Out of the Woods
Summary: After being shot by the Cabal, Ashley's relationship with Henry begins to change. Henry/Ashley, minor Magnus.
Rating: PG-13 for mentions of violence, medical stuff, partial nudity, and minor sexual content
Author's Note: written for mavparrothead at Livejournal for the help_Haiti auction. I want to apologize so profusely for how long this took but RL has been killer just lately. Thanks again for your generous donation and for all your patience with me.
Author's Note #2: I'm setting this somewhere after season three and tentatively calling it an AU since who knows if we'll ever see Ash in canon again. The Cabal is mentioned because I can't believe they were really that easy to wipe out. The fic is based on the assumption that Ashley was eventually recovered and deprogrammed and is once again a loved and trusted member of the team. A fan has to dream, right?
Author's Note #3: Thanks to Lanna and Stephanie for the beta work. I didn't follow all your suggestions but I do appreciate the time, effort, and carefully thought you ladies put into the beta process. An author is only as good as their editor.
Out of the Woods
Henry had been sleeping fitfully with his head resting on the hospital bed near Ashley's hand when a gentle hand in his hair woke him.
"Why don't you go get some rest in your room, love?" Magnus murmured gently. "Your nose…"
His nose was on fire from all the chemical smells in the infirmary, to be honest, but Henry shook his head faintly. "Nah, Doc. I want to stay with her in case she wakes up. Hospital rooms spook her these days."
Her concerned expression softened even further and she gave him a loving smile. "Then I'm sure she'll appreciate your presence when she comes around."
"How much longer?" he asked, frowning down at Ashley's pale form.
"A few hours. She lost a lot of blood, but the transfusion has her past the point of any danger."
"She was in such bad shape, Doc," he murmured.
"I know, Henry," she answered with a soft sigh, one hand still in his hair as she brought the other to touch Ashley's cheek. "Bloody Cabal."
Henry nodded and glanced up at Magnus. She'd obviously showered since the emergency surgery to remove the bullets and repair Ashley's aorta and what she could of the shattered ribs. She'd reeked of fear the last time he saw her but now she was back to lavender and tea and old books. Stress and strain, too, but not much more than was typical of her these days. Scared or not, she honestly believed that things would be okay.
"Any luck reaching Will?" he asked her, needing something, anything to take his mind off the hospital smells and the scent of Ashley's blood and the sounds of the monitors.
"Yes, not five minutes ago. He'll be flying back to the States first thing."
"Good." He nodded. Ashley and Will had grown increasingly close since her return. And, of course, if anyone could help Magnus deal with having nearly lost her own child again, it was Will.
"Yes, he's grown quite attached to both of you since coming here." Magnus smiled down at him, the fingers in his hair caressing his scalp. "Are you okay, Henry?"
"I think so. I just… I thought I'd lost her the second she went down. I didn't realize a person could bleed that much. The smell…"
He'd been covered in Ash's blood within a few seconds of picking her up and carrying her to safety and his first aid training hadn't been remotely adequate to deal with wounds of that severity. He'd panicked and nearly lost it, nearly lost her. Only his fear of losing her, of letting her down when she'd displayed so much faith in his field-skills, had allowed him to get his shit together, apply pressure, and rouse her sufficiently so she could teleport them back to the Sanctuary. Pure dumb luck had caused the bullet to lodge itself where it was preventing the worst of the bleeding, although he hadn't known that at the time.
He'd broken down immediately on handing her over to Magnus and the Big Guy, spent the duration of Ashley's surgery in a blood-covered ball in the corner of the infirmary, whimpering like a wounded animal. Eventually, the Big Guy had appeared in blood-soaked scrubs, holding Henry by the face and neck and promising in a voice rougher than usual with emotion that Ashley had survived and would pull through.
Magnus had appeared an indeterminate amount of time later, covered in drying blood and stinking with residual anxiety but assuring them that Ashley was resting comfortably and that it was time for everyone to clean up and relax. Henry remembered all that with painful clarity and detail, but everything after was fuzzy enough that he wondered if the Big Guy had put something in the tea he'd made Henry drink.
"What time is it?" he asked, arching his back and stretching.
"A little past two in the morning. Early enough in the evening by your standards," she added with a faint smile, fingers moving gently across his scalp.
Normally, he would have resisted that kind of thing from her; it was too close to the way she'd comforted the scared little boy she'd taken into her home mere months before Ashley's birth. Today, he needed it too badly. Closing his eyes, he leaned back into her touch, silently drawing comfort.
"Big Guy sleeping?" he murmured, soothed by her gentle touches.
"Offering prayers of thanksgiving for her survival. He says we're welcome to join him."
"I should stay with Ash. Ask him to burn some sage for me?"
"Of course, Henry," she answered, bending to press a kiss to his forehead. "I know you won't leave but there are other beds. I can bring you one of your blankets or pillows if the smells will make you more comfortable."
Normally he would have denied that a smell could have that much of an impact on him. Right now, though…
"Maybe one of Ashley's blankets?" he began hesitantly. "For her, not me," he added quickly.
Her answering smile was understanding and she grasped his shoulder firmly. "Of course," she agreed. "Anything else I should bring for her?"
"There's a copy of the first volume of 'The Jungle Book' in my room. I used to read it to her when she was little."
He'd put it in her empty casket when they'd accepted that she must be dead and had been crying happy tears the day he went to retrieve it.
"I'll bring that as well," she answered, giving him a sad, loving smile. "Henry, I do wish…"
He shook his head faintly. His wishes and Magnus' weren't so far apart but he was in no mood tonight to dwell on what wasn't and what was unlikely ever to be.
"Doc, please. Not tonight; not when I came so close to losing her."
"I was merely going to say that you've both seemed so lost lately. You should talk to her about what happened," she told him, pressing another kiss to his forehead. "She needs someone to confide in other than Will and she has for some time. I'll go get her blanket and your book and be right back, Henry."
"Thanks," he murmured, looking at Ashley so he wouldn't have to look at Magnus.
"Back shortly," she promised again, squeezing his shoulder and kissing his forehead and then leaving the infirmary.
Ashley moaned softly as she woke, white-hot pain the first thing to come to her awareness, sharp and immediate. She instantly knew the smells and sounds of the Sanctuary's infirmary, but couldn't bring herself to be comforted.
