Actions

Work Header

there be dragons

Chapter Text

As she lowers the weapon, Ada Wong feels her whole world turning upside down.

The metal under their feet is falling apart, rubble raining from above as NEST crumbles down around them. The alarm keeps blaring its automatic message, but everything sounds distant and off in her ears, as if her head were underwater and her breathing started faltering.

Ada only sees his blue eyes fixed on her—the raw intensity of them is unbearable. No one has ever looked at her like that. Ever.

Then it all comes back in a sudden moment, she blinks, air blown into her lungs like she has inhaled oxygen after drowning. Leon stands in front of her, hands fisted on each side of his body, the shadow of a smirk painted on his lips. He looks hopeful and it terrifies Ada.

Another metallic shriek, and the catwalk bends in an impossible way. Leon lunges forward, as the grate under him breaks off and disappears into the depths of the main shaft. There's a glimpse of something shiny dropping out of his pocket—the vial. Ada follows it with her eyes, but somehow she stays frozen. Her gaze focuses on Leon again. All she has done tonight was with a purpose: to acquire that sample, and now it has fallen and she's not even processing what it means, the implications behind it. Instinctively, without even thinking about what she is doing, Ada grabs Leon's forearm and helps him recover his balance.

“You have to go, Leon. Now,” she blurts, switching their places and pushing him closer to the elevator.

The catwalk keeps falling apart, pieces of metal tearing down as more debris and blocks of concrete come down over their heads. This is the end and everything screams urgency.

He blinks, a perplexed stare on his eyes.

“We’re leaving together. Come on,” Leon extends his hand, a clear invitation for her to take it. “We can make it.”

He’s asking her to leave with him, even after her lie has been exposed just a few minutes ago. Despite her betrayal, he still answers with kindness. Ada gulps, feeling the bitter taste of guilt at the tip of her tongue.

She hasn’t felt so many things at once in a very long, long time. Anger, desperation, sadness, confusion and a hint of happiness—his gentleness is undeserved, yet Leon doesn’t hesitate to give it freely. To her, of all people. It shouldn’t spark this tiny flame of joy in her, but it does. It makes her dizzy, her stomach churning. But she can’t afford it. Ada shakes her head, averting his gaze. Her priorities are clear.

“I’ll only slow you down, just—leave,” she yelps, pain piercing her leg as the muscle tightens, hands around the thigh.

Down to her knees, she glances up when he grabs her by the elbow. Leon has strode towards her, leaning next to where she is.

“Cut the bullshit, ok?” he spits, anger mixed with urgency. But his body language gives him away, his movements are jittery and his breathing is frantic. “I’m not leaving you here, so we better move now.”

The wound throbs, as if there were a river of lava running under her flesh. A heavy block of concrete crashes just next to them, forcing her to plunge to the center of the main shaft, guided by Leon’s firm grasp of her waist. He glances down—seeking her eyes, searching for a reaction or maybe just making sure she’s safe. She finds it unbelievable, his worrying about her that much after what happened on the bridge. Ada wants so badly to protest, to just give up and be buried under the rubble of this hellish place, of the city and all it stands for. It would be so easy to just let go, close her eyes and forget about everything.

But there’s one thing, one small thing, she’s not willing to sacrifice—Leon. She has learnt the lesson the hard way throughout the night.

“Shit,” she mutters under her breath, shutting her eyes closed as a new wave of pain crushes her. Leon’s fingers grab her tighter, lifting her arm so it’s resting around his neck.

“Come on,” he urges, raising both of them up with adrenaline-driven strength.

Ada is sure his shoulder must hurt just as much as her thigh, but he seems unstoppable, a frown between his eyebrows and lips pressed together. She turns her face to look at him. They are so close she can see the dirt and grime, the rash on his cheek and the beginnings of several bruises. But, most of all, she can lose herself for a second in those eyes, pleading her to move and follow him.

Ada can’t find it in herself to deny him a third time, so she simply sighs and locks her grip around him to regain some balance. Limping, they both close the distance between them and the elevator. Its glass doors opens swiftly, allowing them to get inside in one quick motion.

Leon gently helps her to sit down against the railing. With one bump, the lift starts to move down, isolating them from the noise up in the laboratory. There’s no feminine voice shouting the same instructions in a monotone voice, just the vibration that comes from the elevator itself.

They are exhaling hastily, and Ada can see drops of sweat pouring from Leon’s face as he glares outside the glass walls with bewilderment. She chews her lip, palms pressed against her aching thigh.

Taking a deep lungful of air, she braves another protest.

“Leon, this is impossible. We’re not going to make it like this,” her voice quivers, almost unrecognizable.

He doesn’t move, kneeled next to her, eyes fixed on a distant point. He purses his lips and massages his temples, as if lost in thought. He has to know she is right. There’s no other way. The ride is probably coming to an end, and Ada needs to make him understand. This cannot end with him pointlessly dying for her.

“I’m not worth your sacrifice, Leon, so please—” She says it, finally. She begs him to let her go, hopelessly wanting it to work.

It doesn’t.

Suddenly, Leon cups her face with his hands, staring at her with fear and resolve. It’s frightening and endearing, thumbs grazing her cheeks, all of them covered in filth and dry blood.

“You trust me?” he bluntly asks.

Ada scoffs. “Leon, that’s not…”

“Do you trust me, Ada?” he cuts her off, her following silence an implicit agreement of what she already confessed in the cable car. She also remembers his lack of a reply back then, the seed of doubt already planted in his mind. Probably the first sign of how much she had messed up her cover—everything.

(The funny thing is, failing the mission is not what bothers her here—it’s breaking that frail thing between them, grown in the streets of a fallen city and its rotten belly. She doesn’t dare to name it.)

Ada wants to argue, but there’s no rebuttal ready in her throat. She can’t help to smirk tiredly, her head shaking.

“God, you’re one stubborn ass.”

He snorts, flashing a toothy smile at her.

“Well, and the lady doth protest too much.”

Of course, he can recite Shakespeare. She can picture him in high-school, taking notes diligently in his literature class and acing his exams. The damn, stupid boy has no right to be this charming when they’re about to die, after having lived the worst night of their lives, Ada thinks.

The elevator bumps slightly, which is the signal for them to keep moving. Leon stands up, offering his hand once more. Ada takes it willingly this time, as they exit the cubicle and look around them. It looks like a monitoring room, almost clean and untouched, as if no scientist had managed to escape the lab after the outbreak. Which probably means their ride out of this hell is still available. She is no optimist, but there is a measure of comfort in that thought—even if it’s just so Leon’s hope doesn’t go to waste.

They walk together, as rushed as their (her) injuries allow them. Ada is more certain now than ever that she is slowing him down, which feels like a stab to her chest. Her train of thought is lost when a monitor’s image startles and it piques Leon’s interest. He approaches them closer to the panels, grip still firm around her waist, while her arm remains draped around his shoulders for leverage. She tries as much as she can not to lean on the left one.

“Who’s that?” he wonders, glaring at the monitor.

The footage clears up enough that a young woman’s silhouette can be distinguished. Ada sees sudden relief in Leon’s eyes, as he recognises her.

“Claire!”

“Leon? You’re down here too!” she says, although her voice sounds broken because of the interferences.

Ada doesn’t know their history, though she can pretty much picture Leon helping any civilian he might have encountered on his way through Raccoon City, before their meeting.

“Yeah. But the whole place is coming down,” Leon answers, almost frustrated. “Listen to me. You need to get out. Fast!”

There’s some delay between their exchange, and Claire seems to check something beyond her screen.

“Yeah, there’s a way out,” she states. “We can make it. Where are you know?”

The image is blurring, sound coming on and off. Leon leans a bit into the screen, and Ada can sense his muscles tensing up. She would envy his drive to save people, if it didn’t lead to so much frustration and disappointment. Sadly, Leon will learn one day he can never save everybody. Tonight he is making his best to avoid that lesson.

“Claire, you still there?!” he shouts, desperately.

“Leon? Hey, Leon, you’re breaking up…”

His fist smashes the panel, and Ada can feel his grab tightening around her waist.

“Forget about me! Just get out of here!” he barks to the monitor. “Damnit!”

Ada is no good at comforting, but she doesn’t have to pretend in this situation. Time is running out and they can’t waste any more, so she simply gives a light squeeze on his right shoulder.

“She said there’s a way out, right? We have to go,” she states, gaining back some of her composure.

Leon nods, lips in a thin line.

-

He’s panting, as if his lungs have been out of breath for hours.

Fuck this thing, fuck Umbrella, fuck all.

Glancing up, Leon watches Ada come down from the walkway where she had suddenly disappeared after the monster had leapt on the lift. For a fraction of a second, Leon feared she would have simply abandoned him. The way she had managed to dodge that thing’s hit was almost unbelievable, with the injury in her leg. But Ada had done it and, minutes later, she was throwing him a heavy box with a rocket launcher.

Then it all ended, fucking finally.

Leon strides towards her. The lift keeps going down, and the walkway is getting higher and higher.

“Ada!” he yells, his voice shaking, fearful she might just have given up already. He really, really wishes that’s not what’s happening here—and he doesn’t even understand why he needs it so badly. To save her.

That’s something he would have to consider after they make it out alive. If they make it out.

But then she’s jumping off the ledge. Leon thanks his fast reflexes, because he’s able to catch her before her leg stomps against the floor. It’s still painful, her face contorting in a grimace, while her hands go back around her thigh.

“Shit,” she mutters, gasping. “Leon, this is not going to… My leg…” It comes out almost like a whimper, a sound he can’t even begin to associate with her.

And she keeps insisting on being left behind.

“Shut up, I’ve got you, ok?” he snaps, helping her regain some balance, his hands on each side of her waist. “I’ll carry you.”

She shakes her head immediately, eyes closed, and sucks her lips to repress a groan.

“No, no, no way,” Ada insists. “Let’s go, come on.”

Leon helps her walk, gently pushing her out of the lift. A quick look to their surroundings reveals the only way is to their right, the rest of the area crumbling and packed with abandoned machinery and construction materials. He has to contain a sigh of relief as the doors open to show a train platform.

This has to be the way out Claire mentioned, and he hopes she has managed to get out safely.

As they approach the rail, Ada’s limping getting worse, girders start falling down on them, followed by the hissing sound of the train as it enters the platform.

“We gotta get out,” he rushes, hurrying up his pace. A groan leaves Ada’s mouth, her borrow furrowed in pain. “Just one more push, Ada.”

Nodding, she manages to meet his steps. Then Leon turns his head to look at her, and maybe it’s the adrenaline talking, but he knows it in his gut they’re going to make it. He stops for a second, untangling himself from Ada and placing her arms around his torso.

Not knowing where it comes from, he finds himself giving her a confident nod.

“Hold tight!”

Before allowing her a moment of doubt, he jumps into the train and grabs one of the handles for dear life. Her arms tighten around him and he can almost swear she lets out a cry, drown in the uproar and noises that surround them.

And Leon lifts both their weights combined, his hands clung to the bar with all the strength he can muster, muscles straining in pain. He doesn’t know how he is pulling it off, to be honest—maybe it's sheer adrenaline, maybe it's something more, like his refusal to let Ada die. She can’t die now, not when he just glimpsed the woman behind the mask, not when he couldn't save anyone else. In a way, he's doing this for himself as much as he's doing it for her. Feeling like every bone in his shoulder is shattering to pieces, he propels both of them as close as he can to the ledge between cars.

He succeeds, against all odds.

They tumble down, the air ruffling their hair and clothes as they are swayed by the rocking of the train. In one blink, they’re inside a tunnel, and the fire in the lab seems like a distant dream.

Struggling for breath, both of them take a few seconds to inhale and exhale. Leon places his hand over his shoulder, still sore. It will probably hurt so much more later, but at least it doesn’t look completely broken, he thinks. He can’t help a sigh of relief.

They have made it. Both of them.

Taking a glimpse beside him, Leon can’t barely believe Ada is here. Next to him.

Half an hour ago, they were pointing guns at each other, the truth of her intentions hanging like dirty laundry. Against all common sense, he had trusted his gut, maybe foolishly—but his gamble paid off, and he was proven right.

Leon gulps, wetting his lips, and sighs again. She’s still coughing, grimacing with every spasm of her body. Just as much as his shoulder hurts, her leg must as well. Her gaze raises up, meeting his. Leon realises he must’ve been staring at her.

