Ash turned down the street near her apartment, walking as fast as she could without running the risk of slipping on the slick, wet pavement. It had been a brutal, horrid day and all Ash wanted now was to get home and relax. Not that she was sure she could relax once she got there.
Her problems had started in the morning, waking up after yet another night of very little sleep. For about the past week, Ash was lucky if she could get at least five hours of sleep. She had arrived late to work, and for whatever reason, Lisa had decided to chew her out over it. From there, Ash went straight to work, struggling to stay awake and focus. She had a headache for a good part of the day, and just overall felt run down. The only silver lining of her work that day is that Kurt Wallander hadn’t gotten on her case about anything, but then again she rarely did any work with him.
When at last Ash’s long day of work ended, she walked out to her car only to discover that her car would not start. Frustrated and exhausted, Ash didn’t know what to do. She lived about 10 or so miles from the station, and to walk that distance in the dark was hardly a smart idea. But she had to get home somehow. Heaven forbid she sleep on one of the couches in the station for just one night. A friend was also heading home at that time and offered to give her a ride at least part of the way. Ash graciously accepted, knowing that walking three miles was better than walking ten.
As Ash began the last trek of getting to her apartment, it began to rain. This rain wasn’t a light sprinkle or gentle shower, it was a torrential downpour of water. Ash looked up the sky and scowled. “Really?” she muttered, turning her head and quickening her pace. She still had a while to go before she could get home.
By the time Ash was nearly to her apartment, she was soaked to the bone and freezing cold. Her long red hair, now wet, appeared to be dark brown and was doing its best impersonation of a wet mop.
Ash finally reached her apartment building, and sighed contently. She had made it here without too much trouble, and now that she was here what else could go wrong? But as she turned to walk up the front steps, the worst happened. Ash’s shoe caught in a crevice in the pavement and she pitched forward, turning her ankle sharply and falling on the steps.
“Augh!” she cried, feeling pain in her leg as she turned and tried to sit up. Her clothes were covered in dirt now, which only added to her misery. She looked down at her ankle, which she could already feel was becoming stiff.
“Damn,” she muttered as she grabbed the railing and pulled herself up to the landing right by the door, partially covered by the rain. She dug her keys out from her pocket and glanced at the door, which was only a few feet away. It would be difficult for her to make it in the condition that she was in, but she could….eventually. She rested her head against the beam she was leaned up against. At this point there was no reason to rush. She could rest for a few minutes before she tried to move.
Ash didn’t know how long she had been sitting there in the rain, but it was long enough for the cold to make her ankle go numb. She heard a car pull up along the street just in front of her building, but she didn’t open her eyes until she heard her name.
“Ash?” She heard a very familiar voice call her name.
Ash opened her eyes and saw Magnus Martinsson, her coworker and friend, in his car.
“Ashley?” Magnus called again, leaning across the seat of his car and staring out at her through the open passenger side window. “What are you doing?” He put his car in park and jumped out, hurrying around the car, across the sidewalk, and up the steps to her.
Ash lifted her head as she looked up at him, her tears mixed with the rain and her eyes red as she sobbed. “Magnus? What are you doing here?”
Magnus crouched next to Ash and looked her over with a worried gaze. “I went back to the station to finish up some paperwork,” he answered. “I saw your car was still there but I couldn’t find you inside. Someone mentioned that they saw you leaving a little while before and that you hadn’t been back. I was worried, so I came here to make sure you were okay.” He paused as he looked at her again. “And clearly you’re not. What happened?”
Ash gave a faint shrug and turned her head away, another tear sliding down her cheek. Why would she explain herself to Magnus? Why would he care? They were friends, yeah, but for her to admit her deepest emotional issues to someone who was just a little more than a coworker seemed to be a little over the line.
“Hey,” Magnus said softly, gently brushing a few wet strands of hair from her face. “Whatever’s wrong can be fixed, alright?” he tried to make eye contact with her but she refused to look at him. “Let’s at least go inside. You’ll get sick if you stay out here.”
