HELLO, WORLD! Yes, I'm still alive! So much has happened over the years that I won't even gloss over it; just know I will do my best to update when I have the chance. I'm focusing on a lot of big things in my life right now, but rest assured I have not lost hope or interest in this piece (or writing in general, for that matter). Those who have been with me since day 1, thank you for sticking around, and I do apologize for the long hiatus; those who are new and have left reviews and have added me/my stories to the favs/follows lists, I wholeheartedly appreciate the gestures. I thank you all so much for sticking around despite my absence. It's been a rough ride, but as I said in the past, I'm updating this piece until it's done... which will be in a couple more chapters XD

I'm all over the place with this one, in terms of how I feel about it. I suppose I'm satisfied, overall, but I will say I do have mixed feelings. Anyway, I hope you all enjoy!

Italics are for thoughts/flashbacks.

The Mansion

Part 1

"You think we'll find the assholes that did all this?" Chris asked bitterly, taking the duffle bags filled with ammo from Barry and loading them into Bravo's chopper. "They couldn't have gone too far."

Barry handed Chris a large Medical Kit and gave a nod at seeing his friend's frown. "Of course we will. Their asses will be tossed in the slammer soon enough, Chris. We've been training our butts off for this kind of scenario."

If there was one thing that shook Chris to the core, it was innocent people losing their lives for no reason at all, and this incident was no exception. Some random couple got the bullet in a sick game of Russian roulette, and ended up getting chewed on until they passed away—slowly, painfully, and without so much as a struggle. Chris swallowed, feeling the acid working its way up his lining and lingering near his throat. He knew he should be anticipating what the victims' family would say, or how they would feel once the news reached them, whomever those two lumps of rotting flesh belonged to.

But he didn't.

If anything, Chris counted his blessings and couldn't help but think of Claire, and the walks they used to have on that trail, when the sun was out and the breeze was blowing…it could've happened then. Or when he and his teammates would run the trail in the grueling summer heat with their heavy gear on, or jog through two feet of snow, bundled up tightly like Christmas hams with their weapons in hand; it could've happened then, too. But it didn't, thankfully. Why? Chris asked himself at least fifty times, mulling over the thought as to why this murder—and ones he and his team had yet to discover—happened so suddenly, and spread like wildfire. The way those people were killed… it didn't sit right with Chris.

Barry stepped back from Chris and opened the pilot's door. "How's it looking in there, Brad?"

"Everything seems to be in order," Brad said, not looking up from his checklist. "She's been fueled, oiled, I've checked the engine twice over to make sure nothing was amiss…" He turned in his seat to look behind him at Chris. "You've got all the weapons and gear loaded?"

"This Med Kit was the last of it," Chris replied, jumping down onto the helipad. "Bravo should be good to go now. It shouldn't take them long to reach the rendezvous point."

"About ten minutes tops," Brad said with a nod, and climbed out of the cockpit to join the others on the helipad. "I guess we're done here, right?"

"Looks that way. We better check in with Wesker and get the lowdown. Then we can prep our chopper when Bravo gets the green light." Barry turned away, and Brad followed suit. Chris was slow to follow, the uneasiness creeping up his spine eventually forced him to stay put.

"Chris?" Barry called, hand firmly on the rooftop door, when the marksman hadn't moved to join them. "You OK?" Chris remained silent, looking over at the chopper behind him, and then out towards the city, beyond the buildings, and into the mountains; the feeling in his gut had never been so strong. He'd been on plenty of missions before—worse ones, in fact—but he couldn't shake the bad vibes invading his heart.

"Something's off, guys," Chris replied honestly with a shrug. "I just… I don't know. I'm not feeling good about this mission." He faced his teammates. "These murders show up all of a sudden, and no one has any fuckin' idea of who the suspects could be, let alone where their base of operations is located? Why haven't these criminals been sighted before tonight?"

"Look, pal," Barry said carefully, making his way over to Chris. "These kinds of things happen all the time. Hell, it's not right to be so passive about it, but it's true. Murder isn't easy to swallow, and cannibalism is a whole other ballgame." He placed a comforting hand on Chris' shoulder. "I know it's hard when you think about the victims, and even more so about their families, but you have to stay strong – for everyone. Lots of people are counting on us… and tonight, we're counting on you."

"Yeah, Chris. Barry's right. Maybe you're just a little nervous, that's all."

Chris felt all but reassured. He knew Barry and Brad meant well and that they were, to some degree, right about the situation. But from Chris' standpoint, what he was feeling inside, there was no way around it. His friends' words did little to settle his nerves and tame his suspicions, and he wondered if the same thoughts were passing through their own minds right about now.

"Maybe you guys are right," Chris lied, forcing a smile. "I'm just overthinking again. You know… letting this bullshit get to my head."

"It happens, pal, but that's what we're here for." Barry gestured for Chris and Brad to follow him. "Just make sure you let us know what's going on upstairs when we're out there, OK?"

The aluminum case William had placed the last viral sample of the G-Virus in, closed with a small hiss and locked with a soft click.

"Finally," William sighed, plopping in the cushioned computer chair at his desk, watching the several monitors before him through half-lidded eyes. He was exhausted. He'd spent several hours prepping samples into vials to take with him, and transferring what little data he could onto floppy disks, before wiping the computer clean of any evidence. Alone in the cold lab, he took a large gulp of stale air, and released it, trying to maintain his composure while he waited, impatiently, for Wesker.

