DISCLAIMER: I don't own them. I make no profit.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I don't have Jill V. and the girl in here because they aren't in REIII and there's no explanation. Also, I changed some things in the timeline around. It isn't as if REIII is heavy on plot, so I don't think it matters that much.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
On the Brink
After leaving Raccoon City, Alice stayed with the ragtag band of now fugitive survivors. It made her feel like she had a family, makeshift as it was.
And then Claire Redfield joined that family.
"I didn't know Chris," Carlos said gruffly when she asked, her face guarded yet hopeful. "But I'm pretty certain he didn't make it out. I'm sorry."
Chris had been a member of S.T.A.R.S., or the Special Tactics and Rescue Squad, deployed into Raccoon City after the infection made it above ground. Carlos might not have had the opportunity to meet him in the melee, but his assurance of his demise was no less certain for it.
Alice watched the terse exchange, face closed and impassive as she stood alongside and slightly behind Carlos, assessing the newcomer. She'd seen the slight blink, the quickly extinguished glow of barely sustained hope in Claire's eyes.
"Your husband?" When Alice spoke, the words came out as an accusation instead of a question. Everything had been an accusation since they'd taken flight. She didn't know how to turn it off, the distrust of everything around her. She wasn't sure her mind was her own, much less her body, and had not been able to fight off the paranoia sweeping in to blanket everything in the cloying appearance of lies. This appearance was too convenient, her mind told her, this woman just the sort of person Umbrella might send to get under her defenses.
Despite the venom in her tone, Claire's face didn't change, remaining a blank slate under the force of Alice's glare and obvious suspicion.
Later, L.J. shook his head sadly, then offered a shrug. "S.T.A.R.S., huh? I'm sorry. They're gone. All of them. I saw it myself. Big, huge, crazy-looking motherfucker took'em out. Of course, he saved our asses in the end, so who knows what was going on with that one. Umbrella Corp done fucked him up but good, I think."
That night, his face a flickering mystery by the light of their small campfire, Carlos murmured, "Let her stay."
Claire was resourceful. It soon became clear that the measures taken to control the infection let loose in Raccoon City had failed. The virus spread quickly, moving through the continental United States like a pestilence. Their group stayed in the outlying areas, killing as many of the infected as they could and collecting survivors when they could find them. As the infection rate reached critical mass, they increasingly found that they were too late to be of any good. The big cities were hit hardest. With so many people in such close proximity, the infection raced through the population. Before long, it was in the suburbs, and then transferred across state lines by people fleeing from the madness. Within weeks, the entire country had been scoured. Public health agencies tried their best to contain it, but this was a virus unlike any they had seen before. Containment strategies practiced only in drills and theory didn't work with a panicked public unwilling to follow them.
Before long, the virus had overtaken the world.
Claire remained calm. She procured a full gasoline tanker in Chicago, grabbed a Hummer from a strip mall outside of South Bend and found a school bus in a small town that had been virtually wiped clear of inhabitants. She kept people way past the point of panic in order, lining them up and putting them through the paces of daily life like she'd been born to it.
"You trust me yet?" she asked Alice one night, standing guard beside her at a vacant motel they'd cleared and decided to use. The shock was starting to wear off of the survivors they'd collected, heralding the beginnings of grumblings. No matter how dire the situation, people who went without comfort for too long soon began to crave and demand it. Claire realized it for what it was, a blind quest to restore humanity in a world where it no longer existed. Letting them sleep in a bed for a night or two would have to be enough. With the addition of working showers, it seemed almost like heaven.
Alice's jaw was tense, her eyes narrowed. "Asking me questions like that makes me want to trust you less."
"To be honest, I don't really care. The tension makes Carlos nervous, is all. And the others can sense it. It's not good for morale."
Alice wasn't sure why she held on to her suspicion.
They ran into the small group of infected 150 miles west of Annapolis. They needed gas and provisions and the stop was risky but they had to make it. The town had a sporting goods store and a pawn shop, both good places to scavenge for ammo, and the tanker needed refilling. The town itself had been hit hard, the infected roaming the streets like packs of aimless wolves, but looked like it hadn't yet been stripped of provisions.
They had stopped at the top of a hill overlooking the town and Alice had climbed up on top of the bus, hand shielding her eyes from the glare of the mid-afternoon sun as she scouted the horizon. "We'll set up a diversion on the south side of town," she said. "Carlos, you're with me. Claire, you're in charge of restocking."
