Chris stopped at the edge of the flooded corridor, eyeing the murky water with trepidation. But he’d explored as much of the residence as he could and this was the only way forward. He raised his gun, wading cautiously into the water, which got deeper rapidly, and he was up to his waist by the time he’d reached the doors. The weight of the water made the doors heavy and he had to force them open, grunting as he finally made it through. His eyes widened as he saw the man pressed against the centre supports. ‘Richard!’
‘Chris!’ Richard clung to the railing, glancing around in fear.
Chris started to walk towards him.
‘Chris, stop, no!’ He reached out for Chris as something leaped out of the water at him.
His reflexes kicked in automatically and Chris nailed the shape with a quick gunshot. It screamed in a disturbingly human voice as blood sprayed, and it vanished beneath the water again. ‘Richard!’ Chris hauled him up, he was shaken but unharmed. ‘Let’s go before that thing comes back.’ He fought the slight current to get around to the other side of the room, keeping his gun handy as he caught motion below them.
A toothy maw appeared and he shot at it, the shark slipping off rather than pursue him. Chris kept moving, calling to Richard to do the same, whatever had first attacked them had definitely not been a normal shark and they needed to get out of the water. He jiggled the door handle, swearing as it didn’t open, then remembered the key he’d found earlier. Thankfully it worked and when they were both inside he slammed the door shut.
‘Where’s Rebecca?’ Chris asked, watching as Richard slid to the ground. He didn’t look good, pale and sweating from the poison even though he’d been given the serum.
‘I dunno. She heard something and left.’ Richard groaned and leaned against the wall.
Chris swore under his breath, they needed to stop getting separated. But now he had to leave Richard to continue investigating. ‘Stay here.’ Chris ordered him.
He nodded meekly, looking embarrassed. ‘Chris, I dropped my gun in the water.’
‘Ok, I’ll keep an eye out.’
Chris went down the ladder, momentarily confused at the room below. He looked over the control panels, realised what they were for, and started draining the room. Something slammed into one of the windows, leaving blood and a worrying crack. ‘Shit.’ The metal shutters froze as they locked up.
‘Chris?’ Richard yelled over the alarms.
‘I’ve got it!’ He shouted back, scrambling to get the shutters moving again. It worked and he breathed a sigh of relief as they closed, the rush of the water draining echoing loudly in the small room.
‘I’m going to keep moving. You should wait.’ Chris called to Richard, only heading off when he got confirmation.
He spun the next door open, finding himself in what seemed to be a storage area with two more doors. Picking one at random he opened it to see what had to be the bottom of the previously flooded aqua ring. A shark flopped off to one side, dying in the air. Richard’s shotgun was just past it and Chris slung it over his shoulder to take back up to him. He searched the area then moved on a bit further, pocketing the key he found.
There was a shallow pool still at the far end of the room, and he gripped his gun as he headed towards it, glimpsing something moving in the water. A shark tail swished and retreated as he got closer, a soft gasp accompanying the movement. And then Chris finally saw it clearly, and even though he’d seen impossible things tonight, this was something else entirely.
The creature’s lower body resembled a shark, but its upper torso seemed to be mostly human. It was huddled in the corner farthest from Chris, its tail drawn up defensively. One of its hands was pressed against its shoulder, blood leaking through its fingers to drip down the pale skin of its chest, and Chris realised that this was the thing he’d shot to save Richard. Or maybe it wasn’t a thing after all. Blond hair was plastered messily to its face as it raised its head, and despite the glowing red, slit-pupiled eyes glaring at him, Chris could see that the creature was frightened. Nothing he’d met, and killed, so far had displayed any remnant of emotion or intelligence, but his gut instinct told him that this one was different. And strangely, ethereally, beautiful. Thin lips pulled back to bare sharp-looking teeth as it hissed a warning at him, its tail churning up the water around it.
‘Hey, it’s ok.’ Chris tried to calm him down. The word merman popped into his head, and it was as good a term as any other, this whole place was insane anyway. ‘Can you understand me?’ He probably should’ve asked that first.