Al will handle the rest, once he's able to shake his buddies off 'im. I just hope he hurries. He knows how antsy I get…

He twiddled his thumbs and shook his legs side to side, glancing from monitor to monitor, frowning when he saw nothing on the screens, and decided to search the side table drawer to his right: a green colored crossword puzzle book with a worn spine caught his eyes first, next to the red yo-yo, deck of playing cards, and bundle of rubber bands. He pulled the puzzle book out and sat back in his chair, clicking a pen he grabbed from the breast pocket of his lab coat, and began filling in the squares on a fresh page. No more than five minutes had passed before William tossed the book on the desk, his boredom and nerves fighting to win him over. He growled in frustration and sat upright, hands typing furiously on the keyboard, causing the cameras to change angles. Nothing but empty halls and tunnels with poor lighting graced the screens as the cameras gradually moved left to right, and back again.

"Goddammit, Al. I should've known you'd take your sweet time." William pinched the bridge of his nose, and sighed, planting his elbows near the keyboard…

"I don't like this either, Annette, but Al says it's the only way!" William pleaded, tailing his retreating wife into the living room. "He has a plan and he's gonna get us all out of here!"

Annette whipped around to face her husband. "I don't care what "Al" says, or what he claims he can do. I'm your wife, William. You should have discussed this with me, before you agreed to tag along with him, and play hide and seek with Umbrella. How dare you put Sherry and I in danger like that?!"

William's head snapped back at the jab. "Danger?! You think I would purposely put you both in danger, just for shits and giggles, Annette? Look what's happening!" He threw his arms up. "Spencer is coming, and judging by how upset he was when he talked to Al, he's not gonna be happy when he finds out we lied to h—"

"Lied to him?!"

"We had to, Annette; there was no other way! Al and I created fake reports to buy us time, but things backfired, and now we gotta fix this mess." William grabbed his wife by the shoulders and pulled her in. "I need you to get as far away as you can. Al and I have to—"

"You don't have to do anything, William," Annette said, shaking her head. "If Wesker wants to stick around to die let him, but you don't owe that son of a bitch a goddamn thing!"

William's grip loosened slightly, and his expression softened. He looked away. "You might think that, Annette, but you're wrong. Al has done more for me than you know. He's always had my back whenever I needed him. I know that might be a hard pill to swallow because of how Al is, but he's never let me down." William faced Annette, and gave her lopsided smile. "But this is something I have to do. Al needs my help. And, if we don't settle things tonight, Umbrella will be after you and Sherry, and I can't allow that to happen. I will do everything in my power to make sure no one will ever come near you both again."

Annette's lips quivered, tears pooled inside her eyelids. She reached up to caress William's cheek. "William… I just…can't lose you." She wrapped her arms around his neck, and sobbed into its crook with a shaky voice. "I'm scared, William, I'm scared."

"I know, Annette," William whispered against her temple, caressing her hair with a free hand. "I'm scared, too." Then, he put on a smile. "But you have to be strong for me… because you are my strength when I am weak. Every time I feel like I'm going to collapse inside, or feel like I can't go on, I think of you. I think of how lucky I am to have you as my wife, to know how much you sacrificed—your sanity included—to be with me and bring our Sherry into this world." He pulled back to look Annette in the eyes, cradling either side of her cheeks, and using his thumbs to wipe her tears. "No matter what happens tonight, know that I love you with every part of my plastic Operation heart."

Annette chuckled, tears gliding down from her crinkled eyes. "Oh William… You and Sherry need to give that game a rest."

"But that's my guilty pleasure, Annette. Do you know what taking away a man's guilty pleasure does to him?"

Annette pulled him closer by the collar of his white button up, eyes trailing to his own, down to his lips, and back up. "No… Why don't you show me?"

William snored lightly, grinning into his folded arms, remnants from his memory lingering with him, and slowly fading as he came to. "Mmmm, are we doing what I think we're doing?" He said, sleep still heavy in his voice, but forced himself awake when the sound of an alarm pulled him from his nap. His eyes snapped open, full of uncertainty as they searched around the room for… for…

Who? Annette? Al? William growled and rubbed his face to shake off the bits of dreamland that remained, then sat upright to attend to the alarm. Nothing appeared on the monitors at first, so when the thought of a false alarm entered his mind, it was quickly destroyed at the sight of the intruders responsible for tripping said alarm.

William stood with a gasp when several armed men in tactical gear swarmed the top left monitor, entering the tunnel the cameras had just spanned across; the men moved from screen to screen, and William followed them with his eyes, his heart pumping harshly inside his chest the closer they came.

Shit, shit, shit!

In a panic, William wheeled around, too fast for his own good, and ran into the computer chair, failing to grip its arms before he hit the tile. He grimaced, holding his left shoulder, but made an effort to scramble to his feet despite the pain. He grabbed the aluminum case, loosely, and nearly flung it across the room, but held on, and ran for the nearest lab station; he quickly opened its doors below and threw the case inside, shutting them just as the automatic door behind him hissed.

"Don't move, Dr. Birkin," one of the men had said, his voice sounding strained through his gas mask.

