At Eternity's Gate
'As we advance in life it becomes more and more difficult,
but in fighting the difficulties the inmost strength of the heart is developed.'
~Vincent Van Gogh~
July 27, 2010. 1:45pm. Washington, D.C.
Deep breaths did little to calm Jill's nerves. And she wondered why she was so afraid, why today of all days she could barely glance at her reflection without feeling faint.
It was because today was the day she was to marry the man she loved. Today was the day she would declare to the world that it was Chris, and him alone, that she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. Today was her wedding day.
"Don't you dare cry!" Patricia warned, rushing forward with a tissue. "Do you have any idea how expensive that makeup is?"
Jill cast her eyes back to her reflection and laughed quietly; she did appear to be on the verge of tears, but she truly did not believe that she was capable of shedding any.
Patricia smiled as she inspected the makeup that Jill had spent the better part of an hour applying. Above all else, Jill was glad that she was here. Patricia was one of her oldest friends, had even taken up a job in Raccoon City to help her settle into a new home. And after the mansion incident, when everyone else had abandoned her, she was one of the few who had stood by her, who had heeded her warnings and fled the city before the outbreak.
But today, Jill was thankful for her friend in so many ways. Because Patricia had always been skilful with makeup, and her talents had repaired the one less-than-perfect aspect of her appearance on this special day...even to the trained eye, her chest was blemish-free.
"You sure you're ready for this?" Patricia asked calmly, a hand on either of her friend's shoulders. "The bride is always fashionably late; I can hold them off for a while longer if you need more time."
But she did not, despite nerves. She had not seen Chris since the previous day, and already she missed him. This was the day they had been waiting for since their first kiss, perhaps even longer.
"I'm okay," she sighed. "Really. Thank you."
Another reassuring smile brought forth another wave of gratitude.
"You look beautiful. I'd marry you looking like this."
"I'll keep that in mind if this doesn't work out," Jill joked.
Pessimism struck, and Patricia sighed.
"You forget that I was in your position once," she reminded her. "Before I married Nathan, I actually tried to climb out of the window and run down the street! It is perfectly natural to doubt yourself, your fiancé and your relationship. But trust me when I say that you and Chris are meant to be."
Jill did not doubt this, but the prospect of marriage was testing her emotional strength. Suddenly, consequences seemed direr, and the good seemed overshadowed by the possibility of what could go wrong. She should have known that doubts would still creep upon her. Glancing around the spacious dressing room, to the carved ceiling and the ornate dressing table, the awful feeling that she just did not belong here crept upon her.
'You do,' she assured herself, cursing the momentary lapse. 'After everything you have been through, you deserve this...you deserve happiness.'
Distracted by the sound of the door swinging open, she turned to see her remaining bridesmaids. But it was the girl that sat in the arms of her future sister-in-law that brought a long-overdue smile to her lips. Grace smiled as she was handed to her mother, letting out gleeful laughter.
"Look at you!" Jill gushed, smoothing down thin hair and hugging the small girl to her chest. She wore a gown of her own, matching the light blue of the bridesmaids' dresses. "You are so beautiful!"
And within Grace's innocence, within her very being, Jill found her strength. She had more than she could ever have hoped for; a healthy, happy husband to be, and a thriving daughter. Within the blue eyes that gazed lovingly up at her, she saw their future together, saw siblings for Grace and years of love and happiness with Chris at her side.
"You have no idea what is happening today, do you?" she chuckled, trying to hold back tears. "Today is the day I become a Redfield too. Today is the day I marry your daddy."
Grace smiled, but did not understand her words. Jill liked to think that she sensed her happiness, and that her smile was one of joy for all that today stood for. Because today was also the day that the demons of their past were finally exorcised.
Small fingertips pressed to her necklace; one her own mother had worn on her wedding day, and one that Jill hoped Grace would one day wear too. Grace had brought out the best in both of her parents, had shown Jill just how much she was capable of, and how devoted a father Chris truly was. If it weren't for their baby girl, she was sure that he would have taken the inability to return to his position as a field agent a lot wofrse than he was.
She had overheard him talking to her on several occasions, telling her how he was done saving the world, how the rest of his life would be spent righting the wrongs of their past – including making up to her mother for the times he had mistreated her for the sake of a victory.
Jill had found these admissions difficult to bear. Of course, there had been times when his determination had badly affected her, and their partnership, but when business and pleasure first began to mix, they swore that they would keep their life as partners and their life as lovers separate. She knew him inside and out, knew what she was getting herself into when she agreed to be his partner, back in the early days of the BSAA. No guilt, no grudges; that was the deal. She admired him as a soldier, just the way he was…she would not have dreamed of changing him, would have hated herself if she had. After all, he was the best for a reason.
