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.
"Welcoming Litae: An Epilogue"
"I got something for you." Claire reached into the pocket of her dress—figured she'd buy one with pockets in it—and pulled out a pack of gum, enjoying the way Leon's eyes lit up at the sight. It was comforting for her to know that no matter how much he'd changed, no matter how much death and debauchery he'd witnessed, there would be all these pieces of him that would always remain the same.
"Grape flavor and high in sugar," he murmured approvingly, accepting the package from her through the chain links. "You know what I like."
Claire chuckled. "After all this time, you're still a gum whore."
He waved the pack under her nose. "I prefer to call it oral fixation'. Besides, there're worse things I could be hooked on. For example, mustard and peanut butter sandwiches."
"Hey, don't knock it till you've tried it," protested Claire.
Leon unwrapped a stick, tossed it into his mouth, and began to chew reverently. "Ah. Now this's the stuff. Much better than that flat sugar-free version we've had to make do with in here." He leaned down and popped a bubble close to her face for emphasis.
It was all so abnormally normal, Claire thought, her breath hitching. Just her and him shooting the breeze through a chain-link fence under a crisp autumn sky—and for once there were no flesh-eating zombies, twisted bio-organic viruses, or diabolical pharmaceutical corporations to distract them.
Maybe that was why she was feeling so antsy right now. Normalcy was something still foreign to her even nearly a year after Umbrella's fall; it was something she almost railed against, something she needed to keep at an arm's length for sanity's sake.
She almost missed Leon's question.
"So how'd you get in here, anyway?" he was asking. "I mean, this isn't exactly a place where they give tours. You didn't break in or anything, did you?"
"Of course not," sniffed Claire, affecting a scandalized look. "Breaking into heavily guarded secret facilities is a talent I've decided to reserve only for Umbrella bases."
"Much to the relief of federal security agencies everywhere," Leon said, only half-jokingly. "But seriously. How'd you get in?"
She made a show out of buffing her knuckles against her dress front. "Apparently, the Redfield name carries a lot of weight—at least with the proper higher-ups, anyway."
"Throwing your name around already?" For some reason he grinned, as if charmed. "You'll be a politician yet."
"Ooh, you'd like that, wouldn't you? Maybe it'll be my ass you'll end up protecting." She was taken aback at how that had come out, not unlike a double entendre.
"Knowing you, Claire, I think it'd be the would-be assassins and kidnappers who'd need protection."
She beamed brilliantly at the sincerity in his tone. "Thank you." She watched as he absently flapped the hem of his shirt in an attempt to cool off, then said: "You know, it wasn't that easy to get in here even with the name-dropping. Did you know it took me an hour just to get through the front gates? I must've pulled out every ID card I own and signed a hundred clearance forms, and that was just the first part. Even visiting Jill at her Delta Force base wasn't this complicated. What're they teaching you guys in here?"
Leon tugged at his collar. "Nothing. The usual secret agent stuff."
He seemed as though he were on the verge of saying more, but apparently thought better of it. Claire was aware that the whole cloak-and-dagger thing came with the territory, though she could not deny that she was curious. Five years of living as an anti-Umbrella insurgent had made Leon more than adequately well versed in firearms, self-defense, and strike team procedures. He had helped infiltrate Umbrella's online network, and even coordinated attacks. What else did he need to add to his repertoire—hacking top-level computer systems? Dodging and vaulting security lasers? Some sort of Matrix-y Special Agent-Fu? Or maybe something simpler...
"Like how to jump out of two-story windows without breaking your neck?" queried Claire, indicating the mock houses on the obstacle course. One of the trainees had just launched himself through one of the windows, landing miraculously unharmed thirty feet below.
Leon threw a cursory glance behind him. "That's one of the things we gotta learn, yeah."
"You can do that?" she marveled.
"It comes with the training."
"Then you should come to my apartment sometime." At his mystified look, Claire quickly clarified: "It's on the second floor. You could show me your little diving move there."
"Won't the neighbors complain if I came flying out of your second-story window?"
"Nah. I throw my men out that way all the time."
Leon looked at her as though he was trying to gauge her sanity levels, and Claire felt inordinately proud of herself.
