At Eternity's Gate

'Time takes it all whether you want it to or not, time takes it all.
Time bares it all away, and in the end there is only darkness.
Sometimes we find others in that darkness,
and sometimes we lose them there again.'
~Stephen King~


June 14, 2009. 6:18pm. St. Mary Hope Hospital. Arlington, VA.

The corridors were empty, but no thoughts echoed off the walls. His mind was a blank slate, memories tumbling from the weathered surface.

Why was everything so painfully white? White matte on the walls, white tiles beneath his feet, the white shirt he wore, now stained with her blood. It coated his hands, his sleeves forever tarnished. There were prints against the wall, where his hands had carelessly pressed against the painted surface. No matter where he looked, that crimson shone against the white...there was no running, no escaping.

Her dress had been white, too. White, with the unwelcome flower marring such a beautiful gown. White like her skin, flushed and soiled. White like their bathroom...but not anymore.

The house was empty when he pushed through the front door; quiet...too quiet. The TV played on mute, a solitary glass lying flush with the carpet, water soaking through the shag.

"Jill?" he called as he deposited his jacket on the arm of the sofa, retrieving the fallen glass.

She could not have gone far, not when her keys lay against the polished surface of the coffee table.

"Chris!" Her voice was a shriek, searing into every bone. His legs moved before his mind could react, carried him up the staircase, towards sobs that became louder with each and every step.

He found her in the bathroom, coiled against the side of the tub, a blood-stained hand all that kept her upright. It was with rushed urgency that he fell to her side, holding her tear-streaked face as his eyes frantically searched for the source of the blood and of her evident pain.

"This...can't be...happening!" she gasped. "Please...just make it stop."

It was then that he glanced downwards, crimson spatters against her white dress catching his eye. With all the gentleness he could muster, he pulled her into him, and her feet slipped, body unfolding as she clung to his shirt. Her thighs were saturated with blood, dress stained beyond all hope of repair. And yet, he found that he could do nothing but stare, suspended in disbelief as his heart shuddered to a standstill.

She had been unable to walk, barely able to speak. He was sure that he had broken the speed limit on the race to the hospital, but his mind had been elsewhere. Traffic laws meant nothing, not as consciousness slowly slipped from her, and her limp body slumped against him, head resting carelessly against his shoulder.

Barely an hour ago, he had been dining with Claire; a long-overdue catch-up. Never before in his life had smiles and laughter descended so quickly into something so dark and hopeless.

A nurse passed with light steps, nose buried in a chart, paying not the slightest bit of attention to his presence. Why would she? Surely this was not so uncommon a sight.

He wished that they would extend him the courtesy of a little news, something to ease his worry. Even so, he told himself that everything would work out; it had to. There was so much in their future and for once in their lives the path they walked was not bathed in shadow.

"Mr. Redfield?"

He had not registered the doctor approach, though he did not jump as he announced his presence.

"How is she?" he asked, wasting no time.

From his many encounters with hospital staff, he had learnt a few behavioural tells. The smile before the reveal of good news, the bowing of the head prior to deliverance of that which was tragic. This doctor displayed neither; his frown was new to Chris's experience, nervousness unheard of.

"You are Miss Valentine's fiancé?"

He nodded impatiently. Why would he not just get to the point?"

"Mr. Redfield, I'm sorry," the doctor sighed. "There was nothing we could do; your fiancée has miscarried."

And with four words, somehow his entire world came tumbling down. The edges of his vision blurred and bile rose in his throat, heart struggling for a single beat.

He raised a hand to his jaw, brushing against stubble. He had to be dreaming, had to be caught in some twisted nightmare.

It had been nine weeks since her pregnancy had been discovered, and a further four since the night it all began; medically, the doctors had placed her at roughly fourteen weeks. The risk of miscarriage should have been over, there should have been no worry now, not like this...he was going to be a father!

One night was all it had taken, one night where their injuries became insignificant, the need to feel close to something or someone proving too powerful. There had been love, but mostly there had been desperation. More wounds had been aggravated than healed; all but one...the one that mattered. And something wonderful had sprung from that moment. Something wonderful that was evidently not meant to be.

"Can I see her?" he asked, voice barely audible. He had to know that she was alright; if she was feeling but half the impact that he felt right now, then she needed him, just as he needed her.

"I'm sorry," the doctor apologised. "Jill haemorrhaged; she is being taken care of as we speak. I assure you, we are doing all that we can."

Haemorrhaged? How was that possible? But the memories of blood returned, and it all made sense. This was too much. After all she had been through, this was too much.

