A/N: Ah, Jake and Sherry… Been wanting to write about them since finishing RE6. I've always felt that there were lots of scenes in Jake's campaign with the potential to explore the characters' emotions and backstories. Of course, there were also scenes that I would have changed or done differently, hence the fanfic…

This is rated M for a reason. Title is from the song Stay by Sara Bareilles, a brilliant piece of work and very nice accompaniment to the final parts of the story.

I've proofread this but do let me know if you spot any mistakes.


i.

"You a mercenary, too?" He asks because she's young—way too young—to be a so-called government agent. He isn't surprised the Americans would hire someone else to do their dirty work.

The expression on her face hardens and he realises she is scowling. "Of course not," she answers just as a hail of bullets from that damned BSAA chopper rains down on them. He curses aloud, pressing himself against a brick wall for cover.

She follows suit, still wearing a deep frown, and he doesn't know if it is because she is simply pissed off at being indiscriminately shot at or just insulted by his question. After all, he has met countless people who don't think highly of private soldiers like him.

A loud explosion hammers his eardrums and he tightens his grip on his handgun, itching to fire a few retaliatory bullets at the BSAA troops he can see, but the girl—Sherry, she had said her name was—nudges him and says, "Come on, we're sitting ducks here. We need to get to the other side of this hill." She releases the safety on her gun, reloads the magazine and then looks at him rather critically.

"Try not to draw any attention," she adds drily and he cannot help but grit his teeth at her tone. He doesn't like being ordered around by a girl, especially one that seems as green as her.

o-o-o-o-o

ii.

To say she is taken aback would be an understatement. "What?" she breathes, needing a moment to register that he is actually serious. His expression remains smug and even on the chaotic battlefield they are on, he is able to flash that silly, cocky smile of his.

"Fifty million dollars. Easy cash for America, no?" he continues.

She wants to slap that stupid grin off his face. She is not one to be easily angered but her blood is beginning to boil. "People are dying, getting turned into those things, and you're asking for money?" Sherry asks in disbelief. She takes a few steps away from him lest she ends up doing something that well and truly breaks this temporary, already fragile alliance.

… Like kneeing him in the nuts.

"Ever heard of the concept of supply and demand, babe? I'm a mercenary. I don't do things for free," he says flippantly, as if everything around him—everything that's happening—is one big joke. "Besides, if what you're saying is true… seems to me like you and your precious government don't have a choice, huh?"

He is right, of course, and she absolutely hates him for it. She takes a deep breath to calm herself, glancing out the window to make sure they have not caught the attention of any J'avo.

She needs to look at the bigger picture. Her emotions and opinions can't get in the way of the greater good, no matter how despicable she thinks he is. "… When we get out of here, take it up with my boss," she concedes.

Four hours later, on a BSAA chopper heading to the rendezvous point with her team, Jake Muller sits before her and practically rubs his hands in glee. She can only stare back mutely, feeling as if she has just made a deal with the devil.

o-o-o-o-o

iii.

He shivers. Growing up in Edonia, one learns to get used to the cold, but Jake is starting to think that maybe he isn't just shivering from the blizzard at all.

This girl he is travelling with isn't even fucking human. He can still see the scene in his mind—that bloody, gaping wound closing up quicker than he could say "Holy shit!" and Sherry getting up and walking around a few seconds later without so much as a stumble in her feet, as if she hadn't just had a chunk of metal piercing her back.

When he thinks about it, he realises he really should have noticed that something was amiss back in Edonia. They had been through gunfire, explosions, J'avo mobs, tumbles and falls… His own body had felt battered like hell and yet she had come out of everything without so much as a scratch or a bruise.

Now he instinctively keeps his distance, watching her warily with suspicion, wondering if she might suddenly turn around and transform into one of those creatures chasing them. What if she is leading him into a trap? What if she is actually in consort with the people after him?

He holds his gun tight, ready to put a bullet in her skull the moment he senses trouble. If she is aware of his concerns, she doesn't show it. She seems completely focused on finding those data chips.

Everything changes, though, an hour later in the warm shelter of that cabin, when he has a hand planted firmly on the door and an arm around her waist and she is looking up at him with that strange expression in her grey eyes and a deep flush in her cheeks. As she hastily moves away towards the fire, he thinks then that maybe she isn't so different from any other girl after all.

o-o-o-o-o

iv.

She uses the word 'exposed' very loosely when talking about the G-virus. He doesn't need to know what really happened. She wonders why she is telling him all this but maybe a part of her realises that he deserves at least some sort of explanation after the crash.

She may not be as experienced as the other DSO field agents but being a human guinea pig for eleven years taught her how to read others. One can learn a lot from another's body language. She had seen the flicker of fear and uncertainty on his face while they were searching the hillside for the memory cards. Had the brief exhibition of her unique ability destroyed what little trust they had between them?

When he apologises after asking about her father, she is surprised to see that he can actually be a rather sensitive guy. Perhaps it stems from losing his own mother at a young age (or so his file had mentioned).

"I've heard about the Racoon City Incident. Quite a while ago, wasn't it?" He asks.

"About fourteen years. I was just a kid back then…. Can't remember much about it, actually," she says and only she knows it is a lie. She remembers the important bits but they are not something she is willing to share so easily with someone else.

"How old were you?" It is an innocent question but she can see where this is leading.

"…Twelve or so," she responds shortly. She will give him no more fodder.

There is a silence and she looks over to him, as if daring him to ask that question on the tip of his tongue. To his credit, he only smirks slightly and rubs his chin, saying ambiguously, "That explains a lot…"

o-o-o-o-o

v.

So technically, she's a BOW without the physical mutations and a nutjob psyche. No wonder she looks so young. He must admit he is a little chagrined knowing that, despite her appearance, she is at least half a decade older than he is, but he isn't stupid—he can tell it is something she is not comfortable speaking about, so he just gets to his feet and walks over to the window, staring out into the haze of white and silver outside. The blizzard still isn't letting up.