"Well, that's one way to get rid of them," he said lightly.
Whatever clever repartee she had planned to give him was lost as a shriek came from the field. A recruit lay sprawled at the bottom of one of the buildings, moaning and clutching his ankle. Beside him stood one of the instructors, alternately yelling for a medic and yelling for the man to quit whining, for God's sake, it was just a sprained muscle.
Claire dragged her gaze away from the debacle and bit her lip. "Harder than it looks, huh?"
"Less than twenty percent of us are expected to complete the training," admitted Leon, his gaze growing distant as though in reminiscence. Again she had the sensation that he had more to say than he was permitted.
"But you're going to be one of the twenty percent, right?"
He regarded her, dead serious. "If I can get through Raccoon City, I can get through whatever they throw at me here."
Barely a month after the Raccoon City survivors had reunited and set up shop in their newest headquarters underneath Paris, tensions were at a boiling point.
Perhaps it was the strain of living as fugitives, having to pack up and move from hideout to hideout without prior notice, or the endless loop of night raids on various Umbrella facilities—whatever it was, it was taking its toll on the newfound S.T.A.R.S. Having to live day in and day out in such close quarters did not make it easier; though there were separate quarters for each gender, there was very little privacy to be had.
Case in point: Jill was in a foul mood after helping break up Chris and Carlos's earlier near-fight, and anyone who dared wander within her hearing range was subjected to a long and rambling tirade about men and how damned unreasonable they were. Unfortunately, since there were males occupying the other rooms in the compound, she'd chosen to commandeer the girls' quarters, where Claire was currently brooding in.
"…I can't believe Chris told me that I'm letting my feelings impair my good judgment, especially after he's been acting so irrational and suspicious lately!" raged Jill, her hands flying every which-way. "And right after I tried to explain to Carlos just why Chris initiated that lockdown order, Carlos accused me of the same thing! Can you believe the temerity of those two?"
Claire lay stretched out on her bed, wishing that she'd bothered to fetch her blanket from the dryer so that she could pull it over her head and block out Jill's diatribe. She understood the reason for the older woman's ire, she really did, but for all of Jill's good intentions and copious smarts, she couldn't seem to figure out that her habit of defending either Chris or Carlos to the other only ruffled their Alpha Male instincts even more. If the situation wasn't so infuriating it would almost be funny, except Claire had no idea who she should be more amused with: Chris and Carlos for being so obvious, or Jill, for being so oblivious. Then she concluded that it was a tie and left it at that.
"You know what's the most exasperating thing about it? This's so unlike them. They're usually so easygoing and professional and—" Something in Claire's face must've tipped Jill off, because she stopped in mid-sentence. "Claire, you okay?"
The younger girl stared at the dingy ceiling. "I'm okay, considering."
Jill sat down gingerly on the bed across from her. "You know, you shouldn't let what Wesker said last night get to you. He's not exactly a paragon of honesty."
"I know, but…the way he said it…" Claire drifted off. She could still hear his voice even now, smarmy and taunting, telling her that Steve and Sherry would be pleased to know that she was there. Would be', he'd said. Not would've been'. Present tense, as though they were still alive.
"We'll find them, Claire," Jill said as though reading her mind. Once again Claire was struck by how someone so intelligent could fail to tell when two grown men were fighting over her. "Sure, last night's mission could've gone a lot better, but on we were able to secure a good amount of top-secret documents. Wesker's been stealing Umbrella's secrets for months; I'm sure they've got data on him, as well as that HCF organization of his."
Claire pulled herself into a lotus position. "I hate this," she declared vehemently. "The waiting. I can't stand it. I feel like I should be out there, blowing up another Umbrella facility or looking for that damned HCF base."
"I know how you feel, believe me, but we really got caught off-guard last night. We used up a lot of ammo and supplies, and some of us're still convalescing. Including you," she added sternly, indicating the fresh bandage on Claire's elbow. "Look, as soon as Leon comes back with the computer files, we'll have a better idea of how we're going to proceed from here."
"He went out again?" Claire said, louder and more peevishly than she'd intended. "And Chris let him go? I thought this was a lockdown."
"Well, he needs to keep his U.S. STRATCOM teammates updated, you know."
