Ash was coaxed out of a deep sleep by the tickle of hot breath blowing on her ear. She grumbled a little and batted backhanded at the face just over her right shoulder.
"Awww so grumpy." he teased, catching her flailing hand and kissing it. "It's a good thing you're beautiful."
"It's a good thing you'd look awful with a black eye." she threatened, rolling over.
But her pretend scowl faded as she brushed her tangled hair out of her eyes and was sucked into Sean's. Ash smiled in earnest at the sleepy grin on his face from where he knelt at her side. It was the kind of grin that always made her weak in the knees, he was so handsome. The morning sun was lighting up his white-blonde hair and he looked almost surreal.
But no, he wasn't real, Ashling realized with a start, and bolted upright. She stared at him for a long time in disbelief asking herself the same question over and over. How? Sean shouldn't have been there, she'd mournfully committed him to the ground herself in St Gobnet's Wood. He's not real, she told herself, heart thumping out a stuttered rhythm, Sean isn't here. She squeezed her eyes shut and took several deep breaths, but when they reopened he was still there.
"Sean...how are you here?" she breathed, eyes wide and unblinking as if he might vanish.
As many times as Ash had dreamt of him he'd never felt so real, so close.
Her husband blinked in confusion, gently stroked her cheek with his thumb and cupped her chin. Despite her alarm, Ash sighed softly and leaned into his hand. It was warm, familiar and oh so comforting, it felt like home.
Sean tilted his head to the side in question. "What do you mean baby? I live here. Are you ok?"
"No, you've never lived here Sean. You...you're...a year and a half you've been gone." she stuttered, reaching out to run her fingertips over his stubbled cheek.
He opened his arms in reply, as tears washed down her cheeks in a torrent and Ash fell into them. Sean stroked her hair as she cried and cried, with seemingly no end, and rocked her slowly.
"Don't cry Ash, please don't cry. It was just a bad dream."
"Why did you leave me?" she whimpered.
He wriggled a hand between them and lifted her chin up to look into his beautiful eyes, a look of utter confusion woven into his features.
It had to be a dream, right? Sean couldn't really be back, it just wasn't possible.
"I never left, what are you talking…" he trailed off as his blue eyes suddenly sharpened and narrowed in on her neck. "What happened to your neck?"
Taking Ash by surprise, he squeezed her jaw and jerked it upwards, eyes scouring her ravaged flesh. The witch floundered for what to do or say, Sean had never ever been violent towards her but the look in his eyes was murderous. Her mouth opened and closed wordlessly as her brain tried to catch up with the goings on.
"I said what the fuck happened to your neck?" he growled, fingers tightening painfully. Enraged, he whipped her head first left, then right, his pale face growing an alarming shade of red. "That's a hickey." he declared, shoving her backwards into the headboard.
With an angry yell, Sean leapt to his feet and began pacing the floor as Ash looked on, horrified. It couldn't be him, he didn't have a violent bone in his body and his body...it was in the ground. She knew that with complete certainty but it still looked and felt like Sean. Ash suddenly felt desperate to placate him, beg, plead, anything to make him understand and forgive her.
"No, Sean, you don't understa…."
"You cheated on me!" he roared, pointing an accusing finger.
"No, no, you were dead!" Ashling shook her head in denial, tears falling anew. "I would never…"
She scrambled forward, reaching for her long lost husband but he caught her arm and wrenched it, sending her tumbling towards the hardwood floor…
Ashling woke when her fall was abruptly broken by the cold floor, head bouncing off of it with a sickening, painful thud. Her cheeks were wet with tears, though she was no longer crying, too stunned and heartsick to do anything. Sean was gone, again, she didn't even have to look around to know it, Ash could feel the emptiness like a cold rock in her chest.
A whore, her one true love had called her a whore. And she was, wasn't she?
Fenrir knew immediately by Ashling's scent that something was amiss. Though she almost always smelled like sadness to him, that day her scent was grave and dark, like a distant storm on the horizon. Her back was to him when he entered, slightly hunched as she hugged herself. Oh, her bleed again, was his first thought but then he remembered the new potions Ash was taking. Second thought, had he done something wrong?
She turned to face him, eyes red rimmed and puffy from crying. Her beautiful, porcelain skin was a sickly white. His first instinct was to hold her, which seemed appropriate after last time, but she instantly backed away.
"What's wrong Ash?" he asked, hands still out in space reaching for her.
"We can't do this anymore." she told him, despite how badly it hurt to say the words.
The hard truth, something she hadn't even admitted to herself until she looked at him that day, was that she didn't want to let Fenrir go. But she still couldn't shake the feeling of unfaithfulness. Not wanting to let him go made everything all the worse, that was never supposed to happen! In her tumultuous mind she didn't know if Sean had come to her via dream as a reflection of her inner thoughts or out of some otherworldly volition.
