A/N: I've gotten everyone's encouragement and reviews, and I appreciate them all. In light of that, here is the end of Chapter 2, officially. It was a slightly longer piece and then I split it in two for the sake of where chapter 2 really ends. Ta-da.
The hours of processing seemed like days. Oscar split off from them almost as soon as they got ushered into the tents that had been set up to deal with the outbreak survivors and any affected workers from the site. Emily and Nicholai huddled together at her sides, and Claire did her best not to wish they were Sherry. In-processing was the same as it always was. General weight taking, blood work, a physical examination. At the very least Leon was helpful. He went through all of it first, setting the example.
Nicholai stepped up next, as if to show Emily that he wasn't scared.
The little girl didn't want to see it, though. She clutched Claire like a parent-sized teddy bear and hid her face. Claire decided to wait until she was safely through everything before getting hers. She'd go last.
The doctors made nervous noises at that, but there was nothing to be done with the little girl clutching her side so tightly. And then Emily went just as easily to take her tests, 'like a good girl' was what Claire had told her.
It felt, as Claire sat waiting, like the children's physical testing took less time than hers did. Leon's had seemed to get done in a flash. After the children were finished with the physical assessment, they were ushered off to get fresh clothes and something to eat.
That seemed like ages ago, and it had been before she'd had to do the whole stand up sit down routine that they needed her to do in order to get her beats and numbers down. The technicians were jabbing her with another needle of something. Leon hadn't been offered the same 'fresh clothes and a meal' treat. He was still standing in the tent across from her like a watchdog.
As the adrenaline wore off, the wound in Claire's side began to ache. Hopefully on the other side of this there would be something to take that away. The doctors had poked and prodded her from the inside their hazmat suits, and they were waiting on bloodwork results before addressing the wound in her side. She was the only one with any physical injuries, and they were being cautious with her.
Seated on a sterile, temporary cot, Claire stared at the back of Leon's head. Having finished his in-processing, he was standing on the far side of the last test, arms folded on his chest, staring down the medical technicians as they worked on Claire's samples. Staring silently.
This, Claire figured, was why nothing ever really happened between them. Government-issued lock-jaw.
They always came close to something. Either saying something or… well the other night in the hotel was a prime example. They were always interrupted, or had work to do. Where would they be if room service hadn't gotten the wrong room? If the island hadn't been infected?
With an inward sigh, Claire figured they were just wrong. Anytime they were together, zombies showed up.
A carefully suited nurse came back, offering a smile through the face shield. "Agent Kennedy, your test results came back clean, if you'll follow me-"
"-we can get you some… what?"
Claire blinked, still staring at the back of Leon's head. She was almost waiting for it to open up and show something sinister lurking. But all she saw was the sandy brown hair trimmed neatly against his neck, his almost-tan skin disappearing into the hospital gown they had been forced to change into, and the muscles he normally hid beneath his clothes peeking out between the ties at the back of his neck.
"I said no," Leon replied, staring the nurse down. He didn't turn towards Claire. "I'll go take clean clothing when Claire's results are back."
That, Claire thought, was new. Of course, he hadn't been nearly as close to being her boyfriend before in this sort of situation, but he'd never stayed when she had to linger behind before. Of course in Harvardville he'd been working… It was a bad thought, but Claire wasn't sure if her immediate reaction to that would be the same, if the situation was reversed.
Neither of them had fussed when first Oscar and then the children were ushered out to get new clothing, but Leon sounded like he was putting his foot down about this.
"I'm not going without her," he said firmly, folding his arms on his chest.
The nurse cast Claire a nervous look, and then nodded.
Leon looked tense, like he wanted to snap at the woman as she headed out, but he didn't. He shook his head and glanced at Claire before stretching out on the one of the other thin little cots. "They need a card."
"A what?" Claire asked, watching him spread out, one knee hanging off the cot that wasn't really big enough for him anyway.
"They should make them. Survivor cards. One that tells them what's normal for your blood work," he said, staring up at the tent overhead. "The same thing happened in Harvardville."
