Chapter 13 –
~~~~Back at the Hotel~~~~
Ashley watched as her mother slept, occasionally taking a damp cloth and wiping her forehead with it.
She was not used to being the one doing the caring, her mother was always the bandaging her wounds, healing her sickness, sitting up with her until the fever broke. Now their roles were reversed.
Ashley had changed out of her dirty clothes and showered, and stolen one of Javor's shirts until hers were done washing, at least thats what she said to herself.
She actually felt comforted by the faint cologne smell deeply embedded into the white cotton fibers. She couldn't figure out why she had grown so attached to this man, maybe it was the fact that he had saved her and looked after her, maybe because he represented something she had often dreamed about as a girl. A swashbuckling, dashing hero, who swoops in to save the princess.
True, ever since she was a little girl she envisioned that her father was a knight in shining armor who had left his queen and his princess to fight in battle. At such a young age that makes more sense than death.
But her father was dead.
Javor was no replacement for that empty spot, as much as she wanted him to be, he must've known that.
Ashley sighed and cuddled up against her mother.
At least she would always be a constant.
She felt something crinkle under her shoulder and she turned her head around to see what it was.
She reached inside the white oxford shirt her mom was wearing, obviously given to her by Javor.
She reached inside the breast pocket and pulled out his photograph.
Her mother's hair was pinned up in a mass of big blonde curls topped with a plumed hat. She was wearing an elegant dress, the height of fashion for women at that time she could only guess, and on her arm was a handsome man, hand gently covering her gloved one. He was clothed in a dapper suit, from head to foot. His lips curled into the slightest of smiles.
Ashley could almost see the moment after this frame was taken.
The man's face leaning in close to peck the woman on the cheek, her gloved hand reaching up to his dark, slick hair and running her fingers through it.
Two lovers on an evening stroll, hand-in-hand…
"Nikola, you should be in New York, your over 80," laughed Helen as she walked with Nikola across the fair grounds.
"They think I'm taking up a small residency at a medical clinic, they have my room on hold until they get further word of my return, the Depression is so ghastly, I shouldn't have to sit there through all of it," he joked slightly.
"What kind of medical clinic?" asked Helen suspiciously.
"To determine whether I'm fit enough to live on my own, which they will find completely so," smirked Nikola.
"How you manage to keep this ruse up I do not know," Helen shook her head.
"A little costuming and pieces of skin colored rubber, I learnt it from an actress," he wiggled his eyebrows.
"I'm sure you did, she probably taught you all about faking it," Helen said flatly.
"Oh, Helen, jealousy doesn't suit you," he chuckled and put a finger under her chin. "You know you are the only one for me."
Helen rolled her eyes and let out a laugh.
"And the world thinks you're celibate," she chuckled.
"Not celibate, just sneaky," he took her hand. "The Depression is not the only reason I came down to see you, I missed you…a lot, it seems like we haven't seen each other since that Worth Affair, back in, oh when was it, 1903-04?"
"To tell you the truth I have put it out of my mind," she sighed. "But I'm sure we saw each other after that, it hasn't been that long, I mean I have been affording your lodging since you went broke."
"A problem I shall soon fix, I just need to get on top again," Nikola kissed the top of her hand before continuing to walk.
"Your ideas are brilliant Nikola, it's your people skills that need improving, the only reason Edison and Marconi are so successful is because they know how to make money, you on the other hand want nothing in return, and while honorable, to any company interested in your patents that is a deal breaker," Helen said calmly, as she walked alongside him.
"Is it wrong to want the world to profit from the ease my inventions give without asking them to give up their life savings," mumbled Nikola. "My mother made a whole assortment of inventions for the women in the village and did not ask for one cent in return, any money she could've made went to the tithe in my fathers church, they were grateful for my mother's charity, more so than anyone who pawned off goods for a price."
"They don't see it that way, they see it as a waste of money if they can't profit from that, I'm sorry but not all think like your humble Serbian mother, Nikola," Helen stopped walking and pulled Nikola to look at her. "You are a brilliant scientist, must you have to prove it to everyone."
"What are you saying, Helen?" he asked softly.
"You crave the attention of brilliance, you want the fame and the recognition, but you don't want to ask for anyone's money, but you forget that the world isn't a small little village in Serbia, sometimes you have to take a little to give back," she lifted a hand up to his cheek and stroked it gently. "I know you're a genius, shouldn't that suffice?"
