I love Leon Kennedy. I fundamentally do not understand anyone who doesn't love Leon Kennedy.
Water in Cairo was everywhere but where Claire expected it to be. Pollution mingled with the haze of the blanketing humidity and the Nile glittered aggressively blue, a hard and masculine shade infinitely more vibrant than the markers she had used to color it in fifth grade back when Egypt was just pyramids and the oddity of removing organs for safekeeping. But of course back then the insides of a person had been largely abstract. If she had learned anything back in the Midwest, where water was kept in pipes and you never had to rely on a river that pulsed with the seasons like a beating heart, it was that man was material, the sum of his parts. The systems that kept people together were much less stable than any body of water. But right now, under the red and white striped cafe umbrella, the Nile and its immediate breezes were far away and Claire was baking as she did her best to tune out the noises of the city streets and concentrate on her book. She had finished her lemonade twenty minutes ago and the only moisture around was gleaming off her skin.
"Working with the insurgents?"
The words were in English and the vowels American-flat, which was enough to make Claire jerk her head up abruptly. It took her half a second to understand the words, but by then she didn't take them seriously. Leon was kidding, even if he didn't look or really even sound it. Whatever he had been doing since Raccoon City had given him the gift of sounding perpetually bored.
Claire pushed a sweaty trickle of hair back under her khumur. "Depends what you consider a rebellion."
Leon smiled at that, sort of. "Mind if I join you?"
Claire kicked the chair across from her back gently. "By all means."
Leon eased himself down into the chair with the impression that it was a forty-five degree torso tilt away from a capoeira strike. Most of the special ops she knew, her brother included, clattered around in their off-time like victorious Huns. Chris in particular really, with his extra fifteen pounds of muscle and unsettling scars, swaggered with a blocky thoughtlessness, exaggerated in the choreography of his new life. It had taken him a little while to put two and two together and connect the Leon Claire talked about with the Leon of the Kennedy Report, and he wasn't thrilled when he did. "That guy's got kind of a reputation," he had told her.
"We all have reputations," Claire had said, but Chris just said it wasn't like that and clammed up when she tried to annoy what he meant out of him.
"I didn't expect to see you here," she told Leon now. He was looking at the little cafe menu, squinting at the Arabic.
"I could say the same thing," he said. He raised an eyebrow at her headscarf, white and embroidered with berry red thread. "Especially in that get up."
Claire shrugged, putting her copy of Freakonomics down on the table. "When in Rome, right? Besides, the work I'm doing here, it's better to blend in."
Leon had one foot kicked out, lounging now, his hair in his eyes. It was blonder than when they had met up in Harvardville; never quite the same color two meetings in a row. She figured that was bundled into what Chris was insinuating with 'reputation'. His cheeks were ruddy with sunburn but underneath that he was pale and his eyes were smudged like a linebackers. "And what's that, exactly?"
He'd either gone deep or he was playing dumb. "I'm still coordinating with TerraSave. Tricell is lobbying the Egyptian parliament to give them immunity from government inspection for their research facilities here."
"By lobbying you mean bribing?"
"Not exactly," Claire said. "Egyptians are getting restless under the current regime, especially the younger generation. They're mobilizing over the internet - it's really amazing, Egypt's Facebook group chapter of TerraSave alone has six thousand members. The government's not real thrilled about that and we have sources high up saying that Tricell is promising they can find a way to clean up any potential problems."
"Sounds like bad news."
"Tell me about it." Claire sat back in her chair. "What about you - what brings you to sunny Cairo?"
Leon grimaced. Claire had seen versions of that grimace on a lot of faces, a grimace that had 'classified' stamped all over it. "We've been getting reports of unusual activity in Giza."
Claire played with the tail-end of her headscarf. "What, there are aliens in the pyramids after all?"
The look Leon gave her was soberingly grim. She realized belatedly that he was in a black shirt and pants - the underpinnings of his BDUs - and he was bruised in addition to pale. Back when they had met, Leon had been a puppy, eager and with a body that was barely connected at the joints. He had solidified in the intervening years, turned himself into a slim and practical machine devoid of any unnecessary parts. She couldn't remember him being shockingly gorgeous back then either and terror would have put that in stark relief; she would have clung to it. That must have been part of growing up and into the life he led. It was odd to think that a job this ruthless suited him, that he slipped so easily into its skin. He had been a puppy in Raccoon City but she had too and they were both still essentially the same people, maybe. He believed in order and she believed in coloring outside the lines, and they took the same experience and let it sculpt their lives in entirely different ways.
"But things are good in general?" she added hurriedly.
Leon shrugged. "They've been worse. Could use more downtime, but who can't say that?"
"I hear you," Claire said. She was feeling a little desperate in making small talk. For all they had a bond and she understood wordlessly that she was one of the few people Leon felt genuine affection for, she still drew a blank on everyday details. Claire knew he always reloaded with two bullets left and that felt more intimate and closer to the essential ineffable core of a person than knowing his favorite food. Still, with no guns around it made it hard to chit-chat. "Did you ever meet back up with Angela?"
Leon frowned. "Who?"
"That - the SRT officer we worked with in Harvardville."
"Oh," Leon said. He shifted in his seat. "No."
"...Okay," Claire said when Leon concentrated furiously on the menu. "She definitely liked you, you know. But I bet you get that all the time, beautiful women swooning into your arms."
"Depends on the mission," Leon said flatly, a study in disinterest, and Chris was such an asshole, reputation. It was probably just some weird compensation thing too; Leon was painfully beautiful in a very literal sense. It hurt sometimes to look at him even in the burn-out of the Egyptian sun. A little pinch right under the breastbone. "What about you? At least you haven't gotten yourself killed since last time."
"Not yet," Claire said cheerfully. "So, does this count as normal?"
Leon looked confused. "What do you mean?"
"You said that next time we should meet up somewhere a little more normal. You think this counts?"
Leon looked around them, taking in the smog and the cobblestones, the bazaar on the other side of the road and the skyscrapers towering above it. He surprised Claire - he was giving the question real, serious thought. "Well, normal's what you make of it."
Claire kicked her bag under the table lightly and heard the blueprints to the American Embassy and the vast catacombs underneath rustle. She felt a little guilty abusing this unexpected opportunity; Leon looked like he could use a break. She'd wait a night maybe before asking him, let him get in a call home. Usually in these situations she'd prepare a little speech, a few potential counterarguments, but she honestly couldn't imagine a situation where Leon would say no. The ice had melted in her glass and she pushed it across the table, a gift. "Yeah. I guess you're right."
Writing RE fanfiction is naturally absurd, but it is convenient in the sense that if any of the dialogue ends up purple and unrealistic that is just following canon.