Only Through The Pain
Epilogue - We Can Never Break Up
"We've only got one choice, so let's keep making it."
The weather was kind to them that day; the sun beating down upon the gathering, the grass remaining dry and the bafrbeque flourishing in the generous temperature.
Jill could barely contain her joy, despite her fingers being almost literally worked to the bone. So far, so good was her assessment of the day's festivities. Her homemade sausage rolls were a hit and the pizza bread she claimed was homemade was going down a storm. Friends, family, cake...what more did a mother-of-one need?
Having been lucky enough to attract the assistance of the majority of guests, Jill was left with time to herself. Noise drifted through the door to the back garden; indiscernible sounds that brought down an air of enjoyment upon the scene.
Chris remained ever attentive to the barbeque, working under the watchful eye of Barry Burton. She watched on in amusement, chuckling to herself as Barry lightly pushed his friend away, placing him on bun duty while he tended to the grill.
Next door's Labrador puppy bounded around their feet, chased by the youngest member of the Redfield family. The dog seemed to be taking James's pursuit in good heart, often turning around to yap in excitement. Claire remained with a close eye on their play, shouting frequent warnings at her nephew to be careful and 'play nicely'. As for James...he would not know what to do with the dog if he caught it.
Katherine followed close behind, apparently using her younger cousin as a human shield to hide herself from their playmate.
Sometimes she found it hard to believe that their son had been with them for two years. The reality had hit her only weeks previously, when she sat with her son on her lap, helping him to place blue handprints - the first was an accident but the idea stuck - on each of the invitations to his upcoming party. She was still caught by surprise when she thought back to the wrinkly baby she had brought home and compared him to the bouncing toddler with chocolate brown hair and brilliantly blue eyes. As he had grown into his features, it became apparent that he was his father's son; though the colour of his eyes matched hers, the shape was unmistakeably Redfield. Even the way his hair flopped in every direction but the right one, and the smile that hinted at a deep mischief, screamed Chris.
'At least he will be handsome.'
The greatest news had come to them when he was eight weeks old; news of something he had inherited from his mother that lay beyond the skin, something that he shared with her other than the shape of his nose and angle of his jaw. James Redfield was the first human being to possess natural immunity to Umbrella's viruses.
Jill had broken down and cried upon hearing the news, unable to tolerate the wave of blissful release that crashed into her. Chris had remained silent, but she could tell by the way he gripped her as they embraced that the relief had hit him in a similar way.
The immunisation had found its way around the BSAA, with Chris being lucky enough to receive a dose of the first batch. From what she had heard, schools worldwide had included what had come to be known as the Valentine Vaccine into their immunisation program. Jill was still unsure how she felt about the cure inheriting her former surname, but she was able to overstep the embarrassment with the knowledge that should anything happen, at least her family would be safe.
"Chicken?" Chris asked as he appeared seemingly from nowhere, holding a paper plate towards her. "Or lamb, I'm not quite sure..."
They both looked down upon the burger he offered.
"You're doing this deliberately, aren't you?" she asked in a distinctive huffy tone. "You know how much I craved chicken when I was pregnant with James."
"Just trying to keep your strength up."
The wink was the last straw, and though it proved nothing she snatched the burger from the plate and sank her teeth into the juicy meat.
She had rarely touched meat before her pregnancy, descending into a state of near-vegetarianism. While she had been a lax vegetarian prior to the incident in the Arklay forest, she seemed to develop an almost complete aversion to meat during her years underground. Frequently wrestling with what amounted to drooling, decaying lumps of dead meat could do that to a woman.
It made no sense when her pregnancy eventually turned her back into an omnivore.
As the taste settled in her mouth she found the crumbling meat falling from her lips and into her hand, which she used to deposit the disgusting mass into the waste bin.
"Lamb," she choked, placing the remains of the burger back onto the plate. "No good. Ack."
Chris's laugh broke through her disgust and she quickly forgot the dry taste on her tongue.
"More for me, I suppose," he teased before heading back into the garden.
Jill failed to see what had amused him so, but chose to forget his laughter. Chris's attitude had altered so much in the past two years that she no longer questioned reality when he surprised her. It was not an unwelcome change, or one that either parent minded; it was merely a change in outlook, a switch from gloom to shining optimism that often brought forth smiles for no reason at all.
An argument of serious proportions had not touched their relationship since James's birth. There had been usual scuffles and disagreements, and times where hours would pass with neither exchanging a word, but they would always catch one another's eye and descend into laughter over the pointlessness of it all. After the scale of the fights that had broken out during Jill's months of despair, no problem was too big that it could not be overcome.
All in all, their mischievous attitude towards each other amounted to what it had back in the days of S.T.A.R.S.; best friends who got up one another's nose every now and then but always found their way back to normal. Best friends who just happened to share a bed, surname and child.
Such was the triviality of marriage.
The concept of marriage and all it entailed lingered on her mind as she observed Claire and Leon conversing freely, deeply unconditional love visible in Claire's eyes as they flitted between her husband and daughter. Katherine had grown well, inheriting all of her mother's deviousness and most of her father's good sense. Jill concluded that it would be interesting to see how these opposing personality facets interacted as she grew up.
Katherine's presence at her mother's feet brought Jill's attention to James's absence, especially when the lone puppy was found moments later sniffing around a flower bed. Frantic eyes scanned ground-level and panic rose to her throat when her son was nowhere to be seen.
She was moments away from rushing out into the garden to call his name when she registered Chris's muscular figure once again heading towards her, James perched comfortable on his right forearm, smearing a sticky brown substance onto the neckline of his father's shirt.
"Hey mommy," Chris called as he drew near. "Look what we did."
James giggled uncontrollably as he held out a hand to proudly show his mother the fruits of his infantile labour. Jill blamed the crispy cakes, knowing that chocolate was a very bad idea in such warm temperatures. She also blamed the sister-in-law who had furnished the party with the offending items.
Her heart still pounded furiously in her chest, though it slowly fluttered back into a normal rhythm. A lingering remnant of the woman she had been during her pregnancy shuffled shamefully into the shadows as she reclaimed control, cursing herself for momentarily slipping back into the habit of pessimism.
"Is it too much to ask for you to stay clean for just one day?" she asked cheerfully. She pretended to be inconvenienced by her son's sudden need for a thorough clean, but in all honesty the simple though of it made her heart swell almost to bursting point with adoration.
"Oops," was all James had to say for himself.
"I'll 'oops' you!" she teased as she reached for the baby wipes she had placed nearby in anticipation of such an occurrence.
"Can I take the blame for this one?" Chris asked, much to her confusion. He stepped aside once James had been placed onto the kitchen counter, safely held in place by an ever-attentive Jill.
