Rating: M (language, semi/mildly explicit sexuality)
Disclaimer: (see chapter one). I also don't own "Better Days" by the Goo Goo Dolls, from which the title of this chapter is derived. Nor do I own "Time and Confusion" by Anberlin.
A/N: Hey everyone. I thought I'd just leave a quick note here to let you all know that I haven't given up on this story; I'm just incredibly busy with school right now. I'm not sure how long it'll be before I can get the next update done, so I just want to apologize for the huge delay. I would much rather be writing this fic, but considering how much I pay for university, I have to make it my priority right now. Sorry again, and thanks for bearing with me.
Volume I: Apocalyptic Genesis
Seven: Better Days
When memories fade,
we've got each other.
When time and confusion collide
singin' I hold it all when I hold you.
~Time and Confusion, Anberlin
"How does everyone feel about a pit stop?" Carlos asked, as they neared an exit on the I-94. "I can barely see straight anymore."
His suggestion was met with a hearty chorus of agreement: they had been driving for several hours now, non-stop, in an effort to reach Chicago as fast as they possibly could, and all were eager for an opportunity to get out and stretch their legs.
They were headed there, Alice had been told, because Jill had a friend who lived in Chicago – a fellow ex-cop by the name of Barry Burton – and he had graciously offered to put them up for a while; at least, until they could figure out their next course of action. Considering their dearth of other viable options, it seemed like a sound enough decision. It also beat the hell out of motel-hopping for who knows how long.
Carlos pulled off the highway to a Wendy's just outside of Kalamazoo, MI. It was around one o'clock in the morning, so it was quite unsurprising that the place was practically deserted. The weary travellers piled out of the van, and while the others headed inside, Alice followed Claire around to the back to get some proper clothes.
"Do you ever get tired of being naked?" Claire teased amiably, while she unzipped a medium-sized red duffel bag. Then she began to produce a number of garments from within it, handing each of them to Alice.
Accepting these with a smirk, Alice returned, "Do you ever get tired of me being naked?"
"Touché," Claire replied, laughing.
The redhead closed the back of the van, and together they walked over to the restaurant, making a beeline first for the washroom to avoid anyone taking notice of Alice's state of undress. As there were only a few people inside, apart from their own group, they managed to achieve this with little difficulty.
"Here," Alice said, returning Claire's jacket to her. "Thank you."
"Don't mention it," the younger woman replied. She donned it once more, meeting Alice's gaze as she remarked, "It looked better on you, anyway."
Alice smiled and swept her own eyes over Claire's figure. The jacket was tailored to look rather masculine – perhaps it was a man's jacket – but it suited the redhead perfectly. Furthermore, the masculine edge that it afforded her did nothing to obscure the features that made her breathtakingly feminine; instead, the two elements blended together into something that Alice found nothing short of irresistible.
"I beg to differ," Alice said, opening the door to the nearest stall and stepping inside. "I think it makes you look quite dashing."
"Did you seriously just say you think it makes me look 'dashing'?" Claire demanded incredulously, and though there was now a partition between them, Alice was certain that the look on her face would be very amusing.
"You heard me."
Alice set down the top of the toilet seat and laid her bundle of clothes on it, freeing her hands to remove the lab coat.
"Yeah," Claire said, her voice now coming from the stall beside Alice. "And I'm starting to think that Umbrella must've messed with your head."
"That's entirely possible," Alice replied, though there was still humour in her voice. In truth, she had no idea what had been done to her; at first she had felt an utterly bizarre sensation, akin to not being quite alone in her own head. Claire's presence, however, was sufficient to distract her from it, and the strange feeling had abated to a mere murmur in the back of her mind.
As Alice pulled on her new attire – socks, underwear, a black v-neck shirt, navy blue jeans, and a pair of functional but stylish black boots – she marvelled at the way in which a simple thing like being adequately dressed could make her feel that much more human. All jokes aside, it really was quite a relief.
