*WARNING* This fic contains spoilers for RE5. You have been warned.
A/N - Just a quick idea I came up with. I had the idea of a reunion fic a while ago but figured I'd wait until RE5 came out rather than risk posting an AU fic. Fortunately Jill did survive (yay!), so I wrote this. I'll admit it's a bit long and I might lose some people before the end but I wrote it so what the heck, I thought I'd put it up. I guess it could be seen as a distant sequel to Confessions. There may be more oneshots from me, maybe even a story if I find the time to be able to commmit to one. RE5 gave a lot of material to play with so there's a lot of options...
Enjoy, and don't forget to review :).
Her body ached, every nerve aflame with a level of pain she had never experienced before. It was dull, aching, as though every bone in her body had been shattered then painstakingly glued back together again. Long lashes fluttered as her eyelids uncovered the striking azure pupils that lay beyond. Her eyes widened in panic, observing unfamiliar surroundings and an unfriendly, sterile setting.
Her arms flailed, their movements restricted by the bindings that held her to the bed. She cried out in agony, the pain wracking her body suddenly becoming more intense.
"Help!" she screamed, the sound slicing through the unnaturally still air. Her fingers curled into her palms, the leather straps that held her wrists to the bed digging painfully into her skin.
Then she heard it; footsteps. The steady beats eased into a slow rhythm, the handle on the door bending down slowly. She jerked violently again, another agonised cry escaping her lungs as another wave of pain swept through her, tears streaming down her face, teeth digging into her soft bottom lip. The IV drip attached to her right arm fell with a watery thud to the floor, the clatter of the stand echoing around the room.
The door opened, and suddenly her pain seemed inconsequential.
Jill flipped over, arm raised above her head defensively. Nothing stirred, the room remaining as empty and still as it had been when she drifted off.
"Shit," she swore, settling into a comfortable position on her back.
It was a nightmare she had experienced several times over the past two years, though for once she was thankful that her sleep was once again controlled by her and her alone. She had become so accustomed to sleeping when her body was tired, unable to resist the urge, waking up with momentary control only for it to be lost again as the restocked administration device pumped her full of P30 once again.
It was a nightmare that had been terrifyingly real two years ago. It was a detail of the small amount of memories she posessed of the sixteen months she spent in a medically-induced coma. The hospital bed she spent two months in before being heavily sedated and forced into never-ending sleep proved to be the most persistant. Chained down, at Wesker's mercy as his staff nursed her back to health. She knew then that he had plans for her. Towards the end of her recovery he would talk to her, taking great pleasure in describing his plans, of Uroboros and how she factored into those plans, how she would be the first test subject, of how the virus would change not only who she was but what she was.
Her last memory before these fateful events had been of Chris, of their mission, of how reckless they were for engaging Wesker. When Wesker held Chris she did not think twice about her actions. Her memories of freefalling down the face of the cliff merged with those of lying helpless in the hospital bed, praying that she would not survive her injuries. As usual, her prayers fell on deaf ears. The last six months had been the worst; emerging from her slumber only to find that she was little more than a prisoner in her own mind. The face that stared back at her through the mirror had been cold, emotionless...weak. She despaired at what she had become, unable to even recognise herself. She was no longer Jill Valentine, she was a monster.
Her fate long since accepted, Jill had drifted through her own consciousness, blindly following Wesker and the woman he called Excella. She ignored the vital role she was forced to play in the infection of Kijuju, of the slaughter of her former allies. It wasn't until she recognised a face amongst the smoke that she began to resurface, remaining dormant but aware, knowing that he would seek out Wesker and find her.
Jill reached for a glass of water, the cool liquid soothing her burning throat. She tried hard not to remember what she had done to Chris, watching him desperately try to talk her round, his pain evident in every plea.
A blinding flash of light scorched her eyes as the lightbulb above her suddenly burst in to life. She groaned in protest, her arm raising to shield her eyes.
"Oh, sorry," a familiar voice apologised as the lights dimmed ever so slightly.