"Oh, that's right," murmured Claire in a monotone. "That anti-Umbrella taskforce the U.S. Strategic Command slapped together. Are they just sitting on their asses waiting for us to do everything, or are they going to actually help us take down Umbrella Inc. by—oh, I don't know—maybe sending us some much-needed supplies?"
"As a matter of fact, they are." Jill planted her palms behind her and leaned back. "Leon's playing negotiator right now."
Claire examined the fingernails of her right hand with exaggerated interest. "I'm tired of him popping in and out all hours of the night like a freaking ghost," she grumbled. "All he does with us is go on missions and give us intel, but whenever we get some downtime he goes running off to the spooks. It's like he's only half here. I wish he'd just pick a team and stay with it."
To Claire's horror, Jill actually looked sympathetic. "You want him to stay here with us, don't you?"
"No! I mean, yes. I mean…" Claire expelled a long breath, racking her brain for an explanation that wouldn't give Jill the wrong idea. Whatever the wrong idea was. "Look, when we went through Raccoon City, we were mostly separated. But we saw the same things, survived the same things. He saved my life. We saved each other. And Sherry—he felt almost as responsible for Sherry as I did. And…and did you know there was someone he couldn't save? A woman named Ada Wong. I think she died—that's why he won't talk about it."
Even as she spoke, she felt the old irritation well up inside her. Even though the hurt was still fresh, she'd been open about what had happened to Steve. Leon, on the other hand, never, ever talked about Ada.
How was she supposed to get any answers from him about how to handle her loss when he refused to talk about his own?
"Maybe it's just his way," Jill said mildly. "Maybe he cared about her, too, like you cared about Steve."
He only knew her for about a day! Claire nearly snapped, before it occurred to her that she had known Steve only a bit longer than that. It was funny how life-and-death situations had a tendency to forge bonds that would have otherwise seemed unfeasible.
Still, that only compounded her irritation with Leon. He was probably the only one in the team whose loss was equable to hers; both of them should've been helping each other, not pushing each other away. Then again, neither had exactly made it easy: not Leon, with his near-obsessive focus on his anti-Umbrella crusade, and not Claire, with her massive pride and her refusal to be pitied.
Their conversation was cut short by a louder-than-necessary rendition of the "shave and a haircut" knock on the bedroom door. Barely a second later, Chris Redfield stuck his head into the room, his demeanor completely grim, and told them that Umbrella had started experimentation to create a new breed of Tyrant.
Someone catcalled from the field, causing both Leon and Claire to turn their heads. One of the recruits had meandered over from the obstacle course, leering at them.
"Conjugal visit, Kennedy?" he drawled.
Leon gave him a smile that was more like a baring of teeth. "Delgado, don't you have an obstacle course to run?"
"Only because I don't have friends in high places like you." He clapped his hands over his knees and wheezed as he tried to catch his breath, all the while sizing Claire up with palpable approval. "You know," he said helpfully, "I bet you guys'd enjoy it a lot better if you didn't have to talk through a fence. I'm pretty sure there's a gate around here somewhere, so you guys could—I don't know—carry on a proper conversation like normal people."
"Delgado!" one of the supervising agents boomed from the field. "You've only done eighteen rounds. Get your ass back here!"
Delgado heaved a long-suffering sigh and made his way back to the field with the fluidity of an ocean liner. "Tell you what, Kennedy—you let me know when that Hunnigan chick gets tired of you, so maybe the rest of us get a chance for special treatment."
Leon and Claire watched as the senior agent welcomed him back into the field by yelling something into his ear, drill sergeant-style. He scowled at several trainees who had stopped to rubberneck; they reluctantly resumed their exercise, which left the agent free to turn the heat of his glare on Leon and Claire, clearly annoyed by their distracting presence.
Claire tore her gaze away from the field and raised an eyebrow. "But we're not normal people," she said cheekily.
Leon smiled briefly. "As much as I hate to admit it," he said, "Delgado does have a point. About the fence." He pushed away from the chain links. "There's a gate up ahead. I'll just…ah, come around to you."
"I'll walk with you," she offered.