"You mean to say this is your fault?" The usual eyebrow was raised, sarcasm burned deep into her expression.
"Oh, it's not my fault." Jill found this hard to believe. On the rare occasions their strangely well-behaved son found himself into trouble, Chris was never far from blame. Fortunately for him she found the father-son bonding too endearing to hold his mishaps against him. Besides, James seemed to enjoy it and it was not affecting his kindly behaviour. Given that her son was a Redfield, his calm demeanour came as a blessing.
Suddenly Chris's lips were at her ear, whispering so that only she could hear his words.
"You're just so damn hot when you're angry."
She glared a warning at him, unable to hide the smile that played across her lips. Something began to burn deep within the pit of her stomach and she knew that now was not the time.
"Sorry," James apologised when the first baby wipe connected with his skin. He very rarely had reason to speak the word, but it appeared to be one of his favourites to try out. Speech was a novelty, and he experimented with it freely.
"Oh, don't be, honey," Jill insisted. While she encouraged politeness, she had no desire for her son to grow up as fast as many parents forced their children, and mess, scraped knees and dirt were all important elements of childhood and she was not one to punish her son for simply being a child.
"I don't mind you making a mess of yourself," she added with a smile. "It's when you make a mess of the house that I get annoyed."
James laughed enthusiastically. She knew that his apology had merely been his way of testing the meaning of the word against the situation he had found himself in.
The chocolate washed away quickly, though the brown that now stained his T-shirt would not be so easily removed.
"Arms up," she instructed, raising her own out of habit. James did nothing, his hands in his lap as he laughed once again through a toothy grin.
"Don't play with me, now," she warned.
"Whas'sa magi'word?" he asked, repeating what she herself had asked him on many occasions.
Jill found herself unable to reply for several long seconds, completely taken by surprise at being schooled on manners by a two-year-old. Chris could not control his laughter, and had to steady himself with two hands against the counter.
"Arms up please," she corrected herself. Her cheeks burned and she was sure that she blushed furiously.
"Sorry?" James asked as he obeyed now that she had asked politely.
"Alright, don't push it," she fumed as Chris fell into a fresh fit of hysterics. "...sorry."
She threw the dirty T-shirt at Chris, who only barely caught it with his fingertips.
"My son is a genius," he gasped as he wiped away tears of mirth. "He's definitely got your brains."
Once again, a smile betrayed her feigned irritation.
"Will you bring a clean T-shirt down, please?" she asked, careful to be polite lest she be called on her lack of manners again. "Oh, and you might want to change yourself while you're up there.
Chris's eyes dropped with his head, only just picking up on the masterpiece James had attempted to paint on his chest. He was more than used to being covered in some sticky substance or another.
"I suppose I could," he pouted. "But I don't like these double standards. Why do I have to clean myself and he gets the sponge bath?"
She barely had the patience for the hand that found its way to her waist as he moved close. The lips, on the other hand; they were welcome. Warm and soft against her temple, she found herself thrown from the moment and was left to smirk stupidly as she attempted to find her way back to reality.
"You're thirty-eight, Chris," she told him in a voice that was equal parts sweetness and sarcasm. "There's a bar of soap in the bathroom; I'm sure you can figure out how to use it. If not, I'll be here. Okay?"
On the last word, she reached up and pinched his cheek as she would a child. He huffed quietly in annoyance at the rebuffing of his flirtation, but retreated with the usual light in his eyes.
"Laugh all you want," she told her giggling son. "But you're going to turn into that when you're older."
James seemed to find this new information even more hilarious and his giggling began to impede the baby wipe's progress as it lifted chocolate that had somehow found its way onto his chest.
"So are you having fun?" she asked, attempting to engage the toddler in a little conversation. "Cool party, huh?"
"S'awes," he answered.
"Awes, huh? That good?" She couldn't help but to laugh. It was not that he could not pronounce the word 'awesome'; he just seemed to prefer not to say all of it.
"What about the presents? You got some pretty awes things there."
"I like dog," he mumbled, so quietly that Jill had to derive his meaning simply from the word 'dog'.
"You mean you want a dog?" she asked. James nodded slowly, and her heart sank in an instant.
She had discussed a possible family pet with Chris on many occasions, and had both went as far as to visit the local pound. There were many dogs they had felt the compunction to adopt, even with the belief that they should start small so that their son was not overwhelmed. Chris had favoured the German Shepherds, Jill expressing the wish for a beagle just like the dog she had grown up with. In the end, their preferences meant naught. When the news came that put an end to their immediate plans for a pet, they were thankful that they had not yet discussed the subject with their son.
"Maybe when you're older," she told him, relieved when he took this as good news and threw out his arms for a hug.
His arms wrapped comfortably around her neck when she picked him up and held his small body to her chest. As footsteps sounded through the dining area she hoped that Chris would appreciate the sentiment of the moment and choose not to chastise her for carrying out 'heavy lifting'.
"Did someone order a T-shirt?"
James obediently allowed Chris to pull the fabric over his head, which was easier said than done when he refused to be placed back onto the counter. He was lowered to the floor moments later and after a quick word of appreciation they were sure was intended to be "thank you", he ran back into the garden to rejoin the other toddlers.
Jill watched as he bounded off, debating for a moment on whether or not to join him.
Seconds later, her inner debate became pointless as Chris's arms wrapped around her midriff, his body pressed close to hers with his lips pressing on her cheekbone for a lingering moment.
"You're overly affectionate today," she noted, once again taken aback by his advances. "Any reason in particular?"
"Not really," he hummed. "I'm just happy."
She did not question why; the last two months had seen him such a perpetual state of joy that she no longer questioned or teased him for his uncharacteristic cheer.
His arms shifted in a movement she was only vaguely aware of. It was when one hand fell to her abdomen, resting gently below her navel that she caught on to his meaning.
"Fourteen weeks," he whispered, eyes carefully observing the nearby guests. "When can we tell them?"
Twelve weeks had been the agreed safety point; past the dangers of the first trimester and the slightly higher risk of miscarriage it carried with it. Even though she was well into the safety zone, she faced reluctance when it came to revealing the information to their friends and family. In a way she knew that it was pure selfishness; something she shared only with Chris. James knew that he would soon have a sibling but was too young to understand that a child took nine months to grow big enough to face the world. Fortunately he was too young to question the finer points of her pregnancy. Jill was adamant that the birds and bees discussion fell under Chris's duties as the boy's father.
The pregnancy had come as a surprise to both of them. Discussions about future children had begun around James's first birthday and although they had unanimously decided that he would not be an only child, attempts did not start until almost a whole year later. Once they had begun trying for a second child, Jill refused to take a pregnancy test for a week out of fear of disappointment. One week turned into two, three, and then after a month of waiting, Chris frog-marched her into the bathroom with a home pregnancy test he then begged her to take. When it showed positive, they were overjoyed, and it took every ounce of strength within them not to call everyone they knew and tell the world the good news.
