Disclaimer: I don't own Resident Evil, or any of its characters. I'm just a humble fan who was highly disappointed by RE5. Fortunately, RE6 is more than making up for it! Thank you, Capcom, for the return of the zombies!

Synopsis: I was playing REmake, and started wondering just what it had to be like for the characters between games. I mean, beyond the files and short endings. Not to mention, why they killed off some potentially decent characters so quickly. This is what happens when I get bored. So, here goes nothing. . .

Author's Note: This fic is unbeta'd, so any mistakes are all mine. Hopefully there aren't too many =).


Chapter Two

Chris Redfield sat in the back of the S.T.A.R.S. helicopter, one arm around the shoulders of his sleeping compatriot and best friend, Jill Valentine. Rebecca Chambers, Bravo Team's rookie medic, was fast asleep on the bench opposite of them. Beside her sat Barry Burton, Alpha Team's weapon's expert. They were all that was left of S.T.A.R.S., both teams nearly annihilated by the bioweapons Umbrella had secretly created, with the help of Captain Albert Wesker.

He still couldn't believe that Captain Wesker had been working for Umbrella all along. Wesker had led both teams into the Arklay Mountains to obtain combat data for the B.O.W.s. He had killed his own men! Chris thought, still shocked by the realization. He had blackmailed Barry into helping him, using his wife and two children as leverage. He had imprisoned Jill, and shot Rebecca nearly point blank in the chest.

Thank God, the kid had been wearing her Kevlar vest! The shot had stunned her, and she would be bruised for a while, but there hadn't been any permanent physical damage. The psychological scars would take time to heal, but they were all alive. That's what mattered. They had survived untold horrors, monsters that defied the laws of nature, and Wesker had paid for his treachery with his life, a victim of the same bioweapons he had been so thoroughly fascinated with.

The Umbrella Corporation was going down, Chris promised silently. Once they filed their reports, Umbrella would be revealed to the world for the fraud that it was. There would never be another Spenser mansion. Never again, he thought fiercely, even as he mourned for those who had fallen.

They landed on the roof of the Raccoon Police Department, and he traded a grim look with Barry. Their pilot, Brad Vickers, had flown away at the first sign trouble, stranding them in the mountains, leaving them no choice but to flee into the supposedly abandoned mansion to escape the Cerberus' attack. It had been common knowledge that Brad wasn't the bravest man in the world, but Chris hadn't believed him to be a true coward until last night.

With Wesker dead and the team in shambles, it was his job to take control and mete out punishment. While they would all probably be put on leave pending an internal investigation, disciplining Brad would be his responsibility. Chris found that he was almost looking forward to it. At the very least, Chickenheart deserved to get knocked around some!


He looked down to find Jill blinking at him with sleepy blue-gray eyes. "Hey, there," he greeted, his heart turning over at her drowsy smile.

"Hey," Jill whispered in return. She lifted her head, running her hand through her dark hair. He handed her the blue beret she was almost never without, and she took it with another smile. "Thanks. Barry?"

"Right here, Jill," the man in question said, matching her smile as best he could as guilt washed over him. "How are you feeling?"

"Don't ask," she sighed, her mind going to Joseph Frost, and his devastating death. Her gaze moving to the young girl beside him. "Is she all right?"

Barry's brown eyes gentled as they moved to the sleeping medic, who reminded him of his oldest daughter. "I think she's just exhausted, Jill."

"We all are," Chris said quietly. He released Jill and crouched before the sleeping girl, laying a hand on her shoulder. "Rebecca, wake up. We're back at headquarters."

Rebecca Chambers raised her head, returning his smile shyly as she sat up. "We made it," she murmured, her voice tinged with surprise.

He smiled faintly. "Yeah, we made it, kid."

She rubbed her big green eyes in a childlike gesture and yawned. He stood and looked into the cockpit. Brad glanced over his shoulder, swallowing hard at the anger in his superior's dark blue eyes. Chris nodded at him—once—and his brown eyes widened. He was so going to get his ass kicked!

Chris jumped out of the chopper and turned to help Jill. She smiled tiredly and actually let him help, instead of the usual frown as she insisted that she could do it herself. Rebecca smiled sweetly as he helped her, and he had a feeling that she was simply a nice girl. Barry came next, silent as he tucked a picture of his family into his tactical vest and leapt to the tarmac. Brad hovered at the nose of the helicopter, obviously afraid to come any closer.

He sighed heavily and waved the other man forward. "I'm too tired to kick your ass right now, Brad."

The pilot nodded and attempted a smile as he cautiously approached them. "Chris, I'm sorry—"

"Not now, Brad," he cut in grimly. "Let's just go type up our reports, so we can all get some sleep."

"Amen," Jill muttered at his side, her misty eyes dark with the horror they all shared, and the loss of the man she loved.

Chris set a hand on her shoulder and squeezed gently. She blinked back tears and covered his hand with hers briefly before heading for the R.P.D.'s rooftop entrance. He followed her with a heavy heart, wishing that he could have found a way to save Joseph. His death had devastated Jill to the point that she had gone into shock after seeing him mauled. If he himself hadn't shot the dog leaping for her and dragged her to her feet, she would have joined her lover in death—or worse.

That would have finished him, Chris acknowledged silently. He had loved Jill since meeting her during an Army/Air Force football game. They had argued heatedly over the game, and become friends in the process. He'd kept his feelings a secret all of these years, well aware that she didn't see him in the same light. He valued her friendship too much to risk losing her.

It had been hard when she'd started dating Joseph, but he had dealt with it. Joe had become his friend, too, and it had made him happy to see Jill so happy. As hard as it had been to see her with another man, he had been glad that she'd picked Joe. He still was.

The remnants of the Special Tactics And Rescue Service made their way through the fancy precinct, which had once been a museum, ignoring the wide-eyed looks they received. Chris was well aware of how they must look; they were covered in blood and God knew what else. One or two of the regular cops threw out questions, but they were disregarded. Each member of S.T.A.R.S. was locked into their own world, trying to deal with the insanity they had each been a part of for the last twenty-four hours.

God, what he wouldn't give to go back, and stop all of this from happening, Chris thought with a shudder. His chest was tight with emotion as he remembered those who had fallen, until he had to blink back tears of his own. These people had been more than mere teammates. They had been his friends.

They entered the deserted S.T.A.R.S. office and came to a halt, each surprised to find it exactly as they had left it. Chris shook his head and took a seat at his desk, running a hand through his brown hair in an agitated gesture. Wesker's desk sat at the head of the room, and he glared at it hotly, hating what it now represented.

"Chris." He felt a hand on his shoulder and shivered involuntarily. He looked up and saw Jill gazing down at him, her gray-blue eyes somber as they met and held his. He covered her hand with his own, squeezing gently before releasing her. "I'm okay, Jill."

One corner of her mobile lips quirked upwards in a half-smile. "Bullshit," she said too softly to be overheard.

He swallowed an unwilling laugh. He couldn't help it. Jill Valentine just had that effect on him. "You know me too well," he said ruefully.

"Yes, I do." Jill perched herself on the edge of his desk, her gaze searching his undeniably handsome features. Chris was a protector by nature. He believed that he had to be strong, and not show his feelings. And right now, she knew that he was feeling responsible for what had happened in the Arklay Mountains, no matter how well he hid it.

"It wasn't your fault," she told him, her usually husky voice thick with grief. "Wesker did this to us, not you."

He sighed and sat back in his chair, tipping his head back to maintain eye contact. "I know, it's just. . ." his voice trailed off as he sought the right words. "I should have been able to do something, Jill. Anything, you know?"

She nodded, knowing the feeling all too well. "I feel the same way, Chris. I'd give anything to have Joseph and the others back. But there isn't anything we could have done to save them."

"I know that, too," he acknowledged in a quiet voice. "It doesn't help much."

"No, it doesn't." Jill looked own for a moment, reliving the moment when she realized that Joseph was dead, and that she was going to die with him. "Thank you for saving me, Chris."

He shook his head immediately, as she'd known he would. "Never thank me for that, Jill. You're my comrade, and my best friend. I couldn't not try to save you," he added fiercely.

