A/N: My first Jake/Sherry fic! This story takes place between the helicopter crash and the end of the cabin scene. As you'll see, I took some liberty in writing some of the events, which were meant to develop Jake's background a little more and his fondness towards Sherry. All scenes will eventually lead up to the cabin scene, which remains canon to the game but with some slight twists on my end.

Disclaimer: Resident Evil 6 and all its characters and in-game dialogues belong to Capcom. I simply own the pleasure of writing fanfics.

Until the Next Dawn

"Damnit," Jake cursed softly as the lighter he had been flipping mindlessly in his hand fell on the wooden floor of the secluded cabin; he was distracted, and angry. He had never taken kindly to the owing end of debt, and now he was twice as pissed, unsure of how to even balance a compensation that required neither his service nor money.

With a frustrated growl, he picked up the lighter and held it tightly in his fist, his eyes shifting to the sleeping figure by the small makeshift fireplace he had helped build about an hour ago. They hadn't said much after entering the dilapidated shack, both too exhausted from searching for his 'data' in that terrible snowstorm. Sherry had sat by the fire after it was made, her shivering body betraying what she refused to admit. He had turned away from her for about five minutes, checking from the windows to make sure they weren't followed. When he had told her that things seemed okay for the time being, she had already collapsed on the floor and fallen asleep.

So by default, he had been designated to keep watch, the crackling and light from the flames serving as his only companions in the lonesome cabin. Alone, without her annoying, high-pitched voice ringing in his ears, he had some time to think and reflect. It was difficult to swallow the truth, but if there was one thing that never failed him, it was his memory. He had been called a vindictive elephant on many occasions—remembering everything and never letting go.

Even after he had been ejected from an exploding plane and severed from a damaged parachute, the memories were as lucid as crystal. How could they not be? Sherry's screams, loud enough to split the sky through which they fell, still played in his ears. She had latched on to him like a deadly parasite as the weight of velocity punctured through his chest.

His world had been consumed by a cyclone and he was caught right in the middle; he had not been able to distinguish the difference between ground and space, suspended in the midst of what he could only describe as a dark void. The thick, polluting miasma had turned his entire surrounding black, the smoke penetrating every pore in his being, choking him like barbed wires. For some time, he had truly believed he died and was being fired into the maw of Hell, but he had sensed life from another…faint but discernable in the way her fingernails pierced his skin in desperation, reviving part of his senses. Screaming had turned into tearful whimpers, the hollow atmosphere amplifying the pitiful cries.

The murky fog had eventually parted like a curtain, allowing his weary eyes a glimpse at the sparkling, white plains that lay beneath him. He had only witnessed the snowcapped mountains for mere seconds before the parachute caught onto overgrown trees that shot towards the heavens, unceremoniously depositing him and the agent against a dangerous incline of a slope. He had consciously made the effort to embrace the girl tighter in his arms, knowing that the worst was still not over. An avalanche had shaken the ground beneath him, its quake stirring the peaceful layers of snow to life. Angered by the sudden disruption of harmony, nature had sought the intruders with a vengeance. He had soon found himself submerged under the suffocating mass of the frigid blizzard, inhaling nothing but the glacial particles around him that froze all his internal valves, leaving ice water to run in place of blood.

His limbs had strained to stretch out, desperately trying to grasp onto anything that would slow the momentum—but nothing. He had no choice to wait out the ride, allowing nature's fury to carry him to wherever it pleased. He had felt his body fly again, feeling as light as a feather and not much more than a ragdoll tossed at one's will. The very element that had unleashed its ferocity was also the one to break his fall. He had fallen over a cliff, the avalanche ebbing at the precipice from which he tumbled. His body had landed on a new patch of snow with relative ease, his back sinking into the frosty, plush surface. Sore and shaking arms had momentarily uncaged the girl in their guard. Sherry had rolled out of his grasp but not from his bleary vision.

He barely had time to breathe before his attention shifted to a familiar whirling sound reverberating in the distance above, drawing ever closer, signaling the arrival of a doom he felt before it even came. His mouth had hung wordlessly open at the sight of an aluminum shard from the helicopter's wreckage. It had mercilessly stalked them all the way there. The pillar had descended rapidly towards him with a deadly purpose.

For reasons he could not comprehend, he had turned to Sherry in the few precious seconds he could have forced his exhausted limbs to haul him out of harm's way. He had not been sure if it was genuine fear or the wintry air that paralyzed his heart, each heavy beat threatening to shatter the organ, but now he knew for sure it had been the former upon seeing her body drift from its silhouette, a river of black ink that flowed towards him as she jumped over his battered form, calling out his name in raw alarm. Her voice had been drowned out by the splintering of bones as blood that was not his own seeped into his palms.

It was the first time he had been scared shitless. He had seen far worse than someone impaled by a deadly object, but it was never because of him, for him. He had been so sure she was going to die when he pulled the shard out of her, his heart pounding a million beats every agonizing second that seemed to stretch on forever as he watched her body waver at the border between life and death. He had never considered the fragility of life and the idea of miracle until that moment when he saw her vision coming into focus, pieces of bones drawing together to fit like a puzzle, the gaping schism at her back sealing as fresh skin blossomed over the pool of blood.

Too distressed and stunned, he had thought it was best to carry on as if nothing out of this world had transpired. He had even jokingly coined the nickname, Super Girl, after witnessing her ability in both awe and unease. It had been the only thing he could think of to maintain his sanity, but he discovered that the longer he spent with her from that moment on, the more irrational he became—gratitude remained distant from the heart that had morphed into a breeding ground for anger and fear, two of many emotions she had had managed to thaw from the frozen depths of his soul.

