Disclaimer: Anything not immediately recognizable as a registered trademark of Capcom's is probably mine. Anything you do recognize as Capcom's I'm simply borrowing. I seek no monetary gain from this. I wrote it simply for fun (and because I really like these characters).

Summary: A new variation on the T-Virus threatens the world in a way no other strain has, prompting the BSAA to send one of their own to South America to investigate. Billy/Rebecca Reunion, Post RE5.

Rating: T (mostly for swearing.)

Author's Note: Many thousands of thanks to cannedcoelcanth for betaing this for me. Without her, I probably never would've gotten to posting again. 3


Chapter 5:

Turning her fork over in her hand, Rebecca stabbed at – and missed – a piece of sausage. The silence hanging over the bunker was so deep she could hear the muted tink of her fork hitting the ceramic plate.

She glanced up at Billy. His head was low, like hers, and he seemed deeply invested in his own plate.

Rebecca dropped her gaze. She and Billy hadn't spoken since last night. Not a single word. Billy had made them breakfast in silence, dished it up in silence, and now they were both eating in the same heavy, awkward silence she thought they'd finally gotten past days ago. Every now and again she thought she felt Billy's eyes on her or thought she heard him make some noise, but nothing came of it. Either she was imagining things or the words weren't coming to him any better or faster than they were coming to her.

This sucks, she thought. This really sucks.

She didn't know what to say, what she could say, to make things better. She'd been up half the night scouring the internet for all of the news she could find relating to Billy's case, trying to figure out just how far and how fast the story was hadn't found much – all but a scant few of the articles she'd uncovered were nothing more than short blurbs, five hundred words or less.

Rebecca shoveled another bite of eggs into her mouth. She understood Billy's concern. She understood his pain, his frustration. He'd had his whole life taken away from him the first time, when he was convicted, and now that same case was taking it away from him all over again.

Rebecca bit her lip. Her stomach clenched. Secretly, selfishly, she was glad for all of this, though even thinking that made her feel like a wretched excuse for a human being. Billy deserved his freedom. He deserved an apology and the chance to actually settle down in a profession that didn't require risking his life on a daily basis. He deserved the chance to live the life he'd always dreamed of living, without the fear of being discovered and killed hanging over his head. With his name cleared, he could come back to D.C. with her and start over again. The Alliance could use him, take him on as a consultant. He'd be able to use his talents, his skills, without risking his life all over again.

Presently Billy got up from the table, gathered up his plate and glass and silverware, and started working on the dishes. Rebecca kept eating, but picked up her pace. She wanted to finish her breakfast before Billy was done with the dishes. She could take that opening – his distraction, his back turned – to disappear into the basement.

Coward, she thought. She hadn't been afraid to challenge or speak to Billy in the training facility. What was holding her back now?

She stabbed at the last bit off eggs on her plate. The fork was halfway to her mouth when something flashed behind her. The lighting in the bunker changed.

Rebecca froze, the fork stuck hovering halfway to her mouth. She waited, tensed. Something about the shift in light… it wasn't right. There. There it was again. Behind her, by the windows. Rebecca started to turn, to look, because there wasn't any wind outside and even if there had been there weren't any trees along that side of the bunker…

Then the lights above the table went out. Cut out.

Blood rushed to Rebecca's head and pounded through her ears. Her fingers tingled as the feeling of wrongness intensified, building in her chest, her stomach, her gut. She let her fork drop back onto her plate. Just inside her peripheral vision she saw Billy stiffen and whip around, looking at something behind her.

"Rebecca, get down!"

Crack!

She was on the floor in an instant. Gunshot, her brain supplied quickly as she scrambled over to the couch, to cover. Someone is shooting at us. Her heart drumming in her ears, Rebecca peered around the side of the couch.

One of the windows had cracked.

One of the tempered, bullet-proof, reinforced windows had cracked.

Crack! Rebecca ducked back down behind the couch, covering her head she peered around the couch again, she saw that another window blossomed with the same spider web of fractures as the first.

