The Arklay Mountains barely qualified as mountains at all. Only the very highest peak stretched above the tree line, its rounded top peeking out like a patch of pattern baldness. Richard had climbed in much more challenging ranges, but the eroded, evergreen hills that surrounded Raccoon City had won him over with their brand of safe, welcoming beauty. He had come out hiking dozens of times since he'd moved to accept his job as S.T.A.R.S. Bravo Team's communications expert, but there were still hundreds of trails and paths to explore.

Normally he came up here to unwind after the long work week. He could pack up his gear, jump in his rusted out truck, and be a world away from paper work and criminals and radios before the hour was up. A couple of acquaintances had told him that it was not bad hunting up in the hills, but after all the mandatory S.T.A.R.S. trips to the gun range he found he wasn't interested. Anyway, the biggest animal he'd ever seen on the trail was a porcupine.

But on one surprisingly temperate evening in mid-April, his back resting comfortably against the face of a sun-warmed rock, Richard wasn't feeling relaxed at all. In fact, Richard Aiken had never felt so nervous in his entire life. Not taking his first driver's test, not even when he'd sat across from the formidable Captain Wesker during his S.T.A.R.S. interview, a pair of piercing blue eyes staring right through him like twin laser beams. He was in his element, and yet he'd never been more terrified.

Part of the source of his agitation was sitting between his legs, head resting back against his chest as she watched the sun set behind the other side of the valley. A few strands of her chestnut brown hair reached down to tickle his arm where it was wrapped around her waist. The other part was a tiny gold ring that seemed to weigh a metric tonne in his pocket. Tonight he was hoping to bring the two together and although logic would suggest otherwise, he was genuinely afraid she would say no.

Meeting Bridgette had been an unexpected perk of moving to Raccoon City. When he'd first come to the small city for work he'd still been running from his personal demons, still struggling with his sister's death. Getting involved with someone, especially on an emotional level, hadn't even registered on his list of priorities. He had first run into her at the public library when she'd commented on the large stack of local history books he'd deposited on the front desk.

"You must be new in town," she'd said from the opposite side of the counter. "Everybody around here takes out the travel guides – all they want to do is get out."

"It can't be that bad, I mean, you're here right?" he'd added a daring wink, finishing copying out his new address onto the brief library card application form. He'd been feeling especially good that night, still riding the high off his job offer with the R.P.D. S.T.A.R.S. unit. The petite brunette with dark brown eyes had blushed nearly crimson.

"They're due back in three weeks or its ten cents a day per book," she'd pushed the books back across the counter to him, her eyes fixed off to the side, lips compressing to hide an unprofessional smile.

"Will you be working three weeks from tonight?"

"I'm always working," her shoulders had come up in a shrug, her eyes finally meeting his again. It had been nice to get some attention from someone who wasn't easily twice her age and had borrowed every raunchy western paperback in the branch at least twice.

"Alright, good. I'll see you then."

She had been a good influence on him right from the start; a week later he had returned his library books before their due date for the first time in years. Her easy, warm smile and genuine laugh had helped him to gain back his self confidence, to feel more like himself again. She had made him happy in a time when he had still been haunted by so much grief. He wanted to make her a permanent part of his life so that he would never have to feel that alone again.

"So," he started, his voice squeaking a bit with nerves. He cleared his throat and tried again. "So, you know that trip we were planning for our anniversary?"

Bridgette turned her head slightly, looking away from the brilliant oranges and pinks of the sunset.

"Yea? What's up?" her brown eyes glimmered black in the dusk. His fingers brushed a few errant strands of hair away from her face.

"I think I might have to reschedule it," the corners of his lips twisted into a frown that reached all the way up to his eyes. The orange of the sunset was reflected in their light colour.

"Oh," her face fell a bit before she caught it, giving him a reassuring little smile. "Well, it's okay. I mean, it's just a date right? The important thing is getting to spend time together."

"Of course," he agreed, still looking apologetic.

"Why, what's come up?"

He leaned his head forward over her shoulder and pressed their temples together, letting out a sigh. "I just think I might be busy that day. I'm sorry, babe."

"Busy?" She was trying her best not to sound hurt. "Doing what? Is it for work or something?"

"I don't know," she could feel the motion of him shrugging against her back. "I was hoping, maybe, marrying you?"

A couple of months ago, when he'd started formulating this whole thing, he'd thought about something more traditional; a nice suit, fancy dinner at the most exclusive restaurant in town, flowers (maybe), down on one knee - the whole nine yards. But none of that had seemed right. Bridgette was a quiet person by nature, and although he himself was slightly more outgoing, neither one would appreciate the inescapable attention of such a public spectacle. On the other hand, the thought of stretching out on a blanket under the wide open sky, the most beautiful girl in the world – his girl – resting her head on his shoulder, watching the stars start to peek out from behind the veil of fading orange sunset had been too perfect to resist.

