It wasn’t easy for Ashley after Spain. The press had hounded her father thanks to what had happened to her on her backpacking adventure, her one attempt at doing something she thought normal teenagers did. It had taken a ridiculous amount of effort to keep her out of the spotlight and even then she had to drop out of college to keep from being ambushed by journalists wanting to hear her side of the story. They were desperate for a narrative, one where she managed to survive her time as a captive of Los Illuminados through wits and bravery, assisting Leon with her rescue, when the reality of the situation was far different. Her biggest fear was that somehow, someone would find out the truth and the whole story of the plaga parasite would get out. Then her life would be as good as over because when people heard bioweapons they thought of Raccoon City and when people thought of Raccoon City they thought of monsters and zombies and even if she obviously wasn’t infected anymore there was no telling what sort of sensationalist stories would be spun from it.
Anxiety was constant for the year following her rescue, nightmares and flashbacks, normal for someone who’d been through what she had, but horrible for someone her age, wanting to worry about boys and college and trying to have a normal life rather than having to deal with the constantly looming specter of bioterrorism.
In the end she decided that she wasn’t going back to school, at least until enough time passed for things to blow over. Sooner or later there would be a new big story and the media would set its collective eyes on a new target. Until then she was going to try and take a little vacation someplace where she could hide.
Her family’s summer home was the best choice for that, almost far enough away from everything for her to pretend that life was normal, especially since she was going there in the fall. Desperate to feel in control of things she begged her mom, dad and the bodyguards in charge of keeping an eye on her to let her buy a gun and learn how to shoot. It wasn’t that she liked guns or the idea of using one, but she figured that it would help if she ever got in trouble again, unlikely as that was.
She quickly realized she’d been far too optimistic about her own skills, having watched Leon in action had made her think that there was nothing to it.
Her first day on the range was kept from being an unmitigated disaster only by virtue of the particular set of bodyguards watching her that day being remarkably patient teachers. They kept her from making an idiot of herself and encouraged her to keep trying, to come back the next day and the one after that and again and again until she was a proficient shot, not a great one, but she could use a gun and was confident.
The biggest thing she learned from the experience was that, even if she were ever in a situation where she had to able to defend herself, something she was confident she could do, she wasn’t ever going to be like Leon. She didn’t have the mindset for it and would never be able to go around effortlessly saving people the way he did.
It would have been a devastating blow, if not for the fact that she’d started coming to terms with her situation. She wasn’t going to be like Leon, not ever. From where she stood he was the closest thing there was to a real life superhero and if she tried to imitate him there was no way that she’d ever succeed.
Fall turned to winter and she found herself fighting boredom by taking college courses online. A digital classroom meant she could carry on her studies without needing to leave the house, without needing to worry about people recognizing her and asking her about things she still didn’t want to talk about.
Because that had been another early thought of hers, that she could go around and give speeches on the dangers of bioterrorism, spreading the word and making people more aware, but that would require her talking about what she’d been through, reliving the most horrifying experience of her life. Besides, there was the fact that she’d actually been infected with a plaga and even though it had been removed she didn’t want to think about the horrible rumors that would start. There were already horror stories about survivors from Raccoon City, not the famous ones like Leon, Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine, but the others, normal people who no one wanted to think of as normal. Those were the people that rumors had started about, that some of them had never been let out of quarantine and some of them who had shouldn’t have been.
Everyone was afraid of zombies and B.O.W.s and with her being an unwillingly famous public figure it would be so easy for that fear to be turned towards her, which was the last thing she wanted.
All she wanted to do was to help people, to be a hero like Leon, but she couldn’t.
One night, after a tearful conversation with her father about it, a conversation where she hadn’t realized that she’d gotten increasingly loud until one of her bodyguards approached her and asked her if she was alright, it all came out.
To his credit the man listened without judging and then launched into a story of his own, one she couldn’t understand the point of. He started telling her about his brother, how when they were little his brother could build just about anything. He won the local pinewood derby every year he was old enough to participate and how when he was too old he kept building the little cars for fun, further refining his designs. One summer when he was bored he built a treehouse from scrap lumber, one with two separate rooms, a window on the roof and a trapdoor with a rope ladder that could be raised and lowered with a crank. His brother had gone to college to be an engineer or an architect, got bored half way through his first semester, dropped out and got a job as a carpenter. After working as a carpenter for a few years and saving up money, he started expanding his collection of tools and started making furniture on the side, got good at it and eventually started selling it. Between those two jobs he was able to buy a building lot, get the necessary permits and start building a house of his own with the help of friends that he’d made working various jobs.
Ashley stared at him blankly, trying to figure out what all that was supposed to have to do with her. The bodyguard laughed and explained that while his brother could build anything, he himself was barely able to hammer a nail into a two by four without bending it. Everyone was good at different things, had different strengths and weaknesses and all she had to do was figure out what hers were and how to put them to use.
It gave Ashley something to think about. What was she good at?
Her kneejerk response was ‘not much’ but she realized that was only because she wasn’t looking at things the right way.
She was a public figure, famous for all the wrong reasons, but people listened to famous people, trusted them.
The next day she called the BSAA, asked if they needed a spokesperson or someone to help with publicity. Several phone calls later and she found herself preparing for a video conference with several counter-bioterrorism agents and a number of scientists, all interested in hearing about her firsthand experience with the plagas. It turned out that there was a lot of concern about them, that they might be the next biological threat and anything she could reveal about them would be greatly appreciated.
So she wasn’t going to be a hero like Leon, working on the front lines, but at least she’d be helping people and, she realized, she was financially very well off and would have no problem making donations to projects that needed help, projects that might help prevent anyone from having to endure what she had.
After spending so much time dwelling on what she’d been through it was nice to be able to think about the future, to help stopping the next incident before it even started.
In her own way she’d be doing what needed to be done. Maybe it wasn’t what she’d imagined herself doing, but that didn’t change that she was doing good.