A Rose by Any Other Name

Rendezvous with Destiny

"Valentine!" The dark haired woman shouted. Jill Valentine dived for the ground as a bullet flew over her head and sank into the brick wall behind her. Jill glanced toward the woman in shock. She recognized that voice…but from where? The gun went off again and Jill ran for cover. "Come back here!"

Jill stared at the woman from behind a nearby oil barrel. That voice belonged to the woman in the underground laboratory at the Arklay Mansion. The memories came flooding back so quickly they were staggering.

The pale woman had been standing in the shadows of the lab, gripping a nearby desk until her knuckles were white. Out of the corner of her eye Jill had watched the woman's agony. When the Tyrant had broken out of its glass chamber and killed Wesker, the woman had screamed as if her entire life were dying with him. The last time Jill saw her, the woman was holding Wesker's head in her lap, stroking his hair, and crying. At the time she'd been in a tremendous hurry to get away from the Tyrant and hadn't realized who the dark haired woman was.

But now, as the woman was firing off more rounds into the barrel, Jill knew exactly who she was. "Miranda Harley?" she asked loudly. Mercifully, her voice stopped the gunfire.

Jill had often heard rumors that Captain Wesker was having some sort of liaison with a mysterious woman. This woman supposedly traveled great distances just to see him. Jill had never seen the two of them together so she had assumed the rumors were false. Obviously, she had been very wrong.

Miranda Harley narrowed her eyes and continued to point the gun at the barrel. "It's funny. Somehow I thought the S.T.A.R.S. were braver than this." She changed the clip in her gun and continued firing. No matter how much Jill wanted to face this woman, she couldn't. She still felt guilty over the death of Wesker. Even if he had turned against them and was planning to let the Tyrant destroy them. It had been no way for a man to die. She'd run away with the knowledge that he was still, if only for a few fleeting moments, somewhat alive.

Rain began to fall around them, pounding out its own death rhythm. Jill Valentine fully understood why this woman was shooting at her. Miranda Harley wanted revenge…

Jacks and his crew had made it back to the hotel basement few moments before Wesker. He had been briefed on the situation and instructed them all to be prepared for the worst. It seemed that the smart-ass scientist was turning into a zombie. If they could not save him, the surveillance team was instructed to kill him immediately. It would not do for the basement team to become a roomful of zombies.

He would have questioned the Captain's motives for saving the scientist if he didn't know any better. For one thing, that slap he'd received in the lobby had taught him not to contest anything Wesker said or did. The only person he'd ever seen get away with it successfully was that black haired beauty, Miranda Harley.

Thinking about her reminded him that he was supposed to go up to the sixth floor and retrieve her. Hopefully, she had been smart enough to stay in her room and wait for them.

His arrival at the open door told him he'd hoped for too much. He stepped inside and searched for any sign of a struggle. Besides the bed sheets being in a tangle on the floor there was none. He looked for the gun Wesker had given her and was not surprised to find it missing as well. Groaning, he could already feel his jaw beginning to hurt. Captain Wesker was not going to like this at all.

Riley had stopped talking. His breath was slowed significantly and the grayness had overtaken his entire body by the time they reached Grady's Inn. Wesker wasn't even sure if the young man was still awake even though his white eyes were open.

Riley moaned tumultuously. The sound came from deep within his throat. Wesker knew that only a few minutes remained. Ada was following behind slowly, acting bored. He was not in the mood to deal with her at the moment.

They were all thoroughly drenched when they walked into the hotel. The surveillance room was alive with activity as he walked through the door. Several of the technicians stopped to acknowledge him, but he didn't respond. The two people he had expected to be there were not.

Miranda still held the gun in the air when something crashed behind her. Shocked she did a half turn, the gun nearly tumbling from her fingers.

The creature was huge. Eight feet tall with broad shoulders and skin pulled back from his teeth and gums the monster was staring toward the barrel intently. Miranda wasn't sure exactly how she knew that, since the creature only had one eye. The other side of his face was patched with metal staples that disappeared around the top of his head.