He’s probably wearing a little smile too, making him look like a dork. But he can’t control himself—too tired and too done with everything.

Ada doesn’t really smile back, but there’s the ghost of one at the corner of her lips.

It takes that simple gesture for Leon to know that everything has been worth it.

Chapter Text

“Claire!” Leon shouts in relief, as the train door swooshes open.

The young woman from the screen stands there, covered in as much dirt as they are. Raccoon City has delivered a rough night for a lot of people, and this Claire seems to have been caught in it deep. There’s a little girl next to her. She catches Ada’s attention strangely, as if she reminded her of someone else—though Ada can’t quite put a finger on who it is.

“Leon! It’s so good to see you,” Claire answers, beaming a smile.

“I told you we’d make it, didn’t I?”

Ada doesn’t really know what a happy family reunion might look like, but the scene in front of her could very well paint the picture of it.

“You did,” she replies, filled with such hopefulness that Ada has to wonder if maybe that’s the effect Leon has on people—his own naïve optimism and kindness a disease that infects everyone around him, no matter the situation.

“Seems like we both got company,” he chuckles, eyeing Ada from the sideline.

Claire nods, her smile still tugging on her lips. “Yeah. This is Sherry,” she adds, patting the girl on the shoulder.

Now that’s why she looks so familiar, Ada thinks to herself, and something sick takes hold in the pit of her stomach. She remembers Annette’s file—the information about Umbrella and William, but also the twelve year old daughter they had. Sherry Birkin.

If there’s one poor soul in this train, Ada is certain Sherry must be it. And it hurts, glaring at her and seeing her parents in such a sweet, innocent face.

There’s an awkward silence, as she’s drown in her inner thoughts. Ada is used to playing the social type, it comes with the job—though she considers herself a loner most of the time. But tonight isn’t her finest hour, and her throat dries before she can even think of how to introduce herself.

I’m a mercenary who betrayed your friend isn’t a great ice breaker. So she coughs, her arm still clutched at Leon’s shoulders for balance, and manages to speak.

“I’m Ada.”

-

The wagon’s sway has a sort of calming effect, its humming the only distinguishable noise around them. A striking contrast to NEST, with its deafening alarm and crushing of concrete all around, the hissing of nightmarish creatures lurking around every corner. Ada would have been content with the quietness, had she not felt so on the edge about her whole situation.

She’s staring aimlessly to nowhere, catching her breath from the train chase. The fact that Leon has been able to pull off such a stunt is beyond impressive, and it just makes it more difficult to wrap her mind about all of him, now an ever-present notion in her conscience. It feels like being trapped and a trap, as if hands were closing around her throat. Thinking about him is an excruciating bliss at this point. Fortunately, he has left to check the other wagons for any looming dangers—which gives her a pause, an excuse to remove him from her thoughts briefly.

Kneeling in front of her, Claire inspects her injury after Ada had peeled off the old gauze to expose the wound. The bandage lays discarded on the floor, a grubby mess, while the cut doesn’t look particularly healthy either. There’s a high chance it’s infected. At least the bleeding has stopped, she assesses, reaching for any kind of silver-lining. Her leg keeps hurting—the pain bearable, but constant. Having run out of anything to dress the wound, Ada considers her possibilities in silence. Tearing a piece of her dress apart could do the trick, using the rag to bandage her thigh again. Then she wishes she had been wearing a different outfit when the orders had arrived, something slightly more practical—and with more cloth to spare. Meanwhile, she simply lets it air out, trying to get rid of the sticky sensation of the old dressing.

“Gotta say, for a city full of zombies, seems like you and Leon were hit by very regular weapons,” Claire’s voice takes her back to reality, far from her mind.

“You could… say that,” she adds flatly, unsure of what to answer without giving away too much.

That simple comment makes Ada realise Claire is probably very quick witted, smarter than your average college student. Had she encountered her instead of Leon, it might have been much more difficult to sell her act, and the thought amuses her in some way.

“Had my own run-in with a crazy asshole, so I get it,” Claire continues, her gaze still fixed on Ada’s injury. “Hey Sherry, can you hand me that?” she asks the little girl, pointing to her hip pouch, which she had removed. Sherry obeys diligently, probably happy to be of help. “Think I’ve got one bandage left and some alcohol.”

Ada has to blink twice before realising what Claire intends to do, which just serves as an indication of the numbness that’s taken hold of her. Sliding away a little, Ada glares at Claire, tight-lipped.

“I can do it myse…”

Claire waves her hand dismissively, rummaging inside the pouch. “That doesn’t look good, needs to be treated. ASAP.”

Ada wants to roll her eyes and shake her head in frustration. How come she’s suddenly surrounded by these selfless, well-meaning individuals who behave so generously with a total stranger? The whole zombie apocalypse should have been enough to reveal the worst of human nature, and yet it seems she’s only found proof of the contrary. It warms and irks her equally.

She’s about to protest again, but Claire starts cleaning the wound before Ada can open her mouth. The alcohol burns her skin, almost sizzling after being poured into the infected cut. Ada shuts her eyes close, squirming, fingers closed tightly around the bench’s edge. Then she feels Claire’s hands dressing the wound with impressive dexterity.

“I used to patch my brother up all the time. He had a knack for getting into trouble at school, punching bullies,” she comments nonchalantly, her face glowing up at the mention of her sibling. “And then he did the same when I got into trouble,” she adds as an aside, a cocky grin on her face, winking at Sherry as if she were revealing a secret. The girl chuckles, rocking back on her heels.

“Thanks,” Ada manages to utter.

Claire replies with a nod and a wink. “No problem. We better help each other out.”

Feeling much more exposed that she’d like to (something that’s become common tonight apparently), Ada lowers her head to avoid facing Claire’s chipper attitude upfront. It’s only then she notices the girl staring at them, eyes wide open in awe, her hands clasped behind her back.

“You okay, Sherry?” Claire asks, smiling at her.

“You guys are just so… cool and pretty,” the girl admits bashfully, bowing her head. “I wish I could be like you when I grow up.”

Claire pinches her cheek playfully, chuckling.

“Hey, not as much as you. You’ll be way cooler, I’m sure of it.”

Ada surprises herself chipping in the conversation. Whatever issues she needs to work through, voicing out her respect seems appropriate. It’s as honest as she can be right now.

“You’re both quite the survivors,” she states, matter-of-factly.

Sherry blushes and avoids Ada’s gaze, probably out of shyness. Claire simply shrugs.

“I had help, from Leon at first. I don’t know if I’d have make it out alive of that gas station alone.” Her gaze seems to darken, with whatever memories that has brought back.

Worst night of their lives for everyone involved, no question. She had the advantage of knowing about Umbrella’s experiments beforehand, at least—Ada can’t even begin to fathom what it must’ve felt for people like these to face such horrors out of nowhere.

“How did you two meet?” Claire questions. Ada opens her mouth, no immediate or easy answer coming to her. “If you don’t mind me asking, that is,” she adds quickly.

“We just kept saving each other asses, I guess,” she answers, settling for the most ambiguous reply she can come up with.

Claire laughs, throwing her head back against the train wall. She pats the place to her right on the bench, as an invitation for Sherry to join them. The girl, who clearly looks at Claire as if she were her whole world right now, accepts it and sits down.

“He is that kind of guy, isn’t he?”

The corner of her lips quirk up a little, teasing a smile. “He is.”

“I have to say, if you have to bump into someone in a zombie apocalypse… better if it is such a cutie, don’t you think?” she chuckles amusedly, to which Sherry answers with a nervous laugh and blushed jowls.

She knows Claire is just trying to have some light-hearted conversation. But nothing about this feels remotely that simple for Ada, even if it should be. Instead, she wishes so much she hadn’t bumped into him, because it promises to be her undoing.

-

The road ahead stretches out far away, like an endless path to an unknown destination surrounded by desert and pale, brown colors. It doesn’t paint a pretty picture, heat burning their skins—but the cloudless daylight sky is like a sight for sore eyes, bright and beautiful and infinite. It’s the very image of freedom, far from the smell of rotten flesh and rain and dim lit corridors.

As if Raccoon City has never happened, the only reminder their own injuries.

An ominous silence settles among them as they walk along the road, searching for any sign of life. Ada has managed to give her leg some rest while in the train, which tones down the constant pain—it also allows her to gently reject Leon’s offer to help her. She needs to put some distance before she smothers in the tempest of those emotions she supposedly knows how to placate so well, and which threaten now to overwhelm her, ever since she put down her gun on that bridge.

Walking slightly behind them, Ada glances up when she hears Sherry’s voice breaking the silence.

“So… are you guys like boyfriend and girlfriend?” she wonders out loud, her curious gaze going back and forth between Leon and Claire.

They stop on their tracks, and Leon grins awkwardly—as if he has just realised a funny coincidence.

“No, we’re just, uh… Well, we actually just met… last night?” he chuckles, staring at Claire with tenderness.

The young woman shoots an amused smile, throwing Leon an equally awkward stare.

“Yeah, that’d have been one helluva first date, though,” she replies, teasingly.

It’s at that moment that Ada can sense Leon peeking furtively at her from over his shoulder. Some part of her wishes he wouldn’t—that he’d actually look at someone like Claire with that rawness.

But they lock eyes, and it's too late for her to pretend she hasn't heard, to ignore the mix of hurt and warmth seeping from his look.

“Yeah, you have no idea,” he whispers, more to himself (and her) than anyone else.

Standing in the middle of a road to nowhere, Ada wants to tear apart this vulnerability growing inside her with violence. On the outside, she remains calm and collected, barely reacting to Leon’s comment—she hasn’t even spoken a word since they left the train. But there’s a storm brewing inside her and she’s getting more and more afraid of what it means, and what it can lead to.

The shape of a truck appears almost from nothing a mile away. Thanks for small mercies, she concedes.

“Look!” Sherry shouts, pointing at the truck. “He might be able to give us a ride.”

There’s an exchange of looks among the three of them, having to deal directly for the first time with the one issue no one wanted to address—that maybe Raccoon City isn’t an isolated incident. That it could have spread around the country just as easily. As the truck gets closer, it’s more difficult to ignore that concern. Claire is the first to talk, her voice as low as she can manage.

“What if it’s not just the city?”

Leon throws a worried look at the vehicle.

“Get Sherry outta here,” he says, glaring at them both. “Come on.”

He really was born to be a cop, Ada realises as she follows Claire and Sherry to the opposite side of the road. That chivalric streak is webbed into him like the veins in his body.

The truck passes by. Leon doesn’t even have time to call for the driver’s attention before he takes his arm out of the window to give them the middle finger. Arching one eyebrow, Ada follows the truck’s ride as it starts to shrink in the distance. A great reminder that people are, in fact, a bunch of assholes most of the time.

“Well, he was friendly,” Leon snickers, shrugging.

Claire gives both her and Sherry a nod and they rush to Leon’s side, Ada starting to limp again behind them. Damn leg really doesn’t want to give her a rest.

She hears Claire’s voice. “So… is it over?”

Leon gazes at the distance, the road they’ve already covered, and there’s a sense of newfound resolution in his bright eyes.

“I don’t know. But if it’s not, we’ll stop it,” he states and, as Ada suspected, he’d would good in the pep talk department with his infuriatingly positive attitude. “Whatever it takes.”

Coming from anyone else, she would despise it. However, she finds herself thinking such qualities are not so annoying in Leon and it scares her, because it goes against everything she believes in.

“Yeah, you’re damn right we will,” it’s Claire’s answer, full of determination with a hint of coolness.

She’s that kind of girl too, Ada mulls over amusedly. Leon turns to face them, smile on his lips. His stare lingers on Ada, back straightening up a bit. As soon as their eyes meet, he must notice how she’s trying to conceal the pain, her leg slightly bent so she can support her own weight on the undamaged one. Suddenly, he materializes next to her, concern written all over his face. She glances up to him, chewing her cheeks inadvertently.

Why couldn’t he be cold and distant now, Ada wonders. There’s no answer, except for Leon’s fixed gaze, arms ready to catch her if needed.

“Can you walk?” Claire rushes to ask, standing beside her, about to offer her hand as well.

Ada gulps, shaking her head dismissively, and strands of hair manage to hide her face partially.

“It’s nothing, you go on ahead…” she mumbles, grating her teeth as her nerves send another bolt of pain through her thigh.

She can’t help biting her lower lip, eyelids shut closed, when she feels fingers closing around her waist. Ada doesn’t need to look to know they are Leon’s.

