: Cold In the Desert [5/?]Author
: Resident EvilRating
: PG (for an attempt at violence and grossness)Word Count
: Nothing is mine. Except the story idea. A/N
: A huge, HUGE (we're talking Universe-like huge here) thank you to Divodog for her beta reading skills, advice/input and... well, just her general and awesome encouragement. This chapter would have probably been another month (sorry about that) in the making if she hadn't dropped me an inbox message. Again, sorry for the delay in posting this next part. Block is a bitch and i have no other excuse, but i'm hoping the fact that this update is a little longer than normal will make up for it. ;)Summary
: Claire Redfield leads her convoy across the sun-scorched land, feeling cold despite the heat. Alice enters their camp under a blanket of fire and finds a kindred spirit. Maybe warmth will find them together.
“Vegas?” Alice offers, free arm moving so she can run a hand down over Claire’s legs. “Can you feel that?” The redhead nods, peering curiously up at Alice and wondering if the warm sensation she feels sweeping through them is just the blood flowing back.
“Yeah. I think I’m okay.” She frowns. “Vegas?” Alice brings her gaze back up, checking the fallen woman over for any visible injuries along the way, and cocks an eyebrow.
“Can you think of any other reason two white tigers would be prowling the middle of the desert?” Alice lifts a hand, running it methodically over red hair and probing the back of Claire’s skull. “Did you hit your head?” Claire shivers, but shakes her head and releases her grip on Alice’s arm to prop herself up on her elbows. “We probably just put down Siegfried and Roy’s two most prized pets.” The blonde gets to her feet and, smirking a little, holds out her hand towards the fallen woman.
“Yeah, well, somehow I don’t think they’re going to miss them.” Without hesitation, Claire grasps the proffered hand and allows Alice to pull her up. It’s then that she sees the marks in the other woman’s side. Instinctively, she reaches out with her hands and ducks her head to inspect the wound. “You’re hurt.” Claire’s fingers tease the shredded material at Alice’s hip, gently parting the blood-soaked scraps to find the deep, gaping punctures that stretch from her hip bone to half way towards the blonde’s bellybutton. She grimaces, taking in the almost serrated-looking flesh, and as her thumb grazes the unmarred skin just below the wounds, Alice flinches. Claire’s hands still.
“It’s nothing.” She tries to move away but Claire advances on her, though she has the good grace to let her hands fall from the other woman. “I’ll be fine.” Claire’s forehead creases and her brows knit together as she lifts her head to stare at Alice. And Alice can see the fear on her face plain as day.
“Did that... did that come from one of them?” Without shifting her gaze, Claire gestures behind herself to the motionless form of the once proud, majestic animal. Alice’s eyes don’t leave the green ones before her, but she remains silent as she watches the lines fade from the other woman’s forehead and can’t help but hear Claire’s heartbeat pick up speed. “Alice.” She’s grown accustom to people sounding afraid when speaking to her, but Claire seems afraid for
her, and Alice isn’t used to that. “Alice, if one of those things mauled you then we need to-”
“I’m already infected, Claire.” The Earth stops moving beneath their feet, they know because they feel it jerk as it stalls. Almost like someone is trying to pull a rug out from under them. Claire feels a sudden weakening of her knees, but locks them to avoid a fall. Her mind races, but she can’t pinpoint a single thought long enough to give it a voice, so she just stares. With confused green eyes and mouth half open, she stares. And Alice’s suddenly cold, empty eyes are staring right back. “Don’t worry, I’m not contagious.” She says it in a forced, offhanded manner, like it would be a joke under any other circumstances, but it’s one Claire wouldn’t ever find funny.
“What do you mean you’re already infected
?” Claire spits the word out like its poison and in the back of her mind she’s counting the bullets left in her gun. The realization makes her shiver.
