Chapter 1: Crackle, Pop, Snap
The get together was Claire's idea. She hadn't been there for the events between Tall Oaks and China, though Chris was secretly quite relieved about that. She thought everyone could use the downtime that was a little more sane than a bar that could make cocktails of questionable origins.
She was still both miffed about losing, and in awe of Leon's comeback.
Chris was less happy about that, as the drinks had been far more potent than any of them had imagined. The result was said agent passing out before Chris got him halfway back to Leon's apartment. Chris decided to stay the night, both because it was too much trouble going back to his own place, and because he was worried over how drunk the blond might be. Fortunately, Leon seemed no worse for wear the next morning, and even thanked the captain with breakfast.
There was a strange look in Chris's eyes as he told Claire this. Something was up with their favorite DSO agent, that much was obvious. The Redfields decided to get together later and compare notes. For now they agreed to try and keep an eye on him for the small gathering. Leon would have a better time in more familiar surroundings. At least they both hoped so.
Despite the attempt at a quieter affair, any time Jake and alcohol were together in the same place, things were going to get colorful. This was proven when he decided the group should try making their own cocktails. He, Sherry and, surprisingly, Piers managed to bring several various bottles of alcohol and mixers with them.
"This is such a bad idea," Sherry moaned as she watched Jake cracking open numerous bottles to pour into a shaker. "Do you even know what you're mixing together?"
"Of course I do. I'm making a Whiny Wesker."
A few of them froze at the name. Helena, clueless on the reason why, shifted forward from her place next to Clair on the couch.
"Why are you calling it that?"
"Simple, hot pants," Jake tossed some ice in the shaker, then screwed on the top and shook it vigorously. "Because after you drink it, you're gonna want to punch the face of the person who made the drink. And since a lot of us here would love to punch Wesker in the face, I figure it's as good a name as any."
For the first time since he met the kid, Chris fully agreed with him. He barked a loud laugh, missing when Sherry playfully punched the redhead in the arm. The rest chuckled and rolled their eyes. And while most of the group turned down the drink, Chris waved for a shot of it. Jake took a shot for himself, and the two drank at the same time. With the same results.
"I have never," Jake wheezed, "never hated myself as much as I do in this moment." He bent forward, bracing his hands against his knees. "Yup, pure hatred. You?"
The captain was in a similar state, leaning against the wall for support. "I'm not sure who I hate more. You for making it, or me for drinking it."
Claire snorted at both of them. "It's your own fault, given the name. What else would you expect with something like that? And it was made by Jake."
Jake didn't bother wasting energy to glare. "I'd resent that if it wasn't true."
Sherry sniffed and hip-checked Jake out the way. Piers and Helena joined her; between the three of them, they managed to make more sensible drinks that everyone felt confident in taking. Leon, at Claire's urging, placed a call to the local pizza shop. He sent the younger Redfield a dark frown as he tried to juggle all the demands being yelled at him into a semblance of order to relate to the equally harried employee. Leon glared at the bunch once he hung up.
"Jesus, you guys sound like savages who haven't had a meal in weeks."
"It's pizza, hero. You do not get between a man-"
"Or woman," Sherry interjected.
"-or anybody and their pizza."
Blue eyes simply rolled to the side. "It's like any other food. No big deal."
Both Jake and Sherry gaped until Claire shook her hand in the air in front of them. "Leon's more breakfast than anything else, so don't even bother trying to fight him on it."
It was Leon's turn to sniff this time. He quickly pointed out the misconception. "I'm more about breakfast only because I keep not getting it." Helena nodded in agreement from her place on the couch.
"It's true. The DSO seems to get a kick out of either calling us in, or sending us out before we can do more than shove a bagel or muffin down our throats, if we're lucky enough for that."
Jake flopped down on the couch opposite Helena. "Wow, that sucks. Why do you even work for-ow!" He grabbed the foot that Sherry managed to 'accidentally' step on as she joined him on the sofa. "What the hell—"
"So, Leon, Helena. Are you at least getting a vacation any time soon?" Though her efforts clumsy, Leon appreciated Sherry's attempts to avoid the topic of him being blackmailed into the DSO. Whether for his or her own sake, it was better to let that dog sleep.
"I'd like to say yes, but if they pull either one of us..." Helena trailed off with a shrug.
"We might get lucky this time." Helena's raised brow prompted Leon to explain, "Hunnigan agreed to take her vacation at the same time, and none of the other handlers have the experience nor clearance for the types of missions we do. So if Hunnigan's not there, they really can't call us in unless it's something... major." The examples that crossed the agent's brain were still too close to the surface for any of them. "We'll finally get our damn time off, plus interest for the times they pulled me in early."
"Good to hear. They tend to overwork their people a lot, especially the field agents who shouldn't technically leave the country. Funny how often it seems to be the opposite." Piers sat down on the other side of Sherry, drink held with both hands. Leon noticed the young soldier often used both hands and had asked Chris about it. While the scarring from the infection was minimal, Piers suffered from some minor nerve damage that left him with a fine tremor in that hand. At Chris's insistence, the BSAA were considering options for treatment so Piers could go back on the field if he wanted.
"Not like we have a lot of choices." Helena's voice jerked Leon back to the present. She shifted to give Claire room to join her. "A lot of our missions are prevention. Well, mine are. Leon also gets rescue and undercover ops."
"Yeah? I didn't know that. Although," Jake gave Leon the once over, "I can't really see it. You going undercover, I mean."
"Doesn't happen often."
Helena was swift to counter that argument. "Often enough. Way too often, if you ask me." When all eyes turned to her, Helena prepared to explain, until a sharp gesture from the blond pulled her up short. She realized her mistake and capitulated. "Sorry, they're classified. I just think they could give him a break."
Chris silently agreed. Though Leon was strangely tight-lipped about his missions of late, he'd been on several back-to-back. It was a miracle Claire was able to get a hold of him so the agent could join them tonight. He'd have to ask her about that later.
"In any case," Leon continued, "I've got three weeks coming up, and I'm going to enjoy them. The first week will be spent catching up on all the sleep I've missed." They all cheered for that, each having gone without sleep at many points of their lives.
"Lemme guess, bigger field has you booked for the other two we—ow! Dammit, supergirl, when did you get so abusive."
"Sometimes it's the only way to get your attention." Sherry rolled her eyes as Jake played the dramatics, gripping the arm she barely socked.
"Oh god she's beating me. Call the cops, I'm being abused."
Chris hid a snort in his drink. Piers didn't bother hiding at all.
"You know after one look at her, nobody would believe you."
"Yeah, that's how she gets away with it." Jake grinned at Leon. "Hey, you were a cop. What's the procedure? I'm filing charges."
"I was only one for a day. I'm out of date on proper procedure for pretty much everything," the agent replied. "But if you're that gung ho about it, you'll have to strip and take pictures."
"Strip, huh?" Jake stood up, hands on his jeans, only to be tugged down a second later by both Sherry and Piers, landing Jake in between them. "What?"
"Down, boy." Sherry and Piers both shook their heads at the antics of the redhead. Though it was slightly easier for Sherry to keep him corralled now that Piers was lending a hand. Leon wasn't sure how that came about—he blamed the cocktail roulette—but it seemed to work for the three of them.
"Eh, too much paperwork anyway." Jake sank down into the sofa, his arms thrown along the back of it. Leon had to give him credit; it was a smoother move than yawning at the movies, and he got an arm around both Sherry and Piers at the same time.
The conversation float between topics until the pizza arrived. Leon went to get it after collecting money from everyone. Given the balancing act the delivery guy was doing with the large amount of pizzas he had, Leon felt obligated to give a healthy tip as he traded pizza for money. The agent nudged the door shut with his foot and barely took a step when they all heard the squeal of tires peeling away.
"Huh, must be a relative of yours, Leon."
One blue eye twitched in Helena's direction. Leon carefully ignored the comment and placed the pizzas on the kitchen island, grabbing two slices before the stampede. He snatched up a nearby glass and poured in what he thought might be sangria. Didn't matter; he needed a drink, stat, if the topic of his driving might become a thing.
Though Leon fervently hoped the matter would drop without his input, those hopes were soon dashed on the rocks much like Claire's cosmo.
"Do I want to know? Because we had a bang entering the city," Claire giggled into her drink. Right, Leon had forgotten about the alcohol factor. This was going to get so stupid; why did he have to deal with these idiots?
Then again, he was also an idiot since he kept hanging around them. But it was easier to think that, than for Leon to admit he was usually bullied or guilt tripped into it. The blond bit down a snarky retort as he claimed one of the recliners for himself.
"Sounds like what happened with Tall Oaks," Helena continued. "Whiplash doesn't begin to cover it."
"That reminds me. Weren't you two in the plane that crashed by us?" Jake tilted his head, trying to grasp the memory. "That big ugly was there. Almost flattened Sherry with a piece of it, and again almost got her and Leon going over the wall."
"Definitely us. Landing courtesy of Aire Kennedy."
"I'm sure that's not the half of it. I ran across Ada—"
This was news to Chris, and not what he would ever consider good. "What where you doing with Wong?" he questioned Claire.
"Down, boy. We just crossed paths and I took advantage of it to confront her. I thought she had something to do with the samples for the India attack, but turns out she was in Spain. N-not that what she did there was any better," Claire clumsily sidestepped when she noticed Leon's increasingly dark look, "but she was quick to say she had nothing to do with India. Seems she'll own up to something just to prove her innocence for stuff she had nothing to do with."