They strolled along, the fence still in between them. Claire jammed her hands into her dress pockets, while Leon snapped his gum a few more times.
"So…who's this Hunnigan chick and why's she supposed to get tired of you?" Claire asked with her signature subtlety.
Leon scrubbed both his hands through his sweat-dampened hair. "Oh, she's just one of the senior agents."
"Oh, just one of the senior agents, huh?" Claire waggled her brows up and down in a way that was probably meant to be suggestive.
He rolled his eyes. "All right, Claire, you got me. She's actually my Sugar Mommy. I sneak out of my barracks at nine every night and climb up into her private office and in return she makes sure I pass my training."
Claire gawked at his deadpan expression for about a second before reaching over to smack warningly at the fence between them. "Seriously, Leon."
He put up his hands in a placating manner. "Seriously, she's just one of the senior agents who check in on us now and then. I've never even really met her face to face. We went through a scenario the first couple of weeks and we had some senior agents evaluating us behind the scenes. Agent Hunnigan was the first to congratulate me on my performance over the intercom. The guys've been ragging me about it ever since."
"They think you're getting special treatment?"
"That's what they think," Leon said, in a breezy manner that indicated that he really didn't care. "Then there's this, of course."
"Yeah, the guys at the gate told me that it was against regulations for you to get visitors," Claire acknowledged with a shrug, "but then I told them that you got special permission from the higher-ups. You're free for the rest of the day."
"Hn." His eyes took on that haunted quality, the one that uniquely marked every survivor of Raccoon City's horror. Claire had seen it in her mirror, sometimes, whenever she remembered. "So when're the others arriving?"
"Soon. In fact, I'm supposed to meet Chris at the airport."
Leon glanced at her, surprised. "You drove here by yourself?"
"Just me and my bike, yeah." She withdrew her hands from her pockets and fidgeted with her pinky ring. "I just thought I'd help make sure you got out of here, or that you wouldn't forget."
"I wouldn't have," he murmured, and Claire felt an odd sting in her cheeks, as if she were blushing.
At this point they had reached the gate. It was unlocked, and Leon stepped out to stand in front of her. Claire backpedaled to give him space. It felt different without a gate in between them.
"Chris was against my driving here from Virginia at first," she said, more for the need for something to say than anything else. "Even though, as I've told him many times, I'm twenty-five years old and quite possibly capable of riding a motorcycle across two state lines to see if you've really got what it takes to be a real G-Man."
Leon leveled a smile at her that was somehow more genuine than the ones he'd mustered up earlier. She had no idea what she'd said to warrant that smile, and wished she did. He began to walk, and Claire fell into step beside him. "So how's Chris? He still single-handedly funding the entire men's hair gel industry?"
She grinned. "You know it. He's a captain now."
"Captain Chris Redfield of the United States Air Force." Leon shook his head, obviously impressed that Chris's reputation had apparently led the Air Force to reconsider overlooking his discharge. "Does he get to fly one of those Raptors?"
"Haven't asked him yet. But I bet he'll be overjoyed to find out that you know your aircraft. As for Jill, well, she retired from the Delta Force—again—and she's now working in the Air Force's JAG unit. And Carlos got himself a restaurant."
"A restaurant? Really?"
"Hey, he's not a bad cook," she reminded him. "Remember when he used to make lunch for us?"
"Now that you mention it, he was the only one of us who didn't cook stuff directly out of a package. Brazilian?"
"Mediterranean. They're doing so well he's thinking about opening a branch in another state."
"Wow. Not bad."
Claire leaned over to nudge playfully at his shoulder. "Carlos says the next time we go to New York we should stop by and eat for free."
Leon shook his head in mock pity. "Poor Carlos. He's gonna regret making that offer."
"I know. There's nothing more appetizing than the thought of free food, is there?" Claire rubbed her hands as if in anticipation of the feast. "We should order the biggest, most expensive dish they have. And then ask for seconds and thirds."
"Sounds like a plan."
"Also," she went on, ticking off on her fingers, "Barry's now the chief of police in Chesapeake, Virginia."
"You're kidding! That's not far from here."
"Yeah, his kids love the place. Speaking of the gang's predilection to go into law enforcement, I hear Ark's getting into the FBI."
