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Alone Together

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The thrill of finding a motel after wandering that dirt road for what felt like aeons had finally worn off.

Leon stared at his reflection in the cramped bathroom mirror. God, what an absolute shitshow the last twenty four hours had been. The reality of the horrors he’d faced were only just beginning to sink in as he stood there and studied his features. His eyes were gaunt and dark. Scratches and bruises seemed to cover every other patch of skin on his body, and even though he’d stood in the shower for the better part of an hour and scrubbed off all the dirt from his frame, he still looked like a nightmare.

And then there was his shoulder. His fucking shoulder.

Pressing a shaky hand to the bloodstained bandages, his mind cast him back to that moment. Him, clinging to Ada’s hand like it was his last lifeline. The resignation in her dark eyes. And then, the moment that her hand slipped through his, her body disappearing into the inky abyss.

Leon sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. She was gone. No point dwelling on the past.

Besides, she’s likely only kept him close to her for her own hidden agenda. He began to wonder if she’d somehow managed to place a literal spell on him when she’d kissed him. To her, it had probably meant nothing, but to Leon-

He dropped the thought like a hot coal. No, he told himself. Stop thinking about it. Ada was dead, It didn’t matter anymore.

The muffled static of the TV in the next room drifted into the bathroom, grounding Leon and bringing him back to what was real; Claire and Sherry in the next room, waiting for him to finish up in the bathroom and join them.

He’d been so keen to leave the city with them. The euphoria of escaping that burning hellscape had left him riding an optimistic high. He’d thought, foolishly, that things couldn’t get any worse than they had. And in a lot of ways, they hadn’t. But now he was here, some shoddy motel in the middle of nowhere, with a girl he hardly knew and a newly orphaned child. And he had no clue what their next course of action would be.

Leon stared at his reflection and shook his head.

A few remnants of his uniform lay in a heap on the floor beside him; the rest had been confiscated by Claire and tossed into the laundromat downstairs. Clad in nothing but an undershirt and his boxers, Leon looked like a mere shell of the man he’d been when he’d left for the city the previous night. But did any of that really matter now?

No, he told himself. They were all lucky to get out of there with their lives, all things considered. But he still felt like he hadn’t done enough. What if there had been other survivors? His brain told him he’d done the best he’d could, but his heart - God, his stupid heart was wracked with guilt.

He swallowed his pride and opened the bathroom door.

Claire was perched on the bed closest to the bathroom, leaning against the headboard and watching the television intently. There was something about her expression that seemed too focused, too serious. Especially since the tv was only playing Seinfeld reruns.  

Sherry was sprawled across the other bed, clad in a bathrobe that was way too big for her, with Claire’s jacket tucked across her shoulders. The steady rise and fall of her chest told Leon that she was asleep.

Leon closed the bathroom door behind him, and Claire’s blue eyes flicked away from the tv to meet his.

“Hey,” she greeted him.

“Hey,” he echoed.

“Feeling any better?” Claire shifted her legs, and Leon realised she had also shed her dirty clothes; she had nothing on but her sports bra and boyshorts.

Leon swallowed, suddenly feeling a rush of warm embarrassment running through him. “Somewhat, yeah. I suppose.”

Claire smiled, and patted the empty spot on the bed beside her.

He hesitated - suddenly very aware of the lack of clothes between them - but settled down beside her anyway.

“Anything good on?” Leon joked, reaching down the bed to grab the remote. His shoulder seized with pain and he yelped, recoiling back into himself. Goddammit. Wrong arm.

Claire frowned at him, her eyes widening in mild horror. “Good God, Leon,” she muttered, her hand reaching up gingerly to touch his arm.

Leon blinked, glancing where she’d placed her hand. Fresh blood seemed to be seeping through the crusty bandages around his shoulder. If he hadn’t just crawled out of a zombie infested city, he might have winced.

“You didn’t even try to clean this up while you were in there, did you?” Claire questioned him.

“Look, it’s really not important right now,” Leon tried to brush her off, pulling her hand away from him with his good arm. “We’re lucky to even be alive.”

“You won’t be much longer if you ignore that,” Claire retaliated, and Leon could sense the fear in her voice. She bit her lip. “Let me look at it.”

“Claire, I’m fine. It’s nothing. Leave it.”

“I’m not going to leave it ,” she practically spat - but keeping her voice quiet enough so she wouldn’t wake Sherry. “I didn’t crawl out of that hellhole with you just so you could die in a shitty motel because of a fucking shoulder injury .” She was angry, and the way she didn’t raise her voice much louder than a hissed whisper scared Leon a little.

He huffed. “I think you’re overreacting-”

“Leon,” Claire said firmly, and her tone was enough to send shivers down Leon’s spine. “Please.”

It wasn’t a question.

Leon sighed and slumped against the headboard, letting his shoulder sag towards her. “Fine.”

Claire exhaled, and crawled across the bed towards him, gently resting her fingers on his upper arm.

Her touch was feather light, and Leon had to physically refrain from twitching as she felt for the end of the bandage and slowly unravelled it. His eyes drifted to her bare shoulder; she had freckles, he realised. Earlier, he’d dismissed them as flecks of dirt, but now, under the glow of the moonlight that shone through the far window, he could see they were tangible and real.

Claire sucked in a breath as she pulled away the bandage and finally got a good look at the wound. Leon winced, open air brushing past the wound and making it sting.

“Good God,” she muttered, “you’re lucky it’s not infected.”

Leon winced at her use of the word infected.

Claire bit her lip. “We should probably wash it out.” She turned towards the dresser that Leon had dumped his police utility belt on. “You wouldn’t happened to have any more gauze in there, would you?”

Leon shook his head. “I - no. I don’t.” He’d suddenly remembered what had happened to the extra roll of gauze he’d had. He decided not to tell Claire, for the time being.

Claire frowned. “Well, they probably have a first aid kit down in reception. I’ll be right back.”

Without another word, Claire grabbed the spare room key from her bedside table and clambered off the bed, slipping out of the room.

Leon clutched his arm and turned towards the other bed, where Sherry slept peacefully. She had the hem of Claire’s jacket balled into her fists. He remembered that Sherry had told him about Claire’s jacket and how it was lucky. Maybe it really was lucky, Leon thought to himself. After all, Claire had managed to fight her way out of that city within an inch of her life - all while keeping Sherry safe.

How had she been so good in combat? As far as Leon knew, she’d had no formal training with a gun. She’d mentioned her brother was a cop as well - had he trained her to some degree?

The door opened again, and Claire wandered back inside. Seeing her slender frame in the doorway caused Leon to lose his train of thought. She had a plastic container tucked under one arm, and a washcloth in her other hand.

“Bingo.” She grinned at him. Tossing the container onto the bed beside him, she padded into the bathroom to dampen the washcloth, before she clambered back onto the bed beside him and instructed him to give her his arm.

Leon slowly uncoiled his arm for her, and he was surprised at how strong her grip on his upper arm was. He recalled how just moments earlier, her touch had been so light it had made the hairs on the back of his neck stick up.

Claire dabbed at the wound with the washcloth, cleaning away dirt and dried up blood as she inspected the extent of the damage. “It looks like the bullet went cleanly through,” she pointed out, setting down the wash cloth and opening the box, pulling out a bottle of what Leon assumed was antiseptic. “That’s the good news, I guess.”

“And the bad news?” Leon pressed her.

She motioned towards his shoulder. “Everything else.” She picked up a roll of gauze and ripped off a small piece with her teeth.  

The action startled Leon slightly, and he felt his heart skip a beat.

Claire soaked the gauze in antiseptic and pressed it to Leon’s shoulder. Leon gasped and recoiled.

“Jesus Christ ,” he hissed, clutching his shoulder.

Claire pouted. “Aww, boohoo. Big time cop can’t handle a little antiseptic on his wound.”

“Hey, it stings,” Leon told her, but his voice came out hoarse.

“Zip it,” she instructed as she grabbed his arm again - very firmly this time - and pressed the gauze against the wound again. It didn’t sting as much, but Leon still caught himself sucking in a breath through his teeth as Claire held the gauze in place and reached for a clean bandage. “Now, hold still.”

The TV was still blaring in the background, but Leon couldn’t bring himself to tear his eyes away from Claire. Chalk it up to the fact that they’d just narrowly escaped death together, but Leon felt weirdly drawn to her. Moonlight shone through the far window, highlighting the shape of her cheeks and the blue in her eyes.

Leon watched her wind the bandage around his shoulder. Her fingers moved fluidly and with absolute precision. How many times had she done this before? The thought both impressed and worried him.

It occurred to him how little they actually knew about each other. And yet here they were, in a motel in the middle of nowhere wearing nothing but their underwear, sharing a bed while she tended to his wound. Accompanied by a kid who wanted them to adopt her, no less.

It felt... weird. Leon couldn’t put a name to how he was feeling. Nice? On some level, yes, but the word didn’t entirely encapsulate the situation. Strange? That too. But no, this felt more... it was more...

Intimate. That was how this felt, to some strange degree.  

“There.” Claire tied off the bandage and gave Leon’s arm a reassuring squeeze. “Good as new. Well, I mean, not necessarily, but...” she shrugged. “I think you’ll live.”

Leon pressed a hand to the clean bandage. His shoulder still hurt like hell , but at least it hopefully wouldn’t kill him now.

“Thanks,” he said quietly. He couldn’t bring himself to look her in the eye.

Claire shrugged again. “Don’t mention it.” She exhaled as she sank back against the headboard and turned her attention back to the television. But the focus in her eyes wasn’t there anymore.

Leon squinted. He hadn’t noticed it before, but there seemed to be an air of resignation in Claire’s expression. She had dark circles under her eyes, which was understandable, given everything they’d just been through - but there seemed to be a sadness to them that Leon couldn’t quite explain.

He bit his lip. “Are you alright?"

“Hm?” Claire’s gaze flickered towards him, but it felt like she wasn’t really looking at him. “Oh, yeah. I’m just a little beat from walking all day. That, and, well, everything else, I guess.” She chuckled, but it didn’t sound genuine.

“Claire,” Leon pressed. He reached over and took her hand, surprised by his own boldness.

Claire pursed her lips as she glanced down to their joined hands. She exhaled, brushing her thumb across the back of Leon’s hand. “I think the adrenaline’s finally worn off,” she told him. “And for the first time in the last twenty four hours, I feel...” she swallowed. “Afraid. I mean, what the hell happens now? Where do we go from here?”

“I get that,” Leon affirmed. He squeezed her hand. “I mean, God knows this is the last thing we expected to happen.”

Claire scoffed. “To think I went into the city looking for my brother, and left with a completely different cop.”

“And a daughter figure, at that,” Leon added.

Claire laughed - it was a refreshing sound. “Hell of a family we have here, huh?”

Leon chuckled in agreement, desperately hoping that it hadn’t been obvious to Claire that her use of the word family had set his heart off. “Yeah. It sure is.”

They sat together in silence for a moment. Claire’s eyes darted back to the TV, while Leon’s attention flickered between it and their intertwined hands, and then back to the TV.

“Claire?” Len broke the silence after a couple of minutes.

“Hm?”

“What do you want, right now?” he asked her. “When we wake up tomorrow morning - what’s our first order of business?”

Claire hesitated. “I want Sherry to be safe,” she decided. “After everything she’s been through, she deserves a sense of normality in her life.”

Leon nodded. “Okay,” he said. “We’ll do that.”

Claire smiled - it was slight, but it still hit Leon like a punch to the gut. God, why the hell did she affect him like this?

“You have any bright ideas on where we could go?” She asked.

Leon huffed. “My apartment was probably too close to the city,” he confessed. “No way we’re heading back that way. What about you?”

Claire snorted. “Somehow I don’t think I’d be able to smuggle a full grown cop and twelve year old girl into my dorm.”

Leon smiled at the idea. For some reason, the image of Claire trying to cram him and Sherry into a closet in a cramped dorm room popped into his head.  

He thought about their options for a moment. Theoretically, he had enough money put away that they could keep motel hopping for a couple of months, at the very most. But then what? They couldn’t keep running forever. They needed to settle down somewhere, maybe find somewhere for Sherry to go to school, let everything return to normal.

Or as close to normal as it could get.

“I think our best bet is to keep going,” Leon suggested. “I don’t think either of us want to find out what will happen if we stay in one place for too long.”

“Right,” Claire agreed. “So first thing tomorrow, we figure out a way out of here.”

Leon nodded. “Alright,” he said. “It’s not ideal, but it’s a plan. This is good.”

Sherry stirred in her sleep, and they both glanced across to where she lay, all but holding their breath. But Sherry simply mumbled something incomprehensible before rolling onto her other side and going back to sleep.

Leon exhaled. “Phew,” he muttered quietly.

“We should probably follow her example and get some sleep,” Claire pointed out, lowering her voice as she sank down onto the bed.

“Right,” Leon muttered, settling down beside her as he focused his gaze on the ceiling. He was exhausted, but something nagged at the back of his mind. Thoughts of Ada, Claire, Sherry, Umbrella, circled through his head, and the tiniest sliver of fear wormed its way into his mind. What if they got caught by the government, and they all got separated? What if they’d been infected and they didn’t know it? What if Claire turned, and he had to-

“Hey.” Claire interrupted the thought, seemingly sensing his fear and squeezing his hand. Somewhere in the back of Leon’s mind he realised she’d never let go of it. “We’re gonna get through this. All of us.”

And even though it seemed that the odds were in anyone’s favor but theirs, he believed her.

“Yeah,” he agreed, squeezing her hand back. The single thread of fear melted away with the warmth of her touch. “We will.”

And as they drifted off, their hands still intertwined, Leon began to imagine the future that they might, might just end up having together.

 

Chapter Text

Leon woke up in a cold sweat.

He’d had a dream - a nightmare, more like it - that he’d been sprawled across that crumbling walkway in Umbrella’s headquarters again, as Ada’s hand slipped from his grasp. But as he focused on her face, fear ripping through every one of his veins, he realised that the woman he was holding wasn’t Ada.

It was Claire.

But there had been no fear in her face; just a sad smile and a tired resignation in her eyes. He could still hear her voice echo clearly in his head before she fell away from him;

Take care of yourself, Leon.

He could still hear his own desperate scream ringing through his ears when he woke up.

He’d bolted upright a little too fast, making himself dizzy. His breathing came out fast and shallow, and the very tangible fear that remained from the dream still churned in his gut. He rubbed at his eyes, and when his hands came away damp, he realised he’d been crying.

His hands shook as he glanced to his left. It was still dark, but he could make out Claire’s figure, still fast asleep beside him, her dark hair loose from it’s ponytail and sprawled across the pillow beneath her.

Leon breathed a sigh of relief, lowering himself back onto the bed before his muscles could give out beneath him out of pure shock.

