Leon’s words and soft tone would have been soothing to Sara, but the sight of his wounds and the terrifying image of CERBERUS were branded into her mind. She opened her eyes wide and found herself looking into Leon’s face.
His countenance was a mask of pain covered with a sheen of sweat. He was breathing laboriously as he watched her, but his deep, silvery blue eyes were sharp as ever, almost glowing from beneath the shadows cast by his hair like an evening thunderhead cloud. “How do you feel?”
Her head throbbed, the bullet graze still burned, and her entire body ached fiercely. Her eyes ran over his bleeding neck and the ever-widening bloodstain spreading over his flank. “Not good, but not as bad as you must feel.”
Leon exhaled in a way that was almost a laugh. He produced his tablet case. “Take a couple more of these.”
Sara’s brow furrowed with anxiety for Leon. “I’m worried about you,” she said, looking pointedly at his bleeding flank. “You need them more than I do.”
Leon listed his head. “Thanks, Sara,” he said. “But you are my responsibility. You take priority.”
Without further parley, Sara accepted two tablets, chewing as quickly as possible to get past their chalky bitterness.
Satisfied, Leon tapped five into his palm and popped them into his mouth. He rose awkwardly and moved beside her, sliding down the wall with a soft grunt. Sara watched him reload and replace his handguns, his expression drawn tightly in pained severity. He checked the .45, huffing with displeasure as he emptied the chamber full of casings. Clutching the gun, he draped his arm over his knee. He leaned his head against the wall and shut his eyes, wincing occasionally.
Sara rested her own head against the wall, welcoming the relief the tablets were gradually providing. She eyed Leon surreptitiously. Perhaps it was strange to describe a bloodied, begrimed man as beautiful, but it was the word that came to mind as she studied him. She had never met such a kind, courageous, determined man. His innate valor and strength radiated from him so intensely that Sara could almost put blind faith in him. Almost.
Her concern for him was somewhat allayed when she saw his handsome features relax, his breathing becoming once again steady and regular. He sat silently, remaining perfectly still except for his finger occasionally tapping the gun’s trigger guard.
“Thank you,” Sara said. Her voice seemed loud in the heavy silence of the room.
Leon turned his head to look at her. “Don’t thank me yet. I still have to get you off this godforsaken island,” he replied.
A tendril of doubt snaked its way into Sara’s heart, but she squelched it, turning her attention to the incredible armory they now took refuge in. She was impressed by the racks of large firearms lining the walls along with cases bearing grenades, ammunition, and even body armor.
“Ramsey’s got a hell of a collection in here,” she remarked.
“Yeah; and we’re gonna use it to our advantage,” Leon replied. “Gonna get you back where you belong.”
Sara was silent for a moment. She glanced over at him. His eyes were closed again. “You’re not what I expected from an agent,” she said at length.
“No? What did you expect?”
Sara shrugged. “I don’t know. Not someone who really... cared. It’s like it’s more than just a job for you.”
Leon straightened up, opening his eyes and fixing them on her. “It’s way more than just a job; it’s personal.” His voice was low, but his eyes blazed.
“How did you get into this life?” Sara asked.
Leon scoffed. “Sure as hell wasn’t my childhood dream,” he responded. He fell silent for so long, Sara expected no further reply. She started when he suddenly spoke again, shifting to face her.
“As a kid, I thought a lot about the kind of man I’d become. I never imagined this is where I would be.” Leon shook his head and sighed. “Like most kids, I played around with a lot of career ideas. I finally settled on becoming a cop: Leon Scott Kennedy, officer of the Raccoon Police Department, duty-bound to protect and serve.”
Sara’s brows shot up. “You’re a survivor of the Raccoon City disaster?!” she gasped. “Oh, my God... I remember that. A fatal, incurable epidemic broke out. Survivors had to be evacuated, and the city had to be destroyed to stop the disease from spreading.”
Leon chuckled dryly. “That’s the bedtime story version of it. The truth is much darker.”