"Why not?" he demanded, feeling helpless before the only person that could bring him to his knees. "What about the pup?"
"This isn't what I want." the witch breathed, making him grateful for his superb hearing.
"Then why do it?"
Fenrir knew very little about making sacrifices and denying oneself what they wanted. Things like that just didn't make sense, he'd always lived for himself and did what made him happy. But his irish goddess made him want to understand. Slowly, as if trying not to spook a frightened animal, Fenrir reached out and took Ash's hand.
She opened her mouth to reply, then closed it again. He wouldn't understand, she barely understood it herself.
"You let yourself trust me enough to give you a baby, you can trust me with this."
Fenrir squeezed her hand reassuringly, bending down a bit to look up into her downcast eyes.
"I don't even know how to feel, let alone express it to someone else."
Ash pulled in a stuttered breath and bit her lip to stop it from quivering. She was on the verge of tears again, hadn't been able to stop crying since she'd woken on the floor that morning. Thank gods it was Saturday and she hadn't had to show her face at work, especially after the glamour incident the day before.
"I should go." she blurted, trying to pull her hand back but not receiving it.
Fenrir inched a bit closer and, still moving very slowly, wiped away her tears with the thumb of his free hand. He couldn't let her leave, if he did there was a high probability that Ash would never return. And what would he be then? Would he just go back to being a conscienceless killer rotting in prison? All the self meditation and revelations he'd made in the past year were nothing without something good to strive for and Ashling was that good.
"I think we should sit down and talk. If this isn't what you want, we should figure out what you do." he suggested, choosing each word very carefully. It wasn't easy to think with his heart racing and the blood rushing in his ears though.
She didn't say yes, but it also wasn't a no, so Fenrir slowly led her over to the armchair in the corner. As Ash reluctantly sat down, he dragged a wooden chair over from the small table and positioned it so that they were facing one another. He'd known a day like this had to come eventually but somehow the wolf was completely unprepared, cornered even.
"I want a baby, that's what I want." Ashling quietly announced, meeting his eyes for just a split second.
Nodding, "So what's making you want to not do this anymore?"
The words were there, at the forefront of her mind, on the tip of her tongue but Ash wasn't sure she could say them. To say Sean's name, to share their history, felt almost like giving a little piece of him away. Ash knew deep down that she needed to let him go and move on with her life but would he be lost to her forever if she did? Still, she owed Fenrir the truth. No matter what kind of man he was or had been, he at least deserved the respectfulness of knowing the truth.
"My husband." she admitted, wincing slightly as she waited for Fenrir's reaction.
"Ya...you're married?" he growled, trying to keep the shock, anger and yes, even some hurt, out of his voice.
He'd had her wrong this whole time? She was taking his pup home to another man?!
"Widowed." was all she could choke out.
And then the tears broke through the dam and Ash buried her face in her hands and sobbed, body shaking from the force of her grief. Fenrir froze for a long moment, unspeakably relieved that she didn't have a husband and feeling like an ass for it. But also he was feeling that constriction in his chest again and it hurt to see Ashling like that, even more than it hurt his pride to see her cry over another man.
Finally he snapped out of it and dropped down to his knees, pulling Ash closer so that her head was against his shoulder. And then it dawned on him, something he'd heard the wizards and witches lament about after the war, survivors guilt.
"Shhh, it's alright." he soothed, petting her hair. "You don't have to feel guilty Ash, you haven't done anything wrong."
"No, no, in my dream he called me a whore!" she sobbed, nails digging painfully into his shoulder blade.
"That's just the guilt talking, he wouldn't call you that because you're not." Fenrir told her, softly but firmly.
He didn't know anything about her deceased husband but knowing what little about Ash that he did, she didn't seem like the type of woman to put up with an abusive man.
It took her a few starts and stops to reply but she kept trying, it was get it out now or never. "I haven't been with anyone since S-my husband died but I just wanted a baby so bloody badly." Ash broke off for a long moment as she tried to rein in her sobs. "But now, now I feel like I'm being unfaithful."
Fenrir wanted to say that he understood, something about survivor's guilt being natural but knew she'd see right through his bullshit.
"I don't know much about feelings or love," he offered instead, "but I do know that you have a right to be happy Ash. If you were my wife, I would want you to be happy no matter what."
Ash's head snapped up and she stared at the wolf, mouth agape. She'd never heard him speak so kindly and passionately and it scared her a little how comforting his words were.
"I should go." she blurted, hastily rising to her feet and almost tripping over Fenrir. She needed time to think.
"Ash!" he called, as she bee lined for the door. "Wait!" She was leaving, he was losing her.
She paused, hand on the knob but didn't look back, confusion clouding her mind.
"I...I need to think."
"Promise me you'll come back."
Ash could hear the desperation in the wolf's voice but she could hardly breathe or think or anything. She had to go. She looked back for just a moment, then disappeared before Fenrir could convince her otherwise.