For a couple of minutes, he just watched her while she slept, drinking in the moonlight that illuminated her pale white skin. Her lips were parted ever so slightly, and he watched her shoulders rise and fall with every slow intake of breath. Her sleeping figure was the picture of peace - and it calmed Leon to no end, realising that she was here , she was safe , and whatever else had happened was just a bad dream.  

As much as he knew that right now, the very real fear of something happening to her made Leon feel sick. Sure, she’d survived Raccoon city all by herself - but nothing was certain from now on.

Leon let his hand snake across the sheets and tangled his fingers in hers. She stirred slightly, her face twitching in her sleep, but she didn’t wake up.

“We can take care of each other now,” he whispered against the pillow as his eyes grew heavy, and he drank in the image of Claire one last time before drifting off again.

He slept peacefully for the rest of the night.

 


 

“Leon.” A voice broke through Leon’s sleep induced haze - but it wasn’t enough to wake him up completely. “Come on. Time to wake up.”

“Mmph.” He rolled onto his side and buried his face into the pillow. He could feel the sun on his bare shoulders - it must have been morning.

“For God’s sake.” Something flew forward and hit him in the face. “Get up!”

He groaned again and forced his eyes open, squinting in the light. Claire was standing at the end of the bed, hands braced against her hips and eyebrows raised, as though to say “what the hell is wrong with you?” She was dressed in her outfit from the day before, clean and fresh from the laundromat downstairs.  

“Come on, big guy, it’s already eight o’clock. Let’s get moving,” she instructed, clapping her hands together for emphasis. “We’re leaving in ten minutes.”

“How are getting out of here?” He asked her.

“Don’t worry,” she told him, stepping into the bathroom. “I’ve got it covered.”

Leon couldn’t help but wonder what she meant by I’ve got it covered. He groaned as he forced himself upright and grappled at whatever she’d thrown at him. The bundle fell apart in his hands, and his clean clothes fell into his lap.  

Sherry was perched on the other bed as she tied up her shoes. Her hair had been brushed and pinned up again so meticulously that it left Leon wondering just how long Claire had already been awake for. 

Leon just sighed and pulled on his pants, wondering what had happened to the gentle girl with the moonlit glow who’d been sleeping beside him so peacefully just a few hours prior.

He hesitated to put his shirt on again. The emblazoned crests of the Raccoon city police department seemed to mock him now. Good fucking job , they seemed to say. Hell of a great first day you had.

Leon decided not to put the shirt back on. If anything, it would probably attract more unwanted attention as they travelled.

Claire stuck her head through the bathroom doorway, a toothbrush dangling from her mouth. “I, um, found another shirt for you, if you want,” she told him, as though she’d read his mind. “It’s in the closet.”

Sure enough, Leon opened the closet door and found a single grey button down shirt hanging from a busted coat hanger.

“Where did you even get this?” He asked Claire, already threading his arms through the sleeves. They hadn’t passed a single store on there way here, and the motel owner had told them the next one wasn’t for another forty miles.

“The lost property box in the lobby.”

Well, Leon thought as he buttoned up the shirt, praying that it hadn’t been taken off a dead person. The girl was nothing if not crafty. The shirt was a little big, and the bandages from the top of his shoulder poked through the collar. He hoped that anyone who saw them would just assume that it was an undershirt. He really didn’t want to answer any questions about what actually happened.

Claire stepped out of the bathroom, patting Leon on the shoulder as she skirted around him. “I’ll be downstairs,” she said, holding her hand out for Sherry, who obediently padded across the room and took it. “Don’t take to long, okay?”

Leon nodded, but she’d already closed the door behind her.

He sighed, glancing around the cramped motel room. They really hadn’t come here with much besides the clothes on their backs. Stashing his handgun and the little ammo he had left, he rifled through the compartments of his utility belt to see if he could find anything else useful. He clipped his radio to his belt, and his hand came to a stop at his police badge.

He hesitated. Like the crests on his shirt, it seemed to taunt him. Useless , it said. Some fucking cop you are.

For a moment, he didn’t want to touch it, as though the silver badge might burn him. If he wore it, it could attract more unwanted attention. But if they got into some sort of situation, he might be able to use it to their advantage - provided no one looked at it long enough to read what department it was from.

Eventually, he stashed the badge in his pocket and opted to leave the belt behind.

A car honked downstairs in the parking lot. Leon peered out the window and found Claire leaning against the driver door of a beat up blue Volksagen, her hand reaching for the horn through the open window. She caught his eye and grinned.

“Come on, slow poke!” She yelled up at him, honking the horn again for emphasis.

Even though his cop senses were ringing all of sorts of alarm bells, he didn’t want to ask Claire where she got the car from.

But he did anyway.

“Where the hell did you get a car?” He asked as he wandered over to her.

“Oh, this old thing?” Claire thudded the roof with her palm. “Motel owner’s wife was selling it. I managed to sweet talk her into giving it to us.” She grinned at him.

Leon gulped, a jolt of panic running down his spine that caused the hairs on the back of his neck to stick up. He didn’t know how much of what had happened in Raccoon city was public knowledge at this point; he didn’t think he wanted them to be the ones to spread the news.

“What did you tell her?” He asked Claire quietly, eyes darting across the parking lot to check that no one was listening to their conversation.

“That our car got totalled while we were on vacation, and that we had no other way to get home.” Claire shrugged. “I wrote down the motel address. We can send her a cheque if this really grinds your moral gears that much.”

He sighed. “Alright,” he relented, reaching for the driver’s door, but Claire grabbed his wrist and wrenched it away. “Hey!”

Claire just looked at him, her eyes flickering from his injured shoulder, then back to his face.

Oh. Right.

“I’m sure they taught you differently at the academy regarding powering through an injury for the sake of the people or whatever,” Claire said, letting go of his wrist. “But you really shouldn’t try to aggravate it.”

“Yeah, alright.” Leon nursed his wrist where Claire had grabbed it. Damn , did she have a tight grip. “Did you drop off the room key?”

“Yep.”

“Where’s Sherry?”

“Bathroom” She pointed towards the lobby. “She shouldn’t be much longer.”  

Right on cue, the door to the lobby opened and Sherry came racing towards them.

“Claire!” Sherry grabbed her hand and swung it around. She was still wearing Claire’s jacket, which Claire had wiped all the dirt off of. “Can I sit in the front seat?”

“I don’t know,” Claire told her, craning her head towards Leon. “You’d have to ask Leon.” She gave him a look that seemed to say just let her have this .

Sherry turned her head towards Leon and batted her eyelashes, as though to plead her case. “Pleaaase, Leon, can I sit in the front seat? Please please please?”

Leon just gestured towards the car. “Be my guest.”

“Yes!” Sherry pumped her fists in the air and scrambled for the other side of the car, clambering into the passenger seat.

Great, Leon thought to himself. He was not only banished from driving, but from the front seat entirely.

“Hey.” Claire poked him square in the chest. “Maybe if your shoulder behaves, I’ll let you drive for a little while after lunch.”

Leon smiled. “I’ll hold you to that.”

Claire smiled back, her eyes drifting to the road that awaited them. “Anyway, we need to get out of here before they realise I stole all the food from the minibar.”

Leon didn’t have the energy to reprimand her. He just climbed into the back seat, making a mental note to get the motels address from Claire and send them a cheque when he had the chance.

 


 

A few hours later, Sherry’s voice woke up Leon, who’d fallen asleep slumped against the car window. He squinted as he opened his eyes, using his hand to shield them from the piercing sunlight.

“Claire, look!” Sherry pointed out the window to a small collection of shops to the side of the road. “There’s a diner! Can we stop and get lunch? Please please please please please?”

“Depends,” Claire told her, slowing the car down. “What time is it?”

Sherry glanced at her watch. “It’s almost noon. That means we’ve been driving for almost four hours!”

Leon yawned, stretching his arms as best he could from the confines of the car. He had to admit, he was a bit peckish himself. They’d stopped once already, but only to buy Sherry a change of clothes so she could change out of her school uniform. She’d beamed proudly in her new baby blue dress, which Claire’s jacket seemed to compliment nicely.

Plus, Claire had insisted that the food she stole from the motel was for emergencies only . He didn’t know what exactly construed an emergency, but the one time he’d tried to open a box of crackers, she reached behind him and smacked it out of his hands without even taking her eyes off the road.

“Please Claire, I’m starving ,” Sherry insisted. “I might die if I don’t eat soon.”  

“Same,” Leon piped up. “I can feel myself wasting away already.”

Claire clicked her tongue. “I suppose we can’t can’t have that, can we?” She said as she pulled into the diner parking lot.

A bump in the tarmac knocked Leon’s shoulder into car door, and he grunted through his teeth.

“Sorry,” Claire said, glancing at him sympathetically in the rear view mirror as she parked the car.

“S’fine,” Leon muttered. Luckily, it wasn’t his bad shoulder, but it still hurt a little.

“No way!” Sherry exclaimed. She’d already clambered out of the car, and was now pointing at a sign propped up outside the diner’s entrance. “They have all day breakfast! Can I get pancakes, Claire?”

“You can get whatever you heart desires,” Claire informed her as she climbed out of the driver’s seat. “After everything we’ve been through, I think you’ve more than earned it.”

Leon stumbled a little as he stepped out of the car, grasping for the roof to stable himself.

Claire raised an eyebrow at him. “You alright?”

Leon rolled his shoulders. “Cars really do not make forgiving beds,”

Claire just laughed. “You’re the one who fell asleep in there, big guy.”

Her nose crinkled when she laughed, Leon realised. It was adorable.

It was at this point that Leon realised he really didn’t know anything about Claire. She had dark hair and an older brother and eyes that seemed to talk just as much as she did. But he didn’t know what her favourite breakfast food was, what music she liked to listen to - hell, he didn’t even know what her favourite color was.

Leon felt an ache in his gut. He wanted to know more about her. Who knew how long they’d be on the run together like this -

Oh, God. He hadn’t considered it before, but the thought of leaving Claire or Sherry hit him like a smack in the face. There was no doubt they’d be fine on their own - Claire was very much the leader in this dynamic, and after all, she’d made it out of Raccoon city entirely on her own - but Leon didn’t want to leave them.  

“Leon!” Sherry yelled at him from the diner entryway, shifting from one foot to the other. “Hurry up! I’m hungry.”

Claire had her arm braced against the doorway beside Sherry, smiling and shaking her head gently. Leon had been so lost in thought he hadn’t even noticed her walk away. He watched the loose strands of her hair sway as she moved, framing her perfect face. How could he leave behind such a pretty face?

Gathering his thoughts and stowing them at the back of his mind, Leon followed them into the diner.

 


 

They settled into a booth near the door. Leon felt weirdly paranoid as he glanced around the diner. He tried to bury himself in his menu, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that they were being watched. Another quick look around the diner told him they weren’t - there were only two other groups of people in here - but the feeling loitered, like ice pressed to the back of his neck.

“Hey there, folks, I’m Karen.” A bubbly waitress with short cropped blonde hair appeared next to their booth. “I’ll be your waitress today, can I - Good God, what happened to you?”

Leon blinked - it took him a moment to realise she was talking about him . He glanced at his shoulder; He hadn’t buttoned his shirt up all the way, and it was sagging down his arm slightly, showing off his perfectly bandaged shoulder. It wasn’t as bloody as it had been when he’d left raccoon city, but it certainly didn’t look pleasant to any extent.

“Oh, that?” Claire waved her finger towards him. “Electric carving knife. He was trying to show off for my parents, but...” She shook her head. “We’ve been married for so long you’d think he’d stop trying to impress them.”

The waitress laughed. “Oh, wow. And I thought my last boyfriend was bad.” She pulled a notebook out of the pocket of her apron, “Anyway, what can I get you guys?”

Leon just blinked, unable to take his eyes of Claire, who was now nonchalantly rattling off her and Sherry’s orders to the waitress. Where the hell had she come up with that?

“And for you, big guy?”

“Oh, um -” Leon tore himself away from his thoughts, fumbling with his words for a moment. “Grilled cheese.”

The waitress collected their menus and disappeared behind the counter. Sherry gazed out the window and swung her legs underneath the table, humming quietly to herself.

Leon drummed his fingers across the tabletop. He knew it meant absolutely nothing, but the story that Claire had told the waitress - she’d insinuated that he was her boyfriend, right?  No, no just her boyfriend. Her husband .

God, this was stupid. Why was he getting so worked up over a cover story she’d probably come up with on the fly?

Claire pursed her lips, her attention turning to Leon as Sherry got up to use the bathroom. “Something on your mind?” She asked him.

Leon bit his lip. “How much of that story did you have ready to go?” he asked her.

Claire shrugged. “I woke up early this morning and figured we needed cover stories. So, I figured some out.”

“Cover stories usually work better if everyone involved knows what they are,” he pointed out.

“Ah.” Claire’s eyes widened, just slightly. “Gotcha.”

She took another sip of water before she explained the front to him. The two of them were a young, married couple; Sherry was their daughter. They were road tripping back home from visiting Claire’s parents in Colorado.

“Why would we be going to stay with your parents at the end of September?” Leon pointed out. “Why didn’t we go in July, when Sherry didn’t have school?”

“Because -” Claire paused as the waitress set down their drinks and scurried away again. “ - Sherry is home schooled , and the roads are quieter this time of year.” She winked at him, tearing open a sugar sachet and pouring it into her coffee. Man, she really had thought this through. Was he really surprised? She’d proved herself more than capable over and over again. At this point, he’d be more surprised if he found out there was something she couldn’t do.

He looked up and noticed Claire adding a second, and then a third sugar sachet to her coffee. She certainly hadn’t struck Leon as a sweet tooth, but it was something he could add to his list of things he knew about her.

Sherry ambled back to the booth just as their food arrived, and immediately dug into her pancakes. Claire took a bite of her eggs and made a face.

“That bad?” Leon asked her.

She shrugged. “I’ve had better,” she said simply as she scooped the rest of the eggs into her mouth and swallowed, washing them down with half of her sugar infused coffee.

Sherry had a different opinion about the food. She shovelled her pancakes into her mouth with a starving desperation, and within about five minutes the entire stack had been demolished - at which point, she complained that she was still hungry. Claire ended up offering her the rest of her own meal.

“You’re not gonna eat that?” Leon asked her.

Claire just shrugged. “It’s fine,” she told him. “Sherry’s a growing girl, anyway. She needs it more than I do.”

He offered Claire the other half of his grilled cheese in consolation, but she just shook her head, nursing the rest of her coffee.

She sat quietly while he and Sherry finished the rest of their food, and Leon watched her. She’d seemed so full of energy that morning, but the dark circles under her eyes were still there - they had been the whole time, he realised. But she’d said she’d woken up early - and then driven them for four hours to get here. How long had she been awake for, exactly? She was probably running purely on some kind of survival instinct, at this point.

