Chapter Four
Closest to Heaven

And I don't want the world to see me

'Cause I don't think that they'd understand

When everything's made to be broken

I just want you to know who I am

-The Goo Goo Dolls, Iris


Claire grimaced immediately after she accidentally slammed a dinner plate in front of her customer.

"I'm so sorry," she forced a smile while brushing away the crumbs that fell from the plate. "My mind was just gone for a minute there." Claire's customer rolled his eyes and picked up his fork, and Claire mentally deducted yet another tip from this table. Her encounter with Leon earlier that afternoon was still on her mind and doing nothing for her take home pay.

"Geeze Ashley, I saw you almost take out your customer with the baked chicken over there," said a blonde waitress who playfully poked Claire in the back when they were both in the kitchen. Claire mentally shook herself and remembered that her name in Seattle was Ashley.

"Sorry Amy, I'm really distracted tonight," Claire smiled wearily.

"What's got you down this time?" Amy had the advantage having a sympathetic Southern accent. "Boy troubles again? It's not that nut case Ben Sullivan again, is it?" Claire took a moment to remember that Ben was the name Leon had given to this girl during their handful of dates.

"Oh yeah him, I mean no, it's not him…" Claire fumbled while trying to keep her stories straight. Amy cocked an eyebrow. "It's all of them," Claire feigned a guilty smile.

"Good Lord girl, you can't even keep them straight," Amy was filling her tray with butter dishes while waiting for her order to come up. "Well you can make it easy for yourself and ditch Ben at least—the boy ain't right." Claire assumed that Amy was remembering Leon's customized shot gun and was glad that she had never told anyone about the grenade launcher under her own bed.

"Le—he, Ben, is my friend," Claire stumbled again. "I kind of have to take care of him."

"Yeah, well, I guess that's the kindest thing you can do for him," Amy replied absently as she reached for the hot dinner plates that the cooks had just put on the counter. "Just let me know if you need any help, with your tables I mean." Claire nodded and didn't even hear the cook shouting that her order was done. She couldn't stop thinking about the argument she'd had with Leon. She knew she had to help her brother but the thought of splitting up with Leon was terrifying. Even while she ran alone through the halls of the Raccoon City Police Department, she knew that Leon was somewhere in that building too. He wouldn't leave her to die alone.

By the time Claire picked up her tray of food, the heat had stopped wafting from the plates. She quickly backed through the double doors leading to the dining room. When she stopped at the waitress station to pick up her drink glasses, Amy nudged her. Glancing in the direction of Amy's meaningful nod, Claire saw Leon sitting at a booth in her section and staring straight at her. Attributing her sudden lack of breath to the fact that she'd been thinking about their argument all day, Claire quickly carried her tray to her long-suffering customers. While she smiled a few more apologies, she could feel Leon's eyes on her. Casually pulling out her notepad, she walked to his booth.

"Good evening Mr. Sullivan. What can I get you?" Claire was watching him closely to see if he was still thinking their discussion earlier. He smiled slightly.

"I just wanted to talk to you again," he said, trying to keep his voice low. Out of the corner of her eye Claire could see Amy watching them while taking another customer's order.

"You seemed kind of upset this afternoon," he went on. "I just wanted to know if you were okay."

"Yeah, I'm fine," Claire replied quickly. "Can't this wait? I'm being watched by everyone around here." Claire was sure her disgruntled customers were muttering about her while she appeared to be chatting with her boyfriend.

"I know," Leon said. "That's why I'm here. You said you were being followed, so I wanted to walk you home again."

"I don't need—" but Claire's protest was cut short when she noticed someone standing in the lobby. Claire and Leon both watched as the hostess led Mike to a seat two booths behind Leon, whom he glared at. Claire decided that a war between Leon and yesterday's boyfriend was the last thing she needed that night.

"Okay, this is going to drive me crazy," she said, shoving her pad of paper back into the pocket of her apron. "I'll come over to your place right after my shift. I get off in 30 minutes." Leon had turned his back to Mike with deliberate slowness and now stared past Claire, apparently thinking. Claire thought his gaze was directed at the waitress station where Amy was busy filling water glasses.

"Okay," Leon said after a moment, his eyes flicking back to Claire. Without another word he stood up with his jacket in hand. He paused for a moment while standing in front of her, and Claire felt that this was usually when she gave him a hug. Neither of them made a move, however, so Leon walked past her and out the door. Hearing the door bang open as Leon passed through it, Claire made her way over to Mike's table. Mike was wearing his usually petulant scowl. Just as he opened his mouth to complain, Claire slammed her notepad and pen on the table.

"What the hell is wrong with you?" Mike stared at her hand on the table with disgust.

"Fuck off," Claire said, finally making up her mind to not even bother letting him down gently. Realizing how good those words felt, Claire walked straight past the stunned hostess and grabbed her coat from the closet near the door. She turned around and saw Amy standing in the doorway between the lobby and dining room, her mouth agape, while behind her the disgruntled customers stared their crazy waitress with disbelief. Smiling, Claire turned around and walked out the door.


Fifteen minutes later, Claire reached the steps of Leon's building. His windows were semi-dark, but she knew he was there. She entered the building and climbed the dark hallway stairs while fishing in her purse for a key. Turning the lock quickly, she stepped into the dimly-lit entryway but heard another soft click. For a split second she could only stare at Leon's steady hand as he leveled a gun at her head.

"Dammit, Claire," Leon swore, immediately lowering the handgun. "I thought you were…"

"A monster?" Claire interjected irritably, not pleased with being held at gunpoint.

"One of Umbrella's agents," Leon finished as he turned back to his kitchen and laid down the weapon.

"So if I were infected with the virus, you would shoot me?"