Rebecca swore and ducked back behind the couch, looking across the kitchen for Billy. He'd taken cover behind the island – and he had a gun.

Their eyes met and he reached back behind him and pulled out another gun, holding it up so she could see. For a brief second Rebecca wondered where he'd pulled it from – somewhere in the island, perhaps? – then he put the gun on the floor and slid it over to her. It skidded across the hardwood and stopped right within her reach. Rebecca snatched it up and turned the safety off.

The gun was nothing more than a small handgun – not unlike the handgun she'd carried with her in the STARS. It felt familiar, and she liked that.

Crack!

She looked back at Billy. He met her eyes again and gestured for them both to make a run for the hallway. Rebecca nodded. Theycouldn't stay here. No matter how strong the bunker was, it couldn't hold up against this kind of onslaught – not forever. The windows, the door, the walls themselves…eventually something would give, and then it would be over.

Crack! Crack! Ratatatatat!

Rebecca swore. The gunfire was coming more erratically now, and faster. More people, more guns…

What, do they have an army out there? That couldn't be true. Could it? She looked at Billy again, hoping he'd figured out more than she had so far. But his face was in shadow, his expression unreadable. He only held up three fingers, gestured to the hall, then lowered one. A countdown. Rebecca tensed and rose into a crouch. The second Billy's final finger fell she was off, scrambling madly for the hallway, dragging herself up off her hands and knees as she moved. Billy wasn't far behind.

"The basement!" he said, his hand falling on her back and lightly pushing her forward. "Go! Get the virus!"

Rebecca fairly flew down the ladder and over to her worktable. She grabbed up her notes and the T-Loki report, then scrambled under the table for the bag she discarded under there days ago. With the papers filed away, she loaded the virus in the silver case, and as soon as the case clicked closed she stood. She slung her bag over her shoulder and quickly took stock of the rest of the room, looking for anything she might've missed.

The cold storage was empty now that she had the virus packed away. She'd disposed of most of her cultures last night, and the ones she had left hadn't started to grow yet. Their attackers could take them if they wanted – she hadn't uncovered much of anything yet, and what little she had was already outlined in the T-Loki report she had in her bag. All of her notes and the reports Billy had gotten from Pig were in her bag.

She took a deep breath. Nothing here was vital. She could leave it all behind and no one could use it or get anything out of it.

The trapdoor burst open and Rebecca jumped, whirling around. But it was only Billy. He climbed down the ladder just far enough to close and lock the trapdoor behind them, then jumped to the ground.

"You ready?"

Rebecca nodded. In the quick silence that followed, she could just hear the distant boom of something far, far heavier than a bullet crack into the bunker's concrete walls. She and Billy both cast a worried look back towards the trapdoor.

"We'd better get going," Billy said. His voice was clipped.

"Right," Rebecca agreed.

Billy led her over to a locked storage closet over in a corner. It was one of those do-it-yourself cabinets, and the doors creaked loudly when Billy pulled them open. Rebecca almost – almost – made a crack about his handy-man skills, but stopped when she saw that the closet was empty…save a gaping hole in the back wall. A tunnel.

This is his escape plan? Rebecca hadn't ever been much of a fan of closed, dark spaces. But after everything she went through in the training facility, the forest, and the mansion in the Arklay mountains, she hated them even more.

"This way," Billy said. "After you."

Rebecca quickly swallowed back her fears and stepped into the cabinet. The tunnel beyond was cool and very, very dark. Rebecca put a hand on the wall for guidance as she slipped inside.

Behind her, Billy grabbed something off a shelf, popped the lid, hit something, and tossed what sounded like a canister out into the basement.

"What was that?"

"Sterilization canister." Billy reached back onto the shelf and grabbed a couple of flashlights. He handed one off to her, then switched his on.

"A what?"