A dismissive hand was waved around the redhead. "ANYway, she mentioned an incident with a boat and a bulldozer. Admitted the boat was more her fault, but she was pretty sure the bulldozer had Leon's name all over it."
"Alright, I'll give you a car, but crashing a bulldozer?" Jake whistled a low tone. "Now that's dedication."
Leon had sat forward in his seat, hands trembling as they gripped his drink. He took a deep swallow, still doing his best to not let the commentary get to him. Chris noticed the sudden tension coiling around the blond, but couldn't think of the cause.
'Wasn't all of this in the mission reports? If so, it can't be the crashes that are bothering him, can it?' Chris tried to get his sister's attention. He wanted to point out Leon's mood to her and maybe steer the conversation somewhere else. Unfortunately, Claire wasn't looking in his direction and missed the usual sibling gestures they regularly used.
"Well it's definitely up there with side-swiping a train with a chopper," Helena adds, pulling more giggles from Claire, and a few chuckles elsewhere. The only ones who don't appear to find the topic funny and Leon and Sherry; she gave the other blond a sympathetic look.
"Guys, c'mon," Sherry moaned. She knew Leon's patience had to be wearing thin; she was pretty annoyed herself. A glance in his direction showed Leon's hands trembling more, the liquid vibrating on the surface. "Guys," she tried again, but the others talked right over her.
"So we got a couple of cars, a bulldozer, a chopper, a plane," Jake ticks the vehicles on his fingers. "Is there anything that hasn't been crashed yet?"
More laughter bubbled up from the young Redfield. "I'm sure there's still something, if we look really, really hard—"
Everyone jolted; the unnatural sound shot through the air. They each turned to the source and were horrified to see Leon's hand bleeding from where his glass had broken in a still tremulant grip. More than one of the group winced as his fists tightened, grinding the shards deeper into the agent's flesh.
"Oh, I'm so sorry that I can't manage to keep a car going straight when I have a zombie trying to eat my face." Leon's voice is a low, darkly quiet thing. Almost a purr if not for the blatant danger of his frayed temper having finally snapped.
"I guess I should apologize that I wasn't able to stop from crashing a helicopter that was already in a spin, while having to shoot a zombie trying to eat my partner's face." There was no mistaking the sneer in the word, leaving Helena with a shameful flush as she looked away. Leon continued, his eyes now blue shards of ice that bore into each of them, the low purr soon gaining in strength and intensity.
"And I mean, not like I was actually the one driving the bulldozer. Ashley was at the controls, because, you know, someone had to take out the Ganados that were constantly trying to get on. Oh, wait, it's perfectly fine since a truck was headed straight for us, so it counts as an accident long as I wasn't driving, right?"
Leon stood quietly from his seat, the simmering rage now a full boil. He didn't feel the glass cutting into his hands. Didn't see the blood dripping onto the hardwood floor. There was little he could see past the growing red haze blanketing his mind.
He'd had enough.
"I suppose I should let myself be flogged bloody for not making a perfect fucking three-point landing of a commercial liner I WAS NEVER TRAINED FOR IN THE FIRST FUCKING PLACE!"
His roar thundered across the room; everyone flinched and shifted away from the inflamed agent. Leon took a step back, air heaving in his lungs as he struggled to get his emotions back under control. The haze lifted enough to see the fear on the others faces. Fear that splashed cold over his anger, leaving the blond emotionally drained.
He was just so tired. Tired of getting crapped on despite trying to do his best. Leon had tried so damn hard and lost so many people, and the result? Being reminded of when he needed help himself like it was a damn weakness and he should have sucked it up. Being the butt of jokes about his driving when each time was out of his control and having the shittiest luck imaginable. This is what he got for trying.
Trying and failing.
The thought sent a shudder rolling down Leon's spine. Of course; he should expect this, right? It didn't matter that he tried. He failed. He failed, and he deserved all of their ridicule, didn't he? He couldn't save anyone in Tall Oaks. It seemed any survivor he got close to wound up dead. Leon had shot the president for god's sake. Of course they'd mock him, and every last bit of it was justified.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Careful. I can't always be there to save you.
How many new nightmares were overlaid onto Raccoon?
I can't believe this is happening again. It's just like Raccoon.
They escaped the infection... only to die like this.
Leon, it's too late! There's nothing we can do.
There's nothing we can do.
From his peripheral, Leon saw the growing expressions of shame crossing his friends' faces. They shouldn't look like that. It was his fault, again. He had no right to be angry.
'God, when will I stop being such a screw-up? Please tell me when?'
"Leon." Chris stood up, his hand outstretched towards the blond. Leon angled his head away, taking another step back and out of Chris's reach.
"Sorry. That was a dumb thing to get upset over." He shook his head again, bangs nearly covering both his eyes. A veil to hide behind, no matter how impossible that was now. "I really should cut down on the drinking, huh? Think I'll go home and sleep this off."
"Leon, wait—" Chris barely managed a step, far too slow to stop Leon from ducking around him. He headed straight for the front, jacket swiped somewhere between that before they heard door slamming shut behind him. Silence followed in his wake, heavy and pervasive. It would have continued had Sherry not spoken.
"He hardly drank anything." She didn't have to look up to know the others had turned their gaze on her. The blonde kept her eyes on the empty recliner Leon had been in only moments before. "He hardly had anything to drink. Told me when we spoke on the phone earlier. Said he didn't want to go overboard like at the bar." Teary blues lifted then to hold the others stare. "He wasn't drunk."
The implication couldn't have been more obvious, leaving the rest of them to feel worse than before. Claire felt two inches tall as she replayed her part of the scene.
"Wow, I'm a bitch." She felt a tap on her arm and shifted to see Helena looking back at her. The brunette's expression perfectly matched Claire's mood in that second.
"I think I trump you, since I was the one he had to save in the chopper."
"But I was with him going into Raccoon City. He wasn't at fault. After crashing from the zombie attacking us, a gas tanker came out of nowhere. We both barely got out with our lives." The younger Redfield frowned into her glass. "And here I go making it into a joke."
Jake sighed while letting himself topple back on the couch. "Open mouth, insert foot." Before Claire and Helena felt worse, he jumped in to explain. "Talking about me. Yeah, I figured he'd been on the plane, but fuck if I could have landed that at all. Probably would've made myself into a smear."
Piers nodded, "Trying to handle something like that without training... and he walked away from it. That's kind of badass when you really think about it." The small, distressed noise Jake made caused the brunet to lay a hand on Jake's back in comfort. Jake in turn laid a hand on Piers thigh while his head bent towards Sherry.
"You were trying to stop us, weren't you? I kind of heard you, but we talked right over it."
She wasn't certain how to answer at first. Eventually she nodded with a quiet sigh. "I could see him getting upset. I'm not surprised the glass broke with how tight he'd been holding it." The agent sat straight, eyes once more darting to the empty recliner. "Frankly, I think he had every right to be upset, though I've never seen him that mad before. He always tries to keep himself in control, but I guess it just exploded. Still..."
Sherry's voice trailed off. The others looked at one another before Claire cleared her throat.
"Hm..." the blonde's eyes remained fixed on the recliner. She didn't speak for several moments, mind somewhere not in the present. When Sherry did speak, her voice sounded slightly distant. "His anger is nothing compared to the drop."
None of the others could make sense of Sherry's words. Jake and Piers shared a look, with Piers inclining his head towards Sherry. Neither had a chance to react; Chris had crossed the room with a couple of steps to kneel down in front of the blonde. He's large hands completely engulfed hers as he took hold of them.
"What do you mean by 'the drop'?"
Sherry's eyes blinked a few times, then flashed upward as though just now noticing Chris was in her bubble of space.
"The drop... Leon doesn't... he doesn't..." She shook her head severely, running through her options, only to settle on the truth. "Leon doesn't get angry like that too often. Every time he does, whatever he's angry about he'll start thinking on. All that anger just gets reabsorbed in a way, leaving him really depressed." Sherry pulled one of her hands free, reaching up to push a few strands of hair behind her ear. "I only saw him get that bad twice."
When it seemed Sherry had fallen silent again, Chris gave the hand he still held a small squeeze. "When was that?"
Chris wondered what the younger agent was seeing when her gaze rested on the recliner. "The first time was just before they split us up. They weren't going to let him see me any more. He got pretty mad about it, then just kind of... wilted. They barely let us say goodbye, and he just kept apologizing and promising to try and at least get them to let him visit. He tried, but I think Simmons... Claire was the only one allowed to visit, and only just."
Chris nodded, understanding how that would have made Leon emotional. "Given the terms of the deal, I'd be upset too if I'd been in his place." He hummed softly. "And the other time?"
"Not long after Tatchi." Worried blue eyes flitted around the room, landing on each one of them before returning to Chris. "We met up once things had calmed down for the both of us. He... he needed someone to talk to, especially since President Benford was... was gone."
Sherry rubbed at her eye with her free hand, brushing away the wet sting from the corner. "Leon didn't really have anyone else. I guess they were really good friends; with Benford gone, Leon lost the person he'd usually confide in. Since we both kind of went through that at the same time, I think he felt a little more comfortable with me. He... he was in a bad way," she confessed, voice a low murmur.
"He ranted about the people who made the virus. About Simmons's family. About people not telling him anything and constantly keeping him in the dark." The blonde didn't see Helena curling in on herself at that. "About feeling like a tool or a toy that kept being thrown away. People not listening to him, broken promises"—Chris hid a wince, guessing where that particular rant stemmed from—"he really blew up about it all. Then he... he fell to his knees and... I knelt down with him and he grabbed onto me and just... cried.
