Chapter 4: The Calm Before the Storm
"It's okay!" I say suddenly, "It doesn't mean anything! Well, obviously, it means I have T-2 virus, but that doesn't mean I'm going to go all postal or anything."
Chris crosses his arms. "You know," he says smugly, and I don't detect any ill will in his voice, "I was wondering about that. You got here very quickly despite the fact that we were all held up in traffic. But what really tipped me off was Wesker's reaction to you. Last time we crossed paths, he didn't let you stand in his way of pummeling me. This time it was like he didn't want to fight you. I was wondering how you managed to save our kids. Now I know."
Jill grabs Crystal back, but she still can't tear her stare away from my eyes. "Are you as powerful as Wesker?" She wonders, excited.
I smile a bit. "I don't know for sure, but probably. Last time we had a mock-fight, I did a pretty good job of holding my own, and I don't think he was holding back."
"How did…how did it happen?"
I frown. "Well, like Chris was saying, I was in pretty bad shape back at the HCF base five years ago. Getting hit by Alexia feels roughly equivalent to getting hit by a wrecking ball. Of course, my father saved me. Next thing I knew I had all these ' superpowers' and Dad was saying he'd had to give me some of his blood--some of his virus to save my life." I feel my frown deepen at the memory.
"You're upset." Jill observes sympathetically, "What's wrong?"
"I'm not sure I would have died without the transfusion. I might have been alright."
Why this upsets me, I'm not sure. But it does. In a horrible way.
There is a moment of awkward silence. Not even the kids find anything to say.
I snatch my shades from Seth and replace them on the bridge of my nose.
Chris chuckles a bit all of a sudden, but some of the humor is drained. "When we were fighting earlier you could've smashed my face clear through the pavement!"
A smile twitches at the edge of my lips. "I could have," I agree playfully, "But what would that have proved?"
I'm feeling a little better now. At least nobody is running from me.
Alexis and Natasha enter the room from the already-open door, and now I see the blonde teenager who was unconscious when I first arrived is with them.
"She has a bit of a headache," Alexis explains, "but we think Sherry will be fine."
I feel my eyes light up to such the extent that they are probably glowing red through my shades. "Sherry?! As in Sherry Birkin?!"
The young woman nods. "That's me."
She budges in between Alexis and Jill. "Oh my god, Alan! Is it really you?"
"Nope." I tease, "I'm a shape-shifter who's morphed into Alan. Come on, it's great to see you!"
The small kids' room is suddenly very crowded.
"Um…I think we'd better take this into the living room." Jill suggests.
One by one, we start filing out.
Seconds later, we are standing in a spacious living room with two sofas and an easy-chair. The Redfields must be well off. I am glad things have been working out for them.
"You two know each other?" Alexis asks incredulously, taking a seat on a plush burgundy sofa. I settle down next to her, and Natasha sits next to me. Joy.
"Sure! My dad and her dad were friends. Our families used to visit each other sometimes on the weekends."
Sherry giggles a bit. "Yeah! Remember that time we were at my house when I was eight and you thirteen? Remember what we did to my parents' basement?"
I laugh, the memory coming back to me. "Yeah! We were doing science experiments and ended up making a huge mess. Then we tried to clean it up by unhooking the washer and using the water…" I squint my eyes, the images coming in vivid detail.
"…and we ended up flooding the entire basement." Sherry finishes, "I got grounded for a month. My father said that if I went near his chemicals again he was going to use them to mutate me into an ugly frog beast. Of course, he didn't really mean it, but still…"
I shrug. "My dad told me that if I was going to be throwing chemicals around and making a mess, I should at least wait until I was eighteen and old enough to work at Umbrella like everyone else." I catch Sherry's eye, "I heard about what happened to your parents. I'm sorry."
Sherry casts her eyes down, saddened. "Yeah, well…I had an aunt who took me in. How's your family? I mean, other than your dad, obviously."
Now it is my turn to frown. "I wish I knew. I haven't seen my mother or sister since that night I left for the HCF base five years ago. I've tried to find them, but my dad didn't seem particularly worried, so they must be okay. I've spent the last few years moving around the globe with him and training. He was preparing me for the day we'd face Alexia together. I've been through some tough lessons."
