AN - Just another short ramble from me. This one is a spiritual prequel to The Demon in My Shadow, but you certainly don't need to have read that (but of course I'm going to suggest that you do ^_^). This one comes with a dedication to xSummonerYunax: happy belated birthday, you rock! I hope you enjoy this as much as the last!
Disclaimer: If you recognise it, I don't own it. Resident Evil and all affiliated characters belong to Capcom, and Exit Ghost belongs to Faderhead. This story was created for entertainment purposes only, and no copyright infringement is intended.
"Forgive me that we failed.
Will we still remain?
...I don't know."
A kaleidoscope of colours coalesced in the sky, an alien display on such an ordinary night. From somewhere in the distance, a nightingale called, its sweet song drifting on the rush of the breeze.
The steady breaths that he exhaled were carried away by the wind. There was little in the silence to calm him. There was no reason for him to feel calm, not anymore.
Each and every day that passed yielded fruitless results. But what was he searching for? Truthfully, he did not know. He could no longer find a reason to fight; it was simply something he did, something that felt right. Logic was lost long ago.
Norway was a strange land, yet it was peaceful in a way no other place had appeared to him. The chill of the air told him that the moments were real, and the bitter sting of ice upon the comforting touch was pleasant in its own special way.
"It's beautiful, isn't it?" Jill breathed, her voice seeming so distant. "Breathtaking…"
Chris agreed, but would not voice his feelings. He had learned to keep them internally, to hide them from those who showed interest…even from himself. What he felt was irrelevant.
She had always expressed an interest in witnessing the Aurora Borealis, ever since the days he had met her. Many would live out their lives without witnessing the Northern Lights; very few would ever gaze upon their splendour. Yet here he was, witnessing…
But he found no beauty in that image, could not surrender himself to a wish fulfilled.
"Love…" Jill whispered, reaching for a gloved hand. "Why so sad?"
He turned to her, wanting to smile as he always did when he gazed upon her, but did not have the strength within him. Her cheeks were flushed from the cold, her smile serene. How she could remain so positive eluded him.
He entwined his fingers in hers, feeling no heat through the layers of fabric that separated skin. There was little warmth left in the world as it was.
She applied striking pressure, worry transferred through her touch.
"I'm tired," he admitted. "Tired of fighting. Nothing ever changes, Jill. We push, but it all remains the same."
Change could only occur in an environment that nurtured the concept. The modern world moved in the wrong direction, falling deeper into the deep abyss of oblivion with every man-made disaster. Saving the world would not be easy…it may not even be possible. So why did he continue to fight? For hope? It was clear that hope had abandoned them long ago.
"Don't think like that," she urged him. "I know it's difficult sometimes, but you have to keep going. Nothing is ever achieved by resignation."
She wrapped both of her arms around his left, pulling herself closer into his body. Red and green hues continued to dance across the horizon, the chill of an Arctic night settling in. He was oblivious to the cold, perched on the hilltop at an hour when many others slept in warmth and comfort. But all the comfort he needed was at his side.
"I'm sorry," he apologised, resting his head against hers. "You always wanted this and I-"
"Don't apologise," she pleaded. "You don't ever have to apologise to me. I love you, and I still worry."
He closed his eyes, savouring the sensation of her against him, head pressed into his shoulder. It felt foreign somehow, like an echo sounding through the veil of forgotten memories.
She would never understand the thoughts that plagued him. How could she, when he barely understood himself? There was no rhyme or reason to the struggle anymore; he had lost count of the days he had spent simply going through the motions. Where was the retirement they had promised themselves? Where was the life he had promised her, the happiness they were supposed to find?
He should have known better than to believe that a future awaited them. The fight was their life, it was all they knew. All roads inevitably led to nowhere; what was the point in walking them anymore?
"We still have each other," she whispered, sensing his train of thought. "That is enough for me."
And it was enough for him, but he could not feel her the way he used to, could not smell the sweet scent of her being that always comforted him. Somewhere along the line, something had changed. The sensation in his heart had dulled, had warped into something bitter and cold.
