Origami Heart

A/N: This story now has three chapters. Chapters 1 and 2 make up the actual story, but the 3rd chapter is an alternate version of the 2nd chapter and contains explicit sexual content. If you are not comfortable with that, just skip over the 3rd chapter since it wasn't part of the original story anyway. Enjoy! ^_^

Disclaimer: Capcom owns Resident Evil and all its characters.

I.

December 22nd, 1997

There was one thing Claire Redfield would always love- a deluxe burger with a side order of cheese fries from her favorite diner, Emmy's. She took another satisfying bite, smothering the warmth of the cheese, meat, and ketchup as they melted against her tongue, where she let it rest for a few moments as she closed her eyes and savored the taste that she had been longing for since the beginning of her academic semester. The food on her campus, though much more nutritious, just couldn't compare with what she was used to eating in Raccoon. Three months had gone by quickly, and though she loved her experiences in college, even she had to admit that she was ready for winter break after two hellish weeks of finals and papers. She would have never thought that she'd feel most at home in the midst of an overcrowded diner on a Monday evening with her brother and his rowdy S.T.A.R.S. friends.

She had met them earlier in the year and thought that each and every one of them brought his charm to the table. Being the epitome of a tomboy, she had gotten along well with all of them. It was actually Chris who had gotten quite defensive on a few occasions, fearing that some of his buddies were guilty of bad intentions, ones that jumped the borderline of what he had called "acquaintance," not even "friends." She knew it was just his instinctive protectiveness kicking in, and she loved him for it. However, at the same time, she was also annoyed that the fact that she was nineteen AND single apparently didn't mean much to him. Age wise, she was old enough to take care of herself, and as for her single status, didn't that show that she was smart enough to not prioritize romance and all the headache that came with it, over her ambitions?

She was glad to see that after being away at school for a semester, he had somewhat loosened up. Chris was smart, intuitive, courageous, and she could easily think of multiple batches of adjectives to describe her brother, but even the great Chris Redfield was not omnipresent. Separated by distance, he had no choice but to trust her with influences he couldn't control. She knew he had probably felt helpless and even feared that their close sibling bond would collapse after she left for college, but she had been proven right that the much-needed space between them had only strengthened their relationship.

Claire wiped her greasy fingers on a piece of napkin before she pulled out a pen from her book bag and scribbled a silly message on it. Crumpling it into a ball, she swiveled her counter stool and found her target, her brother who was sitting at an adjacent booth with Jill across from him and Wesker next to him. She smiled and threw the napkin at an unsuspecting Chris, who was too engaged in a conversation with his partner, someone Claire had instantly respected and adored upon their first meeting. Not only was Jill Valentine talented, intelligent, and beautiful, but she was also the first woman beside her that inspired Chris to work harder towards his goals in law enforcement. She was almost certain that there was something buried beneath the surface of their friendly exchanges, but she wasn't about to start digging. That was their job.

The previous grin on her face was immediately wiped off when she saw Jill bending over to pick up something she had dropped, Chris following suit. The crumpled ball whizzed past his head and hit the head of a brooding blonde. Claire scrunched her shoulders and covered her face when the figure turned around, his gaze unreadable behind his black sunglasses, but from the grim line of his lips, Claire knew Albert Wesker wasn't too pleased.

"S-sorry," she called meekly and quickly turned away, not quite embarrassed yet at the moment, though it was going to get there if he opened the napkin. She squeezed her eyes shut and silently reprimanded herself for making such a stupid move. Wesker was Chris's leader, and the last thing she wanted was for her brother to get in trouble for her immature nature that she still hadn't grown out of yet.

"Hey, why do you look so constipated?"

She opened her eyes and turned to her side to find the computer expert and wuss of the team, Brad, smiling goofily at her. "Hey, come on. We're starting the game!"

She returned the smile and pushed herself back from the counter, following Brad to his own little table with the rest of the guys. As she passed by Chris's booth, she felt a cold glare staring her down. Perhaps she was just imagining things, but she really didn't want to turn back to confirm her suspicions that Wesker was giving her the evil eye behind his glasses.

"Oh, I've got to see this." Jill stood up, too, accompanied by Chris as the pair made their way over to the next table.