"I was just babysitting for Chris and Jill tonight when your father just burst in and the next thing I knew I was unconscious."
Chris snorts. "That's how Wesker says hello. Believe me, you're lucky he didn't do worse than that."
"Actually," I cut in, "I don't think Sherry was in any real danger of being killed. As the Birkins' daughter, he wouldn't do any worse than what he did. At least, I don't think."
"Right." Sherry says a bit sarcastically, "My face got punched in a friendly way."
I am truthful. "Hey, it's not like he hasn't knocked me around two or three dozen times. I'm right there with you."
I smile in spite of myself. It is good to see another familiar face.
A hand lands in my lap. Without even looking, I know it is Natasha's. I'm not thrilled with this. I could tell within the first few minutes that we'd met that she is not my type of girl. For one thing, she seems like such a superficial airhead. She's not in love with me. She thinks she is, but she's not. And she has a tendency to babble.
Natasha takes my hand and gives it a gentle squeeze.
I pull away from her; lean more towards Alexis. I hope she will understand this wordless hint. I do not mean to be cruel, but I don't want her to get her hopes up too high about me. There is less hurt now than there would be later.
Everyone is talking at once now, like a bunch of ducks quacking on a lake.
Each involved in private conversations. I hear the words, yet I cannot hone in on one particular conversation. My super-virus did not grant me the ability of supreme concentration; much to my regrets.
I can not believe the bad luck I have been having with that lately.
I feel Alexis's soft hand brush my own in a much smoother transition than Natasha's, and it causes me to look her way.
"We should probably go." She suggests, her gaze falling upon young Crystal and Seth deep at play, "It's getting kind of late. Do you have a place to stay?"
"I have plenty of money to rent a motel for the night, and I can easily afford to rent or even buy a place around here."
Alexis gives me a wane smile. "You can stay at my place tonight if you want. It's just next door. And I have plenty of guest rooms that never get used."
Her voice is soft and bewitching. I find it difficult to decline.
"Sure. If it's alright with you."
She stands and announces, "I'd love to stay and chat, but it's getting kind of late. Alan agreed to stay at my place tonight. We'll be leaving now."
Chris nods like a puppet. "Sure, that's fine. But I'll need to borrow Alan a minute. I need to talk to him. Alone."
A lump swells in my throat. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Chris's expression is unreadable, and I find no answer there.
Alexis chews her lower lip. "Okay. I live in the house right across the street. 1319. Just meet me there when you're done. Don't bother knocking, just walk right in and make yourself at home."
Alexis crosses the living room and heads out the front door with a bit of a backward glance. She, too, must be wondering what's going on.
To my side, Natasha laughs at something Sherry just said. Jill is having a peppered conversation with both of them, and Crystal and Seth have vanished into another room of the house.
From the sounds of it, I'd guess the kitchen. There is the crinkling of paper, and the delicious scent of chocolate chip cookies fills my nostrils.
Chris doesn't say a word, he just gestures me to follow him and heads down the hall. Nobody seems to notice as we leave the life of the party.
From the hall, he leads me down through the garage and out into the backyard. It is big and grassy, as far as backyards go, and all fenced in. The ground is littered with the kids' toys, and there is even a swing-set.
"Nice yard." I comment.
"Yeah," Chris gushes, "we were thinking of getting a puppy."
I notice that the swing-set is rendered unusable due to a couple of bends in the supporting pipes, making the whole structure crooked and unstable.
"Alan, I want you to know that…"
"Just a second."
I walk over to the swing-set and grab a crooked support beam. It is like putty in my hands. Bending and squeezing, I manage to mold it back into it's original shape. I repeat the process for the other support pipes, and within seconds, the set is like new.
I turn back to Chris. "As you were saying?"
Chris blinks a bit, impressed with my work. "Um...thank you. I was going to have that fixed…or replaced, but now I guess I won't need to."
"You're just lucky it was the right kind of metal." I inform, "Some metal just breaks or snaps in two when you try to bend it."