"You should get some shuteye. I'll keep watch," she says, standing up to join him as she takes her gun out of her holster. After everything they have been through, he must admit that a nap does sound tempting. His vision is beginning to get blurry. There is only so much adrenaline can do. As a mercenary, you learn to eat and sleep when you could.

He isn't sure, for now, if she is completely trustworthy, but she has had plenty of chances to finish him off already. It's a gamble he will just have to take. "… Wake me up in half an hour and I'll take over," he offers as he returns to his previous spot by the fire, propping himself up against the wooden wall. As his eyelids droop, he thinks he hears her mumble, "No need."

He doesn't know exactly how much time has passed when he opens his eyes again. Sherry is sitting before the fire, her arms on her knees and her gun in hand, still looking as fresh as a daisy—most likely another one of the useful side-effects of that virus within her. She stares into the crackling flames and even in his groggy mind, her face is a mask of loneliness. She sighs, then takes out her phone and flips through to a picture—of whom, exactly, he couldn't see, but it looks like a photo of three people.

"… Boyfriend?" he rasps. Or husband, for all he knows. After all, she probably has a whole other life back in the States. Her head jerks up to him, then to the door, and she slips her phone back into her pocket, not responding. He thinks at first that she had not heard him, but then a distant humming noise reaches his ears and he realises she is actually listening intently.

The vibrations coursing through him from the floor are weak but enough to snap him wide awake. He suddenly recognises the hum—the whirr and splutter of diesel engines.

Instinct taking over in an instant, he grabs his Nine-Oh-Nine and launches himself onto her.

o-o-o-o-o

vi.

Jake is reckless, selfish and an annoying wise-ass, but he isn't really a bad person. Given his childhood and upbringing, she actually feels rather sorry for him. Her teenage years might not have been the best time of her life but at least the government had provided for and somewhat cared for her. And she had Claire. Judging from his mindset and demeanour, Jake probably only had himself to rely on.

She finds herself having these thoughts at the most inappropriate of times—as she crouches in a rusty dumpster, a knee digging into Jake's side, holding her breath as the massive BOW stomps past their hiding place, rushing down to the other end of the mine.

"Things were far less exciting the last time I hid in a trash bin," he mutters.

"… What happened?" she can't help whispering, against her better judgement. He turns to look at her and he is so close that she can see just where the edges of his scar end. A recent memory flashes in her mind—one of gunshots, a sudden snap of cold and his heavy form above her.

"It was in South America. I think I was seventeen," he whispers back. "A couple of us were setting up an ambush. Didn't get to see any action, though, because the head honcho we were after ended up getting offed by a roadside bomb."

She shifts uneasily, her other knee bumping against his. Seventeen, on a foreign land, fighting foreign enemies with strangers by his side. She remembers when she was seventeen—sitting in a bright laboratory with needles sticking into every limb, feeling the cold band of the electronic monitor pressing into her ankle. Their pasts couldn't be more different.

"I think the coast is clear. Come on," Jake's voice interrupts her train of thoughts. He lifts the lid and jumps out, and when he holds out a hand to her, she takes it without thinking.

o-o-o-o-o

vii.

It is his fifth night in captivity. He lies in bed and stares up at the ivory ceiling, fantasising of days in Edonia, puzzling over the tests his captors have had him do, plotting out the many ways to escape his cell, and thinking of Sherry Birkin. His fist tightens.

Is she still alive? He tries to ignore the fact that the fifty million he still wants isn't the first thing that comes to mind when he thinks of her. The people holding him here clearly want to gather as much data as they can from his blood and the tests they keep running on him, but if she did indeed carry a different virus, wouldn't she be a valuable test subject as well?

But then, how would they even know without taking her in for further study? What if she had actually already been dead at the top of that snowy cliff? He can still replay the scene in his head—the way she had been thrown into the air by that huge BOW, the cracking of bones as she stumbled onto the ground. Her lifeless body covered in white powder.

He squeezes his eyes shut and lets out a deep breath. He is too ignorant to realise that the suffocating, unsettling feeling within him is simply worry gnawing at his bones. He's seen and done a lot as a mercenary, and over the years, he has learnt that the people he fights alongside are allies but never comrades, never friends. He doesn't understand why it's different with this girl.

As the days turn to weeks and weeks turn to months, Jake doesn't know exactly how he managed to keep himself sane. At first he spent a lot of time reminiscing the past, thinking of his childhood and his mother, her patient smile and her quiet laughter. Then his thoughts moved to Sherry—her dry, sarcastic remarks, the grey of her eyes, that forlorn look on her face as she stared into the fire just before the ambush at the cabin.

Perhaps the only good thing that has come from his capture is learning about this Albert Wesker they keep saying is his father. He sees a picture of him one day in the lab—tall, blonde, grim and eyes hidden behind a pair of shades—and doesn't want to believe that this is the man his mother had been so enamoured with, even on her deathbed. When he was a kid, there were fanciful times he imagined his father away in a distant country, maybe a military man or covert agent who had been torn away from his own wife and child against his will. More than once, Jake had envisioned a faceless, burly and confident man showing up at the door of their crappy apartment to take him and his mother away, back to the America his mother had told him so many stories about.

But if what the Neo Umbrella scientists say is true, then this Wesker is far from the man Jake had imagined. Intelligent but sadistic, cunning, power-hungry and 'an absolute psycho', as one of the researchers had mentioned haltingly in English.

Fanciful times indeed.

Jake remains silent everytime they talk about the man, but each new piece of information he is given begins to fuel a growing, burning desire within him. Albert Wesker plagues his mind day and night and now, he lies in bed not thinking about his mother, or Sherry, but of this man he wants to track down and confront. The need drives him to breathe, to sleep, to go through just one more day, to survive just one more crazy experiment, to get out of this shithole and hunt his father down.

o-o-o-o-o

viii.

"Do you know anything about an Albert Wesker?"