Leon halfway smiled. "I could probably outrun you," he replied evasively.

"You couldn't run from me forever," Claire insisted, crossing her arms over her chest. Leon turned around and stared at her steadily.

"You're right, I couldn't run forever…" he said quietly, no longer smiling. "I can't run forever. Not from Umbrella, not from you."

Caught off-guard by the gravity in his voice, Claire softened a bit. "I didn't mean that. I'm not accusing you of being a coward."

A pot of water simmered on the stove. Leon extracted a box of spaghetti from the cupboard and dumped the pasta into the water. He looked more haggard than usual under the single fluorescent bulb hanging in the kitchen. He hadn't shaved, and his loose, navy blue sweater and frayed jeans made him look like he'd spent a night sleeping in the gutter.

Claire stood on the other side of the counter uncertainly, now unsure of the reason she had stormed over to his apartment and was suddenly afraid of catching Leon's eye. She didn't immediately notice when Leon had left the kitchen and was standing in front of her.

"I know what you meant," he said, raising a hand to brush her hair from her neck. "But I feel like a coward. A tired coward. I was scared when you mentioned chasing after Umbrella. Scared at first… then just sad. We can't beat them, Claire…"

"We have to," Claire interrupted desperately, thinking not only of her brother but of Sherry as well. "Leon, I need you… I don't want to do this alone." Claire felt him linger, and she held her breath, searching his face. Another moment passed and Leon stepped back.

"When are you leaving?" he asked, turning back to his kitchen counter. Almost immediately, Claire began to cry. Leon spun around, alarmed at the sound of her sobbing. He had only seen Claire cry once before, the night they lost Sherry. Now the grief washed out of her in a sudden torrent. Leon crossed the threshold of his tiny kitchenette again and wrapped his arms around her. Claire was already trying to stop crying as she swiped a hand over her eyes and smeared her mascara. Leon kissed her forehead and stroked her hair. Claire took a deep breath and rested her head on his shoulder.

"I'm leaving tonight," she said softly.

"…How?"

"I'll sneak on board a plane or something."

"Wait to get tickets. Don't make a fuss until you have to… I'm going with you."

Claire pulled away slightly to look up at him. His face was hard-set and serious. "Are you sure?" she asked. "This is personal for me."

"It's Umbrella," he said simply, as if it were the plainest fact in the world. "It's personal for me too."

Claire continued to stare at him, conscious of the fact that his arms were still around her. "Okay," she agreed after a long moment. Her eyes were dull.

Leon opened his mouth to reply, but a sudden hissing noise behind them cut him off. "Oh damn," Leon cursed as he rushed over to the stove where boiling water was running over and he quickly turned down the flame. "So do you want to stay here tonight?" he asked as he stirred the food. "We could have some spaghetti if I don't burn the place down." When he didn't hear a response, Leon turned back to the door where Claire stood. She was gone.

In the back of his mind, Leon heard the click of the burner as he turned it off. Distantly, he knew that if he went to the window at this exact second, he would see her exiting the building and walking down the street in the direction of the airport. Just for a few moments, he stood still and closed his eyes, knowing that he could chase after her but choosing not to. Three powerful knocks on the door startled him back to life.

Leon crossed the room again to open the door. Filling the hallway were three men. Leon raised his arms in defeat.

"Okay," Leon said softly, nodding to some unspoken agreement. "Okay, you win." So he was going to be executed, after running all this time.

"At ease, Kennedy," said one of the men. "We're here to make you a job offer. We're letting the girl go if you hear us out."

Leon closed his eyes again, letting time catch up to this accelerated series of moments. Then he stepped into the hallway and closed the door behind him.


Epilogue

Claire stood among the small crowd of people waiting to board the first flight out of Seattle that morning. She stared vacantly while dawn broke on the horizon. It wasn't rosy pink or even salmon-colored. The sky was just a dull light. She hugged her oversized, shapeless coat closer to her body. She had not even stopped at her apartment to change her clothes, and was therefore shivering on the landing strip in her short waitress's dress. She carried enough cash in her purse that, coupled with last night's tips, had bought her a ticket from an impatient man with a briefcase.

Knowing that somehow she would be able to scrounge up a passport in New York, just as she would somehow find a way to get to Paris where she would begin a blind search for her brother, she truly felt nothing as she expressionlessly watched the small aircraft taxi slowly toward the group. She did not even have to force thoughts of Leon from her mind, as the wound was so intensely painful and sudden that her brain deliberately ignored it for the sake of self-preservation. She didn't think she even had a reason for leaving him without a word, but she was sure that after Umbrella had caught her in whatever trap they had laid, she would have one. She was sure she would be thanking herself for saving him. She was sure she had done the right thing.

She moved slowly as the line of people gradually boarded the plane. Claire smiled weakly at the flight attendant, and the woman smiled sympathetically as she saw Claire huddled up with tears streaming down her face. When Claire was seated, the attendant brought her a blanket.

"You look heartbroken, honey," the older woman said with genuine feeling. "Are you going to be okay?"

"Thank you," Claire replied, taking the blanket and trying not to sound too grateful. "I'm on my way to meet my brother."

"Oh good," the attendant sounded relieved. "You looked like you didn't have anyone in the world to go home to. Let me know if you need anything."

The woman walked away and Claire turned to the window. The sun was blinding on the slick runway.

Whatever lies beyond this morning
Is a little later on
Regardless of warnings

The future doesn't scare me at all
Nothing's like before

-Utada Hikaru, Simple and Clean

A/N: Okay, that's the end of this story! This suggests that Leon is on his way to join up with the US government while Claire infiltrates the Umbrella HQ in Paris and gets captured, setting into motion the events of Code:VERONICA and eventually Resident Evil 4. –P