It was freezing, the temperature in the cabin dropping every second she stood there, feet planted to the floor beneath them. Sherry never thought the objective assigned to her was going to be easy-in her profession, nothing was easy-but it certainly didn't help that the man she had to protect was being difficult.
Jake had a tendency to say things as he saw it, to speak his mind freely as if there were no consequences. He wasn't cold, not necessarily, but he was what one would call a 'selected taste', the type of guy you'd spare a thought for if, by some strange happenstance, you actually liked him. Sherry did think of him though, like when he always reached out for her when she was in trouble, of how he would be there if she needed him without fail.
But that's a silly thing to work yourself up over. Jake was, after all, staying with her for that promised fifty million and leaving right after. There wasn't much else left to value from her, not to him. And it was exactly that greedy, 'I take care of myself' attitude that frayed at Sherry's nerves. Maybe he was a merc for too long or maybe he'd forgotten how to talk to people, but whatever it was, his snide 'what, so you're some sort of freak?' comment was far beyond her level of comfort.
So she stood there silently, the quiet between them lengthening by only a few seconds. Jake stared hard at her, his eyes fixed solely on the expression on her face-furious or hurt, he did not know-before Sherry parted her lips to say, "I need some air."
She reached quickly for the door, prying it open by just a few inches before she felt a strong hand grab hold of hers. Jake forced the door to close once again, but not after the sucking air nearly brought Sherry down with it, flurries of snow dancing along the entrance. "Are you insane? You'll get lost out there by yourself and the J'Avo are everywhere," Jake warned, his hard chest pressed against her back. He sounded cautious, as if maybe this were his own way for apologizing for what he said, some sort of way to redeem himself.
Sherry kept her lips sealed, Jake's hand still clasped against her own long after the door had been shut. She could actually feel his heartbeat as he stood so close behind her; it was a rhythmic staccato, heart thudding in careful intervals. Taking in a breath, Sherry began to move her fingers from under Jake's touch, the movement enough to force him to retreat.
She wasn't sure if she missed feeling his very life beat away inside of him.
"Just hunker down," Jake reaffirmed, his feet carrying further from her as she turned to walk towards the adjacent wall. "We can leave when the storm dies down."
She didn't respond, her fingers unconsciously running meaningless patterns into her snow-crusted pants, knees hugged tightly to her chest. Freak? As far as she was concerned, she was simply Sherry Birkin, all bright eyed with a great sense of passion and loyalty for the greater good. Coming from a merc with inhuman capabilities, it must have meant something.
"Don't tell me you're angry," Jake asked flatly. He looked down at her and Sherry, in kind, returned the eye contact.
Narrowing his eyes, Jake could only murmur "of course you are."
Sherry wasn't angry enough to go out on a rampage-it wasn't her style-but she wasn't one to play the victim either. "You just called me a-."
"Yeah, well, forget it," he interjected, as if he couldn't let her continue. But he still seemed apologetic if his taking residence beside her was any indication. "I didn't mean it like that anyway. I just meant you were different was all, like some sorta Supergirl except-" a slight pause "-smaller. So I chose my words poorly. My mistake. Social skills weren't exactly the highlight of my career in case you haven't noticed."
Jake looked over at her, his advantage in height casting a flickering shadow. "Besides, no one's living life right if they weren't a little strange."
Eyes fixed on the wooden floors, Sherry didn't think to look back at Jake. He sounded just fine though if not a little bit tender, as if he could take it back because surely he knew what the term 'freak' implied. And damned if he wasn't trying to make it up in conversation, and damned if Sherry didn't at least appreciate that much. She didn't have the energy in her to blow this out of proportion, and, under all circumstances, Jake sounded sincere enough. It wasn't an excuse, but it would do. "I guess," she replied, her voice somehow brightening his mood. She didn't need to see it, but that miniscule shift in body language was enough of an answer. "But you're definitely the strangest."
She turned to look at him then, a blank expression on his face before a slight smirk played on his lips. "Yeah?"
"Hell no. Why would I object to that?"
"You certainly take it with pride."
Shoulders hunched, a low whistle came from him. "I think you know what you're trying to say."
Sherry furrowed her brows. "And what was I trying to say?"
"A merc being a freak usually means he's insanely good at his job which, as you know, I am. Besides, with all the times I've saved your ass-"
"I pitch in just as much as you do. Remember the time when-"
"Now, that was a moment of weakness," Jake rebutted.
"You had more than one moment of weakness, Jake," Sherry countered. "Besides, I can value a good teammate and we're teammates now. We're supposed to be doing things like that."
Breathing steady, Jake looked on. "Teammates, huh?"
