Ashley tossed and turned in her bed. She simply wasn't going to sleep tonight, not without serious answers. Her clock read 1:43 am. With a sigh, she got out of bed and went to find her father.
John was reading by firelight when he heard the soft footsteps enter. He looked up to see his daughter in the doorway. "Ashley?" he called. When she didn't move, he left his book in the chair and went to her.
Ashley wrapped her arms around him and held on tight. After a moment she pulled away. "I don't want to be a monster," she said in a small voice.
John studied her face with concern. "We discussed this in Whitechapel. You are not a monster, little angel. Whatever put such an idea in your head?"
"I did bad things," she moaned. Ashley's eyes were bright with unshed tears and her lower lip began to tremble.
"You did them because the Cabal made you do them. You've learned such control since then. You are nota monster." He pulled out a handkerchief and wiped her eyes.
"They'll hate me," Ashley whined.
"Who will hate you?"
"I take it you mean those at the Sanctuary," John sighed. Ashley nodded glumly. "Ashley, I promise you, they will nothate you."
"I can't even use my real name out in public."
"Those are narrowed minded individuals who are not worth your time."
"I did worse things than you, dad. And mom can't even look you in the eye anymore." Ashley looked back up at him. "You were the love of her life."
John drew her to the chair and settled her into his lap. "You are her daughter,Ashley. Your mother will be ecstatic to see you."
"What about the others?" she whimpered.
"Are they not your friends?"
"Then you have nothing to fear." John rubbed her back. "Now then, sweet girl, tell me what brought all this on?"
"I had a nightmare," she whispered brokenly.
"A nightmare?" John prompted. Ashley nodded. "Tell me what happened."
"I was back in the Sanctuary. And I knew I had to hide for some reason." John felt her tremble in his arms. "I could hear mom and Will and Henry talking. They were trying to hunt me down. I could hear mom giving orders like I was some dangerous Abnormal." Ashley looked into her father's eyes. "She told them to kill me if they had to."
"Oh, Ashley," John sighed. Tears began to roll down her cheeks. He let her cry on his shoulder as he held her tight. "It'll be alright," he murmured. "Just let it out."
Gregory came limping down to see what the commotion was. "Is everything alright?"
"She had a nightmare," John said quietly.
"Poor thing. What about?"
"Going home. She's worried about the reception that's waiting for her."
Gregory moved to stroke his granddaughter's hair. "Don't worry," he soothed. "Your mother is going to be so happy to see you. She would have rewritten the rules of the universe to get you back."
"But I hurt people," Ashley said. "And I can teleport now. She'll think I'm some insane killing freak."
"You were under the control of the Cabal," Gregory replied. "Your mother thinks no less of you."
"And you have stayed here to learn how to you control your powers," John added. "She'll be so proud that you made such a grown up decision. And that you've managed so well."
Ashley looked between the two men. "Are you certain?"
"I'm more sure of this than of anything in the world," Gregory said firmly.
"I swear to you on what little honor I have left as a gentleman that your mother will be happy to see you," he promised.
"Well, I'm better for tonight but I make no promises about tomorrow. Or any other day for that matter," Ashley sighed.
"We'll be here tomorrow," John told her.
"And every day after that," Gregory agreed.
Ashley gave her father a tight hug before slipping off his lap. "Grandpa, I know it's dumb but…but would you read to me?"
"It's not dumb at all," Gregory assured her with a smile. "Is that what your mother used to do for you?"
Ashley gave him a thin smile. "Not since I entered double digits."
"Sometimes it's hard to challenge what we know," John said.
"Do you plan to head up stairs?" Gregory asked him.
"I will eventually."
"Good night, daddy," Ashley said kissing his cheek. "I love you."
"I love you too. Sleep well, little angel."
Gregory looked at his granddaughter. "Shall we walk or teleport?"
"Can we walk?"
Ashley smiled at him. She looped her arm through his and they headed to the library. There she picked out a book of fairy stories for Gregory to read to her. He settled in a chair next to her bed and read for an hour before she finally fell asleep. Gregory kissed her forehead as he headed out. John finished his book and went to look in on his daughter. "Your mother is waiting for you, little angel," he whispered. "She just doesn't know about it yet." He too kissed her forehead as he teleported out.
Ashley's predictions proved true and her fears came back for the next two days. Every time John or Gregory would be nearby to soothe her. Gregory took her out to the city, John would go riding with her and when all else failed she played with James.
Slowly, very slowly, the mantras began to take root. Ashley stopped being scared and started getting excited. There were still nerves but the excitement was higher. The males of the house became just as excited as she was. She would stay up late telling James all about the Sanctuary and what life was like there. Her father and grandfather both thought she was exaggerating but neither would impinge on her enthusiasm.
