Character musings

...or something like it.

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[Leon + Claire] And the day, the good times like sands slip through our fingers
mybrothersseekr wrote in transgenicprose

A normal day.

Of course, any Redfield's definition of "normal" was subject to scrutiny, but Claire preferred to stay on the bright side of things -- normal, usually, just meant no emergencies popping up, no slanted media coverage thrown at Terrasave, nowhere to be an hour from now with the soonest flight out of town tomorrow night, no negative news from the B.S.A.A. (thank God) -- just a day, to herself no less, with no schedule until the aforementioned Terrasave coverage starting tomorrow morning.

She'd been in D.C. before now, so she'd developed a knowledge of and taste for certain strips in the city. At the end of the day, this just meant that she lost less time asking for directions and could spend more of it... being normal.

Which, naturally, just meant kicking back for a while after a morning of traveling. Not so much in the sense of literally lounging around -- Claire was too active for that -- so dressed in her usual casual -- jeans, turtleneck, a thin jacket -- she'd slipped her purse over her shoulder and set out, wandering a popular street before inevitably making her way into the main shopping mall. She wasn't really in a shopping mood, but window shopping always made for a good method of unwinding.

Plus, she was hungry, and just about anything imaginable could be found in even the dinkiest of mall food courts; in one this big, it'd take her half an hour to probably just locate all the different places.

Still, she took her time, just browsing the window displays and not paying attention to much in particular. It was nice, not having to really focus on anything unless she chose to.

'Free time,' I think they call it. Not that Claire could or would really complain; those much higher up on the social food chain had their work cut out for them these days. Still, she figured, that was why people like her were working like they were. There was never really too much effort to put into a good cause -- there was rarely enough.

But that was busy thinking, and Claire let the thought trail off as she brushed through a passing crowd.

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The posting to the Secret Service had been mostly a fluke due to exemplary conduct in the face of Unusual and Extreme circumstances.

Leon thought that the guys upstairs just had it figured that anyone who could face down and shrug off B.O.W.'s could keep their head in whatever situations a run-of-the-mill human might possibly find themselves in-- neither here nor there that he was a pretty tight shot with any weapon you could put into his hand.

It was the B.O.W.'s.

President Graham appreciated his experience more after he got Ashley back. That was always how it shook down. And he would have still been on Presidential detail if not for the rash of panic in the wake of the Harvardville Airport incident. The Special Response Team had been his home for the last few months and they'd yet to respond to a single true outbreak. Raccoon City had been a public question mark, the closest that anything had come to making front line news-- until Harvardville. Umbrella had provided an excuse for the city it decimated but the airport was exactly what it looked like, and now people were scared. This wasn't a chemical leak, it wasn't even terrorism, not the type they'd learned to live with since 9/11. This was horror movies, it was stuff that you were afraid would come out of your closet in the middle of the night. This was the type of thing that people couldn't label, couldn't pry logic against. And that inspired a special kind of fear.

It also meant that Leon and his SRT were getting a hell of a lot of false alarms from panicked citizens. It was a waste of resources and time but the government had deemed it better to piss on every set of coals in the chance that they prevent the one forest fire.

It kept him busy.

"ETA sixty seconds," he said into his pickup, his eyes on the road and hands relaxed on the wheel of the black SUV. Real inconspicuous, government cars. "You know the drill; reported incident in the basement but I still want a full sweep. Rogers, Buck-- you take top down. Moreno and Williams go around the back and into point. I'll go down the middle. Plug it up, boys. Let's not stir up the civilians."

He pulled the SUV to the curb and his team's voices in his ear confirmed that Moreno and Williams were pulling up with him on the opposite side near the service entrances. They were all dressed in light plainclothes, guns concealed under coats and shirts. Underarmor consisted of light but dense fabric that would curb all but the most direct set of teeth.

Funny how that felt like overkill after everything he'd been through.

Leon hit the marble floor at a fast walk, weaving through shoppers-- just a man in a hurry.

As predicted, Claire spent a good while just wandering, enjoying the sights and smells, a little bit of people-watching here and there -- just taking in anything and everything, and comfortably, grateful for the crowd and sight of people going about their everyday lives.

Maybe Claire was a bit of a romantic at times, but that never killed anyone.