He leant more into the palm of her hand.
"You're too good to me, Helen," he said quietly and Helen let out a small laugh.
"And you flatter me way too much," she kissed his cheek.
"Sometimes I wonder…if things had turned out differently…uh, nevermind," he broke eye contact. "Look a photo booth, why not get a picture?"
"You have tons of photos from that little camera you made back in Oxford," laughed Helen as he dragged her to the booth.
"Oh come on, just one, for old times sake," he gave her an adorable face that she couldn't refuse.
"Alright, just one," she said.
He went up to the man and handed him a few coins, before taking Helen's hand and pulling her close.
"Nikola, what are you doing?" she exclaimed as he wrapped his arms around her shoulder, pulling her back up against his chest.
"Posing for a picture," he pecked her cheek with a grin as the flash went off…
Ashley heard a knock at the door, pulling her out of her thoughts and into the present.
She stuffed the picture under the pillow and pulled out her gun, moving to the door, ready, incase it was Van Hagen here to take her mother away from her again.
She opened the door and sprung out, gun poised.
The gun fell straight into the face of Javor Dragoslav.
"Javor?" she gasped dropping the gun.
"Don't you just bring out the welcome wagon! You do know that these doors have peep holes?" he said pointed.
"You're alive!" said Ashley, ignoring his statement.
"Of course, being late is the height of bad form," he smirked at his pun; again Ashley ignored it.
"I heard gun shots, and screaming, I thought for sure they had killed you," Ashley took a step forward, hoping this wasn't a dream.
"Van Hagen won't be bothering you anymore," he said gently. "I have to go now."
"No! You can't go, my mother might still need you…I might still need you, you can't just leave!" Ashley clasped his hand.
"You and your mother have done fine without me up until now, I don't see how that changes," he patted her hand.
"Are you my father?" she asked, holding tighter.
"This is the third time you've asked, the answer has not changed, and I'm sorry for that, but if I were, I would tell you that I would be proud to call you my daughter," he tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear. "And I'm not just saying that because I think you're mother is listening."
He smirked his cheeky grin at her and Ashley wrapped her arms around him in a tight hug.
"It would've been cool to call you my dad," she mumbled into his chest.
"You're just saying that cause I blow things up," he half-chuckled.
"Do you ever shut up?" she sighed.
"Only when I'm dead," he patted her back hesitantly.
He pulled out of the hug.
"I should go now, I can only stand this Hallmark Moment for so long, I'll trust you'll keep your end of the bargain…and…was there a picture in the breast pocket of the shirt your mother is wearing?"
"Um, I'll go check," she turned to her mother and checked the pocket. "No, it must've fallen out, I'm sorry."
He let out a sad sigh.
"I see," he said, almost sadly, it broke Ashley's heart.
"Will you say goodbye?" she gestured to her mother and Javor shook his head.
"No, we're not done yet," he said with a smile.
"So, will I see you again?" she asked.
"Possibly, but you will have forgotten all about me by then," he looked at her sincerely.
"Nonsense," she stated adamantly. He let out a small chuckle.
"Goodbye Ashley Magnus, it was a real…adventure," she stepped up to him and grasped his hand again, not wanting him to leave her with so many unanswered questions.
He smiled kindly and leant down to kiss her forehead.
"I won't give the answers you seek, Ashley," with that he slipped his hand out of her grasp and stole away into the night, just as effortlessly as he had come into her life, he had walked out.
The little girl ran in the garden, her blonde hair blowing in the breeze, and her small hands spread wide like the wings of a plane.
She giggled as she swirled and curved around the maze, laughing in her own delight.
She heard her name along the wind and dropped her arms, an even bigger smile dawning her face as she recognized the voice calling to her again.
The little girl ran to the voice excitedly, exiting the maze, past a massive fountain, to the steps of the large building she called home.
"Ashley where are you?" came the voice again, dismembered from any figure, like the wind had been calling to her this whole time.
"I'm here!" she called back.
"Run into my arms, Ashley!" the voice said back and the girl ran to it.
She turned a corner and gasped in excitement as she found the owner of the voice.
"I've found you!" she cried and ran into the figures arms.
It picked her up and lifted her into the air above it's head, before holding her close in a warm embrace.