"S.T.A.R.S." His mouth opened ever so slightly as he gurgled out the words. The downpour was becoming steadily worse, but the creature didn't seem to notice. Miranda stared at the beast again and the realization hit her with the fury of a hurricane.

"Nemesis." She said the creature's name almost gladly. Before the incident at the mansion, she had been working on this creature. It had been a side project Umbrella had started her on. At the time she didn't know why. Watching the Nemesis as he swayed ever so slightly, she knew. Umbrella had used her to create him so they could steal her research and claim her Nemesis as their own.

"S.T.A.R.S." The Nemesis said and began walking with great lumbering steps toward the barrel. Miranda continued to stare at it as it stopped and looked down at her. All at once there seemed to be a glimmer in its eye as if it recognized her. But then, it swung its gigantic arm and hit Miranda in the side of the head. She went flying into the overturned fire truck. Sinking painfully into an icy puddle, she saw Jill Valentine sprinting for the gate before her world faded to black.

Jacks had the odd feeling that someone was watching him. When he turned he caught the glimpse of a Licker slithering down the hall away from him. He entertained the idea of telling Captain Wesker that a Licker had killed the woman but his mind was advising him against it. The Captain would know the truth. And beside that, it wasn't a good idea to lie to a man like Albert Wesker.

Even after the Licker had disappeared through the open window at the end of the hall the feeling remained with him. He followed the Licker to the window and looked down. Aside from a few zombies and the patter of the falling rain, the street below was quiet.

"Where is she?" Wesker's voice cut through the silence like a knife. His words were curt. Jacks turned to look at him, somehow picking up his angry expression even in the blackness. "Where is she?" He repeated. Albert Wesker's eyes were gleaming. In Jacks' mind he saw a cobra as it reared back to strike. He considered the Licker story again.

"I don't know." It was the only answer he could force out of his brain and his mouth. He knew it wouldn't matter. Captain Wesker would hold him responsible no matter what he said.

Wesker stood still a moment and Jacks watched him closely, aware that like a snake the Captain could strike at any time. And he was right. The kick caught him in the stomach and sent him sailing out the window behind him. Jacks had the fleeting thought that he was about to die when his body hit the pavement below and he blacked out.

Riley was beginning to come to. His skin wasn't itching anymore and it didn't hurt to breathe. He wondered if he were dead. It would have been the only logical explanation. His leg still hurt however. There was no denying that.

He opened his eyes and someone shouted. "Well there you are."

"All right!" Several more voices chorused but for some reason he couldn't quite focus his eyes enough to put faces with names.

"Holy shit! He did it!" Someone else shouted. "That Wesker's a genius. A friggin genius!"

"I wouldn't say that too loud." Riley said. "He might kill you for being nice." The room laughed as his eyes slowly came to focus. Six men lounged around him, each wearing the standard HCF uniforms. "Hey guys. Good to see you." They laughed. "You don't know how good."

The oldest man with gray hair reached out and patted Riley on the shoulder. "If you were hungry, son, you should have come down here."

"No kidding." Another man said. This man's hair looked almost green. "We've got a whole freezer full of food." Everyone started talking at once, naming off all the foods that were in the freezer.

"All right!" Riley sat up and waved his hands in front of them. "I'm already going to kick myself with my good leg when I get better. You guys don't have to make it worse. Jeez." They laughed again.

"Where the hell is she?" Wesker's shout filled the room with silence. "Get on the surveillance and find out where she is!" He snarled. "I should kill you both." He glanced toward Riley, his eyes flashing.

The man with the gray hair pulled up a screen on a monitor near him and nodded. "I think I've found her, Captain."

The sun was shinning brightly and Miranda had to squint her eyes against the brilliance. She could hear birds singing and feel a cool breeze ruffling her hair. A child giggled somewhere ahead of her.

"Aunt Miranda come play with me!" A child ran toward her and through the brightness she saw her daughter. Miranda fell to her knees and threw her arms around Sherry. Her breath caught in her throat. "Aunt Miranda?" The child sounded almost afraid.

"Sherry…baby…You're safe. Oh sweetie." Miranda was crying.