She hated it here, felt so weak and vulnerable and just not right courtesy of her memories of a different place entirely. Cabal 'medical' facilities had a different set of sounds: more modern machinery with a distinctive hum, low and tense voices constantly conferring, prisoners moaning or whimpering protest. The infirmary sounded completely different: older machines that hummed and buzzed more loudly, echoes because it was so cavernous, distant sounds of men and women not remotely distressed to find themselves here. But they weren't her and she did hate it.
She hated the infirmary, felt sick at the memories of lying here feigning sleep before ripping out a piece of her mom's heart. Remembering that deliberate betrayal was harder than remembering anything the Cabal had done to her during her captivity. Recalling her own actions in that time always called the screams to her mind: her own screams, the screams of the other test-subjects as the Cabal violated and changed them, and the screams of her former friends and coworkers as she extinguished their lives.
She hated hearing those howls of agony and shouts of surprise again, even just in her mind; it was a penance and a personal hell all at once. Gradually, another sound penetrated her awareness, familiar, unmistakable and undeniably comforting.
Henry Foss, snuffling in his sleep.
She smiled and only resisted the urge to laugh at how wolf-like the sound was because her chest ached like someone had poured in molten lead. It was a relief to hear him sleeping nearby. She couldn't count the number of times that, as a small child, she'd gotten frightened by this or that bad dream and climbed into his bed only to hear that sound later on in the night. As it had then, it banished the demons now.
She opened her eyes, pushing through the haze from the pain meds to absorb her surroundings. The infirmary was Mom's turf and therefore safe but waking up here couldn't be good. Except that Henry was close by and she was covered in her favorite quilt and…
Groaning, she drew a breath and forced herself to take her bearings.
Henry was sitting next to her, dozing in a chair and making little puppy-sounds in his sleep. Sighing softly, she picked up the book on the bedside table, her smile fond. She couldn't remember the number of times she'd made him read to her about Mowgli and his unconventional family. His Father Wolf voice had always been wonderful.
"Hey," she greeted him in an undertone, trying to sit up and hissing at what that did to the pain in her chest and left leg. "Jeez…"
Henry shot upright in his chair immediately, eyes wide. "Ash? Was I snoring? Sorry, didn't mean to wake you," he sighed, leaning closer and pinching the bridge of his nose. "How you feeling?"
"I hurt," she answered, not an admission she would have made to many others. "Our mission go sideways?" she asked, trying to push through the pea-soup fog in her brain.
He nodded weakly, expression pained. "You took a few bullets."
She nodded, his words bringing back memories almost bright in their clarity. Pain and anxiety and anger and Henry pleading with her that they had to teleport to safety, telling her he knew it was difficult, knew it hurt but begging anyway with tears in his eyes. She was pretty sure she hadn't been the only one bleeding everywhere, either.
"Hell. You were hurt, too, weren't you?"
"Just a flesh-wound."
"Let me see," she directed.
"Ash." He shook his head.
"Show me," she ordered.
Sighing, he lifted his shirt to show her the bullet-burn across his chest.
She hissed in sympathy. "An inch to the left, Henry…" she began.
"Not lost on me, but it wasn't so it's good," he answered with a shrug, dismissing it with a wave of the hand.
It was a side to him that she was pretty sure hadn't existed before her captivity and one that never ceased to amaze. Her Henry, the young man she'd grown up loving and admiring, was suddenly this hardcore action hero who could shrug off a bullet-wound. It could be scary unless she forced herself to focus on something else.
"What's my damage?" she asked to divert her mind from his injury.
"Two to the chest, one to the leg. The leg one broke the bone, you have a few shattered ribs, and one of them winged your aorta."
Her eyes widened. She wasn't hugely strong on anatomy but she knew enough field-medicine to know the score where a damaged aorta was concerned. She was freaking lucky to be alive right now.
"Damn. How long before I'm up and around?"
"Your mom says at least a week, maybe more like two," he told her apologetically.
"No." She shook her head. "I can't be down for that long."
Could she? Her mom and the mad scientist formerly known as Count Sparkula had stripped her of a lot of the abilities the Cabal had given her but she still healed a lot faster than she had before. Being on her back for two weeks was beyond imagining.
"You were badly hurt, Ash. We… nearly lost you," Henry told her. His voice was shaking, his eyes swimming, his breathing harsh.
"God, Henry," she whispered, feeling sick at his obvious anguish. "You okay?"
"I nearly lost you." He shrugged, looking away, face red.
"But you didn't and now I'll be okay, right?"
"No buts, Henry Foss." She shook her head firmly, knowing what the thought of losing a pack-member must be doing to him and not wanting him to dwell on the idea. She grabbed his hand, squeezing firmly. "I'm here and I'll be okay and that's what counts. You remember that," she ordered.
"Yeah," he answered, voice rough.
"This is my quilt," she said, trying to sidetrack him.
"I asked your mom to bring it down, thought it might be more comfortable for you."
She smiled. "Thanks, Henry."
"No problem, Ash. I…"
"Henry," she shushed him. "I get it. Thank you."
He closed his eyes, nodding once. "You're hurting. Your mom says I can give you more pain meds if you need and I can call her if you want."
She shook her head, glancing at the clock. Four in the morning and she suspected there was only one thing that could keep Mom away right now.
"Nah. If she's sleeping, we should let her. She doesn't do that often enough."
"No, not really," he agreed, touching her cheek. "But you're sure you don't need her?"
"No, but a half-dose of the meds would be nice. I'm kind of in more pain that I think I have been before except… well, minor injuries don't generally hurt like this."
He stared up at her with wide, worried, sympathetic eyes. "Just a half-dose?"
"Yeah. You know I hate meds."
"Half a dose. You've got it baby-doll," he answered climbing to his feet.
She smiled because she didn't think he'd called her that since she was about twelve and, somehow, waking to find him sitting vigil left her feeling as loved and protected by him now as she had back in the day.
It was a feeling she'd grown to miss since coming home. Not that he'd treated her much different, but he always looked at her with so much pain and regret now. Those things were both there in his eyes now but different, too. This was the way Henry had always reacted to her being injured in the past. It was like the Cabal had never taken her from him at all, never changed her, never come between her and her family, between her and her best friend.
"Thanks, Henry," she whispered, smiling.
"Any time," he answered, drawing up a dose of something and emptying it into her IV.
