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It’s in the middle of the summer when they leave for Los Santos.

The air’s muggy and humid, and the heat doesn’t cool down in the slightest as they head west. Liberty City has seen its share of warm weather, but this would take some time to get used to.

Johnny’s never felt too warm for his leather jacket. That is something else, among other things, that he’ll have to get used to.

Even now, when the sun has set and it’s dark out, except from the dusty glow of the street lamps strategically placed here and there, it’s still fairly warm.

After about eight hours on the road, they come across a small, seedy motel, one with air conditioning, television, and the feeling that some poor soul might’ve died right in one of the rooms.

There’s still a little over two thousand miles between where they are now and Los Santos. A few miles back, when they all stopped at a diner for dinner, Ashley had pulled out a small pocket-sized map she bought at one of the gas stations and said they were in Ohio.

At this rate, they’d be in Los Santos within a week, at the least.

To save up on cash, a few of them get to be each other’s roommates for the night. Terry and Clay check in a room together, and Johnny and Ashley check into a room with each other.

Terry and Clay get a room with two beds, probably to keep up the image that they’ve never slept together in the same bed before and would never consider it, although almost everyone back at the clubhouse knows different, and Ashley books a room for herself and Johnny with one bed.

It’s been almost a year since Johnny’s shared a bed with Ashley, but he doesn’t question Ashley’s request.

The room, itself, is just as much as Johnny expected it to be. Clean to the naked eye, nothing out of place or unusual, just as most of the motel rooms he’s stayed in before. Ashley walks in, taking off her leather jacket and dropping it on the bed, and Johnny’s still taking in his surroundings.

“I’m gonna take a shower, okay?” Ashley brings his attention back to her, and she’s got this hint of a smile still lingering on her features.

Whether she’s smiling because of him or because of something else, Johnny isn’t sure, but he nods anyway. “Yeah, alright.”

While Johnny locks the door and takes the four step stride from the door to the bed, sitting down on the edge of it, Ashley disappears into the small bathroom and Johnny is alone.

He’s not quite exhausted yet, and it feels too early to go to bed, so he gets up, grabbing the TV remote from the bedside table, and taking his seat back on the edge of the bed.

The muffled sound of the shower starting comes from the bathroom and Johnny clicks the television on.

The television, itself, is about the same size as what they had back at the clubhouse, about as thick as it is wide, but it’s placed on a dresser instead of some worn out old table.

Here, there’s the same shit that’s on TV as there was back in Liberty. Reality TV shows featuring celebrities nobody cares about, documentaries featuring historical events nobody cares about, and commercials featuring products nobody cares about.

Still, it’s better than staring at the walls and waiting for Ashley to get out of the shower.

Johnny flips through the channels before settling on some show about stand up comedians, deciding it would at least do for some background noise. He can’t really focus on what the comedian is saying, he doesn’t really get the jokes, and his mind wanders to where it’s been at all day: Los Santos.

Johnny isn’t even one hundred percent sure why they’re moving to the west coast anyway. They’d been before, back when their chapter wasn’t singled down to less than a dozen people, and they’d stayed a few days, recruited some people, and headed back to Liberty.

This time, that doesn’t seem to be the same case.

Terry was talking about some meth dealer there who was offering a job to smuggle drugs and firearms. Not a good enough reason to move across the country, but then again, as Terry put it, that would be only one motive.

The other being the need to recruit a few more members and build themselves back from the ground up. A fresh start that could possibly put them back on their feet.

Liberty wasn’t where they belonged anymore. Los Santos was a new chance.

“Watching TV?” Ashley asks from behind Johnny, almost startling him. He hadn’t even noticed the shower turn off.

“Ah, no,” Johnny switches the TV off, glancing over his shoulder at her. She’s dressed in her t-shirt and underwear, running a towel through her damp hair. Johnny’s seen her in less, but he doesn’t look at her longer than what would be appropriate. “I think I’m gonna turn in.”

“Alright,” Ashley says simply, still towel-drying her hair, before disappearing again into the bathroom.

- - - - -

Less than an hour later, when it’s going on midnight and Johnny’s still not asleep but settled in bed anyway, he hears the creak of the bed springs, feels the slight dip in the mattress, and then feels Ashley nestle up beside him. His eyes open long enough to see her hand reach above his head and turn off the bedside lamp and everything disappears in the darkness.

