By Miss Scarlet
Chapter Four: Confronting the Shadow
Steve. You still look so alive. Your mouth, see, it's got that stubborn look to it. Like when you were arguing with me that time, and you made your mouth go exactly like that. And your eyes they've lost that twinkle that I never really noticed until now, when it's gone. You had so much energy; you were always so light-hearted. God, I shouldn't have left you two. We would be on that plane right now, ready to take on the world. Or whatever.
I know I never really got to know you And I don't know how we managed to become so close in such a short time. You're just so trusting, and friendly. I've never known anyone like you before. Everyone I knew always treated me like I was about to explode, you know? But not you. You just said what you meant. Honesty. It's a pretty rare trait, nowadays. Nobody else was ever like that with me. Except maybe Hunk. And Alexia, of course.
I was so, so foolish. I knew you would try to stop me if I told you what I planned. Resurrect Veronica? What the hell for? And I don't think I could explain it to you. I don't know if my sad tale of strain and weakness could mean anything to someone like you. You only act on strong, noble feelings like courage and love, when I am nothing more than a coward.
I can't believe I let Walsh get away that time. I should have come armed, and blown his fucking head off. I deserve to be hung for this betrayal. That's what used to happen in my family. My family Steve, you have to understand me. I have grown up knowing nothing but my ancestors and my family, and the proud, glorious name of the Ashford's. I never knew true friendship, or trust, or even respect. Except with Alexia. And she's dead, just like you, just like Veronica.
I am surrounded by death. Perhaps Death is getting inaccurate in his old age, and he struck everyone around me down whilst aiming for me. But Alexia is right, though. Fate is not something I truly believe in. And what is fate now? Now I hold this potion in my hand, the ability to erase the blunders of destiny. Human life has lost its worth. That is why this potion should never have been created. The world would have grown reckless, knowing that their lives meant absolutely nothing. So I will use this, and I will forget about it. About this power I hold in my hand. Me I don't deserve this power. Nobody does. Not you, not Alexia, not even Veronica.
Veronica reminds me of an angel. I don't suppose you ever saw that in her. I don't suppose you ever even saw her. She is beautiful. Is that something to be wary of, or something to warm to? I haven't a clue. Nobody ever told me.
So now, Steve, I have a decision to make. The most important decision I will ever have to make, I think. I have to decide which life is more important. The life of my friend, or the life of my ancestor. To you, there probably isn't any consideration. But we are very different, Steve, I don't expect you to understand what goes on in my troubled head. Hell, even I don't understand.
But free will is something I have just recently begun to appreciate. Just as life is something you have recently begun to appreciate. Steve, all I ask is that you forgive me. Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, if anything, just hear this. I didn't want anything to happen to you. And I would like to think that we became friends, for a while. Heh only for a while. I know I don't deserve your friendship, or your forgiveness but please, put yourself in my misshapen shoes. They don't fit properly and they're all screwed up to hell but it might give you an idea.
It's strange, but I just can't imagine you being dead. You'll live on forever in the hearts and mind of your descendants, even thought you have none. But you would do, if you had some. We used to do that in my family, actually. But you already knew that, didn't you? I really shouldn't compare them to you. Or us to you. Or maybe us to them? I don't know. My mind is so tangled. I just need some time. Give me some more time, Steve; don't make me do this just yet not yet
"Where am I?" Steve asked her.
She turned to him, smiling softly. "You are at a crossroad," she replied simply, standing up to welcome him. "I did not expect to see you here, Steve. Not at all, in fact."
He stared at her, speechless. It was Veronica Ashford all right, and her similarity to Alexia and even to Alfred was clearly visible. Her skin was porcelain white, her thin eyebrows arched with superiority, her mouth twisted into a thin smile, her lips unblemished and a startling shade of red. Her pale blue eyes, identical to those of Alfred, watched him thoughtfully.
