A/N: Special thanks to my beta AstraPerAspera on this one beyond the usual thanks as I blatantly snurched an idea from a fic she's working on for this story. With her knowledge, of course...
All was silence.
A sudden silence which, after the noise that had filled and surrounded her for nearly as long as she could remember, screamed louder than any sound ever had.
And she was alone. Completely and utterly alone. The others… the voices… were gone. Cut off as though they had never been. Even the voice of Her - the one who had whispered into her mind, telling her where to go and what to do… telling her who to kill…
She was gone, too.
In fact, everything was gone. She was nowhere, surrounded by nothing in a sea of darkness.
Lost in the void.
Slowly, though, she remembered. In the blackness that surrounded her… that filled her… She remembered.
And as memories returned, slowly coming into focus like disjointed photographs, faces and locations which had once meant something… something important in the time before… something else returned as well.
She remembered she had been loved. Was loved.
She could finally see her face now… again… Had found it in a million moments gathered from across a lifetime. Yet, of them all, one stood out above the rest - the final one.
Looking up at her, tears streaming down her cheeks.
And that's when she remembered - finally - who she was.
And Ashley knew what she had to do.
The first step was easy. So easy, in fact, that it happened almost completely by accident. She had simply been thinking about home, and about her mother, and remembering her mother's last words to her and she'd wanted more than anything else in the world to be there again…
And then she suddenly had been. Hovering in the air above her mother's bed, she'd looked… or whatever it was she was actually doing… towards the mirror over the dresser and seen… Nothing.
But she was there. She was certain of it.
She moved, at least it seemed like moving, out into the hall. And ran straight into the Big Guy. Or, more accurately, she ran straight through him.
Which was seriously weird.
Still, she was sorta… kinda… starting to get a feeling for what was going on.
And the funny thing was, of everything she'd believed in that most people found absurd, this was the one thing she'd been certain couldn't possibly really exist. Now that she was one, though, she figured she was probably going to have to start believing in ghosts.
As she started experimenting, though, finding out what she could and could not do, Ashley soon came to realize she wasn't really a ghost. At least, not in the trapped-here-on-Earth spectral apparition kind of way one sees on silly TV shows. Though why should that surprise her? TV got everything else wrong, too.
Doing anything with electricity, for example, was totally easy. She'd spent an entire afternoon following after Will, practicing dimming the lights around him until she'd gotten pretty good at controlling the flow of electrons through the wires. Of course, seeing him fiddle with countless light switches, with that strange mix of confusion and curiosity that didn't fail even now to make her smile, had simply been a bonus.
God, she missed them.
She could manipulate other things, too. Other types of currents. And this, too, happened almost completely by accident.
Henry was in the garage, looking at one of the motorcycles. Looking at hers, actually. And he looked so….
She wanted to reach out to him, to let him know she was all right. That it would be okay. That being dead… or whatever she was - cause she was still finding it hard to believe in ghosts despite the fact she seemed to be one… wasn't really all that bad.
It was hardly more than a whisper, even to her own ears, yet he turned with a start as though he'd seen… Well, as though he'd heard a ghost. "Ash?" he asked.
He was staring straight towards her, or at least, where she thought she was. And, curious to see what might happen, Ashley tried to really concentrate this time, to try to reach into his mind and…
His eyes widened in surprise and seemed to focus on her. "Ash?" he asked again.
The effort was absolutely exhausting, and her concentration dropped. Henry blinked in sudden confusion; a look of sadness washed briefly over his features. Then, with a sigh, he turned and left the garage.
But she had done it. And she knew, too, that she must do it again. Only she was going to have to do it even better because, in her wanderings, Ashley had discovered something else - something which had confirmed the worst of her fears: Un-eaten sandwiches and half-drunk tea. Unopened reports and discarded letters. And a mother who had hardly slept or bathed or changed clothes or even left her study in the past eight days.
Yes, she had done it once, and she knew she could do it again. Knew she had to do it again.
And she did. Even though it had exhausted her every reserve and sent her back into the void.
But it wasn't goodbye; she'd meant what she'd said and would return as soon as she was able.
For Ashley, there could be no moving on.
Not while Mom still needed her.
Mom turned away and left the temple but Ashley remained behind, retaining the swirling gaseous form she had adopted to hide her true identity until she was certain Mom had gone. Because as much as she wanted to… as much as a part of her wanted nothing more than to go to Mom and speak to her and just be with her… She couldn't.
Because even though she wasn't sure what she was or how she had ended up where she was at, she did know one thing. There was almost certainly no way she was ever coming back. And the sooner Mom was able to accept that - really accept that - then the sooner she'd be able to get on with her life. To find her way to happiness again.
Which didn't mean Ashley was going to leave her alone. Not completely. Because during her time in the void, she'd discovered more than simply an ability to interact with the real world. She'd discovered that, by reaching out into the timeless darkness which surrounded her, it was possible to know things. It was like all the possibilities and probabilities that ever were or might be existed in there with her.
And in the silence of the void she had seen the future. The future of everyone. And she had known what she'd had to do.
