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pilgrims in the heart of darkness

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Jill needed, not necessarily in that order, a hard drink and a hot shower. Food, too, but every time she thought about eating she remembered the sensation of something skittering down her throat, the unbearable urge to vomit, tiny little pincers poking at the inside of her esophagus as they tried to worm their way down, down, down into the warmer regions of her belly, her guts.

She swallowed thickly.

The helicopter had been low on fuel when they had leapt in, and Carlos had had no choice but to touch down on the first patch of flat earth he could find. They were close enough to Raccoon City that she could still feel the heat of its flames and smell the thick, choking smoke of its destruction. Baptism by fire, she thought, but there was nothing holy about what had happened--fires were supposed to leave the earth purer than they had found them, but Raccoon City was blighted earth, nothing to grow on it ever again. Rotted right down to its roots.

“You okay?” Carlos asked, coming to her side. He reached out a tentative hand to her shoulder and when she didn’t tense or pull away, kept it there.

It was a stupid question. He knew the minute he asked it and he blanched, and would have jerked it away but Jill laughed, a harsh, hollow sound. “Well, compared to the last couple of days, I’d say I’m doing outstanding.”

They hobbled their way another five miles to the next town over. One of those classic Midwestern places that, if Jill had been less exhausted, she would have cracked a Children of the Corn joke. It didn’t seem appropriate now.

“You see that?” Carlos asked.

Jill stiffened, hand unconsciously reaching for the gun holstered at her hip, but Carlos was pointing to the veritable army of ambulances racing down the dusty highway opposite them.

“They must be triaging survivors here,” Jill realized. There was no way nuking an entire goddamn city would go unnoticed by the general public and no doubt the government had taken the somber stance of doing what was necessary for the good of the nation and made a show of rally a slew of aid and damage control. She glanced over at Carlos. “We should lose the gear.” Umbrella hadn’t gone down with the ship that was Raccoon City, and they wouldn’t have suddenly developed a moral compass. “Rolling up armed to the teeth makes us stick out like sore thumbs.”

Carlos had taken some convincing, and she got it. She felt like throwing up when she put her grenade launcher on the ground. Their compromise had been keeping their pistols, on Carlos, since his BDUs made hiding weapons easier. The rest they buried and after a moment’s hesitation, her S.T.A.R.S. badge joined the makeshift grave. She felt naked and vulnerable without it and somehow, despite everything, being hunted across the dying city, bitten and beaten and shot at, that was what made the first stirrings of hysteria burn at the back of her throat. She hated the tears that gathered at the corner of her eyes.

A soft grunt of pain distracted her and she turned to find Carlos struggling to get his tactical vest off. Making a soft sound at the back of her throat, she crossed to him and hooked her fingers under the thick shoulder straps. She could feel his muscles bunch, the way you would just before throwing a punch, but he realized it was her and he let out a shaky breath.

Vein-sized rivulets of blood snaked down his arm from where her bullet had hit. It had been through and through, out Carlos’s shoulder and into Nikolai. It was what she was trained to do, part and parcel of the job, and she’d been through the rigors of multiple psych evals in preparation for the event where she had to pull the trigger. But the… things she’d unloaded her clip into the last few days had been disproportionately already dead, technically. It had been easy to turn it off her empathy, her pity, survival and self-preservation demanding it. But when her fingers skimmed over the blooded strip of cloth Carlos had re-purposed into a makeshift tourniquet they trembled.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“I’m not.” He reached up with his good hand and squeezed her fingers. “If going through me was how you were going to take that fucker down, I’m glad you did it.”

The jagged edges of the destroyed vaccine stabbed at her from where she’d shoved it into her jeans’ pocket. Wordlessly Carlos watched her pull it out and turn it over in her palm, the metal edges catching the glinting of the morning sun. There wasn’t a single drop of the vaccine left now, unless you counted what still swam through her own bloodstream.

She pressed one finger into the jagged point, just enough for a pinprick of blood to well on the tip of her finger. “If you’d known the vaccine you gave me, back in the hospital, could have stopped the missile strike on the city--would you have still have given it to me?”

Carlos fished out a wad of cash from one of the pockets of his vest and shoved into his pocket. With an exhausted huff, he pushed himself to his feet, staring out across the flat landscape, where the dark plumes of Raccoon City reached toward the sun.

He turned, and his eyes were dark and unreadable on hers. “I don’t know,” he admitted.