That complications ensued was not a surprise. The small contingent Alice had taken with her had been surrounded more quickly than she'd anticipated. The cowboy was on a nearby roof, picking off infected from the swarming crowd with the precision of a sniper, but there were too many. She'd lost three civilians by the time the Hummer came screeching around the corner.
"We found her in the K-mart, hiding in the toy section," Claire said gruffly, gesturing to the cowering girl curled into a protective ball in the back seat. Alice gave a curt nod in agreement, in welcome, in a request for expediency and leaned out the window, emptying her semi-automatic into the crowd chasing them.
"We need explosives," she muttered. "Mini-nuclear devices. Something. We can't kill them all."
Claire found her later, hiding in the shadows of the perimeter they'd set up in the middle of the wooded area they'd chosen as a stopping place, slumped tiredly against a tree.
"You were injured," she said gruffly, placing the small bag she was carrying on the ground. "Let me see."
The caravan nurse, Betty, had been busy and Alice hadn't wanted to be seen by her anyway. She preferred to tend to her own wounds.
"You don't have to be such a martyr, Alice. Let me help you."
Alice was too tired to protest, especially in light of the set determination of Claire's face, but she didn't move to help her.
The bag produced a small basin, a bottle of water, a rag, some ointment and some gauze. "Let me see your hands," Claire ordered roughly, kneeling down and leaning forward as Alice offered the requested limbs. Her hair was pulled back in a messy and ill-contained ponytail, loose strands framing her face like a wild and unruly halo. A smear of blood ran along the side of her white tank and a streak of dirt disappeared into her hairline.
She dipped the rag in the water, squeezing out the excess. Alice had been forced to take down some of the infected from close range and her knuckles were swollen and stained rusty with blood. Claire bathed it off gently, shaking her head in bemusement at the way the wounds had already started to close.
"I'm a quick healer," Alice offered, tensing. She didn't know how much of her unique physiology was common knowledge among the camp's residents. They had all seen her fighting prowess, true, but the belief that she was an exceptional warrior was not the same thing as the knowledge that she was a bio-weapon, crafted and infected and engineered by the Umbrella Corp.
Claire dipped the rag in the water again, wringing it once more. "I can see that," she said neutrally as she reached forward with deliberate slowness. The cloth was rough against Alice's face as the other woman wiped clean the fine mist of splattered blood that had left a stippling pattern across her skin. Her eyes were dark and intense, her lips slightly pursed, her expression blank. For a moment, Alice was reminded of Rain.
The thought was too much. Moving quickly, she caught Claire's wrist in her hand, pulling back so that the cloth was no longer touching her. The sudden move pulled Claire from her crouch, and she caught herself with a firm hand on Alice's shoulder, the quick response the only thing that kept her from tumbling fully into the other woman. But, the save put her in intimately close proximity to Alice, her lips inches from the other woman's. Trapped there in stasis, held in place by the intensity in hazel-green eyes, Claire dropped the cloth, breathing ragged.
"This isn't what I came out here for," she said roughly then closed the gap, lips pressing against Alice's with a reckless enthusiasm that overshadowed any possible finesse.
Caught off guard, Alice let go of Claire's wrist. Unsure of what to do with her hands, she let them hover for a moment, mind racing as she worked through the possibilities and the angles, through her desire and hesitation and the authenticity she could feel in Claire's kiss. In the end, she decided on gently settling them on the other girl's waist, the touch neither an invitation nor a rebuke.
Despite that, the touch was like a jolt to Claire's system, and she pulled back with a gasp. "Oh God, I'm sorry," she said, closing her eyes in self-recrimination and shaking her head as if in disbelief of what she'd done. "I'm sorry."
Hands still pressing lightly into Claire's sides, holding her there when the other woman might have run, Alice asked softly, "Why?"
"Why?" Claire laughed harshly. "Why did I do it or why am I sorry?"
Alice remained silent, gaze steady and unblinking, and after a moment, Claire sighed. "I did it because I wanted to," she said wryly, offering up an embarrassed, rueful grin. "I'm sorry because I shouldn't have. Things are tense enough between us."
Feeling the body beneath her fingers stiffen in anticipation of movement, Alice tightened her grip, keeping Claire where she was. The move was met with questioning blue eyes, but Alice didn't feel like answering.
The second kiss was softer, and Alice's gentle tug pulled Claire closer to her. Soon Claire's knees were buried in the soft pine needles covering the ground and her hands were in Alice's hair. Alice's lips were soft and lush, and she kissed with the same deliberate intensity as she fought. Her every move seemed prescient teeth nipped at a sensitive earlobe just as Claire realized that was what she wanted, fingers slid into her wetness the second before she parted her thighs further to seek more.
