The battle had been brief and bloody. A small explosive had blown in this area, and now Chris' ears were ringing and his head throbbing. He wasn't sure they hadn't spotted him ducking over behind his current cover. He hoped they didn't think he'd start following them through the hallways - wasn't likely since he took a shot through his leg. It ran through the meaty part of his thigh, but had thankfully missed the major artery.

He waited for the smoke to clear, the sounds of gunfire had faded in the distance. He pressed his back harder against the large metal containers he was huddled behind. The metal was colder than the freezing air around him, but he couldn't chance being seen yet. He looked up at the large hole now blown into the ceiling with contempt. It had been created from the recent firefight, now letting in a cold arctic wind. He watched as the last of the day's light disappeared from the sky.

Shifting his weight, Chris grunted involuntarily as the hole in his leg awoke his frozen limb to a whole new wave of pain. He rummaged through his pockets for some bandages and cloth. This wasn't where he wanted to be on Christmas Eve. This hadn't been the plan, but here he was, cold, wounded, and alone hiding in an Umbrella plant somewhere in Northern Norway. He silently chided himself as he tied a tourniquet just above his knee; here he was delving into his sad thoughts when the others were out there somewhere....

It had been a stroke of luck that they had intercepted that call, or so Chris had thought. They'd been keeping a close tab on their corporate contacts and black market stoolies. Umbrella had been quiet for a while now, and Chris wasn't one to think they take the holidays off. Just last week they had gotten wind of something happening at this very location, something about the transportation of a large shipment, headed to one of their main island research facilities. He had hoped that if they got here in time they could track the ship leaving dock and uncover the location of Umbrella's rumored facility hidden on one of the islands within the arctic circle.

Heh, Chris laughed inwardly, Santa isn't the only one taking up residence at the North Pole....

They prepared a team. He chose to bring Barry along; Chris agonized over splitting him from his family over the holiday, but he just couldn't do this without his expertise. Maybe to make up for it he separated himself from his only family and made Claire stay home.

No, be honest, you don't want her near any of this anymore. It's your fault she got involved in the first place, and you've done everything you can to keep her from getting back into the fray.

Yeah, that was more like it. She gets so angry too, every time he tells her he has nothing for her this mission. Maybe next time, okay? No, it never appeases her.

At least there is Leon.

Yeah, yeah, big brother's aren't supposed to like anyone that looks at their sister in *that* way. Chris thought. But spending a few months with the ex-officer, Chris can tell Leon just isn't like that. He showed genuine care and concern for her well being. He'd spent so much time with her, and helped her get over Steve. He was able to talk with her about things she'd couldn't really discuss with her brother. Chris understood, some things you need to discuss with a fresh set of ears.

But it was the times he'd upset Claire the most that he was glad Leon was there. It is important for her to know that she always has someone to go to if there's trouble, if something should happen to him... Well, you can't work in this line of work and not prepare for that happenstance, especially when things can turn out like they have now.

Chris jumped, his body tense. Gunshots sounded nearby. God, if only he knew where his team was! Footsteps sounded in the hallway, fading from his location. He chanced a glance up over the box, but fell back down to the ground and let out another grunt. He didn't get a glimpse of anyone - his leg just couldn't support him enough for quick shifts and jaunts.

He, Barry, and a few others they had picked up from other raids (some mercenary Jill brought over - a guy named Carlos- and an old friend of Leon's who had tangled with Umbrella on another island somewhere) had volunteered to come along on the mission. This was going to be cut & dry, recon only. But that's always when the twists come along; right when you least expect or want it.

The covert team had followed Umbrella for quite a while now, ever since the original incident at Spencer Mansion in 1998. Since then there had been so many breakouts and mishaps at Umbrella's facilities all over the world, the were surprised that everyone didn't know about Umbrella's role in the demise of Raccoon City.

Nevertheless, they just weren't able to figure out why a corporation that was as old and as organized as Umbrella was experiencing so many accidents and mishaps all of the sudden.

Chris leaned his head back against the containers behind him. He let out a long breath, the cold smoke pouring slowly from his mouth. Hard to believe they hadn't known anything about this third organization before tonight. Sure, now it makes a sort of sense, rarely today are there two sides to any given conflict. At some point, a third party had worked their way into the ongoing conflict between the and Umbrella.

On second thought, Chris mused as he took the current quiet opportunity to reload his automatic rifle, perhaps we were the ones that butted in on their silent conflict. After all, STARS had been an opportunity to turn a bad situation into a profitable one according to Wesker. Who's to say that this new group wasn't the one to originally cause the incident at the mansion?

And what is this organization, a rogue military group after the technology? A rival pharmasutical company trying to expose Umbrella's darker practices?

Whoever they were, they were ready. It was their information that the had intercepted. They were making a move against this installation, and now Chris and his people were in the way. It was the first time his team had gotten to a base *before* the virus had been released. It wasn't all zombies and B.O.W.s, this time. No, now it was a lot of people - Umbrella's employees, some in on their covert operations, other completely innocent.

Not that it mattered to this third group. The resulting battle was a bloodbath. Chris lead his team through the complex, looking for the Main Control Room to assess where they needed to be when this dark-clad squad started storming the complex and opened fire on anyone in their sites. Chris immediately broke the team in two - the mission was a complete wash, he wasn't going to loose anyone over this. They ran from the room, taking alternate paths back to the meeting point. They had orders to reach the helicopter at 2400 hours and get the hell out of there. No waiting, no exceptions.