The night before her return they actually had to sedate her slightly to get her to sleep. She looked so peaceful when the maid came in that Emily almost didn't' have the heart to wake her. "Miss Ashley," she called, shaking her slightly. "It's morning."
Ashley slowly opened her eyes. "I can't believe it," she whispered. "It's finally the day."
"Today's the day you head home, isn't it?" Emily asked.
"First time in two years," Ashley grinned.
"Then you'd best be clean for your mother," she laughed. "Off to the tub with you."
Ashley's body wasn't sure whether to be excited or nervous. She wanted so badly to go home it was almost impossible to stay still. Carefully, she slipped into the warm water and willed her body to relax. Being giddy was great but she couldn't bounce around all day. As she soaked in the tub, she could hear the house coming to life around her. Her father paused to knock and remind her that she couldn't stay in there all day.
Once the water became tepid, she pulled herself out and dried her hair. She had gone through her whole wardrobe twice before settling on an outfit. Ashley didn't want anything too dark to remind her family of what she was. In the end she had gone with a pair of dark wash jeans, sneakers, and a white shirt with blue embroidery. White was the color of new life and rebirth and purity.
As she buttoned her jeans she thought about going home. She hoped her mother would be happy to see her. She hoped that they could all forgive her for the awful things she had done. She hoped they still wanted her around. Her dad and grandpa had promised her several times over that things would be great. Ashley still wasn't completely sure. "Everything will be perfect," she whispered.
In his room John was fastening the buttons on his royal blue shirt, mired in his own thoughts. Helen had not seen him for two years. As far as she knew he was a thief and a liar. He hoped that she would believe that he had done everything for their daughter. And for her. John needed her to believe that he had truly changed. But more importantly he needed her to believe in Ashley. And despite his numerous assurances to his daughter, there was still a part of him that wondered.
Gregory stood before his mirror straightening his cravat. His little girl was about to get the absolute shock of her life. She would hopefully realize that John and Ashley were more controlled than before. He wanted nothing more than to see his daughter happy as any father did. If she would just open her heart, Gregory had no doubt these two could do it for her.
Ashley did a final turn in front of the mirror before heading out. Her father was heading out at the same time. "Hey dad," she called. She looked over his choice of clothes. Blue shirt, charcoal gray slacks, black suspenders with a hint of silver threading and the large silver watch she'd had engraved for his birthday. "Looking sharp," she whistled.
John smiled at her. "You look quite lovely yourself," he complimented. He held out his arm to her. "May the gentleman be permitted to escort a lady downstairs?"
Ashley took his arm with a smile. "Always," she said.
They walked together and were met at the bottom by Gregory in his best brown suit. "Don't you two look like a picture?" he greeted.
"Not too shabby yourself," Ashley said. She kissed his cheek like she did every morning.
"How are you feeling?" he asked.
"Nervous," she admitted. "But seriously excited too."
Breakfast was all her favorites. Pecan pancakes with real maple syrup, blueberry muffins fresh from the oven, bacon and freshly pressed apple cider. Ashley had no idea how they managed to get everything fresh in the morning. She had asked the cook once but he just smiled and told her it was a secret. Ashley thought she'd be too excited to eat but her dad and grandpa made sure she finished every bite.
After breakfast it was all about finding things to occupy her mind until it was time to leave. She found her journal and wrote down every detail of the day so far. Ashley wanted a complete record once it was all over. There was no doubt she'd be returning to this day many times in the future. Once that was done, she stood in front of the mirror to practice what she would say to her family. When she had nothing else to do she asked permission to go riding.
No matter how hard she pushed Dapple, the mare would never be like riding her bike. That was okay as long as she could feel the wind in her hair. She probably wouldn't be able to ride much when she got back home. But she'd have her bike back so it was a fair trade in her mind. Even if she would miss Dapple some. Ashley saw her father further on in the trail. He cocked his head back towards the house. That meant it was nearly time to go so she turned Dapple around and rode back.
"Are you alright?" John asked as she walked in the door.
"I'm a total mix of emotions," she admitted. On impulse she whipped around to hug him tight. "God, daddy, I don't know what to do."
John held her for a moment. "You will be fine," he assured her. "You're going home, remember?"
Ashley grinned. "That's right." She pulled back to look at him. "Is it wrong that I want to laugh and cry at the same time?"
"Not at all." John pulled her back into his arms.
They stayed like that until Gregory came to find them. "It's time," he told them. Ashley hurried over to hug him as well. "Everything will be wonderful," he promised.
"You bet it will," Ashley grinned. She linked arms with her dad and grandpa. "We're off to see the wizard, boys."
They reappeared in the middle of the walkway leading to the front door. "Welcome to the Sanctuary," John murmured.
Ashley squeezed both their hands as they walked forward.