A Rose by Any Other Name

A Common Misconception

Five minutes after midnight, Robert Jacks entered the side lab and threw his black bag on the table. He hadn't noticed before, but the smell was rank. Riley, who was seated at a computer monitor across the room, turned and frowned.

"Oh god, Jacks, the smell is terrible." Jacks shrugged and opened the bag. "Don't touch anything inside," Riley advised. "It's most likely still contaminated."

Jacks took his hand away from the bag and frowned. He still wasn't sure why he'd hidden the bag from Wesker. He knew he would be punished, if not killed, for his actions.

He watched as Riley suited up in a scrub guard, surgical mask, and elbow-length gloves. Then, he began to remove the graying body parts from the bag. Jacks couldn't read Riley's facial expression for the mask.

Behind them in the shadows, Albert Wesker stood. Neither of them had sensed his presence. He watched with anger as Riley began draining the remaining blood from the body parts.

Riley stepped back for a moment, fighting the revulsion in his throat. "What were you thinking Jacks? Why didn't you tell Wesker about this?" He had pulled off the surgical mask to take deep breath.

"I want answers, damn it." Jacks said slamming his palm on a nearby gurney. "I want our beloved Captain to tell me why I didn't die when he threw me off the top floor of the hotel."

"He threw you…?" Riley raised an eyebrow but said nothing more. He knew as well as anyone what Wesker was capable of. The sight of Marcus Baker choking on his own blood flashed before his eyes.

"I always thought that because I could see better, hear better, and run faster than anyone else, I was an exception to the rules. But now I'm starting to think there's more to it." Jacks looked toward Riley. We hadn't realized how much he wanted someone to understand. "Wesker knows something about it, Davis. I want to know what he knows."

"We all want to know what Wesker knows, Jacks, but that's not going to happen anytime soon. Wanting answers isn't a good enough reason for keeping something like this from him." Riley replaced the mask but didn't return to his work.

"I walked into a hospital in Raccoon City with half of my stomach gone and they turned me away. Then out of nowhere, there's Albert Wesker and he's telling me that I'm going to be okay. A few days later, I'm good as new." Jacks lifted up his shirt. "There's no scars, Davis. Nothing. If I didn't know any better, I'd swear it never happened." Riley looked at Jacks' chest and realized that he was right. Jacks skin was smooth and muscular, almost perfect. "It looks like I've never aged. I was nineteen when that happened…" Jacks sighed as the images of his sisters danced in his mind. "Ten years ago."

"I agree with you, Jacks." Riley said at last. "It seems very likely that Wesker could tell you what's going on. But I can't. I'm sorry. Still, you shouldn't have kept this from him." He turned back to the body parts checking them to see if the blood was draining properly.

"Let's just finish this and give him the G-virus in a vial." Jacks told him. Wesker smiled to himself. Jacks would find out the truth, but now was not the time.

The room was exceptionally dark, but Albert Wesker could see just fine. Across the room Miranda Harley was sprawled on the bed a sheet draped across her lithe form. She'd cried herself to sleep again. He could smell the salt of her tears.

Wesker sat in a chair next to the bed as he'd done every night for the past week. How could she expect him to mourn a child he never knew? She had never given him a chance to know Sherry, so how could he feel bad for letting her die? He didn't understand the way her mind worked. And most of all, he didn't understand why she was blaming him for the death of her child. She should have been blaming Claire Redfield and Leon S. Kennedy. After all, they were the ones who had gone out of the way to go after Sherry time and time again. He wasn't sure why he was trying to convince himself of these things. He knew he was right in what he'd done.

Miranda sighed in her sleep. The sound was vulnerable and almost innocent. Leaning forward, Wesker kissed her on the forehead. He'd sacrifice the entire world for her. If only she realized that.

Dawn was fast approaching. He could see the tiny slivers of light just beginning to shine through the windows on the other side of the room. Soon, these very same slivers of light would slip across her and kiss her face as he was doing now.