William cursed to himself, slowly putting his hands up in surrender—the sound of hands clutching automatic weapons and combat boots thudding against the tile never sounded so loud. The blood drained from his face, and William was certain that if he didn't keep it together, he would surely pass out or say something off tune to upset his attackers. With a deep breath, he slowly turned to face them, mustering a calm and collective face. There were three of them, dressed in Kevlar vests, tactical pants with combat boots, helmets with Umbrella logos on the forehead, gas masks covering their faces—training their assault rifles at his person.

"Hey fellas. If I had known you were coming, I would've set out some milk and cookies."

"We've come for the G sample, Dr. Birkin," said the leader, ignoring William's comment. "It is imperative that you hand it over," he nodded at his rifle, "quietly and without resistance."

"Hand it over, huh? I don't think so." He shook his head, furrowing his golden brows together in anger. "Everything in this case is my life's work, and if you think I'm just going to hand it over, you need to loosen those masks of yours. Why don't you educate yourselves on what you're actually here for, and then I might take you seriously."

The leader quickly produced his sidearm, and fired two shots into William's right arm. The scientist yelled out and whipped back against the lab station, putting a vice grip on the wound, watching the blood drizzle over his hand, and curl around his fingers. William panted, turning his glare at the men from behind his messy bangs.


"Do you take us seriously now?"

William smiled, despite the pain going up and down his arm. "How can I? You're dressed like you're about to gas a house. Umbrella not paying the bills?"

Another shot into the other shoulder, and William cried out this time, sliding down the lab station and onto the ground.

"Son of a…" William shook his head, heavy pants passing through his lips. "You Mercs do all the dirty work for Umbrella, and yet…you have no idea what you're doing half the time—just pointing and shooting where it concerns you." He swallowed, feeling his mouth go seriously dry. "This virus… It's gonna change everything. By stealing it, you're destroying a dream, and giving it to the bullies that stand over you."

The leader chuckled. "I think you're a bit delusional from the blood loss, Dr. Birkin, so let me put things in perspective for you. We don't give a shit about this virus. Our only priority is receiving the briefcase full of cash at the end of the day. No formalities. No asking questions. And certainly, no regard to who we do business with, so long as the price is right. So really, you're the only one that's putting up more of a struggle." He aimed down sight. "Now… if you're expecting some miracle to come crashing through that door to save you, then I'd hate to be the bearer of bad news…"

William gave a small chuckle and let his form slump to the side. "Funny… I was about to say the same thing…"

"You'll fly in and secure a perimeter here and here," Wesker said, tapping the forest regions on the map with a finger. Alpha and Bravo huddled around the table, eyes going from the map to Wesker when he looked up to give them his attention. "This point will serve as Alpha's drop zone." He circled with his finger. "Vickers will get as close to the ground as possible, and that will put us in the center of the perimeter." He turned to Enrico. "You have permission to search the grounds once it's safe to do so, but do not go outside the perimeter. We go as a team, unless I say otherwise; I won't take any chances. Am I understood?"

"Perfectly," Enrico replied with a nod. "But once we've picked the perimeter clean, will we expand to cover more ground?"

"If it's necessary, then yes. But until then, it's best not to bite off more than we can chew." Wesker placed both palms on the table, meeting the eyes of everyone around the table with a hard expression. "I'm not going to lie to you. This mission won't be easy. We don't know who the enemy is, other than what they're capable of… I'm sure you've all made mental notes on that." He adjusted his glasses. "Use the darkness to your advantage, but don't go wandering off alone; we can't afford to lose anyone because of your lack of judgment, so don't try to play the hero. Stay in formation unless told otherwise.

"Should you come across anything out of the ordinary, report it to me or Captain Enrico at once," Wesker continued. "Remember your training and leave no room for error." He looked around the table. "Does anyone have any questions? It would be wise to ask now… You never know when communication will be hard to come by."

Everyone was silent, nervous and hard-faced – expressions Wesker expected – as his eyes made their way around the table. Chris seemed more troubled than anything; he kept his own eyes firmly on the map without looking up, a stubborn trait Wesker had come to associate with the Redfields when something was eating away at them.

"Very well," Wesker said, calling attention to himself. "Gear up, Bravo. We'll meet at the chopper in ten. Everyone else, head to the office and wait for further instructions."

"Let's move, Bravo," Enrico commanded, and lead his team out of the briefing room towards the lockers. Alpha trailed after their teammates, and before Chris had a chance to exit, Wesker ordered him back.

"Not you," the Alpha captain said, mentally letting a few scolding comments slip by when Chris gave a slight grunt of disapproval. "Not until we clear the air, you and I."

"There's nothing to clear, Wesker," Chris replied, crossing his arms in defense. "As far as I'm concerned, you and I are just peachy."

"I don't mean us, Chris. I mean you need to explain to me what's troubling that hot and cold mess you call a brain. You know this isn't the time to have your judgment clouded."

Chris scoffed, shifting his weight to one foot, opting to walk away and join his teammates in the STARS office without another word, but he remained still. "Huh. That's real sweet of you to offer a one-on-one therapy session, Wesker, but I think I'll pass."

"You don't have a choice in the matter-"

"Yeah, well, I don't give a shit! I don't see why my thoughts matter after all this time. You never cared before."

Wesker's eyes narrowed from behind his shades, and his voice became stern. "You're right, perhaps I don't. But it doesn't change the fact that whatever you're withholding from me won't affect the team, too."