With that done, she left the lab coat hanging on the hook – she had no need for it anymore – and opened the door. Claire was leaning against the wall near the sink, waiting for Alice, tapping her fingers on the counter in time with the music that was playing on the radio. If memory served correctly, it was something by John Mayer, and the fact that the redhead seemed to be enjoying it amused Alice – she had seen her wearing punk and metal t-shirts only, so it came as a bit of a surprise that Claire would like something so much softer.
I guess there's a lot that I don't know about her, Alice mused. That, however, just made her excited to learn more about the younger woman.
"Hey," Claire greeted warmly. "You ready?"
"Almost," Alice replied. Her hair was still a bit damp, and it was bothering her. So, to rectify that problem, she approached the hand dryer and bent down, employing it to get the last of the moisture from her hair. As she did, she noticed that Claire bit her lip, looking very much like she wanted to laugh. "What?"
"I didn't say a word," the redhead defended herself, but the wide grin forming on her lips did little to make her case.
Alice shook her head, which only made a bigger mess of her hair, and said, "You didn't need to."
When satisfied with its dryness, she walked over to the mirror and made an attempt to comb it with her fingers. But then she felt hands grab her waist, and Claire pulled her into a light, playful kiss, which Alice returned readily, smiling against her lips. As she happened to catch a glimpse of their reflection in the mirror, Alice thought, we look good together. And indeed they did.
"Mmm," Alice hummed in between kisses, "We should probably stop."
Claire seemed no more eager to do so than Alice was herself, but she conceded a moment later. They made their way out to join the others, stopping first to order their food. Alice was not especially hungry, so she just asked for one of the salads, but Claire opted for the Baconator and a large fries.
"Hungry?" Alice asked, with a hint of teasing in her voice.
Claire shrugged and grabbed their tray. "It's been a long day."
As they approached the table, Jill greeted them with a half-accusing, "What took you so long?"
"I was fucking Alice in the washroom," Claire replied sarcastically. This earned her an irritated look, so she added, "What do you think? She had to get changed."
Both Carlos and L.J. paused for a moment, as if imagining what she had said, before returning to their food. The latter, however, kept flicking his eyes back and forth between them in a less-than-surreptitious manner, and Alice had to bite her own lip to keep from laughing.
They were all rather tired – even Alice, though to a lesser extent – so the conversation was sparse while they ate, and soon they were making their way back to the van.
This time, Alice and Claire decided to sit in the rear of the vehicle. Claire settled in first, with her back against the side of the van and one of her legs spread out across the seat, allowing Alice to use her as a human pillow; quite a comfortable one, at that. It took less than an hour for the younger woman to drift off, but Alice was content to simply relish the warmth that she was soaking up from being nestled so close to the slumbering redhead.
Sometime later, she closed her eyes and let her hand wander to the one that was resting at her midsection. Tracing Claire's strong fingers and wrist, she delighted also in the almost possessive way in which she was being held. It was a wonderful feeling to be wanted by someone whom she actually wanted in return, and once again Alice felt a surge of affection for Claire.
It was funny, Alice thought, how life unfolded: She had been to hell and back in the last two months, yet here she was with this spirited young woman, who had somehow made so profound an impression upon her heart in such an incredibly short time. The concept had still not lost its novelty to her; it was one that not too long ago, she would have thought impossible. But even the sometimes jaded cynic in Alice could not deny that the redhead had changed her; it was beginning to seem odd, now, to imagine life without her. And that was terrifying, because Alice had a horrible, nagging suspicion that it was not going to last.
Her darkening thoughts, however, were soon interrupted by a soft kiss placed on her temple. Alice opened her eyes and looked up at Claire, who was drowsy but appeared no less content.
Her voice husky with sleep, Claire whispered, "Hey."
"Hey yourself," Alice replied fondly. "Did I wake you?"
"No. My back is just killing me." Not wanting to cause her any discomfort, Alice started to sit up, but the hand at her stomach held her fast. "I didn't say I wanted you to get up," Claire added, pulling her impossibly closer instead. She spoke against Alice's ear, as if to make sure that she alone was privy to the words, "I like you right where you are."