Outside the door, Riley was making his way toward his own room. He sighed exhaustedly. He stopped and looked through the half open doorway. He locked eyes with Wesker. "We need to talk."

"I am aware of that, Davis." Wesker answered looking back toward Miranda. "Now is not the time."

"There's something rotten in the state of Denmark, Wesker. What the hell is it?" Riley growled. Wesker watched him out of the corner of his eye but didn't look at him directly. The young man had bags under his eyes and he yawned.

"Now is not the time, Davis." Wesker said through his teeth. "Get some sleep."

Riley sighed, aggravated. "The G-virus is in the storage cooler in the side lab, cultivated and stabilized." He waited for Wesker to lose his temper, but instead he only shrugged.

"Thank you, Riley." Wesker looked toward him and nodded. Riley nodded in return and retreated to his room. Wesker laid a rose on Miranda's pillow, as he'd done every night for the past week and went to tell the Head Office the news.

Covered in sweat Miranda Harley ran, her long hair pulled in a ponytail and swinging behind her. On the indoor track Miranda was running as if she were a gazelle, beautiful and sure. She'd been doing this for hours. For now, she couldn't stop. The rage inside her was burning out of control. This was the only way she was able to keep it from destroying her.

A month had passed and she had yet to overcome her grief. She hadn't talked to anyone during the quickly passing weeks. It hadn't seemed necessary.

Wesker had been constantly working. She hadn't seen much of him and in a way she was glad. A part of her still hated him for letting Sherry die. He hadn't even let her try and save her daughter.

She saw the black smoke surging out of the train tunnel and heard her own frantic screams. The image of her daughter's death haunted her every moment. It was almost too much. She picked up the pace, somehow trying to rationalize the thought that running faster would take her away from her worst nightmare.

Miranda had so many regrets. She wished she'd fought her anger at being shunned and told Wesker the truth. She wished that she hadn't been so afraid to lose him that she had given up her child. She'd always known he never really loved her so why had she given up her flesh and blood to be with him? All her resolutions now seemed like empty air. All her promises to herself had not, in the end, actually saved her daughter.

She looked out the floor to ceiling windows that surrounded the track and watched as the snow fell softly to the ground. It had been snowing for weeks, which was almost unbelievable for late October. It had helped her. In a way it had made her feel serene and safe. But now as she ran, she knew that the snow would not to continue to make her feel serene. She was angry and nothing but exhaustion would calm her down. She'd been the same way when her father died.

Finally, running became too much and she sank to her knees, trying to drag in a debilitated breath. As soon as she found it she broke down into sobs. She'd lost everything throughout her lifetime and once again, she felt powerless against the tides of fate.

Albert Wesker watched her from the doorway, his insides a knot of emotions he didn't understand. Miranda had been running like this for days. She'd been pushing herself to the breaking point and beyond and he could not stop it.

He felt as if his heart were breaking as he watched her fall to her knees and collapse into gut wrenching sobs. Deep down he knew he was losing her.

Jacks sat alone in the main lab and watched the Hunters as the fought amongst themselves for the scraps of raw meat he'd been throwing to them. The image of his sisters was still haunting him. He hadn't tried to sleep in days.

He'd been watching Miranda. She seemed to think no one understood her grief. Who was he to tell her how wrong she was?

The Hunter that Riley had named Fruit Loop was reaching its talon fingers through the cage bars for the food in his hand. It sounded as if it were purring. Jacks dropped a piece on the floor and kicked it towards the cage. Fruit Loop screeched loudly and stretched harder. The raw meat was just out of reach.

Jacks wondered what had made him so cruel. A lifetime ago, he'd been a boy who'd cared about others and took care of his family. He'd loved life and was afraid of everything he didn't understand. Whatever reason he'd had for hacking into Umbrella's main frame and stealing their research, it had destroyed his life.

The automatic door slid open behind him and Miranda stepped inside. She sat in the chair next to him and the Hunter's screeched at her. She ignored them. She'd been getting good at ignoring everything lately.

"Jacks," she spoke softly and he almost hadn't heard her. "I want you to teach me to shoot a gun."