"A sterilization canister." Billy pulled the closet door closed, plunging them into even deeper darkness. "Look, most of the guys down here don't have the funding or the means to keep up a completely sterile lab, like the one you've got up in DC. My digs are better than most of the places out here on the market, and it's still pretty shitty. Those canisters are a quick and easy way to keep your workspace clean. And if you've been handling the T-Virus…well." He let the implication speak for itself, then gently pushed past her and started off down the tunnel. The narrow beam of light from his flashlight bobbed up and down on the compacted dirt walls.

Rebecca lurched forward, breaking into a half-jog to make up for Billy's head start and longer legs. "But…we don't have anything like that! Where did it come from?"

"Black market innovation, sweetheart," Billy said over his shoulder. "What, you the Alliance is the only group with tricks up its sleeves?" He snorted. "C'mon, we gotta keep moving."

Rebecca made a harsh noise in the back of her throat – that wasn't an answer at all – but kept moving. She had to be careful even with her flashlight lighting the path. Every sound seemed distant here, muted by the earthen tunnel instead of amplified by it. After a point, all Rebecca could hear was the soft swishing of their clothing and the sounds of their breathing and the small rattle of batteries in her flashlight as they jostled with her every step.

She didn't know how long the tunnel was or even how long they'd been walking. Her fear, though slowly fading, had distorted her sense of time so much she couldn't tell if minutes had passed – or if hours had.

All she could do was keep moving.


After a while – Rebecca wasn't sure how long, as her sense of time still felt distorted – Billy slowed, then stopped.

"Do you hear that?" he asked.

Rebecca listened. Were those…voices? Yes. Distant, muffled voices, but voices nonetheless.

"Where are they coming from?"

"They're outside. Milling around one of the exits, I think. We'll have to find which one." Billy motioned for her to wait where she was while he crept forward. She watched him disappear into the darkness as he ducked down a few branching pathways.

"They're up there," Billy said, emerging back out of one of the other tunnels.

"What do we do?" Rebecca asked.

"Easy. We leave through another door." Billy motioned for Rebecca to follow him and led her toward another branch, this one a few dozen feet past the first one. She spotted one other branching tunnel as they walked.

"How many of those branches are there?" she asked.

"A few," Billy said. "Some of them are dummies – end in a trap or a dead end. Only a few of them are actual exits." He stopped at the end of the new branching tunnel. As far as Rebecca could tell this one was a dead end. But then Billy pointed up, and there, designed to mimic the look of the rock around them, was a hatch. Billy could reach it if he jumped, but Rebecca would need a bit of a boost – which Billy quickly provided, moving what she thought was a rock away from the wall and placing it under the hatch.

"You've thought of everything, haven't you?" she marveled.

Billy offered her a half smile. "Almost everything. Now, when we get out of here, I want you to run. Stay quiet and move as fast as you can. Don't stop."

"What about you?"

"I'll be right behind you."

Rebecca nodded. Okay. She could do that. Billy reached over her shoulder, carefully pushing open the small hatch hiding the tunnel's exit from the outside world. Light streamed in, hurting Rebecca's eyes. She felt Billy's hand fall against the small of her back and push, guiding her up and into the jungle.

Tropical birds burst from the trees, squawking and keening. Everything was green or some shade of green but the flowers, the sky, and the muddy earth beneath her feet. And the humidity! The humidity was overpowering. In seconds every bare patch of her skin felt sticky and damp, and breathing was a battle all on its own. Every breath she took felt wet and hot, like trying to breathe steam through a sponge.

Rebecca took one quick look around. One quick look. As she twisted her head around to the left, her gaze panning the jungle just north of her, she met the dark eyes of a man, dressed in black, a large rifle in his massive hands.

For a split second she and the man only stared at each other. Then he shouted something to his companions – yes, there were more people over there – and raised his rifle. The shot burst into a tree just a little to her left, splitting bark and leaving her ears ringing.

After that she didn't think. She ran – blindly, her legs pumping, her heart racing. At some point she felt Billy fall in just behind her and calmed slightly. She wasn't alone. All of this all over again, and she wasn't alone. She had him. They were together.

And, she thought, she would fight to keep it that way.

