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Resident Evil 7: Reckoning

Chapter Text

:Prologue:

Augusta, Georgia – 2017

The trembling heat permeated where it touched. It leeched against the screened in porch where he slept, fitfully, dreaming of things that bred in the dark and brought you screaming to your knees. The skittering flicker of the television screen echoed across his face, casting shadows and seeping light on a smooth complexion.

Age had been kind to the face it blessed with its touch, it left just a fine spill of crows feet from the corner of sea foam eyes and the suggestion of smile lines at the edges of a kissable mouth. Although the mouth in question hadn't done much kissing…not in years. The etched jaw and finely bladed nose added depth to the five o'clock shadow that made a beautiful face somehow masculine. There was a line of cheek, a bend of brow, a curve of jaw…something…that took away the femininity that might have taken residence on such a fine countenance. The hair that spilled sweaty across the brow was some shade lost between blonde and the buttery brown of good dark leather. The gift of forty years had woven a few strands of silver at the temples and through the shaggy sweep along the tender shell of an ear.

The face was graced with the spill of a single scar that cut across the right eyebrow and curled a little toward the fluttering eyes with their sweep of dark lashes. A gift, it would seem, from one of the things that chased him now in his nightmares. It made the perfect face approachable; it marked the man who wore it as a survivor.

Because he was. He was one of the original survivors of Raccoon City; the first of the major metropolises to fall beneath the swinging sword of bio-terrorism. It had struck sharp and fast, cleaving the world in two on who stood for it and who stood against it. Those who hadn't died had bonded together, fighting for the cause like warriors on a crusade. They bore their banners of redemption proudly, striking blows in broad and silent ways, leaving the gaping corpse of the evil Umbrella corporation nothing more than a bleeding mess.

And yet…yet…Umbrella had risen again. It had risen to reform. It was now…the good guy. The paramilitary force set up as BLUE Umbrella – blue for good – blue for redemption. It was meant to strike back the evil that it had once wrought upon the waiting world. And those who had spent a lifetime fighting it were now being asked to step up…and range themselves beside it.

The price often felt too high.

The price had led him on a path of revenge and vengeance. It had guided his hand like a marionette, using his fingers to pull the trigger against those who needed to face the reckoning for what they had done. He'd stepped into the battle to protect a little girl…and he'd lost the only thing he'd ever cared about in her bid to protect another.

On the small phone that lay against his softly heaving stomach, a single video was still playing. It played all the time. It played on repeat when the day was done and the long night offered little respite from the demons that clawed at his throat and wanted his blood.

It haunted him…her face.

It was there now on the tiny IPhone screen, laughing. Red, red hair cut shaggily to her pretty chin and big green eyes. Waving. She was waving. The sea was behind her, tossing in the troubled gray sky. "Hey handsome. Hey baby. Has it been three weeks already? This trip is taking FOREVER. Some babysitting gig huh? She's sweet though. Super cute. Reminds me of Sherry but with dark hair. Fuck, I miss you. I said no when you offered to come along. That was me right? I said no. Stupid. Next time right?" Her face smiled, a little sadly now, into the screen, "See ya soon right? Don't forget me, Mr. Kennedy. Promise?...I love you."

The video shimmered, it stopped. The phone buzzed.

He shifted in his sleep.

It buzzed again.

Annoyed, he cracked one beautiful eye and peered at it. His gloved hand lifted it to his face. The white t-shirt he wore was stuck to his honed torso with rivulets of sweat. It was summer in the south. It was never less than 100 on any given day in this god forsaken shithole. But it was HER place. He couldn't sell it. He couldn't leave it.

He lived there with her things. Her smell. Her dog. Her memory.

Her ghost.

The dog woofed gently on the floor by the porch swing where he'd fallen asleep. He sat up slowly, a crick in his neck. Rubbing it, he clicked his tongue and the fat Pug leaped up beside him. Bob. Dumbest dog name ever. He'd given her the damn dog for her birthday. Three weeks before she'd left him to escort a little girl found amongst the burning ashes of a raided lab in the waters off the coast of Bolivia. There was some connection there to Heavenly Island where Claire had been working on shutting down an B.O.W. Outbreak with TerraSave.

Claire was the first choice for children. It was in her blood.

Even if it wasn't meant to be in her arms.
.......

The contamination on Sushestovanie Island from the T-Phobos virus had left her infertile. They'd tried for months and months before seeking a specialist. She'd wept for days afterward. Inconsolable, he'd finally wrapped her in her mother's blanket and carried her to the porch. On the swing, they'd rocked, Claire on his lap, pale and lost.

"I'll never be a mother."

Nothing had ever hurt him worse.

And he'd said, "Yes, you will. I'll buy you a fucking kid if I have to."

"Black market baby bartering, Mr. Kennedy? Pretty risky behavior for the second most powerful man in the world."

"Pfft. Second? The President is a figurehead, sweetheart. I'm the MOST powerful man in the country. I'll buy you a goddamn village of orphan kids. A herd of them. Say the word."

"…you're so dumb."

"I mean it, Claire. I'll go punch a pregnant crack head in the face right now and take her baby. Just give me the go ahead."

"Will you still love me if I can't have your children?"

"No. But I'll still fuck you…because I'm a good dude like that."

They'd held eyes in the early dawn. She'd twitched her mouth. He'd twitched his. They pressed foreheads together.

"You're a real pal, Kennedy. Let me tell ya."

She'd laughed. She'd laughed and held him. And loved him. And it was better.
...........

And then?

The fetch and carry mission. No big deal. Just escorting a little girl.

Until one day, she stopped calling. The transmission was lost with the ship she was on. Poof. Up in smoke.

No goodbye. No see ya later.

Gone.

Missing.

No trace. No answers.

Gone.

He was still trying to find her. He was still trying to find himself without her.

The beer on the ground was warm but he didn't care. He picked it up and took a swig. The foamy yeasty beverage tickled. He tucked the pug against his side, the big googly eyes watched him soulfully, and he opened the email on his phone.

His heart stopped. It stopped in his chest.

The email address was familiar.

And the words were there. THERE. For the first time in three years:

L-

I'M HERE. COME FIND ME. HURRY.

-C

An address.

Dulvey.

Dulvey, Louisiana.

Nowhere. A hole in the wall. A two stop light town in the middle of the bayou.

Why? WHY?!

Why now?

He rose, heart racing now. RACING. He dialed the phone. It rang once and was picked up. The other voice was gruff but alert. Did he sleep? Probably not. He was a machine.

"….she's alive."

"What?"

"She's alive."

"….how do you know?"

"She emailed me."

"What?"

"RIGHT NOW. Right this second. It's her account. The trace I just threw on it? It's legit. It's Dulvey, Louisiana. Why? What's there?"

Silence. He listened as her brother breathed sharp and low. He could HEAR the same desperate hope in each heavy gust of it. He'd come through. He didn't know any other way.

He was Chris Redfield…and his baby sister was missing.

"I don't know. Don't go in alone, you fucking idiot. Give me a few days. Let me dig and see what's there. Why now? Nothing else? Nothing?"

"No. Just that. Just come find her. She's waiting."

"God damnit, Leon. It's a trap."

"Maybe. Maybe it is. Maybe. But what if its not? What if she's been trapped or something all this time? What then? She's waiting. I'm going."

"Leon! Give me a few days."

Leon shifted toward the house. He could hear the crickets and smell the summer air. He could feel his heart. And he hadn't felt his heart in years.

"I'm going. Follow me down there when you're ready. But I'm going. "

"Leon, wa-"

But he didn't wait. He hung up. He was already moving. He was already rushing.

He was Leon Kennedy. He didn't wait for back up. He went in alone. It was his thing. It was his M.O. And it was his GIRL.

A thousand horses from hell couldn't drag him away.

"Hold on, sweetheart. I'm on my way."

He hoped, somewhere, she could hear him.

He was going down into the fucking bayou to bring her BACK.

He had no idea what waited for him there.

And what it would cost them both to survive it.
..................

The email fired off. She grabbed her head, gasping, gasping. She shook, hands trembling. The pain was clawing in her brains. The need was there like a red, wet, sucking thing. Her sweaty face lifted, breathing shaky and uneven. Terror licked around her lungs and stole her breath.

She was in the dark, always in the dark, horrified and lost.

Her hands typed fast on the dirty little keyboard. She didn't have much time. They'd find out she'd gotten out soon enough. They'd come looking.

Daddy…would come looking.

Making a small terrified sound, she clicked the record button. Because the first email wasn't her. It wasn't. It wasn't Claire Redfield sending it.

It was HER.

She WANTED Leon to come. She wanted him here. She wanted family. She wanted family for Claire.

She wanted Claire's husband to come looking for her. So they could finally be a family. A mommy. A daddy. An eager daughter.

OH GOD.

Claire started speaking, terrified and low, whispering, "Leon…baby…don't come ok? Don't come. If you get this? Ignore that last email. Forget it. Please. Don't come. Stay away. STAY AWAY. Oh god…" She felt the tears spill out of her eyes. "Burn this place to the ground…hurry. But don't come after me. I'm done. I'm lost. She's INSIDE me…"

The door creaked. Claire felt the fear burst sharp and slick in her stomach. She gagged with it, like she'd vomit all over the floor. She spun toward the sound…nothing.

Just the dark.

But she was NEVER alone.

She whispered it one last time, "Stay away, baby…please…I love you."

And the door was thrown wide now. Claire started screaming. She scrambled. The chair over turned. She ran. It wouldn't matter. It never did.

The dirty floor hit her face. She hit her knees. She kept pleading. She kept screaming.

She was still screaming when the video cut off.

And she'd never been able to hit send.

Chapter Text

:One: Welcome to the Family:

Dulvey, Louisiana – 2017

The red and white Dodge Challenger streaked down the narrow highway. Unfolding before it, the landscape spread rich and unkempt. The teeming brush strokes of the swamp painted a portrait of the wilds of the bayou. It offered the eye green and gold, from moss to bald cypress, tupelo to Japanese maple – the sheer brilliant stream of endless colors was a kaleidoscope of joy to the naked observation. The reeds that blessed the saturated wetlands transported oxygen through hollow tubes while water lilies danced gracefully atop the murky green marsh seeking the soothing rays of the sun.

Hydrophytes were plants that thrived in wet climates. Graced with the ability to adapt to the waterlogged environment and survive the lack of oxygen, they grew abundant in the Louisiana wetlands which spread for over ten thousand square miles toward the mouth of the mighty Mississippi comprising more than ten percent of the entire fertile marshlands found within the United States. The abundant rush of nature encircled the humid banks, promising a plethora discovery for the nature dweller seeking a retreat from the concrete jungle of the standard metropolis. Cypress trees were the most common, offering elbows and knees of bent roots to the curious climber as they sought purchase high above the water line.

It was lost on him. It was all lost. From the thrilling gold and red of the world turning to fall, to the endless skyline over the flat horizon laced with weeping willows and wonder, to the joy of a cloudless sky across an unsoiled canvas depicting Mother Nature at her most virginal. He was a man on a mission.

His phone buzzed into his ear, uselessly.

"Damnit, Leon, you can't even be sure it's her. I can't get any confirmation on a damn thing. There are some rumors of missing people over the last few years but nothing that points to a fucking conspiracy here. You don't have any idea what you're getting into there."

The sleek muscle car ate up the pavement, racing like a jungle cat along the cracked surface until it ran out. The GPS told him he was close to the Baker Farm. Farm? What was being "farmed" in Louisiana?

"You think I can't handle it, big guy? Huh? Concerned about my well being? What if there's angry rednecks with pitchforks?! What if the Texas Chainsaw Massacre is happening? Will I run into the barn instead of jumping into my running car to escape!?" The mocking good humor was genuine. It often was with Leon Kennedy…or had been once, before the vessel carrying his wife had disappeared in the middle of nowhere. Humor had fled and left a shell behind.

Since that email had come in, he'd felt more like himself then he had in years. Even the smallest hope was better than the numbing emptiness that had permeated his existence in her absence. The answers were here, waiting. He could feel it in his bones.

The car slid to a stop beneath some teeming pine trees, nestled in the dying grass that hailed the end of summer and the rainy season. The road was gone here and there was no more taking the car onward. Up the canopied rise, a wrought iron gate blocked the way into the main concourse of the Farm. Beyond its blackened fingers, the house could be glimpsed between mossy branches.

First glance showed that it was massive and faded from the sun. Peeling paint spilled in an eggshell white that was graying and turning yellow with age. It was gothic revival in nature, showing several balconies and steepled rooves graced with the stack of a red brick chimney heralding a solution to a chilly winter. Corinthian style columns leveraged the sagging roof of a porch that invited the viewer to mount the crumbling stairs and enter the sprawling aging estate at their own peril.

Peril?

Leon considered the thought. He was usually the first person to put stock in his instincts. And his instincts said: DO NOT ENTER THAT HOUSE. Of course, he was also the first person to ignore the fuck out of his instincts too.

Chris returned, "Kennedy, don't be stupid here. You ran into that village in Spain like a fucking idiot lone ranger and look what happened there."

"That was different."

"How so?"

"I was young and dumb then."

"….you're still dumb. You're just old now."

"Still younger then you, old timer. How's that AARP discount treatin you?"

"Keep it up, chuckles. Keep it up. You're gonna joke your way into an early grave you go in there guns blazing and cracking bad one liners. Mark my words."

"I'm waiting for the ominous music to start playing following your dire predictions." The quiet stretched between them. "Still waiting. It should start soon."

"You're the dumbest person I've ever had the misfortune of being related to."

"Ahhh. That's like a big wet kiss with words, Redfield. Mental fist bump of love."

Chris couldn't stop the laugh. The unflappable Leon Kennedy – the dude didn't know any other way but sarcasm and bad jokes. Seriously. "I don't have the time to rescue you, Kennedy. I am not kidding here. I will be PISSED if you get yourself caught and I have to break you out."

"How far behind me are you?"

"To build the team and get the lay of the land? Two days. Seventy-two hours at the outside."

"Ok. I'll be fine. I'll probably find Claire locked in a dungeon, surrounded by the People Under the Stairs, waiting to be rescued. And I'll be back home by breakfast."

"….you ever known Claire to just hang out in a cage and wait? IF she's there...something has kept her there for three years. Claire isn't a wilting flower, Leon. She's a bad ass. I made sure of that. To keep her imprisoned? I don't want to know what has that kind of clout. Do you?"

He stared through the windshield, considering the question. Did he?

Yeah, he kinda did.

Because he was going to enjoy kicking the shit out of it. He hoped it was strong enough to require some skill. Really. He was COUNTING on it. Because it had taken what was his and was keeping it. It had fucked up his world.

He was here to return the favor.

"I can handle it. Don't believe me? Then get those arthritic old legs of yours moving, grab your walker, and get down here to help me. Otherwise? I got it covered. If I find a boulder that needs punching though? You're my first call."

"….I hate you. Try not to pun yourself to death saving my sister, Justin Bieber."

Leon chuckled good naturedly, hung up, and shouldered open his door to step out of the car. The heat smacked him in the face like a wet wash cloth the moment the air conditioning was left behind. It was hard on the skin and the lungs. It left you feeling wet within a handful of seconds.

Gnats buzzed annoyingly, trying to lick your sweat. Disgusted, Leon waved his hands. Admittedly, he might have considered the conditions before he'd gotten dressed and rushed the door.

He was ok, in one hand, maroon v-neck tee proclaiming CAJUN STYLE with a picture of a pepper (Claire had given it to him on their trip to Mardi Gras), deconstructed Diesel jeans and waterproof dark brown boots with a steel toe. He wore his tactical gloves, which he never went anywhere without, and it left his fingers bare but made sure his palms didn't get sweaty for holding his weapon. He hadn't OVER dressed but he was reconsidering the jeans. Shorts in the bayou would be soooo much easier on the body when versus the humidity. But mosquitos this close to stagnant water were bound to munch him alive. So at least he wouldn't be scratching himself to death while he was trudging through the swamp.

The watch on his wrist was paired with the cheap t-shirt in a way that was so utterly him. It was a three thousand dollar titanium G-Shock. Classy, comfortable, and versatile. It allowed him to know where he was, when he was, how he was, and what he was (sorta). He could swim in it, slap the shit out of bad guys in it, run wearing it, sweat and bleed all over it and it would survive long after his dried up corpse was discovered somewhere in the marshlands. It was Ironman on his wrist. Indestructible.

They'd find him. If he was lost in the middle of Siberia wearing this watch, they'd find him. He was yet to be sure if it would stop a bullet, but it wouldn't surprise him to find out it could.

His shoulder holster was good dark leather, inscribed with his initials (Christmas '07 via Chris Redfield – the douche had good taste in gear and bad taste in women as he was still unmarried and Jill Valentine was the second hottest woman in the world. Proving Redfield was either gay or an idiot. Potentially both.) and holding C-Bear: his Desert Eagle Magnum given to him three months after Raccoon City by the woman who would one day agree to spend her life tied to a wisecracking dumbass (bless her). So, he'd named the gun in her honor.

She'd stolen it off one of the Ashfords on Rockfort Island. He'd been touched to have the used weapon of a freaky incestual psycho killer (why not? It was the thought that counted) and the Magnum was modified and one of a kind, so he loved it. He had some spare clips strapped to his thigh just in case and a pair of Oakleys in polarized orange wrapped around his face. He was ready to go.

Somewhere Chris Redfield was dying, of course. Because Chris liked to come in strapped to the ass with explosives and bullet proof armor and provisions. It was his thing. The military man in him was a boyscout with an assault rifle.

Leon didn't even bother to bring a bottle of water. He did, however, have a lighter but that was mostly to smoke his last cigarette in the pack before he started trekking through the swamp. He inhaled sharply, smoke curled up into his nose, and he studied the house on the rise.

He wondered if Norman Bates lived there.

"Down here? It would be Norman Billy Bob Bates, proprietor." He quipped, in a pretty good southern drawl.

Tossing the butt of the smoke, Leon eased his way up the rise to the gate. It was padlocked and had a little panel beside with an intercom. He buzzed it, waited, and buzzed again after a minute or two. Nothing.

Naturally.

Turning down the path beside the gate, Leon pulled his Magnum and moved smoothly through the dappled sunlight. Gnats annoyed the shit out of him as he walked, listening to the crickets and the distant slap of water from the river. That moldy smell was permeating here, leaving the nostrils feeling naked and a little raw with it. More than just overly saturated ground, this smelled like stagnant standing water.

He might have considered the excess mold to be more concerning...if he didn't turn a corner and come face to face with...what could possibly have been intended as the equivalent of heads on pikes at the entrance to a castle. It was pieces of rotting carcass, bovine by the look of it, strung together at the knees and leaving the flanks and legs and hooves jutting up in a fanning semi-circle like an ungodly crown between two trees. "Ornaments" of rusty circular saw blades dangled from strings around it, tinkling in the breeze as they brushed the rancid flesh of the "sculpture" they accompanied.

In this moment, a normal man might have turned tail and run. A slightly more brave normal man might have braved the move forward with trepidation and fear. A man accustomed to danger would proceed, gun up, and cautious – aware that he was entering a hostile environment.

Leon Kennedy?

He lifted his phone and recorded it, uploaded it to Chris, and added a text: "See? No worries. Just hanging out on the Baker Farm – with their splendid take on modern artwork. Jealous? This could be you here chillin with me, big guy."

The phone beeped back: "You fucking kidding me here!? WAIT FOR ME."

Amused, Leon pocketed the phone without replying. But the fear gnawed around the edges of his humor. IF Claire was here, this was just a suggestion of what these things were capable of, clearly. He was terrified that she was here...in pieces. He was terrified she wasn't here and it was a trap, not because he was scared for himself but because it meant she was still missing.

Either way? Something that made art out of dead animals and hung it up like a warning sign? That needed stopped. It was bad. His instincts said: Psycho. His instincts were never wrong. Unless they said food truck fish tacos on Tuesday...then they were wrong. And most likely also suffering from food poisoning.

The path curved sharply after he ducked beneath the ugly display of the dead cows. Leon moved with the back of his neck prickling, telling him he was stupid, most likely courting death, and should immediately return to his car and call Chris Redfield and wait.

He snorted out a laugh.

When had he ever waited?

If he went inside the Baker house and it was House of Wax? Well, then it was. If it was a giant eyeball on a mutated body or a herd of enormous mosquitos ready to sting him to death or six thousand baby dolls with melted faces and one eye (….which was too horrifying to even begin to understand) he was going on.

He wouldn't leave Claire or the idea of Claire or the ghost of Claire in that god forsaken house. No. She would kick in the door, guns blazing, for him. He wasn't Chris, so the door kicking was out, but he would sneak in – Leon Kennedy style.

A minivan, sliding door ajar, waited at the curve of the road. Curious, he approached it and cleared it. But there were no threats. Just a small pamphlet on a dusty gray seat that informed him the van had likely belonged to a camera crew for a television series called Sewer Gators. He wondered if they'd ever met the sewer gator he'd blown to pieces in Raccoon. Most likely not. Since they hadn't been eaten alive by it.

He rolled the pamphlet over and there was a message on the back, written in red ink: COME JOIN US.

The silence was loud now. Loud. And his instincts? ROARING.

He didn't turn back. He tucked the pamphlet back on the seat and kept on going.

The ground dropped off to what appeared to be the back side of the manor. He jumped down easily to find himself facing the snapping and crackling remains of a fire. A fire in late summer was weird enough but not the weirdest thing. The weirdest thing?

The purse on the top.

It looked like it had been recently dropped on the embers. The pretty green bag wouldn't have done much for him, usually, but he recognized it. How? He'd given it to her on a trip to Laos. She'd eyed it for three days in a small shop before he'd finally rolled in, rolled out and handed it to her.

It was the first gift he'd given her after they'd started giving it a real go as a couple. Their friendship had been easy going, effortless, simple. After Raccoon, it mostly took place via email and phone calls and faxes.

And then he'd shown up in Harvardville.
.........

A shitty three day trip to Sri Lanka had netted him eight hours of crappy sleep on a plane, a two hour ride on a helicopter, and the promise of another week of crappy coffee from a tent as he navigated the disaster at that airport. He'd gone in with two inferior SWAT team members (one of whom was as dumb as he was aggressive and the other who was too busy trying to get on his nuts to do her job) and no tolerance for bullshit. In all his life, he couldn't remember being less amused on a mission.

They probably thought he was as dry and boring as the desert. Not that it mattered. He wasn't there to make friends. He was there to do his job, to extract the living, and mow down the dead. T-Virus shit making a huge mess as usual. The M.O. of the dead, but still killing where it touched, Umbrella Pharmaceutical Company.

They'd mowed down a lot of dead but hadn't had much luck on survivors.

Until?

They had.

Why?

Claire. Who else?

Claire had kept alive a small handful of them inside the airport lounge. Of course, she had. Of course. She was Claire. It was what she did.

She'd been fighting for her life with a red and white umbrella (of which the significance was not lost on either of them) and he'd commanded: "Get down!"

Which, coincidentally, was also the first words he'd ever spoken to her.

She'd hit her butt, he'd plugged the zombie trying to eat her, and put his hand down to help her up.

The thing about Claire? She didn't look worried. She looked pissed. She'd risen, laughing dryly, "Great. Now I have brains on my jacket."

It was the first time in three fucking days he'd SMILED. He'd replied, boredly, "I hear brains are the new black."

She'd blinked at him and laughed. Just laughed. And said, "Leon Kennedy, where ya been all my life?"

To which he'd replied, "You know, livin the dream: popping the undead, stopping the terrorists, getting called back from vacations...missing all the good tv shows."

"Jesus, that's rough. No time for Grey's Anatomy?"

"No. DON'T spoil it."

"McDreamy is married."

"CLAIRE! I said DON'T spoil it!" He'd been kinda chuckling with frustration. She'd looked only slightly sheepish. Additionally, it was the first real time he'd seen her in years. He'd forgotten about that face. Smooth and pretty, tilted big eyes and perfect teeth. She'd been young and sweet in Raccoon, a hell's angel baby on a bike with a big attitude. The rough edges were refined in Harvardville; she'd grown into a beautiful woman...with a big attitude.

And they'd laughed. He couldn't remember the last real laugh he'd had.

But he'd never forget that one.

They'd gotten out of that airport after some fancy shooting, some survivor bitching (mostly the fat Senator), and some pretty wicked gun work by the former hell's angel. The blow had nearly broken her though. She'd nearly fallen apart after finding out Terrasave, attempting to protect the world, had crippled it by blocking WilPharma from distributing the T-Virus vaccine.

He'd found her in the medic tent crying. And Claire never cried. He tried to remember, in the whole time they'd run through sewers and kicked asses on that long night together, if she'd so much as flinched...nope.

But she'd been weeping in that tent.

Coolly, he'd said, "How's that helping anyone?"

Annoyed, Claire had swept her hand at her damp cheeks. "It's human, Mr. Robot. Didn't you get the memo? People feel things."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"Come on, Leon, you have a reputation. Cold. Calculating. Mr. Boring. You blow up bad guys and piss on ashes and never look back. Funny, actually, considering the guy I met in Raccoon was probably the funniest dude I've ever known. What the fuck happened to you?"

He'd shifted, uncomfortable, because she had that ability to lay it all out there. Redfield's – always punching you in the face instead of hugging you. But he'd answered her, "The T-Virus happened. You get that memo? It's ugly. You chose the path here, Claire, of savior. You picked the path to help instead of fight. You picked the path your brother and I can't walk."

"Yeah? And it got me where? Nowhere. I helped no one. I tried and ended up costing all these people their lives."

"No. No, you didn't." He'd moved now and knelt in front of her. She'd been sitting with her elbows on her knees and her face in her hands. That red ponytail had laid pretty and soft on her back. "Umbrella did this. All of it. You? You tried to STOP IT. It's all we've done, both of us, for so long. What you do, Claire? It matters. You chose to help, to protect, to nurture."

"And I was wrong."

He'd grabbed her wrists and jerked her hands down. The move startled her. And her big eyes were sparkly in the muted light of the tent. "No. You weren't wrong. Look at me."

"I'm looking at you." So soft. Her voice had been whisper quiet.

"You chose the right path here, Claire. You've helped dozens of cities avoid outbreaks. You've stood like a shield between that fucking virus and the world. Sometimes? You get knocked down. You didn't lose here. You got knocked down. Get back up. The fight? It doesn't end here. I will scrub this virus from the face of the Earth. I swear to God. Help me. And get back up."

They'd held gazes for a long moment. Her head had tilted, back and forth like a curious dog. He'd still had her wrists. But she'd shifted them anyway and taken his face with her hands.

"Leon...thank you."

He'd had a choice in that moment. He could get up and pat her head and get on with it. Or he could do what any man in his right fucking mind would do and move in.

Sometimes the S in his name stood for stupid. Sometimes. On that day? It was S for smart. Because he didn't lean away. He moved in. He'd shifted and she'd parted her knees. He'd gone right in between her legs, she'd wrapped her arms around his kneeling torso, and he'd kissed her.

Or she'd kissed him.

Or they'd fallen on each other like ravenous beasts.

Something.

Kneeling, with her sitting on that bench, they'd been about the same height. Claire had made some kind of sound of excitement and he'd slid his hands down her back and tugged her into him. It remained, hands down, the best kiss between two people in the history of the world.

Totally fucking ill timed.

Awful.

And kinda wet from tears.

But awesome.

After the air dome had been destroyed and Curtis Miller tossed back into the abyss of crap from whence he'd come, there'd been a moment where they'd tumbled into the water together. It might have gone differently, but it ended up with a lot of near drowning and face sucking. Which...in hindsight, was the best ninety seconds of his life.

He'd been called away so quickly when it was over they'd had to say goodbye on a beach while his chopper waited. It was the first time he wanted to stay and not let go. She'd smirked a little when the pilot shouted for him to hurry.

"You think we could ever meet in a more normal situation?"

"Shit. I hope so. Otherwise how am I going to get the chance to stick my hand in your pants?"

Oh, her face. He'd loved it. The absolute humor mixed with lust. It was probably echoed on his. She'd coughed, shifted where she stood, and answered, "You could stick your hand in my pants right now."

Ha! He'd licked his teeth, chuckling hoarsely. "Pretty sure you're a tease, Redfield."

"Yeah? Who said I was kidding?"

The pilot had shouted again. Leon had ignored him. He'd kept watching her grinning face. And then? Well, he'd pulled her in, kissed her breathless, and did it with his hands in her pants gripping her perfect little butt.

She'd been laughing and moaning the whole time.

He'd let her go, sorta dying and desperate, "Well that back fired."

Giggling a little, Claire had mused, "See? No tease. What do you say we pick a place and finish this party?"

"Deal. You kidding? I'm gonna go find whoever this mission is I'm off on, kill them alot, and come back to this beach. Find a cave, pull off your pants, and await my return."

She'd laughed so hard it had been the best moment ever.

And then she'd hugged him.

And that was the best moment too.

"Let's go diving again sometime huh?"

She'd run off waving and winking. He'd run off half in love with her and laughing.

It was three days later, after debriefing and dealing with stupid bureaucratic bullshit, that he'd been able to meet up with her. She'd flown in to D.C., taken a taxi to his office, and popped in with a grin, a basket of fried chicken, and red panties beneath an ugly blue suit.

Red.

He'd gone half blind, been mostly retarded, and stuck on top of her for more than a week.

She'd moved into his penthouse a week after that.

He'd taken her to Laos on a lark. A whim. A moment of madness. They'd had the first vacation for either of them in years. Utterly frivolous. Mostly visiting Buddhist temples and hiking, laughing, and fucking like eels in waterfalls and naturally occurring pools. He'd bought her the purse, loved her on every surface of the hut they rented, and proposed to her in the Kuang Si Falls while they'd been skinny dipping and playing.

Sure, they'd only been together a week, technically. But what the hell? They'd known each other for years. She'd said yes, no hesitation. And he'd sold the penthouse and moved with her to that ugly little bungalow she loved in Georgia.
..............

Twelve years.

The time seemed stupid now.

He picked up the purse and looked inside. If he'd doubted it before, it was clear now. Because her driver's license was half scorched inside the blackened bag.

The relief knowing she'd been here was coupled with that fear of what had kept her.

What could have kept her for three years?

His eyes turned to the sagging back porch beyond the fire. He snapped a photo of the license to Chris.

The text that came back read: "Copy that. Proceed with extreme caution. ETA eighteen hours."

That's how you got his old ass moving it seemed, offer him proof of life for his missing sister. It lit a fire under the old turtle like nothing else could. For both of them it seemed.

Gun in hand, Claire's ruined license in his back pocket, Leon eased toward the door.

It opened easily enough and spilled into the heavily shadowed interior of the house. A quick flick turned on the light attached to his gun. It bobbled around and offered little respite from the dark that permeated around him.

Leon cleared as he walked, noting the condition of the estate. It was dilapidated. It was derelict. The house was falling apart. Filthy and crumbling, the walls around him were peeling paint and fading paper. The floor was covered in broken pieces of sheet rock and rotting floorboard, warped and moist from infiltration.

There was a cupboard at the end of the dirty hallway that was ajar. Leon looked inside it and found nothing but canned goods. The hallway opened into a disgusting kitchen. Once, it seemed, the kitchen had been country cute. It still had the suggestions of good molding and ornate cabinets but it was lost beneath layers of grease and grime, the stench of rotting meat and decay, and years of neglect. A quick check at the sink showed rust and ruin and no running water to boot.

The rotting blue cabinets looked like they'd been mostly tossed by hurried hands. The drawers were ajar or missing, tossed on the cracked linoleum floor, or completely destroyed. He glanced at the microwave and saw the suggestion of beady button eyes that told him something had been cooked inside it.

Not at all interested in finding out WHAT, Leon eased open the door of the fridge.

He'd come up against quite a bit in his life. Zombies, rotting dogs, viruses, mutation, plagas and parasites that tried to eat your head...but this? This was...rancid.

It was rotting filth and necrosis. It stank like a body bloated in the river in high summer. He gagged, surprising himself, and kicked the door shut before his eyes could tell who or what was rotting inside that fridge. One thing was becoming clear...the Bakers? They were either dead or were eating people. Cannibals.

CANNIBALS.

"Jesus Christ."

Shuddering, Leon turned to glance at a small pot on the table. It was a dutch oven. He nudged it open with his gun, four nasty cockroaches came scurrying out (he nearly vomited), and the horrible truth was staring up at him, confirming his suspicions. Because there was the shell of an EAR in the horrid slop in the pot.

And possibly a nose.

His eyes flicked away, his stomach revolted, and he knew...he knew he was gonna throw chunks. He made it to the sink and wretched.

It never failed to surprise him, after blasting brains and guts to hell and back, how sensitive he could be to smells. It smelled like shit and vomit and sweaty sack mixed with skunk. It was the worst fucking thing he'd ever smelled. The contents were necrotic, rotting, gray and gelatinous – a stew made FROM human body parts and excrement.

Christ.

Wiping his mouth with the back of one gloved hand, Leon took a few slow breaths to regain his composure. The nausea still slid and twisted in his belly like oil on water. It left the taste of something worse than vomit in his mouth. It left a fine coating of disgust.

He turned from the kitchen, stopping to glance at a folded newspaper that lay forlornly on the table beside the disgusting pot. The headline of the article leapt off the page: OVER 20 MISSING IN 2 YEARS – LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT STUMPED.

Well he wasn't stumped.

The missing?

They were in that pot.

Leon turned cleared around the corner of the kitchen to the next hallway. It wrapped in a U pattern from the previous one. The front door here was totally blocked off by broken furniture that someone had shoved there like a barricade. An overturned couch, a stack of broken chairs, a shattered dresser with sharp jutting pieces of savaged wood and the remnants of a card table appeared to be among the carnage of dead decorations.

The hallway before him offered the chance to ascend a small flight of stairs or continue forward. He opted to avoid the stairs and moved down the narrow hallway beside it, clearing a small pantry beneath the staircase and coming up against a lock door at the end of the dark passage. The only other option was a door to his right. He eased through it and found himself in a desolate, stagnant living room that smelled of mildew and rot. A fireplace sat forlornly to one side and a piano, covered in three layers of old dust, sat across from it. A love seat and a sofa, in faded and dusty floral chintz, offered him the opportunity to sit down and put his feet up on the scarred and chipped oval coffee table.

He eased into the room, noting a flickering television perched atop an old secretariat in the corner. There was an old ass VCR sitting atop the ancient TV with a video tape poking out of it. As he moved through the room, the piano made a small sound like it was going to play music.

And then?

It did.

It released two tiny off key notes and the key cover snapped down loudly over the dusty ivory. Leon stood there, took a slow breath, and moved toward the fireplace. A family portrait above it showed a nice looking couple and their two children. Everyone was smiling.

Did they smile when they ate people?

Jesus.

He turned and caught sight of something tucked into the sofa. Curious, Leon bent and tugged it free. It was a photograph, black and white, of what appeared to a be cell? An iron door cut into a raggedy rock wall. He pocketed the photograph and started to move to the VCR when another photo caught his eye. This one was lying side by side with another on the coffee table.

The first was an old lady in a wheelchair. She looked half dead or drunk or out of her mind. She stared sightless and empty from a decrepit dried up husk. Scraggly hair was kept off her face in a lazy, sloppy bun. Her cheekbones stood out in sharp relief to the hollow face beneath it. The old lady was skeletal in build.

Shuddering, his eyes shifted to the other picture.

And he grabbed it, quickly.

Heart racing, he stared at it. His mind threw memories at him like bullets.
..........

"Don't...don't...put it away!"

"You kidding? You're beautiful."

"I canNOT believe you are recording this right now. You are such a perv."

The little white tank top was nearly see through. The perfect impressions of her breasts were nearly visible beneath the ribbing. She covered her face with one hand as he zoomed the camera in on her and her mouth lifted in an embarrassed smile. "You better delete this. I swear to god."

"You kidding? I'm saving it and taking it with me when I'm out of town."

"What for?"

Silence. He zoomed the camera in on her gorgeous legs, bare, and graced at the top by tiny white panties. Holding the camera on her, he shifted one hand and slid a finger against the soft mound of those panties.

She shivered.

She peeped through her hand...and laughed. "Yeah. Perv."

Maybe she was right. But he didn't care.

He didn't think there was anything more beautiful than her in that tank and panties.

But he did drop the camera when he shifted on top of her to touch her in them.
............

His fingers curled around the photo, shaking.

Because it was her.

It was HER.

In a tiny tank top and panties. The picture was from the nose down. It was black and white. It was her hands covering her groin like she'd protect herself. But it was HER.

They'd taken a picture of her in practically nothing.

They'd taken a picture of her in PRACTICALLY NOTHING.

The rage fired into him so hard it nearly made him breathless. His head spun. He took the picture and rolled it over. The date on it put it three months after she'd gone missing. What the fuck had they done to her here?

What the fuck had they done?

Raped her?

His face was hot. His neck was sweaty. It wasn't the stagnant house. It was the image of someone holding her down while she screamed and cried and bled.

He was going to enjoy killing them. Every one of them. All of them. He was going to enjoy destroying them while they gushed and fought and died. Oh, god, he could hardly breathe with the anger that pushed into his blood like poison.

He tucked the picture in his back pocket. He turned and the tv flickered, the VCR chugged, and the tape went in without prompting. A video kicked on, showing a couple of goofy looking dudes that were cracking jokes and being lame. The angle of the camera showed the Baker house as they moved up to it.

Their conversation was filled with derision and verbal eye rolling. They were clearly the Swamp Gator team that had driven here in the empty van outside. It didn't take a genius to figure out what had become of them. They'd never gone back to the van, clearly.

The camera man was "Clancy" and one of them was "Andre". Andre went missing halfway through a check of the nasty kitchen. The camera man and the other guy went to find him. A trip down the same hallway Leon had just traveled opened into the very room where he now stood. The camera man never said a word, he just followed like a good dog, recording.

The other man was digging around in the fireplace. He tugged something...and a small door opened on the wall beside him. They ducked through and came to a ladder. Curious, the camera man descended. The other man continued to call for Andrea.

They reached the dark bottom of the ladder. It was some kind of a tunnel or sewer or something. It was so dark and you could hear water. The camera turned, it paused. Andre was standing against the far wall. He wasn't moving.

The other man called his name, softly, shaky with fear. No more good humor now. Just real fear. The camera man touched Andre's shoulder.

And the body fell on him. It fell on him while he screamed and kicked. The eyes and noses and mouth had burst and were running with blood. Blood all over the face, blood all over the camera man as he panicked and fell to his ass on the floor with Andre's horrible dead face looking at him.

The camera fell to the floor, some feet appeared, and someone started screaming.

The video cut off with a whir of tape and white noise.

Leon turned and moved to the fireplace. He ducked down and looked up under the edge. There was a dangling handle there just waiting. With the back of his neck prickling, he tugged the handle.

The small door opened beside him. Ducking through, he glanced down into the darkness. It was a bad idea to go down. But they had Claire. They had her. She was here.

He wasn't leaving without her.

Holstering his Magnum, he started down the ladder. Halfway down, he had a moment to realize the tensile strength of the rotting ladder was going to give, and it cracked in his hands. Anticipating, disaster, Leon leaped clear. He braced and rolled through it as he landed, skidding out on the wet ground.

He was standing in the small wet tunnel from the video.

The ladder was trash behind him, so there was no going back that way. Moving forward, he saw that the room descended into water.

"Right...right...because I'm just gonna go traipsing through the murky ass water beneath a filthy mansion in the middle of a swamp...that's what sane people do."

Clearly not.

But when had he ever been sane?

He'd be a damn kindergarten teacher if he was sane.

He was insane, obviously.

Leon moved into the water and it closed around him to the shoulders. It was warm and slimy. It felt like lake water in the sun. Moss brushed against his body as he moved. He realized, rather quickly, he was beneath the house now in the flood cellar.

He eased under the eaves of the crawl space as he came upon them, itching with the need to keep the Magnum in his hand. But it was just fine where it was holstered. His phone was tucked between his teeth to keep it dry. His watch told him it was nearly night now.

There was a short embankment up ahead leading out of the water. Leon eased toward it and something brushed his chest. Curious, he glanced down.

A human head was floating in the water.

For most normal people, this would be where one might scream and fall back in the water. But this wasn't the first time our hero had come across a head in the water. That's right, Leon Kennedy had encountered heads in the water for twenty years. This was nothing new to him. It was, however, terrifying. Because for a moment...he wasn't sure if it was Claire's head.

It appeared, however to be male. The flesh peeling from the skull ended in what looked to be a male haircut. The shape of the skull resembled a man as well. He couldn't be a hundred percent sure it was a guy, of course, but it wasn't Claire. That much he was sure of.

Shuddering with disgust, he eased the head away from him and climbed out of the muck. The walls immediately outside the water line were covered in biographies. Pictures of missing people with their info scattered from one side of the stone wall to the other.

The dread doubled, it tripled, because he'd been speculating before...but now he knew. The missing people had been taken here. Like a house of horrors, they'd come here to die and be eaten. And it wasn't zombies. He could feel that in his bones. Not zombies. Zombies didn't cook a gourmet goulash with bloody eyeballs and ears. Nope.

He started to text Chris and realized he had no service in the cell. Made sense but it still set off alarm bells in his head. He pulled the Magnum instead, poked his cellphone back into his pocket, and eased around the corner of one sagging stone support.

He was in some kind of workshop. A table to one side contained a series of tools from a drill to a set of bolt cutters to a ball peen hammer and nails that littered the table top like confetti. Leon cleared passed a tarp covered pile of boxes and found himself face to face with the cell door from the picture.

A small lamp was on beyond the cell door, granting the first real light he'd come across since he'd stepped into the depressing dark of this Amityville Horror House. The room was filthy, the wallpaper brown and beige and like pegged. Pegged? It looked like the walls one would find in a nuthouse. Pegged...and padded. There were boxes of useless crap lined against the cracked and seeping walls. But none of it mattered.

None of it.

Because Claire was lying on the bed.

His hand grabbed the cell door and found it looped by a long length of chain.

Holstering the Magnum, heart throbbing so hard it hurt, Leon ran back to the work table and grabbed the bolt cutters. He moved back and set the heavy mouth against the chain, jerked the handles, and split the chain with a clink of metal giving. He could taste the power of relief so wide, so vast, so eternal that he realized he hyperventilating.

He made an effort to slow his breathing, and pushed into the room where Claire lay. His hands dropped the bolt cutter, they grabbed his gun and he jerked the barrel around the empty chamber. But it was just her. Just her.

JUST HER.

He holstered the Magnum and moved to her. She was in jeans and a dirty red tank top. Her red hair, hacked off as if by kitchen shears, fell to just below her chin. She was curled on her side on the filthy naked mattress, sleeping.

Hands shaking, Leon turned her to her back, slid his arm under her narrow shoulders and shook her – gently. "Claire...honey..."

She was so dirty. Her face was streaked with filth. Her back and neck were slick with sweat. His thumb swept a smear of dirt from her cheekbone.

And her eyes fluttered open.

She was trembling.

No...HE was.

"Claire...oh my god...it's me..."

Her long lashes blinked, she rolled sleepily in his arms. Her gaze slid over his face and a smile...Jesus her smile. It was so soft. It was so happy.

Softly, she whispered, "Hey baby..."

He put his face against her dirty neck.

And there it was, he thought desperately, big fucking hero that he was. He was going to cry. He was going to cry on a filthy mattress in a decrepit old house where they ate people. Some tough guy he was.

He pulled her in, making a small sound of grief.

Her arms came up and looped, gently again. He felt her jerk the second she realized she wasn't dreaming. She gasped and shoved him away.

"Leon!?"

He tried to hold on to her but she scrambled up and was alert now. She grabbed his hands, scanning his face desperately. The horror and terror and pain on her face killed him where he sat.

"Leon? Oh my god...why? Why are you here? HOW are you!?"

"Claire...honey. It's ok. You asked me to come. Remember? I'm here to get you."

She looked like she might vomit. She was so thin. He hadn't ever seen her so thin. Her collarbone stuck out. Her arms, usually beautifully muscled, were sticks off her narrow shoulders. She was starving, clearly. Which meant she probably wasn't eating people...all the time.

Jesus Christ.

She rose, pacing, glancing around desperately. A naked bulb dangled from the ceiling of her cell, casting shadows and light in a pendulum of color. She grabbed two handfuls of her hair and jerked, gasping with pain at it.

Alarmed, he rose and tried to touch her. She backed up, shaking her head at him. "No..no no no. Why?! I wouldn't have done that. Right? I didn't. I warned you away. Remember? I said don't come. Don't come. You aren't here. I'm not seeing you. I'm not."

"Claire..." He took her wrists and stopped her pacing. Her eyes were set in her skinny face. The lack of weight on her made her chin jut from the fullness of her mouth. The triangle of her face was cut now with sharp cheekbones. Her eyes were ringed with dark circles and her skin was milk pale with a dusting of freckles.

Her face collapsed with pain and terror. "Oh Leon.." She whispered it now. "Why did you come? What have you done? Oh baby, oh my god...we have to get you out of here. Now. Now OK? Just...he's coming back. So now? Now."

"Who?"

"Daddy." Her voice broke, "Daddy is coming, Leon. Now. Come with me, baby. OK?"

He tried to gather her in again and she shook her head, face manic. Terrified. He had NEVER seen her terrified. Not in Raccoon City. Not in Harvardville. Never. She had SURVIVED on that fucking island with Alex Wesker because she was afraid. Claire didn't' scare. She didn't panic.

She was doing both.

He grabbed her shoulders, sharply now, and stopped her cold. "Stop. Now. Look at me."

The firm nature of his voice calmed her, almost instantly. She grabbed his face, holding on.

He nodded, "Yeah. Like that. Look right here. Forget him. Forget Daddy. I will rip off his arms and legs and beat him to death with them. I will protect you. And I will get us out of here. Ok?"

She nodded, softly, softly and made a small sound. She pulled him in and kissed him, sharp and fast. Her shaking hands released his face. "Ok. Ok. Come on. This way...we have to go. Now. We have to get out of here. Because...Leon...you can rip off his arms...it won't matter. It won't matter. He'll just keep coming."

So, that was a little scary.

A little.

But it wasn't the first time he'd come up against that kind of thing either. Who was she kidding here? None of this, so far, was terrifying to him. Gross. Potentially riddled with Texas Chainsaw Massacre jokes and décor...but manageable and not even the worst they'd ever seen. Not really. Her being scared?

That was the first damn thing to really worry him.

She was leading him toward a small hallway on the other side of the work desk. The wall there was half caved in, showing the room beyond the naked boards. She eased against the wall on her back, breathing sharp and low. She was so afraid.

Why?

What happened to her?

"Claire...honey...what the fuck is happening here?"

Claire shook her head, hard, "Not now. Not now. When we get out. Is Chris here?"

"Not yet. Soon. It's just me."

And her face collapsed.

Which kinda hurt his feelings, honestly.

"Just you? Just you. Oh Leon...you idiot."

Yep.

That DEFINITELY hurt his feelings.

"You think I can't get us out of here?"

"I think you're just one guy. Why are you always just one guy? You dumbass. You hero. You arrogant bastard. Why are you so stupid and brave?"

There...might be a compliment in there somewhere? Or not? He was getting more offended by the minute.

"Geez, wife, that's like I love you with a kick in the crotch for emphasis."

She held his gaze...and made a small laugh.

It seemed to startle her. She put a hand to her mouth. Had she forgotten she could laugh? He ached for her. She shook her head, covering her face with her hands.

"How long has it been? When did I go missing?"

"Three years ago."

In hindsight, he probably shouldn't have said that. Her fragile control shattered. She turned and hurried away from him into a small room with a couch and an open pantry beyond it. There was a wall in front of them that was just naked stone.

Her hands touched it, felt along it. And the panic came out of her voice in a desperate cry, "NO! Oh god...it was right here! It was here! Where did it go!?"

She struck the wall with her hands, slapping the wet stone.

And then she collapsed to the couch and threw her face into her hands, gasping for air. "We're gonna die down here. We're dead."

He hurt so badly. It was palpable. This place had broken her. She was so broken. His beautiful strong Claire, shaking and cracking and falling apart. What could he do here? What could he do?

Get her out. And fix her.

He would FIX her. It was all he could do.

He touched her shoulder, gently. "What did they do to you?"

Claire shook her head. She grabbed his hand. She tugged him down and looped her arms and legs around him while he crouched there, holding her.

She breathed, "I don't know. I don't know anything. I don't know why you're here. Where here is...I can't remember...I don't...we have to get out of here. Now. Hurry. Now ok, baby? I'll protect you from them. But we have to hurry."

"Claire..." He stroked her dirty hair, feeling her tremble in his arms, "From who?"

"Leon...Leon...why did you come? Why did you come after me?"

"Are you fucking kidding me? You know why. You asked me to come for you."

She breathed it now, quietly, "I didn't. It wasn't me...she wants us...to be a family."

It was the first time she'd said something...and it didn't sound like her. There was an edge to her voice that shifted around the words. He leaned back to see her face.

She stroked his, smiling gently. "She just wants a family. We can be her family."

Jesus.

His eyes volleyed over her calm expression.

And then he shook her. She gasped, her smile turned to a grimace of pain. She grabbed her head and moaned, releasing him.

"She's trying to get inside me. She's trying to get BACK IN. We need to get out of here. NOW."

He rose and pulled his Magnum. Leaving her on the couch, he moved into the small pantry to check it for the door she swore was here. But it was empty save for a tiny doll on a shelf. The doll was cute and guileless.

The scream from the room where Claire waited, was not.

"NOOO! LEAVE ME ALONE!"

He turned and cleared into the room.

A handful of seconds. Nothing really. Not even the length of a decent kiss.

And the room was empty.

Claire was gone...and the wall where she'd slapped was open now. Open.

His heart beat so hard it was in his ears. Terrified, he hurried through the opening. He wanted to shout for her but his instincts said to stay quiet. There was a staircase leading up from the cellar. He took the stairs two at a time and shoulder bumped open the door that was ajar at the top.

He cleared down the long hallway, took note of a couple doors and an old rotary phone on a small cabinet close by, and there was a sound from behind him.

Turning, he glanced down into the dark. He aimed the penlight, the small yellow illuminating where he'd been. The beam shifted and spilled over...Claire.

Claire was collapsed on her face on stairs like she'd fallen trying to climb.

"Jesus Christ!" Leon holstered the Magnum and hurried down the stairs. He took her arms and lifted her.

"Claire? You alright?"

He started to help her up.

In all his life, he couldn't remember a moment more terrifying. He'd stood face to face with death so many times he practically yawned at it now. It just wasn't worth the energy to get afraid of dying anymore. But Claire lifted her head...and he forgot to not be afraid.

He forgot he was Leon Kennedy.

He forgot that he'd survived things that would send most people shrieking into the dark.

He forgot to do anything...but feel the horror that came with the woman he loved looking at him...from a face turned pale and shiny...with infection. The skin was mottled and graying, it was run through with bulging veins turned dark with rot. Her eyes...were black from top to bottom. She opened a mouth filled with blackened gums and mold. Mold?

Mold.

And she screamed.

He'd never heard anything like it in his whole life. It was horrid. It was terrible. It rocked the small stairway and stole his breath.

And she lunged at him.

He scrambled, backing up, his butt hit the stairs and his hands threw up automatically to stop her as she snapped at his face like a god damn dog snarling for his throat.

"CLAIRE! STOP!"

She laughed, high pitched and terrifying.

He shoved her away and she...grabbed him.

She just grabbed fingers curled into his arm. It hurt like nothing he'd ever felt. Her strength was insane. It wasn't human. It was monster.

She was a monster.

She lifted him, snarling and snapping, and he felt the world fracture.

His hands scrambled for his Magnum, his heart...his heart was throbbing in his chest. And there was no time to pull it. No time to shout.

She threw him.

He was airborne, flung up the stairs like a pebble from a slingshot. She flung him away like he was nothing. Like he wasn't one hundred and eighty pounds of muscle. Like he wasn't twice as big as her. Like he wasn't her husband or the love of her life or the hero come to save her.

Like she wanted him dead.

Like she wanted him to run and die.

Like she was the enemy.

He hit the ground, skidding into the wall. The impact stole his breath and jarred his tail bone. Leon rolled to sit up, he started to rise...and she was there.

He tried again, desperately, "Claire! WAIT!"

But she wasn't Claire.

She wasn't Claire.

She wasn't anything human anymore.

She slung him so hard to the floor that it made his left arm go numb as she straddled him, laughing. His body went on without his fractured brain, it threw his arms up to stop the knife she thrust down at his gasping face. He cross armed her wrist, blocking her from splitting his skull like a coconut.

She gave up trying to stab him in the face...and took up slashing him instead.

The knife tore into his arms, it diced him like a tomato, his blood burst and spilled and painted the floor as he fought her off. He humped his hips and hooked them around her torso. As she split open his right forearm, he jerked her to her back and knocked the knife from her hands.

She screamed, flopping as he rolled her to her face on the floor and drove his knee into her back to hold her down.

"STAY DOWN! CLAIRE! STAY DOWN!"

His brain said: You kidding? Shoot this bitch.

But his heart...

His heart...

He scrambled his bleeding hand up to pull the Magnum. He was bleeding so badly from his right arm his fingers slid over the metal and Claire pushed up off the floor like he wasn't using all his weight to hold her down. She moved like a puppet pulled on strings. She sent him tumbling to his back again with the gesture of it.

She came at him, his bleeding hand grabbing the Magnum and jerked, and she grabbed his face with both hands.

His whispered, "Oh my god..."

And the gunshot echoed in the hallway.

He shot his wife point blank in the chest.

The heavy round threw her thin frame back. Her body skidded over the floor and smashed into the wall. And she was gasping on the floor, spine bowing.

She whispered, "I can feel her clawing...clawing...clawing...to get inside me...RUN! Leon...run...please...GET OUT OF ME! LEAVE ME ALONE!"

And his wife smashed her face into the wall so hard she knocked herself out where she lay.

And was still.

He was frozen.

Frozen on the floor.

Frozen.

His hands held the Magnum with its still smoking barrel. His body stayed on the floor against the wall, shaking. He watched the barrel drop and waver, like he was having a seizure. Like there was an earthquake. Shaking.

Shaking.

He was sticky and tacky with blood. His arms were covered in slashes. He needed to treat them. He was losing too much blood.

He needed...to MOVE.

But he stayed there on the floor, with his gun pointed at his dead wife, with his heart hammering in his bruised chest...

With his breathing ragged in his broken ears.

And he wondered if he was dead there on the floor beside her.

Chapter Text

:Two: If these walls could talk:

Dulvey, Louisiana – 2017

Somewhere a clock was ticking.

Or not.

It was probably his watch. His watch was ticking. Ticking. His aim was steady even if the arm supporting the weapon was shaking so bad it was like hypothermia.

But the gun didn't waver.

The barrel of the big .50 caliber weapon just kept staring at his dead wife.

Her body was in a pool of blood four feet from him. He was sitting against the wall, sticky with blood, feeling the shallow slashes on his arms drip, drip, dripping onto his jeans. The path of his vision showed the tattoo at the bend of his elbow, on his forearm, the mix of their astrological signs. Pisces for Claire, Cancer for him. They'd had the matching tattoos done on his birthday. Her idea. He didn't give a rats ass about signs or their meanings.

But she did.

SHE DID.

..........

"We're both water signs."

He lifted both dark brows and jotted something down on the notebook beside him on the couch. Annoyed, she slapped the report out of his hands and rolled over the back of the couch. The move dropped her into his lap. He grunted, kept the droll look on his face, and waited for her to make her point.

Claire shifted and straddled him. She took the little glasses off his nose that he wore for reading and poked them on her face. The shaggy spill of her hair and the glasses made her look like a naughty librarian. Since he liked that, Leon let her keep the glasses.

She was in a little blue t-shirt with a farting cat on it. It shouldn't have been sexy at all but she was braless so…those fantastic breasts of hers kept swaying as she talked. Since he liked that too, he even tried to pay attention to the mystical mumbo jumbo she was spouting. "We're a good match. Cancer and pisces."

"Mmhmm." His hand slid under her top to cup one of those swaying breasts. She made a little sound and scooted closer in his lap. Her hand jerked his chin up to her face while he played with her excited nipple.

"Pay attention, Kennedy. You hear what I just said?"

"Something about crabs and fish. And being compatible in a pot – with garlic."

Amused, Claire pulled his hand from her shirt. "You gonna listen?"

"I'd rather just…" He shifted and she was laughing as he put his head under her shirt. She let him, cuddling her arms around him as he put his mouth to those breasts.

She kept on talking because she was a trooper. "We should get matching tattoos, ya know? Just…" She gasped a little when he put some teeth on her, "…just…because you are SUCH a crab."

His head popped back out from her shirt. He narrowed his eyes, considering. She was shivering with delight as his hands picked up where his mouth had left off. "I feel there's a double entendre happening there."

Claire pushed on him and spilled him back against the arm of the couch. She played her hands all over his naked chest, exciting them both. "Mmm. You have a crunchy shell on the outside and nothing but gooey yummy stuff inside."

He laughed a little and kissed her. It was a good kiss, soft, tender and a little bit of tongue. "Hmm. You want to taste my gooey yummy stuff?"

"…perv." She giggled a little and stroked his hair off his face. Gripping it a little, she tugged and stole his breath with excitement, "We're both gentle, Leon. You? All tough guy on the outside, all sweet on the inside. Me? Same."

"I don't know. You're pretty sweet on the outside too." Another kiss, smooth, wet and thrilling. "But I get where this is going. Romance right?"

"Oh yeah. Both of us love it."

"Whoa. Whoa whoa whoa. Don't go telling people that kind of shit, Claire. Your brother? I'll never live it down. He'll have ammunition to use against me for…ever. Forever. Til the end of time."

"…what is it with you men and thinking being gentle makes you weak? Why would he care if you leave post it notes with little love poems on my rearview mirror?"

He laughed. She nibbled his throat while he answered, "Claire, honey, it's great for you and I that we are gooey. It is. It's our private stuff, sweetheart. OUR stuff. Guys? We don't like the world knowing we give a shit."

"Why!? That's so stupid."

"Maybe. But unless you want your brother to start leaving mocking post its on my car, I will beg you NOT to say anything about that. EVER."

Claire chuckled and leaned back to look at him. "Deal. IF you get the tattoo."

That was an easy answer. He'd get a pickle smoking pot tattooed on his body if it made her happy. "Yup."

"…just like that?"

"Why not? I love you. I'll put you anywhere on my body you want." And he bobbled his brows.

She giggled, shucked that little t-shirt, and put her body all over his.

...........

The Pisces sign was blue, the Cancer red and orange. They mixed together on the skin and showed their intertwined love for each other. She'd sliced it open with that knife.

The knife that was on the floor a foot away from her.

The knife she'd tried to kill him with.

"….fuck."

Leon eased to his feet, slipping a little in the blood. He kept the Magnum on her, moving toward the knife. He kicked it with his boot, sending it spinning down the long hallway. But Claire didn't move.

He shouldered open the door beside her body and found it was a bathroom. Clearing it as he went in, he moved toward the sink. He set the Magnum on the sink and dug through the medicine cabinet behind the mirror looking for something to treat his arms.

The sink was cracked porcelain. He was shaking as he watched his blood plop in fat red droplets into the white bowl of it. His hands shifted to grab the edges and hold on, just for a moment. His face stared back at him from the cracked mirror.

Pale.

What had Redfield said?

Old.

He felt old. He felt dead.

But he wasn't.

Claire was.

He said it out loud, "Claire is dead."

It sounded stupid. So he didn't say it again.

He used what was in the cabinet to bind the wounds on his arms. They were cannibals but they had gauze and tape. So they were at least ready to treat wounds from their victims, clearly. He wrapped his arms with the soft white roll of it, taped it on, and picked up his gun.

He looked like he was wearing long white sleeves now above his tactical gloves.

Easing forward, he swung the Magnum down the hallway. But it was just Claire's body. Claire's body.

Just Claire.

Who was dead.

The little rotary phone started ringing. The sound was so startling. It made him jump. It scared the piss out of him. Leon waited for it to stop but it kept on ringing.

He eased around Claire's body and picked it up.

The second it was against his ear, a heavily accented southern drawl said, "Yeh shouldn't have come. Who are you?"

"An odd question. You first."

"I'm Zoe. And you're out of time. Get to the attic. There's a way out there."

"Right. I so often listen to strangers calling on random old phones in dirty mansions where my wife just tried to kill me. Why not? The whole sentence just sounded as dumb out loud as it did in my head."

There was a small laugh. "You're funny. That's good. You'll need a good sense o' humor to survive."

"Survive what? My wife is dead. I'm not leaving this place until I take every last one of you with me."

"You're wasting time tryin to kill me. I'm gonna help yeh. And you're gonna help meh. Let's try this again…I'm Zoe."

He hesitated but what did it cost him to say it? It was just a name.

"Leon."

"Leon…nice to meetcha. I want out too. So, listen to me, and listen good. Things ain't what you think here. You and meh? We're in this togetha now. Listen to me, and I'll get you out of that house. Don't? You'll be just another member of the family."

The words made no sense. The family? What the fuck did that even mean?

"Get to the attic, Leon, get out of the house."

"I won't run. I don't run away, Zoe. I'm gonna level this place for what they've done to her."

"You're wasting time. Stop bein a hero. It won't do no damn good. Get out of that house. Now. And your wife?"

"Claire."

"Yeah. Claire? She ain't dead."

The call clicked off.

He froze. He blinked. He set it back in the cradle gently.

She ain't dead.

He turned and there she was.

She was just…standing there.

She said, softly, "Hey baby…I know you didn't mean to hurt me right? You wouldn't hurt me. You…love me."

Jesus Christ.

"Shhh. Shh.. It's ok. Why are you so mean? Why are you so scared? You didn't mean to hurt me right? You wouldn't hurt your sweetheart, your Claire Bear, your girl...right?"

Her hands stroked his face. She had a weeping fist sized HOLE in her CHEST. It gaped. It bled. It should have blown her heart apart. A .50 caliber round at point blank range?

Monster.

He breathed, "What did they do to you? What are you, Claire?"

She dragged him down. She licked his mouth. She rubbed her bloody chest against him, dragging her breasts against his shirt. It was the first time, ever, the touch of her disgusted him.

"I'm your boo. Your baby. Your girl. Want to taste me? Want to touch me? You wouldn't hurt me right? Your WIFE."

His voice came to him, cool, empty. THAT was the voice of the guy who didn't flinch. "You're not my wife. She's dead. You? You're just walking around wearing her skin suit. The thing about that? It don't fit you, you fucking piece of shit. And me? I'm taking it with me when I go. So I'm gonna need you to get the FUCK out of my wife."

She laughed and he waited while she licked his mouth again. He waited.

And then he head butted her.

It struck fast and hard. It drove her back so that she stumbled and screamed with pain.

Her voice growled, "You shouldn't have done that…IT HURT!"

"I warned you, you bitch. GET OUT OF MY WIFE!"

"She's mine, stupid hero. MINE. And you will be too!"

The Magnum came up and she was so fast. She was just there. Right there. She grabbed his throat. She lifted him, right off his feet. He pulled the trigger, the bullet hit her in the clavicle in a burst of blood and sound, and she threw him with a scream of fury. The wall exploded behind his flying bulk.

He was sheer muscle, always had been, and he hit the crumbling rotting wood and kept on going. He came down on his back, sliding along the hard floor and smashed into the dresser that waited there. But he'd held on to the fucking Magnum.

Claire shouted in rage. He watched her grab the knife from the floor. The Magnum came up from where he lay on his side on the floor and he drilled her.

He shot her twice in the side while she grabbed that knife.

She screamed, she took it, and she turned.

He knew. He KNEW where to shoot her.

