Claire sits on the edge of the tub, shaving her legs with a cheap plastic razor. She hadn’t bothered packing one when she first rode out to find her brother, but had grabbed it from the amenities station of the abandoned hotel they’re crashing in for the night. It’s stupid and trivial, but it’s some tiny reclamation of ‘normalcy’ after seeing the dead stagger the streets of Raccoon City.
She rinses her calf under the faucet, watching hair and foam swirl down the drain.
It really is stupid, though. Claire doesn’t even like shaving her legs, just does it because it’s expected. She never asked why it was expected, just knew that if she wanted to be a pretty girl, she was supposed to shave.
Claire tilts her head, the cool water tickling her toes as she considers her other leg. She could stop right now, if she wants. She’s shot her way through zombie hordes and undead monsters, after all. It’s not like she needs to prove anything to anyone.
On the other hand, she doesn’t like leaving things unfinished.
So she rubs soap on her other leg, making a thin lather before scraping the razor across the foam. Long, clean lines of smooth skin exposed with every stroke. She has to go back to the first leg when she realizes that she missed a tiny patch of hair above her ankle, but finally finishes with a dull sense of satisfaction.
Then she dumps the razor in the trash, rattling the plastic liner.
“I am never shaving my legs again,” Claire announces to the empty bathroom. Her voice bounces off the uneven tiles, the flimsy curtain, the tiny cracks and pencilled marks of other lives that have passed through before her.
She was hoping it would make her feel better, some performative bravado, but catching a glimpse of her reflection in the mirror just reminds her that she’s a grimy college student who spent way too long without a shower after wading through the sewers and even though she already took four showers since then—two the first night they got out, Leon and Sherry and Claire all taking turns in the tiny Motel 6 bathroom and giving each other sniff tests for good measure, another on the second night when Claire splurged on a bottle of her favorite drugstore shampoo so she and Sherry could smell like fresh gardenias, then another the third night after getting out, when the President announced a thermobaric strike on Raccoon City and that the entire area was now under quarantine to contain any biohazardous material and then she was shaking under scalding needles of high-pressure water because they had come so close to not making it out at all—she’s not sure some things will ever come clean.
She turns her thoughts like charms on a bracelet, studying their rattle and glitter as she turns on the showerhead. Unclasps her necklace and sets it on top of her shirt as before stepping into the shower.
She doesn’t feel guilty, exactly, though maybe she should. She survived. Leon survived. Sherry survived. Claire hadn’t hurt anyone who wasn’t already dead or infected; she hadn’t even murdered Chief Irons, much as he deserved it. The closest she comes to ‘guilt’ is over Mr Branaugh, and the man himself had warned her to leave before he turned.
Mostly, she’s exhausted.
Mostly, she’s angry that Umbrella is still out there.
There’s some noise about Umbrella paying compensation to the victims’ families, but the fact that Umbrella had existed in the first place, had been allowed to do as much as they did, still screams of deeper injustice.
She swallows down rage, copper in the back of her throat. Unclenches her fists, the nails biting half-moons into the skin of her palms.
When she gets out of the shower, she’s settled into a calm fury. She is no less angry, and no less exhausted, but she is more focused. There are organizations devoted to helping the victims of bioterrorism, surely, and if there aren’t then she can make one.
Claire fastens her necklace back on, the silver and turquoise jingling. She’s worn the same tank top for two days now, and gives it a disgusted sniff before pulling it back on. There should be laundry machines somewhere in the hotel, and Sherry would probably appreciate a wash as well.
Thinking about Sherry means thinking about Sherry’s parents, and that means thinking about poor Sherry being an orphan. Claire’s an orphan too, which feels like an identity as much as race or nationality, but at least she always had Chris. Sherry has Claire, and Claire knows herself well enough to know that she’s not cut out to be a mom but at least she can be an aunt, maybe. Or an older sibling, the same way Chris was for her. She could teach Sherry how to shoot and fight and—
There’s noise in the bedroom, an unfamiliar gait muffled on the thin carpets.
Claire readies her pistol. Breathes in. Out. Out.
Slams open the door, sweeping the blind corner as she shouts, “Freeze!”
An East Asian woman wearing sunglasses and a trench coat smirks at her. She raises her hands with exaggerated slowness. “Nice to meet you too. Claire Redfield, right?”
