The roar of the explosion was deafening. Looking out the window, Claire was able to see the HCF facility's death in all it's hellish glory. Gigantic waves of every shade of red and orange erupted into the late afternoon sky; followed by an enormous plume of black smoke billowing up into mushroom cloud formation as if someone had dropped a nuclear bomb. The whole island seemed to shake with pain.
Up in the purple twilight of the sky, two other aircraft were already appearing in different directions over the horizon.
The Ashfords and Weskers.
Claire sighed, realizing their Kiticore friend probably had not made it off the island. She tried to tell herself that that wasn't such a bad thing; had Kitty escaped, she probably would've been killed by the first person who saw her and didn't understand she was friendly. Or she might have been captured and forced to tour the world in captivity for the remainder of her days as a freak people would pay money to see. Not the best of lives.
Way up in the front of the plane, obstructed from Claire's view by a metal door, Steve sat in the cockpit.
Being that Chris was out of the question and he was the only other person who knew anything about how to fly a plane, he'd been the obvious choice to get them off the island.
As they flew off towards the mainland, he was doing his best to relax in the comfy pilot's seat.
They'd had a rough day, and he was only thankful everyone had made it out okay. Well, maybe not everyone. The bad guys escaping was a major minus, and Steve didn't doubt for a second he'd be dead if not for his healing abilities.
The bones of his arm had knitted back together, his scratches and bruises were rapidly fading, and he had noticed a certain degree of immunity to Alexia's fire.
Something to think about?
But maybe for another day.
Steve locked the plane on course, set an auto-timer, and relaxed, hoping to catch a few Z's. He'd had enough to think about for today.
An unconscious Chris lye sprawled on a bar of passenger seats made into a bed between Claire and Alexis. Claire had found some cloths in a compartment in the plane and had used them to fashion a tourniquet around her brother's bloody wound. Now he was resting peacefully, and his breathing was more steady.
It wasn't a permanent fix, but it should last them until they got to the mainland.
Claire turned her gaze to Alexis, sitting a couple of seats to the right and on the other side of Chris, near his feet.
My god, she looks a lot like Alexia did in that one film.Claire thought, remembering some of the footage she'd seen at Rockfort.
Though Alexis strongly resembled her mother--which stood to reason, her parents being twins and all--she had a more gentle look about her, and her features weren't quite as sharp.
If the saying that a person's personality reflected on their body was true, Alexis was in good shape.
" So." Claire scooted her back against the side of the plane by the small round window, " You're both good and an Ashford? How did that happen? " It was easy to tell she was in higher spirits by the way her sense of humor was returning.
Alexis twirled a lock of her straw-blonde hair around her finger.
" Well, you see, I never was raised around my parents. My mother didn't love me enough to stay with me, and my father never visited. I only saw him a couple of times. The sad truth is, they don't love me. They may feel a distanced affection, but it's not love. How could it be? They can't even love themselves. They are cruel murderers who thrive off of the pain of others. And they wanted me to live with them now that Mom returned. Cam you believe it? They just wanted to pry me away from the family they'd already established for me, the family I'd grew up with all my life who cared for me and loved me, and it wasn't even a choice. I can't live like that. I can't live the way they do…with so much hate in my heart."
The ghosts of tears started trickling down Alexis's cheeks .
Claire could tell she was trying hard to keep them back, and her heart went out to the young Ashford. Alexis hadn't chosen this. She hadn't chosen any of it. And it wasn't fair, she didn't deserve it.
" What about your brother? " Claire asked, curious.
" What about him? " Alexis sobbed, " They've already poisoned his mind. He thinks it is fun to kill. He attacked my best friend, and he didn't even have a reason. He's not like me. None of them are. They don't understand! I want to help them, but I don't know how! " She kept wiping at her face while she was saying all of this, and her voice was shaky, like she was on the verge of bursting into tears completely--which, Claire supposed, she was.
Without even thinking about it, Claire stroked Chris's soft, dark-brown hair, an action which somehow seemed to wake him up.
The first thing Chris was aware of was the pain. Oh yes, still a lot of pain.
He remembered Wesker ramming a pipe into his guts. Yep. That would do it.
Then he was aware of vibration, as if he were laying down in something moving.
He opened his eyes, and, naturally, the first thing he saw was Alexis.
Alexis must've sensed he was about to do something, for she said, " Hold on! Calm down! I'm a good Ashford! I'm not Alexia. I repeat, not Alexia! "
Chris relaxed a bit, seeing that it was indeed not Alexia, not one of his enemies. He reached up weakly and gave Claire's hand a gentle squeeze.
Claire smiled, relieved. " You're awake."
It was Chris's turn to smile in spite of his pain. " Yeah."
Claire gestured to Alexis. " That's Alexis. She's the daughter of Alfred and Alexia. She…she helped us save you when you were unconscious."
Alexis held up a hand and waved a few fingers. " Hi. I'm not evil, in case you can't already tell. Don't worry about me. You should rest."
But Chris's mind was not ready to rest just yet. " Who all is here with us? Who's flying this? "
" Steve." Claire answered staley, " It's just you, me, Alexis, and Steve."
" Steve can fly a plane? "
Claire but her lip, unsure how to answer. " Um…sort of. Well, he can keep one in the air, anyway. We would've asked you, but you were…well, you know. The island exploded. That HCF base is ancient history."
