The man that owned the name turned around sharply in the hallway; he knew the voice anywhere. It had been popping up in his dreams every so often since he'd been back from Spain; the terrified cries of his name echoing around in his skull and making his sleep uneasy. He wasn't sure why he was still dreaming about it; a month and a half had passed. Maybe it was because he constantly worried about what could have happened, if things hadn't worked themselves out.
Hindsight was always twenty twenty. And Leon's hindsight especially liked to ask a lot of 'what if' questions, providing him with undue mental stress.
Ashley Graham was hurrying down the hallway towards him as fast as her impractical strappy heels would allow her to. Leon moved slightly aside to give a passing person in a suit a wider berth; not like he'd really needed to move, the halls in the White House were rather wide. "I thought that was you!" she said, reaching him and immediately throwing her arms around him, hugging briefly but tightly. "Where have you been for all this time? I was starting to think I wasn't ever going to see you again!"
Leon smiled at her and shrugged, sticking his hands in the pockets of his slacks, jingling the change and keys there slightly. "I've been busy with stuff at the Agency. I'm not SS, you know. I don't actually come up to the White House all that often."
She frowned at this, perhaps pouting just a bit. "That's lame. I hadn't seen you since a few days after we got back, and I asked about you, and all I got out of people was that you were doing okay." She adjusted an expensive-looking bangle bracelet on her skinny wrist. "Did you have to spend forever and a day with doctors, too?"
He nodded, looking around the hallway at the various paintings on the walls, the dark wooden furniture. "Yeah. I kind of don't want to see another one ever again."
"Ditto." Her face contorted into worry for a moment. "…you…did get a clean bill of health, right?" she asked, almost hesitantly. "Nothing left over?"
Leon smiled and nodded. "Yup, sure did. No weird spawns are going to be hatching out of this chest." His smile widened at her relieved look. "You think they'd be letting me wander around if I was little more than a plaga with legs?"
Scrunching her face up at him, she sighed. "I don't know. I guess not, huh?"
Silence reigned for a moment. He and Ashley hadn't exactly had a lot of time to converse liberally while in Spain—hell, they barely even knew one another. He'd saved her life, though, and that stood for something. Ashley clasped her hands in front of her, rocking on her feet a little, obviously unnerved by the silence. "So…" she began, searching for something, "…what brings you up here today?"
"Meeting," Leon replied simply, not sounding very enthused. "Believe it or not, I don't just run around and shoot stuff all the time. I actually do have a desk job most of the time." He grinned. "I get paid by the government to waste a lot of time playing solitaire on the computer." His grin did not fade at her disbelieving look. "It's the feebs' secret plan to hunt out Al-Qaeda, I swear."
Ashley looked at him incredulously. "Sure. I'll just bet."
There was another silence. "How's school?" Leon asked, not knowing what else to ask. He knew from her file that he'd read before he went to Spain that she was a student at The George Washington University there in DC, undecided major. At the mention of school, Ashley looked a little sheepish.
"Um…well, actually, I'm not back in school." She tucked some hair behind her ear and continued to look bashful. "It was kind of decided that maybe I should sit this semester out. Rough time and all, you know."
"That makes sense," Leon replied. Pausing for a moment, he fixed the short girl with a mildly scrutinizing look. "How're you holding up?"
Ashley looked down and fiddled with the bottom hem of her cardigan sweater, shrugging a little. "Fine, I guess. Still have a lot of nightmares and stuff. Obviously I can't go see a normal psychologist or anything because, I mean, yeah right, who would believe it and not just think I was insane?" she asked rhetorically, looking up at him with something like bitterness in her eyes. "But still, dad and the doctors think it's good for me to talk to someone, so I've been seeing one of the doctors that I saw right after I got back. I guess he's allowed to know about what happened in Spain, so it's okay to talk to him."
Leon looked at her. "And you're okay with that?"
"I guess," was her lukewarm reply. "I think he's trying to…I dunno, overanalyze the situation," she expounded at Leon's nod. "It was really scary. I don't think he understands that there's not a lot more to it. I don't think he understands that…you know…having something inside of you really kind of freaks you out."
Oh, and how he knew. A part of Leon was still paranoid about what had lived inside of him, nervous at every little nuance of his body. If he developed a headache, that little part of him automatically attributed it to parasitic activity. If he coughed, it was with the sudden fear that something was going to come racing up his windpipe and out onto the desk in front of him, writhing and screeching. There were still periods of time he couldn't account for from Spain, still times where the memories were a little hazy. "Yeah, that's pretty terrifying, isn't it?" he replied after a moment, his voice low. "Suddenly a head cold isn't just a head cold—you worry it's some weird creature wrapping itself around your brain, right?"