"Mhm," Sherry hummed. "That's right."
The snow on the ground had melted already, but the cold in the air was still thick as the howling wind played with the cottage they held themselves up in, low bellowing sounds ever so present. Winter weather was extreme and Sherry shivered under it, her breath visible in the chilling atmosphere. How Jake even handled himself was beyond her.
Letting out a sigh, white puffs of smoke following, Sherry added, "and teammates forgive each other."
She heard Jake move then.
"Funny how the whole teammate business works," he replied. She felt his arm against hers, the heat in his body mingling pleasantly with the dissipating cold. "But I guess it'll grow on."
"You don't come off as the partner type of guy."
With a smile, Jake agreed. "Don't get used to it."
Sherry ran as fast as her feet could carry her, the tiled floors stretching on for what felt like forever. Finally, she was free, but Jake was no where to be seen and for the first time in a while, she felt honestly and genuinely frightened. It wasn't as if she had never been by herself before, but Jake was the reason why she was here in the first place, to protect him and keep him safe. Was he okay? How was he doing by himself? Did the J'Avo manage to gain the upper hand?
Exercising paranoid thoughts seemed to fuel her energy and so she ran faster, killed quicker and weaved through the maze of hallways more efficiently. She had to make sure he was okay even if he had proven himself to be more than capable of fending on his own, but the nagging possibilities didn't do much favors.
It had been nonstop Jake Muller for quite a while and, naturally, for good reason. He was the key to a vaccine after all, and so he truly was valuable in every aspect, the importance of their reuniting even that more significant.
But it wasn't just because he had the antibody to counter the C-Virus. Maybe to global security it was, but spend some time with someone as much as they had and things become more personal.
Growing attached to others wasn't a valued factor of her profession. In fact, many talked down on it, even called it dangerous and unnecessary. It was a very simple thought and a very familiar warning, one that was reasoned with the excuse that personal relations compromised the objective. And, if the worst comes, losing someone would be all the more painful.
Silly though, right? How could you expect to stay strictly professional with someone you had to tail and keep an eye on for as long as you could? How could you expect to not becomes friends with someone you had to and, in fact, wanted to protect the moment you got an assignment?
It was all okay in theory, but Sherry wasn't testing theories here. Right now, she was absolutely stressed, her head hurting just with the amount of worry she had mounted on herself.
Jake better be okay, she repeated over and over.
And when she reached a locker room, she took a seat and waited. Five seconds. Ten seconds. One minute. It didn't matter, not when every span of time felt like eternities. Sherry rubbed at her arm, the skin there reddened and painful from where a J'Avo had rammed the butt of his gun into. Her hand clutched onto the affected area, her nerves shaking her sanity senseless.
When the air vent above her sounded with movement, her heart stopped and her breathing took a momentary pause. Turning around, she heard a fall, and before her was Jake Muller with not a scratch on him.
"Jake!" she cried out immediately before taking herself up from off of her seat. "You're okay!"
Rubbing his head, the man got back up on his own two feet before replying with a casual, "were you expecting something bad?"
But Jake couldn't get a reply, not when Sherry wrapped her arms around him, her embrace tight but comforting. Unusual concept this was-not to Sherry, but to Jake, it was quite a new experience-and so he could only idly stand there, feel breaths she had held while waiting for him finally leave her tired body.
"I take that as a yes."
Sherry was small, but to feel her against him was different. She felt fragile, but he knew very well that she was completely capable of handling anything on her own. Her touch was soft, her breathing feathering the skin on his neck, and her fingers gripped tightly onto him as if if she didn't hold onto him hard enough, he would simply disappear.
Were teammates even supposed to get this emotional?
"Sherry, give me some credit," he began in an attempt to make light of all this. "Three on one is hardly a fair fight for the trio."
And, strangely enough, he felt his hands come to rest on her waist as if this very unnatural thing were precisely the opposite. Comfort wasn't his forte, that they both knew very well, but he had done it without even thinking about it.
When they separated, Jake looked over at her quickly. She had dealt with a score many more J'Avo than he had, and though she was skilled, she hadn't left as unscathed as he had. There were spots of pink and harsh bruises of red where they would soon purple in color. Her arm had a few cuts and some scathed from bullet grazes, but she still sported a relieved smile, her expression simply one he never saw before.
So glad to see me? Strange world.
"It's just nice to see you again," Sherry said before beginning to compose herself. "It's been months, you know?"
Jake turned away, his hand rubbing at where Sherry's breathing had brushed against him. It was still warm, and the feeling foreign. "I'd be an idiot not to know," he replied, pulling a locker door open to retrieve clothing. Sherry followed in haste. "How long were you waiting?"
