Once the door to his apartment swung open, Leon was immediately confronted with the sight of Claire's duffel bag on his couch. Normally this wouldn't make him pause in the doorway for a second, but it did that day because it looked as if her bag had more or less exploded, spewing contents of Claire's clothing-life all over his couch and living room floor.
He walked into the apartment, closing the door behind him. The sound of the bathtub running from the apartment's single bathroom drifted down the hallway. The bathroom door was open, which gave Leon another moment of pause. He sincerely hoped that Claire wasn't actually in the process of taking a bath, and had forgotten to close the door—or worse yet, was gallivanting about his apartment naked.
"Hey," he called out, half-greeting half-warning. No reply. He tossed his keys onto the coffee table, noting the pair of Claire's socks sitting on it, and then set down the stack of files he was carrying as well. "Claire?" he tried again as he removed his suit coat and loosened his tie. Still no reply.
The trial had been going on for weeks at that point. Today had been one of the days where both prosecution and defense were sequestered in their separate quarters, reviewing and re-reviewing all the documents and files and testimonies. The defense had been granted a slight extension to try to get some of their shit together, although, at this point, anyone who had a brain could tell they were just stalling for time.
It was surreal to Leon. He always figured that the demise of Umbrella would have involved lots of guns, explosions, and death. All of that had happened along the way, but now it seemed the downfall and eventual death of the corporation would come in the courtroom.
It had been one of the days where there had been no actual testimony on either side, but tomorrow it would be back to business as usual. To put it mildly, it had started to become somewhat of a pain in the ass for the witnesses and other testifiers to have to shuttle back and forth between wherever and DC every day—Claire among those testifiers. She lived in Richmond, which wasn't too horribly far away, but still a healthy 100-something mile drive either way.
At some point, Leon had offered to let her crash on the futon in his spare room when she needed to, as opposed to driving back and forth all the time with her brother or someone else. This actually worked out relatively well, since Leon had come to find out that Claire did not have a vehicle of her own at the moment and actually only possessed a motorcycle license. It was something she'd mentioned rectifying in the near future, but she'd never even driven a car, let alone gotten a regular driver's license.
And so it came to pass that recently, about four days a week, Claire Redfield more or less lived in his apartment with him. Leon alternated between being secretly happy about the arrangement and secretly wanting to tear his hair out in frustration.
Removing his shoulder holsters and guns, Leon set them on the counter that lined the window to the kitchen. He pulled his wallet out of his pocket, along with his ID card, and tossed those onto the counter as well. Still nothing from Claire, who was presumably in the bathroom. Moving to the fridge, Leon extracted a beer and noticed that there were considerably fewer of them than there had been that morning when he'd left. There was also half a sandwich from the deli around the corner that hadn't been there, either.
Taking a swig from his beer, Leon looked up at the ceiling and asked God for strength. Today was obviously going to be one of those tearing his hair out in frustration days. It wasn't that Claire did anything wrong. It wasn't that he disliked having her in his apartment. It was the complete opposite of that. In recent months, as life had started to return to some semblance of normalcy for all who'd tangled with Umbrella, Leon had become uncomfortably aware of the fact that Claire was not just his fellow survivor, strategist, and friend, but that she was a girl. A beautiful one, at that.
She was a girl and he was starting to like her in the way that normal guys liked normal girls. In retrospect, Leon was not surprised that it hadn't happened sooner; life had been too insane and consumed with survival and fighting for it to happen. Plus, Claire had run off to play commando in Europe and had been imprisoned for a while; her absence hadn't been particularly helpful to any kind of romantic feelings. Leon lived and breathed at the beck and call of the US government—he was not ashamed to admit that he had little to no life outside of work. And, on top of it all, for the first few months after Raccoon City when he and Claire had been together, he'd been preoccupied with the memory of Ada on top of all the trying-to-stay-hidden and taking-care-of-Sherry bullshit.
Half his beer was gone before he knew it. Leon sorely wished he had more trial preparations to complete that evening just so he would have something to distract him from Claire's presence. He decided to make his way down the hallway and very carefully figure out whatever the hell was going on in the bathroom. Stopping outside the door but being cautious to make sure he couldn't see anything in the mirror, Leon reached out and knocked on the open door loudly. "Hey. You alive in here?"
"Oh! Yeah," came Claire's reply. She sounded muffled and a little harried, attempting to be heard over the water. "Uh, sorry. I didn't hear you come in."