Where did you shoot a fucking zombie?

"….in the goddamn head."

He adjusted his aim and Claire threw the knife.

The shot went wild and smashed the broken wall beside her ear. The knife was tossed by that practiced hand. Claire was a wizard with throwing knives. It was her thing. She did it at carnivals with balloons to make kids laugh.

He said a silent curse at Chris Redfield for teaching his baby sister to do it, and rolled.

The knife hit the dresser an inch from his throat.

And Claire grabbed him.

She punched him so hard in the face he felt his nose break. Probably. It was probably broken. Snap. Pop. And blood everywhere. And then she started choking the shit out of him.

He lost the Magnum in the scuffle. He elbowed her twice, twisted his body, and dropped his arm to break her hold on him. And then he right hooked his wife in the side, spun back to elbow her in the face, and drove a hip kick at her that sent her skidding over the floor on her ass.

The Magnum was three inches from her right hand.

So, that back fired a little bit.

She grabbed it, Leon caught sight of a small hatchet on the floor in the mess from the exploded wall, and he threw his shoulder down. She shot, it whizzed a quarter inch from his left ear, and he rolled through the drop and grabbed the hatchet.

It put him on the ground beneath her but that was ok. Because he drove a boot into her hip, spun her off center, and scissors kicked her in the chest as he got back to his feet. She lost the gun in a clatter of sound, screamed like a banshee, and grabbed for a broken piece of wood from the shattered ceiling above them. She wielded it like a stake and raced at him.

Christ.

"Claire!" He figured what the hell right? Maybe she was still in there. "You kidding me!?"

She swung the stake and Leon dropped low, threw his leg out, and took hers from her. She went down, shrieking. He swung the hatchet at her, hit her in the neck with a chunky thunk of sound and blood, and she kicked him from the floor.

Her bare foot smashed into his chest and threw him out and away like he weighed nothing.

Leon hit the dresser, slid over the top of it, and thunked into the wall beyond. He heard her coming and waited for it. She grabbed his shirt, jerked him up, and slapped him three times in the face. It hurt like hell but it was ok. He'd had worse.

And it let him shout at her, "CLAIRE! STOP!"

Like she would.

She wasn't Claire anymore.

He KNEW that. But he couldn't let the hope die.

He just kept holding on to it.

So he planted his foot, pivoted on the other one, channeled Chris Redfield, and straight arm punched her in the face. He put everything he had behind it. He didn't pull it, didn't hold back, he drilled her face with his fist like she was a zombie or a bad guy…because she was.

She was a bad guy.

And he couldn't die here with her.

It just wasn't how he was built.

She shrieked again, snarled, and leaped at him. She latched onto his front like a wailing monkey clasping a tree. It sent him stumbling into the wall and the psychotic thing that she was? She bit him.

She drove her teeth into his chest and just bit down.

He shouted, he bled, and she jerked and took a hunk of flesh with her. He felt it rip out of him. It was…the most disgusting feeling ever. His body jerked with the pain of it. His brain shut down to protect him and adrenaline kicked into over drive.

Claire ripped her bloody mouth back and spit. She spit out his flesh and the hunk of his shirt she'd taken with it.

She spit out the muscle and laughed.

And Leon grabbed her hair in one hand and jerked. As she shrieked, he drew her throat long and pretty and ripped the hatchet from the side of it. He hit her again with it, blood sprayed EVERYWHERE, and she slapped his hand so hard the hatchet spun off into the wall.

Leon drove his fingers into the gaping wound on her throat like he'd find her spine and snap it. Claire slapped her open palm against his bloody face and hit him in the broken mess of his nose so hard it stole his breath. He lost his grip on her.

She went to the floor like she'd crawl away.

He actually spit blood everywhere and shouted, it sounded wet and awful from the mess of his face, "I don't fucking think so!"

He grabbed a handful of her hair and jerked her back to him.

She grunted and scrambled but Leon held on while she kicked and slapped at him.

He pulled her across the floor by her hair, grabbed the Magnum from where it hand fallen, and jerked her to her knees with her back to him. She laughed. She just kept laughing.

She was still laughing when he put the big barrel against the back of her head and pulled the trigger. The echo of the gunshot was so loud. It echoed. The big gun kicked in his hand. His other hand let go of her hair as the blood splattered everywhere. Brains and bone cracked and went all over from the point blank execution. Her body fell to the floor on its face, still, only the pooling blood showed movement. Everything else?

Utterly still.

He'd executed his wife.

He couldn't do it looking at her. Because he was a coward.

So he did it with her facing away.

Away.

He had blood splashed over his jeans and chest. His shirt was ripped, his face soaked with it, his hands tacky and sticky. He was bruised and bleeding and shaking. Because he'd just killed his wife…again. Twice. He'd killed his wife twice.

Leon whispered, "What the fuck did they do to you?"

He didn't look at her. He stepped over her corpse and moved.

The room was horrid. It was blood and brains and destruction. He was soaked in it. Claire's body lay mired in it. The walls were thick and dripping. It was a goddamn gore fest.

He left it behind without flinching.

The bathroom offered him the ability to bind the wound on his chest. She'd gotten a whole mouthful. She'd ripped a hunk out of him the size of a half dollar, right above his nipple. It was totally gross. It was bleeding all over the place.

He balled up gauze, taped it down, and put pressure on it. It was the best he could do.

Leon grappled his phone from his back pocket but it was missing.

He cleared back into the hallway to find it. Easing around the corner of the shattered wall, he pointed the big gun at Claire's dead body.

But she was gone.

The panic set in. What had the girl on the phone said?

Your wife? She ain't dead.

Clearly.

She was undead.

All his life, he'd been fighting them. He just kept fighting and fighting and fighting. For what? For this?! For his world to end in blood and rot and infection? For his wife to turn into what he'd spent a lifetime destroying?

What kind of justice was that!?

What kind of karma was it that took a gentle, beautiful, soft hearted woman that just wanted to save the world…and turned her into the thing she'd dedicated her entire life to ending? WHY!?

He was breathing sharp and fast. He was panicking. He was losing it.

He had to get it together.

Out loud, he said, "You're better than this god damnit. Shut the fuck up. Shut up. And survive."

And he went to the place where he could find his peace and keep on fighting.

Where else?

It was wherever she was. In his memory.

.............

"Promise me!"

She was on the pier, getting ready to get on the ship to leave. She kept grabbing his hands.

"Promise me, Leon!"

"Why? You'll be back in a few weeks."

"Because! We always do it. So just DO IT!"

Laughing, he pulled her in and held her for a moment. She smelled like lilacs. She always smelled like lilacs.

"I promise: No matter what? I'll keep on fighting."

She kissed him, grinning. "That's right. No fear right? On that island…the fucking bitch kept taunting us with it. Fear. FEAR. Fuck fear. I knew I'd survive it. I knew it. Because you were waiting for me. I had to get back to you. No matter what happens, ever, I am always waiting for you. If not here, then in the next life, and the next…no fear. And never stop fighting."

............

It anchored him. It left him calm. He eased around the doorway to find himself back in the main hallway of the house. He was just off the kitchen and parallel to the staircase. He passed by the room with the VCR and headed toward the stairs.

And Claire spilled out of the pantry beneath them.

She laughed. She was all bloody. Her face was a wreck. The hole in her forehead wept copiously and was disgusting. She was missing half the right side of her skull. He watched it weep and plop chunks.

His stomach heaved. She had the barrel of the Magnum. She forced it back on him while they stood there in the hallway, wrestling for it.

And she said, "You bad boy. You bad bad boy. You killed me. I thought you loved me. Don't you understand? You can't run. You have to stay. We belong here. You belong here…"

Claire jerked, the Magnum went off, and he felt her body burst with blood all over their hands. She grunted, mouth gushing blood, and whispered, "Liar. That's not love. LIAR."

She head butted him.

It hit so hard that he felt it try to collapse his skull.

He went down on his back, his vision burst black for a moment, and his head started throbbing like a bad tooth. She jerked the Magnum from his hands. She aimed it at his face.

"Liar."

His boot came up, her finger pulled the trigger, and the bullet him in the chest as he kicked her arms. It saved his life by shifting her aim down from his face but cost him anyway. The bullet went right on through and into the floor beneath him. He grunted, humped his hips, and gained his feet as she staggered.

Claire grabbed for him, he rolled to the right and put his shoulder into her, and used her own momentum to throw her over his shoulder and down the hallway where he'd been. She went through the far door, screaming.

She came barreling at him now with a god damn screwdriver. He ducked to grab the Magnum and she tackled him before he could get it. They went backward together, Claire shrieking and stabbing wildly at him, him with his hands thrown up to stop her. The screwdriver went into his hand, they hit the floor and skidded along it to smash into the pile of furniture blocking the door, and he punched her full in the face with the other hand.

She rolled left, jabbed his throat with that screwdriver, and he lost all his breath when it tried to go clean through and sever his windpipe. Luck, grace, or utter fucking blind stupidity saved him losing his rocking voice to wild jabbing. He rolled his neck, the screwdriver jabbed but didn't do more then split a little shallow skin, and it scraped down his throat.

Bleeding, grappling, she jabbed the damn thing into his shoulder. He rolled up on the other side, jerked his leg up, and kicked her in the back of the head. Chris Redfield be damned. THIS is why he did yoga.

Claire went over the top of him, he grabbed her dirty shirt and kept on tossing, and she flipped and smashed into the door. She slid down into the mess of furniture and was already leaping out to get him.

Leon dropped to one knee, missed losing an eye to that damn screwdriver, and gripped her wrist. He jerked down, pushed up, and broke her arm at the elbow. It snapped wetly. It popped audibly. She screamed so loud it echoed in the dirty house and she heel jabbed him right in the nose. Blood, crunch, if it wasn't broken before it was fucked now. The pain exploded as she tried to send his nose into his brain and Leon jerked on that broken arm to throw her like garbage down the hallway.

She rolled, smashing into the wall.

Leon staggered to his feet. She was already stirring. She drove the screwdriver into his calve. He shouted, staggered, and she laughed. She grabbed it to jerk it clean and go after him again. He kicked her twice in the face where she lay and she went still.

He grabbed the Magnum from the floor, spun, and raced up the stairs beside him.

He was dropping blood all over now.

It was bad.

He was fucked.

He knew it.

He coughed and spit. The spit was pink. Which meant she'd nicked a lung when she'd shot him. He stumbled on the stairs but kept on going. The attic was dusty and moldy. What part of this fucking house wasn't!?

Slipping in the blood, Leon ran toward the ladder there that offered him a way out. Clearly the girl on the phone knew what she was talking about. Holstering the Magnum, he scaled the ladder. He was opening the shutter that would likely spill him out to the roof when he heard it.

He'd heard it before.

Plenty.

He'd faced it so many times he was surprised it still managed to scare the living shit out of him.

You never forgot after all…the roar of a chainsaw.

It sputtered and kicked to the life. It started rending and ripping the shutter in front of him. Horrified, he let go. He went backwards as Claire burst through the opening, shrieking and waving the jagged teeth of that death machine where he'd been.

Leon hit his back and rolled as she pushed into the attic. He ran for it, shouldering into the closest room as she raced for him.

She gave chase, screaming, and he smashed the door into her face as she lifted the chainsaw over her head to decapitate him. He kicked it twice, it smacked her while she laughed, and he shot her in the face through the wood.

It splintered, a hole erupted, wood chunks sprayed like shrapnel.

And he unloaded the rest of the magazine into her face.

The chainsaw sputtered and hit the floor, Claire's body hit the far wall and slid down it, and Leon grabbed for another magazine off his leg. He coughed again and the pink tinged spit was just blood now. Just blood.

He was FUCKED.

His lung was filling with blood. He was rasping and wheezing. His vision was blurry on one side. Which told him she'd head butted him and given him a fucking concussion. He listed, staggering a little, but he kicked open the door anyway.

She was struggling against the wall.

He raised the Magnum on her, rasping.

Claire turned her head, face ruined, a mask of bleeding and naked bone and rot, black moldy skin and infection. She gasped…and put her hands behind her head.

"Oh do it! DO IT! Do it, baby. Hurry. Hurry. Don't stop."

Christ…it sounded like sex talk or something. But it wasn't. It was his wife begging him to kill her.

Not fuck her.

Kill her.

Again. And again.

Jesus Christ.

Claire wept, softly, tears from one bloody eye. The other was gone. He'd blown half her face off with his Magnum. He felt the moment his left lung collapsed. It was a bit like someone dropping an anvil on one side of his body. He went to one knee, leaning in the door frame.

His brain said: you're dead you stupid bastard. What did Chris say? WAIT FOR ME.

Nope.

Idiot.

The genius part of his brain (lost somewhere under the utter fucking asshat that had been arrogant and full of himself) said: you have a tension pneumothorax. You're dead. You fucking moron.

That was fine.

He didn't care.

He didn't want to live anyway without her. And the bitch on the floor in front of him? She was dead. She was UNDEAD. She wasn't Claire. Claire was dead.

But she WAS. She was CLAIRE. Because she said, "I love you. Look at me."

He leaned on the frame, vision edged with blood now. He could barely breathe. He grunted, "I'm looking at you."

"I love you. Kill me. Do it. And run. Run, baby. Run away. And live. Ok? Run."

Leon laughed, wetly, and hacked up blood all over the floor between them. Her face. Her face was so scared. "I look like I can run? I'm fucked, Claire. I'm done. This? This is what fucked looks like, honey. It's you and me beating each other to death."

He slid further down the door. The gun trembled on her and finally lowered. He let it go, feeling it dangle in his hand near his hip. What did it matter? She couldn't die. She was already dead.

And he would be soon enough.

What did it matter?

He said, "Find…my phone. Call..your…brother. Hurry. While you're still you. Tell him…" He slumped, gasping. His whole body told him he wasn't getting enough oxygen to his blood for proper perfusion of his organs anymore. His one working lung was filling with fluid. "Tell him…burn it down. Sanitation. Hurry."

"Oh, god…please…"

He could hear her moving. She was coming for him. He just hoped it was quick.

He slumped, shifted, and offered her his neck. "Break it. QUICK, Claire. Ok? Break it. Put me down."

"Shut up, idiot. Shut up. I'm going to get you to the hospital. I'm going to help you. Why did you come!? She'll never let me go, Leon. Listen to me...it's mind control. It's...bad. It's so bad. She gets in your fucking head. Somebody took everything we've been fighting all this time and made it look human. Made it have needs. She thinks I'm her mom. She wants a dad. She wants a family. She wants hugs. She wants to be loved. But she's not human. She's death. She's infection. She's rot. Mold. The mold. The mold...oh god..."

He slumped forward and whispered, "It was her."

"Yeah. She emailed you. I'm so sorry. She got the email from my brain. It's why I can't run. I can't. I'm not me. SHE'S me. She's in me. On me. In my head. I wouldn't risk you. I thought...I thought I'd protected you. I never even thought of you in case...in case she found you in my memories. Baby...baby baby...you stupid man. You came from an email? Alone? ALONE!? Where is Chris?"

"He's coming...he's coming...I'm done, Claire. Listen to me. He won't make it. I'm down. You shot me in the fucking lung. I'm done. Put me down."

"No. No. There's time. I couldn't stop from shooting you. I couldn't. But I could stop from killing you. I just...I can't stop it forever. I will kill you. She said...kill you. Kill you for letting me go. But I can't. I won't. I have to get you away. Where Chris can get to you. Chris is coming? He's coming. He's coming. Leon...please. Don't give up."

He went down to the floor, palms spread now, mouth spilling blood in a heavy drip. "Claire...honey...look at me..." He spit, he coughed, he gagged and went to his side on the floor. "End me. Hurry."

"No. I CAN'T. Hold on. I love you. I LOVE you."

She moved. She moved now and grabbed him. She picked him up like he wasn't twice her size. She threw him over her shoulder and moved.

He dangled, feeling his chest seize. She was going down the stairs. She was kicking the furniture that barred the front door. She was so strong.

Leon felt the gun slip from his hands and bounce on the floor.

Claire grabbed the handle of the boarded up door and just…ripped.

It opened with a scream of giving wood and popping nails. She ran out into the dying sun carrying him. He felt the world dip and spin. He heard her shouting.

Feet were running.

She struggled as she was grabbed. She snarled like his woman trying to free him. She shouted, "GET THE FUCK OFF HIM!"

And that was ALL her.

But she lost and he was dumped to the ground.

He couldn't breathe. The world was dark. It was all dark.

Claire roared, "I WILL KILL YOU if you touch him! Do you hear me!? TAKE YOUR FUCKING HANDS OFF HIM!"

Someone fisted his shirt and jerked him to his knees. And he was down. He was down. But he wasn't out.

Who the fuck did they think he was?

He laughed, low and wet.

"Something funny, son?"

"This is funny. You think this is the end? This is just the beginning."

That face floated in front of him, "You got that right, son. Your beginning. Your new one."

He could hear Claire screaming, trying another tactic now. Pleading. Not threatening, "LEAVE HIM! PLEASE! LEAVE HIM ALONE! I STAYED! I stayed, didn't I!? I stayed! Please! Just let him go!"

There was laughter. He couldn't see. Someone grabbed a handful of his hair and pulled his head back. "He's handsome! You see this, Marguerite? Our new son? He's HANDSOME."

"Just do it, Jack! Hurry! It'll be dark soon! You know she hates us out here after dark!"

The vision in his good eye told him he was looking into glasses and a swarthy face pocked with old acne scars. That drawling deep voice said, "Welcome to the family, son. We gonna have a REAL good time."

He saw it coming. The fist was fast. But he wasn't dead. Not yet anyway.

And he wasn't some idiot lost in the woods without a prayer.

Mostly dead or not...he was still Leon Kennedy. He didn't just lay down and die.

The fist came at his face and his went for the groin of the man holding him. He punched the dude clean in the dick with everything he had. It cost him. He went from barely breathing to not at all. He spilled to his face on the ground while the man shouted and kicked him.

Kick, shout, kick, and shout. It hurt. But Leon was mostly numb now anyway. Too much blood, too much oxygen deprivation, and he was done. Claire kept screaming for him. Something broke. A rib? His chest? Who cared anymore.

The man kicked him again; Leon grabbed that foot, jerked, and broke the ankle in a swift and final move. There was shouting now and rage.

He murmured it, quietly, "Fuck your family."

The woman shrieked, "What did you say!? You HEAR this Jack!?"

And louder now, a bubbly, bloody, wet shout, "You deaf you stupid bitch!? I SAID: FUCK YOUR FAMILY. You better make sure I die, you cunt, or I will burn this place to the ground and laugh."

"How DARE you!"

Claire gasped. He heard her beg. And then?

"NO! NO! LEON!"

The angry woman kicked him so hard in the face he heard something snap.

And he went down in the dark to the echo of Claire pleading for his release.

She was undead.

But she was still Claire.

She was undead.

But she was still…his.

And he was just gone.

................

Claire was weeping softly. It spilled from her with ragged breaths. She was shaking and smiling though, a constant contradictions. The face in the mirror was her – but it wasn't her. The girl that stood behind her was brushing her hair and humming.

"You lied."

Claire felt the chill of it in her bones. But she smiled, tears streaming, " I told you he was strong."

"You said he loved you."

"He does."

The brush stopped. The small dark eyes watched her, patiently. "A Daddy doesn't hurt a Mommy. He tried to take you away. Why would you let him take you away? Why would you leave me?"

Claire smiled, tremulously. "I wouldn't. He didn't know. He'll be better. I'll make sure he understands. I promise."

The little girl giggled a little and kissed her cheek. "He is handsome. Jack said so. I wonder if he will think I'm pretty enough to his daughter."

She curled up on Claire's lap, snuggling against her.

Claire felt the horror and the pain and the fear mix with the feeling of wanting to hold the little girl. Her brain…it ached. Her skull seized as if held in vice grips. She made a small sound of pain and looped her arms around the child she held.

She wanted to break the narrow neck. She wanted to snap her bird like bones. She wanted to watch the light die in her pretty little eyes.

But she just kept sitting there, stroking the hair of the girl who'd stolen her life...and nearly killed the only thing in it that mattered.

They just had to hold on. Chris was coming, he'd said. Chris was coming.

If she could protect him, protect them, and keep them alive...Chris was coming.

He wasn't Leon. He wasn't. He'd come with men, with guns, with RPGs and bullets and blood and death. He'd leap from a chopper with grenades and flamethrowers and fury. He'd kick in the door and kill the Bakers while they fled and fell and screamed. She'd rise to fight with him and they'd free Leon together.

She'd be the hero for once with her brother beside her.

She just needed to play this game a little longer.

She just needed to keep this little girl from seeing the truth in her head...she just needed...to stop turning in to a monster.

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: Capcom owns RE. I do not...mores the pity.

Three: Oh, what a lovely tea party!

Dulvey, Louisiana – 2017

Someone was breathing into his left ear.

The breath felt really nice. It was warm and moist on the shell of his chilly appendage. He shifted a little toward the heat of it as if seeking the comfort there. His mouth brushed the other and it made him utter a sound. Because he couldn't speak or move.

He was broken.

A small voice said, "Easy, handsome. Easy. Your wife might decide to join the hunt to find meh if you keep cuddlin up to meh. No wonder Lucas hates yeh. Under all this blood, you're something to look at, ain't ya? Course, you'll find out soon enough that Lucas wants your wife for himself. Should give you another reason to kill him, eh?"

That voice was still right by his ear, soft and warm. And it said, "Make sure you kill em good for meh."

He started to shift and something hit him, right in the chest. It stabbed and bowed his back. He started to shout from the pain of it and that little voice covered his mouth smooth hands. "Nope. No. Don't be screamin. You want them to come in and fuck you up again? Be still."

The thing in his chest was jerked clean. It hurt so bad…and then it got better. It was BETTER. Because he could BREATHE again.

His eyes tried to open and it didn't matter, because it was fucking darker then piss anyway.

And his face was still all fucked up because he couldn't even get one eye to open at all.

The little voice said, "Easy. Just rest now. Rest. I'm gonna fix ya. You are better than any of them. Any of them. I've been doin this a long time, Leon. A long time. You're the first one that makes me think maybeh…maybeh we get out of this alive."

He realized he was lying on the cold ground somewhere. And the little voice, attached to a female body of some kind, was straddling him where he lay.

Admittedly, it was the first time he'd had a woman on his junk and not be the least interested. But that tended to happen when you were mostly dead.

This had to be Zoe from the phone.

Zoe mused, "Claire showed up with that little girl. Her ship had crashed and gone down out in the bayou. She was sweet and friendly. The girl? She was…kind. Claire talked about yeh a lot back then. Before she realized I think that…she wasn't herself anymore. She had a little phone with your pictures all over it. She loved talkin about yeh. And she had some…interestin shots on that phone. Mmm. I could see the reason for the gushin. Pretty sure you ain't got a lick of fat on yeh…anywhere."

Well…he got the feeling Claire had been showing this girl naked pictures of him.

He tried to feel offended and found out, under the mostly dead part, he was really just amused.

Claire so WOULD show naked pictures of him. She'd consider it art or something. She wouldn't realize other people might see it as porn.

"Turns out? She was right about yeh being…kinda perfect all over."

Yup.

Naked pictures.

Damn her. He was betting she was giggling while they sat together flipping through pictures of his twig and berries. His brain tried to remind him when she'd even been able to take those damn pictures as Zoe treated his face with some kind of salve.

Fortuitously, Zoe filled in the blanks, "Now yeh can't be mad at her. Really. She was missin yeh somethin fierce. And lookin at yeh, sleepin like you were, it wasn't even dirty really. It was just…sensual? It was kinda pretty. Claire liked to laugh about it. She said: Yeh even sleep pretty. Turns out she was right. She kept touching this little picture of yeh sleepin on yer back with the sheet…just barely coverin yeh. She'd get this look on her face…kinda sad."

That hurt him a little. Because she'd missed him the same as he'd missed her.

And then Zoe said, "And then she'd flip to a totally nekkid picture of yeh and giggle. Talk about how pretty you were."

Aaaand the mood shifted back to humor.

His Claire.

She was something else.

Always shouting about him being prettier than her. "I MARRIED A PRETTY BOY! I'M THE UGLY ONE!"

She was WRONG. But it was always a laugh for them.

She had this thing called the rule of ten.

..........

"Listen, Kennedy," The nacho was waving as she told him over beers at the bar, "There is a RULE of ten."

"Ten? Like someone is a ten? And someone isn't?"

"No. Like in every relationship, someone is the 1. And someone is the 0. It makes ten. And it means one is the tall and thin one. And one is the short fat one. CLEARLY. You are the 1."

Someone laughed and fell on the pool table behind her while Eye of The Tiger blared from the jukebox.

Leon sipped his scotch while Claire firebombed her long neck beer.

And finally, unable to tolerate the silence, Claire slapped the table and inquired, "What? No response to that?"

He set his glass down. Claire shifted her narrow gaze to the table of four giggling girls over his left shoulder. She lifted a brow, "See? You see where I'm going with this right? Those girls back there see where I'm going. They're waiting for me to leave the table so they can swoop in like vultures and pick your carcass clean."

He said nothing. His hand shifted and he tapped his lips with his index finger, watching her blandly.

Claire shifted her eyes back to him. "You better answer me, Mr. Kennedy. You're making me nervous as hell here."

Sighing, Leon shrugged a little, "I didn't realize you were so dumb. It's disheartening."

Her eyebrows winged up, her mouth twitched with a smile, "I'm what now?"

"Dumb. I mean, your brother is dumber than trying to light your farts, so I shouldn't really be surprised. But I was kinda hoping you got the brains in the Redfield family."

Claire slid off her stool. Leon shrugged and sighed again, dramatically, "I won't dump you, of course, because you're fucking dynamite in the sack. But we may have to curtail any further conversations. Since you just open your mouth and spout dumb shit that makes my eyes cross."

He rolled the stool to the side as she circled the table. Her hands slid up his legs and he parted his knees so she could squeeze in between them to loop her arms around him. His hands settled on her hips and hers tangled in his hair a little.

He said, "Claire Redfield, you are the ten here. The ten. The first time I met you? I couldn't remember the reason I was standing there for a split second. I forgot zombies and blood and burning cities…and I just stared at you."

Claire grinned a little, rubbing their noses together. "Same. That face of yours? It's torture to a girl. How is it possible that it gets BETTER as you get older and mine? Just gets old."

"Again with the dumb shit. You're on a roll tonight. A long time after this face you love so much is ugly and wrinkled and past its prime, I get the feeling you're still gonna feel exactly the same about it. That makes you the most beautiful woman in the world. It's one part the fact that I could spend my entire life just looking at you, and one part knowing that what's behind the face is what makes you a ten. Hell…it makes you a twenty. And I'm just the guy lucky enough to get to love you."

She leaned back to scan his face. She kept looking for what? Humor? There was none. And he watched it roll over that face he loved so much. "You son of a bitch."

"Your mushy stuff needs work, Redfield."

"I fucking love you. You didn't even pun just now."

"Night ain't done yet, darlin. Keep waitin for it."

And just to prove it? He let her pull out her phone later when the night was smooth and the moonlight silver. He'd never cared anyway. He could fight zombies and save the world naked. It had never been a big deal to him.

And taking pictures of him had gotten her so excited that she'd leaped on him giggling and ready. So it was really win/win for everyone.

 

......

Of course, after he'd fallen asleep, she'd clearly taken pictures of him in the moonlight.

It was ok. Honestly. He had dozens of her that were the same.

What had she always said? Two water signs swimming in the romance of it.

The dreamer and the homemaker. She wasn't wrong. While she envisioned their future, he built their present. He'd put that ugly little place in Augusta together with his own two hands and her help. They'd torn it down to the studs and renovated the hell out of it. He'd done that, he'd made a home for them. From the dreams she'd woven around them.

She was STILL HERE. Somewhere, in that shell of her, she was still here.

Zoe smeared something over his eye. And the vision seeped back into it, slowly. She brushed his jaw and he could FEEL it reknitting. The bitch had kicked him and broken it, clearly.

When he could, he spoke, and it was low and gruff and hoarse, "Why are you helping me?"

"Because I need your help. Because I need you to kill them. To help me escape them. And I know you can. I saw you. You fought Claire. And you weren't even…you were just you then…just a man. I saw you move…I ain't never seen anybody move like that. And yeh were just a man then."

What did that even mean?

He tried to speak again and it only hurt a little now, "What am I now?"

Her voice filled the quiet dark, "Family. The second you went down, whatever hadn't already gotten in to you finished the job. She'll fill you up with her. Right now? It's just what's in the house. It's side affects. You're a little stronger, a little tougher, a little harder. But she'll get bored of that soon enough. Once she gets in your head…it's done. The harder you fight her, the more she'll push back. You're on borrowed time, Leon. Short time. She'll have you soon enough if you don't get movin. I'll distract them. I'll get them away at dinner. You? Get out of that house. Meet me in the trailer out back. I'll tell you what we need to make the serum."

He licked his dry lips. "The serum?"

"Yah. To cure it. She's infected both Claire and I. But you're still you. For now. I need you to help me make the cure. You'll do it for, Claire. Maybe not for me. But for her? You'll help meh. I know it."

She shifted and pushed his shirt up. "God. She fucked you all up."

True story there.

"Takes a helluva man to keep fightin for a woman that fucks him all up."

And that was true as well.

How to explain to someone their sordid history? It was impossible.

She was rubbing the cool ointment on his chest now. He tried to see her in the dark but her face was obscured in shadow. Pretty, potentially, and young. A shaggy crop of dark hair, maybe. He watched the shadow of her in the wavering lack of light, "I'll help you."

She smoothed the cool liquid over his ribs. His hissed, gasped, and grabbed her wrists. Because he could FEEL his broken bones knitting. It was Wolverine or something. Insane.

She flipped her hands over and slid their fingers together. She watched it hurt him like a kick to the chest that put him in an oven. It always hurt while it healed.

"S'ok, suga'. Ease down. Easy. Breathe."

He didn't until she jerked on his arms a little and startled him. "I said breathe, Leon. Now."

The air whooshed out of his lungs. And the pain backed off a little.

"Jesus. What the fuck is that stuff?"

"Holy water. Purifies while it heals."

He was pretty sure she was joking…pretty sure.

Zoe whispered, "Yeh said you'd help meh…Why?"

Gasping, he held her gaze in the dark. "Because you're helping me now. You tried to help me in the house before. Why? I'm nothing to you. Just some guy. You can't even trust me. But you're helping me. I'm a lot of things but I'm not a fucking asshole. I help those who help me."

Zoe shifted and let go of his hands. She eased down beside him on the floor and slid her arm under his back. She helped him sit up in the circle of that arm and replied, gently, "Claire said you were a hero."

He laughed a little, fingers and hands tingling. What was in that shit?! He kinda felt high.

"Claire has rose colored glasses on for me."

"I can see why."

He turned his head a little and Zoe winked in the dark. She said, "To be fair, I haven't seen a man in so long. I might be likin your pretty face because I'm lonely. Or because I ain't stopped and actually hoped that someone would come along strong enough to finish this since…"

She lifted her other hand and touched his mouth. "Well…too long anyway. You givin me hope here, hero. You better be as good as your wife thinks yeh are."

She kinda petted his face a little. And he'd been around the block enough times in his life to read a girl like a book. This girl? Diggin on him. It was kinda flattering considering Leon was pretty sure she was a big eyed fetus next to him, age wise.

Claire would get a kick out of it when he told her.

He had enough time to hurt as that thought rolled into his head. Would she? She wasn't even Claire anymore. Not really.

Zoe eased his chin up a little to study him. "The swellin is all gone. What's the blue eyes from?"

Quietly, he answered, "The last names Kennedy. It doesn't get much more Anglo-Saxon."

"Mmm. The long hair?"

"Rebellious youth that kinda stuck around. Now it's kinda my thing."

"It is. Fits the face. I like yer face."

"Yours is pretty nice too. It's the first one that hasn't tried to kill me."

"Mmm. Not kill. No…but…."

He got the feeling she was going to…and then she did. She kissed him, gently. He let her. Because it was so sweet it was like a peck from a skinny little fairy. She left him sitting and rose.

"Yeh ok?"

"Yeah, actually. I thought I was fucking dead back there."

"Mmm. I have meh ways. I can make sure you don't end up buried in the bayou, Leon Kennedy. But I need yeh to do the same for me."

"Of course. Anything. Claire's alive?"

"She is. And here. I'll try to arrange a way for her to get messages to yeh if I can. She's been tryin to help me find a way out of here since they took yeh. She's a good girl."

"Yeah. She's a good girl."

Zoe smiled a little and jotted down something on a small notebook page. "They'll be comin soon to take yeh…to dinner. Don't eat any of it. Yeh hear me? Not a fuckin bite. And get Lucas REAL riled up for me. I'll distract them and let you make your escape. Remember, the trailer out back. And don't yeh worry about Claire. I ain't never seen anyone as brave as her…sides you. She'll help yeh if she can. But remember, what's in her ain't all good."

He watched her move. Something in his vision wasn't just better…it was BETTER. He could see her now. He knew she was wearing a dirty gray tank. He knew her hair was black. How could he SEE that in the dark? "And it is in you?"

She smiled a little, "The little bitch can't get her hands on me long enough to finish the job. She's been fuckin with Claire since before they showed up here. That Claire has anything of herself left tells you how strong your wife is, Leon. Show me you can equal that. And help us all."

She knelt in front of him and pressed a small tablet into his palm. It was the size of an aspirin. "Take this. Do NOT eat anything they give you. I have uncontaminated food in my trailer. I will do everything I can to get all of us out of here. But I need you to swear, right now, yeh won't leave me behind."

"You kidding? You're the best friend I've got here. I swear. I will get us all out of here."

"Good. Good." She lingered, watching him, "What's the tattoo on your back?"

Jesus. Claire and her dirty pictures. He smiled a little in the dark. "RPD. I was a cop for one whole day."

"Yeah? What are you now?"

He considered, watching her pretty face. "A bad ass."

"Yeah?"

"Oh, yeah. You ever seen Taken?"

She was grinning now. And she was more than pretty. But she was so young. He figured she was barely in her twenties. A baby trying to survive this nightmare. Like he and Claire had been babies in Raccoon.

"I have."

"They took what's mine. Your family? They're dead where they stand. I will use every ugly skill I've ever learned to bury them. Help me. And I'll show you how big of a fucking hero I am."

She rolled her lip under, smiling. And she looked about eighteen. "I believe yeh. You better watch how you keep battin those big blue eyes at me though. Between the angry murder talk, the bad mouthin mah Daddy while yer dying, and the tattoos…I'm startin to get a crush on you."

He chuckled, charmed. "Can't blame ya. I am clearly a catch. Especially half dead with a collapsed lung. Sex on a stick."

"And yer funneh. That's the hat trick right there." She patted his thigh and rose, "I like your wife, Leon. She stopped that bitch more than once from gettin meh. And she has good taste in men. I'm a little jealous of her right now."

He was surprised to find he could still laugh, gently. "That's flattering as all hell considering I'm old enough to be your father, objectively."

"Mmm. That's just another point in yer fav'uh." She said, "I hid your gun under the house. If you go through the laundry room, there's a little hatch behind the dryer. I left the key taped inside the drawer of the planter stand in the hallway by the dining room. Grab it and use it on the hatch. Open it, jump down, and you'll be in the crawlspace. I keep things there…useful things. Don't let Daddy know about it. Ya hear me?"

"Absolutely."

"Good." She studied him on the floor. "Claire was right about that face though. Somethin to see without all the blood. She missed you like crazy, ya know. I can see why. Let's see if we can get you back to her and get her back to herself. Whadda ya say?"

"Thank you, Zoe. I mean it. I can't say it enough."

"No, thanks. None. Until we're out of here."

"I need to get a message out. Somehow. Claire's brother is coming. He's part of an organization that can stop this shit in its tracks. But I need my phone. Any chance you've seen it?"

"Mmm. No. But I know where tuh look. Lucas couldn't hide shit from meh as kids. He's even worse now since he started fuckin with power."

"Zoe…if this goes as planned, your whole family will end up dead. Are you sure you're ok with that?"

"Suga' mah family died a long time ago. This is just settin their souls free to go on someplace bettuh. I'll find the phone if I can. Who's the message go to?"

"Redfield. You'll find it under my contacts as Buttplug."

Zoe blinked, holding his gaze.

He grinned a little sheepishly.

"Not fond of yer brutha in law?"

"A little good natured rivalry. You should like him actually he's older then dirt. Not funny though. So, maybe that's out."

"I don't need a fix up, Leon. I need a cure. You ready?"

"Born ready, darling."

"Good. Be careful if you come up against Lucas or Daddy. Mama as well. Lucas is a coward but he's crafty and he ain't afraid to push your buttons so you do something stupid. Daddy will enjoy killing you…a lot. And he's STRONG. Mama? She's…there's no real way to tell yeh about Mama. Just be careful."

"I can take them all. I'm not just regular guy, Zoe. Not even close."

She studied him in a little in the low light. She tucked his hair behind one ear, smirking a little. "I can see that. Prove it."

The sounds from the door beyond them had her scrambling away. "Don't die on me, Leon. You've got a job to do here."

As he watched her disappear into the darkness, he muttered, "…yeah…fuck…story of my life."

And the door was jerked open.

A huge hulking figure loomed in the doorway. Leon figured it was the guy from the field again. But Leon didn't move a muscle. He pretended to still be sleeping.

He let the enormous guy that smelled like sweat and rotten ass pick him up by the ankle and literally drag him out of the room. These people had all the delicacy of a kick to the groin. With one eye cracked, Leon watched the hallway curve until he was dragged into a dining room and thrown like garbage into a chair.

He wanted to protest the moment they strapped his arms to the rests of the chair, but he kept his peace and slumped like he was still out. He was hoping to eavesdrop on them for a bit before they found out he was awake.

The table was a smorgasbord of horror. It was guts and rots and necrotic organs mixed with rancid flesh. Intestines were spilled and coiled in the center on a serving platter like an offering of turkey on Christmas. The chair to his right held the bitch that'd broken his jaw.

She was a dumpy woman, frumpy and ugly, with scraggly dark hair and beady eyes over a boxy jaw. She wore a sweaty looking collared shirt on her flabby shoulders. Her face which might have been pretty if she didn't look like a meth addict that had died and risen again as a zombie, was watching his
"sleeping form" curiously.

The chair to his left had a skinny looking hooligan with sallow skin, dark circles under his pale, sort of filmy eyes, and a nearly starved look on his long face. Meth addict extreme on this end, Leon thought wryly. He was dining on the dead in a crack house of horrors. He looked like an asshole.

The hoodie the ugly guy wore was dark and the hood wad tucked up around his balding head. He had yellowed teeth that kept grinning as he picked up pieces of "food" from the table and chucked them at Leon's sleeping face.

Little fucking prick, Leon mused silently, it was gonna be a real joy to stick a boot in his groin and knock his dick in the dirt. If the kid weighed a buck ten soaking wet, he'd eat….the table of rotting sweet meat that was so lovingly…displayed. The smell was so bad. He'd be lucky not to wretch again and toss his empty stomach all over their "dinner".

The man who sat at the head of the table was ugly. Again, he might have not been so ugly before whatever had infected them had taken control. In fact, he was the man in the picture over the fireplace. Glasses and a shiny bald head with nothing more than the last straggling gasp of a skullet marked him as likely in his fifties and creeping up the back side. He was big and clearly in good shape before he'd become a monster. The yellow and green striped dress shirt he wore settled on a muscled frame with broad shoulders. Farming had kept angry glasses guy in good physical condition.

The same couldn't be said for meth face kid on his left though. That guy needed a cheeseburger STAT. Apparently dining on entrails didn't keep the weight on ya.

Another chunk of an ear hit his face; Leon ground his teeth inside his head. He was going to force feed this pile of crap in front of him to that ignorant sack of shit. The need to do it was nearly palpable.

The woman said, "He done healed all that damage we did to him, Jack."

"Jack" was clearly the man with the glasses. He settled down and picked at the platter of rotting organs. "So?"

"I can't believe it. You think he's already like us?"

Jack shrugged. "Maybe. You know she wanted to make him one of us. Why not? He'd be dead if he weren't Marguerite."

"I guess." Marguerite gave a narrow stare across the table, "Stop throwing that shit, Lucas. And eat."

The skinny meth kid, "Lucas", laughed like a donkey. "I don't see what's so good lookin. You remember Claire talkin about him like he was hot shit right? Dudes older then Daddy."

Well, that was just offensive.

He was NOT older then father time over there.

He was older then "Lucas" but to be fair the kid looked to be about eighteen before he'd lost half his physical self to whatever parasite was making him crazy eyed and shifty. He was not, however, older then Chris Redfield. Who was so old his bones were likely to be preserved in the Natural History Museum as representative of a Cro-Magnon man when he died.

Slightly beside the skinny faced meth addict Lucas, an older then dirt corpse sat in a wheelchair. The fact that it was breathing made a lie out of the corpse assumption but otherwise? It looked dead. It was female and skeletal in appearance. Its bony frame was supported in the chair but the neck drooped and left the sightless eyes staring at him where he sat. They were cloudy with cataracts as they watched him. Or maybe they saw nothing. It was hard to say. The thing in the chair was the scariest thing at the table.

Why? It was just an old lady.

And yet his heart was skipping a beat in his chest. With a slight turn of his sneaky eyeball, Leon realized it wasn't the old lady doing it. The rhythm spilling across the surface of his watch told him it wasn't fear, exactly, causing it. He had a right bundle branch which meant his heart was having trouble pumping blood effectively to his circulatory system. That explained the lightheadedness still lingering and the occasional palpitation. Most likely, once the hypertension resolved itself from the damage to his body, his rhythm would regulate.

He watched it shoot across his watch and figured his resting heart rate was probably sixty five. Pretty normal for a man as athletic as he was. His lung seemed to be in great shape because he was breathing just fine. And whatever Zoe had given him, was making him feel good as new.

He must have made some minute movement because Marguerite said, "Wake up, sleeping beauty, it's time for supper."

Leon opened his eyes, looking bored. "I think I'll pass on the main course here. Where's Claire?"

Marguerite rolled her eyes. She offered him a big spoonful of offal. He laughed, eyeing her. "You kidding? No. I wouldn't eat that slop if you paid me."

Concerned, she glanced at Jack. "….he ain't eaten."

Lucas threw another piece of rotting intestines at him. It plopped against his cheek and slid down. Leon rolled his head over to look at him.

Lucas grinned wide and ugly.

And Leon said, "Throw another piece of a shit at me. I dare you. You retarded monkey. It makes sense that you'd toss shit like one, since you're clearly as dumb."

Lucas shifted in his seat. He grabbed a handful of intestines.

Leon cautioned, voice amused, "I wouldn't. I really, really wouldn't if I were you."

Lucas answered, "You think you scare me? You nuthin but a fuckin model actin like a spy with a fancy watch. I heard you had a big gun too. Shot your wife full with it. Wanna know a secret, super spy?"

He leaned forward, grinning like a madman. His eyes flashed, "I filled your wife full of my big gun too."

Yep.

The braindead redneck was THAT dumb.

Something red and ugly spilled into his chest. Leon felt his mouth lift in a wolfish leer. "You touch my wife?"

"Oh I touched her. I took her pictures too. I left 'em for ya in the den. Ya get a good look? I did. Plenty. She's a natural redhead. Whadda they call that?" Lucas leaned so close that Leon could smell his fetid breath. "Oh yeah….FIRECROTCH. It sure was on fire when I put my dick in it. Your wife? She's a screamer."

That was it.

It was done.

Leon snapped his head forward, sharp, fast, lethal. The head-butt was so loud, it cracked like a whip, and Lucas tumbled back shouting. Blood burst in a red splatter. It went everywhere. Leon had never head butted anyone so hard in his life. The slight throb behind his eyes was worth it. Worth every fucking second.

Lucas shouted, "I'm gonna FUCK you up, spy boy, and then I'm gonna fuck your wife."

Leon laughed now, bright and excited, "Yeah? Uncuff me, you little shit. Prove it. I fucking dare you. For the record? You so much as look at my wife again with your inbreed white trash pig eyes, and I'll rip them out of your sockets and skull fuck you."

Lucas let out a hyena sound and slapped him. He literally slapped Leon right across the face. Like a girl might. Like a bitch. Which just got him laughed at again.

"That it? You even hit like a bitch, monkey man."

Lucas sneered, jerking on the table like an angry gorilla, "You're the BITCH! You ARE! And I'm gonna drag your bitch in here, throw her on this table, and show you what kinda man I am!"

"Oh yeah!? A man doesn't taunt another one who's TIED TO A CHAIR. UNTIE me, you whiny fucking coward, and PROVE IT!"

Lucas grabbed his face and started squeezing.

Admittedly, it hurt like a mother fucker.

But it didn't last long either. Because Jack grabbed his son's arm and threw it down on the table. Lucas squealed and denied, "No! You son of a bitch! NOT AGAIN!"

Ignoring the plea, Jack brought down the enormous bowie knife in his fist against his son's exposed forearm…and started hacking.

In most of his life, Leon Kennedy had seen some fucked up shit.

He'd seen the dead rise. The undead implode. The recently burst with spikes and try to eat his face. A parasite ridden monster troll rip a man in half. A chainsaw man cleave three people at once across the neck in a horror movie tableau.

He'd seen the President put down because he'd become a zombie (he'd done that himself actually). He'd seen Ada Wong's (clone) erupt from an egg that farted and gooped. And he'd seen Chris Redfield eat an entire crave case of White Castle Burgers – by himself – in under an hour.

He'd SEEN some horrible shit (and smelled it later when Chris hit the bathroom).

But this?

This was nothing he'd ever seen before in his horrible life.

Jack hacked away Lucas' arm without a care in the world. The skinny bastard shrieked and grabbed his hand from the table as it flopped, with the one he had left. "DAMNIT! I SAID DON'T!"

Marguerite shouted, "MAKE HIM EAT JACK! I MADE THIS DINNER FOR HIM!"

The old lady kept staring at him.

Leon stared back at her and said, "Your family is fucking nuts. No wonder you're catatonic."

Jack turned toward him and Lucas said, "LOOK! You fucking DOUCHE SPY! Look what he did to me! This is your fault!"

Leon quipped, "Shame it was your right one too. You ever try to wipe your ass left handed? It's a mess. Of course, it doesn't matter, since I'm gonna get out of this chair and shove that hand up your ass anyway."

Lucas kicked the table and it rattled, loudly, "I'm gonna use it to finger your wife, spy boy. She likes my fingers after all. Ask her how much when you see her again."

The rage was a fine thing. It really was. Because, in one hand, he'd seen the pictures. Those were real. How could he be sure Lucas hadn't raped his wife? She'd been here for three years. She wasn't herself. What had she done to survive?

It didn't matter. None of it mattered.

These people were all dead. They were talking, they were taunting him and laughing, but they were dead. Didn't they know that?

He was gonna make a flamethrower from hairspray and two pieces of PVC pipe and he was gonna MacGuyver this fucking house to the ground around them.

So, Leon said, quietly now, "You better run, you stupid bastard, run and hide. Because I'm gonna find you and cut off more than your hand. I'm gonna cut off your dick, shove up your ass, fuck you to death with it and stuff it in your mouth when it's done. Then we'll see if it grows back."

Lucas laughed maniacally.

Jack grabbed Leon's face and forced it up to him. He had a nasty piece of entrails on the end of his big bowie knife. "You eat this son, right now, or I'm gonna make you eat it."

Leon smiled, wide and sharp, "Fuck you, Jack. Break my jaw again. Go ahead. I won't eat that slop your ugly wife cooked. Untie me, give me back my wife, and I'll make this quick. I'll kill your family fast, no torture, not prolonging it. Just mercy."

Jack watched his face, considering. Admittedly, he probably had the most intelligence on his face. Or at least enough left of it to recognize a threat when it was presented. But it didn't matter because he smiled anyway.

"You done, boy. You done. Give up and make it easy. You keep fightin? I'm gonna splatter you all over this house and back again. And you still gonna be done."

Leon answered that grin with his own. "Yeah? I was hoping you'd say that. Make it hard, Jack. I've been itching to kill you. I would hate to make it easy on ya. Untie me. And let's see who's the bigger man. You and Lucas can team up. I'll destroy you both. Your son looks like he doesn't even know how to make a fist let alone throw a punch. I'll tie one hand behind my back and even the odds."

Lucas cackled.

Marguerite shrieked, "EAT THE DAMN DINNER! JACK! MAKE HIM EAT IT!"

Jack thrust the knife at his face with the rotten guts on it. Leon rocked in the chair, surprising him. The knife missed Leon's face, the chair tipped back, and as he went down, Leon kicked the big man right in the groin.

He hit the floor in the chair on his back but Jack was howling. Marguerite was screaming, "YOU SON OF A BITCH! YOU SON OF A BITCH! You're gonna PAY for that!"

And she ran from the room.

Lucas leaned over him where he lay. "You stupid, spy boy. You done made Daddy mad. Daddy…ain't so nice when he's mad."

Leon kept the smile on his face, amused, "Funny thing about that, Lucas? Neither am I."

Leon felt his left restraint give on his wrist, Jack was above him now with his boot lifted to smash his face into the floor, and the door bell started gonging, from somewhere in the house.

Jack froze. Lucas looked at him.

And Lucas snickered, "Probably that fucking PIG again. Five-oh fucker. I'm gonna make him play one of my games."

Jack set his foot back down. "I'm gonna go deal with this. You better rethink eatin, son. And you better rethink gettin on my bad side."

The second the two of them exited the dining room; Leon jerked his hand free from the restraint and released the other one. He rolled to his feet and snatched the bowie knife left behind on the table. He glanced down at the skeletal old lady in the chair.

"Sorry. Whatever happened to you, I'm sorry as hell. But hopefully your brains gone already. And this is just your sad shell. Hopefully."

Hefting the knife, Leon moved toward the door leading out the dining room. The small dining room connected to a disgusting galley kitchen and spilled backward into a living room with a fireplace and a big grandfather clock.

Easing open the dining room door with his shoulder, Leon peeped out into the hallway. It was falling apart, clearly. It was an utter fucking mess. Pieces of the shattered staircase to his left were everywhere. It was like the house was in half demolition mode. As if the process of gutting it had been started but never been finished.

Leon eased over the shattered tile floor and around the splintered mess of broken railing and missing chunks of drywall. He rolled the bowie knife in his hand, comforted by it. There was no fear in him. None. He just wasn't afraid.

He was gonna start with Lucas. That mother fucker. He couldn't get the image of Claire beneath him screaming in rage while he raped her. She wouldn't cry. Claire wasn't that kinda girl. She's fight and scream and resist the whole time.

He was hoping Lucas did. Because Leon was gonna lop off his dick first and then he was gonna cram this knife up his ass and split him in half. Seemed poetic justice was the theme of the evening.

Rounding the corner, Leon saw the little table in the narrow hallway that Zoe had mentioned. He moved toward it, listening to the rumble of thunder from somewhere outside the horrible house.

Behind him, a voice said, "Really boy? You tryin to skip out on dinner?"

The hand grabbed the back of Leon's neck and just...threw him.

He went out, shooting down the hallway like he weighed nothing. The air whooshed and down he came.

Leon rolled when he landed and ducked down the hallway behind him. There was a locked door and a sealed one with some kind of shitty ornate lock. It was missing a piece.

Naturally.

Wasn't it always some fucking puzzle?

Leon hurried back down the hallway toward where Jack had been. He didn't see him. But he had the sneaking suspiscious the old bastard was close by and waiting.

Jack moved quickly. But he also didn't give chase like a normal man.

Nope.

He was waiting alright.

He came right through the cheap and flimsy wall from beside the hallway where Leon was standing. It collapsed around him in tufts of drywall and dust. There was a huge ruckus as it spilled around his hunkering form. Leon couldn't even turn to face the noise of it.

He knew what he'd see back there.

Leon was already at the little planter where the key should be. He eased open the drawer and plucked the tiny key from within the fragrant old wood.

And Jack yelled, "I SAID EAT YOUR DINNER BOY!"

Leon didn't do anything but drop. He threw his leg out and slid down. He felt the air whistle above him and saw the heavy square face of a shovel smash into the wall where his head had been a moment before.

Without thinking, he spun back and foot swept the big man behind him. Jack staggered, hitting hard into the wall to his right. Leon dropped back to one hand and buffalo kicked him with both legs.

It felt like nothing he'd ever really felt before. The adrenaline RUSHED into his body. He could see things in sharp relief. He was unstoppable. So, even as Jack stumbled and staggered; Leon rushed him.

Jack swung the shovel madly; Leon ducked under it and drove the Bowie knife into his sternum. He jerked it as he rolled over that massive chest, ripping it around that big body like opening a zipper. As Jack turned, as blood gushed everywhere, Leon jerked the blade from his side and drove it four times in a row into his back.

Pop, pop, pop, pop – fast and furious strikes that made Jill Valentine cheer somewhere in the world. Jack roared, Leon kicked him twice in the back of the knee, and it spilled the big man to his hands and knees on the floor. Leon elbow dropped onto his back, rolled over him when he face planted, and grabbed the shovel from the floor.

"I fucking told you not to mess with me. WHERE IS MY WIFE!?"

He brought the shovel down on Jack's collapsed form so hard it rang up his arms when it hit. The meaty THWACK echoed in the dirty house. Jack grunted and laughed, "Keep swinging, boy! KEEP SWINGING! You think you're tough!? You AIN'T SEEN NUTHIN YET!"

Leon kicked him the face twice, heard the nose crunch, felt the joy of the sheer violence of it and dropped the shovel like he was going to hit the long ball down the fairway. "Last time, Jack, where is my wife?"

"She ain't yours anymore, boy. Ain't you listenen!? NONE OF US ARE! You family now, son. You family. Keep runnin. Won't change a GODdamn thing."

"I said it before. I'll say it one more time..." He swung the shovel like he'd hit a hole in one on a par four. "…FUCK your family." He golf club smashed the shovel into Jack's rising face. The impact made his arms go numb, the sound was horrid, and the strength of it cracked the big man's neck in a swift and wet move.

And the body dropped to the floor with a thud. The head was half spun around to rest on its own shoulder.

The silence spilled around them. And Leon stared at the body on the floor.

He drew a sharp breath and said it, one more time, for good measure, "…fuck you, Jackie Boy, and your fucking family."

It was time for him to forget about the Baker Family…and hurry up and find his own.

Somewhere in the house, Claire was waiting for him.

............

Post Note:

The garage is coming next. Admittedly, that's super fun in the game. Gross as shit. And my brain buddy and I chuckle thinking about it. Rest in piece Leon's Challenger. You will be missed.

Chapter Text

Four: Vindication! Jack Baker is the worst driver ever!

Dulvey, Louisiana – 2017

Claire lifted the little iPod touch, the inverted camera gave her face back to her. Her desperate face.

"Hey, baby...hey...that...that wasn't me before yeah? You know that. You know I would NEVER hurt you." She glanced desperately into the night behind her. A bridge was there draped with what appeared to be tiny bodies of the dead. The camera couldn't discern the truth of it.

Was it mutilated infant corpses strung from the roped sides as if they were meat being made into jerky?

The horror of that truth was too much for the night to disclose.

And Claire's face said she was out of time, "I love you, Leon. I love you. You shouldn't have come here. But it's too late for that. Help Zoe. Help yourself. I'm done for. I'm done. Get Chris and burn this place down. Don't try to find me, baby. But..."

A voice called, high pitched and twisted with an angry accent, "Girrrrl!? Where you at? You better come back here now! I'm tired of chasin you! It's dinner time!"

Claire's sweaty face said, into the camera, "I can't let her find her find me again. Let me...show you what you need."

She kept the camera up like she was making a home movie and ran across the bride, as quiet as possible. The camera showed the babies that hung lynched from the edges of the bridge were nothing more then dolls strung up by a mutilated mind and melted, burned, and tortured. Lucas - showing the world his macabre sense of humor.

Claire ran across the bridge to the other building, she spoke to the iPod, softly, "This is the guest house, baby. It's off the back of the main plantation. What you need? It's HERE. I swear to god, it's here."

She eased inside a disheveled door and hooked right over a crumbling first floor of a house that was half rotting boards, half moldy destruction. Hives, bugs, buzzing and painfully loud flapping wings chased her into the lantern-lit dark. She didn't hesitate, she ducked into the closest door and pushed out along a small hallway. The pound of feet and shouting chased her into another room.

Claire snatched up a strange little wooden sculpture, rotated it twice, and stuck it on a pedestal. The light behind it illuminated a shadow onto the wall. It fit into the shape of the portrait that the shadow touched and completed it. There was a click, the sound of rotating gears, and Claire eased through another passage.

Her breathing was loud and ragged. She whispered, "The D-Series is here. Zoe will tell you about it. When Chris...when he gets here, let him know what he needs to make the vaccine for Eveline's victims will be cultivated from D-Series parts. Eveline...she was the E-series. D came before. It...the ship we were on...it has the answers. I wanted to tell you, baby. I wanted to tell you all of it. But when I found out what was on that ship, it was too late for that. I thought she was just a little girl. Just an innocent thing they'd infected. She wasn't infected, Leon, she was CREATED."

Claire raced behind a row of boxes and ducked.

The door was flung wide and the camera caught sight of the mother from the dinner table pushing into the putrid dark. Her lantern spun, throwing light on the crumbling room. "Where are you girl!? I'm gonna find you and HURT you, you don't come out here! You want me give you to Lucas again!? Member last time?! I had to stop him from touching you in your lady parts! I don't much cotton to the idea of him trying to put his hands on girls, sometimes I let 'em...cause those girls? Are BAD girls! You a bad girl!? Evie is lookin for ya! Ya better COME OUT NOW!"

Marguerite eased open the door opposite where Claire hid and pushed through. Claire turned the IPod to her face. "I know what you're thinking. I can FEEL you. He didn't. He tried. Look at his face, Leon. I fucked him up. Three times. He stopped trying after that. And Jack? He didn't LET him. Jack, before he was infected, he was a good man. He's still in there. If Zoe...Zoe may be able to reach him still. Lucas is a coward. A bastard. But brilliant. Don't let him catch you. Don't let him get Zoe. If...Chris gets here? Send him after Lucas. Tell him...smoke that coward out and blow him away. Tell Chris..."

She shook her head. She wasn't ready to say goodbye.

Claire eased out of hiding and ran through the small door behind her. She paused and showed the barrel beside her. "This is where I hid it. It's a makeshift flamethrower, baby. You know what I mean. Remember when we were in Harvardville? That fucking asshole Frederic tried to have me killed. When I came to, I found all those things lying around. I put together a flamethrower like this one. Chris and I...we learned young how to survive in the woods. And Chris was one HELL of a boy scout. He made sure I learned what I needed in case we went camping and separated..."

She lifted the phone to her face and smiled, softly, "It's here. Come find it. And get RID of Mama. Please. I can't. Eveline...she won't let me fight them. When I try, she stops me and I submit. I need her out of me. I need her gone. So, I can stand beside you and burn this fucking place to the ground. Help me do that, baby. Hurry."

Claire heard the shouting. She was found. She heard Marguerite shout at her, "GIRL! THERE YOU ARE!"

"Hurry, Leon! Hurry."

Claire dropped off the side of the deck and into the underside of the house. It was one of Zoe's passages clearly. A makeshift bed and lantern were in a small alcove. Claire hurried through the flickering darkness, the iPod showing her rapid route to clear detail.

She reached the end of the tunnel and climbed free. It showed her close to the walkway to the house now. She raced through the woods and toward Zoe's trailer.

Desperately, she turned the iPod to her face, "Tell Chris, I couldn't love another man more if he'd actually been my father. Tell him, I'm sorry I was such a bitch when I was a teenager. Tell him, if I could take back every fucking time I said no and went against him, I'd do it. Tell him, stop being stupid and get married and have babies. Not Jill. Jill isn't right for him. Tell him the right girl is HERE. She's right here. And he needs to save her. And Leon...I love you. I probably always loved you. From the second you kicked in that door and put your hand down. But you let me go. You let me go if you can't save me. It's ok. It's ok. I'm already gone, I think. I'm already gone. Mr. Kennedy...you fucking one. I'll always be the zero, baby. Put that face to the right girl and have more of them that look like you. You need kids, Leon. Go have some."

Shaking her head, she angled the iPod to the door behind her, "This is Lucas hidey hole. It's a wasteland. But it's gonna be where you need to got to stop him and get the last piece of the D-Series. I just bet it is. I ran. So they'll give me to Lucas. I'm done. I'm done. But I will try to take him with me, I swear to god. I love you, baby. I love you."

She tossed that iPod in the window of the trailer. It clunked and bumped and shut off as it flew.

Turning, alone now, Claire raced through the woods.

She was almost to the back side of the house when the pain in her skull drove her to her knees. She screamed, falling, grabbing her head and gasping. She screamed, "Eveline, NO! I didn't run away! I'm still here! NO! STOP! PLEASE! I'm STILL HERE!"

The pressure increased and Claire shrieked, rolling in the mood as the pain felt like someone had put her head in vice grips. "Please...please...I'm still here..."

And the rain let loose, pounding the damp ground with droplets of massive fury.

............

In the house, the sound of the rain was thunderous on the dilapidated roof.

Jack's dead body just kept lying there, bleeding.

"…mother fucker." Leon dropped the shovel with a clang of the scoop. He grabbed the Bowie knife still embedded in that big back and jerked it clean. Rising, bathed in Jack's blood, Leon turned back to the dining room.

The old lady in the wheelchair was still there, silently judging him. Or maybe she was in a field of poppies somewhere in her sad little head. Who the hell knew?

Leon shifted and moved through the narrow galley kitchen. He eased open the door there and found the little room Zoe had mentioned. The hatch in question was small and narrow. It was beyond, not a washing machine, not really…but a wash tub. A washtub. Like something from an old movie. Something you found in old farmhouses where people tried to kill you.

Unlocking the hatch, Leon started down into the small crawl space…and he heard the shout.

"BOY! Dontchu know it's RUDE to kill a man and run!? I'm gonna give you three seconds to get back here and APOLOGIZE!"

Jesus. What the fuck was happening here?

No one died in this goddamn place.

Ever.

He moved into the crawlspace, closing the hatch behind him. There was a small penlight on the ground and he picked it up and clicked it on.

Tackle boxes were caught in the yellow beam and a half broken lawnmower crammed to one side. Clearly, the Baker's stored all their broken shit under here. There were rusty pieces of metal and cast off Christmas decorations.

And C-Bear.

Just where she said it would be. C-Bear and his two extra magazines.

He grabbed her, giving her a kiss, and tucked his ammo back on his thigh. He didn't have his holster anymore, so C-bear stayed in his hand as he moved through the narrow space. He could hear Jack taunting him above ground.

There were plants everywhere under here. Zoe had tucked little glow lights on them to help them thrive. There were piles of tools. Saws, blades, hammers, nails, and screwdrivers. She was stockpiling down here. To fight them?

Or to keep them from using them on each other?

Utterly disgusting.

These fucking rednecks. The stereotypes were clearly true. In the bayou, dwelled the psychos you found in bad movies. In deference to bad horror movie clichés, he was going to AVOID summer camps from now on.

And mansions.

And Castles.

And dreams.

Ok, clearly, he was just going to go hole up somewhere and never come out.

"Crazy people are always taking the "psycho" path," Muttering it, Leon came to the other end of Zoe's makeshift tunnel. Apparently, he was going to pun himself to victory here. Which, was kinda his thing. So, it made sense his brain would resort to it.

The tunnel opened into an actual washroom.

This one had laundry hanging from racks around it and several machines for washing them. There was a basket of dirty clothes on the floor next to hole he emerged through. Leon tucked C-bear into his waistband and dug through it quickly hoping to find his holster.