And it was just that—intentionally or not, she was suddenly infiltrating his mind and heart, leaving footsteps alongside his late mother's indelible tracks, where they did not belong. There was a reason why he kept his distance from others, and a good one. If opening up to others and indulging in short-term bliss and satisfaction came with the price of insufferable pain of inevitable loss and emptiness, then he would rather not pay for the consequences of love and compassion. It was easier to walk solo and worry only about yourself. He had always been capable of taking care of himself and using others only as a means to an end, to further his next objective. People were unreliable and expendable; they come and go—this had always been his steadfast belief from experience, but Sherry…her very existence caused him to question his conviction. Somehow, she had become attached to him like a shadow, but equally distinct in his darkest moments as she was in his lightest ones.

She's only in it for your blood, the voice in his mind reasoned. He found that reassurance comforting; it was a slice of normality—to be used and use others to achieve an end goal…the perfect symbiotic relationship. After all, that was the very motto that defined his simplistic job description of a mercenary.

Jake pocketed the lighter and shook his head hard, breaking his link from the chain of memories. His awareness shifted to Sherry, a common occurrence now it seemed. His gaze hardened at her back, a small, faded blemish naked through the tear of her white coat.

"No fucking way," he whispered.

He had initially thought she was one of them, those freaks of nature stalking him for his blood, but the lack of extra limbs and a third eye made him reconsider. Still, he had made a mental note to stay wary at her side. With a power like that…was she some government super soldier? She certainly did not look like one, what with the air of naivety she walked with, the youthful face and its pretty features that mirrored a porcelain doll. Never judge a book by its cover, he supposed. It was apparent that they worked well as partners, but he reminded himself that more importantly she was only useful for obtaining an extraction. He certainly was not going to walk through the tundra for his fifty million dollars.

Jake watched her sleeping figure for moments longer, not one who was oblivious to her desirable physical traits. Her long legs were curled, knees tucked under perky breasts that pushed against her tight coat. Her left arm supported her head, delicate right hand rested over her flat stomach, slender fingers beside the handgun lying next to her; ever cautious. Her body quivered every now and then beneath the bundle of her winter jacket. She was still cold despite the hearty fire.

He had already pushed himself away from the table before he knew what he was doing. Without thinking too much into the seemingly innocent gesture, he took soft, measured steps towards Sherry and kneeled on one knee behind her. He removed his jacket and swung it over his shoulder, carefully laying it over her. The fabric covered her thin waist and draped past her wide hips. He stared shamelessly at her curvaceous body, but eventually it was the scab at her back that retained his attention.

He wondered if she was still in pain despite the flesh lookin' all grand and new again. Curiosity got the best of him, and he mindlessly brushed a shaky index finger over the scar. It felt pretty much how he had imagined—smooth overall with a bump or two of rougher texture. His finger gingerly travelled across the ten inches of the injury's length, noticing that the normal skin surrounding the scar was soft, perhaps even the softest he'd ever felt.

For some seconds, he permitted his imagination to run a little wild as it painted possibilities of what the rest of her body looked and felt unclothed. It wasn't too long since he had last been intimate with a woman, but any twenty-year-old male alone in a cabin with a moderately attractive woman would surrender to some fantasies.

Acknowledging that lust starting to overtake his senses, he reined in his hormones and cast one more sweeping look over her form before pulling his hand back. As usual, he was anchored by logic. Now was not the time and she was not the girl. However, he hadn't expected Sherry to act quicker, or even to be awake. The agent's fingers locked around his wrist as she spun around and pointed her gun beneath his chin. Reflex took over and he immediately twisted her arm back with slight force, slapping the weapon out of her grip. She yelped, sea blue eyes growing wide and watery.

He released her completely, but irritation did not leave his gaze and voice. "Goddamnit, Girly Long Legs, what the fuck was that?" He had not intended to sound so hostile, recognized that it was only a defense mechanism to shield his own disgrace.

She gripped her arm, lips pulling into a taut line. If she was hurt, she was reluctant to show it. There was a flicker of fear in her eyes as she wrapped her arms around her body defensively, and he immediately felt cold anxiety wash over him. "Did you see anything?" she asked quickly, too eager to get past the awkwardness. He sensed trepidation in her tone, which only fuelled his anger towards himself.

"W-what? Of course not," he stated, turning his warm cheek away. "What are you talking about?" It was a terrible lie, he knew.

"Cut the crap. You know what I'm talking about! Your hand was all over me, Jake," she accused, anger rising in her voice, hot and raw like the fire pulsing behind her.

She never released her arms over her body, and if his own outrage hadn't imploded, he would have tried to offer her some rationale for the misunderstanding. Okay, maybe things seemed bad, but he would never take a woman by force.

Pumped by fury, he yanked his jacket back, the fabric whipping through air and over his shoulders as he easily slipped the garment on, suddenly feeling a lot less vulnerable. He dutifully took a few steps away from her, putting a good distance between them before turning to her with a scowl. "First of all, my hand was not all over you. It was a finger-" he waved the offending digit," …just one finger on your scar." Second, I may be a lot of things—a mercenary, a thief, a killer, an asshole who only wants his money, but I am not someone who takes advantage of women, especially women who aren't even my type, got it?" He crossed his arms, back retreated against the wooden table once more as he stared at the wall in front of him and the cracks that branched out like spider webs. Though his attention was not on her, he made sure she was still within his peripheral vision. His heart would not stop racing otherwise.

"What are you…talking about? I wasn't hinting at anything sexually related." If she didn't sound genuinely confused, he would have thought she was messing with him. But her statement was enough to tranquilize his nerves, steadying the pounding against his chest.

Jake rolled his eyes, patience wearing thin. "What are youtalking about then?"