Chris didn't budge, but Wesker would.

"Very well. If you decide not to disclose whatever information you're keeping under lock and key inside that head of yours, then I have no choice but to exclude you from this mission." Chris opened his mouth, ready to protest, but Wesker held up a hand. "I mean it, Chris. I have plenty on my plate that requires my attention, without having your childish attitude be the cherry on top. Any one of us could die on this mission, and if it happens to be you—"

"If it happens to be me, then you'll find a replacement, Wesker. It's that simple. No need to shed any tears over it."

"The day I shed a tear for you will be the day you say something intelligent." Wesker turned away, map in his hands. "If you're set on behaving this way, you can host the pity party you've created all by yourself, while the rest of your teammates are out there covering the job you're responsible for." He started for the door, boots thudding along the tile. "I hope the thought comforts you while you sulk in the dark." He reached for the light switch.

"So, that's it, huh?!" Chris said, throwing his arms up in a huff. "You're just gonna walk away, like the proud captain you are, hoping the outcome will be what you predicted?"

"Are we starting a new argument, or shall we combine this one with the previous?" Wesker jabbed over his shoulder. "Stop while you're ahead, Chris, and get those riled up feelings of yours in check."

"These feelings of mine are exactly why I'm the only one on the team who thinks this mission is bullshit, Wesker. We all saw those corpses in the mountains; those were innocent fuckin' people with their faces chomped on by some freaks who get off on that kind of shit."

Chris narrowed his eyes, shoulders hunching with each breath, and continued. "I don't know how you expect me to react, Wesker, but hanging my responsibility to you and the team over my head doesn't help relieve any of the pressure. Do you really think I don't understand what's at stake here?!"

For a second, Chris held his breath, bracing himself when his captain turned to face him, afraid he might've pushed Wesker's buttons a little too hard. But he proved otherwise, concern replacing his hard expression. "Is that what this is about, Chris? Has your confidence in your abilities fallen so low, that you're looking for someone to place blame on?"

Chris shook his head. "I'm not blaming anyone, Wesker. But this mission…" He sighed. "I'm saying that if someone dies under my watch tonight, I'll never forgive myself."

Especially if that person is you.

Wesker remained still, silent, brows knitted closely together, lips set flat and firm – picking apart Chris' unusual behavior with utmost precision. Where Chris saw his feelings of doubt and uncertainty as a warning of the possible dangers to come, Wesker saw them as opportunities to mold in his hand like clay, and shape them in any way he chose. He mentally smiled.

You are beside yourself, Chris. Pity. Haven't you learned not to bleed in front of the hungry wolf?

Wesker walked over to his previous position, shaking his head, frowning slightly. "That burden is not yours to bear, Chris. The responsibility for your life and those of your teammates lie with the captains." He placed his gloved hands flat on the table, a common posture Wesker seemed to favor. "You have the potential, Chris; you've demonstrated it countless times, inside and outside this precinct, and it is because of your persistence and the will to succeed that I put my trust in you." Chris' eyes lit up in surprise, prompting Wesker to nod.

"If I didn't think you were capable, you would've been dismissed long ago without a second thought. And now…" Wesker extended his hand. "I need you to demonstrate those skills one last time—for STARS, for the people of Raccoon City, for Claire, and for me. We are a team, Chris. Don't let that slip through your microscopic brain."

The vicious hold Chris' own insecurities had on him, released him the moment Wesker had finished saying his peace, and it was then, Chris realized, that his journey wasn't finished yet. Everyone was counting on him to lead the way. If Wesker put his utmost faith in him—even if Chris questioned his own self—then how could he turn his back on them, on Him?

His eyes traveled to Wesker's extended hand and, giving his fingers a flex, Chris reached out and shook it, eyes never leaving the black lenses of his captain, even after he pulled his hand back.

"I believe we are back to being peachy, wouldn't you agree?" Wesker asked, not leaving room for anything less than a confirmation. He turned towards the door, waiting for Chris to follow, and when the marksman gave a nod, he did just that.

"For now, I guess," Chris said, falling in step with Wesker, "until you're all over my ass again for something petty."

"Oh... I think tonight's conversation has really set the standard for the future, Chris."

"You sure about that?"

"Absolutely." Wesker gave a cruel smile. "After tonight, there won't be anything left for me to pester."

Claire was pacing the floor, throwing glance after glance at Wesker's house phone, expecting it to ring. Just one would have her flying through the air to pounce on it.

C'mon, Wesker, Chris, Will… Claire couldn't take it—the waiting and doing nothing game was never part of her persona; the Redfield gene was just too damn persistent to take a back seat and let time fly by. She had tried watching TV—anything to put her worries at ease—but nothing could capture her attention for more than thirty seconds at a time. With the TV turned off, she decided to make a sandwich, but when she had gotten all the necessary ingredients out on the counter, she shook her head, suddenly feeling irritable. She resorted, then, to building a pyramid of cards with an old, discarded deck she found in one of the kitchen drawers. After the second tier the pyramid collapsed, and with heated anger, Claire swept the cards from the table, and watched them fall to the floor.

"Screw this! I don't care what he says, I'm going!" Claire headed for the front door, full of heated anger, but hesitation held her hand on the knob.

Go where? Her mind taunted. Home? You'll be in the same situation there as you are here.

