AN - I've wanted for a while now to write a holiday fic but I never get inspired at the right time. So, I decided in advance to write a little something for Valentine's Day :). It didn't come out quite how I had hoped, but I finished it so I'm posting it. It's set in the same timeline as Only Through The Pain, nine months after the epilogue. You don't have to have read that to read this, all you need to know is that Chris and Jill married and, after some marital problems, had children.
I'm not going to make excuses here, it's pure and simply fluff for the sake of fluff. No hidden meaning, barely a purpose...just fluff. Dedicated to everyone who stuck with Only Through The Pain til the end. Hope you enjoy :D.
Faith and a Former Valentine
"Age does not protect you from love. But love, to some extent, protects you from age."
As pleasing as she found the sight before her, Jill smiled with great difficulty. Business trips did not crop up often in the work schedule of a base-oriented BSAA agent. Yet somehow the powers that be had persuaded Chris that his presence would be greatly beneficial at a staff summit to mark the opening of a new military-funded hospital-come-viral control centre. Trouble was, the location of the new hospital was far from home; Azerbaijan to be precise.
The invitation had been extended also to her, but she thought it careless and inappropriate to leave behind her children for the sake of a week with her husband. Instead, he would make the trip alone. She tried to be supportive, but could not deny that she felt fearful apprehension; he would be too close to a warzone for her liking, which concerned her even more now that the BSAA were increasingly involved in the affairs of the other branches of the armed forces where bioterrorism was concerned. She could not help but feel afraid that he would be roped into some assignment or another and put his life on the line for the sake of a fight that was not his.
"Stop frowning," he told her. "Smile."
She tried. All she could muster was a weak, unconvincing twist of the lips.
Now it was Chris's turn to frown. He dropped his suitcase to the floor, settling on the sofa beside his unhappy wife.
"It's one week, Jill," he told her. "I'll be back in time for your birthday and..."
He moved closer, hand at her back as he leaned in to whisper against her earlobe.
"...you know I'll make it one to remember."
This time, her smile was more genuine.
"It's too late to cancel," he sighed.
"No, no," Jill frowned. "Don't cancel. I'm just being silly and stupidly selfish. Go have fun, we'll be fine."
"I think fun is the last thing I expect to have out there."
They sat in silence for a few moments, the suitcase remaining forgotten. It was not the weeks alone that troubled her; it was the weeks alone without him. She struggled to think of how she would cope, alone with her job on hold for another month. Full time soldier was a career she was more than used to; the simple thought of that of full time mother frightened her.
Ava stirred against her, tightening her grip against much larger fingers. Of course, she was not the only member of the family his sudden departure would affect. At eight weeks old, Ava would likely not react to his absence, but James...James would miss him terribly.
"Come over here and give your old man a hug," Chris smiled, offering a hand to his young son. James looked at his palm tentatively before slowly padding across the carpet and accepting a hand up onto his lap.
"You know I'm going to be gone a couple of weeks, right?" he asked with an encouraging smile. James grunted in unhappy agreement, sure to put across the point that he was not happy with the idea. "Well, that's going to make you man of the house. I'm going to need you to look after your mom and your sister while I'm gone, okay? Do you think you can do that for me?"
Suddenly feeling incredibly important, James nodded enthusiastically.
"Can do," he announced and sank into his father's loving embrace momentarily before hopping back down onto the floor with newfound energy.
"Serve an' protect!" he declared, complete with salute and determined expression. Neither Chris nor Jill could hide the laughter his actions provoked. Lately, James had fancied himself a superhero and Chris's request had effectively been a mission statement.
"And you, you little monster," Chris growled, turning to pluck Ava from her mother's arms. "Try not to...drool over everything."
Strangely enough, she found this dubious compliment extremely flattering and let out a short giggle of amusement.
"Was that-?" Jill gasped, hand rising involuntarily to touch her daughter's arm. All thought of her husband's impending departure fell clear of her attention.
"She laughed!" Chris enthused, bouncing the infant gently in his arms as though to elicit another joyous outburst. "Our baby just laughed!"
Jill smiled briefly, too focused on the knowledge that he had almost missed this moment to share in it with him. Everything had moved so fast since the birth; she half expected to wake one morning and find that both her children were starting high school.
"Try not to hit any more milestones while I'm away, alright?" Chris laughed.
Jill brushed her fingertips gently across Ava's scalp and leaned forward to press a kiss against her crown.
