title: Yea, Though I Run
rating: R
wordcount: 1,874
day: April 4 / when in doubt, gallop!
summary: Everybody has something that comforts them. Ashley Graham mumbles as she runs, breathless and afraid. All the while, Leon listens.
notes: "Nuestra dolorita" means "our little sorrowful one."


Yea, Though I Run

i.

Ashley Graham was mumbling something.

It had unnerved him at first-- he kept wondering if incoherent mumbling was a sign of infection-- but it was now merely an annoyance. She would mumble, and he would turn, only to find that she was doing just fine.

It took Leon hours to understand exactly what she was saying. She had curled up in a far corner of a cabin, clasped her hands together, and bowed her head. In a tired voice, she began to mumble again.

Right next to her, with the countryside around them quiet for once, he had finally been able to make out her words.

"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters."

That was a famous Bible verse, wasn't it? Leon wasn't particularly religious, but even he had heard it once or twice.

"That's some sort of old prayer, right?" He asked, partly to get her to stop mumbling and partly out of interest.

"A Psalm, actually. Psalm 23, KJV version. It's the most famous one." She chuckled. "I learned to do it in a 'sheep' voice when I was eight... Dad never let me visit Jim Kelly's house ever again. He figured learning to armpit-fart the alphabet was next. But I went over to his house without Dad's knowing. Jim taught me to belch America the Beautiful."

He felt an eyebrow lift at the thought of the President's daughter armpit-farting the alphabet, which he was pretty sure was impossible (of course, if anybody could do something like that, it would be an eight year old boy). But the thought of the President's daughter belching America the Beautiful... It was strange. He'd taken a look at her picture and thought she looked like a nice kid. Maybe a little naive.

She certainly didn't look like the burping-patriotic-songs type.

"Can you still?"

She laughed, shrugged. "No idea. Haven't done it in years."

He considered asking her to try, just for some cheap amusement. But then he decided that this wasn't the time. They were in the cabin to rest, not... do whatever it was that cheap amusement involved.

They lapsed into silence, until her voice, quiet and slightly slurred, asked, "Your gun loaded?"

"As always," he feigned his best cocky voice. "Don't worry about our Ganado friends. I'll take care of 'em."

"Then good night."

"Good night."

He didn't bother wishing her sweet dreams. Those, he knew from experience, wouldn't come for at least a year. Probably closer to two or three years.

Instead, he privately hoped that her dreams would be relatively painless. As painless as dreams could be in a situation like this.

Ashley was a decent girl. She didn't deserve to get caught up in a shitstorm like this.

Then again, had he deserved Raccoon City? It had sucked ass, but it had happened, and he was a different person.

ii.

Ashley had gone quiet, as she always did at certain moments. She had frozen, too, that captive's look altering her features.

He looked around and saw three Ganados moving toward them. Their speed was astonishingly quick. The denizens of Raccoon City had been nothing like this, but that had been different. That had been different.

He hadn't truly been able to handle it. But he could handle this. He and Luis could handle this.

Three dead Ganados later, she was mumbling again. Her expression was blank, now, her eyes slightly glazed. The words he could hear were slurred, and her movements were slightly stiff.

Shock, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder, had finally taken its toll. As horrible as it was, he almost welcomed the sight of it. She was easier to deal with this way.

"He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake."

"Does she ever shut up?" Luis asked him.

"Talking is good," he whispered out of the corner of his mouth. "We want her to keep talking, because when she stops, something goes wrong."

She stopped moving.

"Balistica, nuestra dolorita, keep moving," Luis hissed, his hand going to her shoulder.

But Ashley's dull gaze turned to Leon.

He reaffirmed Luis' orders. "Let's get moving, Ashley. The faster we go, the sooner we get out of here."

She allowed Luis to push and tug and drag her along.

iii.

Luis was long gone. He had left, running off to do God knew what, though he pretended that Ashley's mumbling was his reason for leaving.

Ashley had blushed.

Leon knew better.

Now, her voice, trembling and thin, grew louder. Her chin rose, and she looked straight ahead. "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil," but then her lower lip quivered, and she fell silent.

He knew the situation well enough to know that when the mumbling or chatter stopped, she had seen or heard something he hadn't. How she managed to hear above her mumbling or talking, he would likely never know, but she did.

Leon turned, almost automatically by this point, and scanned his surroundings. He spotted what was wrong: a Ganado was approaching them.

