The two weeks following the incident were the longest, most trying Sara had ever lived.
As Chris Redfield had foretold, she was taken to a government facility for testing and analysis. There she was subjected to an exhausting slew of cerebral scans, constant blood work and trials. The sense of confinement was maddening; Sara wasn’t allowed to leave the facility except for walks in the courtyard.
But worst of all was the loneliness and isolation. Although the staff were not unkind, their communication with Sara was formal and clinical. Truthfully, she missed Leon. She hadn’t heard anything from or about him since they had parted at the facility’s heliport. Although she had known him for just one night, he’d become her only friend in the world. She often thought of the kiss they had shared, remembering it vividly as the only bright moment in the darkest hour of her life.
Inherently strong and resilient, Sara overcame these thoughts and sorrows, compartmentalizing them and focusing on getting home. If there was anything left of home, anyway.
At last discharge day arrived. Every test concluded that, although Sara’s DNA had been altered as a result of the Omega Virus, she posed no threat to humanity. She had, however, undergone an extensive cellular transformation. She had acquired faster metabolism, increased agility, an accelerated physical healing rate, and a stronger skeletal structure. But Sara showed no sign of retaining the powers she had exhibited on Halcyon Isle. She silently suspected, however, that given sufficient provocation, those powers would return.
Clad in donated clothing, an airplane ticket to New York in one pocket and twenty dollars in cash in the other, courtesy of the government, Sara stepped out of the facility. She inhaled the crisp autumn air deeply, admiring the golden foliage of the trees surrounding the area.
The scene was beautiful and serene, and Sara was grateful to be alive to enjoy it. Still, through her relief, the element of loneliness made Sara’s heart ache sharply. No one was waiting for her here or back home. As always, she would be alone, trying to pick up the pieces on her own.
“Stop it,” she chided herself. “Just celebrate another day of living. You can sort out the rest later.” She lifted her chin and trotted down the concrete steps to the sidewalk.
“Hey,” a masculine voice called to her. “Need a ride?”
Sara instantly recognized the warm, deep tone, and she immediately looked around for the speaker. Her heart skipped a beat when she caught sight of him.
Leon stood leaning against a parked car, arms crossed, watching her as the late October wind tousled and tossed his walnut bangs. His attitude was relaxed and casual, but for the effect he had on Sara, he may as well have been striking a model’s pose. Now devoid of blood and grime, dressed in a dark blue leather racing jacket and jeans, he was an arresting sight.
Sara advanced, succeeding admirably in containing and concealing her joy at seeing him.
Leon actually smiled at her as she approached--not a small, reserved or solemn smile; but a genuine one that made his deep silvery blue eyes sparkle. He straightened up to meet her.
“Leon! What are you doing here?” Sara asked.
He quirked a brow. “Well, hi, yourself. It’s great to see you, too.”
Sara laughed. “I’m sorry. I’m just surprised to see you, that’s all. I didn’t expect you to be here.” She shrugged, feigning nonchalance, but her cool facade quickly fell, concern clouding her countenance. “I’ve been worried about you, though. You were so badly hurt, I was afraid... But now you look like nothing happened to you.”
Leon chuckled. “I have some government scientists to thank for that. The health tablets aren’t even half of what they’ve developed. I still have a couple of bandages to shed, but I’ll live.” His smile faded.
“I wanted to visit or at least talk to you when I got back on my feet, but they refused. They said they didn’t want anything to disturb your tests. I think that’s a lot of bull, but...” He shook his head apologetically. “Unfortunately, whatever pull I have with the DSO doesn’t extend here. But I kept tabs on your tests and results. As soon as I heard you were being discharged, I came over. I wanted to be here to meet you.”
Sara was speechless.
“I said I wanted to see you again,” Leon continued. “I meant it. These past two weeks, you’re the brightest thought I’ve had.”
That statement, uttered so undemonstratively, stunned and touched Sara. Before she could stop herself, Sara hugged him. Instantly self-conscious, she began to withdraw, but Leon quietly enfolded her in his arms in a warm embrace. She stood inhaling his scents of leather, vetiver and musk until the hard press of a gun beneath his jacket interrupted the moment.
“You’re carrying a gun?” she asked incredulously as she released him.
“After everything I’ve experienced, I don’t leave home without it,” Leon replied. He turned and opened the car door. “C’mon,” he told her. “We’d better get to the airport.”
Sara flashed him a grateful smile and climbed in. Soon they were on the road. They drove in silence for several minutes, during which Sara felt a little awkward.
“Wanna hear some music?” Leon asked, glancing over at her.
“Sure,” Sara answered, relieved.
Leon flipped on the radio. Daughtry’s Deep End was playing.
“We’re all swimming into the light
I want you by my side
And I’m right here waiting for you
Right here waiting for you
We’re all living on borrowed time
I’ve been holding my breath all night
Waiting for you.”
“Oh, I love this song,” she said.
Leon turned up the volume. “Yeah. It’s a good song,” he agreed, abstractedly.
“And now I’m diving into the deep end
And I’m not scared
I’m not scared
And I’m in way over my head
And I’m not scared
I’m not scared, no
I’ll follow you straight to the bottom
I’m not afraid hell or high water
I wanna dive into you
I’ll follow you straight to the bottom
I’m not afraid hell or high water
I wanna dive into you.”
The song ended, and Leon turned the volume back down. “Sara, I’m going with you to New York,” he told her.
Sara turned to him, stunned. “What?”
“I know things are gonna be kinda tough for you when you get back. I’d like to be with you to check things out first; help you get settled back in.”
