Chapter Eleven: Theirs

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Bernie had come over almost immediately, looking straight from the 1940s with a leather doctor's satchel and glasses that were erring more on the side of jam jar bottoms rather than prescription lenses. A toothpick hung from his lips as he tended to Ash's face. He was tutting and gurning as the wound refused to close, even with temporary sutures now plastered across it. Ash winced as Bernie continued to dab with cotton wool.

"I don't get it," he mumbled, continuing to carefully press the wound. "Are you feeling faint, Ash? You must tell me if you feel faint. Keep talking to me."

"I'm fine," Ash answered. The scar didn't hurt anymore, but that was perhaps more unnerving as it continued to seep blood. Molly was tense as a stiff board, standing just to Bernie's side in the bathroom, one arm pressed across her chest, the other at her mouth, chewing on a nail.

"I have to go back to that event," Ash said to no one in particular.

"You will go nowhere right now, not until I've stopped this bleeding." Bernie meant business, and his voice was stretched beyond his usual demeanour. In fact, he sounded almost the same as he did before Ash's fatal crash, the one that gave him Maddie. His head had been silent since she'd disappeared in his bedroom, and it was uncomfortably quiet in there, aside from the annoying buzz of tinnitus since his college days.

"Why won't it staunch?" Bernie said before he wrapped a fresh bandage around his face, with wads of fresh gauze, in a sort of final stand off with the flowing blood. Finally, it began to clot on the clean fabric, and Bernie sighed in relief.

"When did this start? Ash?" Bernie gripped his shoulders lightly but firmly, trying to catch Ash's wandering gaze.

"Black blood, I wonder what she meant?" he mused to himself. Bernie quirked a brow and chewed the toothpick. Molly stayed silent.

"Ash, I think we need to get you to the hospital. The bleeding's stopped but I would feel much more comfortable if we got you a new MRI scan and get you among a team of doctors -"

"No," Ash said, "no I can't do that, I know what will stop the bleeding. I need the van and my bike."

"Ash, you're not making sense! You're not well. I've got a horrible feeling the scan may have missed something and we need to get you checked out."

"Listen to him, Ash," whispered Molly finally, "he's your doctor."

Ash tried to pull himself up, but was stopped by the older man who kept a firm grip on his shoulders. "Gauze won't stop the bleeding, at least I'm pretty sure it won't. I have to talk to her again. I have to confirm something."

"Who? Ash you're not making sense. Please, I'm calling the hospital now. I knew you returning to work this early was always going to be a problem. Derek's got a lot to answer for."

"You have to let me go, Bernie." Ash's eyes began to gleam with a deep darkness, "I'll call Derek and have him drive me if you won't let me leave."

Bernie shook his head. "Out of the question. I'm taking you to the hospital."

Maddie spoke from within him, he tasted her on his tongue as she manipulated his mouth to say what she wanted to say "You will let him leave." His voice, her words. He let her speak, relishing the feel of her coursing through his body. Their body.

Bernie sat back, but didn't let go of Ash. Worry etched onto his features as he regarded Ash, who glared at him impassively.

"You heard her," he whispered, and curled his fingers around Bernie's gnarled ones that still held his shoulder fast. "I must open the rift to save him, before they find me and kill him."

"Ash! Listen to me! You have to get to a hospital! This behaviour is not right!"

"I'm sorry, old man." Ash's hand that held Bernie's began to glow and the skin bubbled and popped in the heat that surrounded it. Bernie's mouth scowled and noise tried to escape his mouth as his hand was scorched. The smell of burning flesh ripped through the bathroom and Bernie almost jumped back to the opposite wall, clutching his wrist as his hand smoked and sizzled.

"Ash...?" Molly's voice was quiet and terrified. She took a step back into the threshold, watching the scene unfold. Ash stood, looking beyond her, there was an unknown essence sparking within his eyes.

"Who are you?" she demanded, grabbing his shoulders. "This isn't your body."

"Let us go."

"No!" She gripped tighter, her breath quickening as he turned his gaze to her. "Ash," she whispered.

"I'm still here, Molly. But we need to go." Finally there was a familiarity as he looked at her. His eyes were churning with a cocktail of emotions that she could see written all over his face. Tears pricked at the corner of her eyes and she sniffed hard, nodding. She slid to the floor beside the groaning Bernie, not taking her eyes off him as he left, barely making a noise, almost gliding across the floor like a ghost as he shut the door behind him.

*****

It seemed even at two o'clock in the morning, Derek was awake. He had answered his cell within two rings.

"I didn't wake you, did I?" said Ash, his voice claggy like clay.

"Never, Ash! I was actually sending an email to the event manager over in San Francisco. What do you need?"

"I need a ride. And my show bike."

"At this time?"

"I can come and get the van if I have to."

There was a pause on the other end of the line. "Ash. Where are you?"

"Outside your apartment, by the garage."

Another pause.

"Now, Derek."

Ash hung up and leaned against the garage door, folding his arms. He could no longer hear Maddie echoing in his head, but he could feel her presence within their body, swimming in their blood and coating his insides. With her, he was safe. They were safe. "I'll protect you, Maddie," he murmured to himself.

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