a/n: Slight AU in which Claire, Leon, and Shery stick together (briefly) post-Raccoon.

I wanted to stick a fork in this before RE6 comes out. It's not my best, but I hope it's something good to pass the time with while we all wait for the new game.

There are some traces of RE6 foreshadowing in here. If you're like me and you've mostly just been watching trailers and a little gameplay (demos!), you're clear.

An ounce of blood is worth more than a pound of friendship.

–a Spanish proverb

He's never ridden on the back of a motorcycle before.

He's never ridden on the front of one, either, but he isn't about to tell her that. The wind throws his hair behind him and into his eyes, where he squints into the rising sun. He already feels beads of sweat gathering and dissipating on his hairline. Late summer heat. Summer in Raccoon Cities used to scorch.

Used to.

It's a good thing he couldn't look behind him.

Little hands clench at his stomach. Sherry Birkin. Her head – wrapped in Claire's helmet – presses into his back. The ride's already making him sore, especially his ass. Somehow, he feels nauseous, too. Maybe that was just the smell of rotted bodies. It was like looking into the sun too long: the smell was never going to leave him.

The motorcycle wobbles. He braces himself, but it remains upright.

"You see it?"

He can hardly hear her downwind, but he could see it, sure. A smoggy grey blob on the edge of the wreckage, some kind of city or town.

"Yeah," he said, but he wouldn't be surprised if she couldn't hear him, either.

Claire has a wicked sunburn by the time they reach civilization. "Civilization" is a shabby diner in the middle of nowhere. Leon remembers some poem he had to read in high school, something about snow and miles to go. He'd kill for snow right then. Snow and sleep.

The sweat isn't dissipating anymore, and he takes off his RPD jacket and, without thinking, wipes his face with it. He winces at the smell. His undershirt is cleaner, at least – less blood – and he hopes they won't attract too much attention.

"How fast does that piece of shit go?"

"Shhh." She glanced at Sherry, who was attempting to take off her helmet. "Let me help you with that."

"I've got it." Sherry's voice echoed in the helmet.

Leon feels oddly deflated, like a teenaged punk all over again. He remembers slinking into gas stations and getting suspicious looks from the cashiers. He slouches against the brick diner wall and stared up into the sun. Almost noon.

That's a survival skill, he thinks, and he almost laughs.

"It can go up to seventy-five. But I wasn't going to risk it. Wouldn't want you to break that pretty skull of yours."

"That's charitable."

"Yeah," she said. "Just looking out for my own. Sherry, hon, you sure you-"

The helmet popped off her head, revealing a flushed face and hair sticking up at every angle. Sweat and hair stick to her face, and her headband is askew. "I'm okay. I've got it, Claire. Really."

Leon looks away from her. He stares back at the sun.

Claire nudged him in the ribs. She looks tired, too. "C'mon. Let's get some food."

When he turns away from the sun, dark spots dot his vision. A few yards down, someone pulls up in a car blasting a country twang. He can't bring himself to look over. Instead he focuses on little Sherry, clutching the helmet.

"I think I've got a twenty," Claire said, looking for it in her hip bag. "Godda- darn it. Don't tell me I lost it."

For a moment, Leon's mind flashes to where it might have been when the bomb hit.

"You can swear in front of me," Sherry says quietly. "I don't mind. I'm eleven. It's not like I haven't heard those words. I mean…"

Claire looks up at him, but he doesn't know what to say.

"I might have a twenty in my pocket."

He only has a ten and odd change, but it's enough. They sit in a corner booth, Claire and Sherry on one side and him on the other. Sherry's helmet sits next to him on the seat.

"I'm not that hungry," Sherry says.

"Nah, we're gonna eat. Do you like Denny's? This is like Denny's."


"Breakfast. Do you like breakfast food?"

Leon saw a cockroach scurry up the side of the bar. He didn't mention it.

Sherry's voice strains. "Can I get pancakes?"

"Sure. She can get pancakes. Right, Leon? We've got a lot to… you can have pancakes."

Claire looks so tired, so vacant. He suddenly feels miserable. What can he do if he can't even protect her? She can throw fucking knives and even she's not okay. He's not sure what to do.

"Your face is all pink," he says. "You okay?"

"Yeah. It'll go away. It's a nice base tan."

"Seems like you would have gotten one by now."

She smiles, almost. "You caught me. I don't tan."