Outside, a horn sounded twice.
"That's my cue," Chris told her, handing back the smiling baby. "James, you ready to take over?"
"Yessir!" James agreed, fighting against the hand that ruffled his hair.
"Alright." Chris's attention turned now to his wife. "Don't overwork yourself."
"Just...call me," she sighed. He assured her that he would and found her lips with his as the car horn sounded once again. Jill found herself savouring the kiss, and clinging a little too possessively to his coat.
Then he was gone, suitcase and all.
Valentine's Day. Jill had never professed love for the day or for the connotations it brought with it. One day a year on which lovers around the world were expected to show their affection by means of meaningless gifts and acts that would have meant just as much on any other day.
Truth be told, she did not hold particular resentment towards the saint, more so towards the fact that her birthday fell on this most convenient of holidays. Jill Valentine, born on Valentine's Day. The fact that she was often single on this occasion made the month of February nigh on unbearable during her high school years. Valentine didn't have a Valentine. It was a small consolation, perhaps, that the teasing became silent when a classmate discovered just how hard this Valentine could punch. Sure put a dampener on his plans that year. Her days training with the Delta Force offered little reprieve; every teammate believed they were the first to see the irony in the placement of her birthday.
It was not until she joined S.T.A.R.S. that she learned to laugh at her own misfortune. A busy office, late hours and a partner who had been inherently teased for handing her a card and a gift until the others shamefully admitted they were not aware that it was her birthday. She felt it unfair that Chris should be humiliated for his kindness, but shamefully enjoyed the knowledge that the punch line was not personal this time.
Chris's reaction to Valentine's Day had evolved so much from a nervous presentation of a card and muttering of "This is for your birthday...I just want to make that part clear". From the first they had spent as a couple, the day took on a new meaning. It was the one day a year she felt doubly flattered, and he had been romantic in ways she would never have expected from him.
But this year...this year she was alone.
"Hey, I'm really sorry about this, but I'm going to be gone longer than expected. A man was arrested trying to smuggle a sample of the T-Virus across the Iranian border. Since I'm the most experienced staff member here, they've requested my assistance, and...well, it's better if this situation is resolved quickly. I promise, I'll be back on the twelfth, so don't worry."
Though she understood the reasoning of both her husband and the BSAA, she could not help but grow a little angry. In a way, she saw it as a lesson for allowing herself to become too excited about his supposed return date. At the very least, he would still be there for her birthday.
"Jill, I am so sorry. The whole virus situation has put everything on red alert. I'm not going to be able to fly out until at least the sixteenth. I am so sorry, and I promise I'll make this up to you."
The second phone call had been the last straw. She refused to feel excitement over his return, lest she be disappointed a third time. Claire had attempted to take her mind off the matter by filling her every day with visits or shopping trips, but each gesture was as superficial as the last; she didn't want a shopping spree, she wanted her husband to be home on her birthday. It seemed that a break from the chaos and some quality time together was too much to ask for.
She had woke that morning with little in mind other than to roll over and return to sleep. As far as routine went, she found that a rather relaxing day lay ahead of her. Claire's determined plan to keep her entertained had eased off to allow for a birthday celebration meal that evening. What she had failed to consider into her calculations of what constituted as 'relaxing' was a son who seemed determined to make his mother's birthday an action-packed one.
After rising early to feed and change her youngest, she found herself baking her own birthday cake after James had expressed a persistent desire to make one for her. Cue a mess that took the better part of an hour to clean up and a toddler in desperate need of a bath.
Reprieve had been offered only when James took to his afternoon nap and she was able to steal a couple of hours for herself. When the time came for the celebratory meal, she was grateful for the glass of wine.
"Thank you for the ride," she told Carlos when they pulled alongside her house. While the Kennedys had been her official ride for the night, neither had agreed which would be the designated driver and so had been forced to ride back with Rebecca after a misunderstanding involving half a bottle of wine and a few bottles of beer that perhaps should not have been touched.
"No problem, chica," he laughed. "Once again, happy birthday."
She smiled politely, though in her mind she repeated over and over that she would much rather it be over already.
Weighed down by numerous presents, she fumbled with the front door and stepped inside to an unusually quiet scene. Truth be told, she had half-expected to find the place in ruins and her father insisting that he would never babysit again.
Depositing her bags on the table by the door, she set her sights on the cloaked figure that hastily scribbled away at an overused colouring book.
