Disclaimer: I don't own Resident Evil, or any of its characters. I'm just a humble fan who was highly disappointed by RE5. Fortunately, RE6 is more than making up for it! Thank you, Capcom, for the return of the zombies!

Synopsis: I was playing REmake, and started wondering just what it had to be like for the characters between games. I mean, beyond the files and short endings. Not to mention, why they killed off some potentially decent characters so quickly. This is what happens when I get bored. So, here goes nothing. . .

Author's Note: This is a looonng one. Unbeta'd, as usual, so forgive any mistakes you might find, and enjoy!


Chapter Four

Billy paced the confines of the infirmary, trying desperately to keep his promise and not leave the safe house. Hunk had dragged the pledge out of him by promising to deliver a message to Rebecca via his contact in the R.P.D. But it was hard, he admitted silently. He'd been trapped in this house for nearly four weeks while his body healed, and he was slowly going out of his mind.

Hunk had left on another mission, promising to deliver the message as soon as he returned. He'd heard Hunk mention Antarctica while talking to Ada downstairs, but short of asking his brother outright, he had no way of knowing if that was actually where the other man was going. Ada certainly wasn't going to tell him, if she even knew for certain herself.

She was a strange one, Billy thought with a small smile. She was beautiful as hell, with legs that wouldn't quit, and a throaty voice that any phone-sex operator would kill for, but she wasn't the most forthcoming woman in the world. She was very careful in everything she said and did around him, though she was always nice to him, even when Hunk wasn't around. She flirted openly, but he could tell that she really wasn't interested. She seemed to have a thing for blond hair, and he definitely wasn't blond.

And she was not Rebecca. He sighed and glanced longingly at the window. No matter how much he might want to see her, he knew better than to break a promise to Hunk. Nothing was more important to the other man. He'd been that way since Billy had first met him, and he hadn't changed in the intervening years. He hated knowing that his brother was risking his life for Umbrella, but he couldn't say too much. Hunk was a hard man, and he lived his life as he saw fit.

At least, his loyalty to them wasn't absolute. After all, they had put out a bounty on Billy, just in case he hadn't become the walking the dead as reported. Hunk had been as honest with him as he could, and he'd been trying to find a way to prove his death to his superiors, while keeping him safe and free. It was more than he had expected after three years of silence.

At least, he knew that his brother hadn't turned his back on him, as so many others had. Hunk truly seemed to believe in his innocence, going so far as to offer to kill Billy Coen Sr. for his lack of faith in his only son. Billy had laughed, even though he knew that his half-brother was serious, and turned him down. Hunk had looked disappointed, and he couldn't blame him. His Father hadn't treated his wife's son by her first husband well, and Hunk had never forgiven him for the way he had treated their mother. They had always hated each other, and that was not likely to change.

Yeah, good old Dad, Billy thought caustically. A hard-headed, hard-hearted soldier, with little patience for his timid wife and their too-quiet son. His mother had died of cancer when he was twelve, two years after her sixteen year-old-son had come back into her life. Hunk and the old man had constantly clashed, two strong personalities determined to dominate the other. His father had only let Hunk stay with them because of a promise made to his mother, but he hadn't been happy about it, and he had been vocal in his displeasure.

Then, Hunk had turned eighteen, and Dad had kicked him out. Said that his responsibility was over, and Hunk could rot in hell for all that he cared. Hunk had joined the Navy, and simply disappeared. He'd called every once in a while, just to check up his kid brother, but he hadn't come back.

Billy had followed suit, joining his father's Marines two years later. To this day, he regretted his decision to join up. He had hated the restrictions placed on him in that place, and the grueling regimen he had been forced to endure. His drill sergeant had seemed to take special pleasure in singling him out for punishment. He had spent six months in that damned place, looking forward to getting out, and away from the bastard.

Then, he'd begun to best his opponents in hand-to-hand exercises. He was a dirty fighter, and had enjoyed dumping his opponents in the dirt, working through all of his anger during the exercises. While his sparring partners had concentrated on the martial arts they'd been trained in, he himself had used tricks he'd learned while running wild as a teenager. Combined with the military's training, he'd been damn near unstoppable. Then, the company had been set against the officers, and he'd had the supreme pleasure of dropping his asshole drill sergeant—hard.

He had been sent to Quantico for training in Force Recon, the Marines' elite Special Forces unit. For a while, he had almost been happy. He'd trained with a great group of guys, the unit the closest thing he'd had to a family since his mother's death. Any thoughts of returning to civilian life had been forgotten in his newfound world of acceptance.

The missions had been hard, but rewarding. He had been a part of something bigger than himself, and had protected those who couldn't protect themselves. He had come to love the unit, and the life he lived with them. The best part was that he hadn't been alone anymore. Then, Larsen had gone completely apeshit, and his world had come crashing down around him.

Billy drew an abrupt breath and threw himself down on the nearest chair. He had killed for his country, as all soldiers must, but he wasn't a murderer. Other than the anger issues he'd all but forgotten while being in Force Recon, his mental health had been pretty normal. But watching Larsen, Briggs, and Delaney cut through those defenseless villagers had broken something inside of him. He had been steeped in guilt for not being able to save them, and his conscience had tormented him in the form of nightmares and devastating flashbacks. For a while there, he had considered suicide an answer to images that wouldn't let him sleep, or forget.

The Marines had caught him during his first attempt and immediately shipped him to the institution. He had spent three years in that hell, and it had only made things worse. He had learned to control the flashbacks to a certain extent, and taught himself not to scream when caught in the grips of a nightmare. He had managed to fool the shrinks long enough to be court-martialed, and had found himself in that stupid jeep, bound for the firing squad back at the base.

He had been planning his escape, knowing that he'd probably die in the attempt, when a large shape had come out of nowhere and cracked the windshield all to hell. The M.P. driving had lost control and flipped the jeep, nearly killing them all. Then, the growls had started, and Billy had watched with horror as the mutated Dobermans had torn the two soldiers apart. The poor bastards had still been seat-belted in, and unable to free themselves in time to save their lives.

Billy had grabbed one of the dead guy's pistols and shot his way out of it. He'd run like hell, firing as he went, until he'd spotted the train. He'd gone inside, met his first zombie, and nearly died until he'd aimed for its head. He had checked his nearly empty gun, and decided to explore the train. Sure enough, he'd found a .9 millimeter magazine in the next compartment, in the jacket of a dead man missing the back of his head. Then, he'd crept into next section, checking compartments as he went, and met Rebecca Chambers.

Billy smiled at the memory. She had been crouched over the body of a dead worker, shaking her head with its cap of sleek honey-brown hair. He could tell by her uniform that she was some kind of law enforcement, although the red cross on the back of her shirt indicated that she was a medical officer. With reluctance he had trained the handgun on her. She had turned around slowly, her big green eyes widening, and he had been lost.

She'd known his name, and what he'd been accused of. He'd made some smart-ass comment about fantasies, which hadn't impressed her in the least. She'd threatened to arrest him, and he'd blown her off, half expecting to be shot in the back as he walked away. But she hadn't, and he'd started thinking that maybe—just maybe—he could trust this little girl with the big, heartbreaking eyes.

