Master PC: Ash

Chapter 1

by CuyahogaKingKong

Tags: #body_modification #dom:male #f/m #love #pov:bottom #sub:female #MasterPC #mental_illnesses
See spoiler tags : #happy_ending

This was first published on  Apologies for formatting issues, I don't know why the font changes and the indenting stops, and anything with * on either side was supposed to be italicized.  This is the same .txt file I sent to MCstories but it seems the sites have different interpretations of it.  Will attempt to correct, if I can do so without making things worse.  Should still be readable.

Master PC: Ash By CuyahogaKingKong

Chapter One

[The following story contains sex and magical mind control. It’s written for adults and shouldn’t be read by people who aren’t adults. For those not aware, the Master PC is a creation of JR Parz, who generously allowed other authors to play in his sandbox, creating a sub-genre of erotic mind control fiction that has carried on over 20 years. This story is written on the assumption the reader is familiar with the general concept.]

Ash woke up sharply. That was the way she thought of the strange sensation. It wasn’t her usual fuzzy, unwilling climb to awareness. There wasn’t the fight of flight instinct of being startled awake either. It was more like she had just been switched on, she was suddenly awake and alert. It was a new sensation. She didn’t like it. Ash didn’t really want to be alert. She didn’t want to look at her surroundings in the harsh afternoon light. Grey carpets, beige walls. Little piles of her clothes everywhere. The cheapest home-assembled bookshelf she could find, a little faux-antique lamp she found at a thrift shop. Ugly. Sad. Pathetic. She tried to be more grateful.

“After all, it’s more than you deserve. You’re only here wasting space because your Jesus-freak mom had a shotgun wedding instead of an abortion.” The shrill voice was with her quick today. Some days it took it’s time to wake up, but it was eager to go today. Ash knew what it looked like, if she turned she’d herself as a little girl but with solid onyx eyes instead of her own muddy brown. She didn’t turn though. How many therapists had warned her not to engage with it, or any of the others?

“Yeah, and how good are you about that?” it sneered at her. “And the positive self-talk? Taking your pills? Getting exercise? Sticking to a routine? How about finding a job, you freeloading piece of shit? You shouldn’t be on disability, that’s for actually crippled people. You could be better if you wanted to be.”

Ash hated when it talked this way. She preferred it when it abused her for anything else. What are you supposed to say to your demons when you know they’re right? Ash sighed and rolled out of bed. No aches in her back or neck this morning, which was such a pleasant surprise she missed whatever abuse the black-eyed girl sent her way next.

She glanced at her phone to check the time. Looking around the room (pointedly avoiding the glowering girl in the corner) she ruthlessly judged her belongings, deciding what she’d take with her. Ash quickly decided most of it was shit she wouldn’t need. She could easily fit the rest into her backpack and duffel bag. It’s not like this would be her first quick exit, she’d run away before. Pack her things, a quick shower, fix herself up, then get to the bus stop. Number 7 bus to the Metrorail, take the blue line downtown, she could be there by 3 o’clock, maybe 3:30. She unlocked her phone and texted an unknown number. But she said 4 o’clock, she didn’t want to keep him waiting around for her.

“Yeah, that’d be just like you,” the girl in the corner said. Ash didn’t have time for it. Pack first or shower first? Pack, definitely. And keep an eye out for something to wear, she desperately wanted to make a good impression. Ash smiled at that thought. She remembered when she used to put a lot more effort into that kind of thing. Lately it seems the only thing she had to dress up for was the occasional outcall.

Her disability payments weren’t much. But a thrifty girl with a roommate living in Riverburn’s run down Fairwater neighborhood could get by if she was careful with her money. Ash wasn’t careful. So every once in a while, she’d post an ad offering “Erotic Services” on certain discrete websites. “And what do you think this is? What else could he want. Your body’s the only thing you’ve got to offer, and that’s not worth what it used to be.”

Ash had been doing well at tuning the girl out. She was focused on packing; it was very important to her. But that last shot hit home. One thing she used to have going for her was being kind of hot. Not to everyone’s taste, and definitely not in the big tits and jiggly ass way that was in fashion. But she’d always been able to work her skinny, long-legged, narrow waisted style of sex appeal when she wanted. Attention could be a great substitute for self-esteem in the short run.

But then she’d gotten into treatment again, and she started taking new mood stabilizers. They’d warned her that weight gain was a common side effect. Flattening out the manic-depressive curve had been worth it. But the twenty-some extra pounds had maliciously avoided adding to her bust or giving her booty a boost. It all seemed to settle into her once taut midriff.

“Your body is perfect. You are an avatar of beauty, wisdom, and power,” a lilting voice purred. Ash smiled. She resisted the temptation to look at the source. She was very familiar, by one standard you could call her Ash’s best friend. She could feel her presence in the room right now, a six-foot-long tiger with sapphire-colored stripes lounging on her bed. This was the far more dangerous voice, the Goddess voice that gave her affirmation and false promises.

“The turn of the tide has come at last. Your ascension to your rightful place is at hand. All sorrow shall cease, and you will come into your power.” The tigress said something like that any time Ash had something go her way. Much as Ash would like to believe the tigress’s claims that she was the chosen one, after the third or fourth time she’d tried following her prophecies she had accepted disappointing reality. Ash was crazy, sure. She wasn’t stupid and crazy though.

“Not real, not real,” Ash whispered to herself as she stuffed clothes into her duffel. She was discarding her blander blending-in clothes. She was keeping her more daring things, crop tops and tanks and short pleated skirts, the studded collar she hadn’t worn in years. Battered jeans that hugged her ass just so. They all seemed to remind her of earlier times, when she was wilder. Miserable a lot of the time, to the point of wanting to end it all quite often. How she soared the other times though! Horrible, exhilarating, self-destructive energy used to pulse through her, and present-day Ash felt the echo fondly. She missed the rush the way any addict misses their drug. And of course there were the actual drugs too. But there were the other times, not many, almost lost in the noise, when she hadn’t been manic or depressed or numb but …

“Not for you is ordinary contentment! You have a higher destiny, a glorious purpose. All your life has been to hone you into the instrument of destiny,” her tigress rumbled. The damned cat, always trying to make Ash into some sort of messiah. Made it all the worse when she struggled more and more just to be a person.