A momentary pause. "No, I meant in here-"
"Does it matter?" Sherry asked, peeking her head out from behind the door she kept to separate the two. Her eyes looked on right at him and Jake froze in his effort to pull his shirt on, Sherry's expression one that commanded attention. "Six months, Jake."
And he didn't bother to ask again.
Six months. To think. And to have run after him like that, to hold him like that? She might as well have been crying at this point and even then he wouldn't be surprised.
Hell, maybe he wouldn't even mind. Sherry was always worrying.
"Right, right, sorry," Jake began as he reached out to grab a pair of gloves. "It wasn't an easy time for me either."
Sherry closed the locker door, her hands busy working a scarf around her neck. "I thought you were gone."
He heard the click of his locker closing in the midst of Sherry's words. She sounded guilty if he didn't know any better, and looking over to see her, he wasn't quite sure if it was just a thought or not. "Sorry. We could have gotten out of there in time, but-"
"Hey, I'm not here for apologies," Jake cut her off, his hand reaching out to grab her arm. It was just a touch, a simple grasp as if out of comfort, and, strangely enough, he felt Sherry relax into it. She kept her eyes fixed on the floor, but she listened to him acutely, even as he said, "besides, we're both alive and kicking."
Sherry remained unflinching for a passing time, but when she looked up at him, Jake could have sworn...
Damn. Just when things couldn't get more difficult, Sherry had to do this and with so much as no effort at all.
"Anyway, I wouldn't have stayed mad at you for long."
A gracious smile curved her lips, her expression softer, guilt lighter. Jake pulled her ahead of him, hand guiding her to the door of the locker room as she said "thanks, Jake."
And with a shake of his head, Jake simply replied, "but you're not leaving my side again, got that?"
"It's nice to know we're thinking the same thing."
He didn't think he asked for anything more genuine.
The air whipped through her hair, arms hugging onto Jake tightly. They had been in a situation like this once before in China, but without the J'Avo chasing them, it was much more enjoyable.
Of course, it would have been much better if she didn't know this was their last anything together. Last bike ride. Last of them seeing each other. Talking to each other. Maybe everything at all, and Sherry couldn't quite stomach it just yet. The airport ahead of them continued to grow larger and the promise of home grew stronger with each inch that passed by them. Still, with her chest against Jake's back, that usual comfort of soon-to-be-gone homesickness began to rear an ugly side.
Sherry pressed the side of her face near his shoulder, her hands feeling the warmth that lay under the shirt that covered Jake's body. Of course, not in the middle of the winter, she hadn't a reason to be so eager to hear his familiar breathing, to catch a ghosting beat of his heart that sounded through his body. But this being their farewell, she didn't think Jake quite minded, and when she held onto him tighter, he still didn't have the intent on objecting.
"Hey, we're here," Jake said as the bike began to lose its momentum, he inevitable halt coming much sooner than she had wanted it to. Sherry took her hands from around Jake's waist and back to her sides after having had mounted off the motorcycle. Her hair was tousled by the wind, but it wasn't what was out of place.
Sherry, who had done well at handling anything and everything that came her way, turned around with a hurt look. She wasn't crying, not by a long shot, but she looked saddened nonetheless and though they both anticipated it, it didn't lighten the blow.
Unlike her, however, Jake looked quite like himself, not a curve of the lips or a flicker of the eyes something she was unfamiliar with.
"Thanks for the ride," she finally thanked half-heartedly, her steady and stable voice betraying her true convictions, those she wouldn't even dream of sharing with a single soul. "I appreciate it."
"No problem," the man responded, his gloved hands still resting on the handlebars of the motorcycle. "See you around then?"
A small smile, one Jake noticed immediately.
"I'll wait for it. Hurry up then. I think you're running a bit late on your flight and I'm not raising hell to postpone it for you."
Sherry swallowed hard and nodded, taking a single step back before giving a wave, her final goodbye exactly the way she rehearsed it in her mind days before. This was inevitable, this farewell, and that she knew, but preparing for it had no effect on the day it actually mattered.
Jake Muller rose his hand and gave a single short wave back, the entire summary of his personality: Simple and to the point with something, just a touch of something, that was branded as entirely Jake Muller's own.
"Safe trip, Supergirl," he said as she reached the gate, her hand lingering on the door. "And sorry I couldn't get you here sooner, but consider it selfishness on my part. That seems to be a reoccurring problem."
Selfishness on his part?
Her heart gave an extra beat, the phantom of a grin that curved her lips now bringing forth something more evident, a wave of unbridled joy hitting her at such few words.
She'd surely miss her teammate and, on some days, more than she could ever stand.