Alice's body tensed when she felt a hand touch her hip, but a moment later she breathed out and forced herself to relax. She knew it was Jill who was touching her, and that there was no cause for alarm. She'd sensed Jill before the blonde had even entered the room, but the touch had still surprised her. Emotionally, she was nowhere near as wrecked as she had been when she'd come across Claire's caravan in the Nevada desert, but the time she had spent in Umbrella's glowing prison had taken a toll on her.
Physically she felt fine, of course. She felt strong and healthy. The reintroduction of the T-virus to her body had healed the aches, strains, cuts, bruises, and all of the various other injuries her body had sustained escaping the underground Umbrella testing facility. Physically, she was in better shape than she had been in over a year. But mentally, she was exhausted.
"Hey," Jill breathed out, and Alice's eyes fluttered closed as the familiar sound of Jill's voice washed over her.
In recent memory, the sound of Jill's voice had brought her nothing but torment, but there had been a time when Jill's voice had soothed her. There had been a time when Jill's scent and her raspy voice in her ear had been the only things that made Alice feel even remotely human. Jill's voice had once been a comfort to her, and it was that voice, the voice of her friend, that Alice heard presently, and she took solace in it.
"Hey yourself," Alice murmured, her lips turning up slightly as angled her head to the side, just enough that Jill could see the up curve of her lips.
Jill's hair may have been different, and her clothes were an unpleasant reminder of what Umbrella had done to her, but her scent hadn't changed, her voice hadn't changed, and the calming affect her presence had on Alice hadn't changed. Jill was familiar to her. Jill was known. Jill was her friend, and Alice really needed a friend at the moment.
"I thought you could use a distraction from brooding in the dark," Jill replied, her voice a low, playful purr that made the smile on Alice's lips curve up even more. "How's Becky?" the blonde inquired solicitously a moment later, a soft sigh escaping from her as she placed her other hand on Alice hip and then slid her arms around Alice's front so that she was embracing the brunette from behind.
Alice had been so invulnerable when they had last known each other. She had been damaged, yes, but so strong, and seeing Alice lying on that cot earlier – broken, bleeding and unconscious as the helicopter carried them god knew where – had unsettled Jill. She hadn't let it show as they flew through the air, she couldn't with Becky looking over at her, using Jill's expression and demeanor to gage how scared she should be for the woman she called mother. But Jill had been scared. She had been worried, and it was a great relief to her to have Alice in her arms again, to feel the rise and fall of her chest and the warmth of her body.
"Asleep … finally," Alice murmured, allowing herself a rare moment of self-indulgence as she leaned back into Jill, welcoming the comfort the blonde offered her. "Due to exhaustion more than anything else I think," Alice continued, sighing as she turned her head to the side to gaze at the door to the little den that Becky was resting in. "She's had a lot thrown at her, but all things considered she's handling it well."
"Like a true Abernathy," Jill drawled, drawing a little snort of laughter from Alice before she lowered her head and placed a kiss on Alice's shoulder and then her neck.
Alice tensed as Jill's lips pressed against her skin and Jill hesitated for a moment, surprised by Alice's reaction. She stayed close to Alice though, assuming the brunette just needed a moment to adjust to her closeness, and then she dipped her head again, kissing Alice's neck once more.
Alice went stiff in her arms yet again, and with a heavy feeling in her heart, Jill pulled back from the brunette.
"Are you … scared of me?" Jill asked apprehensively, her voice cracking as she spoke, betraying how much the thought of Alice fearing her affected her.
"Jill, no," Alice began.
"Because I … I know that I, that this body hurt you, but it wasn't me, Alice. It wasn't really me," the blonde continued, heedless of Alice's attempt to respond, consumed with the need to remove the fear she was certain was causing Alice's reserve. "I would never, you know I would never …"
"I know," Alice interjected kindly, reaching down to grasp Jill's hands, squeezing them comfortingly before she stepped out of the circle of Jill's arms. "I'm not upset with you, and I'm not scared of you," Alice continued before moving a few steps away to perch herself on the edge of the large mahogany desk at the back of the office that was serving as her quarters. "I've seen those scarabs in action before. I know you couldn't control what they made you do. I know it wasn't really you," Alice breathed out, offering Jill a brief smile before she looked off to the side, still distant despite her words of reassurance.