They ran until they reached the river. The shouting and gunshots had faded in and out as they ran, and by the time they reached the high, rushing river Rebecca couldn't hear them at all anymore. Maybe they'd finally lost their pursuers.

She stood, panting heavily, on the banks of the river. Water lapped at the rocks by her feet. Sweat poured down her face and back. She wanted to rest, wanted to take a few minutes to catch her breath, at least…

"Into the water." Billy's voice was terse. "Go."

"But..." Rebecca cast a wary look at the water. She guessed it was higher than normal, but the area around the river was used to flooding like this annually. The shoreline was about a dozen feet back from where it was in the dry season, but otherwise it looked like a normal river.

"Don't worry about the leeches!" Billy said. "We haven't got time. Go!"

Gritting her teeth, Rebecca plunged into the water. The current tugged at her legs, pulling the loose boot cut of her jeans downriver. She went in till the water was up past her calves, then turned to Billy.

"Upriver or down?"

"Down," Billy replied. "Let's put as much distance between them and us as we can."

Rebecca turned back and started sloshing downriver. Though progress was easier going downriver instead of up, they were still moving more slowly than they would on land. The river bottom was mostly oversaturated mud that tugged and pulled on Rebecca's feet as she walked. She had to focus on her steps so she didn't end up falling.

Because of this, she was a bit slow in picking up the sound. When she finally registered it, she stopped, straining her ears in an effort to figure out just what she was hearing. It was some kind of…thrumming noise. Like a motor. A helicopter? No, the sound kept cutting out and restarting again. A boat? That made more sense. The sound could be an outboard motor, starting and stopping at intervals. Rebecca turned and looked up and down the river, trying to peg where the sound was coming from – in front of them, or somewhere behind them.

What if their pursuers had gotten a boat?

Rebecca's blood turned to ice in her veins. Her fingers began to prickle. It was all over if they had a boat. The riverbank here was very steep. There'd be no getting both her and Billy back into the jungle before the boat overtook them.

But they couldn't just stand there in open water, either – a conclusion Billy seemed to have reached far faster than Rebecca did. While she was still running over their options he lurched forward, grabbed her by the arm, and began half-shoving, half-pulling her towards the riverbank. Once there he pushed her – gently, but with purpose – into the mud before using his own body to shield her as best he could.

"Stay still and quiet," Billy said, though he really didn't need to. Rebecca hadn't gotten this far in her life after Umbrella without knowing how to hide. She held her breath, waiting, ignoring the way the silver case with the virus was digging into her left side. She couldn't adjust without risking their cover.

Billy was in a better position than she was to keep an eye on the oncoming boat, so Rebecca watched his face. His expression changed quickly from fear to curiosity to relief, and then he grinned and stepped away from her.

"It's Vargas!" he said, happier than he'd seemed all morning. He reached out a hand to her and pulled her onto her feet before turning to the boat. "Vargas!" Billy called, waving.

Vargas didn't return the greeting. He cut the motor and let the boat drift slowly downriver as he motioned frantically for them to head his way. Even from where they were Rebecca could see that Vargas's clothes were singed and streaked with soot, like he'd escaped a fire. "Get in," he called, his voice a harsh rasp. "Get in, you fools."

Billy beat Rebecca to the boat by a few feet and hauled himself in while Vargas reached for her. As soon as she got close he gripped the back of her shirt with his thin, bony hands and pulled. The old man was stronger than he looked, and without much effort he managed to drag Rebecca – case, bag, and all – into the boat.

There she collapsed, falling onto her knees, panting heavily in an effort to catch her breath. The humidity made her feel like she was sucking in every breath through a warm, wet sponge.

Vargas checked to make sure she was okay, then rounded on Billy. He grabbed Billy's shoulder tightly in one bony hand and shoved him back, hissing and spitting and swearing. "I thought they might've gotten to you before I did," he said, his shaking voice caught somewhere between anger and relief. "You lucky son of a bitch."

"What happened?" Billy asked.