When they visited the doctor days later, they had discovered that she was eight weeks pregnant...she had been pregnant for a whole month before they had begun to try. Of course, they found the idea hilarious and could not curse their carelessness when the result was so wonderful.
"Not today," Jill replied after taking a moment for thought. "This is James's day. I don't want to steal his thunder."
"You're a good mother."
Jill hummed in delight. She never tired of his compliments, and neither did her heart.
"Maybe it's a girl this time?"
"You're hoping for a girl?" she asked in genuine surprise. He was so perfect in his role of father to a son. So happy was he to have a boy he was already planning to teach various sports to, the thought of him fathering a daughter had never crossed her mind.
"Well, he's a complete mommy's boy," he pointed out in good humour. "A daughter should even the playing field."
She made to elbow him in the ribs but his embrace prevented her from moving in the necessary way.
"I would love a daughter," he told her, serious this time. "Of course, I'd be locking her up as soon as she hits her teens. If she's anything like you she'll be nothing short of beautiful."
She allowed him to kiss her neck softly. Nothing risqué, just a simple affectionate nuzzle. With his constant compliments she was surprised that she did not have an ego to rival Carlos's.
"That's not to say I wouldn't be thrilled with another boy," he assured her. "I suppose there's always next time..."
"Next time?" She found the thought hilarious. "You want more?"
"Of course I do. I would love a big family, I just..." A sigh broke her sentence in two. "I'm not getting any younger. You may be a well of fertility but sooner or later, I'm going to dry up. Time is running out."
Chris scoffed at her unconventional way of explaining the ticking of her biological clock.
"There are other options, you know," he reminded her, adjusting his hold on her so that it became more comforting.
His breath tickled her ear as he let out a huff of disapproval.
"Nuh-uh," he insisted. "Unless it was genetically yours. It would be like having a child with another woman, I couldn't do that. It's either fully ours or not ours."
"It's perfectly normal you know," she giggled, finding his protectiveness endearing. "But alright. IVF then? I can freeze some of my eggs and-"
"Too dangerous," he countered. She could almost hear the frown in his expression. "We know from our two little surprises that you have no difficulty conceiving. If you suddenly stop then it means your body has passed that stage. Forcing a pregnancy upon it could cause complications. No matter how badly we want a child, I won't allow you to risk your health for it."
He was right, and she knew it. The risk with pregnancy increased with age and he had warned her on numerous occasions that he would not let her trade her health for a child.
"What then?" she asked, knowing that there were little other options.
"How about adoption?"
It was, she would admit, the last words she expected to hear from him.
"You would be okay with that?" she asked tentatively, attempting and failing to turn and face him.
"Of course I would." The mere thought that he wouldn't seemed absurd.
Adoption. She tried the word in her mind and found that she quite liked how it sounded. It was a topic close to Chris's heart, she knew that. He was an orphan and knew how important parental love was to a child.
"But I don't think it will get that far," he added. "Two sounds like a good number. Three is a good cap."
Jill laughed again as she looked out into the garden. It seemed that in parenting, Chris had found his niche. Or at least one that didn't involve guns and violence. James continued to play peacefully in the garden; a walking testament to his success as a father.
Chris's eyes followed hers, towards their son. A shift in his posture was evident from the moment he raised his head.
"He seems to be having fun," he purred, lips brushing her ear. "Preoccupied..."
His pelvis pressed firmly against hers, lips carving a trail of electric sensations down her neck. Something within her flared and she parted her lips to instruct him to stop, but somehow could not bring herself to speak the words.
Hands were exploring her body carefully, lips drawing closer and closer to that spot he knew always drove her crazy. Curses that she had never heard before drifted through the little of her mind she could understand; he knew damn well that the hormones had begun to hit her.
"I think we could steal twenty minutes," he groaned. It was not even a groan to signal pleasure; it was a groan he knew would persuade her to join his way of thinking.
"Chris, we can't," she argued, ignoring her mind's screams of 'yes, we can, and we should!'. "We-"
The fingers that had rested below her navel moved suddenly, yet slowly, Fingertips brushed against her skin, falling lower until they slipped beneath the waistband of her jeans.
Suddenly, Chris found himself pinned against the kitchen wall, out of view of the guests in the garden.
"The hell do you think you're doing?" she attempted to argue. "We can't possibly..."
Why did she attempt to argue? Even Jill could not understand her own reasoning when his fingers slipped beneath the strap of her top, pulling it and that of her bra off her shoulder so that he could kiss the skin it had previously covered. His stubble was coarse against her sensitive skin, adding to the friction that had already stolen her thoughts. Soon, it was her hips that pressed into his, her hands that gripped his waist, her head that tilted back as his lips travelled to where her scars had once lain. Laser surgery had worked a treat.
"Chris, we can't-" she began, pulling away from him with more reluctance than she had ever felt before.
"Come on, baby," he soothed, with a smirk still plastered on his face. "When do we get moments like this? For once, we don't have to schedule alone time into SpongeBob show times and babysitting hours."
Jill raised her eyebrows, mildly amused that he had brought up the square-panted one in such an intimate moment.
"If you would just listen," she whispered, drawing closer to him as she spoke. "I was going to say, we can't do this here because the children might see us..."
Chris blinked in dumb realisation.
"Oh. Alright then."
Within a matter of seconds, she found herself in his arms, cursing his stupidity aloud as he carried her out of the kitchen and up the stairs.
Jill always knew when she had been through a thoroughly good workout. It may have borderlined on masochism, but she found that she enjoyed the dull ache in her muscles that had begun to set in following training sessions.
"Thank you, Officer Redfield," chirped a young recruit as she hauled an overnight bag onto her shoulder and slammed her locker door shut. "Good run today, ma'am."
Puzzlement hit her as she watched the young woman leave. She could have sworn that there was a skip in her step. There was no logical explanation for her happiness; Jill had begun to push her recruits harder and harder every session. It was not intentional cruelty; she had merely found that she enjoyed the rush of adrenaline. How was she to know that they would have difficulty keeping up with her? Her body had been put through nothing short of hell, through incarceration, forced labour and childbirth. They were floating around various ages in the twenties range and most of the women were childless.
But nobody complained. She often wondered if they were afraid of her, then a well-meaning colleague would point out that her training groups had the greatest success rate upon graduating into the field. It was hard work but it paid off. Chris would point out that their training groups produced equally successful graduates, but she remained firm in the belief that this was only because they split classes and supervised joint-group efforts. Unfortunately for Chris, the search for a better trainer was hampered by the fact that during the co-group battle simulations, the victory tally was almost even.