"Thanks," she repeated, gesturing for him to sit again as her body started to warm from the quickly-diffusing meds. "Thanks, Henry. Just for being here, you know?" she asked, feeling uncertain.
"Yeah." He smiled weakly and nodded, tangling his fingers through hers. "Get some rest."
"I…" She hesitated again, feeling warm and full of love for him but also knowing it was mostly the drugs amplifying her existing affection. Probably. After a moment, she decided she didn't care what was causing it; it was a good feeling, not one to be ignored. "It's a big bed."
His eyes widened and he just sat there for a moment, gaping. Then he smiled, expression fond and loving. "Move over."
"Thanks, Henry," she answered quietly, sliding over and away and hoping he'd actually join her. Being Henry, he was sometimes timid enough that he might still decide to back out.
Only, being Henry, he was also unpredictably stubborn at weird times. He slipped his shoes off and joined her under the quilt almost easily, not trying to draw her close but draping one arm lightly across her stomach.
"Comfortable?" he murmured against her shoulder.
It was a silly question but she squirmed until she was in a minimum of pain and then turned her head to smile at him.
"Yeah, Henry. Thanks. For this and, well, all those times when we were little and, you know, for always being around since," she answered, feeling surprisingly calm and comfortable all of the sudden. The meds were making her awfully sentimental and clingy but she couldn't find it in herself to mind that.
She knew this was not how Ashley Magnus behaved but she really didn't care, either. Henry was safe; she was safe with him. She talked to Will a lot, but he was a shrink who worked for her mom. She could really only be completely herself with Henry. He got it, the same way he always had when they were little. She could be like this around him in the dead of night and it'd never impact how they were in the light of day. Which she loved him for.
"Get some rest, Ash," he directed softly. "I'm not going anywhere."
She smiled. He did know her too well.
"Thanks, Henry. Night," she yawned, already drifting from the meds but no longer in pain and no longer particularly upset.
"Night. Sweet dreams."
She smiled and murmured in agreement, unable to see how her dreams could be anything other than good in the arms of her best friend in the world.
"Damn it, Mom, just let me take a walk outside!" Ashley snapped, trying not to cry in frustration.
Two weeks into her recovery and she was growing to hate the sights and sounds of the infirmary with a passion. As he usually was since she'd been hurt, Henry was at her side and all about quietly comforting her, just resting a hand on her back as she argued with her mom.
"Ashley, you're in no fit shape!"
Before she could argue, Henry interjected. "Just as far as her room, Doc. She can crash there. I mean, she's well enough not to be down here anymore, right? As long as she's resting most of each day?"
Ashley bit her lip at the unexpected show of spirit and defiance, giving him a grateful look over her shoulder. Her mom hesitated for a moment before shrugging and nodding, a pleased, knowing smile on her lips, almost like she was sharing a private joke with them.
"She may walk to her room and no further, Henry. Be gentle with her and notify me if you need anything."
"We've got it covered," Henry assured her quickly, as if he knew how much Ashley needed some time without a doctor breathing down her neck and didn't want to give her time to change her mind about the concession.
Magnus nodded to him and bent to kiss Ashley. "If you need anything at all, dear," she reminded her with gentle authority.
"I know, Mom. Love you," Ashley answered, kissing her.
"I love you, too. I'll leave you in Henry's capable hands now."
Giving them both that weird smile again, she left the infirmary.
"Dude, what was with that smirk?" she asked Henry, frowning.
He shrugged. "Don't know, Ash. Maybe she's just happy that you're recovering so well?"
"Who knows?" she answered, slowing slipping off the bed and into a standing position, hanging onto the side table for support because she was still annoyingly wobbly even before the dizzying pain was factored in.
"Easy," Henry murmured, helping her get a handle on her crutches.
"Thanks," she answered, leaning against them with a grateful sigh.
Her mom had been letting her walk across the infirmary to the latrine and back several times a day so she was familiar with the drill. Most of her weight had to be on the crutches and she always had a spotter so she could focus her attention on not tripping over the crutches. She was shaky and weak more than anything so it was just a matter of regaining the lost muscle mass and coordination and learning the new skill.
"We should probably take this in stages," Henry told her quietly, grabbing some things he'd left scattered on the bedside table over the last few days and returning them to his pockets. She noticed with a fond smile over his degree of preparedness that he'd snagged a bottle of pain meds, too. She hated what they did to her but there was no denying the fact that she still needed them more often than she might have liked.
"Henry, thanks for the last couple of weeks. I… it's been great of you to be around so much when I know you have work you could be doing instead."
He smiled down at her, shaking his head. "Let's get you to your room, Ash. You're about due for another nap."
She groaned at that pronouncement, annoyed. "I'm sleeping my life away, Henry!"
"You got shot in the chest, Ash!" he protested, staring at her with wide, concerned eyes. "'Course you need rest after that."
She didn't argue, more because he was upset than because she agreed with him. She was bored and stir-crazy, wanted to get up and move! But she also hated to see him so damned worried, so she gave in. For now.
"Come on, Henry. I want to go to my room now."
"I can grab a wheel-chair," he offered immediately.
"I can walk," she answered shortly. At the dubious look on his face, she sighed and told him, "We'll take it in stages, three of them. I can rest in the elevator and then again halfway from the elevator to my room. Deal?"
He hesitated for a minute, then nodded, looking leery. "You let me know if you need to rest or if walking starts to hurt too much."
"I will," she promised, nodding and giving him a reassuring look. "Let's go."
The trip to her room took closer to five stages and, by the end of the third, she was clinging to Henry for dear life and it was all she could do not to sob with pain and fatigue.
"It's okay, Ash," Henry soothed, hanging onto her gently in the hall. "I'd suggest going back, but…"
She shook her head. The way back was further than the way forward now and she honestly just wanted to lie down in her own bed again, surrounded by familiar, non-medical sights, sounds and smells.
"I have you. Just rest for a second," he directed, tightening his hold on her trembling body and supporting her against his chest. "You need pain meds?"
She whimpered and shook her head again, biting her cheek until she tasted blood.
"I can call someone, get a wheelchair up here," he offered quickly, probably aware of how much pain she was in by the fact that she'd drawn blood trying to ignore it. He had to have smelled it.
She shook her head, wondering how to make him see that she needed to do this herself after two weeks sitting passively on her ass getting pampered.