Ash finally turned her head to look at him and nodded silently. Magnus stood up and reached for her hands, carefully pulling her from the ground. Just as she was upright and put her weight on her feet, her legs gave way because of her ankle.
“Gah!” Ash cried, digging her fingers into Magnus’s wrists as she fell back down, pain shooting up her leg. She gritted her teeth as a few tears splashed on to the pavement.
Magnus held on to Ash and carefully set her to the ground, allowing her to lean against him. “What’s wrong?” he asked, worried to see her in pain.
Ash braced herself against Magnus, her jaw clenched as she waited for the pain in her leg to subside. “I…I tripped and twisted my ankle,” she managed to answer.
Magnus nodded slightly as he moved his arm around his shoulder to steady her better. “Here,” he said, moving his arm underneath her knees to pick her up. “Let me carry you.”
“Magnus…” Ash began to object, hesitant to let him do such a thing.
“Come on, Ash,” Magnus replied, crouching and carefully lifting her off the ground, holding her bridal style as he moved towards the main door of the building and opened it. Ash slid her arms around his neck and held on, content to rest silently in his arms. Slowly and carefully, Magnus carried Ash up to her apartment and managed to unlock the front door.
Soaked, exhausted, and in pain, Ash had never been more thrilled to see her small apartment.
Magnus glanced around her apartment with a quick glance. “We should get some ice for your ankle.”
Ash hesitated. “Can I get cleaned up first?” she asked softly.
Magnus nodded and turned towards her bedroom. “Yeah, of course,” he said.
“I can walk a little you know,” Ash said absently as Magnus carried her to her room.
Magnus ignored her and proceeded, not setting her down until he let her rest on her bed.
Ash sat up and slowly pulled off her soaked jacket, tossing it on the ground. “Thank you,” she said softly.
Magnus gave her a soft smile and nodded. “I’ll get some ice and make some tea for you while you get cleaned up,” he said as he turned back towards the doorway.
“Magnus?” Ash called after him.
Magnus paused and looked back at her quickly.
Ash ran her fingers through her wet hair. “You really don’t have to do all of this. I’ll be fine now that I’m here.”
Magnus shrugged. “I want to make sure of that, Ashley,” he replied. “A twisted ankle is not the only thing going on with you. If you don’t want to talk to me about it, I understand, but at least let me make sure you’ll be good for the night, alright?”
The extent of his kindness and care surprised Ash, but she was extremely grateful to him. She nodded slowly, knowing that nothing she said could get Magnus out of her apartment. “Okay,” she agreed quietly.
Magnus smiled softly and closed the door behind him, leaving Ash to get cleaned up as he returned to the kitchen.
Ash sighed and undressed as much as she could, tossing her wet clothes into a basket so that she could wash them later. For now, she wanted to take a quick shower that would hopefully warm her up. She was lucky that her apartment had a full bathroom that was joined to her bedroom. She hobbled in there slowly and turned on the water, letting it heat as she carefully slipped in to get cleaned up.
With a little time to herself, Ash could not stop thinking about the young, cute guy (that she happened to have a crush on) who was in her kitchen. Why had Magnus really come by? They were friends, yes, and Magnus had sometimes come by for a drink. But there hadn’t been more than that, ever. Ash had never opened up too much to Magnus – trying not to get to attached to a guy that more than likely had no interest in her outside of being friends. But for Magnus to have come here tonight and for him to show the extent of kindness and care that he had made Ash wonder if maybe he actually cared for her.
When she returned to her room, she changed into a sweater and pair of shorts, wrapping herself in a blanket as she came out of her room and limped to the couch, her wet hair leaving a trail of water droplets behind her.
Magnus came over to her, a cup of tea in hand. “Careful, it’s really hot,” he warned as he handed it to her.
