A/N: Hi everyone! Below is a long one-shot that takes place during the first week of post RE5. The one-shot is broken down into four events…so just wanted to clear that up! Thanks for taking your time to read this, please leave me a review if you can, telling me your thoughts, criticisms, etc. Thanks again, everyone, and I hope you enjoy!
After the Storm
"Jill, lunch is ready!"
Jill Valentine looked up from her book with a startled expression. Even though the voice came from the other room and belonged to Chris, she was slightly embarrassed to admit that it made her jumpy. In fact, she found that even the smallest excitement was capable of startling her. She had been sensitive to the most trivial thing around her, such as a simple pat on the back, ever since her narrow escape from Kijuju with Chris, Sheva, and Josh. Jill cast her tired eyes on the book that rested against her lap, not particularly looking at the book itself, but reflecting on the myriad horrors that had robbed her of a normal life.
Being enslaved by Wesker to carry out his evil deeds was an image that haunted her almost every waking moment. Even though she had witnessed Wesker's death just a week ago with her own eyes, she could only hope that one day her nightmares would perish the way Wesker had beneath the flames of Hell. After having immediate medical attention when Josh brought them back to the North American BSAA headquarters, she was recommended by several doctors to seek a professional psychologist to help her combat her ensuing nightmares. However, she kindly and respectively declined their suggestions. Deep down, she knew no shrink or professional psychologist could help her. No one could comprehend what she had been through, what she had done with her bare hands.
Chris had made many efforts on his end to encourage her to speak to someone about her traumatic experiences in Kijuju as well. He understood that ordinary physicians would not understand her, and therefore, he tried to convince her to speak to him about her experiences instead. Jill was honestly grateful that Chris was still the same caring and supportive man that he was two years ago; it was good to know that some things had not changed during her absence. However, she was stunned and hurt to find that it was difficult for her to open up to her old partner. It frightened and confused her inside to know that she couldn't open up to the one person who had and would always be there for her. It truly made her question if she was still the same Jill Valentine prior to the two years of agony under Wesker's control.
When she saw the look of disbelief and sadness on Chris's face after she had apologetically denied him of his help, she had no choice but to put up a strong front, telling him that she "would be ready in time." Inside, her heart swelled at the sight of a dejected Chris silently walking to his room without responding a single word. That was four days ago, and now four days later, it was obvious that they were both trying to pretend that the tense air around them had been lifted.
She gripped the book tightly in her hands as she inhaled deeply, trying to restrain herself from crying on the beautiful sunny afternoon. Two small birds were perched by the windowsill of her bedroom, chirping happily to each other before taking off into the distance. Jill managed to crack a tiny smile at the pleasant image. She had almost forgotten that there were other creatures besides the flocks of ominous ravens looming at every corner in Kijuju. That thought made her lean into her seat. She was about to enter into another pensive state when Chris called her again, this time with a knock on her door.
"Jill, you okay in there? Lunch is ready! Don't get too carried away with your reading now!"
"Y-yes. I'm coming, Chris," she called back and set her book gently on the table beside her. She wasn't actually interested in the book. She was more interested at the mere idea of simply having a book in her hands to remind herself that she was now able to go back to a normal life and do things a normal person would do.
When she stepped out of the room, she was immediately greeted by the scent of fresh bread baking in the oven. The North American BSAA branch had given them both a cozy suite within the headquarters that consisted of two separate bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen, and a living space area when they joined the force. It reminded her very much of her old apartment in Raccoon City.
"It smells great," Jill commented as she seated herself before the kitchen table. "I didn't know you could cook so well."
"Jill!" Chris turned around from the stove and watched the woman with a keen and concerned look.
Chris shook his head. He had to break the habit of treating her like a fragile doll. She was a BSAA agent after all, strong minded and fierce. He just had to convince himself that she was going to be all right even though he knew she wasn't. "N-nothing. Sorry…just glad you're here," he said quietly, removing the bread from the oven.
Jill bowed her head slightly, feeling a bit embarrassed at his comment. An awkward silence followed before Chris cleared his throat loudly. "I mean, I'm glad you're here for lunch." Of course, he was glad that she was back with him, but he figured the last thing she needed was to be reminded of her absence.
"Well, you did call me out here, you know." Jill chuckled as she spread the plates on the table to make room for the basket of bread. The food really did smell great, and she knew that sometime after her disappearance, Chris had learned to cook. Back then, he couldn't even boil water to save his life. Just how much did she miss out during the last two years?
Chris set the basket of bread in the center of the table before taking a seat. "Help yourself to some pasta, salad, and bread. It's probably not the best food in the world, but it'll have to do for now."
"Should we ask Sheva to help us finish this?" Jill suddenly remembered that Sheva was one floor below them and thought it would be courteous to invite the BSAA agent over for lunch. Jill never had the chance to fully introduce herself to Sheva besides the quick apology she gave her when she was forced to fight her and Chris. After fleeing Kijuju, they had all decided to head to the North American headquarters since it was the safest division at the moment. The headquarters was Jill's home, but Sheva was just a guest. She wanted to make the headquarters feel like home to Sheva too.
"I think she's busy at the moment." Chris served a scoop of salad on Jill's plate before serving himself. "She told me she was going to help out with the paperwork regarding…well….your disappearance." Chris inwardly winced as he said those words, unsure of how the sensitive Jill would digest them.
"She doesn't have to do that! I should be the one taking care of that," Jill protested, feeling guilty that she had just thrown a heavy burden on Sheva. Even though she had given Sheva permission to access all her personal files and information, Jill felt it was unnecessary and unfair for Sheva to do everything.