She slid off the desk and pressed her lips to his cheek. "Accept my appreciation, Redfield—now."

Chris' hands fisted on the chair arms at the innocent, platonic touch. "Appreciation accepted," he said, managing to keep his voice even as he added, "Get to that report, Valentine. I want to go home some time today."

"Yes, sir," she drawled with playful sarcasm. "Anything else, sir?"

The thoughts that flashed through his mind would have gotten him slapped, at the very least. "Get to work, Jill. And keep an eye on Rebecca, okay?"

Jill's gaze went to the girl in question, who was sitting quietly at her desk, her motionless hands poised over her computer keyboard. "I will," she promised, realizing that the young woman probably reminded him of his younger sister, Claire. "You keep an eye on Barry, as well."

They both glanced at Brad, who was sitting at the communications panel, working diligently on a laptop. "Watch him too," Chris murmured harshly.

"I will, Chris."

She returned to her own desk, which was located behind his own, and he listened as she settled in and powered up her computer. He didn't have to look behind him to picture her desk, neat and tidy, everything in its place. Unlike his, his thought with a rueful glance across its scattered surface. He'd never been organized, and he probably never would be. Not that he didn't know where everything was. He did. It just took a little time to find what he needed.

Chris released a harsh breath and fought the urge to close his eyes and simply sleep. He was so damned tired! The last thing he wanted was to write a dispassionate report about something that he felt all too passionately about. But if they didn't do this now, while the horror was still fresh in their minds, they might forget something critical. They couldn't let that happen. The Umbrella Corporation had to pay for what they had done. It was that simple.

He glanced at Barry, whose weathered features were drawn. The older man was typing away, slowly but diligently, the look in his dark eyes bleak. The two of them had talked a little on the chopper, while the girls slept. The former SWAT officer had been honest about his role in all of this, and he fully expected to lose his job, as well as their friendship, over it. As angry as Chris had been initially, he understood the other man's dilemma. His wife and kids had been threatened. What else could he have done, except go along with Wesker's plans?

He'd met Barry in '95, right after his dishonorable discharged from the Air Force. He'd been lost, unable to find a job, unsure of how he was going to put his sister Claire through college, let alone keep a roof over their heads. Barry had befriended him, encouraged him to quit drinking, and helped him by introducing him to Albert Wesker, a former teammate.

He had become a regular in the Burton household, spoiled by Barry's wife, Kathy, while becoming an honorary uncle to his two beautiful daughters. For the first time since their parents' deaths two years before, he and Claire had had a real home, with people who cared about them. He couldn't blame the other man for protecting his family. He just wished that Barry had come to him for help. All of Alpha Team would have helped him, especially Jill, who had been drug into their little family almost against her will.

He grinned briefly at the thought. Jill had taken a leave of absence from Delta Force after hearing about his court-martial and come looking for him. She'd shown up three weeks after he and Claire had moved in with the Burtons, and she had been immediately adopted by them. An only child, she had always been somewhat reserved with others. That had changed the moment she had stepped into the Burton household. She'd suddenly inherited a large family, and she hadn't known how to deal with it.

They had both joined S.T.A.R.S. at the same time, he as pointman for Alpha Team, and Jill as Rear Security and B&A Specialist. Though they hadn't actually worked together before, they found that they made a great team. She was able to keep a level head in situations that sparked his temper, and he kept her from turning into the loner she had once been with his friendship. They were polar opposites, each keeping the other balanced, and yet she didn't see it. And probably never would, he thought morosely.

He glanced at the phone and flirted with the idea of calling his sister, but quickly discarded it. The last thing he wanted to do was worry his baby sister, who had enough on her plate just getting through school. Claire was one of the smartest people he'd ever known, but she was also very impulsive. If she knew just what had happened to him, she'd insist on leaving school and driving into Raccoon to be with him. And as much as he missed her right now, he had no intention of involving her in this.

He only hoped that Chief Irons quickly moved on this. They might have destroyed the Spenser Mansion, and the lab beneath it, but there was no way to be sure that the T-virus infection had been completely wiped out. He wanted to go back to the Arklay Mountains, and assure himself that there were no more mutated Cerberus', or undead zombies lingering in the forest.

And he wanted to bring back the bodies of their fallen S.T.A.R.S. comrades. He couldn't bear the thought of Kevin or Joseph just lying out there, being picked apart by scavengers, or worse—becoming flesh-eating zombies themselves. No, he wanted to bring them back and give their friends and families a chance to mourn them properly.

Chris forced himself to begin typing, reliving the horror of the night as he did so. Finding Bravo Team's chopper wrecked in the Arklay Mountains, Kevin Dooley dead in the pilot's seat. The Cerberus' that had attacked and killed Joseph Frost, and drove the remaining Alpha Team members into the abandoned mansion. Encountering his first zombie, crouched over the still-twitching body of Kenneth Sullivan, Bravo Team's pointman. Losing touch with the others after searching the west wing, and eventually coming across Rebecca, who had done her best to help him during the long hours trapped inside the Spenser mansion.

Fighting the giant snake designated YAWN twice, encountering the enhanced zombie known as a Crimson Head in the crypt behind the house. Losing Richard Aiken, yet another member of Bravo Team, to the F1-Neptune shark in the aqua ring below the guardhouse. He had also found Enrico Marini in the underground tunnels, wounded but still alive, until a shot from an unseen enemy had finished him. And Forest. . .

Chris shuddered violently and hung his head for a moment. He'd found his old friend, Bravo Team's Omni-man, on the east balcony. His body had been picked nearly clean by the mutated crows that had nested nearby. Chris had gone to the end of the balcony, wondering just how he was going to break the news to Jill, when a hiss at his back had brought him whirling around.

What was left of Forest had been a zombie, yet another mutated Crimson Head. Faster and more vicious than the regular reanimated corpses, it had nearly taken his head off before he'd managed to pump two shotgun rounds into it. As he'd stood over the headless body of the man he'd known for almost as many years as he had Jill, he'd made himself a promise. Right then and there, he'd swore to himself that Umbrella would pay for what they had done.

And they would, he told himself firmly. No matter what he had to do, or who he had to bring down, Umbrella Inc. was finished. It was only a matter of time.

Rebecca Chambers stared blankly at the monitor before, trying desperately to block out the bizarre images that continually splintered her concentration as she typed her report. Her mind kept flashing back to Edward, and Richard, and all the people that had died because of Albert Wesker and Umbrella. She knew that she would never forget what had happened, either last night or the night before. But she wished she could find a way keep her mind from dwelling on it, and the unspeakable horror of it all.

It hadn't been all bad, though. She smiled faintly as she thought of Billy Coen, the fugitive that Enrico had ordered her to shoot on sight. She was glad she hadn't! Billy had turned out to be a good partner, willing to do whatever it took keep them both alive. He had saved her life more than once, something that she hadn't expected from a man convicted of multiple murders.

She also didn't believe that he was guilty. He hadn't given her much, but she'd watched him in the Vacant Factory, when they had found the skeletons of those Umbrella had deemed failed experiments. He'd had a flashback from the mission in Africa that had earned him his death-sentence, and the sheer horror she had seen dawning in his midnight blue eyes had been enough to convince her of his innocence.

Rebecca touched the dogtags hidden under her shirt reverently. As far as she was concerned, condemned murderer Lieutenant Billy Coen had died in the Arklay Mountains, and that was the way it was going to remain. She knew the odds were good that she would never see him again, or even know whether he lived or died, but she didn't care. Billy was a good man, an innocent man, and he didn't deserve to die because of what his commanding officer had done.

She was going to miss him, though. He had become incredibly important to her in the short time they'd spent together, and she believed that he felt the same. Walking away from him had been one of the hardest things she'd ever done, but it had been the right thing to do.

Rebecca typed her report as quickly as she could, for once not worrying about spelling errors or punctuation. She wanted this done and over with, so she could figure out how to go on with her life, even though it had been changed so drastically. How did one sleep at night, knowing that the monsters under the bed were real!

She didn't know, and it scared her. She glanced around the room and saw that the others looked equally grim. She suspected that she wasn't the only one who would have trouble sleeping tonight.