The merman nodded warily, his eyes tracking Chris’ slow movements as he got closer to him. Then he noticed the gun still in Chris’ hand, cringing away with a faint cry.
‘Shit.’ Chris holstered it, trusting his instincts that he wasn’t in danger. ‘I won’t hurt you again. I’m sorry I shot you, but you were going after my friend.’
Cautiously, the merman peered up at him through damp strands of blond hair, his eyes orange now and no longer glowing as brightly.
He didn’t know what he was going to do, but he knew that he couldn’t leave someone who needed help to fend for themselves in this deathtrap. ‘I’m Chris. Do you have a name?’
The merman gave him a startled look that changed to sad resignation as he shook his head.
Unsure if that meant that he didn’t have a name or just that he couldn’t speak, Chris moved on. He reached for the first aid supplies secured to his belt. ‘Can I take a look at your wound?’ While he didn’t regret protecting Richard, he did feel rather guilty at the pain he’d caused.
Orange eyes narrowed in suspicion, but after a moment the merman nodded. His hand slipped off the injury as Chris knelt beside him so he could see better. The merman could’ve easily attacked him, and Chris was too close to evade, but for some reason they’d mutually decided on a truce. Chris inspected the gunshot wound, glad that it had gone through so he wouldn’t have to dig a bullet out, and that because of the angle he hadn’t hit any major arteries. ‘Ok, it’s not too bad. I’m just going to wash it out and then put a bandage on.’ He glanced up before touching the merman, almost reeling back at how unexpectedly near to each other they were, the merman’s face only inches from his own. A hint of pink coloured the merman’s pale cheeks as he quickly averted his gaze, splashing some water onto his shoulder to clean the blood off as a distraction.
Chris patched him up efficiently, trying not to let his hands linger too long on the merman’s skin, which felt completely human except for being a bit too cool. He had enough to deal with right now without also being oddly attracted to a merman. When he was done he stood up, considering the merman and the situation thoughtfully. ‘I’m going to get my friend, I’ll be back in a minute.’
Chris ran, finding that Richard had come down the ladder to sit at the table in the control room. ‘Chris! Did you find anything?’
‘Yeah, but it’s not exactly what I expected.’ Chris shook his head to fend off any questions. ‘I could use your help.’
‘Don’t panic.’ Chris warned him as they got close enough to see the merman. ‘I know he looks scary, but he seems to be friendly.’
‘What? Oh god, what is that thing?’ Richard stepped back.
The merman tensed and hissed, his eyes flashing red.
‘Everybody calm down.’ Chris ordered. ‘Richard, I need you to help me get him out of here.’
‘Are you insane? It attacked me! You shot it!’
‘He’s intelligent, and I’m not leaving him here.’
Richard stared at him, then finally conceded with a grimace. ‘I’m not getting near it though.’
‘Fine.’ Chris knelt next to the merman, frowning as he considered the shark tail. ‘I don’t know much about sharks, but I think you need to be kept wet. But I also need to get you out of here, so I’m going to do my best, ok?’
The merman nodded, watching as Chris removed his vest and his shirt, and maybe it was his imagination that those orange eyes lingered a little too long on his bare chest before he put the vest back on. Focus, he ordered himself. He soaked the shirt in the shallow water, making sure it was saturated and then he moved to wrap it around the shark tail. The merman flinched and hissed, and he heard Richard fidget behind him. ‘I’m going to put this around you to keep you wet.’ He explained patiently.
The merman narrowed his eyes before nodding again, helping Chris as best he could.
‘Ok.’ Chris picked him up, staggering a bit under the weight, and the merman gasped and grabbed his shoulder. ‘It’s ok, I’ve got you.’ He was heavy, but Chris was strong enough to carry him. The scales under one arm were surprisingly smooth, he remembered too late that shark skin was supposed to be like sandpaper and he was lucky he hadn’t inadvertently cut himself open. The slightly cool human skin under his other arm was far more distracting, especially when the merman leaned into him a bit more.
‘Where’re we going?’ Richard asked, drawing Chris’ attention.
