Chapter 13

Colin stayed in the hospital for three weeks. During this time, he suffered many more nightmares, but luckily not when Ash was with him, which was nearly every other night. He did not want to tell her about this problem, she had enough to worry about already.

After some discussion he agreed to stay in Colinton with Ash. Someone still had to take care of him, and she was only happy to offer her assistance. SMPDM and herself raided his house in Silverknowes one evening, moved some of his things to Colinton and made sure the house was safe to be abandoned for a longer time.

Ash did, of course, see that something was troubling him, but hoped he would bring the subject about himself, until she could no longer wait one evening shortly before he was to be released from the hospital, and asked:

“What’s wrong, sweetheart?”

“Nothing,” he lied readily. “I’ll be fine, I promise.” And then a good excuse occurred to him: “It’s just that I hate being weak like this. I wish I could take care of myself like I always did, but I’m tired so easily these days I can barely do anything. Even walking longer distances is out of question. It’s awfully frustrating.”

“I know,” she smiled reassuringly. “But you’ll get well in no time, don’t worry.”

However, when Harry came on Saturday morning to finally take both of them to Colinton by his newly bought car, she took advantage of Colin’s need to get dressed, and said:

“Harry, I need to talk to you.”

They left the room and stopped at the window in the corridor. Ash leaned against the sill with her elbows and hid her face in her palms.

“Harry… I’ve found out something… I don’t feel strong enough to be the only one who knows, and you’re the only one I can tell… I just hope you will forgive me when I do…” she spoke quietly.

“Ash, you’re scaring me,” he confessed. “What happened?”

“You… you just bought him time. You removed the ring before it could kill him on the spot, but you didn’t save his life.”

“How much time?” he asked, not realising all the consequences yet.

“Two or three months.”

True meaning of the newly-gained information started flooding Harry’s mind.

She will have to be brave. She will conceal her pain before Colin to enable him spend the rest of his life in relative happiness… and he will be the only person to help her, to listen to her if she will need to pour her heart out… It was not a pretty perspective.

He sighed and hugged her.

“Child, how can I help you?” he whispered in her hair.

“I’ll need you to be there for me.”

He released her. “I will be,” he promised.

They returned to the room to find Colin fully dressed and sitting on the bed, waiting for them.

“Ok, ready to go?” Ash smiled at him radiantly and he nodded.

 

“Ash, shouldn’t we tell him?” Harry asked her as she saw him off to the door.

“No,” she shook her head.

“I don’t know. It doesn’t seem too fair, does it? I wouldn’t like to be deceived like that.”

“Ok. I’ll remember that when someone feeds you with garlic.”

“Silver would do the job, too,” he reminded her. “But honestly, don’t you think that we ought to tell him?”

“How?” she demanded.

That single question silenced him. She was right, he did not feel like coming up to Colin and telling him “you’re dying, mate”. It might not have been fair, but it was the only thing they were able to do.

“True,” he nodded. “Listen, child, if you need me, all you have to do is call, ok?”

She smiled. “Don’t worry, we’ll be fine. But thanks for the offer.”

She watched as he walked to the gate, got into his car and drove off. Then she returned inside and found Colin lying on the sofa in the living room. His eyes were closed, but she could tell he was awake.

“Will you have tea with me?” she asked.

He opened his eyes. “Sure,” he nodded, however, when she turned to leave for the kitchen, he stopped her: “Ash… wait.” He gestured her to come and sit by his side.

“Hm?”

“What happened?” he asked. “You and Harry, there’s something the two of you share. Something happened while I was gone. You have a secret, and you won’t tell me. Why?”

Ash swallowed hard. She had no idea how to get away with this. For a moment she thought she would have to tell him the truth, but then another explanation occurred to her.

“Look,” she began, “I take it you’ve noticed what Harry’s like. As far as he’s concerned, we’re all his children, or younger siblings, no matter how old we are. I’m his only sister, and naturally he tells me things he wouldn’t say to his brothers. You’re not jealous, are you?”

“God, no,” he assured her. “I just had a feeling that something more than that was going on.”

“No,” she shook her head. “Nothing’s going on.” (Yet, she added to herself.)

“I’ll make the tea,” she decided then and this time he let her.

“How do you feel?” she asked when she came back with the two mugs.

“Weak, but happy,” he smiled. “Come here, sit by me,” he added and sat up quickly before she settled into an armchair. She obeyed him and he reached for her to kiss her. “I feel so much younger than you when we do this,” he confessed then, looking a bit embarrassed. “Like a teenager who can’t get enough of a grown-up life he’s just discovered.”