Passing one of those homemade cookie stalls, she watched with sympathy as a young mother balanced a cell phone on one shoulder, her left hand gripping the handle of a double stroller -- filled with two crying, identical boys -- and her right fishing inside her tote bag as the employee behind the counter waited. As Claire went to move on, she noticed a third child -- this one a girl, barely five years old, if that, wandering in an idle circle behind her mother's back.

Eyes on her shoes, the girl strayed back into the walkway of people, making passersby swerve to avoid her -- all except one. Attention caught, Claire looked over and saw some uniformed man driving one of those oversized golf carts -- one hand on the wheel, the other holding a radio up to his face as he spoke into it, his eyes off to the side and blind to the little girl still absently twirling in his path.

Claire's movement was reflex: she took a rapid two steps and caught the girl gently but firmly around the middle and hoisted her up, using her own momentum as she abruptly reversed direction to haul the child up and onto her hip like it was second nature. The cart rolled by a second later, never slowing.

"Hey--!" Claire almost threw in an asshole for good measure, but regard for the kid in her arms made her think twice. Her bark attracted the attention of nearly half a dozen people around her -- but the driver either didn't notice or ignored her, and kept on down the walkway.


Claire's scowl quickly faded as she looked down at the girl, who was staring up at her curiously -- but without alarm, at least. "Hey," she said gently with a smile. "You know you're supposed to look both ways, right?"

The girl smiled slightly, apparently finding Claire's contagious, but said nothing.

"Well, now you do." Claire shifted her hold a bit. "Let's get you back to--" She turned to head back towards the cookie stall, only to have to quickly sidestep to avoid someone -- and then in turn backed into someone else, and none too gently, either, losing her breath slightly as she found the other pretty solid.

"Oh -- God, sorry--"

"--it's fine, excuse-- Claire?"

Leon had raised his hands instinctively, catching the person who had come up against him so that they wouldn't fall and then already started away when the turtleneck and ponytail sank into his over-focused brain.

Her perfume, too. That was the same.

Not to mention the kid attached to her hip; Claire liked to pick up strays.

His momentum stopped. Leon knew that the situation in the basement-- whatever it may be-- was more important than a reunion; the resulting argument in his head was a short one. "There's a situation downstairs." Situation could only mean one thing between them, and it gave Claire the choice. If the kid was hers (somehow, who knew, maybe a friend's?) she could clear out. Or she could come with. Even though she wasn't part of his team, technically a civilian...

Leon played to up everyone's chances of survival. The rules were secondary. Either way, he rested on the balls of his feet, ready to move.

Claire first had to recover from her loss of balance, then finding it again, then the familiar face -- she hadn't even smiled a reflexive happy-to-see-you smile when Leon spoke again, and that froze her expression early in its tracks.

She stared at him for a long split-second -- but aside from his face and poise being utterly sincere, she knew Leon wasn't the kind to kid around like that.

What she didn't know was just how bad a situation it was, how big, anything -- but he was here, and it only took her another split-second to choose.

Setting the girl down, Claire brushed her hair back with a still-friendly face and gave her a gentle push back towards the mother -- who hadn't noticed the brief exchange at all.

Claire turned back to Leon with an expression considerably hard in comparison, her eyes set. "I'll go with you." Details or not, she couldn't -- wouldn't just stay here, not when he was going right on ahead. If there was a better use for her, she'd trust him to tell her -- but as it was, she couldn't go on like nothing was wrong.

It was one of the many things that Leon liked and respected about the younger Redfield sibling; Chris was a man to get the job done, and the job was his life. Leon understood that just fine but he liked that Claire was like... she was like a steel core wrapped in a soft blanket.

As stupid as he knew that sounded.

There was some quiet surge of gratitude for her words and the determination in her eyes that backed them up. Leon had personally trained all the men in his squad to deal with B.O.W.'s and he was confident in them-- but they weren't Claire. He'd rather have her at his back then a hundred trained men; in the end all he was, was a product of his experience. He nodded and waved her on as he started moving again.

"We've got help, boys. Undercover by the name of Redfield, she'll be with me to point. Brunette, tan jacket and jeans."