"She insisted. She said you have enough on your mind as it is. She wants to help you in any way she can." Originally, Chris had wanted to deal with the paperwork, but Sheva strictly insisted that he should be near Jill as much as possible for support. She knew exactly what he wanted and he couldn't be more grateful to her, not just for going through the trouble of dealing with an immense amount of tedious work, but also taking care of all personal inquiries regarding the story behind Jill's 'death' from parties outside and inside of BSAA. Thanks to Sheva, everyone in the headquarters had managed to control themselves and their burning questions around Jill.
Jill lifted her fork and poked at a piece of lettuce on her plate. "I must really thank her for the trouble she has to go through," she replied with a heavy sigh. She wanted to help Sheva, but she also knew that her mind and heart would not be into it. Jill picked at a piece of tomato and moved it around on her plate. As she tilted the fork again, she caught a small blurred sight of herself off surface of the metal fork, noticing that she looked considerably different than her former self with blonde hair.
"Not hungry?" Chris's brow arched when he noticed that Jill was basically playing around with her food.
"Oh, no no. It's just that…it's been so long since I last had a salad," Jill replied softly and turned over a few pieces of vegetables on her plate. Even something as simple as a salad seemed like a meal fit for a royalty after being chained to Wesker in Kijuju.
Chris could feel his anger coursing through his body as he wondered just how poorly Wesker had treated her. I should have made that bastard suffer more…. "Well, you can have whatever you wish now, Jill. Just let me know."
Jill didn't know how to comment to that so she simply nodded. It frustrated her to feel so distant with someone who had been there for her as a partner and a friend. She mentally kept telling herself that all she needed was some time, but a major part of her feared that things might never go back to the way they used to be. For a brief moment, she could have sworn she saw a warped reflection of herself on the surface of the fork glancing back at her, except she couldn't see her face because it was hidden behind a metal bird mask with a pair of unnatural red eyes.
"Jill, you look pale. Are you all right?" Chris asked, his voice filled with concern as he set down his fork. He reached over the table gripped her shoulder firmly. To his surprise, she flinched at his touch and dropped the fork on her plate, which only further increased his worry. "Jill! What's wrong?"
His caring touch made her shiver, but what staggered her even more besides the reflection of the bird mask was what her fork had picked up. Curled around the prongs were small tentacles with uneven specs on fleshy skin. The small tentacles gave the illusion that they were going to burst from their host's body, similar to the way she had lost count seeing grotesque tentacles spawning from various Majinis' heads. With wide eyes, she pushed the plate away from her, spilling the contents of the salad all over the table. She covered her mouth with a hand, feeling the taste of bile tickling against her throat.
"Jill! What's wrong?" Chris jumped out of seat and knelt against her chair, rubbing her back up and down soothingly to calm her down. He glanced at the salad and wondered what had set her off, but couldn't find his answer.
Jill felt her body spasm as she squeezed her eyes shut, forcing herself to swallow the vomit that was gradually making its way toward the back of her tongue. She waved a finger at her plate of salad, causing Chris to glance over again to see what had triggered such a terrible response from Jill.
Chris frowned and searched her food for any indication of threat, but found none. "Jill…I don't see anything. It's just a seafood salad. You used to love this."
Using her free hand, she lifted up the fork, revealing what was curled around the prongs. Chris examined the fork and found a small piece of squid dangling on the prongs, and suddenly it clicked to him why Jill felt the way she did. "Shit." He had seen it many times down in Kijuju too.
Jill managed to suppress a deep cough to speak. "I know. It's making me feel a little queasy." Her face was still pallid from the previous hallucinations, but she started to feel slightly better after turning her eyes away from the food. Any shred of appetite she originally had was now gone. "Sorry about that," she apologized while wiping her mouth with a napkin.
Chris gave her a small smile, completely understanding the situation. However, it made him quite upset at the same time to think that even a bowl of what used to be her favorite salad could induce such an ill effect in her. He would just have to be more careful and considerate in the future. "No, it's fine. We don't have to eat this." He threw the freshly made salad in to a garbage bin before handing Jill a cup of water. "Here, maybe this will make you feel better.'
'Thank you," Jill wheezed as she quickly gulped down the cool liquid.
"Hey, don't worry about it. I know we're all feeling edgy because of what happened in Kijuju. It's hasn't even been a week yet since we narrowly escaped. It'll just take more time." Yes, like she said, it'll just take more time, he reminded himself, even though he was still hurting due to the fact that Jill couldn't feel like she could confide him yet. He tried to understand that it had only been four days since they got back from Kijuju, but a part of him knew it was going to take some time for Jill to return to her former self. He could only help that it would take a long time compared to the chance of never. "Would you like anything else? Pasta, bread?" he asked patiently.
"Just some bread, please." She bowed her head to hide her flushed face when Chris turned around to grab a piece of fresh bread for her. It was a piece of squid…a small piece of squid. What have I been reduced to?
Chris carefully handed his friend a plate with a single piece of bread and watched her accept it gently with a distressed face. "Hey, don't worry about it. Everything's going to be ok." He had lost count how many times he told her everything was "going to be okay." Deep down, he knew his words of consolation were far from the truth, but he didn't know what else he could do or say at the moment to help her. He couldn't recall a time when he had felt more useless than he did now with the exception of that fateful night when Jill had sacrificed her life to save him. A pang of guilt stung his heart at that mere thought. He could replay that haunting moment so well in his mind that it made him feel it had just happened yesterday. Even though that memory was still fresh in his mind, he never got the chance to fully discuss it with Jill. It was a sensitive issue that he just couldn't bury, but at the same time, he wasn't sure how to approach her with it either. He would just have to wait for the right moment. Waiting, waiting…All I seem to be doing is waiting…
"Yeah, they will be." Jill said with a forced smile as she swallowed a tiny piece of bread before gulping down the remaining water left in her glass. She didn't doubt that things were going to be better later on, but she just didn't know when. "I'm sorry that I spoiled lunch," she added with a heavy sigh before making her way to the counter to set down her empty glass and plate.