She laughed. “You’ll get used to it.”

“I hope so. Otherwise the only thing my brain will remember of all the kissing will be ‘damn, I was born in 1982’ instead of ‘wow, that feels slimy’.”

She laughed again.

Later, when they were lying in each other’s arms on the sofa, he said quietly:

“Ash?”

“Hm?”

“I was going to ask you to be my girlfriend anyway. If that thing, that accident hadn’t happened to me, I’d have asked you… I didn’t want to wait any longer. I wanted you so much, and then Harry told me how he lost a girl he loved… I wouldn’t be able to wait.”

“What did he tell you?” she asked, startled.

“Not much. Just that he saw her in the pub last year in July, and when he saw her again, she was in love with someone else. He told me just the evening before the accident, said I should learn from his mistake… Why, has he ever told you about that?” he understood from the her expression.

“He has,” she nodded. “But that’s not the secret we have, in case you thought that.”

“You know what, darling, I don’t care. The only thing I want to know is what you’d have told me,” he returned to the original subject of the conversation.

“I’ve no idea,” she answered truthfully. “But I’d have probably done whatever you’d want me to do, and followed you to the ends of earth.”

He smiled and kissed her again, but they both remained quiet until they remembered they had not finished the tea.

 

A few days passed by. Colin spent much of them sleeping, which made it easier for Ash to look after him. One evening, however, his fate decided it was time for his girlfriend to find out about his secret. It sent him a dream…

Ash was in the bathroom, drying her hair with a towel, when she heard him scream. It was frightening; she had not heard his voice to ever sound like that. She ran to the bedroom and saw him half awake in the bed, his face covered in cold sweat. She sat down on the side of the bed and shook him urgently.

“Colin! Colin!” she called. “Wake up, sweetheart, please!”

When he did, still breathing heavily and with fear in his eyes, she added quietly:

“It was just a dream, darling. You’re safe now.”

Colin dived back into the pillow. He did not say a word, just got hold of her hand and clutched it like the proverbial straw.

“Colin,” she began after a while, “it’s not the first time you’ve had a nightmare like this, is it? Why didn’t you tell me?”

He bit his lip. “It’s bad enough already. I didn’t want to bother you even more.”

“But you called me in the end,” she reminded him.

“Did I?”

“Can’t you remember?”

“Well…”

He did remember. He just did not remember doing it aloud.

“In that dream, we got parted. Maybe that’s why,” he suggested.

“Fine,” she nodded. “Let me tell you now, darling, that no one and nothing will part us in real life, I promise you that.”

“Where are you going, then?” he asked, bewildered, as she got up and headed for the bathroom again. She told him.

“Don’t leave me,” he begged.

“Colin, this is insane. I’m just going to switch the light off there and come back again. It’s not as if some monster can snatch me and carry me off somewhere, all right? You’re awake now.”

“I know,” he sighed, as if he still was not sure.

He anxiously watched her as she brushed her hair in front of a mirror. He was scared she would not understand. Those dreams were bad as they were, but there was something else as well. He was too much of a trouble for her. What if one day she decides she does not want to look after him anymore? She loved him, that was true. But even love could leach out from this kind of world.

“I’m afraid you might walk away from me one day. I mean, you’re still so young, you need to get a life of some sort,” he told her.

“But I’ll get it,” she objected. “I’ll get it as soon as you get better. Colin, don’t worry about that. It won’t take long, I promise you. A few months, and you won’t even remember you were sick like this.”

A thought ran through her head. I’m making myself believe that, she realised. Several more dialogues on this topic, and she will believe that he will recover from this. Something was telling her that it was the best thing to do. She was not a good liar, but if she could convince herself, then it theoretically would not be lying.

“It’s hard to have faith in the future with such nightmares,” he remarked.

“They’ll subside,” she shook her head. (“Will they?” she asked herself.)

“If you say so,” he shrugged, not really convinced.

 

The few following weeks made it perfectly clear, though, that the nightmares were to become a usual part of Colin’s life. He would wake up several times each night, each time frightened that Ash would leave him. The lack of sleep and the effort she had to put into convincing him she was not going anywhere brought the girl into a state very close to a nervous breakdown.

She woke up at seven one morning, which was mischievous of the fate considering how little it let her rest during the night. It was an especially bad one, with Colin waking up as many as five times, each one of them a pure concentrate of hell.

Ash sighed and got up quietly, although he was so fast asleep she could be banging doors and still make no difference. She got dressed and walked down to the kitchen to make herself a cup of coffee. She did not use to drink this substance, but crisis taught her this “vice”.