"You do speak." Jacks said. She nodded with a sad smile. "You know how, Ms. Harley." Jacks kicked at a Hunter's claw as it reached for the last piece of meat in his hand. These things were sneaky.

"I don't want to be afraid of them anymore, Jacks. I want to aim for a target and know I'm going to hit it." Jacks nodded as she spoke. "I want you to teach me how to defend myself."

"Why not have Wesker do that?" Jacks frowned at her. Wesker was so possessive of her it seemed like suicide to offer help to her without his say so.

"He's busy." Miranda looked at him. "He's always busy." Jacks threw the last piece of meat in the center of the cage and the Hunters threw themselves at it and began to fight. "He wouldn't understand."

"Fine." Jacks answered with a sigh. After all, he was already in deep shit with Wesker. What was one more transgression? The two sat in silence for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, Jacks stood and turned to leave.

"Why do you hate Umbrella, Jacks?" Miranda caught his arm and gazed into his eyes. "I don't understand why you think Umbrella is so bad."

"Why? Don't you?" Jacks sat back in his chair and turned to Miranda. "Umbrella destroyed a whole city. Didn't you used to live there?"

"Umbrella wasn't always like that. At one time we were working toward finding a cure for diseases." Miranda answered.

"Great cure, honey." Jacks rolled his eyes. "Making humans into flesh eating zombies really eased their suffering."

"That wasn't supposed to happen. I don't know what went wrong."

"Whatever you were told about your research was never true. You were never saving anyone. You were helping to kill them."

"They told me that it was better to help create life forms that would save our soldiers. I applied my knowledge toward that goal." Miranda was scowling.

"Save our soldiers? Ha! More like eat them."

"You're avoiding my question, Jacks." Miranda said.

"Umbrella murdered my family..." Once he started to tell her the story he couldn't stop. He told her everything he'd never told another living soul. Miranda listened intently as he spoke. He even told her about Albert Wesker's role in his story. When he was finished he leaned back against the chair and waited for Miranda to condemn him. Instead, Miranda got to her feet and hugged him. Jacks was taken by surprise. "I'm so sorry." She whispered. Jacks patted her arm but said nothing.

The side lab was always silent. Riley had begun to value that silence immensely. For the past few weeks he'd spent a lot of time in this lab, studying the effects of the G-virus. At the moment he was preparing to study the effects it had on a T-virus infected crow. If he were right, the combination would be lethal and would not cause the crow to mutate further.

The crow he'd named Bob was sitting atop its cage squawking. There were at least twenty other crows in cages that answered him with loud squawks of their own. Riley sighed. He hated crows. They were so annoying yet they made the best representation for this kind of study.

He filled a syringe with the purple G-virus liquid and set it on the counter. A few days ago, he'd injected the crows with the T-virus. They had begun to change into the bloodthirsty monsters they were now and it had only taken a few hours. They seemed to be the least of three species to be affected by the virus. However, that did not stop their zombie-like lust for flesh. That was why they were all in cages. They were too dangerous to let out. Riley hadn't injected the virus in Bob. It just didn't seem right. Yet, the more he listened to it squawking now, the more he was beginning to change his mind.

Riley had given up on finding a donor for the "living tissue" he needed to restore his leg. After his experiment, he was going to tell Wesker just to cut it off. He'd learned to live with a lot of things over his lifetime and he'd learn to live without a leg. A missing leg couldn't stop his research, but it might stop his dating attempts. "Might." He said with a snicker. Bob, the Crow, flapped his wings as if to answer.

He hadn't seen much of Jacks and Miranda over the past few weeks. Wesker was doing a good job of keeping him separated from his friends. But Riley still wasn't sure why Wesker found that necessary. Honestly, he missed fighting with Jacks. After his leg was removed he promised himself he'd hit Jacks with his cane. The thought made him smile.

He was right about there being something foul in Denmark. Wesker had been acting funny when it came to Jacks' question and Riley vowed to find out why. What did Wesker know that the rest of them didn't? Could it be possible that Jacks was...his thoughts came to an abrupt halt as Bob flew over his head and dive bombed him. Riley shouted in surprise and threw up his hands. The bird landed back on top of its cage and all the crows squawked in unison.