It is amazing, really, what one name can do to her. Her heart immediately turns cold and she freezes, her fingers stopping at the last button of her shirt. She blinks, pushing away hazy, thirteen-year-old memories of racing down long, white hallways with armed men around her and being herded into a safe-room underneath the laboratory she used to call home, not knowing if those would be her last seconds of life. Just like our drills, Sherry, one of the men had said to her. No matter what happens, stay in this room. We'll take care of Wesker and his pets.

She sees something move in the corner of her eye and snaps awake from her reverie. Jake is watching her from behind the locker door and she sees him glancing down at her bare legs before hastily averting his gaze, but the wide-eyed look on her face must have given her away.

"I'll take that as a yes," he mutters, moving over to the bench to put on his boots. She says nothing and just slips on a pair of pants and her shoulder holster as he starts to tell her what he has learnt about Wesker, completely oblivious to the fact that she already knows everything—with the exception of Wesker being his father, that is.

To be honest, the revelation doesn't come as a complete surprise. It explains a lot, actually, the most obvious being Jake's immunity to the C-virus. She had briefly wondered in the past how Director Simmons had managed to locate an unknown man in Eastern Europe with the antibodies they need for a vaccine.

Jake speaks with bitterness and animosity she has never seen in him before and for the first time since they met, she is able to empathise with him. After all, how many times had she felt burdened by the fact that it had been her own father who had inadvertently caused the decimation of Racoon City? Even under the protective care of the American government, there had been people around her who never hesitated in reminding her of his legacy, his sins. For a time, Claire and Leon were the only ones who had said to her, You're not your father, Sherry. This has nothing to do with you.

"… When we get out of here, I'm gonna find him," Jake says under his breath, slamming the locker door shut. "I'm gonna track this guy down and get some answers."

She grabs her Triple Shot, pretending not to hear.

o-o-o-o-o

ix.

Sherry looks the same, no worse for wear, as if not six months but only an hour has passed since they last saw each other. Super girl to the core. He opens one of the lockers, then finds himself staring at the smooth, flawless skin on her neck and back, down the curve of her hips to her—

Tearing his eyes away, he pauses to clear his head and, for a moment, is stupidly impressed that her healing ability hadn't even left a scar where that piece of metal had lodged itself next to her spine. Or maybe he's just thinking about something trivial like that to keep his mind off the real distraction…

He senses her underlying anger later, when he asks about what their captors had done to her. Her response is curt but succinct and he actually finds himself sympathising with her. He can't imagine going through the experiments and tests they had forced upon him all over again.

He is tired to death of this casino or wherever the fuck they are, but she insists on finding a way to contact her superiors and he grudgingly agrees. When they finally stumble upon a comms room and she's trying to download all the data gathered on him, he takes a minute to rummage through the shelves and drawers around them, looking for anything that might possibly be useful. They are running a little low of ammo.

At first glance, the brown manila folder on the desk is as inconspicuous as any other files before him, but one name is enough to catch his attention—Birkin.

He glances at Sherry. She is still at the main console, typing away and sifting through piles of information. He flips open the file. From what he can tell, it is a collection of results on the tests Neo Umbrella had run on her and unexpectedly, they are in English. He quickly scans through page after page, picking out key phrases and lines.

Incredible mitotic abilities for a human. Cell regeneration rate comparative to C-virus subjects. Subject able to withstand sub-zero temperatures for at least six hours before entering shock. Recommend more comprehensive monitoring of organ functions when exposed to intense cold and heat. Subject able to survive without food and water for at least ten days before dehydration. Request further analysis on blood sample after exposure to the enhanced C-virus. Unknown if subject is able to regrow limbs and bones. Recommended initial tests could include amputation of—

His fingers have subconsciously crushed the edges of the file. Closing the folder, Jake steps away and takes a deep breath, rubbing his chin slowly, looking around the rest of the room and feeling inexplicably furious and sick to his stomach. His own experiments now seem like child's play compared to hers, and yet her behaviour gives no indication of the torture she went through. He looks over to Sherry. She's the same as always.

Just what the hell did they do to you?

o-o-o-o-o

x.

She peeks out of cover and plants a bullet into one of the advancing J'avo's head, knocking it over the banister and into the pond below. The tank rumbles forward, crushing it indiscriminately. The long barrel of the main gun is turning towards her and she curses. No way she'd be able to avoid it if it fires. She checks the last clip in her gun. Eight more casings.

Where the hell are you, Jake? She rolls over to the other side of the room, barely making out his figure behind the glass windows of the building opposite. Another J'avo closes in on her and she kicks out squarely at its chest, then throws it over the balcony, hoping against odds that it would not grow a chrysalis.

The tank fires suddenly and she is thrown back against a wall from the impact, coughing and spluttering in an atmosphere of ash and dust, ears ringing loudly. Limbs and pieces of J'avo are strewn about. Her forearm feels wet and hurts like hell and something sharp is digging into her neck. When she reaches up to pull the object away, she sees that it is a small piece of wood covered in her blood. There is a chunk of shrapnel embedded near her elbow and she yanks it out with a soft whimper, gasping for air. Her wounds throb and burn—familiar sensations that tell her she is already healing up.

Blinking hard in the acrid smoke, she finds her gun and crawls over to whatever cover is left in the room, panting heavily and eyes darting to the building Jake had disappeared into. Where is he? Fear coils in her guts, then a prickle of uncertainty and doubt. Every man for himself—it is no surprise that that has always been his way of life and for the first time ever, she wonders if he has indeed left her here on her own. Maybe he has finally decided that all this just isn't worth the money he wants.

The screech of tyres and glass smashing bring along a wave of relief that overwhelms her like a tsunami. "Sherry!" She hears him call and she quickly gets to her feet, hopping over the banister and landing inches away from the tank. Jumping onto the back of the motorcycle he managed to snag, she is suddenly reminded of the first time Claire took her for a ride.

