Disclaimer: Resident Evil is property of Capcom.
The range rover pulled to a stop. The man in fatigues looked at her with a slight, forced smile and shrugged. "You sure this is the place?"
Zoe leaned forward, looking at the thick woods. "Yeah. Thanks for the ride."
"No problem. You want me back here in two weeks?" He asked, curious. His accent was hard to place, but she guessed it came from somewhere up north. He peered out the windshield at the deep woods, looking worried.
She'd already gotten out. She opened the back door and pulled out the metal-framed backpack. Redfield must have had a lot of pull to arrange this. She looked at the driver and smiled. "Two weeks. I'll be back little after New Year's."
The man was regarding the trees with suspicion. "Okay, if you get in trouble…"
"I won't. But you guys'll know…" She said, pointing at the GPS locater she was wearing around her wrist. That was a condition for this little trip. She didn't mind, if it let her get out for a few weeks.
"You know there's alligators around here, right?"
She rolled her eyes. "I know. Trust me, they ain't the meanest, toughest thing around here."
He looked at her like she was crazy. She laughed, which probably didn't do much to change his opinion. Partly worried, and that was probably came as part of the job, and partly curious, he asked "What's worse than a…"
"My uncle." She cut him off.
She turned and walked off the side of the. The Range Rover, big octagonal Umbrella Logo on the front passenger door, sat idle, like the driver expected to have to jump out and rescue her the moment her foot hit the dirt. She was a fair ways off the road when the she heard the driver yell out "Merry Christmas!"
She turned and yelled it back in return, then went back to her hike.
Her uncle had been something of a local legend when she was a little girl. Joe Baker could've been an all-time great if he hadn't taken a few too many punches to the head in the ring and gone crazy. Crazy Joe Baker lived in a shack on his brother's land. Crazy Joe hunted gators with a spear. Crazy Joe knew the government was out to get him. Crazy Joe would snatch you if you went off in the bayou alone and skin you.
She first argued against them. Joe was a kind man, a great guy. Even at that age she knew his isolating himself was strange. Even if his own family rarely saw him except for the holidays, despite him literally being their closest neighbor. He just liked quiet she guessed. The other kids persisted, and she eventually stopped arguing with them.
Eventually crazy Joe Baker stopped being a thing of fascination for her classmates. He became increasingly insulated from his family, as well.
She saw a pale shape on the other side of a stream in the distance. Called out "Joe?"
It faded into the bushes. She scanned the stream, and seeing an upturned log spanning it, carefully climbed on top of it and walked across. She had just gotten down on the other side when she half turned and saw something big in her peripheral vision.
She jumped back, before registering the bearded face, not exactly smiling, but not exactly frowning. He nodded. "Zoe."
Then he wrapped his arms around her in a bearhug. He set her down and sat on the log, setting the shotgun down next to him. "Been a while."
He stayed, she didn't. Umbrella had asked her to stay on the ranch for a while, while they did tests. Joe was by her side the entire time, not trusting them. Weeks later, they asked if she would come with them North. He refused, not trusting them. She couldn't.
Uncle Joe built a new cabin on the sight of the old and stayed. She couldn't do that. The house, she didn't want it. She let the government declare it a Superfund site and buy it for a fraction of it's value from her, then hand it over to Umbrella. No point in fighting it like Joe said they had to; she wanted to be away.
They took her to Maryland, actually. She had a small place to live in crowded city, provided and monitored by Umbrella. Some place nothing like Dulvey. That was fine by her; she didn't need many reminders of home. She was checked up on constantly, it was an open question of whether or not she could return to a normal life after everything. She still had nightmares. But she was mostly fine. Alone.
Then it began getting colder, the days shorter and the nights longer. Christmas music started up in November, and the world was full of maudlin ads talking about family. It got to her. Ma, Dad, and Lucas were all dead. Sometimes it was a relief; the three Christmases before then were bad, even for how things had been. But mostly it made her realize how little there was for her.
Redfield checked up on her a lot. She got the impression he himself didn't trust Umbrella all that much, either. They got to talking about the holidays; he had plans to take his sister and visit an old friend of his and her daughters. New Years' he'd spend with a woman he knew. And she'd be… here. Did she have any place else she'd want to be?
The holidays were a time to spend with family, and she only had one left. Two days later, Redfield showed up to hammer out details on just how long she'd want to be down home. Asked her if she wanted a chaperone, laughed when she pointed out just how fond Joe was of Umbrella.
She nodded back to Joe, smiling. "It has been a while."
"They treatin' you alright?" He asked, hand drifting the shotgun to illustrate what he'd do to them if they weren't.
"I'm fine". It was more or less true. She still had odd lab work. Redfield pointed out that was common in his field, nothing to really worry about, but it worried her anyways. "How have things been here?"
"Starting to get back to normal" Joe shrugged. It wasn't really. He'd always been a distant figure, even to his brother's family, but he had always been able to look at their house while out on the water. Even if he'd been solitary, a loner, they were still nearby. Now, he was alone. "Why'd you come back?"
"It's Christmas." As if that explained things. Joe loved his family from a distance. He'd walk through Hell for them, but him showing up at the holidays was always iffy. He had walked through Hell for her, but when their paths diverged, he had stayed when she could not stay. He seemed to understand, she had her life to live, and he knew the value of choosing your own path, but still she made the choice to leave him alone and to be alone.
But now she was back.
Joe smiled. He stood up and gestured for her to follow him. A long hike, short boat ride, and another, shorter hike later they were at his home. He'd managed to wrangle Dad's guns and liquor cabinet from Umbrella, at her urging. She smiled at the silly little button-eyed boxer doll on a dresser; something she had made for him years ago as a gift when, on a rare visit to the house, he commented on some arts and craft she had laying out.
She had another doll in her backpack as a gift.
They ate catfish and gator, along with some canned vegetables Zoe had brought with her. Joe was shocked she made Christmas cookies. Nothing fancy, just sugar cookies with simple icing, but she came to visit him prepared.
They talked a lot. Zoe had been living a mostly-boring life, with them still trying to sort out what she could do with her life, she just stayed in a place they provided her. Joe had built the cabin by hand and was doing a lot of fishing lately. Then they reminisced.
It was the best Christmas either had in years.
Author's Note: Joe Baker is ridiculous. This never-before-mentioned survivalist hermit somehow missed his family being murder cannibals for three years, then turns out to be an insane beast of a player character who deals with most problems with his bare goddamn hands. So... I kinda had to try to puzzle out how that happened.
That said, I was thoroughly amused by Truckasaurus Moldpuncher, and was glad Zoe made it, so I wanted to write some fluff about them reconnecting.