Leon glanced over at Claire as they dodged through the crowd and he couldn't help just a little smile. It was dry, but that didn't take the edge of genuine happiness out of it. "Nice to see ya, but we should really stop meeting like this."

Claire fell into step just half a pace behind him: close enough to talk comfortably with him and look at his face as she did so, but also able to follow his lead and shift easily if he suddenly changed direction.

She shot him a wry, sidelong look at that comment, coupled with a slight grin. "In my defense, it seems like you're always the one finding me. Maybe you should look into doing something about that bad timing of yours."

That last bit was, in every which way, a joke; the first time Leon had found her, he'd saved her neck from her first zombie. The second, she'd been stumbling around like an idiot in the Harvardville airport, alone in the dark and (mostly) unarmed -- only a few hours after that, the man had helped her walk after that explosion had temporarily crippled her. And now he'd shown up in the face of another threat, not hesitating to let her, a civilian, in on the news, or to let her come along.

"Bad timing" was a subjective term.

Her smile fading, Claire shot a glance at the crowd around them. "Shouldn't you and your boys be clearing this place out?" she asked, keeping her voice only just audible to Leon's ears. She trusted his judgment, but in a place this crowded and popular -- a "situation" would be no accident.

Leon gave a quiet snort for the comment of bad timing-- that was his whole life, wasn't it? The only life-threatening incident that he'd ever had the pleasure of walking into with his eyes open was the Harvardville Airport. Maybe that meant his luck was changing... but it wasn't a bet he'd hang his hat on.

"And start a panic?" Leon asked, glancing at Claire. "This place is too big to clear without someone getting hurt. Have you been following the news? We can't keep a lid on it anymore-- not with the public involved." His fist flexed slightly, rolling into a fist. Downing got what he wanted in the end; it was just too bad that WilPharma wasn't going to reap the benefits. "We start trying to clear this place and the shit will hit the fan."

He turned right through two store fronts and shouldered his way through a set of access doors, sliding fingers along the blue paint so that Claire could catch the door in his wake. "This mall has steel shutters that can be dropped by security at any door." His voice echoed slightly in the empty, cool hallway. "We've responded to nine claims of outbreak in the few months since the Airport." Leon looked at Claire and shook his head, lips thinned. "None of them have been real, but hey. Me and team, we're getting a lot of quality bonding time."

Claire immediately wanted to make the argument that chancing a panic was better than exposing thousands of people to a potential biological threat -- but she knew he had a point. There was really no reason you could give a crowd to get them out in an entirely calm manner; if it really was a false alarm, to boot, then taking a chance like widespread panic definitely wasn't ideal.

Dammit. There was a reason terrorism could be so effective.

She frowned, but nodded grudgingly in agreement. "Okay, so this could be a dud," she conceded, working to keep up with him. "But if it's not, what kind of situation are we looking at?" Aware that they might not have enough time for a full explanation, she added, "...Scale of one to ten, Harvardville being a ten."

Leon didn't like it either-- that much was obvious by the small lines that fanned out from the corners of his eyes as they narrowed. It was deemed the best choice of a worst case situation but that didn't mean it was something that anyone liked. Every life counted, as far as Leon was concerned... but he didn't implement the larger strategies, only plugged in his experience when somebody higher up the food chain deemed it necessary.

The top of the food chain, in the wake of the recent panic, decided that a few hundred lives lost was a (current) 1/9 chance. To them, those were good odds. Odds worth taking. The first time they'd cleared an entire business high-rise for nothing and there had been thirty injuries and one fatality.

The plans had changed after that.

"Hopefully a one," Leon said, turning a corner and pausing to check his bearings. "We got a call from security saying that a janitor reported witness a man being eaten by something-- janitor's being held but apparently didn't try to close down the room. Two doors out; we hit one, two of my boys take the other."

Leon had started walking again and had found what he was looking for-- a stairwell. "All I know is that at least your run-of-the-mill zombie isn't a pro at doorhandles." He cracked a smile and drew his knife from the sheath in his boot, handing it hilt-first to Claire. "Small favors, huh?" He pulled out his gun. "Just be the eyes in the back of my head, okay? Just like old times."

The door was opened.

Claire listened closely as Leon spoke, not missing a detail. She might not have been military, but planning on the fly and being prepared were skills she'd only honed in the last decade -- often unintentionally.