'And you know he will always say that reason is you,' she reminded herself with an amused smile.
She saw that tenacity in Grace, though the idea often seemed silly to her. But whatever way she looked at it, she was definitely her father's daughter.
"I love you," she told her, softly kissing the girl's cheek. "You be a good girl for Grandpa today, okay? Mommy and daddy will see you later...and we have a little present for you."
It was a new toy, nothing much, but both parents had felt that she needed something on this day.
Reluctantly, Jill handed the baby back to her aunt, who seemed to barely be keeping her own emotions in check.
"I think what Claire wants to say is 'I can't believe we're going to be sisters'," Rebecca laughed, standing over her shoulder and adjusting the position of her necklace. "Are you ready to go?"
Jill slid a hand over the younger woman's, and squeezed reassuringly. Though she tried to hide it, anyone could see that she was feeling a little down today; Billy had left to visit family a couple of weeks previously and she had not heard from him in quite some time. His RSVP had been to the positive, but apparently there had been no sign of him yet.
"I am," she breathed, wishing that her heart would stop fluttering in her chest. "And he'll be here, Rebecca. I know it."
July 27, 2010. 2:15pm. Washington, D.C.
Claire was surrounded by tears, and frustrated by the knowledge that she could not cry the way that she wanted to. Because she stood close to the bride, and even the slightest irregularity would draw attention to herself. So she continued to glance towards Grace, who remained quiet on her grandfather's lap in the front row. She was too young to truly understand what was going on, but anyone could see that she seemed to have picked up on the happiness in the atmosphere.
The entire congregation was silent, all eyes on the couple at the altar. She could tell that Chris was nervous from his mannerisms, but at the same time he appeared happy beyond words, barely able to tear his eyes away from the woman at his side. And she was beautiful in ivory, her dress simple yet elegant. Chris's frame was smaller now, due to weight lost during recovery, but he was a picture of good health.
And the day was beautiful, so much so that Jill had achieved her wish of marrying by the lake in the grounds of the mansion rather than within its walls. Hidden away from the rush of the city, it was quiet and calm, the breeze barely rustling the bride's veil.
It was the vows that had almost brought Claire to her knees. Jill's gratitude and undying love shone through her words, and though Chris never had been poetic when it came to voicing his feelings, his words had never flowed so beautifully. Tears slipped then, but she allowed them to because she was sure that no-one in the congregation shed more than the bride. They all knew of the devotion present in their relationship, but never before had the couple been so open and honest about their love in the presence of others.
And when Chris finally slipped the ring onto her finger, when they finally kissed... Claire was sure that they did not acknowledge their guests, that they envisioned themselves alone at the altar; as usual, they only had eyes for one another.
Tears continued to fall when the newlyweds disappeared to take care of the legal side of the proceedings, with the Burtons as their witnesses. But a tissue found its way into her line of sight, Leon smiling as she took it from him.
"I came prepared," he told her, patting his breast pocket. "Are you okay?"
She nodded weakly, smiling to show that she indeed was okay.
"I'm fine, thank you," she assured him. "I didn't think that I would get this emotional."
His arms brought him into her, the gentle breeze barely touching her in his embrace. The others had begun to return to the mansion, waiting for the happy couple to return.
"It was a lovely ceremony," Leon breathed into her hair. She hummed in agreement, not ready to let go of him just yet.
Renting an apartment together had brought them closer than ever, and suddenly she understood everything Chris had told her about his relationship with Jill; somehow, waking up next to the same person every day did not get old. Not when she was in love.
"It kinda makes you think about the future, doesn't it?"
She hummed again, enjoying the sound and feel of his voice as it reverberated through his chest.
"I've seen the way you look at Grace."
This time, she pulled back, perturbed by his words.
"I- What do you mean?" she and stroked her cheek softly, his gentleness both surprising and thrilling her.
"I can tell you're broody," he pointed out, a smirk forming on his lips.
She tried to deny it, but did not like lying to him. Yes, the truth was that she had grown awfully aware of how much she wanted a daughter of her own. While her niece filled a large hole in her heart, it only made another strikingly evident.
"I'd understand if you ran screaming from this relationship," she laughed sheepishly. "I'm sorry; I can't help it! I always knew that this would happen when my brother had children."
The fact that Leon's smile did not disappear was all that assured her that he did not think that she was insane. Yet again, she reflected upon how lucky she was, and how much she loved this man. Because not only did he acknowledge her quirks, not only did he accept them, but he cherished them also; she could see the amusement in his eyes.