“Polyester,” Ash said, setting aside an old tank top from her clean pile for today. “Carpet on my knees. Oh, leather!” she said, finding the black high-topped boots that would be perfect. It was an exercise, since her delusions were always visual and auditory, she’d focus on touch and smell when she was trying to tune them out. Also, she needed to pick out the right outfit, and the boots triggered a memory. Another day she wanted to make a big impression. It was sunny, and he was waiting for her on a park bench, and then he saw her. His smile was the usual friendly one, but with a hunger that he failed to hide in his eyes. She smiled because she knew she’d get what they both wanted. These were the boots, the tank was close, did she still have that skirt? If she could recreate that moment…

“Fucking ridiculous,” the little version of Ash spat out. “That was ten years and twenty pounds ago. Back when people thought you were fun and exciting. Before you showed him what a piece of shit you really are.”

“Eight years,” Ash corrected under her breath. The words hurt, but for once she knew, with 100% certainty, that she was on the right track. She was able to find a decent match for the skirt, a thong, and a pair of those lace-up arm warmers she always used to wear. A rare feeling of pride bloomed in Ash’s chest, and she practically skipped to the shower. When she was washed and dressed, she went to the mirror to inspect herself and sighed.

It wasn’t the same at all. She really didn’t have the figure for this outfit anymore. It was meant to show off a taut midriff and great legs. Her legs weren’t as defined as they used to be, but the real problem was a top that drew attention to her small breasts and soft belly. She also had a nostril piercing those days, a ring that she sometimes attached to her ear with a little gold-plated chain. She hadn’t been wearing it that day though. She often skipped it. For one thing it tended to get caught in her hair.

That was another thing that was all wrong. Ash was looking at short dishwater blond hair in a messy bob. Back then her hair was one of the first things people noticed about her. She’d worn it longer, past her shoulders. During a manic phase, just after starting treatment, she’d shaved the sides and dyed the tips blue. She hadn’t thought it through (of course). Wearing a long mohawk up required a lot of work, which she wasn’t willing to do. So she would just brush it all to one side. She’d meant it as an aggressive act, to show that even though she was trying to get her life together she wasn’t going to be an ordinary nice girl. Rather than the shock she’d hoped to cause, she got compliments and smiles, which she developed a taste for.

“What are you now? Not a nice girl, not a cool rebel girl, just a worn-out crazy whore.” Ash couldn’t avoid seeing her demon self in the mirror beside her.

“I could shave off the sides,” Ash answered.

“You’d look pathetic.” Ash pictured it.

“Yeah, I guess. And I really don’t have time.” She shrugged and left her demon in the bathroom. She finished up her bag with toiletries, her sketchbooks, and her journal. She hesitated when she got to her pills. Ash was certain she wouldn’t be needing them. She took them anyway. “Better to have them and not need them,” she said. Then she scrawled a quick note for her roommate Sara. She didn’t bother to think about what she was writing; she knew they were the right words to explain things. If Ash just vanished, she’d worry. They weren’t friends, exactly, but Sara was alright. Ash hoped she’d find a better roommate.

“Your acquaintance is the greatest honor she will ever know,” despite herself Ash smiled. She hoisted her bookbag onto one narrow shoulder and carried her bag to the door. She paused at the threshold and sighed. She looked over her shoulder.

Her demon and her tigress were staring at her. Once she left this apartment, she’d never see them again. She didn’t know how or why, but she knew that was true. They’d been with since she was fifteen. It didn’t feel right to just leave like this. But what do you say in this situation? Ash smiled sadly. “Goodbye,” was all she said. She wouldn’t miss them. Not really. It was still kind of sad. End of an era and all. She walked out the door without them.

There was no trace of sadness in Ash by the time she boarded the train. She sat with her duffel bag clutched close to her chest, not noticing her leg bouncing. This wide awake, full of energy feeling was unfamiliar. In some ways it was like a manic episode. The coiled-spring energy in her chest, the building euphoria, the restless urge to move, that was all familiar. And the heat building in her core, the longing for someone’s hands and lips on her, for a man between her legs. Or a woman. Or even her own hands.

It was different this time though. Ash was excited but her thoughts weren’t racing. She felt no massive irritation at her fellow passengers every annoying action. There was no panic lurking beneath a surface of ridiculous grandiosity. No about to burst feeling, no fear of crashing down to earth at any moment. And when it crossed her mind that she could sneak a hand under her skirt, she dismissed it with a smile. She couldn’t risk that kind of trouble *now*. She was almost there! Maybe another time though. When she had permission. She knew from experience that sort of thing could be fun. Eager as her pussy might get, she didn’t doubt that she could wait until it was time.

If someone had gone into her head and deliberately switched on the things she missed about being off her meds, while somehow also keeping them on a leash so she wouldn’t hurt herself, it would probably feel like this. A silly idea, if it worked like that she would have begged someone to do it to her years ago. She’d have done anything in exchange. “I’m just excited,” Ash thought, “and I’m not used to it anymore. It’s going to be great.” What exactly she was headed towards always slipped her mind, but it didn’t worry her at all. She was going on an adventure again! She used to have them all the time. Most turned out to be bad ideas in the end, but some were worth it. This one was going to be.

Ash shook herself out of her reverie. She was almost at her stop, Hub Tower. Her phone said 3:47. She texted someone to let them know she would be early. No answering text appeared on her screen, but she received her response. She knew exactly where to go by the time the train stopped.

Hub Tower was a near century old skyscraper, a relic of a time when Riverburn was still a booming industrial powerhouse and trains still ruled the Earth. It was still one of the tallest buildings in the city, dominating one side of Founder’s Square in the absolute heart of downtown. Part of the old train station it was built atop had been remodeled into a mall. The rest of the fifty-some story building was a mix of an elegant hotel and an overabundance of office space.

Ash always liked Hub Tower. The ornate brass fixtures, vaulted ceilings and beaux-arts flourishes appealed to her aesthetically. But the target market for the stores was stuffed suits, middle-aged executives and the other deep pockets left in Riverburn. Girls who looked like her weren’t welcome to just hang out or sit and sketch. She had been welcomed at the hotel a few times, when business travelers wanted a quick blowjob and weren’t willing to pay for the classy call girls who worked the hotel bar.

“Never again,” she said softly. She didn’t say it because she was ashamed. Though she was a little. It was a simple fact; she’d never do that again. A tone sounded and the doors opened. She leapt to her feet, being a bit more aggressive in pushing through the crowd than she usually would be. So close! She was so close. No time for manners. Thankfully the platform wasn’t crowded; it was too early for the commuter crowd and anyway they’d be going the other direction. She didn’t have to plow through a mass of humanity using her duffel bag as a battering ram.