They had simply worked together too many years; somewhere along the line their styles had blended together and they had become equals.
She sometimes joked that this was why he had chosen to bulk up in the years she was gone; she could never be as strong as he was now, not without infusing her body with P30 once again.
A shudder travelled throughout her body at this thought. It was quickly shaken off and she watched the last of her recruits leave the female locker room before pulling a clean towel from the railing and heading towards the gym.
The punchbag remained her favourite tool to abuse. It was the perfect way of releasing pent-up anger. One moment was all it took to visualise the face of whoever had irritated her that day and she could do all the damage she liked without facing the risk of suspension or even jail time.
Doubts had plagued her in the past, regarding her return to more physical work. For days - weeks even - after she had given birth to her son she had felt as though her body would never be whole again. The aches, the fatigue and then the general inflation of certain body parts had taken their toll. The first time she stepped out onto the track, soles beating furiously into the sand, she found herself filled with an enormous sense of being. She was there, she was aching and she was so alive. It was another fortnight of paperwork, gentle weight-training and fitness tests before she began the teaching she seemed to have been waiting forever to begin.
It was not quite active service, but it was good enough to sate the restless warrior within.
A dull sensation began to spread through her knuckles and she swung one last time at the punchbag before allowing it to swing uneasily to a standstill. Now she was completely exhausted...it felt magical.
The warmth of the water she found under the showerhead soothed the worst of the aches and pains, allowing her to cherish the rest and return to the locker room feeling thoroughly fulfilled.
"Hey, look who it is," spoke a low, excited voice as she finished dressing herself.
"What the hell are you doing in here?" she seethed through clenched teeth. "This is the girls' locker room. You're not in high school anymore!"
"Nice to see you have a high opinion of me," Chris chuckled. "But that was the last group for today, I checked. Besides, the boy wanted to see his mother."
Jill levelled her eyes at her husband. James was six months old; he rarely knew what he wanted let alone be able to communicate it to anyone.
"Alright, I wanted to see his mother," he admitted sheepishly.
She found it hard to be mad at him, especially when James clung so tightly to his shirt and looked up at her with hopefully loving eyes. It was too much for her to take and all of a sudden she found herself stroking her son's soft hair and placing even softer kisses along the top of his head. That sweet, infant smell eased its way into her nostrils and forced a smile to her lips.
"How's he doing?" she asked. "He looks a lot better today."
"He's fine. Fever broke, doctor said he can stop taking the medication."
James looked up at Jill expectantly moments before she took him into her arms. She pressed the back of a hand to his forehead, testing his temperature as a precaution. Relief came in waves when she felt that he was no warmer than he had been before his ear infection had set in. Though such infections were common for a child of his age, she had found herself extremely worried when he began to fall ill. Even when the doctor had assured them that it was a simple ear infection, she had to be talked out of the fear that it was a more sinister virus. Chris continued to repeat that James was immune, that even if he did somehow come into contact with the virus it would not take hold on his system and would simply die.
It was the first time in months she had genuinely broken down and wept her worried heart out. Dr. Beaumont had described it as a 'moment of weakness' and told her that overcoming such a moment proved how well the battle against her darker side was faring. Jill had thought of it as a moment of stupidity and, looking back, felt embarrassment at jumping to such a pessimistic conclusion. Chris told her that it was natural maternal worry and part of what made her such a great mother.
"Thank you for taking him," she gushed as James settled onto her chest.
"No worries," he answered with a wink. "For a while there I was scared we'd have to miss the wedding."
Jill laughed. Finally, they had discovered something that would bend Chris into willingly risking the wrath of his sister.
She gently handed their son back over to his father and then turned back towards her locker. Chris's gaze went unnoticed as it landed on the pictures she had taped to the inside of the locker door. He had already seen her desk and knew of the photographs she kept there. Lockers were different; where desktop photographs were sentimental, locker rooms were places of motivation.
He had expected to see his own face smiling back, and that of the baby that was now several weeks older in person. What he had not anticipated to find on his wife's locker door was the face of the man who had held her prisoner and mentally beaten her into submission. Albert Wesker shared the photograph with the former Bravo team leader, Enrico Marini, and with a grinning Forest Speyer (who had jumped into the photograph at the last moment), but he instantly knew that it was out of place. The fact that the man's head remained intact and not scratched beyond recognition was enough to cement this fact in his mind.
"Jill, what-" he began, but could not find the words to voice what he felt.
Words were not needed. Jill followed his outstretched finger to the picture and drew a fearful breath in anticipation of what would come next.
"It's motivation, right?" she asked, feeling incredibly stupid once she heard her own words. "I mean..."
She stopped to sigh, wishing that there were an easier way to voice her emotions and to keep a smile on her face so that James would not pick up on her sorrow.
"I'm trying to forget, Chris," she spoke in a low voice. "But I can't forget him. I've tried and I've almost succeeded and all it has left me with is this ache in my chest and another empty corner in my mind. I have made peace with my memories...I need to make my peace with him. I need to learn to forgive him and-"
"Don't be f-" he began to hiss, the weight and warmth in his arms blocking his words before they came. "That's insane. He has done nothing to deserve forgiveness."
She blinked sadly. He could not understand.
The anger and hatred that had fuelled her aggression when James was little more than a promise in her womb had almost consumed her. She hated what he had made her, hated how he had used her, how he had extended his malice hand beyond the grave and hurt her family. Most of all, she hated him. He was a despicable man who only knew how to cause pain and destruction. Beyond this, she knew that Albert Wesker was afraid. There was the constant need to possess, and to have the world on his terms and nothing else. He did not form attachments, did not even have a friend to his name. Power was all that kept him strong and focused. What he failed to see was that it took a strong man to rule the world with kindness. Those who beat it into submission were not worth the shit they were made of.
So much of her energy had been focused on hating the ghost of this coward. There was the constant drain on her emotions, and the longing to finally be free of his influence. It was then that she realised the terrifying truth.
The only way she could ever be free of Albert Wesker was through forgiveness. She had to let go of her grudge and the anger towards her former captor. It was all that stood in the way of her recovery.
She attempted to organise these thoughts into words that Chris would understand, but the disbelief remained fixed in his eyes.
"I'm tired of the control he still has over my life," she further explained. "I'm tired of giving him that control. If we don't forgive him, he will always be in our lives. I don't want that shadow to hang over us...to hang over James."
James blinked up at his father, pacifier moving rhythmically around his mouth.
"Us?" Chris asked softly. "Jill, you can't expect me to- I could never forgive him for what he did to you."
It was obvious to her that Wesker was still a drain on her husband's psyche. Pity came and went on occasional moments; he had shunned his nemesis physically only to have his actions haunt him a year after his death.
