[r]ating: PG13/R, your call.
[f]andom: Resident Evil, 4 specifically.
[p]airing: Ashley/Leon... ish.
[s]ummary: The perfect life for the perfect girl. Ashley Graham had everything, but lost it all in Spain. And as Whitehorse Christian College turns smoggy and grey, she finds she can no longer turn to her friends— especially when things turn bloody and undead.
[n]otes: I HAD A BRAIN, BUT THIS THING ATE IT.
Chapter One: Feel the Protection
30 December 2004
Her arms tightened around Leon as the Seadoo— or was it a Jetski?— finally touched land. They were in somebody else's nation, but she wasn't sure whose. Wherever they were, she was incredibly thankful that it wasn't the place they had been.
Leon helped her off, helped her wade through frigid water until they were onshore.
She vaguely remembered having made a comment about overtime. Had she really meant it to come out that flirtatious?
Funny, how even that seemed so long ago. She had no idea what she'd really meant by it. It was a hazy memory.
Everything was hazy, actually.
"Leon? Miss Graham?" A woman's voice called.
Ashley forced herself to look up at the woman, dimly took in young, bespectacled, business-like. Pretty? She wasn't sure. There was no real way to tell.
"Hunnigan," Leon said. "Good to finally meet you."
"Yes." Was the woman staring at Ashley? She certainly appeared to be looking at the younger girl a rather lot.
After a pause, in which this Hunnigan did not stop looking at Ashley, the woman asked, "Leon, is she in shock?"
"Probably," Leon replied in a tone that was familiar to Ashley, but to which she couldn't for the life of her put a name. "Tends to happen when your life is repeatedly threatened by mindless Ga— freaks over a six-day period."
"Then quick, get her in the helicopter. We'll get both of you some food, blankets and rest."
"I'm more in the mood for coffee," but that tone was there again... That.... she couldn't describe it.
Can you draw a voice tone? She wondered.
Leon clasped her hand in his own and pulled her into the helicopter. She allowed him to do so, feeling heavy and strange.
He collapsed, rather heavily, into one of the seats. She sat beside him, accepting a blanket from Hunnigan and trying to ignore all the military men.
After a hot drink (a warmed-over protein shake, one of the military men told her) and some rations, she started to feel better.
Everything still seemed sort of distant, like she was floating a little above her head. But she could deal with that. For now.
She napped against Leon's shoulder. Leon himself slept most of the ride, though she saw him eat the rations with an odd expression. His mouth had twisted up and he made a remark about the taste in a voice that hadn't sounded quite right.
She found herself mulling over the taste of the rations. Really, she hadn't even noticed a taste. They had been utterly tasteless in her mouth.
This prompted another question to ponder in her brief moments of wakefulness: was the problem with Leon... or with her?
By the time the helicopter landed, Ashley had slept for about six hours. That was all but two hours of an eight hour trip.
Every now and then, somebody had shaken her awake to eat and drink something— a different person each time— but she had fallen asleep quickly after that.
Even in her sleep, she felt the helicopter touch ground. It jolted her awake and she automatically reached for Leon, trying to place her surroundings, trying to place the people near her.
Leon reached back, clasping her hand in his and murmuring comforting nonsense. One of his hands rubbed her shoulder.
Hunnigan looked at her and did something with her lips. The corners lifted and the lips slid away to show her teeth.
Ashley started until she realized that Hunnigan wasn't a Ganado. This was a smile, a real smile. She wasn't about to be eaten or bitten or—
She forced herself to return the expression, but something in the way Hunnigan's face changed told her she hadn't done it quite right.
"She's still in shock, Ingrid," Leon told the woman. "It's all part of the experience. Give her a week or two and she'll probably be back to normal."
"That— smile—" Ingrid muttered in a cracked voice to one of the military men.
"I'm sorry," Ashley said, but she wasn't because she actually felt like somebody had stuffed her full of cotton doll stuffing, and did 'that— smile—' again.
Ingrid blanched and turned away to go do something with a clipboard.
Leon took her hand, squeezing a little, and moved to descend the helicopter.
On the landing pad, she noticed two people standing side by side-- a man and a woman. The man was tall, with mostly-grey hair, though she saw a few flecks of brown. The woman, however, was just on the shorter side of average, with blonde hair that reached her shoulders in a rounded, "puffy-looking" hairstyle.
"Ashley!" The woman cried upon catching sight of her.
She broke away from the man and began to move towards them. It was like a scene from a movie or something.
It really could have been. She felt that detached from the scene.
"Mom," Ashley whispered, allowing her mother to embrace her.
"Oh, GOD, Ash-baby, we were so worried about you." Her mother turned to Leon. "Mr. Kennedy, thank you so much, so much!"
Ashley couldn't help but notice how odd everything was. Intellectually, she knew this was her mother. She knew that she should be feeling something at seeing her mother. She knew that she should have recognized the expressions on her mother's face and tones in her mother's voice.