"He cried for a really long time," she continued. "He could barely get any words out. And when he did, he was so hard on himself. He... he starting blaming himself, saying how incompetent he had been, and he was a disgrace to the DSO, that he couldn't save a single person. It was... it was scary."
Sherry bit her lip. Being so close to her, Chris could see she was hesitant to say more, and easily guessed why.
"Nothing said here will be used against Leon. Trust me," he said, again giving her hand an encouraging squeeze. He waited patiently for the younger agent to come to her own decision; it would destroy both her trust in him, and Leon's trust in anybody if he tried to force the information from her. Just when Chris thought Sherry would keep her piece, she offered one decisive nod and continued.
"I was afraid I'd have to put in a request for a psych eval, under 21-521."
The blood froze in Chris's veins. Code 21-521, or "5150" as the slang went. Detaining a person for psychiatric hold if they are deemed a danger to themselves or others. Chris knew Leon would never do anything that would remotely put Sherry in danger if she was close by. That left only one other reason.
'Leon was that upset? Would he have, if Sherry hadn't been there for him? Would he have... we would have had a funeral if... he'd be...'
The captain swallowed hard as thoughts tumbled over themselves in his mind. Chris didn't notice the slight trembling in his hands, which tightened their hold on Sherry's.
"You didn't put in the request, or we would have heard about it by now." His voice and expression were equally haunted. "What changed your mind?"
Sherry didn't bother hiding an incredulous look that silently questioned Chris's intelligence. "I'm not going to betray Leon like that unless it's the only option, and requesting a psych hold would have ruined him."
She pulled her remaining hand from the captain's grip and folded both in her lap. "I asked him to stay the night, under the pretense of me not wanting to be alone. Well, it wasn't completely a lie; I didn't go through what Leon did, but it was bad enough." She glanced over at Jake, who nodded in agreement.
"We jokingly made it into a sleepover," Sherry continued. "He ordered takeout while I made a blanket pile on the floor for both of us. We watched animal videos and Disney movies on my laptop," She paused a moment to chuckle as she remembered what they had gotten up to. "He ransacked my nail polish and demanded I paint his deep plum. Said it couldn't be a proper sleepover if there weren't any makeovers." And despite the reason for it and his being there, Sherry appreciated the effort since that was one of those things she never got to experience herself growing up.
But that wasn't the real topic, which she returned to. "I stayed awake long enough for Leon to drift off first. Didn't bother trying to hide anything dangerous because, well, Leon can make a toothpick into a weapon if he has to," she pointed out, earning a few soft, sad chuckles. "The next morning he seemed better. Thanked me for letting him vent, and took me out for breakfast as well. Told him that wasn't necessary." The agent shook her head a little. "I... I made him promise me he'd call me, no matter where I am or what I'm doing, if he ever felt like that again. And I promised I wouldn't... wouldn't call anyone about it." Sherry lifted a hand to the top of her head, smiling as she recalled what happened next. "He ruffled my hair. I mean, who does that other than dads? He... he did it and said he trusted me."
Her hand lowered as did her smile. "He trusts me. And I think his trust has been broken enough." Her eyes flitted around the room once more with a clear meaning behind her words. "I'm not going to be another name on that list. So no, I didn't call it in. And Leon is good about keeping his promises. Too good, because he'll get himself hurt trying to keep them."
That, sadly, Chris knew to be true. The moment to ponder this fact was stolen from him when Sherry abruptly stood, forcing Chris to do the same or get knocked to the side.
Who knew the dainty little agent could use such brute force?
"I'm going after him. He might not do anything like... like that, but he still shouldn't be alone. He might want—no, he needs someone to talk to when he's like this. He'll bottle it up inside otherwise." Sherry gave a decisive nod and stepped towards the front door. The strong grip on her bicep pulled her up short, mind already whirling with defense maneuvers Leon helped her learn after China.
"Wait, Sherry. Let me talk to him." That incredulous expression was well earned, and Chris knew it. "I get it. We all fucked up in one way or another. And yeah, you're probably the only one Leon really trusts now. But let me try? If only so you won't have to deal with this alone."
Sherry tore her arm from Chris's grasp. "You make it sound like Leon's a burden. He's not, and I don't care if I have to deal with it on my own. I'm not dealing with anything, I'm helping someone I care about!" she nearly shouted. "There's a big difference, in case you hadn't noticed it."
'Jake's right. Open mouth, insert foot.' Chris wondered how many more times he'd misstepped concerning Leon. The captain closed his eyes to take a slow, measured breath.
"I didn't mean it that way, Sherry, and I'm sorry if I made you think that," he explained. "You're right, of course. Leon's not a burden, and we've made mistakes with him. But we need a chance to fix those mistakes so we can help him as well." Seeing the blonde waver, he added, "I can't apologize if I can't at least talk to him."
She didn't want to do it. Sherry absolutely did not want to give anyone another chance if it meant exposing Leon to the risk of being hurt again. But she also knew Chris was right. Yes, there was that risk, but not allowing them the opportunity would keep Leon isolated, which was the last thing he needed. Eventually, Sherry physically deflated as she gave in.
"Fine. He probably took a rideshare back to his place by now. You know where that is, right?" Seeing Chris nod, she continued. "I don't know if he's going to answer when you get there, but I won't stop you from trying. However," blue eyes turned so cold and sharp Chris briefly wondered if Leon had taught that to the younger agent as well, "if I hear you made him feel worse, then you better get yourself on a very, very long mission on the other side of the world, Chris Redfield."
Chris remembered the little girl from Raccoon City that Claire often talked about. He remembered the capable but still somewhat naive agent in Edonia. Neither person could be seen in the DSO agent staring him down now.
If he didn't know better, Chris would swear Sherry really was Leon's daughter.
"I understand, Agent Birkin," he replied, giving the title all the respect it and she deserved. As Chris turned to go, the others in the room spoke up.
"Let him know, only when he's ready, that we can talk," Claire called out. "I want to say I'm sorry, and I want it to be more than a second hand apology. Let him know that, okay?" Beside her, Helena nodded.
"If he needs time off, I'll handle his reports so he doesn't have to come in," she offered. "And yes, when he feels up to talking. I don't want to push."
Jake rubbed the back of his head, not being that great with apologies, directly or not. "Just tell the hero—tell Leon we should get together and do a few laps, see who handles their bike better."
Chris smiled a little, knowing that was the closest Jake could say as 'I'm sorry'. He turned to Piers last, the two of them silent in their communications. Piers didn't have to say anything, and Chris knew everything the younger brunet would want to. He dipped his head, causing Piers to exhale. Chris headed towards the door again, grabbing his jacket on the way. Outside, a cool breeze forced him to put the jacket on and shove his hands into his pocket. His dark eyes looked up to the sky, seeing the few stars that shone past the light pollution. No answers were forthcoming, nor did he expect any. They had screwed up, and there wasn't any script or magic word that would make Leon forgive them... forgive him. Chris was going to have to wing it, and pray he could at least come out of this with Leon not hating him.
'I just hope I don't make a mess of this. I'd like my balls in place, but I think Sherry will rearrange them if I fuck up one more time.
'Leon... I hope you can give me another chance...'
There was a difference to being treated like an idiot, and in fact being an idiot. It seemed for most of his life, Leon had been treated as an idiot.
That little scene he pulled at Claire's certified his actual idiotic state.
After getting back to his own condo, Leon barely kicked off his shoes and tossed his jacket on an armchair. First order of business was seeing to his hands, so he grabbed one of the many first-aid kits he had stashed around his place and stood at the kitchen counter next to the sink. Fortunately, there weren't any tiny slivers to deal with, and the cuts weren't that deep. No stitches required, so he avoided a trip to the ER as well. He wrapped a bandage across his palms and dropped a couple of painkillers in his mouth, dry-swallowing a second later.
That done, Leon decided on a shower and then sleep; it was really all he had the mental capacity for at this point. Articles of clothing were stripped and dropped haphazardly along the way to his bedroom until the blond was down to only a pair of black boxer-briefs.
He walked through his bedroom to the en suite bathroom, where he slipped out of the briefs and stepped into the shower. He braced one hand against the faucet wall, his other hand flicking the cold dial to full blast. Several swears hissed from within the stall when the water rained down over him. Muscles locked and shivered under the cold assault. It took a few minutes before Leon grew used to the temperature. He placed both hands on the wall and slowly rested his forehead there as well. This had become his routine whenever Leon felt that void clawing at him.
Oh how he wished he could fall! Just let himself be consumed by the abyss and not have to worry about anything any more. But he promised Sherry; she'd gone through just as much, hadn't she? He would not do that to her. Still, Leon couldn't always escape the despair and self loathing. And despite her offer, he wasn't going to bother Sherry every single time he might feel a little down. So he reached a compromise with himself; freezing showers. The water did an excellent job of numbing him on the outside. Leon tried to draw that same numbness within himself, if only for a little while.
It was an absolute certainty that Sherry wouldn't be entirely happy with this coping mechanism. The agent had no problems imagining just how not-happy Sherry would be if she ever found out. Yet she would understand, at least a little. It helped to keep him from breaking his promise after all.
So he stayed under frigid drops until his muscles shivered.
He stayed until the tips of his fingers grew wrinkled.