With that ideal in mind he had set out to find the perfect spot – a small, private clearing just far enough from the main trails to avoid interruptions, but close enough to human activity to ward off any large wild animals. He had found the spot just off of a branch of the Aimes river about a month ago and had been working up the never ever since. Now everything was out in the open and he felt like he'd just puked out his heart for inspection.

Bridgette twisted around more fully to see him face to face, her eyes stinging with shock. She had to see him, to know that he wasn't just joking around with her. She had to know that she hadn't just imagined it in some delusion inspired by the romantic setting. But when she turned to face him, his expression was one of anxiety instead of jest. Unable to speak, she threw her arms around his neck, squeezing him tightly. He held her back equally as tightly, feeling a touch of dampness against his neck.

"I love you," she heard his voice as a rumble against her ear. At first she had been surprised, and maybe a little impressed, at how open he was with his feelings and affections. He never held back, was never afraid to lean down to whisper an endearment in her ear or reach out to grasp her hand regardless of who else was around. She knew it was because of his sister and how suddenly and violently she'd been taken from this world. It was important to him that the people he cared about knew how he felt in case they, or he, weren't there the next day to spell it out.

"I love you too," she said, lightly kissing the column of his throat.

Richard dug in his pocket for the ring, pulling it out to slip over her finger. The plain gold band with its simple diamond setting had originally been purchased for his grandmother several decades ago. Since then it had been passed down to his mother who had intended to give it to his sister for her wedding. Unfortunately Valerie had never made it to that point in her life and the ring had come to Richard to give to the woman who had helped him heal the wound of that loss. It fit a little loosely on the fine bone of her finger so he held it in place with his fingertips.

Bridgette looked down at the sparkle on her finger, feeling like the digits must belong to some other person. The warm fingertips of his other hand came out to brush away the strands of hair that were caught in the tear tracks on her cheeks. They were sitting close enough together to share the same air, breathing in the other's exhale with every breath. She was aware of the slight roughness of his hands where they touched her, aware of the hard muscles of his legs underneath her and the expanse of his shoulders where they stretched out the fabric of his shirt. There were so many things she wanted to tell him, to explain to him about how happy and safe and complete he made her, but so many of them were beyond the scope of any verbal language. Some things could only be felt.

She leaned forward, pressing her lips against his, feeling his reaction almost instantly. His hands moved under her hips, shifting her so she was properly straddling him, her weight settling firmly onto his hips. She kissed him firmly, framing his face with her hands, the ring already warm from her skin where it pressed against his cheekbone. Her lips parted a bit, her tongue sliding out to meet his, licking against it a little shyly. Usually she let him take the reins; inexperienced and lacking confidence she was happy to let him be in control. Richard was a considerate lover, never wanting to take advantage or pressure her into something she wasn't ready for. He'd taken flak from some of his team mates for still not having made the leap from aggressive petting to full-blown love making, but he honestly wasn't bothered.

Fingers lightly walked their way up her hips to settle at her waist, holding her firmly in place as she broke away to kiss his jaw and neck. Richard leaned his head back against the rock, giving her greater access. He tasted faintly of sweat from the exertions of the day, growling a little as she licked over the sensitive flesh of his Adam's apple. Feeling a little brave, she grazed her teeth lightly over the notch of cartilage and felt it pulse as he swallowed.

Meanwhile, his hands had started to feel a little braver too, moving up under the hems of both her light sweater and t-shirt. Slightly callused fingertips grazed over the soft flesh of her back and sides. She shivered against him as he traced a line over the bumps of her spine. Her lips found his again, her body shifting, hinting. She could feel him hesitating, unsure of how far she wanted to take this.

"Richard," she said, her mouth barely moving away from his to speak. "I want you."

"Yea?" he pulled away a little to look at her. The sun had gone behind the peaks of the valley and a bluish tinge was starting to creep over everything.


"Are you sure? Don't feel like we have to…"

"I'm sure," she put her hand on one of his under her shirt, moving it up to cover her breast over the material of her bra. "I'm sure." Underneath her the bulge of his erection grew a little.

"Okay," he leaned forward to kiss her, a little more gently this time. His hands moved out from under her shirt to guide her legs around his waist. With her ankles locked behind him he stood up with one, fluid motion, carrying her over to the blanket they had spread out earlier. Laying her down gently, he stretched out beside her, propping himself up on one elbow.