"Am I dead?" he asked, remembering how Walsh had shot him, and the intense crippling pain that had shot up from his chest and paralysed him. He remembered how the waters had parted beneath him and the feeling of desperation when the same dreaded waters closed over him, with such finality that he did not doubt that he was about to die.
"You are," she replied. "As am I. It is a pleasure to finally make your acquaintance, Steve. I am sure you already know a lot about me," she said, with some barely disguised hidden meaning in her voice that he couldn't decipher.
"A little," he said uncertainly. He knew she was referring to the times when he had fainted and caught a glimpse of Veronica's past, but how she knew was beyond him. In fact, he realised suddenly, he really didn't know what was going on. "What do you mean? A crossroad?"
"There is a considerable chance that you will not remain dead for long," she said disdainfully, looking away. "It would not be prudent for you to raise your hopes, for I am afraid those fragile hopes will soon be dashed and lost forever."
"Excuse me?" Steve asked, frowning. "What are you talking about?"
"The possibility of you being returned to the existence you knew previously is very slight, although in my good opinion it is none existent."
He stared at her evenly; taking in the way her body moved ever so slightly all the time. It was as if Veronica could never be still. She raised a gloved hand and ran it through her hair absently, and, Steve thought, her hair was blacker than the darkness surrounding them. It was blacker than black, so perfect and fragile if touched it should shatter into a thousand pieces.
"Why?" he asked, his eyes focussing on the thin golden necklace draped casually across her shoulders. It was the only colourful thing around her, the one glimmer of light in an eternity of darkness. "How could I be brought back to life?"
She scowled at him, smudging the perfection of her beautiful face. "Because my child has the opportunity to return one of us to our lives. He is in possession of a potent medicine, capable of restoring me completely, and therefore restoring the Ashford family to greatness, and its deserved standing in society. With me alive once more, my family shall be saved form the depths of despair."
Of course, he thought, remembering the letter Alfred had received, presumably from his sister. Perhaps that had contained a sample of whatever it was that had brought them both back to life. And Alfred intended to use it on Veronica
"And there is a chance Alfred will ignore his lineage. He will ignore his heritage, his family and his birth, and use the only remaining amount of that substance to restore the life of a scoundrel he always hated, and who was responsible for bringing about the end of his life," Veronica said, the mockery in her voice obvious. "I'm sure you understand that there is no possibility of that happening."
Steve nodded glumly. It was true; there was no use in denying it. Why would Alfred even consider saving him? Even if there was a chance, Alfred was long gone; he wouldn't even know what had happened.
Veronica laughed, her voice loosing the refined tone she usually spoke with. She became little more than a child, a child dressing up in her mother's clothes. But as soon as the light side to her appeared, it vanished again, and she became a cold and serious woman, her face closing up until she more resembled a painting than a person.
Steve avoided her hard blue eyes, and the triumphant gleam within them. She's right, a little voice in his head said. Alfred would rather die than save you. He's probably bringing Veronica back to life right now, and in a moment she'll vanish, and you will too, presumably. There's no point in you hanging around here, clinging to what little remains of your life.
"Buy why?" Steve asked, furious with himself. "Why did you send all those messages to me, why did you make me faint? You died such a long time ago how can this be?"
She eyed him severely; a sneer gracing her lips that made Steve feel incredibly inferior to her. "You really don't know? I wanted you to tell Alfred to come and save me – and you did. For that I am grateful," she told him. "I have been here for years, more than I could count. Time doesn't pass here, I know, but that doesn't mean things happen quickly. I have cried for as long as I can remember. I have called out to anyone, to everyone. Nobody was capable of intercepting my cry, nobody was able to hear it or understand me. Until a short while ago, when you suddenly became conscious, as it were.
"Your ears and mind became perfect receptors for my voice, and it was sheer luck that you happened to be with my dear Alfred at the time."
"Your dear Alfred," Steve snapped. "You don't even know him!"
"I know enough," she said simply. "I know he would do anything for me. I know he has a strong sense of pride in his family, pride that almost failed him when his father lost the family's credibility in an unfortunate miscalculation."
