Disclaimer & Notices: Please see Chapter 1

AN: Done. It's really done. I know y'all will looove the ending. :) I have such a love-hate relationship with endings. It's great to complete a story and yet so sad too. This has really been an awesome story that has taught me a great deal as a writer. I appreciate all the support each of you provided me through it, especially the open-mindness. I feel that my hours and hours of both research and careful thought for the plot & characters was worth it. From here, I hope to do a sequel for Trigon. And honestly, the sequel is nearly 90% done in my head and even titled. Go figure. But from here, Mechanics' Creed will be wrapped up then I'll be shifting gears to self-publishing. For those interested in the self-published book, I plan to post a few chapters on FFnet once it's ready for sale. I will keep current news up on that.

So once again, thank you again to all my fabulous, devoted readers!

AN2: This is a special thank you to Quincy for all her support as a beta-reader. You helped me, Quincy get through all the details and twists of this story. It was huge what you do for me. Thank you for being there!

Anonymous Reviews

angelsgir: I definitely agree that the tri-relationship is a different take. It's a lot of work to try and get those three to actually balance one another. But somehow it seems to mostly work out. It is nice to have different themes from the same old, same old. I'm glad you've enjoyed it so much. I greatly appreciate the feedback! :)

phat42: Jalapeno Chili hot! lol Aw man. I don't think I've heard that before! I like that, a lot. I'm glad you enjoyed the last two chapters, but I sense Chap 30 was funner. lol Well, I hope Chap 31 is a nice stopping place. ;) Thank you so super much for reading and giving feedback all through this story. I hope to soon shoot you an email and play catch up about some good stuff. I hope you're well. :) Thank you again!

kluve: I liked too that it was about K-Mart too in Chap 30. In many ways, it was her hard work and dedication that pulled Claire & Alice together to make it happen. It was cool to see how all K-Mart's devotion finally came together. Although it probably wasn't what she anticipated originally. lol Well, I hope you like the last chapter, kluve. All your feedback has meant a great deal. I can't thank you enough. Hope you enjoy the last tidbit!

Nobleplatypus: Got a good kick out of the Milla Jovovich tease huh? I didn't plan to put that in, but it wrote itself. Glad to hear you've enjoyed the story so far. Hope you liked the other chapters too. Thank you for the feedback! :)

Started: November 11, 2011

Ended: December 12, 2012

Series: One Shot


by Red Hope

Chapter 31

Alice Abernathy remained standing at the corner of the master bed. She studied her two lovers, who were curled up together under the sheets and slept hard. Last night's hours of lovemaking pulled at Alice's senses. But she deflected it along with the urge to rejoin her lovers in bed.

Slowly icy blue eyes trailed over to the curtains that were parted about two inches. Most likely it was around seven-thirty in the morning, the sun barely up. Sleep is a human requirement, which Alice no longer worried about anymore.

Reaching behind, Alice grazed her fingertips over the kukri handles. She then slipped out of the bedroom and went directly to the front door. Before she left the apartment, she switched on the radio attached to her hip behind her jacket. There was an item on her list that Alice had been burning to do.

Like any hunter, it didn't take long for Alice to seek out her prey. She cornered L.J. a few hundred feet from the entrance of Three Tree tavern. He seemed to be in hot pursuit of a date with Betty. But Alice's sudden arrival immediately placed him on edge.

"What's up, Alice?"

"You have a minute to talk?" Alice prompted, carefully. She inched closer to him. Her bright blue eyes were dangerously fixed on him.

L.J. tore his attention away from the tavern and replied, "I got two."

Alice took her opening and decided to get to the point. "Did you know a Jill Valentine?" The answer instantly filled in L.J.'s eyes.

"Yeah I knew Detective Valentine." L.J. was clearly uneasy. "She was my arresting officer... for when I got busted with drugs."

Alice wasn't surprised and folded her arms. But there was more to it, Alice was sure. "You were there," she quietly insisted, "When the virus escaped in Raccoon City." She was reading his body language and smelled his fears rising up. "And she was there too... with you."

L.J. opened and closed his mouth a few times then hastily argued, "It was two years ago, Alice. We've all moved on from that bullshit."

"I haven't," Alice sharply replied. Anger flashed in her eyes before she insisted, "What happened to her in Raccoon City?"

L.J. was confused why Alice had such an interest in Jill Valentine other than somehow they were friends. He decided it was best not to dig into Alice's own history. "She helped us escape the city... using an Umbrella helicopter."

"She escaped the city too?" Alice's eyes slightly widened. But L.J.'s cringe made her hopes die.

"Not exactly." L.J. swallowed then better explained, "We barely got outta there." He sighed once he realized more details were needed for Alice to understand what happened to Jill Valentine. "There was this... great big motherfucker of a monster that attacked us. It was some pet project of Umbrella's that this dude used to test Detective Valentine."

"What dude?" Alice cut in.

L.J. gazed down at his boots and ran through his memories.