Jill was still for a few moments as she tried to make sense of the discrepancy between what Alice was saying and how Alice was acting.
Alice had sounded sincere, she had looked sincere, but she had still retreated from her, from her touch.
After Jill and the others had rescued Alice from the Umbrella facility in Detroit, Alice had been aloof and distracted. She spoke little, frustrated easily and kept her distance from them during the day, but despite all of that, at night, when Jill had offered her human contact, Alice had always accepted it. She had been hungry and grateful for Jill's touch. As moody and withdrawn as she had been in those days, Alice had never pushed her away when she offered her comfort, and the fact that she was doing so presently made Jill worry almost as much as she had as she had watched over Alice's unconscious form earlier that night.
A shriek sounded from outside of the building, and Jill's head whipped to the side, immediately scanning the darkness beyond the window.
"Those things have got powerful pipes," Alice murmured, drawing Jill's attention back over to her. "It was a ways off though. There's nothing to worry about … for the moment."
"Well, that's about all we have these days, isn't it? Moments," Jill breathed out.
She offered Alice a tentative smile after she spoke and when the brunette returned it, she slowly moved over to the desk and perched herself on it beside Alice.
"It seems so," Alice sighed, blinking a few times before she lowered her head when her eyes started to burn, her thoughts drifting away with her as left thumb unconsciously rubbed over the bare skin of her right wrist.
Before she had been taken by Umbrella from the Arcadia a bracelet had been tied around her wrist. It was frayed and blackened with dirt and blood, but it was important to her and she had guarded it since it was put on her wrist.
During those long months alone, with only her Cessna and her arsenal of weapons for company, it had been hard for Alice to find the motivation to get up on some mornings. The longer she was on her own – the more she saw entire cities and towns laid to waste, the larger the herds of infected became – the harder it was for her to convince herself that there was a point to it all. The Earth was dying, humanity was all but destroyed. What use was there to going on? Why fight for ruins and ghosts?
Wesker had sought to punish her by taking away her abilities, but he'd actually given her a gift. That needle he'd injected her with had given her back her humanity. With his act of petty vengeance he'd returned her ability bruise, and bleed, and ache, but he'd also returned her ability to die, and she had been grateful to him for it. The longer she went without human contact, encountering nothing but disease and devastation, the more she was grateful to him for it, because he'd given her a way to end her misery when it finally became too much for her to take.
And she had been tempted to use the gift he'd given her. Some lonely, cold nights without even the sounds of birds and scurrying animals to keep her company, she had been sorely tempted to end it all. But then she'd look down and see her bracelet, and she'd remember the smile on K-Mart's face when she had thanked her for the bracelet. She'd remember the desert, and Claire, and the warm feeling that filled up her chest when she had looked into Claire's olive-green eyes, and she knew that she had to carry on.
So she had, she had carried on until she'd found them both again, and then Umbrella had come and snatched them from her once more, leaving her without even her bracelet for comfort.
"There was a time, you know, just before Umbrella came for us on the Arcadia," Alice began, speaking softly as she continued to look down. "For a little while, for about five minutes, I thought that maybe there could be some sort of future for those of us on that ship. For those of us who'd somehow managed not to die or turn. Like maybe life was going to give us a reward for surviving all of this shit," Alice went on, her voice turning hard as she glanced out the window, her enhanced eyes able to make out the devastated battle field that had once been the front lawn of The White House. "But then minute six rolled around, and it was all dodging bullets and fighting commandos, being thrown over the railings of freighters and paper gowns in glowing cells," she said, a pained smile touching her lips as she shook her head. "Now, I'm just … I'm not sure what's worse: having hope only to see it literally set on fire before you, or having no hope at all," she sighed, rubbing at her wrist with her thumb again.