"I love you," he reminded her, suddenly hit with the sense that she could slip away at any moment. Because she could. Nothing was certain anymore, not least of all life.
There was not a single sound upon the air, and he remained in silence, the weight of the world pressing down upon him. There was so much he needed to tell her, but it all seemed redundant. He would tell her everyday that he loved her, that she was his raison d'être, but somehow it did not seem enough, did not seem adequate. He had always wanted so much more for her than this, but as the weeks drifted past he found that he had less and less to offer those he loved.
Battle-worn was how his colleagues had described his state of mind; he bore the wear and tear of years on the field, though not all of the scars were physical. It was normal, they had told him, to doubt oneself after so long, to believe that the cause was a futile one. But it was endurance that overpowered doubt and it was those who continued to fight that kept the cause alive…one day, they would see results that would not bring worried frowns to battle-worn faces.
"You're so warm…" she sighed, breaking him once again from his thoughts.
Warmth? He exhaled mournfully.
He woke again that night to damp sheets, night terrors too much to handle. He no longer knew why he even attempted to sleep. Caffeine had been cut from his diet, and perhaps more sleeping tablets than were good for him had been prescribed, but nothing worked.
"You need to stop this," Claire sighed as he splashed cold water onto his face, her presence previously unnoticed by the door to the ensuite bathroom.
She had insisted that she stay with him, but he was indifferent to her presence. Everyone was worried, what did her concern matter?
"I'm trying, Claire," he insisted.
"You're killing yourself."
Perhaps he was…he could not feel enough to discern whether or not his behaviour was destructive.
"We're here to help," she assured him, brave enough to step into the bathroom. "You don't have to suffer like this…quit the BSAA. It makes no sense to-"
"But what will I do then?" he demanded, wishing to put across his anger, but only succeeding to sound as though he were caught in a painful stranglehold.
"I can't just give up," he lamented. "I'm…going back to work. I've taken too much time off. Maybe it will help to take my mind off…everything."
"By stepping back into the career that made you like this?" She could not believe what he was suggesting. "You can't change the world, Chris. Especially when you're falling apart yourself. This burden is too big for you to shoulder right now."
She placed a soothing hand on his back, offering comfort in the only way she knew he would take it.
"But if I don't…who will?"
He had not spoken to his sister in weeks; he was unsure how many, had lost count long ago. His presence had become toxic, he knew that much. Slowly but surely, he found that his friends drifted away. Last he heard, Claire had found comfort in the arms of Leon. She did not need him anymore, nobody did.
Suddenly, he was the one in need of help.
"I think it's fading," Jill sighed, eyes still glued to the horizon. "It was good while it lasted, huh?"
Jill. She was all he needed. He did not know when he had become so dependent on her, but it had happened and it was irreversible. When he failed to find strength in his own heart, she would help him find it in hers.
But lately, that guiding hand had been absent. No matter how close he became to her, he still felt disconnected.
"I wish I could show you how much you mean to me," he whispered as he rested his head against hers. "…how much I love you."
Her breath left as a solemn sigh and her grip on his arm tightened. They rarely spoke of emotions any more, rarely exchanged sentiments the way they used to. It was simply not the same, and every inch that she slipped through his fingers was another step he took towards a point from which he knew he would never return. The others had told him that it would be easier this way, that he was holding on to a dead memory. But they didn't know him, did not know how he felt.
"If it's half as much as you mean to me…I already know," she assured him, and he could hear a smile on her voice.
It was strange that she smiled more often these days.
One assignment had ended, and another loomed ahead of him. As far as he knew, a South Asian village had recently been quarantined; he already knew how it would end. More pain, more suffering, more proof that there was no end to this war. Another reason for him to throw in the towel and admit that the cause had defeated him. Too many friends had been lost; more would leave in the future. More names to add to a memorial, more memories to fade.