Her stomach tightened, something akin to mourning maybe, or grief. The oppressive sense of inevitability, perhaps. She knew it was a moot point, a useless what if. The vaccine had already been moving through her system by the time Carlos realized he’d had a choice to make, but Jill had never been one to shy away from uncomfortable truths.

And this was the worst of them--Carlos wasn’t saying that he’d have chosen a city over her, and they both knew it. He was saying it wouldn’t have made a difference.

“If killing me had meant taking down Nikolai,” Carlos asked, tit for tat. “Would you have?”

“Yes,” Jill said, without hesitation.

What she saw on his face might have been called relief and she didn’t have to heart to finish the sentence. Yes, and then I would have stayed with you until it was all over. Losing Carlos in the hellscape that had become Raccoon City would have broken her, like nothing else could have, and it was another uncomfortable truth she forced herself to look dead in the eyes. Jill could pushed herself to her feet and keep going more times than she could count, but that would have been the one thing to stop her.

Instead, she reared her hand back and threw the broken vial as far as she could.

 

 

It took them close to another hour to hobble their way into the town--more of a pit-stop stop than anything else, the kind of place that had been built in answer to a metropolis like Raccoon City. A place where gas was cheap, motels were by the hour, and it couldn’t afford its own police force and had to rely on state troopers. Jill couldn’t even remember its name.

A horde of bright-eyed doctors and nurses were waiting to usher them into the triage, their faces obscured by goggles and surgical gowns. The first thing they did was separate her from Carlos and she knew it was a bad idea from the look on Carlos’s face. He was ready to do damage to keep close.

“It’s alright,” Jill told him. “I’ll see you in a bit.” If she’d didn’t, they’d tear the place apart.

Carlos nodded, reluctantly, and let himself be ushered away. Something lodged in her throat when he turned a corner and disappeared, it tasted sour and bitter. She didn’t want to call it panic.

“The government was asking for any volunteers who were willing to fly down here and help take care of the survivors,” a particularly young nurse informed Jill when they settled her a medical cot.

Jill had to wonder what exactly the government was telling people had happened in the city, what the T-virus looked like and did, because there was none of the fear she would have expected--Jill could have sunk her teeth into this girl’s arm at least ten different times before anyone could have stopped her.

She said nothing and endured the tests, swabs after swabs, the vials and vials of blood they took, and went into their designated clean room and stripped off her clothes. She was hosed down with medical soap that made her skin crack and itch and she made sure not to look at her feet and the layers of grime and dirt and blood that sloshed down to the drain. She didn’t say anything as they gathered up her tattered clothes to, no doubt, burn. She didn’t wonder how Carlos would explain the guns down his pants.

They at least had sweatpants and a shirt to put her in instead of a hospital gown.

“We thought we were going to have to commandeer the gym, or the school,” the nurse said, taking another nasal swab and capping into a clear, plastic vial. “The motel is preferable, of course, because of the privacy and it’s easier for the officers to monitor who goes in and out but they only had a handful of rooms. Of course, it wound up not mattering…”

She trailed off, realizing what she was saying, and Jill’s freshly cleaned hand curled into a fist, skin cracking on her palm.

“Well, there just weren’t as many as we were expecting…” she finally finished. “They think we’ll be able to fit everyone into the motel.”

It’s not like there would any more survivors crawling out of the city, she meant.

“The quarantine won’t be so bad,” the nurse said, striving for lightness, ignoring the fact that only a few miles west of them a population of a hundred thousand people had been reduced to ash. “At least you’ll be with your husband.”

It hadn’t been planned, something she had blurted at the last moment, a sudden deep, intense fear of the government, of its funding, of its shadow puppeteers. The last thing they wanted was Umbrella catching wind that a S.T.A.R.S. officer and a U.B.C.S. soldier had managed to drag themselves out of what should have been their graves. So Carl and Jane Kendo had checked in, their identification lost at some point during their desperate scramble to escape Raccoon City. Robert Kendo wouldn’t mind, Jill knew. Might even get a kick out of it if she ever got the chance to tell him.

She rotated her wrist, looking down at the white wristband they’d strapped to her wrist. J. Kendo, it said, R.C. Negative. 5 Day Quarantine - 100198.

There were worse places to be in quarantine, she supposed. The isolation ward at the Spencer Memorial Hospital, for one, and any other place with that little red and white octagon symbol stamped guilelessly in a window. The Better Springs Motor Inn boosted colored tv! and kitchenette! and could be rented out by weeks or months. Jill wouldn’t have been caught dead in a place like this, not willingly, would have cracked a joke about blacklights and catching something from the sheets.