"If I can, will you try?" she asked, preparing herself for an answer she did not wish to hear. "Please? For me?"
Chris sighed in resignation. He could never refuse her anything, especially if it aided her recovery. He may not have thought that Wesker was worth forgiveness, but she sure was.
"This makes me feel...uncomfortable. To say the least."
"I know," Jill said with a smile. "Believe me, I know. That's why I have his picture with me here. It helps to keep me focused. The moment I can look at that picture without feeling anger and hatred, I'll know that I'm there. Until then..."
Until then, she would work like hell.
A short burst of babbling from James broke the tension of the moment. Pain still hid behind Chris's eyes, but she knew that it was pain he would have to learn to deal with. The thought of forgiving a monster was inconceivable to him, but it had been to her many months ago. She wanted to move on from their past, and knew that this was the only way.
Lips crashed softly against hers, seeking the warmth that would chase away his fear. The unprompted kiss ended only when James's hand found its way to Jill's jawbone with a sudden thud. The laughter that resulted killed the moment before it could begin.
"Alright, mister," she laughed. "Come to mama. Can you grab my keys? Top shelf."
Chris obliged once his arms were free, and finished by locking the metal door and slipping the key into Jill's back pocket.
"I bet someone's hungry," she sang, unable to tear her eyes away from James's baby blue orbs. "How about lunch?"
Claire was surprised to find that the crispy cakes were all gone by the time she checked on their status. Given the mess that James had gotten himself into when attempting to eat one, she was also surprised to have not received a stern telling-off from her nephew's parents.
'Speaking of my brother...'
Her eyebrow rose of its own accord as she waited patiently for him to reach her position by the barbeque table. She could have sworn that he was dressed differently, and that he was not smiling half as wide last time she had seen him. Curiously, her eyes moved behind him, noticing Jill step through the kitchen door, smoothing down her dress.
'Wasn't she wearing...?'
"Oh my God," she gasped in a frantic whisper when he finally reached her side. "You just had sex! Chris!"
His initial disturbed reaction turned into a smirk. She always saw right through him.
"Come on," he laughed before she could throw a slew of obscenities at him. "Admit it, nobody even knew we were gone."
In one quick movement, she scanned the small crowd. Reluctant as she was to admit that her brother was right, she agreed. As a fellow parent she also knew that moments had to be seized when they presented themselves. At that moment she could not help but feel a little jealous.
"How's married life?" he asked, not truly interested but rather desperate to change the subject before it became awkward.
"Good," she admitted with a smile. "Well, great since we finally found time for a honeymoon."
Chris smiled in genuine happiness for his sister. Several years ago their lives had slowly begun to tear them apart, children and marital commitments pulling them in all different directions but together. It did not bother him so much when they could meet up and act like it had not been weeks since they had last spoken.
He felt the need to give a lot back to Claire. The BSAA had eaten up the majority of his time, and then he had opted to ignore his friends and drown himself in self-pity following Jill's fall. When he finally returned with family in mind, her work and commitment to her husband - then only boyfriend - pulled her to places he was not. It was a release to think that they were both now raising families of their own in the same city.
"So can I expect another niece or nephew any time soon?" he asked with a smirk. The idea of his little sister raising a child was no longer something that made him feel incredibly old or awkward.
Claire laughed in response and chanced a quick glance over to Leon.
"Maybe someday," she thought aloud. "When Katherine is a little older. Right now we just want some time to ourselves."
He knew the feeling all too well. Only three childless years marked the time that he had Jill had been together as a couple. Sometimes he thought that it was not enough, but he knew deep down that no amount of time would ever be enough. James was a blessing and he could not imagine any more years without his son; sometimes he wished that they had been able to start a family sooner.
"What about you?" she asked, squinting her eyes against the sun. "You've been waiting years to have children; I can't see you settling for just one. Especially with Jill."
He laughed off her mild dig at the years he had spent pining over his partner. For a few seconds he glanced towards Jill, knowing from the way her gaze met his as she conversed with Leon that they were talking about the siblings.
"We're actually, uh...trying for one now," he lied. Dare he reveal the truth?
Jill had known of his eagerness to tell his sister and had given him permission to do so, but now that he was faced with the opportunity he felt that something held him back.
Claire grinned from ear to ear, pride glistening in her eyes.
"That's great!" she congratulated. "For how long? How's it going? When will you know?"
"Hey, slow down," Chris laughed. He looked down at Claire's expectant features. The smile still lit up her face and suddenly he knew that he could not lie to her...again.
"Alright, I lied," he sighed deeply. "But you have to promise me that you won't speak a word of this to anyone, not even Leon."
Claire drew her hand up to her chest and crossed her heart, failing to maintain her optimistic smile.
"We're expecting," he explained slowly and quietly, the corners of his mouth twitching as they did every time he considered the news. "She's fourteen weeks pregnant."
He was so sure that her eyes were about to pop from her head, they opened so wide. The smile returned, this time filled with joy and not mere optimism.
"Oh, congratulations!" she exclaimed, arms embracing him in a forced bear hug. "Chris, that's...that's-"
"I know," he grinned back, returning her embrace gleefully.
"Wow..." she breathed as she let go and allowed herself to calm down. "So you two are definitely okay now?"
"Yeah," he acknowledged gladly. "We have been for a long time..."
They remained in silence while the news hung in the air. Nerves were not an issue this time round. Everything he had feared two years ago had proven to be nothing, or to be a hell of a lot easier to deal with than he had anticipated. Truth be told, he had never felt so comfortable or so eager when facing a situation.
Though Jill was not as fragile as she had once been, he still worried. When he looked at Jill, and at James, he felt as though he were the wealthiest man alive. He would trade nothing for the life he had found and the family he had forged, but sometimes he wished that his chaotic life had been easier on those he loved. It was common news that the Umbrella saga had become part of the curriculum within high schools across the country. Current affairs steadily became greater sources of learning and no event taught a greater lesson than the destruction of Raccoon City. Chris often worried of the burden James would carry when he reached the age where his parents' work became known to his peers. The boy loved his parents dearly, and to learn of what they had suffered would create new lines of questioning and feelings of painful empathy. Explaining Dr. Seuss would evolve into explaining how his mother had been kidnapped, tortured and forced into servitude. What if the other students used the information against him?
They planned to reveal the truth to him themselves one day, and though that day was many years away he feared it more than anything. What if his questions brought back painful memories for Jill? What if he lashed out in anger? What if it upset him? Most of the disturbing details were omitted from what was taught in schools, but James was naturally inquisitive and would want to know the truth in its entirety.
"Uncle Chris," a tiny voice spoke by his feet, tearing him gratefully from his thoughts. Within minutes, he was on his knees.
"What is it, honey?" he asked the small girl.