"As long as there are living, breathing people on the earth, there's always hope," Jill breathed out, reaching out to take Alice's hands into hers before squeezing them reassuringly. "We're only done for when we stop fighting."
Alice's lips curved up and she turned her head to the side to look at Jill before shaking her head.
"You sound like …" Alice began before she could think better of it, her mind clouding with visions of strawberry blonde hair, tan skin and olive green eyes.
"A sap?" Jill guessed when Alice failed to complete her sentence.
She'd always been a realist, but after more than half a decade she'd managed to find Alice again and, she supposed, the impossibility of their reunion had made her a bit more optimistic than usual.
"No," Alice said, her voice barely a whisper. "I … I was going to say Claire."
"Claire? Redfield?" Jill said, her brain taking a moment to register the name, before her own memories of meeting her former co-worker's little sister began to war with Security Chief Valentine's memories of stats on the high priority targets that were still at large.
"Yeah, she's …" Alice began, but she faltered as she tried to find words to explain who Claire was and what she meant to her.
Claire was Claire. She was all of the hopes and dreams Alice was too scared to admit to having out loud. Claire was the breath that had revived her aching, dusty bones. For so long, Claire had been her purpose. Claire had been her reason for carrying on. Before she had found Becky, and Jill had come back into her life, Claire had been everything.
All of these things Alice thought, though none of it passed her lips. Something, however, must have shown on her face, in her eyes maybe, because as Jill looked at her, her blue eyes widened and then she breathed in sharply.
"Why you keep pulling away when I touch you," Jill stated, her voice filled with terrible understanding as her hands slid away from Alice's. "She's still out there," Jill continued staring out into the empty space of the office as Alice had earlier.
"Maybe," Alice replied, closing her eyes. "I don't know. There was a backup plan, a small submersible. They got off the Arcadia, but I don't know if they were picked up after. You … the other you, the Security Chief, she didn't know or wouldn't tell me what happened to her."
"Didn't know," Jill said softly, glancing over at Alice.
Even though she hadn't been in control of her body while the scarab had been attached to her, she had been in there, watching and listening, aware of everything her body was doing and saying though she was unable to stop or control it.
"I wasn't stationed at the New York facility the survivors from the Arcadia were taken to, but I signed off on the manifest before they were transferred and the Redfield's weren't on it."
Alice breathed in and out deeply, and then nodded, but she didn't look particularly relieved by the news.
"That's good, isn't it?" Jill asked, lifting a pale eyebrow at Alice.
"Yeah," Alice sighed, still looking and sounding melancholy and troubled. "But god knows how I'd find them now."
"You must have discussed a route," Jill began, ignoring the way her heart squeezed in her chest as she watched Alice curl in on herself with anguish, suffering in the absence Claire Redfield.
"North, along the coast to B.C.," Alice breathed out, her lips twisting in a pained smile. "But …" Alice turned to gaze out of the window again and shuddered.
The world had become even more nightmarish than when she had been taken from the Arcadia. During her imprisonment Umbrella had unleashed all manner of beasts that could only have been dreamt up in the darkest corners of hell on the world. Claire and Chris had launched with limited supplies, limited ammo, and no stronghold to retreat to. They were alone and vulnerable in an insane world, and though she knew it did no one any good, Alice despaired. Despite what Wesker had done to her, again, she was still human and she couldn't help her sorrow.
"Even if they survived, they'd know better than to broadcast their location. They'd know Umbrella was listening."
At that moment, Alice sounded and looked as defeated as anybody had ever sounded or looked, but it didn't reach all the way inside of her. Jill knew that despite her current crisis of faith, there was a part of Alice that still believed – or at the very least hoped – that Claire was alive. They had been lovers after Alice was freed from the facility in Detroit. They had kept each other warm until Alice had disappeared in the night after having a nightmare that had resulted in Jill and all of the furniture in the room they'd been sharing being lifted into the air and flung around. They were good friends and they had been compatible lovers and if Alice truly believed that Claire and her brother were a lost cause, she would have turned to Jill for comfort and release as she had in the past. But she didn't, because there was a part of her that believed that Claire was still out there. There was a part of her that was waiting to hold Claire in her arms again.
