Disclaimer: I don't own these characters or the world they inhabit, so please don't sue me. I have no money.
A/N: Soo... it's been a while. Sorry about that. I got into a bit of a writing rut and couldn't pull myself out. But i think it's getting better - whether or not this update reflects that, i'm not sure ;) - and i know this update is a lot shorter than my usual, but i figured... something is better than nothing, right? I hope so anyway. ;) I also hope that there are still a few of you that will check this out, even if you had given up hope on me updating. As always, please feel free to let me know what you think! I can't tell you how much i enjoy getting reviews and story alerts; they kind of make my day. So don't be shy, i don't bite. :)
Claire tears off a small piece of the adhesive tape and wraps it around the gauze to hold it close. Facing the blonde once more, she holds out the tiny bundle. "Souvenir." And quirks her lips into a half-smile. Hesitantly, like she isn't quite sure she remembers how, Alice returns it and reaches forward to take the proffered package. Their fingers brush together as the claw is exchanged and when Alice's pulls back a little more forcefully than could be considered necessary, Claire drops her hand back down to her side. "Does it?" And that look of determination returns.
Alice slides the gauze into her back pocket and then lifts her shirt to look down at the claw marks. Even without the illumination of the flashlight she'd know it was healing. She can feel the skin pulling together, growing over it, and the heat from the T-Virus scorches her veins as it swims through them.
"Yes." And she admits it with reluctance, because she has seen the kind of person Claire is; caring and compassionate, and Alice doesn't think she can handle her sympathy. Because having something you feel so passionately undeserving of can break a person. Alice watches as the other woman retrieves another square of gauze and the roll of bandage. When she raises a questioning eyebrow, Claire offers a simple shrug of her shoulders.
"So you don't get anything in it." And it's then Alice wonders if maybe Claire is doing this because she feels like she has to. That all those qualities that make her the great leader Alice believes she is, won't allow her to just sit by and do nothing while someone is injured. Despite the fact that they have the ability to heal. It's that thought that stops her from arguing as Claire presses the gauze to her skin, that maybe Claire needs to do it more than Alice needs her not to. The blonde's fingers move to hold the gauze in place so Claire can retrieve the roll of bandage, and the convoy leader mumbles a quiet thank you as she does. Slowly, and with a tinge more preciseness than Alice thinks necessary, Claire winds the bandage around her stomach to hold the gauze in place and then tears off two strips of the adhesive tape to keep it all secure. The slightly calloused tips of Claire's fingers graze the skin above the newly applied bandage as the redhead smoothes out the wrinkles in the dressing. She lifts her head, and her previously overlooked proximity to the other woman makes her suddenly start. Alice's expression is unreadable, but her iridescent eyes are as intense as always, and Claire inexplicably finds herself short of breath. Because they're so much more brilliant close up.
"Thank you." And Claire can tell by the way she says it that Alice isn't used to thanking people. Isn't used to people doing things for her. She wonders if she'd feel just as uncomfortable if their situations had been reversed and she had been the one needing tending to. She wonders when the last time Alice willingly allowed someone to help her had been.
"Don't mention it." But Claire just offers a smile and keeps her thoughts to herself. She turns to place everything neatly back into the grey plastic box, absently pulling at her lower lip and then opens her mouth to speak again. "But you know, it won't kill you to let someone help you now and again." And for a second, she'd really thought she might be able to hold onto that one. But, as so often is the case, Claire's beaten by her own intrigue and obstinacy. Alice doesn't let a heartbeat's length of time pass.
"No. But it might kill them." And she's gone before Claire can turn around.
The still decaying remains of the tiger's body draws Alice's attention as she re-enters the hallway and she spares it an almost sorrowful glance as she moves to push open the door of the next room. With an absent and practised ease, she frees a hand gun and lifts it in preparation before entering.
One room over, Claire only hears the squeaking of the hinges. Alice makes no sound. It's eerie, almost as though the other woman is some kind of apparition; little more than a fabrication birthed from a lonely mind. The thought unsettles Claire and, little grey box in hand, she follows after Alice. She finds the blonde already inspecting the contents of the space, the beam from Claire's flashlight still held in her grip touching on everything in sight, and the convoy leader lingers in the doorway for a moment to inspect Alice in turn. She moves with such assuredness, as though there's not a thing she doesn't expect or could catch her off guard. Claire speculates whether that's a deeply rooted confidence, or something that's little more than skin deep. Either way she admires it. It's a grace that's drenched in beauty, and that realisation makes her wonder how Alice managed to spend five years alone. Why. But the thought is a fleeting one and it's pushed aside as Claire crosses the threshold.
The room is small and boxlike in shape. There's enough room for a single metal bed frame, somehow missing its mattress, a dresser and a wooden desk that had been pushed into the far corner of the room. A worn looking chair sits before it, looking oddly alone beneath the thin layer of grime covering it, and a gentle touch from Alice's hand sends it spinning on its wheels a little, away from the desk. The blonde grips the thin bronze handle of the top drawer and tugs. It slides open with the dull scrape of wood on wood and Alice shines the light into the darkness. An aged leather bound bible sits askew inside, its cover cracked and rubbed away at the edges, obvious wear from frequent reading. Long fingers grip it by its spine and lift it from where it had been left. Forgotten. Lost.
