Soldiers of fortune didn't get to choose how they died. Therefore, Jake had never really let himself consider the possibility of how it might happen before. What was the point?
He thought that, if he had, freezing to death would have been low on the list. Edonia could be cold in the winter, but there was usually shelter to be found, and he knew his way around city streets.
This wasn't "cold". This was a snowstorm. This was a blizzard, and Jake could barely see a foot in front of his face. He wasn't dressed for this, or prepared to survive in this. And Sherry was gone.
Looking for her had probably only gotten him more lost. Calling out for her had probably only drawn more J'avo to him, but that was all right, because beating them to death had been a good way to keep his blood pumping and his heart racing. Now, however, all was quiet, except for the howling of the wind and the whisper of the snow.
"Christ," Jake muttered, and he barely heard his own voice before the wind tore it away. He forced himself to keep walking, step after step, even as he shivered violently and felt important bits of him going numb with cold. "I think I'd pay fifty million just for a hot pot of coffee right about now."
Uphill. The cabin had been uphill from where they'd started. If he could just get to it, he could warm up, get some feeling back in his fingers, and regroup before going out and looking for Sherry again. Even if it was just to retrieve her frostbitten, bullet riddled corpse, he'd probably need something to take back to her bosses, or he wasn't going to get paid.
She was probably okay, though. She was probably miserable and even more hopelessly lost that he was, but she was probably okay. She was superhuman, after all – if getting impaled through the spine wouldn't put her down, a few bullets probably wouldn't either. Jake found himself cheered by the thought. It had been stupid enough to lose her. If he'd gotten her killed by losing sight of her, it would have been a sign he was losing his touch.
Jake sucked in a breath through frozen lungs to try again. "Sherry!" he yelled. Just because she was alive didn't mean she was okay. He had to find her and drag her to safety.
He was answered, but like so many times before, it wasn't the answer he'd been looking for. The response to his cry was a red light, lancing through the darkness, skittering across the snow and up his body to settle on his chest. Jake attributed his delay in leaping out of the way to the cold in his legs.
The shot rang out just as he hit the snow rolling. The bullet sent up a spray of snow, which mingled with the blizzard to briefly cut visibility even further. He couldn't trust that fact would stop the bastard from taking another shot, though.
Jake tried to think quickly. Everything had been moving too quickly for him to tell which way the bullet had come from, and in this sort of environment, the firing of the gun had echoed too much for him to use that either. Getting back up would only make him a target, so Jake stayed flat, and tried not to breathe, and kept his eyes on the snow around him for any sign of the red light of a sniper taking aim.
Seconds ticked by, and then minutes. His unseen assailant obviously didn't want to waste a bullet. They were trusting that he'd get up eventually, or make a move to give his position away.
They were probably right. It was that, or freeze. Jake gritted his teeth, and by now even clenching his fists made the joints in his fingers hurt. He was freezing where he lay – letting snow get blown over him would probably make for great cover, but only because there was no point in shooting a dead man.
If they'd just take another shot at him now, he'd probably be able to dodge it, and get an idea of where to charge in for the attack. Come on, asshole, Jake thought to himself. What's life without a little risk? I'm right here, come and get me!
But J'avo were smart enough to operate a sniper rifle, and apparently smart enough to know how best to put it to use. His attacker just waited. Or maybe he wasn't waiting. Maybe he'd gone. Maybe…
No, thinking like that had gotten more than a few soldiers like him killed. Snipers were patient, or they had no business being snipers. He'd be dressed for this weather, while Jake wasn't. All he had to do was wait, and he wouldn't have to wait long. He'd trust that Jake would eventually crack and make a mad charge, rather than freeze on the ground like a dog.
He's right, too.
But just as Jake was preparing to surge back to his feet and make one last go of it, a familiar roar made itself heard over the blizzard, and twin beams of light sliced through the darkness up ahead. Jake knew a snowmobile when he heard it, especially since it wasn't the first time they'd turned up here, ridden by J'avo looking to run them down.