No such luck. But he did find…

Claire's panties.

He found Claire's panties in the basket. He knew they were hers because she always bought the kind with the days of the week on them. Even at her age, she wanted to be aware of what day it was. It turned out it was easy to lose track when you were ass deep in bio-terrorism cleanup.

If he found out the panties had been taken off by anyone other then her…

Jesus…

His brain wouldn't even allow the thought.

Hell hath no fury would take on new meaning.

He eased forward and unlocked the door. The laundry room opened back into the hallway he'd left behind. Gun in hand, Leon moved down the hallway at a brisk clip. He was turning the corner to try to find his way to the main foyer and a voice said, "Hey! Who's there?"

Through a boarded up hole in the wall, Leon caught sight of a cop. His handsome dark face was peering through the crack. Leon met the look equally, "You need to turn around, go back to your cruiser, and call for back up – now. Now. This second. And get them to put a call into the BSAA."

"Hold on," Drawled the cop, "Just hold on…who are you?"

"I'm the guy stuck in this house trying to stay alive while these fucking psychos try to kill me. Missing people recently right? That's why you're out here, doing a routine check. Right?"

"….right."

"Ok. So, I'm telling you – those missing people? All here. Dead. Eaten. By the fucking psychotic freaks who live here. They were not human, not interested in turning themselves in to stand trial, and not waiting around for you to use proper legal procedure and get a warrant. GO BACK TO YOUR CRUISER. CALL FOR BACK UP. AND GET IN TOUCH WITH THE BSAA."

The cop stared at him, dumbfounded. "What's the BSAA?"

"It's the super FEDS. They kill psycho killers in houses that can't die. I need them."

"Maybe you're the guy killin everyone. Why should I believe you?"

It was a good question. And proved the scared cop was smarter then he'd first thought. Leon studied him for a moment. "You shouldn't. You should go back to your cruiser and do what I said and WAIT THERE. Do not come in this house. You hear me?"

"…I…just…come to the garage ok? Just meet me there. Tell me what you know, and we'll go from there."

It wasn't a bad idea. It would allow Leon to get the word out. He NEEDED the word out. He needed Redfield – now. The longer he was trapped in this house, the worse whatever was at play here was going to get. "Ok. Go there now. Hurry."

Leon went right and eased through the small opening to the short flight of steps. A big ugly sign told him he was going the right way. It looked like a crooked bar sign. It exclaimed: GARAGE – THIS WAY! And had a big hand pointing down the narrow steps.

That certainly made things easier anyway.

Leon cleared the corner of the base of the stairs. A small shutter was up and the garage door was raised. The handsome cop was studying the car inside the grease-stained concrete room. It was a pretty nice car.

Leon should know. It was his.

The red and blue flicker of the cop car lights cast color around the dank room. Shelves lined with paint and various boxes circled them. Leon kept the gun on the cop and said, "Easy."

The cop put his hands up. "Hey hey! What the fuck?"

"Not personal. Just can't trust ya. Listen to me – the family in this house are eating the missing people. It's that simple. You cannot stop them. Dulvey PD? No. But the BSAA? They can. Go call them. Now."

The cop wagged his finger. He looked pissed now and Leon couldn't blame him really. It was a shit show. "You listen to ME, buddy. You gonna come with me to the station and start explain all this. Right now. No more givin me orders. You an outsider…and down these parts? We don't take kindly to outsiders tellin us what to do."

Jesus, a pissing contest with the local PD. That was all he needed.

Leon opened his mouth to argue and saw it.

The shadow. It shifted behind the cop.

Leon adjusted his aim, the cop's eyes widened, and Leon kicked him. He kicked the cop right in the gut.

The cop grunted and went down, the huge sharp-edged cudgel whisked over his head and missed bisecting his face, and Leon shot Jack right between the eyes.

The cop shouted and Leon roared, "GO DO WHAT I SAID! NOW! RUN! HURRY!"

And the cop scrambled, losing his gun in the process, and ducked under the closing garage door to escape into the night.

It wasn't a smoke signal tossed into the air, but it was fucking close.

Leon heard the cruiser roar away from the house.

A slim hope to think he'd get far.

But it was better than nothing.

Jack turned back, face half blown off from the heavy Magnum round, "You found your pretty pig shooter, son. GOOD. I think it's time I show you what I can do."

"Oh yeah?" Leon circled him, smirking, "Try it. Let's see how many holes you can heal."

Jack rushed him, Leon shot him twice more in the face, and he went back into the shelves in a clatter of breaking wood and spilling paint. Metal clanged, a trashcan overturned as his big body flopped down, and Leon caught sight of his keys.

His car keys.

Lying right there on the workshop table.

"…boom goes the dynamite."

Jack rushed him again. Leon shifted back and forth between his feet, waited, and ducked as the cudgel swung above his head. He came up and pummeled the big guy three times with an uppercut and two hooks. Jack grunted and kicked at him.

The hit skimmed his hip, Leon spun back, and foot swept him, and Jack lost the cudgel in the fall.

Leon dropped a boot down to smash him on the floor and Jack caught it, twisted, and threw him.

No hesitation there at all.

What had Zoe said?

DADDY IS STRONG.

Understatement.

Daddy was massive.

Leon went up and out. He hit the far row of shelves and came tumbling down. He rolled as he landed, missing losing his face to a smashing boot, and sprung up into a handstand to flip out of it.

Impressed, Jack eyed him. "Maybe she knew what she was doin bringin ya here, boy. You ain't a normal boy, are ya?"

"Oh, some things are entirely normal for me. Like the need to kill the mother fucker who kidnapped my wife. First you, then your idiot son. He touch my wife?"

Jack tilted his head, grabbing the cudgel from the floor. "It matter?"

"Oh, it matters. If he didn't? I'm gonna kill him and enjoy it. If he did? I'm going to take him apart a piece at a time, starting with his dick, and then I'm going to take my time on the rest of it."

Jack laughed a little. "Boy, you ain't payin attention. You done here. You fightin for nothin. Claire? She's a good girl. She loves Lucas. She loves Evie. She's FAMILY. She don't need you fightin for her."

Leon waited, waited, and Jack swung the cudgel at him. He threw his shoulders and chest back, rolled his spine, and the cudgel whooshed over his head. As it did, Leon spun up under those swinging arms. He caught Jack at the elbows, pushed his arms up with the force of his body, jerked the cudgel free and kneed the big guy in the groin at the same time.

The cudgel came loose, Jack shouted and stumbled, and Leon spun back with it raised.

"That's the thing, Jack. She is family. Mine. And I'm taking her with me when I leave this place. You though? This is it for you. I'm getting tired of killing you."

"…you ain't seen nothing yet."

Leon swung the cudgel. Jack got a hand up and lost it in the swing. It cleaved his fingers from the palm, kept on going, and took him across the face. His face bisected, nicely split from nose to eyes. Jack blinked and his head slid apart with a slurp and pop of blood and bone.

The body dumped to the ground, spraying blood.

And Leon's car keys were still right there on that table.

He lifted the cudgel to bring it down and start hacking Jack to pieces and the body moved. It rose from the ground with half a head and punched him in the stomach. The punch stole all his breath, the cudgel went tumbling, and Leon staggered into the work table and nearly went to his face on the floor.

But his keys jingled and waited for him instead.

Leon snatched them up and jiggled them. He raced toward the car door and found it unlocked. Flinging himself behind the wheel, Leon shoved the keys home and twisted, bringing the beautiful purr of her engine to roaring, racing, tantalizing life.

Jack rose, laughing, "Where ya think you're goin, boy!?"

Leon shoved the car into drive and answered, "To hell. And I'm takin you with me."

His foot hit the gas and the Challenger burst forth like a prize horse from the starting gate. It hit Jack like he was nothing. The enormous cudgel was flung from his hands as his body was sucked up under the racing wheels of the muscle car. There was a thump, a series of bumps, and a splattering paint sound. Leon gunned the engine with the brake laid to keep the car from smashing into the wall.

And then he backed up, slowly.

The floor was a spray paint party of red.

But no Jack.

No chunks or brains or guts.

No body.

The driver's side window burst all over Leon in a rain of tinkling glass.

He turned, and Jack punched him so hard in the face that he was fairly sure he'd drop dead from it.

Nope. But his vision flashed white and red, his hand came up, and he fired his gun through the broken window more on instinct than actual visual response. Jack stopped trying to jerk him out the shattered window and backed off, shouting.

Leon gunned the engine, spun the wheel and laid rubber. The car bucked and fishtailed, spinning sideways. It hit the wall in a scream of metal, something in Leon died to know it was taking a beating, and he ran over Jack's retreating back. Thump, plop, SQUEEEAAAL.

Squelch, squirt, PLOP and puddles of mess throw around like playful kids in rain puddles.

Jesus Christ.

Screeching tires and the smell of burnt rubber.

And silence.

The tick, tick, tick of the engine purring.

Leon glanced out the window to see how bad the damage was.

The challenger was nothing but sheared tin can metal on the passenger side.

Leon felt rage pop like bubbles in his head. "FIRST MY WIFE! NOW MY MOTHER FUCKING CAR! I AM GOING TO LAY WASTE TO THIS FUCKING PLACE LIKE THE WRATH OF KHAN!"

He could have said the wrath of God. But clearly, everyone knew Leon Kennedy was a big Trekkie. He sandwiched Claire between his legs at least three times a year, brushing her hair for her, and they watched first Star Wars and then Star Trek (skipping the newest one with Chris Pine. He wasn't sure why, but that douche reminded him of Chris Redfield somehow. So, he refused to see him as the smooth-talking James T. Kirk. Kirk was a ladies man. Redfield was as charming as a constipated priest watching porn.) Claire did a MAD GOOD impression of Spock.

Jack was back on his feet. He picked up the cudgel. Leon hit threw the car into reverse and Jack brought the cudgel down against the trunk of the challenger. Leon shouted, "You son of a BITCH! Keep your hands OFF my SHIT!"

The challenger roared over the top of Jack for the third time, the cudgel went flying into the far wall, and Leon couldn't stop the car from smashing the wall behind where Jack had been. The crunch was so loud in the small garage.

His face throbbing, Leon gunned the engine and spun his tires. Hopefully, he was grinding Jack Baker into mincemeat and mush on the concrete. HOPEFULLY. It was a small victory for all the shit he'd put Claire through and now Bessie.

Bessie – assembled and restored over five years with parts they'd found in salvage yards and carcasses of other challengers. Bessie – reduced to smoking metal and squealing rubber.

And silence.

The silence pervaded now.

Leon let it hold for a handful of minutes.

No Jack.

Maybe he was finally down.

Famous last words.

There was a clang of metal as Jack landed on the hood of the challenger.

Leon rolled the Magnum forward and Jack punched. He punched straight through the windshield like it wasn't safety glass and made to resist MASSIVE force. The glass flew and rained down on him, Jack grabbed his throat, the Magnum swung up and fired, and Jack jerked him through the windshield anyway.

The magnum bumped down into the car, Leon struggled now not to leave the seat completely, and Jack smashed Leon's face into the crumpled hood of the challenger. No stopping it. Jack was so fast. Like Claire had been. So, so fast.

The world sparked by blood and pain. Leon threw his right arm up, rotated, and brought his elbow down to break the hold. Jack let him go and he fell back into the seat.

But he didn't stop.

He simply ripped away the top of Bessie in a squealing shriek of metal. As if he were opening a tin can.

It was official.

Bessie was now a convertible.

Leon grabbed for the Magnum and Jack punched him in the face so hard that he went blind in his left eye. He FELT the socket collapse. His body slumped without his control and Jack grabbed the wheel where his other hand was. He kept Leon's hand there, stuck his leg down into the car and threw it on top of Leon's, and pressed down on the gas pedal with Leon's foot.

"Oh YEAH! I'm bout to take you for A RIDE son! You ready!?"

Leon tried to shift but he was frozen there in his seat as Jack jerked the wheel and the car just started spinning. The tires squealed, the car smashed into the walls and the shelves and the garage door. Pieces of shit began to collapsing everywhere around them. Leon grappled blindly with his free hand. It closed around the Magnum.

And Jack let off the gas.

The car finished spinning and the jutting end of a collapsed steel support beam was two inches from Leon's right eye. The left was toast, clearly, as he was blind in it and suspected his EYEBALL was lying on his shattered cheek. Jack chuckled, "I'm 'bout to show you what I can DO!"

"No! You mother fucker! You better make sure I die!"

Jack just laughed. "You ain't figured it out yet, boy? Ain't no dyin in this house! That's the BEAUTY of that lil girl. I'ma show you what it means to be FAMILY!"

The blow to the face had crippled him. He was bad. It had left his whole right side paralyzed. Which meant he had brain damage. This goddamn family. They were going to succeed where the rest of the world had failed. They were going to kill Leon Kennedy.

But not today.

Leon made a desperate pull to bring the Magnum up. Jack hit the gas and slung the challenge in reverse. Leon pushed the Magnum up under Jack's chin and Jack hit the gas. The car lurched and roared forward, the Magnum went off and blew his face to PIECES, and Leon saw it coming.

"FUCK!"

Jack collapsed, the car crumpled like a soda can, and the steel beam speared forward as they hit. It sliced against the side of Leon's face as he ducked and missed losing his head. But it went right into Jack and decimated him. It crushed his skull and his neck. It splattered him all over Leon like confetti.

It was a piñata of Jack. Brains and blood and teeth. His glasses flew off and smacked Leon in the face. His whole head was reduced to a crumpled mess.

It was horrifying.

And Leon had seen some pretty disgusting shit in his day.

This house?

It was topping them all.

There was a telltale click and ticking from the engine that spelled bad news.

Leon heard the whoosh of ignition and pushed open the dented driver's door. He spilled onto the concrete, crawling, the Magnum in his left hand. He made it about four feet and the car caught fire behind him.

Bleeding, face half collapsed, Leon, tried to get to his feet.

A small ladder offered an easy crawl to the second level of the garage. Jack had sealed off the only other way out. So, Leon grabbed for the ladder.

And a voice said, "Oh yeahhhh! You like that? Was it good for you? I'm gonna FUCK YOU UP!"

This family and fucking. It was their calling card.

Leon rolled onto his back, raised the Magnum on the burning mess that was the still the not dead Jack Baker, and the car made a whistling sound. Leon said, "Mother fu—"

And the world exploded.

The gas tank ignited, the car went up in a searing blaze of glory, and it burst with such a tornado of pressure and wind that it blew spare tires, tools, steel and glass like a makeshift grenade made by Bill in the Last of Us. It threw Jack to the floor in a steaming pile of blood and burning flesh, it cut Leon up with pieces of shit as he rolled and grabbed the cudgel on the floor beside him.

He felt Jack throw him to his back, the world split again in fire and blood, and Jack laughed, "Show me whatcha GOT boy!"

And Leon swung the cudgel at him.

The sharp blade hit. It struck with the force of all the rage that came from the hopeless shit pit where Leon Kennedy found himself, it hit Jack in the chest and sliced him in half in a horrible crunch and gush. The pieces slid apart like an easter egg parting to reveal the candy inside, and Leon watched the bone and the muscle squirt blood like vomit as the body staggered and fell backward.

He didn't wait to see if the mother fucker was dead, Leon just grabbed the ladder and started climbing.

He was gasping. He was pretty bad off. His face wasn't healing. And he needed more of that shit Zoe had used. He tried to recollect where she'd been treating him. It felt like an area close to the dining but what about under the house?

The crawlspace had those plants.

The plants were probably the "root" (even in death he was punning) of the healing salve. Leon staggered along the small second story of the garage, hurrying toward the far side. The fire below kept him brisk even though he was flagging, badly, with pain. There was a small steel shelf in the way and it looked like a drop down into the stairs beyond the garage behind it.

Leon kicked the shelf. It toppled and spilled backward into the opening with a clang of metal.

He leaped down after it, stumbling as he landed. He staggered and went to one knee, grabbing the railing to yank himself up the short flight of stairs. He was breathing hard. He was hoping his face wasn't as bad as it felt. But Jack sure enjoyed busting his skull in.

He made to the curve in the hallway and started to go down.

"Nope. Nope. Nope."

He collapsed forward into Zoe's slender arms.

Chapter Text

Five: No Boulders, Three Heads, and Here Comes Daddy

Dulvey, Louisiana – 2017

"How fucking long is this gonna take!?"

Jumping, Jill Valentine cocked a curvy hip into her hand while she watched him pace, "It'll take as long as it takes. We need clearance, we need mission parameters, we need maps and team placement and contact points. We need contingency plans and proper utilization of terrain and resources. You know how long it takes to put together a mission, Redfield. You know. What is this?"

"Fuck this. Get out of my way."

He started to push past her and she shoved a hand into his big chest. "Don't be stupid here, Chris. Do you want to be Leon Kennedy now? You want to run in under gunned and alone? He's trapped in that damn house now. Whose fault is that?"

Chris all but sneered it, "Umbrella's."

Curious, Jill cocked her head, "How so?"

"THEY KNEW!" Oh lord, he roared it. It scared the piss out of the girl behind the wheel of their transport. It didn't scare Jill, but it surprised her. "The fucking KNEW about the E-Series! They've been tracking the Connections for almost three years. THREE YEARS, JILL! Why is that significant!?"

She knew the answer.

But he shouted it anyway, "BECAUSE MY SISTER HAS BEEN GONE THAT LONG! Gone on a goddamn mission to bring home their fucking test subject. Their fucking mutated monster. Fucking Umbrella, they never change. They wanted the E-Series so they sent Terrasave in like it was a humanitarian withdrawal. THEY KNEW WHAT CLAIRE WAS BRINGING BACK!"

Jill had never seen him like this. He wasn't just mad. He was livid.

The call to the BSAA to begin working with the reformed and repurposed Umbrella had been so bad. So, so bad. He'd been horrified. He'd resisted. He'd threatened to quit and dismantle the BSAA and start another company instead. She'd talked him out of it. Barely.

She didn't do field work anymore. But she still ran OPS from HQ with him. She knew it was horrible. It was awful. But Blue Umbrella was trying to right the messes made by its processors. It was a necessary evil to work with them.

Jill didn't like it either, but she accepted it. Chris?

It was killing him.

And now they knew. Umbrella had known about the E-Series since they'd begun tracking the Connections and their ties to bio-terrorist activity. Funded and supplied by Glenn Arias, the Connections were what Albert Wesker and the Organization had been trying to be for so long: The Al Qaeda of the bio-terrorism world.

Arias was done. Chris had stormed in and destroyed him alongside Leon Kennedy. It was finished there. Kennedy, the fucking mess, grieving for his missing wife and losing his mind, had still come through like a champ there. Chris, with that single-minded determination that had always impressed her, had gone after Arias like a man without a thing to lose.

He was trying to do the same here. For his baby sister. She understood it. But he was going to let emotion get him killed.

Jill said, "Yes, they knew. They let Claire go out there and get kidnapped by the E-Series creation. They didn't know that would happen. They didn't know how bad the Connections had made it. They couldn't know that. But it's done now. It's finished."

"They've known where she is. FOR THREE YEARS!" He pointed at the Blue Umbrella pilot of their chinook. "THEY KNEW WHERE SHE WAS! I've torn the world apart trying to find her! They knew! You want me to work with them!? They're UMBRELLA! They haven't changed! They lie, they take what they want, they sacrifice anybody in their way! Fuck! Kennedy wasn't wrong! He sat there in that hotel, Jill, and he said: WHO'S THE BAD GUYS!?"

Chris threw the coffee cup in his hand. It hit the wall of the chopper and shattered. His team jumped, wide-eyed, watching him. "I know who the goddamn bad guys are! So do you! And what's worse here?! WHAT'S WORSE!? We're WORKING WITH THEM!"

Jill grabbed his arms and shoved him. She shoved him against the steel wall with a clang. He was so big it was hard to get your hands on his arms, but she managed. She hissed, low, "That's enough. It's enough! It's done! You can't go back. You can't change it. Stop this. Now. Get it together. She's there. You got that text, right? From Kennedy? SHE'S THERE. So shut up. Stop screaming about it. And let's go get her. And let's stop the E-Series. It's all we can do."

He pushed against her. She grabbed his face and held it. Best friends that they were for twenty years, he let her. "Stop this. Look at me. Now is when you aren't her brother. NOW is when you are Chris Redfield. Be smart. Be tactical. Leon ran in there all fucking gun-ho and now he's trapped too. That's suicide. It's stupid. Let's do this right, Redfield. Let's do it right."

He shook his head.

She kept holding on. "Do it right, Chris. For Claire. And let's end it. Let go of what came before. Let go. And let's do this now. Now. It's all you can do."

His hands came up and grabbed her wrists. He bared down and held on. They locked eyes and held them.

And he finally nodded, "Ok. Ok. How long?"

"HQ has the drop point at 0600 in the morning. Twelve hours Chris. That's it. And you can storm the castle and save the day. Just wait. WAIT. And let's do it right."

She didn't understand. She couldn't.

It would be the longest twelve hours of his life.

Somewhere out there, his baby sister was waiting. And he wasn't going to stop until he had her back.

His only hope was that Leon Kennedy got to her first.

He was hanging his hopes on Leon Kennedy.

The guy who'd once tried to plank in random locations and fell off the side of the San Diego pier into the Pacific Ocean when his knee creaked and gave out. The guy who'd farted in a mason jar and gave it to Chris for his last birthday claiming it was fairy breath and would bring him good luck. The guy who'd loaded Chris' pistol with blanks one morning before they'd gone to the range and spent the whole day convincing Chris he'd missed every shot on the target.

Leon Kennedy who once dressed as Pennywise the Clown and scared the piss out most of Chris' team on a recovery mission in Sudan. They'd all thought they'd been infected with something and were hallucinating. He'd nearly wrung his skinny neck for it.

Kennedy – who didn't have a serious bone in his body.

Chris glanced at the lightning as it lit sky.

Kennedy – who had grieved so hard for Claire that he hadn't come out of the bar where he'd last held her for three days after she'd gone missing. Who didn't stop, never slept, and searched for two years to find her until they'd finally declared her dead; who'd gone into every mission, every murmur, every suggestion of her whereabouts and come back fucked up and broken.

Kennedy – who wouldn't stop until she was safe.

He was hanging all his hopes on Leon Kennedy.

And he couldn't think of anyone better in the world.

.......

The skinny fairy tugged him gently toward the hallway.

Leon kept his feet, kinda, her voice drawled, "You tangoed with mah, daddy."

"Looks that way…he's fucking dead…again. By the way."

He was breathing too hard now, too labored. He went to one side and she just…kinda carried him. Which meant she was stronger than her skinny arms suggested. "Yeh might just pull this off after all. Come here."

He heard her kick the door closed and move him into the room. She laid him on something soft on the floor and went back to lock the door they'd come through.

Leon felt her moving around above him, "How bad is it?"

"It's pretteh bad, suga'. It's bad. You got any vision in that eye?"

"Nope. Grab me an eyepatch and make a poop deck joke, kid. Pretty sure I'm a pirate now."

Zoe chuckled a little and studied him. He was fucked up, no lie there. He was a right mess. His face was all kinds of destroyed. He was covered in blood and guts. And he still had his bleeding hand wrapped around his gun.

He'd never let go of it.

It said WORLDS about what kind of training he had.

"Listen," She laid the salve soaked rag on his face and he gasped, jerking, "Mah Daddy…can't be killed. Yeh know that. You know it. Unless…you dismantle him, Leon. A piece at a time. You have to obliterate him. And even then? I can't guarantee he won't come back."

"Christ…you sure you wanna pin your hopes on me here? It sounds like a losing battle."

Zoe shifted to gather some fresh clothes for him. What he was wearing was totally trashed. His shirt was rags and blood and his jeans were brown with chunks. He smelled so bad it was going to make it entirely possible for her family to find him without much effort.

The stench of him alone would alert them which was saying something in her house that smelled of dead bodies baking in the bayou sun.

He was lying there breathing as the salve soaked into his face.

She said, "Take off your clothes."

So, for Leon Kennedy, this was not the first time this had happened. More than a few times in his life (although not for quite some time since Claire had gone missing) some pretty young thing had told him the same. But, it was the first time it was said with the intent of keeping him alive.

And not fucking him stupid.

He shifted and heard water start running. Moving the washcloth on his face, he realized he was in the laundry room. And she had access to the only working water here. To answer his unspoken question, she said, "It's well water. We have eighteen wells on the property. The main house uses six. I cut off the other five to try to force the…mold to stop. This one is the last. And they don't know about it. I keep this room locked and no one bothers to come in. It's how I keep my plants alive beneath the house."

Leon rolled his arms and grabbed his shirt from behind his head. He pulled it off with a hiss.

Zoe gathered some soft soap and turned to look at him.

She'd like to be impressed by his body, and she was, but he was a right mess too. He was totally scarred. From the back of his left shoulder blade in a wash of them down around his middle. As he rose and worked off his boots, she saw the scars blend down into the back of his pants.

The scars were popcorn dots in places and long gashes in others. The gorgeous face was one thing but mixed with the muscles and the totally flawed package below the neck of his shirt, he was somehow a fallen angel. The scarring should have made him less attractive. It didn't. It said fighter. And she liked the fighter.

She'd been one herself for so long.

She said, gently, "What was it?"

Leon unhooked his jeans and swayed. He stumbled, and she moved to help him. Her arm slid around his waist to steady him. And her hands reached for his pants.

And it was the first time a pretty girl had helped him take off his pants without intending to jump on his dick.

An odd feeling for him. And reminded him that he was both old, trapped in a house where people were infected and trying to kill him, currently half convinced his wife was possessed by the devil, and fucking screwed.

Only there was no fucking.

There was just screwed. And it didn't mean making a pretty girl gasp and beg for it either. It just meant bleeding and fighting and dying.

Seemed sad somehow.

She helped him into the water while he hissed.

"Lickers."

Curious, she soaped his scarred back for him while he washed his front. Her touch was brisk and medical. It was efficient and helpful.

Since he wasn't facing her, of course, he didn't realize her gaze wasn't at all. Her gaze wasn't anything but conflicted.

She assessed, in about five seconds, that he wasn't someone she should be running around this house with. Claire's husband. Claire's lover. Claire's man.

But Zoe wasn't sure how much of that was liking Claire and how much of that was liking HIM. He was dedicated, brilliant, swift and resilient. He'd come all this way to save his wife…and she'd been dead for three years. He was handsome, sure, but that was secondary. He absolutely would not stop until Claire was safe.

That kind of loyalty deserved the same. But it was dangerous for her.

She'd been trying to escape this hell house for so long that survival was all she knew. She kept trying and getting brave souls killed. And she was still here, still trapped, and still trying to get away. She'd NEVER showed her face to any of them before. Why him?

Why now?

Because he was DIFFERENT. She could feel that in her teeth. He wasn't just some poor camera man that had picked the wrong house. He'd strapped on a gun, followed a tiny thread of hope, and stepped into a nightmare without any regard for his own safety. He was DIFFERENT.

And she felt different when she was with him.

She shouldn't run around this house with him. She didn't think Claire would find it so charming to come back from Eveline's clutches to find Zoe slobbering all over her man.

Zoe thought, she should pass him info and stay in the shadows. It was always how she'd done it before. It was the best way in case he died or failed or fucked up and got caught.

And yet…

He shifted and her soapy fingers slid into his hair. He just…kinda ducked and let her wash his hair. And there was that.

That.

He was gentle. She KNEW, standing here in the humid air, she KNEW that Claire had washed his hair for him. The way he moved, the way he was comfortable with it, the shift of him and the easy companionship…it told the story of a man who'd spent a long time in the shower with a woman washing him. It said, HUSBAND. LOVER. FRIEND.

And that was part of it for her. Because she was none of those things – to anyone. And she was so lonely it fairly ACHED in her. Running around this house with him was stupid.

And she knew she'd do it. She'd break outside her safe gilded cage to spend just a little time at his side while they tried to end the nightmare here. She would. Because she didn't feel lonely when she was with him.

And she didn't think Claire would want him alone in this mess anyway. So maybe…she atoned for her coveting thy neighbor's husband by protecting him for his wife. Maybe.

Maybe.

She focused on cleaning him up and keeping the conversation gentle and light.

"Lickers?" He moved, and her soapy finger slid against the side of his neck. One of those scars curled over his collarbone and dipped over his right bicep.

"Yeah. About eight months after Claire went missing, I took a mission trying to figure out if she'd been kidnapped. She had been, obviously, but not by these fuckers. I ended up three deep in lickers. Which are…inside out men with talons and tongues that choke you and cut you to ribbons. I'm good. I ain't that good. I fought about fifteen of them, lost, badly…and Chris – Claire's brother – got there before I ended up dead. Sadly, I was all fucked up. I spent three months in a hospital trying not to die. Apparently, I still haven't learned to not to be a dumb ass and go in alone to places." He tilted his head back and she rinsed his hair for him.

It was oddly domestic.

It made him miss his wife. It made her wish she WAS his wife.

Zoe said, gently, "Sounds pretteh fuckin brave to meh, suga'. You take some of them with yeh?"

He laughed a little while she covered his wounds with salve and he washed away all the guts and blood. "Yeah. There were fifteen when I started. There were four left when Redfield found me."

Zoe nodded, "If…if he shows up, what are the chances he'll get us out of here?"

Leon made a small sound of amusement. "You think I'm something? That muscled gorilla is a tank. He'll bulldoze this place to the ground for Claire."

"Not for you?"

"Nah. He thinks I'm dumber then piss. He isn't wrong. My ego is usually bigger than my brains. Chris isn't nearly as quick to react. He's a military guy in his bones. He'll plan it out and blow it up. He'll dig a trench or something under the eastern wall and collapse the house before he storms it. He's just that guy."

"…..slow?"

And now he laughed again, "Like a fucking turtle. And tactical. He'll come prepared, I promise you."

She brushed tacky dried blood off his lower back. Her hand lingered near his hip.

She stopped touching him. Because she wanted to KEEP touching him.

And she liked Claire.

So, she stopped touching her husband like he was prized racehorse she was petting. And she didn't even peek around the taut belly to see the rest of him. Nope. She looked at his ass of course because she was still a woman ten inches away from a handsome man. But she didn't get handsy or eyeball his goodies…and so she treated him like…a lady.

And made herself chuckle a little with it.

She cut the water when he was clean and handed him a towel.

"And yeh say he's…big?"

Oh.

Oh-oh-oh.

Her tone said big was her thing. Leon found it charming as hell.

Shit, he found her charming. Sweet little thing that she was. How had she held on to any humor, any hope, any humanity in this house of horrors?

She was a skinny little fairy with more strength than a hundred armored men.

Leon opened his eyes and they were both perfect again. That shit was gold. He was going to market it with her and make millions.

He looked at her in the light. She'd been pretty in the shadows. The soft light played over her face as she gathered clothes for him. It was a good face. Pixie short hair brought the curious observer to the big eyes and high cheekbones. A good looking girl, no lie there. And skinny.

Like Claire was skinny.

He needed to get these girls a couple of steaks and potatoes, clearly.

Claire was at her best with big luscious booty and that rack of hers that haunted his dirty dreams like a poltergeist. He needed to fatten her up again along with this little pretty waif helping him stay alive. And he said, "Like big, do ya?"

Zoe blushed a little and shrugged, "I like strong, clearly. And seein as your married, I figure maybe my white knight is still comin."

He kinda liked the flirting. It had been so long since he'd bothered. Since he'd even been interested. This close to Claire, this close to resolution, he was more himself then he'd been in years. The harmless flirting with a pretty girl?

Made the horror of being infected with some kind of shit in a house filled with things that wouldn't die…a little easier.

Leon smiled a little and took the clothes she offered him. "I don't think you need a white knight, darlin. You might be the strongest thing I've ever seen."

Zoe scoffed and turned, gathering things up to poke into a bag. "Really? I've been trapped in this fuckin place for three years. So has Claire. You see strong in that?"

"Yeah, I do. You're still you. You're still alive. And that takes more fucking guts and strength than any goddamn thing I'll do while I'm here."

She watched him hitch the old pair of Lucas' jeans up his body. They'd fit Lucas forty pounds ago when he'd been over a buck ten and built like a normal man. Even still, they were snug on Claire's husband. And not in a bad way. He was still bigger then Lucas had ever been.

She pursed her lips and sighed a little. "So, your marriage…minus the whole undead tryin to kill yeh thing…good?"

He glanced over his scarred shoulder at her. She grinned a little. And he laughed.

Yep. He liked the harmless flirting.

"You're something else, sweetheart, I'm tellin ya. You keep makin googoo eyes at me and you'll have me blushing."

Zoe laughed a little, leaning on the table. "Never hurts to ask."

And now he laughed again. He liked this girl. She knew how to keep things easy going. Maybe it was the southern thing.

He mused, "A million years ago, I'd have told you I wasn't the marrying type. But I took a chance on it for her. How is it? Great. Minus the whole trying to kill me part, Claire is my best friend. She just gets me. And she doesn't even care that I'm totally fucking stupid most of the time."

"How so?" Zoe watched him pull the t-shirt over his head. It was blue and had Optimus Prime on the front. It fit like skin and showed all that muscle perfectly.

"Well, I know better. I know BETTER. And I still walked into this house unprepared. That's stupid. Claire? She knows I'm stupid and loves me anyway. Which makes me the fucking luckiest dude on Earth."

Zoe watched him put his socked feet into those big boots of his. His wet hair was pushed off his face. And it was a fucking nice face. What had Claire said, "The face carved by angels. The body? Prime evil. I think I spent five days on top of him once without food or water. Maybe. Hard to remember since I screwed him stupid and went half retarded from it."

Zoe had laughed. They'd giggled together.

She'd thought Claire was joking.

NOPE.

Not joking.

Zoe smirked a little, "Claire's the fucking luckiest girl on Earth, don't kid yourself." She turned and missed the flattered look he threw at her back as she gathered the bag and moved toward him. "There's three bottles of salve in here. Be careful with it. It's dangerous in Lucas hands or Daddy's or Mama's."

Leon studied her face. "You're kinda brilliant."

She blushed and charmed the hell out of him. "Please. I'm just surviving. But listen to meh…I can take you with me now if you want. We can get out back to my trailer and make a plan."

He considered this, watching her face in the low light. "Is Claire here, Zoe? In this house?"

"Maybeh. I can't be sure. But she might be lost to yeh. Are you prepared for that? She might be lost, Leon."

He nodded a little and moved to pick up his gun. "I know that. But I can't leave her. Will you help me? Will you help me find her?"

Zoe studied his face. He was loading the Magnum with the last magazine he had. That was a little worrying. He needed more ammo, soon. He glanced down to ask her where he might find some and caught her expression.

Ok. So, he'd had girls looking at him for (almost) forty years. He'd had a handful of them look at him like Zoe Baker was in this moment. Claire – clearly. Ada Wong – when it suited her. And this girl.

The look on her face was half hero worship, half something else.

And then?

She just…touched his mouth a little. Just a little touch. One brush on the bottom lip.

Zoe intoned, softly, "I will help you."

And there was the first ring of something dangerous in him.

So, he kinda felt like he should say something to stop that look on her face, but he needed her help. And if that meant she made goo-goo eyes at him while she helped, he was ok with it. A crush by a pretty girl never hurt anyone.

Ok. Maybe in Fatal Attraction. But the only girl trying to kill him and boil a rabbit in this story was probably Claire anyway. So, he was safer with Zoe right now than his own wife.

Googoo eyes were safer then evil demons or infections or whatever shit was currently in Claire.

And he needed Zoe to save her.

It didn't make him feel very good to know he was the type of guy who would use a girls crush on him to further his own agenda. It made him feel like a douchebag. He wasn't a great guy on a good day. But he was usually a better guy than that.

This girl had saved his life. Using her feelings for him was a dick move. Claire wouldn't allow it. Hadn't she told him how it had hurt to have that Burnside kid die confessing his feelings for her? She'd known, of course, and used him a little to help her survive. The guilt had nearly killed her.

He was kinda there right now. By the way, Zoe Baker was looking at him? He was there.

But what choice did he have here?

He nodded a little, "Thank you. I c-"

She dropped her hand and stepped back a little from him. "Don't. No more thank yous. Please. I don't deserve them." She glanced down at his gun, "The best place to find more ammo for that beast is down in the cellar. But that's a really bad idea. Daddy…has a…workshop down there."

Leon kept on watching her face. He wanted to say anything right now to take that look off her face. It was part sad, part some kind of resolution that worried him. It was the first time he wanted to apologize to a girl for not feeling the same way.

It was an odd feeling.

She started to move out of their safe room and Leon caught her arm at the elbow. He studied her face and said, gently, "It's not you."

She shook her head, "Yeh don't have to say nuthin here. Nuthin. Please. I'm fine. Really. It's been a long time since I looked at a man, Leon. It's not even really about you. Just me, feelin hope again and lookin for someone to share it with. I'm sorreh. Let's just leave it alone."

He kept his grip on her arm. "Up here, Zoe. Look at me."

She did, looking embarrassed and guilty. He understood one, the other? It didn't make sense. She wasn't doing anything wrong here. He said, "I'm flattered. And it's ok. What's the guilt?"

"I like Claire. I don't think she'd take kindly to me picturing her husband nekkid."

And now he kinda smiled, amused, "She showed you pictures of it, darlin. She's ok with it. She'd get it, Zoe. Your brain latches on to what it can to stay sane in cases like this. If that means picturing you and me doing the horizontal tango, you go for it. I'm flattered. Considering I'm pretty sure you are half my age and could do better, I'm flattered. And it's nothing to be ashamed about or feel guilty. Claire? She's not the type who'd take it personally. She's the most secure person you'll ever meet, trust me. We get this vaccine and get outta here alive? You can tell her all about it. She'll laugh with you and it'll be ok."

Zoe held his look for a moment. He looked so kind and patient. And he didn't seem embarrassed or upset. So, it helped her feel at peace with it.

"….ok. A'right. Thank yeh."

"Sure." And he winked at her.

Zoe shifted and pulled something from her back pocket. "This…is Claire's phone. It was in my trailer. I think she left it there for yeh."

He took it. It wasn't her phone. It was her iPod. The little one she kept all her work out music on. But that didn't matter. It was semantics.

He clicked the little play button on the video paused there.

And it was her. Claire. She was talking and begging him to go away. As if he would. And she was running and trying to stay alive.

And she was talking like she was already dead.

But she was also showing him things. Important things. Things a normal person might miss. But not him. Not someone trained for it. She knew what she was showing him. The answers to this fucking place.

Zoe said, softly, "She was at the old house. The one before this one. It was ruined, nearly, in the last flood. The one brought by Eveline when she arrived. During the hurricane. She's not wrong. What we need is out there."

Leon pocketed the little iPod. He glanced at Zoe's face.

She said, "She'll be with Lucas probably now…I'm so sorry. If they catch her…she'll be with Lucas."

Leon intoned, "I'm going to kill him. Tell me you don't know that."

"I know that. He needs killin. Even before…Lucas ain't never been right in the head. He used to sneak intuh mah room at night when I was sleepin. Mah own bruthah. And he'd…well…I'd wake up to him playin with himself by mah bed."

Jesus Christ.

Zoe shuddered. She shook herself a little.

Leon touched her face and drew her eyes up to him. "He touch you?"

She looked so sad. He was going to castrate Lucas Baker and enjoy it. It was that simple.

"He's not that brave, Leon. He just..looks. He looks and touches himself. He tried. First me, then Claire…he tried. We…are stronger than that."

His thumb swept her cheek, gently. "Yeah, you are. Both of you. You wanna help me kill him?"

"Like you wouldn't believe."

"Good. Let's get this shit show on the road, darlin. And give that pervert what he's been asking for."

Zoe lifted a brow at him.

"He wants a good fucking right? Let's find him so I can shove his head up his ass and give it to him."

Her hand came up and slid over his.

Again, he thought that look on her face was probably bad news. She was looking at him like he might be her hero. That was ok. Hero was ok. The other thing on her face was not so ok.

But there also wasn't much he could do about it.

Amused, Zoe gestured with her head. They moved out of their safe room, easing down the decrepit hallway. She led him around the corner and to the locked door from before.

He watched her insert some weird piece of an ox into the door and turn it. Covering her with the Magnum, they emerged into what was clearly the grand foyer of the house. He was again reminded that this palatial estate had once been a sprawling plantation. It was massive. It was vaulted ceilings and old curtains that had once probably been well tended over countless filthy windows.

There was a large staircase headed up in front of them offering two options to the well-inclined traveler, draped in peeling white paint. A poker table sat in the middle of the big room with a fan on it and the leftovers of a game of blackjack where someone had a face card and a three showing. Mismatched chairs circled the table and were across from a small alcove where the bust of a Confederate soldier was happily atop a pedestal holding…

"Holy shit."

Leon moved toward it and Zoe grabbed his arm. "Don't."

"That goddamn statue has a shotgun."

"I know that. It's a trap. You grab that gun, you get locked in that room. Daddy and Lucas were those survivalist nuts you seen on t.v. They were always making traps in "case of emergencies". Without the decoy? You can't steal that gun."

Leon looked at the pump action gun forlornly. "I need that gun, Zoe."

"I know that. We'll find the decoy. But for now? We need to get out of here."

There was a room beneath the curve of the stairs. Was it a gallery? It was something. There was a pedestal with a light shining on it and some portraits or something on the walls.

Zoe moved toward a far door on the other side of the foyer. Above it, the entire wall was decorative glass block windows. But the door at the base was pretty – a Cerberus was etched into it and looked ornate…and incomplete.

Zoe froze. She dropped her little knapsack to the floor.

She shook her head and he watched a fine trembling start in her shoulders. "Oh, gawd…they know. They locked the fuckin door."

Leon glanced at her face. "What now?"

"They took the fuckin heads and locked the door."

That was it, he mused, the heads of the Cerberus were missing – all three.

"So we find them."

Zoe glanced up at him. "You kiddin? This house is huge. We'll never cover it all."

"Sure we will. I once covered an entire police station, an underground lab, and half of Raccoon City in a single night. This place is a cake walk. Just sayin."

She watched him. His steadfast confidence reassured her. She nodded a little and picked up her knapsack. She slid it on her back and turned.

The filthy theme of the house continued here. It was messy and half tossed. There were broken and sagging boxes stacked in one corner. Bags of trash left in corners and half spilled across the gummy floor. A pile of old newspaper were draped carelessly on a bureau by the door they'd come through.

Leon glanced at the article. It went into detail about missing college kids. Above the bureau, a beautiful fall forest waited. It was a lovely picture, admittedly. His eyes turned to the date at the bottom corner.

It read: Arklay Forest, 1991.

His hand shot out to grab the forearm of the girl beside him. "Zoe…"

"What is it?"

"You went to Raccoon City?"

She considered him and shrugged. "I didn't. My Daddy worked there for a few years when he was younger. They moved back here before I was even born. Why?"

"Just a pretty big fucking coincidence is all. And I don't believe in coincidence."

Zoe shrugged and turned. She started to say something and the grandfather clock next to her start gonging the hour. It was so loud. It was REALLY loud. She jumped and grabbed him.

It was almost funny. She was half ducked behind him and he had his Magnum aimed at a clock.

They stood there for a moment, relearning how to breathe.

With a small laugh, Leon shook his head and started to turn away. There was a rather disgustingly weird door to his right that appeared to have scorpions all over it.

What kind of weirdos lived in this house?

Ones that didn't die. Ever.

Obviously.

Zoe moved forward and opened the clock. She took the pendulum from inside.

Curious, he watched her face.

"I know where to find one of the heads."

"You want me to come with you?"

"No. It's ok. Go upstairs and check the bathroom. We could use some stuff to make bandages. I'll meet you up there when I'm done." Zoe watched him for a moment, "Be careful. And be quiet."

"I get the feeling you're suggesting I haven't been quiet up to this point."

She smiled a little and she was pretty adorable. "You're noiseh. Try to sneak a little better. I might know where your phone is. I'll try to grab it before I head upstairs."

She winked and moved through the doors they'd come from. Chuckling a little, Leon eased up the staircase. He cleared the top floor quickly enough. It split to offer a walkway and two different doors.

Leon chose the left one. Why?

Because the catatonic wheelchair bound granny was sitting there beside it.

Leon stared at her in the chair, eyes narrowed. "I think you're bad news, grandma. I should probably just push your wheelchair down those stairs behind me right now."

So, the second he said that, he kind of felt bad about it. Really, the old lady hadn't done anything but LITERALLY sit there. Why was he threatened by her? Why did he want to KILL her!? He just felt it in his guts that she was bad news.

Leon eased open the door beside her, giving her the stink eye.

He cleared into the hallway and found nothing more then a door leading out to a terrace and a small shelf with a football helmet on it. Leon eased passed the shelf and cleared down the hallway beside it. Satisfied he was, at least temporarily, alone he opened the door beside him and found the bathroom Zoe had mentioned.

It was big, clearly a Jack and Jill style with another door leading out behind the clawfoot tub, but that door was boarded up. Leon scanned the moldy tiles and the dripping faucet over the tub. The water in the tub was cloudy and dark, something was floating in the bottom, he could just catch glimpses of it.

"What? I'm supposed to reach in there? Hell, no."

He did, however, hit the release on the drain and the moldy blackened mess gurgled as it was sucked down into rusty pipes. A tiny wood…thing…was sitting in the black. Leon picked it up and turned it, considering.

It reminded him on that thing in Claire's little video. Which meant it was probably important.

He turned back to the sink and the dual vanity. Poking in drawers, he gathered up medical supplies like Zoe had asked him to. He was poking them in the little knapsack she'd given him when he caught a glimpse of the toilet.

It was filled with hypodermic needles.

"What the fuck?"

Like some kind of a crack house, or the next installment in SAW, this house was disgusting. From the filthy rooms and the stench of mold and rot, to the horrible suggestion of drugs and destruction, he figured out why it was so scary here. It wasn't the danger, which he'd faced a thousand times in his life, it was this…this horrible filth. Dirty was scary. And this house was disgusting. It was revolting and covered in old blood and body parts wrapped in sheets or something. It was rotting meat and carcasses strung up like artwork. It was necrotic food and filth and feces.

It was dirty needles and meth head looking mother fuckers giggling and talking about raping his wife. It was horror movie nasty in this house. That's why it was so scary.

It was all mental fear.

And that wasn't so easy to just get over.

Leon secured the little knapsack on his back and turned. The bathroom door creaked as it opened, he waited for Zoe to emerge…but it wasn't Zoe.

It was the burnt, bleeding, dripping and decimated corpse of Jack Baker.

Who shouted, "HERE COMES DADDY!" And lifted…some kind of weapon covered in spikes. Potentially, it was an old fashioned push mower. Potentially, it was a weapon of mass destruction.

Either way? It was death on a stick.

Leon pulled the Magnum, Jack backhanded him so hard it was like being struck by a bus, and he went over the tub and slid across the floor until he was in the moldy shower. Jack was laughing, as he healed, laughing, as he advanced, "A mother fucker, ain't it? My little girl has given me a GIFT. Sure as hell beats the SHIT outta dyin!"

Leon rolled to his feet, keeping the Magnum on that ugly knitting face. He watched the face fill in like a fast forward picture. "Yeah? How many times you think it'll work? I can kill you all fucking day, Jack. All day. Until you stop healin."

"You ain't strong enough, boy. And eventually? You gonna run outta bullets."

"Maybe," Leon cocked his head, "Probably. But bullets aren't the only weapons I'm workin with Jack. Not even close."

Jack rushed him around the tub, Leon shot him twice in the face, and raced at him as he stumbled. He ran half up the wall beside him, spun out in a hurricane kick that struck four times in a row while Jack reeled, and kicked the big man so hard that he went backward into the tub.

As he landed, Leon rolled out the bathroom door. He sprang up and started running.

The terrace was the first place across the hallway and he burst out into the dark while Jack roared behind him. Leon ducked and moved smoothly, listening to Marguerite down in the yard beyond the terrace. He could see through the lattice in front of him. She was pacing the air stream trailer out there with her lantern.

She was muttering.

He wondered if Claire was close by. He tried to feel her, and his heart paced hard in his chest. Leon cut left across the terrace and out the opening there. A staircase was blocked by rot, ruin, and furniture piled high to prevent falling down the broken stairs. The terrace, the hallway, the second floor…it was a big loop. It all interconnected.

Leon hurried down the hallway and eased into the first door, revealing the game room Zoe had mentioned. He quietly closed the door, ducked a little, and crouched in a run across the room.

A pool table, a wet bar, a television flickering white noise and a door with those scorpions all over it. The horridly ugly skulls of dead animals were mixed with taxidermy tableaus of trophy kills along the peeling and musty wall paper. Trashcans overflowing with rotten garbage marked the walk between doors as if left there by lazy hands.

Leon looked briefly amongst the scattered papers all over the bar and the bureau that sat against the far wall beside a broken piano. It was written notes by the family, and promises from those trapped with the house. References were made to the "hippie" they'd caught being trapped in the cell. There were pictures of a little girl everywhere. He kept hearing about Eveline, he was assuming this was her. She was dark haired and seemed sad and small. A picture of granny in the wheelchair when flipped over had E-001 written on the back.

Curious, he set down the picture and heard the noises that told him Jack had given chase, "I can SMELL YOU SON! You can't stop it! You can't fight it! In a word? YOU FUCKED!"

Not much for clever dialogue was Jack Baker. Amused, Leon took note of the fake shotgun hanging out just beyond the window of the scorpion laden door in the center of the game room. He was just about to flee the room from the farthest door when he saw the book sitting on the bureau. It was odd and out of place. It looked like the Neverending Story. And it made his spidey sense start to tingle.

Leon grabbed it and opened the book. Inside, carved into an opening, lay a piece of the Cerebrus from the doorway in the foyer. He palmed the heavy pewter, stuck it into his pocket, and the door exploded open. It smashed into the far wall and Jack ducked into the room with him.

"You little SHIT! You better learn your place, boy, real fast!"

"Where's that Jack? Seems like the only person getting their ass kicked here is you." Leon grabbed a pool cue off the table, bounced it off his boot and spun it up into his hands like a bo staff.

Leon twirled it like Darth Maul, pacing around the table as Jack advanced. The ugly maul in Jack's hands would likely hurt quite a bit and potentially kill him if it were to land its jagged many spiked face alongside of Leon's. So, it was best avoided. Permanently.

And he was dangerously low on ammo.

Jack grinned, big and happy, "Son, you about to see exactly who's ass is gonna be kicked. Come a little closer and I'll turn that pretty face of yours as ugly as your mouth."

"I think I'm good, thanks. But you know what?"

Leon leaped up onto the pool table, Jack lifted the maul above his head, and somebody shouted. It was probably him, not that it mattered anyway. Leon dropped back to one hand, the maul split the air where he'd been standing, and he whipped the pool cue across Jack's grinning face as he threw himself into a slide across the felt. The momentum kept him going, he scissors kicked the big guy right in the chest as he went across the table and hopped off the other side. Jack tumbled back toward the bar, and Leon spun the pool cue into his gut, threw it down and across the back of his knee, and jerked.

Jack went back, in a move and a rhyme of words, and lost his maul in the process. As he grabbed for Leon above him, he lost an eye for it as the cue went straight into his face from the downward stab the former rookie drove into him. Jack grabbed the cue and jerked, Leon spilled toward him, and Jack stuck a boot into his belly, pushed, and sent Leon straight up and over.

He tossed him fast and loose. Leon hit the door beyond the big man, went straight through it, and rolled across the terrace. He gained his feet, already running, and burst across the terrace flying. Jack came after him, roaring for blood.

Leon emerged into the hallway, shoved through the door into the foyer, and booked it down the stairs. The main doors opened and Zoe was there. He gestured with his head, noticed Granny was missing from her place on the second floor, and they hurried into the room beyond the stairs with the pedestal.

Thrusting the little sculpture into the light, Leon rotated it twice, three times, and finally lined it up as an eagle on the portrait clinging to the wall. The wall and the portrait slid away, revealing a narrow passage. Without hesitation, the two of them slid into the gap and started shifting through the darkness.

They both heard Jack roar his way into the foyer as the wall slid closed behind them where they'd come from.

Zoe whispered, "I said quiet, Leon Kennedy. QUIET. You been fightin mah Daddy again?"

"That mother fucker won't give up. I stabbed him in the FACE."

"Yeah. He just keeps comin."

"No shit."

The wall was gapped and showing the room beyond. They slid through the disgusting fall of spiderwebs and clinging little hairy bodies until they reached the end of the passage. It spilled them into another living area. This one doubled as a storage room or something. It was lit by low blue light and a giant stuffed Buck occupied the central part of the dusty carpet. It was less dirty then previous rooms, somehow, with a dusty couch and a kitchen that looked recently used.

Zoe paused as they emerged into the living area and said, "I got one of the heads."

"Awesome. I secured the second one."

"So, we just need the final one."

"Any idea where to look?"

"Best guess? Near Daddy's workshop."

"Craptastic."

Zoe laughed a little. "Listen…there are…worse things then Daddy here in this house."

He met her look over the back of the dusty couch as she moved check the lock on a door with a dead raven nailed to it. Considering, Leon poked the breast of the inky bird and found out it was merely stuffed, thank god, instead of simply strung up there dead. It looked crucified against the white paint. Scorpions and ravens...these fucking rednecks. They were something else.

Zoe held his look, "Eveline she…likes mold."

"Mold."

"Mold." Zoe watched his face, "I know how it sounds. And there's no way to tell you. You have tuh see it, suga'. That's it. Just see it."

Zoe moved to the small white board resting against the far way of the living area. She showed the picture of a happy family in a house, clearly drawn by a little girl. Beside it, a list of names. Zoe said, "The first couple was a vacationing married couple. Nice couple. The wife…she….didn't make it. But the husband became…the 12th."

Leon moved beside her, scanning faces and photos and lists on the walls around them. "The 12th?"

"The 12th to survive the change." She was so quiet, he looked at her face as she ran a finger over the list, "Three college girls came next…but Lucas…he ruined them. He played his games. He tortured them. Claire and I…we tried to get them out and it was bad. It was so bad. Daddy doesn't like rape. He doesn't condone it. But Lucas…he didn't take well to bein told no. He tortured two of them so bad….the third…she just shut down. She was useless. Dead inside, yeh know?"

Zoe shifted and touched another photo, "The next was a nice boy from Shreveport, just cutting through to the highway. He stopped for directions. Handsome. I tried….to send him away. He flirted a little. And Mama got to him before I could send him away. He didn't…survive the change."

She turned the photo over, hiding the handsome face of the boy she'd been mourning. With sympathy, Leon touched her thin shoulder. She lifted her hand and laid it over his, appreciating it, "The 13th was a homeless man Daddy found down the road digging in trash. He changed quick. Eveline…she said he was special. Like he had a callin to be hers."

Zoe looked at his face, "We have to stop them. And you have to see what she can do. It's not just mind control. I wish tuh god it was just that."

Zoe swept her thumb over his hand and stepped away. Saying nothing, Leon followed her into the next room beside the living area. It was a storage room with shelves and a big card table piled with boxes and ashtrays over flowing with cigarettes. A few tackleboxes for fishing had spilled onto their sides on the dirty floor and maggots were twitching and swirling amongst the rotten guts of long dead fish.

Disgusted, Leon watched Zoe dig in her knapsack and remove the cop's gun from the garage. He finally asked, "Did he make it?"

Zoe met his face sadly in the muted light from one naked bulb suspended above them, "No. Lucas put out the cattle spikes. Blew his tires and took him. He's probably being tortured as we speak."

Jesus.

He'd saved him losing his face to turn him over into the hands of that demented asshole.

It was a pyric victory.

Leon cursed rubbed his face with one hand, leaving the Magnum to dangle in the other. "Jesus Christ. Tell me we're not screwed here, Zoe. I keep trying to help, I feel like I'm making it worse."

Zoe tugged his wrist and pulled his hand away, "Don't do that. I need yeh. Keep it together. Yeh can't stop them. We need more weapons. Let's find some, get outta this house, get the cure and find yer wife. I got…I got the message out from your phone."

He flipped his hand over and speared their fingers together, holding. "You did?"

"Oh, yeah. The phone is dead now. But I sent it. He knows…I told your buttplug."

Leon laughed and looped his arm around her. She stiffened when he hugged her but relented after a moment and clung, just for a moment. He laughed again, shaking with it, "Ok. OK. Then we just need to hang on, Zoe. Just little longer. He'll push now. He'll be here by sun up. What's that? Twelve hours? We'll be ok."

Zoe put her face in his neck and closed her eyes. The hand not holding the gun slid over his lower back and gripped into the shirt. He was too busy thinking about how Chris would rip the rotting boards from this place and free them all, he didn't see the face of the girl clinging to him and breathing. Zoe couldn't remember the last time someone had hugged her. She couldn't remember the last time she'd had hope of any kind.

"We're almost there, Zoe. Let's find that damn dog head and get some more ammo, find Claire, and just go to town on your family. We'll blow them apart and Chris will ride in here to burn it down. You with me?"

Zoe leaned back a little, he turned his excited grin down to her and she leaned up.

He thought, wait wait wait, and she touched two fingers to his grinning mouth.

Soft. And very clear in those pretty gray eyes.

She murmured, "I'm with yeh."

The grin sorta froze on his face a little. Damnit. She was a sweet kid. She was kinda painfully attached to him, it was written all over her face. He wasn't sure how to break free of that without hurting them both.

He opened his mouth to pun or make a bad joke or something and there was sound from the door behind her.

Zoe let go of him and stepped back. He watched her, quiet now, considering how they kept pushing forward here. Seemingly, her crush would ease back. Or get worse. Shit. Hadn't he spent years chasing Ada Wong on a crush gone wrong?

The door rattled across from them and there was no more time to worry about sweet kids and crushes. The door was covered in black mold. Ugly, horrid, and disgusting black mold that claimed and climbed over the rotting wood frame and up the wall around the peeling paint.

Mold.

Leon opened his mouth to ask what caused it and the door was flung open. It smashed into the far wall and something with claws and made out tentacles or moldy fingers or horror or death stepped into the room with them.

And there was no more time for questions about why or pretty girls making goo-goo eyes at him or wondering where his wife was in this god forsaken shit pit…there was only time to lift their guns and start firing.

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: Capcom Own Resident Evil (boo)

Six: Gross Mold, Leon Gets Lifted and That's Not Chris Redfield

Dulvey, Louisiana – 2017

The Baker Farm - Cellar Containment Area - 1900 (7:00 pm)
.......

There was a distinct difference in people in this defining moment. The door burst open, Zoe turned and ran for it, and Leon Kennedy rushed it.

Surprised, she nearly fell as she turned back, "Hey!"

But he jumped, grabbed the door frame above its moldy head, and swung himself at it. The assault was brilliant. It hit the stumbling thing full in its blackened countenance and sent it over onto its back to skid across the floor. The lack of ammo meant coming up with creative ways to defeat the things in this house, obviously.

He shouted, "Zoe! Throw me the poker by the fireplace!"

She turned and ran to obey.

Leon swung off the door frame and propelled himself into the moldiest room in the history of the world. It was nothing but black and musty stench. It was like being inside laundry left too long in the washer, the smell was acrid.

It made your eyes water.

The thing on the floor tried to get up and Leon grabbed the steel chair that sat beside the only table in the room. He brought it down in a swinging arch and smashed it straight into the struggling tentacle thing. Zoe whistled, he lifted his hand, and she tossed the poker. Leon dropped the chair on the monster, lifted a hand toward the poker and caught it; the thing on the floor swung one clawed hand at him, and Zoe shot it on the floor with her pistol.

As it jerked in pain, Leon drove the poker into its moldy face three times while it splattered.

The third strike turned the face into a rotting mess on the moldy floor.

It was hard to tell where one mess ended and the other began.

Leon shuddered but he kept the poker.

He noticed Zoe had another one in her hands.

There were reasons he liked the girl.

And he mused, "So, this is one of those things in the house worse than Daddy?"

Zoe grinned a little, "Apparently not. Who are you?"

"Just a guy with a gun. Who are you?"

Zoe rolled her eyes a little, "Zoe Baker. Just a girl with a poker. Seriously -who are you?"

Considering, he studied her pretty face. "I'm Liam Neeson in Taken."

"No shit." And now she laughed and followed him into the moldy room. "Claire never said. But you're CIA or something right?"

Again, he considered her. She returned the look. It was a good look, Zoe thought speculatively, it reeked of something different than before. He was assessing her. He was studying her. She figured she was one step away from deflection or a joke. It seemed to be his way.

And then he said, "I'm with a black ops division of the U.S. government dealing entirely in bio-terrorism. It's referred to as the DSO. So, it's the CIA for bio-terror."

Zoe blinked a little, "So I was right?"

"Kinda." He shifted and shoved the dead moldy thing out of the way of the door, "I don't react like other people, Zoe. I've seen shit that would make your eyes bleed. This is bad, don't get me wrong, but it's not the worst I've ever seen."

She glanced at him as he moved to open the door into the next room. "How do you sleep at night?"

Leon held her look, "Who said I do?"

And now she laughed a little, mirthlessly. "I know the feelin."

The door opened into a narrow hallway. It gave them two options, a path to a scorpion locked door and a walk forward toward a staircase to their right. There was a table at the top of the stairs with a crumpled note on it. Leon lifted it to inspect.

He intoned, "Apparently this person was leaving a note for their wife too. I'm guessing neither made it. But it mentions the dog head we need. You know where the dissection room is?"

Even the world may his asshole tighten with disgust.

Zoe shuddered a little, "Sadly, I do. I also think I may know where the key is for the scorpion door. You want to split up?"

"No." His answer was instant. She blinked and followed him down the stairs as they moved quietly, "No way. I can't risk you. If you leave me, I can't protect you. With Jack and Lucas running around and your mama…plus god knows what else…no. Just stay with me."

She touched the back of his neck and drew his eyes to her, "I've made it this far, suga'. I think I'll be ok."

Leon considered, watching her face. "Maybe you're right. But let's not pull the trigger on splitting up until we really need to. Ok?"

"Ok. Deal." She laughed a little and then he eased open the door in front of them. The mold down in the lower levels was awful. It was blanket. It had infiltrated each nook and cranny and crevice. It had spread like lips and teeth and tongues of horror from floor to ceiling and cellar wall. It was black from one end to the other with ropes as wide as tree trunks holding up the ceiling in corners and encroaching black covering furniture and vents.

"Jesus."

Zoe nodded at his low spoken horror.

"Yes. It's why I killed the water to the house wherever I could. Eveline…gets excited."

Leon glanced at her face. "Excited?"

"Mmm. She tends to throw her…gift around when she gets excited."

They held gazes for a moment. "Excited."

"Right."

With a snort, Leon moved further into the moldy hallway before them. It cut right to a locked door and spilled forward into the waiting darkness. Zoe made him smile a little as she gripped his back pocket while they walked.

Amused, he quipped, "I generally ask the ladies to buy me a beer before I let 'em grab my ass, darlin. You ok?"

She dropped her hand, laughing breathy, "Sorry. It's this place. I hid down here for a few days when it started. I hate it here. I hated it as a kid. And there was nothing down here back then but spiders and imagination."

Leon snorted a little and pushed open the first door they came to. It was a morgue.

A morgue.

A MORGUE.

He froze, blinking.

Zoe moved into the cold room, checking chemicals. He saw formaldehye and a table where they were clearly prepared for going into the freezer. There were closed freezer drawers across from them set into the wall. They had makeshift labels slapped on them. One had a big red hand print.

Leon said, quietly, "Your family kept the dead here?"

Zoe nodded, shaking a little. "Yeah. The ones they wanted to preserve. The ones that Eveline wasn't able to turn or wanted to hold on to for…whatever fucked up reason. I told ya there were worse things in this house then Daddy."