Ash raced up the stairs from the train platform to the mall area. The sun from the giant ornate window hit the central fountain and scattered to reflect off the polished floor. Light poured in through the vaulted glass ceiling, light was everywhere, more light than could actually be there, all around her and inside her. Hurried as she felt, she had to stop, close her eyes and breathe. When she opened them again the overwhelming sensation was gone. Had she had another hallucination? “No,” she said aloud. She didn’t have those anymore. This was just excitement, being out of breath, and coming from a dim train platform into bright sunlight.

There wasn’t time for this. She made a bee line through the mall. It was annoying that she had to go through the whole mall to get there. She shouldn’t have packed so much. Well, no, she packed exactly as much as she should have. Ash didn’t want to leave anything she’d actually want. Her bag wasn’t heavy, she just didn’t have a ton of upper body strength. She was getting tired, that was slowing her down, which was utterly unacceptable.

Ash wanted to be annoyed. Weren’t there perfectly good places to meet on this side of the building? But no, it had to be this way. The benches in the lobby by the east doors on the Founder’s Square side. ASAP. She’d lug her stupid bag around the world if she had to, but the closer she got the more she resented each passing second. The heat inside her was growing. She wanted to be touched. She wanted to be touched in a very specific way by a very specific person. The only way she could get that was to press on. It wasn’t so much to ask, really. So she did.

An end came to the mall at last, in the form of the lobby. The marble floors, gilded inlay on the roof, the allegorical murals depicting Progress and Commerce and other capitalist virtues. Ash ignored all of it, it didn’t matter compared to the all-important question; which way is east? Right? She took a step, and it felt wrong. Left, definitely left. So much better. Ash was panting with exertion and anticipation. Where was he? Close, so close…

Someone waved. Oh God it was him. Ash was utterly shocked. Ash knew the whole time. Of course it was Chris. Who else could it possibly be? Holy shit. Chris looked good. So much better than he had eight years ago, and she’d liked the look of him then.

They met when they were twenty years old. Same age, same Community College, but Ash felt like she had way more miles on her soul. *He* was halfway to a two-year Associates Degree, planning to transfer to RSU across town to get his Bachelor’s Degree. He figured the first two years were mainly general education and intro level courses. Those were the same pretty much anywhere. He’d save a ton on tuition, live at home, and work part time, avoiding as much debt as he possibly could.

She was only a few months out of her first hospital stint. First diagnosis, first treatment plan, first arsenal of medication. First time believing she could get control of her illness. Staying with her grandmother, getting back on speaking terms with her mother. Taking actual college courses to show the world, and herself, that she could do things. Before her brain betrayed her, she’d been a Good Girl, even a Bright Girl. Good Girl was gone, and she didn’t really want much of it back. Not all the stuff she’d been taught was evil was bad. Oh, she’d take her pills and do her therapy, so she could stop before she got out of control. She wouldn’t let herself be the slutty joke, the fuck-up people only tolerated for the blowjobs. But she liked sex, “the Devil’s Music,” the occasional drink or joint. But she’d be in control now. She’d have real friends, and her own money. She’d go back to being a Bright Girl. She’d get a job, not a lame job but a cool job. She’d have a future. Nothing would make her want to die in her future.

They’d had the same math course. He noticed her immediately, of course. Ash had been hard to miss, with her mohawk and her punk-adjacent style. She was hot back then, and really needed other people to notice that. Chris scratched that itch from day one. He didn’t seem anything close to her type at first. A little shy, a little heavy. Clearly a late bloomer who was just starting to get some confidence. Also handsome in his boyish way, broad-shouldered with kind eyes. Ash always made sure to sit next to him. She found herself leaning close to him, asking for help or exchanging little jokes.

It wasn’t a ‘flirt with the smart guy to get him to do your work’ situation. She was trying and could usually get to the answer in time. Slogging through the steps to get there was just so hard. When she tried to do it on her own it was downright painful. She fell in with an informal study group, about a half dozen students including Chris. Ash found herself accepted by people she’d have never expected, even mousy quiet smart girls. They made her feel like she could do it. Especially Chris.

She needed that, because just a week or two into her college courses it became obvious Ash had overestimated her recovery. Her hallucinations were quieter back then, and a fairly low dose kept them silent most of the time. A lot of nights they would creep into her room when she tried to sleep. Telling her she was a fraud, she could never be normal, sometimes that she was better than everyone else and sometimes that she should have died as a child. One night she started cutting herself again. It made her feel alive in the moment, but she was horrified in the morning. Terrified someone would see the angry red lines, she started wearing the arm warmers or long sleeves all the time. If her new friends saw they’d know; cool, unique, fun Ash was a fraud. Only crazy, sick, scary Ash was real.

Chris caught a glimpse. Ash realized when she saw the appalled and worried look on his face. She desperately pulled her bunched up sleeve into place, silently pleading with him not to say anything. When everyone else was gone they had a hurried, quiet, earnest conversation. She tried to explain; she wasn’t really trying to hurt herself. Sometimes she just needed the pain so she could feel something real. She could tell he didn’t understand. He made her look him in the eye and promise she wasn’t going to kill herself and was getting help.

“Just remember, I’d miss you so much if you were gone. I mean, a lot of people would,” he’d said. He was so sincere. In the weeks after that, things were a little different. The two of them had a shared secret. They were tied closer together. He didn’t hate her. He didn’t stop being her friend. He didn’t stop being into her. They still had their kinda-sorta-flirty vibe going on. Even though he knew she was sick. That was unexpected. He was cute, and a good guy. She really liked him. It was pretty much inevitable that they would hook up. She wanted even more than that.

Ash’s usual move was to just throw herself at a guy with blatant offers of sex. Invite herself in, “Hey, you want a blowjob?” It had a high success rate as far as getting off. It’d get her a bit of the touching and release she craved when she was depressed or burn off some of her massive sexual energy when she was manic. That was super unhealthy long term. When people see you as a source of easy sex that tends to be all they see. She didn’t want to be that person anymore. Anyway, it’d be guaranteed to spook a quiet, nice guy like Chris. He’d want to be all traditional and be the one to ask her out. So, she was more subtle. Flirted a little bit harder, a little bit more touching him on the arm and such. Chris clearly noticed, clearly liked it. But he never pulled the trigger and made a move.

A week of that and Ash had had enough. She was on an upswing and was in pre-manic territory. Full of confidence and energy and getting horny as hell. She’d go right at him. Hit him over the head and drag him off for coffee or something. She wore clothes she knew he liked. She’d caught him looking enough times to have a pretty good idea. Skip the bra, let her little tits bounce and jiggle. A tank that was thin enough her nipples were bound to show through and short enough to bare some midriff. Skirt on the short side, and boots with a couple inches of heel. She knew he liked her legs.