"There is a restroom down the hall. Why don't you clean yourself up and get something to eat? I will let you know when she is ready for visitors."

Chris nodded weakly. The mere thought of food made his stomach turn, but he was sure that his appearance would frighten anyone who happened to pass. A blood-stained figure in the obstetrics department never meant anything good.

The bathroom, he found, was far down the corridor, far away from where he had left her. The clinically white walls turned a light shade of blue, but he barely noticed. His destination was on the very edge of a large waiting room. There was little doubt which area of the hospital he had wandered into; storks were appropriate décor in only one environment.

There were families seated, waiting. All the while, he could do nothing but consider the fact that it should have been him. Four months ago he had believed that he would never have a child of his own. He could still recall the moment the doctor attending to Jill in Africa had looked her in the eye and told her that the T-virus was gone from her system, that she was clean. Every decision of importance was made in that moment; yes, they would be together and yes, they would have children. Now, the dream had been dangled and then snatched away.

With barely a secondary glance to the waiting families, he pushed on the restroom door, crimson smudging against the smooth surface.

The blood washed away beneath warm water and gentle soap, though he knew it would take more than a little soap to remove the stain from his shirt. He doubted that he would be able to look at the item again; it would have to go.

"Chris." Her voice was quiet, but he could sense inner excitement. A smile was restrained, and she approached him with cautious steps, reaching for his hands.

His attention was focused solely on her as he rose from the sofa. There were no more boxes scattered around the living room, though he knew the upstairs would still be in quite a state. For moving day, they had achieved quite a lot, but aches had settled into overworked muscles and both were ready to fall into bed and leave the day behind them. Though he had largely kept it under wraps, he was dancing inside at the knowledge that finally they had a house of their own, a place in which to settle down. He assumed that this was the reason for her undertone of elation. She had been feeling unwell lately; it pleased him more than he could ever say to see her with a smile on her face, and he did not wish to question her happiness.

"Time for bed?" he questioned suggestively. But she continued to smile, biting her bottom lip coyly as he took her hands into his.

"I'm pregnant."

Chris froze, thick droplets of water falling between his fingers. In his heart, he had felt so much joy in that moment. Now, he could not even recall the feeling.

Holding his hands beneath the tap, he allowed water to fill the makeshift reservoir and splashed his face, the air cold against his damp skin. Did he think that it would help?

Her hands appeared on his shoulders, lips softly touching his cheek. The newspaper in his hands dropped to the floor as he jumped, too engrossed in the article he had been perusing to sense her approach.

"I was thinking," she hummed as her hands slid downwards, arms wrapping lovingly around his neck. "Bedroom one would be best for the nursery. It's a little bigger, and it's closest to the master so we won't be too far away."

He flinched against the impact of the memory, hand slipping against the porcelain sink. No matter how tightly he closed his eyes, or how forcefully he pushed at sorrow, that darkness overwhelmed him and not a single atom of light could penetrate its boundaries.

There would be no funeral; there was barely a child to bury. Where would they find closure? They would be sent home with barely another word on the subject, expected to carry on with their lives as though nothing had happened. After all, she had barely begun to show, there was barely a child there to miss. The doctors wouldn't understand, neither would their friends. They had lived with the promise of life for nine weeks. After almost eleven years of misery, they had lapped up every moment of happiness.

His legs felt weak beneath him, incapable of supporting his weight. Almost at the last moment, he pressed himself into the nearby wall, sliding slowly down its surface. He was cold, though the air was warm, arms trembling though the chill had not hit bone.

'What the hell is going to happen now?'

He did not know; perhaps this blow was too harsh? Was he to lose his child and the woman he loved in the same night, by the same cruel act of fate?

Whatever the outcome, in that moment he felt utterly helpless.

June 14, 2009. 6:30pm. 108 Oakville Apartments. Alexandria, VA.

For a Sunday, Claire's day sure had been hectic. In retrospect, driving home from Arlington so close to rush hour was a mistake in itself. But she knew that Chris would never have agreed to drive to her; he did not like leaving Jill on her own for long. Though, all things considered, she was handling the aftermath of her ordeal quite well, he had become rather possessive in recent weeks. He wanted to be nearby, he had told her, in case anything happened; if she needed him, he wanted to be there in record time.

Jill herself had been taking his over-attentiveness in good stride. She had admitted to the younger girl that sometimes she simply needed time alone, but she recognised that recovery was not simply about her needs. Two and a half years apart had taken their toll on both Chris and their relationship. There was much to repair, and sometimes sacrifices needed to be made for progress to be achieved.