"Wesker," Alice supplied. But a headshake made her try other names. "Isaacs... Cain or-"

"That's it." L.J. snapped his fingers. "Cain... Major Cain." Quickly memories from that surreal night came back to him. "He was testing Detective Valentine with this creature, but she killed it. Then we escaped the city in the helicopter just as they nuked the damn place."

Alice slotted her eyes after something small yet critical came to mind after L.J. spoke. "We?" She canted her head. "Who is we?"

L.J. fisted a hand at his side. "Detective Valentine, Terri Morales, some guy Detective Valentine knew... Peyton or somethin', and like four Umbrella soldiers in the helicopter." He then realized something and pointed at Alice. "Didn't Carlos tell you this shit?" He assumed the two of them were somehow old chums, before the apocalypse.

"Nnn... no," Alice drew out, low and dangerous. "He was there?"

"Yeah." L.J. was bewildered and shook his head. "I asked him if he knew Detective Valentine and said no. But I know that son of a bitch musta known her. Didn't she work for Umbrella too?"

Alice ticked off a canine tooth with her tongue. She wrangled her temper since this wasn't L.J.'s fault.

L.J. read the rise of irritation in Alice's eyes. He didn't wish to fall under any wrath, especially with Alice's powers. A slight step back drew him safer away, almost. Suddenly a hand latched onto his wrist and held him in place.

"How did she kill that monster you were talking about?" Alice recalled K-Mart's mention about Jill Valentine being able to jump fifteen feet up to the escaping helicopter.

"She fought it, hand to hand," L.J. revealed. "It was fuckin' butch." He was relieved when Alice let go of him. "How the Hell she did it... I don't know. But she was strong and fast... more than human."

"What happened to Detective Valentine?"

L.J. clenched his jaw and glanced away once ugly memories bombarded him. He licked his lips and weakly answered, "She died." He shook his head, but it didn't chase off the last minutes of Detective Valentine's life. "The fuckin' explosion from the nuke caused the helicopter to go down. She took some metal... shrapnel into the chest before it killed Terri." His eyes wandered to the ground. "Not that it fuckin' mattered since Terri got infected two months later."

Alice sensed L.J.'s remorse for both Jill Valentine and Terri Morales. "The news anchor woman?"

L.J. merely nodded.

Alice could tell there wasn't anything else to L.J.'s story. She mimicked the nod and took a sidestep. "Thanks, L.J."

"No problem." L.J. watched the woman go. He considered what past Detective Valentine and Alice had together. Something was definitely up between those two. However, he would never get that information. After a shrug, L.J. hurried into the tavern before Betty became pissed with him.

Alice had a long stride, determination in each step. Anger topped off with a hint of rage laced her tongue in a sharp taste. Her prey drive flared up as she shifted the hunt to Carlos Oliveira. Images of her hands around his neck were too inviting, and she wasn't sure she'd control herself once she had him cornered.

Once in the neighboring apartment facility to hers, she entered the stairwell that'd take her up to the fifth floor. Thanks to Luther, Alice knew where everybody from the convoy was housed. Apartment 531 had Carlos by himself, and it was perfect. Alice rapped on the door and carefully listened for any movement.

"Hello, Alice," Carlos greeted after the door opened between them. "How are ya?" He wore plane jeans and a black long sleeve shirt.

Alice kept a cool exterior even though she wanted to attack him. "I'm... good." She offered a thin smile that didn't match the tension in her eyes. "Are you busy?"

"No." Carlos stepped aside and immediately was hit by some strange force radiating off Alice. Quickly he wondered if it was such a good idea to invite Alice into his apartment. Thankfully his handgun was tucked in his waistband, hidden by his shirt. Whatever was going on in Alice definitely concerned him. It certainly wasn't a friend stopping by for a catch up.

"Settled in?" Alice probed. She was visually assessing the apartment that nearly mirrored her shared one. She stood next to a sofa but turned on her heels, facing Carlos.

Carlos shrugged and answered, "Pretty much."

Alice nodded a few times and carefully eyed Carlos.

Hesitantly, Carlos approached Alice and resisted folding his arms. He narrowed his eyes and prompted, "What's on your mind, Alice?" He stiffened when several sharp teeth smiled at him. He hadn't noticed that about Alice until now.

"You didn't mention about Jill."

Instantly fright shook Carlos, and he held up his hands. "She's been dead for a long time, Alice. Why bring that up?"

Alice snarled and suddenly launched at him. She shoved Carlos backwards until he slammed into the wall. She tangled her right hand in his shirt over his chest. "Don't feed me that bullshit!"

Carlos's next breath hitched after Alice's eyes dilated. "Alice, please-" His words twisted into a surprised cry. The apartment spun out of control and pain tore through his back. His swimming vision calmed, and Carlos realized he was pinned to the ceiling for a brief second.

"You jealous son of a bitch," Alice sneered. She flicked her chin and pleasantly watched Carlos be yanked off the ceiling.

Carlos floated in midair between the floor and ceiling. But slowly the floor passed under him as he floated backwards, deeper into the apartment.

"Jill saved your worthless ass," Alice coldly stated. She strolled along, following Carlos. Her eyes were nearly black except for a fine ring of icy blue. "And you don't have the decency to tell me she's been dead all this time."