Claire keeps her pistol levelled on the other woman. “And you are?”
The name rings a bell, but Claire’s too pissed to listen. “And you couldn’t knock? Like a normal person?”
“I did. I just didn’t feel like waiting for you to get out of the shower.”
Claire flushes, suddenly conscious of her sweaty shirt clinging to her still-damp shoulders and the wet hair plastered to her scalp. Ada, damn her, looks like she just stepped out of a shampoo commercial. She’s even wearing heels and stockings. Who wears heels and stockings during a zombie apocalypse? “The door was locked.”
“Leon gave me the key.” Two beats. “I picked the lock anyway.”
Claire groans, finally holstering her weapon. “Fine. So why are you here?”
“I figured I should check on Leon, make sure he made it out alright.” Ada swaggers closer, close enough that Claire catches a whiff of her perfume. Something warm and subtle, with soft notes of citrus.
Claire immediately distrusts her, the same way she distrusts drunk frat boys and spoiled rich kids. She cocks an eyebrow. “I hear you saved his life.”
Ada smiles. “Didn’t realize we were keeping score.”
“He also said that you said you were FBI.”
“He likes to talk, doesn’t he?”
“What FBI agent shows up in heels?”
Ada’s smile widens. “Would you rather I wore nothing at all?” She unties her belt, shrugging the coat off her shoulders to reveal a stunning red dress that clings to her form, fitted as if to emphasize that she’s got nothing to hide...which is a lie, it has to be, because she also has a holster sitting snug on her shoulder, she probably has all kinds of things hidden in her coat, and aren’t red and black warning colors anyway? Red dress, black stockings. Black camisole, peeking from the red neckline...
Claire’s mouth goes dry, eyes wide as she blurts, “Oh no. Oh no. I know that trick. You’re trying to distract me.”
Ada laughs, and dammit but Claire shouldn’t like her laugh so much, full and throaty, warm as a mouthful of stolen whiskey. Claire immediately retreats to the sink, splashing cold water on her hot face.
Ada leans against the wall with her hip cocked. It stretches her skirt taut across her legs, making the fabric fit like a second skin. “Why so hostile? Haven’t you heard? ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend.’”
Claire scrubs her face with a towel, wishing she could scrub the flush off her cheeks. “Just means you’re my enemy’s enemy.”
“Oh, I like you. You’re smart.”
Ada’s dark glasses make it impossible to read her eyes, and Claire can’t tell if she’s sincere or mocking. But when Claire straightens up to confront Ada she abruptly realizes that they’re so close that she can feel the warmth of Ada’s body prickling her chilled skin, and she can smell the sweet burn of cinnamon from Ada’s breath and see her own face reflected, wide and staring, in the lens of Ada’s glasses—
Ada leans down—and oh, she’s tall, and maybe it’s just those heels or maybe it’s because she really is that tall—and her lips ghost across Claire’s. “You sure you want to finish this?”
The door opens, and Claire jumps back like a cat from a hot stove. Ada’s shoulders heave with suppressed laughter as she turns to wave.
“Claire! We found pizza!” Sherry exclaims, bouncing up and down her arms full of paper plates and napkins.
Leon grins, holding up two cardboard boxes and a two-liter bottle of cola. “Found them in the employee freezer, just baked them.”
Claire’s stomach growls, an abrupt reminder that she hadn’t eaten anything since a couple of Twizzlers from the last gas station. “Sounds great.”
Sherry passes out plates and they divvy up the pizza. Both pizzas turn out to be pepperoni, and Claire gives two slices to Sherry before taking her own. Sherry sits cross-legged on one of the beds, and Claire sits next to her. Ada, for reasons of her own, chooses to sit on Claire’s other side. The mattress sags beneath their weight, brushing their thighs together.
Claire opens her mouth for the first bite of pizza, then hesitates. All she can think of are zombies and undead dogs devouring corpses. Pepperoni’s a pork product, and supposedly humans taste like…
She picks off the pepperoni, leaving it in a greasy stack on the side of her plate.
Ada takes it without asking, sucking her fingers.
“You weren’t eating it.”
“I don’t like pepperoni either,” says Sherry.
Leon laughs. “Well, shucks. I’ll eat it, if you don’t mind.”
Sherry passes him her pepperoni while Claire glares at Ada.
