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16+ Language

Bittersweet Nightshade: Chapter 1 Part 2

by MissGangamash


Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language.

For the rest of the day, Ainsleigh relaxed on the sofa and was waited on hand and foot. Each time she painstakingly manoeuvred herself to get up and help, Finch admonished her and gently ushered her back to her horizontal position. It was strange, being around someone so attentive. Guilt swelled in her gut and made her restless. Then the squealing inside her head made her grit her teeth, close her eyes, and wait for it to pass. It always passes, just ride it out.

She must have napped because when she came to; Finch was relaxed back in the chair opposite, whittling a small piece of wood with a bowie knife. Ainsleigh watched him silently. His forehead was smooth, thin lips lifted ever-so-slightly in a content smile. She chewed the inside of her cheek, stomach knotted at the thought that she hadn’t ever looked so carefree in her life. Not even as a child. She had had to look over her shoulder since the moment she had been born.

Perhaps she didn’t anymore. Not after she…

“You live here alone, don’t you?” she asked.

His concentration didn’t stray from his creation.

“Don’t worry. No one’s going to come in and demand who this stranger is dozing on my sofa.”

“So, you live alone in the woods.”

“Sure do.” He blew wood shavings onto the rug.

“Why?”

“It’s quiet.”

Ainsleigh’s eyes drifted to the wooden beams on the ceiling, listening to the soft crackle of the fire. It sure was quiet. Even her head was quiet now.

“I’m not… I’m not great with people,” Finch added. Ainsleigh’s eyes flicked to him. He was looking at her, arms resting loosely on his lap. The half sculptured bit of wood in his fist seemed forgotten for the moment.

“You seem fine with me.” She sent him a weak smile.

He mirrored her expression. She was sure they both looked like two people figuring out how these particular muscles in their faces worked. Then his eyes drifted to her side and his brows knitted, knuckles whitening as he gripped his sculpture tighter.

There was a clock on the wall above the fire. It was almost two in the morning. She had left her house before midnight. Her father was away for the weekend, hiking in the wilderness with his two builder buddies. He would be back in a few hours. He would always return a day before the others, not wanting to leave her home alone with her mother for too long. Anxiety coursed through her veins. What would have happened if he had been home? Would things have played out differently? Would he have gotten in the way? She dreaded to think.

“I need a favour from you,” she blurted out. Her heart hammered against her chest. “I know you’ve already done so much for me and I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t urgent. I’d do it myself but my side, I can barely walk. I’m so sorry to put you out like this. You’ve been so lovely but-”

“Ainsleigh,” he cut her off, laughter in his tone. “Just spit it out. What do you need?”

She chewed her lip, feeling heat rising to her cheeks. “Sorry. It’s just… I drove my dad’s truck here; it’s parked at the tree line around were you found me. I was gonna drive it back but-” She gestured to her bandaged side. “Dad won’t be able to work without it. It’s got all his tools and stuff inside.”

“I can drive it back for you, no problem.”

She smiled gratefully.

“But-” He scrunched his face, confused. “You said you had nowhere to go. If your dad is going to worry about his missing truck… surely he’s gonna worry about, I dunno, his missing daughter?”

She suddenly felt light headed. Her stomach roiled with nausea. “I just can’t see him right now.”

“I know you’re hurt but I got you here. I’m sure we can make it back across the woods-”

“No!” she blurted. His dark eyes widened. “I mean, thank you. But it’s fine. Honestly. I just… I need some space from home for a while. You’re still alright with me staying here, right?”

“Of course. But what am I supposed to say to your dad if he sees me with his truck?”

“He won’t. He won’t be home. Just leave it outside. It’s not too far. You can walk back easy.”

He shrugged and got to his feet, dropping his creation on the coffee table. It looked like it was becoming some sort of animal – a horse or a stag. He slung his thick jacket on with a slight wince. “You know, you’re going to have to tell me what’s going on with you sooner or later.”

He would be walking back to where he found her. Back to the hole. Back to…

Ainsleigh gulped and he must have seen the fear in her eyes because he laughed softly. “It’s alright. It’s alright. I’m not going to interrogate you. I know what it’s like to want to keep secrets… well… secret.”

“You’re being too nice to me.” She reached into the back pocket of her cargo trousers and pulled out the keys to her father’s truck. “Especially for someone who’s not great with people.”

Finch left Ainsleigh alone in his cabin and as she lay on the sofa, looking around, she was struck once again by how trusting this complete stranger was. She was now in his place, alone, while he went and dropped the truck off at her home. She knew she wasn’t giving off the best first impression, what with being a messy drunk and withholding some pretty serious information, but despite all that, he was kind.

Tears pressed against the backs of her eyes and she grumbled, willing them away. Don’t be pathetic.

She pulled up her shirt – Finch’s shirt – to check her bandages. Brown, dried blood was spotted across them, following the three lines of her wound. Chewing her lip, she wondered how long she would be incapacitated for. Part of her wanted to heal fast. Having lived her whole life on edge, her body thrummed with pent up energy as she lay there completely defenceless. But she was surprised by the other part of her that was content with being in this strange cabin, it was peaceful, and he wouldn’t kick her out before she was healed, right? He said so himself.