They must have deep cleaned the rooms when they had requisitioned them. The scent of bleach was overpowering and stung her eyes. Her chatty nurse gave her a sympathetic look, explaining that they’d had to use the military grade cleaner.

“You wouldn’t believe what this place looked like when we got here,” she explained. “I think it’s clientele is more of an hourly sort, you know?”

Jill peered out between the slats of the heavy blinds. She counted at least eight military personnel--national guards, mostly likely, since the bubbly nurse had mentioned the governor had called in the reserves to escort them into town. There would be more, less conspicuous, and she was going to need to figure out their rotations. How many of them were already in Umbrella’s pocket? Reporting back to their corporate overlords any oddity about the handful of survivors that had managed to make it out of Raccoon’s graveyard?

“We have to keep everyone quarantined in their rooms, so we’ll be bringing meals at set times. There’s a paper on the desk by the bed, and the procedures for daily testing. And if you have any questions, that phone over there is a direct line to whatever doctor is on call. We’re maintaining 24-hour staff rotations and we’re all on site. So we’re here for whatever you need.” She beamed at her with such a sweet smile that Jill felt it in her teeth. “And once you can leave your quarantine we’ll be able to recommend a extensive list of some of the best psychologists in the world.”

Carlos wasn’t in the room with her, Jill realized. Her heart thudded in her chest. She could take out the nurse, no problem--a good right hook to keep her quiet so she didn’t alert the guards. And they were reserves, not really combat ready, and they’d think of her more of a confused, frightened woman than a threat. They’d approach her first, try to see if she was just a poor, traumatized victim that needed to be guided to a doctor’s care, and she’d have a gun in her hand before anyone realized what was going on, and then she could--

“Miss Kendo? Are you alright?”

Jill sucked in a breath. Breathe. This wasn’t Raccoon City, and the doctors and nurses and the reserves outside her door were just trying to help the survivors of what they thought was a tragic, freak accident. Carlos had a bullet hole in his shoulder. He probably needed stitches, antiseptic. There was no need to panic.

Breathe.

“Sorry,” Jill forced out. “It’s been a rough couple of days.”

The nurse’s concern turned sympathetic. “I can’t even begin to imagine,” she said gently, the standard bloodless response you gave to a shell shocked survivor--a careful non mention of the incident, but a reassurance that of course it was terrible and of course it was awful and you are valid and right in your reaction. “But there’s no need for concern. The quarantine is just a precaution, really. You’re not in any danger anymore. You’re safe.”

She wasn’t. Three days ago a monster straight out of her worst nightmares had been personally delivered to her door just to show her how unsafe she was. And would always be, so long as Umbrella had the money--and their money was infinite.

“Thanks,” she said, the typical response.

 

 

She took another shower. After being hosed down by the hazmat team, she was probably cleaner than she’d ever been in her life, but she still stood under the scalding spray until her skin was bright pink and irritated, leaning against the bleached tile walls and watching the clear water run passed her toes and into the drain. She would at least give the motor inn a point for its endless supply of hot water.

She emerged from the bathroom through a wall of steam, and released the breath trapped in her throat when she saw Carlos sitting at the kitchenette’s cracking, laminate table thumbing through… a bible of all things.

“Didn’t take you for a religious man,” she said lightly.

He set the book aside with a shrug. “It was either that or the porn mag under it.” He glanced over at her, at the towel she pressed with one hand between her breasts, and then away again. A muscle in his jaw bunched.

She’d never been overly shy, and if she had been it would have been cured with her Delta Force training, but there was something about Carlos in the loose fitted sweatpants and tank top they’d given that made her… acutely aware that she only had a towel on. It was like running through the snow and diving into a hot spring. Needs that had been irrelevant when she had been running for her life stirring to life, making themselves known.

“Do you want to use the shower?” she asked, striving to be nonchalant. She could see the nicks and cuts from his time in the city, just beginning to heal, and the four stitches they’d used to patch up the bullet wound. “Can you?”

“If I’m careful,” Carlos answered. “But, nah, I’m good. Feel like they scrubbed an entire layer of skin off already.”

A taut silence stretched between them. In the city, the demands of survival had scraped away the kind of natural wariness you’d have with a virtual stranger and it felt unnatural to suddenly have it begin to trickle back in, to have that awareness start to build between them, that tension in her gut that could only mean one thing--desire.

