|Start of Days
Author: onthecoast6 PM
113 years living in seclusion; Helen breaks her own rules and takes the steps needed to save Ashley. The after effects from Helen's plan takes Ashley on an emotional journey back to her mother as she struggles to find forgiveness in herself. Complete!Rated: Fiction T - English - Angst/Hurt/Comfort - Ashley M. & Helen M. - Chapters: 40 - Words: 168,759 - Reviews: 111 - Favs: 32 - Follows: 46 - Updated: 03-03-13 - Published: 09-26-11 - Status: Complete - id: 7413923
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N: HaPpy Holidays everyone! Took off the original Ch.38, was trying to add a side arc but decided against it. Might try to add it back if I can work with it? Almost finished with my story... :D Hope you enjoy as always.
"Sorry darling, I did not mean to wake you."
Eyes gazed up, blurry and acutely unfocused to hundreds of tiny lights bulbs glowing all around. The soft white light was brighter now in the shadowed darkness, and Ashley realized that the sun had crawled down below the horizon. Once she opened her eyelids a little more, a face came into view inches from her own and half hidden under the yellow cotton collar of a sweatshirt. It was her sleeping Henry and for a moment as she adjusted to waking she let her eyes stare over her brother friend. He was curled facing her and lying on his side. One had still clutching her shoulder that even under a newly discovered soft blanket that encompassed her, the hand still clutched protectively. A deep heavy sigh released a response to his endearing affection.
A soft rub along her back reminded her someone was sitting beside her.
"There you are," the same voice calmly chimed.
Suddenly the lichen growled quietly, pawing his wrist arching his knuckles against a paper wrapped box. A curl of his thin upper lip revealed pink gums and white teeth.
Helen glanced down seeing his involuntary twitches and reached over a few wrapped gifts to gently push fingers through his short hair. "Shhh, Ashley's not going anywhere. She's right here."
Piercing blue eyes raked up, and the sight of her mother rendered a lazy smile. "Hey."
Helen pulled back her hand when Henry exhaled a little sigh and stopped his sleep induced twitching. Ashley lifted her head from her pillow and looked around the large open room. She noticed that her reading chair had been moved alongside her bed. In it was a stethoscope and blood pressure cuff. Ashley let a small amusing smile grace her face. Those two items could well be pieces of jewelry worn by her mother. Often she was never without them.
She also took notice now finally facing her, that she had recently taken a shower. Her dark hair was still very much damp and she was nearly dressed in her everyday wardrobe of black slacks and black long sleeve shirt. But her eyes also noticed something encouraging from her father's doting nature that she would now receive without deflection from a caged beast. Behind Helen draped on the back of her reading chair was John's long wool coat. Perhaps he had offered to watch over her while her mother drained away every remaining grimy molecule from that Cabal dump heap.
"Just checking your tracking device I placed on your wrist. Crude I know," and she offered an embarrassed smile. Of all the techno wizardry created by the great Foss man a simple hand me down from Skippy's Sir Lanka tracking days was the culprit to GPS locate a randomly teleporting daughter. Weathered by yearly exposure to the elements the black band of thick worn leather buckled by a silver latch held Ashley's current location. It was the first tracking device within reach as Helen rummaged over mechanic tools; broken and dismantled electrical projects that were housed on Henry's very cluttered subterranean work station. Henry had called to Nikola via walkie letting them know that he and Ashley were safe and sound upstairs after Ashley's teleport. And so Helen's first objective was to find a means to track her daughter if she jumped unexpectedly again.
"We'll find something more fashionable I promise." And with that she breathed inward sighing a relief knowing now Ashley would never be out of reach.
Not ever again.
Ashley pushed her bent knees she had curled into her chest and stretched out her legs letting a foot fall across the bed's edge. Her ankle peeked out from the blanket's threaded edge and she felt the cool rush of air touch her skin. Then as quickly as she felt the room's coolness she tucked her foot back under the warm knitted wool.
The way she felt now only brought back her glory days of hunting till the early light of dawn. Or the falling light of evening. God no other thing in life gave her such thrills, excitement and purpose.
"Just like old times," she reminded her mom with a subtle joke. "Me staying out all..."she paused to bury her mouth in her pillow quieting a long winded yawn. "You standing guard with your cell phone in your hand. Waiting on that call if and when I needed curb side service for a trip back home."
Rushing to the forefront of Helen's memories were those very nights after Ashley drove home, driving through the front gates after such long night and day time hunts. She would allow for the fading rumble of the motorcycles thrumming engine to dissipate under the stone threshold to an elevator leading beneath. After the drumming echoes disappeared inside nurtured stone walls she would make her way to Ashley's bedroom. And it was always the low lamp pouring soft light from Ashley's room into the quiet corridor that she needed to see. It was reassuring letting her heart beat normal again. The little light so unalive and abstract, but it meant all the world to her because it meant Ashley had finally come home.