She took the knife, needing only a second to adjust to its weight and feel -- standard issue, close to what Chris had taught her with.

"Aye-aye, Captain," she replied, voice dropping, but she sent him another smile -- this one less happy, more trusting -- and stepped up close behind him, her side to his back so she could watch either way, ready to haul as soon as he did. "Lead the way."

Leon went in front, glad to have the still-familiar shift of Claire's weight behind him. Raccoon City was something that he'd never wanted to go through again (Even dealing with Las Plagas had been different, somehow, less desperate, though maybe that was him. No one thought they could get used to these kinds of horrors and yet here he was, old hat.) but if he ever did, he wouldn't want anyone but Claire with him. Having lived through that with her colored everything else in his life.

And sometimes, Leon would catch the swing of a brown ponytail out of the corner of his eye and think it's her-- just randomly, on the street, in a cafe-- and there was always a wash of disappointment when it wasn't.

Hard to keep in touch when you were trying to stop the country from having a national freak-out.

Or maybe that was just an excuse.

Leon took the steps slow and careful, gun held out in front of him and hammer already cocked. His boots were quiet on the concrete. They descended into a large maintenance basement full of metal tanks and pipes that ticked softly with their own internal rhythms. Leon made a motion to the right once they hit the ground to let Claire know where he was going.

Claire didn't possess the finesse of stealth that Leon had obviously trained in, but there had been enough moments in her life where survival counted on making as little noise as possible, and her regard for the experience showed: she moved at a decent but quiet pace, keeping up but without the risk of running into him if she looked away for a second. Her body remained more or less perpendicular to his, allowing her a wide view of everywhere his back faced.

She kept her purse crushed between her upper arm and her side -- minimizing noise, but she'd be able to abandon it in an instant if it proved to only be a handle to anything that decided to grab at her. She would have just left it in the stairwell, but considering all she had was a knife, it was a little comforting to have some back-up items up her sleeve -- not that she carried anything half as dangerous, unless a pocket knife counted.

Her grip on the combat knife was tight but comfortable; she held it in a downward position in her left hand, as anything that came up on her fast enough to get past Leon's gun would have to be from that direction. Her right hand stayed free, for balance as well simple Just In Case reasoning.

Spotting Leon's gesture, Claire didn't give a word of acknowledgement -- she just moved to follow, figuring breaking the silence would be only a last and necessary resort.

The lighting in the basement room could have been better, but Leon hadn't expected much more. The only people routinely down here would be maintenance. He pulled free a small maglight from his pocket and clicked it on, holding it with the aim of his gun. As they walked he shone it in one deep shadow to the next, finding nothing.

He wasn't surprised. It didn't mean that he relaxed.

The soft breathing of Claire behind him, the drip of various pipes and clanks of metal, Leon tried to focus past them. To listen for those telltale sounds, wet tears and the shuffle of feet that couldn't quite lift. He didn't even dream about them any more, but it didn't stop his memories of them from being too easy to access.

He put their backs to a particularly large tank that was blocking a dark back corner of the basement and paused for a moment, gun up. There was a rustle, something not quite right. Not quite like everything else. Leon glanced at Claire with a silent question: did she hear it too?

The funny thing about tension and silence was how hyper-aware a person quickly became as a result. Claire wasn't jumpy, but every sound that wasn't either herself or Leon received a quick twitch of her head in that direction -- not necessarily her eyes, given the number of shadows that offered plenty of blind spots to them and cover to anything else. Just enough to use her peripheral vision, to have just enough of an idea of what was coming, if anything came at all.

Luckily, they seemed to be making it through all right.

At Leon's movement, Claire followed suit, her attention divided between watching him for a sign, still keeping an eye on her left, and listening. When her now too-sharp hearing picked up on the noise, she met Leon's glance with a steadfast look and nodded once, slightly.

His mission, his call.

Leon nodded back, one hand moving to point with two fingers at her and then back at him. Watch. Cover me. He didn't want her running in with just his knife if he had the situation under control-- not that he thought she would. Claire, he knew, had a level head when it came to these types of things.

It was almost astonishing, how clear she made the gap between them and the other men on his team. How much more settled he felt. His stomach was tight, his nerves strung and ready... but his shoulders were down and his heartrate even.