It was a gorgeous day. Ash’s confident strut turned heads all over on the way to class. She found Chris outside waiting on a bench with a couple of their friends. Conversation kind of trailed off when they saw her. Chris waved her over. His smile was the usual friendly one, but with a hunger that he failed to hide in his eyes. She smiled because she knew she’d get what they both wanted. Ash sat close to him like she planned, leaned in and…

“Do you want to get coffee after class? Just us?” He asked before she could open her mouth. It completely threw her off, but she recovered quickly.

“Ok,” she said. She smiled so wide her face hurt. Nervous and quivery, she looked away and brushed her hair back behind her ear.

What a difference eight years can make. What a horrible, wonderful difference.

Ash sat in the grandiose lobby of Hub Tower, trying to get a hold of herself. Also she was admiring Chris’ form while he got them coffee from a little stand. It was still him. When she’d first seen his face, when he smiled at her, when he pulled her into a hug, she was overwhelmed by the familiarity. But, damn. The slightly heavy guy she’d fallen in love with back then looked like he could star in a superhero movie. (The White Knight! His superpower is the ability to fall for psycho bitches who break his heart!) Dude was ripped. And did he somehow get taller? Ash distinctly remembered that if she wore these boots, they were basically the same height. Not anymore. He had at least six inches on her. He didn’t look like he had lifts in his shoes or anything. Could guys get growth spurts in their twenties?

He’s just taken good care of himself is all, Ash desperately rationalized. He must have started hitting the gym hard. Oh God, maybe because of what I said! I didn’t mean it; I was just being awful. Well jokes on me I guess, it sure as hell worked out for him. He didn’t seem to hold anything against her, judging from the welcome she got. She’d been too shocked to contribute more that the occasional syllable in return to the big hug and welcoming patter he gave her.

Despite how inadequate she felt about everything, her body, her illness, how she left things with him and her life since they broke up, Ash was so happy to see him. She was so glad he… called? Texted? She couldn’t remember, but he must have been the one to reach out. There’d been plenty of times over the years when she’d wanted to do it. She knew where he lived (well, where his parents lived. She presumed that this confident put together Adonis version of Chris had his own place by now). And it’s not like it’s hard to find people these days. But it would have been too pathetic, even for her. Anyway, he'd been better off without her. Clearly. But he wanted to see her.

She needed to be cool. They were old friends having coffee and catching up. He was probably just feeling nostalgic. Whatever she did she couldn’t let him think about the last time they spoke. Ash needed to keep him thinking about the good times. And hey, there were plenty of those. And they were damned good. With the mood disorder and the damned voices behind maybe…

“Maybe he’ll want me again.” Ash tried to tamp down that hope. After all, he looked like that now and was probably some super successful business guy or world renowned something or other. She looked like a former hot girl in denial and was legally recognized by the state as being too crazy to work. Not in the same league, not really playing the same sport these days. She should be happy just to be out of her place having coffee with a friend.

And she was. She was genuinely happy to be there. She was happy to see Chris come over with their lattes. She was happy to have him sit next to her. So of course, she had to blow it up.

“I’m so sorry,” she blurted out.

They had a really good year. Mostly. As a couple, that is. Ash’s year was a lot more… uneven.

That first cup of coffee led to them talking for three hours. Just talking. She’d hung out with Chris before, talked to him plenty. But this ‘just the two of us’ thing was new and she really liked it. He actually listened to her. Didn’t just do his time so that he’d have a chance to fuck her. Chris cared what she had to say. He had things to say back to her. Things that weren’t dismissive or condescending or insulting in any way. It was weird. Ash wasn’t used to that kind of treatment from guys. When he had to go get ready for work, he offered her a ride home. He held her hand on the way to his car and opened the door for her. When he dropped her off they kissed. Just the once. Like a civilized girl who had a normal brain and wasn’t chemically imbalanced in a way that was making her super horny would after a first date. Ok the kiss was a bit longer, and more intense. And perhaps aggressive. And she may or may not have grabbed at his crotch, partly out of habit. But still, it was a milestone for her. Self-control, self-respect.

“When are you taking me out tomorrow?” She’d asked. If wasn’t up for debate, and she wasn’t waiting longer than a day. He’d liked that and promised to text her details. She’d rushed to her room and fingered herself off and on for the next few hours.

The second date was a bit of a blur. Ash remembered there was a movie. It was stupid, and they laughed a lot at parts that weren’t meant to be funny. Then there were burgers, maybe? Or that might have been another night. The important part was when he brought her home. She invited him inside, and they made out. They were going at it pretty hard. Ash’s determination to wait until the third date to fuck was wavering. Then she heard herself say, “Pants stay on tonight.” That was a decent compromise, right? It took him less than a second to agree. To him access to everything else was a big deal. Chris was way less experienced than Ash, but he was eager, attentive and his hands were both soft and strong. She dry-humped his leg as he kissed and fondled her to three orgasms in record time. Well, Ash didn’t exactly keep stats on this sort of thing, but it was probably a record for orgasms per hour with pants on. He stayed and cuddled her afterward. Guys usually didn’t like that; being a thin girl there wasn’t a lot of cushioning. Lots of uncomfortable pokey bones. He’d been happy to do it, tracing his fingers over her tattoos and scars and talking to her softly. She actually fell asleep, and he let himself out. Ash realized the next morning he hadn’t even gotten off. Didn’t try to guilt her into a hand job or anything.

Ash decided that him driving her home from class that day counted as a third date. She’d hurried him inside intending to even the score. Oh, she fucked him within an inch of his life alright. But the son of a bitch found her g-spot the first time he fingered her. Turned out he’d been spending a lot of time doing research, reading sexual health blogs, advice columns and such all night. He knew he was the newbie in this and was determined to impress her. He wasn’t all that well hung, but he sure as hell made the most of what he had. Ash would stay in orgasm-debt through the whole relationship.

After that first few days, if he wasn’t either at class or at work, he was with her. They could barely keep their hands off each other. And it wasn’t just that though. Chris wanted to be with weepy depressed Ash just as much as horny manic Ash. He’d let her drag him to see bands he’d never heard of or go urban exploring (which mainly meant they snuck into abandoned buildings to have sex), and other adventures that would never occur to him. They didn’t have any classes together after that first quarter, but he’d often do his homework at her place. He’d encourage her to stick with her courses, which she was struggling with. She joked that it was because there weren’t any future boyfriends in them. Ash didn’t want to admit that her thoughts were more scattered when he wasn’t there to focus on. She didn’t want to admit that she was hearing voices during the day again, even though she took her pills. Instead she decided that school just wasn’t for her, and stopped going. Chris was disappointed but he accepted it in the end.