"There's always dinner," Chris reassured with a light laugh. However, his tiny sense of humor immediately faded when he saw Jill turning toward her room. "You gonna be all right?"
"Yeah, I just want to finish my book," she said quickly, almost as if she were trying to find any desperate excuse to leave the kitchen.
Chris fixed his gaze on her for a few moments, unsure of what to do besides letting her have her freedom to do whatever she wanted. It was the very least she deserved. In time, Chris…in time. With an affirmative nod, he allowed her to quietly step back into her room. He heard a soft click, which indicated that she had locked her door. Chris sat down in his chair again and pushed away the full lunch entrees. He was in no mood to eat anymore. All he could do was stare emptily at the door of Jill's bedroom as his mind became swarmed with questions and no answers.
Inside her little sanctuary, Jill ignored the book that rested on the small table in the center of the room as she walked toward her bed. She didn't bother to change out of her blue jeans and a simple white t-shirt as she slipped under the covers. Even though the sunlight was still beaming through her window, she didn't find it difficult to surrender her consciousness to sleep. Sleep (minus the nightmares) offered her the most comforting solace right now.
"Thanks for your help again, Sheva."
Chris closed the door behind his friend as she walked into his suite. He pointed a finger toward Jill's bedroom before bringing it against his lips, signaling Sheva to be as quiet as possible. Sheva nodded, understanding his simple gesture immediately as she tiptoed lightly into the living room. She seated herself comfortably on the couch and waited for Chris to seat himself across from her.
"You look upset," Sheva observed as she watched her partner sigh into his hands while blinking a few times to collect his thoughts. "What is it?" she whispered, making sure to keep her voice low enough so she wouldn't wake up the sleeping woman in the other room.
"First of all, I just want to let you know that I really appreciate you handling all the difficult paperwork for Jill. It's something that I should be taking care of. You're a guest here."
Sheva dismissed his remark with a simple wave of her hand. "I told you I got everything under control. I want you to focus on helping Jill, be around her as much as you can."
"But that's the problem. I don't think she needs my help. Ever since we arrived here, she has been acting very distant toward me. I-.I…just don't know what to do," he stammered, trying to catch his breath after letting out his agony without so much as a small pause. "I…I've been telling myself that all she needs is time."
"That is exactly what she needs. It's only been four days, Chris. You can't expect her to revert back to her old self after four days," Sheva answered calmly, understating her partner's frustration. She knew firsthand that his frustration had the ability to make him think illogically. Luckily, she had always been the cool and collected one to put everything back into perspective for him.
"I-I know that. I guess I'm just being impatient." Chris glanced down at his palms, absentmindedly tracing the lines that ran across his skin. It was just now that he noticed the small cuts and scrapes on his palms were starting to heal. Unfortunately, the other wounds were going to linger on him longer. "Why won't she talk to me?" His voice came out uncharacteristically weak and Sheva immediately detected the heavy desperateness in his tone.
"She won't talk to anyone….not even the professional doctors."
"I understand that, but I'm her friend…the only person who will truly understand her," Chris argued, his voice slightly rising with the ascent of his irritation. He had been with her since the beginning. They had been friends for over a decade, and he just couldn't understand why she made him feel like he was a stranger to her.
"Of course you are, but you have to remember that she had spent two long years alone. She has to get used to having friends around again. She has to get used to a normal life first." Sheva's dark eyes narrowed, emphasizing the importance of her logic. "Chris, be there for her as much as you can. Give her the space she needs, but let her know that she's not alone."
Chris leaned back into the couch and crossed his arms over his broad chest. He cast a worried look in the direction of Jill's bedroom before quietly replying, "I'm trying. You have no idea how hard I'm trying." Even though it had only been four days since they all got back from Kijuju, he had kept a watchful eye on Jill. He had seen her in the morning with puffy red eyes, her blonde hair disheveled in a messy ponytail. He approached her many times, urging her to speak to him about her problems, but she declined him each time. The pain of seeing her unable to trust him hurt more than any physical wound he had received. The pain made a straight beeline toward his heart.
Sheva reached over the coffee table between them and placed a reassuring hand on Chris's arm, squeezing it lightly as a gesture of support. "She's still the same person. You have to remind her. You have to remind her that the same Jill Valentine she once was is still alive"
He repeated Sheva's advice over and over in his head until her words started to sound like a broken record, but it was enough to have them imbedded within his mind. "I will."
"Good." Sheva gave him a small grin before reaching into the black leather purse slung her shoulder. She pulled out a small stack of paper filed neatly into a manila folder and handed the contents to Chris. "You should hang on to this for now. There's a bunch of important information regarding Jill within those files, including her medical and test reports."
Upon hearing the last part of Sheva's statement, Chris's face immediately lit up with anxiety and concern.
"There's nothing wrong with her," Sheva reassured with a soothing tone. "The last dosage of the chemical, P30 has been removed from her system, and there doesn't seem to be any other harmful viruses or infections living within her. The wound on her chest may leave a scar, but most of it should heal within time."
Time…it seems like everything is going to be better in time. "Thank God…" Chris breathed, the tension in his muscles slowly subsiding as he relaxed at the good news.
Sheva pointed to the manila folder. "If you want to read more about it, you can just look through the files. After Jill was tested, she gave permission to disclose her information and results to me since I said I was going to help her with her paperwork. She also gave permission to disclose her information to you too, Chris. That should be a good sign," she said with a smile, hoping that small bit of information would slightly cheer him up.