He stayed until breathing was a struggle for his lungs that left him gasping.
He stayed until it bordered on this side of dangerous.
Another slew of curses growled from behind clenched, chattering teeth when the doorbell rang. Leon yanked the cold faucet closed and stepped out, still muttering swears as he went to throw something on. He didn't bother with a towel and ignored the puddles he left on the tiles behind him. Back in his room, Leon found a terry cloth robe (he may or may not have snitched) from a hotel and dragged it on. The thing only just covered his groin. He didn't bother pulling it closed beyond that, so his chest was laid quite bare. Leon didn't care if the person on the other side of the door got an eyeful; it's their own fault for coming here at this time of night in the first place.
The doorbell rang again, leaving Leon feeling less charitable to whoever was on the other side by the second.
"Shit, I'm coming! Hold your fucking horses!"
The agent stalked to the door and yanked it open without a glance through the peephole, and a snarl on his lips. "What!"
Chris blinked once, twice, and shook his head several times. Nope, the sight before him didn't change.
Fried synapses for the win!
"...um," Chris jerked his eyes up. Much easier if he wasn't confronted with so much bare, glistening skin. 'I guess I interrupted his shower. No wonder he's pissed. Hell, this is already off to a great start, isn't it?' Dark eyes squeezed shut; Chris had to think of a game plan before he really ruined things. He wanted to help the agent, and avoid Sherry gunning for his balls.
While Chris struggled with his own dilemma, Leon calmed down enough to recognize who was at his door. Seeing Chris keeping his eyes slanted up made the blond realize he was a bit under dressed. He swore under his breath and quickly pulled the robe closed. Though honestly, why was it a problem? Not as though Leon were completely naked. Hell, Chris has seen him nude. Honestly, sometimes the guy made no sense to Leon at all.
"All things considered, are you really hung up on a little skin, Redfield." He chalked the faint blush staining the captain's cheeks up to his imagination.
"Um, y-yeah, I mean no. Just wasn't expecting—I mean, yeah that's—didn't know I interrupted your shower." Chris scratched the back of his head. "You were probably getting ready for bed, too. Shit, I'm really messing up bad here. Sherry's gonna kill me..." he trailed off.
"Sherry?" Why would... "No, wait. Just... come in. Don't need to have a conversation in the hall." Leon stepped aside to give Chris enough space to enter. The blond closed the door soon as Chris was inside. He waved a hand in the general direction of the couch, recliner, and two armchairs. "Have a seat, there's water and juice in the fridge. I'm going to change, then you can explain what you meant about Sherry." Leon didn't wait for a response and traipsed back into his bedroom.
Chris considered getting them both a glass of water if only to have something to do. He dismissed the idea quickly, knowing the stalling tactic for what it was. The brunet instead took a seat on the sofa, making sure to face the recliner as well. Hopefully Leon would feel more comfortable there, and in turn more calm. Chris knew he only had one shot to make this right somehow, and planned to use every strategy he could think of to gain an advantage.
Leon returned a couple of minutes later in a pair of sweatpants, his hands rewrapped, and a t-shirt that looked too worn to be anything but house wear. It stretched rather tightly across the blond's pecs, and Chris had to wonder if Leon was doing this to him on purpose. Just, why? Ugh. How was the captain supposed to talk calmly about what happened if he was too busy stuck on Leon's chest the whole night? So unfair.
The blond glanced at Chris, then turned to the kitchen and got them both a glass of water. He carried them into the living room and handed one over to Chris, who took it with a nod of thanks. Leon took a seat in the recliner, drained a third of his glass, the simply motioned for Chris to start. It took a couple of rough tries, but Chris managed it after a moment.
"First, I'm suppose to deliver a bunch of messages to you, but not only can I not remember them word for word, they each wanted to speak to you on their own. On your time, when you feel up to it."
That was interesting to Leon. He assumed the others would just send some half-hearted apology with Chris. Hearing that they maybe-sort of wanted to apologize in person was a novel experience. He would think on it later when he was alone. For now, there was something else Leon wanted to know about.
"You mentioned Sherry..."
"Huh? Oh... oh yeah. She kind of... she wanted to be the one here, but I convinced her to let me try first. She eventually did, on the condition that if I screw up, she'll probably hunt me down and make me kiss my balls goodbye if she found me." Not in so many words, but there wasn't too many other ways to interpret Sherry's threat.
Leon didn't try in the slightest to hide the near paternal smile tugging at his lips. "Since we got back, I've been giving her more self-defense lessons. She's gotten really good, so I wouldn't be surprised if she made good on that threat."
"Oh, great! Wasn't she dangerous enough before?" Chris chuckled, which trailed off into a sigh. "We're all sorry. Everyone's going to apologize themselves when you feel up to it. We were being assholes and just thought it was funny. We were wrong; it was stupid and you had every right to get mad at us. You've helped practically everyone who was there in one way or another, and we just... crapped on that. All I can do—all any of us can do—is promise not to do it again. For me, you have free reign to punch me if I ever forget that."
There, Chris laid all his cards on the table. He hoped if nothing else, Leon would appreciate the straight talk as it was all Chris had to offer. There wasn't any excuse to have or make, because what they did was terrible and they knew that now. Given everything Leon has gone through in this war against BOWs, they had no call to go and make a joke about things that were nothing more than Leon having the absolute most rotten luck with vehicles.
'What were we thinking?'
Leon held Chris's gaze for a moment. He sighed and turned his face away. "It's fine. I shouldn't have blown up like that. Really, I probably deserved it anyway."
Sherry's words came back to haunt Chris. 'He really thinks...'
His mind went back to his arrival, and Chris realized that unlike a typically warm shower, Leon hadn't radiated any heat when he opened the door. There were dozens of reasons why that could be, but the brunet had a feeling the real reason was darker than any of them would like.
"Why in the hell would you say that?" Chris kept a stranglehold on his temper, not wanting to yell and make things worse. "Leon, you didn't deserve any of that—"
Chris felt like a bucket of ice had been dropped on his head. "Excuse me?"
"I failed," Leon repeated. "I failed, so of course I'd be the butt of everyone's jokes. Why wouldn't everyone laugh?" he asked without inflection. "Been in the game so long and I still screw up like that? It's kind of funny when you think about it, except no..."
The blond shook his head slowly. "No, it's not. It's not, because when I make mistakes, people die. So that part's not so hot." Leon's tone stayed flat and empty as he spoke, his emotions drained with the water in the shower. Feeling things took much effort sometimes; Leon couldn't always muster the strength for it. Apathy and numbness were the only salves he could use if he wanted any chance of holding onto the promise he made to Sherry.
"It's really more sad than funny. Though I guess the mistakes themselves could be funny. I'm pretty sure having an infected hanging off my leg while we were trying to get in the chopper would have been hysterical under different circumstances."
Leon jolted, not expecting the abrupt reaction. He looked up, confused at the worried and unhappy expression Chris wore. What had he done now? Leon merely spoke the truth. Why would Chris be upset about that?
"What... How did... When the fuck did that happen!" There was no way Chris could have kept quiet about that. "That wasn't anywhere in the DSO reports! How the... what the hell, Leon! Are you okay... fuck!" Chris barely remembered that this had to have happened over a year ago. Obviously Leon was fine; Chris would likely have slung Leon over his shoulder and been halfway to the nearest hospital by now otherwise. "You had a zombie on your leg while hanging out a chopper? That's..." The brunet continue to sputter for several minutes. Coherency failed him the more he thought about it. Chris was up and pacing the length of the room before he realized it. "Just... what the hell?"
Chris's reaction made little sense to Leon. "Why are you upset? I'm fine. It didn't bite me or anything, and I was able to kick it off," the blond explained, honestly baffled on why it would bother Chris now. It was over a year ago; if something had been wrong, it would have been an issue long before now.
"Why am I..." Chris stopped and silently counted backwards from ten. Some of the edges of his distress bled away, leaving him with a clearer place from which to understand and be understood.
"I'm upset," he explained, "because it wasn't in the reports, and it should have been. I'm aware that I'm not always going to get a full report from the DSO any more than they might get one from the BSAA." And oh, how that rankled Chris's nerves, but now was not the time. "But there's no reason, no history of, an incident like that being redacted or blacked out in a report. So hearing about it, I was worried there was a reason it hadn't been reported, and if you were suffering from any ill-effects as a result." Having said his piece, Chris felt somewhat proud of himself at having gotten it all out in a calm manner. Claire would say he's making improvements on his temper.
"Oh. Um, no, I'm okay. Everything was such a whirlwind and I was questioned so much, plus the whole post investigation into Simmons's activities and his family, that I just... forgot."
All the rules on proper reporting on possible injuries danced on the very tip of Chris's tongue. The BSAA wanted to know what happened to each man in case medical or psychological intervention was necessary. If it were one of his soldiers in front of him, the captain would already be yelling enough to bring the building down. The bewildered look Leon wore pulled Chris up short.
'I will not get mad. Leon is not one of my men. He works alone more often than not. He probably doesn't need to report on anything except details for either mission success or failure. So long as he's functional, they probably don't care if he's injured or mentally drained. Bottom line, no yelling.'
"Okay. That makes sense. A lot was going on, so you're not going to remember to put everything down in a report." Chris took back his place on the couch. "I'll ask this, and I'll accept your answer and drop it. Did anything happen to you that wasn't in the report, that someone should still be concerned about?" Chris kept his gaze on Leon, ready to call him out if it appeared the agent was lying or holding back. Neither seemed to be the case, and if the discussion were not so serious Chris would probably mention how the way Leon tilted his head reminded him of a puppy.