Sara’s eyes widened. “A coverup?”
Leon inclined his head.
“Let me guess: hide the truth, spare the public fear and panic, right?” Sara asked sarcastically.
Leon’s mouth twisted wryly. “Partly. But it wasn’t all ‘altruism’.”
Sara cocked her head at him. “So what really did happen? Or shouldn’t you tell me?”
“You’re neck deep in this shit. Why shouldn’t you know the truth?” Leon answered, shrugging lightly.
His eyes took on a haunted look as he retreated into dark memories. “I was a rookie on the force. My first official day was delayed by a notice telling me to stay away from the city. I finally got suspicious that something was seriously wrong, so I went in anyway. What I found was hell on Earth.
“The citizens had become infected by a virus that turned them into flesh-eating zombies. The living became the undead and the dead rose again, marching in growing numbers to prey on the remaining living. Huge B.O.W.s like CERBERUS lurked in the shadows, tearing people to shreds. By the time I got there, thousands were already dead or infected. The city was a bloodbath.”
“But how did it happen?” gasped Sara.
“An experimental virus called the T-Virus was deliberately released into the Umbrella Corporation facilities which were experimenting with viral weaponry. It accidentally contaminated the sewer environment, and along with the monster-making G-Virus, took its toll on the city. I and a handful of survivors--some who are good friends of mine today--barely made it. A week after the initial attack, the death toll reached over a hundred thousand.
“To cover up ties with the Umbrella Corporation, and to keep research records away from rival countries, the military was ordered to launch thermobaric bombs on the city. By the end of it all, Raccoon City was reduced to nothing but a blood-soaked memory. Part of the truth surfaced, and Umbrella went down, but the damage was done. And the nightmare hasn’t ended; there’ve been lots of bioterrorist outbreaks since then. I’ve lost a lot of friends and comrades along the way.”
Leon paused, lost in thought. “It wasn’t easy putting the pieces together to move on, but I’ve managed. After my cop-for-a-day experience, the government offered me a job as an agent with the U.S. Strategic Command. They thought I had what it took to deal with bioterrorism, and I wanted to help scrub out bioterrorist scumbags, so I accepted. Then a few years ago, STRATCOM was disbanded and I was transferred to the new Division of Security Operations. So this is my life. I’m fighting in memory of those who’ve fallen victim to bioterrorism, and for the future of the world.” He sighed. “I’ll admit, sometimes I feel like I need to get out, but I can’t. Until I’m either dead or too old to take up the fight, I have to push on.”
Leon lapsed into a contemplative silence while Sara sat staring at him with veneration. “You’re amazing,” she said.
“What?” Leon roused himself from his reverie.
“You’re amazing. The most amazing person I’ve ever met. ”
Surprise flickered briefly in his eyes.
Catching the passing expression, Sara scoffed incredulously. “Don’t tell me you’ve never heard that before.”
“Not really, no.”
Sara was indignant on his behalf. “Talk about gross unappreciation! After an experience like yours, most people would’ve lost their sanity. Few would be willing to choose a job dedicated to reliving those horrors again and again. You’ve embraced it for the sake of saving others, risking your own life daily. Through it all, you’ve managed to keep your wits and humanity. That takes a very special person. You are well named Leon; you really do have the heart of a Lion,” Sara told him.
Leon exhaled slowly, his eyes softening. “Thank you, Sara,” he said quietly.
“It must be pretty tough on your friends and relationships, never knowing when or if they’ll ever see you again,” said Sara.
“The friends I do have lead similar lives to mine. Raccoon City changed us and shaped us into what we are today. As for relationships... I’m actually flying solo right now,” Leon answered.
“Really?” Sara couldn’t hide her surprise.
Leon arched a brow. “Why does that shock you?”
Actually, Sara found it incredible that a man like Leon wasn’t involved in various romantic entanglements. Aloud she only said: “Well, I thought maybe you and one of the other agents might... you know. You’d have your work in common, and you’d understand each other.”