Claire scoffed at her own thoughts, and with a roll of her eyes she crossed the living room and plopped onto the sofa. "Fine… I'll wait a little longer." She propped her head up with her elbow on the arm of the couch, and grabbed the remote to turn the TV back on.

"There's a small clearing up ahead, Vickers." Wesker ordered, pointing towards the small gap in the middle of the forest, and then pressed the button on his Com. "Wesker to Enrico, come in."

There was a static screech in the Alpha Captain's ear, before the reply, "This is Enrico. Go ahead."

"We're going in for a landing. Keep your lights on us; Vickers will circle the perimeter until I give the signal for Bravo to drop in."

"Roger that."

Wesker gave Brad a pat on the shoulder, and the pilot maneuvered the bird over the clearing, carefully, before slowly making its descent. The Alpha Captain faced forward in his seat, giving his team a look over. Jill was sitting quietly on the other side, keeping her eyes on the windshield ahead; Barry had his eyes closed, seemingly relaxed as though the current events had no effect on him; Joseph's hands were clasped on his lap, and he tapped his foot slightly to keep himself occupied. Chris was seated in the co-pilot's chair, looking out his window, forward, and back again, making sure Brad had enough clearance to land without hitting any branches. He gave Brad a thumbs up when the bird touched the ground, and pulled his headset down to rest on his shoulders. Wesker still had his eyes on Chris, and when the marksman turned his way, the captain gave him an "eyes on me" gesture, and unbuckled his seatbelt.

"Let's move," Wesker instructed, and watched his team file out, weapons loaded and at the ready, Med Pack supplies in spare pouches—band aids, rolls of gauze, first aid spray, and one green herb—extra mags attached to their vests or hips, a standard flashlight, and a Com that snaked up their back and into an ear.

Wesker slid the door shut and slapped the side of Brad's window, giving him the OK to take off. "We're set to channel 1; Bravo is channel 2," he said, making his way over to his team once Brad was in the air. "Chris will be out front, I will be to the right, Jill will be in the middle, Frost will cover the left, and Barry will bring up the rear. There will be a slight increase in distance between us, but only to cover more ground. If you get lost or spot something, radio in immediately." He cocked his Samurai Edge and nodded.

Alpha Team dispersed in said formation, moving quickly through the forest, guns raised, eyes open, flashlights on, beams of light moving all around them in every direction. The moon had been shy tonight, hiding its crescent self behind a wave of thick clouds, partially blocking out most of the light in the night sky. The air, though chilly, carried a strong stench of decay—a cross between rotten meat and mulch that had most of Alpha Team reaching to pinch their noses shut.

"What the hell is that?" Chris asked over the Com, keeping his light on the heavy foliage along the path.

Barry grunted in reply. "It smells like the meatloaf we found in the backseat of Forest's car. Don't know how it got back there, but the windows were closed and it was pushing 100 degrees outside."

"That's disgusting," Jill replied. "What a slob."

"That's Forest," Joseph agreed, aiming down sight as he walked along. "You should see his apartment—"

"This isn't the time for useless chatter," Wesker said above Joseph through the Com. "We need this link open at all times for communication purposes, regarding this mission and any reason pertaining to it. You can talk about your swine of a teammate when time permits you to do so. Stay focused and keep quiet." Muttered words filtered through the Coms from several Alpha members—worthless apologies, Wesker figured—and he pushed them aside.

"Let's keep moving." And so they did, combat boots crunching over dried leaves and twigs lying about—the only sounds audible aside from the orchestra of crickets and the occasional howls the deeper they went into the forest.

The whipping blades of Bravo's chopper sounded above, and the Alphas watched it pass by their location and circle around.

"Wesker to Enrico. Any activity from above? Over," Wesker said into the Com.

"Negative," Enrico replied. "This forest is massive, Wesker, so our visual is limited. Guess this isn't the walk in the park we all thought it would be, huh?"

"Let's not be hasty. We've only just begun. Are you able to land safely?"

There was a slight pause on Enrico's end. "Negative. There's not enough clearance to do so, so we'll fly further ahead and report back."

"Copy that."

Bravo's chopper maneuvered out of sight, trees swaying back and forth from the gusts of wind, and with each passing second, the roar of the engine faded as it traveled the distance from Alpha Team's location until it disappeared completely. Alpha resumed their trek forward, keeping their lights and guns down sight, and then all around when numerous howls surrounded them.

"The hell…? Wolves?" Joseph said to himself, following the movement in the shrubbery with his light, and when it stopped, he braced himself, holding his gun tightly, finger resting on the trigger. His breathing was slow and shaky, counting Mississippi's in his head while he took a few steps back towards the team.

"C-Captain?" Joseph pressed the button on his Com. "We have movement at 9 o'clock."

The entire team did a 180 and shined their lights in Joseph's direction, right as the movement came to a stop.

"Fall in," Wesker ordered, and the team took cautious steps towards Joseph, never looking away, and when the movement started again—from several directions, this time—the team stopped in their tracks. Numerous growls replaced the rustling sound, and out from the darkness emerged adult-sized Doberman Retrievers with milky white eyes, rows of sharp teeth lining decayed, snapping jaws; exposed rotted skeletal muscle made up most of their backs and throats, and with each threatening step closer to Alpha, the stench from before intensified.