"Hey Batman," she spoke casually. "Have you seen my son?"
"Nope," James answered, serious to his tone. The outfit had been part of a Christmas present, though the others had largely been forgotten after unwrapping this delightful item of clothing. Sometimes it was a struggle to get him out of it so that it could be washed. No doubt it was a trait inherited from his father; Chris favoured his old S.T.A.R.S. T-shirts to the point of wearing most of them out before he outgrew them. It was more nostalgia than anything else; the same reason he wore his old Air Force tags with pride.
"Are you sure?" Jill countered as she fell onto the sofa beside the toddler. "He's about your height, always making a mess..."
Suddenly, she plucked the mask from its position, revealing deep brown hair that now stood on end.
"What?" she exclaimed in false surprise. "You're not Bruce Wayne!"
She rolled her eyes sarcastically. Of course, he was a fan of Batman, not his alter ego. She doubted that he fully understood the nature of the caped crusader, only that he wore black, fought crime and was ultimately someone to look up to.
"Did you help grandpa clean the Batcave?"
James looked up at her with a blank expression reflected in his eyes.
"Your room," she corrected with a laugh. "Did you help grandpa tidy?"
James shook his head stubbornly, grinning from what she could only guess was a concealed secret.
"What is it?" she asked, suddenly intrigued. "It's almost bed time, you shouldn't be smiling."
Her light-hearted manner of speech seemed only to amuse him further.
"Can't tell," he told her. "Promised."
She considered probing further but had always been sure to remind him to not make promises unless he could keep them; it would be hypocritical of her to ask him to break one. This time, she would only have to wonder.
"Alright," she relented. "Either way, it's time for bed."
To her utmost surprise, he did not object, setting aside his colouring book tidily and reaching up for a helping hand. She did not mind carrying him, not even with his steadily increasing weight. It occurred to her that she should make the most of such an act while she could, for one day he would be too big for her arms.
"Can you change into your pyjamas while I go tuck your sister in?" she asked once safely inside his bedroom. "Oh, don't give me that look; you're not sleeping in the Batsuit."
James reluctantly trod towards his bed, dragging his feet across the carpet as he went.
"Feet, mister," she reminded him. "I'll wash the Batsuit for you and it will be nice and clean for when daddy gets back."
He seemed a little happier at this assurance and she left him to his own devices.
"Oh!" Dick exclaimed with a hand on his heart as she passed him at the nursery door. "Careful, this heart is getting old."
She smiled apologetically, reaching up for a hug while he was still standing.
"Thank you so much for tonight," she told him. "I really needed this."
"It was no problem; you know you can always call on me."
His pleasant manner threw her; the twinkle in his eyes matched that within her son's. Were they in cahoots? She hoped not; she did not stand a chance against them both.
She chose to cast these thoughts aside as she approached the cot, glad to see that she had caught Ava before she fell into a deep sleep. The simple sight of her face seemed to please the baby and she smiled up at her mother, eyes alight with untold happiness.
"I just changed her and she was fed half an hour ago," Dick explained. "She's been an angel all night."
Jill smiled to show her appreciation and Ava mirrored it gleefully. For a long moment, Jill became lost in a blissful world, altering her expression in ways she knew pleased the child and tickling her stomach with gentle fingers. It was surreal to think that less than three months ago neither parent had known her smiling face. Despite being much easier than her first, Jill's second pregnancy seemed to last forever. Chris blamed the early discovery of the pregnancy; Jill blamed the knowledge that she was carrying a girl. Even James had been overjoyed upon knowing that he would soon have a little sister; a boy and a girl, their family complete.
Not that she ruled out a third pregnancy, but she knew that if it were to happen, it would not happen for at least a few years. One thing they had learned was to never rule anything out...and also that children were extremely hard work.
"Oh, someone called Murphy rang not too long ago," Dick suddenly announced. The bubble popped and reality set back in. "Said something came up, and could you meet them tonight to discuss it?"
Jill turned abruptly, trying to construct a reply that did not involve language inappropriate for a child-friendly environment.
"You're kidding?" The question was purely rhetorical. "Murphy is in my department, a new recruit. Dammit. I'm on maternity leave; she's just going to have to call someone else."
"It sounded quite urgent," Dick pressed. "Said it had to be you."
She paused, considering the point. Work was always important, but did she have the energy to deal with Murphy's incompetence? All she wanted to do was to sink into a warm bath and sleep off a fairly unimportant birthday.