The light in the window catches her hair. "You're a redhead," he says, almost with wonder. This whole time she's had brown hair. He'd only seen her in the dark and fluorescent lights. It unbalances him. Most disconcerting of all is the realization that he's only known her one night. It feels like longer, much longer. He feels older than he is.

She tugs a little at her ponytail. "It's more like auburn. But seriously, don't start. My brother used to tease me all the time."

"You have a brother?" Sherry asks.

Claire frowns. "Yes." Then, "He's missing. He used to be in S.T.A.R.S."


The waitress comes up, unsmiling. But that's nothing compared to the change in her expression when she catches a whiff of them.

"Hey, what do you – oh, God."

She pinches her nose. Somehow it surprises Leon when she doesn't attempt to hide it. She sets her notepad on the table, still pinching her nose, and glances up at them. Well? Hurry up, he can hear her saying. He speaks for all of them.

"We'll take a plate of chocolate pancakes, two toast and egg plates, and… coffee. And juice."

"What kind?"

"What kind do you have?"

"Orange." Her voice sounds stupid, with her nose stopped up. "Apple. Sometimes we have grape, but the machine's broke again."

"Orange is fine."

She leaves, but Leon notices her take in the blood on Sherry's uniform. He sees her black-rimmed eyes widen.

They sit there for a while, until Leon speaks.

"You knew something about S.T.A.R.S.?"

"Yeah. I heard it mentioned before. I remember 'cause of the name."

"What about it?" Claire, now, half-wondering, but too tired to really muster attention.

Sherry stares in her lap. "Nothing. I don't remember. Just… But I saw the room."

The waitress's talking to the man behind the counter. The two of them keep casting weird looks toward their table.

"We're a wreck," Leon says his voice low. Claire laughs.

"What're they gonna do? Kick us out?"

"We're covered in – dirt." He doesn't say blood, guts. Trying to be family-friendly is difficult as fuck. "And we smell like… like a sewer. People are gonna notice."

"Let 'em notice. They can't exactly call the police on us."

Leon looks back over to the counter. He holds his tongue.

The coffee, as expected, tastes like crap. Leon watches as Claire rips open packet after packet of creamer. He notices that she doesn't take sugar. For himself, he doesn't bother with either. He takes it black, and winces at every sip.

"How are those eggs going?"

"Good," he says.

"My brother used to eat like a horse. You sure you're not hungrier?"

Used to. He hopes she isn't thinking what he is.

"I'll get to it. Don't you worry."

Sherry slides out of the booth. "Excuse me. I need to use the restroom."

Leon wonders what the restroom looked like. More cockroaches. He didn't think the kid was going to make a fuss out of it, though. She's too polite for that. She uses "please"s and "thank you"s and four-syllable words. Not the kind of kid to mention a roach, if only out of sheer politeness.

He looks over to Claire. Her eyes follow Sherry, then set themselves back on the table. "She's hardly touched those pancakes. You shouldn't have ordered for her. Maybe she doesn't like chocolate. She never said."

He can't bring himself to comment on Sherry. There's something else, though. "They could call the cops."

"I'm telling you-"

"It's gotta be news by now, Claire. They live a hundred miles outside of a fucking crater that used to be Raccoon. We look like we've just murdered a room full of people-"

"Well, they'd be lowballing, wouldn't they?" Her voice trembles.

The thought blindsides him.

"They weren't alive," he finally says. "They were already gone." He thinks of Ada. He thinks of her warm skin, her curves, how her arm was so straight and exact when she shot. How red her blood was, and how it hardly stood out against her dress.

It's hard to think of her, so he tries to forget.

"No," she agrees.

The thought remains.

"We stick out," he says again. "And they might call someone on us. I think we should get out of here. Go somewhere else."


"Anywhere." His mind races. "We can go to town, rent a motel for a couple nights. Figure out what to do next. But we need to clean up and settle down. Sherry's got blood on her shirt, for God's sake."

"What do we do with her?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, what do we do with her?"

There, his mind came up short. "Do we have to do something?"

"Yeah we have to do something. I mean… eventually. I just don't know what."

Neither of them has anything to say to that. Leon takes a bite of egg, but it doesn't sit well. He pushes his plate away.

"I know what it feels like to lose your parent

s. God. Not like that. But still."

Leon's head jerks up sharply, and his lips part. He can't think of anything to say.

"But does it really matter? I've had to live every day without them. At least I have – damn it."

He can see it in her face, the moment where exhaustion, trauma, and defeat all conspire to tears. But then it passes. In a moment, just like that, he watches her push it away. She grips her glass of water too tightly and takes a swig.

