As you no doubt read in the summary, this story is sort of a series of vignettes, but that can all read together as one story. It takes place in the game, with no major alterations except a few creative liberties I've taken here and there. It's sort of goes in a Leon/Ashley directions.
Leon tightened his grip on Ashley's hand as she stumbled, her brown boots tripping on the pine-needle carpeted ground.
"Just a little bit longer." He wasn't sure if he spoke the words out loud, or if they were only in his mind. "Just a little bit longer, Ashley. You can make it."
Whether she heard him or not, Ashley pressed on, clinging to his hand but moving forward nonetheless. Her eyes were wide and bloodshot, and what Leon guessed was her naturally pale skin was so white it was nearly transparent. They needed rest, and badly. Ashley seemed to be on the brink of collapse, and Leon wasn't doing all that great himself. He thought he'd remembered seeing a small cabin somewhere around here, away from any main part of the Pueblo. Even if it had a few occupants, they could easily be taken care of. . .
There. Leon pulled up short, causing Ashley to stumble once again. She would have fallen but for Leon's quick reflexes that had him wrapping a supportive arm around her waist. "See that?" he asked, once he'd steadied her and could use his hand to point.
Ashley's large hazel eyes took a moment to focus. "The cabin?" she asked, voice slightly hoarse from fear and exhaustion.
"Yeah," Leon said, taking her hand once more and pulling her towards the dilapidated wooden building. "I told you it wasn't much further." When they reached the front door, he let go her again. "You wait in those bushes there," he said, trying not to notice the fear which, though she clearly attempted hide it, flared up in her eyes, "While I check if anyone is inside."
Ashley nodded once, then got down flat and crawled under the bushes. This time Leon tried not to notice the brief flash of white that peaked out from under her skirt.
A quick search of the house revealed it to be empty, and it appeared to have been that way for a long time. Leon hurried back to Ashley, helping her from the bush and escorting her into the back storage room where he decided they'd spend the night.
The room was small and dark, lit by only a hanging oil lamp, but it was located in the back of the house and had no windows and only one door, so Leon determined it would be the safest place for them to sleep. Thick burlap bags which Leon had already checked lined the walls. They contained nothing more sinister than flour and sugar.
Ashley dropped to the floor the moment Leon had ushered her into the room, her legs splayed out in front of her as she leaned against some of the sacks. Leon sank down next to her after barring the door, and offered her a drink from his canteen.
Ashley barely managed a thank you, accepting both the water and half of a ration Leon handed to her. She set the canteen between them once she'd finished drinking, then dropped her head back and shut her eyes. Leon thought she had gone to sleep and began checking his ammo clips, utterly startled when Ashley spoke.
"I'm sorry," she murmured.
"What?" Leon asked, thinking she might be talking in her sleep.
"I'm sorry," Ashley repeated, long golden lashes parting to reveal a slit of an eye that was fixed on him. "I'm sorry you have to put up with me. I'm sorry I'm such a burden. Though," Both eyes were open now, looking at Leon with an unreadable expression in them. "I suppose it's your job, isn't it?"
"Yeah." For some reason, the emotionless way she spoke made Leon uncomfortable. "But that doesn't mean I mind. I understand. You've never done this before."
"Unlike you," Ashley said.
"Right," Leon agreed, and felt a slight chill travel down his spine like it always did when he thought about Raccoon City. "Unlike me."
They were silent for a while before Ashley said, instinctively reading his mind like she seemed to do a lot "I remember hearing about that, you know." She shifted a bit next to him, a small sigh of pain, no doubt from cramping muscles, escaping her lips. "And I saw the pictures. Your hair was shorter then."
She saw the odd look he shot her and let out a noise that might have been a laugh. "It was supposed to be kind of a secret, I know," she continued, "But with my dad and all. . ." Her gaze seemed to turn inward, and her expression became closed. "I though then that it seemed really terrible, but now I really know how bad it must have been. . ." She trailed off, leaving a slightly awkward silence that Leon didn't even try to fill. Talking about Raccoon City around anyone but Claire-- and then only rarely-- had never been easy for him, and it was even harder now that he'd seen Ada again.
"I heard about a woman that was there with you," Ashley said, practically reading his thoughts once more. "Not another cop, but like a civilian. Was she the one, the one in red that--"
"No," Leon said, a bit more forcefully than he meant to. "I mean Ada was there in Raccoon City as well, but the woman you heard about is named Claire Redfield. She was there looking for her brother who was a member of a special unit that got involved in another Umbrella incident. Claire and I just sort of got thrown together in the whole mess of things."
"I see." Ashley's eyes had fluttered closed again. "And were you two. . . involved?"
"No," Leon said, this time in a completely calm voice. It was the truth, though his mind flicked back to that night in his apartment some years ago. Leon had carried both the terror of the city and the hurt of Ada around with him for a long time. He had nightmares more often than not, and took to drinking them away on more than one occasion.
Claire had shared his nightmares, and shared the lingering horror that plagued them wherever they went and separated them from everyone else because normal people couldn't possibly understand. Claire, however, didn't resort to liquor to cure her problems until after she'd returned from the Arctic.
She'd found her brother there at last, but she'd lost someone else very close to her, lost him through the terror and ruthlessness of both Umbrella and the nefarious Wesker. In a way, just like Leon had.
She'd come to his apartment a few months after returning from the ordeal. This wasn't anything out of the ordinary, as Claire would usually stay with him if she was in the area, and vice versa. Ever since Raccoon City they had become fast friends, and had spent many sleepless nights talking together in the dark.