‘Um.’ Chris tried to think, remembering a bathroom with a tub in one of the residence rooms. If they cleared the zombies out maybe he could leave the merman and Richard there while he continued exploring. ‘I’ve got an idea. This way.’ He directed Richard out of the aqua ring and back to the main floor.
A sudden gunshot made him exchange a glance with Richard, the man hefting his shotgun in readiness. But it was a friend who appeared around the corner.
‘Richard!’ Jill lowered her gun in surprise at seeing him, then her eyes widened as she caught sight of Chris and the merman. ‘Chris! What-’
‘I honestly don’t know.’ Chris shook his head, feeling claw-like nails dig into his shoulder as the merman gave a low hiss at their stares. ‘Rebecca!’ He said in shock as the younger woman came up behind Jill.
‘Chris! Richard!’ Rebecca turned a stern, disapproving glare on her patient. ‘You were supposed to stay in bed.’
Richard looked sheepish.
‘We should get somewhere safer.’ Jill interrupted the conversation with the practical suggestion.
They went to the room Chris had been thinking of, dragging the bodies, including the apparent suicide, no one wanted to take chances, out into the corridor where Jill burned them as an additional precaution. Chris deposited the merman in the tub, leaving him to fill it with water while he talked to his teammates about their next move. Richard had been banished back to lie in bed with Rebecca alternately fussing over and chiding him.
‘A merman?’ Jill asked Chris with a raised eyebrow.
He huffed a bit defensively. ‘He needed help.’
‘And he’s pretty.’ She teased him with a grin.
Chris wished he wasn’t blushing as he firmly stated once more: ‘He needed help.’
‘Uh huh.’ The grin widened.
‘Anyway, I found this too.’ Trying to get them back on track and Jill’s attention off his love life, Chris showed her the key.
She took it to examine the writing. ‘Ok, you stay here with your merman. And make sure Richard stays too.’
Chris almost protested about them splitting up again but Jill overrode him.
‘Someone needs to protect them. And with Rebecca’s help I think I can synthesise a chemical to get rid of that plant.’
Rebecca looked up at her name. ‘Ok. Richard should be fine as long as he doesn’t move around too much.’
‘Ok.’ Chris deferred to their expertise. ‘I’ll stay here.’
‘I found these notes…’ Jill’s voice trailed off as she closed and locked the door.
Chris checked on Richard, who was resting comfortably, so he went back to the bathroom. The merman was idly flicking the water in the tub with his tail, eyeing Chris warily as he came in. It was rather sad to see him crammed into a small dingy bathtub, but there was still something regal about him despite his surroundings.
‘You doing ok?’
He shrugged at the question, wincing as the movement jarred his shoulder.
‘Jill and Rebecca are trying to figure out the next step to getting us out of here.’ Chris explained what was happening. ‘We’ll get you out too.’
The merman studied him as if trying to ascertain if he was being truthful or not.
‘I promise I won’t leave you here.’ He swore rashly, not even knowing why this was so important to him. Maybe he’d already lost too many friends that he would save anyone he possibly could.
A faint bemused smile actually crept across the merman’s face at the promise. He splashed some more water around, then slumped down further into the tub.
‘Is there not enough water?’ Before he realised what he was doing, Chris had cupped his hands, scooped up some water and was pouring it over the merman’s uninjured shoulder. His own skin brushed the merman’s cool, pale skin, and he flushed a bit, enjoying how it felt more than he should.
Orange eyes met his as Chris automatically continued, his lips parting in a soft gasp of surprise, but he didn’t stop Chris. It was inappropriate and poorly timed, and Chris just kept doing it, trailing his fingers down the well-defined muscles of the merman’s chest along with the water he’d poured. The merman seemed equally as mesmerised, watching Chris with a slight flush on his own cheeks.
The sound of the key turning in the lock made him jump, more in embarrassment at what he’d been doing than in concern that it was a zombie coming into the room. Jill and Rebecca had dispatched the plant to find yet another key and they headed back to the main mansion to investigate further.