"All I'm asking is if you saw anything!" she demanded, glossy eyes imploring with an intensity he rarely witnessed. No doubt she was definitely sensitive about something.

"Hey, you better not break down and start crying," he warned under his breath. He honestly would not know what to do, but running away seemed like a good option…always was. She made an attempt to straighten herself, a small semblance of a collected mind. "Why are you still asking me this?" He purposely avoided her inquiry, juvenile anger desperately seizing the reigns of control, whatever that had not already slipped from his fingers. He cast a suspicious glance at her and then asked slowly, "What are you hiding anyway?"

God, it better not be a third eye.

At long last, relief washed over him when he saw that she finally felt comfortable enough to drop her arms to her sides. She sat on her heels, eyes so intently fixed on the floor that he was almost afraid she was going to burn a hole into the ground and fall right through. "I-…I just had a dream…about my past, so I'm a bit worked up. I was held in captivity before," she began with some reluctance, speaking more to the floor than to him.

Jake raised a brow. "Captivity?" he asked, interest piqued. "You served time, too?" He could not picture this goody-goody angel with the face of a girl scout behind bars, but maybe there was a fierce and rebellious spirit beneath that deceptively innocent façade.

She shook her head, bangs ruffling. "No, not like that. The U.S. government," she corrected.

"Oh…and?" He was less excited now but still urged her to go on, granting her more interest than he had intended. He was not without solid knowledge of the U.S. government and its foundation, but more Intel never hurt and might even come in handy for future missions.

She inhaled sharply; her hands wrung tightly together, knuckles as white as bones. Her ankles locked, legs and arms quaking differently than he had seen when she was cold. Jake suddenly feared he was going to hear more than he wanted to know, whether he wanted to or not.

Sherry chewed along her lower lip. What she did not wish to say he already knew from reading her body language, the signs and movements strikingly amplified in the midst of silence. Just as he was about to change the subject, she managed to find her voice, as low as it was. "They kept me for over a decade…ran experiments, the injections, tests, the pain my body went through…the scientists…some of them called me a monster, a successful bio-organic weapon." The last few words died upon her lips in a whisper he had to strain to hear.

She sounded painfully small and frail, like a child chasing away ghosts…but Sherry's phantoms were real, a manifestation of distant but traumatizing memories he was given only a glimpse into. He was sure they were far more daunting through her lens, as she was the only who knew of the beginning and end of her own frightening tale. She had obviously left a chunk of her story out, her account all over the place much akin to her nerves.

"Sometimes I believe I am one…after seeing my father…the way he-" Tears pressed behind her lids, but she stubbornly clasped her eyes shut, forcing back the dangerous flow she might not be able to stop once released. A palm slammed against the wooden panels of the floor, a thud that resonated defenselessness and despondency.

All his internal alarms blared, but he chose to turn away, feeling intrusive and uninvited to a moment to which he was not privy. It was clear that her demons were still very much alive, but it wasn't his job to fight them, chain them to the abyss of her mind from which they sprung. This was her battle and hers alone.

"He…he…tur-" She was breathing hard, hysterical even, her words choked up in breathless gasps.

Jake grimaced, a stab of uncommon terror and helplessness chasing away his initial curiosity. "That's enough," he ordered, the command penetrating the flashback and sending her out of the nightmare. "Forget I asked."

And just like that, she sucked in a deep breath, forcing air into her lungs after being submerged in an ocean of terrible recollections that had threatened to drown her present.

"Jake…" She said his name in a way one would when confirming the existence of a person. It was as if she had forgotten that he was there the entire time. "I'm…I'm sorry about that…for rambling on and on. It's just that it's been so long since I've told anyone…and I feel like I might go insane if I don't-"

He chuckled dryly and raised his hands to signal a halt and distance, pushing back her burden before she could unload it upon him. "Whoa, Honey. Listen, I'm no therapist so you better take that crazy elsewhere." His harsh words even stunned him a little, but he yielded to the excuse that he was only speaking the truth; and he was damn good at delivering that.

As distraught as she was, none of this concerned him. He was certainly not the one to whom she should turn. How could one broken person help another? He was just some messed up punk.

Her lips parted soundlessly in shock, cheeks flushed, slapped with humiliation. Against the fire, her eyes gleamed brighter, and he could see the storm flickering within, her depths a disturbed, magnetizing sea that reached over to him and drew him in. He knew that look too well, had seen it numerous times in victims. It was the reflection of a weathered soul.

Her pride eventually won over self pity. She blinked away the sadness and stood up; idle hands quickly busied themselves by dusting unfound dirt from her leggings. A glare that betrayed disappointment and resignation tore right through his flesh, but his stubbornness refused to let him concede to regret. "Shut up, you don't know me at all…" she mumbled, though her eyes continued to beg, 'Please hear me out.'

He forced himself to avoid her pleading gaze and shrugged indifferently with practiced ease. It wasn't his business. He was here for one thing only and needed to stop getting sidetracked. "And let's keep it that way. Let me set this straight. I'm not here to get to know you. I'm here for my fifty million, that's all," he stated coldly, though he didn't quite feel the full callousness of his remark.

An exasperated cry ripped through the room, a fusion of anger and sorrow echoing in its wake. "Damnit Jake, that's the only thing on your mind, huh? It's all about the stupid money, isn't it?"

"Yes," he deadpanned, his own annoyance getting the better of him. "You got a problem with that? What does it matter if that's the only thing I'm after? You have your own job to do, so stop lecturing me. The only thing that matters to you is my blood and just that. We're one and the same—we both have only one objective in mind and it doesn't have anything to do with anything else, especially not each other!"

She surprised him with a silent rebuttal. He waited for her to counter, expected her to chastise him in that know-it-all tone she always used whenever she didn't approve of something he said.