He watches her throat tremble as she swallows. For the lump in her throat, he thinks, amazed. It was disgusting, how detached he was. How detached this was all making him.

"I'm sorry."

Her hand stays clenched around the glass. Then, all of a sudden, she gets up. "I'm gonna check on her."

He stays at the table, alone.

They argue about what to do next. They're so tired that they can't bother to hide it from Sherry.

"I can't just leave it here."

"You think I don't know? But we can't all ride it, you said so. So what're we gonna do?"

"Hitchhike? Catch a ride?"

"I wouldn't give us a ride," Sherry says quietly.

"Duly noted," Leon says, balling up his RPD jacket as he replies. He feels awkward in his undershirt, but it's enough. At least not very much blood went through. He looks cleaner than Claire and Sherry.

He realizes he just snapped at an eleven-year-old. He closes his eyes and tries to breathe.

"Well, what if we say we're related? She's my little sister. You're my brother. How about that?"

The lie makes him uncomfortable. "You think people would buy that?"

Claire cocks her head. "Sherry and I both have blue eyes. You're kind of blonde."

"Sure. If you squint and look the other way."

"Oh, come on. You think it matters? People will believe us if they want to. We've got no other choice."

No other choice.

How long are they going to be on the run?

"I think you'd have better luck without me. Maybe I should-"

"Leave?" If expressions could kill, Claire's would. Deadly serious.

"No." He glances at Sherry. Her expression is unchanging.

"Then what? What, Leon?"

Her voice cracks with lack of sleep, and it's all he can do not to fight.

"I meant I should take your bike. You guys hitch a ride. We meet up later – there's an inn about forty miles from here. It's big, easy to spot."

Her eyebrows shoot up. "My bike."


She considers. Her eyes narrow. "Do you know how to ride a bike?"

"I can learn?"

The man with the twangy music exits, glancing at them before getting into his truck.

Claire takes Sherry's hand.

"Our last name is Kennedy," she said, under her breath. "You got that? Redfield and Birkin? Off-limits for a little while."

Sherry nods.

The look in Claire's eyes is knowing, almost predatory. Leon watches as the man in the truck stalls, lighting up a cigarette and glancing over at them. A dance.

He has to hand it to Claire: she knew how to pick her marks.

"You sure you'll be okay?"

Claire laughed, less than sweetly. "After all this?"

Her voice warns him: Don't go soft on me now.

She's got experience, he can tell, but now that it's all said and done and another woman's met her end – hundreds, thousands, actually, when he really thinks about, and men, and children, babies, not just Ada, what's wrong with him? – well.

He wants to protect Claire, if he can.

She approaches the man without a glance back. Sherry does, though. Leon tries not to look too annoyed. For her sake.

"I'll see you at the Holiday Inn," he mutters under his breath. It's too late. Neither of them could hear him.

He swings his legs over the bike, ignoring the helmet. I just hope she doesn't get herself killed.

Ada got herself killed.

He let her do it.

Their faces tilt up at the same moment, like twin sunflowers. Sunflowers with dark rings under their eyes. Skeleton sunflowers.

"You're late," Claire calls out. "It's hot out here." Then, as an afterthought: "People are staring."

He throws her a bag, and she peers inside. "You couldn't let me get my own stuff?"

"You're the one who doesn't have a credit card."

"Shut up." She pulls out the dress. It's a shift, really, the kind of thing a housewife might wear on a hot summer day. She wrinkles her nose. "It's pink."

"They didn't have a lot."


"Yeah. I didn't know your size."

"Good taste."

He snorts.

There's a tee-shirt and shorts for Sherry. She traces over the glittery heart with something like distaste, or distrust. Her eyes are dark, and Leon notices the way her eyes flicker, sleepy. How long has it been since she slept? He doesn't care too do the math. He's too tired for it.

When they enter, the man looks up from his black-and-white mini TV. He looks annoyed at the intrusion, even though, as far as Leon can tell, the tin-foil antennae weren't helping the picture much.

"One room, two beds. And a cot." He'd take the cot. He'd already decided.

"We don't have any free."

"You're kidding me," Claire says.

"No, I'm not. We don't have any free."

"What do you have?"

"Only single beds." His eyes flicked over Leon's state of distress, to Sherry and Claire.

He feels wickedly self-conscious again, like he should explain himself. But he didn't have the energy for it. He looks back at Claire, who shrugs. Her hands is in Sherry's, and her hair looks redder against the pink dress.