Jill turned to look at the intruder, smiling as she recognised his weary features. She had still not accustomed herself to her partner's altered appearance, and found his bulkier frame somewhat strange. Though she knew she had no place to comment on appearances. Chris suited his extra muscle and the lazy stubble that coated his jawline. Her, on the other hand...
"I didn't wake you, did I?" he asked as he settled into a chair beside her bed.
"Not at all," she replied. She was glad for the alternative to sleep that his sudden appearance offered her. She would give anything to not have to slip back into that dark world again.
"I couldn't sleep. I just...I still can't believe he's gone, after all these years." An undertone of relief tinged his voice. "What the hell do we do now?"
Jill laughed with him, understanding the situation perfectly. All they had fought for over the years had finaly been resolved; Umbrella was well and truly gone, as was Wesker. Aside from that, the BSAA's research department was using her blood to develop a cure to the T and Progenitor viruses. Soon there would be little need for the BSAA, at least their combat division. The past ten years of their lives had been dedicated to the fight against bioterrorism, to bringing down Wesker and the last remaining element of Umbrella: Spencer. Now there was no goal to reach, no threat hanging over their heads.
For the first time in ten years, they finally knew what it felt like to be free. Trouble was, they no longer knew how to live a normal life.
"Anyway, how are you feeling?" Chris asked.
She thought for a moment, trying to sum up all that she felt in a few simple words; aching, weak, guilty, horrified?
"Exhausted," she settled for. Warmth fell over her as Chris pulled the thin hospital blanket further up her body, covering the lightly bandaged wounds on her chest.
Chris swallowed back his guilt, wishing their had been an easier way to remove that Godawful device. Her earsplitting scream as he wrenched it away from her still echoed in his ears.
She gazed up at him, taking in the injuries he had suffered during the previous day's events. Most of them had been inflicted by her so she was glad that none were serious and all were healing well.
"You don't have to talk right now," he spoke. "But I think we should soon."
She nodded in approval, wanting so desperately to share what she felt with him but knowing that she could never find the words. They had opened up to each other after their return from the mansion in '98, but she knew that it was different this time. She had doubts that Chris would accept the things she had done whilst under Wesker's control.
"For the record, I don't blame you," he told her, as though he could hear her thoughts. "Neither does Sheva. It wasn't your fault, you couldn't control your actions."
Jill swallowed hard and looked him in the eyes.
"That doesn't make it any easier to bear. You have no idea what I did."
"Jill, you can't blame yourself for any of that!" She picked up on the desperation in his voice, knowing that he wanted to help her, but she had convinced herself that even the great Chris Redfield would have a hard time accepting the details of her betrayal. Part of her didn't want him to understand or to forgive her, part of her was ashamed enough to know that he shouldn't forgive her.
"Did you read the report?" she asked.
Chris nodded solemnly, not quite knowing how to address the issue. Truth was that he didn't blame her, not even in the slightest. He didn't care what she had done, he knew that she had no choice. All he cared about was the effect it had on her, and how he would do whatever the hell it took to help her through this.
"Uroboros was made possible because of me," she whispered. "You have no idea how many people I killed."
"It's not your fault," he repeated, squeezing her hand in reassurance. "Please understand that."
She smiled as she settled back into her pillows, still not believing him but too tired to argue anymore.
"What happened to my things?"
"Distributed according to your will," Chris explained, letting her sudden change of subject slide as he knew it was still a tender subject to talk about. "Though I don't want to be the one to explain all this to your insurance company."
Jill laughed loudly in agreement.
"After you were declared dead we collected on your life insurance. It paid for the funeral and the expense of clearing out your apartment. We still have most of your personal belongings, your father has the rest. I guess we just didn't want to let go."
"How sweet," She commented.
"It wasn't easy, moving on," Chris told her honestly. "To be honest, some of us never did. Rebecca poured herself into her work, Barry took up drinking, Leon refused to talk for a while, Carlos moved away, Claire latched onto me...who knew you were the one holding us all together?"
"Look at me," he implored, old pain once again etched onto his features. "You think I worked out this much for fun? I almost dropped out of the BSAA, moved away. None of it seemed worth it without you."
Jill broke their eye contact, the guilt within her growing steadily deeper. She had saved his life, yet it was evident that what he had been left with could hardly be referred to as a 'life'.