He nudged her with his foot beneath the table, and when she glanced up from her mug, he smiled at her. He didn’t really know why he did it. He just couldn’t stand to see her unhappy like that.

But it worked. She chuckled, and the edges of her lips tugged up into a smile. Her blues eyes seemed to twinkle, just for a moment - but it was enough to send Leon’s poor heart into a frenzy.

Leon realised that this was all he wanted right now, all he wanted for the foreseeable future. To make Claire smile that damn gorgeous smile of hers.

And, as she reached across the table to touch his hand, he realised that he might even be falling in love with her.

 


 

They finished their food, and Sherry struck up a conversation with the waitress who brought over the cheque - who in turn, tipped her off that there was a neighborhood cat who sometimes loitered behind the diner, and if Sherry was lucky, she might just see it.

“Come on, Leon!” Sherry clambered out of the booth and grabbed Leon’s hand, dragging him towards the door. “I want to see the cat!”

Leon looked towards Claire, who just smiled and reassured him she’d take care of the cheque.

“I’ll meet you back at the car,” she told him.

He followed Sherry to the back of the diner, which wasn’t much more than a patch of bare dirt and a couple of weirdly painted dumpsters.

Sherry kept close to the ground, frowning to herself as she peered under the dumpsters. “I don’t see it.”

“He probably comes by in the evenings,” Leon pointed out, “when they’re throwing away all the leftover food.”

“Damn,” Sherry said. “I wanted to see him.”

“There’ll be lots more cats to see.” Leon turned to head back towards the parking lot, offering Sherry his hand. “Come on. We shouldn’t keep Claire waiting.”

“Do you think Claire likes cats?” Sherry asked him as she took his hand.   

“I don’t know,” Leon answered, though he did think that Claire seemed more like a dog person. “I’ll ask her.”

As they rounded the corner of the diner, they found Claire waiting outside the Volksagen, her gaze focused on whatever it was she was holding. Leon waved to her as they approached, trying to get her attention. She didn’t look up. He let go of Sherry's hand and jogged over to her, wondering if she’d found a pamphlet for another motel or something.

Claire had a small piece of paper in her hand, and her eyes flitted over it, again and again and again. She twirled the car keys in her other hand, her lips pressed into a firm line. As Leon got closer, he realised it wasn’t a pamphlet, but more like a piece of hastily torn out notebook paper.

“What’s that?” He asked Claire as he rounded the side of the car.

Claire finally looked up at him, and her blue eyes were murky with a mixture of fear and confusion. Leon’s stomach sank. Oh, no.

She handed him the piece of paper. “It was tucked under the windshield wiper,” she explained. “But I don’t - what does - who is-”

She struggled to finish the thought as Leon smoothed out the paper on the car’s bonnet. Half of it was folded over and taped down, and there was something enclosed in it. He ripped it open, and a silver key bounced off the car bonnet and landed at his feet.

He frowned. Had Claire dropped the car key, and this was just someone’s way of returning it?

No, he realised. Claire had the car keys in her hand. So what the hell was this one for?

He inspected the paper further, and realised there was a note scrawled on the unfolded half. The contents of the note didn’t immediately set off alarm bells.

That was, until he read the signature.

96 Perrow Street

Amberdale, Wisconsin

You’ll be safe there.

- Ada

 

 

Chapter Text

Claire was angry.

She knew she had absolutely no reason to be angry, but she was anyway.  

Sunk into the eaves of a worn park bench with crossed arms and a heavy heart, she watched Sherry prance across the playground twenty feet away. She’d driven the three of them here immediately after leaving the diner, sent Sherry off to play, and sat down with Leon to talk about that damned note.

They both sat in complete silence and waited for the other to talk first.

It was the end of September - or was it October, already? Claire had long lost track of what day it was - but the weather hadn’t gotten the memo, apparently. The sun bore down on them with such an intensity that Claire could see the heat waves as they rippled across the ground in front of her.  

Claire fished the note out of her pocket and read it again. Ada. She snorted. That was why she recognised the name. She remembered Leon telling her about Ada after they’d gotten off the train, the mysterious FBI-that-turned-out-to-be-not-FBI-after-all woman he’d loved and lost within the span of a few hours.


 

“She was wearing heels and a cocktail dress,” Leon had joked as they’d wandered that dirt road, the sun bearing down on them in waves. “I should have known something wasn’t right. The hell kind of FBI agent dresses up for a mission of that caliber?”

Claire had laughed, and tried to picture herself stumbling through the wreckage of Raccoon city in heels and a dress. What an absolute madwoman .

Sherry wandered a few yards ahead of them, picking flowers from the side of the road and glancing behind her every few seconds, making sure that Leon and Claire weren’t too far away.

“Yeah, well, ultimately the FBI outrank you,” Claire had pointed out. “I’m not surprised you didn’t try to question her.” She still didn’t necessarily understand how he’d been so enamoured by a woman he’d just met, but she kept that thought to herself.

Leon had said nothing; he just stared resolutely at the ground, his hand absently reaching up to touch his injured shoulder. He’d taken a bullet for her. In a split second decision, he’d sacrificed himself for her. A woman he’d just met.

Claire was surprised by his openness about it all. She supposed that right then, she was the closest thing he had to a friend, and whatever had happened between him and that woman was clearly weighing heavily on his mind. And to have to watch her slip from his own grasp to her death... Claire had tried to imagine how she’d feel if something had happened to Sherry down there. The mere thought racked her with so much guilt, she realised she could only begin to imagine how Leon felt.

“I’m sorry,” she told him. “I know you were just trying to do the right thing.”

“Hell of a lot of good it did, though.” Leon frowned to himself. “If Annette hadn’t tipped me off, and I’d given Ada the G - virus...” he trailed off, his head hanging low as he screwed his eyes shut and shook his head. “God knows what would have happened.”

Claire didn’t want to entertain the thought, either. The idea of the G-virus being released elsewhere, in a bigger city - or, God forbid, an entire country -

Without thinking, she reached over and took Leon’s hand. “If she hadn’t, Ada might still be dead and you’d still be feeling guilty as all hell - if not more so. Come on.” She motioned towards themselves and Sherry. “We all made it out, right? Uninfected and everything. Surely that stands for something.”  

Leon just looked at his hand in hers, his eyebrows furrowed and his lips pressed into a firm line. Eventually, he smiled, and swung Claire’s hand a little in his.

“Yeah, I guess we did.” He chuckled to himself. “I still can’t believe I was ready to throw my life on the line for her like that. I mean, she kissed me once , and-”

Claire stopped dead in her tracks. “She kissed you?”

Now it all made sense. Ada had toyed with him, and Leon had fallen for it.

Leon looked away from her, seemingly embarrassed by his own confession. “Look, it was probably just an adrenaline thing. I mean, I realise it’s stupid now, but I-” He cleared his throat, lowering his voice before he spoke again. “At the time, I thought-” He shook his head, unable to finish the thought. Claire finished it for him in her head.

He thought he was in love with her.

Claire couldn’t believe it. This rookie cop, who’d crawled out of the fiery pits of hell itself and proceeded to spit in the devil’s face, had the softest side she’d ever seen. This woman had kissed him once, and for the next couple of hours she’d meant the absolute world to him. He thought she loved him. How could he have been so naive?

But Claire remembered why she’d gone into Raccoon city in the first place. If it weren’t for the need to find Chris and the palpable urge she’d felt to protect Sherry like the girl was her own flesh and blood, she might not have had the resolve to fight her way out of the city. Maybe that was what Ada had been to Leon down there. A reason to keep fighting. To keep living.

The thought of Leon and Ada kissing entered her head, and Claire scowled. Why was she getting so worked up about this?

She glanced towards Leon. He was all kinds of bloody and grimy, and in the sweltering heat he stunk like nobody’s business - but the sun highlighted the contour of his jaw and the pink in his cheeks. His slightly tousled hair fluttered in the gentle breeze, framing his perfectly angled face as his grey blue eyes sparkled in the light.

Claire realised, with a start, that Leon Kennedy was beautiful . No wonder she didn’t like the idea of Ada kissing him.

She wanted to kiss him.

Claire just shrugged, brushing off these newfound feelings like they were nothing more than dust on an old bookshelf. “Was it a good kiss, at least?”

Leon narrowed his eyes at her. “What the hell kind of a question is that?”

“Come on, I’m curious." She grinned, nudging his side playfully. "Besides, you’re the one who brought it up.” 

A chuckle finally escaped Leon’s lips. “It was just a kiss,” he insisted. “But still, it was...” He averted his gaze, his cheeks flushing a deep shade of pink. “Nice.”

Claire snorted. “Nice? That’s it?” She shook her head. “No wonder you went to cop school. You’re awful with words.”

Leon smiled sadly, still staring into the distance. “So I’ve been told.”

And for a moment, they were silent as they trudged down that endless road, their joined hands swinging through the air between them.

A gentle breeze blew past them, and Claire closed her eyes as she savoured the feeling of the cold air on her skin. She tried to think of something to say to lighten the mood. 

She smiled at Leon as she tossed back her ponytail. "So, if you really manage to fall in love with women that quickly - " She glanced at an imaginary watch on her wrist. “How long do I have left?”

Leon threw his head back and laughed, squeezing Claire’s hand. Her heart swelled a little.

She’d only been half joking.  


 

Claire stared at the note in her hands, twisting it around between her fingertips.

Leon sat quietly to her left, clutching his injured shoulder. Ada’s lasting effect. He’d taken that bullet for her , Claire remembered, and the thought filled her with an indescribable rage.

“So,” she began, finally breaking the silence that had stewed between them. “You really think this is from her?” She held up the note, unable to bring herself to say Ada’s name.

Leon just shrugged - he didn’t even bother to look at her. “I can’t think who else it could be. The only other person down there who might’ve known her name was Annette, and, well...” he trailed off, his gaze wandering to the playground where Sherry was swinging across a set of monkey bars. “You know what happened to her.”

Claire sighed, tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear. “And now you really think she’s trying to help you. Help us.”

Leon pursed his lips, unsure of what to say. They’d already argued about this in the car. Leon wanted to go. Claire did not. Sherry had meekly asked them to stop fighting, and when they realised she was close to tears, they stopped talking about it.

“I think we should consider it,” Leon eventually piped up. “Wisconsin’s not far from here.”

Claire scoffed. “Leon, you knew this woman for all of a few hours, and all she did was lie to you. We have no way of knowing that she was even the one that wrote that note. Come on, you’re a goddamn cop . What part of this doesn’t scream trap to you?”

Leon didn’t answer her. She wondered what he was thinking about. That damned kiss that he and Ada had shared? Probably. She pondered leaning over and kissing him right then, wondering if it would convince him to take her side.

No, she decided. Even if it didn’t work, surely that was deception of some kind. Besides, Leon might have been kind of dumb, but she didn’t think he’d fall for that sort of thing a second time.

“We don’t even know what this is an address for,” Claire pointed out. “It may as well be another fucking Umbrella facility.”

“Ada wasn’t working for Umbrella,” Leon retorted.

“We don’t even know that this is from her!” Claire waved the note towards him. She was exasperated at this point, and running out of ways to get her argument across.

Leon just shook his head, and when he finally looked up to meet Claire’s eyes, she could see the determination in his expression.

“Do we have a choice, Claire?” The way her name rolled off his tongue immediately made her weak willed, but she would never admit it. His grey blue eyes seemed to bore through her, and it took all of her willpower not to look away.  

And as much as she hated to admit it, Leon was right. Their only other option was to keep driving, keep collapsing in shitty motels, and hope that something would eventually fall into place. If the address on this paper was really for somewhere safe, where they could finally catch their breath and get on with their lives for a while... Claire would forever beat herself up for passing up the opportunity.

After a silent stare down that lasted what felt like forever, Claire finally caved.

“Fine,” she sighed, breaking away from Leon’s gaze. “You’re right. We really don’t have much of a choice.” She glanced at the piece of paper again. “We’ll head to Wisconsin. But if this does turn out to be a trap, and anything happens to Sherry -” Claire crumpled the paper in her fist. “I will personally castrate you.”

Leon laughed, which surprised her. She was only half joking.

“Alright,” he said. “I suppose that’s fair.” He got to his feet and offered Claire his hand, which she gladly took. “If we start driving now, we could be in Wisconsin by nightfall.”

Leon pulled Claire to her feet, and she brushed the debris off her top. She’d be thankful to climb into the car and get out of the sun. The heat bore down on her skin with such an intensity she thought she was going to melt.   

“Leon!” Sherry jogged over to them. “Will you push me on the swings?” She asked, rocking back and forth on the balls of her feet. “Pretty pretty please?”

Leon frowned. “Sorry, Sherry. We need to get going.”

Sherry pouted, taking Leon’s hand and swinging it between hers. “Please? Just for a little while.”

“Tell you what,” Leon said, kneeling down beside her. “I can’t push you on the swings right now. But if you’re a good girl for the rest of the drive today, I’ll take you to the park tomorrow and push you until I can’t feel my arms anymore.” He offered her his pinky. “Deal?”

Sherry grinned, hooking her finger through his. “Deal.”

Claire just watched as he straightened up again with a goofy grin, taking Sherry’s hand in his and leading her back to the car.

“What was that?” Claire asked him, looping her arm through his. She surprised her herself with how nonchalant the action felt, as though she’d been doing it for years.

“Hostage negotiation,” Leon answered simply.

Claire raised an eyebrow. “Is that really something they teach you in cop school?”

He just smiled at her. “You’d be surprised. And stop calling it cop school.”

Claire playfully nudged him as she let go of his arm, sashaying towards the car. “I’ll call it what it is, rookie .”

She fished the car keys out of her pocket. She had so much as opened the driver’s door when she felt her stomach churn.

Claire froze. She straightened where she stood as she tried to gauge what the hell was wrong with her. The back of her neck prickled with beads of sweat, and now that she thought about it, she felt a little faint.

Leon frowned, his hand hovering above the passenger door handle. “Are you okay?”

Claire just swallowed, hesitantly offering him the keys as she pressed a hand to her stomach. “Do you mind driving for a while? I’m not feeling so flash.”

Leon hesitated. “Are you sure? You look a bit pale. We could stop and find a motel, if you want.”

“No, it’s fine. I’d really rather we just kept going.”

Leon didn’t seem sold on the idea. He stepped around the front of the car, smoothing his hand across her forehead. She closed her eyes; his fingers were surprisingly cool, and she savoured the touch.

“Jesus Christ,” Leon muttered, his hand recoiling in horror. “You’re burning up.”