Katherine blushed furiously, seeming unable to word what she had intended to say. Instead, she held a closed hand out to her uncle.
"For you," she insisted.
Chris opened his hand, not completely expecting the explosion of nature that fell onto his palm. It seemed that she had been picking daisies, but in doing so had also succeeded in pulling up clumps of grass and even a small worm, which writhed against his skin in confusion.
"Oh, thank you," he told her in confusion. "It's...lovely."
Within seconds, Katherine had burst into a fit of giggles. Suddenly, he wondered if it was the worm that had been the gift, and the flower had been the innocent bystander caught in the destructive path of a two-year-old. Either way, it was sweet. Nothing could have been held against the wide-eyed blonde toddler, not since it became obvious that she had inherited her mother's knack for expressions that could draw anyone to her side.
"Aunt Jill said to give you," she explained, eyes glistening with childhood innocence.
"Oh she did, did she?" he laughed.
The girl was sweet, that much was obvious. For all the noise, mess and general destruction they caused, there was something about children that cause his heart to swell in a way only Jill had previously been able to instigate.
Somehow, he knew that he would cope just fine with a second child.
"Should we be worried?" Leon asked casually. Jill followed the direction of his speech and locked eyes with her husband, noticing the conversation he was engrossed in.
It was obvious from the smile he flashed that they were the topic of that particular conversation.
"I doubt it," she assured him with a half-hearted smile. "She's changed since you married."
Leon laughed dubiously. To him she had always been the same. Good humour, mildly malicious jokes and a smile that could knock a man dead at ten paces. Sure, the friendly teasing had calmed down since the wedding but she was still there beneath the smiles and newly-adopted maternal attitude. Motherhood suited her in a way he had never thought possible. He often thought the same about Jill.
"So how is married life?" Jill added as an afterthought, knowing fine well that this was likely the topic of the siblings' discussion.
"Strangely normal," he answered honestly. "You married a Redfield...you know what it's like."
"Strangely normal," she echoed, laughter fracturing her words. Given their history, there was nothing about their current relationship that she would label 'unusual'. Part of her wondered if they had simply experienced so much that nothing seemed unusual to them now.
As for Leon...news of his relationship with the younger Redfield sibling had came as a shock to her. She had always known that Claire held a torch for her kind-hearted yet quiet friend. After Leon had joined with the government, their paths rarely crossed. There were other people, but nothing ever seemed too serious. Leon's heart was so obviously blocked, though he never completely explained the details of his relationship with the mysterious woman.
"Leon..." she began. She experienced a little resistance; knowledge that she perhaps should not probe a long-forgotten subject. "What happened to the other woman? You were in love with her..."
His cheerful expression felt solemn and he searched for words in the bottom of his cup.
"I was in love with the idea of her," he corrected. "I was young and I fell for someone so mysterious that...I honestly didn't know who she was."
Jill listened intently, bowing her head as she knew how a gaze was difficult to meet during conversations of this nature.
"After you...after your fall, everything fell apart," he continued. "Chris was in a dark state and Claire had nobody to turn to. I offered her my shoulder and found I wanted so much more. How I was blind to her all those years, I'll never know. I spoke to Ada again, and realised that what I felt for her was nothing in comparison to what I had with Claire. For the first time since I met her, I walked away without a single regret. To finally be free of her was such a release."
He let out a gentle laugh as Jill acknowledged his meaning. Freedom from their pasts was all they had ever wanted. Freedom from Umbrella, from Wesker and from the ties that bound them til they bled.
"I know the feeling," she shared. "Forgiving Wesker was the hardest thing we have ever done. But once we did...it felt liberating. Like I don't have reason to be afraid anymore."
The subject of relinquishing their hatred had caused more arguments than anything else in the time since James's birth. Even so, it was something she knew had to be done and had striven for emotional freedom from that point on. All she had wanted was to give James the best life possible, to be the best mother she could be, and she knew that this was just not possible with hatred and anger gripping so tightly to her mind.
Chris had been more reluctant to tackle this particular aspect of her troubles, but with gentle persuasion and reassurance he too was able to see the light.
"Aunt Jill," Katherine's voice called out, snapping them both from their momentary thoughts. "Flower."
It was all she could do not to release her inhibitions and gush "aww" in a voice she would have later been ashamed of. Her joy, however, was short lived as Leon cleared his throat, lifted his daughter and pulled her a safe distance away from Jill.
"Flower and what?" he asked.
"Flower," she insisted, opening her palm to show a single daisy that had been crushed a little by her grip.
"I always get insects," Leon sighed, and allowed Jill to take the daisy. "I don't know why they don't gross her out."
"For dress," Katherine mumbled, pointing a chubby finger towards Jill's floral summer dress.
"Thank you, sweetie," she smiled appreciatively. "Oh, but I think Chris would love this. Do you want to take it over to him?"
Katherine nodded enthusiastically, almost bouncing out of her father's arms. She was careful not to crush the flower this time, and picked a daisy from the lawn beneath their feet to give to Jill. It did not seem fair that she should go without.
"Ooh, worm!" she exclaimed, bending down to scoop something in her palm before running off.
"She thinks boys like bugs," Leon answered Jill's questioning gaze.
They both laughed, turning to observe the exchange that was about to take place. As if by instinctive motion, she moved a hand to brush inconspicuously against her abdomen.
'I think Chris is right,' she thought. 'A girl would be perfect.'
"What?" James asked, pressing a finger to the page of the book Chris held before him.
"That is a butterfly," Chris explained, allowing the small finger to trace the outline of the picture.
"A burrurfy? Bupufy? Bu-" he gave up at the third try, settling instead for the assumption that he did not need to pronounce this word. "Catapilla?"
"Yes, the caterpillar turned into the butterfly," Chris confirmed with a smile. "See all the food he ate? The food helped him grow."
The young child contemplated this fact for a few moments, the finger that traced the butterfly now rubbing at the many colours.
"Mama, bu'fly!" he announced suddenly. Jill looked up as she grasped the last of his toys, body still bent half over.
"Oh, you learned a new word," she acknowledged with a smile. Her reaction pleased the boy, who went on to repeat the word a few more times in his momentary pride.
The toy was placed amongst the rest of his presents. The guests may have left minimal mess in their wake, but there still seemed to be so much of the party left to clean. Chris had already persuaded her to relax for a couple of hours, but the disarray of the living room had drawn her to clean after a short while.
Satisfied that their home was back to normal, she settled beside Chris on the sofa and allowed James to point out the picture of the butterfly in the book. No sooner had she seated herself, Chris's right arm moved from its safe position holding his son on his knee to be placed around her shoulders lovingly.
"Please learn the meaning of the word 'rest'," he begged.