She felt Chris's fingertips brush against her cheek, finding their way into her blonde hair. He observed her with the same love she could remember seeing in his eyes before her disappearance, the same adoration that made her feel as though she was the most important thing in the world to him...as long as this was true, she didn't care what happened outside of their little world.
"Do you think...is it still possible for us to go back? To return to how it was before?"
Chris thought for a moment.
"I don't know," he admitted. "There's still so much to do, but I'm through with this life. I just want to be normal again. If...if I decide to stay, it would be with you. I would have no other partner."
Laughter filled the small medical room, startling Chris.
"That's not what I meant, silly," Jill explained, composing herself.
Jill's eyes were downcast as she thought of all she had missed. She recalled the night they had spent together after his return from Antarctica and the torture of the following months, not being able to do what they so wished they could do. She fondly remembered the night of the celebration of Umbrella's downfall, when he kissed her once more, keeping the promise he had made. Three years they had together, three short yet blissful years. Not once did they allow their relationship to affect their work, and it made them wonder why they had waited so long. They saw the world together, loved each other as if their time together was running out. As fate would have it, that turned out to be the case.
"I was missing for two years. I wouldn't blame you for moving on."
Her chest rose and fell gently as she breathed in deeply, bracing herself for the news she feared. Chris was loved by everyone, it would not have been difficult for him to find someone else.
"How could I move on?" he breathed, his hand remaining on her pale cheek. "I could never be with anyone else because I would constantly be comparing them to you...and they would always come up short. So relax, you're stuck with me and it's your own damn fault."
"I guess you're lucky that I came back," she laughed, her smile threatening to split her face in two. "You do get grumpy when-"
"Let's not go there...yet," he smirked, pressing his lips to hers. It was a sweet sensation, one he had resigned himself to never feeling again.
"And my promise still stands," he told her. She looked up at him quizzically, resting her face against the cool pillow.
"Yeah, promise," he echoed, mocking her slightly. "Wesker is finally dead, with agents like Sheva and Josh the world doesn't need us anymore...all I need now is a ring."
Jill rose into a seated position, startled by his words. Of course, his promise...
"But, Chris..." Words suddenly seemed meaningless, a wave of happiness more intense than she had ever experienced before sweeping through her. "Chris...I didn't think- I didn't expect-"
An encouraging smile was all it took for her to throw her arms around his neck, holding him tightly for the first time in two years. It had been no more than two months before the fall that seperated them when he had taken her hand, looked her in the eyes and made her a promise she was ashamed to have forgotten.
"I love you, Jill Valentine. I know our circumstances are less than perfect, but I want you to know this: When Wesker is dead, when our job is done...I want you to marry me. I want the over-the-top wedding, the expensive honeymoon, the kids, the dog that won't behave, the clichéd house in the suburbs...I want it all. We deserve it all. And that's a promise."
The black Range Rover slowed to a halt in the parking lot outside Chris's apartment block. Jill observed the familiar scene, removing her sunglasses as she exited the vehicle.
The flight from Senegal had been long and uncomfortable to say the least. But after many hours and several bad movies they had finally landed on American soil. The three weeks they had spent at the BSAA West Africa division's headquarters in Dakar had seemingly dragged on, Jill's health closely monitored while the US embassy worked on securing a passport for her as well as nullifying her death certificate.
She straightened the leather jacket Sheva had given her, once again grateful for the younger woman's kindness and pleased at the fact she could comfortably fit into the clothes of a woman ten years her junior. Of course, the months her body spent performing at a higher level than it was used had toned every muscle to perfection, leaving her with a figure even she could not complain about.
"Claire took most of your clothes," Chris explained, noticing her expression. "Asking my sister to return something won't be easy but at least you'll have something to wear."
"I always wore your clothes, anyway," she purred, planting a light kiss on his lips. "Besides, if my money is safe like you said I have three years of virtually untouched BSAA wages as well as the government grant for Umbrella's take-down to spend."
Chris laughed, placing a loose arm around her shoulders, hers around his waist as he lead her towards the entrance.
