Rating: Pg-13; language
Pairing: Gen. Helen/John if you squint.
Type: Drama, Angst
Characters: Ashley Magnus, John Druitt, Helen Magnus
Disclaimer: Don't own 'em
Summary: Probably AU for Season 2. Sort of a sequel to Jump (can be found on my profile here), but reading that isn't required. The aftermath of recovering Ashley from the Cabal.
Notes: Huge thanks to kat_rowe for reading it and giving feed back and oparu for taking a few looks and being on the receiving end of much flailing. Written for my prompt table.
Prompt: Forgotten Sanctuary
Ashley was dead.
She ate when they made her but she didn't want to. Showered when directed, but she couldn't get clean. The ghost of Ashley stared at the wall because then she didn't have to see the looks they all were probably giving her. She hated sleeping. What was left of Ashley felt hollow, cold and vaguely nauseous. She didn't know how long she'd been down here in the infirmary. It didn't matter, because Ashley had been killed months ago.
Her mother spoke softly. Will answered back in the same concerned tones, both voices drifting further away from her. She huddled into the blankets wished they'd just let her go away. Her soul was gone, flayed bit by bit by the murders and the teleporting. The Ashley they'd known was a hollow memory best laid to rest and forgotten.
The heavy footsteps and deep sigh were not from anyone she knew. It took her a moment to realize it was Druitt. He sat in the chair by her bedside and leaned into her field of view. Ashley looked away. Druitt's hand dropped lightly to her shoulder and she flinched away, the warmth burning and undeserved.
"Ashley," he sighed and reached for her shoulder again, this time anticipating her flinch.
She heard him move, felt him close by as he crouched beside her cot. Ashley would have hated him touching her, the ghost hated the thumb rubbing circles her on her shoulder just as much. She didn't want to be soothed, didn't deserve it. It was his fault anyway. She shut her eyes and gritted her teeth, nails digging into her hands as she wished he would go away. He brushed aside a lock of hair and gently tucked it behind her ear. Ashley struck, out, whacking his hand aside before drawing back into the nest of blankets. He didn't touch her again but he didn't leave, instead sitting with her. The longer he sat, the more the ghost found it ached, the more she wanted to lash out, the more she wanted to run away, scream, cry, laugh. The world didn't make sense beyond the shame.
"What have they done to your wings little angel," he said quietly, "How can we make this right?"
Ashley lashed out at him, following him across the room when he backed up. The I.V. needle pulled out, making a burning spot on her arm that made her more angry. How dare he presume to give her some kind of endearment! She threw punches and clawed with no sense of form or style, giving in to blind rage. How dare he try and be a father now. Distantly Ashley realized the wild animal screaming in the background was her own ragged voice. He blocked her hits, deflected others and quietly accepted the blows that landed, which just made Ashley more furious.
"Why the fuck couldn't you keep it in your pants?" she questioned, throwing a punch to his shoulder and ripping her other fist out of his grasp. If he'd been a gentleman, none of this would have happened. Her mother wouldn't be sad and Ashley wouldn't have been dead and stuck waiting for the rest of the world to catch up to that fact. The rest of her strikes seemed to land more often than not now, and still the bastard just accepted it calmly. She howled in rage, voice raw. The bastard was mocking her.
She could see the sorrow in his eyes was genuine, see the understanding she did not want to see. The real Ashley, the one from before, hadn't wanted him. The ghost agreed. She did not want to be like him, she didn't want to be related to him, she didn't want to have anything to do with him, or anyone, or anything else because there was a deep aching void where her soul had been and whatever was left of Ashley just wanted it all to go away. She screamed and beat on his chest because this strange un-life hurt and he was holding her, trying to comfort her and it wasn't right.
"Ashley," her mother called, reaching out to her, holding her, trying to calm her.
It struck her then that this was the first time both of her parents had ever held her, and she'd died months ago. The laugh that bubbled up was short, bitter, and surprising only because she felt something strange twist in her gut.
She's wanted the reality, not this sick parody. Ashley had ached for the father she'd thought dead, the one her mother still mourned. It was all so wrong. The fight was gone, exhausted, and she let her mother draw her back to the small cot with gentle touches and sounds. Her head felt like it was stuffed with cotton and shrapnel; fuzzy except for the sharp pain. She shivered.
Ashley sat down as directed and stared at the wall. Ashley flinched away but Helen's arms wrapped around her anyway, holding her close. Helen tucked Ashley's head under her chin. She let her mother rock her, touch her hair and rub her back. Ashley watched the grey stone wall over Helen's shoulder and found herself relaxing bit by bit. Ashley couldn't remember the last time her mother had done that. It had to have been well before her tenth birthday.
Helen whispered to her it would be okay, but it wouldn't. Ashley had wanted so much out of life, but nothing was left but the ache and the black and the regret and the shame. She felt cold too, even though Helen held her.