"Yup, the VC unit in Maryland. He just got accepted, and he'll start his training next month. I can't wait till we compare notes on whose training was more sadistic."
"Yeah, and you guys'll probably try to outdo each other trying to be the better spook," drawled Claire, knowing full well the slightly competitive nature the two had. Though at least it wasn't as bad as hers and Chris's. "Oh, and Rebecca got promoted to professor of biochemistry at Cambridge."
Leon chuckled. "I bet she spends half her day explaining to people that no, she's not a student who wandered into the professors' wing by accident."
"Touché. She's thinking about growing her hair out so that she can put it up into a bun or something. And maybe getting one of those horn-rimmed glasses."
He tried to picture it, his nose scrunching up as he did. "Schoolmarm Rebecca. The horror."
"Billy threatened to crawl back into prison if she did that. He works at a computer company the next city over, but she's planning to move in with him."
Leon's bubble popped in mid-blow. "They're a couple now?"
"Yeah. I guess they never really forgot the bond they formed in Raccoon. Who would've thought, huh?"
"I think it's great that they found their happy ending." Claire didn't have to look at him to know that he was wearing that haunted look again. Idly she wondered if there would ever be someone capable of getting rid of that look for good. Someone whose name wasn't Ada Wong, anyway.
"You know what's funny, though?" she said, desperate to avert him from his melancholy. "Billy and Rebecca're compete opposites, but they still managed to find each other. Not so with Jill and my brother, who, despite being incredibly similar to each other, still can't figure it out."
"Chris still hasn't said anything?" Leon queried, astounded. Anyone who had a pulse could tell that Chris Redfield had it in bad for Jill Valentine. Even the cooties-averse Lott and Lily had been able to tell. The only one who couldn't tell, of course, was Jill.
"Nope. Can you believe it? It's hell every time one of them decides to go on a social outing without the other. Whenever Chris thinks Jill's gone out with Carlos he'll call me up just to bitch about it, and when Jill thinks he's gone to lunch with some other female pilot she'll call me up and whine about it. They do this to Barry and Rebecca, too. I swear, Leon, I am this close to just screaming at the both of them, Yes, you're nuts about each other, so just get on with it and put us all out of our miseries.' Of course, it's not my place to do that, but we're starting to run bets on when it does happen—if it ever does."
Leon laughed, a welcome, velvety sound. "Can you imagine Chris and Carlos still locking horns over Jill by the time they're all in the retirement home? They'll be fighting over who gets to rub the Ben-Gay on her."
Claire began cracking up at the visual. "And who gets to give her the Preparation-H."
"They'll probably end up trying to beat each other up with their walking sticks," Leon mused, now thoroughly into the game.
"Or trying to steal a kiss from Jill without dropping their dentures…"
They were practically bent over double now with laughter. The agency employees within earshot either threw them reprimanding glares or eyed them like they were insane.
"You'd think after all the years together and all they've been through, they'd have a clue," Claire said, wiping a tear from the corner of her eye.
"Yeah. I mean, how dense can two people be about how they feel about each other?" Leon wondered.
They didn't say anything else for a couple of minutes. Leon stretched his arms over his head while Claire reflected on how people who could take on the walking undead, viral monsters, and superhumanly strong megalomaniacs without batting an eye could turn into fidgeting wusses when it came to the loves of their life.
"You didn't tell me about Sherry yet," said Leon, breaking the lull.
"Oh, that's right. Sherry's gonna be graduating soon. There're half a dozen Ivy League colleges fighting over her." Irrationally, Claire felt herself swell with pride, as though she had something to do with her former charge's accomplishments. "She's incredibly smart, Leon."
Leon smiled and looked away. "Just like her parents."
Claire nodded. In a way, she and Leon had felt vaguely responsible for the demise of Sherry's parents, even though one had gone off the deep end and the other had been mutated into an abomination who liked to put parasites in people. "She says she's gonna find a cure for cancer and AIDS someday."
"To make up for what her parents did?" he said softly.
The observation was so uncanny that for a second Claire was startled. Then she remembered that Leon had been Sherry's guardian, too, and that they kept in touch. "Yeah. I've told her over and over again…she shouldn't feel responsible for what they did."