"What is it?" Alice glances over her shoulder and watches Claire approach. She doesn't move away when the redhead sidles up close enough to look down at the book from over her shoulder, but Alice feels the muscles in her back tighten. She shines the light across the fading golden letters and Claire cocks an eyebrow thoughtfully as she regards the state of the book. "Someone must have had a lot of faith in it to read it into that kind of condition." Alice's thumb brushes against a fleck of scaly leather, knocking it free and watching as it floats towards the floor and disappears into the dirt and darkness.
"Or they had so little they were desperately looking to find some." Claire's breath disturbs the air close to Alice's cheek. It ripples, vibrating through her. "Maybe they were just looking for answers." She lets the book fall from her grip and back into the drawer with an unexpected thud that makes Claire's eyelids flicker. "Lot of good it did them." With the same grating sound of wood scraping wood, the drawer slides back into place.
"Maybe our friend downstairs isn't the owner of this place. Maybe the person that book belongs to is safe somewhere else. Maybe they found something in there worth fighting for, worth living for. Worth just... going on for?" And Claire doesn't mean for it to sound like a question, but it does and Alice can't read her well enough to know what exactly it is she's asking. And it infuriates her. So used to being able to judge what's going to happen around her before it happens, what someone will do; with Claire, that skill vacillates. Burning out faster than a match struck in a windstorm.
"Nowhere is safe." Alice says, abruptly shifting out of their shared space and striding across the room. Claire turns, resting a hand on a cocked hip.
"Carlos talked about you as though you were this eternal optimist. Like this whole 'end of the world' bullshit can't touch you." Alice's stride wavers as memories that feel as though they happened a lifetime ago flash behind her eyes. Younger, less weathered versions of herself and Carlos; more smiles, more hope. "Well, for an eternal optimist, you're kind of pessimistic." But five years can change a person.
"Optimism is hard to hold onto when the world is dying around you." And even the strongest surface can weather during a storm.
"But you managed." Claire counters, eyes glimmering with inquisition now as she gazes at Alice's rigid back. The pessimism flows from Alice like a sudden, thickening fog and the weight of it makes Claire's shoulders slump. "You've barely spoken two words to anyone since you got here." She points out, gesturing towards the blonde with the hand holding the grey box. "But on the rare occasion you did it was always some well worded message of hope. And you were pretty damn convincing." Green eyes narrow and Claire's brow furrows. "What changed? Why the sudden shift in opinions? Was it all just a facade you can't keep up anymore?" Alice's fingers twitch against her gun as she stares holes into something ahead that her eyes aren't focused on. "Why now?" And now Claire sounds almost exasperated, as though she had just found a piece to a jigsaw puzzle she'd been agonising over, only to turn it over and find that it was blank. In the hush, Alice hears the scrap of Claire's boots as she shifts closer. "Why me?" But she remains still and silent, and she holds the stance long enough that Claire is certain Alice has gone back to hiding behind her soundproof walls. But then, Alice does seem to be forever surprising her.
"Because I thought you'd understand." And when Alice turns, iridescent eyes staring right into the convoy leader, Claire's shock turns into something else. Utterly indescribable, it melts her surprise and she feels it trickle through her entire body, cooling rapidly until it lands solidly at her feet and roots them to the spot. It's as though every emotion imaginable is swirling in the other woman's gaze, each assigned their own specific colour, melding until they create one there isn't a name for.
"It's kinda hard to understand something that hasn't been explained yet." The words spill slowly, with gentle trepidation, from Claire's lips. There's an invisible line lying somewhere before her and without some kind of marker, there's no way for her to know when it has been crossed. But Alice knows. She feels the line snap under the weight of Claire's hesitant toeing and all at once there's a war raging inside her. Because once again she finds herself practically thrown an opportunity to open up, to say something that will let Claire in - let her understand, just a little - and for an instant, that simple revelation leaves her light headed. As though the Atlas-like weight she carries on her shoulders has lifted. But then the realisation that she wants to let Claire in slaps her hard enough across the face, all those walls slam back into place. Like some primitive survival mechanism she hasn't figured out how to disengage yet.
"We should check the rest of the upstairs." The apathetic tone of Alice's voice makes Claire's temper flare. It licks her insides until they burn and she feels the fire racing up her throat.
"God damn it, Alice!" Claire slams the little first aid kit down onto the desk so hard, Alice's is surprised the wood doesn't just splinter and shatter. "You're fucking infuriating!" The blonde's brow creases slightly, but other than that her expression stays the same. Claire's green eyes blaze as she runs her fingers through the front of her hair in agitation, balling it into a fist at the crown, and the motion - or the time it takes for her to make it - seems to mollify her a little. She takes a few deep breaths, looking suddenly awkward as her gaze skitters around the room. Alice notes the light blush colouring her cheeks.
"You're only just noticing that, huh?" The blonde's smirk is slight, but inarguably present. And Claire is too mystified to know whether to be enraged or amused.
So, anyone still out there reading? ;)