Chris looks mildly jealous. "Not when I try." He mumbles quietly. In a louder voice, he says, "Ok. Alan, I want you to know that my family and I are very thankful to you. I'm very thankful to you. What you did tonight…it was awesome. I'll never forget it. But…" The words seem to stick in his throat, and I am suddenly anxious, "I think maybe it's not such a good idea for you to stick around. I think you should leave the city as soon as possible."
I feel as though I've been slapped. "What? Do you think I'm dangerous, that I might hurt someone? Is that it?"
Chris shakes his head sadly, and I detect a trace of something old in his eyes, something I have not seen on him since the HCF incident. Fear.
He is sullen. "I know you'd never hurt us, Alan. It's not even a question of that. It's just, while you're still around, your father is likely to stay around…"
I cut him off. "And what? You think that if I leave he'll magically disappear off to Never Never Land and never bother you again? Get real. He's got the yen in to hurt you and the rest of S.T.A.R.S.: one by one. He'll probably start with mind games and taking what's dearest to you most. My being away won't change that. It's not as if I will leave and Wesker will think: Gee, I was going to hang around to taunt, maim, and kill my old enemies. But, hey! My son just left, and now I won't. Believe me, you're safer with me around."
"And what will you do, exactly?" Chris throws, "Will you fight him? Could you win?"
I stop and consider. My dad and I are pretty equal in power, I think, but he has the upper hand when it comes to experience.
"I…I honestly don't know." I admit.
Chris kicks a dirt clod up into the air. "See! That's exactly my point! You don't know. When I saw you earlier, I wanted to believe that everything was going to be alright. That Wesker, your father, was finally out of our lives. That illusion was shattered when he attacked my kids. I know now that we are not going to be safe, Alan. You said it yourself: he's got the yen in to kill us all. He might leave us alone for a few years, or he might strike again tonight. Who knows? And it doesn't matter how many times you get in his way and scold him like a bad little puppy, he's going to keep trying, and eventually you won't be able to stop him. That's what we need to do, we need to stop him. We can't live our lives in constant fear of when he's going to show up next. We have to kill him."
My heart stops. "You can't expect me to help murder my own father! No matter how twisted and evil he is!"
Chris is grim-faced. "I don't expect you to. That's why I think it would be better if you left."
I shake my head. "There has to be an alternative."
"Like what?!" Chris snaps, suddenly becoming very angry with me, "Throwing him in prison? He'd just bend the bars and walk right on out. That is, if we could manage to capture him alive in the first place. As long as he's out there, he's dangerous. And not just to me, to everyone. Surely you must see this!"
He's right. I do see it. My father is a cold-blooded killer. He's killed plenty of people right in front of me.
Heck, I've killed people before. But only in self-defense. And never women and children.
But my dad does not see things the way I do. He is very selfish and doesn't seem to care about anyone else. Except, perhaps, me.
Despite all the horrible things he's done, despite all the horrible things he plans on doing, I still love him.
It is a truth that I have a hard time accepting.
Because it scares me. It scares me more than Alexia would if I were powerless and locked in a room with her in all her T-Veronica glory.
Is it wrong, I think, to love a mass murderer? I'm sure it must be. It is like I am ok with the killings, like I can accept them.
I worry that over time this will numb me and I will end up just as bloodthirsty as he is.
I don't want that. God, I don't want that.
But already I can feel myself slipping. I've done things over the past few years that I never would have dreamed of doing before. Death doesn't bother me as much as it used to. I am so used to it I am becoming numb to it.
How long, I wonder, before I become numb to mercy, compassion…even love? They are almost nonexistent in the world I live in now. I can see Chris's point.
The truth is, I can see it too well.
I know he's right about this deep down, but I still want to reject it. I want there to be another way; because right now, the way I see it, I lose no matter what happens.
Chris seems to calm down. "We're waging war on Wesker. You can't be a part of it. Sorry."
The words sink in like knives.
I snort, hurt. "Have it your way, then. I'm going to find another way!"
The fencing around Chris's backyard consists of straight wooden planks at least seven feet tall.
I leap over it in one swift motion and zip out through the neighbor's yard to get to Alexis's. I don't feel like facing anyone else right now.
I cross the street and rush into 1319.