"I've told her that, too. But she does. I think she always will. But I also think she came to peace with that fact a long time ago." He paused. "Just like we've all had to."
Claire let her eyes trace over his profile—which was, for once, more thoughtful than haunted. Her brain was suddenly inundated with a series of flashbacks from the last five years. She remembered him meticulously breaking a tiny sleeping pill into two so that she could have the other half—they had both been suffering from insomnia and night terrors then. He had drawn a gun on her twice in both their lifetimes; once because he had thought she was a zombie, and another time because she'd thought nothing of jolting him from sleep in the middle of the night, forgetting that he slept with a Desert Eagle under his pillow. They had spent their second Christmas deep under the catacombs of Paris, drunk on Barry's hot buttered rum while they sang off-key songs about lickers and zombies using tunes from various Christmas carols. A little over a year ago he had turned around to smile at her, his face and clothes covered in blood and viscera yet strangely radiant, his outline limned by the inferno that raged behind him from the remains of Umbrella's Paris HQ.
It had been the beginning of the end of Umbrella, and the beginning of what was supposed to pass for normality for the S.T.A.R.S.
"It feels like an epilogue," Claire murmured.
Leon cocked his head inquiringly to one side.
"It's as if the last five years was one big movie and this's supposed to be the final tag scene or something," she explained. "All of us being ordinary, going on with our lives."
He must've sensed the undercurrent of disappointment in her words. "Hey, now. We're not ordinary," he chided her. "You said so yourself."
She smiled. "I said we weren't normal people."
"That's right. We're not. You know why? Because we went through Hell, and we survived it, and we can move on in spite of it."
Maybe that's the answer I've been looking for since Raccoon and Antarctica, Claire thought. Maybe there's no real closure. We adapt, we change, and we move on. We lose what's precious to us but gain others. And somehow, along the way, we find that we've been able to forgive ourselves after all.
Maybe it was the beginning of something, after all, rather than an end.
Everyone came, just as Claire knew they would. Even the ones who hadn't heard of or experienced Raccoon City were there: Lott Klein, now in high school and proudly showing off the new diamond stud he'd gotten in his ear; his sister Lily, who read Tiger Beat and giggled nervously whenever Carlos or Leon spoke to her; Ark Thompson, who flew in from Quantico; and Bruce McGivern, who had even managed to comb his hair into some semblance of order. Eighteen-year-old Sherry Birkin arrived with them, and nearly bowled both Claire and Leon over with the exuberance of her hug. Barry brought his entire family—his girls were now in middle school and shared a lot of Lily's interests—and Rebecca and Billy were there, too, their hands seemingly permanently joined. Jill showed up in her JAG uniform, apologetically explaining that she hadn't had time to change. Not that Chris particularly minded; all throughout her explanation he ogled her as though she were the last can of Budweiser in the fridge. Carlos was the late one, dressed in a suit that was thankfully more conservative than the ones he usually favored.
If the occasion hadn't been such a solemn one, Claire realized, their group reunion might've appeared celebratory. Which it was, in a way: it was the first time in years that the full roster of Umbrella's survivors had seen each other.
Joining them were at least several thousand people, friends and relatives who had flown or driven to a park near Arlington to commemorate the anniversary of the long-gone mountainside town with the unveiling of an official memorial.
The memorial itself was a sculpture of inscrutable origin that reminded Claire, bizarrely and somewhat tackily, of the statue that had been in the middle of the RPD. No one would have identified it as indicative of the Raccoon City incident had it not been for the words chiseled at the base: In Memoriam, Raccoon City, October 1, 1998.
There was also a large slab in front inscribed with the names of Raccoon City's dead.
The ceremony had lasted for only an hour or so, peppered with solemn and sobbing speeches from those who had lost loved ones in Raccoon, including two Congressmen who had traveled directly from the Capitol. No one made any acknowledgments of the city's survivors, and Claire and the others were glad for it.
Sunset came and drenched the sky in shades of gold, yellow ochre, and cobalt. The park was nearly empty now save for the ones who had opted to remain, the ones who had confronted head-on the monstrosity behind Raccoon City's death and lived. They had their own demons to slay, their own separate way of commemorating the city Umbrella had used as their own viral playground.