“I worked for Umbrella.” Claire blinks twice in rapid succession and unconsciously takes a slight step backwards. Alice notices. “I was head of security, but I was trying to stop them when the virus got out.” And the Earth rockets back into motion, feeling to Claire as though it’s spinning at a thousand times its normal speed. She doesn’t understand and the panic makes her sweat, makes her dizzy. Alice pauses, running through her memories and trying to decide which bank would be the least detrimental to pull from. She decides to skip a stack. “I was captured by a man named Isaacs. He... experimented on me. Injected me with the T-Virus to see what would happen. He wanted to play God; create new, superior life.” All at once, Alice looks weary. All strength and power just seems to drain from her posture, and it’s as though Claire is looking at an entirely different person. “I bonded with the virus. Instead of killing me it changed me, turned me into something new.” Blue eyes are fixed on a spot somewhere past Claire. “He got what he wanted. Frankenstein made his monster. And one day I’ll kill him for it.” The revelation is too much for Claire to comprehend and yet not enough. There’s so much venom in Alice’s words and Claire doesn’t understand what she’s saying. She wants to ask questions but her mouth won’t form the words. She’s frozen, immobile, and Alice feels the chill rolling off of her like waves. She braces herself against the familiar sting of it.
Every rational thought Claire can pick out of the jumble is telling her to retreat. To leave Alice right where she stands, get back on the quad and back to her convoy. But her feet won’t move, and she’s sure it’s the thoughts she can’t
make sense of that are rooting her to the spot.
“I... I should have told you. But I didn’t know how.” Alice’s whispered confession ripples the air around them like a gunshot. She doesn’t need to say that she won’t burden the convoy any longer than she has to, that she’ll leave - though part of her expects Claire to ask - because her posture screams it, and sad eyes find Claire’s for half a second before Alice turns to walk back to the house. And something indefinable grasps the redhead in that short span of time. Her hand moves to grip Alice’s left wrist and the blonde stops, and waits, even though Claire knows she could have easily broken the hold.
“I’m sorry.” Even though she isn’t sure exactly what she’s apologizing for, she doesn’t mean it any less. Alice doesn’t look at her, doesn’t speak, but she takes the words in with closed eyes and releases a breath she is unaware she had been holding. It’s Claire who breaks the contact. Alice sighs heavily and continues on her way, finally spotting the gun that had been jarred from her grip during the fight and bending to retrieve it. They move towards the back door of the house in silence.
When they re-enter the hallway Claire recoils at the stench of death, her brief stay outside breathing in clearer air making the effects all the worse. Unbidden, her eyes fall to the messy trail of blood smeared across the floor and she feels her stomach churn at the sight of it. She pushes the threatening rise of bile away and focuses her gaze on the top of the staircase. Quietly, she walks towards it, her boots making little to no sound against the floor. Alice’s eyes follow her movements, head thrumming from the stress of the conversation they’d just had. The cloying sense of dread and unease sifts through her, the weight of knowing she’ll be doomed to isolation once more knotting her muscles as it trickles over them. It isn’t as though she was unaware it was an inevitability, she’d been fully prepared to move on once she’d felt she’d done all she could within the convoy, but that part of her that so missed human contact had hoped it would last that little bit longer. Had hoped, somehow, this time would be different.
Claire produces her flashlight from one of her many belt pouches and shines it down towards the stairs. Blood drips from the hardwood, creating a slow, morose waterfall that descends from each step, and Claire hugs the wall to avoid stepping in it as they ascend. Alice tails her, eyeing the blood trail as they pass it, and tuning her hearing to any sounds that might be emanating from the upper floor.
“Something’s up here.” A slight creak works its way free of the aging wood beneath Claire’s feet as her movements still and, gun still trained ahead of her, she turns her head to look at Alice.
“I don’t hear anything.” She whispers after a few seconds of silent listening. The ghost of a smile passes over Alice’s lips so quickly that Claire can’t be sure she really saw it.
“I did.” The blonde inclines her head, motioning for the woman leading the way to continue. She does.