Ashley had forgotten this, how wonderful it was simply to be held and told she was loved, to be rocked to the steady eternal cadence of her mother's heart. She buried her head into her mother's neck and wished she were small and five again, not twenty-three and some kind of ghost. Her mother smelled the same, like home. Ashley's eyes stung.
"I'm sorry," she finally managed to say, sniffing. Ashley would have been embarrassed by the hot tears that rolled down her cheeks. The ghost was sad and didn't care. She'd felt so much regret when she'd been a puppet. So many things in her life undone, words that hadn't been said that should have been.
"For what, dear heart?" Helen asked, voice soft and sad. Endearments, words of love and affection, these had rarely been spoken between the two women. Instead they'd been whispered, like treasured secrets.
"I didn't want to leave you alone again," Ashley told her. She reached up and wound a lock of dark hair around her finger, watching the highlights catch in the light. "I wanted you to have someone when I was gone. I suck at dating, though." The ghost laughed once. The most recent prospect for dinner had been dead less than an hour later.
"And I'm sorry for being angry," Ashley added, releasing the hair and letting it bounce. She couldn't believe she'd spent all these years straightening her hair so it wouldn't look like her mother's. It seemed so stupid now. Another regret. "I didn't get to say goodbye before I died."
"You're not dead."
"Yes," Ashley nodded, "I am. She said she was going to kill me." She sighed, continuing, "And then she did. I'm not really here, Mom." Helen didn't understand yet, but she would. Her head hurt so much. She didn't feel like herself. She was pretty sure that person was dead.
"If you're not Ashley then who am I talking to, dear heart. You're here. You're safe," Helen insisted.
"No, mommy, I'm not," she sobbed into Helen's shoulder, mourning the loss of the person she'd been; the little girl who'd loved following her mother around, who'd worn her shoes and played with her jewelry, who'd wanted to help people not gun them down in cold blood. That Ashley was dead and could never return. Her head and heart ached. She wrapped her arms around her mother, hugging her. Helen was holding her tightly and might even have been crying, except her mother never cried. Nothing seemed real anymore except the bleak, empty feeling.
"Why?" Ashley questioned. "Why me?" She shuddered and wrapped her fingers into Helen's coat, needing to clutch something to hold on to something real. It didn't help.
"I don't know, dearest," Helen whispered into her hair, kissing her forehead. "You're here. She didn't kill you. Don't let her win. Fight, for me."
There was something fierce about her words that moved Ashley, just a little. Everything hurt more suddenly. Ashley groaned and buried her head into Helen again. She was so tired of everything, so ashamed of how she'd acted and what she'd done. If only she'd fought more. Her life had been wonderful and she'd loved it and now regretted wasting so much of it. She felt as if she'd squandered a gift and hadn't seemed to appreciate it. "Thank you," she said, hugging Helen. Ashley needed her mother to know that she'd loved her, despite the arguments and rebellion.
"For what?" Helen asked, running her fingers through Ashley's hair like she had when she was little.
"Having me," Ashley clarified. She knew she was an oops baby, knew Helen could have simply gotten rid of her. It was more than a little terrifying but Helen had ineeded/i her, chosen her. Ashley had let her down. "I really liked being here with you as my mom." She had. She'd loved it even if it had been rough at the end. She'd wanted that relationship for herself someday. Her head was pounding, like her brain was too big for her skull. "I didn't want to go."
"You're not gone," Helen kissed her and held her. "Help me understand. We have you. You life isn't over."
Ashley shook her head. There weren't words to describe it how she felt. "Every time they made me teleport, I left something behind. Go ahead, ask Da- Ja-, Dr-, my father. Ask him." She shivered. "There's nothing left."
Helen resumed the soft rocking and rubbed her back. "I'll ask. We'll fix this."
Ashley shook her head and closed her eyes. The dim light hurt, like she had a really bad hangover. It didn't make sense but then nothing did right now. Helen touched her forehead, hands warm. She drifted a little, remembering how safe and wonderful she'd felt when she'd been held like this when she was little. She savored the echo of that now, finally finding some kind of solace.
Ashley opened her eyes, a thought occurring to her. "Mom?"
"Uncle James is dead too, isn't he."
"Yes, dear," Helen sighed, "he is."
Ashley cried, mourning the man she would have preferred to have been her father. She regretted not thanking him for teaching her bartitsu or his part in helping her exist. She regretted being a horrible violin student and a poor loser at chess and for not being able to say goodbye. When she was done crying her eyes were puffy and hurt and she felt dry and wrung out as well as cold and foggy. Her mother still held her, which made her chest and gut twist. When she drifted off to sleep, the nightmares came, but they weren't as bad. Her mother always seemed to step in or be there to hold her after horrible visions of death and violence.