Wesker took another sip of his bitter tea and watched idly from his corner, amused and baffled at how his team could find so much pleasure from a stupid game that involved eggnog, milkshake, soda, and a series of trivia questions. He hadn't bothered asking about the details of the game, the loud snorts and burps were enough for him to form his own conclusions. As he watched the absurdity that was splayed before him, he started to wonder what had possessed him to single-handedly pick the members he had chosen. Each and every one of them was guilty of idiocy, even the younger Redfield, but it wasn't like he had expected otherwise from her.

He had briefly met her earlier in the year when Chris brought her to the police station. She was bothersome then and even more so now. The only thing that changed about her in the last six months was that she had managed to put on some extra weight, in all the right places, too. Wesker leaned back and ran his eyes over Claire's body, not a one bit shameful that he was enjoying the view of his best soldier's younger sister. It was the only thing that he derived pleasure from this evening. Never again would he allow the unanimous decision of his team to override his sound logic. The entire force had decided to hold a holiday gathering before vacation started. They had insisted he should join, that it just wouldn't feel right without their leader. Truthfully, Wesker was never one to celebrate major holidays. They simply felt like any other day, and he had far more important things to focus on.

Precisely why I should get the hell out of here before I waste even more time on this ridiculous evening.

His chiseled face scrunched in disgust when he heard Claire belch loudly, the crowd around her roaring with laughter. Not only was she immature, but it appeared she was un-lady like and rude, as well. He reached into the inner pocket of his issued S.T.A.R.S. vest and pulled out his wallet, rummaging through it for some bills to pay for his god-awful steak. That was when he noticed the crumpled napkin that she had thrown resting beside his plate, the one he had taken the hit for Chris. Smoothing it out with two fingers, he saw the words, "Get a room," scribbled messily in black ink. Had he not known that the message was for Chris, he would have thought that the young woman had an intuitive soul, and was able to foresee his perverted thoughts. It would truly be a shame if such an impudent fool like Claire Redfield inherited such a rare blessing.

Wesker tucked a generous tip the restaurant certainly did not deserve beneath his cup of tea and paid for his meal at the counter.

Jill looked up from the crowd. "Captain, leaving already?"

The group fell silent as all eyes fell on him.

Wesker clenched his first. He had hoped to slip away unnoticed, but Valentine's outburst had caused everyone's attention to shift to him. Having no other choice, he walked by his team's table. "Yes, I'm going to call it a night."

"But there's an after-party at Forest's house! That's where the real fun begins," Brad slurred with one eye closed and saliva running down his mouth, an alcoholic beverage in one hand.

"Thank you, but I think I've had enough for one night," Wesker excused, rolling his eyes behind his shades. "Make sure you all get to work on time tomorrow. I will not tolerate tardiness."

With his eyes concealed behind the dark glasses, it was hard to see who he was looking at, but Claire guessed he was eying everyone, and quite possibly her, too. Upon that realization, she felt herself sinking lower into her seat. She couldn't explain why, but there was something about his presence, appearance, and his smooth but strict tone that made him extremely intimidating. He wasn't physically built like the weapon specialist of the team, Barry, and she had met a few stoic loners in her school, but there was just something about Wesker that she couldn't place her finger on that made her shudder and go quiet whenever she was near him. She found herself looking at the floor until she heard his footsteps fade from the table followed by the sound of the front door opening then squeaking shut.

Chris grinned when he saw his friends all wearing the same perplexed expression. "Think he's in a bad mood?"

"When is he ever in a good mood?" Jill countered. She stretched her arms and slapped Brad's head when she noticed that he had passed out, face flat on the table. "I think we're done here?"

Barry bellowed a hearty laugh and pulled out his phone. "Forest's house it is then! I'll give him a call right now to let him know we're on our way. Bravo team must all be there already."

"Umm…that sounds fun and all but I think I'm going to pass on it tonight. Kinda tired and I want to get some studying done," Claire announced.

Chris frowned. "But you just finished school."

"Yeah, but I just wanna prepare myself for next semester's courses."

Jill laughed. "You should learn from her, Chris."

Chris shot her a scowl before he turned to his sister, who had already stood up and slung her backpack over her shoulder. "Do you want me to walk you home?"

Claire crossed her arms across her chest, a glare on her youthful face. "It's only ten. I think I'll be all right, Chris. Your apartment is what? Fifteen minutes from here?"