Leon swung around the tank, putting his light and his aim into the shadows and sweeping toward the noise. He stepped out slightly, giving Claire a clear space on either of his shoulders. The bright spot of light fell on a pile of what looked like dirty clothes; it shifted and raised one arm.

"Hey, man--"

The vagrant shielding himself from the light spoke just as another came from the shadows closest to the tank, brandishing a rusted out pipe as thick as Leon's wrist and yelling as he swung it down.

Claire was tense, aware, and ready -- luckily, she was neither paranoid nor entirely out of her element. She was a make-shift fighter at best, educated in necessary experience as much as she was informal training that, in her younger years, she'd wondered if she'd ever have to really use.

That, obviously, was enough.

Something Chris had always told her was that if someone jumped you by surprise, in the dark especially, it was because they needed the advantage. Another point he'd stressed was that such an attacker could be his own undoing -- with just the right reaction, his balance would be shot and the whole tide would turn.

That was precisely what Claire did.

She'd taken Leon's right, quick but watchful of the shadows -- and that was why she'd spotted the attacker as soon as he moved. She took a quick half-step back, her free hand snapping up to snatch the arm wielding the pipe and push it away from her -- and it went, and almost ridiculously easy, to boot. The guy was apparently so focused on bringing the weapon down that the idea of having to resist wasn't on his mind -- the weapon's path was diverted away from both of them, and as a bonus, the abrupt shift made the guy stumble in surprise.

Chris really did have his moments of knowing his stuff.

Claire didn't stop to think about any of these details -- things were still moving fast, and while she hadn't stopped to register the fact that (most) infected things didn't (normally) brandish weapons, her first reaction was still to put some space between the two of them, and quickly. As soon as she and Leon were clear of the weapon's path, she brought up her other arm and slammed her elbow down onto the attacker's -- of course, at that angle, she was forcing the joint in his elbow to go a way nature hadn't designed it for.

Fortunately for him, she'd switched her grip on the knife to a forward-hold before rounding the tank, so as her knife-hand drew even with his face, she smashed the thick hilt into approximately where a nose would be.

There was a double snarl of pain, but Claire was already releasing that wrist to draw back just far enough to bring her leg up between them and slam a frontal kick -- nothing fancy -- into his gut. As intended, he was knocked back a little ways before going down, the pipe clattering to the side.

Leon only turned far enough to put his shoulder to the fight; half an abortive move to let the unbalanced assailant sail past him, half to make himself a smaller target after the fact. His nerves had screeched at the sudden figure but his trust for Claire was greater than his need to react-- there were two targets and he needed to handle one of them. His gun, and light, never wavered.

"You okay?" he asked as the pipe clattered away. A glance was taken at Claire and then the figure on the floor, moaning audible curses and curling onto his side to grab his nose with one hand-- even in the dim light it was easy enough to see the blood oozing between his fingers. "Hell," Leon muttered, glancing back to Claire. "There's zipties in my coat pocket."

Then he turned back to the man still in the corner. "Gimme your name, now. What are you doing here?"

The vagrant now had both hands in the air and was squinting into the light. "Bill. Man, it's chilly out there. We didn't think nobody would come down here."

"Fuck you, pigs," the man on the ground offered, the words swollen with his broken nose.

Claire nodded. "Yeah, I'm good." Without taking her eyes off the downed man, she sidestepped over to Leon and briefly searched his pocket to withdraw the aforementioned ties. She slipped the knife hilt-first into her jacket pocket -- just in case; she was already keeping an eye out for a possible third figure, but the blade-up position would provide less of a welcome for any grabs at it, and it she wouldn't kill herself on it if she happened to fall over.

She stepped over the guy as he nursed his busted face, her own giving nothing away as she nudged him onto his front -- which wasn't hard, even if it was met with verbal resistance. "Hands behind your back, now." She took one arm and moved it for him when he didn't oblige, noting that his elbow was fine; bruised, and it would hurt like a bitch for a while, but she hadn't dislocated it.

Claire planted a knee and some weight in the small of the man's back as she worked to bind his hands. She did take care not to push his face into the cement floor, but going by his continued snarls that he hadn't done anything, what was she doing, didn't he have rights, and other things interlaced with profanity, he apparently didn't appreciate the mercy.