"You've found me," the figure laughed warmly, the light shifted and the figures face, previously overcast by shadows, came into light.
"I missed you Mommy..."
Helen Magnus woke up her head throbbing, and she couldn't remember where she was.
"Mom!" said Ashley, coming to her bedside.
"Ashley? Where are we?" she asked, putting a hand on her head to steady herself.
"You got napped by some rich dude to become his concubine, it's ok, we're safe now," said Ashley putting a hand on her mother's arm.
"Where's Big Guy?" Helen asked, looking around.
"Well…" Ashley averted her gaze.
"You came here alone?" shouted Helen.
"I had some help, an old friend of yours apparently, he's gone now," said Ashley, a hint of sadness in her tone.
"Who? What old friend of mine?" Helen grabbed her arm causing Ashley to look at her.
"He asked me not to tell," Ashley said.
"I don't give a damn what he asked you, tell me who helped you rescue me," ordered Magnus.
"What does it matter? You're safe! We're safe! Jeez mom, take a pill," Ashley crossed her arms defensively. "You were about to become dutch boy's 7th wife! He said he only wanted you safe, he left us the room, and you're even wearing his shirt, if he was a baddie he would've shown signs by now."
Helen let out a small sigh.
"You're right," Helen looked over at her daughter, "You at least called Big Guy right?"
"Of course, he's on his way, private charter and everything, this isn't my first rodeo," Ashley mumbled, getting up to make some tea. "You're welcome by the way!"
Helen laughed and shook her head, taking a breath of fresh air. She stood up and went to the window, admiring the sunset picturesque view.
What had happened? That's what Helen wanted to know, and who was this old friend of hers, she had many, but none would keep their identity from her.
Helen let out a deep breath, she wished she could remember the last week, but it was nothing but a few flashes.
She looked down at the cotton shirt she was wearing, it smelt of vanilla and lavender, a hint of aftershave, and something, vaguely familiar, like the smell of an old book, or of an old sweater abandoned at the back of the closet.
She liked the smell.
"Ok, all we've got is the complimentary bags of Darjeeling the hotel gives out, is that good?" said Ashley as she waltzed in. "Mom, are you ok?"
"Mmm? Oh yes, just thinking about something," she looked at the tea, "Darjeeling's fine, it's better than coffee."
"Say what you want about coffee, Mom, when you've had a three hours sleep on a jet to rural Africa, to chase down a flying monkey-lizard, it's essential," joked Ashley.
"You shouldn't even be drinking it," glared Helen.
"Neither should I have a gun and chase monsters, but guess what?" smirked Ashley.
"Point taken," mumbled Helen as she sat on the sofa and watched Ashley pour the hot water into the mug. "You washed the mugs first right?"
"Yah, I'm not 12," grumbled Ashley.
"Let the tea seep," instructed Helen.
"I know, for at least five minutes," waved off Ashley.
"And re-use the-"
"Tea bags, I know, will you just relax, Mom, we aren't going to have a Darjeeling apocalypse if you don't help," laughed Ashley and Helen smiled softly.
"I'm sorry, I'm just in a spin, my daughter is rescuing me from Dutchmen and making me tea, I guess my mother's instinct is having coping issues," joked Helen.
"Yeah, no kidding," Ashley handed her the mug. "Don't worry, Mom, I'm still your daughter, nothings going to change that."
Helen smiled and sipped the warm tea.
Ashley walked back to the kitchenette and pulled out the folded picture from her jeans pocket.
Why did she lie? Why did she not give him his photo back? Why did she keep it?
She sighed and folded it back into her pocket.
"Hey Mom, I was thinking, the troop isn't going to be here for a few hours, why don't we dawn some cute little bikini numbers and head to beach and catch some sun?"
"Well, we are in Puerto Rico, shame to waste it," Ashley smiled and ran up to the couch to hug her mother.
"Awesome, and I was thinking we could go to one of those cute little clothing huts, get souvenirs…"
Helen listened as her daughter excitedly ranted about flip-flops and sunglasses, she knew that something happened in Puerto Rico, 2002, but for once, she will never know, except for the shadow of a memory of a man in a white oxford shirt, standing just out of her peripheral vision, watching over her and her daughter, protectively and longingly.
Like a dream that never can be remembered.