One hand braced against the rough bark of the tree behind Alice kept Claire steady and upright. Alice had simply unzipped her pants and slid her hand inside, eyes watching Claire intently as her fingers found and caressed sensitive flesh. Though she was fully clothed, that unblinking stare made Claire feel vulnerable and naked. She couldn't help the way her eyes fluttered shut and her head dropped back, baring the delicate, arching column of her throat. She couldn't help the helpless whimpers and aroused moans that escaped despite the way her teeth dug sharply into her bottom lip in an attempt to keep quiet. She couldn't help the way she shivered uncontrollably, lips pulling back in a pained grimace as she climaxed or the way her head fell forward to rest in the crook of Alice's shoulder seconds later as she fought to recover her breath.
"This isn't what I came out here for," she muttered again, the salt of Alice's skin a tease against her tongue as she tasted her.
Alice's hand wrapped around her ponytail, pulling her head back so that they were once again eye-to-eye. "It doesn't matter now," she said with a small, almost wistful, smile then captured Claire's wrist once again, bringing it down the flat plane of her belly to slide beneath the waistband of her shorts.
Alice had taken to sleeping in the back of the Hummer, long limbs wrapped around Claire. Most nights they made love, voices low and hushed, bodies writhing shadows in the darkness. It was one of those nights, when they were pressed tightly together, naked skin slick with sweat, that Alice looked Claire in the eye, voice dispassionately serious.
"Don't expect me to save you."
The words had echoed in the darkness. Claire had merely looked back at her, face inscrutable.
"Know that I will try my hardest, but don't expect it," Alice said fiercely, eyes blazing.
Claire instinctively knew that Alice found it hard to shoulder the weight of everyone's expectations. She was their silently acknowledged savior, the woman who would lead them through the darkness and bring them back out into the sun. She was their protector and their guide. She was their hope.
"I've failed two lovers and more friends than I can count," she continued, voice tight. In her mind's eye, she could see Rain's expectant face looking up at her as she injected the anti-virus into her vein, hopeful and trusting and full of belief. Then there was Spence, traitor that he was, who she hadn't been able to save from either Umbrella or himself. And her friends, so many friends, dead or lost to the virus. "Do not expect me to save you."
Hand cupping Alice's cheek, Claire stretched up, placing a soft kiss on her lips. "I don't," she vowed, eyes dark and serious. "But do not take that as license to get yourself killed. I need you here with me. Do you understand that, Alice? I need you here."
Alice's kiss was rough, as if the words she couldn't say could be burned into Claire's lips.
She disappeared in Detroit.
"Is she dead?" Claire asked, stomach muscles contracted as if she were preparing for a physical blow. The tension hummed through her, making her belly quiver.
Carlos dropped his head, unable to look her in the eyes. "Not as far as I know," he offered, lips pursed in a frown. "She's just gone."
Claire tried to ignore the gaping emptiness left by Alice's departure. She channeled her energy into making sure that her caravan survived. Without Alice there as their stoic protector, the people began to look to Claire. She decided where they would go next, made it a priority that they search out any other survivors, and managed the small miracles necessary to keep them all alive. She found supplies, fought off the infected, and buoyed spirits.
A year passed, and then another, and she decided that Alice had to be dead. She wouldn't have abandoned them otherwise, not when she knew how much Claire needed her.
Existence settled into rote as much as it could given the threat of death or worse that hung over their heads daily. They developed a rhythm, moving methodically across the country in search of whatever was left. Scavenging became increasingly difficult. Lone roamers had hit most of places they went before they arrived, and soon they were struggling to keep the tanker even half full and meals were down to one a day.
And then, on top of everything else, they were besieged by murderous birds.
After she woke up from her mini-coma, Carlos welcomed Alice back with a hug. Claire found that she could barely even look at her. That didn't mean she couldn't agree with her, though, and so now they were getting ready to make their way to Las Vegas, hoping the big city had enough supplies left to get them a whole lot closer to Alaska.
She was thinner, rangier, than she'd been the last time they'd seen one another. A quick glance had unearthed a few new scars, and there were fine lines around the corners of her eyes. She also, apparently, could now hold back a torrent of fire with the power of her mind.
Her voice was the same, though. Claire had been taking stock of what little inventory they had, the extended back flap of one of their trucks the best hiding place she could manage to find. There was no way to hide in the desert, of course, much less when one's survival depended on staying with the herd, but she'd needed to at least pretend she was alone.