'It is," Chris agreed with a nod. The news made him feel slightly better about the earlier incident, but just slightly. I hope this is Jill's way of letting me know that she trusts me enough to let me help her.
Sheva suddenly remembered there was another issue she wanted to discuss with him. "Oh, also…you do know that no one got rid of her tombstone yet, right?"
The image of Jill's tombstone instantly clicked within Chris's mind. He had personally assigned the tombstone to be planted in a secluded courtyard that was a short distance away from the main BSAA headquarters. He had used to hate the fact that the reminder of her death was so close to his home, but didn't have the heart to have it set at somewhere too far from the headquarters, too far from him. He had visited her grave often and lost count at the number of times he found himself apologizing to her for letting her die when he had secretly sworn to himself that he would protect her. To him, her grave was a sacred ground. Everyone in the BSAA headquarters knew he was very protective of Jill's memorial site. Since he had failed to protect her life, the next best thing he could do for her was to protect her spirit and the piece of cold stone that was an unworthy representation of the amazing person she was. Not, was…she is…Chris mentally corrected himself.
"I'll take of that," he insisted tersely. "We don't need that damn thing anymore now that we have the real person back."
Even in the dark room that was dimly lit by the moonlight shining through the window, Sheva could see the joy on Chris's face when he mentioned Jill's return. She was happy for her friend. The feeling of reunion after such a long term of separation must be one of the greatest feelings in the world, a feeling that Sheva sadly could not experience. The disappointing feeling of not being able to see her parents again after the fatal accident in her village still lingered with her today. She still remembered the way she sobbed against her door when she had thought her parents were going to be on the other side, not the officials who came by to break the news to her regarding the death of her parents. Somewhere inside of her, that fragile child longing for her own reunion that was never going to happen, still lived.
"Hey, you ok? You seem like you're zoning out, Sheva," Chris pointed out tenderly. Sheva's previous stern facial features became soft. Her lips were curved downwards and her brows were drawn together over her eyes that were slightly squinted, as if she were in deep contemplation.
Sheva shook her head, her high black ponytail shaking with her movement. "It's nothing. Your reunion with Jill just reminded me about how I couldn't have my reunion with my parents," she admitted, her mind growing numb for just a brief moment.
"Oh shit, I'm sorry-"
"It's all right, Chris." Sheva blinked back the sadness betrayed in her eyes and continued, "I've already done all I can to avenge them. You are very lucky to have her back. Make sure you don't lose her."
Being exposed to a glimpse of Sheva's past made him realize just how lucky he was to have one of the most important people in his life back with him. Had it not been for Wesker's manipulation of Jill, Chris would have called this a miracle, but he supposed it was because of Wesker that Jill had survived. Still, Wesker had no right to carry out his experiments on Jill. He had no right to do to anyone. Chris could feel his blood boiling with sheer anger at the thought of his deceased nemesis. He had sought his revenge as well, but he wished he could have done more to that bastard, a lot more. "I won't," he stated firmly with a new resolve.
"Good, that is what I want to hear." Shiva gripped the straps of her purse as she stood up. "I guess I better get going. It's late and you should get some rest."
"Thank you for dropping by again, Sheva. You're a great partner and an even better friend." Chris also stood up and courteously escorted her to the door, making sure to still keep his footsteps as light as possible. It wasn't such an easy task to accomplish given his stature. Still, he tried his best. He would try his best at everything for Jill.
Sheva turned around to face him, her eyes pierced directly into his own. "You got your original partner back. Take care of her. You promise me that," she said with a playful smile before leaning over to embrace Chris in a friendly hug.
Chris returned the gesture and nodded. "I promise, and I intend on keeping that promise." He grinned at the petite woman. She was still a very young, almost a kid in some people's eyes. Yet, she was able to comfort him in a way not even a wisely old sage could. She reminded him much of his sister, Claire. They were both headstrong, stubborn, and had the ability to get through him even when he proved to be tenacious at times.
Satisfied with his promise, Sheva left the suite with a feeling of contentment.
Chris locked the door behind him and walked into the kitchen. "So much for dinner," he mumbled when he saw that it was almost close to midnight. He had knocked on Jill's door several times earlier but he never got a response. He had assumed she was asleep, but now he regretted not kicking the door down to see for himself if she was truly all right. He rummaged through the fridge to see if there was anything he could cook that didn't require an extensive use of his kitchen equipments. His eyes roamed through the shelves once more before he closed the fridge door after grabbing a bottle of water. He made a mental note to pick up some extra groceries in the morning. Chris finally settled on just bringing Jill a simple apple that was lying inside the fruit basket next to the bowl of seafood salad that had ruined their lunch. Chris picked up the apple and tossed the remnants of their short lunch into a trashcan, watching baby squids fall out in clumps. He firmly placed the lid over the trashcan before making his way toward Jill's room with an apple and a bottle of water in his hands. He would have to apologize to Jill for giving her possibly one of the lamest dinners even though he knew she probably didn't get back her appetite after the failed lunch.
Just as he was about to knock on the door, the sound of someone playing the piano caused him to freeze in his spot. It wasn't the sound that made him stop in his tracks; it was piece that was being played that made him withdraw his hand to his side as he listened intently to the soft haunting tune that brought back a flood of memories, memories that were from more than a decade ago. The rising and falling of the crescendos of the piece stirred the core of his soul, and he felt like he was no longer in his suite. He felt like he was back at the very mansion that had triggered all the evil that ensued afterwards. His free hand unconsciously trailed up to the doorknob even though he knew the door was locked. Still, that didn't stop him from turning the knob, allowing him to gain access to the other side, half expecting to find his former comrade, Rebecca, and half expecting to find nothing on the other end, believing that he was starting to imagine things. However, neither of his hypotheses was accurate.