It was not the response she had been expecting. Truly, she wondered if she had heard him correctly.
"I can tell that didn't register, so I'll ask you again," he chuckled. "Marry me, Claire Redfield."
She felt the colour drain from her features, felt her heartbeat increase dramatically.
"You can't just ask me like that!"
Again, it was not a reply that she had been expecting, even though this one was her own. She had dreamt of this moment, had wanted it for so long and at times had convinced herself that it would never come. And now that it had, her reply was not an enthusiastic "Yes!", but rather a humorous rebuttal.
"How am I supposed to ask you?" He seemed genuinely confused. Evidently, he had been sincere, had genuinely asked for her hand in marriage.
"S-Somewhere other than my brother's wedding!"
'Yes! Yes! Oh for the love of all that is holy, just say yes!'
"You don't even have a ring! You can't propose without a ring!"
Leon began to laugh, and she realised that her voice had become high-pitched and her eyes were wide.
"I might have a ring," he teased. "You don't know that."
He frowned, and took her trembling hands in his, which she found were shaking too; he was just as nervous as she.
"No," he laughed softly. "I don't. But I do want to marry you. And I will keep asking you until you say yes. I can be quite persistent when I want to be."
A smile cracked through her shock, and she knew from the look in his eyes that he saw it. She wanted this more than she had ever wanted anything in her life.
"Ask me again when you have a ring," she teased, allowing her smile to become a smirk, and she turned on her heel, ready to rejoin the other bridesmaids indoors.
"Is that a yes?" he called after her.
But she kept silent, grinning all the way to the door. Because it was a yes...and he knew it as well as she did.
July 27, 2010. 3:25pm. Washington, D.C.
Rebecca sighed as she was greeted with the same response that had met her last several attempts to call Billy. Not even a ring, just the claim that the number was not available.
She was no stranger to heartache, but somehow she had expected this relationship to be different. She could not have predicted it ending this way, because she was under the delusion that it would never end at all. After all, he had passed on the opportunity to work for the BSAA with the claim that it would take him away from her for too long; a career as part of a S.W.A.T. team seemed to serve his interests far better.
It was she who had persuaded him into taking a trip to visit the family he had disconnected himself from many years ago. One phone call was all that she had received, the day he arrived in Ohio. Since then, not even a text message had been received, and every attempt to contact him failed.
She promised herself that she wouldn't cry, but it became more and more difficult with every day that passed.
So when she saw him in the doorway, she believed that her eyes were playing tricks on her. Then he moved, approached her slowly as she found herself frozen despite the urge to run.
"You look beautiful," he told her, smiling softly. His eyes were apologetic, but she wanted to hear it from his lips.
Even so, she found strength and turned away from him. But a hand reached for her arm, held it gently.
"I'm sorry I didn't call," he told her. "My phone broke soon after I arrived - I don't know your new number by heart. I had a hell of a time catching a flight back out here...arrived after the ceremony started, just managed to sneak in the back row. I...didn't want to interrupt the photographs so...I waited. I'm glad that I found you."
So many apologies, but they bounced off her as tears welled in her eyes; she knew that there was no escape this time.
"I don't care," she sighed. "I can't deal with this today, Billy. I can't deal with us like this."
He stared at her incredulously, gripped tighter to prevent her from leaving as she had planned to.
"Rebecca, I'm sorry!" he insisted. "There was nothing I could do! You told me that I needed to do this - would you have wanted me to jump on the next flight home after my cell broke?"
No, she did not. But the worry had hurt her, and the doubt that it had left her with was nigh on humiliating. She knew that it was self-inflicted misery, but somehow she just could not help it.
"Of course that's not what I wanted!" Her voice was almost a growl. "I just don't want to talk about this right now."
"So you want to bottle it up as usual?"
Flinging his arm aside, she glanced around the hall, which only seemed more prestigious when devoid of guests. She felt uncomfortable arguing here, and wished that he would just drop the subject.
But somehow, his words had riled her, irritation creeping beneath her skin. She knew that she was somewhat of a doormat where her feelings were concerned, but she did not appreciate him pointing it out at every available opportunity.
"I'm not bottling anything up!" she seethed. "This is Jill's wedding day; I don't want to ruin it by fighting with you."
"Jill isn't around," he pointed out, surveying the area as though to prove his point. "The guests are all outside, upstairs or in the lounge. So why can't we have this discussion now?"
'Why do I love a man who irritates me so?' she wondered.
The truth was that she was afraid of forgiving him too easily. She was well aware of her submissive nature, and wanted to take a stand this time. Where previous relationships had failed, this was one that she truly did not wish to wave farewell to.