"Your father never had the heart to spend the money you left him," he assured her, "and I kept having nightmares about you appearing on my doorstep, yelling at me for spending your hard-earned money on beer and video games."
Jill laughed heartily. At least he was able to laugh about the situation, she thought. She smiled to herself, realising how utterly ridiculous her predicament was. In a way she was returning from the dead; the same scenario she had feared so much when she lay dying in Raccoon.
"Are you sure they don't know?"
"All they know is that Wesker is dead and I am returning home," Chris smirked. Jill sighed and rested her head on his shoulder.
"I can't wait to see them," she breathed. ""It's be so long. I'm just worried that-"
"Don't," Chris interrupted, pulling her to a stop as they reached the elevator. "They will be glad to see you. Trust me."
She raised an eyebrow, skeptical but willing to believe him for optimism's sake. Together they stepped into the elevator, silent as it ascended to the eighth floor.
"So how are we going to do this?"
Chris thought for a moment. He did not think it fair to mess with their friends after the pain they had went through after her disappearance, but they had to go about this tactfully and he was sure that there was a little fun to be had.
"I'll go in first, you follow?" he suggested.
"Sounds like a plan."
The elevator jerked suddenly as it stopped on the designated floor.
"I see they still haven't fixed that," Jill laughed, her stomach left somewhere between floors five and six.
The building was just how she had remembered it; modern, in need of a lick of paint but otherwise homely. She wondered if any of the neighbours would recognise her, if any of them had even heard of her 'death'. She had spent far more hours curled up on Chris's couch than she had in her own apartment several blocks away. It felt more like home to her than anywhere had before. She assumed that his apartment would also remain the same; boyish and messy, a month-old copy of Playboy shoved hastily between the cushions of the couch as though she wouldn't notice it. As messy as it was, his apartment had always been cosy, the smell that always reminded her of him present in every room. Even when she was alone, watching one of the many cheap B-movies that lined his shelves, she felt as though he was there.
As they neared the door to his apartment, Chris removed his keys from his pocket, signalling at her to stand back. They could hear voices on the other side of the door, a loud laugh Jill recognised instantly as belonging to the younger Redfield sibling.
She raised a trembling hand to her hair, suddenly nervous. She swore, cursing her stupidity. These were her friends, people she had been to hell and back with and she was afraid of speaking to them? Images rushed through her mind, memories of the time she spent under Wesker's control. Alpha team, Irving, Chris... They had irrefutable proof that she was the one and only Jill Valentine, that nothing harmful was left in her system and that there was no chance she would turn against anyone. Still, she would be skeptical if someone she had given up for dead suddenly returned with an altered appearance and a story as far-fetched as hers.
Chris's voice suddenly drifted from the other side of the door, the other voices mingling with his as their reunion took place. Shaking, she pressed a hand against the door, stepping over the threshold with baited breath.
Leon was the first to look up, his eyes meeting hers as an expression of pure disbelief swept across his weather-worn features. His lips twitched, as though he couldn't decide whether to smile or cry. Jill offered a smile in return, nodding in recognition before something slammed into her, knocking the wind out of her. She looked down, a mass of red hair blocking her vision.
"Claire," she breathed, returning her future sister-in-law's hug.
"I don't care if I'm imagining this again, God, it's just so good to see you," she sobbed. Jill held her lovingly, taking the opportunity to look at the others over her shoulder.
Leon's surprise had morphed into a brilliant smile, his arm on Carlos's shoulder as the dumbstruck man ignored the growing pool of beer around his feet from the dropped beverage. Rebecca's eyes were wide, her mouth opening and closing in rapid succession. Barry simply echoed Carlos, his expression one of disbelief but also of hope.
Claire finally pulled back, her grip on the older woman loosening. Her eyes were bloodshot, her cheeks tearstained. She placed her hands on Jill's cheeks as though she were making sure that she wasn't some grief-induced hallucination.
"It's me," Jill laughed, shedding a few tears of her own. "Really."
She hugged each of her friends in succession as they whispered "I missed you"s and "I can't believe it"s. Several of them burst into fits of laughter, unable to express their relief any other way. Two years ago they had buried this woman, they had said their goodbyes and tried to move on. Now, all of their emotional barriers were breaking down once again.