Her daughter's journeys would take her into the heart of Old City and past its outer boundaries to trap rare species or lay traps to bring them in for specific studies. But when she completed her work she had always made her way home; take a hot shower and read by the light from her nightstand. Or fall asleep to its sheltered glow. The light was a beacon that gave Helen so much ease whenever she turned the corner to see it. This simple little light filled her heart with calm, and there was a loving peace to it.
A floating peace to everything now.
For years side dark wood tables lined the walls around her down this single corridor leading to Ashley's bedroom. Just a few hours ago Helen was strolling in its quiet pathway discovering its sentimental presence once again. Many of the side wall tables housed small trinkets from her incredible travels with Ashley. Most of spiritual significance from worldly cultures and painted pottery bowls adorning geometric designs of once ancient worlds. All of which Ashley had particularly placed on each table and all of which was never moved thereafter.
Helen pushed a colorful wrapped present from beside her knee then crawled closer to sit with her back against the head board. Ashley followed her lead when Helen pulled the pillow free and place it by her side. Snuggling close Ashley let her head fall back to the plush pillow and closed her eyelids when Helen wrapped an arm across her shoulder. Something lingered over the tips of Helen's finger and she looked down to see a few strands of shiny silver tinsel intertwined between them. In fact a few more stray silver bands were found misplaced and scattered about the bundle of wrapped gifts in the bed's center. It sparked an old memory like a lightning bolt strike. And with it the simple joys from the holiday season poured from her heart in a time when the small things in life didn't seem to big...
Small voices of two familiar children echoed against the old metal walls from within the clanking elevator. Helen paused to their sudden noisy exit. She leaned a shoulder into the corner wall to get a quiet glimpse at the squealing pair erupting in their usual antics. Her eyes followed the two as they exited the parting doors just beyond a single mahogany table across the corridor. With half the length of the elevator lift facing her, she held her breath when the two appeared. Henry was dressed in a green knitted sweater a little bit long in the sleeves, faded blue jeans folded at the ankles and fluffy white slippers. His short mohawk dirty blonde hair flattened by a pair of century old welding goggles owned by the great man James Watson. The aged brown leather buckled in place at the base of his head as large tinted black lenses settled against his pale forehead nearly giving the visual observation that he had two big black giant eyes present. It made him look like some odd four eyed alien bug. The odd funny visualization caused Helen to chuckle lightly to herself, fighting the urge to laugh louder with a hand pressed to her lips.
Ashley skipped out giggling her high pitched enthusiasm merrily with one hand holding onto Henry's. In her white ski pants and pink turtle neck sweater she pranced into the hallway beside her friend, and brother in arms. Atop her head was a big red Christmas hat tucked neatly over two blonde side braids. Its soft cotton fabric hovering over her brow almost blocking her short sightline. The white puffy ball bounced in congruence to her stepping forward in her small blue Smurf slippers, pacing large steps to keep up with Henry's longer strides. They seemed to be in a hurry.
Well so. Maybe they had lost track of time. They sometimes do. But it was the holiday season. How could they forget?
They were late again. This was bad. The tea would get cold. And in the Magnus household, that is a big no no.
Where could they be was what Helen had been asking herself? It wasn't an unusual question. It was a daily one that until Ashley was to turn five and probably well beyond that; Helen would find herself asking more often than not. And Henry! He was now falling into the role of man of the house. Helping her with more labor intensive chores of habitat fixings and maintenance and playing a more influential big brother to Ashley. He was growing up. As was her little girl.
She let a short sigh slip her breaths. Oh how she wished she could bottle these days up so she could return to them in times she would give anything to see them like this again. Small. Young. Not yet independent to the world. But mostly, still in need of her care.
Funny how in years to come that would be the one thing that never changed.
"Silly," Henry laughed through parted thin lips. "We can't put garland on Sally's little Christmas tree."
"Why? It's pretty," Ashley whined in slighted disappointment. Dark green garland hung above their fireplace in their Study, along the mantle's marbled face. It, was pretty.
"The green. Looks too much like her hair."
Helen started giggling taking a step back from following them. Very rarely did she have time to innocently spy on the two of them and live in their little world of innocence and childlike wonder. And as she realized this, along with having the holidays come back around to the Sanctuary it made her feel like she did need to spend less time at work and more time with them. They needed that. She needed that.
"Oh," Ashley said. She hadn't really thought of that. But who would really. Ashley was only four. And although she could shoot styrofoam rockets from a plastic Nerf weapon and hit every target twice over in the bull's eye, garland look-a-likes could be something she could work on.
"What about, candy canes?"
Helen stepped out from her secret hallway and followed in step when Henry and Ashley disappeared around the corner. Still their little voices could be heard clear and loud.
"Nope. Then she will want to eat them. It might make her sick."
Ashley let her free hand fall to his that she was holding and tugged at his arm pulling him a little ways into her. "But she can eat them. It's candy," she hinted humorously.
"Nah, you know Sally only eats food that comes from the sea. Remember?"