As she dropped down onto the sofa, Claire kicked off her shoes, cool air soothing her burning skin. Boots had definitely been a bad choice, she concluded as she rubbed life back into her ankles.

"I'm making salad; do you want some?"

Within a fraction of a second, her firearm was pulled from her handbag, bare feet slamming against the carpet as she jumped, training her weapon in the general direction of the kitchen.

Leon froze, the tomato in his hand plummeting to the floor. The bruised fruit rolled carelessly away, coming to rest mere inches from the sofa.

"You can lower the gun now," he told her, eyes trained on the barrel.

"How did you get in?" she demanded, heart pounding furiously as she obliged. "And what the hell happened to your hair?"

As he retrieved the tomato, Leon rolled his eyes, apparently considering his answer.

"You gave me a key," he reminded her. "And nothing happened to my hair. I cut it, that's all."

"I didn't give you a key!" she shouted as she squinted in an attempt to better study his hair without closing the distance between them. "And...seriously? Are those...did you get layers?"

Without a single word, he smirked cheekily and strode towards her confidently, pressing a kiss to the corner of her lips.

"I missed you too," he teased. "Now do you want salad or not?"

The imprint of his lips against her skin burned white hot, and every thought suddenly became attentive to that small patch of skin. It had been almost six months and still his affection caught her off-guard.

He pulled back, breath skimming softly along her lips. The taste of him was phenomenal; there was no doubt about that. A potent elixir that ignited the most primal base instincts within her.

"We can't keep doing this," she whispered. And again, she denied herself.

"What do you mean?"

Could she truly make him understand? He had not spoken to his siblings in years; he could not possibly know how she felt.

"I keep going round in circles," she groaned, and pushed herself to her feet. "I cry, you're here and...we kiss."

Leon raised an eyebrow, evidently finding no problem in this arrangement. Truth be told, she knew that he wished for much more.

"Then...we don't have to kiss," he laughed. "Let's just talk."

He gestured to the cushion to his right, but all she felt able to do was stare, ceasing her pacing for but a brief moment.

"Claire, this isn't your problem," he sighed. "It's been almost two years. If he wants to work himself into an early grave, so be it. I don't see how that is-"

"When the hell did you become so insensitive?" Claire fumed, pulling a cushion from the sofa and flinging it towards his head.

How could he remain so carefree? Did anything penetrate that curtain of hair? The truth of the matter was that life had changed for all of them, and all the wishing in the world could not turn back the hands of time. Somehow, they had all drifted apart. She had not spoken to Chris in almost a year, did not even know his location. Their family had blamed her in part, claiming she should have taken better care of him. But what the hell could she have done? She had tried, and she had failed; there was simply no getting through to him. She barely knew him anymore. The face struck chords of familiarity, but her brother had long since departed.

She did not linger in the living room, instead making for the comfort of her bedroom. Wherever Leon was not, that was where she needed to be. But, as always, he followed.

"I'm sorry," he apologised, and she could find not a hint of falsification in his words. "It's been two years. I miss her too, but she's gone."

She did not turn to give him the satisfaction of her attention, but his hands appeared tenderly on her shoulders, contact kept to a respectful minimum.

And then, the tears fell.

"She died protecting him," she wept, leaning back into his body when he offered support. "But for what? It feels as though they're both gone. I miss him, Leon."

There was nothing he could say to assuage her fears, so he simply held her, breathing in her scent as he kissed her lightly on the cheek. Somehow, his warmth was enough. It always was.

"Hello?" Leon's voice called, breaking through her delirium. "Earth to Claire."

His cheerful disposition threw her off-guard, despite its apparent staying power. Things were so much easier these days, but their relationship remained complicated. He was her boyfriend, she knew that much, but she still could not place a finger on the point where they had ceased being friends and became something more. Chris was absent much of the two and a half years Jill had been presumed dead - if not in body then in mind - and Leon assumed a role of responsibility in her life. He was always there when she needed a friend, would often stop by her apartment with take out because he knew she would not have cooked for herself. Somewhere down the line, kissing had become the new shaking hands, and they would innocently fall asleep in each other's arms. When Leon had absently labelled her with the word 'girlfriend', she had not corrected him.

This was what she wanted, but doubted that this was the way it was supposed to be. In the months they had been dating, they had never taken their relationship past second base. Though this in itself did not strike her as odd, the idea did. It felt completely natural to her, but in previous relationships she had done so much more in half the time. He could not be blamed for lack of trying; somehow, she could not bring herself to submit.

"What kind of salad is it?" she asked, shaking off the thoughts that drifted through her mind.

