The River

Part Five: Ash

Ash couldn’t sleep. Duncan. Methos. Leave it to the great irony of life that the only two Immortals she had ever loved should end up lovers. She wondered what had gone wrong between them, why Methos had left, why Duncan wanted to die. She understood that desire for death, she knew it intimately, but all other thoughts were finally driven out by the one she was trying so hard to evade. She paced in her cheap hotel room, fighting a war with herself. ‘Please, I can’t sleep, I’m so tired, and it’s been more than two months since I used anything. I need to sleep, I’ll be careful, only a little, only enough to let me rest.’ The begging voice in her head won.

She dug into her pack, pulled out a small carved wooden box, and set out the candle, cotton, bent spoon, tourniquet, and needle on the nightstand. Last was the bag of china white, bought in Amsterdam three months ago and hardly touched. She wasn’t a junkie, she never allowed herself to become physically dependent, but she couldn’t quit. She told herself it was because of the insomnia, it was only so she could sleep, but she knew she was lying to herself. She sat on the bed, lit the candle, and poured a small amount of water in the spoon, adding a tiny amount of the white powder, holding it in the flame until it bubbled and dissolved. She blew out the candle, dropped a small ball of cotton into the solution and sucked the fluid up into the syringe through the cotton. Tying off her arm with the tourniquet, she made a fist, the veins swelled, she thought ‘never any tracks, no scarred veins, just that tiny blue flash of healing at the puncture.’ Ash slid the needle into her arm, feeling the pop as it pierced the vein wall. She drew back on the plunger; blood flowed into the milky solution in the syringe turning it pink. She pushed down on the plunger slowly, injecting only half of the contents, judging the strength of the heroin, not wanting to do so much she wouldn’t wake up on time. Ash tugged off the tourniquet and waited for the rush. It hit, not too strong, and she pushed the rest of the dose, put the needle on the nightstand and lay back. Then the real rush hit, maybe a little too hard, a little too much, flowing over her like a soft summer night

She had been good. She hadn’t touched the stuff since finding Duncan, she had been on watch, guarding him from the others, she hadn’t allowed any impairment of her senses or her ability to fight. She’d been in Paris, hunting, always hunting. Sensing the presence of another Immortal she’d carefully checked the street around her. She’d been out late, prowling, unable to sleep, reluctant to resort to drugs until it became unbearable. She’d realized that the signal was familiar and that it came from the stumbling drunk in front of her. Ash had crossed the street, got ahead of him, and ducked into a doorway. The drunk staggered into the light and she saw his face; it hit like a punch to the solar plexus. She’d been shocked to find Duncan like that, had thought it must be an aberration, perhaps a celebration, but who would have left him alone, defenseless, easy prey for any headhunter?

She’d followed him, all the way to a barge on the river near Notre Dame. She’d continued to follow him for days, discovering her worst fears were true; he was alone and drinking far too much. Ash had thought about approaching him, making contact, but how could she help? What did she have to give?

‘Duncan, how can I help you when I can’t help myself?’ was her last thought as she drifted down into the soft dark.

Methos was staring at the ceiling of Joe’s guestroom, thoughts running through his mind like frenzied ants. ‘How to get MacLeod down from the mountain, how to help him, why did he do this? How will he react to me, I left him, I never even told him why, he should know why, maybe he doesn’t remember, he was drunk, he wasn’t that drunk, he knew what he did to me. And what did it do to him? Is this how he punished himself? Oh, Duncan, how did it all get so twisted up, all the love I have for you? All the love you have for me? But does he?’ Methos heard “I could never love you” in Duncan’s cold voice, echoing again in his head, tormenting him, making him doubt.

He tried every technique he had learned in five thousand years, but he couldn’t sleep. He got out of bed, thought about going down to the bar, getting a bottle of something with a high alcohol content, and drinking until he passed out. He threw on a robe with that intention, but didn’t get further than the hallway.

Joe called to him from the living room. “I see you can’t sleep either, you might as well join me.” He was in his wheelchair, also wearing a robe, a glass of whiskey in his hand. “If Kentucky bourbon isn’t good enough for you, you’ll have to go down to the bar for something else, that’s all I have here.”

“Right now it sounds just fine.” Methos sat on the couch while Joe poured him a sizeable amount of bourbon and handed it to him. They both drank. “If this is a wake for MacLeod, we should be drinking Scotch, not bourbon.”