"Hang on!" Jake tells her and she instinctively slides her arms around him, clutching the fabric of his shirt. He revs the bike and they are racing off just as the tank fires again. The wind against her face coupled with the bumpy road and vibrations rattling through her are unsettling. Claire never rode this fast, but Jake manoeuvres the streets with such confidence and ease that something tells her he has done this before. Her fingers tighten around him.

"You okay, super girl?" he asks, head turned to her slightly, and she realises she is grateful that he wants to know, because, after all, he is under no obligation to ensure her safety. Plus, she thinks that a very small part of herself is starting to like that silly nickname. Leaning into him, she just nods.

o-o-o-o-o

xi.

It's chaos out here. Buildings and cars burn and he can hear people screaming all around him. This is a hundred times worse than Edonia. He sweats profusely in the heat, a gash on his forehead beginning to sting. His ribs ache a little. Damn… He must have bruised them in the bike crash.

"Where to?" he asks Sherry when they finally have a chance to catch their breath in a narrow, filthy alleyway. He smells garbage, blood and burnt flesh. She gestures towards the right. "This should lead to the main street," she says. "We can get to the marina from there."

They continue on for a few minutes until reaching a hastily made barricade of crushed cars and a double-storey bus. He flexes his fingers, wondering if he is able to climb to the top and pull her over, but she nudges him towards a nearby door left ajar and says, "Come on, I think we can go around by cutting through these apartments."

She pushes open the door and he moves in. The place smells of incense and chicken soup and he hears a male voice from a TV or radio, speaking too quickly for him to understand. He walks past the kitchen and a toilet, seeing no one. The occupants have probably been evacuated. When he reaches the living room, however, he stops suddenly, eyes widening. Behind him, he can hear Sherry gasp.

Blood strews the cheap carpet and peeling paint on the walls and ceiling. Two large corpses lay on the couch but it is the bodies of two children—both probably barely five—and a baby in a nearby cot that catches his attention. All have been skewered open like hunted game. He unconsciously clenches his fists.

Sherry pushes past him without a word and he silently follows. All the other apartments they walk by have had their front doors smashed open and by the trails of blood and stench of iron around him, it is not hard to imagine what had happened here. Eerily, the only thing he can hear are the buzzing of insects hovering over light bulbs and muted TV voice-overs.

When they exit the apartment block, they find themselves in a deserted playground littered with tiny bodies, and for a moment, both of them simply stand there and stare mutely.

He's seen and done a lot as a mercenary. At sixteen—some might have still called him a child then—he'd learnt how to slit throats, snipe people between the eyes and break bones. He has killed unarmed soldiers without mercy, shot former allies in the back without second thought, but he has never involved civilians, and never, never children.

Jake doesn't know why what he sees before him is affecting him so much, but though it's true he is no stranger to brutality and violence, it is only now that he's beginning to realise that he's the only one that can stop this. He has to.

o-o-o-o-o

xii.

This is not the reunion she had in mind. Leon must be mistaken. All this can't be Director Simmons' doing. She stares at Leon, then at his dark-haired female companion. They must be mistaken.

"He's your supervisor? Where is he?" demands Leon, and there is fiery rage behind his eyes, something new to her. She opens her mouth to answer but stops short, unable to decide, in the heat of the moment, where her loyalties lie—with the man who risked his life to save hers, or the compassionate father-figure who had mentored her and allowed Claire to be by her side.

Even after telling Leon where they are going to meet Simmons, Sherry finds herself distracted. She can only nod silently when Jake gently but confidently reassures her. They leave the marina and head down a side street, and even as they shoot down J'avo after J'avo, the only thing she can think of is whether or not she is making a terrible mistake. Leon wouldn't be doing this without good reason or proof, but what exactly would Simmons accomplish by spreading the C-virus? Has he been putting on a righteous façade all this time? Or has he been framed by someone else orchestrating this entire thing? Is he working with Neo Umbrella?

The red marker on her GPS indicates that the rendezvous point is up ahead, behind those double doors, but instinct is telling her to stop. She slows down, panting lightly, her fingers tightening around her phone. Her chest pounds painfully. Is she leading them into a trap? Is Leon here already?

"Hey," Jake says softly, tugging at her sleeve, and she finds herself grateful for the small gesture. She flips her phone shut and turns to him, saying firmly, "If Leon was right about Simmons, I'll buy you enough time to get out of here. No matter what happens, just run."

He snorts, "Like hell. I'm not running away from all the action."

"Listen," she presses on urgently, touching his arm. His azure eyes glance down to the point of contact before returning to look at her. "I'm not trying to be a hero, but the truth of the matter is, you're a lot more valuable than any of us, and that means we're expendable. We still need a vaccine and we need you alive for that. I know you don't like Chris, but if Simmons is behind all this, I want you to find him and tell him everything. The BSAA should be able to get you out of China and into protective custody."

Jake stares at her silently and for once, he actually seems uncertain. She lets her hand drop back to her side and adds flatly, "Besides… you still want that fifty million dollars, don't you?"

A strange look clouds over his eyes. Then he shrugs and just says, "Heh."

o-o-o-o-o

xiii.

Of course he's all for logic and self-preservation. Sherry's right—he doesn't ever want a repetition of what's happened here in China, and that means he needs to get out of this hell by any means necessary, even if it entails sacrificing her and Leon and his friend. When she brings up the fifty million, however, something foreign stabs him in the heart. Does she have such low an opinion on him, to think that he is still doing all this for the money? But then again, he hasn't exactly indicated otherwise…

He sees hurt and disbelief in her eyes later and wants nothing more than to put a bullet in Simmons' head, but Leon brushes him off and tells them to leave. He barely remembers grabbing her hand and running past a hailstorm of bullets, through dim, empty rooms and around steel containers, until finally reaching a frontline of machete-wielding J'avo. More are closing in to surround them.

Sherry readies her handgun, casting him a quick glance. Go, she is saying, and he actually takes a step back. Logic is telling him to do as she says, because he's the only one who can stop this, because she is depending on him, because the rest of the world needs him alive, and because there's one other thing he still needs to do—find the monster they call his father.