"You want me to shut this door?" Leon asked, already reaching for the door handle. "Or are you decent?"
"No, no," Claire replied. "I'm decent. You don't have to shut it."
Now Leon's curiosity was piqued, even if it shouldn't have been—she was in the damn bathroom, he should have just gone away and left it at that. "What're you doing, anyway?" he asked, and boldly leaned into the bathroom, looking around the corner of the wall.
"Washing my hair," Claire said, which became readily apparent once Leon could see into the bathroom. He still felt like he should have probably gotten the fuck out of there, but his legs wouldn't obey and he stayed. The shower curtain was pushed to the opposite side of the rod, and Claire was kneeling with her back to him, bent over the side of the bathtub, wedged between the side and the toilet. Her head was under the bathtub faucet. An open beer sat on the counter next to the sink. A towel was lying on the floor behind her, apparently ready for use whenever she was done.
"Wouldn't taking a shower be…easier?" Leon asked, after taking in the scene.
"There's no point," Claire answered, sounding strained as she engaged in the process of wetting down her ample amounts of hair. "All my clothes are dirty."
Ah. That explained the eruption of Mt. St. Duffel Bag in his living room. Taking a drink of his beer, Leon nodded. "There's a Laundromat around the corner, you know."
"Nope. Had no idea." Moving her head away from the faucet and bumping her knee on the side of the tub, Claire swore and groped semi-blindly for the bottle of shampoo. Grabbing it, she squeezed what appeared to be an inordinately large amount into her palm and set to work carefully washing her hair. "So," she began conversationally from under her curtain of wet hair, "how'd it go today?"
Shrugging, Leon watched in fascination as she methodically began to work the shampoo through her hair, carefully piling the long, wet mass of it on top of her head without flinging water. "Boring. They're stalling—that defense knows they don't have shit. Those guys are going to spend the rest of their lives in military prisons."
"It's too good for them," Claire said bitterly, her head slowly but surely becoming engulfed in a mass of suds. "I want 'em all to fry in the chair. That's probably not going to happen, though."
Leon nodded with a sigh. "Yeah, probably not." Claire's shirt was riding up in the back because of the angle she was bent over at; most of it was hanging uselessly around her neck and shoulders, getting wet and sudsy. The pale skin of her lower back was exposed, revealing the little bumps of her spine and a pretty impressive slash of a scar. "The government will probably just put them away forever."
Claire snickered a little. "Too bad the trial's not in Alabama," she said. "It'd last about three days and at the end of it all those bastards would be hauled into someone's backyard and hanged."
"Nah. Shoulda pushed for Texas," Leon quipped, although he was busy noticing that Claire had a few scattered freckles on her back. "They execute first down there and ask questions later."
"Yee-haw," Claire squealed in a remarkably hill-billyish manner. "Yeah, the good ole boys would have a field day with those Umbrella fucks. Barbecues and executions—never let it be said that we Southerners don't know how to party."
Leon laughed as he took a drink of his beer, even as his eyes were nearly magnetically drawn to gazing at Claire's ass as she stuck her head back under the faucet, rinsing out the shampoo from her hair. It was a damn good thing she couldn't see him. Once again, his best course of action would have been to remove himself from the situation immediately, but he couldn't bring himself to do it. "Sounds like a good time. I missed out on that stuff in Detroit. Up there, we just watch the Red Wings, listen to old Motown records, and smoke crack."
"You forgot to mention working in an auto plant," Claire said, running her fingers through her hair, working out the shampoo and knots. "You have to work at an auto plant, too."
"Yeah. And listen to Kid Rock and Eminem," Leon supplied, keeping the joke running. Claire Redfield, on her hands and knees, bent over—it was something out of some kind of fantasy Leon would try to deny having. Her hair, long and dark with water, hung trailingly into the water collecting in the bottom of the bathtub. Leon could see the little dark brown freckles on the back of her neck.
"Ugh." She sounded horrified. "What about the Stooges? MC5?"
Leon laughed a little. "Hey, we all smoke crack, remember? People who smoke crack are not known to have good musical tastes." God, she looked good. When had he gone from noticing that Claire was an attractive girl to blatantly staring at her while she was unaware? Leon felt a little like some kind of bizarre voyeur, watching Claire wash her hair.
Her hand reached out and groped blindly for the conditioner. "Ow. Fuck. Shampoo in my eye," she groused, her other hand reaching under the curtain of hair to rub at her eye. "Ow ow ow. Burns."