Ash talked about trying to be a tattoo artist. She always loved art, and she was rather good at drawing. She never followed through with that though. Really though she wound up bored most days, restlessly waiting for Chris to be free. Between work and school, he didn’t have much time. She’d lost touch with most of her new friends, as she was too embarrassed to face them once she quit school. She’d cut ties with her old ‘friends’, the people she used to do drugs with and fuck when the urge struck. But she couldn’t do that with Janie.

She’d been the one who found her the night Ash had tried to slit her wrists. Janie knew first aid, she bandaged her up and got her to the ER. You can’t turn your back on someone who does that for you, right? Ash had to stay in touch with her. But just her. They’d hang out sometimes. Janie knew not to bring anyone else, or anything more than a couple of beers. Maybe a single joint to share. Then one Friday night, when Chris had to work all weekend, Janie was leaving. Her plans sounded fun. Ash really didn’t want to be alone. Janie promised to look out for her. No one would pressure her into anything. No one had to in the end.

That was the first time she cheated on Chris. She’d been high on E and feeling invincible. The next day she was so disgusted with herself. It was worse than her worst depressive episode. She confessed immediately. He was furious. But it didn’t take long for him to become more worried than angry. He stayed with her as she wept all night. By morning he’d forgiven her, but he made her swear. “Look me in the eyes and promise me you won’t do this again. For your own sake. You’ve come so far.” She swore. She meant it. It happened three more times. The concern and forgiveness became slower to come. The trust and affection couldn’t be unconditional anymore. She felt worse, she felt weak. She looked for ways to stop feeling anything.

The last time, she gave up. She realized she was kidding herself. School? A boyfriend? A future? That kind of thing wasn’t for girls like her. It was a relief. No more trying not to disappoint people. No more buying into their bullshit about recovery or improvement. Even the doctors admitted there’s no cure for what’s wrong with her. Why bother fighting it? Fuck taking a bunch of pills every day. She dropped off the grid, floating around on a cloud of narcotics when she wasn’t on her back earning them.

It was two weeks before she answered a call from Chris. He’d never stopped calling. She’d ignored it, too scared to talk to him. If she never talked to him, never saw him again, she’d never have to feel guilty. One hungover morning she forgot she was avoiding him. For a second she was elated to hear his voice. Then as he pleaded with her to tell him where she was, she remembered. She heard it in his voice, the mix of anger and anxiety. It made her hate him almost a thousandth as much as she hated herself.

“Take a fucking hint!” She’d screamed. “God, you retard! Just take your fat ass, baby-dicked beta male bullshit and sell it to some other girl! I’m fucking sick of it!” She hung up, panting. Her phone rang again. She blocked his number.

“Serves him right,” her demon said. That was the first time she saw her, instead of just hearing her. “The moron. Falling in love with you? How stupid can someone be.”

“I’m so sorry,” she said again. “I was a stupid kid who didn’t appreciate you, and I-“

“You were sick,” Chris cut her off.

Ash shook her head. “It’s no excuse. I knew better.”

Chris gave her a friendly one-armed side-hug. Ash gasped and shivered when she felt his hand on her skin.

“I should have known better. It’s like I really thought that, I don’t know, the Power of Love and/or my dick would fix everything.”

Ash laughed. “Well you tried your best. You gave me plenty. Of both. I’m sorry. You put up with a lot. More than I would have, in your place. But, um, well, I’m not sick anymore.”

“Yeah, I know,” he said.

Ash’s brow furrowed. “How could you know? I only just- I mean I… how did it happen? Did we talk? I’m sure we didn’t but…” Ash was spinning. It was totally obvious that she was better now, and that she’d been supposed to meet Chris here. But she also knew she hadn’t talked to him in years. But he knew about something that happened to her today. Individually the pieces were perfectly natural but together they were impossible. “Chris, I’m… is something going on? It’s all normal and fine and nothing to worry about but I’m confused.”

Chris looked a little worried. He fished his phone out of his pocket. Ash wished he’d answer her. Help her figure this out, like he did with math. Why was he on his phone? “Sloppy mistake. Obvious fix.” He tapped a few times and- it all made total sense. She didn’t need to worry about how it did, Chris would explain everything later.

“There, now I’ve apologized to you. I can finally cross that off the list. And against all reason you don’t hate me. So, let’s catch up! What have you been up to?” Ash sipped her coffee.

“Well, let’s see,” Chris began. “I guess it all went pretty much according to plan. Transferred to RSU. Graduated, went to business school, got my MBA. Got a job at a real estate developer. Became another suit, a corporate drone, a cog in the capitalist machine, and so on.”

“Aw, Chris! I’m so disappointed!” Ash gave him an ‘I’m just teasing’ shove. Well, it started that way, it became just a weak excuse to touch him. “I tried so hard to broaden your horizons. Tell me there’s been girls, at least.”

“Yeah, a few.”

“A few? C’mon. Sweet guy like you with a good job who’s got a body like that. Must’ve been more than a few. I bet all the hot interns fight to fetch your coffee every day. Probably a couple thirsty business-milfs trying to get you alone in the copy room.” He was blushing! Just like old times, when she was the aggressive hottie, and he was the shy boy who couldn’t believe his luck. She was so happy to be back with him like this. Also horny. She was so horny.

“I’m afraid not. I’ve had girlfriends, dates, some one-night stands. But none of them were really special.”

“So, then there’s no bitch out there who’ll cut me for doing this,” Ash slid in close and put her arm around him. “That’s actually kind of sad,” She purred. “Sweet, smart guy like you, with a great body, but you come home from your stuffy office job and there’s no one waiting for you.”

“Well, not anymore,” he said back softly. Ash held her breath. Was he saying he wanted her to- “I quit the stuffy office job last week. I, well let’s say I had a real lucky break, and now I’m my own boss.”

“Mysterious. I like it. Well, now that you’re in charge, what do you do?” Ash breathed him in. He smelled like home. Not a home she had, a home she wanted.

“Whatever I want,” he said. “You know what I want to do right now?”

Oh fuck yeah, I can guess, Ash thought. She gave him an inviting smile. “No, what?” Kiss me, kiss me, kiss me, c’mon man, it’d be so perfect if you kissed me right now

 “I’d like,” he caressed her cheek, “to take you upstairs.”

Alright well that’s a good answer too.“Ok then, bossman, let’s go.”