Chris held his palms up in defense, playfully backing away. He knew that look on her face. It was the same one she gave him whenever they fought about his over-protectiveness and how she "needed her own space." Still, it was natural for him to be worried about her. After their parents died, he had sworn that he was going to do everything in his power to make sure she was taken care of. The whole "needing space" thing was still new to him, but for the sake of trying to be more understanding per her request, he relented with a sigh. "All right, all right. You have a point. Just be careful and I'll see you a little later tonight."

"Good night everyone, we'll catch up again some other time," she said swiftly before Chris could change his mind. She waved to everyone and patted Brad's head on her way out.

Poor guy was out cold.


Fifteen minutes from Emmy's, yes, she could manage, especially with the coldness stinging her skin, forcing her feet to move faster through the snow-laden streets. Her teeth chattered as she wrapped her arms tighter around herself, her hands rubbing her bare arms up and down in a poor attempt to stir some warmth. Instead of focusing on the weather, she tried to envision Chris's small and cozy apartment, and how a hot shower and a nice cup of tea would be waiting for her once she got in. That thought made her smile, and the arduous journey in the cold to his apartment felt slightly less daunting.

She was angry with herself for not bringing a jacket earlier. Apparently, three months away from Raccoon City had made her forget that the city's weather was crazy, plummeting and rising on a whim. It had been much warmer when she first started out for the diner with Chris, warm enough for her to feel comfortable in just her jeans and her favorite red, leather vest with a valkyrie and the words, "Let Me Live" emblazoned on the back, over a black muscle shirt.

She paused for a moment to let another big gust of wind slap past her, rousing the snow to dance around her. She squeezed her eyes shut as the wind harshly struck her face, pushing her hair back and freeing some from the tight confine that held her neatly combed, high ponytail.

Suddenly, a shrill and distressed scream echoed through the vast night. Claire's heart jumped and she instinctively dropped her arms and turned around, her keen, blue eyes rapidly scanning the surroundings for any threats. She wasn't on the most active block; all the stores were closed and she was the only one walking down the block, so where could that scream have come from?

She waited a few seconds for her heart to calm down and tried to listen for the yell again. Maybe it was just some kids fooling around, but it certainly sounded urgent, like someone was in trouble. The scream came again, and as soon as it did, she turned to her right, knowing exactly where it had sounded from- the dark alley around the corner. This time, she was aware that the voice sounded like it belonged to a young boy, high-pitched, but deep enough for her to know that it wasn't a female's.

It definitely sounded like he was in trouble, and Claire didn't think twice as she broke into a run, her footsteps softly patting against the sheets of snow. She slowed when she reached the corner, cautiously and slowly turning into the darkness ahead. There was only a narrow beam of light from a nearby lamppost that half-illuminated the murky path. She couldn't see much past ten feet, but there was a small trail of blood strikingly visible against the white snow. Her logic told her to turn back and call the cops, but she had always been reckless for as long as she could remember, diving head first into danger before realizing its consequences. The brashness was just a part of her that she couldn't change. As a fervent motorcyclist, she was always ready for risks and dangers, and now was no exception as she began following the thin track of blood that led around a high pile of crates.

She felt her heart rise to her throat when her suspicions had been confirmed. Huddled in the corner was a young boy who looked no older than twelve, bundled in winter wear, blood dripping from his nose and mouth. He was holding a grocery bag, the contents messily spilled out along with an open, ripped wallet. It didn't take her more than a few seconds to piece everything together—the kid had obviously been beaten and mugged. "Hey," she said firmly and knelt in front of him, giving him a quick, reassuring smile to erase the evident fear in his wide eyes. "Are you all right?" she asked gently.

The young boy nodded, some of the panic alleviating from his gaze as he quickly explained the situation. "I was walking home with my stuff when two guys came out of nowhere and pulled me here. They took my money and-"

He stopped and Claire saw the same look of horror swimming in his eyes again as he looked away from her, at something behind her. She felt a shiver run down her spine, already having a feeling that she wasn't going to like whatever her back was facing. She spun around and saw a tall, dark shadow hovering over her, but what alarmed her was the smooth, shiny surface that gleamed in his hand. Shit, he's armed with a knife.

Without hesitation, she stood up and rammed her body against the figure, managing to at least shove him a safe distance back for the boy to escape.

"Get out of here!" she commanded, relief briefly washing over her when she saw that he was already moving toward the street. She watched a second longer than she should have, lost a second that she could have used to dodge a blow that connected with the back of her head.