It had been there. She wasn’t going to pretend she hadn’t been aware that Carlos was a good looking man. She was pretty sure it was the first thing most people noticed about him and he carried himself with a jovial, good-natured energy that immediately put you at ease, that made you want to stick close to him. It was what had made her leery of him in the first place, worried it was a trap. The knowledge had simmered low in her belly, and there it had stayed banked, for a lot of good reasons. Now, those reasons were gone.

You’re safe, the nurse had said, even if she wasn’t necessarily true.

She wet her lips. “I want to thank you,” she said, and Carlos glanced over at her, long legs kicked out underneath the table. “For the hospital, for what you did.” Not many people would have strong-armed their way through a place like the Spenser Memorial Hospital, let alone crawl and fight their way through a plague-ridden city on the off chance that she was still alive.

Carlos nodded, and if she didn’t know any better she would say there was a flush across his cheeks. It was endearing, it was sweet, and she made a sound. Carlos pushed to his feet, eyes on her face, unblinking, with a hyper focus she was sure served him well when he was preparing to breach hostile environments. Other women might have found it unnerving but Jill was as battle ready as he was, more so, and all it did was make an answering hunger curl around her.

She met him halfway and his strength propelled her back again, hard against the wall, but his hands were already there, taking the brunt of the force. She lost her towel somewhere along the way and Carlos pulled back far enough to stare down at her, there was nothing but hot approval in his gaze, at the tableau of survival and strength her body presented. She could feel him, growing harder and harder against her hip, with each injury, each stamp of survival, he cataloged.

“Holy crap,” Carlos said, lowly, hoarsely, staring at her like she was a work of art.

She curled her fingers into his hair and yanked him down to her mouth, finally answering the question that had unconsciously clung to her mind for the last few days--what did Carlos Oliveria taste like. Minty, from the toothpaste they’d given them in the clean room, but there was an underlying tang of something citrusy and tart, and she moaned into his mouth.

His fingers skimmed down her body, over her shaking sides, his mouth mapping a hot, wet trail along her face and throat. Jill tilted her head back to pull in hard breaths.

“Just so you know,” she panted when he came back to her mouth, in between sharp delves of his tongue, “this isn’t gratitude.”

A hoarse laugh escaped Carlos, one hand cupping her breast, the other toying with the smooth flesh above her mound. “I sure as fuck hope not,” he said and she would have laughed too, if he hadn’t started kissing her again. There was nothing funny about the way Carlos kissed her.

She had just wanted to make sure they were on the same page. This had nothing to do with who had saved whose life. Or gratitude. This was fucking, pure and simple. You didn’t survive something they had survived and not need a reaffirmation that said here I am. I’m alive, you son of a bitch. For three long, long days they’d been balancing on a razor’s edge, knowing that one wrong step would be fatal, and now they were free falling, free of that danger. All that adrenaline had to go somewhere.

“Fuck me, Carlos,” Jill demanding, hooking a leg around his lean hips and tugging him hard against her, grinding against his cock, hard and hot against her. Her body trembled, banked needs roaring to life.

“Hold on, hold on. Lemme just--” He eased away just far enough to jam two fingers into his mouth, tongue working around them, and it was the hottest thing Jill had seen and Jesus she wouldn’t have described herself as hard to please in bed but she’d never been ready to get off this quick--

He hooked her knee under his elbow, lifting her, exposing her, and sunk his two, wet fingers into her, stroking hard and fast the way she needed. She trembled against the wall, a keening wail escaping her. Her hands lifted hands to cup and knead her breasts, just as rough as he was being, and her hips jerked against his thrusting fingers.

“That is hottest fucking thing I’ve ever seen--” Carlos hissed out.

“Shut up for a moment,” she snapped and shoved against him. He got the message and dropped to the floor, shucking his pants and shirt before rolling to his back, and cupped her thighs as she swung on top of him. There wasn’t time to really appreciate what she was seeing, the body of a very psychical man, thick arms and a defined chest that you couldn’t get from a gym, all covered in wiry, dark hairs. That would have to wait for later. His eyes were like hot coals, burning up at her from underneath that mop of curly hair.

Neither of them had any time for finesse. It was a desperate, mad race to a finish line. His fingers dug into her hips, thumbs making indents in her abdomen, and she positioned him and sunk down, letting gravity to the work. Her eyes fluttered closed as she worked herself on him. He was… well--holy crap was right.