Chris frowned. " What happened to Alan? "
Claire looked away, uncomfortable. " Do you remember? "
Chris shook his head. " All I remember was that he protected you when I couldn't. And Alexia hurt him…oh my god, what happened? "
Claire rubbed a hand over her face, desperately wishing she knew. " Wesker protected him. He told Alexia that if she touched Alan again, he'd rip her to pieces. Alexia and the other Ashfords ran off after that. Only…I think it may have been too late. I was watching when Wesker picked him up. Alan looked like he could've been dead. Wesker looked so sad. He took Alan and ran off. We know that he escaped because we saw two other planes take off, going separate directions.
" So Alan's…dead? " Chris stammered, horrified by the concept.
Claire shook her head slowly, her emotional pain registering onto her face. " We don't know for sure. Maybe, maybe not. Either way, his father has him now. And regardless about how we personally feel about that, it's probably the safest place for him to be at the moment.
Chris sighed, hurt. " I hope he's okay. He was decent. Helped me out of a few binds. Saved me from his own father not once, but twice."
Claire nodded her agreement. " Poor guy. His friends and family get along like Capulets and Montagues." At the blank stares, she said, " Romeo and Juliet? Am I the only one who had to study that in school? "
Alexis frowned. " I'm not even finished with school. Both of my parents were really smart, but I'm just average. I can't skip grades or anything. And I'm certainly not a prodigy."
" Where do you live? " Claire asked.
" Well, I was hoping maybe I could stay with you."
Both Redfields' jaws dropped.
" But…what about your caretakers? Don't you already have a home? "
Alexis shook her head. " No. Not anymore. My parents might want me back. If I continue to live where I've been living, I'll just be putting my caretakers in danger. I don't want that for them. I'm afraid my parents would kill them to take me. And I don't think it's fun to watch people getting their heads chopped off at the guillotine like my dad does. He told me he was going to show me all his torture devices. I could live without knowing. And let's not forget what happened to my grandpa. I would never feel safe living with people who had turned on their own father. Who's to say they wouldn't turn on me? "
" But Alexis, you barely know us! " Chris objected, shocked at the idea of living with Alexia's daughter.
Alexis gave a bit of a smile, seeming so terribly young just then. " I know enough to know I like you. You two are close to each other, like my parents are. You..."
Both Chris and Claire jerked away from each other with lightning speed, their expressions a comical mix of both shock and disgust.
Alexis slapped a hand to her face. " Eu! Bad comparison! What with you two being brother and sister and all, and my parents also being brother and sister. I didn't mean to imply that you two were rednecks or anything."
Claire cocked an eyebrow. " Redneck? "
Alexis nodded. " Yeah. You know, if your family tree doesn't branch out--which mine doesn't--or if you go to a family reunion to pick up a date. Rednecks. Jeff Foxworthy. Ever heard of him? " At the blank stares, she went on, " Nevermind. I can see that you have no idea who I'm talking about."
Chris and Claire exchange thoughtful glances. " I suppose we could." Chris said at last, " I mean, if your caretakers would allow it. I don't blame you for not wanting to be around your family."
Alexis nodded, overjoyed. " I'm sure they will! Especially now that my parent are back. I think they're a little afraid of them. All you'll have to do is sign a few papers. We don't do everything strictly legal, you see, so you wont have to be evaluated or anything. It'll be really quick. "
Claire nodded. " It'll be a bit of a financial strain for a while, but I think we can manage."
Alexis suddenly burst into laughter.
" What? " Chris and Claire asked in unison.
Alexis waved her hand dismissively, briefly shutting her eyes. " You see, I'm not exactly broke. I'm still an Ashford, among the world's richest families. I do believe I have a small inheritance at hand. I'm too young to be responsible for it now, but I'm sure you could sign for it to be placed in your care when you adopt me. I'd be more than happy to share it with you."
Chris's eyes flashed with excitement. " A small inheritance? How much are we talking? "
Alexis looked thoughtful. " Around ten or twelve million."
" You call that small?! " Claire gasped, unable to believe it.
" Yeah. Compared to how much money my father makes, and the general overall wealth of my family, it's not much at all. However, I could probably start my own business with it if I were old enough…" Alexis stopped mid-sentence at the shock on her new friends' faces. " Come on, Steve tells me both of you have been to one of the Ashford palaces and our Antarctic base to boot. Did it look to you like we were hard up for money? After all, we do own Umbrella. More or less. We're billionaires. Well, they're billionaires," Alexis corrected herself, " I have got to stop putting myself in the same group with them! Once they find out I'm a nice Ashford, they're probably not going to want anything to do with me. They might even disown me. Which means we'd better get the paperwork over with quick."
" Well, we'll see about that after I visit the hospital." Chris agreed, " I can't blame you for not wanting to stay with your family. They do seem pretty…demented. And Alexia, man! Talk about a temper! "
Alexis laughed. " I suppose you're right! She wasn't all hugs and cuddles with me, either. And…"
Clare turned around and looked out the window, drowning out the talking and occasional laughter of Chris and Alexis, who seemed to be bonding rather well.
Things were starting to look brighter after all. And not just financially.
Her gaze drifted out over the magical image of the ocean at twilight; sunlight glinting off the water. They were passing over a few small islets now, and she watched the waves break and spray their foam all over the rocks.
She felt like kindred spirits with the ocean and the waves just then.
It was as if they symbolized her life--turmoil, then calm, they chaotic again, but always moving, always changing with the tide.
Claire smiled just before she drifted off to sleep, knowing her life would never be completely peaceful, just as the ocean was never completely peaceful. For some reason, that made her happy in a way she couldn't describe.
A new tide was coming in.