It was awesomely late; so late, in fact, that the haze above the DC skyline might have been dawn's approach. Leon wasn't entirely sure, little more than a dead man walking by that point. Sure, he'd had plenty of sleep and rest and whatnot in the last two and a half weeks, but none of it had seemed very rejuvenating since it had been in various military facilities up and down the East Coast, under close observation lest a giant writhing thing burst out of his neck.

The rain in Spain falls mainly on me, his brain muttered to itself, half-delirious.

Plus, he'd been nervous and stressed out the entire time, even if he hadn't admitted it or outwardly manifested it. Spain had seemed like a cakewalk compared to being poked and prodded and interviewed endlessly by scores of government doctors who seemed convinced that Leon was still infected by Las Plagas—which, in turn, made Leon wonder if maybe he was still infected. The thought of being turned into one of the mindless lackeys he'd put countless bullets in on the Iberian Peninsula made Leon shudder, now that he wasn't in full-on survival mission mode.

The damn doctors hadn't even given him a clean bill of health until earlier that evening (day?) when he'd finally been turned loose from the base in Maryland. The fun hadn't been over; he'd still needed to check in with the Agency office in DC, and had been waylaid there for hours. Hunnigan, perhaps sensing that Leon was about five minutes away from complete automatic shut-down, had dismissed him and told him that he was on mandatory recuperation leave for the next three days.

Three days. Leon had three days to try to recover from what felt like a lifetime's worth of beating. The tale of the tape at the end of the two days he'd spent in Spain hadn't been pretty; cracked ribs, internal damages such as slight hemorrhaging and organ bruising, a mild concussion, a hairline fracture in his left foot (which he definitely felt with every step he took), a couple of pretty nasty infected gashes, and what appeared to be a raging case of pneumonia. The pneumonia appeared to be an aftereffect of the plaga removal; Ashley Graham had developed it, as well. The doctors had been very alarmed by the rattling cough and light blood, even more disturbed by the chunks of…whatever that were coming out of Leon's lungs. They'd been concerned he was contagious—but he wasn't, and he'd gone through two weeks of poking and prodding to prove it.

Aside from the major injuries, Leon was covered in innumerable cuts and bruises. He had a lovely new scar on his cheek, to boot. This irritated him more than it should have, he knew. But damnit, it was his face. Krauser always had teased him for being vain, even if Leon wasn't exactly strutting-proud; he was decent looking and he knew it.

Maybe he just wanted a scar buddy. Kind of like a blood brother or something. Leon wasn't sure if Krauser had been toying with him when he'd sliced open his cheek or if he'd been trying to slice Leon's face in half and Leon had just reacted quickly.

His mind was reeling all over the place as he climbed out of his Jeep and slammed the door behind him, trudging wearily towards a staircase that led up the side of an apartment building labeled 22. His foot hurt like hell, but he willed himself to walk on it normally—and yes, he was being stubborn and not using crutches like he was supposed to, but whatever. It was only a hairline fracture, after all. It'd heal itself up after a while.

Suck it up, Kennedy. At least you can still walk. Wearily, Leon trudged up the stairs one by one and watched his feet as he did so. Why he hadn't just gone home to his own apartment and passed out in his bed, he didn't know. Actually, he did know why, but he'd already been over and over the reasons why he did a lot of things in the last three years or so, and he didn't need to rehash them.

He was climbing the stairs to the apartment that Claire Redfield shared with her roommate and coworker, Sara. Leon was exhausted and ready to collapse, but he wanted to see a familiar face, first. He wanted the comfort that could only come from Claire, and from having Claire close to him. Really, he couldn't tell Claire about a lot of the things that had happened in Spain, but he could tell her about some of them (and probably needed to, since the word Umbrella had been mentioned) and it was nice to know that when he woke up, she would be there and he could talk to her.

That and he was batshit insane in love with her. That was a motivating factor, too. Claire wasn't aware of that particular factor, something Leon strove very hard to preserve. To her, he was her best friend, her stand-in big brother, her war buddy. Nothing more. Leon wished it was the same on his end.

He raised his hand, knocking on the door tiredly but firmly. Brain telling him he should have called first, Leon waited for thirty seconds or so and then knocked again. Common sense told him that he was going to wake up Claire's roommate too, but he didn't really care. Thirty more seconds elapsed and he knocked again.

