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The Devil, You Know...

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The night smells of asphalt and rainwater. Chris’ face is absolutely black from bruising on the left side, all down the line of his jaw; he leans against the balcony railing and stares at the motel parking lot with the intensity of a man waiting for the world to end, of an old general awaiting the arrival of the barbarian hordes. There’s a package of lucky strikes in his hand and he doesn’t even look over to make sure Leon’s really there before he says, “Smoke?”

“No thanks.” The rain has stopped, at least for a few minutes. From the balcony, Leon can see his government-issued car, shining like a silver bullet. He’s still getting used to having a government-issued anything. “I didn’t know you smoked.”

“For years,” Chris nods his head slowly; either his neck hurts or he’s having trouble forming new thoughts. “Big in the Air Force you know. I quit after the mansion. I figured, there were enough things out there trying to kill me without me trying to kill myself.”

“Good plan,” Leon nods. Real life isn’t like the movies; you don’t run around blasting the zombie hordes with a shotgun, a cigar between your teeth and a grin on your face. You scream, you run, and if you’re not careful you die. That’s about it. “And now?”

“Leon,” Chris takes a very slow, careful breath. Maybe he’s going to scream. Maybe he’s going to sock Leon in the jaw. “I just flew a stolen fighter plane halfway across the world. I fought giant spiders and something that I can only say was a giant termite. I saw Albert-Fucking-Wesker alive and laughing in my face. I think I deserve a smoke.”

When he puts it that way, it doesn’t seem like too much to ask. “Claire’s not going to like it.”

“You’re not going to tell Claire.”

It isn’t a question, really, but it isn’t a command either. “No, I’m not. I’m also not going to tell my handlers back in Washington where you are – even though you are a wanted fugitive.”

Chris gives him a long look. It's dangerous, but also weary. Claire has a picture of the two of them - tucked inside a hidden pocket of the rucksack that now holds her entire life - taken on the July fourth weekend just before the "mansion incident", and the truth is that it doesn't look anything like the man standing next to Leon now.

"Times are changing Chris - they're starting to listen. They want to form a task force, the Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance."

"Task force?" Chris laughs and then winces in obvious pain, curling an arm around his ribs. "Bureaucracy. I know how that works Leon - friends in high places, nepotism. Anyone can be bought."

"Not this time, they're learning from past mistakes.” He wants to believe that, he really does. “And I'm not talking paper-pushers either. They need experienced people - military, police - people who have seen Umbrella's weapons in action, who have seen what the T and G Viruses can do. Claire's..."

"Not interested." Chris cuts him short.

"I was going to say - not legally qualified." They have had this discussion - argument before; the what have you gotten my little sister into? argument. No matter what, Claire will always be Chris’ little sister, and Leon will always be the man who didn't protect her the way he should have.

Still, it might be true that Claire Redfield is a "person of interest" in her brother's disappearance - but Leon has worked hard to make sure that's all she is. He's never mentioned to Chris how many times he's risked his neck in the last five months to make sure the various acts of grassroots terrorism perpetrated upon Umbrella don't come back on her. Or Rebecca and Carlos for that matter. They're not meant to be keeping score like that.

He knows he can't buy Chris' freedom. That's something the man will have to do for himself, and now that the suggestion is hanging in the air between them, Leon knows it will only be a matter of time before Chris realizes how much his soul is actually worth.

Leon knows the price of his own already.

Chris lets out a long sigh, reaches for the lighter in his pocket. "Are you sure you don't want a smoke?"

-End-