Leon shrugged and tossed the tomato casually into the air, catching it skilfully in one hand.

"I'm not a chef," he laughed. "I washed what you had and put it in a bowl. As soon as we have finished eating, I'm taking you to the grocery store. Your kitchen makes Old Mother Hubbard look overstocked."

She pushed him playfully towards the kitchen, smiling widely behind his back. For all his teasing, she felt comfortably at home in his presence. It was a feeling she was unfamiliar with, one that quite often frightened her.

"For your information," she defended, "I was planning to restock first thing tomorrow morning."

Leon chuckled. Of course he didn't believe her; he knew better. The many times he had visited her before her relocation to Alexandria, he had not failed to notice - or mock - the empty cupboards and pizza menu on the door of her refrigerator.

He reached for her hands as soon as the tomato was place on the bench, hers so smooth compared to his weathered skin. He smiled at her behind glazed eyes, dipping down for a kiss in her moment of distraction. Her hands, as always, found his chest with the intention to reject his advance. But she always settled into the affection, greedily taking more than he offered. This time was no different. Thoughts rushed from her mind as she melted against him, his kiss felt through her entire body. Why did she protest? She knew damn well that she wanted this, that she loved him despite her hesitation. Nothing felt as perfect as the sensual touch of his lips on hers, caressing away her troubles and elevating her into a perpetual state of bliss.

And then there was the crash, the moment they parted.

"Do you mind if I stay tonight?" he whispered, voice heavy with desire as his lips lingered millimetres from hers. "I had hoped...that we could..."

Though the backs of his fingers softly stroked her cheek, willing her into submission, she felt that familiar chill spread through every nerve, until she retreated in unexplained fear.

"You can stay," she agreed. "But...Leon, I don't want to rush things. Let's just take it slow."

The expected sigh followed on cue, but he accepted her words. She must have spoken them a thousand times, and his reaction was always the same; disappointed...perhaps even hurt.

So she kissed him, and it was enough to ease his troubles and bring a smile back to his lips. Because she was enough, as was he.

She only wished that she knew how long it could remain that way.

June 14, 2009. 7:34pm. St. Mary Hope Hospital. Arlington, VA.

She could have been asleep when he stepped into her room. So peaceful, so serene. Her blonde hair rested against her shoulders, damp and curled. But he knew better than to believe appearances. She could not have been so at ease, not now.

Pink eyelids fluttered open as he approached, the steady beep of the heart rate monitor all that broke the heavy silence. She spoke not a word as he made his way towards her, opting to remain standing at the side of her bed. The doctors had left her propped up against pillows, and she barely had to elevate her arm to reach for his hand.

"How are you feeling?" he asked quietly. Her hand was cold, skin paler than usual in comparison to his deep tan. She looked ill, and his heart bled from the mere sight of her complexion against pale blue sheets.

"Weak," she whispered, her feeble grip on his digits proving her point. It was to be expected; though she had not lost enough blood to warrant a transfusion, the doctor had explained that she had lost enough to feel the effects. "They want to keep me in overnight...just in case."

The smile that she offered with her words was hopeful, her gaze loving as their eyes locked. Was she even aware of what had transpired? He felt that he should ask, but the thought alone seared fear painfully into the lining of his brain. It took all of his strength to remain composed before her; inside he was a wreck.

"They..." she breathed, worry now settling into her expression. "They said I lost the baby."

Somehow, her voice gave an even sharper edge to the words, and he felt his feigned strength falter beneath the incision.

"But...that's not true," she told him, voice quaking as her expression turned now to a plea, to a demand for some good news at least. "That's...that's not true, is it?"

His silence should have been enough, but she clung stubbornly to that phantom hope.

"Please," she begged as she sensed the truth behind his hesitation. "Please tell me...Chris..."

There was nothing he could say; any reassurance he could give would be a cruel lie. But somehow, she sensed his unspoken response. When the tears came, they came thick and fast, and Chris found his way to the head of the bed, perching on the edge as he took her into his arms. Trembling hands clutched his shirt, tears soaking through the thin cotton. Her sobs were silent, but her entire body shook violently.

Where were the words? Where were the assurances he knew he should have been giving? It was going to be okay? He could not say could very well be a false truth.

She felt so fragile in his arms, but even he felt not an iota of strength in that moment. His skin was all that kept the truth hidden, every nerve malfunctioning, every breath drawn with the greatest of efforts. He had lost a child, no matter how he twisted the events. Something that had brought them so much joy now threatened to tear them down, to stomp their ashes into mud and run laughing into the rain.