"Pig's dead," Vargas replied. "They got to him last night. Left him hanging on the clothesline in the center of town." He shook his head, then stalked off and started working on the boat.

Pig was dead? Rebecca felt her heart sink, then start racing again. So their pursuers were after the virus. Pig's death confirmed it. She pulled the silver case close to her chest, tightening her grip on it. The virus dealers had attacked the bunker at nine. How long had they been outside? A few hours? All night? Had they come to the bunker just after killing Pig, or had they waited?

They went upriver quite a ways before Vargas cut the motor again, guiding the boat towards a small dock half hidden by hanging trees and clumps of debris. Beyond it, mostly hidden by the trees, was a small, abandoned fishing village.

The three of them disembarked. Billy went first and took Rebecca's bags from her before helping her out of the boat. Vargas helped himself, stepping from the boat to the dock with the ease of practice. Rebecca guessed this was where his famous catfish came from, and she suddenly regretted not having ever sampled some.

After they were safely on the dock, Vargas handed Billy a set of keys. "Take my truck," he said, stepping back. "They won't expect you to have it."

Billy looked from the keys to Vargas and back again. "I can't take that."

"You will. You have to. You need to get out of here. Both of you." Vargas stepped back to the boat and put his hands on its side, like he was going to hop back inside.

"Your old friends are really going to want you dead now, Billy Coen."

"Shit," Billy hissed, his face going white. "It's everywhere, isn't it?"

Vargas's expression was grim. "I told you you needed to worry about yourself. Now go."

"Wait," Rebecca said. "What about you?" Vargas had done so much for them. Leaving him behind just seemed…unfair.

Vargas smiled a gap-toothed smile. "I've been through worse. Now go. I'd like to be in Quintana Roo before tomorrow, and you're just slowing me down." Vargas swung himself back into the boat. He pulled the ropes tying the boat to the dock back inside, then let the current pull him downstream as he worked the motor again. Within a few minutes he had started back downriver. Billy and Rebecca both watched him go. He never looked back.

"Where do you think he's going?" she wondered.

Billy made a noise – something like a halted laugh. "Somewhere. Anywhere. Guy's been around longer than most of us have been alive. If anyone in the world knows where to go after something like this, I'll bet everything I still own that Vargas is that man."

The truck, which they found halfway between the road and the abandoned fishing village,was covered in a layer of mud almost as thick as the one on Billy's Jeep.

"We'll have to ditch it before we reach the ferry," Billy said, climbing into the back of the cab. It was a tight fit, but Billy managed.

As they drove, they passed by the Market. Or what was left of it, anyway. Even from where they were, a good mile and a half away, Rebecca could see orange flames licking at the sky, and she imagined the swirling clouds of black smoke could be seen for long miles all around.

"Billy," Rebecca said. "Look."

Billy dragged himself across the floor of the battered truck and lifted himself just high enough that he could see out the window. "They burned it all."

"Looks that way." She twisted around in the truck just long enough to look at Billy. His gaze was fixed on the plume of smoke, and Rebecca could only guess what he was thinking.

Billy turned her down another road, and soon even the dark plume of smoke faded into the distance. When it had, Rebecca allowed herself to relax, just a little bit. There were no other cars on this road, not as far as she could see in any direction.

They were safe.

For now.


Rebecca called Graves as soon as her phone found a decent signal. Around the chattering of her teeth and the obscenely loud rattling of the truck's cab as Billy continued to guide her down roads way, way less traveled by, she managed to convey to Graves that their entire situation had gone south on them and – like it or not – they needed backup.

"I was afraid of that," Graves said. "When I didn't hear from you this morning…I'll let Agent Redfield know. He and his team should be able to catch the next flight down to Cozumel."

"Chris has a team already?"

Graves sighed wearily. "Agent Redfield wasn't too happy to hear that I sent you down there without any backup. He's put together a team to have on standby in case you need further support. They're in Ft. Lauderdale now – all I have to do is give them the go-ahead."