"Go, Jill," Dick urged. "I'll stay and watch the children. It could be important."
Something in her father's voice was overly persuasive. Why did he want her to leave? She knew that he loved spending time with his grandchildren, but they would both be soon asleep.
"Are you sure?" she asked, hoping that he wound renege on his offer and she would not be so tempted about the offer of work, however dubious it may have been. The hour was not too late...she could still help out the rookie and return in time for a bath before sleep finally claimed her.
"I'm sure," he smiled. "She's at the convention centre, take as much time as you need."
There was something about his tone that suggested the belief that he was doing her a favour. She had no idea where this belief came from. The convention centre lay on the opposite side of town to the BSAA headquarters. Why on Earth was Murphy there, of all places?
"James, honey," she called, reluctantly accepting the offer. She bent down to his level when he approached. "Mommy has to go out for a little while, but Grandpa will be here. He'll tuck you in, alright?"
"Read me a story?" he asked, looking up at the old man. Jill smiled with suppressed laughter. Everything came with a condition.
Once Dick assured the youngster that he would indeed read him a short story, James's attention turned back to his mother. His arms stretched outward, silently begging for a hug.
"Happy birthday, mommy," he congratulated as they embraced. Again, there was something unusual about the situation; he was far too obedient and no child was this happy at bedtime.
The wine that still trickled through her bloodstream warranted a cab to be summoned to the house. The convention centre was a relatively new building, previously standing as a community centre. When purpose called for a larger venue, the old building was expanded upon, though much of the grounds were retained. She rarely had occasion to visit the centre, and never outside of business. It felt strange to her that she should revisit a venue that had changed so much since her first visit; the community centre had been the venue of the gathering to celebrate Umbrella's downfall, the place where her relationship with Chris had began.
She paid the driver with haste, jogging to the entrance and towards the light of the lobby.
"Jill Redfield?" the receptionist asked, smiling politely. "In the gardens."
She pointed an immaculately-manicured finger towards the left side hallway.
Why the gardens?
Jill could only roll her eyes and hope that this would not take long. She had not possessed the sense to change out of her cocktail dress before leaving the house and the February chill had already caught her skin.
The chill did not seem so prominent once she stepped outside, warmth provided from several heat lamps that were scattered around the area.
Something in the distance caught her eye; candlelight. What the hell were candles doing out here?
As she drew closer to the source of light it became apparent that it emanated from several different groupings of candles, all scattered around the koi pond that had stood since that bittersweet party. In the midst of the light, a blanket, a covered plate and a bottle of champagne.
Her heart skipped a beat. It had been almost ten years, but she remembered that spot with delightful fondness. It was where she and Chris had shared their very first kiss, where he had confessed to loving her and she to him. A moment several years overdue, but ultimately one of the best of her life.
But the conclusion she arrived at...it could not be true.
Suddenly, there were hands at her stomach, arms winding around her waist. She froze, not quite believing what she felt, or what she heard.
"I thought you were never going to come."
She spun, almost knocking them both to the ground.
"Happy birthday, Jill," Chris spoke, smiling from ear to ear.
"M-Murphy?" she stuttered, caught in a state of suspended belief. "You- But you're- You can't be-"
Stunned silence fell over her, though her mouth continued to move. How could he be here? He was on the other side of the world!
"Don't tell me you're not happy to see me," he chuckled. In a hurried moment, her arms were flung around his neck, his encircling her waist to hold her in a loving embrace.
"I thought you couldn't fly out?" she gasped, finding that her vocal cords had all but seized up.
"Not from Azerbaijan," he explained quietly. "I drove over the border, flew out from Uytash."
She could not quite believe what she was hearing; he drove to another country so that he could fly home?
"R-Russia?" she stuttered in disbelief, pulling back ever so slightly. "You...Chris... Wait a minute, Uytash never used to offer flights to the States."
"Yeah..." he sighed, slightly embarrassed. "I had to change at Munich. Three hour layover."
A long drive across the Russian border, a flight change in Germany with a three hour delay and she knew that Chris hated flying long haul alone. Uncomfortable didn't quite describe what he must have felt.
"Chris!" she sighed. All this at her expense? "You must be exhausted."
"Caffeine," he announced through a blissful smile. "It's a wonderful thing."