"But you don't know him!" Steve insisted. "Oh sure, yeah, he loves his family, but who doesn't? You don't know his sense of humour, and his pride in himself! You don't know how nice he is to his friends, and how vulnerable to his enemies. You don't know how he reacts to things, to anything. You don't know how hard he has fought, both him and his sister, to make his family proud. You don't know! You don't know how good he is with a gun, or his inexplicable resistance to pain. You don't know of his incredible determination or strength of will. You don't know Alfred!"
"None of those things matter," she replied silkily, tossing her midnight black hair in defiance. "All that matters is his love for me."
"That's a lie!" Steve growled, furious with desperation. "Alfred is a good guy, deep down! He's got a sense of humour, and a firm sense of right and wrong. He's smart too; you can't pull any tricks on him. He seems outgoing and open, but he keeps a lot to himself. He knows which side the bread is buttered; he has an uncanny intuition. He is quick to anger, and easily offended, but he's a good person, for Christ's sake!"
Why am I defending Alfred so much? And what am I defending him against? Against her. Against her and her stupid bloodline. Her ridiculous family pride and her cool, distant evil. Against Alfred just becoming another Ashford, a faceless doll for Veronica to manipulate however she likes. Only it's not my decision to make. It's Alfred's.
But if someone asked me to choose between my father and Alfred I don't know what I would do. It's not right, for anyone to have to make this decision. He probably won't have to. I'm probably still lying in the sewers, and Hunk won't be able to tell Alfred in time, if it makes any difference. I wish I wish I wasn't dead.
Alfred just do what you think is right.
Veronica said nothing for a while, staring intensely at Steve. "Boy, you speak of friendship, and loyalty, and all those other fine qualities, but what do they mean to you? What do they mean to Alfred? Alfred is a troubled man. The pressure on him is immense. He has to hold out a little longer, do you understand? He has to keep the family going, until some miracle takes place and everything is good again for him. And now he's the only one left. Alexia is dead, I can feel it, and he is the only survivor. He's the last one.
"Imagine the shame if the Ashford family dies with him. Imagine the pain and torment he puts himself through every day, just to keep his head above water. And he knows, all the time, that he's not getting any younger, and that soon it will all be over. And he prays, child, he prays for the miracle to hurry on its path, and prays for it to arrive tomorrow. And every night he cries himself to sleep, because he knows that the miracle is still a long way off, and he is going to have to fight on his own for another day. Another long day of toil without reward. Can you imagine that? No, I don't think you can.
"And now that miracle is so close he can smell it. I am that miracle, boy; I can make everything right itself. I can pull the dregs of this family into the clouds, and Alfred will reign on high. His troubles will be over; the strain on his back will become as light as a feather. He won't be alone any more. Do you really think, Steve, that Alfred would forsake the happiness he truly deserves for the chance to have his friend back? You aren't a true friend of his, and we all know that. The only reason he tolerated you for so long is because he wanted to know how you overthrew the virus that you had been infected with. Alfred will not give up his destiny for a hated friend' he would not even consider it. So whatever hopes you have been nursing in that chest of yours, abandon them. The disappointment will only become all the more great." She fell silent, her eyes shining. "Now do you understand?
"I may not know him, but I know his suffering, and I alone can ease it. And that, child, is all that matters. My rebirth is nigh; the anticipation he feels is tangible, even to me. I shall rule once more, with Alfred by my side if that is where he desires to be, and together we will fly."
"No," Steve said quietly, his voice thick with unshakeable determination. "Alfred won't save me, I always knew that. But he is severely disillusioned. You may see yourself as his saviour, a miracle sent from above, but you aren't. You speak with such confidence, such arrogance, and it's infuriating. You will cast Alfred aside like an empty box, you will use him for his name and his amazing potion, and then he will be discarded. You only became what you were through manipulation of an old man close to death and a lot of luck! There is no nobility behind your family name, no sentiment of any kind, and Alfred knows that. You are a fraud, Veronica, a little girl from the slums who always wants more. You could never be content with Alfred.
