It had been eight months since the second incident in Spain. Leon had flown back to the States, healed up, and returned to active duty as soon as possible. He had taken some heat for what he'd done, Stuart's head had looked like it was going to pop right off where his freshly-pressed white collar bit into his fleshy neck, but Leon wasn't one to let ridicule bother him.

But as much as he had wanted them to, things wouldn't return to the way they had been. He was irritable and withdrawn, more so than usual, working himself to exhaustion just to be able to sleep. Living alone had never bothered him before, but he found himself craving human contact and hating himself for it. He hadn't realized how isolated he had become. He hadn't thought he'd had that kind of weakness anymore.

They had sent him on a mission to some sweltering city in the Middle East and he'd screwed it up, almost getting himself and another agent killed. They'd hauled him into a room and spent about four hours tearing him a few new assholes for that one, and in the aftermath, he'd found himself chained to a desk. He could feel his impressive survival skills rusting away by the day, his usefulness eroding along with his trigger finger.

"It happens all the time," Hunnigan had reassured him, "guys are under a lot of pressure and they just freak out. Don't worry about it. Just take some time off and get your head screwed on straight again and you'll be fine."

He had spent about three days at home before he realized it was getting him nowhere. On the morning of the fourth day, after a long fitful night, he'd gotten up, taken one long look at himself in the mirror, made a few important phone calls and booked a flight back to Europe.

He was sitting in a park in Leeds, just up the street from where he wanted to be, anxiety roiling in his stomach. It had been a simple enough call to Claire to find out all the information he needed and he had been able to hear her self-satisfied grin even over the phone. He felt selfish and weak, desperate, and hating the fact his happiness and ability to perform was so out of his own jurisdiction, so connected to this person he hardly even knew. And yet, he couldn't deny it; the results spoke for themselves. He stood, stuffing his hands in the pockets of his favorite jacket, his long legs carrying him too quickly to his destination.

Lise was spending that evening curled up with yet another trashy romance novel, borrowed from the used bookstore where she now found employment. They were total crap, but the stories were easy enough to get into, the endings always happy, and she found she still didn't have the stomach for anything too heavy.

She lived now in the basement flat of the sweet, older couple who had met her at the Dover train station. They had taken her under their wing, their own daughter killed years ago in the Raccoon City incident, and helped to fill the void of her own family. It was a bearable life, for the most part, although she found herself spending all too much time watching over her shoulder or day-dreaming of a time when she could return to her 'real' life.

A knock sounded at the door and she got up warily, still very suspicious of every car door slam, or stranger who let his eye linger just a little too long. The door opened a crack and she peeked out, her visitor's back facing her, his features lost to the back light of the setting sun.

"Can I help you?" he turned at the sound of her voice, a smile splitting his tired features, seeming to glow in the fading evening light.

"Hey," her paperback dropped to the floor, forgotten, as she stared at him, eyes wide and starting to water.

"Oh my God…" she took a step back and stumbled, but he moved quickly, catching her and pulling her tightly into his arms as he leaned back against the door. She gripped his shoulders, her hands shaking as she pressed her face to his chest. Leon could feel the hot wetness of tears through the material of his shirt. It was exactly the kind of welcome he had been expecting.

"Hey, it's okay now," he soothed, stroking a hand down her back, resting his head on top of hers.

"I thought you were dead," she swiped at her face, trying vainly to wipe away the tears that kept flowing against her will.

"I'm alright. I told you I'd be fine. Here," he tilted her face up with a finger under her chin, "let me look at you." She had changed in their months apart, her hair longer, the harsh line of the dye still visible, and her face more gaunt, her eyes more haunted. She was skinner, felt much frailer in his arms and he felt a stab of guilt. How many nights had she spent awake, worried about him, how many listless days living this lie? Still, even with her eyes red and swollen, and her cheeks flushed and wet, she was beautiful to him. "You look like hell," he scrubbed a tear away with the rough pad of his thumb. She gave him a shove on the chest,

"All thanks to you," her face was so close to his, her body cradled in his lap. He leaned forward and brushed her lips with his. Even that brief touch sent fire racing through his veins and he groaned as she pulled him closer, opening her mouth to him. She moved to straddle him, her hands everywhere as his slid up her shirt along the soft skin of her back. He had spent months yearning for the softness of her skin, never being able to find the same kind of release they had shared. She reached for the button of his jeans and he stopped her, finally tearing his mouth away from hers.

"Stop," he was breathless as she was, "I can't do this. Not like this."

"But I -" her face was a mask of confusion as he stood up, setting her back on her own feet. "What's wrong?"

"I just…" he trailed off lamely, "can I get a drink of water or something?" He had a lot of things he needed to get off his chest, a lot of questions for her, but if he let himself fall into bed with her again he wasn't sure if he would be able to survive any rejection she might offer. She nodded and led him to the kitchen, pouring him a glass of water from a container in the fridge which he gulped down quickly. She sat at the small kitchen table and he seated himself across from her, barely able to meet her questioning eyes. "I want to ask you to come back to D.C. with me."

"Leon…" she read the meaning underneath his words. He wasn't asking her to return to the States, to her old self, he was asking her to come back to be with him, as a permanent part of his life. He held up a hand to forestall her questions,

"Before you say anything, I want to tell you everything. It won't be easy for either of us, but I think you have a right to know." His expression was tense, his eyes distant as his mind already began to remember the horrors that had made him the man he was. A man who had survived on secrets and loneliness for too long. She nodded and reached for his hand across the table, cupping his large, callused fingers in her own delicate ones.

It took him an eternity to start speaking again, the words coming short and awkward at first as he explained how excited, how naïve and unprepared he had been driving into Raccoon City that last night. When he had described how lost and empty he'd felt afterwards, barely anchored to reality by Claire and Sherry, the words pouring out quickly by then, she had started to tear up again, pressing a hand to her mouth to keep quiet as he laid his fractured soul out on the table.

In the end, she wept for all the tragedies he'd lived through and had never been able to cry for himself, choosing instead to push himself harder, farther away from who he wanted to be. He carried her into the bedroom and made love to her like the last time; with a ragged sweetness and longing, now tempered with the joy of reunion. He held her face in his warm palms, his eyes locked to hers until the force of his orgasm had closed his tightly, leaving him exhausted. Leon gripped her tightly, her back to his front, curled into the aftermath.

"I need you," he whispered to the shell of her ear, "I've been through hell on Earth, too many times." He stroked a hand up over her curves, pressing a kiss to her neck, "this is the only piece of heaven I've found, and I need it." She shifted in his arms, pulling herself up on the pillow to look at him. "Please," his voice was a plea, ragged and anxious. He couldn't remember the last time he'd had to beg for anything. She pressed a soft, smiling kiss to his lips, her whispered, affirmative answer barely audible even in the silence of the room, a vow for his ears only. He smiled widely, an expression that reached all the way up to his eyes. He pulled her close, burying himself in the sweet smell of her, and drifted to sleep, content.

For the first time since he had been twenty-one, Leon S. Kennedy, Raccoon City survivor and U.S. Government agent, had a dream of something other than blood, death, and decay:

A future.