Ada smiles sweetly, pulling a long string of cheese between her teeth. “So what are your plans after this?”
“We need to bring Umbrella to justice. Even without the G-virus sample, I’ve collected enough information that I think the US government would be interested.”
Claire shakes her head. “The government had contracts with Umbrella. You really trust them?”
“It’s better than nothing,” Leon says doggedly. He sets his jaw. “I became a cop because I want to serve and protect. People like Irons—they pollute everything that stands for.”
“And the government’s better? Look up the American Indian boarding schools sometime.” Claire’s necklace jangles on her chest, and she fights not to thumb the silver pendant. “Look up the Japanese internment camps, or the Tuskegee syphilis study. I read those same notes and terminals you did. Umbrella got prisoners for their early tests.”
“So what are you doing?” he shoots back.
“Looking for my brother. He left this really weird note at the station, I think he knew what Umbrella was up to. He’s in Europe, and if I can find him—”
“I’m going with you!” Sherry blurts. “You can teach me to shoot, and I’ll watch your back, and I promise I’ll be good—”
Leon hesitates, eyes flickering. “You sure, Sherry? To get on a plane, you’ll need ID and passports. And uh. A legal guardian.”
“ID and passports aren’t a problem,” Ada cuts in. “And authority’s just a matter of attitude.” She pulls a pack of cinnamon gum from her pocket and peels out a strip, which she pops in her mouth. She does not offer to share.
“Why are you helping?” Claire asks, narrowing her eyes.
Ada smiles, pushing her sunglasses to sit on top of her head. “My organization doesn’t want Umbrella to succeed either.”
Questions seethe on the tip of Claire’s tongue, but before she can ask any, Sherry gives the soda a hopeful look and says, “Mommy never let me drink soda unless it was a party.”
“We’re alive! Good enough reason to party, right?” Claire stands up, quickly enough that Ada has to put her arm out to compensate for Claire’s sudden absence. Claire grimaces as she touches the bottle. “Ugh, warm. I’ll get ice.”
Ada rises to her feet, grabbing the ice bucket.
Claire tries to shut Ada out of her mind as she marches to the ice machine. Downstairs, in the lobby. She fixes the location in her mind like a pin on a map, but the click of Ada’s heels shatters her concentration. Click-click, click-click. Claire picks up the pace, but Ada lengthens her stride without seeming bothered. Briefly, Claire debates whether or not to break into an all-out sprint—let’s see Ms Wong keep up with that—but it’s not a large hotel and they’re at the lobby before Claire has fully weighed the pros and cons of petty revenge.
“For the record, I’m perfectly fine getting ice on my own,” she says, blinking in the flickering light of the vending machine. The area smells like artificial lemon and cheap disinfectant.
Ada shrugs. “Haven’t you ever watched a horror movie? First person to go off by themselves gets killed.” She taps the bucket under the dispenser, and the machine makes a horrific grinding noise before releasing the ice chips.
“So where are you going, then?”
“Back to my employers. Hit up some contacts.” Ada shakes the bucket, evening out the top layer of ice, then fills it until an overflowed chip hits the floor. “How do you feel about ‘Jessica Romanov’ as your new ID?”
“Ugh, no.” Claire kicks the ice under the machine. It leaves a wet comet on the dingy tile.
“Suit yourself. Your brother’s going up against a big company. If they’re smart, they’ll be trying to keep tabs on his family. I know I would.”
Claire scowls. “You’re making it really hard to trust you, you know.”
Ada sets down the bucket, holding up her empty hands. “I have nothing up my sleeves.” Her smooth, bare arms make that clear. Her shoulder holster is in plain view, the black lace of her bra just peeping at the edges of the red dress, but Claire’s not watching her cleavage, Claire’s watching her hands, because that’s the first thing Chris taught Claire when it came to dealing with someone potentially armed and dangerous—
Claire grabs Ada by the wrists, pushing her against the wall. It’s impulse, snapping at her lungs like the spark wheel on a lighter. Her heart drums beneath her ribs, beats a tattoo under her skin as she hisses, “How dare you—”
Ada ducks her head low, kissing Claire full on the mouth. Her breath burns cinnamon between their lungs.