He found her in the bedroom, slowly folding her purchases to place into the spare areas of his drawers. They were going to need a bigger apartment; he had not rented this place with two people in mind. He did not announce his presence, just waited in the doorway, smiling widely from cheek to cheek.

It did not matter what she did; every action was a Godsend to him. She was truly here; in the flesh...she was back! He longed to reach for her, to stroke the smooth, creamy skin of her shoulder, to press kisses to her neck and pull her back onto the bed, to make love to her again, savouring every moment as he had failed to do before her departure.

But he was content simply watching her, knowing that she was safe.

Something was pulled from the drawer, something small and familiar. She questioned it with her eyes, turning it over in her hands. Then, it dawned on him.

With quick steps, he was at her side, plucking the object from her hands. She was not meant to see this, not yet!

"Hello?" she questioned, hand clutching air. "What- What are you doing? What is that?"

Strangely enough, he did not push the offending item into his pocket where it would be safe from her curious eyes. Intrigue had gotten the better of her, even more so now that he had leapt defensively to the aid of the small velvet box.

"Chris..." she warned.

But his resolve was absolute and he refused to relinquish the box as she made a quick swipe for it. It was too early, he knew that now. Though she professed to feeling 'alright', he knew that her captivity lingered, driving her psyche to depths from which surfacing was difficult. She had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, had been ordered to attend counselling sessions and take a regular dose of anti-anxiety medication; in his books, that was not 'alright'. She needed stability. So much had changed, and he did not wish to add to that burden.

"It's nothing," he lied.

"No," she hummed. "You're definitely hiding something. You should know that is only going to make me more intrigued. Now hand it over!"

He dodged as she made a leap for it, and instead caught her as she fell. There was something about the new tone of her hair that brought out the colour of her eyes. Not one shade, but several, each serving to enhance the overall impression, long lashes framing the splendour. One look and he was lost.

'You idiot,' he scolded himself. 'Just do her how you feel, how much she means to you. Show her, before it's too late.'

And without consciously allowing for the action, he handed over the box and she took it from him, grin firmly in place.

"I remember talking about buying a new pair of earrings," she laughed, so sure of what she would find. "But you really-"

It was not earrings that lay in the box. It was nothing he could have bought; it was older even than him. In a letter left to him in her will, Katherine Redfield had been sure to inform her son that the ring was only on loan; it belonged to a girl, and when he met that girl he was to give it to her and to tell her all that was in his heart, and to never let her go. He would give the ring to a girl who made him happier than anything in this world ever had, and she could not tell him who she was; he would know her when he found her. Somehow, he had known in his heart that Jill was that girl the moment their lips had first touched. He was simply passing on what was rightfully hers.

"Chris..." she breathed, unable to tear her eyes away from the box in her hands. "It''s beautiful."

"It's yours," he told her. "It always has been, I...I should have given it to you a long time ago."

And she was speechless, lips parted as she continued to gaze upon the diamond ring. Did she understand the meaning of this gesture? His hands moved to cover hers, pulling them toward the ground as he lowered himself slowly to one knee.

"I love you, Jill Valentine," he exhaled, her eyes drawn to his with a startled gasp. "And believe me, I had a far more romantic scenario than this in mind. But, when it comes down to it, none of that matters. I love you, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you; whatever way you dress it, that's the truth. I would gladly go through the last ten years of hell again if it meant spending just one day with you. Because you mean that much to me, Jill, and I want to spend the rest of my life proving it to you."

He knew that she could sense what was coming; how could she not? His hands were shaking as they clasped hers, breath hitching as his bravery faltered.

'After all you've been through, this frightens you?'

"Jill...will you marry me?"

She did not answer immediately. Or perhaps she did, and time had become distorted in his mind. Whatever it was, the wait was agonising, and for the most fleeting of moments, the worst case scenario resounded in his thoughts. How would he cope with a response to the negative?

Truthfully, it did not matter what her answer would be; he would continue to be there for her, in whatever capacity she needed him. But he wanted nothing more than to marry her, to spend the rest of his life loving her and to let the whole world know just how much she meant to him.

"Yes," she whispered, smile tearing across her words. "Yes! I will."

And she threw her arms around his neck as he rose, stunned as her words were slowly absorbed. Yes!

His hands trembled as he carefully slid the ring onto her finger, seeking her lips with his a moment later. She folded into his arms, greedily lapping up the affection that he offered. The kiss ended only when she stretched out her left arm, gazing upon her new accessory. But his lips continued their ministrations, kissing along her cheekbone and up to her temple. The contact was blissful, the scent of her sweet and soothing.

"What took you so long?" she whispered through her endless smile.

