“I swear to god if they’re late I’m going to kill them.” Claire laughed as she stepped out of her car as Chris waited for her. They began to walk towards the exit of the parking garage; a cool breeze from the winter night blew through the open structure. The mellow bustle of the Georgetown street below them began to grow louder as they approached the stairs in the corner. A blue CH-R came peeling around the corner, the driver’s window dropped as it pulled alongside the Redfields.
“I’ve got five minutes to find a spot and you can’t say I’m late this time!” Moira called out as she came to a sudden stop. Claire laughed and flourished dismissively as she and Chris kept walking.
“Pay our covers and first round is on me!” Rebecca called from the passenger’s seat as Moira raised the window and sped off to find a place to park. Chris and Claire started heading down the stairs as the sounds of the D.C. nightlife began to come through full force; the occasional revving of an engine peeling out of a stoplight, idle chatter from groups heading to their club of choice and the rumbles of heavy sound systems reverberating through the walls of various dark venues lining the street.
“Why’d Jill say she wasn’t coming tonight?” Claire inquired softly, wringing her wrists nervously as they rounded another flight of stairs on their way to street level. Chris let out a long breath before answering; Claire trying not to look like she had been dying to ask since she heard Jill would be absent.
“She needed to see family outside of the country, she hasn’t had the chance for years so I wouldn’t take it personally. She told me how proud she was that you’re serving with us now.” Chris answered seeing the look of disappointment on Claire’s face as she turned to hide it from him. “She said she had something for your graduation, wouldn’t tell me cause she wanted to give it to you in person.” Chris said hoping to deflect his sister’s concern as they reached street level.
“Ok, I guess it would be a bit much of me to demand her drop everything for me; all things considered. When will she be back?” Claire asked as they paused to wait for Moira and Rebecca.
“She’s on a red eye due to touch down at Dulles by the time we’ll be getting to bed tonight.” Chris laughed as he put his hand on Claire’s shoulder. She playfully tossed it off as she turned to face him.
“So about eight if I have anything to say about it?” She joked as she cocked her head to look over Chris’s shoulder. “Well it’s been a bit too long don’t you think Kennedy?” Claire smiled as she stepped past her brother.
“Well I’m sure your brother has told you how busy we’ve been.” Leon tossed back as he held out his arms to embrace his old friend. Claire ran to him and held him for a moment before pulling back.
“You look good, despite the ragged beard you’re trying to grow. I heard you got a new toy and if it’s true I’m super jealous and don’t want to see it.” Claire teased as she flicked the collar of Leon’s riding jacket.
“Fair is fair, and yes, it is faster than your car.” Leon played back, sticking his tongue out for good measure. Chris stepped over and offered his hand to Leon who took it and pulled him into a hug. “And how’ve you been big guy?” Leon asked letting Chris go with a pat on the shoulder.
“Better, my old partner is finally out of rehab and I finally feel like things are getting back to normal.” Chris said with a small grin, glad to be back on speaking terms with the D.O.S. agent.
“That’s great news. Send her my best; we’re lucky to have her back in the fight. Now where are we supposed to be heading Claire?” Leon smiled turning from the elder to the younger Redfield.
“Just a block and a half that way as soon as Moira and Rebecca get their asses down here.” Claire crescendo-ed as she heard their footsteps coming up behind them.
“Christ Claire, I’m still technically on time.” Moira teased as she and Rebecca joined the group. They all followed Claire’s lead to the club of her choice per the agreement of how they would all celebrate Claire graduating the BSAA Academy; becoming and official field operative. When they walked into the dim light and thumping music the group made their way through the throng of dancing and drinking persons to a blue-lit glass bar. Claire flagged down a bartender, wallet in hand, only to have it plucked from her hand by her brother. He laughed as Leon sat down and handed the bartender his card and opened a tab for the group. Claire playfully punched him in the shoulder but relented as they waited for their order to come up. Rebecca grabbed Claire’s hand and led her with Moira out into the club as Chris sat down next to Leon, waiting for their drinks to be served.
“Is she happy with it still?” Leon asked as he was passed a bourbon on the rocks.
“More than, you really came through for her in a way I never have been able to.” Chris replied, half shouting over the buzz of the club. The bartender passed him a Long Island Iced Tea and the girls’ orders. He easily grabbed all four in his hands and stood.
“It’s what she did for me when I asked, besides I was the only formal witness to her Racoon city involvement that the U.S. would believe. Was a pain in the ass to add her to the official records but after she took an enormous leap of faith for me; she deserved it and more. You going to be good carrying all that?” Leon responded turning to Chris as he stood over him.