He carried her bags for her and held her hand as they maneuvered through the growing crowd of homeward bound suits. It was goofy, sweet, and so totally like him. She was boiling hot. Sexual tension had been building inside her all day. Ash needed him to fuck her hard while showering her with affection. Like he used to.

“So do you already have a room?” Ash tried to sound indifferent, but she had a huge spring in her step. She didn’t want to waste time at some check in desk.

“What?” he replied.

“At the hotel. Do you have a room, or do we need to check in?” It would be nice to hook up in a fancy hotel. With a guy like Chris, that is, someone who wouldn’t send her packing as soon as he was done. Maybe there’d be champagne and roses and all that.

“Oh. No, we’re not going there.”

“You’re taking me up to your office then?” A little weird, but if it meant being with Chris, she could get on board with being bent over his desk. Or nailed against the wall in a supply closet. Hidden under his desk all day giving him blow jobs. Maybe he needed a secretary? One with no experience or skills?

“Ah. I guess you don’t know. I mean why would you, really? There are apartments here now. The company I worked for was part of it. Converted a bunch of office space. It was this whole big deal a few years back, lots of money being thrown around. I worked on it, real low on the totem pole of course. I live here now.”

“So, you got an employee discount? Like if you worked at a store?” The idea that big shot developers worked like big retail stores kind of amused Ash.

“God no,” Chris laughed. “I got this place with that big break. It’d been a fantasy of mine since I saw the concept art.”

“Oh. Cool,” Ash said. She didn’t want to be impressed. Ash didn’t like feeling shallow. She wanted to be subversive, rebellious, stick-it-to-the-man-ish. But years of trying to pay for rent and expensive prescriptions on hardly anything had beaten into her the importance of money, and the appeal of having plenty of it. “I always liked this building. The whole ornate Beaux Arts thing. You don’t see that everywhere.” She tried to sound sophisticated, crammed into her cheap, too-small tank top and cheap, too-short skirt. Her heart glowed as much as her pussy smoldered. They were going to his place. The one he’d fantasized about having. Chris wanted her in it. She tried not to read a lot into that.

There was a private elevator for residents, and Chris was back on his phone while they waited for it. That was fine. Ash might have been annoyed at another man for ignoring her to play on his phone. But anything Chris did on his phone was normal and nothing she needed to think about. She just quietly admired him, bouncing slightly on the balls of her feet. There was no playing it cool. This was Chris. A perfectly sculpted, rich version of Chris, which was great, sure. But mostly this was a second chance. Only now she wasn’t sick.

“There,” Chris said. He sounded very satisfied. “That should be perfect.” He put his phone away. Ash didn’t care what he meant. She was just happy he was happy. The elevator came it was decorated in the same elaborate gilded style.

“Last time you took me home, we had to be all sneaky and not wake your parents,” Ash laughed. “Now look at you. Grown-ass businessman in his fancy downtown apartment building. Picking up girls and taking them to the, what, thirty-seventh floor? So exclusive you need your little key-fob thing to hit the button?” She remembered lots of nights. Trying to navigate a darkened house while maintaining maximum body contact. Hard to see where they were going while they were making out. Two young lovers with their whole lives ahead of them. Thinking about it made her heart purr. For some reason it was also giving her butterflies in her stomach. Or at least something was going on in her belly, making it tense and tighten.

“We didn’t really have to sneak. I mean, we were adults, and it’s not like they didn’t know about you. They liked you, until- um”

“Until I cheated on their son, broke his heart and ran away? I don’t expect any Christmas cards from Jake and Linda. But, yeah, they were always nice to me.” Despite being the poster couple for ‘average white-bread middle class American couple,’ they’d welcomed Ash. She never felt a hint of judgement about her hair, tats, piercings or dubious stability.

“How are they these days?” Dumbass. “How’s the family?” small talk now? she cringed inwardly. Since there was no little demon version of herself to beat her with variations on ‘You are the worst and will inevitably ruin this,’ that train of thought stopped there.

“Good. They retired and moved out to Arizona. Mom always loved the desert.”

“I can see that. Clear skies. Quiet. All alone.” Ash had never been to the desert (or anywhere far from the city), but it did sound kind of romantic and sexy. That tension in her chest had slid down to her ass. She must be more nervous than she’d realized. Her whole body tingled a bit.

“It’s a condo complex in Scotsdale. They aren’t exactly off the grid. But it’s what they’ve always wanted.”

“Lucky family. They get that, and now you’ve got this big break.” Ash’s scalp itched. She absently scratched at the sides of her head. “Do I get to know what it is?” Ash shrugged and rolled her shoulders, getting as much of the short blond hair off as she could without drawing attention. Taking a deep breath, she savored the air-on-scalp feeling she’d forgotten. She remembered how Chris used to like to pet her there. Ash looked at him with longing.

“I’ll tell you everything, promise. Once I’ve got you all settled in.” She bit her lip to keep from sighing. Or squealing. Or swooning. Sex had been hanging in the air between them since she saw him again. But that much hadn’t been promised. Much less letting her stay. She took refuge in fixing her hair. Ash made sure the long loose mohawk fell to the side away from him. Just like he liked. He always said it let him see her face and made him want to kiss her neck. Ash had liked when he did that. Her whole body relaxed. Except her pussy. That clenched suddenly, deliciously. Ash remembered how much Chris liked her hair like this. How once she got him started, this shy, gentle guy would grab a fistful and pull. Mmmm. Her pussy relaxed a little, but still felt tight. And wet. So wet.

She considered jumping him. Just wrap her arms around him and kiss him. Throw her body against his so hard she pushes him against the wall. Wrap her legs around his waist. He was so strong now; he could probably hold her up with one arm. That meant he’d have one free to reach under her skirt. Would he finger her first? Chris was good with his fingers. Or would he push her little thong to one side, unzip and-

Ding! The elevator pulled Ash out of fantasy world and back to dream-about-to-come-true world. There was a big decorative mirror facing the elevator. It was nice, in a severe Industrial way that was completely out of step with the rest of the building’s style. So out of step it made her eye linger a second. Her striking hair fell artfully to one side, the ends dyed a cobalt blue that lightened gradually into her natural dark blonde. Much better than the cheap impulsive bathroom sink dye job she’d given herself back in the day. Her pretty, even beautiful, face and elegant neck. Toned arms now, no wobbly fat but not stick thin like she was before she’d gained weight. Her same little boobs with diamond-cutter hard nipples showed through her thin top. The bottom of the tank fluttered over a taut, toned midriff and narrow waist. Preening a little, she turned so she could check her ass. Sure enough, there was her old, cute, bounce-a-quarter-off-it ass. And her old killer legs, long and sculpted and smooth. Not just killer legs, they were serial killer legs, mass murderer, war criminal legs. Completely against the Geneva Convention legs. Ash liked what she saw.