"Of course I am silly!" The little girl giggled. "I got a Barbie doll. Want to see her?" Miranda nodded soundlessly as Sherry took her hold of her hand and skipped toward a white house surrounded with maple trees. She recognized the house as the one the Birkins had lived in when Sherry was five years old.

On the sprawling porch, Annette Birkin was handing a glass of lemonade to her husband. How could she be here and remember everything that hadn't even happened yet?

William waved to her and motioned that she sit down next to him. Sherry looked up at her and smiled. "It's okay. I'll bring the Barbie to you." She smiled back and squeezed Sherry's shoulder.

"That would be nice." Annette handed her a glass and Miranda sat next to William still smiling. Perhaps, she thought, I'm dead. If so, she wasn't sure if she could think of a better place to spend eternity.

"Thank you so much for giving us Sherry, Miranda. We can't tell you how much you've blessed us." William patted her arm. "You'll never know."

Miranda sat in silence listening to the wind rustle through the trees. No, they would never know. They would never know the anguish she went through every day because she'd given her daughter to someone else. Seeing her daughter like this nearly killed her. Yet she would never stay away from her, unless Wesker got suspicious.

She wasn't sure if she could stay here or not. In a sense, this was her own personal hell, an eternity where her daughter would never call her "mommy".

Sherry returned with a black haired doll that looked much like Miranda. She handed it to her. "I even have a Ken to match." Sherry announced proudly. From behind her back, she pulled out a Ken doll that looked just like Wesker, right down to the glowing red eyes. Without knowing why, Miranda stood and grabbed the Ken and pitched it out into the yard where it landed beside a birdbath, alone.

Sherry and William stared at her as if she'd lost her mind. She felt that way. But something about that doll had set her on edge. Something wasn't right in this quiet world and she was acutely aware of it.

"Miranda, honey, why don't you sit down." It was not a question but an order from Annette. As Miranda watched, horrified, the Ken/Wesker doll stood up and began walking back towards them.

"Miranda!" The roar seemed to come from the sky and shake the entire world. No one else seemed to notice. She stood stock still petrified. "Harley, you fool." Miranda reached for Sherry but came up short as the porch dropped away from her and once again her world was filled with darkness.

Jacks got to his feet and coughed haggardly. The pain that had swept over his body mere moments ago was now ebbing away. He didn't know how long he'd been lying there. Looking back up at the six-story hotel, he grimaced. How had he survived that fall? His mind was a jumble of suddenly unanswered questions.

Captain Wesker walked past him and snapped his fingers. Jacks stumbled toward him, the world spinning for a moment then readjusting itself. Wesker didn't seem surprised to see him alive.

The rain poured over them as the Captain gave out orders. Jacks was to take a crew into the sewers to locate the monster. Jacks nodded gladly. He was happy with the prospect of taking on something a lot bigger than those zombies were.

He ordered his crew to move out before turning back to Captain Wesker. Something told him that the Captain would know why he had not died a few moments ago. Strangely enough he wasn't in any pain.

As if he knew what Jacks was thinking Wesker raised an eyebrow and smiled nefariously. "Later Jacks. Later."

Wesker found the City Gates where they'd located Miranda with little trouble. Even the zombies had seemed to slack off. It almost seemed as if they too were trying to stay out of the rain. His crew stayed close together and he was disappointed with them. None of them had the caliber of Jacks.

He wasn't too happy with himself either for that matter. He'd lost his temper. Sooner or later the boy would start asking questions and that was certainly not a wise idea.

His eyes fell on Miranda's gun lying in a muddy puddle in the street and he leaned down to pick it up. He never should have given her that gun. It had once belonged to Chris Redfield.

"Miranda!" He roared. He was suddenly angry. If the two of them had listened to him none of this would have happened. He'd wasted a lot of time and manpower on these two. He finally saw her lying motionless in the mud. The side of her face was badly bruised. For a moment he was afraid she was dead. The fact that her chest was moving ever so slightly gave him a rush of unbidden relief.

"Harley, you fool." He knelt to pick her up, gently placing his hands beneath her and cradling her gently in his arms.