Leon lingered at the front of the memorial long after the others, his eyes fixed intently on the list of names before him.
"You okay, Leon?"
He didn't have to turn around. "Yeah."
Claire moved to stand a respectful distance beside him, glancing at him out of the corner of her peripheral vision. He'd ditched his gray training clothes for a navy turtleneck, dark pants, and a black trench coat. If he'd worn shades he would've looked like a refugee from a Wachowski brothers screenplay. "You recognize someone?"
He reached out and dragged his fingers over one of the chiseled words. "This one. Kevin Ryman."
She edged closer to him to read the name. "Was he a friend of yours?"
"Yeah. He was older than me by ten years, but he never made me feel like a kid. Used to bring me to all these football games. He was a great cop—he always told me I could count on him to show me the ropes. I was really looking forward to working with him when I got assigned to the RPD." Leon let his hand drop heavily. "Whenever I got tired of the fight against Umbrella, his was one of the names I remembered so that I could keep going."
"I'm sorry." Unlike Jill, Chris, Barry, and Rebecca, who had collaborated with the government and the deceased's families to compile the list of names, she and Leon, having driven to Raccoon for the first time that night, didn't really know any of those who had died. Or so Claire had thought.
"Well," Leon said at last, "at the very least, for the first time in years, we can say that they can rest in peace now."
They fell silent, contemplating the ones lost. A brisk wind had started up, rippling their clothes and gently tugging the yellowing leaves from the tree branches overhead.
They did not mention Ada or Steve, but they did not need to. Instead they merely stood there side by side, not quite touching, but drawing strength just the same.
Leon's downtime was limited to only a few hours, so he had to beg off joining the others for dinner. He was currently in his final phase of training, and would not be able to see most of them until possibly the next year.
Claire wandered off the back of the group as he said his goodbyes to the others. She was almost halfway across the park when he finally got to her.
"Hey," he breathed. "Trying to avoid me?"
She smiled and evaded his question. "Going back, huh?"
"I gotta." Spending time with his former anti-Umbrella teammates had apparently done him good; he seemed genuinely lighter and much less solemn than he'd been earlier that day back at the training facility. "So, I'll see you again maybe when you graduate?"
"You're not sure if you'll come?" Claire asked, trying not to sound too disappointed.
"I'll try my best," he said earnestly, "but I can't make any promises. It depends on what the agency decides for me."
"You gonna wear your G-Man threads so I can spot you?"
He grinned. "How about a really loud neon tie-dye shirt?"
She swatted playfully at his shoulder, and Leon opened his mouth as if to say something else, but then seemed to think better of it. Instead he gave her a light punch in the arm; no matter how many dresses she wore or how often she let her hair down, it seemed he would always treat her as one of the boys. "Well, then…see you around, Redfield."
He didn't turn around right away; instead he walked backward for a couple of seconds, as though he wanted to make sure that she wasn't following him or something. Finally he swiveled around.
Claire watched his departing back for a second, and, before she could stop herself, called out. "Leon!"
He turned, his expression almost expectant. "Yeah, Claire?"
To her chagrin she realized that she'd completely forgotten what it was she was going to say. "Ah…I forgot. I mean, good luck. With the training."
He processed this far longer than he should have, looking at her as though she were covered in tiny handwriting that he was trying to read. Finally he smiled. "Thanks."
Claire let out her breath as he strode away. It was funny; for an instant it had been so clear to her what she needed to tell him. It was always there at the tip of her tongue, waiting to tumble out in his presence. But she could never figure out what it was.
She spun on her heel and glanced suspiciously at the audience behind her. "What?" she demanded.
Sherry merely grinned from ear-to-ear. Rebecca giggled into Billy's shoulder and Chris exchanged a clandestine look with Jill, who said, "Why don't you just tell him?"
"Tell him what?" Claire asked, genuinely confused. Maybe they knew?
They all shook their heads in such unison that Claire was surprised they didn't create a secondary wind.
She rolled her eyes at them and shifted her attention back to where Leon had gone. In the distance she could see the headlights of his Jeep flick on as he pulled out of the parking lot.