But she didn't. She felt better, yes, but still distant from everything. As though it were happening to somebody else. Tones and scents and voices… They were all wrong... She didn't understand ANY of them.
By now, her father was moving towards them as well. When he reached them, he wrapped his arms around both she and her mother.
"God, it's good to have you back," he murmured to the top of her head.
She nodded, but there wasn't much she could say. She didn't FEEL anything. She knew she should feel something, but it was all just cotton.
"How do you feel?" Her mother asked.
"Like cotton," she replied, honestly. "Like somebody opened me up and took everything out and put cotton inside."
Her parents shared a concerned look.
"That's just the shock talking," Leon told them. "We had a hell of a time."
She nodded. "Hell is a good word for it."
"She'll need… help, won't she?"
Leon did a thing with his shoulders. Lift, drop. A shrug, she knew.
And that was when she realized it didn't matter. She let it all slide away into a perfect, soundless haze of shape and colour.
14 January 2005
She didn't feel like cotton anymore. She felt real, now. There was no cotton in her. It was nice, so nice.
But this damnable hearing was awful. Thanks to 9/11, any incident of terrorism was now subject to intense scrutiny. Most of this scrutiny came from the Department of Homeland Security, but Congress and the NSA were involved as well.
She understood what most of her college friends meant when they said politicians were all bastards.
Congress had but one question: had it been Islamic terrorists?
It made her sick. She'd been kidnapped, beaten, starved, nearly killed on entirely too many occasions, and infected with some sort of horrific disease. But all Congress cared about was if they could pin the blame on al-Qaeda and therefore make the former presidency look good.
"And what happened next, Miss Graham?"
It was hard, to talk. Too hard.
"Miss Graham, if you need a glass of water, something to eat…?"
That was Senator Threshing's way of asking if Ashley was about to have a breakdown.
"I'm fine, thanks. It's just— difficult."
"I would imagine so." Senator Threshing consulted her notes. "In yesterday's session, you mentioned one Jack Krauser?"
"Yes. He was my head of security, last December."
"I see. Would you please describe the first time you met him?"
She nodded. This was easier, though still unpleasant.
- - -
He is tall, compared to her. Tall and huge. Big hands.
"Jack Krauser," he says, offering one of those too-huge hands.
She accepts the hand, squeezes firmly.
He squeezes back, hard. He squeezes hard enough to make her wince, which causes a rumbling laugh to erupt from somewhere deep in his diaphragm.
- - -
"He actually hurt you?" Senator Orange— his was actually a much longer name, but he was an aging Asian-American who had tried to dye his hair blond, resulting in that peculiar orange shade, and her own mental nickname for him— asked.
"Yes. He left a bruise on my hand."
"Do you have photographic proof of this?"
"No. It didn't occur to me at the time."
"A pity," Senator Orange asked in a rather caustic voice (another reason he was Senator Orange rather than Senator Ishikawa or Senator Who Isn't An Asshole), "that Mr. Krauser isn't here to tell us if that happened or didn't happen, isn't it?"
She looked over to one of the few seats open to non NSA, DHS, or Congress members. Leon sat there with his arms folded across his chest and his lips in a thin line.
Whether he was angry at the mention of Krauser or at the way Senator Ishikawa was talking to her, she couldn't tell.
"Just continue please, Miss Graham."
So she licked her lips with a dry tongue and continued.
- - -
"I know— the President's daughter. I'm your head of security. That means I'm, basically, your chief bodyguard."
What do you say to that? She doesn't know. Her father had been a senator before running for President. She's never had bodyguards before. Ever.
"Um, thank you. I—"
"Look, Miss Graham, I'll get straight to the point. It would make me feel a lot better if you would sit with your security team and not your boyfriend."
At this point, Mike jumps in. "Fiancé," he tells Krauser. "I'm her fiancé."
Ashley shakes her head, indicating him. "He's in the Air Force. I'll be perfectly safe with—"
But Mike looks to Krauser and shakes his head, sighing a little. "Just go with him, Little Lady."
- - -
Another interruption, this time from Senator Threshing. "Mike? Would you please state his surname for the record?"
"Heller. Mike Heller."
"You are aware that this is the same operative who backed up Agent Kennedy and was KIA?"
Ashley made a little gasping sound.
Mike, Killed In Action?
It wasn't possible, was it?
Mike wouldn't have…?
"No, that can't be. Michael wouldn't have been so— so— so stupid!"
But she knew it hadn't been stupidity. Or at least, it hadn't been inspired by stupidity.
It had been love.
Because he had loved her, because he had been worried and maybe even wanted to be her hero, he had—
She put her elbows on the table and cried.
"I move to recess the session," a previously silent attendee announced.
Ashley heard a chair scrape across the floor, and then Senator Threshing's voice proclaimed, "Seconded."
This started a half-hour Congressional squabble that almost turned into something about gun control before somebody, she didn't remember who, brought them back to the topic at hand.
"The session is recessed until nine am Monday, January 15."