"Sherry!" Miranda cried out, her eyes still tightly shut. Wesker turned to the crew pretending he hadn't heard her.

"Join Jacks' team in the sewers and be careful. There's more than just that monster down there." The team dispersed as Wesker carried Miranda back to the hotel.

Riley sat propped against the wall and studied his leg. There would be no saving it. The skin was rotted away down to the bone. He had to find a way to patch up the hole so it would be easier for him to walk. Frowning, he realized that he would forever walk with a limp.

"Do you suppose it's easier to pick up chicks if they feel sorry for you?" He asked anyone who would answer him.

"Oh sure. Chicks love those poor handicapped men." The gray haired man said looking up from a monitor.

"Try the retard act. You get laid easier that way." The man with the green hair smiled at him.

"Basin? You there?" the voice of Jacks filled the Surveillance room. The gray haired man pushed a com-link button at his computer.

"Yeah. What do you got?" Basin asked. Riley could see a black and white image of Jacks on the control panel to his right.

"It looks like the bodies of the Umbrella task force but I'm not sure. There's an open brief case here with several broken vials and some type of substance is leaking into the waterway." Jacks scratched his cheek. Standing, Riley hobbled to the com-link responder.

"Don't touch them. It's the remains of the T and G-virus cells." Riley told him.

"Who asked you smart-ass?" Jacks shot back. Riley frowned and thought about putting up his middle finger but what good would it do if Jacks couldn't see him?

"I just thought you might want to know that the viruses are far more dangerous from contact than anything else." He said at last.

"Is that your official word on it Captain Zombie?" Riley could hear several of the operatives laughing in the background. He was doing his best to control his temper.

"Look…" He started.

"No you look…I need an exact location on the monster, not a chemistry lesson." Jacks interrupted with a snap.

"Tracking." Basin said in a flat tone. "There. He's…oh my god…Jacks get a move on. He's headed straight…" Before Basin could finish the surveillance room was filled with the sound of gunfire followed in close succession by static. Riley looked up toward the monitors and found that they had lost the transmission.

Riley pushed Basin out of the way and typed frantically at the main computer, trying desperately to get the com-link between them working if nothing else. For the moment the pain in his leg was not a factor.

"Basin, what's going on? I've lost communications with Jacks." This time, the voice of Wesker that filled the room.

"That monster in the sewers attacked them, sir," Riley answered. "I'm trying to reestablish contact now."

"Fine. I'm leaving Harley in a safe location. Send a crew to retrieve her. I'm headed to the sewers." Wesker told him. Riley didn't reply. He'd pulled up an image on the monitor and it wasn't a pleasant one.

The sewer stank with the putrid smell of waste and death. Jacks lay in the stagnant water, which was turning an unusual red. Strangely enough, even after the monster had attacked him, he was in no pain. But his crew...

Standing, he found the sewer littered with the bodies of his former teammates. The monster, however, was gone. They hadn't defeated it, but he had discovered who the monster was and basically what it was after. Perhaps Captain Wesker would be pleased.

He was soaking wet, but water was not the only thing that clung to his uniform. Blood was drying quickly and caking on the shirtfront. His shirt was ripped in three aligned places from shoulder to hip. He tore the shirt off and threw it to the ground, the water rippling forcefully with the motion.

The rips were not only on his shirt he surmised. His chest was gashed open as well. He ran his fingers along the wounds and felt the warm blood, but he was not suffering. Jacks mind was once again a jumble of unanswered questions.

The monster's roar brought his mind full scale back to the sewers and to his responsibilities. He pressed the com-link in his ear. "You there, Basin?" He was not about to ask that smart-ass for anything.

"Jacks!" The voice he got was the very one he didn't want. "You okay?"

"What do you think?" He grumbled. "Basin. Send in a clean up crew. My men are dead."

"Wesker's on his way. Wait for him." Riley told him.

"Damn." Jacks muttered. "Thanks for the warning, smart-ass."

"Glad to help out." Riley ended the transmission just as Wesker strode into the sewer way.