"It's okay, Ash," Henry murmured, supporting her against his chest until she managed to regain her breath. "Ready to go a little further?"
"Let's get this over with," she sighed, grabbing the crutches and taking another step. Her knees tried to buckle and she nearly lost her balance. "Damn it!"
"You're doing fine," he soothed, reaching to steady her. "You just need to be patient."
"Now you sound like Will," she groused, taking another unsteady step and ignoring the dizziness and nausea the pain was causing her. "I'm not made to stay still, especially not for two weeks."
"You nearly died," he reminded her, the pain in his voice making her wince. "Not even Ashley Magnus can get right back into the fray after multiple gunshot wounds to the chest."
"Just help me to my room," she sighed. "I need to lie down."
"'Course. Come on."
The rest of the trip to her room was even more exhausting and painful and she had tears in her eyes by the time Henry helped her sit on her bed. She managed to get the worst of her tears under control as Henry arranged pillows and blankets for her, smiling weakly up at him as he offered a hand to help her lay back. He'd gotten the pillows piled just so. She was able to lay back far enough to rest but not so far that the sense of pressure on her chest turned into additional pain. He even managed to elevate her leg to a relatively comfortable position.
"Thanks, Henry," she managed weakly.
"Yeah," he agreed, drawing a blanket over her and sitting down. "You need some pain meds?"
"I'm sick of being doped up all the time," she groaned, shaking her head.
Henry gave her the kind of Look that had prompted her to kick Will out of the infirmary the second or third day after she regained consciousness. She loved Will but she couldn't quite tolerate that look of concern from him, either. Sympathy was bad enough from her mom without Will treating her like a victim, too. Just the implication that she was weak and vulnerable like that hurt. Irrationally, it also scared her.
Except that, when Henry gave her that same worried look, it felt different. Like she was that little girl afraid of the things that lurked in the shadows and he was that gangly teenager who could always be counted on to protect her. It made her feel safe.
"Ash, how much pain are you in?" he asked gently.
"A lot," she admitted. "It's pretty bad."
Which was kind of an understatement. It had been 'pretty bad' when she first got out of bed to start up here. Right now, it was even worse than it had been then, as sharp and nauseating as if she'd just had a fingernail or two ripped off. Only that kind of pain was restricted to a small area and promised to fade eventually. This white-hot agony only seemed to grow worse.
"Maybe-" She stopped as he withdrew the bottle from one of his pocket, displaying the liquid pain meds to her. "Yeah," she said, giving him a grateful look. She'd been afraid he'd grabbed the pills which just took too damned long to kick in.
"This stuff's not too much of a pain in the stomach, is it, Ash?" he asked, drawing some of the meds into a dropper.
"Nothing I can't handle."
Or, at least, the intestinal cramps were a little less uncomfortable than the pain in her chest and leg. Nodding and forcing herself to give him a smile, she opened her mouth, retching as Henry delivered the sickly-sweet medicine to her.
"You're okay," he murmured, setting aside the bottle and dropper and cradling her cheek in one hand. "Just breathe through it."
"Dude, stop sounding like Mom and Will," she hissed, gritting her teeth.
'Breathe through it' had to be some of the lamest medical advice in human history. She'd much rather just fight her problems out. Somehow pseudo-Zen breathing techniques seemed even more passive than letting people squirt morphine down her throat and that was pretty damned distasteful all on its own.
"Sorry," he answered, sounding sheepish as he lifted his other hand to her face as well.
Ashley smiled faintly at that. He'd gotten really touchy feely since she'd been shot and, while that kind of thing normally bothered her, right now it was just plain comforting. It almost seemed to make her hurt less, but she was pretty sure that was just the regular doses of pain meds her mom had her on working on her imagination. Henry had always been able to provide comfort in the past so it was probably just a natural leap for her drugged-up brain to make now.
Besides, his palms were warm against her clammy skin and the way his fingertips stroked over her cheeks was just relaxing.
"Ash," he began, voice more unsure than she'd heard it since before he'd started going on missions.
"Yeah?" she answered, leaning into his hands more fully and trying to ignore the little twinge the shift in posture caused.
"Lay back more," he told her quickly, his face a mask of concern.
"I am getting so sick of this," she muttered, doing as directed and sighing when his hands stayed on her face, soothing her temper before she could get too ruffled. "Damn it, Henry, I just want to get up and move!"
"I know," he murmured. "But you need to rest before that's going to be possible."
"Henry, I'm going stir-crazy. I need to get out of here."
"Your mom won't like that. You need to rest."
"Do you remember the last time I spent two weeks inside?" she asked, scowling.
He hesitated, then shook his head. "No."
"That's because I never have, Henry. I'm not made to sit on my ass for any length of time."
"I'll talk to your mom," he promised. "She'll understand."
"Thanks." She smiled weakly.
"Get some rest," he suggested, climbing to his feet.
She bit her lip, not wanting him to go but unable to ask him to stay. He'd wasted so much time just sitting with her lately.
"You okay?" he asked, hesitating.
"Yeah, just groggy."
"Get some rest," he repeated. "I'll be back in a little while."
"You don't have to."
"No, but I will. Because I want to."
"Thanks," she whispered, smiling weakly up at him as he closed her curtains.
"I'll get you a glass of water," he told her once the room was cast into darkness. "I know the meds make your mouth all dry."
She smiled in answer, knowing he could see it despite the darkness, courtesy of his abilities. She heard him place the glass down on her nightstand and felt the mattress shift as he sat down next to her again.
"Thought you were going to go do some stuff?"
"In a minute," he answered, grasping her shoulder gently. "Just want to make sure you're comfortable first."
She sighed softly, reaching up to cover the hand on her shoulder. She felt kind of guilty to be taking up his time like this, as comforting as his presence was.
"I thought you had stuff to do," she repeated.
"Couple things, but…"
"Yeah?" she prompted when he hesitated.
She gasped when she felt his lips against her cheek but relaxed instantly because, unexpected or not, the soft pressure felt good in a way she didn't think a guy's lips ever had before. Not just physical but emotional; it made her feel loved. Her skin flushed and Henry immediately pulled away.
"Sorry," he mumbled, climbing to his feet.
"Henry," she said firmly, knowing her tone would forestall him.
"Yeah?" he answered, voice sheepish and almost apologetic. Like he expected her to fly off the handle over a friendly kiss on the cheek, poor guy.