Putting on his protective gloves and mask Riley pulled one of the crows out of the cage and held it down on the table as it fought to treat his arm like birdseed. He took the syringe and pushed the purple liquid into the suddenly screaming bird. Feeling guilty, Riley mumbled a quote he'd learned in one of his college courses. "A common misconception about crows is that they are actually carnivores." He'd learned that like buzzards, crows preferred bloody raw meat as opposed to seeds and berries. Normally however, they didn't have the taste for human flesh, even dead. He didn't know why that mattered now. These zombie crows ate everything.

The crow beneath his hands went limp and Riley let go. He had been right, the G-virus had no affect on these smaller creatures. It merely killed them. He turned his back on the counter and threw Bob a piece of his bologna sandwich. The bird caught it easily.

For some reason Riley found himself thinking of Jacks. The other man was a well of scary secrets that he wasn't so sure he wanted to dip into.

He was too engrossed in his thoughts to see the crow on the table rise and begin stretching its wings. Only when it flew toward Bob and attacked him did he take notice. Before he could really react to it, Bob was dead.

Angrily, Riley took out a gun from the table drawer beside him and shot the crow until it stopped moving. Riley felt like crying. He was tired and depressed and he seemed to be losing friends faster than he made them.

He picked up the dead crows and threw them in the wastebasket, plopping his sandwich in on top of them. He didn't feel like eating anymore. He was getting careless. That bird could have killed him. Laying his head on the cool counter he closed his eyes and begged his body to let him rest.

Jacks stood behind her and held Miranda's wrists, helping her point the gun at the target. "Line up your sight and look over the barrel. Once that notch is lined up with the center of your target pull the trigger." The gun they held was a .38 Special, a revolver with a dark wood handle.

Miranda braced her legs and fired, stumbling backward as it recoiled. The bullet ripped through the paper target before she'd regained her balance. "Damn." Jacks muttered. Miranda looked at the target and understood what Jacks meant. She'd hit the target right between the eyes. "Good shot. But can you do it again?" Jacks said with a snort. Whether she knew it or not, Miranda was a natural.

"Of course I can." This time Miranda closed her eyes and the recoil sent them both sprawling on the floor.

"Don't close your eyes, Miranda. Next time you do that, I'll hit you." Jacks stood and lifted her to her feet. Miranda laughed for the first time in over a month. "Close your eyes and you'll be dead, not you're target. Shoot again."

Behind them, Wesker stood in the doorway his insides feeling like rubber. For some reason he wasn't comfortable with these two standing so close together. Jacks was leaning closer whispering in her ear and Miranda was smiling. She hadn't done that in so long. Rage was sweeping over him, but he wouldn't punish Jacks. After all, it was his fault this budding romance was happening in the first place.

The crow that had once been named Bob now lay in the wastebasket. All at once, it shook its head and squawked. Flapping its wings, it somehow managed to knock over its dark prison and escape. It was hungry; its belly was rumbling. Not far in front of it a human sat, head down. It certainly looked like dinner.

Riley opened his eyes to the sound of screaming crows. The steel walls around the lab multiplied the sound. He wondered what was making them cause such a racket when something sunk sharply into the back of his neck. He cried out and waved his arms over his head, falling off the chair. Every last one of the zombie crows now sat atop their cages looking at him with hungry eyes as the former Bob landed on the table above him. "Holy shit." Riley said under his breath.

Beyond him, the door opened and a voice said, "Mr. Davis?" It was Baxter Ferguson, the fat Head Office secretary.

"Baxter, no!" Riley shouted. It was too late. The crows covered him like a dark blanket until he fell to the floor. His screams were barley audible over the crows' blood thirsty caws. After a few moments the crows returned to their perches and Riley saw with growing horror that Baxter Ferguson had only a few strips of flesh left on his body.