Ashley woke, feeling safe for the first time in recent memory. Helen still held her, sharing the small cot, keeping her warm. She blinked and rubbed her eyes. The I.V. was back. "You're here."
Helen leaned down to kiss her forehead. "I know you don't feel that way now, but you're alive and very much loved." She stroked aside a lock of Ashley's hair. "None of us are the same, but that doesn't mean everything stops."
Ashley opened her mouth to protest but Helen shushed her with a gentle sound at odds with her fierce eyes. "I love you and I am not giving you up. Don't let them have this victory."
Ashley frowned. There was a warm feeling in her chest in the middle of the ache and blackness. She shuddered and nodded. She didn't know how her mother could bring back the dead, but if anyone could, it would be her.
John watched Helen settle Ashley onto the cot once more, soothing her with whispered words and soft touches. She'd glared at him in the beginning then ignored him, focusing her attention on their daughter. He couldn't leave. If she'd forced him to go, he wasn't sure what he would have done. The darker parts of his being cried out for blood and vengeance, howling wolves in the dark stalking his sanity.
John stayed in the background, watching. The sane part, the greater and better part of him, wanted to hold them both. He kept his distance though it was nearly physically painful. Helen wouldn't have allowed it and Ashley...He rubbed his face. John hadn't wanted this for her.
He could deal with the sins of his past, those were choices he'd made. Ashley hadn't been given a choice, had been taken, enslaved. Familiar fury burned in his chest. The howling darkness pressed against him, alluring in savage strength. He pushed it back. It was hard to deny the fury.
Ashley been covered in blood when they'd finally found her in that damned Cabal facility. John wasn't sure if it was better or worse that it hadn't been hers. He remembered the feel and smell of blood on his hands and clothes, metallic and hot. The heat was always surprising. It revolted him to think Ashley had been forced to kill like that.
Even if he was proud she'd survived.
John had seen her briefly as their instrument of pain. She'd called for help even as her body lifted a weapon against him. Her eyes had been so blue. All he'd been able to think about for days afterwards was how they were the same shade as Helen's eyes, and how hopeless she'd looked. John's hands balled into fists.
Helen sighed and carefully extracted herself from Ashley's grasp. John forced himself to relax, to push the rage and darkness away. Sanity was a pool of light in the maelstrom. He watched Helen tuck Ashley back into the cot and it hurt not to be there beside her. John wasn't sure how to decipher the look she gave him over her shoulder. He followed her across the room, unwilling to be completely parted from her. Helen ignored him, choosing instead to turn to one of the computers. John closed his eyes and exhaled, trying to force the last of the rage away.
"Please understand I didn't mean to set her off," he apologized. "I need to help her."
Helen sighed, turning to face him. She eyed him for a moment, then reached for his hand. "Let me take a look at you," she said, leading him to an examination table. She rubbed at her temple.
John sat, silently tracking her as she put on gloves and gathered together some supplies. He gripped the edge of the table as she swabbed a cut on his cheek. It stung as she broke the clot and cleaned it. The hard metal was cool under his hands. He hadn't noticed the cut.
Helen's hands were as swift and methodical as they had always been. John had been infuriated by how much she hadn't changed when he'd first sought her out. Now he took solace. Her sure motions had been of great comfort to him over these last few months. He knew she was hurting, how could she not, but she still led. Fierce pride pushed the swirling darkness back further.
"How does this feel?" Helen asked, pressing firm fingers against his side.
He grunted as she found a sore spot. "I wasn't able to deflect all of her attacks," he murmured as she undid his shirt to take a better look at his chest and ribs. "Not that I was trying all that hard." He winced as she probed his side. Her hands were gentle, but there were tender areas where Ashley's blows had landed.
"Sorry. There's some bruising and a small abrasion. It doesn't look like she cracked your ribs though," Helen said after a moment. She collected the used medical supplies, disposed of them then removed her gloves with a pair of small snaps.
It was clear she was pulling away, and John did not want that, not again. John grabbed Helen's hand as she passed by. "She asked me for help. She looked me in the eye and asked for my help." He squeezed her hand and held on.
Helen frowned then her eyes lit with comprehension. She nodded, facing him, placing her other hand on his upper arm. "You helped get her out of that facility, John." Helen's eyes were soft.
John nodded, looking away. His eyes stung. Life under her roof had been strange. Helen was hurt and angry and he understood why she was cold and would sometimes still snipe at him. They'd hurt one another, badly enough it hurt a century later. But their daughter had been taken and they'd lost a dear friend. Those wounds were shared pain. There had been moments, echoes of what they once had. What John wouldn't have given to go back and make different choices. Her hand was warm on his jaw. He leaned into it.