Claire rolled her eyes. “Yeah, it’s the heat, dummy,” she said, even though the churning in her stomach told her otherwise. “I’ll roll the window down and get some fresh air. It’s fine. But can we please just get going?”

Leon hesitated, but finally relented and took the keys from her, knowing full well she wasn’t going to back down.

Claire sighed as she climbed into the passenger seat, closing her eyes as she leaned against the cold glass of the window. It wasn’t much, but it made her feel a tiny bit better.

Something squeezed her shoulder. She opened her eyes, and found Leon leaning across the front seat, hand on her shoulder as he offered her a sympathetic smile. In that moment, she couldn’t really articulate how much she appreciated the gesture; the best she could do was touch his hand and smile back.

“Hang in there,” he told her. He stuck the key in the ignition and backed the car onto the road, steering them towards their destination.

Wisconsin.


 

To say that Leon was worried about Claire was an understatement.

After driving for almost an hour, she showed no signs of getting better. In fact, she looked like she was getting worse. Her skin was clammy and slick with sweat, and the last time he’d checked her fever hadn’t gone down. The sheer anxiety from seeing her curled up in the passenger seat with a grimace on her face made him feel sick.

They’d made one pit stop at a gas station to buy a map and a couple of snacks for Sherry. Leon also bought a few bottles of water, one of which he’d pressed into Claire’s hands as he climbed back into the car and insisted that she drink at least half of it. Claire had rolled her eyes, but complied - mostly because Leon refused to start the car again until she had.

She’d fallen asleep a little while after they started driving again, her legs tucked underneath her and  her cheek pressed against the window. It didn’t look comfortable, by any means, but at least maybe she’d feel a little better when she woke up.

Leon took a deep breath and loosened his grip on the steering wheel. His mind kept jumping back to the image of the lieutenant, collapsed in the foyer of the police department, He’d looked much like Claire did now, clammy and sweaty and doubled over in pain. Had Claire managed to contract the virus, and the effects were only just becoming apparent now?

No, Leon told himself. He was being paranoid. If Claire had contracted the virus, surely she would have turned long prior to now. This was something else. Heat stroke, maybe. It had been awfully hot at the park, earlier. But weren’t you supposed to go to the hospital if you had heat stroke? As worried as he was, he wasn't sure he wanted to risk taking her to the emergency room, least any undesirable figures managed to catch up to them.

Out of the blue, Claire bolted upright, eyes wide and a hand clutching her stomach.

“Pull over,” she told him, a sense of urgency in her voice.

“What?” There were nothing but fields as far as Leon could see. He didn’t understand why -

“Just pull over, alright?!” Claire insisted.

“Claire-”

“FOR FUCKS SAKE LEON, PULL OVER!”

Leon swerved the car off the road and braked a little too quickly, the sheer force of the car stopping almost causing him to smack his head against the steering wheel.

Claire threw open the passenger door and vomited onto the side of the road.

Leon thought he’d been at a loss when he first walked into the Raccoon city police department and found nothing but carnage and zombies; that now seemed to pale in comparison to what was happening right then. Zombies? he at least knew to shoot them. Vomiting girls? They hadn't prepared him for this at the academy. What the hell was he supposed to do? Hold her hair back? That was a thing that guys did, right?

“What’s going on?” Sherry mumbled sleepily from the backseat as Leon shuffled across the front seat to pull Claire's ponytail out of her face. “Why did we stop?”

“Claire’s not feeling so good,” Leon told her. He rested his free hand on Claire's shoulder, squeezing it lightly.

Sherry leaned over the front seat, her brow furrowed in concern. “She didn’t get the G-Virus, did she?”

“No, I don’t think so,” Leon reassured her, though he wasn’t entirely convinced himself. “I think she just has-”

“Food poisoning.” Claire finished the thought for him as she collapsed back into her seat, wiping her mouth on the back of her hand. The loose strands of hair that had escaped her ponytail were plastered to her forehead with sweat.

A wave of relief washed over Leon. Of course it was food poisoning. He remembered her saying that her eggs had tasted funny back at the diner. No wonder she hadn’t wanted the rest of her food.

He craned his head towards Sherry as he rubbed Claire’s back while she leaned out of the car to throw up again. “Sherry, do we have any more water bottles back there?”

Sherry nodded, and passed one over the front seat. Leon offered the bottle of water to Claire, smoothing back the hair that had been plastered to her forehead. Her skin still burned beneath his touch.

“You alright?” he asked her.

Even through her fever induced haze, Claire gave him a look . “Yeah, sure. Throwing up onto the side of the highway means I’m in peak health, right?” She took the water bottle from him and managed to down a few sips, which eased Leon’s anxiety a little more.

A thought suddenly occurred to him, and he swivelled towards the backseat.

“Sherry, are you feeling alright?” Leon asked.

Sherry frowned at him. “Yeah. Why?”

Leon glanced between her and Claire, puzzled. “But you ate the rest of Claire’s food,” he remarked. As glad as he was that it was only Claire who was sick, and not both girls, he didn’t understand how she was the only one who’d managed to pull the short straw.

“Pretty sure it was just the eggs that were bad,” Claire pointed out. “Besides, Sherry might just have a stronger stomach than me.”

Leon found that difficult to believe, but he kept the comment to himself. He bit his lip, taking Claire’s hand and brushing his thumb across her knuckles.

“Do you want to stop for a while?" he offered. "There was a motel a little ways back - maybe we should head there and call it a night.”

“No, don’t-” Claire gasped and squeezed Leon’s hand, her face twisting in pain. “Don’t stop on my account,” she managed to say through gritted teeth. “Did we pass the state line yet?”

Leon took a moment to think. “Yeah, about an hour ago.”

“Good.” She nodded. “So it’s not much further from here. We may as well keep going.”

Leon pursed his lips, glancing out the front window. The sun was just beginning to set in the distance, turning the sky yellow and casting warm rays of light across the car’s dashboard. It would probably be dark by the time they got there. Was it really worth it?

He turned his head back towards Claire, who just smiled as she met his gaze, and her expression struck Leon through the heart like a burning knife. Even through the fever and the shaking in her hands, there was a resolve in her eyes; a look of determination that complemented the smile on her lips that seemed to say we’ll get through this .

Leon didn’t want her to have to feel like that. It hurt him. God, it hurt him to see her like this. He wanted nothing more than to able to wrap her in a blanket and personally nurse her back to health from the comfort of his arms. To give her a break. But all he could do was squeeze her hand and offer her water.

“I’ll be fine,” Claire said, her breathing labored and ragged. She craned her head towards the backseat. “Sherry, would you swap seats with me? I think it might do me some good to lay down for a while.”

Sherry nodded, and unclasped her seat belt.

Leon just pursed his lips as the two girls switched seats. He reached behind him as Claire sprawled across the backseat, taking her hand again.

“You sure you’re gonna be okay?” he asked.

Claire made a face at him, squeezing his hand as she laid down her head and closed her eyes. “Just drive, Leon.”

And as much as he wanted to protest, he knew she was too stubborn to relent.

So he kept driving.

Chapter Text

It was dark when they finally reached Perrow Street.

Leon had marked their destination on the map they’d bought and given it to Sherry, who now directed him from the passenger seat. Even though Sherry seemed just as worried about Claire as he was, she was at least a deft navigator. She pushed through every yawn that escaped her lips and followed roads on the map with her finger, instructing Leon where to turn.

Eventually, she pointed at a street sign that appeared in the car’s floodlights. “We’re here,” she mumbled, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. “Perrow Street.”

Finally, Leon thought as he turned onto the street. He glanced at Sherry, who yawned again and sank further back into the passenger seat. He didn’t know a lot about Sherry’s life prior to leaving Raccoon city, but he assumed it was well past her bedtime.

Perrow street could best be described as eerie. There was only fields and forest as far as the eye could see; which wasn’t very far, considering it was pitch black, and and the last street lamp Leon recalled seeing was about two miles back. Leon didn’t like it. The thought that anything could jump out at them in the dark was less than reassuring.

But he swallowed his fear and kept driving.

A battered old letterbox bearing the number 96 appeared in the headlights, indicating the start of a long and winding driveway. Out of the corner of his eye, Leon saw Sherry tense up, her hands clenching around her seat belt.

“It’s okay,” he reassured her as he turned into the driveway, though he wasn’t totally convinced himself.

The driveway felt like it extended for miles. Every bump made Leon’s heart jolt; He had no clue what he was getting himself into. What was waiting for them at the end of this driveway? A part of him didn’t want to know. That same part was roaring in his ears, telling him to turn the car around, find salvation anywhere else. But another part of his, the stupidly optimistic part, told him to keep going. If Ada was really the one who led them here...

Ada knew he didn’t have the G-virus anymore; he had nothing of value to her. Maybe she really was just doing this out of the good of her heart.

Leon goddamn hoped that was the case.

They finally pulled up in front of what looked like an ordinary farm house; tall trees bordered either side of it, and the front porch was decorated with a modest looking yet slightly tattered couch. Leon couldn’t see much further beyond it, but the way the land dipped down behind the house, he wondered if it bordered a lake.

Roaring panic in Leon’s ears aside, it was a nice looking house. Maybe in daylight it wouldn’t look so immediately threatening.

Leon pulled the car to a stop, taking a deep breath before he killed the ignition.

Claire stirred in the backseat. “Are we there yet?” She mumbled, not bothering to open her eyes.

“I think so.” Leon opened his car door just a crack and peered outside. It was pitch black. He turned the key back in the ignition, and the headlights sprung to life, illuminating the house once more. “Stay in the car,” he instructed Sherry, cocking his handgun and counting his ammo. “Lock the doors. I’m going to look around.”

Sherry didn’t seem keen. “What if something happens?”

Leon hesitated. He was stuck. If Claire were fine, he would have no qualms about leaving Sherry in the car. But Claire wasn’t fine, and Leon was at a loss.

Before he could come up with a plan, Claire was leaning between the seats, pressing the hilt of a combat knife into Sherry’s hand.

“Here,” she said. “You think you can keep lookout for us?”

Sherry hesitated, turning the knife over in her hands. “I don’t know.”

Leon leaned back into the car, putting a hand on Sherry’s shoulder. “If anyone attacks,” he instructed, “you keep your distance and aim at their legs to slow them down, okay? If anyone gets too close -” he swallowed. “-aim for the throat. Got it?”

Sherry just looked at the knife and nodded resolutely.

Leon hated having to tell her this - Sherry was just a damn kid. But considering the situation, he had to do what he could to protect her.

“You gonna be alright?” he asked Claire.

Claire nodded and patted her holster. “We’ll be fine.” Her hand shook as it moved, and this did nothing but unsettle Leon even more, but he made a conscious effort not to dwell on it. The sooner he scoped out the house, the sooner they could crash for the night. God knew they needed it.

“I won’t be long,” he assured them.

Leon shut the car door as Sherry clambered into the backseat to sit with Claire, and as he made his way towards the house, he heard them locking the car doors behind him.

Leon walked a slow lap around the house, his gun aimed straight ahead of him and his back pressed to the wall. It proved futile; once out of the vicinity of the car’s bright headlights, he could hardly see more than a few feet in front of him. He gave up and made his way back to the front door.

The silver key that had been enclosed in the note was cold as Leon withdrew it from his pocket, but sheer anticipation of what was to come almost made him drop it, as though it burned to the touch. He slid the key into the lock, and the door opened with a quiet click.

Leon glanced back at the car one more time - He met Sherry’s gaze through the windshield, and she gave him a thumbs up from the confines of the car - before proceeding inside.

The house opened into a modestly decorated living room - or at least what Leon assumed was a modestly decorated living room. He couldn't see it very well. There was nothing immediately sinister on display,  but if his time at the academy had taught him anything, it was how to sniff out danger.

He felt across the wall immediately to the left of the front door and eventually found the light switch. The room flickered to life, and suddenly it didn’t feel so sinister anymore.

Leon slowly made his way through the house, turning on all the lights and inspecting every hiding spot he could think of for bugs, cameras, traps or anything else mildly incriminating. Luckily the house was small, so there wasn’t much to investigate.

The living room was adjacent to a decent sized kitchen and dining area, and a narrow hallway revealed a small bathroom and two similar sized bedrooms. The only discernible difference between them was that one was clearly made up for a child, whereas the other boasted a king sized bed and an en suite bathroom of its own.

Leon might have been impressed by the amenities on offer, had he not been on a mission. He threw open every cupboard, drawer, and closet, lifted rugs, checked behind doors - and then checked it all again, just to be safe. He came up empty handed. As far as he could tell, this was literally just a standard farmhouse that was maybe in need of a little dusting, at worst.

Leon grumbled, glancing around the living room one last time as he finally lowered his gun. Something still felt off to him, even though his investigation proved otherwise. In any case, he’d been driving for hours on end with little respite, and he had no more energy to spend on worrying. It was time to call it a night.

With a heavy sigh, he stowed his gun and headed back to the car.

Sherry opened the passenger door a crack as Leon approached. “Is it safe?”

“It would seem that way.” Leon held open the car door for her, cocking his head towards the house. “Say, there was a bedroom in there that had your name written all over it. Why don’t you run in and check it out?”

Sherry’s face lit up at the suggestion, and she bounded out of the car, leaving the knife on the seat beside Claire - who had her head braced against the driver's seat and her eyes closed.

“Claire?” Leon reached out and touched her shoulder, at which point she cracked open an eye. “It’s all clear. Come on.” He offered her a hand.

Claire let him help her out of the car, but the second he tried to put her arm around his shoulder she batted him away.

“It’s fine,” she insisted. “I can still walk by myself.” She braced a hand against the roof of the car to steady herself, but her legs still trembled under the pressure of her own weight.

Leon reached for her wrist again. “Hey, come on-”

“Leon,” she barked, shooting him a warning look.

He relented, holding up his hands in defeat, but followed closely behind her - just in case.

Claire managed to stagger her way across the driveway, gravel crunching loudly underneath her feet - but when she stumbled trying to climb the porch stairs, Leon had finally had enough.  

He swept in behind her and scooped her into his arms, bridal style. It wasn’t suave and breathtaking like in the movies. It was a flurry of limbs and a good few seconds of Leon struggling to find purchase at the back of Claire’s knees. She didn’t fit perfectly into his embrace, like they’d been forged for one another in another life. She certainly had a smaller frame than he did, but she was only a couple of inches shorter than him - not to mention a hell of a lot heavier than Leon had anticipated.

“Leon,” Claire protested. “Your shoulder.” She tried to pry herself from his arms, but in her feeble state, she could only manage so much.

She was right, though; His shoulder fucking burned underneath her weight, but he just grit his teeth and carried her past the threshold. “It’s fine,” he assured her, knowing full well he was undoing all of the work Claire had done to patch him up. “Let’s just get you inside.”