"You do, do you?"
"Mhmm," Claire hummed her agreement. She yawned and nuzzled her face into Alice's hair, and in a few minutes she was asleep again.
Alice smiled and closed her eyes once more, though she could do nothing but rest. As well as being an early riser by habit, she was also something of an insomniac, and she suspected that having the T-virus in her system did not help it any.
The rest of the trip to Chicago passed without event, and it seemed like no time at all until they were pulling up in the driveway of a large house. It took a moment to rouse everyone from sleep – Angie was so far gone that L.J. had to carry her inside – and they were met at the door by a large, bulky man with a gruff voice, who introduced himself as the aforementioned Barry Burton.
"Come on in," Barry said, stepping aside to allow them entry. "My wife and kids are staying at her mother's, so there's plenty of room for all of you."
L.J. and Carlos crashed on cots set up in the basement, while Jill took Angie upstairs to share the kids' room with her, and Barry offered the guest bedroom to Alice and Claire, after they asserted that they only needed one bed.
Claire was still quite lethargic, and within a minute of crawling into bed, she was already nodding off. Alice set the red duffel bag – which currently contained all of the redhead's possessions, and the few things that had been purchased for her – down by the dresser, and then climbed in under the sheets with her. She curled up against Claire's side, slipping an arm around her waist, and placed a soft kiss on her cheek.
"Good night, Claire," she whispered.
The redhead mumbled an unintelligible response, and Alice closed her eyes, too.
Finally, she was able to sleep.
The first week at the Burton residence passed without incident; however, Alice found that almost more troubling than if it had. She knew Umbrella too well to assume that they had actually bought into the phony release papers, and so their motives for letting them go seemed, at least to Alice, rather suspect. But it was such a comfort to be among friends that she soon set aside those concerns, though they never left her entirely.
With each night that they spent in the Burtons' guest bedroom, Alice found herself growing all the more fond of it. It was a lovely, spacious room, with a large window and gorgeous antique furniture, including a rather Narnian-looking wardrobe, and a sleigh bed which made even Alice loath to get up in the morning. And, of course, it did not hurt that she had a stunning redhead wrapped around her every night.
At the moment, Claire was sitting in the windowsill, looking out with a faraway expression on her face. Concerned, Alice walked over to sit beside her.
"Hey," she said softly, resting her hand on Claire's knee, "you okay?"
Turning her cobalt eyes to meet Alice's, Claire replied, "Yeah, I'm just bored."
"Tired of me already?"
This prompted a soft laugh from the redhead. "Of course not. But we've been stuck here for a whole fucking week already with nothing to do... and it's starting to drive me crazy."
That was understandable: in an effort to keep off the radar, they had refrained from going outside unless absolutely necessary. Barry provided them with most of what they needed, except for clothing and some other essentials, which they had gone out on one occasion to procure. Apart from that, most of their days had been spent inside working on a plan to expose Umbrella. Though the initial attempt had failed, they decided to put the footage on YouTube in the hopes that they might reach more people that way – or, at the very least, plant a germ of doubt in their minds.
"How about we go for a walk?" Alice suggested, lightly trailing her fingers along Claire's leg. "There's a park not too far from here."
"I thought we were supposed to 'lie low'?"
Alice stood, taking hold of her hands to urge her up as well, and said, "One walk won't hurt."
"I guess not," Claire conceded. "But if we get in trouble for this, I'm blaming you."
Alice laughed heartily at that, and she was pleased to see that the redhead's own eyes shone with mirth, her mood seeming to lighten at the prospect of getting some fresh air.
Before heading out, they fetched their coats from the wardrobe: Claire grabbed her jacket, while Alice donned an elegant knee-length beige coat, which she had picked up for herself a few days ago. And, as it was now November, they both opted to wear a scarf, too.
They were just at the door, about to leave, when Carlos came up from the basement. With his brow furrowed, he asked, "Where are you two going?"
"Just out for a walk," Alice replied. "We won't be gone long."