Claire yelped and fell forward, bracing her fall with her hands that sank into the depth of the snow. She only had a few moments to breathe and adjust her fuzzy vision when she felt her body pulled to a standing.

The same attacker had grabbed her backpack and easily lifted her up, turning her around until she was facing him. With his free hand, he wrapped it tightly around her throat and slammed her into the crates. Everything happened so fast, the movements a blur to her that she didn't even realize she was swiping her arms at him, each thrash just brushing against his face and body.

The grip around her throat tightened, crushing her rising coughs. Though she was panic-stricken from lack of air and how quickly her vision was failing her, she managed to still remember that her legs were not locked. Using all the strength she had left, she half-turned her body and flexed her right leg upward, the extension meeting the assaulter's mouth. It turned out the high kick she had practiced all summer was finally put to good use when she felt air enter her lungs again. She didn't even spare a moment to see the condition of the man who had staggered back from the kick, was already running clumsily toward the beacon of light from the street with thick, loose strands of hair in her eyes-until she crashed into a hard chest.

It can't be him, he's back there…then this must be the second guy!

"Where do you think you're going?" The stranger growled, capturing one of her wrists in his strong fist. He pushed her back, ramming his body over hers until he was smothering her struggles on the ground, one knee on her abdomen and his free hand pressed down on her left shoulder.

"Get the bitch." She heard the other man yell to his partner before the sound of a quick woosh whizzed over her body, landing with a soft thud next to her thigh.

She felt her stomach turn when she realized it was the blade the other man was carrying. She managed to slip her right arm out of his clutch when he loosened his hold on her wrist for just a bit while attempting to grab the knife. Claire's hand met his as they caught the weapon together. Resuscitated by a jolt of adrenaline rush, she brought her left hand over the one that steadily held the knife, attempting to swerve the tip of the weapon towards the stranger's neck. Even lying against the coldness of the element, she felt beads of sweat trickle down the side of her forehead as she squeezed her eyes closed and concentrated all her energy on prying the knife as far away from her throat as possible, knowing that it would only be a matter of seconds before the other stranger would intervene.

Too late.

She already heard him hiss with aggravation, his footsteps limping toward her.

You can do this, Claire, before the other asshole makes it over here! she heatedly encouraged herself, thanking whatever deity that was watching over her for not letting the fear of being not too far from death's door materialize yet. She wasn't far from winning, could almost taste victory on her dry lips as her two hands and the dangerous weapon clutched in between ascended closer and closer towards the man's neck.

Her hands quivered, her wrists too exhausted from supporting a weight she normally couldn't withhold without borrowing the strength from her adrenaline spike, which was quickly depleting, but damn it, she wasn't going to give up. Never.

She parted her mouth to scream, needed to somehow channel out her trembling tension, but someone else had beaten her to it. Immediately, she felt the crushing weight above her vanish, her hands falling limply to her side, one of them triumphantly clutching the knife.

Claire heard the same scream again, followed by the sound of what appeared to be bones cracking. Through her bleary vision, she made out a third figure, taller than the other two. The one who had her pinned was now kneeling on the ground, clutching his left arm and moaning in pain. Her sharp hearing made up for her lack of sight, and she instantly perceived the sound of crates collapsing behind her, the noise triggering her to crawl away and shield her face with a tired arm as splinters of wood rained over her.

When she brushed her arm away from her face, the hazy shadow of her of her mysterious savior appeared before her again. This time, he was tackling the other assaulter into the wall before he rammed an elbow into his face, knocking him unconscious. Claire watched the lifeless thug slump to the ground, was caught in a trance until blaring and flashing sirens knocked her out of her daze.

Two R.P.D. police cars braked at the corner of the alley behind her, the swirling lights slicing through the darkness, illuminating the side profile of her rescuer. She saw the familiar tactical vest first, and when she looked up at the man's face, she became speechless. He turned to face her with no readable emotions on his face, and if there were even any, his black sunglasses hid them too well.

"Wesker…" she breathed in disbelief, didn't even realize there were footsteps rushing up behind her. She felt her rapid heartbeat calming down, already knew she was under good security with Alpha team's captain by her side. She had never seen him in action, but had heard stories from Chris about how talented the man was when it came to firearms and hand-to-hand combat. She could now confirm her brother's testimonies; everything she had seen with her broken sight was nothing short of impressive.