Ashley groaned, a hint of displeasure showing through. She was beginning to feel left out with items to put on Mrs. Fish Lady's Christmas tree. After all it was the first time she would have one. It had been Ashley's idea. Her family had one. A very tall one sitting in Helen's Study positioned beside the side wall window overlooking Old River. Presents and a very special antique metal train rolling around on tiny crafted wooden tracks. Its circled route also accompanied by multiple train stations and little figurines of people, men in top hats and women in dresses waiting on platforms awaiting the arrival of their choo choo chugging commute.
"Blast," she fumed lightly. She wanted so much to contribute to Sally's first holiday tree.
"Hey now," came the surprised, but endearing reply as Henry pushed the rim of his goggles a bit higher off his brow. Ashley lifted her head up to him and took notice of a small red band of imprinted skin forming from the tightly fixed goggles and a scattered pattern of light freckles across his pale cheeks and nose. He smiled a mouth full of white teeth. "Use your words Ash," he reminded her kindly.
"Sorry," she said shyly.
Henry and Ashley stopped in front of the attic room door that was partly opened. In front sat a cardboard box. Its top flaps opened. They hadn't yet stored the box inside. It was quite heavy and it had been a chore just to carry it this far up.
Helen paused just ten feet from them, leaning into another wooden side table resting along the wall. She was sure they almost caught sight of her. But they didn't.
Henry's hand released from Ashley's and he knelt down beside the brown box. Both hands rummage through clanking metal and plastic things until he found what he was looking for. Ashley watched him do his older brother thing and take charge of their whatever the day's mission was between them. Henry's soft blue eyes rose in anticipation when he pulled out his wanted object. "Awesome."
"Awesome," Ashley copied with as much joy filled expression. Then she clapped her little hands together.
"Operation Rudolph is a go!" He laughed aloud like a genius master could.
"Ooh Santa is going to be very mad at us," Ashley told him feeling a bit fearful.
Henry stood to his feet and tucked the piece of fruit into his pants pocket. They had been downstairs in the kitchen doing recon for spare fruit. One box, which they borrowed, would now be missing from the Abnormal's inventory of daily nutrients. But it was for a very good reason.
"Not sooo muuch," he countered speaking his best British lilt. Helen giggled again. The boy could coin phrase her to the T at times.
Ashley giggled again to his pretend speakings of Momma.
Little eyes shut to a long yawn and Ashley rubbed a hand over her heavy eyelids. "I'm sleepy Henry."
And Ashley was. It was nearly their bedtime. Minutes were creeping close to 8 o'clock and with full bellies filled with their Christmas Eve dinner, but not yet of evening tea the lure of sleep was encroaching on Ashley. Even Henry too though he wouldn't admit to it. There was still so much to do tonight.
"Here, let's sit on the sofa. We might need the rest because Santa doesn't come until 12 midnight remember. That is like," he looked down at his rather large black watch latched to his left wrist, "4 hours from now."
"Ooh," Ashley smiled as she pushed the brim of her Christmas hat away from her brow. It was slowly starting to sag and had already covered over both her little ears.
"Okay," Henry offered to pick her up with arms gesturing for her to step towards him. Ashley lifted her arms up and Henry slid his arms around her and picked her up. Ashley wrapped one arm around his neck and perched her head on his shoulder. He was a strong big brother and she loved when he would carry her so. Especially piggy-back rides around the Sanctuary. Although, no one could do it better than Biggie.
"Let's sit for a minute and talk over our secret plan."
Our secret plan? Helen could barely contain herself. Really, she was witnessing a great feat of inventive youth. Whatever this plan was?
What on Earth were they planning?
"Ready? One! Two! Threeeeeee!" Henry dropped Ashley onto a blue couch pillow with white snowflakes stitched on its center. Ashley plopped down laughing loudly as she landed sideways into the cream colored cushions. Small giggles phasing into uncontrolled squeals erupted after her body bounced up and into the back cushions. She pushed herself upright and grabbed at the pillow drawing it in to her chest hugging it close, like a teddy bear. Snuggling into the arm rest she faced him with large expressive blue eyes. Waiting.
Henry stood near the edge and lowered his goggles over his eyes, waiting for her to signal him. As she always did when jumping on furniture was a priority when Momma Magnus was nowhere in sight. With that very thought in mind he jumped up and landed comfortably against two matching pillows. He pushed them behind his head and straightened his legs out across the empty middle cushion and crossed his lanky legs at his ankles. His right foot reached out and tapped Ashley's knee. She giggled into her pillow.
"Are reindeers Abnormals," she quietly asked only exposing her hat and light blue eyes inching over the big pillow's square form.
Henry crossed his arms behind his neck and blinked hard behind dark lenses. "I suppose so."
She squealed with joyful delight. This could verify the reason they should have one. "Then why doesn't mummy have one?"
Henry really didn't know why himself. "Uh, because they are a special kind of Abnormal. Not everyone can have one."
"But Sally is special. And she lives with us," she insisted.
"More reason for us to have a reindeer," he chimed energetically and loud like a sports announcer calling a favorite football match.
"We're getting a reindeer!"