Leon glanced at the wall above the tiny sink beside him. A note was taped there and written in a ragged scrawl. It was letting Lucas know that the answers he needed were simple: Three a's and a handprint. Meanwhile: The mother fucker was DEAD so he could "do what he wanted" with the girl.

Leon felt his teeth grind a little. "Zoe?"

"Yeah?" She was digging in a wall locker and pocketing things.

"If Lucas caught one of you, had you at his mercy, would he do more then look?"

Zoe glanced over her thin shoulder. She held his gaze. She didn't answer.

And that was answer enough.

"Yeah. That's what I thought. You said he has Claire."

Zoe rose and moved toward him. She eased him aside and closed the door from which they'd come. She touched his forearm and gripped it. "Listen to me."

"I'm listening."

"Lucas won't touch Claire. Not like that. Eveline would have to make her submit and she won't. She loves Claire. She wants her for a mother. And Lucas is too much of a coward to touch your wife otherwise. I can't say he didn't touch other girls. Hell, he probably touched every girl that came here but Claire if he had the chance. Once Eveline was done with them, I'm sure he took them back to his playground and had his way. He's disgusting. He's an animal."

"Not an animal, Zoe. Animals don't torture. They mate. They eat. They don't play. Your brother is a monster."

Zoe nodded a little, rubbing his arm. "Ease down. Please. I can't have you flyin off the handle on me here. Promise?"

Leon shook his head, licking his teeth. "Part of me wants to call him out, Zoe and finish this right now."

"You can't. Not now. Not yet. He won't fight you man to man, Leon. He's a coward. He'll manipulate you and kill you from the shadows. Please. The cure. It's what matters most. Ok?"

She was right.

He HATED that she was right.

But she was right.

Zoe stepped toward the morgue drawers. She nodded and Leon gripped the handle on the hand print drawer. She opened the farthest drawer, he pulled the handprint drawer, and the one on the other end HISSED hydraulically and spilled plumes of chilly white into the air to indicate the release of pressurized cold.

Leon shifted toward it and tugged the handle.

It wsan't empty.

It didn't have a dead body in it...exactly. It did, however, have a mold monster.

The monster rolled as Leon stumbled back. He got the poker up and a talon in the face. Just like that. The long claw caught him across the face and the neck and split skin like ripe fruit. Pop. Splatter.

His throat?

It just started GUSHING.

Zoe screamed in horror and started filling the falling mold with bullets. Leon stabbed it twice in the back of the falling head with the poker, grabbed the handle on the drawer and shoved it shut in one sharp move, and pinned the damn thing in the closed drawer from the waist down...just kind of dangling there.

It slashed and screeched, Zoe grabbed the steel dissection table from the wall beside them, and she just ran it right into the dangling mess. One, two, three and it splattered all over the morgue wall behind it. It dangled uselessly as it dripped.

Leon staggered into the table behind him, went over it, and slid to the floor in a geyser of blood. Jesus Christ, he thought madly, the throat was disgusting. Two second after the errant thought, he realized it was because the goddamn thing had nicked the external carotid artery. Untreated, he had maybe a half an hour until he was straight up worm food and a handful of minutes before he went unconscious.

Zoe didn't give him time for either.

She dumped powder all over his throat and slapped a gauze bandage soaked in that salve on him. He grunted, she slapped both hands over his gushing throat, and he gasped, "See!? STICK TOGETHER."

"Right? No lie there. You sure like to get the shit knocked out of you."

He laughed, it hurt, and he slapped his hands over hers to hold pressure.

He was shaking. Zoe kept one hand on his throat, the other dug in his knapsack, and she pulled out a syringe.

"Do I wanna know?"

His mouth was cold.

Which was bad.

She ripped the tip off the syringe and drove it into his chest. He grunted, bowed, and jerked as his body went into convulsions. She leaned all over him now to hold him down until it passed.

"Shhhh, suga'. Shh. You wanna bring more? Give it a minute."

She was a wizard.

There was no other answer here. What other kind of Mary Poppin's survival tricks did she keep in that bag of wonders?

She said, against his ear, while his legs kicked weirdly like a dog getting scratched. "It's part steroid, part adrenaline, part complex stimulant. It will kick start your red blood cells."

Gasping, he breathed, "You doping me up?"

"Yep. Objections?"

He jerked twice. "Nope. Keep it comin."

Zoe laughed a little and leaned back. She checked the bandage on his throat. "The good news is the bleeding is done. The bad news? You'll feel high for awhile."

He blinked. And she was right about that. Everything was kind of sharp relief. He could see the blood in her veins, which was weird, and her eyes swirled with gray fog and wonder. Her skin was pale and ethereal, a beautiful temptress goddess of porcelain pleasure.

And now he laughed.

Zoe lifted a brow.

"Your fucking drug makes me poetic. I'm waxing existential in my head about your skin."

Zoe grinned, charmed, "Oh? A princess am I?"

"A siren, it seems. With eyes of dreamy fog, calling me into the storm of them."

Oh. He was something. Her grin widened. "It would seem the stimulant is work. It's a bit psychedelic I'm afraid. But you'll be able to survive and fight like a mad man now. So you're welcome."

Leon laughed, delighted. Or high. Both it seemed. "You hit me with acid?"

"Something like that."

"I'm stuck in a moldy house tripping balls?"

"Yep."

He giggled.

Zoe's eyes were so wide they hurt. She couldn't feel her face from grinning. "Oh, lord. You gonna give me trouble handsome? Can't have you giggling if Lucas comes after us."

"Fuck that clown. I'll giggle while I stick my foot up his ass."

"Is that so?"

"Oh, yeah. I'll make him my tether ball. I was good at tether-ball."

Zoe shifted and blinked again. She blinked three times at him and finally got off him, reluctantly. Leon whistled a little, happily, and rolled to his feet.

The world came with him in a shimmery cloud.

"Whoo! That's something."

Zoe picked up his poker from the floor. "It is."

Leon moved and opened the drawer where the dead mold monster was dangling. It plopped to the floor and left a small key behind. He picked it up and read the little tag: Dissection Room.

"Score."

Poking it in his pocket, Leon turned back to take his poker. Zoe was watching him with a funny look on her face.

"What?"

She shook her head and moved toward the door to head back into the hallway. He shifted with her. She offered him the pistol from the cop in the garage. He took it, clearing, chambering it, and securing it in a single move.

It spoke of years of secondary muscle memory.

Shaking her head again, she moved off down the other hallway. A small makeshift sliding partition obscured their way. Zoe shifted it while Leon covered her.

"You gonna tell me what's with that face you keep making?"

The mold in the room behind her was everywhere. It was also silver. The mold was shimmering silver. Ok. It wasn't. But it looked that way to him.

There was a set of moldy sinks and a table in the center of the room with dead mold monsters in pieces. It was stinky like week old stagnant water with oil. And technicolor like a rainbow of beauty.

Which it wasn't.

But it looked that way to the dilated pupils seeing it.

Zoe shifted and gripped the weird thing stabbed into the biggest lump on the table. It had a scorpion for a butt. It was a big ass key, clearly. But it was enormous. Or maybe it looked that way because he was higher than shit.

Zoe gestured with her head and they back tracked a little, cut left, and opened a previous locked door. He followed her up the stairs where they'd come from, covering her. He checked out the flickering lights in the house. Beautiful prisms of crystal, they cast brilliant spills of red, green, and purple over the dust and sparked as if a disco ball had been dangled from the ceiling. He could see tiny fairies dancing in the filament inside the bulbs.

Nope.

Not real either.

Amused, he glanced back at Zoe. Her black hair had highlights of purple, pink, red, silver and gold. She shimmered as she walked, the veins beneath her skin were magenta and pulsing with life. The buttons on the back of her jeans winked like stars. She stopped at the scorpion door they came to and insert the key.

He walked right into her back and bumped into her.

Amused, she looked at him over her shoulder.

"You OK, Mr. Secret Agent?"

He grinned and winked, giving her a thumbs up.

"Whatcha lookin at back there?"

He grinned a little, "A fairly safe answer would be: your ass."

Chuckling, Zoe led him through the door.

The door opened to the main foyer again. He could see the door with the missing dog head. He followed her up the stairs, watching her move, watching each nook and cranny for Jack Baker of Jack Frost or Jack the Pumpkin King. Any Jack would do. He wanted to beat the shit out of something. He was throbbing with the need for a good fight.

She moved into the game room with him hot on her heels. He looked at the bloody pool table, fascinated. The stain was glimmering like oil on water. It threw bubbles of color.

Zoe stepped into the room beside them and he went after her. It was a bedroom. Grandma's? Probably. It had a nicely made bed and a scattering of clothes over the floor. Zoe started digging through drawers and Leon shifted to grip the fake shotgun sitting on the dresser by the door. Thrilled, he grinned at her, "Woot woot. I'm about to trade this bad boy out for its very workable brother. Would that be considered..going off half cocked? Since it's not a real gun? Is it a loose cannon?"

Zoe blinked at him.

He grinned.

She shook her head and snorted.

"Are they related? Is this one a "son of a gun"?"

She gave him a long suffering look.

"What?"

"You about done?"

He considered, watching the lantern light above her flicker on her face. She considered him. He considered her. He said, "You're pretty."

Zoe laughed, softly, "You are so high. You ok, suga'? You need a minute?"

He chuckled. "Nope. Spent most of my early twenties high before I joined up with the RPD. One whole day as a cop and the next decade kicking tons of ass. I should tell you, I'm a bad ass."

"So you say."

"I am. I can kill a man like..." He closed one eye, considering, "Like ten different ways without thinking about it. Maybe seventeen ways if I really try."

"Oh, yeah?"

"Yup. I'm a walking weapon, darlin. Fists of fury! Rage in a flesh cage. I kill with more then my excellent dialogue, I'm just sayin."

Zoe watched him wander around the room, poking on things. His neck was nicely healed but scarred. He didn't seem to care about scars. He was covered in them. He was adorable.

She liked him as much as she lusted after him. So it was probably time they separated. Because she wanted to put her tongue in his mouth and see if he tasted as good as he looked. And she didn't think Claire would like that. Claire seemed like the type to punch you in the face for trying. She respected it. Zoe was the same type.

He was flipping through notes he found on the cluttered dresser. It was notes between those left to die in this house. The poor things. They'd tried to make plans and been intercepted. These Bakers were smarter then they seemed. Who was the mastermind here? Catatonic Granny?

Where the fuck was Granny anyway? She was missing.

He shifted around the bed and opened the closet and nearly shit himself.

THERE was Granny.

Right there. In the closet. In her fucking wheelchair like an ugly, hollowed out husk of a nasty mostly dead statue. Leon eyed her, narrowly, "You want me to shoot you and end it? I feel fucking awful every time I see you. I get the feeling you're already dead or something."

Zoe rose, "What?"

"Your granny is looking at us."

"That's not g-"

There was a grumble of sound not far from them.

He put his finger to his lips. She gave him wide eyes, "Wait here."

She shook her head at him.

He whispered, "Just wait. Trust me."

He eased out into the game room, shut the door quietly behind him, and the door from the terrace burst open.

"THERE YOU ARE!"

And so it was Jack Baker again.

This time, the shirtless mess was looking grizzled and angry. His glasses were askew and his eyes were wild. His hugely muscled torso was littered with streaks of blood, patches of dirt, and slick with shiny sweat. He fairly glowed from it.

And ugly shiny thing, he was beautiful.

What?!

He was not beautiful.

But he looked it. Why? From the moonlight?

Nope.

From Leon being high.

Probably both.

Leon clicked Claire's little iPod and Bonnie Tyler started singing their fight song. She was all about Holding out for a Hero. Leon wiggle danced a little with it. Claire had some pretty rad workout music on here. When you were high as a kite anyway.

Leon answered, excited, "HERE I AM! Took you long enough, you blind ass old man. I've been here the whole time. You ready for some more?"

Jack lifted his maul, "I've been ready since the moment we met boy. You think I'll let you be her Daddy? She's MY little girl. I've earned it. I need you to die screamin. And bleedin. And shittin yourself. And she'll see who's strong enough to protect her."

"Yeah? You did a fucking swell job protecting your other daughter huh? Where's Zoe, Jack? Where's your REAL DAUGHTER!?"

Jack jerked a little, face twitching. It was kind of like Claire. Part of him was still in there. How much? It was hard to say.

Jack hissed, "Zoe is dead to me! She betrayed us! She lied! She tried to kill Lucas! She's DEAD to us!"

"Yeah? I'lll make sure you're dead to her too, you old bastard. I was gonna kill you anyway for touching my fucking wife. I'm gonna kill you even more for Zoe. That's a good girl you've been keeping locked in this shit pit with you for three years. She's done with you. I'm gonna kill you, your stupid wife, and your perverted ass son and enjoy the hell out of it."

Jack swung the maul at him. Leon ducked it and rolled away, grinning, "Then? I'm going after Eveline. I'm gonna rip her apart a moldy piece at a time. Let's see how strong she is when she's flopping like a puked up piece of crap on the filthy floor. I hope killing her hurts you too, you fucking asshole. It'll be a bonus."

Jack swung again and Leon rolled up under it, went to his back, and kicked the other man twice in the groin while he tried to recover. Jack staggered, Leon humped his hips and leaped to his feet, and grabbed the maul from the other man. They grappled, Jack jerked, and Leon head butted him.

It rang. It was so loud. It didn't hurt…which was probably the drugs and partly knowing HOW to throw a head butt.

Jack punched him in the side, lost the maul, and Leon lost his breath. It was OK. That was fine. Leon kneed him in the groin anyway and Jack was roaring again. As he grabbed Leon around the throat and lifted him, he got his own spiked maul thrust into his belly and pelvis for it.

The weapon struck, blood sprayed, and Jack dropped him.

As he fell, Leon jerked the maul free, went to his back and kept on rolling up and over to his feet, and braced with the maul for the attack. Jack rushed him, throwing blood like a fountain, and the heavy ass maul came up – a little too slow.

It didn't hit as hard as he wanted, but it Jack still took a good blow from it, it caught his forearm and his left hip instead of his chest and head. The blow threw him sideways, Jack kicked Leon in the knee as he went over, and it sent the former rookie to the other side.

The both went down, scrambling.

Leon lost the maul, grabbed the decoy shotgun from the ground, and Jack flipped him over from his back to his front.

As he went, he swung the decoy. It smashed into that face like a bat, crunched those ugly glasses, and the nose behind it, and Jack threw him. Like a dart, he went across the room. His body slid across the bar, he smashed into the row of booze beyond it, and came down in a tinkle of broken bottles and liquor.

Jack didn't hesitate, bleeding, shouting in rage, he moved toward the bar.
......

The iPod was happy to punctuate the fighting:

I need a hero!

I'm holding out for a hero to the mornin light.

He's gotta be sure, he's gotta be soon, and he's gotta be larger then life.

I need a hero!
...

Spurred out by the happy and hopeful anthem, Leon shifted into a little bobble dance behind the bar as he moved to take care of Jack for good.

Although the song sounded WAY TOO MUCH like he was waiting for Chris Redfield. It was a bad verse, clearly.

But the premise was good.

Leon grabbed the first unbroken bottle of whiskey he found, jerked the top off, took a swig, and grabbed one of the rolls of paper towels beside him. He shoved it into the bottle, grabbed his zippo from his pocket, and lit the roll.

It burned, he waited, and Jack appeared above the bar. Leon scrambled back and the big man tracked him into the broken bottles and glass.

Drawling, Jack sneered, "I'm gonna fuck that pretty face up again boy."

"Nah. I don't think so. Catch." Leon lobbed the makeshift Molotov, threw himself into a backwards roll over the slick bar behind him, and heard the WHOOSH and POP of fire catching. Jack screamed. There was no other word for it. He screamed.

As he landed, Leon picked up two pool balls. He threw them into the row of liquor bottles behind Jack's screaming and spinning firey form. The more they shattered, the more liquor caught fire, it was a blaze of glory as Jack tried to run around the bar and just caught the damn thing on fire instead.

Leon knelt and picked up the pistol from the floor. He watched the firey form throw flame and pepper air with warbling cries, and he shot Jack twice in his screaming face while he spun and staggered. It threw him to his back on the floor, fire caught all the spilled liquor there and CONSUMED, and Leon shot two more bottles off the wall behind the bar.

Tinkle, tinkle, WHOOSH.

The door beside him opened, the crackle of bonfire Jack filled the room with the stench of burning flesh, roasting hair, and rotten shit and Zoe stepped out.

He glanced at her in the flickering fire light.

She looked beautiful.

It caught on her skin and in her eyes and refracted. He was higher than shit, true, but she was still a beautiful girl. Her Daddy had stopped screaming. It was just the snap, crackle, and pop pop pop of burning liquor and death.

He kinda danced a little as he watched it burn. Her eyes flickered with humor and horror at the same time.

"See? Bad ass."

Amused, she studied him in the firelight of her melting father. "So, you said."

And Leon sang, in surprisingly pretty tenor, "He's gotta be strong, and he's gotta be fast, and he's gotta be fresh from the fight. He's gotta be sure, and he's gotta be soon, and he's gotta be larger then life."

She whispered, "Jesus Christ."

"I killed your Daddy."

"You're getting good at that it seems."

"Yup."

She shook her head. "You're somethin else. You keep your wife laughin?"

He took her hand and danced a little. She couldn't help it. She wanted to be scared. She did. He was just...he wasn't. So she danced a little with the fool in the firelight of her burning Daddy. It was insane.

Wasn't all of it though?

She figured, what the hell right? Finish the song out.

The annoying part? He was pretty good singer. And one hell of a dancer. She laughed as he kinda spun her a little and boogied like a champ. She queried, "Anythin you don't do well?"

"Nope. Claire likes to dance. You wanna be with Claire? You dance."

He spun her a little and she went into a fairly nice two step with him.

Leon grinned and winked at her. He spun her once more and picked up the shotgun decoy from the floor. She eyed him in the steamy swirl of smoke from the bar.

"What?"

"You always dance at the bonfire of dead bodies?"

"I've been over more bonfires of the dead then you wanna know, darlin. It's how we stay sane. Remember? Whatever it takes."

"Yeah. Whatever it takes." She fisted his shirt and planted one on him. It was a good one. It smacked. "You want me to love you? Stop trying to make me have a crush on you."

Leon laughed a little, "Crushin never hurt anyone, darlin. If I was fifteen years younger and not married to the hottest woman in the world...even if she's potentially insane...or half possessed...I'd try to nail you in your granny's bedroom over there while your Daddy burned."

Zoe laughed. She put her face against his chest and laughed. Her eyes were bright with laughter. "You are the dumbest man I ever met. Who says shit like that? And did that ever actually happen?"

With two thumbs, he gestured to himself, "This guy. Claire and I had our first kiss a million years ago in a sewer. A sewer. She bandaged my arm, we both smelled like ass, she planted one on me. It was awesome. It was harmless back then."

"You callin my kisses harmless?"

He considered her, "Aren't they?"

"I dunno. I'm into you. You bein married is the only thing keepin my hand outta your pants."

And now he laughed, delighted. "Awesome. And simultaneously sad for me. It's been a long time since I've been high with a pretty girl offering to stick her hand in my pants."

Zoe grinned and patted his ass. "You poor thing. You gonna make it?"

"Seems that way." He watched her face in the fire, "I'm sorry about your Daddy."

"I know you are. He get you?"

"Once or twice. I'll live I think."

She touched the bruise flowering on the side of his face, "You ok?"

He nodded, "Let's go get that shotgun."

"Good idea."

They moved together from the game room. Neither checked on Jack. Neither wanted to know if he was still alive. He was still alive. Or undead. Or waiting. But he was down again.

Which was all that mattered in that moment.

They moved in the hallway, Zoe said, "That's what happens after you've been infected for a long time."

He followed her down the stairs into the foyer again, covering them. "He recognized your name. It flickered in him."

"Yes. It happens. Like with Claire. She drove it back to try to save you. She's not as far gone. He's almost gone completely."

Leon paused, watching her as they shifted into the room with the confederate soldier holding the real shotgun. She lifted it from his hands, the room snapped shut and locked them in, and Leon said, "How long does she have?"

Zoe looked at him, sighing a little, "Hard to say. She was infected already when they got here, Leon. She's got some kind of resistance to some of it, clearly, as she still comes out of it sometimes. But she can't have long. Her trying to save you was the first time I've seen her even be "Claire" in….months."

He nodded and set the decoy gun in the soldier's hands; the room chugged, clunked, and opened again. Zoe passed by him and he watched her. She liked the look of those big blue eyes dilated like that. He was so alert. Aware. Like a predator. He'd beat the piss out of her Daddy without blinking.

It was ungodly sexy.

She said, "Don't give up, Leon. We're gonna do what we can to save her. Don't give up."

He said, "Why aren't you as far gone as her Zoe?"

They held eyes. She answered, "I don't know. Because Eveline wants her too badly. She doesn't care about me. I'm secondary. She wants Claire for her Mama. She's in her head. She's taking over. If Claire hadn't come, I think she'd have tried hard with me. I'm ok because your wife is more important than me. I'm just some stupid girl. No one cares about me enough to bother."

Jesus.

He felt so bad for her.

He shifted. And he realized his body liked her. Which, was fine, he wasn't dead. He hadn't touched a woman in years. Claire would probably smack the shit out of him if she realized he hadn't let go of her in all this time. She'd made him swear, all those years ago, if anything happened that he would move on.

He'd agreed.

He'd meant it.

And then she'd gone missing. And he'd never looked at another woman in all the years he'd spent trying to find her.

If she'd died of cancer or something, that would have been different. He'd have grieved and said goodbye and closed the door eventually. Natural. Closure. Grieving and dying and getting back up. But it was being stuck forever in the void of hope. It had nearly killed him.

He was half dead standing here.

He was also half erect. Because his body was higher then shit and liked the skinny little ass of Zoe Baker running around. It was also thinking of Claire's hands in his pants. So he was also high and confused.

Amused, he shook his head and checked out his brand new -old as dirt - shotgun. It was a classic, nothing fancy, and would splatter moldy faced monsters with glee.

He cleared the shotgun, took the little box of shells she offered him, and stuffed his pockets full of them. He put the rest in the little knapsack he had. He kept calling it a knapsack but it was fanny pack. It was. He just refused to believe any self-respecting person would wear one.

So a fanny pack it was.

He watched her hurry back the way they'd come, following close behind her. It was an odd feeling to accept the truth of what was happening. He'd come all this way for Claire.

She was here…sorta. She was almost as bad as Jack Baker. She was almost gone. And Lucas had her now.

Lucas.

How did he save her? How did he save any of them?

Was this skinny little fairy with him the answer?

What if they got the vaccine and Claire was too far gone?

Had he come all this way to save his wife…or bury her?

If he had to pick up the sword and kill her, could he?

What would she say?

She'd say: Do it, you son of a bitch. You gonna let me stay this way?! Friends don't let friends turn, Leon Kennedy.

She'd said that first day in Raccoon. Friends don't let friends turn, Leon. Husbands don't let wifes turn, Leon. DO IT.

He'd do it. He was Leon Kennedy. He shot you in the spine to kill your plagas. He shot you in the eye to keep you from turning. He shot his wife in the face to stay alive.

He'd do it.

And he'd probably die there in the mold with her.

As he hurried after the skinny little girl with the answers, he could only pray the other half of the battle was close and that he was coming with a fucking tank.
...........

Outside the Baker Farm - 1930 (7:30 pm)
...........

No tank.

He was, however, coming with high resistance filter on his helmet. Because the preliminary scan of the mines they were infiltrating via Umbrella intel said spore and mold contamination rates were INSANE. Jill was coordinating with HQ on how best to set down without disturbing potential threats. They wanted to get in and finish the job as quietly as possible.

The dark spilled around the chopper as it touched down in the field outside the Baker farm by about four miles.

He glanced at his watch, the shimmery blue of his eyes nearly silver in the moonlight. It was just after seven thirty. He was supposed to wait until 0600 to infiltrate.

It was the right thing to do.

He wasn't going to do it.

Chris strapped his armored vest on, packing it with a variety of grenades. Watching him, the youngest member of his team was getting suspicious. If she was smart, Fields would say nothing.

She wasn't smart.

"Captain…why are you gearing up?"

He glanced quickly at Jill. She was still with Nadia and D.C. and Rebecca Chambers discussing parameters and protocol regarding infection. He didn't care about any of that. He gave Fields a hard look from the heavy spill of his brow and had her shifting.

"Shut up, Fields. I'm ordering you to go over to that table and mind your business. Now."

She blinked at him. She was young. What? Barely twenty. She was button cute and a demolitions expert. But she was wet behind the ears. She was here for field support and she was going to get Jill up his ass shortly if she didn't shut it.

"Captain…are you leaving?"

He gave her another narrow look. "Stand down, Fields. Shut up. And go away. Now."

He slapped the nightvision attachment on his helmet, tucked it under his arm, and eased toward the open doorway of the chopper. He had his assault rifle looped over his back, the Albert 001 tucked into his thigh holster, and enough firepower to level a small building. He was ready. And he wasn't waiting.

It was a short boat ride over the backside of the bayou to the rear perimeter of the Baker estate. Eventually his team would set up a secondary evacuation point over there. He was going first. He was going into that house.

He was NOT waiting for HQ.

It was a very Leon Kennedy move.

But he was done waiting.

The little text message (from someone named Z. B.) had informed him they were there, they were alive (it didn't say safe) and to hurry. So he was going to do that.

Primary intel suggested Z.B. was the daughter: Zoe Baker. That she was still functioning within the house was a miracle. All preliminary scans of the area showed the infection rate was catastrophic. The E-Series was dangerous, they were formulating an inoculation against it, but it was going to take some time. They needed fresh sample from infected blood to finalize it.

The good news was that Zoe, Leon, Claire or any number of people would be infected. Which was also the bad news.

Chris leaped into the dark. He heard Field call out to Jill. Cursing, he moved into the dark quickly and without looking back.

There was the sound of boots on the ground and scrambling people, Jill shouted, "REDFIELD! You fucking idiot! GET back here!"

And he eased into the little boat he'd tucked into the swampy area behind the trees. He pushed off, grabbed the oars, and got moving. They were shining lights around looking for him. He heard D.C. call for him again, "Captain? What the fuck!?"

And Chambers answered, "Chris! CHRIS! You can't save her by yourself!"

They all needed to shut the fuck up. Seriously. Chris rolled the little boat down the slimy water, listening to the happy chirp of crickets and the song of cicadas. The night closed around, he left their looping flashlights behind, and he followed his instincts, his GPS, and his vision deeper into the dark.

He'd be on the rear of the property in about an hour. He said a silent prayer that there was still something there worth saving, told his baby sister to hold on, and kept on rowing.

Behind him, someone shouted, "Who the fuck runs off alone like that!? Are we sure he's even the real Chris Redfield?!"

Someone answered, "You see the look on his face on the ride out here? That face didn't even look like Chris man. It was like he was somebody else!"

That was insulting.

It was also a little amusing.

He was still Chris Redfield.

He was just done listening to Umbrella tell him what to do.

He murmured, "Fuck Umbrella." And that was the most Chris Redfield statement of all.
.........

The Baker Farm - Play Room 1936 (7:36 pm)
..........

"Here, just open your legs a little. Just a little. Let me see those panties, Claire Redfield. Let me see 'em. And I won't hit ya again."

Claire laughed. She was bond to a chair in the boiling bright lights of one of Lucas' play rooms. She was in a little tank top and white panties. It was his favorite torture outfit. He'd drugged her when she'd first been thrown to him by Marguerite.

He'd shot her full of some kind of shit.

She'd woken up bound to this chair.

He'd probably touched her plenty while she'd been down, the mother fucker. She was going to enjoy the moment she was free and able to kill him. She'd been planning his death for years.

Into the bright light, Claire spat, "Lucas, go fuck yourself. Because it's the only fucking you're going to get. I wouldn't open my legs for you if you were the last man on Earth and we needed to repopulate. I'd let the human race die before I opened my thighs for you."

Amused, Lucas' voice came back to her, "Don't matter anyway, Claire. I know you can't make babies in that skinny belly. I heard you and Zoe talking one night about it. So I can fill you full of my shit all day and it won't make you fat or flabby. By the way, I met your husband, you bitch, I fucked him all up at dinner. How's he like knowing his woman is only half one? I bet he just loves knowing he can blow his load in you and not get you knocked up. He looks like a douche-bag. I bet he fucks as lazy and stupid as he looks."

Claire laughed, loud and happy, "He fucks like a porn star, you mother fucker. He fucks as pretty as he looks. And he'll fuck you all up when he gets here, I promise you. You wanna know a secret?"

"I'm all ears, you bitch."

"You're gonna be all bloody pieces soon enough, you little shit, because he's not the only one coming. You think he's something? My brother is coming."

"You think your skinny ass brother scares me? I saw the pictures of him on your phone."

Curious, Claire tilted her head. She waited, watching that light.

Lucas said, "He's the red haired kid on your damn iPod right? With the stupid haircut like your husband?"

He'd seen pictures of Steve.

STEVE.

He thought Steve was Chris.

Claire started laughing, shaking in the chair, "Yep. That's him, you pathetic turd. That's my brother. He's nothing to be scared of at all. You're so stupid, Lucas. Do yourself a favor and let me go. If you still have me when he gets here, he's going to turn you into a shit stain of fear. I swear to god."

"I don't care who's comin, you cunt. I don't care! You hear me!? I'll splatter his fucking head on the ceiling if he even tries. I'll put him in my game and watch him die screamin. I'll hold you down and come all over your face and beat you to death with my dick and make him and your stupid husband watch. Bet your husband won't be so fuckin pretty if I cut all his hair off and cram it down his throat."

Claire laughed again, rolling her eyes. "You think I need them to save me? I like knowing they're here. I love it. It means when they find me, we're going to team up to beat the piss out of you and your stupid family. I'm taking Zoe with me, you stupid bastard. She's my sister now. And the only place your dick is going is right up your ass when I lop it off. You man enough? Bring it out here, you little shit, and prove it."

She waited.

And waited.

The light turned off and left her in the dark.

"Yeah. That's what I thought…you stupid COWARD!"

Lucas shouted a string of filthy curses at her.

And Claire sat in the dark and laughed.

Chapter Text

A/N: Things moving along here. The game and the story progress slightly apart for the next little bit. Should we see how many times we can kill Lucas before its all over?

Eveline and Mama will get some screen time in the next chapter.

How's everyone enjoying the bad assery? I like to show it as not TOO over the top. We want a little vulnerability. I'll play that out a bit here. Claire has a trigger. Leon has a trigger. Don't we all?

Coming up on the bugs soon...which...is the worst. The worst. The WORST. I hate the bugs. I'd leave the damn mansion and tell Mia to eat it if I was her husband with bugs the size of pomeranian dogs. NO. Peace and chicken grease.

I shouldn't laugh while writing. This is a scary game. But it's funny when you make it not some random dude in loafers. Which is ENTIRELY why the game was a random nobody. So we'd be scared.

As always - thanks to my steadfast reviewers - I read every word and write toward fulfilling it. Should we up the gore? I feel like there should be more gore?

Thanks for reading~~

-TLF

Seven: Over the River and through the Woods

Dulvey, Louisiana – 2017

The Baker Farm – Western River Entrance – 2018 (8:18 pm)

The lights went off. The dark spilled thick and deep.

And her hands shifted, lifted, and pulled free.

Idiot. Bastard. PIG. He couldn't hold her. He didn't know that Chris had taught her to shake loose of restraints when she was eleven years old. She could dislocate her right wrist and slip a knot like a pro.

Claire did so without compunction. The temporary pain of it cleared her head. She could feel Eveline in her skull but she had to get free. She couldn't stay here with Lucas. That fucking idiot, he'd find a way torture her while Leon was at the mercy of Jack and Marguerite and this house of horrors.

No.

She had to find him and prepare him. She had to find Zoe and make sure she found Leon too. Together, the two of them could get the D-Series pieces and make the serum. They had to HURRY and get off this goddamn farm.

Claire slipped from her chair in the dark while the idiot Lucas sat in his playroom and chortled.

His own arrogance was going to be his downfall.

The restraints had come loose.

.........................

The rage of it bubbled in his belly. That BITCH. She was free. She was running around the house somewhere now free. She was going to go find her asshole of a husband and start trying to kill him. He could FEEL it. Over his DEAD BODY. He was going to find that bitch and gut her. He was going to kill her faggoty ass husband first while she cried and then he was gonna stuff her while she screamed and stab her in the face while she cried; first with his dick and then with his knife.

He yelled, "CLAIRE! GET BACK HERE YOU COW! When I find you, I'm gonna fuck you then I'm gonna kill you! You hear me!?"

He stopped as he came around the corner.

He was no longer alone in the hallway.

The darkness was thick here in the back half of the plantation. It was mostly rotting wood and water in the boat house. He froze.

Two feet in front of him was a mountain.

Or a monster.

Not a mold one.

A male one.

In a big helmet.

Presumably NOT Darth Vader. But it kinda looked like him.

Lucas spit, "Who the fuck are you?"

And the mountain said, "I'm the other guy looking for Claire, you stupid little bastard. And the only person getting fucked in this house is you."

Lucas snorted out a high pitched laugh. "You must be as dumb as you are big. You can't kill m-"

Lucas had probably been punched twice in his whole life. Once by Roy Baker during a football game gone wrong in the third grade. And once by Maddie Summers when he'd put his hand up her skirt after the dance uninvited.

This was not like those times.

Nope.

Because the mountain didn't punch him trying to scare him.

The mountain punched him trying to kill him.

Apparently Claire hadn't been kidding; her brother was a fucking tank.

He could, indeed, kill a man with one hit.

Lucas squeaked and tried to duck, the punch hit him in the side of the face so hard he felt his jaw snap, felt his teeth crunch and literally fly out of his mouth; his head spun 360 like the fucking exorcist, and he heard the wet pop of bone breaking. All the lights went out as his body hit the floor.

Above him, Chris shook his hand to send the feeling back to it and looked at the broken mess on the floor below him. Sniveling little turd, he had some fucking balls shouting about raping Claire in this shit pit of a house. The good news was: that meant Claire was ALIVE and HERE and LOOSE. The bad news was: Chris had no idea where.

But at least this fucker was dead. So that was one less Baker to worry about.

It had to be the boy, Lucas. He was too young to be Jack Baker. He was skinny as a rail and looked pale, sallow, and sickly. Clearly infection had made him insane too if he thought Claire was going to come back and let some little pervert hump on her. Either way, he was deader than disco now. So it was irrelevant.

He knelt next to the body and pulled a syringe from his vest. He pulled a blood sample from the body of Lucas Baker, labeled it, and poked it back in his vest. Never hurt to take samples. The more, the merrier when it came to bio-weapons.

Chris pulled his little phone from his pocket. He messaged the number he'd gotten the text from earlier. Nothing. But it didn't hurt to hope.

Easing out of the boat house, he started up the grassy rise to the big palatial estate.

Something shivered in the woods and had the hair on the back of his neck popping up. He slipped on his helmet, clicked on his night vision, and waited to see what other stupid shit was going to pop up and get it's faced punched.

The trees rustled again, a burst of rain splattered as the sky cut loose, and something small came rushing out toward him. He nearly shot it before he realized it wasn't a zombie…not exactly.

And then it smashed the poker in its hands into his left biceps and sent him staggering and he didn't care anymore. Lightning flashed over the crazy demon. It had fury all over its skinny form.

He didn't care what the hell it was.

He was going to kill it anyway.

He lifted the assault rifle to kill it and it didn't run.

It kicked him clean in the balls.

.................

The Baker Plantation House – Cellar Containment Area – 1945 (7:45 pm)

The moldy corpse was blasted off its feet in a spray of stinky black fluid. The shotgun was the greatest creation in the history of the world. It was supreme. It was fantastic.

It was like a dick with a barrel. It was just that fun to play with it.

Chuckling a little, Leon stepped off the corpse of the fallen moldy monster. Zoe was moving through a small boiler room now. He followed her, considering things here. The drugs in his body were kicking around, sure, but what was that really doing to make his brain scramble around like it was? He felt about eighteen. He was so busy watching Zoe's little butt in those jeans that he didn't see the monster spill out from the dark corner until it was nearly on top of her.

He shouted, she fell to her butt on the dirty floor, one claw swiped against her chest and she gasped, and Leon obliterated the bastard with the shotgun. It was thrown into the boiler behind it, making a sizzling hiss of sound as it struck the burning tank and caught fire. It squealed or something, started melting, and Zoe scrambled away. Another peeped around the corner, Leon shifted and blew it into a puddle of piss and mold as it turned, and a third one emerged behind him.

Zoe shouted, bleeding pretty badly from her chest, and shot it over his left shoulder. It was a brave fucking shot from her ass on the floor. It whizzed past his cheek, struck the surging nasty monster, and spun it around. Leon threw the butt of the shotgun over his shoulder to hit it twice more in its face, dropped low and foot swept it, and delivered a back kick into its tumbling form to send it spinning through the doorway into the room beyond.

He crouched, finished turning, and blew it away before it could get back to its feet.

Zoe gasped from the floor, throwing her hands over her chest to staunch the blood. Leon swung the shotgun to his back, hurried to pick her up under the arm pits, and he sat her on the table to his right. The heat in the room was incredible. It left the world wavering with too much humidity. It was almost surreal.

She shivered blood thick and wet on her dirty tank top. Leon dumped powder on her, slapped gauze over her weeping chest, and she whispered, "A change of roles huh?"

"Seemingly. You ok?"

Her hands came up and slid over his on her chest. His eyes lifted from the pressure he was putting on the twin slices above her breasts and a bead of sweat slid down his nose. Zoe rolled her lip under and shifted, "….mmm. Better now."

She shifted. Her nose bumped over his. He thought, back up, and he didn't. Zoe rubbed their noses together. One hand stayed on their compressing pile of fingers, the other slid up the back of one of his sweaty arms. She murmured, "Leon?"

He should move.

He didn't move.

It was interesting. "Yeah?" A little hoarse.

Interesting.

"Tell me why I shouldn't try to kiss you."

This was a good request.

He was trying to figure out why his brain was stalling. In his defense, it had been A LONG TIME since a woman had looked at him. Or at least looked at him like THAT.

He wasn't exactly NOT interested. Shit, he was a mess. The adrenaline had been fucking with him all his life. In the beginning, it was easy enough to throw down a pretty young girl and give her a good fucking to take the pressure off. After Claire had become his wife, he'd been happy to channel that pent up sexual frustration into surviving, saving the day, and coming home to drill his wife.

But he was pretty sure his wife was somewhere in the house hoping to kill him.

So it was a fucking mess.

But she was still his wife. This pretty little girl was NOT his wife. So, the answer here was simple…and complicated. But the reason why he didn't kiss pretty girls…that was a one word answer he'd been spouting for twelve years.

He muttered, "Claire?"

But he let the pretty girl on the table nuzzle at his mouth anyway. Because he was higher than a kite and there was no Claire. He'd kill someone to have Claire back. But that thing in this house…it wasn't Claire. So he let the skinny little girl on the table nudge his face up to hers.

He was actually curious if he'd like it. He'd been kissing Claire for so long. He hadn't kissed ANYONE in years now…maybe he'd like it? Shit, he'd probably like kissing a mold monster if it tried he was so hard up.

Zoe's mouth lifted in a small smile, she shifted to angle her face to his, and then her eyes went over his shoulder.

And she whispered, "….Claire!?"

Leon nodded a little, "Right. Claire. Right. Shit." He shook himself, feeling the first little tugs of guilt. Honestly, this wasn't doing anything right? It was flirting and feeling like he wasn't half dead. And letting a pretty girl less than half his age tempt him. It was cool.

It was fine.

It was bullshit. He felt bad about it. Which was ENTIRELY about Claire.

Zoe grabbed his chin and turned his face, "No. No. I mean yes…I mean…CLAIRE."

Well shit.

There was Claire alright.

She was standing in the doorway of the boiler room. She was in some ugly set of overalls and a white tank top. She looked like hammered shit. She was all bloody and carrying a shovel.

She looked like an angry evil farmer.

She fit right in apparently.

Leon turned toward her. He had the Magnum in his hands. When had he drawn it? He didn't know. It didn't matter. He spoke slow and easy, "Claire? Are you in there?"

Claire turned her eyes to him, ignored him, and focused on Zoe.

"You bitch."

Zoe shifted off the table. "Claire…hold on. Just…it's not what it looks like."

"Yeah? Yeah!? Looks like you trying to fuck what's mine. You ungrateful cunt. MINE. Do you hear me!? SHE NEEDS A DADDY! YOU WILL NOT TAKE HER DADDY!"

So, not exactly Claire.

Leon shouted at her, "HEY! Nothing is happening here, Claire! Look at me!"

She didn't.

She didn't care about him.

She was all about Zoe.

Leon moved to touch her and she just…she slapped him. It was a backhand. It was all power. It threw him into the far wall like he was nothing.

"ADULTERER! You won't touch me! First I'll kill your whore! Then I'll punish you!"

So, definitely not Claire. Claire would have come upon that scene and not been thrilled, true, but if Claire was ACTUALLY Claire THAT wouldn't have happened anyway. Lord it was a mess. Claire was not a jealous woman usually. She was aware he was a hopeless flirt. She was aware he pushed the edges of playing around. She was aware she the only woman in the world he wanted.

She wasn't Claire.

Not anymore.

The truth of that was killing him. It was worse than being in this fucking house. It was all pain. It was all hurt. And it was KILLING him.

He leaned against the wall where he'd hit trying to relearn how to feel anything but that god damn pain.

Zoe shouted a little, "Claire! This isn't you! There was nothing happening here! Ok…ok…so that's a little bit of a lie! I was flirting with your husband."

"WHORE!"

Jesus. Leon tried to relearn where his hands were. His head was ringing. He scrambled for his gun.

Claire swung the shovel. Zoe ducked with a squeak and it clanged loudly into the boiler tank behind her. She lifted the pistol in her hands at Claire. "PLEASE! Don't make me shoot you! EVELINE! GET OUT OF HER! OUT! CLAIRE look at him. Look at me. Nothing is happening. We're trying to find the cure. He's all YOURS. I SWEAR!"

The shovel swung again. It smashed into the table where Zoe had been sitting. It missed her by an inch. Zoe scrambled, the shovel swung again and hit the tank behind her head, and she was on her hands knees crawling away now.

On the floor, Leon SAW it happen. The shape of his wife shifted, it flickered, and there was a little girl there where she'd been. He could see the film of "Eveline" all over her. Claire wasn't a jealous woman by nature. She would have come upon that little scene, slapped him upside the head, given Zoe the stink eye and rolled her own. She knew he was a hopeless flirt.

She knew it was harmless.

And it had been THREE YEARS.

She wouldn't have tried to kill some poor little thing with a shovel.

Claire raised the shovel to bring it down on Zoe and smash her into the floor and Leon shot from the floor. The bullet hit the tank an inch from Claire's nose. It blew a hole in the boiler and spilled scalding water down in a steaming, tumbling spray. Claire backed off, hissing like some kind of snake.

And Leon, all joking lost, shouted, "RUN ZOE! NOW!"

"I can't leave you with her!"

"I can handle it. GO!"

Zoe looked at him in horror, Claire started to advance, and Leon shot her in the leg. She went down, losing the shovel, and Zoe backed up. "I'm sorry!"

"Not your fault! Stick to the plan! Meet me at the fall back point!"

"Ok…OK. I'm sorry Claire!" She turned and fled.

He could hear her running through the cellar. Claire, bleeding, turned her head toward him. "You PIG! You faithless BASTARD! I've been here WAITING for you! And this is how you repay that patience!? I am your WIFE!"

"No…nope. It's her BODY. Kinda. She's never enjoyed being stick skinny really but we'll fix that. But you? You aren't my wife. Get out of her body and come face me one on one. Coward. Wherever you're hiding? I'm gonna find you and destroy you."

Claire grabbed the shovel. She rose shakily to her feet. "You're alive because she loves you, you faithless pig. You MAN. I should KILL you for her."

"She knows me, you little bitch. She KNOWS me. I'm here for her. She knows that. Let her go. Let them both go. They aren't your family. And neither am I."

Claire staggered. The image of the little girl wavered over her. And she whispered, "Leon…LEON…did I…is Zoe….?"

He shifted, holding his gun on her. And shook his head, "She's fine. She's ok. Where is Eveline, Claire? Where is she? Let me go after her. Let me end it. Now."

Claire shook her head, she lifted a hand. "She's playing on my jealousy. She's amping it up. She's too powerful. You can't win. She'll just turn you against me and have me kill you. I can't. I won't."

"Claire…Zoe's a good girl. Lonely. And scared. There's nothing to be jealous of there."

Claire shook a little, hands tunneling into her shaggy hair. "I've missed you. I broke away from Lucas trying to find you. And she…and you…I saw you. I saw you look at her. I saw you."

Jesus.

The guilt had teeth.

Leon gained his feet. He holstered the Magnum. He held his hands out. "Claire…I'm not dead. I'm still me. It was NOTHING. I'm HERE. I'm trying to save you. HELP ME. TRUST ME. Please."

Claire grabbed him so quick he jerked like he'd fight her off. She shook her head, shoved her hand under his shirt and laid her palm over his heart. Her other hand grabbed his hair and jerked him to her. Admittedly, it was the first time he'd been jack hammer kissed by a half insane woman.

So there was a first time for everything.

She tried to eat his face…or something. Which was really out of place. And worked like a charm because his hands were all over her bloody little body anyway.

The drugs in his system were happy to turn adrenaline to testosterone and remind him how much he'd miss the taste of a woman. THIS woman. HIS woman.

And then she shoved him so hard he stumbled into the wall again.

"I trust you. IDIOT. I trust you. But you can't trust ME! LEAVE ME HERE! Take Zoe, get the cure, and RUN AWAY! You hear me? She's a good girl, you're right. Go make babies on her and get the fuck out of here."

And now he laughed. He had to. She was so stupid.

"You kidding? You scared the piss out of that girl. She won't ever touch me again, I promise you. I don't want her, Claire. I want you. Shut up about this stupid shit and help me. Where is Eveline?"

Claire was shaking. "You need the D-Series to make the serum. Right? Right?"

He nodded, watching her. "The old house, Leon. Mama guards it like a maniac. Like a madman. Stop Mama. Get the head. GET THE HEAD. Get the serum. I'll…try to keep Eveline away."

She shifted, blinking. She trembled.

He took her face and she turned her lips to his palm, kissing it. "You idiot. You dirty old man. You like flirting with that young thing? Can't blame her. Can't blame you. I want to poke your eyes out for it though."

He laughed, brokenly, "Claire…stay with me. Stay with me. We'll do it together. I'll never look at another young thing again."

She turned into him. They hugged and both of them were trembling now.

"I'm sorry, Leon. I'm sorry you're here. Tell Zoe…I'm sorry. I can't blame her. Jesus, look at you. I fucking missed you."

She shifted, he shifted, her face came up. It was a good kiss. Smooth and wet. She quivered.

She breathed, "What happened to you? Your body…what happened?"

They nuzzled faces a little and he whispered, "Not so pretty now, huh?"

And she licked his mouth…which…made him hard. And it was so goddamn confusing for them both. She answered, "You're so stupid. I don't care about that. I love you, baby. I love you."

"Claire…stay with me. Stay."

She shook her head ran her hands under his shirt and all over his scarred back, "Lord. I love the scars. And I hate that you're here."

"Yeah? The groping says otherwise."

Claire laughed, shivered, jerked and he could FEEL the fight in her. Eveline. She was all over his wife like a bad smell.

Claire whispered, "Get rid of Mama. Chris…is here."

Surprised, Leon watched her let go of him and back off. She was shaking. She threw the shovel in the corner and grabbed her own hair, jerking. "Chris is here, Leon. I can feel him. Get out of this fucking house. Get the serum. Hurry. STOP THIS BITCH. And watch out for Lucas."

"Don't leave me, Claire. Please."

"I can't protect you any other way. Stop Daddy. You can stop Daddy…if you cut him the fuck up. I love you, baby. I love you. Protect yourself. Zoe? She'll find Chris. He'll take care of her. She'll take care of him. You? You take care of Mama and Daddy. If I find Lucas, he's all mine. You old flirt. I've missed you."

She took off like a shot, running the way Zoe had gone.

Jesus.

He wanted to chase her.

He stayed where he was.

His heart hurt. His fucking chest hurt. His goddamn soul. Who the fuck was he in this house? He had no clue. He was trapped here like she was. Like Zoe. Like Chris was about to be.

God.

The only way out was to get that last dog head.

The only way out was through the mother fucking Bakers.

He turned toward the door to the dissection room and jammed the key in the lock.

He had no idea what he was about to find inside it.

...............

Zoe raced up the stairs, breathing fast and low. She rounded the corner, running. She was so stupid. Making googoo eyes at Claire's man. What had she thought?

That the other woman would just chuckle and wink at her?

It was, in one hand, harmless.

But it was stupid.

Eveline was using that normal jealousy and making it manic.

She was going to use it to have Claire kill her.

There was a pounding behind her. And that voice called, "I HEAR YOU LITTLE BITCH! I HEAR YOU! You think you can run!?"

Claire had run off from her husband and chased the bitch who'd been trying to suck his face.

JESUS.

Was he ok!?

Zoe ducked through the hidey hole behind the sofa in the living area and skimmed through into the foyer of the house. She raced over the floor toward the main living area. She didn't stop until she'd dropped down into the hatch off the dining room. She eased through the darkness listening to Claire pound after her screaming.

Jesus.

Terrified, Zoe moved the rusted lawnmower from its position and went down into the mud. The small tunnel was barely wide enough for a child. She pushed through it like a worm, breathing shallow and hard. She heard Claire drop into the passage and pushed on.

If she stopped now, she was dead.

Scared but determined, Zoe reached the end of her makeshift tunnel. She pushed up through the dark, heavy, cloying mud to find the patch of twigs and moss that made the "lid" of her tunnel. She was outside now. Near the boathouse.

There was no way from here to her trailer. None. It was a useless victory. But it got her out of the house. She'd go back when Claire was gone or Leon had opened the main door. She couldn't out run Claire. Couldn't fight her. And wouldn't survive it.

She had to avoid her.

Rising from the mud, Zoe closed the hidey hole lid of twigs and scurried into the woods.

It was just one of a dozen different escape routes she had set up.

She had yet to make another from the foyer to her trailer. She had four in place from her trailer to the old house, to the back side of Lucas playground, to the barn, and to the pasture. But she couldn't dig one that didn't collapse from the trailer to the boathouse. The ground was simply too boggy.

The only way in or out was through the fucking Cerberus door.

Zoe raced through the breeze, the rain started to pour down on her, and she burst into the clearing to find she wasn't alone. There was a giant in black waiting there to kill her. It looked like a masked monster.

She'd seen pictures of something on Claire's little iPod. Files from Raccoon City. It looked like something on those files. It was the bad guys. The bad guys were there. Why? To get Eveline probably. Or to get THEM ALL.

She shouted, "HUNK!?"

And hit it.

She hit it with the poker in her hands.

The HUNK man grunted. She didn't think she really hurt him anyway. He was HUGE. He lifted that enormous gun in his hands and she panicked. She kicked him in the balls, hoping he wasn't wearing armor THERE at least, and he wheezed.

Nope.

No armor.

He staggered, she turned, and she started running.

She didn't get far.

He grabbed a handful of her retreating hair and slung her to the ground while she shrieked.

Zoe grabbed the poker, started swinging it madly as she went down, and he caught it in one gloved hand. From within the mask, his Darth Vader voice commanded, "STOP TRYING TO HIT ME, GIRL! BE STILL!"

"I will kill you HUNK! You won't TAKE ME ALIVE!"

He jerked the poker away, slung her over on her face, and put his boot on her back to hold her down. She panicked, face in the mud, and started jerking around.

The Vader voice asked, "Are you Zoe Baker?"

"No! I'm Claire Redfield!"

Hunk went still above her. And then he said, "Liar. I know Claire Redfield."

"Oh yeah!? Who's the liar now!? I'M Claire!"

"No you aren't."

"I am too! How do you know I'm not?"

"Because I used to give her baths."

Zoe blinked in the mud. What the fuck did that mean?

He added, "When she was two. And we share DNA. She's my SISTER."

Oh.

Oh-oh-oh.

Zoe went still. The rain was a storm now. It whipped and thundered madly. It threw lightning around them in crackling bursts of light and fire. From the ground, she called out, "Oh yeah? PROVE IT!"

The boot came off her back. One gloved hand grabbed her arm and jerked her to her feet. She practically FLEW up from the force of it. She tried to hold her feet and he used his other hand to rip off his helmet.

The lightning flashed across his face.

Admittedly, it wasn't Claire's face.

Which…was surprising considering he was claiming to be her brother. There was nothing of Claire on him. He was DARK, for one thing. No pale Irish rose. This guy was burly and swarthy and thick and black haired and not delicate at all like his sister.

There was no way it was her br—

Zoe stopped panicking and REALLY looked at him.

And her memory kicked in.

.............

"Who's the red haired kid?"

"Oh, that's Steve."

"He looks kinda like you."

"Yeah. I hear that a lot. But he's not my brother."

"No? Who's your brother?"

"….Chris." She showed the small tattoo on her left wrist. His name in a Celtic scrawl, "We did this after I graduated highschool. It keeps us together, ya know? When we aren't."

.................

Zoe shouted, "What's your name?!"

"Chris Redfield. Who the fuck are you?"

She grabbed at his arm, which surprised the shit out of him, and jerked up the sleeve of his gear. He thought she was half nuts before he realized what she was looking for.

His sister's name tattooed on the inside curve of his left wrist.

Her thumb found it and traced.

Her other hand grabbed his vest and jerked him down to her. "You're LATE."

The storm was so bad it was obscuring everything. The skinny little thing grabbing him was shaking so badly. And then he heard the shouting. It was more like…screaming?

"ZOEEEEE! I KNOW YOU'RE OUT HERE GIRL!"

She grabbed him with her other hand, "It's Mama. It's Mama. We need to run."

Chris blinked at her. "I'll fucking kill her. Where is she?"

"It won't work. You need fire. We need to run. Before she goes off to find Lucas."

Curious, he studied her face, "I killed Lucas Baker."

Her eyes snapped to his face, "What?"

"He came running around in that damn boat house screaming for Claire. Talking about raping her. I broke his fucking neck."

Zoe opened her mouth to say something else and that voice shouted, "ZOEEE! YOU LITTLE BITCH! You better come out of the rain! You gonna make Daddy so mad!"

Zoe grabbed him, watching the lantern bobble in the pouring rain. She breathed, "No time now. Listen to me, come with me. Now. Now. Claire is alive. Leon is alive. We need to move quickly. You have to trust me. I'm Zoe. I sent you the message. I need your help. And I need you to come with me…now. Please."

He studied her in the pouring rain.

The lantern bobbed closer.

And the voice saw them. Because it shrieked, "I SEE YOU GIRL! Who's that with you!? WHO'S THAT WITH YOU WHORE!?"

Chris let the assault rifle spill to his back, pulled his side arm, and turned into the lantern light.

Zoe made a small sound and he fired through the pouring rain.

Mama shrieked in rage and the lantern went out with a pop and a sizzle.

She was over a hundred yards away.

And he'd shot her lantern in the pouring rain, in the dark, in the wind and the lightning and the storm.

Zoe breathed, "He said you were something else."

"Who?"

"Leon. He said you were just that good."

Chris opened his mouth to answer and Mama screamed into the night, "ZOE! I'm gonna KILL you girl! And your boyfriend! You keeping him for yourself!? You know she don't like THAT!"

Zoe tugged on his vest, desperate. "She'll get another lantern. Please. You can't kill her now. Trust me. We have to move."

And then it was bugs.

The bugs started buzzing. The horror on her face did it. He wasn't in the least concerned about some old bitch shouting in the rain. The bugs scared the skinny girl in front of him though. He needed the ally here. So, he answered the fear on her face.

He scooped up his helmet, plopped it on her head, and grabbed her. She made a small sound and let him. Pinned to his front, holding on, she let him carry her at a surprisingly fast run. Her arms and legs looped around him. He was fucking fast for a big guy. She whispered, into his ear, and sounded like Darth Vader, "The woods, turn at the gnarled maple, there's a passage there. Hurry. I'll tell you everything. And you can help me get the fuck out of here."

His gruff voice was soft in the slamming rain, "Deal."

And the sound of Mama shrieking and coming for them chased them into the crumbling woods.

................

The Baker Plantation House – Dissection Room – 2020 (8:20 p.m.)

The room was a mess. Was there ever one that wasn't? It was littered with boxes and tools and a shelf half falling over and covered in tarps and bloody remains.

Dissection was literal in this house.

There were PIECES of people on the shelves.

There was also the missing dog head.

It was just lying there.

Leon reached for it and missed it by a breath. Because Jack Baker grabbed it first. The shelf was crowded with shit, it was over packed with garbage and boxes, and so Jack didn't see him. He didn't know. He was muttering as he pocketed the dog head.

He was talking to a body hung on the wall. The body of the dead cop from the garage. He'd survived long enough to get killed anyway. What a fucking waste.

Jack, glimpsed between the shelves, murmured, "…wants him to be her GODDAMN Daddy. I'll show her who's the Daddy. You'll help me," He was talking to the dead body, apparently, "I'll show him too. Piece of shit…little asshole…mother fu-"

He exited the little room and left the body of the cop hanging on the wall.

Leon eased down the small stairwell to his left. The narrow hallway curved up and around, offering a view into some kind of cage. It was littered with hanging bodies in bags. They dangled like ugly Christmas ornaments. The ragged red lighting cast the room in sharp relief. The drugs in his system showed the blood stained corpses to be slightly swaying as if in a gentle breeze.

Lord have mercy.

This place was fucking disgusting.

Rusty chains looped over the chain link fence that surrounded the weird pit below the stairwell that Leon went up. He cleared into the room where Jack had been minutes before but there was no sign of "Daddy". The body of the cop was all kinds of fucked up. It was beaten, bloody, and looked burnt. They'd caught him and tortured him. He should have just let Jack kill him quickly in the garage. Saving him had gotten him a WORSE fate.

Jesus.

Leon moved out of the small room and toward the far side of the walkway where he stood. It emptied over a railing into that weird pit below. The dangling bodies were echoed on the top floor where stood. They were paired with a table covered in a half eviscerated corpse. Guts and blood and carnage was scattered a steel slab as if tossed by careless hands. An enormous scythe was cleaved into the body, offering the handle to the next person inclined to take a whack at the mess of it.

"Seriously? Whackos."

Leon glanced to the left and the dangling dog head was there just…waiting. It was tucked into a loop of chain over a hook that dangled a little over the pit. Goosebumps sprang up on his body, alerting him to the trap. If someone had jumped out of the closest door and shouted it, it wouldn't have been more obvious.

But Leon grabbed the head anyway and tucked it into his pocket.

And then?

He heard the laughter.

Leon turned and Jack rose from behind the dead body on the table. He was bathed in blood. He was too close.

Leon shifted and realized the only way out of this moment was through Jack, or behind him into the pit.

Just like that, the trap was sprung.

Jack drove a kick from the hip, Leon flipped back ward to avoid it, and went down into the pit like a gymnast.

He jacked a shell into the shotgun, turned into the mess of dangling bodies, and waited for Jack Baker to join the party.

Beyond the row of chain link fence to his left, Leon glimpsed two things:

The worlds biggest set of shears (clearly big enough to cleave a man in two).

And a chainsaw.

He wanted the chainsaw. He needed Jack to open the fence and make it easy.

Jack jumped down, Leon kicked the closest corpse and it swung at his falling body, and it hit him broadside as he landed. Jack staggered, stumbled into the fence, turned and ripped it open with his bare hands.

The good news was, he could get the chainsaw.

The bad news was, Jack had the shears now.

And the pit was small. Narrow. And filled with bodies.

Jack laughed with delight, "Who's fucked now, boy!?"

Leon raised the shotgun, grinned, and pulled the trigger.

Chapter Text

Eight: The Worst Night Ever

Dulvey, Louisiana – 2017

The Baker Plantation – Dissection Room – 2045 (8:45 pm)

The heavy shotgun round glanced off the shears that Jack wielded with a chortling, warbling, wickedly giggling glee; a toddler with a toy about to be deconstructed; a kitten with a mouse. There was a lot of joy happening with Jack Baker and that enormous set of scissors he was snapping into the red air.

The shears came for his face with a spark of metal and scream of excitement from Jack, and Leon kicked the closest dangling corpse into the other man. It swung and smacked happily into the swishing blades. One lodged, Jack jerked in rage, and Leon shot him in the face while he struggled.

The round blew him off his feet, took half his face in a wash of blood and bone, and spun the shears around in a pretty spray of gore from the body they'd been lodged in. The blood splattered all over his shirt and face but Leon was already grabbing for the chainsaw beyond the fence. He jerked it free, ripped the chord while the shotgun swung to his back to dangle, and heard it roar to life with a triumphant cough and sputter of an engine firing up.

The jagged teeth kicked and spun, he pulled the throttle to give it some gas, and the hearty beast happily poured on the power.

Meanwhile, Jack was re-knitting. Jack was moving in a spill of blood and rapidly healing flesh. Jack was missing an eye and half his face.

But he wouldn't be for long.

He laughed, happily, "You think that will stop me boy!? You FUCKED now." His glee was contagious. His virus was as well. But he was done spreading it. This was going to be their last battle. Jack Baker was done.

This was the pit where he came to die.

And stay dead.

Leon lifted a brow and considered his answer. And then he mused, "Yep. Pretty sure I'm the one doing the fucking now, old man. And I don't use lube. Ready?"

Jack snapped the shears, the body between them was literally snapped in half with a crunch and plop of bisected corpse, and Jack kicked the top half while the bottom fell. It swung at Leon, who ducked left and avoided a hit to the face, and the shears came for him while he turned. They missed his face by and inch and the chainsaw joined the party.

He drove it like a sword into Jack's belly while he lunged.

Guts and blood flew like confetti. It peppered and plopped and scattered, tossed with a fury like a tornado made of shit and intestines. Jack squealed, the shears struck Leon against the side so hard he went numb, and the big guy kicked him. The blow landed in Leon's belly, spun his sideways, and the chainsaw skittered over the ground as he went down.

Jack roared, blood flew, and the shears came for him as Leon scuttled across the ground. They struck the stone an inch from his left, Leon rolled from the hip, and he scissors kicked from his back. It threw the big guy into a corpse dangling beside them, Leon executed a pretty fantastic hip toss considering the limited strength in his right side, and Jack went out and over. He hit the table beside the far wall, brought it down in a scream of metal, and the shears lodged into the wall beside him.

Leon kicked him twice in the chest while he struggled to his feet and ripped the chainsaw back to life. From his knees, Jack laughed, "Show me whatcha got, son!"

He was still laughing as the chainsaw came down in a rushing arc. It bit into his face, it split the damn thing in two with a crunch and geyser of bone and blood, and he just…started squealing. The screaming was awful. It was high pitched. It echoed in the room. He gurgled while he wailed.

His body bucked and jerked and tossed. The chainsaw made his eyes mush and obliterated his nose in a disgusting tableau. The macabre show of it continued as the body erupted as if it were a pizza roll squeezed in eager hands. Skin, muscle, bone and blood – sinew and guts – it all erupted from the volcano of his flayed flesh and pulsed as if it were a goiter on the side of an artery. It was like a reverse bullfrog neck made from bloated guts.

Disgusting.

Leon drove the chainsaw into the mess of it. And somehow with no face or mouth, the thing that was Jack Baker screamed while he burst. He screamed while pieces of him flew and splattered and gushed. The guts and blood of him washed over the man who kept on driving the jagged roaring chainsaw into his dying bulk.