"You're not afraid of me, are you?" he teased. Rebecca laughed, knowing that he was simply trying to get a rise out of her, but finding the idea absurd nonetheless.
Billy moved closer, edging her towards the wall.
"You're afraid of losing the argument, then?"
She gulped as his height became evident, his muscular frame seeming so large next to hers.
"I don't lose arguments," she challenged. And suddenly, she could not remember what she was so mad at him about.
"Then why are you so afraid of talking to me? Little girl."
Red flashed before her eyes. He knew exactly what he was doing; she could see it behind his smirk. He wanted her to challenge him, wanted her to get angry. Was this a lesson that he wanted to teach her? Did he believe that it was for her own good? After all, he had promised to help her feel more confident in herself, especially when it came to emotion.
And nothing riled her up quite like mocking her.
His back was against the wall in seconds, her fingers curled around his tie. Laughter only riled her further; she could feel the tempo of her heartbeat increase.
"What are you going to do about it?" he dared her.
Somehow, he seemed surprised when she kissed him. Whether it was from the action itself of the fury beneath the pressure she applied, she did not know. But he kissed her back, gripping her tightly to him. She could feel every muscle even through the fabric of his suit, and she wanted more, wanted to be closer.
Red turned to an orange haze.
"I...wanted you...to stop...being so...submissive," he gasped when they parted, breathing heavily. "But this isn't quite what I had in mind."
"Shut up!" she growled. Yes, she was angry at him, but her body did not seem to care. With a quick fumble, she found a door handle, tugged until it opened and pushed him inside.
The store cupboard was barely big enough for the both of them, but she found a bolt on the back of the door, drew it as he gripped one of the many shelves for support.
Lust drove her, anger adding fuel to the fire. Two weeks without a kiss, without so much as an embrace...the effect that it had on her was almost toxic. The world dissolved around her, left her with nothing but her emotions, and the man that tested each and every limitation they had. His body burned beneath his shirt, shallow breaths seemed to travel right through her.
Hands at her waist switched their position, so that it was his back to the door. The dress was in the way, so it was gone, pooling around her ankles before a gently kick saw it safely beneath the lowest shelf. And suddenly, Rebecca became very aware that she was no longer in control.
Billy was forceful in his passion, his kisses drugging her as she fought to free him of his clothing. She barely felt his fingers curl around her panties, dragging them as far down her legs as he could reach.
As air touched upon skin that had once been covered, her mind snapped back to reality, fear overwhelming passion, the urge to push him away and run for her life almost overpowering her. But his lips did not stop the trail that they carved along her collarbone and up the sensitive skin of her neck, just as her own hands did not stop as they tugged on the elastic of his boxer shorts.
Because the fire that seared all sense from her mind was not as new as her fear told her that it was. Somehow, it had always been there, deep inside of her, begging for freedom. And no man had quite the devastating effect on her senses that Billy did. He was both gentle and furious at the same time, loving her while seeming to demand that she succumb to him.
'You can't do this,' a frightened little voice whispered to her. 'What will he think of you? What if sex is all that he wants? What if he leaves you after this?'
Stubbornly, she pushed all thought aside. Lips brushed hers, a tongue begging for company. Her fingers were deep in his hair, the warmth of his chest increasing her fever but never breaking it. His body was strong; hers recognised this. And with a sudden burst of strength, she jumped, wrapping her legs around his waist. Hands came to her thighs, held her up.
His kisses became gentle, seemed to seek permission. Hers remained ferocious, and he seemed to take this as assurance. Fear burned through her as she felt his bare stomach touch hers, felt every defined muscle. But sense casted it aside, knew that there was nothing to be afraid of. This was what she wanted, what she needed. This was her, letting go.
A burning cheek pressed into his neck, a gasp escaping her lips as she felt him take the final step. And just like that, she thought of nothing, felt nothing save for the arms that held her and the hands that touched her in a way that once made her blush. His strength was incredible, and she could do nothing but succumb to it, tilting her head back. Neck now open to him, he was sure to kiss the exposed flesh, never once breaking the tempo. His warmth felt as a furnace, consuming her until there was nothing that she could do but ride the flames, the need to remain silent almost torturous with its limitations.
Billy smirked when his eyes caught hers, moments before his lips fell to their counterparts. Through every kiss, she felt passion, felt love as she had never felt it before. It descended, the pain from the shelf that dug into her vertebrae inconsequential. His breaths became deep and laboured, breaking their kiss. Smiling mischievously, she summoned her remaining energy, slowly kissed his temple, pleaded with him to end the beautiful torture.