This particular night had begun the same way, only with a few bottles of Jack Daniels that rapidly began disappearing between them. That was when the whole story came spilling out, about Steve and the T-virus and Wesker and everything else. By then all the bottles had been consumed and Claire was sobbing into Leon's shoulder.
The night ended with some clumsy pawing and fumbling kisses that might have gone further if one of them (or perhaps both of them-- Leon couldn't remember that part very clearly) hadn't passed out. As it was, they woke up in the morning sprawled on his living room floor, both fully clothed, extremely stiff, and suffering from massive hangovers.
Their friendship had not suffered. If anything, it had only strengthened, because one thing Leon did remember from the whiskey-blurred haze was that he had seen in Claire's eyes exactly the same pain and suffering he himself felt, and that they understood each other, as perhaps no one else in the world did.
Of course, Leon didn't tell any of this to Ashley. First and foremost, he didn't want her to know about the side of him that sought refuge in liquor and took advantage of his heartbroken best friend. He also didn't want to scare her by saying that it'd been years before he managed any real semblance of a recovery from Raccoon City. She had enough to worry about as it was, so he left it by saying
"No, we were never involved. Just good friends."
"Oh." Ashley shifted again, but this time Leon sensed it had more to do with her being unsure if she should ask a question she clearly wanted to than any physical discomfort. Leon knew the question anyway, without her having to ask. Were you and Ada ever involved?
And the answer to that was a lot less clear.
Thankfully, Ashley seemed to decide that particular question was too awkward, and asked instead, in a sleep-heavy voice, if his gun was loaded.
Leon's lip twisted in a wry smile as he told her that yes, it was, and he'd have it ready at a moment's notice should anything nasty try and burst through the door. No matter how many times he'd explained the differences to her, Ashley still couldn't tell a pistol from a shotgun or his TMP from his sniper rifle. They were all just guns to her.
She asked him to let her try firing one once, in case she was ever alone and had to defend herself. Leon had obliged, showing her the proper way to hold it and fire it, but even then the recoil had knocked her practically on her back and she had developed a spectacular bruise on the inside of her arm.
So unlike Ada Leon found himself thinking as he watched Ashley drift off to sleep, reassured, no doubt, by his presence. It was a ridiculous thought, because he had no desire at all to compare Ada and Ashley. He couldn't, really, because they were almost polar opposites.
Ada was tall, slim, dark haired and dark eyed with an air of mystery that she wore about her like one of her oh-so-sexy dresses. She could fire a gun and smash in a zombie's head and crawl through the dirt-- all without messing up her hair or her sultry, haughty demeanor. She was good, incredibly good, at keeping things-- like her emotions or her true intentions-- well hidden, and she rarely needed help from anybody. In fact, she seemed to often be saving Leon's life. Not that he minded, really. It just proved that Ada certainly didn't need anyone to take care of her. She could manage just fine on her own.
And then there was Ashley. Short, blond, and curvy, with those amazingly big hazel eyes and full lips. Ashley was probably about six or seven years younger than Leon, but she alternatly seemed a lot older and a lot younger. She was open, honest, and kept nothing hidden. She relied almost wholly on Leon, and though he sensed she was sometimes embarrassed or ashamed by how much she depended on him, she depended on him just the same. She aroused in him a fierce protectiveness that seemed to stem less and less from the mission and more from Ashley herself.
After Raccoon City, Leon had been left hurting and sore, and had attempted for awhile to fill the void Ada had left behind. He had sought out women that reminded him of her-- fiercely independent, strong-willed, and entirely capable of taking care of themselves. It may have even been one of the reasons he turned to Claire. She was another ass-kicking, zombie-busting femme fatale that Leon had convinced himself were his type.
And then there was Ashley. She was certainly not the femme fatale type. More like the damsel in distress type. Only Leon wouldn't have called her a damsel. He just called her Ashley. And every once in while, usually just to himself or in particularly grave or frightening situations, sweetheart. Ada was not the kind of woman whom you could call ësweetheart'. But Ashley was.
She had that way about her that made you want to protect her, whether you needed to or not. Obviously here in this foreign and hostile environment Ashley needed Leon's protection, but he got the feeling that even if they were somewhere normal and safe he would have wanted to treat her the same way. She was innocent and sweet, both in looks and demeanor, even now after all that had happened to her. In so many ways she was like a little kid, but in others she was definitely like a full-grown woman--
"Leon. . ." He was startled out of his thoughts by the soft, plaintive muttering of his name. Looking down at Ashley he found her eyes were still closed, but her face was turned towards him. "Leon, you're not sleeping."
"No," he replied quietly, a small smile lifting the corners of his lips.
"Leon. . ." Ashley didn't smile. On the contrary, a frown creased her forehead and her eyes scrunched up in a manner that could only have been described as impossibly cute. "You need to go to sleep."
"I will," Leon assured her gently. Reaching over, he adjusted one of the sacks she was laying on. "You too."
Ashley made an incoherent murmur and the frown disappeared as she slipped back into sleep. Leon watched her for a moment, his face contemplative, then he too lay down on the sacks, one hand resting on his fully loaded gun.
There were normal night noises all around them-- crickets, small animals, and the occasional gust of wind-- slightly dulled by the shack's walls. Just listening to the night, you would never have been able to tell that Leon and Ashley were striving for whatever peace they could find in the middle of a desperate and terrifying environment. Just listening to the night, one could almost imagine they were simply sleeping under the stars, without a care in the world. And just listening to the night, Leon could almost believe it.