The rail was ice cold under Rebecca's gloved fingertips, the tiny drops of snow that rested on top of it melting instantly beneath her warmth. Her boots slid a little on the slosh-covered cement as she turned towards the ice rink, blinking in the glare of the late afternoon sun.
The sight of people, of families, skating together thus, appearing as though they hadn't a care in the world, made Rebecca feel both happy and jealous at the same time. They were blissfully ignorant of just how fortunate they were, safe with friends and loved ones, away from the true horrors of possibility. A part of her wished that she could go back to that, back a few months to when she wasn't haunted by bad dreams that woke her up at night in a sweat. Simultaneously, there were some memories that she wouldn't trade for anything, being the only sense of having done something right that she had from her experience.
Rebecca had been living in her new apartment for several weeks, but the change of scenery had done anything but help her forget. On the contrary, it kept her worries on her mind even more; however far she moved from Raccoon City, there would always be the chance of another outbreak occurring. If it did, she would follow her duty and face it again, just as before, but until that actually happened, Rebecca would always wonder whether tomorrow was ever going to happen.
A lighted bank sign down the street flashed amid the falling flakes. December 24th. 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
Almost five months ago exactly.
Five months of recalling the terror, the heart-stopping moments, the heartache and tears, without anyone to share it with. Most of Rebecca's S.T.A.R.S. teammates had met their ends those nights, suffering cruel and unnatural deaths. The rest were gone, moved away or disappeared. She had just returned from visiting her parents that morning, but it hadn't taken long for the surrounding holiday spirit to remind her of how lonely she was.
As relieving as it may have been to be able to walk into a park without the fear of being eyed by some bloodthirsty, rotting beast, the appeal quickly lost effect when the longing for some familiarity settled in. Perhaps it was this, not Rebecca's grisly encounter with the undead, that had left her so down lately. She felt alone, was all, isolated by her knowledge of what it really meant to be scared. Few could identify with what she had been through, and she yearned for just one of them to talk to.
Specifically, and Rebecca had finally admitted it to herself, she longed to see one face in particular. There was only one person who had gone through the exact same things as she, who had witnessed all the same horrors by her side, who had stayed with her as long as possible, always turning back for her when he had no reason to.
Five months, and still a day hadn't passed when she didn't think of Billy.
It was mostly anxiety that turned her thoughts back to him—at least that's what she wanted to believe. For several days after returning to the city, Rebecca had been hesitant to turn on the news each morning for fear of hearing that he had been caught. But eventually that worry had faded, only to be replaced by a sadness similar to the one she had felt at their parting on the hilltop. It wasn't a constant depression; rather, it chose to grip her heart whenever she thought of him. Faced with the reality that they would likely never meet again, Rebecca had found it difficult to remember what few good times they had shared.
She pulled her coat around her tighter as a breeze picked up. On the other side of the rink, a van stamped with the logo of one of the local radio stations was parked. Speakers the size of trashcans had been poised atop a pole extending from the vehicle's roof, and from them issued the continual stream of Christmas music.
"Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water?"
The lyrics, though spoken softly by the singer, flowed clearly over the ice to where Rebecca stood listening.
"Mary did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters? Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new? This child that you delivered will soon deliver you…"
The irony of the song struck her hard. It was a stretch, comparing herself with the mother of Christ, but Rebecca saw the very basis of the two stories as somewhat similar.
There had been no way for her to guess that the very criminal whom she had been tracking would become her rescuer, her friend, even. If the circumstances were different, there was no telling what he could have become to her. What they had been through, brief though it appeared when Rebecca looked back, had created a bond between herself and Billy that was…unique. They could both search long and hard, but never would either of them find another who could identify with what they had experienced that night.
Her pride was irritated at the fact that she thought this. She had insisted so many times that she could get along fine on her own, and here she was, reminiscing over a man she had known for only a few hours, wondering what could have been.
Nothing, she said silently. Nothing could have been, even if he weren't on the run. Something like that…it messes with your mind. Makes you act stupid, and you do or think things that you wouldn't normally…
What was that saying? The lunatic, the poet, and the lover are all the same? Maybe that was true, after all. There had been more than one instance in that mansion when Rebecca had felt her sanity being strained; maybe she had finally snapped at one point without realizing it.
And besides, he was way too old, anyway.
This, of course, wasn't true. Even through all the teasing, Billy had clearly regarded her as an equal, and there were times when she could have sworn he had looked at her in a way that suggested he didn't consider age an issue…
Rebecca stomped her foot down firmly, partly in an effort to ward off the cold, but also in resilience.
"Kind of cool for a walk," observed a male voice unexpectedly behind her.
She shrugged without looking back. "The snow makes it worth the trouble."
"That's the reason I'd stay inside," he replied, making her smile. Then, "You skate?"