He found Jill peacefully sitting by a piano that just so happened to be a part of her furnished room. Chris was mesmerized as he watched her slender fingers move up and down the full set of keys, her head swaying slightly with each accentuation. She was playing a beautiful and haunting piece, a piece that he thought he would never hear again.
From the corner of her eyes, Jill could see Chris standing beside her, but his presence did not faze nor distract her from playing the Moonlight Sonata, which had been embedded deep within her mind for it was one of her favorite classical pieces as a child. But, it was now a piece that had been marred by horrors of Umbrella. Still, it brought her a comforting feeling if she blocked out the memories that came with that one song. At some point in the piece, she expected memories of her friends and comrades, who were now just names without faces, to slowly flow back to her, and they did. The surface of the ivory keys became slippery with her tears, but she continued playing anyway, unsure of what possessed her to do so. Even when her body trembled from the emotional turmoil arising within her, her fingers continued to move on their own accord.
To her surprise, her body found stability again when a pair of strong arms from behind encircled her waist. She tensed at first, but the embrace was so warm, so loving, so different than the cruel assaults she was used to receiving back when her body was controlled and she was still conscious of everything. She was still conscious when she was forced to carry out actions she didn't want to, and no matter how hard she had tried to resist, she was rewarded with nothing but electrifying pain that wracked her body, a body that was reduced to a shell, a vessel that simply stored her consciousness but was no longer owned by her. She was a prisoner, and her body was the iron bars that prevented her from escaping.
But that doting physical contact reminded her that she could willingly return the affection, and so she did. Her hands left the piano keys and found their way toward Chris's chest when he sat beside her on the piano bench that was thankfully spacious enough to fit him. Chris had long forgotten that he had dropped the apple and the bottle of water when he had reached out to embrace Jill. He wasn't sure quite sure if he impulsively acted purely on natural instinct or because of Sheva's words, perhaps it was a combination of both.
But that didn't matter to him at the moment. What mattered the most to him right now was that this time, Jill did not distance herself from his approach. Instead, she seemed almost willing to have him by her side, and Chris could only hope that she would continue to accept his presence.
When Chris opened his eyes, he was startled at first, realizing that he was not in his own room. The first thing he saw when he jolted up from the bed was a black piano, and that was when everything started to come back to him. He found Jill Valentine resting peacefully beside him with only the bottom half of body tucked within the covers. Chris carefully pulled the rest of the covers up to her shoulders, making sure to be as still and gentle as he could in an effort to not wake her. He watched her face for a few moments, admiring how tranquil she looked compared to her distraught phase from last night. He had found her playing the Moonlight Sonata when he walked into her room to hand her a simple dinner. He remembered he had remained silent until he saw her tears land on the piano keys. That was when he could no longer control his urge to embrace her, to let her know that she was not alone. He had sat next to her and allowed her to relax against him, eventually losing track of time. He had waited until she was fast asleep against his chest before he carried her to her bed to let her rest more comfortably.
Chris had thought about going back to his own room afterwards. It certainly felt like the more ethical thing to do, but the other bigger part of him wanted to remain by Jill's side to make sure she was truly all right. He could hear Sheva's words replaying through his mind, and felt more reassured that he had done the right thing. You are very lucky to have her back. Make sure you don't lose her.
Chris realized that this was his first time in Jill's room in more than two years. They had shared this suite when they first joined the BSAA, but after her death was announced, he had only step foot into her room once just to survey everything and put her personal belongings away before permanently locking the door. It was too painful for him to witness, and as much as he had wanted to move out of the suite, he just couldn't for fear that he would be walking away from the last memories he had with Jill in their home. Their suite really wasn't anything special, but it was still home to them.
His eyes quickly roved about the room, noticing that not much had changed at all. The bed, a simple dresser, a small table, a bookshelf, and the piano were all there in their original locations. However, something sticking out between the doors of her closet that was left ajar caught his attention. He squinted at the object and realized it was a small suitcase. His eyes slightly widened with surprise as the most obvious thought came to him. Is she…planning on leaving?
Jill certainly had not brought any luggage back from Kijuju, so it only made sense that she was planning on using the suitcase for a departure. The thought made Chris's heart skip a beat. He looked back and forth between the suitcase and the sleeping Jill, trying to draw some logical connection even though he had already came to the most obvious conclusion. But, he just couldn't believe and accept it. She's…she's planning on leaving. Where is she going? More importantly, WHY does she feel like she has to leave! This doesn't make any sense.
Chris drew in a deep breath, calming himself down so he could think about the situation in another rational way. Maybe she was just cleaning out her closet and the suitcase just got stuck between the doors. For some reason, that explanation didn't convince him, but he couldn't come up with a reason as to why she would want to leave.
He suddenly snapped out of his thoughts when he felt the figure beside him beginning to rouse from her sleep.
"Jill," he said in such a tender voice that he barely recognized as his own.
Jill blinked a few times and waited for her eyes to adjust to the sight before her. "Chris…" she groggily replied as she forced herself to sit up on the bed, pulling some of the covers off of her.
Her locks of unkempt blonde hair cascaded over her tired face, and her blues eyes were dull with puffy red circles around the rims followed by a light shade of bags beneath them, the result from her emotional state just a few hours ago. To anyone else, she probably looked like a wreck, but to Chris, she was still as radiant as ever for much her radiance came from within her. Anyone who knew Jill Valentine on a personal level would agree with him.
"Morning," he replied casually with a forced smile, attempting to cover his troubled façade for the moment.