"Th-This is impossible," Rebecca stuttered as she approached her friend. "You died, you had a funeral...I-I laid flowers on your grave just last month."
Jill held out her arms and Rebecca approached her dubiously, her frightened composure softening as their arms wound around each other.
"I fell," she answered, every eye in the room on her, every ear listening intently. "But I didn't die."
Rebecca pulled away, backing off so that she could address every one of them. Her cheeks flushed an unflattering shade of crimson, her eyes narrowed as she fought back her emotions.
"I...Wesker resuced me," Jill continued, ignoring the surprised cries at this revelation. "He nursed me back to health so he could exact his revenge by using me as a test subject for a new virus he was working on. I was put into a cryogenic sleep for just short of sixteen months which is why, as you can see, I look a little different than you remember. When I was in this state, it became evident that the cure Carlos gave me in Racoon hadn't destroyed the T-virus and it...it was reactivated. It disappeared within a matter of days, leaving me with extremely powerful antibodies to both the T and Progenitor viruses. Wesker, ah...he, um...he decided that I was no longer a suitable test subject for his virus and used me instead to test a performance enhancer. It gave me strength almost equal to his but also placed me completely and utterly under his control. The- the chemical had a short period of activity, so he attached a device to my chest that would constantly administer the drug. I was...under his control for about six months in total, until Chris saved me. He removed the device and...I was free."
She smiled greatfully at Chris, taking his hand in hers. She could have sworn that he blushed as he brushed off her comment, telling the others that Sheva had played just as big a role in her rescue. They looked at each other knowingly, conveniently leaving out Jill's forced contribution to both the creation of Uroboros and the infection of Kijuju. They also conveniently neglected to inform the others of Jill's former hostility towards her rescuers.
The room fell silent, each friend absorbing the information, none too sure of how to react.
"God, Jill..." Claire gasped. A pale hand covered her mouth in shock, her whole body shaking.
"You don't have to say anything," Jill smiled. "None of you do. I'd actually rather not talk about it. It's been two years, we have so much more to talk about."
She noticed a sense of relief fall over certain members of the group. She wasn't offended, more flattered that her revelation had shocked most of them into speechlessness. Their shock proved that they were not skeptical of her story, that they actually believed her.
"Though, out of curiosity, how was my funeral?" she asked with a smirk.
"Beautiful," Rebecca laughed. "Hopefully we won't have to sit through another one, though. At least not any time soon."
They all murmured in agreement, the tension between them easing somewhat. Jill noticed Carlos eyeing her with a smile and she returned his gesture, trying not to laugh as he picked up the beer can at his feet, shaking the thick liquid from his shoes.
"I never would have imagined you as a blonde," he laughed. "Somehow it suits you. You're still beautiful."
Jill blushed at his flattery, grabbing the towel that Chris threw her to help mop up the remaining beer.
"I really need to thank you," she whispered so that the others couldn't hear her. Carlos looked up, his long hair falling onto his face. He was a little different than she remembered; his skin was slightly darker, his hair longer and highlighted by the sun. They had all changed, though none to the degree that she had. Barry was sporting more wrinkles, no doubt due to the years of looking after teenaged daughters; Rebecca had grown her hair out and lost several pounds; Leon had cut his hair slightly, his skin several shades darker than it had been; and Claire had also trimmed her hair, her skin lighter in contrast to Leon's. She also noticed the position of Leon's hand on Claire's back, the smile that was evident even in his eyes as he gazed at her and she back at him. Jill shook her head and turned back to Carlos.
"It was the simple fact that the virus was still in my system that saved me from a fate far worse than what I suffered," she explained. "The cure you found simple deactivated the virus. Had the years it resided in my system not forced my body to produce the antibodies it did, I would have died a death more horrific than you could imagine. Thank you."
Carlos blushed and turned away from her.
"I only did what was right."