Rebecca bristled at the idea that Chris thought she couldn't handle herself alone out here. Field agent or not, she hadn't exactly forgotten her STARS training. But Chris's heart was in the right place, and she knew it. He hadn't meant the extra preparations as an insult to her abilities.

"We also have a hotel booked, if you're comfortable staying in Cozumel for a few days."

"A hotel?" Rebecca asked.

"Yes. It's the Hotel Aguilar, by the airport. If you get there today, use the names Elizabeth and Alan Stockton to check in."

"If we get there today?"

"It's an old CIA trick," Billy said, speaking up from the back. "You need rooms but aren't sure what day you're going to arrive? Book a room for two days, then another room for two days after that. Use different names for each room. It'll help you cover your tracks." He pulled himself into an awkward sitting position, still trying to keep his head below the window line. "Turn right up there."

"Billy's right," Graves said, drawing Rebecca back into the other important conversation she was involved in. "It's an old CIA trick. If you get up there tomorrow, go by James Gleeson and Alison Murray. There will be two rooms for you then."

"James Gleeson and Alison Murray," Rebecca repeated. "Got it."

There the conversation died. Rebecca had little else to say, and Billy had fallen silent again.

"Be safe," Graves said, breaking the silence by winding down their conversation. "Call if anything happens. And Rebecca? Tell Billy I'm sorry, but I couldn't keep his case out of the media for any longer."

Rebecca glanced at Billy, unsure whether he could hear Graves' voice over the speaker or not. His expression was impassive, his gaze locked somewhere down the road before them.

"Will do, sir," Rebecca said. She hung up the phone and dropped it onto her lap. It nearly flew off her lap and onto the floor when she hit an unseen pothole. "How far to Cozumel, yet?"

"A few more hours. We'll make it today." Billy sucked in a deep breath and let it out in a rush. "The turn to the highway is coming up soon. There. Turn left there." Billy pointed over her shoulder, indicating a barely marked turnoff onto a gravel road. "Then it's a straight shot up to Playa del Carmen. We'll catch the ferry back to Cozumel there."

"Oh, good," Rebecca said, and meant it.

After that, they fell quiet again. Rebecca kept her eyes on the long, straight road as it turned from gravel to cracked pavement to newer, smooth asphalt and watched a towering thunderhead charge across the sky before her.

When they finally reached Playa del Carmen, they had a small debate over whether to take Vargas's truck across on the ferry or leave it behind. Billy wanted to ditch the truck, but Rebecca wanted to keep it with them at least until they crossed to the island. They could dump it there for all she cared; she just felt it was best to have it with them until then. Billy needed all the cover and protection they could get.

In the end, she won. The truck would go with them into Cozumel. They could dump it there.

Somewhere.

She didn't leave the truck while they rode the ferry. Instead she closed her eyes and tried, again, to make a plan. Where would they go next? What would they do?

She didn't have many ideas, and the few she had she shot down. They really had no choice but to get to Cozumel, grab a hotel, barricade the door, and wait for Chris and his team to arrive. Maybe they'd have some better ideas.

While she was spinning her wheels and getting nowhere, Billy had taken a knife to his hair.Rebecca watched him in the rearview mirror, wondering if she should say something lock after lock of his dark hair came away in his hands, sliced clean through with the knife. But she didn't, and soon enough Billy was done.

The transformative effect was pretty impressive. His new haircut looked a little like the popular style back home, and the cut alone made him look years younger. If he changed up a few more things about his appearance, he'd be much harder to find.

Dropping the last lock of hair onto the floor, Billy pushed his hand through his hair. He must've felt Rebecca staring, because he asked, "Is it that bad?"

"No," Rebecca replied. "You just look different. Younger."

"Think I might throw them off the trail?"

"For a little while." She paused, her gaze falling on the worn cuffs of his long-sleeved shirt. "Losing the shirt might help."

Billy lifted his head, a smile tugging at the corners of his lips. Rebecca stared at him for a second, then realized what she'd said. She felt the blood rush to her face and quickly clarified, "I mean for one with short sleeves."