She finished the statement and printed it, backing it up on disk. She pulled the files she had found on the Ecliptic Train and the Arkham Mansion out of her supply pack and perused them. She put most of them with the report, keeping the file she'd found on Billy near the wrecked jeep for herself. It might be all she ever had of him, and her superiors didn't really need it.

She pulled her purse out of a desk drawer and put the folded papers inside. She stood and took her official S.T.A.R.S. statement to Chris, who was now team leader by default. He looked surprised as he accepted it, and she shrugged as casually as she could.

"I didn't check the spelling, but it's all there," she informed him quietly. "I'd like permission to leave now, sir."

Chris skimmed over the report, his cobalt eyes widening slightly as he realized just all that this eighteen-year-old rookie had gone through. "I'm impressed," he told her sincerely, watching as she literally swayed on her feet with exhaustion. "Go home, Rebecca. Get some rest. Come in late tomorrow, if you need to."

Rebecca hesitated before nodding slowly. She didn't how much she'd be able to sleep. "I'll think about it, sir. Thank you," she added politely.

"It was Chris in the mansion," he reminded her. She blushed a little, and he managed a smile. "My name is Chris. Use it," he ordered with mock sternness.

"Yes, sir!" She smiled involuntarily. "I mean, Chris."

He watched her snap a proper salute and chuckled lightly. "Here," he said, scrawling his name and number on a piece of paper. "Call me if you need anything, Rebecca, no matter how trivial. Alright?"

Rebecca accepted the little piece of paper with an emphatic nod. "I will." She turned towards the door and paused, looking back over her shoulder. "Thank you, Chris."

Chris smiled at the brave young girl gently. "You're welcome, Rebecca."

He waited until the door had closed behind her to read her report more thoroughly. Good God, he thought with astonishment, it was a wonder she had survived at all! She had been a rookie with no real combat experience. By all rights, Rebecca Chambers should have died in the Arklay Mountains. It was a miracle that she had not.

"Jill," he called over his shoulder, "look at this!"

Jill rounded her desk and took the blue folder from his hands. Her own misty eyes widened as she began to read, and was soon completely absorbed in the detailed, if misspelled, account of the young medic's first mission as a member of S.T.A.R.S.. "My God, Chris," she murmured, closing the folder and setting it down. "How did she survive all of that?"

"I don't know, Jill." Chris gave the folder to Barry, who read it with an impressed whistle. "What do you think, Barry?"

"She's good," the older man said abruptly. "I hope she doesn't decide to quit after all of that."

"Yeah, me too," he sighed. He glanced at his report, which was only half done, with another sigh. "Damn, I'm going to be here all night at this rate. What about you two?"

"I'm done," Barry said with a shrug, avoiding his gaze. "I included everything, Chris. I just wanted you to know before I left."

"Left?" He traded an alarm glance with Jill, who immediately stepped forward. "You don't have to leave, Barry. We understand why you—"

"I know, Jill," he interrupted wearily, "but I have to get Kathy and the kids out of the city. If Wesker really was one of Umbrella's top operatives, then they're not going to be happy with us for taking him out. I'm not taking any more chances with my family's safety," he added fiercely.

Chris nodded slowly. "Are you coming back?" he asked at length.

"Of course," Barry answered with a frown. "I'm still a member of Alpha Team, right?"

"Always." Chris stood and shook his hand firmly. "Take care of your family, and come back to us. We'll take down Umbrella together."

"Together," Jill echoed huskily, giving him a warm hug. She stepped back with a misty smile. "We'll miss you, Barry."

"I'll miss you too, Jilly." The older man's voice was gruff as he attempted a smile and headed for the door. "You two be careful, okay? Umbrella's not going to forget this."

"We will, Barry." Chris stepped closer to Jill in an unconsciously protective gesture, and Barry's smile became genuine. Some things would never change, he thought as he saluted them and left the room.

The door closed behind him, and Chris exhaled harshly. Jill squeezed his arm reassuringly before going back to her desk. Neither spoke as they worked in a companionable silence. He knew that Jill was holding on to her composure by sheer will. She had never dealt with grief well. She would keep it all inside until if finally overwhelmed her. He only hoped that she would come to him when it did. He didn't want her to go through this devastating loss alone.

He looked up a short while later to find Brad standing nervously beside his desk. "What's up?" he asked, doing his best to hide his fury.

"I'm done with my report," Brad told him quickly. "I'd like to go home, now."

Navy blue eyes narrowed on his, but his voice was even as he said, "Yeah, go ahead, Brad. We'll see you tomorrow at 06:00 sharp."

"Six, it is." Brad glanced over at Jill, opened his mouth to speak, and then thought better of it. After all, Joe had died last night, even if it had been before he'd taken off. He headed for the door quickly, nearly smacking himself with it in his haste to escape.

The door slammed shut behind him, and Jill merely shook her head in disgust. "Are you going to kick his ass?" she asked calmly.

"Oh, yeah," Chris answered with anticipation, "you know it!"

She allowed herself a small smile. "Good," was all she said, going back to her work.

It took two more hours, but he finally got it done. Chris shut his computer down and stretched, muscles popping as he rose to his feet. Jill was sitting back in her chair, her legs propped up on her desk, a framed picture in her hands. She smiled as he approached, tilting her head back to meet his gaze.

"You're finally done?" she asked mildly.

He grunted and positioned himself at her side. His midnight eyes were drawn to the photograph, and the hard-faced man he'd never met. "He'd be proud of you, Jill."

She smiled faintly. "I'd like to think so," she murmured, leaning forward to set the picture down. "I wish you could have met him, Chris. He was a lot like you."

"So, you keep saying," Chris muttered, not sure he liked being compared to her father.

Jill shook her head at his disgruntled expression, trying her best not to laugh aloud. "You're too easy, Chris." She rose to her feet and slid her arm through his. "Come on, Redfield. Let me buy you a cup of coffee."

As exhausted as he undoubtedly was, his blood-pressure soared at the husky invitation. "Lead the way," he told her, holding the door for her. "I'll follow you anywhere, Valentine."

"Ah, the perfect man," she quipped with a dramatic sigh.

"You know it." Chris couldn't keep the grin from his face as they made their way through the R.P.D.. Just being around Jill had this effect on him, made him happier, no matter how bad the circumstances.

Once again, they received strange looks as they made their way through the building. And again, they ignored them. The joked and bantered like the old friends that they were, all the way to the underground parking lot. He walked Jill to her car, a sensible little blue Honda. She opened the door and hesitated before turning to face him.

"I really don't want to be around people right now," she admitted in a low voice. "Would you mind if we just did this at my place?"

"Of course not," he answered, ignoring the sudden pounding of his heart. "Do you want me to bring anything?"

Jill smiled and shook her head negatively. "Just yourself." She started to turn away and paused. "Take the time to shower, though. I'm going to."

He nodded, a wry smile shaping his lips. "Half an hour, Valentine."

"Half an hour," she agreed, her smile faint as she climbed into the car and closed the door.

Chris watched as she backed up out the space and waved before driving out of the garage. He walked to his own truck and climbed behind the wheel, starting the engine with a flick of his wrist. As tired as he was, he wanted nothing more than to spend this day with Jill. He didn't want to be alone, either.

Jill let herself into her apartment with a choked sigh. She put her keys on the hook beside the door and went straight to her bedroom. She put her badge and gun away in the nightstand drawer, her waist-pack in the cabinet below, doing her best to ignore the picture of the smiling couple sitting beside the lamp. She quickly stripped off her bloodstained uniform and threw it in the washing machine. She started it and went into the bathroom, grabbing a towel from the rack and throwing it over the shower bar. She turned on the water, adjusting the temperature, before turning on the shower.

She stepped under the hot spray just the tears began to fall. She hung her head as harsh sobs tore from her, burying her face in her hands as her entire body shook. She felt as though her heart had been ripped out of her body, and she didn't how she was going to recover from this.

Joe was dead.