Carlos peered over his shoulder and realized he was floating closer to the balcony door. "Alice, don't..." Slight panic entered his tone, fear for his life. "Jill did everything she could to find you."

Alice's lip curled up, dangerously. Quickly her eyes flickered to the balcony door, which sharply swung open and let the cool breeze into the apartment. "You knew that... and didn't tell me she was killed?" She approached him.

"It's not like you've been exactly forthright either," Carlos chewed off. He clenched his left hand, but his other hand inched back. "You show up looking thirty instead of fifty, and it just so happens you have powers."

"Which certainly didn't shock you," Alice hissed. "I don't know why I didn't realize it sooner." She took a step closer to him and hotly concluded, "You weren't surprised because you've seen Jill with them."

Carlos continued moving his hand further towards his back, fingertips scraped his belt. He kept a straight face even though his eyes gave him away.

"Did you help them test on us?" Alice's lower jaw trembled from rage. Her senses were high, and she smelled Carlos's emotions.

"I had no idea what they did to you and Jill," Carlos replied, honestly. He shook his head and insisted, "I was helping to evacuate citizens out of the city!" But murder was already in Alice's eyes. Somehow Umbrella's bullseye was unfairly glued to Carlos's forehead. He made a split decision and reached for his hidden gun. The gun's sight lined up on Alice's head, and the shot rang out.

Umbrella's famed logo was embossed on the rim of the bullet as it spun through the air. Its speed faster than the human eye. But it couldn't outwit Alice's mind, which latched onto its tip first and slid over it. The still bullet hung in the air between Alice and Carlos.

Carlos stared in amazement at the floating bullet, his hand loose on the handgun. But then the gun was torn out of his fingers and went reeling out of the open balcony door. He snapped his attention to Alice until he saw the bullet was turned around then lifted up.

"Alice," Carlos whispered, in fear. "I didn't..." Sweat rolled down his brow, chest, and coated his palms.

Alice continued lifting the bullet through the air until it was level with Carlo's head. She moved it forward, closer and closer. Anything human in her was gone. Her eyes were hungry, and her teeth barred brightly.

"For God's sake, Alice!" Carlos hollered. He began panting as the bullet closed in on his forehead. He tried grabbing for it, but his arms were heavy like steel. There was nothing he could do to save himself except speak. "Alice, don't do this! I had nothing to do with Jill's death."

None of Carlos's cries broke through Alice's attack. She pushed the bullet forward and when the tip cut through skin, fresh blood wired her prey-drive. She could nearly taste the sweetness. Never did Carlos's painful scream reach her. Only the bullet's destination mattered to her now.

"Alice, Alice this is Claire."

Time halted as fast as a click to a stopwatch. The bullet relented from digging any deeper into Carlos's skull, so close to the underutilized meat behind the bone. But Carlos's loud gasp broke the stillness. He opened his eyes and barely caught the sliver of humanity on Alice's face before everything went insane.

Alice mentally tossed the human across the apartment until he hit the concrete wall that separated the apartments. She released him and watched him crash onto the dinner table in a rather pained way. His low groan confirmed that he blacked out. She cut her dark eyes to the bullet still in midair.

"Alice, Alice this is Claire."

Alice smirked at her lover's demanding tone. She liked it, a lot. Alice lifted her right hand while unhooking the radio with her other hand. Just as the bullet sank into her palm, she clicked the mic button.

"This is Alice."

"Where are you?"

Alice turned the bullet through her fingers and admired the blood on the tip. "I'm out," she smoothly answered. She didn't give Claire a chance to bark at her and added, "I'll be back shortly."

"Alright." It was obvious that Claire planned to question things later. "Claire out."

Alice hooked the radio onto her hip. Then her attention was drawn to the bullet again. She lifted it up, close to her nose. She inhaled the blood's scent, and her eyes burst from black to bright blue. The blood was so close to her tongue's tip, but she hastily curled her fingers around the bullet. Carlos's blood wasn't worth it, ever.

Alice turned on her heels and started to the front door. "I'll show myself out," she smartly remarked to her former friend. Her left hand continued tightening around the bullet as she approached the door, which opened on its own. As she crossed the threshold of the apartment's doorway, Alice held up her left arm and opened her hand, facing the floor. Silver dust particles fell from her palm like glitter from a party.

Alice had her fun with Carlos.

The apartment door slammed shut behind, and Alice strolled down to the stairwell. She hurried outside and went to the sister apartment tower. She entered and took the stairs. The hike up helped burn off the last of her energy before she saw her lovers. Alice had learned how well K-Mart could read her, and Claire was catching on now.

Once in the quiet apartment, Alice discovered K-Mart curled up on the sofa with the new Twilight book. She grinned and approached her lover. "You're up early."

K-Mart peered up from the book and gently glowered. "Nice to see you too." Her eyes followed Alice as she sat down beside K-Mart. "Where have you been?"

Alice weighed her responses and honestly answered, "I visited L.J. and Carlos."