"C'mon. Wake up." As he was readying to knock again, the sounds of deadbolts and chain locks sliding were heard and the door opened wide to reveal Claire standing there in a pair of baggy flannel sleep pants and a worn, possibly too-small shirt that advertised the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Goggle-eyed and sleepy, she looked at him for a moment before ushering him in hurriedly with a hand that held a Sig Sauer P229.

The gun was not out of the ordinary. It was no secret to Claire's friends that she kept several guns, all loaded. They thought her paranoid. Leon thought her smart; if someone had come knocking at his door in the early morning he'd probably go to answer it packing heat as well. Luckily Claire's apartment had a peep hole. His did not.

As he walked in, Claire flipped on the hall light, wincing against it even as she scrutinized him closely. "Well Jesus. Get in here." She closed the door behind him and locked it again, turning back to him. Turning on the safety on the gun, she moved to set it on a small table near the door. "I'm not going to ask if you're okay because it's obvious you're not."

Smart kid. "Yeah. Had a hell of a time, I guess." He blinked at her, scratching at the back of his head, avoiding the large cut hidden in his hair. "I've got half a mind to ask for a raise after all that bullshit."

Claire watched him with her tongue in her cheek, her hands on her hips. Her blue-grey eyes were worried. "Did you just get back? I mean, you—this is—" Pausing to collect herself for a moment, she blinked her eyes rapidly as if to push away residual sleepiness. "You're welcome here any time. You know that. I just don't see you looking like shit on my doorstep at four in the morning very often."

Shrugging, Leon opted for honesty. "I didn't really want to go straight home. I kind of wanted to see a familiar face."

Claire nodded, still inspecting him in the entryway. "Enough said. I know I said I wouldn't ask, but…are you okay?" She reached out slowly and took his arms in her hands, holding him by the upper part as if to steady him. "You look like you're getting ready to drop dead."

"I feel like it." He nodded and managed a small smile for the short, freckled girl in front of him. "I'm okay, except for where I'm not, and that'll go away after a while."

Exhaling heavily, Claire used her grip on his arms to pull herself to him in a hug. The pressure she exerted on his ribs hurt like a small hell, but damned if Leon was going to say anything about it or turn down a hug from Claire. She was warm and she smelled like dryer sheets—maybe she'd washed her bedding recently. She felt like comfort and familiarity and goodness and home and all the things that had been lurking in the back of Leon's mind the entire time he was in Spain; all the things he had to push out of his top-brain whenever he went on a mission. It worked, it kept you alive—all the training wasn't just bullshit.

Pulling away, she looked back up at him and raked a hand through her impossibly long, sleep-mussed dark auburn hair. "Well, let's get you situated, pal. I don't want to you to drop in my entryway."

"Give me a piggyback to the couch?" he teased, feeling a little of the snappy fire that was present in him whenever he was around Claire returning. She rolled her eyes and hah'ed, walking ahead of him into the living room.

"Yeah right, Kennedy. I don't think I could even move you if you did pass out on my floor," she said, flipping on the light switch on the wall. The light and the ceiling fan on the ceiling in the middle of the room came to life. Leon stiffly lowered himself down onto the couch, sighing heavily and immediately sinking into a comfortable (in some respects) slouch. Claire looked at him for a moment and then headed into the kitchen, turning on the light there.

"Should you be turning on all these lights?" Leon asked, albeit quietly. "Aren't you gonna wake up your roommate?" The way the kitchen was situated and designed didn't allow Leon to see Claire's face or legs from where he sat, only her shoulders to her hips through the window area. He tried not to stare when she reached up into a cabinet above her head to rummage, her shirt pulling up and pulling tight in all the right places, her midriff exposed. He mostly failed, especially since he knew she couldn't see him.

"Sara's not here," Claire replied nonchalantly. "She's at her boyfriend's. She'd probably be raising holy hell right now if she was here, but I don't care." Leaning down, she peered at him through the kitchen window, her hair hanging around her face in long curtains. "Are you hungry? Thirsty?"

Leon shifted a little and assessed the state of his body. He was a little of both, but he didn't think he'd make it long enough for Claire to actually prepare something. Sleep was imminent. "Yeah. And no. I mean…" Claire processed his verbal fumblings and turned to the fridge, opening it. The sounds of clinking and things shifting were heard. Leon, for his part, merely turned his head to the living room and stared blankly into the empty television screen, seeing his own reflection staring back at him.

Man. He did look like hell. And the slice on his cheek hurt like hell; skin tight and a little infected, it made most facial movements painful. He knew he should probably clean his various cuts before he passed out, but he lacked the energy to do it. Infection be damned.