“Long as we stick together, we’ll be fine,” he asserts vehemently, helping her to stand again. She knows what he’s doing—offering once more to be her crutch, and it’s so nice it really gets on her nerves. But she has run out of objections at this point, too exhausted. So she lifts her arm and drapes it over him. “Come on.”

He guides her, while offering his right hand to Sherry, Claire taking the little girl's free hand on the other side. Ada cannot wrap her head around this—she being thrown in the middle of this makeshift family. From the corner of her eyes, she sees them rocking their arms together, while Sherry cheerfully jokes about how they should adopt her, about having a pet or learning to play an instrument.

It’s all a coping mechanism, after the tragedy that has shaken that poor girl, and Ada knows all this is a mask to hide the scars that Raccoon City has left on them. Still, she feels out of place, like she doesn’t belong in this happy reunion filled with hopefulness.

And yet, she’s here, walking down the sunrise, Leon’s arm firmly closed around her while he chats happily with Sherry and Claire.

I’ve got you. He has, and Ada is afraid of how true that is becoming.

Chapter Text

It might be the unspeakable exhaustion, but there’s been a recurring memory in Leon’s mind. He’s remembering one specific evening when he was sharing cheap takeaway dinner with the other cadets, back at the academy in St. Louis. After basking in the excitement of almost being done with training, which meant getting to their designated posts sooner than later and finally starting their careers in the force, they had all joked about planning out a road trip for next summer—so that they wouldn’t completely forget each other once everyone got spread out around the state. Amy was going straight to Kansas City, while Fred and Maggie had opted for smaller, quieter towns.

All of them were looking forward to leaving the academy and beginning with the real work, but the feeling of companionship developed throughout long, wearing exercise sessions and full nights of burying their noses in law enforcement manuals would be missed. At least, Leon knows he will miss it in some way. That’s why he had agreed to the trip thing. Dick and Fred had even plotted the route that night, with some light-hearted yelling and name-calling because no one could agree on preferable destinations.

Amusedly, Leon wonders if this would qualify as a road trip. It isn’t the experience he was hoping for, definitely, as the soreness in his limbs keeps reminding him how much his whole body hurts.

He also wonders if he’ll ever see them all again, and the thought puts a damp on the euphoria of surviving an actual apocalypse. High spirits have increasingly faded away as the hours passed by, noticeable in how Sherry’s eyelids are barely open and Claire’s cheerfulness has quelled as well.

They are all exhausted, discouraged even. He glances up, as if he would find some comfort in the infinite reddish tones from above.

The sun is setting in the horizon, granting them a bit of respite from the heat; they're panting nevertheless, after long hours of walking relentlessly. Taking into account the sky is darkening by the minute, its orange canvas now dotted with stars, they have one more hour of daylight tops.

A shiver runs through his spine, the chilly wind blowing lightly against the perspiration on his skin. However, it's not the threat of a cold night what worries Leon. Not only.

Despite it being pretty clear this isn’t a well transited highway, probably used mostly by occasional trippers, bikers and truck drivers, he has the nagging feeling they should have crossed paths with someone else. Beyond that single driver, it’s been a desert—as if they were stranded on a different planet, far from civilization. Not even a road restaurant, or gas station, or hitchhikers.

Nothing.

Just them and the endless pavement under their feet, surrounded by dry soil and a worrying lack of life.

He should feel defeated. In their condition, dying in the desert doesn’t look like such an impossible thing now, be it by heatstruck or frostbite. Dehydration sounds awful as well, and his mouth feels parched. He finds a measure of comfort in knowing that Claire and Sherry are mostly uninjured, except for a few scratches and bruises.

Ada and him are a different story, however. Hurts like hell doesn't even begin to describe the pain in his shoulder. It threatens to break him down at any moment. His whole body feels like an aching pulp of flesh. Still, he keeps moving forward, primed by the overwhelming need to make sure they get to safety—unable to let go of that hope that something will happen, that they will find a way to survive another day before reaching a nearby town or city.

But Ada is only getting worse, at an alarming pace. Carrying her by the waist, fingers placed carefully over her hip bone, Leon notices the limping has increased in the last few hours. However, her face remains unreadable, lips closed and eyes focused on the road most of the time, as if she were trying to conceal in how much pain she is right now.

He suspects she’s also avoiding him, desperately.

And maybe he is, too. They haven't spoken throughout the journey, him finding it easier and safer to just chat with Claire or simply listen to her bantering with Sherry. A distraction from the thoughts crawling at the back of his mind, the ones he has managed to push away since Ada lowered her weapon. It’s a way to avoid questioning what happened on that bridge, to skirt thinking about how she used him and saved him and refused to kill him (it makes no fucking sense and it's eating him inside out, when he dares to go there). It helps to avoid all the burning questions he has about her, Ada Wong, as a whole.

It proves an almost impossible task, because of the closeness between them. He has put himself into this situation, offering her a hand again. Must seem so stupid, he thinks, from the outside—but he can’t change who he is.

And he would risk everything to save just one person. Even if that person has caught him like a hurricane, leaving him confused, unable to make sense of her. Looking sideways, Leon watches her. Head mildly bent down, Ada gives the impression of being even smaller than before.

“How are you holding up?” he dares to ask, and his voice comes out throaty.

She sighs, shoulders falling down as she adjusts herself in his grip.

“I think both my feet are in the grave now,” she makes an effort to joke, but she sounds beaten.

“There has to be somewhere—”

As he is about to finish the sentence, knowing it is pure wishful thinking, they hear Claire’s yell. Several feet ahead, she and Sherry wave vigorously at them, who have been lagging behind. Both rush their stride towards Leon and Ada, their cheeks glowing, a spark brightening their gazes.

“There’s a building just ahead, we’ve seen lights!” Claire pants excitedly, leaning on her knees as she catches her breath.

“There might be more people there!” Sherry continues, clasping her hands, the smile on her lips reaching her eyes.

Leon looks past them, and then he sees them too, the lights on the horizon like a beacon guiding them to safe haven—now clearer than ever thanks to the dusk. Tiny and bright against the deep dark hues of the night that’s falling—but so real, Leon has the need to pinch himself to believe it.

He can’t help a chuckle, eyes widened and a grin on his lips. Turning his face to Ada, he glances down and smirks unabashedly.

“Maybe that grave isn’t claiming us at all.”

-

“Looks like a motel alright,” Leon states, looking up and down the building in front of them.

The only light sources come from a couple of street lamps posted on the parking area, where four cars remain stationed. Leon reminds himself to check those later—they could definitely come in handy, since the idea of going back to hiking on the road isn’t very pleasant. The motel is an old, two-story house, refurbished for its new purpose. A sign hangs over the front door, its name written in curvy letters. Bates Inn. On the left, there’s the small parking lot and a vending machine that has seen better days. It gives the impression of being slightly fancier than your average road motel, more like a family hostel—but still a cheap, tacky one.

Claire shoots the place a glare, frowning. “Gives me The Shining vibes, though.”

“What’s The Shining?” Leon hears Sherry inquire, while he starts to get closer to the main entrance.

Ada scoffs, still latched to him. The bandage on her thigh looks much redder than a few hours ago, and Leon notices it, curling his lip in worry. He rushes to knock loudly on the door. The glass from its upper part allows him to peek inside, but the blind is lowered so he needs to squint and focus to get even a glimpse. Leon manages to see a hall, a small reception desk a few feet ahead of the door.

He knocks twice again, this time more insistently.

“Is anyone there?” he shouts, hearing the steps from Sherry and Claire as they approach from behind.

He shouts a few more times, as loud as his lungs allow him, but there’s no luck. The place seems to be completely empty. The memory of entering that damn convenience store shakes him, desperately wishing this is not a repeat of Raccoon City—that the infection hasn’t spread out this far. Leon grabs the doorknob and turns it, shaking it forcefully. As he expected, it’s locked.

“Just our luck,” Claire mumbles under her breath.

When he turns, he sees her wrapping her arms around herself. He has felt the temperature drop as well, and from what he has gathered, it’s just around 8 pm. Throwing a defiant look at the closed door, he begins to consider every possibility. Breaking the glass and trying to unlock it from inside is a good one. When he thinks about it, this time yesterday he was driving to Raccoon City with the dream of a promising career as a cop, and now he’s about to commit a felony. He’d even laugh if he wasn’t so exhausted—if he wasn’t devastated by the very thought of all his hopes and dreams buried underneath the rubble of the damned city.

Suddenly, Ada untangles herself from him, which takes him back to reality.

“I think I still have my lockpick,” she asserts, shoulders a bit hunched. “Better be on the cautious side and not make too much noise.”

Claire nods, starting to tremble from the cold. “I say do it.”

Staring at her, Leon doesn’t answer immediately, a million questions popping up in his head. What if the owners are inside, but have chosen to ignore them out of fear? That’s a reasonable possibility. He looks hesitant, despite being certain this is the best course of action, and Ada pats her holster in search of the lockpick.

“Look away if you don’t want to be an accomplice,” she adds, giving him a light shove so she can stand in front of the door. Kneeling down, Ada fidgets with the lockpick between her fingers and starts working on the keyhole.

Stepping aside, Claire punches him softly on the right shoulder and smirks. “Hey, you can arrest us later for trespassing, when we are warm and cozy.”

He laughs tiredly. “Sorry, it’s just… uncomfortable.”

“I want to learn that,” Sherry states, glaring in awe at Ada as she works her magic.

“Hey, you better don’t go down the path of a criminal so soon,” Leon scolds mockingly, pointing his finger at the girl.

Sherry giggles, and it kind of warms him. If they manage to make this whole experience just a bit more tolerable for her, then he’d feel content.

Something cracks inside the lock, making Ada spell a barely audible curse.

“Done,” she announces, standing up again with difficulty and rubbing her hands together. “But I’m afraid the lockpick hasn’t fared so well.”

Claire opens her eyes widely, impressed. “Nice job, you’re one of my favourite people now,” she snickers, reaching the door and opening it with a solid kick. “Come on, Sherry, it’s freezing out there.”

The girl doesn’t wait and hurries inside, followed shortly by them. Leon lets Ada go first—even though she hasn’t shown any signs of coldness, Leon assumes she must be freezing in that dress. Once they are all safely inside, he shuts the door and takes a deep breath of relief. The place isn’t warm. When he sweeps the room with a quick glance, he can see it's not abandoned.

Turning on the light switch reveals an spacious hall. The fact there’s power is a good sign, or that’s what he wants to think. There are papers scattered all over the floor, a few dirty cups on the coffee table that lies to their right. It looks like a waiting room equipped with some appliances and a magazine rack filled with leaflets and old newspapers.

Standing in the middle of the hall, they look around, and Leon expects something nasty coming down from the stairs to the left, his hand seeking the gun unwittingly. He remains silent, though—Sherry doesn’t need them scaring her off more than she’s already been.

“Can… can we stay, then?” Sherry asks finally, fumbling.

Claire wraps an arm around her and squeezes her shoulder. “Sure, we just need to make sure everything’s ok.” She glances up, shooting a look at Leon and Ada.

Leon nods, aware that Claire’s having the exact same thoughts as him. He brushes his holster, feeling the shape of the gun.

“We should check both floors before getting comfortable,” he notes, then turns on his heels to face Ada.

She’s leaning against the wall, next to the entrance, head bent down while a curtain of hair hides her expression. Even before looking at her directly, Leon is sure she’s trying to hide how much the wound aches. He raises his hand and lets it hover over her shoulder, not daring to touch her.

“Ada?” She nods, holding back a whimper. “Come on, you need to give that leg some rest.”

He plants his hand carefully between her shoulder blades, urging her to move toward the waiting room. She complies, no protest voiced out loud this time. It’s a testament of how sick she must feel, and the dripping dressing on the wound just confirms his suspicions. Leon helps her to the couch, aided by Claire.

"You two wait here, ok?" Claire says, guiding Sherry to an armchair next to the sofa; then adds, confidence in her words, "I'll check this floor. You can go upstairs, Leon."

“Right,” he agrees, straightening up. “We’ll be here in no time.”

Ada’s knees buckle down when Leon helps her sit down, slumping on the soft surface of the couch. “Shit,” she mumbles, biting her lip, eyelids squeezed together.

Leon gulps, the sense of urgency growing every time she opens her mouth. His eyes dart to Sherry, beaming a comforting smile towards the little girl.

“Sherry, you’re in charge here. Take care of her, promise?”