"I'm not ready to talk to you," she said, voice rough. She needed time, needed to let the shock and surprise wear down to something less than it was, needed to be able to look at Alice and not want to simultaneously cry and scratch the other woman's eyes out in fury.
When familiar arms wrapped around her from behind, Claire allowed herself to relax into the embrace for a single, delineated moment. And then she pulled away, back stiff.
"I had to leave," Alice said, voice low and intense in her ear. "They were tracking me. They would have found us. They would have seen what you meant to me and they would have gone after you. I couldn't put you in danger."
Claire bit her bottom lip to keep all of the words she'd had pent up for years from tumbling out. "You couldn't have said good-bye?"
Alice was silent for a long moment, only the heat at Claire's back letting her know the other woman hadn't moved. "It would have been too hard," she finally said. "I wouldn't have been able to leave, not if I had to face you."
"Yeah, well, that 'I left to save you' shtick somehow doesn't make me feel better."
Claire knew that she was being harsh, but she couldn't stop the angry words.
"I expected too much," she continued sharply, anger vibrating through her tone. "Fucking me doesn't mean you "
She trailed off, unable to finish the thought, unable to say the words. Love me.
"But I do."
The wooden floorboards that made up the bed of the truck were rough and dusty. Everything was dusty, really, her skin now coated with a fine layer that had mixed with sweat.
"I couldn't stay away, not when I knew you were near."
Alice's voice was low but loud in the still confines of the inside of the supplies truck. The thick cloth covering it like a tent kept out most of the sun and most of the sound and almost all of the fresh, outside air. Inside, it was like a tomb.
"This is Claire Redfield's caravan. Are there any survivors?" She mimicked the words she'd heard broadcast over and over through her wireless radio like an atonal siren's call.
Claire stirred, pulling her head from Alice's shoulder to squint up at her in the darkness. "You never used to talk this much. You must have been lonely."
"I was." Rolling them over so that she was perched on top of Claire, Alice kissed her softly. The softness quickly turned into something more, something perhaps tinged with desperation.
She didn't talk again for quite some time.
"I'm too easy." Claire's voice was wry as she rolled up into a seated position, scanning the darkness for her clothes.
Alice laughed softly, then shook her head. "Look around you. Why should we make things harder than they already are?"
Claire didn't need to look around. If she did, she'd see the row of graves they'd dug that afternoon, seven more to add to the hundreds of ones she'd dug in the past five years.
Snagging her tank, she shrugged into it, the cloth sticking uncomfortably to her damp skin. "You don't get off the hook just because we're a species on the brink of extinction."
"I won't leave you again."
Claire shook her head, then muttered, "I'd be a fool to trust that."
Their eyes met for a brief second as Claire pulled back on the helicopter's throttle, lifting the last remaining survivors into the air and leaving Alice behind.
"Don't you fucking die down there," she'd said roughly as they'd watched the explosion that had given them entry to the compound. With Carlos' sacrifice, Claire and Alice were the only ones left from those first frantic days. "I will not survive this shit only to end up alone."
Alice's eyes had been full of promise though the rest of her was a blank. "I'll come for you."
"I won't wait forever," Claire had vowed, the words as much of a warning to herself as they were to Alice.
The map hadn't been completely accurate, but Claire didn't care. The further north they went, the more survivors they found and the less infected they saw.
"Claire, you've got to see this!" K-mart's voice was almost brimming over with excitement, her eyes wide and body thrumming with it.
Claire looked up from the elk skin she'd been trying to fashion into a coat. "What is it?"
"Just come look," K-mart insisted, grinning broadly.
Putting her knife down, Claire pushed to her feet. She'd built the cabin she was living in with help from the locals and the few remaining survivors she'd managed to bring with her. It had been the last one in the small settlement they'd founded.
Stepping out onto the blanket of snow covering what they'd all begun to refer to as Main Street, Claire stopped short, shaking her head in disbelief.
"I brought some friends," Alice said, cocking her head back in the direction of the phalanx of clones standing behind her. "I hope you don't mind."
"Fuck," Claire muttered, unable to think of anything else. Each one of the women standing behind Alice looked just like her, with a stern scowl on her face and a preternatural stillness that somehow constantly seemed to be on the verge of movement.
Alice chuckled, face falling into a hesitant half-smile. "Did it take me too long?"
Claire was silent for a moment, the question's implications racing through her mind.
When she spoke, her voice was soft. "No."
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