Seeming unsure, Carlos said, "Okay. Just don't... draw too much attention to yourselves."
Alice smirked. "We wouldn't dream of it."
That did nothing whatsoever to assure the ex-soldier, but nonetheless, he made no effort to stop them. There was not a whole lot he could have done, anyway, even if he had wanted to.
Outside, it was an absolutely beautiful day. The air was crisp, but it had not yet taken on the biting cold of winter, feeling instead more like late autumn, and the sun shone with such warmth that neither was bothered by the occasional chill in the wind. As they made their way down the streets of Chicago toward the park, Claire tucked her hands into her pockets, and Alice, in turn, held on to her arm, walking close by her side. It was as good a disguise as any: there were plenty of other couples around doing the same; they blended right in, looking nothing like the fugitives that they really were.
They strolled along, passing some ducks swimming on a pond, and Alice marvelled at how normal it all felt. Sparrows chirped in the trees above them; some even hopped along the ground as they walked, picking up little morsels left by the human park-goers. Dogs barked, and various conversations floated in and out of ear-shot as other people came and went.
Soon, the smell of food wafted in their direction, and they came upon a small vendor, who was selling curly fries. Claire insisted on ordering some – it was almost noon, and they were both getting hungry – so Alice sat down on a bench nearby, waiting for her while she did.
The vendor was a middle-aged man with long, wispy blonde hair, and he looked very much like he had been a hippie in his day. He must have made some kind of joke, because Claire laughed, and it seemed to light up her entire face. Alice was aware that she was staring, but she did so unabashedly, for she could not have kept her gaze from the redhead if she tried.
As Alice watched Claire, her thoughts drifted to her mother. For years, Ellen Abernathy had told her daughter that she needed to "find a nice boy," but after Alice turned twenty-two and remained without a steady boyfriend, she had begun to add, "... or girl." The first time her mother had said that, Alice had all but choked on her wine, for she had never given any indication of her bisexuality. Ellen had simply laughed and said, "A mother knows these things." Ellen had died three years later of breast cancer, and now Alice wished that her mother could be here to see that she had done so much more than just find a 'nice girl.'
It was the little things – perhaps even so little as to be trivial – which Alice had begun to love about Claire. The younger woman, she discovered, was a bit of a geek: Barry's kids had all the different video game consoles, and she had already spent quite a bit of time playing everything from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time to Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater with obvious skill. Claire was also a splendid cook, had exceptional knowledge of countless movies, and came up with hilarious answers in a game of Apples to Apples.
When Claire came back over, fries in hand, Alice could not help but smile happily at her.
"What?" Claire said, as she settled down on the bench, munching on a fry.
"Nothing," Alice replied, taking one. "These look good."
"They're amazing," Claire affirmed. She also had a bottle of Coke, which she offered to Alice after sipping from it herself. They continued on in this manner for some time, just enjoying the amiable silence, until the redhead mused aloud, "You know, we never did go on that date."
Alice laughed. "Are we not on one now?"
"What?" Claire asked, raising her eyebrows in disbelief.
"We're in a park; we're alone," Alice indicated the fries, "you bought us food. I believe that constitutes a date, don't you?"
Claire mulled it over for a moment, chewing a fry thoughtfully. "I guess you're right. I just had something else in mind – something a little more... romantic." Alice could not help but chuckle at that, and the younger woman seemed unsure of how to take it. "Is that funny to you?"
Alice, seeing her mistake, shifted closer on the bench to give Claire a soft, reassuring kiss.
"No," she said, stroking her cheek adoringly and giving her another kiss for good measure. "I was just wondering what I did to deserve you."
This seemed to do the trick, for it earned a bright smile from Claire, who leaned in to initiate a longer, more intimate kiss. It was the kind that sent a wonderful little thrill up Alice's spine, and she allowed herself to get caught up in it for a moment, before she broke away to caution, "The fries will get cold."
"So let them," Claire replied, setting them on the bench behind her so that she could close the gap between them properly. She stretched one of her arms out along the back of the bench, and her other hand came to rest at Alice's hip, holding her close.