Ash liked who she saw. That hadn’t been true in a long time. She’d turned into an idealized version of her younger self. She was getting a do-over for one of her biggest regrets. She wasn’t sick anymore. It was amazing, impossible, and completely normal in a way Chris would explain. I’ve missed you she said to herself.

Chris wouldn’t be explaining anything to her if she didn’t stop staring and follow him. He hadn’t stopped to admire himself. Ash wouldn’t have blamed him if he had. While she scurried to catch up with him, she took the opportunity to admire his ass. She was sorely tempted to rush up and grab a handful. But she realized now that her aggressive fantasy in the elevator was the wrong play here. Oh, she knew he loved it that way. But this was like getting that first cup of coffee. It’d be better if he was the aggressor, or at least the instigator. She’d give him a chance to be at least. Let him get her to his place. Maybe he’d just grab her the second the door was closed, pin her against the wall, and try to fuck her right through it. Give it to her so hard it’d cause structural damage. To her and the building.

She scurried faster. He’d already come to a door. “It’s this one. 3701. There’s only one other unit on this floor, and it’s vacant. I told them over and over, they’ll never sell these. Priced themselves way out of the market. People with that kind of money move to the suburbs. I was able to snatch it up for nothing.” He chuckled to himself as he opened the door for her.

“Uh-huh. I get it. Expensive. Trust me, you don’t have to try this hard to imp- the fuck!” They walked into a living room the size of the apartment she woke up in that morning. Giant windows looked out on downtown all the way to the lake. Modern leather couches, a dining room table, a big ass fireplace- Chris nudged her from behind and Ash realized she was standing in the doorway.

“You said ‘apartment,’ not fucking penthouse,” Ash took a few steps in, her boots making a lovely sound on the hardwood floors. She absently unlaced her black arm warmers and slipped them off. She crossed her arms and held them close to her chest, an instinctive more to hide the scars and track marks. They’d vanished, which wouldn’t have surprised her. After all, her other flaws were disappearing. Which was completely normal, she didn’t need to think about it.

“Because it’s not,” Chris said. He sounded very pleased with himself. “It has to be on the top floor to be a penthouse. Then they can use parts of the roof for outdoor space. We’re five floors under the observation deck, eighteen below the top.”

“Hey, don’t ‘well, actually’ me, man, you know what I mean,” she chided. She started exploring. “Jesus, this kitchen? Tell me you know how to cook.” Her fingers found the hem of her tank. “This is kind of overkill for boxed mac and cheese, you know? And that’s pretty much all I’ve got, cooking wise.” She pulled her tank off, enjoying the brush of fabric on her sensitive nipples.

“I only moved in this week. It’s all still totally unused.” Ash heard him behind her. “Except for the expresso machine. I really like the new tattoo.” Right, he hadn’t seen her wings. They dominated her back: on her left side of her spine a bat wing, on the right an angel wing.

“Thanks! It’s not really new. I got it about five years ago. Kind of a play on the whole devil and angel on the shoulders thing.” She glanced back at him. Ash pictured herself from his point of view. Looking over her shoulder topless from the back in a short skirt and boots. Classic pin-up stuff. Ash shifted her weight a bit into a true contrapposto. So fucking sexy. She kind of wished he’d take a picture but didn’t want to kill the moment. C’mon Chris. Look at me. You want me, I want you. This isn’t complicated, just make your move.

Ash was about to just drop her top and arm warmers on the floor. She caught herself. Just leave clothes lying around on the kitchen floor? What was she, raised in a barn? Instead, she draped them over her forearm, going for a ‘towel for waiter in a fancy restaurant pouring wine’ thing. She turned to walk past Chris back into the living room. His eyes were glued on her tits. They had his undivided attention and Ash loved it.

When she was past him, she called back to him, “That one’s the same.”

“Huh?” Chris grunted.

“My sphinx. It hasn’t changed. You seemed to be studying it.” Ash liked the old Greek story of the sphinx. Mysterious woman-lion-eagle who guards treasure and eats men whole if they say the wrong thing? It seemed appropriate to get over her heart. Or rather just above her left breast.

“I don’t know. I think it looks a lot better.” She smiled and glanced down at the tattoo in question. Did it look a little different? The lines did seem a bit sharper, the feathers on the wings a bit better. Overall, it was more like the picture she’d showed a tattoo artist when she was nineteen. That was great, in a totally normal way that Chris would explain. She’d have to check her wings in a mirror later, she’d always wished the bat wing had a little more detail on the boney parts.

“You just moved in?” Ash asked. “I’m guessing it was furnished.”

“Yeah. I realized I didn’t really care about most of my old things, and I didn’t want to start from scratch.”

“It’s a little cold, don’t you think?” Ash undid the button on her skirt.

Chris chuckled. “Sure. Yeah. I’ll get the fire going, make things nice and toasty.”

“That sounds nice. But I meant, like, aesthetically. There’s a lot of metal and leather, and is that table concrete? It’s stylish but not very like you.”

“Wow. Thanks,” Chris tried a couple of switches until the gas lit.

“I mean it doesn’t reflect you. You’re very warm, you know.” The skirt slid off easily. She put just a little unnecessary wiggle in her hips when she picked it up off the floor. “You know, welcoming, supportive, loving. Warm.” He was a damn sight more than warm; he was hot as hell and they both knew it. It was downright unfair to take the cute, sweet guy and give him a body like that. Tall guys with pecs and strong arms and an insane ass shouldn’t have that kind of shy smile and boyish face. She was burning up. He was responsible. What was he going to do about it?

The light and heat of the fire did make things a bit cozier. Was that what he was looking for? Cuddling up on the couch, trading soft kisses. They’d had times like that, usually nights when she was heading down into a depressed stretch. ‘Hold me, tell me I’m good, show me you love me’ type nights. Not the kind of thing she was itching bad for right then. But something she’d missed. No guy since had been as good at that as Chris. Few had been interested in trying. Ash could get on board with that kind of thing. Then once they got going, they could build up to the kind of energetic slam-fucking she needed.

“So where do you want me to put this,” Chris lifted her duffel bag up.

“Oh, sorry, I totally forgot you were still carrying all my shit. Well, I guess that depends. Where am I sleeping?” She gave him a coy little smile.

“There are four bedrooms. Use any one you want,” he answered faux-innocently.