"We'll take it."

He catches her staring at the wall, unmoving. Her damp hair makes a wet spot on the cotton, and her face looks scrubbed too-clean. He approaches this new creature cautiously. A part of him, perhaps, feel that she'll bite. Or maybe that he'll bite her.


She looks over to him. "It just feels so unreal." She pulls at the hem of the dress. "I just… it's like this isn't me."

He sits down next to her. He wants to reach out and put a hand on her shoulder. Comfort her or something.

Her bare arm reveals a gash, a red circle of bruises and teeth marks.

He grabs her arm without meaning to, swears under his breath. "Claire-"

She jerks away, and he catches a glimpse of fear on her face.

"I've already disinfected it," she said. "I promise. With the peroxide you brought back. I feel fine. I promise."

He winces at the thought.

"Did Sherry-"

"She's fine. I don't know how it happened, but God. That kid has a future as some kind of Olympic runner."

He can't bring himself to smile. The thought of Sherry's future is terrifying to him. The thought of the future is terrifying, period.

Midday light shines through the window, but that doesn't stop them. Claire's knocked out on the bed, with Sherry asleep too, facing her. Leon can hear her breath, childlike and soft. Occasionally it catches and her body jerks. She sleeps tight, folded into herself, into Claire.

His eyes hurt. Everything aches.

He doesn't quite know where he fits in. All he knows is he's afraid to go to sleep, afraid to leave the room without one person who's still looking out for them. The handgun feels sleek in his lap, and yet he knows, as the dusk falls and the shadows rise, that it wouldn't, couldn't, ever be enough.

What if someone's looking for us?

But that was crazy. He'd overheard people talking at the store, he'd heard what the man in the lobby had said as he'd given Leon a key: Did you hear? They're all dead. Raccoon City. It's on the news. There're no survivors. They say it got nuked.

His fingers graze the gun. Smooth metal. He thinks of the bite mark, so red and vicious.

Sherry's breathing is light and undisturbed. For now.

Leon watches.

They move to a different motel. Same technique: Claire begs a ride off some guy and Leon rides the bike. This time there's a little luggage, some necessities, enough not to get noticed. They stick with the family thing, although no one actually asks. Claire decides that Leon is her boyfriend ("you're not really that blonde") and Sherry's her kid sister.

The new motel is nearer to the city, and it looks out over an exit with a McDonald's. If he cranes his neck, he can see Raccoon City, but he doesn't. That night, they sit on the porch and stare out at the golden, lit-up arch, with the city flickering behind it. Claire fiddles with a lighter. Leon catches the initials on it: CMR. He wonders if they're hers or her brother's.

"Do you think she wants company?"

"How should I know?"

"She's been sitting in there all day. Reading the Bible."

It isn't Leon's idea of a good time, and yeah, it kind of disturbs him, but he's not about to knock her if that's what she feels like. Maybe he can even understand – it's the only thing in the room that she can read, besides the mattress tags or the little welcome pamphlet. Claire's been on-edge. Downright smothering. "Give her a fucking break."

"Why're you so upset?"

"I'm not upset. I'm giving you advice. Isn't that what girls always want?" It never seems to make you shut up. He thinks, briefly, of his ex. That's like another life. Not even worth thinking about. Then again, nothing seems worth thinking about. Thoughts flit in and out without fully forming.

"You haven't been sleeping."


"You want me to get you some cold medicine or something?"

He doesn't reply. She stands up.

"I'm going to sleep. Okay?" She turns her back to him. She pauses, then:

"It's not easy for any of us. You know that."

He thinks of her wound. No signs of infection. Yet.

You don't know the half of it.


"So you can stop acting like a dick."

"Only if you stop being such a nagging bitch."

She slams the door without saying goodnight.

The yellow McDonald's sign flickers. It's like a giant nightlight.

His vision doubles, then goes dim before refocusing.

For a moment, a thought forms: Am I turning?


No way.

He didn't get bitten.

When he closes his eyes, jus for a moment, he feels dizzy. The light goes out, and refocuses as two pointed spots. Eyes. Bright yellow, like an animal's. Something grabs at his leg.

He feels himself shake, and his eyes shoot open.

He wakes up drenched in sweat.

The first thing he does is open the door. Casually, so as not to make a fuss, but his hand is already at the gun in his back pocket.

Sherry sits on the bed, book out, eyes glazed. The dark circles persist. Claire (thank God) looks up at him without a word.