"Rinse it out with water," Leon supplied obviously, his brain too distracted to formulate a not-so-obvious response.
"Thanks, Einstein," she commented, as she did so. Rubbing at her eye in agitation as she let the water run over her face, she finally located the conditioner with the other and shook the bottle. She squeezed a liberal amount of that, too, into her hand and began to smooth it into her hair. "This probably strikes you as kind of weird, huh?" she asked as her fingers ran through the mass of wet auburn hair, gliding through it as easily as a hot knife through butter. Leon was amazed at how there did not seem to be a tangle anywhere in all that hair. "Probably've never seen someone do this."
"I dated a girl who used to dye her hair," Leon said, thinking back—huh, funny, I used to date. Wow, what was that, about a million years ago? "I saw her for a while right after high school. She used to do this…well, except she had a big sink in her laundry room and she'd stand up to do it."
"Oh." Claire was still carefully and methodically spreading conditioner through her hair—almost lazily, slowly. "Never dyed my hair before."
Leon resisted the urge to make a comment about how she shouldn't, her dark red-brown hair was nice, and instead took a drink of his beer. "This girl dyed her hair black all the time."
"Wow, a goth chick," Claire said with a snicker, placing both her palms down on the bottom of the bathtub and waiting—apparently, letting the conditioner soak in. "Didn't figure you for the type."
A little honesty couldn't hurt now and then. "Nowadays, I think I'm for any type," Leon said with a sardonic snort. Since she'd been more or less living with him, it had probably become fairly obvious to Claire how little of a social life Leon had.
"Aw, what, the government isn't exactly a fulfilling mistress?" Claire teased, sticking her head under the faucet once more. Carefully she rinsed out her hair, running her fingers through it continually—God, it looked smooth and shiny and amazing, and Leon found himself wanting to run his fingers through it, too.
"Yeah," Leon said with a bitter smile, "case files and my side arms do a lot to keep my bed warm at night." The fact that they were even having this conversation was setting off mild alarms in his brain. Were they flirting, or was Claire just giving him shit?
"Get a cat," she offered, helpfully. "Or find a prostitute. You're resourceful—you'll think of something."
"A cat or a hooker," Leon said in deadpan. "Wow, the answers to my problems were right in front of me the whole time." Claire chortled at this, gripping her hair between two hands like a rope and twisting it out—it looked as strong as rope. "Thanks."
"Anytime," she answered cheerfully, releasing her hair to run her fingers through it some more before ringing it out again.
It dawned on Leon that Claire's hair-washing ritual had been going on for some minutes now, as had their conversation. "You take really good care of your hair, don't you?" he asked suddenly, immediately feeling like a dumbass for saying it. Kicking himself mentally, he drained the rest of his beer and tossed the empty bottle into the bathroom's garbage can.
Claire shrugged, or attempted to as best she could while in her bent over position. "Yeah, I guess I do. It's my best attribute. I reckon I'm kind of vain about it." Her arm flopped around behind her helplessly, searching for her towel. "Hey, make yourself useful and hand me that towel." She turned off the faucet.
Stepping into the bathroom, Leon stooped and complied, placing the green towel in Claire's waiting hand. He was directly above her then, staring down at her back and the knots of her spine, the bump under cloth that was the clasp of her bra. "When I was in Antarctica, that bastard Wesker was dragging me around by my hair," Claire began suddenly, while toweling her hair vigorously. The ends of it were dragging in the water that was slowly draining from the tub. "Goading Chris on, you know. It hurt like a mother, and the whole time he was doing it I kept thinking 'I've got my knife. I've got my knife'—I started thinking about waiting until he wasn't paying total attention to me and then pulling out the knife and chopping my hair off."
Sighing, she rocked back onto her heels, her head obscured by the constantly moving towel. "It was sharp enough. I could have done it. But then I started thinking about how dumb that would have been—I mean, he had a gun to my head. All chopping my hair off would have done is caused me to fall flat on my face or something, and then he'd probably have just shot me in the back of the head while I was trying to get up." She snorted. "Then, not only would I have had a closed-casket funeral but I would have looked absolutely retarded, whether or not anyone would have seen me."
"I don't really know what to say to that," Leon said, truthfully. "It kind of just pisses me off because Wesker is the one thing that's missing from this trial."