K-Mart canted her head and considered the odd visits, until it blindsided her. She was quick with math. She closed the book after dog earring the page. "Did you find any answers?"

Alice looked away after K-Mart pegged her so well. She faltered on how to respond then quietly replied, "She's dead."

K-Mart set the book on the sofa's armchair next to her. "I'm sorry, Alice." She knew that Alice and Jill Valentine had been close friends, perhaps more too. She didn't doubt that Alice considered Jill family. But then the mention of Carlos made K-Mart confused. "What did Carlos have to do with it?"

Alice met her lover's gaze. "He was there... when Jill, L.J., and a few others were escaping the city."

"What?" K-Mart was dumbstruck. "Carlos said he didn't know Jill." She was further confused because it hadn't been that long ago that L.J. told his story about the escape from Raccoon City during the initial outbreak. She recalled L.J. asking Carlos if he knew Jill Valentine.

"He knew Jill," Alice snapped. She sighed after directing her temper at K-Mart. She touched her lover's knee. "He was following company orders... and looking out for himself." Alice disliked Carlos's mentality even though he had changed in the past years. But still those old deeds were fresh in Alice's memory.

Alice shook off the conversation and prompted, "What's Claire doing?" She distantly heard water running.

"Quick shower." K-Mart took Alice's hand into hers. She planned to shower after Claire but wanted to read a little first. "She was really pissed you were gone when we got up."

Alice smirked, proudly.

K-Mart chuckled and squeezed the larger hand in hers. "I'm kidding."

"Damn," Alice muttered and her evil smile deflated instantly. "Thanks, K."

K-Mart patted Alice's knee with her other hand. "I think she was disappointed, honestly." She grinned and whispered, "But I didn't tell you that."

Alice quietly laughed and enjoyed the banter. She squeezed her lover's hand before she stood up. "Breakfast? We can make something."

K-Mart stretched from her seat on the sofa. She peered over her shoulder. "We need food in here for that."

"Right," Alice muttered. She rubbed the back of her neck and turned on her heels. "I can run to the grocery store."

K-Mart laughed and nodded at the closed door. "Wal-Mart is right down the road. I hear the traffic isn't bad either."

Alice grinned and shook her head. She headed into the master bedroom. She followed the soft scent of clean from the bathroom. Alice was pleased to see Claire's slightly damp body glowing in the low light.

Claire turned quickly after she heard Alice. She had nearly grabbed her gun on the counter top until she made out Alice's familiar figure in the steamy mirror. Quickly she wrapped the towel around her body and left her damp hair awry.

"Good morning," Alice charmingly offered. She recalled K-Mart's earlier poke about proper greetings.

Claire arched a thin, dark eyebrow at her lover's pleasant demeanor. "Sucking up before I yell at you?"

Alice smirked and stepped in closer to her lover. "I know it's worth a try."

"Why not," Claire taunted. She narrowed her eyes at Alice.

"You're going to have a hard time... reprimanding me when you're like this." Alice played with the towel with her fingertips.

Claire huffed and huskily offered, "My gun is right behind me."

Alice licked her lips and took another step into Claire's space. "That is promising." She tilted her head and sadly whispered, "But I've looked down a barrel enough lately."

Claire slotted her eyes further then reached up until her palm met Alice's cheek. "I agree." She ran her thumb across supple lips. There was more to Alice's statement, but Claire let it go for now.

"K mentioned breakfast," Alice filled in quietly.

Claire nodded before she lowered her hand. "After she showers then we'll go."

"We should pick up some food at the market today," Alice suggested.

The leader softly hummed then nodded. "Alright." She started out of the bathroom after she grabbed her Beretta Cougar. "That sounds like a good plan." But it wouldn't satisfy her afternoon, which was an odd and new problem for her. She was use to the roads and convoy, not a void of nothing.

Alice departed the bedroom after she decided to give Claire some space. She could senses the uneasiness in Claire now that there wasn't any convoy to deal with today. It made Alice realize that she, K-Mart, and Claire would need something to occupy their time. There was no way they could sit around in Arcadia.

"Shower is free," Alice called over to K-Mart. She went to the balcony door and slipped outside to get fresh air. Most likely it was close to nine o'clock by how the sun was climbing the eastern sky. For a little while, Alice just had her thoughts for company until Claire Redfield joined her. She didn't acknowledge Claire, who took her side against the railing.

"So what happened to you this morning?" Claire prompted after some pleasant silence. She straightened up and slid her hands into her black vest's pockets. "I didn't expect you to be gone when we woke up."

Alice considered how much to tell her lover and finally looked at Claire. "I talked to L.J. and Carlos about Jill Valentine."

Claire nodded a few times. "Find out anything new?"

Alice shook her head and gazed out over the city. There were more people moving about in the streets. "Jill is dead."

Claire kept quiet for a minute until a thought popped into her head. "I didn't think Carlos knew Jill." But as she kept mulling it over, she moved her head in confusion. "But he worked for Umbrella, and she was high up like you."

"Yes," Alice confirmed.

Claire folded her arms and questioned, "Why would he lie about that?"