And he'd been right, Billy thought, the smile widening. Sure, she'd threatened to shoot him if he tried anything, but she'd deferred to his obvious wartime experience and had trusted him to keep her alive. She had watched his back the entire night, from the nightmare on the train to the nightmare in the training facility. She hadn't flinched from doing what was needed, and she'd given him the benefit of the doubt after hearing his story.

Yeah, he'd chosen well. Rebecca Chambers might be young, but she was a class act. If he ever found a way to clear his name and live a normal life, he was going to live that life with her. Once Hunk met her, he would understand that Rebecca really was different from most of the women that they had known, and he would accept her. It was just a matter of time.

Which was something he actually had in abundance, now. Billy ran a hand through his longish brown hair, wishing that he had something to alleviate the boredom. He'd already read every book in the house, and he hated watching television. He almost wished that Ada would make an appearance, just so that he'd have someone to talk to. If there was one thing he hated, it was being alone for long periods of time.

He thought about working out. There was a set of high-tech exercise equipment down in the basement, not to mention a weight-set. Still, he'd already worked out once today, and his body was slightly sore from the workout. He was recovering, from both the gunshot wound and his enforced imprisonment, but it was slow going. He didn't have the stamina that he'd had three years ago, and it showed. He tired easily, though he rarely slept a full night. He'd taken to napping every six hours or so, but never for more than a few hours at a stretch. Without fail, the nightmares returned nearly every time he closed his eyes. There wasn't much he could do about that, except work around them so that they didn't become debilitating.

"Damn it!" he exclaimed, smacking the arms of chair and shoving himself to his feet. He was not going to do this to himself. He wasn't going to dwell on what he couldn't change. It only gave his demons more power over him, and he refused to do that. He'd find a way to keep himself occupied, one that didn't include venturing outside of the safe house.

He wandered through the fancy house, surprised by how much it reminded him of the mansion that had doubled as the Arkham Training Facility. There was antique furniture and fixtures everywhere, which surprised him because Raccoon City wasn't that old. He hadn't been outside yet, but he'd looked out the windows enough to that most of the houses beyond the huge yard looked the same. Someone had put a lot of money into this housing development, and he only hoped that it wasn't the Umbrella Corporation.

Hunk and Ada had both assured him that it wasn't, Ada actually looking insulted by the notion. She'd merely said that the organization was nothing like Umbrella, and then casually changed the subject. He didn't even know the name of the company that employed her, and he probably never would. They both referred to The Agency or The Organization, but never elaborated.

Apparently, Ada was like Hunk, a highly trained mercenary who worked for whoever paid her the most. Personally, Billy thought that she looked too young to be so skilled, around his age, but he wasn't stupid enough to ask. Women were touchy about that sort of thing.

He ambled into the game room, which had a gorgeous eight-foot pool table. He grabbed a pool cue off the wrack on the wall and listlessly took a few shots. He hated playing by himself. It just wasn't the same as playing a skilled opponent. He wondered if idly if Ada played, then laughed at himself. With a rack like hers, she'd probably smoke him in a matter of minutes. He'd be too busy looking her over to keep his eye on the game. He might be in love with Rebecca Chambers, but he wasn't dead!

He played for a little while longer before losing interest. He put the cue back in its place and wished that he could go outside. It was another bright, sunny August day, with only the slightest autumn chill in the air. He knew because he'd stuck his head out of the infirmary window earlier. He hated being trapped, even though it was for his own safety. He wanted to enjoy his freedom, damn it!

With that thought firmly in mind, Billy went back upstairs and searched for a pen. He scribbled a note and left it on his pillow, and then went down to the garage. He grabbed the tall ladder and dragged it through the house as carefully as he could. He went out the back door, set it against the house, and climbed up to the roof.

He kept to the back side of the roof and sprawled out, ignoring the shingles as they bit into his back. He closed his eyes and let the sun pour over him, throwing his arms out happily. This is what he had missed, Billy thought as he inhaled a lungful of clean, crisp air. The freedom to go outside anytime he wanted, and not have to fear the other inmates, or the guards, both of whom were just looking for an excuse to end his miserable life. He was on the outside now, and he would never let himself be put back in again.

He wished that Rebecca were here to share the moment with him. She would understand just how much this meant to him. She had believed in him, trusted him, when no one else had been willing to. She actually seemed to care for him, which had totally blown him away. He'd never dated a nice girl before, preferring women who knew the score, and wouldn't make too many demands. Now, he couldn't imagine wanting any other kind.

"Rebecca," he murmured, smiling slightly at the sound of her name, "I miss you, sweetheart. I hope you're okay."

He had no way of knowing where she was, or how she was doing, though Hunk had assured him that she seemed to be doing well. He hadn't gone near her, merely observed her, but he'd seemed confident in his assessment. Not that he'd have any compunction about lying if he'd found her otherwise, but Billy thought he'd be able to tell now. He was learning how to read his stone-faced half-brother, much to Hunk's chagrin.

They were finally getting to know one another as men instead of siblings. Hunk was constantly surprised by how much the now had in common, thanks to Billy's time with Force Recon. Billy still couldn't stomach the thought of taking a human life, but Hunk never censured him for it, not after what he knew Billy had gone through in Africa. They were getting along better than they ever had before, and Billy couldn't remember ever being happier.

It still bothered him that Hunk worked for Umbrella, and it always would, but he could live the knowledge. His big brother was smart enough to keep himself alive in any given situation, thought they both prayed that there would never be another outbreak. Even Hunk believed that such a waste of life was a travesty.

He heard the sound of footsteps on the ladder and cursed violently. He pulled a .45 caliber Desert Eagle out of his belt, compliments of his brother, and waited. Ada's dark head popped into sight, and he frowned darkly. "What are you doing up here?"

"I could ask you the same." Ada climbed onto the roof with careful movements, glad that she had removed her heels before doing so. "What are you doing up here, Billy?"

"Enjoying the silence." He put the Magnum away and pulled one leg under him for leverage. He watched with appreciation as she sat down beside him, the slit in her long red scarlet skirt sliding away to reveal the long length of her legs. The woman definitely favored red! "You've got great stems, doll face."

"Mmmm, thank you," she replied throatily. She slanted him a provocative glance, more out of habit than any real interest. "Couldn't stand being indoors any longer?"

"How'd you guess?" Billy quipped, his grin belying his sarcastic words.

She merely laughed and raised her arms in a languorous stretch. His midnight blue eyes followed the motions, causing her to laugh again. It was nice to be appreciated by a man who wasn't expecting anything in return. "What will you do, once you've left here?" she asked unexpectedly.

He shrugged his broad shoulders, his smile dimming slightly. "I'll try to clear my name," he said simply.

"And if you can't?" Ada questioned. "What then?"

"I will," he stated, unwilling to think of the consequences should he fail. "I want my life back."

She nodded slowly, knowing that he might not be willing to consider her proposal. "Have you ever thought of becoming a mercenary?"

Billy surprised her by nodding curtly. "I've given it some thought," he answered, "but I'm not hard enough for that kind of life."

Ada raised one sable brow at that. "What qualities do you believe you lack?" she asked curiously.

"I'm not a killer," he said in a low, tortured voice.