The moonlight coming in from the two curtained windows, one of which is behind the tv, on the right side of the door, the other on the left, illuminates the room just enough so everything isn’t pitch black. Still dim enough, though, that everything in the room looks like just a black outline of their shape, nothing has much detail to it.

“Goodnight, Johnny,” Ashley says from behind him, her voice soft and close, and he feels her shift again until he can practically feel her body heat and her knee is fitted into the back of his.

“G’night,” Johnny says, and everything goes silent again.

Johnny closes his eyes again, trying to will himself to sleep despite the fact that he’s not all that tired. He’s exhausted, in a way, but he can’t sleep.

A few more minutes in total darkness and total silence gives Johnny the opportunity to get back inside his head, but he’d much rather spend his time sleeping than thinking.

About five minutes has passed, and Johnny feels Ashley move beside him again, accompanied by the slight creak of the bed springs and the sound of her voice, this time quieted down to a barely audible whisper. “You asleep yet?”

“No,” He whispers back, although he isn’t sure why, it’s not like he’d be disturbing anybody by talking at a normal volume.

“Oh,” Ashley says, her voice still hushed. “sorry.”

Johnny turns on his back and looks to Ashley’s dimly illuminated face, her face half-buried in her pillow and her hand placed the pillow space beside it.

“It’s fine,” Johnny chuckles, letting his voice rise a little above the whisper they’ve kept going, and Ashley smiles. “you got something on your mind, sugar?”

“No, not really,” Ashley sighs, Johnny able to see the rise and the fall of her shoulder with it. “ Just, going to LS again, brings back memories, y’know?”

Johnny knows exactly what Ashley means. Back several years ago, back to 2004 when he and Ashley had first started dating and he’d taken her with him on the journey to Los Santos and back to Liberty.

The memories are nothing short of good ones, and by the sentimental tone in Ashley’s voice, Johnny knows she thinks so too.

“Yeah,” Johnny says. “I know.”

Ashley turns on her back, then, staring up at the ceiling at nothing, like Johnny. They watch the ceiling fan go around and around a few times before Ashley speaks again.

“I wish things were the same as they used to be,” She takes her eyes off the fan long enough to glance over at Johnny. “don’t you?”

“Yeah,” Johnny answers without any hesitation, and now it’s his turn to look over at Ashley. “but that doesn’t mean they are.”

And that’s the hard truth in all of this. One that they’ve been carrying around for the past year. No matter how good things were in the past, they will never be like that again. Sure, Johnny and Ashley could get back together, start dating again, leave every memory in Liberty City behind them, but that wouldn’t make anything the same as it was.

And they’re not just realizing this, but each time they re-realize it, every time this reminder pops into their heads like an unwelcome burden, it’s always just a little harder to swallow down.

“No,” Ashley acknowledges this, and waits a beat before continuing. “D’you remember our first trip to Los Santos?”

Johnny’s eyes are back on the ceiling. “Yeah.”

“I wish things were like that again. Everything was easier,” Ashley says, and she’s lost in the memories. “We’d ride on your motorcycle, explore the city, get high together, come back to whatever motel we were staying at and watch TV until we fell asleep.”

“It was nice,” Johnny agrees, and he can feel Ashley’s eyes on him. “I miss those times.”

“Me too,” Ashley says, and everything goes quiet again.

The ceiling fan goes round and round a few more times, and Johnny can hear the sparse late night highway traffic outside the windows. Ashley’s turned back on her side again, facing Johnny, and Johnny isn’t sure if she’s going to sleep or just thinking of something to say.

After a few minutes of them sharing a comfortable silence, Johnny waits for Ashley to talk again, finding out her intentions are the latter.

“D’you still love me?” She asks, and maybe at a different point in time, the question would’ve taken Johnny by surprise, maybe it wouldn’t. Johnny drags his gaze to her once more.

“Isn’t it better if I don’t?”

“That doesn’t answer the question,” Ashley points out.

This is something that Johnny was hoping Ashley wouldn’t point out, because this slight change in conversation is something else Johnny didn’t want. Whether or not Johnny still loves Ashley is something he’s been battling with for the past year, and he doesn’t really feel like coming to conclusion, here, a few hundred miles away from home at midnight.

It is better if Johnny doesn’t love Ashley, because he shouldn’t still love Ashley. That goes for Ashley, too. Vice versa. There’s many pros and cons to this situation, a con obviously being it’s wrong to still love Ashley, and a pro being it’s what Johnny wants.