"You broke her out of that shell," Helen murmured, eyes soft. "She's hardly spoke since she gave that report after we got her back. We all tried but she wouldn't listen to us." She drew her thumb over the skin of his jaw. "I can only see this as a good development. Maybe she can begin to heal."
"I need to help her, Helen," he repeated quietly. He understood some of what she'd been though, what she would continue to go through. "I-" he broke off. "I need to do this for her."
Helen's answer was a small smile and a nod. She brushed her thumb over his lips before taking her hand away and busying herself with the medical supplies on the counter.
John re-buttoned his shirt. He watched her bustle around the infirmary, creating small things to do when everything was already ordered and in place. She finally stopped, leaning against one of the examination tables, head bowed. John slid off the table and stood beside her. He wasn't sure a hand would be welcome and he didn't want to disturb the fragile peace they were rebuilding. There were dark circles under her eyes when she looked up.
"She," Helen cleared her throat and when she spoke again her voice was less rough. "She said to ask you about something."
"Ask," he invited.
"I have not pressed too closely since you arrived at my doorstep. We had more urgent matters to attend to and when I asked after Ashley's abilities you fully cooperated. I see, however, that a more full disclosure is in order," she began, then paused to collect her thoughts. "You got headaches from the teleporting and occasional disorientation. You expressed agitation and we attempted to treat you for those complaints. You never mentioned this, but I must know," she paused then asked, "When you teleport, does it hurt?"
John sighed, leaning on the table much as she was. "Sometimes," he admitted, watching Ashley sleep so he would not have to look at Helen. "There were times when it felt as if each time I teleported something was left behind and then," he trailed off, looking at the ceiling before closing his eyes in memory. "Then I ceased to care." Even now there was something seductive about that ability not to care, but he resisted it and the rest of the darkness that surrounded him.
"That's what she said. She used almost those exact words. Perhaps it is a neuro-chemical imbalance as we suspected." Helen pushed away from the table to wake a computer and bring up Ashley's and John's own test results. She rubbed the bridge of her nose as she spoke. "Perhaps it's related to the frequency or the distance of teleporting."
He could see her latching onto the problem, needing to resolve the mystery. She'd done much the same for him in the beginning. It was plain to see she Helen was also exhausted. "Helen," John took her elbow and drew her away from her computer. "You're falling asleep on your feet."
Helen yanked her arm back and took a few steps away, shoulders hunched. John decided to keep his distance, shoving aside the irrational anger he felt.
She exhaled slowly, rubbing her eyes. "I'm sorry."
John took a moment to collect himself. They were both tired, perhaps. "I understand."
"You said sometimes. It wasn't all the time?"
Helen had an admirable tenacity, but she really should take some time for herself. He crossed his arms over his chest, looking at her. Helen's jaw was set, her hands in fists at her sides. There were dark circles under her lovely eyes. John sighed, uncrossing his arms. He could no more resist Helen's gaze than he could Ashley's.
"No." he paused, clenching and unclenching his hands as if he could grab the words. There wasn't any adequate way to describe what he did. It was instinctual, easy, like breathing. "After awhile it hurts. It hurts more if you don't commit to it wholly."
Her eyes narrow, she stated evenly. "You lied to me."
Darkness descended in response, clouding his thoughts for a moment. He snapped, cutting her off before she could speak further. "I was not in my right mind then, Helen. The creature I was becoming, that I became, would have done anything to remain free." He stalked forward.
Helen held her ground.
"Yes, I lied to you." He spun away from her, pacing. "No one had done what I could do before. How was I to know it wasn't natural?"
"It wasn't consistent and you always impressed upon me the importance of consistent results," he rounded on her. "I didn't want to worry you needlessly and then I didn't want to stop."
The angry blackness stalked forward, trying to claim him again and so God help him, he wanted to let it. "So I continued, I marked down the instances to present to you as a record. And then one day I simply stopped caring." He clenched his hands. "There was freedom in savagery. No rules of society to bind me or judge me. I even thought myself godlike. I could thwart the greatest intellect of our time, be anywhere I wished to be and no one could stop me." He forced the blackness back, shoved it away and denied it.
"But I was wrong." He let out a shuddering breath and felt invisible weight lift from his shoulders at the confession. "I was so very wrong and I never want to return to that place. I never want Ashley to venture there."
It was the most remarkable thing to feel her hand on his shoulder even if the touch was light, tentative. His hands trembled when he was finally able to unclench them. He feared condemnation when he looked into her eyes, but John found sorrow. He could accept that.
"We'll help her through this, John," Helen assured him. Her jaw was set and though she looked exhausted, her voice was steady.
John grasped her hand, holding onto it like a lifeline. She was a rock and he loved her for it. Without a word, Helen sat beside him and together they watched Ashley sleep. He didn't dare hope there was salvation for himself, but he would be content if he could help his daughter.