Part Fourteen: Old Pain
Joe sat, so stunned he couldn’t move. It all fell into place. Birkenau. It answered both questions. Where are you? Birkenau. Who pounds on the doors? The victims of Nazi racial policy, the Jews, the Gypsies, all those the Nazis felt had no right to live. Birkenau, where the trains pulled in, where the selection was made, who would live, who would die, where the prisoners were forced to do the killing, and the cleaning up after the killing. Birkenau, the name of the location of the gas chambers, on the outer edge of a place with a much more infamous name, Auschwitz, of the two million dead. ‘Oh dear God, what hideous things was she made to do, how long was she there, forced to work at the gas chambers, forced to listen while the fists pounded on the doors until the gas killed them? No wonder she is such a psychological wreck.’
Joe tried to put it together. Birkenau, then where? The man whose memory had her cowering on the floor, the man who tortured her, who was that? She had said that Duncan killed him. Joe could check, but she hadn’t said when Mac had killed him, it could have been any time between then and now, and when was then? Before Birkenau or after? Then the fifty years as a Buddhist nun, at the monastery at Kopan, above Katmandu, in the late sixties. Joe smiled wistfully at the memory of her laughter, he had heard her laugh twice, and it had filled his heart. He hoped to hear her laugh again.
Joe noticed the blanket that had fallen around his legs. He picked it up, stood, and covered Ash with it. At least he was now sure of what was wrong with her. Post traumatic stress disorder, the insomnia, the flashbacks, the self-medication, it all fit, and now he knew the cause. He sat on the bed and checked her carefully, not sure whether she was just under from the heroin or whether she had withdrawn into herself. He touched her face, fingertips caressing her cheek, and was reassured, Ash shifted, lifting her face, responding to his touch, rubbing her cheek into his palm, and she smiled slightly. ‘Yes, you can trust me,’ he thought, ‘I would never hurt you.’ Then he realized that was wrong, he would hurt her, dredging up the memories, the pain was inevitable, but necessary. All he could do was be as gentle as he could, letting the drug numb her mind to the pain.
Joe wanted to lie down next to her, to hold her, as if that could protect her from her memories, but it was impossible, on both levels. He couldn’t stop the memories, and he didn’t dare to lay down with her, he couldn’t presume that she would want it, but he ached to hold her, to feel her breathing in his arms, to try to keep her nightmares away with his embrace. He shook his head at his own foolishness, stood up and turned to leave. He was tired, exhausted in fact, and needed to go to bed, alone. He closed the door behind him.
Ash felt him touch her, then heard him leave and knew she was alone, again. She curled tighter into herself, feeling somehow more vulnerable, more exposed without Joe near. She wished he would stay, hold her, but how could he, she was marked, scarred, made hideous by her past, her actions, her experience. How could anyone as normal as Joe want her, sick, twisted, wounded as he knew she was? It was always not her time, not her place, not her love. She had tried so hard not to want love, but it came back, the pathetic longing to mean something to someone, to matter, to have someone care. ‘Stop it, it’s all illusion, not real,’ she told herself. But it felt real, the need for love, the longing for contact, for a connection to someone who loved her. It was her fault, she was not lovable, how could she ever be worthy of love after what she had done? Ash gave up, and fell into the darkness.
Hours later she awoke to the light, looking around her at the empty room, feeling desolate as always. She got up, wrapped the blanket around her, and walked into the hall, barefoot, hair tousled, coming down fast. The crash was a bad one, she felt bruised all over, hurting in a dozen places, and so cold. It was always this way, but this time was more intense than usual.
Ash stood in the kitchen, wondering what she was there for, then decided coffee was a good idea. She looked in the cabinets, found the coffee and loaded the coffeemaker, then sat at the table, her head in her hands. The scent of the coffee permeated the air, and Ash wondered if she had actually said it out loud, or rather whispered it out loud, the name of the place she tried so hard to forget, the place where her nightmares began. Birkenau, a hell on earth, a hell she had not survived, not really. A part of her had died there, and even more after, when she had been the captive of S.S. Sturmbannfuhrer Johann von Kaltenberg. Kaltenberg the sadistic torturer, the expert interrogator, commander of a Totenkopfverbande unit of executioners. He had killed what was left of her soul; she would have been better off if he had killed her body with it.
The coffee was ready, Ash poured a cup and added a lot of sugar. Her body was craving sugar, another part of the withdrawal. It happened this way when she stopped using, she went through a rapid cold turkey, shivering, aching, nauseated. The hot coffee would help, the warmth, the sugar easing some of the symptoms. She wished she were dead. She had wanted to die for so long, there was no point in going on, no love, no peace, no place to rest, just the endless, empty future.