"I'm sorry," he says hoarsely.

It's okay, her face whispers, even though she doesn't say it. She holds up a cup to him. "I ran across to get this today. It's for you. From the gas station."

He looks at it, still bleary.

"You can drink it, you know."

He tastes it. Compared to the diner's coffee, it tastes like heaven, which isn't saying much. She turns to pick up her own and as she does he studies her back. The bruises remain, but the cut looks better.

He scratches at his face and feels the rough beginnings of stubble. He forgot a razor.

"You got any water?"

"Just a little soda. For Sherry."

Sherry's soda turns out to be almost untouched. "You don't like soda?"

"Not anymore."

"C'mon," he says, "What kind of kid doesn't like soda?"

"Leon." Claire's tone warns him. So she already knows.

"I'm sick of it." Sherry turns her eyes away.

Claire mouths, Raccoon.

It takes him a moment to process it, but then he does. So that was what Sherry lived on all that time. Vending machines. There'd been the inside-out things in that hallway. She went out there to get food?

Leon looks back into the soda, at the ice cubes melting there. He takes one out and sucks on it, closing his eyes. He sucks until his tongue gets numb.

Miles to go.

"You need to shave," Claire says. "You look homeless."

The peace doesn't last long.

They bicker about almost everything – whether or not to close the drapes, turn down the thermostat, grab lunch, turn on the TV.

They fight over who gets to leave the motel.

Sherry swears she's fine alone. She's eager to convince them, to impress them. After a while, they figure it's okay if they both go, even though it makes them both nervous. The kid will do okay. There are no zombies anymore.


In retrospect, he'll think back on it as the dumb kind of thing you do when you're twenty-one and you know you shouldn't do something, but you do it anyway.

But nothing bad happens this time.

They grab a few books for Sherry so she'll stop reading the Bible (she's gotten through it – three times) and some magazines for Claire. As she bends over them, Leon can't help but think how far from her reality they are. The girl standing in front of him is a world away from the blonde's cover-girl smile.

Claire drops it in the cart. He tries to pretend he wasn't just checking out her ass. Just a little.

(College kid, right? God.)

She clicks her boots at him. They must reek, and they look a mess – all covered in black-red spots and water stains - but she's wearing them anyway. "You coming or not?"

He stares down into the cart. "You think she'll read all this?" he asks, but he already knows the answer. Claire shrugs.

"You've seen her," she says. It kind of scares him, how smart Sherry is, and he has a suspicion that it scares Claire, too. How much like her parents is she? Claire almost sounds defensive. "She's bright," she says.

Like it's a good thing. It probably is.

It's hard for him to imagine evil in a child who looks so chronically frightened. So chronically eager to please, so alone, so eager to grab whatever driftwood she can.

"Does she ever get out?"

"There's not that much to go out to."

"Yeah, but does she ever wander around? Go to the pool?" The motel pool shone green in the afternoons. But that was the kind of thing that didn't matter to kids. It wouldn't have mattered to him, anyway. "We got her that swimsuit."

"No. She doesn't want to." She pauses. "You know, I thought she broke her leg the other day."

He feels a surge of protectiveness, a feeling that's becoming more and more frequent. "She what? Why didn't you tell me?"

"Relax. It was nothing. Seriously. We were getting our room. She was dragging her bag and she was so tired she – I don't know, she fell back down the stairs or something, all the way to the bottom. Turned out it was nothing but – man, you should've heard the crack. I broke my leg a few times as a kid and I could've sworn – but yeah. She was fine."

He turns away, trying to fend the worry away. "So. Books, then." Safe. Safe enough. "Nothing with monsters."

Claire smiles wanly. "No. No monsters."

"I wasn't a big reader as a kid. Just comic books."

"Somehow I can see that." She pauses. "My parents read to me a lot as a kid. That wasn't really Chris's thing, though. He'd rather take me out to play baseball or something."

He wants to ask, When did they die and leave you alone? And your brother, what's he like? – this mythical Chris, this figure that she's gone to the ends of the earth for – but he can't find it in himself to ask. Chris seems a little like Superman to him, if only because of Claire's reverence.

They get some food and a razor for him ("you look like an old man"). He has to ride behind her on the way there and back., gripping her waist, wishing her were invisible. She won't let him drive.

That's just the way she is.

He wanders around all day, spending time away from them.

He walks to the McDonald's across the street and gets a coffee. Whenever he sets it on the table, it sticks; whenever he pauses his thoughts to listen, he can hear a fly.