"Waahoo!" Henry laughed believing their plan successful.
"Do you think mummy will want to fly on Rudolph?"
"Of course," Henry giggled without a trace of doubt. "She rides horses," and with that he pulled out the fruit from his large pocket and pushed it towards Ashley. The red piece of fruit rolled like a baseball over the cushion stopping at Ashley's exposed toes. She quickly grabbed it and placed it atop her pillow.
"What about Uncle Biggie," she asked hugging her pillow closer.
"He's too heavy?"
"But Rudolph helps pull Santa's sleigh. He is strong. And Santa is very fat."
Henry agreed snickering lightly. "Hey that's true. Maybe Uncle B can ride too?" It was a very logical point made by Ashley.
Ashley clapped her little palms together. "Do you think Rudolph can carry both of us?" Blue eyes blinked several times as she pictured herself flying over Old City with Henry.
Henry scratched the forehead line of soft blondish hair and fiddled with the goggle's back buckle to loosen the leather strap. "Yep. And then we can finally go to Dead Bridge and see what it looks like!"
"Yay!" The ultimate journey of youth had been revealed.
"Yeeesss!" Henry hollered. Dead Bridge was the end all and be all of coolness to them.
Helen huffed her laughter again from behind a hand across her lips. Dead Bridge? That old bucket of rust?
Dead Bridge was the holy grail of the city's mysteries to them. Their single belief was that the Bridge succumbed to old age and weather. That time and the elements had rotted the stone to crumble just as Helen had told them. But that's what made it so cool. It was old. And partly still standing. There was just something special about it as if was a secret fort yet to be explored. At least that's how Henry saw it. A big dump worth exploring.
Ashley shut her eyes to another long winded yawn. This time the pillow fell from her arms into her lap and she leaned further back into the arm rest as she caught the fruit before it rolled away.
"Cool dude," Ashley whispered completely engulfed with amazement.
Henry grinned and crinkled his nose. "Totally."
"Henry," she called softly in deep wonderment.
"Yep," he answered softly hearing the deep thread of curiosity lacing her tiny voice.
"How do reindeer fly?"
"I think it's the magic hay they eat."
Ashley frowned letting her chin muscle pout. "But wheeere does that come from Henry." The child was very inquisitive.
Henry tugged the curved corners of his metal goggles with his finger tips and caught her blue eyes locked to him. He gave her his best guess. "Maybe it's a spice or something they put in it?"
"If we get some can we eat it? Then we can fly around the house like Tinker Bell!" And with that small hands covered a whirl of giggling glee at the thoughts of flying around the open sublevel.
Henry laughed and this time Helen was so sure they had both heard her lose her wits.
"Then we would have to go to the North Pole to get some. We can't do that, we don't know the way because only Santa knows that Ash."
"Oh," Ashley sighed in acceptance.
"But. Remember, last but not least." Henry gave Ashley a nod worthy of a noble deed. "Your apple."
Ashley crinkled her little nose feeling proud she was his go to girl for tonight's adventure. "Are you sure Reindeers eat apples?"
"Horses do," he shrugged.
"But what if he doesn't like it and he makes a fuss?"
"He will don't worry."
"What if the reindeer are scared of us?"
"They won't be."
"How do you know," she protested in her tiny voice and pouty lips blinking her large blue eyes and waiting patiently for his answer.
"Umm," he was thinking logically. "Uh, because it they aren't scared of a big bearded Santa then they can't be scared of us."
That satisfied Ashley's curiosity.
For that question.
"Why do I have to be the one to undo Santa's reins for Rudolph?" It would be a challenging feat to free Rudolph and guide him down the stone staircase and into their elevator.
Henry wrinkled his forehead causing the metal goggles to shift unevenly and Ashley watched them move with the small muscles in his forehead. Henry flashed a grin filled with a sympathetic undercurrent. Bright blue eyes intensely focused on Ashley's hesitance and nervous face. Ashley was now biting at her lower lip and Henry immediately felt like a fool for letting her do this. But he himself could not. He was too afraid. But he couldn't tell her that. He was the big brother. Big brothers aren't afraid of anything.
Henry sat up and leaned forward to playfully pat her on her head. "You have to do it because you're like the size of an elf," he informed her. "They will think you're one of them."
"But you are oldest Fossy," Ashley said in her defense. She nearly whined the words. "Why can't you I'm scared?"
"You can't be scared," he insisted sympathetically as his blue eyes softened. "You are not scared of Uncle Biggie? And he is much bigger than a reindeer."
Ashley folded her elbows in against her stomach just like her mother's posture before speaking of important listenings. Then Ashley breathed aloud her annoyance. His explanation wasn't good enough.