“Well then, which one is the master?”

He pointed the way. Ash strolled, a slow exaggerated strut. One foot directly in front of the other with maximum hip movement. All she had on was a thong and her boots. Chris liked her ass, and she liked that he liked it. She felt his eyes on her. It didn’t just make her hot. His attention was a warm blanket she wanted to wrap herself in. Look at me, Chris. I’m sexy. I’m not sick anymore.

“Oh, hold up, I see a couple of new tats there. I remember the lips,” Chris called after her. Ash had a bright red pair of kissing lips on her right ass cheek. It really didn’t require explanation. “But what does the writing say?”

Ash groaned and turned around. “Ok, so these are ‘seemed like a great idea when I was manic’ tats. Bear that in mind. Ok, this one” she turned her right leg so Chris could get a better look at the inch tall cursive writing on her inside of her upper thigh. “is ‘fearless.’ Which I actually really like. While this one,” she switched to the left leg is, uh, well...” She shook her head and lifted her chin in a proud, dignified manner. “It says ‘shameless.’ Because I had decided that I wasn’t going to let anyone make me afraid or ashamed ever again.”

“Well, I guess it’s an admirable sentiment,” Chris was holding in his laughter, which Ash appreciated.

“Yeah, ok, I know. But if you think about it, nobody ever reads them unless I want them to. I basically have to be down to my underwear *and* spread my legs. So, you know, I shouldn’t be afraid of, or ashamed in front of, anyone who can read it,” Ash said firmly.

“Right now, are you ashamed? Or scared?” Chris asked. He was standing close to her now. He wasn’t laughing. Ash saw that earnest, ‘you’re doing ok, right?’ expression she knew very well. It was far from the ‘I’m going to fuck you so hard’ expression she wanted to see. That wouldn’t do.

She smiled and touched his face lightly. “I’m ashamed of how I treated you. And I’m a bit scared I’ll fuck things up again. But I’m not sick anymore. So, things will be fine.” She took his hand and pulled him toward the bedroom.

When she got there she laughed. The room was like everything else. Stylish furniture in that cold industrial way. Gorgeous windows. But it was dominated by a cartoonishly large bed. It was funny enough to cut through her arousal.

“Really, Chris? Really? What am I even looking at?”

“They call it an Alaskan king bed,” he laughed along.

“Ok, um, why?” “Because Alaska is the biggest-“

“Not why do they call it that. Ass,” she sat on the edge. She hooked her thumbs under the waistband of her thong. “Why would you need a bed this big?”

“I don’t! That’s the whole thing about, you know, luxury stuff. High end things. They’re impractical. Unnecessary.” He dropped her bag. His eyes were locked onto her hands inching her last bit of modesty down. There was the ‘I’m going to fuck you so hard’ look she wanted.

“So, it’s just a climb the mountain because it’s there thing? You have this massive bed because you can?” Her bare pussy came into view. Despite the momentary distraction she was hot and wet. Her pussy clearly needed to be tended to. Ash knew Chris saw that; he was clearly looking right at it. She briefly registered the lack of hair, and knew that she hadn’t shaved there for ages. But that was totally normal and fine. Chris would explain it to her.

“Something like that.” Chris sat down next to her. When her panties hit the floor, Ash was suddenly very aware that she had stripped down to her boots. She’d known she was doing it all along. But she didn’t remember deciding to do it. Confusion, or even fear, tried to rise inside her.

That’s all perfectly normal, Ash rationalized. I guess I knew subtle wasn’t going to work. You can’t get less subtle than a girl stripping off her clothes and taking you to the bedroom. She was a bit disappointed in Chris for not jumping in. It’d have been better if he’d taken the lead this time, but it wasn’t like she minded taking charge. Dropping her clothes in a heap, Ash scooted herself into his lap.

“I don’t know what you’re waiting for,” she told him. “I’m not going to get any readier.” She pressed her lips to his. He was quick to answer, and they were kissing, and he was holding her the way she missed being held. And awareness flooded her.

This day was impossible. It didn’t make sense. Waking up knowing they had to meet despite not talking to him. Knowing she was instantly cured of an incurable mental illness when she left the apartment. Seeing Chris again, him being this gorgeous, idealized vision. Him forgiving her, wanting her. Her body turning into everything she wished it was. All the inconsistencies she just accepted he would explain away. Chris taking her away from poverty and boredom and bringing her here and wanting her to stay and kissing her like that, it was obvious what it meant.

Ash pulled back from him. “This isn’t real,” she said. It was horrifying, but the only thing that made sense. She was getting sicker; the delusions were more complex. They looked like real life now. She jumped off the bed too quickly, slipped and landed on her side. The fall hurt. Good. Pain was real. She’d always been able to count on that.

“Ash it’s ok,” Delusion Chris said to her. He reached out for her. She recoiled like he was a poisonous snake, skidding along the floor. “Ash, you’re-“

“YOU AREN’T REAL! CHRIS DOESN’T LOOK LIKE THAT! CHRIS HATES ME! EVERYONE DOES! CHRIS WOULD NEVER WANT ME BACK!” she screeched at it. Ash knew she wasn’t supposed to engage with it. But after being fooled by it she had to assert control. Had to say the truth.

“Ash! Ash, I’m here. I’m real. You aren’t sick anymore.” This delusion was the cruelest of all of them. It looked so real! Chris would be worried like that. She wanted to believe it so badly.

She was shaking her head. Focus on touch. “I’m on hardwood floor. It’s cold. I- Shit! I was kissing it. This isn’t going to work anymore.” Tears were forming in Ash’s eyes. She was too far gone. There was no way of telling what was real. This was the nightmare scenario she tried to avoid thinking about. There must be a way out of this, she thought, think Ash, think! She tried to run her fingers through her hair, like she usually did in a crisis. They found bare scalp and too-long hair. She couldn’t even trust what she saw or felt on her own body. All the while Delusion Chris kept going, telling her to breathe, that he could explain if she would listen, that everything was fine.

“Fuck!” he suddenly said. It was such a change of tone that Ash looked at him again. He was on his phone again. The phone was important in this, somehow.

“Sloppy mistake. Obvious fix. Trips me up every time,” he tapped his phone, then looked at Ash expectantly.

Ash suddenly felt the fear vanish. She still didn’t understand what was happening. The most sensible explanation was some new sort of delusional episode. But she was certain she could deal with it calmly and rationally. Which was another unnatural, implausible occurrence.

“Ok, Chris,” she said to the man who probably didn’t exist. “What the fuck is going on?”

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