The light caught the diamond at her finger and he instinctively reached for her hand, taking it into his and squeezing it tightly. He had been reluctant to propose at first, though had originally set his mind on popping the questions should Leon's intelligence be correct and she was found alive. But when they arrived back to the headquarters of the BSAA West Africa division, everything had changed. It became clear that her ordeal had left scars that extended beyond the physical, and he knew that he could not be so selfish as to claim her as his, not after spending so long as the possession of another. Their relationship may not have picked up so quickly had she not been the one to ask what had changed between them. On both accounts, he had been wrong; she needed him as more than a friend, and she was not so vulnerable that a proposal would push her back several steps. When it came to it, she needed to know that she had not lost all that she had cherished, that her old life was there, just waiting for her to step back into the frame.

"It's okay," he whispered, though he was not entirely sure of this himself. It sure as hell did not feel okay. "We're going to make it through this, I promise. This isn't the end."

But how could he know for sure? The obstetrician had claimed that he would be unsure what exactly had caused the miscarriage and resultant haemorrhaging until blood results came back, which could take days. But he had suspected that it was the lingering chemicals in her system. A child would not endanger her, but now her body was not equipped to support growing life. What if that was the way it would always be? What if her system was never clean?

'Don't think that way,' he urged himself. 'She just needs time to recover. She'll be alright.'

"D-Don't go," she begged, face buried into his chest. "Please stay...I don't want to be alone."

He knew that he may not have any say in the matter, but assured her that he was not going anywhere. If he had to put up a fight, then so be it; if she needed him here, then nothing could tear him away.

Gently, he laid her back onto the pillows, drawing his legs up onto the bed. There was barely enough room for his large frame to fit alongside her slender body, but he succeeded in balancing next to her on the mattress. As though to reinforce her previous demand, she extended her left arm across his torso as her sobs devolved into quiet snuffles.

Her eyes remained open as her breaths grew quiet once again; reluctant to submit to sleep that Chris knew she needed.

"I'm sorry."

The whispered apology was uncalled for, and he was sure to let her go. This was not her fault, not by a long shot. But she clung to the idea, reiterating her point until he descended into silence for fear of raising his voice. What setbacks would this add to her recovery?

When it came down to it, he knew that it was something he could not control, something that was beyond his capacity to help. Now, it was up to her.

June 14, 2009. 8:30pm. St. Mary Hope Hospital. Arlington, VA.

Sometimes, Rebecca wondered why she did not simply set up a mattress on the floor of the lab. Most of her waking hours were spent before her work; her apartment was slowly becoming a waste of money. But the hospital had always been her home, through the underground years and even more so during the early years of the BSAA.

They had invited her to join their ranks on multiple occasions, but she had refused. If the years had taught her anything, it was that her initial dream of a career in medicine was one with staying power. Her existing experience had reduced the length of internship and the following residency program had been a breeze. While she was not quite head of department yet, she enjoyed her place on the Clinical Pathology team, and the research she carried out on the side was an added bonus. In many ways, the BSAA had still succeeded in snaring her; the majority of her research these days was done on commission. But she did not complain. After all, her interests lay in the same area and she was never short of funding.

She heard the footsteps echoing down the hallway, on time as always.

"Have you seen the news today?" Connolly asked as he entered the lap, waving a broadsheet in one hand.

Rebecca smiled in greeting, grateful once again for the company. Matthew Connolly had initially been a friend of Chris's, though had retired from service within the BSAA citing 'personal reasons'. Their friendship had begun on the first mission handed to the BSAA, back when it was little more than a small unit. Assigned many of the same missions as Chris and Jill, they soon grew close. Until, of course, the mission that had changed everyone involved. He had assisted in the search for Jill and Wesker himself, handing in his resignation on return to the States. He had continued service for the BSAA in a base-oriented capacity, treating those who returned injured and assisting in their rehabilitation. It was in this role that they had grown close; as it transpired, their research interests lay in similar areas, if not in differing fields.

"I stopped paying attention to the news years ago," she laughed. "Why?"

Connolly dropped the newspaper on top of the box she had only just sealed, and her gaze dropped automatically to the headline.


"Oh, hell no," she protested, raising the article as she read.

A high court judge has thrown out the case against the shamed Tricell Pharmaceutical Company. In the wake of the dissolution of the Umbrella Corporation six years ago, the Global Pharmaceutical Consortium has in recent months been reeling from accusations of illegal activity and the continuation of Umbrella's bloody legacy by one of their most prominent members.