"No, I don't think so. I'm not still injured or anything. Tested negative for any viral infections. And I'm getting vacation time for psych health and readjustment." Leon pondered over the question a bit, then shrugged. "I know I didn't report every detail, but everything important is there, and nothing was left out that would compromise me for any subsequent missions."
That was not at all what Chris meant, but he would accept it nevertheless.
"Alright. Thank you for telling me even though you didn't have to and don't actually owe me an explanation." Because that was an absolute truth; Leon didn't owe Chris anything. He was simply grateful for Leon discussing it with Chris at all. However, the matter of reporting things was a small bump in the road compared to the mountain Chris knew he had yet to face. He hadn't forgotten Leon's earlier statement, and Chris would make sure the blond knew just how wrong he was regarding his own worth.
"We went on a bit of a tangent—my fault—so let's go back to what you were saying before. You... you really believe you failed?"
"It's not believing it, it's just truth," Leon replied. "Maybe some can ignore fact for belief, but I can't pretend or lie to myself over this. I failed big time, and people died as a result."
Chris inhaled deeply, held it for a moment, then slowly exhaled. He pressed his hands together in front of his face, taking time to consider his next question. Once he had it, Chris hummed to get Leon's attention, keeping eye contact as he pressed on. "Explain it to me," he finally said. "Just pretend I have no idea what you're talking about, and explain to me why you think you're a failure."
Leon didn't know what the point to that would be. It felt rather obvious from his perspective. He failed because he was a fuck-up, end of story. Yet Chris asked in that earnest way Leon had only seen him do for those he felt close to, which only served to confuse the blond even more. The request held some kind of intent, but the agent couldn't fathom it at all. Still, there wasn't any reason to refuse, so he indulged the captain and began listing all the ways that Agent Kennedy was a failure.
"If you insist. How do you want me to tell it? Or should I just go for random bouts of extreme fail?"
'In other words, his thoughts are a mess and he needs a focal point.' Chris felt he was starting to get the hang of navigating the storm that was Leon S. Kennedy. "Let's go by location. For you, this started in Tall Oaks, right?"
"Yeah." The blond sat up straighter in the recliner. He held his glass tightly in his hand, though not so much Chris feared a repeat of earlier.
"The president was going to release the details of the Raccoon City incident," Leon began. He caught the surprise that flashed across Chris's face. "Yeah, I know. He could have sat on that. I mean, it hadn't come up before. But he felt it was the right thing to do, to establish better relations with the global community against BOWs and bioterrorism. I was... ambivalent about the decision, but I promised him I would stand by him no matter what. Unfortunately, others in his administration were... less than loyal."
Leon set his glass aside and scrubbed his face with his hands a few times. His head fell back, letting his eyes rest on the ceiling.
"The seminar... he was going to explain everything then. The security wasn't as tight as I thought it should be. I wasn't in charge of that, though. I was more or less a personal bodyguard posing as a guest. So I couldn't really say much to the actual security team and still maintain my cover. And the president insisted I 'mingle' instead of staying at his side the way I'd plan." A dry, hollow chuckle floated around the room. "In truth, I can't tell you if it was the gas, or if someone has infected him directly. Helena said she helped Simmons to infect President Benford, but she didn't go into details, and frankly, I didn't want to know."
This was news to Chris. He knew Helena had been coerced into helping Simmons to try to save her sister, only for Simmons to betray her there as well. Chris hadn't been aware of how closely involved she had been in causing the president to be infected. Like Leon, he wasn't sure he needed to know, to keep his view of the young woman from any undeserved biases.
He shoved it aside for now and focused on Leon, whose tone grew more uneasy.
"Maybe... maybe if I had protected Adam—President Benford—better, he wouldn't have gotten infected. If I'd gotten him to understand the risks better. I didn't have a good feeling about the reception, but I didn't have any proof or logical argument to explain why. I was worried, but without anything concrete, I knew he'd just tell me I was being paranoid, while thanking me for being so diligent." Lean dragged a hand down over his face. "How diligent could I have been, if he still wound up dead?
"But that wasn't the worst of it. No, not being able to save him was bad enough, but when I fuck up, it's go big or go home."
Leon stood up and began pacing in front of Chris, one hand running compulsively though his hair. "Wasn't enough to be incompetent. I had to shoot him. Me. I put a bullet in one of the few friends I had, because I couldn't keep him safe despite that being my job." He stopped directly in front of the brunet, hand gripping his hair tightly. "So yeah, point the first and second."
"Leon..." Chris was halfway out his seat to try to calm or comfort the blond, but Leon took two unsteady steps away from him.
"No. No, you wanted me to explain. You asked why I know I'm a failure, so I'm telling you. If I stop, I might not get it out again even if you ask. So just... just listen."
Swallowing hard, Chris nodded and sat back down. He hated himself for what he asked Leon to put himself through, but he knew it would be for the best if he could make Leon see the truth of his so-called failures.
"Helena was determined we go to the cathedral. Thinking on it, I was stupid for not insisting she tell me beforehand. She claimed I wouldn't believe her. Hell, I had survived Night of the Living Dead and was currently working through the damn sequel. There's not a fucking lot I won't believe at this point."
Leon finally let go of his hair and sat back down in the recliner. "I didn't, and lied to Hunnigan to boot. So we're going after this mysterious lead I have to see to believe. Helena wanted to go straight there. I guess she didn't think it would be worth it to try and save anyone. Sad to say she was right, thanks to Simmons."
Leon's voice carried a haunted overtone as he continued. "Along the way, we met survivors. Not many, but a few. Some civilians and a cop." A rough bark of laughter got choked in his throat, the sound more of a sob to Chris's ears. "I even heard the cop say it was his first day. I wish... well, doesn't matter now.
"We made our way to a gun shop and grouped up with a few more survivors." He paused, memories overwhelming him as Leon's mind traveled back to that hellish night. "The owner told us a bus was coming to take any survivors to the cathedral. Seemed like the first break we'd gotten, since that's where Helena wanted me to go."
The blond lurched forward in his chair, head resting on the back of his hands, looking for all the world even that much was a struggle. "I really should have known better. When have I ever had good luck? It... some of the survivors, including the old man, didn't even make it on the bus. He bought time for everyone else, though the only ones who managed to get on were one civilian and that one officer."
Leon soon lost any notes of inflection in his voice as he withdrew from the emotions of his memories. "It seemed a clear path, but an infected appeared on the road. The bus hit it and went out of control. Can't remember what we crashed into; I was knocked unconscious for a couple of minutes. Woke up just in time to realize we were hanging over the edge of a crag or something, and to see the civilian and cop get pulled out of the bus by a swarm.
"We... we started shooting the ones who managed to get inside. Then... then a freaking semi comes out of nowhere and slams us right over the edge. Helena and I fell out before it crashed. The driver was still... but we couldn't... not before it exploded.
"Every single one of them died. Every. One." Leon lifted his head to lock his tired gaze with Chris's. "I couldn't keep one of them alive. Sure as hell couldn't mourn. Helena was still insisting we go to the cathedral. So all I'm left with is a burning bus at my back."
'It's not like that. It wasn't like that at all.' It took an iron grip on his emotions, but Chris stayed silent. Leon was right about needing to get it all out. The brunet had to be patient a while longer.
"And even that," Leon continued, "even that is nothing compared to the damn cathedral itself. I... I really should've just forced the issue with Helena. Maybe there would have been a way to get them out of the city limits instead of wasting time looking for..." He trailed off, took a shivery breath, and described the worst failure of Tall Oaks.
"Sorry guys. We're not rescue workers."
And god, the looks on their faces makes Leon hate himself a little more. Their utter despair, their hope dashed for who knows how many times tonight.
His mind is halfway through a possible escape route that might get the majority of them beyond the city limits. It will be impossible to ensure they all could make it, but perhaps he can help get some of these people out—
"There's a secret door by the alter that leads underground, but we need to find a way to open it."
Of course. It always comes back to whatever Helena wants him to see in this goddamn church. Leon turns to her, his irritation at the whole situation plain in his voice.
"You wanna tell me what's down there?"
"It's better if I show you."
He can just stop this right now. Just tell Helena to fuck off with whatever lead she has or whatever 'thing' she wants him to see. Just tell her to go to hell because he is going to at least get some of these people, who have nothing to do with anything that's happened tonight, out of this dead city. He can ignore her and whatever is behind that door to instead plan a small scale evac for these people in the church. Some of them have firearms, they can easily coordinate any number of attacks to get through—
And what about Adam?
Leon grits his teeth, his fist clenched so tightly he can feel his nails threatening to cut into his palm. But even a small injury as that can mess up his aim, so Leon forces himself to relax his hands, pulling out his gun instead to keep his hands busy. As much as Leon would like to do otherwise, he knows he can't. The person responsible for Adam's death is still at large somewhere. And no matter how much he hates being led around by the fucking nose, Leon has no choice in the matter. Oh, he knows if Adam could talk to him, he'd tell Leon to save the people, because there's nothing to be done for the dead. And normally Leon would do just that. But if someone can get close enough to kill the president this easily, then they pose a greater threat and need to be stopped. Unfortunately, a national and perhaps even global threat takes priority over a handful of survivors.
'I'm sorry, everyone.'