They kissed languidly, letting their mouths come together and part again at an unhurried pace, sometimes sucking at each other's lips, and sometimes flicking their tongues together. While they did, Alice reached up to tuck an errant strand of red hair behind Claire's ear, and her hand lingered there, her thumb rubbing softly across Claire's jaw as their kisses grew deeper.
"I thought," Claire said, kissing the corner of Alice's mouth, "we weren't supposed to..." she nipped at Alice's lower lip, "... draw attention to ourselves."
"Plenty of people kiss in the park," Alice responded, sucking Claire's tongue into her mouth briefly. "But we could finish this at home, if you'd like."
This suggestion went over very well; Claire got up, tugging a laughing Alice with her, and began to walk briskly back to Barry's house. The half-finished fries and bottle of Coke remained behind, though neither woman cared what became of them.
Upon entering, Alice could hear the others talking in the kitchen, but it seemed as if they were so occupied with lunch that they had not noticed their arrival. She and Claire snuck upstairs, and the door had just barely closed behind them before they were engaged in a hungry kiss. They shed their jackets and clothes in a blur, and soon Alice's bare back was colliding with the mattress.
Claire climbed between her legs, hovering over her with a grin, like a hunter zeroing in on its prey, and Alice looked up at the redhead wantonly. She reached her hands up to trail over Claire's taut stomach, letting them wander around to grip her equally firm backside, and then she pulled the younger woman down, eager to feel Claire's naked skin against hers.
Alice moaned low in her throat as Claire's fuller breasts pressed into hers, and she tugged at the back of Claire's neck to draw her in again, their tongues playing together in a series of hot, needy kisses.
Alice nearly whimpered in protest when Claire rose from the bed, and then she did whimper, as the redhead grabbed her legs and pulled her toward the edge, dropping to her knees. Claire eased her thighs apart, pressing sucking kisses first at Alice's abdomen and then on her inner thigh. Alice watched Claire just long enough to see her mouth descend to the apex of her thighs, before her head fell back against the mattress, soft, pleasure-filled gasps escaping her lips.
It was not long until her hips began to squirm, lifting up from the bed to press closer to Claire's mouth, and her hand fisted roughly in fiery red hair, while the other clenched the sheets. Pleasure was coiling low in her belly, and a moment later, as Claire circled her clit with her tongue and sucked on it, Alice bit her lip to keep from crying out, for that was all it took to induce the best orgasm she had ever had.
When it had subsided, Claire climbed up to lie beside her on the bed, idly tracing the freckles on Alice's neck with her tongue.
"If I had known it would be this good," Alice began, kissing her, "I would have blown off work to go to dinner with you."
"Trust me," Claire replied, grinning, "I'm just getting started."
And when they finally wandered downstairs at around four thirty, ravenously hungry, Jill gave them one glance and returned to the book she was reading, mumbling, "I don't want to know."
Alice had always loved doing laundry: She enjoyed the smell of detergent and fabric softener, and almost nothing beat the feeling of warm clothes straight from the dryer. When she was living in the mansion with Spence, Umbrella had provided them with a laundry service, and he had always thought her strange for insisting on doing it herself. Now, when she had days in which she sometimes felt entirely inhuman, it was grounding to do something as trivial and normal as laundry.
So it was that she came to be perched upon the dryer, waiting for what few clothes she owned to finish washing. The only thing not going through this cycle was the pair of pyjama pants that she had on, so she stole Claire's Metallica t-shirt to wear for the time being. It was a bit large on her, as it was on Claire – which, she suspected, probably meant that it had originally belonged to Chris – but it was comfy, and it smelled like her.
"There you are," Claire said, as she appeared in the doorway. "Why'd you disappear? You missed me kicking Carlos' ass at Halo."
Alice smiled. "I'm doing laundry."
Claire gave her an adorably bemused look, which only grew more so when she noticed Alice's attire. "You're wearing my shirt."
"Mine are all in the wash."