Claire emerged from the kitchen with a glass of milk and a Chinese take-out box with a fork stuck in it. "Here." She set them both down on the coffee table in front of Leon, then stood over him with her hands on her hips. "Eat. Drink. The food's cold, but it's from tonight. Chinese food's always better—"

"—cold, anyway." Leon reached forward with the same stiffness that he had sat down with and grabbed the glass of milk, looking at Claire with mock worry before he drank. "Is the milk good? One never knows, at your house."

Claire favoured him with a suffering look. "No, it's completely rancid. Positively teeming with cottage cheese chunks." Leon snickered a little as he downed half the milk in a few gulps and then reached for the leftovers, looking into it. Some kind of pancit. He took a bite and chewed, his tongue burning mildly. Damn Claire always had to have her food like a five-alarm fire before she'd eat it. "I see why you gave me milk."

"I know you're a chickenshit when it comes to spicy food." She smiled at him and yawned, sitting down on the couch next to him. She watched him eat for a moment, and then rested her head on her hand, her elbow propped on a flannel-covered knee. "I'm going to ask again—are you okay?"

"I'm gonna tell you again," Leon said, around a mouthful of food, "I'm okay except for where I'm not. It's too much to get into tonight. I'll tell you about it tomorrow." Jesus, where would he start? There was a lot to say, but half of it couldn't be said due to confidentiality, so that helped a little.

She continued to look at him probingly and he looked over, meeting her gaze. Leon's brain always fed too much into the fact that they'd always been remarkably capable of looking each other straight in the eyes for extended periods of time. Sighing, Leon let his gaze drop slightly to the dusting of freckles across Claire's cheeks and nose, and then looked back to his—her—food. "I'm okay."

"Will you be able to sleep?" she asked, bluntly. They were both no strangers to sleeplessness caused by various violent events. Leon nodded. He was bothered, but not as bothered as most would have been. Desensitized, his brain informed him. "Do you need any painkillers or anything? I've got some pretty sweet stuff lying around."

Leon shook his head. "No. I've got a pharmacy in the Jeep. The docs loaded me up with everything under the sun. I'm fine. I'm just…" He trailed off, staring back into the television screen. It reflected the scene he was involved in back at him; his face staring back at him impassively, Claire looking over at him intently. The Leon and Claire Show. "…tired. Really fucking tired."

"Yeah." Reaching over, Claire ran her palm up and down Leon's back as he ate, a warm and almost motherly gesture. They weren't very touchy-feely, really; they horsed around from time to time and hugged now and then, but actions like Claire's were reserved for when they were really needed. Like now. He ate in silence for another minute or two with Claire's hand smoothing over his back, neither of them saying a word.

It was comforting, nonetheless.

He reached forward and set the considerably emptier food box on the coffee table, careful not to move himself away from Claire's soothing hand. Often, he ached for her touch, no matter how small—even if he usually didn't want to admit it to even himself. She was staring at him carefully, like the proverbial slide under the microscope. If it had been anyone else doing it, it would have made Leon immensely uncomfortable or even irritated. Claire was Claire. She could study him as long as she liked.

"Hey." Her voice was quiet, concerned. "Look at me." Leon looked over at her, her adamant eyes and her open, caring face. "Are you okay?"

Grinning a little even though it made his face ache, Leon nodded. "Yes. I am okay. Being here helps. Being back in the States helps." Claire quirked her lips at him a little, her hand reaching up and smoothing over the back of his head, drawing back sharply when she felt the fading bump and crusted gash on the back of his head, under his hair.

"Jesus, pal," she sighed, pushing herself up and away from him. "You've got a knock the size of the moon on the back of your skull." Leon shrugged, nodding; he was aware of it. "Okay, whatever, badass. Just thought you'd like to know that these things are mildly concerning to some people." Without warning, she stretched her hand out towards him, beckoning with her fingers over an open palm. "C'mon. Up."

Looking up at her for a moment, Leon processed the sight in front of him. Good, caring, tough Claire. Honest Claire. Reliable Claire. Beautiful, crazy, willful Claire. So unlike Ada—Leon hadn't lied to Ashley; Ada was like some weird part of him that he couldn't get rid of, and sure as shit the woman had legs and tits that would turn any red-blooded male's head, but she was a liar. She was secrets and mistrust and double-dealings and she didn't give a flying fuck about anyone but herself and her own ends. Leon might not have hated Ada with a passion, but whatever schoolboy enchantment he'd had with her had long since passed. He looked at her like she looked at him—something valuable in certain situations, something to be kept alive and kept around because it benefited you. An asset, not a person.