Claire was too tired to protest further. She buried her face into the crook of Leon’s neck, and he had to resist the urge to lean down and kiss the top of her head.

He carried her down the hall and into the master bedroom, setting her down on the bed and helping her take off her jacket.

“I can do that myself,” Claire told him.

“Jeez,” Leon said as he knelt down to unzip her boots. “You don’t like being taken care of, do you?”

Claire just smirked through her fever induced haze. “Not if I can avoid it.”

“Come on. You can’t keep pushing yourself in this state.” He pulled off her boots and set them aside, resting his hands on her knees. “Please let me help you. Just until you feel better.”

Claire huffed, her tired eyes darting to Leon’s shoulder. “You really wanna lecture me about pushing myself?”

Leon wanted to retort, but Sherry padded into the room clad in a pale pink nightgown, carefully carrying a full glass of water.

“I got you some water,” she said, yawning as she handed the glass to Claire.

Claire smiled as she took the glass from her. “Thank you, Sherry.”

“Where’d you get this?” Leon motioned towards Sherry’s nightgown.

Sherry grinned and twirled where she stood, showing it off. “I found it! There’s a whole bunch of other clothes, too.”

Leon unconsciously pursed his lips, less enthused by this fact than Sherry was. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he’d known that surely whoever had invited them here knew they had Sherry with them - but this apparent confirmation made him uncomfortable.

The revelation seemed to unsettle Claire as well; She met Leon’s eyes as she took a sip from her glass of water, and the wrinkles in her forehead spoke volumes.

“Leon, would you please put Sherry to bed?” Claire asked him.

Leon squeezed her knee. “Will you be okay here if I do?”

Claire just gave him a look.

Leon kissed his teeth, rolling his eyes into oblivion. “Alright, I get it. Come on.”


He herded Sherry into the other bedroom across the hall. It was starkly decorated; there wasn’t much more than a bed and a dresser and a half empty bookshelf, but Sherry seemed more than delighted to have the space to herself.

“The bed is really bouncy,” Sherry informed him as she clambered under the stark white sheets of the single bed that was pushed in the corner of the room.

Leon smiled as he settled on the side of the bed, tucking the comforter around her shoulders. “You’re not going to demonstrate?”

Sherry yawned and shook her head. “Tomorrow.”

“Alright. Can you get yourself to sleep okay?”

Sherry was quiet, her tired eyes staring blankly across the room. She reached over and clutched onto Leon’s sleeve.

“Is Claire gonna be okay?” Her voice warbled just a little as she spoke, and it broke Leon’s heart.  

“Hey.” Leon squeezed her tiny hand. “Claire’s gonna be fine. She might be sick for a couple more days, but she’s going to be just fine.”

Sherry nodded, but the concern in her face didn’t dissipate. “Will you stay with me until I fall asleep?”

Leon hesitated. He didn’t really want to leave Claire alone for too long - as much as she insisted otherwise. But Sherry was clinging to his arm with such a desperation in her eyes that he couldn’t bear to leave her alone. After everything she’d been through, she deserved every ounce of reassurance he and Claire could offer her.

“Alright,” he told Sherry, lowering himself on the bed next to her her.

Sherry nestled up beside him. Her eyes fluttered closed, and the hesitance in her expression immediately disappeared.

Leon studied her tired face, his chest swelling with an unexplainable warmth. For a few minutes, he just lay there, cradling Sherry in his arms as she drifted off to sleep. His mind jumped back to when she’d had made that comment about him and Claire adopting her. He’d felt awkward about it at the time, but now, as he brushed loose strands of hair out of Sherry’s sleeping face, he considered it. Just for a moment.

Hell of a family we have here, huh? Claire had said to him the previous night in the motel.

And maybe it was a stupid, loosely trauma induced thought, but he wanted them to be a family. He wanted to stay with Claire and Sherry. After everything they’d been through together, he couldn’t picture himself getting on with his life without them. Even if Claire never reciprocated those feelings that burned for her in his heart, he wanted to stay with them.

Something clattered across the hall, which shook Leon out of his daydream, and a moment later he heard the unmistakable sound of Claire retching.

Dammit. Carefully untangling himself from Sherry’s bed so as not to wake her, Leon tiptoed out of the room, closing the door behind him as quietly as he could manage.


Leon found Claire hunched over the toilet in the en suite. At this point, he was surprised she had anything left to throw up. He knelt down beside her, pulling her loose hair out of her face and  gently rubbing her back with his free hand.

“You know,” Claire said to him in between bouts of retching, “vomiting into a toilet is far from a luxury, but it sure as hell beats throwing up onto the side of the highway.”

Leon laughed. “Gotta count your blessings, huh?”

Claire craned her head towards him, just slightly, and smiled. “Yeah. I guess.”

Silence gradually crept over them. Claire eventually stopped retching and rested her head against the rim of the toilet bowl, her eyes fluttering closed. Leon clambered towards the sink and fished a clean washcloth out of the cabinet, quickly running it under the tap and wringing it out before draping it across the back of Claire’s neck.

“You don’t have to stay up with me,” Claire told him as he sank back onto the ground beside her.

Leon snorted, nudging her with his foot. “What else am I gonna do?”

Claire opened her eyes. “There’s a tv in there,” She said, her gaze flickering back towards the bedroom.

Leon couldn’t help but roll his eyes. “Oh, yeah, sure. Few episodes of FRIENDS and everything will be right as rain.”

“Leon,” Claire said with a warning, though the smile on her lips betrayed her tone of voice.

He just chuckled as he reached over and took her hand. “Really. It’s fine,” he assured her. “You can take a break from being our strong, independent team leader. Just until you get better.”  

Claire made an indignant noise. “Team leader?”

“That’s what you are, isn’t it?” Leon nudged her again. “I mean, you’re the one who took charge after we got out. You got us a car, you’ve done nothing but look out for Sherry since you met her -”

“You’re the one who wooed the woman who allegedly led us here,” Claire added with a malicious smirk.

Leon stuck his tongue out at her, and she laughed. “I’m serious, Claire. The only reason we’ve gotten this far is cause you keep pushing us. If it were just me...” He felt a shudder go down his spine. The thought of escaping the city alone... he didn’t even want to consider it. “I don’t know what I’d do."

She just stared at him for a moment, her lips pursed in thought. “Are we really a team?” she mused.

Leon shrugged. “Are we not?”

Claire smiled. “Yeah,” she said, squeezing Leon’s hand. “I guess we kind of are.”

And Leon smiled back, even as that threatening silence crept up on them again again. He wanted to keep talking to her, if only because it was one of the only things keeping him sane right now.

“What’s your favourite color?” He blurted. Goddammit. He wanted to smack himself. Where the hell had that come from?

Claire snickered into the toilet. “What?”

Leon just averted his gaze as he repeated the question, knowing full well the lights in the bathroom were too bright for her to not notice how red his cheeks were.

Claire was quiet for a moment, her curious eyes sweeping over Leon’s face, as though she were trying to decipher his intentions.

“It’s blue,” she told him. “What’s yours?”

“Red,” Leon said without thinking. It wasn’t the answer he’d expected to say.

But as his eyes drifted from Claire’s flushed cheeks and the auburn tints in her dark hair, he wondered if he was entirely wrong.


Claire drifted awake in the early hours of the morning.

The weather had cooled off hours ago, but her skin was still drenched in sweat. She squinted, trying to make out shapes in the dark, moonlit room. Where the hell was she? Her memories of the night before were hazy, at best. Had they arrived at the address? Yes, that’s right. She could vaguely remember waiting in the car with Sherry while Leon investigated the house.

As she shifted to sit herself upright, something tightened around her legs, and she glanced down to realise that she’d fallen asleep in her clothes. Ugh. No wonder she was sweaty.

She climbed out of bed and padded towards the large dresser at the other end of the room, rifling through the drawers to see if she could find anything to change into. Everything seemed to be sized perfectly for a girl of her age and stature, which Claire might have been more concerned about had she not been half asleep and still suffering the ill effects of food poisoning.  

She managed to fish out a plain t-shirt and slipped into the bathroom to change. Letting her clothes pool on the bathroom floor and slipping the t-shirt hover her head, she took the opportunity to dampen a washcloth and wipe the excess sweat from her skin. She still didn’t feel a hundred percent better; her stomach hadn’t completely settled, and her hands shook a little as she wiped the sweat from her brow, but her fever seemed to have gone down, for the most part.

As she clambered back into the bed, she caught a glimpse of Leon’s shirtless figure, asleep on the other side of the bed.

Her breath hitched in her throat. Memories from the night before came flooding back. Leon had carried her inside, despite her protests.  He’d held her hair back when she’d thrown up for what felt like the millionth time. He’d asked her what her favourite color was, for some reason. He’d let her use him as a human crutch while she brushed her teeth and then helped her into bed.

And when he’d made to leave the room and sleep on the couch for the night, she grabbed him by the wrist and dragged him into bed with her.

She hadn’t meant to imply anything by doing so. She just really didn’t want to sleep alone. And she didn’t want him to have to sleep alone, either.

She took a moment to just watch him now, fast asleep with his face half buried in the pillow. Moonlight spilled over him from the far window, bathing him in an ethereal glow. The corner of his lip twitched in his sleep, and Claire just smiled to herself. How was it in any way legal for this boy to be so pretty ? Just looking at him made her weak at the knees, and seeing him smile took her very breath away.

Claire hated it. She was Claire Redfield, for crying out loud. Not only did she ride motorcycles and intimidate people with her extensive knowledge of weapons and hand-to-hand combat, she had crawled out of a zombie infested city with her bare wits still intact. She didn’t get heart palpitations over boys. Especially not pretty ones like Leon Kennedy.

“You know it’s a federal crime to watch people while they sleep, right?” Leon said out of the blue, startling her.

Claire snorted. “I may not have gone to cop school, but I think you might be pulling my leg, Officer Kennedy.”

A mischievous smirk tugged at the corners of Leon’s lips as he opened his eyes.

“How are you feeling?” he asked her, hoisting himself onto his elbows so he was at her eye level.

She shrugged. “Not great,” she told him. “But better.” Her eyes flickered across his naked torso, just for a split second - and she hurried to think of something to say so that he wouldn’t notice. “How’s your shoulder?”

Leon pursed his lips, rolling his shoulder back before answering.

“Not great,” he said, echoing Claire’s sentiments. “But better.”

Claire smiled. “We should probably still get you to a doctor, though.”

“Hey, it’s fine,” he tried to reassure her. “I’ll just take it easy for a week or so. It’ll come right eventually.”

“Oh, right, because hoisting me into your arms like a mail order bride is taking it easy,” Claire pointed out.

“You were sick!” Leon quietly exclaimed. “Sacrifices had to be made.”

Claire chuckled. She absentmindedly reached a hand to her collarbone, to tug on the familiar piece of metal that hung around her neck-

It wasn’t there.

Claire panicked. “Oh, no.”

Leon’s face fell in response. “What’s wrong?”

Claire didn’t answer him; she scrambled out of bed and turned the light on in the bathroom, rifling through the cabinets, the various paraphernalia on the counter, anywhere that she could have left it.

“My necklace, it’s - ” Her hand froze in the air as she remembered what she’d done with it. “The motel. I took it off to shower. Goddammit!” She kicked the pile of her clothes in a fit of frustration, before storming back into the bedroom and sinking down onto the bed in defeat. “I must have left it on the bathroom counter. I’m such an idiot.”  

“Hey, it’s okay,” Leon tried to reassure her. “It’s just a necklace.”

An indignant laugh escaped Claire’s lips, and she shook her head slowly. “Chris gave me that necklace,” she told him.

Leon paused, his lips slowly forming an “oh” as he realised exactly why she was upset. Untangling himself from the bed sheets, he crawled across the bed and sat next to Claire, placing a reassuring hand on her shoulder.

Claire bit her lip. “He was in the air force,” she told Leon, absently picking at her nails as she talked. “He gave me that necklace the day he left for basic training. We haven’t been able to see each other a lot over the last few years - even less after I started college. But I felt like as long as I wore that necklace, I carried a part of him with me, you know?” A realisation dawned on her, and she huffed. “God, for a second I completely forgot he was the reason I went to Raccoon in the first place. Some sister I am, huh?”

She felt a tear prick at the corner of her eye, and she hated herself for it. It was just a necklace; She’d spent an entire night in hell, crawled out of that burning city and barely survived by the skin of her teeth, and she was about to cry over a fucking necklace .

Leon seemed to sense her upset, and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “Admittedly, I may not know anything about your brother,” he said, resting his head atop hers. “ But I think he’d forgive you, considering the circumstances.”

Claire took the opportunity to lean into him. He still smelled like cheap motel soap, and she found it strangely grounding. She angled her head slightly so that her ear was pressed against his chest. From here, she could hear the steady thud of his heart.

Weird. It seemed to be beating a little faster than it should have.

“Do you think your brother made it out?” Leon asked her.

“I don’t know if he was even there,” Claire confessed.  “But if he was, then I’m sure he did. Chris is tough.” She shrugged. “He may not be the brightest, but he knows how to land a punch, at least.”

Leon chuckled lightly, squeezing her shoulder. “I’ll buy you a new necklace, if it’ll make you feel any better.”

“No, it’s fine,” She reassured him, lifting her head to look at him properly. “Like you said, it’s just a necklace.”

And as her eyes met his, the world seemed to ground to a halt. Even the air in the room around them seemed to stand still, as though this moment in time was for them and them alone to share. Claire’s fever had definitely gone down, but the skin on the back of her neck where Leon’s arm was resting now felt like it was on fire. There were mere inches between their lips, and Claire was so, so tempted to lean forward and close that gap.

Leon’s other hand came up and lifted her chin, just slightly, and Claire could feel her own heart pounding in her chest; she could hear the blood rushing in her ears. His face was so close to hers she could feel his breath on her skin. Leon's eyes fluttered closed, and Claire noticed just how long his eyelashes were, and she cursed herself, because this boy was so pretty and he was leaning in so close to her face their foreheads were touching, and if she leaned in just a little bit closer-

There was a knock on the bedroom door.

The room seemed to drop about twenty degrees as they pushed away from one another. Leon cleared his throat, and Claire immediately mourned the feeling of his touch. Her fingers hovered above her lips, feeling the ghost of his breath that lingered on her skin. She felt something twist in her gut - but it wan't because she was nauseous. 

The bedroom door opened, and Sherry appeared in the doorway looking somewhat shaken.

“Sherry?” Claire brushed off whatever had just happened and climbed off the bed, kneeling in front of her. “What’s wrong?”

Sherry stared at the floor, picking at the hem of her nightgown. "I had a bad dream. Can I sleep with you?”

Claire hesitated. She glanced back towards Leon, who simply smiled and shrugged.