With no words left to speak, she reached up and pulled him to her, savouring the first kiss her lips had felt in two weeks. That was one particular aspect of being in a serious relationship she found strange, even after ten years; that affection became routine, and even a day without it seemed to last an eternity.
She could taste coffee on his kiss, could sense his fatigue even through natural enthusiasm. The wife and mother within urged her to force him into a taxi and ensure that he slept off the long fortnight he had waded through, but she knew better than to argue with him after all these years.
"I missed you," he groaned once they parted. "You have no idea how boring it was out there."
She followed as he lead, settling onto the blanket when the invitation came.
"Obviously not so boring if you spent your time planning this," she laughed. While the makeshift birthday supper was thoughtful and romantic, she knew that it was not Chris. He always tried his best to be romantic but it simply wasn't in his nature. She loved that he tried and that he thought she deserved the effort, but sometimes she wished that he would understand that he did not need to prove anything to her. While her friends often sought out the men who were in touch with their emotions and loved nothing more than to sweep their women off their feet, she had always looked for something different, something less superficial…something real. Chris never pretended to be someone he was not, never compromised who was for the sake of anyone, not even a woman. He never tried to impress, never expected anything he did not earn. It was one of the many reasons why she had fallen for him all those years ago.
"Actually, this was last minute," he revealed, hand rising to his hair in an awkward motion.
She feigned intrigue as she held out her glass, allowing him to pour a healthy amount of wine from a rather expensive-looking bottle.
"I wanted to make up for the delay, and for missing half of your birthday," he continued. "So I was in the duty-free when I landed and saw this wine – I remember they served it at our wedding. Everything else just fell into place."
She looked instinctively to the label, a sudden smile following fond recollection.
"You bought me cake, too?"
Chris chuckled as their attention turned to the covered plate, Jill waiting eagerly for him to reveal what exactly he had prepared.
"Not quite," he told her.
"Muffins?" she asked incredulously, laughing as two triple chocolate muffins were uncovered, still in their original packaging.
"It was all there was at the duty-free," he defended. "It was either muffins or brownies."
There was the Chris she knew and loved; the man who could put a candle in a muffin and call it a cake. While thoughts of amused appreciation lingered behind the laughter, she could not find the words to express her heartfelt gratitude. Somehow, she could tell by the way his smile twisted from one of embarrassment to one of contentment that he already knew. He always knew, though how she could never tell. She would often look in his eyes and could somehow feel what he felt, drowning in emotion that was not entirely her own; perhaps the experience was not so one-sided after all?
"I suppose I can slum it," she teased. "After all, I've had two cakes already."
"Oh yeah," she laughed, recalling the discomfort of around five hundred calories of rich, gooey chocolate cake. "If the feast Claire forced upon me wasn't enough, our son made me a cake."
Chris's laughter outshone her own. James was not known for his culinary skills, or his artistic ability. Truth be told, all he tended to make was mess.
"Well, I say he made me cake," she continued. "I baked, he covered himself with icing."
The events of that morning seemed so far away; almost from another time. Her concentration waned as she considered the quality of the day that was now drawing to a close. She had played with her son, sang to her daughter, drank with her friends; summarised, it was an unbelievably perfect day. Why had she not seen it this way as it played out?
"You should…go home," she told Chris, reluctant to admit this simple truth. She would have loved nothing more than to remain in blissful isolation with him for the rest of the night. "James misses you."
It was as she spoke these words that her son's behaviour suddenly made sense to her. While he was quick to obey his parents, he rarely paid heed to the words of anyone else; a fact proven by Uncle Leon's babysitting session that ended with a rather exasperated insistence of "never again".
"He knows, doesn't he?" she groaned. "So how much sneaking around did you do, exactly?"
"Only what was necessary," he smirked. "You think you're my whole world, girl, but you're not the only one I missed."
She smiled weakly, falling into uncomfortable silence. Even three years on, family life continued to daunt her.
"Are you okay?"
What should she say? She was far too tired to make sense, even to herself. A simple 'I missed you' would suffice, but in the same way it was nowhere near enough.
"I'm just tired," she admitted with a yawn. "Tired and bored. Maternity leave is tiresome."
She fell as he pulled her into him, the warmth of his hold almost foreign.
"Go back early," he urged. "Twelve weeks is a maximum, it's not mandatory."
An involuntary snort rose in her throat at the idea. Ludicrous, that's what it was.
"You don't think I've thought about that?" she sighed. "Every time I think about leaving her, I look into her eyes and I know that I can't. You know what I was like when James was born."