“Oh yeah, worked in a bar during high school, still have a couple odd skills from that gig. You not coming out with me?” Chris dismissed with a laugh.
“I think I’m good here for now, when they find a seat come get me. You much of a dancer?” Leon tossed back with a hint of sarcasm. Chris stifled a grin before answering.
“Hardly, just playing waiter for them and making sure no one looks at them the wrong way.” Chris turned to head out to find the trio as Leon swirled his drink, putting away half of it before Chris had left. He stared blankly into the amber liquid as it swirled around the circular ice in the glass. He raised the glass to his lips and didn’t put it down until he had drained it, tapping the counter near the bartender for a another. He sighed as the constant prodding of his thoughts began to dull as his skin flushed with warmth. He felt his eyes water as a wave of emotion crashed over him and passed as he welcomed his next drink; floating his mind into a state he found far more manageable. Leon welcomed the subtle burn in his throat as he felt himself fade into his old self, free from the burden of the decades old fight he had been tossed headfirst into before he had started his first real job.
Leon handed his third glass back to the bartender as his silent moment of self-reflection was interrupted by a strong grip on his shoulder. He turned expecting to see Chris back for refills for the girls only to have his arm grabbed and firmly yanked onto the floor of the club. Stumbling slightly as his body absorbed the reality of his current level of intoxication, he tried to find the silhouette that had pulled him from his chair. He half expected Claire in an attempt to get him to loosen up a bit but found the younger Redfield nowhere to be seen. Just as he turned to head back to the bar the strong arm grabbed him again, tossing him farther through the crowd; his protests easily drowned out by the driving beat of the club music. He found himself tossed up against a far wall in the back of the club, only half-drunk dancers and embracing couples surrounding him as a woman in a black evening dress pressed herself up against him. She pinned him to the wall, placing her hand on his cheek gingerly before looking up to meet his confused gaze.
“Ada!?” Leon gasped at the familiar face now so close to his, the rest of the club furor melting away from his focus as he lost himself in his present companion.
“Long time no see rookie, you know you should always keep a certain sharpness about you.” Ada purred as she leaned closer to him. She paused and wrinkled her nose, “Come on Leon, I followed you in here not half an hour ago and you’re already sauced.” Ada scolded placing a thin breath strip in Leon’s mouth, his jaw still dropped from Ada’s sudden appearance. “There, we no longer reek of a mid-life crisis.” Ada added, kissing her quarry wistfully as he struggled to regain his composure.
“What are you doing here, I thought… after the mess with Radames and Simmons…” Leon struggled to put together a coherent thought. Ada placed her finger on his lips and hushed him, leaning in close and placing her chin on his shoulder as she whispered.
“I wanted to let you know that even though that whole issue ruined me I have one last job to make up the loss. After that’s finished, I think I’ll be due for a retirement from this line of work.” Ada wrapped one arm around Leon’s waist as she brushed her free hand over his chest.
“Come see me sometime soon please? I want to talk about… well a lot.” She wanted as she ran her hands over him. Leon closed his eyes and took her presence in, opening them to realize she was gone. He scanned the mass of dancers and couples to no avail. Leon ran his hand over his face and felt his mouth go dry, his mind begging to return to the bar. He traced the path of Ada’s hand over his chest and stopped at the pocket sewn into his shirt. He pulled out a black, metallic key card with no markings save a written address somewhere in Falls Church.
“Always playing games Ada.” Leon couldn’t help but smile as he slowly made his way back to the bar where he held down the tab for the rest of the girl’s night.
Claire was practically carrying Rebecca as the group made their way back to the parking garage close to three in the morning. Moira was walking close to Leon as he shambled behind Chris, Claire stumbling supporting a giggling Rebecca. Leon had made no mention of his encounter in the club as Chris ordered him a ride in front of the garage.
“Call me in the morning when you get up and I’ll bring you back to pick up your bike.” Chris said patting Leon on the shoulder. “You were in overnight parking, right?”
“Yeah, yeah sounds good, thanks Chris.” Leon stammered as a black sedan pulled up, the driver asking if this was the ride for Chris. He helped Leon into the car, shaking his head as he turned back towards Claire.
“You sure you’re good Moira?” Chris inquired as they began to make their way up the stairs to their cars.
“Yes dad, I cut myself off at midnight.” Moira spat back with a sly smile as Chris threw up his hands playfully.
“Just asking, want to make sure you’ll be fine.” He said as they approached her car. Claire helped Rebecca into the passenger seat as she murmured something about Claire being her best friend before leaning back into a fit of giggles. Claire shook her head with a smile as she looked over at her brother.