The water started boiling and the kettle automatically switched off. She poured herself a cup and then sat down heavily at the kitchen table, not even trying to fight the tears that were stealing into her eyes. These moments were the only ones she had for herself, the only moments she could let out all her pain and desperation. But today, the doorbell rang, thus announcing the arrival of someone who would steal this precious time from her.

She brushed her face with her sleeves quickly and went to open the door before the visitor could ring the bell again.

“Harry,” she breathed out and without really thinking about it threw herself into his arms. “Harry…”

“What’s wrong, child?” he asked softly.

“Those nightmares,” she sobbed. “He’ll drive both of us mad if this goes on. He thinks I’ll leave him, and I don’t know, honestly I can’t think of any other way to tell him I’m staying. He woke up five times last night. I’m so awfully tired…”

He pushed her inside gently.

“Then you should get some rest,” he said.

“He might wake up again,” she protested.

“Which is why I’ll be here.”

“He won’t listen to you,” she shook her head.

“He will. If he doesn’t want to get hurt.”

He made her lay on the sofa and covered her with a blanket. “There’s a good girl,” he whispered. “Just take some rest, child, I’ll take care of everything else, all right?”

She only managed to nod, when there was a loud cry from the bedroom upstairs. “Ash?! Ash!”

The girl jumped up, but Harry stopped her and made her lie down again. “Don’t. You get rest, I’ll go talk to him.”

His eyes flared. She decided it would not be too wise to argue, so she obeyed his order and let him run upstairs, though the calling still urged her to follow the voice.

Harry reached the bedroom and closed the door behind him firmly.

“Shut up!” he barked.

“Harry… What are you doing here? Where’s Ash?”

“Downstairs getting some rest. The fact that she’s healthy doesn’t mean you can drain strength out of her like this.”

Colin shook his head. “She left, didn’t she? She’d come if she was here.”

“No, she wouldn’t, ’cause I told her not to.” Harry’s nerves were snapping. “Now, listen to me you bloody idiot,” he hissed, “one more time I hear you bothered Ash again with your nightmares, I’ll have you for dinner, and make no mistake about that!”

Colin stared at him.

“Oh God,” an idea dawned upon him, “it was her you were talking about, wasn’t it? She was the girl you met in the pub last July.”

Harry sighed.

“Harry,” Colin urged.

“Yeah,” he confirmed at last. “Yeah, it was her I was talking about.”

“God, you must really hate me.”

“No, I don’t,” Harry assured him quietly. “It’s not your fault.”

“But… what now?”

“Colin, nothing’s changed for you. Except now you know that if you harm her in any way, you can expect someone to get angry. I’ll figure a way out of it one day, you don’t have to worry. And don’t tell her. Never tell her.”

“Harry, even I noticed what you felt. How do you expect her not to know?” Colin pointed out.

“She can’t enter my mind unless I let her,” Harry shrugged. “What’s with the nightmares, anyway?” he changed the subject and sat down beside Colin.

“Search me. I’d say it’s how I react to the shock of no longer being a werewolf, but I’m no doctor, so I can’t tell for sure. But they’re all about loss and fear, and they’re the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. I’m really sorry Ash has to go through it all with me, but I can barely help it… I’ll try to be more careful, I promise, but I can do no more, Harry.”

“And I promise you I’ll be there for her. But my strength is draining away as well, Colin. Do you realise what that means?”

“Yeah, I think I do,” he nodded.

“Good. Now take a book or whatever, and let her sleep for a few hours, ok? I have to go.”

He stood up, gave Colin a nod of goodbye and left him to his thoughts. Colin grabbed a book as advised, but found it hard to concentrate on its contents for a long while. The news of his best friend being in love with his girlfriend was overwhelming. He managed to get a grip of himself, though, within the next half an hour, and once again the book became intriguing.

After two hours he began to feel a bit restless again, so he plucked up the courage to go downstairs to investigate the situation. Ash was asleep on the sofa; he carefully collapsed into the armchair, feeling dangerously exhausted from the short trip. He sat there for a couple of minutes, studying her peaceful face. Then he risked a further venture to the kitchen and made himself a cup of tea. He drank it slowly, but even by the time he had finished it, Ash had not woken up yet, so he got up once more, walked to the living room and sat on the carpet beside her.

The detailed view of her face confirmed what Harry had suggested – a point of breakdown; it was pale, with bags under her eyes.