"Don't remind me," she said with an embarrassed grin. "I went skating with my friends when I was about ten…they spent most of the time laughing at me falling on my face. I guess that's what I got for not letting anyone teach me."
It was his turn to laugh. After a pause, he added smugly, "Well, aren't you just Miss Do-It-Yourself?"
A chill swept up the base of her skull before Rebecca had even processed what he said. She stiffened, blinked, and then turned around, ready to laugh at herself when she saw she was mistaken, but to her surprise, her memory had been correct.
With hands in his pockets and a smile on his face he stood, obviously awaiting her reaction. He wore a black turtleneck under a weathered, mud-colored jacket, making him a strange sight to see without his arm-long tattoo visible. His hair was slicked back from his strong face like always, flecked with bits of snow that stuck out against the dark coloring.
Right then, Rebecca was caught between two responses: relief at finding him alive, and the pleasing warmth of seeing an old friend that swept through her. For a moment she only stared, all previous imaginings of how she would have reacted in this situation forgotten. Then, slowly, she recalled the last time they had seen each other, the mixed emotions that had swirled inside her head just as they did now.
Catching them both off guard, she seized the front of Billy's jacket and put her head to his chest, at a loss for words and too happy to be ashamed. Rebecca felt tears threatening to fall, but they were quickly stopped when he returned the embrace.
"Hey," he said gently. "You miss me that bad?"
She found her voice and drew back, and to her relief she could speak without betraying her unshed tears. "Billy…what are you doing here?"
"I was in the neighborhood." He smirked as she raised an eyebrow. "Okay," he said, "I see. You're gonna try and make me admit that I missed you, is that it?"
"Wouldn't hurt," Rebecca teased, crossing her arms. Billy threw his head back, looking skyward.
"First we're in a horror movie, now a soap opera," he mused. "Never a dull day with Officer Chambers." He met her eyes once more. "It's still Chambers, right?"
When she understood what he meant, Rebecca waved a hand. "Yeah. Ever since the outbreak, I haven't exactly had time for—" She considered her choice of words. "—That."
Nodding, Billy suddenly seemed determined to look anywhere but at her. Back at the training facility, the topics of romance, relationships—the "male-female thing," as he put it—or anything of the like had become taboo between the two of them. It was the last thing to worry about when surrounded by zombies out for their blood, and they hadn't needed any more distractions.
"What about you?" she inquired. Billy hesitated, and then with a half-smile replied,
"About as much as you can expect in my situation." He leaned back against the railing. "Try not to stay in one place for too long…I had a couple of close calls, but I think you're the only reason I haven't had a squadron on my back."
Rebecca returned the expression. "Good to hear. But how did you—?" She stopped as he straightened up. Following his gaze, she spotted a police officer coming their way on foot; he hadn't seen them yet, but Billy moved closer and murmured,
"Mind if we go somewhere a little less open?"
When the two of them had taken to a path that cut through some of the park's thickest areas, giving them time alone from the majority of the public, Billy threw in, "So have you even reached the age of majority yet?" She rolled her eyes.
"I'm nineteen as of two months ago, for your information," she said curtly. "So what's that make you? Sixty? Sixty-one?"
Billy nodded, playing along. "Yeah, well. What can I say? But then again, when was the last time you saw an old guy do this—"
To Rebecca's alarm, he put one arm around her waist, another behind her knees, and swept her right off her feet. Startled, she dug her fingers into him as he slung her lightly over his shoulder, pretending to almost drop her in the process.
"Billy, no! Stop it—if you fall—!"
"Sorry, didn't catch that," he said loudly, as if deaf. By this point, laughter had crept in among her nervous protests, and she couldn't draw enough breath to yell out any more. A yelp did manage to escape her as she suddenly slid backwards down his body, almost hitting the ground; but Billy caught her at the last second, supporting her with one hand on her back so that she hovered inches above the snowy grass.
He had one of those big shot smiles on his face, the kind every man on Earth seems capable of conjuring, apparently proud that he had unnerved her. He opened his mouth to speak, and Rebecca took the opportunity to shove a handful of snow in his face.
She had actually been aiming for that mouth of his, but the effect was the same: Billy dropped her as he jerked back, and in an instant she was up, ignoring her freezing limbs and tackling him. With seemingly no effort, he pushed her back off and rolled on top of her, caught Rebecca's legs between his, and held her down by her wrists, rendering her immobile.
She struggled at first, but when it became evident that she was beat, she stopped to try and slow her heart rate back to normal. Billy lingered over her, panting just the same, and she could see their breaths mingling in the cold air.