But only the crackling fire reminded him that there was still life in the room. He looked at her expectantly, his impassive eyes urging her to challenge his point. She looked right back at him, her face contorted with so much pain and hurt that he was afraid one gentle touch would cause her entire visage to splinter.

Her hand folded over her bosom, fingers curling into a fist that clasped passion. "If that were really the case, then I wouldn't have saved you. They want your blood, dead or alive. Though much preferably alive," she revealed with uncharacteristic detachment.

He stiffened. The air around him abruptly grew twice as cold as the subzero temperature of the blizzard, and a new sensation sent his body into frenzy. "Oh no, no, no. Don't you hold that against me like I owe you something. I never asked you to-"

"I never said you owed me anything!" she screamed, her frame shaking with her anger.

He pressed his lips together. A strange pressure pulsed like an infection within his chest, swelling each time his anger inflamed the venom he had no immunity against. So what else could he do but let the mysterious toxin saturate his being till it was inundated and forced to resist any more.

Sherry took a deep breath and exhaled so slowly that he could almost imagine her counting backwards from ten.

"But you matter, Jake. You're worth saving," she continued softly, voice ripe with affection and sincerity this time. "And it's not just for your blood. You'll see."

The volatile force in his chest suddenly imploded, a wealth of emotions shooting forth like fireworks, smothering the temper that stubbornly fought to surface, scorching his blood and sending his skin ablaze. These feelings…he couldn't quite identify them but just knew they were potent, motivated by one girl and one selfless action…and they were enough to rust the bars of the cage that guarded his soul, blowing them to bits and pieces. He was disgusted and flabbergasted at once. Had he always been this pathetic? He had spent years erecting a wall to ward off feelings that were detrimental to the heart and mind, feelings that made one prone to human weakness and flaws. He had thought he was above all that, but now he was crushed under the weight of his crumbling barrier, defenseless to the mounting attack of everything foreign to him.

"Well?" She laughed grimly, her shoulders drooping with the downward curve of her lips. "Not even a thank you?"

Gratitude perched at the tip of his tongue, if only to satisfy her expectance. But vocalizing his appreciation came as a struggle. As he muttered the two words, he felt them dissolve in his throat before even reaching the second syllable.

"It's that difficult for you to thank someone, huh?" she asked, sincerely dismayed.

She was right…it was difficult to express gratitude when he truly meant it. He couldn't remember the last time he had uttered a genuine thank-you; the only other person who deserved the sentiment, the woman who birthed him, never needed to hear it. She had always known, had felt it.

Jake shrugged casually, shame at the forefront of his thoughts but banished moments thereafter when Sherry beamed. It was a small smile but beautiful and radiating, strangely comforting him and placating the tension that had run amok. She said nothing more after that and situated herself comfortably in a standing position against the dirty wall beside the fireplace. As powerfully impacting as her smile was and the effect it had on him, irritability crawled under his skin for reasons not necessarily related to her, but it certainly exacerbated the circumstance.

He reached into the hidden pocket of his jacket and pulled out his only pack of cigarettes, the packet soggy and bent, but to his luck the contents inside remained relatively dry.

Fuck yeah.

Fingers searched for his lighter next, but a white blur flashed past him, distracting. In a moment, the cigarettes were yanked from his grasp by a forceful pull.

"Hey!" he growled, his hand swiping for his stolen item but only catching air as the sly thief nimbly jumped back, shoving her hand behind her back. She then proceeded to pull something out of her coat pocket, foil crinkling within her fingers before she tossed him a substitute.

He opened his palm and found a small bag of M 'Milk Chocolate' printed on the surface, next to the iconic red M&M character shooting him a thumbs-up with a smug face that clearly expressed mockery towards his dismay, at least that was how it appeared from the perspective of his deranged mind, aggravated by the lack of nicotine.

"Still healthier than smoking," Sherry reasoned smartly. She extracted another small item from her pocket; lip balm…tinted lip balm that she slowly spread over lips that already looked smooth. A flattering shade of pink colored her plump flesh, accentuating the delicate dip of her Cupid's bow.

Jake found her application to be playfully teasing. He watched her lick away the excess salve at the corners of her mouth with the tip of her tongue, the scene sending a pleasurable tingle down his spine. His gaze shot down at the pack of chocolate in his hand just as she turned to him, fingers moving to rip open the bag, the tear strategically marked over red M&M's face. "Haven't had these in awhile," he said, shoving a handful of the sweets into his mouth. They were no nicotine but sufficed for the time being; his concentration was elsewhere anyway.

"If I had known the mission was going to take this long, I would have brought something else."

He said nothing, simply chewed loudly to openly express his discontent. Sherry turned away to the fire, amusement hinted in the ghost of a smile, but her eyes told a different story; pensive, guarded, troubled. He slowed his chewing, eventually just letting the chocolate melt in his mouth. Seconds later, he cleared his throat with intentional volume, gaining her attention.

"Did you know M&M's were used in World War II? The candy coating preserves the chocolate, keeps it from melting. They were part of the soldiers' rations, a great and easy energy booster," he told her, though he wasn't exactly sure where he was going with it. He popped another sugary piece into his mouth and looked out the window, the whiteout reminding him of another useless factlet. "The Chinese invented ice-cream. They packed milk mixture and rice into snow, and ta-da."

She appeared baffled at the new topic, clearly confounded with why he had decided to share these trivia. Perhaps so distracted she was with these useless facts that she was oblivious to the mist of sadness lifting from her eyes that now brightened like the dawn of new day, nicely complementing her usual sunny disposition.