"Shit," Chris said, and clamped his mouth shut, taking in sharp breaths through his nose. Just like the pup. Rotted to the core. What the hell is going on here?

"Steady," Wesker said calmly, keeping his hands firmly on his Edge. "Chris, give me a count."

The Captain's voice shook Chris from his thoughts, and he barely caught the word "count" at the end of Wesker's command. His eyes darted quickly around them, carefully taking in each of the dogs and their movements, whispering as he numbered them off. "Eleven, Wesker," he said with assurance. "Number six near Barry has a bad leg."

How convenient for Barry...

"Copy. Then we'll have to make a run for it," Wesker said, and then added quickly, before the confusion filtered through the link, "It's our best bet. We won't be able to hold them off in this position." The blinding light of Alpha's chopper shined over them just as those last words left Wesker's mouth. He looked up, an arm shielding his eyes, grinding his teeth when Brad steadied the bird to hover in place.

"Vickers! We're in a tight squeeze!" Wesker said over the Com. "You need to land that damn thing, now!"

"I-I…" A slight static screech. "There's not enough clearance, sir!" The chopper circled right, the light catching all of Alpha and the decomposing dogs that surrounded them, and Brad couldn't help but release the gasp he tried to hold back.

"What are those things?!" The screeches intensified. "Cap…tin…I…"

"Vickers?!" Wesker growled, and then looked around, hoping to see some sort of clearing from his position, and then squinted back up at the chopper. "Head back to the landing zone, and we'll double back to meet you!" Nothing but static greeted Wesker, and he couldn't help but smile. Brad maneuvered the chopper around one last time, before flying in the direction Bravo took, taking with him their best source of light…and their ride out.

Oh, Vickers, you deluded fool. You couldn't have played your part more perfectly. You've unknowingly left your teammates' fate to me. But fear not, you'll get what's coming soon enough. You haven't eluded me yet.

"Brad?! Goddammit! Where the hell are you going?!" Chris let the F-bombs drop freely into the Com, but only his fellow members around him could hear.

"Chicken, you piece of shit! Get back here!" Joseph screamed into his own Com, his sights on the dogs, trying to keep his gun from slipping out of his unstable grip. Damn it all to fucking Hell! I'm gonna kill that son of a bitch when I get my hands on him.

"Focus!" Wesker instructed, voice back to its usual coldness. "We go with my initial plan. We can outrun them if we strategize: Chris and I will go right, and the rest of you will go left; we'll meet in the middle and pick off those remaining. Now steady… Go!" He nodded to Chris and they were off, dodging the snapping jaws at their sides as they juked passed.

The wind howled in their ears and their legs carried them through the thick foliage, leaves and mud mushing beneath their boots with every step in their large strides. Animals in the shrubbery scurried further into hiding when the two rushed past, both breathing heavily, following the moon's light for guidance, dodging any puddles left over from the passing rain.

Chris chanced a look behind them, hoping the dogs had taken the bait and split as Wesker wanted, but not too close for the escape to be a lost cause. The last thing he needed was one of those mutts ready to bite down on his ass, and, literally, tear him a new asshole. He quickly counted five, grateful that the entire pack hadn't followed; not as far behind as he would've liked, but enough distance between them not to get bitten.

"Look forward." Wesker's voice came as sharply as the wind hitting his face. "We're coming up to the creek. Remember the tree you were hiding in during our training session?"

So, he was watching us that day…

Chris knit his brows together. "Yeah," he panted, "what about it?" It didn't take Chris long to realize what his captain was getting at. He scowled, the moonlight touching his rugged features. "Yeah right. If you think I came all the way out here to sit and do nothing, then you're out of your mind, Wesker."

"Shut up and listen!" Wesker commanded, giving a look behind him, forward, and back at Chris. "You'll do as I say and wait in the tree. I'll be the distraction. Now, give me your gun. Quickly!"

Chris' eyebrows met together. "Like hell. Did you forget the shitty situation we're in—"

"Are you refusing to obey a direct order?"

"We don't have to separate, Wesker. We can pick them off one by one," Chris reasoned, frustration heavy in his voice. It was unbelievable. Even with the ravenous dogs hot on their tails, Wesker still kept up the holier-than-thou, authoritative attitude that never failed to piss Chris off. "Let me stay down here, and we can both finish off those bastards."

Wesker's stone-blue eyes narrowed from behind his sunglasses, and he clenched his jaw –the muscle going tight against his prominent cheekbones. "If you don't hand it over," he bristled, "then I will take it by force."

Chris grimaced, and felt a ball of pressure pushing against his stomach. Just what the hell was Wesker thinking? They were three men short – four, if they counted Brad – and he wanted to split up, leaving with, not only his gun, but Chris' as well? It didn't make sense. Wesker had said and done many things as a STARS captain that Chris didn't agree with, but in all those times, never did he once question Wesker's sanity or abilities. His reasons for executing plans, sure, but never his mental stability.

Christ, and I thought Irons was a nutjob.

Chris grit his teeth and pulled the Edge from its holster, gripping it tightly. It was one thing to take his gun, and another, entirely, to order him to the sidelines without it. He wasn't Brad, wasn't Forest. Hell, he wasn't Barry either. He was Chris Redfield, marksman of STARS Alpha Team – the best the RPD had to offer, if he could claim that much. And here he was, for all he was worth, being benched so that Wesker could claim control once again.