It was immediately after that the hallway exploded. Cries filled the air, debris and dust fell down around them. Chris had immediately took a hit in the leg. Carlos saw him and headed right for Chris' fallen form when a new wave of gunfire filled the corridors. Both he and Chris hit the floor. When Chris finally caught Carlos' gaze, he yelled, Get out of here, that's an order! I'll be right behind you!

Carlos wasn't convinced. He started to try and make his way along the floor to Chris, but Chris waved him off, NO, Damn you - get out of here!

Right after that the second grenade went off. Chris hoped his people had gotten out of the way, but it was do dark and dusty to see anything. He dragged himself behind these metal containers and steeled himself to wait this out.

Chris looked down at his watch. It just turned 11:58. Okay, so he lied. Carlos can sue him later. As long as the others get out of here. Barry can step in and take the operations over with Jill. Carlos and Jill had been becoming closer in recent months. It seemed to be what she wanted, it seemed to make her happy. Chris couldn't let anything happen to Carlos, Jill deserved to be happy. Like Claire.

Perhaps it was the numbness setting in in his extremities, or maybe it was the slow blood loss, but he started reflecting on his life and his choices that brought him to the moment and what very well may be his last evening . He hoped he did alright by Claire; it had been hard after their parents died, but he did his best to make things work. He had so hoped Claire would go on to graduate college, make something more out of herself. But so many things are out of our hands, nothing like that could be guaranteed.

I didn't even get her a christmas present, Chris thought to himself. It's the last thing he should have been worried about, but with the mission to Norway and her anger toward him, it had slipped his mind. Some brother I turned out to be. I couldn't even tell you what she wanted.

Chris let out another breath. His body grew colder, this time the numbing sensation came from the environment and the wound. He looked down at his leg. Still bleeding. Damnit. Shock would be starting shortly. He listened to the distant sound of shots still being fired while staring up into the twilight sky. To his surprise, he noticed it had started to snow.

It seemed a bit bizarre, watching something as peaceful and calm as a snowflake drift through a ragged opening blown open with such violence and force. He watched the snowflake as it continued it's decent, finally falling to rest upon a cold, bloody body upon the floor in front of him.

The look of anguish upon the corpse's face disturbed Chris. Now, he'd seen some disturbing things since joining STARS, and so much more since the infamous mission that got STARS suspended, so he wouldn't think this would bother him.

But it did.

Did he have a family? Were they waiting at home for him? What were his plans tomorrow - presents? Turkey? A trip to Church? Would any of his plans or gifts mean anything to the children he left behind since he wasn't coming home tonight?

Another snowflake fell upon the body. Chris' mind churned. His chest began to warm as a realization dawned upon him. He still had time to get Claire a gift, one she really wanted. He slowly shifted himself to one knee, the pain not really a hurdle anymore now that he'd fallen pretty numb.

He had been fooling himself. He had been making plans for so long, arranged things just so. It seemed like a good idea at the time. But despite the fact he worked so hard to make sure that Leon would be there for Claire, that Jill and Barry would be there, that Carlos would make it back; he had missed the entire point.

Claire didn't want her brother to make sure she'd be taken care of by her friends. She wanted to have her big brother there, to take care of her himself. Like he did when they were little. Like he still does.

Chris braced himself against the containers as he rose to his feet. Sitting here, letting himself give up like he had, it was the worst thing he could do to her. He knew now, all she wanted for Christmas was for him to make it home.

With new found resolve, Chris slowly made his numb legs take step after step down what was left of the long corridor. He supported himself the entire length with one arm propped against the wall, giving him balance. The sporadic sound of gunshots were drawing closer, but he estimated it was just them repositioning opposed to them having seen Chris hobbling down the hallway. At least, he hoped so.

He tried to pick up the pace, focusing on Claire and the new promise he had just made to her. He was coming home for Christmas, damnit. He was not going to be the one to put that heartbreaking frown back on her face or those tears in her eyes. The sounds of fighting grew louder. Chris forced himself to move faster, taking another turn down the corridor. He sure hoped he remembered the path right.

He heard orders being yelled, they were fanning out to search for survivors. At this point Chris had made another turn, into what looked like a corridor he had already worked so hard to make his way down, and he began cursing himself inwardly. Despair began to overtake him for a second time tonight when he felt a warm hand upon his shoulder.

He quickly turned and brought his gun up, only to have it quickly pushed to the side as Carlos grabbed his left arm and put it over his own shoulders.

Chris let a look of utter relief fall across his face. I thought I ordered you out of here, he chided him in a low voice.

Did you forget? Carlos smiled back at him, I'm a mercenary, I work for money. What good it is to finish a job if your employer isn't around to pay up?


At 12:23, Chris settled back into the chair of the helicopter as it took off from the arctic landscape. Apparently, his whole crew didn't follow orders very well. Ark was attending to Chris' leg - turned out he had been the only one who took any serious injury.

He looked back out the window at what was left of the disappearing base. While they hadn't gotten exactly what they wanted, they were going back with new information. They were going to have to find out who this new player is and what their motivation was.

But before all that, Chris had one important thing to do. He had to go home and give Claire her Christmas gift.