When they hit the top, they find themselves in another dark narrow hallway, this one with three rooms branching off of it: one to their immediate left, another straight ahead, and the last to the far right. Claire glances over her shoulder again and meets Alice’s eyes, and for a second the blonde thinks the convoy leader is going to ask her something, but then her gaze falters and returns to the rooms before them. She tilts her beam of light downwards to find the blood smears leading into the one nearest to them and takes a breath. The floorboards creak faintly as Claire cautiously moves to push open the door to their left with the barrel of her gun and Alice’s raises her own, stepping back just far enough so she can point it comfortably over the redhead’s shoulder. The hinges of the door protest loudly at Claire’s persistence, but it eventually swings open with an metallic shrieking that makes her teeth hurt. Neither woman has chance to take in the newly revealed room.
A wet, broken-sounding growl fills the air that is suddenly thick with the stench of decay milliseconds before a mottled mass of fur is lunging at them. Alice doesn’t think, doesn’t have time to, she shuts everything else out and just reacts.
Claire’s shirt feels rough against Alice’s palm as it slides against it. Her left arm winds around Claire’s middle, pulling the redhead back and flush against her. Alice retracts the hand holding her gun and draws it in close, then in a blur of motion she’s moving them. In an instant that flies by so quickly Claire doesn’t have time to blink, the convoy leader finds herself pressed against the wall beside the door with Alice’s body covering her own. There’s a dull thud, accompanied by the scraping of nails, as whatever lunged at them lands somewhere behind them in the hallway. Claire’s eyes flick to stare over Alice’s shoulder. The blonde sees them widen, feels Claire’s back muscles tense against the arm Alice still has around her and, without moving it, she turns her body to face the animal.
Hunched as though remembering some long practiced but forgotten instinct, the tiger looks ready to pounce. It is a far cry from its glory days, almost unrecognisable for what it is beneath the patchwork quilt of matted red-brown fur. It’s back legs continue to function, allow it to stand, despite a lot of the muscle mass having apparently been torn from the bone and thin strings of deep red trail from them as a reminder of what used to be there. The fur along its tail is split so that one of bone and one of mangled, patchy flesh twitch in unison and eventually join back into one near the animal’s rear. Sporadic areas of fur remain along its back, thickening towards its neck and along the animal’s front legs, but its chest has been torn to leave two thirds of its ribcage visible, and putrid, rotten half-chewed remnants of its insides spill from between the cracks. Its dead eyes stare at them from sunken, black-rimmed sockets. Unseeing, cold, and mindlessly hungry. Skin and fur have been shredded to reveal the right side of a powerful jaw that hangs open in the hopes something will fall into it.
Claire doesn’t know when, but in the infinitesimal amount of time that has passed while they gazed at the creature, Alice has dropped the weapon she was holding and pulled the shotgun free from the sheath lying against her back. It takes no longer than a few seconds. Alice straightens her arm and her aim, training it on the tiger, and watches as stiffening muscles, still somehow manage to respond to the dead animal’s command, ripple as it makes to leap. And just as she releases a breath, her finger squeezes the trigger. Claire’s eyes close against the image of the tiger’s head seeming to explode, but the gunshot rings in her ears and makes her see a blazing white light behind her eyelids. But the noise gradually fades to nothing, and as it does Claire feels Alice turn back towards her, and she lets her eyelids blink open.
“Are you okay?” Alice’s gravelly voice smoothes away any remaining uncomfortable ripples from the gunshot blast and Claire nods wordlessly. Because the fact that Alice has just saved her life, again, registers as she asks the question, and Claire isn’t sure ‘thank you’ will cover it. Alice deposits the mossberg back into its holder without looking and Claire finds herself appreciating the simple fluidity of the motion. With a last lingering look, Alice slides the arm nestled between Claire and the wall free and backs away from the redhead, turning to face the downed tiger after a few steps. Alice settles awkwardly to one knee before it and green eyes travel over the new comer’s stooped form before Claire pushes her body off the wall and lets the momentum carry her forward.