Alice was still fixed on the city. "He's scared."

Claire raised an eyebrow and posed, "Of you?" She huffed and gave a low grunt. "He's a pus..." She shook her head and stopped herself from saying it aloud. "He was scared to have you after him."

Alice's head bobbed several times.

Claire bit her lower lip then narrowed her eyes at Alice. "Exactly what kind of relationship did you have with this Jill Valentine?" It was starting to bother Claire now. There seemed to be more than a working relationship or a friendship. She carefully watched Alice's features for any clues.

Alice lowered her eyes to her left hand and curled it around the rail. She swallowed hard after she realized the crossroad she'd approached with Claire.

"Alice," Claire softly encouraged.

Looking up, Alice met her lover's curious gaze and saw the concern there too. She took a deep breath and straightened up from the rail. She faltered for a second then finally confessed, "Jill was... she was my wife."

Claire had expected various responses, but this one took her breath. She gripped the rail and held herself up until the shock faded away. She sharply whispered, "Does K-Mart know this?"

Alice shook her head then looked at Claire. "No... not yet."

Claire opened and closed her mouth a few times. But words were very useless with her mind right now.

"It was a cover," Alice explained to her partner. She swallowed hard and took a deep breath, like Claire. "Umbrella owned a mansion, which had a secret railway down into the Raccoon City facility. As part of the job, we had to marry and live in the mansion together."

"You were guarding it," Claire summarized. She knew by the latter part of 2012 that Michigan had legalized gay marriage.

Alice stared at her left hand and like past times, she ran her thumb across her ring finger. But like any other time, the wedding band was no longer there to spin. It was gone after Alice had woken up in the lab, in Umbrella's hands.

"I... didn't realize you two were so close," Claire sadly murmured.

Alice closed her eyes briefly before she looked at Claire again. "She was my only family at the time."

Claire nearly asked what'd become of Alice's parents and if there were siblings. But Alice's parents could have been dead by 2012 if Alice was fifty at the time. That topic Claire didn't want to push right now. This discussion was more than enough.

Alice shook her head and continued clinging to the rail again. It wasn't until Claire's hands slipped over hers that she peered up into open features. Nothing was more rare than Claire's free emotions, and it softened Alice.

"Now you have family again," Claire promised.

Alice was shaken and grateful. Her head hung for a beat before she let out a deep breath. But the squeeze to her hand made her look up and stare at the city. "To live again... it's a blessing."

"It is," Claire whispered. Her eyes were searching the city and took in all the activity below. Arcadia was full of hope after all.

"So what now?" Alice murmured after a bit.

Claire shook her head, not really sure.

"We can help out," Alice offered. She looked over at Claire. "Help Luther... help Arcadia."

"What can we do?" Claire met her lover's stare. "It doesn't seem like they're hurting."

Alice grinned and argued, "We both have our experiences we can bring to the table."

After a heavy sigh, Claire questioned, "And K-Mart?"

Alice gave a low shrug then argued, "She's resourceful... and will find her place."

Claire squeezed her lover's hand one last time before letting go. "Until the spring."

"When we move on," Alice agreed. She looked forward to it, but the winter break in Arcadia was certainly needed too.

Claire brushed a loose strand behind her ear. She turned her head towards the balcony door when K-Mart came out. A smile tugged at the corner of her lips. "How was the shower?"

"Amazing," K-Mart happily answered. She joined the pair as she zipped up her leather jacket for warmth. "Anybody else hungry?"

"Yes," Claire seconded.

"Let me wash up quickly," Alice mentioned. She left the balcony.

K-Mart took Alice's vacant spot beside Claire. "She tell you about Jill Valentine?"

Claire blew out a breath because she actually knew more than K-Mart right now. It was sort of odd, but it was Alice's past to tell. "Yeah that she's dead."

K-Mart placed her arms against the handrail and leaned on them. "I'm surprised Carlos is still alive." She earned a glare from Claire. "Oh come on... we both know how pissed Alice probably was after L.J. spilled the beans." Claire's grumble indeed confirmed it for K-Mart. She shrugged and quietly added, "Alice is no angel."

Claire drummed her fingers on the rail once then concluded, "You're not sleeping with angels... that's for sure."

K-Mart shrugged yet again. It obviously didn't bother her that her partners weren't saints. She knew it. She lifted her left hand some and admired the tri-band ring. "I figured this out... while I was in the shower."

Claire Redfield raised an eyebrow and waited for more detail.

K-Mart wiggled her ring finger and muttered, "Almost, I guess." She was using Alice's mind to figure out the rings. "Alice is the titanium ring. She thinks she's black. But really..." She grinned up at Claire. "She's the strongest, like titanium."

Claire chuckled and then posed, "Which am I? The gold or silver band?"

"At first I thought gold... but no." K-Mart shook her head and indicated the silver band. "You're silver because you've always been my knight in shining armor."

Claire nearly flushed at K-Mart's compliment. Never had she'd been called that by K-Mart and certainly didn't foresee herself that way. Quite the opposite in reality.