Sara was deeply moved. “That’s awesome of you, but... what about your job?”
“I’m on recovery furlough for another week. I could definitely use the vacation time, and New York’s a good place for it. I’ve already made hotel arrangements. Besides, it’d be nice to revisit the city without having to fight off bioterrorists.”
Sara stared at him inquiringly.
Leon scoffed. “Ah, I’ll tell you about it some time.”
Sara chuckled. “Fair enough.”
At length, Leon pulled the car over.
“What’s wrong?” asked Sara, frowning.
Leon leaned back in his seat and turned to her, his gaze intent. “Have you given thought to what you said... about joining the DSO?”
Sara immediately became solemn. “I have,” she said. “It’s practically all I did think about. It’s impressive and terrifying seeing what you do. You fight the human monsters trying to burn the world down, and you avenge their victims. The world is a little safer thanks to people like you. I want to be a part of that. Or at least try to be a part of it. I know it’d be hard... and scary, but it would be worth it.”
Leon analyzed her momentarily then nodded. “I discussed the issue with my superiors. I told them what you accomplished; what you were capable of. They agreed you were a good candidate if your tests checked out. You’d be an exception since you’ve never had any formal training, but pending preliminary assessment, there’s a spot for you at the academy.”
Sara blinked in astonishment. Words forsook her for an instant. “Wow. I don’t know what to say. I can’t believe you vouched for me like that. Kinda worries me, though,” she said with an uneasy chuckle.
“Well, I don’t want to make you look bad if I fail or if I’m just not good enough,” Sara replied. “You’re practically staking your reputation on me.”
Leon shook his head. “No, I’m not worried. I have total faith in you. You’re smart, brave and you’ve got heart. On Halcyon Isle, you helped me and saved me as much as I saved you. If that’s what you can do now, I can only imagine what you could do with proper training.”
Sara stared at him before breaking into an incredulous laugh. “I don’t believe you. Why are you being so sweet? You barely even know me.”
“Well, you know, we can take care of that,” Leon replied.
Sara shook her head. “You’re something else, you know that? I could really just kiss you.” She pinched her lips, regretting the words immediately. She hadn’t meant to seem forward or presumptuous.
“I’m game,” Leon replied, much to her surprise.
An amazed smile slowly spread over Sara’s face. Leon sat coolly, watching her expectantly with those intense blue eyes. She leaned forward and brushed her lips lightly over his. Leon regarded her disappointedly.
Without speaking, he bent toward her and kissed her lips coaxingly. Sara needed no urging. She responded instantly, losing all timidity. The sweet and exquisite kiss took her breath away as she glimpsed Leon’s well-concealed, restrained passion through his tender caress. The sensation was a thrilling contrast to his usual austerity and reserve.
Leon withdrew, his eyes fixed on her. “I have an idea if you really want to thank me,” he said. “When we land in New York, let me take you to dinner.”
“What? How would I be thanking you if you’re treating me to dinner?” Sara asked laughingly.
“Because I’d get to spend an evening with you that doesn’t involve mad scientists, zombies or mutants,” Leon deadpanned.
“No argument there. But I’m not dressed for dinner; these aren’t even my clothes,” Sara protested.
“Well, I wasn’t thinking of hitting the Russian Tea Room. Just something casual,” Leon said.
Sara sat back, studying him thoughtfully. “Of all the badass, beautiful women you must know, why the interest in ordinary me? I’m not exactly the sleek, sophisticated, sexy type you’re used to.”
Leon blinked. “I think you’re extraordinary. And I’m not looking for ‘sleek and sophisticated’. As for that last part... that’s not your call.”
He gazed at her openly and with significance.
Sara’s stomach fluttered, but she remained perfectly composed, smiling glowingly. “Okay, then. I guess it’s a date,” she said.
Leon nodded with a small, pleased smile. He restarted the car, and with that, they headed for the airport.
Eleven months rushed by in a whirl of events, transforming Sara’s life from ordinary city girl cashier to a DSO trainee.
Sara had unregretfully bidden New York a fond farewell in order to attend the academy. She had left a loved but empty city where no one would miss her and few would even remember her. But even had it been otherwise, there was no time for nursing woes. Sara’s days were dedicated to passing her preliminary assessment and basic training. Once officially accepted into the academy, the real work began.
Fully devoted to her studies, Sara demonstrated impressive aptitude for all her courses. She quickly rose to the top of her classes in marksmanship and academics. As her skills grew, so too did her confidence. Soon the withdrawn, uncertain girl had blossomed into a bright, sanguine, self-assured young woman.
Through all the changes that transpired in Sara’s life, Leon remained constant. Although his job and her training often separated them for extended periods of time, Leon kept in touch by phone, text or email offering kind encouragement and firm support.
When their schedules permitted them to meet, they enjoyed a slow-burning romance. It was a relationship unlike any Sara had ever experienced, though she’d had precious few of those. As such, she was very sure to keep Leon at a distance, afraid to fall into an abyss of profound passion only to end up brokenhearted. Sara played for keeps; the stakes were too high for anything less.
Sara never forgot the unnamed agent Leon had referred to when they had first met; the woman who had won his affections long ago. At times, when they were together, Leon would go silent, his mind wandering. Sara wondered then if it was the ghosts of his past haunting him, or thoughts of the woman he’d loved.
Thus Sara was careful to retain her boundaries. But maintaining her resolve was no easy feat. It would have been much simpler had she not been so deeply attracted to Leon, and if he hadn’t been so damnably easy to love.