Any laughs they had shared at the facility, as relieved and close as they had made them both feel, had been incongruous, even a little crazy. Now, however, miles away from that horrible place, together and free, laughter had a whole new meaning. Happiness, too, when Rebecca thought about it; it had been so long since she had felt safe, and yet…all she had to do was see Billy by her side, and she felt her boldness, her courage, a little bit of her independence returning, along with some feelings she had long thought gone, figments of her tested sanity.
Strangely, her heartbeat wasn't decreasing as the seconds crawled by. Rather, it seemed to have doubled, almost to the point where she began to fear that Billy could feel it. Rebecca studied his face for a sign and found that at this range she could see where the beginnings of a beard were showing. As she watched, a piece of snow from her previous attack, partly melted, slipped down to the corner of his mouth and disappeared.
Her back was wet and numb with cold, but her face grew hot as she realized that his eyes were traveling leisurely over her features. She and Billy were already the closest they had ever physically been; but either the distance was shorter than Rebecca thought or one of them edged closer, for the tips of their noses brushed briefly.
She jumped slightly at the contact, a tiny gasp of surprise causing her chest to rise even more against his. Looking down in embarrassment, she felt increasingly shy about meeting his gaze again; when his cold nose met hers once more, this time not pulling away, Rebecca's eyes closed completely. Her sense of touch magnified, she could feel as well as hear his breath roll over her lips as he came a little closer. His hands moved up from her wrists to allow his fingers to intertwine with hers.
Too fast, too fast, said a voice inside her. Don't—
Perhaps Billy had received the same warning—when she opened her eyes, she saw that he had pulled back some. Growing self-conscious all over again, she flushed even more. He quickly pushed himself off of her and Rebecca sat up, keeping her back to him to hide her humiliation.
An awkward silence ensued. Eager to break it, she began, hoping to be interrupted, "Billy…" But when she was left hanging, she could only meekly put in, "If things weren't…"
"Yeah," he agreed. "But they are."
Rebecca stood. She dusted her pants and coat clean, and then peeled off her soaked gloves to stuff them in her pocket. The freezing wind bit mercilessly at her hands, so she folded her arms and kicked at the ground, trying to keep her mind off both Billy and the cold.
The crunch of snow announced his approach. Only just behind her, he said softly,
"I've got a ride to catch soon, so…"
"Right." Forcing a nod, she tried to keep from shaking.
"…Rebecca," he added. When she didn't answer, he continued, "Maybe someday—"
"Yeah," she cut in. "Someday."
It was a lie. They both knew it. There would be no someday. He would always be running, but as long as he was, there would exist that hope. A false hope.
Billy stepped up beside her, and in her peripheral vision she could see that he was turned towards her. "I guess this is good-bye, again."
Against her better judgment, Rebecca looked at him. Why did he come? Why did he have to put her through this again? Examining him now, she was reminded of their first meeting, when she had turned around to find a convicted felon holding a gun to her head. Ironically, their first farewell also came to mind.
First and last. The beginning and the end.
Rebecca threw her arms around his neck, having to stand on tiptoe for her chin to reach his shoulder. She wanted to stay like that, feeling safe and secure in his hold while the sky sympathized with the couple and poured down its frozen tears around them.
This was what part of her had wanted to do on the hilltop.
Finally, she backed up to look into his face. Later on, Rebecca wouldn't remember who moved first, although she guessed they were both equally to blame. Whoever the cause, their mouths somehow met in a tentative brush, parted, and then came together again in a gentle kiss.
When Rebecca paused, Billy did the same, waiting to see what she would do. After catching her breath despite the heart pounding in her throat, she tilted her head, inviting him to kiss her again. His grip around her tightened as he obliged, pulling her closer to him, but she was too focused on the deepening kiss to notice.
Their breathing became heavier as they went on, too stubborn to stop for a moment. Occasionally, their lips would part just enough to draw in a fragment of a breath, but the bitter air only made them go back with a hungrier fervor than before. To Rebecca, that kiss was equivalent to liquid heat; a deep warmth crept into her chest, burning pleasantly the whole way down. She no longer felt cold, but was overcome with the desire to just be as close to Billy as possible.
It could have gone on forever, and still she would have thought that moment too short. This would only make their parting more unbearable, she knew, but maybe that was the point. Maybe from now on, she wouldn't remember Billy Coen as the man she had known for a couple of hours during a nightmare, but as the first whom she had felt such an unusual yearning for…
Rebecca broke the kiss, resting her forehead against his. Afraid that she would be unable to do what she had to if she saw him, she avoided his eyes and whispered, at length,
Releasing him, stepping away, was like watching her ribcage being snapped open by invisible hands. Her stomach felt too heavy for her body as she turned her back on him and willed herself to start walking. Rebecca had barely taken three steps when tears began to fall down her red cheeks.
A suffocating sob had already built up inside of her, but she bit her lip and held it back.
It was going to be a long walk home.
Author's note: Song excerpt from "Mary Did You Know."