Logic and self-preservation are telling him to run, but instinct and his heart push him instead to turn around, draw his Nine-Oh-Nine and back up against her. Her elbow digs into his side. "What the hell are you waiting for?" she barks.

"No fucking way am I leaving you here," he responds and pulls the trigger. He thinks she yells something at him amidst the gunshots and incoherent snarls of the J'avo. His mind racing, he unloads clip after clip on the advancing creatures, eyes darting around to find a way out. Another J'avo rushes blindly towards him and he shoots it in the leg, throwing it back with a devastating roundhouse kick.

"Jake!" Too late he realises that he has left an opening behind her. He turns just in time to see her struggling against three of the mutated freaks. She trips one of them with a quick, sweeping kick and fires at its head, pulling away from the other clawing at her shoulder, but more simply appear and like a pack of wolves downing a deer, they swarm onto her ruthlessly, grabbing her arms and dragging her away.

Fury and rage fill his bloodstream along with another surge of adrenaline. He roars, ploughing into the J'avo closest to him and punching and head-butting and throwing aside the ones surrounding her. A few are already pouncing onto him from behind. He doesn't know how many he has pulled away from her and beaten down to a pulp. In his hazy, sweat-filled vision, he can see that they are getting overwhelmed, but though a mocking voice in his head says, Should have run when I had the chance, he struggles hard, working all his strength against his assailants, pushing forward to reach her because they are not taking her from him.

"Sherry!" He slams hard into the creatures latching on him, and then a heavy blow lands on the back of his head. He drops to one knee, seeing dark spots and feeling as if his cranium has exploded. Something is trickling down his neck. Another blow sends him reeling and he tumbles onto the floor, cheek against the concrete. His vision is a never-ending abyss of black, then he realises his eyes are actually closed. He can hear her calling him, her voice muted by the ringing in his ears and the thumping of his pulse, but try as he might, his arms simply refuse to move.

He slips into darkness and his last thought is of the light slate of her eyes.

o-o-o-o-o

xiv.

She awakes to bright lights and humming machinery. She can't even remember how she had fallen unconscious. Something cold is wrapped around her ankles and wrists, reminding her of the electronic monitoring band the scientists had attached onto her a decade ago. No matter how hard she pulls and twists, the shackles remain sturdy and rigid.

"Jake?" she calls, her voice echoing in the strange room. She looks over her shoulder, seeing—with relief—the familiar charcoal of his shirt. She calls him again but the only response she gets is a soft grunt and nothing else.

At least he's still alive. She had thought the worst when she saw him get pounded to the ground at the Kwun Lung site. She looks around her surroundings, trying to find anything that can help indicate where they are, but the pipes and metal walls give nothing away. The sound of rats scurrying about in the air ducts above is oddly reassuring, as if she is glad of other signs of life.

She wonders if Leon and his partner are okay. She thinks of Simmons and when she suddenly finds herself blinking away prickles of tears, she wants to slap herself—hard. How had she not seen through his act? All those times he had bypassed the rules and regulations to allow Claire's visits, all the times he had put a stop to the experiments that were too unbearable, all the understanding nods and smiles he had given her, everything had been a lie and she had simply fallen headlong into his trap without even realising it. It had been his plan all along to gain her trust and have her eat right out of his palm. She knows now why he hadn't sent a more experienced agent to Edonia.

She hears a tired groan behind her and glances over. "Jake?" she murmurs.

"… Hey," he says in a drained voice, fidgeting in his restraints. "You okay?"

"I'm indestructible, right?" Despite the gravity of the situation, he chuckles softly at her pathetic attempt of a joke. "How're you feeling?" she asks.

"Like a massive hangover. Where are we? Another lab?"

She doesn't respond because she doesn't know. He sighs heavily. "This escorting mission of yours is really dragging on for a while, huh?"

"…Simmons had me completely fooled. If it hadn't been for Leon, I would have led you right into his hands without questioning anything at all," she admits honestly, biting her lips. "I'm sorry you got involved in all this."

"Hey, it's not like you had a gun to my head the whole time, super girl—I choose where I wanna go." His voice is quiet and level. "Besides… you wanted to do the right thing all along… Get the vaccine, save the world and all that?" She stares at a puddle of black muck on the ground and says nothing. Of course she had been, and still is, prepared to sacrifice her life to stop the C-virus, but nothing would change the fact that—really—she had been no different than a loyal dog on an invisible leash all this while, and now, here they are stuck in God knows where with no obvious way out and—

Shaking her head, she has the urge to hit herself again. This isn't the time or place to be feeling sorry for herself. Never giving up, no matter the odds—she doesn't want to go back on what she had said to him in that cabin, what Leon and Claire had gifted her years ago.

"Okay... okay…" she mumbles absent-mindedly, pulling hard at the thick metal band at her wrists once more and scanning every nook and cranny in the room. "Any ideas to get us out of here?"

o-o-o-o-o

xv.

The blow is delivered without warning. He stares for a moment at the dark-haired man before him, then looks over at Sherry. The expression on her face and the manner in which she is averting her gaze tell him that this has not come as a surprise to her. Has she known all this while?

He doesn't know why he is feeling this way. He whips his gun out and aims right between Chris' eyes and in his head, he has already pulled the trigger and seen a million pieces of bone and skin and flesh and brain tissue splattering across his vision. His arm is straight and rigid.

Albert Wesker is… was… an insane, delusional psychopath, and yet he doesn't know why he is feeling this way about a man he has never even met, a man who has—had—the blood of thousands of innocents in his hands.

"Captain!" The BSAA boy-scout beside Chris calls out urgently, the scope of his assault rifle levelling at Jake. Chris remains silent and motionless, his own rifle sagging against his arms, dark eyes boring straight ahead. Jake grits his teeth, jaws clenching hard. Sherry is—no, he can't think of her now. He doesn't want to see the look on her face.