The girl nods vehemently, perking up, hands clasped on her lap. “Promised, Leon!”

-

Searching the upper floor takes him a short time. Mostly because the motel consists of only four rooms, which is proof that this must have been a family business of some sort. If it hadn’t looked so pristine, despite its plainliness and old-fashioned decoration, Leon would have feared this was actually the prologue to a grindhouse movie (and he has had his share of horror for a lifetime).

Luckily, all of them are open, allowing him to investigate and scavenge whatever might come in handy. Two rooms were clearly going through extreme renovations, a plastic canvas draped over several pieces of furniture. They reek of paint, and the smell is so strong it manages to throw him back. The remaining rooms look habitable, at least, as if they had been recently tidied up. Beds are made, bathrooms tiled up in poor taste but clean. After finishing the search and checking every nook and cranny, Leon blows out a sigh of relief—they are actually alone and the place doesn’t seem to have suffered the same fate as Raccoon City.

He hasn’t come empty handed from this detour.

Going back downstairs, he jumps the steps in twos and holsters his gun once again. With a few strides, he walks towards the waiting room and sees from a distance that Claire is sitting on the armchair with Sherry already, while Ada has shut her eyes closed, hands on her lap, obviously struggling to keep the pain in check.

Arriving to their side, he drops two sports bags on the coffee table with a loud thump. Ada is mildly startled by the noise, opening her eyelids, while Claire glares at both bags with interest.

“I hope this is what it looks like.”

“It is,” Leon clarifies, satisfied. “Clean clothes for everyone. Looks like the tenants here left in a hurry. Not much to choose from, but at least they won’t smell of sewage. Sherry, you go first,” he adds, tipping his chin to the sacks. “By the way, upstairs is clear.”

Claire stands up, bent over the coffee table as Sherry starts to zip open one of the bags with excitement.

“Down here too, and we have a working kitchen. Don’t want to spoil it, but this could be safe for the time being,” Claire sighs in relief, rummaning inside the bag. Then she glances up, switching between looking at Ada and Leon. “I think we should stay for the night.”

Leon can’t state how glad he is to hear those words, because they have been his exact thoughts too. They could worry about why this place seems inhabited though there’s no one, like everyone had just decided to leave all of a sudden. Right now, he feels so worn out, he isn’t sure he’d be able to keep going for much longer. As if to remind him, his shoulder throbs again, making him wince.

“Me too,” he replies, nodding. “There are four rooms with full sized beds, though two of them are under construction and stink of paint.”

Claire pats Sherry’s shoulder playfully, and the girl looks up at her, beaming a cheerful smile. It warms him to watch how enthralled Sherry is with her saviour, just as if she were a heroine out of a comicbook. That probably doesn’t even begin to describe it, Leon thinks, because Claire has actually carried Sherry through this nightmare. The young woman isn’t a cop like her brother or a first responder: she simply looks like a college student. However, he finds it difficult to not have anything but the utmost respect for Claire. Not everyone, especially a civilian, would have moved heaven and hell to save a stranger when faced with the horrors they had witnessed. But she had, and now they paint a comforting picture.

“No problem, I believe Sherry and I are having a pajamas’ party then, right?” Claire remarks brightly.

Sherry’s eye light up, bringing her hands together.

“Yes!” she rushes, hopping excitedly. “I’ve never been to a sleepover!”

Claire gasps exaggeratedly, hands on her hips.

“What? Seriously?” she retorts in mock disgust at the idea. “Once we get to my place, we’re having the true sleepover experience, popcorn and cushions and Mystery Date included.”

From Sherry’s gushy reaction, it’s like Claire has told her Santa Claus is coming right now. Leon smiles in silence, happy to see Sherry getting carried away with these kind of things instead of dwelling on the pain. Both girls start planning out their sleepover party with enthusiasm, making a list of the must do, and Leon takes the opportunity to reach Ada, standing next to her.

He wets his lips, aware of the of creeping feeling of nervousness growing inside him, hands fisted and all too rigid. Rationally, this is what makes sense—they need to rest, Sherry would feel better staying by Claire’s side, and being alone with Ada for a moment would be a great chance to actually confront her. To get some answers for all the questions that he can’t phrase yet because everything about Ada is embroiled in his brain right now, like a tangled ball of contradictory emotions.

Still, he’s just twenty-one and silly and years of film watching have innocently taught him that sharing a room with a woman is the quintessential trope of romance—and this is not just any woman, it’s Ada, who he took a bullet for, and they kind of flirted, and she kissed him, and she lied to him from the very start, and then she could not shoot him. Leon knows full well this isn’t the time or place to get caught up in all this—whatever this means.

His body acts on its own, though, and he feels a certain anxiousness as he approaches her.

“Is that okay for you, Ada?” he asks gently.

She opens her eyelids, loosening the grip on her thigh, and glances up to face him. There’s a stoic glare in her eyes.

“What do you mean?”

Leon waves his finger at both of them.

“We sharing the other room. I could stay here and keep watch, though, just need a shower.”

The sound she replies with surprises him—a mirthless chuckle, her lips curling up on its corners. She shakes her head, leaning back on the worn couch.

“That won’t be a problem, Leon. And you need that sleep—and the shower,” she adds, cheekily, while wrinkling her nose.

He really, really shouldn’t be reacting this way—but he lets out an honest, quiet laugh.

“Hey, you don’t smell much better, you know.”

The ghost of a smirk passes over her lips, fading away fast. With some effort, she puts her hands on the edge of the couch and tries to prop herself up. She makes a wry face, which Leon notices instantly. He hurries to help her stand up, grabbing her by the elbow and forearm.

“Maybe we were both in the grave and just dug our way out,” she mumbles, staring at Leon’s hand on her.

He chuckles, guiding her steps. “I like those chances better. Come on.”

Ada allows him to lead, her steps a bit shaky as she staggers outside the waiting room. Leon sees Claire nearing the stairs from the corner of his eye, carrying the bags he brought as she makes a sign to indicate they’re already moving upstairs. He nods, letting Ada set the pace. Her wounded leg falters, slightly trembling, her ankle is dangerously bending much more than it should. It makes her freeze in the middle of the hall, as she takes a deep breath, eyes shut and lips pressed together.

“Ada…”

“Don’t,” she blurts irritatedly. “I can do it.”

Leon rolls his eyes, blowing the air out of his lungs in exasperation. “I know you can, but maybe you shouldn’t?”

As if to acknowledge what Leon is implying, she kicks her heels off, a low grunt coming out of her mouth in annoyance. She takes a few seconds to feel the carpeted floor under her feet, but the grimace hasn’t been erased from her features. Leon closes most of the short distance between them, rushing in to help her keep her balance.

Now she’s smaller than ever in comparison to him. It’s almost like he’s looming over her, while she keeps him at bay, placing a hand against his chest. That makes him pause, even though he doesn’t hide his frustration.

“Who’s the stubborn ass again?” he snorts, teasingly.

She shoots him a piercing glare, but Leon notices how she’s fighting to hide the smile creeping up her lips. However, that doesn’t change her determination to climb the stairs all by herself, so she continues, her gait halting all the way. Shaking his head, a grin on his lips, Leon follows and watches her from a safe distance.

It takes some time, but Ada manages to arrive on her own to the corridor upstairs. Almost breathless, she stands frozen there, leaning against the wallpaper, slightly gasping. The door on their right is ajar—and from the sound of it, Claire and Sherry have already chosen for them. Their laugh fills the upper floor.

“You’re almost there,” he cheers playfully.

Despite her condition, Ada manages to raise one eyebrow.

“Are you mocking me, rookie?” she asks, her lips curving in a little smirk.

Leon shrugs nonchalantly.

“Not at all, ma’am.”

Except he is and he does not regret the bewildered expression in her face, a mix of skepticism and amusement. Walking past him, she goes to the door on the left and throws him a sideyed glare. It makes him somewhat cocky, being able to rattle her even if it’s just on the surface.

Ada disappears into the darkness of the room, switching on the lights as she crosses the threshold. He is about to step inside, when something halts him midway through the corridor.

“Leon.”

Claire’s voice catches his attention. He turns just to see her approach him, careful of not raising her voice too loud. Leon moves away from the door, trying to be as quiet as Claire.

“Sherry and I already did our shopping.” She hands him the bags. “I can’t wait to not smell like shit.”

“You and me both,” Leon snickers.

After he takes them, Claire checks no one’s behind him.

“You okay with the room arrangement?” she questions, a certain degree of worry in her tone. “I just don’t want Sherry to be alone, and I thought she’d be more… you know, comfortable with me.”

Leon can feel some sense of guilt on her words, which he finds surprising. It simply makes sense that, needing to take both rooms, she’d be the one to go with Sherry. The mere suggestion that all three girls shared one room without enough beds for them and he went alone to the other one was so blatantly stupid it never crossed his mind. In the end, this is the best solution so they can all catch some needed shut-eye. They are adults, not flustered teenagers, right?

“Oh, of course, yeah, don’t worry, it’s fine. Really,” he stammers too quickly, and he cringes at himself.

It isn’t simply fine and there’s no way he has fooled Claire. He’s definitely more into teenager territory now, that’s for sure. Claire squints, her grin widening as she listens to him.

“Riiiight, that’s too many okays,” she teases, lifting an eyebrow. “I guess there’s some kind of history between you two, and it’s none of my business but… hey, we just survived a zombie apocalypse, so…” she waves her hand, trying to come up with a follow-up, “Go for it, tiger, or…” Now it’s her turn to look embarrassed, and she lets out a frustrated groan before continuing. “I’m sorry, I blabber when I’m tired and we barely know each other, so. Sorry for overstepping.”

He shakes his head, making light of the whole thing. It even helps him ease some of the tension he’s has build up.

“No problem, Claire, seriously.” He smiles genuinely. “If anything happens, call me, ok?”

With a decisive nod, she salutes him jokingly as she steps back into her room.

“Will do, sir.”

-

Ada sighs, every fiber of her body aching in unison.

Her sight becomes blurry. She needs to blink twice and take another mouthful of air before it feels like she’s centered again. The fog in her mind starts to clear off, maybe because the bed in front of her promises a moment of rest. There are no monsters to hide from, no creatures to attack, no corporative conspiracies on the horizon.

No mission. Nothing.

The realisation stabs her in the back like a sharp knife.

She looks down at her holster, feeling the shape of the walkie inside the leather with her fingertips. Since they left the laboratory, it hasn’t occurred to her that no sound has come out of it—which means she’s being less slick than she’d have admitted. The drop time is supposed to be in the morning, and that’s the likely reason she hasn’t heard from her contact—yet Ada feels an uneasiness crawling inside her.

This isn’t Ada Wong. She created that name with a purpose, and she’s failing miserably.

Daring to dart her eyes back, she sees Leon entering the bedroom with the sport bags.

“Help yourself.”

He throws the bags on the mattress. Ada observes them for a second, then stares back at him.

“You go first. I can wait.”

“You’re not changing your mind even if I insisted, right?” he sighs, crossing his arms over his chest.

“I’m not, so the sooner you go ahead, the sooner I can get my shower.” Ada manages to sit carefully on the edge of the bed, stretching the injured leg.

But Leon doesn’t move immediately, then prowls to her side, arms still crossed and a frown on his brow.

“Or you can run away while I’m in there,” he points out.

Ada chuckles, shaking her head as she lowers it. “That’s a good plan, if I could actually run.” He doesn’t look convinced, as if she were hiding something, so she simply shrugs. “What? You want me to go to the shower with you to make sure I don’t escape?”

That gets the reaction she expected. Leon’s face burns red, his arms falling down and his expression all flustered.

“You look cute with all that blushing,” she taunts playfully, enjoying herself a bit.

(And that’s part of the problem, she realises—she shouldn’t be focusing on how cute or handsome he looks when he’s embarrassed. Even less voicing it out, going back to the flirty banter. But she is, because something in Leon compels her to act irrationally.)

“That’s not what I meant,” he blurts, averting his gaze. “Ok, I’ll go first,” he raises his hands in defeat and starts rummaging inside the bag.

He finds a t-shirt and a pair of trousers quickly, then disappears behind the bathroom’s door. Moments later, Ada listens to the sound of running water. That’s her signal.

She gets up from the bed as fast as she can, then opens up the holster’s pocket where she has kept the walkie. Picking it up, Ada limps to the window in front of her. The curtains are drawn, so she opens them in a quick motion. It reveals a depressing landscape, filled with nothing and covered in darkness. The street lamps’ light doesn’t reach this side, so it’s impossible to see what’s outside clearly.