Startled, Claire pulls back—and Ada twists, breaking out of Claire’s grip and wedging her knee between Claire’s legs. Claire takes a step back, but Ada takes advantage of that momentum to hook a leg behind her ankle, pivoting so now Claire’s the one slammed against the wall. No, not the wall—the ice machine, the metal hard and unyielding against her back, her butt sliding down and landing in the ice chute. More ice spills out, cold and wet down the small of Claire’s back, and Claire gasps—from the cold, from the shock, from Ada’s mouth finding hers again.
Despite Ada’s hold on her, despite the harsh lines of the machine digging into Claire’s back, the kiss is soft. Exploratory, even. Barely more than a press of lips and tongue beneath those lips. Ada’s mouth has a faint, waxy sweetness to it, like lip balm, and it only makes Claire more conscious of the pizza grease around her mouth, the cheese and tomato doubtlessly on her breath, but Ada hums softly as she presses more kisses against the corner of Claire’s mouth, and Claire responds in kind. A gentled fury of breath and bodies.
Ada’s grip relaxes, so Claire pulls her hands free. Her fingers skim the ruched edges of Ada’s dress.
“You are so distracting,” Claire bites out. Little breath for thought, to think through just why Ada’s doing this. Claire knows she’s pretty, knows that people do stupid things for pretty girls, but Ada’s too insufferably poised to be stupid, so maybe Claire’s the stupid one doing stupid things for a pretty girl—
“I could say the same thing about you,” Ada chuckles, rucking up Claire’s tank top. Cold palms and smooth nails along Claire’s belly, and Claire shivers as Ada exposes her sports bra. It’s plain and grey, badly in need of a wash, but Ada buries her nose against the fabric and breathes deep. Pulls up the band, exposing a puckered brown nipple. Claire grits her teeth, twisting a hand into Ada’s hair as Ada licks and nibbles, and it seems suddenly so unfair that Claire’s the one weak in the knees that Claire yanks Ada’s dress up, pulling the tight red fabric over Ada’s ass and revealing black garters—ugh, of course Ada has garters, Ada has garters and lace but Claire’s still stuck in a sweaty shirt and twice-worn underwear—that throw Claire for a loop before she realizes, aha, the panties are fastened over the garters. Which makes a lot of sense, now that she thinks about it. Must be hard to go to the bathroom if you have to undo the belt and stockings every time.
For now though, it makes things easier in other ways. Claire hooks her fingers into the scratchy lace—how can something that looks so soft be so stiff?—and pulls down. Ada hisses, grinding against Claire’s thigh, but that means her thigh is wedged tight against Claire’s inseam, and Claire feels the panties stretch taut in her fingers as she’s trying to pull them off but Ada’s not cooperating—
“I want to feel you come on my hand,” Ada groans, setting two fingers on Claire’s lower lip. Claire opens her mouth, swallows them onto her tongue. Ada has smooth nails, carrying a hint of metal and gunpowder. A different kind of burn than the cinnamon on her breath. Feeds something primal as Claire wraps her tongue around Ada’s fingers, swirling to coat them down to the joint. Teeth held in check, because Claire doesn’t want to hurt Ada, just understand, and if the only understanding they reach is two bodies in synergy, sweat-slick and electric, that’s still better than nothing.
Claire unhooks the button on her jeans, scrapes her finger as she undoes the zipper. Fuck, clumsy. Breath ragged in her chest, blood pounding in her ears and the stupid ice machine digging into her back, the ice melting down her ass as she pushes out with her hips. Ada pulls her fingers from Claire’s mouth with a glistening pop, then reaches down to rub her palm on the worn fabric of Claire’s underwear, Claire’s pubic hair crinkling coarse beneath her touch.
Claire groans, feeling the heat and slick sopping through her panties. Damn, damn. It’s been so long since she’s been touched like this, since she’s even had the chance to touch herself like this. She grabs Ada’s wrist, pushing Ada’s hand inside her underwear. Ada laughs softly, kissing behind her ear, and Claire retaliates by biting the side of her neck, high, where Ada will have to wear that stupid coat if she wants to cover it up.
Ada hisses, but arches into Claire, rutting two fingers against her clit. Too hard, too high, but Claire guides her to the right spot and murmurs, “easy, easy” until Ada eases off. They have to adjust, Claire awkwardly spreading her knees to give Ada better access, and Claire kisses Ada as a reward as oh Ada finds the right rhythm, the right thrust of her wrist and the cant of her fingers to give Claire more, more, and Claire’s hand fists up in the back of Ada’s hair and pulls as she comes, hitting climax with a shattered cry as she buries her teeth in Ada’s neck.