"Piers… stand down. This doesn't concern you," Chris says, low but firm. Boy Scout growls under his breath but slowly lowers his weapon. Wrong move, a voice says sardonically in Jake's head, because his own Nine-Oh-Nine isn't going anywhere.

"Jake, stop it!" Sherry's voice is distracting. He has to block her out. He has to put a bullet in this guy's head for killing his father.

As if he can read his mind, Chris says, "Do what you must. You're the only one who can stop this—nothing else matters as long as you survive." No fear, no regret, no emotion.

"Who the fuck are you to tell me what to do?" Jake explodes, moving in and pressing the barrel of his gun to Chris' forehead. Quick as lightning, Piers raises his rifle again, and from the corner of his eyes, he can see Sherry reaching out in fear. Block her out. Block her out. Block her out.

"It was personal for you, wasn't it?" He snarls. "I can see it in your eyes. You weren't just following orders. It was personal… and that's why you're acting so fucking righteous now. You guilty? Is that it? That why you wanted to confess your sins?" He says mockingly, his fingers tightening around the gun.

Chris meets his gaze staunchly, eyes twitching at the accusation. Then he just says, "Yes."

Block her out.

Jake pulls the trigger. In his mind, his vision is filled with red, his face is wet from blood and he is left not with satisfaction but only an empty hole of despair and anger, because Chris is Claire's brother, and Claire is Sherry's—

Then he blinks and all he sees is Chris staring back at him with a bleeding cheek, a bullet hole in the wall behind, Piers' rifle inches away, and Sherry shocked and teary-eyed.

"… Fuck you, Chris," he says venomously, lowering his gun and taking a few steps back. "There're more important things at stake than you and your fucking conscience." He turns, taking a few deep breaths to calm himself down, and wants to smash his fist into a wall—or better yet, into Chris' face. Sherry is close by and she lays a hesitant hand on his arm, a quiet but reassuring presence, and he is actually grateful she is not saying anything. He can't quite face her yet, knowing he had been so close to losing control.

He understands now why he had acted the way he did. His rage hadn't been fuelled by feelings of kinship or a filial duty, but by the simple fact that in a single second, Chris had destroyed a driving force of his life—his own desire to find and kill Albert Wesker himself.

o-o-o-o-o

xvi.

She stares at the blank, white screen before her, fingers poised over the keyboard, and sighs heavily. Where does she even begin?

Getting up from the desk, she walks over to the window and looks out at the awe-inspiring expanse of bright lights, towering buildings and busy motorways that is the heart of Singapore. The clock next to the bed tells her that it is three more hours before their flight to Markev, the Edonian capital. Assuming things go as planned, come tomorrow, she will have finally completed the mission she started well over six months ago.

Returning to the laptop, she opens the folder containing all the files they had managed to obtain from Neo Umbrella and inevitably sees his mug shots. Then she quickly looks away and turns on the TV, slipping under the comfy covers of the bed. There is a brief update on the situation in China.

Fifty hours ago, a BSAA recon unit had extracted them from the oil rig. They were flown to Hong Kong and then to Singapore to the UN Centre of Bioengineering R&D. There, a fairly generous sample of Jake's blood had finally been handed over to teams of international researchers who had already received six months' worth of data from the DSO via Leon. She had been incredibly relieved to hear from him but they exchanged barely five sentences before he had to rush off to the States to clean up Simmons' mess.

The Southeast Asian BSAA branch was, as expected, reluctant to provide status updates on Chris and Piers. Though what little information they divulged indicated that Chris had been found somewhere in the South China Sea, she had no idea what had become of his partner. Between routine medical check ups and tests, she only had half a day of reprieve when further orders came from Washington—to return to America with her report and for her debriefing after escorting Jake Muller back to Edonia. He has done his part in this war, after all.

She turns the TV off, feeling stupid for switching it on in the first place. Just once, she wants to sit down and lay back and not think of everything that's happened. Not think of tomorrow. Yet she finds herself, in the end, staring at her laptop screen, at piercing azure eyes looking back at her, thinking of the way he had wrapped his arm around her on that cargo elevator, thinking of what he had said and the feel of his hand under hers. Something tightens in her chest.

Fate has a horrible sense of humour. Of all the people in the world, why Wesker's son? Or maybe she is feeling this way precisely because of that. Even if they are nothing like their fathers before them, no one can change the fact that they have still been cursed to forever carry their legacies within them.

You okay, super girl? She can almost hear Jake drawl in her mind.

Sherry tosses away the sheets and moves to grab the cardkey sticking in the wall by the door, sliding away the chain and unlocking the bolt. When she twists the door open, she stops short.

He is already standing outside.

o-o-o-o-o

xvii.

Adrenaline, relief and extreme fatigue. Yes… yes, that's probably why he had said those things to her on that elevator. He leans his forehead against the smooth, wooden surface of her hotel room door, fingers lightly touching the metal handle. Taking a deep breath, he closes his eyes and sees her. Why is he feeling this way? He barely knows her. They've spent less than a week with each other, though it feels like an eternity since they met.

Tomorrow, he will slip back into obscurity, into his former life. The world will never know what they had accomplished and he will be free to do whatever he wants. Tomorrow, she will be gone.

The clink of chain and a lock turning make him quickly step back, his pulse racing. The door opens and then she is staring at him and he is staring back just as silently.

He clears his throat. "Hey," he greets.

"Hey…" she says slowly before asking in concern, "Is everything okay?" Maybe the look on his face is telling her otherwise.

"Yeah," he replies glibly. "Yeah, I was just… I was gonna knock." The way she raises her eyebrows tells him she is a little sceptical but nonetheless, she steps aside and gestures for him to come in. She closes the door as he looks around the dim room. It is a mirror image of his own.

"Working already?" he asks, seeing the laptop on the table. The US embassy here had issued it to her yesterday. She hastily moves over to it and clicks it shut, shaking her head and slipping it into a bag. "Tried and failed," she answers with a small smile. "After what we'd been through, I'm actually hoping my new boss will give me some time off after this."