She sobbed harder at the thought, her treacherous mind replaying his death in a macabre loop. She could still hear his cries, accompanied by the growls of the Cerberus', and the retort of his Remington. He had been overwhelmed so quickly, she thought with anguish. In the five or six seconds it had taken them to reach him, his life had ended. There hadn't been anything that they could have done to save him. All they could do was run for their lives, and pray that at least some of them would make it.

They had flown into the Arklay Mountains blind, simply because their commander had ordered it. He had known all along what lay in store for them, and he had ordered them there with the darkest of intentions. Wesker had used S.T.A.R.S. with all of their special training, so that he could acquire combat data for the bioweapons that he had helped Umbrella create.

Fury rushed through her, mingling with the heartache, at the thought of Albert Wesker. The bastard had tried killed them all, and shown not one bit of remorse! He had used Barry's family to force him into the role of traitor. Probably so he wouldn't feel alone, she thought nastily.

Oh God, Joe, what am I going to do? she cried silently. She reached blindly for the soap, knowing that Chris would be here soon enough. He might be late for work every day, but he was never late when meeting her. He considered her family, and he did his best never to let his family down. It was one of the things she liked most about him. So had Joe.

Fresh tears fell as she began to clean the blood off of her hands. God, Joseph had been the only one of her boyfriends Chris had ever liked. He'd even begun teasing her about Joe popping the question, which had scared the hell out of her. She hadn't believed that she was ready to take such big step as marriage. Now, she would willingly give up her freedom if it meant having Joe's arms around her once again.

She washed her hair and scrubbed her face, hoping to hide the signs of her tears. Chris always went a little nuts when he discovered she'd been crying. All that testosterone-driven overprotectiveness came to the fore whenever he thought that she or his sister had been hurt. It didn't seem to matter to him that they were both fiercely independent women with minds of their own. In his mind, it was his job—his duty—to protect them.

She shut the water off and climbed out of the tub. She dried off and went into the bedroom, pulling clothes out of her dresser randomly. She dressed and padded into the kitchen, putting a pot of coffee on to boil. She heard footsteps on the landing outside and smiled to herself. Chris was right on time, as always.

Jill opened the door before he could knock, her smile widening at his look of surprise. "Come on in," she said, stepping back as he brushed past her. She closed the door and followed him in, watching fondly as he immediately dropped to the sofa and grabbed the remote off the coffee table.

Typical, she thought without rancor. She sat beside him, curling her legs under her as she faced him. The television flickered to life, the volume muted, as his gaze swung to hers. His dark blue were intent as they studied her, his lips tightening as he observed the traces of her tears. She sighed, knowing that she shouldn't have tried to fool him. Chris Redfield knew her much too well.

"I'm okay," she told him, releasing another sigh at his skeptical look. "Really, Chris. I'm dealing. Okay?"

Chris nodded slowly, hating that she had waited until she was alone to cry. "You're not alone in this," he reminded her, his voice as gentle as he could make it. "Call me next time, alright?"

"I will." Jill scooted closer and rested her head on his shoulder. His arm encircled her shoulders in the automatic gesture that had always made her feel so safe. "Did you call Claire while you were home?"

"No," he answered, setting his feet up on the coffee table. "I don't want anything interfering with school. If she knew, she'd spend the next month camped out on my couch, hovering over me like a mother-hen, and bossing me around until I wanted to strangle her."

Jill laughed a little at the humorous, fondly-spoken description of Claire Redfield. "You know that she loves you, Chris."

"And I love her, but I don't want her involved in this," he stated flatly. "I don't want her to be a target for Umbrella."

"I understand completely," she assured him, shifting slightly to set her legs alongside his. "I won't say anything if she calls."

"Thank you," he said with gratitude.

"You're welcome," she returned quietly.

She closed her eyes and fell silent, the muted drone of the television competing with the percolating coffee in the quiet. She felt the lightest of touches on the top of her head and smiled to herself. Chris might not believe in allowing others to see his feelings, but they always came out, despite his best attempts to control them. She had seen him do this very same thing with Claire, kissing the top of her head when he thought she wasn't looking. His sister always knew, though, just as Jill herself did. Neither would ever call him on it, but it warmed their hearts to know how much he cared.

Chris swallowed hard as Jill's voluptuous, well-toned body shifted against him. He lowered his head to hers cautiously, closing his eyes as he brushed his lips over the crown of her head. He inhaled the scent that was uniquely Jill's and suppressed a shiver. He reigned in his yearnings and reminded himself of the place Jill had granted him in her life. He was her best friend, the one person she could always count on, come hell or high water. If that ever changed, it would be her decision.

Not that it would, he thought with regret. He lacked the one physical attribute that was guaranteed to attract Jill Valentine—brown eyes. Light brown, dark brown, yellow-brown, it didn't matter. He had never seen her with a blue-eyed man, and he probably never would. She was a very particular woman, and she made no apologies for it.

And that was why she dated so rarely, he knew. She was intensely independent, fully capable of tackling any situation on her own. If one of her dates got out of line, he wouldn't find out until after she had already put the man in his place. Which didn't leave much room for him, he thought with a small smile. Claire might let him beat up her boyfriends on the rare occasion, but Jill never would. As she so often pointed out, she could take care of herself.

The aroma of freshly brewed coffee filled the small apartment quickly, and his stomach gurgled in response. Jill stirred against him, raising her head, her smile contagious. "I guess, I'd better get you that cup of coffee I lured you here with," she said teasingly.

"No, I've got it," he told her, stilling her when she would have risen. "Just sit back and relax. Today, consider me your devoted servant."

She moved her legs so he could pass, watching him as he moved through her personal space. He was such a big man, she mused absently, yet he moved with a quick grace that belied his size. And while he did have an infamous temper, he wasn't a cruel man. Quite the opposite, in fact. Chris Redfield was one of the nicest people she had ever known, for all that he was a typical alpha male.

He returned a few minutes later, a steaming mug in each big hand. She took the one with the Army logo, grinning as she observed the large cat that was etched around the length of the only other clean coffee cup in the house. He saw her smile and returned it ruefully, shrugging his broad shoulders in an embarrassed gesture. She loved that he was confident enough to use such an obviously feminine object with a minimum amount of self-consciousness.

"You could've given that to me," she said, gesturing towards the mug.

"Nah," Chris said with a shake of his head. "The Army mug is you, Jill. I can live with the cat."

"You hate cats," she pointed out humorously.

But I love you, he thought instantly. He shrugged again, flashing a crooked smile, as he sat beside her. "With all of the strays Claire's brought home over years, I've learned to live with them."

Jill laughed at that. "At least, she's taking them to her own apartment now, instead of yours."

"Definitely a bright side," he agreed dryly. He watched with greedy eyes as she took a sip of the hot liquid, her eyes closing with pleasure. "It's good?"

"God, yes!" she exclaimed with an appreciative sigh. "You always make it just the way I like it, Chris."

"Well, I have had special training, you know," Chris said jokingly. "I was taught to observe the little things."

"And you do a damn fine job." She tilted her head to one side, scowling as her hair immediately slid into her face. "Damn it," she muttered, using her free hand to rake it back from her face. "There, that's better."

Chris looked away for a moment, fighting an almost overwhelming urge to tunnel his hands in that thick brown hair and kiss her senseless. Not only would he risk seriously bodily harm by doing so, but he would alienate his best friend in the process. But it was hard to hold himself back, especially after nearly losing her so many times in the last twelve hours.

He settled for a portion of his true feelings, the only part he knew she would accept. "When I returned to the hall, and found you and Wesker gone, I nearly lost it," he told her somberly. "I'm glad he didn't kill you, Jill. I don't know what I would have done if I'd lost you, too."

Jill's eyes flew to his profile, her expression softening at the starkness etched into his. "It's alright," she told him in a murmur. "I'm right here."

He slanted her a brief smile, and her heart went out to him. Chris had been twenty when his parents had been killed by a careless driver in a big-rig. He had been devastated, and left alone to raise his sister, who had only been fifteen at the time. His fear of loss was as deep as hers, even if their reasons were different.

She scooted closer and placed her free hand on his back. "Are you sure you shouldn't call Claire?" she asked him quietly. "You might feel better if you talked to her."

"Not until I've pulled myself together," he said, his voice low.