“Of course you can,” Claire told her, bundling the girl into her arms as she climbed back into bed. She leaned herself against the headboard as Leon pulled the bed sheets back for them, and Sherry settled into her lap, resting her head on Claire’s chest.

Leon smoothed back Sherry’s frazzled blonde hair. “Do you want to talk about it?”

Sherry just shook her head.

Claire pressed a gentle kiss to the top of her head. “It’s okay. You don’t have to.”

“Don’t worry,” Leon assured Sherry, shifting under the bed sheets. Claire was still trying to figure out what he was doing when his arms enveloped both her and Sherry, and she yelped as he dragged them both down into the bed. “This bed is a bad dream free zone." He pulled the comforter down over them in one clean swoop. "Okay?"

Sherry giggled as she nestled comfortably between them, her face barely peeking out from behind the comforter. “Okay.”

“Leon, you’re gonna ruin your shoulder,” Claire groaned, even though she was now enveloped in Leon’s arms, and with her head pressed against his chest, she couldn’t have been more content. Even if she did still want him to kiss her. 

“That’s a tomorrow problem,” he informed her. 

“It’ll be a forever problem if you keep pushing your luck,” she pointed out.

Leon just smiled at her, a knowing and charming smile that completely unarmed Claire - so she was taken by surprise when he leaned forward and buried his face in her loose dark tresses.  

“Go to sleep,” he whispered into her hair.

This time, she didn’t protest. She didn’t want to. Curled up in Leon’s arms with Sherry tucked in between the two of them, she felt the safest she’d felt in days.

And as Claire fell asleep, she tried not to think about kissing Leon Kennedy’s dumb, pretty face.

Chapter Text

There had been three in the bed when Claire had fallen asleep. When she woke up, she was the only one left.

Claire frowned, a yawn escaping her lips as she sat up and forced open her tired eyes, glancing around the room. It certainly looked more inviting in daylight. For a moment, she felt a twinge of panic creeping up the back of her neck; Why was the bed empty? Had something happened to Leon and Sherry in the night?

It was only when the smell of toast and coffee drifted into the room, accompanied with the sound of Sherry’s laughter echoing from down the hall, that Claire realised everything was fine. She collapsed back against the bed, savoring the feeling of the soft sheets against her skin. She wouldn’t have minded going back to sleep for a little longer, but the light coming through the windows was too bright, and the smell of food was making her hungry. It would seem that the worst of the food poisoning had passed, then.

Reluctantly, Claire pushed off the covers and climbed out of bed.

Padding down the hallway, she found Leon leaning against the kitchen bench, dressed and ready for the day. She hovered in the doorway for a moment, studying him. He was fiddling with the knobs on the toaster, but his movements seemed a little sluggish. Claire frowned when she realised he’d put his t-shirt on backwards. How much had he actually slept?

Sherry was watching cartoons on the living room couch, eating dry cereal out of a bowl with her hands. She looked up as Claire stepped into the living room, and her eyes widened.

“Claire!” Sherry scrambled from the couch and hugged her tiny arms around Claire’s waist, her bright eyes looking up at her full of concern. “Are you feeling better?”

Claire smiled as she hugged Sherry back. “Much better. Just as well you snuck into our bed last night, huh? You must have some kind of healing power.” She winked.  

Sherry giggled. “I don’t think so.”

“You sure? Maybe you do and you just don’t know it yet.”

“I wish I did.” Sherry frowned. “Maybe then I could fix Leon’s shoulder.”

Claire chuckled. “If only, huh?”

Sherry just smiled as she untangled herself from Claire’s arms and dove back onto the couch, clearly not wanting to miss too much of whatever show she’d been watching.

As Claire looked up, she caught Leon’s eye. He smiled at her, and she found herself unconsciously stepping towards him.  

“Morning,” Leon greeted her. There was a tired gruffness to his voice that almost made Claire shiver.  

“Morning,” Claire yawned. “What time is it?”

“A little after ten. I figured we should probably let you sleep.”

Claire just smiled in appreciation. “I smell food.”

“You hungry?”

“Famished.”

He grinned. “Good. That’s good. There’s not a lot of food, but I’m surprised whoever set this place up was kind enough to leave us anything.” He shrugged. “Hope you like toast.”

Claire laughed as Leon ushered her towards the living room and stuck another two pieces of bread into the toaster. She settled on the couch next to Sherry, letting the television absorb her attention for a while.

“I doubled checked the house while you were asleep,” Leon began as he plonked himself on Claire’s opposite side, and she gratefully took the plate of toast he offered her. “I still couldn’t find anything suspicious. I even went outside and looked underneath the house.” He shook his head. “Nothing. But whoever invited us was clearly willing to provide - I mean, clothes, food, amenities - I just don’t know what to make of it.”

Claire stewed over what he was telling her as she munched on her toast. It was good news that there was nothing incriminating about the house - but it felt like bad news at the same time. Whatever they had walked into, they were now thoroughly in the dark about. Claire almost wished Leon had found something to be suspicious about. That way, they would have at least been certain about something.

But that was just the thing about their lives after they’d left Raccoon city. Nothing was certain anymore.

“Maybe your lady friend really was just trying to help us, huh?” Claire pointed out.

Leon stared into the bottom of his mug. “I suppose that’s best case scenario at this point.” He seemed a little melancholic. What was he thinking about? Umbrella? Ada? The uncertainty of the situation at hand?

Claire nudged him. “You’d think she would’ve had the courtesy to leave another note, at least.”

That at least earned a chuckle from him. “Yeah, you’d think.”

“So, what do we do now?”

Leon hesitated. “We stay, for now. Until we can come up with a plan. But I really don’t want to have to be here any longer than necessary.”

Claire nodded. “Agreed.”

The television recaptured their attention for a moment, and Claire caught herself slowly sinking towards Leon. She stopped herself with a fist braced against the couch. The memory of his face only inches from hers was still so vivid in her mind that she swore she could still feel the heat that had radiated between them. She wondered if she should say something. Address what had happened. She didn’t want to risk things going sour between them, but how the hell was she supposed to voice her concerns without making it awkward? Hey, remember that time we almost kissed? Can we try that again? Only if you’re down for it, otherwise we can totally forget about it and go back to being weirdly emotionally attached acquaintances.

Claire wanted to roll her eyes. Not just at the absurdity of her own thoughts, but at the ridiculousness of the whole situation.

It wasn’t until she felt Leon’s hand snaking up her back to caress the hairs at the nape of her neck that Claire was able to relax, finally managing to convince herself that her fears were unfounded. She let herself sink against him, resting her head on his good shoulder. She felt Leon’s fingers brush against her scalp as he played with her hair, and she closed her eyes, savoring the feeling. For a brief moment, everything was fine. Leon’s touch was warm. Sherry’s melodic laughter was a welcome disruption to the otherwise silent house. As far as they knew, they were safe for the time being. It was a good feeling.

Claire felt Leon lift her arm, and it wasn’t until she felt him stealing the elastic from around her wrist that she thought to check what he was doing. She lifted her head slightly, glancing over  her shoulder to inspect the braid that now cascaded down her side.

She frowned, raising a curious eyebrow at Leon. “You know how to french braid?”

Leon chuckled nervously, his gaze falling to his lap as his cheeks flushed pink. “I did a little babysitting in high school for a bit of extra cash. My neighbor had three young girls who were very particular about how they wanted their hair done.”

Claire couldn’t help but laugh. “Man of many talents, huh?” She tugged on the end of her braid. “You impress many girls with this?”

“I wish.” He paused, his eyes scanning her face. “Are you impressed?”

Claire felt her heart skip a beat. “Maybe a little.”

“Well, my neighbor’s daughters aside-” He nudged her with his shoulder. “You’d be the first.”

And Claire felt weirdly honored by that revelation.

Sherry gasped, and they tore their eyes away from one another.They’d looked up at the tv expecting to see some big plot twist unveiling on the television before them -

Oh.

Oh.

For the first time since they’d escaped from the NEST, Claire found herself looking at Raccoon city.

Or whatever was left of it.

Whatever the news reporter was saying fell on deaf ears as she took in the images of of cinder and ash that were being presented before her. They’d bombed it. They’d bombed Raccoon city.  Claire’s stomach seemed to roil with guilt. Had they even bothered to evacuate the city beforehand? How many innocent people had been sacrificed in doing so? How many families were watching these images, grieving for the loved ones they’d never see again?

Claire felt Leon’s eyes on her, and she turned to look up at him. They couldn’t seem to do anything but stare at each other in disbelief. Leon swallowed as he wrapped an arm around Claire, pulling her against his chest, and Claire just sank into his embrace, her fingers desperately digging into the fabric of his t-shirt. Leon fumbled for the remote for the remote with his free hand, and the images disappeared with a flash of white.

Claire had to force herself to breath, had to repeatedly remind herself we’re okay we’re okay we’re okay . Her hand began to shake as she clung to Leon’s shirt, and she felt his own hand clamp over hers as he tried to steady her.

Sherry was trembling as she clung to Claire’s side.

“I’m sorry,” she sobbed. “This all happened because my parents did horrible things. I wish - I wish I could’ve - I -”

“Hey.” Claire uncoiled herself from Leon as she brushed Sherry’s hair out of her face, wiping away the girl’s tears with the pads of her thumbs. “None of this was your fault, okay? What your parents did had nothing to do with you. You have nothing to be sorry for.”

Sherry just sniffled as she clambered in between both Claire and Leon, the two of them wrapping the small girl into a tight embrace. Claire was still shellshocked; she hardly even noticed when Leon bent forward to press a kiss to the top of Sherry’s head, before lifting his head and pressing one to hers.

“We’re okay,” he said, resting his head atop Claire’s. “We’re going to be okay.”

Claire had no trouble believing him. If they’d made it this far, surely they could make it through just about anything.

But right then, it wasn’t them she was worried about.

 


 

Leon held back a yawn as he knelt down on the shore of the lake, teaching Sherry how to skim stones.

He hadn’t slept well. Hell, that might have been an understatement. He’d lain awake long after Sherry had climbed into bed with him and Claire, long after the two girls had fallen asleep. Between the fear that something could happen to them in the night, and the burning hot memory of Claire’s face inches from his own and her lips parted in anticipation -

It had taken a trip to the bathroom and ten minutes of splashing cold water on his face before he’d been ready to climb back into bed.

Sherry bent her arm back, swinging it forward with reckless abandon as she launched a stone across the lake. It landed in the water with a mighty PLONK and sank into the murky depths. Sherry pouted, and Leon had to bite back a laugh, lest he discourage her from trying again.

“Here, come on.” He pressed another stone into Sherry’s tiny hand. “Try again.”

Claire loitered a couple of yards behind them, her hands shoved into the pockets of the oversized cardigan she was wearing. Her brow was furrowed; her lips were pursed in thought. She’d seemed a little jumpy since they’d witnessed the news broadcast, Leon noticed. Her gaze kept flitting between himself and Sherry, as though if she let either of them out of her sight, they would disappear.

Sherry skipped away to find more stones, and Leon found himself gravitating back towards Claire.

“You alright?” he asked her.

Claire was quiet for a moment. “I just-” she swallowed. “I can’t stop thinking about Chris.”

Leon faltered. They hadn’t really talked about Claire’s brother - all Leon really knew about Chris Redfield was that he was also a cop, and he was the sole reason Claire had gone to Raccoon city in the first place. It had been pretty clear to him how much Claire cared about her brother, though - and how much it was eating away at her that she still had no idea where he was.

“Did you find that letter from him in the S.T.A.R.S. office?” Leon asked.

Claire nodded. “It didn’t sound like him, though. I mean, he would’ve told me if he planned on going away. And I can’t stop thinking -” she took a shaky breath. “What if he was still in Raccoon city?”  

Oh .

“Hey, don’t think like that.” Leon reached over and squeezed Claire’s shoulder. “You said it yourself, didn’t you? Your brother’s a tough guy. If we made it out, then he was probably light years ahead of us.”

“I know, but I just-” Claire sighed. “God, my brain just wants to be anything but rational right now.”

Leon managed to chuckle. “Yours and mine both.”

Claire smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes.

Leon wanted to ask her if she planned on leaving to go and look for Chris, but the question felt too presumptuous. She wasn’t obligated to stay with him just because they’d survived together. But as much as he didn’t like the idea that he and Sherry were the only things holding Claire back from going to look for him, he hated the idea of her leaving even more.

Claire lifted her head and gazed out across the lake. There was a resolve to her expression, like she’d made a decision. Leon held his breath, waiting for her to say something. But she didn’t. She just stared out across the water, headstrong and unfaltering as the wind picked up and blew a few loose strands of hair around her face.

Leon followed her gaze, just as Sherry launched another stone out over the lake. It skimmed once, twice, three times, before sinking into the watery depths with a plop. Sherry turned around, her mouth hanging open in awe.

“I did it!” she yelled with glee, and Leon laughed as she raced towards them, giving her a high-five. “I did it, I did it, I did it!”

“Nice job,” Leon told her. It seemed like such a meager victory in comparison to everything they’d endured. But the way Sherry’s face lit up made him forget about all that for a moment. Even Claire was grinning when he turned to look at her.

Sherry beamed as she rushed towards Claire and grabbed her hands. “Come on, Claire! It’s your turn!”

“Alright, alright,” Claire relented, letting the small girl pull her away. “But I’m no good at skimming stones. You’ll have to teach me.”

Sherry’s giggling was a refreshing sound as she led Claire down to the water’s edge, Leon following closely behind. This was nice, he thought to himself. It was probably the first true moment of peace he’d experienced since he’d entered Raccoon city.

But it wasn’t entirely peaceful. The undercurrent of the situation still hung heavy all around him. How the hell had they managed to survive all that? What the hell were they doing in this house in the middle of nowhere?

Was Claire going to leave them?

Claire knelt down and rocketed a stone across the lake at breakneck speed. It travelled so far Leon could have sworn it went past the horizon line before it sank into the lake. She turned around and stuck her tongue out at him, playfully showing off.

“Not bad,” Leon said, brushing aside his inner turmoil  as he bent down to pick up a stone, giving it an experimental toss. “Wanna see how it’s really done?”

Claire raised an eyebrow, the ends of her lips curling into a smirk. “Try me.”

Leon just grinned as he leaned back and skipped the stone across the lake. Unfortunately, he miscalculated his approach, sent the stone straight into the water with a little too much force, and ended up drenching himself in the resulting splash.

Claire threw her head back and laughed. “Oh my God, you idiot!”

And Leon couldn’t help but laugh as well. It was ridiculous, this whole situation they were in. Fear had crept into every waking corner of Leon’s life, controlled almost every decision he’d made since they’d left escaped the NEST. It felt good to laugh for once. To forget about that ever present fear. And it felt good to hear Claire laugh, too.

