Umbrella Surveillance System
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Isabel One full day after the evacuation of Team Buck, life goes on. Isabel Welsh is keeping track of them. Yesterday was rest-up day and start on the paperwork of life day. Today was more paperwork of life... and clothes shopping, once her own came back from the hotel laundry. With that in mind, she's made the trip to the Denver Pavilians.
Mind. Boggling. That's the only way to describe this place, especially for a small-town girl, and especially when the small town in question was out in the country. And Isabel is definitely feeling double-especially'd. But she's managed to find a decent shop with decent prices, which is a plus when one needs new jeans, new tops, and everything that goes with them. She isn't sure she'll ever get the smell of a city full of undead out of what little she was able to bring out with her. So she's busily looking for every bit of the everythings she needs.
It's kind of fun, actually. Plus, it helps keep her mind off the past, and the so-nebulous future.
Buck Rogers "Asshole," Buck Rogers groans, staring at his groggy face in the mirror. His hand wipes a clear trail from its fogged-over surface, and then smears a heavy layer of shaving cream over his face and neck. He's fresh-washed, sweat the alcohol and the painkillers out, and has more-or-less gotten over the pain, the injury, and the day one rush of narcotic-fueled insolence. Now it's time for a shave and a personal pep talk, the beastly man having become quite wild-maned during the outbreak. Even the hair on the top of his head had started to grow back in thinning, receding-hairline tufts.

When his head's buzzed clear again and his beard transformed from hobo chic to thick and well-groomed, he wraps himself in some clothes provided by the hotel. Finding things in his size is difficult: he's given a muscle shirt that strains mightily and clings to every hard line of his torso and shoulders, some fine black jeans that are unbearably tight in the thighs, ass, and crotch and don't quite reach as far as they should, and an oversized thrift shop jacket that looks like a pimp's hand-me-downs, with a heavy fur-lined hood and a fringe that may as well belong to a peacock. A vein on his neck stands out as he tenses, before he forces an exhale and departs in peace.

He found the shopping girl after a bit of investigation, swooping in behind her like a tiger in the brush as she stares at a front window mannequin adorned in a frilly, lacey, and expensive yellow dress. He clears his throat. "Mm. Feels like a lifetime ago, doesn't it?"
Isabel Everyone finds something to wish for, or sometimes just to admire. The dress, though, had taken Isabel back in time for a moment, to a surprisingly-intact window on a Raccoon City street she'd come across about a week ago. There'd been a similar dress in that window, lovely but untouched.
People who are risking their lives to get food so they don't starve to death don't much care about fancy things. But Isabel had stopped and looked at that dress for a long moment, and just wondered about it, and the strange turn the world had taken, just in one city, in one state, in one country.
Buck's words bring her back to the moment, and she blushes at the idea that he'd been able to come up behind her so easily. "It feels /unreal/," she replies, hugging her elbows and meeting his gaze in the reflection of the window. "I keep expecting to wake up back on the floor of the theater, or in the bedroom of a house I hid out in for a few hours. Or even back in the old house..." She sighs softly. "It's strange how just a few days of misery and terror can seem so much more real than a whole lifetime of regular living."
Buck Rogers The nightmare of Raccoon City exists only for the two of them; to the shoppers and passerbys that surround them, the Outbreak is nothing more than a media frenzy, a newsroom controversy bickered about between pundits and getting politicians' panties in a twist. It is only those who had relatives in Raccoon that even begin to understand-- for the rest, it is an impassable gulf, a vast expanse of time and space that forever marks the survivors as distinct from the rest of humanity. It is one thing to live in a war zone, or battle hunger-- it's another entirely to watch that hunger transform, and see your neighbors flesh ripped off in screaming chunks to feed the frothing, mucus-lined bloodmouth of some rotting thing.