The young woman felt two people gently lifting her up, the cop on her right asking if she was all right. Claire stood dumbfounded by his question until he asked again.

"Oh, I am, thanks…" she mumbled, her gaze still locked on Wesker, who was slowly approaching her now.

Before he even reached her, three other policemen stepped in between. "Put up your hands where we can see them," one of them ordered with a raised gun, his command heavy with power and pride.

Wesker chuckled loudly before he grabbed the speaker's neck and roughly shoved him into the other two cops. "Is this any way to speak to your authority?" he hissed, his half-smile instantly replaced by a deep scowl.

Claire felt the cop next to her drop her arm. He stepped forward to get a closer look at the man and slightly jumped in alarm. "Wesker!" he cried.

Wesker pointed at the two fallen thugs on the ground and said nothing more as he walked next to Claire and lightly took her arm, guiding her towards one of the police cars. She dragged her feet across the snow, her knees turning to jelly. She still couldn't believe that one minute, she was struggling to stay alive with all her might, and the next, she was saved and being escorted by Wesker.

Claire heard something unzip next to her, and before she even turned to Wesker, a weighty but warm mass fell upon her shoulders. His vest was big on her even with her backpack on, but she still felt herself drawing the open flaps together, hugging the Kevlar material to her chest. If she had been shivering before, she didn't notice, but maybe he had. She tilted her head back, further than she had to with anyone given the captain's height.

Wesker knew what was coming. She was going to give him a creepy smile before thanking him; teenage girls were too predictable. He turned to the cops. "Handle this mess and see me tomorrow morning for the details," he said firmly. It wasn't proper procedure but he didn't need to follow the rules when he was in a position to break them.

An unforgiving gust of cold wind ruffled his shirt, but he was unaffected by the chill. He just hoped that the two other cops wouldn't be either, considering that they would have to walk back to the precinct.

He stopped in front of the car and opened the door of the front passenger seat. "After you," he said, gesturing a very stunned Claire inside.

She didn't move, seemed almost hesitant to enter. Wesker mentally sighed. She was probably still in shock but did he have to push her in?

"What about them?" she finally asked, referring to the stranded policemen.

"They'll be fine. If you think you'll be okay going home by yourself, I'm not going to stop you."

The sarcastic tone didn't go unnoticed by her. She swallowed the aggravation and words she knew she was going to regret saying as they crept up her throat, reminding herself that he had done nothing wrong, only saved her from an untimely demise. Honestly, she was just mad and disappointed with herself. She hated to admit it, but a part of her sided with Chris's judgment. If she had accepted his offer instead of blowing him off by acting like hotheaded, confident brat, none of this would have happened. Physically enervated and mentally drained, she didn't bother arguing as she slipped into the car; the comfort of the leather cushion and the warmth from the heater had never felt so good.

Wesker closed the door and got into the driver's seat. Without bothering asking for the address to the apartment, he started the engine and began driving.

Claire normally hated when the radio played in the car, but tonight she was glad that it was on, making the silence in the vehicle seem less awkward…until he reached over and turned it off.

"I'm not too fond of the radio playing. It's terribly annoying."

Terrific… Claire thought, and couldn't help but wonder if he was purposely messing with her. She leaned back, her vision coming back to her, but the pain in her head started to hammer again; maybe the silence wasn't going to be so bad after all. At least she could take the next five minutes to relax in some peace and quiet.

"Ugh…" she moaned lightly, a sudden, sharp pang making her grip her temples. The rest of her body ached, too, but the soreness wasn't as bad as the throbbing pressure at the front and back of her head. She didn't think it was anything serious that required medical attention from the hospital, but the minor spasms AND the fresh bruises were quite a nuisance. Still, they were nothing compared to what could have happened to her if Wesker hadn't found her in time.

Wesker noticed her slight disorientation from the corner of his eye, but didn't say anything until he saw her eyes wearily close. "Are you all right?" The last thing he wanted was a young woman with cuts and bruises all over, passed out in a 'borrowed' vehicle he was driving. S.T.A.R.S. leader or not, it just wouldn't look right, and he had a reputation to uphold. But he was at least glad she hadn't dissolved into an emotional breakdown. Just like her brother, she was able to maintain her cool under unexpected and traumatizing situations. God bless this Redfield trait, it was one of the few he didn't frown upon.