"What if I don't have enough time, and Santa sees me," her eyes grew in size as did her small pupils. Bending forward closer to his face she eyed him for a truthful answer. It really frightened her. All she could think about was standing next to a giant soft furry reindeer on the snow covered roof patio, large tree branch antlers and big dark eyes staring back at her under the night sky. Would Rudolph be noisy and toss his head about like a horse causing a change reaction of fear to trickle down the row of magical creatures. Or would he be completely calm with her observing with quiet awe in her attempts in trying her best to unravel the harness contraption that held them all together. What if she couldn't unstrap the red harness buckled attached to his? What if the jingle bells strapped to them jiggled too loud? Santa might come running. That would not be good. She imagined Santa poofing back onto the snowy dark roof, his big red rosy cheeks and huge curly white beard. God. She would scream her little lungs out at the sight of a red suited, black belt buckled Santa catching her red handed planning to steal his famous lead reindeer with the famous glowing nose.
Children always at one time or another wish they could see Santa placing their own presents under the tree. But they really never thought beyond that moment if they saw him, looking at them, looking at him.
"He won't," Henry objected with a doubtless grin. "Uncle B made that giant cookie remember. Like Uncle Buck made those gigantic pancakes in that movie. It will take him like a whole hour to eat it." Then Henry laughed a rolling deep throated growl to the genius plan in the works. Keep Santa eating to give Ashley more time on the roof to bring down Rudolph. Henry would stake out Helen's study from behind her bureau then click his radio to inform her of Santa's status. Of course, he would have a cassette tape playing Christmas music so he couldn't hear him talk to Ashley.
Ashley's bright blue eyes spawned widely with remembrance. The plan? How could she forget the plan? The Big Guy had made a giant chocolate chip cookie which currently resided in Helen's study sitting across the marbled fireplace. It neatly spread out over a small wooden table with a little white note with greetings from them. "Dear Mr. Santa Clause. Please eat all of the cookie. It is the best cookie in the world. Thank you. Henry and Ashley Magnus."
Which reminded Helen. The Big Buy was probably still sleep in her Study sprawled out on the sofa holding a file folder in his lap, just the way she found him a few moments ago. He had fallen fast asleep waiting on her for a short Christmas Eve debrief from the evening's scheduled rounds next to a warm crackling fireside. She'd thought it best not to wake him in the quiet dark room. The children had entered obviously finding him sleeping. One thing led to another. Then another. The children had draped him head to hairy toe in blankets of shiny silver tinsel. It was spread all over his wide shoulders and large body, laying around him on the cream sofa and on the floor at his big feet. His head was slumped down along his collar bone but the tinsel strands managed to stick to him like glue. He looked like a giant Cousin It in shiny silver tassels. Helen could barely make out his nose and eyes. It didn't make things easier when atop his head sat a giant plastic bow, its two thick banded tie bands laying on either side of his face like red colored braids.
If only memories could also be like messages in a bottle. Forever captured and looked back upon from time to time...
Images so vivid and sharp and full of love suddenly dissipated like a fog cloud but not its momentary rush of warming emotion. She had heard Ashley sigh to herself and it brought her back.
She missed them being so young. So little. She missed it a lot.
"You standing guard with your cell phone in your hand. Waiting on that call if and when I needed curb side service for a trip back home."
"Such are the joys of being a mother to you," Helen continued.
"To a wild and crazy daughter," she huffed lightly against the pull of sleep. "I still can't believe I took on the creature after our trip back from Scotland. Thinking back, I should have brought Henry. I forget how adaptive their skin is in the dark. It was like fighting the invisible man. Should have brought a thermal scanner."
Helen smiled to herself. Ever the techno savvy daughter replaying pre and post mission protocols. "But I let you go. I trusted you had your plans sorted out."
"Yeah next time we go hunting I think I'll stick with bringing Henry. Like on every mission."
Helen let the moment pass in silence. Ashley going on missions again was not something her heart had settled with. Things will be different now. Soon there will be no Sanctuary. No Network. No living on the surface. She envied her early days with Ashley when the most pressing issues revolved around how many cases of ammo was needed for the month's inventory. Or how many pounds of food items were needed to feed the Abnormals living downstairs.
Helen was deeply frozen in her own thoughts. When she heard Ashley's voice speak to her she honestly couldn't recall how long she had been silently thinking.
"What's wrong Mom? You're too quiet." Ashley pressed the issue seeing that long gaze her mother was giving to the glass wall silhouetted with evening's dusk. She realized immediately the sad drawn look promising to leave a frown across her lips. Something deep in her heart was being walled up, kept behind in secrets. Whenever Helen had wanted to tell Ashley something that harbored any disappointment or worry, pausing with a lost deadpanned stare was her answer.
When she didn't flinch a muscle or even react with a blink Ashley pushed herself up closer taking a seat against the bed's wooden headboard. Pulling one knee to bend into her chest she let her head lay against the ball of her mother's shoulder. She snuggled in next to her pulling the white wool blanket back across her shoulders. She would give her time to find her words. However long it took tonight. There was time. So much time now.