Recovering from her confusion, Claire came over to stand in front of Alice and remarked, "Already stealing my clothes, huh?"
They shared a quick kiss, and Alice trailed away from her mouth, kissing and nipping along her jaw. She felt Claire's hands on her thighs, pulling her forward and against the younger woman's body, and she said softly into her ear, "Well, you know what they say about two women in a relationship."
There was a slight hitch in Claire's breath – so slight, in fact, that anyone without Alice's heightened sense of hearing would not have noticed it. But Alice did, and she wondered for a moment if perhaps the redhead were not quite ready to put such a definite name to what they had. Even more, she marvelled at the fact that she was.
Claire pulled back to look into her eyes. "Are you sure?"
"I am," Alice replied. "With everything that Umbrella has done to me... most days, you're all I can be sure about."
Her words hung in the air between them for a moment, and Alice watched intently as Claire looked down, emotion flickering in her beautiful blue eyes. But then she gave a soft, happy laugh, and when she met Alice's gaze again, her smile was wider than Alice had ever seen it before.
"That was really sappy, Alice."
"What can I say? You inspire it in me."
Claire's grin widened, and they drew together for another kiss.
It was moments like these, with Claire's lips and hands on her, in which Alice forgot all of the terrible things that had happened – forgot even that she had the T-virus swimming in her veins. All of it melted away, replaced by the wonderful heat of Claire's mouth and the soft caress of her tongue, and she wished that they could just stay like that forever, wrapped in each other's embrace.
"Whoa! Sorry," Barry said. "I was just coming to get a beer... don't mind me."
The Burtons' laundry room led out to the garage, where they kept the spare drinks in winter, for it acted like a natural refrigerator. The burly man hastened out to grab the aforementioned beverage, and then he hurried just as speedily back into the house, making a point of not looking at them.
"Christ," Claire muttered, burying her face in Alice's neck. "Why the fuck are we always interrupted?"
"We do have a bedroom," Alice pointed out, letting her head fall back as Claire began to suck at a particularly sensitive spot, "with a door... that locks."
"I know," Claire said, trailing her fingers toward the waistband of Alice's pants, "but I want to do this here."
Alice grinned and kissed her again. "We have to be quick."
Claire, as it turned out, had no difficulty with that: the redhead's fingers were so adept that it took only a few minutes before Alice came crashing over the edge, her cries swallowed by deep kisses which stole her breath away.
When she had recovered enough, and they had both made themselves presentable, they headed back to the living room to join the others. Claire took up her former position in one of the reclining chairs, and Alice settled into her lap, watching the current game of Super Smash Bros with amusement.
"Where were you?" Carlos asked, hazarding a glance over at them in between trying his best not to be beaten by Angie.
"Doing laundry," Alice replied casually, though she could not help the hint of a grin that tugged at her lips. "Claire was helping me."
Jill rolled her eyes. "I bet she was."
Barry coughed. When they all glanced at him, he said, "Sorry, beer went down the wrong tube."
Alice's grin widened, growing mischievous, and she turned slightly in Claire's arms, kissing her.
"Shit," L.J. said, drawing it out into several syllables, "usually I gotta pay for this kinda thing."
"For the love of God," Jill added, "cut it out. In case you've forgotten, Angie is still with us."
The ten-year-old in question shrugged, not taking her eyes from the screen. "Actually, I don't mind." The adults all shot her a questioning look, which she seemed confused by. "What? They're just kissing... what's the big deal about that?"
Alice laughed and settled back in Claire's arms, until it was the redhead's turn to go against Jill. That match in particular was highly amusing, and because the two women were so competitive, it soon became several. Neither managed to gain an advantage over the other, however, so they gave up after a while.
Several hours later, when they were all exhausted from staying up far too late, Alice dragged Claire back to their bed and made love to her again, slowly and thoroughly, determined not to waste a single moment of their time together.
Now that I've got this fleshed out better, I should be able to start on the next chapter soon. I apologize for the delay, but it was something that I needed to do.