A couple of months later Ark phoned her up and told her that the reason Leon wasn't going to be receiving any calls for a while was because he had just been sent on his first mission.
"But he's still in DC?" Claire wanted to know. "He's Secret Service, right?"
"Not exactly," admitted Ark. "Apparently the position he got's very hush-hush, though I do know he works directly under POTUS and he does protection detail. He's been sent to Europe, I think."
"Oh, right. It's spook-speak for President of the United States."
Claire switched on her TV with the remote and turned it to CNN. "You know when he's coming back?"
"No. But he just got the job. Whatever he got sent on, it shouldn't take long, I don't think."
She grimaced as images of overseas unrest flashed across her screen. "He better be okay."
"Oh, he'll be fine," Ark assured her confidently. "Besides, his first day as a rookie agent couldn't possibly any worse than his first day as a rookie cop, right?"
She smiled. "Right. Thanks, Ark."
"No problem. Later, Claire."
Claire clicked off the phone and stared at the TV. It was replaying footage of the newly elected President Graham waving to his campaign supporters, his elegant wife flanking his left, and his daughter, a pretty blond, on his right.
Leon's new boss, she thought. Come to think of it, no wonder the President picked him—he's got this really aggravating habit of treating himself like a disposable human shield. If anything's going to get him killed, it'll be because of that damned self-destructive instinct of his to protect and serve. Well, he better stay in one piece, 'cause this story's not over yet.
Claire Redfield was not the type to keep quiet when she had something to say, so actually not knowing what it was she wanted to say was, naturally, quite frustrating. She was sure she'd almost gotten it a couple of times, as recently as when she'd first seen him back at the training facility, but for some reason she could not articulate it. Maybe it was too complicated, or too absurd, or too hard for words. But whatever it was, she was certain that she would get around to it eventually.
Her college graduation in December wasn't all that far away, but maybe by then she'd have figured out just what it was she wanted to tell him.
F I N I S
Random Musings (nope, still can't shut up): Sorry for the abrupt ending, but I finally got RE4! Er…did I already say that? Well, believe the hype. Despite its untraditional non-zombie storyline, it really is the legitimate follow-up to Code: Veronica, and it is "holy sh!t!" scary—I've lost count of the number of times I've found my clammy fingers welded to the controller. Everything about it is spectacular: the different types of scenarios, the boss fights, the cut-scenes, the graphics, the non-template story, and the animations (just watching Leon quickly reloading his weapons or doing his evasive backflips is breathtaking). I'm already addicted to the shooting range mini-game (I want alla them bottlecaps, darn it!). It's almost inevitable that I'll be writing an RE4 fic one day. Not to give away any spoilers, but the ordeal Leon undergoes here is far, far beyond anything I've seen in the series so far.
So what does Greek mythology have to do with Resident Evil? A bit, actually. Umbrella's monster-makers must've had a soft spot for the Greek myths, judging by the names they give to their ravenous creations: Cerberus for the dogs, Neptune for the sharks, Dead Aim's Pluto, and so on. What was cool was that when I was choosing names for original tyrants for my "Anteros" fic, I plucked them from Greek mythology, suspecting that RE3's Nemesis was named after the Greek personification of vengeance. Later on, I found out that Capcom named Outbreak's final boss the Thanatos tyrant (Thanatos is the Greek myths' personification of death), which I thought was very cool.
U.S. STRATCOM was—at least in Dead Aim—heading the U.S. government's anti-Umbrella movement, and was Bruce McGivern's employer. In Wesker's Report, it's not specified which "underground anti-Umbrella organization" Leon joined up with, but judging from his actions in Code: Veronica, Gaiden, and Survivor, where he seemed to be working behind the scenes and dishing out intel in addition to going on missions, it's entirely possible that his group was government-sponsored. It would also make sense considering how quickly he rose to elite agent by RE4 (it him took all of two years; if you take Gaiden into consideration, he was still fighting Umbrella by 2002). Besides, even though it's probably not relevant, take a look at Bruce's and Leon's black rubber-like T-shirts; they look like they shop from the same G-Man store.
Again, thanks for reviewing. Back to the Ganado-slaying!