“S’kay?” Carlos managed to ask, teeth gritted, ever single muscle is his body stiff with tension.

“Not used to a heavyweight class, but I got it.” She wiggled her hips again, lifting and falling, taking him in as much as she could with each downward press. And then he was all the way in, so big that for a moment they were both still, shocked, absorbing the feeling, the tight fit of him inside her. It hurt, just a little bit, and made her shudder above him.

She started moving, curling her fingers into the dark fleece of hair across his chest, her thighs clasped tight around his strong hips. There were no words. They didn’t need them. There was only the sounds of his hot grunts, the sound of skin on skin as he bucked up into her, as she ground down on him.

This was always intended to be a sprint, not a marathon, but even she was surprised by how quickly she got where she needed to be. She bowed over him, coming with a low cry, and he reached between them and stroked her, keeping her going, implicitly knowing what she needed and wanted, rearing up on his heels, so deep inside her she had to bite her lip against the lick of pain. Below her, Carlos let out a low, animal groan, arms secured around the small of her back, holding her flush to him. If she was going to have new, small bruises where his fingers had dug into her hips, then he was going to have rug burns on his ass.

A fair trade.

After, she lay against his chest, both of them quiet except for their harsh pants as they caught their breath. He smelled like sweat and her now, a strangely heady combination, and she stroked his chest in a vague, soothing motion.

“Rode and hard put away wet,” Carlos mumbled, sounding half-drunk. “Expected nothing less.”

“That’s the S.T.A.R.S. way.” She nuzzled his throat. His lips skimmed the top of her head.

“Guess this is kind of like asking for sandbags after the levee’s already broke,” Carlos muttered. His hand had settled at the back of her neck, pressing her face into his shoulder. Not restraining, but comfortingly firm and confident. “But I… ah… didn’t exactly use a condom, there.”

“Or any at all,” Jill corrected and yawned. “Shouldn’t have left your tactical vest behind.”

“We’d still be SOL,” Carlos said. “I don’t carry them on me usually.”

Now she shifted, settling her chin on her arms she could peer down at him. He presented her a somewhat bashful grin from beneath all those curls and reached out to sweep a sweaty strand of hair off her forehead. “I would have guessed you’d be a woman in every port kind of guy.”

“Never in one port long enough,” he said and shrugged.

Jill’s eyes roved over the strong angles of his face and realized, with a jolt, that for all his flirting and bravado Carlos Oliveria was a romantic.

“I’m on the pill,” she said at last, settling back down against him. “So that’s not a problem.” She had been since she’d been eighteen. She didn’t exactly have a revolving door of one night stands or boyfriends to worry about, but she was the sort of person who liked to scratch the itch when rose. It wasn’t a commitment thing, she’d insisted, because she was committed--to her career, still very much a boy’s club. There’d only been two women in S.T.A.R.S. and Rebecca Chambers, by her role and by her age, was babied and treated like a kid sister. It worked for her but Jill needed to be just one of the guys, couldn’t afford to be anything else, not when she needed to trust her partner to trust her to go shoulder to shoulder with them. It meant working harder than everyone else, it made no inter-office dating, and it meant she was usually to exhausted for boyfriends.

Officer Jill Valentine was competent and capable and a bit of a ball buster, according to her reputation. And that was how she wanted it to be. It was why she’d said no to Chris Redfield, back when the unit had first formed. She’d have been damned if she was known as Chris Redfield’s girlfriend after all she’d put herself through, and she thought the two of them worked better as friends anyway.

“And ever since the mansion I’d been in and out of doctor’s offices enough times to make a hypochondriac jealous. I have a clean bill of health.” It was a strange conversation to be having with a man who, until fifteen minutes ago, had been inside her. At once too intimate and too casual.

“U.B.C.S. get quarterly check ups. Standard protocol,” Carlos said. “My last one was about a month ago. I’m good on that front too.”

Umbrella would want to know if their cannon fodder had any other diseases that might affect their data collection, skew results. She knew the minute Carlos had the same thought in the sudden tightening of his hand on her neck. They both knew that Mikhail Victor’s platoon was listed in some Umbrella exec’s excel spreadsheet as acceptable losses. After all, there was a never ending supply of vulnerable people needing just one chance to make a better future for themselves and Umbrella was good at presentation. It was the kind of thing you didn’t think about, until you didn’t have a choice.