The heat reached a crescendo, set ablaze every inch of her skin. Despite restraint, she cried out, not caring if they were heard. Lost in her own sweet release, she gripped him tighter, felt his hands slip against her thighs as he gripped them tight, delivering one final thrust before his head fell into the curve of her shoulder.
Her limbs were weakened, enough that she was grateful for his strength to hold her up.
"I love you," he breathed, kissing up the side of her neck until their eyes finally met. "I think somehow I always have."
It was the first time she had heard him speak those words, and they sounded sweeter than she had ever thought they would. Because he was the only man she had ever wanted to utter those three words.
"I love you too," she sighed. The release came as a cool breeze to her heart. "This was...so much better than the dreams."
Delirium, it seemed, was forcing her thoughts into the open. She blushed as he laughed softly then kissed her lips.
"So you have been dreaming about me, huh?" he teased.
July 17, 2010. 7:00pm. Washington, D.C.
Jill wore dresses often these days. In fact, she always had. Despite her profession and her often tough-as-nails attitude, she was never a tomboy. She would look upon makeup counters with the same eagerness he saw in her eyes every time they tested new firearms. One day, she would be crawling through mud at his side; the next looking radiant at an official function in a little black dress with a crimson smile. Just as she could stare down the barrel of a terrorist's gun without so much of a twitch in her expression, yet cried when he spoke careless words in the heat of an argument.
It was one of the many reasons why he loved her.
Chris smiled to himself, the warmth of her hand in his providing comfort that only she ever could. Her head rested gently against his chest, her feet moving as she danced, though they did not move far. Others waltzed around the dance floor, but they moved within the same small circle, caring more about one another's company than the song.
"You look beautiful," he whispered into her hair, which had been carefully pinned up for the occasion. He must have told her a thousand times, but she truly did. Hours had passed since he had first glimpsed her in her wedding dress, yet he found that he had still not quite caught his breath.
He had seen her wear many dresses, but not quite suited her so much as this one. Perhaps he was biased? After all, it was no ordinary dress.
"Thank you," she hummed. She pulled back, a contented smile shining up at him. "You clean up well too. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that you look rather handsome in a tux."
"And I don't look handsome outside of a tux?"
She chuckled lightly, leaned in closer.
"There is another word for those circumstances...I guess you'll find out tonight."
Her lips caught his, and they froze as they stole a moment for a deep kiss. While often shying away from public displays of affection, at least of this intensity, they did not care on this day...because they knew that no one else did.
"Jill Redfield," she sighed. "I like that."
Her arm pulled back, allowing her hand to slide onto his shoulder. He knew that she just wanted to look upon her ring; he had found himself doing the exact same thing quite a lot since the ceremony. Somehow, he could not quite believe that they had finally married.
Of course, she was still Jill Valentine as far as the law was concerned, but he had witnessed her diligently finalising all of the paperwork so that she could submit it all the morning after their wedding and make her new name official. It did not matter to him; she had been a part of his family for so long, names were irrelevant.
Still, he could not deny that it thrilled him to hear her name paired with his.
"Hey, Chris," she said, eyes suddenly fixated on his tie. When they snapped back up to meet his once again, he sensed curiosity deep within their depths. "Were you nervous this morning?"
Smiling, he understood just why she had asked; she was trying to rationalise her own nerves, but feared that expressing this outright would cause him to worry. The truth was that he would have worried had she not felt unsure in the moments leading up to this day. They already knew that they wanted to spend their lives together, but somehow marriage still seemed like such a big step.
And he had felt nervous that morning. He had been afraid that he would mess things up, afraid that he would let her down.
"Yes," he chuckled. "And it's okay that you did too."
"I felt like running," she sighed. "The return of pessimism, I guess. I saw the mansion, my dress, and how beautiful everyone looked...and I just felt that I didn't deserve this. But you know what? I do. I deserve this, and I deserve you. I deserve a thousand lifetimes of happiness for all the shit I've been through...we both do."
Chris laughed in agreement. It pleased him to hear that she was thinking about herself, was overcoming fears with rationality.
"Even so...I'd take this one lifetime, as long as I can be with you."
So far, he had succeeded in remaining composed. The ceremony had tested his emotional strength, but somehow he had pulled through. Now...now he could feel the dam breaking. So he held her tight, bringing their slow dance to a standstill.
"Don't you dare cry now," Jill joked, returning his embrace with desperate strength.
Laughter overcame him, chasing back tears. And he loosened his grip, just enough so that he could steal a kiss.
"Are you going to be okay?"
He was not sure if she was teasing him or if her words were genuine, but he assured her that he was all the same.