Her eyelids drooped as she thought of a reply. In the end, she settled for a soft kiss.
"It's all done now," she yawned. "Now I have some time to spare for my boys."
The calm was soothing, and she settled into it the best she could. A long week lay ahead of her, and many changes to her working environment that she was not looking forward to facing. As it was approaching the BSAA's annual recruitment period, there was little physical exertion involved in the training of recruits. During the lull prior to recruitment periods, training duties required merely observing the previous batch of recruits as they prepared for and underwent their final physical assessment. It was activity a pregnant woman was comfortable to indulge in, but the more rigorous training that came with the sudden influx of rookies was straying into the danger zone. Paperwork was something she was not always comfortable with, but the analysis side of her desk job was at least enough to see her through the next six months. If she argued enough, she could perhaps settle for drill instruction for the next month.
Of course, she would have to tell her superiors that she was pregnant first.
The book found its way onto the free cushion on Chris's other side as James's attention began to wane. A yawn followed soon after and he leaned back against Chris's torso.
"I think someone's tired," Jill hummed, rubbing a rosy cheek with the back of her forefinger. "Time for bed, little man."
"Mmm," James whined. If he had wished to protest his fatigue, he failed miserably. Between the exhaustion left behind by the laps he had ran around the back garden earlier and the heat of Chris's body, he simply did not have the strength to fight sleep.
"I've got him," Chris chuckled as he pushed himself to his feet whilst heaving his son up into his arms. "He sleeps as much as you do."
A sharp thwack to his arm was taken in good humour and Jill followed as he began to ascend the stairs.
"You're as bad as I am," she argued amicably. "Which is doubly shameful because you're not pregnant."
"Penant," James tried, liking the sound of the word as much as his mother. It was a shame his tired ears had not heard it correctly. "Down!"
Chris obliged, and lowered him to the floor once they reached the door to his bedroom. His feet had barely touched the carpet when he began to bound off towards his bed. The toddler bed was a relatively new addition to the room and still a novelty for the young boy. His parents were thankful that they had changed him into his pyjamas earlier, as wrestling him out from under the covers was a feat that bordered on impossible.
"Happy birthday, honey," Jill soothed as she placed his favourite toy - a wide-eyed penguin named Jasper - next to him beneath the covers.
"Happy birthday, son," Chris agreed.
The same proud smile he had displayed upon receiving this greeting earlier in the day spread across his cheerful face. After worrying herself sick that she would disappoint him somehow with the celebrations, Jill was happy to know that he had enjoyed everything she had offered.
They both remained by his bed for several minutes, Jill stroking his hair and whispering soothing words to him. It did not take long for his eyes to close and not flutter back open again.
As they both left the room, Jill made sure to leave the door ajar so that the hallway light would shine dimly into his room. A quick check was made to ensure that the baby gate at the top of the stairs remained firmly closed, as did every other door on the landing. James always slept easier if he knew that he could find his way to his parents' bedroom at any hour of the night. They were only too happy to allow him the means for this, and always made sure that there were no dangers for him to face on the journey. Even their bedroom had been baby-proofed to within an inch of its life, all small objects placed carefully out of reach and the door to their ensuite bathroom remaining closed at all times.
Chris watched her as she moved, not bothering to help because he knew she would only check everything herself anyway. That was Jill; always taking the extra precaution.
When she had ceased her checking and double-checking, she turned to Chris and smiled wearily at him.
"I think I'm going to turn in, too," she spoke softly, so as not to wake the sleeping toddler. "Tuck me in?"
"Tuck you in?" Chris asked, stifling a yawn. "I think I'll join you."
It had been a long day. An enjoyable one, but long nonetheless.
Jill did not bother to use the bathroom to de-clothe herself, taking the opportunity to observe her figure in the full-length mirror. The years she had spent building up muscle tone had ensured that her pre-pregnancy shape returned soon after James' birth; a fact for which she was immensely thankful. However, muscle was not on her mind. She turned sideways, her hand finding what she had deliberately not observed for a week.
"Hey," she laughed, drawing her husband's attention immediately. "Look."
She matched his smile as he laughed, taking in the curve of her abdomen that had previously been hidden beneath everything empire-lined. Her nightdress remained hitched beneath her breasts, fingers gently tracing the protrusion.
"I've got shape now," she noted, amused by her own discovery. "I don't just look like I've been getting heavy with the donuts."
Chris joined her soon after, arms encircling her so that they could both observe the fruits of their labour in the reflective surface of the mirror.
"I don't think we can hide this much longer," he chuckled lightly. "Perhaps we should invite everyone over at the weekend?"
Jill hummed in agreement. Hiding was becoming very tiresome. They had nothing to hide, but worry still lingered. It was one concept that she could not turn her back on, no matter how much evidence pointed to the contrary.
"Remember that second honeymoon we talked about?" Chris whispered into her neck as he kissed her skin. She hummed again in reply. "Now would seem like the perfect time. James is old enough now that we don't mind leaving him for a week, you're at a relatively early stage...this could be the last chance we get for another two years."
She considered the idea, breath remaining safely in her lungs for reasons she did not know. They had discussed many aspects of their marriage once her troubles had melted into insignificance; renewal of vows, another honeymoon. While renewal of vows seemed to be a good idea following the rocky start to their marriage, Jill had refused point blank and Chris had not been all too keen on the idea. They saw renewing their vows as a claim that the early months of their marriage had been a disaster and something that needed to be corrected. While it had not been easy going, neither of them believed that the problems they encountered warranting reassuring each other in a superfluous ceremony that they were dedicated to each other for the rest of their lives; renewing their vows would be turning their back on the astounding good that had come from the darkness of Jill's descent into despair. They were stronger now, more aware of each other's feelings and now knew of the emotional lengths that they would go to for one another. That was affirmation enough.
"I would love that," she decided. Her nightdress fell to cover her small bump and that hands that caressed it. Moments later, they were facing and Chris's hands were at her back.
"Good," he smiled. "Because I already booked it. One week, next Saturday, same place, same hotel... Don't worry, I spoke to Claire and Leon; they said they would look after James."
Jill found that she was speechless. A vacation was just what they needed, and a return to their honeymoon destination was an improvement on an already great idea. Her appreciation was shown by the tender kiss she offered; a kiss he reciprocated enthusiastically.
She must have kissed him a thousand times, likely more, but she never tired of his touch and the same reaction that she had felt the first time she tasted his lips found its way into her veins every time. It was a love that never grew old, and she felt blessed to have found it with Chris.
What was once tender and loving became deep and passionate, and when they finally pulled apart it was with more reluctance than either of them had expected to feel.