There is no one in the world who can understand that experience except each other. There's something special in a bond like that, Buck thinks, though he hasn't the words to articulate-- he has a vague feeling, an impression that the survivors are noteworthy and connected, and it manifests in the weight of his hand, controlled and chem-free, on the much smaller girl's shoulder as she watches his reflection. "You're okay," he promises. "That's not happening again-- it can't, now. Did you hear? Even the President resigned over this. The whole country's got its eyes open." He smiles warmly and squeezes gently. "And it's okay to feel the way you do, sweetheart. You were very brave."
Isabel The Raccoon City survivors are definitely a people apart now. Not by choice, but because of circumstance: They were there when the dead rose, and they were the few who lived through the whole awful mess that Umbrella (according to many) made. Some are closer than others, though, and even if Isabel is still a little angry at Buck, she's also feeling that bond of trust and love. She reaches up and squeezes the back of his hand. She can't escape the feeling that it feels somehow bigger than she remembers.
But she smiles wryly at his reflection. "Mostly I was terrified. If I was brave, it was only because I had to be," she replies. "I wasn't the one in the thick of those monsters so many times, just so everyone else would be safe. That was you." Credit where it's due.
She tugs lightly on Buck's hand, looking towards the door of the shop. "Walk with me? I hate to drag you around, but I badly need something to wear besides what I stand up in."
Buck Rogers Buck shifts a little. Self-conscious is a fashion he wears poorly and rarely. "Yeah, I am a god damn Hero," he agrees, and she can practically hear him capitalize the word. "But it's not the same. Meaning no offense, sweetheart, but look-- you're just a pretty little girl, meant for looking at dresses and doing whatever it is you do. I was out in the woods drinking and shooting at half your age, got my ass thrown in prison, and turned myself around working security and law enforcement after. I was born for something other than.. life." He grunts, or growls, or makes some sort of animalistic man-noise, taking her hand as she tugs on his and holding it. "Hell, I got bit by those freaks and I didn't even turn. I got clawed by those tongue-y motherfuckers and it's healing this fast. I'm blessed by God, baby," and he says that with such straight-laced sincerity he can't be kidding, "and I didn't even go to church as much as I should have. You're brave. I'm fuckin' weird." He shrugs, and grins, looking at that dress. "So take the compliment, lady, and let's get you something pretty."
Isabel "That was... about all I did, really, and I couldn't afford them. Look was as far as I could get," Isabel replies. "I didn't really do anything well. I guess maybe the only thing I did well is take pictures and not die, and cheer you and the rest of the team on when you kept me from dying. If that's brave, I guess I'm brave. But I had help." She can't argue with the rest of his logic, honestly: He /is/ a hero, however he got that way. "I'm just glad you were there, Buck, whatever you were meant for." She squeezes his hand again.
She grins and nods in the direction of the door. "If we're going to buy /anything/, pretty or not, we can't do it standing out here looking in the windows. Let's go inside."
Buck Rogers It isn't a formal apology; it isn't even an informal one. But Buck complimented her, and was temporarily modest, and that's as close as it'll get right now. "Back in Raccoon," he remarks, turning and leading her toward the front door, a delicate thing of glass, impossible to reinforce, "when I was on the streets, working the beat, I'd tail guys wearing jackets like this." For emphasis, he lifts the hand holding hers, and brushes the fake fur fringe of it against her knuckles. "Feel that? Isn't even real. This is a cheap douchebag coat. Just need a hat with a feather and a cane." The door opens with a ring-a-ting of chiming bells, and the heavily contrasted duo strides in, earning looks from all their neighbors. The store spreads out before them, rows and shelves adorned with mostly women's clothing, stretching a goodly distance in all directions. "Never been here before," he booms -- he can't whisper, it's physically impossible, every word has to vibrate his bones and hers, so long as he's holding her -- "but..."

With an almost supernatural internal compass, and a healthy dose of intuitive luck, he crosses over one aisle, moves down, and what rises before her is a shelf full of good, clean socks. He'll never point out he can see over the topmost shelves.
Isabel The decor says plenty: It's not a discount store, even if some of the merchandise is cut-rate, like that coat Buck's showing Isabel. It's a name-brand kind of place, even if it's too small to be a true department store. But the dark-haired girl has to smile. "I wouldn't know. I've never felt real fur before," she explains, trying to ignore the attention they're drawing. It's a little embarrassing, really. Not that she blames Buck: He can't be anything but what he is, any more than she can. But it's a bit like going shopping with The Beastmaster, minus the ferrets.
She lets herself be led, and can't help but laugh as she sees what he's found. "You and my father would get along so well," she says, shaking her head bemusedly. "If my family doesn't disown me for my videos, I should take you to meet them."
Buck Rogers The weight of attention oppresses. With instincts honed to promote invisibility among the dead, to be so obviously focused upon is uncomfortable; it agitates, almost, a constant low-level awareness that people know where you are and you are not hidden. So many of the survivors have quick-developed lifesaving habits that fit in poorly with normal civilian life-- such as the fact Isabel, whenever she isn't looking, sees in the corner of her eyes a middle-aged woman watching her. Direct eye contact always results in empty space or phantasms of shadow and light; but in reflection, in peripheral, there is someone watching her.