She nodded, rubbing his back in a comforting gesture. "Just don't wait too long," she advised. "She'll come looking for you if you don't call her like you normally do."

"Yeah, I know." Chris sent her a sidelong glance, wishing like hell that she would stop touching him, while enjoying it all too much. If she knew just how the simplest touch affected him, she would avoid any contact with him at all! "I'll call her tomorrow, after I've had a chance to process. . .everything. Jill, about Joe. . ."

Her expression dimmed, and he cursed inwardly. "Jill, I'm sorry," he told her awkwardly. "I didn't mean to—"

"I know you didn't." Jill pulled her hand back and concentrated on her coffee, the memory of Joseph Frost hovering in the air between them. "They're gone, Chris. We can't bring them back. Not any of them."

He nodded once. "I wish I could've saved him, Jill."

"I know that, too," she said in a murmur. The smile she flashed him really wasn't a smile at all. "Have I thanked you for treating him so well?"

Chris flushed and looked away. "I liked him, Jill. He was good for you," he added simply.

"He liked you, too." Her expression became distant, and he knew that she was reliving their too-short courtship. "You know, he told me once that I was lucky to have a friend like you. Told me never to take you for granted."

"Yeah?" At her nod, he smiled, the gesture bittersweet. Joseph had known from the beginning how he felt about Jill, and hadn't been the least bit threatened by the knowledge. "That sounds like Joe. He was a nice guy."

"Yes, he was." Jill blinked back tears and nudged his knee with her own. "Drink up, Redfield. I don't want you going into caffeine withdrawal around me."

"Yes, ma'am," he said softly, smiling as he dutifully took a sip. "Do you want me to hang around today? I can sleep on the couch," he added hastily.

Jill hesitated before inclining her head. "That would be nice. Thanks, Chris."

"Sure thing." He settled back on the sofa, happy that he would be spending the day with her, even if they'd both be asleep, and in different rooms. At least, they would be together.

Joseph stared at the radio in his hand, wishing like hell that it worked. But like nearly everything else in this eerie, deserted place, it was broken beyond repair. The phones were out, as was the emergency radio they'd found in the nurses' lounge. At least, the power was still working!

He and Billy had found the employee's locker room stocked full of clothes and other supplies, including several pairs of sunglasses. The showers hadn't worked—of course—but they had used the sinks to clean up in. They had raided the vending machines, breaking them open to take what they needed, and then laid down to sleep.

He had awakened after only four hours, feeling amazingly refreshed. He glanced to the only other bed in the small room, where Billy was currently sleeping. The other man was out cold, only the occasional twitch marring his deep slumber. Joseph shook his head as he crept out of the room, going back to the computer he had found in the main lobby. From here, he could use his S.T.A.R.S. clearance to check up on Billy's story, and ascertain the truth on his own.

A part of him felt guilty, even as he typed in his clearance code. He entered Billy's name and rank, and was appalled by what he found. While the other man had been partially truthful about the events that led to his court-martial, he had omitted horrifying details. Important details. If pictures were worth a thousand words, the ones he clicked on certainly worth Billy's Coen's freedom—as well as his life.

According to the official Marine report on the African incident, Billy had only been shot by his commander after beating him nearly to death. And only after Billy's sub-machine gun had run dry! He read the accounts of the other two soldiers that had survived the mission, his stomach twisting with disgust. Although both reports were similar, there were enough differences to show that the accounts were genuine. Had Billy's comrades lied, the reports would have mirrored one another's exactly. Unfortunately for Billy Coen, they did not.

"Now what?" Joseph asked himself as betrayal burned through him. He brought up Billy's psych report, his hands clenching angrily as he read it. The man he was traveling with was a sociopath, a man who killed with no remorse, completely unhindered by conscience. He was a merciless killing machine who cared for nothing more than fulfilling his own twisted needs and desires.

No wonder the other man had accepted him so readily! Joseph thought furiously. He'd probably planned on killing him all along, once they reached safety. He glanced around the dusty hospital lobby, and wondered if Billy would consider this a safe place. He shuddered and quickly rose to his feet, drawing the Remington as he did so. If Billy tried to take him out, he'd be in for one hellova surprise!

He had nearly made it back to the second floor, where he and Billy had found a room with slightly larger beds, when a man's voice came to him. He stopped dead in his tracks, his head cocked to one side, and listened. The voice was quickly joined by others, one a woman's, too far away on the first floor to for him to make out the words. Joseph's yellowish eyes widened realized that they were no longer alone in the hospital. He thought of the broken window on main door and winced. Whoever was here had to know that someone had broken in, and they wouldn't be pleased.

And if they got a look at his eyes, they were likely to panic and run. He sighed despondently and slipped the darkest pair of sunglasses they'd found onto his face. It was sad to think that the only person likely to ever accept him like this was a mass-murderer. He was beginning to wish that he had died in the Arklay Mountains.

He stole silently through the hall, slowing as he neared the stairs. The voices were louder now, and he tensed as a small group of people appeared at the bottom of the stairs. There were two men and two women, all dressed in hiking gear, sporting well-worn backpacks. A third man joined them, a little older, wearing jeans and a flannel shirt. He was commiserating with the hikers' problems, even as he led them through a door marked, "Basement".

Joseph's eyes flashed as the door closed behind them. Something wasn't right here, he thought nervously. The hospital had been completely deserted, nothing here except those different colored herbs, some vines that they'd seen in some of the rooms in this area, and a large plant in that same basement. The plant hadn't reacted to them at all, so they'd quickly closed the basement door and left it alone. Now, this man was leading these strangers through the hospital as though intimately familiar with it, to the very place that had made them both so nervous. The whole scenario just felt wrong.

He crept down the stairs to follow them, intent on investigating, when he heard the unmistakable sound of a bullet being chambered. He paused halfway down the stairs, flattening himself against the wall, and watched with dismay as Billy crept into view. His navy eyes were locked on the basement door, his fine features harder than Joseph had ever seen them. He had a sickening feeling that he was finally seeing the sociopathic side of Billy Coen.

He treaded lightly down the stairs, praying that he was wrong, and that he wouldn't be forced to kill the other man today.

Billy reached farther into the vending machine, twisting his upper body as he felt his fingertips brush the edge of the candy bar's wrapper. It slipped away, and he cursed silently as he readjusted his position and tried again. A faint sound drifted in through an open window, soon followed by more, and he realized that he was hearing voices—human voices.

Excitement and apprehension vied for possession of his heart as he stood and carefully positioned himself to one side of the window. He leaned forward cautiously, his deep blue eyes sweeping the courtyard below, and carefully peeked outside. Five people were approaching the hospital, talking in rather loud voices about how grateful they were someone had found them. Lost hikers, he thought grimly, remembering what Rebecca had said about all of the people that had gone missing or been killed in the Arklay Mountains. Shit, but he hoped he was wrong about this!

The guy with them was responding sympathetically, but his tone was blatantly false. Call him paranoid, but the guy didn't sound. . .well, mentally sound. And Billy would know. He'd been locked up with enough psychos in that stupid Marine crazy house to tell the difference. And this guy definitely wasn't kosher.

He noticed that the orange flowers that had nearly taken his life weren't opening. He watched one move, but it subsided as soon as the crazy guy got close to it, almost as though they were remaining dormant on purpose. And as weird as that seemed, Billy had seen too much in the last few days to merely pass it off as imagination.

He took the Beretta out of his waistband, hoping like hell he wouldn't need it. He waited until they had passed the room to peek into the hall. The man in the ugly flannel shirt was gesturing for them to take a left at the end of the hall, explaining that the food stores were kept in the basement. Billy knew that was bullshit, because all he and Joe had seen there was a plant the size of a Proto-Tyrant. Unlike the deadly flowers outside of the hospital, this thing hadn't moved at all. In fact, it had looked half-dead, it's drooping leaves a sickly shade of brown instead of a healthy green.

The group rounded the corner, and he slipped into the hall. He followed as quietly as he could in cowboy boots, the .9 millimeter held out before him. He waited until he could no longer hear them to chamber the Beretta, wincing as the sound echoed through the hall. Hopefully, they hadn't heard it, or he'd be in a world of hurt. If he was wrong, and this guy had a way to call the cops, he'd be screwed.