It seemed like a minute had passed by. Maybe two. And in-between both set of blue eyes floated their views over the outside horizon. Buildings were slowly fading under the shadows of dark night. Every white capped rooftop succumbing to its portrait after its golden setting sun. Hovering over the pearly brick tops a purple tint darkened over Old City bringing to life two twinkling stars. Each seemed to dance over the old city and it reminded Ashley that she was wrong. They weren't even stars. It was Jupiter and Venus. Henry had told her this while lost in wanderlust looking through the tunnel vision of his powerful telescope in the fall months. A Christmas present given to him by Helen nearly ten years ago. These stars are like 'you and me' he would tell her. Two peas in a pod to a world infinite with adventure, journeys that only they were privy to in the life of giving, Sanctuary For All.
And he was right. He had never been so right.
Helen felt her stomach knot with nervous butterflies and she breathed quietly trying to hide the increase of anxious heartbeats, letting the silence slip between them. How would she tell Ashley this? The house, their Sanctuary was not just a home. It was another beating heart intertwined in theirs. Everything rooted from the start bled on these stone walls and family grounds. She hadn't even told Henry. The closest thing to flesh and blood but still holding a loving admission that she dearly called son. Was it wrong to continue to keep it from him too? From the rest of her devoted family?
No...this is how it needs to be. For the sake of us all and our future.
Ashley's patience was expiring. But she wasn't at all mad. Just so deeply curious. Her mother was never good at keeping secrets. At least from her anyways.
"Mom," she hushed very quietly as not to startle her.
"What I am about to tell you will be unsettling?" Her words came without hesitation. As if she had rehearsed them. Her voice was different too. Ashley noticed because her tone sounded like one from a firm talking midnight lecture given to her when she arrived home bruised and cut from the depths of bagging and tagging. Understanding this on a level in which she hadn't forgotten she was her only daughter, it just meant that Helen was speaking out of fear.
What is she afraid of?
Helen turned her gazing eyes from the dark blue sky and pressed her cheek to the top of Ashley's head. It was a soothing gesture and with it brought another arm to wrap gently around across her shoulder.
"There is no easy way to explain this" she continued in a soft whisper. "But know that what I have chosen to do is because I love you. You're safety has always been the most important thing to me. I want you to understand that."
"Aw mom, I understand. Whatever you're about to tell me I'll be okay with it. We've come this far right?"
Helen's heart blanketed with comfort holding her daughter so close. God would she ever get used to this. Seeing her daughter alive again.
She breathed in heavily to the thought and Ashley immediately felt a heavy inhale reveal that this was definitely something important.
"In a few weeks, our home, this Sanctuary will be gone."
Neither of them parted ways though Helen was expecting her to pull away and give her the 'I don't believe this stare' which was usually only revealed on late evenings she told her she wanted her to stay in and hang up her gun for the night.
When she didn't answer a reply she continued with a heavy heart. "During my years in seclusion I invested money, spent money, meddled in financial affairs that spanned decades, all so we could have a better chance at a new life. A new beginning. In Hollow Earth."
Okay this is not even close to what I was thinking. Ashley pulled back straightening her posture but still found rest against the bed's head board. Blue eyes watched each other quietly though no muscles could reveal any expressive emotion between them.
Gentle words spoken with much ease snapped her focus back to the here and now.
"But in order for us to have this new start I had to make an unbelievable decision that is very much heartbreaking for us all." Helen reached hesitantly for Ashley's good hand she had cradled to her chest, then finding the strength she held tight as if an invisible current dared pull them apart. Blue eyes softened and glistened over and Ashley couldn't help but react in kind. "In a few weeks, I plan on disappearing from this life. Making it look like I sacrificed my own in the process. And the Sanctuary."
No she didn't like this one bit. "What are you saying," she questioned with an air of fear fleeting through.
Helen lowered her voice almost to an inaudible whisper, as if her words were heard too loud they would be true. But they would be. She didn't want to do it. Her Sanctuary was a world within her world that always made her feel entirely safe within its stone fortified walls. It was a part of her very soul. But the world outside was becoming tragically dangerous. And she was sick and tired of finding herself barely surviving on its frontlines.
Her mother's eyes danced over her features with sentimental loss. It was an expression rarely witnessed and Ashley's heart sank deeper in her chest seeing the emotion exposed. "Ashley. I am going to burn down the Sanctuary."
There she said it. And the reality of what she was planning had never felt so sickly real until now.
Her words spun repeatedly around in Ashley's head. She knew the Sanctuary had a self-destruct. Henry had written the program for it. She had protested. She didn't want something like that in connection with their home. But ultimately Helen convinced her they needed it. So the little program sat idle in the depths of the security programming and all but forgotten or perhaps more desensitized to its purpose as the years passed on and its truth buried deeper within suppressed denial.
"No..." It was a conditioned response for any threat that posed harm to her and her family. No. It was a word angry and defensive. She said it to counter the reason behind it more than anything. Who would make her mother want to do this?
"It is for the best." And Helen almost broke to her own words. Each syllable cradling weight from a hundred years of regretful planning. Yes it was just a house. But, it was more than just a place to live.