Leon follows Helena to the alter, against his better judgement and everything his heart is crying out not to do. 'Wouldn't you know, it's locked and needs to be opened. Shit, can't I ever get a break?'
It is his idea to look around, yet he's almost praying they don't find anything so he can forget this and see to the survivors. But since that's what he wants to happen, Leon isn't surprised to get the opposite and find a figurine suspiciously out of place.
So it begins, even as Leon asks himself why were there puzzles. Why couldn't things be locked normally? No, of course not. Leon feels his stomach drop the deeper into the cathedral they go. Crossbow wielding statues. Light pointer sculptures. Shooting bells. Figurines to open doors. None of this would add up to anything good. It doesn't help having Helena in his ear complaining about all of it as well. When she says she's "had enough of these games", it's on the tip of his tongue to ask "hypocritical much there, sis?"
He doesn't. Just like all the other things Leon knows he should've done and yet didn't. How much of that is going to boomerang back on him, he has no clue. He only hopes it won't smack his hand too hard.
Sure, and Raccoon City was just a bad internship.
It's when they get the path to the stairs open that Leon realizes they should have warned the other survivors. Should have moved them all somewhere safer within the church.
Should have... should have... should have...
...because he lays eyes on that pulsating monstrosity and knows he's doomed every person in there.
"What is that thing?"
How would...? "You're asking me?"
They're only there because she was so adamant about going to the cathedral instead of explaining everything to him. They only opened the path because she wanted to show him instead of keeping her word about telling him once they actually got there. And now the shit's hitting the fan, and she's suddenly clueless?
His fault. All his fault. All because he didn't force the issue. And now these people are going to die.
At least one question gets answered; Leon now knows where the gas most likely came from in the reception hall. The cost of that knowledge is, sadly, untenable.
"Don't panic, people. Just move away from it!"
Words do little in the midst of this kind of chaos, but Leon has to try. It doesn't help that the gas not only turns them, but impairs vision. One can't tell that the human standing next to them one moment is trying to tear out their throat in the next.
my fault... my fault...
'Run where? Where can they go, Helena? This was the safe area, and we screwed it up for them Where can they run to now?' Leon doesn't have time to ask, not while trying to take down that gaseous freak, eliminate the victims of the gas, and attempt to protect the people who are still alive.
my fault my fault my fault my fault
With each new zombie that walks from the gas, each one he has to put down, Leon's heart breaks a little more. It's different than before. In Raccoon City, he hadn't seen anyone but Marvin alive. Hadn't known any of the numerous undead when they'd still been human. This... this is much worse. He'd seen these people as humans, before he and Helena had opened that fucking door. Heard the ones who cried, who have given up. Heard the ones who were still trying, still hoping. Now they were little more than mindless creatures searching for flesh to feed an insatiable hunger. And he has to put them all down.
In the end, only two. Only two were still breathing. Only two survived the nightmare he helped bring. Only two... and Leon can't be sure what will happen to them.
The blond jerked upright. The soft-spoken tone pulled him from the terrible memory he wondered if he'd ever be able to escape from. Hazy blue squinted and blinked a few times to clear his vision, until he could make out Chris's face a couple of hands' width from his own. The brunet pulled back before it got awkward and held a topped off glass of water out to Leon. The offer suddenly made Leon realize how rough and dry his throat felt, and he accepted it with a grateful nod. How long had he been talking? He knew he must have told Chris everything that happened. Did Leon tell him too much? When he was caught up in his memories like that, the blond wasn't always aware of what might be coming out of his mouth.
Leon sipped the cool water while trying to glean anything from Chris's face. He could only see a gentle concern that Leon in no way felt he deserved. Once the glass was halfway emptied, he cleared his throat a little before he spoke.
"That would be points three and four, by the way. After that was a whirlwind in the caverns. Found Helena's sister—of course I didn't know that until after the time. Ran into Ada. Put Helena's sister down..." Strangely, Leon felt none of his usual guilt. There actually wasn't anything he could have done to help Deborah; she'd likely been infected as soon as Helena had been sent off to do her part. Left there to be found by Helena herself, perhaps to be killed by her own sister. That would have fit with Simmons's twisted aesthetic.
"So that's Tall Oaks in a nutshell. One night full of astonishing fails that one man can ever manage on his own." The blond tilted his head with an empty smile and dulled eyes. "Doesn't touch on China, though."
Chris greatly wished he could tell Leon to stop. Reliving these memories and pointing out his 'failures' was taking a heavy toll on the blond. Yet this had to happen; Chris needed Leon to bring all his mistakes out into the light so he'd have a chance to counter them and show Leon he had no control and none of it was his fault.
The glass Leon held was soon emptied, so Chris took it into the kitchen for another refill and handed it back. He returned to the couch, sitting forward to give Leon his full attention.
"Okay, so we have the story to Tall Oaks. Thank you for telling me that. I can't imagine how difficult it had to be." And Chris realized it wasn't going to be any easier. "Can you tell me about China? Do you think you failed there?"
"Of course I did," murmured Leon. "Because I failed in Tall Oaks, I had set myself up to fail in China. I mean, it's all connected, isn't it? If I could have done better in Tall Oaks, there would have been witnesses to the attack. If I had insisted on Helena telling me, perhaps I would have known to try and find evidence in the labs to implicate Simmons. But I fucked up in Tall Oaks, so all the pieces were in place for China, specifically Tatchi."
Chris made sure to neither agree nor disagree. "Okay, why do you think you failed in China?"
Again Leon thought this was obvious. He looked at Chris with eyes as hollow as his voice when he asked, "Pretend you don't already know?"
"Exactly. Like I'm hearing this for the first time. What happened in China that you believe you failed?"
There was a method to Chris's madness, Leon supposed, yet he couldn't understand it himself. His gaze fell to the glass he held and allowed himself to revisit those memories.
"We're not going to talk about the absolutely phenomenal crash," Leon started with. "That's old news at this point. No, let's go into everything else, hmm? Like the fact that if I'd taken out that freak before it got into the vents, none of the other passengers would have been infected. If I hadn't been so damn slow, or hadn't been forced to open the hatch, I could have leveled the plane off before it gained altitude."
Leon pulled himself up from the recliner, his movements more sluggish than before. He ran a hand down his face again and started pacing the room once more.
"I knew at that point Simmons was on to us. I knew he wouldn't believe we died. So why the hell didn't I think he'd do something to sabotage the flight? He destroyed Tall Oaks regardless of survivors. Of fucking course he would drop a plane no matter who's on board or where it fell. But I just... I hadn't given any of that a second thought, and look what happened.
"The worst part wasn't any of that. No. Worst was after the crash and running into Sherry and Jake." He reached up to grip his hair again, a gesture Chris's beginning to recognize as self-harm. "There was a BOW hunting them. It threw a part of the plane directly at Sherry. I... I tried... I was so far away... we probably both would have died. If it hadn't been for Jake. Though I wondered for myself if... maybe it wouldn't have been a bad thing."
The hands in Leon's hair tugged harder. "You know, Jake pulled her away from me because he thought I was going to hurt her. He wasn't far from the truth, was he?"
And oh, how Chris wanted to stop him there and hold him and make the agent just understand in the worst way possible. Still, he knew of at least one more event Leon would blame himself for. It had to all come out, lancing the emotional infection before he could heal.
In the end, Chris nodded for Leon to continue.
"Right. Right..." Leon let his hair go and sat back in the recliner. "So yeah, that. And I... and the chopper. With the clinging zombie. Which I promise I'm okay, by the way," he quickly mentioned.
"I know. What about the chopper?"
Leon closed his eyes. He could still smell the fires and hear the sounds of a city in the middle of pure destruction and chaos. The roar of the helicopter blades overhead. The soldier that dropped down a few yards ahead of them...
Helena and Leon both run for the helicopter, jumping onto cars and ignoring the undead. The latter proves to be a mistake. Mid-leap, one of the creatures latches onto Leon's leg.
The weight almost pulls his grip loose. He's not sure how he managed to hang on.
'That is my leg, not a drumstick, you fucker.' One good kick finally dislodges the zombie to go splat onto the street below.
It is oddly satisfying.
Helena helps him on board. Perhaps things can go a bit more smoothly now that—
Of course not.
The sudden lurch of the chopper nearly sends the pair out to meet the same fate as the zombie. They barely hang on and make their way over to the unconscious pilot. Helena drags the pilot out of the seat. Leon takes the controls, but the chopper's already going into a spin.
He's trained. STRAT wouldn't let him go without basic helicopter training. They covered spin control. Nothing like this. Training is never the same as actually being in the thick of it. Training didn't tell him how it would feel to wrestle a four-thousand pound metal beast back under control. That's really not something anyone can be trained for.
He can't see what's going on behind him. Doesn't focus on it until he hears Helena's gasp. A growling sound he knows all too well...
The pilot's been infected.
They have a zombie pilot with them on an out of control chopper.
Helena's struggling; one wrong move and she's tumbling out with the pilot. He can't let that happen. Leon has to give up control of the beast or she'll die.
If he loses too much control, they might both die.
At least if he goes too, he won't have to live with another death on his hands.
Leon reaches back and aims while struggling one-handed with the controls. It is probably the worst conditions he's ever had to try to shoot a zombie under. So many things can go wrong in that second. He could jerk the chopper and send them crashing. Helena could fall out before he makes the shot. He could wind up shooting her. Too many variables, and no time to think of any of them.
It doesn't stop the zombie.
Lose more control.