“Oh God, I’m such an idiot,” he whispered.

“Yes, you are,” came an answer. “Why aren’t you in bed?”

“Ash… don’t,” he shook his head. “I’m fine.”

“If you say so,” she shrugged.

“I say so,” he insisted. “I’ve been here for about an hour all on my own and nothing happened to me. And you’ve been crying.”

“No, I haven’t,” she lied readily.

“Yes, you have.”

“Ok, so what?”

“So it’s exactly as I said: I’m an idiot. I’m a stupid selfish idiot. Because I made you cry those tears, and I didn’t care, I didn’t want to see. Ash, I’m so sorry…”

“That’s ok,” she whispered.

He shook his head. “Not yet. But I’ll make it up to you one day. I promise.”

 

Colin did make it up to her, which was made even easier for him after Christmas – the first non-werewolf full moon of his life. The nightmares finally subsided around that time; Colin guessed the reason was that his body had eventually made peace with its new totally‑human state. With her boyfriend more relaxed, Ash started smiling more herself, and things seemed to be heading towards perfection.

They had spent the Christmas partly in the privacy of Ashley’s house and partly with Alan, Eve, their tiny twins David and Daisy, Jim and Harry (Mark spent the holidays with his family), but they all met to celebrate New Year’s Eve together.

New Year’s Day was unfair enough to make Colin and Ash wake up quite early in the morning, upon which they decided to cheat the fate and lazy away a couple more hours. They spent most of the time in a pleasant conversation, until words just died away, as they often did in their case – they just loved cherishing the silence. Thus they lay in each other’s arms, following their private streams of thoughts, for about half an hour, before Ash suddenly sat up, gave her boyfriend a thoughtful look and said:

“Let’s get married.”

Colin looked at her in astonishment. “What?”

“Let’s get married,” she repeated.

“How… why… I mean… I didn’t see that coming…” he managed.

“Well, I did. I should have married you the first day I met you, Colin. If it was only possible I wouldn’t wait one day longer.”

“Well, I suppose you will have to,” Colin guessed.

“Oh. Is this one of those moments when I think we want the same thing, but in fact we don’t?”

“No, I only meant it probably takes time to arrange a wedding…” he suggested.

“Well, let’s find out then, shall we?”

 

When Colin overcame the initial shock, he became more and more excited about the idea. He and Ash talked about the wedding most of the rest of the day, taking care of every detail they could think of. They read through all instructions on the General Register Office website, decided to call them the next day and ask if they could be married on 19th January at Merchiston Castle School (not that they did not find the prospect of getting married at boys’ boarding school weird, to say the least, but it was in Colinton and promised a nice civil wedding service). Ash chose her potential dress online, too, but sent an e-mail to the designer to make an appointment later that week.

When they walked to the bus stop in the evening, they had already ordered the rings, asked Thea (the family graphic designer) to make them invitation cards, pre-arranged the bureaucracy and had a pretty good idea about most of the other aspects of the wedding. They had also informed Ashley’s family and summoned an SMPDM meeting in the pub, which was where they were heading now.

 

“So, what’s the news?”

They were all sitting at the bar, curious about the reason they had been called here, but it was Alan who eventually broke the ice with the question.

“We’re getting married,” Colin announced simply, beaming at the other members of the band.

SMPDM immediately showered the happy couple with best wishes and congratulations. The news naturally spread throughout the pub at the speed of light, and Colin and Ash were soon so overwhelmed with questions they did not know which one to answer first.

When the conversation finally got calmer, and the seven of them were sitting together at the bar, discussing the reception with Ernie and Becca (if the reception was held there, the witches would have to lift the charm preventing the totally-human beings from entering the pub), Harry got up and quietly asked Ash for a private word with her upstairs.

She nodded and followed him to the studio.

“What the hell does this mean?” he demanded, starting the conversation rather harshly. “Ash, he’s dying! You said he had two or three months, and that was in October!”

“I remember that clearly, Harry, thanks.”

“So?”

“So what?”

“Why are you doing this? I know it was your idea, he’d never want to rush it like this.”

“So clever, Harry… How come you figure out this, but can’t figure out the reasons?”

“The only reason I can think of is that you’re crazy.”

“Yeah, you would. Never occurred to you I’m so selfish I can manipulate people into doing things for me, has it? It’s that simple, nothing more to it. I want to be his wife when he dies, Harry. Try to look at it from my point of view. When you update your site one day and say Colin’s dead, you might mention me, a mourning girlfriend. I’d be seen as one of the crowd, nobody would grant me a greater right to mourn him just because we shared a bed. I need to have the status of someone you can’t overlook or forget, do you understand that? I want people to know!”