So he decided to continue, telling her that South Africa has the cheapest electricity in the world, there were thirteen months in Ethiopia, the world's lowest death rate is in Kuwait, forty percent of criminal prosecutions in Central African Republic are for sorcery, and finally, one that was straight up her juvenile alley—Spain has no tooth fairy, just a tooth mouse by the name of Ratoncito Pérez.

Her doe eyes looked to him in confusion and fascination, but then she nodded in understanding. "Of course, you're a mercenary…I wonder what it's like to see all these places," she said in a wistful breath.

Jake decided to spare her the details of his near-death scenarios in each country and supplied a far simpler response. "It's a job. Are jobs usually fun?" He looked down at the pack of M&M's in his hand, the bag now more than half empty, the result of his absentmindedness, during which he had fed Sherry worthless but engrossing information. He stopped himself from plucking another piece of chocolate pellet and tossed the remainder to Sherry. Nicotine was what his body truly craved, and the deprivation of it was causing the muscles in his body to tense and his nerves to jitter.

He stuck out his hand, fingers beckoning what she had stolen. "All right, now that I've entertained you, how about you give me back my cigs and let me smoke and be happy?"

She cast him a stern glare, standing her ground.

Of all the things to be stubborn about…

"Look, I'm no kid, I don't need candy. I need my tobacco. It's been over seven hours since I had a good smoke."

Sherry laughed, the first true peal of delight he had heard from her. "You're no kid? Jake, you're not even old enough to legally drink in the States."

"Of course you would be all gung ho about the law, but guess what? I don't abide by the rules. I make my own. Now give them back...I'm warning you."

Her expression remained firm, and it was clear that she was not going to make an effort to give into his insistence. He wondered if she was secretly trying to bait him, to see how far she could push her luck with his temper. Her right hand clasped his cigarettes behind her straight back. He caught a glimpse of the broken box as she swiftly shoved it into the pocket of her tights. The box bulged against the fabric, tantalizing his senses and starvation. He was not one to let down when provoked, and he soon proved that this facet of his personality remained true even out of battle.

He leapt towards her, left arm shooting out toward her elbow with little force, but she had somehow anticipated his target and sidestepped over, using her shorter height to her aid as she ducked under his swipe and retaliated by locking his hand between her arms. He reached for her thigh with his free limb but she had seen that coming as well, already twisting around his back, one leg sweeping across the floor and connecting with his shin, nearly knocking him off balance had he not centered his core gravity in time. "You're so lucky I'm going easy on you," he muttered, propelling back to give himself adequate space before he lunged forth once more, right hand aimed at hers…but she mirrored his attack with her left arm, easily knocking his assault to the side. A slender leg whipped in the air, the heel of her boot missing his chin by an inch as it pulled the rest of her body backwards in an agile flip. He was rather impressed with her flexibility and reflexes, the way she was able to read his strikes and counter each of them.

She was definitely trained well but lacked awareness of her surroundings. Sometimes a keen surveillance of the environment was equally, if not more important than combat expertise. She realized shortly after he had that she had unintentionally cornered herself, backed against the wall with nowhere to go and no room to put up a suitable fight, granting him the perfect open opportunity to take advantage of his stature. One step was all he needed to take to close the distance between them. Next to his physique, she reminded him of a small rabbit, meek and defenseless, about to be ensnared by an unforgiving predator. Luckily for her, he was no big, bad wolf. He just wanted his damn tobacco.

His chest alone was enough to pin her to the wall. Her breathing tickled his neck, warm and heavy, but he did not sense impending exertion behind the gasps. She did not even put up a struggle as he slid his hand along her thigh, his fingers slipping into the pocket and finding their possession. Her limbs hung limp like wilting flowers, cheeks catching a rosy glow, soft yet fierce like the flames that fanned the heat around them. "I'll be taking back what's rightfully mine, thank you very much."

Jake was pleased to find that she made no attempt to follow him back to the table. He pushed himself onto the worn boards, moving farther back till his feet dangled two inches off the ground. He was so excited for finally getting a good light in that his legs felt the impulse to swing back and forth like an energized child.

Frantic fingers pulled out the lighter and extracted a cigarette, shoving the rest of the pack into his coat pocket, where he made sure it would securely stay this time. A quick glance in Sherry's direction revealed that she had not moved from her spot, languid against the dirty wall. Her face had grown redder and looked as if someone had thrown a tomato at her.

He lit the cigarette, the wonderfully familiar toxic smoke filling his lungs and permeating the air around him. He sniffed it all in, relishing in the simple pleasure of just being bounded by one of the few constants in his life. He had begun smoking at a young age; at first it was simply a balm for his stress, having to deal with his mother's illness. Later when he became a soldier, he relied on it just as much as he relied on his gun.

Already he could feel lingering apprehension dissipating, senses heightened and clarity drawing into focus. "Hell yeah," he muttered, eyes closing in relaxation, lips releasing a thin stream of smoke. Peace, quiet, and a ciggie, what more could he possibly ask for in the midst of a crazy witch hunt for his blood? But he found that it was too quiet in the room, the silence strangely discomforting and out of place. Having grown used to the small chit-chats he had with Sherry and her constant chastising, he suddenly did not feel appreciative towards the soundless void like he had earlier.

Cracking open an eye in her direction, he found that she was still motionless next to the fire, cheeks tinted in a feverish shade of red. His lips moved of their own accord, drawing into a frown that gripped the cancer stick a little too tightly. "Hey, you all right? You're not sick are you?" Though he managed a neutral tone, the words only reflected a fraction of his actual concern. It wasn't simply vexation at the thought of spending unnecessary time trapped in the cabin when there were better things to do; rather, he was distantly aware that her well-being was on his mind and it frustrated him greatly that he could not provide a reason why. She had proven her healing powers could mend some of the most devastating injuries, and though she appeared frail and naïve on the surface, she had shown that she was more than capable of fending for herself.