"Please come back soon."
He sounded a little surprised when he assured her, "I will, Ash."
She stayed quiet until he was gone and the lack of light from the hall meant that he had closed the door behind him. Then she sighed. Will had been using the phrase 'reactive stress' in that quiet and non-judgmental way of his. Annoying but almost certain an accurate explanation for why she was dealing with so much frustration, anxiety and loneliness since being shot.
She hated the way this had her feeling; it made her want to scream being all vulnerable and off-balance. It was exhausting, too, which was making it harder for her to deal overall. Having Henry close helped. She was scared to look at that fact too closely but, as long as he wasn't complaining, his presence was more than welcome. It made her feel better and seemed to reassure him as well, so kind of win-win.
Sighing softly, feeling floaty from the meds, she tried to find a comfortable position to try to get back to sleep in.
Ashley woke half on her side, her back warm from the body pressed up against it. He'd matched his contours to hers to the point where his legs were supporting her broken leg instead of the pillow, one of his hands firmly grasping her shoulder as he had so many times in the past two weeks, presumably to keep her from rolling over in her sleep. She had to smile. Henry Foss: human body-pillow.
He was snuffling again, his mouth and nose expelling hot, ticklish air where her neck met her shoulder. She laughed softly, trying to ignore the fact that it felt good on levels other than the 'oh, that tickles' one.
She yawned, stretching before she remembered how bad it hurt to arch her back and extend her leg completely.
"God," she hissed, curling in on herself until she found a position where the twin pains started to recede.
"Ash?" Henry's voice immediately reached her ears, obviously concerned.
"Nothing," she managed, shaking her head and balling more tightly into a fetal position, trying to figure out where the hell to put her injured leg. "Go back to sleep."
"Should I get your mom?" he offered. "Do you need more meds?"
She groaned and shook her head. "Just need a second," she assured him, forcing herself to breathe.
She had to resist the urge to shrug his hands off when she felt them grab her shoulders. Then he began to massage and she could feel the tension across her upper back and neck begin to fade which somehow made her leg and chest ache less, too.
"God," she repeated, this time a happy groan instead of a pained hiss. "Henry, that's amazing. Where'd you learn to give a back rub?"
"Couple decades putting together weapons and poking around inside computers gives a guy pretty nimble fingers," he answered and, even with her eyes closed, she could hear the smirk in his voice.
"Yeah, well I hate to break it to you, Q, but I think you missed your calling. Hands like that, you should have gone into massage therapy instead of gadgeteering."
"But, if I'd done that, where would you get those wonderful toys?" he teased.
She chuckled softly, grinning. Only Henry could get a genuine smile out of her when she felt this terrible and she loved him for it even if he was a total geek.
"Touché. Now shut up and move your left hand down about three inches."
"Here?" he asked, finding the knot under her shoulder blade.
"Yeah, right there," she answered, giving a relieved nod. "Thanks."
"Any time, Ash."
She moaned softly, eyes drifting shut as his fingertips kneaded at the tense, achy muscles. He was really good at it, too, slowly replacing tension and pain with relaxation and pleasure. She was pretty sure she started to drift towards sleep after awhile. Still, Henry didn't seem inclined to stop so she let him keep going. It took her a moment to register that he was talking and, by then, he had fallen silent.
"What?" she yawned. "Mmm, sorry."
"It's okay. I said I talked to your mom. About you maybe getting out of the house soon."
"Bet that went over like a lead balloon."
"At first. Then Will started going on about hormones and neurotransmitters. She eventually agreed that you could probably use some fresh air."
Ashley raised an eyebrow. "Will? He usually sides with Mom."
"He knows it sucks to be stir-crazy, figures you'd be less stressed if you were allowed to get out. He says stress impedes healing."
She smiled. "Good for Will. Didn't realize he learned how to talk back when I was… away."
"Someone had to," Henry told her simply, voice subdued.
The two of them had never really discussed her absence but she got the impression that it had been an ugly year on a lot of levels for everyone.
"Will says we should talk," she told him.
"Will thinks yammering away solves everything," he answered. "Not sure what there is to say, anyway. I missed you. I thought I'd lost a friend, sister, partner and…"
"And?" she prompted gently when he faltered.
"Doesn't matter," he answered, pressing his lips to her cheek as he had before her nap, only lingering this time. "I missed you. Life was never going to be the same. It was a pretty terrible thought."
"I can't imagine a life without all of you in it," she told him, rolling the rest of the way onto her back and smiling sadly up at him.
"What was it like, Ash?" he whispered, expression pained.
"I was a prisoner in my own body. It was like there were two of me. I was aware of everything and it was me doing all those horrible things but, at the same time, I was me and trapped in a dark place and I couldn't move and I was screaming to get out, begging myself to stop. I fought to move but I couldn't and it hurt, all of the goddamn time, Henry, and…" she whispered, voice shaking with the pain of the memories.
"Ash," Henry breathed, staring down at her with a horrified expression. "God, no wonder you hate being so immobile right now."
She bit her lip and nodded, ignoring the tears burning her eyes and threatening to overflow. She'd half-expected everyone to hate her for the things she'd done while captive, hadn't ever wanted to admit how helpless she'd felt. Not even Will knew what she'd just told Henry and he was her shrink. She wasn't sure what had prompted her to tell Henry these things but it was almost a relief to have it out in the open. If anyone could get it, it was Henry who knew her so well.
"Ash," he repeated quietly, taking her face gently in both hands.
Unable to handle the pain in his expression, she closed her eyes, scrunching her face defiantly when that squeezed tears onto her cheeks. Henry's fingertips gently smoothed those away and then just kept caressing her cheeks. She never wanted him to stop. Somehow, his loving hands made everything hurt so much less. Or maybe it was just his gentle acceptance.
"Henry," she breathed, opening her eyes and staring up at him in quiet wonder as she tried to make sense of what he was doing for her and how.
He was staring at her like he was seeing her for the first time and there was something in his eyes that she hadn't seen directed at her by him before. He watched her almost hungrily, seeming to just drink her in with his eyes as he continued to caress her face. She suddenly felt a warm ache in exactly the place you'd expect to in response to laying in bed with a handsome, loving man leaning over you, watching you like that and touching you so tenderly.
Henry's nostrils flared and he swallowed, fingertips stilling against her cheeks. His own face turned slightly pink as his eyes widened, then he began to breathe more deeply. She felt herself color in answer to that, breath hitching.