So not like Claire.

The girl that was primarily the subject of Leon's mental wanderings stared back at him before beckoning again. "Earth to Leon. Up. C'mon." Leon, shaking himself out of it somewhat, took Claire's hand and pulled himself up slowly even if he wasn't sure what she was having him stand up for. "You ready for bed?" she asked. "I hope you didn't think you were sleeping on that couch, because I'm not letting that happen."

Leon's brain scrambled for a moment, darker parts of his brain wondering what Claire was getting at, before the Good Guy in him came out on top and directed him to shake his head. "I'm not taking your bed, Claire," he said, firmly. It would have been better if he hadn't sounded so exhausted.

"Yeah you are," she replied, nonplussed. "I just washed the sheets. It's nice and fluffy. And you're not cramming your huge, wounded self onto that shitbox of a couch." She stepped back, gesturing towards the hallway that led back to the bedrooms. "Go on. Go," she urged, seeing Leon's hesitation. "I've passed out on the couch before. It won't kill me to do it again."

Don't look gifts horse in the mouth, Leon's brain reminded him as he shuffled down the hallway, Claire behind him. He stopped in the doorway of the bedroom he knew to be Claire's and she reached from behind him to turn on the light, pushing him lightly into the room. His legs carried him around the mess on the floor to the bed, and he sat down heavily on the edge of it. Leon looked down at his feet—so damn far away—and started to bend slowly and achingly to remove his boots.

Claire hesitated, near the doorway, despite the fact that it was her mess of a room she was standing outside. "Do…do you need help with that?" she asked, indicating his shoes. Leon shook his head and began unlacing the boots. He'd already taken her bed. He'd be damned if she was going to have to help him pull his fucking boots off, too. "Just checking," she said, and then turned away and left the doorway. The sound of a door opening in the hallway was heard—probably the linen closet--, and then Claire's retreating footsteps. Leon succeeded in removing his shoes and then shucked his coat, feeling various parts of his body protest in pain. Flopping backwards into Claire's bed, he chuckled a little to himself.

It was nice and fluffy. And it definitely smelled of dryer sheets. Reaching over, he grabbed the blankets and pulled them over himself, feeling the old familiar phlegmy rattle in his chest. Coughing fiercely for a moment, he turned onto his side, balling a fist against his mouth. After five seconds or so, the coughing fit subsided and thankfully, that time, nothing came up.

"God," Claire's voice came up the hallway with her footsteps, "that sounds like shit." She reappeared in the doorway, leaning against it. Her hair was pulled back into a big, messy bun that barely controlled all of her long, thick hair. She gazed at him in concern.

"Pneumonia," he explained in a grumble, feeling half-asleep already. He shivered a little under the blankets, despite being fully clothed and covered with many layers. "Fun."

"You're not talking in sentences anymore. It must be bed time," Claire said in pointed amusement, reaching over and turning out the light. Her silhouette was backlit in the doorway, leaning against the frame. Leon blinked sleepily at the sight in front of him; did she know how amazingly good-looking she was, he wondered? Did she know what those curves did to his brain, despite his valiant best efforts to a gentleman even in his mind? "Goodnight, Leon. If you need anything, just holler. Don't get up. Just yell for me. I'll be in the living room. I was supposed to go to classes tomorrow, but I'm not going to go."

Leon's response was a little grunt. Her form disappeared from the doorway and a moment later, the light in the living room turned out.

The rain in Spain falls mainly on me, Leon thought again before coughing once or twice and then rolling over, slipping into the blackness of sleep.

……….

Author's notes: Leon's the rain in Spain falls mainly on me is a bastardization of the Fiery Furnaces lyric from the song "Spaniolated": The pain in Spain falls mainly on me—which, given Leon's circumstances, would be accurate as well.

This is but one of many scenes I had rolling around in my head as to what would happen upon Leon's return from Spain. I wanted to focus more on the Leon/Claire aspect of it than the governmental aspects of it. I've started several other little scenes that deal with Leon's return, but I like this one the best. I've also written a ton of other L/C-oriented fics, all of which can be found at the Leon and Claire community (search forleon underscore x underscoreclaire)at Live Journal. I'm there under LJ user intervigilum. I've been slowly but surely constructing some kind of random backstory/world through the snippets, while continually pecking away at fics for other fandoms (anime, mostly—Witch Hunter Robin, specifically).

Yeah. It's good to have a healthy writing exercise every once in a while.