“It looks so much worse than the two outside.” Claire’s eyebrows knit together to form a frown as she stands looking down at the body of the beast. Alice reaches out to touch the felled animal and the convoy leader has to fight the urge to bat her hand away. She can’t be positive, but she’s pretty sure Alice wouldn’t take kindly to that sort of reaction. Still, it’s a hard urge to control after going so long spending day to day trying to maintain as little contact with the infected as possible, but sometimes it was unavoidable. Alice’s hand grips it by the patch of fur remaining at the scruff of its neck and she tilts its head to the side. A chunk of muscle has been torn from its throat to leave an oozing, red-brown wound surrounded by ragged flesh and as Alice assesses the rest of the tiger more closely, she can see that the majority of the wounds smattering the carcass look similar.
“That’s because they tried eating this one.” Claire’s features twisted into a look of disgust. “Hunger must have gotten the better of them, so they decided to pick off the weakest member of their pack. I guess this guy looked more appetizing than the rust buckets and sand outside.”
“That’s not normal, is it?” Claire’s question pulls Alice’s gaze up so that they are looking at one another. “For an infected to eat something else that’s infected?” With a half-hearted lifting and lowering of her shoulders, Alice’s shrugged and released her hold on the tiger’s head, allowing it to loll back against the blood-spattered floor.
“Nope. But it happens. Who knows how long those crows that attacked the convoy had been feeding on infected flesh.” Alice stands, flinching as she straightens her back and the tender skin around the wounds in her stomach is pulled. Again, Claire reaches out. With hands that have dressed likely hundreds of wounds over the last few years, she pushes up what’s left of the right side of Alice’s shirt and ducks her head to once again inspect the damage. The raw pink tissue bordering the gashes looks angry and inflamed, but the bleeding has stopped to leave ugly congealed blotches and trails along Alice’s hip and abdomen. It looks a lot messier that Claire suspects the wounds actually are.
“We need to clean you up.” She lets Alice’s shirt slide back into place and turns, shining the flashlight she’s still somehow gripping in her hand towards the room the tiger had lunged out at them from. “Maybe we can find something here.”
“I’m fine.” Alice’s low voice insists, but Claire doesn’t even bother glancing back at her.
“I didn’t ask you how you were, Alice.” The blonde visibly bristles and is instantly thankful the convoy leader has her back to her. Once again Alice finds herself in need of being reminded; Claire is the leader here. And while she might not be Alice’s leader, there was still a certain way the redhead did things, and she had to respect that. Quietly, Alice follows the other woman into the room, bending to retrieve the gun she dropped mid-stride.
“I mean you don’t need to waste the supplies on me.” She breathes, stepping over the threshold and into what looks like a bathroom minus the bath. In the darkness Alice can make out a sink, smashed mirror still holding onto the wall above it, a toilet and an old fashioned looking shower. The shower curtain has been ripped from most of the metal rings securing it to the rail above the spray head, but it clutches to the last couple and Alice’s icy blue eyes follow it down to the blood smeared linoleum floor. “It’ll heal.” A bloody, elongated hand print marks the last two feet of the formerly beige shower curtain then disappears into a small pool of blood. Claire turns the thin beam of light down towards it, following the tiny stream that sifts off from it and leads to the crumpled bottom half of a human being. The shattered remains of a pelvic bone peak out from the shredded waistband of dark coloured pants, still clinging in places to the lone pair of legs that look like they’ve spent time as Cerberus’s chew toy. The areas the material doesn’t cover have mostly been stripped down to the bone. “But I don’t think that will.”
“Fuck, that’s disgusting.” Claire groans, kicking the boot of one of the severed limbs with her own and making a face. “Think those belong to our boy downstairs?” She casts a glance over her shoulder and finds Alice regarding her with a raised eyebrow.