“I thought I smelled coffee.”
Joe’s voice startled her so much she spilled coffee on her hands, the flash of pain sudden, then gone. Ash looked up, too far, Joe was in his wheelchair, the stumps of his legs visible, covered in cut off pajamas. She had known that at least one of his legs was a prosthetic, but hadn’t known the extent of the amputations, both above the knee, one almost halfway up his thigh. ‘How did that happen to you,’ she wondered. ‘Is that why you understand me? We are both so terribly wounded, only mine don’t show.’
Joe pushed himself over to the table, now she knew why there were only three chairs; the empty space was for the wheelchair.
“Pour me a cup while you’re there.”
Ash took another cup from the low shelf, poured it almost full, and crossed to the table, setting it down in front of Joe, then she sat down opposite him, with her own cup. She looked into his eyes, and knew the answer to one question, she had said it out loud, she could see it in his eyes, the compassion, the pity. She deserved no pity.
“How long were you in Birkenau?” He said it quietly; he was watching her carefully, not knowing what her reaction would be.
Ash closed her eyes, and answered, “Almost a year.”
‘Oh sweet Jesus,’ Joe thought, ‘how did she survive that long?’ He said softly, “You worked in the gas chambers.” It was not a question.
“Yes.” She wouldn’t look at him; she couldn’t bear the compassion she knew was still in his eyes. “Do you know how many thousands I killed?” Her voice sounded so cold, and so tired.
“Ash, it wasn’t your fault, you were forced to do what you did.” The kindness was clear in his voice, in his words.
Where had she heard those words before? She didn’t believe them then, why should she believe them now? She stood up abruptly. “I have to go.” She started out of the room, but Joe caught her hand as she passed him and stopped her.
“You’ll come back?” The question had to be asked, he was afraid he’d driven her away.
“Yes.” She asked herself, ‘Why did you say that? You should never come back here, what is the point?’ But she wanted to come back, wanted to talk, wanted to feel his kindness, however little she deserved it.
Joe let go of her and she walked out, back to the guestroom, strapped on her swords, put on her shoes, packed her heroin and needle. She walked down the stairs and out through the club, back to the river and the pain there.
Ash walked down the few steps into the barge. She knelt down and checked Duncan. He was thawing slowly, his arms were relaxing, his hands were flexible, his face was softer, though his expression was still the same, still heartbreaking. Methos was just as heartbreaking, hiding in sleep, his face as still as Duncan’s, his expression eerily similar, peace and grief combined.
Ash was hung over, too much heroin, she was tired, there was no reason not to lie down and sleep for a while, if she could. She stripped off her sweater and dark pants, unstrapped the falcatas from her back, and lay down on her side, under the covers next to Methos. After a few minutes Methos seemed to sense her, even in his sleep, and he moved, rolled over, fitting his body to hers, curved around her back, his arm around her. Ash felt his arousal, pressing against her, and Methos felt it too, he was moving his hips, rubbing against her, blindly trying to find a way into the heat between her legs. She helped him, shifting until he slipped into her. Methos moaned and kept rocking his hips, still deep in the hypnotic sleep.
Ash felt the pleasure running along her nerves, the fire he could stoke in her, until she glowed with white heat at his touch. He was thrusting now, hard, and his moans were taking on a definite form, growing clearer, until Ash could understand what he was crying out, softly, in his sleep. He was whimpering, “Oh, please, Duncan, please, I love you Duncan, come with me Duncan,” his voice breathless, his thrusts growing faster, harder, more intense, his orgasm so close, and then it was there, he was coming, moaning the name of the one he loved, body, heart, and soul, “Duncan.” Ash heard this shuddering cry and came with him, ecstasy fused with grief, now knowing the depth of his love for Duncan, and that she was alone, again.
“It won’t happen again, Methos, I won’t let it, we won’t tear him apart between us, I promise you.” She whispered this quietly, but it reached him, Methos’ face contorted in remembered anguish, then he turned his head on the pillow, and tucked it down, pressing his face against her back, and she could feel him shaking, crying in his sleep so hard he woke. She turned to him, held him, whispering, “It won’t happen again, ‘Thos, it’s all right. I love you, Duncan loves you.”
Methos murmured, “I’m sorry, Ash, I’m sorry, I never meant to hurt him.” She quieted him, using her voice, he slipped back down into deep sleep, and Ash was left wondering, ‘Which him did you mean, Methos, Duncan or Aren?’
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