Damn it, he thought uneasily, where the hell was Joe? When he'd awakened to find the super-cop gone, he hadn't thought much of it. If Joe hadn't turned on him after hearing his tale, then he was wasn't going to. But Billy was starting to get worried. What if this guy had gotten the drop on Joe and taken him out while Billy had slept? Sure, the S.T.A.R.S. member had a seemingly endless list of superhuman abilities, but he hadn't quite figured out how to use them yet. Otherwise, that zombie in the woods wouldn't have been able to sneak up on him.

Billy swore soundlessly and rounded the corner cautiously. He kept the handgun held out before him, his eyes narrowed in concentration, as he made his way to the basement. Whoever the guy in the flannel was, he was a dead man if he'd hurt Joseph Frost.

He paused outside the basement door, listening for any sign of movement. He couldn't hear much, and again, he wished that Joe were with him. That enhanced sense of hearing would come in handy right about now! he thought with a touch of nervousness. But he had managed to keep himself alive in the Arklay Mountains for almost day by himself. He didn't necessarily need back-up. It was just nice to have.

He grasped the door handle, turned it, and slipped through the door. He eased it closed behind him, hearing the voices up ahead and to the right. Just where the plant had been, he realized with a sinking feeling. The door to the room was slammed closed, the sound echoing through the basement. He heard a quartet of screams, all too quickly reduced by one, and took off running. Damn it, he hated being right sometimes!

He heard a sickening crack just as he made it to the door, the sound reminding him of breaking bones. "Shit!" he exclaimed, lifting his foot and kicking the door open.

The scene that greeted his eyes was a gruesome one. Three of the four hikers were dead, their bloodied bodies sprawled unnaturally on the cold cement floor. The fourth died even as Billy watched, an axe embedded in his skull. The man in the flannel turned to him, a slow smile spreading across his face. He pulled the axe loose with a sickeningly wet sound, and Billy began to fire.

The man reacted like a zombie, his body flinching with each bullet. Yet he kept coming, only fractionally slowed by the gunfire. Billy took careful aim and planted one right between the eyes. The man stopped dead in his tracks, blinking as though confused, before walking forward once more. Billy backed away, his midnight eyes widening dramatically, as the big plant behind the man came to life.

"Dorothy is awake," the man whispered madly, his smile only widening, and Billy was very much afraid that he knew what had happened to Joseph.

Its vine-like tentacles began to whip at the floor, as though searching for something. One landed on one of the bodies, and dragged the corpse to it. It's large orange center opened, much like the plants outside. Instead of releasing a poison mist, the plant shoved the corpse into its opening, obviously devouring it.


Billy found himself in the hallway, looking down the barrel of Joe's shotgun. "Joe!" he yelled, elated to see that the other man was still alive. He continued to back away, not quite as worried as he'd been before "That fucking plant is alive, and this guy's some sort of super-zombie! We need to get out of here now!"

Joseph frowned and immediately ran to the doorway. The man in the flannel shirt was grinning insanely, dragging a bloodied axe behind him, a multitude of bullet holes dotting his shirt. The one that worried Joseph was the entrance wound in the center of the man's forehead. It was healing even as he watched, and Joseph realized just how he must have looked to Billy last night.

"I've got this one," Joseph told him, his own smile cold as he aimed at the man's head and began to pull the trigger. The man's body was jerked back a few feet with each shot, blood pouring from his wounds, before the tenth shot finally took him to the floor.

Joseph stood over him for long, tense moments, waiting to see if the axe-man revived. When the super-zombie just continued to bleed, he turned back to the other man. "Are you alright?" he asked, unable to hide his concern—or his anger.

"Yeah." Billy didn't notice as he eyed the downed zombie, and the carnivorous plant, warily. He continued to back away from the door, his eyes wide with fear. "That plant just ate a man, Joe. Maybe, you shouldn't stay in there."

He glanced over his shoulder, glaring at the still-twitching tentacles. He left the room, grabbing the door to close it. It fell off the hinges, hitting floor with a loud bang, and he glared at Billy. "Way to go, Coen," he snapped. "I can't close it, because you kicked it off its hinges."

"Sorry," Billy snapped right back, sarcasm lacing his words, "I was too busy trying to save those damned hikers to worry about keeping the door intact."

Joseph reloaded as he said, "Yeah, and you did a fine job of that, didn't you?"

Billy's gaze went to the room beyond him, and the three remaining bodies. "I tried," he said in a more subdued voice. "There wasn't anything I could do. They were dead by the time I got the door open."

"Yeah?" Joseph questioned with suspicion. "Do you really expect me to believe that? Are telling me that if I check those bodies, I won't find any .9 millimeter bullet wounds?"

"Of course not!" Billy snapped, shocked by the other man's harsh words. "Joe, what's wrong with you? Why are you—"

"You know why." His voice dropped to a low, menacing level. "I used my police clearance to look into your story. Do you want to know what I found?"

He watched as comprehension dawned on the fugitive's face. His fine features took on an angry cast. "So," he said with astonishing bitterness, "you're just like everybody else, aren't you, Joe? You're going to buy the Marines' bullshit and turn your back on me too?"

"No, Billy," Joseph replied with genuine regret. "I'm going to arrest you."

Billy made a choked sound, shaking his head negatively. "You'll have to kill me first, Joe. I won't go back."

"Yes, you will."

The words were uttered softly, and with such conviction, that Billy knew he meant them. "So much for cooperation," he muttered under his breath. His hand clenched convulsively on the nearly empty Beretta, and he knew that he couldn't do it. He couldn't kill another human being in cold blood, not even to save his own ass.

Surrendering to the inevitable, he lifted his head and met the other man's animalistic eyes. His own widened and the gun came flying up. "Joe, look out—!"

He felt the shot before he heard it. He flew back, unable to catch his breath as the buckshot hit him high on the right shoulder. He hit the ground hard, unable to believe that Joe had shot him, even as blood began to pool on the ground beneath him. The pain threatened to rob him of awareness and he fought it with everything he had. If Joe was going to kill him, he was going to force the cop to look him in the eye while he did it.

Joseph pulled the trigger before he could stop himself, an automatic response to a perceived threat. He heard a sharp noise behind him and whirled around. The zombie with the axe had risen to its feet, that bloody axe raised above his head. Joe blasted it into oblivion, watching dispassionately as it fell once more. He turned back to where Billy laid, guilt overwhelming him as he did so.

He was shocked to see another man there, this one in full riot gear. "Who the hell are you?" he asked as he found himself staring down the barrel of a TMP machine gun. The man's free arm wrapped itself around Billy's waist, and Joseph took a step forward. "Get the fuck away from him," he all but growled.

Fuck you," the other man said flatly, his voice distorted by the full-faced helmet he wore. "Billy, can you stand?"

"H-Hunk?" Billy asked weakly, his voice faint but disbelieving.

"Yeah, kid. It's me. Sorry, I'm so late." The man called Hunk pulled him into a sitting position. "Can you stand?" he repeated patiently.

"Yeah, I think so." Billy managed to get his feet under him, but the other man had to take most of his weight. "What are you doing here? How did you find me?"

"Later, kid." Joseph watched as the stranger lifted the machine gun on level with his head. "Does he live or die?"

"Hunk!" he protested feebly. "You can't."

"He just shot you in cold blood," the newcomer pointed out coldly, "but the choice is yours."

"Then, he lives," came the whispered answer.

"Okay." That helmeted head shifted slightly, as did the gun. "We're leaving, now. If you try to stop us, I will kill you."

"He's a fugitive," Joseph stated, his own voice cold. "It's my job to apprehend him."

"Yeah, that's why you just pumped a round buckshot into him." The stranger backed away, Billy Coen firmly in tow. "If you ever come near him again, you're a fucking dead man. Do you understand me, cop?"

Joseph's adrenaline spiked at the calmly-spoken promise. "Perfectly," he returned softly, reaching up to remove the sunglasses. He lifted his head with a small smile, knowing just how his eyes must look. "And if I ever see you again, you'll spend the rest of your life in a jail cell. Do you understand?"