With nifty fingers, she cracks open the device and tears apart the circuit boards inside, then pulls up the window pane and throws the pieces outside, as far as she can manage. The night breeze chills her to the bone. In one move, she closes it down and quietly returns to her place in the bed, hugging herself.

Ada gasps, letting out the breath she’s been holding back. She is in trouble. Not the kind she could get away with easily, she suspects. This time her employers have been more menacing than usual and this job has been going for too long now—the stakes are higher than ever.

And she has failed. They are going to come after her, she is certain of that.

Worst of it—if they come soon, they will find her with them. Ada doesn’t know how they would be able to trace her to her current location that quickly, but she’s afraid they can accomplish it—and they will.

A part of her wishes she could simply run away, as Leon had suspected. She contemplates the idea for a moment. She dismisses it soon after, the throbbing pain in her thigh a reminder that she’s not going anywhere—for now.

-

The first aid kit he found in the bathroom is lacking at best, though it contains the basic items. Sterile gauze pads (he isn’t sure about the sterile part, but he’s not being picky), a few gauze roller bandages, adhesive tape, scissors, a cleaning agent and a couple more things. Leon flexes his shoulder, the movement sending a jolt of pain that makes him wince.

Rolling up the short sleeve of the shirt, he inspects the purple flesh. The bleeding has practically stopped, which is a silver-lining. However, the small pad he has pressed against the wound with tape is already tinted in red, so it doesn’t bode well for him.

With a sigh, Leon pats his chest over the injured area.

“Are you leaving it like that?”

He shoots his eyes up. Ada stands in front of him, just outside the bathroom, hair damp and new clothes on. From what was left in the bag, she has gone for some elastic cotton pants, a loose tank top and a squared shirt. Despite the mishmash, she manages to pull it off—and Leon has to bit back a gasp, because she looks beautiful.

“There aren't enough bandages for both of us,” he replies after a brief, awkward silence.

She walks barefoot around the bed, the limp still present, while rinsing her hair dry with a hand towel.

“Then make more.”

She discards the towel, tossing it away, and starts to pull more shirts out of the bag. Checking them carefully, Ada picks up the scissors from the aid kit and makes small cuts on a few, then proceeds to rip them off. Leon simply observes her every move, mesmerized. Then she adds, glancing at him. “You should sew it too.”

“I'm fine, your wound should come first.”

She ignores him, grabbing the strips of torn cloth and sitting next to him on the mattress.

“I'm feeling better after the shower, don't worry,” she claims, investigating the kit. “Take your shirt off.”

It takes him by surprise, as if a bucket of cold water has been poured over him.

“What?”

“Take the shirt off,” she repeats, soaking the gauze pad with the disinfectant.

Red must be prickling up to his ears, if he considers how his skin burns right now. It makes him feel stupid and vulnerable, which he definitely hates. Maybe this is his way of coping with trauma—blushing like a little boy.

But he complies, lifting the shirt up and pulling it off over his head. His chest is beaten up, bruised and red. Leon grimaces again as the muscle throbs painfully. Before he can open his mouth, she removes the previous patch and presses the wet gauze against it, her palm covering it.

“So, are we still keeping score?” he breathes, nostrils widening. The alcohol stings like a needle puncturing his flesh.

She chuckles half-heartedly.

“This one's for carrying me all the way. We’re even now.”

“I’m not sure. You opened the door,” he smirks, eyes fixed on her as she keeps cleaning the wound.

The first time this happened, he realises, he had been out of consciousness. He hasn’t decided whether this is better or worse yet.

“That wasn’t for you.” Ada bends forward, a lock of hair brushing lightly against his other arm, as she reaches for a drawer in the nightstand. After scouring inside, she fishes something out.

It’s one of those tiny sewing kits, so Leon fears what’s coming next.

“I suppose you didn’t find a lighter?” she wonders, examining the needle and thread from the kit.

“No, though I had a flamethrower. Pity I left it in the train,” he snorts.

She threads the needle effortlessly, then begins to sew, sinking it in the flesh around the wound.

“Fuck,” he mumbles, prying his eyes close for a second.

It’s her turn to snort.

“Stay still,” she orders, though he can see the hint of a smile in her lips.

They remain quiet—Ada sewing laboriously, he biting his lower lip and focusing on anything that’s not the pain nor Ada. He fails at them both.

Leon knows he wants to confront her. To question her reasons and motives, to ask her why. But he can’t put words to it, to the turmoil inside him. So he goes with his gut and blurts the first thing that comes to mind.

“Why didn’t you kill me?”

Her hands stop dead, the needle hovering over his skin. She glances up, lips tightly closed.

“Or just knock me out, you know,” he notes, holding her gaze, less intimidated than he thought he’d be.

“I told you. I didn’t want to hurt you.”

She glares at him before resuming the stitching.

“You did tell me,” Leon acknowledges. That was what made him decide to follow his instincts even if it made no sense—it had fed his hope. He knows this, but can’t avoid the follow-up question, which burns like heated iron. “Why?”

Ada stops again, clicking her tongue. She glowers at him, exasperated. “Can we not have this conversation, Leon?”

“No, we cannot not have it,” he chins up defiantly. “At some point this was gonna come up, I say we take the trash out now.” She turns her head to one side, averting his gaze as much as she can. “Ada, you lied to me, the whole time. I wanted to help and you tricked me into doing the opposite. I think I’m entitled to some answers at least?”

Shooting him a frustrated glare, Leon sees the cracks in her façade. She’s starting to lose her temper and it incites him to keep pushing her buttons.

“God, I told you to leave and you wouldn't,” she throws like an accusation, cutting off the thread used to patch him up. “I had a job to do, you were getting in the way. I made the most of the situation.”

“So what? Your plan was to make me get the sample, give it to you, then we’d leave and I’d just think I had helped in taking out Umbrella?”

Ada tosses the needle gingerly on the steely box, frowning and standing up and far from his place on the bed.

“That’d been the least worst outcome.”

“Fuck that,” he snaps, getting up as well. He waits a few seconds, piercing her with his eyes. But she remains unmoved, though a mild shiver runs through her muscles. “You were going to sell the virus? To whom? Who hired you?”

Darting her gaze to him, Ada simply lifts one eyebrow.

“That’s none of your damn business, Leon,” she says curtly.

Leon doesn’t back down, shoulders back as he straightens in front of her.

“I got the G sample for you, so it is my damn business.”

She takes a step closer to him, maybe unwillingly because she’s far gone into the argument. He crosses his arms, unyielding.

“No, it’s my job,” Ada underlines, pointing a finger at herself. “The moment you put down your weapon on that bridge, it stopped being yours. You had the chance to shoot first and you didn’t. You risked it all on your stupid gut feeling.”

“And I was right, wasn’t I?” His answer takes her aback—he can see it so clearly in the way her eyes widen just barely. His words cut through her like a blade, and she’s bleeding now. There’s no turning back. He is the one to take another step this time. “The point is, you betrayed me, and neither of us took the shot. We couldn’t hurt each other—and here we are now.”

“What makes you think I’m not doing it again?” she utters, squinting. “I could just kill you in your sleep and run.”

Her attempt to provoke him doesn’t work, because with every word Leon feels he has the advantage of this situation. So, in return, his lips twist in a lopsided grin.

“You said it yourself. If you hadn’t trusted me, I would’ve already been dead.”

She shrugs, waving her hand dismissively.

“I needed you then. There’s no sample to retrieve now.”

“Well, then why haven’t you shot me yet?” Leon hasn’t felt this bold since the bridge, but somehow he finds himself trusting this inexplicable, unquenchable confidence he has that Ada will never do him any harm. He grabs the Matilda from the nightstand in a sudden motion and presses it into her palm, gripping her elbow. “Come on. Do it.” She has to tilt her head up to face him, their eyes fixed on each other. Lips parted, she looks distressed, and he notices how her throat bobs as she gulps. It feels like an eternity after, but she doesn’t move an inch. “That’s what I thought.”

Taking the gun back, he throws it onto the bed. She’s restless. Her hand remains still suspended in the air without grabbing anything. Shaking her head, Ada seems to regain some semblance of composure.

“Leon, you didn’t trust me back then, and you shouldn’t trust me now,” she insists, brow furrowed.

Emboldened by God knows what (Leon isn’t even thinking straight at this point), he closes the distance between them. If he raised his hands, he could grip her shoulders. He could touch her. He could kiss her, if he simply leaned in forward.

But he doesn’t, just takes a deep breath and blurts, “And you need to stop pretending you’re a worse person than you actually are.”

Her eyes bore into him, piercing and accusing. Despite the height difference and how petite she actually is, Ada looks menacing. Imposing. But she’s agitated and doing a poor job of hiding it. It takes her some time to reply, her nostrils flaring slightly.

“Oh, really? You know me that well, to claim I’m a good samaritan now?”

When he speaks, his voice sounds calm, as if he were whispering.

“I think in these few hours I got to know you better than you’d like, and it’s scaring the shit out of you.”

Ada takes a step back, fury and fear sparkling in her eyes. Leon doesn't break eye contact, staring at her unblinking.

Then they hear the knock on the door.

“Uh, guys?” It’s Claire on the other side and Leon has to readjust himself. To remember where he is and what is happening beyond this room.

He clears his throat before answering.

“Yeah?”

Claire’s voice comes back, hollowed.

“Sherry and I are starving, we’re going down to grab something. Just letting you know, come if you want to.”

“Ok, I'll go down in a moment,” he replies, still looking at Ada.

Claire only adds one last see you before her voice starts to fade, along with Sherry’s, as they go downstairs.

Huffing, Leon puts on his shirt, not caring about the missing bandage, and saunters the bed to reach the door. He stands frozen in front of it for a moment, looking over his shoulder — and sees Ada turning her back, her body leaning against the window frame.

He considers saying something, but there is nothing left in him. For now. Somehow he feels more liberated, though just as confused as he was before.

Turning the knob, he leaves the room in silence and closes the door behind him.

Chapter Text

In the solitude of the room, a phrase comes to her mind. One she read many years ago, she doesn’t even know where exactly.

Reading is the only pleasure Ada has allowed herself to keep over the years. A relic of more innocent times disguised as comfort. Not that she finds much time to indulge in it, but it happens occasionally. The genre doesn’t matter. She has dwelled in dissertations about the effects of Western colonization as well as cheap mystery novellas that help her pass the time between transfers in those long, dreaded hours trapped in airports. Having accumulated a wealth of knowledge, she remembers tidbits of information about any topic that found itself in paper form between her fingers.

Sometimes an idea, a sentence, a word would stick out and draw her attention. It would burn into her brain. She isn’t sure why this one did, but it sure as hell seems now a foreshadowing of this cold September night, 1998.

Hic sunt dracones. Here be dragons.

The supposed writing you could find in the margins of ancient maps. The phrase itself, as ominous as it sounded, was an anachronism that had, however, become a saying of its own. A warning of unexplored territories, uncharted places where no one had dared to go. Where unknown dangers lingered, waiting to be found.

Ada feels she is trespassing those limits in the margin of a map, staring into the abyss—one that hides a dormant dragon that she’d eventually have to fight to continue her way. Unarmed, unprepared. There’s nothing she hates more than losing control over a situation, over herself.

And it’s happening.

She is losing it by the minute, as the argument with Leon proved. It shouldn’t have stirred her this much—but the truth stings and she’s not usually in the receiving end. His words have stripped her down and Ada has never felt this exposed, not with anyone. Perhaps she is no longer staring down the abyss, but falling into it and whatever has been set in motion can’t be stopped.

All for a pretty boy, she snorts to herself, shaking her head. This is definitely a new low.

A gnawing pressure closes around her throat, while her thigh starts throbbing again. Her hand remains suspended over the cut, halfway through a stitch, the thread hanging between her fingertips and thigh. This is one of the worst parts of the job. Routine has made it bearable; she is used to the sensation of the needle piercing through flesh. Bearable doesn’t mean pleasant, though, and she has to bite her lower lip as she finishes another stitch.

A small drop of blood stains the hem of the oversized boxers she’s wearing, smearing the side of her index finger. Ada takes it to her mouth, licking the blood away, while she grimaces—another cramp runs through her hamstring. All caused by a stupid shard of rusty metal.