He rose to his feet and took the wet towel out of Jill's hands before disappearing into the kitchen, his face still shielded from view. She remained in a squatting position on the floor, staring after her old friend. She had never seen him this quiet, this reluctant to express himself before. It was shock, she told herself, and she was right. She knew that it would take a while to adjust to her being back and it would be difficult for things to return just as they were but she knew that they would try, all of them, herself included.
"You really should have been at your funeral," Claire announced with a broad smile on her lips. Leon stood behind her, an arm around her waist as he helped Jill to her feet. "I think we went a little overboard to be honest. The flowers set Rebecca's hayfever off and she sneezed through half of the ceremony."
"What about this?" Jill asked, gesturing at the couple before her, fighting back laughter. "When did this happen?"
Claire gazed up lovingly at Leon, her arm over his.
"About a year ago," she admitted. "If I'm to be honest, it was you that helped bring us together."
"Me?" Jill asked, unable to work it out herself.
"Yeah. We kind of...fell apart after you died, all of us," she spoke solemnly. "I stayed with Chris for a while, looking after him. Eventually he left for some assignment in the middle east and it was Leon who looked after me."
"I don't know whether to say 'I'm sorry' or 'you're welcome'."
"You don't have to say anything. I've got a feeling it would have happened sooner or later anyway."
Jill smirked again, slightly sickened by the look the couple exchanged. They reminded her of herself and Chris, back when they first got together. The memories were amongst her favourites, how they would stay up all night in each other's arms talking about nothing in particular, how they acted like lovestruck teenagers and spent almost every night together. She could still remember their first date clearly: It was three days after the celebration party, three days after they had kissed for the first time since his return from Antarctica. She hadn't known what to expect when he picked her up from her apartment an hour after calling her to tell her to dress confortably and not wear heels. A little apprehensive, she followed him, ordered to close her eyes as he drove her to some unknown destination. When she opened her eyes, what she had seen both touched her and hit her with a sense of hilarity. It was a county fair, complete with hook the duck games, a ferris wheel and questionable corn dogs. Chris had remembered something she had told him so many years ago she had almost forgotten it herself; that she loved fairgrounds and had spent many weekends and hundreds of dollars at them as a teenager. It was a simple passing comment but he had remembered.
"Restaurants are too formal, you can never talk in movies and who wants to spend a first date on the couch, dropping pizza on each other?" he had said. The stupidity of it had made her laugh, the thoughtfulness of the gesture causing her to fall even deeper in love with him at that point. It was singly the best date she had ever experienced. From Chris pissing off the shooting range owner for being too good at the game to him pulling lumps of candy floss from her hair, every memory was greatly cherished.
"You still think about him, even when he's in the same room?" Claire asked, bringing her sharply back to reality. Jill looked over at her beloved companion, laughing as he stopped to stare at her, the greasy topping slowly sliding off the slice of pizza he held to his mouth. He swore harshly, biting down on the base as he walked briskly into his bedroom to change his now-soiled T-shirt.
"He really loves you, you know?" Claire told her, though she really didn't need to be told. "He was a mess after you were declared dead. He kept saying it should have been him. I'd never seen him so out of it, not even after mom and dad died. He wasn't all there, it was as though part of him had been torn away. He wasn't the same..."
Jill swallowed the lump that rose in her throat. The talks she and Chris had had during their weeks at the Dakar base had solved most of their problems; they had opened up, shared their feelings no matter how painful they were, they had accepted that things would not be the same and agreed that what had changed was for the best. They were stronger as a couple now than they had ever been. They had a wedding on the horizon, and kids not far behind...they had everything that they wanted. But still, guilt lingered in her mind, her heart bleeding for the man she left behind. Had he been in her place, she knew that he would have felt the exact same way and that provided her with a small amount of comfort.
"We'll be alright, won't we?" Rebecca asked from behind her. "I wouldn't want us to drift apart after you just returned. I don't know what you're feeling right now, but we're all here for you, we want to help."
Jill blinked, thanking her friend for her concern. She played with the idea of fobbing them off, of lying to them and telling them that past two years hadn't affected her. But she knew that it would only cause problems in the long run, and drive a wedge between all of them. She had talked things through with Chris, been honest with him for the sake of their realtionship, for the sake of their friendship. She didn't want to lose him and she felt the exact same way about the friends that stood round her at that moment. She valued their friendship as much as she valued her relationship was Chris. "It's a two way street," Chris had told her, "I can't help you unless you let me in. Keeping it all inside won't help. Believe me, it won't."