Jill looked around the room as she tried to remember how Chris had ended up next to her in her bed, but the sight of the piano and light scent Chris's cologne brought everything back to her. She could still hear the keys reverberating through her mind as she recalled herself falling limply against her friend's chest, her body and mind too burdened with the emotions that had swept over her. She was a trained fighter, much stronger than almost all the male soldiers she knew, but she was still human. Or was she? She shuddered slightly at the possibility that she would no longer be seen as a person, but rather, as one of them. "Did I…fall asleep?" she asked quickly to pull herself out of her pensive reverie. The last thing she needed was to have another break down in front of Chris.
"Yeah, shortly afterwards. I carried you back to your bed. Sorry, I should have went back to my own room, but I was worried about you," he apologized, considering the possibility that Jill might not have willingly wanted him to be in a rather intimate position with her.
"It's all right, Chris. It was good to have you beside me." She hesitantly patted his hand with her palm before she caught her own reflection in the mirror that was attached to her dresser. The sight frightened her, and she almost didn't recognize herself had it not been for the veiny scars that blemished the upper portion of her chest.
"Sheva said they'll go away," Chris said when he noticed that she was staring at her reflection in the mirror, lightly tracing a finger over her scars. He glanced at the wounds once before dutifully looking away with a light flush. He was thankful that Jill didn't seem aware of his little predicament.
"Is that so?" She fixed her t-shirt, trying to expose as less of her mottled flesh as possible. The skin above her chest was thick and uneven to the touch, and she wouldn't be surprised if the markings were permanently embedded. "She dropped by last night?"
"Yeah, how did you know? You weren't asleep?" Chris blinked with surprise.
"I was going to come out to grab a small snack but I overheard you two talking. I didn't want to intrude. I didn't hear anything though," she reassured, hoping that Chris didn't think she was eavesdropping on what could have been an important conversation that didn't involve her.
Chris frowned, catching on what she was insinuating. "Jill, you're a part of the team again. You don't have to feel like we're hiding things from you. You have the right to know everything that goes on." Seeing that she wasn't too convinced with his words, he added, "Just like you trust me enough to disclose your medical results to me."
Her head immediately jerked up, eyes wide with anticipation. "My…results…"
'You're fine," he stated calmly and lifted his hand above hers, squeezing it gently to assure her. "The last dosage of the P30 chemical is now out of your system, and you don't have any infections or viruses within you." Even though the faculty members in the medical division within the BSAA headquarters were the most promising doctors in the world, he wasn't completely satisfied with their just analysis. He needed to hear it straight from Jill that she was truly fine. "Jill, I need you to tell me something. According to the results, you're not infected with anything else, but…did Wesker administer anything else to you besides the P30?" he asked gently, knowing that he was treading on a sensitive line with such a direct question, but there really was no other way of wording it.
She felt her blood run cold upon hearing his question, but composed herself quite well. Feeling the colors draining from her face, she slightly tilted her head to the side, her long locks of blonde hair shielding her face from betraying emotions that she wanted to keep to herself for now. Wesker and Excella had done a lot to her and her body. She wasn't even conscious half the time, but when she was, that was when the real pain started. The pain was so great that she wanted them to just end her life then and there. Their faces suddenly whizzed through her mind, and with each fuzzy flashback, she could feel their invisible touch upon her skin, especially Wesker's. Jill blinked a couple of times to withhold the tears that were threatening to fall again, just like they had for the past four nights. They weren't tears of sorrow or pain. They were tears of anger spawned on the day she lost control of her own body.
"No, not that I can remember…" Jill answered truthfully, her voice weak and barely audible to Chris. She cleared her throat and spoke louder, hoping that Chris would not start pitying her because of her imprisonment. The last thing she needed was pity. "They ran experiments on me, but besides the P30 chemical, I don't think I was exposed to anything else."
Chris released a sigh of relief. He had been holding his breath as he waited patiently for Jill's answer. It certainly made him feel tenfold better after hearing Jill's testimony. "Thank God." He gingerly placed a hand behind her head and smoothed out her blonde hair that felt like silk against his calloused palm. He would have to get used to seeing Jill as a blonde, but her hair color was the least of his concerns. He continued tucking loose strands of her locks behind her ear and waited for her to respond. From the reflection of the mirror across the room, he saw Jill's gaze cast downward, her eyes closed, her mind in deep thought. "Jill?" He neglected her hair for the moment and pulled her slender form against him. Resting his chin against her shoulder, he tenderly whispered into her ear the way a parent would to a child. "I'm right here. It's going to be all right," he reminded her, and himself.
His warm breath tickled her skin as he spoke. Even though it was something so trivial, she took a great amount of comfort by just listening to his words. He had told her several times before everything was going to be "all right," but now she was actually starting to believe that his words could retain some truth. At first, she had attempted to build a wall to protect herself from anything outside her small defense line, including Chris. She found herself to be nothing but a heavy burden on him. He didn't know, but she had noticed the way he had staggered back with hurt emanating from his usual vibrant eyes when she had unwillingly distanced herself from him. God, she had not meant to do that to him, but she just couldn't help it. Her mind had screamed at her to accept Chris's help, but her body told her otherwise. It felt strange being around real ordinary people again after her life had been forcefully surrendered.
"Right here," Chris repeated affectionately. He knew she was hurting and if he could, he would gladly suffer for her, the way she had for him.
Jill reveled in his presence. She had never forgotten how much she had and still cared for him as someone who was more than just her friend and partner. Somewhere, deep down, she knew her feelings for him were requited, but their work had always been put first. Secretly, she had put Chris above her work and above herself. She had initially thought erecting a wall between them would prevent him from entering damaged life, thereby saving him from being sucked into her dark life that still festered with terrible memories that would relentlessly torture her. But now, she could see that he was suffering because of her barrier. But, why would Chris want to give up his own life to be a part of her nightmare?
"You know, I was thinking about leaving," she admitted guiltily as her eyes fell upon the suitcase between her closet doors.