"Yeah, well, shit happens," Claire muttered, voice obscured by towel. "He doesn't need a trial, anyway. Him and Chris have a date with destiny, or something. I wouldn't mind getting my hands on the guy myself." Suddenly she was laughing. "No one fucks with my hair." Without warning she pulled the towel away from her head, leaving her hair to cascade down her back in glossy, wet tendrils. The towel balled in her lap momentarily, her fists clenching it.
Leon frowned slightly, observing her momentarily distant, bitter gaze; it looked into the shower tiles murderously. "Hey. You okay?" His hand momentarily alit on her shoulder, the fabric beneath his fingers splotted with wetness.
Shaking it off, Claire stood without the use of her arms and tossed the towel over the curtain rod, the dark cloud gone from her face. "Yeah. Just having a random moment of helpless rage." Flicking some of her hair over her shoulder, she exited the bathroom without another word, and Leon heard the door to the spare bedroom open and then click shut.
He removed himself from the bathroom and ambled back into the kitchen, obtaining another beer from the fridge. Popping it open, he drank some of it and then looked at his watch. Go to the store for food or order something? Order something or go to the store? Leon supplemented his ponderings with more beer, and then opened the fridge again to check the supply. Two, four, six, eight. Good enough to last the evening and then some considering it was Thursday and he had to be at the courthouse tomorrow morning at eight in a presentable fashion. Being hung over and irritated when he already had to deal with people he wanted to kill didn't particularly appeal to Leon.
The door to the spare bedroom opened down the hall and Claire sauntered into the corner of Leon's vision. "If you're hungry you can eat the other half of my sandwich," Claire said, pointing into the open fridge from across the small kitchen. It occurred to Leon that he was standing in front of the fridge with the door open, staring into it blankly. "If not, shut the door. The fridge light won't give you a tan."
"I think my mom has a magnet that says that," Leon said, pushing the door shut. "I was just taking stock of the beer supply." He turned to face her and noted that she'd changed her shirt, presumably because the other one was wet and soapy. The shirt was too large for Claire's small frame, draping over her shoulders and hanging down to her—
--wait a minute. Leon recognized the shirt. It was his shirt. He'd kind of wondered why the hell Claire would have had an old, beat up Detroit Pistons t-shirt.
She noticed his questioning look and turned somewhat sheepish. "Oh. Uh, yeah. Sorry. It was hanging in the bathroom, and since all my stuff's gross and nasty, I figured it would be okay if I just wore this." Claire shrugged dismissively, running a hand through her hair. "I wasn't about to go digging through your closet or anything."
Good Lord, how long had it been since there'd been a woman in his apartment, running around in his clothes? How long had it been since there'd been a woman in his apartment, period? "It's okay. You could have gone through the closet, if you'd wanted to." He gestured vaguely at the shirt with his beer. "You can keep that, if you want. It's old and kind of getting too small for me."
Claire leaned against the wall, folding her arms over her chest. "Oh. Okay. Thanks." Suddenly she grinned, narrowing her eyes at him. "Yeah, you are getting kind of big, aren't you? Suddenly slip into a jock phase, Kennedy?"
Leon didn't think he was that much bigger, really. True, he had been working out more, but that was really because he didn't have much else to do and it occupied time. He didn't know whether to feel flattered that Claire had noticed or feel kind of awkward about it. "Not really," he answered. "I've got nothing better to do."
"Get any bigger and Chris'll start wanting to arm wrestle you," she warned, still grinning. "Be careful. I swear I've almost seen him break people's arms before."
Leon grimaced, walking past Claire to slouch down rather inelegantly on the couch, pushing some of Claire's clothes out of the way. He had decided not to mention the semi-falling out that had occurred between Chris and himself in the Tahoe not too long ago. However, not mentioning it to Claire didn't mean that it hadn't happened. "Oh great. It's already bad enough that he's kind of weirded out by you staying here. That guy's going to grind my head into the pavement."
Snorting, Claire walked out into the living room and began to stuff her clothing back into her bag. "Oh, whatever. I've told you a million times that Chris is like that with everyone. He's harmless if he likes you—which he does," she said pointedly, looking over at him as she swiped her socks off the coffee table. "He just likes to give people shit. I think he likes to give you shit because he can get a reaction out of you. You get nervous. That's what he wants. Just stand your ground and throw it back at him—he'll respect that."
