Chapter Nine: Ashe
It was Jaxx.
"Hey, can I come in?" the handsome satyr asked softly.
Ashe nodded. He'd expected this to happen, sooner or later. His ex worked here, after all. "You look exactly the same," Ashe said as Jaxx joined him at his father's bedside.
"Thanks, I think. I saw Kino's name on one of the daily reports and had to come up here to see if it was the same one. I was… hoping you would be here."
Jaxx worked in hospital administration. He frowned as he looked down at Ashe’s father. "What happened?"
"I'm not sure. Someone attacked him in our trailer while I was away at work—"
"Down in Bisbee?"
"Yes—how did you know?"
Jaxx smiled. "I've kept track of you since—"
"Yes. Since." The thing he didn't want to talk about.
"Why don't we go out to the waiting room? I can grab us some coffee and a couple sandwiches from the cafeteria, and you can tell me what's going on."
Ashe looked down at his father. The man was still fast asleep. He was starving, and he could use someone to talk to. He had no friends here. "Sure."
Jaxx's ears perked up. "Okay, let me go rustle up something."
Ashe gave his father a quick kiss on the forehead and followed Jaxx out of the room, noting the jeans and hoof boots he wore that made his ass look amazing. But then again, sexual attraction had never been the problem between them.
He found a quiet corner of the waiting room with a small table, and in a couple minutes, Jaxx was back with supplies. "Coffee, black and full strength, and a chicken salad sandwich," he said, presenting the meal with a flourish. "Coffee with a splash of milk and ten sugars, and a vegan sandwich for me."
Ashe took the offered meal gratefully and unwrapped the sandwich. It was hospital food, but then again, he was starving. "Thanks. You didn't have to do all this."
"It's nothing." Jaxx unwrapped his own sandwich, sniffing it first before taking a bite. "You can never be too sure."
Ashe laughed. "See? Still the same. Fastidious as hell, and I'll bet wearing pants is killing you."
"It really is. But it's a public hospital. They frown on flashers around here."
"Where's the tail?"
"They make me tuck it." Jaxx winked.
Always the joker. "I'm glad you're here. I could use a friend."
"So what happened? Who did this to your dad?" He glanced over his shoulder at Kino's room. "He get into another bar brawl and make an enemy?"
"No. I hardly ever let him out of the house anymore. This was something different." He sighed. "He woke up this morning and told me they were government men, or something."
"That's weird. What would the government want with the two of you?"
"I have no idea. He says there's a key or something. He wasn't making much sense—I think he's still a little out of it." He set his half-eaten sandwich down and reached out to touch Jaxx's arm. "I'm sorry."
"For how we ended. For walking out on you. It got ugly at the end—"
Jaxx shook his head. "You had to take care of your father. I get that. Family first."
"I handled it badly."
"Yes, you did." He turned away for a moment, a frown on his face.
Ashe resisted the impulse to reach out and touch Jaxx's beautiful curved horns. He'd always loved them.
"That's not important right now." Jaxx looked him in the eyes, his brow furrowed. "You have any friends here?"
"No. It's just me and dad."
"You have me. Where are you staying?"
"The Econo Lodge down on Stone." Not that he'd spent much time there.
"You're staying with me tonight."
"No objections. I have the space."
"What about Brian?"
Jaxx gave him an appraising look. "I guess I'm not the only one who's been been keeping tabs."
Ashe gave him a weak smile. "I guess not. I might have stalked you on social media."
Jaxx snorted. "Well, Brian and I broke up three months ago."
"Oh. I'm so sorry, Jaxx."
A noise blared from across the room. It was coming from Ashe's father's room. Three nurses ran inside from the nursing station.
"It's my dad." Ashe was up and across the intervening space and into his father's room in three seconds.
The nurses were working on Kino. One was administering CPR while another was bagging him to help him breathe.
"What's happening?" he asked, starting to panic. "What's wrong with my dad?"
The third nurse turned to him. "Your father has had a heart attack. We need you to stand back and let us help him." She flashed him a sympathetic smile and pulled the curtain closed behind her.
A doctor pushed past him and disappeared behind the curtain.
"What's happening to him? He was fine ten minutes ago…?" The last part ended as more of a question. Goose bumps popped up on his shoulders and arms.
He felt Jaxx's arm around his shoulder. "I know this is hard, Ashe, but they're doing everything they can for him." Jaxx touched his cheek. "Look at me."
Ashe turned to look his ex in the eyes.
"We both need to stay calm, for him." He gestured toward the curtain. "If we help each other, we can do that. Okay?"
Ashe shuddered. Than he nodded. He took a deep breath. "We can do that." He let Jaxx lead him to a chair, and tried not to listen to the noises coming from behind the curtain.
Next to them, the goblin woman slept on, apparently unaware of the drama going on around her.
* * * * *
After what seemed like a terribly long time, the alarms and activity from behind the curtain stopped.
Ashe looked anxiously at the curtain and then back at Jaxx, who gave him an "I don't know" shrug.
Then the curtain drew back, and the doctor came toward him. "Mr. Heyoka?"
Ashe nodded, numb. Behind the doctor, his father lay motionless, covered up to his shoulders with a white sheet.
"I'm sorry. Your father…"
"No." He stood and pushed the doctor out of the way. He needed to see for himself.
The nurses moved away as he approached the man's now-motionless form. Kinan Heyoka's eyes were closed. He looked supremely peaceful. Ashe put a hand on his father's brow, looking for some way to undo what had just happened.
His mind couldn't accept the enormity of it. All his life, his father had been there for him. Sure, it had been ugly between them sometimes. His father and alcohol did not mix well. But still, he had been there, physically. A tangible link to Ashe's past.
Now he was gone.
His father's forehead had grown uncomfortably warm to the touch. Ashe withdrew his hand and stood back, watching in awe as his father passed on. He had heard about this, but he'd never seen it happen.
Kino's skin glowed almost cherry red, brighter and brighter. Bright yellow seams appeared on his skin, growing and connecting with one another in a delicate tracery of golden lines. Lines split and grew, spreading across the man's skin.
Soon his entire body shone with a glow like the sun, making the sheet translucent.
There was a flash, and the light went out. Kino's body collapsed into a pile of ash.
"No!" Ashe screamed. "Don't leave me!" He tried to throw himself on top of the bed.
Jaxx pulled him back, wrapping him tightly in his arms, until he stopped fighting and collapsed into heartrending sobs.