“It’s not a wake, Mac’s not really dead,” Joe said gruffly. He finished his drink and put the glass down on the table beside him.

“What happened after I left?” The pain was audible in Methos’ voice.

Joe looked down and said, “Mac stayed drunk. He’d come to the club night after night and drink himself senseless. I was afraid to stop him. I could at least look out for him if he was here; I thought if I tried to stop him he’d just go somewhere else and drink. I’d decided to hell with the Watcher’s oath, I would have shot and disposed of any Immortal who came after him, but I couldn’t watch him all the time, and putting another Watcher on him would have been useless, all they would have done was report his death to me. I wish I’d known Ash was guarding him; I would have worried a lot less. The only Immortal that came after MacLeod came in while she was here, and she took care of him. I’ve never seen anything so brutal as the way she fights.” Joe looked at Methos, his eyes full of unanswered questions.

Methos saw this and sighed. “All right, Joe, but I reserve the right to refuse to answer any questions I don’t want to, and not to give a reason why I don’t want to, there are some things I’m not up to discussing right now,” Methos reached for the bottle, poured his glass almost full, and took a deep drink. “Go ahead, ask.”

‘Keep it simple,’ Joe thought. “How old is Ash?”

“Almost two thousand years, she died in A.D. Sixty-eight, she was about twenty-four at the time.” Methos seemed to be looking into the past, his eyes shadowed.

“You knew her then?”

“Yes, I was her teacher.” Methos sighed and drank again. The whiskey was hitting him hard; he hadn’t been able to make himself eat anything all day, and he was getting drunk far more rapidly than he realized.

“You taught her the sword?” Joe sounded doubtful; her technique was nothing like Methos’ style of fighting.

“No, I taught her the Game, she already knew the sword, or falcatas, to be precise.” Methos laughed inwardly at the thought of him teaching Ash the sword.

“Is that where she came by all those scars on her arms?” ‘Why am I so fascinated by her scars?’ Joe asked himself. He had no answer.

‘All but one,’ Methos thought, but that was one of the things he didn’t want to talk about. His mind turned away from it. “Ash was trained as a killer from the age of twelve, when she killed her first man. She had a tough trainer, his philosophy was, ‘Every scar is a lesson learned forever’. He made her practice without manicas, that’s armor worn all the way from the shoulder to the hand, it’s the only defense of a dimachaerus.” Methos refilled his now-empty glass and drank again.

“What the hell is a dimachaerus?” Joe recognized it as Latin, but didn’t know the meaning.

“A dimachaerus is a gladiator that fights with two swords, that’s why the manicas are their only defense, they can’t use a shield. Ash was a gladiator. Nero was fond of female gladiators and Ash was the best, she didn’t fight women, there weren’t any good enough to fight her, she only fought men.” Methos’ thoughts were meandering; the bourbon was really taking hold.

Joe was stunned. A gladiator! Well, it explained her brutal fighting style. “I’ll bet they loved her in the Colisseum,” he said.

“It was the Circus Maximus, the Colisseum hadn’t been built yet.” Methos corrected him.

Joe laughed. “Thank you for the history lesson.”

They sat quietly for a while, Methos drifted away for a moment, remembering the only time he ever saw her fight there, and pushed the memory away, hard.

Then Joe asked a question that was really bothering him. “How can she be two thousand years old and not be in the Chronicles, not once?”

“Ash is like a ghost. She stays away from other Immortals, most of those she comes across she kills. Her Quickening is strange, weak, hardly more than a pre-Immortal, this causes other Immortals to think she’s a newborn Immortal and underestimate her. She can get very close before you even sense her. She’s a hunter. She’s one of the deadliest Immortals I have ever known. You’ve seen her fight, how long did her opponent last?”

“Less than a minute, and there are three others who were beheaded with her two blade technique in the last year.” ‘She is damn good,’ Joe thought. ‘She’d have to be, to live that long.’

“That sounds like her.” Methos was now clearly drunk, his speech slurred, his guard down. “She shows no mercy, not even if she loves you. Especially not if she loves you. She comes to you, pulls you out of a self-made hell, puts you together, lets you taste the sweetness of her, then leaves you and you’re always hungry for that sweetness.” Methos shook his head and tried to focus. “I’m sorry, Joe, no more questions. I think I can sleep now. I’d better go back to bed while I can still walk.” He stumbled out of the room, leaving Joe alone.

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