Reconections, Romances and Recovery
Old City Sanctuary
Ashley Magnus’ Rooms
Depending on your point of view, it was either very late, or very early. Unable to fall asleep after her latest nightmare, Ashley stared at the ceiling and tried to concentrate on her breathing. The remnants of nausea and the shakes would pass, she knew. As she lay there, the sound of her mother’s footstep reached her ears. Nocturnal wanderings of the maternal variety were nothing new. Ashley heard her at least once most nights. This time, instead of leaving her alone to her coffee or snack, Dean’s words about holding on to anger sounded in her ears, and she threw back her covers and rummaged around for the sleep pants on the floor near the bed.
When she reached the kitchen, she almost turned and left without making her presence known, but her pride wouldn’t let her. When she got a good look at the shadows under her mother’s eyes, neither would her conscience. There might not be many good things in her slowly returning memories, but the good that was there was centered on the woman who was seated at the long table tucked into the dining nook. Taking a deep breath, she paced over to the table and seated herself. “Tough night?” she asked.
“Ashley, I’m so glad to see you,” Helen murmured. Her expression lightened, followed by a wide smile. Then, as she noticed the signs of a recent nightmare, her smile faded. “I would guess I’m not the only one having a difficult evening.” Knowing there was no point in pushing her daughter for information she settled back and waited.
When Ashley was a little girl, and had a nightmare, they would go down to the kitchen and have hot cocoa and cookies and talk through whatever had upset her. Fleetingly, as she settled at the bench seat of the table, Helen wished it would be so easy to fix what was wrong now. It seemed wrong somehow that she was so happy when her child was so sad. That guilt had driven her out of bed, though she knew it was irrational. It was a jarring shock to see Ashley looking at her the same way she would look at any acquaintance. With a carefully measured breath inward, she set that aside. This wasn’t the time to be dwelling on her own problems. However it had happened, Ashley was back, and needed her help, whether she wanted it or not. “You can tell me about it, if you want,” she began, with only the slightest of hesitations.
Tilting her head to the side in a way that meant she was thinking something through, Ashley laughed quietly, but there was no humor in the sound. “Believe me, you do not want to hear about the things I dream about now.” She stopped, then started to speak, only to stop again, and when she looked up, Magnus caught the sheen of tears in her eyes, even in the low light of the kitchen.
“If you need to talk about it, I most certainly do want to hear it,” she contradicted, keeping her tone neutral.
The only sound was the rustling of fabric before Ashley shook her head, her hair brushing against her shoulders. “I don’t want to talk about it, at least not yet. I know you said you don’t want to tell me too much about my life now, that it will be better if I remember on my own. But what about when I was little? Can you tell me about then?” The plea was soft, barely above a whisper, but there was no mistaking how difficult it had been to ask.
“Alright. I don’t see any harm in a bit of reminiscing,” Helen answered, with only a slight pause while the doctor in her lost the argument to the mother. She started with the story of Ashley’s first day at school, and that led naturally into others. Shaking her head a little bit, she smiled across the table. “You were a handful, even at that age,” Helen concluded. “As much as I loved your independent streak, I must confess, I liked it when you would bring me your problems too. We used to end up right here when we discussed them,” she added.
“Cocoa,” Ashley said suddenly, with a strange far-away look in her eyes. Not quite certain what the comment related to, Helen looked over, intending to ask if she should make some, but Ashley was still talking. “When I was upset, we’d sit in here and you’d make me cocoa, because you said I was too young to be drinking tea, even though I wanted to drink what you were drinking.”
Swallowing against the tears that threatened, Helen could only nod. “I did, yes,” she agreed. Though she tried for matter of fact, she didn’t quite make it. “You remember.” It wasn’t a question, but the answering nod made her feel like a weight had come off that she hadn’t known was quite so heavy.
For the first time since they sat down, Ashley smiled, and nodded again. “I guess I do, at least a little bit. A lot of what I remember is so dark, so violent. It’s good to know it wasn’t all like that. I keep feeling like I owe you an apology, for hurting you, for leaving you, for not remembering. I don’t know.” Running her hand through her hair, she looked down at the table top. Just when she thought she understood all the things she felt guilty about, new ones would pop out of nowhere.
Rather than upsetting her more, this revelation made Helen feel like she was back on ground she could cope with. “Ashley, look at me,” she directed. Once they were looking at each other again, she continued. “None of what happened to you was your fault. I can’t lie to you and tell you that losing you didn’t hurt me. Of course it did. But the pain I went through is not your responsibility. You aren’t gone. You’re right here with me. I will never stop being grateful for that, no matter what you end up able to remember. If you can’t believe anything else, at least believe that, alright? The rest will come.” Though she seemed uncertain, Ashley eventually nodded in agreement. After such an intense moment, it was no surprise that the blonde claimed fatigue and left only a little bit later. That was alright though because Helen needed a chance to get herself back under control anyway.
It was such a stupid little thing. Hearing her daughter remember the cocoa had almost managed to reduce her to tears. Imagine, the great Helen Magnus reduced to crying over a hot beverage. Laughing a little at herself, she walked out of the kitchen toward her room. It didn’t matter if she was upset, there was no one there to see it. Steps from her room, the awareness prickled at the back of her neck and she sighed. “John, it’s late. I need to sleep.” She simply didn’t have the energy to control herself around him tonight. One emotionally wrenching scene was enough for a night.