She lifted herself off him, their bodies sticky with sweat, clinging together. “Don’t know about you,” she said, “but I’m ready to crawl into bed and sleep for twenty-four straight hours.”

Carlos sat up, hooked an arm around the small of her back, and lifted her with an impressive show of strength. “Couldn’t have said it better myself,” he agreed and they let sleeping dogs lie.

 

 

The minute Jill’s head hit the pillow she was out--the loss of adrenaline could do that to a girl, and a good fuck could do it better. Jill had had both. She didn’t remember pulling the covers up around her, so that must have been Carlos, and thank God he did because at some point the AC started blasting from the window and she was thankful for the sheets and for Carlos’s body heat.

It had been years since she’d let anyone share her bed, but she didn’t begrudge Carlos that spot.

And, yes, she could admit it felt comforting to feel his warm, solid presence at his back. She wouldn’t have expected it. Since the mansion she’d slept in fitful spurts, jerking awake, certain she’d heard the pained moan of a zombie, scrambling for the gun she’d gotten into the habit of leaving on her nightstand. She knew Nemesis would be a star in her nightmares for years to come but in this cozy cocoon of a quarantine its claws couldn’t reach her yet.

At some point Carlos shifted in bed and she came to half-wakefulness with a start, fingers scrambling for a weapon. Carlos’s hand skimmed across her naked hip, squeezed when she let out a panicked, shuddering breath.

“S’kay, Jill,” he said. “Just them bringing some food. Lemme grab it.”

She laid in bed, tense like a child frightened by a thunderstorm, ready to bolt. She could hear Carlos’s low, sleep husky talking to someone, the sound of a door closing, his movements in the kitchenette. Then the bed compressed and Carlos was curled against her back again.

“Go back to sleep,” he said and stroked the small of her back. It shouldn’t have been able to chase away the tension, but she could feel it ease with his touch. “We’re okay.”

At some point, she knew Carlos got out of bed again to finally take his own shower. Jill still couldn’t wake herself up, and drifted back to sleep to the sound of running water, imagined it sluicing down the wiry hair that covered his chest and arms and legs, imagined having the energy to climb out of bed and join him. She was probably smiling when Carlos came back to bed.

The next time she managed to pull open her eyes it was dark outside and she could feel Carlos sleeping at her back, strong arms wrapped around her, pressing her against him. She wondered if she’d tossed and turned and he’d been worried over being kicked off the bed.

“Hmm,” he murmured sleepily against her neck. “Jill.”

She twisted around and slid her arms around his neck, found his eyes open but sleepy, and pulled him down for a kiss, curling her tongue against his lips, stealing more of that tangy citrus flavor that seemed distinctively him. Carlos slid a hand down her side, a whisper-soft caress that made her tremble. His other hand cupped a breast, thumbing a nipple under it peddled under his attention.

Her hand reached down to curl around his cock, nudging him toward her, stroking him until he panted harshly against her mouth.

“No, wait. Let me--” He pressed hot, wet kisses against her chin, down her throat, paused to suckle her breasts until she was whimpering and writhing behind him. One of his hands pressed down on her stomach, nothing she couldn’t break out of if she wanted to, but firm, controlling, while his other prodded two fingers inside her, curling in just the right way to hit the hidden bundle of nerves inside her.

“Carlos,” she panted. She wanted it hard and fast and now, and gave his cock a hard squeeze to let him know it.

But he wouldn’t be deterred. He continued his hot trail down her body, dipping his tongue into her navel, and finally settling between her legs. She gasped when his lips ghosted butterfly-light kisses against the inside her thighs, knowing what he was planning, caught between a desire to make him stop and demand he put his tongue inside her right now. It had been over a year since she'd had something even approaching a boyfriend, and even longer than that since she’d had a man express a desire to go down on her.

His propped up his chin, the scruff on his face skimming along her slit and making her cry out, and she found herself staring down into his hot, dark eyes. Then he grinned, knowing exactly what he was doing to her.

Her eyes slammed shut at the first light stroke of his tongue. All she could do was delve her fingers into his hair, still uncertain if she was going to shove him away or hold him close, and Carlos swung her legs over her shoulders, widening her to his mouth. This was no tentative, halfhearted effort. Carlos had done this before, and had liked it. His hands bit into her shaking thighs, holding her open to him, and he sunk his tongue inside her, his groan reverberating deep inside her.