"I was the damsel in distress... you rode in... slayed the dragon and saved me." K-Mart chuckled and corrected, "Well, it was an undead instead of a dragon. But, you know." She studied the tri-band again and puckered her lips. "I'm just not sure why I'd be the gold one though."

Claire bumped her hip against K-Mart's and teased, "That's the easy one." She received an inquisitive glance. "You're the most precious... most valuable and rare."

K-Mart shook her head because she didn't agree, at all. "I thought it was because my hair is the color of gold."

Claire huffed and couldn't help a grin. "Maybe that too." She slowly lost her grin. "Did you have a good birthday?"

"I really did," K-Mart answered. She stood up and warmly smiled at Claire. She then moved in for a long hug. Like Claire, she held tightly. "Thank you."

Claire kissed her lover's temple and whispered, "I'm happy to hear that." She'd been worried about K-Mart's birthday for some time. None of it was perfectly planned, yet it worked out so well.

After the hug, K-Mart stole a kiss that made last night's memories surface. She shook it off after she withdrew from Claire.

"Come on," Claire huskily ordered. She could tell K-Mart's emotions and diverted them both from thoughts about last night. Most likely Alice was ready or close to ready so they went inside to find Alice waiting for them. Quickly, the trio left the apartment in search of a tavern.

Breakfast had been a long affair for the three. Alice revealed to K-Mart about her past marriage to Jill Valentine. K-Mart was receptive and open to it. Now it made sense to K-Mart why her lover was so determined to find out what happened to Jill Valentine. However, the end to Jill's story was a heartbreaking one. After the conversation, K-Mart felt her emotions dip because she realized she wouldn't have a chance to meet her mother's love. Such thoughts took K-Mart to her mother's face, and how she wished her mother was still here.

Claire sensed the teen's down spiraling emotions and hastily altered the topic. She mentioned to Alice she was interested in speaking to Luther West about what they could do with their time in Arcadia. Alice agreed that they could meet up with Luther after breakfast. Claire expected K-Mart to join them and was surprised when K-Mart opted to return to the apartment alone. Claire let it go and reminded her lover to keep the radio handy.

Alice strolled alongside Claire after K-Mart left them. However, her full attention remained on K-Mart's retreating form. "She's upset," she softly mentioned.

Claire didn't need to be told. She tugged on her hat brim. "She'll be okay." She shoved her hands into her vests' pockets. "She'll go read and relax."

Alice finally looked away after K-Mart rounded a street corner. "I guess two girlfriends worrying over her is more than necessary." She caught a thin smirk on Claire's lips. At least that helped calm them both since they were equally concerned about K-Mart's mood.

Claire crossed the next street with Alice. She studied the different faces of the survivors in Arcadia. "You think Luther will make use of us?"

"I don't see why not," Alice answered. She suspected what Luther would have her do. But it was a little different for Claire, who was a natural born leader. There were already one too many heads under Arcadia's crown, in Alice's opinion. Her next thought was about what K-Mart would do in the coming months while in Arcadia. She was unsure.

"I could be competition, Alice," Claire argued.

Alice glanced over with slotted eyes. She shrugged her shoulders and simply suggested, "Just remind him we're leaving in the spring." She could see the agreement in Claire's features so her thoughts drifted back to K-Mart. Then an odd thought bubbled up that'd been in the back of her mind for a few days.

"What?" Claire ordered.

Alice was caught. How the Hell Claire was reading her so well now was a surprise and jarred Alice for a heartbeat. She directed Claire across another street, towards the north-west side of the city. "K-Mart... is she really straight?"

Claire nearly stumbled on her feet, a strange occurrence in itself. She cleared her throat first then recovered with a dark grin. "Are you worried?" She earned a nice glare. She licked her lips and honestly replied, "She's not anything."

Alice rolled her eyes and shook her head. "She's a lot of things, Claire... but straight isn't one of them."

"No... no it's not," Claire quietly agreed. "But she's not gay either."

"Bi," Alice concluded. She shifted closer to her lover when a passerby came past her.

"No." Claire enjoyed Alice dubious glance. "She's just... K-Mart." She shrugged and better explained how K-Mart's mind worked when it came to people. "She doesn't care about gender or looks. It just doesn't cross her mind."

"Love is love," Alice whispered. It fit too because K-Mart didn't pass a single judgment over Alice when they'd first met despite all humans always did so.

"Not something that comes easy to us," Claire muttered.

Alice casted a side glance at the leader. The comment was aimed at her and Claire which held undertones of uneasiness. Below the words, Alice could tell Claire had reservations about being able to love. For a minute, Alice mulled it over until they approached the front door of a building that Luther worked in. She opened the door and held it for Claire, who passed through first. Alice quickly stepped into the doorway and forced Claire to face her.

"But it came to us," Alice whispered.

Claire held her ground, the inch of space breaking her reserves. No argument was on her lips before she softly kissed Alice. Claire withdrew, one step into the building. "Yes it did," she murmured and felt Alice follow.