In March of this year, a BSAA-led operation within the Kijuju Autonomous Zone uncovered numerous human rights violations and links to the dark underworld of bioterrorism in connection with Tricell's African Division. Seasoned BSAA agent Jill Valentine, who was presumed dead over two years previously, was discovered alive, enslaved by a new technology in development under Tricell's African Division CEO Excella Gionne under the lead of terrorist leader Albert Wesker, also previously assumed deceased.

In a March issue, we reported on the discovery of a new strain of virus, designated 'Uroboros', which was designed in line with a doomsday plan. It was only through the actions of BSAA North America agent Christopher Redfield - Agent Valentine's former partner - alongside BSAA West Africa agents Sheva Alomar and Captain Josh Stone, with assistance from Agent Valentine herself, that a potential worldwide disaster was averted.

"After the dissolution of Umbrella, it was expected that others would attempt to follow in their footsteps," Agent Redfield announced at a March press conference. "These events should stand as a warning to those who believe they will not be brought to justice."

But justice, it seems, is selective in its actions. With little evidence to connect the actions of Excella Gionne and researcher Ricardo Irving to the larger company, the High Court was left with no choice but to throw out the lawsuit brought against them by the Global Pharmaceutical Consortium in connection with the Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance.

Tricell released the following in a press statement: "Tricell would like to express its gratitude towards the High Court and Judge Rubina Sanchez for their fair and honest ruling. The actions of Excella Gionne were deplorable, and have no connection whatsoever to our otherwise reputable company. Although we have been denied involvement in the development of a potential cure for the viruses created by Umbrella and Albert Wesker, we continue to dedicate a large portion of our research to preventative measures against bioterrorism and offer the Global Pharmaceutical Consortium and the BSAA our full, unwavering support."

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"Are they serious?" Rebecca demanded. "People are actually buying their bull?"

Connolly shrugged and leaned onto a stool next to her work station.

"This could still be the end for them," he reminded her. "Whether or not Umbrella lost their case, they were still doomed. Consumer support had decreased to the point where recovery was impossible. Tricell could fold beneath the impact of this."

Though she wanted to believe his words, she could not. She had lived through years of damage inflicted by power-hungry corporations. Tricell were stronger than Umbrella, they had learned from their mistakes. Though she believed that Excella had worked independently of the North American arm of the company, she knew that the tree was as rotten as the apple. There was simply no way she could have financed her research through the sale of bioweapons alone; the money had to have come from somewhere.

"How is Jill handling this?" she asked. But Connolly shrugged, yawning into a closed fist.

"No idea," he sighed. "I haven't spoken to her in a couple of weeks. I've...been a little busy."

And Rebecca smiled, laying the newspaper aside and forgetting the box she had previously attended to.

"Did you bring photos this time?"

Connolly smiled as he dug into the pocket of his jacket. He was as forgetful as she some days, but she was pleased that he had finally remembered. He slid the photograph across the smooth work surface, and she took it carefully into her hands, holding the edges despite the already-smudged appearance.

There was little doubt that the peaceful face was that of his daughter; they possessed the same shaped eyes, the same hair, even the same chin.

"She's beautiful!" Rebecca congratulated, unable to cease from cooing over the infant. Multiple failed relationships and a seemingly irreversible single lifestyle had not deterred her from aspirations of children of her own. It was a natural reaction for a female in her position to coo.

"We settled on Mia," he smiled. "Well, her birth certificate says 'Amelia', but nobody has called her that yet."

Somehow, she could not tear her eyes away from the photograph.

"So, how did your date go?"

Reluctantly, he now had her full attention.

"Don't ask," she groaned as she returned the photograph. "I would have climbed out of the bathroom window, but they didn't open far enough."

Connolly laughed, and she knew what he was thinking. Perhaps with his own best interests in mind, he remained silent and simply smiled at her, shaking his head lightly from side to side. She knew all that he could have spoken, and knew deep down that he was right; some part of the reason for her single status must have lain in her own behaviour. She could not have been unlucky enough to pick only the men with whom she was completely incompatible.

"You'll find someone," he reassured her, placing a large hand atop hers.

"Okay," she smirked, rolling her eyes. She had work to attend to, and he was only distracting her.

"So am I still driving you home or what?"

She assured him that he was, and set about packing up the boxes she had sealed and labelled, and once again flicked through the samples in the tray to her left.

"Please tell me that's not for the BSAA," Connolly groaned.

"It's for the GPC too," she defended. "I swear, I have enough of Jill's blood here to power years of research."