Isn't there?

Buck is ignorant. Buck is reaching out to seize a pair of well-made and cozy thick wool socks that look like they should fit Isabel just fine. Buck considers socks one of the most important things you can wear, because cold, moist feet are terrible, and you need to pamper the things that carry you around all day. He says as much when he pulls it down: "If they disown you, fuck 'em," he says. "You can travel the world with me. I saw this flier in the hotel lobby for-- ah, some other time. Shopping! You need good socks. Maybe a few pairs."
Isabel Isabel shivers at the thought of being disowned. Granted, it might be because some middle-aged woman seems to be hovering at the edge of her peripheral vision, watching her. Every glance she takes, no one's looking. It's creepy... but she can't shake the feeling that she's being spied on.
She nods in agreement with Buck, wheels turning in her head as she looks at the socks. "I hope they don't. They're... just like everyone else who wasn't there, really. Only in their case, their darling daughter is part of the media circus. And then there's my Aunt Lyndsey to consider. If only she could explain this to them..."
She smiles, shaking her head to clear it. "You're right. Socks, underwear... if you wear it, I need it, except shoes. I'm not even thrilled with the hotel laundry on what little I do have. These jeans are a little paler than I remember." She unstraps her belt and pulls open her buttons, pulling her jeans down a few inches to show Buck her underpants. "These were pink when they went to the laundry, and now they're almost white! Isn't that supposed to be a four-star hotel?"
With that to get her watcher's attention, Isabel looks to the last place she glimpsed her middle-aged shadow... bingo! She can't help a faint smile crossing her face. "And while you're at it, check out the woman in tan who's been staring so hard at us only while we weren't looking," she adds, nodding in her direction. Busted!
Buck Rogers "Last time I talked to the old man, he threatened to belt my ass if I screwed up the job he got me," Buck recalls, that warmgrowl rumblin' voice of his... queerly affectionate given the context of the memory. "I hated that rickety bastard growing up, but when you fuck up and spend some time in a cell, you figure tough love was the right idea. I should pay them a visit sometime." He dumps the socks, and another twelve pack of the same, into a little carry bag he'd snatched on their way in from a counter. "Still, they raised you right. They can't be so bad." A smile and he's ready to waltz off and continue the trip, heading a few yards down to the women's underwear section, when he hears the telltale rustle of belt leather and turns his head, one eyebrow lifted quizzically. Then there's the lowering of her pants and a flash of pink-turning-white panties, and his internal temperature rockets. There's a different tone in his voice now, and his hand idly reaches for her bottom. "Mixed signals, sweetheart, but there's a changing room right down there if you're feelin..."

Then there's that smile, and a tilt of Isabel's head leads to Buck seeing a woman in a casual tan outfit, pencil skirt and blouse. Awareness of the move and motive comes mere moments after Buck's hand found butt, withdrawing with a forcefully casual slowness. Yep, no ass grabbing here, and it's perfectly normal to just flash your panties at a grown man. "Ahh, must be us being survivors has gotten out," he reasons, watching as the woman calmly wanders off and fades into the aisles and milling bodies. "Or maybe the government's got us being watched."