In the building, Alice located Luther in his office where he was handling certain affairs for Arcadia. He welcomed Claire and Alice into his office and sat them down. He spent an hour discussing with them future plans. Luther was displeased to hear that they planned to leave in the spring. But to change their minds would be moving Mount Everest. He sadly accepted that some people, like Alice, were untouchable for him.

At the end of the meeting, Claire felt better about the coming months in Arcadia. There was direction in her life once Luther asked if she could help him build up Arcadia's defenses. Several projects needed an overseer, and Luther was already pulled in too many directions. Claire opted for the defense projects since it was an area she could expand on. The convoy's constant movements required different defenses than a stationary settlement. It was perfect for Claire.

Alice was on the opposite side of the coin. Luther wanted Alice to handle a more offensive area of Arcadia. Lately the head instructor for teaching combat was severely lacking, and it made many uneasy if citizens weren't properly trained. Luther requested Alice to not just teach the citizens but reeducate the head instructor along with the junior instructors. Alice let out a low breath at such an undertaking, but she nodded and promised to help out.

Claire was grateful to Luther and thanked him on the way out of his office. She could tell Alice appreciated it too. Most likely Luther understood how both women had to remain focused and busy. Their skills and knowledge wasn't something to be ignored, and Luther was perceptive to it. Once outside on the street, Claire debated whether to go back to the apartment right now or not.

Alice nodded over her left shoulder. A long-cut through the park was more inviting. Plus it gave K-Mart more time to read before she and Claire returned.

Claire pursed her lips, weighing the offer. But a hand hooked her arm, and Claire was pulled down the street. She chuckled and joined Alice's side.

"If you need any help with the defense... I'm always around," Alice prompted.

Claire rolled her eyes under the hat brim. She gave her lover a smug look. "As if you'll have time."

Alice grumbled and complained, "Damn Luther." She secretly looked forward to the challenge, but it would be a stressful one.

"He knows you can handle it."

"That's the problem," Alice muttered. "He knows my background."

Claire was curious now and tempted, "All of it?"

Alice shrugged and answered, "More or less."

Claire nearly asked what Alice's relationship was with Luther, or use to be. But she decided ignorance was bliss if Alice wasn't freely offering it. Claire instead teased, "Hopefully less than more."

Alice traded a grin with her lover. She and Claire entered the park, which had a few people enjoying the last of the fall leaves. Today was calm and clear, but a few clouds were in the western sky. Alice could smell rain not far off, maybe tonight.

"If we go back out there..." Claire walked closer to Alice.

"What are we doing?" Alice peered under her lover's brim. She saw that question in Claire's eyes. "I don't know." She led them onto a path made from woodchips. "Maybe K-Mart is right." She shrugged. "We can bring survivors here."

"We can," Claire muttered. However, something was clearly on her mind.

"Or something else," Alice tried. But her attempt didn't win because Claire shook her head.

Claire zipped her vest up more then returned her hands to the pockets. She glanced over and asked, "You have any siblings, Alice?"

Licking chapped lips, Alice quietly answered, "Only child."

Claire canted her head and further pushed the envelope. "What happened to your parents?"

"They were killed when I was young." Alice bit her bottom lip. "They were in the wrong place at the wrong time." She didn't let the memories pull at her. "So I had a Batman reaction and wanted to get into law enforcement."

Claire carefully listened and didn't interrupt Alice, who rarely spoke about her past.

"I started in security while I earned my bachelors in criminal justice." Alice sighed and explained, "But I got too caught up in Umbrella after that point."

"How did you learn to fight?"

Alice guided them onto the right path at a fork so they could go back to the city. "Umbrella." She looked at Claire. "They paid for any kind of self defense, weapons, and security training. There were also a lot of seminars within Umbrella."

"It probably helped you climb up through management," Claire guessed.

"Yes." Alice couldn't count how many classes and seminars she attended in her younger days. By her later years, she was the teacher at Umbrella seminars.

Claire could tell that Alice had been just as determined at an early age. Today though Alice was a farcry from who Alice use to be. Much was very the same for Claire. She didn't view the world the same after her mother was killed by a drunk driver. And she didn't view people the same after she shot her father, for turning both undead mentally and physically.

On the walk back to the apartment, Claire recognized the new comfort level she and Alice shared now. It'd taken them awhile to build it up. Finally able to find common ground, they were growing closer and didn't need K-Mart as a referee anymore. It was a nice change that Claire hadn't expected. Yet she knew Alice could still dig under her skin if she so chose. What had changed was the fact that Alice didn't wish to anymore, mostly.

Finally back at the apartment, Claire and Alice took a seat on the sofa. Claire was in the middle and noted that K-Mart was a third of the way through the new Twilight book. A slow grin creased her lips.

"How'd it go?" K-Mart inquired. She closed the book and set it on her lap.

"Well," Claire reported. "We were hired."

K-Mart grinned and nodded. "What's the pay like?"

"Awful and long hours too," Alice piped up.

Claire shook her head at Alice, but it was true too. They would have long hours, especially Alice. But the pay was good considering how safe they were in Arcadia and well fed too. "We start in a few days," she mentioned.