She stood, pushed the chair in where it belonged and turned to leave. She passed Leon as she went. Her hand reached out, almost automatically.
And somehow, everything seemed a little bit better when he took her hand and squeezed.
Her first reaction upon returning to the White House was to immediately find her way to her rooms. She hooked her laptop— affectionately dubbed "Yellow Samurai" despite the fact that it was neither yellow nor in the habit of carrying a sword— up to her speakers. Somebody had duct-taped a very obviously fake set of dogtags to the speakers. The dogtags read, "The Pillars of Faith".
Within moments, she had Winamp booted and her "soul food" playlist going. It consisted largely of The Faders, The Beatles, and the Presidents of the USA.
And then she headed into the bathroom and started the shower. Back when the White House had been re-modernized, they had missed the plumbing to this room. As a result, despite the fact that any other shower in the White House had hot water instantaneously, this one took about five minutes to heat up.
In another life, she'd have called bullshit and asked for another room. Now? Now it was like... who the fuck cared? She had hot water. Eventually. It was better than the blood she'd practically bathed in, back in Spain. It was better than getting dumped into a lake with falling rocks.
In the scheme of things, the shower didn't fucking matter.
After the appropriate amount of time, she jumped in, grabbed her really extremely stupid Winnie the Pooh shower gel, complete with Pooh-Head Cap, and began to scrub herself of the memories just as she had done twice a day every day since she had arrived home.
Shower gel on red and yellow loofah, incredibly hot water with just this side of perfect water pressure, the scent of honey and apples surrounding her...
And then her favourite song— a really extremely stupid song, but it was a part of her childhood and pre-pubescence, and so she loved it— came on.
"Moving to the country, I'm gonna eat a lot of peaches," the lead singer of the Presidents of the USA drawled. "I'm moving to the country, and gonna eat me a lot of peaches..."
And Ashley laughed and sang along. "Peaches come! From a can! They were put there by a man! In a factory downtown!"
She'd always wanted to draw the man who put the peaches in the can. It was patently silly, childish, even, but she wanted to anyway.
Mike had understood. We all have our silly quirks, he'd said, laughing at her and with her and about her. And she'd laughed and said, You're the one who named my laptop the Yellow Samurai.
And they'd both laughed, laid down on her tiny campus bed and laughed and laughed.
"Millions of peaches— peaches for me."
She missed him. She missed him beyond reason. She just wanted him to be back.
But everything made sense, now. The way her mother hadn't wanted her to wear Mike's grandmother's engagement ring. The way her father hadn't mentioned Mike even once... The way nobody had ever given her a straight answer when she asked about Mike.
She rinsed off and slid to her knees, letting the hot water hit her. Tears leaked from her eyes.
Mike was gone.
17 January 2006
Mike Heller: helicopter pilot, Ashley's fiancé, excellent gunner— KIA. They'd only known each other for an hour or three, but they could have become friends.
And the Ashley connection. Leon's mind just wouldn't let it go. No matter what he did to stop thinking about it, he kept circling back to it. Even after too many chin-ups, rationalizations, sit ups, declarations that he wouldn't think about it, bicep curls, he just couldn't let it rest.
The man who had repeatedly saved his ass had been enough in love with Ashley to—
God, no wonder she had broken down. No wonder she was blaring god-awful music nobody'd listened to in over ten years. No wonder she hadn't said a word to anyone— not even him— in three days.
She probably thought it was her fault. And it both was and wasn't. That kind of shit happened when you got engaged to a hero type and then needed your ass saved. Fall in love with a hero, don't be surprised when he acts like a damn hero.
Even more disturbing was the fact that Leon saw that same tendency in himself.
Those Spanish cops had called him a cowboy, in the beginning, hadn't they? At the time, he'd assumed it was just another way of calling him a gun slinging crazy American...
But it was apt, wasn't it? Raccoon City had plunged him into the deepest horseshit of his entire life, and like any cowboy, he'd kicked it off his boots, gotten out his shotgun, and blown it all to hell. It had taken him awhile to get to that point, but once he had, he hadn't exactly stopped.
For the past six years, he'd either been training— improving his melee combat, improving his aim, working out— or researching. He had been dogging Umbrella, doing his homework; he'd even fucked over Ark Thompson and told him to head to Sheena Island. He'd helped Claire and Chris reunite. He'd told Chris about Rockfort Island.
All it had taken was an email from Claire, with her brother's location and her own co-ordinates, and he'd emptied his bank account down to sixty-seven cents just to get Chris transportation to Rockfort. He'd barely had the money to call Chris Redfield on a payphone to let him know what had happened, hence nearly rendering that expense useless.
By the end of the day, he'd had a grand total of seventeen cents to his name.
And even though he'd nearly completely failed Claire in an idiotic, harebrained, knee-jerk reaction to hearing that she was in any sort of trouble... He couldn't regret his actions.
Fuck... he really was the hero type, wasn't he? It had taken him a while to get there, but he was one.
It was a scary thought.