"Ah." Ada realized just how damaged he had been by the massacre in Africa and deftly changed the subject. "I looked in on your Officer Chambers this morning."

"Rebecca?" Billy's head came up, his eyes widening slightly, unable to hide his eagerness. "How is she?"

"She seems to be doing well," Ada assured him, not sure why she had felt compelled to do this for him. "Her superiors in the R.P.D. don't believe the S.T.A.R.S. reports on the Arklay incident, but two of her teammates are continuing the investigation on their own."

He grasped her wrist in a tight grip. "But she's okay, right?"

"Yes." Ada glanced down at his hand, which he withdrew with an embarrassed flush. She fought the urge to rub the spot. He hadn't hurt her, merely made her uncomfortable. She could forgive him for that. "Your girl is doing quite well, Billy. She seemed to be healthy, and relatively happy, especially when she touched a set of dogtags she wears beneath her shirt."

Billy smiled gently, his eyes focusing on something she couldn't see. "She kept them," he murmured, touching the spot on his chest where they'd once lain.

She kept her expression carefully neutral, while she mentally shook her head in dismay. She found that she was growing quite fond of Billy Coen, and she worried that he was setting himself up for a fall. The Chambers girl did appear to be nice, and Billy certainly trusted her, but she still was a police officer. That made her doubly dangerous to the man she'd apparently fallen for, a convicted felon with a death sentence hanging over his head.

Ada was convinced that Billy was innocent, though. The man she was coming to know quailed at the thought of taking another's life. That would not be his reaction were he a cold-blooded killer. He was different from she and Hunk, who thought little of eliminating anyone who stood in their way. He was a bit naïve, but in a wholly charming way. She was beginning to see why Hunk was so protective of him.

"So," she said into the silence, "what would you like to do tonight?"

Billy's gaze cut to hers, obviously startled by the question. "What do you mean?"

"Well, you're obviously bored," she said, glancing at their rooftop perch. "I can't take you into the city, but maybe I can set something up here. What would you like to do?"

He shrugged as casually as he could, glancing at her through his lashes. "You could give me Rebecca's address and look the other way."

Ada snorted delicately. "Anything but that, Billy."

"I don't know," he sighed dramatically, resting his chin on one upraised knee. "I honestly don't have any ideas, Ada. All I can think about is Rebecca. She's everywhere," he added helplessly.

She narrowed her eyes on him, suddenly certain she was being played. "Forget it," she told him flatly. "You're brother would kill me if something happened to you."

"Shit." Billy laid back down with a scowl. "Well, it was worth a try."

Ada bit back a laugh at his petulant expression. "I think you're brother and I have spoiled you, Billy."

"No," he told her, suddenly serious. "I would never really take advantage of you, Ada. You and Hunk have done too much for me to repay you that way. I miss Rebecca, but I can wait to see her."

She shifted, finding a more comfortable position. "Tell me about her, Billy."

Billy looked up at her with stark eyes. "Are you asking because you're worried about me, or is it for The Agency?" he asked boldly.

"A little of both," Ada answered honestly, smiling at his suddenly skeptical expression. Billy Coen had to be the moodiest man she'd ever known. "Tell me what your brother is too stubborn to hear, and exactly what it was like to survive a biohazard outbreak."

He studied her for a moment longer before acquiescing. He told her all that had happened on the train, about the Cerberus' in the kennels, the zombies that had littered the damned thing, the giant scorpion he'd been injured while fighting. He described the two-man team he and Rebecca had seen starting the train, and their deaths at the hand's of Dr. Marcus' leeches.

Ada listened with fascination as he described a young-looking, newly resurrected James Marcus, and Mimics that had been able to take on his more elderly form. She flinched as Billy relived the horror of watching Marcus change into the Queen Leech, and a horrific battle while they fought to open the dome that would ultimately expose the monster to the sunlight which killed it.

Then, he described parting ways with Rebecca Chambers and stumbling through the woods, making his way towards Raccoon City. He told her about his fatal meeting Joseph Frost, and his miraculous resurrection. He ended the tale with Hunk finding him in Raccoon Hospital, after he had failed to save a group of hikers from a zombie with an axe, as well as a giant man-eating plant named Dorothy.

Ada shook her head as he finally fell silent, her admiration going up a few notches. "That's quite a tale," she commented at length. "You're lucky to be alive, Billy."

"I know." Billy smiled crookedly, his gaze meeting hers briefly before going back to the setting sun. "We should go inside soon. I don't feel safe being outside after dark anymore."

"I think that's understandable." She patted his arm in an almost paternal manner and rose gracefully to her feet. "As soon as your brother returns, we'll find a way to set up a meeting with your Miss Chambers. Until then, be a good boy and stay out of sight, hmmm?"

He made a rude sound. "I'm not a two-year-old, Ada. I know how to take care of myself."

She laughed, the husky sound ringing through the twilight air. "Oh, I do like you, Billy Coen. I truly do."

One corner of his thin lips quirked upwards in an arrogant smirk. "I have that effect on most women, sweetheart."

Her sapphire eyes ran over him, causing him to squirm in abrupt discomfort. "I'll just bet you do," she all but purred, smiling with satisfaction as he blushed like a schoolboy. "Good try, handsome, but not good enough. You'll need a little more practice to catch up to me."

"Give me time," Billy teased, trying to ignore the sudden tightening of his body.

She waved carelessly in his direction and climbed off the roof. He stared after her with a grin, grateful that she didn't seem serious in her interest. They might spar verbally, but he would never poach on his brother's territory. Not to mention that he wasn't stupid enough to think that he could handle a woman like Ada. She'd feed him his balls if weren't very, very careful.

Luckily, she seemed to consider him a friend, if not quite a sibling. Something to be grateful for, Billy thought with a shudder. He liked his women strong, but not overwhelming. He was the man, after all.

He remained on the roof a little while longer, doing his best to ignore the encroaching darkness. He didn't want to go back inside just yet. He wanted to enjoy his freedom for as long as he could before his own fears sent him back into hiding.

Jill glanced around the Bar Jack nervously, her heart in her throat as spotted Joseph sitting a table at the back of the dimly lit room. He had called and demanded that she meet him here as soon as possible, going so far as to threaten Chris when she hesitated. The last thing she wanted was to be in a dive like this, with only her handgun for protection, and out of uniform. But Joseph had insisted that she come alone, and told her to wear civvies, so she wouldn't stand out.

And here she was, just as he'd asked, because she was scared of what he would do to Chris if she refused. God, what had happened to her backbone? she asked herself angrily. If anyone else had pulled something like this, she would have gone straight to Chris, and together they would have apprehended him. But because it was Joe, she had remained silent, willing to give him whatever help he needed, despite his bizarre behavior.

Right now, she was regretting that decision. As she strode through the small bar, she swore that once she got out of here, she would go to Chris and tell him everything. As much as Joseph's threats scared her, the thought of Chris being unaware of the danger absolutely terrified her. He might not be able to take Joseph in a fight, but couldn't defend himself at all if he wasn't aware of the danger.

Resolutely, Jill strode to the table and took a seat. "Joe," she greeted, keeping her voice as even as possible.

"Jill," he returned curtly, shoving a glass of beer towards her. "I'm glad you decided to come."

