A/N: Last chapter of this story! Yippee! And now…some self-promotion: if you liked this story, check out 'Moonlight Sonata', another one I wrote (and am still writing – I really should've been making up a chapter for that instead of this, but oh well) and an untitled story in the works that'll be out…when I get around to it. Thanks for reading!

Chapter 4

      The excursion to some of Paris's acclaimed boutiques lifted Claire's spirits for a while – as well as informing her of several interesting facts about Jill Valentine, such as her disdain for thong underwear and her surreptitious passion for classic science fiction novels. Claire's contented mood ended when she remembered her trip to a Pennsylvania mall with Sherry a little less than a month ago.

      How was Sherry? And Leon, for that matter?

      After that, the rest of the trip seemed tainted for Claire, and she was more than happy to quickly make her purchases and return to the hotel on a public bus. Chris – who had actually just dropped them off and returned home – was already waiting for them, and in a few minutes they were piled in the truck with the few things they owned.

      Less than ten minutes out of Paris, they had to pull over so Jill could drive (Claire had to agree with the sentiment, if not her exact words: "You drive like you're drunk, Chris, and I'll be damned if I survived man-eating zombies just to die in a car crash because of your nonexistent driving skills!")  before they continued on. It took a good forty-five minutes to reach the little village Jill had mentioned before.

      It was a charming place, with a street full of cafés and rustic restaurants, old-fashioned buildings scattered about and a town square lined with shops and public buildings. As Chris and Jill debated heatedly over whom to talk to first, Claire slipped off to investigate the library she'd spotted. Old books were one of Claire's favorite things – there was something about their musty scent, the browning pages, even the moldy covers on some. On entering, she was disappointed. No old books there, only new ones with shiny plastic covers and creamy white pages and modern-looking illustrations.

      After wandering around for a few minutes, Claire returned outside to look for the others. She was glad she'd decided to put on the fuzzy black jacket she'd bought as a brisk wind whistled around her, nipping at her exposed face. She found Chris pretty fast – he was standing outside a store and looking around. When Claire reached him, he jerked his head towards the store's interior and said,

      "Jill's in there, talking to the owner of the house. With any luck we'll have a place to call our own soon." Claire smiled and sat down on the stone balustrade nearby. Here, where she was sheltered from the stinging wind, the cold wasn't too bad. Her thoughts slowly turned back to Sherry and Leon. Where were they now? When Claire left them near the end of November, she'd told them to get in contact with Barry Burton, and given them his cabin's phone number, which was a safe distance from Raccoon.

      Claire hoped, with all her heart, that they'd gotten in touch with Barry and were on their way over here. Chris told a few days ago that some girl named Rebecca and a guy named Carlos were on the way here with Barry, and at Claire's insistence, he'd called Barry and given him the details of Sherry and Leon's location, asking him to take them with him.

      Leon…Claire still remembered how he looked when she first met him in Raccoon. Scared shitless, no doubt, but calm – you could see it in his eyes, those deep, midnight blue pools of tranquility. That same serenity was what gave her the nerve to duck when he told her to, and gave her speed as they sprinted towards the abandoned police car. It was like an aura radiating from him, Claire decided. She wasn't the only one affected by him, either. When Sherry first opened her eyes and gazed around after Claire used the vaccine on her, she looked about ready to scream. Then she'd looked up at Leon and she calmed down. Just like that.

      A door slammed close by and Claire jumped, startled. Jill stood between the siblings grinning and looked from one to the other.

      "We got it – as long as we can give him cash." Chris smiled, helped Claire up, and headed towards the car.


      The drive to the house seemed endless, although according to Claire's wristwatch it only took twenty-seven minutes. The scenery repeated itself over and over again, a tireless backdrop of snow-encrusted trees and huge white fields, silent and dismally cold under the grayish light cast by the sun half-covered with a cloud.

      The house, though…it was beautiful. A relic of the Victorian days, it towered three stories high, with an attic window peeping shyly out from under the eaves and a basement, invisible beneath the large house. It seemed welcoming, kind, even, if a house could feel such a way.

      "Dammit," Jill muttered as she flipped through the key ring. "There must be twenty keys on…here we go." She slipped the key into the lock and twisted it. The lock rumbled and clicked. Jill turned the handle and the door swung open, revealing a long, dark hall.

      "Looks nice enough," Chris said quietly. "Where's the light switch?" Claire flipped the tiny white switch on the wall next to the door. Light from a stained glass lamp hanging above the center burst on, painting the walls and floor impossible shades of purple and green. Jill looked up from her key ring for a minute before narrowing her eyes and flipping through the keys.

      "It's going to take forever to find out where all these go," she said to no one in particular.

      "As long as you find the one to the kitchen today," Chris replied, "I don't care how long it takes you." With that, he returned to the truck to empty it out. Jill rolled her eyes and chose a key, apparently at random.

      "Typical male…"


      Claire chose her bedroom carefully, making sure that it had two beds. If Sherry came, Claire didn't want her to have to share a room with someone else. Besides, she'd like the company. Lately her dreams hadn't been all that pleasant, and the presence of another person might help a little. When she made up her mind she got down to cleaning – the place was absolutely filthy.

      At the end of the day, as Claire wiped off one last persistent blotch on the bathroom mirror, she decided that living out in the middle of nowhere was actually a good thing. Umbrella would have a much harder time finding them, after all. And it was sort of nice to have so much time to think. She'd need it – to sort things out, she kept telling herself. What Claire really needed time to think about was Steve. Before she could do anything with anyone, Claire had to figure out what exactly she felt for him.

      After a phone call to Barry's safehouse, Chris informed Claire that both Sherry and Leon were accompanying Barry to Paris, and they'd be there within the week. While the thought of seeing Sherry again was pleasant enough, Leon's imminent arrival made Claire's stomach flip and a dull panic set into her system. Leon was the last person she wanted to see while thinking about Steve.

      So, Claire decided, she'd just have to make up her mind about things before Leon Kennedy arrived. Easier said than done, her cynical mind whispered to her. Claire stifled the voice abruptly, and settled down for a peaceful week of reflection…