Her last words were accompanied by tears and sobs. She sat down on the sofa heavily and covered her face with her hands. “I want everyone to know I belong to him… Forever…”

Harry sat down beside her and put his arm round her shoulders. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“I don’t want him to die,” she sobbed on, her strength finally breaking, as if washed away by the tears smearing her face. “I can’t live without him anymore, I can’t imagine the world without him, Harry. I don’t know what to do… Sometimes I think there just has to be a way to avoid it, but there isn’t… And it scares me to death. I’m scared I won’t be able to go on… I can barely go on even now…”

Harry took her hand in his. “I’ll always be here for you, Ash. We will all be. Always.”

“But he won’t…”

“Maybe he won’t die,” a thought suddenly crossed his mind.

“I can feel it!” she cried out reproachfully.

Taking a few deep breaths to calm down again, she repeated, more quietly now: “I can feel it, Harry. There’s nothing we can do. Nothing.”

“You can have your happy day,” he reminded her.

“Exactly. Does that answer your question?”

“More than sufficiently. Come on, you should wash your face now and come downstairs again, they’ll be waiting for us. I’ll try to come up with a cover story.”

“All right,” she agreed and left for the bathroom.

 

The wedding took place an hour before noon on the day and at the place Colin and Ash had wished for. In the morning, Ash was transformed into a pretty bride with the help of Eve, who had been a hairdresser before she took the maternity leave. Ash had decided to indulge herself and bought her wedding gown from Natalia Misslin: a simple white silk dress with a hand-painted red rose along the straight neckline. To match the dress, she decided to have her bouquet made of red roses and thus met her future husband in the Old Library, a gentle song by a Swedish band One More Time accompanying hers and her father’s steps towards him. She looked like a breath of summer at the dead of winter, as Colin whispered to her later, after he had just kissed her for the first time as her lawful husband.

When the ceremony and official picture taking was over, the party left for the pub to continue with the usual festivities, which lasted till late hours. Colin and Ash had excused themselves and gone home at about eight, since they planned to get up early in the morning and go for a short honeymoon in the vicinity ofFortWilliam. They declared this to be just a minute holiday, to satisfy the cultural and social expectation of following the tradition, while the proper honeymoon would be done later, when Colin’s health would allow it. Ash was angry at the whole world for having been forced into this make-believe, but there was nothing else she could do.

Colin fell asleep on the train, while Ash sat next to him, gently holding his hand and talking to someone she doubted was even listening.

“He’s mine,” she whispered. “You even gave him to me, you let me marry him, you shouldn’t be able to meddle in his life anymore, he should only be my concern… And I’d take better care of him than you would ever even be willing to. He’s mine, he’s just mine… You have to let me take him away from you…”

Ash was used to talking to everyone and everything, people, plants, animals and even imaginary people, but there was a difference in talking to someone she knew not to exist and someone she did not believe to exist. The latter one was somehow much more absurd. And she did not, strictly speaking, believe in God. Still, she occasionally addressed him, mostly when she felt the need to question his way of ruling the world, which was this case, too.

The next time she talked to him was on top of a hill she climbed one evening. Colin had decided to stay inside with a book, but she needed a walk, and desperately needed a private conversation with the supposed maker.

It was getting dark quickly, as if the night was being brought to her by the wind that was licking her cheeks and fingering through her hair. She held on to the thought of Colin down in the warm common room by the fireplace, as if that was her only certainty in this hopeless evening which would soon become her future. She still had him. But He wanted him too much to allow her to keep him, the only reason she was alive… There was another choice, though…

“Take me!” she cried out. “If you have to have someone, let it be me!”

There was menace in the silence that ensued.

“Take me!” she yelled again, and the darkness seemed to suddenly grow so dense it scared her. She looked around, but there were just the walls of blackness closing in on her, blackness that could be concealing anything…

She ran.

 

At the foot of the hill she reached the asphalt road, and a moment later she saw something white shining through the night’s dark armour. Relieved, she ran towards it and fell in the arms of her husband, who had come out to look for her.

“Whoa, princess, calm down, it’s all right,” he tried to soothe her, taken by surprise.

“I know. I know,” she breathed out. “I’m just glad to see you again. What are you doing out here, though?”

“It was getting dark, I was worried about you.”

“You shouldn’t be,” she shook her head. “Come on, let’s go get warm,” she suggested then and he nodded.

She never left his side for the rest of their journey.

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