Bathed in blood, the screaming went on.

It was so loud.

It was everywhere.

But it wasn't Jack anymore.

It was him.

The moment he realized he was roaring in rage, Leon went quiet. The chainsaw bucked and died in his hands and the burst mess of Jack Baker fell to its face on the floor. It oozed and pulsed, it twitched. And it wasn't done.

It grabbed his ankle with one of its hands and jerked.

Leon went down fast and hard. He lost the chainsaw, he hit the floor, and those hands grabbed his throat. They jerked him into the erupting, stinking, pulsing mess of the dying Jack and started killing him. Daddy is strong, Zoe had said, strong was a mild word. No head, no face, and those hands were enough. They wrapped around his throat and dragged him into the half mangled thing that had once been "Daddy".

His face was buried now in the squishing, oozing disaster of that ruined torso. The smell was half rotten meat, half intestinal gases. It was fart and bad breath and dirty feet. It was horrid in itself.

And he was smothering in it.

Leon struggled, shouting, and the body of Baker just lay down on top of him on the floor and pinned him there while it choked him. Leon kicked and struggled, he shouted and jerked, and his hands finally found the only thing they could on the floor. The shotgun was stuck behind his back and useless. His Magnum was stuck on his thigh and wedged into the body of Jack Baker.

And his hands found a leg.

A leg.

A human leg.

Desperate, Leon grabbed it, his vision started going spotty from lack of air, and he crammed the foot into Jack's choking torso and pushed. It wedged the body back like a lever. When there was enough space between them to move a little, Leon drove his free hand into the disgusting mess of that torso, grabbed for the heavy spine in the meat of it, and jerked.

He shoved with the leg, jerked on the exposed spine, and launched the body of Jack Baker up in the air. Even as it hit the chain link fence behind him, even as the air rushed into his tortured lungs, even as he rolled and scrambled, he knew it wasn't over.

The body was re-knitting. It was racing at him. He spun back, kicked a dangling corpse so hard it nearly dislocated his hip, and it hit that rushing mess broadside. It threw Jack into a stumble, Leon grabbed the shears from the wall and jerked, and Jack grabbed him from behind.

The momentum of it helped free the lodged blades from the wall.

They came free in his hands, Jack swung him around to rip his head off, and Leon snapped the shears around his body. He leveraged them close with a shout of pain as Jack punched him in the face. That was his M.O. after all. He was ALWAYS punching Leon in the face.

The hit threw him back like a kick from a fucking horse. The shears snapped shut and split Jack Baker in two pieces, and Leon hit one of the cots in the room, spilled over the top, and landed on his side on the floor. Jack's body was warbling and screaming.

His legs were trying to get up.

His bisected torso was spurting and flopping.

Leon rose to one arm, shifted and looked through the blood in his eyes to find the chainsaw a foot from him. He staggered to get it, knew his goddamn face was collapsed again from those fucking fists, and grabbed it from the floor. He ripped the chord and turned back to Jack's body.

"Who's fucked now, Jackie Boy?"

He brought the chainsaw down on the upper half. It cleaved. It claimed. It destroyed in a rolling rush and toss of blood and bursting fluid. The moment the top burst and splattered, the legs went still. The chainsaw hummed happily as he lowered it and let it rumble.

And Leon went to one knee. His hand came up to touch his face. A gentle poke told him it was as bad as it felt. His whole left side of his face was shattered. He could feel his eye just…lying on his cheek. Horrid. A deflated balloon. What was it with these mother fuckers and trying to fuck up his face!?

With a grunt of pain and rage, Leon shouted, "I can't be pretty if you keep punching me in the FACE, you assholes! My wife likes me pretty."

He grabbed for his pack and pulled the little bottle Zoe had given him free. The world tilted. It edged white and blue with pain. And he slapped a soaked cloth on his ruined face.

The healing pain was horrible. It echoed out of his mouth in a cry of agony. Leon grabbed the table beside him to keep from falling to the floor but he kept the cloth on his face. Breathing sharp and low, he panted, waiting for the pain to subside.

And he lifted the little dog head in his hand to stare at it.

"Boom," He muttered triumphantly, "Fucked Jack to death and got some head. A good night. Best night ever."

It was about to get better too.

Because it was time to get the fuck out of this house.
..............

The Baker Farm – Western River Entrance – 2045 (8:45 pm)

In the tiny passage, the light was minuscule.

Zoe pulled off the helmet as Chris sealed the door behind them.

She breathed and threw the truth at him like a bullet, "Your sister is infected. I'm infected. There's no stopping the infection without the serum. Leon is trying to help us. Promise me you'll do the same."

They held eyes in the shifting dark.

"I'm here for Claire." His answer was quiet. His gaze was direct. There was none of that humor that was all over Leon Kennedy here. This man was a soldier. He was here to fight and destroy. And to save his sister. What had Leon said?

Chris Redfield was loyal. It was all over him. And he didn't stop. He'd burn this place to the ground.

She was hoping he would. But not until they were all free of it.

Right now she needed his loyalty.

She needed some of that cast off onto her here, or they were all dead. She'd be DAMNED if she was left behind while the rest escaped. She wouldn't survive it if they did. Literally and emotionally, she'd never survive it.

So, she copied that cool tone and held that pale gaze. Pretty, she mused, the face was rough but the eyes were pretty.

"I get that. But Claire is dead where she stands without me. Swear to me, right now, you won't leave me behind. You won't grab her and run. Swear it. Or you, her, Leon and I? We all die here together. I won't go all this way for you to betray me. Not this time. Not now. It's almost too late for her. Almost too late for me. I've got nothing else to lose here. Swear it."

Chris studied her. Skinny and stony eyed, she had a kind of determination that he could respect. It was admirable. And if she was right, it was also well earned. So, he said, "You help Claire, I'll help you. You have my word."

"Good." Zoe turned and grabbed some things from a small shelf beside them, "Then listen up. And pay attention. Because we've got a small window of time to do this. And Lucas won't be far behind us."

"I killed Lucas."

She met his eyes and shook her head. "You did. I believe you. But it ain't done and he ain't dead. Mostly dead. But not totally. That's the thing about us…we just keep coming back."

She offered him the little notebook in her hand, "It's all there. All of it. Everything from the beginning. It's my thoughts, Claire's, and what Eveline is. All the answers you need. We don't have time for you to read it, not now, but you can pass it to anyone you want when we're finished here. How far behind you are your men?"

Chris took the notebook and pocketed it. He followed her down the small tunnel into the dark. She eased open a hatch and started up a ladder. And he watched her skinny little butt head up the rungs above him.

They emerged into the night again, listening to the rain and the cicadas. She led him down a narrow path through the boggy night. The trees spilled moss and damp around them as they moved.

"A few hours still. Where are we going?"

"Leon is headed toward my trailer. We need to loop back to the house and go through it to meet him. And we need to be quick. If he heads out to the old house, he'll find Mama. Daddy is one thing. Mama? She's another story. She…there's no real way to explain it. Just something you have to see."

Zoe ducked a little as they reached the edge of the tree line. "You got any fire on you?"

Curious, Chris answered, "Incendiary grenades. Why?"

She nodded, grinning a little. "He said that too."

"What?"

"That you'd show up with more shit then a human tank." The moon split the clouds a little and showed his face in better light. Again, she was surprised to find nothing of Claire in that face. She'd gotten all the softness in the family, clearly.

The brother wasn't exactly handsome. He was all chiseled jaw and heavy features. Thick dark brows and an uncompromising blade of a nose. He had a short crop of black hair that was cut in a way that said no nonsense. There was no stylist here. Just some kitchen shears or something. Zoe could appreciate that. Her own hair was trimmed by shears.

Leon was model gorgeous, Claire's brother was rough. He had a series of scars littering the side of his neck and swirling up behind his left ear.

Zoe touched one beside the left side of his mouth. He lifted a brow at her.

She intoned, "What was it?"

And he answered, "Shrapnel. Makeshift nail bomb by a couple of fucking psychos."

Jesus.

She studied his face beneath the growth of beard. It was a good face. Not pretty. But engaging. What was the word?

Masculine. Rugged. A cowboys face or something. It was a good face. No lie there.

Her hand came down. His gaze stayed on her, direct. She fucking liked the gaze. No flinching. No flirting. He wasn't coy smiles and winking. He wasn't Leon Kennedy.

Those eyes though…all kinds of blue and green and beautiful. Those? Those were Claire's eyes. Blue in the light. Green in the sunset. Seafoam in the gray soggy sky. Claire's eyes had always fascinated Zoe. Claire's eyes in her brother's face?

Thrilling.

She said, "You don't look like your sister."

"No." He tilted his head, watching her, "She got the Irish on the red side. I got the Irish on the dark. You don't look like your brother either."

Irish. She looked at that face again. There was something else in the line of him. Irish was Claire. Irish mixed Hungarian or something was Chris Redfield. But she let it go. The small grin spilled over her face. "Thank god for that huh?"

He actually chuckled, surprising her, "Considering how fucking ugly your brother is, I'd agree with you. You clearly got all the looks in the family. The same for Claire, obviously. Like you, she's the pretty one. Some of us make our peace with being ugly."

He was glancing out into the dark and missed the look on her face. It was shock. She watched the profile in the soggy dark. He wasn't kidding.

It was surprise in her now. She intoned, "You think you're ugly like Lucas?"

Chris snorted a little, "Not lookin to win any beauty contests over here, kid. We can't all be Leon Kennedy."

The intelligence on his face was legion. It was written in each line, each etched inch of the slash of his cheekbones. Ugly, he said. Was he kidding?

Zoe stepped up beside him. She touched one of the scars the crisscrossed over the back of his neck. He glanced at her in the soggy light. There was just enough salt and pepper in his black hair to tell her he was older. How much? She tried to remember Claire telling her. Not that it mattered. "There's more important things then being pretty, Chris Redfield. And Lucas ain't ugly cause his face. He's ugly cause his heart. Yours brought you here to save your baby sister. Nothin ugly about that. I'd say that's fucking beautiful."

She moved out into the rain with him close behind her.

And missed the little amused smile that bloomed on his face.

Curious little thing, he speculated, how had she made it this long out here alone? She couldn't weigh a hundred pounds soaking wet. What was she living on?

They eased into the curling shadow of a ramshackle porch. The steps were crumbling. A stupid looking cat figurine was waiting at the top of the three sad stairs. Following her over the creaking boards, he couldn't do anything but blink in surprise when she turned and shoved him.

She kept on shoving until he was plastered into the corner of the porch. And then she tugged him down with her into a crouch and put her hand over his mouth. Amused, he watched her face in the dark. The bobbling light of the lantern circled behind her and that stupid accent lit the air.

"I swear she was out here Lucas. I seen her runnin." Marguerite Baker mused.

The voice of Lucas came back loud and annoyed. "Mama…I swear to god if she's with that mother fuckin caveman, I'm gonna put them both tits deep in one of my games and watch them squirm."

"Now you watch that mouth with me, boy, ya hear?! You can have the man to do whatever ya want with. But Zoe is my daughter. You won't be using her in one of your games. Go find Claire, and hurry up before Eveline gets angry."

Lucas made a grunt of anger. "Mama! I ain't your slave! I do what I want!"

Marguerite's angry shout echoed over the rainy valley, "You'll do what your told boy! Ya hear me? Or you wanna go up stairs and tell Evie yourself that you done lost Claire?"

Lucas growled a little, "I didn't LOSE her! She fucking escaped! And she ran off after that idiot model that's loose in the house somewhere. Spy boy! I can't wait to hook him up with one of my boomers and watch his pretty head explode. You think even his blood is pretty?"

"I think he's smarter then you, you stupid boy! Stop trying to best him and find that girl. Don't you harm a hair on her head either, Lucas! You hear me!?"

Zoe turned her eyes from the floating lantern to find Chris inches from her with her hand over his mouth. His eyes were twinkling. He was amused. Apparently, the hand over his mouth had been overkill. If there was a man alive that knew the benefits of staying silent, he was crouching in the dark with her right now.

Zoe lowered her hand.

His mouth turned up in a grin.

Yeah, she mused, it was a good face.

Lucas shouted, "I do what I want! You ain't the boss of me woman!"

"Lucas! YOU GET BACK HERE!"

The lantern bobbed away as Marguerite gave chase to her retreating son. They listened until the shouting was long gone. And he finally whispered voice thick with humor, "Coast clear?"

Zoe pursed her lips a little, "You enjoying this?"

"More then I should probably. Were you protecting me?"

They rose and Zoe was touched that he brushed the dirt off the knees of her jeans without thinking about it. She smiled a little. Like a little dirt could make a difference on her. She was filthy.

"I was protecting me actually," They moved toward the side door of the house, "If you'd been shooting your big mouth off trying to fight everyone, you'd have gotten us both killed."

And now he was kinda offended.

"I can take Lucas Baker. And your mother too."

Zoe glanced at his face as she eased open the door and peeked in. They were in the mud room off the back stairs. She pulled him in and secured the door behind them. The room was filled with old raincoats, boots, and a selection of random -

Chris made a small sound, "Jesus Christ."

A selection of random carcasses.

Dead bodies were strewn in the room in a heap, deer or potentially boar or something. It was hard to tell in the dark. But they were missing flesh, muscle, legs and limbs. It was pretty macabre. It was horror movie gross.

Zoe nodded a little, "Yeah. Yeah. You might be able to win in a fist fight with Lucas, I won't argue there. But he doesn't fight like that, Mr. Redfield. He fights dirty. He'd just blow you up and drag what was left of you into one of his games. You don't want to end up in his game, I promise you."

"It's Chris."

She glanced at him as she moved to the far side of the mudroom and peeked into the hallway beyond. "What?"

"No Mister. Just Chris. Mr. Redfield was my Dad."

Zoe nodded a little, smiling. "Fair enough. Although you are old enough to be my Daddy I think."

Oh.

He stopped. She poked into the hallway. He blinked.

And her head popped back in the room. "You comin?"

Amused, he studied her. "You givin me shit?"

Her pretty face lit up. "Maybe. Maybe I'm just tellin it like it is. Clearly, you are old."

And she ducked back out of the room.

Yep. Giving him shit. He kinda liked her. She was charming in a no nonsense way. She reminded him of Jill in one hand. People were always giving him shit about Jill. Why didn't he marry her after all these years etc? And blah blah blah.

One: They'd done that once when they were young. It had gone fine and ended fine. No hard feelings and no pain. Friends with benefits that had passed about the time they'd started chasing Umbrella. Jill was bisexual. And had been as long as he'd known her. She was just private enough that she didn't throw it out there to anyone that asked. And so he was kinda, without trying, like her beard in a way. She was currently in a relationship with Leon's handler at the DSO, Ingrid Hunnigan.

Two: What was the big deal with just being friends with a woman? Why did it have to be more than that? He never crossed lines with women he worked with. He didn't bother to rock the boat. He enjoyed working with women and kept things professional and easy.

And he and Jill had been working together for so long that they were practically joined at the hip. The joking was endless on their behalf. They handled it with aplomb.

But he wasn't accustomed to liking a girl right off the bat. Not since he'd first met Jill. It was an interesting feeling. He liked this one.

And he'd waited too long.

Because she was back to give him more shit.

She poked her head back in, "You need a walker? Maybe one of those ones with tennis balls on the legs?"

Lord.

He shook his head and followed her into the hallway. She looked pretty cute hiding half behind the over turned sofa there. His brow arched at her. "You wouldn't be hiding from an old guy would ya? The arthritis will keep me from chasing you, I promise."

She studied him in the inky shadows. Old, she'd teased, old. Clearly he wasn't old. It was hard to tell in that monkey soldier get up he was wearing, but she was guessing he was in ok shape. He was big. Leon had said that much. And he was. He was a big man. It was impossible to tell if he was just big or muscled. But the big was evident.

The old was so NOT evident.

Grinning, Zoe moved out from cover and winked at him a little. She gestured with her head. "Come on. Let's go see if Leon is as good as he thinks he is. Hopefully he's found the last head and we can get out of here."

Tongue in cheek, Chris remarked, "Oh, Leon's always good with head. He's a real pro."

Zoe stopped and looked over her shoulder.

He was deadpan.

And he was funny.

She liked the funny.

"Getting it or giving it?"

Amused, Chris studied her. "In this case, we can hope it's getting it. As for the giving, I don't know that I even want to picture that, let alone speculate on it."

Zoe grinned at him and patted his arm.

He didn't see her face as she did. Her hand lingered a little and curled, just a teeny bit, around the arm she'd patted. He was too busy messing with watch and not paying attention to it. She patted him again to be sure.

Big, said Leon Kennedy, Big. And it all muscle.

His eyes lifted from his watch to catch her profile. She was...sorta rubbing his arm.

Which...was interesting. She wasn't even aware that she was still doing it. She had this far away look on her face. And she was sorta squeezing his arm a little.

He waited, curious, and she was definitely squeezing. Why? The faraway look on her face said maybe she was lost in thought and didn't realize it. So, Chris mused, "You ok?"

With a little squeak, she dropped her hand. And then? She blushed.

Charmed, he watched her face. "What's happenin there, kid?"

Zoe shook her head, red face. She turned toward the foyer. "Nothin...just...lost my train of thought. You ready?"

He enjoyed her. She was guileless and had held on to her sense of humor in the middle of this mess.

She considered things as she walked. His arm was as big as her waist, objectively. And the answer to the muscle situation was evident too. All muscle. She was betting if she pulled up his vest and peeked at his belly it would be corrugated from one side to the other.

These men invading her house were trying to kill her. She was thinking about getting naked and sweaty for the first time in years. In one hand, it was good to know she was still a girl under the the fear and survival. In the other, it was poorly timed on all fronts. She was trying to kiss on Claire's husband and now having dirty day dreams about her brother.

Claire was SOOOOO going to kick her ass if they met again before the vaccine. Zoe wasn't entirely sure she could blame her. Infection or no, she was sniffing around all the men in her life. It was worth an ass kicking or two.

Chris shifted his assault rifle into his hands and followed her. The Genesis built into his body armor kept sending off alerts at him. The mold in the house was high. He reached to engage his helmet and the Genesis flashed a warning at him.

He paused, curious.

Because it was telling him he was already infected.

He inquired, quietly, "Zoe…is the infection in the house?"

She paused, glancing over at him. He lifted a brow at her. She came back to his side, studying his face. "It's in the mold."

The Genesis was reading his blood. It was happy to tell him his infection rate was at two percent. Curious, not alarmed in the slightest, Chris said, "Who's responsible for the mold? The subject Claire was escorting?"

Zoe nodded a little, looking at the readout on his arm. She surprised the hell out of him and grabbed his biceps on his left arm, startling him. "Oh my god. You're infected. I didn't…I should have had you put on your helmet. I didn't think."

Amused, he studied her face. "Why? We're hunting the components for a vaccine, right? Otherwise my team can synthesize one when they arrive. At this rate of infection, there's no real concern for at least twelve hours."

She shook her head, looking alarmed. "I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have been so stupid."

He tilted his head, seeing the concern on her features. It was misplaced. Touching. But misplaced.

"I'll be fine, Zoe. I promise you. I've been infected with plenty of things over the years. A little exposure to whatever this is will just toughen my immune system. Relax." He patted her shoulder and moved toward the main lobby of the house.

Zoe watched him, impressed. He wasn't in the least concerned. Not even a little bit. He was chill. It was inspiring.

The door to the foyer opened and he ducked through.

Zoe moved to follow him and the sound of gunfire split the silence. It was fast, it was loud, it was continuous. He was battling something in the foyer.

She rushed to join him.

He was surrounded by at least eight mold men.

And still? He looked chill.

The first one lost its face and went down into the table, overturning the former poker game. And a happy voice filled the foyer around them, "Well HELLO THERE! I see you! You must be Claire's big FAT brother!"

Lucas.

Wherever he was.

Chris turned and picked off the next one. It went down on the stairs and tripped its cohorts around it. Another lurched from the darkened alcove beside him. It swiped one taloned hand at his face.

Zoe shouted, he ducked, and the air swished where he'd been. And then? He punched it. He punched the monster in the face. She blinked, watching him. What had Leon said?

He punches everything.

He did.

He swung the rifle to his back, planted his foot, and drove from the hip. He put it on its ass. And Lucas was hooting around them.

"You bad ass! That's how you do it right? Robocop! You broke my fucking neck with those fists, you old bastard. I'm gonna have to kill you for it. But first!? A GAME! I call this one…Redfield Must Die. Catchy right? Think you can live, Robocop?"

And the two doors on the main level spilled mold men into the foyer to join the party.

"Woooooot! Party on!"

Lucas laughter echoed before it clicked off.

Zoe shot the one right behind him. Chris spun back as she did. It was a foot away and grabbing for him. She drilled it with her pistol.

Impressed, he watched it reel and stepped into it. He punched it twice while it stumbled. It went down in a heap and got a boot to its black, wizened face for it. He swung the assault rifle up while the next two pulled a pickle on him and tried to box him in.

The first went down in a spray of 5.56 and the second took its swipe at him. He ducked, threw out a leg and tripped it, while it stumbled, Chris hammered it twice in the face with the butt of the rifle, angled the barrel under its weird chin, and blew its face away in a spray of black…gunk.

Mold?

It smelled like mold.

The fallen on the stairs were coming for them now. Zoe let out of a shout as one grabbed her face and lifted her. Chris shot it in the back and got a talon in the face for his distraction. It whipped, throwing him backward. He stumbled on the rise behind him and landed on his butt in the room where Leon had taken the shotgun from the confederate soldier.

The mold man grabbed for him and Chris kicked from his butt on the floor, shoving it backward. He swung up the rifle and obliterated it while it staggered. Two more surged into the doorway, he could hear Zoe shouting from somewhere in the room.

He emptied the magazine in his rifle on the surging mold men and grabbed his side piece from his thigh. The shots were loud in the room.

And they were echoed by gunfire in the lobby.

He was cornered in this fucking room now. Zoe had stopped screaming.

And there was no getting out.

And there were eight of them in the room now. There was no shot in hell here. He tried to reload the rifle and it was knocked from his hands. But the move saved him from losing his head. The gun took the hit, he ducked, and the talon drove into the wall above him. But he was surrounded now.

Grabbing a grenade from his vest, he prepared to pull the pin and go down in a blaze of glory, and a high pitched whistle had the mold men halting.

One started to take a swing at him, Chris shot it in the face, and the echo of a shotgun filled the silence. They started dropping and exploding. He picked off the ones he could and one tried to cut his fucking head off for the effort. It cut his face as it swung, Chris ducked to avoid decapitation, and that shotgun echoed again. Mold exploded, raining gross and stagnant down on him where he was backed up against the wall. It fell forward, pinned him to the floor and had him grunting, and Leon Kennedy appeared above its dead body.

"Tell me you didn't let them corner you in here."

Chris gave him a narrow look from the ground.

"Tell me, the great Chris Redfield was not about to have his last stand in a dirty mansion versus moldy gumby mother fuckers. Oh lord. You are NEVER living this down, you know that right?"

Chris said nothing.

Leon kept on grinning. "I'm your hero. You gonna give me a kiss? The hero gets a kiss from the girl he saves."

Silence.

Behind them somewhere, Zoe was chuckling a little.

Conspiratorially, Leon leaned down a little and whispered, "I showed you up in front of the girl, old timer. This is super sad moment for you. You think you can punch the shame in the face and make it go away?"

Chris was fairly sure he was going to kill the other man. He was going to enjoy it too. Most likely it would end with one of them dead. It seemed the most likely option here.

Chris mused, dryly, "Live it up, you wienie. Live it up. Write it in your diary next time you get a minute."

Chris put on a pretty decent Valley Girl accent and had Leon laughing, "Dear Diary, O-M-G like today I was a princess of POWER! I totally saved the day. Maybe he'll finally look at me! And the Redfield I've always REALLY wanted will love me FOREVER."

"Jealousy makes your ugly face look like a hairy ass crack, Redfield. Just sayin."

Leon kicked the body off the top of him and put his hand down to Chris where he lay on the floor, covered in moldy remains.

He was grinning as he said, "What are you waiting for big guy?" Leon threw on his best Schwarzenegger, "Come with me if you want to live."

And his laughter echoed in the moldy room around them.

On the ground, Chris Redfield was less then amused.

And he HATED owing Leon Kennedy anything. It was officially the worst night ever.

Chapter Text

Nine: This Old House

Dulvey, Louisiana – 2017

The Baker Plantation – Courtyard – 2120 (9:20 pm)

The little trailer felt stifling. The three people gathered inside of it were currently rifling through papers looking for Zoe's notes on the location of the D-Series pieces they needed for the serum. Now, ordinary folks in this situation might be panicking a little by this point.

After all, this was a series of unfortunate events that had befallen our reckless hero, his erstwhile companion, and the tag along with the same eyes as our hero's formerly deceased (recently resurrected) potentially lethally infected wife. It was categorically amusing, to the hero in question, that the little skinny thing that had been so aptly flirting with him before was currently making googoo eyes at the unflappable, unstoppable, terribly UN-amusing Chris Redfield.

Leon studied them as they dug through various areas. Chris was looking amongst her wardrobe. Zoe was, sorta, looking in her kitchen. She was, really, looking at Chris.

Curious, Leon stopped flipping papers on the little table he stood beside to observe this interesting turn of events. Maybe was looking into it too much.

Chris shifted and set his rifle down. He bent down to do it.

Leon thought: Wait for it….and there it was.

Zoe's eyes watched his ass the whole time.

Lips pursed with amusement, Leon felt her gaze kick over to him. He lifted his brows at her. Her pale face flushed fire engine red and she shrugged one skinny shoulder. Leon wiggled his brows and made a kissy face, Zoe rolled her eyes and promptly gave him the finger, and Chris stood up again.

Hurrying to keep digging in her little airstream trailer where they all gathered, Zoe avoided Leon's laughing gaze and gave him a look that might have felled a lesser man.

Curious little thing, Leon mused, she was sniffing around him an hour before she started sniffing around Redfield. On one hand, he got it. After all, what girl didn't want to sniff after Leon Kennedy?

With a snort of laughter, Leon could PICTURE Claire's face somewhere in the world as he, not only referred to himself in the third person (she DESPISED this. He did it mostly to get her goat.) But also spoke of himself with such arrogance that it was, very nearly, painful. But the truth was that girls had been jumping on his dick for years. The only thing that had stopped it had been devotion to the red haired psycho that was currently running around this nasty plantation trying to kill him.

But what kind of self hating sad little thing pined around for Chris Redfield?

He considered his brother in law and tried to see him like a girl.

Redfield wasn't…handsome. Not really. Not exactly. He was surly and kinda fat, honestly. He was hairy and wide and scarred up. He never really laughed, so he was always grumpy. Poking him to get him mad and fuming was one of Leon's singular joys in life. It was like running around with a stick trying to jab it in the eye of an angry gorilla. Eventually, it would get him killed but since he was betting he was faster than the overly roided Redfield anyway…he wasn't afraid.

Claire hadn't gotten all the looks in the Redfield family. Chris had a big jaw and a heavy brow and clearly needed a shave, at least three times a day. What was it Leon was missing here?

He watched Zoe for a moment. Her eyes shifted, her lip rolled under her teeth, and Chris shifted something in the closet. It must have had some heft behind it because he had to lift it and redirect it. His arms bunched when he did.

And there it was.

Her face just…lit up.

Really? Leon mused. The muscles? SERIOUSLY?

That was it?

To be fair, Redfield had plenty of muscles. Too many, honestly, and he could stand a good dose of cardio in the heavy lifting he was fond of. But really?

That's what chics were getting all drooly over? Big huge muscles?

Leon shifted with a little laugh and balled his fist. His arm bunched nicely. He had muscles. His were just…streamlined. Like a jaguar. Redfield was a monster truck. Leon was a muscle car. One was made to run you over and destroy you. One was bred for speed and agility and class.

Why was he standing here in the boiling Louisiana heat feeling jealous of Chris Redfield?

Absolutely stupid.

Because some little girl wasn't giggling over him anymore?

Was he that fucking shallow?

Apparently, the answer was yes.

Highly impressed with his powers of deduction, Leon turned to scan the things pinned to her little corkboard. The interior of the trailer wasn't badly decorated. It was clear she'd holed up here for some time.

The little curved couch and table were littered with newspaper articles and photos. Zoe had notated things on all the papers. Some were in red ink and clearly questioning. There was a picture of a ship that was listing to one side and a red X in a circle with a notated word: HEAD!?

What had Claire's video said? The answers were on the ship.

At the wardrobe, Chris was leafing through a folder he'd found under the box. It had images of wizened corpses. Some were curled in the fetal position. Most looked like husks or mummies that had been preserved in their tombs. There were question marks on a few of the pictures and a series of random calculations. He shifted a few pages and glimpsed over the research there.

The agent in him was shivering with something like barely leashed rage.

He spoke quietly, but forcefully, "They created her. She wasn't lost. She was fucking MADE. And they let Claire go after her like she was a little orphan needing a hug."

He snapped the folder closed after taking pictures of the contents with his phone. The Genesis in his armor told him the infection wasn't present here. It was regulated, clearly, to the house and the outbuildings. The grounds, the air, were clear.

The thing that was E-001 AKA EVELINE was only able to spread and shed the virus into existing structure. Curious. And more curious was that she could also subjugate an infected host through mental projection. The little bitch had mind control powers. So she needed to physically infect them, get them to ingest it, or engulf them in the mold that contaminated the house to rule them.

Curious and important, clearly, for fighting her. Fighting her was NOT HAPPENING in that house. At all costs, they'd needed to face her in the open air. It was their only real chance.

The last picture in the pile was of an old woman in a wheelchair. She was as dried up and ugly as the dead bodies in the former photos. Chris lifted the picture and showed it to Leon across the trailer.

"You meet this old bitch?"

Leon paused, cursed fluidly, and laughed, "You fucking with me? GRANNY?! I KNEW there was something off about the old geezer. You telling me she's ground zero here?"

"Looks that way. She's the fount anyway."

Zoe was shaking her head. "It won't do any good to kill her. She's everywhere. The old body is just her shell."

Leon shifted, annoyed. Zoe moved to gather things from a big box by the window. The décor here was straight seventies chic. It was charming , in a dated kind of way, and fit the shaggy hair on her thin face and the bell bottoms hanging in her closet.

Chris set the folder down and rifled a little in her clothes to see if there was anything else worth noting.

There wasn't.

There was…however…a very pretty little lacy black and white bra.

He stopped, blinking, and realized he was holding it aloft in his hand and staring at it.

Leon coughed loudly, Chris dropped the bra like it was on fire and, literally, jumped like someone had smacked him, and Zoe glanced over from her box.

Oh lord, Leon was kinda in LOVE with this moment. Chris Redfield – the human tank – the scourge of the undead – the blight of bioterror – the scariest fucking guy dead or alive in their business – was BLUSHING. He was BLUSHING because he'd been caught oogling a little brassiere.

Oh lord in heaven high on crack; it was the best night ever.

Leon held his gaze, wiggled his brows, and got the most dead pan expression anyone had ever made in return. HE grinned widely, glanced at Zoe to make sure her back was to them, and simulated humping the little table in front of him.

He couldn't help it.

He REALLY couldn't help it. He HAD to give the dude shit.

It was a priceless moment.

Chris rolled his tongue around his teeth, pursed his lips, and gave him the finger.

It was the second bird he'd been flipped tonight. For Leon Kennedy, it was a record.

Zoe rose, grinning a little, "There! Here, I found it!"

She moved forward, offering the little container in her hand. Leon took it, considering, and realized it was propane meant to be used in a flamethrower. His mind latched onto the memory Claire's movie she'd left for him. This is what you'll need, she'd advised, to finish Mama.

Fire.

Naturally.

Zoe paused as Leon moved to the door of the trailer and hopped out. She glanced over at saw her bra on the floor. Curious, she lifted her eyes.

Chris cleared his throat and said, a little hoarsely, "It…uh…it was by the folder. I bumped it and it fell."

Zoe lifted her eyes from the bra to him. She wasn't entirely sure, but she thought he might look a little flushed. It was hard to tell in the ugly orange light from her trailer.

But she was pretty sure his voice was hoarse.

And it made her roll her lip in again and laugh a little. "No worries, sugar. Just skivvies. We all have 'em right? Least those are clean."

She winked a little and bent to pick it up. Logically, she could have shifted out of the way and let him pass first. But what fun was that? Instead, she rose and was VERY close to him as she laid the bra back in the wardrobe.

"There." Her voice was soft. "See? No harm, no foul."

She was teasing him, entirely; she couldn't seem to help it.

And it wouldn't have been such a big deal, not really…but he glanced down at her mouth and then? Right down at her chest. Just brief. Just a flicker. But there it was. The teasing cut both ways, it seemed, and she felt her face flush.

"Sure." Gruff, she thought, his voice was very gruff. She liked it.

Zoe shifted a little toward him. He could have moved. Again, he could have MOVED. He didn't.

Her hand closed on his rifle, her arm brushed his, and she whispered, "Don't forget your gun. Probably gonna need to do a lot more killin tonight."

His palm turned and closed over the barrel of the gun. It slid down and over her hand where it rested. She should pull that hand back and let him have it, she mused.

Annnnnd she didn't.

His voice was so low it dragged, "….right. Thanks."

"Mmm. Welcome."

Zoe swayed, just a wee bit, toward him. Chris' other hand closed over her arm above the elbow to steady her. And he queried, "You ok?"

So low. They were both pretty much whispering.

She answered, "….it seems to be a bit hot in here."

"….right." He cleared his throat again, charming her, "Sweltering bayou, right?"

"Right. Just the weather."

"Maybe the infection."

"Maybe that too."

"Yeah."

Why were they still standing here!? They needed to stop Mama. They needed to find Claire. They needed to GET MOVING.

He needed to TAKE HIS HAND OFF HER, Chris thought gruffly. And yet….he didn't.

Her eyes drifted to his mouth, held, and her whisper had goosebumps popping on his neck. "What's the scar beside your bottom lip?"

Quiet. So quiet. He answered, "…claw mark…"

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. Nearly took my whole face off."

Her fingers curled into his vest. He could TASTE his heartbeat. And she breathed, "…what a tragedy that would have been."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah…oh yeah…it's a fucking good face…"

The gun slid to the floor with a clunk. His gloved hand lifted and gripped her face in a move so fast it left her breathless. Rough, he pulled her up to him –

The door to the trailer was jerked open, Chris let go of her like she'd burned him, Zoe jumped back so fast she stumbled into the stove, and the way too amused voice of Leon Kennedy spilled around them, "Yo! You two wanna hurry it up in here? I'd like to find my wife before I turn into a freakshow. If you're gonna start taggin, at least wait until we find the serum. Otherwise, can I watch? It's been awhile since I got some. Could use with a good porno. Course…seeing as it's Redfield staring in it, it's more like a horror movie. Be careful, Zoe, there's so many better things you could do with the thirteen seconds you'd be wasting fucking him. They don't call him the human tank for nothing. Rolls right over the top, leaves you flat, and dead…no finesse at all. Utterly fucking awful. The master of just rabbit fucking…that's just what I've heard. Just sayin."

He made a little honk honk sound when he said "taggin" and pumped his fist.

With a self-induced chortle, he let the door swing shut again.

Outside, Leon amused himself by counting the seconds before they him.

True to form, Redfield was out the door in less than three. As he stepped into the grass, he shoulder bumped Leon so hard that the other man staggered a little.

"Hey! Flag on the play. What's that about?"

With a dirty look, Chris started off into the dark toward the path Zoe had pointed out that would take them to the old house.

Leon waited for Zoe to join him.

She was red faced and quiet.

He lifted his brows at her as they followed Chris through a rusty gate toward the house.

The silence dragged, full of awkwardly delightful discomfort. Amused, Leon teased them mercilessly, "Did you guys play tonsil hockey? I heard he kisses like he fights, all painful punching and bad breath."

Zoe mused, quietly, "Well, do you fuck like you fight? All bad one liners, bragging, and mostly bullshit?"

Impressed, Leon eyed her, "You think I'm all talk?"

"Well, I've seen you fight, hot stuff. And I've cleaned you up after picking you up off the floor. If you fuck as good as you fight, I figure Claire probably spends most of the time you guys are in bed doing all the work with little reward."

Hah!

He kinda loved this girl.

Looping an arm around her skinny shoulders, Leon kissed her temple and made her laugh. "Don't try to make me fall in love with you with your filthy humor, girl, I'm an old married man."

Zoe rolled her eyes a little. "You are full of shit, Leon Kennedy. So much so that your eyes should be brown."

"Alas, they are the blue of angels. And so is the joyful dulcet sounds of my voice."

Near the next gate on their journey, Chris intoned, "Why don't you do us both a favor and shut the dulcet sounds of your voice up for two fucking seconds so we can manage to NOT get caught by bad guys? The way you jabber on like a teenage girl, you're gonna alert every fucking monster in three square miles to our location."

Leon chuckled, undaunted, and let go of Zoe as they reached the gate.

"For you, big guy? Anything. You know you're my favorite brother in law."

Chris snorted and rolled his eyes, "I'm your only one, you idiot. And that makes one of us. I'm pretty sure Claire marrying you was just a way to punish me for all eternity by making me related to the former man whore of bioterror. You think I like living down the stigma of knowing my sister wed the fastest zipper in the west? Horrifying. I can barely show my face in certain circles anymore. I think you married Claire just to spite me."

Leon laughed good naturedly, "What a hurtful thing to say!" He feigned offense and winked at Zoe as they started across the bridge toward the old house, "But it doesn't make me any less fond of you. I'm a supporter of the mentally challenged, after all, and appreciate how hard you try to keep up with the rest of us. I find your dedication admirable…even if you are dumber than a box of rocks."

They paused, the humor flagging, as they realized they were surrounded on the narrow bridge by the burnt and melting faces of babies lynched and dangling all around them. Baby dolls, thank god, but the tableau of disgust still served its purpose. Leon glanced at Zoe and said, "Your family is fucking sick, darlin."

"….I know. Help me stop them."

Chris glanced at her over his shoulder. No humor now, just truth, "We will."

They reached the far side of the bridge and eased up toward the house. Leon moved to the right firstly and rooted around for a minute.

Eyebrows raised, Chris glanced at Zoe with a question in his eyes.

She said, "Claire left something for him."

And sure enough, Leon came back with the makeshift flamethrower in his hands.

He handed the shotgun to Zoe and hefted the new weapon, grinning a little. "Man make fire…Man burn Mama."

Rolling his eyes, Chris pushed open the door to the house and cleared their way inside.

Zoe followed him, carefully.

The old house was falling apart. Although the plantation had been dirty as hell. This house was just a mess of collapsing frame and cracking plaster. Nasty pods of burping crap clung to the walls and the floor in random places, pulsing like…hives. Leon paused, watching one shift in the dying red light from a broken lamp in the corner.

The floor was wonky here too. It was sagging and collapsing. The structural integrity of the house was near utter desecration. The water that ran beneath it had eaten away at the foundation and, coupled with the hurricane that had come through, the old building just couldn't hold up.

Across from them, a wide open gulch existed that blocked their way to the other side of the house. It was a crisscrossed mess of broken floorboards, collapsed beams, and jagged pieces of broken wood. The image of Claire running through the house and showing him the way prompted Leon to start toward that side, carefully avoiding all the holes along the way.

He was halfway there when the laughter started.

It spilled around him and had him turning, eyeing the broken abyss that waited across the gulch.

A small girl stood there, the same one who'd flickered over Claire in the basement, she waved sweetly at him.

Leon glanced at his companions, curious if they saw her.

Zoe did.

She paused, grabbed Chris big arm, and halted him.

But Redfield didn't see her, likely because he wasn't nearly as infected as the rest of them. Chris asked, brow lifted, "What is it?"

Zoe breathed, "Eveline."

And his gun came up, just like that.

She grabbed the barrel, shaking her head. "It won't do any good. She's not real."

Laughing, Eveline eyed them across the divide. "I'm not?"

Zoe answered her, shaking a little. "No. You're not real. Go away, Eveline. You have no power here."

It was the wrong thing to say.

Entirely.

And likely a bad idea to taunt a psychotic monster. Probably.

Leon mused, "Not the wisest move there, kid."

Zoe whispered, "….I'm a bit of an idiot."

And Eveline threw her power at them.

The world shifted. The wind rushed. Chris was hit full bodied by it. He was thrown out like he'd been swatted. Zoe shouted and tried to hold on but she was thrown the other direction and went right out a broken window into the bayou beyond.

Chris hit the far door of the old house, went through it like it was nothing, and crashed somewhere beyond.

The power hit Leon and….seemed to part around him.

He stood there, watching Eveline quietly.

The little girl cooed, gently, "Agree. Be my Daddy. Love me. And I'll let them go. I'll let them all go. And we can be a FAMILY."

He considered it.

Would agreeing buy them time?

Would agreeing find him CLAIRE!?

Taking a chance, Leon said, "Sure. I'll be your Daddy."

And the laughter swirled around him. "LIAR! You're a BAD DADDY. DADDY'S DON'T LIE!"

The power struck him now and threw him into the gulch like he was nothing. The flamethrower skidded over the floor out of his hands and hit the wall. He plummeted, tried to grab on, and ended up in the water beneath the broken boards. He went under, sputtering, and the warm water was musty and disgusting.

It kicked up and pushed him with rough hands and slaps. He was tossed into the wall and slapped back into the broken foundation on the other side. The pain lanced up his back and out of his mouth in an angry shout.

Leon tried to grab on to something and leverage himself out of the angry waves but it was pointless. He was tossed around and smashed into concrete, kicked over and thrown at rotting wood. The third time he smashed into cold steel, it sliced down the side of his face and nearly took his eye.

He panicked, kicked against it, and pushed up. The pain gave him enough power to grab a small dangling beam above him. He wished, for a brief moment, that he had Redfield muscles after all, and Leon swung himself up and over like a gymnast.

He pushed off, grabbed the neighboring beam like a set of high bars, looped up and around three times for momentum and slung himself up to grab the edge of the floor. Turns out muscles weren't the most important thing after all. He was agile. He'd trained in so many forms of martial arts he was practically a machine.

Who needed big guns?

A set of hands grabbed his when he caught on and started pulling.

Expecting Zoe, Leon climbed out of the gulch.

"Thanks kid."

"You're bleeding."

He froze. He turned back from moving to get the flamethrower.

Not Zoe.

Nope.

"Claire…"

She looked pretty fucking awful. Her short shaggy hair was sticking up all over the place. Her clothes were SOAKED in blood. She was wearing some little white tank top (now red with blood) and it was stuck to her skinny frame like glue.

In this moment, it was really evident how much weight she had lost in three years. She was bone skinny, like Zoe, clearly starving. Her breasts…what was left of them…were so small they were little more than nipples on her narrow chest. The bloody top showed each rib, each notch in her collarbone, each part of her sternum.

She was emaciated.

Would she soon turn wizened like granny?

It was horrifying to think of it.

He said tonelessly, "You look skinny as hell, babe. Been skimping on the carbs?"

With a painful chuckle, she moved a little toward him.

His hand hesitated over the Magnum in his thigh holster.

She paused. Her eyes tracked down to it. They tracked back to his face. And the grief…the grief on her broke his fucking heart. She whispered, "It's ok…it's ok, baby. Pull it. Aim it at me. You should. It's ok."

Jesus Christ.

He left the gun in his holster.

He moved toward her and Claire lifted a hand to halt him. "Don't. Oh, Leon, I said don't."

"Right. I so often listen to wise advice after all."

He ducked a little as he moved. He ducked and scooped her up. She made a small sound of pain and jumped. He lifted her around his front, curled there with her legs wrapped around him, and kissed her.

Bad timing. Stupid.

And the only thing he could fucking think about.

Her fingers tunneled into his hair, she jerked his face up, and she just let him have it. The blood smeared all over him. Whose blood was it? A scary thought.

He'd forgotten the feel of her. Forgotten. His fucking poltergeist, she'd haunted him for three years. He couldn't BREATHE without missing her, feeling her, aching for her. And here she was, skinny and infected.

It didn't matter.

His hand went right up under her bloody tank top and palmed one of her tiny little breasts.

She made a small mewl and popped their mouths apart. "You dirty old man. You think we have time for that?"

He wanted to say something clever. He wanted to be charming and funny and witty and humorous. He'd been so good so far. He'd kept on laughing.

He'd been so good.

She was grinning down at him.

And he didn't know how long she'd even be HER.

He just didn't have the will to make a joke. He breathed, softly, "Claire…you fucking bitch…you left me. You left me. I died that day."

Her smile collapsed, her hands grabbed his face. She put their foreheads together and the tears squeezed from her eyes to roll down her cheeks. "I would NEVER leave you. Ever. Ever. I'm so sorry. I tried to get away. I tried. And when I knew…when I knew what she was…I tried to KEEP HER AWAY FROM YOU. It was the only way I knew to protect you. The only way."

They clung, shaking. They kissed, desperately.

Against her mouth, he nearly growled, "I don't need you to protect me, you stupid woman. I need you to STAY WITH ME. Don't leave me, Claire. I won't make it. I didn't make it the first time. I don't even remember the first year after you left. It's just…it's just this haze…I can't do this without you. STAY WITH ME."

The harsh whisper nearly killed her. She dropped down to stand with him. Her arms looped around him. His echoed it, nearly twice, she was so fucking skinny.

"I'll stay…I'll stay, baby, for as long as I can. I'll stay with you. I can't..I can't promise anything. I can't. But maybe…maybe I can help you stop Mama."

They couldn't stop clinging. She rubbed her nose against his face like a cat scent marking. She nuzzled at his mouth to kiss him. He was salty.

Salty.

She opened her eyes.

And he was crying.

The most powerful man in the Western World. The right hand of the President. The great Leon Kennedy. The battle axe of Bioterrorism. He was crying.

And it nearly killed her to feel it.

And it nearly HEALED her to see it.

She breathed, "Don't. Oh, baby, don't. Please don't. Don't."

But, of course, she was crying too. She clung, kissing him desperately now, and he put his face in her neck and shoulder and held on.

It was a good moment. A good moment indeed.

It couldn't get any better.

But, she was wrong about that too, because it could.

"Claire!?"

She turned, letting go of Leon.

And there was her brother. He was bleeding. He was limping a little on one side. He was holding his gun loosely in one hand.

His hair…had started to go gray in places. He was big and awkward and older.

And hers.

The soft crying turned to a horrible little sob. She pressed her hand to her mouth. She shook her head. And her big strong brother? His voice broke hoarsely when he asked, "CB -Are you alright? Are you ok?! Where the FUCK have you been?"

She shook her head and ran toward him.

And she whispered, "When did you get so old!?"

The laughter of it nearly killed him where he stood. He'd missed her like nothing he'd ever known.

He picked her up like she was nothing. He held her whiles he shook, sobbing madly now. It was painful to feel it. She racked with grief and pain. He crushed her into him, his eyes moving over her shoulder to where Leon stood watching them.

The rage on his face was something Leon understood very well.

It was hard not to feel it when you saw her. She was a shadow of herself. She'd starved and lived in fear and horror for three years here. There was no place on earth where these people could hide to protect themselves from the vengeance that came with seeing her.

He'd nearly torn the world apart to find Jill when she'd gone missing all those years ago.

He was going to tear it down, fuck it raw, and watch it burn for his sister.

His baby sister. She was so frail. Fragile. And she'd NEVER felt fragile before to him.

The strongest thing in the world, she was so weak here. Broken. Used. And starving.

Holding Leon's gaze over her shaking shoulders, the look they shared united them in a way they'd never been before. It was a pledge in silence to avenge her. It was a vow of blood to destroy to protect her.

And it was a code of brotherhood that said they'd kill anyone that stood in their way.

For the first time in a long time, the look they shared wasn't pleasant rivalry. It wasn't friendly competition. It was determination. It was shared purpose.

It was CLAIRE.

Chapter Text

Ten: Redfields Rule

Dulvey, Louisiana – 2017

The Baker Plantation – Old House – 2155 (9:55 pm)

The reunion was surely meant to be short lived. Three years, in that brief moment of reconciliation, felt like nothing. It felt like a flash in the pan. It felt like what Chris had figured his sister's relationship with Leon Kennedy would be: painful, brief, and impacting everything it touched like a grenade.

...………………………………………………………………………
~2005~

"What are you saying here, Claire?"

"I didn't think I was speaking gibberish. I'm saying I love him. He loves me. It's done, Chris. Stop acting like I told you I'm in love with a ghost or something."

He let go of the other handle and the hood of the greenhouse where they stood closed abruptly. Claire watched it fall with a sigh. Musingly, she stated, "Don't take your rage out on my orchids please."

Irritated, he helped her roll open the glass ceiling and secure it again. Claire watched his face as they did it. It would never stop to amaze her how the baby faced brother she'd hated as a girl had turned into her world…and her father. Would it ever stop taking her breath away to see her father's face with her brother's eyes?

Probably not.

Chris' painfully deep voice echoed in the small, hot greenhouse. Around them, Claire's orchids and her hyacinths listened happily. "He's not good enough for you."

A helluva thing to say.

Curious, Claire set the timer on the sunlight for the orchids. Hell or high water, she was going to be Flaxxy Hennessy's orchids at the fair this year. If she had to sell a kidney to do it, she was going to beat her.

She wiped her hands and watched his face as she did it, "I'll bite. Why? What's he done that's so horrible?"

The door to the greenhouse opened and the man in question joined them.

He looked pretty fucking good in dirty gardening clothes, Claire had to admit. And he never ONCE complained about helping her pot her plants or play with soil. A fancy brat by nature, he was a helluva guy when it came to gardening. That was the thing about Leon Kennedy…he NEVER failed you.

It was something Chris couldn't understand.

It was so often over looked by the fact that Leon Kennedy was also: arrogant to a fault, often never found to be serious about anything, constantly winking and flirting at anything in a skirt, and known to enjoy blowing stuff up (also notorious for wrecking cars though he swore that was all situational).

Immature? Yes. Potentially the perpetual boy forever. But a good man. In her bones, Claire had always known he was. Hadn't he come through with her that first night they'd met? A thousand times he'd stepped between her and danger. He'd saved Sherry. He'd saved HER. And again in Harvardville.

The only thing true about what Chris had said was that one of them wasn't good enough.

Didn't he understand it was her? Even dirty, Leon Kennedy was the pretty one of them. It was shallow to admit it, but he took her breath away. He was so painfully good looking that she was constantly waiting for him to lose interest in her for someone half her age and twice her beauty.

How did she know he was the best thing in her life?

When she got down on herself, he picked up his guitar and sang to her, made three jokes about how dumb she was, and made love to her until she was breathless. She never felt anything but secure when she was with him. Ever. Not good enough?

No. She'd never be good enough.

Ever.

Standing in the doorway, Leon answered the question for Chris.

"He's thinking about what a man whore I am."

Chris shifted, dusting off his dirty hands and he didn't look at all sheepish that Leon had heard them. He met the other man's eyes narrowly. "You've already had half the women on the West Coast, Kennedy. You couldn't stop there?"

Leon lifted a brow at him, "Well, I was headed on a world tour but I started tagging your sister and decided to retire instead."

Chris shook his head, "You ever serious? You big fucking idiot. You joking about fucking my sister?"

Claire pointed at him, "Watch it. Watch it here, Christopher. I don't need you to defend my honor. Nobody makes a joke outta me."

Leon laughed lightly, unoffended. "There's nothing funny about fucking your sister, Redfield. She's the best thing I've ever had in my bed and that includes the time I ate a whole pizza and had a threeway with two models afterward."

Claire sighed dramatically, "You're not helping here, Kennedy."

Chris laughed as well but there was no humor in it. "See? Just one in a series for this guy. What happens when he fucks it up and hurts you? I'm gonna have to kick his ass because you decided to play house with the fastest zipper this side of the Mississippi."

Leon looked offended now. "Hey!"

"Leon, I'll handle it." Claire pointed at him.

He shifted. "I'm sorry, honey, I am," He shook his head, "But now he's just being cruel. I was the fastest zipper on both sides of the Mississippi. He should at least give credit where it's due here."

Claire was droll.

Chris was irritated.

Leon? As always, amused.

Claire sighed again, "We're not playing games here, Chris. And he's a good man. Stupid maybe. Can't see the IQ everyone keeps telling me about , especially when he's taunting a bull and making bad jokes…"

Leon muttered, "The jokes are good. Don't hate on the jokes."

"BUT…" Claire rolled her eyes, "Bad dialogue aside, he's good to me. I swear to god, he's good FOR me."

Chris scoffed, loudly, "You think he's serious about you? Guy can't even be serious about the CONCEPT of you. He's a user, Claire. You are making a huge mistake here, mark my words."

Claire and Chris held eyes now. Matching pairs throwing sparks. And there was the Redfield temper snapping between them. Finally, Claire said quietly, "You love me and you're worried. I get that. But putting aside the fact you think I'm stupid enough to tie myself to someone who would "use" me….you are also out of line here. You won't stand here and talk about him like that. Not anymore. Or ever again. You don't really know him, so I was giving you the benefit of the doubt on the anger about us being together. That ends now."

She turned and set down her trowel. "I think you should go."

Leon touched her arm. "Hey…hey hey. Don't do that. There's no reason for that. He's just being over protective here, babe. It's ok. I would be too if you were my sister. You think I'd want you with a guy like me?"

Claire turned her eyes up to his face. He was joking, yes, but there was something a little vulnerable in his expression. Something flinching in his eyes. The defense mechanism of Leon Kennedy threw down bad jokes to hide his fears.

He believed Chris. He really didn't think he was good enough for her.

How was it that both of the men in her life that she loved so much were both so stupid?

So, she answered that shiver of concern on his face, "You're a wonderful man. You know how I know? Because I have that idiot behind me to compare you to. If he wasn't so afraid he was going to lose me to you, he'd realize how alike you are."

Chris looked offended by the comparison.

Leon? Humbled.

And it was why he was the best man in the world. Under all the bravado? Humble. And kind.

Leon laughed a little and it sounded misty.

And there was that, Claire thought, the softness. He was such a soft man. Like her brother, crunchy on the outside…squishy inside.

He replied, gently, "So, I guess I better make you mine before you figure out I'm not good enough after all."

Claire smiled and touched his face, "I'm already yours."

Chris exclaimed, loudly now, "Don't you fucking dare, Kennedy, I swear to god."

Claire's brow furrowed, "What am I missing here?"

And Leon was laughing as he answered, "Your brother is trying to stop me from proposing."

Claire scoffed, "You're not doing that anyway."

But she stopped laughing. Because his face said that's exactly what he was doing.

He tugged the little ring from inside the breast pocket of his shirt. It was rubies and sapphires, not a traditional diamond at all. How well did he know her? It was tattooed on the both of them. And now it was offered in a band to bind them together.

Claire grabbed his wrist. She shook her head. "What are you doing here, Kennedy?" A breathy laugh followed the question.

"Pretty sure I'm asking you to marry me, Claire Redfield. What do you say?"

Her hands came up. They slid into his hair and tugged. She pressed their dirty noses together. "You want a marry a girl who's brother punches boulders and "allegedly" shoots roids!? Are you fucking stupid, Leon Kennedy?"

"Been known to be. I'd be fucking stupid if I let you go, Claire. Pretty sure I was fucking stupid not keeping you the day I met you. Bet your bro over there is already pissed as hell that he's the reason we met in the first place. Makes him stupider...more stupid? Whatever. Just say yes and prove to the world I'm not that fucking stupid after all."

She laughed and kissed him. "...yes...you wonderful man whore. YES."

Across the greenhouse, Chris let out a loud groan, "Somebody…somewhere…is punishing me for something I did in a past life…how in the HELL am I supposed to make peace with being related to the biggest man whore on Earth?"

…..………………………………

So, she'd married him and never regretted it for a minute.

Chris had come around by the time the wedding had happened. It had been brief and small, done. He had to admit, after the ceremony, he'd never seen Leon Kennedy so happy before. His sister had been radiant.

There was real love there.

When Claire had gone missing three years prior, he'd watched Leon Kennedy become a fucking mess. The joking had stopped. The world had been on fire while he tried to find her. He'd gotten fucked up and beat up and burned and broken searching everywhere for her. Whatever else was true, he loved Claire.

THEY loved Claire.

She stood between them in the nasty old house, a frail shadow of herself, and united them in a way all the love in the universe hadn't been able to before. For men, revenge was a bond that went way beyond the mooshy feelings that made girls keep on fighting. Vengeance was a dish best served with fists, bullets, and blood – and they were going to serve it again, again, and again until this place was a crater in the ground where it stood.

Claire finally let go of her brother to step back. She had dark circles beneath her eyes but she looked ready and determined, "I can't leave this place while Eveline is alive."

Chris answered her, quickly, "Where is she? I'll stop her, Claire. Just tell me where she is."

Claire shook her head, desperately, "I can't. I can't turn on her with this shit in my blood. She won't let me. She won't let me go either. Zoe either. We're trapped here. While she's in you? You're trapped. Have you seen her?"

Chris shook his head.

Leon nodded a little.

She grabbed his hand and squeezed, "Yeah. Yeah. She's in you too. Damnit. Ok. Ok. We can still do this."

She paced a little, thinking out loud. "We need the serum. We need Mama out of the way to do it. How'd you get around Jack to get out of the house?"

Leon smirked a little, "I made Jack my bitch."

Pausing, Claire met his look. And her smile was radiant. She touched his face and had Chris rolling his eyes. "Yeah, you did. You badass. How?"

Leon winked at her a little, "Chainsaw."

Her eyes widened. Claire rubbed his mouth her thumb.

The silence dragged and she finally laughed, loudly. "Chainsaw. Jesus. You and chainsaws. You throw a burlap sack on your head first?"

Leon answered that laugh with his own. "I would have if I'd thought of it."

"I know it." She turned back to her brother, "What about Lucas?"

"I killed him."

Claire tilted her head. "What?"

"He came around the corner in the dark. He was talking about raping you. I killed him."

Claire rubbed Chris' arm a little. "How?"

Shifting, Chris shrugged. He looked a little uncomfortable. Amused, Leon felt the grin start on his face. "Oh, shit. You didn't."

Claire tilted her head, "Didn't what? What am I missing here?"

Chris sighed deeply and rolled his eyes, "I broke his neck."

Brow furrowing, Claire intoned, "Ok…so why is that funny?"

Leon chuckled, "How'd you break his neck, big guy? Mmm? Come up behind him and twist it?"

Chris licked his teeth and sighed again, "…..not exactly."

Claire glanced between them, "Out with it. What?"

With a great huff of breath, Chris said drolly, "I punched him. Ok? I punched him in the face and broke his neck."

Claire kept her face deadpan. Leon let out a huge guffaw of laughter.

And finally Claire started to giggle. "Fists of rage."

Leon made a sound suspiciously like hehehe. "Pissed off man!"

Claire covered her mouth with both hands as she giggled.

Irritated, Chris turned away from them, "Laugh it up. Go ahead. Chuckleheads. Har har. He punches boulders. He breaks necks. Yuck yuck yuck."

Annoyed, Chris left the two of them standing there and moved back to find Zoe. He eased open the door to the old house and cleared into the night air beyond.

She was lying motionless on her face on the ground by the bridge.

Horrified, he hurried forward and knelt beside her.

A quick check of her pulse showed her alive and Chris rolled her over and braced her on his arm. He jiggled her a little, trying to wake her even as he made sure to cover them and keep watch. "Wake up. Zoe? Wake up."

She was dirty, scraped, and bleeding a little on her forehead. She stirred a little, her head rolling against his vest.

He tried again, "Hey, wake up now. Come on. We're not safe out here, honey. Wake up for me."

Zoe felt her eyes drift open. She was sore and her head was throbbing. She rolled her neck back and looked up a little to find his face, very…very close.

He was looking out over the bridge into the dark, protecting them both most likely while he roused her. A bead of sweat slid down his nose and plopped onto her cheek. Those close, she could smell him. Which…should be gross and wasn't. He smelled like gun oil and leather and after shave. Which was funny as it looked like he hadn't shaved in days.

She said nothing as he said, again, "Wake up, sweetheart, time to move here."

He'd know she was awake, she mused, if he just looked at her. But he was a predator. He was a lion. He was protecting her. He was UTTTERLY aware of their surroundings. The awareness on him was palpable.

So, she whispered, "I'm awake."

And his eyes turned down to her where she was leaning on him. He was crouched with her in the curve of his arm and braced against his leg. With her sitting, they were level.

Chris answered, quietly, "Good. You ok?"

"Hmm." She nodded a little. "Right now? I'm definitely ok."

Tempting little thing, Chris thought with amusement, he couldn't remember the last time he'd considered romance. Years, probably. Which was both sad and a little lowering.

But in the thick of battle, planning for it and executing and building an empire, he hadn't had the time to care so much.

There was no time for it now. There was no time for it ever, honestly, in his life.

Something in the shadows shifted and he narrowed his eyes. His arm, wrapped behind her, showed him the readings. A few beeps and a heat signature and the Genesis informed him it was a rabbit. It was stupid to sit out here in the open. How old was he?

Sitting here like some love sick dumbass in the middle of the danger zone. It was disgracef—

She pressed her mouth to his chin.

His face turned back down to her and his brains? Plop. Right out his ass.

Zoe breathed, "Thank you. I'm ready."

With his chin tilted down, his mouth hovered over hers. Just a quick press, he thought, and he'd seal them together. Smooch. Done.

Shaking himself, like a dog coming out of the water, he helped her up instead.

Her face was flushed.

They eased into the old house, careful not to touch each other again. Annoyed with himself, Chris followed the sounds of Claire and Leon talking.

She was showing him the mechanics of her flamethrower.

Claire glanced over as they approached. She jerked a little at the sight of Zoe and her face was remorseful. "Zoe…ZOE…I'm so sorry."

Zoe shook her head, quietly, "Don't be. It's ok. It's not you. It's her. We need to hurry."

Claire nodded a little, looking pale and tired. "We do. We need to get across the gulch here to the other side. I think I know where the crank might be."

Sighing, Chris said, "Always a fucking crank."

Leon laughed, lightly.

They eased through the ramshackle door on the far side of the room together. Chris tried to offer Claire a pistol and she refused, gently.

"No."

He glanced at her in surprise and Leon said, "She's right. Don't give her a weapon. It's a REALLY bad idea if you do."

Chris shook his head a little, "How bad can it be, really?"

Claire and Leon shared a look with Zoe. Chris rolled his eyes. "You're being dramatic. She seems fine."

Calmly, Claire said, "Now. Yes. I am fine. Now. It won't last."

They eased over a rickety little walkway toward the small shed on the far side. The cicadas were singing into the muggy air. The damp and fetid stench of mold and stagnant water was putrescent. As they walked, the creak and pop of water swollen wood echoed into the air around them.

Chris answered, "Claire…what do you weight right now? A hundred pounds? I think I can take you."

Leon shook his head, "Don't be stupid like I was, Redfield. Small she might be, but dangerous she is."

Chris laughed, mockingly, "And Yoda, you've become."

Zoe touched Chris' arm, stalling his laughter. "He's not kidding. She nearly killed him, twice."

Claire stiffened in front of them. Chris could see the guilt on her features. Leon rubbed the back of her neck as they walked, as if to reassure her.

Surely this was some kind of joke.

Chris couldn't stop the amusement, "You got your ass kicked by a skinny little girl?"

Leon shook his head, rolling his eyes at the laughter. "Keep laughing, Redfield. Just wait. She'll kick your ass too."

"….right. And afterward I'm gonna go down to the hospital and let some babies kick my ass too. Maybe I'll lose to a man sized piece of tofu later as well. Or a tree. Maybe a boulder."

Leon was deadpan. "You already almost lost to a boulder."