"You can, uh, smell… me?" she whispered, voice trembling.
"Yeah," he answered quietly, looking torn. "I should probably go?"
"Stay," she directed, biting her lip.
"The drugs…" he began.
She smiled and flushed more deeply, pointing at the clock. "It's been almost seven hours. Why do you think I woke up hurting so bad? I'm not stoned, Henry." She hesitated, feeling ridiculously shy. "I… when you kissed me earlier, did you…"
"I'd never push myself on you, Ash, but I've kind of wanted things to be different between us for years now. It's been harder to ignore lately. I nearly lost you," he whispered yet again, closing his eyes.
"You nearly lost me without ever having me? Made you think?"
"I don't want to 'have' you. You aren't ever going to belong to any guy. But as partnerships go…"
She had to smile at that. "Kiss me, Henry."
"Ash," he began, looking eager but also conflicted. "Werewolves…"
"Mate for life," she finished when he faltered. "I know. Kiss me."
"Just like that?" he whispered, watching her uncertainly but with undeniable hope in his eyes.
"I've loved you my entire life, Henry," she answered, smiling at him. At that the mildly incredulous look on his face, her expression softened and she clarified, "Not always sexually, granted, but always. You're my best friend, my most trusted teammate out in the field, the guy I can always count on to have my six. The only person I'm really comfortable confiding in and being myself with. I'd be an idiot to turn down the chance to spend the rest of my life with a guy like. You're smart, funny, loving, loyal and ridiculously hot with the scruff and the geekiness. Plus, no guy with hardware like yours is without a hidden wild-side," she added, teasing one of his piercings through his t-shirt.
He'd been watching her with surprise and confusion the whole time she spoke, but his expression changed when her fingertips made contact with the metal. Groaning, he arched into her touch, eyes half-closing and face clouding with pleasure and desire. She bit her lip and kept toying with it.
"Remember when you got these?"
"Not really, but I remember wanting to kill you the next morning," he answered, gasping when she twisted the metal stud gently.
"Not like I expected you to actually go through with the bet," she answered, biting her lip. "You can't hold your liquor, plain and simple. Not my fault. But I'll be reaping the benefits from now on."
He moaned softly, covering her hand with one of his, stilling it. "You still have a lot of healing to do," he murmured, kissing her cheek.
"Incentive to do my physio, I guess?" she 'joked' with a soft sigh. Weight-bearing wouldn't be an option for weeks and weeks yet. She could imagine how unpleasant sex would be with her that fragile, to say nothing of how tender she was.
"I'll make it worth the wait," he promised, nuzzling her cheek.
"I know you will. In the meantime, I was promised that I could go out. I wouldn't mind company."
"Like a date?" he asked, smiling shyly.
"My version of a date typically involves paintball and contact-sparring which I don't think even Will could convince Mom was a good idea right now, but I wouldn't object to finding out what normals see in things like dinner and movies."
"Only if the dinner involves steak and the movie's not a chick-flick. I may love you but I still have my limits," he told her with a laugh.
She giggled at that. "Have you ever known me to say no to red meat? Or frequent explosions?"
"I knew there was a reason I loved you, Ash," he answered, grinning. "Although I'll have to check with your mom if you're up to steak yet."
She sighed at that. Her diet had been so bland lately that she could have eaten a cow without it being cut into slices and cooked first just for some damned variety. Which would probably kill her stomach, stupid meds.
"I'll find out," Henry promised as she lay back again, nuzzling her cheek once more as he spoke. "Maybe she'll surprise us."
"With my luck? She'll probably nix popcorn at the movie, too."
"We'll just have to see. You going to try to get some more rest?"
"I should. I'm past due for pain meds and dead tired."
"Mind if I get all stalkerish and watch you sleep for awhile before I go talk to Magnus?" he asked, reaching for the bottle.
"Look but don't touch. Walking wounded or not, I'll end you if you sample the merchandise when I'm not awake to enjoy you doing it."
"Wouldn't be any fun without you awake anyway," he answered, kissing her tenderly.
Smiling warmly at him, she took her meds and settled back with a happy sigh. "I love you, Henry."
"I love you, too, Ash," he murmured, curling up next to her. "Sweet dreams."
"Sweeter when you hang around," she answered, snuggling as close as she comfortably could. "Thanks for being here so much, Henry. It's really been comforting."
"I couldn't not stick close right now," he told her with a shrug. "You're family and you're more."
She bit her lip at that, resting her cheek against his shoulder with a happy sigh and closing her eyes as she waited for the meds to work.
"Dinner and a show?" Magnus asked Henry, closing the file she'd been reading and climbing to her feet, circling the desk and approaching him with a faint, knowing smile.
"Yeah, you know, normal people stuff for a change? Take her mind off things," he answered, shifting uneasily under her keen scrutiny.
Magnus, of course, was not fooled. She wouldn't have been Magnus without the ability to look into a person's heart.
"It's about time the two of you declared yourselves. Don't let her eat too much steak and do see that she goes easy on the refined sugar at the movie. I'm sure you're both aware that actual intercourse at present would be inadvisable?"
He blushed bright red at that, staring at her with wide eyes. "Doc, it's just dinner and a movie, really!"
"Henry," she chastised gently, expression firm but undeniably understanding.
He colored more deeply but stopped trying to equivocate. "I love her too much to do anything right now that'd hurt her. We won't go there," he promised.
"I'll only repeat what I told you when you convinced me to let you bring her to her bedroom, Henry. Be gentle with her. You nearly lost each other and I can imagine there's a great deal of comfort to be had in being close physically. Just be aware of her limits, yes?"
"Of course," he agreed, nodding readily.
She smiled fondly at him. "Henry, I haven't said it enough, but you truly are like a son to me and always have been. It was obviously not my place to say anything before this moment but I never wanted to see her with anyone but you."
"Doc," he whispered, eyes welling.
"Hush, love," she soothed, taking his face gently in both hands and kissing his forehead. "You two have fun tonight. Forget, if you can, that there are people in the world other than Ashley and Henry. It'll be good for both of you."
He bit his lip and nodded, batting at the tears in his eyes. "Thanks."
"If you'd like to go to her, I can make the reservations," she offered. "Seven?"
"That sounds great, Doc. Thanks."