"And things have changed! No longer do the Ashford's obey your memory with such blind devotion! They have broken away from your terrible stranglehold. Would they have founded Umbrella if you and only you led them? Of course not! What you say may promise great things, but you cannot know how to succeed in the modern world. You think that with a click of your fingers you will pull the Ashford's back from the brink of financial ruin? You think everything will just slot magically back into its proper place? Well it won't. The proper place for you is here. Things change, and Alfred knows that. He knows when to let go of a futile idea, no matter how many generations it has lasted through.
"Stick with your insane metaphors of eagles and halberds, and your hopeless dreams of greatness. Stick with your symbolism, and your lofty mansions, buried in your mind. Stick with your gothic horror, and your hidden palaces, and your creepy, creepy, misplaced beliefs. And you know where they lie? In your mind, Veronica. In your sick, twisted mind. And you can sit here forever, and dream of grandeur, but it is all in your mind. Don't you see? It can never happen!"
Veronica stared at him coldly, her icy blue eyes searing deep inside his soul. She opened her mouth, her eyes flashing dangerously, to unleash a heartless reply to his rant.
And they both disappeared.
Hunk eyed Alfred from a distance as he leaned over Steve. Alfred was moving his mouth, but no noise was coming out. Normally Hunk would have made some comment about Alfred's mental state, but he kept quiet, and just watched as Alfred agonised internally about the choice that he had to make.
His gun was warm, and the memory was fresh in his mind of the terrible zombies outside the mansion. They had moved to attack him, and Hunk had begun firing, one hand carrying Steve over his shoulder, fearing for his life. But the zombies fell back, leaving a pathway clear to the main entrance. The zombies evidently weren't happy, as if they were being forced away against their will, if indeed they possessed any will. Hunk had been terrified, but he made for the door anyway, knowing it was the only reasonable way into the mansion. He couldn't very well have dragged Steve through an upstairs window, something he would have considered if Steve had not been there.
Maybe it was just his imagination, or maybe he had misheard, but he was sure he heard a beautiful female voice telling him to run. So he ran. Who could it have been? He didn't know.
Alfred stood up, his face drawn and expressionless. He nodded to Hunk, who stood firm and nodded back. It was, after all, Alfred's decision, and he wasn't going to interfere. It wasn't his place. He watched as Alfred held the test-tube up into what little light there was, and waited.
He waited for an eternity. His eyes followed Alfred's frail figure as he moved from one to the other, the anguish inside of him easily visible. Such pain unimaginable pain. Inconceivable pain. But something must be done, or else both Steve and Veronica would remain dead forever, and Alfred would surely go insane. But still Hunk stood his ground, and watched.
Alfred made his choice.
And gradually, with infuriating slowness, Steve opened his eyes.
First off, I would like to apologise to all of you for the ridiculous amount of time it took me to get this last chapter up. You are all entitled to hate me. Was it really September when I put the last one up? Oh, I am so evil! I'm sorry, really I am. You know how it is though, when you don't want to let go of something you've nurtured for so long... goodbye, dear story!
Now, to thank all my brilliant readers and reviewers. Knowing that other people have read and (perhaps) appreciated my work really cheers me up. Congrats to Keebo and Kocchi Highwind, for knowing the extremely eerie song, 'Berceuse'. Big hug to everyone else who has reviewed me. I am in the middle of a sequel that'll bring the Redfield siblings into the mix. Ah, just thinking about the arguments between Chris and Claire and Alfred make me smile.
If you want to tell me that I'm both lazy and slow, feel free. If you want to tell me anything else, please do. I love feedback (don't we all?) So, if you want to make a poor author very happy, then go right ahead and write me a review or send me an email. If you want to make me miserable... well, let's not go down that road, okay? What did you think? Did Alfred make the wrong choice? Oh, come off it, you all knew he was gonna pick Steve. Admit it! Go on, tell me what you thought.
Sorry, thanks, g'bye. That about sums it up.