“Congratulations Claire, hope drinky over here didn’t make things to difficult.” Moira said as Claire walked over to her side of the car.
“Thanks kid, means a lot that you all came out, drive safe.” Claire said patting the roof of the car before walking off with her brother. They approached Claire’s black Civic as she turned and hugged Chris.
“Thanks for making this happen, it was great to be out with everyone and not have zombies or worse chasing us.” She thanked him as he returned her hug.
“Anytime kiddo, was an occasion worth celebrating. I’m glad we were able to make it happen.” Chris returned as Claire stepped back and unlocked her car.
“You’re going to help me go replace this piece of junk next weekend, right? I get my first special agent check and all and I’m dying to get out of this compromise.” Claire said as she opened her door.
“Of course, take care and I’ll see you Monday morning.” Chris smiled back as he walked over to his car. Claire turned her car on and drove home to her “for when I finally get a fast car” playlist. She pulled into her apartment parking lot at close to five and wound up crashing on her own couch. She was unable to sleep; her thoughts jerking her awake every hour, watching the clock slowly creep up as the light from her windows turned from blue to orange to yellow as the sun rose. She gave up on sleep at nine in the morning and grabbed her keys, walking back out into the brisk morning air. She brushed frost from her windshield as she got back into her car and headed towards the freeway. She couldn’t shake the anxiety over Jill’s absence, not having seen her since Chris had found her in West Africa. In and hour she found herself in downtown Baltimore, pulling into the parking garage of a familiar building; the apartment her and her brother had been watching for Jill for past couple years.
Claire still had the parking pass and pulled into resident parking before walking into the building. She stepped into an empty lobby; mailboxes, twin elevators, a staircase and lone figure by the stairs with several large travel bags around her. Claire froze as she recognized Jill standing on the far side of the lobby. Claire struggled with the conversation she had been rehearsing in her head since she started driving over. Jill was stood facing away from Claire, her shoulders shaking; one hand covering her face, the other clutching her side. Claire slowly approached her as she heard Jill sob softly in the empty lobby.
“Hey…” Claire croaked softly as she got within earshot of Jill. She whirled around- eyes red and tears streaming down her cheeks- to look at Claire. Jill starred at her for a moment without saying a word before attempting to collect herself.
“Claire! I’m sorry… jet lag and allergies. God, I bet I look like shit right now. What are you doing here?” Jill said dismissively as she wiped her eyes and attempted to collect her bags, struggling to find a graceful way to lift all at once.
“I wanted to see you since… well Chris told me you’d be home late last night and… Jill are you ok?” Claire stuttered, stepping closer with a concerned expression dominating her face. Jill sighed deeply staring down at her bags. She drew a long breath before looking up at Claire, forcing a smile as she met her eyes.
“I’m fine, long flight.” Jill responded flatly, still struggling to solve the puzzle of carrying her luggage.
“Well then let me help you carry all this up, get you some coffee or breakfast or something.” Claire responded reaching for Jill’s bags. Jill nodded silently, relinquishing the ridiculous task she was attempting. They silently made their way up the stairs to Jill’s floor, Claire opening the door to Jill’s flat with the spare key she still had. The living room was an open floor plan, leading to a kitchen and a large windowed dining room dominated by a black grand piano. Claire set Jill’s bags down next to the black leather sofa in the living room as Jill dropped hers by the door, shutting it behind her. She walked into the kitchen going straight for a collection of wine bottles on a rack in the corner. She opened a bottle of zinfandel, poured herself a liberal glass; sipping it silently before walking back into the living room.
“Congratulations by the way, I’m sorry I missed the party.” Jill said, seeming to suddenly snap back to reality as she acknowledged Claire standing in her living room.
“It’s ok, I know a lot is going on.” Claire almost whispered as she watched Jill down her glass as if it was water before returning to the bottle. “How was your trip?” Claire asked nervously as Jill refilled her glass and seemed stared off into nothing.
“Jill? How… how was your trip.” Claire asked again after a minute of uncomfortable silence.
“Hmm? Oh, it was fine. I went through Nice and got to try an authentic Carbonara and...” Jill trailed off as she took another taste of her drink. Claire wrung her hands; uneasy at her friend’s distant tone.
“Sounds good… Jill I don’t know where to start. I just want you to know that whatever you need, I’m here for you.” Claire stammered as she stepped closer. Jill looked up at her with a deep melancholy in her eyes, holding her gaze for several tense seconds before responding.