Her fingers stop moving. She remains seated, exhausted in every sense of the word. The wound keeps hurting, thread still attached to a half-done stitch. Ada simply glares at it. She shuts her eyes close and rubs the bridge of her nose.

When the knock on the door breaks the silence, Ada wishes she had simply feigned being sound asleep instead of taking the time to sew the wound. Dealing with danger on a daily basis is ordinary at this point in her life, always on the lookout—but this? This is an entirely different juggernaut, one she's not equipped to face. To even acknowledge. It bothers her, admitting it. As much as she can keep doing it, lying to herself makes no sense.

With a sigh, she answers, “Come in.”

The door opens, creaking slightly on its hinges. Leon closes it soon after, and she hears his steps behind the bed. If she raised her head, she could see him walking towards her. She doesn’t, eyes fixed on a tear in the wallpaper. It helps her focus.

“Ah, sorry, I didn’t mean to…” His voice catches her off-guard, springing her to glance up.

His face is turned aside, as if he’s trying not to make her uncomfortable.

It’s at that moment that Ada realises she is wearing but the pair of boxers from the waist down. The situation threatens to bring an amused smile to her lips. A quip waits at the tip of her tongue—teasing him now would be so easy. She fights the impulse, still reeling from from their last exchange of words.

Huffing softly, Ada resumes the stitching.

“It’s okay, Leon. I’m almost done,” she states.

“Alright.”

Gaze fixed on her injury, she listens to Leon’s steps as he paces around. Although she isn’t looking directly at him, his steps are hasty, making the wooden floor creak under him whenever he moves. Ada can’t help but give a quick glimpse, unsure whether she’s annoyed or concerned. Her eyes catch the silhouette of his broad shoulders, shadowed by the dim light the floor lamp casts.

He’s shirtless again, a bunch of the rags she made out of the discarded clothes hanging from his hand. Bangading oneself is a difficult task, but Leon doesn’t back down from the challenge. However, Ada notices, he’s doing a poor job of it. A painful moan leaves his lips when he raises his arm, struggling to wrap the makeshift bandage around his shoulder, and Ada restrains herself from just getting up and giving him a hand. Her eyes go back to her own wound, adding a few more stitches with a swift spin of her wrist.

By the time she is done, Leon mumbles another curse under his breath.

“Ugh,” she whispers, rolling her eyes (though a smile tugs at the corner of her lips).

Pulling herself up from the edge of the bed, Ada walks towards him silently, the soles of her feet sliding on the cold floor. She’s getting so, so tired of this seemingly permanent staggering. Standing behind him, Ada pats him lightly on the back.

“Don’t they teach you how to dress a wound in the academy?” she wonders out loud.

He turns to her and she sneaks the bandage from his grasp. Slightly gaping, Leon looks like he’d like to protest—he doesn’t, though, settling for staring down at her. Ada ignores it, moving her arms and hands to wrap the cloth around his chest and shoulder. The stitches remain intact, its surrounding skin darkened by the enormous bruise with greenish tones.

His body radiates heat, despite the low temperature of the room.

“They do. But we use actual bandages, not rags.”

“They are still in the kit,” she replies, tipping her chin towards the steel box, which is strikingly white against the pale black of the bed’s duvet.

“I was leaving those for you,” he explains.

Of course he was. Ada rolls her eyes, giving the cloth a soft pull. His breath hitches when she tightens the bandage firmly around the collarbone.

“You’re infuriatingly well-meant, you know that, don’t you?”

Leon answers with a snort, and Ada can almost feel his breath on her cheeks.

“Ha, so I’ve been told. Without the infuriating part, though.”

She focuses on dressing the wound; the closeness is a mistake and she is just tripping over the same stone too many times. Maybe it all started with that first time—with those precious minutes she wasted in the sewers, stopping her pursuit of Annette just to make sure he wouldn’t bleed to death.

Maybe she should have done that—leave him to die there. Leon himself had hurried her to follow the scientist. The thought flashes in her mind like lighting and she despises herself just for entertaining it. It disgusts her and she can’t rationalize why.

(She can, but admitting she is getting soft is a hard truth to swallow at this point.)

A heavy, charged silence surrounds them. It doesn't detract Leon from speaking again moments later, as if he felt the need to cut through the thick tension.

“We tried the phones, but there’s no line,” he announces, as if he were reporting to a fellow colleague. Ada keeps working on the bandage, ensuring it’s not loose. He waits for a reply that never arrives. Clearing his throat, he goes on. “Claire and I have been thinking we should use one of the cars outside to leave in the morning.”

Ada has to wonder if he'd even be able to open the car and hotwire it so the engine starts. The image of a teenage Leon messing around with a car, trying to play the part of a designated bad boy, comes to her mind and she instantly knows that, no, Leon has never tried to steal a car in his whole life. The thought is an amusing idea, if nothing else.

Her reply is a curt nod. Meanwhile, her fingers partly undo the dressing because, apparently, she can’t even get something this simple right in one attempt tonight.

His chest rises and falls, his breathing sounds heavy. Ada guesses he’s expecting an answer out of her—something to avoid the tense silence when there’s barely a few inches of space between them. She is aware, but doesn’t comply, tight-lipped as she continues to fix the dressing.

“Look, I would give you a penny for your thoughts or whatever the saying is, but I’m kind of broke,” he bursts, taking a step back. “Don’t think I’ll get compensated for my first day on the job, so throw me a hand here,” he adds with a shrug, his head lowered.

She tilts her chin up and glares at him, his statement taking her by surprise.

“This was your first day?” she asks, wearily.

God, it makes so much sense, in retrospect. She suspected he was new in the force, just fresh out of the academy. The spark in his eyes, the idealism he pours into every word and action speak of someone who hasn’t been tarnished by the system. But for this to be, quite literally, his first day on the job feels like an entirely different ordeal.

“Great start, uh?” he jokes, not hiding the sadness in his voice.

Ada purses her lips, palm barely touching his chest as she stops wrapping the bandage.

“I… didn’t know. Sorry.”

It’s an honest reply, and she’s relieved she doesn’t even have to think about pretending or hiding this.

He shifts his weight, hand on his hip. Throwing her a dazed look, he flashes a teasing grin. “You’re sorry about that, but not about lying to me?”

At this point, Ada has to fight the urge to either laugh, slap him or kiss him. She might just want all three. In the end, she groans and rolls her eyes.

“God, you’re…”

“What?” he grins smugly, chin tipped up.

“A pain in the ass,” she retorts, patting his chest lightly as if to prove her next point, “which makes for a great cop.”

“Not that I have anything to show for it.”

Leon's voice sounds strained, gaze cast down and shoulders a bit sunken. She doesn't feel like teasing him anymore, even if it's her self-defense mechanism right now.

She gives the rag one last round so it covers his left shoulder and takes a step back. Putting some distance seems like the best course of action, unable to offer him words of encouragement or whatever it’s appropriate to say. Ada knows how to fake regret and concern—but for once in her life, she’d like to sound genuine. No platitudes come to her.

Her feet take a few temptative steps towards the bed. It calls to her desperately, the need to just shut down her brain for a couple of hours and reset herself overcoming any other. Her leg isn’t so keen on the idea of letting her rest, as another wave of pain strikes on her nerves. It’s a like a knot under the surface of the skin, twisting the muscles inside her thigh.

She freezes, clawing her fingers around the injury. Once again she fails to downplay how much it hurts, because she notices Leon rushing to her side immediately. A hand finds its way to the small of her back, tentatively, perhaps afraid of touching her.

“Your turn,” he quips with a little smile.

Out of habit, she rejects it, raising one hand while her eyes look away from him.

“There's no need…”

One short step and her body bends, wincing as the aching prolongs itself just a bit longer. It’s getting increasingly worse: could mean an infection, maybe something worse. She can’t even process it, numb from the crushing and quick wave of pain. Leon’s hands guide her to the bed, and she’s able to sit down slowly.

“Don't,” he warns her when she is about to open her mouth again. “You should have this looked at as soon as we reach a town.”

Ada gulps, taking a deep breath of relief as the sudden ache starts to disappear. It’ll come back, like crushing lightning, as it has done throughout the night—leaving her enough time to catch some air and get comfortable.

Even her own body hates her this much.

“I will, don't you worry,” she says sharply, fingers pressed against the mattress.

For a second, Ada loses sight of him. She hears him grabbing something metallic from the bed and is aware of where this is going. God, he is truly one stubborn ass—all too nice for his own good. In a moment, he is back in front of her, down on his knees. He’s holding the gauze pads along with two rollers of bandages. Finding no way to reject his help again, she settles for a nod and leans back a little, allowing him room to work around her injury.

(Truth is, maybe she doesn’t want to reject him—maybe she is craving for him all over her personal space but she can’t allow herself to go further, oh no.)

The touch of his fingertips is soft and delicate. Extending the bandage around her thigh, he wraps it with meticulous care, watchful. The irony isn’t lost on her—both of them patching up each other’s wounds, the same ones from Raccoon City. His was taken out of devotion to protect people, hers was a mark of vulnerability. It irks her, because it exposes a trait she has fought to remove completely.

Seems it was simply buried under layers of walls—and walls mean nothing to dragons.

“You're angry.” She blinks, puzzled at the sudden sound of his voice. Leon glances up, hands still busy at work. “About what I said,” he clarifies after Ada’s lack of an answer.

She bites her cheek.

“Why would I be?” she says. Her tone shows more defensiveness than intended.

Leon puts a thin piece of tape on the bandage to seal it. He doesn’t get up, his steely eyes fixed on her.

“That's a good question. I don't want to play the high horse card, but if anything, I should be angry. Not you.”

He’s right—about her being angry. She can’t even name the feeling brewing in her insides. Is she angry at him? Only because he has managed to crack her shell. Annoyed would describe it better. She has allowed him, though—it’s not him she’s angry with.

Ada rubs her temple, bending down her head.

“On that we can agree.” She dares to glimpse at Leon again, who hasn’t moved an inch. “Why aren't you, then?”

He blinks a few times, his whole body rigid, before offering her an answer.

“I was… Am.” A coat of doubt shrouds his words, voice anything but firm. “It's not that simple.”

Oh, Ada knows that answer and its intricacies. The resort of someone who would rather not deal with a sensitive issue. A tired smile stretches out across her lips. If she had the power, making him hate her (forget her) would be the appropriate solution to this mess.

“It should be, Leon. For your sake.”

Leon holds her gaze, almost in defiance. A tingle runs through her skin.

“On that we can agree,” he replies, narrowing his eyes. “But I can't change…” he trails off mid-sentence, translating whatever he intended to say in a weak wave of his hand between them.

That's the root of the problem, Ada knows it. His hand gestures at them both when there shouldn't be a them at all. For Ada, this was a job and he a nuisance to overcome turned into someone who could be of use to her. Just a pawn on the board to make things simpler, smoother. If she drummed that into her brain, she might even convince herself it's the whole truth—that his kindness hasn't had any effect on her, that she only sees a somewhat resourceful tool in him, that it doesn’t bother her in the slightest to take advantage of him.

“Leon, there's no us in here,” she says coldly, distancing her own stream of thoughts.

He laughs dismissively, half-smiling. It's not the reaction she expected, which may just prove that, in the end, he can read her better than she can the other way around. Her teeth grit at the idea.

“Seriously, what scares you so much?”

Ada is ready to spin another comeback, one more different reason why she’s no worth his time nor worry. But the question freezes her completely, leaving her throat dry as an endless desert and her lungs empty.

She is not scared. She’s terrified—of the look filled with hope he had at the bridge, of how exposed she’s been left in front of him. She can’t hide from him, even if Leon doesn’t realise it. Ada is afraid that, in a matter of hours, this young, idealistic boy has impacted her so deeply, tearing apart all the layers around her. The mask of Ada Wong she has crafted with blood, sweat and pain—cracked open by a rookie cop in the middle of a nightmare.

His insistence on caring for her, worrying about her, renders Ada vulnerable. More than else, she can’t fall for his bait, trying to force her into a conversation she has no wish to partake in. Worst of all is—he’s been winning since the cable car.

But she’s resilient.

Sliding to the edge of the bed, she moves closer to him, her expression shifting.

Her fingers find his chin and she doesn’t hesitate, tracing his jawline with the tips. Face slightly bowed, she puts on a perfect smirk. The best she can pull.

“I think you’re the one who’s afraid, Leon.”