"Yeah…just a little dizzy," she muttered with a small grin. "I appreciate your worries, but I think I'll be fine." From his stoic nature, she never would have guessed that he even cared, but in the last ten minutes, she saw a side of him that she would have never expected to see. Not in a million years. She wasn't even sure Chris and Barry knew this side of Wesker, and they saw the man practically everyday at work.

"I see. Just be careful not to vomit on my vest. It was just cleaned."

Looks like I spoke too soon. That was certainly a slap in the face. She had thought he was genuinely concerned about her well-being, but it turned out that the only thing that mattered to him was his prim attire. Her eyes snapped open, the urge to rest slowly dissipated, the previous anger she felt rose again. By all means, she was still intimidated by his cold attitude and demeanor, but not even that could refrain her from speaking out after his inconsiderate comment. Couldn't he have at least lied to make it seem like he actually gave a damn? "Wesker, umm…you could at least pretend you care?"

Why pretend when I don't? That was honestly what he wanted to voice, but he bit his tongue and held back his snide comment for the sake of maintaining harmony for the next three minutes. They were almost at Chris's apartment, and after he dropped her off, he could finally head home and finish some research for Umbrella. This was one of his worst evenings, if not the worst evening he had so far, and he couldn't wait until it was put to an end. So far, it was just one disaster after another. "Forgive me. I'm just not myself tonight."

Claire wasn't buying it, but she decided to let it go. There was another question that was bugging her, one so obvious that she was surprised she hadn't asked already. "Hey Wesker? How did you find me anyway?"

Wesker sighed, didn't want to be reminded of the incident. He couldn't believe that out of everyone in the city he could possibly run into, he had to run into a bleeding kid crying for help on a deserted street. He knew the child was young, but the boy certainly was old enough to recognize that he worked for the R.P.D., and even though he was just an Umbrella employee disguised as a S.T.A.R.S. operative, he was still expected to carry out his undercover job to the best of his ability to avoid suspicions.

"As I was walking home, a child burst into the street and started screaming for help. He told me someone was in danger in an alleyway. You should know the rest." He made a sharp left turn, the tires screeching loudly, almost like it was projecting his annoyance.

Claire winced at the sound but didn't comment on the turn, her thoughts too focused on the young boy she had saved. "Oh, right…that must be the same boy I rescued. He got away and must have called for help. What happened to him afterward? You made sure he was safe, right?"

"He ran off, and how am I supposed to know about his well-being? I was too busy rescuing you at the time," Wesker snapped, not one bit delighted with the responsibility she was imposing on him. "The kid has parents, no? Was I supposed to walk him home?"

"Well-"Claire began.

It was a rhetorical question, foolish girl. "I don't think Chris would be too happy to find his sister dead in an alley," he deadpanned.

Wesker stopped at a red traffic signal and looked at her, one eyebrow cocked above his glasses. Claire held his gaze with her own determined one, insistent on proving that she had done something good tonight and shouldn't have her accomplishment turned against her. However, she couldn't will herself to part her lips to speak as the eye-locking game continued, his intense stare having the ability to penetrate through the black shades, straight into her core. She had never been this close and confrontational with her brother's supervisor, had never noticed that he was rather handsome, even in the darkness of the night. His well-sculpted features and chiseled face boldly protruded among the nightly shadows, exuding a heavy air of authority that made her feel more powerless than she would have liked to admit.

The lights turned and she was the first to face away, cheeks flushed. She could have sworn she heard Wesker snicker beneath his breath, but wasn't in the mood to make any accusations. Uncharacteristically reserved, Claire searched her book bag for her keys when she noticed Chris's apartment building coming into view.

Wesker slowly braked the car in front of the apartment's front steps and unlocked all the doors. "Have a good night and stay out of trouble, Ms. Redfield," he said with much more enthusiasm than he had ever put into a single sentence. He was finally free to go home and attend to his own business.

"T-thanks again for your help back there…"

"Again? I believe this is the first time you're thanking me for my assistance," he pointed out sharply. Wesker wasn't looking for attention and praises because he didn't save her for recognition. What miffed him were her senseless rambles, her stubborn need to prove a point that had already become moot the moment she showed her incompetence to handle a situation she wasn't prepared to take on.