"But you matter, Jake. You're worth saving."

Was that it? Because she had nearly given her life for him and not just for his blood? Beyond her mission, he could think of no other reason that would inspire her to do so. Yet, the sensitivity to which she took towards his response told him that it wasn't simply due to her job. Not for the first time that night, the air around him thickened unnaturally, and mixing with the acidic smoke around him this time, his nose and lungs burned as if he were inhaling liquid fire.

Sherry blinked a few times, her eyes childlike in the way they grew wide and brightened, catching light with her movements towards him. Her hand reached back to ruffle her tousled hair, a tense shoulder rising to meet her chin. He wondered if she felt as awkward as she looked, and for what reason? "Don't worry about me, I'm fine," she said a little bashfully and tilted her head intentionally, her flush melting into the shadows that eclipsed her face. Having learned that it was her eyes that spoke the truth and not her lips, he studied her gaze and was reassured by the soft serenity it emanated.

He stubbed the cigarette against the edge of the table and tossed the remnant on the floor, earning a sharp look of disapproval from Sherry. He shrugged it off, slowly dispelling the last ring of smoke through his lips, the ashy clouds distorting her face through the haze. He thought about reaching for his pack again, his body in need once more for something to stabilize the turbulence that tore through the dam that had held back the poison, but the urge died when his hand was halfway in his pocket. Something else stole his awareness; words, a desperate question swam against the current of his stubborn turmoil, surfacing to the back of his throat where he could taste the bitterness of the syllables. "Does it…still hurt?" he whispered.

She took a bold step forward, face emerging from the smog as if she had just stepped out of an otherworldly portal. For a moment, her visage was as luminous as a flower in the midst of a swamp, but then unspoken disturbance bogged her spirit. "No, not really," she whispered, the corners of her mouth falling with the decrescendo of her response.

He diverted his attention to the lighter in his hand, its shiny metal surface revealing his grim expression. The faint lines around his mouth tensed. His jaw locked to keep a certain answer hostage, but genuine remorse bled from a heart he had lost control over and now soared on autopilot. He had already known what to say before he could give it a second thought. "Don't worry, I didn't see anything," he relented at long last, suddenly surrendering to an understanding of the scars she bore—some ingrained in her mind, others imbedded in skin. Both were equally wounding, etched a morbid epitaph that would always unearth a buried past. He wasn't too different from her in that regard, and maybe that's why he was finding it easier to relate to her.

The mask of confidence she had worn for mere seconds cracked, her true vulnerability slipping through the fissures upon realizing that she was the only one tangoing at her own made-up masquerade. It must have taken her some moments to realize that he was being completely honest with her; no cocky quips, jokes, sarcasm, none of that. Her entire body balanced on the balls of her feet as her eyebrows creased forth together, pushed higher by the expanse of her eyes. Bewilderment flashed across them like a streak of lightning over ocean, overwhelmingly apparent and lasting but a second. He held her gaze with his own and felt his heart drum lightly but quickly in a race against his mind to figure out what emotions kept her mute.

"Well?" he pressed with an impatient edge. "Don't just stand there. Say something." He inwardly winced from the guilt that plunged into his heart like a razor. Again he was being selfish, only thinking of alleviating his own anxiety.

But before he could think of something to say to rectify his demand, Sherry had found her voice, her tone strong and carrying a lilt. "Good. That'll keep your imagination running a bit longer."

She hastily slapped her palm over her mouth as if she were a child who had just uttered a curse word. It was obvious that she had not intended on letting that slip. More likely than not, nervousness had provoked the unintentional statement, pushing an attempt at humor to the forefront of their conversation. He chuckled, a little louder than he had anticipated, letting laughter spill between them in a desperate attempt to keep the air around them buoyant with amusement.

"Not such a bad idea," he said, and then in a theatrical whisper to himself, "Probably better in my head anyway."

"H-hey!" she called out, reacting to his staged joke just as he had expected. She managed a small giggle with him, a smile even, but then sharply directed her gaze to the wall on her side. He saw her swallowing a visible lump in her throat, her cheeks a pale canvas only to be splashed seconds later with the fiery hues of a sunset. She folded her arms across her chest, a casual action that told a not-so-casual story when coming from her. The heels of her boots clanked against the wooden planks, her pacing creating quick rhythmic taps that aligned with his heartbeats.

Fuck. Did I say something wrong again? What's with her?

He was always quick to pin blame on others. That was always easier than taking responsibility for himself and his own actions, because quite simply he did not know how. Accepting the transgressions was entirely different from remedying them, and over time he found that only anger came of his trying efforts. He saw the scowl he wore on his lighter's surface, the tension lines deepening with each of Sherry's nervous sways. Her footsteps echoed like the ticking of a time bomb; it was only going to be a matter of time before he blew up again. Fingers played with the base lid of the lighter, clicking it back and forth, back and forth…

Damn, why can't I just-

He sensed her footsteps ceasing for a brief moment and looked up in time to catch the flicker of uneasiness in her eyes before she intentionally avoided him once more, yet again finding sudden fascination in the flames that had held her notice for a good portion of the night.

'It's you,' his internal voice chided. 'Why should she feel comfortable around someone like you? And why the hell do you even care?'

He bit down an aggravated growl and slapped the lid of the lighter shut and leisurely tossed it in the air, catching it easily and setting it on the table before pushing himself off his seating. Boredom, was that it? Was that the root of his exasperation and the irrational accusations and the crazy voice in his head? He made his way to the window to take another look outside, if not to clear his mind then to distract himself from the discomfort that had grown so full of volume that the sensation felt practically corporeal, like a silent third party member in the room scrutinizing his every moment.