Tears surface like encroaching tides and settled their watery birth on the rim of Ashley's blue eyes. But they did not fall. A rush of anger hit her hard. This was her home. Her Sanctuary and she'll be damned if some crazy governments believed they could push them out. Or whoever the hell they were. "There has to be another way. Right?" Her voice deepened and she leaned back as the truthful words sunk in deeper. "This is my home too. Seriously, if anyone tries to beat down our doors we'll just pick them off one by one. Like we always do. Remember," she encouraged sincerely. "Remember when those Crypt Keepers came crawling in like ants after we saved The Morrigan. We took them down one by one."
Helen didn't let her eye contact falter for a second's time. "This is different," she promised sadly.
Ashley feared a rebellious verbal back lash but not in angst toward each other. "Hell it is. Mom," she urged in anticipated breaths. "You're caving into them. You can't let them win. We will fight this."
"This is not a competition. This is about you and me. Our life. Henry, John. Everyone. And only John knows of this. Now you."
Henry snorted heavily in his sleep then grunted what could have been a growl but he did not wake.
"But this is our home..." Ashley whispered careful not to wake Henry. But really she wanted to scream the words with as much building adrenaline she felt flowing wildly inside her veins.
Helen clenched her jaw in attempts to calm the heavy emotion. Ashley eyed her with sympathetic eyes seeing that his was so hard on her. Helen offering the warmest smile she could force, and did so as fingers pushed away soft blonde hair from around Ashley's ear.
"I am tired of fighting Ashley. I do not want to do it anymore."
Her words sunk to the very bottom of Ashley's heart.
Ashley, as much as she wanted to argue the point on behalf of family honor and whatever she could defend with, she flat out refused. Her mother had reveled in the simple presence that is time to build and hope and dream and plan, for the blessings of Sanctuary. She alone sacrificed this precious thing called time for the committed care of others and now it was time to let it go in a world they called home. Time was a watchful eye to the world of living beings that did not care of its counterparts choices nor did it interfere into paths taken by each. Helen knew this. And now Ashley did too. Helen once long ago wanted to try and personify time to something she could attribute as a breathing conscious being. It seemed easy enough after living 100 years as an Immortal because it made her one of them. If time could be a 'them'. Gods? Higher powers that be? Because time is immortal and so was she.
"You're right." Ashley breathed, already feeling the loss of the Sanctuary, its loving memories of a fighting family with purpose frozen in time within stone. "I am tired of it too."
Her confession was directed to many things and she was beginning to allow herself to think clearer to her mother's plight living in seclusion. But most pressing the life she had chosen to lead for, Sanctuary. Ashley believed she could never have done what her mother had. And that alone was another reason to respect the decision made without a battle of heartfelt wills.
Ashley shifted her body and slunk down a little ways to snuggle her head at her mom's side. Helen could feel her daughter's body trembling next to her. "You cold?"
"Yeah," she said quietly.
But Helen knew Ashley was just reacting involuntary to her new life and all of its changes. Pulling the blanket across them both she let soft threaded wool fall over her daughter and tucked over her shoulders. The very same blanket she had knitted in Vienna when she lived in her stone cottage and her four legged comrades. Ashley again curled her knees closer to her chest and reveled under the warming cover.
"Better?" Helen asked as both arms secured her daughter in an embrace.
"Much" she sighed back, surrendering her eyelids to the Sand man's sleepy spell.
For a few long moments no words were said. And in some ways it made things easier that way. Just holding her daughter again had filled her life with, life again. The love of a child. It is such a beautiful profound thing. A small piece of humanity that learns to talk, walk, and follow in your footsteps that you nurture the best you can. Helen had done the best she can. She kept telling herself this every day for over another century's time.
"Ashley," Helen whispered softly against the soft blonde hair of her daughter's forehead. But she wasn't heard. Ashley was fast asleep in her arms.
"I love you darling," she whispered with love.
Settling into the blanket's warmth Helen found herself falling to the dream realm in absolute comfort. The room was deafly quiet. Only filled with the beating hearts of family. Like a snow globe capturing a single moment in time she sat just as well to its metaphor. The white tiny Christmas lights danced as random light bulbs faded in and out in glowing brightness. Old City was disappearing into night and with it another day of Immortality was passing on.
A sound pulled her free from her deep slumber and again, she'd wondered how long it had been between her conscious thinking moments.
So Helen made no attempt to move from where she was. She was so comfortable. Relaxed without a single care in the world. Encompassed in her own body heat, twilight's blissful realm of sleep beckoned her eyes to stay close. But quiet sounds fading in and out of her dreaming mind opened a small window to her here and now.
Threaded white wool cradled the soft skin of her daughter's cheek now that her head had sunk down to her lap. Audible sounds changed in tone and volume as she drifted on the delicate bands of sleep. A passing shadow momentarily clouded away the presence of a room filled with hanging Christmas lights. She had been enjoying the soft enclosure of its glow from behind her heavy eyelids knowing the longing peace and absolute center of her world was held, and protected within it.