It’s a whisper in his ear and her magic kind of works, as she expected. Leon’s breath hitches, and he steps back enough to wobble a little on his knees. Youthfulness and naiveté emanate from every sound and gesture, although that’s part of the trap he represents. The rookie exterior hides a sharp mind she has underestimated, especially in the cable car. She had ruined her cover back then, granting him the upper hand.

As she pats his dimple playfully with the tip of her thumb, she hopes this is enough to scare him away this time.

“That’s what I thought,” she adds, echoing his words.

His breathing hastens, Adam’s apple bobbing up and down nervously. Maybe this is all for nothing, because seeing him like this doesn't change the fact that she herself is softening around him. The silver lining is that, at least, she’s giving him the same hard time he has inflicted on her.

Ada is ready to call it a win, moving her hand away. Then it backfires. Spectacularly.

His fingers grip her wrist unexpectedly, a defiant look in his eyes. With a tug, Leon makes her lose balance, causing her to tumble forward. In a matter of seconds, Ada finds herself thrown over him, pushing him back onto the floor in the process and almost landing on his lap. They are impossibly near, activating all of her alarms.

Time stops for her, and though she realises how cliche that thought is, she'd still like to indulge in the moment. Just for once.

If she tipped her jaw just barely, she would find his full lips. They are twitched up at the corners cockily, hinting a smile that doesn't really take off, tempting her to kiss them once more. It’s incredible how much she wants and doesn’t want to do it—because, if she allows this concession, there is no turning back.

“I know what you’re doing and it’s not gonna work,” he chimes in, faking a confidence that his slightly trembling voice betrays.

“Are you sure?” Ada leans in lower, head slightly cocked to the side.

He gulps, but doesn’t back down.

If she kissed him this time, she wouldn't do to it to shut him up (though, God, she really wants to shut him up right about now), nor to manipulate him into doing something like when she had been in a hurry and fear of failing drove her to act foolishly. No, she'd kiss him because Leon is the nicest thing she's ever crossed paths with, because he shows genuine concern for her when he has every reason not to, because it's his nature to be caring.

He burns like a blinding light in the shadows she has inhabited for so long—and Ada is at a loss, unsure of what to do, how to face this dragon that pushes her into depths she has never explored.

Like a moth, she is inexplicably drawn to that light. It will be her undoing, she knows that.

The choice is taken from her, as Leon finally leans in and presses his mouth against hers with a softness that feels foreign to her. The kiss washes away every argument she has formed up in her mind on what to do—and she is almost thankful for him taking the initiative this time.

Because this feels so, so good, and warm, and a shiver runs through her spine. Leon cups the side of her face and Ada feels her skin heating up, melting at the simple touch. His fingers thread through her hair, tucking a wild strand behind her ear, kissing her with increasing eagerness.

Ada sighs deeply inside his mouth. In her mind, it’s a warning but tonight she is all about ignoring her own constraints. She stops fighting the built up need, going in for it—all in, no restraint for once in her life. She sips at his lips, a little chapped but sweet nonetheless, and Leon hums inside her mouth in response. When his palm circles around the back of her head, he drags his fingers leisurely down until they rest on her nape, sending sparks across her nerves down to her toes. His skin is impossibly warm, even if the room's temperature keeps dropping, and Ada feels it's kind of appropriate since this boy has managed to thaw parts of her she had locked away.

Leon kisses her with care but hurriedly, as if he thought she could vanish any moment. She can't blame him, truly—stopping right now would be the sensible thing to do.

After everything that’s happened, though, tonight is not about making the right decision.

Ignoring her doubts, she keeps kissing him back and forgets about everything that's not his hands over her skin and the feel of his body so tantalizingly near, limbs entangled and breath becoming more urgent each time their lips meet in the middle. He tastes a bit of toothpaste, minty and fresh, and his hair, just like hers, smells of cheap motel shampoo and God, she could drown in it, a Pavlovian reminder she will treasure for the rest of her life.

Ada feels a light breeze when he leaves her neck exposed, his hand running down her back and stopping at her waist as he digs his fingers there, his touch scorching even against the two layers of fabric she’s wearing.

They kiss like they flirt and fight: no holding back, somehow knowing what buttons to push by pure instinct. She starts trailing down her fingers across his stomach, his grasp on her tightening in reaction, then pushing her forward with a startling show of strength.

(She thinks, amusedly, that he is prone to those, remembering how he had carried and pulled her onto a moving train.)

In return, Ada tangles her left hand in his hair, now soft and washed, and moves her right one up his side, her nails dancing over his gashes and bruises. She treads carefully over the bandage, tracing the ridges of his chest. To say he’s enthusiast about it is falling short—he moans and drags her forward until she’s sitting on his lap, their bodies completely pressed together. He’s so touch-starved it’s like he’s begging her, and his let me carry you comes back to her mind, putting a smile in the corners of her mouth.

He’s been coming up with all these little excuses to touch her, to be touched by her, since they met. She’s more than happy to oblige, and her hands sneak around his back.

Eventually, they have to break for air and she finds herself gasping. She takes a quick glimpse at him with half lidded eyes , and he's slightly panting, leaned backwards, cheeks flushed red and lips swollen. He clears his throat, still trying to catch his breath, and steals a look behind her. She turns her face slightly, though she knows he means the bed.

“Maybe we should…”

“Yeah,” she replies hastily.

He gets up as graciously as he can (which isn’t much), and she follows him, her leg faltering in the process. His hands catch her instantly, surrounding her hips, and she pulls him down for another kiss. Between scattered kisses, they trip to the bed. Leon locks his arm around her and pushes her gently onto the mattress until they’re lying down, her lips crested over his chin, then he traps them between his teeth, letting out a loud gasp that’s half-way through a grunt. Ada has to shush him against his mouth, almost chuckling herself, as a reminder to lower his voice. A soft laugh escapes his lips and he mutters a coy sorry as he moves down, nipping at her jaw and throat.

If she has ever felt like a carefree teenager, it must be this.

His hand covers her left thigh, splayed all over, pulling her up slightly, while he sinks his head at the crook of her neck. The fingers grasping her thigh caress her diligently, finding a soft spot at the back of her knee and then travelling up to her waist again. He takes the time to touch the patch of skin between her boxers and top, lifting the last up just barely, and Ada feels herself spinning more and more out of control. She moves, hands upwards, and brings his face again to her lips, flicking her tongue inside his mouth.

He’s all the way propped up on his healthy arm, hovering over her—bigger than she ever thought he could feel. His shoulders are broad and he can take up the width of her thigh and calf in one hand, and she feels so small with him draped all over her. Last time this happened, it was John above her; and the imbalance irked her, even if she allowed him to keep him happy. For once, it doesn’t bother her because this is real and not part of the job.

She realises, however, that he position will take a toll on his wound. With a light pat on his chest, Ada pushes him until he gets the hint and rolls onto his back. He winces briefly as his left shoulder accommodates, while she passes her right leg carefully over him until she’s straddling his hips. She feels a cramp building up in her leg; maybe another warning she should pay attention to.

She doesn’t, diving down to steal another kiss from Leon’s mouth.

He places his hands firmly on each side of her, thumbs sinking and grazing her hip bones that peek out of the boxers. Breaking the kiss, Ada straightens up and rolls her shirt over her shoulders, discarding the offending piece of clothing. She pairs the gesture with a little smirk that tugs at the corners of her mouth. Leon gulps visibly, grabbing her like she’s his gravity center, and his eyes shine with anticipation.

Staring down at him, Ada wonders if this is what she needs to do to put an end to the turmoil growing inside her. She has been the spy, the mercenary for so long, that thinking about being just her without the masks and disguises is an intimidating prospect.

But perhaps all her troubles are reduced to this, in the end—that she is turned on by this rookie cop of all things with his handsome face and pretty lips. And maybe, just maybe, all she needs to work out her untimely identity crisis is so basic as fucking him senselessly. Then that would be all—then she’d be over her irrational attachment to him, she’d be able to let go, finally.

Since every theory needs evidence, she thinks it best to continue and prove it right.

Bending down, she laps at his lips and kisses him, feeling his hand shoot up her waist cautiously. She smiles against his mouth and covers his hands with hers, encouraging him. He takes it painfully slow (perhaps to play with her as well). Fingers under the tank top, he touches her without breaking the kiss. His thumbs caress the side of her breasts, giving her goosebumps all over. She lets out a soft moan, and it sends him forward rushedly, making her lean back as he gets up and yanks her closer by the waist.

The hem of her tank top is twisted between his fingers, and Ada raises her arms to let him remove it completely. When he pulls up shakily, his whole face turns sour and shuts his left arm down, the other hand grabbing the aching shoulder automatically.

“Shit,” he mutters, biting his cheeks and waiting for the pain to pass over.

Still panting lightly, Ada looks at him and she can feel it again—that she is worried about him.

“Worse than it looks, right?”

He chuckles and nods.

“Yeah. I think I moved way too fast.”

“You did.”

She takes his free hand and weaves their fingers together. And she knows it at that moment, staring at him under the dim light of the room, that this is not just about sex. That she won’t forget him if this goes on, won’t be able to take him out of her head. That he has left a mark on her and she will have to learn again how be herself with this new piece of the puzzle.

This whole thing has gone too far, too quickly. It’s likely a mistake, to let herself indulge in it when she’s positive their ways lie far from each other. This might be the perfect time to stop—use his injury as an excuse of sorts and make the right decision.

The spy would have kept her head cool and collected. But now she is just her, a woman, and nothing more.

“You ok?” she asks, planting a quick peck on his lips.

“Kinda forgot about that.”

He chuckles, tilting his head to the shoulder. Ada lifts up one eyebrow in amusement.

“Really? I wonder why.”

She casts a shrewd look down his crotch, the beginning of a grin hanging in her lips, and he replies with a soft laugh. The lack of proper light partially conceals the creeping blush on his cheeks, although Ada can practically feel it in his skin, in the light twitch of his fingers around her hips.

Leon wastes no time in a verbal answer, heading in to kiss her again—this time slower, less frantic, and they savour the quiet turn of pace. His hands run up and down her sides, under the top. It might have driven her mad in another time, this languidness. But, apparently, Leon has shaken up that as well. He finally changes his course, his hands travelling down her back up to her buttocks, and Ada can’t help but chuckle lightly inside the kiss.

“Didn’t take you for an ass guy.”

“I’m partial to both,” he adds cheekily, and Ada feels the grin on his lips widen.

Her left hand is busy roaming over his chest and stomach, the right one buried on his hair. She finds the trail of hair that disappears under his pants and toys with the elastic band, bopping her head to one side and kissing along his throat. Leon huffs expectantly, stroking her thighs in and out, throwing his head back.

It’s at that point that the cramp hits her, making her twist slightly and leaning back away from Leon. Her legs feel suddenly very numb, strained from straddling him. She bites her lower lip to contain the growl, eyes shut closed as the ache passes by like a wave. Leon lifts up his hand from her injured thigh immediately; when she opens up her eyes again, he’s looking at her with concern.

“Are you alright?”

She flashes a dim smile.

“I kinda forgot about this one too.”

“What a pair, huh?”

Ada sighs deeply. All of a sudden, she feels like brought back to reality—like waking up from a vivid dream covered in sweat, not knowing where the dream ends and reality begins. It’s like a hidden part of her has been grasping desperately for something good in her life. Something nice and comforting. Something like what Leon offered.

Or simply someone like him.

But reality is a thick mantle and it falls upon her with a heaviness she can no longer ignore, as much as his kisses have distracted her. Pain is always a good reminder.

“This might not be the best idea,” she says, finally, and the sentence hurts in her mouth.

“You think?” He smiles, but his eyes look as disappointed as she is.

She wants this, but then again her wishes have never been a priority.

“If things were different…”

He nods and lets out a sigh, understanding.

She gives him a chaste, last kiss on the lips, before untangling herself from him carefully, sinking down her left knee on the mattress as she raises the other one carefully. He aids her, catching her by the waist—still drawn to her like a magnet. It’s impossible to avoid the awkwardness, the ghost of his kisses and his hands still lingering in her skin, her legs straddling him, their bodies still too close and warm.

The cold embraces her in a matter seconds and she hugs herself, rubbing her arms to find some warmth away from Leon. It doesn’t change the fact that her body (and her) already misses the contact.

Ada cozies up on the right side of the bed, giving him some needed space, though she can’t avert her eyes from his back. He slides to the edge of the bed and holds his breath, eyes closed and hands on his knees, legs stretched.