Claire laughed a little.

Chris said mockingly, "Better a boulder than a midget, Kennedy. OR A GIRL. You got your ass kicked by my starving, skinny, weakened sister. Redfield's rule."

They eased into the small shed. Claire picked up the backpack that was sitting on the table there. She offered it to Leon who slipped it on his back. "It has herbs in it and bandages. There's bullets in there too. I've been hoarding stuff for weeks, hoping I'd be able to locate the pieces for the serum on my own and make an escape."

Zoe picked up the crank from the floor by the craggy broken wall beside them. "Bingo."

Chris shrugged a little as they moved back to the walkway, "Easy enough so far. You couldn't handle this on your own, Kennedy? I think your reputation is bogus, personally. I'm thinking all the stories are bullshit. What'd you really face in Spain? A couple of angry midgets and a rabid squirrel? Based on this boring as adventure, I'm thinking the Kennedy Report was total fabricated crappola."

As if in answer, the water beneath the walkway gurgled.

There was a burst of sound.

Three mold men landed around them. The first one slapped Chris without warning. He was thrown up, out, and came down in the bayou beneath them like a dropped stone. Claire shouted, Zoe started shooting, and Leon dropped into a sweep kick before it flung that arm again.

He took its feet, threw himself back to one hand, and buffalo kicked it over the edge of the railing.

Claire shouted, "NO! YOU JUST THREW IT INTO THE WATER WITH HIM!"

That was true.

But what choice was there here?

Leon rolled back, kicked the approaching one in the face twice as he cartwheeled out of the move, and Zoe shot it again over his shoulder. As it reeled, Leon drew the Magnum and plugged it twice in the dewy air.

Claire rushed the third one bare handed.

Zoe grabbed the railing and launched herself over the side into the water below.

In the swamp, Chris was grappling with the other monster. His sister wrestled one on the bridge and he echoed the battle in the thick muck. His gun was somewhere in the swampy marsh beneath him.

Barehanded, he stopped himself from getting his throat cut open, and ducked under the second swipe of those sharp talons. As it swung, Chris stepped into its attack zone and drove his shoulder into its sternum. Throwing it off balance, he grabbed it by the hips and lifted at the same time.

It was dumped forward over his shoulder as he lifted, tossed, and threw it over his back.

The moment it hit the water, Chris ducked down to search in the muck for his weapon.

His hand closed on the stock and jerked, the monster grabbed him from behind, and he was jerked up into the air. It flipped him over and left him dangling.

It tried to stab him twice through the chest but the vest stopped it. The third time it tried, he shot in the face from the upside down position in which he found himself. It staggered, he was dropped into the water and went under, and the murky dark stole his vision.

There was two booms above him, he kicked to the surface and a came up shooting, and a bug landed on his face.

Horrified, Chris slapped at it. It stung him twice before he threw it away and shot it as it hit the water. A plume of water and a burst of blood left it in pieces. A second one came for him and he shot it in midair. It smelled like dust as it was blown clear.

On the bridge, he saw Claire mount the ugly black monster and swing herself up behind it. She monkey climbed it and then grabbed its head in her hands and jerked. It should have been impossible but there it was. She pulled its head off.

Like it was nothing.

Chris started to say something and his face started to itch.

He lifted a hand to find the two stingers stuck in his cheek. Pulling them free didn't help. The swelling started, covering the whole left side of his face. The vision in his eye went bad quickly and he staggered in the water.

Leon shouted and he heard Claire leap into the water, screaming for him.

Chris went to one knee trying to figure out what was happening.

His vision went as his other eye swelled shut.

His throat followed.

He suddenly couldn't breathe as he went to his back in the water and went under.

Someone pulled him clear and threw him in the mud. He was panicking. He knew that. He grabbed his throat and clawed as if it would create an airway.

But he was suffocating.

A small voice shouted, "STOP! BE STILL! STUPID MAN!"

That was rude.

Something stabbed into his throat. He jerked. He grabbed for his attacker and his hands were slapped away.

He was dead. Dead. DEAD.

But he wasn't.

The moment he was sure he was done, he could breathe again.

Sucking in a gasp of burning air, Chris grabbed for the person holding him. His hands closed around her shirt and fisted. He could make out Zoe's face as his vision came back.

She soothed, loudly, "It's ok. Chris? BREATHE. You're ok. Breathe now, sugar. Breathe for me."

She'd shot him full of some kind of epipen or something. She'd stopped the reaction. It was like anaphylaxis in nightmare form. Terrifying. It reminded him of those fucking bugs in Antarctica.

His breathing was ragged and terrified.

Zoe turned him. She turned him toward her and hugged him.

She was small and skinny and somehow she was trying to rock his big body in her arms to soothe him. It was…it should have been ridiculous. It worked like a charm.

His arms came up to cling to her.

And her voice soothed him after all. "Shhh. Hey hey. I got you. You're ok now. I gave you the antivenom. You're ok."

His voice was ragged and hoarse, "Venom?"

"Yes. Mama's bugs make venom. Like a snake. Don't let them sting you again ok? You're inoculated for a little while but it'll wear off."

The panic had fangs in his guts. He had to get it together. You'd think after all this time nothing could scare him. Apparently, he was full of shit. He could still be scared to death.

"Jesus Christ…thank you."

"Not Jesus. Just Zoe. And you're welcome, big hero."

He laughed a little and eased back. She pushed his soaking hair out of his eyes, checking for damage. The stinger marks on his cheek would likely scar but he was ok. The swelling was way down. His nose looked a little plump and his mouth was still bee stung but it was better. He'd looked like a monster before. The swelling had turned his face into a lumpy, bloated nightmare. She'd never been so afraid as she'd been racing toward him.

Her heart was HAMMERING.

She touched his cheek, gently, "You'll scar from it. I'm sorry about that."

"Don't be. I'm already ugly. What differences will a few more scars make?"

Annoyed, she grabbed his ears and shook him a little. "Stop saying you're ugly. You stupid man."

"Why do you care anyway?"

She hadn't let go of his ears yet.

He was very aware of it. He was also aware that he still had his rifle clutched in his hands. He'd gone down, nearly died, and hadn't let go of his gun. Let's hear it for training, he thought ironically. What would it take for him to drop it? Apparently, not being stung by nasty poisonous bugs and nearly choking to death.

Zoe laughed roughly, angrily and said, "You're dumber than Leon Kennedy is."

Well…that was just mean.

AND UNTRUE.

Insulted, Chris said, "Uglier, yes, but there is NO ONE dumber than Leon Kennedy."

Zoe laughed. She laughed and shook her head, "You're both dumb as rocks. And you are NOT ugly. Don't say it again, ya hear?"

"Why? What will you do?"

Challenged, she narrowed her eyes at him. "Every time you say you're ugly, I'll do this."

He hadn't dropped his rifle before. What did it take to get him to drop it?

A skinny little bit of a thing moving in to kiss him.

The gun plopped into the mud, his hands came up to take her face and turned her into him, and she kept on holding on to his ears.

Later, he'd think about how stupid he really was.

Because they'd tried to warn him.

They'd tried to warn him about...the monster.

There was a shout of sound and his eyes opened. A breath away from kissing her, he blinked at the scene beyond her shoulder. She opened her eyes when she realized he'd stopped. His hammering heart and flushed face couldn't register the moment at first. He saw Kennedy racing through the water. He saw his sister coming for them.

He heard Leon shout, "FOR GOD'S SAKE GET AWAY FROM HIM!"

And Chris was confused.

He felt Zoe scramble to let go of him and couldn't figure out why…

And Claire grabbed her by the hair.

Zoe shrieked and Chris shouted, "HEY! CLAIRE! What in the fuck?!"

And Claire…? Claire? Maybe not Claire growled, "YOU WHORE! KEEP YOUR HANDS OFF WHAT'S MINE! FIRST MY HUSBAND! NOW MY BROTHER!? GET YOUR OWN FAMILY!"

And Zoe was thrown like she was nothing out into the bayou.

Chris shouted in horror and get to his feet and his sister?

She grabbed his throat and picked him up off his feet like he didn't weight 220 on a good day of solid muscle.

What had Leon said? She's not Claire.

Not exactly.

And he was about to be strangled by the skinny shadow of the thing that was wearing her body like a suit made of skin.

Chapter Text

Eleven: This Little Light of Mine

Dulvey, Louisiana – 2017

The Baker Plantation – Old House – 2232 (10:32 pm)

He hadn't believed.

The arrogance that was Chris Redfield hadn't believed. It was his baby girl. His "CB". His girl. His girl didn't try to kill him. His girl rode into town on the back of her Harley to SAVE him.

His girl was currently choking the shit out of him while he strangled.

Kennedy was racing in waist deep water, shouting. Zoe was gone. Dead?

Gone.

Dead was impossible to know.

Seeing as he was about to join her in the "dead" category, it seemed a really bad time to worry about her. Chris grunted, dangling uselessly in her skinny fist. Those long fingers of hers were compressing her windpipe like it was nothing.

Claire roared, "You FOOL! Men who think with dicks instead of their hearts! Don't you get it? You are MY brother! MY family! She is a JUDAS! She is a LOLITA! She is a BABY! And she comes to steal you from me!? Perhaps you will abandon me and leave me to rot to SAVE HER!? What kind of brother are you!? I have been WAITING FOR YOU TO SAVE ME SO WE CAN BE TOGETHER!"

That didn't sound at all like Claire.

It was rambling.

It was pathetic, actually, and she was neither. Ok, sometimes she rambled, but she was NEVER pathetic. The thing in her? Kinda was.

Sad.

And looking for love in ALL the wrong places.

Kennedy was finally there.

He made a grab for her. She swatted at him backward like a fly. He ducked the full hit of it, but the glance off his cheek spun him around in the water. He nearly went down.

Jesus, Chris thought as his vision started graying at the edges, she was FUCKING STRONG.

When Kennedy turned back, he was packing and it was aimed at his wife.

Chris grunted in denial. He struggled, trying to get her grip to loosen.

Leon put the barrel of the big gun to his wife's left temple, "…let go babe. I mean it. Let go. You know how this goes otherwise."

"You won't shoot your own wife! Don't be a fool!"

Chris was turning purple. He was all fucking muscle and too goddamn loyal to punch his "baby girl" in the damn face for choking him. Idiot. Redfields were too loving for their own good.

Leon tried again, quietly in the rushing summer heat, "Last chance, darling. Last chance. You're in there, Claire. I know you are. Please. It's your brother. Please."

She turned her head. She smiled from inches away. "Your wife is going to kill you all."

Interesting to have his wife's voice say it. From his wife's face. With NOTHING of his wife in her eyes. Only in his world, Leon thought, only in his. "…she ain't that fucking good, dollface."

Chris tried to shout as he choked.

And Leon Kennedy shot his wife in the side of the head at point blank range.

..............

She sat so quietly. She was wrapped in her little patchwork quilt.

The grief etched on her face was painful for him.

He leaned in the doorway, watching the red of the setting sun gild the fire of her hair in a halo. She was ok, physically. Still some cramping and bleeding. But she was ok. She had the all clear to leave the house, to start running again, to return to work.

She hadn't left the house in weeks.

In the middle of the night, the cramping had started.

He'd survived Raccoon City. He'd survived the ganados in Spain. He'd survived China and the C-Virus and the T-Virus and the end of the world…twice. He'd survived in ESR when the world was against him. And he'd never really been afraid like he was when she grabbed him in the middle of the night.

In the moonlight, her eyes had been too wide, too bright, too afraid, "I'm BLEEDING."

The warrior in him had risen, naked and incredible; he'd whisked her into his arm in the blanket saturated with her blood.

He'd put her in the car, he'd thrown on clothes, he'd driven like a bat outta hell in the dead of the night…and managed to NOT wreck the car.

But it didn't matter.

She miscarried anyway.

There was no heartbeat by the time they did the ultrasound.

And the doctor, so very kind, had explained to her the reason. "Claire…Mrs. Kennedy…"

Leon, shook his head, "It's Redfield. She didn't take my name."

"Right. Mrs. Redfield…your womb…is hostile. The virus in you created a hostile imbalance of hormones. I'm so sorry. I think any pregnancy you're able to attempt will end in miscarriage. Your womb can't sustain a fetus."

Claire said nothing. She just stared at the window.

Leon asked, gently, rubbing her cold hands where they lay on her flat belly, "What about drugs? To make the uterus favorable?"

The doctor shook her head, "Not in this case. The virus altered your wife on a genetic level, Mr. Kennedy. There's no fixing that. Unless Claire we're to, literally, be rebooted from the DNA out…I'm sorry. There's no hope for a traditional pregnancy here."

She hadn't left the house in weeks.

Even now, she sat on the little swing watching the sun. But he wondered if she was really seeing it.

She spoke, softly, because she knew he was there. He was ALWAYS there. He never left her alone. He worked from home. He stayed close by. He was still Leon, so the squishy stuff came in rough starts and stops, but he was THERE. Which was all that really mattered.

"You should shoot me in the head…put me out of my misery…"

The soft blue sweater he wore shifted as he uncrossed his arms and moved around in front of her. She glanced up at him, pale and tired. His face wasn't soft. It was angry.

That was ok. She didn't mind the anger. She had her own. Claire said, "It's what you do to a lame horse right? When it can't do it's job anymore, when it can't function, when it's broken beyond fixing…you just…" She lifted her hand to her head and made a gun, pulling the trigger with a pop of her lips, "Bam. Put out of their misery."

He stared down at her. She trembled in the cold air. He said nothing.

And she spoke again, quietly, "I don't know how to do this, Leon. How to never have children. How to die without ever being a mother. I wasn't a little girl that sat around playing out her wedding. I was a little girl that sat around breastfeeding my baby dolls, changing diapers, pushing strollers. I knew…I KNEW…one day I'd have children."

Again, he said nothing.

"Where are my children, Leon?! Where are they? Umbrella comes along…it takes our youth. It takes our lives away in that god forsaken shit pit of Raccoon. It costs me my friends, my identity, my future. It puts you on a path of revenge and me on one of redemption. It makes us cold, hard, empty – and finally? FINALLY!? It takes away my only hope of being normal. Of having SOMETHING. JUST ONE FUCKING THING that is untouched by all that evil."

She shifted, wiping an angry hand over her weeping eyes. She didn't cry. She just seeped at the eyes all the time now. Claire shook her head, "The evil Umbrella brought on us, Leon? It's resident. It LIVES in me. Literally now. IT LIVES IN ME. I can't even fill my body with something beautiful anymore…even that…even that's gone. All that's left me is Umbrella's resident evil. I'm rotten."

She jerked her head toward the horizon. "Go away and leave me alone. Just leave me alone. Don't come back unless you're going to shoot me in the head. Maybe I'll come back, like she said, and reboot my DNA. Maybe I'll come back a woman again. Until then? I'm gonna keep sitting here and hating the world. For just a little while longer."

He stood there for a long moment, watching her face. She ignored him, watching the horizon.

He walked off and left her alone. Like she'd asked. He left her alone.

There were reasons she loved him.

The second he was gone, she covered her face with her hands and breathed. The tears seeped between her fingers, salty and wet. She didn't know how to get past this. How did she get past it? How did she fix it? She was a Redfield. She was a FIXER. She fixed things.

She couldn't fix being broken.

He caught her wrists and jerked them from her face. The move startled her. He was usually gentle with her. Tender.

He wasn't now. He took her blanket and tossed it away. The cold air started a gasp from her.

He didn't shoot her in the head. But it was close.

He put one hand around her throat and the other in her pants. She tried to protest, afraid, unwilling to be touched down there. But he didn't care about that either.

He took her up while she gasped, rocked, and bucked against his hand. He forced the "woman" back into her while she came in the cold winter air. Before she was even done jerking and going, he was pulling her pants off. She was scrambling to take him inside her.

No, he thought wildly, they couldn't make a baby. But they could make a woman out of her again. She needed to FEEL it. And he needed to feel HER.

That was thing about him. At her worst…he knew exactly how to "shoot her in the head" and bring her out of it. Even when she seemed completely lost.

................

Her blood splattered all over his face.

Her hands dropped her brother. Chris felt into the water, gagging for air. Claire went into the wet rush of the bayou and didn't get up.

Face down, floating in the murky depths of the dank moss and mold, her blood spilled black on the ink dark water beneath her. Chris, gasping, lunged for him.

"YOU MOTHER FUCKER!"

They grappled. But Chris was weakened from the choking and easily thrown away to his back in the dark. He went under, sputtering, and came up in a muscled ball of rage.

Leon shouted at him, "I TOLD YOU! I FUCKING TOLD YOU! SHE'S NOT CLAIRE!"

"YOU SHOT MY SISTER! I'M GONNA STUFF YOUR HEAD SO FAR UP YOUR OWN ASS THAT YOU'LL TASTE IT WHEN YOU FART!"

Ok.

So, that was probably funny. Redfield and his bad dialogue. Seriously. It was significantly LESS funny when one was trying to parry a two hundred pound gorilla that was currently trying to kill you. "She's not dead, Chris!"

"YOU'RE dead, Kennedy!"

What a buttface, Leon thought, lord have mercy. Dude didn't listen to anything.'

They circled each other. Chris threw punches like he'd turn Leon's face into hamburger if they hit. Leon ducked, rolled, and parried. He didn't want to start hitting back. That's how people DIED.

"Redfield, for fuck's sake, look!"

And, sure enough, Claire's body was gone from the water.

Chris stopped, spinning, his hands dug through the bayou water as if she'd sunk.

He glanced at Leon in horror.

"Yeah, dumbshit, she AIN'T DEAD!"

Chris grabbed Leon and lifted him by balling his fists in the front of his shirt. He was ready to shake him like a dog with a bone when Zoe shouted from somewhere in the bayou, "NOOOO! HELP!"

And they both knew where Claire's body had gone.

They turned toward the shouting, hurrying through the murky water. Claire had launched Zoe back into the old house. They were slower than usual based on the shitty water they were fighting.

Gunfire sounded in the house. Claire was laughing.

Zoe was screaming.

Shit was going from bad to worse.

They burst into the old house. Claire was slamming Zoe into the wall. She was shrieking like a banshee. Leon shot her from the hip without even thinking. The bullet spun her around and threw blood in a red arch. She lifted her arms and launched Zoe like she was nothing.

The girl flew over the great divide and landed on the other side. She slid over the floor, smashed into the wall, and was still. Claire turned on them, shrieking.

Across the way, the image of the little girl wavered where Zoe lay, smiling from beneath her yards of filthy black hair.

Chris grabbed his sister as she rushed them, Leon shot the wavering image of Eveline as she crouched over Zoe, and the world erupted around them.

Bugs came from every window. They poured in from the ceiling and up from the floor. Spiders and bees or hornets or horrible monsters the size of small puppies. They started diving and buzzing and stinging.

Claire was unaffected. They didn't even bother her.

Chris had three stuck to his arms and one on his neck. Claire was laughing like a loon as they stung him. But he didn't let go of her.

She slapped him so hard his head started ringing and he went deaf in his left ear.

He grabbed her face to stop her from, literally, biting a chunk from his neck and she bit his hand instead. Shouting, Chris felt something shift in him. Leon was fighting off hoardes of bugs while he powered the crank and lowered the bridge to Zoe on the other side. Was she dead?

Again, he didn't KNOW.

But he knew this: this bitch in his sister suit was done.

And he was done playing with her.

She took a chunk of his forearm with her when he jerked her back from him. It bled. It hurt like hell. So did all the bugs stinging him like mad. But he was ok. He was still immune to them.

They could sting him all day if they wanted.

Claire spit out the hunk of his flesh. It hit Chris' cheek and slid down, plopping to the ground to be snatched up by spiders with a hungry legs. Gross.

She grinned around bloody teeth and oozing lips.

"….bitch." He punched his baby sister in the face.

Her teeth and jaw collapsed, her head spun, and he finished it by grabbing her chin, kicking her in the back of the knee, and dropping her into his grip. She struggled, shrieking, and he snapped her neck with a wet pop of bone.

Silence.

He dropped her to the filthy boards.

And his baby sister didn't move again.

Heart hammering, he jerked the bugs off him and stomped them into smears beneath his boots. Leon shouted from the other side of the bridge and Zoe was there leaning on him.

Chris knelt to touch Claire's hair, breathing low and fast.

Leon shouted, "LEAVE HER! TRUST ME!"

Her neck was purple and swollen broken….like his heart. Broken. He'd KILLED his baby sister.

Rising, Chris leveled his gun on her and filled her corpse full of lead. She jerked and flopped like a broken doll.

He turned and ran through the barrage of bugs across the narrow bridge. Zoe grabbed for him as he dig and he scooped her up against his front like she was nothing. She hitched around his middle, Leon hit the far door with his shoulder, and they spilled into a small room.

The door beyond them was locked. It was missing a lantern beside it. Leon glanced at Zoe and she said, "….Mama…."

Of course.

The bitch with the lantern.

They had to find her.

He set Zoe down. Leon took up the rear.

There was only one way to go now.

Turning back, Chris hoisted his assault rifle and kicked open the door. The barrage of bullets started picking off the flying menaces as they buzzed and looped. He peppered the sky with 5.56 rounds, dusting them where they dangled in the sky like ugly Christmas ornaments or evil stars. Leon and Zoe separated to check the doors on open sides of the walkway.

The last bug went down in a burst of stench and goo.

Chris called, "Anything?"

And the voice behind him said, "You killed my BABIES!"

He tried to turn but she kicked him. She kicked him so hard in the back that he staggered. The floor creaked and down he went into the hole that waited there.

It was a good drop. He lost his gun. He hit the ground and felt it ring from neck to back to shoulders.

Leon shouted above him and he watched the fire whoosh toward the woman with the lantern. She shrieked and screamed, tossing her arms.

And then?

She tumbled down into the hole where Chris was…burning.

She tumbled BURNING into the pit where he was crouched. Scrambling to avoid her, Chris grabbed the ladder at the far side and started up it. Mama hit the ground screeching, batting her hands wildly, and melted.

Like the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz, she melted.

She turned into a steaming puddle.

Chris blinked. He waited. He touched a foot to the steaming puddle and his boot sizzled.

Nope, he thought, not going into that shit. And he turned to climb up from the pit. Leon, at the top, queried, "You grab the lantern?"

And Chris turned back to do just that.

The steaming muck was gone but so was the lantern. Because the second he went to climb back down to get it, a long fingered…hand…reached out of a notch in the wall and grabbed the lantern. A shrieking voice shouted, "MY LIGHT!"

And the light bobbled into the wall.

Without thinking, Chris dropped the rest of the way, rolled, and threw himself after the lantern. Leon and Zoe were shouting for him but he kept on going.

The narrow passageway needed him to crawl. He did so, on his belly, chasing the distance flicker of that light. Whatever it was, that had formerly been Mama, was skittering away like a bug. It moved through the narrow cavern like a praying mantis.

It was hissing and huffing and scratching the stones as it went. Chris belly crawled through the dark after it, scraping his big shoulders when the passage narrowed sharply. Behind him, he heard them following.

Whatever else was true. They had to stop Mama. They had to get that lantern. They had to make the serum. It was the only hope of saving Claire. Of saving Zoe. Of saving them all.

They needed that lantern.

They chased the light. They chased the answers.

And they left the body of his baby sister behind them in the dark.

Chapter Text

A/N: Thank you so much for the outstanding reviews! A single comment: I'm glad most folks are seeing the delicate humor behind this (sophomoric as it is) and that I'm poking fun at a scary game by making it humorous. Never fear for Claire either - although she's a punching bag now, it gets better for her. Soon enough.

Thank you. I'm humbled.

Shout out to TheObserver: I've been doing this a long time. Too long maybe. And this is the first time I've had my own stuff tossed back to me for recounting. Brilliant. And somehow hilarious to read all in one go. I will likely offer some awful Capcom reason for why Claire is not deader than shit by now (or give a slightly better reason hopefully before I'm done putting this burning mess over on all my readers). But until then - I endeavor to keep your astute eyes amused and watching. High five yourself and give yourself a mic drop, that's a massively insightful review you just threw at me.

This chic is flattered. And kinda glad I'm not Claire. She is getting all kinds of fucked up. Hahahaha.

Twelve: Mama Knows Best

Dulvey, Louisiana – 2017

The Baker Plantation – Old House – 2300 (11:00 pm)

The tunnel spilled them out into the darkness. The heat was oppressive. The stench of the bayou was fetid.

Chris didn't bother to wait for the others. He mounted the narrow stairs and moved across the rickety walk into the dilapidated derelict house that waited for him. Something swirled in his chest, annoying him.

It was part anger, part fear, part regret. He'd killed his own sister.

He'd killed his own sister.

Even in his head the whole sentence sounded retarded.

She wasn't dead, not exactly. But unless they found her the damn serum, she'd be soon enough. He'd rather put her six feet under than leave her in this place like monster. She'd encourage the same.

The house was in worse shape than the other one. It was crumbling where it sat. It was over run with weeds and moss and ripe, stinking mold. Bugs were everywhere. Spiders and nasty gnats and worms. They wiggled and writhed on the ground when he walked.

He lifted his rifle and readied it, moving in a slow but steady assault through the soggy interior. The wood was warped and rotting, the floor groaned as he walked, signaling an imminent collapse. Mother Nature had slapped the shit out of this farm at some point. Was it the addition of the specimen, Eveline? Had she come in and the place had fallen apart afterward?

The answers were waiting. But first? The Bakers needed killing.

Dead bad guys first, answers later – a motto close to his own damn heart.

At the first set of stairs, Chris eased up them. They cornered sharply to take the viewer to the landing on the second floor. He was nearly to the interchange when the window rattled beside him.

It was boarded up. It was woven through with mold and vines. It shivered like someone was knocking.

Chris backed up two stairs and the damn thing erupted. The wood flew at his face, rusty nails sprang free like angry confetti, and he swung his gun down to block taking a smack of bloated boards to the face. His arms blocked it, the warped wood hit and glanced off to slide down to the stairs, and Mama came on through the opening.

She didn't exactly look like Mama anymore. She stuck her fat torso through the small opening, her huge nasty claws took a good swipe at his face while she shrieked and squealed with laughter, and her big butt got caught – preventing her from diving in completely.

A handful of seconds as she grabbed at him, got his arm above the shoulder and split it wide open in a BURST of blood, and Chris hooked her. He hooked her with a right clean in her shrieking face.

His fist hit, the bones in her face collapsed, she scrambled desperately back through her hole with a howl of pain, and Chris went down on his butt on the stairs as his left arm gushed all over the place. He tumbled down the rest of the steps and hit the floor, sliding over the bloated floorboards. He scooted on his butt into the corner, put his back to the wall, kept his rifle ready in his uninjured hand, and grabbed at his vest.

The hemostat powder was right there in the first pocket. He ripped it out, opened it with a jerk of teeth, and spilled it over his gushing arm. It was pretty bad. She's split him from shoulder to elbow. It was spurting like a spitting kid.

Hissing a little, he grabbed a piece of tarp from the floor and shoved it against the wound, applying pressure. He kept the rifle on the hole where Mama had been, waiting.

His hand was numb on his injured sign. Not a good sign. Chris flexed his fist and his fingers wouldn't close completely. He shook his head, angry and low, "Perfect. Cunt."

Her squealing face poked through the hole and he shot her. No hesitation. He emptied the whole magazine into her while she screamed. When she disappeared again, he lowered the rifle and grabbed at his vest again. He plucked free the incendiary grenade, pulled the pin with his teeth, counted off to three, and chucked it through the hole.

There was a brief sound of it landing on the other side, a metallic rolling noise, and fire.

The fire ripped at the walls. It roared. It raced up the saturated wood and died out. But Mama? She kept on screaming beyond that hole.

Fire, Claire had said, is what kills Mama. He hadn't forgotten.

He fought monsters for a living. You never forgot their weakness. You exploited it.

Leon cleared into the room, aiming as he moved. No joking on his face now. He was in monster killing mode. Chris called, "Beyond the hole. The bitch has claws. Be careful."

Leon swung the flamethrower up and mounted the stairs. He peered into the hole quickly to check on her.

"Clear. She's not down there anymore."

Zoe came in panting. "Ya'll run too fast, seriously. My poor lungs."

She glanced up at Leon as he eased to the second floor and turned back to Chris. Her smile collapsed and she slid to her knees beside him. "What have you done?!"

"Me?! This was your mother."

Zoe eased the tarp back. The bleeding was better. But the damage was done. You could see bone in the swipe. Chris cursed, harsh and low, "Son of a bitch. I'm done. I'll lose the fucking arm. If we don't stop the bleeding, the arm won't matter anyway. Find something to tourniquet it, quickly."

Zoe looked up at his face, pale, "You want me to cut your arm off?"

"Not exactly. But I can't fight with the damn thing bleeding and hanging at my side uselessly, Zoe. I need to stop the bleeding and bind it. It's just in my way otherwise."

She kept staring at his face. Because she'd never in her life met someone like him.

He was so tough he was going to cut off his own arm and keep fighting.

What kind of man was this?

Shaking her head, Zoe said, "I can fix you, you big hero. Sit still."

Leon eased up the stairs to the landing. It was ramshackle and had holes in the floor big enough to drive a car through. Carefully picking his way across, he found himself face to face with a heavy gate and a door beyond it. There was no getting through the gate, it was wedged in the wall against the stone that was likely the only reason the rest of the mess hadn't fallen down on itself yet. The door beyond likely exited into the bayou and toward the South side of the farm.

He turned away from it and the door opened with a loud WHOOSH of being kicked in.

He was crouched and aiming before it hit the far wall and the person beyond rushed in.

Not Mama.

Claire.

She hit the bars at a run. She was herself again. She wasn't even showing signs of being pumped full of lead.

She was just skinny and starving and dirty.

She hit the bars and he echoed it. He jerked on them and Claire shook her head, "There's no way through and no time for that. Listen – quickly – Eveline made a gift of the arm to Mama. It's gonna be on the second floor of the old house. Hidden. You'll have to find it. And you'll need Mama's lantern to even get in there."

"Claire…come help us."

She shook her head and grabbed his hands over the bars, squeezing, "Can't. Being around Zoe makes me insane apparently. I'm gonna try to put the brakes on Lucas. But I need you to finish Mama. Finish her, baby, and find that damn arm."

"There's nothing with me and her, Claire. You know that."

"I do. There is, however, something with her and my brother. And my brain? Laced with Eveline? It doesn't care about the difference. It doesn't want some bitch sniffing around our "family.""

Leon nodded and wanted to keep her there. Bat shit crazy and infected or not, she was still his woman. He didn't want her running around in the dark with monsters and Lucas Baker – that perverted date rapist turd – chasing her.

"Forget, Lucas. I'll handle him. Get somewhere and hide, Claire. Ok? I'll find the pieces for the serum. We'll get out of here."

Claire shook her head, smiling a little, "No way. We met? I don't wring my hands and wait for men to save me, handsome. I'm a Redfield remember? I punch fear in the face and ask questions later. Speaking of which, where is my brother?"

"Downstairs…wounded."

Claire held his look. "How bad?"

"He was pretty bloody. I didn't check the damage. I figured finding Mama came first."

"….take care of him."

Leon smiled, lightly, "Sure. I'll rub his ears for him and sing him a night night song so he can get some sleep."

Claire started to retort on a laugh and Lucas Baker popped in the door. Leon's gun came up and Lucas grabbed Claire to him like a shield. She struggled but was quickly subdued. Skinny or not, he was stronger than he looked.

Putting his haggard face, obscured by his filthy hoodie, into her neck, Baker mocked, "Model cop! Spy boy! Agent Asshole! You still alive!? THANK GAWD! I'm gonna take this sweet piece of ass here and go fuck it real hard for ya. Maybe I'll do it right now and make ya watch!"

He started pawing at Claire's filthy pants. She was shaking in his arms. She wasn't fighting anymore. What the hell was this shit?

Two fat tears rolled down her cheeks and she whispered, "….Eveline. EVELINE. Make her stop, Leon. Help me. I can't do anything when she's in me. PLEASE."

Leon lifted the Magnum, shaking with rage, "Take your hands off my wife. Right now."

Lucas giggled behind her back, hiding. The coward. He taunted, "You kiddin? I'm 'bout to put my hands ALL OVER YOUR WIFE, you stupid bastard. And she'll LOVE IT. Ain't shit you're gonna do, super spy! Enjoy the show!"

And he shoved his hands into the front of Claire's pants, grabbing at her groin.

Leon shot him through his wife.

It was that simple.

He met Claire's weeping gaze. She nodded. And he shot Lucas Baker through her body.

The first shot went into her upper shoulder which was just over his heart, she gasped, blood burst red – and Lucas screamed like a girl. "You SUMBITCH! YOU MOTHER FUCKA! YOU SHOT YOUR OWN WIFE!"

"Let her go, you sniveling shit stain, or I'm gonna see how much damage you can heal."

Lucas dragged her fast and hard through the door. Leon shot again and got his side as he fled, avoiding hitting his wife again.

Lucas squealed like a pig and Claire screamed, "STOP MAMA! HELP ME, LEON! HELP ME!"

Baker kicked the door closed and Leon stood in the silence, panting with rage.

Lucas had Claire.

Lucas had Claire.

And Eveline was controlling her.

The panic had him turning swiftly. A plop of something slid down his cheek. He lifted a hand to see what it was…and Mama leaped down from the ceiling atop him.

On the main floor, Zoe was stuffing herbs into his gaping arm. Chris watched her work, enjoying the intelligence on her narrow face.

When his arm was stuffed like the butt of a turkey with herbs, she pulled a roll of thick gauze bandage from her little pack and started wrapping his arm up. "How's the sensation?"

His eyes lifted to hers. She was looping bandage around him and missed the look on his face.

"Oh, it's good."

"Can you feel stuff in your lower parts again?"

Her little breasts were nearly visible through the wet, flimsy, filthy tank top she was wearing. He could see her nipples. It was that simple.

And he said, "Roger. All lower parts are working just fine."

"Wiggle them for me please?"

Lord.

He said nothing and her eyes lifted to his face. To avoid the awkwardness of explaining his filthy mind, Chris waggled his fingers on his bad arm. Her face lit up with a smile.

"Oh thank god, cher. You don't even know what a tragedy it would have been to cut off one of these arms."

He shrugged his shoulder a little. "I have two. What difference? I'd just get a hook hand or something."

Zoe blinked at him. She finished wrapping his arm. It looked like a mummy extremity now. But he could feel it. Sore as HELL but functional. She was a wizard, officially.

She said quietly, "No. Just…no. No. A crime. A big one. Let's not talk about it anymore."

Her fingers trailed a little over his good arm. She did that thing again where she almost scraped his biceps. He watched her now, and used his perceptive powers to really look at her. Her little lip rolled under, her fingers scratched his arm a little, and she flushed across her pale cheeks.

He was a smart guy. He really was. You had to be to fight bad guys and not die, right? He was a pretty intelligent man.

Most of the time.

But he'd missed the flirtation of this girl. It was RIGHT THERE now. She liked his arms.

Click. He got it. She liked his fucking arms.

He forgot sometimes that the muscles were good for more than fighting. Again, when was the last time he'd entertained the idea of a woman? The white noise in his brain was the answer.

Her eyes rolled up to his. He half smiled at her, "Thank you, Zoe."

Quietly, "You're welcome…Chris."

He was just fine now. He really was. He was good to go.

But he spoke softly too, "I'm a little woozy. Help me up?"

He didn't need the help. He'd once been dehydrated, bleeding from two gut shot wounds, starving and without sleep for two days dragging himself through the desert to find Jill. He could handle a little arm booboo.

He was fine.

But he wanted her to touch him a little more.

She eased his bad arm over her shoulders and helped him up. His hand brushed against her breast where it dangled. He kinda wanted to squeeze it once.

The idea made him smirk a little.

Zoe turned her head to him. Their noses brushed. And she flushed beet red.

But she breathed, "You ok?"

Chris opened his mouth to answer her and Leon Kennedy came over the balcony railing. He fell like a stone, racing to the ground in a tumble with bugs all over him.

Chris shifted and dropped. He went to one knee and caught him.

Leon grunted, swatting at the damn bugs. He gave Chris a big laughing grin and said, "My hero!"

They rolled apart, rising to flank each other as Mama scuffled madly along the ceiling and came at them.

She was squat and fatter, scuttling like a crab with long crooked legs. Her belly was a nest. A nest. Like a hornets nest.

Leon shouted, "Is she wearing a diaper!?"

And Zoe answered, running to swat at bugs as they landed. "No! She gives birth! She gives birth to her bugs!"

Leon made a face, "Gross."

And Chris intoned, "….nasty."

Mama came at them shrieking and squirting out bugs from her womb. Leon shot her in the face and she landed on the floor at Chris' feet, scuttling.

He kicked her like he was going for a field goal. She went up and out, flipping over onto her back. She swiped at him as she went and Zoe shouted, so loud she actually made Chris jump, "NO MAMA! YOU BITCH! STOP CUTTING HIM UP!"

Zoe blasted her mother with the shotgun, blowing her across the floor with each heavy round. Mama was tossed and rolled, smashing into a leaning tower of crates.

Leon, glancing at Chris briefly, mused, "You just got saved by a girl."

"Shut up, little asshole. At least I didn't just get caught like one."

Leon was laughing as separated to split Mama's focus.

She swiped at Zoe and missed by a breath. Chris grabbed Zoe's skinny arm to jerk her back a second before she was gutted. The panic of it surprised him.

But he threw the skinny girl away, shouting at her, "Stay away from her! You wanna get gutted!?"

And Leon hit that scuttling bitch with the flamethrower.

It whooshed, it belched fire, and it caught her nasty fat belly and shrieking face in the gust of flames. She whipped around screeching and raced at them while she burned. Chris braced, waited, and rolled to his back as she came.

His boots sank into her pregnant belly, he kicked her up and out, and Leon spun a back kick at her as she went. The effort paid off beautifully. She was launched out and away, hitting a row of shelves and plummeting through the rotting would with a crash and a symphony of shattering house.

She went down into the hole she'd created screaming.

Chris grabbed another grenade off his vest and tossed it after her.

Leon grabbed Zoe and shoved her into his body to brace them away from the blast. Chris ducked behind a row of boxes. And the fire erupted beneath them.

Mama's high pitched horrific screaming lit the air.

Chris threw down his hand and leaped down after her as she burned.

Zoe shouted in rage for him to stop.

Yeah, clearly she didn't know him very well.

Mama reeled, shrieking and smoking. Chris kicked her in the back while she did. He tossed the bloody tarp in hands over her while she smoldered.

She fell to her hands and knees on the floor and threw up a ton of bugs. They were everywhere. Buzzing and bustling and stinging. They got him about fifteen times while he kicked their mother over onto her back and gave her a blanket party.

There was a clatter of noise and Leon stepped up beside him.

He took up the fight. They kicked the lump of Mama in her bloody blanket with curling trails of smoke emerging together. From beneath the blanket, she took a swipe at their legs.

Chris blew her hand away with his rifle in a crunchy splatter of blood.

The blanket was tossed high and fast. It landed on them and had them swatting at it to remove it. And Mama leaped on Leon and took him to the floor.

They skidded over the dirty floor and hit the wall. He shot her twice in the guts while she tried to eviscerate him. And Chris shot her in the back.

With a smash to his face that sent him rolling and seeing stars, and not just the kind that were related to him and liked punching shit, Leon tried to get to his feet as a trio of bugs stung the crap out of him.

Mama bounced to the ceiling, scuttled over the wall, pushed like a kangaroo between two corners and avoided being blown apart by Chris' pattern of fire. She finally pushed off the stairs, knocked Zoe down as the girl came after them, and caught him around the waist.

She took them into the corner, Chris hit the wall hard enough to put spots in his vision, and Mama shouted at him, "What now, stupid BOY!?"

And bit him.

Her teeth sank into his neck like a vampire.

He shouted, roaring with rage and pain. His elbow smashed into her latched jaws three times, his boot kicked her in the vagina like she was a dude with balls, and her aborted babies splattered around them in a gross mess of rot and stench. She jerked spastically against him…like…she was what? Mating on him? She was humping on him, that was for sure.

Horrified and disgusted somehow beyond his limits, Chris drove his fingers into her eyesockets. She shrieked, ripping her bloody mouth off him. Beads of red flew and splattered around them. She opened her mouth to dive at his face again and he stuffed a grenade in her gaping maw.

She choked, sputtering, and Chris kicked her so hard she was thrown off him and away.

She gagged and grabbed at her face and the grenade went off.

No incendiary this time. A good old fashion boomer.

Her head exploded like a water balloon tossed on the pavement. Blood went everywhere. It was macabre. It took her head, her neck, her upper right chest and shoulder and the midline of her sternum. Her nasty heart was beating in the exposed cavity filled with tissues and jagged bone.

Chris shouted, "KENNEDY! The flamethrower!"

And Leon, riddledlike he had the pox with bug bites, turned the flamethrower on the jerking body of Mama trying to reknit. He lit her up, watching her body burn and sizzle and flop. The skin charred, blackening and stinking like piss and vomit and rubber laid by turning tires. It peeled back and left naked bone and boiled blood. The body spastically flopped.

And went still.

It stopped moving and lay smoldering and fizzling.

Leon let off the fire and the room was quiet save for the snap, crackle, and pop of a bonfire made of Mama in the center of the room.

They were both splattered with blood until you couldn't see face without guts and red all over it.

The body twitched and both men shot it reflexively, in tandem, their guns turning the thing to nothing. The ash burst apart and flittered away, like a vampire dusted on Buffy, Mama disintegrated….and was gone.

Chris, breathing hard, asked, "Where's the lantern?"

On the stairs, Zoe whispered, "I have it. Here."

He turned while Leon made sure Mama was dead. He saw her face. She was standing there frozen.

Chris said, "Your Mama is dead."

And Zoe answered, voice shaking, "I see that. I see it. Here. Here's the lantern."

She offered it to him. He took it. And Zoe backed up the stairs. She shook her head, shaking, "I…need a minute. I'm sorry. Just gimme a minute."

She raced up the stairs and away.

Leon said from behind him, "Poor thing. Stuck in this shithole and having to murder her own family. What a fucking nightmare."

Chris said nothing.

Leon went on, "She's tough as nails that girl. Don't worry. She'll be ok."

Chris nodded, standing still as he listened. Above them, Zoe was weeping. They could both hear her.

Leon added, softly, "Give her a minute, Chris. She'll be ok."

Chris said nothing.

He turned and went up the stairs.

She was sitting on the crates with her hands to her face, sobbing gently. She caught his boot sounds coming at her, and lifted her face. With angry heels swipes against her leaky eyes, Zoe greeted, "Some tough girl huh? Crying over her dead mutated mother."

She shook her head again. "I'm a joke. Don't make me a hero, Chris. I'm not. Just a coward trapped in this hell, smart enough to hide and hide and hide for three years while my family became monsters...a hero...I'm just a coward. And soon? I'll be the last Baker. The last Baker coward. Sounds like a bad movie about a man who makes frightened pies."

Her face collapsed and she put her hands back to it. "Oh, god. I'm so stupid. Go on without me ok? I'll catch up. I promise."

Chris said nothing.

He wasn't a man with a lot of words. Never had been.

He was also bloody, filthy, and too old to look at her like he was.

But he was looking.

And he was seeing a girl who needed a friend.

He caught her wrists and tugged her hands away from her face. He crouched and slid between her knees. She opened her arms and he fit into them, looping her skinny frame to his to hold.

Mama was dead. They had her light. They needed to go back and find the arm.

But first he let the girl in his grieve for the life she'd lost.

And he said nothing.

Chapter Text

Thirteen: My Own Best Enemy
.................

Washington, D.C.– 2005

The Office of Leon S. Kennedy - USSTRATCOM
.................

Lord in heaven high on crack, he was tired of paperwork.

It was endless cluster fuck of stupid and lame. It was days and days and days of post Harvardville memos and files and reports and suggestions sent in triplicate to twelve different damn offices and administrations. Blah blah blah bliggity bloop and blah.

Leon wanted to wipe his ass with all the files on his desk.

But he didn't think you could process a report if there was shit all over it, so instead he drew a picture of boobs on the chest Derek Simmons instead and made a rather crude cartoon of him getting cornholed by the very dead Curtis Miller.

In a squeaky mocking voice, Leon pretended to be the National Security Advisor, "Ohhhh Curtis. Me love you long time. Fill me with your man hammer."

Behind him, the old record player that he refused to throw out for an iPod was happily throwing out his song of the moment: Dion's The Wanderer. It was his anthem, really, and made it clear why he was both amusing, built like a brick shit house, clearly the coolest dude around, and not willing to go "diving" with Angela Miller again any time soon.

One grope in the water was enough. Let her sweat under her fabulous tits and dream of him. It was all she was getting.

Oh well, I'm the type of guy who will never settle down
Where pretty girls are, well you know that I'm around
I kiss 'em and I love 'em cause to me they're all the same
I hug 'em and I squeeze 'em they don't even know my name

They call me the wanderer
Yeah, the wanderer
I roam around, around, around

He tapped his foot on his desk and drew a picture of a penis like a unicorn horn on Simmon's head. Under his breath, he chuckled, "Your tax dollars, hard at work."

And then he joined in on the next verse of his anthem.

Oh well, there's Flo on my left and then there's Mary on my right
And Janie is the girl well that I'll be with tonight
And when she asks me, which one I love the best?
I tear open my shirt and I show "Rosie" on my chest

The door of his office opened, rather unceremoniously, the record player lodged and started skipping. And the room was filled with the repeated lyrics: I roam around, around, around, around, around, around...and a basket of KFC appeared in the opening of the door.

Brows lifted, Leon watched the face that followed it with a grin.

He smacked the record player and the song seized off.

And Claire Redfield poked into his office.

"You look busy, am I interrupting?"

He coughed, covered his picture, and tossed his boots on the ground. "Nope. Nothing I can't catch up on."

"Good...nice song choice by the way." She set the basket of chicken on the desk and leaned her hip on the mahogany, "You know they call you King Henry around my office right?"

Brows arched, Leon rolled his chair over to peek in the basket of chicken, "Why exactly?"

"You blow hot, you blow cold - you go from chic to chic and cut off the heads of those who get too close."

Amused, he glanced up at her. She was in some kind of ugly blue suit. It had a tie on the bottom. And the skirt was high enough on her hips he could almost glimpse her thong in the back when she leaned over.

Mouth dry, Leon mused, "Hmm. I'm the wanderer. Not a secret. You come here to help me see the error of my ways?"

Claire studied him, lips pursed. "Nope. Pretty sure I came here to see what the fuss was all about."

He leaned back in his chair, tapping his boot on the floor. "Yeah?"

"Oh, yeah. Just have one request."

"What's that?"

"No strings ok? I don't need you chasing me around trying to get me to marry you. I don't have time for that shit."

His face split in a grin. She smiled back, coyly.

"Deal. Dinner tonight?"

Claire glanced at the chicken and back at his face. "What do you think this is?"

Curious, Leon lifted a brow, "It's two in the afternoon. A little early for dinner."

"Maybe. But I don't plan on leaving this office again until breakfast. So, I figure you'll need your protein."

Leon leaned back in his chair, uncrossing his legs. He rubbed his chin a little, considering. "That so?"

"Hmm. Yep. A thing you should know about me?" She shifted. He settled back and she slid over his lap, straddling him, "I'm really, really, really good in bed."

His eyes twinkled. His hands shifted and jerked up that skirt. The thong? RED.

She was a killer. He was happy to die at her hands, seriously.

He rolled her over his lap, pleasing them both. Her face flushed, exciting him. His voice was breathy and hoarse, delighting her, "Funny thing about that...so am I."

"Hmm." She dropped her mouth, gripped his ears, and pulled his head back to lick his mouth, "Prove it."

Admittedly, it could have gone more romantic. Instead?

He threw her over his files, the picture of Simmons fluttered off onto the floor like a pervy peeing tom to watch them, and he barely got unzipped. The panties ended up ripped off her body while she grunted like an animal.

The skirt turned into a belt, his holster ended up dangling around his waist as she grabbed at his chest to pull up his shirt and bite him like some kind of beast, and he hammered into her so hard it rocked the desk on the floor like thunder.

His phone beeped and his secretary came on, "Mr. Kennedy? Are you alright in there, sir?"

He was balls deep in Claire Redfield and riding her like a jockey headed for the win. She slapped his face and jerked him down to stick her tongue in his mouth. Her suit was missing buttons and the top beneath pulled down so he could palm her breasts like a horny teenager.

His hand flicked over her humping groin where they were smashing together and she went. She went while his secretary was buzzing him.

He watched her face turned tomato red, she tightened around him like a fist, and he threw his hand over her mouth while she came- shouting and bucking and flopping like she'd been hit by electricty.

And Leon had rasped, "I'm great! I'm good. Thanks. Good. Shit. I'm good."

The secretary sounded less amused as she informed him, "Sir, need I remind you that you are on duty?"

Claire jerked him down, she fed him her tongue and he sucked it hard, fucking her audibly. It sounded like a slapping flesh and sucking. It was filthy, on the tax payer's dime, no lie there.

She grabbed his throat to hold on while she bucked, he grunted and lost his mind, and he came in her - unexpectedly and excitedly and to her mass pleasure. Claire grabbed his hips to grind him in her body and he grunted, hoarsely, "...yeah. Shit. Story of my life."

It was, officially, the best day of his life as well.
.......

Dulvey, Louisiana – 2017
........

The Baker Plantation – Luca's Playroom – 2332 (11:32 pm)
........

She held onto the memory of it while Lucas touched her. He set her up in his "studio". He turned on the lights to shine on her. He stripped her to her panties and her tank top.

He vibrated with rage as he moved.

"I'm gonna enjoy this, Claire. Oh, god, I am. I wasn't gonna touch you before, ya know. I wasn't. Eveline don't let me touch you. Not usually. But I'm gonna do it. Why? Why? Your stupid husband is the biggest mother fucking asshole on Earth. He thinks I'm all talk."

He grabbed her face and jerked it up. He kissed her and his breath was fetid and rank. His skin oily. His eyes insane.

Claire bit his mouth so hard she took his lip with it when he jerked his head back, shrieking. Blood sprayed all over her front but it was ok. It was worth it. He let her go.

He back handed her and it threw her from the chair to the floor. She crawled and he Lucas kicked her in the ass so she fell on her face. He ground his boot into her butt until she scrambled in pain, trying to roll over.

"BITCH!"

Claire laughed into the dirty floor, giving him the finger over her shoulder. He grabbed her finger and snapped it. The bone gave with a wet POP. Claire gasped but didn't scream. This was ok. He could break her bones.

As long as he didn't kiss her again.

She kicked him in the groin from the ground with a warrior's cry."GAWD DAMNIT!"

He snapped her ankle in his hands with an audible wet give. Claire gasped and bowed in pain, jerking like a landed fish.

Lucas grabbed her panties and jerked. She went up and the threw her over the table beside them on her belly. Bottles of beer scattered and the balloons hanging off the disgusting clown that waited in his chair bobbled with the assault.

Lucas kicked her feet apart like he'd frisk her and pushed her down on her face.

"I'll show you who's all talk!" He grabbed at her panties and jerked them down to her knees, Claire shouted in rage, and the room shimmered.

Eveline stood in the corner, watching them beneath the waterfall of her oily black hair.

Lucas froze, breathing hard, "...I wasn't doin nuthin! I swear to gawd!"

He was thrown off Claire so fast she HEARD all the bones in him crunch and pop. He went through the far wall and brought it crumbling around him a spill of sheet rock and plaster. He squealed like a pig and struggled but it was fruitless. He was fighting the fountain head. He didn't stand a chance.

Eveline whispered, sharply, "You don't touch my mommy...PIG!"

The crunching and popping was awful. Lucas screamed high and frightened. His bones twisted and rolled. His arms were ripped from his sockets in a gush of blood and muscle. His legs dislocated and wrapped around his own torso obscenely. Eveline turned him into a human pretzel while he shrieked in rage and pain.

Claire pulled up her pants, scrambling to the far wall. She huddled, watching the horror of Lucas torture...and secretly loving it.

Eveline destroyed him. She left him swimming in his own blood and screaming.

She knelt in front of Claire and touched her face. But the form was ghostly. It shimmered and felt cold.

"Mommy...protect yourself from him. We'll be together soon."

She flickered away and Claire rolled to her feet. She backed up, listening to the shrieking of the deformed Lucas as he tried to untangle himself and got a mouthful of his own ass that Eveline had shoved in his face for it.

Claire couldn't stop the feeling of triumph that spilled into her.

And the smile that curled over mouth was entirely Eveline.

He'd get free soon enough. She knew it.

And she'd never get out of his playground alone.

But she'd be DAMNED if she sat here and waited for him to get his hands on her again.

She escaped deeper into his playground, ready to pull a Zoe and keep on hiding.

The Baker Plantation – Old House – 2336(11:36 pm)

With the lantern in place, they could finally begin to search the second floor. It was pitch dark and smelled so badly of mold that it was cloying. It stuck in the mouth and left the lungs feeling wet and ruined.

They searched through the darkness, following the suggestions of a tiny drawing they'd found lying in a filthy bedroom.

Cabinets filled with ruined baby dolls, half melted, half missing pieces. Boxes of toys turned red with blood and black with mold. A doll house with drawings by a child desperate for love - and meant to destroy. Her family tortured. Her family - mutated.

A rocking chair with a bear with its mouth sewn shut, covered in mold...somehow rocking.

Chris whistled and drew Leon's attention. He turned and the world shimmered.

Eveline's voice filled his ears, soft and earnest, "Stay away."

Leon didn't just hear her.

He FELT her in his head.

He staggered on his feet and Zoe grabbed his arms. They locked eyes in the darkness.

She whispered, "Keep it together. Please."

Chris was ducking through a narrow doorway beyond the filthy broken bed in the center of the room.

Voodoo dolls hung suspended from the ceiling like a gallows of grotesque fun. The ruined baby dolls were in piles around your feet as you walked. Chris cursed under his breath as he saw what waited.

A girl - long dead - suspended in a parody of life like she'd been reaching for help. She was decaying, covered in pus and mold and rot. And a label on her arm told them she was what they needed: The D-Series.

Chris gripped her wrist and pulled. The arm squelched and made a sucking sound. It came free in his hand with the stench of rotting meat.

He gagged a little and backed off, shaking.

In the bedroom, a giggle started.

It filled up the whole room until it echoed. Zoe covered her ears. Leon swayed where he stood.

Chris emerged with the arm from the little cubby.

"Got it! You got the head Zoe?"

"Yeah. In my trailer...Chris...do you hear that?"

He tilted his head, listening. But all was quiet.

"No. Should I?"

Eveline darted across the floor, shimmering in and out, she giggled and disappeared. Leon whispered, "Fuck. Am I still high?"

Zoe shook her head, answering him, "No. You're turning. We need to hurry."

They moved back through the darkness. Eveline's laughter chased them around. She spoke again, in Leon's head, "Mommy is in trouble. Hurry. Mommy needs you."

And he said, "Lucas has Claire."

Chris stopped, vibrating in the dark. "What did you say?"

Leon repeated it, low and angry, "That mother fucker has my wife."

Zoe touched Chris' arm and laid her other on Leon's wrist, "No. Don't. Don't. If you let the rage get you, it makes it easier for her to get in. It's what she wants. We'll get Claire back. But we need to make the serum. We can cure it now. Please. Don't lose sight of what matters here. We can't save anyone if we all turn."

They moved out into the heat again, heading for the trailer.

Zoe opened the door to move inside and one of the molded was there waiting.

She shrieked and it hit her. It hit her in the face so hard she was thrown up and out like she was nothing. Chris shot it as it raced down the stairs, Zoe hit the line of trees and was lost as she fell, and Leon spun a kick at the thing on the ground that ran at him.

It looked like a spider or something. Half licker, half mold man, half spider. Three halves, somehow that ratio was possible, and it was faster than shit. It took him down as it landed on him, trying to stab him to death and eat his face.

He humped his hips, it went up, and Chris hip kicked it to send it flying. He shot it in mid-air while it flew. It hit the wall of the trailer and went down - motionless.

The mold man took a swipe for Chris' head, Leon jerked him by the vest and threw him over his head, and he shot the mold man in the face from the ground. As he went, Chris tucked into a roll and came up firing.

The mold man went to his back, missing limbs, twitched and went still.

Chris shouted, "Zoe!?"

The night was silent around them. He moved toward the treeline where they'd lost her.

And Claire's little iPod in Leon's pocket tinkled. He pulled it free.

Lucas' face was there, grinning, "Spy boy! You and soldier numb nuts over there just done fucked yourself stupid. Guess what? I got yer woman and my sister now. Some fucking heroes you are! Outsmarted and defeated. I'm gonna fuck yer wife. I'm gonna fuck my sister all up. And then I'm gonna kick both yer stupid asses without lifting a finger."

Leon laughed, teeth gnashing, "You lay a finger on her, on either of them, I'll rip your head off, shove it up your ass, and fuck you to death with it."

Lucas chortled, giddy, "You stupid as you are ugly, spy boy. I got what you want here. I got yer wife. I got your HEAD. That's right. I stole it fair and square. You want it? Better come on by and get it. Just so you know, I got a little game in place for ya. Both of ya. Oh and in case you think I'm lyin?"

He shifted his hand off camera, making a happy grin.

And Claire's voice spilled out of nowhere, "NO! OH GOD! NO! LEON HELP! HELP ME!"

Lucas grinned, wide and happy. "I'm gonna fuck her while she screams. Want me to wait for you? You wanna see the show?"

The camera turned and showed Zoe, bond to a chair. She was bloody and shaking. Lucas had cut her all up with a knife.

"That's the first part of the show. Me killing my sister alot. Like an appetizer. And then when ya'll get here? The game, the struggle, the FINALE! Maybe I'll nut up in your shit, spy boy, and knock your wife up. Whatcha think?"

Chris' voice filled the silence, low and growling, "You touch either of them again, they're not gonna be able to scrape up what's left of you with a spoon."

Lucas grinned, dancing with his camera, "Ooooo. I like it. I LIKE IT. Brave. And stupid. Come on then! Come on IN! Let's see how fucking smart you are...for a dumb ass with more muscles than brains. And a fucking girly haired idiot without a dick. Bring it! Brains over braun assholes. Come on in."

The image clicked off.

Chris licked his teeth, rolling his neck.

Leon was half smirking and shaking his head.

"This dumb asshat. You ever met anyone so fucking stupid? Who the hell does he think he's dealing with?"

Chris laughed, glancing around the soggy grove where they found themselves. The only possible option was the far door built into the weird metal structure they'd left unexplored.

"Some average idiot in the middle of nowhere, clearly."
Leon chuckled, pocketing the iPod. "What fun would that be?"

"Right? Running through the bayou in bad loafers. Sounds like dumb ass video game."

"Yeah. A bad one. Who would play that shit? Mortal Kombat man. THAT'S a video game."

Chris snorted, rolling his eyes. "Call of Duty, dumb ass. Mortal Kombat's for dweebs and kindergartners."

"Pfft. All you need is Mortal Kombat and Mario Kart man. Endless fun for days. Save for whacking off, I haven't had more fun in my life than stomping your ass into the dirt on Rainbow Road."

Chris laughed high and loud. "You must be joking. If your fucking is anything like your driving Kennedy, it's a wonder my sister hasn't kicked your ass to the curb yet. I've never seen a bigger mess behind the wheel."

Leon gave him the finger and got one in return.

They reached the door and waited. A trap, clearly, but what choice was there here?

Leon mused, softly, "Tell me this ends with my wife alive."

Joking aside, Chris patted his shoulder in a brotherly show of support, "We don't leave here without her. And she's leaving here Claire, not their goddamn puppet. I'll rip this place apart brick by brick before I let them have her."

Leon nodded, face stony. "Zoe too. I won't leave her. She's saved my life too often. She goes with us."

Chris felt something shift in his chest. He answered, gruffly, "Oh, yeah. They're done with her. She's ours now. And they won't touch her again."

"Agreed. Ready?"

"Show time."

"Human Tank this shit, dude. Do it."

And Chris Redfield lifted his foot and kicked in the door to Lucas' playground.

Chapter Text

Fourteen: Clown Shoes
...........

The Baker Plantation – Lucas Playroom – 0000 (Midnight)
...........

The keypad beside the door was taunting them.

It was just sitting there waiting for them to press the right combination. The metal grated door in front of them was waiting to open.

It was all so simple really.

Leon pursed his lips, "You do it."

Chris lifted a brow at him. They held deadpan expressions for a long moment. Finally, Chris answered, with an edge of humor, "...chicken shit."

Leon shrugged and stepped back. Chris did as well.

Curious, Leon lifted his brows. "Put in the combination you found on that paper."

Chris laughed dryly, "...hah. Right. Sure. Because, you know how bad guys like to leave their super secret combinations just lying around for the other side to find. Makes perfect sense."

"Dude, Lucas doesn't seem like the most organized villian, just sayin."

"No. But he doesn't seem like a benevolent idiot either." Chris lifted his assault rifle on the keypad. "Let's try it the old fashioned way."

"You mean the Chris Redfield way?"

"Precisely."

"You gonna punch it in the face?"

"Har har har." He shot the keypad from three feet away.

It sparked. It burped flame. It made a sound like a ticking engine cooling down.

The door buzzed and swung open.

They both waited.

Too easy.

Leon mused, "What's the catch?"

The answer came in the form of an enormous bound pile of sharpened tree trunks. There was a crunch of sound, similar to that of a boot on glass, and the swinging pendulum of death came flying down from one side of the ceiling beside the door. It whooshed. It crashed into the opposite side and embedded, and it left them standing there a little wide eyed.

Leon licked his teeth, "...so...ouch."

"Right."

"Kudos on the Chris Redfield method."

Chris snorted a little, "Right? You're welcome."

They eased through the door, Leon first. It was dark on the other side and screamed, "GO BACK THE WAY YOU CAME!" But they couldn't do that. They had women waiting for them. It was time to pull their balls outta their back pockets and get moving here.

Chris was almost through the door and a giggle had him start to turn. Too late, not fast enough, Lucas kicked him so hard in the ass it threw him to his hands and knees on the floor. Leon shouted and turned and Lucas shot him twice in the side as he turned.

He was thrown backward in the door and hit a table. His body slid across it and off the other side with a grunt of pain where he hit the floor on his side in a pool of blood.

Chris started to get up and Lucas drilled him in the back of his vest twice with the big Magnum in his hands. It put him right back on his face in the dark. "Stay down, soldier numb nuts. Or the next one goes in your head."

On the ground, Chris muttered, "I'm gonna enjoy killing you."

"Yeah? Looks like you're on the losing side at the moment, you fat bastard, save your heroic speeches for Malcolm X. I gotta game set up for you two assholes. Play it and live? And we'll see how much farther you get. Die? And I'll enjoy feeding your rotten corpses to the crocs in the swamp."

Chris started to get up and Lucas kicked him in the face for it.

It threw him over onto his back.

He looked up from the floor where he lay, spitting blood.

"Yeah, dumb ass, maybe I should kill you and let spy boy over there figure it out on his own...if he lives."

His face twitched. He jerked a little. And he shouted, high and angry, "EVELINE! I'm just TELLING THEM! Ok!? I'm just WARNING them!"

He twitched. He jerked again. He backed up, the gun wavering. "FINE! FINE FINE FUCKING FINE!" He pointed at Chris on the floor, "You lucky, numb nuts, you lucky. But your lucks about to run out!"

Lucas shot him once more in the vest and slammed the gate, chortling with glee, "GAME ON GIRLS! Try not to cry too hard when you lose."

The sound of his footsteps retreating chased him off into the dark. Chris waited, breathing ragged around the pain, and finally shouted, into the dark, "Leon! You ok?"