Leon pursed his lips slightly. “You’d be surprised. There was someone once. Something might’ve come of it, I guess. Problem was she was never really on my side. She was evasive, elusive, unpredictable and dangerous.”
“And so you fell for her,” Sara concluded.
Another glimmer of surprise lit Leon’s eyes. He tilted his head, shaking it lightly. “You women and your intuition; you never miss a beat, do you?”
Sara smiled somewhat shyly, and Leon returned it with a small, good-natured smile of his own.
“You know, you’ve got the makings of a good agent yourself,” he told her.
Sara laughed outright. “Oh, sure. Life-stunted me, living in a shoebox apartment and working as a cashier in a retail chain pharmacy whose CEO is a bioterrorist.”
“Nothing you just said has anything to do with who you are; only where you are in life. You’re a bright, gutsy, and instinctive woman. I just wish you could see what I see.”
Sara stared at him speechlessly. He met her gaze openly and without diffidence. An undeniable magnetism between them was conveyed in that simple, silent look. Sara felt she should turn away, but she couldn’t tear her eyes from his, or perhaps she didn’t want to.
The moment passed in the literal blink of Leon’s eyes. His mood changed suddenly, returning to his usual austerity. “Well, I guess I’m in as good shape as five tablets will get me. We’d better not push our luck.” He rose carefully, grimacing as he did so. Exhaling sharply, he headed to the assortment of weapons.
Sara stood and followed Leon as he hovered over the collection, flitting to the different racks and shelves like a hummingbird. She watched him intently as he selected a grenade launcher and ammunition for it. He slung it across his chest then moved on to a display of handguns. He chose two identical ones, analyzed them critically then sought out corresponding magazines and ammo. He then replaced his own guns with the new ones. Sara was impressed with the skill and precision with which he made his choices. Leon caught sight of a carrier body armor vest and donned it immediately, securing it tightly. He began loading the compartments with spare magazines and grenades.
“Whoa. You really know your stuff,” Sara remarked.
“Well, I’ve had lots of practice,” Leon replied. He reached for a box of bullets and quickly loaded a separate magazine. Using his knife, he engraved an asterisk onto it.
Sara glanced at the box. “Incendiary bullets, huh? You planning on blowing something up?”
“First chance I get.” Leon took up another gun equipped with a red dot sight along with a spare magazine. He presented it to Sara, demonstrating ejection and reload hastily.
Sara accepted the gear, still nervous. “This whole ordeal... it’s gonna get swept underneath Uncle Sam’s great big carpet just like Raccoon City, isn’t it?” she asked pensively.
Leon paused. “Yeah. I’m kinda ambivalent about the fact. I mean, on one hand, I feel like people have the right to know the truth about the evil lurking in their own backyard. But then I think, what good would that do? Millions of people terrified, seeing monsters everywhere they look, and eyeing everyone in fear. It’d be exchanging one threat for another.” He sighed deeply.
Sara echoed his sigh. “I guess that’s true. There’s no such thing as black and white; just a thousand shades of gray.”
“Yeah, that about sums it up,” Leon said, exhaling with soul-deep weariness. Shaking it off, he double checked his guns and looked up at Sara gravely. “Okay. Stay close to me. If luck stays with us, we’ll be out of this soon.”
Leon led the way to another large door on the opposite end of the room. It opened readily and they passed through into a short corridor which led to a network of broad pedways.
“God, this place is a maze!” exclaimed Sara.
Leon glanced at his comm device, checking the GPS. “We go left,” he stated.
They turned down the left pedway, advancing toward the garage, when a smoke grenade suddenly landed in their path. “Look out!” cried Leon. He stopped short, gripping Sara by the shoulders and pushing her back as they both erupted into a coughing fit.
Voices echoed from every corner of the sprawling pedways. Soldiers were charging toward them.
“Oh, shit,” Leon muttered. “Looks like Lady Luck just bailed on us. This has turned out to be one hell of a detour.”