Who knows? Maybe it's even Umbrella, tracking the wayward survivors who might implicate them, such as an inquisitive and clever girl with videos and testimony. People are so much more complicated than the dead.
Isabel Moment of triumph or not, Isabel tenses just the slightest bit when she feels that hand land where it does. That's very controlled; just how controlled might be evident in just how red her face turns at the same time. She has her jeans up and fastened as soon as the woman (and the hand) withdraw. "Sorry," she whispers. "I had to make her stare and forget to look away. I guess it worked a little too well... but I still wonder who's signing her paycheck." The woman is /good/. If Isabel hadn't caught her off-guard, she might have remained suspected but unproven.
Buck Rogers "If you need a distraction," Buck suggests, lip curling upwards in a flash of predatory appreciation for that tomato-painted face, "well.. hell, just stick with that one. I like it." There's a roll of good-natured laughter, unrestrained and fierce. He's nature in motion, that Buck, thunder in his footsteps as he swaggers ahead. "Let's find you something lacey," he teases, idly looking over the rows of women's underwear, and the bins full of them lower the ground. There's a whole mess of them-- granny panties, thongs, cute things with hearts and stars, lace and ribbon, pink and black and red; All in all, it's vastly more complex a selection than the typical men's underwear section, which ranges from white briefs to black or grey boxer-briefs. "Telling you from experience," he remarks as he looks the arrangement over, "these things are never solo missions. If you notice one pair of eyes, there's two you didn't. If we're being watched-- and it coulda been anyone, even just some lady thinking we make a cute couple-- not like being paranoid will help. So relax." A smile, and his voice drops low. "And if it gets dangerous, disappear in the middle of the night without telling anyone."
Isabel "I think I should come up with a better distraction, actually," Isabel murmurs in reply, still blushing even if she's no longer blushing quite so brillliantly. "That one has too many side effects." Still, it's good to have company when you're nervous about who's watching you, even in the women's underwear section of a store. Especially when Buck offers his advice on tails and watchers. She swallows almost inaudibly. Almost.
She takes a few deep breaths, willing the tension to leave her body, and tries to go back to just shopping. There are things she needs, after all, and the list doesn't end in this department. "Hopefully I won't have to vanish. Moving around is getting to be almost as scary as being in a town full of undead."
Buck Rogers "I've got some money saved up," says Buck, gesturing with a flourish to a black and red g-string. "Might be I'll grab a trailer and do some cross-country travel. This city's gorgeous, but it's been a day and I'm getting antsy. Feels like I'm waiting for something to happen. Like the world's waiting for something to happen." It's clear he's trying to sympathize with the girl, to establish some mutual emotional understanding-- but no matter how hard he tries, he can't change the fact he sounds excited more than scared. "But hell, I'd get bored and lonely. I'll be damned if two weeks into the apocalypse some of those zombie girls weren't starting to look pretty, in a paper bag kinda way." He offers her the small hand-held carton with the socks in it, letting her pick out her own garments. "Still, if you gotta vanish, I grew up in the woods. There's a lot of back country, off-grid, you can just melt into, if you got the itch. It's pure. Peaceful."
Isabel "It would be one way to vanish," Isabel has to admit. "And public libraries have internet access now, if you can't find a cybercafe or a decent wi-fi signal. I could still do my videos even if I had to slip away from civilization for a while. I just... it does take money. And I wouldn't want to impose on you, Buck." Not to mention that living in a trailer out back of beyond would be /awfully/ close quarters, in a lot of ways.
And then there was that zombie girls remark to consider. Some things Isabel likes about Buck, some things she more like tolerates, and some things she just hopes were a joke. The odds are good it was.
She finds a shelf that holds her preferred brand even as she accepts the carton from Buck, slipping three tubes into it. "As much as I could learn to like this town, though, I'm beginning to think it's got a problem of eyes, and I don't know who they work for."
Buck Rogers "You don't have to act like such a lost little lamb around me," Buck points out after a long moment's quiet contemplation of Isabel's words, watching as she selects the items she wants. He's comfortable leading when she wants company and direction, but it's her shopping trip, in the end--he's just there to keep an eye on her, because every moment he's aware of her he gets the impression she's vaguely uneasy. "It's just fun to make you blush. Got a real twisted mind for a girl as pure as the undriven snow." He grins, and rattles a knuckle against a metal divider between the shelves. "You ever want to disappear or get away from it all, Isabel, you're safe wherever I am. And if all you need's some money and advice, that works, too. I got you folks out of Raccoon, it's my job to get you wherever you're going next."
Isabel Isabel blushes. She's not /acting/, really; she might be smart, but she's led a sheltered life, even if she's not dangerously naive. Not most of the time, anyway. Sometimes she has a feeling that every decision she makes is wrong, even when it's not. Surviving something most people couldn't isn't enough to shake this lifelong feeling.
So she's grateful for his help, even the offered kind. "I won't forget, Buck, and it's kind of you to offer. I think we all got lucky, getting you as a leader. I know it doesn't seem like it sometimes, but I really do believe that."
She smiles faintly. "And twisted? Seriously? How?"