She stopped once more, and he could sense his eyes on his back, her mind wondering what was on his own. "I'll go get help. It can't be that much further from the rendezvous," she blurted out hurriedly, possibly faulting herself for making an awkward situation worse.


Had he had enough time, he would have talked reason into her brash move, but he barely had time to brace himself against the violent force of the blizzard once she opened the door. He felt the sting of the frigid breeze that whipped his skin and barely caught the girl it had practically catapulted into his arm. His free hand reached for the door that seemed to have melded with the wall behind it. The muscles in his arm strained as he slowly pried the barrier back into its proper place. Snow blew into his mouth and eyes, unnaturally cold and robbing the air from his gasps. He took a step closer to the frame of the entrance, pushing forth his body to shield his partner, whom he had tightened his hold on. With a final grunt, he exerted all the energy he could expend and shoved the door to where it belonged.

Instinct propelled him to check if she was all right, but she offered no indication of her well-being besides the same look she bore when near him—hesitance and dare he admit, fear? He was distantly conscious of how snug and soft she felt in his hold, the warmth that radiated from her presence perhaps proving to be a far more adequate swell of heat than the fire that blazed a few feet away. She did not blink and her body was as still as a statue in his arm. He still had not caught his own breath yet and could not feel the urge to breathe. It was as if the intrusive element had been so potent as to freeze all that it had touched in its path, even time.

But the icy tendrils of the merciless nature did not run over his thoughts and trap them in a stasis. Though he knew the moments alarm had confined her to his grasp were brief, they were long enough for him to realize that she was very much his type; adorable, blonde, doll-like face, a well-sculpted body…and that spark of innocence that enticed him to snuff out in the bedroom. But above all that, she was intelligent, and he had always been someone who was more into the girl and what she was all about rather than her physical assets.

The realization made all the nerves in him leap in both excitement and horror, and he immediately disengaged himself from the source of his ailment. His hands moved to fix his jacket, fingers needing instantly to latch on to something else to replace the emptiness her body left behind. His legs moved, dragging him once more towards the window. Propping a hand against the frame, he leaned his weight into his side and watched—

Hell, he didn't even know what he was looking for anymore.

He sniffed the air loudly, injecting any sound into the room to drown out the stretch of silence. Snow buried the world outside the cabin, its color blinding and filling his field of vision, making him feel hopelessly tiny and trapped like a figurine within a snow globe. Yet, he was blind to the infinite expanse of white, only perceptive to the movements of a silhouette reflected in the window panes. She moved to the wall adjacent to the fire and slid lifelessly to the ground. Her long legs splayed before her as she stretched them, and then she drew her knees to her chest as her concentration fell elsewhere.

Jake couldn't help but steal a peek over his shoulder. Sherry craned her neck to the right, her left hand moving to test the rotation of her right arm under her scrutiny. Concern flared when he considered the possible link between him and her injury. Was he too rough earlier when he acted out of defense? Did he hold her too tightly when the blizzard thrust her into his grip? His body never gave him the chance to give the possibilities more thought. His legs began moving once more of their own accord, his heart pounding faster with each step that drew him closer to her. For reasons that were not yet clear, he wound up reaching for the gun tucked underneath his jacket. As he seated himself next to her on the floor, he just knew he felt less defenseless with the security and weight of the weapon in his grasp. He relied on his gun whenever he felt threatened and cornered, and though this wasn't the case in the physical sense, internally he felt raw and exposed and disgustingly disturbed.

This illness she had induced in him…it was toxic and infectious to say the least, but he had a feeling that the only way to ease the terrible symptoms was to do right by her. His throat felt parched, and as the words traveled to his mouth, they moved with abrasion of sandpaper. "So…you always been like that? The whole 'healing' thing." He was pleased to find that his voice remained calm and steady despite how he truly felt, the complete antithesis to his serene delivery.

Hopefully she would catch on that this was his way of honoring her feelings this time; that he was ready to listen…if she still chose to talk.

She lifted her head towards him, but he found that he could not look at her for two causes. Indignity from his previous actions and words still lingered, and if she was prepared to share what she wanted to earlier, then he felt the need to offer her solace in the form of personal space.

"My dad was a scientist. He was working on B.O.W.s when I was exposed," she stated factually, devoid of any emotion. It was enough to send a chill through him. Had he chased her and her admission into an impenetrable shell?

"Luckily, I was treated with the vaccine before it was too late," Sherry continued, and then casually tilted her head and shoulder to emphasize the forced acceptance of the aftermath, "but the virus adjusted and adapted."

The way she spoke with detachment was worlds away from her earlier sentimental revelation, which poured from a fractured soul. Was she holding all that back now because of him? Because she feared his judgment?

"It's been a part of me ever since," she concluded, giving no evidence of wishing to continue.

But he couldn't leave it at that. She had so much to say earlier, and he didn't want to be responsible for her bottling it all in. He didn't want to inflict pain onto those who did not deserve it…that had always a common denominator among all the changes that had swept him from one lifestyle to another.

He held his pistol tighter, channeling all his tension into the grip of his weapon as he dug a little deeper into a wound of which he did not know the depth. "What happened to your father?" The question was motivated by sudden curiosity and an effort to set things right with her, but it was only after the words slipped that he remembered her earlier reaction when speaking of her father; her ragged breaths, the tears she had held back with her memories, the pain that had morphed her psyche and twisted her face in sorrow. How could he have been so careless and forgotten? Regret scalded his skin like a branding iron, imprinting a hot streak of deep-seated self-hatred.

