The light burned Leon’s eyes. The steps were wrong. Everything itched and burned like bugs were crawling under his skin. He wanted to pull back but those heavy feet kept moving toward him. Off-balance and shaky, Leon forced himself to sit up and look at the man walking toward him.
It wasn’t Piers. That was Leon’s first thought. Not Piers and not Claire and not Chris and everything else blurred in his mind, nothing quite making sense, his thoughts buried deep in the dirt. The man’s face was awash in red, his eyes blazing bright. Everything about him burned, too hot against Leon’s frozen skin.
Careless of Leon’s reaction, the man knelt before him, surrounded by the restless vines, and smiled at him. Not Piers or ClaireChrisSherry but Leon knew that face. It made his frozen heart beat faster in his chest. He knew that face, but he didn’t want to think about it. A sick horror surrounded that name, and Leon was afraid.
“Of course you make red eyes look good, Leon,” the man murmured. He reached out, hand moving toward Leon’s face, but a vine lashed like a whip. Blood dripped onto Leon’s bed of vines, but the man only pulled back and laughed. “Control over ground and plants. Makes sense. I should have known you weren’t dead. Not you, Leon.”
Not dead not dead he wasn’t dead he wasn’t dead.
That awful horror loomed around him, and Leon’s breath felt like crackling ice floes in his chest. I wasn’t dead, I wasn’t dead, and Leon didn’t want -- couldn’t -- think about it.
“I know you’re still disoriented, Leon,” the man continued. He sat back on his heels and looked Leon over. Leon glared back at him. He could feel the man on the vines like he was sitting on Leon’s legs. It felt heavy and awkward and too much and Leon wanted him gone.
Don’t think about it don’t think about it
Leon couldn’t breathe. The man wouldn’t stop smiling, scarred face smug. “Don’t worry. You’ll adjust to the change soon enough. C’mon. Let’s get you out of here.”
“Don’t fucking touch him.”
No longer completely distracted by the man, Leon felt the other steps now, the familiar weight. Leon looked over the man’s shoulder and felt like the first time in hours -- daysweeksmonths -- that he could breathe again. Piers and Chris, and Leon knew them, and there was no horror there, no terrible dread. “Piers,” he breathed. “Chris.” And the red faded, leaving only shadows and those sharp lights.
Piers and Chris stood in Leon’s hall of vines and dirt, guns aimed at the man. They looked fierce and deadly and familiar and reassuring. Something itched at Leon, and he desperately wanted to touch them. He was so cold, and he knew they would be warm.
Except the man shifted in front of Leon, blocking his view. He raised one thick, scarred arm -- strong arms Leon knew that knew their touch and there was the horror right there right there -- and the man grunted and the arm began to shift and transform. Piers cursed but neither fired as the man’s arm transformed into a giant blade.
“Go ahead and stop me,” the man taunted. “Well? Fire.”
Piers growled and Chris aimed at the man’s head. “We’ve already seen that Leon can protect himself from bullets, Krauser. Can you?” Chris retorted.
Leon knew that name. It grew harder to breathe.
“Give me an excuse to put a bullet in your head,” Piers snarled. “The world won’t miss you.”
Jack. He had been there. Leon remembered. Jack’s touch. Jack talking to him.
Jack -- Krauser -- laughed, the sound filling the small room. He said something but Leon couldn’t make out the words.
He had talked to Leon before. He had talked to Leon the entire time.
The world shifted red again. Leon panted, looking from Krauser to Piers to Chris and back again. It felt like the everything was shrinking around him.
“Get away from him, you fucking sonuvabitch. Hang on, Leon! We’re right here.”
“And what can you do? If it was left up to you, he would be dead right now.”
He remembered now.
Dying. Krauser finding him. Krauser doing something to him, still talkingtalkingtalking. The cold surrounding him. His world turning to ice.
Leon thought he remembered Piers but Piers hadn’t been there. It had just been him and Krauser and Krauser had…
Krauser was still talking but his words didn’t matter. Those damned words choked off in a shout as vines grabbed him and threw him across the room. Immediately, Krauser tried to get up again but this was Leon’s domain. Leon’s blood stained the ground, marking the place as his.