Ash accepted the drink graciously and though the mug was extremely hot, it felt good to feel such heat between her freezing cold fingers. “Thank you,” she said to him as she took a slow sip.
Magnus nodded and sat down next to her, an ice pack in his other hand. “You should put this on your ankle,” he said.
Ash nodded and turned slightly, drawing her legs out from under her and resting her foot on Magnus’s leg. He carefully placed the ice pack over he swollen and bruised ankle. Ash gave an involuntary shiver as she felt her ankle slowly go numb with the cold.
“You might want to take something,” Magnus suggested as he stood up to let Ash rest her leg on the couch. “I can go get something for you.”
Ash glanced up at him and shook her head. “There’s some Tylenol in the bathroom,” she replied. “That’ll be fine.”
Magnus nodded and moved quickly towards the bathroom, returning a few minutes later with a bottle of pills. He handed it to Ash who shook out two pills and swallowed them.
“Thank you for this, Magnus,” she said as she looked back up at him. “I’ll be alright.”
Magnus hardly seemed convinced as he looked at her. Though she was cleaned up and resting, he could still see she was upset about something, and it was more than just having a crappy day at work. “What’s wrong, Ash?” He asked softly as he crouched by the couch in front of her.
Ash paused as she looked into his gentle blue eyes. She wanted to tell him. She wanted to say that she cared for him and that she had always liked him, but that she never felt good enough for him. She never felt that she was worth anything. She never felt that she mattered or that she would be wanted by anyone. She wanted to tell Magnus how much better her days were when she was with him, or even when he was nearby. She wanted to tell him everything, but she was too scared.
In Ash’s hesitation, Magnus understood her, or at least some of it. “Oh, Ash,” he whispered, pulling himself up and drawing his arms around her as he moved to sit with her on the couch.
Ash was more than welcoming to his embrace. She held close to him and pressed her face against his chest as she began to cry – this was one of the first times she ever felt safe enough to cry with someone else being there.
They sat together for a while, Ash safe and warm in Magnus’s embrace. When at last she had stopped crying, she told him everything that, up until he had held her, she had been afraid to. And to Ash’s surprise (and relief), Magnus confessed how much he cared for her, and for similar reasons had been hesitant to admit it.
It had already been late when Magnus and Ash had first gotten into her apartment, but now it was past midnight and both were still wide awake and just having the realization that tomorrow would bring another long day of work.
“You shouldn’t come in tomorrow,” Magnus suggested as he looked down at Ash, who was laying with him on the couch, pressed up against his chest as she snuggled closer to him. “Call in sick.”
Ash glanced up at him. “You think Lisa or Kurt would be okay with that?”
Magnus shrugged. “I’ve not shown up for less,” he replied with a soft laugh. “And if either one asks me about it I’ll tell them your hurt your ankle. And you need a day off to rest, darling,” he tilted his head down and kissed her softly.
“And what about you?” Ash asked as she lowly pulled away from him.
Magnus sighed. “I, unfortunately, do have to go to work tomorrow,” he answered, looking down at her, disappointed. “Though I’d rather stay here with you.”
Ash again rested her head on his chest as he rubbed her arms gently. “Will you stay here tonight, Magnus?” she asked softly, glancing back up at him.
Magnus nodded and kissed her forehead. “Of course,” he whispered. “I’ll stay as long as you want.”
The next morning Ash woke up early – much earlier than she would have liked. Aside from her injured ankle, she had a headache, a sore throat, and just felt totally rundown. She turned slightly, only suddenly remembering that she was sleeping on the couch, not in her bed. She lifted her head slowly and looked up at Magnus, who was sound asleep, his arms still around her. Ash smiled softly as she rested her head on his chest again and closed her eyes as she listened to Magnus’s steady heartbeat. She might have felt sick as a dog, but right now she was far happier than she had been in a very long time. She felt cared for, she felt loved. She felt wanted.