headquarters razed to the ground, their members scattered across the globe.

Jill was in Borneo with Barry and a couple of new anti-Umbrella recruits, one of them being ex-H.C.B.S. employee Carlos Oliviera and the other government employee Ark Thompson. The latter had supplied the Redfields with an address somewhere in the Midwest, an hour or two away from what used to be Raccoon City. It had, Ark said, been sent to him via his friend Leon's e-mail address; accompanying it had been an vaguely blunt request for help from someone with the initials "E.W."

The address turned out to be the apartment of a belong to a blond college-age young woman named Elza Walker, who intercepted the Redfields by pointing a Beretta in their faces.

It had taken several minutes for Chris to convince her that they were not Umbrella spies, and even longer for both to convince her that they were the help she had asked for. She'd revealed that she'd gotten Ark's e-mail address from Leon, who had finished his mission in Europe and had been forced to take refuge in her place despite his reluctance to get her involved. As far as Elza was concerned, he'd no choice: he had been stricken with fever not long after he had shown up, and could barely stand and see straight.

But even that didn't stop him from bolting before Chris and Claire had the chance to see him. He managed to make it to the apartment roof via the fire escape—despite the fact that two of the stairwells had been broken—and would've successfully eluded them had he not finally given out near the water tower. In his delirium it had taken him a minute to recognize Claire, and when he did, he told Claire the last thing she wanted to hear: Sherry was gone, and most probably in Umbrella's hands.

He was flushed and unsteady, his eyes unfocused and glittering with fever, but Claire had not slept for nearly forty-eight hours and had had enough of losing people she had sworn to protect.

She hit him.

"I don't know if you believe me," Claire began plaintively from the other side of the room, "but I really am sorry."

Leon shrugged. He was lying down on the dorm-style cot, long limbs dangling out over the edges, a wet cloth folded over his forehead. The sting on his chin had all but faded away.

Claire went on, staring down at her hands as she twisted them over and over in her lap. "I mean, I've been kind of on edge for a long while. I thought I could handle it, but..." She trailed off. "I'm sorry you had to be on the receiving end of it. Does it still hurt?" she said suddenly.

Leon merely stared at the mauve wallpaper, squinting through the damp strands of hair that clung petulantly to his lashes. Claire couldn't resist brushing away the erring strands for him, and winced at how warm his skin was.

"You know what I thought when you punched me?" he asked. His voice was raw, raspy.

"What?" she queried, in a tone that indicated that she really wasn't sure she wanted to know.

"I thought, 'Article 421: abuse of a police officer is grounds for arrest,' but then I realized I wasn't a cop anymore, so I thought, 'Damn, I can't arrest her.' "

Claire laughed; the sound wasn't entirely hollow. She let her hand slide to his neck and then down to his wrist as though to check his pulse. "I am so, so sorry, Leon."

"I'll get Sherry back," he said as though he hadn't heard her.

We'll get her back," Claire corrected him, a bit uneasy at the determined glint in his too-bright eyes. "As soon as you get well."

"I never get sick," Leon declared, then flung his arm rather dramatically over his brow, knocking off the poultice. "Ask Elza."

Claire pulled his arm away from his brow and dunked the displaced cloth in the metal basin Elza had brought in earlier. "You've known her for a long time, huh?"

"Since I was in high school."

"Not that long, then," she muttered under her breath.


"Nothing. Maybe the stress caused it, made your immune system shut down or something." Claire sat down gingerly at the edge of the bed and dabbed at his forehead with the wet cloth like he was no older than three. For all her sarcasm and tomboyish demeanor, she also had a fiercely maternal side. "You move pretty good for someone with a temperature of a hundred and five. How'd you get to the roof with that broken fire escape?"

Leon frowned deeply, obviously puzzling over her question. "I thought they'd found me," he mumbled, blinking his eyes against the water that trickled down his face. "If Umbrella had found out that Elza was helping me...they'd go after her as well. I didn't want her to...I don't remember knocking Chris down or even climbing the fire escape. All I could think about was that I had to get away, spare Elza from all this."

"Oh, I see. Chivalry gave you wings." Claire blew a raspberry. "Has anyone ever told you you need to stop trying to play the noble knight to everybody? 'Cause you're a few centuries too late."

He tried to sit up, annoyed, but she seemed to anticipate his action and dropped her hand to his chest, where it felt like a boulder. He turned his head away from her and pressed it into his pillow. "What's wrong with trying to save everyone?"

"You can't." Her tone was brusque and deliberate, but underneath it Leon could sense a sadness that was somehow familiar to him. "The truth is that no matter how hard you try, you can't save everyone."

He didn't respond for such a long time that Claire thought he'd fallen asleep. She was about to shift her body toward his for a look at his face when he spoke, his voice half-muffled by the pillow.

"I know you can't, but that shouldn't stop you from trying."

Claire wanted to snap at him: What makes you think it's that easy? You have no idea how it feels to lose someone you thought you could protect! But her words died in her throat when her mind flashed back to the sewers beneath the RPD, where a bleeding and half-conscious Leon had been rambling about a girl he'd run into named Ada. When they'd escaped Raccoon City via that train, Sherry had been there with Claire, but Leon had been alone. He certainly would not have left anyone behind, especially not someone he had taken a bullet for.


"You have to keep fighting." He was almost slurring now; the fever medicine was starting to kick in. "If not for yourself, then for them—the ones we couldn't save, the ones who got caught up in this whole Umbrella nightmare. From this moment on, on you carry on for them and live your life for them...no matter how guilty or useless or heartsick you might feel."