Truth is, Johnny still loves Ashley, no doubt, and in some ways, still might be in love with her. A year has passed, they’ve both treated each other like shit, Ashley cheated on Johnny with Billy and Johnny’s tried replacing Ashley with Leila, and they still love each other.

“Then, yeah, I do,” Johnny says, because he can’t lie to her, and he’s just now realizing that Ashley’s been staring at him, waiting on him to say something and he’s been staring at the ceiling the entire time, mulling over his answer. “But it doesn’t make anything easier.”

“It’s not supposed to,” Ashley says, like it’s that simple, and maybe in a way, it is.

“You’re supposed to be happy when you love somebody,” Johnny disagrees. “it’s not supposed to be this whole crash and burn thing where you’re buried so deep you can’t get to the surface.”

“We used to be happy, Johnny.” Ashley reminds him, although it’s not something he necessarily forgot. He remembers the good times in their relationship, it’s something that’s almost impossible to forget when he’s around Ashley. Sometimes, she makes them seem real again, she seems to make time rewind and somehow, they’re young and happy again.

“Yeah, we used to be,” Johnny uses the same emphasis. “when we were young and naive, before we realized that we’re each other’s own personal weaknesses and probably always will be.”

This particular point falls back on the whole “them being not good for each other” con, and if Johnny wanted to get detailed with it, he’d go ahead and say he and Ashley were each other’s poison as well.

They were happy because this was something they hadn’t figured out yet. But, whether or not their relationship is more morally wrong than it is right, that doesn’t overcome the fact that Johnny still loves Ashley, and still might be in love with her. Yet, Ashley knows this, she probably would’ve known it without Johnny even having to tell her, because in some ways, she knows Johnny better than he knows himself.

She knows that he’s stayed around because he still loves her and because he still cares for her, she knows that he asked her to come along with him to Los Santos for the very same reasons, and she knows that maybe there’s this chance for them to have what they had before.

Johnny still loves Ashley just as much as she still loves him. It’s just as simple and yet, complicated as that.

It has to be going on one in the morning by now, and Johnny and Ashley have spent the past hour watching the ceiling fan together, and another countless silence has settled between them, but honestly, Johnny wouldn’t rather be doing anything else.

It’s nice to be finally having this conversation with Ashley, because it’s something he’s been meaning to do since they separated, and now that everything’s out there in the open, Johnny doesn’t feel so weighed down anymore.

“I’m sorry things got like this,” Ashley says, reaching over in the dark and grabbing at Johnny’s hand, and Johnny looks over at her again and she’s wearing this kind of sorrowful smile. “I’m sorry that I caused most of it.”

Johnny mirrors the smile, shaking his head. “I caused it just as much as you did,” he says, because he can’t let Ashley take all the credit for this pile of ashes that has become of their relationship. “We fucked each other up pretty badly, we were bad for each other.”

There it is again, the highest con of all cons on the list. Johnny and Ashley are totally and completely bad for each other. That most reoccurring reminder that pops into Johnny’s head when in times just like this that he thinks he might be falling a little deeper for Ashley than he already was.

“Are we still bad for each other?” Ashley asks.

“Yeah,” They both know the answer to that question. “but sometimes, people give in to their weaknesses, no matter how bad.”

Johnny’s not even entirely sure what that statement’s supposed to mean, but it has Ashley smiling again, that subtle half grin that Johnny’s seen more of tonight than probably ever.

Johnny waits for her to say something back, waits for another comfortable silence spent with them just staring up at the moving ceiling fan, but instead, Ashley scoots closer, filling the gap between them, and kisses him.

It’s gentle and familiar, simple and almost meaningless, and right now, it seems like it’s been ages ago since they last kissed, and yet, it feels like it wasn’t that long ago. She tastes like cigarettes and spearmint and just as Johnny begins to sink into it, Ashley’s lips are gone just as quickly as they appeared.

Johnny opens his eyes and she’s smiling, and he feels himself mirror the expression.

“I missed you,” Ashley says, and it almost sounds like “I love you”.

A car passes by outside and it’s started raining, the sound of it beating against the window audible from inside the room. Johnny’s thinking about kissing Ashley again.

“I missed you too, sugar,” Johnny says. I love you, too.