The three men Basin had sent to retrieve Miranda came back and one of them laid her on a cot next to Riley's. She was still unconscious as Riley hobbled over to her and placed a cold compress to her bruised face.

"Girl, I think we're in trouble." He said softly. "Wesker's not to happy with us."

"I know." Miranda answered painfully. She opened her eyes slowly and smiled at Riley. "He grumbled at me all the way to that place." She couldn't quite remember where he'd put her. Thankfully, he had been wise enough to leave her somewhere safe.

"Well, I'm glad you're okay. But listen. If you were hungry…You should have come down here!" He started out quietly but ended with an exaggerated shout that brought out a room full of laughter.

"I wasn't hungry, Riley. My daughter is out there!" She burst out before she thought about it. Riley stared at her for a lingering moment until he finally made the connection.

"So, this Sherry you've been talking about…isn't Birkin's…She's yours?" He whispered harshly. Miranda closed her eyes and sighed. At last she nodded.

"Riley, I trust you. Please don't tell anyone." Miranda whispered quietly, almost pleadingly. "Don't say anything. Please."

Riley nodded and smiled. "I won't, M, I swear." They were silent as they stared at each other. "You were looking for her right? That's why you left."

"He…" Miranda swallowed hard. "He doesn't care…He told me to stay put. How can I? My daughter's alone in a city full of monsters and I can't find her."

"We will. I promise. You and I can find her on the equipment here. Then, I'll go get her. We can't risk losing you again. Wesker wouldn't stand for that." He patted her arm gently.

"Thanks, Riley." Miranda said. She wasn't sure what else to say. In a way she felt relived not to bare her burden alone anymore. Riley stood and smiled again.

"Don't worry about it, M." He began limping away. Miranda sat up and grabbed his arm.

"What happened to you?" She asked in concern.

"Oh, just a little zombie nibble. Nothing big." He shrugged. She looked down at his leg and gasped. Riley's cheeks colored and he pulled the leg of his pants down. "Haven't you ever seen a naked leg before?" Miranda continued to stare at him. "I was hungry. Okay?" He shouted. "You don't have a lot of room to talk." He pointed to her face.

"Nemesis." She said suddenly, touching her cheek. "Oh god. We've got to tell Wesker."

Albert Wesker studied Jacks for a few moments before raising an eyebrow. Jacks stared at him in return but said nothing. For the time being, there was nothing to be said.

"What did you find out?" Wesker inquired, walking farther into the sewers. He didn't look back as if he expected Jacks to follow.

"The monster is indeed William Birkin. His body has changed dramatically, but some part of his face is still visible." Jacks could see the monster clearly as if it were standing in front of him. He silently retched.

"I see. What about it's combat data? How easy will it be for us to obtain it?" Wesker handed him the handgun he'd taken from his vest pocket.

"Not that easy. He's quick and malicious. Not to mention enormous. The team you sent in lasted a total of twenty-three seconds. He decimated them and went after mine. They lasted a whole minute before Birkin annihilated them." He checked the clip and placed the gun, barrel first, into the waistband of his pants.

Jacks had started to add that he wasn't sure why he was still alive but thought better of it as Wesker spoke. "We need to stop wasting manpower on this. What we need is a target." Jacks agreed wholeheartedly. He didn't mention to the Captain who he thought would make an excellent mark. "We'll go back to the basement Surveillance room and see what we can find."

"Wesker." Her voice filled his ears and he stood still a moment, pleased by the sound. He shook the feeling away instantly. "Yes, Harley?" Much to his vexation, Wesker's own voice sounded almost gentle. He had to remind himself that he was still furious with her.

"They've sent the Nemesis. I've seen it. It's going after Jill Valentine." Miranda told him haltingly as if she were afraid to say anything.

"Jill Valentine? Well good." Wesker said aloud. "See that Basin sends a team out to collect the Combat data and ensure that Jill doesn't survive her rendezvous with the Nemesis."

"Wesker, there's more…" Miranda began.

"Save it." He instructed her. "We're on our way." Turning back to Jacks, he smiled wickedly. "This game has just gotten a little more intriguing hasn't it?"

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