"And start what?" K-Mart curiously studied the pair.

"Weapons training," Alice replied. She pointed at Claire. "Defense Project."

"Figures," K-Mart muttered. "It wouldn't be cooking at the taverns."

Claire patted her young lover's knee. "I'd burn the damn tavern down."

K-Mart chuckled but then went serious. "So did you tell Luther we were leaving in the spring?"

"Yeah," Claire answered.

"He took it fine," Alice explained to K-Mart.

Claire huffed at Alice then mentioned, "He's heartbroken that Alice will leave again."

"Don't start," Alice sharply warned the leader.

Claire smirked and folded her arms.

K-Mart grinned at the playful pair, glad to see them being nice. She drummed her fingers once on the book. "So did we decide what we're doing after Arcadia?" She noted how Alice stared at Claire for the answer.

"Why are you both looking at me?" Claire complained to the pair.

"Fearless leader," Alice reminded.

Claire shook her head then suddenly popped up from the sofa. "We can stay in Arcadia." She felt their eyes following her as she walked away.

Everything seemed okay now, almost everything. Alice had discovered life again. K-Mart had given her two lovers a new direction. And Claire seemed calmer, nearly. There obviously was something still left undone for Claire, and it greatly bothered K-Mart. She frowned and lowered her gaze to Alice after Claire left.

For once, Alice took charge of the quickly unraveling situation and called, "You had something in mind earlier, Claire." She paused and added, "I could tell." She noted that the former convoy leader stopped in the bedroom doorway. But it seemed useless because Claire slipped into the sunlit bedroom without a single word. Alice nearly got up until a gentle hand stopped her.

"Give her a minute," K-Mart suggested. She understood Claire's need for personal space. And hopefully it would help Claire open up.

Alice did let it go, for now. She instead scooped up the television remote and decided to see what was on demand.

K-Mart set the book aside and debated whether to stretch out on the sofa so she could lay her head on Alice's lap. She withheld and waited to see if Alice picked anything to watch.

In the bedroom, Claire came out of the walk-in closet with the wood box. Her hand ran across the smooth varnish finish on it. Seated on a corner of the bed, Claire toyed with the bronze hook style hasp and struggled with her buried emotions. After a hard swallow, she released the hasp and lifted the lid up. What the Twilight book had previously covered was now clearly on display in the box. Each item burned Claire, bitterly.

After a cold minute, Claire shut the lid and silenced the screams in her head. She clenched her jaw and slowly looked out the window across the room. Afternoon had just begun and the day was still pretty out, unlike what was in Claire's head. But it was K-Mart and Alice's low voices that drew her attention to the open door. Claire lowered her eyes to the wood box, which awakened a new battle.

Several deep breathes gave Claire the ability to stand up from the bed. Then the first step towards the living room was made from sheer will. The next steps that carried her to K-Mart and Alice came from something much deeper. Claire could face this, with K-Mart and Alice. Her grip on the sealed box grew like her fear.

K-Mart sharply looked at Claire Redfield, who had returned to the living room. Instantly her honey-brown eyes locked on the mysterious wood box. Her heart felt like it was struck by lightning in the next beat.

Alice sensed Claire's return and looked over her shoulder. She lifted her chin slightly once she recognized the box. Then the smell of fear coming off Claire tickled Alice's nose. That made Alice nearly as anxious as Claire. She quickly turned off the television when Claire reclaimed her earlier seat.

Claire placed the box on her knees. Like earlier, she played with the hasp and debated how to explain herself. She inhaled a few shaky breaths, preparing to face her past. "I haven't spoken about this since I left home."

K-Mart carefully listened and shifted closer to her lover. She gingerly touched Claire's thigh in silent support.

Claire freed the hasp and ran her fingernails over the edging of the box. "I can't shut it out anymore." The box's lid wasn't as heavy as earlier, and once Claire released the lid from its upright position, she was at war again.

Alice tilted her head and narrowed her eyes at the familiar silver badge that proudly had the acronym S.T.A.R.S. etched under a bald eagle. In the center of the badge were three stars and Raccoon Police Dept stamped around it. At the bottom, the meaning of the S.T.A.R.S. boldly stood out and smoothly read Special Tactics and Rescue Service. Alice was very familiar with S.T.A.R.S.

K-Mart trailed her eyes from the tarnished badge to the color photo poking out from under the badge. She furrowed her eyebrows at the two people, only one familiar. Claire was on the right side, smiling and also years younger. Her arm was across a young man's shoulders, and his happiness matched Claire's own. And just like Claire, his hair was a fiery auburn. His distinct features mirrored Claire's a great deal.

All at once it hit K-Mart like a brick, and she jerked her head up. She blinked once and parted her lips. But words scrambled on her tongue. Disbelief still had her upside down until Claire's movements grounded her.

Claire reached into the box and retrieved the old photo. She breathed hard and held the picture out for all of them. First she looked at Alice, who was very curious and even cautious. Then a glance at a shocked K-Mart made her blow out a low breath.

Claire Redfield swallowed yet calmly stated, "I have a twin brother... named Chris."

The End.