From somewhere behind him, the breathy answer, "I'm fucked up. I'm bleeding everywhere. You got any of that shit on you from Zoe?"

Chris rolled up, clutching his chest against the ache, and moved through the dark room to where Leon was sitting against the wall. He was pale and sitting in blood. Lucas had put two in the right side of his chest. He was soaked in blood and panting.

Chris knelt in it and grabbed some of the ointment Zoe had given them. Leon lifted his ragged shirt and breathed around the pain, "Little ferret faced coward."

"Right? He's done. Stay here and wait. I'll find him and put him down."

Leon laughed, raggedly. "No way. You think I'll let you have all the fun?"

Chris slapped a bandage over the bullet wounds and had the other man turning green with pain. "Yeah, you look ready to rumble brother, let me tell ya."

He rose and scanned the area. It was so dark, they really couldn't see a damn thing. On the ground, Leon mused, "What kinda game you think he wants to play?"

"...our luck? Twister."

Leon laughed, shaking a little, "Fuck that shit. Last time we played Twister, you tripped me and farted in my face."

"That's the unspoken rule of the game, pal. When you fell, you get the smell. It's not my fault. It's the rules."

Leon shook his head, chuckling. "Help me up, you pleeb."

Chris grabbed his hand and jerked, sending him sailing to his feet. Leon staggered but kept his feet. "Easy, cheesy, I'm a little woozy here."

Chris rolled his eyes and stepped into the archway of the next dark room, "Pansy. Get it together or I'm gonna start calling you Carlos because you're a big baby."

"...uncalled for."
Chris snorted out a laugh, "Retracted."

They moved into the next room and a flickering candle light erupted to their right.

The reaction was immediate. It was. It was just...it was just the way it was. Chris swung, hooking a right so hard that it smashed into the ugly face reveleaed in the candle light.

The clown holding the candle was thrown out of its chair by the force of it. Its face collapsed around the driving fist. Its head seperated from its neck and squeaked the red nose on its face angrily in the process. The body went to the floor in a clatter of chair and sound and the head went flying. It hit the far wall, splatted, slid down in squishy sound and rolled uselessly across the floor.

The candle tumbled to the floor and rolled and Leon picked it up.

He had both brows lifted.

Chris was breathing sharp and heavy.

The silence dragged out.

And Chris finally spoke, "...sorry. Habit. I fucking hate clowns."

"...homie don't play that, guy. Seriously."

Chris laughed, lightly, "Sorry, Bozo."

"I don't think sorry works when you decapitate a guy, dude. Just sayin."

Lucas' voice spilled around them, "Poor Mr. Pennywise! What did he ever do to you!? Spy boy! You still alive? Guess I need to work on my aim!"

Leon rolled his eyes, shifting the candle in the dark, "Hard to do that when I've ripped out your eyes, you pathetic piece of shit."

"Ooooh so tough. I like it. I do. But I like aiming my big gun at your wife more, I promise you. Maybe I'll put my barrel in her mouth and blow my load. What do ya think?"

Chris laughed, harsh and loud, "She'll bite it off, you stupid asshole. Have you met my sister?"

"I have! But she'd do anything to protect you and that pretty girl you're with. Imagine that. Everybody has a weakness, soldier numb nuts, even Claire. Hers is that idiot you're with. All I have to do is show her this little picture of him soaked in blood, and she'll do anything I want."

Leon shook his head, feeling the throb of pain in his chest and rage in his blood. "You touch her, you so much as breathe on her, I won't stop until I've skinned you alive and worn you as a coat."

"Pretty tough talk for a dead guy. Prove it, moron, and see who wins at the end of the day."

There was a cake waiting with a card on the top. It read: Happy Fucking Birthday - Gotta light?

Chris lifted a brow. Leon moved toward it.

And a sprinkler kicked on above them, showering them in rapid water. It soaked them - and put out the candle.

Leon turned and went back to the stove in the kitchen they'd left behind. He played with the knobs and the burner kicked on, spewing fire with a pop pop and a hiss of sound and gas igniting. It smelled like methane and worked like a charm. The candle was relit.

Chris was studying the water system above the door. He considered it and reached up.

Leon waited, smirked, and watched the big guy jerk the whole shittily assembled pipe system right out of the wall. It groaned, it spilled water, but it was so hastily installed that it was barely hanging there anyway.

Leon crossed under the over hang again and went to the cake.

He poked the candle in the frosting and waited.

There was a pop of sound and Chris grabbed him by the belt. He jerked. Leon was ripped off his feet with a grunt and the cake exploded along with the table beneath it. They barely missed behind incinerated in the rush of fire.

The lights flickered on and Lucas yelled, "SHHHHHEEEEEUUUUT! Why won't you just die already!?"

There was a whoosh of sound and a brick of dynamite fell onto the floor in front of them. It had a timer on it with ten seconds remaining.

Leon shouted. Chris grabbed the dynamite and moved.

Leon shot the decrepit wall twice and Chris kicked it as the sheet rock crumbled. He kicked it again, watched the boards and the lower half of the wall cave in, and the threw the dynamite into the hole left behind.

They backed off, they took cover...and the wall erupted. It blew apart like a grenade tossed right into the center of a pinata. The world shook. The ceiling rained dust and debris down on them. There was a smattering like machine gun fire of sheet rock and wood that flew around them in protest, and the silence followed.

Rising, Leon looked at what was left of the wall.

The dynamite had cleared a huge hole into the next area.

A monitor sat on the table there. It flickered, showing Zoe and Claire bound in some kind of shed. Zoe looked pretty bad. She was cut up like he'd been trying to dice her for a salad.

Claire looked frightened but ok.

The small bound mummified head sat there, waiting for them to take it. Too easy. AGAIN. It was all too easy. What was the catch here?

Leon picked up the D-Series head. Chris said, to the monitor, "Are you alright?"

Claire answered, swiftly, "I'm ok. But Zoe's bad. She's bad. Hurry."

They cleared through the door into the small shack beyond. There was a narrow staircase. There was the smell of fetid water again and the rustle of wind. They were near the boathouse, according to Chris' built in GPS and the watch attached to Leon's wrist. They were really close to a pretty decent escape route.

Chris mused, quietly, "I left my boat not far from here."

"You sure?"

The big guy smirked a little, laughing, "Yeah. I'm sure. Let's get these damn women and get the hell outta here."

"You gonna flee? What about burning this place down?"

Leon stumbled a little and Chris steadied him with a hand around his arm. The former rookie cop was pale and shaky. He needed a break here and a minute to rest. There wasn't time for that, unfortunately, but there was no reason to say it out loud.

So, instead, Chris replied, "Oh, it's getting lit up like the fourth of July buddy, no lie there. But I want my sister and Zoe safe first."

Leon leaned on the table by the stairs for just second, "Wanna talk about Zoe?"

Chris shook his head, "Nothing to say. She's a good girl. She's been trapped in this hell hole for years. She saved your stupid life and Claires and mine. I'm not leaving her behind."

Leon nodded, sagely, watching the other guy's face, "You have feelings for her?"

Chris shrugged, saying nothing, he cleared the staircase with his assault rifle. His expression was stony. "Doesn't matter. I haven't known her for more than a few hours here. I'm not trying to pick out matching china patterns or something, Kennedy, just save her from a life spent in fear and servitude to a monster."

"...mm-hmm. Whatever you say, big guy."

Chris rolled his eyes and eased up the stairs. He shouldered opened the door with a creak of rusty hinges.

Claire shouted from within the small chamber, "OH! CHRIS!"

He pushed it open fully and angled his gun around, covering as he moved to where she was bound. A quick slice set her free and he moved toward Zoe where she was slumped against the far wall and bound to a pipe. The small room was a shack above the boat dock. He knew his boat was hidden not far from here.

It was waiting for them to jump on and get to safety.

Afterward, he'd lead the BSAA back here to finish this place off.

Chris knelt, slicing Zoe free from the pipe. She slouched forward and he caught her, holding her up right. She was soaked in blood. Lucas had done a number on her.

He'd caved his name into her narrow chest like some kind of brand.

The RAGE - it made his mouth dry. It made his hands tremble. He scooped her sweaty hair back from her thin face and saw the slashes along her face. Lucas he carved her face up like a turkey.

Zoe sagged forward into his arms and her back was visible.

Lucas had carved REDFIELD into her back.

Zoe was shaking like she had hypothermia. She was quivering with pain.

It took Chris a long moment to realize she actually wasn't at all...he was. Him. He was quivering. The cool, calm, collected guy on a mission was gone. Dead. Buried. Lost. Lucas had tortured this girl to teach him a lesson. He'd tortured her for sport, for fun, like the psycho he was - he'd made her an example to any who challenged him.

He'd failed to take it out on Claire...so he'd taken it out on the girl who'd spent so long hidden from him.

The girl who'd set loose all of those before in an attempt to help them escape.

He'd finally gotten his hands on her, and he'd nearly killed her for her charity.

Chris tilted her face up to him, trembling, "Zoe? Honey, are you alright? Can you look at me?"

Across the room, Claire was frozen, watching them. What was that? What was all over him? What? Some kind of softness she'd never seen before. What was that? Her brother cared about this girl he'd just met.

He cared about her.

It was startling to see it.

The door squeaked and creaked and Claire turned. She made a small sound and ran.

He looked so bad. He looked so used up. He was pale and shaky. He was bleeding on his side. She caught him as he staggered a little and wrapped him close.

His arms came up to band around her, holding her so tight it stole her breath.

Claire whispered, "What did he do to you?"

Leon laughed, softly, "Sucker punch, darlin. His turn is comin, I promise."

Claire pressed a kiss to his neck and eased him to sit on the table beside them. She lifted his shirt, hissing a little, "What the hell, Leon? Can't you ever finish something like this without getting all fucked up?"

He lifted a brow at her, "The first few fuck ups were courtesy of you, my loving wife, so why don't you turn that finger of blame back around where it belongs?"

Claire took things from his pack to treat his wound. She shook her head, looking pale and tired. Leon cupped her face while she worked and drew her eyes to him.

Skinny, he thought, she was nearly unrecognizable.

Save for those eyes. That fire in her? It was all Claire. Skin and bones or not, she was still his girl. She was still his world. He let her finish binding his side and said, "Let's get you cured and go home."

She smiled, eyes teary. She took his face in her hands,"...how's Bob?"

"...shit. Really? All this time and it's that dumb mutt you ask about?"

She laughed, lightly, and kissed him.

Zoe blinked herself out of the fog where she found she was floating to feel heavy and tired. No..heavy. She was heavy. Because she was wearing a shirt that was WAY too big for her.

She sat up, blinking. She was in the heavy and somehow silky feeling shirt that Chris had formerly been compressed in. Where it was attractively tight fitting on his enormous frame, it dwarfed her skinny one. It also was not helping her foggy brain wake up from wonderland to see him strapping himself into the tactical vest without a shirt now.

It was like eye candy without end to watch all those muscles bunch and roll and stay exposed under the vest.

She should offer the shirt back.

Really.

She kept it. One - she liked the smell of him on her. Two - it kept him mostly naked from the waist up. It was, clearly, win/win.

Leon and Claire joined them and Zoe took the pieces of the D-Series. "...give me a minute. Just a minute."

She dragged a bowl down from a shelf beside her and took Leon's Magnum. She used the butt of it to grind dust into the bowl. They watched, listening to her mutter, as she prepped the ingredients and prepared the serum.

When it was finished, there was enough for two samples. She lifted her head at them. "...we need more."

She held out the two syringes, eyes hooded and calm. "We need more. There's not enough."

Leon and Chris met eyes over her head. Leon glanced at Claire. She nodded, as if the three of them had just spoken inside their heads together.

Zoe glanced between them, "What? What is it?"

Chris answered, quietly, "I'm ok. I'll make it until my team gets here. Kennedy? He's ok too. You two need it, now, Zoe. Now. Forget us. And use them on yourselves."

Zoe shook her head, "What...what if they don't make it in time? What if that doesn't happen?"

Leon shrugged, laughing lightly, "Won't be the first time I played fast and loose with my life, kid. I'll be ok."

Chris agreed, quietly, "We do this for a living, Zoe. We know what we're doing. There's plenty of time for us. There isn't for the two of you. You're almost done for. And Claire as well. Hurry. And stop trying to be the hero here."

Zoe shook her head, looking pale and tired, "I'm not a hero, Chris Redfield, just a girl trying to stay alive."

She took the first syringe and drove it, unceremoniously, into Claire's shoulder. The redhead gasped. She jerked. She twitched.

Leon grabbed her to keep her from falling over.

It wasn't outwardly obvious, not even a little bit, but she whispered, "...oh my god..."

Leon tilted his head, watching her. And Claire breathed, "I can't hear her anymore."

She looked like she might have just seen Santa Claus, "Leon...I can't hear Eveline in my head anymore."

He touched her face and skimmed a thumb over her cheekbone. Zoe tried to sit up and slid, shaking. She was so weak. Chris scooped her up in his arms and stole her breath with the speed of it. She clung, trembling.

"Sorry, I'm ok. Some hero huh?"

He took the syringe from her, "You look like a hero to me. Last I checked, you just saved my sister."

Her head lolled against his chest, "...not just a pretty face after all..."

Chris smiled lightly, "Pretty and pretty fucking awesome, no lie there."

He turned her into him and pulled the cap on the syringe -

And the world erupted around them.

The floor ripped away in a scream of wood. Claire shouted. Leon grabbed for her to keep her from falling. Chris and Zoe rolled across the ground and the syringe went skidding, caught at the last moment by Leon before it plummeted into what was now a cavernous drop into the wet wilds beneath them.

And something dark and huge and fightening climbed through the ripped away floor.

It had a big red eye. It had dark tendrils and dripping tentacles. It reminded Leon of the butt faced monsters he'd faced in China. It was kinda like a man with a head and arms and one big BIRKIN style eye watching him.

And the voice of Jack Baker. Loud, grumbling, roaring with unrefined rage.

"YOU WILL NOT TAKE MY DAUGHTER FROM MEEEEEE!"

Apparently, even a chainsaw couldn't put a stop to Daddy.

Chapter Text

Fifteen: Army
........................

The Baker Plantation – Outside Boathouse – 0125
.........................

The world blew apart in a splintering, screeching, screaming mess of wood and flying rot. It was chaos. It was a moment of knowing there was no time like the present to find yourself connected to a higher power - and start praying.

Zoe was wrapped in the tentacle of the creature that had once been Jack Baker. She was struggling but weak. Chris was firing into one of the eyes on the thing that were flashing red and inflamed. Where was Claire?

He couldn't see Claire. Gripping the edge of the dismantled boathouse where he dangled, Leon tried to free himself from the wreckage. But an enormous hunk of rotted wood was embedded in his stomach above his left hip. The blood was everywhere, soaking him, stinking oddly in the swamp that smelled of fetid water and flesh.

Chris shouted at him now, drawing his wobbling attention. "KENNEDY! THE FUCKING EYES! SHOOT IT IN THE EYES!"

THE EYES.

Of course it was the eyes. Wasn't it always the eyes? Jack Baker. William Birkin. Saddler. Curtis Miller. Tyrants. Hunters. Towns people. Zombies. Dogs. Death. Always one thing in common: AIM FOR THE FUCKING HEAD.

His blood hand slid over the ground to grip the butt of his Magnum. It was wedged in between a rotted floor board and fractured piece of lawn chair. His vision was graying on one side, alarming him, but his hand was steady as it gripped the butt of the weapon and jerked it clear. It was steadier still as he aimed it at the big red eye that was currently attached to the flopping face that was trying to kill his brother in law.

Baker's voice echoed around them, lilting, "You tried to kill me daughter! You tried to plot with my BLOOD to destroy me! You tried to kill my FAMILY! I'm gonna watch you DIE SCREAMING!"

The tentacle slashed. The shotgun in Redfield's hands jerked and took a piece of it. It smashed into his chest and sent him flying and would have impaled him where he landed...but Leon blew apart the eye on that enormous head in a crushing spray of blood courtesy of the last round in his Magnum. Jack Baker's mutated body squealed and tossed with rage.

It shook the floor. The tentacle changed course and came for him and the gun clicked empty as it looped around his neck and jerked. The wood sliced and stole his breath as he was jerked off it like a tortured moth. He couldn't even scream. It was too painful for that. He just went up and out in an arc of blood, tossed carelessly by tentacles into the great beyond.

The swamp rushed up to meet him and he went down and under. Cool, warm, rushing - he was all these things as he fought to find the strength to push free of the crushing waves of stagnant water. A pair of hands jerked him up, shouting into his face, "-e, LEON!"

Claire.

Frazzled, terrified, she was dragging him to the shore. He whispered, gently, "Stop screaming..."

And she knelt in the bog to clutch at him. Her thin face was soaked. Her breaths harsh. She was sobbing. It must be bad, he mused, for her to be sobbing. She wasn't a crier. Ever. "Oh, god, you're bleeding so bad. It's bad."

Her hands slipped in the blood on his chest, trying to stem the rush of it. It was bad. He was good enough at what he did to know the bullets lodged his chest had made their way to a lung and the wood in his side had ripped something, caused some kind of aortic aneurysm. He was dying. They both knew it.

He whispered, "Put me down, Claire. Hurry. Now."

She slapped his face and brought him gasping from the dark edge he was on. "Shut up! Idiot! Get UP!" She dragged him up against his will but without her massive monster strength, she was too small, too weak, too human. She stumbled in the mud and the thing that was Jack Baker was coming.

It no longer had Zoe. He couldn't find Chris in the mess. Dead probably, that's the only way the thing survived a Redfield assault, was if Redfield was dead.

Jesus.

It raced over the wet ground toward them. Claire shoved him to the ground and stood over him. She grabbed the only thing she could find to defend him - the chunk of a piece of the boathouse. She wielded it like a baseball bat, screaming, "COME ON! YOU SON OF A BITCH! YOU WANNA KNOW ABOUT FAMILY!? THIS IS MINE, YOU STUPID BASTARD! AND YOU DON'T TOUCH WHAT'S MINE!"

Lord.

His heart swelled, painfully, in his chest. Maybe he'd die here. But he'd die defended by a fucking Amazon.

The tentacle tail of the thing shot toward her so fast. It flashed in his head like that croc he'd faced under Raccoon City. Leon lurched forward and took the hit of it even as the impact sent them both flying. She grabbed for him, shouting, "NO!"

But it didn't matter. She hit Jack's tail with the board, it cracked like lightning, the tail hit Leon and her in a burst of power that sent them both up and out. Something in his chest collapsed with the impact.

Done, he thought, even as he came down on his face in the swamp, he was done. His chest spread numbness to the back of his neck. Paralyzed.

"DADDY NO!"

Leon's eyes turned into the dark to find Chris Redfield riding the thing that was Jack Baker like some kind of nightmare stallion. It bucked and tossed, trying to throw him off as he fired into it from pointblank range. Zoe was running toward them, limping and screaming. Claire gripped his shoulders and rolled Leon to his back.

"GET UP!"

And he whispered, "I can't...Claire...look at me..."

Jack finally get a mouthful of Chris leg and jerked him off, shaking him like a dog with a bone. Of all the things Leon had heard in his life, hearing Chris Redfield scream in pain was the worst. They were done. They were beaten. It was OVER.

Zoe screamed, "DADDY! Let him GO!"

The tail shot at Claire again. He tried, so hard, to shift to cover her. But he didn't need to, not this time, because Zoe Baker stuck the syringe with her own cure into the eye of her father.

The world erupted in warbling, tree curling, skin curdling roars. Jack Baker tossed Chris like he was nothing, sending him flipping end over end into the bayou. Zoe raced after his lost form, shouting. Jack jerked and spasmed. He tossed and screamed. He grabbed at the rotted boathouse and brought it all down in a blazing bed of destruction.

The world was on fire. It was all burning. And Jake disappeared into the flames in a screaming curl of black tentacles and melting fear.

He couldn't breathe. His lips were numb.

Claire felt along his side, desperately, and he whispered, "It's over, Claire. Get the fuck outta here. Now."

She tried to rise, tried to put him over her shoulders like a fireman. The girl in Raccoon could have done it. This skinny little thing had no hope of it. She dropped him in the water, screaming her rage into the dark.

"Please! Leon! Get up ! Please!"

But he couldn't. On his side in the mud, he whispered, "I'm paralyzed, Claire."

She shook her head, trembling. "No! It's just...it's temporary. It's temporary from the pain. From the damage. Just help me, please baby, help me and we'll get you out of here. Please."

She shouted it, dragging him up again, but he couldn't do anything more than collapse when her weak legs failed her. Down in the mud, he couldn't even grunt. He just tried to hang on, so she could say goodbye.

"LEON! I swear to GOD, stop doing this! GET UP! Ok?! Just get up."

Bargaining. She was almost there. Going through those phases of death quickly now. "Please, Leon, get up now. Hurry."

"I'm paralyzed, Claire." Christ he sounded so calm. "My back is broken. Ok? I'm paralyzed. I'm done. Find your brother and get out of here. Now. Before Lucas finds you. GO."

She was, literally, dragging him through the swamp - like Atreyu in the Neverending Story- pulling Artax through the Swamp of Sadness like it would be enough to keep him alive. She was shouting with rage, weeping with anger, his fucking girl - all fight, even when it was over. "CHRIS! HELP ME! PLEASE! CHRIS!?"

His gaze slid to one side, his breathing harsh and low. She wasn't alone in the swamp anymore. But it wasn't Chris coming for her - it was Lucas. "LOOK AT THIS! BIG HERO! HOLY SHIT ON A SANDWICH MADE OF SEX! Fucking spy guy here is done! He's WORMFOOD!"

He paused with the gun aimed at them as the sky rumbled and dumped rain down in a boiling wash. "Oh, this is PRICELESS!"

Claire turned, fists raised. "You mother fucker! You son of a BITCH! I will KILL YOU if you touch him! Do you hear me!? I WILL KILL YOU!"

The world echoed black and red. It went gray and blue. Leon murmured, from a numb mouth, "Run, Claire...run..."

She shook her head, standing over him. "I won't leave you."

Lucas chortled, gleefully, "You skinny bitch! You think you can stop me!? I'm going to fuck you on his dead fucking body. I'm going to watch you scream while he dies under you. I'm going to enjoy every second of it."

Leon had never had a moment so horrible in his life. He couldn't move. Lucas and Claire struggled over his body. He pistol whipped her across the face even as she kneed him in the crotch and threw an elbow that nearly took his head off. Skinny or not, she was still Claire Redfield. She didn't just give up.

The gun in Lucas hand tumbled into the water. It was inches from Leon's hand. He tried to make his fucking body reach for it. Just that one inch. Just that one moment. But his eyes stared instead in horror as Lucas punched his wife twice in the face, took a foot to his groin that had him screaming, and finally backhanded her so hard she went to her knees in the swamp.

Leon finally found the only thing he had, his voice, "NO!" Lord, it startled even him, the magnitude of that shout, "You piece of shit...I will fucking destroy you!"

"Oh, yeah? You and what army, you stupid bastard? You're a CRIPPLE!" Lucas grabbed for her hips and Claire came up swinging. She elbowed him twice in the face, grabbed a handful of his balls, and started screaming in rage as she pushed him off her.

Lucas squealed like a pig, slapping at her, and she was still human. Just human. His monster strength was more. It just was. He was outmatched, skills wise, but he'd held her here for years with that strength. He put her on her back in the swamp and stuck her under the water. She fought, screaming, slapping and drowning. Lucas wailed at her, "I would have LOVED you, BITCH! LOVED YOU! Now I'm going to watch you die first! And then I'm gonna PISS on your man over there while he dies slowly - choking on his own fucking blood!"

Leon's voice echoed in the stormy night, "BAKER! I will FUCK you up!"

"Oh, yeah? You and what army?"

It was so stormy. The wind kicking and slapping. The world burning and bleeding. The sky was mericlessly tossing rain and clouds and lighting. It was an inferno. It was impossible to see.

Or he might have seen the wrath of the gods that stepped out of the darkness. "Just me, you fucking piece of shit."

That's what he did, the guy who punched boulders, he punched things. He punched Lucas Baker so hard it sent him off his feet like he might have been hit by a bus. He was, literally, thrown off Claire from the uppercut that came from the dark. He went ass over head and into the swamp, landing on his face in the mud.

Chris put a hand down to his sister to jerk her up. Lucas struggled to his knees in the boiling rain and the big man got him around the throat, lifting him to dangle in the dark like a skinny sacrifice. "I told you not to touch her. I told you what would happen to you if you did."

Gurgling, gagging, Lucas had enough bravado left to lift his hand - and give Chris the finger.

The water beside Leon's face wavered. The gun was pulled free by his wife's eager hands. Lucas got a headbutt from Chris that echoed down the valley and sent the skinny mess to his knees in the filthy water, screaming.

From the darkness, Zoe came staggering as Lucas shouted, "I will DESTROY YOU ALL!"

And Claire shouted, "Oh, yeah?! YOU AND WHAT ARMY!?"

Her gun was echoed by the one in Zoe's hands. Two skinny, terrified, powerful women blasted him full of rounds until they both clicked empty and he fell to the filthy water in a bleeding, jerking, flopping mess.

Chris didn't leave him there. He dragged him to the fire where Jack still burned and threw him in to join his father.

And maybe it wasn't enough. Maybe it STILL wasn't enough. But it felt like victory.

Claire grabbed at Leon's face, gasping now. "CHRIS! HURRY!"

Chris lifted him, the rain covering them in a rolling wash, "Hurry! Let's get him to the boat. It won't hold all of us, Claire, but you can take him to the team. Take him quickly, through the west side of the water, along the bank."

Claire was nodding, desperately, as they loaded into Chris' boat. Leon curled on his side, wavering in and out of consciousness. "What about you?"

Chris and Zoe exchanged looks. She whispered, softly, "We can't, Claire. We have to try to find more ways to make serum. I can't leave. Eveline...she's still with me. But you should both take him. Chris? You should take him. This is my home. Apparently, it's where I'm meant to stay."

Chris shook his head, "No. I won't leave you."

Zoe looked humbled, touched, and terrified by that. But Chris added, "Claire- take him. Hurry. Find the team, send them this way - I will go with Zoe toward the other side of the swamp. The map, in the playroom, it had markings about a stockpile. If we're lucky, that idiot already has the serum there to sell off to his employer."

Claire nodded, "...take care of him."

Zoe shook her head, "...with my life. I swear to god. Now GO!"

The boat shot away in the water, Claire watching her brother disappear into the storm. Her husband was dying, her brother was lost to her, the storm was kicking up like mad. Her own body was failing her. She was so weak. She was so hungry. She was so skinny and frail. What could she do for him now?

The lights from the BSAA tent in the distance drew her. She raced the boat toward it.

On his side, Leon whispered, "Claire...it won't matter. It's too late."

She shook her head, gunning the engine. "It's never too late. Ever."

"I'll be crippled, Claire. Useless. An invalid."

She grabbed his forearm with her hand that wasn't steering the motor on the boat. "I don't give a fuck if you're a head in a jar, Leon Kennedy. You're mine. I'm keeping you."

Almost there. Less than a mile away. She poured on the speed. Maybe they'd make it. Maybe they'd live.

The water burbled. His head started to throb. And from within his mind, a voice whispered, "You can't leave me. I'll miss you."

He started to shout a warning, but the water split. It erupted. It geysered up into the dark and the pouring rain and rocked the boat like the blow hole on Moby Dick had sent them into the air. Claire screamed. The tentacles poured from the dark. She grabbed for him, shouting. "LEON!"

The lightning flashed twice before it took him and the voice inside his head said, "...she's wrong. You're not hers...you're MINE...and I'm going to fix you...DADDY."

Chapter Text

Sixteen: Ripley
.............

The Baker Plantation – Abandoned Ship – 0155

............

The horrible truth was that she'd tried so hard to protect him, to protect them, to protect everyone. In her blood, she was built that way - a savior, a survivor, a fighter. She woke on the banks of the ship that had brought her to her own misfortune and felt the gnawing pain of failure.

Lifting her head, Claire called quietly, "...Leon? Baby?"

Naturally, there was no answer. The boat they'd traveled in was over turned on the shore beside her. The mold permeated every cavity of her face and felt like it was trying to cloyingly suffocate her. There was no Leon. There was no team. There was no hope.

Her husband was missing.

She rose, groaning with the effort of it. The pain lanced into her hip and had her reaching down to grip the piece of shattered wood that was lodged there. With a small sound of pain, Claire tugged it free.

The injection was working, clearly, as the hole stayed weepy and raw. She didn't heal it. She felt the stabbing ache of a hole in her body and coveted the feeling. Pain was good here, pain meant she was alive. Pain meant she was her again.

But how could she be her without Leon?

She had to find him.

Claire ducked into the under hang of the side of the ship - weaponless and cold, caked in mud and old blood and the smell of river gone wrong. She had nothing to save him. She had nothing to protect him. She was just a tired, skinny, weak and used up shell of what she'd once been. But there was one thing she had that couldn't be discounted - she was still a Redfield. Determination was all she knew.

She wouldn't give up until she'd found him.

Abandoned Ship - 0235

The house was swirling. It was a pulsing mass of strange. Part of him thought - I must be high- and yet knew he wasn't. Not anymore. He was likely dead though.

And this was hell.

Hell was finding himself sitting, yet again, across from Jack Baker.

Only this time, as Leon tried to shift to guard himself, Jack lifted his hands in surrender.

"Easy, boy. Easy. I ain't lookin to hurt ya."

Leon just...laughed. What else could he do here? He shook his head and laughed. "You kidding me?"

And yet the house pulsed once as Jack Baker gestured, "Come here, baby. Come here and help me."

Leon shifted his gaze and Zoe emerged from the shadows, taking a place near her father on the couch. Leon felt his stomach tighten but kept his gaze direct, "Zoe? What's happening here?"

She shook her head. Her voice roiled with sympathy. "I'm so sorry. I thought you'd be more resistant. But she's winning. She's found something in you that binds you to her in a way that both Claire or I were able to withstand."

Jack gave Leon a sympathetic look as well, filled with pity. "Boy - we're good people. Maybe we ain't never done nothin worth being sainted for, sure. But we're good folks. That little girl...she gets inside you. You don't always know it's happening...but she does."

Leon remarked, "She infects you?"

Zoe shook her head again, "No. Leon...you know what he means. She gets in your head. She begins to bond to you. She possesses you in a way that leaves you..."

"...like Claire." Quietly, Leon murmurs it, feeling his hands tingle with a need to rip this "dream" down and pick up his gun. But to fight what? What could he do here? He couldn't fight his mind.

"Yeah." Jack patted his knee, companionably. "I'm real sorry for all this. For what I done to ya. For what happened to Claire. She was a sweet girl. Friendly. Hopeful. They showed up and needed help. We did all we could. Eveline - she wants a family so bad. She won't stop until she gets one. She loved Claire. Loved her like she was dyin for it. She wouldn't even let Claire use the bathroom without her. Claire was confused about time. How long she'd been here. How long they'd been at sea. She wanted to get help at first...but Evie..."

Zoe rose, pacing to the window. She whispered, "Eveline just...takes you over."

Jack nodded, looking morose. "You can stop her, Leon. I saw what you can do. I saw what you brought with ya. That soldier and your wife...ya'll aren't regular folks. You have half a shot of stopping her. If you can find her. Finding her...it ain't easy."

Leon narrowed his eyes, "She's not here?"

Zoe glanced back at him, "Oh, she's here. But she's hiding. What we see, it's not her. She's dying. She's aging. She needs us to reanimate her. Her shell is somewhere...you have to find it."

Jack nodded again, giving Leon a desperate look. "Please. Save us. Save my family. I'd help ya if I could. But even this...even this hurts. It's all that's left of me. Even when you're attacking...you're still in there."

Zoe shivered, eyeing the dark beyond the window. "You don't have long, Leon. A handful of hours maybe. Chris is right behind you. I may not last long enough to find what we need to help him."

She turned her head back to look at him. "Help me, help him...the way I helped you."

Leon glanced between them, watching the house bow and warp like a bad acid trip that never ended. The room was muffled and shaking now. He was waking up, they all knew it.

Finally, he avowed, "I won't stop until she's dust in the wind."

Zoe gripped his hand in the dream, grounding him. Jack shifted and pressed something into his palm. "Stop Lucas. Stop them both. Hurry. And thank you."

Zoe leaned down and pressed a kiss to his mouth as the house fractured around her pretty face, "You're outta time, handsome. Resist her!"

It blew apart in a burst of a light and sound. Leon grunted as he was thrust back into the real world.

He was trapped in some kind of...pod. He was a pod man. A pod person. Like Ripley in Aliens, he was waking up to find his world destroyed. He was suspended in some kind...goop, or frozen in carbonite or something.

How the hell was he going to get out?

The question was answered with a crunch and slurp of noise as something was peeled away from his face. It was Claire, looking frantic and filthy, holding his Magnum in her left hand.

She tugged at the pod he was in until he spilled forward. Surprised, he found his body was weak. He couldn't hardly do anything but collapse into her waiting arms.

She made a small sound of fear and dragged him across the steel grated floor to sit with him in her lap. "Oh, Leon, oh my god...are you ok? Are you in there?"

His voice was hoarse as he answered, "Hey hey hey hey...stayin alive...stayin alive..."

Claire shook her head, eyes soft. "Idiot. Jokes?"

"You know any other way?"

Claire held him close, taking slow breaths for a moment. "I found your Magnum in the elevator shaft. Just...lying in a pool of blood. I thought..." She trailed off, shaking her head, "Doesn't matter anymore. We need to get out of here. Eveline is here. I know she's here."

Leon tilted his head, trying to make his body sit up. "Here...or hear?"

Claire helped him to his knees on the steel floor. They were in some kind of power supply chamber for the ship. The tilt of the metal walls and the sound of hissing told him someone had dragged him all the way to the ship Claire had sailed in on. Why? What was here?

He started to attempt to make sense of it and his left foot twitched.

Claire made a small sound and moved to help him. "Your legs are starting to wake up!"

That made sense, surely, but it felt wrong. He glanced up from his lame lower body to his wife's face. She was trying to tug him to the railing of the narrow walkway where they were presumably to help him pull himself up.

But his mouth didn't say something funny. His mouth said, "I won't let you take him. He's my Daddy."

Claire froze. She let go of him and shifted away on the steel floor. The Magnum was three inches to his left. His hand shifted toward it and Claire kicked him.

His own wife. She kicked him in the chest.

He went backward, smacking into the railing with a clang of metal. He started to shout encouragement to her to finish him off and that was lost too. Because his body just...got up. He'd been paralyzed in that boat. He was sure of it. He wasn't now.

He rose, towering over his wife like a David and Goliath.

The terror was worse than anything he'd ever known. When he'd fought Claire in the house, he'd still had size and skill on his side. She was so skinny, so weak, so small - and he was still Leon Kennedy. In the hands of the enemy, it was like giving the bad guys control of Hercules.

His voice was strained and painful, but his. "Claire- run...please! Get your brother and run! Get out of here and leave me!"

She backed up on the catwalk, shaking, but she lifted the Magnum on him. "Oh...no no no. Please. Please, baby. Please. Don't do this. Don't."

He pursued her, like Jason Voorhees to his prey, he tracked her over the metal as she backed up. Her breath hitched, her hands shook, but her aim was level. Scared or not, she was still Claire. She would put him down.

It was what they did.

He couldn't stop his body from pursuing her, but he could still find his voice. It was hoarse and shaking, but it was there. "Claire! Don't try to save me! Don't be stupid! RUN! Do you hear me!? RUN!"

He dug deep for the power to shout it. It echoed around the metal room like the voice of god, "RUN CLAIRE! RUN!"

She trembled. She backed up, like a mortal from the thunder of god and she finally whispered, "You won't hurt me. You're stronger than her. You won't hurt me."

Oh, god. Oh, Jesus Christ. She was betting on him against a monster. It was the wrong bet. The wrong answer. The wrong level of trust.

He whispered, "Shoot me, Claire! Now! Do it!"

She shook her head. She lowered the gun and tossed it away. It clanged and skidded into the balcony railing. Fool! He felt his heart seize in his chest.

And Claire answered, "It's ok, Leon. It's ok. If this is how it ends, that's ok. I can't, I won't-I can't do this without you. I won't. Come take me. It's ok. It's how it should be. It should be you."

His hand shot out and gripped her throat. Delicate, smooth, it felt good under his fingers. He made a small sound of grief. His voice dragged out desperately, "...please, Claire, please. Run."

"It's ok." She looked so calm, so sure. "It's ok, baby. Me first. Than you. It's ok."

He dragged her in, her skinny frame nearly jerked off its feet. He lifted her up, one handed, and watched her face turn red when the air stopped going in. His biceps bulged, his body trembled, and her hands shifted to his face.

She stroked his hair back, softly, even as she turned purple.

Maybe there wasn't enough of him to stop this. Maybe not. Maybe he was dead already and it was all pointless. Maybe.

But he wouldn't die with her blood on his hands. Not like this. Not ever like this. His mouth trembled. He lowered it to kiss her gasping lips. Her eyes started to roll back in her head.

And his voice hissed, "Find Chris...stop her."

He lifted his arm and threw her. Surprised, she went out and zipped through the air like she was nothing. Like he was playing ultimate frisbee and she was the frisbee. She flew out the door before him and rolled, hitting the far wall of the ship.

She must have figured out what he'd do because she screamed, "LEON! NO!"

She pushed away from the wall and raced toward the door - and he kicked it closed in her face. His hands caught the lock and threw it, punching the mechanism twice to corrupt it, to shatter it - and trap himself in the power room.

Claire hit the door a second later, her face smashed against the porthole to see him. He'd never forget the horror on her, the fear, the failure. "NO! Leon! Let me in! Please! PLEASE!"

He backed up, tripping once on his own feet. But he had enough control to duck down and pick up his Magnum. "I'm done, Claire! I can't stop her! Find your brother! Get the team he brought and level this place! You have to find her body! You have to find Eveline's body to stop her! You have to-"

He lost his voice as Eveline took control of his body again. She sent him to the door to try to open it and let Claire back in.

Claire beat on the door, "Yes! Let me in!"

And his voice said, "If I let him live, will you stay and be my mommy?"

Claire's face collapsed in pain. She laid her palm on the porthole, "...yes. Anything. Please. Let him go. Please. I'll stay and love you. I promise. I swear."

For a long moment, the girl in his mind seemed almost convinced, until she hissed, "LIAR!" with his mouth.

Claire shouted, "NO! Eveline! Wait! Please...please!"

The door was almost open. His body tugged at the steel, trying to peel it back. He fought against her, feeling like Vader and Kenobi locked in combat inside his head. He was going to murder his wife if he opened this door. He was going to murder her and then find her brother and murder him too.

He couldn't stop that from happening.

His eyes turned to his left hand. The Magnum's barrel glinted in the dull light.

Or maybe he could.

He lifted the Magnum even as Eveline fought him in his head. She tried to crush him with her power- but she wasn't strong enough. Not anymore. Wherever she was, she was dying. He was sure of that.

He turned his eyes to his wife who was still trying to push the door open to get to him. He backed up toward the edge of the railing. She shook her head, beating on the door. "Don't!"

The Magnum barrel was cold on his temple. He breathed, finding his center, and he hissed, "Stop this bitch, Claire, you hear me? Stop this bitch."

Claire got the door open in a squeal of metal. She barreled toward him. Eveline screamed her rage into his head to try to stop him.

But he wasn't some fucking guy in loafers - he was Leon Kennedy. He decided how his story ended. It didn't end the puppet of a psychotic test tube baby.

That wasn't how he went down.

He whispered, "Stay away from her...you bitch." Somewhere? Ripley was proud.

The gun went off, Claire screamed in horror, and the heavy round turned the side of his head into a crater as it went in one side and blew out the other. It didn't matter anymore.

His body flipped over the railing. The Magnum tumbled to the bloody steel floor. Like Ripley clutching the alien to her chest, he tossed his body into the abyss to save the world.

Well, his world anyway. It was the only way he knew how to protect her. Isn't that how the hero died, after all?

Claire grabbed for him screaming with grief. But his blood sprayed her in a red, red, red wash and left her soaked in it.

And there was no more Eveline in his head...just peace...as he stopped being Leon Kennedy.

Chapter Text

A/N: We sidestep for a moment from our main peops to see what brews with a skinny little urchin and the boulder punching hero. What kind of trouble can they get into? Let's find out.

Seventeen: Roidfield
.....

The Baker Plantation – Western Property Line – 0155
.....

Zoe trailed behind him in the fetid swamp. The stench of stagnant water was coupled with a trailing edge of the mold. It was vaguely reminiscent of urine in a way that was not at all easy to ignore.

He'd stayed. He'd stayed with her. He hadn't left with his sister and Leon. He'd stayed.

The tremor of truth there was what kept her quiet as they moved. She felt like she was in the presence of more than a hero here. He was a gentleman, she'd bet the farm on it. The type who opened car doors and gave you his jacket. She was kinda wearing his "jacket" now, wasn't she? The shirt dwarfed her, in a way that she enjoyed, and left those arms of his bare and tantalizing in the moonlight.

He seemed angry at her, which was a mystery, but she was betting it had something to do with what was done to her back. She didn't know. He wouldn't say. But it couldn't be good. Every time he looked at her, his jaw clenched in rage. She must look like hammered shit, she thought with a sigh, to make him almost snarl each time his eyes turned her direction.

He stopped at the edge of a wooden walkway and offered his hands to her, boosting her up out of the water. She didn't have the heart to tell him the generator inside the building by them had been dead for years. If he was lucky enough to restore any kind of power at all to the farm, she'd eat her foot. Lucas had drained it and left it for dead shortly after Eveline had taken over.

But she followed him into the little shed anyway to watch him work. He dumped in gasoline they'd scavenged from a tractor and fiddled with switches and levers. She covered them with the one gun they had left - the assault rifle he'd found in the water after the boathouse had turned to ashes in the wind.

The silence finally had her filling it, awkwardly, "I must look pretty fucking bad."

Surprised, he glanced up from where he was head and shoulders under the generator stripping wires and making minute adjustments. His brow furrowed, "What?"

She sighed a little, "You won't even look at me really. I must look like a monster."

Chris put his head back under the generator for a moment. She heard a clank, a grinding sound, and a thump. He pulled himself up, dusting his greasy hands off on the vest that didn't do much to hide his chest. There was some kind of a tattoo on his back left shoulder. It was obscured by the vest, but she could just see the trailing edge of a red tail. Best bet? Phoenix.

Shouldn't surprise her. He seemed the type to have such a legendary thing on his body. It curled up the side of his neck slightly and disappeared against under the length of the vest. Who was the Phoenix? Him? Had he risen from his own ashes?

Zoe was betting he had, more than once.

He moved to the console in the old shed and clicked buttons, turning a few dials in the process. He finally answered her, surprising her, "I let him get you. I let him hurt you. That was my fault, it was my mistake - I'm going to make him pay for it."

Zoe went silent, blinking at him. "What?"

He turned his head over his shoulder, "I'm sorry I let him get you. But I won't stop until he's dead, Zoe. I can't change the past, but I can make sure he never touches you again."

His hand gripped the ripcord beside him and jerked. The movement bunched his arms, made a whooshing sound, and caused the generator to gurgle wetly.

She wasn't sure what was more surprising, that the damn thing fired up with a rickety roar of sound, or that he was taking responsibility for what Lucas had done to her. No man in her life had ever bothered. Her daddy had let her run herd on anyone she wanted and let her brother do the same. Good people, they'd had a soft touch for their children. She'd come to them late in life, with Daddy already in his forties and Mama nearly there. They were so grateful for her, they just let her do whatever she saw fit.

Lucas was always a creep. He'd started by torturing small animals until Mama had caught him and whooped him red for it. But he'd never really been right in the head. Eveline had given him the keys to his own freedom here. He had tortured so many people, thrilled to expand his creativity.

Bored of it, Zoe had started hunting up men to fill her time. She'd began with boys her own age and graduated to men twice as old by the end of highschool. But she'd never really been interested in one beyond the bedroom. She'd felt the stirrings of real interest with Leon Kennedy, but thrown the brakes on because of Claire.

But in the dark, in the rain, this man had just shown up like Batman or something and wanted to protect her. He didn't even know her, but he wanted to save her. It was an odd feeling to want him...but even odder to LIKE him.

What was it about Chris Redfield that was so different from all the men she'd known?

He said, "My men should be here soon. We'll signal them sooner with power to the Farm. Lights will guide us better to the stockpile I saw on the map. If we're lucky, they'll be what we need there."

The lights crackled with a pop above them, proving he was aces with his hands - a fact she'd have laid money on anyway before that- and giving them back the upper hand at least in visibility. Now the dark wasn't another enemy for them to face. Now it was a little less terrifying.

In the light, she could really look at him. The muscles were what you saw first, no getting around that. He was big in a way that made you feel small and delicate by design. But it wasn't what kept you looking. The haircut was short and painful, flat to the scalp in a way that said military. The eyebrows dark and thick on a strong forehead. He was bleeding from somewhere in his hairline, and a trickle of blood spilled down his cheek into the beginnings of a pretty good beard that told Zoe he was probably rocking a full one in a week.

The short hair flashed silver in places and red in others, a pretty mix of him, Claire, and age. She wondered who was the redhead. Mom? Dad? He'd gotten the dark genes, that much was clear. He caught her looking and glanced at her.

Apparently, while she was appreciating the fine lines at the corner of a pretty spectacular set of seafoam eyes, he was taking in the look of her face in the light for the first time.

He cursed and moved toward her. He had such a powerful gait, it was her first instinct to back off. She did, two steps before she realized it and stopped. He did too, looking pensive. "...I won't hurt you."

Shit. She knew that. She knew that in her bones. What was it? She murmured, "So sorry. Instinct."

Another fucking reason he was going to enjoying killing Lucas Baker. She was painfully thin, bloodied, torn up and beat down - but still fighting. She deserved better than to die a puppet to the parasite that claimed her. He'd never let that happen.

His gloved hand hesitated at her chin, almost like asking permission. She nodded and he cupped her face to turn it into the light a little more. Baker had really fucked her up. A lot of it was shallow damage, but some of it was deep enough for him to know she'd scar from it. He hoped she wasn't the vain type, because her beauty queen days were likely at an end here. She was going to look like a survivor when it was over. It was up to her if she chose to look like a victim.

Her finger shifted and touched his left eyebrow. The other trailed over the shrapnel scars on his neck and behind his ear.

To prepare her for it, he said quietly, "Some of it will scar, Zoe. I'm so sorry. I work with some of the best people in the business to minimize it. But I want you to prepare yourself for a little scarring. He really...he cut you up."

He looked so sorry about it. He looked so angry for her, on her behalf, that she felt herself shift a little toward him. Crazy - but there it was. It made her belly hurt looking at him.

And she breathed, "...who's ugly now huh?"

Apparently, she didn't understand that there was nothing ugly about her. Nothing. What was under the bruises and the cuts and the wounds and pain - was a warrior. She was a fighter. Fiesty and funny and real, she just...kept on going. Long after everyone else might have given up. She was like them - like him and Leon and Claire- she was a SURVIVOR.

The was a beautiful thing.

Chris said nothing for so long that she finally laughed, a little wetly, "...it's customary to tell a woman she's crazy when she says she's ugly, Redfield. But I appreciate the honesty. Even if it's like a punch in the face."

He let go of her, moving to pick up the assault rifle on the floor. "We should get moving."

She followed him out into the air again, sticking close. They were barely down the walkway and moving toward the row of cabins that had once housed her various relatives at some point since the farm had been built hundreds of years before, when he said, "Scars don't make you ugly, Zoe. Surviving takes guts and strength and drive. It's all over your face."

She paused, staring at him, and he finished, "Strength is never ugly, Zoe. And you're full of that."

He kicked open the door of the closest cabin and cleared the barren insides, shifting to the next to do the same. The rain peppered them a little in ploppy drops. The sky rumbled, shaking the trees with the humid wind. He reached the last cabin and Zoe called, "What are you saying here?"

He paused, preparing to kick in the last door. "I'm saying I like your face...just the way it is."

Zoe stepped into the cabin he'd cleared first to begin to search it, smirking a little. Her heart thumped twice in her chest to tell her she liked that answer. She heard him kick in the door of the cabin at the end of the row.

There was a horrible metallic clang that joined the soft rumble of thunder. Zoe froze, listening.

Her brother's voice spilled into the air, "YAH! WHOOO! Right in the FACE! How'd that feel, you fucker?! I only wish it would have broken your neck like you did mine!"

Zoe crouched down, inching toward the window to peep over. Her brother was dragging Chris by the front of his vest. They moved passed the cabin with Lucas grunting and tugging. Chris was unconscious, his nose and mouth dripping blood. It was smeared up the side of his face. She glanced over to see the shovel lying on the ground that Lucas had used to clobber him.

She was quiet as a mouse as she tracked them up the stairway cut into the hill beside the cabins. Lucas whistled and taunted the sleeping man as he walked. His own megalomania required him to chortle and harken his great genius to the waiting wind. Clearly, he wasn't fully aware that his prize was dead to the world.

Who else was he talking to?

"Instead," Lucas said in a song song voice, "I'm going to make you play a game. Do you want to play a game? I figure the answer is yes since you're so quiet."

Zoe made a small sound of horror as he turned toward the house they'd left behind and dragged Chris up the back porch. "I have some fun toys to show you, Schwarzenegger. How do you like hot pokers?"

The door swung shut behind him and Zoe ran to the edge of the rotting porch to duck beneath. She spilled down into her favorite passage and crawled swiftly, listening to the sounds of the rain above her and the echo of footsteps through the house. He was taking Chris to the "bedroom", she was almost sure of that. It was his gross little chamber of horrors he'd had set up in the house before Mama had thrown him out to make his playroom.

She heard the sound of a zipper and the grunt of Lucas. There was the groan of pipes to signal he'd turned on water. She pushed upward to put her eye to the grate in the floor that allowed her to peep in on him.

He had taken Chris by the vest and thrown him into the tub. The first burst of cold water on his face and Chris sputtered, gasping himself awake. Lucas, anticipating this, had bound his hands behind his back with duct tape.

Zoe watched the rage on Chris' face be stifled a bit by the need to breathe. He was fighting the full spray of the shower head and shaking his head to try not to swallow too much water. One of his legs dangled outside the clawfoot tub and the other was in there with him, getting soaked.

Lucas chortled, "Good morning! How was your nap? Don't worry. You'll get enough of a nap in a moment. I'm just cleaning you off before I kill you. Seems kind, doesn't it? Like inmates on death row...I want you at your most pretty before I take you apart and put you down like a fucking dog."

Lucas hummed happily, squirting soap all over Chris until he spit it out, cursed, and made Lucas giggle.

"Don't be ungrateful! You're CLEAN. And you're welcome, by the way, for the bath." Lucas shut the water off, grabbed Chris by the vest, and jerked him out of the tub. He dragged him like a sack of potatoes by the front of that vest all the way down the hallway.

Zoe ducked down again and made her way toward the bedroom. She put her face up to the grate to watch her brother toss Chris in the bed. The room was dusty, done in shades of floral chintz and farmhouse chic. There were sagging paintings hanging on the wall and an old dresser painted black to hide the age of it.

Chris started to open his mouth and Lucas picked up the candle holder from beside the bed, rolling it in his hand. Apparently, Chris Redfield was wise enough to know when to shut his mouth. Lucas smiled happily and instructed, "Nothing? No bravado? Shame. I liked you better when you were feisty."

"Yeah? Look behind my back."

He was giving the finger to his captor where his hands were bound.

Lucas chuckled, "There we go. I was starting to lose all hope."

Zoe put her hand over her mouth to stifle the small sound as her brother whipped the candlestick into the side of Chris' head. It knocked him cold with a heavy thud of sound.

Unconscious, it was easy for her brother to untie his prey and put his hands on the tray in front of him. He settled Chris upright and cuffed his wrists to the try, securing them there with a little clink of metal. "I'm gonna bring back a nice surprise for you. I promise." He was whistling as he left the bedroom, locking the door behind him.

The second he was gone, Zoe eased open the grate and climbed into the bedroom. It was narrow and small, she knew, without even trying for sure, that Chris wouldn't fit through it. There was a moment when too big was bad news.

He'd never get out quietly. Not unless a miracle happened. He was a tank, after all, tanks didn't sneak. But Lucas couldn't die. He wouldn't die. He'd just keep coming back.

Chris was out of weapons and just a man. Just a man unable to fit through her secret passages and escape.

Which meant one thing: the only way out for Chris Redfield - was right back through the house of horrors he'd left behind.

Chapter Text

Eighteen: The Bedroom
.....
The Baker Plantation – Main House – 0255
.....
She hurried to the bed, checking his bonds. They were metal cuffs that secured with a screw on one side. An easy escape with the right tool. She moved to dig around the bedroom, looking for answers.

Sadly, she only found more questions. Apparently, she was in the room of riddles. The wall had three paintings above a box on the dresser beneath it. There was a second door to the side that she knew opened into the former family sitting room. It was now nothing more than their "crap we broke" room. Why was it locked? What was Lucas hiding in there?

She eased back to the bed when Chris groaned. Her hand came down to cover his mouth and she whispered, "Shhh. Shhhh. I know it hurts, but you have to be quiet."

He opened one eye and the other was full of blood that she spilled from his head. He had a goose egg from where Lucas had hit him with the shovel but it wasn't as bad as all the blood suggested. Nothing bled, of course, like a scalp wound. Zoe used the sheets on the bed to clean the blood away so he could see her.

"It's me."

He nodded, watching her face, and gestured with his chin. She slid her hand away, crawling a little closer on the bed to him to whisper, "We have to get out of here. We can't leave through the way I came, it won't fit you. But maybe we can...I don't know...make a distraction? Maybe I can go do that. And you can get out through the door."

Chris studied her face for a moment, "Leave me here. Go to the stockpile and find the cure as we'd planned. Leave me here, Zoe. Find my men and send them this way. I can keep that little asshole entertained for a while."

She shook her head, "Don't be stupid. I won't leave you.'

"It's not the same thing, Zoe. I'm telling you to. I can fucking handle Lucas Baker. I promise you."

"Yeah? You're handcuffed to the bed, Chris Redfield. I think you lost."

He blinked twice, watching her. Finally, he remarked, "I let him take me. To keep him away from you. I thought you understood that."

She froze with her hand on the sconce behind him. Her eyes tracked down to his face. He was so calm. He was covered in blood but he wasn't afraid. He just wasn't. He'd let Lucas take him to save her.

She shook her head, "Why? What can I do without you? Are you stupid or something?"

He laughed, quietly, "No. I believe in you. I believe you're the only person who knows how to make the cure. I need you to get to my men. I need you to find Claire and Leon and my men and burn this place down. I need you to do that. Nobody needs me, Zoe. I'm just cannon fodder in this story."

Yup. He was stupid. It was confirmed. She gripped his chin, hard enough to make him gasp a little, and hissed, "Stupid man. I need you."

He was too surprised to do anything but watch her with eyes wide like an owl. She moved toward the dresser again and the small table near the main door that was covered in candles.

It had a tiny box sitting on it. A tug on the box opened the lid to show a little voodoo doll inside with a yarn smile. Zoe frowned sharply and picked up the doll. What was the point here? The "point" tumbled out of the dolls back. It was a needle. A big one. She picked it up to turn and show it to Chris.

He was watching her like she might have grown a second head. She tilted hers now, brows lifted, "What?"

"...nothing." He shook his head, "What's that?"

"A needle. But I don't know why. I think..." She turned to look at the grandfather clock to one side of her. The clock above it was set to 5 o'clock. Curious about it, Zoe touched the door of the clock. It was her first mistake. The thing started to chime the hour, it GONGED so loud that she actually jumped.

Outside the room, Lucas shouted, "WHO THE HELL IS MAKIN ALL THAT NOISE!?"

And Chris hissed, "HIDE! Zoe! Hide!"

She hurried toward him and slid under the bed beneath it just as the door opened and Lucas pranced in, carrying a big pot of something. He had a shotgun tucked into one arm, whistling happily. "You makin fucking noise in here, soldier boy?"

Chris said nothing, watching him. Lucas set the pot down and flopped a spoon on the tray beside it. "Eat up, asshole. You need your strength for the torture you're about to experience. I want you strong when I let one of my creations fuck your bowels bloody while you scream."

Chris held his tongue, waiting for the other man to finish taunting him. Lucas whistled happily and considered things. He mused, "Nothing?"

And when Chris remained silent, he turned the shotgun on him. "What about now? Anything?"

Chris responded, finally, "You always did strike me as the type behind a big gun. You pansy assed mama's boy. Why don't you put down that gun and cut me loose. We'll see how fucking tough you are."

"Oh, yeah? Fuck you too, you old geezer." Lucas fired the shotgun. Chris grunted in pain. And silence followed.

For Zoe, it was a horrible, horrible, horrible moment. She slapped both hands over her mouth and nearly screamed into them.

Her brother turned and left, slamming the door behind him. The silence was so loud. She didn't want to move. She didn't want to move out from under the bed. If she did, she'd see his beautiful face splattered all over the wall behind him.

She couldn't bring herself to see it. She just co-

"Zoe? Are you there?"

He was alive.

He was ALIVE.

Zoe crawled out, hurrying. He was alive. He was just sitting there in the bed, watching her. She covered her mouth again, shaking her head. She couldn't stop the well of tears in her eyes.

Chris shook his head, looking desperate. "Don't!" He whispered gruffly, "Don't cry. I'm ok! See? I'm fine."

She couldn't see any bullet holes anywhere. What had he brother shot? And then she looked down at his vest. THE BASTARD! The little piece of shit. He'd shot Chris in the vest. At close range. How could he have been sure it wouldn't kill him?

He couldn't. But he probably didn't really care one way or another.

As it stood, Zoe whispered, "Are you-did he-will you-" She couldn't finish her questions. She kept choking up.

Chris whispered back, "I'm fine. I promise. There's a spoon on the tray there. Use it to unscrew these cuffs and hurry."

Zoe did, quickly turning the screws until his hands were free. The first one snapped open quietly. She leaned over him to undo the second, whispering. "We have to get out of here. I think you're too big to go with me down the hatch I have over there. So we need to find another way to get o-"

She had to stop talking. His face was so close as she leaned back. Their noses actually brushed as she moved. It stole her breath for a second. Neither moved for an entire beat of a heart when she finally whispered, "Your hands are free."

And Chris murmured, "I know."

Zoe shifted her gaze to his mouth. She wasn't sure what might have happened. She knew it was all stupid to even think it to begin with. She wasn't sure if she might have pressed that artificial distance to kiss him and find out his flavor anyway, because Lucas made some sound outside the bedroom and reminded her they were in grave danger.

She slid away from him and moved to the side of the bed, whispering, "There's a door under the bed."

Surprised, Chris dropped down into a push up position to look under the bed. "...I'll be damned. Passageway?"

"Yes. This is the room where Lucas used to kidnap Mama and Daddy's "guests". He'd pop up through that passage and take them under the house to his playroom. We can both get out that way. But we need to find the key."

Chris glanced around at the room. "Alice in Wonderland shit. Any idea where he'd hide it?"

Best guess is behind this door. She wiggled the handle but there was a lock in place preventing access.

He tugged open a dresser drawer, quietly. His hands shifted and unlinked the velcro on the vest he wore. She watched it reveal his chest underneath and nearly forgot what she was doing. He was bruised across the sternum and the ribs where the vest had stopped the shotgun blast but couldn't stop the impact. Some of the damage was littered over his skin in bloody patches. It looked like a rainbow of purple and inflammation in the dark room, but it couldn't hide the muscle behind it. What was the expression? Built like a brick shithouse? That's what was happening here.

She hissed, "The damn vest didn't stop it."

He shook his head, "It was a shotgun blast at less than twelve feet, Zoe. Normal body armor wouldn't have done a damn thing that close. My gear stopped it as best as it could."

"Then why aren't you dead?"

Without missing a beat, he answered, "The muscle stopped the rest."

Lord. THAT was the benefit to being that damn big. Turns out, it had it's purpose.

She gestured to the little pack on her back and said, "Get the green mixture out and smear it on your wounds."

He moved to open the pack and she focused on the task at hand. She stared hard at the crack in the wall and whispered, "It should heal quickly."

"...right. Thank you."

Zoe shook her head like she was clearing cobwebs and turned back to the lock. Her eyes almost missed the little piece of paper tucked under the edge of the dresser. She crouched down to get it while Chris opened another dresser drawer and withdrew one of her daddy's shirts. It was a white thermal undershirt, ribbed, and long sleeved. It was also too small or something. Why did it fit like that? Like glue. It looked like it was painted on.

She refocused on the paper as he considered the vest on the floor and left it. The paper said: All the hours on the clocks are the same.

Chris mourned the loss of his vest. It had served it's purpose, but it was mostly trash now.

Zoe whispered, "We need something to pick this lock." She turned back to look at the far wall, considering the big grandfather clock sitting there. Curious about it, she moved toward it and opened the door on the front. It showed a painting stuffed inside, a curious thing really, of her and Lucas, Mama and Daddy, and Eveline. Eveline had drawn herself into the photograph on canvas. She'd drawn herself there like the world's saddest little girl. As if it made her...family.

It was almost pitiful - if the psychotic bitch hadn't nearly killed them all a thousand times and enslaved them here to rot.

She started to comment on it and the door wiggled on the hinges. Zoe threw her body against it, surprising Chris with it. She gasped, "You changed clothes, he'll notice. He'll kill you in that bed if you get back in it. Help me!"

A good point. Chris jerked the dresser away from the wall like it was nothing and shoved it at the shaking door. Lucas beat on it now, shouting his warnings, "Little pigs, little pigs LET ME IN!"

Zoe ran for the room that was locked and kicked it. She kicked it like she'd throw that door down in the wake of her foot. It shivered but held on. Chris? He put his boot to it and took it clean off the hinges.

Zoe left him to it and ran around to the little clock on the nightstand. It was a small replica of the grandfather clock. It wanted her to set the time to the same as the big one. She turned the little hands and it cuckooed sweetly, spilling open to show a small key.

Snatching it, she shouted, "I need you to move the bed!"

But the bed groaned loudly. There was a grinding of gears, and it rolled away from the door on rails. She ran for the lock on the trap door, jerking the big bolt to put the little key in it.

Lucas screamed, "ZOEEEE! I'm gonna rip off your lips and use them to KISS MY ASS!"

Chris couldn't stop the laugh as she jerked up the door. "What a freakin dumbass."

She leaped into the dark and started crawling. She heard him behind her, moving fast and furious. And Zoe called back to him, "Maybe so. But he's a dumbass who won't die."

It was a good point.

They pushed out from under the house into the pouring rain. It was a torrential downpour. Zoe was almost blind from the onslaught of it. She staggered and Chris grabbed her arm to propel her forward. She couldn't even get her bearings for a moment to figure out what side of the farm they were on.

He shoved her forward into the rain, listening to Lucas pop up after them, shouting for blood.

He needed a goddamn weapon. Something. Anything. Anything at all that he could fight that sack of shit with. Anything. He'd take a big ass tree branch if nothing else.

Zoe grabbed his hand and jerked. They sidestepped into a narrow chasm cut into a nest of trees. It was nothing but swamp and darkness. But she moved like she'd done this a thousand times.

Who was he kidding? She'd survived for years out here. She knew these swamps like the back of her hand.

She ducked into a dark tunnel made of branches and tugged him down with her. He started to say something and she curled against his back, crouching down with him in front of her, and her hand over his mouth. She plastered herself against him, shushing him in his left ear.

Lucas slopped around outside their hidey hole, shouting into the storm. "Where'd you go!? Zoe! You bitch! You always stealing my playmates! I thought you was DEAD!"

