Ok, I really like this chapter, it makes me happy, and nostalgic!
It was July 4th 1998, and the whole gang were celebrating Independence Day. Brad had got hold of some Japanese fireworks, and they were crowded in the parking lot of R.P.D, watching the sky catch fire.
Everything was warm, slow-motion happiness. Chris had an armful of beer, and then somebody stomped in front of him wearing ridiculous boots and a very short skirt. It was Valentine, the newest recruit, and he rolled his eyes, wondering who the hell invited a woman to hang with the guys.
"So guess what," she drawled, wrestling a beer bottle from him and opening it on her belt. Damn.
"What?" He huffed, more drunk than he'd like to admit.
"You and I are both on Alpha team, now."
"That sucks," he watched a maze of color burst through the sky, and the surrounding S.T.A.R.S members cheered, "nothing interesting ever happens to Alpha team."
Three hours later and everything reeked of charcoal, and Joseph was the only one sober, so he drew the short straw to drive them out of the city limits, because somebody caught wind of a major fireworks display happening there.
Chris called shotgun, and dived in through the passenger side window. Jill piled in with Brad and Forrest, and Barry was last.
"Where to, comrades?" Joseph yelled over the collected sounds of their drunken celebrations.
They all shouted out different destinations and Chris, sobering himself somewhat, pulled out a map and pointed to the green belt around the city, the area reserved for grand mansions. "Drive," he said wisely, and leant his head back against the seat.
Either side of Jill, Brad and Forrest were arguing. Chris turns 180 in his seat and, still swaying, began to strike up a bravado conversation with her. He hoped he didn't look too pathetic, stone drunk and hitting on his new best friend.
"I love everyone," yelled Barry, who had been on the vodka all night. Joseph regarded him with deep pity and passed him a cigarette.
"Are we nearly there yet?" Brad said sharply, ignoring Forrest's continued arguing, and everyone reached over to lay a slap on him.
"Quiet down Chickenheart," Snickered Joseph, "this city is goddamned huge, all right? I'm driving as fast as I can, July 4th sure brings out the nutjobs." He gestured to the road ahead, where Chris could see a drunken circle of college kids spilling out into the street. He was reminded suddenly of Claire, and hoped she wasn't as drunk as he was. "They're like zombies, look at 'em!" Joseph stuck a middle finger up at the gang of kids as they drove past.
Chris returned his attention to Jill. He wanted to say something along the lines of 'will you be my Valentine?' but had a sinking feeling that that would be unwise, and that he and Jill had built up too much of a rapport tonight for him to ruin it with cheesy pick-up lines.
Jill met his eyes and, as drunk as him, grinned cheerily. She had a beer bottle in her hand, and gave it to Chris. He took a drink, as Joseph announced that they had arrived, and the S.T.A.R.S members clambered to get out the car. In the midst of the fray, Jill took Chris's hand and, filled with newfound confidence, he slipped an arm around her shoulders.
"Hey guys," he shouted at his friends, "let's go see some fireworks."
He sits in Emma's bedroom each night, reading from a book of fairy tales. He teaches her about knights and princesses, about heroes, and brave little girls who save the world from monsters. He wonders if it's too soon to teach her how to shoot.
Jill lies on the bed beside their daughter, with her arms around the girl and her feet in Chris's lap. Emma curls a finger around Jill's long dark hair as she steadily falls asleep to the sound of Chris's reading.
"Again Daddy," says Emma when he reaches the end. She's so close to sleep her voice sounds weak, but he flips back to the beginning anyway.
By the time he finishes the story for a second time, Jill is asleep too. He puts the book on the shelf and backs out of the room.
In the kitchen, Claire and Sherry are sharing a bottle of wine and talking animatedly.
"He did what?" Claire laughs, and Chris motions for her to keep her voice down.
"Jill's asleep," he whispers, and Claire nods apologetically.
Sherry holds back a giggle. "He sent me five dozen red roses. By FedEx."
Chris raises an eyebrow and pours himself a glass of wine. He hasn't seen much of Jake since China, but the kid sure made an impression on Sherry.
"My god," says Claire, "that's kind of romantic."
"Kind of?" Laughs Sherry, "I don't know, I think it's some European tradition, he's very old fashioned like that."
"Speaking of Jake, when is he going to make an honest woman of you?" Chris says, and Sherry hits him lightly on the arm.
"Don't start that, Chris, we're not all marriage-material. And anyway, I barely see him these days."
Chris raises an eyebrow at her. "You just let me know when I need to knock some sense into him," and he grins to show her he's joking. He is joking, mostly, but he feels unbearably protective over her, and she's more his daughter than she ever was Birkin's.
Jill appears at the door, stretching and looking lost. "I can't believe you let me fall asleep like that," she collapses at the table, and lets Claire pour her a glass of wine.
Chris makes a sad face and kisses her. "You looked cute."
They stay up past midnight, talking and drinking and making jokes about zombies. They do this often, just the four of them, sitting together and sharing long silences in which they look from one to the other and find themselves grateful that if any city was going to go to hell, it was theirs.