"Okay then," she smiled. "I need to take a break. We'll continue this later."
They parted with a kiss, her smile lingering as she disappeared out of the room. He did not think that he had seen her without a smile on her lips that day.
He left the dance floor to rejoin their table, which remained empty. It gave him time to listen to his thoughts, and to once again smile down at the ring on his left hand. It was plain gold, nothing fancy, but its meaning extended beyond physical appearance. This was the end of an era, and the beginning of a new, brighter one.
"Here's daddy," he heard Claire gush to his left, causing him to turn his head. Grace was alert in her arms, turned her head as he reached up for her, taking her gently into his arms. "I think she missed you."
Grace held her father's gaze for a few seconds, then smiled when he kissed her cheek. Sometimes, it amazed him how much warmth her smile could fill him with; she was truly just like her mother.
He felt another kiss against the top of his head, a warm hand on his shoulder.
"You did it," Claire said, smiling as she lowered herself into the chair to his left. "I am so happy for you. And I am so proud of you, big brother."
He could not help but laugh at her glee. It may as well have been her own wedding day.
"And, you probably haven't heard, being intently occupied with your new wife and all...Tricell's trial ended a couple of hours ago."
Though he willed himself not to allow work to creep its way into the celebration, he glanced up at her curiously, knowing from her smile that it was good news.
"The company is being entirely dismantled," she explained. "And not only that, but...the GPC have announced that they are launching a series of investigations into its other members, and that they are granting the BSAA more power over corporations such as Tricell. I'm not saying that nobody will pick up where they left off, but it's going to be extremely difficult for them to siphon official funding into illegal research."
It was the news they had all been waiting for. It was nice to know that their struggle had not been in vain.
"How are you feeling today?"
And just like that, the subject had switched. Already, he could tell that something occupied her mind. He considered probing, but decided to drop it. Whatever it was, she was barely able to keep a smile from her lips; it was far from bad news.
"I'm fine," he assured her. "I have been for weeks, so stop worrying."
As though out of habit, she rolled her shoulder. At first, he had been surprised to see her scar displayed so obviously, but his sister had always been proud of her scars. As a child, she was rather accident-prone and so had gathered a small collection of her own by the time she reached her teens. They had all faded before she reached her twenties, and in the end she conceded, knowing that she would never quite have as many as her brother.
Jill approached quietly, so that he did not realise that she had rejoined them until she was already in her seat, reaching over to tickle Grace gently.
"She's getting so big," she sighed.
He had grown used to falling from attention when he held his daughter. She was always the centre of attention, always the one to whom the compliments were directed. What beautiful eyes, what a lovely smile, how clever she is.
He watched her for a moment, as she pulled gently on the ears of her toy rabbit, which he held in his hand. She loved that thing; it could silence even the most powerful of cries.
Blue eyes turned to his, seemingly waiting for something. Instinctively, he pressed a kiss to her nose and was greeted with laughter. Her voice played with his heartstrings, the complete and utter adoration in her eyes threatening to choke him with the happiness it evoked.
Voices around them permeated the bubble that seemed to have formed around father and daughter. He did not know when the others had rejoined them, and Grace did not seem to care.
"Should we tell them now?" Barry asked. His words were enough to draw the attention of both Chris and Jill to those around them.
"Tell us what?" she wanted to know.
Again, Chris saw the smiles that had become a little too familiar that day; secretive smiles, concealing a truth that he found himself desperate to know.
"Your wedding present," Claire explained, soft laughter upon her voice.
"We know that you spent all of your wedding fund on the ceremony and the reception," Kathy pointed out. "The mansion wasn't cheap, and neither is this hotel. So..."
Leon passed a long envelope to Jill, who took it curiously and eagerly, ripping it open in no time at all. There was no note within, only what appeared to be a flight itinerary.
"Saint Lucia," she read, her voice trembling. "Chris, they bought us flights toSaint Lucia!"
"We booked a hotel too," Barry chuckled. "It's only for one week, but..."
"...you need the time away," Claire interrupted. "Leon and I will stay at your house and look after Grace, and if you decide that you miss her too much to stay out there, the return ticket is flexible, so you can catch the next flight home."
Jill turned to him, uncertainty in her eyes. He knew how she felt, because the same thoughts were racing through his mind. Could they leave Grace for a whole week when they had spent only one night away from her since her birth? If they did, could they enjoy themselves or would they constantly be wondering how their baby girl was doing?
But it was there, in both his heart and hers...the knowledge that they needed time away from the stresses of parenthood and life as it currently was. They would both be back at work soon; this was the last opportunity they would have for a vacation in the foreseeable future.