“Probably.” Alice rasps, an echo of a smile tugging at her lips. “But I don’t think he’s going to need them anymore.” Turning back, Claire lets out another disgruntled noise of disgust before shining the beam of her pocket flashlight around the room. It’s sparse of any decoration, just the simple bare necessities, but as Claire walks the minimal length of it, eyes scanning for anything useful, she finds that the mirror above the sink is actually a medicine cabinet. Holstering her gun, and careful to avoid touching the jagged edges of the broken glass, she slides her fingers into the space where the mirrored door meets the wall of the cabinet and flips it open. She’s met with the usual array of things a person might find in a bathroom cupboard. At least, before the apocalypse. As her eyes scan the various nondescript bottles and boxes cluttering the shelves, the thought occurs to her that she’s gazing at a veritable museum. A window to a world almost forgotten. A place where things like painkillers and mouthwash were a cupboard away and taken for granted. There’s a small rectangular grey box sat on the bottom shelf and Claire wraps her fingers around the top of it to lift it out. Resting it on the flat edge of the sink, she fiddles with the plastic clasp on the front until the lid pops open and then shines the light inside. The beam flickers over a wad of gauze, a thick roll of bandage, some Band-Aids, a small container of hydrogen peroxide and a few antiseptic wipes. There’s a small pair of scissors and a slim pair of tweezers tucked between the bandage and the side of the box, and the remainder of a roll of adhesive tape.
“I don’t know if any of this will help but-” She turns to walk back towards Alice, still looking down at the contents of the box.
“Claire.” Alice’s eyes hadn’t left the redhead since she’d turned away and they remain still fixed on her even as Claire looks up. “I don’t need that stuff.” The redhead rolls her tongue over her lips in anticipation of speaking, but before she does she holds out the hand wrapped around the flashlight.
“Hold this?” Wordlessly, Alice takes the offered object, and then her entire body jerks as Claire’s index finger slides beneath one of the straps of her belt and tugs her forward. At the same time the redhead moves backwards, closer to the sink, and once she’s close enough to it she turns and places the first aid box back onto the edge of the sink. And Alice is too confused to know whether she’s annoyed or not. Because while the other woman is blatantly ignoring her, Alice is fairly certain Claire is also attempting to take care of her. And Alice isn’t used to that. Still, she isn’t about to let the convoy leader waste supplies that would be useful to someone else.
“The virus....” Claire’s moments still. “It heals me.” And she can hear the uneven timber of Alice’s voice. It waivers as she speaks, but only slightly, and Claire can tell the blonde is trying to control it. That speaking about the T-Virus and its effects, even limiting any kind of explanation to just those five words, is difficult for her. The reluctance she feels even saying ‘virus’ is clear, and as stubborn as she feels Alice has the potential to be, as stubborn as she feels herself wanting to be in reaction to it, Claire feels any kind of obstinacy drain from her.
“It might heal you, but it won’t get rid of the nail fragment wedged into your side.” Frowning, Alice lifts her shirt and shines the flashlight onto the lacerations marring her skin. After a few seconds, Alice spots it. Small and turned red by the blood, the splintered tip of a tiger claw is wedged into the cut closest to her hipbone. “And it’s probably going to be uncomfortable if you just let the skin close over it.” With frown lines still creasing her forehead, Alice lifts her gaze to find Claire clutching the tweezers between her thumb and index finger. “So I’m gonna use these to take it out. Okay?”
“I can do it myself.” A fleeting image of Alice standing before her with the hackles on her neck raised like a fierce and terrified cat swims through Claire’s mind and when it clears to reveal the woman before her, she sees apprehension clouding Alice’s face. The notion that the blonde is like a wild beast hits her hard enough to cause her to drawn in a deep breath. Because that’s exactly
what Alice has become. After years of isolation and fighting for survival alone, she’s turned into the human equivalent of a anxious and starved wild animal. The kind of person you need to approach with caution because any other strategy might scare them away. Or make them lash out.
“You don’t need to do everything yourself, Alice.” Claire whispers with a quiet but undoubtedly there insistency and takes a step towards Alice, closing the distance between them. “Let me help.” Seconds ticked by in silence as Claire waited for some kind of permission from Alice. The blonde’s gaze had turned intense with Claire’s words and she stares at the convoy leader unfalteringly as time slips by.