Claire blinked, watching him for a moment. He was staying. "Are you worried they are going to lock me in an air-tight box for being immune? Because if that's why you're staying…"
"I'm staying," he said, eyes closing, "because we came together."
"We did," Claire agreed. She waited for what that actually meant, but Leon didn't seem to have anything to add. "About… that," she said, hoping he would ask something, but when he didn't she pushed ahead anyway. "Is this a date?"
He tipped his head in her direction, eyes opening to give her an annoyed look.
"Ok, wrong question."
Leon shook his head, looking back up at the tent. Claire wondered if he was thinking, and tried to stay silent so he could, but that wasn't really an answer, was it? He let his eyes close, and she watched him, curious about this. He wasn't leaving, but he wasn't really paying attention to her.
It seemed like months before they were released from strict quarantine, but it was only two days. It was that long to determine that they had only been exposed to the T-virus from the infected and didn't carry the infection themselves. Nicholai and Emily were separated from them. Leon and Claire both had anomalies in their bloodwork from previous outbreaks that had to be verified. Leon's he had paperwork for, but just like Leon had mentioned, Claire had no way to prove the results of her labwork were normal for her. Her whole body felt stiff, actually, and sore like she had some kind of a fever.
Claire couldn't even count the number of things she'd been inoculated with, her arm was sore, and they'd taken to alternating the injection spots for it. Leon was the same, but he seemed more used to that part. He didn't complain, he didn't even mention what was going on, except to sigh in relief when their blood work seemed to come back cleaner after each set of injections.
Once it was obvious they wouldn't keel over and start vomiting up their own intestines, they were allowed to walk around the small island where the makeshift cleanup facility had been set up. Claire was sick of islands, but thankfully this one was rocky at the shore instead of sandy like Milena had been. They walked together. Leon spent a good deal of time on the phone, either receiving information or relaying it. At one point he told her that Nicholai and Emily had been picked up by relatives. That was good, Claire thought, they'd need family around.
Leon's phone seemed like a third person that spent time with them. Claire was ok with that, it gave him something to do with his hands. She didn't know what she'd do if he tried to sling his arm around her shoulders and comfort her. She wasn't upset, she wasn't freaking out, she was pissed off at having lost another vacation to an outbreak.
Besides, it was refreshing being with someone who trusted her. Leon didn't turn to check on her when he stepped away, he didn't make sure to wave at her from wherever he'd stepped over to when he did it. Chris did that sort of thing sometimes, worried that she might get worried when he stepped away. It was reasonable, but annoying. Leon just motioned to his phone, glanced once around them as though looking for anything dangerous, and headed a reasonable distance away to answer his call.
Once, when he'd done it, one of the orderlies ended up going a bit haywire in one of the electric trucks used to transport supplies. In an instant, it seemed, before Claire could get her stiff muscles to move, Leon scooped her out of the way.
That was a strangely reassuring reminder of his presence. Leon had both arms around her and was holding her tight to his chest. She could feel his heartbeat as it raced… adrenaline, no doubt. She looked up the few inches into his face and heard him mutter, "If it's not the damn zombies…"
Once the cart had 'safely' plowed into some of the standing water barrels, Leon looked at Claire. "I'm fine," she'd said to assure him. "Thanks." He had looked more than a little awkward at that, so she just leaned up to kiss his cheek before repeating her quick 'thank you' and shooing him back to his phone.
In her heart Claire was already preparing to be separated from him, to go back to the push and pull stress of the office and… her empty apartment. She didn't spend enough time in the city to keep a pet, and all her plants ended up dying slow and likely painful photosynthetic deaths.
Leon didn't mention a word about them separating. It felt almost like he purposefully didn't. They talked about other things, about work, about what food would be best once they were off hospital rations, whether or not to cancel gym memberships and… a million useless things. Despite her bravado in asking if the vacation was a date, even in the private tent she knew that she wasn't feeling quite up to properly ridding Leon of what she considered his prudish shyness.