He kissed her as his palm found her breast again, cupping and weighing it through her shirt. Although he knew she sometimes felt they were too small, he liked the way they fit perfectly inside his hand with nothing wasted to excess. Her fingers moved from sliding through the short bristles of his hair to clutching at the blanket overhead as her chest began to arch up toward him. He slid the fabric of her shirt and sweater upward, leaving it bunched up high on her chest. Her skin seemed to glow in the dawning moonlight, pale and cool to the touch.

The satiny fabric of her bra rasped against the rough sections of his hands as he shifted it out of the way. He tucked the cups underneath her breasts, her nipples instantly puckering in the cool evening air. Her back arched even higher as his fingers lightly plucked and twisted the hardened nubs. His mouth followed shortly, warm and wet against her chest, leaving an icy trail when he moved on to the other peak then further down her body. As his lips worked lower his hands continued to rove over her body, the friction helping to keep the warmth that had flushed through her system when he laid her down.

She tugged on the collar of his shirt, pulling him back up to her level then yanking the offending garment over his head. His chest was a wall of heat and toned, powerful muscles that rippled under her hands. Richard, shirtless, had always made her feel a little breathless.

Deft fingers released the fly of her jeans as his lips found her neck again, nipping lightly while she pulled him closer. He traced the backs of his fingers over the front of her panties, feeling dampness against his knuckles. It relieved him to know that she was just as excited as he was. The feeling of his mouth on her neck combined with the gentle circles of his fingers over the fabric that covered her most intimate parts made her moan.

He kept at it until her hips started to rock urgently against his hand. Then both sets of hands fumbled at the fly of his pants until they finally came undone with a sudden jerk. He shoved both his pants and his shorts past his hips as she worked her own jeans and underwear low enough. His grey eyes watched her as she looked him over, a line of white teeth sinking into her lower lip. One tentative hand reached down to stroke his erection.

"You still want this?" Richard asked, combing his fingers through the silky length of her hair.

She nodded, looking right up at him. "Just go slow."

He propped himself up on one arm above her, using the other hand to guide himself in. She was hot, wet, and unbelievably tight around him. Some brutal, animalistic part of his brain begged him to fuck her hard and fast, wanting nothing more than to be buried up to the root in her over and over again. He clamped down on that part of his psyche, using the pressure of her hands gripping his shoulders to tell him how fast to go. When she tensed he would back out, almost to the tip, before slowly pushing back in, a little further each time. Finally he was sunk all the way in, both of them breathing hard, her teeth still working her lower lip.

"Does it hurt?" his voiced was laced with concern.

"I'm alright," she said, a little breathless, stroking a thumb over his cheekbone.

He leaned forward to kiss her again, letting his hips roll slowly in and out. The feel of her around him, under him, mewling and gasping softly against his lips as he made love to her for the first time was like nothing he had ever imagined. No fantasy had ever included the swelling feeling in his chest, or the look of the moonlight reflected in her eyes. He reached out, fingers grasping the dry grass and rocks just beyond the blanket, trying to ground himself. He wanted to hold out as long as possible, but the way she curved her hips into his with every thrust was making that increasingly difficult.

She could feel him holding back, and could feel that restraint slipping. She tried out clenching her muscles around his thickness and fell in love with the way it made him arch his head back. Against a backdrop of stars and pine trees he looked incredibly primal. His hips started to move a little faster.

"Baby," he panted, "baby, can you come like this?"

"I…I don't know."

He sucked on the thumb of one hand before lowering it down to the hard bud at the top of her slit. "I want you to come with me."

"Richard…" she tossed her head back, arching her back, the hard points of her nipples grazing against his chest. The closer she got, the more she moved, the closer he got, biting down on his lip hard to keep from jumping the gun. His thumb strummed her clit lightly but quickly and he could feel the tension in her mounting as he fingers dug into his back. She whispered his name again an instant before she came, a soft cry escaping her lips while her whole body went rigid. His own orgasm slammed into him like a fully-loaded semi truck, forcing all the air out of his lungs in a sharp exhale.

He rolled to the side, bringing her along with him, and pulled a corner of the blanket up over their rapidly cooling bodies. Her body was trembling slightly in the safe confines of his arms. Their legs were a tangle of flesh and jeans and boots.

"Did I hurt you, sweetheart?" his hands moved up and down her back, tracing the swell of her hip with one palm. He could feel the motion of her shaking her head against the underside of his chin. Bridgette pulled herself up so their faces were level.

"Promise that you won't leave?" She felt surprisingly vulnerable, as though after all of this time he would still use her and cast her aside. A previous boyfriend had done a real number on her, he knew. His hand found hers, bringing her fingers up to his lips to kiss the digit that held his grandmother's heirloom.

"I swear to you, I'm not going anywhere."

Richard Aiken wasn't in the habit of making promises he knew he would have to break. He had no idea that within four months he would come up to these very same mountains and would never come back down.