Alice knows it shouldn’t be this difficult. She vividly remembers a time when the idea of someone offering to help her wouldn’t have made her balk and the rational part of her brain is calmly attempting to convince her of the absurdity of her reaction. But the irrational part, the one that makes her sweat and feel claustrophobic whenever there’s another living entity within a ten foot radius, makes her want to run. But the way Claire is looking at her; all gentle determination and with an unrepentant need to help, makes Alice pause long enough to realise that the walls aren’t closing in. And she feels something shift almost indiscernibly inside her. And though it isn’t visible, something slight has changed.
Claire’s heart is beating faster than it should; she knows because she can hear it. Finally Alice blinks, breaking the connection, and with a slight inclination of her head she nods to let Claire know it’s okay. And so, taking another breath, the redhead drops to her knees so that her head is more or less level with Alice’s stomach. The beam from the flashlight jerks erratically as Claire’s lifts her left hand to press it against the uninjured portion of Alice’s side and slides it with a careful slowness across her back, lifting both of the blonde’s shirts in tandem with the motion.
Alice clenches her jaw and tightens her grip on the flashlight, hoping to mask the movement by positioning the beam so it shines directed on the area of her wounds. Claire doesn’t make any kind of reaction that would imply she’d registered anything out of the ordinary and Alice is thankful for that. Human contact hadn’t ever been something she’d foreseen herself having to get used to again, but things rarely transpire the way you think they should. Claire’s touch is the most direct she’s felt in a while and Alice finds her body reacting to it without any sort of conscious prompting. Her body tingles as it registers the feel of foreign skin brushing against it, a thousand nerve endings springing to life and raising goose bumps along her flesh as they reach out for more. And Alice wrestles with the sudden urge to close her eyes against the way it mutates into a slow, pleasant burn in the wake of Claire’s touch.
Green eyes pan the expanse of the newly revealed skin before them and Claire finds herself surprised by how smooth and, except for the most resent additions, unblemished Alice’s form is. She’d suspected with all the fighting there would be more scars, though at the point when that thought had crossed her mind she’d been unaware of Alice’s ability to heal. As she presses a hand more firmly against Alice’s back and lifts the one holding the tweezers, she wonders if that’s the cause of it. Careful not to rest the side of her fingers against the open wounds, Claire manoeuvres the tweezers with slow and precise movements, taking steadying breaths in an attempt to quell the slight shaking of her hand.
Alice only allows her eyes to close when the tips of the tweezers finally make contact with the raw skin of the tiger wounds. She screws them closed and bites back the groan of pain clawing its way up along her throat. It’s almost like a hot poker being pressed against her side, except the metal is cold and she can feel the dainty sharpness of the tips of the tweezers as Claire realises she has no option but to force her way into the tender opening in order to gain a solid enough purchase on the claw fragment to pull it out. Claire shifts closer, her thumb moving against Alice’s back for a fraction of a second before it stops. The blonde momentarily wonders if Claire had been attempting some kind of comforting touch, a knee-jerk reaction she hadn’t been quick enough to stop, but a particularly deep dig of the tweezers finally makes Alice wince and the thought vanishes.
“Sorry.” The kneeling woman murmurs, but Alice doesn’t respond. “I got it.” She can feel the foreign object being pulled out and lets the odd sense of relief wash over her. “Does it hurt?” Claire’s low voice spreads warm breath across her abdomen and Alice’s feels the muscles beneath the skin there react, twitching as though jarred by some electric impulse. She opens her mouth to speak, stalling for a second to catch a breath she hadn’t known she’d been in danger of losing as Claire stands and turns away from her, dropping the inch-long claw tip onto a piece of square gauze and folding the edges around it.
“It’s already healing.” It’s an evasive answer and Alice knows it, but they’re the only kind she really remembers how to give.
“That doesn’t answer my question.” Because she can’t recall the last time she met someone brave enough to call her on it.