It was funny, really. He was so insistent about some things, like when he'd stared down the nurse and told her no he wasn't going to leave, and the way that he shoved their cots close enough together that even though it wasn't physically possible for them to sleep together, he could hold her hand. And more often than not, she woke up finding he'd angled them so he could get his arms around her. It was a precarious position, diagonal across two not-very-sturdy cots, but Claire appreciated that he held her like that.
She wanted more, but Claire reasoned to herself that it was probably a better thing for her that she didn't get it. She was already attached enough to the secret agent without needing him to hold her and wanting to hurl him into bed every minute. It would be better, she thought, if it was ok to be apart from him, though she knew she would never get rid of the memory of the warmth of his arms at night.
The flight attendant once again mistook them for a married couple on their trip back to New Jersey. It wasn't out of the question, given that they were tanned and returning from Sydney in first class. Of course they also might look like escaped mental patients in the generic sterile clothes they'd been given by the emergency personnel on the island. Either way, the mistake was an amusing one. Leon took the opportunity of the long flight to put the armrest up and wind his arm around her shoulders before settling into a light sleep.
Claire was bemused by the flight attendant's "helpful" questioning. "Would your husband be more comfortable with a pillow, ma'am?"
"He's comfortable the way he is, I'm sure. He sleeps like a bear sometimes," Claire said.
"What about you, ma'am?" The flight attendant looked very courteous, but curious. "If it'll be more comfortable for you, we could find a pillow for him."
"I'm used to it," Claire said. The flight attendant smiled and nodded, and only disturbed them for meal times. At the airport, in their slightly less fresh survivor's clothes, they started for Leon's car, and then stopped. "Keys?" Claire asked him.
"Hotel," Leon replied, shaking his head. "Think you can pick the lock?"
"Think you can hot wire the thing?" Claire replied, grinning.
"How do we get into your apartment? Did you…?"
It was a triumphant Claire who fished the long forgotten nylon bag from her heather gray hoodie. She shook it at him. "Everything essential for a girl on the go," she said.
"Well, you officially win when it comes to the supply department."
"You're the one who thought to pack ahead on the artillery," Claire shook her head. "Lead on to the car," she motioned with a hand.
Leon held out an arm, and Claire smiled at the casualness of his gesture before stepping into it. It was a bit slower between them than she had anticipated… but… it was good. Leon was more complicated about that, she wagered, than she was. Or at least he said he was. She had to doubt that given the opportunity he would do his other good qualities adequate justice.
Well, she reflected, given the opportunity without an outbreak on its heels. Leon had proven he could be pleasing in that way, or at least he showed great promise. He led her to the car, and she pursed her lips a little as she looked at the door.
"All boasting aside, why was I thinking you'd gotten me in the truck?" Claire said. "I don't know if I can pick your laser-key car door…"
"I probably can't hotwire it either," he admitted. "I got the BMW because it's hot-wire proof. Does your essential kit include cash for a cab? I'll pay you back later."
"It just might," Claire said, letting him turn them back to the airport terminal to go for a cab at the lower level. "But isn't it a bit problematic for 007 to loose his ID and keys?"
"I told you," Leon said, "I'm not 007. I feel more like 86 right now."
Claire chuckled at that, and glanced at the elevator that would take them down. She tensed just at the sight of the stupid thing, like the doors were going to open and something undead was going to lurch out of it. Leon shared the direction of her look and turned them for the escalator instead. Claire's fingers tightened in the back of his heather gray sweatshirt and she put her cheek against his shoulder as the stairs rolled them smoothly down to the baggage claim area.
It was almost like she blacked out when he guided her away from the elevator. She couldn't remember getting into the cab, but she remembered Leon pulling her close and kissing her hair. Normally these things didn't get to her like this… what was different? What was…
Normally no one let her be anxious. Normally there wasn't time, or anyone to connect with about it.
"I take it your essential pouch doesn't include a cell phone?" Leon asked, tipping his head against hers.