They could see his boots dragging into the swampy water. He paced, shouting for them like he could do it all night. "Come out, come out wherever you are! COWARDS!"

Chris almost pushed free when the water rustled again. Lucas turned, laughing like a hyena. "Well son a monkey's left nut sack...you still alive!?"

Who?

"...maybe not. You look like hammered shit, hero. Not nearly as pretty as you started. Who blew the side of your head off?"

Chris nearly pushed out, recognizing the boots that appeared, but Zoe jerked on him, holding him still. She shook her head, looking terrified.

There was a shift of movement and a gurgle. Lucas ascended, until all they could see was his ankles and feet dangling. He made a sound like a dying cow. There was a wet spurt and a ripping slurp - and a nest of steaming intestines joined the dangle of his feet, curling like snakes around his boots. Lucas grunted, his body started to spasm, and he was dropped down into the murky water without another word.

He stared sightless into the dark, missing half his face, and lying in the stink of his own disembowelment.

Zoe made a small sound when she inhaled, putting her face against the side of Chris' neck.

The voice joined the rain now, familiar, but so different. It said, "Fee...fi...fo...fum...I smell the blood of a fool who runs..."

The branches rustled. The figure knelt. And a streak of lighting lit the face of the very undead Leon Kennedy. He grinned, showing white teeth in a mask of blood. The entire right side of his head was nothing but dripping brains and shattered skull. Someone had put one into his head at close range.

Claire?

Zoe lowered her hand and Chris stared at his brother in law from a foot away. "...what did you do to her?"

Leon laughed, and there were echoes of Eveline in it, "She's waiting. Want to come play?"

Zoe shivered against his back. If they went, they were dead. She knew it. He knew it. But he couldn't just let his sister die. He couldn't. He'd come here to save her. He wasn't leaving without her.

Even if it meant killing her husband to do it.

He rose, in the boiling rain, in the tumultuous thunder - and faced down the grinning animated corpse of the toughest man he'd ever met. It was a roll of grief and rage that spilled in his stomach, making Chris' voice gruff and gravely as he said, "I wanna come play."

"Yeah?" Queried the very undead Kennedy, "You gotta be dead to play this game, tough guy."

Zoe screamed, Leon backhanded her as she launched herself at him, and she tumbled into the swamp in a geyser of water. They grappled, two heroes in the apocalyptic storm that raged. They battled for Claire while the world thundered around them.

But Kennedy had always been faster, quicker...better...and now he had monster strength.

He throat punched Chris and sent him reeling. Chris blocked a kick to the groin that would have put him down and swung, his great fist passing a inch to the left of the other man who feinted, laughed, and headbutted him in return.

Chris staggered but didn't go down and Leon advanced on him, shouting into the wind, "You never thought I was good enough! You arrogant son of a bitch! Who's not good enough now!?"

He grabbed for him, and Chris kicked Leon in the knee. Zoe stirred in the water and split his focus. Leon tilted his head, laughing, "Your girlfriend first you think? You dirty old bastard. She's young enough to be your daughter. And you judge me?"

Chris swung at him again and Leon drove and uppercut into his side, kicking him in the hip to spin him around. He kicked him in the ass for fun to send Chris to his knees in the water.

Zoe screamed now, racing into the rain toward Leon. Chris shouted a warning, "DON'T! STAY THERE!"

But she made a leaping tackle and Leon caught her, flipped her up over his shoulder, and tossed her back into the swamp behind him, chuckling. "Really? All eighty pounds of her. She's got to be kidding."

Chris turned, dropping his arm to grip the big knife in the water by Lucas hand. He palmed it, holding the moment, waiting. "Let her go. It's me you want. We can play all night."

Leon chuckled, pacing, tossing the knife from hand to hand. "Nah. I just wanted to kill you and find your sister and go home. I got a daughter waiting for me."

Chris felt his heart seize, "You don't have her? You don't have Claire?"

Eveline's voice came from Leon's mouth, just once, "...not yet. But I will soon."

Chris laughed, and thunder boomed, "You were never good enough for her. Ever. Because she'll always be better at surviving than anyone else in the world. I hope she finds you...and rips your fucking heart out."

Leon's head tilted, but his voice was all Eveline, "An interesting image. Should we start that story with yours? A fitting end to a hero, isn't it? Dying to save the girl."

Zoe was so still in the water. Chris didn't know if she was alive or dead. "Better than dying listening to your shitty puns."

His head twitched, jerking, and it told Chris that, like Claire, the real Leon was somewhere in there. How to get him out?

He started to taunt him some more and a shout filled the air. So soft. So far. So close. Too far away to save the day. Too far.

His baby sister, running for them. She screamed, "LEON! DON'T!"

Chris brought the knife in his hand up in a swirling arc. Leon, distracted by Claire, couldn't stop it. It hit him in the stomach and he grunted, jerking forward. Chris twisted the knife and jerked, ripping it up his sternum.

But it didn't matter. It was too fucking late. It was like trying to gut a ghost.

Chris couldn't get back fast enough. Claire was still too far away.

The lightning split the sky in a crack of horror.

Leon Kennedy reared back...and slit Chris Redfield's throat in the pouring rain.

Chapter Text

Nineteen: Two Legends
...

The Baker Plantation – Western Bayou Adjacent – 0410
....
The world was a hurricane. It was lightning and thunder and driving rain - and death. The smell of the blood was lost under the roar of the wind. Chris fell backward into the swamp, jerking, even as his hand shut up to stop the bleeding.

Zoe tackled him first, the man who'd once saved her life, the one who'd come to find his wife in the nightmare that had been her childhood. She tackled him and drove him back. He went, laughing, and raised the knife like he'd drive it into her back. She screamed, "DO IT! EVELINE! YOU COWARD!"

Claire's voice pitched above the wind. "ZOE! MY BROTHER!"

Zoe shoved Leon away to roll across the ground at the command. She heard Claire arrive and turned her back on the monster with the knife. She trusted the redhead to stop him.

It was stupid. It was brave. It was all she could do.

Her hands grabbed the little pack she wore, jerking out the salve. She watched the desperate panic on Chris as she straddled him, making a small sound of fear. "It's ok." She soothed it, shaking, "It's ok. Hold on. Please. Please hold on. I'll fix it."

The whites of his eyes were horrible to see in the darkness, but Zoe heard the fighting behind her and didn't stop. She just covered her hands in the salve and whispered, "Now let go. Let go, Chris. Let go."

He did and the water turned red with blood around them as she slapped her hands over his throat.

Claire tackled her husband an inch from Zoe getting that knife in her back. She took him down in a full on shoulder slam that spun him around and sent them both into the swamp with her clutching his waist.

Skinny or not, she was still Claire Redfield. She knew what the hell she was doing. Maybe she wasn't the John Wick of the Bioterror World, but she wasn't some girl lost in the bayou either. She wasn't some cowering thing that waited to be saved.

She knocked the knife from his hands as he raised it - and head butted him.

The water sloshed around them. The pain was immediate and good, it woke her up. It reminded her he wasn't Leon. He wasn't her husband. Her husband's body was full of the wrong soul. And she was his fucking exorcist.

He grunted, and the exposed side of his head made her shake with pain. He was dead, right? He wasn't even here anymore. It was his body. But he was dead. He'd blown out the side of his head trying to save her. Trying to stop this. All he'd done was offer the perfect vessel to the madness that was Eveline.

Claire shouted, "Are you in there?! Are you even in there!?"

His hand closed around her throat. Her hand cocked and drove into his solar plexus, and he threw her out into the bayou like she weighed nothing. She went, swatted like a fly, and came down in the water with a grunt of pain.

Claire scrambled, shouting, "Zoe! GUN!? Do you have a gun!?"

Zoe shook her head, screaming, "Lucas had a shotgun!"

Lucas had a shotgun. There was still hope after all - all in the form of a dropped gun from an idiot.

Leon cocked his head, grinning, "Interesting. Who finds it first? The skinny survivor with the barren belly? Or her idiot hero of a husband possessed by a monster? Tick-tock, tootz. Show me what ya got."

Zoe glanced over to see if Lucas' body was close and it was gone. His body was gone. Was the gun gone with him?

She couldn't care. She couldn't. She was barring down all her weight to hold Chris' throat closed. She made a small sound of grief. His bloody hands clutched at her arms.

She heard Claire and Leon trade blows again. He was fucking with her. They both knew it. He let her land a kick and spin low to take his feet. He went down in the water, laughing like a madman.

Claire scrambled, feeling in the swamp, desperate to find the shotgun.

And her hand closed around the knife Chris had lost instead.

She gripped it, rising up just as Leon brought his down. They rang, the kiss of steel quiet in the driving storm. It sparked, the blades passing each other as Claire rolled away, and found her feet.

She watched the excitement spear through the eyes of her undead husband. He tossed his knife to his left hand and mused, "There. Let's even the playing field." He cocked his head, "You wouldn't believe the knowledge in this brain, Claire. Should I tell you what he knows?"

They circled each other and Leon's mouth said, "He knows eight ways to kill you, right now, without leaving this spot. He can factor in the rain, the wind, the rotational pull of gravity - and see how to toss this dagger and kill you instantly. His brain has three plans in place if you fight back. It knows how to break your arm, twist your knee, and drop you to your face in the swamp to let you smother on the mud there. He knows how to hit you, Claire, just once. Just ONCE to collapse your sternum and crush your heart. Your husband is a monster."

Leon cocks his head. It's his voice. It's not his words. He adds, "He said I was. He said I was a monster. But I just wanted to love you. Him? He sees the world like something he can kill. He's like a hunting dog, Claire. He can scent blood and goes for your throat. He's a weapon. Why?"

Leon drops his hands to block her as she swings. He kicks her leg and Claire staggers. Instead of stabbing her, he grabs a handful of her hair and throws her away again. "See? Effortless. His mind just...sees you. It sees what you'll do. What you'll try. Where you'll turn. It anticipates all of that."

Curious about the toy she was inhabiting, Eveline had him back up. "Come at me, Claire. Come on. I want to see what he can do."

What choice was there here? Claire backed up, rolling her shoulders.

And Zoe shouted, "No no! No! CLAIRE! No no no. Please...please..."

She lifted her bloody hands and collapsed around the still body in the water beneath her. Claire felt the tremor down her back. She shook her head. Leon tilted his, "Oops. Did I kill him? Shame. He would have made a pretty decent Daddy."

Zoe's wrenching sobs spilled around them. Claire kept shaking her head. She didn't stop staring down her husband, she just shouted, "GET UP, Chris! Get up!"

The rain and the lightning. The thunder and the roar of the wind. It made cocoon of battle around her as she shook her head, "He's not dead."

Leon tilted his head again, like a goddamn dog. "No? Am I?"

"You're not Leon. Get out of his body, you hateful little cunt, or I will rip you out."

"Yeah? PROVE IT."

She raced at him. He laughed and threw his knife down, throwing his arms wide like he was waiting to hug her. Claire dropped the knife into her palm as she ran, shouting her rage into the boiling night.

She ducked under his arm as it swung at her, she drove the knife into his chest, and he backhanded her, gripped her throat, and lifted her off her feet to dangle her. "That it? Pathetic."

She jerked the knife in his chest, twisting it. Strangling, she grunted, "I'll take you with me. You stupid bitch. I will take you with me when I go."

"Don't you get it, Claire? I can't die. This is his shell you're killing. Not me. I'm immortal."

He threw her away and she flew, twisting in the air. She struck a tree and slid down, dazed. She rolled to her side and tried to get up, but his boot pressed her down, crushing her chest beneath it. "Game over, kiddo." Leon tilted his head, "He likes saying that. Do you know that? He likes saying stupid things. Could you laugh for him? He misses your laughter."

Claire froze, listening to that. He was still in there. If she was reading his thoughts, he was still in there. Dead or not, he was still there. She had to get him back.

She had to get the vaccine.

She hissed, "Keep fighting, Leon. You promised. Don't fail me now."

He twitched. His eyes twitched and narrowed. Eveline's voice said, "What are you doing?"

"...winning. Haven't you figured it out yet? He's mine. He always was. Remember, Leon. Remember what you said."

He jerked and Eveline hissed, "Shut up! I will kill you!"

But she wasn't. He wasn't. His foot wasn't crushing her. It was just resting there. Claire breathed, "That's it. It's me. Remember?" And she told him what she'd said on the pier the day she'd gone missing.

"That's right. No fear right? On that island…the fucking bitch kept taunting us with it. Fear. FEAR. Fuck fear. I knew I'd survive it. I knew it. Because you were waiting for me. I had to get back to you. No matter what happens, ever, I am always waiting for you. If not here, then in the next life, and the next…no fear. And never stop fighting."

His face collapsed from the grin that Eveline had pasted there. He gasped, jerking, "Run, Claire. Run. RUN. Do you hear me?"

She trembled in the cold water, watching him. "I will never leave you. I will never run. FIGHT HER. I know you can."

"I can't. I can't." He slid his boot off her chest and backed up. Claire scrambled to her knees as he said, "Run, Claire. Get to Chris' men. Burn this place down. I might be able to get back to the house. TORCH THE HOUSE. Do you hear me? Torch it."

"No." She rose, "Chris is...Chris...he's..." She felt her body quiver with it, "I need you. Please."

He jerked. His hand gripped her throat so fast that she couldn't stop it. He jerked her up, arm bulging with muscle, "Yeah? He can't stop me. You can't stop me. One hero in the grave, one hero in my hands. What now? Where's your fight now?"

From the roaring wind, the voice answered, "Haven't you figured that part out yet? Dead don't mean done when you're a Redfield."

The shotgun boomed loud and too close. It threw Leon to the side as Chris blasted him from close range. Claire shouted as his blood splattered her in a hot wash, "CHRIS! NO! He's still in there! He's still there!"

Leon went into the water, his chest flayed open by the heavy buckshot at close range. He struggled to get to his knees and Chris tossed Claire the shotgun. He picked up the knife instead.

His throat was a reddened wreck of scar tissue, but the salve had done the job that the virus in his body had finished. He was alive. He was infected, like Leon and Zoe still, but he was alive.

He yelled, "Claire! Get Zoe and go get the goddamn vaccine. Go! I will hold this stupid son of a bitch here."

Claire rose, shaking, "Don't kill him."

"I'll try not to." Chris yelled it again, "Go! HURRY!"

Zoe whimpered, "He'll kill you! Come with us! Please!"

Chris laughed, shaking his head, "He got a cheap shot before. I underestimated him. But I can tell you this. You don't want Leon Kennedy hunting you. Let me do my fucking job and go do yours. Claire! Find Jill."

She grabbed Zoe's arm. "Come on!"

Zoe resisted, shouting, "You just want to leave him!? Leon will KILL him again!"

"Don't underestimate my brother. Please. Trust him. This is how we save them both!"

They ran together into the rain as Chris turned back, tossing the knife into his other hand. Leon rose in the water, laughing, bleeding, rotting. He tilted his head at the other man.

"Wanna play?"

"Bitch, I've been waiting to play with you from the moment you starting tagging my sister. I told you once, if you hurt her - I'd kill you."

Leon laughed, high and happy. "You think you're better? You were never better, old man."

"Yeah? Let's find out, you punning piece of shit." Chris braced, and copied the head tilt, "Bring it."

And Leon charged him in the swirling storm.

...........

Zoe and Claire raced through the rain, listening to the sounds of the fight behind them. Zoe shouted, "We have to go back! We have to GO BACK! We can't leave him!"

Claire grabbed her shirt, jerking her hard enough to startle the other woman. "It's my BROTHER! It's my HUSBAND! Do you hear me? I'm not leaving them! This is how I SAVE them! Where would the stockpile be?"

She heard someone shout. There was the crunch of bone. Claire felt the horror and the fear turn her rage to fire. She shouted, "WHERE, Zoe!? Where!? Focus!"

"...the mines. The mines. He keeps it all in the mines."

"Take me there! NOW! It's our only chance."

It was a moment when leaving her brother and husband behind meant trusting them not to kill each other. She was desperately afraid she was going home a widow or an only child.

............

Leon reached him first. He'd always been fast, the little waspy bastard. He tackled Chris at the waist and tried to take him down like a charging bull. Sadly? Faster or not, he still wasn't bigger. He hit the wall of the man called The Tank and came up short.

Monster strength didn't make you bigger.

Chris drove a fist into his stomach. He didn't pull it. He grabbed the other man by the back of the neck and drove his right fist into his gut.

Chris Redfield hit like an eighteen-wheeler. Leon gagged and staggered, scrambling on hands and knees until he got back up. He was pretty sure he was choking on his own stomach. He couldn't breathe as he collapsed to the ground doubled up around himself.

Chris still had a hold of the back of his neck. He jerked him up to his feet. Leon, still trying to find his breath, stumbled a little. "You might have use of his body, but you're not him. You're not him. Putting a sword in someone's hand, doesn't make them a fighter."

Leon barely got his hands up to block the next punch. It still got him but it was softened by the block. He coughed and drew a ragged breath. He rolled to the left, brought up his arm, and broke the hold on his neck.

He rolled across that big back and brought up his fists. "Doesn't it? I can see what he knows! I can feel what he feels!"

"Really? He's better than this!"

"He's a COWARD!" Leon shouted, Eveline's echo was almost eerie in his voice, "He would die to protect her! He's a MACHINE! Why would he give up that power for a woman!?"

Without hesitation, Chris answered, "Family, you bitch. Isn't that what you're chasing. We're family. She's his family. He'll die for that."

"And you?" Leon tilted his head, "I will kill you here, now. What good will it do? Put down your weapons and we can all be family together!"

"You're a monster. You can't make a family with blood and pain!"

"Then you'll die to spare her? You came all this way to die!?" Leon's voice sounded so confused, so sad almost.

Chris roared, "You're god damn right, I will. If that's what it takes to protect her."

Leon paused, watching him, "I don't understand you."

"Because you're not human. Give him back, maybe we can take your body somewhere and find a cure. Maybe we can make you something human. But you have to give him back."

Leon shook his head, "I can't. He's mine now. I won't give him back."

"You want to keep him. Fine. I'll take him from you."

"I'll keep him and Claire. I'll keep you too! You'll be my UNCLE!"

"Fuck you, you bitch. You want that? You'll have to get it the hard way."

"What's the hard way?"

"Through me."

They both moved. Leon swung a kick at him. Chris knocked his leg away and grabbed a handful of his shirt. Leon drove his arm down to break the hold and Chris smacked him. He literally smacked him, open hand, across the face.

It made his ear ring.

Leon drove in a solid elbow to the solar plexus and the other man grunted, grabbed his arm, and threw him out and away. Leon lifted his hands again, protecting his face.

They traded blows, locking arms, slapping shins. Leon avoided a straight arm jab to face by feinting back at the last second. He heard the air whistle. He grabbed Chris' wrist and pulled it over his shoulder, extending the elbow. He drove his hip into him, grabbed his belt, and rolled back.

The momentum lifted the big man up and rolled him across the ground. Leon rolled his arm up his back and put him on his face. "Stay down."

Chris rolled, drove a kick into his stomach, and threw him. Leon rolled into it. They faced each other.

"Stay down!" And it was Leon's voice. He was shaking.

Chris hesitated, circling him. "I can't. It's you, but it's not you."

"Kill me!" Leon opened his arms, "Kill me."

"I gave Claire the gun."

Leon paused, wide eyed, "You fucking idiot. Why!?"

"So I wouldn't kill you. It's what she wanted."

"...women." Leon shook his head. "Put me down if you can. Break my fucking arms or something."

"I'm trying."

"Try harder." He twitched and Eveline forced her way back in. Leon laughed and charged him.

Chris braced, rolling under the first swipe. Leon swung a hook at him, Chris caught his arm and spun him out. He went in for an uppercut and Leon blocked it and drove a kick toward his knee. Chris shin blocked him and hooked a left into his stomach.

Leon sucked in his stomach, felt it glance off of him, and threw an elbow at that face. Luck or sheer will had it connecting. It rang up his arm. Chris caught his arm as it connected and jerked, pulling it up behind his shoulder blades. He grabbed the second arm Leon threw back and kicked him square in the ass.

Leon stumbled forward and spun back to feel the air shift. He watched that fist fly by an inch from his nose. He went up under that driving arm and put an uppercut into Chris' stomach.

It hurt. It hurt them both. It was like striking steel. The impact made his hand and arm numb to the elbow. Chris staggered back, hunching. Leon shook his hand, restoring the feeling. He knew two things.

One - where the fuck did Redfield learn to move like that? That was a lot of agility Leon had not given him credit for.

Two - he was losing to the thing inside of him, badly, quickly. He needed Chris to end it.

They eyed each other, narrowly, darkly.

Leon shouted, "PUT ME DOWN!"

And Chris returned, "Then stop dancing and finish it!"

Leon flip kicked the other man. Chris braced, blocked the first in a series of punches and lunges, and went on the offensive. When Leon reared back for a hip kick, he caught his foot, twisted, and threw his elbow down into the knee.

It dropped Leon to face on the ground. Chris jerked him up into a head lock. "I'm gonna squeeze until you pass out."

Leon struggled, grunting, and Eveline's voice hissed, "He can stop that. You have to know that."

Leon's elbow went for his groin. It hurt. Chris lost him in the struggle of it, huncing around the pain.

Eveline's voice taunted, "He's twice the fighter you are, Redfield. Surely you know that. You should have run with your sister. That's what cowards do, after all, they RUN."

With a shout of rage, Chris tackled Leon, head on, no bullshit. Leon grabbed at his back and planted his feet, skidding along the ground. Leon laughed, high and loud. He drove an elbow down into his back, once, twice, and grabbed his left arm.

He spun Chris out and away, throwing a back kick that the other man barely blocked.

They faced each other in the rain, circling like animals. Chris spoke first into the thunder, "It was never really the fact that you were a manwhore, Leon. That was never the reason. Not really. It was this. THIS. All fucking talk and no real strength. You think kicking my ass will stop anything? Fuck your fists - they don't matter. FIGHT WHAT'S INSIDE YOU!"

Leon froze, shaking in the wind. "What?"

"You heard me...fight what's inside you. You fought with the parasite inside you once. You fought until you nearly died. For a girl you barely knew. This is your WIFE. Your LIFE. FIGHT BACK! And help me save her. Please."

Leon jerked, stumbling a little, "I-"

And Lucas' voice spilled around them, "Ain't this like a big hug with fists? Bad news, boy, you both fucked."

There was a whistle of sound and Chris went down first with a dart sticking out the side of his neck. Leon turned and couldn't stop it, Lucas smashed him in the face with the tree branch he held. Leon went onto his back and Lucas shouted, "Eveline! YOU CUNT! You want them?! Come and PLAY for them."

The sound of Eveline's shrieking filled the boiling air around them as he dragged them both through the mud toward the mines.

But he wasn't alone. From the shadows of the bayou, the lone figure tracked him waiting for the moment to make their move.

Chapter Text

Twenty: The Blind Side
....

The Salt Mines – 0500
.....

Waking up after being dead was a bitch.

His first thought, upon doing so, nearly put Leon Kennedy into a coma of complete and utter disbelief. This happened, it seemed, for a variety of reasons but the most glaringly obvious one was that nothing in his world ever stayed dead.

Ever.

Including him.

He was bound standing, which wasn't the first time, probably wouldn't be the last, and left him a little woozy with it. His arms were above his head in restraints, leaving him dangling...but not really. His feet dangled without bearing weight, sure, but they were still tethered to a steel loop on a concrete pad. His shoulders were numb, probably from bearing one hundred and eighty pounds of pure muscle, but his head felt incredible.

Amazing.

He'd give his right testicle to know if it was whole. After all, a close range blast from a hand-cannon like his Magnum was bound to leave a gaping mess of a skull behind. He wasn't one hundred percent sure, but his head felt intact. Which meant either the virus in him had healed him up...or someone else had.

He tried his voice, gently, "Zoe?"

The blindfold he wore prevented him from knowing if he was dangling in the middle of nowhere or if he was surrounded by human carcasses waiting for slaughter or if he was just being used like a flag on a pole saluting The Texas Chainsaw Massacre that was clearly the basis for this funhouse of horror.

Honestly, it didn't really matter. He figured he was a waiting to die here or being used for bait. Seeing as Lucas had grabbed both he and the Ogre of bioterror out in the swamp, he was betting Claire was the target.

Of course, maybe it was Eveline. Maybe Lucas was gathering them like pinatas, hoping Eveline would come to the party and break them open for funsies.

Leon shifted, crinkling his nose to try to dislodge the blindfold. It gaped enough to show light beyond his nostrils. So the room where he was dangling was lit at least. He shifted again and called, "Yo! Anybody out there?"

So, that was stupid. It was bad-horror-movie stupid. It was. But sometimes? You just had to call out.

To his surprise, a voice answered, "Be quiet. Be still. Are you retarded? You want to bring the mold men?"

Right. Mold men. Durf. That made sense. They were gross. They stank. They were like looping vines of black rotting mold you find under your sink when you leave the water dripping and don't fix the pipe. Mold.

So much for a genius I.Q. He was the idiot who yelled out in the-what? He sniffed. He sniffed again. Mold, sure, and lack of fresh air. He was underground somewhere, he'd bet his other nut on that.

The voice moved closer, musing, "You're cuter than your pictures. Though you look like hammered shit at the moment."

So, a familiar person anyway. At least someone who knew his face. He answered, "Thanks. I've been mostly dead all day."

The voice chuckled, lightly, "Nerdy. Claire was always a big nerd lover." Female. That much was true. He listened to the rustle of sound and tilted his head.

"Who are you?"

There was a clunk of noise and a pair of hands playing with his belt. "I'm Jill Valentine. We haven't had the occasion to meet face to face for some reason. Probably because prior to Harvardville, you were too busy fucking anything with a pulse and afterward were too busy being a buttboy for the U.S. government."

Ah.

He pursed his lips. "Tell me how you really feel."

Valentine chuckled again. "Sorry. Habit to hate the "man", I think. I need your help. He took Chris somewhere in these fucking mines. I can't even begin to guess. The team is behind me, at least two hours. I don't think Chris will last that long. Baker...he beat the shit out of him during the move."

Surprised, Leon didn't even want to guess what she as doing with his belt. He felt it whip free of his pants and didn't even make a dirty joke about it, proving he could grow as a man...given the right set of horrible circumstances where he'd failed to kill Lucas Baker, himself, and any other bad guy he'd come up against - officially marking him the WORST hero in the history of the world.

"You didn't stop him?"

There was a sigh of sound and he jerked as Valentine pulled at his blindfold. He blinked as light rushed in again and Jill said, "I couldn't. I had to know where he was taking you. Revealing myself before that would have prevented me from finding his hideout. Chris would have killed me if I'd done that."

True. She clearly knew Redfield.

"Right. Claire? Zoe?"

Jill shrugged, "I didn't see them. By the time I'd found you, it was storming so badly. I stuck to you guys to track you."

"Great." He sighed, "Claire and Zoe are out there somewhere...looking for the components to a vaccine. Hopefully."

"If we're lucky, my team has found them by now. Claire is alive." She shook her head, moving to a far table, "I can't fucking believe it."

She was curvier than he remembered; all tits and ass and blonde hair. Age had been kind to her too. She was beautifully pale and flawless. No lines, no wrinkles, no age spots. He was betting it was the gift of the time she'd spent with Wesker. She was like Wolverine, they said, she simply aged slower than the average human.

He was dangling in a small room with a cell door across from it. She'd picked it, easily, and Leon glanced over at the table sitting beside the wall. It was covered in old rusty torture tools. A saw, a set of wire cutters, bolt cutters and bloody hatchets. There was a collection of rusty nails and what appeared to be bamboo slivers. Did it surprise him to know that Lucas Baker was a freaking sick puppy? Nope. Not even a little a bit.

Leon replied, finally, "She's a Redfield."

Jill nodded, shaking her head. She glanced at him as he wiggled and shook her head, "Don't."

"Why?"

"Look up."

Leon did, gingerly, and nearly swallowed his tongue. Above him, the world's filthiest, biggest, most disgusting circular saw was waiting to hack his face to pieces to bisect it from his neck. It was wet...still wet...with new blood. He glanced at her, brow lifted, and Jill nodded, "Yeah. I heard him screaming."

They held eyes for so long that she cleared her throat first and looked away, still trying to free him. "It wasn't Chris."

He said nothing.

She turned to look at him, "It wasn't Chris."

She said it again. Did she think saying it twice or fourteen times would change anything? If it was? Chris was deader than disco...without a head. Which didn't always mean dead in their world, sure, but Chris was probably super dead...without his head.

Leon shook his, clearing it. "Blowing my brains out scrambled my few good thoughts. I hope you're right. But Chris wasn't Chris when I saw him last. Not exactly."

Jill shrugged, crouching to look under the table. "Whoever he is, he's still my partner. He's still my Captain. He's still here. I'm going to find him."

"And if he's something else?"

She shrugged again. "Then I'll bring home whatever he is. Somewhere inside will be my Chris."

My Chris.

Possessive.

Hadn't he heard they were lovers?

It was rumored, but never proven. For all the knew, the other rumors were true - and Jill Valentine was sleeping with Ingrid Hunnigan. Leon arched both brows again. She rose and moved toward him. She had a set of jumper cables in her hands. Curious about it, he watched her hook one to the saw above his head and go around behind to use the other.

Leon waited, listening to her, and finally queried, "You and Redfield together?"

She laughed, from out of sight, and responded, "Can't see that it's any of your business, but no." Jill came around the front of him again, "He's my right hand. I'm his left. We aren't together, but we're always together."

Jill shrugged, "We are what we are. I'd have come here for Claire alone. But they've got him. I won't leave here without him - one way or another."

Leon nodded, liking the fortitude on her. She was gorgeous. He might have floated her direction once, if he hadn't turned his eye to a redhead with more sass than common sense. Bless her, she'd leaped into his arms and tossed reason to the wind. It was something they had in common.

By contrast, Jill Valentine was the cool head in the business. If she was here, alone, she had a plan to make sure it ended in her favor. He was sure of that.

So Leon mused, "What's the plan, princess?"

She rolled her eyes and pulled her pistol. His eyes widened as she aimed at him and grinned, "I guess you'll just have to follow my lead."

He tucked his tongue in his cheek and responded, "Not really my style."

"Yeah? Time to teach an old dog, new tricks I think."

"Woof woof, baby."

Jill laughed, shaking her head, "Claire always did have bad taste in men."

He winced, chuckling. Jill Valentine - Ball breaker. He started to retort and she winked at him, "Hold still, handsome. I'd hate to fuck up that pretty face any more than you already have."

He braced, closed his eyes, and waited for her to shoot him - or activate the thousand teeth of death that were suspended above him.

What choice was there here?

He had to follow the lady after all. Shrugging, he urged, "Hit it, hot stuff."

"You gonna kill me if I let you down?"

"Maybe with bad puns."

Jill laughed, rolling her eyes, "Did you hear about the graveyard? People are just dying to get in there."

He cocked his head, "I'm married, gorgeous. You keep that punning up and my wife might put another bullet in my head for flirting back."

Jill chuckled, "You're a weirdo, Kennedy. A weirdo."

"So they say. Shoot me and put me out of my misery."

She laughed. He winked. And Jill pulled the trigger.
....

The Salt Mines - Adjunct Dungeon- 0510
.....

The stockpile was a bust. They didn't find anything worth stealing. Lucas had burned it in anticipation of their arrival.

But Zoe was a wizard at directions. She'd cut across the swamp and brought them to the mines. A short little trip into the cool dark found them surrounded by damp air and darkness.

And across from a room.

The room was wide and weird. It was full of black light and boxes. Zoe and Claire kept standing in the doorway staring across the narrow walkways suspended above the ground. It was an elaborate maze.

But why?

What was Lucas hiding in it?

Claire tapped her foot, blowing out a heavy breath. "What would he keep in there?"

Zoe shrugged, "I can't think of anything he'd both leave out for someone to stumble on, and take the time to hide in the center of this mess. What could he possibly have worth protecting?"

There was a pop of sound and the sloppily rigged together row of televisions on the wall beside them burst to life with a staticky shiver of sound and white noise. Lucas appeared, in his dirty old hoodie, grinning. "Hey hey hey. I knew ya'll would show up eventually. How was the walk?"

Claire narrowed her eyes. "Beautiful weather. Perfect for a massacre."

"I agree!" He guffawed out a laugh, "See...the thing is? I need Eveline. I need her to come here so I can just...take a little bit of her for my mea culpas ya know? I need to get back in good with the connections."

Claire felt like "the connections" was probably capital. The Connections...his employers?

"Hmm. Sorry. I don't think that's happening. However, can I interest you in a painful, embarassing, and probably emasculating death? I'll cut your dick off one inch at a time...of course...it'll only take me half a cut though, won't it?"

He laughed, snarled, jerked like a freak, and shivered. "I love you, Claire. I love you. Why couldn't you love me back? I'd give you those babies your pretty faced loser of a husband couldn't."

She laughed, shaking her head, "Idiot. It ain't him. It's me. I can't have them. He's good. He's gold. His dick is ten inches of perfect delight. He isn't a pathetic little turd that can't get it up without beating the shit out of a girl first."

Zoe winced, shaking her head, "Really?"

"Oh, yeah. Why do you think he never raped me? He couldn't. Because I wouldn't just lay there and let him hit me. And Lucas? He can't get wood without it."

Lucas snarled, eyes flashing, "You shut up, you cunt! You hear me?"

Claire shrugged, "What for? You coward. You pussy. You think I'm afraid of you? Come on out here and see what I have for you."

Lucas grinned now, eyes rolling madly. "We both got surprises, princess. Both of us. I got something you want alright. He's not as pretty as you when he screams though. But the eyes? The eyes are the same."

Zoe froze, grabbing Claire's arm. They knew what was in the center of the maze now.

Claire bared her teeth, "You get my brother...you nasty piece of shit?"

"Oh, yeah. Twice. The first time - my cunt of a sister let him go. We didn't get to play. But I played with him this time. He screamed. He screamed alot. He cried too."

Zoe made a small sound.

Claire laughed. "Liar. Show him to me."

Lucas shrugged. The screens flickered.

He was lying in the purple light in the fetal position. The black light made it seem to surreal. The blood was everywhere. He wasn't moving. He was so badly beaten that he was nearly unrecognizable. She might not have believed it was him - but for that tattoo on his wrist.

Claire licked her teeth, "You tie him up and beat him?"

Lucas chuckled, "Nope. Didn't have to. I showed him an old video of you. I claimed I had you. I showed the one of me taking your clothes off that time. I told him I had you naked and waiting."

Zoe made another sound of horror.

The video had ended with Lucas swallowing his balls. But she was betting he didn't show that part. She was betting her brother had offered himself for her release.

The noble bastard.

Zoe whispered, "Where's Leon?"

Lucas grinned. "He's at the center of another game. I played fair with him. I fixed him and strung him up. Even though he GUTTED me!"

Zoe touched Claire's arm as the redhead spit, angrily, "I'm going to finish it. He spilled your guts. I'm gonna spill your balls. I'm gonna split your sack and watch those pea sized pathetic grapes squish under my bare foot."

"Sweet talker!" He grinned, "One in the grave, the other in peril. Who gets you first? Who loses by default? Let's make it fun, shall we?"

A timer popped up on the screen beside him. He gestured, like he could see it. "There ya go. Two hours. Two. In two hours, the door to the mines seals forever and no amount of TNT or good luck or goddamn soldiers on EARTH will be able to find you. Two hours - to save the day Claire. Two hours. How do you do with countdowns?"

She flashed a grin at him, eyes firing. "Mother fucker, I was raised on Umbrella countdowns. I never lose."

"Oh, yeah? Game on."

The screen flickered off. The black-lit room where Chris was made a snapping sound and the lasers shot smoke into the air. Lasers. The little piece of shit had set up lasers all over the room.

Zoe blinked, shaking her head. "What kind of person can dodge lasers?"

Claire laughed, scanning the room. "The wrong Kennedy. I'm the wrong one. Sadly for us, the other one is prime evil."

Zoe shook her head again, "I can do this. I'm skinny. I'm small. I can get around the room. But I need you to shine a light on those lasers for me to guide me."

Claire nodded, pulling the little tv off the wall beside her. She plugged it into the outlet and rolled it toward the room. The second the white flickering screen touched the room, it showed the lasers in sharp relief.

She said, "I played a game like this once. A long time ago."

Zoe gave her a lift of brows and Claire added, "The same island that made it so I'll never have children. I'd say Lucas has been digging around in my head."

Zoe rubbed her arm, comforting her. "You can thank Eveline for that. Let's get your brother, find your man, and finish this."

Claire took a deep breath, considering her. She finally said, "You're ok with ending your family?"

Zoe shook her head, sighing. "It's mercy now. For them? Mercy. Go. Find Leon. I got this."

Claire nodded as Zoe ducked under the first laser and entered the maze. It was like a game of limbo with tragic results. If she turned wrong, stepped wrong, ducked wrong...it ended in pieces for her. Somehow? She wasn't afraid.

Because Chris Redfield was lying in the center of the maze - beaten to hamburger thinking he was protecting his sister. It was the least they could do for him now. He'd let Lucas take him to save Zoe. He'd let Lucas beat him to save Claire.

At this point, he deserved revenge. They all did.

They wouldn't stop until they were dead.

They had two hours until daylight.

They had two hours until they never saw it again.

They were officially on borrowed time.

Trusting Zoe to save her brother, Claire cut left down the hallway there to search for her husband.

They needed a miracle - it was time to start carving one out of the dark with their bare hands.
.....

Zoe slid on her belly under a laser, feeling the heat against her scalp. She shifted and scooted left, rolled off the bridge and landed on a soft surface that wiggled, and tried to hold her feet as she went. The floor felt like a moonwalk or something and tossed her. She made a small sound, missed one laser, and felt the sizzle of another an inch from her face as she landed on one knee.

Zoe could see him now, just over the next rise. She tried to call for him. "Chris? Can you hear me?"

He was so still. She was afraid he was dead. She was afraid he was fake. What if it wasn't him in the center of the maze?

With no choice, she eased forward. She was halfway under the next laser when she heard the noise. Too close. Too close to do more than watch it happen.

The mold man was on the ground beneath the tiny bridge where she was crawling. The wide slats weren't any hope of protection. If she rolled, she'd be severed instantly by the laser currently sparking over her lower back.

She had no choice but to take it as the knife like arm of the mold man shot up and speared her through the slats. It hurt. It hit and stole her breath. It sliced her arm open above the elbow.

She kept crawling, quickly now.

It speared for her again and split her pants at the upper left thigh. The smell of her blood was sickening when it splashed and hit the laser, smelling like roasting copper.

She lost her shoe pulling her legs free and missed another slash to her legs by a breath.

Rolling, Zoe crouched through another set of lasers and reached the walk across from Chris. There was no getting through. It was a patchwork of shapes surrounding him where he lay. They weren't getting across without a magic mirror or something to reflect the rays.

And then she saw the box on the far wall. It was on the other side of him. It was right behind him against the post sitting there.

It looked like an electrical box. She was betting it was the way to turn off the lasers. She couldn't reach it...but he could. She needed him to wake up. She shouted, "CHRIS! CHRIS REDFIELD!"

He didn't stir. The mold man was coming. He leaped up on the walk across from her. He was pacing, trying to figure out how to get passed the laser to get her. She backed up on the narrow ledge, nearly out of reach. It shot that arm across and missed her nose by less than an inch.

She shouted again, "GET UP, SOLDIER! GET UP!"

He twitched on the ground. She felt awful. He was lying in so much blood. But it was their only chance here.

She shouted, "MOVE, REDFIELD!" The arm missed her ear as the mold man shot that knife like hand at her again. It caught her hair and took a chunk.

Eventually, he'd get tired of waiting. He'd just come for her. He could lose his feet and still kill her. She was running out of time. They both were. There was another mold man rising from the ground...right beside where he lay.

Her shouting had woken it.

Terrified, Zoe screamed, "Get up, Chris! PLEASE!"

The mold man near her lunged again. It hit the lasers and screamed, retreating, but it cut her cheek with its knife hand. The one beside Chris made a sound like a banshee wailing and lunged for him where he lay.

Zoe screamed, "CHRIS!"

And the bloody thing that he was rolled. The lunging face got a boot in it. There was a crunch of sound as he kicked it. It went up, it went over, and it landed right on the patchwork of lasers. The sound was instant - popping, crackling, burping and stinking. It smelled like roasting hair and rotten milk. It smelled like water left out to turn into algae.

The mold man screamed as it burned, catching fire in a burst of orange and stench.

The other one lunged for her, it's foot was cleaved in a lick of flames, and Zoe drove both her feet into its chest. It flopped, somewhat like a fish, and went down on its face beside her. She rolled her hips, kicked it in the side, and sent it careening over the bridge.

The world popped, swirled with sound, and lit up with a whoosh of pressure.

The smeared trail of blood had followed Chris to the electrical box. He was on one knee with the lever in his hand. The mold man speared his hand up like he'd kill him where he knelt and Chris rolled back, crawling.

The lasers died. The room was bright and ugly -splattered with blood as if by a crazy hand. Zoe raced across the narrow bridge toward and the mold man jumped up to join them on the ledge.

She grabbed Chris by his bloody shirt and dragged him. "Come on! Hurry! Help me please!"

He grunted, grabbing at her waist. She leveraged him up, looping her arm around his waist. They half ran, half limped together toward the far side of the room. Without the lasers, they were without weapons.

The mold man was so fast. He raced after them, hopping like a mad Tigger on his one good foot.

They were almost to the door when he speared that arm at them. Zoe shoved Chris to the side and ducked. It hit the wall beside her head and lodged there in the wet stone. She started to drag the other man with her and Chris turned back.

He kicked a boot into the mold man to send it spinning sideways. It hit the wall and dangled, stuck on its own claw. Zoe shouted, "Come on! Come on!"

But he didn't. He balled up his fist and punched the wailing monster in the face.

What had Claire said? Her brother punched things. It was what he did. Dying. Bleeding. Nearly blind. He still hit like a hurricane. He smashed the mold man into the wall and it was still, splattered against the blood in a wet streak. It's entire face collapsed around his fist as if it were made of clay.

Zoe grabbed his bloody shirt and jerked, spilling him forward. She took him out of the room and kicked the door shut. He didn't get far. He collapsed around the next corner and spilled to the floor on his hands and knees.

She didn't like how exposed they were, but she had no choice. He was bleeding everywhere. Her hands slathered and tugged, tucked and stroked. As much as she wanted to touch him, this wasn't how she'd envisioned it. He was cut to ribbons. What Lucas had done to her, he'd done to Chris.

He'd carved "Zoe" into his back in ugly strokes.

Making a small mewl of sympathy, she smeared salve over his back and the side of his neck. Chris shifted, breathing low and slow. His face was so swollen. She quickly covered it in slick salve, scooping his hair back to see the damage.

Lucas had pounded his face so badly that she was surprised he could see at all. She whispered, "How bad?"

And he answered, garbled and low, "Shadows. Light."

"How'd you find the box?"

"Instinct. Sound."

Damn. He was incredible.

"Can you see me at all?"

He shifted his hands, stroking her face. "No. But I don't need my eyes, Zoe. Cover them."

"You sure?"

"You ever seen Star Wars? They're not helping me here. I'm sure."

She tore off a piece of her shirt and wrapped it around his face like a blindfold. The second she did, he nodded. His hands shifted to her arms, rubbing gently. "I'm alright."

But he wasn't. Lucas had literally taken one of his eyes. The other was swimming in a pool of blood and inflammation. She said nothing and he finally quipped, "That bad huh?"

Again, she said nothing. Chris sighed, "Who's ugly now?"

"Not you. You big fucking hero. You saved us both back there."

"Not me. You. You're the hero, Zoe. I'm just the damsel in distress."

"Yeah? Then I deserve this."

And she leaned over and kissed his swollen mouth.

Chris grunted and grinned a little, "...tease. Kissing a blind guy is cheating."

She helped him up and the salve was working. He was on his feet. He was still blind. But he wasn't helpless. He said, "Claire?"

Zoe answered, "Leon."

"Right. That pansy. He'd need my sister to save him. Let's go help before he gets her killed punning bad guys to death."

She took a moment, watching him move. He wasn't even clumsy. He'd lost his eyesight before, she was nearly positive of that. She followed him, paused, and said, "I want to kiss you when you're not dying. I just...I wanted you to know."

He pursed his lips, moving down the cool hallway with her. "Let's get the hell outta here, Zoe. And I'll let you."

Seemed like a fair trade after all - for the girl that just kept saving his life.

Chapter Text

Twenty-One: Game Over


The Salt Mines – 0545


In all of his life, Leon Kennedy had danced with plenty of women. From the wild, to the unusual, to the friendly and the inane; he'd pleasured them all with his body in one way or another. He had a history of throwing his bone to anyone who needed it.

Until Claire.

Now she was the only person he wanted on his bone...ever.

Sadly for him, there was an enormously fat woman trying to potentially rip his bone clear off his body. It was mold, or something kinda like it, with an arm that looked like a freaking chainsaw or something and ripples of fat that resembled sagging tits. It had cornered him while Jill battled half a dozen mold men and was currently attempting to squeeze him to death amongst its many layers of mutated flesh.

He'd never really been a hugger.

This was why.

The fat mold woman was squeezing his life from his bones - if he wasn't already dead. That part was unclear. In typical fashion, he'd died, come back, died again and was potentially undead?

He wasn't sure at all what was happening within his body.

He only knew he had to make sure Claire escaped and Zoe. For some reason, his instincts were telling him Zoe had to live. Why? She had to. That was all he knew.

He blasted a hole out the back of the mold woman with the hand cannon of a .45 that Jill had given him. It roared, but it didn't let go. And a voice called, "You voracious flirt, I leave you alone for ten minutes and find you buried up to your nostrils in another woman's tits!?"

He tried to laugh but it was muffled, because his wife was giving him shit while he was being squeezed to death.

The sound of heavy gunfire escorted him to the ground as the thing dropped him and he rolled, coming back to his feet in a shower of stinky moldy water. Gripping the assault rifle, Claire tilted her head at him, "You look as bad as you smell, hot stuff. You yourself again?"

He still gripped the back of her neck to drag her in for a kiss. "Better, kid. Better."

She turned to find Jill moving toward them. She'd left a graveyard of dead mold in her wake. There was a reason she was known as Athena in the right circles. She was, clearly, a goddess of battle.

"Claire!"

They embraced, hard and tight. Claire laughed and drew back, "You look beautiful, you bitch."

"You look awful. You need a cheeseburger?"

"Like you wouldn't believe." She gripped her again, "Thank you. For saving him."

"You kidding? He's a riot. You're aware he's not, exactly, him right?"

"More than." Claire turned with Jill to face Leon, "I don't know what to do about it. I need him to save Chris and stop Eveline. But what if he turns?"

And Leon replied, "Is anyone aware that I'm right here? I can hear you. You know that right?"

Jill responded, "We would tie him up and stuff him somewhere and get him on the way back."

Leon said, "I'm right here, ladies. RIGHT HERE."

Claire replied, "That won't work. The back exit of the mines looked like it wouldn't come this way. And we only have two hours. Like it or not..."

Jill filled in, "We need him."

"Yep. Evil or not."

And Leon tapped the barrel of the gun in his hand, "Hello...hello is this thing on? Why does no one ever listen to me?"

Jill tilted her head, "He's fucking gorgeous."

Claire nodded, sighing, "I know. I told you."

"You did. But you didn't mention he was kinda stupid, Claire. He's a bit of a dumb ass."

Claire grinned, shaking her head, "He is. But he's mine. I'm keepin him."

"Can't blame you. He fuck as good as he looks?"

Claire sighed, dramatically, "Better. If memory serves? Better."

Leon rolled his eyes, "Objectifying me when we're, literally, hours from death...women."

They were all laughing a little as they ran for the far tunnel of the mines and Jill called, "The bad news is the only chance to stop Eveline looks like a neurotoxin that Lucas hoarded in the lower levels of the old mine. I don't think we can get there fast enough and back out before the time runs out."

Claire glanced at the map Jill hoisted up on her wrist. She shook her head, "No...we can't...but Zoe can."

Leon tilted his head, "How can we get a message to her?"

Jill glanced at the console that had once been the mines intercom and main hub. She shrugged, "Worth a shot right?"

Claire glanced at Leon and mused, "You ready to play MacGuyer?"

The machine was smoking and missing pieces and covered in dead mold men. Getting it back together surely couldn't be as simple as- he picked up the plug from the floor and stuck it in the wall. There was a burst and crackle of power and sound. The lights flickered and the machine hummed to life.

He nodded, cracking his neck, "Practically a genius right? You're welcome."

Claire rolled her eyes. Jill laughed. And Claire slapped the intercom button, "ZOE! IF YOU CAN HEAR ME...I THINK WE MIGHT HAVE A WAY OUTTA THIS MESS!"


Blind, Chris Redfield was still formidable.

He moved like he'd been born blind. He ran when Zoe urged, he ducked without prompting, he turned corners and listened. His ears became his eyes. He moved like a man who'd had TRAINING in all capital letters.

Claire's voice had turned them toward the labs. They were there now, Zoe hurriedly digging through cabinets to find the stolen neurotoxin. Chris stood guard, blind but armed. He kept the rifle they'd taken from his fallen teammate they'd found in the hallway aimed at the door.

Curious, Zoe asked, "Are you even sure you can hit anything that way?"

He laughed and shrugged, "Does it really matter?"

He had a good point.

"Muscle memory plays a huge part. And luck. We'll see if it holds out."

She nodded and gripped the vials Lucas had hidden behind another. She spun back, tucking the neurotoxin in her pack. She gripped the vaccine vials next and grabbed for a gun to weaponize it.

Chris mused, "You may want to hurry, honey. We're down to the wire."

Her voice beside him was soft and apologetic, "I'm so sorry."

"For wh-" And she jabbed the gun into his neck. It made a whoosh of sound as the vial emptied. The vaccine hit his blood and made him grunt. Zoe grabbed for him as he stumbled.

"It's ok. It burns, but it's ok."

It burned. She was the strongest woman he'd ever met. It burns, she'd said. It didn't burn. He felt like his blood was lava. He felt like it was MELTING him from the inside out.

She gripped him when he nearly went to one knee, grunting under his weight. "Chris!"

"I'm alright." His voice was breathy and hoarse. His lips brushed her ear as he held on, using her like a crutch, "I'm alright. Watch the door, Zoe! Ok? The door."

She turned the rifle, one armed, back at the door. The other clung to him. He grunted once and mused, "Shit...I think you just fucked me."

Her voice bubbled with a laugh, "I wish. Oh, lord. Tell me you're ok."

"Without the virus, I think I'm just me. The bad news is...I'm fucked here, Zoe. I'm bad. I don't know if I can keep going."

She turned her face a little toward him. He didn't look scared. He didn't look sad. He didn't look anything. His swollen face just looked resolute. He meant it. He was done.

He was ready to what? Die?

And he said, "Go back the way we came. Follow the sounds of air or water, that's usually leading you toward the outside. Get to Kennedy before he hurts Claire. Please. And get to Jill, my partner, you'll know her by the uniform. Get the men and burn this place down. Stop Eveline. Hurry."

Zoe shook her head, "Shut up. Please. Just shut up. Stand up and move. You don't really think I'm gonna leave you behind, do you?"

And she shoved the second plunger into his chest before he could answer.

The adrenaline hit his heart like a punch to a boulder.

It broke out of him on a shout of pain that made her blood run cold. He gripped her and shoved her into the wall so hard it rattled her teeth. She lost the gun. She grabbed for his face and his hands seized her arms to thrust her into the cold stone twice more.

That was the body's instinct, after all, to fight. She didn't fight back. She let him shove her like a rag doll.

He roared, "SON OF A BITCH!"

And her hands held onto to his face, "I'm sorry. I know it hurts. I'm sorry. But you need it."

She was right. She was. But it didn't make him like it. Or her. Right now? He hated her.

And she gasped, "CHRIS! Behind you!"

He dropped, jerking her down from the wall as he did. He threw her away like she was garbage and she rolled with it. The claw struck the wall above his head and he gripped the gun with his hand, spun around, and blindly fired from a crouch.

It blasted the thing off its feet and sent it crashing into the room beyond.

And the adrenaline finally reminded him that he was alive.

He called, quietly," Zoe? You alright?"

"I'm fine. I'm ok. Are you?"

"I'm alive. I don't know how long. Let's get the hell outta here."

It was the best idea she'd heard all day.


All the bad guys in the world couldn't stop determined survivors.

The elevator on which Claire and Leon and Jill found themselves appeared to be the slowest of all elevators. It chugged toward the surface at a snails pace as the countdown told them that had a handful of minutes to get out of the mines.

Into the tense silence, Claire whispered, "If we don't make it, Leon...thank you. I never said it. I don't think I said it."

He shook his head, "Don't ever say it. You'd do the same for me."

Her hand gripped his on the shotgun he held. Jill glanced between them and laughed, "You two need to cheer up. This shit is almost over."

The elevator chugged and halted, revealing the dirty basement of the house where Claire had lived like a prisoner in hell for years. She took a deep breath and said, "Good news? I know how to get us out of this shit hole."

And they followed her into the dark.


The smell of rain was still thick and cloying as they emerged into the grass. Jill could hear the chopper coming from her men. She shouted into the thunder, "Kennedy - let's secure you somewhere until we can get you vaccinated!"

He started to answer and the world erupted. The ground trembled. The wind roared. The house they were fleeing from groaned angrily.

And something that might have been human once burst from the shattering roof in a whipping rage. Tentacles of rot and mold lanced into the air. They whipped and rolled, slapping earth and sky in a rage filled rejection of their escape. Eveline's voice echoed on the wind, eerie and high. It was a little girl's squeal - like she'd awoken in the middle of a tantrum. She had taken over the entire house like a krakken rising from the deep.

Jill turned back but was whipped in the face and thrown away, her gun spinning through the muddy ground.

The tentacle caught Claire around the throat and jerked her up, seizing as the voice screamed, "BAD MOMMMMMMY! MY MOMMMMMY!"

And Leon roared, "I think somebody needs a time out!"

He vaulted up onto the tentacle that held his wife and climbed madly toward the bulbous eyes that glared through the storm at them. The shotgun bucked in his hands as he blasted from his knees halfway up. The tentacle whipped and dropped Claire, who gagged and scrambled as she tried to run.

Eveilne roared, "NO! MR. KENNEDY! YOU ARE A BAD DADDY! YOU ARE A LIAR! AND YOU ARE MINE!"

He raised the shotgun and stopped. His hands trembled. His arms jerked. He gasped and slid down the slick tentacle. Another caught him and dropped him to the ground as Eveline commanded, "Kill her! NOW!"

He turned, jerking wildly. The shotgun came up. Claire shouted, "NO! Leon! FIGHT HER!"

Two tears squeezed down his face as he jerked a shell into the heavy weapon and whispered, "...I can't."

And a voice called, "You always were the biggest fucking wiener on Earth, Kennedy. GET DOWN CLAIRE!"

She dropped. The shotgun blew apart the air an inch from her head. And Leon staggered, losing it into the mud as Zoe shot him from eight feet away. Not with a gun. No.

With a vaccine.

It stuck out of his chest like a dart.

He collapsed to his knees with a hand over it, grunting.

His eyes turned up to Chris as he whispered, "...fuck. What the hell happened to you?"

"...I let you marry my sister, you douchebag. I might enjoy this too much."

"No doubt." Leon braced, jerking, "Do it. Hurry."

And Chris pistol whipped him in the face with the assault rifle.

Claire shouted. Zoe kicked Leon's shotgun to her. Jill emerged into the torrential rain looking bloody but alert.

Zoe lifted the neurotoxin and shouted, "EVELINE, you BITCH! This is the last time you'll fuck around in anyone's head!"

The tentacle whipped toward her and Eveline screamed in rage. Chris tackled Zoe at the last moment and took them both to the ground, the tentacle whipped above them, and Jill grabbed for the fallen vaccine gun.

She lifted it, backing up as the nasty thing that was Eveline Baker turned toward her.

Into the air, the voice mewled, "Mommy?"

And Jill laughed, loudly, "...you wish."

She shot the toxin into the face of the thing that roared its rage and aimed toward her. It hit, Eveline screamed, Claire dragged Leon free of the debris and toward safety.

Chris tugged Zoe toward the light casting circles in the dark from the approaching helicopter.

And Eveline roared, "Mommmmmmmmyyyy..."

Her grayish body contorted. Her face erupted in pus and filth. The air stunk of stagnant mold and rotten eggs. And the toxin dried out the mold that was Eveline Baker and turned her to ash. She scattered on the wind with a cry of rage.

It tumbled around them in plops of wet filth.

Jill raised her voice above the encroaching din of soldiers, "Baker?!"

And Chris called back, "Still out there!"

Jill nodded and patted his shoulder. "We'll get him. Don't worry!"

She glanced at Zoe and back at his face. The skinny urchin sighed, shaking her head. The vaccine hadn't given his sight back. He was still blind.

One way or the other, his hero days were over.

On the ground, Claire was petting her unconscious husband. There was no way to know if the vaccine had worked in time until he woke up. She hold on, even after the helicopter lifted and took them away.

And fell asleep at his bedside when they finally took them to safety.

She was still there when he woke up - and punned.


The knock on the hotel room came before the sun was even above the horizon. He'd spent three days in the hands of doctors behind examined, treated, stitched and prodded.

There was no fixing his sight. He was blind. There was a slender chance he'd get back the vision in the one eye that remained and the doctor's were hopeful. But it would be months before they knew for sure.

All of it was bearable. It was ok. Because Claire was safe. She was alive and safe and back with Leon where she belonged.

The sacrifice remained worth every loss.

Learning to navigate his world without sight was going to be the biggest challenge Chris Redfield ever faced.

He opened the room door and invited, "Identify yourself."

Curious, Zoe glanced at the gun in his hands, "Can you even shoot me if you can't see me?"

He laughed and lowered the weapon, "What do you think?"

She smiled and closed the room door, "I believe it. I've never met anyone like you. I think you fly a plane blind if you had to."

He laughed, shrugging, "I'd still do it better than Kennedy."

Zoe smirked and studied him in the sweat pants he wore. His big body was covered in scars and bruises. The sheer scope of all the muscle still made her breathless. He was healed in some ways, courtesy of the virus, in a lot of ways he wouldn't have survived other wise. What the virus hadn't fixed, modern medicine had. But he was still blind.

The dark glasses he wore covered the damage, but the white bandages binding his face were still evident.

Zoe tilted her head at him, "Didn't you say something about sunglasses at night once?"

He winced and perched on the edge of the bed. "What a way to end my career huh? A parody of the man who'd begun it."

"There's nothing funny about you." She said it quietly and moved toward him. "You saved my life, Chris. And it cost you everything. How do I repay that?"

He shook his head, "I'm alive. You're free. Claire and Leon are together again. It's a victory, Zoe. Don't mourn me. I'll survive this. I always do."

Jesus he was sheer determination. She was wildly, desperately, madly in love with him. She thought it would change after the adrenaline wore off and they were free. But it just got worse. It was so much worse. Because now she knew that what she'd been feeling wasn't hero worship, it was love. The kind that lingers long after the battle is won and the day is saved.

She was the girl in love with Chris Redfield.

Zoe touched his face and he went still in her hands. She answered, softly, "I made you a promise."

He shook his head and whispered, "You don't have to keep it, Zoe. You're young. You're free for the first time in your life. You don't want to waste your freedom on a used up old man."

She shook her head. She shifted, tossed aside her shirt, and straddled him. He made some sound and his hands slid against her hips, holding her there.

She tilted his face up to her and whispered against it, "I want you to be my old man, Chris Redfield. And you'll only be used up when I'm done with you."

"Zoe..." He protested even as his hands shifted up her back to hold her to him, "You deserve better." He breasts pressed against his chest and scrambled his brains.

And she replied, "Shut up, hero, and kiss the girl."

He shut up - and kissed the girl. And then he rolled her beneath him, and let her save him.


Two weeks after the Baker residence was reduced to smoldering ash, Claire and Leon were reunited with Bob. Bob, thrilled to have his mommy back, wouldn't leave her alone for an entire week as he chased her around the house.

It was all laughter and love. It was bad puns and bad jokes and good times.

Until Claire got sick a month later.

She was sick for three days - throwing up every morning, unable to eat for lunch. By dinner, she was herself again, only to repeat the cycle again the next morning.

It was a trip to the doctor and three hours of nervous tension later before he joined them in the office.

He laughed, shaking his head, "Whatever you did, Claire, it worked."

Curious, Claire tilted her head, "Doctor?"

"We ran your blood panel three times - something reset you. Something...reset your DNA. Because your body isn't sick...it's pregnant."

Somehow Eveline Baker had stolen three years of her life, and given her a future.

She grabbed Leon's hand. He gripped hers so hard it hurt. Softly, she breathed, "It's healthy?"

"Oh, perfectly." The doctor laughed, "Congratulations."

Leon laughed, eyes glistening, "Worst driver, my ass. You hear this? I parked one in your uterus, kid."

And Claire was laughing even as she started to cry.


Bob leaped and jumped around the yard as Leon, wearing his favorite apron that read Classy, Sassy, and a Bit Smart Assy, was manning the grill. Claire and Zoe sat at the outside table beneath the umbrella, sipping lemonade.

Chris sat in the grass with the Bob and wrestled.

Curiously, Zoe mused, "Can you believe this is where we are after everything?"

Claire shook her head and rubbed her flat belly, "I can't. I can't believe any of it."

"Me either," Zoe glanced at her, "Thank you, Claire. I think you kept me going when I wanted to give up in there."

Claire reached across the table toward her. They joined hands and squeezed. "Same. I love you, Zoe. Like the sister I never had or something. I can't imagine ever not being a part of your life."

Zoe nodded and laughed, softly, "I feel the same...you don't mind...about Chris and I...?"

Claire shook her head, laughing, "I can't believe he said yes. My brother...has boundaries about things like that. How'd you ever get him to cross them?"

And Zoe answered, "I took off my shirt."

Claire laughed, and winced, and laughed again, "...ew."

Zoe shifted and sighed, watching Bob attack Chris and take him to the ground in a rolling fight of laughter and licks. Leon was whistling and flipping burgers. One missed and hit the ground. Bob gave up the fight to grab for the ground beef and woof it down.

Leon, glancing around to be sure no one saw it, pretended it never happened.

Claire adored him, shaking her head, "...I should tell you...I'm pregnant. We just found out last week."

Zoe gripped her hand harder, "No! You said you couldn't!?"

"Apparently...the virus reset my body. I am. I can barely believe it."

Zoe shifted on her seat. She sighed. She rolled her lip around and chewed it and mused, "...well...it's a big day for you."

"Yeah." Claire laughed, "Yeah. Mommy after all."

Zoe nodded and added, "And Aunt."

The drink paused halfway to Claire's lips, "...what?"

"Yeah. Mommy and Aunt...I'm pregnant too."

Claire laughed, eyes sparkling, "You got him to fuck you and keep you!? You're a wizard, Zoe Baker!"

Zoe laughed and rounded the table so they could hug.

By the grill, Leon mused, "What's all the cooing and the giggling over there?"

On the ground, Chris answered, "Probably talking about how bad you are in bed."

"You'd have to ask your mom for that answer."

And Chris answered, "My mom was known to enjoy a tiny dick in her day."

Leon shot him the finger, remembered he was blind, and was polite enough to sit on his chest instead and blast a fart into the other man. Chris shouted, slapped madly at him, and Bob jumped in to lick and bark happily as they struggled.

At the table, Claire laughed, "You see this? The father of our children!"

And Zoe, sighing, lamented, "...men."