“I know Claire. You’re as good as your brother and then some. I just don’t know what I need right now.” She exhaled, taking comfort in worrying her drink. Claire stood swaying back in forth, looking up at the ceiling trying to think of something to say.
“I heard Chris had the piano tuned up and serviced for you… you up for playing anything for me?” Claire smiled as she tried to bring Jill back to her own self. Jill just shook her head and looked away.
“Oh, come now, something simple.” Claire implored.
“No Claire I…” Jill tried to say as she closed her eyes.
“Moonlight perhaps? I know you know that one inside and out.”
“Claire, I don’t…” Jill shook her head, her hands starting to shake.
“Just the first movement, I’ve even tried to learn the first few bars so that…” Claire urged taking another step forward.
“Claire!” Jill yelled, her glass slipping from her grasp and shattering on the tiled floor. The remaining wine flowed gently between the cracks of the dark tile, the dark red liquid reflecting the soft yellow sunlight shining through the windows. Jill stared at it for several moments as if shocked that it had even happened. Claire took a step back after Jill had shouted, not knowing how to react as tears began to roll down Jill’s face.
“Fuck… Claire I couldn’t if I wanted to.” Jill stammered as Claire reached for a roll of paper towels on the counter and began to wipe up the mess.
“I’m not yet… not everything is back… there are still parts of me that are missing. They fucking ripped me to pieces and I’m still not back yet.” Jill sputtered as Claire stood, setting a wad of red-stained paper towels on the counter. Claire watched as Jill pressed her hands over her face, taking a long breath as she started to collect herself. She looked up as a tear broke over Claire’s cheek from watching her friend suffer.
“They… didn’t tell me everything, I’m so sorry Jill.” Claire said hoarsely as she tried to hold back tears. Jill waved dismissively as she stepped past Claire, grabbing a small box that sat on her coffee table.
“Here I am ruining what is supposed to be a happy day for you.” Jill forced a laugh as she returned to Claire holding the box. “When I was in France, I found this wonderful jeweler who did simple, rustic pieces. I thought this would fit your style.” Jill said opening the case revealing a small silver necklace. The pendant was a pair of feathered angel wings spread wide. Claire took it from Jill and laughed softly, covering her mouth as she looked up smiling at her. “Sterling, shouldn’t need a polish for a bit.” Jill added with a smile.
“It’s gorgeous Jill, you didn’t have to…”
“Pfff, you blasted through S.O.A. training and are now going to be giving your brother a run for the Redfield name. That’s an accomplishment that’s worth at least a small gift. Especially since I missed your party.” Jill said folding her arms as Claire brushed her ponytail aside, attaching the clasp of the necklace around her neck. “I treated myself too, couldn’t help myself.” Jill added holding up a small caracal pendant hung around her neck. Claire reached out to look at Jill’s necklace and stopped suddenly; Claire saw the circular and jagged scar on the center of Jill’s chest. She suppressed a gasp as she reached towards it.
“My god… Jill.” Claire whispered as her fingers brushed up against Jill’s skin. Claire gasped as Jill suddenly grabbed Claire’s wrist, their eyes locking for a long second. Jill’s eyes were free flowing and stern as she held Claire’s wrist firmly, just above her scar. Jill’s chest heaved, Claire feeling her heart race. Claire held her gaze, her surprise and fear melting away as she looked into Jill’s eyes and saw her agony break over her cheeks.
“Jill. As long as I’m here, no one can hurt you.” Claire practically whispered as she felt Jill’s grip lax. Jill released Claire’s wrist, grabbing her in a tight and desperate embrace.
“I’m sorry.” Was all she could muster as she leant into Claire’s shoulder, regaining her composure with a labored gasp.
“You have nothing to be sorry for.” Claire spoke softly as she returned Jill’s grip, running her hand over her back.
“I have a lot that I need to work through Claire. I wasn’t ready to see you yet.” Jill said stepping back and pulling another glass from a cabinet and filling it from the bottle on the counter. “That being said, I’m happy you came.”
“Are you going to be ok?” Claire inquired gently.
“I think so. It’s just been… it’s been a process. A lot is really just stuff I have to do on my own.” Jill pondered as she raised her fresh glass to her lips.
“Ok. And Jill, please don’t hesitate… even if you just need someone so you aren’t alone, I’ll be here for you.” Clair said pulling her keys from her jacket pocket. Jill set her glass down and smiled.
“Thanks, I’ll see you at work Monday?” Jill said leaning against her counter.
“Yeah, call me if you need anything.” Claire offered as she stood by the door.