When he really stops to listen, he can hear Ada, breathing at his ear. He can feel her hand on his face, warm and sticky with blood. He can feel himself going numb.

There's something frightening and lonely about all this, and nothing can chase it off.

That night, Claire stares at him, until finally he agrees to go out to the balcony for a cigarette. With Sherry out of earshot, she sits down and flicks her lighter on. The flame meets her cigarette, and she takes a drag. He waits.

"She said one of her father's friends worked with them."


"Sherry," she says simply. "She said she recognized the nameplate in the S.T.A.R.S. room." She grimaces like she has a headache. "Sorry… this doesn't make much sense. I just…" She holds her cigarette aloft. The smoke smells good in the cool air. He envies her the warmth of her cigarette. Did she pawn them off the man in the lobby?

"You're telling me Sherry knew someone from S.T.A.R.S? Someone who knew your brother?"

All roads lead back to Chris Redfield.

"Yeah." Another drag. She fiddles with the cigarette, and in that moment she looks vulnerable, girlish, even. Something dark crosses her face. "Albert Wesker."

"Name ring any bells?"

"Yes," she says, and it surprises him, the ferocity that she answers with. "He was a dick. You think he had something to do with this?"

"You knew this guy?"

"I met the other officers a couple times. Mostly Jill. But God, he was awful. He wore sunglasses all the time, and I remember he told Chris he was going to end up killing himself by being insubordinate."

"That's harsh."

"Yeah, tell me about it. He was supposed to be smart, though. Like, a genius." She stares off into the distance. She blinks, then takes another drag of her cigarette. It ends up being too much, and she coughs. For some reason beyond his understanding, Leon reaches out to knock at her back. "Okay?"

Her cough peters out. "Yeah," she says, looking sad again, "I'm okay."

They both know it's a lie, but it's a good place to end the conversation. They stop talking and look out at the ruined Raccoon, just visible in the distance. That, and the stars.

He knows what's going to happen next.

She's asleep when he gets in, this time on her back. She can't seem to pick one sleeping position and stick to it.

Her boots, mercifully, are on the ground. She's barefoot. He notices – with some bemusement, like he notices everything about her – the chipped remains of blue glitter on her toenails. It seems like her. He'll remember that about her, if he needs some detail to remember her by.

It's inevitable, what's going to happen next. He knows it. He knows it by that look in her eyes, that steely determination. There's nothing I can do to change your mind. He's not sure that he wants to.

He leaves three hundred on the bedside table. He counts out the twenties – two, four, six, eight, ten – and then turns out the light. He crawls in on her other side, the side farthest away from Sherry, and tries not touch Claire. He looks at her back, its rise and fall.

He feels sorry for the kid.

He feels a little sorry for himself, too, if he's honest. What's he going to do once she's gone? It's one less person to protect, one less duty to cling to. He doesn't have Superman to save. He just has to keep going, with nothing to put Raccoon into perspective. No promises to keep.

No goals, no dreams. That's him. Leon Kennedy.

He clicks out the light and tries to get to sleep. Sherry's tossing and turning, audible by the brush of covers, doesn't help.

For a moment he thinks about leaving a note: Don't spend it all on cigs and blue nail polish.

The idea that she would listen to him is funny.

He wonders if she'll ever be able to think of nail polish again. Or if she has bigger things to worry about, now, things that will take up all her time and thought.

Big things that will chip her away, until she loses the little things altogether.

He looks at it a few times before he throws it out. It would feel too sentimental to keep it, to say that he would hate himself for throwing it out if she never came back. So he figures, maybe if he throws it out, she will come back. Maybe she'll call him one day and say, See, Leon, it turned out okay. The world kept turning. You were stupid to worry

He looks over at Sherry. The dawn breaks across her face, streaks like bars through the blinds. The indents on the bed are all that's left of Claire, as far as they're concerned. It's the beginning of the end.

He stares at her a little longer. She turns in her sleep. He notices there's a book under her pillow. Suddenly, violently, the image rips his heart of his chest. There's nothing he wants to do more than protect this kid, if nothing else. If not Claire, or Ada. If not himself.

He tries not to look down into the trash can. The words are already burned on his eyelids, like everything else he's seen.

I had to go, the note reads. You know already. Love, C.

The gun is gone. So's her lighter, her little backpack. There's nothing left to remember her by. He closes his eyes and leans back into the chair, tries to forget that she's not there.

It's only dawn, and there are miles to go.