"Thank you," he breathed. "Truly, thank you. We really appreciate this."
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Jill's smile grow a little wider.
"But I mean it; if anything happens, if she shows any signs of missing us, you have to let us know and we'll come straight home."
Nobody argued with this.
"We'll have fun," Claire assured him. "Oh, and we also booked you into this hotel for tonight. We've already packed an overnight bag for you. Your flight leaves tomorrow afternoon; we will pick you up in the morning and you can pack your own bags and see Grace before you leave."
Jill's smile widened, her hand found its way to his knee. And with a gentle squeeze, each vow she had made was reinforced; every worry he had, assuaged.
"Do you have any idea how much I love your mama?" he whispered to Grace.
Those who remained at the table were silenced, the word shocking them all. Chris locked eyes with Jill, her expression devoid of markers but brimming with emotion.
"Did she just-?" she gasped. And then the levee broke, tears began to meander down her cheeks. She reached over, taking Grace into her arms. "Oh, baby. You said 'mama'! Can you say it again? Can you say 'mama'?"
"Mama," Grace repeated. Overwhelmed by the cadence of the word, Chris moved his chair closer to Jill's, wrapped his arms around her.
They knew that there was no meaning behind the word, that it was mere repetition, but that did not steal the sentiment of the moment. Grace laughed again, obviously enjoying the attention, and Jill cried harder. Ever since her breakdown, she seemed more susceptible to tears, more open about sharing what she felt. Becoming parents had brought out the best in them both, and Chris took it as a sign of a bright future.
Because the years had told him that together, they could accomplish anything.
July 17, 2010. 11:00pm. Washington, D.C.
The whispered name was one that had been on her lips often that day. A new name; a fresh start. This was a new life, one that her past had no right to affect. Yes, she had spent years at the mercy of a man who wanted nothing but to watch her suffer, and she had almost crumbled beneath the weight of the trauma. But she had survived, she had pulled through, and she was stronger because of it. It was this strength that she carried forward, the pain and the fear no longer affecting her as it once had.
Jill Redfield smiled at her reflection in the ornate mirror of the Grand Suite's bathroom, running a steady hand over toned abdominal muscles. It had taken a lot of time and effort to regain her pre-pregnancy shape, and while not quite as muscular as it had once been she felt like herself once again, felt unashamed to stand half-naked before a mirror.
Because her body was not what Wesker had made it; it was her own, toned through weeks of yoga, assisting Chris with his recovery workout regime, and late nights at the gym with her friends.
It was this night that had spurred her on, the desire to look good in her wedding dress and on her wedding night pushing her to her limits.
The lingerie was a motivator; her 'something new'. It was white with lace detail, like her dress. She had never been keen on stockings and suspenders, but she loved the way they emphasised the length of her legs. Chris seemed to love her legs; whether they were kissing or making love, the warmth of his touch could always be felt against her thighs, his fingers gently brushing the skin.
She chose this 'outfit' for him. Long brunette hair framed her face, falling over her shoulders; he could never stop touching her hair when she wore it down. Even her makeup had been removed, her skin natural; he always told her that she did not need to wear makeup to be sexy.
That being said, 'sexy' was never a word she would have applied to herself.
"You still alive in there?" Chris's voice asked through the locked door.
"Barely," she muttered to herself, nerves seizing her.
Taking a deep breath, she unlocked the door, heart pounding in her chest.
He was distracted when she re-entered the bedroom, tugging at his tie.
"Chris." Her voice was soft, but loud enough for him to hear.
The hand that tugged at his tie froze, an expression of mild annoyance falling from his features. And he stared like a dumbstruck teenager, in awe of the sight before him.
"You like?" she asked coyly, attempting to pose but becoming unsteady on her heels. She would have preferred to have been without them, but the outfit felt incomplete.
"No," Chris told her, expression changing to one of interested amusement as he approached. "No good; take it off, right now."
And she was amazed that the kiss he enslaved her with did not cause the offending items to fall off then and there. The power that he had over her, even now, was intense, caught her off-guard every time it was displayed. Loving him did not feel like a choice; it hadn't for years. Loving him was a natural response, seemed to be etched into her soul.
"You look amazing," he breathed as her fingers found his tie, rid him of it and then began to work at the buttons of his shirt. Soft laughter overcame him, his hands resting on the curve of her hips. "And you're mine."
"You're lucky," she teased. "I don't strip for just any man."
His lips were warm when hers brushed against them, his breath clean, stubble neatly trimmed. He pleased every one of her senses, awakened those that she did not know she had. Eager palms pressed to his muscular chest, fingers tracing the shallow ridges.
