A/N: A short chapter, but another should be up soon. Don't worry, the actoin will be coming soon!
It was strange to be back. Everything felt familiar, as if nothing had happened as Rebecca followed Barry into Emmy's. It had been the favorite restaurant of many S.T.A.R.S. members and was the scene of most of their out-of-office antics. Yet at the same time she had to remind herself that her team was gone, and an occasionally overwhelming sense of danger kept creeping up like a dark haze. Everything somehow felt hollow.
The buzz of neon lights was cut off by the jingle of bells as Barry opened the door. The diner was as busy as usual, and she quickly identified Chris and Jill sitting at their usual booth. As Rebecca slid into the red, polyester bench seat, she peered out the window into the streetlamp-illuminated darkness, hoping that Barry was wrong about Raccoon's imminent infection. That was all he had been talking about lately – getting the word out about the T-virus before it was too late. From her limited knowledge of T, she definitely held the same fear.
Barry gave Jill a gigantic bear hug before firmly shaking Chris' hand. It was great to see him so happy to be with them, yet the prematurely aging man had lost a lot of the youthful spark in his eyes. Part of that, she guessed, had to do with the near loss of his family. But he was beaming at the sight of Jill and Chris, which was something Rebecca was glad for.
Chris and Jill greeted Rebecca warmly before they all sat back down and a waitress came over with four menus. She wondered how the other two S.T.A.R.S. members were holding up. Jill seemed relieved to have them there, but Chris was hard to read. Which was odd, because in the few months Rebecca had known him, Chris was never hard to read. It was plain to see he was hiding something.
"I'll have the Monte Cristo with potato salad and a sprite."
Rebecca was snapped out of her musings by Barry's order, and realized she hadn't decided on what she was going to get. Quickly skimming the menu, she decided on a burger and salad. The waitress sauntered off toward the kitchen.
"So what's new around here anyways? Anything change in the past two-and-a-half weeks?" Barry looked back and forth expectantly between the two former officers across the table. Chris remained silent, so Jill spoke up.
"Nothing I didn't mention on the phone."
"So nothing besides the break-in?"
Jill looked uncomfortable and took in a deep breath as Chris cocked an eyebrow. "You had a break-in?" She hadn't told him?
"Yeah, uh… someone ransacked my house while I was at the RPD. Nothing's missing and only a few things were broken. I'm okay."
"Yeah. I'm sure."
Chris' concern immediately faded back into the poker face he had worn only moments earlier. What was going on?
"So…" Barry awkwardly tried to continue, "Chris, do you have any news?"
"I've got nothing. We're still as good as off the force, and I don't think my talk with the Chief helped a whole lot. He doesn't want us anywhere near this case, or any others for that matter."
Rebecca piped up. "Has he always been this ignorant?"
"The guy's got fricken' delusions grandeur, and our 'gross mishandling of the case' doesn't quite fit with his goal of becoming mayor. He only sees what he wants to." Chris had raised his voice, and despite a fair attempt at disguising his frustration, it was pretty obvious. At least he's readable now…
"Not to mention he's a creep. Makes my skin crawl every time he looks in my general direction," Jill added, looking ready to shudder at the very thought.
Barry scoffed and shook his head in disgust. "A physical assault charge, messy divorce, and overturned rape trial later, and he's moving on up in the world."
She had heard about some of this before, and her few run-ins with Irons had left her with the same impression. "Hard to believe he was once one of the best cops on the force."
"No kidding. If he gets elected to be mayor, I think I'll be sick."
It wasn't long before their food arrived and they each set into their meals at their own pace. Chris and Jill were gobbling down French fries as if they hadn't eaten in days with Barry not far behind. Rebecca wasn't feeling quite so competitive and brought up the rear. Miraculously the conversation still continued despite the food inhalation, mainly centering on reminiscing about times before Spencer's mansion. All of them had things they needed to unpack mentally to achieve some sort of closure. The whole disaster seemed so impossible, and already began to feel surreal, like a bad nightmare you just couldn't get rid of. Rebecca's moderate psychology training told her these were the early, mild stages of post-traumatic stress disorder.
"Rebecca, you haven't said much. Got anything on your mind?" Jill asked, refocusing her on the conversation.
"Just the same things as usual." Rebecca paused. "I wish there was someone from back in Maine who I could talk to. My parents just wouldn't understand."
Jill nodded. "We all feel that way. Something these two lunkheads taught me is that in an intense situation like what we went through, the only people who will truly understand were the ones who were there. No one else will get it."
"It's true," spoke Chris. "How do you think Barry and I got to be such good friends?" He gave a mischevious smirk, punching the older man in the arm from across the table.
"I guess that makes sense. It just feels so lonely, being that we're the only ones left besides Brad."
Chris sighed. "We probably won't be seeing much of him anymore. Chickenheart turned in his resignation the other day and skipped town."
"No kidding?" Barry said. "Not like it's a surprise, but I thought he might have had the guts to stick around awhile longer."
"I guess not." He paused, as if deciding whether or not to continue his thought. It wasn't hard to tell he was keeping something from his friends, but when everyone else paid no notice, Rebecca decided it was wise to do the same.
"Hey," Barry interjected hopefully. "Let's blow this popsicle stand and find something to get our minds off of this crap, just for tonight."
Everyone agreed with apparent relief.
It was the next morning, and Chris sat in front of the TV eating a bowl of cereal. As usual, not much was on, leaving him to flip to the news. Chris had been tempted to tell his friends what his actual intentions were, but despite the fact that Jill already had a glimpse at a small part of the scheme he was formulating, he wanted everything to already be set in motion by the time they found out. After all, Barry had his family to worry about, Rebecca, though tough for her age, was still quite young and untested, and he knew Jill was taking everything surprisingly harder than anyone. They all had their own things to worry about without him throwing on the stress of a complicated plan that Chris was just beginning to flesh out the details of.
Meanwhile, he figured Claire would be safe until when and if things really began to heat up, and by then he could make it to Minneapolis to pick her up from college. He had already checked on her a few times, so far only telling her that there had been an accident and that the S.T.A.R.S. were under heavy investigation, but that she shouldn't worry. Naturally, she had insisted on details, but Chris opted out, claiming he wasn't allowed to talk about an ongoing case. The less she knew, the less danger she would hopefully be in.
His phone rang. Quickly muting the television, he grabbed the cordless from its charger. "Hello?"
"Chris? This is Ben from the Raccoon Times."
"Hey. Kinda surprised to be hearing from you so soon."
"I'm a bit surprised to be calling you in the first place. I have to admit, I thought you were crazy, but everything so far pans out."
"Can't say I'm glad to hear it, but you understand."
"No kidding. I did some extra digging while waiting for some of the information to get back to me, and it looks like we may have a problem." Ben sounded a bit worried. "There's another virus, and this one is far worse than what you encountered at the mansion. It's only referred to as 'G.'"