He had momentarily forgotten about addressing the issue of her suitcase, too concerned with her emotional stability at the moment above anything else. However, the moment he heard her confession, his heart began to race again. I knew it… "Why?" His question came out in an understandably frustrated and slightly angry tone.
Jill was unfazed by his agitation. She knew he had the right to be upset with her and her rash decision. You have to know that this is not what I want, Chris. It's what I think is best, for you. "You look so sad when you're around me. My presence here feels like a burden on you."
"Because you keep pushing me away," Chris argued, trying to keep his voice as steady as possible. He was angry, confused, but above everything else, he was hurt. "I've been trying to help you, but you won't let me."
"Because it's not that simple," Jill shot back, her own annoyance suddenly starting to rise. There are just some things that are difficult for me to say. "You think everything can be normal again, like we could just pick up where we had left off, but it's not that easy. Don't you see that?" she cried. She wanted nothing more than to go back to the days before the incident at Spencer mansion, and now matter how much she yearned for that, it simply was not going to happen.
"Of course I see that, but you're not making this easy for me, for us." He wished he could have taken back his words, but it was too late. Her eyes upon her crestfallen face glared at him with an intense look of anger, similar to the way she had menacingly pierced her gaze into the depth of his pleading eyes when she was under the influence of the P30 chemical. He was staring straight at pure and raw rage.
"Are you blaming this on me!' Whatever defense she had previously let down immediately rose up with her fury. She had gone through unimaginable torture, and now she was being blamed for not making things any easier? "It's been four days, Chris! How the hell do you expect me to recover in four days?" She irately pummeled the bed, making the sheets and the pillows shake beneath her rather powerful attack. She pushed herself up from the bed, preparing to move anywhere as long as it was far away from the one person who she had thought she could depend on.
"Jill!" He grabbed her wrist in one swift motion before loosening it slightly so he wouldn't hurt her. "I didn't mean it like that. I'm not blaming you for anything!" he defended, desperately trying to make her understand that the words that he had just said were just a result of his frustration. "Jill!" he repeated again, more forcibly this time. "I'm sorry. I know it has only been four days and things and I know that you need your own space. But, I'm just so worried. I know we just can't go back to how we used to be before that night at Spencer's mansion, but we can certainly try. Nothing has changed on my end and nothing has changed on your end. You're still the same Jill Valentine I've known for over a decade."
His words made her anger slightly melt. She knew she was still visibly upset, and could see it in the reflection of the mirror. However, his last words had struck the core of her heart. Did he really see her as the same person even though she did not feel that way?
"We've been separated for two long years, but that doesn't mean we're strangers," he continued when he realized he had her attention. "I never stopped thinking about you Jill. Never."
A part of her had expected him to move on after her death, not right away, but certainly a year later. She had no idea that she was very much alive in his thoughts, just like he was in her thoughts during her captivity. She had missed him terribly, but she had also wanted him to have a normal life, a normal life that did not include her, a monster in the making. Her anger ebbed, and she found it difficult to walk away from his pleading grasp that was begging her to stay.
"I'm sorry if it seems like I'm rushing you. I'm not. You take all the time you need, but please…just let me help you. Don't turn away from me. It really hurts…" Chris released his grip from Jill's wrist and walked to the other side of the bed. Kneeling before Jill, he gently cupped her chin with his broad hands and whispered, "It's good to have you back again, partner. Don't leave me again."
"I-I won't. I'm sorry…I guess I was being rash too, you know…considering leaving and all." She placed both her hands on his shoulders and leaned forward to lightly embrace him. Their foreheads met and their faces were only a breath apart. "After my death…I thought you were leading a normal life again. Now that I'm back, I don't want you to feel like you can't carry out your old life again. I thought if I leave, you wouldn't have to be burdened with my problems. You would still have your chance to live normally."
"Don't worry. I can hardly consider my life to be 'normal' after everything that had happened," he reassured confidently, his voice still low, not wanting to break the fragile and intimate moment between them. He had only dreamed of being this close to Jill, and after ten long years, his fantasy had been granted to him in a situation he had never thought he would ever find himself in. As much as he wanted to press his lips against hers to physically show her that he would always be there for her and care for her beyond that of best friends, he knew now was just not the moment. Instead, he softly pecked her on the forehead and held her the way he had last night.
The small physical contact felt strange to her. Sadly, she had almost forgotten what it felt like to be in the arms of someone caring, considerate, and loving. "Chris…" The name came out sounding like a longing, a longing that was now fulfilled.
"That's it, I guess." Chris plopped himself next to Jill on the field of soft grass. He watched her pick up a small fragment of her gravestone that was now obliterated into myriad pieces. He peered over and noticed that the piece she had in her slightly quivering hands had part of her last name inscribed on the jagged surface.
Chris wanted to spare her the pain of seeing her own tombstone, but Jill had insisted on coming with him to the memorial site that was set up in the courtyard of HQ. The memorial site was established shortly after the HQ was built. Chris and Jill had set up tombs for their fallen S.T.A.R.S. friends. Even though they could no longer fight with them anymore, their deceased friends would always live on within them.
"They would have made amazing BSAA members," Jill commented, momentarily forgetting about the broken plaque in her hand.
Chris solemnly nodded. "Yeah…except for Brad. He was such a Chicken Heart," he chuckled dryly in an attempt to break the somber mood. He was obviously joking, but there was some hint of truth behind his words. Chris forgave his late cowardly comrade for abandoning the rest of the unit during the Mansion Incident, and it was only after successfully avenging all his deceased friends by defeating Wesker that made him slightly more comfortable joking about them. It still brought him a great amount of sorrow to refer to his friends in the past tense, but he was so very grateful to whatever deity that was watching over him that he no longer had to speak about Jill that way. He knew it was a selfish thought, but damn it, he was human.