"I know what you meant." Billy smiled and tugged experimentally at his sleeves, then pushed them up over his arms as far as they would go. The swirling black lines of his tattoo were still there, still easy to see.

"Has anyone down here ever seen it?" Rebecca asked.

"No. I don't think so. But…" He pushed the sleeves back down. "I've had this tattoo since I was eighteen. There might be some photos of it drifting around online."

Rebecca winced. Right. His case. The other roadblock they were facing. "We'll think of something," she said, trying to be reassuring. "I promise."

She wanted to say more, but the ferry had docked a few minutes back and the lines of cars and trucks and people vying to get back on dry land were beginning to move, and Rebecca – trapped somewhere in the middle of the ferry – had little choice but to go with the flow.


They dumped the truck near the jungle a few miles outside of town, but only after running the battered thing through the car wash first. Underneath all that caked on mud was a chipping layer of dark blue paint, and both Billy and Rebecca agreed that without the layers of mud it was a lot harder for their followers to identify the truck as theirs.

Before they'd run the car through the wash, they'd sorted through some of the stuff still left in the bed. Most of it was fishing equipment – they'd even left some of the poles and tackle and other gear at the fishing village, just in case Vargas ever thought to come back for it. They'd left a few blankets and some stray gear, and Billy went through it now, just in case there might be anything in there identifying the truck as Vargas's.

He found a single black duffel bag hidden under a pile of blankets. If he opened it Rebecca didn't see, but either way he determined that it was going with them back to the hotel, then climbed out of the truck and pried off the license plate.

They buried it a few dozen yards into the jungle, then began the three-mile hike back into the city. A couple of tourists out for a day hike stopped and offered them a ride which they accepted. Walking left them too open.

Once back in town, they checked into the hotel using the names Graves had provided, then dragged what few possessions they still had upstairs with them. Rebecca shifted the virus case from one hand to the other in the elevator, clutching it so tightly her knuckles were white. This city of strangers was no safer than the Market had been, no matter how anonymous they managed to be here. If the virus dealers were unopposed to burning the Market to the ground – to do what, send a message to Billy? – then she doubted they'd have any qualms about doing the very same to Cozumel.

Though the heads at the Global Pharmaceutical Consortium liked to tell the public that things had really gotten better after Umbrella's fall, the truth was that things were only getting worse. The virus was everywhere now, or close to it. The Alliance only appeared to be on top of things. The truth was, they were almost floundering. Information – reports, leads, data, research, you name it – came at them from virtually every direction, and the Alliance lacked the manpower, the funding, and the authority to deal with everything in a timely manner.

Kijuju, for instance, should never have turned into a full-scale outbreak. The Alliance should have been sent in far sooner, only bureaucratic red tape, a supposed "lack" of information, and the declining political climate in Kijuju had stonewalled the Alliance to such a degree that it took more than eighteen months to get even the first African branch agents into the area – and that was even after they'd had hard evidence that Jill was possibly being held in the area. Jill! One of the founding members of the Alliance!

After that, the rest was history. The Alliance cleaned up the mess – killing infected, shutting down production plants and research facilities, burning decimated villages to the ground. The scant survivors, all refugees now, were granted asylum in Luapula. Samples were taken from the soil, water, flora, and fauna and then all of those were shipped off to the BSAA headquarters in DC, where Rebecca had been put in charge of testing all of them. Three months in and she'd still barely put a dent in all those samples, meaning a great swath of Kijuju was still considered a biohazardous zone and was heavily policed and monitored by BSAA agents. She had no idea how long it would take before the zone was considered decontaminated and whatever survivors wanted to could even return home.

It was a bad situation, and things were even worse here. Here, the virus was being produced and sold at an alarming rate. T-Loki, though far and away one of the worst new strains to emerge in the aftermath of Umbrella's fall, was only the latest in a long string of new strains to come out of parts of Central and South America. But until her mission, this mission, no one from the Alliance had really been allowed to go and look into who might be producing these viruses – and where.