"Think these guys could be what we're looking for?" she asked Leon with a sidelong glance, ignoring the man entirely.

Leon watched her work, keeping only the most cusory of glances on the gun he still had the gun pointed at. It wasn't until the guy's hands were secure did Leon shift his attention. "If I had to make a bet? Yeah." He lowered the gun, the light, and the second bum lowered his hands.

"Hey, Bill. Is it just you two down here?" Leon ignored the mutterings of the guy Claire had down. Walking two steps, he stooped to pick up the pipe that had tried its hardest to cave in his head.

Bill shrugged. "Haven't seen no-one else. Nice down here, quiet, warm. Come on, man. Have a heart."

Leon didn't comment to that, just turned back to Claire. "Call me crazy, but I believe him. There's also some fast food trash in the corner there." He shook his head. This was getting ridiculous, all the faked calls, the panicked warnings that led to bums eating Hamburger Haven. Leon sighed. "Sorry to have--"

He was interrupted by the sound of multiple feet and his gun came up even as he was stepping in front of Claire and the bum on the ground. But the figures that materialized out of the gloom were his own guys, and Leon let out of a breath and holstered his weapon completely.

"Clear on our side," Moreno said, looking at the man on the floor and then the girl kneeling on him. An eyebrow went up. Williams added, "but it looks like you guys had fun."

Leon clipped the safety back over his gun and let his jacket fall forward. "Ken Moreno, Abe Williams-- Claire Redfield. Claire was with me in Raccoon." That was all it took to lift the dubious expressions from their faces and they fairly stumbled over awkward hellos. "You guys think you can manage hauling these two outta here? Take them in and quarantine for twenty-four. No charges." He looked at the guy still sitting on the crate. "It's warm in there, Bill."

Then Leon touched Claire's elbow. "Let's get outta here."

Claire nodded her greetings in turn at the others, offering a polite word back before backing away to let them take over. She flashed Leon a quick smile of agreement and started back the way they'd come, considerably more at ease than when they'd entered.

"Believe me, I'm grateful it was a false alarm and everything," she said once they'd gone far enough that her voice didn't carry too far back with the echo, "but times must really be rough if these are the kinds of 'threats' you're responding to." She drew the borrowed knife from her pocket as she spoke, offering it back to Leon.

When she'd said the times were rough, she'd meant it in two ways: on the wide, general scale, as Leon had described only moments before, but also for him personally. Simply put, it had to suck going into any situation not knowing what to expect -- but half-expecting it to be nothing at all was probably a whole other level of frustration, not even including the disadvantage of dividing forces in the event that something real did go down elsewhere.

"Better safe than sorry, I guess," Claire mused, mostly to herself.

"Better than having all the threats be real ones," Leon said as they walked. He took the knife from Claire and paused for just a moment to slip it back into his boot and shake down his pant leg. "Right? I keep trying to tell myself that. Everyone's scared because of what happened in Harvardville. They're jumping at shadows. And the government is jumping at the jumping. Hell." He snorted. "They're doing the macarena."

Leon sighed, rubbing a hand back through his hair. "What brings you to D.C.?" His eyes slide from the corridor to Claire. "It's nice to see you."

God I went to the RE wiki to double check some TerraSave history and NOW I AM BLIND & CAN'T SEE DX

Claire gave the softest of snorts at Leon's commentary, shaking her head. "Wasting resources is better than wasting lives, at least. There's always that."

As he looked over, she did the same, offering him the first smile today that was free to be open and relaxed. "Business," she replied, looking ahead, "more or less. Ever since the airport, TerraSave's been... getting a lot of support and criticism from both sides of the fence. WilPharma might have turned out to be one big mess, but it still brought up a lot of questions -- like where we do and don't have the right to stick our noses."

Another exhale, this one sharper as she shook her head. "It's all political bull. We have a press conference tomorrow morning to try and address some of the issues, so I've just been killing time until then."

After a moment she looked over again, the slight bit of agitation that had formed in her tone quickly dissipating again. "But yeah, it's good to see you, too. I guess it's too much to ask that we meet under normal circumstances much, huh?"

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