"You didn't leave me much of a choice, did you?" she asked rhetorically. He didn't answer, merely shrugged in response. She could feel his gaze on her, even though those damned sunglasses hid his eyes, and it made her even more uncomfortable. She crossed her arms over her chest, feeling safer with her hand near the concealed Beretta. "Why am I here, Joe?"

Joseph was filled with sorrow as he watched the woman he loved. Her body language screamed her discomfort, and he could literally smell her fear. It killed him to know that she was afraid of him, and yet he didn't blame her for it. He was afraid of what he might do if she pushed him any further.

"I missed you," he answered finally, knowing that it wasn't what she wanted to hear.

Jill looked away, unable to return the sentiment. "I miss the old you," she replied in a soft voice.

Joseph swallowed hard, grateful that she couldn't see the pain her words caused. "I wish I could go back, Jill."

"But you can't." Her gaze returned to his, her expression one of grief. "I haven't been able to find anything other than a vague reference to a virus called "G", and something called Daylight. It might be a vaccine for the T-virus, or another strain. I simply don't know."

He nodded slowly, not surprised in the least. He hadn't been able to find anything, either. "Thank you, for trying," he told her stiffly.

It was Jill's turn to shrug as looked down at the full bottle before her. "I would have tried anyway, Joe. Threatening Chris wasn't necessary."

His temper flared upon hearing the other man's name, and he ruthlessly suppressed it, unwilling to drive her away so soon. "I know," he acknowledged hoarsely. "I'm sorry for that, Jill. I've had trouble controlling my feelings ever since I. . .died."

Jill shivered and fought the urge to run from those words. "I don't know what you want me to say, Joe."

Tell me that you still love me! he wanted to scream. Instead, he only said, "I'm not sure what I want to hear, Jill. Just," he drew a deep breath, "tell me that you don't hate me?"

"I don't hate you," she said with painful honesty, "but I don't trust anymore, either."

He clenched his teeth so hard that his jaw began to ache. Her distrust wasn't unexpected, just damned painful. "Has Chief Irons taken any action?" he asked abruptly.

She shook her head, her disgust plain. "No one is taking us seriously. S.T.A.R.S. is currently being investigated by I.A., and the whole incident is being swept under the rug."

"Damn." Joseph scowled at the unwelcome news. "What the hell is Irons' problem, anyway?"

"Besides being a jackass?" Jill cradled the rapidly warming bottle between her hands, her gaze dropping from his. She didn't want to mention that Chris had sent an inquiry to the Federal Police Department on one Brian Irons. She didn't trust Joe not to run with the information and simply kill the man.

"I don't know," she answered at length. "It didn't help that the mansion exploded and took any evidence of the B.O.W.s and the lab with it. Without proof, it's our word against Umbrella's, and they have denied everything."

"Of course, they have," Joseph said bitterly. "Shit, I can't believe they're going to get away with this."

"They won't, Joe. We won't let them." At his skeptical look, she smiled faintly. "S.T.A.R.S. is doing everything we can to expose Umbrella for the monsters that they are. Eventually, we'll find something, and we'll blow this thing wide open. It's only a matter of time."

Joseph ran a hand through his too-long brown hair and nodded. "I'll do what I can from my end," he said. "I don't know how effective I'll be, but being dead should give me some anonymity."

Jill flinched at the calmly delivered words. "You're coming to terms with. . .everything, then?" she asked as casually as she could.

"I'm trying," he said in low voice. "It helps to have somebody to talk to, Jill. Thank you," he added roughly.

She blinked, realizing that he didn't truly comprehend just how much he had changed in the past month. "You're welcome," she said in a neutral voice.

Joseph studied her closely, hating the signs of stress marred her classic features, and knowing that he was responsible for them. "It's late," he said abruptly, sitting back in his chair. "You should get some sleep before work tomorrow."

Jill nodded slowly, surprised that he was letting her go so easily. "Yeah, I should," she responded inanely. She stood and hesitated, looking down at him with stark eyes. "Are you going to be okay?"

He forced a smile to his lips even as he shrugged. "I've got a place to stay, and I'm not starving," he answered lightly. "I'll be fine. You just take care of yourself, Jill."

"I will." Jill bent down and pressed her lips to his cheek, saddened that this would be the last time she ever touched him. She didn't dare allow him to be a part of her life, now. "Goodbye, Joe."

"Goodbye, Jill."

Joseph's hands clenched into fists on the table as he watched the woman he love walk out of his life forever. As soon as her lips had touched his cheek, he'd known that she wasn't coming back. He didn't know how he knew, just that he did. So be it, he thought bleakly. As much as it hurt to lose her, he was grateful that she would be safe. He didn't trust himself not to hurt her, or Chris Redfield, if he stayed in her life.

It was better this way, he told himself firmly. He was gradually learning how to manage his new emotions and senses, but it was an ongoing battle. He wasn't quite sane anymore, and he probably never would be again. The best thing for Jill was to continue her life without him, and find someone who wasn't psychotically jealous to share her life with.

Jill let herself into Chris' apartment, not bothering to knock. He never locked the door, confident in his ability to handle anyone stupid enough to come in uninvited. It was a habit she'd always chided him for, but tonight she was grateful. If he was already asleep, she would simply make some coffee and wait until he woke. Like her, he never slept more than four hours a night. The nightmares wouldn't allow it.

"Chris?" she called out quietly, ignoring the disorganized mess that he was perfectly at home in. "Are you awake?"

"In here, Jill."

She found him in his bedroom, an open suitcase on the bed. "What are you doing?" she asked dumbly, her mind refusing to process what was right before here.

"Packing." Chris closed the suitcase and straightened, flashing her a somber smile. "I'm going to France, to check out Umbrella's main office. I think I'll be able to find more information there."

"But. . ." her voice trailed off in confusion, and his smile disappeared. "Chris—l "

"I have to go," he told her, grasping her shoulders in with gentle hands. "I can't let them get away with this, Jill. I have to do everything that I can to stop the Spenser Mansion from ever happening, again."

"But you can do that here," Jill protested, her hands coming up to encircle his wrists. "You don't have to leave Raccoon City to find proof of Umbrella's activities. You know that they have a lab somewhere around here. We just haven't found it, yet. Why—?"

"Come with me," he broke in softly, smiling again at her look of surprise. "Come on, Jill. We can take Umbrella down together."

"What about Chief Irons?" she asked, knowing that her confusion showed. "I thought you waiting for that report from the F.P.D.?"

Chris shrugged, his hands moving to cradle hers. "I was fired today," he said flatly, ignoring her gasp. "I'm no longer a member of S.T.A.R.S."

"That son of a bitch!" Jill swore angrily. She knew how important being a member of S.T.A.R.S. was to Chris. How dare Irons fire him for trying to uncover the truth! "He can't do this to you. We'll fight him, Chris. Go to I.A. and tell them what we suspect. We'll—"

"No, we won't." Chris squeezed her hands and released them. He turned away, hiding his sadness, as he grabbed the suitcase. "It's over for me, Jill. If I'm going to be a civilian again, I'd rather be one somewhere else."

Jill watched him leave the room with stunned disbelief. Chris was leaving Raccoon City, and he wasn't coming back?! "No," she whispered, fear spurring her into action.