Three years had passed since that day, but they both remembered. How could they forget? Months of anger, hatred and pain followed by months of tiresome bliss. Had she not fallen pregnant with her son, would she have found the strength to pull through? She did not know, and did not care to hazard a guess; the turmoil was over and though nightmares persisted she approached each one with the knowledge that it would be over soon, and that a much happier life awaited her.
"How was it?" she muttered. "Being back in service?"
As the years had passed, the idea had lost most of its appeal. Following her captivity she had neither the energy nor the will to continue, and now she had found something else to live for. Fighting no longer defined her; it had taken almost 15 years and a hell of a lot of heartache, but finally she had found herself.
Still, she could not help but be curious.
"Disappointing," Chris sighed, pulling her closer almost reflexively. "It's difficult to find something to fight for when you already have all you ever wanted. The world doesn't need us anymore; we're just going through the motions."
It was unsettling to consider this one simple fact. Their entire lives had been dedicated to a fight that ended before they had reached middle age. In a strange sense of things, Jill often felt as though they were leading a second life. As she had looked down upon her own headstone all those years ago, she knew in her heart that she had truly died that day, if not physically. Her rebirth had been painful, had left her with many scars, not all of which could be seen, but ultimately she felt that it had all been for the best.
Jill Valentine died that day. Jill Redfield was stronger, wiser and once again saw the importance in the simple things that had been unobtainable for so many years. As she had held James in her arms those first few days, she knew then that the value of life was not learned by taking it away or by losing your own; it was by creating life, by feeling it grow inside you and holding it in your arms with the knowledge that your own life would never be the same.
"If you fall asleep, you're getting a moustache," Chris joked, prompting an unexpected laugh to rise in her throat.
"Do you ever grow up?" she smiled.
"Growing up is optional," he reminded her, placing a light kiss on the tip of her nose. "Besides, we're not old yet."
She shifted against the post upon which their weight rested, sparkling liquid sloshing up the sides of her glass dangerously as she moved. A devious smile played on her lips as she reached up to run her fingers through his thick hair.
"I think this grey hair would beg to differ," she teased, finding a single strand amongst the brown – likely a result of stress and not age. Next, she ran the pads of her fingers along the taut skin of his face, travelling down to brush against the day-old stubble she hoped he would not shave away. "And these wrinkles. Oh, and…"
The fingers drifted down the warm skin of his neck, over toned pectorals to rest on abdominal muscles that were as defined as they had ever been.
"Are you sure you're almost forty?" she sighed. "You don't have a painting in the attic or anything like that?"
Instead of a reply, she was met with another kiss, the glass almost slipping from her hand as every muscle in her body relaxed.
Though she knew not to feel jealously over her husband's physique, she felt a little annoyance at how little he needed to work out to maintain his athletic figure while she was still shedding the last of her pregnancy weight.
"Baby, you're beautiful," he hummed when contact broke. "I need to at least try to compete with that, right?"
She raised an eyebrow but let the subject drop. When the conversation took such a turn he only ended up embarrassing her with his flattery, and she was in no mood to hide a rising blush.
"I want to take you somewhere," he announced suddenly, expression deathly serious. "You and the boy…and the little one. I was thinking Disney World?"
Though her cheeks already burned from the previous amusement of the night, she found that she still had it in her to laugh a little more.
"You're serious?" she chuckled through tears of mirth.
"Yeah," he admitted, though it came with a little reluctance. "I already told James we could go. Promised I'd take him for his birthday if he kept quiet about my return. He's almost as devious as you are."
"He just knows how to wrap you around his little finger," she hummed. "But he's worth it."
She watched as a pained expression befell her husband's features and attempted to push away lingering thoughts as she drained the remainder of her glass. It could not have been easy for Chris to leave his children, even for a period of time as short as two weeks. Years of fighting and the loss that naturally accompanied it had instilled within them both an intense need to protect those they loved. The more love that entered their lives, the more they worried. James was a good child, but she often wondered if she was raising him in the best possible way, and shielding him from all she never wished him to face; namely, their past.
"Do you think we did well?" she whispered, the words reluctant to follow intention to speak. "These past few years, I mean. With James? Do you think we did all we could?"
Chris paused for thought, but noticeably raised a hand to brush through her hair as he turned to look her in the eye.