Lowering himself slowly to the floor, Riley continued to mumble the quote about crows. Although it wasn't going to help him, it made him feel better. The crow he'd named Bob was peering at him over the side of the table and he saw that the bird's eyes were ruby-red. He managed to maneuver his gun in between his folded arms. He swore. If he was going to die, he was taking a few of these winged monsters with him.

Wesker had given up on watching Miranda and Jacks snuggling. He frowned. Jacks had been supposedly teaching her to use a gun. He could have sworn she already knew how. No matter what reason she'd given, it was all just an elaborate excuse to get closer to Jacks. He'd noticed Miranda had been spending far too much time with Jacks. He slammed his fist on the table. How could he have ignored this?

He'd been waiting for Riley for over an hour. Riley had told him that he was going to finish his research on the effects of the G-virus on smaller creatures and then he'd meet him in the main lab. For once, this lab was empty. He guessed everyone had gotten sick of dealing with him and his volatile mood. He glowered at the thought.

He needed the research in order to prepare for the next mission. It seemed that he and his team would be sent to an Umbrella Research Facility on an island known as Rockfort. If he remembered right, it was the home of that freakish young man named Alfred Ashford. The last time he'd seen the little boy, he'd gone insane over the loss of his twin sister and began to dress in her clothing. He had been the laughing stock of Umbrella. Even so, Alfred still continued to have regiment on the island. Luckily, his father had designated the power within Umbrella to the Corporates.

When Albert Wesker had first begun working for Umbrella, he was surprised to learn the ease at which Umbrella obtained the world's most sickly, twisted, and deviant men to work within its ranks. He'd been equally surprised to learn that Miranda Harley was none of these.

Riley had been gone too long. He wouldn't dare to keep him waiting. He knew better. Wesker rose and made his way to the side lab. There was bound to be trouble somewhere. As soon as he reached the door and heard the crows squawking loudly, he knew he'd been right. He opened the door slightly and took a deep breath. There were three dead men inside but none of them was Riley. His scent was heavy in the air, however. He was bleeding.

With the door fully opened, the darkness hit him like a tidal wave. "Whoever you are, don't come in here. For god sake." Riley choked out. The sharp smell of gunpowder assaulted Wesker's senses. The sound of beating wings was a dull roar, but as he stepped into the room the noise died down. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, Wesker saw why Riley's voice was so harsh. At least twenty crows were surrounding an overturned table.

"Wesker?" Riley gagged. Wesker didn't answer him. Instead he rested his hand on the gun at his side. "Whoever that is, don't say I didn't warn you." The largest of the birds flew into the air and landed on Wesker's shoulder. It cawed softly as if telling him about a lost meal. For a moment, Wesker almost brushed it off and shot it, but for some odd reason he decided against it.

"Go." He said slowly. The entire group of crows returned to their cages in a whirlwind of black wings. Resolutely, Wesker shut and locked all the cage doors. He reached into his vest pocket and pulled out a flashlight. Picking up the table, he shined the light in Riley's eyes.

"Hey!" Riley shouted. "What's wrong with you?"

"What the hell happened in here?" Wesker shouted back. The bird on his shoulder flapped its wings and cawed loudly. Riley waited until the bird was finished before he got to his feet.

"I was shooting at that little asshole and shot out the bulb." He shrugged and fumbled through a desk drawer to pull out another bulb.

"Riley?" Miranda's voice broke the sudden silence. "Are you okay?" Wesker shinned the flashlight her way and illuminated the body of the former Baxter Ferguson. Miranda sucked in a breath but didn't scream. Jacks was standing behind her glaring at him. Wesker wondered if it were because Miranda had told him all the things that he'd done to her in the past. He wondered if she'd told him about Vincent.

"Get this shit cleaned up, Riley. And leave those damned crows alone. I plan to use them in the next mission." Wesker pointed to the last open cage and the bird on his shoulder flew inside. He shut the door and turned to leave. Miranda placed a hand on his arm and for a moment the two of them locked eyes. Wesker decided against telling her what he thought of her new relationship. It would only make matters worse.

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