She ran into the other room and came up short, surprised to see him sitting quietly on the sofa, his head cradled in his hands. She sat beside him, silently willing him to look at her. "Why?" she asked with bewilderment. "Why are you leaving Raccoon?"

Chris shuddered and dropped his hands, but kept his head lowered. He didn't want Jill to see his expression. She could read him as few others ever had, and she would know instantly why he leaving, and just what he was running from. He refused to do that to her, to let her see how he felt about her, and leave her feeling responsible for his pain.

"It's time," he told her, gazing at his clasped hands. She'd been so distant this past month, so unreachable. She had pulled away from him, physically as well as emotionally. She had completely shut him out, and nothing he'd said or done had made a damned bit of difference.

Even when they were together, it was the same. Her grief over Joseph's death was still fresh, and showed no signs of abating. If anything, it had gotten worse, and nothing he'd done had been able to help her through it. He had failed her in the most fundamental of ways, and he couldn't deal with that knowledge any longer.

"What does that mean?" Jill covered his hands with one of hers. "Talk to me, Chris. Tell me what's going on with you?"

"I can't," he rasped miserably, turning his hands to grasp hers tightly. "Please, Jill, don't ask me that, again."

Alarm filled her at his obvious distress. Chris was a rock. He was solid, dependable, and stable. He had total confidence in himself and his abilities. The one time that confidence had wavered was after he had been court-martialed for striking his commander back in the Air Force. Had losing his job really shaken his belief in himself so badly?

"Oh, Chris." She sighed and put her arms around him, hugging him hard. "It's okay, Chris. We can still investigate Umbrella together. Just because that snake fired you—"

"Don't." Chris pulled away, his navy eyes holding a look of reproach. "I don't give a damn about that. Being kicked out of S.T.A.R.S. hurts, but it won't keep me from trying to take Umbrella down. Nothing will," he added in a harsh voice.

"Then, why are you so upset?" Jill asked him as gently as she could. He shook his head silently, and her alarm turned to full-blown worry, as an image of Joseph flashed through her mind. "Have you been approached by anyone? Someone from Umbrella, or—"

"No, nothing like that." He sat back on the sofa, closing his eyes to shield them from her too-observant stare. He sighed heavily and forced himself to calm down, hoping that he could still pull this off. If he could hide his feelings for just a little longer, he'd be on his way to Europe, and Jill would never have to know that her best friend was a complete coward.

He attempted a smile, even as he knew that he couldn't fool Jill Valentine. "You and Barry are investigating things here. I'll be of more use to our investigation in Europe, where Umbrella's bound to have a complete set of records of everything that happened in the Arklay Mountains."

"But you said that you're not coming back," she reminded him with a touch of anger. "Why not?"

He shrugged his big shoulders. "Because there's nothing left for me here, Jill."

"Excuse me?!" Jill stared at him, shocked and hurt by his blunt declaration. "What about Claire, and Barry, and Rebecca? What about me? How dare you say that there's nothing left for you in Raccoon City, when you have so many people who care about you here?!"

"That's not what I meant," he said, a slight edge to his voice.

"Then, what did you mean?" she demanded. "You're not a coward, Chris. It's not like you to give up like this. Tell me what's happened, so that I can help you through it."

"Jill. . ." His voice trailed off as he realized that she wasn't going to let this go. He met her gaze squarely, his expression softening dramatically, as he let her see all that he had ever felt for her. "You just couldn't let it go, could you? You couldn't let me leave and save what's left of our friendship. You had to pick and prod, until you left me with nothing."

Her haunting gray-blue eyes widened, both at the sadness tingeing his words, and the emotion he wasn't even trying to hide. "Chris, I don't understand," she stammered with denial.

"Sure you do, Jill." Chris cupped her face in his hands and lowered his head to hers. He kissed her lingeringly, his lips clinging to hers, hoping against hope for a response he never received. He lifted his head, smiling sadly at her stunned expression, and pulled away.

"That's what I thought," he muttered thickly, his heart breaking at the silent rejection. "I'm sorry, Jill. I just can't do this anymore. I'll contact Barry if I find anything in Europe, but I won't return to Raccoon City."

Chris went to the door, where two suitcases waited, and picked them up. He looked back at Jill, whose haunting eyes were filled with tears, and had to blink back his own. "I love you, Jill Valentine."

He waited in vain for a response, a part of him still hoping that she would accept him, and the love that just wouldn't die. That hope died with her silence. "Goodbye, Jill," he whispered as he walked out of her life.

He made it as far the truck when the tears finally overwhelmed him. He cried silently as he started the engine, wishing like hell that things could've been different. If only he'd been stronger, he could have avoided this. But the incident in the Spenser Mansion had shaken him, and he hadn't been able to regroup in time to save their friendship.

He had let Jill down. The knowledge ate at him, robbing him of whatever peace he might have hoped to find in Europe. Not only had he failed to comfort her after Joseph's death, but he been unable to control his own selfish feelings for her. He'd known that if she ever discovered how he felt, she would feel betrayed. Just as he'd known that she could never love him.

Chris drove to a small airport outside of Raccoon City, where he had used a good portion of his savings renting a private plane. He parked and did his best clean his face, hating that his misery would be obvious to anyone who saw him. At least, Claire wasn't here to see this, he thought, choking back a sob. She would be so angry when she found out that he had driven Jill away, especially since he had promised that he never would.

Well, he'd certainly messed that up! Chris winced as he thought of his baby sister. He hadn't told her what had happened in the Arklay Mountains, or anything that had happened since. He was terrified that Umbrella would go after her if she knew anything about it. He hadn't even told her that he was going to Europe, hoping that she would be so distracted by her studies that she wouldn't try to contact him for a while. He would keep his sister safe. That much, he could do without screwing up!

Chris grabbed his luggage and climbed out of the truck, not bothering to lock it. If someone wanted to steal it, it was theirs. He certainly wasn't going to be using it any time soon. He went through the small airport with a minimum amount of fuss. Word of his dismissal from S.T.A.R.S. hadn't gotten out yet, so the guy who ran the place was more than happy to help out a local cop. He'd be able to take all of his weapons, even the Remington M870 Tactical shotgun that had once belonged to Richard Aiken.

He saw a slim, diminutive figure waiting at the gate and smiled broadly. Rebecca turned and waved, returning the smile as he approached. "Are you ready to see Paris, kid?"

She nodded, even as she frowned at him. "I'm not a kid, Chris," she told him indignantly. "I'm eighteen, remember?"

He smiled indulgently, admiring the girl's spunk. "Sorry, Rebecca, but I've got a little sister who's a year older than you."

Rebecca sniffed disdainfully, then giggled, ruining the effect. "Yeah, and I've got yet another big brother. Oh, yay," she added drolly.

Chris chuckled at her antics. He and Rebecca had talked a lot in the last month, and he had been surprised to find that she wasn't quite as innocent as she seemed. She was a nice kid, but she didn't take shit from anybody. She was fully capable of defending herself in any given situation, a quality she shared with both Claire and Jill.

His smile dimmed slightly at the thought of Jill. "Well," he said with forced cheer, "let's get a move-on."