"My pleasure, Henry. The two of you have fun."
"We will, thanks." He nodded.
"What are you still doing here?" she asked, beaming at him. "Don't you have a Sleeping Beauty to attend to?"
"Yeah." He nodded and shyly kissed her cheek. "Thanks again," he told her. "For everything over the last twenty-five years."
She smiled and gave him a quick hug before drawing back and making a shooing motion. "Off with you now, young pup," she murmured, beaming at him.
"After that meal, I'll be lucky to stay awake through the trailers," Ashley told Henry with a smile as he wheeled her through the theater aisle.
She hated having to use the wheelchair but Mom, Henry, and Will had all been adamant about her using it. Right now she had to admit they had a point. Resentful of the thing or not, it was painful and exhausting just letting Henry help her from the wheelchair into a theater seat. Crutches or not, actually walking here from the car wouldn't have been possible.
Despite the chair, and the pain and weakness that made it necessary, it had been a good night so far. Dinner had featured a lot of comfortable silences, pleasantly pointless conversation and loving looks. Nothing resembling awkwardness had intruded to mar it. She didn't really see that comfortable mood changing, either. They'd gone to enough movies together in the past that this was familiar territory.
She smiled at him as he slid into the seat next to her and passed over her drink and a few boxes of candy.
"Thanks, Henry," she said with a smile.
"Don't tell your mom. I promised I wouldn't let you do the whole refined sugar thing."
"Sugar's evil; Hitler ate sugar," she muttered, rolling her eyes.
Neither of them had really been allowed refined sugar growing up. She's tasted her first cigarette before her first Twinkie. Only difference was that she'd never lit up again but she just kept going back to the sugar. Not all the time or anything but it was a nice treat a couple times a year.
"So, most of this movie's CG, yeah?" she asked him.
"Well, yeah. Considering ninety percent of the characters look like they'd fit in at home," he answered with an eager nod. "But, don't worry. I heard there were some wicked explosions so you shouldn't get too bored."
"As long as they don't screw it up with a love-story," she answered.
"Yeah, well." He shifted in his seat.
She stared. "You did not drag me to see a romance, Henry?"
"Just, you know, focus on the explosions," he advised.
She snorted, amused. "Only the two of us could be having this conversation."
"If it's any consolation, I've got a new toy for you to play with when you're cleared for live fire."
Putting her soda in the cup holder, she leaned over and kissed his cheek, smiling when he colored. Cupping his face in one hand, she turned his head and captured his mouth in a gentle, exploratory kiss. She sighed happily at the feel of his lips and his stubble. He laughed when she flushed, slowly deepening the kiss.
"Henry," she breathed as they kissed.
She'd been kissed a few times before but never by a guy who knew her well enough to realize that, her day-to-day tough girl thing aside, she was capable of appreciating gentle attention. As always, Henry understood her well enough to know what she needed. He kept it tender which did more for her than any heated kiss ever had. Lifting the armrest, she sidled closer, aching to feel him. Moaning softly into the kiss, Henry slid his arms around her and gently drew her upper body against his, careful not to jar her or let her twist too much.
She was half in his lap by the time the previews started and Henry just kept kissing her. Caressing her back and sides, he occasionally sighed softly. After a minute, he let out a groan as he, presumably, scented her growing arousal.
"Take me home," she directed quietly after what felt like hours, totally breathless and more than a little needy.
In any other circumstances, she would have laughed at how puppy-like his answering whimper was. Right now, wanting him in a way that bordered on raw need rather than simple desire, all she could do was nod urgently and do her best to hang on to the euphoric feel of the kiss as he helped her back into the wheelchair. Pain dampened some of her arousal but none of her desire. That only seemed to grow the closer they got to home.
Henry drove in silence, drumming on the steering wheel with his fingertips and fidgeting worse whenever they hit a red light. She didn't try to talk to him, resisted the urge to touch him. Unspoken in the whole 'werewolves mate for life' thing was the admission that he was a virgin, too. She wasn't nervous but he, obviously, was. He needed time to process and absorb and she loved him enough to be more than willing to give that to him.
"Nothing has to happen tonight," she promised him as they approached her bedroom. "I just want you close."
Nodding weakly, he wheeled her inside and closed the door, hesitating for a second before locking it. She smiled at that, biting her lip and giving him a shy, loving smile as he wheeled her to her dresser. She selected a silk nightgown that barely fell to mid-thigh, smiling at the way Henry colored when he saw it. She couldn't wait for him to see her in it when the cast was off and the bruises faded.
He wheeled her to her bed, helped her sit on the edge, and then turned his back. It was a habit he'd fallen into while she was still in the infirmary and she grinned.
"Henry?" she murmured, biting her lip.
"Yeah, Ash?" he asked, not turning.
"You're allowed to watch if you want," she offered, telling herself firmly that there was no need to be shy around Henry. He'd seen her naked enough times in the past that turning around at all was nothing more than a courtesy.
He pivoted to face her slowly, eyes wide. "You sure?" he asked uncertainly.
She bit her lip again. "Henry, if I thought you'd be comfortable with it, I wouldn't even bother with this thing tonight."
The red tinge that appeared on his cheeks was both gratifying and exhilarating. More exciting was his barely-audible, "Then don't bother."
Moaning, her heart racing, she tossed the silk garment aside and reached for the top button of her blouse. Henry watched avidly, a hungry look in his eyes. He let out a moan of his own as she gingerly slid her blouse off and reached around for the clasp of her bra.
Swallowing hard, she asked him in a shaky voice, "Do you want to do this part?"
Smiling when he gave her a look equal parts eager and horrified, she extended her hands. When he slid his into them, she gently drew him closer and urged his arms around her back.
"Ash," he rasped, his tone alone flooding her with warmth and desire even before his fingers found the clasp and deftly undid it.
Never taking his wide eyes off her face, he slowly slid the straps down her arms, fingertips stroking her bare skin as he went. She trembled at the things that did to her, eyelids flutter.
"Henry," she breathed, nodding.
She hadn't really expected him to be so slow and tender but it seemed so right from Henry and it was a relief given her still relatively-fragile state.
"Ash," he repeated, staring down at her with wide eyes. "God," he added, fingertips tracing the fading bruise near one of her gunshot wounds. "This is… not a good idea. Like I said earlier, you have so much healing to do."