Jill smiled, amused at the rather depressing joke. She knew he was trying his best to make the situation better for her, for them, and she appreciated it so very much. A cool breeze ruffled her hair that had neatly been combed back into a ponytail. Closing her eyes, she pressed the broken plaque against her chest and relaxed against the soft wind around her body. It feels so strange for me to be holding something that is supposed to symbolize my death. But, I'm alive. This feels like a dream to me.
"Feels weird, huh?"
"How did you know?" Jill opened her eyes in surprise.
"I felt the same way. I-I can't exactly explain the feeling, but it was….weird," Chris replied softly as he thought back to the days he had visited Jill's grave. He had felt like he was standing in the middle of Eternity, the only place in time where he could reach her again. "I…I just couldn't accept that you were gone. You were pronounced dead, but there was no body! The fact that we never found your body made me hopeful, hopeful that you were still somewhere out there. But, when the days turned into months and we still couldn't find you, the realization that you were really gone finally started to sink into me, but never completely. That's why it felt weird…to see your tombstone even though my heart was still hopeful that you were alive, somewhere." He knew that if he were to continue, he would be going in a circle, repeating himself. But, he really couldn't explain it in a better way.
Jill listened carefully, entranced with every word. Outside, she remained strong as her fingers gripped the edges of plaque so tightly that she thought the ragged edges were going to rupture her skin soon. Inside, she was aching because of Chris's pain that had been brought to life by his confession.
"When I was with Wesker…I-I never thought I was going to be free again… I never thought I was going to be able to see you again. Even though I was very much alive, I felt dead. My existence was erased and my body belonged to someone else. I was just property," Jill admitted as she brought her knees up to her chest. Merely hugging them close to her brought her a sense of comfort, a sense of life among the plane of dead. She would never forget the days when she had to exert almost every ounce of energy within her just to willingly bend a finger before the P30 chemical consumed her.
Chris watched her face intently as she gazed at the horizon, as if she were speaking to no one in particular even though her words were only meant for him to hear. Her voice was surprisingly light and calm as her mind reflected one of the cruelest tortures. He couldn't begin to tell her how relieved he felt that she was starting to expose her suffering, even if it was just a glimpse. Even though he could feel the familiar wave of anger hitting him again at breakneck speed, he would try to resist it for now in order to help Jill. "You're not property. Don't ever think that," he told her sternly. "R.P.D., S.T.A.R.S., Nemesis, T-ALOS, Uroboros…you went through ALL of that and you're still here. You are no one's property."
A newfound surge of confidence rushed through Jill, and it temporarily made her forget about her subservient role. She had fought against all odds, all impossibilities, and won. Her sheer will, passion, and her two mere hands had managed to do more than an entire force of experienced fighters. "Thank you for reminding me, Chris." She could only hope that her confidence could be retained within her. It was going to take much more than just his words to make her believe in her true strength again, but it was a start.
"I'll remind you as many times as you need me to." He gingerly removed the broken plaque from her hands and placed it on the ground. The letters E-N-T-I-N-E sent a shiver down his spine, but he ignored it. He didn't need the ghostly reminder of Jill's presence when the real person was sitting beside him.
"Did you really need to bring all those complicated tools to break my gravestone?" Jill asked, changing the subject. "I think you could have simply used your muscles," she joked, referring to his muscular arms. His increased stature and strength were the first two things she had noticed during their reunion. They weren't the most critical things on her mind at the time, but they were certainly the most obvious. "You're a lot stronger now," she commented, running a hand down his ample bicep. She felt his muscles tense beneath her touch, and she couldn't help but laugh at the way he was getting flustered.
"Ah…" Chris said uncomfortably. He couldn't remember a time when Jill commented on his appearance. Embarrassed and flattered at the same time, he modestly replied, "Yeah, from working out." But honestly, it was much more than just working out. His physique had dramatically increased shortly after the incident at Spencer Mansion. His anger, sadness, and guilt pushed him past his human limit, and forced him to redouble his efforts, not for himself, but to avenge Jill.
"You mean…after…?" Jill started.
Chris nodded, sparing her the unnecessary trouble of continuing. "Yeah, I was just so angry with everyone, everything, but with mostly myself."
"Forget that. I'm here now," Jill reminded him, locking her eyes on his. She could see that he was still scarred from the incident. Even though they had both suffered in different ways, they had still suffered nonetheless.
"Thank God," Chris muttered. Everything that I had been fighting for…they had not been in vain after all. She's back, she's really back. A serious expression crossed his face, which did not betray his inward joy. After Jill had been pronounced dead, he learned to hide his feelings quite well. He would only expose his true emotions in his own privacy, but besides that, a stoic expression would always be written on his face. It just made things easier for him and everyone around him. "You have no idea how glad I am that you decided to stay."
"This IS what you really want, right?" Jill asked sternly.
"More than anything," Chris whispered, taking her hand that was lying calmly against his arm. He held it tightly in his own, running his fingers through hers until they were intertwined. He couldn't help but notice the trivial, yet delicate beauty of her long, slender fingers—fingers and wrists that were san of any jewelry, ornaments. He stroked one finger in particular, her ring finger. Some day in the future, when you're ready…I want you to know just how much you mean to me, how committed I want to be to you…how far I am willing to go for you, Jill Valentine.
But right now, he'd wait.
Jill glanced at her hand that was securely tucked beneath his and smiled, a true, genuine smile that radiated like the rays of sunlight painted across the beautiful horizon, the light so intense and bright that she felt it could almost metaphorically consume the darkness in her. "Thank you for everything, Redfield," she whispered back, resting her head against his shoulder as she watched the sun in pure tranquility. One day, she'll finally manage to put the last two years behind her for good.