"This is bulllshit," Chris growled, more to himself than for Wesker to hear, and extended the Edge into his hand, grip first, putting on another scowl.

"You did the right thing, Chris," Wesker said, in a tone that seemed a tad too dark, even for him, and became serious once more. "We're coming up to the tree. Don't miss your chance."

Chris looked ahead and saw the tree across the creek he'd been posted in days before. Just as the water touched his boots, Wesker made a sharp left, splitting them both up.

Fuck. Move your ass, Redfield.

Once across the water, Chris sprinted to the tree and jumped up to grip the nearest branch, pulling himself up, skin rubbing raw against the bark. He moved higher, and when he was stable enough, looked out at the mist crawling to cover the forest floor.

He could hear barking and howling in the distance, but none of the dogs had stayed behind to snarl and attempt to claw their way up to reach him. Though, in a way, Chris wish they had. He imagined their rotting, saliva covered jaws snapping back at him, and blasting them all one by one, right between the eyes without breaking a sweat.

But no, let's split up and make the situation worse.

Wesker was nowhere to be seen; Chris heard the faint sounds of the gunshot reports, but other than the occasional hoot from the owls nestled in neighboring trees, the forest was at ease. And suddenly, the feeling of abandonment slowly crawled up Chris' spine, and made his calm demeanor take a nosedive. Any time now, Chris thought – anytime now Wesker would be back for him, so that they could catch up to the others and continue their mission, preferably dog free. But unlike his captain, Chris had no patience; it was one thing to obey an order when Wesker was around, and another to break it when he wasn't.

Naturally, Chris opted for the latter, and decided he would find his way towards the meetup point, hoping to come across Jill and the others if not his captain. His eyes swept the forest floor one last time for reassurance, and then lowered himself down until his boots touched the soil. He paused, listening for any growls, rustling, or footsteps nearby, before he set off into the mist.

"These fuckers just don't know when to quit!" Joseph yelled, looking over his shoulder to fire off another round, hitting the closest dog near him in the leg, and watched it tumble forward into the dirt.

Jill set the pace, not running so fast as to leave Barry and Joseph behind, but staying close enough while they fired, acting as a spotter and lending support when needed. The two ran on either side of her, taking over the shoulder shots when the opportunity came; accuracy was crucial, but so was the speed at which they were going. The last thing any of them wanted was to slip and be torn to shreds.

"Don't expect them to let up anytime soon!" Barry replied, firing a few rounds, two of them hitting the dog's left shoulder with a bone-crunching shot. "Gotcha, you son of a bitch!" He faced forward, and wiped the cold sweat nestling on his forehead before grabbing another magazine from his vest. "Chris and Wesker outta be showing up about now..."

"I hope they're doing alright," Jill said, a rush of blood-chilling air filling her lungs as she inhaled. "They haven't been in contact yet."

"Nothing but static on my Com," Joseph chimed in. "They're probably out of range, or some shit. Wesker said it could happen." He scoffed. "Of all fuckin' nights..."

The sudden rustling of bushes and heavy growls that followed, took the trio by surprise as another pack of dogs had joined the remaining few, taking the place of those that had been shot down moments before.

"Ah, you gotta be fuckin' kidding me!" Joseph yelled, when they all turned to face the dogs gaining on them. He gave his vest a quick pat down, feeling only two magazines against his chest. "They're gonna drain us dry if we keep this up, you guys! And unless we all grow another set of fuckn' legs, we'll end up being goddamn kibble pretty soon, too!"

"Quit your bitching, Frost!" Barry commanded in that familiar, fatherly tone. "We keep running and conserve, and when the time comes we give 'em Hell!"

Jill said nothing in reply to either of her teammates. What could she say? Both Barry and Joseph had laid out perfectly the plan to follow, and the grim aftermath should said plan fail. In Jill's eyes, if they didn't find some sort of salvation in the next ten minutes, it would all be over. The RPD would send another search party to look for their corpses the following morning, and Bravo's, too, if they, somehow, fell victim to a pack of dogs, or the cannibals they'd been sent to find and arrest. What a way to go – being eaten to death, feeling teeth biting into your soft flesh, cutting so deep as to tear muslce and, possibly, scrape against bone; all the while bleeding out and going into shock, or losing consciousness long before then from the pain.

God no... Not without a fight, Jill thought, swallowing the thick saliva that had accumulated in the back of her throat, and focused on her breathing; she'd overstayed her welcome in her own mind, and nearly let her rampant thoughts settle her into a helpless corner. Not this time; not when she needed a clear thinking space in the face of death. She removed her Edge from its holster and cocked the slide back.

Not without a fight.

"Hey, you guys – up ahead!" Barry yelled over their own heavy pants, and the growls behind them.

"A mansion?" Jill's brows furrowed. "What's a mansion doing way out here in the middle of nowhere?"

"It's probably a loony bin," Joseph panted, sneaking a look behind him, and back. "Could be abandoned. We might just be in luck."

"I doubt they'd leave the lights on, Frost," Jill replied, wanting to roll her eyes, almost forgetting they were being chased. "We have to make it."

"You're damn right we do," Barry said, pushing ahead like a sled dog leading the team. "Let's move our asses!"