The first thing I notice is the strong scent of cinnamon straight from an incense burner. The living room itself is quite spacious and furnished with all the latest rages in electronics and furniture. There's a big screen TV with a Playstation hooked up to it. Breathtaking seascapes hang from the walls. The whole room has a general sea theme going on, and the carpets and furniture are all calming shades of blue and green.
Alexis comes out from the kitchen dressed in more casual clothes--just blue jeans and a shiny blue blouse.
She drops herself on the couch and studies me, her expression full of worry.
"You look troubled." She pats the spot next to her on the sofa, "Why don't you settle down and tell me what's wrong?"
I do as she suggests and plant myself next to her. I take off my shades, fold them neatly, and set them on the end table to my left.
Alexis seems mildly surprised.
"Oh, I don't know if you were there when I mentioned to everyone that I'm a carrier of T-2 Virus." I sigh.
Everything is brighter now, and Alexis's blue eyes seem to sparkle all the more.
We lock eyes. The moment is filled with a meaningful silence.
"T-2 Virus? What does that do?"
"It's not all that bad, actually. Heightens your senses. Increases your strength and speed dramatically. If there are any side-effects, I don't know about them."
The ghost of a smile plays at the edges of Alexis's delicate lips. "Your eyes are very pretty."
"Thank you. Yours are, too. You're very pretty."
Now she does smile. "Now I know why you wear the shades. Have you ever tried contacts? The kind that make your eyes appear a different color? "
"Yes." I confess, "They irritated my eyes. And they really didn't hide much--my pupils still looked slitted."
She cranes her neck to observe my eyes at a different angle. "I'll bet you see pretty well then."
I scoot back further into the couch, doing my best to appear more relaxed. "I do see very well, especially in the dark. If my eyes are at all like a cat's, then I see approximately eight times better than a normal person at night."
Alexis laughs softly. "Funny word, 'normal'. When you get right down to it, nobody in the world is completely, totally normal. We all have our little idiosecrecies."
I turn away and pretend to be totally absorbed in an oil painting of the ocean at sunrise. Or is it sunset? Sometimes it's hard to tell.
Alexis's next words catch me by surprise. "So, you don't like, drink blood or anything?"
I turn my head and give her what must be an are-you-crazy look. "Alexis, I'm not a vampire."
She blushes, thoroughly embarrassed. "With all your powers, and the virus and all, I was just wondering. Sorry, I should have known better than to think that vampires exist.
I shrug, hoping to make her feel a little better. "Who knows? Maybe they do. After all, we know for a fact that zombies exist. And I've seen so many other Frankenstein creatures…hey, why not?"
Alexis runs her finger over the soft blue-green velvet of the couch armrest.
"So. Not a vampire then." She says without looking at me, "What are you, then?"
I shake my head. "I…I don't know. There isn't really a word for people like me. I'm…and this is a bit of a stretch…but I'm kind of like Superman. Only, not quite as powerful, of course, and I don't have X-ray vision…come to think of it, this is a really bad comparison. Maybe I am a bit like a vampire, in some ways--they are also very strong and fast…but I'm not the undead." I frown, "I can't think of anyone real or in comic books that I'm like, exactly."
Alexis puts a hand to her chin, thoughtful. "I've got it! You're like a Superman-vampire mix!"
I slap a hand to the side of my face in imagined horror. "Now there's a scary thought! Invincible super-vampires who fly around drinking your blood. Forget the stakes, bring out the Kryptonite!"
"We'd need stakes made out of Kryptonite!" Alexis corrects.
We both laugh at that.
But my laughter soon dies because that is not the way I feel.
"There you go," Alexis scolds playfully, "getting all broody again. And I don't think it has anything at all to do with super-vampires or your virus." She rests a hand on my lap, and now her words are more serious. "What's wrong?"
"It's my father." I breathe, unsure why I am opening up to her, "He's evil…"
Alexis cuts me off. "Hey! I'm right there with you! My parents are Alfred and Alexia, so I know something about what that's like. Welcome to the 'Our Parents Are Evil' Club. I'm the president."
Realization dawns. "Hey! I met your brother Ash back at the HCF base!"
Alexis frowns. "I'm afraid to ask."
"Wasn't anything major," I fib, "we just had a disagreement over a crest.”
Alexis gives a sad sigh, and her expression is so full of pain and hurt that I feel angry at myself for even bringing it up at all.