"It doesn't make me nervous, per se," Leon said, despite the statement being a kind-of lie—truthfully, the elder Redfield had every reason to be suspicious. After all, hadn't Leon just been more or less drooling over Claire minutes earlier? Leon knew he'd have been suspicious if Claire was his little sister and she was shacking up with a guy that he kind-of-sort-of knew. Chris Redfield had every right to be suspicious, and what was more was that Leon knew Chris was suspicious. The man had said so himself. "I guess I just don't want your brother looking at me like I'm some kind of threat. It doesn't sit right."
"Oh please." Claire put her hands on her hips and looked down at him chidingly. "Do you think I'd be hanging out with you if I thought you were a threat? If I thought you were a douche?" She plopped herself down onto the opposite end of the couch, then thought better of it and popped back up just as quickly. "You're letting Chris get to you, which is what he wants. My brother's not an idiot, despite what people might think—he's got psychological warfare down pat." She headed down the hallway and returned a moment later with her beer from the bathroom. "You're lettin' him make you feel like a jerk for no reason."
If you could only see into my head, Leon thought in the pause, you'd think I was a jerk too, and that your brother was right. And he knew all too well how mean and intimidating Chris could be when he tried.
"Unless," Claire began saucily, "you are being a jerk. I swear, if I wake up one morning with no memory of the night before and my clothes are on backwards, I'm going to—"
Leon managed his own chiding look over at Claire, although he felt distinctly uncomfortable. "Right, Claire. Actually, you're a little off—my devious plan entailed fattening you up and eating you, not sexually assaulting you. But I've got to hand it to you, you're on to me!" he said with mock brightness. "I'm a complete psychopath. That's why I don't have a girlfriend—I've killed them all."
She laughed loudly, scrunching her face up at him. "I always did think there was something Ted Bundy-ish about you, Leon." Still laughing and smiling, she rolled her eyes. "Lighten up. I'm just kiddin' with you."
"I know." Looking down at his beer for a moment, Leon forced all the guilty thoughts and questioning and discomfort to the back of his mind forcibly. Sitting around and mulling over things was only going to make them worse, and that was the last thing he needed, especially with Claire around. Maybe his sudden infatuation with her would go away when they weren't in such direct contact all the time; who knew? It had been a while since there'd been a woman in his life, after all; maybe he'd just fixated on Claire because she was there. Looking up, he cocked an eyebrow at her inquisitively. "But who says I was kidding with you?"
She bellowed with laughter and flopped back onto the couch, obviously highly amused.
"Whatever. You? A serial killer? My ass." She flipped her wet mane of hair out of the way and settled back into the couch, cradling her beer against her stomach. Claire's lips pursed for a second, as if she was thinking. "You know what? Let's go rent a movie or somethin'. We spend a lot of time sitting around here drinking beer and being morose. Let's try drinking beer and being cheerful, for once."
A corner of Leon's mouth quirked up. "What, you wanna watch a movie with the sociopath killer?" Claire reached over to swat him with an arm, and he laughed.
"What if you're not the only sociopath in the house?" she asked, looking at him deviously. Without warning, quick as lightning, Claire sat up and leapt onto the couch, standing on her feet in a crouched position, her beer in her hand. Her face was mock-serious but Jesus, when had she learned to move that fast? Duh, Leon, she did take down the Paris Facility, you know, Leon's brain chattered. She grinned lopsidedly at him. "What if I'm just as crazy as you? What if I'm planning to kill your ass, too?"
Leon brushed aside his thoughts and mirrored Claire's grin. "Just my ass? Or all of me, Redfield?"
She bellowed out a laugh in response and cocked an eyebrow, wiggling it slightly. "I dunno. I guess we'd probably wanna save the best part of you, huh?"
"Oh really?" Leon chortled, standing, putting his hands on his hips. Claire straightened and stood on the couch, towering over him by a foot and a half or so. "The best part, huh?"
"It's obviously not your brain," Claire quipped, jumping down from the couch—but not before she leaned over and knocked him on the head once, snickering. "C'mon, Kennedy. We have a date with the local movie store we should keep. Maybe the local liquor store, too. Running low on beer."
"Low?" Leon asked in disbelief, before he'd even had time to process or feel guilty about the weird flirtation-type interaction that had taken place. "Shit, we've got eight left!"
"Running low," Claire affirmed, a sparkle in her eyes as she pulled on her shoes, one hand against the wall for balance. "I'll pay, but more beer will be required."