"I like to think so," he answered with a smile. "We will always wonder if we could have done better and most of the time wish we had. But I would do anything for that boy, and I know that's enough for now."
She laughed quietly to herself, and set her glass onto the ground so that she could lean against him completely.
"I feel so old these days," she revealed morosely. "I have achieved more than I ever hoped to achieve, but in the same way I wish for so much more. I wish we had not wasted so many years, I wish Umbrella had not torn through our lives. I just…I wish we had more time to be young. My life has flown by so fast. One of these days I'm going to wake up and find that my children have children of their own."
"You make it sound worse than it is."
"Chris, we have a two-year old son," she laughed. "When the hell did that happen?"
Chris's expression froze as he contemplated her meaning and she found herself laughing at the fearful realisation that fell upon him moments later. He was four months away from forty, their son only three away from his third birthday. It seemed only a few years since they had worn their S.T.A.R.S. uniforms, dancing around their feelings under the mistaken belief that ordinary lives lay ahead of them. Ten years spent as soldiers of a desperate cause, they were now a simple family, albeit one with a dark history.
The wine flowed and celebratory muffins were slowly picked apart as they brought themselves back to a more cheerful mood. He gave promise of a present that awaited her at their home, but she brushed the idea aside. Having him at her side was enough, and the unprompted picnic was more than she could have asked for.
As timed passed, reality trickled in to their isolated world and the need to return home could no longer be ignored. Midnight was fast approaching and Dick was likely exhausted.
Dick was relieved of duty after a short cab right and contemplation of running away. Her night had been so perfect, Jill did not wish for it to end. Half of her heart pulled her home to her children, but half pulled her to Chris and to the wish to spend just a little more time alone with him.
James slept peacefully when they checked upon him, thankfully in his pyjamas and far from his costume. Ava did not stir, though they both knew that such peace would not last. Chris offered to take on feeding duty that night and Jill did nothing to dissuade him; the milk that continued to chill in the fridge made such an offer possible, and she knew that once her eyes closed they would likely not open until late in the morning.
"By the way," Chris laughed nervously when they found their way to the master bedroom. "I can't remember where I hid your present."
"Never mind," she whispered, arms encircling him, palms sliding beneath his T-shirt to caress the bare skin of his back. "I actually have a little something for you."
He groaned in annoyance, almost pulling away but her embrace proved too powerful.
"Jill, I thought we talked about this?"
After their first Valentine's together, they had both sworn not to buy each other presents for the holiday, only cards. It was a promise born out of her wish for him to not feel obligated to compensate for two occasions when buying her present, and his for her to not 'waste' money on him when it was her day. He had later admitted to fearing that focusing on Valentine's Day would draw attention away from her birthday; a truth made sweeter by his wish to not steal her glory.
"Well," she purred, slipping one of the straps of her dress slowly and sensually down over her shoulders. "I bought it for myself, but it's more your kind of thing."
Satisfaction sank in as she heard his breath hitch, eyes falling to the sliver of lace that was exposed by the movement of fabric. Before she prepared herself for reaction, his hands moved to her back, pulling her roughly yet passionately to him as he claimed her lips, kissing her so thoroughly she felt her knees buckle. She closed her eyes against the pleasure as his lips fell to the perfumed skin of her neck, warming her body from a solitary spot.
The years may have made them older, but his touch still felt as it did all those years ago. No seven year itch, no longing for something more. Arguments, sure, but they always made up...she sometimes wondered if he instigated arguments solely for the purpose of making up.
"Ten years," he sighed, appearing to mirror her thoughts. "Ten years and you still drive me crazy."
Her hands rose to his cheeks as he pulled back, fingers brushing back over coarse stubble.
"Ten good years," she agreed. "More or less. What say we look to ten more?"
"Just ten?" Chris laughed heartily, his fingertips stealthily reaching for the concealed zip of her dress as cool blue eyes glistened mischievously. "I was thinking another thirty-eight."
She flashed him a mock scowl, though did not take his reminder to heart; it had not be meant entirely in jest.
Jill had survived thirty-eight years when she had often doubted reaching the age of thirty. With no danger in their lives, a future seemed certain now.
Yes, she decided as her dress pooled around her ankles; though she had faced many nightmares, she had been blessed with many wonderful years in her time. Another thirty-eight sounded good.
It was a pleasant thought; one that warmed her from within. But the true pleasure in the thought?
Knowing that each and every one of them would be spent with Chris.
AN - Please review :)