It was that moment that Leon realised just how much he needed Claire; and not just her infallible leadership and unwavering strength, but her gorgeous smile and her contagious laugh. He wasn’t sure how long he could survive without her, in both a practical and emotional sense.

And he couldn’t help but wonder if somewhere, deep down, she needed him, too.  

 


 

The lake was beautiful under the moonlight.

Leon had been too busy inspecting the house the previous night to appreciate it, so he was glad he had the chance to do so now from his perch on the porch steps. Despite the fact that it was well into autumn, cicadas chirped in a nearby thicket of trees, and a cluster of fireflies hovered along the lake’s shoreline.

If Leon hadn’t been fearing for his own life, he might have described the scene as idyllic.

Claire padded onto the porch and sat down next to him, uncapping the bottle of cider she’d found at the back of a kitchen cabinet. She offered him some, waggling the bottle between her fingers, but Leon just shook his head. Sherry was asleep in the house behind them, and Leon figured at least one of the adults here should stay sober in case anything happened.

Claire just shrugged as she took a swig, her face immediately screwing up in disgust.

“Ugh!” Claire gagged as she tore the bottle away from her mouth. “This stuff is awful. I thought cider was supposed to be good.”

Leon just laughed. “Maybe it’s just not as sickeningly sweet as you’d hoped.”

Claire rolled her eyes, offering him the bottle again. “Why don’t you see for yourself, then?”

Leon hesitated. “I shouldn’t. Alcohol slows down the healing process.”

“Oh, come on. One sip won’t kill you.” Claire shook the bottle a little, raising an eyebrow at him. “Or are you that much of a light-weight?”

It was Leon’s turn to roll his eyes as he snatched the bottle from her, knocking back a hefty gulp. Claire wasn’t wrong. The stuff wasn’t particularly great, but if he’d been offered it at a party, he’d hardly turn his nose up at it.

“I think someone’s sweet tooth is clouding their judgement,” Leon goaded, and Claire elbowed him in the side as he laughed.

“Whatever. You’ll buy me something better when we go grocery shopping tomorrow, right?”

Leon snorted. “Is that the only reason you’ve been keeping me around?”

“Well.” Claire just smirked at him. “That, and your pretty face.”

He chuckled. “How about we save the alcohol for another day?” He suggested. “Like your twenty first, for example.”

Claire snickered. “Really? You think we’ll be around each other that long?”

Leon’s heart sank. Her words had hit him sharper than he would have liked to admit. But maybe he needed the reality check. In the brief few moments he’d considered his future since they escaped, he hadn’t been able to picture himself without Claire or Sherry. He didn’t want to.

Maybe it was time for him to admit that.

“I’d like to be.” Leon had spoken so quietly he wasn’t sure he had spoken. But Claire’s face had softened in such a way he could only assume he had.

Her braid was slowly falling out of the elastic, and Leon reached forward to tuck a stray strand of hair behind her ear. He let his hand rest on her cheek, and he felt his heart begin to thud as Claire’s fingers came up to snake around it.

“I’d like to be, too,” Claire whispered, nestling her cheek into the palm of his hand. She looked up at him with a such an air of vulnerability in her expression, her baby blue eyes glowing in the moonlight - and Leon caught himself thinking back to the previous night, that moment that Claire had looked up at him, with that same look in her eyes. She’d almost kissed him, right? Whatever was happening here wasn’t totally one-sided.

Claire’s grip on Leon’s hand tightened ever so slightly, and something inside of him snapped. Maybe it was the alcohol. Maybe it was the adrenaline. Maybe it was the pure love and affection he’d come to feel for Claire in the last few days.  

Whatever it was, it took control of any of Leon’s remaining sensibilities as he leaned forward and kissed her.

Claire immediately melted into him as he cupped her face in his hands, her arms reaching up to wrap around his neck. The bottle of cider clattered down the steps and spilled across the ground, but neither of them paid any mind to it. They were too wrapped up in each other, too busy giving in to feelings they'd both been bottling up since the moment they met.

Leon slipped his tongue past Claire's lips, and she moaned into his mouth. She tasted sweet, and Leon wasn’t entirely sure if it was the cider or if it was just her - either way, he was drunk on it, and right then all he wanted was more.

Claire shifted, and Leon felt her settle her weight across his lap as she dragged her hands down the breadth of his chest. He reached up to tug the elastic from the end of her braid, tangling his hands in her hair as it tumbled past her shoulders. Her lips were so soft and the feeling of her hands caressing him through the fabric of her shirt was so simultaneously gentle and demanding that it drove Leon insane.

They didn’t pull away until their lungs were burning for oxygen, their lips separating with a pop as they gasped for air. Claire rested her forehead against his, and they took a moment to catch their breath, drinking in the sight of each other’s flushed faces.

Claire’s eyes widened as she regained her sensibility. “Leon, are you crying?”

Leon absently pressed a hand to his cheek - it came away damp.

“Apparently.” He managed to laugh. God, he couldn’t get much more pathetic than this.  

“Oh, Leon,” Claire chuckled against his lips, before she leaned in and kissed him again.

Her lips were like salvation, grounding him to the reality that they’d survived, they’d gotten this far. Leon didn’t want this moment to end. He wanted to stay here, with Claire in his arms and the warmth of her breath spilling over his face. For the first time in days, Leon remembered what it felt like to be alive, and it both excited and terrified him.

Leon broke away as another sob escaped his lips, and he hated himself for it. But then he felt Claire’s hands on his face, her fingers cupping his cheeks as she wiped away tears and whispered reassurances into his ear. He swallowed as he forced himself to look at her, and found a softness in her eyes, like she was waiting to hear what he needed from her.

“Please don’t leave me,” Leon begged, his voice cracking as he spoke. He hated how pathetic he sounded. But the second he’d opened his mouth, every ounce of fear and desperation he’d been harboring came tumbling out, reducing him to a blubbering mess.

“I won’t,” Claire assured him, pulling his head forward to press a kiss to his forehead. “I promise.”

And as much as he hated himself for it, he started to cry again.

Claire just wrapped her arms around him as he leaned his head against her chest, pressing kisses along the sides of his face. Leon couldn’t do anything except cling to her, sob into the folds of her top. She was here, she was real, she was warm, she was safe. And she wasn’t going to leave him. He felt a weight he hadn’t even realised he’d been carrying fall off his chest, and he sighed as he wrapped his arms around Claire’s waist and held her as tight as he could.

Leon would have been content to sit here for the rest of his life. But he felt something land on his shoulder, and as he glanced up, he felt a few more dots land atop his head. In the dark, they hadn’t noticed the clouds rolling in overhead, but by the time they’d realised the weather was about to turn, it was too late.

“Shit!” Claire clambered out of Leon’s lap as the rain unleashed upon them, dragging him upright with his good arm so that the two of them could scramble inside. The door slammed behind them just as the rain started coming down in sheets, but the initial rainfall had already gotten to them. Leon, luckily, had been able to use Claire to shield himself from the oncoming downpour, and aside from slightly a damp shirt and a few stray strands of hair clinging to his face, he’d gotten away relatively unscathed.

Claire, unfortunately, had borne the brunt of the downpour; She splayed out her arms, and water dribbled from the sleeves of her cardigan onto the floor. Her hair was plastered across her face like a mass of black, inky tentacles. She made a face at her own predicament. Leon couldn’t help but chuckle a little at the sight.

Claire glowered at him. “What’s so funny?”

Leon wiped a tear from his eye. “You look like Medusa’s teenage daughter going through a goth phase.”

Claire scoffed, flicking water in Leon’s direction. “Screw you, Kennedy.”

Leon just laughed as he stepped forward to help Claire out of the cardigan, discarding it on the floor as he smoothed her hair out of her face. Claire closed her eyes, wrapping her arms around Leon’s waist and resting her head against his chest. Leon let his head rest atop hers as he hugged her back, ignoring the way her hair was soaking through the fabric of his t-shirt. Right then, he was too happy to care.

“I could get used to this,” Claire mumbled.

“Mm. You have no idea.” Leon lifted her head so he could press another kiss to her lips.

Right then, things were far from perfect. They had no plan, no discernible course of action. They didn’t even know if these feelings they’d been harboring for one another were genuine, or just an adrenaline fuelled desperation for human connection and touch in the wake of disaster. They’d have to figure this whole thing out eventually - but it could wait.

Because right then, as he stood there kissing Claire Redfield, Leon S. Kennedy was in heaven.

Chapter Text

A faint noise drew Claire out of bed the next morning.

She grumbled to herself as she reluctantly uncoiled herself from Leon’s arms, not ready to get up. The noise had probably been nothing worth her concern, but considering they still didn’t know who had lured them out to this house, she wasn’t willing to take any chances.

Claire was almost out of the bed when Leon reached across the bed and grabbed her hand, tugging her back towards him.

“Where are you going?” he asked, his voice still heavy with sleep.

“Nowhere,” she assured him, smoothing back his sleep mussed hair. “Go back to sleep.”

The rain had significantly eased up in the early hours of the morning, but Claire could still hear it pattering against the roof as she entered the living room. It was still fairly dark, given the thick blanket of clouds that still hung overhead and the fact that she sun hadn’t completely risen yet.

Claire switched on the light, squinting as the room flickered to life. She studied her surroundings, looking for the guilty party that had woken her up. There was nothing out of the ordinary, as far as she could tell. Everything was still as it had been when she’d gone to bed the night before; her damp cardigan still lay on the floor where Leon had discarded it, and she picked it up and draped it across one of the dining chairs.

But nothing seemed overtly ominous. Maybe Sherry had gotten up to get a glass of water, and the door had creaked behind her.

Claire was about to give up and go back to bed when she heard it again.

It was louder this time, clearer. She frowned as she scanned the room again, wondering where the hell it was coming from. Oh, God, it wasn’t in the wall, was it? Claire hadn’t stopped to consider the possibility that it may have just been a bird nesting in the rafters.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw something move.

Claire whirled around, eyes trained on the sliding doors that opened onto the porch. The glass was drenched with trails of water that warped with every slight movement of Claire’s head. She frowned. Had she imagined it?

Without thinking, she found herself stepping across the room and opening the sliding door just a crack. She glanced across the immediate property, towards the lake and the thickets of trees that bordered the driveway. Nothing. Just rain and foliage as far as she could see. She quickly swept her eyes across the porch, making sure that she hadn’t missed anything -

There was a tiny black kitten curled up against the wall of the house.

Claire’s eyes widened as she opened the door a little wider and stepped onto the porch, lowering herself to her knees as she slowly approached the tiny thing. It was shivering, it’s dark fur mostly drenched and plastered back in a strange pattern, most likely from the rain.

The kitten meowed as Claire approached it, and she almost jumped. How the hell had a kitten ended up here? 

She didn’t allow herself time to consider the myriad of possibilities as she scooped him up and took him inside.

The rain began to pick up again as Claire closed the porch door behind her, the heavy onslaught of raindrops echoing through the house. The kitten trembled in her arms, and she frowned as she held onto him a little tighter. Could cats get hypothermic? She had no idea. But considering she’d recently witnessed an entire city of the undead come to life, she wouldn’t shoot down the possibility.

She tiptoed down the hall and retrieved a towel from the airing cupboard, bundling up the kitten as best she could.

“There we go,” she cooed, drying the water from the top of his head. “That must feel better, huh?”

One of the bedroom doors opened behind her, and Leon stepped into the hall, yawning as he blearily glanced in Claire’s direction.

“What’s going on?” he asked her, peering over her shoulder to see what she was holding. The kitten meowed at him, and Leon’s tired eyes widened. “Well, damn. That’s... something.” He reached over to pet the top of the kitten’s tiny head. “Where did you find him?”

“On the porch.” Claire adjusted the towel, rubbing her hand down the kitten’s side in a bid to warm him up. “He must have been trying to take shelter from the rain.”

“But where did he come from? The nearest property’s not for at least another mile.”

Claire bit her lip. “Here, hold on to him for me, would you?” She carefully pressed the kitten into Leon’s arms.

“Where are you going?”

“To see if his mom’s nearby.”

Claire tugged on her boots and walked back out into the rain. She didn't exactly know where to begin looking, so she began by circling the property.

A good while later, Claire had traipsed through the nearby trees, skimmed the shore of the lake - which had risen with the overnight rainfall - and even wandered a ways down the winding gravel driveway. But her search ultimately up empty handed, and the rain was quickly drenching her pajamas and chilling her to the core. She couldn’t think where else another cat would be hiding in weather like this, and after sticking her head in the gap underneath the house, she was running out of places to look.

She gave up and headed back inside.

Discarding her boots by the front door, Claire squeezed the water from her hair as she trailed back into the bedroom. Sherry had apparently woken up in the time that she was outside, and was now perched on the bed next to Leon, her pale blue eyes wide with wonder as she focused on the kitten.

“How’s he looking?” Claire asked, opting not to climb atop the bed in her current state.

“Better,” Leon answered as he glanced up at her. “Any luck finding his mom?”

Claire shook her head. A chill ran down her spine, and she shivered, hugging her arms around herself.

Leon frowned. “You’re gonna end up like him if you keep standing there.” He cocked his head towards the bathroom. “Go on. I’ll bring you a towel.”

He didn’t need to tell her twice. Claire quickly padded into the en suite, closing the door behind her and cranking up the heater. The heat waves felt almost blisteringly hot against her skin, but she savored the feeling, closing her eyes and ignoring the weird plastic smell the heater was also emanating.

She turned on the shower faucet as hot as it would go, and stood back as she waited for the water to heat up.

There was a knock on the door a moment later.

“Are you decent?” Leon called.

“Yeah,” Claire shouted back. “It’s unlocked.”

The door clicked as it opened, and Leon stepped into the bathroom, closing the door behind him. He offered Claire the towel he had tucked under his arm and she graciously took it, unfolding it and wrapping it around her shoulders.

“Better?” Leon asked, leaning back against the sink.

Claire nodded. She nestled into the folds of the towel, savoring its warmth.

“What are we going to do about him?” she asked Leon when she’d finally managed to stop shivering.

Leon frowned. “Who?”

“The cat, dummy.” Claire kissed her teeth, contemplating their options. “There was a town you had to drive through to get here, right?” Leon nodded. “Did you see an animal shelter there?” Leon shook his head. “Oh, Fuck.”

Claire buried her face in her hands, grumbling under her breath while Leon shifted awkwardly against the sink.

“We don’t... HAVE to get rid of him,” he suggested, refusing to look Claire in the eye. His cheeks were a little flushed, but Claire chalked it up to the overwhelming combination of the heater and the shower at full temperature.

Claire sighed. “Look, I know he’s cute, but we still don’t have a plan of action for when we get out of here. Throwing a cat into the mix doesn’t exactly sound like a good idea.”