The trio pushed on, refusing to look back anymore, and focused on the mansion up ahead. It was rather odd for such a place to be so far out into the open, nestled securely between the trees... She and the rest of the STARS trained constantly out here, even making several trips over the forest via helicopter, and never once did she see a mansion. Irons never uttered a word about it either. Though, at this point, nothing he said or did (or didn't do) was no surprise to Jill; the police Chief was never the straightforward and honest type, and Jill figured her expectations had been set too high.

I guess I wasn't looking for it, Jill thought, but someone would've seen it.

The sharp wind grazing against her cheeks brought her back into the cold nightmare she and the others were trying to escape from. The ravenous dogs, or what was left of them, trailed behind, and each step, no matter how fast they were going, seemed to bring them no closer towards their safe haven ahead. The mud beneath them grabbed and pulled at their boots, and her breathing intensified at the thought of being pulled down or twisting her ankle and falling face-first.

Just let this end...

Gunshots from their right forced the trio's heads to whip in that direction, and suddenly, Jill's fears dissolved in the pit of her stomach. Wesker was running at an angle, firing shot after shot, and hitting nearly every time. Three dogs went down behind them just as their captain took position on Barry's right.

"Captain!" Jill shouted, momentarily filled with immense relief, before the dread and fear leaked back into her system. She opened her mouth to speak, but Barry beat her to the obvious question.

"Where the hell is Chris?!" Barry shouted over the continuous gunfire from Wesker.

"He'll join us soon enough." Or he won't, Wesker wanted to add, and refrained from smirking. "He's out to prove himself, if that hasn't been made obvious yet."

"Aw, Christ, he's going John Rambo on us at a time like this?!" Barry bared his teeth, almost directing his anger at Wesker... In a way, a part of him was for allowing his friend to just seemingly wander off to play the hero on his own. You should've known better, Captain, Barry wanted to say, but turned away and continued to fire behind him.

"Goddammit, I told him to lay off the Kool-Aid," Joseph said, turning forward after firing off a few rounds. "Stupid idiot."

"Nevermind him," Wesker said firmly. "Keep moving!"

Chris had been running non-stop the moment he left the tree. He hadn't seen or heard from Wesker over his Com, nor did he hear any gunshots after the first few from his captain. With each leaf he trampled on, or each mud puddle he splashed in, Chris did everything in his power not to scream at the top of his lungs in anger.

How could Wesker just abandon him like that? Granted, Chris had his combat knife as a last resort and would fight tooth and nail if he had to, but the least Wesker could've done was trail back to him once the dogs were dead and gone. Chris was, by no means, helpless or weak, and he could certainly hold his own... But then that begged the question: why did Wesker guilt-trip him to come out here, if all he intended to do was cast Chris aside? Wasn't it his job to be the front man of the team?

None of it made sense, and Chris knew he and Wesker would exchange words when they reunited again.

Or fists, Chris thought instead. He was used to exchanging blows more often than he was words, and preferred that method over any verbal argument he might encounter later. Almost forgetting he had been on auto-pilot running through the forest, Chris slowed to a stop to rest behind a large tree.

"This is Chris, can anyone hear me?" He said into his Com. Nothing but static greeted him. He tried again. No use. He switched over to Channel 2 and asked again, hoping someone from Bravo would answer him, but only received static.

"Shit." Chris took a deep breath and gave a sweep of his surroundings. Nothing had followed him, thankfully. He could hear the soft hoots of the owls, the chirping of the crickets, and even the light croaking of the frogs... but no growls or barks from the decaying dogs that had pursued him and his team further into the forest. That knowledge alone took much of the stress off.

Chris peered around the tree, gave the path ahead a look over, and proceeded through the clearing he had come to with caution. He opted to stick a bit closer to the trees for the time being, as opposed to running full speed into the open. His anger had fueled him, but Chris realized he needed to allow his mind to breathe; he wouldn't get anywhere seeing red.

As he moved at a quicker pace, something in the distance caught his eye – what looked like a mansion sat nestled between massive rows of trees, with light clouds of fog looming around it, like some haunted house you only see in movies. Every fiber of Chris' body begged him not to approach, but he couldn't help but move towards it.

The lights are on, he thought to himself. Whoever lives there will have access to a phone. I can get ahold of the PD, and get me and the teams out of this mess. Feeling overwhelmed with relief, he abandoned his stealth-approach plan and ran his heart out towards, what seemed to be, his salvation.

The end of part 1 comes to a close. Was it what you were expecting or not? If you're a tad confused, please go back and read the footer notes I have on chapter 13. It sort of gives you some idea of where I wanted to go with the rest of the story. I won't reveal too much, yet, so if you're still interested at this point, stick around – it's gonna be epic ;) If you'd like to leave feedback or share your thoughts, please feel free to do so. You can also PM me, if you'd like. Although I do have my social media links in my profile, I hardly log on anymore. I just feel I'm too busy with what's going on right now, but if you'd like to see what I look like (LOL), the links are there. Also, I would like to apologize to my social media peeps for not responding to your messages, if you've left me any. The aforementioned reason is why I haven't been on; I don't even have the apps anymore, but like I said, you can email me or PM me, if it's no trouble for ya; I'd appreciate it very much. Until next time, guys! - Lil V.

P.S. For those that still follow The People In My Life, I've already typed out the next chapter, for the most part. By typed, I mean I typed it on my phone LOL Look out for it, soon!