"I need different things than a gun and a PDA," Claire said, relaxing against him. Leon shifted in an obvious attempt to keep from putting his arm directly across her breasts as she moved. "You know it's weird you have less a problem touching me when you're asleep."
"Call it modesty?" he asked awkwardly.
Claire tipped her head. "Leon, modesty? After Melina, I'd think there was nothing for me to be modest about with you at least."
"Ok, well… maybe… it's less about having things left and more about being respectful," Leon said. He relaxed enough to hold her properly, though. "It's different, with you."
She sat up enough to turn her head towards him so she could respond properly, but the cab slowed. That was strange, this was near enough her building, but… "Why are we slowing down?"
"Roadblock," the cabby said, shrugging.
"Let us out over there, would you?"
"Claire?" Leon asked as she pulled from his arm.
"… there's never any traffic on this street," Claire commented.
The cab pulled over and the two of them climbed out. Leon followed Claire as she led the way towards her apartment building. They only made it around the corner before they saw the obstruction. Claire jogged the two blocks to the roadblock. The police barricade…
"What's going on here?" Claire demanded of one of the officers.
"Stay behind the line, ma'am, the area isn't safe."
It took a moment for Leon to catch up to her. Claire was about to demand more information from the cop when his hand touched her shoulder. She turned to look at him, and he pointed.
Of all the things she expected to come home to, a flaming apartment building was not one of them. New Jersey wasn't exactly high on the list of places in the world one would expect a terrorist attack, which was exactly why Claire lived there. Sure, she knew how bio-terrorism seemed to strike in the least likely places, but that was why the small Newark suburb seemed so ideal. It was close enough to one of the TerraSave offices in New York that it was a quick hop on the train, it wasn't remote enough to be at risk of having a secret lab stationed nearby…
But apparently she'd overlooked the obviousness of picking a seemingly innocuous location for her home base.
And now her building was on fire.
"Damnit!" Claire swore.
Leon's hand closed on her shoulder.
"God damnit!" she cursed again, jerking out of his grip and turning back the way they came. Behind them there was an explosion, and Leon stepped over to push her a little farther away. "I'm not going to get hit by glass from the explosion!" she snapped at him.
Leon let her go. She stomped off, leaving the apartment at her back. Now was a good time to go. The cheap sneakers that had come with her packet of 'cold clothes' didn't make the satisfying scrunch on the sidewalk that her boots would have in that situation, but she put up with it by jamming her heel down and slapping the length of her foot against the stone on the walk. Why did this sort of thing have to sucker punch her at the end of a very bad… what was it? Month? Month! Well, fuck it. There were better things to do than worry about this. There were other places…
She was halfway down the block before she realized she didn't really have anywhere else to go at the moment.
"I can get us a flight to DC if you don't mind staying at my place," a soft voice said to her.
Claire was startled at finding him only a few feet behind her. "You're quiet," she ground out. She wasn't angry with Leon, not really. He hadn't actually done anything to anger her… but it was so abrupt. She was preparing to be alone in those rooms and… "And you don't have any ID, how are you getting on another plane?"
"This is why I keep my cell phone." Leon took a step closer to her. He didn't touch her, thankfully, as in that moment the last thing she wanted was anything on her, but he did meet her eyes. "Do you want to stay with me, or…"
"Don't you dare get all emo about-"
"… we could call your brother, or I can get you a hotel," Leon finished. His brow twitched.
Claire cut her sentence off, and looked at the sidewalk. She was being really unfair to him just then, really mean and vicious. "I…"
He stepped past her. She saw him as he did it. "Don't apologize yet, I'm pretty sure you're not done being angry."
Blinking, she looked up and glared at him. "What do you mean by that?" she snapped.
"Keeping you includes the storms," Leon said. "Come on."
Something she said must have flared up his temper. She'd seen a flicker of it on Milena with her wound, but… Ugh. Shaking her head, Claire followed Leon down the street. At this point, anywhere would be better than nothing, and it was nice not to have to worry about it all on her own.