She bit down so hard on her lip she could taste the metallic tongue of blood as the skin broke. She heard herself pant his name, her voice strangled, and embarrassingly watery. This wasn’t fucking, not like last time when she’d crawled on top of him to prove to both of them that they’d somehow survived the worst nightmare imaginable. This was tender, this was a kiss to every part of her, Carlos imprinting himself on her in ways no one else had ever down. In a way that she would have never allowed anyone else, but couldn’t seem to want to stop him. Maybe that was just how it was, when you were knee-deep in horrific violence with someone like they had been with each other, when more times than you could your survival hinged on another person, you were intrinsically tied together, the defenses you had against most people lowered and useless.

It was frightening. It was more than being naked. It was being exposed in a way she had never been before.

“Please,” she whispered, so close to coming but almost terrified to do it alone. The irony wasn’t lost on her. After everything, this was what she was scared of. “Please, Carlos. Just fuck me.”

He crawled up her body, pressing more hot kisses to her perspiring flesh, and caught her mouth, let her taste herself on his tongue. He used his weight to press her down into the mattress, pinning her, and caught her hands with his own, lacing their fingers.

“It’s okay, Jill,” he told her. “I got ya.”

She cried out when he slipped inside, but it was his words that set her off and she was climaxing even as he seated himself deeply inside her. I got ya. Words he’d said to her what felt like a lifetime ago, as he’d pulled her battered body out of the fire. A promise. She could let go, and if she did, he was going to be there to catch her, to pull her back to her feet.

He’d already seen her at her lowest, her weakest. She would have died more than once without his intervention but it had never made him treat her with kid gloves. He knew what she was capable of, and he knew that falling apart didn’t make her weak. Jill was prickly by nature, with full plates of armor to keep people at bay, but there’d never been any with him, not really.

Tears pricked at the corner of her eyes, and then leaked out, and she turned her head, to hide them, but Carlos was there too, kissing each other away. Tasting her grief and exhaustion and her fear.

Droplets splattered across her cheeks. Not her tears. He needed her, too. She turned back to him, and caught his mouth, and tasted his grief, all that he had lost, an entire sense of self shattered. Her fingers dug into his back, her hips arched, taking him deep, deep inside her until they were breathing as one. He wasn't thrusting, just rocking into her with deep nudges of his hips. He controlled the speed, the timing, each minute movement of their bodies. She’d given that control to him, and simply existed with him, in that moment, trusted him implicitly to keep her safe. She’d never let go so completely before, but when she came again he was there, kissing her and soothing.

If she’d needed to loosen her white-knuckle grip on her control, then he’d needed her to give it to him, to know that she knew that Umbrella hadn’t poisoned him, that he was still the good man he wanted to be.

When he came it wasn’t with the roar as before, but with a hoarse, low groan that was no less intense. She curled her arms around him, holding him close, and he patted away the drying tears on her cheek.

“How is it,” she murmured, her voice hoarse. He tried to roll off her but she only tightened her grip, not wanting to let go just yet. “I can still go back to sleep.”

“You’re gonna need to eat eventually,” Carlos said. “But if you need it, sleep some more. I got ya.”

“I know you do.”

 

 

As far as mandatory quarantines went, Jill supposed she could do worse. Even the food was decent, since none of the doctors knew how to cook, and they were on Uncle Sam’s dime--it meant take out, for the most part. She’d learned Carlos couldn’t do Mexican food--if you want to call that bastardization “Mexican” food, he’d sneered--and she’d lost the taste for pizza. So they mostly sustained themselves on Thai food.

Before this, Jill would have said she’d go crazy cooped up in a small motel room for anything longer than a day. She’d always hated being still. But she was uncharacteristically lethargic, just existing in a space. She and Carlos made good use of that endless hot water, and the cheap couch, and the kitchen chairs.

By the third day, everyone knew that the wife and husband survivors in room 34B were celebrating survival with marathon sex. There were giggles from the young nurses and knowing glances from the older doctors that Jill and Carlos endured with polite smiles. It was almost surreal, like they’d stepped into an entirely different world, turning into a honeymooning couple instead of traumatized survivors.

“What’s next for you, after this?” Jill asked, as their last twenty-four hours stretched in front of them.

They sat at the kitchen table, Jill’s feet in Carlos’s lap, a whiskey bottle shared between them. They weren’t supposed to be drinking, since they were still getting daily blood tests, but Carlos had charmed one of the younger nurses into slipping a Jack Daniels in with their lunch. Unsurprisingly, both of them could hold their liquor well.