"Yes!" Ashley exclaimed quietly, with an adamant hand movement. "See, that guy doesn't get that. I mean, I think he does, but he keeps trying to tie it to all kinds of weird things and my subconscious and blah blah blah." Her face turned a little sad, looking up at him. "Maybe you should just become my doctor. I think you understand better than a real doctor would."
"I'm not a real doctor," Leon said, "but I do play one on TV." Leon thought of all the times over the years he, Claire, and Sherry had self-medicated by talking to one another about the nasty events of Raccoon City, and how Claire had self-medicated by talking to her brother and Leon about what she'd experienced at Rockfort and Antarctica. No one understood better than a fellow survivor, psychologists and doctors be damned. "It fades away, after a while," he assured her. "It doesn't ever go away completely, but it fades. You'll see."
Ashley gave a sardonic little laugh. "You seem to know a lot about this kind of stuff. Training, right?"
Leon shrugged with a chuckle of his own. "Yeah. Experience is the best training there is," he said, but did not elaborate.
"I worry a lot," Ashley began carefully, "about the guys they have assigned to protect me nowadays." Her eyes were imploring, and Leon looked at Ashley with the sudden realization that while she was obviously attached to him because he'd saved her and been through all the same things she had, she was also attached to him because she'd been mildly infatuated with him.
Oh, great. He'd forgotten about that, his brain shoving all unimportant and frivolous knowledge under the rug during the mission. Top-brain thought only; only strategy and survival and escape routes could have free reign during a mission. Other things caused massive problems—that's where he'd stumbled with Ada, part of his brain unable to forget that she'd been at least halfway decent at one point in time.
"I'm sure it'll be fine," Leon said nonchalantly. "Believe me, security around you has gone up to ridiculous levels. You won't be taking any impromptu tours of Europe any time soon."
She didn't look very convinced. "Security around me was always like that, and it didn't stop it from happening before." The girl was scared, Leon could understand that. It still kind of amazed him that no less than six SS agents had been pretty efficiently killed when Ashley was kidnapped—three of them seasoned professionals with fifteen or more years of SS experience under their belts. He could see why she was worried, but that didn't stop the little alarms from going off in his head. Stockholm Syndrome, Leon had heard of that—where captives formed emotional bonds to their captors, but what the hell was it called when freed people formed emotional bonds to their liberators? "You ought to be Secret Service," Ashley added during Leon's mental deliberations.
"That's not up to me," Leon replied, and it was true. "I'm needed where I'm at," he added quickly, seeing how he had just potentially opened the door for Ashley to try to swing some of her presidential daughter weight around. "I can try to pop into the House more often to see how you're doing, but I'm a lot less qualified than you think in terms of the Secret Service."
A small smile spread over Ashley's face. "I think you're being modest." She was still looking at him with some indiscernible emotion—had she been looking at him like that the whole time? Christ, he really was a typical man to have not noticed it before.
Ashley was cute. This was something he'd semi-noticed before, but lower-brain thoughts had not been allowed during the time in Spain. Leon hadn't had time to really look at Ashley, and even now his brain was telling him he was infinitely screwed up for doing it. This girl was nearly eight years his junior, and even if she didn't care about that, it was his place to.
"I'm just telling the truth," he said pointedly. "You'll be fine."
Leon wasn't a bad looking guy, he knew this. It wouldn't have been the first time that he'd gotten puppy-dog eyes from a teenage girl—and admittedly, most of the time it was probably his fault for goading. As he'd gotten older and a little more mature and confident, Leon had turned into somewhat of a flirt. As a younger man, he'd been too shy and unsure of himself to really say much, but as he got older, he got bolder. He liked making people smile, and women seemed especially willing to smile at him. Trying to think back, he attempted to remember any instances in which he might have inadvertently bantered flirtatiously with Ashley.
"So will you come around more often?" she asked, letting the point drop. "I mean, it'd be nice to talk to someone who understands, and it'd be nice to see you more." Smiling, she appeared relatively confident. "I was seriously starting to wonder if you'd died and they were just lying to me to make me stop worrying about bugs in my lungs."
Ah, jeez. Ashley was not completely immature; despite her outward appearance, there was a smart and capable—if not a little naïve—kid who'd been capable of more than Leon had thought her of. He couldn't tell if she was attempting to flex her fledgling powers of seduction on him or if she actually did want someone who understood around. Probably a little of both. The last thing Leon needed was a kid of barely-twenty counting off the days on her calendar until she saw him again. "I'll try. I'm a pretty busy guy, I'm not going to lie. And to be truthful, Ashley, frankly I don't know if I'm allowed to be friends with you. That's actually something that might have to be cleared with your father or the security staff first, not to mention that my own bosses might not like the idea of me hanging out with—"
"A mission objective?" she interrupted, her voice a little bitter. "I know what you're saying. I'm sure it'll be okay. My father would bend over backwards for you. I hear at least fifteen times a week now how happy he is that I'm home and safe. Before it was a lot of complaining about shopping bills and my grades, but now it's like I can do no wrong." The blonde seemed to relish this with a certain amount of teenaged glee then she sobered again. "You know, if you don't want to be around me, you can just say so." Her voice was firm and serious as she said this, as was her face, but her eyes spoke of something else—sadness, rejection.