From his peripheral, he saw that the flames danced a little brighter in her eyes, illuminating the thin film of moisture around the rims. Though he could feel her warm presence right beside him, he could not see into the memories stitched behind her eyelids, the memories that transported her to an entirely different time and space. He could only live through her words as she looked on into the distance, a pathway to the past, the road unquestionably bleak and horrifying.

"His research killed him." He barely but surely heard her voice crack. "By the time he died his body had mutated so much…he wasn't even recognizable."

Jake's heart pulsed with a violent ache before it plummeted with each syllable, chipping a piece of his soul and free falling with it into a dark, bottomless depth, an uncharted existence explored for the first time. He gave into an unseen force that tugged him closer to her. Leaning in, he saw the light muscles around her eyes twitching actively, straining to will the tears back.

"Sorry. I-I didn't mean to…" He held his gun in a vise-like grip, but the hand that rested closer to her stretched open, palm and fingers desperately wishing to soothe the light tremors that rippled through Sherry's body. He jerked almost violently before his limb could react and pulled his arm back defensively.

She did not notice his odd behavior. Instead, the faintest of smiles rested on her lips, loose strands of hair swaying with a light shake of her head. "That's all right," she dismissed, adding a little bounce to her reply. "Besides, I didn't walk out of it empty handed."

He realized that she was attempting to steer the conversation in a whole new direction and wished not for pity. But did she know that all he felt for her at the moment was admiration?

He played into what he had perceived as a touch of humor. A weak grin pulled at his lips. "Yeah, you got super powers."

Confusion replaced the sadness that had contorted her face. In a flash, her features animated considerably, passion rumbling with movements. She edged closer to him and pierced him with her vibrant gaze that easily commanded his attention. "That's not what I meant. The people who saved me, Leon and Claire, are the closest friends I've ever had."

"Claire is that BSAA guy's sister, right?" He leaned his head against the wall and loosened his hold on the gun by a noticeable notch. Chris—was it?—this stranger was now more tolerable in this new context.

"They risked their lives for me back in Raccoon City. I guess I'm still just trying to live up to their example—never giving up no matter the odds," she emphasized boldly, but it was the spark in her eyes that betrayed the full extent of her conviction.

He stared her down, his mind processing the bits and pieces of her life, fragments in place of a more comprehensive story he could have gotten from her earlier…if he had kept his mouth shut. But a part of him was relieved that she now spoke with the mysterious strength that had undoubtedly kept her cohesive all these years. What he heard was enough for him to string together the most important parts of a tale, the beginning and the end. She had lost her father to bioterrorism and had been enslaved by the government afterwards, used as a guinea pig throughout the years that had led to her current freedom, body and mind marred with scars that may never heal with time—and this was the final result: a seemingly ordinary girl who was foolishly ambitious in trying to save a world that had taken everything from her.

She was also the same stupid, stupid girl who had foolishly saved him. He didn't understand people like her. If he had walked in Sherry's shoes, insanity would have eaten him up by now and this very world could burn for all he cared. Ending the world's existence was the logical way to end all suffering, and until it crumbled to ashes, he would work to hasten its plunge by draining what's left and reaping all he could before his own demise. But for the first time in his life, he was curious about what this decaying cosmos could possibly offer him. What was keeping this girl guarded against the acid that traveled through the veins of humanity, eroding what little hope and happiness that was left?

All he knew was that if she died now, he'd never find out.

It only took him a second to confirm his suspicion. Instinct drove him forward with a momentum gained from the vicious heartbeats that rattled his bones. He lunged forth and crashed artlessly into his perplexed partner, pinning her to the ground. He spared only a moment's glace at her blank eyes before he pressed his forehead to hers, his body slumping onto Sherry's petrified frame as a volley of bullets sliced the air cleanly above him, chipping away at the barrier that held back the intrusion. Pieces of wood and glass flew about the room, suspended in air by the freezing, ruthless cyclone that had tore its way in through the gaps and holes that made their sanctuary look nothing more than Swiss cheese.

When the firings temporarily ceased, he lifted his head quickly to check on her. She may have super powers—was a genetically-enhanced mutant in some eyes, including his own initially, but in this very moment, his heart identified her as a human…a simple, frail human whose life could be eradicated in a fraction of a second, and with it will go all its dreams, hopes, ambitions, and the promise of a future in a world she desperately wanted to save. For the second time tonight, he experienced true fear.

Is this how it feels to look after someone who matters to you? Was this how Sherry felt when she saved me?

"Speaking of odds…" The words rolled smoothly off his tongue, punctured by feigned confidence. He pushed himself away from the ground, hand swiping at the corner for the gun he had knocked away before. Placing the weapon in her unsteady grasp, he gestured toward the window with the tilt of his head and breathed easier upon hearing her reassuring footsteps behind him.

He dived against the right side of the window, Sherry following suit at the left. The sharp, biting wind was relentless, the search beams outside blinding. He didn't need to look out to know that they were surrounded. "Looks like we got party crashers," he said, keeping his words firm, afraid that Sherry was going to lose her cool if he lost his. He had to stay strong…at least for her sake.

She returned a nod, seemingly more collected when she saw him cock his gun.

"But this cabin's invitation only," he swore.

A/N: And that's the end. I felt that was the appropriate place to end the story. I worked on this story on and off for about a month, fixing some things and tweaking others. Inspiration hit when I was re-watching some cutscenes from Jake's campaign and was wondering when and how Sherry started to grow on him. I decided to take some creative liberty with the crash scene (hey, it could be plausible right?) and just took it from there. I also wanted to expand on the whole 'saving Jake' theme that the game had going on. It's apparent that she saved him in an internal sense, but I also wanted to have her save him in the physical sense as well. All the trivia facts were pulled straight from the Internet. I had a fun time going through them and picking out the most interesting and relevant ones.

Thanks for reading and feel free to review/comment!