"You're a fucking B.O.W.!" the man in black hissed angrily, preparing to fire.

"Hunk, no!" Billy grabbed the barrel with a desperate hand. "He didn't mean to shoot me, and he's already saved my life twice. Please," he added in a choked voice, "just get me out of here."

"Fine, kid, but you'd better explain this to me later."

"I will."

Joseph watched with a sense of surrealism as the two men melted into the shadows. Even his enhanced eyesight couldn't penetrate the shadows in the far end of the room, so he was forced to remain where he was, until he heard yet another stirring behind him. He whipped around, filled with disbelief, as the flannel-clad zombie rose a third time.

"You have got to be kidding me!" Joseph tried to pump the shotgun and cursed as it refused to budge. "Dammitt, I'm out of ammo!"

He ran to his left, leaping for the top of the stairs. He landed easily and immediately began to reload, whirling around to confront the approaching menace. Before he could fire the first shot, the clatter of machine-gun fire rang out, and the axe-man was down in seconds.

"Billy?" he shouted, his eyes going to where he'd seen the machine gun's muzzle-flashes. "Where are you?"

"Goodbye, Joe."

He heard the barely whispered words, the scrape of metal on concrete, and then he was alone.

Hunk dragged the dead weight that was Billy Coen through the sewers, grateful that he hadn't run into any B.O.W.s down here. Billy was out cold, his breathing labored, as he bled all over them both. Hunk cursed soundly and threw the unconscious man over his shoulder. He sprinted through the knee-high water, knowing that he didn't have a lot time before Billy went into shock.

Anger filled him as he realized just how close he had cut it. He'd planned this so well, down to the last micro-second, and a dead man had blown it all to hell. "Goddamn Umbrella," he muttered to himself, wishing that they'd been a little more careful when disposing of James Marcus.

"The least they could have done was burn the damned body," he told the insensate man. "But no, they just dumped him in the factory and left him there, never thinking that his little pets slugs might go looking for him. Dumbasses!"

His employers paid him extremely well, but he was not happy with them at the moment. Not only had they fucked up with Marcus, but they had tried to recruit Billy for the U.B.C.S.. Talk about a fucking death sentence, he thought angrily. No wonder the kid had chosen the firing squad. At least, he'd have died human!

"Don't worry, kid. I'm going to take care of everything," he promised the other man. "Umbrella will never fuck with you, again. That I guarantee."

And he would make it happen, Hunk swore silently. The kid would be safe from Umbrella, if not law enforcement. Otherwise, heads would roll. He knew enough to put Umbrella out of business for good, and he wouldn't hesitate to use his knowledge if it became necessary. Billy hadn't deserved any of this shit, and he wasn't going to pay for it.

But the ones who had done this to him would. Hunk smiled coldly beneath the mask, already imagining it. That damned commander of Billy's would go first, followed by the two teammates who had lied to cover the man's ass. Then, he would take out each and every person who had stupidly courted death by participating in the cover-up. He was even considering doing Billy's father, just for being such a supreme dick. And why not? he asked himself. He'd already done the ex-girlfriend.

Which would probably piss the kid off, Hunk reminded himself. Better not to mention that. The poor kid was just beginning to realize what the world was really like. It was something Hunk had tried to prepare him for, even as he'd hoped that Billy would never really need the knowledge. He had been so idealistic when he was younger. Stupid or not, it had been one of the kid's better qualities.

Not that there would be much left of that, Hunk thought sadly. Billy had spent three years in a Marine loony-bin, getting treatment for his PTSD, so that he would be mentally sound when they executed him. God only knew what that had done to the poor kid. And now he might die, because Hunk didn't dare take him to the extraction point, where an Umbrella helicopter was waiting for him. It was a risk that he simply couldn't take.

Hunk had no doubt that Umbrella knew all about Billy Coen. After all, it had been the kid's refusal to join them that had sealed his fate. Had he accepted their deal, it would have been easy for Hunk to bullshit his way in and escape with the kid. After all, he was their most proficient agent. His reputation preceded him, and most people were smart enough to be scared.

Umbrella would be looking for Billy now, determined to eliminate what they saw as a threat to them. The younger man had seen too much, even going so far as to work with a cop, to survive the outbreak. That bastard Wesker had turned on Umbrella Inc.. He had been in the process of selling Umbrella's secrets to The Agency, Umbrella's main rival, when he had supposedly died in the Spenser Mansion.

Hunk knew better. A man like Albert Wesker would have been prepared for any contingency, and had probably put safeguards in place before leading his team into the mansion. Wesker was as dead as Lieutenant Billy Coen.

He couldn't let his superiors know that Billy had survived. That cop, Chambers, had declared Billy dead, going so far as to claim that he had turned into a zombie in the training facility. But Umbrella wasn't taking chances. Billy had a price on his head now, and he wouldn't be safe anywhere until proof of his death was found. Proof that it was now up to Hunk to provide.

Hunk reached up to the side of his helmet and flicked the small switch there. "This is Death," he said shortly. "I'm unable to rendezvous at the extraction point. I'll find my own way out, and contact you with further information."

"Yes, sir," a disembodied voice said from the microphone beside his right ear. "I'll inform H.Q. immediately."

"Good. Hunk out." He turned the mike off and shifted Billy to his other shoulder. The kid groaned as though in pain, but didn't wake. "We're almost out of this, kid. Just hang on a little while longer. I'll get us a room, and I'll take care of those wounds. Okay?"

Of course, Billy didn't answer, but Hunk was talking more to alleviate his own worry than anything else. It was a habit that he and the younger man both shared, one of the few things they actually had in common. They were as different as night was from day, but that didn't matter to Hunk. Blood was blood, after all.

He trudged through the waste-laden sludge until he came to a ladder. Smiling grimly, Hunk slung his weapon over his left shoulder, put on hand on Billy's back to steady him, and began to climb. He reached the top, carefully balancing the other man, as he reached up to slide the manhole out of the way. He managed to pull them both up, wincing as he finally lost his grip on Billy, who hit the ground with a dull thud.

"Shit," he muttered, pulling his legs out the hole and covering it once again. He was in an underground parking garage, part of an Umbrella-run facility hidden in the heart of Raccoon City. "Not that we're staying here, kid. I'm not that stupid. I've got another place in mind, a place that an ex of mine uses on occasion."

He checked Billy's wounds as he spoke, trying not to let his concern get the best of him as he saw the younger man's overall condition. "Damn it, kid. Why the hell are you so skinny? Didn't they feed you in that damned prison?"

"Not that you look bad," he said, carrying him to a dark corner of the garage. "Because you don't. You've still got your muscles, just none of your bulk. They wouldn't let you work out in that hell-hole, huh?"

"Well, that's over. You'll never have to worry about being a prisoner, again. I'll see to that." Hunk propped him up carefully, pausing a moment to ruff his dirty hair. "It's good to see you again, kid. Even like this."

He rose to his feet and retrieved the vehicle that he kept here. It was a rather plain looking sedan, painted a sedate shade of blue, nothing that would draw the attention of law enforcement. He drove back to the other man and put him in the back seat of the car. He grabbed a blanket out of the trunk and covered the shivering man, then stashed his machine gun in the trunk's false bottom.

He quickly stripped down, his uniform joining his weapons, and changed into street clothes. He grabbed his favorite handgun, a .45 caliber Desert Eagle, and tucked it into the back of his belt. He had a rig for it, but he didn't want to fuck with that now. Billy was in a world of hurt, and he wanted to get him to safety as soon as possible.

He ran a hand through his dark blond hair and climbed behind the wheel. He started the engine, hit a switch, and waited for the windows for darken before leaving the garage. He turned onto Central Street and drove south, taking right where it crossed Park Street, heading away from the Control Station. He turned into a large, gated community, using a forged keycard to open the gates.

He drove through the quiet neighborhood slowly, doing nothing to call attention to himself. He guided the sedan to a large house set a little apart from the others, owned by a little corporation known as either The Organization, or The Agency. They were Umbrella's biggest rivals, in both the pharmaceutical arena and biological weapons development. He'd dated one of their best agents a couple years back, just before Billy's life had effectively detonated. This was a safe house that only she used, so it should be safe enough for he and Billy.