As lids covered hazel eyes, she sensed a smile that he fought to keep from his lips. She knew deep down that he still harboured the pain of losing her. It was not something that she could change or even help, but she tried her best to understand it. The improvement she had seen within him since their first session with Dr. Beaumont was phenomenal, to say the least; rather than fearing the moments they may spent apart, he had learned to cherish those that they spent together.
Pain would always be a part of their past, and once they had made peace with this fact they learned that the future held a world of promises and possibilities that their past had no right to affect.
She watched as he turned and peeled his T-shirt from his torso. Two years of parenting had seen his form shrink back to what she could recall of the night they had invaded Ozwell Spencer's European mansion. While he had never outwardly admitted that he had seen his gym habits as the obsession they were, she knew that the scaling-down of muscle mass was not entirely to do with the lack of spare time a child left him with. He was only a few years away from forty and seemed to have realised that maintaining such a physique at his age was more effort than it was worth, and perhaps a little vain. Still, he liked to keep in shape and she often marvelled at how his body was little different now than it had been ten years ago. Then she would smile quietly and congratulate herself for falling in love with such a timeless man.
Scars still decorated his body, though many had faded over time. She would often lie awake at night, tracing those that were visible to her and trying to place exactly how he had received them. The only scar that lingered on her own skin was one at the level of her shoulder; a pinkish stain that was noticeable only to those who knew where to look for it. Considering the extent of her injuries following her fall, she was amazed that her body was not riddled with white lines. There were few bones in her body that had not broken that night.
"Eight years together and you're still secretly checking me out," Chris chuckled, snapping her from her reverie. "They can't say we haven't still got it."
A pillow found his face, and was returned a moment later in jest.
Sleep was fast approaching as they found their way beneath the bedsheets.
"They could probably tell us the gender at tomorrow's scan," Jill breathed softly, musing aloud rather than addressing her husband.
"Jill, stop it," he laughed quietly, eyes closed and facing the ceiling as his arm waited for her to fall into it. "It's bad enough that we agreed to find out this time. If you keep talking about it, I'll never fall asleep."
She tickled his ribs gently as she rolled against him, grinning widely. Prepared as she was to tease him further, her ears picked up on the soft pad of footsteps across the carpet outside their room. A moment later, light spilled into the large bedroom as the door opened semeingly of its own accord. She knew the cause, but had to push herself upright to see the toddler that rubbed his eyes, a rather dishevelled Jasper swinging woefully from one hand.
"Can I sleep?" James asked groggily. It was obvious that he had only recently woken up and had made no attempts to fall back asleep in his own bed. Part of Chris doubted that he had slept at all and had merely been faking the peaceful slumber he and Jill had left him to.
Jill sighed dramatically and pushed herself off the bed and onto her feet.
"I suppose," she agreed with faked reluctance, pushing the bedroom door closed. "But only for tonight, because it's your birthday. You're a big boy now, you have to sleep in your own bed."
She heaved him up onto the bed before climbing back in herself, making accommodations for her son and his hopelessly strangled penguin.
It did not take much effort for him to crawl beneath the covers and settle between his tired parents.
It was a strange scene for both of them to observe; a small infant huddled between them, seeking the warmth they exuded. It was a picture they would not have painted a decade earlier. Before, they were lucky merely to have their health and to still be alive after facing so much. Now... Now they had left behind worries of old and found themselves facing a new set that seemed equally absurd.
"I love you," Jill found herself whispering as she kissed James' forehead. Morbid pessimism and the old expectation of death ready to pounce had brought her to reminding both the man and the boy in her life of her feelings at every given opportunity.
"Love you, mama," James muttered in a tired voice that hinted mild inconvenience at being forced to voice what he believed to be glaringly obvious when he was desperately seeking sleep.
"...dada," he muttered as an afterthought, hoping that Chris took the hint.
They could not help but to laugh.
"Yeah; love you, mama," Chris mimicked, knowing that it would ordinarily have warranted a mock slap.
There was a certain sense of peace that enveloped her in that moment, son and husband smiling and sleeping beside her. Her past and the pain that it carried lingered on within her hardened shell, but when she took a moment to stop, think, and observe the present, observe the happiness she had found, she realised that all her past worry was unfounded, all her past mistakes reperable, and all the past pain a gift that had brought her to see the world as she saw it know. Things were not the same as they would have been had Wesker never betrayed them, Umbrella never turned to illegal activites and the town that had brought her to Chris and to the friends she could not forget never been so violently destroyed, but she believed that in its own way this life was worth the price they had paid.
She had a loving husband, a beautiful son, a second child on the way, and friends and family who were willing to support her even through the darkest times. The nightmares became inconsequential, the doubts quickly erased, and the memories taken as lessons well learned.
A world without fear; freedom. It was all they had ever wanted.
They say that on the darkest night a single star can light up the smallest world. A guiding light to a better state of mind. An opportunity that must be seized and held on to at all costs. To maintain one's grip and find the resolve to forge on, to fight towards the light; that is the measure of a strong mind.
And strong minds shine brighter than a supernova in the black.
"When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us,
we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures,
have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand."
AN - And that, beloved and loyal readers, is the end. Damn, it bugs me more than I thought to say that. What can I say? This story evolved so much from what I had originaly planned. A small ficlet turned into a veritable monster of proportions it still shocks me to consider. What was intended to last only a few months has lasted much longer and become my longest and also most reviewed story on this site. I can't believe that I'm actually sad to bring it to an end.
I just want to say a huge, huge, HUGE thank you to everyone who took the time to read (especially when the word count reached obscene numbers) and to review. I honestly never thought that I would get the response I did.
A few of you have been asking about sequels and future stories... As you may have noticed, I posted the prologue for another fic not long after I posted the last chapter of this. I was intending to hold off until this was finished but once I had completed it I just had to post. It is called Strength Through Wounding and is a distant prequel to this. It is set after the original 'mansion incident' and deals with the surviving S.T.A.R.S. members wading through the aftermath, including Chris and Jill coming to terms with their feelings for one another. I'm trying to venture out into new genres so as well as themes similar to this, expect horror, maybe some action, and a little bit of espionage. The next chapter will hopefully be up soon. I have been having internet issues, which is why it took so long to post this epilogue, so I can't upload anything at the moment when using my own connection. However, the next chapter will definitely be up before Christmas, though hopefully much sooner.
As of yet, I have no sequels planned but I do keep thinking about what Chris, Jill, James and the fourth Redfield may get up to so there may be a oneshot in the future if I have an idea worth posting. I don't want to post something just for the sake of it. So let me know what you would like to see and you never know, I may get inspired :).
So, I will say one final farewell, and one final humongous thank you to everyone who has read/reviewed/favourited; you make an already fun hobby even more enjoyable and I am truly grateful for the experience.
Epilogue title is from a song by Alkaline Trio.