"They would. They're smart," Jill agreed, though she sounded pleased by the thought instead of depressed by it like Alice. "I worked with Chris, years before the outbreak. I met Claire a time or two as well," she continued, smiling when Alice looked over at her surprised. "They'll have found a way to communicate. We just need to find it, and we're in the best place possible for that. If there are any resources in the world that can match Umbrella, it's here, with Wesker. He may be a smug sociopathic asshole, but he has technology at his disposal that can't be found anywhere else."
"Wesker would never …"
"Wesker won't have a choice," Jill said, cutting Alice off. "He needs you, and that gives you power. He's made enough demands of you. Make one of him. He'll do it. He can't afford to have you unhappy … or distracted."
Alice stared at Jill for a moment, her face a blank canvas as she processed what Jill was saying, and then a smile touched her lips, a full, large smile that reached her eyes, and Jill's heart warmed yet also ached at the sight of it, because Alice's smile was so beautiful, but it wasn't for her.
"Jill," Alice said a few moments later, concern clear in her voice, when Jill looked away from her. "I …" she continued, sounding guilty and pained.
"Don't say it," Jill interjected, smiling sadly as she shook her head. "You don't owe me anything," she breathed out, staring at the back wall of the office. "You're my friend. The only one I have left actually," she continued, smirking over at Alice though her eyes remained sad. "I'm with you," Jill said, holding Alice's gaze. "No matter what's changed, I'm still with you."
"Thank you," Alice breathed out, blinking to hold back unexpected tears.
She hadn't realized until it was all over how much she had been dreading having this conversation with Jill. She hadn't realized how important it was to her that Jill respond well until it had happened. She'd come to trust Ada and Leon, but she'd known them for less than 24 hours. Jill had told her that she was the only friend she had left, and the same was true for Alice. Jill was the only person in this place that she really knew, that she trusted completely, that she knew she could lean on, count on, and be open with. She needed Jill, and though she wasn't in love with her, she did love Jill. Things couldn't be as they had been before, but that didn't mean that Alice wanted her to go anywhere. It didn't mean that she didn't care.
"Anytime," Jill replied smiling. "So, what do you say? Should we gang up on Wesker in the morning?"
"Sure. There's nothing like double-teaming to start off the day," Alice smirked, and Jill was surprised but pleased by a soft burst of laughter escaped her.
"Always so classy," Jill commented playfully, shaking her head at Alice as she pushed herself off the edge of the desk so that she was standing beside the brunette.
"You know me," Alice replied and, still smiling, they held each other's eyes for a few moments until Jill finally looked away.
"I should go," Jill sighed, glancing towards the main door of the office. "It's late," she continued, turning back to look at Alice and Alice nodded her agreement.
The truth was, after all of the time she had spent in that holding cell, she wasn't actually anxious to be alone again, but she knew she had to let Jill go. It would take time for them to find balance in their relationship again, now that it had changed. She and Jill had spent a lot of time together in silence in the past, drawing comfort from nothing more than each other's presence, and Alice longed for Jill's proximity presently. But she had dealt a blow to Jill, and she knew that she needed to give Jill some time to lick her wounds.
Jill gazed at Alice for a moment, her eyebrows furrowed in thought, and then she leaned forward and pressed her lips chastely to Alice's cheek.
"Goodnight, Alice," Jill whispered, before drawing back.
"Goodnight Jill," Alice breathed out, reaching out to squeeze Jill's hand.
And then Jill turned from Alice and started forward, moving towards the office door.
"We'll find them," Jill said, stopping just before the door.
"If you say so, I believe you," Alice replied, her voice firm and confident, and Jill smiled at her, really smiled, and then she turned and walked out of the door.