“Pent up, huh? Is that why you’re so grumpy?” Ada shivers with laughter, kissing above Claire’s ear.
Claire groans, running her tongue over the divots she’s left on Ada’s skin. Perfect little crenellations, the aftershock of teeth. She kisses the marks. It’s not quite an apology.
Ada brushes Claire’s hair back, smoothing the damp strands beneath her palm. “You done?”
“I’m not finished with you.” Claire pushes herself upright, colt-kneed and wobbly, but grabs onto the ice machine for support. Her jeans are still undone, her tank top half off, but getting dressed seems like a distant priority. Instead, she grips Ada’s forearm and steers her toward the wall. Ada doesn’t fight this time, and actually cooperates by hitching up her skirt, leaning back and arching her hips as Claire kneels between her legs.
“Let’s get a bed, next time.”
“Who says there’s gonna be a next time?” Claire retorts. Never mind that a bed would be better—this tile’s gonna murder on her knees—but there’s something in the hurried grunginess of this, the flickering vending machine casting shadows on the floor, the spilled ice melting through her jeans. The fake-lemon smell of the room disappears as she pushes her face to Ada’s thighs, breathes in clean sweat and good soap and the sharp tang of Ada’s arousal, the heat and musk of her potent as any perfume.
It’s been a while since Claire’s done this, but she knows what she likes, and Ada seems like the kind of mouthy to tell her if she should be doing it different. Ada’s panties are still rolled halfway down her thighs, so Claire braces her forearms on Ada’s legs and uses her thumbs to open her up like a flower. Ada groans, gripping the base of Claire’s ponytail, and Claire almost tells her off except that she likes it, likes the way that Ada knows how to pull without tugging. So Claire instead presses an open-mouthed kiss to Ada’s vulva, slips her tongue down the wet cleft of Ada’s cunt and drags it through the folds until Ada keens, knees bent and thighs tense under Claire’s palms, and Claire knows she’s found the right spot. Claire goes back, circles, dips, and uses a finger to pull back the hood of Ada’s clit and expose that tight bundle of nerves to more direct stimulation. Ada hisses, nails digging into Claire’s scalp, but Claire nips—not hard, just a hint of tooth to make Ada back off—before settling into a pattern of swirl and suction that makes Ada wet-wet-hard on Claire’s tongue, brings Ada to a stifled scream that Claire tries to catch, tries to look up to watch the moment of orgasm on Ada’s face, but the scrunched shelf of Ada’s skirt blocks the view. So Claire has to content herself with the memory of red, of heat, of the musky tang of arousal smeared on her lips and the quiver of flesh beneath her palms.
“Fuck,” Ada groans, releasing Claire’s ponytail.
Claire tries another lick, curious if Ada can go for more, but Ada’s startled yelp says otherwise. Claire giggles as Ada swats her away.
“Jesus woman! Are you insatiable or something?”
“Just don’t like leaving my debts unpaid,” Claire says primly, or at least as primly as she can manage with her mouth and chin smeared slick with sex. Shit. They’ll need to wash up before they go back to the room.
“Orgasm for orgasm?”
Ada laughs, easing into a groan as she pulls her panties back up. Claire echoes that groan as she pushes herself to standing. Her jeans are damp and her ass is wet, and now her knees hurt. Damn it.
“I wonder how you’ll make it up to me for the IDs and passports, then.”
“Hey, I did this because I wanted to. Not as payment.” Claire’s hands are stupid and clumsy, fumbling up her zipper. The zip catches the first time, and she has to straighten it out and try again before she can finally close her jeans.
“Good to know.” Ada beams a megawatt smile at her, and Claire feels her heart ba-thump her entire body, drumbeat tight beneath her skin. “I wasn’t sure you even liked me until now.”
“I do,” Claire admits. “I don’t know that I should, but I do. And I’ll take your help, since you’re offering.” She straightens her shirt and wipes her hands on her jeans, gaze boring into Ada’s. “But I’m not through. With you or Umbrella.”
“I wouldn’t dream otherwise.”