A single shot, a shot to the head, and the Ganado was stumbling, and then facedown on the ground. Headshots weren't instantaneous kills, he knew, and the momentum tended to carry them forward a pace or two.

Ashley was already moving towards him. That petite, curvy body was moving closer and closer, finally collapsing against him.

"Let's keep moving," he said, but his arm-- traitorous arm that it was-- was already moving to cover her.

And then he noticed. He refrained from cursing, but removed his arm from her shoulder.

More of them were coming.

His arm braced the shotgun. He took careful aim.

Four rapid shots. Four Ganados fell to the ground. But there were more coming, many more.

"Come on, Ashley. Run. Come with me."

He grabbed her hand, pulling her along beside or behind him. It didn't really matter where she was in relation to him: her hand was in his, and she wasn't letting go. That was all that mattered.

"Come on. Come with me. Come on, babe. Run, Ashley. Run."

Goddamn, he was babbling, now. It was like a disease. The Blabbers— it even sounded like a pop culture nickname for some sort of oozing STD.

But Ashley was being good, now. She was coming. She was running.

Being such a good girl, he thought, somewhat incoherent.

That incoherence scared him more than the Ganados. He could deal with the Ganados. What he couldn't deal with was the fact that he would soon be joining their ranks, if he didn't act.

The Plagas were having an effect, he knew it. He felt vaguely detached from his body, as though he were floating. His thought processes were slowing, and if not slowing, fogging over or even hazing completely out. Even worse, the Plagas were haphazardly triggering electrical impulses in his brain or randomly provoking unwarranted physiological responses.

That sudden moment of sexual arousal at the sight of a plant had been psychologically disturbing. He was now determined to remove the damned Plagas at the soonest possible moment.

The scariest thing of all was that he was losing time. He had periods— short, but they were growing successively longer— of absolutely nothing. It was like a wall was up between him and those memories.

But he couldn't help wondering if the Plagas were doing the same things to Ashley that they were doing to him. Little moments where her breathing slowed when she hadn't meant it to. Her thoughts scrambling... Short sentences that were "word salad"— when she hadn't meant to speak. Moments of arousal for no reason.

It wasn't a thought he enjoyed contemplating, but his mind kept circling back to it.

iv.

Gone. He had woken, and she had been gone.

"--for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over."

That quavering, fearful voice was coming from somewhere in the compound. Following it was was pretty much his only clue.

Ganado after Ganado, Regenerator after Regenerator, enemy after enemy after enemy fell. Fell for shotgun and Matilda and hunting knife.

The corridors were full of blood, full of gore, full of body parts and shotgun shells and bullet casings.

His footsteps, irregular and becoming spaced farther and farther apart, echoed through the halls.

The halls were cramped, made him feel claustrophobic.

Ashley reached the end of her Psalm and started over.

"Keep talking, Ashley," he mumbled. "Keep talking to me."

There was no way she could hear him, no doubt.

And that was when he realized that he wasn't hearing Ashley. He was hearing a figment of Ashley. He was, essentially, having an auditory hallucination of her voice.

In truth, he had no concrete idea where she was, and his mind had managed to project her voice in the direction he thought they had taken her.

It had happened before. It had happened in Raccoon City. He had thought he heard Claire or Ada talking to him when they couldn't possibly be. Usually they were repeating something they often said. It was like a virtual Ada or a virtual Claire.

The human brain, he knew, had a variety of ways to fuck with itself.

At the time, he'd found it comforting.

Now, knowing it for what it was, he found it almost frightening. He had a parasite in his body. He couldn't afford to lose his touch with reality.

But as the number of Ganados was mounting.

Apparently, his subconscious mind had been right.

v.

The plane ride home. They had survived. The Plagas were gone. They had all their limbs and at least 65 of their sanity.

Ashley was developing a case of post-traumatic stress disorder, but the shock was fading away.

They were both wrapped in blankets—- the military officers who had greeted them had noted them cold to the touch-— and Leon himself was nursing a cup of extremely bad coffee.

Navy coffee sucked ass. He made a mental note to make sure that secret service coffee didn't.

Ashley closed her eyes, bowed her head, and continued where she had left off.

By the end, almost every man on the helicopter save Leon and a couple of others had joined in.

There was something almost beautiful about hearing three grown men and a teenaged girl proclaim, in a myriad of tones and accents, as one, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever."

EL FIN