"I'm not okay," she admitted. "But I will be. We've been through too much together to drift apart right now. As long as I'm with you guys I know I've got nothing to worry about."
Barry nodded encouragingly, his friendly features expressing the pain that they now all shared. It was almost enough to bring tears to Jill's eyes. She had all but forgotten what friendship meant, that pain experienced was pain shared.
She smiled one last time at her friends to show her appreciation and walked towards Chris's bedroom, suddenly wanting to be by his side.
Chris did not turn as she pushed the bedroom door open, allowing it to slam shut behind her. She licked her lips, realising that he was shirtless. His body still bore evidence of his time in Africa, bruises lining his back, cuts and grazes healing slowly on his skin. Even with his injuries he was still perfect in her eyes.
Sneaking up behind him, she wrapped her arms around his waist, rendering all attempts to replace his lost T-shirt futile. He stood up straight, dropping his attire back into the pile he had been rifling through, and looked at their reflection in the mirror before them. Jill placed several tender kisses on his neck, his skin warm beneath her lips.
"You really are ripped," she commented, running her fingers up his abs. She noticed his eyes flutter shut at this simple action and moved her hand lower down, her fingers lightly brushing the hair that ran from his navel and disappeared beyond the waistband of his jeans.
She stumbled a little as he spun her round, capturing her lips with his own. Her arms raised themselves to his neck, his large hands resting gently on her waist. Her lips parted as his tongue slid past them, gently teasing her own. Love was expressed, lust restrained for the sake of preserving the moment. They broke the kiss after a few seconds, remaining in each other's arms. Jill moved her arms downward, once again placing them around his waist, her palms flat against his bare back.
His muscles swamped her, his biceps considerably larger than hers. She felt so tiny next to him, so vulnerable, but she knew that those terrifyingly muscular arms would never harm her, that they would always be there to hold and protect her.
"I'm lucky to have you," he whispered. "And I'm not gonna lose you again, I promise."
"And I believe you," she smiled. "Now come on, put on a shirt. I've got some serious catching up to do."
Chris obliged, grinning egotistically as he noticed her eye him up one final time, like a prime steak she just couldn't wait to dig her teeth into. He didn't mind being the prey to her predator, not one bit.
They rejoined the others, their eyes glued to each other's as another round of beer was passed out.
"Now, we need to sort out the issue of getting Jill her stuff back," Leon announced, addressing everyone but aiming his statement at the girl beside him.
"What?" she asked, frightened at the simple suggestion. "I-oh, alright. But I'm keeping your little red dress! And I retain borrowing rights."
A ripple of laughter echoed around the group.
"Is that the red dress I ripped off you in Sydney?" Chris asked, Jill seated comfortably on his lap. Catching on to his idea, she laughed.
"With your teeth," she replied with a wink.
They all laughed as Claire's mouth dropped open, her face contorted into an expression of pure disgust as she shouted "Take it! Take it!"
"You people are sick," she whined.
Jill laughed triumphantly, feeling Chris's head over her shoulder, his lips planting a kiss on her cheek a moment later. The congregation gazed at them in happiness, not for themselves but for the reunited couple. It had been so long since any of them had seen Chris this genuinely happy. Happiness experienced is happiness shared...
Jill took in their expressions, feeling their laughter in every corner of her heart as they continued to joke, poking fun at the Redfields (a favourite pasttime of theirs) and generally making her feel at home again. As she witnessed their joy, their relief, their ability to fall back into the same routine, acting as though nothing was out of the ordinary, as if she had never been gone, she cursed her stupidity at misunderstanding where she stood. The problems she had conjured up were all in her mind; there was nothing to worry about, nothing to fear. The road to recovery was long but she knew that the journey would be smooth and that she would not venture forward alone.
Falling back into Chris's embrace, revelling in his affection, she took a moment to herself and thought 'Maybe I am okay after all'.