He had lost so much weight in the wake of his accident, but was in great shape still; this was the body she had known prior to her fall, the one that had held her after difficult assignments, had warmed her on cold nights. She recognised every scar that her fingers found, could recall the events that had led to them.
Fingertips traced a scar to his left side, meandered up to a larger scar near his shoulder as the other found equally smooth skin to the right side of his abdomen. Two bullet wounds, one surgical scar.
Memories returned, reminding her of the shock that had overcome her the moment she felt his blood against her palms, the terror she had felt as she watched over him in the hospital, and the weeks she had spent caring for him as he recovered.
But these scars were different to the others. These scars were obtained not in the line of duty, but in the name of family. They were a symbol of the lives they had saved; hers...and their daughter's.
Tears encroaching, she pressed her lips to the highest scar; the remnant of the wound that had almost claimed his life. Though she could not bear the thought of life without him, it meant more to her than words could express that he was not only willing to risk his life for Grace, but that he already had. It was a sacrifice she was all too willing to make, and she was filled with a sense of overwhelming gratitude that he was as devoted a father as he had proven to be.
Because Grace was their world, and no life was more important to them than hers.
"Hey," Chris whispered, his hold becoming more loving, a warm kiss pressed to the top of her head. "Not today."
But she laughed, and smiled up at him.
"For once, I am crying because I am happy," she told him. "This is it, Chris; we have come full-circle. We are finally free. For once, I don't care about what is going on in the world or who is hurting who. All I care about is my family and my friends...my husband, and our beautiful daughter."
"And I promise; that is all you will have to care about from now on," he assured her. "I want my family to have a good life, and I always get what I want."
Jill chuckled in amusement, mesmerised by the sheer feeling of want in his eyes.
"I got you, didn't I?"
The trademark Chris Redfield smirk appeared on his lips moments before they claimed hers. Wordlessly, he demanded silence, demanded that she succumb to him. Body, mind, soul...every inch of her obeyed as his touch set nerves aflame. Clothing fell to the floor, nothing between her skin and his but air. And when he scooped her up into her arms, heaven descended, bathing them both in its warm light. Lips and fingertips teased the soft skin of her legs as stockings were discarded.
Ten years of hunting. Ten years of fighting. Yet neither had forgotten what was truly important. The fight was not over, but there were others to take the reins now. They had fought for a better life, for a future worth having and a world worth living in. They fought for those who could not fight, and for freedom that finally they could taste.
Breath hitched, long fingers gripped muscular arms.
So many years of walking into the sunset; the glow of the sunrise now lit their backs as they walked hand in hand into the world they had helped create.
"I love you." Both voices spoke in unison; the anthem of a new day.
Weary warriors laid their weapons to rest. Because even heroes know when to stop, when the world needs them no longer...when it is their time to take their place in a better world.
Limbs entwined, their love was spoken through action, devotion emphasised with every kiss.
A marriage consummated, a journey complete...and another just beginning.
AN - I was really hoping that this chapter wouldn't take so long to write but sadly it did. It was more difficult to write than I anticipated. I hope that you enjoyed the epilogue, and the story ^_^. It has been a long journey, and it has been a struggle at times, but we made it. Yes, WE made it. Because I could not have done this without the support of all of you who took the time to review! Over 300 reviews in total - I can't believe it. Thank you all so much *wipes tear from eye*.
The Sacred and Profane, sophie423, C. Redfield86, Skip, x-Artichoke-x, USWeasilgirl, Metalmark, IntangibleHope, Kenshin13, tek, Ninja-Gnome, Chocolate Milkahh, Lemon Turkey, xSummonerYunax, Gunslinger Nurse, and Rose Makayla Black - It is so great to see the same names pop up every time - and so many of you have been around since I posted Only Through the Pain, and even since the first story I posted on this site! Again, thank you for all of your support.
My next story will still be Everything About You. It will be a romance/comedy/drama (with a little action thrown in) set, as I previously mentioned, pre-mansion; the origins of Chris and Jill's partnership as they tread the thin line between love and hate. It is a standalone, and not related to anything else that I have written so far. And yes, 'Everything About You' is from the song by Three Days Grace. I wanted to choose an original title this time, but I felt that nothing fits the plot more than the ambiguity of that phrase ^_^.
The Fallen is still on track; Everything About You is quite short compared to this story, so hopefully by the time I have finished, I will be ready to write The Fallen (and I really hope it does not disappoint - I can honestly say that I am surprised by the amount of people who are looking forward to it!).
Anyway, I am seriously digressing here, so one last big thank you and please check out my new fic!