When she finally lifts her head up and looks at me, her eyes are full of sorrow. "I was never raised by my parents, and I never really got to see my brother a whole lot, but I still…felt connected to them. Responsible for them. All my life my foster parents had told me stories about how wonderful and noble the Ashford family was. I had a hard time accepting the truth when it finally presented itself. I didn't want to believe I could be part of such a horrible and cruel family. But at the same time, I couldn't not be a part of it. Do you get what I'm saying?"
More than anything, I think.
"I think I do." I rest my hand over hers and give it a gentle squeeze. "That's my problem. The reason why I'm upset. Well, most of it, anyway. On one hand, I care very deeply for my friends even though I have not known them for long. I guess you could say I love them, however you would define the word. But on the other hand, I also…and I feel horrible about this…I also love my father. I know he has killed people, slaughtered innocent families, and even conspired against all of humanity…all with a song in his heart. I've never seen him show remorse about any of the things he's done, and I know he is trying to drive me over to the dark side of the Force, so to speak. Then he shows up and ruins my life just when things are starting to get better for me. I should hate him. But I don't. It's foolish, but I guess a small part of me is still hoping that…"
"That he'll change?" Alexis finishes.
I sigh. "Yeah. Wishful thinking, isn't it? He's been this way for so long…"
Alexis shakes her head. "It's not crazy at all. I still love my family despite all the horrible things they have done. My father literally tortured people to death--heck, he still probably does--and you know how my mother is. But I can't bring myself to hate either of them. I've always secretly wished that one day I'd see them again and maybe…I don't know, change them. Even if they don't deserve it." She chews her lip thoughtfully. "You know, I think I just realized something."
"What?" I ask, taking her fingers in mine.
"Why we can't hate them Think about it…your father, how does he treat you?"
The question catches me by surprise. "How does he treat me? Come to think of it, he treats me rather well. It's very strange. He'll go out and kill people, but when he sees me it's just like it's one of those things dads do. We can talk together, joke together…we've even been on missions together--you know, little chores assigned from HCF. Technically I don't work for them, but I do get a share of the pay. Anyway, other than the fact that he's evil, my father and I have a pretty normal father-son relationship. You might even call it kind of close. I guess I'm also worried that he is succeeding in turning me over to the dark side. I've become so numb to death that it scares me."
"What, you think you're turning evil?"
I take a moment to answer. "I worry that I am. They say power corrupts, and I have so much of it."
Alexis actually leans against me and rests her head on my shoulder.
It startles me, but in a good way. I enjoy her touch. The warmth of her body.
"Just the fact that you're worrying about it means that you're not. Tell me, how many times have you heard your father say 'I wonder if I'm evil? ' A true evil person does not care. That's the reason you can't hate your father. It sounds like he cares about you, maybe even loves you. It is hard to hate someone who cares about you. And just the fact that your father cares at all means he still has a chance. Whether he deserves it or not, it's there."
Wow. "You sound like you've given this a lot of thought."
I gently stroke her soft, silky hair.
She shuts her eyes a moment as if drifting off to some far off world. "Yes. I'm in the same boat as you, only I don't know if my parents even care about me at all. And a part of me doesn't care if they care. They're family. I don't know any other way to put it. I want to help them. I want to help them find the light again so that maybe they can rise above their hellish pit and atone for their sins. They have the ability to be better than this, I know they do."
I sigh. "We have a case and a half for the psychiatrist."
"You shouldn't hate yourself for loving someone."
"I can't help it. Alexis, I feel like I'm one of the bad guys!"
She opens her eyes and lifts her head, staring straight into my eyes.
I want to turn away, embarrassed to even look at her.
"I want you to listen to what I'm going to say, because I'm only going to say it once: Bad guys don't save little kids. Bad guys don't go out of their way to protect their friends." She gets up and stretches. "Your room can be the first door to the left down the hall. You can help yourself to the TV. I'll be in my room reading. Make yourself at home--what's mine is yours."
Her footsteps fade down the hall, and I am left alone to ponder. I did not tell her the other cause of my misery--S.T.A.R.S. waging war on my father. I don't want to get her involved. She has enough to worry about as it is.
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