The River

Part Twelve: Oblivion

Ash sat on the bed in Joe’s guestroom, preparing a fix. Joe watched her, relearning the technique. It had been a long time since he had seen this procedure, he remembered it, but it was hazy. He remembered where he had learned it first. Vietnam. A good friend who fell into the habit to hide from the nightmare of the war, a friend who didn’t make it back, a friend whose hands sometimes shook so badly he needed help to get the needle in, and Joe had been the one to help him. Joe hadn’t agreed with the drug use, had never used it himself, but he had understood the need for the buffering effect, as he did now.

After they left the warehouse, Ash had been silent, they had gone to the barge and dropped off the supplies, and the groceries Ash had bought. Methos was still asleep, still deep in a comforting oblivion. Ash had checked him, then Duncan, and unloaded everything herself, quietly efficient.  Then she had turned to Joe and surprised him by asking,  “Can I stay at your place for tonight?”

“Sure, anytime.”

He had known what she meant, she needed some rest, some time away from whatever was troubling her, and Joe had known how she would get that rest. He watched her cooking up the dose, thinking ‘The heroin must be weak, she put in so much.’ She tied off her arm and injected the solution, pulled off the tourniquet, and suddenly started to cough, falling back on the bed.

Ash looked up at Joe, and said between coughs, “Don’t worry, Joe, I always come back.” Then she shuddered and stopped breathing.

It was then that Joe knew she had deliberately overdosed. He had to reach over and pull the needle out of her arm, the tiny puncture did not heal, a thin trail of blood leaked from it. Joe had to lift her legs up onto the bed and take off her shoes. He thought of removing her sheathed swords, but was afraid that she would panic if she woke and found them gone so he left them strapped to her back. He covered her, thinking, ‘It’s not going to matter, she’s not going to feel cold, not until she comes back,’ but he couldn’t leave her laying there without a blanket. Joe left the room closing the door behind him.

Joe had opened the club, and it wasn’t until after closing that he had the chance to check on Ash. He knocked on the door, there was a sound from inside, a soft whimper, and Joe went in, knowing she was back, alive again.

Ash was on the floor, cowering in the corner. She didn’t see Joe; she was seeing a black uniform, shining black boots, hands that knew how to inflict agony. And ecstasy. That was the worst of it, when her own body betrayed her, when the loathed, revolting touch caused such pleasure she wanted to die, and he would let her die, knowing she would come back, over and over. He was exceptionally creative. He practiced new tortures on her, new ways of causing pain, physical and otherwise. She had endured the torments of hell and could never escape him. Not even now he was dead. She was rocking back and forth, whimpering, shaking, the fingers of her left hand clawing at the inside of her right forearm, tearing at the skin, clawing so rapidly the healing could not catch up, and the blood was flowing in the midst of the blue flashes.

Joe leaned heavily on his cane and reached down. Ash didn’t flinch away, it was as if she didn’t see him at all, she wasn’t in this place, but some other, locked in horror. Joe had seen this before. ‘Hell Joe, be honest, you’ve been there, waking up in the V.A. hospital, almost screaming, not knowing whether you were there or still in Nam, laying with your legs blown off, bleeding to death. What hell is she in?  Can she find the way back out?’ He managed to grasp her wrist and stopped her from ripping her arm open. Ash simply ceased, not acknowledging Joe’s presence. Joe straightened up, pulling Ash with him. Ash stood, though she still was not really here, and Joe got her to sit on the bed. As soon as he let go of her hand, it went back to her arm and began clawing again.

‘She needs to be sedated,’ Joe thought, and then realized that sedation was sitting on the bedside table. He remembered how to do it, just from watching her. The bent spoon, the water, the flame, Joe sat next to her, and prepared the needle, then pulled her hand away, held her arm as he tied it off, and shot the heroin into her veins. It was a minute before Ash relaxed, and Joe got her to lie down. Her eyes closed, then opened and were focused; she was present, again.

“Joe? What happened?” Ash felt herself floating, she was confused, she should be straight, the drug would have worn off before she revived.

“You were hurting yourself, you didn’t seem to know where you were, I…” Joe hesitated, not sure of her reaction.

“You gave me a fix.”

“Yes, I didn’t know what else to do.” He was apologetic.

Ash looked at her left hand, the blood and skin under her fingernails telling her the tale. “I’m sorry, Joe, I haven’t done that in a long time. You did the right thing, I can deal with it now.”

“Deal with what, Ash?”

“The memories.”

“Memories of what?”

“Please don’t make me remember, I can’t bear to remember!” The pleading tone in her voice was pathetic.

“If you could remember and talk about them, it would help.” Joe sounded gently certain.

“Maybe, I don’t know. I don’t think I can.” She was still confused or she would have said no immediately, she didn’t want to talk; she only wanted to forget. But there was a tiny voice inside her that said Joe was right, that if she could talk, it might help. “Maybe I could talk, if it’s like now, while I’m floating, maybe I would be able to. I can’t straight, it hurts too much.” Ash was drifting down, the soft warm dark was there and she was slipping into it, but Joe’s voice kept calling her back, softly rasping, gently asking.

“What made you hide in the corner?”

“It doesn’t matter, he’s dead. Duncan killed him.”

“What was his name?”

Ash jerked, then relaxed, her mind was detached and she found she could think of the name, the name that didn’t matter, because it wasn’t real anymore, nothing was real anymore, but she couldn’t say it, not yet, the memory was too close, the terror was still there, and the echo of agony.

“No, please, not that, not now.”

“What did he do to you?” The pain was audible in Joe’s voice, he was thinking, ‘What torment has she been through, what could have left her this damaged?’

Ash surprised Joe by laughing, then she said, “What didn’t he do, it’s a shorter list.” She began to shift position, her hands went up under the front of her sweater, she was tugging at the straps of the sheaths, undoing them, trying to remove the falcatas from her back.

“Roll over,” Joe’s voice was soft, he waited for her to do as he asked and when she did, he reached under her sweater and managed to get the swords loose. He set them on the floor next to the bed.

“Thank you, that’s better.” Ash turned onto her side, facing Joe. She was drifting on a dark sea, almost under.

“Ash, let me help you, I know I can help you.” He had been lucky, in the V.A. hospital there had been a doctor who had helped him, who had gently probed, then listened while he talked out the pain, the shock, until it lessened and finally was accepted. He had adjusted, but Ash hadn’t, whatever had happened to her was still tormenting her. She hid from it in drugs, but it never really left her. It never would, not until she dragged it into the light, looked at it clearly, and faced it.

“No one can help me.” Ash’s voice was a breathy whisper, she was going away, the dark sea was taking her, and Joe’s softly rough voice the last bond holding her.

“Let me try.”

It was the last thing she heard as the darkness closed over her.


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