He’s inhaling and exhaling consciously, then his breathing goes back to normal, eyelids open and lips tightly pressed.

“We should probably catch some sleep,” he says after a moment, turning to look at her. “I’ll take the armchair.”

She saw the suggestion coming, to be honest. Rolling her eyes, she shakes her head.

“Don’t be ridiculous. The whole point of staying here was to rest well, and the bed is big enough for both.”

He seems hesitant at first, cheeks still red and hair disheveled. In the end, exhaustion wins over everything else and he gives in with a tired sigh and a nod.

They take a moment to recover their borrowed clothes, him putting on his t-shirt and she her cotton pants. She lets him choose, and he takes the left side, lying down on his back. The mattress sinks dow a bit, followed by her own weight on the opposite side. She curls up to her left, facing him inevitably. Maybe she's just being masochistic.

Leon reaches for the light switch, turning it off in one click. The room plunges into darkness, though his silhouette is still visible.

“Wake me if anything comes up.” He's looking at her from the corner of his eye, one arm draped over his stomach.

“Just get some rest, Leon.”

He turns on his side, wearing a grin she can distinguish in the dark.

“Yes, ma'am,” he snickers and she instinctively gives him a soft shove on the chest.

Leon traps her hand between his, and she stupidly thinks she will long for his touch— that she will not forget it. Ever. Ada doesn't claim her hand back. Fingers intertwined, their hands lie together occupying the space between them.

When she finally closes her eyes, her head spins, overwhelmed and oversensitive.

The only saving grace of this mess is that she, at least, is more convinced of what to do next.

-

Sleeping was never her intention, though she realises she would have found it impossible even if she had wanted to get some shut-eye. As she sees their hands clasped together, something squirms in her stomach. Not even Leon’s breathing lulls her into sleep, but she finds herself appreciating it. It soothes her, somehow.

Once he is sound asleep, Ada takes her hand away and sprints up from the bed cautiously. She collects the shirt and rummages through the duffel bag until she chooses something warmer. Settling for a denim jacket and a couple more shirts, she moves to the wardrobe. It’s almost empty, with only one small safe and some tattered blankets. In a quick inspection, she finds what she needs—one flimsy coat hanger made of wire. One of the scarce streaks of luck she has enjoyed these past hours.

When she secures everything, her feet take her to the door. She stops there, throwing Leon a glance. The last one, if she gets it her way. Her eyes linger on his figure more than she should, and it’s like a blade stuck between her ribs, refusing to let her breathe.

Closing her eyes, she turns the knob and exits the bedroom quietly. The scraping noise of the door reverberates in the corridor, but no one comes out, so Ada simply keeps going. The air is certainly chillier out here in the hall, despite the new layers she’s wearing. Ada notices a chair stuck under the doorknob of the main entrance, as well as a small cabinet that has been dragged from behind the desk. Leon and Claire’s work, most likely, in an attempt to keep anything from coming inside.

Ada doesn’t hesitate and starts dissamblening the makeshift barricade, until she has access to the door itself. After opening it, a cold breeze sneaks inside, freezing her to the bone.

“Shit,” she mutters, adjusting the jacket around her.

Fortunately, the power is still on and the street lamps provide enough light. She walks hastily to the parking area. Out of the four cars, three are regular sedans and one is an old, dirty van. Without giving it much thought, she rushes to the emerald green Pontiac and starts working. Unraveling the coat hanger, she turns it into a crude rendition of a slim jim. The wire slides between the door and the window car as smoothly as you’d expect—which is, not much. But after some minutes of pulling and rotating, the door clicks and Ada is able to pry it open.

She tosses the untangled hanger inside the car, before getting into it. It smells of air freshener and dust. A thin layer of dirt covers the front window, which means these cars have been abandoned recently. Ada doesn’t know how yet, but this and the motel’s state have to be connected somehow to what has happened in Raccoon City, even if the outbreak hasn’t reached this far—for now.

After checking the car has a half-filled tank, she bends her body down slightly to start hotwiring the engine, then her hands suddenly stop and don’t move. A thought nags at the back of her mind, scratching at her consciousness annoyingly.

Turning her head, she looks at the other cars and thinks about the three survivors quietly sleeping inside the building. She thinks about Leon, who was all over her not even two hours ago.

Biting her lip, her head hits the steering wheel and she has to contain a grunt of frustration—all addressed to herself. It’d be so easy to get the car running now and simply leave, driving away until the motel was but a tiny spot on the rear mirror.

Taking the right choices seems like an enormous task—and this is why she has avoided attachments. They feed you a sense of guilt, of owing someone else, she could do without. Begrudgingly, Ada exits the car, closing the door behind her, and walks to the vehicle parked beside her newly acquired Pontiac. It’s blue and it’s all so appropriate it makes her almost sick.

Wire slim jim in hand, she starts working on the lock.

-

When she returns upstairs, the door to the bedroom is ajar, just as she had left it. The wood scrapes against the floor when she pushes it gently. Checking rapidly, she sees Leon lying on his side on the bed, asleep. She has to hold back a sigh at the sight of him.

This is how sentimental she has become in a matter of hours, it seems. But she can’t help it—feeling relief at just seeing him again momentarily, even if she knows now it will be the last time. She has made up her mind, though.

There’s a crumpled piece of paper in her fist—a straightforward note pointing him to the blue sedan he, Claire and Sherry can use to drive away in the morning. A parting gift of sorts.

She approaches the dresser, ready to place the note on its surface and retrace her steps.

That’s when she hears him behind her.

“Going somewhere?”

She perks up, pulls her shoulders back, chin tipped up. The piece of paper vanishes quickly into one of her pockets. Her entire body feels tense—but there’s no avoiding a confrontation, so Ada turns and swallows.

“Thought you were asleep.”

“You thought wrong.” Leon folds his arms, shifting his weight. Even if he hasn’t switched the lights on, she can see his brows knitted together. “What’s going on, Ada?”

She shrugs, waving dismissively.

“I couldn’t sleep, so I was going downstairs to stretch my legs a bit.”

Leon takes a step forward. Ada thinks about doing the opposite, but she’d only bump into the dresser. Looking up, she holds his gaze.

“That’s bullshit and we both know it,” he blurts. He squints at her, as if trying to discern her. “Why are you in such a hurry?”

Ada could spin another lie, another excuse. It would not work, and she knows this as well as she knows how to incapacitate a person in a few movements. If there’s any point in dodging more of his questions, when she has been caught, she doesn’t find it.

Letting out a quiet sigh, Ada looks aside and leans back, resting her hands on the dresser’s surface.

“I was supposed to call my employers for extraction after retrieving the virus. The deadline is in a few hours. If they don’t hear about me, they’ll send someone. If I can’t provide the sample, they’ll send someone. I’m not about to wait for them. ”

“We’re in the middle of nowhere. How the hell are they going to find you?”

She wants to laugh, but only produces a muffled snort.

“Believe me, they will.”

“These people are criminals,” Leon rushes to add, and his expression softens a bit, eyes fixed on her. She’s averting his gaze, but senses it all over her. “When we reach the next city or town, we’ll go to the authorities. They won’t catch you.”

“You realise I’m one of those criminals, right?” Her voice is snippy, half-intentionally.

“Yeah, but…” he stutters, running a hand through his hair.

Ada shakes her head with a smirk.

“But I’m pretty and I kissed you? Is that it, Leon?”

She’s so desperate to snuff out that spark of hope he holds lit. That he might still do good for Raccoon City in the process. That, despite the deception, this might end with them walking down the sunset together again.

“You know that’s not what I meant,” he retorts defensively, huffing. “I’m serious, Ada. It’s not too late to bring these people to justice, along with Umbrella. This could be your way out.” She gulps, and he takes her hand and glances up to her, his voice almost quivering. “I’m just a rookie, but… I’ll help you, ok?”

The knot in her throat tightens. She feels his warm fingers around, his thumb gently caressing the back of her hand. Summoning all her resolve, she moves her hand away.

“I appreciate the concern, Leon, but there’s no need. This is my life, I’ll handle it my way.”

She can almost see him rolling his eyes at her, head shaking lightly. Probably disappointed, but unsurprised by her answer. But he just doesn't give up, which seems to be a natural talent for him.

"So, what are you going to do now? You'll keep running until the end of time?" He takes a step forward and pauses to catch his breath, brushing impatiently a lock of hair away from his eyes. Then continues talking, unrelenting. "The way you talk about your... employers, it seems they'll have no problem catching up with you. Do you have a plan? Or are you just gonna let that happen?"

Ada looks at him, arms crossed over her chest and head cocked to the side, and smiles.

"It's almost cute, you worrying like that." She moves, without thinking, and grabs him by the front of his shirt, squinting at him, her smile widening. And decides to toy with him, just a little, to give him something to think about. "Come with me, then, I could definitely use the back-up. We can steal a car and make a name for ourselves, like Bonnie and Clyde... without the being gunned down to death part, though."

She is bold enough to voice the suggestion, because she already knows the answer.

He laughs then, his whole face lighting up, his body vibrating with his efforts to keep silent. Then his right arm sneaks around her waist and pulls her closer, but not enough to stop her from getting away if she wants to.

(She doesn't).

"From rookie cop to wanted criminal. I'm gonna pass, thank you; I don't think that's what I want from life." He grows suddenly serious and raises his hand up, barely touching her face with the tips of his fingers. "Looks like you have already crafted yourself an escape plan, so I guess this is goodbye, then."

He shrugs, as if trying to downplay his disappointment, but Ada can see it clearly in his face, that hint of sadness he doesn't quite manage to hide.

“I guess so,” she concedes. Then she gives his arm a light squeeze, accompanied by a smile— one that tries to be comforting. “Don’t get hung up on this.”

Leon's lips twist in a little grin, the shadow of a playful glint in his eyes.

“And you better get out of trouble. If we ever meet again, I might have to arrest you for good.”

It sounds like a warning and a promise—and both thrill her, even if she knows they should not.

“I’d look forward to that,” she chuckles. And because this is goodbye and it's hitting her it’s her last chance, she stands a bit on her tiptoes and plants a kiss on his lips. “Take care of yourself, Leon.”

-

“We better ransack the kitchen,” Claire says, inspecting the empty backpack she has procured. “No idea when we’ll find the nearest city. A map would be nice, too.”

Leon looks again at the racks in the hall. They are filled only with discount coupons for diners and road restaurants, while a few other brochures show tourist information about the landmarks of Raccoon City—which makes pretty difficult to pinpoint exactly where they are, or where they should drive to.

“Good thinking,” he nods. “I’ll check the cars, see which one we can use. Maybe there’s a map somewhere.”

“Ok, I’ll go to the kitchen.” Claire walks quietly to the couch, where Sherry is dozing off, and pats her shoulder gently.

Leon suspects the girl has barely got any sleep. Not that he has had any. An hour, tops; but it has reinvigorated him, even if it’s just for the prospect of getting as far from this no man’s land of endless desert and solitary roads. Turning his back to them, he darts to the main entrance.

It crosses his field of view like a blur, as he lifts his head before opening the door.

A wrinkled yellow note.

It’s taped to the glass where the words Welcome are written in chipped painted letters. Leon takes it, only to find a cryptic message in perfect penmanship. Blue sedan to the right.

The corner of his lips turns up in a grin, and Leon takes no time to push the door open and walk outside. The sunlight almost blinds him. He covers his face with his arm, striding towards the cars parked on the right. His view adjusts to the outside light in a matter seconds and then he can see perfectly well the blue car the note indicates. He also notices the empty space next to it.

Leon finds himself in front of the driver’s door, smiling. He is not surprised when the door opens with ease, or when he checks the fuel gauge and it shows it has enough gas for approximately a three-hour trip.

The perfect choice for three survivors.

He knows she is long gone by now. Explaining her absence has required some imagination, but luckily Claire hasn’t brought it up again. Leon is thankful for that: he is not sure he’d be able to explain Ada Wong to anyone.

And maybe he likes it that way: that she remains a private detail, something he doesn’t have to share. It’s complicated, after all. Have they parted as friends? As enemies? Maybe it’s a little bit of both. But whatever they shared, it’s theirs to remember, and only theirs—and no matter her allegiances or criminal record, they don’t seem to stop her from lending him one last hand before disappearing.

He has learnt that she is a walking mystery, one that can’t be solved. He can’t help but smirk at the thought, patting the hood of the blue car—a farewell gift.

“I can’t believe I actually miss her.”