Richard was still sleeping, and so Chris returned to sit next to the bathtub. They sat in silence for a few moments, the merman swishing his tail to make the water move in small rippling waves as if he was bored. ‘Um.’ Chris said, struggling for something to say.
The merman peered over the side of the tub at him with a blond eyebrow raised, then shifted so his arms were crossed on the edge, waiting attentively for Chris to continue.
‘I guess I could tell you how we ended up here?’ Even though, or maybe because, the merman didn’t reply, when that topic was exhausted Chris found himself rambling inanely about anything that popped into his head. It wasn’t like him but the merman’s obvious interest and encouraging nods made him want to keep talking.
This time however Jill and Rebecca seemed to be gone for hours, and eventually Chris fell into a light doze with his head resting against the side of the bathtub. A damp hand combed through his hair in a soothing repetitive motion, sharp nails gently prickling along his scalp as the merman stroked his head.
Chris startled at the door opening again, and the snarling hiss of the merman near him as his hand tightened in his hair.
Jill raised an eyebrow at the sight, but she was grinning about something else. ‘We found Barry.’
The man waved over her shoulder, faltering in confusion as he saw the merman.
Chris quickly smiled back, relieved that someone else was alive, especially Barry. ‘Hey. Finally, some good news.’
‘Yeah.’ Jill’s expression turned grim. ‘That might be the only good news though. We didn’t go very far into it, but there’s an underground laboratory here.’
‘And it’s the only place left to explore.’ Chris filled in the rest himself with a sigh.
They all headed down to the lab entrance, Chris unhappily leaving the merman on the cold floor. He’d wrapped some wet blankets around him, and his body temperature didn’t seem to be that of a normal human, but Chris was still worried about him catching a chill. ‘I hope you’ll be ok here for a bit.’ The merman nodded, squeezing Chris’ hand in what he assumed was supposed to be a reassuring gesture.
It would have to do, so he stood up and rejoined the others. ‘I want to go down into the lab.’
Jill’s eyes flicked to the merman as she guessed why. ‘You think there’s information about him?’
‘I hope so.’ Chris looked back at him too, gazing into orange eyes that seemed to soften only for him, realising he was staring too long when Jill cleared her throat.
‘Rebecca and Barry can stay here then?’ She glanced at them for confirmation before tilting her head at Chris. ‘Let’s go.’
There was some information scattered around about the various research projects being worked on, and they learned that Umbrella was behind this entire thing. As valuable, and alarming, as that knowledge was, Chris wasn’t satisfied since he still hadn’t found anything specific on the merman.
Chris flipped through the slides, frowning at the images of sharks, but the merman wasn’t pictured. A slide of the researchers working here… He quickly went back, focussing on the tall blond on the right hand side. The man was wearing sunglasses for some reason, but the hair and the features were eerily familiar. Chris read the name, A. Wesker, recalling other files that had mentioned an Albert Wesker. He stared at the picture of the man, anger rising. They’d even experimented on their own people, but why? Had it been an accident, or had Wesker threatened the operation somehow? Chris wasn’t sure, but he’d found a name for the mysterious merman and potentially a source of information on exactly what had been going on down here.
‘Look at these.’ Chris showed Jill the slides.
‘Interesting.’ She frowned thoughtfully. ‘Does this change your mind about him?’
‘No.’ He didn’t need any time to consider his answer. ‘Even as involved in this as he obviously was… I don’t think he volunteered to be a science project.’
‘It would help if we could ask him.’ Jill shook her head, her tone turning sarcastically cheerful. ‘Maybe later. Right now, I’ve got another key.’
‘Yay.’ Chris offered with a wry grin.
Before they searched for a lock though, they went back to the others to resupply and check on them. Chris knelt down next to the merman, speaking quietly. ‘Your name’s Albert, right?’
Wide orange eyes stared at him in shock, then he slowly nodded.