The zombie stumbles back, giving Helena enough space to push it out. Leon can't see where it lands. Probably went splat like the first one.
The chopper continues to buck under his hands.
There goes the tail rotor. Shit.
Telling his non-existent children of the time he sideswiped a train might be amusing. Living it is not.
Building Building BUILDING
His vision filled. Glass. Metal. Debris.
Chaos. All around. Falling. Down Down Down...
Ow. How many times will he have to take a hit to his shoulders?
Alive? Alive. Why?
More glass... shitshitshitshitRUN.
There's finally solid ground beneath his feet. But he can't take a break. Can't catch his breath. Leon has to keep moving forward.
Keep going before he has a chance to think about the soldier who stayed behind as they jumped into the helicopter, likely torn apart now by the infected. Keep moving before the guilt of the chopper pilot can grab hold. Before he can curl into a ball and wonder why so many soldiers die around him and he keeps walking.
Did they know? Did anyone tell them what they were risking by becoming BSAA soldiers? Had they gone into this completely blind and now lay dead, broken, their last thoughts of terror and confusion?
Leon knows. Truly, he anticipates dying at the hands of a BOW one day before making it to retirement. He knows with every mission he's sent out on that he runs a high risk of not coming back. The agent goes into it with eyes wide open. These men and women, were they given the same knowledge? Were they given a choice?
Why were so many dead, while he always stands alone in the middle of hell?
Leon sat mostly still, a faint trembling only noticeable if looked for. His eyes were cast to some point on a wall Chris knew the blond didn't see. If Chris had a word for Leon at that moment, it would be numb. Despite there likely being other issues Leon had about Tall Oaks and Tatchi, the worst of it was laid bare. It left the blond depleted; those memories pulled out and leaving an emotional void behind.
Chris moved from the couch and knelt on the floor next to Leon. He took one of the blond's hands into his own, feeling those minute tremors along slim fingers.
"I know that was probably the hardest thing you've done, and I appreciate it. Now I need you to listen to me. And that's going to be just as hard, possibly moreso, because you're not going to want to. You will want to fight against what I'm going to say. You'll want to believe I'm wrong. I'm not, and I know I have Sherry to back me up, probably Hunnigan as well. But Leon, can you trust me? Can you promise you'll trust me and listen?"
A couple of blinks did nothing to erase that emptiness in Leon's gaze, but eventually the blond nodded once.
Chris sighed in relief. "Okay. Thank you for that. As I said, I'm going to need you to accept that what I'm saying is the truth, even if your mind doesn't want to. Right now, your mind is feeding you these thoughts and emotions and it's mixed up and wrong. Those perceptions are skewed, especially from your experiences. So let me show you this from a different angle, alright?"
Another nod. Chris took it; this would probably be the most receptive Leon's ever been, which worked to his advantage.
"Yeah, okay." The captain inhaled deeply, bracing himself for a long battle against Leon's guilt. "So, Tall Oaks. I hate to break it to you, but having a bad feeling, no matter how accurate, doesn't make you a mind reader."
Chris decided to keep Leon's hand within his own; the twitch in his fingers told the captain that Leon was already gearing up for a fight. "No, listen, Leon. Remember? You agreed to listen to me." Several uneasy seconds went by before those fingers fell slack in Chris's grip. "That's better. Now, bad feelings. Anyone who's been in this as long as you and me will have those gut feelings. I get it all the time. I know you do as well; Claire says yours is almost scarily accurate. I'm sure it was that night, too; still doesn't make you a mind reader."
Chris waited a moment, but the blond's hand remained limp. Good. "So while it's great and all that your instincts are still working, there is no way in hell you could have had any clue about what was going to happen that night. Tell me, do you honestly believe beefing up the security would have had an effect on what happened? The infection was spread via gas; would extra security have been able to stop literal air?"
Tense silence echoed throughout the room. Chris feared he may have to press the issue. Fortunately for both of them, Leon gave a slow shake of his head.
"Right. And that's all you would have been able to accomplish. Like you said, you didn't have any proof. And it's just as well; if you had, then it would have made Simmons's accusation worse. You wouldn't have been able to move as freely as you did. He would have gotten away with everything, and you'd be rotting away in a cell."
Another twitch shook Leon's hand, but Chris was prepared for this. "No, you being in jail wouldn't have fixed anything. Think about it; you being arrested would have happened because of the president being infected and shot."
Chris forced himself to ignore the hard jolt that ran through Leon, and pressed on. "There would have been no reason for you to go to jail otherwise. It wouldn't have prevented anything; it would have been the end result. Also, who would have found the real killer then? Helena? Hunnigan? No, Simmons's already had a plan in place for Helena, and I'm sure if Hunnigan had gone snooping, he would have taken her out as well. Jail would not have been a solution for anything."
Chris could feel the minute shivers in Leon's hand, each a tell on how the blond was trying to both fight and accept what Chris said. When it relaxed a tiny bit more, the brunet took it as a victory and continued.
"So security wouldn't have helped. You being arrested wouldn't have helped. You said it yourself that Benford wouldn't have believed you without proof, which you didn't have. There is simply no way you could have prevented that attack on the president."
Leon subconsciously tried to free his hand, a clear sign of disagreement. Chris didn't let him, using the touch as a conduit for what Leon needed to hear.
"You could not have stopped it. You, Benford, Tall Oaks... All of you were betrayed by Simmons. Even Helena, who was only doing it to protect her sister; Simmons betrayed each of you and his office. All to keep some delusion of political power that was never his to manipulate in the first place."
Leon struggled with his breathing, fight or flight instincts warring with the promise he made to Chris. His grip tightened in Chris's hold as he fought to get his words out.
"But... even then I... Adam... I shot... I shot..."
"You know it wasn't him anymore, Leon," Chris said as kindly as possible. "It wasn't him any more than any of the other infected were still people. Sometimes a cure can be found, but even with Jake's antibodies, it would have been too late for anyone in Tall Oaks, including Benford." The captain sighed. As hard as it was for Chris to lose his team, how much harder was it to have to put down one of the sadly too few friends Leon had?
"It wasn't him," Chris's tone firm on the matter. "It wasn't him, and I think you know this, just as you know he wouldn't have wanted to continue like that if he were conscious of it.
"Think about this as well; how would he have felt, if Benford had been cured, but knew exactly what he'd turned into, and what he'd done while infected?"
A soft, pleading noise pushed out from behind clenched teeth. For Benford—for Adam—it would have been a nightmare. He would have stepped down despite no culpability in any of it. That kind of thing will change a person, no matter how strong they were. It would have broken Adam. And that was the last thing Leon would have ever wanted for the man he respected and called his friend.
"It sucks," continued the captain. "It sucks and I can't imagine how much worse it was for you since you weren't able to mourn until all was said and done. Yet what you did both saved Helena, and let Benford rest without being a puppet to the virus. It was a mercy that nobody would ever fault you for."
Leon squeezed his eyes shut and nearly curled up into a ball. To Chris's wonder, Leon didn't try to pull his hand away. The brunet could only hope it meant Leon was trying to accept it. He considered stopping to give Leon a moment but decided to press a bit more while the walls were still down.
"As for the survivors you found, both with the bus and the church, you have to give yourself a break. I've lost units, both I've been a part of, and that I've led. These are trained BSAA soldiers with survival skills who are often called to the front lines in BOW hotspots. If they don't always make it out, how can you—just one man, Leon—hold yourself responsible for a group of untrained civilians?"
Chris pulled Leon's hand closer. He knew the topic of the survivors would be the hardest to convince the agent he was not at fault about.
"The reports mentioned how you got out of Tall Oaks through the catacombs under the cathedral. Helena told Claire more about it and the caverns. Think about this; would any of those people have made it through there alive?"
He resisted the tug against his hold. "No, Leon, no. Not even with your help. Think about everything that you and Helena experienced. Think about how you're both trained and answer yourself honestly; could any untrained civilian have made it through that?"
A pained whine answered instead. Leon didn't want to go back to those memories, but they came of their own volition. How many times, from the lab to the catacombs to the caverns, did he and Helena narrowly avoid death? How many times had he been sure they were going to die? If they hadn't been trained, maybe even if they'd been alone or just not worked together, they would have died.
The leaps across chasms without thought, because if you think about it you'll hesitate and that's death. The wild sprints past falling rocks that also earmark you for death. And the water—can't forget about the fucking frigid water with a damn mutated shark ready to swallow you whole. By all rights, he and Helena should probably be dead.
A civilian would be.
His head flopped forward, too exhausted to deny this truth. As much as he wanted to, as much as every fiber of his being screamed to, it would have been impossible to save anyone from Tall Oaks. Not the group on the bus, and not the group at the church. It ached, but even the two remaining survivors would have died if Leon had convinced them to come with him.
At least he could take solace in the fact that Simmons's sterilization meant those two went quickly. Probably never knew it happened. Their deaths he can place directly on Simmons's head. Then again, all of Tall Oaks can be placed on Simmons's.
Simmons's, who he killed. If Leon could do nothing else for Tall Oaks, for the survivors, for Adam, he was able to take down the one who caused all of it.
But that was only Tall Oaks.
He felt the tightening on his hand and turned to see Chris gazing back at him. Whatever the captain saw in Leon's eyes must have satisfied him. Chris nodded one time and smiled.
"Right. Tall Oaks wasn't your fault, and you couldn't have done any more than what you did. So that leaves Lanshiang, doesn't it?" Chris took the whispered "hmm" as a yes. "First, the plane. Do you know when the pilot had been infected?"