If…if they could find the lab that produced T-Loki and shut it down, that would be progress. Maybe not a death blow – maybe not even a scratch – but it would be progress.

When they reached the right room, Billy unlocked the door and pushed his way inside. The room was light – white walls, mostly white bedding, light oak and white furniture – and felt just like a beach resort.

Well, you are in Cozumel, Rebecca reminded herself. It is a beach town. And you could do worse. There was a bed, after all, and a dresser and a shower and a small balcony with a view of the beach and the blue, blue water stretching out across the horizon.

While she took stock of the room, Billy dropped onto the edge of the bed. He looked…defeated. Rebecca sat beside him, not sure what to say or do. Again. Uncertainty was rapidly becoming her default state of being.

He lost everything, she reminded herself, even if that didn't really help clue her in to something good to say. She could sit with him, though, and let him know that she was here to help in any way she could.

"I'm sorry," Billy said at last.

Rebecca jerked, taken aback by this. "What? What're you apologizing for?"

"For getting you involved."

Rebecca frowned and shook her head vigorously. "That wasn't your fault. You did the right thing, not trying to ship the virus to us. What if it had broken in transit?"

Billy went on as if he hadn't heard her. "They won't stop. They'll keep coming after us until we're dead – or they are. You should…you should go back to D.C. It'll be safe there. I'll call Graves, have him set up a flight back—"

"No," Rebecca said forcefully. Her next words were out of her mouth before she had the chance to consider the wisdom behind them: "I'm not leaving you." She stopped there. Silence filled the room, making her feel suddenly and incredibly awkward.

So be it. She'd wondered for years what she would do if she and Billy ever reunited, and one thing had never varied, not in any of the scenarios she had come up with: she wouldn't leave him behind again. No matter what it came down to – his life, hers, both of theirs – she wouldn't let him go alone this time.

And besides, she was an Alliance agent. Officially field trained or not, she had a job to do, and that job involved tracking down the men and women who came up with the T-Loki virus and putting a stop to it. She added, "This is my mission, anyway. I have a duty to figure out who's behind this. If they want this sample back, they're going to have to fight me for it. I can't let them have this."

"Then what do you suggest?" Billy asked, his voice flat.

Rebecca swallowed. Once again she wracked her brain, trying to come up with a brilliant plan of action. None came. "I don't know yet. But Chris might. And he's on his way."


Author's Note: Well, if this wasn't a long time coming, I don't know what is. D: Words cannot express how terribly sorry I am that I took such a long hiatus. I hadn't ever intended to. Life...well, in a nutshell, my life pretty much turned upside down after I posted chapter 4. Things only really came back together about October last year, and that's about when I picked Down the Line back up again and started looking it over. I started with the outline (made some excellent changes there) and in January I started revising everything - and I do mean everything.

Every chapter prior to this one has been rewritten. The exact degree of revisions varies - chapter one is mostly the same, chapter two is very different after the first scene, chapters three and four have some additions but were also pared down. Even this chapter went through several major revisions before I finally settled on this one. I probably won't edit them again before I finish the story completely, but know that I never consider my job completely over and done with - so if you find any typos, canon errors, or other bits you'd like to point out to me, please feel free. While I'm eternally grateful to my beta and all the work she's done for me, every set of eyes sees something different.

If you're a new reader, welcome to the newest, shiniest chapter of Down the Line. If you're a returning reader, thank you so much for coming back. I hardly deserve it after leaving you hanging for so long. I hope you find that everything is still just as fun and exciting as you remember. 3

I make no promises as to when the next chapter will be posted, only that it will be much sooner than two years from now. I plan on finishing the entirety of this fic before RE6 comes out in November, though whether or not I'll have everything posted by then remains to be seen. (I'd set Damnation as my deadline, but it doesn't have quite the concrete release date yet. When/if it does, I'll probably revise my own deadlines to match. Here's to hoping the mysterious silhouette is our beloved Billy!)