"Damn it, Henry," she sighed, flopping back onto the mattress. Which actually validated his stance because the sudden jarring motion just hurt. "Point," she growled, so frustrated she wanted to scream.
"Easy," he murmured, kicking off his shoes and helping her get comfortable before stretching out next to her, shifting close and gently caressing her side and stomach, murmuring soothingly.
She moaned quietly, eyelids fluttering again. "That feels great."
"I'd give you more in a heartbeat, but…"
"You're right, I know," she conceded, burying her face in his shoulder and inhaling deeply, trying to quiet her disappointment.
He smelled so good, like steak, popcorn, gun oil and, under all that, there was his 'outdoorsy' Henry-scent even though Henry would never be a truly outdoorsy guy.
"When you've healed more," he promised quietly, burying his nose in her hair and inhaling deeply.
"That a werewolf thing? Smelling me?" she asked, even though she'd just done the same to him. She'd grown up with him, picked up a lot of habits. Not like she'd ever been with a human guy to compare things to.
"Pretty sure it's a human thing, too. Will says so anyway. Smells triggering memories and all that good crap. Does it bug you?"
"Not at all. Just curious. What do I smell like?"
"Sunday afternoons," he whispered against her hair. "Like laying in a hammock with a technical manual and a glass of lemonade and knowing what it means to have a place where you fit."
"Corny, I know."
Ashley smiled and bit her lip. "Surprisingly hot, actually. And very sweet."
"That's the morphine talking, Ash."
"Probably," she answered, closing her eyes and snuggling close. "You're warm."
"So are you. Warm and incredibly alive, Ash."
"Going to stay the night?"
"If you don't mind."
"Have I minded once since I got hurt?"
"No but things are different now."
"Not always a bad thing," she pointed out with a smile. "It's still us, Henry. You'll never not be welcome here. In fact, from now on, you may have a hard time getting me to let you sleep anywhere else."
"I think I could live with that, Ash," he whispered, kissing her hair.
"Good. Because you're mine now and I want you where I can keep an eye on you."
"I can live with that, too," he assured her, one hand tangling in her hair as the other continued to caress her bare side and stomach.
"Henry?" she yawned, pressing slightly into his gentle touches.
"We aren't going to sleep in our clothes are you? Get changed. I'll be waiting when you're done."
"Okay," he answered, kissing her chastely for what felt like five gorgeous minutes before climbing to his feet.
Yawning, she watched with a languid smile as he pulled off his jeans and t-shirt, changing into one of the pairs of sweatpants he'd started keeping in her room.
"Not that," she murmured when he reached for a shirt as well. "It's a warm night."
He hesitated for a moment before putting it aside and returning to the bed, bare-chested and looking almost shy as he rejoined her. Expression shy despite the number of times he'd helped her at night, he reached for her nightgown.
Gritting her teeth, she let him draw her into a sitting position, doing her best not to make a sound as he slid the nightgown over her arms and down her body and then slipped her sweatpants off. Granted, since Henry could smell it when she was in pain, her stoicism didn't really help except to make her feel a little less helpless.
"Easy," he soothed, helping her lay back and murmuring softly as he nuzzled and caressed and face. "I've got you, Ash."
She moaned and nodded, reaching up to cradle his face in one hand as she closed her eyes and let his voice and touch soothe away the worst of the discomfort. She wasn't really sure how he managed but, more quickly than if she'd taken another dose of her meds, her pain started to recede.
"You changed," she told him after a few minutes. "While I was gone."
"We all did, Ash," Henry whispered. "Thinking we'd lost you, that changed some things. No, I take that back. It changed everything."
"I'm back now," she soothed, aching at the obvious pain in his tone.
"You are, but… hard to forget what it feels like to not be with someone you care about. A lot of things are hard to forget. I know you must think I'm harder now and I am but not in the ways that count."
"It wasn't a criticism, Henry. I like the assertive you. I have a hard time believing that the old Henry would have insisted on staying with me all the time when I've been the way I've been lately. You push back, though, like you wouldn't before, and there isn't a thing wrong with that."
He frowned curiously down at her. "You like that about me? That I'm suddenly all pushy?"
"Not 'pushy' so much as just more confident, more willing to do what you know should be done. It's a nice change, Henry. I like seeing you so comfortable in your own skin."
"Yeah, Henry." She smiled and nodded, yawning.
Sighing softly, he stretched out next to her again, snuggling close and kissing her shoulder. She gave a sigh of her own, smiling at him. Biting his lip, he reached out and touched her cheek, beaming at her.
"Get some rest," he directed quietly. "We'll talk more in the morning, okay?"
"Deal," she mumbled against his chest, losing herself in his warmth and smell, his hard muscles and soft skin.
"Ash?" he murmured as she started to drift.
"Seeing as how you're out of the woods but you still have a lot of resting up to do… I was wondering if you maybe wanted me to take some downtime? There's that safe-house outside Vancouver and…" He trailed off, making a hopeful sound in the back of his throat.
"You, me, and a log cabin with an entertainment room and Jacuzzi? That'd rock so hard," she sighed happily, kissing his shoulder and smiling at his little noise of jubilation. "Now sleep," she directed. "You're packing for two tomorrow."
He laughed softly, relaxing in her arms. "Night, Ash. Sweet dreams."
"Night, Henry," she yawned. "I'll see you in the morning."
"I'll be here."
"I know. Now shut up and let me sleep," she giggled.
"Since you asked so nicely," he answered, nuzzling her cheek before settling himself against her again.
"Story," she demanded, feeling whimsical.
Snorting, Henry obediently started to recite the opening passage of 'The Jungle Book' for her, exactly as he had so many times when she was little:
Now Rann the Kite brings home the night
That Mang the Bat sets free–
The herds are shut in byre and hut
For loosed till dawn are we.
This is the hour of pride and power,
Talon and tush and claw.
Oh, hear the call!–Good hunting all
That keep the Jungle Law!
"You are such a geek for knowing that by heart, wolf-boy."
"It's your fault that I do," he answered with a mock-growl. "Now sleep, brat."
"Mmm," she agreed, snuggling close and letting his warmth lull her. "Sweet dreams."
"Always, from now on, I think," he whispered, rocking her just a little like he always had when she was little and couldn't sleep.
Which was all it took for her to drift off, her dreams painting pictures of the next few weeks with Henry all to herself and, more importantly, all hers forever.