"Yes, sir." She snapped a quick salute and clicked her heels. "Lead the way, sir."

"Stow it, Chambers. I am not impressed," he said with mock sternness.

She giggled again even as she touched the dogtags that she wore around her neck. She'd told him once that she never took them off, not even to clean them. They were all she had of the guy she loved, and she wasn't going to chance losing or even misplacing them.

Chris had his doubts about Lieutenant Billy Coen, but he kept them to himself. The man had been accused of an atrocious crime, but Rebecca was utterly convinced of his innocence. He had to admit that, from what she'd told him, it sounded like the guy had been railroaded. For her sake, he hoped it was the truth. He'd hate to have her heart broken by discovering differently.

"Come on, kid." He jerked his head in the direction of the tarmac and led the way as she'd suggested.

Chris kept the memories of his fallen comrades close as they climbed into the single-engine plane and prepared for takeoff. As much as it hurt to think of them, he never wanted to forget just why he was doing this. Even if he hadn't been overwhelmed by his love for Jill, he would have left Raccoon City eventually. His investigation had been blocked at every turn, by the very people who's job it was to protect the populace.

Like Chief Irons, he thought angrily. The man was dirty, he was sure of it. Once again, he had nothing to back up his suspicions, no proof of his beliefs, but that didn't matter. From the moment Irons had refused to send a rescue team back to the site of the Spenser Mansion, to retrieve the bodies of the fallen, Chris had known that he was somehow involved. He didn't yet know to what extent, but he knew that the chief was a traitor, just like Albert Wesker.

"I'll put an end to this," he whispered fiercely. "I won't let them win."

"We will put a stop to this," Rebecca reminded him from the co-pilot's seat. "We're all in this together, Chris. Remember that."

"Yes, ma'am," he said with a grin, causing her to giggle yet again.

He received permission to take off and closed his eyes with relief. No one had shown up to stop them, no police or Umbrella agents, or Jill Valentine. Not that he'd really expected her to follow him. She was probably very angry with him right now, but not enough to try to force him into a confrontation. In time, he was sure that her anger would lessen. Unfortunately, her feelings of friendship would fade with it. He had lost her, and it was for the best.

Chris glanced out the cockpit window, towards Raccoon City, and sighed heavily. "Goodbye," he whispered quietly, and taxied down the runway towards an uncertain future.

Hunk watched the small plane take off with a sound curse. He lowered the binoculars in a jerky motion, wondering how the hell he was going to explain this to Billy. The kid had been counting on him to set up a meeting with Rebecca Chambers. Instead, he had just watched her fly off into the sunset with another man.

"Fuck!" He packed the surveillance equipment and dragged it back to the sedan. He threw it into the trunk, slammed it closed, and climbed behind the wheel. He drove back to the safe house, surprised to find that he was actually nervous. What the hell was he going to say to his kid brother? How was he going to put a positive spin on this?

He knew that Chambers was going with her S.T.A.R.S. teammate to find evidence of Umbrella's illegal bioweapons research. The surveillance he'd done for last day-and-a-half since his return had shown him that. For her, this was work. Somehow, he didn't think that his kid brother was going to see things in quite the same way.

"Damn it, I shouldn't have waited," he muttered as he pulled into the garage and killed the engine. "I should've just done what the kid asked, and taken him to see her before I left. But no, I was convinced that it could wait, that she wasn't going anywhere. Boy, was I fucking wrong!"

He could do this, Hunk thought quickly. He would go in there, explain what he'd discovered about the unofficial S.T.A.R.S. investigation of Umbrella Inc., and then he would somehow stop Billy from going to Europe after her. He would promise to take him just as soon as he was finished with the long list of missions that his employers had already given him. Hopefully, Billy wouldn't be too pissed at him for screwing this up.

Yeah, right. Hunk rested his against the seat, thinking of all he had to do in the coming month. He had to go back to the Antarctic facility to check on the state of the B.O.W. he had unknowingly delivered five days ago. That alone was enough to piss him off. He didn't mind transporting them. He just resented being lied to about it. He'd left a request for better intel with the guy who ran the place, but he wasn't expecting much. He might be their best agent, but Umbrella trusted no one.

Then, there was William Birkin. He groaned at the thought. He'd never met the guy himself, but he'd heard that he was a class-A prick. The scientist wasn't popular among the other Raccoon researchers, but he was the genius who had created the G-virus, as well as improving on James Marcus' T-virus. The men in charge back at H.Q. thought that Birkin might be getting ready to run with his creation. They were watching him as closely as possible, but it was only a matter of time before the U.S.F.U. was sent in to take the virus from him.

Luckily, Birkin was a scientist, so the odds were that it would be easy to acquire the G-virus. The guy might throw a major hissy-fit, but he probably wouldn't be a threat. And if it turned out differently. . .

Hunk smiled coldly. He was Umbrella's best spook for a reason. He hadn't died on a mission yet, and he'd been in some truly terrifying hellholes. He was Mr. Death, and he always survived whatever Umbrella threw at him.

He thought of the Sheena Island facility, where that asshole Vincent had just been promoted to Facility manager. Vincent ruled everything with an iron fist. The man had delusions of grandeur, and he was a murderer many times over. He was in charge of the Tyrant facility on the island, and he was rumored to be even more unstable than Birkin. And that was only the third place they were sending him this month.

He would also be flying to Europe soon, because he'd been ordered to help keep track of the guy that Rebecca Chambers was traveling with. Chris Redfield, former Navy pilot, dishonorably discharged for striking his commanding officer back in '95. Former member, and briefly captain, of the Special Tactics And Rescue Service, Raccoon City. Umbrella considered him a threat, because of what he had seen in the Arklay Mountains, and his continuing investigation into their less than legal activities. They feared being exposed to the world, and they would kill anyone they had to in order to prevent it.

Damn, but Billy was going to be pissed at him! Hunk thought with a sigh. Maybe, he'd take the kid with him when he hit Europe. Find him some papers, talk him into at least covering that damned identifying mark he called a tattoo, and take him to see Chambers once he found her. He couldn't warn either of them about Redfield's surveillance, but he could reunite the two lovebirds, just like he'd promised.

He was walking a very fine line here, and he was beginning to worry about keeping his balance. He had already betrayed his employers by hiding his brother's existence from them. And now, he found himself wondering if it was worth the trouble. Sure, he was a fairly wealthy man now, but the missions were getting more dangerous, as were the B.O.W.s that kept escaping the labs. He was getting damned tired of risking his hide and losing men to the bioengineered weapons.

For the first time, Hunk found himself questioning his loyalty to his employers. Yes, Umbrella paid him well, but this was some serious shit they were fucking with. Maybe, it was time to take a long, permanent vacation. He could finish the next few assignments, take some time off, and just disappear. He and Billy could live in Europe, with Billy's girl, if that's what the kid wanted.

He just didn't know what he was going to do. He'd wait it out, see what happened in the next month, and make his decision then. He had nothing against Umbrella personally, he was just tired of their shit. Too many good men had died in their efforts to create the perfect bioweapon, and he was tired of being the only survivor.

Hunk glanced at the door that led to the house and sighed heavily. He climbed out of the car and went inside, dreading what he was about to do. He didn't like the thought of crushing Billy's hopes. It was a miracle that the kid still had any hope left in the first place.