Voices shouting his name and there was Piers, there was Piers, and oh god, Piers was reaching for him, one hand extended, and Piers couldn’t see him like this. More vines moved but Leon couldn’t block Piers’s view completely, not do that and hold Krauser and his damned arm, too.
“You should have let me die.” Everyone in the room quieted. Leon couldn’t look at Piers anymore. It was easier to glare at Krauser, who had stilled in Leon’s cage of vines. “I was better dead, and you knew that. You knew that!”
Oh god, the noise Piers made. Leon didn’t dare look at him. Krauser was staring hard at him, straining against Leon’s grip, and not even in Spain had Leon hated him this much or felt so betrayed. Leon squeezed and Krauser choked but the bastard couldn’t stop talking.
“I saved your life,” Krauser rasped.
The world was awash in dirt and blood. “You buried me alive!” Leon howled.
The room was so quiet. All Leon could hear was his own ragged breaths. He remembered the cold, he remembered Krauser still fucking talking, he remembered the dirt piling on him while the ice in his bones held him silent and still. He remembered digging himself out and oh god. Oh god.
“You turned me into a monster,” Leon choked out, “and then you buried me alive, you fucker.”
Krauser panted, staring at him. He was no longer fighting Leon’s hold. His monstrous arm shifted back to normal. “I thought you were dead. You weren’t moving, you weren’t breathing --”
“I was better dead.”
The vines squeezed Krauser and the man grunted, but he still didn’t shut up. “Without the virus,” Krauser snapped, “you would be dead. I saved you and now you’re better than ever before. Look at this! Look at what you can do! You are magnificent now, Leon.”
Leon tore his gaze away from Krauser and stared at his hands. The virus could apparently heal the wound that should have killed him but couldn’t do a thing about his nails. They were jagged and broken and stained red with blood from wounds he couldn’t see. Dirt encrusted his hands. He looked down farther and all he saw was dirt and blood. Every inch of him was covered in dirt and blood.
He looked back at his hands and saw them shake but couldn’t still them. Leon made the mistake of looking away, of looking up, and --
Piers’s face. Piers’s horrified face. The man was still on the other side of the wall of vines, staring at Leon.
Krauser had apparently followed his gaze, as he continued, voice confident, “They’ll kill you. You know that. They won’t let a BOW live.”
That. That didn’t sound right. Leon knew --
“Shut the fuck up!” Piers roared. He was still holding his gun with one hand but he wasn’t aiming it at Leon like he should have. He was pressed against the vines, one hand reaching for Leon like there was any possible way he could reach him. Like there was any imaginable world that Leon would let him touch him now. “Leon, listen to me! We can find a cure. They’re waiting for us. Just come here, okay? Just ignore that bastard and come here.”
Find a cure. This wasn’t like with Piers, when they had a cure waiting in Jake’s blood. They didn’t know shit about this virus. They didn’t know what the hell it could do, nonetheless if it had a cure.
For the first time in what felt like forever, Leon felt warmth, trickling hot and wet down his cheeks. “Go away,” he rasped. The words dragged up from his throat like rocks. “Just. Go away!”
The vines and earth moved around him and Leon still didn’t know what he was doing, just knew that something was pushing Piers and Chris away as they shouted at him. Around them, the world trembled.
Krauser began struggling anew against the vines. “Leon, stop it! You’re going to bring this whole place down on us!”
Leon stared at his battered hands, but all he could see was Piers’s horrified face. “Get out of here,” he called to Piers and Chris. He could feel them, feel their weight and heat pressed against the vines and earth, and he could feel everything in the ground around them, writhing under the dirt and writhing under his skin. A terrible noise tore from his throat. “This place needs to fall. Everything here needs to be buried.” He looked at Krauser, watched the man’s arm transform again as he tried to fight his way free from Leon’s vines. “You should have left me dead, Jack.”
Too many voices, all calling his name. Leon covered his ears with his filthy hands and let the world fall.