She was on a mission right now, but she'd be back soon enough. She probably wouldn't be happy to see him, Hunk thought with a grin. As soon as he'd been informed of Billy's situation, he'd taken off, and he hadn't gone back. He still ran into her from time to time, when their paths crossed on a mission. She hadn't been angry with him for leaving, just for doing so without informing her. For a while there, she'd believed him to be dead.

Yeah, he probably should've called, he acknowledged silently. But with Billy's very life on the line, he had dedicated all of his time to investigating the young man's case, and trying to find a way to free him. Which had finally come after three long, frustrating years, when the Marines had deemed him stable enough to be executed. Had they not decided to transport him two nights ago, he might never have been able to free him.

Not that he'd done all that much, Hunk thought with a grin. Dr. Marcus had been the one to unleash the T-virus in the Arklay Mountains. As angry as he was for what Umbrella had set in motion, he was also grateful. He hadn't been given permission to launch a full-scale rescue mission for a condemned murderer who had turned the corporation down. But he had been given authorization for a small, one-man assault team. His immediate supervisor knew that Umbrella owed him, and had paid him back by giving him a pilot and letting him rescue his brother.

If only he had arrived sooner. Hunk glanced in the rearview mirror, his hazel eyes narrowing with worry. If Billy died, heads were going to roll, starting with that asshole cop with the B.O.W. eyes. And it wouldn't be a quick death.

He pulled into the driveway, triggered the door, and parked in the garage. "We're here, kid," he announced quietly, the words nearly drowned out as the door slid closed behind them.

He climbed out of the driver's and opened the back door, doing his best not to jostle Billy as he lifted him into his arms. He grunted a little at the weight, and took the insensate man into the house. He carried him upstairs, to a guest room that was actually an infirmary. He laid Billy down on the one of the beds, and immediately began to work on his wounds. He concentrated on finding and removing all of the buckshot, his anger mounting with each small ball that he removed. Billy cried out from time to time, twisting away from him, but he never woke.

Hunk sprayed the wounds liberally with first aid spray and bandaged the shoulder tightly. He was only grateful that the bulk of the shot had missed the kid. Otherwise, Billy would already be dead. Now, he would wait to see infection set in. If it did, he would have to delay their escape and pump the kid full of antibiotics to fight it.

"Fuck," he swore wearily, dragging a chair to the bedside and dropping into. "You sure know how to find trouble, don't you?"

Billy's eyes fluttered open at his tired words. "Sorry," he rasped, his voice a mere breath of sound. "I never meant to drag you into this."

"You didn't drag me into anything, kid." Hunk leaned forward in the chair, his hazel eyes studying the younger man intently. "None of this is your fault, Billy. You got that?"

"Yeah, I've got it." Billy managed a ragged smile before closing his eyes once more. "I've missed you, Hunk."

"I've missed you, too," he returned quietly, settling back for the long wait.

Joseph stared into the shadows, his eyes finally adjusting to the total darkness on the far side of the room. He saw a closed manhole and knew how the mystery man Billy had called Hunk had gained access to the hospital. He considered going into the sewers after them, then discarded the idea. The stranger had wanted him dead. Only Billy's insistence that he lived had saved his life. If he went down there and tried to apprehend them, he might not come out.

He had other priorities right now. He needed to get ahold of Jill and arrange a meeting. He couldn't return to his own life, so he had to figure out what to do. If the woman he loved didn't kill him outright, she just might be able to help him do that.

How would she react? Joseph asked himself as he left the basement. Would she shoot him, as Billy had done, believing him to be one of Umbrella's monsters? Would she be disgusted by what he had become? Was it even possible that she could accept him now that he wasn't fully human?

He didn't know, and it scared him. Before he'd arrived in the Arklay Mountains, he'd known just who and what he was. He'd had a good—albeit dangerous—job, teammates that he could trust to guard his back, and a woman that any man would kill to possess. His parents had been proud of their youngest son, as had his three siblings. He'd had a life, damn it! And now, it was all just. . .gone.

Joseph stumbled towards the door, realizing that he had to put distance between himself and whatever that thing with the axe really was. If he couldn't kill it, maybe he could outrun it. He thought of Billy's earlier words, about the zombies' tracking abilities, and put on some speed. He didn't want that thing busting his head open!

He left the hospital the same way he came, through the main doors. He slid the sunglasses in place to protect his too-sensitive eyes and trotted down the steps. The pretty plants with the orange bulbs opened once more, releasing the greenish mist that had nearly killed Billy. If they hadn't poisoned him earlier, the odds were that they wouldn't now. While he wasn't sure of much, he thought it likely that he was immune to their toxin.

The thought that he wasn't human once again filled him with anguish, and he shoved it away. Unless he could find a way to reverse what had been done to him, he was stuck like this. He might as well get used to it, and see just how many unique abilities he now possessed. Besides being able to heal from a headshot, he thought with a shake of his head.

He paused as he reached the end of the walkway, realizing that he needed to stay away from the main streets. Although, he had cleaned himself up in the hospital, he was still wearing his tactical vest and supply pack. That alone would draw attention to him. The last thing he wanted was to try to convince one of Raccoon City's finest of his identity. Especially, once he was asked to remove the sunglasses.

Joseph put the shotgun away with reluctance. He didn't like leaving himself vulnerable, but he'd get arrested for sure if he was seen carrying. And he could probably outrun anything the R.P.D. threw at him, he thought with dark humor. So for now, he would make his way to Jill's apartment. Unarmed but far from helpless.

He cut around the back of the hospital and took the path behind the St. Michael Clock Tower. He went over a small bridge that took him over the Circular River and headed south. He had a long way to go before he reached Downtown Raccoon, and the day promised to be another scorcher.

Jill had a small apartment down off Ennerdale Street, right by Raccoon High School. She'd always hated the location, but the rent had been reasonable, and she was only a mile or so away from work. They'd talked about getting her a place in a nicer neighborhood, but she wasn't one to make snap decisions. She believed in taking her time and thoroughly assessing the situation first.

She was also damned picky. Joseph smiled to himself. Jill wanted the next place she lived to be a home, not another temporary residence. She had been saving money since arriving in Raccoon City nearly three years ago, determined to buy a house in a good area. He'd hinted that he wouldn't mind living in such a place himself, which had caused her to frown at him, and ignore the comment altogether.

He'd known that she wasn't ready to discuss anything permanent. Jill didn't believe that marriage was necessary, probably a by-product of her early childhood, and her parents' rocky relationship. But he'd made sure that she knew he was willing to make that commitment, just in case she changed her mind once she finally realized that she could trust him. Of course, Chris' approval had gone a long way towards helping his cause, too.

Joseph scowled darkly at the thought. Before last night, he hadn't minded that the other man was in love with his girl. After all, Jill was a beautiful woman, and Chris had known her far longer than he had himself, and had no problem settling for her friendship. Now, he found that he hated the thought of the other man being there for Jill. Even though he knew that Redfield wouldn't try anything, he found himself feeling more possessive of Jill Valentine than he ever had before.

He'd just come back from the dead, he thought with a wince, still stunned by the reality of it. If near-death experiences could cause acute emotional shifts, sometimes even a total change in personality, what would actually returning from the dead to a man?

Joseph wasn't sure he wanted to know. Already, he had changed—and not just physically. The man who had flown into the Arklay Mountains with S.T.A.R.S. wouldn't have thought twice about taking a fugitive down. Before his death, he would have been completely focused on tracking Billy Coen down and taking him into custody. Now, as angry as he was with the other man, he found that he didn't really care. If Billy and his helmeted friend wanted to run, let them. He had other things to worry about, and he was sure that their paths would cross again eventually. Raccoon City wasn't that big.

He was more worried about what he was going to say to Jill when he saw her again. How was he going to explain just what had happened to him, when he really didn't understand it himself? He only hoped that she would give him a chance to try. Dying was something he could handle, and probably recover from. Losing Jill Valentine was not.