"Oh, for fuck's sake!" Jake yelled, not even bothering to be silent, now. If they didn't know where he was, there was a good chance that the snowmobile would run right over him anyway. He scrambled to his feet, going for his 909 to take aim. His chances of shooting the driver off the snowmobile weren't good, but he took aim anyway. "Ain't no kill like overkill, is that it?"
The roar of the snowmobile's engine grew louder. The lights flew closer. Jake squinted against the snow, taking aim.
There was a squishy, organic sort of sound that Jake recognized as a body meeting the grill of a vehicle going at speed, and the body losing. A grunt of pain was abruptly cut off by another rev of the engine, and a more pronounced squish. Miraculously, Jake was still standing, gun drawn and readied. The sound had come from about five feet to his left.
It was the shock of this sudden change in fortunes that stopped him firing anyway, which proved to be a good thing. The next thing he heard was Sherry's voice, calling his name. Jake quickly put two and two together, and felt his face split in a grin.
"Hell yeah!" he cried, hurrying over to the headlights. Sure enough, there sat Sherry Birkin in the driver's seat, apparently unhurt, backing away from the mangled lump of flesh and blood that had until thirty seconds ago been a sniper. She looked up at the sound of his running footsteps, and smiled in unmistakable relief.
"Thank god," she said. "I thought I'd lost you. Hop on, and I'll get us to that cabin. You look like you could use a warm up."
Practicality briefly warred with machismo, and proceeded to stomp its face in. "You got that right." Jake got on behind her, and after a moment's hesitation, leaned forward to wrap his arms around her waist. She felt warm, and he let out a soft sigh of relief. "You sure you can find the way back through all this?"
"Yep." Sherry pushed a button on her phone, lighting it up and revealing its position tucked into the dashboard. "I left the microchips back there, hidden under the floorboards. As long as we head towards them, we'll find the cabin."
"Not bad, super girl." Indeed, Jake didn't even have to try and sound appreciative. That was a clever little hack that would work to stop them getting lost all over again now that they'd found one another. "I don't suppose you wanna earn my eternal gratitude by telling me you found something to eat in there?"
"How do field rations sound? I got a fire going to soften them up."
Sherry revved up the engine and started back without waiting for him to respond. Jake responded anyway. "Compared to some of the other shit I've had to eat in a bind? It doesn't sound half bad."
Jake kept his arms around her waist as they drove – his mother had taught him to be a gentleman, after all. After a while, he found himself leaning his head against her back. And then maybe it was something about the persistent, hypnotic rumble of the engine, or the way the snow whispered around them like they were trapped in a tacky novelty snowglobe, or the warmth of her that spoke of a roaring fire, but Jake dozed off and didn't wake up until she brought the snowmobile to a stop in front of the cabin.
Maybe I have a slightly different perspective on Sherry because I was playing as her (it seems like most of the fandom hasn't), but I really didn't get the Distressed Damsel vibe most of the playerbase seems to have gotten. I instead got the impression that Sherry has supremely bad luck and everything in the universe is out to get her. It's not that she gets grabbed in the Standard Female Grab Area and she's suddenly useless. It's that she's the one who happens to be first within reach when Ustanak comes marching out of the cave to punch her rib cage out through her mouth.
Honestly, I thought Sherry was pretty badass in her own right. When Jake looked at her at the end of their campaign and said, "Hey. You saved me. Thank you", I didn't see that as anything weird at all. It was unexpected, just because I didn't think they'd have the big bad soldier of fortune bother to acknowledge her efforts, but I knew Sherry and, by extension, I had efforts to be acknowledged and I was really touched that they were. Maybe it was just because my playing partner had some difficulty with the controls, but I totally had saved Jake, more than once. Several of these fics are based on those moments.
Mostly, I was struck by how Jake and Sherry go through the campaign as...well, equals. Jake is remarkably not sexist or demeaning towards her for being a girl. He, and through him the game, acknowledges everything that Sherry contributes to the adventure, and how Jake wouldn't have survived without her. So I wanted to flip the tables a bit, having Jake be the Distressed Dude with Sherry riding in to the rescue.
I did my best to keep them IC throughout, of course, but you'll have to be the judge of how I did