"Keep fighting," Jill urged. "If you don't fight for them, who will? It's okay to doubt yourself. All good men do. But don't give up. If not for you, then for me. We did a lot of good in our time, let's not let that go to waste."
And finally, he smiled. Because they had. For every individual who had wasted away before them, another had lived thanks to their efforts. Could they deny others the chance to live, to walk free with the knowledge that something was being done and one day no one would have to suffer as they had?
Because no matter how dire the situation seemed, or how much he complained, he knew that he could not give up. It was simply not in his nature.
"For you," he whispered. "Anything for you."
"Hey, Redfield," called a voice from behind him. Of course, time was up. It always was. "We're moving out."
Despite the call, he could not seem to bring himself to his feet. He dared not move, having only just found comfort in himself.
He sensed his colleague lingering behind him, unmoving as he waited patiently.
"Who were you talking to?"
The question registered as absurd, but suddenly there was no pressure on his arm, no partner at his side. Where Jill had been seated only moments before, there was no indentation in the snow, no sign that she had ever been there. He was alone, as he always was.
Because she was not his partner, not anymore.
He rose in an instant, no longer wishing to linger with the memories. What happiness he had felt faded fast, leaving the bitter sting of grief behind. Even the chill of the wind did not compare.
'Claire was right,' he sighed inwardly. 'What was I thinking?'
Maybe once the fight was irrelevant, but now every failure weighed upon him, though not came close to that of the dark August night. The recently-completed assignment signalled the first time he had set foot on European soil since that day. He had believed that it would prove to be soothing, that it would somehow provide closure. As usual, he had been so far from the mark.
His colleague smiled wearily, leading the way back to base. Chris followed solemnly, not a word spoken.
"You know she was right," Jill's voice echoed. He turned, catching her figure against a backdrop of pure white. She was inadequately dressed for the cold, her cardigan too thin to protect her from the wind, but she did not seem to be affected by the cold bite of the frost that had numbed his toes half an hour ago. A halo of reflective light surrounded her, and she was as beautiful in that moment as she had ever been.
"Move on, Chris," she pleaded. "Let me go."
He blinked slowly, painfully. He could never deny her a request, but this was one he could not grant, would not even entertain the thought of submitting to.
"I can't," he told her, voice shattering as he spoke.
"Why not?" she pressed, her memory daring enough to take a step towards him. "I'm not real, Chris. I'm one step too close to psychosis. I wouldn't want this, and you know that. Let me go..."
"I can't," he insisted meekly. "I'm afraid...afraid that I'll forget you."
Her scent had already faded from the clothes she had left behind, handwriting erased from the whiteboard on his refridgerator. He could barely remember the sound of her voice, or the soft touch of her hair. So much was fading; if he let go he was sure to lose the last of her that he still held in his mind.
"I wish I could tell you that you're wrong," she wept. "But I don't know...I don't know anything anymore."
And once again, the uncertainty was on him. He clung to a treasured memory with obsession that was sure to destroy him, the cure for his sickness within his grasp. But he was too dependent to seek relief; he did not want relief, not at the current market price. He wanted her, in whatever form that may be. If she was a creation of his lunatic mind then so be it. Small comforts at least provided momentary salvation. Because he could never let her go, could never forget how happy she had made him in the short years they had together.
She was gone when he looked back to her, the call of his comrade barely audible on the edge of his senses.
Wesker was dead, as was the cause, along with his reasoning and his will to plough through each difficult day. But still, he fought on. He fought on because that was one place she would always be, one position that would never truly be taken despite the many talented agents the BSAA chose to pair him with. Her memory lingered in the fight, the countless days they had spent together given meaning under harsh conditions. It was where he felt most at home, where he could cope with the loss that had driven him half insane.
So he continued forward, following the beaten path back to base. It was the same path he walked every day; it was only the scenery that changed. The air may have been a little bitter, the ground softer and the air lighter, but the destination remained the same.
March 21, 2008.
Just another day.
"Every little thing we did just came too soon.
I'm missing you so much…"
AN - Please review :)