Newly re-edited... it's been almost three years. I'm not entirely sure what brought me back to this point... Claire and Leon... sigh It's been a while. I'll repost this is chapter form. Let me know what you think.

Exhaustion has always been eminent, but never obvious.

There have been, admittingly, many times that come to memory...

the long walk back to untainted civilization...the nights where both

Leon and I are too edgy for sleep... the overwhelming sense of

protection for each other, Sherry, the world at large. Yes, protection

would have to be the main thought on hand... perhaps instinctual. I

know my brother had it.

Had. Am I now referring him to past-tense? I seem to be

slipping. A momentary lapse, I assure you. But again, that's what a

week's worth of haggard wandering has led us... a week since we left

Raccoon City; the altogether profoundly-fucked-up place of my brother's

previous residence. Hell, Leon's employment when you get right to it. Although

he wasn't around long enough to reap the benefits.

Speaking of, he appears to be asleep at the moment... sprawled

along the contours of the rather cheap upholstered couch...deep

breathing...a little girl's tiny body positioned snug in his arms. I

could hear the local news broadcasting on the television... the volume

just above a whisper.

Perhaps it's the comfort of walls... a sturdy

door...uninhabited by groaning zombies, or any other essence of menace.

Sherry certainly fell prey to it... she was zonked before we set foot

in the door.

Which is another thing. Gratitude for small blessings.

Before I arrived in Raccoon City, I possessed a not thoroughly

impressive bank account, most of which was dedicated to academic concerns.

Couple thousand, actually. Leon maybe had a

few twenties on him. Enough for immediate concerns... culinary

sustenance being of major value. We ended up at a little greasy

roadside diner, where the food was hot and cheap... I remember

downing at least four cups of their instant coffee-lots of cream,

lots of sugar, and a tall stack of buttermilk pancakes, which I promptly

shared with Leon, who was only too happy to oblige. He and Sherry

ordered thick burgers with extra everything... medium-well, accompanied

with Strawberry shakes.

It was almost entirely too much. After a day of hard walking,

dehydrated, still absorbing past remembrances...Sherry evidently ate

too much and threw up most of her dinner. We ended up spending the

night in this little rathole of a place... "what you get for thirty

bucks," Leon had muttered, picking at any leftover garbage along the

threadbare-worsened rug.

I didn't care. I doubt either of them did, really. I noted

the one bed, which Leon declared would be both Sherry's and mine. He

would be content with the couch.

I had cleaned Sherry up... washing her little cherub face with

a moist washcloth... giving her one of the diner's mints to suck on,

seeing as that we weren't exactly teeth-cleaning accomidable.

My love for her has always been immediate... my protectiveness

as fierce as if I had indeed given birth to her. A flash of a familiar

face... Annette. Her beguiled misgivings, yet over-riding concern for

her welfare. I couldn't help but think about how damaging this all

would be... upon a child so desperately young.

"Claire?" Leon's sleep-induced voice... hesitant. Breaking

from my reverie, I turn to gaze at the speaker... Leon Kennedy, former

division of the RPD, just this side of twenty-two; a fresh-faced

russet-locked asskicker of the premium kind. His heavy-lidded eyes met

mine, obviously inquiring the current state of affairs.

"Hey there." My greeting is somewhat subdued; the lack of

genuine REM-endued sleep we share is troubling. Collectively, perhaps

we have allowed ourselves a few hours over the last few days... enough

to keep the hallucinations at bay, but certainly not for adequate

routine.

He glances down at the slumbering babe along side him... she

has, admittingly, fared far better than either of us... perhaps sensing

our unconditional surveillance, our unquestionable loyalty.

He cracks a half-grin, one that betrays the bags forming under

his eyes... the tender flesh. I return a brief smile, sitting on the

decrepit adjacent coffee table.

"Any pizza leftover?" He eyes the hours-old pizza box

alongside me but is careful not to move, lest he wake Sherry. We

seemed to have settled upon a routine of laxivity. Pizza, Chinese take

out, whatever was of relative convenience... a meal, a few hours rest,

and a continuation of movement. We would be out of here by 7am. We

have already put a hundred miles between us and RC... thanks to the

kindness of lonely truckers. The immediacy was something that we both

agreed upon; where we go from here is a mixed bag of sorts... eventual

contact with families, an overabundance of awareness, regarding the

public anyway. Our caution with contacting family is justified; no

doubt the bastards at Umbrella would just *love* find out our exact

location. Hell, we'd be on the first plane back to that shithole.

I whip out a tasteless-looking slice of Domino's... cheese with

added sausage. He must have noted my disgust.

"Ah, the joys of unrefrigerated life."

I raise a brow, but say nothing. I didn't want to remind him

that it was his idea to try this little hovel out... where you're lucky

if you possess clean bedding. I also didn't mention the fact that the

man downstairs had tried to charge me by the hour...

Instead, while he ate, I plucked Sherry away from his position,

depositing her softly in the bedroom. She breathes softy, at ease. I

shut the door halfway, fully aware of her aversion to the dark.

Leon is back to his contemplative pose, sitting upright,

munching the pizza thoughtfully. I take the empty seat next to him,

keeping the silence. I study the way his jaw tightens, the focus

solely upon some greater thought. My appraisal pauses once I get down

to his torso... the wound that had been festering for the last few days

has finally stopped seeping. I had taken it upon myself to inspect it

every night-against the protests of our resident modest mouse.

Cleaning, rebandaging...He doesn't so much as outrightly refuse as

much as express more than a little sheepishness when I offered the

help...Peeling off his shirt, applying antiseptic...he would grit his

teeth and bare it like a war veteran. When we reached the next big

town, he would have to have someone experienced take a look at it... I

knew next to nothing about medicinal procedure...just enough to keep me

upright.