"Careful. You might find yourself missing all the running and gunning," he points out with a lazy grin.

"I doubt it," she counters, brushing blonde hair away from her eyes. "So… you looking forward to going home?"

He says nothing at first and just slips his hands into the pockets of his jeans and stands by the window, gazing out at the orange and white flecks in the darkness. A part of him does feel relieved to be going back to Edonia, back to where his mother rests. It's the only home he's ever known, anyway. "… A little," he admits.

Another pause fills the air. Strange how they are both having a hard time carrying a normal conversation outside the battlefield when they are not dodging bullets and crazy BOWs or running for their lives.

"Jake, listen…" Sherry starts, her voice tentative and hesitant, and he looks at her reflection in the glass. "I know we started off on the wrong foot and didn't really see eye-to-eye at the start, and I know we haven't known each other long, but… thanks for everything. Thanks for having my back. I really couldn't have pulled through it all without you."

He closes his eyes and lets the words sink in, soaking them up as if he is basking in the sun, wanting to tell her that the feeling is mutual, but he just turns and walks over to her, standing awkwardly and looking down at her grey orbs, and says quietly, "I didn't do it for the fifty million."

Maybe that had been all he cared about at first, even if he really did have no pressing need for more money, but everything had changed after China. After her. She stares up at him, her head tilting slightly, and murmurs back, "I know."

Then he is leaning in and kissing her, an arm snaking around her waist to pull her close and a hand reaching up to cup her cheek, and his heart soars higher than he's ever been when she presses up against him and kisses him back just as ardently.

o-o-o-o-o

xviii.

His skin burns under her fingertips, even through the thin cotton he is wearing, and as his mouth traces her jaw and down her neck to her shoulders, she whispers into his ear, "You know this isn't going to work out."

A part of her thinks she is saying this not to him but to herself. He moves up to kiss the corner of her mouth, his breath sending shivers down her back, and he answers in a low voice, "Just say the word."

And I'll stop, is what he means, and she responds by slipping her hands under his shirt, running them up to his firm chest and letting him claim her lips again. His fingers massage the curves of her breasts and she can't help but sigh into his mouth. It's been too long since someone else has touched her like this. Intimacy has always been a hurdle for her, born from her upbringing and the years in the government's custody, her hesitance and her knowing, deep down, that she is different—just too different—from everyone else.

And yet, now, she finds herself fading into his touch and wanting more. He breaks away to take off his shirt and starts to unbutton her top, groaning as she plants tiny kisses on the small scars on his skin. He feels so unbelievably warm, like an inviting hot water bottle on a cold winter night.

"… I don't have a condom," he stops and says suddenly, and something about the dismay in his voice makes her want to laugh, as if he has just raced to the finish line only to be told that he is last.

"I had a check up yesterday. We're good," she assures him, undoing her last button, and his eyes are alight with yearning. When he pulls her blouse down her arms and drops it to the carpet, she unbuckles his belt. He watches as she strips it slowly from his waist, eyes locked onto hers in a piercing stare, and it is more intimate than anything else they have done.

He undoes her pants and leans down to kiss her right below her collarbone as she slips out of them. His fingers rest on the lacy band at her waist and as she leans back on the bed, he says, almost like he is confessing, "You know… I kinda checked you out back in that locker room, while you were changing…"

"Yeah, I saw that," she replies flatly, tugging him down to her. "You were staring at my legs."

He pauses, holding himself above her with hands on both sides of the mattress, and she inhales deeply, taking in the scent of sweat and man and arousal, lightly tracing the long scar on his cheek and an old gash on his forehead. Then he smirks and slips the straps of her bra down her shoulders and as she helps him unclasp it, he murmurs huskily, "I wasn't staring at them… just wondering what they'd feel like wrapped around me."

Her cheeks grow hot at his words, her blood racing with need when he reaches down to her hips and yanks her to him, his hard planes pressing down onto her. She can feel the bulge in his jeans against her underwear and a spot where her legs meet starts to throb. He kisses down her chin and neck, over her breasts and nipples and down the flat of her stomach, pausing just below her belly button to draw her lace panties down, and her breath catches at her throat when his blue eyes rise lazily to look at her. When he continues on to her inner thigh, still holding her gaze, her heart rate spikes and she stills.

Is he going to—? Before she can even fully conceive the thought, he is kissing her right between her legs and she is gasping, "Oh!" and her hips are moving straight into his touch, his fingers warm, sweaty and firm against her pelvis. She instinctively reaches out for his head, inwardly cursing that he crops his hair so short, because this part is so very new to her, and because she needs to hold onto him, onto anything before she loses herself.

She squeezes her eyes shut and breathes hard, clutching at the bed sheets, helpless underneath him and overwhelmed by the sensations, wondering how he knows just what to do to send jolts of electricity from that throbbing nub under his lips to the rest of her body. Gasping again, she writhes and subconsciously arches into him, and then there is only his tongue and his mouth and his breath and the fire under her skin in a euphoric prelude to the shockwaves to come, and he is taking her higher… and higher… and yes, she thinks she's almost there—

o-o-o-o-o

xix.

"Jake!" she cries out his name and he is filled with triumph, satisfaction and desire all at once. Her fingers latch onto the back of his head, around the area that is still bruised from what happened in China. He grunts a little in discomfort but the way she trembles under his touch and lips makes him forget everything else. He continues kissing and licking, letting her ride the waves of her orgasm until she falls limp in his hands, panting hard. When he rises, licking his lips, she looks at him with intensity that shoots straight to his groin and he is suddenly reminded of just how uncomfortable his pants are.