He knew his point was proven when he saw her features pinch, her expression torn between shock and acceptance. She looked like she wanted to say something, apologize even, but ended up mutely digging through her bag. Wesker guessed she wanted to pretend to be distracted, and feeling aberrantly generous for the second time tonight, he decided to let his chiding slide.

She continued to rummage through her bag, a little more panicky now when she felt Wesker staring at her expectantly. He obviously wanted her out of the car as soon as possible, and she was unintentionally taking her sweet time finding the keys she needed. A flashback snapped in her mind, causing her fingers to freeze. She remembered that she had accidentally forgotten her set of keys on the kitchen table, next to her helmet and cell phone, when she rushed to answer the phone because Chris was too busy fixing himself up in the bathroom. It was Jill who had called, saying that she was already waiting down the block. Too absorbed in her brother's excitement, she hadn't even realized that she wasn't done packing, already dragged out of the door by an all too eager Chris.

Clare groaned and threw her face into her hands.

"What is it now?" Wesker vented. "You're really trying my patience."

"Umm…I forgot my keys…"

Wesker stifled a snarl.

"So you're locked out?"

"It appears so."

"What on Earth do you have in there?" Wesker demanded, referring to the backpack and feeling very tempted to take the bag and pour out all the contents and search himself.

Claire unzipped it and show him the inside—two heavy textbooks, a notebook, a mirror, a pack of gum, and what seemed to a very broken looking teddy bear with one eye dangling out of its socket. Wesker raised an eyebrow and Claire immediately zipped the flaps shut, her cheeks burning again. "It's my first time sewing a stuffed animal," she explained with a nervous laugh.

"Aren't you quite the taxidermist?" He sighed and raked a hand through his blonde hair, a habit he carried out whenever he was frustrated. "Why do you have all that in there and not your keys?"

"I just got back from school today. Used my keys to open the door and threw them on the kitchen table with my helmet. I'm a biker by the way." She felt like she had to add the last part, partially because it could offer more credibility to her truthful story, but mostly because she actually wanted to reveal that part about herself to him, a part she was very proud of. "Jill called and Chris dragged me out of the apartment. I completely forgot to take my keys…and didn't even get a chance to put down some stuff I didn't need to have with me."

"Call your brother and tell him to pick you up and bring you to Forest's house," Wesker said dryly.

"Umm…I left my phone next to my keys. Sorry, forgot to add that part in…"

Just as she expected, Wesker did not respond with a very pleased look.

She quickly continued, "But if you let me borrow yours, I can call my brother and-"

"That's not an option. I don't have my phone on me either."

"Ummm…"

One hand supporting the side of his head and the other on the steering wheel, Wesker rolled his eyes and threw out another suggestion. "Don't you have parents that live nearby?"

Reflexively, Claire bit her lower lip and closed her eyes, suppressing a wave of hurt collapsing over her heart that was all too familiar to her. Her features promptly readjusted on her face, molding an expression of emptiness and longing. She folded her arms across her chest, her right fingers clutching a fistful of her shirt beneath the tactical vest.

Wesker sensed he had said something insensitive and started to recall a conversation he had with Chris when he first recruited him. He had mentioned that he wanted to pursue a career in law enforcement on the coattails of his parents' deaths, who were caught in a fatal car accident caused by a drunk driver when Chris and his sister were just children. The driver was never caught, and Chris later took it personally to make sure justice was served when it should be. It was not uncommon for S.T.A.R.S. candidates to come from backgrounds that roused them to fight for righteousness.

He faced her with an impassive appearance, the recollection nothing more than just a fact to him. "They're gone."

The truth scorched her, sent shivers of heat and fury throughout her skin. Claire couldn't stay anymore, felt like the sides of the car were smothering her. However, what she couldn't stand more was being next to an asshole, who didn't seem to give a shit about anything.

She exhaled deeply and watched a cool, misty ring escape through her slightly trembling lips. The streets outside were cold and dark, but she could say with certainty that she'd feel much more comfortable out there than another minute in the car with Wesker. He was clearly vexed, and she supposed he had every right to be. She wasn't his responsibility and he had already done enough for her for tonight; all she had shown him was how irresponsible and childish she could be, which wasn't usually like her, not in the slightest. Then quit burdening the jerk and just wait for Chris to come home! her mind furiously screamed.

Why he had bothered with her to begin with, she'd never know, but that was hardly a concern right now.