Then as quickly as the moving body stepped by, a jingled chime of porcelain on vintage silver promised a treat of splendid hot tea. Earl Grey of course. She could smell the aroma of its sugary and lingering spice float in the airy steam of its heat.
Soft worn leather shuffled over the hard wood lightly. Someone was trying their best to keep her undisturbed.
In her sleepy wake she opened her eyes to a tall dashing form. She offered the soul a small groggy smile and tilted her head back to the headboard. "Tea?" Helen enquired against an accented rasp. She blinked harder this time focusing away the twilight slumber blurring the edges of her vision.
John's pale cheeks flushed rosy pink and thin lips widened when the balls of his cheeks stretched with a grin. "Hello there."
"Mm," she mumbled. Helen let her blue eyes fall close, immediately feeling the returning groggy promise of sleep invading her again. It was a serene pull of peace that she really wanted to let consume her. But tea! How could she refuse the calming power source of a Brit?
"Just rest love," large hands left the cornered edge of the silver tray to finger through the black stray bangs of the woman he promises to love for all eternity. Helen reacted voluntary, cradling her face back against his loving touch. John leaned down nearer to her face and pressed a gentle kiss to her soft lips. She didn't open her eyes but the corner of her lips curled into a small smile. The kind rumbling of the man's voice fluttered each beat of her heart and all she could do was lay still to the feeling. His being was like a line of her favorite poem, always as if she was reading the words for the very first time. New. Exciting. Filled with anticipations...
"Where is Nikola?"
"Captivated by your father's Praxis device." He told her. But his voice harbored something she perceived as weary. She would call him on it later.
"The Big Guy?"
"Your manservant," John lowered his tall frame to the edge of Ashley's bed while offering Helen a very amusing grin. "He, is with Miss. Bubbles."
Helen chuckled lightly. "And who may I ask is this, Miss. Bubbles?"
"The lady of the freshwater," he stated still smiling. He did love naming things, like famous sonnet titles. There was just something romantic and aristocratic to its creative nature.
"Yes. He informed me he would explain to her all that has occurred."
John looked down to his black boots still cloaked with the sands from the European beach he was strolling on just a few hours ago. White glittering sand appeared only from his booted heels leaving a miniscule horseshoe ringed designs atop the red grained wood. After inspecting his sandy trails he lifted his eyes to her again. "Your Mermaid connected with me when I picked her up to place her in the secondary aquarium after the Magoi attack. She was so frightened. But I could sense that she understood I was going to help you all. And that I was free."
Helen's remembered the Magoi aftermath and him saving her. "She has a very special gift."
"She is an amazing creature."
"Yes she is,' she whispered running fingers through Ashley's soft blonde hair again. Then starting again at her forehead. "It was a senseless tragedy I could not save her friend. The other died shortly after I rescued them."
John's blue eyes burned with sincere empathy. "There were two Mermaids," he asked not missing a beat.
Soft eyes lifted to meet his. "Merman," she corrected him. "Her mate."
John felt his chest sink. He could not fathom losing Helen now. After so much incredible history. And walled up love. "How dreadful."
"After her recovery from being held captive by Abnormal poachers we learned that she was originally from the Bermuda Triangle. I offered her freedom, release to her native habitat but she refused. My Sanctuary has been her home ever since."
John let out a deep sigh as if he had been holding his breath for as long as Helen was speaking.
"She has been with me since Ashley was four..." Her words slurred sleepily and John watched her head as it slowly tipped downward. Her chin became buried in her long brown hair and John leaned closer to her and pushed the dark brown curls from around her chin and mouth. Then long fingers slowly caressed the jawline of her cheek. The slightest movement of his touch opened her mind again and she breathed in a deep breath. Blue eyes lifted to his once more, then fell back down to her daughter.
She could not help it as a teary eye smile flushed her face. "My Ashley."
John let his hand reach to Ashley head and he too brushed fingers through her hair, curling strands behind her exposed ear. "Ashley is the sum of your life. She has shaped your world more than you will ever dare to know. Immortality is not just a gift of longevity; it is an eye to see the ending to every choice you make."
Helen very tenderly traced the stitching sutures lining Ashley's bruised jawline. Wishing her very touch could take away her wounds.
"She, is my Sanctuary."
No words were ever so delicately spoken.
John agreed though his time with Ashley had only been a fraction to what Helen had.
"The way you love Ashley is unmeasureable. And you will chance the world to keep her safe within it. As you have done by your very hands. I know you have had regrets. Doubting your past knowing your Sanctuaries can no longer prove safe in this world. But what is done, is done," he reminded in care, hoping to diffuse any lingering sadness from having chosen to start again a life anew in Hollow Earth.
Deep blue Immortal eyes locked together as his loving words were carried to the bottom of her heart.
"But do not believe you do not deserve this Helen. Our new life together. Ashley's new life. It is a miracle from a miracle that is, you."
Time used to haunt Helen Magnus. Filling her with dark fears at the end of nights as she secretly longed for a cure to what she sometimes referred to as an unending disease. It was London 1886 with a needle filled with uncertainties...
It used to be such a scary word.