Moving to the side of the bed, he kicks off his jeans. His boxer briefs are still a little too tight. The mattress depresses slightly as she sits up and he pulls her to him, kissing her and revelling in the feel of her chest against his, her hair between his fingers, her soft form in his arms. Her hand reaches down and rubs him through the cotton of his briefs, sending a surge of pleasure through his nerves and he sighs deeply. She starts off hesitantly, then with more purpose and confidence, and he leans into her shoulder, breathing heavily and nuzzling the skin there. There is already a wet, dark spot on the fabric of his underwear.

"Faster," he can't help whispering but regrets it a second later because he almost comes there and then when her fingers slip under his waistband and strokes him up and down. Fuck, how does she make this feel so damn good? He can usually last much longer than this. She is kissing and leaving marks all along his neck and jaw, and he is so hard and close to the edge that he knows he has to stop her from going any further. "Christ, Sherry…" he says, halting her by the wrist. "Things are going to end too soon if you keep this up."

"… I thought you're built like a tank," she breathes hotly into his ear and he growls softly, gently biting her earlobe and involuntarily jerking into her touch when she retaliates by running her fingers along his entire length one last time before withdrawing them. He takes a few seconds to compose himself, her hand still lingering by his underwear, and for a while, they simply sit there in the halcyon dimness, limbs entangled and listening to each other's breaths.

When he moves to slip his briefs away, she helps him pull them off and then she is holding onto his shoulders and lowering herself onto him, or maybe he's the one thrusting up into her, and he groans happily in bliss as her heat envelops him whole. Fuck. She is incredibly warm and wet and unbelievably tight, but something about the way she gasps quietly and how she grips his forearms and back make him stop and look at her, panting lightly. "I'm not your first, am I?" he asks tentatively.

She flushes a deeper red and shakes her head, blonde hair tousled. "No, but it's been a while," she murmurs, her lips lightly brushing his facial scar. "… Give me a minute?"

He nods and coaxes her backwards, down to the soft sheets of the bed, and settles more comfortably over her, kissing her passionately and trying hard not to think about the warmth pulsating in his lower abdomen. He likes the way her fingers feel between his, her knees and thighs lying by his sides, and when she whispers her consent into his ear, he rocks gently against her, starting a slow, rolling rhythm. She sighs into his mouth and he holds her close, feeding off her every moan and breath and reaching down to tuck her legs around him. A sharp jolt of ecstasy courses through every fibre of his being when she arches against him, her hips moving with his in a hypnotic dance.

He draws out and they both gasp as he drives back in deeply, at an angle that presses on and rubs her bundle of nerves with each thrust. This feels a million times better than her caresses before. She quivers under his touch, nails running along and leaving small, stinging scratches on his back, and her quiet moans are sending his blood pumping and rushing to where they join.

He moves faster, with more intention and urgency, and as she clings onto him and breathes into his neck, he thinks—somewhere in the back of his mind—that this is where he belongs. Not in Edonia or fighting alongside strangers or for causes he has not concern for, but here, right now, inside her, around her, with their fingers intertwined and her bare skin under him, because she's made him realise that there is so much more to life than the pitiful, meaningless existence he was leading one hundred and ninety two days ago.

o-o-o-o-o

xx.

It ends sooner than she'd like. The tidal wave crashing down on her is more intense than before and she gasps her pleasure, pushing up against him to meet his thrusts. His fingers running through her hair, he continues moving even as she starts to float down from her high, and then he is groaning into her ear in sheer bliss and pushing hard into her one last time. His hand grips her waist tightly and he shudders above and inside her, and she can feel him pulsating deep within.

His arm gives way and he drops down with a grunt, half next to her and half on top, and both of them are panting heavily. She gazes up at the ceiling, completely drained, and feels him slowly pull out and settle down beside her. The insides of her thighs feel slick and warm, and the thought makes her face heat up. She has never allowed such liberty with her sexual encounters in the past.

She turns to him and finds him already looking at her, a finger sweeping her bangs from her vision. There is a sheen of sweat on his forehead and his cerulean orbs seem bluer and brighter than ever. They stare at each other in silence. What now?

Why do I feel like I've known you all my life? She thinks as she starts to lose herself in his eyes, and when his expression changes to a mixture of yearning and pain, she realises she has actually whispered the words out loud.

He reaches out to touch her cheek, callous fingers gentle and light, and as she leans into his kiss, she understands in an instant the thousand different things he wants to say to her. Maybe this is all they ever need to do. Maybe this is how things should end.

Markev in the summer is as hot as Washington DC and the red, dusty soil in the outskirts reminds her of the Grand Canyon. She looks out of the window of the airplane, running a fingertip along the rim of the cup on her tray table. Mission accomplished, and yet she feels like she has just made the biggest mistake of her life.

It would never work out. She knows and understands this perfectly, but that still doesn't stop it from hurting.

Her phone beeps and she takes it out, flipping it open. It is a message from Jake.

Take care, super girl.

She stares at it for a very long time, vivid memories from the night before flooding her mind. Her fingers are ready and wanting to type a response, but she just slips the phone back into her pocket and turns back to the window.

o-o-o-o-o

Annex i.

He tightens the makeshift bandage on his left arm and leans back against the clay wall, breathing fast. The bullet he dug out a few seconds ago rolls along the ground and disappears in the thick, reddish remains of the J'avo. He takes a minute to catch his breath and reaches into his pouch to retrieve a fairly bruised apple.

The night is quiet and it is the only reprieve he needs. He takes his phone out and sees the lit icon on the upper right. Biting into the apple, he opens the message, brightening up when he sees who it's from.

What have you been up to?

A ghost of a smile touches the corner of his lips. Eight months and twenty four days and this is all she says. He tilts his head up to gaze at the stars, at the same sky he hopes she's looking up at right now. He takes another bite and then types back.

Just tying up some loose ends… How's it going, super girl?

o-o-o-o-o

Stay tonight

Don't come morning, don't come light

They may be lies but say that we'll be alright

If we stay tonight

- Sara Bareilles: Stay -


A/N: Parts 18 to 20 – hands down the hardest parts I've ever had to write in a fanfic. I hope I did it justice. Reviews will be much appreciated.