After half an hour ticked by, she got bored and thought this was the perfect opportunity to find out more about her friendly host. Struggling to her feet, she hobbled across the cabin and pulled open his wardrobe. Nothing unusual to see in there. A rack of long sleeved shirts, ranging from plain to checked. Some were quilted, and she curled her fists into the soft material. Jeans, cargo trousers and t-shirts were folded and stacked neatly in the cubby-holes beside the shirts, and a collection of sturdy boots were lined beneath. A waterproof coat, a denim jacket and canvas jacket were hooked behind the doors. All pretty standard.

Already not expecting much, she moved to the cabinet. It looked a lot fancier than the other furniture. Dark, burnished wood with filigree detailing framing the doors. Even the brass handles were curved leaves. It looked incredibly heavy, which made Ainsleigh wonder how he’d gotten it in there. Surely he had friends? Family? But Ainsleigh wasn’t exactly in a place to judge someone for wanting to separate themselves from their family.

The cabinet doors opened with a stiff click and she was hit in the face with an accumulation of scents. She blinked hard, eyes suddenly dry, but then they latched quickly on the row of bottles on the top shelf.

“Well, hello there.” She grabbed one of the half empty bottles of clear liquid and pulled out the glass stopper. She inhaled the wicked scent, feeling it burn her nose hairs - yes, this is the stuff – and took a swig. Setting her teeth, she relished the soothing pain and placed the bottle on the top of the cabinet to keep within easy reach while she continued her snooping.

More bottles, ranging in sizes. The top shelf was all liquids, the second was jars of…herbs? Flowers? The third seemed to be all first aid materials. She cringed at the little clear box filled with spools of threads and needles. The memory of being stitched up had bile rising up her throat. She shook her head and quickly took another swig from the bottle. It hadn’t been the first time Ainsleigh had had stitches, but the slices up her side had definitely been the largest of injuries to close up.

Beneath the bandages and surgical scissors, the final shelf was filled with tins and pots of what Ainsleigh could only assume were salves and creams – potentially also for healing.

Seeing all this stuff made her think of Cassidy. Of how she could do what all these herbs and potions do with just a particular brush of her fingers.

Cassidy, the Healer. Cassidy, the only Gifted that people actually seemed to like. Because they could benefit off her.

And you drove her away, didn’t you? All you stupid, obsessed fans. You took her away from me.

Ainsleigh shuddered and took a steadying breath. She couldn’t think about Cassidy right now. She had enough on her plate.

But I could really do with you right now, Cass. This wound is a real bitch.

She took a step back, assessing all the contents of the dresser, the bottle still slotted comfortably in her grip. So it seemed that Finch was very used to patching himself up… interesting. Or maybe she wasn’t as special as she thought. Did he often find people in the woods in need of saving? Bringing the bottle back to her lips, she took several more gulps before her lips met empty air. She furrowed her brows, bottle at eye level, shook it and frowned.

Whoops.

The door creaked open and in came Finch, shoulders bunched against the cold. The brisk wind whipped into the cabin, scattering dead leaves across the floor.

“I see you found the rubbing alcohol,” he said with a judgemental arch of a dark brow.

“I like to think of it as drinking alcohol,” she replied.

His lips twitched. “It seems so. And while you were helping yourself, I returned your truck. Put the keys above the wheel like you said.”

Ainsleigh returned the bottle to its place. “I really appreciate you doing that for me. Honestly, thank you.” She kept the doors of the cabinet open and gesturing to the contents inside. “You get banged up a lot? You seem to be well prepared.”

Finch crossed the cabin and hung his jacket on the inside of the wardrobe. “Nearest hospital is a good hour from here, and my place isn’t exactly easy to find. It’s good to know the basics in an emergency.”

“You stitched me up good.”

“Why, thank you.”

She closed the cabinet and rested against it, being careful of her side.

“I mean, it seems like you’ve had a lot of practice.”

He shrugged, and then caught himself. Was his back still sore from bad posture?

“A lot of dangers out in the woods.”

“You mean the big wolf?”

He gave her a sideways glance, obviously schooling his expression.

Ainsleigh narrowed her eyes in response. “You’re keeping information from me.”

“You’re one to talk.”

She sprang up from her relaxed position, immediately regretted in, but shoved a finger in his face for good measure. “That thing attacked me, if you know more than you’re letting on, I deserve to know.”

“What were you digging up?” he countered, squaring up to her. It was the first time they had stood close together and Ainsleigh noted that they were a similar height and build, no wonder his clothes fit her so well. She also noticed he radiated with the same barely contained power she did.

“I wasn’t digging up-” She caught herself, teeth sinking into her lower lip. Finch’s eyebrow quirked up; his self-satisfied smirk perfectly framed by his short, well-maintained beard.

“So you were burying something?”

She nodded, rolling down the sleeves of her shirt to avoid his imploring gaze. She opened her mouth to speak, then internally corrected what she was about to say, “It needs to stay buried, okay?”

“I’m not going to go behind your back. You tell me when you’re ready.”

Her eyes flicked to him and her stomach turned. Shoulders now relaxed, expression open, he looked like someone she could trust. Why did that terrify her?

“And you’ll do the same? About the wolf?”

The muscles of his jaw clenched and he glanced out at the clear blue sky.

“You’ll stay here for the rest of the week and you’ll know what I know, I promise.”

She furrowed her brows at his wording. It sounded more like an order, a warning. But she agreed, knowing she had no desire to leave this warm cabin any time soon.


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