She had to hit Leon where it counted—his heart. A lot of times people who really knew him had accused him of being a little soft at heart, and he of all people knew it to be true. While it was probably a good idea that Ashley see as little of him as possible, he couldn't deal with the look in her eyes and know that he caused it. It made him feel like a monster for possibly breaking some kid's heart. He thought about how to phrase his next words without putting a lot of false hope into them. "Ashley, it's not that," he began carefully, silently thanking God that Sherry had never developed a crush on him, "but…it's a lot more complicated than that. Things in the realm of government tend to be. It could be considered a potential—and I know this sounds stupid—threat to your security for me to hang around you." Leon felt like a little of a hypocrite inside, because for all his wishing Ashley Graham didn't look at him in that way and all his thanking that Sherry Birkin actually didn't, he couldn't help but wish that Claire Redfield would.
Displaying the rationality and maturity that she was capable of, Ashley smiled at him knowingly. "That and it's kind of weird for you to hang out with a kid like me, right? It's okay, Leon, you can say it."
Was she guilt-tripping him or did she really know that? Leon was uncomfortably aware of the fact that this whole conversation was taking place in a hallway in the White House, for God's sake, and all kinds of people were walking past and probably wondering who the hell the guy talking to the President's daughter was. "You're not a kid," he said. "But you're not an old man like me, either. That's not what it is, I swear." It had a lot more to do with the fact that Ashley was an attractive young girl—Leon was uncomfortably aware of this fact now, something he hadn't had time to dwell on in Spain—and while it was okay for her to lay her charm on boys her age, it was pretty much unacceptable for her to lay them on him.
Not to mention Leon felt like a dirty old man for suddenly becoming aware of what a good looking kid she was, not that it made him want to try anything. It was just some kind of mental reminder that yes, Christ, he needed to get laid. Unfortunately, doing that usually made him feel a little more like shit because he felt like he was somehow betraying both the woman and Claire. It didn't matter that Claire saw him only as a friend—he loved her, damnit, and that was enough. It also wasn't very fair to the other woman (whoever she might be) that he was silently comparing her to someone else, and she would not measure up. They never did.
"Okay. No need to swear." Ashley smiled at him and then shot a look at her tiny silver watch, her bangle bracelet clanking. "I guess I'd better let you go. I've probably made you uncomfortable enough for one day. I'm supposed to grab lunch with a friend from classes, anyway."
Despite the fact that he was lying, Leon went ahead and spoke anyway. "You don't make me uncomfortable, Ashley. Don't think that." He nodded and looked at his own watch. "I probably need to get back to the offices now, though. There are a lot of very thick file folders waiting with my name all over them."
She giggled in amusement. "Don't sound so excited about it." Another giggle issued forth when Leon rolled his eyes and pantomimed being hung. "Well, okay. Don't be a stranger, really. I'm sure you have some way of contacting me. You should do it sometime."
He looked at her with a raised eyebrow. "What do you mean, 'some way'?"
She shrugged, looking blithe. "I know how you government guys work. You can find out how to contact anyone, anytime. I'm sure my cell phone number is on file somewhere. It has to be. I get all kinds of calls all the time. I'm constantly monitored."
"I get it." Leon smiled and started walking backwards, in the direction he had been originally heading. "Okay. I'll see you around, Ashley. Take care."
She smiled at him, big and huge and hopeful. "Yeah. Yeah, you too. Seriously, don't be a stranger."
"You're not supposed to talk to strangers," Leon reminded, then cursed himself for possibly being too friendly, and spun and continued to walk away. He could feel her eyes on him for a few seconds before she more than likely turned away and went her own way. Had any of that been happening to anyone else, Leon would have laughed and teased mercilessly. However, as it had happened to him, Leon was not amused.
Special Agent Leon Scott Kennedy, heartthrob to barely legal girls everywhere. Just another thing for him to lose sleep over, he figured.
A/N: No, this isn't really a Leon/Ashley story—at least I don't think so. I'm not really a supporter of the pair, despite having read a few really good Leon/Ashley stories (which almost make me wish I did ship L/Ashley). I did, however, stumble upon an entreaty for good L/Ashley fic that deals with ethical issues, so I guess I decided to take a stab at it.
And NO, I'm not against L/Ashley because of the age difference. That's got nothing to do with it. I just…bah, I don't know. I'm just a hopeless L/C shipper, hardee har (hey, at least it ain't Lickers. DEAR GOD, WHY. THE GOGGLES, THEY DO NOTHING).