“I know,” John told her, the measured acknowledgment at odds with the pain she could sense he was controlling. Separate from all their other issues, she knew he felt things more deeply than he would ever admit. Losing Ashley had destroyed him in some fundamental way, that even living with the Ripper within him hadn’t managed to damage. Knowing that truth didn’t make spending time with him a good idea though.
“Are you alright?” she asked. Are you yourself, under control, she meant. But of course, he knew that.
“For the moment,” was the answer, as he pushed away from where he’d been standing against the wall. “I know I should go. I know I really have no right to ask you about her, even now. Maybe especially not now,” he admitted. “But that doesn’t stop me from wanting to know.” He paused, while she opened her door, and there was a flash of surprise in his eyes when she opened it wide enough to be a clear invitation.
Once they were in her sitting room, she put extra care into closing the door. “She’s as well as can be expected,” Helen told him, knowing that would be his first question. Though a part of her wanted to pace, she dropped into a chair, kicking off her shoes with a sigh. Even with her eyes shut, she knew he moved behind her, but she also trusted that he would leave before he would allow his darker side to hurt her. The sense of him so close, the smell of him… She was too tired to have any defense at all when the longing surged up as it always did. Somehow the pain had gotten sharper since they’d discovered the truth behind his darker side. It had never been something he chose, and the fact that he could control it at all was miraculous. It made her feel better knowing he hadn’t chosen darkness over her all those years ago. It also didn’t erase the guilt of knowing he was only playing host to the monster because of her. He’d never have accepted it back if it wasn’t to save her. Oh he’d told her otherwise, but she wasn’t naive enough to believe him.
Moving slowly so she could tell him to back off, John came closer, laying his hands on her shoulders and rubbing at the knots he’d known he would find. The pain of touching her, while knowing he couldn’t have her had become familiar. It didn’t matter if it hurt him. Even miracles took their toll. There were shadows beneath her eyes and she was so tense a headache was inevitable. He understood. Having Ashley back was wonderful. Having her not know them was a fresh layer of hurt, topping a never-ending list. If she did remember her life, she would also remember all the things the Cabal made her do. Nothing he could say that would make it better. He stayed silent, continuing his massage.
When he felt the shoulders beneath his hands begin to shake, he knew she was crying. He allowed himself the pleasure of urging her to turn around, rearranging them so she was curled up against him. Feeling the tears begin to soak his shirt, he shifted until he was a bit more comfortable. For once, his dark companion seemed willing to be quiet, so he would hold her as long as was necessary. He was one of the few who understood how hard it was for Helen to let go of the strict control she imposed on her emotions. Maybe he couldn’t make any of it easier, but at the very least, she would know she wasn’t alone. That would have to be enough.***
Old City Sanctuary
There were a few more people at the table than she was used to, but Helen was smiling as she waited for everyone to take their places. It was still a joy to look down and see Ashley back with them. Granted, her memory was still a problem, and learning to control the powers the Cabal had forced on her was not exactly an easy task. Stacked up against her being here at all, those hardly seemed like obstacles.
Henry wandered in, talking to Willow on his bluetooth. That was a romance she hadn’t seen coming but was definitely pleased about. It had seemed more likely that Dean and Kate might get together but judging by the casual cuff Kate gave Dean on her way to grab some coffee, they had developed a kind of sibling dynamic. As she watched, Ashley joined the fun, catching his other side. The women laughed at his angry look.
Looking at the scene, she had to ignore a stab of pain. How much she wished that John had been able to stay longer. But she shouldn’t complain because she didn’t have everything. John would come if and when he could, whenever he could control the monster inside him. If she juggled her duties well enough, perhaps she would be able to look into ways to help him. Picking up her tablet, she keyed in a note to herself about it. Glancing at her watch, she was about to get things started when the tray of pasties on the sideboard caught her eye. She’d meant to have breakfast but lost the time to eat when her conference call had gone over. Instead of being annoyed though, even that was so normal it made her smile.
Sam came in, followed closely by Will. That was another relationship she hadn’t seen coming, but it seemed to be good for both of them. They were being terribly discreet about it, but certain signals were obvious no matter how much effort went into trying to hide them. Since they didn’t want anyone to know, she was keeping quiet about it.
Odds were there would be rather amusing fireworks when Dean found out, given how protective he was of his brother. They were all adults, so it was their business. That didn’t mean she wouldn’t enjoy the show, but that was hardly the point. What was important was that they were all moving on, settling back into life. Whatever came next they would all deal with it. Speaking of, she had business that needed dealing with.
“Good morning, everyone,” she announced, just loud enough to get their attention. “I’m so glad you could all join us on this lovely morning. I don’t have a great deal of news to present, but I wanted to check in with everybody.” It only took a moment to look around the table, but no one spoke up, so she continued. “I’m sure you all understand that we need to be on our guard against whatever fallout there is from our recent activities.” There were nods all around.
“To that end, I should let you know that I’ve given Sam and Dean clearance as expert consultants. They’ve agreed to stick around to see if they can help us anticipate what the next moves are going to be,” Helen explained. “Officially, their clearance is only for this branch, but unofficially, they’re to be shown anything they want to know,” she added, in case anyone was unclear. No one argued. Instead, Henry laughed and shoved against Will’s shoulder. “Pay up, dude. I told you,” he exclaimed in obvious satisfaction. Despite her usual standard of professionalism, Helen laughed before she could hold it back. Yes, they could definitely deal with whatever came next.***fin***