He heard voices in the game room and halted in the doorway. A grin spread across his face as he watched Billy and Ada interact. Every time she bent over to take a shot, the kid lost his concentration. He had no problem with her flirting, giving as good as he got, but he just wasn't able to focus on the game. Hunk knew the feeling. Ada had that affect on most men.

"Hey, kid, eyes on the table."

Billy's head came up, his fine features creasing as he smiled. "You're back," he said, setting his cue aside and ambling towards him.

Hunk was surprised when the kid gave him a bone-crushing hug. He returned it awkwardly and pulled away, not used to the display of affection. "It's good to see you too," he said gruffly.

Billy laughed as he pulled back, knowing he had embarrassed his stoic brother with the hug. "I'm glad you're back, Hunk. I don't think I can handle your girl," he said in a bad stage-whisper.

Ada laughed at that. "I'm not anyone's girl, Billy." She sent a seductive glance his way. "Least of all Hunk's."

Hazel eyes narrowed on hers, and she laughed in response. "Don't worry, lover. I haven't seduced him, yet."

"Only because I'm not willing to die my hair blond," Billy retorted with a sharp smile. "That'd be above and beyond, sweetheart. Sorry."

Hunk grunted, relieved to know that Billy was holding his own with a woman like Ada Wong. "How did things go while I was gone?" he asked in an abrupt change of subject. "Were there any problems here in Raccoon?"

Ada leaned back against the pool table with a shrug. "Nothing that you don't already know about, I'm sure."

He nodded and turned to the younger man. "Have a drink with me?"

Billy's smile died at the grim look in his brother's green eyes. "Yeah, sure," he said quietly. He followed his brother into the kitchen and leaned back against the counter. "What's happened?" he asked without preamble.

"I went to see Chambers today." Hunk pulled a bottle of whiskey out of the cupboard and poured two glasses as he spoke. "S.T.A.R.S. has been investigating Umbrella on their own, Billy. Rebecca's been helping them."

"I know that already," Billy cut in, his midnight eyes meeting his. "Ada's been keeping an eye on Rebecca, too."

"I never got the chance to talk to her, Billy." Hunk sighed and took a long drink, wishing that he didn't have to do this. "She and one of her teammates left for Europe tonight. They're going to search Umbrella's main H.Q. for proof of what happened here."

Billy froze as his words sank in. "Rebecca's gone?" he asked, his voice unintentionally harsh.

"Yeah," Hunk confirmed quietly, "she's gone."

He looked away, blinking furiously as his eyes filled with tears. "You said she's gone to Europe," he rasped hoarsely. "Where in Europe?"

Hunk hesitated. "If you give me a month, I can take you there," he said in lieu of answer.

Billy's hand clenched around his glass so hard that his knuckles turned white with the strain. "Where, Hunk?"

"I can't tell you that," he said in a tone that brooked no argument. "Just give me until the end of September, and I'll take you right to her."

The younger man smiled, but it wasn't pretty. "Sure you will," he said cynically. "And in the meantime, you want me to sit on my ass right here, with only your mercenary girlfriend for company—for my own safety, right?"

"Damn it, Billy. I'm doing the best that I can here," Hunk hissed angrily. "I've got a few things that I have to do before I—"

"Save it, Hunk." Billy pushed away from the counter, disillusionment leaving a bitter taste in his mouth. He paused at the door, throwing over his shoulder, "You've got until the end of September, just like you asked. But if you don't come through by then, I'll leave and find her myself."

Hunk stared after him, wincing as he slammed the kitchen door hard. Shit, but he was glad that he hadn't mentioned Redfield! If the kid was this pissed at losing his chance to see Chambers, what would it do to him if he knew that she'd left Raccoon with another man?

He tossed back his drink, ignoring the alcohol as it burned its way through him, and poured another glass. He heard the door open behind him and sighed heavily. "I'm not in the mood, Ada."

"No, I'm sure you're not." Ada took the glass Billy had left behind and hopped up onto the counter. She crossed her legs, showing them off to the best possible advantage, and took a drink. "You're going to busy this month, aren't you?"

Hunk's hazel eyes narrowed on her even as he nodded. "I take it you will be, too?" he asked carefully.

"Yes, I believe so," she answered, tilting her head to study him. "You're worried about what Billy will do while you're gone."

It was a statement, not a question. "You were listening?" he asked flatly.

Ada uttered a low laugh. "Of course, I was, Hunk. You should have expected that."

One corner of his mouth curled up in an involuntary half-smile. "Yeah, I should have," he agreed wryly. The smile disappeared as he sighed a second time. "Chambers and Redfield left for Europe tonight. Billy's pissed because I kept him from seeing her. He thinks I went back on my word."

"And did you?" she asked quietly.

"No." Hunk downed the last of his drink, set the glass down, and crossed his hands over his chest. "I put it off, thinking that he might come to his senses, but I had every intention of taking him to see her. . .eventually."

"And now she's gone." Ada shook her dark head, her sapphire eyes alight with amused sympathy. "I'll do what I can, Hunk. But short of seducing him, there's really not much that I can do. He thinks he's in love," she added with a shrug.

He rolled his eyes at that. "Don't remind me, sweetheart."

Ada smiled seductively at the endearment. "Are you sure you want me to leave him alone, Hunk? Billy is. . .sweet. I think I would enjoy—"

"Forget it, Ada," Hunk scowled. "He is my brother."

"Suit yourself." She turned and stretched her legs out on the counter, smoothing one hand over her skin provocatively. "What about letting me seduce you?"

He grinned hugely. "There'd be no seduction involved, sweets."

"Really?" Ada stretched out on her side, one arm under her for support, as she returning his smile wickedly. "Give a girl a chance, handsome."

Jill didn't know how long she sat on Chris' sofa, staring at the empty doorway, her life in shambles around her. She kept expecting him to come back, smiling that special smile he'd always reserved just for her, and tell her that he hadn't meant any of the things he'd said to her tonight. She wanted to hear him say that he was still her best friend, and that he would always be a part of her life.

She glanced around the room as though in a daze, not quite certain how she had come to this. She had given Chris a trust that she'd never given another man, and he had returned that trust by lying to her. Had their whole friendship been a lie? she cried silently. Had Chris truly been in love with her all this time?

She shivered and wrapped her arms around her middle, as though that would halt the coldness slowly creeping through her. She had turned Joseph away because he had threatened to hurt Chris, and Chris had betrayed her by lying about his feelings.

She cried as she realized that Joseph had been right. As unstable as he undoubtedly was, he had hadn't been lying about Chris' feelings for her. Had everyone else known about this, too? Had her fellow S.T.A.R.S. members seen what she herself hadn't? Had Barry known?!

Of course, he had, Jill thought distantly. Chris told Barry everything, even the things he wouldn't tell her. And Barry would know how to handle this. He would know how to talk Chris into coming back, so that they could fix the friendship she was terrified of losing.

Without stopping to think, she whipped out her cell phone and dialed Barry's number. He answered on the first ring, showing that she and Chris weren't the only ones haunted by what had happened in the Arklay Mountains. "Burton, here."