The key to a cure lay within her antibodies, and although she had essentially developed a safe vaccine, the Global Pharmaceutical Consortium were pushing her to run every test imaginable on the finished product, and then run them a few more times for good measure. If they passed the last round as they had the previous, the vaccine would be in circulation within a matter of weeks.

The research was groundbreaking, and she knew that it would propel her perhaps into award-winning territory. Isolating the antibodies had been no easy feat; judging by the data obtained from the African facility, even Wesker had experienced difficulties in the isolation process. For years, she had been attempting to develop a cure, and three months ago it had essentially landed in her lap. More samples had been obtained than were needed, but Jill had been more than willing to supply. Her exact words were "Take as much as you need, just leave a little for me to get by". It seemed that she wished to turn a bad situation into something helpful and productive. Only time would heal her wounds, and she realised that if some good could come out of her experience then she would do everything in her power to encourage it.

The implications for research were beyond what she could have imagined; the defence system that Jill's body had built against the virus was unique and unprecedented. It was entirely possible in Rebecca's mind that she could apply her findings to the search for a cure to many other problematic viruses that brought tragedy to families worldwide.

But the most interesting findings had not related to her unique antibodies or to the chemicals she had been exposed to. Though her body continued to purge itself of P30, something else had caught her attention. Something that had led her to refusing any further samples. There was enough hCG in Jill's blood to make her certain of one thing; her friend was expecting a child.

She could not conceal the smile that crept to her features as she filed away the remaining samples. Jill had confided in her that as long as the virus remained in her system, she would be unable to have children of her own. She had approached the more knowledgeable pathologist, desperate for a solution. It was mere weeks before her disappearance, and the excitement of the impending mission had brought her to consider life without Spencer and Wesker; a life in which she wanted a family with Chris. Or, more importantly to her, a life in which she wanted Chris to have a family. Her offers of being a human guinea pig for the trial of a possible anti-virus had been rebuffed, and it broke Rebecca's heart to inform her that while her ovum could be tested, it was entirely possible that the T-virus was present even in these cells. Both women knew that Chris would not go for partial surrogacy.

But now, she had it all. She was engaged to the man she loved, and she carried his child. It was obvious that she was aware; in the past two months the couple had been sickeningly smug, with no explanation for their sudden, blissful smiles.

'I wish she would come clean,' Rebecca sighed. She was a patient woman, but she had almost driven herself crazy with secrecy. She wanted to share in this, but knew that Jill would derive so much happiness from announcing the news herself. She did not wish to rob her of that moment.

"Okay, I'm all set," she announced as she removed her lab coat, leaving her thoughts behind before they got the better of her.

Connolly led the way out of the department, the hospital relatively quiet for this time of night. Rebecca loved night such as these; quiet within the walls of a hospital meant that there were more people on the outside.

"By the way," Connolly smirked as they approached the main reception. "You're babysitting Mia next Saturday. No complaints."

But she had none in mind. Children had always been a soft spot to her, and she owed him a lot for the times he had come through for her. She knew never to leave her friends hanging. Because, in the end, they were all that mattered.

And that was true now more than ever.

AN - First of all, I would like to say a huge hello and thank you to everyone who has read this ^_^. As some of you may know, this is the concluding part in the trilogy that began with Strength Through Wounding. With regards to the story, you do not need to have read either that or Blindside, though there will be a few returning OCs.

This will likely be the last angst-themed story I post. Most of what I have posted so far has featured angst in some respect, so I want to try something else next ^_^. This story has many genres, and I chose romance and drama because they are the two that are pretty much constant throughout the entire story. There will be angst, action, friendship/family and also suspense, and there will be lighthearted parts as well as a love triangle.
The title of this story comes from a painting by Vincent Van Gogh - the last work he completed before his death.

The story basically follows the survivors after the events of Resident Evil 5; everything from what happens to them, to what happens to Tricell. The story is in three parts, each addressing something different, and the first part is the idea that The Demon in My Shadow came from. Relationship-wise, the story follows Chris/Jill and Leon/Claire, with Rebecca getting a little action later on. This is pretty much the amalgamation of several ideas, and I have taken into account all of the feedback from Only Through the Pain and Strength Through Wounding. Hopefully, this will improve on those and you will all enjoy it just as much.

This is quite possibly the biggest project I've taken on in terms of fan fiction, and it would mean a lot to me if you could leave your thoughts. I don't mind constructive criticism, but please don't flame pointlessly. I don't claim to never make mistakes, but when I do I like to know how I can make things better.

Disclaimer: If you recognise it, I don't own it. Resident Evil and all affiliated characters/locations/creatures belong to Capcom. This story is for entertainment purposes only, and no copyright infringement is intended.