“Dunno,” Carlos answered. They’d done a lot of talking, but specifically not of what would happen when they were free to leave. But Jill had always been one to face things head on. “Can’t exactly kick in Umbrella’s door and demand hazard pay, can I?”

And she knew better than to ask about family. She’d pieced enough together to know it wasn’t an option for him--just like it wasn’t for her. She’d had S.T.A.R.S. to fill in that hole, the way Carlos had had the U.B.C.S. and now they both only had broken pieces. Carlos had been just another vulnerable kid Umbrella decided no one would miss, snatched up and fed a bullshit diet of lies and false promises. If it hadn’t been Raccoon City, it would have been something else, some other urban battlefield filled to bursting with Umbrella’s man-made monsters, a handler making careful notes of Carlos’s death, in the name of greed and science.

She took a shot of whiskey, and neither of them said anything about her trembling hand.

“What’s next for you?”

“I wasn’t the only survivor of the mansion incident,” she explained. “Me and Brad were the two that stayed. Most of the rest left town over a month ago. If they sent Nemesis after me…” She couldn’t think about it right now, because she couldn’t do anything about it.

“I’m sure they’re okay, if they’re as half as tough as you.” He said it so matter-of-factly that her heart stuttered and pinched. “Guess it’s too much to hope you’d hide out on some far flung Caribbean beach, sipping Mai Tais and rubbing coconut oil on those breathtaking legs, huh?”

She poured him a shot. “I’m not that kind of girl,” she admitted, almost regretfully.

He downed it with a grunt. He’d told her he’d always been more of a tequila guy.

“I do look good in a bikini,” she said.

“Don’t tease a man,” Carlos said.

They sat in comfortable silence. Jill had never needed to fill the hush with noise and Carlos was content so long as he had a hand somewhere on her, like right now with his thumb rubbing circles in the thin skin on her ankle.

Finally, he reached over and poured them both another drink. “For Tyrell.” He’d never asked what had happened to his friend, but Jill supposed it wasn’t hard to figure out--she’d been running from Nemesis the next time he saw her after the hospital, and the monster had torn an entire city apart trying to get to her. “For Mikhail. For the entire goddamn platoon.”

“For Brad,” Jill said, clinking the rim of her shot glass against him. “For the entire goddamn city.” For the life she had planned to build there, for the apartment she hated, for all the things that had gone up in smoke.

So long, RC.

She set aside her shot glass and stood. Carlos pushed his chair away from the table, giving her enough to room to sink into his lap. There was no question, his hands were already on her belly, his mouth sinking into the valley between her breasts, guiding her legs around him, touching her, finding her wet. And when she sunk onto him, the only sound between them was a sigh.
-

One last round of bloodwork and they were let loose. The reserves were supposed to escort them up to New York City, if they had nowhere else to go. Both Carlos and Jill had somewhere to be and they loaded up on the bus with the handful of other shell shocked survivors. When they disembarked at the airport, there wouldn’t be a Carl and Jane Kendo anymore.

It made Jill feel strangely despondent.

“So, supercop,” Carlos said softly against her ear. “Where we headed to next?”

We, she thought. It hovered between them, and Carlos watched her like a hawk, to see what she would say to that--the idea of a we, the implications, the possibilities. A promise, and she could pick it up or ignore it if she wanted. The real world waited for her, and she got to decide what it would look like going forward.

The truth was, she could do this alone. She’d survived Raccoon City and Nemesis and everything Umbrella had tried to throw out her, and she’d kept coming back for more. If that had been a baptism by fire she’d come out of it as tempered steel, forged and annealed and unfolded, again and again, one strong layer over another. She could cut through anything. She could get on a plane by herself, could take on the world with no backup. Being alone had never frightened her. She wasn’t the kind of person who could hide out on a Caribbean beach sipping Mai Tais.

Neither was Carlos.

She could do it alone, one woman against the whole damn world, if she had to. But she didn’t have to. It was a choice, and one way didn’t mean strength and the other weakness. It was a reevaluation of herself, and what she wanted. Maybe even what she needed.

“Dunno,” she admitted, settling her head on his shoulder. “But I’ve been thinking about an European vacation.”

“I’ve always loved international travel,” he said, and she felt tension leave him. One of his strong arms found their way around her shoulders, pressing her close to him. Carlos could have done it alone too, was used to being alone, and he’d made a choice too..

And for the first time in what felt like years, Jill laughed.