"Chris is gone," she blurted out, unable to contain herself.

"Jill?" There was a pause, and then, "Are you all right?"

"He left, Barry," Jill whispered desolately. 'He told me he loved me, and then he left."

"Where are you, Jill?"

"I'm at Chris' place. Barry, what am I going to do?"

"Stay right there, Jilly. I'm on my way."

The line went dead, and she cried even harder. Barry hadn't sounded the least bit surprised, so he must have known what Chris was planning. Why hadn't he warned her? Maybe, she wouldn't have been taken so completely by surprise. If she'd known what to expect, she wouldn't have been rendered speechless, and she might have come up with right words to make Chris stay.

She didn't know what she was going to do without him. He had been a constant in her life for five years. He had been there for her whenever she called, willing to drop everything if he thought she needed him. He had never made any demands on her, seemingly content with their platonic relationship. Now, she knew that that wasn't the case, and the knowledge hurt as little else could.

Jill rose to her feet and wandered through the apartment, still in a daze. She found the papers he had shown her two weeks ago, a short report on a virus simply referred to as "G". She remembered the look on his handsome features, a combination of determination and horror, as he'd told her that the nightmare wasn't over. He had been investigating Umbrella on his own, just as she had, and he hadn't said a word. She'd known that he hadn't stopped looking, but she hadn't realized just thin he had stretched himself until that very moment.

Chris hadn't slept more than a handful of hours since that first day after the mansion incident. He had been working tirelessly to find proof of Umbrella's inhumanity, working full-time at the precinct during the day, and hunting for clues at night. The only time he'd taken a break had been when she had called, dropping everything to come over and help her through her grief.

Once she'd discovered just how much he had on his plate, she had stopped calling. He had still called her every night, worried that she might need him, and that he wouldn't be there. Each time, she had assured him that she was fine, and that his investigation was too important for him to worry about her. He hadn't liked hearing that, but he had respected her wishes, and left her to her own devices. Now, she knew why.

"Damn you," she whispered, putting the report in her purse so that it wouldn't fall into the wrong hands. "Why didn't you tell me sooner? We could have worked this out weeks ago, if only you'd just been honest with me."

And they would have worked through this, Jill told herself with certainty. Had Chris confessed his feelings sooner, and not run from the situation, she would have found a way to fix their friendship. She wouldn't have turned her back on him as he had seemed to fear. She would have found a way to make things work, and kept Chris Redfield in her life.

She walked aimlessly into this bedroom, her chest tightening as she observed the empty closet. She sat down on the unmade bed, thinking absently that it was just like Chris to leave a mess like this. Every once in a while he would go into a cleaning frenzy, and then let it pile up again. Organized chaos, he'd always called it unapologetically.

She was going to miss that, Jill thought with a sad smile. The teasing camaraderie they had shared was something she had never had with another person. Not even her father, who Chris had always reminded her of so strongly. Someone who was utterly dependable, and would never let her down.

"Jill?" Barry's voice boomed from the front room, and she fought a fresh batch of tears.

"I'm here," she called out, standing and meeting him in the doorway. He enfolded her in a tight embrace, and she clung to him. "He's gone, Barry. He left me."

"I know." Barry pulled back and led her to the sofa, crouching before her with a solemn expression. "This wasn't an easy decision for him to make, Jill. He didn't want to leave you. He wanted you to know that."

"Then, why did he go?" Jill gazed down at the older man with pain-filled blue eyes. "Why did he run away like this? Why didn't he stay, so we could work this out?"

"Because of Joe," came the gentle answer.

She went still, closing her eyes for a long moment. "What do you mean by that?" she asked carefully.

Barry sighed as she shut down, as she had so many times in the past month. "You've been distant since he died, Jilly. Chris felt that he had failed you, because you wouldn't let him help you through your grief. He said that even when you were with him, you weren't really there. He didn't know how to help you, and that's what he couldn't deal with."

"Oh, God," she whispered, hanging her head. "He didn't understand, Barry. It wasn't safe for him to be around me."

"What do you mean?" he asked sharply, his dark eyes locked on her bent head. "Did someone from Umbrella approach you? Did they threaten Chris?"

"No, I almost wish they had." Jill lifted her head, her guilt a living thing as she met his gaze. "It was Joe, Barry. He's alive."

He looked shocked as he said, "How?"

"He's infected with the T-virus," she told him, hugging herself. "He doesn't know how he survived. He said he woke up in the woods different."

"Jesus!" Barry rocked on his heels, suddenly grateful that Chris had left for Europe earlier than expected. He focused on her last words with a frown. "How is he different, Jill?"

"He's unstable," she said with a shiver. "And strong. He jumped out of my bedroom window, and was able to run away after he landed. You should've seen his eyes, Barry. There glowed, and his pupils were slitted, and they were this weird yellowish color."


"Everything was fine, until Chris knocked on my bedroom door," she continued, as though she hadn't heard. "He changed, became jealous. He was furious that Chris was there, and he threatened him, Barry. He told me to stay away from Chris, or he'd hurt him. I couldn't take that chance," she whispered brokenly. "I just couldn't."

"Of course, you couldn't." Barry sat on the couch beside her, stunned by all he had heard. He patted her back awkwardly, wishing that she had come to him earlier. "It's alright, Jilly. We'll think of something. The important thing is that Chris is safe, right?"

Jill shook her head, her dusky hair swinging with the motion. "He went to Europe to go after Umbrella. What if he's caught, Barry? They'll kill him. You know they will."

"Nothing's going to happen to Chris," he told her firmly. "We're going to join him next month, after I've gotten Kathy and the kids set up in Quebec. He'll be fine, you'll see."

"He didn't mention that," Jill said with surprise. "He just said that he wasn't coming back, and that he was sorry. He kissed me, and told me he that loved me, and then he just. . .left."

Barry snorted at that. Leave it to Chris to screw up something as simple as this, he thought with a shake of his head. "He was probably just upset, Jill. This was hard on him. He really didn't want to leave you," he added for good measure.

She ran a hand through her brown hair and nodded. "He asked me to come with him, right before he told me the rest."

"See?" Barry smiled and gave her a quick hug. "Chris didn't want to leave you behind. He just. . .handled things badly."

"Yeah, he did," she said with a touch of her old spark. "So, we go to Europe in a month?"

He smiled at her with relief. "Yes, we do."

"Good." Jill managed an answering smile and rose to her feet. "I'll kick his ass then."

Barry chuckled, grateful to see her looking more like her normal self. "Why don't you come over for dinner?" he offered. "Kathy would love to see you. You can look at the pictures of those homes in Quebec, and help her pick one she'll be happy in."

She shot him a knowing look. "It's nearly ten, Barry."

"She's a cop's wife, Jill. She knows the drill."

"Count me in, then." She paused for a moment, her eyes meeting his. "Chris is really in love with me."

Barry heard the echoes of disbelief lacing her words and nodded somberly. "From the first moment he saw you, Jill."

"Okay." Jill squared her shoulders, determination etched into her classic features. If Chris had loved her for the last five years, then nothing had truly changed. He was still the best friend she could depend on no matter what, just as she was his. If anything, it was time that she reevaluated her own feelings, and decide just what it was that she wanted from Chris Redfield.