Leon’s face fell, and he nodded solemnly. “Yeah. Yeah, I know.” And Claire felt a stab of guilt. He looked so disappointed - did he really want to keep the kitten that badly?

Claire opened her mouth, not really sure what she wanted to say - but a noise erupted from the bedroom. The two of them looked at each other, panic flashing in their eyes, before Leon rushed forward and wrenched open the bathroom door.

The towel the kitten had previously been bundled up in lay abandoned across the bedspread, and Sherry leaned over the edge of the bed, lips anxiously pursed as her eyes darted across the floor. The kitten was nowhere in sight.

“Oh, no.” Claire tightened the towel around her shoulders as the warmth from the bathroom dissipated. “Where did he go?”

“There!” Sherry pointed at the floor between the bed and where Claire stood, and sure enough, the kitten was quickly skittering across the floor towards the bathroom. Claire bent down and braced her hands out in front of her, steeling herself to grab him, should he try to dart past her.

But the kitten stopped at Claire’s feet, meowing loudly as he reached up against her bare calves with his front paws.

“I think he likes you,” Leon said as Claire heeded the kitten’s commands and lifted him into her arms. He wasn’t entirely dry yet, but the way he’d perked up reassured Claire he wasn’t about to freeze to death.

“He’s adorable,” Sherry added, clambering off the bed. “Can we keep him?”

“I thought you wanted a puppy,” Claire pointed out.

“But he needs our help! We can’t just leave him here.” Sherry hung off Claire’s arm, looking up at her with wide, pleading eyes. “Please, Claire?”

Claire bit her lip. She didn’t like that the onus for keeping the kitten was being placed upon her. She glanced towards Leon, hoping he might back her up - but he simply pouted, putting on the best show of ‘puppy-dog eyes’ Claire had ever seen as he pressed his hands together in a silent plea.

If Claire were any more weak willed, she might have caved simply at the sight of his expression.

She looked down at the tiny ball of fur in her arms, who in turn looked up at her with a pair of wide green eyes, and meowed. He stretched his front paws up to bat Claire’s face, and she finally noticed that his front left paw wasn’t black like the rest of him, but rather a muddied, splattered white that cut off at his ankle. Like a little sock.

And Claire hated to admit it, but it was one of the cutest things she’d ever seen.

“We’ll see,” she told Sherry - but her iron will was already beginning to melt.

 


 

“You know we can’t keep him, don’t you?”

Leon frowned at Claire’s words. He was sprawled across the couch, his shirt discarded on the floor at his feet and his shoulder still stinging from where Claire had disinfected and redressed it. They should have done it earlier, Leon thought, but he wasn’t dead yet. And with any luck, judging by the way Claire had said the wound was starting to close up, he wouldn’t be any time soon.

Claire was in the kitchen, busying herself with putting away the groceries she’d come home with. She'd taken Sherry into town with her, arguing that the less time Sherry spent around the kitten, the less attached she'd get. Her plan might have been working; Sherry was tucked away in her room with a new collection of books, and Leon doubted they were going to hear a peep from her anytime soon.

But Claire had also made the mistake of Leon alone with the kitten. He’d already been mildly enamoured with the furry little thing, but after spending an hour and a half supervising him in Claire and Sherry’s absence, he'd partly convinced himself that the kitten was a blessing in disguise. How could he bear to part ways with something so snuggly and cute? 

“I thought you said you’d think about it,” Leon pointed out.

“I have. And I think taking him with us is a bad idea.” Claire balled up the paper grocery bag she’d just finished emptying and tossed it onto the counter. “So don’t you dare go getting attached to him.”

Little late for that, Leon thought to himself.  

The kitten finished munching through the kibble Claire had laid out for him, and began clawing his way up the arm of the couch to join Leon.

"Why did you buy him a carry case, then?" Leon asked as the kitten settled atop his freshly re-bandaged shoulder.

"So we can take him with us and drop him at the first animal shelter we find." She eyed where the kitten was sleeping and frowned. “You shouldn’t let him sleep there. You might get fur in your wound.”

“But he wants to sleep there.”

“Leon,” Claire warned.

“Fine,” he grumbled, moving the kitten onto his stomach, before folding his arms across his chest and sinking further into the couch with a huff.

Claire narrowed her eyes at him. “You’re not actually angry about this, are you?”

“No.” Leon paused. “Maybe.” He sighed, scratching the kitten’s tiny head. “I just don’t want to keep forgoing joy for the sake of convenience, you know? I mean, is this all we survived Raccoon city for?”

Claire bit her lip. She padded out of the kitchen, settling on the floor next to Leon. “I get where you’re coming from. But there’s a big difference between stopping for ice cream after being cramped in a car for four hours straight, and adopting a kitten because it showed up on our porch, when we don’t even know how much longer we’re going to stay here.”

Leon nodded. He knew Claire was right. It wasn’t an ideal situation, and keeping the kitten would hardly do them any favors. But Sherry had been just as excited about finding the kitten as he had; if not more so. Maybe he’d only wanted to keep the kitten for her sake. She’d been through so much, losing not only her parents, but her entire life in Raccoon city over the course of a single night. Surely she deserved something to make up for everything she’d lost.

He glanced down at the kitten, who was snoring away happily, his single white paw outstretched in front of him. Oblivious to his potential fate, or the woes that plagued his saviours. Leon envied him a little.

Claire leaned over and pressed a kiss to Leon’s forehead, the loose strands of hair that framed her face tickling his cheeks.

“If it really upsets you that much,” she told him, curling her fingers against his jaw. “Then I’ll make it up to you. Promise.”

Leon felt his chest fill with warmth, realising it was the first time she’d kissed him since last night. Her face was so close to his, he could map constellations in her freckles, and he could have sworn he saw the faintest tinge of pink brushed across her cheeks.

He reached around her side to run a nervous hand along her back, the confidence he’d somehow possessed the night before having been totally sequestered.

“How many kisses would that take?” he managed to utter, his heart pounding in his chest.

“I don’t know,” Claire chuckled, leaning in to whisper her next words across his lips. “Better start counting.”

 


 

The living room window was cold under Claire’s fingertips as she drew patterns in the condensation.

The tv blared quietly across from her, lighting up the otherwise pitch black room. It was tuned to some program that Claire didn’t really care for, but it was something to distract her, at least. To fill the endless silence that threatened to drive her mad if she lay awake for another moment.

She sighed, drawing her fingers away from the window and drying them on the fabric of her pajama pants. What time was it now? It had been just past two in the morning when she’d given up on trying to get to sleep and climbed out of bed. But as desperately as she wanted to slip back under the covers and bury herself in Leon’s arms, she knew she wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep if she tried.

Something nagged at her. She didn’t know what it was, but it had clawed its way inside her and rooted itself deep in her heart. Maybe it was the fear of what would happen after they left the house. Of what could still happen before they left. They still had absolutely no other indication of who had brought them here, or what intentions they had. Claire wasn’t sure if she wanted to leave with answers or not.

Sherry's safety was still at the forefront of her mind, but a myriad of other concerns spun through her head. Umbrella, Ada's supposed resurrection, the infernal kitten. And then there was Leon. Oh, God, Leon. She absently drew a finger to her lips as she remembered what it felt like to kiss him. She couldn't deny that she had feelings for him. It scared her a little, how easily she'd fallen for him. But how could she not, with that stupidly pretty face and the endless concern he seemed to possess for her? 

But she couldn’t afford to worry about any of that right now. Getting the three of them out of here alive was the priority. She’d sort through her emotional baggage later. When the threat of Umbrella storming down the door and ripping Sherry away from them had been quelled - at least for the time being.

Something rustled through the wall behind her.

Claire paused, fumbling for the remote and switching off the television so she could listen better. The bedroom she’d been sharing with Leon was just through that wall. She’d have chalked the noise up to the kitten’s doing, had she not already known he was asleep on Sherry’s bed. She frowned. Was Leon alright? Maybe he’d just rolled over in his sleep and crumpled the sheets. She sat quietly with bated breath, listening to see if the rustling ceased.

It wasn’t until Claire heard Leon yelling her name that her senses kicked into overdrive.

She bolted into the hall the same moment Leon burst through the bedroom door, his eyes widening like a deer in headlights as she met his startled gaze.

“Oh, thank God!” Leon exclaimed as he rushed forward and gathered Claire into his arms, crushing her to his chest. Claire could feel him trembling as he clung to her, and she instinctively wrapped her arms around his waist to steady him.

“Hey, it’s okay.” She pulled her head back, cupping his cheek in her hand and forcing him to look at her. “I’m here. What happened?”

Tears streamed down Leon’s face, his breathing coming out ragged and fast.

“It was-” he swallowed, his jaw clenching with the effort of talking. “We were back in Raccoon City, at the gate outside the police station. And then the helicopter blew up, but you didn’t get away in time, and they - the zombies, they got you, Claire, they-” Leon choked on a sob, the words catching in his throat as images from his dreams undoubtedly flashed through his head. “And then I woke up, and you weren’t there, and I just panicked-”

Claire shushed him as she cradled his face in her hands, wiping away tears with the pads of her thumbs. “It’s okay. I’m here. It was just a dream.”

Leon continued to tremble as Claire led him back into the bedroom, pulling him down onto the bed and curling her arms around him as he buried his face into the crook of his neck. His arms were almost painfully tight around her waist as he clung to her, but Claire ignored the ache in her sides, smoothing back his ruffled hair and pressing reassuring kisses across his cheeks.

“It was just a nightmare. I’m right here.” He shuddered in her arms as a sob escaped his lips, and it made Claire’s heart wrench. “Breathe, Leon.”

Leon’s chest heaved as he took a deep breath, his arms still trembling as he clung to Claire’s t-shirt, and Claire could feel his heart racing where his chest was pressed flush against her.

It took a few minutes, but Leon finally managed to calm down, his breathing resuming at a normal pace. He stopped trembling, and the arms that had been gripping Claire with a mighty desperation came to rest at her sides, toying at the hem of her shirt.

Claire brushed away the last of his tears, pressing a gentle kiss to both of his cheeks.

“You okay?” She whispered, letting her hand rest on his shoulder.

Leon nodded, sniffling a little as he lifted his hand to rest atop hers. “Yeah. Sorry.”

“It’s fine.” She hooked a finger under his chin, lifting his head to look at her and kissing the tip of his nose. “I’m just glad your okay.”

He managed to smile. “I just -” Another sob threatened to spill past his lips, but he choked it back. “I don’t know. I guess I feel stupid, having nightmares about everything when you’re not.”

“You’re not stupid.” Claire hesitated, her gaze falling into her lap. “And I never said I wasn’t having nightmares.”

Leon blinked. He opened his mouth to press her for more information, but the bedroom door opened, and Sherry timidly poked her head into the room.

“What’s going on?” she managed to say through a yawn. “I heard noises.”

“It’s okay, Sherry,” Leon assured her, quickly drying his eyes as best he could. “I just had a nightmare, that’s all.”

Sherry frowned. She stepped into the bedroom without a word, climbing onto the bed between Claire and Leon.

“Was it bad?” she asked him quietly.

“Yeah,” Leon said, his gaze flickering towards Claire. Her breath hitched in her throat. “Very bad.”

“I have nightmares, too,” Sherry told Leon. “Or at least I think they’re nightmares.”

“Oh?” Leon’s eyebrows raised in piqued interest. “What makes you say that?”

Sherry paused, pressing a finger to her chin in thought. “I had a dream I managed to escape Raccoon city with my parents. But once we got out of the city - they left me.” She looked up at Leon, her eyes wide with fear. “You’re not going to leave me, are you?”

“Never.” Leon put an arm around Sherry. “We’re a team, right? No matter what-” he reached over with his other arm and took Claire’s hand, giving it a firm squeeze. “We stay together.”

There was a firmness to his voice, a determination in his eyes that made Claire smile. Because she knew he meant it.

The kitten trailed into the room, yowling as he clawed his way up the bedspread to join them, apparently righteously angry at Sherry for leaving him alone in bed. Claire held back the indignant tut that almost left her lips. He didn’t think he was part of the team, too, did he?

“Sock!” Sherry exclaimed. “You’re supposed to be asleep.”

Claire frowned. “Sock?”

Sherry shrugged as she scooped the kitten up into her arms. “That’s what Leon called him.”

Claire’s jaw slacked as she turned to look at Leon - who was now staring at the wall and vehemently refusing to look her in the eye, his cheeks very quickly turning red. Claire huffed. The dirty bastard. She’d warned him about getting attached the kitten, and yet he’d gone and fucking named it.

She might have reprimanded him for it - had a strange light not shone through the window, quickly shifting across the walls.

“What the fuck?!” Claire hissed. She scrambled for the window, Leon hot on her heels, and peered through the slits in the blinds.

A black car was edging its way up the driveway, the headlights shining straight through the window and almost blinding her.

Beside her, Leon scowled.

“What’s going on?” Sherry’s voice warbled as she climbed off the bed, clinging to Claire’s side.

Claire swallowed as she wrapped a protective arm around Sherry. A series of worst case scenarios ran through her head, her heart hammering away in her chest as the fear began to take root. But she didn’t have time to panic. No, she had to think of a way to get out of there. Alive. And fast.

Leon was way ahead of her; he’d already retrieved his gun from the nightstand and pressed it into Claire’s hand.

“Yours is still by the front door, right?” he asked her, his voice low and quiet. There was an intensity to his expression that hadn’t been there moments before.

Claire nodded, her grip tightening around the hilt.

“Good. Stay here,” he instructed her. “Don’t make any sudden movements. I’ll signal you when it’s safe to come out. But worst comes to worst -” He swallowed, squeezing Claire’s shoulder. “Get ready to run.”

“Okay,” was all Claire could bring herself to say. Under any other circumstances, she would have argued with a man trying to give her orders. But Leon was the one with the police training, and neither of them knew what was about to happen. If she wanted to get out of here alive, her best bet was to do exactly as he said. 

Leon gave her one last nod, and Claire felt her heart tangibly ache as he left the room.

“What’s going to happen?” Sherry asked, her voice tinged with panic as she tugged on Claire's top. 

“I don’t know,” Claire confessed. She set the gun down on the windowsill, crouching down to Sherry’s level. “But you need to do as I tell you, okay? If I say run, you run. If I say hide, you hide. Got it?”

Sherry nodded. “Got it.”

Claire straightened up and peered through the blinds again, mentally ticking over every viable escape route from where she was currently positioned, her heart continuing to pound as she feared for Leon’s safety. Sock began to rub his way around her ankles, purring like a lawnmower, and Sherry scooped him up, clutching him against her chest as she huddled next to Claire. 

If they made it out of here alive, Claire would let them keep the damn kitten.