With an irritated growl of resignation, she ripped off his S.T.A.R.S. vest ungracefully and handed it back to him with a bitter, forced smile. "See? No worries, I held my puke in." She made sure to emphasize "held" with contempt.

Wesker looked at his vest, but didn't make an effort to accept it. Her words caused his core to burn vaguely, inspiring a hint of pity and regret. Pity because he was well aware of what she was intending to do, and regret because he knew that he would be consumed with it if anything happened to her again tonight, especially when the last part of her statement suggested that she was not in her best condition. Wesker knew he was a coldhearted man with skewed perceptions of morals, but just dismissing the girl caused him great unrest he couldn't repress. For a moment, he was angry, not with the situation and not with Claire, but with himself for feeling something that bordered fondness for another being.

Claire watched his profile with narrow eyes. He seemed to be absorbed in his own thought, both hands clenched tightly on the steering wheel now. Was he mad? She couldn't tell, and honestly, she didn't care. "Well? Aren't you going to take your stupid vest? It's all you're concerned about anyway."

Her tone reminded him very much of one that belonged to an unruly child, who took an envious edge when he didn't get what he wanted. It was all too clear to Wesker what Claire really sought for, though. There was something within him, something he despised because he couldn't rein it from possessing him to grant her needy craving.

He strained his resentment toward this unpredictable predicament to flush, loosening his tight grip on the wheel. "You may hold on to it for a little longer."

There was a click, and the doors locked again. Wesker turned the wheel and brought the vehicle back into the streets, taking routes Claire was unfamiliar with. She stared with her mouth agape, dumbfounded at the sudden change in his attitude. His vest was cradled gingerly in her arms, the antithesis of the rage she had felt just a few seconds ago. Her creased eyebrows fell evenly again above wide eyes that revealed confusion. "Where are we going?" she asked in a low voice, irritation not so quietly tagged with it.

"My house. You'll stay with me until your brother comes to pick you up." He articulated his response with finality, leaving no room for arguments and questions, two things he could not stand.

"Well, maybe I don't want to stay with you," Claire said mildly, feeling strangely bold enough to give a mock, haughty attitude.

Reclining into her seat, she draped the wide, open vest over her chest and turned her head to the window, couldn't resist a tiny smile that was shrouded by the darkness and was to her knowledge only. The trees, buildings, and stores looked beautiful covered in white, fluffy snow, and she could imagine what she saw as a still life picture found in a storybook. Though she took notice of the breathtaking winter, night view of Raccoon City, her mind and heart were not capturing the sightings to their fullest beauty. She was distracted, but in a good way, she supposed. Claire Redfield had always held long grudges, had always been the victor of who-can-stay-pissed-longer games, but now, she seemed to be losing a part of her, albeit an unattractive part, that made her…well, her. Was it college that changed her? She didn't think it was likely, but the other thought that came to mind was too absurd for her to accept.

She could see his reflection in the windowpane, his features ever so cold and hard. She had thought his heart was the same, could imagine ice water running through his veins in place of blood, perpetually freezing his innate ability to feel, something all humans possessed. Claire shuddered, remembering how inhuman she had thought he was the first time she met him earlier this year, how anxious she had been to get away from him. But now, she was sitting no more than three feet away from him, her heart beating erratically for a different reason that still wasn't clear to her yet. Wesker had just shown her slight semblance of compassion. Maybe her heated temper had thwarted his icy barrier; she liked to think that, but knew she was probably giving herself too much credit.

Maybe it's just the night, she excused. This entire night has been kinda weird…

Wesker ignored her remark. He learned from his good friend, William Birkin, that the best way to handle a bratty child was to be ignorant. He wasn't sure why he suddenly decided to take Birkin's advice. For someone who only saw his daughter once a month at most, he seemed overly confident in his parenting skills. Still, the advice conveniently gave him the excuse to remain quiet. All he wanted was some peace for the duration of the drive to his house. He was still upset that his only good deed for the year came back to bite him in the ass, but it seemed insignificant compared to what it had driven him to do against his will. This was perhaps his punishment for not thinking twice and logically before accepting his team's invitation to a dinner at Emmy's. He should have known better. There were consequences for everything, even for a seemingly harmless gathering he had no interest in partaking to begin with.

Once the night's over, things will be back to normal, he told himself in an effort to keep his sanity from slipping further from his grasp. Just have to make it through tonight…this very, very long night…