Inserting Mom into the images she'd drawn from the darkness had been easy, simply a matter of slipping the thoughts and patterns into her brain. Pretty much just like dimming a light bulb… once you knew what you were doing. Only…
It hadn't been perfect. Because she was still Mom. So even though Ashley had known it had to be done, that Mom had to know… It hadn't been easy to feel her pain. To cause her pain.
So she had gone into the story herself and been present in the visions. Not so Mom would recognize her, of course, but still, she had been there. Offering what comfort she could in sensation and feeling… in letting Mom know that, at the very least, she was not alone.
And it had worked. Mom had seen and understood and the future which meant disaster for everyone disappeared from within the void.
Except something else happened, too. Something which Ashley hadn't seen coming. In confronting the darkness… or the possibility of darkness and the end of everything… Mom had found the light again. Not completely, for shadows still lurked behind her smile, but at least the light no longer hurt simply because it existed when Ashley did not. Mom could see joy - see happiness and hope and life - without constant pain. She could stand in the sunshine and not feel guilty simply for being able to feel it.
For continuing to live.
For failing to die.
The helicopter crash hadn't been her idea, although she had seen the possibility of it within the darkness of the void. She'd also seen the outcome…
And so she didn't interfere.
At least, she didn't until the very end when it was simply a matter of reaching out and just tweaking the signal ever so slightly, boosting the strength just enough and in the right direction that it was finally heard and the rescuers came.
But not before then. Because it was only once the creatures were defeated, when the walls her mother had erected and defended for so long she had forgotten how to get through them herself were finally grown paper-thin, that she finally spoke. And Will heard and understood.
So that next Tuesday, Will stayed in all day. He looked over paperwork and reports with Mom in the morning and researched possible abnormal sightings with her all afternoon. And that evening, after failing to find her in study or sitting room or lab, he found her where he'd known she would be, up on the rooftop, staring in silence at the city spread below. He sat down next to her on the parapet, joining her silent vigil until, shortly after midnight, she turned to him, finally acknowledging his presence. "Thank you, Will," she said.
And Ashley added her own thanks, whispering her gratitude into the wind blowing through the dark night air, thankful that, at the very least, Mom hadn't had to bear her grief alone.
No one should have to. No one could. The weight was unbearable.
Ashley knew that only too well.
Because, caught in the silence and clarity of the void, Ashley found that Mom wasn't the only piece of her she had left behind; she wasn't the only person Ashley couldn't bear to leave.
She wasn't the only parent Ashley loved.
Not that Ashley had gone looking for him. If she had thought about it, in those early days in the void, she would have dismissed it in the same way she'd dismissed all her thoughts of him since learning who he was. Because Mom believed he was evil… Or at least, that he still couldn't be trusted… That he must not be trusted….
After all, he had tried to kill her. Of course, that was before he said he was changed, and before he had looked at her… and at Mom… and Ashley had seen….
No. Mom was right. No one could change that much.
Still…. She might have gone looking for him. Probably even would have, eventually.
Only, as it had turned out, she didn't need to.
Her father had come to her.
Not intentionally, of course, cause he couldn't possibly have had any idea where she was. Hell, she didn't even know that herself. At least, not until she'd suddenly felt him all around, surrounding her with his presence. Passing through the void.
Then, in the next instant, he was gone.
Only, in that moment he had been there, more real than anyone or anything had ever been before in her life, she had seen him completely. Had known him completely.
Had loved him completely.
Because in that instant she had felt in full what she had only seen glimpses of before and which she had been half-certain was only a reflection of her own desperate desire. Her father loved her more absolutely than she would ever have believed possible. Not because she was a part of him, or even because she was a part of Helen - and his love for her was the very core of his existence - but simply because she was… Or had been. And his grief at her loss was as powerful as his love, an emptiness as great as the void threatening to consume him completely.
Ashley reached out without thought, desperate to let him know she was okay. That she was still there. Needing to stop his pain as much as she had once needed to breathe.
Only… She couldn't reach him. Not in the way she could reach and affect the minds of everyone else she had encountered. His was blocked. Protected.
Suddenly, it all made sense. Everything made sense.
And the creature which had held him captive for so long was gaining power again. She saw that as well. Because in his grief… in his rage over her loss… Dad was letting it win. Eventually, it would control him completely. It would destroy him - at least, the part of him that was truly him.
Which would destroy Mom, too, because, despite herself… despite her best intentions and attempts to do otherwise… she was slowly letting Dad back into her life. Back into her heart. Ashley wasn't sure if she could survive losing him again. Not when she had already lost so much. Not when she had already lost her.
Ashley couldn't let it happen.
And so, while doing everything else she had done which was also terribly important, Ashley had been searching for a way to defeat the creature. In the end, though, she hadn't found it. Not exactly. But the answer she had found, written as a possibility within the void, was at least better than nothing.
Her part was easy. Far easier, really, than anyone else's. Just a power surge at the right time and the creature saw it's chance, jumping from her father's lifeless body into the heart of the Sanctuary itself, setting into motion the chain of events which was the best chance either parent had.
It wasn't a victory of course. Not with her father again under the creature's control and her mother left behind once more. But she'd been able to give them the next best thing - the only thing which could give them the strength to go on fighting alone.
At least she'd given them hope.