‘You worked for Umbrella as a researcher. Here.’ He tried not to make it sound too much like an accusation, but Albert drew away, hunching his shoulders as if expecting Chris to lash out at him physically as he reluctantly nodded again. Seeing his open fear upset Chris, but he knew that he was right about the circumstances that had led to the man’s transformation, and it made him wonder in how many other ways he’d been hurt. Chris kept his voice soft, the last thing he wanted was for the merman to be scared of him. ‘I didn’t find anything else, but… they did this to you, didn’t they? As part of an experiment?’
Tentatively, Chris reached out, running his fingers down Albert’s arm. ‘Whatever you were involved in doing here, you didn’t deserve this. I made you a promise to get you out of here, and I’m keeping it.’
Albert gave him a hard, searching stare, and then unexpectedly leaned forwards. The kiss was over before Chris had really registered it was happening, just a quick brush of lips and then Albert retreated. But there was an amused smile on his face that Chris couldn’t keep from returning, knowing now for sure that the odd attraction he felt towards the merman was mutual. ‘One more for luck?’ He murmured hopefully, claiming Albert’s mouth in a deeper, longer kiss. Fangs lightly grazed his tongue as Chris licked Albert’s lips open to swallow his breathy moan. Chris rested their foreheads together, staring into those surprisingly pretty orange eyes. ‘I’ll come back for you.’
Chris and Jill left to keep looking around, eventually discovering another level of the lab, this one with a disturbingly shattered tank. ‘Tyrant.’ Jill muttered as she searched the nearby computer. ‘I’ll download what I can, maybe it’ll be useful later.’ She did so, both of them hoping not to meet the monster the files detailed.
They weren’t so lucky. The entire group of remaining survivors had gathered on the roof, Brad’s helicopter coming in for a landing when something huge broke through the concrete and attacked them. Barry and Rebecca were separated from them on the far side of the helipad, the tyrant heading for them as they fired at it. Chris hastily put Albert down to draw his own gun, the tyrant’s attention splitting between the two groups. It knocked Barry over then charged towards Chris and Jill.
Chris backed away, fumbling to reload as the tyrant advanced on him, ignoring Jill’s bullets. The tyrant swung at him as he scrambled backwards… And then something launched itself at the monster. It was Albert, who growled angrily as his strong tail slapped the tyrant’s legs hard enough to crack a bone, and it went down under him. His claws were fully unsheathed as he tore at the tyrant’s chest, biting its throat open in a spray of blood. But it fought back, roaring and smacking him off. Albert hit the wall with a horrible crunch and didn’t get up again.
‘No! Shit.’ Chris couldn’t make it to him, but Albert had bought him valuable time and he shot at the tyrant again.
‘Use this!’ A heavy box dropped from the circling helicopter, Brad doing something useful for once.
Jill sprinted for the rocket launcher and with one shot the monster exploded.
Barely sparing it a second glance, Chris frantically ran to where Albert was lying unmoving. ‘Albert!’ Chris knelt beside him.
His head lolled as Chris pulled him up, his skin slick with blood, some of it his own. ‘Chris.’ Albert whispered faintly, his fingers smearing blood down Chris’ face as he touched his cheek, his eyes closing with a soft sigh.
‘Albert!’ Desperately, Chris pressed his fingers to his neck, relieved when he felt a heartbeat even though it was unsteady.
‘He’s alive.’ Chris gathered Albert up into his arms as Brad finally landed the helicopter to take them away.
They watched as the damned mansion below them got smaller, the sun just starting to rise on a new day. The fallout from this incident was going to be incredible, but none of them had the energy to think about that yet.
‘What are you going to do with him, Chris?’ Jill asked, not unkindly, but with definite concern as she eyed the two of them.
‘I don’t know.’ Chris stroked the blond hair of the unconscious merman resting in his lap.
Orange eyes slitted open to gaze at him as Albert sighed and leaned into the touch.
‘Maybe there’s a cure or something.’ And even if there wasn’t, well, he supposed he’d just have to get a place with a bigger bathtub. The flippant thought made him laugh despite the situation, shaking his head as Jill raised a questioning eyebrow at him. He didn’t know what would happen next, but as Albert curled up a little tighter around him, Chris knew for certain that they would deal with it together.