If he's honest, Leon didn't know the pilot had been infected at all until the plane lurched. He shook his head no.
"Did you know, once you discovered he had been infected, what the mutation would be?"
That was still a thing Leon had been trying to wrap his head around since he saw the video with 'Happy Birthday, Ada' on it. Plus with what he saw in the lab, and Deborah Harper, Leon didn't know very much about the mutations, let alone the types. Deborah's mutation wasn't at all like the pilots, and whatever that was on the tape had been mutated to look like Ada, which meant it was someone else before. There didn't seem to be any pattern to the mutations, and no way to predict them.
Again, Leon shook his head.
"So didn't know he was infected, and didn't know what he would turn into." And when put like that, Leon could admit it was a bit over-reaching to consider everything about the plane as being his responsibility. But still...
"Have you seen the size of airliner vents?" Chris asked so suddenly Leon almost suspected telepathy. "I have, and from that I can say that sucker must have been made of jell-o or something to squeeze where he could. You, however, would only have not fit, but you would have got a concentrated blast of the gas. You would have been turned into the thing you've been fighting against for years now."
He had some doubts to that, but Leon kept that to himself.
"Once it got in the vents, it was a lost cause for the rest of the passengers," Chris continued. "And unless you put that thing on the plane yourself, you are neither responsible nor at fault for what happened. Plus your report said that particular type doesn't go down easy. Getting into a serious firefight with one might have caused you to shoot something vital that would have dropped the plane, and you wouldn't have walked away from that kind of crash.
"And speaking of the crash... let's get one thing clear right now, Leon S. Kennedy." Dark eyes hardened so that Leon wondered if Chris was going to take a swing at him. "I'm ex Air Force. You know I've flown a lot of different planes and choppers even after I left. Despite that, even I can't fly a fucking commercial liner!"
It was a struggle not to yell the last bit; Chris's temper had no place here, regardless of who it was aimed at. "Jesus Christ, Leon! If anything, I would have had a worse landing for that very reason, because I'm trained and would have tried to work from what I already knew, and I would have been wrong. You only have the most basic training with a helicopter and maybe small planes. You had and accepted help, which I probably wouldn't have done because of my training, and you were able to walk away from that crash. I don't see how you could have done any better than that, so why the hell are you beating yourself up for it?"
A quote flashed through Leon's mind in that moment. "If you can walk away from a landing, it's a good landing." Leon was slowly beginning to accept this as true for himself. He tried to find something in his memory that would prove he could have handled things differently, been better, saved someone. But the more he went over everything that happened, the more he realized there wasn't any way he could have done more. It really was all out of his hands.
Chris powered through, forcing Leon to focus. "And the BSAA agents... soldiers... You're doing each of them a disservice, do you know that?"
No, he didn't, and the confusion was plain on Leon's face. Chris sighed. "Yes, they absolutely know what they're going up against by putting on their uniforms. They know when they're dropped into whatever BOW hotspot HQ sends them—sends us into," Chris asserted, reminding Leon of the captain's own place in the agency. "They are very aware of the risks involved with this job, and they do it willingly, knowing they might not come back. That job is to neutralize BOW threats, and help any civilians and other agents if possible." This time Chris jerked his head towards Leon, indicating the blond's own role in this fight.
"I also know it was more than the two you mentioned; there was one who stayed behind at the tower to get you two and another soldier out, who in turn drove out of there, and showed up again to help you fight against Simmons." Chris waited for Leon's acknowledgment. "Do those seem like the actions of men who didn't know what they were doing? They knew, Leon. They knew and did it anyway, because they wanted to help end this war the same as you and me. And frankly, you trying to take responsibility for their death dishonors their sacrifice."
Surprisingly, Leon shot a furious look at the captain. "And you never did the same thing, I presume?"
Chris winced. Leon always did know where to land a hit. "You're right," he admitted, "I'm just as guilty. That only means we're both wrong and need to do better. And we can do better."
"How? How can any of what happened... how can... I screwed up, Chris!" Leon nearly tore himself out of the recliner, and away from Chris's grip. The brunet saw it coming and carefully tripped Lean back into his seat and stood over him, never letting go of Leon's hand.
"You didn't screw up, Leon. You were dropped into a situation you had no idea was even going to happen. You were betrayed by people in higher offices for personal gains. You were strung along by a partner who might have meant well, but should have been truthful to you from the start. You had to deal with a mercenary who seems to get off on toying with you for her own amusement. You were surrounded by people who had no chance thanks to political greed. A lot of us, not just you, were tricked by a madwoman's machinations. People in power were treating all of this like a game, playing at being god, and all of us, from BSAA, FOS, all the civilians, were just pawns at best, collateral at worse.
"And if I have to repeat this every day for the rest of your life, I will. None of it was your fault, Leon. You are not to blame."
Blue stared at brown. Chris didn't realize he'd stopped breathing until he saw a single tear track down Leon's cheek, and his breath left him in a soft gust. All at once, the DSO agent simply broke, his free hand now over his mouth to stifle the pained sobs trying to escape. Only Sherry had ever tried to convince him he wasn't to blame, but Leon always felt she spoke with a bit of partiality. Having Chris Redfield, a man he's butted heads with more than a few times, say the same thing finally shattered so many walls of self-loathing the blond had built within himself over the years. Chris had no position of bias, nothing to gain or lose by lying to him.
"Why?" The question came out distorted and muffled from behind Leon's hand. "Why even bother with me? Never... nevermind Sherry or even what happened... why bother?"
"Because you're my friend, Leon."
A simple reply, spoken in that honest and straightforward way only Chris could manage. Leon almost cried again.
Chris offered a small smile. "You're my friend, and the thought of you blaming yourself for everything... it sucks and if I can help, then I'm going to. I'm going to show you the truth, even if it's you I have to fight to make you see it."
Leon sniffed softly, scrubbing his eyes with the back of his hand. "This... this won't necessarily fix me, you know. There's... there's been a lot..."
"A lot that you probably have wrong," Chris cut him off with. "That's okay. Even if you're not comfortable with anyone else, I know you still trust Sherry. And I hope you'll trust me as well one day."
"I trust you, idiot," the blond snorted. "You came and apologized and... I can imagine Sherry was worried about me. You could have let her come and deal with me, but you came on your own instead."
"She almost didn't let me," Chris admitted. "Hence the threats."
"That's m'girl." Leon took a stuttering breath, then another, each becoming a little easier than the last. Once his breathing evened out, he noticed his hand still held between Chris's. "U-um..."
Chris knew as well, but had no desire to let go just yet. "So, I think one emotional wring-out is enough for the night. And I know you didn't eat nearly enough. How about some Chinese and a movie?"
There absolutely was not any heat on Leon's face, and he would stick to that story until the day the world stopped, and then some. "That... that sounds like a date, Redfield." Seeing Chris shoot him a "yeah, so?" look, the not-blush grew. "You're seriously..." Leon choked a laugh, because of course Chris would take a 'why not' approach. "You know what? Sure. I pick the movie, though."
"As long as it's not that Tom Cruise movie with him as a bartender."
Sherry carefully used her spare key to slip into Leon's condo. She hadn't heard anything from either Leon or Chris and was reasonably concerned. She already had a plan in mind if she needed to make good on her threat to the BSAA captain if she found Leon in a worse state than when he left. She closed the door softly behind her in case Leon was asleep, then went into the living room.
The scene in front of her said those plans were unnecessary.
All the couch cushions, pillows, and blankets were piled haphazardly on the floor. A couple of empty take-out cartons were pushed aside and out of the way. On the tv, Sherry could see Disney's The Little Mermaid playing. And on the plush pile, Chris Redfield was asleep on his stomach, with cute flower clips in his hair. Leon was next to him, nearly asleep with his nails painted pink and purple. He shifted when he heard the door open, but relaxed and waved Sherry over after he recognized her.
The younger agent bit her lip as she complied, kneeling down next to Leon while he leaned up on his elbow. Both paused when Chris muttered, but the brunet didn't wake up. Sherry smiled and tapped Leon's hand, who happily showed off his nails.
"Next time," he whispered, "Let's give the drinking a break and make it a proper sleep-over instead. I have some headbands I know you'd love to put on Jake."
Sherry managed not to giggle. "Sounds like fun. We'll have it at my place then." Her eyes softened when Chris moved and threw an arm lightly over Leon's waist. "He's good for you, but if he hurts you, I'm breaking his kneecaps."
"He's quite aware of that." Leon took Sherry's hand in his own. "Thanks, Sherry-berry."
"Welcome, Papa Lion. Now scooch over. I want to see the part with the chef trying to get Sebastian."
Leon smiled and scooted towards Chris, who only hugged the blond closer in his slumber. Sherry joined them on the pile and watched the last of the movie with Leon, the two of them soon drifting off and joining Chris in sleep.
That got away from me, and that's with cutting out a lot of other parts. Phew, these characters like to talk a lot in my head. In any case, thanks for reading!
Chapter 3: Artwork!
A piece commissioned from the talented Anyonesguess. Warning: if crying men is not your thing, best to leave now.
So a beautiful comment I received also reminded me I had this and hadn't shared it yet. The piece was commissioned from Anyonesguess who did an amazing job and gut-punched me with feels. Then I realised I must be a masochist because I paid to break my own heart. (´ε｀；) So let's share in the feels, and let them know if you also found this piece amazing!