Claire dug her nails into the blanket beside her. It wasn't until she heard him say the words that she realized that they described perfectly her state of being since Antarctica: useless. Guilty. Heartsick.

Leon knew, plain and simple; he didn't have to pretend to commiserate with her like everyone else.

For a moment Claire shoved aside her own sense of loss and wondered about his. Leon had never told her or Sherry what had happened to him during that fateful night, and they had not wanted to pry.

Now she had a hundred thousand questions to ask him about his experience, so many things she wanted him to explain, but all she could cobble up was a tiny, "Will it ever get better?"

"It will. Eventually. You'll never forget, but it'll become bearable. You just..." He trailed off for a second, fumbling for the words. "You just need to forgive yourself first."

Claire had just let this finish sinking in when she heard something in the distance that sounded alarmingly like gunfire. But her instincts, honed and sharpened after months of handling and being around more weaponry than an armada, identified them as fireworks, which didn't really make sense until she caught sight of Elza's motorcycle calendar hanging haphazardly over her dresser mirror. It was on the last page: December 1998.

Outside, somewhere beyond the icy velvet that cloaked the windowpane, came the chime of dozens of happy, slightly drunken voices singing "Auld Lang Syne."

New Year's Day already? Claire thought. She felt like she should be annoyed that she had missed such a pertinent piece of information, but for some reason she felt nothing more than a detached irritation. It didn't feel like New Year's Day, anyhow. For one thing, she'd made plans for New Year's Day, plans that didn't involve being on the run from continent to continent, carrying out raids on top-secret facilities, and dispatching massive numbers of the undead.

This wasn't how she pictured the beginning of 1999. She was supposed to be partying at some swanky get-together thrown by one of her college friends, eating chocolate-covered caramel warmed by champagne, kissing a boy for good luck.

She peered around over her shoulder to make some sort of snarky comment about holidays, but Leon was already out for the count. The cloth on his forehead had tumbled down to his pillow, soaking it, and his breathing was quiet and steady, though with a hint of a hitch now and then.

Well, then, Claire thought as she retrieved the cloth to return it to the basin. So this was how she was going to spend the first day of the new year: holding vigil over a fever-wracked police officer slumbering in the bedroom of a girl she didn't know while downstairs her lost-and-now-found brother toiled to regroup his shattered team.

For a second, she wondered how it would be if they had gotten their happier endings. Sherry would be right here ringing in the new year beside her, her pixie face alight with joy even as she fought to hide how much she missed her parents. Steve would be there, too, trying to pretend that he didn't care about celebrating but clearly enjoying himself, and before the night was over he would probably attempt to steal a kiss or two. And Leon? Leon would have Ada by his side; he would still have that idealistic light in his eyes, and would not be running himself sick with his ruthless anti-Umbrella campaigning.

She halted that train of thought before it could go any further. If she kept lingering on the what-might-have-beens she'd become a basketcase—and that was the last thing Leon and her brother and the rest of the S.T.A.R.S. needed her to be right now. She had to be strong; she had to get Sherry back, avenge Steve, and ensure that Umbrella would never have free reign to ruin anyone else's lives ever again.

You have to forgive yourself first, Leon had said. She wondered if he'd taken his own advice. She doubted it.

She studied his sleeping form. Physically, he wasn't all that imposing: he was slender in build, and possessed the unfortunate combination of big blue eyes, even features, and too-long hair that one usually didn't see outside of ten-year-olds or teen heartthrob magazines. He looked so much younger than he actually was, a fact that might have been construed as a disadvantage in his line of work. It seemed highly improbable that this rookie ex-cop, barely out of the academy, could have fought his way out of the Raccoon City necropolis when his older, more experienced comrades could not, could have lived when hordes of highly-trained SWAT and Special Forces teams had succumbed. And he had done it all with a bullet in his shoulder, which must have hurt like hell with every recoil of his guns.

Once, out of Sherry's earshot, he had confided in her that the actual act of surviving was the first part—the second part was the psychological aftermath, the harder part. If you managed to resume your life with your psyche mostly intact, he'd said, only then were you a survivor.

Well, he was a survivor. And so was she.

"Happy New Year, Leon," she murmured, and listened as he let out a soft snore in response.

Outside the revelers were launching into their third encore.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And days of auld lang syne?


Random Musings (because it's been so long since I was into RE that I now cannot shut up about it):

Way back when, about two or three years ago, I started on this RE fic titled "The Anteros Contract", which was supposed to include the entire RE cast and chronicle the fall of Umbrella and the clash with the HCF. Then I encountered massive writer's block as I got distracted by life and school and other survival horror games. However, with the spectacular-looking RE4 on the horizon, I've rediscovered my love of the Resident Evil franchise, and ended up writing this instead of a school report. It's a sort of epilogue to the unwritten "Anteros", but can stand on its own. It takes place a month or so before the events of RE4 .

"Litae/Litai", from Greek mythology, are the daughters of Zeus, "wrinkled creatures with halting gaits and downcast eyes." Their destiny is to forever follow Ate (the personification of Delusion and Ruin). But Ate is faster than them, and she roams around the world, her feet so light that she is able to step on the heads of men and bring them much suffering and harm. But the Litae always arrive in her wake and slowly set things right. They are the personification of "prayers." So what does Greek mythology have to do with Resident Evil? A lot, actually. I'll explain next chapter.

Elza Walker is the blond-haired, biker-chick heroine of Resident Evil 2 . Or, at least, she would've been, had Capcom not decided to scrap the first version after they were 80 percent done with it and replace her with Claire Redfield. I just thought it'd be cool to give her a teeny cameo as an acquaintance of Leon's.